What is Scientism?

If you spend much time involved in science/religion discussions, you will inevitably hear the term “scientism” thrown around. Usually it is hurled as an epithet. In practical terms, to be accused of scientism is usually to be accused of being insufficiently respectful of religion.

But I’ve never entirely understood what scientism actually is. The usual definition is that scientism is the blinkered belief that science is the only reliable “way of knowing,” but this is vague until we have sharp definitions of “science” and “way of knowing.” Philosophers have devoted no small amount of attention to trying to determine what “knowledge” is, without coming to a definitive conclusion. One standard definition is that knowledge is “justified, true belief,” but now you’re stuck trying to define what constitutes a justification.

In the context of science/religion discussions, this definitional morass seems supremely unhelpful. It’s far too abstract. The real issue is very simple. If you are going to make assertions about how the world is, then it is on you to provide evidence for that assertion. Then people can decide for themselves if they think your evidence is any good. What science (defined in some reasonable, everyday sense) provides is a set of investigative methods that everyone regards as legitimate. In this it differs from religion, which points to sources of evidence, such as personal experience or the contents of holy texts, that are considered by many to be of highly dubious validity.

At any rate, the occasion for discussing this is this recent post by Michael Ruse. He was responding to this earlier post from David Barash, which opened thusly:

I love science, and you should, too, if only because it provides us with the best (perhaps the only) way of genuinely knowing the world.

Ruse took exception to this, writing:

What on earth induces someone to say that? Of course, if you are talking about empirical matters it is true. You want to find out about geology, go to a scientist and not to the Bible. But there is so much more about genuine knowledge of the world that science simply doesn’t even touch.

Now, if you read Barash’s post you will find that he pretty clearly was considering empirical matters. The more pressing issue, though, is how we can claim to have knowledge of non-empirical things. What are these areas of genuine knowledge that science doesn’t even touch? Ruse provides three examples. Here’s the first:

Start with mathematics. It can be applied to the world, but does anyone really think that it is a matter of generalizing from experience? What about the Euler identity? It is true. It is beautiful. But what’s it about? To be honest, I am not quite sure what it is. As one who has an undergraduate degree in mathematics, I am half inclined to Platonism, thinking it describes an ideal world of ultimate reality. But one thing I do know. It isn’t science. (And if you object that because it is about an ideal world then it isn’t about our world, you still have the very non-scientific question of how claims about the ideal world apply to things going on in our physical world.)

This is a strange paragraph. Reducing science to “generalizing from experience” seems awfully limiting. I would have thought that mathematical modeling and deductive reasoning are part of the standard toolkit of science, meaning that mathematical knowledge is hardly a counterexample to scientism.

Moreover, it is not so clear that mathematics is not a matter of generalizing from experience. Mathematicians study abstract objects, but those objects, in most cases, originate from a consideration of the world. Take Ruse’s example of Euler’s identity, for example. We are talking about this equation:


\[
e^{i \pi}+1=0
\]

Where does this come from? Well, the idea of an exponential function is pretty clearly a generalization from experience. Nature provides numerous examples of exponential growth, after all. Likewise for the idea of a polynomial function, and it is through a study of their roots that people were led to formulate the notion of imaginary numbers. The number pi arises in a similar fashion. That the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is a constant is pretty clearly an empirical fact about the world.

Thus, the basic building blocks of Euler’s identity plainly arise as generalizations from experience. The next step is this: Once you have the separate ideas of real exponential functions and complex numbers, it makes sense to ask what a complex exponential function could look like. The standard definition


\[
e^{i \theta} = \cos \ \theta + i \sin \ \theta
\]

arises as a consequence of requiring that our complex exponential function be defined in a way that is consistent with what we know about real exponential functions. That is, it is a convention established because it is useful. Euler’s identity now follows as a logical consequence of that definition.

We come to know Euler’s identity first by defining certain abstract objects based on our contemplation of the world, then by establishing certain useful conventions for how we shall manipulate those objects, and then by applying deductive reasoning to discover previously unsuspected relationships among these objects and conventions. How is that not science? Which part of that is something that a scientist, in his professional role, could not do?

But just for the sake of argument let’s suppose we are absolutely determined to define our terms in such a way that mathematical knowledge is not part of science. Very well. Since I am happy to grant that mathematics provides knowledge, I will consider scientism to be refuted. In its place I will suggest a new notion called “scienceandmathematism,” which is defined as the idea that science and mathematics are the only reliable routes to knowledge. Happy now?

There is plenty more to comment on in Ruse’s paragraph, but let’s move on to his next example:

Go on to morality. Take the appalling story of the mother who shot herself and her children in a Texas welfare office. Everything that is coming out suggests that there was a dreadful breakdown of services there. I say the authorities should be ashamed of themselves; we as part of the society should all be ashamed of ourselves. I think this is true. It is about the world as much as the fact that the DNA molecule is a double helix. But it isn’t a scientific statement. David Hume taught us that you cannot justify matters of morality on the basis of matters of fact.

Even if we take that at face value, it’s a refutation of positivism, not scientism. The issue before us is not whether we can make meaningful but nonscientific statements about the world. Moral statements are only a refutation of scientism if you assert that we can learn their truth values by some method that isn’t scientific. From the way Ruse phrased this paragraph, it seems clear that he sees it as a statement of opinion, not of fact, that the authorities should be ashamed of themselves in this case. At least in this case, then, he is not asserting that we can have knowledge of, as opposed to strong opinions about, the truth or falsity of moral assertions.

As it happens, morality is an area where people claim there is a nonscientific route to knowledge. Many people argue, for example, that we learn facts about morality by reading the Bible. I know that Ruse has no sympathy for such claims. Moreover, science clearly has a big role to play in moral reasoning, by uncovering facts about the world that most people would regard as relevant to moral judgments. I wonder, then, why Ruse considers moral assertions to be such a devastating retort to Barash.

Here’s Ruse’s final example:

Continue with the kind of discussion we are having now. The very statement that science is the best and perhaps the only way to genuine knowledge of the world is no scientific statement. It is a meaningful statement and it is a meaningful statement about the world, but it isn’t something you are going to find under a microscope.

Once again, Ruse seems to be taking aim at positivism, not scientism. The issue here isn’t meaningfulness, it’s knowledge. Even if we grant that scientism is not itself the conclusion of a scientific investigation, that would not imply that scientism is false. It would only imply we could not know that it is true.

But why can’t we justify scientism on scientific grounds? I would think there is a plausible argument to be made that our confidence in scientism is an inductive inference from the persistent success of science coupled with persistent lack of success of all other routes to knowledge. Ruse earlier defined science as a generalization from experience. Is that not precisely the basis for a confident assertion of scientism?

Certainly the distinctively religious ways of knowing that people have suggested over the years have frequently proven themselves unreliable. Philosophical and ethical analysis are certainly valuable activities, but it seems strange to me to describe them as ways of knowing. What they provide is not knowledge, but clarity.

Ruse closes with this:

I have spent over 30 years fighting religious fanatics and am used to being roughed up by them. But increasingly I am noticing that scientists are arguing that if it isn’t science then it isn’t genuine. I should say that this is a two-way thing. I am shocked and ashamed of how many of my fellow philosophers don’t respect science and its achievements. I will get to this in the next week or so. For the moment, let me simply beg the scientific community not to fall into the trap of the religious and think that they uniquely have the answers to every question worth asking. The questions I posed above are really worth asking and if you disagree then it is back to John Stuart Mill yet again. Pigs and fools only think they know better because they are ignorant.

I simply have no idea what Ruse is talking about. How on earth does he go from Barash’s statement to the idea that scientists uniquely have the answer to every question worth asking? Who’s saying that? The issue isn’t which questions are and are not worth asking. Rather, the issue is how do we justify assertions that we “know” the answers to any of those questions. \Many questions are simultaneously worth asking and not answerable by science alone. To refute scientism, though, you need to show that they can be answered by methods that are not scientific. Ruse has not done that.

I don’t know what it means to say, “[I]f it isn’t science it isn’t genuine.” Genuine what? What I do know is that an assertion that science is the best, and perhaps the only, way of genuinely knowing the world is not a diss to the humanities. It certainly is not a rejection of mathematics, philosophy or ethical reasoning. And if you are going to argue that the assertion is false then it is your burden to point to a better way, and to indicate the knowledge provided by that alternate method.

Comments

  1. #1 xmncv
    December 17, 2011

    What’s really amazing is that when reading the Bible, which was supposedly given to people by the creator, god’s creations should be able to, at least:

    1)immediately recognize the fact that they have a creator;
    2)indeed find answers to all their questions.

    However, this is not happening.

    The scope of morality described in the Bible does not encompass the wrongdoings perpetuated against people in the modern society, which requires the state to add more laws to the basic Biblical commandments,that would curb these type of activities Furthermore, morality is not a method by which one would want to find out the truth, because it always leads to the same conclusion – how could God create such an atrocity!

  2. #2 Ned Rosen
    December 17, 2011

    You mean e^(i*Pi) + 1 = 0, I think.

  3. #3 Ron Murphy
    December 17, 2011

    There is only one way of knowing, and that’s the same method that is available to us all, scientists, philosophers and theists. It’s all basic human knowledge acquistion. Science, as a general approach to knowledge acquistion, is merely the application of rigorous methods developed over some time, and sometimes, but not always, using designed instruments to extend the scope of our obsrevations. Science (or more specifically the scientists doing the science), in this broad sense, uses all the faculties available to all humans: sensory experience and critical thinking. Philosophers and theists have nothing extra available to them, so I’m not sure what ‘other ways of knowing’ are supposed to exist. Some theists, such as Alvin Planting, posit faculties such as sensus divinitatis, but without any evidence, and with very poor reasoning.  

    All other varations on how humans view the world, such as ethics, aesthetics, are simply more of the same human knowledge acquisition, except with a greater reliance on intuitive as opposed to analytical methods of thinking about our experiences – but still consist of reasoning about empirical experiences in the world. That we rely more on intuitively honed skills for various art forms, rather than the methodological rigor associated with what we think of as science, only adds to the mystery of the former – and demystification is always in danger of exposing flim-flam (a Pinker term I think).  

    In this context ‘science’ is the only way of knowing. Yes, there are other ways of thinking. But thinking alone, without empirical verification or falsification, is no more than speculation, no matter how valid the deductive reasoning used, because all such deductive reasoning can be analysed back to premises or presuppositions that if not verified empirically are merely unsubstantiated assertions.  

    And in this same context any cry of ‘scientism’ is a bogus charge made by, usually, philosophers and theists who have had their noses pushed out of joint by many scientists falsifying, or worse, simply ignoring and bypassing, some treasured philosophy and theology. I’m not objecting to genuine criticisms of any science, since science in the hands of humans is bound to be a flawed and contingent process; and anyway, such critical scrutiny is one of the features built into the methodology of science in direct acknowledgement of the frailties of our very human senses and reasoning.  

    No. Such charges of scientism are just so much hot air. Philosophers and theologians huffing and puffing in a vain attempt to bolster some credibility in the face of the increasing embarassment of the failure of their disciplines to make any significant contribution to human knowledge acquisition in this century, or even in the latter part of the last.  

    There have been a few spats between scientists on the one hand and philosophers and theists on the other about science’s supremecy, or scientism: Jerry Coyne, PeterAtkins, Stephen Law, Micael Ruse, and yes, Alvin Planting. I’ve covered some of this, in a wider context, here: http://ronmurp.net/thinking/ with the later posts referencing some of these.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 17, 2011

    I’ve corrected the error. Thanks for pointing it out.

  5. #5 Nick (Matzke)
    December 17, 2011

    Jason,

    The criticism of “scientism” didn’t come out of nowhere last week, it has been circulating for decades. It is true that there is some variation in what people are attacking when they invoke the word “scientism”, but it is not true that the word is meaningless, or that the things being criticized with the word “scientism” are A-OK and the people using the word are all idiot postmodernists or whatever.

    Let me try to outline some of the things that people are often worrying about when they make make the “scientism” charge.

    First of all, what people usually have in mind when they make the “scientism” charge is quite often something close to positivism or logical positivism — by which is usually meant something like the statement that the only meaningful claims are ones that are empirically verifiable (and IIRC you imply you disavow positivism in your post, above). The whole logical positivism program collapsed in philosophy decades ago, under the criticisms of Popper among others, but you will still find the cruder and brasher sorts of science popularizers using positivist rhetoric without qualification.

    Then, there are a broad swath of concerns about cases where it appears that certain scientists and science-popularizers have got the idea into their heads that society would be a better place if the people performing function X in society would stop their woolly-headed unscientific nonsense and instead step aside and let the Really Smart People, The Scientists, do it instead. This is usually accompanied by brash confidence that if some good strong reductionists worked on the problem for a bit, we scientists would have the problem licked just like we licked genetics and atomic theory. X often includes things like moral reasoning, politics, criminal justice, philosophy about consciousness and free will, human mate choice, and of course the various roles that religion plays in society.

    It would be rare for one person to go after all of these, but it is not rare for some scientist to feel too big for his britches and end up saying some really audacious, often silly things.

    Random examples:

    * Galton suggesting that committees be established to approve the genetic health of marriages before they happen;

    * eugenics in general;

    * BF Skinner’s bizarre behaviorism,

    * and the connected idea that anthropomorphizing animals was completely inappropriate, and we could never safely infer that they had emotions and feelings like those of humans;

    * the idea popular a few decades back that cuddling babies and cooing at them was a bad idea (recently this experienced a brief flashback, when Jerry Coyne on his blog said he’s talk to his young children like they were adults, if he had any children)

    * E.O. Wilson suggesting in his famous book “Sociobiology” that moral philosophy would soon become a branch of behavioral biolgoy and neuroscience

    * Coyne recently concluding, based on some armchair blog philosophizing, that free will doesn’t exist and we should redo criminal justice from the ground up on the basis of his conclusion that personal responsibility doesn’t exist, and that someone who commits murder because of poverty isn’t any different than someone who commits murder because of a brain tumor.

    * Dawkins and other “memeologists” attempt to replace standard humanities approaches (like history) for understanding the spread of religion and other ideas with the idea of the “meme”, an analogy to the gene concept that still, decades later, lacks a similar objectively-identifiable unit of heredity (amongst other problems)

    * The common assertions amongst the gnus that all of the charity and community and similar good stuff that organized religions provide isn’t unique to religion, and could easily be provided by humanist/atheist organizations without the dumb religion, which the humanist/atheist organizations will do real soon now, and have been planning to have real soon for the better part of the 20th century.

    Much of the stuff above is not, actually, the result of serious scholarship or serious policy work, it is more a kind of fantastic wish-fufillment by people who’ve gotten so besotted by science-boosterism (and who are so deeply ensconced in the weird, protected world of academia) that they’ve lost the broader perspectives about human nature and society that would reveal the severe problems with all of these things.

    Much of the above is just the product of “when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” thinking. I’m reminded of Edward Teller, the big booster of nukes, who once argued that it would be a great idea to make nice new artificial harbors by using fusion bombs. It takes a really smart person to come up with an idea that spectacularly dumb.

    Finally, I think there is a third category that gets labeled “scientism”, which basically refers to scientific triumphalist rhetoric, along the lines of Ruse’s language that scientists “uniquely have the answers to every question worth asking”. If you don’t think this kind of thing exists, read PZ’s or Coyne’s blog for awhile, and the comments from their fans. I have seen arguments to the effect that things like love and jazz are just special cases of scientific investigation. This sort of twisting of words is done to defend what would otherwise be indefensible statements about how science is the only guide to truth, and/or how the only truths worth knowing are scientific ones.

    Whether or not it is easy to put our finger on a nice, tight, definition of scientism, the kind of sillynesses I’ve listed above does exist, and does deserve to be criticized. I don’t care so much about whether the term used for it is “scientism”, but it is one of the prominent terms that has been used for decades, and it is nicely distinct from “science” (making it perfectly possible to defend science while pointing out the problems with scientism), so I think the usage of the term will remain as long as there are scientists out there who get carried away with science-yay talk and who have lost track of how science is just one important, but moderate-sized, part of a much larger and much more complex modern society.

    Additional notes:

    * See Mary Midgley’s books “Evolution as a Religion” and “Science as Salvation” for a review of this kind of thing in the 1980s and 1990s

    * One other type of scientific triumphalist rhetoric is the kind of thing promulgated by Dennett, who famously claimed that Darwin’s natural selection idea was “the best idea anyone ever had” (paraphrase from memory). What?!? I’m a huge fan of evolution, but I can think of even better ideas off the top of my head. Representative democracy. Separation of church and state. Human rights. Heliocentrism. Dennett’s rhetoric, and similar rhetoric from e.g. Dawkins, is usually about disproving God and getting rid of religion, and I guess if one is sufficiently obsessed about God and religion, killing God might seem like the most important thing anyone ever did, ever — but this sense of importance is basically inherited from religion. If you just don’t care very much about religion, your view of what is important shifts quite a bit.

    I tend to think that the most important things that humans have to do involve not getting everyone killed, and thus the most important tasks are (a) avoid genocide and war, (b) alleviate human misery, and (c) avoid environmental collapse. Thus the most important ideas are really democracy and human rights, which are definitely the best solution for (a) and (b), and hopefully will be for (c). Science is an important, crucial part of this larger project, but it’s just a part. If the rhetoric of science gets used in ways that dehumanize people, for example, or which if taken seriously would take freedom away from individuals and puts it into the hands of government actors without strong checks and balances, well then, I’m against it, no matter how effusive the science-ish rhetoric.

    Finally:

    What I do know is that an assertion that science is the best, and perhaps the only, way of genuinely knowing the world is not a diss to the humanities. It certainly is not a rejection of mathematics, philosophy or ethical reasoning. And if you are going to argue that the assertion is false then it is your burden to point to a better way, and to indicate the knowledge provided by that alternate method.

    Yes, such rhetoric *is* a diss to the humanities, and everything else nonscience-y. How else could it possibly be taken? If the statement was that science is “a great and very important way of knowing the natural world”, well then, no one would complain. But the *best* or *only* way of *genuinely* knowing *the world*? (“the world” without qualification means “everything”) But didn’t Shakespeare teach us anything worth knowing? Didn’t Beethoven? What about James Madison? Abraham Lincoln? Steven Spielberg? Ansel Adams? Either one can admit that “science is the best, and perhaps the only, way of genuinely knowing the world” is a bit too strong, and a careful, maximally accurate scholarly statement would require some qualification… or, one can try and argue that Shakespeare et al. were actually doing science. I’ve seen bloggers and commentators try the latter in various places, it’s never pretty.

  6. #6 Thanny
    December 17, 2011

    This is just another case of having your cake while eating it, too.

    Those hurling accusations of “scientism” do so, at best, in response to claims about science broadly construed, where looking out the window to see if it’s raining or not is a scientific act (i.e. rational inquiry). Under this broad definition, philosophy itself (done correctly), is simply a branch of science.

    But in the process of formulating the accusation, the word “scientism” is defined in terms of science narrowly construed – the vocation of professional scientists, involving labs, telescopes, soil samples, etc.

    So really, anyone crying “scientism” is being fundamentally dishonest, and knowingly so. Philosophers like Ruse do it out of a sense of territoriality, most likely – the notion that correct philosophy is really just a form of science is anathema to him. Theologians employ the slur as yet one more piece of obfuscation in their fruitless attempts to describe the emperor’s non-existent clothes.

  7. #7 Anton Mates
    December 17, 2011

    I’m an intuitionist when it comes to math, so I’m quite happy to fold it into science. Mathematics is a sub-branch of psychology, for me.

    From the way Ruse phrased this paragraph, it seems clear that he sees it as a statement of opinion, not of fact, that the authorities should be ashamed of themselves in this case. At least in this case, then, he is not asserting that we can have knowledge of, as opposed to strong opinions about, the truth or falsity of moral assertions.

    I don’t think that’s exactly what he’s saying. I think he’s drawing a distinction between fact and truth: We can have knowledge of the truth/falsity of moral assertions, but their truth/falsity is nonetheless not factual.

    Mind you, I don’t understand what he means by that. The concept of “nonfactual truth” seems vacuous to me. But I don’t think he’s denying the possibility of moral knowledge; on the contrary, isn’t he bringing up morality precisely because he thinks it allows for “genuine knowledge?”

    I would think there is a plausible argument to be made that our confidence in scientism is an inductive inference from the persistent success of science coupled with persistent lack of success of all other routes to knowledge.

    I’m not sure you can accept those premises without assuming scientism in the first place, though. Otherwise, how would we know that all those other routes to knowledge have shown a persistent lack of success? Maybe one of them has been massively successful, and you just don’t realize it because the knowledge provided by that route is unconfirmable by any other means.

    If someone accepts other ways of knowing in the first place, they probably also believe that those other ways have successfully provided us with knowledge in the past.

  8. #8 Scott_G
    December 18, 2011

    When people take pain Medication, they feel better, and afterward, we have no proof that they feel better just first or second hand knowlege. Likewise Bible facts tell us of historical events and people and places.

    As for Science, many doing Science or say that they are can’t do math.
    For example:
    If the Universe is 14.3 Billion years, how is it that Matter could travel from a single point in a big bang, out to the edge of what we observe as the universe 45 billion light years away, then shine back to us. That two way trip should take 90 billion years at the speed of light.

    You can suggest folding space, but if thats so, that same unfolding of space would lengthen the trip from the light from those stars to us.

    It just goes to show you that they haven’t a clue, but made up fairy tales to find some way to explain the creation of man without God.

    Fact is, they are wrong way wrong.

  9. #9 AL
    December 18, 2011

    From the way Ruse phrased this paragraph, it seems clear that he sees it as a statement of opinion, not of fact, that the authorities should be ashamed of themselves in this case.

    Actually, he says “I think this is true” and goes on to say it’s a fact of the world just like DNA being a double helix is a fact of the world. I’m under the impression he thinks moral claims can be regarded as factually true, not just opinion.

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 18, 2011

    AL –

    Ruse wrote:

    I say the authorities should be ashamed of themselves; we as part of the society should all be ashamed of ourselves. I think this is true. It is about the world as much as the fact that the DNA molecule is a double helix. But it isn’t a scientific statement.

    I took “I think this is true” to mean “It is my opinion that it is true.” And I took “It is about the world as much as the fact that the DNA molecule is a double helix” to mean not that his moral judgment in this case is a fact like the double helix structure of DNA, but that moral concerns are as much a part of our experience of the world as are empirical questions about DNA.

    But you might be right that I’ve misinterpreted him, and that his intention was to say that moral questions have factual answers that we discover by some means other than science. Rereading that paragraph in light of your comment, it does seem more vague to me than it did on a first reading. But if I have misunderstood him then I would like to know how he thinks we come to discover moral truths.

  11. #11 robert landbeck
    December 18, 2011

    “if you are going to argue that the assertion is false then it is your burden to point to a better way, and to indicate the knowledge provided by that alternate method.”

    Alvin Plantinga recently wrote in one of his many apologist rants, “You really can’t sensibly claim theistic belief is irrational without showing it isn’t true.”

    And that ‘show’ is exactly what’s happening as I write!
    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise and predefined experience, a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious claim testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation now exists. Nothing short of a religious revolution is getting under way. More info at http://www.energon.org.uk

  12. #12 Richard Wein
    December 18, 2011

    “Scientism” is a vague pejorative, generally used to describe anyone who doesn’t accept the speaker’s simplistic demarcationist claims about the nature of science. I suggest adopting “demarcationist” as a pejorative term to use in response. What demarcationists usually fail to realise is that the word “science” is too vague in meaning for science to have other than very fuzzy boundaries.

    That’s not say that there is no limit to what can reasonably be called “science”. But given the vague and tentative nature of Barash’s statement (he used the word “perhaps”) Ruse’s response strikes me as an attempt to pick an unnecessary fight. Moreover, Barash specifically restricted his statement to “the world”, which most people would interpret as excluding pure abstractions like mathematics.

    On that point Ruse wrote: “(And if you object that because it is about an ideal world then it isn’t about our world, you still have the very non-scientific question of how claims about the ideal world apply to things going on in our physical world.)”

