Two detectives, and two doctors

TUESDAY, 21 MAY 2013

Situation one:

Imagine a crime scene. One detective arrives at the scene, flashes a light here and there, and then takes out a booklet from his jacket’s inner pocket. He reads for a few minutes then declares that it is logical that “the man” did it – according to the book he tightly clutches in his one hand.

“The man?” a few bystanders inquire.

“Yes,” replies the detective. “Don’t act like you don’t understand. You know exactly what I’m talking about.” Shortly afterwards, he leaves.

Then a second detective arrives at the scene. He also flashes his light in a few places, but he also lifts fingerprints, he takes dozens of pictures, seals items in plastic bags, and eventually he talks to several potential witnesses.

After a few days someone asks him who he thinks perpetrated the crime. “I don’t know yet,” the second detective answers. “I’m still seeing where the clues take me.”

Situation two:

A man goes to a doctor. He explains that his heart is no longer working as well as it should, that it sometimes flutters a bit, and so on.

“What’s wrong with me?” he asks the doctor.

The doctor leans over, looks in the general direction of the man’s chest, then pulls out a book from his drawer. The sick guy notices that it is a very old book.

“It’s logical,” the doctor announces. “You’re not keeping time with the seasons.” Then he informs his assistant that he is ready for the next patient.

The next day the sick guy goes to another doctor. The doctor asks him questions – what he eats, whether he smokes or drinks, whether he gets any exercise, and whether or not he has a stressful job. The man is weighed, and his blood pressure is taken. Then the doctor asks him to take his shirt off. He knocks here, listens there. Then he tells the nurse to draw some blood.

At the end of the consultation, the doctor informs the man that he should return in a few days. He will then be able to tell him what the tests results are.

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Which detective will you trust – the one who follows the clues with an open mind to see where they lead him, or the one who looks at a few things and then interprets them in a way that corresponds to what his book says? Which doctor are you going to trust?

Like any reasonable person, most religious people will also prefer the detective who looks at where the clues take him, and insist on the doctor who considers various possibilities and does tests and asks questions before concluding that the cause of the problem is likely X, Y or Z.

What surprises me, though, is that when it comes to questions about the origin of the universe and life on earth, many religious people make reference to religious mythology and dismiss all doubts and speculations as disrespectful and offensive and demand that such behaviour immediately cease.

“Put away your so-called science books,” these people will say. “We already know what the truth is.”

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