Slate goes after scientism

Aren’t these anti-New Atheism pieces getting tiresome? They have three characteristics: 1. The author is an atheist or agnostic; 2. The author takes New Atheists to task for presenting a caricature of religion and not engaging with religion’s “best” arguments (i.e., academic obscurantism that uses big words), and 3. They call out New Atheists for the horrible crime of scientism.

These features are all on view in Mark O’Connell’s new review in Slate of The Science Delusion by Curtis White, a book that has skyrocketed to position 41,418 on Amazon since it was released on May 28. You know what’s coming when you see the title of O’ Connell’s review: “The case against reason” (subtitle: “Curtis White argues that science isn’t the only way of looking at the world”).

O’Connell is peeved that Richard Dawkins was recently named the world’s “top thinker”, and approves of White’s mission to demolish such unwarranted approbation:

One person who may well have been rolling his eyes pretty hard at the news of Dawkins’ apotheosis as Capo di Tutti Public Intellectuals is Curtis White, whose new book The Science Delusion is a series of targeted takedowns of key figures in this cultural hegemony of science.

Cultural hegemony?

At any rate: I haven’t read White’s book, and O’Connell does note some problems with it, but the reviewer demonstrates all three requisites of The New Atheist Takedown (O’Connell’s quotes are indented):

1. Hey, I’m a nonbeliever, too, but a more sophisticated one who
2. Knows that religion is much more complicated, subtle, and nuanced than New Atheists think:

White is a nonbeliever, but like a lot of nonbelievers—me included—he’s frustrated with the so-called New Atheism’s refusal to engage with anything but the narrowest and most reductive understanding of religious experience, and its insistence on the scientific method as the only legitimate approach to truth.

Sometimes I wonder if people like O’Connell have really read the purveyors of obscurantist religious bullpucky: people like Karen Armstrong, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, or even Tanya Luhrmann.  Their “nonreductive understanding” is either an attempt to evade spelling out what they really believe, or a wordy justification for garden-variety religion.  And O’Connell also neglects that fact that most religious people aren’t theologians, do not read theology, and have a pretty straightforward (and “reductive,” whatever that means) set of beliefs. Jesus existed, was divine, and was crucified to save us from sin; Mohamed was the prophet and his words are not metaphorical; Joseph Smith revealed the visit of Jesus to North America and you can baptize your ancestors post mortem; you can get “clear” by investing thousands of dollars in analysis with the e-meter, and so on. I venture to say that at least 90% of the world’s religious believers fall into the class that Dawkins criticizes.  Why on earth do critics like O’Connell always equate “religion” with “theology”?

3.  And oh, that dreaded scientism is everywhere. Why can’t New Atheists see that there are Other Ways of Knowing?

There’s certainly a very real need to march on that citadel, because the idea that there can be only one kind of truth has to be deeply damaging to the intellectual development of a culture. You don’t have to devalue empiricism to believe that there are kinds of understanding that can’t be accessed in a controlled, peer-reviewed experiment. The problem, obviously, isn’t science; it’s the arrogance with which many scientists, and popularizers of science, dismiss the value of other ways of thinking about questions of meaning, about the world and our place in it.

[Jonah] Lehrer, say, wants us to believe that, because neurologists can demonstrate how Observable Phenomenon X was happening in Part Y of Bob Dylan’s brain when he wrote “Like a Rolling Stone,” science can therefore “explain” the human capacity for creativity or imagination. This is like saying that the song itself is best appreciated by putting it on your stereo and then mapping the sound waves it creates. It doesn’t really tell us anything useful, or usefully true. But this is the kind of truth in which scientism, and the culture that accommodates it, puts most stock.

Ummm. . . I don’t think so.  As always in these discussions of scientism, there’s a palpable refusal to be honest about what scientists believe. Really, who among us, and by “us” I mean “scientists,” thinks that Bob Dylan is best appreciated by mapping the sound waves it creates? (This is stupid anyway: one would have to understand the effect of those sound waves on the brain.) And who are those arrogant scientists? Why aren’t they ever named?

Now one day science may be able to understand music’s effect on us by seeing how it affects our neurons, but that day is a long way off; and even then the effects will have to be understood as interacting with the experiences (also coded in the neurons) of different individuals. But for the nonce we scientists—or at least many of us—appreciate art, music, and literature simply for the pleasure they give us, and don’t devalue them because we don’t understand where that pleasure comes from. “Scientism” is a straw position.

At the end you finally understand where O’Connell is coming from. He’s butthurt because he works in the humanities, which he sees being taken over by the hideous spectre of—science:

I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life in the academic study of English literature and, for me, there is no more painful—and painfully obvious—proof of the intellectual hegemony of science than how the disciplines of the humanities have been forced to adopt a language of empiricism in order to talk about their own value. If you want to do a Ph.D. on, say, the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, you will need to be able to talk about what you’re doing as though it were a kind of science. What you’re doing is “research,” and that research has to be pursued through the use of some or other “methodology.” In order to get funding for that research, you’ll need to establish how it will advance the existing body of knowledge on Bishop’s poetry, and how it will “impact” upon the wider public sphere. The study of the humanities, in other words, very often has to present itself as a kind of minor subsidiary of science.

This is my first reaction that that analysis:

Violin complaining cat copy

Really, is it the fault of scientists that increasing rigor, and an insistence on giving evidence for what you claim, is creeping into the humanities and social sciences—which, by the way, contain the word “science”? The putting of scare quotes around “methodology” gives the game away. Much better, thinks O’Connell, that English scholars don’t have to establish their points with empirical evidence. Damn that evidence; full jouer ahead!

Granted, much in literary analysis and criticism is purely subjective, but to the extent that reason and evidence can be brought to bear, that’s all to the good.  The mire in which postmodernism immersed English studies is a good example of what happens when a discipline tries to free itself from reason and evidence. And, at any rate, scientists are hardly to blame for the increasing “science-iness” of the humanities.  We’re too busy working in our labs to police those disciplines. The insistence on rigor is of their own making.

And—don’t you know it—in his peroration O’Connell winds up dragging religion into the picture as another way of knowing, even though he’s a nonbeliever.

Scientism is essentially the belief, the faith, that all problems and questions are potentially soluble by empirical investigation (and that if they’re not, they’re somehow not real questions, not real problems). But there are large areas of human experience for which science has no convincing or compelling means of accounting. I am, I suppose, more or less an atheist, but when I read the Book of Genesis, I find that there is something profoundly true about the picture of human nature in those verses—a picture of our perversity and self-alienation that neuroscience, for instance, has no way of getting at or talking about. Schopenhauer, Freud, and Heidegger all give us comparable forms of truth—truths that aren’t verifiable or measurable in the same way as those of science, but that are no less valuable. The most important truths are often untranslatable into the language of fact.