    I think this is a seriously misguided way of looking at things. There is no “ideal world” in any useful sense. Empirical facts (facts about reality) and mathematical facts are very different sorts of facts. Mathematical facts are pure abstractions. They tell us the logical consequences of a formal system. But our system of mathematics is not just an arbitrary formal system. We’ve adopted this particularly formal system because it’s proven so useful in modelling reality. However a mathematical fact tells us nothing about reality except in conjunction with a mathematical model of reality. And those mathematical models must be based on empirical observation.

    I would agree with Jason to the extent that mathematics is historically rooted in generalizing from experience. But it has since been abstracted from those roots. I’ve little doubt, for example, that people first started using natural numbers and basic operations like addition because they found them useful in describing and predicting the world they observed. But at some later time they found they could perform arithmetic in the abstract, without reference to any real objects. From that point arithmetic could be treated as a pure abstraction, a formal system independent of its relevance to reality, but still having relevance to reality when we use it as a tool for modelling reality. Once abstracted from reality, mathematics can proceed without any need for empirical data. Insofar as we still feel the need to root the formal system we can use formal axioms, such as Peano’s axioms for the natural numbers.

    Jason wrote: “But just for the sake of argument let’s suppose we are absolutely determined to define our terms in such a way that mathematical knowledge is not part of science.”

    Well, I would say it’s not a matter of arbitrary determination, but simply remaining consistent with conventional usage of the words. Even if the conventional sense of the word is unhelpful, it’s difficult to insist that people use a word in your preferred sense rather than a long-established conventional sense. But I think there is a distinction worth making between science and mathematics, by virtue of the fact that mathematics can be treated as a pure abstraction.

    Jason wrote: “Very well. Since I am happy to grant that mathematics provides knowledge, I will consider scientism to be refuted. In its place I will suggest a new notion called “scienceandmathematism,” which is defined as the idea that science and mathematics are the only reliable routes to knowledge. Happy now?”

    I can’t see the point. The word “scientism” is too vague in meaning for it to be considered more than a vague pejorative. Even given your definition, how “reliable” must a way of knowing be to qualify? I think that the methods historians use to infer historical facts are reasonably reliable, but we don’t call them “science”. Even everyday observation is reliable enough for many purposes. Presumably you don’t want to say you’re engaging in “science” when you simply look at the sky and infer that it’s raining. Yet that is usually a reliable enough inference for deciding whether to take an umbrella with you. My advice is to decline the invitation to play the demarcationist game.

  13. #13 Richard Wein
    December 18, 2011

    @AL

    > I’m under the impression he thinks moral claims can be regarded as factually true, not just opinion.

    In the past I’ve found Ruse highly equivocal on the subject of metaethics. He seems to be taking a moral realist position here, though he has previously expressed skepticism about moral realism. Whatever his own view, it seems unreasonable for him to take for granted the existence of moral facts, when at the very least he knows this is a controversial view among philosophers.

  14. #14 Larry Moran
    December 18, 2011

    Michael Ruse DEFINES science in such a way that it pretty much excludes everything except geology, physics, chemistry, and biology.

    Note that philosophy is not on the list. That’s why Ruse can never accept that science is the only way of knowing.

    Many of us define science as a way of knowing that requires evidence, healthy skepticism, and rational thinking. By this definition, Michael Ruse is practicing the scientific way of knowing all the time. (And so are historians, psychologists, and professors of English literature.) By this definition there are no other ways of acquiring knowledge (justified, true belief)—at least none that are widely accepted.

    The examples that Ruse mentions seem obvious to him because they do not involve experiments and they don’t yield “scientific” laws. That means the knowledge wasn’t gained by science (sensu Ruse).

    This creates a problem for Ruse that he doesn’t acknowledge. It’s okay for him to base his argument against scientism on his restricted definition of science—although he should have made that clear—but it’s not okay to assume that everyone else uses the same definition. I don’t know anyone who thinks that Ruse’s version of science is the only way of knowing. That would be very silly.

    As usual, Ruse’s myopic view of science get him into trouble.

  15. #15 Richard Wein
    December 18, 2011

    [Re-post. Sorry if this has appeared twice.]

    “Scientism” is a vague pejorative, generally used to describe anyone who doesn’t accept the speaker’s simplistic demarcationist claims about the nature of science. I suggest adopting “demarcationist” as a pejorative term to use in response. What demarcationists usually fail to realise is that the word “science” is too vague in meaning for science to have other than very fuzzy boundaries.

    That’s not say that there is no limit to what can reasonably be called “science”. But given the vague and tentative nature of Barash’s statement (he used the word “perhaps”) Ruse’s response strikes me as an attempt to pick an unnecessary fight. Moreover, Barash specifically restricted his statement to “the world”, which most people would interpret as excluding pure abstractions like mathematics.

    On that point Ruse wrote: “(And if you object that because it is about an ideal world then it isn’t about our world, you still have the very non-scientific question of how claims about the ideal world apply to things going on in our physical world.)”

    I think this is a seriously misguided way of looking at things. There is no “ideal world” in any useful sense. Empirical facts (facts about reality) and mathematical facts are very different sorts of facts. Mathematical facts are pure abstractions. They tell us the logical consequences of a formal system. But our system of mathematics is not just an arbitrary formal system. We’ve adopted this particularly formal system because it’s proven so useful in modelling reality. However a mathematical fact tells us nothing about reality except in conjunction with a mathematical model of reality. And those mathematical models must be based on empirical observation.

    I would agree with Jason to the extent that mathematics is historically rooted in generalizing from experience. But it has since been abstracted from those roots. I’ve little doubt, for example, that people first started using natural numbers and basic operations like addition because they found them useful in describing and predicting the world they observed. But at some later time they found they could perform arithmetic in the abstract, without reference to any real objects. From that point arithmetic could be treated as a pure abstraction, a formal system independent of its relevance to reality, but still having relevance to reality when we use it as a tool for modelling reality. Once abstracted from reality, mathematics can proceed without any need for empirical data. Insofar as we still feel the need to root the formal system we can use formal axioms, such as Peano’s axioms for the natural numbers.

    Jason wrote: “But just for the sake of argument let’s suppose we are absolutely determined to define our terms in such a way that mathematical knowledge is not part of science.”

    Well, I would say it’s not a matter of arbitrary determination, but simply remaining consistent with conventional usage of the words. Even if the conventional sense of the word is unhelpful, it’s difficult to insist that people use a word in your preferred sense rather than a long-established conventional sense. But I think there is a distinction worth making between science and mathematics, by virtue of the fact that mathematics can be treated as a pure abstraction.

    Jason wrote: “Very well. Since I am happy to grant that mathematics provides knowledge, I will consider scientism to be refuted. In its place I will suggest a new notion called “scienceandmathematism,” which is defined as the idea that science and mathematics are the only reliable routes to knowledge. Happy now?”

    I don’t think either word is useful. How “reliable” must a way of knowing be to qualify? I think that the methods historians use to infer historical facts are reasonably reliable, but we don’t call them “science”. Even everyday observation is reliable enough for many purposes. Presumably you don’t want to say you’re engaging in “science” when you simply look at the sky and infer that it’s raining. Yet that is usually a reliable enough inference for deciding whether to take an umbrella with you.

  16. #16 Lee Meadows
    December 18, 2011

    Thank you for this post. You’ve given us a lot of good ideas to chew on. As always, the definition of terms can be the basis of the rancor in the debate.

    The National Academy of Sciences uses the term “scientism” in its book Science, Evolution, and Creatiionism. See page 15 at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11876 . If the National Academy got term ring, then perhaps the discussion has a really long way to go.

  17. #17 Richard Wein
    December 18, 2011

    @Larry

    If you define “science” such as to include all sorts of inference, including history, mathematics and simple observation, then you’ve significantly changed the meaning of the word. Words have meanings established by prior usage. If you stipulate a revised meaning of your own, then you’re talking a private language. You can hardly complain when other people continue to use and understand the word in its established sense.

    > I don’t know anyone who thinks that Ruse’s version of science is the only way of knowing. That would be very silly.

    It’s not “Ruse’s version”. As far as I can tell, Ruse is taking the word “science” in its established sense. If people choose to use words in non-standard senses, it’s up to them to make their meaning clear. In fact, it would facilitate clear communication if you stopped speaking your own private language, and found a way to express your views in standard English.

    That said, Ruse should try to be charitable. I expect it’s usually true that those who make claims like “science is the only way of knowing” have in mind some more restricted claim than the most extreme possible interpretation of those words. But it doesn’t automatically follow that they are adopting your definition of “science”. There are other ways in which they might be restricting their claim.

    I think Ruse was particularly uncharitable in his interpretation of Barash. Barash’s comment was clearly intended as a vague aside, and not as a specific philosophical claim. If, however, you are out to make some specific point, the onus is on you to make your meaning clear.

  18. #18 Michael Dowd
    December 18, 2011

    Fabulous post, Jason. Here are a few other good resources on the subject…

    Dan Dennett on “Scientism”
    http://richarddawkins.net/videos/517674-daniel-dennett-on-scientism 

    Defending Science – Within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism – by Susan Haack
    http://www.amazon.com/Defending-Science-Within-Reason-Scientism-Cynicism/dp/1591021170

    A defense of naturalism — and scientism
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/a-defense-of-naturalism—and-scientism/

    “Six Signs of Scientism” – by Susan Haack 
    http://bit.ly/abLBh0

    Subjective beliefs are not the same as objective knowledge

  19. #19 coelsblog
    December 18, 2011

    Richard Wein writes:

    If you define “science” such as to include all sorts of inference, including history, mathematics and simple observation, then you’ve significantly changed the meaning of the word.

    I tend to agree with Larry here, and this wide sense of “science” accords with how I use the word. It gets hard to defend any narrower sense that still encompasses everything usually accepted as within science.

    Further, the whole point of “scientism” (it seems to me) is the claim that the world of knowledge is a seamless whole (without clearly demarked zones where science cannot enter), and if that is correct then “ways of knowing” are also a seamless whole, and thus there is no (non-arbitrary) boundary between any narrower sense of “science” and a wider sense of “science” — in which case let’s use the wider one.

  20. #20 Owlmirror
    December 18, 2011

    The National Academy of Sciences uses the term “scientism” in its book Science, Evolution, and Creatiionism. See page 15

    Citing the context:

    Scientists, like people in other professions, hold a wide range of positions about religion and the role of supernatural forces or entities in the universe. Some adhere to a position known as scientism, which holds that the methods of science alone are sufficient for discovering everything there is to know about the universe. Others ascribe to an idea known as deism, which posits that God created all things and set the universe in motion but no longer actively directs physical phenomena. Others are theists, who believe that God actively intervenes in the world. Many scientists
    who believe in God, either as a prime mover or as an active force in the universe, have written eloquently about their beliefs.

    They may intend “scientism” in the broadest sense — that which is founded on logic and mathematics, and that which is discovered by studying empirical evidence.

    If the National Academy got term ring, then perhaps the discussion has a really long way to go.

    I note that one of the editors is Francisco Ayala, who is an accomodationist, and promotes the accomodationist position (as espoused on that page) that scientists can say that they see no conflict between their faith and science.

    I note that the page is carefully worded not to actually assert that there is no conflict, only that there are scientists who say they see no conflict. Very cagey.

  21. #21 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    December 18, 2011

    I note that the page is carefully worded not to actually assert that there is no conflict, only that there are scientists who say they see no conflict. Very cagey.

    That is at least an improvement over past statements from NAS and AAAS.

  22. #22 Owlmirror
    December 18, 2011

    That is at least an improvement over past statements from NAS and AAAS.

    Actually, on scrolling up to page 12, I found this far less cagey paragraph:

    Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence [!], and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

    (the interpolated exclamation point is mine)

    Oh, dear. Oh, dear.

  23. #23 Richard Wein
    December 18, 2011

    @coelsblog

    I quite agree that there are no clear, principle-based lines of demarcation between differerent types of inference (except perhaps between empirical inferences and purely abstract inferences such as those of mathematics). But that doesn’t mean that no distinctions can be made. There are also no principle-based lines of demarcation between children and adults, but that doesn’t mean that no distinction can be made between children and adults, or that it’s appropriate to refer to all people as adults (or children). Sometimes we just have to accept that the meanings of words are fuzzy, and apply them as best we can, or else avoid them altogether. In fact I would say that most concepts are inherently fuzzy, and that the attempt to impose precise meanings on fuzzy concepts is at the root of many philosophical errors. I think that you and demarcationists are both making this error, but with different results. It leads demarcationists to impose unjustified lines of demarcation on science, and it leads you to expand “science” far beyond its usual meaning.

    If you think that all inferences and knowledge are correctly described as “science”, would you put all university departments in the science faculty? Would you file all non-fiction library books under “science”? Do you refer to historians and accountants as “scientists”? I’m sure you don’t. The reason we have different faculties, different categories of non-fiction and different job titles is because they’re useful. And they’re useful because they refer to real distinctions, if fuzzy ones.

    As serious truth-seekers we should aim to express ourselves as clearly as possible. If we want a word that refers to all types of inference, we have one already. It’s “inference”.

  24. #24 coelsblog
    December 18, 2011

    @16 Richard Wein.

    I think we’re agreed about everything except the semantics. It would be useful to have a word for the totality of evidence- and reason-based enquiry. Since “science” is the poster-boy for that sort of enquiry there is a tendency to call all such enquiry “science”.

    And, to answer your question semi-seriously, we could indeed put all university faculties under either “natural science” or “social science” (except theology of course which isn’t a real discipline).

    The point here is that people who attack “scientism” and claim “science cannot answer …”, and assert that there are “other ways of knowing” are not asserting merely that there is a seamless whole of enquiry, but that “science” is used for only one arbitrary region of it. They are instead asserting that evidence- and reason-based enquiry is failing; they are arguing for a clear and hard boundary.

    It is in reply to that claim that it is perhaps justifiable to use the word “science” for all evidence/reason-based enquiry. I agree with you that there are many “every day” uses of the word that don’t quite fit with that idea, but I think the usage is clear enough, in the absence of a better word.

  25. #25 Deepak Shetty
    December 18, 2011

    I think that along with “way of knowing” people also miss out the “reliable” part of the statement.

    There are probably other ways of knowing – e.g. Legal “This person is guilty” or personal “my spouse is faithful” or moral “abortion is right/wrong” but reliability is usually lacking in all of these statements – even if true.

  26. #26 FreedToChoose
    December 18, 2011

    One day anti-theists will realize that religion encompasses more than theism, that there are many religions which fully accept science to the extent it has been affirmed and wonder at the mysteries ahead, that the core of religion is–and may have been since the beginning of humankind–the meaning of life as it guides behavior. To limit religion to theism alone is like limiting science to that which is known with certainty.

  27. #27 Richard Wein
    December 18, 2011

    @coelsblog

    > It would be useful to have a word for the totality of evidence- and reason-based enquiry.

    So you agree that you’re defining a new meaning of “science” that is (allegedly) more convenient for expressing something you want to say. But that’s conceding my first point. You are not using the word in its standard sense.

    My second point is that using the word in a new sense is unnecessary and confusing. If you want to refer to reason-based enquiry, why not say “reason-based enquiry”? Isn’t it clearer to say exactly what you mean, instead of risking confusion by using a word in a non-standard sense? (The “evidence-” part seems unnecessary, since reason-based enquiry will by definition employ evidence as and when reason dictates it should.)

    Since the nature of science is itself a central issue in these discussions, to start by redefining the word “science” is a recipe for confusion and conflation of meanings.

  28. #28 coelsblog
    December 18, 2011

    @ Richard Wein:

    “So you agree that you’re defining a new meaning of “science” that is (allegedly) more convenient for expressing something you want to say.”

    Yes, to an extent, but it is a meaning of the word that is actually quite common.

    “If you want to refer to reason-based enquiry, why not say “reason-based enquiry”?”

    Because it’s a little long, and because when people assert that “science cannot deal with …” or that there are “other ways of knowing” they are using “science” to mean “evidence-based enquiry”, so there is sense in doing likewise in the reply.

    “The “evidence-” part seems unnecessary, since reason-based enquiry will by definition employ evidence as and when reason dictates it should.”

    I’d disagree there, to me empirical evidence is the absolute fundamental of science. Indeed, “reason” is only adopted because it is found empirically to work.

    “Since the nature of science is itself a central issue in these discussions, to start by redefining the word “science” is a recipe for confusion and conflation of meanings.”

    OK, but I am (along with many others) using it in the sense meant by those attacking scientism.

  29. #29 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 18, 2011

    It is enough to observe that science, in the distinct definition as the area and its process, is the best way to get to facts. That makes these people start raving, since they want equally valuable “alternatives”.

    One standard definition is that knowledge is “justified, true belief,” but now you’re stuck trying to define what constitutes a justification.

    The problem is not justification, which is commonly observed as testing facts or theories, but “true” and “belief”.

    - Hypotheses are not beliefs but alternative empirical claims. You don’t believe in them until they have been tested. Then they turn into valid claims.

    - Facts are not true as “truths”. Unique “truths” are a philosophical and religious conceit, while the existence of many conflicting philosophies and religions belie the existence of such. Truth values are contingent on an axiom system, which are legion.

    This makes philosophical claims of “truth” a game of circular reasoning. You can break circular reasoning in empirical science by observation,* but there is no such out for philosophy.

    The observation that physics inhabit the larger universe of algorithmic structures is another problem for axiomatic truths.

    Facts are veridical, i.e. can have their validity established by an agreed upon degree of certainty.

    They are also based in systems that incorporate realism, constrained reaction on constrained action. (“Kick a stone and it kicks back [in a consistent and constrained manner].)
    That is validated as action-reaction in classical mechanics and observation-observables in quantum mechanics.

    Theories are established in the same way. By predicting many related facts they are “super facts”. They don’t admit philosophical axiomatic assumption since they predict their context as well. Say, if evolution is the process that takes living populations to living populations through heredity, its theory predicts existence of populations and inheritance as much as it predicts variation.

    Facts and theories constitutes generalized knowledge, by observation: we have laws that transcends the context of the made observations. I would maintain that learning establish specific knowledge, by observation: learning is contingent on the context of the made observations.

    And since learned patterns are no more uniquely or even certifiable “true” than facts and theories constitute unique “true beliefs” but validated realism, we can surmise that philosophy, with Ruse as a shining example, is full of it.

    ——————-
    * Since theories are based on the same contextual facts that they predict, see above, a theory that is fully validated by testing on its predictions and the set of facts it predicts becomes a perfectly circular claim.

    But only momentarily, as new facts or theories breaks circularity, and the game is afoot again.

  30. #30 Anthony McCarthy
    December 18, 2011

    You protest way, way too much. Scientism is the house style on most of the Scienceblogs, never mind the obvious faith of easily 99 44/100% of the new atheists. Pretending it doesn’t exist or that, for the purpose of discussing these issues, it isn’t exactly the belief that “science” is the only valid means of establishing the truth of something. It’s as absurd to hear you guys in denial as it is any claims that the ID industry isn’t motivated by biblical fundamentalism.

    If I wanted to bother arguing it I’d go looking for the blog post I read gleefully talking about how the fan boys of one of you monkey wrenched the definition in Wiki. But I won’t waste my time.

  31. #31 Verbose Stoic
    December 18, 2011

    coelsblog,

    because when people assert that “science cannot deal with …” or that there are “other ways of knowing” they are using “science” to mean “evidence-based enquiry”, so there is sense in doing likewise in the reply.

    Like whom? As far as I can recall, I have never seen an opponent of scientism — including myself — or anyone who asserts that there are other ways of knowing using science to mean the broader sense of the term. They always seem to start with the limited version of the things you’d see in a faculty of science. Some of them MAY argue against “evidence-based inquiry” — although even THAT is debatable since “evidence-based” varies as per the meaning of “evidence” — AS WELL, but their main accusation of scientism always seems to be based on a concern that the more traditional or common fields of science will be held up as the only reliable ways of knowing and fields like, say, philosophy will be and are being ignored.

    For me, in fact, someone who attempts to define science in the broader sense so that philosophy becomes a branch of science instead of the more reasonable and historically accurate claim that science is a branch of philosophy — since, you know, it STARTED there — are already being scientistic, and can already be charged with scientism. It would be difficult, then, to argue that I would insist on using that invalid definition to argue against scientism, and I think I’m not alone in thinking that at least some of the broader definitions are examples of scientism themselves.

  32. #32 Owlmirror
    December 18, 2011

    For me, in fact, someone who attempts to define science in the broader sense so that philosophy becomes a branch of science instead of the more reasonable and historically accurate claim that science is a branch of philosophy — since, you know, it STARTED there

    There’s a difference between historical accuracy and epistemic accuracy.

  33. #33 Ben
    December 18, 2011

    I have never understood the “other ways of knowing” idea. What exactly do revelation, praying, and these other ways of knowing let me know? What kinds of things? Does it give me ways of knowing whether abortion is wrong? Whether taking that new job is the best course of action? Who I should vote for?

    How can it be that two people who pray about, say, abortion and its morality can come to two very different conclusions? Did God tell Person A that abortion is immoral and Person B that it should remain a woman’s choice? Why would God give two different answers? And what does it mean to say that abortion is both moral and immoral? How could those two statements be correct? Did Person A (or B) just misunderstand the knowledge that was imparted?

    How can we ever know whether the things we come to know in these other, nonscientific ways are actually true? How can we ever know whether we should give credence to those other ways of knowing?

  34. #34 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 19, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy –

    You protest way, way too much.

    You think I’m protesting too much? Ruse was the one who took a harmless, off the cuff remark and turned it into a wholesale attack on the humanities and as evidence that he and Barash exist in different worlds.

  35. #35 @blamer
    December 19, 2011

    No need to quibble about definitions of “scientism”, any argument that suggests science is just ONE way of knowing, is question-begging until we hear about ANOTHER way of knowing.

    Academia is waiting to hear of methods and findings of philosophy/theology that expert philosophers/theologians can use to reconcile conflicting non-scientific claims.

  36. #36 Steersman
    December 19, 2011

    Jason said (#6)

    But if I have misunderstood him then I would like to know how he thinks we come to discover moral truths.

    The $64,000 question. And one that seems to have generated quite a bit of interesting discussion in the last while on various sites including those of Jerry Coyne, Russell Blackford, Ophelia Benson and Eric MacDonald.

    And while I think a number of other people have addressed this point to different extents it seems that there is more than a small degree of overlap between, say, the scientific and religious “ways of knowing” – although I think it’s clear that the latter is very much a subset of the former. P.B. Medawar in his series of essays on science – The Art of the Soluble – listed the classic processes and definition of the scientific method – hypotheses, deductions and predictions, and test and observation – but argued that

    In real life the imaginative [hypothesis generation] and critical acts [deductions & test] that unite to form the hypothetico-deductive method alternate so rapidly, at least in the earlier stages of constructing a theory, that they are not spelled out in thought. The ‘process of invention, trial, and acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis goes on so rapidly’, said Whewell, ‘that we cannot trace it in its successive steps.’

    And the extent of the overlap on the part of the “religious way of knowing” seems to be limited to the generation of hypotheses: anything that pops into their heads must be, ipso facto, the truth and a revelation from on-high and accepted as such without any further evaluation. Medawar also discussed the very similar “conceit of eighteenth-century philosophizing” in which

    Even the more sophisticated authors of “Philosophick Romances” did not seem to realize that any one set of phenomena could be explained by many hypotheses other than the one they fancied. [Two Conceptions of Science; pg 147]

    But that “imaginative”, hypothesis generating process seems to be largely an intuitive, under-the-hood type of phenomenon the results of which can appear literally as revelations – and that regardless of whether it occurs to scientists or mathematicians or mystics. For example, Paul Davies in his The Mind of God describes that happening to a number of scientists and mathematicians including Gauss, Poincare, Penrose, Feynman and Hoyle, the last of whom said in describing his experiences on a hiking holiday taken in response to unfruitful attempts to solve a particularly difficult problem:

    “As the miles slipped by I turned the quantum mechanical problem … over in my mind, in the hazy way I normally have in thinking mathematics in my head. Normally, I have to write things down on paper, and then fiddle with the equations and integrals as best I can. But somewhere on Bowes Moor my awareness of the mathematics clarified, not a little, not even a lot, but as if a huge brilliant light had suddenly been switched on. ….” [pgs 228-229]

    I expect if he had been religiously inclined we might have had another Christian sect – maybe, Third Church of Christ, Astronomer.

