New accommodationist piece at HuffPo sets record for most fail per column inch

We’ve met Dave Pruett before in the pages of our favorite accommodationist rag.  A bit more than a year ago, he published a dreadful PuffHo screed arguing that the weirdness of quantum mechanics—and our current inability to understand consciousness—argued for the validity of Other Ways of Knowing, i.e., religion. He predicted, in fact, the advent of a Grand Unified Theory of Science and Woo:

But a new, holistic and healing story is now emerging through the unfolding of a third “Copernican” revolution. In the new physics, the veil between science and mysticism seems precariously thin, and the universe begins to take on a numinous glow. To hard-boiled positivists, this signals a disastrous turn of events. But for many of us, weary of denying either head or heart, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Like a dog returning to his own vomit (2 Peter 2:22), Pruett is back again with a remarkably thin and misguided piece criticizing the fundamentalist excesses of both science and faith.  It’s called “Science’s Sacred Cows (Part I)“, which of course implies that there will be a Part II—so much the worse for my digestive system. Note that he calls it “Science’s Sacred Cows,” not “Religion’s Sacred Cows,” for although he pays lip service to the excesses of religion, what he really wants to do is go after science.

Pruett, by the way, is an emeritus professor of mathematics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which makes him a colleague of my friend (and staunch opponent of accommodationism) Jason Rosenhouse.  Like me, Rosenhouse went after Pruett’s first column in a post at EvolutionBlog.

But on to Pruett’s latest, which, I claim, has the most fail per word of any accommodationist post I’ve seen on PuffHo. He begins with Pope John Paul II’s claim that “there can be no real contradiction between science and faith”, based on the quasi-Gouldian stance that they are separate and autonomous areas of inquiry BUT, says the Pope, “finally converging upon the discovery of reality in all its aspects.”

Right there you see claim that faith does discover reality about the universe, and so is not really a distinct magisterium but a distinct way to find the the same kind of reality as does science (“converge”).  And Pruett apparently endorses this:

Given centuries of animosity between science and religion, the pontiff’s admission astounds for several reasons. First, it stresses the complementarity rather than the antagonism of rational and intuitive modes of knowing. Second, it grants autonomy to both revelatory processes, implying that neither should seek to manipulate or triumph over the other. And third, it suggests that ultimate truth — so far as we can know it — emerges from the concerted efforts of external and internal explorations.

Now Pruett doesn’t tell us what he means by “ultimate truth,” but you can be pretty sure that he means something about a divine being or the numinous: that is, whatever religion can find out about the universe that science can’t. (I use the words “find out” ironically, since the concerted efforts of religion have never found out any truth, ultimate or otherwise.)

Then, to make sure he positions himself judiciously in the center, thus proving himself superior to both atheists and fundamentalists, Pruett calls out religion for overstepping its boundaries, citing the Galileo and Bruno affairs and modern incursions of creationism into American public schools.

After he gets that out of the way, it’s science’s turn for a drubbing:

Science’s infractions are subtler but equally damaging to the human spirit. During an enlightening lecture in 2000 by religion scholar Huston Smith, I began to appreciate how science infringes on religion’s domain. Smith thoughtfully distinguished science from scientism. The former is an investigative protocol; the latter is a religion, complete with dogma.

Scientism is “equally damaging to the human spirit”???  Only someone blinded by his accommodationist mission could make a statement like that.  Look at the damage that religion has caused, not just to the human spirit but to the human body.  Think of the millions murdered because they were Protestants or Jews or Muslims who were of the wrong sect, or were girls and simply wanted to go to school. Think of the millions forbidden to divorce or use contraception, who contracted AIDS because their church told them condoms were out. And speaking of the human spirit, think of all the children terrorized by thoughts of hell, or of the women—half of humanity—disenfranchised by faith, unable to even begin to strive for their goals.  Or those whose sex lives have been forever crippled by the foolish prudery of faith.

And Pruett dwells on the “damage of the human spirit” caused by scientism? I have to bite my tongue here lest I use invective, but I will quote Orwell again: “One has to belong to the intelligentisia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

So what, exactly, are these wounds to the spirit inflicted by scientism? As usual with accommodationists, Pruett doesn’t list them:

Science is a formalized procedure for making sense of the world by studying its material properties, perceived through the awareness of the senses, albeit senses heightened by modern marvels such as the electron microscope, the Hubble Space Telescope or the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Scientism (or scientific materialism), on the other hand, adds to science a statement of faith: The universe is only material. Moreover, given the spectacular successes of science over the past three centuries, it is more than fair to acknowledge that science represents a powerful way to learn about the world. But scientism ups the ante: Science is the best (or only) way to make sense of the world. In short, scientism is to science what fundamentalism is to religion: cocksure and inflexible.

There’s that fundamentalism trope: we’re “cocksure and inflexible.” Here Pruett seems to be drawing a distinction between methodological naturalism (we do our work without assuming divine intervention) and philosophical naturalism (there isn’t divine intervention because there is no God.)  But, as Barbara Forrest and others have noted, there’s a continuum between these two forms of naturalism.  For after centuries of science making progress without assuming a god, and without getting any evidence for god (though there could in principle be some), and, indeed, seeing evidence against god (e.g., undeserved suffering), we can take it as a provisional working assumption that there is no god.

Why can’t people like Pruett realize that this good working assumption is not “cocksure and inflexible,” but simply a philosophy of work that has been fruitful? It is a worldview, to be sure, but one that has never been contradicted, and which, compared to its alternative religious incarnation, actually leads to understanding. Are plumbers “cocksure and inflexible” because they assume that there is no divine power that clogs up toilets?

And if it is scientism to say that science is the best way to make sense of the world—if by “making sense” you mean “understanding what is out there and how it works”—then by all means I am guilty before the bar. It’s curious but telling that Pruett gives not a single example of how science has overstepped its bounds, or injured the human spirit.  Does philosophical naturalism injure people’s spirits? Does saying that someday we might understand love as a biochemical process “injure people’s spirits?”  Of course one can “make sense of the world” without science—that’s what religion does. But the operant question is this: does how  you make sense of the world involve invoking realities for which there’s no evidence?

In the end, Pruett just lines up accommodationist tropes like tired old horses on parade. You know where he’s coming from when he uses the giveaway word “humility.”  What Pruett is doing here is praising himself for being better than the fundamentalists or those awful cocksure scientists, for he knows what it is to be humble. But it’s science that is humble, not Pruett and not religionists. Pruett has not one iota of evidence that there is some “ultimate truth” accessible to religion and not science.

Philosophical naturalism is not cocksure and inflexible, for if there were evidence of the divine, or of paranormal phenomena like ESP, we wouldn’t ignore it—we’d study it. And, indeed, things like ESP, near-death experience, and intercessory prayer have been studied empirically. How does Pruett explain that if we are determined that those phenomena don’t fall within the current paradigm of materialism?

Listen, my children, to the mindless litany of accommodationism:

Ultimately, science and religion should serve rather than dominate the human societies from which they emerged. Each, I believe, serves best from a stance of awe and humility that assumes as little as possible. The best from both worlds — the greatest scientists and the most profound religious thinkers and teachers — have always practiced these two qualities. Childlike awe motivated Einstein. “All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren,” he accepted. “The real nature of things, that we shall never know, never.” Similarly, the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner invoked both humility and awe when he asked, “Which do we love more, the small island of our so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery?”

What I love is the fact that we can use science to drain that sea of infinite mystery, turning it into a fount of knowledge.  Religion can’t do that, and never has.

By the way, Pruett’s piece is in the HuffPo Science section.

Your turn, Jason.

211 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    (my one required useless comment for email delivery)

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      & it helps you get to #3 … 

      §

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        We’ll see if I manage to hold myself to just this one….

        b&

  2. Brygida Berse
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    With endless claims of theologians and accommodationists that “religion is another way of knowing”, I am still waiting for a single example of such knowledge.

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      It’s an excuse for wish fulfilment: “I will live forever, because I’m holier than you, and better than you, and get to tell you what to do besides. I ‘know’ this through direct divine revelation. What? That’s perfectly valid, right? How arrogant of you to claim otherwise!”

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        OK, I forgot about the alternative definition of knowledge.

        Knowing = “Making Random Stuff Up”

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Ah, if you were religious, you’d just know… 

      /@

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately Other Ways of Knowing® only work for those things that don’t actually exist. Otherwise, those who had mastered the Ways would be standing in line to buy lottery tickets instead of going to work.

  3. johncozijn
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    While I am rather more sympathetic, on pragmatic grounds, to many “accommodationists” than many here, I have to admit that reading Pruett makes me queasy. That’s because it seems the only point of his platitudes, as Dr Coyne points out, is to elevate himself as somehow superior to everyone else in the discussion. At least the people at Biologos are trying to do something constructive (turn evangelicals onto science, particularly evolution), and do occasionally involve themselves in real issues. See for instance Venema’s recent multipart discussion of the LTEE project:

    http://biologos.org/blog/behe-lenski-and-the-edge-of-evolution-part-1

    Mathematicians are of course notorious Platonists, so perhaps it’s no surprise.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Ditto all points by johnconzijn!!!

      It is true that intellect and intuition should work together cooperatively- Carl Sagan knew that!!- but one way they do is by systematically testing ideas for soundness.

      Pruett not only ignores the harm by religion but the notorious mercurial nature of religious “truth”, and the lack of consistency between the multiplicity of world religions not to mention Christian theologies.

      Historically, faith has been a greater source of temptation to pride than science,

      The “harm” done by scientism is that for many the scientific world-view induces a kind of dizzying vertigo. Some folks prefer the guilt-trips of traditional faith to this.

      There is also a (false) tendency to think scientism is motivated by power-trips on the part of scientists- such folks associate science more with Victor Frankenstein than Carl Sagan, more with the atom bomb than with successful antibiotics. Part of the remedy for that may be to just try to change the way scientists are perceived culturally.

