After the interview with Dawkins on BBC Radio 4 covered in the last post, the argument about evidence and political decision-making took further bizarre turns. The next day John Humphreys interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was asked to comment on Dawkins’ views. Latterly, two researchers were asked to comment further on the discussion. One worked at a religious research institute and the other for an organisation promoting the dissemination of science. As listeners to the BBC we were led inexorably to think that the only alternative to a scientific perspective on Brexit and evidence, and this a reductive view of science, was to take a faith position. We believe in God or we believe in science. Both are metaphysical positions in the sense that you have to declare your faith in one or the other before engaging with a way forward. Continue reading
Scientific knowledge, wrote Norbert Elias, is powerful because of its relative autonomy from the groups who produce it:
Scientific modes of thinking cannot be developed and become generally accepted unless people renounce their primary, unreflecting and spontaneous attempt to understand all their experience in terms of its purpose and meaning for themselves.
The recent spats over the e-mails from leaked or stolen from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia give an insight into what Elias might have meant by relative autonomy. The dispute over climate change is intensely political and ideological from both sides and helps us realise that science can never be entirely separate from the political and social processes of which we are part, and which we form, nor can it be separate from our sense of identity. It is clear from the furore surrounding the debate that very strong feelings have been provoked which appeal to these themes of identity, truth and values. Continue reading