    But sort of looks to me like some unconscious processing the results of which very much depend on the nature of the “programming” – “garbage-in; garbage-out” for theologians, but profound and seminal and tangible results for those with a commitment to reality and on guard against fooling themselves.

  37. #37 Tony61
    December 19, 2011

    “I have never understood the “other ways of knowing” idea.”

    This is the crux of the issue, isn’t it? I can certainly understand the concept of revelation or the Holy Spirit while at the same time having no benefit from it. When God want s to talk to me, I’m all ears. I cannot deny the revelatory experience of someone else– if they have been imbued with the Holy Spirit, well, good for them and far be it from me to deny their experience.

    I notice that these same believing individuals use the language of empiricism– hearing voices, seeing premonitions, etc. The fact is that the only useful, efficacious, understandable and reliable way of understanding our world is through our senses– or, the “sense God gave us”, if you will.

    Also, as in the case of the Catholic catechism, believers will describe the Almighty as ineffable, or mysterious to the point of incomprehension. If this is so, then they are effectively admitting that their experience of God is not really useful.

    It gets back to Jason’s pursuit of the definition of “knowledge” and I would broach that we should likewise discuss the definition of the word “religion”, differentiating, of course, form theism, deism, philosophy and other confusing terms.

  38. #38 Wow
    December 19, 2011

    “I tend to agree with Larry here, and this wide sense of “science” accords with how I use the word. It gets hard to defend any narrower sense that still encompasses everything usually accepted as within science.”

    I would suggest that science includes the testing of hypothesis against information to ascertain the invalidity of the hypothesis is a core part of science and not part of other observational rational processes.

    If a psychologist tests a patience to discern whether, as claimed, they have a certain psychosis with the intent to see if it’s being faked or is in fact a misdiagnosis of another problem, then that would be science.

    If a historian goes out looking for Iron-Age settlements and on finding it, DOES NOT then check to see if there is another reason for the appearance of the artifacts, then they are not doing science.

  39. #39 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 19, 2011

    Nick –

    Yes, such rhetoric *is* a diss to the humanities, and everything else nonscience-y. How else could it possibly be taken? If the statement was that science is “a great and very important way of knowing the natural world”, well then, no one would complain. But the *best* or *only* way of *genuinely* knowing *the world*? (“the world” without qualification means “everything”) But didn’t Shakespeare teach us anything worth knowing? Didn’t Beethoven? What about James Madison? Abraham Lincoln? Steven Spielberg? Ansel Adams? Either one can admit that “science is the best, and perhaps the only, way of genuinely knowing the world” is a bit too strong, and a careful, maximally accurate scholarly statement would require some qualification… or, one can try and argue that Shakespeare et al. were actually doing science. I’ve seen bloggers and commentators try the latter in various places, it’s never pretty.

    To me it seems like you are confusing a “way of learning” with a “way of knowing.” Literature, art and film can be excellent devices for communicating truths, or for opening your eyes to truths you had overlooked, or for making you think about things in new ways. But it would simply be weird to say that you know something because you read it in a novel or saw it in a movie.

    Barash’s statement is a diss to the humanities only if you think that acquiring factual knowledge is the only thing that is important in life. At their best art and literature can provide insight, clarity and understanding. They can provide food for thought. They can connect you to people far removed in space and time. You won’t find many scientists who think such things are not valuable and important. They’re just not knowledge, which is what we are discussing here.

    Richard –

    I don’t think either word is useful. How “reliable” must a way of knowing be to qualify? I think that the methods historians use to infer historical facts are reasonably reliable, but we don’t call them “science”. Even everyday observation is reliable enough for many purposes. Presumably you don’t want to say you’re engaging in “science” when you simply look at the sky and infer that it’s raining. Yet that is usually a reliable enough inference for deciding whether to take an umbrella with you.

    You presume incorrectly. I would say that looking up at the sky and observing that it is raining (I’m not sure why you said “infer” here) is absolutely an instance of doing science, if only of a very elementary sort. Likewise, I would say the methods historians employ in their work are, indeed, scientific. Saying that, however, does not imply that history is just a branch of science. History has some of the attributes of science but also lacks certain others.

    But the point I was making was precisely that all of this definitional nitpicking is beside the point. If you define science narrowly then obviously there are going to be ways of knowing that aren’t science. If you define science broadly, as I tend to do, then you might end up including some things that aren’t usually considered science (while still, critically, excluding religion). So what? The real issue is not how you define and delineate different branches of inquiry, but how you defend claims to knowledge. As I said in the opening of the post, if you make some factual assertion, and you want other people to take that claim seriously, then it is on you to provide evidence for that assertion. Then people can decide for themselves if they think the sort of evidence you provide is reliable.

  40. #40 Wow
    December 19, 2011

    “At their best art and literature can provide insight, clarity and understanding. They can provide food for thought. They can connect you to people far removed in space and time.”

    They can also provide enjoyment.

  41. #41 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    “I have never understood the “other ways of knowing” idea.”

    How do you know anything about history? A lot of the facts of history have far more massive physical evidence to back them up than many of the things considered known to science. How much evidence will the Higgs Boson ever have supporting its existence – if any – as compared to any of the major events of the past hundred years? Not to mention any part of string-M theory. And, no matter what anyone might want to say about subatomic particles, not a single person will ever experience their existence as directly as they do any part of their daily life.

    By far, the vast majority of scientific knowledge that any one person posses will be “known”, not based on even having read the papers that are published but on having read popular accounts or watching TV shows or reading blog blather about them. The number of people who have seen direct evidence of much of science is minuscule as compared to the population of people who can reasonably be said to “know” it. And that’s not even getting to the sci-jocks who believe they have “knowledge” of some science topic or other but who can’t do more than parrot some pat phrases about it.

    The questions of epistemology are extremely difficult and far from settled. What is “known” scientifically, in the end, is “known” in pretty much the same way anything else is, because you are persuaded either without evidence or with evidence of wildly variable quality and durability. Right now I’m enjoying watching the cracks develop in W. D. Hamilton’s ideas about “altruism” on which so, so much of recent popularly held ideas about evolutionary biology are “known”. In the end, when that stuff is jettisoned, the fact of evolution will stand based on the far better, far more solidly founded, far more difficult and far more solidly known lines of support.

  42. #42 Wow
    December 19, 2011

    “A lot of the facts of history have far more massive physical evidence to back them up than many of the things considered known to science.”

    Got any examples?

    And, no, you can’t mix future and past tense in your example like you did with Higgs: “”How much evidence will the Higgs Boson ever have …”

    I could far more appropriately ask: How much evidence will there ever be supporting Anastasia as the last of the Tsars.

  43. #43 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    Re: science vs. history

    They’re essentially the same thing except that science (usually) examines evidence that is not generated by human beings while history (usually) examines evidence that is generated by human beings. Many sciences ARE historical. Astronomy, natural history, and paleontology are a few examples of sciences which are almost purely historical — scientists look for evidence of actual events that happened somewhere.

    Furthermore, they share criteria for good evidence: multiple, independent sources. In the case of history our sources are textual and usually in science they are not, but there is no reason obvious to me why we shouldn’t call history “the scientific study of human-generated texts and artifacts.” There’s no obvious demarcations between archaeology, anthropology, and history so why invent them? And let’s not forget that historians are some of the world’s most prominent users of radiocarbon dating. Historians not only use scientific methodology but actual scientific techniques as well. Let’s not pretend the case for history as a science is an obvious “no.” It’s at the very least arguable.

    @Nick:

    Then, there are a broad swath of concerns about cases where it appears that certain scientists and science-popularizers have got the idea into their heads that society would be a better place if the people performing function X in society would stop their woolly-headed unscientific nonsense and instead step aside and let the Really Smart People, The Scientists, do it instead.

    So why not argue with those individuals who wrongheadedly do this directly rather than throwing blanket accusations at all atheists? Most of your examples are quite annulled by this suggestion. Consider eugenics: was it ever based on real science? Or was it based on extra-scientific conclusions by a few zealous researchers? If the latter, why are we calling it “scientism”? It has nothing to do with science and everything to do with idiosyncratic individuals.

    BF Skinner’s bizarre behaviorism,

    I’ve seen a lot of this criticism going on in anti-science circles. You do realize that BF Skinner’s behaviorist program was an incredibly productive research program in cognitive science throughout several decades of the 20th century? That much of the knowledge in behavioral science we have today is the result of his experiments and experiments inspired by behaviorism? It seems to me folks like yourself go out of their way to misunderstand behaviorism. It is obvious to everyone and was probably obvious to Skinner that animals are not simply Pavlovian black boxes. Nonetheless, without any sort of theory of mind or behavior making a simplifying assumption that they are can lead to useful avenues of research. This is standard practice in science. The first example of an oscillator taught to most physics students is the pendulum — which is not actually an oscillator. One has to make the “narrow angle” assumption, otherwise pendulums are not oscillators and can, in fact, display chaotic behavior.

    and the connected idea that anthropomorphizing animals was completely inappropriate, and we could never safely infer that they had emotions and feelings like those of humans;

    Funny, it’s seemed to me mostly scientists who admit that animals have inner lives and that it’s philosophers who insist that we can’t reliably know whether they have emotions or feelings. Could you be letting your anti-science…ahem, anti-scientism bias influence your critique? Regardless, anthropomorphizing animals isn’t appropriate. Even if we are relatively sure they have inner lives we cannot be sure how like or unlike our inner lives theirs are.

    Dawkins and other “memeologists” attempt to replace standard humanities approaches (like history) for understanding the spread of religion and other ideas with the idea of the “meme”, an analogy to the gene concept that still, decades later, lacks a similar objectively-identifiable unit of heredity (amongst other problems)

    Where? When? I don’t see a concerted campaign to replace the humanities with “memetics” coming from anywhere, least of all Dawkins who seems to know a fair amount about history himself. When you start making nonsense accusations like this it becomes very difficult to take you seriously.

    he common assertions amongst the gnus that all of the charity and community and similar good stuff that organized religions provide isn’t unique to religion, and could easily be provided by humanist/atheist organizations without the dumb religion, which the humanist/atheist organizations will do real soon now, and have been planning to have real soon for the better part of the 20th century.

    1. How is this scientism? It has nothing to do with the thesis that science is our only source of knowledge about the world. Why do you throw out this complete irrelevancy? Just to get in a cheap shot?
    2. I want to see the data. Not only the amount of money taken in by religious charities vs. secular charities but the efficiencies of each in actually disbursing aid to those who need it. Can you actually demonstrate that religious charities do more than secular ones? Doubt it.

    Nick, clean up your case against scientism, stay on topic, stop lying, and stop smearing people. Until you do these things you have no credibility.

  44. #44 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    How do you know anything about history? A lot of the facts of history have far more massive physical evidence to back them up than many of the things considered known to science.

    Yes, we know what we know about history by examining empirical evidence and comparing multiple independent sources of evidence. Just like in science. Thank you for helping us atheists and science fans make our case, Anthony.

  45. #45 eric
    December 19, 2011

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    If you define science narrowly then obviously there are going to be ways of knowing that aren’t science. If you define science broadly, as I tend to do, then you might end up including some things that aren’t usually considered science (while still, critically, excluding religion).

    I would also say, in response to Anthony and VS, that the narrower your definition of science, the fewer people you’re going to find that believe its the only way of knowing – and the less your claims of scientism among scientists are going to hold water.

    As multiple earlier posters (including Jason) have alluded to, there probably aren’t a lot of scientists that would reject other non-physics/biology/chemistry empirical disciplines. And certainly very few (even ‘none’ is not a stretch) that would reject mathematics as not being a valuable discipline. So, if scientism is about only those, nobody is a scientism-ist and the whole ‘scientism is bad’ complaint becomes a straw man. OTOH, if scientism refers to a belief that generally empirical ways of knowing count, you may find a lot of people considering scientism not to be a bad thing at all.

    ***

    IMO, one does not have to ground mathematics in empiricism to claim it produces knowledge. Our human minds are limited and we don’t automatically comprehend every deductive or necessary conclusion to a set of premises. Disciplines such as symbolic logic and math, which help us figure out what deductive, necessary conclusions arise from a set of axioms or premises allow us to know something we didn’t know before.

    I think too often we consider deductive knowledge to be “out there already,” i.e., once the premises are understood, the conclusion exists as knowledge. But it seems wierd to say humans have knowledge of something that no actual human knows. If someone insists that Perelman’s solution to the Poincare conjecture did not contribute to the sum of human knowledge because it’s only math, IMO they need to rethink their definition of knowledge.

  46. #46 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    Yes, we know what we know about history by examining empirical evidence and comparing multiple independent sources of evidence. Just like in science.

    Well … not QUITE like science, since the importance is completely flipped in history. Those multiple independent sources of evidence are, you’ll note, generally TESTIMONY, and empirical evidence is nice to have but not at all required for history. Science, on the other hand, requires the empirical evidence and tends to be suspicious of testimony. Or am I wrong about that?

    That’s part of the problem, BTW, the insistence that if two fields sometimes use the same sorts of evidence that they’re therefore the same field, and going further to say that they’re both therefore science.

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    The piles of skeletal remains from the Rwandan Genocide, the photographs of the dead, the confessions of killers, the maimed and bereaved victims testimonies, the eye-witness testimony, the recordings of the radio broadcasts encouraging the killing before it started and as it continued and the of those who were trying to get help for the victims, the military men who were kept from intervening…..

    Compare that to the amount of evidence that the Higgs Boson will ever provide us or the expected zero amount of evidence that those strings or membranes or other universes have or are expected to be given up.

    DanL, you skipped over how you atheists and sci-jocks “know” what you “know”. Which is generally the case with the arrogantly superficial. Most of what you “know” you “know” in pretty much the same way anyone else “knows” what they do. As for the stuff you think you “know” without understanding the formal publication of it, you actually believe that, generally because you choose to believe it.

    Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Dalton, Faraday…… All bigger figures in science than anyone commenting on this blog are likely to be. None of them atheists.

  48. #48 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    Jason,

    I think this would look like an attempt at a “Gotcha!”, but I have to note the irony — and an important one, I think — of classifying this under “Philosophy” and then not allowing for philosophy in your rebranding of scientism as scienceandmathemism. Especially when it answers your question about why morality is so devastating a reply: if you leave religion out of it, you still have philosophy insisting that moral questions are not to be settled scientifically.

    Taking a broad definition of science that includes philosophy and mathematics as science seems odd and rather pointless. It’s also hard to say what that could exclude — even in terms of religion — since neither philosophy nor mathematics limits itself to empiricism; both fields claim to be able to know things without having to appeal to any empirical fact at all. And including everyday reasoning as rudimentary science, to me, ignores the major advance in reliability that science was able to achieve by going beyond everyday reasoning and investigation. Rejecting this, we’d be left with the heuristic that science is limited to those fields that you’d normally find in a Faculty of Science, with some exceptions for those fields — like, say, psychology — that explicitly claim to be trying to be scientific. That should still leave philosophy and mathematics out of science. And then you can see the problem with claiming that science is our best and only route to knowledge.

  49. #49 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    Sorry, Verbose Skeptic, how does “testimony” differ than a report about an experiment? How about a news story about a paper that gets written, by far, the way that the vast majority of people who “know” something about science will “know” it, including most of what gets bandied about here. I’ll guarantee you that just about everyone on the Scienceblogs, including the owners of them, who talk about science that they “know” “know” about it based on second hand reporting instead of rigorously going through the papers. Just as an aside, I’ve found that even the most august news sources often report stuff that even the researchers disavowed about their research. The BBC and the New York Times two of the more eminent sinners of that kind. What do the people who believe an erroneous news report about science “know” about it?

    The number of people who know what they do by verifying previously published research is that minuscule number I mentioned above. How does the quality of information the rest of us depend on differ from “testimony” of historical events? It is generally a difference in words based on what you prefer to believe not a difference that stands when you look carefully at the matter.

  50. #50 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    Anthony,

    I was talking about science and history themselves, not about how people generally come to know it. I don’t think that reading a report about a scientific result in the newspaper is doing science. I think that’s everyday reasoning, and I think it a valid way of knowing that is not science. However, inside science itself science wants empirical justifications and would claim that merely reading a report of an experiment isn’t sufficient unless others do reproduce it. Mere testimony about what has been seen is insufficient, and at least it will have to be by trained observers and official reports. History, on the other hand, is more likely to trust testimony directly without any accompanying empirical evidence and even tends to trust eyewitness reports over official ones.

    Ultimately, I fail to see what your beef with ME is …

  51. #51 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    Well … not QUITE like science, since the importance is completely flipped in history. Those multiple independent sources of evidence are, you’ll note, generally TESTIMONY, and empirical evidence is nice to have but not at all required for history. Science, on the other hand, requires the empirical evidence and tends to be suspicious of testimony. Or am I wrong about that?

    It depends. When an experimental physicist publishes a paper detailing how a particular experiment was conducted and what the results were that would certainly constitute testimony. Furthermore, other scientists will cite this testimony to make further arguments. Furthermore, there’s typically a benefit-of-the-doubt principle at work: scientists usually presume that the testimony presented in scientific papers is accurate. So testimony IS important to science and scientists are often rather trusting about testimony as it is presented.

    However, I think you’re mischaracterizing history. After all, historians, at least the good ones, are very circumspect about simply trusting the content of the testimonies of primary sources. So despite your implications to the contrary, historians ARE quite suspicious of testimony. Hence the need for multiple independent sources. And you’re denying that testimony presented in written works ARE empirical evidence. A book or scroll is a physical artefact and you are trying to draw a non-existent distinction between, say, an archaeologist trying to recreate the context in which a potsherd was created and a historian trying to recreate the context in which a particular text was written. This is a false distinction. Primary sources are empirical evidence. There is a distinction to be made between history and some of the physical sciences but it does not rest on the presence or absence of empirical evidence which both require.

    That’s part of the problem, BTW, the insistence that if two fields sometimes use the same sorts of evidence that they’re therefore the same field, and going further to say that they’re both therefore science.

    See, I disagree. I think the problem is that theists and their sympathizers keep muddying the water by introducing demarcation arguments where they’re irrelevant. Demarcation arguments are some of the least informative and least interesting types of philosophical discourse. Is history a kind of science? Is science a kind of philosophy? Who the hell cares, it comes down to definitions and it’s completely irrelevant to the argument at hand which is whether knowledge can be derived from any process that isn’t somehow empirical. It doesn’t matter whether history is a type of science or not, it only matters whether history is an empirical discipline. And it is.

    If you disagree please spare me the nonsense about scientism and just explain to me: what historical knowledge has ever been derived without reference to empirical justifications and how was this done?

  52. #52 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    Compare that to the amount of evidence that the Higgs Boson will ever provide us or the expected zero amount of evidence that those strings or membranes or other universes have or are expected to be given up.

    Anthony, I see you make these arguments all the time and they do nothing but make you look misinformed. The Higgs particle is not itself an empirically-justified discovery — the LHC team just made an announcement saying essentially that they have neither demonstrated its existence nor ruled it out. Rather, the Higgs is a prediction made by the Standard Model of particle physics, a model whose history goes back about 50 years and has absolutely absurd amounts of evidence testifying to its accuracy. It explains not only nuclear physics and optics but also the every-day science through its justification of quantum electrodynamics. There’s at least as much evidence for the Standard Model as for some of the historical events you mention.

    At least some string theories may make predictions that are testable — with bigger particle colliders than have currently been built. Not yet testable is not the same as not at all testable. That said, there’s a lot of problems with string theories and multiverse theories and the fiercest and most effective critics of these ideas are not religionists but, surprise surprise, OTHER SCIENTISTS.

    DanL, you skipped over how you atheists and sci-jocks “know” what you “know”. Which is generally the case with the arrogantly superficial.

    Funny, that’s exactly how I feel about you. Arrogant and not the least bit concerned with justifying what you “know.”

    Most of what you “know” you “know” in pretty much the same way anyone else “knows” what they do. As for the stuff you think you “know” without understanding the formal publication of it, you actually believe that, generally because you choose to believe it.

    Arrogant AND a mind-reader, huh McCarthy? First of all, it’s rather obvious to most people that science represents a division of labor. Evolutionary biologists do not usually go through the primary research on particle physics to critique it — because they don’t have the acumen. They have to trust their physicist colleagues to police themselves. You seem to have a problem with this. What is that problem? Do you think that one person has to understand everything for there to be any knowledge at all?

    Secondly, you’re posing a false dilemma. You’re asserting that I either take scientific results “on faith” or that I have to understand the entire field, beginning to end from the ground up. This is clearly a very silly position. I don’t need to read Einstein’s original paper on relativity to learn a) the physical implications of the truth of relativity, b) the experiments performed to test those implications, c) that the results of those experiments are consistent with the predictions of relativity. I don’t simply read popular articles about science and believe them, I test them against a large body of background knowledge I have from studying science in college and as an amateur enthusiast.

    Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Dalton, Faraday…… All bigger figures in science than anyone commenting on this blog are likely to be. None of them atheists.

    This argument, much like your others, simply makes you look like a fool. Your only possible point would have to be, “These guys were really smart and believed in God, therefore Jesus.” That’s a rather elementary fallacy; however smart these men might have been they are not precluded from making incorrect inferences, and each man in your list can be demonstrated to have made many incorrect inferences. If you’re going to argue for God you might as well skip the elementary logical fallacies.

  53. #53 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    In case my moderated comment never gets through:

    Anthony, your arguments in #5 rests purely on the fallacy of the excluded middle, fallacy of argument from authority, and a grave misunderstanding of the science behind the Higgs boson. Someone who makes such terrible arguments for his position should be careful accusing interlocutors of “arrogance” and for not knowing why they believe what they believe.

  54. #54 Jim Harrison
    December 19, 2011

    I endorse Nick Matzke’s view of things and thank him for going to the trouble of laying out his position in detail even though he is surely aware that what’s he’s saying will be essentially inaudible in these parts. At least nobody has yet claimed that his complaints about the narrow mindedness and disciplinary imperialism of the gnu atheist crowd amount to an endorsement of the grandeur of theology. For a lot of us, the criticism of scientism is simply not about the warfare of science and theology. Nick is too much a gentleman to put it so baldly, but it’s more in the line of a protest against making Asperger’s syndrome into a philosophical system.

  55. #55 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    @jim harrison:

    Nick Matzke’s post is almost entirely irrelevant as I explained in an earlier post. Where it isn’t irrelevant he is making stuff up.

    Nick is too much a gentleman to put it so baldly, but it’s more in the line of a protest against making Asperger’s syndrome into a philosophical system.

    I hope you’re not expecting to be taken too seriously saying things like this. I have to take this as a sort of smear. What justification do you have for asserting that everyone who thinks that knowledge necessarily has an empirical basis has “Asperger’s syndrome” or wants to make it into “a philosophical system”? How is that no simultaneously an ableist slur against autism spectrum folks and a slur against anyone whose worldview disagrees with your own?

    It’s always amazing to me how nasty you guys can get while maintaining an allegedly “civil” demeanor.

  56. #56 eric
    December 19, 2011

    Nick Matzke:

    The common assertions amongst the gnus that all of the charity and community and similar good stuff that organized religions provide isn’t unique to religion, and could easily be provided by humanist/atheist organizations without the dumb religion, which the humanist/atheist organizations will do real soon now, and have been planning to have real soon for the better part of the 20th century.

    ‘Good stuff not provided by religion’ is not limited to ‘humanist/atheist’ sources, it includes secular sources – i.e. charities for which no single religion or humanist philosophy is the driving force. Charities for which the management/board and distribution of moneys has nothing to do with religion.

    Of the top ten largest charities in the U.S., six of them are secular/non-religious. For the record, they are: United Way (the biggest – yes Nick, the biggest source of charity in the U.S. is secular), American Cancer Society, Gifts in Kind International, AmeriCares, American National Red Cross, and America’s Second Harvest.

