Personal Experience vs. Science


Given the choice between one person's experience (including my own) and scientific consensus, I tend to go with science. I received an email in response to a recent post about the influenza vaccine in which a reader suggested that I was "falling for Big Pharma's shit just like the religious folks fall for the Bible's shit." The author, presumably an atheist, went on to use the argument from personal experience to dismiss my suggestion that I'd prefer to rely on science over superstition when it comes to my health. Specifically, she wrote that her two children "have never had a vaccine of any sort" and have never been sick with anything worse than a typical cold. Clearly, that proves...well...nothing.

I know I should not be surprised to hear something like this from an atheist. We atheists can still accept conspiracy theories, support the type of pseudoscience in which the Huffington Post traffics, or prefer not to exercise reason at all outside of the question of gods. We can be irrational, especially when we've managed to convince ourselves that we are right and others are wrong. And I suppose we can even dismiss science when it suits us to do so. We can do all of these things because whatever else atheists are, we are still fallible humans.

This particular email explained, "Mostly it's healthy, educated freethinkers who can see through the drug BS." Perhaps I'm just not healthy enough or educated enough, but I typically put far more stock in science - including the findings of medical science - than personal opinion and anecdote.

Some evangelical fundamentalist Christians seem to have a very difficult time comprehending how any atheist could not be persuaded by the supernatural experiences they report. It is not typically that we are close-minded or difficult to persuade as some Christians seem desperate to believe. It just does't strike us as wise to believe in supernatural beings on the basis of someone else's personal revelation. If there is some sort of god out there and it wants to convince us of its existence, I have to think it would be able to figure out how to do so in a more direct manner.