In the end it always comes down to enabling or coddling religion. O’Connell needs to apply Petroleum Jerry to his wounded posterior.

143 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Yes. The “scientism” critique boils down to academic territory defense.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it does. I think this is a red herring. This is one untalented person trying to get attention from people who don’t know any better.

  2. wildhog
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    “If you want to do a Ph.D. on, say, the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, you will need to be able to talk about what you’re doing as though it were a kind of science. What you’re doing is “research,” and that research has to be pursued through the use of some or other “methodology.” In order to get funding for that research, you’ll need to establish how it will advance the existing body of knowledge on Bishop’s poetry, and how it will “impact” upon the wider public sphere.”

    The reason for all that “dressing up” of the Ph.D. in this example is that any benefit to the world of said Ph.D. isnt enough to justify the endeavor. The world needs another Ph.D. in the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop like it needs another prime-time reality TV show. Its just poetry, for god’s sake. If you like it, read it! If you dont, find something else to do. Its not like its going to cure cancer.

    For that, you’d need science.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      Like like like like like…

    • Posted June 9, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      When I read this I thought, you want a PhD! And you complaint about structured approach to your research? Come on!

      And why he put quotes on the word research? Is he trying to be funny or what?

      A Phd! sheesh ..

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        Those quotes are what Jerry aptly calls scare quotes. 🙂 He’s just all sore that he has to actually prove himself with evidence.

  3. Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t these anti-New Atheism pieces getting tiresome?

    To the contrary, they demonstrate that things have changed, that the status quo ante has challenged enough to trouble its beneficiaries.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Well, like the religious O’Connell also lies so please don’t believe Mark O’Connell’s lies about the humanities. Besides the subtle indicator that he’s doing humanities wrong in this gem of a sentence: “apotheosis as Capo di Tutti” (only a pretentious person with weak arguments trying to look sophisticated mixes up Ancient Greek and Italian in one sentence like that), O’Connell makes a completely ludicrous assertion that science is “polluting” the humanities. The humanities as a scholarly discipline always required critical thinking and evidenced based claims. In fact, people in the humanities are not afraid of science, they argue they are doing science (in the broad sense and they usually call this making evidenced based claims and using critical thinking to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information). I contend that this is done with literary analysis as well – if O’Connell wants to just read stuff for enjoyment, that’s okay but it’s not how you actually do work in humanities. And this claim against social science is even more ludicrous – the disciplines that actually use statistics. LOL! Oh poor O’Connell, you just have no credibility.

    Check what Richard Carrier says about how you work in the humanities to understand how far off O’Connell is: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.ca/2007/07/experimental-history.html

    The recent whining about the New Atheists by other atheists seems like a pathetic attempt for those with less interesting things to say to get some attention of their own. In this way O’Connell is no better than members of the Discovery Institute; he even employs their methods of deceit.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      In my field there was a fad for awhile (like 20 years) that exalted personal experience as being a valid source of information. How one person responds, not how lots of people respond or the context or anything educated. The vocal minority cowed the old-timers who fought back mightily, but the “new” style cutting edge polemicists managed to take over the editorial boards of some of the most prestigious journals int he field.

  5. Sheila B
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    “Schopenhauer, Freud, and Heidegger all give us comparable forms of truth—truths that aren’t verifiable or measurable…”

    Then, how do you know it’s the truth?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      I know, as you read it you may actually think you’re reading something from The Onion. BTW Freud had a Classical education 😉 I need to go get up in O’Connell’s grill! 😀

      • Sheila B
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        I rather resent the distortion of the word truth. If truth can be so elastic as to mean anything a person wants it to mean, why have this word at all. It becomes meaningless.

        I understand that one may feel or believe something is true, but that’s entirely different from declaring said thing to be the truth, without any real basis.

        And the whole “other ways of knowing” thing drives me nuts. Still waiting for a specific example. The true thing about the picture of human nature in Genesis is a little vague, IMHO.

        • gbjames
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          I’m waiting, too. I’m told that 2+2=4. And so I continue to wait.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:18 am | Permalink

            “2 + 2 = 5, for sufficiently large values of 2”.

            (Favourite tagline. You can actually demonstrate it in a spreadsheet, too, if you get the rounding set right).

        • lamacher
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

          I agree. The human nature shtick is far better described in Les Mis, anything by Dosteovsky, much of Shakespeare, any Travis McGee story, than in Genesis or elsewhere in the Bible. And it is never laid out what ‘truth’ is under discussion.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      I happen to know that it is true that the moon is actually made of green cheese. That truth is not measurable or verifiable, of course, but it is true. I know it. Not scientifically; other ways.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Sheila B
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 2:15 am | Permalink

        If one is red-green colour blind, is the moon still green? Or is there another other way of knowing?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 9, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          You make your own moon by perceiving it LOL

        • gbjames
          Posted June 9, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

          No, the moon is not still green. It is, however, still made of cheese.

    • Greg Fitzgerald
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      The title of Jerry’s post should have been, “Mark O’Connell Believes Penis Envy is True!”

  6. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Hegemony again!

    Along with Giddens, Heidegger, Foucault, hermeneutics and dialectical, it’s one of the Bad Words I scan texts for before accepting to translate them. It’s an indicator for texts containing long, convoluted sentences and weird logic.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      You need some Black and Decker hedgemon clippers. You can get them at Home Depot.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        One day when I’m a hegemon I will have the best hedge around my hegemony!

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted June 9, 2013 at 12:35 am | Permalink

          Better start investing in a hedge fund.

          • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

            Invest your hegemoney!

            /@

          • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

            Invest your hegemoney!

            /@

            • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:15 am | Permalink

              See! It’s given me 100% return already!

              /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 9, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

                I see you hedged your bets with that double post!

            • Draken
              Posted June 9, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

              You hatched a double post.

      • Jeffry house
        Posted June 16, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Home Despot, I call it.

