Thursday, June 21, 2007

Problems of Evidence Are Everywhere -- Even in (or Especially in) Current Debates about the Rationality or Irrationality of Religious Belief

Stanley Fish has written a perceptive essay that copyright law prevents me from reproducing here: Atheism and Evidence (June 17, 2007) in TimesSelect.

My quick read of Fish's essay leads me to believe that I do not disagree with a word of his essay.

I can say this much: Stanley Fish does not think that the case for the non-existence of God or the irrationality of religious faith has yet been made by the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christoper Hitchens. (I think one might add to this list: Daniel Dennett, the late Carl Sagan, and the late Stephen Jay Gould. These are men whose faith in the non-existence of God and the irrationality of religious belief knows no bounds.)

Of course, the relationship between evidence and religious faith is not really a new question. For example, the emergence of modern probability theory was accompanied and spurred by rival arguments about the probative value of the miracles reported in the Bible. (Even if the debates now seem curious, it should be noticed that from the standpoint of the problem of uncertain inference, some interesting points were made during these debates.)

In the closing paragraph of his essay Fish states:

Despite what some commentators assumed, I [Stanley Fish] am not taking a position on the issues raised by the three books; readers of this and the previous column have learned nothing about my own religious views, or even if I have any.
Fish is a thoroughly liberal fellow -- in the good old-fashioned sense of the word "liberal."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Richard Rorty

See the touching tributes to Richard Rorty in Slate (June 18, 2007).

The Duke Prosecution, and On the Mantra "Believe the [Alleged] Victim [in Sexual Assault Cases]"

David Feige, One-Off Offing, Why you won't see a disbarment like Mike Nifong's again, Slate (June 18, 2007):
Mike Nifong [the former prosecutor in Durham North Carolina] did what prosecutors almost always do when a complainant comes to them alleging a sexual assault: He took his complainant at her word and went full speed ahead with a prosecution. The fact is that few if any prosecutors wait for corroborating evidence or insist on more than one person's say so before initiating a sexual assault prosecution. Indeed, they'd be vilified if they did. The cardinal rule of sexual assault complaints is "believe the victim," and since anyone who complains is deemed a victim, even a semi-credible complainant can generate an arrest and prosecution in the absence of physical evidence, additional witnesses, or even a prompt accusation. This isn't just the case in Durham; it's true almost everywhere. The widespread support for this questionable practice is such that if the Duke case had gone to a jury and the defendants had been convicted, Nifong would not only still have his law license—he'd have been lionized for his dogged pursuit of rich white kids.