Monday, 5 May 2008

Doubt & the Evidential Gap

The difference between the scientific and the religious world view, can be summarized in a single word: doubt. Science is an endless series of conjectures and refutations, based on empirical observation. Accordingly there is no certainty in science - there are only temporary, probabilistic statements. As the great theoretical physicist Richard Feynman said, "I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything".

If doubt is the defining feature of science, religion, on the other hand, has no doubts. It does not evaluate competing theories because it does not admit of any competing theories. Its central hypothesis - that God exists - is certain. A perfect example of this occurs in the "Dawkins Delusion" when Alister McGrath states that he "...writes as a Christian, who holds that the face, will and character of God are fully disclosed in Jesus of Nazareth" (p.46). Now it is precisely this kind of utterance Dawkins insists is delusional: he would want to know on what possible evidence McGrath could base such a claim? Yet McGrath makes no attempt to justify it, which suggests that he is more interested in affirming his prior religious convictions than engaging in a genuine debate about the rational basis for religious certainities.

The "evidential gap" which separates the religious and scientific worldview is what ultimately lies at the heart of the debate between atheists and believers.