  7. Alex Shuffell
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    From the book description on Amazon.co.uk (It’s ranked 47,035 here): “The science delusion is the belief that science already understands the nature of reality. The fundamental questions are answered, leaving only the details to be filled in…” This is statement is a sentence that can immediately shut off all curiosity, leaving only fiction to be written. From this view there is no reason to do science, it’s all done!
    He says he’s an atheist (I have no reason to suspect he’s not) to set himself up as an authority, he should know how we all think. It’s understandable he’s a religious sympathiser, they should be his biggest market.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      You can ignore this rant, it’s based on The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake, a different book.

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Maybe they aren’t that different. Curtis White’s Science Delusion is ranked 120,590. The book description reads “In The Science Delusion, Curtis White argues that the rich philosophical debates of the 19th century have been almost totally abandoned. Instead, students are taught that science can resolve all questions.” The first half of my rant still applies here.

        I apologise for being impatient.

        • Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:07 am | Permalink

          Interpreting Amazon’s rankings is a science in itself. If I remember correctly, they are based on the last week’s sales, and are often high right after publication. I don’t think that the book by Curtis has a high ranking.

  8. Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life in the academic study of English literature and, for me, there is no more painful—and painfully obvious—proof of the intellectual hegemony of science than how the disciplines of the humanities have been forced to adopt a language of empiricism in order to talk about their own value.

    What he should find troubling, is that more good books are being written by journalists than by professors of English literature.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      He’s just annoyed that he can’t get away with making outrageous statements in academia without his colleagues jumping on him. On the interwebz he can say what he wants and outrageous statements sell.

  9. Gordon Munro
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    The most contentious word in English has eight letters, nor four, to wit: “Evidence.” If you meet Bertand Russel someday in that post space-times entity past St. Peter’s Checkpoint Charlie, you and he might have to concede that you both are compatible with “compatiblism.”
    On the other hand…

  10. Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Without using science, how do those who ‘know’ things some other way – whatever that might be – know that what they ‘know’ is correct?

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      That’s circular reasoning, which is what Jerry does too. The moment you ask those people advocating “other ways of knowing” for evidence, you’re evaluating them by the standards of science. In other words, you’re drawing the conclusion they’re wrong by starting with the assumption they’re wrong.

      Although I agree with you and Jerry, I think it’s harder to attack them than this.

      • Sheila B
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Does this boil down to semantics?

        I would say the words “truth” and “know” fall within the scientific bailiwick. Isn’t someone who proclaims to know something to be true based on personal revelation, a holy book, a three-stream waterfall, etc., using “know” as shorthand for “strongly believe” or “is convinced of”?

        Likewise, truth is used instead of, say, belief or perception. For example, if there really is something profoundly true about the picture of human nature in the verses of Genesis, then everyone reading those verses should see it, if it’s the truth. If everyone doesn’t then I don’t see that it can be described as truth. Rather it is Mr. O’Connell’s perception, based on various aspects of his life’s experiences, which others may or may not share.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          There may well be truths about human nature in Genesis — or in other works of literature — but the real question is how did they get there and why do they ring true? Answer: because the authors were keen observers of human nature and accurately recorded what they observed.

          Is O’Connell really arguing that reading about someone else’s observations falls outside the domain of empiricism and is a fundamentally different “way of knowing”
          than observing things for yourself?

        • Greg Esres
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          “Does this boil down to semantics?”

          Yes, or maybe “equivocation” in fallacy terms.

          We all use the word “truth” but have different ideas of what it means. We, by definition, assume it means “evidenced-based”.

          If we want to attack the “other ways of knowing”, we really have to confront them with their own internal lack of consistency of what they mean by that. Would they feel they were treated fairly if they were convicted of a crime by “other ways of knowing”, rather than based on the evidence?

          • Sheila B
            Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            “We all use the word “truth” but have different ideas of what it means.”.

            Is that true ? 😀

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Unless we assume that we are doing philosophy, we are not assuming anything.

        It is well known that empiricism is the only way to observe facts and get to knowledge. It is an observation, not an assumption.

        • Greg Esres
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          “It is an observation, not an assumption.”

          It’s an assumption that the only way to acquire knowledge is through observation. Circular reasoning again, along with appeal to authority. Two strikes!

          • Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            See, that’s the great thing about science.

            Reality closes the loop for you.

            It’s very much an evolutionary process.

            Start with whatever method you like for acquiring knowledge. Whether you live or die will likely depend upon how good your method is.

            As it turns out, the only method that’s survived such a process — indeed, the only method that even theoretically could logically survive such a process — is one whereby knowledge of a subject is continually tested against actual experiences of the subject itself.

            The reasoning isn’t at all circular, and the only authority being appealed to are the lions and tigers and bears who’ll eat your oh my if your knowledge of them isn’t consistent with the reality of them.

            And, as I noted below, everybody knows this, even when avarice and / or cognitive dissonance causes them to pretend otherwise.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Greg Esres
              Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

              “Whether you live or die will likely depend upon how good your method is.”

              But that again assumes that success is what you judge a method by. These people are rejecting that, so your argument holds no force.

              On the other hand, I’d argue that the idea that if you believe in Jesus you go to heaven is actually an empirical claim, but they can only view the evidence after they die.

              • Sheila B
                Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

                ” but they can only view the evidence after they die.”

                Then while we live, it’s a hypothesis. Hypothesis ≠ truth

              • Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                But that again assumes that success is what you judge a method by. These people are rejecting that, so your argument holds no force.

                A certain wise man whose portrait appears on the £10 note was able to figure out that, at least over evolutionary timescales, survival trumps all.

                If those idiots really wish to go down the evolutionary rabbit-hole, that’s fine with me.

                However, their own actions demonstrate that that’s not what they really want.

                Oh, sure, they like to pretend that their fantasies are true — but people with equivalent emotional maturity regularly believe that Santa will stuff a bicycle under the Christmas tree if they’re good.

                But when these people get sick, they either go to the doctor or they die, just like the rest of us. When their cars break down, they either follow standard empirical methods to fix them or they stop driving. When they’re looking for a safe place to invest retirement funds, they either do due diligence or they get taken to the cleaners.

                I really don’t think it’s any secret that religion is a scam, the greatest scam of all. People just don’t like to admit that they’ve been taken, is all — and it’s generally not considered polite to tell them as much.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                But that again assumes that success is what you judge a method by.

                IOW, It is difficult to converse sensibly with the insane.

              • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:21 am | Permalink

                “But that again assumes that success is what you judge a method by.”

                Well, that certainly seems to be the most successful approach…

                /@

      • Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        See, the thing is, everybody agrees upon the vital, insurmountable importance of evidence for evaluating truth claims. Absolutely everybody.

        The only exceptions — and I do mean only — are in cases of fraud and deception.

