I won’t prolong my dispute with Eric MacDonald about whether we have free will, whether our behavior is truly deterministic, or whether there are “ways of knowing” other than empirical observation and reason (science construed broadly). I’ll just post and comment briefly on two statements that he made in his response to my critique of his views on Monday. These appear in yesterday’s piece on his site Choice in Dying, a piece called “Lurching sideways.“
#1. Responding to a famous characterization of “scientism” in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Eric says this:
“Nobody espouses scientism it is just detected in the writings of others.”
This, I am sad to say, is not true, as a number of recent remarks by Steven Pinker, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins have suggested, and all the discussion around this issue has not convinced me that Kitcher, Haack, Hughes, etc. are wrong in their belief that scientism is a growing problem. I happen to think that any doctrinaire belief system is a problem – even one that gives the palm of victory to science. Science is a marvellous human achievement. It also constitutes a problem, and may, indeed — the signs are ominous — spell the end of human life as we know it on this rapidly overcrowding, polluted planet. How long does it take to “kill” an ocean? Does anyone know? And what would be the effect of that on life on this planet? Yet it seems that we are well on the way to acidifying the ocean so ruinously as to make it uninhabitable by the creatures that make their home there, without knowing how quickly this essential ecosystem could collapse. You may say that these consequences are the result of the misuses of science, or the continued hegemony of religion, but that is not at all clear. However, I think the dehumanising possibilities of doctrinaire scientific atheism are just as real as the dehumanising possibilities of religious tyranny. Indeed, the sheer power of science makes the dangerous effects of scientific dogmatism even more likely.
So science is responsible for polluting the oceans? And enablers of science, like Pinker, Dawkins, and I, are implicated in this? Really, isn’t this the result of human greed (dumping crap into the oceans and overfishing)? How can we make science responsible for that? We might as well, as Steve Pinker said, indict architecture as responsible for the Nazi gas chambers. The problems here are technology in the hands of immoral or greedy people. Do we blame toolmakers because people have used shovels, chisels, and hammers to murder people, or chemists for gas attacks in World War I?
And as for the “danger of doctrinaire scientific atheism” and its supposed similarity to religious tyranny, all I can say is that no “scientific atheist” has ever threatened to kill somebody, bombed marathons, shot girls for going to schools, or flown planes into buildings. (Note, too, Eric’s subtle transformation of “doctrinaire scientific atheism” into “scientific dogmatism.” Where did the “atheism” go?) Are climate-change denialists “scientific dogmatists,” too? What about creationists?
Both of Eric’s claims above are so ludicrously wrong, and yet so similar to those made by theologians (“science does stuff as bad as religion does”, and “science is just as fundamentalist as the worst forms of Christianity”), that I am wondering if Eric really is undergoing a confluence with theology. He may still reject God, but he adopts the same arguments theologians use against science to protect their god.
#2: About determinism:
There is far more evidence, if you take philosophical reasoning to be a rational kind of critical enquiry that provides evidence in the form of reasons, for “compatibilist” free will, than there is for outright determinism, if it even makes sense to “speak” in terms of determinism. I assume, therefore, that determinism is merely a doctrinaire or dogmatic claim, and should be, for that reason, rejected, until there is some evidence one way or the other for affirming one or the other stance as true.
Really, we should reject determinism until more evidence is in? Has Eric ever flown in a plane, dropped a rock, played pool, or cut himself? The consequences of such actions are pretty much predictable, and much of our technology—technology Eric must use—depends on physical processes whose results are absolutely predictable.
The statement that there is far more evidence for “compatibilist” free will—a concept that varies among philosophers and cannot necessarily be confirmed empirically—than for physical determinism is simply silly. In fact, it’s not even wrong.