Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

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Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#1  Postby Fan of Science » July 16th, 2017, 1:44 am

Here is a quote from Richard Dawkins that makes no sense to me: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." How could he know such a thing? He may have come to the conclusion that there is no evil, despite the existence of such notables as Hitler, Stalin and Mao, but how does he know evil does not exist? He may have concluded that there is no good, despite the numerous acts of kindness that people express daily, but how could he know for sure goodness does not exist? He claims there is no designer, but we can computer model a great deal, including evolution, so how does he know that no designer exists? And how could any observation anyone could make cause one to conclude that there is no purpose at all to the universe?

What so-called "precise properties" is he even referring to? Conservation of energy? What physical laws should we observe in order for the universe to have a purpose as opposed to what we presently observe?

Dawkins seems to be making a claim that science, or at least direct empirical observations, have left us with no other conclusion than those he describes. How so? I doubt see how he makes this amazing leap from observations of the universe to his conclusions.
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Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?



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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#2  Postby Greta » July 16th, 2017, 2:19 am

Yes, he has jumped to conclusions. If he was still a practising scientist I would say it's an error - jumping to one's favoured conclusion.

However, these days RD doesn't appear to be practising science any more with his current role as opinion maker and polemicist. The problem of living in a "post truth world" is well documented, and the degree of lying that is not only tolerated but defended in the public sphere is a long way from the situation a few decades ago.

Science is judged by different standards, where content matters more than presentation, and in that sense your criticism is justified. Still, it's worth considering his error of judgement in context with what's going on with today's public conversation. If judged by the standards of other polemicists - public theologians, politicians, columnists, journalists and public speaking VIPs - then RD's level of rigour is almost saint-like by comparison :)
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#3  Postby Burning ghost » July 16th, 2017, 2:34 am

As is often the case the context to this sentence would probably help. I very much doubt it is meant in the way you've presented it.

Dawkins has the habit of being rather cutting with his statements to drive home certain points.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#4  Postby Razblo » July 16th, 2017, 5:38 am

Fan of Science wrote:Here is a quote from Richard Dawkins that makes no sense to me: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." How could he know such a thing? He may have come to the conclusion that there is no evil, despite the existence of such notables as Hitler, Stalin and Mao, but how does he know evil does not exist? He may have concluded that there is no good, despite the numerous acts of kindness that people express daily, but how could he know for sure goodness does not exist? He claims there is no designer, but we can computer model a great deal, including evolution, so how does he know that no designer exists? And how could any observation anyone could make cause one to conclude that there is no purpose at all to the universe?

What so-called "precise properties" is he even referring to? Conservation of energy? What physical laws should we observe in order for the universe to have a purpose as opposed to what we presently observe?

Dawkins seems to be making a claim that science, or at least direct empirical observations, have left us with no other conclusion than those he describes. How so? I doubt see how he makes this amazing leap from observations of the universe to his conclusions.

I interpret his point this way: that nothing exists which creates anything, be it 'evil' or 'good', etc. What is 'presently observed' is all that there really is. To imagine your idea of "purpose" is merely to IMAGINE purpose. Things imagined (such as purpose), therefore, is also 'presently observed' (a momentary thought/idea arising in consciousness).
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#5  Postby Razblo » July 16th, 2017, 5:47 am

Greta wrote:Yes, he has jumped to conclusions. If he was still a practising scientist I would say it's an error - jumping to one's favoured conclusion.


He hasn't "jumped" to any "conclusions". He is merely not assuming something there is no evidence for. In this way he is being very much a scientist. He, like all of us, is limited to words, and therefore limited to words to describe non-conclusion, in fact. Once words are expressed there is appearance of conclusion but what really actually appears is the limited action of words. Words most often LOOK like conclusion merely for the fact they occur. Paradox is built into attempts to define not only what is provable but also what is not yet proven or unprovable.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#6  Postby -1- » July 16th, 2017, 7:14 am

Fan of Science, you mean Evil played a role in the formation of Gravity? Prove it.

Or there is a purpose in the white light's spectral composition?

Or there is goodness in water becoming a vapour at 100 degrees Celsius at one atmospheric pressure, when heat is applied to it?

Are you saying that these things formed because there was a good, evil, purpose in creation of the properties?

