Religion, Evidence and Scientific Change

There are no mere facts.

At least that’s what New York Times opinion blogger, Stanley Fish, is arguing.

Fish got a lot of feedback after his recent post denying that science has any epistemic advantage over religion (or any other tradition of inquiry, for that matter) with respect to access to objective, unmediated evidence. 287 comments as of last count, to be exact.

So he wrote a follow up post.

This time, he takes up the problem of radical shifts in accepted scientific theory over time. Of course, advocates of scientific objectivity will say that such change “just shows that science is progressive and can correct its mistakes…because more precise and powerful techniques have given it a better purchase on the world.” Meanwhile, “religion lacks a mechanism for detecting and purging error.”

Fish rejects what he calls “this Baconian model of scientific progress” because, to quote Thomas Kelly’s article, “Evidence” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “at any given time, which theories are accepted … typically plays a crucial role in guiding the subsequent search for evidence which bears on these theories.”

Fish comments, “the very act of looking around is always and already performed within a set of fully elaborate assumptions complete with categories, definitions and rules that tell you in advance what kinds of things might be ‘discovered’ and what relationships of cause and effect, contiguity, sameness and difference, etc.”

You can read the rest here.


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