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The Science Delusion: An Interview with Atheist Curtis White

Curtis White

Many of today's most popular atheists, including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, encourage their listeners to give up religion and submit to science. They believe scientific method provides the best understanding not only of the physical world but also of art, culture, economics, and anything left over.

More recently, neuroscientists and their fans in the media have delivered a variation on this message: the mapping of the human brain will soon be completed, and we will know what we are and how we should act.

Science DelusionThese trends are very problematic, according to atheist commentator Curtis White. In his new book, The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, he argues that the rich philosophical debates of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been nearly totally abandoned. And what has taken their place—a turn toward “scientism”—will produce disaster if left unchallenged. After all, is creativity really just chemicals in the brain? Is it wrong to ponder “Why is there something instead of nothing?” or “What is our purpose on Earth?” These were some of the original concerns of the Romantic movement, which pushed back against the dogmas of science in a nearly forgotten era.

In his book, Curtis aims at a TED talk by a distinguished neuroscientist which claims that human thought is merely the product of our “connectome”—neural connections in the brain that are yet to be fully understood. He examines the ideas of a widely respected physicist who argues that a new understanding of the origins of the universe trumps all religious and philosophical inquiry. And he ends with an eloquent defense of the poetry and philosophy of Romanticism, which Curtis believes our technology- and science-obsessed world desperately needs to rediscover.

Curtis recently sat down with me to many of the ideas in his book.


 
Q: In your book, you spend several pages attacking "scientism", which you describe as the general belief that all questions—the origins of the cosmos, the basis of morality, the source of creativity—can be determined exclusively through science. On this view we don't need religion, philosophy, art, or literature to determine truth. Where did this belief come from and why is it so troubling?

Curtis White: I define “scientism” as the ideology of science, the way that science tells stories about itself, especially stories that are supportive of the social status quo. Of course, one of its basic stories is that it is about truth and does not do ideology, but that’s what all ideology says. We can talk about science ideology in a deep, historical sense in the Galilean worldview. Galileo proposed that the cosmos was constituted by discrete objects with a mechanical relationship to each other all of which could be adequately accounted for by mathematics. Of course, no physicist believes this today.

Many scientists still tell stories that go well beyond what can be accounted for by science itself. So, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens may proclaim the triumph of science as knowledge while reducing religion to a series of criminal anecdotes and ignoring the rich history of Western religion (they know less than nothing about Eastern religion). Why is it not important to them that the Existential Christianity of Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, and Paul Tillich is more about skepticism than it is about faith? Tillich denies the existence of some great Creator sitting idly beyond the world. He is a-theist. And yet he thought of himself as a Christian. Much the same is true of Slavoj Zizek in his book The Puppet and the Dwarf: the Perverse Core of Christianity. Dawkins and Hitchens and the rest of the New Atheists (there is quite a list of them now) appear ignorant of all this which has the unfortunate consequence of making the bulk of what they say patently false.

Q: The Science Delusion attempts to recover the poetry and philosophy of Romanticism, which our technology- and scientifically-obsessed world has mostly jettisoned. Why is the tradition of Romanticism necessary to see the world clearly?

Curtis White: Romanticism sits at a crucial juncture in Western history. Enlightenment rationality did enormous intellectual and social damage to the more naïve claims of Christianity. In the judgment of the Romantics there was no undoing the criticism of Voltaire and Thomas Paine. But they hated the Enlightenment’s rationalist disenchantment of the world, especially industrialism and its culture of “facts.” (See Charles Dickens’s Hard Times or William Blake’s poetry.) So the Romantics secularized Christian eschatology and called it the “dialectic.” I discuss in some detail Friedrich Schiller’s seminal description of the Romantic dialectic, and it looks an awful lot like the Christian movement from original innocence, to a fallen state, to redemption, and salvation. Schiller called these stages nature, culture (the “misery of culture”), art as redeemer, and our final “nobility” as fully realized humanity. The important point is that it is still very clearly a spiritual logic.

The Romantic eschatology has survived to the present. It surged up dramatically in the ‘60s counterculture, but it is still present now, even if repressed, in the “indy” culture of locavores, bands like Radio Head, Occupy Wall Street, local art scenes, etc.

The generous way of thinking about all this is to say that religion has evolved. The Romantic tradition may not believe in formal, fundamental Church doxology, but it is not possible without Christianity. This is all a major focus of my earlier book The Spirit of Disobedience, for Jesus was a very disobedient man.

Q: Another major focus in the book is the connection between the New Atheists and neuroscientists. In fact, you even claim "the message of neuroscience advocates is much the same as that of the so-called 'New Atheists', and that the two should be consider together." Why is this?

Curtis White: Well, both camps, if they are camps at all, are joined in the all too Galilean idea that everything can be explained in mechanistic terms, whether of genes or of neurons, and that there is no meaning to any of it. It’s all obscure meaningless activity on a marooned planet. The superb irony is that from all appearances the scientists don’t believe this about their own activities. The universe may be meaningless but science is not. Many scientists scrape in the most ignoble fashion after awards, Nobel prizes etc. The greatest accomplishment for a scientist is to have his peers agree to name a discovery or a math axiom after him. It is a curiously egoistic profession, especially given their grim conclusions about the “meaning of life.”

My argument is that there is something gloriously meaningful about our ability to look at the universe and judge its nature and even its meaning or lack thereof. I am persuaded, along with Buddhism, that our central spiritual task is to participate through this thing we call consciousness in making Being possible. Without consciousness and language or symbolic systems nothing exists if for no other reason than there is no being capable of the concept of “being.” Nothing to say, “this is.” The philosopher Martin Heidegger understood this, the great French (and very Catholic) composer Olivier Messiaen understood this, and poetry since Wordsworth has understood this.

Q: Modern neuroscientists seem focused on reducing all mental activity to brain events—to ultimately reduce you to your neurological connections. Are mind, consciousness, and creativity really nothing more than firing neurons?

Curtis White: This is where the book started for me, with Jonah Lehrer’s repellent argument (in Imagine: How Creativity Works) that all human creativity is the consequence of brain events, the dribbling out of chemicals like vasopressin. He seems quite unaware that creativity happens very little in the brain. It takes place in symbolic systems and within cultures and cultural traditions, and these are wonderfully and strangely “beyond” my brain, your brain, or the brain itself. A work of art takes place only in a symbolic system of words, notes, or paint that only exists because of a very long history or tradition that begins in the caves of Altamira. This is the extent of my mysticism. Through culture we participate in symbolic worlds that are beyond the brain, although they can’t exist at all without the brain. How we are to conjugate that paradox is the essence of the mystery of consciousness.
 
Curtis White
 
 

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is an award-winning writer, blogger, speaker, and the founder of StrangeNotions.com. He's been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. Brandon converted to Catholicism in 2008, and in 2011 and since released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014). He works as the Content Director for Fr. Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their four children in Central Florida. Follow his blog at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Kevin Aldrich

    Without consciousness and language or symbolic systems nothing exists if
    for no other reason than there is no being capable of the concept of
    “being.” Nothing to say, “this is.”

    I think this is very close to the Catholic understanding of why God created the universe.

    The "catechism" answer to why the universe exists is "for the glory of God."

    This does not mean that Catholics are saying God created the universe for some egotistical reason. Rather, he created it to reveal to creatures that he exists and to allow them to share in his beatitude.

    But, as far as we know, the only creatures on earth who can actually appreciate this are human beings, due to our consciousness and rationality.

    We can say with the (post-Romantic poet) Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Most of the creatures on earth, from the subatomic level up, don't know this; the higher animals seem to be reaching toward a grasp of it; human beings are most capable of appreciating it.

    • Paul Boillot

      May I ask what the basis for the claim that 'higher animals seem to be reaching toward a grasp" of the concept "the world is charged with the grandeur of God" is?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I admit it is a imprecise way of putting it, but I mean that higher animals have memory, emotions, a certain level of consciousness, and act with purpose. I don't think we know yet how smart they are.

    • josh

      "Rather, he created it to reveal to creatures that he exists and to allow them to share in his beatitude.

      But, as far as we know, the only creatures on earth who can actually
      appreciate this are human beings, due to our consciousness and
      rationality."

      These two statements combined show the irrationality of your position. God created the universe to appreciate his glory (still sounds egotistical), but God failed to make creatures that can consistently do so, fails to reveal himself, and most of his creation is incapable of 'being allowed' to share in his beatitude. Rather than reevaluate your assumptions, I'm afraid you will look for excuses to avoid the obvious.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Material reality largely "proclaims" God's glory without knowing it because it doesn't *know* anything, since it is not conscious. What is wrong with that?

        It is the vocation of rational creatures *see* a revelation of God in the natural world. What is wrong with that?

        • josh

          Why would God create things that can't know him if the only purpose of creating things is to know him?

          Many rational creatures don't see God in the natural world, so either God didn't make sufficiently rational creatures or it really is irrational to see God from the natural world.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            God created to *reveal* himself for the benefit of those things he created. One benefit is that they get to exist.

            I think the reasons more human beings don't see creation as God's handiwork are (1) the disaster which befell the human race which, in part, has darkened the human intellect so it is hard to know the truth about things and (2) the fallen nature of creation itself which contains so much imperfection and suffering.

          • robtish

            "God created to *reveal* himself for the benefit of those things he created."

            I'm not really following that either. It seems endlessly circular. Why wouldn't it just play out like this: "I must create in order to reveal myself for the benefit of my creations. Wait -- I haven't created them yet. So I needn't bother."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it better than me here:

            III. “The World Was Created for the Glory of God”

            293 Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: “The world was made for the glory of God. St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things “not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it,” for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness: “Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand.” The First Vatican Council explains:

            This one, true God, of his own goodness and “almighty power,” not for increasing his own beatitude, nor for attaining his perfection, but in order to manifest this perfection through the benefits which he bestows on creatures, with absolute freedom of counsel “and from the beginning of time, made out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal....”

            294 The glory of God consists in the realization of this manifestation and communication of his goodness, for which the world was created. God made us “to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace,” for “the glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God: if God’s revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word’s manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God.” The ultimate purpose of creation is that God “who is the creator of all things may at last become ‘all in all,’ thus simultaneously assuring his own glory and our beatitude.”

          • robtish

            How would you feel about a father who created a child for the primary purpose of communicating his own greatness to that child? That's the analogy that will come to mind for many unbelievers (well, this one, anyway), and it doesn't draw us closer to Him.