I am sorry, but I really have to bite my tongue.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#7  Postby Fan of Science » July 16th, 2017, 12:17 pm

Greta, I do agree that things have gotten worse over time, and with Trump being president, life is looking more and more Orwellian each day in the USA. Trump is the culmination of a long-standing tactic of the political right --- deny the truth, including science, if it is inconsistent with one's political or religious views. However, when Trump denies climate science, or attacks the use of vaccines, no one thinks of him as a scientific authority on such topics, whereas, Dawkins does use his standing as a scientist to give authority to his political voice. So, while Trump, and his ilk are certainly in a league far removed from Dawkins when it comes to lying publicly, Dawkins probably does more harm to the institutions of science when he makes such claims that go way beyond the actual science.

-- Updated July 16th, 2017, 12:20 pm to add the following --

1 -- Yet again you completely miss the point. Show us all where I stated that any observation of the universe shows there is purpose? I didn't. My point was that one can not make such conclusions, either way, based on such observations, and there is nothing in science that makes any of the claims Dawkins has made. The burden is on you and Dawkins to show how some observations of the universe, or physical laws, leads us to conclude the things he does. None of his claims logically follow from the findings of science or any other empirical observation. He, like you, go well beyond the science.

-- Updated July 16th, 2017, 12:23 pm to add the following --

Razbio -- Dawkins has definitely jumped to conclusions. Name a single science textbook used at any major western university that states the laws of physics have revealed the universe is meaningless. You won't be able to find any such textbook, because science has never endorsed such a claim. Dawkins has added his own personal views onto the science, and he has attempted to pass it off as real science. In fact, your very comment reveals the harm he has done in getting people like you to falsely believe that his personal opinions are actually objective, scientific ones. That's my concern with Dawkins.

-- Updated July 16th, 2017, 12:25 pm to add the following --

Burning Ghost --- The statement is what it is and there are numerous statements from Dawkins along these lines, so nothing was taken "out of context." I do find it amusing how people find it necessary to defend Dawkins when his statements are so at odds with actual science. I'll stick to real science and avoid the hero-worship of anyone, including Dawkins. He was also an animal evolutionary psychologist, which is not much of a science.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#8  Postby Burning ghost » July 16th, 2017, 3:14 pm

I find it amusing you assume I am "defending" him because I ask for the context. If you don't know the context in which the remark was uttered there is no shame in saying so. Context is important.

If you've heard his "numerous" statements like this then you'll probably be familiar with the kind of response he gives to the critique of your personal interpretation.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#9  Postby Fan of Science » July 16th, 2017, 6:02 pm

Burning Ghost: At least try to be intellectually honest. Falsely claiming that I don't know the "context" of Dawkins's statement, when you have no evidence for me not understanding the meaning of the statement is disingenuous. The statement means exactly what it states. This is not the type of statement that is so vague one needs some "context" to make sense of it. For those who think the statement may mean something different from what it expressly states, one can look up the video that Dawkins and Krauss made and see that Dawkins's position is not being misrepresented by me citing this actual quote of Dawkins'.

I'm not aware of Dawkins ever giving a rational justification for this nonsensical statement of his. Can you identify some experiment one can perform to rule out the universe having purpose or ruling out the converse, that the universe has no purpose? I'm not aware of any such experiment. Can you name some observation we can undertake to either show the universe has no purpose or that it does? I'm not aware of any such observation we can make.

Dawkins has simply made an irrational statement, and his fan-base loves it. That's most likely why he made the statement -- not because it is supported by either science or reason, but because it supports an ideological position.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#10  Postby Steve3007 » July 16th, 2017, 7:22 pm

I don't think I could defend the whole of Dawkins' statement very effectively. Taken as it is, I agree with some others here that it would be impossible to devise an experiment to test it and that it is not in any way scientific. But I suggest that a much more limited statement could perhaps be tested. Suppose we limit ourselves to talking about the living world on planet Earth and we throw out the subject of good/evil and just talk about purpose. Then I guess it would say something like:

"The living world looks as we would expect it to look if living things evolved and were not designed with a purpose."

What do we mean by "design" and "purpose"? We can only really answer that by looking at examples of things we know to have been designed by creatures with a purpose in mind. i.e. artifacts created by human beings. We can therefore compare the properties of living things with the properties of these artifacts, William Paley style, to see if there are fundamental differences.