      By all means, welcome religious people into the scientific community if they can play by the rules and be good citizens thereof, and by all means let folks from what Susan Jacoby (“Freethinkers”) calls the “saner precincts of Christianity” even have a voice on the moral direction of science, but this kind of platitudinous pablum is just silly.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        “for many the the scientific world-view induces a kind of dizzying vertigo”

        Huh? What people are you talking about here?

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          Certainly an initial response to the claims of Copernicus that the earth was hurtling and rotating through space could be described as dizzying. So could initial popular response to the notion that humans had descended from other life forms. Woody Allen’s character in “Annie Hall” in a flashback at age 10 says “Why should I do my homework? The universe is expanding?”

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aaddWJtRo

          Perhaps I should have been more specific as to which scientific claims I meant.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

            If the price of “scientism” (gack, I hate that word) is Woody Allen’ humor, I’m willing to pay! A win-win!

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Mathematicians are of course notorious Platonists, so perhaps it’s no surprise.

      Ok, I’ll bite :(. How is platonism in the sense used in the philosophy of mathematics related to all this woo?

      • johncozijn
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        I take the view that what undergirds the science and religion debate is the broader battle between materialism and idealism, which puts Platonism on the wrong side of the equation. This is of course a pretty big topic, and would probably take us off on a tangent from the post topic.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          I think the use of words like “materialism” and “idealism” tend to confuse things by reffering to (IMO) outdated philosophical positions. The debate between science and religion is about wheter one accepts evidence and reason as the sole arbitrators of what one considers true.

          • Sastra
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

            That can’t really be the debate, though, since the religious would argue that the judicious use of faith in certain circumstances is very reasonable — and mystical experiences count as evidence.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

              Well, it’s also about what is “reason” and what is “evidence”, obviously. But the answers to those questions are also subject to reason and evidence, divine revelation for example does not qualify as evidence since we have a lot of evidence that renders it unreliable.

              It’s obviously hard to summarize one’s epistimological position with a slogan, but as far a slogans go “evidence and reason” is not a bad one.

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

            Rather than “outdated” I view these categories as fundamental to Western intellectual discourse. Like Hitch, I am a former Troskyist and, also like him, continue to see great value in perspectives such as the materialist conception of history. I think this view of things is particularly useful when running up against people who cannot let go of some fundamental intuition that mind must precede matter.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

              The debate betwen “materialism” and “idealism” presuppose an essentialist outlook which indeed has dominated Western intellectual tradition perhaps starting around the beginning of Common Era and continuing through the dark ages. In my view, the success of the scientific method has rendered essentialism outdated.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          There are some interesting discussions on whether Platonic forms are supernatural or not. They seem to fall in a gray area. But I share your view to an extent, in that I’d include most mind/body dualisms in with idealism (heh, usually it’s the other way around.)

          I think it was William Demski who laid out the ultimate battle very succinctly: “Does mind come from matter — or does matter come from mind?”

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

            There are some interesting discussions on whether Platonic forms are supernatural or not.

            But these discussions have (at best) only tangential relevance to mathematical Platonism.

    • peter
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      “Mathematicians are of course notorious Platonists, so perhaps it’s no surprise.”

      What follows this flippant remark are mostly a bunch more. I suppose this isn’t the place to get deeply into the topic (as the person originating that remark said in a later reply, perhaps surprised that someone might disagree with the remark above!)

      But let me just ask one question of him (or anyone else). I know you can easily make two little lists of examples, one being examples of material, or physical, objects, the other of purported abstract objects. My question is to ask you to give your general criterion for how you sort things into the two (apparently disjoint) lists. And don’t just tell me the material are those which somehow impinge your senses, and the abstract anything else (and I assume the abstract is empty in terms of actually existing, in the view of any non-platonist here). I say that’s insufficient because you have given me no reason why I should not regard your material universe as being just as abstract as, say, the system of natural numbers. If the material universe is just as abstract, there seems little reason not to think any other mathematical system could exist in no less a material sense than your familiar one, other than its inaccessibility to the senses of any human (perhaps—it all depends on what accessibility to senses means—someone here who looked through a rather interminable discussion several months ago will see that I am getting at the “Type IV multiverse” of Max Tegmark, who claims that hypothesis to be in fact empirically, statistically, falsifiable, and so would be accessible to our senses in a very general sense).

      • K E Decilon
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        And don’t just tell me the material are those which somehow impinge your senses, and the abstract anything else (and I assume the abstract is empty in terms of actually existing, in the view of any non-platonist here). I say that’s insufficient because you have given me no reason why I should not regard your material universe as being just as abstract as, say, the system of natural numbers.

        We have all seen the photographs of the Chicago skyline that our host posts here from time to time. Suppose he would let us meet at his domicile for a discussion about this.

        When we are finished, you could exit his home via the window, and I will take the elevator, and rejoin you on the sidewalk outside, and check with you to see if you have found any reason to regard the material universe as being less “abstract” than the system of natural numbers.

        • peter
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

          The degree of abstractness of a dead me seems no different than a live one, however small or large it is. Your argument would have served fine with slight modification to demonstrate the flatness of the earth before the existence of human awareness of much better evidence for the negation of that. Have you found evidence to falsify the suggestion of the MIT physicist?

      • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        Simple – relatively.

        The “abstract” (better: formal) ones do not possess energy; the others do.

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          If they lack energy (and presumably also massless), then of what sense does it make to claim existence any more than anything else in imagination?

          And, let’s not forget: that which exists in imagination also exists in the physical world, at least insofar as it exists in the form of electrochemical patterns in a brain.

          b&

          • peter
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

            You say “..If they lack energy (and presumably also massless), then of what sense does it make to claim existence any more than anything else in imagination?..”.

            I’d be interested to know whether the spin of an electron (not the particle itself) only exists in the human imagination, in your view? There are plenty of other similar (‘color’ of a quark), and less similar. As presently theorized, they “lack energy”. Perhaps mass/energy (as a single ‘thing’) itself lacks energy, or, to say it as earlier, does not “possess” energy. There’s a lot of merely word usage questions here, but I do think denying any real sense of existence to anything not “possessing mass/energy” presents serious difficulties.

            I would have to consider myself as a platonist with respect to the existence of at least mathematical objects. Tegmark’s hypothesis that our own physical universe is literally a mathematical system (not just describable by one) is very interesting to me, rather than me being arrogant enough to actually advocate it. But no one has ever been convincing, again to me, in having much more than a gut feeling that they know how to distinguish the abstract from the concrete. It seems to be one of those things that even very good thinkers simply take for granted. However maybe I just have a blind spot, or a failure to read the right things.

            Some here would unnecessarily like to add to many good arguments for the non-existence of god another argument:

            Non-material objects do not exist at all, a god would be non-material, so…no god.

            The formal logic is impeccable, but the first premiss is disputed by lots of us, and maybe that argument is a serious mistake for convincing the gullible, since it is easily disputed, and is hardly needed.

            • Posted January 6, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

              Of course spin is real. As I remember, the apparatus of the Stern-Gerlach experiment isn’t that exotic, should you wish to confirm for yourself that spin is real.

              Or, you could trust IBM press releases and go buy yourself a spintronics storage device, if they’re on the market yet.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • peter
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

                Not an answer: To alter by specializing one word, in the quote from you

                “..If spin lacks energy, … then of what sense does it make to claim existence any more than anything else in imagination?..”.

              • Posted January 6, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                I think I see where the confusion is coming from — differentiating between adjectives and nouns.

                Nouns are used for things that exist.

                Adjectives are used to describe properties of things that exist.

                The properties themselves can only be said to exist insofar as they are manifested in actual things.

                “Red” does not exist, but something that is red can exist (or, alternatively, something that exists can be red).

                b&

              • peter
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                I admit to have said earlier “…There’s a lot of merely word usage questions here…”, but I doubted that was applicable to this.

                If your ‘nouns versus adjectives’ applied, then “energy” itself would have been merely an adjective before 1905, but then somehow Einstein made it into a noun, into something which really exists, not just sort-of-exists (or only after it was divided by c**2?–indeed one might ask the anti-platonist which it is that actually exists, the mass-version or the energy-version? surely for them it cannot be both). Whereas, though yet to be discovered in 1905, the likes of spin, colour, etc. from particle physics remained adjectives. And apparently they will so remain ‘forever’ in the eyes of the anti-platonists, giving them an insight into physics just from that philosophical position which seems to be far beyond what Albert ever had.

                Actually, the word physics itself is improperly used as though it had existed, my goodness, even before any mammals did. Perhaps it only did begin to exist, and only in the imaginations of physicists sometime in the last 200,000 years. Though I suppose an ancient shark would be using some kind of adjectival form of the noun ‘physics’ in taking its prey, just as Penrose was in creating spin networks, without realizing what he is doing. Indeed the universe itself does not exist here in any real sense. Even if you wanted to define it as the sort of accumulation (can’t be a ‘set’ for it to exist!) of all things with mass/energy. If our friend Krauss explains modern cosmology correctly, the total mass/energy here would be zero energy, and I would assume the anti-platonists would take that answer to imply non-existence. I admit to have said earlier “…There’s a lot of merely word usage questions here…”, but at the same time doubted that was applicable to this.

                If your ‘nouns versus adjectives’ applied, then “energy” itself would seem to have been merely an adjective before 1905. But then somehow Einstein made it into a noun, into something which really exists, not just sort-of-exists (or only after it was divided by c**2?–indeed one might ask the anti-platonist which it is that actually exists, the mass-version or the energy-version? surely, for them, it cannot be both. And would your style of thinker prior to special relativity say an object exists if it has mass, or if it has energy, or both, but not neither?). Whereas, though yet to be discovered in 1905, the likes of spin, colour, etc. from particle physics remained adjectives. And apparently they will so remain ‘forever’ in the eyes of the anti-platonists, giving them an insight into physics just from that philosophical position which seems to be far beyond what Albert ever had.

                But perhaps you are just insisting that some sort of thing exists, not the mass/energy itself, but some sort of thing, that need not be ‘specified’, which “possesses” that non-existing mass/energy, and only exists because it has that ‘possession’. I think no serious physicist would pre-judge progress in his discipline quite so flippantly.