          • Randy Gritter

            It is a bad analogy because we are created to be in communion with God. A child is not created to be in communion with its human father. A child is supposed to gain independence from its father.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It would mean the reason for the creating was not understood. The created is created for the sole benefit of the created, not at all for the enhancement of the creator.

          • josh

            So God botched the job, which rather argues that he has revealed his lack of glory.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Not at all.

            But, so as not to steal another's apologetics, here is the explanation.

            http://newapologetics.com/the-theodicy-of-divine-chastity

          • josh

            The 'explanation' doesn't work. The claim is that God is so blindly loving that he ignores evil, but this doesn't explain why he created people or a world capable of evil in the first place. It also contradicts the statement that God is perfectly good, or just. A perfectly good or just person can't ignore evil. Nor does it explain why his creatures would doubt God's existence, even if it were possible for them to do evil.

            Needless to say, there is also zero reason to believe any of the claims about Gods existence or motives, independent of their lack of consistency.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I invite you to post your objection on their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/NewApologetics

            Even thought I'm willing to respond, their ability to present their case far exceeds mine.

          • Randy Gritter

            There is one more choice. That is God only gave enough evidence to lead people so far through reason but no further. Creation gives our rational mind an invitation to know God but not an obligation to know God. It is actually amazing how often that is the case. We see just enough to give us the impulse to worship but not enough to make it undeniable. That is precisely what you would expect if Catholicism were true. God calling us to Himself but not making it totally irrational to deny Him

          • robtish

            That explanation horrifies me. If people who do not believe are cast into Hell, then the setup you've just described makes God sound terrible.

          • Randy Gritter

            Heaven is an intimate relationship with God. Much more intimate than marriage. If a man wants to marry a woman and he knows that marriage is going to be awesome for her and he is right. If furthermore he knows her not marrying him will result in him marrying some abusive jerk who will make her life miserable. Does that justify him forcing her to marry? Not really. No matter how one-sided the choice is it is her dignity as woman to make whatever choice she wants. The same goes for us being allowed to choose heaven or hell.

          • robtish

            But the man should at least make his existence undeniably known to her before he punishes her with eternal damnation for making a choice which, as you put it, is not totally irrational.

          • Green_Sapphire

            "That is precisely what you would expect if Catholicism were true."

            No, not at all. It's nothing like I would expect.

            If the Judeo-Christian deity were all-loving, what I would expect is that it would not be hidden from us and not create a place like hell and would not have a world in which billions and billions of fellow humans will inevitably spend eternity in agony and torment.

            I would not expect that, for a single disobedient act by two individuals, this deity would punish every one of their billions of descendents to be born into original sin, condemned to hell by default.

            "It is actually amazing..."

            No, it's actually horrifying. And it's hard to believe that you could find this apparent teasing with such drastic, terrible consequences to be in any way a good thing.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Green_Sapphire, I'm a Roman Catholic and I totally agree with you. Rest assured that God does not do *any* of those things and if he did you would be right to reject him.

          • Paul Boillot

            If the Judeo-Christian deity were all-loving, what I would expect is that it would not be hidden from us

            After all, miraculous revelation was okay for the Hebrews, and for Jesus' followers, and even (revelation)squared was good enough for Thomas.

            But God doesn't want to force the hand of everyone prior to Noah and after Jesus?

          • Dave H

            "what I would expect is that it would not be hidden from us"

            Hidden? Green_Sapphire, Hello! :) You're on a blog filled with people demonstrating, in countless ways, how we can come to know God -- With faith, with reason, and with your very own Free Will. He's certainly not hiding!

            Of course, if you wish to deny His existence, He has provided you with the gift of free will with which to do so. So, deny away! But you should at least thank Him for that option. I suspect He provided it out of love.

          • Green_Sapphire

            I never said that people don't sincerely believe in a deity. I never said that many people who are sincere believers and practitioners of their faith don't derive significant benefit from their belief and their practices. I never said that people don't actually have transcendent, mystical experiences. I never said that the story isn't internally consistent once one suspends disbelief. I never said that the various faiths -- Catholicism in particular -- haven't developed extensive, intricate apologetics.

            But to claim that God isn't hidden?!

            Even William Lane Craig, the leading Christian apologist, using the five bests arguments developed over two thousand years (which have all been refuted, but even setting that aside), can at best only get to the end of a debate saying, "Therefore it is more probable than not that God exists."

            Catholic apologetics, as with most Catholic exposition, is quite a bit more wordy, but it never says that use of our reason can prove that God exists but only that, as you say, one can come to know him. But it still ends up sounding like, "If you go to the top of that building and stand on one leg and hold your arms like an Egyptian and turn your head to the left and then squint, there, see? Can you see him now?"

            I might be able to get behind a secular Christianity that allowed God is an idea, like the very best combined archetype of the ultimate version of everything that is good and wise and loving and inspirational, etc. But as a being, an entity, a creator, a mind, a consciousness? That guy is hidden.

            Therefore, your use of the word "deny" is inappropriate, because I'm not "stating that I refuse to admit the truth or existence of" a deity. I don't refuse - I am not "indicating that I am not willing." I am not convinced.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You wrote:

            Catholic apologetics . . . never says that use of our reason can prove that God exists but only that, as you say, one can come to know him.

            My response:

            Actually, Catholic dogma asserts that "the existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason, even if this knowledge is often obscured and disfigured by error." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 286)

            I would reject any claim that God wants to keep himself hidden for some benefit for us.

          • Green_Sapphire

            " 'the existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works' "

            The universe exists, therefore God exists.

            or

            The universe is amazing, therefore God exists.

            or

            Some things in the universe are amazing, therefore God exists.

            Sorry, but with all due respect, that assertion doesn't make any sense to me. I'm as certain as I can be that the universe exists (although, on solipsism, I could be a brain in a vat). But its existence only proves its existence, and only points to its existence. Again, with respect, it sounds to me like, "Fish exist, therefore transcendent bicycles exist."

            In atheist circles, this apology is known as the Argument from Trees. You know, where the atheist asks, "How do you know God exists?" and the Christian answers, "Well, just look at the trees. Aren't they awesome? How could that be without God?"

             

            "I would reject any claim that God wants to keep himself hidden for some benefit for us."

            Okay, if God, as you say, isn't hiding for our benefit, and, being all omni and maximally everything, God needs nothing so it can't be for God's benefit, then what is your explanation for God's hiddenness?

          • Dave H

            Maybe you are conflating God's hidden-ness with Proofs of God's existence? Neither believers nor Atheists would claim God is hidden in an absolute sense, as that would imply He exists but can't be encountered in any manner.

            I guess I was attempting, and mostly failing :) to have a little fun with your post. I realize you're using the word to basically mean, "God, were He real, sure doesn't seem inclined to appear in concrete, irrefutable ways."

            In any event, I see that you use a lot of emotionally-charged language: referring to God's behavior as "horrifying" and describing it as "teasing...with terrible consequences".

            I don't want to assume anything, but if you truly are dealing with anger toward God, I hope you experience healing. I will pray for you. And if you are just writing for shock value, well then... consider me shocked! But I will pray for you anyway! :)

          • Green_Sapphire

            Since I don't believe in a god, it wouldn't be possible for me to be angry at it.

            But if I postulate the Judeo-Christian God to be like a character in a novel with a well-developed universe, like Sauron is in Lord of the Rings, then I can evaluate his character and his actions and his statements and his plans. And you've read what I've written.

            I'm not writing for shock value. But I do find shocking the combination of his willful hiddenness and torment in hell for the sin of not finding him.

            How do you not find it shocking?

          • Dave H

            I don't believe God will seem hidden for very long once a person earnestly searches for Him. And, I hope no one has told you that not finding Him is a sin. Willfully ignoring him may be, but if someone sincerely and humbly seeks God and doesn't find Him, then I would also find it shocking if that person wound up in hell. I just don't believe it happens that way.

          • Green_Sapphire

            That was nicely worded, Dave. I appreciate that, and I also appreciate your sincerity. If God exists, it would be nice if he believes as you do. However, your church doesn't:

            "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus." Per Lumen Gentium: "Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it."

            In addition, your belief, although obviously sincere and heartfelt, seems to me to be an epistemic fallacy version of the argument from ignorance:   P1: If you earnestly
            search for God, then God will not seem hidden for very long.   P2: God still seems hidden from you.   C: Therefore, you didn't earnestly search for God, or haven't searched long enough.

            The burden is on God, in my opinion. If he exists, and if he is as you believe, then he knows what it would take to convince me. Any God that would play hide-and-seek like this is not a God I would want to serve.

            I want to believe. But what I want to believe is as many true things and as few false things as possible. It doesn't seem to me a path to truth to believe something, nor to try to believe something, nor to keep trying to believe something, for which there is no evidence.

            Further, psychologically, if a person is intensely earnest and sincere and humble long enough, desiring to serve, s/he will find a master, real or imaginary. That's how our brains work. But if God does not actually exist, the s/he is actually enslaved to the church.

          • Dave H

            Hi Green_Sapphire, thanks to you as well. You are kind.
            ...Ok, love fest over! Now back to arguing! :)

            The Catholic Church does believe as I do. I think your quote from Lumen Gentium says it well, but as with all dense writing, every word counts - in this case, the word "knowing"

            "...Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it."

            The key is that such a person acknowledges this as true but still refuses to accept. That's the willful ignorance I refer to. Since you quoted Lumen Gentium, you may have also read this LG quote:

            "Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation."

            I sincerely hope this helps you reconsider your notions of God as a toying, teasing, "hide and seek" player. Or at least strengthen your awareness of the Church's teaching on the topic.

          • Green_Sapphire

            Thank you, Dave. And I appreciate getting that extension of the Lumen Gentium. I guess I am a Pelagian heretic, because I have sincerely wrestled with these issues and I do not know there is a God at all, nor therefore can I believe in the fall nor redemption nor salvation nor, thus, the necessity of salvation through any church. Thus I follow my conscience and work to improve my moral wisdom and behavior and thus am open to deeper and greater truth -- even though I am convinced it would not be supernatural.

            I think it important that each person strive to find their best way to get better at being good. But I'm more convinced by the Nietzschean ideas of 'good', including the flourishing of each person in all of their powers.