        If you’re buying a used car, you want evidence, at least in the form of a test drive or ideally an examination with a mechanic you already trust (based on the evidence of his past work) that the car isn’t a lemon. The salesman telling you to trust him, it’s a real beaut of a cherry that a little old lady only used for grocery shopping? Even if he’s telling you the truth, you still don’t trust him. Nobody ever really does; it’s just easier to go along with it than call that nice man a liar to his face.

        All this “faith” bullshit, the importance of believing despite the lack of evidence (or even in spite of contradictory evidence)? I’d argue that those who trumpet faith know damned well that they’re lying to themselves, and it’s only cognitive dissonance that keeps them at it. Easier to shout out the voice of sanity than admit you’ve been a fool and fallen for what you know is a lie — and even better if you can get a bunch of other people to go along with it as well. And maybe these people you fooled really do know something you don’t all along? Hey-presto, there’s your evidence, manufactured out of thin air.

        And, yes. There are crazy nutjobs who actually do see weird shit and hear voices in their heads and all the rest, who sincerely believe the gods and / or demons are talking to them and who have direct and overwhelmingly convincing evidence to support those beliefs.

        And many more people have had momentary disconnects with reality, either spontaneously or induced by well-known shyster tricks designed to induce them, and that moment of pure bliss that came over them as everybody was praying over them and they broke out into gibberish is the evidence upon which their own faith rests.

        Or there even are those so blinkered and childishly idiotic to think that a millennia-old faery tale anthology about enchanted gardens and talking animals and angry wizards and flying zombie warriors is evidence, and they’ll thump their Bibles as proof that it’s all real, even the dragons and the sea monsters, and your evidence is right there between those pages.

        But those who claim that evidence is meaningless? That you’ve got to take it all on faith?

        They’re simply lying, even if to themselves.

        Each and every one of them.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          This is it.

          The argument isn’t really about being able to ascertain truth via evidence vs some other method, it’s about what counts as legitimate evidence.

      • Leigh
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        I do not understand what you mean by circular reasoning. People claim that science is only one way of knowing, then assert that there are other ways of knowing. It seems fair to ask them to specify those other ways and to show what knowledge is developed and how we are to integrate this new knowledge into our understanding of the universe.

        Mark O’Connell certainly does not do this in his review. I have never read any scientism
        article that does lay out a clear exposition of the claim.

        If the critics of science are not willing or able to present a coherent and clear argument for their position, why should anyone take them seriously?

      • Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        No, nobody is starting with the assumption they’re wrong.

        They may very well be correct. But how can they demonstrate their correctness? That’s all that’s being asked.

      • AL
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

        Can’t speak for Rosa, but I think the point here is to get them to explain their alternative epistemology, not necessarily to beg the question about empiricism.

        OK, so they claim to know something that has no empirical basis (or in some extreme cases, is contradicted on an empirical basis) – how does this “knowledge” work? How do you “know” it?

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

        The correct term for a claim that can be neither verified nor refuted by confrontation with evidence is “Not even wrong”. Certainly not “Truth”.

      • Posted July 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        It’s not in the least circular. How do you know anything without it having some basis in reality, i.e. being grounded in the realm of science?

        In what sense is anything knowable NOT in the realm of science? To exclude science is merely a form of special pleading – my beliefs need to be protected from being examined and have to be granted special privilege to get by. Smacks of a lack of confidence at best.

    • Suri
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      The ‘other ways of knowing’ thing is very common in spirituality, new age and meditation circles.
      Usually when you ask them how do they know what they know is correct they answer something like ‘my guru told me and he is enlightened so…’ or ‘that is what spiritual practice is for.. finding the real answers’or ‘the rational mind obscures the truth’.

      I think if you asked him the same question his answer would be just as ridiculous as that of the woo lovers.

  11. ladyatheist
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    At first I suspected Sokal under a pseudonym but no it’s real… the postmodernists want to take over atheism now? and it’s because… they’ve been chased out of the humanities!

    As an ABD in the humanities who quit due to the realization that there was no way to get tenure without name-dropping Schopenhauer and Derrida in every article or paper (with a heavy smattering of Adorno), I admit to doing a bit of a happy skippy dance at this news. It’s a pity they’ve moved on to atheism, though.

    You have to ask “Ways of ‘knowing’ what?” Religion doesn’t explain why someone would believe Bob Dylan’s music is interesting or beautiful or meaningful, either. That would be the realm of neurology, or perhaps abnormal psychology. There’s nothing inherent in the music that would mean anything to anybody because it’s an individual human invention within a culture invented by humans. No supernatural deity required.

    OTOH I have had several male zebra finches. They sing; the females don’t. Many bird species are this way. Many other species have the males do the attracting of the mate using “art” in their coloring. So why is it that Bob Dylan is the voice of a generation and not Joan Baez? Why have girls swooned over Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, Bobby Sherman, the Beastie Boys, Justin Bieber, One Direction, etc. but there are no instances of teenaged boys swooning over female singers?

    There may indeed be a scientific explanation for Bob Dylan, but even if there isn’t, it would be an interesting thing to study using the scientific method. Waxing poetic over your favorite bard is just contemplating your navel. Interesting to you. Boring to the rest of us. This is why the post-modernists are butthurt. It’s where their “research” came from.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      (not that I’m bitter)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        LOL that’s okay. When I read his post I actually felt flush. He really annoyed me with his stupid ideas.

        • ladyatheist
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

          Meanwhile, in today’s New York Times, we have scientists who have studied the brain on music:

          http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/opinion/sunday/why-music-makes-our-brain-sing.html?_r=0

          ” When pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum — an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well — which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is artificially targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine.

          But what may be most interesting here is when this neurotransmitter is released: not only when the music rises to a peak emotional moment, but also several seconds before, during what we might call the anticipation phase. ”

          I want to find out what happens when someone who has dedicated thousands of hours to making and listening to beautiful music hears the grating sad-sack voice of Bob Dylan. What’s the opposite of dopamine?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            Ha ha – probably increased norepinephrine.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

            Richard Carrier discusses some of this stuff too: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1965

            • ladyatheist
              Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

              Someone has studied recent popular music and found that it uses fewer notes and chords and is basically simpler than popular music of the past. They got paid to figure this out! imho the .mp3 format has impoverished the music of today, and when or if kids decide they want higher audio quality there will be more nuance.

              Journalists & everyday people talking about their response to music is waaaaay more interesting than the academics who have done it. The most notorious one is a woman who likened Beethoven’s 9th symphony to a rape.

              • Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

                Woah…I’ve been to some bad performances in my life, but even the worst middle school band mangling of the Ode an die Freude wouldn’t be deserving of such a description.

                Something tells me that, whatever the woman was talking about, it sure wasn’t Beethoven.

                I mean, there’s no way that one can experience this performance without having your life transformed….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                Maybe she listened to it in Clockwork Orange

              • ladyatheist
                Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

                I’m not making this up! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_McClary#The_Beethoven_and_rape_controversy

              • Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

                Oh. Susan McClary. I’d roll my eyes if I felt she deserved even that. A perfect example of why you’re ABD and of why I seriously question whether I think I can be successful or even stand it in this field (music).

              • Posted June 8, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

                whoever that was, I don’t think, as Ben says, listened to Beethoven.

              • Posted June 9, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                Wow…Ms. McClary’s Wikipedia page almost reads like Rush Limbaugh’s biography of one of his “Feminazi” caricatures.

                She’s very clearly a deeply troubled individual.

                b&

            • Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

              Ooh. Red flags all over the place in that Carrier piece.

              It’s supposed to be about music, but he doesn’t say much about, you know, music. The actual notes.

              There’s no ’00s sound? Says him. I can name a few common contemporary practices. To say nothing about the fact that, no, decades between 1900 and 2010 did not>/i> have “a sound”. He’s only considering his narrow pop genre. Led Zeppelin was producing at the same time as George Crumb. They do not have the same “sound”.

              And those neuroscience books. I’ve read the Patel, heard a lot about the Levitin and the Sacks, and read another, “Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy”, by Robert Jourdain. They offer interesting and even useful information about how the brain processes auditory input, but this information is useless for the purposes of evaluating the quality of a piece of music. An analogy: books about the way the brain processes individual units of language, perhaps down to the level of the phoneme, won’t shed light on what makes great literature. When we read a novel, we’re not reacting to separate chunks of input. We’re reacting to the skill with which the author has created a coherent and compelling plot, has invented interesting characters and developed them, etc.

              Thus with music. We react to the logic with which the composer establishes relationships between pitches and other aural events as the piece unfolds.

          • pacopicopiedra
            Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

            “I want to find out what happens when someone who has dedicated thousands of hours to making and listening to beautiful music hears the grating sad-sack voice of Bob Dylan.”

            Don’t you blaspheme in here!

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:32 am | Permalink

            “I want to find out what happens when someone who has dedicated thousands of hours to making and listening to beautiful music hears the grating sad-sack voice of Bob Dylan. What’s the opposite of dopamine?”

            Yeah BUT – and I’m not a great Dylan fan – he is very good at what he does. Another performer who has no voice (but makes up for it with his musical ability) is Mark Knopfler. Their tunesmithing makes up for their lack of singing talent.

            Really, “beautiful music” begs a lot of questions as to what is (subjectively) beautiful!

            • gbjames
              Posted June 9, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

              Speaking of Dylan and Knopfler, I saw the two of them in concert last year. Knopfler remains a very good musician and tunesmith. Dylan is well past his sell-by date. A personal tragedy given how important his music was to me in my youth.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I used to swoon over the songs of the young Emmylou Harris. I wasn’t a teen anymore, but still…

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      but there are no instances of teenaged boys swooning over female singers?

      When I listen to the Eurythmics swoon is not the reaction I get.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      I definitely tended to swoon more over female vocalists than male in my adolescence. Then I grew up. =D (Actually, my tastes changed. But I think a period was decided on, or perhaps dedicated to, swooning over female vocalists.)

      • Posted June 9, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Tended? 😉

        Really, this discussion about who swoons over whom is irrelevant. When boys or girls swoon over a performer it has nothing to do with music. Music was only the accidental vehicle for getting that performer into the public eye. It’s much more important that the performer be attractive.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

      I still swoon over Barbra Streisand (my own personal “Streisand Effect”), and Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span) still sends shivers down my spine.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:38 am | Permalink

      Linda Ronstadt. Definitely swoonable.

      (Turns off the 13 channels of shit on the TV and cues up ‘Adios’…)

    • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:31 am | Permalink

      “no instances of teenaged boys swooning over female singers?”?!

      /@

  12. Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    At least he did not complain about the gnu atheists not offering any replacement for religion.

    Are these humanities chappies so dense as not to get the difference between personal experience and scientific consensus? Between personal experience/perception and knowledge that anyone could apply via science? Their broad definition of knowledge has to be tied in with their attachment to their academic field. Is not the universality of the pleasure and comfort stemming from the arts not enough for their egos?

    Subjective/non-rational experience is true/accurate ‘knowledge’ only in the sense that it is your personal memories/experience, and perhaps it can/will serve as inspiration or a basis of discovery that would then be tested through scientific methodology. Science does not insist that creativity/imagination/personal experience is all for nought.

  13. Kevin F
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Is there not a bit of irony in O’Connell complaining about science creeping into the humanities? If getting a phd in english requires some kind of science-like methodology I’m assuming it is because that kind of methodology works. If so, if the methodology of science works in english, doesn’t that bolster the case for ‘scientism’?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      He’s probably making stuff up (since he seems to want a job that allows that) 😀

  14. Hannah
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Great post, but I take issue with one thing: Please don’t lump humanities in with social sciences. As a social scientist, I can tell you that a focus on empirical evidence and rigorous scientific methods isn’t “creeping into” the social sciences – it’s been there for a very long time. The social sciences have much more in common with the physical and biological sciences than they do with the humanities.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      The humanities were sciency until the post-modernists took over with an anti-“positivist” chip on their shoulders. After a couple of decades of this their approach has proved to be vacuous and now they’re losing ground. Poor babies.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        I must’ve been fortunate to go to a school with little post modernism in it. I found my professors to be staunchly evidence based.

        • Posted June 9, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          Yes, you must’ve.

          I regularly encounter writings from composers/performers/music historians/music theorists that uphold postmodern ideas like near-absolute relativism, anti-empiricism, and anti-reductionism (that last one particularly fills me with desperation; they positively do not want to penetrate to the real foundations of a given issue or phenomenon – they prefer to float around in the superficial ether surrounding an issue or phenomenon, where there is no real understanding).

          Frustratingly, they sometimes give lip service to the idea that postmodernism has seen its day. But there they are, toeing the PM line nonetheless.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 9, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

            I’m only now appreciating how godless my university was as well.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      The social sciences have their own problems to deal with. Example:
      No atheists in foxholes: WWII vets remain religious
      In which a marketing guy and a chair of religious studies get together and do a survey, from which they conclude that marketing religion to combat veterans is a Good Thing.

