Thursday, 15 February 2007
It is hard for those of us who look down from philosophical heights not to deem some of the inquiries which ordinary men make about religion to be so crude as barely to deserve the name of rational. Is the man who talks only to the priest really pursuing rational inquiry? Yes, if he does not realize that the matter is the subject of dispute among experts. But even if he does realize this, so long as he asked the priest for reasons for his belief, the inquirer has conducted some sort of investigation; he has made some check on the priest’s claims. The resulting belief may well be rational in that the investigation has been in the subject’s view adequate. However, if there is any looking down from heights on to the inquiries of others and casting doubts on their rationality, we may perhaps have a dim idea of what superior beings might think of our own rationality in the matter of religious belief. I myself am certainly conscious after years of professional writing and study of the matter, of the paucity of my evidence—of all that I do not know about the religious experiences of the mystics or about Buddhism, for example—of how an enormous amount of further philosophical investigation needs to be done with respect to every point which I make about inductive logic and every point which I make about the inductive worth of arguments for and against the existence of God. To any celestial philosopher who may have spent 2,000 years investigating these issues our inquiries must have such a primitiveness about them that he feels very reluctant to call them rational.
(Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981], 69 [subscript omitted])
Here is Thomas Sowell’s column about the stifling of dissent among scientists. When I lecture on scientific method in my Critical Thinking courses, I tell students that one of the hallmarks of science is that hypotheses are put forward (and held) tentatively. Scientists don’t prove things; they formulate and test hypotheses. The most that can be said, by a scientist, is that hypothesis H has not been refuted. It can never be said that H has been proved. Even Darwinian natural selection hasn’t been proved. It’s simply the best account we currently have of biological phenomena. When scientists make grandiose claims about having proved this or that, and they sometimes do, they’re being dogmatic. Other scientists are supposed to step in and criticize them. What we’re seeing in the case of climate change is dogmatism run amok. It just goes to show you that scientists are as prone to dogmatism and bullying as anyone else.
2-15-87 Sunday. I don’t recall the exact date, but it has been approximately six years since I stopped eating red meat. I could probably pinpoint the date by reviewing my journals, but it’s not important. What is important is that I haven’t gone back to eating red meat and that I feel great. My health has never been better, in part because of my diet, in part because of my vitamins, and in part because of my exercise regimen. The only animal products that I eat are chicken (not poultry generally), fish (but not shrimp and other crustaceans), and eggs. That’s it. My plan, originally, was to give up all animal products, but I’m still in a state of suspended animation. I’ll never go back to my old diet [nor have I], but I hope to get rid of these other animal products some day. Practically speaking, here’s what I eat: First, I eat a lot of eggs, whether scrambled, fried, or sliced up for salad. Second, I eat chicken breast patties and fish sticks in sandwiches. When I visited Mom and Jerry this past December, I ate whole chicken and different kinds of fish. I’m proud of my diet. It may not be consistent, but it’s better than a diet in which I eat red meat. There are, here as elsewhere, degrees of rightness.
My gross-average speed this afternoon was 15.36 miles per hour. I haven’t threatened my record of 16.74 miles per hour since 5 October (more than four months ago), although I’ve been in the sixteens six times since then. Why the low averages? For one thing, I haven’t pressed as hard on the outward trip. To set a record, I have to stand up and pedal on certain stretches, rather than shift into a lower gear and take my time. I haven’t been doing that. Second, it has been windy for several weeks. As David Cortner pointed out to me, a side wind [i.e., a crosswind] slows you down by seventy percent. Pretheoretically, it seems to me that if there is a constant wind, both directionally and in terms of velocity, things will even out, and the effect will be of no wind at all. But this isn’t so, says David. One does better when there is no wind than when there is a constant wind. In any event, I’m happy with fifteen miles per hour. There will be days this summer when I feel strong and when there is no wind. The record will fall.
Today it was partly cloudy and warm. The high temperature was seventy-three degrees [Fahrenheit]. On the way back from the cave [Colossal Cave], a lone rider appeared on the horizon behind me. When he got within a hundred yards of me, I put my head down and began pedalling [sic; should be “pedaling”] harder. I was determined to stay in front of him, or at least to make him work for the kill. We sprinted like this for four or five miles, over the hills near the cave and then into the valley. I reached speeds of twenty-five to thirty miles per hour consistently. Finally, though, he passed me. I had gotten onto a flat stretch of road and settled into a speed of twenty miles per hour. As is the bikers’ custom, we glanced at each other as he passed, as if to congratulate each other for the sprint. This guy was obviously a top-notch rider, and he had a nice bike. I enjoyed the challenge.
How many of you think that science is in for a backlash? Many scientists have obliterated the line between fact and value. Instead of giving us the facts (about climate change, for example) and letting us decide what to do about them, they tell us what we should do. Many scientists aren’t content to understand and describe the world; they want to shape it. Almost invariably, they want to shape it in accordance with progressive values. When nonscientists resist these encroachments by science into the realm of value, they’re accused of being “stupid,” “ignorant,” and “anti-science.” Nonscientists have only so much patience for bullies. I believe there will be a backlash against science, and it will be richly deserved. Hard-working taxpayers will tell scientists, in effect, to fund their own research.
To the Editor:
You write (“The Lesson of North Korea,” editorial, Feb. 14), “We hope that Mr. Bush learns the most basic lesson of this week’s deal: sometimes you really do have to talk to your enemies, even if you have to grit your teeth.”
Speaking of gritting one’s teeth, I could figuratively hear your editorial teeth grind as you said something almost nice about the president. You seem frightened that he might yet “salvage” his presidency.
How glad I am to be a political independent and to be pleased when a president, whoever he may be, succeeds. That means the country succeeds.
You seem almost angry. Such is the price of making partisanship the first priority.
Ronald M. Holdaway
Draper, Utah, Feb. 14, 2007
The writer is a retired United States Army brigadier general.
Note from KBJ: Keith’s Law: Authoritativeness is inversely proportional to partisanship.