Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Useful dialogue with a critic of Martin's

Quite a constructive e-correspondence with a very good scientist who has been reportedly quite critical of Martin's accepting the Templeton Prize.  He says is sole concern is that ny individuals or organisations that interfere with the ability of our children or indeed adults to recognise truth are acting immorally.

I don't see how Martin or the Templeton Foundation can reasonably be placed in this category.  But Dawkins certainly can.

Recognising (or perhaps better, discerning) truth is indeed vital. Not for nothing do John and I call our book Questions of Truth. There are certainly some very dogmatic religious people, but there are some very dogmatic atheists as well. My correspondent lists many benefits that (western) science and engineering have given us. Similarly I could say (western) religion has given us "schools, hospitals, universities, charity, government support for the less fortunate and the rule of law"

Equally we could both list some bad things that have been given to us by science/engineering and by religion, and we could both argue that these were not the "true" results of true science/engineering or true religion but deplorable aberrations. So both science/engineering and religion have had good and bad consequences. This is a truth that all religious people I know certainly recognise. But we can also say that, on almost any reasonable evaluation, overall the benefits of science/engineering have outweighed the costs.

However this is also true of Judaeo/Christian religion. Whether or not the core theological beliefs are true, the practical benefits for humanity of adopting Christianity have been enormous (The number of people who "adopt" Judaism is miniscule). Pretty much every serious historical or sociological study confirms this. And at the level of individuals the benefits to health, longevity and (in evolutionary terms) propagation of surviving children are very clear.

It may be that most of these benefits come from certain social behaviours rather than the theological beliefs, and that these behaviours may be beneficial whilst the theological beliefs are false. But beneficial actions to not require true beliefs, just beliefs that are "true enough" - Victorian sewers still work even though their ideas about "germs" are laughably inadequate, for example.

Dawkins and other shrill militant atheists are, in my view, firmly in the category of "individuals ... that interfere with the ability of our children or indeed adults to recognise truth" because they peddle the manifest lie that religion is "the root of all evil" (this was actually the title of Dawkins' TV series that led to The God Delusion) or even the weaker form of that manifest lie, that religious beliefs are clearly on balance harmful.

We'll be able to discuss this in person when we meet in a few weeks.

Meanwhile it is worth repeating that researches supported by the Templeton Foundation have produced more top-class scientifc research (as measured by papers in Nature, Science and PNAS) than all the "New Atheists" put together.

Some rather pathetic commentator on PZ Myers blog says that all these papers must be wrong because 'The "Templeton Taint" renders any produced publication fatally flawed'.  Funny then that Steve Pinker is co-author of two of them.

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