Design and purpose show. If the designer of a complex structure has a particular end point in mind, it shows. Whatever conclusions we might come to about the similarities and differences between pocket watches and living things, I think it's a comparison that can legitimately be made. Dawkins and other proponents of Evolutionary Biology then conclude that there are various features of living things that constitute evidence of a lack of forward-thinking and therefore a lack of purpose and design. Creationists reach a different conclusion.

So if Dawkins had stuck to that narrower point, perhaps he would have got away with this kind of statement a bit more effectively?
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#11  Postby Fan of Science » July 16th, 2017, 7:30 pm

Steve: You make some good points. I'm still somewhat puzzled over what it is we could ever observe that would rule out a purpose to the universe, and/or, our lives, or would rule it in. I'm an atheist myself, but don't see how an absence of god would necessarily make my life or existence without purpose. I believe in evolution, but fail to see how that either gives me purpose or rules it out. I know I shall die some day, and most likely in the not too far off future as I'm middle-aged, but I don't see how this rules out me having a purpose or not.

Notice I am rejecting the religious claim that without God, there is no purpose. God could exist, and this would not give me purpose, at least not in my opinion. Or, God may not exist, and that does not make life without purpose. I see the issue of having a purpose or meaning completely independent of the existence of any alleged God or any empirical fact about the cosmos.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#12  Postby Steve3007 » July 16th, 2017, 7:44 pm

I don't think we could observe anything that would rule out the concept of "purpose" in that wider sense. I think we only get near to something that is scientifically testable is we're talking about "purpose" in the narrower sense of the purpose that a designer has in creating an artifact. And that is because "purpose" in that sense means forward planning. It means using one's pre-existing knowledge of the laws of physics governing the behaviour of physical objects to put those physical objects together so that, once fully assembled, they will behave in a pre-decided way. As is always discussed when talking about it, if the Theory of Evolution is true then it cannot do that because it cannot do this kind of forward planning. It cannot defer the functionality of the finished product. It must function now. And this shows. The recurrent laryngeal nerve and all that.

If we talk about purpose as in "does my life have a purpose?" then I think we're asking a different question.

-- Updated Mon Jul 17, 2017 12:55 am to add the following --

I'm an atheist myself, but don't see how an absence of god would necessarily make my life or existence without purpose.


I agree, because if it looks like a purpose, and it walks like a purpose and it quacks like a purpose, then it's a purpose. This why Dawkins' statement, when taken as it is and not cut down to a more sensible scope, is ridiculous because it denies the existence of things that we can all see perfectly well do exist. Clearly good, evil and human beings' sense of personal purpose do exist. That's why we have words for them. Any understanding that we might gain about our nature from studying Evolution won't change the existence of these things. It will just changing our understanding of them.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#13  Postby Fan of Science » July 16th, 2017, 8:05 pm

Steve: It seems that we are pretty much on the same page then.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#14  Postby Razblo » July 16th, 2017, 9:39 pm

Fan of Science wrote:

Razbio -- Dawkins has definitely jumped to conclusions. Name a single science textbook used at any major western university that states the laws of physics have revealed the universe is meaningless. You won't be able to find any such textbook, because science has never endorsed such a claim. Dawkins has added his own personal views onto the science, and he has attempted to pass it off as real science. In fact, your very comment reveals the harm he has done in getting people like you to falsely believe that his personal opinions are actually objective, scientific ones. That's my concern with Dawkins.


You show me science text books which the laws of physics speaks of meaning for the universe. Dawkins is merely attempting to avoid the anthropomorphic trap in order to BE scientific. You built a straw man with a false negative by implying laws of physics itself explains or describes meaning, when it does not, and then you criticize Dawkins for the scientific necessity of also avoiding any application of meaning. Meaning is as relative as cultures and individuals.
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Re: Richard Dawkins Abusing Science?

Post Number:#15  Postby Spectrum » July 16th, 2017, 9:47 pm

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

I don't think RD is making a scientific statement here.
I think RD is intelligent enough to understand whatever scientific statement he made, it must conform to the Scientific Framework and Method, which should be testable, verifiable and subject to peer review and consensus.

I believe the statement made by RD above is a philosophical view.
RD made the statement based on an assumption 'IF', i.e. if there is nothing else out there except indifference, then, WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get.

I don't see RD abusing Science at all.
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