Thursday, May 06, 2010

Richard Dawkins on the Nature of Scientific (and Religious) Controversy


[Hat Tip: Friendly Atheist]


  1. That reminds me of the 20th century dismissal of relativity by various German scientists of the third reich as "Jewish physics."

  2. Religion is distributed geographically for the same reason that language and cuisine are. They are cultural phenomena. Why is that so strange?

  3. But speaking of Jewish physics, this is from: (There are multiple versions floating around.)

    If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.

  4. Religion is distributed geographically for the same reason that language and cuisine are. They are cultural phenomena. Why is that so strange?

    It's strange because the beliefs that underlie the differences between religions are presented as reasonable when such geographic evidence clearly indicates they are not.

    If a particular religious belief, such as "Jesus is the son of God", were entirely reasonable and based on evidence, it would not be geographically distributed in a stable pattern reflecting language and culture, it would be distributed in a pattern reflecting access to the evidence. In a modern society with rapid communication such as is present over most of the world today, that evidence would be available to pretty much everyone, so the geographic pattern would be one of near-universal acceptance. I expect this is what would be visible if the spread of acceptance of, say, the germ theory of disease were modelled geographically. We'd see a spread of the idea from it's origin in western Europe that corresponds with communication - first to the european-language-speaking people of the Americas, then to the european-culture-emulating and trading-partner people of south and east Asia, and so forth. That's an association with language and culture, yes, but it wouldn't be stable - the evidence for the germ theory of disease is translatable between languages, and sufficiently universal (everybody gets sick) to cross cultural barriers.

    The truth of an idea does not depend on where it is told or in what language it is described. But religious ideas are distributed as if that were true - Arabic speakers tend not to believe that Jesus is the son of God (with plenty of exceptions), and German speakers tned not to believe that Mohammed is God's chosen prophet. But both of those groups do tend to believe that the Black Plague is caused by a bacterium transmitted by fleas.

  5. I doubt that you would find many people who would claim that the content of religious beliefs have the same status as the content of scientific statements. They are more like: it is appropriate to eat beef but not to eat pork.

    Such a statement has no geographic qualification but it is accepted (or not) by religious communities, which tend to be geographically distributed.

  6. "Jesus was born of a virgin, and is the son of God"

    "The attractive force of gravity is proportional to the masses of the two bodies and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them"

    These are both statements of fact, one is religious, the other scientific. It's comparisons of these kinds of statements I was thinking of. Not the accessory beliefs that build up within cultures and are clearly related to both religion and geography (e.g. the prevalence of spicy foods in tropical areas). I expect a large number of people hold the two above examples at about equal status in their minds. These two statements do not contradict each other, but plenty of religious and scientific statements do.