      • Posted June 9, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        In reality, of course, there are only atheists in foxholes. True believers wouldn’t be digging ditches and hiding in them to stop the enemy bullets; they’d instead just miracle their way through the fight with flaming swords and what-not. Hell, YHWH would probably be sending plagues and raining frogs and locusts and even hellfire (not the missiles, but actual hellfire) down upon the enemy whenever you were about to call in an artillery strike.

        If nothing else, the True Christians™ would all be in the medical corps and, as Mark 16:18 says as how we should identify true believers, they would lay their hands on all the sick who would then recover.

        But apparently the Bible is chock full of lies, to hear the Christians tell it, and the plain meaning of the text doesn’t mean shit. And actually believing what it says somehow means putting Jesus to the test, which is even worse than paying attention to the man behind the cursor.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted June 9, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

          “In reality, of course, there are only atheists in foxholes. True believers wouldn’t be digging ditches and hiding in them to stop the enemy bullets; they’d instead just miracle their way through the fight…”

          QFT

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh, the old Story of the Non-Senses.

    The First Non-Sense, the antique Sophisticated Theology™, was too decrepit to find little New Atheism as she bounded around the little cottage.

    The Second Non-Sense, the nebulous Other Ways of Knowing™, was too non-existent to be found by little New Atheism as she looked through all the cupboards of the little cottage.

    And the Third Non-Sense, the sanctimonious I Am an Atheist Too™, was too full of himself to see little New Atheism letting her friends in as he looked in his mirror.

    And so all the Non-Senses ceased to be relevant, and little New Atheism lived happily ever after with her increasing friend base.

    ***********

    Poor The Science Delusion. The God Delusion is currently listed by Amazon as “#1,066 in Books”.

    White is a nonbeliever, but like a lot of nonbelievers—me included—he’s frustrated with the so-called New Atheism’s refusal to engage with anything but the narrowest and most reductive understanding of religious experience, and its insistence on the scientific method as the only legitimate approach to truth.

    Why are accommodationists refusing to engage the best arguments of atheism? Namely that an existence claim is a prerequisite for magical belief.

    Which isn’t to say that this is a vicious circle. In no other area is an existence claim adjudicated by other means than empiricism. Only by throwing up Religious Special Pleading™ can an accommodationist protect his ass … ahem, his cognitive dissonance.

    And who are those arrogant scientists? Why aren’t they ever named?

    That tears it. We really need to name this fallacy and get it into Wikipedia. I see it is related to the fallacy of Appeal to probability – “the logical fallacy of taking something for granted because it would probably be the case (or might possibly be the case)” [my bold].

    The fallacy of Appeal to scientists? “The logical fallacy of taking scientists for granted because it might possibly be the case.”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      An arrogant scientist would be named Dr Arroganto (okay I stole that from Big Bang Theory) 🙂

    • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      Goldilocks and the Three Non-Senses! Love it.

      /@

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Ha, the superpower of arrogance! And that sketch was awesome. (I caught on to BBT late and haven’t seen much.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      That was supposed to be sub-threaded as a reply to Diana MacPherson.

  17. marksolock
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  18. Prof.Pedant
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    “Why on earth do critics like O’Connell always equate “religion” with “theology”?”

    The following is condensed and paraphrased from a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a very sophisticated believer (with a Master’s in Theology!), substitution O’Connell’s name for my acquaintance’s name:

    Theology is how sophisticated people like O’Connell experience religion. Since they are sophisticated people their experiences are obviously true because sophisticated people are the best equipped to experience and understand reality as it is. Therefore religion is, in its purest form, theology – and when theology gets sophisticated enough we see that all religions are harmoniously the same – all thanks to sophisticated people like O’Connell. Also, sophisticated people are definitionally incapable of hubris.

    • Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      I think it might be even simpler.

      People who defend sophisticated theology are convinced, or at least swayed, by it. They can’t see it for the bullshit it so plainly is.

      But they’re smart people. (They might even know that they’re smart in part because they find such difficult-to-understand topics as theology convincing.) And smart people are the most to be trusted on matters of the intellect. Since smart people (like them) see the value in theology, and theology is the true heart of religion…well, it doesn’t need to be fully spelled out, but QED and all that smart stuff.

      The important part is anybody who defends theology actually does see some sort of value in it. Such a person’s intellect at least, and motives in a number of cases, are not to be uncritically trusted.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:00 am | Permalink

        Dunning-Kruger?

        • Posted June 9, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          Not exactly, but there’re certainly similar mechanisms at work.

          b&

  19. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    What Mr. White needs is a new word, a better word than Truth, for his Other Things He Knows But Can’t Provide Evidence.

    May I suggest “Coolest Story Ever, Bro” as a suitable replacement?

    • Sheila B
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Works for me!

  20. papalinton
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Am I missing something?

    What are the ‘other ways of knowing’ these people keep banging on about?

    At base it is my understanding that there are five ways of knowing: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, There are a couple of others such as awareness of balance (equilibrioception), pressure, temperature (thermoception), pain (nociception), and motion. But all of these seem to involve the coordination of multiple use of the five basic sensory organs.

    So what are the ‘different ways of knowing’ that do not use or are additional to any of these?

    I wish someone would enlighten me. When are the O’Connells and the Whites going to get off their arse and produce the goods on these extra-sensory ‘ways of knowing’ rather than bad-mouthing the only verifiable existing knowledge and understanding available? The best defeater to the limits of knowing through these five senses only is to demonstrate what they are.

    David Eller, anthropologist, says it so well:
    “”….religions do not and cannot progress the way that, say, science can progress. When science progresses, it abandons old and false ideas. Once we discovered oxygen and the principles of combustion, we stopped thinking that there was a substance called phlogiston. Once we discovered that the earth is round, we stopped thinking that it is flat. Science and reason are SUBSTITUTIVE and ELIMINATIVE: new ideas replace old ideas. Religion is ADDITIVE and/or SCHISMATIC: new ideas proliferate alongside old ideas. For instance, the development of Protestantism did not put an end to Catholicism, and the development of Christianity did not put an end to Judaism. With science, we get BETTER. With religion, we get MORE.”

    So Mr White and Mr O’Connell, what are the ‘other ways of knowing’ that replace the existing old ideas of knowing, or are you only going to add to the swill of theological ideas?

