Quote of the Day

“It is not unscientific to make a guess, although many people who are not in science think it is. Some years ago I had a conversation with a layman about flying saucers — because I am scientific I know all about flying saucers! I said ‘I don’t think there are flying saucers.’ So my antagonist said, ‘Is it impossible that there are flying saucers? Can you prove that it’s impossible?’ ‘No.” I said, ‘I can’t prove it’s impossible. It’s just very unlikely.’ At that he said, ‘You are very unscientific. If you can’t prove it impossible then how can you say that it’s unlikely?’ But that is the way that is scientific. It is scientific only to say what is more likely and what less likely, and not to be proving all the time the possible and impossible. To define what I mean, I might have said to him, ‘Listen, I mean that from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.’ It is just more likely. That is all. “–Richard Feynman, Physicist

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11 thoughts on “Quote of the Day

  1. Consider the literal meaning of the words atheist: a belief that there is no God, and agnostic: don’t know (literally) whether there is a God.

    Question: Should scientists be atheists (allow for the occasional exception), or agnostics?

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    1. I suppose it depends on what you mean by God. If you mean a cranky old man who gets easily pissed off by masturbation and can be persuaded by fervent prayer to cure ailments, I would say scientists should be atheists.

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      1. Great article. I remember you sent it to mo before but it’s good to jog the memory once in a while. He makes a good point about the new atheists who got so wound up about their stand but who really have no audience. Thanks

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  2. It’s true, that one’s precise concept of God has to play into this, but in the conventional sense, the concept of God is of a supernatural power (truly “awesome power”!) who does listen to prayer, and hence the justification to attend worship services. But let’s leave aside in this discussion the diversity of reasons to attend worship services. One can be an atheist, but attend services for a variety of non-religious reasons. For example, I attended Choral Evensong regularly at Bath Abbey when I lived there for a year, because the music was beautiful, the architecture awe-inspiring, the ritual charming, and it was no more than one-third the length of the typical Jewish Shabbat service!

    No, I think that scientists should call themselves “agnostic” for a more philosophical reason, and not because calling oneself an agnostic is a wishy-washy form of atheism. Science cannot deal with supernatural phenomena; supernaturalism is outside the paradigm of science. Scientists can say that there is no need to invoke a supernatural God to explain the universe. And until a supernatural God chooses to reveal himself/herself/itself unambiguously, the scientist must remain agnostic, because in the strict philosophical sense, the scientist “does not know”. (I once tried to convince some of my colleagues about this, but to no avail!).

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    1. “As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”
      ― Bertrand Russell

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  3. I should make a pedantic point here …. A scientist has every right to say “I’m an atheist”. But a scientist shouldn’t base that lack of belief on science. This is probably similar to Bertrand Russell’s point??

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  4. In either case, I can be an atheist; I just can’t base that decision on science. Science has nothing to say about supernatural phenomena, be they “God” or “Zeus-god”….

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