                Actually, the word physics itself is improperly used as though it had existed, my goodness, even before any mammals did. Perhaps laws of physics only did begin to exist, and only in the imaginations of physicists sometime in the last 200,000 years. Though I suppose an ancient shark would be using some kind of adjectival form of the noun ‘physics’ in taking its prey, just as Penrose was in creating spin networks, without realizing what he is doing. Indeed the universe itself does not exist here in any real sense. Even if you wanted to define it as the sort of accumulation (can’t be a ‘set’ for it to exist!) of all things with mass/energy, if our friend Krauss explains modern cosmology correctly, the total mass/energy here would be zero energy (A Universe from Nothing, pp.165-169). I would assume the anti-platonists would take that answer to imply non-existence. That particular cosmology might fail. But it seems unlikely an anti-platonist would allow the existence of a set with only one member, that member being something which does exist in their view. So really, space-time, or whatever comes to replace it in a successful fusion with quantum theory, just cannot be a valid thing in the sense of referring to an existing object. It can only somehow be a form of an adjective, having some sort of shadowy existence at best.

                There seems also to be a more sophisticated understanding of the word ‘existence’ than platonists have, in that their nemeses ascribe a certain kind existence to things that are adjectives, but a lesser existence than real existence (and perhaps this applies to verbs as well). Some philosopher might have even given some sort of algorithm for translating ordinary human language into proper non-platonist language, in which what normally are used as nouns but oughtn’t to be, like spin, will now only appear grammatically as adjectives in the new language. It would be interesting to know if that language exists (oops! that piece of paper the philosopher wrote these language rules out on exists!!). The adjective which replaces the so-called Mandelbrot set would be of much interest.

                I am being jocular in some of the above, but serious in the following sense. When talking in complete generality about the word ‘existence’, we are, and maybe always will be, confused about many things, whether platonist or not. And if the ‘nots’ really want to insist that somehow “possessing mass/energy” to be the unique criterion for real existence of anything, they are locking themselves both into very contorted position vis-à-vis language, and worse, are pre-judging physics in a way that almost seems religious (to be maximally insulting to some here, I suppose, but we’ve all got thick skins, right?!)
                That theory might fail, but it seems unlikely an anti-platonist would allow the existence of a set with only one member, that member being something which does exist in their view. So really, space-time, or whatever comes to replace it in a successful fusion with quantum theory, just cannot be a valid thing in the sense of existing, except somehow as an adjective.

                There seems also to be a more sophisticated understanding of the word existence’ than platonists have, in that their nemeses ascribe a certain kind existence to things that are adjectives, but a lesser existence than real existence (and perhaps this applies to verbs as well). Some philosopher might have even given some sort of algorithm for proper non-platonist language, in which what normally are used as nouns but oughtn’t to be, like spin, will now only appear grammatically as adjectives in the new language. It would be interesting to know if that language exists (oops! that piece of paper the philosopher wrote this language out on exists!!). The adjective which replaces the so-called Mandelbrot set would be of much interest.

              • peter
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, part of an older version got tacked on by mistake, though, in any case, sorry it’s so long!

            • Posted January 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

              Spin is a *property*, not a thing. (Presumably a real one, too, not a purely formal one we can pretend exists independently of us.)

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted January 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

            If they lack energy (and presumably also massless), then of what sense does it make to claim existence any more than anything else in imagination?

            Here is a metaphor that may help non-mathematicians understand why some mathematicians tend to believe that mathematical objects are real and exist outside our brains.

            Imagine that you have a dream about a strange place. When you wake up you tell your dream to your friend and it turns out that he had a dream about the same place and after you two discuss it for a while you realize that all the details in your descriptions agree. Now there are a few details in his description about a region that he claims he visited and you haven’t and similarly you’ve visited a region that he didn’t so you describe it to him. Next night you dream of the same place and you make a point of visiting the region your friend described and you are able to verify all the details he gave you. When you meet again he tells you that he also dreamed of the place again and he visited the region you told him and he agrees with your description. Both of you continue to have dreams about this strange place and are able to explore more and more regions and always you agree on the details and you are always able to verify each other’s descriptions. Meanwhile by talking to other people you discover that a lot more people over the years have visited this strange place in their dreams and all the descriptions agree, and that once you talk about this place with people who haven’t visited it yet, most of them start having dreams about it and the details of their dreams always agree with yours.

            Wouldn’t you start suspecting that that strange place might be real?

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

          Energy is defined in mathematical terms, though, isn’t it?

          • Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            Probably better to use “described,” not “defined.”

            b&

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

              What’s the difference?

              Does that mean that you believe that energy really exists, even though it’s hardly “material”?

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

                Don’t you know your Einstein?

                Energy and mass are interchangeable. They’re different manifestations of the same “stuff,” whatever that is.

                Concentrate as much energy into a small enough space as the mass equivalent of any particle you care to name, and that particle will spontaneously manifest whilst the energy disappears — transformed into the particle.

                Doing the opposite is a bit trickier. However, if you get a particle and its antiparticle to interact, the result is no more particles and an equivalent amount of energy.

                This is quite literally T-shirt physics. Complaining that energy doesn’t really exist because it’s not really material is as bizarre as worrying about why the water doesn’t fall out of the Indian Ocean because it’s underneath your feet, eight thousand miles away on the opposite side of the world.

                b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                Yes I do have an understanding of basic physics.

                So energy and mass are equivalent. So what is mass?

              • Posted January 6, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                Mass is what is affected by gravity when you step off a cliff, causing you and the Earth to accelerate towards each other.

                Matter is the stuff that you’re mostly made of, and what goes *splat* when you and the Earth reunite shortly after you step off the cliff.

                Mass also gives matter inertia, which is the proximate property that causes the matter to go *splat*, as the matter attempts to continue on its path through the Earth but cannot do so once it encounters an obstruction. The chemical bonds that bind matter together are weaker than the kinetic energies impinging upon them as inertia imparted by the mass of the moving body causes it to tend to remain in motion.

                I’ve suggested an experiment or several right there for anybody who thinks either mass or matter is imaginary, or that they’re equivalent to that which is imaginary….

                b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                I never suggested that matter is imaginary, so I don’t understand why you included the last paragraph. In any case even though it’s good rhetorics it’s not as strong argument as you seem to think because it misses the point. One could also suggest some experiments for those who think that mathematics are imaginary and don’t exist independently of the human mind: if you think 1 + 1 = 5 give me a five dollar bill and I’ll give you two singles. Admittetly not as dramatic as stepping off a cliff but I trust you get my point.

                You seem to confuse “mass” with “matter” but they are not the same thing. Mass (like energy) is an abstract entity and is defined within a physical theory, in different theories it stands for different things, it could be a representation of the Poincaré group or a tensor or whatever. In order to talk about mass in a scientific way you have to use mathematics. In non technical terms, mass is a property of matter but it’s not itself material the same way that the property of being blue is not itself blue.

              • Posted January 6, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                Actually, I rather thought I made clear that mass and matter are two different (though relatedly intertwined) things….

                b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                So, do you believe that mass exists or not?

              • Posted January 6, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

                I thought I just made that clear.

                Mass is a property of matter — an adjective. It is a real phenomenon, but ascribing existence to it is as much an abuse of language as ascribing existence to “softly” or “humongous” or “wet.”

                Matter on the other hand, along with energy (and their associated particles / strings / whatever), and the various combinations thereof (including, for example, an orange) is about all that can be said to actually exist (with the possible exception of spacetime itself).

                If you’re going to claim that mass exists, then you might as well be equally happy claiming that “sharp” exists (and, no, not the electronics firm).

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dave Ricks
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                Mass is an adjective? Longcat is length?

                By the way, what you’re doing here is philosophy.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                Sorry Ben, but you haven’t made it clear. You are saying that mass doesn’t exist but energy does, while a few messages up you’re saying that energy is the same thing as mass.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

                Energy is a description, it is more precisely a measure.

                It measures the configurations a system can have over time. (So for example a 0 energy system can’t leave its configuration set in phase space, modulo quantum fluctuations.) In that sense it is a conjugate to time in relativistic and quantum mechanic. [ http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02731451 ]

                Time is of course a measure over the time dimension, made by clocks (oscillators) that return to a previous configuration. A perfect clock, or a zero energy system, persists eternally.

                It *is* a problem that generic mathematical objects lack energy.

                My own problem with platonism aligns with a recent seminar by computer scientist Scott Aaronson on his blog. He goes through the current understanding of proofs and their validation as mappable to zero-knowledge string manipulation. He also notes that proofs are mathematical objects of their own.

                Why would mathematical objects like proofs, and the objects that proof constructs, need validation unless they are empirical constructs? [ http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1170 ]

                Indeed, proofs are heuristics, based on mutually agreeable rules of proof construction (string manipulation). So must their objects then be.

                So mathematical objects have no physical existence, and their mathematical existence is as mutually agreed on constructs.

            • peter
              Posted January 8, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

              “So mathematical objects have no physical existence, and their mathematical existence is as mutually agreed on constructs.”

              Your colleague Max Tegmark (somewhat close in both discipline and genealogical origin, if I recall correctly!) would disagree, unless he has abandoned his speculations originally from the 1990’s. Both the problems of the “..unreasonable effectiveness of math…” and that of explaining clearly what is material versus so-called abstract existence would disappear (no longer exist??) if he were correct.

              • Posted January 8, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

                As I might have commented when you invoked Tegmark in an earlier discussion, I think he is confusing the map for the territory.

                /@

              • peter
                Posted January 8, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                Ant: “..Tegmark .. is confusing the map for the territory.”

                An analogue or a metaphor is cute, but not very convincing. However if you wish to argue that way:

                Is not the territory itself one of the maps of itself? (usually the only perfectly accurate one). If you say no, you must explain why not.
                If you say yes, then the metaphor would support Tegmark! (Maybe unnecessary, but I take the analogy to be: territorymaterial object
                and map abstract object.

              • Posted January 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

                Hmm… if you think that the territory itself one of the maps of itself then I think you need to check the definition of “map”. Or are you Bruno or Sylvie?

