If Science Acted Like Religion… May 5, 2010

If Science Acted Like Religion…

I love this short little excerpt that’s been making the rounds from a talk Richard Dawkins gave at Berkeley.

In it, he talks about how easily we would dismiss science if it shared certain similarities to religion:

It’s amazing how easily I would’ve dismissed this for no good reason back when I was religious…

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  • czechatheist

    The map is wrong. The Czech republic is 65%-75% atheist. Putting CR into catholic part of world seems like czech catholic church propaganda. The bishops are all the time trying to explain in the newspaper that the atheists are not real atheist, but closet catholics. However the the Czechs still don’t seem to come out of the atheist closet, as the church would love to see.

  • dhoffman5

    It is a rather large oversight on Dawkins’ part that this kind of geographical distribution of faith makes perfect sense from a Christian perspective. And that’s one of the more basic reasons diatribes like this are incredibly ho-hum.

  • Bob


    As a lapsed Catholic, I’ve been wondering more whether I’m a closet pagan or atheist. 😀

  • “But all these different religions are worshiping the same God — just in different ways! (Even though those different ways, and the beliefs they hold about what God is like and what he wants, are wildly divergent and often completely contradictory.) It’s like the story of the blind men and the elephant — God is too vast and complex to be fully understood by any one person, we all just see different parts of him. (Unlike, say, the physical universe, which is ridiculously simple and makes perfect intuitive sense and is therefore easy for us to understand.) It’s a beautiful rainbow tapestry of faith.”

    Pleah. I feel so dirty now.

  • Aaron

    @dhoffman5 Right. The christians just use it as proof that their sect is the chosen one, and that they are besieged by apostates.

  • dhoffman5

    Greta, what you wrote is in quotes. Are you actually quoting anyone?

    Aaron, give me one citation of any Christian who has said that. Dawkins presented this as though the geographical distribution of religious faith ought to be some kind of surprise or embarrassment and is some kind of argument for his position. It’s nothing of the sort.

  • Bob

    @Greta Christina:

    The kind of faith that is threatened by the mere existence of non-believers has no room for anything but the one, true, path. The example of the blind men and the elephant will either be met with:

    – How dare you say Christians are blind! God has revealed Himself to us, and that knowledge is not flawed or partial!


    – Well, see, if you believe in the elephant, you believe in God!

  • dhoffman5

    Bob, to add to what I said above,

    Do you have documentation for either of these responses?

  • Bob


    If you’ll note, there are no direct quotes.

    I have, however, been met with ‘How dare you quote Scripture to ME!’ (therefore implying that the speaker’s knowledge of God is superior).

    And the ‘Well, see …’ response is because what passes for critical thinking in this country consists of this kind of ‘debate’.

  • Eris

    That was mildly amusing, but I myself have never gotten the impression that the geographic distribution of religion is taken for granted by the religious. In fact, I seem to recall a history of wars, missionaries, and evangelists trying to change the map so that the whole world is insert-color-of-your-choice-here. My impression is that the religious all too frequently feel outraged and threatened by the geographic distribution. Maybe Dawkins’ comments would make more sense in the context of the entire lecture.

  • dhoffman5

    Bob, ok. I was just asking because I sometimes see atheists congratulating themselves on caricatured responses to their arguments that no one actually uses.

    Personally, I don’t buy the elephant analogy in the first place. I mean, on the one hand it might be useful (in several different fields, not just religion) to point out that different people apprehending different aspects of the truth doesn’t mean there isn’t an actual truth (the elephant) to be had, and these aspects need not be mutually exclusive. But Greta rightly pointed out that many religious claims ARE mutually exclusive. A and B might both be true, but A and not-A cannot both be true, and a limited perspective (which we all have) has nothing to do with it.

    Anyway, Dawkins’ point seems to be that geographical distribution of faith argues that religious faith is simply a function of environment and can therefore be dismissed. My point was that from a biblical perspective, religious faith can (and usually is) influenced very much by environment. His argument is therefore basically irrelevant. A Christian could basically say “duh”.

  • fiddler

    Having already watched this clip, dhoffman5 is the funny part of this discussion. This is normally where those that deride others say “Now I am/were an atheist but this kind of thing just doesn’t help…”

    Just for your info hoff, the elephant argument is what theists fall into after free thinkers have destroyed all possible arguments for their particular godling but they aren’t willing to give up the god concept as a whole in the argument. Even preachers use it.

  • I haven’t heard the elephant analogy, but I have hear the mountain analogy used by theist, which is very similar.

  • Luther

    I think the title is wrong. It could be:

    “If religion worked, like science.”

    We all know that religion does not work. Then again we don’t have thousands showing up every Sunday to watch scientists lecture and paying them for the privilege.

  • ethin

    “Then again we don’t have thousands showing up every Sunday to watch scientists lecture and paying them for the privilege.”

    We don’t? 😀

  • But there are a lot of scientific issues that _are_ geographically distributed in that way.

    There are trends of economics that break down nationally, schools of thought in anthropology and physics that cluster around particular universities or research labs.

    It would be fascinating to see a real geographic breakdown of the issue Dawkins described. If you made a map of poll results by scientists about what killed off the dinosaurs, would it be evenly distributed or would it be geographically clustered? It’d be cool to find out!

  • pazuzu

    The funny part lies in our ready acceptance of the “truth” having a geographic bias. I cannot see why this is “duh”. Unless you argue that it is _not_ the “truth” (duh) in which case you have no humor. And no religion.

  • Yes its funny.
    This shows that what we call science that is not science?
    is it proved
    1.that dinosaur were killed by asteroid? NO
    2.that dinosaur were killed by ……..? NO
    3………………………………… NO
    that is science which is 100% means hundred percent proved.
    so we would like this person mr xyz will show example which is 100% truth and proven.
    good luck

  • marson

    This discussion has derailed.

    Religion is distributed geographically. We take this for granted because we know that religion spreads primarily through indoctrination. To borrow a phrase from dhoffman5, “Duh!”

    Which is exactly Dawkins’ point. Scientists form opinions based upon evidence, not the beliefs of their parents or the people around them.

  • Jenna


    What are you trying to say? Science rarely says that anything is 100% proved–whatever that means–hence the propensity to call ideas theories. Absolute certainty is the realm of the religious. The faithful are all ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that their version of deity is right and everyone else is a damn sinner.

    Science isn’t nearly so arrogant.

  • ned best

    “It is a rather large oversight on Dawkins’ part that this kind of geographical distribution of faith makes perfect sense from a Christian perspective.”

    I don’t think Dawkins has really overlooked the fact that Christians think that what is irrational makes perfect sense. I guess you never thought it odd that a mongolian who had never even heard of Jesus would be condemned to the fires of hell for all eternity because they believe the wrong thing. No doubt that is just as it should be.

  • christo

    i think there are geographical locations within science, or at least academia, with things like the austrian school of economics, where often those lectured by profesors who beleive in the austrian school, go on themselves to beleive it, however there are crucial diferences, firstly, they are not putting “faith” in that system, more that they are putting more focus on a certain model, and also these regions often occur due to movement of people specifically, ie people wanting to do research based on a particular model will go to the area that is most focused on it, perpetuating the cluster

  • Izkata

    Religion is spread geographically not just because of indoctrination.

    Overlooked is the fact that minds seek like minds. It’s how we ended up with places like Chinatown and Little Italy…

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