    So, let’s count the ways you are wrong. Charity isn’t unique to religion. It is provded by secular organizations without any religious component, and secularists will not ‘get to it any time now,’ – they already have gotten to it.

  57. #57 coelsblog
    December 19, 2011

    Verbose Stoic writes:

    I have never seen an opponent of scientism — including myself — or anyone who asserts that there are other ways of knowing using science to mean the broader sense of the term. They always seem to start with the limited version of the things you’d see in a faculty of science.

    Nobody advocating scientism would want to exclude history (and similar) as a way of knowing; it quite obviously is. Everyone accepts that if one digs up old coins or recovers long-lost manuscripts one can learn thing things.

    Thus the accusation of “scientism” using the narrow sense of the word “science” (excluding history etc) is a simple strawman, attacking something that no-one is advocating, and which is thus pretty uninteresting.

    The only people advocating or defending “scientism” (science as the only way of knowing) are using “science” in a broad sense of evidence/reason-based enquiry. That’s the only interesting debate here.

  58. #58 coelsblog
    December 19, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “… merely reading a report of an experiment isn’t sufficient unless others do reproduce it. Mere testimony about what has been seen is insufficient, and at least it will have to be by trained observers and official reports.”

    I think your view of science is too narrow. Yes, science would like trained observers if it can get them, and yes it would like repeated and reproduced experiments if it can get them, but science also accepts that often it can’t. For example in my field of astrophysics one can often not reproduce rare events, and may have to proceed on very little evidence about them.

    This is really the same as history. I’m sure that historians would love multiple, independent eye-witness accounts if they could get them, and they would like those witnesses to be trained reporters if those were available, but often they are not, and so historians do the best they can with what they’ve got, just like scientists do.

    Just because science has a gold-standard of a double-blind, controlled and repeated experiment, doesn’t mean that anything that falls short doesn’t quality as “science”.

    Let me give a specific example, from my field of astrophysics. One of the closest and best-studied remnants of a supernova is the Crab nebula. In calculating the physics of this remnant we need to know how long it is since it exploded. How do we know that? Well, we use historical records from Chinese astronomers/astrologers who saw it explode in AD 1054. So we use the time since then as a hard number for calculating hard physics of the supernova explosion.

    Now, is this science? Or does the “contamination” from history disqualify it? To me it is quite clearly science, and this example illustrates why I see “science” (in the broad sense) as a seamless whole, encompassing all evidence/reason-based enquiry — including the likes of history — because there is no demarcation line between them. Any narrower definition of “science” is largely arbitrary, and not really what the “scientism” argument is about.

  59. #59 Nick (Matzke)
    December 19, 2011

    To me it seems like you are confusing a “way of learning” with a “way of knowing.” Literature, art and film can be excellent devices for communicating truths, or for opening your eyes to truths you had overlooked, or for making you think about things in new ways. But it would simply be weird to say that you know something because you read it in a novel or saw it in a movie.

    Barash’s statement is a diss to the humanities only if you think that acquiring factual knowledge is the only thing that is important in life. At their best art and literature can provide insight, clarity and understanding. They can provide food for thought. They can connect you to people far removed in space and time. You won’t find many scientists who think such things are not valuable and important. They’re just not knowledge, which is what we are discussing here.

    I disagree, I’m afraid. It is knowledge to say that Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth were revolutionary. It is knowledge to say, as James Madison did, that “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” It is knowledge to say that slavery was a key cause of the Civil War. It is knowledge to say that slavery is wrong. All of these are conclusions of the humanities, not of science.

    And, surely, not even you would say that everything in your numerous chess posts is just optional opinion and artistic spin, and that the opinions of some completely uninformed chess novice like me are of equal value.

    So, the idea that everything except science is just a matter of opinion just doesn’t hold up — and, frankly, it’s a pretty pernicious idea. We give up on the idea of moral and political knowledge at our peril.

    My bigger point also remains unchallenged, which is that the “scientism” accusation is not some new, mysterious, flaky thing dreamed up last week, rather it is a longstanding critique of the kinds of things I mentioned. It is well-known to philosophers. It is possible that Michael Ruse overreacted to the Barash quote because of this, and Barash only meant something like “science is the best way of knowing material facts about the natural world” — but even here in this thread we have people trying to defend the more extreme interpretation, trying to argue that history and philosophy and everyday observation are subsets of science, and trying to avoid acknowledgement of the simple historical fact that there is a long history of individual scientists advancing some pretty silly ideas under the cover of extending science to politics, morality, human behavior, mate choice, etc., and there is a similar history of individual scientists and science fans using totalizing rhetoric to, basically, say that science is the only way of knowing anything worth knowing.

    Those who take the position that all that Barash meant, and all that scientist fans need to endorse, is the position that “science is the best way of knowing material facts about the natural world” — well then, welcome to the side of me, Michael Ruse, the National Academy of Sciences, and fellow demarcationists and methdological naturalists*.

    (*Note: Not “accomodationists”, a scare-term someone invented fairly recently. Though we may be “it is accurate scholarship as well as educationally useful to note that the popular stereotype of irremedial conflict between science and religion is sociologically false, because while many religious see conflict, it is also true to say that many religions do not see conflict”-ists.” Long experience amongst educators indicates that this is a more effective way to teach science, since it helps defuse the fears and tensions that students have, which lets them open up to focus on learning the science.)

  60. #60 Nick (Matzke)
    December 19, 2011

    Dan L. — agreed that the autism reference made against you was untoward. But you yourself upped the invective unnecessarily in your hostile reaction to me.

    I’m afraid that you are reacting to things that are not in my post. The people/cases I mentioned all came from prestigious academics, including eugenics. I agree that they are all pseudoscience (well, with a limited exception in the case of memes, the concept has validity in some special cases, but not as a general explanation of cultural phenomena or the history of thought), but the point is that they were all proposed/defended by famous scientists who put them forward as “science” and, in many cases at least (can’t say I can think of an example in the case of memes), the defenders accused their opponents of being unscientific when they objected on humanities-type grounds. Reductionism, empirical studies, assertions of emotionless objectivity, and other classic justifiers of scientific authority were invoked in support of pseudoscientific ideas.

    Re: documentation: Obviously my post was not intended to be a fully-documented article, but since you challenge my assertions, here are some links and some things to google (to avoid the spam-catcher):

    Chomsky critique Skinner

    Kantsaywhere by Francis Galton

    Criticism of meme theory

    Difficulties with successful establishment of positive alternatives to religion (as opposed to people and organizations with negative critiques of it):

    http://newhumanist.org.uk/918/is-it-time-for-humanists-to-start-holding-services

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=pkurtz_26_5

  61. #61 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    I was talking about science and history themselves, not about how people generally come to know it. VS

    Science and history don’t reside somewhere in some disembodied form, there is no “science and history” outside of the minds of people. In this discussion about the quality of knowledge and if some knowledge isn’t really knowledge based on some criteria that is the field of discussion. Other than the people who actually witness the events or phenomena that are the subject of anything reported by a scientist or a group of scientists, people have to depend on their report. Even the people who read their paper and understand the science and math that are prerequisites for understanding how they reached their conclusion and why they reached it are still depending on their “testimony” as much as anyone who listens to a witness of the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust or any other event in history. In many of those historical events there are many people who saw it, quite frequently measuring in the hundreds or thousands of even more. Quite frequently the physical evidence corroborating their report is far more accessible and quite often far more extensive than that reported on by scientists. Even in the case of a scientist merely reading a report in their specialty, they are relying on reporting of phenomena which is just a form of testimony, called that or some other name. And as Richard Lewontin, among others, have pointed out, even highly accomplished scientists reading outside of their specialty are often completely reliant on nothing much more than the professional reputations of other scientists. The typical sci-jock on the sci-blogs are even more reliant on choosing to believe what they then think they “know”. Quite frequently they make the most absurd statements about it with all the confidence of a fundamentalist stating doctrine.

    So, outside of the people who actually witness phenomena in science, all scientific knowledge is inevitably dependent on “testimony” and the choice to believe, even if people in science don’t like to admit that.

    Dan L, I’m not impressed by people reflexively citing stuff that sounds like formal logic, not to mention the instantly invented corollaries of those current among the Scienceblog set.

    “Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Dalton, Faraday…… All bigger figures in science than anyone commenting on this blog are likely to be. None of them atheists.”

    This argument, much like your others….

    It wasn’t an argument, it was a statement of fact. Other than Dalton, arguably, I can’t think of one of the big names in the new atheism who would come above theirs in a list of the most prominent scientists. Well, possibly Larry Krauss if some of his more controversial ideas bear fruit, which would probably knock at least another new atheist contender off of the list entirely.

    Apparently it’s news to you that science, which was actually invented by a bunch of Christians, doesn’t belong to atheists. Maybe if you read more history you’d know that.

  62. #62 eric
    December 19, 2011

    Just because science has a gold-standard of a double-blind, controlled and repeated experiment, doesn’t mean that anything that falls short doesn’t quality as “science”.

    The recent higgs boson reports should provide a good object example to non-scientists about how science deals with the problem of defining knowledge or determining what counts as knowledge. Here you have an experiment which is unlikely to get independently repeated any time soon. So, to deal with that, the scientists involved have decided to continue the experiment to the five sigma mark, rather than stop earlier.

    Why five sigma? Because in the past, particle physicists have been fooled by nature when they stopped at less. Because less uncertainty costs a lot more money. Is five sigma “the” scientific standard? No – other types of experiment report results with less certainty, or with more certainty. It is simply the standard this scientific community seems to generally agree is a good compromise between our desire to reduce uncertainty and the realistic limits of doing long, involved experiments.

    Scientists seek to do the best they can with limited resources, and report the results as honestly as they can so that others have the necessary information to judge for themselves the validity of the results. They seek to characterize and, yes, minimize uncertainty in results, but it is the former that is critically important to science, not the latter.

  63. #63 coelsblog
    December 19, 2011

    Nick Matzke writes:

    .”It is knowledge to say, as James Madison did, that “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” [...] All of these are conclusions of the humanities, not of science.”

    Your examples could fairly be called conclusions from sociology or social anthropology. It is only because of the importance of humans to us that we, by tradition, have hived off study of ourselves into whole branches called “humanities”.

    So, the idea that everything except [narrowly defined] science is just a matter of opinion just doesn’t hold up — and, frankly, it’s a pretty pernicious idea. [. . .] even here in this thread we have people trying to defend the more extreme interpretation, trying to argue that history and philosophy and everyday observation are subsets of [broadly defined] science

    These two accusations are very different and are indeed incompatible. I don’t think anyone is asserting the first of them, that anything except *narrowly* *defined* science is “mere opinion”; that would be an absurd stance. Yes, some of us are defending the second of those, but be clear to distinguish it from the first.

  64. #64 Michael Fugate
    December 19, 2011

    Here is my question: Is religion a “way of knowing?”
    If “yes”, please explain methodology employed by religion to know.

  65. #65 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    Did the people who based their research on the now discredited work of Dietrich Stapel “know” what they “knew” from reading his papers? I forget the estimate of how many doctoral dissertations relied on that kind of scientific “knowledge.” Clearly it was something that the referees and others reviewing the dissertations also “knew”. Not to mention my favorite recent example of Marc Hauser and many many other fraudsters. Not to mention those who merely made big mistakes that didn’t get caught until well along in the processes of science accepting what was reported as “knowledge”.

    If all of science is held to be contingent, can any of it really be said to be as well known as that, say, that President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963?

    By the way, Retraction Watch should be a lot more widely read than it is.

    http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/

  66. #66 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    Oh, and, speaking of Marc Hauser, at least one of his “co-authors” not only didn’t see the fantom phenomena that he reported they also claimed innocence because they didn’t even look at his basic data. Such is the standard of “knowledge” that sometimes gets called “science”.

  67. #67 coelsblog
    December 19, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Such is the standard of “knowledge” that sometimes gets called “science”.

    I’m not sure what your point is. Yes, humans are fallible and flawed. And thus scientists are imperfect and get things wrong. And, yes, all of science is provisional and current ideas may be wrong. I think all of these things are agreed, and agreed by all those defending scientism. So what is your aim in pointing to these flaws? Ditto to Nick Matzke’s list of flaws.

  68. #68 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    @Matzke: The autism reference wasn’t at me in particular. If it was I’d just give it back as good as I got. The casual implication that both those with Asperger’s syndrome and all the science bloggers harrison disagrees with are somehow subhuman is what angered me.

    Everything I wrote in my post is a reaction to something you said. I even quoted the things you said that I was responded to. As usual, I am baffled by your denial of these very basic facts about what is available for anyone to read just a few comments up.

    As for the specifics, your argument appears now to be that if all scientists of all times are not perfectly rational science-performing machines then scientists everywhere are guilty of scientism. Seriously: you argue that because a few scientists had extra-scientific obsessions that they wrote about that this is somehow an argument against actual science. How does that work?

    Now, bear in mind that my main argument was that your arguments are irrelevant. As such it doesn’t help you to cite Chomsky on Skinner (it wouldn’t help even if we were discussing cognitive science*). Skinner’s behaviorist program is not an argument for or against the idea of “scientism” or whether it actually applies to anyone in the real world. You haven’t addressed the fact that none of your arguments are relevant to the question of whether knowledge is always based on empiricism. You’re throwing out a basket full of red herrings.

    *A critique from Chomsky? Seriously? The guy whose “scientific work” is basically all pulled out of his ass, the guy who insists empirical evidence against his great theory is invariably incorrect? The guy who tries to subtly tweak his theory when he can’t maintain with a straight face that the evidence against his theory is wrong?

    Chomsky’s work is valuable for a number of reasons, but if we’re having a science contest between Chomsky and Skinner, I’d have to say that Skinner at least appreciated the value of empirical evidence and well-designed experiments. Chomsky’s probably better thought of as a philosopher.

    Never mind that you don’t even seem to appreciate my point that Skinner’s behaviorism was a deliberate oversimplification that did, in fact, prove quite fruitful to research in behavioral science.

  69. #69 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    Dan L, I’m not impressed by people reflexively citing stuff that sounds like formal logic, not to mention the instantly invented corollaries of those current among the Scienceblog set.

    Would you please be specific about where I did this? I don’t see it. Maybe you saw my brief comment about what was wrong with your argument and missed the lengthy one that got stuck in moderation?

    It wasn’t an argument, it was a statement of fact. Other than Dalton, arguably, I can’t think of one of the big names in the new atheism who would come above theirs in a list of the most prominent scientists. Well, possibly Larry Krauss if some of his more controversial ideas bear fruit, which would probably knock at least another new atheist contender off of the list entirely.

    Apparently it’s news to you that science, which was actually invented by a bunch of Christians, doesn’t belong to atheists. Maybe if you read more history you’d know that.

    It’s not news, although Newton certainly was only arguably a Christian. I don’t suppose you’ve read any of his theology? A very unorthodox Christian at any rate. And let’s not forget his alchemy. While we’re at it, let’s talk about Kepler’s model of the solar system based on the Platonic solids. That was some really crack scientific work, wasn’t it? Copernicus’ model was famously criticized for being less accurate than Ptolemy’s which had been formulated several hundred years earlier. Hardly a ringing success, right? (Also, so much for your implications that I’m ignorant of history.)

    So no, I don’t disagree that these were great scientists who were also believers in God. But I disagree with the gloss you’re trying to put on it which is indeed a veiled argument from authority. All these men did important things — but they need to be put in historical context. Newton’s discovery which marked him as one of the greatest scientists of all time is now routinely taught in high school. And of course, all these men were wrong about a great many things.

    Which only goes to support my point: science is not an activity performed by great men. Science is a communal activity. It wasn’t enough for Kepler and Newton to codify their laws of planetary motion and motion in general: other researchers had to confirm these theories through experiment in observation. Deviations from predicted experimental results had to be dealt with by revising or replacing their theories.

    So what DO you think it proves to bring up the fact that some scientists have believed in God? Not only do I not agree with all the opinions of great scientists, it would actually be a bad idea to do so. That would make science another form of dogma. The great strength of science is that I need only defer to Newton on the things Newton said which turned out to be correct.

  70. #70 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    coelsblog, in the case of Stapels and Hauser and countless others, it goes far beyond the failure of individuals, it’s a failure of the basic processes of science, that thing we are told is a guarantee of reliability so good that it makes scientific “knowledge” a far different thing than any other kind of thought, in the case of scientism, asserting that it renders all other kinds of knowledge somewhat illegitimate.

    A lot of you folks don’t seem to get a basic distinction between science and other parts of life. Science focuses on a relatively small part of human experience that can be successfully subjected to the methods of science. Anything that can’t be successfully subjected to those methods can’t produce reliable, scientific knowledge. Though there are many examples in the history of science such as eugenics, race “science”, “IQ” etc, when professional scientists have disastrously inserted other things into what gets called science, sometimes widely accepted even by scientists. That’s especially true of Sociobiology and its offspring.

    Religious thinking is only one category of human experience that can’t be used in honest science. It’s as true of politics, personal preferences, and countless other aspects of human experience and even knowledge. However, religion and politics and other, non-scientific areas of life can successfully incorporate science. If a religious person believed that God created the universe as it actually is instead of how any person believes it to be at any time, then that religion is 100% compatible with anything science will accurately reveal about the universe. And most religious people I’m aware of do, actually, believe that.

    In the case of religion people more honestly admit to belief instead of knowledge. It’s generally fundamentalists who pretend to knowledge that is, actually belief.

    It would be a good thing if scientists were more honest about the nature of what they think and assert too. If I had the book with me I’d quote a long part of the introduction to Joseph Weizenbaum’s great book, Computer Power and Human Reason, which says pretty much the same thing.

  71. #71 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    Michael Fugate,

    Here is my question: Is religion a “way of knowing?”
    If “yes”, please explain methodology employed by religion to know.

    I, personally, think this is a really bad question, since I don’t think that religion is a way of knowing because it generally is a HYPOTHESIS — a being of this sort exists — as opposed to a method encompassing and evaluating many hypotheses.

    Asking that about FAITH is better, but I don’t think faith is either because I think it allows you to feel more confident than the evidence would strictly justify — and I don’t necessarily mean that disparagingly — and so knowing through faith is psychological, not epistemic. But that would depend on your definition of faith, and others would disagree.

    Asking that about theology counts as well, but I’d deny that theology itself is because it doesn’t have any distinct methodology; again, as it evaluates a specific sort of thing it uses all the available methods, but then is only a way of knowing to the extent that the things it borrows are.

    From this, you might guess that religion is the last thing I’m worried about when I make charges about scientism, which I suspect is true for people like Ruse as well.

  72. #72 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    A lot of you folks don’t seem to get a basic distinction between science and other parts of life. Science focuses on a relatively small part of human experience that can be successfully subjected to the methods of science. Anything that can’t be successfully subjected to those methods can’t produce reliable, scientific knowledge. Though there are many examples in the history of science such as eugenics, race “science”, “IQ” etc, when professional scientists have disastrously inserted other things into what gets called science, sometimes widely accepted even by scientists. That’s especially true of Sociobiology and its offspring.

    The fiercest and most effective critics of eugenics, race science, racial IQ arguments, and sociobiology/evolutionary are psychology are and have always been, once again, scientists.

  73. #73 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    coelsblog,

    Nobody advocating scientism would want to exclude history (and similar) as a way of knowing; it quite obviously is.

    Well, I’ve had someone reply to me in a blog comment saying that mathematics doesn’t produce truths about the world and so isn’t a way of knowing, and have seen many comments demanding to know what philosophy has produced so that it can be considered a way of knowing. I’m not so sure that your view is as widely held as you seem to think.

    The only people advocating or defending “scientism” (science as the only way of knowing) are using “science” in a broad sense of evidence/reason-based enquiry. That’s the only interesting debate here.

    Fine. I think that using the term “science” for that as opposed to something like, say, philosophy is scientism itself. I also note that neither Larry Moran’s nor, say, Jerry Coyne’s broad definitions are quite that broad, and finally also note that you have not defined what evidence is. If testimony counts, then religion is not unscientific, just unproven.

  74. #74 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    coelsblog,

    Your last comment to me about astrophysics and contamination by history seems to have nothing to do with what I said, even in the section that you quoted from me. Why in the world would you think that I’m saying that any use of things that are not strictly scientific would cause an identification problem? I always talked about tendencies, not absolutes there. But all this does is support my contention that as a loose rule of thumb we take science to mean the things generally included in a faculty of science, adding in those that explicitly claim to be scientific. That allows room for inspiration from other sources without having to worry about “contamination”.

  75. #75 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    Well, I’ve had someone reply to me in a blog comment saying that mathematics doesn’t produce truths about the world and so isn’t a way of knowing, and have seen many comments demanding to know what philosophy has produced so that it can be considered a way of knowing. I’m not so sure that your view is as widely held as you seem to think.

    As a math major, I agree actually. Mathematics doesn’t produce truths about the world. It produces truths about imagined worlds.

    For example, in what sense can we say “Euclidean geometry produces truths about the world”? The world is not Euclidean, and assuming it was led a lot of philosophers and scientists down the wrong track right up until the end of the nineteenth century when mathematicians started wondering if this new-fangled non-Euclidean geometry might be useful in the physical sciences. Sure enough, the world is non-Euclidean.

    Maybe it can be described as “a way of knowing,” but to me it can’t be a “way of knowing about the world.” The most rigorous, convincing mathematical proof cannot tell you anything about the world unless it’s discovered empirically that some physical phenomenon seems to obey the mathematical theory in question.

    If testimony counts, then religion is not unscientific, just unproven.

    Just like bigfoot.

  76. #76 Michael Fugate
    December 19, 2011

    “From this, you might guess that religion is the last thing I’m worried about when I make charges about scientism, which I suspect is true for people like Ruse as well.”

    These arguments are entirely about legitimizing religion. No one would be having this conversation if it were just about mathematics, history, sociology and art.

    The National Academy in their pamphlet “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” claim “science is not the only way of knowing and understanding” and launch into a bunch of things about religion. This implies that religion is a “way of knowing and understanding” just like science is.

    I want to know how it works.

  77. #77 ildi
    December 19, 2011

    Apparently it’s news to you that science, which was actually invented by a bunch of Christians, doesn’t belong to atheists. Maybe if you read more history you’d know that.

    Are you reading Texas school board-approved history texts? Science was invented by a bunch of pagan and Islamic scholars, which just happened to be the dominant religion of their respective cultures.

  78. #78 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    Dan L.,

    What I deny, though, is that “testimony” is part of actual scientific methodology. For practical reasons, that’s often how people learn about scientific, but testimony in and of itself is not scientific. You rely on two things: that the experiments testified to were done scientifically and that they were reported accurately. While otherwise it’s a fairly poor argument, here Anthony McCarthy’s examples of bad scientific knowledge fits; the experiments were at the very least done unscientifically, and so were NEVER scientific knowledge, but scientists erred in trusting that they were scientific, and so came to believe them as if they were knowledge. For the most part, testimony is not a valid part of the scientific justification process; you don’t claim to be scientifically justified because someone says that it’s true.

    Note that philosophy and mathematics don’t have this problem for one simple reason: there is no disconnect between a philosophical/mathematical argument and what is related in testimony. If they tell you the argument, you have the argument; if they tell you incorrectly, then you have the wrong argument and evaluate that. That is not the case with experiments.

    Is history a kind of science? Is science a kind of philosophy? Who the hell cares, it comes down to definitions and it’s completely irrelevant to the argument at hand which is whether knowledge can be derived from any process that isn’t somehow empirical.

    I argue that mathematics is not empirical since no mathematical statement can be justified by appealing to experiences. Philosophy clearly rejects the idea that all knowledge must be empirical; normative claims are generally considered to not be capable of empirical (descriptive) justification. And taking Jason’s latest post on religious experiences, since those things would be empirical by definition any religion based on those would be empirical, but not scientific. All of this together suggests that there are issues for the argument at hand … even if religion was what Ruse was on about. Which, of course, he isn’t.

  79. #79 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    Michael Fugate,

    These arguments are entirely about legitimizing religion. No one would be having this conversation if it were just about mathematics, history, sociology and art.

