“Science is all right and religion a delusion!” “Darwin is against the Teachings of God!” So run the shrill cries of extemists on both sides of a dangerous and sterile debate, inflaming the passions of their followers and bathing themselves in unguents of self-righteousness. The life of Thomas Bayes (1701-1761) is a refutation of all extreme positions. The anonymous Guardian piece * linked below will begin to show you why.
If you haven’t heard of Bayes * directly, the chances are his theorems and methodologies have actually influenced your life very deeply indeed. He and his followers developed the basic tools of modern statistical inference, now widely used in medical research, epidemiology, forensic science and a host of other disciplines. To save you from a lot of symbols, he and his followers asked the simple but profound question “What is the probability of event A and B occuring together, given what I already know about B?” *
What interests us here is that he asked and answered it in the course of a civilised debate on the work of the philosopher David Hume (1711-1766) Hume, an atheistic son of The Enlightenment had criticised the idea of miracles. Bayes, a Non-conformist Minister produced a reasoned critique that refuted Hume, and incidentally led the way to much enlightenment. The point is that the debates of these men produced more light than heat. And Bayes was so great, he could also be found defending the rationalist works of Newton against august Doctors of the Church like Bishop Berkeley. A balanced mind indeed.
The modern world is full of idiots screaming at each other in the media and over the internet. The tools they used have all their origins in the Enlightenment. But they have no understanding of its spirit, or basic mental processes. Bayes, and Hume were different. It is time that some of us imitated their spirit.
We have provided some wikipedia links if you want to know more. If the spirit of the Enlightenment survives anywhere today, it is in the Wikipedia Foundation. We therefore provide a link for you to donate, as little or much as you can. Please take this very seriously
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