Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Something to add.

I came across this a while ago. I've not found time to write about it but I think it deserves it. It's an interesting argument, one which I think has some validity. I've got something I'd like to add to it though.
I don't dabble much in the atheism/religion debates that flit back and forth across the internet. Most of the things that I would say are said better and more often by others. In case you're wondering, I generally fall pretty firmly into the camp of Blackford, Watson, McCreight, Myers, Coyne, Cristina, Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and occasionally Dennet camps. Every so often, they'll write something I disagree with, but for the most part, I think they're reasonable sensible. i.e. religion is a)nonsense and b)not worth the damage it causes. Theology, the misnamed intellectual defense of religion is empty.
We use science to come closer to understanding how our world works. The article is quite right in that R.A Fisher and various other statisticians over the years have laid down a framework for looking at data and constructing experiments that work. This is the key point - it works. There are philosophers that claim there is no need to conduct randomized double blinded trials. That data gathered by observational studies can be equally as valid as properly constructed experiments. Speaking from experience, I can tell you this is just plain wrong. The statisticians have done a lot to enable scientists better understand the world. Philosophers, not so much. So it's understandable that a lot of scientists ignore philosophy.
I don't think they should though. If you only want to do science, then no, you don't need to pay attention to philosophy. If you want to participate in the rest of the world and apply scientific principles to our societies, then a familiarity with philosophy is incredibly useful. The trouble being that large large chunks of philosophy is filled with complete bollocks, which is understandable, it doesn't have the same self control mechanisms that science has. For example, ethical analysis - useful, most of the work on Artificial Intelligence - bollocks. Start comparing what philosophy says about the world with how you can see the world works, and you can start picking out what is useful and what isn't.
So where does this come back to the atheist/religion debate? Theology. I've read read a fair whack of philosophy. some of it useful, some of it not, some of it just completely pointless. Theology, I read some, not as much as the philosophy, but enough. It's all pointless, empty. Science can ignore philosophy simply because it works. Philosophy can't ignore science, when it does it ends up being useless. Both fields can ignore theology, it's neither right nor useful.

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