                /@

              • Posted January 8, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                * … territory itself is one…

                (A too-hasty cut-and-paste!)

              • peter
                Posted January 8, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                I asked
                “..If you say no, you must explain why not…”,
                and asking someone to look up a definition is not really explaining.

                The only aspect of any definition that might disqualify a territory as a map of itself is probably if it is insisted that a map must be produced by a human (rather arbitrary!).

                At that point the analogue looks pretty poor. Something like “rudimentary math inside a human brain” would seem to occur with “human” replaced by “chimp”, and in all likelihood by “other than life on earth intelligences”, if the latter exist.

                But I still think arguing by analogy is far more entertaining than it is in any way convincing!

  4. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Like a dog returning to his own vomit (2 Peter 2:22)

    Nice touch.

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Perfect phrase!

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        By the way, for you cat people out there who may not know about dogs, they really do eat their own vomit, and the fresh vomit of other dogs too.

        • lkr
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          …while cats are confident that a human will quickly step in theirs, then frantically clean it up.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

          How about day-old vomit?

          • Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

            I don’t have data on that.

            • happyheretic1962
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

              You don’t need data, just think intuitively. You’re bound to be right, it’s a perfectly valid way of knowing.

        • Filippo
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

          On this account one may consider canines gross. On the other hand, it is a testimony to their impressive fortitude and perserverance (re: getting “dogged” by someone), and prompts renewed appreciation for the phrase “sick as a dog,” the apparent inference being that it takes a lot to make a dog sick.

          Years ago, I worked with a Vietnam veteran who told of another serviceman who told another serviceman, “If you puke on that piece of bread, I’ll eat it.” He did, and he did.

          He was sent to the base psychiatrist, who asked him what his military specialty was.

          “I work in ordnance,” said the serviceman in question.

          At which the psychiatrist said, “You can go. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Chapter and verse. Who said JAC’s Bible reading was for naught? (Even the Old Testament has wisdom amongst the vomit – apparently Jerry might have cited the older reference: Proverbs 26.11.)

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        I thought JAC’s Bible reading was more for Haught than naught, but I’m often wrong.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          :D

  5. Veroxitatis
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Someone who accuses a scientist of “scientism” has as much interest in discussing science and scientific methodology as has someone who labels a biologist an “evolutionost” in discussing genetics and natural selection.

  6. Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    “Philosophical naturalism is not cocksure and inflexible, for if there were evidence of the divine, or of paranormal phenomena like ESP, we wouldn’t ignore it—we’d study it.”

    Yes, naturalism is just the best hypothesis going given a commitment to empiricism as one’s epistemology. It ain’t *necessarily* so.

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      And moderate rationalism.

      And materialism is the IBE-derived metaphysics for science …

  7. MNb
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    “both revelatory processes”
    Eh? The average scientist, after experiencing the Aha-Erlebnis, also called Eureka-effect, will do some calculations or develop one experiment or another to test the idea. Every single believer, after experiencing a revelation coming from above starts praying and/or worshipping.
    No small difference.
    Sorry, I didn’t read on. I couldn’t stomach anymore. NOMA could be a nice idea, if people like Pruett got the hint and stopped mixing science and religion.

    • eric
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      I think he was using the word ‘revelatory’ in a broad sense. I.e.: revelatory method = one which seeks to reveal things, not revelatory method = method relying on revealed truth.

  8. Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Really good post.

    “Are plumbers “cocksure and inflexible” because they assume that there is no divine power that clogs up toilets?”

    Perfect!

    • Filippo
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Yes. How much importance do aircraft mechanics attach to prayer in their labors?

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      That was my favorite line–I lol’d!

  9. Darth Dog
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I did notice that although he claimed that “science’s infractions are subtler” he doesn’t bother to list any. He had no trouble coming up with a list of the infractions by religion. Wouldn’t it be more important to list examples of the unobvious rather than the obvious if that is the whole point that you are trying to make? This guy is (was?) an educator?

    • Sajanas
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      I’m left with the irritating thought that the infractions of science are making Virginia sad that there isn’t a Santa Claus.

  10. eric
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Pruett:

    Scientism (or scientific materialism), on the other hand, adds to science a statement of faith: The universe is only material.

    I am fine with that definition of scientism. Of course, it results in reducing the number of true ‘scientismists’ in the world to zero. AFAIK there are zero people who take it as a statement of faith that the world is only material.

    Folk like Pruett like to imply that all of their opponents share some unscientifically absolute philosophical certainty that they are right. According to them, all (or almost all) atheists do the analogous of ranking themselves as a 7 on the Dawkins scale. When in reality, none of them do – not even Dawkins. And Dawkins has said he’s not a 7. In public. And they keep implying that he is.

    But scientism ups the ante: Science is the best (or only) way to make sense of the world.

    LOL. Is Pruett unaware that any time you have two things, and a means of comparing them, you can talk about one being ‘best’ in terms of that means of comparison?

    He seems to be attacking the very practice of comparing and contrasting methedologies for understanding the world. When any sane person would see doing that as a good thing; a way to make progress and root out methodological problems. For this, we should just file him away with the extreme postmodernists and other anti-intellectuals.

    JAC:

    In the end, Pruett just lines up accommodationist tropes like tired old horses on parade.

    Yup. Its like talking to a wall.
    Pruett article 1: “Here’s what you anti-accommodationists believe, and you’re absolutely certain of it.”
    Many response articles: “No, we don’t believe that. And we do not claim to be absolutely certain in our beliefs.”
    Pruett article 2: “Here’s what you anti-accommodationists believe, and you’re absolutely certain of it…

  11. John K.
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Of course the theists desperately want science to be in accord with their religion, science is the gold standard for providing evidence that theories are in fact related to reality. Denying the results of science is pretty embarrassing (not that some are still shameless enough to try!). Denying religion is trivially easy. The only hope is that the two will not contradict each other, since there can only be one clear winner in every such case.

    There is little option to being “cocksure and inflexible” against things that cannot be demonstrated or verified in any way. The bank is going to be very inflexible with your made up bank accounts that cannot be verified, and it is not because they are being dogmatic.

    • vmarq
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Bravo! This is the true underlying psychological motivations of accommodationists, in my opinion. It’s in the same realm of why quacks like Deepak Chopra kidnap scientific terms in order to give credibility to their delusional ramblings.

  12. Another Matt
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    So what, exactly, are these wounds to the spirit inflicted by scientism? As usual with accommodationists, Pruett doesn’t list them…

    I, for one, can’t wait for Part II (where presumably we’ll be treated with a long list of ills and wounds).

    • Sastra
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Pruett doesn’t have to list any “wounds to the spirit” inflicted by scientism because he wasn’t using that phrase as a metaphor.

  13. Richard Wein
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Pruett: “Unwarranted assumptions — blinders, really — may have been necessary to the methodical progress of science, but ultimately they squelch open inquiry.”

    Pruett has it the wrong way around. It is accommodationists who typically impose unwarranted assumptions on science, in the form of simplistic demarcation criteria. Those on the others side are more likely to reject such assumptions, and say we should follow science wherever it leads.

  14. Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Excellent takedown!

    What these accommodationists fail to understand or choose to ignore is that science and religion were once married, but got divorced many centuries ago due to irreconcilable differences. It was a terrible marriage, with science doing all the hard, meaningful work while religion spread superstitions and bigotry, frequently hindered or suppressed science’s work or at best did nothing.

    When science finally did divorce itself from religion, it flourished. It uncovered whole new branches of science, and expanded our knowledge in ways that has improved the lives of billions of people, mostly in countries where science is practiced with little to no interference from religion. It should go without saying that religion is extremely jealous of science’s success.

    Now that science has triumphed, religious zealots and the “accommodationists” talk about remarriage between science and religion, as if religion has anything to contribute. This is nonsense and completely ignores why they divorced in the first place; if they did remarry, science would continue to do all the work, while religion would contribute nothing, except pretend it deserves credit for some of science’s discoveries. It would hurt science while giving an unjustified boost to religion.

    We cannot let this happen again. Religion had its chance and it failed. When religion had the upper hand in its marriage to science it was a deadbeat, a liar, and an abuser – it still is.

    Science can work perfectly well without any input from religion. Can the same be said for religion in a world without science?

    • TJR
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Religion just sits on the sofa drinking extra-strength lager, watching daytime TV and saying “I coulda been a contender….”.

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      and last night I saw a commercial for catholicscomehome.org which claimed the church invented the scientific method

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        Many of the people who invented it certainly went to church… 

        /@

      • Filippo
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        There’s a series, “Catholicism,” running on PBS right now. More confidence in the efficacy and truth of ones opinions and claims I have not beheld.

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Accommodationists as marriage guidance counsellors! Like.

      /@

  15. @eightyc
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    lol maybe he should give a TEDx talk.

  16. Marcoli
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I always enjoy reading these excellent rebuttals to the woo in HuffPo and other widely read news outlets. What I wish is for these great essays from Dr. Coyne to appear IN THOSE SAME OUTLETS. Rather than just putting them here so the choir can enjoy them, why not get your feet dirty and publish them where they might do the most good? Shine some light where it is darkest.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      I agree.

    • Ougaseon
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      If I’m not mistaken, Jerry objects to the exploitive model of the Huffington Post, in which the considerable work of the contributors line the pockets of the site owners.

      Harlan Ellison makes the point in the best way.

      Also, it lends legitimacy to a rag that has no interest in actual, you know, science.

  17. Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    “First, it stresses the complementarity>/i> rather than the antagonism of rational and intuitive modes of knowing.”

    Well, of course they’re complementary… and both belong to science! Intuition (or guessing, as Feynman said) is fine for creating hypotheses, but then comes the hard bit of testing that intuition against the real world through observation and experiment.

    So really the antagonism is between intuitive-and-rational and intuitive-only modes of knowing; religion’s lack is that it’s too lazy to test it’s guesses against the real world; science is complete.

    /@

    PS. Here’s Barbara Forrest’s discussion of that continuum between the two forms of naturalism.