    Obviously you didn’t read my entire comment or Ruse’s post; as far as I can see, neither of us care about legitimizing religion and are arguing this because it is about mathematics, history, sociology, philosophy, and art.

  80. #80 Nick (Matzke)
    December 19, 2011

    Dan L. writes,

    As for the specifics, your argument appears now to be that if all scientists of all times are not perfectly rational science-performing machines then scientists everywhere are guilty of scientism. Seriously: you argue that because a few scientists had extra-scientific obsessions that they wrote about that this is somehow an argument against actual science. How does that work?

    Eh, what? You are pulling that completely out of thin air! Where did I make any sort of argument against actual science?

    I am pointing out that there is something commonly called scientism, which is bad. That scientism is not good science is also part of the point. Another part of the point is that things that get called scientism are always promulgated and defended with science-y rhetoric.

    Since Rosenhouse, Coyne, and others seem to have come to the topic either expressing mystification over what “scientism” is supposed to be and why people would be worried about it, and/or taking the position that scientism is a great thing and we ought to have more of it, I figured these were useful things to point out.

  81. #81 Verbose Stoic
    December 19, 2011

    Dan L.,

    Maybe it can be described as “a way of knowing,” but to me it can’t be a “way of knowing about the world.” The most rigorous, convincing mathematical proof cannot tell you anything about the world unless it’s discovered empirically that some physical phenomenon seems to obey the mathematical theory in question.

    Well, this depends on your definition of “world”. Taking it just as the natural world, then that’s true … but then none of mathematics or philosophy or even religion actually claimed that. They might claim that the things they examine can be properly said to exist in some sense, and we may need to figure out what sense that is. But they produce justified true propositions, and so are ways of knowing, and yet are not science. As Nick did say, if you want to limit it to the specific domain of the “natural world”, then most of those opposing scientism will be on your side. But it’s not making that move clear that causes most of the fuss.

    Just like bigfoot.

    That’s the danger in expanding the definition of science too broadly; you end up including things in science that you want to claim are unscientific by definition.

  82. #82 Nick (Matzke)
    December 19, 2011

    The fiercest and most effective critics of eugenics, race science, racial IQ arguments, and sociobiology/evolutionary are psychology are and have always been, once again, scientists.

    I wish this were always true, but it’s not. In the late 20th century we had Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, and a host of other scientists acting as you say. But in the early 20th century, critique of the above from scientists was relatively scarce and relatively late (the best I’ve seen were T.H. Morgan and Raymond Pearl). The strongest critiques came from cultural anthropologists like Franz Boas and Margaret Mead, and civil libertarians like Clarence Darrow.

    E.g.

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2011/09/clarence-darrow.html

  83. #83 Nick (Matzke)
    December 19, 2011

    Re: Chomsky and Skinner — I have no stake in arguing that Chomsky was perfect or that Skinner was completely worthless, but I don’t think it is possible to read Chomsky’s critique of Skinner without coming to the conclusion that Skinner ended up in some very silly positions that he nevertheless defended on the basis of their allegedly being rigorous science, and furthermore he recommended/hoped that society would be recast along the lines of his ridiculous scheme. I.e., a classic example of an appropriate accusation of scientism (and one that had little to do with religion, FWIW).

    The Case Against B.F. Skinner
    Noam Chomsky
    New York Review of Books
    December 30, 1971

    Review of: Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/dec/30/the-case-against-bf-skinner/

  84. #84 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    The fiercest and most effective critics of eugenics, race science, racial IQ arguments, and sociobiology/evolutionary are psychology are and have always been, once again, scientists. Dan L

    The foremost proponents of all of those have been scientists.

    In at least the case of eugenics which I’m pretty familiar with, that is absolutely false. I went looking for scientific rejection of eugenics in the pre-WWII period and found very little of it as compared to other kinds of rejection of it. The scientific establishments in England and the U.S. seem to have pretty well believed it was legitimate applied science.

    The foremost opponents of scientific racism have always been its victims, not scientists.

  85. #85 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    @VS:

    For the most part, testimony is not a valid part of the scientific justification process; you don’t claim to be scientifically justified because someone says that it’s true.

    Mere testimony is not part of science; that is why science is peer reviewed and, ideally, performed by multiple independent teams of investigators — constituting multiple, independent sources of testimony on the same subject. Anthony’s breakdowns occur when there is too little skepticism of individual scientific results. Is science, as it is actually practiced, perfect? Of course not. But note how comparable this description of science is to the practice of history.

    With regards to mathematics, I think that the way people actually think about mathematics is by relating it to reality — I remember my math professor talking about fruit/cheese pairings as an example on the first day of discrete math. I also disagree that it’s as simple as getting the argument and then having it. The history of mathematics has involved a long battle about the nature of and requirements for proof. Much of the history of mathematics centered around trying to justify Newton’s notion of a “limit” which he never got around to. The only way we’re able to do that is by stipulating seven or eight fairly arbitrary axioms and even that’s created a bunch of puzzles. The status of mathematical knowledge is very murky.

    I also don’t think normative claims constitute “knowledge” (why would they? how can they be “true about the world”?). As far as I can tell, they’re descriptions of what some people happen to believe or have believed.

    So I’m not sure non-empirical knowledge is possible. I think the nature of mathematical knowledge is an open question (but I lean away from Platonism), I don’t think value judgments, normative claims, or any other sort of “ought” constitute knowledge, and I can’t think of any other sort of knowledge that is not based on what my senses report to me about the world (and usually cross-checked against what others’ senses are telling them).

  86. #86 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    OK, want to concede in a short post that will make it through mod that Anthony and Nick are absolutely right about the early opponents of scientific racism not being scientists.

    Also want to concede to Nick that Skinner had some bizarre opinions.

    Note that conceding these things is not an admission that “scientism” is a good description of them nor is it an admission that the accusations of “scientism” Jason is talking about are in any way justified.

  87. #87 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 19, 2011

    Nick –

    I disagree, I’m afraid. It is knowledge to say that Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth were revolutionary. It is knowledge to say, as James Madison did, that “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” It is knowledge to say that slavery was a key cause of the Civil War. It is knowledge to say that slavery is wrong. All of these are conclusions of the humanities, not of science.

    We really do disagree, since I would say that all of those conclusions can fairly be described as scientific (with the possible exception of the one about slavery). I don’t see how any of them are established by some distinctively humanistic approach to knowledge gathering. It seems to me we gain confidence in these assertions by applying to history and politics precisely the same methods that scientists apply in their work.

    Respectable historians produce models and theories about what happened in the past, test those theories against evidence, and revise their models as new evidence comes in. Why should I not consider that a scientific approach? The conclusion that slavery was a major cause of the Civil War is the finding of just such an investigation. Non-respectable historians might point to the oral traditions of a population or the testimony of holy books as reliable routes to historical knowledge. Those would be distinctly non-scientific approaches, but few today would defend their reliability.

    I would argue similarly for the other points on your list. Madison’s statement fits comfortably within Ruse’s definition of science. It’s a generalization from experience. I’ll take your word for it that Beethoven’s fifth and ninth symphonies were “revolutionary,” but to the extent that we can claim to know such a thing it is only by amassing the available evidence of what music at the time was like, and comparing it to what Beethoven was doing. I hedged on the one about slavery, just because I’m somewhat skeptical of the whole idea of moral facts. But I’ll save that for a separate blog post.

    Now, it seems obvious that these determinations are based on what you take science to be. For example, if you simply define science to be restricted to questions about the natural world, then history will fall outside that definition. If you use Ruse’s definition of “generalization from experience” then much of mathematics and quite a bit of everyday folk wisdom would fit comfortably in science’s tent. If you use Huxley’s definition that science is just applied common sense, then a very broad conception like the one I am using seems reasonable. But this sort of thing is precisely why I opened my post by talking about a definitional morass and by stressing that drawing fine distinctions between science and other disciplines is not the point. The point, rather, is how you defend knowledge claims.

    Let’s be serious. Neither you nor Ruse really think that Barash or myself simply discard historical scholarship, or dismiss it as all a matter of opinion. You don’t really think that we reject the idea that we can say with confidence that certain political and moral systems are better than others, at least to the extent that human flourishing is the goal of any political or moral system. So what exactly are you trying to convince me of?

    You stress that there is a broader context to charges of scientism. Well, there is also a broader context behind why some of us are keen to stress the status of science as the premiere way of knowing. We are beset by claims that religion also provides reliable routes to knowledge. That claim needs to be challenged, because it is false and potentially dangerous. From certain quarters of the academic left we get wholesale attacks on the whole idea of objective knowledge. Science gets disparaged as just one more tool of control, and some of us are keen to challenge that as well. In that regard we point out that applying logic and reason, and testing your theories against data, and being willing to revise your ideas as new data comes in, are the best approaches to knowledge. Those techniques can be applied far more broadly than just to questions about the natural world.

  88. #88 Deepak Shetty
    December 19, 2011

    @Nick
    All of these are conclusions of the humanities, not of science
    Ah you are a practitioner of ScienceAndHumanitism which Jason covered in his original post.

    The key question is do you think Religion is “a reliable way of knowing”?. If yes, then prove it, if not , and you are willing to say it loudly , you will be classified as a practitioner of Scientism.

  89. #89 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    @VS:

    As Nick did say, if you want to limit it to the specific domain of the “natural world”, then most of those opposing scientism will be on your side.

    It depends on what you mean by the “natural world.” In my view, human beings and everything they do are part of the natural world so we’re probably speaking different languages here.

    That’s the danger in expanding the definition of science too broadly; you end up including things in science that you want to claim are unscientific by definition.

    Why would I want to rule out bigfoot by definition? Coelacanths and black swans, man. Being skeptical doesn’t mean “bigfoot definitely doesn’t exist,” it means “there isn’t any compelling evidence that bigfoot exists.”

  90. #90 Anthony McCarthy
    December 19, 2011

    If testimony counts, then religion is not unscientific, just unproven.
    Just like bigfoot. DanL

    How about just like memes or Hamilton’s untestable declarations about altruism, string theory, M theory, etc. How about like any idea that becomes accepted in science that is then overturned? How about John Hartung’s odious, I’d maintain antisemitic paper cited by Dawkins’ in The God Delusion (p 288)? Which, by the way, he’d know was untrue if he bothered reading Leviticus 19:33-34.

    There is plenty of unproven stuff that gets into science because people who have credentials as scientists insert them into science, not to mention sci-jock culture, though that’s hardly the same thing.

    Jason Rosenhouse, expanding the definition of what science is for the purpose of this argument is a really bad idea. It would be a lot better to admit that science isn’t the pure, pristine thing imagined by most people. It isn’t an act that can be set apart from other types of human experience and thought, it’s made of exactly the same kinds of ideas.

    The man on the street surely believes such scientific facts to be as well-established, as well-proven, as his own existence. His certitude is an illusion. Nor is the scientist himself immune to the same illusion. In his praxis, he must, after all, suspend disbelief in order to do or think anything at all. He is rather like a theatergoer, who, in order to participate in and understand what is happening on the stage, must for a time pretend to himself that he is witnessing real events. The scientist must believe his working hypothesis, together with its vast underlying structure of theories and assumptions, even if only for the sake of the argument. Often the “argument” extends over his entire lifetime. Gradually he becomes what he at first merely pretended to be: a true believer. I choose the word “argument” thoughtfully, for scientific demonstrations, even mathematical proofs, are fundamentally acts of persuasion.

    Science statements can never be certain; they can be only more or less credible. And credibility is a term of individual psychology, i.e., a term that has meaning only with respect to an individual observer. To say that some proposition is credible, is after all, to say that it is believed by an agent who is free not to believe it, that is, by an observer who, after exercising judgment and (possibly) intuition, chooses to accept the proposition as worthy of his believing it. How then can science, which itself surely and ultimately rests on vast arrays of human value judgments, demonstrate that human value judgments are illusory? It cannot do so without forfeiting its own status as the single legitimate path to understanding man and his world.

    Joseph Weizenbaum Computer Power and Human Reason

  91. #91 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    Nick and Anthony, your examples seem to indicate that “scientism” is mistaking a descriptive physical principle for a prescriptive moral principle. In the case of Skinner, he thought his behaviorist theory provided a template for human society. Scientific racists and eugenicists took Darwin’s theory about competition between species and applied it to the moral and political domain.

    Very few atheists/science bloggers/scientists seem to be committing such a grievous offense in the context that Jason’s post is about. One might argue that Sam Harris is doing that with his latest book but even so look at how many atheists/science bloggers/scientists are arguing with him. (I don’t agree with the idea of moral facts but I don’t think people have paid enough attention to how empirical facts and especially scientific facts influence moral judgments so I think it’s a worthy contribution to the conversation at least.)

    Nick’s examples drawn from that quarter are notably poor: “Dawkins and other ‘memeologists’” want to replace humanities departments with a “department of memetics”? There must be a website for that campaign, care to link me, Matzke? Jerry Coyne thinks there’s no free will and that criminal justice needs some kind of reform…so what? Lots of people think there’s no free will and lots of people think criminal justice needs to be reformed. (Of course, if you read Jerry’s argument it’s more nuanced than Nick presents it; he’s really a compatibilist who is stubborn about semantics).

    E.O. Wilson’s speculation is interesting, though I should point out that it’s the speculation of one lone scientist and that he’s not actually advocating any political action regarding it. See, I do think behavioral science can tell us things about morality and moral behavior — I think this because it has already done so. Child development research, psychological research, clinical neuropathology, and more fields besides have turned up results very relevant to how humans reason about morality.

    Note that in pointing this out I’m not claiming that anyone should make moral decisions purely based on descriptive scientific facts. That’s the error you guys are calling “scientism.” But it doesn’t commit this error to point out that moral judgments depend on facts about the world and that facts about the brain and mind can tell us more about the nature of moral reasoning.

  92. #92 Nick (Matzke)
    December 19, 2011

    Hi Jason — yes, I think you’ve accurately stated the disagreement.

    Re: Ruse, you are right that he makes a reference to science as “generalization from experience”, but I doubt that he would put that forward as his considered position of what the meaning of “science” is.

    Ruse has another post today that links to EvolutionBlog:

    Scientism Continued

    December 19, 2011, 10:01 am

    By Michael Ruse

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/scientism-continued/42332

    I would basically agree with what he says here:

    My three examples of nonscientific truths were mathematics, morality, and answers to those kinds of philosophical meta-questions, like – “What is the truth status of claims that only scientific claims are knowledge claims?” I will leave the first and third categories for discussion at another time, although frankly I will say that if someone really thinks the Euler identity (my example) is a generalization from experience then they are in the right state of mind to accept the validity of the ontological argument.

    Let’s focus in on moral claims. My most doughty critic Jerry Coyne (really, I should pay him a retainer) says “while science can inform moral judgments, in the end statements about right or wrong (or, in Ruse’s case, whether one should feel ashamed of an action) are opinions, based on subjective value judgments.” And he goes on to say “I think that’s true.”

    Let me say bluntly – and it really is nothing personal because if it were I would be including a lot of my fellow philosophers including some of my teachers – I think this is just plain wrong. I want to say that what Jerry Sandusky was reportedly doing to kids in the showers was morally wrong, and that this is not just an opinion or something “based on subjective value judgments.” The truth of its wrongness is as well taken as the truth of the heliocentric solar system. It’s just not an empirical claim. [...]

    …and cites Hume’s is/ought distinction as justification.

    As for what is meant with the word “science”, and more importantly, what do audiences hear with the word “science”, Richard Wein has pretty much covered everything I would say, so I won’t repeat that. The almost-universal understanding of “science” is basically the stuff that is produced in research labs and university science departments. Using the term in a different way will inevitably lead to misunderstandings, especially since there are better terms (if one thinks “generalization from experience” is the best or only route to truth about the world, then say that, not “science”).

    This is a useful point:

    Let’s be serious. Neither you nor Ruse really think that Barash or myself simply discard historical scholarship, or dismiss it as all a matter of opinion. You don’t really think that we reject the idea that we can say with confidence that certain political and moral systems are better than others, at least to the extent that human flourishing is the goal of any political or moral system. So what exactly are you trying to convince me of?

    Of course you are right, we don’t think that you or Barash really thinks these things. I don’t even think that someone like Jerry Coyne or a similar extreme caveats-are-for-weenies science booster really believes these sorts of things deep down — even when they say something like “objective morality doesn’t exist” or “philosophy is crap just like theology” or “free will is crap just like the idea of a spirit” or “there is science, and everything else is mere subjective opinion.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but these are sentiments that you really will see expressed on occasion.

    Coyne and others of course have absolutely no hesitation about issuing confident moral condemnations, acting as if they and others have free will and their opinions and decisions matter, doing philosophy (whether or not they admit it), praising greatness in art, music, sports, etc.

    So the question then becomes, why are such statements made? Probably it is a bit much to say that it is overheated rhetoric in an ideological power struggle for dominance in the culture. Maybe it is tribal group-definition behavior that rallies the good guys and disparages the outgroup. YMMV.

  93. #93 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    McCarthy@90:

    Skipping your first paragraph because it’s irrelevant. None of that stuff is scientific by any kind of scientific consensus. Of the four, only string theory even tries (and I already covered it upthread).

    There is plenty of unproven stuff that gets into science because people who have credentials as scientists insert them into science, not to mention sci-jock culture, though that’s hardly the same thing.

    First of all, I think you’re drastically overstating the amount of “unproven stuff” that gets taken to be scientific consensus. You’re also understating the amount of very reliable scientific knowledge that you take for granted every day as a result of living in an industrialized society (your computer, your clothes, your food, your home, your health, any vehicle you’ve ever ridden in). Second of all, you’re ignoring the fact that, historically, the best cure for bad science has been more science.

    Finally, I pretty much agree with the paragraphs you quote from that guy’s book. I don’t see how it’s antithetical to anything I’ve written or argued, or to anything Jason has written or argued for that matter. I don’t think it’s anything that any scientist wouldn’t admit to — all of us agree that science is fallible, that there is no scientific proof, only degrees of certitude. It’s a nice argument for more skepticism and for people to educate themselves regarding the actual arguments scientists are making rather than taking things “on faith.” I have no idea why you would think it’s somehow an argument against a scientific worldview.

  94. #94 eric
    December 19, 2011

    Anthony @70:

    coelsblog, in the case of Stapels and Hauser and countless others, it goes far beyond the failure of individuals, it’s a failure of the basic processes of science,

    How is the discovery of fraud or error a failure? No scientist claims that the process of science prevents these things. What scientists generally claim is that the self-correcting nature of the method will eventually discover them. Which is exactly what happened.

    that thing we are told is a guarantee of reliability so good that it makes scientific “knowledge” a far different thing than any other kind of thought, in the case of scientism, asserting that it renders all other kinds of knowledge somewhat illegitimate.

    Throughout this 100-post thread, I have yet to hear you, Nick, or VS cogently respond to the primary point, which is: if you define ‘science’ narrowly, very few people are actually scientism-ists, and you are making a strawman argument. If, OTOH, you define ‘science’ broadly (e.g. like empiricism or reason from evidence), very few people are going to think ‘scientism’ is a bad thing.

    I am, IOW, skeptical of you all’s implication that there is some sizeable group of arrogant scientism-ists who think the strictest, narrowest version of science is the only way to arrive at valuable information or insight. Show me that group. As far as I can tell, none of the posters here belong to it.

    Jason Rosenhouse, expanding the definition of what science is for the purpose of this argument is a really bad idea. It would be a lot better to admit that science isn’t the pure, pristine thing imagined by most people. It isn’t an act that can be set apart from other types of human experience and thought, it’s made of exactly the same kinds of ideas.

    Don’t you see the non sequitur in that paragraph? You start by complaining about expanding the definition of science. You end by saying it shares most of its traits with other human activities.

    I doubt any scientist would claim science is pure and pristine. We know better. I think you’re imagining a group that doesn’t really exist. Or, at a minimum, attributing to a large number of pro-science people a view only held by an extremely small, radical minority. As I said above, there’s a big group which probably supports the ‘science is the only way to know stuff’ idea as it relates to a very broad definition of science. But there’s probably not a big group who supports that idea as it relates to a very narrow definition of science.

  95. #95 Dan L.
    December 19, 2011

    I want to say that what Jerry Sandusky was reportedly doing to kids in the showers was morally wrong, and that this is not just an opinion or something “based on subjective value judgments.” The truth of its wrongness is as well taken as the truth of the heliocentric solar system. It’s just not an empirical claim.

    Even if one “wants to say” that pedophilia is wrong forever and everywhere that doesn’t put it in the same category as heliocentrism. I think Ruse is even being inconsistent here: it could have turned out that the universe really is geocentric, that’s what makes heliocentrism an empirical fact in the first place. But Ruse doesn’t want his value judgment about pedophilia to be subject to empirical evidence — he doesn’t want to admit ANY facts about the world that could make it false. So how is it comparable to heliocentrism at all?

    I will leave the first and third categories for discussion at another time, although frankly I will say that if someone really thinks the Euler identity (my example) is a generalization from experience then they are in the right state of mind to accept the validity of the ontological argument.

    One can quite legitimately point out that Euler’s identity was not discovered by Pythagoras: it depends on a system of mathematical terminology and notation that was hundreds of years in the making. Assuming Euler was the first to discover the identity, it was on the basis of being one of the first people on earth to have the conceptual and notational tools to express and prove the identity. After all, it wasn’t obvious to ancient human beings that there were such things as negative or complex numbers and algebraic notation didn’t come from the aether, it was a sort of notational technology accreted over centuries of Islamic mathematics. And all these things are necessary for complex analysis.

    One can also plausibly claim that the meta-questions Ruse mentions do not have definite answers. Perhaps such answers can never be demonstrated to be true or false, in which case they can never qualify as “justified true belief” (not that I put too much stock in that definition). One may take one answer or another as axiomatic, but perhaps that is the limit to the extent that we can actually answer those meta-questions.

    So whether or not you agree with Ruse it can plausibly be argued that Ruse is wrong about these three types of knowledge: that moral knowledge is not knowledge at all, that mathematical knowledge is (at least potentially and possibly in a qualified way) empirical, and that answers to meta-questions may not constitute knowledge at all. And I don’t think doing so requires or constitutes “scientism” (since scientism, from your own explanation, seems to consist of mistaking description for prescription which is not done here).

    So what’s the problem? Is subscribing to or advocating for any sort of naturalistic philosophy a form of “scientism” now?

  96. #96 coelsblog
    December 20, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy writes:

    coelsblog, in the case of Stapels and Hauser and countless others, it goes far beyond the failure of individuals, it’s a failure of the basic processes of science, …

    Since those flaws have been found out and are being rectified I don’t agree that they point a failure of the basic processes of science. Science is robust enough that it can cope and rectify even instances of fraud, by the process of checking by independent people.

    A lot of you folks don’t seem to get a basic distinction between science and other parts of life.

    You’re right, I don’t.

    Science focuses on a relatively small part of human experience that can be successfully subjected to the methods of science.

    You have too narrow a view of science; I don’t accept that there are any parts of human experience that we cannot subject to science’s methods (interpreting “science” broadly as evidence/reason-based enquiry).

  97. #97 Verbose Stoic
    December 20, 2011

    Dan L.,

    Even if one “wants to say” that pedophilia is wrong forever and everywhere that doesn’t put it in the same category as heliocentrism. I think Ruse is even being inconsistent here: it could have turned out that the universe really is geocentric, that’s what makes heliocentrism an empirical fact in the first place. But Ruse doesn’t want his value judgment about pedophilia to be subject to empirical evidence — he doesn’t want to admit ANY facts about the world that could make it false. So how is it comparable to heliocentrism at all?

    They’re both, to him, factual claims. He just doesn’t think that the one about ethics is an empirical one, which you acknowledge but then oddly enough try to use against him. Why does it have to be empirical to be a fact, or true, or knowledge?

    So whether or not you agree with Ruse it can plausibly be argued that Ruse is wrong about these three types of knowledge: that moral knowledge is not knowledge at all, that mathematical knowledge is (at least potentially and possibly in a qualified way) empirical, and that answers to meta-questions may not constitute knowledge at all. And I don’t think doing so requires or constitutes “scientism” (since scientism, from your own explanation, seems to consist of mistaking description for prescription which is not done here).

