Sunday, June 21, 2009

 

Now It Gets Interesting


It seems that there isn't just the accommodationists and the incompatiblists. There are the True Incompatiblists™ and the not-so-true incompatibilists.

According to Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne (and, presumably, PZ Myers, who has taken a similar position) are not the real sort of incompatibilists:

If [under the US Constitution] the proper teaching of science promotes a "religious" point of view, namely atheism, then science can't be taught in public schools. It's fun to watch the contortions that many atheists have to go through in order to escape the obvious conclusion. ...

Jerry Coyne tries to get around the problem by concentrating on the teaching of evolution (just the scientific truth) and not "science" ... I think this is disengenuous ...

Now we'll have to keep all the players straight. May I suggest we all call the True Incompatiblists "Churchillian Incompatibilists" and the untrue-blue incompatibilists the "Chamberlainian Incompatibilists"?

I believe there is some precedence for this.

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P.S. Can a Courtier's Reply for those who claim that an understanding of the intricacies of American Constitutional law is necessary before criticizing Chamberlainian Incompatibilism be far behind?
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Comments:
Oh, dear. Now this is just getting silly.

While it's clearly scientific to require that one's evidence for one's beliefs be justified in certain ways before the relevant epistemic community, I don't see how
"the scientific attitude" requires adopting that attitude towards all of one's beliefs.

And certainly there are large numbers of beliefs -- such as perceptual, mathematical, aesthetic, and ethical -- where the scientific conceptions of evidence and justification seem to be quite inappropriate.

The problem is perhaps two-fold: on the one hand, there are public intellectuals who insist on construing religious discourse as being in competition with scientific discourse, and as losing by the standards of science. (Dawkins, perhaps, or Sam Harris.)

On the other hand, there are public intellectuals who insist on construing religious (or, more broadly, metaphysical) discourse as being in competition with scientific discourse and as winning.

[I find it endlessly fascinating that the dominant 'meme' among cdesignproponentists is to say that it's Darwinism which is dogmatically metaphysical and design theory which is empirically grounded. I don't know how one can respond to this sort of "i'm rubber, you're glue" rhetoric.)

What's left out is all the various scientific, philosophical, and religious thinkers who don't see religious and scientific discourse as being in competition at all. Nor more than either is in competition with ethical, mathematical, or aesthetic discourse -- as I think your example with Turner the other day makes clear.
 
"Oh, dear. Now this is just getting silly."

Getting?
 
The question before us is whether the proper teaching of science is a threat to most religious beliefs.

Speak out if you think the answer is no. I'd like to hear some rational arguments.
 
The question before us is whether the proper teaching of science is a threat to most religious beliefs.

Speak out if you think the answer is no. I'd like to hear some rational arguments
.

Depends on what you mean by "threat." Will some adherents lose their faith because they are confronted by science that contradicts claims the religion about the natural world? Undoubtably. Will some close their ears to science and/or mangle the evidence to deny any conflict? Also undoubtably. Will religion evolve to take account of the evidence as Wilkins says? Again, undoubtably. Will religion go on? Almost certainly. What's the saying? You cannot reason people out of a position they have not reasoned themselves into.

The real question here is whether people have the political right to hold to beliefs that they did not reason themselves into or can government force their indoctrination into what some people (my self included, in many cases) may call "reason."

There are at least two reasons why I don't want government deciding which are or are not "proper" beliefs. 1) We all hold unreasoned beliefs and mine are no business of the government -- at most, my actions are, and then only if they actually inflict demonstrable harm on others. 2) Everyone thinks their beliefs are "reasoned" and experience tells me that I don't want any or all of the beliefs held by the majority of people forced on me. It only sounds good when it's your beliefs that are being forced on others.

Rational enough for you?
 
Carl Sachs says,

Nor more than either is in competition with ethical, mathematical, or aesthetic discourse -- as I think your example with Turner the other day makes clear.

This is irrelevant. When we talk about science as a way of knowing we're referring to a methodology that leads to understanding.

Some people like paintings by Turner and some people prefer Chinese calligraphy. Those choices have nothing to do with the concepts under discussion.

It's only when we try to understand *why* people like different things that we get into the realm of science and its competitors. I believe that scientific methodology can be used to understand why someone like John Pieret prefers Turner. Would anyone like to offer up another way of knowing that might provide insight into this question? Is religion going to help?

How about aesthetics? How will that "way of knowing" help me understand why some people like certain paintings and not others? Aesthetics is not a "way of knowing" and it doesn't lead to any real knowledge. It's just a simple description of a phenomenon.

Here's another example. I happen to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs while my friends in Montreal cheer for the Montreal Canadiens. Is there a scientific explanation for that difference or do we just throw up our hands and say that choosing your favorite team is just another way of knowing, like religion?

Let's say you encounter a Canadiens fan at a game in Toronto. Is there a way of knowing that might help you understand this apparent anomaly? Is there a prediction you might make in order to explain it? If so, what methodology are you applying?

Or would you just avoid wondering why there are Canadiens fans in Toronto because it's a question that scientific methodology can't answer?
 