            (btw, If you should ever want to use italics in your comments, you just add <i> before the text and </i> after the text. And I used html codes for the left and right angle brackets here so that these would 'appear' here instead of 'act'.)

          • Dave H

            Yes, italics would have helped! :) Thanks for the tip!
            testing123
            :)

          • Randy Gritter

            If the Judeo-Christian deity were all-loving, what I would expect is that it would not be hidden from us and not create a place like hell and would not have a world in which billions and billions of fellow humans will inevitably spend eternity in agony and torment.

            You have a lot of trouble with assuming a certain worldview is true. When you do that though experiment you don't just say why you disagree with said world view. In essence you say, "If Catholicism were true I would expect Catholicism to be false." You are not Catholic. I get that. But try and play along.

            If there was a God who wanted to give us a choice. If He wanted to make Himself knowable but still deniable. What would that look like? I can see a lot of instances where we see exactly that. When we look at science, when we look at history, when we look at human desires, on and on. We scan see God's fingerprints everywhere but it is never so definitive that we can force someone to believe it.

          • josh

            'In essence you say, "If Catholicism were true I would expect Catholicism to be false." '

            Yes, Catholicism is inconsistent. Now you can always make up a consistent conspiracy, which is no reason to believe it, but Catholicism hasn't even done that. Atheists don't choose to not believe in god, any more that we choose to not think that Harry Potter is a real person. If God created me then he did so giving me no choice but to not believe in him. Like I said, that would at least be consistent, but it's not Catholicism.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't follow you that you have no choice not to believe in God.

            Don't you NOT believe in God because you think God does not exist or there is not enough evidence? Thus, you make a free and honest choice not to believe. And if you were convinced by some reasoning or experience that God did exist, wouldn't you make a free choice to then believe?

          • josh

            Choice doesn't enter into it. I can't will myself to believe there is good evidence for God, nor can I will myself to think that the sky doesn't look blue.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Is that a good analogy? It is evident to your senses that the sky is blue. You're right, there is no freedom involved.

            God is NOT evident to the senses, so belief in God would have to be predicated on some chain of reasoning or some experience you had that made you think God exists. In that sense you are free to conclude God exists or not.

            No one is asking anyone to will themselves to believe something they don't think is true. If you willed yourself to believe evidence for God exists when you didn't think the evidence actually exists, you'd be dishonest and any God who wanted that would be unworthy of you and himself.

            If you are just saying you don't have free will to draw conclusions based on evidence or reasons, then that's a different story altogether.

          • Green_Sapphire

            If I am not convinced of something because of lack of or insufficient evidence, 'choice' has nothing to do with it. I don't 'choose' not to believe. I just don't believe.

            If I really, really want for something to be true, then I am more likely to be be convinced with less evidence. But that wanting doesn't make the evidence any better, so that can only lead to erroneous conclusions. That is why the procedures in science have so many ways to eliminate wishful thinking.

            "God is NOT evident to the senses, ... "

            Yeah, we get that. But the mental contortions that one has to go through to be convinced that this non-evidence is actually a good thing is beyond my ability, especially when the consequences of disbelief are so drastic and dreadful. It's like a mother telling her daughter, whose father has been away at war her entire life, "Your daddy's here and he's hiding in the house, and if you find him, we'll go to Disneyland! But if you don't, we'll have to stick you in the furnace. Because we love you."

            The angels had free will and they knew God face to face, it is said, and yet many turned away from God. So the free-will counter to the divine hiddenness argument doesn't work.

            "...so belief in God would have to be predicated on some chain of reasoning..."

            I don't believe one can 'logic' something into existence. It's like wishful thinking with a higher IQ.

            "... or some experience you had."

            Transcendent, unitive experiences of the numinous are truly nifty. But a temporal lobe seizure or a caudate nucleus misfiring that generates a mystical experience should not be interpreted as reifying a deity or my dead grandfather or the purple demon that my brain might present to my consciousness.

          • josh

            We can pick another analogy if you like, but my belief that the sky is blue is based on experience and a chain of reasoning (the reasoning is mostly to rule out the idea that there is something wrong with my eyes or I am hallucinating, etc. as unlikely.) Just to separate out the experience of seeing blue from an interpretation of that experience, let me use instead my belief that electrons exist, or at least that they are a useful model of an existing phenomenon. I don't see any choice about that. Given the evidence I am aware of, I can't choose to think that electrons don't exist in some sense.

            Now I might choose to act as though they do or don't if I had some reason to do so. I don't think even this is a 'free' choice, in the sense of not determined by previous conditions, since I don't think anything is a free choice in that libertarian way.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I see.

            How do you think it is that you can make a rational judgment that is practically "necessary" based on the evidence, but other (biased) people cannot? For example, a jury might have perfectly good evidence that the defendant is guilty but find him innocent anyway.

          • josh

            People in general can be irrational, it would be amazing if they weren't. On any given question it is entirely plausible that I can analyze it correctly while another person makes a mistake that they can't see. This is particularly true for things in which people have a large emotional investment or a very fixed habit of how to approach a question. They don't choose to be wrong any more than I choose to think I am right.

            A jury might simply fail to put the pieces of evidence together correctly, they might be (almost certainly are) pretty bad at estimating how likely or unlikely certain occurrences are, they might be unconsciously biased by the looks or background of the accused, or the lawyers, they might just have some 'gut feeling' that the defendant is innocent, they might be practicing jury nullification where they are reacting against the law instead of evaluating the case by itself, they might think they have to pick a verdict (legally they do) when the reality is that they just don't have evidence either way to decide the facts of the case.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I suspect Catholicism has too much freedom of opinion to be inconsistent. There will be Catholics with consistent beliefs and Catholics with inconsistent beliefs. But I'm always happy to learn.

            What within Catholicism is inconsistent?

          • Randy Gritter

            Still, it is you opinion that Catholicism is inconsistent. Does that mean you cannot look at the world from that viewpoint? I think a lot of religions are inconsistent but I have no trouble imagining what I might think if I believed it. I might get it wrong but I can at least try. It just surprises me that it is so hard for you to do. To get past your opinion of something and just examine it from a different perspective. Green Sapphire and I had the same issue on another site with virtue ethics. He could not imagine what someone who embraced virtue ethics would think because he didn't think that view was true.

          • Green_Sapphire

            Since you brought it up, Randy, that conversation had absolutely nothing to do with virtue ethics. You asked where objective morality came from, if not from God, and that's what I responded to. I explained that all the traits that make up morality are in us genetically via evolution, not "out there." We "know" that we should treat each other fairly in the same way that birds "know" how to build a nest and baby monkeys "know" to fear snakes. No supernatural or Platonic realm is required. But it was a meta-ethics topic and you kept jumping into normative and applied ethics. You also unethically edited your comments without documentation, and then you pulled a Godwin.

          • josh

            Randy, I'm not sure what's confusing you. I'm not going to embrace a worldview that is obviously inconsistent to me. Nonetheless, I am generally aware of how Catholics (among others) try to deal with such inconsistencies when they are brought up. I know, roughly, what they will say for various quandaries, but it doesn't change the fact that they are being inconsistent (or so vague as to make their statements meaningless). One can almost see the 'short circuits' to fend off problems or to arrive at preferred conclusions in real time when discussing things in detail with such a person. (I'll also note that believers often don't seem to be very good at imagining how atheists think.)

  • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

    Because White mentions both romanticism and existentialism here as reactions against Enlightenment rationalism and naturalism, I have to mention a fantastic book I'm reading now - "Irrational Man" by William Barrett. It's a tragedy that existentialism is associated with a morbid, passe French fashion, when really it has deep roots in human thought and experience, including Judeo-Christian sources which Barrett examines. He also looks at many of the same modern figures White mentions here, both philosophical (Heidegger, Kierkegaard) and poetic (Wordsworth, Blake). Some food for thought from the book:

    No doubt, Positivism [i.e., "scientism"] has also good claims to being the philosophy of this time: it takes as its central fact what is undoubtedly the central fact distinguishing our civilization from all others—science; but it goes on from this to take science as the ultimate ruler of human life, which it never has been and psychologically never can be. Positivist man is a curious creature who dwells in the tiny island of light composed of what he finds scientifically “meaningful,” while the whole surrounding area in which ordinary men live from day to day and have their dealings with other men is consigned to the outer darkness of the “meaningless.” Positivism has simply accepted the fractured being of modern man and erected a philosophy to intensify it. Existentialism, whether successfully or not, has attempted instead to gather all the elements of human reality into a total picture of man.

    We often hear people say things like "I believe in science!" in discussions about meaning, life, God, and other small topics. This hardly sounds like a controversial or bad thing in the iPhone era. But the question remains: what do you mean you believe in science? To do and say what? When pressed, I think many people find that they're less committed to the materialist-neuroscience-new atheist camp than previously imagined; the conclusions that follow from the conviction that any non-material, paradoxical, shadow, or intuitive side of man can be subsumed under the panacea of "reason and science" are immensely problematic. Kudos to White for highlighting this need for integrating art and philosophy into a "total picture of man," and for having the courage - as an atheist - to write a book that flies in the philosophical teeth of the New Atheists!

    • Paul

      I believe in science!

    • josh

      "...what do you mean you believe in science? To do and say what?"

      To arbitrate discussions of what is true. White's entire problem seems to be that he is against integrating art and philosophy into science. He wants to wall them off so there is no possibility of his biases in those areas being challenged.

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        "[I believe in science] to arbitrate discussions of what is true."

        How can we use science to settle the question of whether science should arbitrate truth?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Exactly. Something higher than natural science is needed to judge the validity of natural science.

          • josh

            See, Kevin walked right into the trap.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What is the trap?

            Even more, why would you want to "trap" someone in a site dedicated to rational and respectful dialogue between Catholics and atheists?

            The value of falsification can only be established by a theory of knowledge, which is outside the scope of natural science. It is included in philosophy of science, which is not natural science but a branch of philosophy.

          • josh

            The 'trap' was laid by Brandon, not me. It's the mistake of thinking that we need something 'higher' than science to justify science. But then we would need something else 'higher' than whatever justifies science to justify what justifies science, and so on ad infinitum. Rather, one should realize the folly of attempting to cleanly divide philosophy from science and put them in a hierarchy. At the end of the day, we are just thinking about how we experience reality and we are working within philosophy and within science. Philosophy of science is science, there isn't a one way dictation from one to the other.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think Brandon adequately explained the problem above. I'll try once more and call it quits.

