World-famous scientists — atheists — have admitted that even they must exercise “faith” of a sort:

Leading evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins: “Not everybody can evaluate all evidence; we can’t evaluate the evidence for quantum physics. So it does have to be a certain amount of taking things on trust. I have to take what physicists say on trust, for example, because I’m a biologist. But science [has] a system of appraisal, of peer review, so that I trust the physics community to get their act together in a way that I know from the inside. I wish people would put their trust in evidence, not in faith, revelation, tradition, or authority.” [Dawkins’s statement is found in one of the first few paragraphs on this webpage.] [By the way, Dawkins says he wants people to put their trust in evidence. But we can’t all evaluate that evidence! He also denounces trusting authority. But he says he trusts the physics community — whose evidence he is unable to evaluate for himself! How is this different, in principle, from trusting the testimony of an eyewitness to events recorded in, say, the New Testament?]

In a similar vein (but with a lot more cynicism!), noted Harvard geneticist and atheist Richard Lewontin: “Third, it is said that there is no place for an argument from authority in science. The community of science is constantly self-critical, as evidenced by the experience of university colloquia ‘in which the speaker has hardly gotten 30 seconds into the talk before there are devastating questions and comments from the audience.’ . . . It is certainly true that within each narrowly defined scientific field there is a constant challenge to new technical claims and to old wisdom. In what my wife calls the O.K. Corral Syndrome, young scientists on the make will challenge a graybeard, and this adversarial atmosphere for the most part serves the truth. But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution.” [The New York Review of Books 44(1):30f., Jan. 9, 1997]

Just before the above words, Lewontin had written (p. 30): “As to assertion without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them. Carl Sagan’s list of the ‘best contemporary science-popularizers’ includes E. O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market.” [Lewontin goes on to provide specific examples.]

Richard Peachey

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