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Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 02:57 PM
There is a movement to remove "the last vestages of superstition" from modern thought.

If there are questions which science can not answer...like...what is life, what is consciousness, what is the true nature of reality (if it even has a true nature) at the most fundamental level...why must we all accept it?

What's wrong with us all believing what we like?

Is Scientific Materialism a type of intellectual fascism...which is attempting to quash dissent...and spread universally across the minds of humanity?

And, my question for those who accept the precepts of Scientific Materialism...you do wish everyone believed as you do, don't you?

Why?

I have seen things and done things, which transcend those limits which Scientific Materialists hold. I have no need to convince others of this. I accept that only I can hold my personal beliefs, they are not universal, and they have no need to be. Why is this a problem?

Torgo
03-30-2012, 03:00 PM
Nope. Shush.

ETA:

Right - I have finished what I was doing so will respond non-facetiously!

1) It's not actually obvious to me that there are questions which science cannot answer. We have a good scientific definition of life, I think. We don't fully understand consciousness but we investigating it with scientific tools. And we may or may not be able to understand the 'most fundamental' or 'true' nature of reality, but neither you nor I could say with any certainty whether we can or not.

2) There is, of course, nothing wrong with us all believing what we like. I do, to some extent, wish that everyone believed as I do - we all do, regarding our own beliefs, I think. I wish that people did not give money to psychics, or order their lives and those of their families because of advice from mediums, because I have never seen any credible evidence that psychics and mediums are not merely charlatans, or more charitably, delusional. I have never seen a feat of ESP that cannot be reproduced by a mentalist, and I have never seen anyone who claims to be clairvoyant able to reproduce their feats under lab conditions.

I wish that people did not persecute their gay neighbours because of their metaphysical beliefs. I wish that people did not gull others with perpetual motion machines. I wish that cranks and quacks didn't appropriate the language of science in order to push scientifically dodgy ideas. All these things seem to me to have a negative impact on individuals and societies.

But I, like you, have no problem saying 'live and let live', so long as nobody harms anyone else. We disagree on metaphysics, and we post on this forum every now and then politely disagreeing, and I think that there's not so much aggressive hegemonizing as you suggest.

When a weird idea comes along, though, scientists do tend to investigate. The history of science is largely one of outsiders proving their case and being acclaimed for it - continual new discovery and new thought, not stagnation.

If there are non-material forces at work in the universe, either they are completely undetectable - in which case science has nothing to say about them, and also it doesn't seem like I need to bother believing in them - or they ought to be susceptible to some kind of investigation. We've turned up precious little that is suggestive of supernaturalism, and that which we have doesn't seem to be reproducible.

3) "Fascism"? I think that's a bit thick.

EDITED AGAIN:

(I could totally tu quoque myself, because people have been known to be persecuted for 'scientific' reasons in the past. It's a hopeful sign though that science tends to repudiate bad science like, say, physiognomy more quickly than, say, religion repudiates its bad ideas.)

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 03:38 PM
Nope. Shush.

Well, that's cleared up, then. :)

RichardGarfinkle
03-30-2012, 04:34 PM
Diana, I'm about to weird you out by partially agreeing with you.

Science as a process requires phenomena that can be
1. Externally observed.
2. Reproduced either in the lab or by multiple external observations.

While brain activity can be both 1 and 2, thoughts cannot. Until and unless there is a means of doing those thought and consciousness are not within the province of science.

I'm not saying they won't ever be. But to assert that they inherently must be would be a statement of faith not of science.

In terms of external actors not subject to scientific analysis, we run into dicier ground. They would have to lack property 1 or property 2. If they have both they are within the province of scientific study.

And we'd like to study them because you never know what's going to hold one of the secrets of the universe. If people had treated lodestones as just cool rocks that pointed north, we wouldn't have found magnetism and Maxwell wouldn't have been able to unite Electricity, Magnetism, and Light without which we wouldn't have, well, just about all the electronic hardware we do have.

You might ask why not just let people have their beliefs without examination. And to a great extent that is what is done. But there is a difference between having a belief and making an assertion about reality. The latter is different because it places the subject outside of one mind and into the realm of the world.

Science exists to, if possible, check theory against reality in order to formulate theories that conform to reality as much as possible. Therefore the more real phenomena accounted for the better the theories. By the same token this means that theories of reality need to be tested against reality to see if those theories need to be incorporated into the overall theories. Science would not be doing its job if it said, "this part of reality is off limits to us."

Unfortunately, for belief, this often leads to disproof of ideas people have. People can complain about this and feel bad, but testing things like medicines and folk remedies to see if they actually work leads to an improved quality of life.
Folk remedy: Chewing willow bark helps against pain.
Conclusion of Study: There's a chemical in willow bark that reduces pain.
Result: Aspirin.

To push the case further, asserting that a belief must be taught even if it has failed the test of reality retards human quality of life. Obvious example, evolution. People look at evolution and see some long time spanning process that doesn't impact their lives so what difference does it make.

Except evolution is happening all the time and can be reproduced in the lab, and can affect what diseases exist to endanger us.

Heck, in high school I bred bacteria in a petri dish that were immune to the most common antibiotics of the day. It was easy. I only had to take a mouth scraping, culture it with disks of various antibiotics and whatever survived and grew was immune. I then tried to breed for resistance to acid, that didn't work too well.

This kind of germ breeding goes on all the time when we overuse antibiotics. People who don't accept evolution don't have to accept that we can create dangers for ourselves just by the amount and kind of medicines we take.

For other, serious effects of treating all beliefs equally may I recommend James Randi's book The Faith Healers which is pretty heart-breaking reading.

veinglory
03-30-2012, 05:06 PM
I am not sure how a small minority of people being materialists is oppressing anyone. I do think it is intolerant to declare them ( us ) objectively wrong for having this world view.

Maxx
03-30-2012, 05:32 PM
I am not sure how a small minority of people being materialists is oppressing anyone. I do think it is intolerant to declare them ( us ) objectively wrong for having this world view.

Not only that but the whole idea that there is some monolithic thing called "science" that is sitting out there
equally available to all with a quick phone call or other singular mental event is strangely similar to the idea of
a single divine magical realm equally available to all
via a singular mental event. Both sets of imageries and characterizations are highly misleading about actual human behavior and actual cultural expectations.

That being said, I think that whatever goes on in the sciences is in no way the exact opposite of whatever goes on when somebody (admittedly more likely in 1150 AD) works on their Theology (for example) or does some Shamanistic attempt to locate somebody's wandering soul.
Both the work of the sciences and the work of Shaman(z -es plural as you will) are cultural events with some feedback from individual and social forces and some aspects of reality. In the sciences there is an ongoing attempt to optimize the feedback from reality, but even in this Shamanistic Disciplines have always tried to do the same (though with less success for various technical reasons).

RemusShepherd
03-30-2012, 05:47 PM
I am not sure how a small minority of people being materialists is oppressing anyone. I do think it is intolerant to declare them ( us ) objectively wrong for having this world view.

I think the problem is that the small minority of materialists is insisting that the laws they live under should have no basis in superstition or myth.

To the superstitious majority, that feels like oppression. They're not allowed to weave their beliefs into every aspect of their daily lives. For many religions that's the goal. They're being prevented from reaching that goal.

Personally, I'm with the materialists. Keep the superstitions out of my government. But I recognize that believers in superstition need to be handled with an extremely delicate touch or the results (and their behavior) can be unpredictable, so I'm willing to compromise and allow their beliefs into the legal system in small and symbolic ways.

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 06:02 PM
I am not sure how a small minority of people being materialists is oppressing anyone. I do think it is intolerant to declare them ( us ) objectively wrong for having this world view.

I don't believe there is anything wrong with such ideas. But, would you like to see everyone share them?

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 06:14 PM
I think the problem is that the small minority of materialists is insisting that the laws they live under should have no basis in superstition or myth.

To the superstitious majority, that feels like oppression. They're not allowed to weave their beliefs into every aspect of their daily lives. For many religions that's the goal. They're being prevented from reaching that goal.

Personally, I'm with the materialists. Keep the superstitions out of my government. But I recognize that believers in superstition need to be handled with an extremely delicate touch or the results (and their behavior) can be unpredictable, so I'm willing to compromise and allow their beliefs into the legal system in small and symbolic ways.

I am for political purposes, an atheist. I agree.

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 06:17 PM
Diana, I'm about to weird you out by partially agreeing with you.

Science as a process requires phenomena that can be
1. Externally observed.
2. Reproduced either in the lab or by multiple external observations.

While brain activity can be both 1 and 2, thoughts cannot. Until and unless there is a means of doing those thought and consciousness are not within the province of science.

I'm not saying they won't ever be. But to assert that they inherently must be would be a statement of faith not of science.

In terms of external actors not subject to scientific analysis, we run into dicier ground. They would have to lack property 1 or property 2. If they have both they are within the province of scientific study.

And we'd like to study them because you never know what's going to hold one of the secrets of the universe. If people had treated lodestones as just cool rocks that pointed north, we wouldn't have found magnetism and Maxwell wouldn't have been able to unite Electricity, Magnetism, and Light without which we wouldn't have, well, just about all the electronic hardware we do have.

You might ask why not just let people have their beliefs without examination. And to a great extent that is what is done. But there is a difference between having a belief and making an assertion about reality. The latter is different because it places the subject outside of one mind and into the realm of the world.

Science exists to, if possible, check theory against reality in order to formulate theories that conform to reality as much as possible. Therefore the more real phenomena accounted for the better the theories. By the same token this means that theories of reality need to be tested against reality to see if those theories need to be incorporated into the overall theories. Science would not be doing its job if it said, "this part of reality is off limits to us."

Unfortunately, for belief, this often leads to disproof of ideas people have. People can complain about this and feel bad, but testing things like medicines and folk remedies to see if they actually work leads to an improved quality of life.
Folk remedy: Chewing willow bark helps against pain.
Conclusion of Study: There's a chemical in willow bark that reduces pain.
Result: Aspirin.

To push the case further, asserting that a belief must be taught even if it has failed the test of reality retards human quality of life. Obvious example, evolution. People look at evolution and see some long time spanning process that doesn't impact their lives so what difference does it make.

Except evolution is happening all the time and can be reproduced in the lab, and can affect what diseases exist to endanger us.

Heck, in high school I bred bacteria in a petri dish that were immune to the most common antibiotics of the day. It was easy. I only had to take a mouth scraping, culture it with disks of various antibiotics and whatever survived and grew was immune. I then tried to breed for resistance to acid, that didn't work too well.

This kind of germ breeding goes on all the time when we overuse antibiotics. People who don't accept evolution don't have to accept that we can create dangers for ourselves just by the amount and kind of medicines we take.

For other, serious effects of treating all beliefs equally may I recommend James Randi's book The Faith Healers which is pretty heart-breaking reading.

Great post.

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 06:17 PM
Not only that but the whole idea that there is some monolithic thing called "science" that is sitting out there
equally available to all with a quick phone call or other singular mental event is strangely similar to the idea of
a single divine magical realm equally available to all
via a singular mental event. Both sets of imageries and characterizations are highly misleading about actual human behavior and actual cultural expectations.

That being said, I think that whatever goes on in the sciences is in no way the exact opposite of whatever goes on when somebody (admittedly more likely in 1150 AD) works on their Theology (for example) or does some Shamanistic attempt to locate somebody's wandering soul.
Both the work of the sciences and the work of Shaman(z -es plural as you will) are cultural events with some feedback from individual and social forces and some aspects of reality. In the sciences there is an ongoing attempt to optimize the feedback from reality, but even in this Shamanistic Disciplines have always tried to do the same (though with less success for various technical reasons).

Also a great post.

areteus
03-30-2012, 06:25 PM
It's not a new idea... they tried to eliminate superstition following the French revolution. Didn't work all that well...

It is also not facism as facism is defined as a philosophy of unity - banding together against the common threat. The Nazis unfortunately tainted the word and it has yet to recover from that but it has been in use since the time of the Romans. However, I take your interpretation of the word to mean 'forcing others to accept your ideas regardless of their personal beleifs' which is part of what the Nazi's brought to the concept...

Science as a process does not preclude individual beleifs, it merely provides a framework through which you can establish the evidence needed to support your assertions. If an idea is tested and found wanting, it will be rejected by the process. However, this is usually only after a long and painful process... I agree that the attitude of materialism is a minority view. My personal opinion regarding science and concepts such as spirituality and religion is that a true scientist needs to be open minded. This is why I am an agnostic rather than an atheist.

I am also of the opinion of 'live and let live' in that I do not disrespect another's beliefs even if I myself do not follow them. The evidence is there for anyone to see, they can make their own minds up about it.

Amadan
03-30-2012, 06:30 PM
I don't believe there is anything wrong with such ideas. But, would you like to see everyone share them?

Yes.

Of course you want to everyone to believe as you do. If you didn't think your beliefs were correct, you'd change your beliefs, right?

There is a difference between thinking you are right and people should agree with you, and thinking you have a right to force people to agree with you, or being unable to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

Amadan
03-30-2012, 06:31 PM
Also, "intellectual fascism"? Inflammatory and disingenuous much?

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 06:39 PM
Yes.

Of course you want to everyone to believe as you do. If you didn't think your beliefs were correct, you'd change your beliefs, right?

There is a difference between thinking you are right and people should agree with you, and thinking you have a right to force people to agree with you, or being unable to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

I change my beliefs like I change my underwear...

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 06:42 PM
Also, "intellectual fascism"? Inflammatory and disingenuous much?

I don't think so. Fascism comes from the word Fasci--a bundle of sticks with each stick as much alike as possible. I.e. an attempt to make everyone think the same.

I think it's a legitmate question. Though, thanks to the responders here, I'm inclined to think the answer is probably no...if that makes you feel any better...

Torgo
03-30-2012, 06:45 PM
I don't think so. Fascism comes from the word Fasci--a bundle of sticks with each stick as much alike as possible. I.e. an attempt to make everyone think the same.


eh, I feel there are other boxes you need to tick before you end up with something you can describe as fascism.

Amadan
03-30-2012, 06:47 PM
I don't think so. Fascism comes from the word Fasci--a bundle of sticks with each stick as much alike as possible. I.e. an attempt to make everyone think the same.


Come on. We can all use a dictionary, but the etymology of the word isn't what its use brings to mind. When you call something "fascism" (or suggest it might be) you're implying it's an attempt to violently suppress dissent. Yeah, I get my back up when religious, "spiritual" and other woo-woo people suggest that the tiny, tiny minority of scientific materialists who are actually outspoken and unapologetic about their views are somehow oppressing (or trying to) the people who run the world.

Diana Hignutt
03-30-2012, 07:46 PM
Come on. We can all use a dictionary, but the etymology of the word isn't what its use brings to mind. When you call something "fascism" (or suggest it might be) you're implying it's an attempt to violently suppress dissent. Yeah, I get my back up when religious, "spiritual" and other woo-woo people suggest that the tiny, tiny minority of scientific materialists who are actually outspoken and unapologetic about their views are somehow oppressing (or trying to) the people who run the world.

Actually, I'm very into etymology. However, I see your point and apologize for any offense.

Maxx
03-30-2012, 07:48 PM
I don't think so. Fascism comes from the word Fasci--a bundle of sticks with each stick as much alike as possible. I.e. an attempt to make everyone think the same.

I think it's a legitmate question. Though, thanks to the responders here, I'm inclined to think the answer is probably no...if that makes you feel any better...

I'm not sure fascism in this context amounts to much more than saying "scientific materialism is not just bad for you, but it makes you mean to other people as well."

Fascism is pretty much in a different ballpark, though maybe that's why its such a provocative accusation.