    No, that’s what what scientism is, even from his own explanation. Scientism is, even for him, invalidly insisting that science is the only way of knowing things. One AREA where we can know things but not scientifically is ethics, because empirical data gives descriptions and ethics needs prescriptions.

    As for all of your other claims, I have one quite serious question to ask you: how do you plan to go about answering those questions and therefore coming to know their answers scientifically without expanding unduly EITHER the definitions of science or empiricism?

  98. #98 Anthony McCarthy
    December 20, 2011

    The examples of Stapels and Hauser show that outright fraud is not reliably filtered out by the various levels of review. What they published was given the status of scientific knowledge for whatever length of time before it was discovered. How much of the body of “knowledge” that isn’t discovered, of course, can’t be known but it can be assumed that it is quite possible that there is other fraud and even just wishful thinking that today has the status of scientific knowledge.

    The apostasy of E.O. Wilson re W.D. Hamilton could indicate that a major part of what’s been presented to the world as reliable, scientific knowledge is on the verge of crumbling and falling into the bone yard of the behavioral sciences. That is as much a major scandal in, not only the specialties involved, but to the entire field of science which allowed untestable speculation to have the same intellectual status as far more solid knowledge. It regularly does that, especially in the case of behavioral-cognative “science”. The entirely speculative use of fMRI is a major scandal that has yet to really hit the fan.

    In the case of Hamilton’s bizarre concept of “altruism”, it was directly in the interest of promoting an ideology derived from the idea of natural selection. Natural selection is an idea which has undergone quite a bit of modification over the century and a half it’s been around. To the extent that natural selection remains as a coherent concept, it certainly shows how flexible the idea of “knowledge” can be even within well established science. The scientists who, while accepting the reality of natural selection, thought Hamilton and his intellectual descendants were all wet certainly show that. And it also shows that the status of scientific knowledge is not as rock like as most people, including many in science, customarily think of it as being.

    On the other hand, many other kinds of knowledge, such as much, though not all, of history is far more certain. The daily facts of most peoples’ lives are certainly more certain to most of the people who experience them without getting hung up in epidemiological dogma or academic ideology. No matter how much they are encouraged to believe that it isn’t by people with academic agendas.

  99. #99 Verbose Stoic
    December 20, 2011

    eric,

    Throughout this 100-post thread, I have yet to hear you, Nick, or VS cogently respond to the primary point, which is: if you define ‘science’ narrowly, very few people are actually scientism-ists, and you are making a strawman argument. If, OTOH, you define ‘science’ broadly (e.g. like empiricism or reason from evidence), very few people are going to think ‘scientism’ is a bad thing.

    Well, you seem to be missing what my argument is:

    1) When I and most people use the term “science”, we mean the narrower definition, not the broader one, so people who are insisting that science is the only way of knowing need to make that clear, since it is mostly obvious that there are other ways of knowing. This, of course, started from people insisting that when WE used the term “science”, WE really meant the broad definition, and so were arguing invalidly. We aren’t.

    2) That being said, even using the narrower definition there are indeed some people who seem to hold that science still is the only way of knowing (see, for example, Dan L’s challenges to the knowledge and truth produced by mathematics and ethics).

    3) The problem with broadening the definition is that while I may agree that that form of inquiry can encompass all valid ways of knowing — you’d need to define “evidence” before I’ll accept that — I fail to see any reason to call that “science”. If you make philosophy a branch of science, you are doing something wrong.

    I object to both those who use the narrow definition and those who attempt to broaden it unduly.

  100. #100 Verbose Stoic
    December 20, 2011

    Jason,

    Let’s be serious. Neither you nor Ruse really think that Barash or myself simply discard historical scholarship, or dismiss it as all a matter of opinion. You don’t really think that we reject the idea that we can say with confidence that certain political and moral systems are better than others, at least to the extent that human flourishing is the goal of any political or moral system. So what exactly are you trying to convince me of?

    Well, see, we don’t know WHAT to think. Why? Because there are some people who do, in fact, argue at least at times that these can be simply discarded, and when you toss off a short comment that science is the only way of knowing we don’t know where those things fit into your model. So we want you to acknowledge this openly and without trying to subsume other fields under the methodology of science. We really want you to say — as you did for mathematics — that even if they don’t do things the way science does, they’d still be a way of knowledge, starting from the narrow and then, if you really want to, arguing for the broader definition, so that we can be clear that you aren’t dismissing things like philosophy because you don’t think them scientific or empirical enough. And in the comments of this very thread, we can see attempts to at least start down the road of doing that kind of dismissal.

    Well, there is also a broader context behind why some of us are keen to stress the status of science as the premiere way of knowing. We are beset by claims that religion also provides reliable routes to knowledge. That claim needs to be challenged, because it is false and potentially dangerous. From certain quarters of the academic left we get wholesale attacks on the whole idea of objective knowledge. Science gets disparaged as just one more tool of control, and some of us are keen to challenge that as well. In that regard we point out that applying logic and reason, and testing your theories against data, and being willing to revise your ideas as new data comes in, are the best approaches to knowledge. Those techniques can be applied far more broadly than just to questions about the natural world.

    Well, the issue is that there is absolutely no need to insist that science — again noting that those attacks are on the NARROW definition of science, not the broader one — is somehow the premiere way of knowing to oppose those claims. If religion is to be considered a way of knowing, then we can examine that with the field that studies knowing and make them belly-up to the bar on that. That’s almost certainly epistemology, a clear branch of philosophy. Those arguments about there not being any sort of objective knowledge are, again, philosophical ones; you can address them by engaging in the philosophical arguments and showing what their philosophical flaws are. None of this requires a knee-jerk sort of reaction to insist that science is really, really good and that anything that could possibly find out anything is really science, or by shifting definitions to the broader sense for no reason.

    Take your comment above. What counts as “data” for you? What counts as “testing”? I have indeed seen many people use data to mean empirical data, and testing to mean experimentation, and then wonder why philosophers and mathematicians and even those concerned about everyday reasoning aren’t exactly happy with that being listed as the absolute best way to get knowledge, since for some areas they aren’t ways of getting knowledge at all. You may want to dodge issues of definition, but without defining what exactly is meant you either get people talking about completely different issues, or end up with equivocation. Neither are good.

    The problem is as I have said: in order to attack religion you are stepping on the toes of people who are not, in fact, concerned about religion but ARE concerned about those other fields, and we aren’t sure that you are or even can preserve those other fields by your argument, and are much confused about why you won’t simply use the proper fields instead of trying to elevate science to get your point across.

  101. #101 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    “the best cure for bad science has been more science.”

    Indeed. As the USA found out, the best way to remove Quack doctors wasn’t to ask for faith healers but to instigate a medical science board: the FDA.

  102. #102 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    “The fiercest and most effective critics of eugenics, race science, racial IQ arguments, and sociobiology/evolutionary are psychology are and have always been, once again, scientists”

    Scientists have in the main resisted the abuse of science and its findings for political gain. Being human, this is not a complete 100% consensus, but people serious about science know when it’s being used politically, and are not happy with that, even when they agree with the aims.

    Hitler believed so strongly in his god that he KNEW that the Jews deserved extinction.

    Imam’s don’t need to abuse science to get genocide: they can merely use “Infidel”, just as Christians use “Heretic”. Since they already HAVE an entire theology of eugenics and racial perogatives, they have no need to use science to bolster their pogroms.

    They will happily misuse science to prove that THEIR theology is right on the subject, though.

  103. #103 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    #82 “I wish this were always true, but it’s not.”

    Which bit is not true? It doesn’t have to be 100% always true to be true enough for a general statement.

  104. #104 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    Start with mathematics. It can be applied to the world, but does anyone really think that it is a matter of generalizing from experience?

    Uhhh…yeah, it bloody well IS just that: we start by counting specific things (number of tigers trying to eat us, number of fruits gathered in a season, number of days said fruit has to last before we can get more, etc.), then inevitably end up working with numbers in a more general sense, based on our experience in being forced to deal with numbers and quantities of real objects. If Ruse doesn’t understand this basic point, he’s a moron and there’s no use arguing wtih him.

  105. #105 Anthony McCarthy
    December 20, 2011

    I’ve decided the best answer to bad blog commentators is to ignore them.

    The problem with bad science is that unless you’re in a position to identify it, you don’t know it’s there. And the vast majority of people aren’t in a position to identify it. What are they supposed to do? Just believe it all because “it’s science”?

  106. #106 Anthony McCarthy
    December 20, 2011

    Is a whole number that is a a googolplex larger than the number of all discrete entities in the universe a real number? If the set of whole numbers is infinitely large, that number has to exist. Either “infinite” means that number is real or the set of whole numbers (and all other sets containing the set of whole numbers) isn’t infinitely large. Yet that number, and an infinite number of other whole numbers, couldn’t represent a one-to-one correspondence to the set of discrete entities in the physical universe.

  107. #107 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    “The problem with bad science is that unless you’re in a position to identify it, you don’t know it’s there.”

    And you’re uniquely provided with the right position, aye?

    Did God give you that location? Or is he the one telling you what’s bad science?

    PS Cold Fusion was bad science. But science discovered it by taking the testimony of the original paper, applying rigour to the experiment and results and discovering no such effect.

    I guess science was in a position to identify bad science then, hmm?

  108. #108 eric
    December 20, 2011

    VS:

    1) When I and most people use the term “science”, we mean the narrower definition, not the broader one, so people who are insisting that science is the only way of knowing need to make that clear

    If someone makes a claim about ‘science,’ you’re right to ask what they mean by that. And you’re right to judge their claim based on their own definitions. But you can’t very well complain that the claim is wrong once their definition is switched out for yours, because the post-switch claim is not the one they are defending.

    So yes, people should make clear what definition they’re using. But no, people who think that science(broad) is the only way of knowing don’t need to defend, discuss, or worry about the claim that science(narrow) is the only way of knowing.

    (see, for example, Dan L’s challenges to the knowledge and truth produced by mathematics and ethics).

    I went back and read Dan’s posts. He seems pretty clearly to think the issue is whether non-empirical studies can produce knowledge; see bottom of @51 for a clear example of that. While he also seems to object to the term ‘science’ being used to describe other disciplines, his focus on empiricism pretty clearly means he doesn’t think a very narrow definition of science is the only thing to produce knowledge.

    So, in terms of examples of this supposed group, you are 0 for 1. Surely you can find ONE person who has the view you’re arguing against?!?

  109. #109 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    I’ve decided the best answer to bad blog commentators is to ignore them.

    Yeah, Anthony, that’s your unique style: spout pure made-up nonsense and ignore what everyone else says. Life is easy when you lock yourself in your own pretend universe.

    (So…if you’re ignoring us, then why are you here?)

    What are they supposed to do? Just believe it all because “it’s science”?

    Who here has said anything close to that? As usual, you’re making shit up about what we’re saying, and cobbling up excuses to ignore what we’re actually saying.

    Is a whole number that is a a googolplex larger than the number of all discrete entities in the universe a real number? If the set of whole numbers is infinitely large, that number has to exist. Either “infinite” means that number is real or the set of whole numbers (and all other sets containing the set of whole numbers) isn’t infinitely large. Yet that number, and an infinite number of other whole numbers, couldn’t represent a one-to-one correspondence to the set of discrete entities in the physical universe.

    And your point here is…?

  110. #110 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    “And your point here is…?”

    Well, it’s wrong for a start. Infinity doesn’t exist as a number. If the set of countable numbers is infinitely large, you can NEVER count to infinity, therefore that number does not have to exist.

    But if you say “it must exist” then his point is right.

    His problem is that his point only applies to himself (since he’s the only one saying infinity must exist).

    And I have NO IDEA how he gets:

    “Either “infinite” means that number is real or the set of whole numbers (and all other sets containing the set of whole numbers) isn’t infinitely large.”

    From it.

    The set of whole numbers is infinitely large. But you’ll still never count up to it.

  111. #111 coelsblog
    December 20, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    “The examples of Stapels and Hauser show that outright fraud is not reliably filtered out by the various levels of review.”

    Not in the short-term, no. But the process of science and peer review doesn’t stop with publication. Indeed it really only *starts* at that point (that’s the point when most peers get to read it).

    “What they published was given the status of scientific knowledge for whatever length of time before it was discovered.”

    So what? Scientism does not claim that science is infallible and that everything currently accepted as science is undoubtedly true. Indeed, those who defend scientism accept that it is fallible and open to revision.

    “On the other hand, many other kinds of knowledge, such as much, though not all, of history is far more certain.”

    So what? All of those defending “scientism” would encompass history (and other similar evidence/reason-based enquiries) within the broad definition of “science”. No-one is defending a version of “scientism” that would exclude history as a way of knowing, so why bother refuting a straw-man?

  112. #112 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    The examples of Stapels and Hauser show that outright fraud is not reliably filtered out by the various levels of review.

    So how was such fraud ultimately detected? Divination? Prayer? Probably not; I’m guessing it was detected, and described, by other scientists doing more science. So what’s your point here?

    The apostasy of E.O. Wilson re W.D. Hamilton could indicate that a major part of what’s been presented to the world as reliable, scientific knowledge is on the verge of crumbling and falling into the bone yard of the behavioral sciences.

    You seem to have an irrational grudge against “behavioral sciences,” and a desperate need to equate all other scientific endeavors (including biology and astrophysics) with your twisted caricature of “behavioral sciences.” If you want to attack “scientific knowledge,” you’ll have to make a more believable case than that. Hell, forget believable — just try for coherent for starters.

    And it also shows that the status of scientific knowledge is not as rock like as most people, including many in science, customarily think of it as being.

    How, exactly, do the misdeeds of a handful of scientists cast doubt on the whole of modern physics, astronomy, biology, etc.? You got a serious infestation of non-sequiturs.

    Also, can you name even one other branch of learning that has a less blemished record than the sciences? History and organized religion certainly don’t cut it.

  113. #113 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    …so why bother refuting a straw-man?

    That’s all Anthony McCarthy ever does — and he can’t even do that convincingly. He can’t handle reality, so he makes shit up to pretend it’s something he can handle. He’s an obscurantist in the classic sense of the word, and he’s so engrossed in his pretend games that he can’t see — or just doesn’t care — how transparently ridiculous he sounds in decent company.

  114. #114 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    I went looking for scientific rejection of eugenics in the pre-WWII period…

    Of course — if you’d looked for such rejection after WW-II, you’d find your anti-science grudge disproven in a heartbeat. That’s why you chose to confine your search to the period you already knew would validate your prejudices.

  115. #115 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    Did he look for theistic rejection of eugenics in the pre-WWII period?

    And has he looked for any racial purity issues still promoted by, say, Southern Baptists since WWII?

  116. #116 tomh
    December 20, 2011

    McCarthy finally achieved his goal – someone paid attention to him. He never changes.

  117. #117 Anthony McCarthy
    December 20, 2011

    Not in the short-term, no. But the process of science and peer review doesn’t stop with publication. coelsblog

    We live in the present. We don’t live in some speculative future in which present day frauds and mistakes will be discovered and successfully expunged. What constitutes “science” is what is accepted as science today. As those frauds and mistakes are exposed, and we have no idea what percentage of presently “known” science consists of them, others will be introduced. The idea that science represents a new order of reliable truth overlooks that inconvenient fact.

    When science is done scrupulously and it stays within its abilities and those areas of human perception that it was made to deal with, it’s able to produce information of great reliability. But a lot of other stuff is introduced and accepted as being “science” and so is treated as if it was equally reliable when there is absolutely no reason other than the professional convenience of those producing it to regard it that way.

    And you can read that kind of stuff in most newspapers and magazines just about every day. For example, any sociological or other stuff that relies on self-reporting is of entirely unknowable accuracy, it starts out that way. Yet it is regarded as “science” despite that, even, as in the matter of how many women men report they have sex with as opposed to how many men women report they have sex with, the results of the surveys are not only unlikely but logically impossible, something which is known even to those who release the alleged study results.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/weekinreview/12kolata.html

  118. #118 Anthony McCarthy
    December 20, 2011

    Yapping attack puppies of scientism.

  119. #119 Verbose Stoic
    December 20, 2011

    eric,

    If someone makes a claim about ‘science,’ you’re right to ask what they mean by that. And you’re right to judge their claim based on their own definitions. But you can’t very well complain that the claim is wrong once their definition is switched out for yours, because the post-switch claim is not the one they are defending.

    And I don’t. I first evaluate it as per the narrower definition — or, as we’ll see in a moment, A narrower one — and then suggest that it excludes fields like philosophy, everyday reasoning and mathematics. When they then move to a broader one I react either by pointing out that it is still narrow and excludes fields like that, or by pointing out that they have no reason to call that broader definition “science” as opposed to “philosophy” or “the bleeding obvious but one that doesn’t even exclude religion like you want it to”.

    There’s not enough room to fully argue that here, but I am doing a series of posts on scientism and will get around to my full charges of scientism in a couple of posts.

    I went back and read Dan’s posts. He seems pretty clearly to think the issue is whether non-empirical studies can produce knowledge; see bottom of @51 for a clear example of that. While he also seems to object to the term ‘science’ being used to describe other disciplines, his focus on empiricism pretty clearly means he doesn’t think a very narrow definition of science is the only thing to produce knowledge.

    The broad definition I was generally accepting was “evidence and reason-based inquiry”. I argued earlier that even Larry Moran’s and Jerry Coyne’s broader definitions are too narrow. To insist that ways of knowing must be empirical is to leave out, in my opinion, philosophy — which doesn’t insist on it and argues that some things cannot be known empirically — and mathematics. Thus, he’s working with a narrow view that takes the particulars of science narrowly defined — ie it’s empiricism — and makes that the standard for all knowledge. Now, I just noticed in your comment that you included empiricism as a broader definition, but then I still argue that it excludes things that we reasonably think produce knowledge.

    Note, however, that Dan L. can say that at least he’s arguing for it. Which is fair enough. My dislike for scientism comes entirely from my thinking it obviously false; if he or you can argue well for it, then that may change. Although I still want an answer to how you expect to come to know that scientism is true empirically without simply presuming that empirical justification is required for knowledge.

  120. #120 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    We live in the present. We don’t live in some speculative future in which present day frauds and mistakes will be discovered and successfully expunged.

    Yes, we live in the present, in which past frauds and mistakes HAVE BEEN discovered and successfully expunged; and in which present-day frauds are indeed in the process of being discovered and expunged practically every day.

    And who has been doing all that successful discovering and expunging of frauds and mistakes? Other scientists. Your attempts to sow mistrust of rational inquiry are as desperate as they are transparent.

    And you can read that kind of stuff in most newspapers and magazines just about every day.

    Thank you, you just admitted my point.

    For example, any sociological or other stuff that relies on self-reporting is of entirely unknowable accuracy, it starts out that way.

    Now you’re confusing actual rational inquiry with “sociological or other stuff” that you see in the media. You really don’t know what you’re talking about, do you?

  121. #121 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    Yapping attack puppies of scientism.

    Infantile troll is infantile. Dude, if that’s really your opinion of us, then why are you even here? Or do you only get that opinion when we debunk all your lies?

  122. #122 Michael Fugate
    December 20, 2011

    VS, You accuse me of not reading Ruse, but the whole article is infused with religion – mormons, agnostics, new atheists, etc. If this is not about carving out a place for religion in the knowledge-producing business, then Ruse should stop bringing up religion. The man is obsessed with religion. The implication is that since other ways of knowing exist – religion might be one of them. Maybe you are not leveling the charge of scientism to defend religion, but many are.

    Let’s take a look at morality. One could say “many people claim child rape is wrong.” That is a fact and it is empirical. Compare this to “child rape is wrong.” What is it? fact? knowledge? How is it determined?

    You say philosophy – logic perhaps? – does it contribute to knowledge? produce facts?Don’t premises need to be verified empirically?

  123. #123 eric
    December 20, 2011

    VS:

    I first evaluate it ['science is the only way of knowing'] as per the narrower definition…When they then move to a broader one I react…

    That seems a completely ass backwards way to do it to me. Why not first evaluate someone’s claim the way they mean it, rather than evaluating an obviously different claim that you prefer to discuss?

    If someone says “I think witchcraft is immoral, and by witchcraft I mean con artist scams of pretend magic,” it makes little sense for the first reply out of your mouth to be “the wiccan religion is not immoral!” But that is what you are doing here. You are not addressing Rosenhouse’s or Coyne’s or any real person’s claims, you are addressing a different/variation of their claims which nobody has actually expressed or defended.

    My dislike for scientism comes entirely from my thinking it obviously false;

    The problem is, you have not shown the scientism you dislike is anything but a straw man. The way you’ve defined the term, there are practically no scientism-ists to speak of. You have given zero examples of members of the group you claim is wrong.

    Although I still want an answer to how you expect to come to know that scientism is true empirically without simply presuming that empirical justification is required for knowledge

    If we are gauging methods on their ability to be “true empirically,” how can you not presume some sort of empirical justification?

    You are not pointing out a flaw of science per se. Any form of knowledge you care to suggest which makes claims about the physical world is going to be assessed by comparing its claims to the observed physical world. Right? How else would you assess it?

  124. #124 Verbose Stoic
    December 20, 2011

    eric,

    That seems a completely ass backwards way to do it to me. Why not first evaluate someone’s claim the way they mean it, rather than evaluating an obviously different claim that you prefer to discuss?

    Except that isn’t what I do. When someone says “Science is the best or perhaps only way of knowing”, the first thing I do is translate the term “science” as per the common definition of the term, the way most people use it, which is in the sense of the things that you’d find in a Faculty of Science. And so I reply that that would leave out things like philosophy, mathematics, and everyday reasoning. They may then reply that they are using a broader definition, and hopefully will provide it. At which point, I will evaluate it as per that meaning. You will note that I always take Larry Moran’s view on as per his definition of science, not on the more narrow one.

    At any rate, you could also make certain that people apply the same courtesy to us. In this thread itself, there were people who insisted that Ruse and others who make charges of scientism were using the broader definition and then equivocating to the narrower one, and I have yet to see an example of someone who is actually doing that. In another forum, Keith Ward TWICE commented that the definition of science he was using was the narrow one, and both times Jerry Coyne opposed him as if Ward was using the broader definition that Coyne favours. So just because someone has a broader definition, that does not give them the right to evaluate their opponents as if they agreed with that definition and were using it.

    The problem is, you have not shown the scientism you dislike is anything but a straw man. The way you’ve defined the term, there are practically no scientism-ists to speak of. You have given zero examples of members of the group you claim is wrong.

    I have been abundantly clear, I think, as to my objections. To narrower forms, I argue that they exclude philosophy and mathematics and maybe everyday reasoning, and a definition that limits itself to, say, the empirical counts as a narrower one under my view. For broader views, as I have said repeatedly they make philosophy a branch of science, which I find absurd. I have arguments against, as far as I can see, every single possible definition of science my opponents could be using. Surely, then, they fit into one of those categories?

    If we are gauging methods on their ability to be “true empirically,” how can you not presume some sort of empirical justification?

    I meant, of course, that I want to see how you can possible prove that the only ways of knowing are empirical using only empirical methods. I was not, of course, demanding that they be proven empirically since _I_ am not the one who thinks that empirical methods are the only ones that produce knowledge.

    You are not pointing out a flaw of science per se. Any form of knowledge you care to suggest which makes claims about the physical world is going to be assessed by comparing its claims to the observed physical world. Right? How else would you assess it?

    Good thing, since I’m not TRYING to point out a flaw of science. What I AM trying to do is ask if you can know that the only way of knowing will be empirical through empirical means. I don’t think you can, and I’m asking you to show that you can. And if you’re trying to make an argument about it being a claim about the physical world and therefore empirical, then I’d have to ask you why you think a) that it’s a claim about the physical world and b) that there can’t be or aren’t claims that aren’t about the physical world that are nonetheless true and known.

  125. #125 Verbose Stoic
    December 20, 2011

    Michael Fugate,

    Let’s take a look at morality. One could say “many people claim child rape is wrong.” That is a fact and it is empirical. Compare this to “child rape is wrong.” What is it? fact? knowledge? How is it determined?