            Quoting a philosopher of science I admire, Mariano Artigas, in Knowing Things for Sure, experimental science is “a human activity in which we seek knowledge of nature to obtain controlled domination over it” (10). Further, science is “a knowledge-seeking activity whose theoretical contents are related in a logical and coherent manner to controlled data obtained through experimentation” (11-12).

            It should be clear from these statements that experimental science rests on an epistemology, without which a scientist could not know if he was obtaining any results at all, let alone valid ones. This does not rule out the fact that the feedback scientists get from doing science confirms, deepens, and retrojustifies the scientific enterprise (to paraphrase Artigas in his book The Mind of the Universe).

            It's the mistake of thinking that we need something 'higher' than science to justify science. But then we would need something else 'higher' than whatever justifies science to justify what justifies science, and so on ad infinitum.

            It does not go on ad infinitum. It only goes on to first principles of philosophy, such as the principle of non-contradiction.

          • josh

            Your appeal to authority is noted, but Artigas doesn't get to define science any more than you do. In particular 'obtaining domination over nature' isn't how most scientists would describe their work.

            The principle of non-contradiction is also a principle of science. Science is already at the first principles, it doesn't need a middleman to come and approve of it. Science itself involves the questions of epistemology, it already is philosophy if that's how you want to put it. We aren't born doing philosophy and then at some point we conclude that scientific practice is justified so we start doing that. It's an ongoing process (as is true from a historical perspective as well) of dialogue within ourselves and with other people. It's a refinement of cruder practices. Science is all about not making assumptions.

            If you just wanted to discuss why we do science the way we do, which is a discussion within science, that would be one thing. But I'm familiar with this two-step. You want to define that discussion as 'higher than science, and therefore not science'. Then you hope to go over science's head, so to speak. You hope that that abstract 'higher' level can give you some result you want and then you can skip the science part and ignore the scientific principles. Unfortunately for you, that level just kicks you back down to science every time.

          • Andre Boillot

            josh,

            "The principle of non-contradiction is also a principle of science."

            I'm not so sure it's a principle of science, as it is one of the many prerequisites to 'doing science'.

            "Science is all about not making assumptions."

            Well...I think I get where you're going, but it's not really that simple. A lot of science is about making assumptions - sometimes based on observation, sometimes just informed guesses - and then trying to find ways to disprove them.

            Not trying to be patronizing, I mostly agree with what you're puttin down. Just refining things a bit.

          • josh

            Andre,
            No problem I don't find you patronizing. By science we mean at least 3 related things: one is the philosophy/methodology of science; one is the implementation in terms of institutions, journals, labs, jobs in science; and one is the findings of science, like 'water is H2O'. I'm mostly talking about the first meaning in this thread, where non-contradiction is part of the method of science. I would call it a principle but you could also call it prerequisite. It's not something we justify per se, but it's also not something that philosophy distinct from science can justify, it's already wrapped up in the very notion of justification. One might say that it is prerequisite that someone wants to have justified statements or a consistent theory.

            Anyhow, there is a distinction I like to draw in that science has lots of working assumptions, but these aren't presumptions. They are subject to questioning and change in principle, so they aren't needed as prerequisites for science in the meaning 1 sense, although they are implicit in aspects of meaning 2 and 3. Some guy in a lab pouring chemicals isn't worrying about whether his scale is being tampered with by a ghost, but in principal he could have if historically we had ever found a reason to worry about spirits. So I agree that experiments are often looking to disprove our working assumptions, but that very fact indicates that they aren't presumptions or 'absolute assumptions' in the sense I was using above.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "I'm not so sure it's a principle of science, as it is one of the many prerequisites to 'doing science'."

            Totally agree.

            And you're right to question Josh's surprising claim that "Science is all about not making assumptions." This is precisely what science *is* about--making assumptions (i.e. hypotheses) and then testing them through observation and experimentation.

          • Green_Sapphire

            "This is precisely what science *is* about--making assumptions"

            No, that is the complete opposite of what science is about. What you wrote indicates you don't understand the meaning of "assumptions" and the difference between an assumption and a hypothesis.

            An assumption is something that, without sufficient evidence or testing, one just takes as a given. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for one or more observations.

            If a woman smiles at a man, the man may assume that she is attracted to him and would obviously accept his invitation for a date and would like it if he hugs her out of the blue. Or the man may develop a hypothesis, preferably a null hypothesis -- that she is not attracted to him -- and then develop a set of experiments to test that hypothesis.

            It's religion that's all about making assumptions: I can conceive of God, therefore God exists. The universe must have had a creator, therefore God exists. I cannot imagine how this can be explained naturally, therefore God exists.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "An assumption is something that, without sufficient evidence or testing, one just takes as a given. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for one or more observations.

            If a woman smiles at a man, the man may assume that she is attracted to him and would obviously accept his invitation for a date and would like it if he hugs her out of the blue. Or the man may develop a hypothesis, preferably a null hypothesis -- that she is not attracted to him -- and then develop a set of experiments to test that hypothesis."

            I'm not sure I agree with those definitions. I think you're confusing "assumption" with "presumption", specifically in your example.

            If a man assumes a woman may be attracted to him, he won't necessarily embrace her without asking. He'd first test that assumption through dialogue, gestures, and body language. It's only if a man presumes a woman likes him that he'll respond in the way you suggest.

            "It's religion that's all about making assumptions: I can conceive of God, therefore God exists. The universe must have had a creator, therefore God exists. I cannot imagine how this can be explained naturally, therefore God exists."

            Before commenting again, Green_Sapphire, please re-read our Commenting Rule and Tips. Not only does it require using your real name when commenting (instead of hiding behind an alias), but it expressly prohibits banal straw men. I won't judge whether your comment is born of ignorance or intentional misrepresentation, but no serious believer would make any of those assumptions. None have been proffered here on this site.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            "Before commenting again, Green_Sapphire, please re-read our Commenting Rule and Tips. Not only does it require using your real name when commenting (instead of hiding behind an alias), but it expressly prohibits banal straw men. I won't judge whether your comment is born of ignorance or intentional misrepresentation, but no serious believer would make any of those assumptions. None have been proffered here on this site."

            Are these not proffered here: http://www.strangenotions.com/god-exists/

            I can conceive of God, therefore God exists [#12]. The universe must have had a creator, therefore God exists [#7]. I cannot imagine how this can be explained naturally, therefore God exists [#5].

          • Green_Sapphire

            Andre: You beat me to it. Thanks.

            Brandon: I'll admit that my wording was a bit snarky.

            And I repeat, "you don't understand the meaning of "assumptions" and the difference between an assumption and a hypothesis."

            "Assumption: a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof. synonyms: presumption, belief"

            "Assume: to take for granted; suppose to be the case, accept without proof"

            "If a man assumes a woman may be attracted to him..."

            My first example was that he assumed she is attracted, not that she may be. Your rewording turned it into my second example, a hypothesis that should first be tested.

            You are free, of course, to use any word in any way you like. But if you tell any scientist that s/he makes assumptions, you'll get the same response. Consider it one of the mortal sins of science, if that helps you.

            If you prefer that I use a pseudonym that looks more like a human name, that's fine. I'll just finish any existing conversations at this site under this name.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Green, it seems clears we're simply using the word in two different senses. Nothing wrong with that so long as we're clear on our definitions in context.

            Regarding using your real name, it helps leads to more charitable dialogue and that's why we encourage it. We're all tempted toward snark and unfair misrepresentations when we hide behind an anonymous (or pseudonymous) account. Instead of changing your Disqus account, you might follow the lead of some other commenters and include your name at the end of each comment. Like this:

            - Brandon Vogt

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            No, Andre, they are not. Dr. Kreeft does not make any of those simplistic arguments, which are distortions of arguments #5, #7, and #12 and thus straw man.

            Your question suggests you either share Green's ignorance or are intentionally casting doubt on the arguments through misrepresentation.

          • Green_Sapphire

            Since you referred to me, I'll reply. I'll just focus on the Argument #5 Argument from Design is a classic Argument from Ignorance or Argument from Incredulity. I'm not ignorant of the argument and I'm not misrepresenting the argument and my summary is not a distortion. It's just really a very bad argument.

            (paraphrasing slightly)
            1. The universe is amazing and complex and ordered and etc.
            2. Either chance or intelligent design.
            3. Not chance.
            4. Therefore intelligent design.
            5. Design requires a designer.
            6. Therefore an intelligent designer.

            That version is not in any way different, except a bit longer, than my summary: "I cannot imagine how this can be explained naturally, therefore God exists." My summary is not a straw man. This argument is entirely based on massive scientific ignorance stuffed into the word 'chance.'

            Subatomic particles form protons, neutron, and atoms because of their nature and the nature of forces. This is called quantum mechanics and general field theory and is supported experimentally to great precision. No designer required.

            Atoms interact with other atoms of the same kind and different kinds in well-understood and very predictable ways, forming molecules or leading to reactions, because of their nature. This is called chemistry. No designer required.

            Due to gravity and their nature, molecules are mutually attracted and interact in various ways, forming gas clouds and then stars with planets and then clusters and then galaxies...

            I could go on, but you get the picture. We do understand a great deal about how the universe works, including why "intricately beautiful order and regularity" happen. There are many things we don't understand, and some we may never understand. But everything we have learned so far indicates that the universe is the way it is and behaves the way it does according to very few and relatively simple physical laws.

            Kreeft's assertions in the Design Argument are little above the wondering of the Insane Clown Posse in their song 'Miracles': "I see miracles all around me, Stop and look around, it's all astounding, Water, fire, air and dirt, F***ing magnets, how do they work? And I don't wanna talk to a scientist, Y'all motherf***ers lying, and getting me pissed."

            The presumption of an infinitely complex and overarching uncreated entity with omnicience, omnipotence, omnipresence, existing outside of space, time, and matter, with the ability to will a universe into existence and foresee the path, through billions of years, of each of googolplexes of subatomic particles in a hundred thousand galaxies each with a hundred thousand stars and their planets such that they would lead (with some divine prodding) to the flowering of its overarching plan for the emergence of life and the evolution of humans on Earth (aka Intelligent Designer)...

            ...seems quite a bit more of an assumption than...