The best critique of materialism is implicit in the methodological advances that have occured since the mid-nineteenth century when scientific materialism could cover all the bases (as they appeared to be then -- note the baseball imagery) at least ideologically. Since then there have been some very fundamental changes the possible imagery of how the world works. First, I think most people now can accept the idea that they are built up as identities or selves or consciousnesses out of many strands of interacting historical, cultural, linguistic, biological and neurological processes. ie, our own personal materialistic basis isn't all that materialistic -- at the very least it is a lot juicier or even more juicy -- far to fluid to be accurately or at least fully or aesthetically, characterized as purely material. For example, evolution is not just driven by competition but by many other and generally much more interesting processes (regulatory genes, the shifting history of the planet, lots of asteroid impacts etc.).

RichardGarfinkle
03-30-2012, 11:50 PM
Closely related to this topic are a couple of debates that took place a few years ago between atheists and theists with a fair amount of focus on science as world explanation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfix_e1QnbM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_3d0q1LDa0

robjvargas
03-31-2012, 12:00 AM
Not all, but some self-described rationalists and realists are exactly like this. So, like any human endeavor, it *can* be this bad, but is not automatically so.

For me, Science and Religion/Philosophy/Metaphysics, they are two endeavors that have a habit of asking the same question (in short, "Why?"). But science is driven by its own definition to seek out a process oriented answer. A led to B led to C.

Religion seeks what I'll call a "source" answer. It's a metaphysical effort to determine a purpose and a goal to our lives. Our "reason for being."

For me, the two don't overlap, and each is ill-suited to responding to the context of the other.

Those that try to use one to deny the other... They're as silly as what they claim of the other side. More so.

Siri Kirpal
03-31-2012, 01:39 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

While I believe the OP has over-generalized and stated things in a confrontational way, I do have to say:

1) The Klu Klux Klan in the 1920's (I think) got passed a law in Oregon that forebade public school teachers from wearing religious garb. It was intended to prevent Catholic nuns and Orthodox Jews from teaching. Since then, it has also prevented practicing Sikhs and Muslim women from teaching too. A year or two ago, we got the rule overturned. But we wouldn't have if certain Scientific Materialist Atheists had had their way; they tried mightily to keep that rule in force. 2) I used to see a truck in Salem, Oregon, with the bumperstick Freedom FROM God.

So, I think just maybe a few Scientific Materialists DO fix that controversial bill. Just not all of them.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

benbradley
03-31-2012, 03:52 AM
There is a movement to remove "the last vestages of superstition" from modern thought.

If there are questions which science can not answer...like...what is life, what is consciousness, what is the true nature of reality (if it even has a true nature) at the most fundamental level...why must we all accept it?
There are certainly many questions science HAS NOT answered. But I'd like to see another "method of generating or discovering a body of knowledge" that has as much as a small fraction of the success of the scientific method (or any objective success at all). I would be open to it, but I haven't seen it.

I don't know if science can answer "all questions" but if there is anything that CAN answer all questions, I'd bet on it being science.



What's wrong with us all believing what we like?

Is Scientific Materialism a type of intellectual fascism...which is attempting to quash dissent...and spread universally across the minds of humanity?

And, my question for those who accept the precepts of Scientific Materialism...you do wish everyone believed as you do, don't you?

Why?Okay, yes, I do. But I'd rather use rhetoric and logic to convince others than use the law. I don't know that I would ever want to use the law to outlaw beliefs, but as the current laws do I would outlaw actions that are physically (and sometimes otherwise) hurtful to others.

I have seen things and done things, which transcend those limits which Scientific Materialists hold. I have no need to convince others of this.Well, that's kind of frustrating. If you have something that can convincingly "transcend those limits which Scientific Materialists hold," I'd love to hear about it and learn about it. The idea that something "out there" (three-letter things such as UFO's, ESP and God) could be true has always been tantalizing to me. All my life I've heard people talking with conviction of these things existing, but my own investigations of these left me with empty hands and chock-full of doubt.

I did feel that God once "touched" me early in my time in Alcoholics Anonymous, and that became a faith that lasted a couple of years, but it didn't stand up to eventual questioning and investigation, and finally I concluded it was only a feeling (I had been SURROUNDED by people every evening at AA meetings who ALL gave God credit for solving the "otherwise impossible" battle against their problematic drinking). Funnily, Al-Anon has a slogan "Feelings aren't facts." But I'm digressing onto my soapbox...

I accept that only I can hold my personal beliefs, they are not universal, and they have no need to be. Why is this a problem?
I think where this might cross into a problem whether with scientific materialists or others who don't believe as you do, is if you insist others believe.

I can see where, to someone who has a different belief, scientific materialism and the insistence that (for example) governments be run based on it could be called "intellectual fascism" to cut out other beliefs, but I consider scientific materialism to be the "default" state of reality (or more accurately, our best representation and understanding of reality - as Amadan said, if I didn't believe this were true, I'd change my beliefs), and other beliefs are embellishments on it or outright changes to it.

I've posted this many times before, but the reasons for my strong leanings toward scientific materialism and how I got there is well described in Susan Blackmore's essay on giving up her decades-long investigations of parapsychology:
http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Chapters/Kurtz.htm

benbradley
03-31-2012, 04:00 AM
Not all, but some self-described rationalists and realists are exactly like this. So, like any human endeavor, it *can* be this bad, but is not automatically so.

For me, Science and Religion/Philosophy/Metaphysics, they are two endeavors that have a habit of asking the same question (in short, "Why?"). But science is driven by its own definition to seek out a process oriented answer. A led to B led to C.

Religion seeks what I'll call a "source" answer. It's a metaphysical effort to determine a purpose and a goal to our lives. Our "reason for being."

For me, the two don't overlap, and each is ill-suited to responding to the context of the other.

Those that try to use one to deny the other... They're as silly as what they claim of the other side. More so.
The idea that science and religion are "orthogonal" to (independent of) each other has, I think, been around for quite some time (as in a few centuries, since science became a serious study about the time of Galileo, Copernicus and such), but it is perhaps most famously written about by Steven Jay Gould in his essay "Nonoverlaping Magisteria" (commonly abbreviated NOMA):
http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html
Wikipedia has a good article on it that's shorter than the essay itself:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria

I don't agree with that idea, but it's an interesting subtopic/peripheral topic of this thread.

little_e
03-31-2012, 05:01 AM
Yes, believing that I'm right and other people are wrong on an issue is totally the same as invading Poland.

Pretty much very ideology attempts to convince people that it is true, every belief system, world view, philosophy, etc. The beliefs of scientific materialism are no more forcing themselves on others than utilitarianism is forcing folks to be happy.

ColoradoGuy
03-31-2012, 06:00 AM
Science of the modern sort has great explanatory power for many things, but not everything. I see that every day of my working life.

Accusing it of "intellectual fascism" seems akin to the scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail in which the peasant who doesn't like what Arthur is saying screams, "help, help -- I'm being oppressed."

blacbird
03-31-2012, 10:13 AM
What's wrong with us all believing what we like?

Nothing, unless what you like to believe is that those who don't believe what you do should be suppressed, coerced, shamed, or otherwise forced into believing as you do, or at least behaving as though they did. Which is a major tenet of a significant and vocal fraction of the American religious right.


And, my question for those who accept the precepts of Scientific Materialism...you do wish everyone believed as you do, don't you?

No. I just wish to be left alone. No "scientific materialist" I know of is out knocking on doors to pass out literature, or proselytizing on TV and asking for faith-based donations to further their work.


Why is this a problem?

The very use of the term "scientific materialism" is a pejorative attempt to turn the concepts of science into a "religion", for the very purpose of making the argument that any other "religious" belief system is equivalent. Which is the argument Creationists have made for decades in their effort to get their particular religious beliefs taught as "science" in public school classrooms. I don't accept that argument. I've never heard any scientist refer to him- or herself as a "scientific materialist." I'm a scientist by profession, and I certainly don't apply that ridiculous term to what I do. It's a derivative of the equally pejorative term "secular humanist", also invented and used as an epithet by the religiously-motivated political right.

Beyond that, I don't care what you choose to believe, as long as I'm not forced to conform to those same beliefs.

caw

areteus
03-31-2012, 02:18 PM
To be honest, I think the issue here is not 'science' or even 'religion' but rather the extremes of both. I think if you have an extreme view on one pole of an argument there will inevitably be an opposite and equal faction on the other pole who feel they have to use the same methods to get their point across. This is because we, as humans, are contentious and vicious bastards who love a good scrap....

So, the rise in extreme scientific thought has, I think, come about because of the recent rise in religious fundamentalism - the sort of stupid 'I beleive only what the Bible says is literally true even though that sort of belief has not been predominant since the middle ages and it was the founders of your protestant religion who campaigned to do away with such nonsense centuries ago'. Basically, the religious right in America pull out the big guns with respect to abortion, contraception, women's rights and creationism (sorry, Intelligent Design... can't use the wrong term there...) and the atheist scientists feel that they have to pull out even bigger guns to contest it.

This is why I (and a lot of people I know) are not keen on Dawkins because sometimes his writing comes across as dogmatic as any right wing Christian. I personally have a lot more respect for Prof. Ian Stewart* because he has a more moderate approach.

With respect to the growing extremism in religion, I was actually alarmed recently when a friend (himself a Christian) told me that the current Pope had apparently overturned 'the Vatican Compromise' which was the Catholic acceptance of Darwinian Evolution as 'a tool god used to create all living things'. It was a nice piece of Real Politik, IMO, which allowed the Catholics to get on with beleiving that god created the universe and all in it while tacitally accepting that the things science occasionally babbles on about are also true. I also think the majority of Christians are of a similar mind - accept that science is 'the way god does stuff' and leave it at that, mesh the two worldviews into one neat package.

I therefore hope that my friend is wrong in this (I've not seen any evidence to say he is right, but then I haven't had a chance to look yet...) because it is a disturbing trend. Thankfully the extremes still seem to be on the fringes and a minority (though an increasingly vocal one on both sides...)

* He is one of the two** science brains behind the Science of Discworld and is a professor of Mathematics at Warwick Uni. In the Science of Discworld there is an amusing alt reality where Evolution never gets popular and Richard Dawkins is a Churchman. I suspect it is a dig at him...

** The other one is Jack Cohen who was a professor at my old University - Birmingham

RichardGarfinkle
03-31-2012, 03:03 PM
I'm a bit concerned that there's a blurring here between science and atheism.

Science is a process for discerning the underlying causes and mechanisms of repeatable phenomena (see my first post).

Atheism is either a rejection of or simply nonacceptance of the idea of gods (sometimes extended to nonacceptance of non theistic religions, but that's splitting hairs). This often leads to materialism which is the idea that the only things that exist are in the material world.

The OP here blended the two concepts into scientific materialism.

Science does not depend on materialsm. Repeatable external spiritual phenomena could be as accessible to the scientific method as any material phenomenon.

There is a strong overlap between scientists and atheists but it is certainly not 100% on either side.

If we look at the two most famous atheists of our time: Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens the former is a scientist, the latter was a writer and journalist.

If you listen to either of them speak, they're both very materialist, but at the same time both are/ were strongly moved by and open to the same mental phenomena that are often associated with a more spiritual mindset. Hitchens often objected to the idea that an atheist is cut off from the numinous.

The fight between religion and science these days was, bluntly, started on the religious side (not all religions, just some sects of some religioins) with an insistence on inerrancy in sources, and a demand that whatever is discerned about the world must fit the teachings they wanted given.

Most scientists were and are content to do their work trying to understand the universe. They only started producing combatants like Dawkins because they were being attacked.

Francis Collins who was head of the Human Genome project and is now head of the NIH is a geneticist and evangelical christian.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins
He is not mentioned much by the religion side of this argument because he doesn't fit the image of the evil scientist trying to destroy the works of God.

areteus
03-31-2012, 05:01 PM
True, there is a distinction but I don't think the OP was so much against atheists as she was against scientists. So, it is scientists who are scientists first and atheists second rather than people who are atheists first...

Of course, what annoys me are those people who feel capable of commenting on 'science' without truly knowing what it is. These people are on both sides of the fence...

Amadan
03-31-2012, 05:25 PM
This is why I (and a lot of people I know) are not keen on Dawkins because sometimes his writing comes across as dogmatic as any right wing Christian. I personally have a lot more respect for Prof. Ian Stewart* because he has a more moderate approach.


You know, I'm not a huge fan of Dawkins; he can be a jerk, and he has blind spots. But people like Dawkins and Hitchens who mouthily proclaim atheism as true and say religious believers are idiots are necessary. They are also in no way equivalent to religious believers who say atheists are ungodly sinners who aren't be trusted and shouldn't hold public office. An atheist bad-mouthing the religious can hurt a few fee-fees, just like "scientific materialists" who say woo and psychics and aliens and vibrating dimensions and homeopathy is nonsense, but they aren't trying to deprive anyone of their rights.

So, yeah, Dawkins is "as dogmatic as any right wing Christian," but not nearly as dangerous. Also, his views are correct and the right wing Christian's aren't.

RichardGarfinkle
03-31-2012, 05:58 PM
You know, I'm not a huge fan of Dawkins; he can be a jerk, and he has blind spots. But people like Dawkins and Hitchens who mouthily proclaim atheism as true and say religious believers are idiots are necessary. They are also in no way equivalent to religious believers who say atheists are ungodly sinners who aren't be trusted and shouldn't hold public office. An atheist bad-mouthing the religious can hurt a few fee-fees, just like "scientific materialists" who say woo and psychics and aliens and vibrating dimensions and homeopathy is nonsense, but they aren't trying to deprive anyone of their rights.

So, yeah, Dawkins is "as dogmatic as any right wing Christian," but not nearly as dangerous. Also, his views are correct and the right wing Christian's aren't.

I'm ambivalent on Dawkins and Hitchens. While their vocal qualities and willingness to challenge any one to a debate on the merits was and is invaluable they both have some problematic blind spots.

Hitchens' conception of what religion is was so strongly based on the kind of Christianity that is belief based that he dismissed any other conception of religion. In one of the debates I posted a link to one of the other side was a liberal (female) British Rabbi, who was talking about the core of her religion being observance not belief. As someone brought up Jewish I understood what she was talking about, but Hitchens asserted that the only thing religion could be was taking the Bible literally as a matter of belief.

Dawkins sometimes undertakes the least practical areas of attack. He was on Up with Chris Hayes last week with a number of other non-believers and he proposed that one should argue against the irrationality of transubstantiation. From a purely pedantic modern scientific meaning of substance he was accurate (in that if one examined the host and the wine one would not find human muscle and blood cells), but it's not a line of attack likely to convince anyone and it made him sound like a crank. He's far stronger talking about the beauty of the scientific world view and the strong evidence for evolution.

areteus
04-01-2012, 03:13 PM
I'm ambivalent on Dawkins and Hitchens. While their vocal qualities and willingness to challenge any one to a debate on the merits was and is invaluable they both have some problematic blind spots.

Hitchens' conception of what religion is was so strongly based on the kind of Christianity that is belief based that he dismissed any other conception of religion. In one of the debates I posted a link to one of the other side was a liberal (female) British Rabbi, who was talking about the core of her religion being observance not belief. As someone brought up Jewish I understood what she was talking about, but Hitchens asserted that the only thing religion could be was taking the Bible literally as a matter of belief.

Dawkins sometimes undertakes the least practical areas of attack. He was on Up with Chris Hayes last week with a number of other non-believers and he proposed that one should argue against the irrationality of transubstantiation. From a purely pedantic modern scientific meaning of substance he was accurate (in that if one examined the host and the wine one would not find human muscle and blood cells), but it's not a line of attack likely to convince anyone and it made him sound like a crank. He's far stronger talking about the beauty of the scientific world view and the strong evidence for evolution.