    I’m afraid I don’t understand the question here. I think that there is a fact of the matter whether or not child rape is wrong, as well as what child rape actually is. I think that both of those are knowable. I think that at least the former is not, in fact, derivable empirically because if you try you end up with the claim you made of “many people think it is wrong”. So you’d have to do it through reasoning, and I argue through logical analysis of what the concept “morality” means. I can’t tell you right now what the outcome is because I need to do all that work first … but that’s no different than, say, the current state of QM.

    You say philosophy – logic perhaps? – does it contribute to knowledge? produce facts?Don’t premises need to be verified empirically?

    My answer is that it depends on the argument. The premises need to be verified by the things that they’re about. Sometimes, that’ll be about empirical things. Sometimes, it won’t.

  126. #126 Anthony McCarthy
    December 20, 2011

    Eric, there are lots of claims about the physical world which can’t be subjected to science, there are claims like that in what is commonly considered to be science.

    There is no way to test the idea that whether or not people will risk their lives to save someone depends on the the percentage of genes they share yet I’ll bet that easily a majority of people on the blogs believe that’s true. The number of people who believe in memes and who also pride themselves on being purely fact based is pretty amazing considering they have absolutely no empirical basis for believing that. And those are often the same people who are true believers in scientism, whether or not they know the meaning of the word. I don’t know but it seems to me that in the past forty years the percentage of unproven or even untestable stuff that regularly is called science has been increasing, most of it coming from the social sciences and their invasion of evolutionary biology, though the amount of extremely speculative and untestable stuff within physics is pretty astonishing to someone who was brought up on the idea that physics was THE hard science.

    It is astonishing to me how many people within science have believed that consciousness was an illusion over the past century. They couldn’t regard it as an illusion unless they were conscious. If the thing with which they did science was illusory it undermines the validity of science and any other idea they have with their illusory consciousness. But, then, that’s the price you pay for dogmatically holding that everything is susceptible to scientific treatment.

  127. #127 Anton Mates
    December 20, 2011

    Nick @92,

    I don’t even think that someone like Jerry Coyne or a similar extreme caveats-are-for-weenies science booster really believes these sorts of things deep down — even when they say something like “objective morality doesn’t exist” or “philosophy is crap just like theology” or “free will is crap just like the idea of a spirit” or “there is science, and everything else is mere subjective opinion.”….Coyne and others of course have absolutely no hesitation about issuing confident moral condemnations, acting as if they and others have free will and their opinions and decisions matter, doing philosophy (whether or not they admit it), praising greatness in art, music, sports, etc.

    I have to say, this argument doesn’t make much sense to me. Many, probably most, people who deny objective morality also hold that they can reasonably issue confident moral condemnations anyway. I do, Jason does, I presume Jerry does as well. Likewise, most people who deny free will nonetheless hold that they can still act as if opinions and decisions matter. (After all, people obviously do act as if opinions and decisions matter. And if there is no free will, then they have no choice but to act that way!)

    You may think that these people are wrong to believe that their philosophical positions are compatible with their behavior–plenty of moral objectivists and free will advocates have argued that. But that hardly means that your opponents don’t actually believe the positions they hold; it just means they disagree with you about the consequences of those positions. Which is kind of normal in philosophical arguments, don’t you think?

  128. #128 eric
    December 20, 2011

    To narrower forms, I argue that they exclude philosophy and mathematics and maybe everyday reasoning, and a definition that limits itself to, say, the empirical counts as a narrower one under my view.

    Lets ignore the narrower views, since you have yet to come up with a single person who claims narrow-science is the only way of gaining knowledge.

    For broader views, as I have said repeatedly they make philosophy a branch of science, which I find absurd.

    This sounds like a nomenclature argument more than a philosophical argument. If we call Jason’s position empiricismism, or mathumanitiescientism or something, do you still have a beef with it? If so, what’s the beef?

    I meant, of course, that I want to see how you can possible prove that the only ways of knowing are empirical using only empirical methods.

    Who has claimed they’ve proved it? I would expect that a scientist making the “science is the only reliable way of knowing” claim is making a tentative claim based on current empirical evidence and subject to revision should new evidence come to light. IOW, a statement similar to one they might make about any scientific theory. They are inferring science is the only reliable way based on the empirical results to date of trying many ways.

    Now, perhaps I can offer a reason why you think they are making an unusually and unjustifiably strong statement when they are making a typical empirical statement. Most likely many scientists think the support for ‘science as only reliable way of knowing’ is as strong as the support for gravity, QM, or evolution. So, like those subjects, they do not include the litany of “tentative… subject to revision” caveats every time they mention it.

    Do you have an issue with the concept that ‘mathumanitiescience is the only reliable way of knowing about the physical world’ if, for the moment, we agree that it comes with all the standard inferential caveats about tentativeness, future evidence, revision, etc.?

  129. #129 coelsblog
    December 20, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy writes:

    We don’t live in some speculative future in which present day frauds and mistakes will be discovered and successfully expunged. What constitutes “science” is what is accepted as science today. As those frauds and mistakes are exposed, and we have no idea what percentage of presently “known” science consists of them, others will be introduced. The idea that science represents a new order of reliable truth overlooks that inconvenient fact.

    You are wrong, we are not overlooking that fact. I have already explained to you twice that those defending scientism are not arguing that science is perfect and inerrant. So your above reply is irrelevant and pointless.

  130. #130 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    Eric, there are lots of claims about the physical world which can’t be subjected to science, there are claims like that in what is commonly considered to be science.

    Examples, please? If you’re referring to untestable claims, yes, there’s lots of them; but none of that invalidates science in general — especially when scientists are careful to separate testable from untestable claims, and base their inquiries on the former.

    There is no way to test the idea that whether or not people will risk their lives to save someone depends on the the percentage of genes they share yet I’ll bet that easily a majority of people on the blogs believe that’s true.

    I’d ask for examples again, but this claim isn’t even relevant: the fact that some lay-people may or may not believe a falsehood does not in any way invalidate the work of real scientists.

    And those are often the same people who are true believers in scientism, whether or not they know the meaning of the word.

    Speaking of which, so YOU know the meaning of the word? What’s your definition of “scientism?” Do you even have one? (FWIW, my spellchecker doesn’t recognize it as a word.)

    I don’t know but it seems to me that in the past forty years the percentage of unproven or even untestable stuff that regularly is called science has been increasing, most of it coming from the social sciences and their invasion of evolutionary biology, though the amount of extremely speculative and untestable stuff within physics is pretty astonishing to someone who was brought up on the idea that physics was THE hard science.

    Examples, please? You keep on making sweeping claims like this, and you never flesh them out with specifics; which leads me to believe your accusations are empty and bogus. Perhaps you should have just stopped at “I don’t know.”

  131. #131 Nick (Matzke)
    December 20, 2011

    I didn’t know this, but Ruse had some previous posts that give us some more sense of what he was on about:

    Bashing Philosophy

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/bashing-philosophy/40915

    Is History Bunk?

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/is-history-bunk/41263

  132. #132 Anton Mates
    December 20, 2011

    Dan L.,

    The history of mathematics has involved a long battle about the nature of and requirements for proof.

    Indeed, and the issue of proof is why I’m pretty happy saying mathematical knowledge is empirical. We accept a theorem like Euler’s formula because we’ve seen valid proofs of it. We find those proofs convincing because they have various properties we’ve learned to associate with valid proofs, and that was an empirical process.

    For instance, why do we accept proofs by contrapositive? Because we accept modus tollens. Why do we accept modus tollens? Perhaps because it and simple logical arguments based on it appear self-evidently true to most of us, when we think about it for long enough. If so, this is an empirical observation–a fact about human psychology. Alternately, perhaps modus tollens doesn’t appear self-evident to begin with, but when we apply it to accurate premises, it always seems to produce accurate conclusions. (“Every zebra I can find at the zoo is striped” –> “If I examine all the non-striped animals at the zoo, I will find no zebras among them.”) If so, this is also an empirical observation about our psychology.

    If the empirical world were such that modus tollens didn’t seem to work–it appeared self-evidently false to most of us, and frequently failed to lead us from apparently-correct premises to apparently-correct conclusions–then we wouldn’t use it in proofs. The formalist or Platonist might argue that, in such a world, modus tollens would still be true, and we would simply be unable to see that due to universal defects in our powers of mathematical reasoning. Perhaps, but so what? Mathematics as practiced by actual humans would still be very different from the way it is actually practiced. And that’s because mathematics is–largely, at least–empirical.

    Verbose Stoic,

    That being said, even using the narrower definition there are indeed some people who seem to hold that science still is the only way of knowing (see, for example, Dan L’s challenges to the knowledge and truth produced by mathematics and ethics).

    But Dan hasn’t challenged the knowledge and truth produced by mathematics–at least, not on this thread. He has said that the nature of mathematical knowledge is uncertain, and may be empirical or partially empirical, but as far as I can tell he accepts that mathematical knowledge exists. And he clearly isn’t using the narrower definition of science, either, because he’s argued that history might be considered a science.

  133. #133 couchmar
    December 20, 2011

    @132

    “Why do we accept modus tollens? Perhaps because it and simple logical arguments based on it appear self-evidently true to most of us, when we think about it for long enough. If so, this is an empirical observation–a fact about human psychology.”

    This doesn’t seem right to me really. If a statement is “self-evidently true,” this means that its truth is *self* evident–i.e., nothing is needed outside of the statement to determine its truth. If its truth depends upon facts about our psychology, I take it those facts would certainly be outside the statement. To claim that “self-evidence” really means “dependent on human psychology and hence empirical” is a stretch.

    Consider also the statement: “All bachelors are unmarried, adult, males.”

    This statement is also self-evident since the statement is true by definition. All it takes to recognize the truth of the statement is thinking about the meanings of the words involved. But on your account, this statement would come out as an empirical statement also, which seems wrong.

  134. #134 eric
    December 20, 2011

    Anton Mates:

    Alternately, perhaps modus tollens doesn’t appear self-evident to begin with, but when we apply it to accurate premises, it always seems to produce accurate conclusions.

    Anton, I think this is a very good point. To us adults, it certainly feels like very simple logical or mathematical operations aren’t empirical; they’re just intuitive. Or obvious. (Or intuitively obvious – a claim my undergrad physics professor made about thermodynamics…) The operation is contained within the definition and no empirical learning is necessary.

    But in fact humans do spend the first several years learning how to do simplistic operations such as “1+1=2″ and “if x then y; x, therefore y.” Anyone who has spent time around very young kids can tell you that they don’t emerge from the womb knowing how to add one and one. It takes many many hair-pulling hours of adult-mind-numbing repetition to even get them to understand the concept of abstract numbers. And this learning IS empirical; it necessarily involves manipulating and gathering feedback from the world around us.

    We forget that simply because we have little or no memory of those years; by the time a stable self-awareness emerges, we’ve already learned that stuff.

  135. #135 eric
    December 20, 2011

    couchmar:

    This statement is also self-evident since the statement is true by definition. All it takes to recognize the truth of the statement is thinking about the meanings of the words involved. But on your account, this statement would come out as an empirical statement also, which seems wrong.

    I think it seems wrong to you because it is so fast and easy for someone of normal adult intellect, it does not feel or seem like any empirical background knowledge is being accessed. You ‘just know it,’ as fast as you read it. But consider – would you have to teach someone of extremely limited intellect these things via empirical learning? Or would they, too, just ‘get it?’ Probably the former.

    Or, consider Gregory Perelman’s solution of the Poincare conjecture. It fulfills all the statements you make above; its true by definition, no outside evidence is needed, just the axioms of the problem, and all it takes is thinking about the meanings of the axioms involved. Yet most of us don’t get, wouldn’t get it after days, weeks, or months of hard working trying to figure it out. Do you get it? I don’t. I would have to learn it, a process that would likely be long, painstaking, and extremely empirical.

    ‘Deductive’ or ‘contained within the definition of the premises’ does not equal ‘no empirical learning needed.’ If it did, we wouldn’t need math classes – all math would be intuitively obvious once the axioms were explained to us. But we do need math classes, with empirical learning, to connect axioms and definitions to conclusions.

  136. #136 couchmar
    December 20, 2011

    eric

    I worry there is a confusion here (which Kant tried to dispel). You point out different examples of how

    “It takes many many hair-pulling hours of adult-mind-numbing repetition to even get them to understand the concept of abstract numbers. And this learning IS empirical….”

    also……”we do need math classes, with empirical learning, to connect axioms and definitions to conclusions.”

    This may be true about how we *learn* mathematics (or parts of it). But the issue here is not about learning, but the justification of the truth of mathematical statements. Even if one agrees that math is learned by empirical means in some cases, this doesn’t mean that the justification of mathematical truths is itself empirical.

    Consider the statement: 1 = 1

    This is a statement of identity. Suppose a student has never heard this statement, and I explain to them this statement is true. In that case, if the student merely accepts what I’ve said as his evidence, then for him the statements’ truth depends upon authority. But this doesn’t show that, ultimately, the justification of the statement depends on authority. If the statement is true, this depends on facts about the concept of identity which must be grasped intellectually. Mutas mutandis for your examples.

  137. #137 NickMatzke
    December 20, 2011

    Hi Anton!

    You may think that these people are wrong to believe that their philosophical positions are compatible with their behavior–plenty of moral objectivists and free will advocates have argued that. But that hardly means that your opponents don’t actually believe the positions they hold; it just means they disagree with you about the consequences of those positions. Which is kind of normal in philosophical arguments, don’t you think?

    I guess I would draw a distinction between what they believe “on the surface”, i.e. what they say their position is, and what the formal model is in their heads — and what they “believe deep down”, i.e., the assumptions they implicitly rely upon in their everyday lives and actions. I do think it is perfectly possible to have a logical conflict between these two levels. However, I think it is deeply problematic for their position.

    I have to say, this argument doesn’t make much sense to me. Many, probably most, people who deny objective morality also hold that they can reasonably issue confident moral condemnations anyway. I do, Jason does, I presume Jerry does as well.

    This just doesn’t make sense to me. If it’s not objective, it’s subjective, i.e. a matter of personal opinion which is optional for others to accept or deny. If that’s the case, there’s not much point in telling others that one is right and others are wrong. It is mildly interesting to hear other peoples’ subjective opinions on matters, but if there is no fundamental objective reality underneath that might eventually be reached through discussion, it’s not any more important than a discussion of what the best movies of 2011 were.

    Likewise, most people who deny free will nonetheless hold that they can still act as if opinions and decisions matter. (After all, people obviously do act as if opinions and decisions matter. And if there is no free will, then they have no choice but to act that way!)

    You’ve stated their position well, but it looks like baldfaced, straight-up incoherence to me…

  138. #138 Anthony McCarthy
    December 20, 2011

    Having given three examples within my answer to Eric, I’m unable to account for that not having been noticed.

    You are wrong, we are not overlooking that fact. I have already explained to you twice that those defending scientism are not arguing that science is perfect and inerrant.

    They claim that it has a status that sets it apart from all other kinds of thought, rendering it the sole legitimate means of actually knowing something, which is what we’re arguing about. I am attacking the idea that all of what is considered to be “science” by scientists matches even a reasonable level of compliance with the standards that science purports to follow. If it were up to me, I’d jettison a lot of what gets to be called science, easily 90% of the social and behavioral “sciences” for a start and anything which can’t be verified with evidence for practical reasons. But what gets to call itself “science” is determined by scientists who are quite indulgent, quite frequently on the basis of a shared materialist ideology. I am convinced that’s exactly how psychology first skirted any legitimate objection to it getting to call itself science when there was absolutely no evidence that its subject matter could be subjected to scientific methods or even if those were relevant to it. I believe that’s the unacknowledged basis of a lot of pretty bad science and how it is allowed to survive academic competition.

  139. #139 Raging Bee
    December 20, 2011

    “They claim?” Who’s “they,” Anthony? Name some names and quote what “they” are actually saying. Or are you bluffing with an empty hand again?

    If it were up to me, I’d jettison a lot of what gets to be called science, easily 90% of the social and behavioral “sciences” for a start and anything which can’t be verified with evidence for practical reasons.

    Guess what, boy — you can come forward with a paper or book stating exactly which bits you’d discard and why, and if you have a real case, someone is likely to take notice and act on it. Any time you’re ready with an actual factual case. We’re waiting…

    But what gets to call itself “science” is determined by scientists who are quite indulgent, quite frequently on the basis of a shared materialist ideology.

    Again, WHO SPECIFICALLY are you accusing of what? If you can’t even name a name or two, then your accusations are bogus.

    You really don’t have a case, do you?

  140. #140 Owlmirror
    December 21, 2011

    “materialist ideology”?

    As opposed to “immaterialist ideology”?

  141. #141 Carlo
    December 21, 2011

    Michael Fugate:

    I think the question about “religion” as knowledge is good, but requires several distinctions. First of all you must separate purely rational reflection about the human condition from religious revelations. Then, if you want to discuss the knowledge-value of religious revelations you must decide which one you are interested in (Christianity?).

    Focusing on the non-revelatory side of religion, I would tentatively say that most of the religious-metaphysical tradition is really a philosophical reflection about a certain set of questions that arise in human experience such as “why am I here?,” “why death?,” “what is happiness” and so on. The knowledge acquired is essentialy negative: it is the discovery of a fundamental disconnect between the deepest human aspirations and the world of objects. Nothing seems to satisfy the ultimate human desires. You could describe it as a philosohical-existential analysis of human psychology, except that it also implies a statement about the empirical world: that “the universe is not enough for me.” This leads to the discovery of God as a purely negative concept. I regard that as a true form of knowledge, even though, again, in negative form.

  142. #142 Anton Mates
    December 21, 2011

    chouchmar,

    This doesn’t seem right to me really. If a statement is “self-evidently true,” this means that its truth is *self* evident–i.e., nothing is needed outside of the statement to determine its truth.

    Yes, you might think that. But notice that its truth is self *evident*. If something is evident, it must be evident to someone. Likewise, you certainly do need something outside of the statement to determine its truth: you need someone to do the determining.

    The claim that a statement is self-evident is based on–I would say equivalent to–the claim that “Nothing is needed outside of this statement for person X to determine its truth.” Here person X might be “me,” or it might be “any reasonable person,” or it might be “any person at all,” depending on your standards for self-evidence. But in any case, the latter claim is empirical. If you observe that you can’t decide on this statement’s truth when you consider it in isolation, you will almost certainly conclude that it it is not self-evident.

    If its truth depends upon facts about our psychology, I take it those facts would certainly be outside the statement.

    Well, I’m not really concerned with what its truth depends on, but rather what our judgment of its truth depends on. Mathematical and scientific “truths” are in the same boat here. I don’t know if it’s True that gravity (approximately) obeys the inverse square law, but I do know that this claim is convincing to me and most scientifically educated people. It could all be one great cosmic illusion or delusion, but whatever, it looks true. And the reason that this claim is convincing is the wealth of empirical evidence in its favor.

    Likewise, as I said, maybe a given principle (like modus tollens) is True in a platonic sense, and maybe it’s False. But this has no bearing on whether you, or I, or the typical mathematician or logician, judge it to be self-evident. That judgment is made on the basis of empirical observations about human psychology: first and foremost, that when you yourself consider it, it always seems immediately and undeniably true.

    Consider also the statement: “All bachelors are unmarried, adult, males.”
    This statement is also self-evident since the statement is true by definition.

    Not exactly. Many statements, such as any non-trivial mathematical theorem, are true by definition, yet not at all self-evident. That’s why we need proofs!

    The statement: “All bachelors are unmarried adult males” is self-evident because, when we consider it, you and I and most people are immediately convinced of its truth. But this is an empirical and contingent fact. In an alternate reality, we might all have an odd mental defect which makes us incapable of accepting the statement, even though we would accept the statement, “The word ‘bachelor’ is defined as an unmarried adult male.” (That would be very weird, but it’s certainly neurologically possible.) In that case, no one would judge your statement to be self-evident.

    All it takes to recognize the truth of the statement is thinking about the meanings of the words involved.

    I agree. But to recognize the self-evidence of the statement requires you to think about that thinking. And that’s the domain of psychology.

  143. #143 Anthony McCarthy
    December 21, 2011

    First the denial that scientism is, in fact, the default ideology of a very large number of people, now the denial that materialism is ideological as well. Even as both are on full display on this very thread. And yet this is supposed to be about real life as opposed to wishful thinking.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that an insult given by a very silly person is a self-evident and unintended compliment. William Blake said something to that effect. I figure anyone else who can’t see that the very silly are silly won’t see much else.

  144. #144 Wow
    December 21, 2011

    “First the denial that scientism is, in fact, the default ideology of a very large number of people”

    Since people believe that they exist and that other things exist and can be investigated on, and that this is scientism, this is a problem HOW?

    “now the denial that materialism is ideological as well”

    Gosh. Does anyone know what this lunatic is saying here? Is this loon saying that thinking that there is a spoon and therefore you can eat soup is an IDEOLOGY????

  145. #145 Wow
    December 21, 2011

    “You are not addressing Rosenhouse’s or Coyne’s or any real person’s claims, you are addressing a different/variation of their claims which nobody has actually expressed or defended.”

    It’s even got it’s own name:

    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html

  146. #146 Raging Bee
    December 21, 2011

    Okay, this is the umpteenth time I’ve asked Anthony to elaborate on his own accusations, and the umpteenth time he’s failed to even name one name. He’s as full of shit as a clogged sewer main, and now he’s about to flounce away and leave none of his charges even slightly substantiated. Same old anti-rationalist arm-waving and brown air, same old lack of anything remotely resembling a substantive argument.

  147. #147 Wow
    December 21, 2011

    “and now he’s about to flounce away”

    He’ll be back. Though he’ll not address any questions.

  148. #148 Raging Bee
    December 21, 2011

    First the denial that scientism is, in fact, the default ideology of a very large number of people…

    We didn’t deny it, you lying wanker, we gave YOU an opportunity to elaborate on YOUR assertions and tell us who, specifically, supports what you call “scientism.” And you failed to name anyone. You’re a liar and an idiot, and none of your charges have enough substance to even discuss, let alone deny or accept.

    Here’s a little advice from a grownup: if you try to bluff once and get called on it, you can’t bluff again because everyone already knows you’re a bluffer. Now go back to bed and quit bothering the grownups.

  149. #149 Anthony McCarthy
    December 21, 2011

    Raging Bee, we discussed your failure read on another blog. I don’t have anything to say here I didn’t say there. You obviously didn’t read it there anymore than you did the examples I listed in comments above. That is if you understood that they were examples, which I doubt.

  150. #150 Raging Bee
    December 21, 2011

    Raging Bee, we discussed your failure read on another blog.

    Yeah, and you never specified your charges there either. Now go to bed.

  151. #151 Anthony McCarthy
    December 21, 2011

    Anyone who wants to check the accuracy of my last comment can look at comments above that mention W.D. Hamilton, Stapels, Hauser, memes, not to mention the long passage by Weizenbaum I bothered to type out, as well as the question about numbers larger than the number of discrete objects in the universe to see if I failed to back up what I said or questioned. Anyone who doesn’t care will think what they want to anyway, not to mention those who merely emote instead of think.

  152. #152 Wow
    December 21, 2011

    Anyone who wants to check the accuracy of Raging Bee’s comment can look at McCarthy’s comments here to find that there is no evidence, just insinuations and avoidance.

  153. #153 RAging Bee
    December 21, 2011

    WHICH comments above, Anthony? You could list some comment numbers, you know…but you didn’t because you’re bluffing again.

  154. #154 Wow
    December 21, 2011

    To this nutjob “comments above that mention WD Hamilton means this:

    “The apostasy of E.O. Wilson re W.D. Hamilton”

    What is that saying? That EO Wilson didn’t like what Hamilton said??? And what does that have to do with scientism?

    Stapnel:

    “Did the people who based their research on the now discredited work of Dietrich Stapel “know” what they “knew” from reading his papers?”

    But this was pointed out that discrediting came from other scientists, USING “Scientism”. Ergo, proving his wails about the “religion” of “material scientism” (which still hasn’t been explained to date) were unfounded.

