In Richard Dawkins’ celebrated book The Selfish Gene, there is a passage which (rather typically for him) smuggles non-empirical assumptions into a statement that purports to be a scientific one.
The passage reads as follows:-
[Genes] swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.
There is just one phrase in this statement which is empirically verifiable: ‘They are in you and me’. As for the rest, Oxford biologist Denis Noble has offered a re-write which retains that one empirically verifiable datum but which offers a metaphysical context which is completely different:-
[Genes] are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy that we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.
The lesson to be drawn from this is that we all (atheists as well as theists) will tend to draw inferences from empirical data that seen consistent with our metaphysical presuppositions. At the very least, we should honest enough with ourselves and others to acknowledge that we are doing so, and not insist that those metaphysical assumptions are more scientific than they are.
Based on Alister McGrath, ‘Science, Faith and Making Sense of Things’, in Real Scientists, Real Faith, ed Berry, Monarch, 2009.