I think this is the issue... and while I agree to a certain extent with Amadan that they are not so dangerous as the extreme Christians, I still contend that the existence of said christians is what has caused them to exist. Dangerous or not, they are still dogmatic and they have been forced to be dogmatic to oppose what they perceive as a threat. My personal opinion is that I do not think it is necessarily the right approach to take. Unless someone is actively doing harm to themselves or others, I see no need to tell someone that their long held beleifs are wrong. Either they will see the evidence and come to that conclusion on their own or they will not. I actually don't care which so long as they also leave me alone.

There is a certain element of 'comparing apples to oranges' arguing here. Theological and scientific debate are actually two very different things. The examples here are typical and it works both ways. The arguments against evolution I have seen have been ludicrous* and you can poke holes in ID theory really easily. Both failures to argue effectively IMO stem from one side trying to make a theological argument against a scientfic issue and the other trying to make a scientific argument against a religious issue.

*Opponents of evolution claim that 'it is only a theory therefore they haven't proven it yet' without really understanding what a 'theory' is and mistaking it for an hypothesis. The actual state of evolution research is not whether it actually happens or not. We have very strong evidence that it does which has been supported and reinforced for more than a century. The issue now is the exact mechanisms and the controversy that Darwin was actually wrong about the time scales involved (recent work has shown some cases of evolution can happen a lot quicker than he beleived...). However, opponents insist on fighting the 'does it happen or not' battle.

Amadan
04-01-2012, 06:40 PM
Unless someone is actively doing harm to themselves or others, I see no need to tell someone that their long held beleifs are wrong. Either they will see the evidence and come to that conclusion on their own or they will not. I actually don't care which so long as they also leave me alone.

If they kept their beliefs to themselves, that would be fine. But they don't. Many of them actively proselytize. Others oppose beliefs that conflict with theirs (like science).

If someone believes in their own head that Queen Elizabeth is a reptoid, fine, whatever. As soon as they put that idea out there in public, they are inviting engagement.

And many of these beliefs are harmful. Religious opposition to civil rights. Anti-vaccinationism. The opposition to evolution isn't just some academic debate that doesn't really matter; it's a big reason why the U.S. has lower standards of scientific education than much of the world today, because schools have to plan their books and curricula around a small, vocal minority of people who will scream loudly if anything is taught that conflicts with their religious views. This is even worse in the case of sex education.


There is a certain element of 'comparing apples to oranges' arguing here. Theological and scientific debate are actually two very different things. The examples here are typical and it works both ways. The arguments against evolution I have seen have been ludicrous* and you can poke holes in ID theory really easily. Both failures to argue effectively IMO stem from one side trying to make a theological argument against a scientfic issue and the other trying to make a scientific argument against a religious issue.

I'm less interested in debating religious questions like "Does God exist?" or "Is there an afterlife?" than "Does God love America best?" or "Are homosexuals going to burn in hell?" The first two are interesting but largely academic questions; the second have material impact on our lives.

RichardGarfinkle
04-02-2012, 12:12 AM
The deepest problem involved in any such discussion is for what purpose the people are speaking.

The evangelical motivation is to convey an understanding that hopefully the people one is talking to will take up. In general the religious side of these arguments have evangelical motivations.

This is also one half of the motivation in teaching anything. In theory the scientific side is trying to do this as well.

There is also the expression of personal opinion which sometimes wishes to be taken up and sometimes is simply that, an expression of opinion.

The distinction comes in how challenges are treated by the person speaking.

The evangelical usually uses what amounts to a self-referential argument, arguing from authority with claims of infallibility to the authority.

The scientific approach has recourse to testing against reality by experiment and observation. In such a method finding a discrepancy with reality can lead to the need to change or abandon a theory.

The opinion approach resembles the evangelical assuming an attempt is being made to persuade, otherwise the statement as statement of opinion stands on its own and is taken or left for what it is.

People arguing from science who do not understand it well often talk evangelically.

People arguing from science who do understand it well, tend to challenge statements on the basis of testing against reality and take small discrepancies or oddities of claims as disproof of theories ( hence Dawkins' transubstantiation comment).

None of these methods works against people unwilling to accept them. Argument from authority has no interest in experiment or opinion.

Experiment has no interest in authority and opinion.

Opinion varies based on the opiner.

Because of this impossible argument situation things are being decided not by disputation, but by legislation. Which, in a Republic is a matter of opinion.

Lhipenwhe
04-02-2012, 10:04 AM
Like others have mentioned, I don't think scientific materialism is fascistic. Also, I'm not sure what most peoples definition of fascism is; it seems to mean "the thing I really, really hate" for most people. Further expounding on my thoughts, I honestly don't care what people believe or don't believe. Believing in something doesn't make you a bad person; doing bad things makes someone a bad person. If someone thinks that the moon landing was faked, that *insert racial group* are evil, or that the New World Order runs the world, good for them. As long as they don't force their opinions on people, I don't care. (I could go on about what constitutes good and evil, but even I don't care about my thoughts on it.)

As for Hitchens and Dawkins, I think they're both assholes. Hitchens held political beliefs that I found abhorrent, and if he said half the things about Judaism as I've heard, then I don't want to get within a hundred miles of his grave. He's still better then Dawkins etiquette-wise, though. For example, he seems to think the question of whether Hitler was evil or not is difficult:


“Yes, absolutely fascinating.” His response was immediate. “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question. But whatever [defines morality], it’s not the Bible. If it was, we’d be stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.”

http://byfaithonline.com/page/in-the-world/richard-dawkins-the-atheist-evangelist

And he's made many more statements that are as equally charming.

blacbird
04-02-2012, 10:58 AM
Maybe we should start by pointing out that the most vocal users of the term "scientific materialism" tend to be televangelists in 1000-dollar Armani suits and 200-dollar haircuts. The lead such guy in my hometown (Anchorage, Alaska), a Dr. (and don't they love to use that prefix) Jerry Prevo, is now talking about spending a gazoogle of money to erect the world's tallest cross on the property occupied, and exempt from taxation, by his immense church, by far the largest in town, and his private church school, and his broadcasting facilities and offices and other ancillary facilities.

Rather than using those funds to help poor and homeless people, or for any number of other admirable efforts. This (epithet deleted) puts on an opulent display of Christmas lights every year, which has drawn any number of complaints from neighboring residents, which are always ignored. He's also the leading light in opposition to a gay rights ordinance currently on the ballot for the upcoming city election, among various other niceties. But, dang, he sure does wear a nice suit in them televised Sunday sermons. And he commands enough money to bring Kent Hovind, the leading light of Creationist 6,000-year Earth history up north every now and then for a week of exhortation about humans living alongside dinosaurs and how the Flood created the Grand Canyon.

Yeah. Scientific "materialism" indeed.

RichardGarfinkle
04-02-2012, 12:18 PM
Like others have mentioned, I don't think scientific materialism is fascistic. Also, I'm not sure what most peoples definition of fascism is; it seems to mean "the thing I really, really hate" for most people. Further expounding on my thoughts, I honestly don't care what people believe or don't believe. Believing in something doesn't make you a bad person; doing bad things makes someone a bad person. If someone thinks that the moon landing was faked, that *insert racial group* are evil, or that the New World Order runs the world, good for them. As long as they don't force their opinions on people, I don't care. (I could go on about what constitutes good and evil, but even I don't care about my thoughts on it.)

As for Hitchens and Dawkins, I think they're both assholes. Hitchens held political beliefs that I found abhorrent, and if he said half the things about Judaism as I've heard, then I don't want to get within a hundred miles of his grave. He's still better then Dawkins etiquette-wise, though. For example, he seems to think the question of whether Hitler was evil or not is difficult:



And he's made many more statements that are as equally charming.

Most of what you're saying is reasonable, but you're taking Dawkins out of context on that quote. He's talking about the idea that a lot of ideas of right or wrong change over time (the word zeitgeist is thrown around). The interviewer brings up the point that under those circumstances one could say that Muslim extremists are right, Dawkins is essentially agreeing with the problem that comes from that view and raising the stakes by equating the aforementioned extremists with Hitler.

Dawkins is genuinely concerned with morality, and is as much trying to find a moral path for it. He is mostly challenging the assertion that morality is found in the Bible. He does so as Hitchens did by quoting actual pieces of text prescribing what are now seen as immoral acts.

The fact is this argument is only relevant when disputing fundamentalists. But that's who Dawkins usually has to argue with since they're the primary anti-evoltuionists.

areteus
04-02-2012, 01:31 PM
If they kept their beliefs to themselves, that would be fine. But they don't. Many of them actively proselytize. Others oppose beliefs that conflict with theirs (like science).

If someone believes in their own head that Queen Elizabeth is a reptoid, fine, whatever. As soon as they put that idea out there in public, they are inviting engagement.



But it is the engagement which perpetuates the argument and gives it validity. If allowed to stand alone, many of these arguments would be revealed to be as ridiculous as they actually are. If engaged, the fact that the opposition is making an effort to quash them gives them credence.

You are right about some of the arguments, though. Anything which violates fundamental human rights (and the rights of a lot of people like homoexuals and women are being threatened here, the right to have control over your own body or to have the same rights in marriage as anyone else) should be opposed. I am shocked by the anti-abortion lobby and the occasionally bizarre laws they try (and sometimes suceed) on getting passed in some states (like one I heard of where A&E staff are not allowed to treat a woman until it is determined if she is pregnant or not in case they harm the baby...).

And this is my point... if you are sitting happily beleiving in what you want to believe that is fine. I am even happy with you telling others about your beliefs. Said people are welcome to listen or ignore you as they will. It is when you start preaching harm to others or basing legislation on your religious beliefs (with no other rationale behind it) that I get shirty.

I find it ironic that the US was founded on a policy of religious freedom for all and a constitutional seperation of church and state and yet appears to have a lot more interference from religion than the UK which has (constitutionally) a state religion and a head of state who is also head of that religion.

Torgo
04-02-2012, 01:45 PM
For example, he seems to think the question of whether Hitler was evil or not is difficult:
And he's made many more statements that are as equally charming.

I think you are doing Dawkins a disservice. I don't think he's saying Hitler wasn't evil - at least in an everyday sense of the word. I think he's saying that it's a genuinely difficult question as to how we arrive at that judgment.

If you're not religious, ethics is actually a difficult and complicated subject. We tend to have no difficulty perceiving that Hitler was evil, but our justification for that belief is often slippery. Are we deontologists - do we feel that some actions are wrong in and of themselves? Or are we teleologists - do we feel that actions are wrong only by virtue of their effects? Do we feel that something is right or wrong based on the intention of the moral agent involved, or is that of no consequence?

It's easy if we have a book telling us THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, because stealing is a sin, and sin is bad because God doesn't like it. If we want to explore a little deeper than that it's actually quite important that we can ask questions like "What prevents us from saying that Hitler was right?" (NB: Dawkins clearly feels that SOMETHING prevents us. He's interested in what that is.)

DoomBunny
04-02-2012, 01:55 PM
1) The Klu Klux Klan in the 1920's (I think) got passed a law in Oregon that forebade public school teachers from wearing religious garb. It was intended to prevent Catholic nuns and Orthodox Jews from teaching. Since then, it has also prevented practicing Sikhs and Muslim women from teaching too. A year or two ago, we got the rule overturned. But we wouldn't have if certain Scientific Materialist Atheists had had their way; they tried mightily to keep that rule in force. 2) I used to see a truck in Salem, Oregon, with the bumperstick Freedom FROM God.

Do you have a source on that? The Klan are pretty devout Protestants as I understand it. If they were behind this it was about being anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic, and had nothing to do with atheism, science or materialism. And the law you describe doesn't prevent anyone from teaching, just from doing it in religious clothing in public schools. And rightly so.

As for the bumper sticker - expressing an opinion that deviates from the majority is about as far as you could get from facism. What's your point there?

I'm tempted to call Godwin on the whole damn thread but I'm hoping there's a point beyond bashing science and atheism. There's really nothing to discuss that I can see - there's no organised group that I know of calling themselves "scientific materialists", much less one trying to stamp out dissension and disagreement. Science concerns itself with the material because that's what's observable, not because of any lack of belief in the immaterial. It's just not relevant. Scientific materialism is a silly, ignorant term. And to equate any form of science with facism is ignorant in the extreme - science does not prosper when there is no room for dissent.

And you know what? Where the holy fuck do the religious get off suggesting that expressing a dissenting opinion is facism? That's not directed toward the OP, just the argument in general. It's ridiculously and offensively hypocritical. I hate, hate religion. My personal belief is that it's the worst part of human history. I'd like nothing more than to see all religion disappear. If everyone woke up tomorrow thinking "y'know what? Bugger this god shtick for a laugh" I'd be thrilled, and my hopes for civilisation would skyrocket. But the gap from there to actual political action is vast. I want people to make up their own minds, to educate themselves and decide for themselves. And expressing that opinion, no matter how unpleasant you might find my language and attitude, would not make me a facist.

But to suggest that expressing an anti-religious opinion is facist, especially when the vast majority is religious? Propaganda like the term "scientific materialist"? That's holding down a dissenting minority. That's classic facism, right there.

Diana Hignutt
04-02-2012, 02:17 PM
Great points, everyone. thank you.

Honestly, I do apologize for the confrontational thread title.

I consider fundamental religions intellectaul fascism...i.e. your Taliban types. That makes sense, right?

Further, you have some evangelizing Sceintific Materialists and your evangelizing Atheists...however...

I am convinced that (thanks to you good people) no...Sceintific Materialism is not now, and not likely to ever be Intellectual Fascism. My thanks.

Diana Hignutt
04-02-2012, 02:39 PM
You know, I'm not a huge fan of Dawkins; he can be a jerk, and he has blind spots. But people like Dawkins and Hitchens who mouthily proclaim atheism as true and say religious believers are idiots are necessary. They are also in no way equivalent to religious believers who say atheists are ungodly sinners who aren't be trusted and shouldn't hold public office. An atheist bad-mouthing the religious can hurt a few fee-fees, just like "scientific materialists" who say woo and psychics and aliens and vibrating dimensions and homeopathy is nonsense, but they aren't trying to deprive anyone of their rights.

So, yeah, Dawkins is "as dogmatic as any right wing Christian," but not nearly as dangerous. Also, his views are correct and the right wing Christian's aren't.


But, it's still okay if I don't agree with the first part of your sentence, right?

Diana Hignutt
04-02-2012, 02:45 PM
The idea that science and religion are "orthogonal" to (independent of) each other has, I think, been around for quite some time (as in a few centuries, since science became a serious study about the time of Galileo, Copernicus and such), but it is perhaps most famously written about by Steven Jay Gould in his essay "Nonoverlaping Magisteria" (commonly abbreviated NOMA):
http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html
Wikipedia has a good article on it that's shorter than the essay itself:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria

I don't agree with that idea, but it's an interesting subtopic/peripheral topic of this thread.

Yeah, one of the last guys to hold the unified vision of science and religion was John Dee, and he presented a pretty neat theory of everything...nestled, heirarchial, charged fractal vortices around singularities...

Diana Hignutt
04-02-2012, 02:49 PM
Do you have a source on that? The Klan are pretty devout Protestants as I understand it. If they were behind this it was about being anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic, and had nothing to do with atheism, science or materialism. And the law you describe doesn't prevent anyone from teaching, just from doing it in religious clothing in public schools. And rightly so.

As for the bumper sticker - expressing an opinion that deviates from the majority is about as far as you could get from facism. What's your point there?