            ...that's what universes do (aka "chance").

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            Two of them (#7 & 12) are fairly mundane restatings of the titles that Kreeft gives these arguments, and the third (#5) is a snarky - though not misleading - summary.

            None of them are strawmen, they are at worst oversimplified summaries, and I would be curious to know what seems misleading about them.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            You answered your own question, Andre. Each example is a snarky, oversimplification of a serious argument for God, and thus a straw man argument. Here's why:

            "I can conceive of God, therefore God exists"

            This is a significant distortion of both Kreeft's #12 and the title for his argument #12. His argument concerns the *origin* for belief in God, not the fact that any individual is capable of conceiving of him.

            "The universe must have had a creator, therefore God exists"

            This example is closer to its true alternative than the example above but it's still a distortion. That's because it suggests Christians *begin* with the assumption that the universe must have a creator instead of necessarily deducing that fact as Kreeft #7 does (Argument from Contingency). None of Kreeft's arguments--or any other arguments on this site--begin with the premise, "the universe must have had a creator."

            "I cannot imagine how this can be explained naturally, therefore God exists"

            This is far rom the design argument proposed by Dr. Kreeft. The question of whether God designed the universe is independent of our ability to *imagine* a natural explanation. The latter simply has no bearing on the question of God's existence.

            This claim is really more like what was proposed centuries ago by William Paley, who has become a whipping boy of sorts among the New Atheists. Yet no contributors here at Strange Notions align themselves with Paley's arguments, therefore this claim is a pure straw man.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll respond one last time. First, and I'll note I should have made this clear to begin with, my listing of the Kreeft analogues wasn't meant to be the exact 1:1 examples you seem to have taken them to be - though I think they close enough approximations for the task at hand.

            You answered your own question, Andre. Each example is a snarky, oversimplification of a serious argument for God, and thus a straw man argument.

            I'm not sure how you get from my assertion that I didn't view any of the examples as strawmen, to me answering my own question of whether they were strawmen in the affirmative.

            To my mind, for something to be a strawman argument, it is not enough (or necessary) for something to be over-simplistic, it needs to distort or mislead. In the examples above I find, at worst, oversimplification - which given the scope of some of these arguments, I'm at a loss as to how one should refer to them in a concise manner, while at the same time retaining their theoretical weight.

            This is a significant distortion of both Kreeft's #12 and the title for his argument #12. His argument concerns the *origin* for belief in God, not the fact that any individual is capable of conceiving of him.

            I'm really not sure what you view as the distortion. Truncation? Distillation? Yes and yes. Distortion? I don't see how.

            "I can conceive of God, therefore God exists"

            v

            "We have ideas of many things.

            These ideas must arise either from ourselves or from things outside us.

            One of the ideas we have is the idea of God—an infinite, all-perfect being.

            This idea could not have been caused by ourselves, because we know ourselves to be limited and imperfect, and no effect can be greater than its cause.

            Therefore, the idea must have been caused by something outside us which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

            But only God himself has those qualities.

            Therefore God himself must be the cause of the idea we have of him.

            Therefore God exists."

            This example is closer to its true alternative than the example above but it's still a distortion. That's because it suggests Christians *begin* with the assumption that the universe must have a creator instead of necessarily deducing that fact as Kreeft #7 does (Argument from Contingency). None of Kreeft's arguments--or any other arguments on this site--begin with the premise, "the universe must have had a creator."

            Again, I'm not sure how distilling = distortion. You read into it a suggestion you object to. If he worded it differently, instead of objecting to the claim: "it suggests Christians *begin* with the assumption that the universe must have a creator"; you might easily object to the suggestion Christians begin with the assumption that infinite regress is impossible.

            This claim is really more like what was proposed centuries ago by William Paley, who has become a whipping boy of sorts among the New Atheists. Yet no contributors here at Strange Notions align themselves with Paley's arguments, therefore this claim is a pure straw man.

            See, this is why somebody should have more carefully worded the title of the article ;) Green's initial claim was that: "It's religion that's all about making assumptions". Not the Catholic Church, Kreeft, or the contributors at Strange Notions - but 'religion'. That nobody here subscribes to Paley's views does not make Green's comments "pure straw man".

            Anyways, I doubt we'll agree on this, but to my mind you've unfairly accused Green of strawman in these cases. In closing, I'm done playing white-knight for Green, though he does now owe me a drink.

            Cheers

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You get the last word for now.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I only cited Artigas as *a* definition of science.

            Feel free to provide one yourself which adequately defines the subject without epistemology. Since needs rationality in general since it is only one very specialized form of rationality.

            I'm familiar with this two-step. You want to define that discussion as 'higher than science, and therefore not science'. Then you hope to go over science's head, so to speak. You hope that that abstract 'higher' level can give you some result you want and then you can skip the science part and ignore the scientific principles.

            That sounds like you are a mind reader and you think I'm secretly thinking something sinister because I'm somehow anti-science.

            In reality, I'm only trying to show that science is one of many fields of knowledge and that certain philosophers (namely those who adhere to scientism) ought not to try to arrogate all truth to themselves.

          • josh

            "Feel free to provide one yourself which adequately defines the subject without epistemology."

            Kevin, your response shows that you're still not getting it. Science isn't without epistemology, but epistemology isn't a separate thing, epistemology is part of how we do science. What I'm objecting to is the idea that if you call a particular kind of thought 'philosophy' then you aren't doing science, and vice versa.

            I'm not a mind reader, you are just predictable. Not because you are trying to be sinister, but because you want a quick and easy answer to the questions at hand, and there are certain conclusions you want to arrive at. No need to be coy.

            Science, in the relevant sense, is a method of obtaining knowledge, not a field of knowledge per se. And properly speaking, 'science' is a direction in pursuit of knowledge. So we should speak of more and less scientific approaches to a question, not a binary science/not-science that leads to fruitless arguments over dermarcation. When I try products at a store to find which work for me, versus when I compare a detailed billion-dollar experiment to my formal theory, I'm not using different principles but I am carrying them out to different degrees.

            The 'experiment' in both cases is about matching up my experience with a consistent internal theory of 'how the world is'. The theorizing and formalism is very much a part of science, it doesn't become 'not-science' just because I'm not reading a number off a machine at the moment. One of the conclusions of this theorizing is that we should be very cautious of 'results' that can't be checked against experiment, another is that we need careful formalism, i.e. rigorous definitions and derivations in order to definitively decide questions. The committed application of these principles gives us the scientific direction I spoke of, and jobs that we specifically call scientist.

            So the question isn't about 'arrogating truth' to some group of people but about the best methods for arriving at the truth (and what we mean by truth in the first place). Are there methods for determining the truth that are distinct from science, not just in degree of formal application, but in kind somehow? And this is a question not of where truth claims come from, but of judging their reliability.

            Well, 1) we can just declare that some claim is true by fiat and nothing can change it. This is where I would place claims to just 'perceive the nature of being' or 'just know that something is good/beautiful/etc.' These types of claims make truth an abstract and unobservable property. It doesn't relate to anything else and there is no argument for or against it. Since it doesn't relate to anything else, then 'being true' doesn't affect any other claim and is about as meaningful as 'being frumious'.

            2) We can define a formalism. That is, we describe a set or rigid rules for relating one statement to another. This is 'pure' math and formal logic. Something which is 'true' under the formalism can be related to another statement, usually so that the 'truth' of the one, together with the rules of the formalism, can be used to assign a truth value to the other. Usually we want consistency, so a particular statement can't be assigned both true and false under the same set of rules. Now 'truth' is a relational concept, but it only has meaning within a particular system, and that system is arbitrary. Also note that the way we check truth values is to perform the experiment of seeing if we can write down a path from one statement to the other following the rules we have laid out. Ideally, we prefer to check it multiple times and via multiple people, sound familiar?

            3) Truth is a relation between experiences that aren't purely at the abstract level of (2). (I suppose we might treat every experience as sui generis and incapable of analysis. This is equivalent to (1), and maybe to certain strains in Buddhist and other mystic thought.) Or, we may try to put our experiences in a shared framework. For this we introduce some of the formalism from (2) to make meaningful statements, but now the abstract 'truth' value of our statements is meant to match up with the non-arbitrary 'truth' of experience. (That is, we seemingly can't just choose our experiences arbitrarily.)

            But now we are at the level of science, we are looking for a consistent and formalized way to correlate our experiences. Whether we think of the world as physical, or natural, or material, etc. these are a posteriori descriptions, they are perhaps the working assumptions of a successful framework, but they don't determine the ambit of science, it will expand if necessary.

            So what about faith? People here want to argue for their beliefs based on trust in some authority to make true statements, or based on their own experiences. But the criticism here is that such trust should be checked and isn't merited and that the experiences are being misinterpreted. But these are exactly the kind of arguments we use in science. Theology isn't science in the sense that it is bad science. Or if you prefer, science is good epistemology and theology is an example of bad epistemology. You will wish to dispute these last two claims no doubt, but the point is that you can't avoid the argument by saying that theology just isn't science and so can't be judged by science. That's a dodge.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Before we get to your argument, I want to address your on-going and distressing lack of respect.

            You wrote:

            I'm not a mind reader, you are just predictable. Not because you are trying to be sinister, but because you want a quick and easy answer to the questions at hand, and there are certain conclusions you want to arrive at. No need to be coy.

            The only words I can think of to characterize your assumptions about me are expletives.

            In regard to your argument, you have philosophized for about 800 words. You have built a justification for science (which I think is valid) based on arguments from the experience of science.

            It sounds like you want to move deductive disciplines, like metaphysics and mathematics, out of the realm of truth by
            writing, “Now 'truth' is a relational concept, but it only has meaning within a particular system, and that system is arbitrary.” You seem to be saying that “arbitrary” deductive reasoning only becomes useful if it is matched up with empirical experience.

            I would say truth is a correspondence between what we think and what actually is.

            An example of arrogating truth to one branch of knowledge is the claim that “we should be very cautious of 'results' that can't be checked against experiment.” I’d say, rather that we need adequate evidence of an appropriate kind to establish claims of truth.

          • josh

            Hi again Kevin,

            About respect, I'm not sure what you want. I don't know you personally and you are probably a decent enough person to be around. But I think you are wrong when it comes to the topics broached on this site, and not just probably wrong, like I have a 70/30 opinion on something and you back the 30 side, but badly wrong in many cases.