  18. Cornelius
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Again with the humility. Yes we religionists are very, very ‘umble. Except of course for the personal relationship I have with the creator of the universe with whom I’m in daily contact and who listens to what I have to say.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      In this case — and in the case of most proponents of Spirituality — they wouldn’t put it that way. They’d talk instead about the recognition that they are connected to a higher power or consciousness, or some such variation.

      It’s not that different, no — but they think it is. When atheists use traditional language and images to talk about liberal believers it just feeds into their fantasy that they’re oh so distinct and cutting-edge and advanced beyond both groups.

  19. Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Another case of equivocation, which Jerry noted. Pruett first writes “learning about the world”, but then shifts to “making sense of the world”.

    Does he think he’s pulled the wool over anyone’s eyes? That somehow we’ll just go along with this equivocation that “making sense of the world” is the same endeavor as “learning about the world”? And that therefore, if religion can claim to help someone feel more comfortable, more in control, more like they’ve got a handle on what the world is all about, that it is doing the same thing as science?

    You can “make sense of the world” in the sense of explaining how things really work.

    Or you can “make sense of the world” in the sense of inventing stories and rationalizations to help yourself feel comfy.

    This kind of rhetoric makes me angry. I’d bet anything Pruett knew exactly what he was doing when he shifted from “learning” to “making sense”.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a deepity. Religion deals in deepities, hoping that the incredible interpretation will ride to respectability on the back of the credible one.

      But I would not bet that Pruett knew exactly what he was doing when he shifted from one meaning to another. I have found that they often don’t recognize that they’re doing something wrong. In the fuzzy-thinking minds of the faithful, “equivocation” translates itself into “holistic thinking.” He isn’t confused and confusing: he’s being broad-minded and charitable. In their parlance, he’s being “non-dualistic.” It’s all good: connect ideas.

      Clarity is not considered a virtue: it pins you down. Pruett could be — and probably is — tricking himself. Remember, as Feynman said, “we are the easiest people to fool.”

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

        You could certainly be right.

        My guess is based on my own writing experience. The temptation to make these kinds of subtle terminological changes is strong when you simply feel your claim is valid, but you have little else beside semantic legerdemain to support your claim.

        I try very hard not to do this, but I’m always keenly aware of what’s going on when the opportunity presents itself.

  20. @eightyc
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    “…And third, it suggests that ultimate truth — so far as we can know it — emerges from the concerted efforts of external and internal explorations.”

    Accommodationists take for granted the fact that they are born in the present time period.

    If they were born in ancient times, then there would be no distinction between science and religion. All the explanations they would have had would be internal, that is, what they “thought” or guessed was happening. They had no way of testing it.

    Well a lot of stuff has happened since ancient times and we now have many ways of testing what we “think” is going on in the world. And that comes from the scientific method.

    So in today’s modern age, the compatibility between science and religion that he is looking for likely can be found among the indigenous tribes of the Amazon. Just ask the wisest member of any of those tribes to explain where the light from the sun and the stars come from.

    He’ll get his compatibility alright! lol.

  21. Sam
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I think this is on topic: My 5 year old asked me this morning how there could be people without mothers, given that she knows there were no people (mothers) during the time of the dinosaurs. So how did people get here? I gave a brief outline of evolution, which was a far more satisfying answer to me, and I think to her, than “Eve” or another variation of “God did it.”

    • abandonwoo
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      It is probably not too soon to sit down with your 5 year old and a copy of Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality.

    • Filippo
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Out of the mouth of babes.

  22. Sastra
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    “Science is a formalized procedure for making sense of the world by studying its material properties, perceived through the awareness of the senses, albeit senses heightened by modern marvels…”

    Notice how Pruett emphasizes the procedures of science and leaves out the importance of its communal aspects: science demands the checks and balances of critics who need to be taken seriously. Mysticism, on the other hand, dismisses other points of view because they “weren’t there.” Science tries for public knowledge; religion strives for private knowledge.

    That’s a big reason why the claim for his “humility” falls flat. There is nothing humble about claiming you have private knowledge available only to the humble.

  23. insidephotos
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t “Emeritus Professor” just mean “silly old duffer who just refuses to retire”? In other words, the title commands no respect?

    • Kevin
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      In my world, emeritus often means “booted to the curb because he/she was becoming an increasing embarrassment to the institution”.

      Oh yes, I work with many emerita in my day-to-day travails. That definition fits the majority.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Let’s grant that the majority are like that. One can still appreciate those fortunate to have retained their cognitive chops.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      Pretty gratuitous, if you ask me.

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      In some places, it means any living tenured professor who has actually retired.

  24. Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I think the xkcd comic captures it all, the beige, middle of the road, pox on both houses prose allows Pruett to be in favor of good stuff and against bad stuff without really making any philosophical or epistemological commitments, he can float above and lecture without putting any skin in the game.

    By the way, anyone else hear Mr. Mackey from South Park’s voice in their head when reading Pruett’s prose?

    “Arrogance is bad, mmmm’kay? You shouldn’t be arrogant.”

  25. Karl Heinz
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Religion is another way of “knowing” like astrology is another way of knowing. Or Tarot cards.

    Knowing what?

  26. Kevin
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    What is this “human spirit” he speaks of?

    I have studied and studied and studied, and asked and asked and asked, and not one person, scientist nor theist, has been able to define it or describe it in certain terms.

    Could it be he’s talking about magical thinking? That’s not “spirit”. That’s superstition, masquerading as something profound. Turns out, the emperor really doesn’t have any clothes.

    • johncozijn
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      “What is this “human spirit” he speaks of?”

      A metaphor for those qualities that distinguish the human intellect from other animals, particularly our sense of purpose. Ubiquitous in Western literature.

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        particularly our sense of purpose

        I don’t have a sense of purpose.

        • johncozijn
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          It would be impossible to live a week as a human being without a sense of purpose, however limited.

          But there is a broader point here. The term human “spirit” occurs over 250 times in Shakespeare, virtually none of them in a religious context (and most deliciously in Sonnet 129). The corpus of these works illuminate aspects of what it means to be a human being in a way science does not, cannot, even attempt. Is this knowledge?

          In the most recent video of a debate Jerry shared with us, he said he was undecided about whether areas of human activity other than science could produce “real knowledge”. If knowledge includes understanding what it means to be a human being, then surely literature, and the arts in general, fit the bill.

          • Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

            Hmm… maybe Brygida was just being fascetious… 

            But since you’ve brought it up: How, other than by observation and reason, did Shakespeare discern what it means to be human in order to illuminate that in his corpus?

            /@

            • Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              *facetious

            • Brygida Berse
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

              Hmm… maybe Brygida was just being facetious…

              Only a little. But seriously, if “a sense of purpose” means the conviction that my existence (or that of the whole universe, for that matter) has a deeper purpose, then no, I don’t have a sense of purpose. It is, in my opinion, not necessary for finding satisfaction in life.

              And if by “purpose” one understands simply “finding satisfaction in life”, then I do possess it, but I don’t think it can be harmed by scientism :-).

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

                I agreed with you the first time. (And still do.)

                All in all, I think my particular existence is pretty purposeless.

            • Filippo
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

              Unless perhaps it involves ones fascia.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            “It would be impossible to live a week as a human being without a sense of purpose, however limited.”

            How are you using the word “purpose”? I cringe reading your sentence because it feels like something a believer would use to convince themselves that there must be a deity. I certainly don’t have that kind of “purpose”.

            Richard Dawkins had a lecture a couple of years back called “The Purpose of Purpose”. It is probably relevant but I don’t have time at the moment to go look it up.

            • johncozijn
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

              I think you are right to cringe to the extent that religion can be economically defined as projecting (and reifying) the individual sense of purpose onto the universe as a whole.

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

            Hmmm … creativity, empathy … those things that happen on the side of the brain opposite to the one you use for solving partial differential equations, though clearly he must have been a pretty astute observer as well.

            • Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              Oh, please! Not the split-brain myth!!

              /@

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                I think I was facetiously saying: Don’t know, because we don’t understand creativity.

          • Gary W
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            The corpus of these works illuminate aspects of what it means to be a human being in a way science does not, cannot, even attempt. Is this knowledge?

            Either it’s knowledge, in which case it must be the result of observation and reasoning (i.e., what science does), or it’s just speculation, guesswork, wishful thinking etc. Gussying up speculation with flowery language (“illuminate aspects of what it means to be a human being”) doesn’t change its nature.

            • johncozijn
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

              So Shakespeare was either a scientist or a waste of space?

              • abrotherhoodofman
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                Was Shakespeare a scientist?

                In as far as he employed keen, reasonable observations of human behavior to inform his works… yes.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

                Shakespeare was a playwright and poet. The main purpose of his work was to entertain. If Shakespeare produced any new knowledge in the course of creating his works, he did that through observation and reasoning.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                I consider myself fairly well read in Shakespeare scholarship, and I’ve read some pretty weird stuff, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve encountered the hypothesis that his achievements and value are due to him being some sort of proto-scientist.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

                I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve encountered the hypothesis that his achievements and value are due to him being some sort of proto-scientist.

                Since no one actually said that, you still haven’t encountered it. Shakespeare was a keen observer of human behavior, a great storyteller and had a wonderful facility for words and language. His primary talent was that of a *communicator*. To the extent that Shakespeare actually *produced* knowledge, he did so through observation and reasoning.

              • abrotherhoodofman
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

                …this is the first time I’ve encountered the hypothesis that his achievements and value are due to him being some sort of proto-scientist.

                This is a bit disingenuous. Science is a methodology. If one engages in science, one can legitimately be referred to as a scientist, for what that’s worth (and it isn’t much, because it’s just a label).

                Even before The Enlightenment, and before the methods of science were formalized, it’s clear (in retrospect) that “scientists” (i.e. people using science, however ignorantly) were doing all of the heavy-lifting in terms of creating knowledge, while theists (and to a certain extent, philosophers) were mostly filling the world with flatulent, impressive-sounding word salad.