I'm tempted to call Godwin on the whole damn thread but I'm hoping there's a point beyond bashing science and atheism. There's really nothing to discuss that I can see - there's no organised group that I know of calling themselves "scientific materialists", much less one trying to stamp out dissension and disagreement. Science concerns itself with the material because that's what's observable, not because of any lack of belief in the immaterial. It's just not relevant. Scientific materialism is a silly, ignorant term. And to equate any form of science with facism is ignorant in the extreme - science does not prosper when there is no room for dissent.

And you know what? Where the holy fuck do the religious get off suggesting that expressing a dissenting opinion is facism? That's not directed toward the OP, just the argument in general. It's ridiculously and offensively hypocritical. I hate, hate religion. My personal belief is that it's the worst part of human history. I'd like nothing more than to see all religion disappear. If everyone woke up tomorrow thinking "y'know what? Bugger this god shtick for a laugh" I'd be thrilled, and my hopes for civilisation would skyrocket. But the gap from there to actual political action is vast. I want people to make up their own minds, to educate themselves and decide for themselves. And expressing that opinion, no matter how unpleasant you might find my language and attitude, would not make me a facist.

But to suggest that expressing an anti-religious opinion is facist, especially when the vast majority is religious? Propaganda like the term "scientific materialist"? That's holding down a dissenting minority. That's classic facism, right there.

I presented a theory for discussion. There theory was disproved in my mind thanks to the posters on this thread. Therefore, we have proved that Scientific Materialism is NOT a type of Intellectual Fascism... (unlike many fundamental religions seem to be).

...because, that topic is being debated all over the world, but backwards...whether we like it or not.

Amadan
04-02-2012, 03:11 PM
So, yeah, Dawkins is "as dogmatic as any right wing Christian," but not nearly as dangerous. Also, his views are correct and the right wing Christian's aren't.[/QUOTE]


But, it's still okay if I don't agree with the first part of your sentence, right?


You think Dawkins is as dangerous as a right-wing Christian?

Diana Hignutt
04-02-2012, 03:34 PM
You think Dawkins is as dangerous as a right-wing Christian?

Of course, not...I was simply...pointing out that you maintain the certainty of Dawkins' beliefs...I wasn't considering the "dangerous" critieria.

Torgo
04-02-2012, 03:36 PM
Of course, not...I was simply...pointing out that you maintain the certainty of Dawkins' beliefs...I wasn't considering the "dangerous" critieria.

Certainty doesn't precisely describe Dawkins. In The God Delusion he imagines a 7-point scale of belief, from 1 - complete certainty that God exists - to 7 - complete certainty that God does not exist. He pegs himself as a 6.

Diana Hignutt
04-02-2012, 03:53 PM
Certainty doesn't precisely describe Dawkins. In The God Delusion he imagines a 7-point scale of belief, from 1 - complete certainty that God exists - to 7 - complete certainty that God does not exist. He pegs himself as a 6.

So, certainty almost describes Dawkins.

Torgo
04-02-2012, 03:57 PM
So, certainty almost describes Dawkins.

Almost. But not quite. Some religionists did a fair amount of crowing recently when they discovered this about Dawkins, pretending that he'd softened his position, but it's always been where he's at.

RichardGarfinkle
04-02-2012, 04:07 PM
So, certainty almost describes Dawkins.

Bit of a misplaced modifier: Almost certainty describes Dawkins.

Or to be really pedantic:

Dawkins certainly describes Dawkins' almost certainty.

I think there is a critical difference here. Dawkins espouses lack of certainty as a moral good. Most philosophers and all competent scientists do. Doubt is vital in science and self doubt is vital in philosophy.

But in the more reactionary brands of religion, doubt is a moral evil opposed to what they claim 'faith' is.

But the few really faithful people I've met, have as much doubt as the best scientists and philosophers. They doubt themselves and they doubt their understanding of what God (or whatever they follow) is like. They do not trust the limitations of their human intelligence and understanding. As a result they are very anti-fundamentalist, even the ones who belong to pretty heavy Bible following Christianity.

Lhipenwhe
04-02-2012, 05:03 PM
I think you are doing Dawkins a disservice. I don't think he's saying Hitler wasn't evil - at least in an everyday sense of the word. I think he's saying that it's a genuinely difficult question as to how we arrive at that judgment.

If you're not religious, ethics is actually a difficult and complicated subject. We tend to have no difficulty perceiving that Hitler was evil, but our justification for that belief is often slippery. Are we deontologists - do we feel that some actions are wrong in and of themselves? Or are we teleologists - do we feel that actions are wrong only by virtue of their effects? Do we feel that something is right or wrong based on the intention of the moral agent involved, or is that of no consequence?

It's easy if we have a book telling us THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, because stealing is a sin, and sin is bad because God doesn't like it. If we want to explore a little deeper than that it's actually quite important that we can ask questions like "What prevents us from saying that Hitler was right?" (NB: Dawkins clearly feels that SOMETHING prevents us. He's interested in what that is.)

I probably should have put another quote of his:


“Faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”

http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles/dawkins.htmlDawnkins' finds it hard to arrive at a moral judgement involving Hitler, yet compares 'religion' to one of, if not the most, lethal virus on Earth. As A Jew and someone who actually studied smallpox, I'm offended as Hell (haha, I made a lame joke) by his complete, utterly sweeping statements and arrogance that he said those words in.

Relating to a previous post I made (also in an attempt to make this one on-topic), you don't need to be religious to be an asshole, or intolerant. Believing in something usually precludes disagreement with something else, and human history abounds with idiotic conflicts and murders over incredibly idiotic beliefs. It doesn't matter if you believe in God or not -- it only requires someone to believe that their belief is better superior to others and the will/ability to force that opinion on someone else to be repressive.

Man I'm sophistic lately.

Torgo
04-02-2012, 05:59 PM
Dawnkins' finds it hard to arrive at a moral judgement involving Hitler, yet compares 'religion' to one of, if not the most, lethal virus on Earth. As A Jew and someone who actually studied smallpox, I'm offended as Hell (haha, I made a lame joke) by his complete, utterly sweeping statements and arrogance that he said those words in.

I think you're still being unfair. He doesn't find it hard to arrive at the judgement about Hitler, he's just not sure which way he came. If you keep spinning that statement like he's not sure whether Hitler is evil or not... Well, you're going to be offended. I'm not sure it's Dawkins who is offending you, however, because his own words don't really support the conclusion.

I think it's quite proper to draw an analogy between religious faith - or indeed any kind of idea - and a virus; it's not a particularly flattering comparison, but you can apply epidemiology to the spread of memes. He's been doing it since The Selfish Gene.


Relating to a previous post I made (also in an attempt to make this one on-topic), you don't need to be religious to be an asshole, or intolerant. Believing in something usually precludes disagreement with something else, and human history abounds with idiotic conflicts and murders over incredibly idiotic beliefs. It doesn't matter if you believe in God or not -- it only requires someone to believe that their belief is better superior to others and the will/ability to force that opinion on someone else to be repressive.

But you see I don't think Dawkins can be accused of much of that. He may believe his beliefs are superior, but he has never tried to force them on others, or to fight or murder anyone over them. His MO is basically to write books and articles full of reasoned arguments in favour of his position.

Lhipenwhe
04-02-2012, 06:36 PM
I think you're still being unfair. He doesn't find it hard to arrive at the judgement about Hitler, he's just not sure which way he came. If you keep spinning that statement like he's not sure whether Hitler is evil or not... Well, you're going to be offended. I'm not sure it's Dawkins who is offending you, however, because his own words don't really support the conclusion.

I think it's quite proper to draw an analogy between religious faith - or indeed any kind of idea - and a virus; it's not a particularly flattering comparison, but you can apply epidemiology to the spread of memes. He's been doing it since The Selfish Gene.

But you see I don't think Dawkins can be accused of much of that. He may believe his beliefs are superior, but he has never tried to force them on others, or to fight or murder anyone over them. His MO is basically to write books and articles full of reasoned arguments in favour of his position.

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on Dawkin's... 'interesting' statement on morality and Hitler. However, I apologize for not making my sophistry regarding scientific fascism clearer: I don't regard Dawkins as an intellectual fascist, or someone who forces his beliefs on others. Although I think he's an incredible asshole, I don't think he's oppressing anyone.

Again, my apologies for my confusing post.

Torgo
04-02-2012, 06:41 PM
Dawkins has often spoken of Hitler's 'horrific deeds' and referred to him as a 'monster (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/sep/22/ratzinger-enemy-humanity)', so I'm not sure how there can be disagreement about his views on Hitler's morality....

veinglory
04-02-2012, 06:54 PM
Materialism =/= atheism =/= science. In this thread, as in most discussions, they are hopelessly conflated.

Amadan
04-02-2012, 07:59 PM
Dawnkins' finds it hard to arrive at a moral judgement involving Hitler, yet compares 'religion' to one of, if not the most, lethal virus on Earth.


That's disingenuous. I don't think Dawkins is at all ambivalent about whether or not Hitler was a bad person who did bad things. The context of his quote is that it's difficult to frame morality as some sort of objective, universal constant by which we can call Hitler evil in the same way that we can call fire hot. I find your implication that maybe Dawkins doesn't think Hitler was wrong to be reaaaaaally sketchy.

As for his quote about faith and smallpox, his position is that faith has caused death and harm comparable to smallpox. You may disagree with him, but it's an argument with reason behind it, it's just not arrogant flame-bait (though he certainly chose his words for their polemic value). Also, I have to say that the subtle implication that criticizing faith implies criticizing Judaism implies anti-Semitism really grates on me too.

Torgo
04-02-2012, 08:01 PM
Also, I have to say that the subtle implication that criticizing faith implies criticizing Judaism implies anti-Semitism really grates on me too.

To be fair I am not sure that was the intention; I read that as part of the Hitler point rather than the smallpox point.

Lhipenwhe
04-02-2012, 08:34 PM
To be fair I am not sure that was the intention; I read that as part of the Hitler point rather than the smallpox point.

Yes. I had a problem with it because (my interpretation of what) Dawnkins said, as I mentioned in an earlier post. His criticisms of Judaism are (almost certainly) justified and correct, and I wouldn't call them antisemitic; I'm a non-theistic Jew myself.

blacbird
04-03-2012, 07:28 AM
Materialism =/= atheism =/= science. In this thread, as in most discussions, they are hopelessly conflated.

True, and well-expressed. The further issue is by whom are they hopelessly conflated. Not by me, I assure you. But I have a pretty fair idea, and it's not hard to find out who.

caw

blacbird
04-03-2012, 07:39 AM
Further, you have some evangelizing Sceintific Materialists and your evangelizing Atheists.

"Evangelizing"?

Name one. Even Dawkins, who seems to be point man for this discussion, doesn't have a TV show or network, and doesn't call for people to come forward and bow down and accept his ideas and, oh yeah, give him "free-will" donations, on the implied threat of being condemned to eternal burning in the afterlife if they don't.

There is no atheist equivalent of John Hagee or James Dobson or Joel Osteen or Ted Haggard or Oral Roberts or Jimmy Swaggart or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham or Sun-Myung Moon.

caw

caw

areteus
04-03-2012, 12:35 PM
Hitler is not evil if you consider the concept of 'supernatural evil' i.e. state that Hitler was somehow motivated by Satan to do what he did or that he set out to do evil things. I think Dawkin's point here is that he did what he did for what he considered to be perfectly rational and logical reasons to do with the survival of his people. Many world leaders have been in similar positions before, though most of them would never go so far as Hitler did.

I suppose one question you have to ask here is: If you were put into the exact same position as Hitler was, would you make the same decisions?

And what about the decision that led to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Is that evil also? I think many see it as an essential step in the ending of the war in the Pacific but it was still a morally dubious act.

Note, I am not in any way justifying any act that Hitler made during the war nor providing an excuse (if anything saying that his actions were motivated by supernatural evil is the excuse). What he did was evil by a given definition of morality but it was not because he was the devil or some manisfestation of supernatural evil. He was just a man who made some incredibly bad decisions and had to live with the consequences. I think this is the point Dawkins makes - if you accept that there is a god then you have to accept that there is the devil (or some other manisfestation of supernatural evil - every religion has one...) and therefore you can attribute anything 'bad' to that rather than resting the responsibility on the heads of those who are actually responsible.

And now this debate has been well and truly Godwinned :)

As for smallpox and religion... I know that Dawkins is a big proponent of meme theory and does consider religions to be massive 'memeplexes' (collections of memes with a linked theme) which are passed down from generation to generation and spread like viruses.

Diana Hignutt
04-03-2012, 01:56 PM
"Evangelizing"?

Name one. Even Dawkins, who seems to be point man for this discussion, doesn't have a TV show or network, and doesn't call for people to come forward and bow down and accept his ideas and, oh yeah, give him "free-will" donations, on the implied threat of being condemned to eternal burning in the afterlife if they don't.

There is no atheist equivalent of John Hagee or James Dobson or Joel Osteen or Ted Haggard or Oral Roberts or Jimmy Swaggart or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham or Sun-Myung Moon.

caw

caw

How about Bill Maher? He made a movie, mocking other people's beliefs in a vague attempt to evangelize atheism.

But, I've already conceded virtually all issues raised in this thread (note the change of thread title), and I don't want to argue against points I've come to accept.

Amadan
04-03-2012, 03:11 PM
How about Bill Maher? He made a movie, mocking other people's beliefs in a vague attempt to evangelize atheism.

Yeah, any attempt to advocate for atheism is seen as "preaching atheism" (followed by "They're so mean!" if an atheist does more than raise his voice above a timid squeak or dares to suggest that religious people might be, you know, *looks around furtively*, whispers: wrong.)

I'm not a big fan of Bill Maher either (he's glib, sexist, and doesn't mind cozying up with the likes of Ann Coulter), but whoop-de-do, he made a movie that made fun of people. Yeah, that's totally like the evangelical Christian movement.

RichardGarfinkle
04-03-2012, 03:17 PM
How about Bill Maher? He made a movie, mocking other people's beliefs in a vague attempt to evangelize atheism.

But, I've already conceded virtually all issues raised in this thread (note the change of thread title), and I don't want to argue against points I've come to accept.

There's a good point in the matter of Maher. He's not a scientist. He's a fanboy. In his interviews with Dawkins and others he shows no more scientific understanding then Santorum or any of the other anti-science types around.

Maher is an evangelist for atheism not science. He is following one half of the classic evangelical strategy: to tear down and mock the views of ones opponents. But he doesn't do anything in the building up department.

Dawkins and before him Sagan did a good job showing the wonder and beauty of the universe from a scientific perspective. I don't think that's evangelism more like tourism advertising.

Sort of, "Come to the universe. We have such cool stuff here."

Of course, I've also done some of this professionally so take my comments with appropriate levels of salt for your nutritional needs.

RichardGarfinkle
04-03-2012, 03:21 PM
Hitler is not evil if you consider the concept of 'supernatural evil' i.e. state that Hitler was somehow motivated by Satan to do what he did or that he set out to do evil things. I think Dawkin's point here is that he did what he did for what he considered to be perfectly rational and logical reasons to do with the survival of his people. Many world leaders have been in similar positions before, though most of them would never go so far as Hitler did.

I suppose one question you have to ask here is: If you were put into the exact same position as Hitler was, would you make the same decisions?

And what about the decision that led to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Is that evil also? I think many see it as an essential step in the ending of the war in the Pacific but it was still a morally dubious act.

Note, I am not in any way justifying any act that Hitler made during the war nor providing an excuse (if anything saying that his actions were motivated by supernatural evil is the excuse). What he did was evil by a given definition of morality but it was not because he was the devil or some manisfestation of supernatural evil. He was just a man who made some incredibly bad decisions and had to live with the consequences. I think this is the point Dawkins makes - if you accept that there is a god then you have to accept that there is the devil (or some other manisfestation of supernatural evil - every religion has one...) and therefore you can attribute anything 'bad' to that rather than resting the responsibility on the heads of those who are actually responsible.

