Thursday, August 02, 2007

 
Science Without Physical Evidence, Dawkins Brings Us Back To The Middle Ages.

"Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question." Richard Dawkins, quoted by H. Allen Orr in the New York Review of Books, Jan.11, 2007.

T
he first thing to notice about this odd passage is “Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide....”. Why “whether”? Its an absolute fact that there is no physical evidence available. None. No medical records, not even skeletal fragments. No physical remains of the woman or son or possible father in question are available nor is their possibly surviving lineage known. It's unlikely in the extreme that those will ever be identified. Why try to obscure the fact that there is none of the evidence necessary to examine the question with science when it is indisputable that there isn’t? So, Dawkins proposes examining the question scientifically without any physical evidence. He proposes determining the paternity of a child without anything to go on, whatsoever.*

Perhaps somewhat more understandable, since it’s Dawkins, he says that you can deal with the assertion of something that is claimed to have happened miraculously, outside the usual order of things and exactly once in the entire history of the world in the remote past, with science. With the claims made by those who believe in the Virgin Birth, even argument by analogy can’t address it. When an event is claimed to be unique, there is no possibility of making a comparison with another or even every other event proposed to be similar. Any scientific comparison with any other event would be irrelevant to the claims of a miracle unless you had physical evidence of it**

The total lack of evidence and the claim of uniqueness renders it clearly and most certainly NOT a question science can deal with. And this from the Oxford University Professor of The Public Understanding of Science. Certainly among the first things to understand about science are when there isn’t enough evidence to practice it and when there is. That is something that hasn’t stopped Dawkins in the past, however.

Much as it must frustrate those who would like to deal with some religious questions with science, much cannot be. They might not like that fact but that is just too bad. When the physical evidence necessary to study those is lost to history or non-existent, that is simply impossible. Pretending that you can proceed without the evidence it is dishonest and, beyond doubt, unscientific. You can believe or not believe the claims but using the prestige of the name science to back up your assertions can be done honestly only under specific conditions. It also carries a serious responsibility.

No one has to believe in the Virgin Birth, this short piece isn’t about that. This is about how one of the most famous and arrogant personalities of science can get away with saying something so stunningly absurd. With his status in contemporary culture, it’s just amazing that a person holding a position like Dawkins’ conveniently ignores something so basic to science.

If biologists are content with having Dawkins being the face of their science, they are exchanging short term glamor for long term problems. It is growing clearer that in the political climate in democracies that science can’t support the dead weight of extraneous ideologies unnecessary for it. I will make a prediction that you can check out later, if Dawkins truly becomes the face of evolution it will continue to face fierce opposition by many of those he insults gratuitously. Its research funding will not be secure. In the face of his arrogant condescension, a large percentage of the public will not understand the science or want to.


* While it might be fun to point out, going into the need to give God a paternity test only heightens the apparent absurdity of Dawkins claim that this is “a strictly scientific question. Science not only can't deal with these kinds of things, it makes a mockery of science to try it.

**. Your only hope to determine the accuracy of a claim of a miracle is to look at whatever evidence of the specific event is available and see if the claimed result happened. Modern claims of, for example, miraculous cures of physical diseases, could, very possibly, be investigated by science but only by examination of the physical evidence. Without that, science can’t be used to investigate the claim.

Comments:
"Why “whether”?"

Because the question "Is this a scientific question or not a scientific question" is not answered by "having enough surviving evidence to decide it." Having enough surviving evidence would make it easier to arrive at a more decisive answer. But, we don't. Bummer.

That doesn't mean the question isn't scientific, though.

"He proposes determining the paternity of a child without anything to go on, whatsoever."

Nothing to go on? Whatsoever? So, we have no information on the nature of reproduction, for example? Of course we do. We absolutely have information to go on. More would be nice, but we have enough to make some general observations - scientific observations.

Oh, and you're being dishonest by putting words in his mouth. I don't see anything about "determining the paternity of a child" in his words. You don't need to "determine the paternity" of Jesus to simply address and discuss the issue of "virgin birth."

"This is about how one of the most famous and arrogant personalities of science can get away with saying something so stunningly absurd."

No, it's about how you making stunningly absurd and stunningly false criticisms. If you had valid points to make, you could stick with the actual words and arguments instead of making stuff up.

But then what would you have to post about?
 
anonymous, if it was not claimed that the Virgin Birth happend once, outside the normal order of things and was unique in the entire history of the world then a comparison with other births would be valid. The fact is that if the claim of uniqueness is made and that it happened outside the normal of order coupled with the entire lack of physical evidence means that science definitively cannot answer such an assertion.

I didn't make anything up, if you go look at the claims of the Virgin Birth then you will see the characteristics I listed are exactly those made. If you aren't familiar with those that doesn't change the fact. Nor does it change the fact that Dawkins' assertion displayed a complete lack of understanding of the fact that you have to have physical evidence available to practice science.

Don't worry, I don't have trouble coming up with things to write, just time and the strength to do it.
 
There have been multiple claims of virgin births in mythology. http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com/jesus_similar.html
 
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txatheist, I'm aware of that and those as well as the one made for Augustus which is why I don't happen to believe in The Virgin Birth. However, Dawkins was addressing only the birth of Jesus when he made his absurd statement. The post is about something like that being said by an Oxford Professor "For the Public Understanding Of Science". On the basis of Dawkins' "memes" alone, total fabrication out of no evidence whatsoever, ever changing in definition (and other than likes of the near scientist Susan Blackmore and the rather ditzy philosopher and Dawkins parrot, Daniel Dennett ignored by scientists), it doesn't surprise me that he's got a rather flexible and self-serving view of what science is and can do.

Atheists either have to actually follow the rules of science and logic or they have to stop pretending they do while religious believers don't. Dawkins doesn't seem to have any intention of doing so, despite his reputation and profession.
 
So Dawkins statement that there is no evidence is not science? We have an idea, there is no basis for it, never been known to happen and completely disagrees with all births that we know of and yet it is said to be outside science's realm of claiming it's unsubstantiated? Just say there is no basis for this story to be true and until it is shown to be true people are being misled without any evidence as I see it.
 
The question of the "virgin birth" (I know it's a dead issue here, but it's a slow morning in September now) is, within Christianity, a confessional one.

"Proof" of the "virgin birth"? What would that be? An unperforated hymen? I'm not sure that would be evident after the birth (I'm no gynecologist). But what other proof of "virginity" do we have? Seems to me the purely scientific question turns on the availability of proof, and absent that, the purely scientific conclusion is an agnostic one. I.e., it's never happened before, but there's a first time for everything; maybe.

As to the issue of the "virgin" birth itself, this claim arises from only two of 4 gospels, and in both cases the Greek word means (IIRC, I don't have a Nestle-Aland at hand) "Young woman," which ain't necessarily the same thing we mean by "virgin." So many modern NT scholars don't even assert the "virgin birth," anymore than they think there was a "star of Bethlehem" (I'm always amused by attempts to "scientifically establish" an explanation for that one, usually by planetariums trying to drum up Xmas business). Again, the question is a confessional one: is the "virgin birth" central to your confession of faith? If not, then what Dawkins has to say about it, is completely irrelevant.

The problem is, Dawkins doesn't understand that. But then, there's a lot Dawkins doesn't understand.
 
Dawkins is not saying that the question can be answered only that is a question that can investigated scientifically. If there is no evidence then the conclusion has to be that we do not know the answer. In this case, as no other person has been found to be born without a human father and with a virgin mother the probability of it being correct is very low.
 
In this case, as no other person has been found to be born without a human father and with a virgin mother the probability of it being correct is very low.

Which would be the agnostic position. We're back, of course, to how one would "scientifically" establish a virgin birth. I don't know of a physical examination which would be possible (there is a physical definition of "virgin," at least for women), but without one, the claim can never be established nor denied, except in terms of experience.

So the agnostic position is sound; but I've never known Dawkins to take an agnostic position on an issue related to Christianity.
 
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x6FGQa Nice Article.
 
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Wonderful blog.
 
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Very much a dead thread, but since I can't get back to sleep, hey . . .

"since it’s Dawkins, he says that you can deal with the assertion of something that is claimed to have happened miraculously, outside the usual order of things and exactly once in the entire history of the world in the remote past, with science. "

Of course - and whatever the wisdom of Dawkins' comment - one could apply this, more or less, to things like a literal reading of Genesis: how can you use science to deal with things like the origin of the 'universe', solar system, land and oceans, biodiversity, and human beings?! Or even, for example, the origins of language diversity.

Or the Flood, or the plagues of Egypt, or the parting of the Red Sea. Or the sun standing still for Joshua. Hey, maybe the earth stopped spinning, eh?

- Dan S.
 
Dan S. I hope I'm not keeping you up nights with a very old post.

Actually, if there is some physical evidence that can be studied scientifically which is the case in just about all of the more famous Genesis disputes, you can study those with science.

You make the same mistake as the fundamentalists, that they were intended as literal history and science when there is no evidence that those were intended.
 
There have been multiple claims of virgin births in mythology. http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com/jesus_similar.html
gclub

 
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