Friday, June 3, 2011

Faith and Blind Faith

Atheistic biologist Jerry Coyne is disappointed that one of the top molecular geneticists in the world shows "a chronic and debilitating sympathy for religion."

The scientist is George Church and here's Coyne's description of his credentials:
George Church is a well known molecular geneticist who helped design the first “direct” method of DNA sequencing, and played an important role in initiating the Human Genome Project. He has an appointment at Harvard University and consults for several companies. His latest endeavor is the Personal Genome Project, designed to get DNA sequences from many individuals with the aim of curing genetic maladies.
Pretty impressive. He certainly doesn't appear to be professionally "debilitated", so what's Coyne's gripe? Well, evidently Church actually believes things that Coyne thinks no scientist should believe. On his blog Church wrote this:
Some people feel that science and faith have nothing in common. But a considerable amount of faith drives everyday science — and frequently religion addresses scientific topics .... The overlap is vast and fertile. As we learn more about nature, for many of us, this greatly strengthens rather than lessens our awe.
Coyne calls this "sad", the sort of thing, apparently, which debilitates one's performance as a scientist.

Coyne thinks there's a big difference between the sort of faith exercised by a scientist and the sort of faith exhibited by the religious believer and that the two should not be commingled in the same person. I think his distinction is problematic, but I'll leave it to the reader to check it out.

For my part, I don't think there's really any difference between the faith exercised in science and the faith exercised by a well-educated religious believer. For both, faith is believing something to be true despite the lack of proof that it's true.

Both the scientist and the religious person commit themselves to the truth of some hypothesis without having proof that the hypothesis really is true. What each does have, though, is evidence that their belief is true.

Some might acknowledge that this is so but reply that the scientist requires a higher standard of evidence than does the religious believer, but I'm not sure that that's the case.

Blind faith is believing something despite a lack, or paucity, of evidence, and a naturalistic scientist like Coyne is at least as likely to exhibit blind faith as is the religious believer and may even be more inclined to do so. Indeed, the naturalist believes many things for which he has no evidence at all.

For example, a naturalist (one who believes that nature is all there is) believes that living things were generated from inert matter, that information can be coded into DNA apart from a mind, that electrochemical reactions in the brain can generate meaning and sensations (qualia), and that naturalism itself is true. He may also believe that there are other universes (a multiverse) besides our own, that moral duties can exist independent of a transcendent moral authority, and that his life has an overall purpose. There's no empirical evidence for any of these beliefs, however. To the extent that Prof. Coyne or any naturalist believes any of them he's indulging in sheer blind faith and is thus hardly in a position to credibly criticize the religious believer for his beliefs.

Thanks to Telic Thoughts for the tip.

Pain and Regrets

Kathyrn Lopez at National Review Online has a story about the emotional pain many young women experience after they've had an abortion. She begins with the story of Aerosmith's Steve Tyler and his erstwhile girlfriend:
In his new autobiography, Tyler recalls a then-16-year-old girl from his past. He has talked emotionally about the abortion she had: “It was a big crisis. It’s a major thing when you’re growing something with a woman, but they convinced us that it would never work out and would ruin our lives. . . . You go to the doctor and they put the needle in her belly and they squeeze the stuff in and you watch. And it comes out dead. I was pretty devastated. In my mind, I’m going, Jesus, what have I done?”

This unveiling story became a duet when that girl, now the mother of six other children, married, and a practicing Catholic, told her side of the story, which differs from Tyler’s. She writes: “He has talked of me as a sex object without any human dignity. I have made a point over these long years never to speak of him, yet he has repeatedly humiliated me in print with distortions of our time together. I do not understand why he has done this. It has been very painful.”

All of the details of their testimonies do not match. She says the pregnancy wasn’t entirely unplanned, that Tyler had thrown her birth-control pills away. She says that he pushed her to have the abortion.

Kevin Burke, who wrote a piece for National Review Online highlighting Tyler’s abortion comments, wonders if the soft-porn treatment of his relationship with Holcomb in his autobiography is his “way to avoid the pain and reality of his role in the abortion.”

This much we know: There was an abortion, and there are pain and regrets.
The rest of Lopez's column elaborates on the pain and regret that many women suffer after they've had their baby killed. Whether abortion should be legal or illegal, one thing it will not be, apparently, is consequence-free.

Read Lopez's piece and then, for a contrasting view, read the declaration of Janette Barber, Rosie O'Donnell's producer, who recently said this on Rosie's show:
I think if you want an abortion, you get an abortion. If you don't want to get an abortion, I would never force anyone to get an abortion, but I'd fight to the freakin' death for somebody's right to have an abortion. When I was a kid, I thought, 'If we lose this right, I'm leaving this country.'

I had plans [in the event of pregnancy]...I'm gonna wear a tent dress while I don't eat so I can get big and I can go in the woods, have it, kill it, and bury it, 'cause I didn't know how else I would get rid of it if I lost that right. I was pretty young when I had that plan, and I got over it.
Presumably, it never occurred to Ms Barber when she "was a kid" that if she didn't have sex she wouldn't have to fantasize about such hideous solutions to her predicament.

I know. It's unrealistic to expect kids not to have sex. It's much more enlightened to give them the means of canceling unintended consequences by just making it easy for them to snuff out the life inside them, and surely we live in enlightened times.

On a related matter, Byron forwards a report from America's most trustworthy news source, The Onion, which informs us of the grand opening of an $8 billion Abortionplex in Topeka. It sounds like a great facility:
"All women should feel like they have a home at the Abortionplex," Richards continued. "Whether she's a high school junior who doesn't want to go to prom pregnant, a go-getter professional who can't be bothered with the time commitment of raising a child, or a prostitute who knows getting an abortion is the easiest form of birth control—all are welcome."

Nineteen-year-old Marcy Kolrath, one of the Abortionplex's first clients, told reporters that despite her initial hesitancy, she was quickly put at ease by staff members who reassured her that she could have abortions over and over for the next decade before finally committing to motherhood. Kolrath also said she was "wowed" by the facility's many attractions.

"I was kind of on the fence in the beginning," she said. "But after a couple of margaritas and a ride down the lazy river they've got circling the place, I got caught up in the vibe. By the time it was over, I almost wished I could've aborted twins and gotten to stay a little longer."

"I told my boyfriend we had to have sex again that very night," Kolrath added. "I really want to come back over Labor Day."
Thanks to Jason for the link to the Lopez column.