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← Faith: A Barrier to Rational Thought (Podcast)

Mark Jones's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Mark Jones

Comment 7 by Nordic11

Just for fun I thought I would help you guys out and provide you with a list of other men of faith whose ignorance was masquerading as arrogance:

Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Gregor Mendel, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, William Thomson Kelvin, Max Planck, Francis Collins.

With a history of such ignorance, theism is doomed.

Which of their activities do we celebrate; their scientific, evidence-based work, or their faith-based lucubrations?

People are complicated, so it's a shame to see such simplistic arguments applied to such great minds. For example, despite Faraday's Sandemanianism (a now defunct sect, far too conciliatory, I think), Faraday expert Geoffrey Cantor says of him:

...Faraday nailed his flag firmly to the empiricist mast. He believed that facts, and only facts, are the basic signs of nature and the foundation on which the whole edifice of science has to be constructed. As he told the audience at his lecture on mental education, a ‘fundamental fact ... never fails us, its evidence is always true’, and he portrayed science as dependent ‘upon carefully observed facts’.


Moreover, [...] his appeal to facts possessed clear psychological overtones. Thus, writing to Whewell in 1835 he admitted that ‘I feel that my safety consists in facts; and even these I am but too anxious [not] to pervert through the influence of preconceived notions’. [...] His fears of losing control and of being carried away by flights of imagination (or by prejudice) were overcome by the safe shelter that firmly based facts could provide. His persona, and with it his science, could be saved by facts and facts alone. As he wrote to Schoenbein in 1858, ‘without experiments [which produce facts] I am nothing’!

One could hardly fault his empiricism, then, so he did good science, and we have ways to measure how good. It's interesting that his feelings led him to embrace facts, when for some it just leads them to embrace.. their feelings. Things are rarely as simple as they seem at first glance.

As for faith being a barrier: well, it can, occasionally, be helpful, I think, as for Faraday, but when it is helpful, it's accidentally helpful. This is because faith allows one to be arbitrary in one's foundations, so one could just as easily develop nonsensical theories, like Gosse's Omphalos hypothesis, in which he allows his theism to infect his science, and thus render facts meaningless.

So is it best to promote ways of thinking that might promote rationality, or those that will? I think the answer is clear.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012 13:48:33 UTC | #936268