Thursday, September 13, 2007


There was a letter in today's Irish Times that began with the following:

'Madam, - Paul Grealish (September 8th) misunderstands and misrepresents my argument that faith and science are compatible (Rite and Reason, August 28th) coming to the dogmatic conclusion that such a view is "wholly falsifiable". I did not say Richard Dawkins's belief in natural selection was a "faith". I did say that "scientism" - the idea that science can explain everything - is.' [my underline]

The underlined bit annoyed me, so I fired off a wee letter of my own over lunch...

Dear Madam,

In his letter of September 12th, Patrick Mitchel states that he ‘did not say Richard Dawkins's belief in natural selection was a "faith". I did say that "scientism" - the idea that science can explain everything – is’ in his Rite and Reason column of August 28th.

It is important that this statement is addressed as ‘scientism’ is a pejorative term, used here to make the subsequent fallacious argument that scientists believe ‘science can explain everything’. No scientist worth his salt would make such a claim (or, indeed, claim that science is ‘always right’ – another fallacious argument). ‘Scientism’ implies a belief system that one has ‘faith’ in. However scientists do not have ‘faith’ in the scientific method – they ‘trust’ the scientific method. They trust that the scientific method, which uses evidence, experimentation and analysis to draw logical and rational conclusions, is the most reliable method we have for trying to figure out how the universe works. The fallacy is to claim that ‘faith’ based on no evidence at all is as valid as a ‘trust’, which has been built based on evidence.

Furthermore, as it is obviously true that science can’t ‘explain everything’, the proponent of the fallacious argument then draws the corollary that any idea he likes the sound of, that cannot be proven false, is worthy of consideration. To those who trust the scientific method something is only worthy of consideration if there is a reason to suppose it is true i.e. some evidence exists. If one does not restrict oneself to things that are backed by some evidence or at least some logical reasoning, one can believe in absolutely anything. This is just an appeal to other ways of knowing. If the believer claims that there is an alternative method to science, it is up to him or her to explain their method, and provide testable evidence that it works, to justify that claim. If they cannot do this their appeal to other ways of knowing is vacuous and fallacious. The burden of proof should always rest on the person making the claim.

Strangely enough I do, sort of, believe in God despite my dislike of irrational claims.
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