Dr. K Responds

Dan Kahan graciously responded to my post about Hindu doctors who believe in astrology (of which there are many I assure you!):

The Pakistani Dr leaves nonacceptance “at home”; that is, he *uses* knowledge of evolutionary science to achieve the ends that are most effectively promoted by that knowledge, and uses nonacceptance for the ends that are part of his religious identity and that in fact are not practically in conflict w/ anything he does as a professional.

If Indian Drs believe in astrology at home, that’s fine (although they might end missing out on a great used-car deal, no?).

But if there are Indian Drs who make medical decisions based on astrology, that would not be analogous to what the Pakinstani Dr (and Kentucky Farmer) are up to.

Is that what Smith has in mind when she says “it could also be maintained that … [scholars and scientists] are obliged to act in accord with the knowledge they have of the positive value of religious ideas and practices…”? I’m guessing not. But if so, then not only is it very different from cognitive dualism”; it is also something that is very much more open to moral criticism.

As I suggested in my response, I would question what it means to ‘use’ evolution or Newtownian Mechanics. I’m skeptical doctors ‘use’ either topic. But nonetheless, I get what Dan is saying, and I greatly appreciate his response. As I’ve said before, these distinctions matter greatly. How the Pakistanic doctor ‘uses’ evolution should affect how we think about him. Ditto for how the Hindu doctor ‘uses’ Hindu astrology.

So the larger question: Is it important for people ‘think scientifically’ all the time? Why not think scientifically when it matters (e.g. practicing medicine) and think the way you want in your personal life (e.g. Hindu astrology)? What’s the harm in that approach/

Thoughts anyone?


  1. It could possibly be beneficial to think “unscientifically” (if that’s how we might characterize belief in Astrology) in other aspects of one’s life… kinda like a detox from the rigor of scientific thinking. I read a lot of YA Fiction in between more serious non-fiction. My mind might melt if I went from serious topic to serious topic.

    1. This is really, really good. I like it a lot. I also love YA Fiction (just finished the Maze Runner series). To that I add my (bad?) habit of watching cheesy action and zombie movies on Netflix!

  2. In general, I find most of academic pursuits to be critical (self)-reflections in the wake of experience. In this case, I’m not really sure it is necessary to intellectualise or debate the issue. It simply is. There simply are people who practice science in various capacities and do it for a living or do it well if not for a living, at the same time that they hold certain religious beliefs.

    We don’t have to figure out a theory or prove anything or determine if it is possible. We already observe it. There doesn’t really seem to be an argument. I think we’re sometimes confusing experience and observation with theory and mechanisms.

    I see that some people might want to debate what is “really” going on in these cases that we observe which are examples of people holding both together. But in the end it seems like conjecture upon conjecture or hypotheses about hypotheses as it’s extremely difficult to know what is going on in someone else’s head and heart. Even they have difficulty articulating this. It seems enough to say that people exist who hold both in important places in their lives. I’m not so sure that the underlying mechanism or a description of “what is really going on” matters.

    It might be better to tally up the number of people who hold both well and do good science and those who hold both and do harm in society through bad science. I think your point is that there are a lot of people in the former group. I haven’t heard you say how many people are in the latter group.

    1. Brilliant, and good points. I agree mechanism may not matter. I also like your suggestion about tallying people in both camps. But I see it devolving quickly into a weird counting that you get when people try to determine the harm vs. good done by religion. I would think that there are very few people in the latter group because of your second condition about doing harm. I don’t think you can demonstrate creationism is harmful in the way that, e.g., vaccine denial is harmful.

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