Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dawkins' Law

edge.org is a first rate website.

Here's a recent contribution on their site from Richard Dawkins. Give a comment and state your law.

Dawkins's Law of the Conservation of Difficulty

Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity.

Dawkins's Law of Divine Invulnerability

God cannot lose.

Lemma 1

When comprehension expands, gods contract—but then redefine themselves to restore the status quo.

Lemma 2

When things go right, God will be thanked. When things go wrong, he will be thanked that they are not worse.

Lemma 3

Belief in the afterlife can only be proved right, never wrong.

Lemma 4

The fury with which untenable beliefs are defended is inversely proportional to their defensibility

The following law, though probably older, is often attributed to me in various versions, and I am happy to formulate it here as

Dawkins's Law of Adversarial Debate

When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.


Jon said...

Lemma 1 has a problem in that the West and Far East are not dominated by Theocracies or the Divine Right of Kings. Therefore, the "status quo" of societies of say: ancient Judea, Imperial Rome, The Holy Roman Empire, and Imperial Japan are no longer societal types we live under due to the secular laws of modernity. Therefore: Gamma 1: As understanding expands, gods get smaller - but not without a good fight.

Jon said...

Dr. McCormick I think you mean Edge.org instead of Edge.com

Anonymous said...

I like Dawkins's Law of Adversarial Debate, but I think it shows Lemma 4 to be incorrect. There is just no good correlation between how strongly beliefs are held, and how untenable they are.

Anonymous said...

I think the science vs. religion debate is already way to stale, and the idea that God cannot be wrong, is in practice as useful as the idea that science cannot be wrong.

But your post made me thing about a Law of Scientific Invulnerability

Science cannot lose.

Lemma 1

When comprehension expands, science absolves itself of any blame in either opposing the new theories, or of the damange the old interpretations may have inflicted on innocent parties. These are human faults(sins) of individual scientists, not science.

Lemma 2

When things go right, science will be thanked. When things go wrong, science cannot be held resposible for how people have used scientific knowledge. Science will be asked how best to clean up the mess.

Lemma 3

A theory can never be proven right, only wrong. Important questions that are not yet testable are outside of science so science gives no answer, and as such cannot be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Re. Edge.org

It is interesting to see that Sam Harris is willing to go after fellow scientists with the same fury that he attacks religion"

See example below from Edge.org
sorry it is so long, but Dr. Harris seems to think each additional example makes the opposing view that much more ridiculous.

In light of the 4 year chimpanzee war in Gombe, it seems a given that religions did not introduce humans to sensless violence. How can he then be so sure that the net effect of these horrendous religions, was not a lessening of that innate tendancy, and in spite of the heavy price, an advantage over no religious paradigm at all.

"Anyone feeling nostalgic for the "wisdom" of the Aztecs? Rest assured, there's nothing like the superstitious murder of innocent men, women, and children to "suppress selfishness" and convey a shared sense of purpose. Of course, the Aztecs weren't the only culture to have discovered "human flourishing" at its most sanguinary and psychotic. The Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Canaanites, Maya, Inca, Olmecs, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Teutons, Celts, Druids, Vikings, Gauls, Hindus, Thais, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians, Maoris, Melanesias, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Balinese, Australian aborigines, Iroquois, Huron, Cherokee, and numerous other societies ritually murdered their fellow human beings because they believed that invisible gods and goddesses, having an appetite for human flesh, could be so propitiated. Many of their victims were of the same opinion, in fact, and went willingly to slaughter, fully convinced that their deaths would transform the weather, or cure the king of his venereal disease, or in some other way spare their fellows the wrath of the Unseen.

What would Haidt have us think about these venerable traditions of pious ignorance and senseless butchery? Is there some wisdom in these cults of human sacrifice that we should now honor? Must we take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater? Or might we want to eat that baby instead? Indeed, many of these societies regularly terminated their rituals of sacred murder with a cannibal feast. Is my own revulsion at these practices a sign that I view these distant cultures with the blinkered gaze of a colonialist? Shall we just reserve judgment until more of the facts are in? When does scientific detachment become perverse? When might it be suicidal? "

I'm with Haidt on this. The trick is not to keep all the bathwater, just to identify what is of value.

I should also acknowledge coming up with the "Science cannot lose" laws as well. This time I will remember to leave my name.

Anonymous said...

Wesley's Law of Social Interaction

Ego delt increases proportional to inadequacy felt.

Fabio Milito Pagliara said...

the right link to edge is

Anonymous said...

Benford's Law of Controversy:
Benford's Law states that passion in any argument is inversely proportional to the amount of real information advanced.

see this link for others:

Anonymous said...

I prefer a different version of Benford's Law.
The passion in any argument is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available.

And a more sobering one,

"We are almost always guilty of the hate we encounter." - Marquis De Vauvenargues