                It’s hard to imagine that using a helicopter to drop (translated?) copies of Hamlet or Othello into the Amazon rainforest will create much new knowledge among the primitive tribes who reside there, other than perhaps a new book-binding technique employing rat intestines. Being a Shakespeare scholar yourself, perhaps you could increase the knowledge of these tribes yourself, by delivering lectures on The Bard in-person.

                I just can’t envision a bunch of people wearing bones stabbed through their nostrils nodding their heads and saying “How true, how true!” as you read passages from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
                ;)

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

                Yes, the value of cultural products such as poetry is context-dependent in a way that scientific knowledge is not. This does not render it of no account as a way of *knowing* about ourselves. Hamlet still speaks to us in a way that Homer no longer does. Perhaps Shakespeare will also become a cultural fossil if Western civilization loses it dynamism. But such a prospect is hardly to be welcomed.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

                No, poetry is NOT a “way of knowing,” if by that you mean a way of producing knowledge. A poem may *communicate* knowledge to the reader, but that’s not the same thing.

          • DV
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            “It would be impossible to live a week as a human being without a sense of purpose, however limited.”

            This is at best false, at worst a truism.

            Impossible?? In the metaphorical sense that means “possible”?

            People have lived through comas lasting more than a week. That surely qualifies as “without a sense of purpose” and yet they lived through it. But then you’ll probably just weasel out by arguing that sleeping doesn’t count as living “as a human being”.

            Allowing for any escape clause meaning of “as a human being”, it becomes a truism because surely the act of putting food or water in one’s mouth to survive 1 week is purposeful at the bare minimum that would satisfy the qualification of “sense of purpose however limited”.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

              But it is impossible to live without purpose as a true Scotsman!

            • Filippo
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

              I contemplate the correlation of “purpose” with “happiness.”

              JFK, in defining “happiness,” liked to define it as (he said) the Greeks defined it: “The full use of ones powers along the lines of excellence.”

      • Gary W
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        A metaphor for those qualities that distinguish the human intellect from other animals, particularly our sense of purpose. Ubiquitous in Western literature.

        “Those qualities” are more complex brains, and hence more sophisticated minds, and hence more sophisticated thinking, including the concept of purposes (which I think some other animals may also be able to conceive of). So why not just say that? What exactly does your “metaphor of human spirit” add to our understanding?

        • johncozijn
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          “What exactly does your “metaphor of human spirit” add to our understanding?”

          It adds Bach’s Chaconne, and the unending quest to master it. It adds my wonder at witnessing the birth of my daughter. It adds our thirst for knowledge about a universe that gave birth to each of our brief lives, and why we affixed that gold record to Voyager.

          None of these things needed to be, but they are all surely expressions of the human spirit.

          • abrotherhoodofman
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

            Other expressions of the human spirit:

            Mein Kampf, Rwandan genocide, and Abu Ghraib.

            • johncozijn
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

              Indeed. That is why Shakespeare’s tragedies still speak to us.

          • Gary W
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

            The things you list are examples of human cognition and emotion. Your “metaphor of human spirit” adds nothing to our understanding of them.

    • Paul S
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      I’m curious why some people insist that animals do not possess intellect or have a sense of purpose. Just because animals cannot communicate in a way we can understand doesn’t mean they lack intellect or purpose. At least is seems that way with my kittehs. Can we haz prayz for ceiling cat?

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        By the same token, just because our kittehs haven’t the anatomy to create human speech, that doesn’t mean they lack the anatomy to hear, listen, and understand. My kittehs do such a good job of understanding plain spoken English (when I’m not babying them), it shocks other humans to see it. One such human, amazed and impressed, called one such kitteh “a human being in a cat suit.” How true!

      • Filippo
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        At the dog park, I have repeatedly observed “my” black standard poodle seemingly calculating the approximate spot to which she must run in order to reasonably and realistically intercept another dog while chasing it, much as a jet fighter pilot estimates how much he must “lead” in order to similarly intercept another plane.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          Without such ability, we probably wouldn’t have carnivores. :D

        • Dave Ricks
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          … seemingly calculating the approximate spot to which she must run in order to reasonably and realistically intercept another dog while chasing it, much as a jet fighter pilot estimates how much he must “lead” in order to similarly intercept another plane.

          You mean like this?

  27. @eightyc
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    lol.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but I tried to estimate the epic fail per column inch. Here is what I came up with.

    *I copied the article into Microsoft Word.

    *The page size was 8.5 by 11 inches

    *1 inch left and right margins and 1 inch top and bottom margins

    *I used Times New Roman, font size 12

    *It came out to about 1 and a half pages and the article has 855 words

    *One full page is 58.5 square inches (6 by 9), half a page is 29.25 square inches (6 by 4.5). The total is then 87.75 square inches.

    So that brings my estimate of the epic fail per square inch to be about 9.74 words per square inch (855 words divided by 87.75 square inches)!

    Me thinks we should start an epic fail per square inch rating system for every accommodationist article attempting to demonstrate the compatibility between science and religion! We have to agree on a standard set of parameters so the final rating score would be comparable in any format!

    Let’s make this happen!

    • eric
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Are you proposing 9.74 epically failing words per square inch = 1 Pruett?

      • @eightyc
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        lol. Yes why not!

  28. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    “Which do we love more, the small island of our so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery?”

    The correct answer, it seems to me, is neither. Things far out in the sea of mystery are not just unfathomable; they’re unintelligible, beyond the horizon of our perception. We have no way of even knowing they exist.

    On the other hand, things well within the boundaries of our island are fully understood; there’s nothing new to be discovered there.

    All the discovery happens on the beach, at the interface between knowledge and mystery. That’s the exciting place to be, where new knowledge is being reclaimed from the sea, expanding the territory of our island.

    But does this diminish the sea? Not if it’s truly infinite. On the contrary, enlarging the area of our island enlarges its perimeter as well, expanding the interface between knowledge and mystery. The more we know, the more there is to learn at the edges of what we know.

    So if you love mystery, then you should love the creation of knowledge, because that’s how an inexhaustible supply of new mystery comes into our view.

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Sheer bloody poetry! ;-)

      /@

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I like this metaphor very much, especially the part where as our island of knowledge grows, the “edge” expands as well. Perfect!

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Superb extended metaphor!

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      Bravo!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Perfect!

    • Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Ah… someone else has come up with the same metaphor; Marcel Gleiser at Big Think.

      /@

  29. eric
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    This is more of an amusing snark than a serious criticism, but hopefully others will find it as funny as I did.

    Pruett says:

    Over the long arc of history, science has initially embraced — then discarded — most of the following tacit assumptions: dualism, determinism, reductionism, absolute time, absolute space, the principle of locality, materialism and, most recently, realism. In subsequent posts, we’ll examine each of these in some detail.

    I greatly appreciate Pruett teasing out the problem assumptions within science, and then addressing each of these problem assumptions individually, in turn, as a way of fixing science. Can’t wait until his subsequent post addressing the problem assumption of reductionism.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if he’s writing a book, by any chance?

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately this list is absurdly wrong.

      Dualism is dead, yes, but not for the reason he would enjoy.

      Realism and materialism are very much alive; determinism is now broadened to recognize laws of chance. “Reductionism” is too vague to comment on. “Locality” is tricky, but like absolute time and space, at best it was revised (like determinism mentioned) through scientific research and philosophical reflection (these two are continuous) and not navel gazing or mystic intuition or anything else.

  30. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Pruett:

    Scientism (or scientific materialism), on the other hand, adds to science a statement of faith: The universe is only material.”

    Only material. Pruett’s entire case rests upon this single, linguistic grunt. I fear we can never win this kind of juvenile word-game with accommodationists, but I do offer the following grunt in reply:

    Material is material.

    material

    2: having real importance or great consequences (facts material to the investigation).

    (And it’s not even a tautology!)

    • DV
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Ingersoll had a fitting response to this already more than 100 years ago. Search for his piece called “Ghosts”.

      Here’s a snippet: “Before you cry ‘materialism!’ had you not better ascertain what matter really is?”

      Considering how much we actually don’t know about matter (think Higgs-Boson as an example), dismissively saying “Only material” is the height of arrogance.

  31. Jim Bradley
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Even a cursory understanding of philosophy shows the untenability of “empiricism” (which is cognitively impossible) and hence science must make metaphysical assumptions (yes, folks, that’s faith). Science looks for patterns and now is asserting the patterns are the things that are true because they are repeatable. But why not say, as important as pattern are, that the non-patterns are equally as important, as we see all sorts of non-patterned data emerge? (One wonders if anyone on this board even “scientifically” exists … after all, a person’s birth is a non-repeatable event!) Why assert that truth is only a fraction of “what is out there?”

    Consider – is it possible to observe data without any logical structure of the mind preceding the observation? Which came first – logic (the ability to structure incoming observations) or the data? We are pre-born with structure. And it may be that we cannot perceive things that our mind is not equipped to handle (hence a skepticism about metaphysical claims needs to be the default position) – yet the claim here is that science is now equipped to handle questions that are the biggest that mankind has ever asked, despite *methodologically* being unable to assess a vast portion of reality.

    In fact, I’ll throw out this claim, which I believe is defendable historically and it shows that “science” is very much in subservient to sociological forces, and is dependent: It is not *science* that has made progress possible, but *freedom* from arbitrary violence that has made the truth “get out” and usable. As important as the method is, the foundation is equally important.

    The increasing clamoring for state power (i.e. violently enforced funds transfer to preferred political friends such as bankers, doctors, scientists, schools, etc) will destroy the ability for the truth to get out as every move is now in the service of tax-based (and federal reserve/banking system credit created) “funding”. No persuasion is necessary when a gun (or monetary fraud) is the source of power, and then it won’t matter who is right, but who has the gun (or the “money printing press”). That is a science-killer, and it is sociological. No matter how beautiful the equations are, it just doesn’t matter if we as a society cannot make use of the truth. Ultimately, everyone starts to believe whatever is in their interest, rather than what is true, because the truth doesn’t matter anymore, only power does.