And now this debate has been well and truly Godwinned :)

As for smallpox and religion... I know that Dawkins is a big proponent of meme theory and does consider religions to be massive 'memeplexes' (collections of memes with a linked theme) which are passed down from generation to generation and spread like viruses.

I don't think we need to be this far in the Godwin zone. Dawkins is mostly talking about the greater difficulty in coming to an understanding of evil if one does not have argument from authority. I find this intellectually honest. He's not denying the evil of Hitler's actions, only the difficulty in creating a philosophicallly sound theory of ethics.

areteus
04-03-2012, 03:37 PM
Makes sense, I suppose... but I still say that how you define evil is the root philosophical point in this argument. Your argument above is that Dawkins claims that he cannot provide such a definition (one that satisfies his own strictures on what a definition should be) therefore he cannot claim anything anyone does as being 'evil' due to that lack.

This idea of definitions also underlies the apples and oranges problem I mention earlier. Theological concepts of evil are fairly well defined and are what most people consider when they hear the word. How such concepts apply in a humanistic context is where the difficulty lies.

And technically, the moment anyone mentions Hitler the discussion has been Godwinned :)

Diana Hignutt
04-03-2012, 03:39 PM
Yeah, any attempt to advocate for atheism is seen as "preaching atheism" (followed by "They're so mean!" if an atheist does more than raise his voice above a timid squeak or dares to suggest that religious people might be, you know, *looks around furtively*, whispers: wrong.)

I'm not a big fan of Bill Maher either (he's glib, sexist, and doesn't mind cozying up with the likes of Ann Coulter), but whoop-de-do, he made a movie that made fun of people. Yeah, that's totally like the evangelical Christian movement.

Okay, he was the best I could come up with. Like I said, I'm with you guys on this one.

I've heard this argument from Fundamentalists, and I entertained it briefly. So, I brought it up to the smartest people I know (you guys)... and was cured of my error.

I apologize again.

RichardGarfinkle
04-03-2012, 04:32 PM
Okay, he was the best I could come up with. Like I said, I'm with you guys on this one.

I've heard this argument from Fundamentalists, and I entertained it briefly. So, I brought it up to the smartest people I know (you guys)... and was cured of my error.

I apologize again.

No need to apologize again.

At this point, I think we might be exploring what truth there is that is close to your original idea rather than determining in what way the original statement isn't true.

RichardGarfinkle
04-03-2012, 04:39 PM
Makes sense, I suppose... but I still say that how you define evil is the root philosophical point in this argument. Your argument above is that Dawkins claims that he cannot provide such a definition (one that satisfies his own strictures on what a definition should be) therefore he cannot claim anything anyone does as being 'evil' due to that lack.

This idea of definitions also underlies the apples and oranges problem I mention earlier. Theological concepts of evil are fairly well defined and are what most people consider when they hear the word. How such concepts apply in a humanistic context is where the difficulty lies.

And technically, the moment anyone mentions Hitler the discussion has been Godwinned :)

I'm not sure it's technically Godwinning if what you are discussing is someone else Godwinning another discussion, which is essentially what Dawkins himself did. This might be MetaGodwinning.

I don't think Dawkins said he couldn't say that an act was evil or not, only that he didn't have a satisfactory definition, and that this showed that talking about evil was more complex for humanism and atheism than it is for those with an authority.

For the record, I usually use the following definitions of good and evil for actions:

An action is evil if it causes unnecessary suffering.
An action is good if it reduces unnecessary suffering.

This moves the argument for a given action down to the meanings of necessity and suffering which are more situational (but arbitrarily arguable).

I try not to say that people are good or evil, rather that they do or have done good or evil. No one does all of one or the other. Matters of justice and mercy are easier if we relate them to the doing of actions in context rather than trying to slap labels on people.

Returning to Godwinning: Hitler's actions are so evil that I would certainly have no problem with his removal, except that the person or persons who would kill him would be causing the death of another human being which is always rough on a person's psyche.

areteus
04-03-2012, 07:36 PM
Metagodwinning... I like it. You should totally copyright that term :)

theorange
04-25-2012, 06:40 PM
The sense in which the theology of scientific materialism is problematic is two-fold:

1. It spreads a belief in science as the only way of gaining knowledge, and this assumption becomes so ingrained in people that they don't even look at other possibilities.

2. It makes it unfashionable to pursue any other method of gaining knowledge. People in educated circles increasingly find it embarrassing to talk about religious or spiritual impulses.

That is a very dangerous and sad situation, since it is eminently clear that science does not now nor will it ever have all the answers.

Amadan
04-25-2012, 07:40 PM
The sense in which the theology of scientific materialism is problematic is two-fold:

1. It spreads a belief in science as the only way of gaining knowledge, and this assumption becomes so ingrained in people that they don't even look at other possibilities.

2. It makes it unfashionable to pursue any other method of gaining knowledge. People in educated circles increasingly find it embarrassing to talk about religious or spiritual impulses.

That is a very dangerous and sad situation, since it is eminently clear that science does not now nor will it ever have all the answers.


Well, I don't see it as a bad thing that educated people find religion and "spirituality" increasingly embarrassing, but I'm one of those fascistic scientific materialists. :sarcasm


More seriously, science is the only way of gaining provable, reproducible, falsifiable knowledge, which is all that science is interested in, and if you are interested in "knowledge" that comes from outside of science, then there's no point complaining that science doesn't have the answers you want.

I have a problem with people talking about things like souls and afterlives and gods and the Universal Oneness of All Sentient Creatures as "knowledge" because it can never be anything but knowledge that exists inside your own head. It can't be passed on as provable knowledge, only as shared belief. Even if it's absolutely true that God answers your prayers and angels talk to you, until such time as God and angels manifest as verifiable phenomena (and therefore enter the realm of science), they are inherently personal and thus irrelevant to anyone who doesn't accept your experiences on faith.

Maxx
04-25-2012, 09:22 PM
The sense in which the theology of scientific materialism is problematic is two-fold:


How is scientific materialism (which is technically a 19th century mode of deriving plausible explanations and has little or nothing to do with whatever is happening in the sciences now) a theology? It seems like it would be anything but a theology, especially in 19th century terms.

theorange
04-25-2012, 09:26 PM
How is scientific materialism (which is technically a 19th century mode of deriving plausible explanations and has little or nothing to do with whatever is happening in the sciences now) a theology? It seems like it would be anything but a theology, especially in 19th century terms.

Well I disagree that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the sciences now. All of neuroscience and experimental psychology is based on the idea that the mind can be reduced to the brain, which is itself a byproduct of a scientific materialist view of the world.

Maxx
04-25-2012, 09:52 PM
Well I disagree that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the sciences now. All of neuroscience and experimental psychology is based on the idea that the mind can be reduced to the brain, which is itself a byproduct of a scientific materialist view of the world.

Reductive analysis is only an initial step. In the sciences it hasn't been methodologically necessary or fruitful to show that reductivist initial strategies are particularly relevent to current problems. Sure, in the 1830s (for example -- or maybe until say 1860), it was crucial to insist that the brain as a physical thing was a precondition for the functioning of the mind as an experienced thing, but these days, there's no reason to make much of an arguement for that. I don't think it would get you any scientific points at all. It seems to me that science long ago moved far beyond scientific materialism. For example, if I wanted to state something about say dreaming in a current scientific context, it would be a waste of time to argue that a dream-state had something to do with a brain-state. I would have to be much more specific and say something like:
" During REM sleep, the release of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and histamine is completely suppressed." (see Wikipedia on dreams).
So you might say that a statement like "the actions of the mind are dependent on the actions of the brain" is a bit of scientific materialism -- science has moved on to being so much more specific that "materialism" doesn't really fit the types of entities that are invoked in scientific discussions these days.

theorange
04-25-2012, 10:06 PM
So you might say that a statement like "the actions of the mind are dependent on the actions of the brain" is a bit of scientific materialism -- science has moved on to being so much more specific that "materialism" doesn't really fit the types of entities that are invoked in scientific discussions these days.


Well there's two interesting points you bring up here.

The first is about what materialism really means. I would argue that normally science ultimately does and must rest on verifiable/falsifiable observations of matter. That all the entities, including chemicals like histamine, states like REM sleep, and even exotic particles like quarks, ultimately describe patterns in data that are somehow perceptible through the sense organs, either by themselves or with the aid of scientific instruments.

Now materialism would hold that this kind of physically perceptible truth is also the only kind of truth there is.

The second is, and I think you're right here, that a belief in modern science does not actually necessitate a belief in materialism. That is, science could easily accept physically perceptible truth as its province but actively accept the possibility of other kinds of truth. But most often that is not what happens.

Science is turned into the theology of scientism, which takes scientific materialism as the only means of finding truth.

theorange
04-25-2012, 10:15 PM
I have a problem with people talking about things like souls and afterlives and gods and the Universal Oneness of All Sentient Creatures as "knowledge" because it can never be anything but knowledge that exists inside your own head.

That's just the problem: that if it's not physically verifiable, it's not knowledge. That's what I disagree with.

Suppose everyone in the universe were blind, and there were one man who could see. He couldn't prove his sight to anyone else. But would his sight not be "knowledge"?

We are all in that position in our own little universes of personal consciousness -- we are all blind to everyone else's inner world and have our eyes open to our own (hopefully). We can try imperfectly to talk about our own experience and hope some of it gets across, but ultimately we know that language is limited even at the best of times...

RichardGarfinkle
04-25-2012, 10:29 PM
That's just the problem: that if it's not physically verifiable, it's not knowledge. That's what I disagree with.

Suppose everyone in the universe were blind, and there were one man who could see. He couldn't prove his sight to anyone else. But would his sight not be "knowledge"?

We are all in that position in our own little universes of personal consciousness -- we are all blind to everyone else's inner world and have our eyes open to our own (hopefully). We can try imperfectly to talk about our own experience and hope some of it gets across, but ultimately we know that language is limited even at the best of times...

The blind man's sight can be empirically tested. He can say, "there is a rock four paces in front of you half again as tall as you are."
The person he is talking to can then step forward four paces and feel if the rock is there, and if so how tall it is.

In the case of external repeatable phenomena, science can be brought to bear.

Internal (that is mental) phenomena are not its province because they cannot be independently observed.

Internal phenomena can be discussed, accepted, rejected, practices taught and so on. I can say that I know Tai Chi has helped me with a great deal of self control, but I can't prove it to anyone's satisfaction. I can suggest it on grounds of personal testimony and somebody else can try it and find that it is or is not useful to them.

But I can't and don't say that its utility for me proves the underlying chi theory (it doesn't and I don't). Nor do I think Taoism accurately describes the universe even though I get a lot of utility out of its teachings.

So what knoweldge do I have from this. The knowledge that a particular set of disciplines are useful to me. That knowledge I can share and others can accept or not.

theorange
04-25-2012, 10:36 PM
The blind man's sight can be empirically tested. He can say, "there is a rock four paces in front of you half again as tall as you are."
The person he is talking to can then step forward four paces and feel if the rock is there, and if so how tall it is.

Interesting point. He'd be treated just like someone who claims to have ESP is treated now, i.e., disbelieved, his knowledge thought to come from elsewhere.

The fact stands that even if he could gain knowledge, the very notion of how it works -- sight -- would be incomprehensible to every other person.




But I can't and don't say that its utility for me proves the underlying chi theory (it doesn't and I don't). Nor do I think Taoism accurately describes the universe even though I get a lot of utility out of its teachings.

Well but I think the standard of proof changes depending on the subject matter. When it comes to philosophical worldviews, external proof is not the standard. Utility, internal coherence and logic, aesthetic appeal: these become the standards. Heck, they're judged as standards even in the choice between different scientific theories.

The thing is, I think philosophy CAN yield us a kind of knowledge. The knowledge of our limitations, for example, is useful. As you say, the idea that science cannot explain internal experience is itself not a scientific fact but a fact of philosophy, part of a worldview. And that worldview can then point us in different directions, perhaps to spiritual practices like the Tao.

Maxx
04-25-2012, 10:42 PM
Well there's two interesting points you bring up here.

The first is about what materialism really means. I would argue that normally science ultimately does and must rest on verifiable/falsifiable observations of matter. That all the entities, including chemicals like histamine, states like REM sleep, and even exotic particles like quarks, ultimately describe patterns in data that are somehow perceptible through the sense organs, either by themselves or with the aid of scientific instruments.

Now materialism would hold that this kind of physically perceptible truth is also the only kind of truth there is.



I can't see the point in reducing science to an imaginary set of ideas called materialism that is characterized by a reliance on the senses. First of all, there are a lot of ways of arguing for or about the senses and there's nothing particularly materialistic about emphasizing that what people experience as sensations has a pretty big impact on them. Second, there's no big deal in the sciences about the senses per se. They are not regarded as the infallible final recourse of knowledge, but only as one of many tools for working out particular problems. IT is generally more crucial in the sciences to emphasize the range of possible observations, the incompleteness of the data, the relation of models to observations, the use of theory to drive observational programs and so on. There just is no simple scientific model whereby the senses drive knowledge.

theorange
04-25-2012, 10:49 PM
First of all, there are a lot of ways of arguing for or about the senses and there's nothing particularly materialistic about emphasizing that what people experience as sensations has a pretty big impact on them. Second, there's no big deal in the sciences about the senses per se. They are not regarded as the infallible final recourse of knowledge, but only as one of many tools for working out particular problems.

Can you give me examples of anything in science that does not ultimately depend on observations derived from the senses, either directly or with the aid of scientific instruments? I think that absolutely is a fundamental criterion of scientific truth. It is not the only thing that can be said about the scientific method, but science is about what is in theory accessible to *common perception*, without a shadow of a doubt.

Any science that was not so grounded would not be considered a science by most people.

This is important because it defines science's strengths and also its limits.

Maxx
04-25-2012, 10:55 PM
The second is, and I think you're right here, that a belief in modern science does not actually necessitate a belief in materialism. That is, science could easily accept physically perceptible truth as its province but actively accept the possibility of other kinds of truth. But most often that is not what happens.

Science is turned into the theology of scientism, which takes scientific materialism as the only means of finding truth.

Well, I don't think there is any connection between how the sciences actually address problems and materialism. There really is no particularly strong relation between the sciences as they are and materialism. I think the two ideas were closely and fruitfully associated in the earlier part of the scientific revolution -- say from Boyle to Maxwell, but that materialism just isn't a relevent idea in the actual sciences these days and hasn't been since say Helmholtz or Boltzmann or Gibbs (even though he has no Z and I've never read him).

I have never seen any theological scientism so I have no idea what that is about.

RichardGarfinkle
04-25-2012, 11:01 PM
Interesting point. He'd be treated just like someone who claims to have ESP is treated now, i.e., disbelieved, his knowledge thought to come from elsewhere.

The fact stands that even if he could gain knowledge, the very notion of how it works -- sight -- would be incomprehensible to every other person.
.

Incomprehensible directly, but if he was clever and had enough time he might be able to create a piece of hardware from which me might be able to examine the characteristics of light, analogize them to sound and make a light detector that produced musical tones as output. Using this device he could teach others about the properties of light even though they are blind. A science of optics could be created for these people even though they might never see at all.

But this only works if there actually is a light that he is seeing that is an actual characteristic of external objects.