            I don't think this is because you are stupid or ignorant in any general sense but rather 1) Some of these issues, like the development of a distinct person, or the nature of 'beginnings', or the existence of morality or the truth of mathematics really are difficult issues for which many people have simple, preferred answers that are wrong. Understanding the limitations of those answers requires some paradigm shifting that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. 2)You specifically are in the grip of a particular system of thought. That system has evolved for a few millenia so that for a particular kind of mentality it seems very compelling and complete, from the inside it can be extremely difficult to see the problems. Moreover, it inspires a great emotional investment from its adherents; people who can be extremely rational outside of their faith just can't bring themselves to confront their faith with skepticism.

            So, in response to comments from me trying to head off a familiar tactic, rather than actually differentiating your position from what I had foreseen, you pull out the cheap rhetoric of 'gee, you must be a mind reader'. Kevin, you are the most frequent poster on this site by a large margin. Your mindset isn't a mystery and you are aligning yourself with an organization that takes pride in having an explicit list of official positions. I'm sure you don't see yourself as being irrational, or as suffering from 'motivated reasoning' to certain familiar conclusions, but I do. And my only hope is to somehow make you aware of these things for yourself, which unfortunately may be seen as a lack of respect by you.

            Back to the non-meta debate:

            "It sounds like you want to move deductive disciplines, like metaphysics and mathematics, out of the realm of truth... that “arbitrary” deductive reasoning only becomes useful if it is matched up with empirical experience." Sort of. I'm saying we can always start with some set of axioms and a set of rules for manipulating them. This provides a formal, rigorous system. Questions within the system have well defined answers in terms of those rules and axioms, this is 'pure' math, it can be seen as symbol manipulation. Metaphysics doesn't really go here because too much of it isn't sufficiently formal, the rules of derivation aren't rigorous. But our symbol manipulation can be done entirely without meaning attached to any of the symbols, the rules and axioms can be arbitrary. What anyone but the purest of pure mathematicians is interested in is an interpretation of that symbol system, that is, attaching experiential meaning to the terms. We want axioms that seem to mean something to us, we want the rules to give us outcomes that match up with our experiences when translated back into those terms. But this means that our formal system is always a model of reality and not reality itself. The model may be doubted and it may be found insufficient. Maybe we can find a model that works perfectly as far as we can tell, but that is an a posteriori determination.

            "I would say truth is a correspondence between what we think and what actually is." Which, read one way, fits with the outline I gave above, but we have to remember that we never access 'what actually is' apart from what we think. Maybe flowers 'actually just are' flurple, but if that word doesn't link into a whole system of our experiences then we can never evaluate the truth of the statement and it is meaningless to us.

            "An example of arrogating truth to one branch of knowledge is the claim that “we should be very cautious of 'results' that can't be checked against experiment.” I’d say, rather that we need adequate evidence of an appropriate kind to establish claims of truth."

            But these statements aren't in conflict. We have lots of evidence that extrapolating conclusions from some model without lots of experimental checks usually gives us mistakes. If you are thinking of mathematics, like I said, we can do the formalism to establish 'truth' within the formal system. We do an experiential experiment to check this. When we assign meaning to the formal terms, we now have to further experiment to see how well 'truth' in the model matches up with 'true' to our experiences.

            At this point, one can still imagine a perfectly useful model of reality that includes what we call the supernatural or metaphysical. I'm just pointing out that such models are to be evaluated using the same principles as science understood at this broad level. If you have a model that doesn't give evidence, then it isn't outside science, you just don't have sufficient evidence to establish your claim. 'Evidence' here doesn't necessarily mean people in white coats with a machine detector, but it's not a separate category where the principles of one don't apply to the other.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Is it possible that you hold the very biases that you assume Catholics have?

          • josh

            The exact same biases? Seems unlikely. But of course it is possible in the abstract that I am reasoning poorly because of some bias on my part. I can't rule out that some future self will look back on the current me and say 'How could I have been so blind?'

            (Although, I don't think I just assume Catholics are biased, I think I have evidence of that bias.)

        • josh

          Well, for starters, 'should' isn't a true-false question. It depends on what we want. But I suspect you want to go to an answer like 'philosophy must decide what questions science is qualified to answer'. This, however, is clearly not a valid move, since it is immediately open to the same question: "How can we use philosophy to settle the question of whether philosophy should arbitrate truth?" The point isn't that there is no philosophy in science, it is that you can't do philosophy absent science and have much worthwhile to say.

          We use science to arbitrate truth because it appeals to external standards we can agree to, i.e. it allows for falsification, and it imposes rigor so that we can consistently say that something does or does not follow. Also, it imposes Occam's razor which is the only way to avoid an infinite number of false positives, i.e. it minimizes your error.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "The point isn't that there is no philosophy in science, it is that you can't do philosophy absent science and have much worthwhile to say."

            The irony of this statement is that it's a purely philosophical claim. No science can back up this particular sentence. Therefore absent science, and in your view, this sentence has nothing worthwhile to say.

            But if I may ask anyways, what do you mean by "science" in this context? Are you only referring to the physical sciences?

            "Also, [science] imposes Occam's razor which is the only way to avoid an infinite number of false positives, i.e. it minimizes your error."

            I'm curious how science imposes Occam's razor. Occam's razor is a philosophical principle, not a scientific conclusion.

          • josh

            If the only worthwhile conclusion of philosophy is that we should be doing science I'm sure you'll get over any superficial irony. Of course, science does back up that sentence. If we had experience of philosophers producing loads of useful results via some non-scientific method, that would falsify our current notions of science and we would have to reexamine them carefully. The mistake you are making is to think that 'science' and 'philosophy' are completely distinct fields. Historically this isn't true and what we call science nowadays is more akin to 'philosophy done well'.

            Similarly, Occam's razor is a scientific principle. If you want to call it philosophical as well that's fine. If people routinely violated it yet still produced correct results without false positives, we would have to abandon or modify it under scientific principles.

          • Dave H

            "I'm sure you'll get over any superficial irony."

            Why would he want to get over the irony? It was pretty funny. And it wasn't superficial, unless your whole point was superficial.

        • DannyGetchell

          I would say instead that I believe in science to arbitrate discussions of what is has happened, and can happen, in the physical universe.

  • Andre Boillot

    Brandon,

    You wrote: "They believe scientific method provides the best understanding not only of the physical world but also of art, culture, economics, and anything left over."

    I'm not going to waste much time defending Dawkins' views on matters unrelated to biology (his area of expertise), but I think you'll find it difficult to show that either he or Harris believe that science provides the best understanding of art, culture, etc. (let alone the rest of the "New Atheists"). I would be interested if you could direct us to the relevant sources for this.

    White wrote: "Many scientists still tell stories that go well beyond what can be accounted for by science itself. So, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens may proclaim the triumph of science as knowledge while reducing religion to a series of criminal anecdotes and ignoring the rich history of Western religion (they know less than nothing about Eastern religion). [...] Dawkins and Hitchens and the rest of the New Atheists (there is quite a list of them now) appear ignorant of all this which has the unfortunate consequence of making the bulk of what they say patently false."

    Couple things. 1) Hitchens, to my knowledge, was not a scientist. 2) I'm not sure that anyone who's read much of Hitchens (let alone Harris) would come away with the idea that they "know less than nothing about Eastern religion" or "appear ignorant of all this [rich history of Western religion]".

    White: "The greatest accomplishment for a scientist is to have his peers agree to name a discovery or a math axiom after him. It is a curiously egoistic profession, especially given their grim conclusions about the “meaning of life."

    One need only listen to 5min of almost any Feynman lecture or interview for a rebuttal on this.

    I'm at a loss. As far as I can tell, this article is mostly about slandering the New Atheists and, for some reason, scientists. Lazy generalizations at best, blatant falsehoods at worst.

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

      Quoting Sam Harris: "Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science."

      http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-moral-landscape-challenge1

      • Andre Boillot

        I should have emphasized the art and culture aspects. I've never heard either talk about science giving us the best understanding of either.

        • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos
          • Andre Boillot

            Sorry, could you explain how Dawkins' notion of memes = science has the best explanations of art and culture? Does he even say this (let alone the rest of the "most popular atheists") or is it just a possible explanation?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            It's pretty simple Andre. If the mind/consciousness is from the physical brain, then all creativity is explained by science. Neuroscience deals with the brain. That's Harris' and Dawkins' entire point. It's all the "purview of science."

          • Andre Boillot

            I'm not sure it's quite as simple as you're saying it is. At least not with respect to Harris: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/whats-the-point-of-transcendence

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            If conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, then they are all dependent on the brain, and therefore in the purview of science to measure. It is that simple.

          • Andre Boillot

            Well, if you say it's that simple, that's what it must be.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            Exactly, and it sure looks like this is the case, though I would say consciousness is the brain and its activity.
            It may be counter-intuitive and problematic if you believe you have an immortal soul and require free-will to be saved.

          • Paul Boillot

            I too agree with the premise and argument as-stated, save for the background assumption that what's being stated is Harris' position.

            It doesn't seem to be.

          • Paul Boillot

            What is Harris' entire point again?

            However, many people imagine that consciousness will yield to scientific inquiry in precisely the way that other difficult problems have in the past.

            Are doubts that we will arrive at a physical explanation of consciousness analogous to doubts about the feasibility of explaining life in terms of processes that are not alive?

            The analogy is a bad one: Life is defined according to external criteria; Consciousness is not (and, I think, cannot be).

            But couldn’t a mature neuroscience nevertheless offer a proper explanation of human consciousness in terms of its underlying brain processes? We have reasons to believe that reductions of this sort are neither possible nor conceptually coherent.

            Excerpted for emphasis from: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness-ii/

          • Bill S

            Aha! I found you, after having been schooled on my thinking that there is a conflict between religion and science. If consciousness resides in the brain, and if the brain shuts down at death, how do we manage to experience an afterlife?

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        And he is right, but what he means by "morality" is conduct that supports human well-being. I agree science can be of great assistance to establish what supports human well-being. If you mean something else by morality, then yes, science may have nothing to say on it.

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    I can accept that the rhetoric used by some prominent atheists overstates the scope of current scientific findings. No one should get the impression that because science can address any question, that it has.