    The fact that scientists now feel that they are in a position to make metaphysical claims, which is expressly excluded from the practice of science as science attempts to find predictable patterns in nature – only goes to show that the patterns are taken to be “all there is” … a false argument. I am amazed at the lack of understanding or willingness to “go and find out” what other philosophers have said about metaphysical questions. I was hoping on this site to get more information about science and a lot less about the secular philosophical war going on about who is to control thinking of people. How about *no one* is to be in a position of control? (Well supported by arguments from our framing fathers)… let’s get back to freedom and real science…

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      …and hence science must make metaphysical assumptions (yes, folks, that’s faith).”

      Science necessarily begins with creative conjecture, but conjecture is not faith. Faith is belief without evidence. Conjecture is not belief.

      And what, pray tell, is a “non-pattern”?

      • Jim Bradley
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Science is limited to falsifiable, repeatable events, and as such, it cannot lay claim to being congruent with “knowledge” as knowledge also encompasses aspects of events which have uniqueness to them (such as your birth … there’s only one of them and I assume you consider it important!) … That’s what “non-patterned” means. Some events are largely repeatable (although it is doubtful that any event is perfectly repeatable, even the motions of planets). It is a foolish error to engage in dogmatic assertions that science is *the* “way to knowledge” as the word “knowledge” is broader than scientific claims … science is the way to *some* knowledge.

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Even a cursory understanding of philosophy shows the untenability of “empiricism” (which is cognitively impossible) and hence science must make metaphysical assumptions (yes, folks, that’s faith).

      Well, then, it’s good to know that there’s yet another reason to consign philosophy to the dustbin of the ages, along with religion, magic, and all other forms of woo.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Like.

      • Jim Bradley
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        Every time a scientist does science, he or she is *necessarily* doing philosophy … There are unprovable metaphysical assumptions within science that strictly limit it’s scope in the type of questions that science can answer.

        Cheers,

        — Jim.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          For example?

          • Jim Bradley
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

            “Hence, naturalism is polemically defined as repudiating the view that there exists or could exist any entities which lie, in principle, beyond the scope of scientific explanation”.

            — Arthur C. Danto, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Naturalism

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

              Are you saying that naturalism is an “unproved metaphysical assumption” of scientific methodology?

              I guess you’re right in the strict definition of “proved”, but then in that sense almost nothing in science is proven. Science is not about proving things or attaining certainty, it’s about choosing the best explanation that fits our current data, then use that explanation to generate more data, refine our explanation or come up with new ones that better fit the new set of data and so on.

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          I seem to be missing something here, too. Perhaps you can define “metaphysical”, particularly in terms of scientific experimentation.

          • Jim Bradley
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

            There is no experiment that can validate or invalidate a “metaphysical” assumption. That is the point. Google “metaphysical assumptions of science” or “epistemology of science”. For example, an assumption is: The best way to understand the universe is mechanistically and atomistically (reductionism) … but that is a way to understand *part* of the universe, not *all* of it. We do not observe some things in “parts” and cannot therefore conclude that “parts” are even possible (for example, we cannot observe one component of F=MA … in fact, does any of the components make any sense without the others?). Since reductionism and mechanical prediction is not tenable, it is incorrect to call scientific knowledge, “knowledge” as if the two are entirely overlapping. We know a great deal of things that are not scientific.

            For example, you will exchange goods that you value less for goods that you value more, hence wealth (a subjective quality!) increases with an exchange. That is completely true (i.e. unable to be proved false, as it directly follows from the definitions of the words “wealth”, “value”, etc.), yet it isn’t scientific, as there is no way to quantify or add units of “value” from person to person, or to add their subjective strength of feeling. The whole idea that we can collapse the entire corpus of human knowledge into “quantifiable units” is just foolishness.

            Our explanations are not “science”, they are beyond science, they are constructs of our mind, completely unobservable and immaterial (is there any mass to an equation? Equations are “true” nonetheless, in every sense of the word “true”, that is useful to us as a species). To see scientists disrespect the foundation of knowledge and laugh at philosophy – when they are necessarily using it all the time, is really ironic! I think also this gets back to the attitude that “I am a scientist and I don’t need to know anything else but the ‘scientific method'” … which is (to me at least) the same attitude as dogmatic religion: a lot of people approach life from one perspective and act as if “that is all there is”. Not true – in fact, demonstrably false.

            “Pure” empiricism is demonstrably false. If one puts 2 marbles in a pocket and adds a third only to find one has 2, one does not conclude that “math doesn’t work all the time” but to go searching for a better explanation … an anti-empirical action! Logic is a precursor to “science” and it is unprovable (i.e. it is the basis of proof, so it cannot be “validated” or “invalidated” as the proof would be circular). Empiricism relies on logic and logic is simply “there” … it is a brute fact of (human) reality and human minds. So, is there a “super-logic”? Something that we cannot (because of natural limits to our minds) understand? Of course – we even use tools to do the understanding for us *because* we are limited. So to make a claim that “empirical experimentation is the basis of knowledge” is nonsense. We aren’t even starting with data, we are starting with logic on top of perceptions – and the ability to use both was “given” to us by nature or God.

            Hence science is necessarily *philosophical* and reliant on *metaphysical* assumptions.

            • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

              If one puts 2 marbles in a pocket and adds a third only to find one has 2, one does not conclude that “math doesn’t work all the time” but to go searching for a better explanation … an anti-empirical action!

              See, this is why philosophy is such a waste.

              Either you’re suggesting that we could have found ourselves in a universe in which addition wasn’t the case, which is the silliest type of mental masturbation I’ve heard of all year, or you’re too stupid to feel for holes in your pockets after you start loosing change.

              Regardless, you, along with every other evangelical philosopher I’ve encountered, are so terrified of even attempting anything without an a priori justification or being able to prove it from “first principles” (whatever the fuck they’re supposed to be) that you never actually get around to actually trying to do anything.

              A scientist, on the other hand, doesn’t waste time with worrying whether or not the gods of philosophy might or might not approve. Scientists just go ahead and do and look and see.

              You might try it sometime. It is, indeed, the only way to actually get anything done.

              As the saying goes, in theory, there’s no difference between theory and reality. In reality, there is.

              Cheers,

              b&

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, sure.

          And the theologians swear the exact same thing, up and down — that they invented science, and that every scientific experiment is really an holy prayer because the scientists are coming that much closer to unravelling the mysteries behind their gods’s creation or the like.

          Sorry, but that’s just bullshit.

          Science is the rational analysis of empirical observation, and it is an empirical observation that rationally analyzing empirical observations leads to more useful knowledge than any other technique ever attempted.

          When it comes right down to it, philosophy is worse than useless. It’s empty speculation, godless theology. Only with the crucible of empirical observation (especially, when possible, experimentation) can anybody ever know the validity or utility of any speculation.

          You are, of course, more than welcome to demonstrate otherwise. If you can do better than science, fantastic — but you’re going to first have to beat science at its own game.

          And I’ll also note that scientists have demonstrated themselves far more capable of coming up with their own imaginative source material than philosophers. ‘Twas scientists, not philosophers, who gave us quantum and relativistic mechanics, who gave us Darwinian evolution, who gave us pasteurization and immunization. And even those ultimate “big questions,” like the origins of the Universe, are being answered not by philosophers but by scientists — first, with Big Bang Cosmology, and now with Hawking and Weinberg and Krauss demonstrating how quantum mechanics itself spontaneously gives rise to a universe from nothing.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Jim Bradley
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            Hilarious – science is “rational analysis” … in other words, it relies *first* on logic (unprovable because it is unfalsifiable) and then on apriori, non-empirical, metaphysical foundations (methodological naturalism, reductionism, etc) and then it proceeds from there; But science cannot demonstrate the truth or falsity of logic or of it’s assumptions. In other words, by describing it, you are agreeing without realizing it. QED.

            Cheers,

            — Jim.

            • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

              Dude, just because that was the first word of the description doesn’t mean it should be taken as indicative of the origins of science. Duh!

              It is now and always has been the case that observation comes first in science.

              Indeed, even math and logic have their origins in observation. The first mathematicians didn’t dream up the fact that one thing and one thing makes two things; they took one thing, put it next to another thing, and observed that there were now two things.

              I haven’t done this yet in this thread because it’s generally impolite to do what you’re doing here, to take credit for what another sincerely perceives as his own work. But you’ve started this, and so I have no other choice.

              It is not the case that all science is really a subset of philosophy.

              Quite the opposite.

              Philosophy is a subset of science — but it is a failed subset, a form of bad science.

              Philosophers started out on the right foot, by seeing things in the world about them and wondering what made them tick.

              But then they got stuck with the wondering part, fell in love with the sounds of their own thoughts and voices, and never bothered to look any deeper. This, demonstrably and quite understandably, led them to create ever more bizarre sky castles that led them even further astray from reality.

              Meanwhile, the scientists kept looking — and, most importantly, they compared their thoughts with observations. And once the process became a recursive iteration, it, of course, really took off.

              But don’t take my word for it. Just open your eyes, look outward instead of inward, and you’ll see: scientists have figured out how the world works and how to make it work better for us, while philosophers do nothing but spew bullshit.

              Bullshit that smells, in fact, remarkably like the stuff you yourself are spewing.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Jim Bradley
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

                Ben – historically, categorically, and logically false. Religion preceded science which was man’s first attempt at thinking. As far as observation, it depends what you mean. A strict observation *means* nothing (the word “meaning” necessarily contains the concept of evaluated perception which presumes thinking about the perception). The fact that we are having a conversation using concepts necessarily presumes more than “observations”. If it’s just pure observation, there is nothing that can be said as “saying” (or writing, etc) necessarily presumes concepts expressed in words. Our discussion is a great demonstration of the shallowness of the claims of science as being “above philosophy” as science fundamentally relies on philosophy and fundamentally relies on concepts concurrent with observations, not on observations alone, which cannot even be expressed without co-occuring concepts. Science is far smaller than philosophy-in-general, a strict and limited subset of it, expressed as methodological naturalism. The strength of science has been the choice to *limit itself* to certain types of claims … but now that adherents have decided to cast aside their “limits”, they tread wantonly into falsity, and ironically, express disregard for those ideas that have made good science possible.

