Stupid Atheists! #3.1 Change is Bad. Except when it’s good.

November 4, 2007

In the last episode of Stupid Atheists! (or A Completely Impartial and Objective Look at the Bogus Things Stupid People Say About Atheism) I addressed church/state separation and stated that I though politicians had a responsibility to make decisions based on established science, logic and reason. I justified this by saying that any such decisions could then be logically supported (or refuted) and would be open to change or modification if new evidence was presented.

On reflection, I think that this statement might benefit from further clarification.

Politicians are constantly castigated for “flip flopping” on issues, and it is sometimes asserted that science is weak because it “keeps changing its mind”. Others argue politicians should be open to change, and that mutability is science’s greatest strength.

So what is the difference between a good change of position and a bad one?

In a rational and reasoned decision making process, consensus is achieved through a process of accumulation of (often disparate lines of) evidence that indicate a conclusion*, like clues pointing to the perpetrator of a crime. Thus, if new evidence is later introduced, the conclusion reached will either be supported by that evidence, or it will subject to change accordingly. This is the ideal of the scientific method, and an absolute necessity of critical thought and intellectual integrity.

Alternatively a particular position may be supported because of a direct benefit of that support, such as in the case of popularism, nepotism or political expedience. This is blatantly dishonest and weak reasoning, where new evidence will have no bearing on the conclusion, and any endorsement is in no way indicative of the actual merits of the position.

There is indeed great scope for disparity of integrity in the decision making process. It is important to understand however, that the difference lies entirely in the reason for the change, and not in the person who is changing it.

* This process is indicative of the scientific method. Compare this with the methodology of many forms of anti-science where a conclusion is first taken to be true, and then corroborating evidence is accumulated (and dissenting evidence is ignored). This disparity between the scientific and anti-scientific methods is nowhere so evident as in the comparison between evolutionary science and “intelligent design”.

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