The Cult of CoincidenceJul 11th, 2011 | By Adam
I had the pleasure this week of fulfilling my (first ever) civic obligation of jury duty and was one of the first people interviewed to sit on a case involving an auto accident. The pleasant, lightly bearded judge asked each of us 16 questions, each aimed at determining if we could adjudicate the case without bias. It was, I realized toward the end, with good reason.
Most people readily believe that they themselves are essentially fully independent thinkers, and that closed-mindedness, intellectual inflexibility and an irrational commitment to pre-conceived thinking dwells only in the feeble minds of others. Think about it: When was the last time in the course of discussion that someone admitted to you something like, “You’re right, I have just blindly swallowed all of the positions and cultural mores of my milieu” or, “Yes, I agree that no amount of oppositional information will ever dissuade me from the beliefs I hold?” No one is immune from this state of affairs, and it requires courage and perpetual vigilance to even venture outside of the intellectual echo chamber that most of us inhabit.
There are those who believe that the scientific community is uniquely positioned to avoid these pitfalls. They suggest that the system of peer review is inherently self-critical, and as such is structurally quarantined from bias. Some scientists think otherwise and note that science, in as much as it is conducted by human beings, is subject to the same partiality as every other endeavor. As the (secular) scientific philosopher David Berlinski, author of “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions,” has suggested, the peer review process itself is often a rubber stamp of certain designated culturally acceptable positions. Berlinski writes that, “like the communist party under Lenin, science is [in its own eyes] infallible because its judgments are collective. Critics are unneeded, and since they are unneeded, they are not welcome.” The mere mention of non-doctrinal positions frequently elicits (unscientific) histrionics and name calling. Words like “creationist,” for example, are readily bandied about to silence dissent and are designed to assign idiocy to those people (even secular) who dare note that modern evolutionary and cosmological theories are fraught with gaps, inconsistencies and fragmentary evidence. Tellingly, this is done by people who have a predilection to embrace randomness and who tenaciously proclaim the coincidental nature of anything and everything in science or theology.
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