    When it comes to the existence of a god, science can only investigate testable claims. If the evidence is insuficcient science can only say we do not know. No one should think that because no god has been scientifically demonstrated that this means no god exists any more than if someone proposed the germ theory of disease before the advent of the microscope, it would be proof that the theory was wrong due to lack of evidence.

    Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence if we can first demonstrate the evidence should be there in the first place.

    • WhiteRock

      Indeed it is an overstatement. Science cannot make claims to things that are outside of it's proper purview, which is why it's incredibly frustrating to hear those with no theological or philosophical backgrounds making claims about questions reserved for theology and philosophy.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        I would say nothing is outside of the purview of science, but that there are endless issues upon which no empirical evidence can be adduced or scrutinized so science can't say anything about it, other than, there is no evidence to support the claim.

        If your claim is unfalsifiable, science does not say it is false, it just says we cannot ever prove it to scientific standards.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Couldn't you make this same claim about any subject?

          "Nothing is outside the purview of theology, but there are endless issues upon which no truths of faith or morals can be adduced or scrutinized, so theology can't say anything about it, other than, there is no evidence from divine revelation to support that claim."

          or

          "Nothing is outside the purview of geometry, but there are endless issues upon which none of the proofs of geometry have any bearing, so geometry can't say anything about it, other than, there is no evidence from geometry to support that claim.

          In other words, the claim that nothing is outside the purview is fallacious.

          • Paul Boillot

            "Couldn't you make this same claim about any subject?"

            No.

            If I am right in my assumption that Mr. Adams' working definition of 'science' is similar to what Mr. Sapphire is promulgating below (and my personal view), "the study of reality" -- then no, you could not. Not about "any" subject.

            IF science == the study of reality
            => the purview of science is total.

            (In that all things which can be studied are part of reality.)

            IF God/god(s) exist(s)
            And IF theology == the study of God/god(s)
            => the purview of theology is total.

            (In that all things which can be studied are part of a reality based on God/god(s))

            IF geometry == the study of shape, size and space
            !=> the purview of geometry is total.

            (In that reality might consist of things which have no size/shape; dimensions outside of 3-d space; etc)

            -----

            The fact that science is the proper framework for studying everything which can be studied -- even if there are things which cannot, un-falsifiables etc -- does not mean that you can just do a find/replace on the nouns and show a breakdown in logic.

            There is a qualitative difference between science/geometry (or any other framework which does not presuppose universality) which does not survive the swap.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Paul, I could not follow all your symbols.

            If by reality you mean ALL reality, it is false that natural science is the study of reality. It is the study of physical reality only, according to its particular methods.

          • Paul Boillot

            Kevin,

            I apologize for the potential incomprehensibility of my 'symbol' choice, it was the best I could come up with for mimicking logic notation with my keyboard.

            I appreciate and accept that your world view is one of hierarchies, one where 'natural science' is a subset of other domains.

            I was hoping that you would understand that the premise I am starting from (one I explicitly acknowledged that I was assuming about Mr. BGA) is that science is precisely the study of reality.

            You want to add the caveat 'physical reality only,' but my premise is that there is precisely only physical reality.

            If I am right, then self-evidently every phenomena is in the scope of science.

            I could be wrong, and based on my rightness or wrongness science and theology might be able to trade places as holding universal purview, but -- and this was the key point I just tried to make -- geometry will never hold universal purview either way.

            Nor will "any [other] subject."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Paul, Thanks for your reply and the reasonable way you made it. I think I appreciate what you are saying.

            To further clarify the "hierarchical" view, I'd say there are basically two ways to study reality: Faith and reason.

            "Faith" is the rational study of the truths of divine revelation (which revelation Catholics assume has occurred). It is primarily concerned with religious and moral truths contained in Scripture and Tradition.

            "Reason" is the study of every other aspect of reality by reason. It includes natural theology (that which does not require divine revelation), philosophy, science, mathematics, history, and everything else.

          • Paul Boillot

            Kevin,

            It's my hope, and if I succeed my pleasure, to try to express myself reasonably. So I'm glad it's coming across that way.

            Thanks for illustrating the delineations between the two types of truth you're processing.

            But even granted this schema, 'science' is the word I (and I think many others) use to describe the field and methodology which will (potentially) have something to say about each "other aspect of reality" illuminated by reason.

            By 'science' I mean inquiry into the way nature works.

            Geometry, as a 3-d subset of mathematics (which itself is 'subsumed' into the field of science), and will not ultimately be a framework for understanding the natural world, if only because we know of at least 1 more dimension than 3, and perhaps many others.

            (Although I may have to backtrack on that: https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130917-a-jewel-at-the-heart-of-quantum-physics/)

            --------

            What I'm trying to get at here is the following:
            In so far as geometry, or any other field of study, is limited you want to be able to swap them out with science as a whole to show the fundamental 'fallacy' of using science to study reality.

            If we take these other fields at surface-level, your analogy is a failure of kinds.

            Nothing is outside the purview of geometry, but there are endless issues upon which none of the proofs of geometry have any bearing, so geometry can't say anything about it, other than, there is no evidence from geometry to support that claim.

            There are things which are in the purview of science, which are nonetheless unfalsifiable.

            For example, let's assume that the number of birds alive at this moment is X.

            The claim: "Across the globe, X / 4 birds are in flight at 3:03 pm CST" is, in principle, knowable through scientific means. The fact that we can not in practice measure it renders it unfalsifiable. That doesn't mean it IS false, just that we can't prove it one way or the other....but we COULD prove it if we had ____ and ____ with _____ .

            TLDR

            There are natural phenomena which, in practice, we cannot (currently) scientifically study, but we COULD. There are also natural phenomena which will not ever yield to inquiry with the tools of spatial geometry.

            Thus they are not interchangeable in the way you asserted above:

            Couldn't you make this same claim about any subject?
            ...
            In other words, the claim that nothing is outside the purview is fallacious.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks!

            I didn't actually mean to argue that Geometry could explain everything.

            I was objecting to the argument that could be reduced to "science studies is the study of all reality (except the parts it can't study).

            So you (and others) are saying that just as natural science subsumes Geometry (which existed long before empirical science), it will subsume every other branch of knowledge?

          • Paul Boillot

            What I am saying is that science is the study of the natural world; it is exactly the study of all reality, except what it can't get at.

            In a different way than that in which geometry is the study of everything, except what it can't get at.

            There might be aspects of nature which we never, even in principle, get a better understanding of through science; but we will never get at them in any other way either.

            There are aspects of nature which, in principle, geometry can't help us learn about, but we can get at by other means.

            Therefore it is logically invalid to use them as analogues.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So logic is a part of the natural world that either physical science can study or it cannot be known in any other way?

          • Paul Boillot

            Subtracting your (leading?) addition of 'physical' I would agree.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So then is science different than rationality?

          • Paul Boillot

            Rationality is something we find amongst certain animals in nature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So science is different than human rationality?

          • Paul Boillot

            Science = study of the natural world.
            Human rationality = rationality found in humans.

            You're asking me if they're different?
            Kevin, they're different words, with different meanings...

            Yes, they're different.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I have always understood rationality as the power that human beings have to create language systems based on symbols (aural or visual), to form abstract concepts, to reason inductively and deductively, to make all kinds of things through these powers, and so on.

            Are these not necessary to study the natural world? If so, they are prerequisites of science.

          • Paul Boillot

            I'm not sure I follow.

            How does this apply to the idea that geometry and science are analogously limited?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Let's look at it through sets. If we put all human knowledge in a set, we can ask, are there subsets? Is history a subset? Is Algebra? Is philosophy one? What about physical science?

            You seem to be arguing that physical science is not a subset of all human knowledge but is the set itself.

          • josh

            Science doesn't start with a definition of physical or unphysical, so this isn't true. Science studies what can be studied, i.e. reality so far as it is available to us.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Please see below, josh.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            Fair enough, all I mean is that I disagree with the separate magisteria. But yes, this is my thinking. The idea that morality or the existence of beings is outside the purview of scientific inquiry is false.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't doubt that natural science could say many interesting things about the statement that "It is better to be just than unjust" but I don't see how science as we understand the term today could ever establish the duty of human beings to be just.

            Some arguments for the existence of God use data from natural science as evidence but then use deductive reasoning and metaphysical concepts to reason to God. Science can pass judgment of whether the scientific evidence is being used correctly, but its competence stops there, I think.

      • Paul Boillot

        I'm having a hard time understanding: who reserves questions for theologians and philosophers, what are the criteria for making those reservations? What claims are being inappropriately made based on these criteria?

      • Green_Sapphire

        The proper purview of science is the study of reality. If that means that that the questions "reserved for theology and philosophy" (?!) are about unreality or the supernatural, then I guess that's fine; they can have them.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Let's test your hypothesis that the purview of science is the study of reality. Can you come up with a hypothesis and a repeatable experimental test to study geometry? How about any idea, like what "reality" means?

          • Green_Sapphire

            I hope you understood that my answer was tongue-in-cheek in response to the preposterous suggestion by WhiteRock that certain questions are reserved for a particular field.

            But as josh wrote in a previous comment above:

            "By science we mean at least 3 related things: one is the
            philosophy/methodology of science; one is the implementation in terms of institutions, journals, labs, jobs in science; and one is the findings of science, like 'water is H2O'."

            The tools of science include both experiment and observation, so experiments are often not necessary. Pure mathematics is somewhat different than other fields of science, in that it is based on certain axioms, then using proofs derived from them. Here is a page about geometric proofs. Tests of geometry? Pretty much every building that you walk into trusting it won't crash around you. Very precise eclipse predictions.

            For several scientific stabs at 'reality', check out this Special Issue of New Scientist on 'What is Reality?'. You'll note, the articles include one from a philosopher of science. Unlike WhiteRock, that magazine and I and most scientists don't consider certain questions to be reserved to science.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That's a very interesting-looking website.

            "Apologists for science" sometimes attempt to arrogate to empirical or physical or natural science every other kind of valid knowledge.

            Isn't it true that mathematics is a "tool" that natural science uses and relies upon but it is not the "property" of physical science? Similarly, epistemology is also necessary for physical science but it does not belong to empirical science. It is a branch of philosophy.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        It would be nice that in articles (even interviews) in which the accusation of overstatement is being made if we could have one example of scientism instead of these vague comments.

        Of course religious apologists with no scientific training are constantly misrepresenting science as well.

