FOM: Successes of intuition over rigor

Alexander R. Pruss ap85 at
Sat Feb 16 00:50:33 EST 2002

On Fri, 15 Feb 2002, Neil Tennant wrote:
> On Fri, 15 Feb 2002, Alexander R. Pruss wrote:
> > If memory serves, it is not the case that the majority of U.S.
> > mathematicians disbelieve #4 (that God exists).  Now, of course, one might
> > _define_ "rigorous" in such a way that anybody who accepts #4 is
> > _therefore_ unrigorous, but that is a useless stipulative definition.
> I have no access to polling data about U.S. mathematicians' belief as to
> whether God exists.

As I remember (this was some six or seven years ago), mathematicians were
at the top of the belief in God scale, with a slight majority believing or
an event split;  then came physicists with a minority (something like 45%
if I remember, but my memory for numbers is very poor) believing;  
biologists were at the bottom.

> But why do you think that their mathematical rigor has anything to do
> with the kind of intellectual and moral rigor that might be involved
> in coming to disbelieve in the existence of any kind of God?

All I meant to do was to illustrate that there is no empirical data to
support the claim that those who think more rigorously tend to reject
certain propositions, and without such data to make such claims is
intellectually irresponsible.  Of course we don't know whether the
intellectual rigor of doing mathematics goes over into intellectual rigor
in other areas.  (For instance, when I went into philosophy after having
got my mathematics Ph.D., I found I had more confidence in my intuition
about what arguments could be made to work than many non-mathematicians.)
But neither do we know that it doesn't.

(It is interesting to note that in the ordering above, greater rigor of
discipline correlates with more belief in God, though I myself think rigor
is probably not the thing at issue. My personal guess is that the
mathematician is less likely to be a materialist, e.g., because she is
more likely to be a Platonist, and this makes her less likely to reject
theism on materialistic grounds than a biologist is.)


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