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

                I had to stop at “man’s first attempt at thinking.” Seriously? You think it was religion? I think it was one of these two:

                1. Food!
                2. Woman!!!!

              • gbjames
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

                “Religion preceded science which was man’s first attempt at thinking”

                And how do you know that? This isn’t even plausible.

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 12:23 am | Permalink

                Bravo!

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 12:24 am | Permalink

                Forgot we were at the nesting limit. That bravo was for Ben.

              • Posted January 6, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

                I had to stop at “man’s first attempt at thinking.” Seriously? You think it was religion? I think it was one of these two:

                1. Food!
                2. Woman!!!!

                One really hopes that those two thoughts were distinct….

                Besides, thought predates not only humanity, not only primates, not only mammals, but even vertebrates. The trilobites might not have had very profound thoughts, but they were certainly thinking.

                b&

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Metaphysical assumptions of scientific research are supported by their consequences, like any other general axioms. (This is in fact a good way to think of scientific metaphysics.) This is hardly faith; in fact it is the most fruitful way known of evaluating such principles.

      • Jim Bradley
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        It’s religion (whether it’s called ‘science’ or not) if the practice exceeds the boundaries of what is provable by natural means. I.e. “there is no God” is not a scientific question, it is a metaphysical one and hence cannot be answered by science. Those that attempt to do so (“The God Delusion”) are not doing science. They are making unproved and unprovable assertions.

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry: I must have missed something. Please, explain how one goes about proving a negative.

          • Jim Bradley
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

            Is that in reference to “There is no God”?

            • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

              How about, “There is no mataphysical”?

              • Jim Bradley
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

                To make that claim, you have to already accept, apriori, the factual basis of claims (i.e. logic), etc, which is metaphysical.

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

                I did you the favor, Jim Bradley, of looking up “metaphysical.” It means relating to metaphysics, of course, so I looked up “metaphysics.” Here’s what topped the Google list:
                met·a·phys·ics
                /ˌmetəˈfiziks/
                Noun
                The branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, cause,…
                Abstract theory or talk with no basis in reality.

                Let me repeat the last part of that definitino for you: NO BASIS IN REALITY.

              • Jim Bradley
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

                Docatheist,

                So, you don’t, metaphysically, exist? Come on … the conversation stops here. You cannot deny the brute basics of reality and make any progress whatsoever.

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

                Meanwhile, Jim Bradley, you deny reality by insisting on metaphysics.

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Proving that there are no gods is as easy as proving that there is no such thing as “the largest prime number” or that there is not, at this moment, a herd of angry dinosaurs stampeding around you as you read these words.

          Indeed, the actual proofs themselves are surprisingly similar.

          If you’d care for an example, just give me your favorite definition of “god.” I ask because it’s such a plastic word that’s often used in non-standard or contradictory or incoherent ways, and I’d hate to waste our time by demonstrating the non-existence of something you’re already happy to concede doesn’t exist but which is irrelevant because it’s not what you think of when you think of a god in the first place.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Jim Bradley
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

            Ben, you cannot prove or disprove the existence of a being that cannot be defined – to “define it” is to limit it, and there is no cogent definition that can be offered. However, that does not make it false (or true). Many things we accept as true (consciousness, etc), we cannot define, as they cannot be reduced to other elements … they are the starting point, and cannot be shown to rely on other “constituents”. Hence the problem with scientific reductionism … it always ends up with philosophy and unprovable axiomatic definitions. Science is *always* philosophical, as is all thought.

            • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

              So, let me get this straight. You’re quite certain that there are one or more gods running amok in the universe, but you haven’t a clue of how to tell a god from not-a-god?

              And you expect people to somehow manage to refrain from spontaneously erupting in laughter at you?

              You’re clearly quite proud of this pervasive ignorance of yours. For example, we actually have a damned good idea of what consciousness is, thankyouverymuch; it’s the experience of thinking about thinking. And we know what thinking is, too — it’s the signal processing and analysis, computation if you will, that takes place in the brain. We’ve known this ever since people realized that specific brain injuries caused specific and predictable alterations to consciousness, and the science has really taken off since then. In retrospect, it should have been a tenable hypothesis since the discovery of mind-altering drugs, such as beer.

              So, let’s try one more tack.

              You might not have a clue what consciousness is or how to explain it, but you are at least capable of waving in its general direction.

              Care to try to do the same for one of your gods?

              That is, identify a phenomenon that either actually is one of your gods, or that is evidence of its presence or actions. Its footprints, if you will, if you can’t scare up its autographed portrait (or even the god itself).

              Cheers,

              b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 6, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      That is the usual unfactual deepity that religious hide behind, besides the more common special pleading of faith being valid.

      Science works. And it uses testable constraints, not prior assumptions.

      There is exactly zero faith involved in observing that it works, and having methods for testing constraints in observations and theories. It is all observable method.

      • Jim Bradley
        Posted January 6, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

        And pray tell, what is outside the domain of scientific inquiry? And if there are demonstrably true facts outside of testability, then what? That’s the point … Science is not a “road to truth”, it is a subset of thought-in-general.

        • Posted January 6, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

          @Jim Bradley input internal inconsistency with “demonstrably true facts outside of testability.”

          • Jim Bradley
            Posted January 7, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

            “You exist”

            Clearly an unfalsifiable statement …

            Other scientific metaphysical assumptions: there is no “non-natural” explanation that fits the facts better than the natural explanation (hence the commitment to natural explanations), the senses are accurate representations of reality, testing with multiple observers will eliminate unsystematic human error, there is no systematic human error (errors of observation shared by all humans), the human mind is capable of correctly observing reality, etc. etc.

            None of these statements can be falsified, because to do so would undercut any conclusion about the veracity of the testing (i.e. it is self-refuting). That’s all philosophy folks…

  32. Jim Bradley
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Ben – what the heck are you talking about? Nowhere was there a claim that there is a God or anything of the sort. The claim is that science makes metaphysical assumptions as it must and it is strictly limited, as it must be, and therefore can make no claim about God(s) or a variety of other cosmic dogmatic assertions that are being made by proponents these days (science is fast becoming authority-worship religion: just a different authority and a different religion). There is no grounds whatsoever for the type of universal claims to truth that are being made in the name of “science”… curiously at the same time many proponents are saying that they are “open minded” and would recant “if evidence shows otherwise” … well, evidence already shows they are overstepping, so maybe it’s time to take a step back.

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Jim, I’m going to try to help you out, here. Find a dictionary. Look up “axiom.” Look up “metaphysical.” Then, return to the discussion.

    • Posted January 6, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      So, you don’t have a clue what gods are, you don’t have any evidence of their existence, and you don’t think that there actually are any, and you’re absolutely convinced that science can’t determine their existence (or nature if they exist) because they’re “metaphysical.”

      Seems to me that you’ve just empirically demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that, in practical usage, philosophers use “metaphysical” in the exact same sense as the rest of the world uses “imaginary.”

      You know, imagination can be a lot of fun, but it’s not healthy to pretend that imagination is real. Most people figure that out before they have to take off their shoes to count the number of years they’ve lived.

      b&

      • Posted January 6, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        +10!

      • Jim Bradley
        Posted January 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        Incredibly, you contradict yourself: All of our “scientific” progress, as you’ve argued above, comes from imagination…

        “And I’ll also note that scientists have demonstrated themselves far more capable of coming up with their own imaginative source material than philosophers. ‘Twas scientists, not philosophers, who gave us quantum and relativistic mechanics, who gave us Darwinian evolution, who gave us pasteurization and immunization. And even those ultimate “big questions,” like the origins of the Universe, are being answered not by philosophers but by scientists — first, with Big Bang Cosmology, and now with Hawking and Weinberg and Krauss demonstrating how quantum mechanics itself spontaneously gives rise to a universe from nothing.”

        Cheers.

        — Jim.

        • Posted January 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          @Jim Bradley, can you imagine things into being?

  33. Jim Bradley
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Then Kant took the stage with an idea which, though certainly untenable in the form in which he put it, signified a step towards the solution of Hume’s dilemma: whatever in knowledge is of empirical origin is never certain. If, therefore, we have definitely assured knowledge,it must be grounded in reason itself. This is held to be the case, for example, in the propositions of geometry and the principles of causality. These and certain other types of knowledge are, so to speak, a part of the implements of thinking and therefore do not previously have to be gained from sense data (i.e. they are a priori knowledge). — Albert Einstein, Remarks on Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge, Ideas and Opinions, 1954

    Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

    — Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      The key concept gleaned from that Carl Sagan quote, as applicable here, would be “…we are forced … to create an apparatus of investigation…”

      That is, we are not forced to believe but forced to test, to substantiate or unsubstantiate.

    • Another Matt
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      If, therefore, we have definitely assured knowledge,it must be grounded in reason itself. This is held to be the case, for example, in the propositions of geometry and the principles of causality. These and certain other types of knowledge are, so to speak, a part of the implements of thinking and therefore do not previously have to be gained from sense data (i.e. they are a priori knowledge).

      Right, but notice that all of the propositions of geometry are themselves in a contingent form. It’s as close to “definite knowledge” as we can get that a given proposition follows assuming a certain set of axioms are true. But whether or not the proposition is itself actually true is left undecided.

      The “truth” of various self-consistent geometries, if it stands or falls on anything, depends on observation, and in those cases we say something like “X geometry appears to be true for Y.”

      A lot of this disagreement centers on what we’re prepared to grant as “science” in the first place. Jim Bradley seems to want to restrict “science” only to observation — a kind of radical empiricism — while claiming that any theory-building used to structure the data is “doing philosophy.” I can do him one better — all observations are themselves “theory laden” to some extent, so maybe there isn’t any “science” at all and every instance of observation is also just an instance of someone “doing philosophy.”

      Or maybe science isn’t what he thinks it is.

      • Jim Bradley
        Posted January 6, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        The claim is the starting point of science is philosophical… that’s it … and it is true.


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