The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Unequal "I Don't Know"

I was thinking of the debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Daniel Dennett again the other day and something D'Souza said made me go, "hmmmm...." He said something to the effect of, "In the end, both Dan and I are coming from a position of ignorance and have to say, 'I don't know'."

Now, that's a true statement. I'm not arguing against that, but what made me get a bit pissy was that the same statement can mean different things and coming from each of these men, it carries different weight.

When you're thinking about the beginning of the Universe (for example), you can come from a religious viewpoint or a scientific viewpoint (again, I'm simplifying for illustration). The religious person says something like, "Science has explained much of what I see but when we get to the start of it all, there had to be some 'Maker' who put it all in motion and who intervenes on occasion to tweak something or help out." In D'Souza's case, this is the Christian god of the Bible.

A scientific person looks at the beginning of the Universe and says something like, "The wonders of the cosmos are staggering and it's amazing that scientists have been able to unravel many of the mysteries. The Big Bang theory seems plausible for the start of the Universe, but what started it and what was "there" before is a mystery that will likely never be solved."

Ok, now the difference in these points of view is that one is based on what we see around us, has been tested against what we have found out about the Universe, predictions have been made according to the theory (scientific theory, that is) that have subsequently been shown to be true (the existence of cosmic background radiation, for one), and it admits that there are still shortcomings in the explanation - leaving the ending open for further investigation.

A little honesty from the religious side is all I'm asking for. They say, "we don't know", but what they're really saying is, "We know the Way and the Light, we know for sure, for certain that God is the means and the Maker and we should all follow his rules here on Earth. We know it all because it's all here in the Bible, the revealed word of our Lord. But we don't know."

This is pretty much the textbook case for Occam's Razor: Do not posit plurality unless necessary. Or in more modern terms: Don't make shit up, unless. Unless what? Unless we absolutely gots ta.

"Goddidit" is not an answer, it's the same as saying "I don't know" only with the hanger-on of stupid rules and hatred and ignorance-with-attitude and the halt of actual inquiry with fatuous "authority". Religious folks like Dinesh are so uncomfortable with honestly saying, "I don't know" that they just can't leave it at that. They have to break the razor and make stuff up so they have the gap filled with shit instead of studying or waiting for people smarter to study and fill the gap with gleaned knowledge.

The religious position is anti-intellectual and doesn't offer anything but made up fairy tales in place of (often in direct opposition to) reality. When a religious person says, "Well, neither of us really know", he's lying in his heart and more of us should call them out.

4 Barbaric Yawps:

At 23/1/08 8:57 am, Blogger Titan said...

I completely agree, and I think that line was D'Souza's biggest mistake in the debate. In context, it comes out horribly for him. (I think he also may have made some outrageous claim of certainty just before it.) I was going to put up a post about it at the time, but it was such a pain to transcribe the important parts of the debate that I gave it up.

At 23/1/08 10:07 am, Blogger Frank said...

Good one Mike. I said something similar in a post of mine where I wondered what's wrong with I don't know?

At 23/1/08 11:21 am, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

Yeah, D'Souza is painful to try to listen to, let alone transcribe. Good on you for trying.

At 31/1/08 2:09 am, Blogger Thursday said...

The worst problem with D'Ribble is that he speaks better than most of the scientists he debates. That's a problem when the emotion of an audience is what determines the "winner" at such engagements. Plus having the more emotional argument - "You hate/deny God" being implied in pretty much every sentence he utters - gives him some bonus chips, too.


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