    Sheesh! Give as A break.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      No doubt someone will chime in with the claim that arithmetic is another way of knowing.

      • papalinton
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        So the existence of a god is a mathematical issue, now? :o)

        • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:43 am | Permalink

          He is the α and the ω, so, clearly, an algebraic issue.

          /@

    • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Citation?

      /@

      • papalinton
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        “Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a free Thinker”
        American Atheist Press, Cranford, NJ
        2007
        Page. ix

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      At base it is my understanding that there are five ways of knowing: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, There are a couple of others such as awareness of balance (equilibrioception), pressure, temperature (thermoception), pain (nociception), and motion.

      Wrong. These are ways of sensing. At times they are unreliable. There has been a lot of science done on how and why some of these senses are unreliable, as in the study of perceptual illusions.

      • papalinton
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        Well, what are the ‘other ways of knowing’, if not through the senses, even though as you rightly point out, problematic as they are?

        Your comment still leaves us in the dark, so to speak. It is my understanding that perceptual illusions are a matter of how one processes and interprets neural stimuli.

  21. peterr
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    “O’Connell needs to apply Petroleum Jerry to his wounded posterior.”

    Petroleum Jerry sounds like some character from Catch 22. Am I missing something here?

  22. Sastra
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    You don’t have to devalue empiricism to believe that there are kinds of understanding that can’t be accessed in a controlled, peer-reviewed experiment. The problem, obviously, isn’t science; it’s the arrogance with which many scientists, and popularizers of science, dismiss the value of other ways of thinking about questions of meaning, about the world and our place in it.

    The “other ways of knowing” are really just “other ways of considering.” Apparently the whole issue comes down to the fact that the gnu atheists are not asking the right questions. We’re focused on whether or not the religious claims are true and instead we ought to leap lightly over that concern and just get to the nuts ‘n bolts of what religion is REALLY about and consider something else :

    How does religion make you feel?
    How has religion helped you in your personal life?
    How can you twist yourself into pretzels and mange to both reconcile religious belief with reality AND simultaneously avoid holding what you believe up to scrutiny?

    Why oh why don’t gnu atheists consider these Other Ways of Considering? Change the question. Confuse the existence of God with belief in God and refocus.

    It’s a lot easier, isn’t it?

  23. Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    “the idea that there can be only one kind of truth has to be deeply damaging to the intellectual development of a culture.”

    I’d have said the idea that there can be more than one kind of truth has to be deeply damaging to the idea of truth. If something is Kind-A-ly true but Kind-B-ly false, is it true or false or Schroedinger’s-catly true?

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

      +1+3.5i

      (I always wondered what could be done with fractional and complex truth values. No doubt there’s a whole academic discipline…)

      • Posted June 10, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Does Patrick Grim’s work using fractal theory to study properties of “liar sentences” count? (See his collection, _The Philosophical Computer_)

  24. Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    “I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life in the academic study of English literature and, for me, there is no more painful—and painfully obvious—proof of the intellectual hegemony of science than how the disciplines of the humanities have been forced to adopt a language of empiricism in order to talk about their own value”

    As a young scientist I wasted three years studying English Literature at Oxford, and found it to be like the celebrated Chinese Imperial Civil Service exams that ran till 1900 that tested your attitudes toward authority by getting you to regurgitate the authority’s attitude toward the classical texts. But it did start me upon a lifelong quest to understand the difference between knowledge and bullsh*t! After living 20 years each in London, the USA and France, I began to understand the relationship between Social Structure and Belief. It took 8 years to write-out the answer, in a free ebook called ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’? It is long. Very long, 1800 pages, because the initial hypothesis called ‘Human Sub-Set Theory’ suddenly seems to explain the whole human world (just as Darwin’s Theory began to explain the whole natural world) But you should be able to get the gist in the fist fifty page introduction. All the rest is evidence.
    The central stumbling block to understanding human culture is the assumption of homogeneity. Humans are not all alike, and every social group contains different human sub-sets. Yes, we are uncannily like the social insects. Only, the differences are mainly cerebral. There seems to be several types of consciousness, or, several Brain Operating Systems! (Just as there are several operating systems for computers; Apple, MSDos, Linux…) One of those Brain Operating System used to offer a strong evolutionary advantage. And there is a strong hereditary component to that Sub-Set and its beliefs. Religion is largely inherited. It is the early assumption that one may best self-actualise by recognising the ‘authority-structure’ and of finding one’s place within that structure. Therefore it follows that all knowledge comes from authority; that those below you do not share your special relationship with the authority-figure; that you best spend your time trying to ingratiate yourself with that authority-figure; that all knowledge outside authority is dangerous and therefore you best abandon any ability to process experiential information (facts). Your belief in your authority-figure demands that you use all manner of lies and deception in His defence in a technique called ‘Dissembling’.
    But what were the evolutionary advantages in starting to believe in an invisible authority-structure of which you are a part? Quite simply it allowed you to assemble groups of people of equal status (a priest class, perhaps) that were able to take altruistic decisions concerning your tribe or group. It allowed decisions that do not necessarily address personal and selfish motives. Those group decisions benefitted the whole tribe; decisions such those that enabled our ancestors to survive the Ice Ages, whereas Neanderthals did not. Obvious things like preparing for the winter, division of food and resources, organised division of labour, and so forth. A whole slew of powerful group decisions that benefit the many and not just the few. You can see it starkly in operation if you travel extensively in Africa; those who starve and those who thrive. Success of the group is all based upon the great lie of believing that you are part of a greater authority-structure.

    Here is a link; I hope it works but do let me know. The first fifty pages outlines the theme of the book. If you do make it to the end, you will look up and see the whole human world change before you. If I am right then the group of hypotheses in ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’ are game-changers in life.

    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzgYD8HQSC0mNExzX2dEQlFKNTg/edit?usp=sharing

    George Rumens

    • Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:51 am | Permalink

      Perhaps you could make the introduction available as a separate file that’s easier to download… ?

      /@

  25. Posted June 9, 2013 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    You don’t have to devalue empiricism to believe that there are kinds of understanding that can’t be accessed in a controlled, peer-reviewed experiment.

    Which suggests that one source of confusion is that (some of) these “other ways of knowing” are ways of personal apprehension of what is already known rather than ways of acquiring that knowledge in the first place.