If that seems silly. I invite you to consider the scientific processes of neutrino detection which were devised even though not one human being has or can have neutrino sight.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrino_detector

Maxx
04-25-2012, 11:06 PM
Can you give me examples of anything in science that does not ultimately depend on observations derived from the senses, either directly or with the aid of scientific instruments? I think that absolutely is a fundamental criterion of scientific truth. It is not the only thing that can be said about the scientific method, but science is about what is in theory accessible to *common perception*, without a shadow of a doubt.

Any science that was not so grounded would not be considered a science by most people.

This is important because it defines science's strengths and also its limits.

Atomic theory was developed thousands of years before anyone saw any atoms at all. Lucretius developed the idea of the clinamen 1800 years before anyone worked out any atomic probability distributions. Dirac worked out a "function" to describe interactions (and it wasn't even a function, it was a distribution) before they were observed. Robert Oppenheimer imagined a positive particle satisfying the demands of Dirac's formalism a year or two before the positron was observed. Without the theory, nobody would have known what an "observation of a positron" was at all. Without the theory the positron was not observable.

The Standard Model has worked for the last 40 years with no observation of the Higgs Boson and the Higgs Boson hasn't been "seen" -- but there are multiple models of what seeing its various possible states might be like.

theorange
04-25-2012, 11:12 PM
But this only works if there actually is a light that he is seeing that is an actual characteristic of external objects.

If that seems silly. I invite you to consider the scientific processes of neutrino detection which were devised even though not one human being has or can have neutrino sight.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrino_detector

You're right. Excellent points. I suppose I must keep this example as pure metaphor -- that though the blind man could create a science of optics, he could never explain what it was like to see, and yet, his sight itself, apart from the fact that it could partially be made into science, is knowledge.

theorange
04-25-2012, 11:14 PM
There really is no particularly strong relation between the sciences as they are and materialism.

I really think there is. There doesn't have to be, strictly logically, but there as a matter of fact is: scientists tend to believe that everything, including the mind, is fully amenable to scientific, physical explanation.

theorange
04-25-2012, 11:18 PM
The Standard Model has worked for the last 40 years with no observation of the Higgs Boson and the Higgs Boson hasn't been "seen" -- but there are multiple models of what seeing its various possible states might be like.

I think what you're pointing out with these examples is that theories can be made before direct observation, and that intuition plays a large role in new hypotheses. True.

But theories can only be considered scientific if there is some way of verifying or falsifying them via observation. The standard model, atomic theories... they all require recourse to sense-based proof for acceptance. No possibility of sense-based verification, no science.

Maxx
04-25-2012, 11:23 PM
There really is no particularly strong relation between the sciences as they are and materialism.

I really think there is. There doesn't have to be, strictly logically, but there as a matter of fact is: scientists tend to believe that everything, including the mind, is fully amenable to scientific, physical explanation.

They may tend to believe that, but in actual scientific practice how "physical" is something like the model of the Higgs Boson? And how materialistic is it really to say that aspects of the mind derive from how nerves had to be arranged in using the genetic structure necessary to move from protoworm to chordata. To say that sensory events derive their impact from what it took to get through the mud 600 million years ago -- well it is more mystical than mysticism ever can be and I can't see anything materialistic about it. I just don't think the term actually applies to how scientific arguments work these days.

Maxx
04-25-2012, 11:29 PM
I think what you're pointing out with these examples is that theories can be made before direct observation, and that intuition plays a large role in new hypotheses. True.

But theories can only be considered scientific if there is some way of verifying or falsifying them via observation. The standard model, atomic theories... they all require recourse to sense-based proof for acceptance. No possibility of sense-based verification, no science.

I think the falsification model covers even less of how science works than the materialistic model. As Duhem (I think) pointed out around 1905, observations that don't square with theory are not what forces changes in theory, but alternative theories do. Acceptance changes not as observations change, but as new theories emerge. Sense-based proof is really not what is going on, especially when it takes special constructions to even measure anything even remotely relevent to the theory. It's the theory that drives the constructions that enable the observations that enable the supposed verification and the supposed verification is only a minor part of the scientific work.

And there is no such thing as direct observation, given how theory drives construction and measurement.

kuwisdelu
04-25-2012, 11:44 PM
I really think there is. There doesn't have to be, strictly logically, but there as a matter of fact is: scientists tend to believe that everything, including the mind, is fully amenable to scientific, physical explanation.

I don't think you know very many scientists if you believe that.

Scientists have a tendency to be interested in scientific questions.

That doesn't mean they believe everything can be answered using the scientific method.

RichardGarfinkle
04-25-2012, 11:59 PM
Let me drop a large monkey wrench into the word materialism. The farther modern physics develops the more it seems that there isn't really such a thing as a material as we inuitively understand the idea.

We think of material as stuff we can hold and which has properties like the solids, liquids and gasses we experience. But all three of these material types are complex electromagnetic interactions of atoms and our experience of them comes from further electromagnetic interactions.

It can be argued (I'm simplifying vastly) that the quantum mechanical description of the universe is as a large probability dsitribution. And that the relativistic description is of a four dimensional manifold with a distribution of energy corresponding to the shape of the manifold.

Mathematically neither the probability distributions of quantum mechanics nor the manifold, metric, and tenors of relativity correspond in any simple fashion to anything we can think of as material.

theorange
04-26-2012, 12:12 AM
They may tend to believe that, but in actual scientific practice how "physical" is something like the model of the Higgs Boson?

Reasonably physical -- doesn't it make testable predictions? If it doesn't, I think most scientists would dismiss it. I mean, aren't they looking for evidence of the particle in the supercolliders, etc.?


To say that sensory events derive their impact from what it took to get through the mud 600 million years ago -- well it is more mystical than mysticism ever can be and I can't see anything materialistic about it. I just don't think the term actually applies to how scientific arguments work these days.

But this is exactly what sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists say

Alessandra Kelley
04-26-2012, 12:15 AM
The blind man's sight can be empirically tested. He can say, "there is a rock four paces in front of you half again as tall as you are."
The person he is talking to can then step forward four paces and feel if the rock is there, and if so how tall it is.

In the case of external repeatable phenomena, science can be brought to bear.



Interesting point. He'd be treated just like someone who claims to have ESP is treated now, i.e., disbelieved, his knowledge thought to come from elsewhere..

Well, no. People in our world who claim ESP and are subjected to scientific tests fail pretty routinely. A person who could see in the universe of the blind would have a far higher success rate when tested than any person who has claimed ESP has ever demonstrated.

theorange
04-26-2012, 12:16 AM
I think the falsification model covers even less of how science works than the materialistic model. As Duhem (I think) pointed out around 1905, observations that don't square with theory are not what forces changes in theory, but alternative theories do. Acceptance changes not as observations change, but as new theories emerge.

Well let's not get too skeptical. Theories do not change independent of observations. New theories gain traction because they better fit the data, because they better predict new results. At least, that's what science assumes.


It's the theory that drives the constructions that enable the observations that enable the supposed verification and the supposed verification is only a minor part of the scientific work.

And there is no such thing as direct observation, given how theory drives construction and measurement.

I agree that theory influences observation, but I think scientists basically take the stance, frankly one which I agree with as far as science goes, that theory is not totally detached from observation; that there is such a thing as correcting a theory by seeing how it does not fit data.

theorange
04-26-2012, 12:17 AM
I don't think you know very many scientists if you believe that.

Scientists have a tendency to be interested in scientific questions.

That doesn't mean they believe everything can be answered using the scientific method.

You're right, not all of them do. But many do. And in any case it is just those people and their evangelizers that I'm talking about.

theorange
04-26-2012, 12:20 AM
Let me drop a large monkey wrench into the word materialism. The farther modern physics develops the more it seems that there isn't really such a thing as a material as we inuitively understand the idea.

All the new ideas are about matter inasmuch as they are, at least in theory, subject to empirical testing. That's the matter I'm talking about: that which can be sensed empirically.


It can be argued (I'm simplifying vastly) that the quantum mechanical description of the universe is as a large probability dsitribution.

Right -- this is not matter in the old-fashioned sense, but quantum theory makes predictions that are ultimately observable. That makes it about matter in the most fundamental sense.

theorange
04-26-2012, 12:24 AM
Well, no. People in our world who claim ESP and are subjected to scientific tests fail pretty routinely. A person who could see in the universe of the blind would have a far higher success rate when tested than any person who has claimed ESP has ever demonstrated.

Right, no I agree with this. I guess my point is that his experience of color would nevertheless remain unknowable by others; though you're right -- science could show some of its workings.

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 12:31 AM
All the new ideas are about matter inasmuch as they are, at least in theory, subject to empirical testing. That's the matter I'm talking about: that which can be sensed empirically.



Right -- this is not matter in the old-fashioned sense, but quantum theory makes predictions that are ultimately observable. That makes it about matter in the most fundamental sense.

Just so we're clear, you are classifying anything empirically observable as material. Are you then saying that there is non empirical knowledge of material things, or non empirical knowledge of non material things? And could you please provide an example or two?

theorange
04-26-2012, 12:39 AM
Just so we're clear, you are classifying anything empirically observable as material. Are you then saying that there is non empirical knowledge of material things, or non empirical knowledge of non material things?

Sorry, I'm not sure I understand your question. I'm claiming that to say something is matter is to say that it is empirically observable, that is, observable either with the unaided sense organs or through the observable results of some test.

kuwisdelu
04-26-2012, 12:41 AM
You're right, not all of them do. But many do. And in any case it is just those people and their evangelizers that I'm talking about.

What evangelizers?

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 01:04 AM
Sorry, I'm not sure I understand your question. I'm claiming that to say something is matter is to say that it is empirically observable, that is, observable either with the unaided sense organs or through the observable results of some test.

I'm asking the opposite question. Are you saying that anything that is empirically observable is therefore material?

And you started by talking about other than scientific knowledge. So I wanted some examples of this. I also asked if you thought there was non scientific knowledge of empirical phenomena or only no scientific knowledge of nonempirical phenomena.

theorange
04-26-2012, 01:26 AM
What evangelizers?

Dawkins/Sam Harris/et al. People like this guy (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/has-physics-made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/) who thinks physics makes philosophy and religion obsolete.

theorange
04-26-2012, 01:30 AM
I'm asking the opposite question. Are you saying that anything that is empirically observable is therefore material?

Yes, I think so. To say that something is empirically observable means, at least to those who care about the existence of something called matter, that it is material.


And you started by talking about other than scientific knowledge. So I wanted some examples of this. I also asked if you thought there was non scientific knowledge of empirical phenomena or only no scientific knowledge of nonempirical phenomena.

Interesting question. I would say that there is nonscientific knowledge of empirical phenomena. History is a great example.

benbradley
04-26-2012, 01:35 AM
I hesitate to post here, as it's like trying to argue with someone who, unknown to me, thinks millionaire means someone who is paid at least one million dollars per year (I DID look in several online dictionaries and other resources, but didn't see that definition). Been there (the discussion, not being paid a million dollars in any one year), done that. But here goes...

Interesting point. He'd [a sighted person in a blind civilization] be treated just like someone who claims to have ESP is treated now, i.e., disbelieved, his knowledge thought to come from elsewhere.
Yes, there would be a lot of disbelievers, because as Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and there hasn't been much evidence for ESP, certainly not enough for the repeatable tests that are part of science.

You seem to be arguing that no "scientist" would ever be convinced that this one person has sight. It could well be an uphill battle, but there certainly are people interested in claims of unusual and unknown but verifiable human abilities. Here's someone who spent much of her life on such claims:
http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Chapters/Kurtz.htm

Had she found the equivalent of a man claiming sight in an all-blind civilization, I have no doubt she would have verified the claim.

You're right, not all of them do. But many do. And in any case it is just those people and their evangelizers that I'm talking about.
Can you name one or more public figures who you would call evangelizers? I see kuwisdelu is already asking as well.

I suspect these people (who claim science is capable of discovering all knowledge) are more of a straw man you're arguing against, and are in the minority as kuwisdelu is saying.

Furthermore, it seems you have some different definition(s) of some word(s) than many of us others do, or something similar to that - it looks like people are arguing past one another in this thread. I'm hoping this gets cleared up.


Right, no I agree with this. I guess my point is that his experience of color would nevertheless remain unknowable by others; though you're right -- science could show some of its workings.
The experience of different radio frequencies is (as far as direct experience) unknowable, and weren't known to exist until the last couple of centuries, yet anyone can tune a radio or change channels on a TV. But once again, I might be missing what you're trying to say.

theorange
04-26-2012, 01:51 AM
The experience of different radio frequencies is (as far as direct experience) unknowable, and weren't known to exist until the last couple of centuries, yet anyone can tune a radio or change channels on a TV. But once again, I might be missing what you're trying to say.

What I'm really getting at is that your subjective experience can never be fully known by anyone else (here's a blog post of mine (http://www.akilesh.com/?p=137) on the same point). By subjective experience, I mean "what it is like" to experience something, like the redness of a rose, or the sweet aroma of butter and sugar. The redness is not just the wavelength of light reflected from the rose. It's literally your experience of that color. Similarly, the sound waves coming from your stereo are not the actual experience of the sound. You can never know what it is like for someone else to experience something (except very imperfectly, through language and art).

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 02:05 AM
What I'm really getting at is that your subjective experience can never be fully known by anyone else (here's a blog post of mine (http://www.akilesh.com/?p=137) on the same point). By subjective experience, I mean "what it is like" to experience something, like the redness of a rose, or the sweet aroma of butter and sugar. The redness is not just the wavelength of light reflected from the rose. It's literally your experience of that color. Similarly, the sound waves coming from your stereo are not the actual experience of the sound. You can never know what it is like for someone else to experience something (except very imperfectly, through language and art).

Oh, it would have been easier if you had mentioned this at the beginning. Science is not applicable to subjective experience since it is not externally observable. Science can be applied, somewhat to the correlation between subjective experience and reality.

For example, I cannot perceive what red looks like to you, but we can together discern whether we deem the same objects to be red (assuming we report honestly).

There is some idea that science will eventually be applicable to such phenomena, but that's only a hypothesis without much to back it up, so it's still SF not science.

theorange
04-26-2012, 02:14 AM
There is some idea that science will eventually be applicable to such phenomena, but that's only a hypothesis without much to back it up, so it's still SF not science.

Right, only I think science will never be able to get there. The problem is that no one can ever, even in theory, know what someone else is experiencing directly. They would always observe that someone else's experience through the filter of their own experience, their own mind. So they could never be sure what they were getting was in fact what it seemed to be, or was an artifact of their own mind.

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 03:25 AM
Right, only I think science will never be able to get there. The problem is that no one can ever, even in theory, know what someone else is experiencing directly. They would always observe that someone else's experience through the filter of their own experience, their own mind. So they could never be sure what they were getting was in fact what it seemed to be, or was an artifact of their own mind.

Yes. But it's not as if a particularly large group of scientists or science as an endeavor were claiming to be able to. Nor do most scienitsts deny the personal import of personal experience. They have lives and personal tastes and loves and families and they don't think that everyone should love the same people they love or even like the same art or music.

Science is not trying to hegemonize personal experience.

kuwisdelu
04-26-2012, 04:39 AM
Dawkins/Sam Harris/et al. People like this guy (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/has-physics-made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/) who thinks physics makes philosophy and religion obsolete.

Ehh, I went and read the interview. The title is mostly provocation. He didn't say anything that leads me to believe he thinks science can answer everything. In fact, he explicitly admits it probably can't.

Frankly, I just don't think these people's claims are what you think they are.

At least, I've never personally met a scientist who honestly believes science can or is the answer to everything. I can't help but feel the entire argument is based on an illusion.

ColoradoGuy
04-26-2012, 04:54 PM
At least, I've never personally met a scientist who honestly believes science can or is the answer to everything. I can't help but feel the entire argument is based on an illusion.