John,

I would add a reason why the government shouldn't be in the belief business that partially overlaps with yours. The establishment clause is not just meant to protect individuals, but groups as well, which would experience just as much futility in trying to oppose a state monopoly on ideas. All groups are comprised of individuals, of course, but our belief systems are rarely, if ever, private. Without the right to assemble in ideological communities without any state interference (or, it goes without saying, any direct support) our personal autonomy as individuals is diminished.

It sounds crazy on first blush, but "truth" is not a valid defense for a monopoly of ideas in our system, and for good reason. I think this is something the two enlightenment traditions in conflict--rationality and universal rights--are going to have to work out.
 
It sounds crazy on first blush, but "truth" is not a valid defense for a monopoly of ideas in our system, and for good reason. I think this is something the two enlightenment traditions in conflict--rationality and universal rights--are going to have to work out.

I don't think that sounds crazy at all. In fact, I may ... um ... borrow it on occasion. With proper attribution, of course ... should I happen to think of it.
 
When we talk about science as a way of knowing we're referring to a methodology that leads to understanding.

Art, literature, music, philosophy and, probably, religion are ways of knowing about ourselves and the "human condition," i.e. how we emotionally and psychologically relate to the world and survive the vicissitudes of our lives. You may not value that sort of knowledge (or may not realize you do) but the fact that it is a different sort of knowledge and a different sort of understanding does not necessarily mean it is an inferior sort. After all, it is emotion and psychology that will probably determine which you value more highly.
 
In fact, I may ... um ... borrow it on occasion.

I thought I was getting it from you. Ah, hive mind...
 
John Pieret says,

Art, literature, music, philosophy and, probably, religion are ways of knowing about ourselves and the "human condition," i.e. how we emotionally and psychologically relate to the world and survive the vicissitudes of our lives.

The fact that you like a particular book doesn't help you one bit if your goal is to know why you like some books and not others. The fact that it involves emotions is a beginning but by then you've already brought biology into the picture and made a testable prediction.

Once you admit that psychology also has a role to play you are well on your way to "knowing" something about yourself. Of course, most of what you can learn from psychology is based on evidence and experiments. It's science, John, and not "literature" that really helps you know about yourself.

Let's take a specific example. Suppose that when asked about his favorite book a person replies that it's the Bible. What kind of process do you go through when you try to use that information to understand something about that person? Can you explain how the "literature" way of knowing helps, other than to provide background information?
 
Suppose that when asked about his favorite book a person replies that it's the Bible. What kind of process do you go through when you try to use that information to understand something about that person? Can you explain how the "literature" way of knowing helps, other than to provide background information?

Once again, Larry, you are missing the point by trying to objectify others (or even yourself) by reduction.

Let's see if I can explain it this way. Knowlege is not restricted to causation, even in science. There is even a respectable philosophical position, by no less an empiricist than Hume, which says we cannot experience causation and, therefore, it is unknowable (if not a figment of our imagination). But in any event, if we detect a new phenomena, even though we cannot yet explain it, that is knowledge, even scientific knowledge, and it is understanding about the way the world works even if it does not explain why the world works that way. It may not be complete knowledge and understanding (something that is in damn short supply, even in science) but it is knowledge and understanding.

When someone finds that, say, in the time of a personal tragedy, reading the Bible comforts her -- or maybe looking at Turner's paintings do -- she has learned something about her empiric (in the original sense) world of experience. It may not only be predictive of future experience but it may lead to insight as to what is more important to her and what is less (which may not itself be the cause of her experience).

You may feel that knowledge of causation is the highest form of knowledge but can you objectively demonstrate it is?
 
Larry writes:

The fact that you like a particular book doesn't help you one bit if your goal is to know why you like some books and not others.

That's true, as far as it goes. But if we take this to be what one's goal *should be* in approaching "art, literature, music, [and] philosophy" (leaving religion to the side for now), then we have seriously lost our way in how we prioritize the needs and benefits of our culture.

If you can't allow that Shakespeare--or alternate great artists of your choosing--reveal important truths about human nature and the human condition, then we have a cultural breakdown of a magnitude C.P. Snow could never have dreamed of.

I hope I misunderstand you, but if you are arguing that I can't properly understand the moral and aesthetic impact of Shakespeare without first appealing to biological understandings of why people seek out art and literature in the first place (as interesting and meaningful as that question may be), then I am at a loss as to how to even begin a conversation with you about ethical imperatives and priorities. Please tell me that I am over-reacting because I have missed something important about the point you are trying to make.

If art and literature do not lead to understanding, what do they lead to?
 
Underverse asks,

If art and literature do not lead to understanding, what do they lead to?

A great deal of the art and literature of Medieval Europe supported Roman Catholic dogma, including the subjugation of women and the suppression of heresy.

I personally don't count that as "understanding" or "knowledge." It's just a fact. In order to understand why Medieval Art and literature took those positions you have to look beyond the facts and test hypotheses that explain the phenomenon. What way of knowing do you think works best when you try to do that?

Will praying help?
 
Larry,

So let's agree that art and literature--or cultural forms very hard to differentiate from art and literature--sometimes propagandistically affirm the dominant values of their culture. This still seems like a partial answer. Unless you are saying they only do this? In which case maybe Plato was right, and we should banish all the poets?

What do I need to look beyond in order to get the "real" meaning of Shaespeare or Homer (or Turner), and does this mean great artists have no true ability to enrich on their own?
 
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