Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Comments related to Jerry Coyne's view that faith may be a gift in religion, but in science it’s poison

In the context of a quote by Jerry Coyne, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Coyne, "Faith may be a gift in religion, but in science it’s poison, for faith is no way to find truth.", http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/42819635-faith-versus-fact-why-science-and-religion-are-incompatible, I had a Facebook post exchange of which I have given below a suitably edited version of my comments:

Perhaps the first thing that needs to be clarified in such a statement is what exactly does Jerry Coyne mean by the word, faith, in this statement above.

I have not read much of Jerry Coyne. Browsed the net to get some info. Here's one article that seems to give his take on Faith and Science, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/11/faith_in_science_and_religion_truth_authority_and_the_orderliness_of_nature.html. Like Dawkins, Coyne seems to focus on criticism of belief without sufficient evidence (in this article at least). And like Dawkins, he gives some examples of people of faith without making any effort to interpret their faith in a positive light.

[For example, somebody who has faith that because he accepted Jesus as his personal saviour, he will join friends & family in Heaven, also leads a life where he avoids, as far as possible, hurting others (as that would be viewed as sinful and may deny him Heaven). In other words he tries to lead a largely moral life. Further, the view of Heaven as a physical place where his family and friends are present, may be a metaphor, which he can easily understand, for a happy after-death existence which may not involve physical places like on earth.]

In the article, he quotes Walter Kaufmann's definition of faith as "intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person".
Coyne writes, "Indeed, there is no evidence beyond revelation, authority, and scripture to support the religious claims above ...". So Coyne's target is literal interpretation of scripture of various religions. He, in this article, does not bring spirituality and mystics, with reliable witness accounts of mystics, into the picture.

Coyne writes: "When Sarewitz claimed that “belief” in the Higgs boson was an act of faith rather than rationality, and when he compared it to Hindu belief in a sea of milk that sustains their gods, he was simply wrong. There is strong evidence for the Higgs boson, whose existence was confirmed last year by two independent teams using a giant accelerator and rigorous statistical analysis. But there isn’t, and never will be, any evidence for that sea of milk." - Now that's an easy target to attack. Hindu puranas (one body of Hindu scripture) have accounts like the sea of milk (ksheerasagara, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kshir_Sagar) which many level-headed theist Hindus like me do not view literally. But Coyne does not bother about referring to such level-headed theist Hindus' views on ocean of milk.

I recall hearing Francis Collins, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins, in a lecture (video) saying that as a scientist he is going to demand data (evidence) for accepting a scientific claim (or words to that effect). His Christian faith does not make him less demanding of data (evidence) before he accepts a scientific claim as valid. A relevant quote with some context from his lecture transcript (link has video link too), https://iami1.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/francis-collins-the-language-of-god-a-scientist-presents-evidence-of-belief-transcript/, "We are here to talk about big questions. Maybe the biggest question of all – does God exist? I won’t give you a proof tonight but I hope I will give you some things to think about – things that have led me from being an atheist to becoming a believer and a follower of Jesus. And I will try to explain to you that pathway in a fairly abbreviated form and also explain to you how I see no conflict between that perspective and that of a scientist who is rigorous in his views of data and won’t allow you to put one over on me when it comes to views of nature. But who also sees that the study of nature is not all there is."

Ravi: Regarding truth, I go by the Hindu philosophy view that there are levels of truth - vyavhaarika sathyam (material world/Maya world truth) and paramaarthika sathyam (Divine truth/Eternal Truth/Brahman). While Hindu Vedanta does not explain the theory of relativity (or Newton's laws of motion, for that matter) and so may not be of much use in figuring out material truths, Hindu Vedanta, IMHO, excels in showing the way to acquire/experience divine and eternal truth.

I think Coyne, Dawkins & co. live by the belief of scientism. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism, "Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints." IMHO, by limiting their vision and experience of life to science, I think they lose out on a more fuller experience of life.
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I think a lot of anti-religion scientist-writers, who seem to very arrogant about their scientific credentials, but are quite illogical, and frankly, ignorant, in their assault on religion, do not bring in mysticism or interpretation of spiritual texts into their attacks on religion. Some of these writers can even be labelled unscientific when it comes to their views on religion. I say unscientific as some, including some distinguished Indian scientist(s) writing in mainstream Indian press, make blanket statements that every claim of paranormal incidents (miracles) or even past life memories that has been investigated, has been PROVED to be false! Now that's a blatant LIE! There are a number of cases of even scientists with suitable credentials having made investigations into some such GENUINE cases, who do not say that they have been PROVED false, and instead conclude that the evidence suggests that it may be true (but not scientifically accepted (PROVEN) as true as that requires much stronger evidence obtained under controlled conditions).

When I first came across such anti-religion fanaticism in a few top Indian scientists writing in Indian mainstream media, I was taken aback. I mean, one has great respect for these men for their stupendous intellectual achievements and service to the scientific mission in the country, and one even looks up to them for guiding the country forward. Don't they have a responsibility to be faithful to the truth, and to avoid making statements on matters they have not studied & investigated themselves? Is not the quest for the truth the most important quality in a scientist? ... Anyway, now I have developed a healthy disdain for the anti-religion fanaticism of some top scientists, Indian or Western or from anywhere else in the world. And thank God for that, I say :-).

[BTW I do have a lot of respect for scientists who frankly say they do not have belief in God, but who do not try to spread a view that there is no God and that all religions are full of evil and must be cast aside for humanity to "progress".]

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