Measured Against Reality

Saturday, November 03, 2007

On Antony Flew and Authority

This NYTimes article on Antony Flew got me thinking about how little fame matters to atheists (and also in science). We (meaning both scientists and atheists) don't care about authority at all, it simply doesn't matter. When a high-profile atheist "converted" to some kind of vague deism late in his life, we shrug and say, "So what?" If Richard Dawkins converted, I'd be shocked and saddened, but no less convinced that there is no god. The man simply doesn't matter; it's his argument we care about.

The same happens in science. Everyone knows that Einstein didn't think quantum mechanics was right, but once it became clear to everyone that it was, his opinion didn't matter. We care about evidence, and when a proposition is supported by evidence we'll take it seriously, when it isn't, we won't. At least, that's the ideal. Authority likely matters in the real world, but that's an inescapable artifact of our human nature.

It's quite unfortunate that people in general don't understand this. We listen to the man and not the ideas, and we pay for it. I suppose paying attention to the arguments themselves is too time-consuming, too difficult, too tedious in most cases, which is unfortunate, because every arena of our lives (from our homes to our jobs to our politics) could benefit from an infusion of rational discussion.

Like that's ever going to happen.

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