Or a straw man, as has been pointed out upthread.

theorange
04-26-2012, 05:44 PM
Science is not trying to hegemonize personal experience.

Science isn't, but some supposedly pro-science philosophers are. Daniel Dennett, for example, basically thinks personal conscious experience is just an illusion.

theorange
04-26-2012, 05:47 PM
At least, I've never personally met a scientist who honestly believes science can or is the answer to everything. I can't help but feel the entire argument is based on an illusion.

Well Dawkins may be one such scientist. The "new atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) are basically staunch materialists: they think that the only thing that exists is matter.

What that means is that personal conscious experience is nothing but matter. That means all morality, all beauty, love, everything is just matter... and just a matter of science.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 05:48 PM
Let me drop a large monkey wrench into the word materialism.

I don't think this is a large monkey wrench. A simple way to look at materialism is that it is a stage that science went through centuries ago. There is no area of current scientific work where the materiality of a thing gives it a priviledged status. What's material about fields or population genetics? Or the range of possible phyletic body plans?

Amadan
04-26-2012, 05:50 PM
Science isn't, but some supposedly pro-science philosophers are. Daniel Dennett, for example, basically thinks personal conscious experience is just an illusion.


Okay, and some pro-religious thinkers say science is stupid and the universe was created 6000 years ago. Arguments about how science/scientists are narrow-minded ideologues always seem to descend into finding an individual who is taken to be speaking for Science.

(I am making no comment about your claims re: Dennett since I am not familiar with him or what he actually claims.)

Amadan
04-26-2012, 05:53 PM
Well Dawkins may be one such scientist. The "new atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) are basically staunch materialists: they think that the only thing that exists is matter.

What that means is that personal conscious experience is nothing but matter. That means all morality, all beauty, love, everything is just matter... and just a matter of science.

I believe all of the above. Except the last - I guess you are trying to extrapolate from this that materialists believe that beauty and morality and love can be reduced to a scientific equation or something, which doesn't follow from the belief that our perceptions, including of beauty and morality and love, are all products of purely physical phenomena. I can appreciate love and beauty without believing that it emanates from a supernatural plane.

theorange
04-26-2012, 05:53 PM
Okay, and some pro-religious thinkers say science is stupid and the universe was created 6000 years ago. Arguments about how science/scientists are narrow-minded ideologues always seem to descend into finding an individual who is taken to be speaking for Science.


The problem is that these people are not random. They are very influential, and they shape the worldview for a lot of highly educated people who think it's axiomatic that the mind is nothing but a machine evolution put together. It's becoming increasingly unfashionable and derided to have any other view. That's what's dangerous: that people think any other view is supernatural, irrational, etc.

While people like Dennett are at the extremely outspoken ends, the trickle-down versions of their philosophy are watering the trough for everyone else, including most scientists.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 05:54 PM
Well Dawkins may be one such scientist. The "new atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) are basically staunch materialists: they think that the only thing that exists is matter.

What that means is that personal conscious experience is nothing but matter. That means all morality, all beauty, love, everything is just matter... and just a matter of science.

Your complaint is with the new atheists apparently. I don't think most people or most scientists would insist on the primacy of material qua matter. After all the biggest scientifically described entity in current cosmology is "Dark Energy" -- which doesn't really seem to fit with the idea that science as a thing about the materiality of things.

Amadan
04-26-2012, 05:54 PM
The problem is that these people are not random. They are very influential, and they shape the worldview for a lot of highly educated people who think it's axiomatic that the mind is nothing but a machine evolution put together. It's becoming increasingly unfashionable and derided to have any other view. That's what's dangerous: that people think any other view is supernatural, irrational, etc.

Why is that dangerous?

theorange
04-26-2012, 05:58 PM
I believe all of the above. Except the last - I guess you are trying to extrapolate from this that materialists believe that beauty and morality and love can be reduced to a scientific equation or something, which doesn't follow from the belief that our perceptions, including of beauty and morality and love, are all products of purely physical phenomena.

Actually, that's exactly what they would believe. Everything physical is governed by scientific laws. Laws are regularities. Regularities could in theory be reduced to equations or probability distributions. And that's in the end what all of these things are -- things generated by the equations and the programming evolution put in us. They're just illusions.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:01 PM
Your complaint is with the new atheists apparently. I don't think most people or most scientists would insist on the primacy of material qua matter. After all the biggest scientifically described entity in current cosmology is "Dark Energy" -- which doesn't really seem to fit with the idea that science as a thing about the materiality of things.

It's just that what the new atheists say influences all the scientists and educated people. And again, Dark Energy is only accepted as a possibility because in theory certain observations will either bear it out or they won't -- that's what the materiality comes down to: observability, testability in the physical world.

Alessandra Kelley
04-26-2012, 06:03 PM
Science isn't, but some supposedly pro-science philosophers are. Daniel Dennett, for example, basically thinks personal conscious experience is just an illusion.

Er ... but he's a science fanboy, isn't he? Not an actual scientist.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:04 PM
Reasonably physical -- doesn't it make testable predictions? If it doesn't, I think most scientists would dismiss it. I mean, aren't they looking for evidence of the particle in the supercolliders, etc.?


Reasonably Physical? This is pretty far from simple materialism. Okay. Let's look at the Standard model and the Higgs Boson. First of all, the Standard model became the standard on purely theoretical grounds. The crucial step was about as non-physical an event as can be imagined: t'Hooft showed that Yang-Mills (non-Abelian) Fields were renormalizable. That was it. The Theory beat other theories long before any observations confirmed any of it.
The Higgs mechanism has an even less materialistic derivation and role in that there are still a large number of theories about the Higgs and these are driving the construction of mechanisms for finding the mechanisms.

Now what on earth is "Empirical" or "materialistic" about having a mass of theories that it takes huge amounts of specialized machinery to even come close to nailing down?

This is the complete opposite of a materialistic model of how one finds out about how things work.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:07 PM
Er ... but he's a science fanboy, isn't he? Not an actual scientist.

Well Richard Dawkins believes much the same stuff, and he is an actual scientist. And that's also true no doubt of a lot of his fans.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:09 PM
This is the complete opposite of a materialistic model of how one finds out about how things work.

I think we may be arguing past each other.

I completely agree with you that science nowadays generates a lot from the manipulation of its theoretical and mathematical machinery.

And it's not really science per se that I have a problem with. It's about how science is regarded by many as the only method of finding truth that is the problem. That philosophy is what I call materialism.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:13 PM
It's just that what the new atheists say influences all the scientists and educated people. And again, Dark Energy is only accepted as a possibility because in theory certain observations will either bear it out or they won't -- that's what the materiality comes down to: observability, testability in the physical world.

You're proposing that a universal influence that only you can see "influences all the scientists and educated people."
That would seem to be a very simple model and one that only you can verify. It would seem that a single "I'm not influenced" statement would disprove this according to your falsification criteria for valid theories. It looks like in this thread you have half a dozen statements that show that there is no such universal influence.

Second, you seem to systematically confuse observatibilty and "testibility" (whatever that means) with the idea that there is a ready-made material world out there. There is no connection between making observations and the idea that there is a uniformly material and empirical world out there. The whole idea of setting up an experiment is that it excludes that supposed materiality and derives some useful observations. Falsification makes the same error in that it assumes there must be some kind of congruence between theory and an imaginary complete material world in order for theory to work as theory.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:17 PM
I completely agree with you that science nowadays generates a lot from the manipulation of its theoretical and mathematical machinery.


Or just take the idea of what a gene is. I just don't see how any method that works with genes can be considered materialistic. "Gene" is shorthand for an incredible number of processes and structures that are generally not observable at all.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:20 PM
Well Richard Dawkins believes much the same stuff, and he is an actual scientist. And that's also true no doubt of a lot of his fans.

Note the precise use of the term "Fanboy" (also "fanboi").
A fanboy is not a reliable interpreter or representer of that of which he is more than a fan. Yes, he's a fanboi. One indulges them for amusement but not for serious matters such as the status of materialism in the sciences.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:21 PM
You're proposing that a universal influence that only you can see "influences all the scientists and educated people."

Not all but many.


Second, you seem to systematically confuse observatibilty and "testibility" (whatever that means) with the idea that there is a ready-made material world out there.

I think we are using different definitions of materiality.

I define materiality as that which can be observed by the sense organs, either unaided or through scientific instruments. That is what it means to be matter, as I use the term. And that is exactly what science observes in order to test its theories.

Even things like Dark Matter refer not to some actual visible stuff, but rather to the observable measurable phenomena (from whatever scientific instruments) that the theory of DM purports to predict. Those phenomena are material.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:22 PM
"Gene" is shorthand for an incredible number of processes and structures that are generally not observable at all.

The lab and clinical measurements are observable.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:23 PM
And again, Dark Energy is only accepted as a possibility because in theory certain observations will either bear it out or they won't -- that's what the materiality comes down to: observability, testability in the physical world.

So you would say Dark Energy has not been observed? And how might energy that cannot be seen (its dark for a reason) be observed except via a non-materialist theory?

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:28 PM
So you would say Dark Energy has not been observed? And how might energy that cannot be seen (its dark for a reason) be observed except via a non-materialist theory?

Well, it can be observed -- through its observable effects on gravitational orbits and what-not. The theory of DE is just a short-hand for a set of predicted effects. Those effects are observable.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:28 PM
The lab and clinical measurements are observable.

So I go to a lab and I "see" gene X. What have I seen? A blob in a gel? How do I know it is expressed anywhere?

Suppose I know (and how do I know?) it has to do with the development of eyes in Fruitflies. Is it the same gene if it has some other function in some other animal?

I really only know most of what I know about genes from catalogs of genes and their actions across different organisms. So is the catalog the material world since it is the basis of knowledge about what a particular gene is?

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:31 PM
Well, it can be observed -- through its observable effects on gravitational orbits and what-not. The theory of DE is just a short-hand for a set of predicted effects. Those effects are observable.

So in this case the material world is "I expect to see A at Y if theory FF is the best model (assuming I have excluded all other effects of the material world)"?

The material world in this case is just an expectation.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:34 PM
So I go to a lab and I "see" gene X. What have I seen? A blob in a gel? How do I know it is expressed anywhere?

Ha, I'm not a chemist so I don't know. I assume that DNA does look a certain way in the microscope, reacts in certain ways to chemicals, etc.


Suppose I know (and how do I know?) it has to do with the development of eyes in Fruitflies. Is it the same gene if it has some other function in some other animal?

That depends on how you want to frame the phenomena and how you want to define the word "same." There's no question that different theories can make group observable phenomena differently.


I really only know most of what I know about genes from catalogs of genes and their actions across different organisms. So is the catalog the material world since it is the basis of knowledge about what a particular gene is?

It's the material world in the same way that a map is the material world. Someone else has explored that corner and you take their word for it.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:37 PM
So in this case the material world is "I expect to see A at Y if theory FF is the best model (assuming I have excluded all other effects of the material world)"?

The material world in this case is just an expectation.

Yes, that's correct. It's an expectation fulfilled specifically through the sense organs (everyone can objectively see A through their eyes). Whereas an expectation about what emotion I'm going to feel is not wholly material (my anger is directly observable only by me), but refers also to my inner world. That's also an expectation, just not a material one.

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 06:40 PM
Well Dawkins may be one such scientist. The "new atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) are basically staunch materialists: they think that the only thing that exists is matter.

What that means is that personal conscious experience is nothing but matter. That means all morality, all beauty, love, everything is just matter... and just a matter of science.

They are staunch materialists, but both Dawkins and Hitchens at least were strong supporters of the value of personal experience to their personal lives. Upthread I posted some links to dialogues and debates they took part in.

Both of them resented the idea that the numinous, the personal, and the emotional required a religious view of the world. They aren't trying to steal or destroy art or personal experience. They are trying to claim a human share in it as humanists.

As to the argument about models and materialism. You seem to be defining materialism as anything that involves observation. Art involves observation. How do you distinguish between the artistic experience and the scientific?

Maxx
04-26-2012, 06:48 PM
It's the material world in the same way that a map is the material world. Someone else has explored that corner and you take their word for it.

So the material world could be any representation of anything and I just arbitrarily add the otherwise useless note that the thing represented is the material world.

Or to put it another way, I assume the usefulness of particular representations for specific things I want to do. The relation of these representations to materiality is generally not what is important about them.

Maps are an especially good case since most maps only show me what I might need for a particular circumstance. Sometimes it is enough that the locals point somewhere and use a word I think I understand. This becomes a map in my head. The people I am with who don't know the local (possibly somewhat comprehensible) lingo will know what I understood if we find what we need. So from their point of view the unknowable thing in my head is far more material than the unknowable language that builds a map in my head.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:49 PM
Both of them resented the idea that the numinous, the personal, and the emotional required a religious view of the world. They aren't trying to steal or destroy art or personal experience. They are trying to claim a human share in it as humanists.

They might maintain that, but I just don't see how they can maintain it without contradiction. We think of the numinous as being transcendental in some way. If it's simply the result of the operation of chemicals in our brain, I don't see how it can be particularly transcendental.


As to the argument about models and materialism. You seem to be defining materialism as anything that involves observation. Art involves observation. How do you distinguish between the artistic experience and the scientific?

Well art is not about positing testable theories (though some psychologists/neuroscientists are trying to do that)... art is ultimately about creating art, and trying to convey inner experience. So art involves observation but it uses it to entirely different ends.

I'm defining materialism as the ideology that only the physically-observable exists. This means that there art and the inner experience it conveys is also just the push and pull of atoms following scientific laws, nothing more.

theorange
04-26-2012, 06:52 PM
So the material world could be any representation of anything and I just arbitrarily add the otherwise useless note that the thing represented is the material world.

Not exactly. In theory there's some way someone could go and observe what you've observed.


Maps are an especially good case since most maps only show me what I might need for a particular circumstance. Sometimes it is enough that the locals point somewhere and use a word I think I understand. This becomes a map in my head. The people I am with who don't know the local (possibly somewhat comprehensible) lingo will know what I understood if we find what we need. So from their point of view the unknowable thing in my head is far more material than the unknowable language that builds a map in my head.

I'm not sure I follow your argument here. When they speak a word to you they think you understand, yes, that is a kind of map that you can follow... that you can then test and observe by going to see if it leads to where you thought it would lead.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 07:16 PM
I'm not sure I follow your argument here. When they speak a word to you they think you understand, yes, that is a kind of map that you can follow... that you can then test and observe by going to see if it leads to where you thought it would lead.

Let's look closely at the supposed reference-to-materiality of a "map-in-the-head" based on a local term that I may or may not have understood. It seems (at first glance and according to the expectation model of a reference-to-materiality) that the map in the head is as material (in the referential expectation model) as any thing can be. The map-in-the-head claims to offer some expectation of discovering an observable. But this priviledged status of a map-in-my-head as an approach to the material world and therefore as material as any thing can be seems to disappear as soon as I describe it to somebody else. Or more precisely, as soon as I try to translate the local term and offer that as the basis of my expectation. As long as I just walk as a mute marker (or effectively a map) then the map in my head is completely material in the expectational sense. As soon as I say "I think they mean the things we need are over there beyond that ridge and up that creek" the expectational materiality of the map in my head vanishes. It seems to me that "materiality" is an artifact of the nonacceptance of imperfect translations between different areas of expectation.

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 07:18 PM
They might maintain that, but I just don't see how they can maintain it without contradiction. We think of the numinous as being transcendental in some way. If it's simply the result of the operation of chemicals in our brain, I don't see how it can be particularly transcendental.



Well art is not about positing testable theories (though some psychologists/neuroscientists are trying to do that)... art is ultimately about creating art, and trying to convey inner experience. So art involves observation but it uses it to entirely different ends.

I'm defining materialism as the ideology that only the physically-observable exists. This means that there art and the inner experience it conveys is also just the push and pull of atoms following scientific laws, nothing more.

Arguably quantum mechanics says that a lot of what exists, does so in states that cannot be observed since observation changes them, but Maxx might justly jump down my throat on that because it is a very outmoded way of looking at things.

So moving on. You seem to be confusing the idea of whether something has a material basis with its existence. There are a number of phenomena that exist as the results of arrangements of other phenomena but which acquire qualitative distinctions from their constituent parts. Indeed, it can be argued that the entire universe exists in this process of aggregation and arrangement.

Atoms are arrangements of particles in energy states. The arrangement acquires characteristics that do not exist in the particles themselves. Thus quantum mechanics gives rise to atomic physics.

Atoms interact with each other in complex manners to create new structures: molecules.
Thus atomic physics gives rise to chemistry.

Chemicals interact in a vast array of complex possibilities so that immensely complex structures can be created out of as few as four varieties of atoms: Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen. Thus Chemistry gives rise to Biochemistry.

These complex chemicals interact in even more complex ways, producing structures of ongoing interactions unlike the structures that they are based on thus Biochemistry gives rise to Biology.

And so on. At each level in the process new amazing phenomena come into being in a variety not necessarily predictable from the level below.

I usually say that we live in a harmonious universe, where the simple constituent parts can be arranged in enormous variety by building level upon level. Just as notes can be arranged into chords, chords into the pieces of individual instruments and the playing of individual instruments can be arranged into symphonies.

The point is that each level of phenomena has three different levels at which it can be examined:
1. What makes it up and how is it made up?
2. What does it itself do?
3. How does it interact with other things to create a higher order of harmony?

Phenomena may have a material base (for a given value of material) but that does not remove the experience of the thing itself.

Knowledge of food chemistry and nutrition do not remove the taste of food, but they can help in deciding what foods are a good idea to eat.

Knowledge of harmonics and acoustics do not destroy the experience of music, but they can help in making instruments and designing music halls.

The transcendental experience, the numinous to quote Hitchens is a matter of direct experience. It doesn't have to be connected to something beyond the human in order for it to be an elevating human moment. The mind can be opened by an experience, understanding and emotion wash over us, and we come to see and understand more then we did before. Just because the underlying events for this are neural firing and brain chemistry no more removes the experience then knowledge of organic chemistry destroys the taste of lunch.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 07:39 PM
Arguably quantum mechanics says that a lot of what exists, does so in states that cannot be observed since observation changes them, but Maxx might justly jump down my throat on that because it is a very outmoded way of looking at things.


Well, people seem to like it. I'm not sure why. BUT suppose we substitute "interaction" for "observation" and accept some sort of field model formalism. We would find that our test particle does some rather non-material things between our expectations of what it does at interactions.

Suppose we take a Feymann Diagram as a fun way of looking at these things. We would find that the "point" in space time of our supposed singular interaction can be expanded and a lot more detail can be put in (oops, I'm completely blanking on how virtual "infrared" photons tend to put a range on these details) and moreover between interactions the test particle would in fact be interacting with itself and/or the virtual particles of the vacuum. None of this makes for an unambiguous idea of what is so material about the supposed material world.

PS. Some poking around has convinced me that Wick rotation and all those photons are beyond me today.

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 07:46 PM
Well, people seem to like it. I'm not sure why. BUT suppose we substitute "interaction" for "observation" and accept some sort of field model formalism. We would find that our test particle does some rather non-material things between our expectations of what it does at interactions.

Suppose we take a Feymann Diagram as a fun way of looking at these things. We would find that the "point" in space time of our supposed singular interaction can be expanded and a lot more detail can be put in (oops, I'm completely blanking on how virtual "infrared" photons tend to put a range on these details) and moreover between interactions the test particle would in fact be interacting with itself and/or the virtual particles of the vacuum. None of this makes for an unambiguous idea of what a is so material about the supposed material world.

Fun although I do tend to hide under the covers for some of this. Quantum Field Theory gives me a headache. I'm much more comfortable with relativity and with the probabilistic perspective on quantum mechanics. I mostly wanted to bring up the old view because of the mushy concept of observer, since it seems to be so integral to the orange's definition of materialism.

theorange
04-26-2012, 08:14 PM
As soon as I say "I think they mean the things we need are over there beyond that ridge and up that creek" the expectational materiality of the map in my head vanishes. It seems to me that "materiality" is an artifact of the nonacceptance of imperfect translations between different areas of expectation.

I don't follow. Why, when you utter those words, is that suddenly not about observable things?

If you say: " I think x is beyond the ridge," then you are referring to an observable phenomenon -- x -- that either is or is not beyond the ridge. So you go over the ridge, and either you observe x or you don't observe x.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 08:17 PM
Fun although I do tend to hide under the covers for some of this. Quantum Field Theory gives me a headache. I'm much more comfortable with relativity and with the probabilistic perspective on quantum mechanics. I mostly wanted to bring up the old view because of the mushy concept of observer, since it seems to be so integral to the orange's definition of materialism.

As I understand it, "observation" and "observable" in regular QM are not mushy, they are just misleading. In every case the term "interaction" seems to cover the same ground. Where things go off the tracks is to mistake "observer" for consciousness. And now (thanks to Orange) I can see why this might be. It is the map-in-the-head problem. Paradoxically it seems to be the insistance on the non-materiality of mental expectations that drives the need to have a consistant material world as a boundary or an explicitly alien place. If I accept that my mental expectations are material, then the problem of materiality versus immateriality disappears and in its place you find the problems of translating between different kinds of expectation or just different uses of language and/or representation.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 08:19 PM
I don't follow. Why, when you utter those words, is that suddenly not about observable things?

If you say: " I think x is beyond the ridge," then you are referring to an observable phenomenon -- x -- that either is or is not beyond the ridge. So you go over the ridge, and either you observe x or you don't observe x.

Yes, but as long as I am myself a map then observing x is irrelevent because my function is simply to be followed. So all materiality moves into my head from the point of view of those who may or may not be expecting x.

theorange
04-26-2012, 08:23 PM
And so on. At each level in the process new amazing phenomena come into being in a variety not necessarily predictable from the level below.

Well, I think what you mean is that you cannot necessarily describe biology in terms of physics (though certainly scientists are trying!), that there is some irreducible complexity there. Well I definitely agree with that, but even so -- materialists nevertheless believe that everything that is, is observable by the senses. So it simply must be the case that beauty and love are also reducible to things that can be seen with the senses.

And that must mean at some level they are matter, that at some level they do follow physical laws. That prevents them from being transcendental.


I usually say that we live in a harmonious universe, where the simple constituent parts can be arranged in enormous variety by building level upon level. Just as notes can be arranged into chords, chords into the pieces of individual instruments and the playing of individual instruments can be arranged into symphonies.

But in theory even the entire sound of the orchestra can be described in terms of the sound waves that emanate from it.


Phenomena may have a material base (for a given value of material) but that does not remove the experience of the thing itself.

That's the thing. It shouldn't negate the experience, but the materialists think the experience is itself material. They think that doesn't negate the experience, but it does. For how can experience, what is private, be material, what is public? It cannot be both.


Knowledge of food chemistry and nutrition do not remove the taste of food, but they can help in deciding what foods are a good idea to eat.

And this is correct. It's simply that a materialistic philosophy would also hold that taste itself is something that can be reduced to interactions in the brain.


Just because the underlying events for this are neural firing and brain chemistry no more removes the experience then knowledge of organic chemistry destroys the taste of lunch.

Well, it doesn't remove the experience. It simply removes any claim that experience has to refer to something beyond, something more than neurons firing, something more than the working of a machine. And that's the whole point of such experiences; that they do point beyond.

theorange
04-26-2012, 08:27 PM
Yes, but as long as I am myself a map then observing x is irrelevent because my function is simply to be followed. So all materiality moves into my head from the point of view of those who may or may not be expecting x.

I'm still not comprehending. So someone is following you. They think you know where you are going. They expect that if they follow you they will get to x. That is the expectation in their minds, and it too deals with the observable.

"If I follow you, I will find x." That's the expectation in their minds. And then they follow you and either find x or they don't. That's a material test.

I don't really see how any of this rebuts the idea that a map refers to observable things...

Maxx
04-26-2012, 08:45 PM
I don't really see how any of this rebuts the idea that a map refers to observable things...

A map potentially refers to some things that some people might observe (assuming the right people have the right map at the right time). There's no logical rebuttal, I'm just pointing out that the notion of materiality is a simplification so extreme as to be misleading.

In the case of my silent progress as an effective map, the reference to materiality and/or observation remains in suspension or to put it another way the reference is all in my own expectation that I understood what I was supposedly told. As soon as I make this map available the unique reference disappears from its place in my head and becomes a different kind of (rather indirect) reference in a small community. It becomes a codified boundary, a communal expectation, a linguistic artefact whereas when it was all in my head, it was pure materiality in terms of being a pure expectation.

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 09:09 PM
As I understand it, "observation" and "observable" in regular QM are not mushy, they are just misleading. In every case the term "interaction" seems to cover the same ground. Where things go off the tracks is to mistake "observer" for consciousness. And now (thanks to Orange) I can see why this might be. It is the map-in-the-head problem. Paradoxically it seems to be the insistance on the non-materiality of mental expectations that drives the need to have a consistant material world as a boundary or an explicitly alien place. If I accept that my mental expectations are material, then the problem of materiality versus immateriality disappears and in its place you find the problems of translating between different kinds of expectation or just different uses of language and/or representation.

I didn't mean that the word 'observer' in QM was mushy, but that it gets mushy because of the everyday meaning of the word. That's why as you say interaction is in general a better word. What I was wondering was whether the current discussion was better served by the older more ambiguous term because of the definition of materialism we're currently faced with.

I like the way you've wrapped things together. I was trying to reach for something slightly different namely the reality of the uncollapsed state that becomes otherwise upon interaction. Hence the demand of observable materiality being out of date with the modern views of science.

RichardGarfinkle
04-26-2012, 09:18 PM
Well, I think what you mean is that you cannot necessarily describe biology in terms of physics (though certainly scientists are trying!), that there is some irreducible complexity there. Well I definitely agree with that, but even so -- materialists nevertheless believe that everything that is, is observable by the senses. So it simply must be the case that beauty and love are also reducible to things that can be seen with the senses.

And that must mean at some level they are matter, that at some level they do follow physical laws. That prevents them from being transcendental.



But in theory even the entire sound of the orchestra can be described in terms of the sound waves that emanate from it.



That's the thing. It shouldn't negate the experience, but the materialists think the experience is itself material. They think that doesn't negate the experience, but it does. For how can experience, what is private, be material, what is public? It cannot be both.



And this is correct. It's simply that a materialistic philosophy would also hold that taste itself is something that can be reduced to interactions in the brain.



Well, it doesn't remove the experience. It simply removes any claim that experience has to refer to something beyond, something more than neurons firing, something more than the working of a machine. And that's the whole point of such experiences; that they do point beyond.

But if the human, personal value of the experience is acknowledged and considered important as it is even by Dawkins and Hitchens, what does it matter if that experience is built up out of material structures or not? The former does not remove the vitality of the experience, anymore than knowing about the chemical structure of paint removes the experience of looking at a painting. My wife is a very good artist and skilled in the materials and techniques of paintings. She gets more out of a trip to a museum than I do, and not despite but because of her deeper understanding of the what, how, where, when, and why of the artworks.

Maxx
04-26-2012, 09:30 PM
I was trying to reach for something slightly different namely the reality of the uncollapsed state that becomes otherwise upon interaction. Hence the demand of observable materiality being out of date with the modern views of science.

The reality of the uncollapsed state -- which in terms of Feynmann's QED formalism (IIRC) is the same as the reality of a "Sum over (all possible) histories" -- is pretty emblematic of how far science has come in the details of its representation of the world from the early model of the material realm as a kind of theater of mechanical causes and effects. In terms of summing over history, the idea of a gene works in similar ways in that a gene is potentially many different things until expressed AND (of course) the very idea of a gene assumes it has a long-long history and in many ways this whole history IS the gene as an entity, which is all very far from any simple idea of materiality.

benbradley
04-27-2012, 01:54 AM
Well Dawkins may be one such scientist. The "new atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) are basically staunch materialists: they think that the only thing that exists is matter.

What that means is that personal conscious experience is nothing but matter. That means all morality, all beauty, love, everything is just matter... and just a matter of science.
Aha, the "Four Horsemen (https://www.google.com/search?q=Four+Horsemen&hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=vzC&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&prmd=imvns&source=univ&tbm=vid&tbo=u&sa=X&ei=AMKZT6KkAoXo9ASXp8SkBg&ved=0CKIBEKsE)." They should get a registered trademark on that term, though it's only three now.


The problem is that these people are not random. They are very influential, and they shape the worldview for a lot of highly educated people who think it's axiomatic that the mind is nothing but a machine evolution put together. It's becoming increasingly unfashionable and derided to have any other view. That's what's dangerous: that people think any other view is supernatural, irrational, etc.

While people like Dennett are at the extremely outspoken ends, the trickle-down versions of their philosophy are watering the trough for everyone else, including most scientists.



Er ... but he's a science fanboy, isn't he? Not an actual scientist.
According to Wikipedia, Dennett is a cognitive scientist. The book he-co-edited with Hofstdater, "The Mind's I," is fascinating in several ways, and I recommend it to anyone reading this thread. Much of it is about ideas that manipulate emotions - the "robot" stories in the book are especially good at this. But it's also about the philosophy of science and what the mind is.

Another interesting book s Roger Penrose's "The Emperor's New Mind," a critique of "hard" artificial intelligence that also includes an informal course in quantum mechanics (as I recall, that's a large part of the book). His argument is that the firings of neurons in the brain are influenced by quantum-level fluctuations, and so have a random component that cannot be reproduced by a deterministic machine (computer). It was a popular and important book, but many have dismissed the claim for many reasons, one being that the energies in a neuron are many orders of magnitude above any possible quantum influence, and so cannot have any significant influence. "Strong AI" has yet to be shown true or false, but despite the author's attempt, this book doesn't appear to offer strong evidence either way.

I think we may be arguing past each other.

I completely agree with you that science nowadays generates a lot from the manipulation of its theoretical and mathematical machinery.
I've read that as an argument against String/Superstring/M (whatever these things are called) Theory, that most if not all of the conclusions and claims are untestable. While this is an important area of modern theoretical physics, it doesn't appear to have any bearing on the recent posts in this thread.

And it's not really science per se that I have a problem with. It's about how science is regarded by many as the only method of finding truth that is the problem. That philosophy is what I call materialism.Okay, that's different definition than I envisioned. Maybe we could call the people who believe that "strong materialists."

Your use of the word "truth" bothers me a bit, because it has some connotations that aren't covered by science.

But science is abundantly successful in finding facts, and many of them very useful facts at that. It's hard to think what idea or activity or whatever would be in second place as far as finding facts - regardless, if measured by the number of facts, or just number of USEFUL facts, it would be a far distant second place from science.

Philosophy and/or logic might be in second place, though the facts generated might be more in dispute. Logic is actually a subset of mathematics, which is in its own world, but which is widely applicable to practical situations and scientific investigations.

So going just by past achievements, it's reasonable to see why someone would think science could answer all questions.

On the other hand, just because it's so succesful, it doesn't logically follow that it will continue to be so successful, so (as I see it) one cannot logically conclude that science will or can answer all questions.

I read your blogpost about the perception of colors, and yes it's interesting, and an argument I've heard before (though I don't recall where). I'm not sure that it's a successful argument, however.