    /@

  26. Robert Bray
    Posted June 9, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I’m very late to the party on this one, but just in case anyone is interested, I have read Curtis White’s ‘The Science Delusion’ and can report thereupon. White is a formidable satirists; he is an avant-garde novelist; he is a person of the left; he thinks scientism is an ideology (not science, but its -ism); he is an atheist; and he wants to save a place in the world for his beloved Romanticism.

    White’ best-known earlier book, ‘The Middle Mind,’ is a trenchant satire and analysis of American anti-intellectualism here and now. This is, I think, a key to understanding ‘The Science Delusion’ (an unfortunately derivative and misleading title, since for White ‘delusion’ is the equivalent of uncritically accepting an ideology rather than being psychologically deluded by it in Dawkins’s almost clinical sense of the word).

    What White tries to argue is that the underlying ‘metaphorical’ nature of science is too rarely noticed and almost never criticized in our culture. In this he is a post-modernist with intellectual roots in European philosophy, though this hardly disqualifies him from analyzing what science popularizers have too extravagantly claimed for science. He is also quite unhappy about institutionalized science’s complicity (duplicity?) in aiding the U. S.’s vast war industry.

    White is very tough on Dawkins (‘God Delusion’), deeply offended by Hitchens (‘God is not Great’–I found this latter surprising), but I cannot go into details here, beyond saying I can’t agree with him about the failures he sees in each–he makes fun of Dawkins for his sometimes sentimental praise of the emotional beauty of science; and tears into Hitchens on several counts, including what he calls ‘howlers’ in his misunderstanding of the Bible.

    In the end, White touts the Romantic imagination, as philosophically derived from Kant in the late 18th century German thought, and from the school of Romanticism founded at the beginning of the 1800s by the British poets, Coleridge and Wordsworth. Although he doesn’t use the phrase, White’s episteme is really that encapsulated by Wordsworth in ‘Tintern Abbey’ (1798) that the world is what the senses of ‘eye and ear’ ‘half create and [half] perceive.’ And it is the faculty of the imagination that synthesizes the part that’s perceived into the created whole.

    A poet’s gifts and a philosophy that allows for some sort of transcendence. . . . These are what White finds either scorned by or missing from science. And it makes him angry.

    • Howard Kornstein
      Posted June 10, 2013 at 1:59 am | Permalink

      Ah yes, Romanticism… the lazy-mans way to achieve certainty without ever having to bother to gather facts or even think at all. I wonder why critics of scientism never ever bother to address the excellent response Dawkins makes in “Unweaving the Rainbow” to the supposed lack of transcendence in the scientific viewpoint.
      Or, as we have recently been admiring the life and work of Feynman, perhaps this video really says it far better than I can…

      • Robert Bray
        Posted June 10, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        Mr. Kornstein,

        I have no brief for this book. But I will affirm that post-Kantian transcendentalist philosophy fostered some of the most radioactive poetry ever produced in the English language (I’m thinking principally of Wordsworth). Was this a ‘way of knowing’? Probably not. But it was a beautiful way of saying.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 10, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          Yes the Romantic poets write some beautiful stuff and the Romantic period gave us Frankenstein and the Gothic novel. Good times. Poor Frankenstein’s “wretch” questioned how we treat the “other”.

  27. Dominic
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    Oh dear – humanities students having to do “research,” rather than making it all up? what ever next?!

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 10, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      😉

      It’s depressing to think of some of the “ways of making a living” people get away with.

  28. Myron
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    “But for the nonce we scientists—or at least many of us—appreciate art, music, and literature simply for the pleasure they give us, and don’t devalue them because we don’t understand where that pleasure comes from. ‘Scientism’ is a straw position.” J. Coyne

    There’s a distinction between the emotive value and the cognitive or epistemic value of art. Arguably, scientism doesn’t include the denial of the former, but it includes the denial of the latter: the perception and reception of works of art, of artistic representations, is not a source of knowledge about reality. We appreciate and enjoy them but we don’t learn anything (new) from them; and beliefs or judgements based on them are not epistemically justified or warranted.

    Whether or not art, or at least some kinds of art, have cognitive or epistemic value in addition to emotive value is a serious and challenging question. And to answer this question affirmatively is to reject scientism, i.e. the epistemological monopoly of science.

    Introductory reading:

    * Worth, Sarah E. “Art and Epistemology.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003: http://www.iep.utm.edu/art-ep/

    * Kieran, Matthew. “Cognitive Value of Art.” In A Companion to Aesthetics, 2nd ed., edited by Stephen Davies, Kathleen Marie Higgins, Robert Hopkins, Robert Stecker, and David E. Cooper, 194-197. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

    * Zemach, Eddy M. “Truth in Art.” In A Companion to Aesthetics, 2nd ed., edited by Stephen Davies, Kathleen Marie Higgins, Robert Hopkins, Robert Stecker, and David E. Cooper, 578-580. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

    * Gaut, Berys. “Art and Knowledge.” In The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, edited by Jerrold Levinson, 436-450. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    * John, Eileen. “Art and Knowledge.” In The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, 2nd ed., edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, 417-429. Abingdon: Routledge, 2005.

    • Notagod
      Posted June 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      If you have a certain emotional response to a work of art and another person has no response or the opposite emotional response, how are you to determine which response represents knowledge?

      The thought that knowledge is only achieved by the application of scientific principles does not preclude opinions and emotional responses but, also doesn’t classify them, standing on their own, as knowledge.

  29. Posted June 12, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read Curtis White’s book yet (although I plan to buy it), but I just attended an event where he discussed the book with Maggie Koerth-Baker. He evidently didn’t like this Slate review, even though it is positive. So I will wait to read what he thinks before I make any judgments.

    I am not sure if he uses the term in his book, but he didn’t say it during the discussion, but his argument is really against scientific reductionism. And the figures he attacks are the scientific New Atheists – Dawkins, Krauss, Alex Rosenberg (the last of which explicitly embraces “scientism”) – and popularizers of science, such as Jonah Lehrer, who propound this reductionism, i.e., MRIs “can take pictures of thoughts.”

    He also defended the ad hominem charge, saying that he wasn’t trying to come off as angry, but he considers himself a satirist, so he is trying to get the reader to laugh at figures like Dawkins, Krauss, and Rosenberg. I’m not sure how strong that argument is though.

    This probably won’t be seen by most readers since it is now the 12th, but I thought it was worth throwing out there.

  30. Frankie T.
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the frustration expressed in this post. It helps to consider the context: Mark O’Connell’s review is typical Slate contrarianism. It’s more attitude than analysis.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Slate goes after scientism>> (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) […]

%d bloggers like this: