Fish is a moron

June 22, 2007

Stanley Fish wrote two posts defending religion from the recent spate of atheist books. As an atheist, of course, I will inevitably disagree. That’s not the point. The point is that his arguments are so obviously weak I’m surprised he believes it.

The first argument is that religions, particularly Christianity, have dealt with doubt and contradiction for a long time; therefore, atheists really haven’t said anything new. In a way I agree, because I’ve long thought this line of attack was useless. If you point out the contradictions in a religion, adherents will wiggle their way out because their gods are omnipotent. Therefore, it’s trivial to maintain an internal consistency within a religion. Atheists merely have to point out that there is no proof for the existence of god. That would make for a very short book, but that’s all that needs to be said.

His second argument responds to that ultimate atheist argument. Belief in god is not based on facts, but on faith. And, he argues, scientists also believe in certain things based on faith. It’s actually a clever position that reduces science to another faith-based community; however, it is terribly flawed. Scientists are constructing a crude model of the physical world. If a model accurately predicts the behaviors we can measure, then it’s good enough for now. If we discover new behaviors that the model can’t predict, then the model fails. If a scientist claims that “we will find the answer to X”, that’s just a confident belief in a hypothesis. If the evidence undermines the hypothesis, scientists will race to test the next hypothesis. The big difference between science and religion is that it is absolutely possible to disprove scientific theories; in fact, physicists now assume their field will be revolutionized every ~100 yrs. But there is no possible evidence that could ever undermine religious faith in a deity. Science is groping towards a better understanding of the natural (measurable) world; religion simply asserts that God exists and possesses certain qualities. That’s a big, big difference.


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