  • josh

    Where does one dig up cranks like this? They have no argument, know nothing about the famous people they wish to slur, and seem resentful of the idea that anyone besides themselves is an atheist. The entire article is a sloppy emotional appeal and zero engagement with his would-be opponents, where is the 'reasoning together'? Can't people like this read poetry without thinking it is a metaphysical argument?

    • WhiteRock

      How was this, in any way, a "slur" upon Dawkins and Harris? Repeating or paraphrasing their own claims is not a "slur", it's called the truth. Additionally, how is it "a sloppy emotional appeal"? Give examples to support your answer.

      • Andre Boillot

        White,

        "Give examples to support your answer."

        An ironic request to put to josh, given the lack of examples to support White's remarks towards Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al.: "know less than nothing about Eastern religion", "appear ignorant of all this [rich history of Western religion]", and "The greatest accomplishment for a scientist is to have his peers agree to name a discovery or a math axiom after him. It is a curiously egoistic profession, especially given their grim conclusions about the “meaning of life."

        A bit like somebody objecting to an unsupported accusation of domestic abuse, and then being asked to prove the negative.

        • WhiteRock

          I failed to see a "sloppy emotional appeal" in the OP. He made a claim. I'm asking him to support it so I can understand his perspective. Ironic? Perhaps, but I hope you're not insinuating anything further.

          • Andre Boillot

            White,

            I outlined what I believed were the slurs. I'll leave whether or not he made sloppy emotional appeals to others.

            "I hope you're not insinuating anything further."

            You mean like when did you stop beating your spouse?

            Kidding, (hopefully) obviously.

      • josh

        It's a short article, you can find examples yourself. But I'll get you started:

        Slurs: "So, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens may proclaim the triumph of science as knowledge while reducing religion to a series of criminal anecdotes and ignoring the rich history of Western religion (they know less than nothing about Eastern religion)..."

        Where is the evidence of this? Dawkins and Hitchens are pretty educated guys, so are Harris and Dennett and dozens of other well known atheists. They tend to focus on the most fundamentalist and in their views harmful religious cultures, but they aren't ignorant of, nor do they ignore more moderate religion. Sam Harris is well known to tout the benefits of Buddhist meditation. Dawkins has talked about his appreciation for the Christian culture he was raised in.

        "...scientists scrape in the most ignoble fashion after awards, Nobel prizes etc." Really? Scientists like acknowledgement of their accomplishments and this makes them 'ignoble'? There are egotistic people and humble people in science as in anything, but this is just a slur and doesn't even approach an argument that materialist scientists are hypocritical about meaning, much less wrong.

        Emotional appeals:"But they hated the Enlightenment’s rationalist disenchantment of the world...", "something gloriously meaningful", "Jonah Lehrer’s repellent argument", "their grim conclusions", "poetry since Wordsworth has understood this."

        Arguments: ...........
        The closest we get is the vague suggestion that because people communicate with symbols creativity mostly happens outside the brain. What this has to do with materialism is anyone's guess.

    • DannyGetchell

      I agree. If Mr. White is upset that the "new atheists" are acclaimed for opinions which he believes are so confoundedly wrong, then by all means let him engage in the battle of ideas. If he can write with the wit and clarity of a Hitchens, doubtless he will find adherents. If he can't, he won't.

  • WhiteRock

    This caused me to remember the following quote; "For us scientists, I'm afraid, this will all end like a bad dream. We will scale the mountains of knowledge, higher and higher & at the top we will meet a bunch of theologians who've been sitting there for centuries".
    ~Robert Jastrow (Former leading NASA scientist, American astronomer, physicist and cosmologist).

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    If science provides explanations for everything, they're the sort of explanations where you don't understand anything any better afterwords.

    Maybe art can be explained by molecules in the brain. If so, it's a sad sort of explanation, because no number of chemical formulas will really help me understand
    art any better than I did before.

  • Paul

    This interview/article is depressing.

    Honest disagreements between two people/parties who understand one another are contentious enough, disagreements where one or the other party fail (intentionally or not) to understand the other get necessarily messy.

    Mr. White's book started with Jonah Lehrer, with whom he rightly has many beefs. It seems that he's not so much concerned with his plagiarisms/fabrications, which should be the capital sin of any 'journalist', but because of his saccharine and shallow reportage on scientific advances and their ?cultural? implications.

    Mr. Lehrer was/is not a scientist. Mr. Lehrer was a popular 'science writer.' Mr. Lehrer's real sin was his grevious breach of journalistic codes, due to which he was forced to resign. But even prior to his real scandal he was often criticized by the scientific and science popularizer communities for shoddy research, tenuous conclusions, and hasty generalizations.

    Picking him out as some sort of poster-child of science does a disservice to any potential argument about science that Mr. White might be trying to make, given how little consensus there is about the validity of Mr. Lehrer's work.

    Additionally, and increasingly frustratingly, Mr. White (and Mr. Vogt) show a clear lack of familiarity with, or blatantly mis-characterization of; Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and so help me, Radiohead.

    I'm going to quickly pull a quote out of one of the other reviews of Mr. White's book that I read before commenting here, having to do with one of the greatest public minds of our century, Richard Feynman:

    [quote]I hope you will agree that this is a very disappointing conclusion for someone who was almost as famous for playing the bongos and going to strip clubs as he was for physics[/quote]

    For someone whose audience is "among artists, lefty intellectuals, humanists, and other species of the socially dispossessed," his criticism of Feynman's oddball personality and free spirit seems less like and accidental misstep in the service of passionate defense, and more like poking fun of oddities in a fumbling attempt at ridicule.

    If we're going to talk about "superb ironies," let's examine the fact that a novelist is taking aim at the soullessness of harsh materialism by mocking one the smartest intellectuals of our day -- who also happened to marched to the beat of no one else's drum.

    There are topics worth considering and discussing in these jumbled interviews, reviews, and I presume the underlying books, but Mr. White does not seem gifted at (or perhaps inclined to) approaching them honestly.

    http://boingboing.net/2013/06/20/the-real-problem-with-curtis-w.html
    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2013/06/the_science_delusion_by_curtis_white_reviewed.2.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/books/review/curtis-whites-science-delusion.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  • robtish

    I have a suggestion for a future article (I don't where else to suggest it, so forgive me for going off topic). What does the Bible mean when it says God created man in His own image?

    I ask, because so many arguments, especially from Catholic commentators,rest of the notion that God is radically different from us (his timelessness, for instance, but also his omniscience, and the bit about "neither are your ways my ways," which is often brought up in theodicy conversations).

    If God is so *fundamentally* and *essentially* different from us, then in what sense are we made in His image?

    Not asking for an answer now, and not trying to derail this discussion, but I think an article on that topic would be useful.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "I have a suggestion for a future article (I don't where else to suggest it, so forgive me for going off topic). What does the Bible mean when it says God created man in His own image?"

      Duly noted. Thanks! We'll see if we can't get one on that topic.

      (In the future, you can use the contact form located in the main menu.)

      • robtish

        Thanks!

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Just a heads up that one of our contributors, Stacy Trasancos, is writing an article on this topic. It should go live within the next few weeks. Thanks again!

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    I wish people would stop using the word "scientism". It's a useless label.

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/08/14/lets-stop-using-the-word-scientism/

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "I wish people would stop using the word "scientism". It's a useless label."

      I'm not sure what you mean by this. Your claim would only be true if the label served no use, but that's demonstrably untrue.

      Scientism not a useless label. It serves a purpose, namely to describe a particular philosophical view.

      Now, I'll agree that it's used differently by different people, but that doesn't make the term useless. It only demands that in each instance, we make clear how we're using it. Almost everywhere I've seen it used, the definition has been made clear, either explicitly or implicitly.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        If a word has to be defined each time it's being used, it's a useless word.

        What did you think of Sean Carroll's article?

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "If a word has to be defined each time it's being used, it's a useless word."

          Therefore "science" must also be a useless word. It's used by so many people in so many different ways. Before engaging it, we're forced to settle on one particular definition.

          Other words that would be useless, by your criteria, include "universe", "nothing", "morality", "justice", and "art".

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            And what did you think about Sean Carroll's article?

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            He says exactly what I did:

            "[T]he only productive way to use a word like “scientism”...would be to provide an explicit and careful definition every time the word is invoked."

            I struggle to see how this makes the word useless, however. For as noted before, the same issue applies to words like "universe", "nothing", "morality", "justice", and "art". Yet nobody considers those words useless.

            The best solution, and the one we've taken at Strange Notions, is simply to define our terms. It's a basic task of philosophical discourse. Just because a term can have various meanings doesn't mean its necessarily useless.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            When I see the word "science", even when it doesn't come with a definition, like in the following article here, I have a pretty good understanding about what it means. Same with "art", "justice", "morality", even "nothing" and "universe". I may not know the technical way in which they're being used, but I at least have a broad idea about what the words are getting at.

            I have no idea what "scientism" is supposed to mean in any given context. I can't picture it. Even if we take a broad conception like "using science in a place where science shouldn't be used", that doesn't help much because you will have a different idea than I will about where science should and should not be applied. There will be as many ideas as there are people who ask the question. A label for something like that seems unhelpful.

            Also, the word's clunky. What's a scientism adherent? A scientist?

            I think discourse would be improved if the word is dropped.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            I guess we just disagree. Feel free to stop using the word, and whenever I use it, I'll be sure to define it carefully so you can wrap your head around it.

  • DannyGetchell

    the rich philosophical debates of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been nearly totally abandoned.

    If this is true, it is because "philosophy" has become an increasingly rarefied academic discipline, pursued by those who have no interest in communicating outside their own self-defined circle.

    In much the same way as the archetypical hipster is only interested in listening to bands which the public has never heard of.

  • Jdonnell

    "Romanticism" is famously difficult to define, although all definitions I know of involve subjectivism. That helped get the modern world into its present state, so that a call to "return to Romanticism" is doomed.

  • Casey Braden

    I think this quote from Steven Novella is very relevant here.

    "What do you think science is? There's nothing magical about science. It is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. Which part of that exactly do you disagree with? Do you disagree with being thorough? Using careful observation? Being systematic? Or using consistent logic?”

    Believing that science is the best method we've found to learn about the world in which we live does not mean that one is not free to ponder deeper philosophical questions. It just means we have more data to reflect on when we DO ponder those questions.