Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Cook-Doctor Problem

PZ Myers is again the guest on this week's Point of Inquiry podcast, and this time he falls into a lot of verbal dancing on whether science and god-belief are compatible.

On one hand, Myers wants to promote science, especially biology and evolution, and this involves both showing and telling what's happening in the world of science. On the other hand, he wants to discredit faith-based thinking in favor of naturalism, both methodological and philosophical.

The first battle lends itself to making friends -- science is fascinating, enriching, even beautiful. The second battle lends itself to making enemies -- creationists are cranks and liars, supernatural beliefs are groundless, "god did it" is an explanatory dead-end.

Myers' blog, Pharyngula, reflects this same split in emphasis and approach: some posts talk up recent scientific findings, while other posts make slashing criticisms of religious believers and their beliefs. (I love both kinds and read his blog, er, religiously.)

The verbal dancing Myers did on this problem in reply to DJ Grothe's questions sound like Socratic dialogue and evoke the cook-doctor distinction that Plato makes in The Republic, Gorgias, and elsewhere: the cook combines ingredients with the aim of pleasing; the doctor combines ingredients with the aim of curing. A good cook makes a great-tasting meal; a good doctor will sometimes ask you to swallow something with a foul taste. But a good doctor fends off death while a good cook merely fends off hunger.

PZ Myers is conflicted on whether he wants to be more of a doctor or more of a cook. He shares this predicament with a great many bloggers, thinkers, and scientists.

Here, a variety of thinkers address whether science makes belief in god obsolete. Taken together, the answers stumble at least as much as PZ Myers did on POI.

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