Posted: Jun 17, 2010 7:39 am
by Will S
Sophie T wrote:The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief
by James Spiegel
Chapter 4 (The Obstinacy of Atheism)

Although Muller was using a figure of speech, there is a sense in which people with such contrasting worldviews do dwell in different worlds. Their radically different perspectives make it seem so anyway. Perfect objectivity is impossible, at least for mere mortals. Yet some persist in claiming that science gives us an objective, unfiltered view of the world. Apparently these benighted folks have never read Thomas Kuhn, whose now classic book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions should have put to rest once and for all the naive notion that scientists are somehow immune to the influence of their own beliefs and values as they do their research and their theory formulation. But then again, most of us are fed an idealistic image of science and scientists, from the earliest years of grade school, which can be very difficult to shake. We are conditioned to think of scientists (the best of them anyway) as unbiased, dispassionate, purely logical, Spocklike automatons who simply report the facts and devise general theories, without any ulterior motives or besetting influences to interfere with their work. None of us explicitly affirm such a starry-eyed view, but the impression that scientists are somehow more objective, more dispassionate, and more rational than the general population or even other scholars is still very strong in the West.

Spiegel then rattles on talking about scientific paradigms and how these are created or "dreamed up" by human beings and how different paradigms have their own "unique standards" for what counts as scientific proof. He uses the "duck-rabbit" illustration where someone looks at a black and white drawing and one person sees a rabbit while the other person sees a duck. He points out that it's possible to see both but not to see both at the same time. Spiegel then goes on to talk at length about the ideas of Thomas Kuhn who basically says that different scientific paradigms influence our perception. Thus, it is impossible to objectively observe and/or interpret our environments. He writes that scientists bring "biases, desires, and passionate committments" to their work and he claims that these things influence the scientist to such a degree that purely rational, logical, and objective scientific work is not possible and all that remains are our subjective desires. Anyway, this is probably a poorly worded summary of what Spiegel writes about in his book, but his claims in this chapter seem to be very much connected to what you are writing about, and I thought that telling you about them may be helpful! I, personally, find his claims to be laughable in that they basically undermine all of science, but I think it's interesting to see that a theist is actually proposing such things in a book published by Moody Publishers.

I don't think anybody denies that scientists are influenced by the prevailing intellectual climate when constructing their theories; a famous example would be Malthus's influence on Darwin. I'm sure that these social factors have a big influence on what is discovered, and in what order. However, the scientist's theory is always subject to the acid test of observation and experiment, and to say that 'all that remains are our subjective desires' seems to be a wild exaggeration. Somebody pointed out (it may have been Dawkins) that if these relativists are right, then if the passengers in a plane stop believing in the laws of aerodynamics, then the plane will presumably fall out of the sky! :(

Anyway, if the argument applies to science, then, presumably, it applies with equal or greater force to any kind of rational investigation, and we're all condemned to deep and permanent agnosticism about everything. If the argument wrecks science, then it also wrecks history, theology, biblical studies ... :(