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Try wishing upon a proven star

About Philosophically

I think, therefore I am.

''Never let a wish become the father of a fact.''

A couple of years ago, I was listening to a debate involving the Catholic primate of Australia, George Pell, and well-known atheist, author and professor of biology Richard Dawkins. The subject was, not surprisingly, the existence of god.

Many people let desire for something, such as a god, colour their assessment of the evidence.

Many people let desire for something, such as a god, colour their assessment of the evidence. Pic: iStock

You will note that I have used a small ‘g’ for god, because I, for one, have never seen any evidence that there is a God. I am not suggesting there is no God, just that i have seen no evidence – despite having read the Bible. This is my declaration up front.

At one stage in the debate, Archbishop Pell asked Dawkins: "'Would you not like there to be a God?'' Dawkins replied: ''This is not about what I want, it is about what you can prove.''

Dawkins was, of course, right. The existence of a god is in no way dependent on what anyone might want – it is dependent on evidence. In this case, Pell was suggesting in a sense that the "'wish become the father of the fact'' or, in other words, that the desire for a god colour how the assessment of the evidence occurs.

Some months later, I saw a second debate involving professor of physics Lawrence Kraus and well-known Christian politician Fed Nile.

In the course of the debate, Reverend Nile suggested that homosexuality was a learned behaviour, to which Kraus responded: ''If that is so, why are 10-11% of all mammals homosexual?'' The implication was clear; how can mammals other than humans learn to be homosexual and if it is not learned for them, why is it learned by humans?

Kraus went on the suggest that the difference between a Christian and a scientist was that the scientist questioned and tested everything, actively looking for evidence to disprove a theory, and then set aside the theory when the evidence suggested otherwise; while a Christian formed a view and then moulded all of the evidence to make it consistent with that view.

In other words, Professor Kraus was suggesting that Christianity, and religion in general, was all about wishing something to be true and then viewing the facts through that prism.

This behaviour is in no way peculiar to religion.

Football supporters will tell you that Manchester United, for example,  is the best team in the world and then assemble the facts they think supports this wish.

Car lovers will tell you that Porsche, for example, is the best car on the planet and, without knowing much at all about cars, will assemble facts they believe support their wish.

Music followers may tell you that Bob Dylan is the best musician in the world and a worthy Noble Prize winner (and he is) and then assemble the evidence to support that wish.

Some call this rationalisation and, in the case of football, cars and popular music, it matters little. But in many, if not most other cases, it matters a great deal.

We would not like our doctor to tell us what she wished was wrong with us and then assemble the supporting facts.

We would not like our mechanic telling us what he wished was wrong without car brakes and then setting about rationalising that view.

We do not want our politicians telling us what they wished was wrong with the economy and then assembling the evidence to support that view.

It is generally less than desirable to start with a wish and rationalise it by accumulating the facts that support it.

It is generally more productive to start by establishing the facts, whether you like them or not, and then form a view.

This is the second in a series of missives addressing quotes relevant to all our lives in the 21st century

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