    Hauser:

    “Stapnel and Houser”

    Yeah, really not worth his own mention, really, is it. Just chock-full of “information” that one.

    memes:

    “The number of people who believe in memes ”

    But fails to provide a number. Just a claim that there are a number who “believe in memes”.

  155. #155 Wow
    December 21, 2011

    As to Weizenbaum, when he says: “The man on the street surely believes such scientific facts to be as well-established, as well-proven, as his own existence. His certitude is an illusion”

    He surely believes that certitude is an illusion to be as well established and well proven as his own existence.

    Yet when he claims:

    “The scientist must believe his working hypothesis”

    He displays that he doesn’t know what science is.

    Do either of you know what “null hypothesis rejection” means?

  156. #156 Onkel Bob
    December 21, 2011

    Anyone who doesn’t care will think what they want to anyway, not to mention those who merely emote instead of think.

    That is some weapons grade Freudian projection there dude. Be careful where point it, the blowback can be most unpleasant.

  157. #157 eric
    December 21, 2011

    Bee – @70 and @90 for a start. Though you won’t find them convincing.

    Anthony is just using a standard creationist argument trope: claim there is some bar which ‘good’ science must surpass before it says anything. Claim some scientific finding doesn’t do so, therefore, it shouldn’t be considered a scientific finding.

    There is no such bar. Science is about determining the best available explanation to the evidence. Many rightly-labeled-scientific findings are incomplete, imperfect, based on data which may have errors in it, etc…

    The ongoing Higgs boson experiment is a good example to show how the ‘bar’ concept is wrong-headed. The experimenters plan to continue to collect data until they have 5-sigma confidence that they are actually seeing (or not seeing) a signal. But there is nothing magical about 5-sigma. They could stop at 4, or 3, or continue on to 10, and any of those results would qualify as scientific. There is no bar. The earlier they stop the experiment, the less statistical confidence the scientific community will have in the results…but even if they stop it now, we can come to some scientific conclusion about what that limited data points to. If the entire experiment blew up tomorrow, we’d just say that a 2-sigma confidence in a 127 GeV signal is scientific support for the standard model, albeit not as much support as we’d like. We would manifestly NOT say what Anthony seems to think we should say; “well, we have no scientific results because we only reached 2-sigma confidence.”

  158. #158 Anthony McCarthy
    December 21, 2011

    eric, I’m sorry, I’d mistaken you for someone who could think.

    It’s clear the substantial part of this discussion ended a while back and it’s in the hands of the angry ideologues of marginal reading ability.

  159. #159 Owlmirror
    December 21, 2011

    It’s clear the substantial part of this discussion ended a while back and it’s in the hands of the angry ideologues of marginal reading ability.

    You’re being so hard on yourself. Have you tried being less angry, and less ideological? Is reading for comprehension really so difficult for you that you must give up?

    Ah, well.

  160. #160 Wow
    December 21, 2011

    It seems like Mc’s definition of “think” is “Agrees with Anthony McCarthy”.

    Still unable to explain what scientism is that he rails against.

  161. #161 Composer99
    December 21, 2011

    Attention, ScienceBlogs shoppers. We have a serious case of projection vomit in the EvolutionBlog aisle.

    Please clear the area while the custodial teams work to clean it up.

    Thank you for your cooperation and patience.

  162. #162 eric
    December 21, 2011

    Looking back over this thread, I see several things.

    I see ‘math is another way of knowing.’

    I see ‘history is another way of knowing.’

    I see ‘those things aren’t really different, by ‘science’ we mean some fairly general approach.’

    I see ’90% of science is crap.’

    But you know what I don’t see? A religious way of knowing. Not one methodology even described, let alone defended.

    Interesting, huh? I’m willing to accept the philosophical possibility of other ways of knowing, if someone from the ‘opposes scientism’ camp is willing to describe for me an actual religious way of knowing they think is reliable. Not one that could work in theory; one that does work in practice. If I Tebow, will I know tomorrow’s lottery numbers? Okay that’s a facetious example, but you get the idea: what’s your divine-access method for gaining knowledge, what knowledge does it give you, and how can we check that it’s actually giving said knowledge?

  163. #163 tomh
    December 21, 2011

    eric wrote:
    But you know what I don’t see? A religious way of knowing.

    There is only one religious way of knowing you will ever see, and it’s from an old Gospel song – “The Bible tells me so.”

  164. #164 Neil Bates
    December 21, 2011

    Everything, and I mean everything, has its limitations: and that includes science. Perhaps “scientism” can just mean, by definition, excessive confidence in science and its applicability and capability. It is perhaps the analog to “free market fundamentalism” in economic theory and policy, etc. To someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail – but it isn’t. This is not picking on science, this is defining an unavoidable category of excess, much as “greed” and “nosiness” imply excessive acquisitiveness and curiosity (of the social sort.)

    “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    - Dirty Harry

  165. #165 Neil Bates
    December 21, 2011

    Anyone who says “philosophy is crap like theology” is an idiot. Philosophical thinking, whether recognized or acknowledged as such, underlies the framing of the concepts, the issues, the meaning of what we say in any subject – including, with hilarious irony, criticism of metaphysics and philosphy itself. It is unavoidable. Better to appreciate its role and limitations (again, everything has its limitations), and strive to do it well, than excoriate or pretend to avoid it.

    “Fine minds make fine distinctions” – me (AFAIK.)

  166. #166 Stu
    December 21, 2011

    Oh no, not Anthony McCarthy. An actually interesting thread and here is Dr Dunning-Krueger to ruin it for everybody.

    Oh well, moving on.

  167. #167 eric
    December 21, 2011

    Neil Bates @164:

    Perhaps “scientism” can just mean, by definition, excessive confidence in science and its applicability and capability.

    Well, the definition that’s been thrown out is a belief that science is the only reliable way of knowing. Which says nothing about whether science can answer every question; it just says there is no other system that compares.

    Defined this way, a scientism-ist could, in fact, just take Churchill’s position (paraphrased): it is the very worst system of gaining knowledge…except for all the others.

  168. #168 Raging Bee
    December 21, 2011

    But there is nothing magical about 5-sigma. They could stop at 4, or 3, or continue on to 10…

    I thought 6-sigma was the highest rating on that scale. Would researchers from Spinal Tap try to go to 11?

  169. #169 Raging Bee
    December 21, 2011

    Anyone who says “philosophy is crap like theology” is an idiot.

    Not necessarily. He/she could be someone who’s heard huge amounts of crap/theology passed off as “philosophy.” Bad philosophy tends to be labelled “philosophy,” and give the profession a bad name; while good philosophy tends to be labelled “reason” or “common sense.”

  170. #170 Anthony McCarthy
    December 21, 2011

    Stu, eric, Ragging Bee, Wow, tomh, I gave you warning that I would consider your insults to be compliments.

    Wow, Joseph Weizenbaum was a full professor at MIT and a fellow at Stanford when he wrote that. Just out of curiosity, where do you teach?

  171. #171 Raging Bee
    December 21, 2011

    …I gave you warning that I would consider your insults to be compliments.

    Wow, where did you learn that stinging riposte — first grade? Is there no beginning to your rhetorical skills?

    I suppose you’re also taking the refutation of every one of your assertions as proof that they’re all true?

  172. #172 Anthony McCarthy
    December 22, 2011

    Raging Bee, one of the angry emotibots who come to the Scienceblogs because it allows them to pretend they are intelligent without having to read.

    For anyone else who might still be here for some intelligent reason, the culture of science really should address this sci-jock problem, they drive down the tone pretty drastically.

  173. #173 ildi
    December 22, 2011

    Joseph Weizenbaum was a full professor at MIT and a fellow at Stanford when he wrote that.

    He was a programmer who probably should have stuck to excellent programming, if the paragraphs you cite are a representative example of his understanding of the scientific method. Scientific statements are only credible if someone decides they’re credible based on their own judgment or intuition as worthy of belief? He is so obviously not a scientist, his brilliance in his own field notwithstanding. (Sort of like how Behe should stick to grand proclamations about his own field of biochemistry.)

    …one of the angry emotibots who come to the Scienceblogs because it allows them to pretend they are intelligent without having to read.

    This from the commenter who thinks the history of science began in 1500…

  174. #174 Onkel Bob
    December 22, 2011

    This from the commenter who thinks blindly asserts that the history of science began in 1500…

    Clarified? I simply cannot accept the proposition that said commenter is capable of thought. I have seen no evidence of that assertion in this thread. Excuse me for relying on scientism to attain that knowledge.

  175. #175 Anthony McCarthy
    December 22, 2011

    He was a lot more than a “computer programmer”. Was Alan Turning a mere “computer programmer”?

    Jason, I rest my case about a primitive scientism being the default ideology on the Scienceblogs. It is obviously a faith of many people who can’t deal with the most basic facts about what science is and what it isn’t. Their faith in some disembodied, pure thing called “science” while being materialists is at least as bizarre as R.B. being a “Pagan” while a materialist, of sorts and that being OK with the new atheists of the Scienceblogs.

  176. #176 Raging Bee
    December 22, 2011

    indi: are you sure Anthony can count back as far as 1500? Given the pure religious obscurantism underlying all of his comments, I’d be surprised if he had a clear picture of ANY period of human history.

  177. #177 Anthony McCarthy
    December 22, 2011

    Bee, thanks for adding to the hilarity of my morning. Change a few words here and you guys could be on “WorldNuts….”, uh, “NetDaily”.

  178. #178 Verbose Stoic
    December 22, 2011

    eric,

    I’m willing to accept the philosophical possibility of other ways of knowing, if someone from the ‘opposes scientism’ camp is willing to describe for me an actual religious way of knowing they think is reliable.

    Um, why in the world would we do that? For the most part, none of us are opposing scientism on the grounds that it leaves religion out as a way of knowing, and at least some of the opponents — myself, specifically — don’t think that religion is itself a way of knowing (although, not in a way that would address why you care about that debate). Talk about a strawman: demanding that we provide religion as a way of knowing to justify our opposition to scientism when we aren’t using religion as our reason to oppose what we consider scientism.

    BTW, a longer reply to your comment to me seems to have found the filter. I’ll wait a little longer to see if it shows up before restating my response to that again.

  179. #179 ildi
    December 22, 2011

    He was a lot more than a “computer programmer”.

    From wiki:

    Joseph Weizenbaum (January 8, 1923, Berlin – March 5, 2008, Ludwigsfelde-Gröben near Berlin) was a German-American author and professor emeritus of computer science at MIT. … In 1966, he published a comparatively simple program called ELIZA, named after the ingenue in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which performed natural language processing. … Weizenbaum was the creator of the SLIP programming language.

    Also:

    His influential 1976 book Computer Power and Human Reason displays his ambivalence towards computer technology and lays out his case: while Artificial Intelligence may be possible, we should never allow computers to make important decisions because computers will always lack human qualities such as compassion and wisdom.

    It’s an old argument, that humans are unique and that an over-reliance on and abuse of technology will destroy us. It was an old argument in the 70s, and the development of AI just put a new spin on it.

  180. #180 ildi
    December 22, 2011

    Please would someone tell me what algorithms the blog moderation software uses? I don’t see a pattern… I take out links, I shorten the comments, I take out html tags.. people post longer comments with boatloads of tags and a link that get through.

  181. #181 coelsblog
    December 22, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “… when we aren’t using religion as our reason to oppose what we consider scientism.”

    For clarity, can you state what you consider “scientism” to be and say why you oppose it? (I’m interested in whether your disagreement amounts to semantics, or whether there are substantive disagreements.)

  182. #182 ildi
    December 22, 2011

    AMc: He was a lot more than a “computer programmer”.

    From wiki: Joseph Weizenbaum (January 8, 1923, Berlin – March 5, 2008, Ludwigsfelde-Gröben near Berlin) was a German-American author and professor emeritus of computer science at MIT. … In 1966, he published a comparatively simple program called ELIZA, named after the ingenue in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which performed natural language processing. … Weizenbaum was the creator of the SLIP programming language.

    Also wiki: His influential 1976 book Computer Power and Human Reason displays his ambivalence towards computer technology and lays out his case: while Artificial Intelligence may be possible, we should never allow computers to make important decisions because computers will always lack human qualities such as compassion and wisdom.

    Me: It’s an old argument, that humans are unique and that an over-reliance on and abuse of technology will destroy us. It was an old argument in the 70s, and the development of AI just put a new spin on it.

  183. #183 eric
    December 22, 2011

    VS

    Um, why in the world would we do that? [provide an example of a religous way of knowing]

    I already said why – because I want to move past the mere philosophical possibility of other ways and discuss other ways you think actually exist, right now, which humans can and do use.

    AFAIK, the scientism epithet is most often leveled by theologians or creationists to subtly imply there are religious ways of knowing. So that’s what I’m most interested in addressing. If you, as an individual, want to claim that (e.g.) symbolic logic is a separate reliable way of knowing, but that you agree there aren’t currently any actual, reliable, religious ways of knowing, my reponse would be: okay, we are substantively in agreement and quibbling over terms, so no more discussion needed.

    So, if you think some other ways of knowing exist, give a concrete list of them. We may agree on many of them and find our argument is mere quibbling over terms. If you don’t think any reliable religious ways of knowing exist, just say so.

  184. #184 ildi
    December 22, 2011

    A Mc: He was a lot more than a “computer programmer”.

    Joseph Weizenbaum got an M.S. in mathematics and was a professor emeritus of computer science at MIT. His two well-known accomplishments were publishing a comparatively simple program called ELIZA in 1966 which performed natural language processing, and creating the SLIP programming language, also in the 60s.

    He wrote Computer Power and Human Reason in 1976 because he was freaked out that people were talking to his software like it was a real person. He claimed that humans are unique decision-makers, that certain things are just unknowable, that we shouldn’t open the Pandora’s box of AI,and that we should be careful what power we allow technology to have in our lives.

  185. #185 couchmar
    December 22, 2011

    moderator: I submitted a detailed reply to ‘eric’ from before which seems to have been filtered. Is there no way to recover that?

    eric: I’m on board with Verbose Stoic and Nick (Matzke) here. I would say that symbolic logic and math are two examples of separate reliable ways of knowing. And that this is sufficient to show that any claim that science is the only genuine type of knowledge(understood narrowly, to mean something like “knowledge based on empirical observation and experimentation”–what people have described above as the narrow definition of science) is false. So I’m to take it we are in agreement here? As V. Stoic has noted, this point is independent of any claim about religious knowledge.

  186. #186 coelsblog
    December 22, 2011

    couchmar:

    “I would say that symbolic logic and math are two examples of separate reliable ways of knowing.”

    I’d still maintain that one cannot derive or validate logic ex nihilo, and thus that maths/logic rest on empirical foundations, and so are a part of science.

  187. #187 eric
    December 22, 2011

    Couchmar – we’re in agreement about the narrow-definition scientism, yes. But as I’ve repeatedly said to VS, I don’t think there were many people supporting the narrow-definition version to begin with. Its a straw man argument.

    Not only do the real scientism-ists seem to have a broader definition of science, they seem to be narrowly talking about knowledge of the physical world, not knowledge in some larger philosophical sense. Taken in combination, it seems to me that most scientists are making a fairly uncontroversial statement that empirical investigative methods are the only currently reliable way to learn about the empirical world.

    Now, a creationist who wants to determine the age of the earth by reading out who begat who from Genesis may find that claim upsetting and controversial, but the rest of us shouldn’t.

  188. #188 eric
    December 22, 2011

    P.S. Jason has strong filters that stop long messages, practically any message with a link, as well as rapid multiple posts. Don’t take it personally, lots of my stuff has got caught too.

    The good news is, it’ll show eventually. The bad news is, it’ll show with the original time stamp, so it may end up being 5, 10, 20 messages behind the current message when it does show. :)

  189. #189 couchmar
    December 22, 2011

    eric

    I think we are in broad agreement here. I have no brute for creationist evidence from the bible used to support claims about the world (nor has V. Stoic or Nick suggested otherwise). So there is no issue there. But let me make a few comments on this.

    First, I worry (as others have noted) that using the term science broadly to include physical science, history, math, logic, and others (philosophy which relies on logic?) leads to confusion. Philosophy is not usually described as a science and is indeed often housed within humanities buildings, and so when someone says “science is the only way of knowing the world” this is likely to mislead people into thinking it is being excluded. I think it would be better to use the term “secular reason” (which Pinker uses). Science, history, math, etc. all use secular reason to know the world.

    Second, I’m inclined to think that aside from the examples mentioned there is also something I’d call “introspective knowledge.” Take the claim: “I am thinking right now.” This seems true, and something I know. It is not based on empirical observation (e.g., using the eyes) and so I wouldn’t say this is empirical knowledge, but is knowledge nonetheless. Would you call this “scientific knowledge”? That seems strange to me.

  190. #190 Michael Fugate
    December 22, 2011

    If it goes on in your brain, aren’t you experiencing something, aren’t you observing something? If this is not empirical, then nothing is. I am not saying it is verified, but neither is seeing or hearing something.
    Also, only academics divide the world into neat little categories that don’t overlap. Science, philosophy, mathematics, history and so on are all intertwined in our daily lives.
    This is why the “creationism is not science” is not entirely true – the hypothesis is just not borne out by the evidence.

  191. #191 eric
    December 22, 2011

    couchmar:

    I think it would be better to use the term “secular reason” (which Pinker uses).

    I’m good with that.

    Second, I’m inclined to think that aside from the examples mentioned there is also something I’d call “introspective knowledge.” Take the claim: “I am thinking right now.” This seems true, and something I know. It is not based on empirical observation (e.g., using the eyes) and so I wouldn’t say this is empirical knowledge…

    You sure about that? You aren’t using your eyes. But if you’re using one part of your brain to check to see if the other parts of your brain are working in a certain way, how is that not empirical? Seems to me you’re using a sense and receiving feedback, you just aren’t consciously aware of using it like you are your eyes.

    Now, you might claim its not empirical because you aren’t receiving feedback from “the outside world,” but that seems a bit of a terminology dodge to me, so I’ll leave it aside.

    Richard Wiseman’s latest book ‘paranormality’ discusses the fact that we don’t intuitively know what is our body and what isn’t. It may seem that way, but your sense of a physical self is actually based on constant, subtle, sensory feedback. This feedback can be disrupted…and when it is, within as short a time as a few minutes we start thinking parts of the environment are our body, or parts of our body, aren’t. IOW, even something introspectively basic like “my hands are part of me” is empirical.

    Or you can approach the question from the other direction – if its not empirical, that means you aren’t using any physical or chemical process to detect your own brain activity. Okay then, so how are you doing it? Are you using your soul?

  192. #192 Verbose Stoic
    December 22, 2011

    eric,

    But if you’re using one part of your brain to check to see if the other parts of your brain are working in a certain way, how is that not empirical?

    How IS that empirical? To use the term that way is to reduce away the entire rationalism/empiricism debate to not being one, but that certainly wasn’t a mere terminological debate.

    Or you can approach the question from the other direction – if its not empirical, that means you aren’t using any physical or chemical process to detect your own brain activity.

    What is your justification for asserting that any physical or chemical process is empirical? It sounds like you’re translating “scientific” to “empirical” and then arguing that anything physical is thus empirical … but if you aren’t I’d love to see what your reasoning is here …

  193. #193 Verbose Stoic
    December 22, 2011

    couchmar,

    I think it would be better to use the term “secular reason” (which Pinker uses). Science, history, math, etc. all use secular reason to know the world.

    I’m interested in what the definition of “secular reason” is and how it differs from just plain old ordinary reason. While I’m not here to defend religion as a way of knowing, I don’t want to adopt a definition of reason that excludes it by definition and not by analysis either.

  194. #194 Verbose Stoic
    December 22, 2011

    eric,

    I already said why – because I want to move past the mere philosophical possibility of other ways and discuss other ways you think actually exist, right now, which humans can and do use.

    And I have, in fact, listed some. So the only way to proceed on this is for YOU to define what YOU mean by science so that I can see if anything is excluded or if the definition makes sense. Up for it?

    Beyond that, we have my general objection (also a reply for coelsblog): Scientism, to me, is saying “Science is the only valid way to get knowledge”. My objection is essentially this: it is not possible to define “science” in such a way that it doesn’t leave established methods that do produce knowledge out OR, alternatively, that isn’t such a broad definition that we have no reason to actually call that science as opposed to philosophy or a completely different term.

    If you don’t think any reliable religious ways of knowing exist, just say so.

    I think I’ve said at least a couple of times now that I don’t, personally, think religion is a way of knowing. That’s not going to help you much, though, since I think it’s more of a theory or hypothesis and so it would be wrong to call it a way of knowing at all, not that I think it isn’t a valid one or one that works.

  195. #195 coelsblog
    December 22, 2011

    couchmar:

    “I think it would be better to use the term “secular reason” (which Pinker uses). Science, history, math, etc. all use secular reason to know the world.”

    I’d prefer something like “secular empiricism” rather than reason, since it seems to me that empiricism is the true root of science, and that reason and logic are products of empiricism.

  196. #196 coelsblog
    December 22, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “My objection is essentially this: it is not possible to define “science” in such a way that it doesn’t leave established methods that do produce knowledge out OR, alternatively, that isn’t such a broad definition that we have no reason to actually call that science as opposed to philosophy or a completely different term.”

    I suspect the difference between us might be simple semantics. I’d go with the latter of your two alternatives, and I’d be quite happy with some other word, if there were one that was suitable and readily understood. I currently use “science” for that ensemble, because it is the word closest to being suitable. But you’re right that it can be misunderstood by those adopting a narrower definition of “science”.

  197. #197 Verbose Stoic
    December 22, 2011

    coelsblog,

    I currently use “science” for that ensemble, because it is the word closest to being suitable.

    But that, to me, is part of the problem: why do you think that science is the closest to being suitable as opposed to, say, philosophy, which has a much longer pedigree?

  198. #198 coelsblog
    December 22, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “why do you think that science is the closest to being suitable as opposed to, say, philosophy, which has a much longer pedigree?”

    Because the term “science” places the emphasis on empirical observation, whereas “philosophy” could be taken to mean abstract reasoning, or reasoning from axioms.

    Of course the old term for science was “natural philosophy”, were the “natural” refers to the empirical grounding.

  199. #199 Verbose Stoic
    December 22, 2011

    coelsblog,

    Because the term “science” places the emphasis on empirical observation, whereas “philosophy” could be taken to mean abstract reasoning, or reasoning from axioms.

    And why can’t non-empirical reasoning produce knowledge, and so be a critical part of a way of knowing? Does all knowledge have to be empirical?

    Your reason to use the term “science” is precisely the reason I don’t want to use the term “science” [grin].

  200. #200 Michael Fugate
    December 22, 2011

    If thoughts in your brain are not empirical, how do you know they are taking place?

  201. #201 couchmar
    December 22, 2011

    Here is what Pinker says (google: Pinker “Does science make belief in God obsolete?”):

    “Yes, if by ‘science’ we mean the entire enterprise of secular reason and knowledge (including history and philosophy), not just people with test tubes and white lab coats.”

    V. Stoic: I take this to concern the use of reason, broadly understood. This would include reason and observation-based inquiry as found in science, math, history, philosophy, etc. I am not intending to limit this to the idea of reason narrowly conceived as a specific faculty of the mind, say in the sense where “reason” is contrasted with “the senses.”

    “While I’m not here to defend religion as a way of knowing, I don’t want to adopt a definition of reason that excludes it by definition and not by analysis either.”

    Yes, I see your concern here. Understood broadly, I don’t see why the term should be problematic, since it leaves open the possibility that religious claims could be established on the basis of reason and observational evidence. In other words, I don’t read Pinker as saying all the evidence involved must be “secular”; merely that the notion of secular reason concerns reason/evidence based inquiry. Let me make clear that I don’t think there is any good religious evidence that would be satisfied by this approach, but it wouldn’t be ruled out apriori.

    coelsblog: I would resist your assimilation to “empiricism” here, because I don’t think reason and logic are products of empiricism. To me empiricism suggests a fairly specific scientific approach towards knowledge that relies on sensory observation, and math/logic/introspection/etc. are not empirical in this sense. If you understand “empirical” more broadly, then we may not disagree.

  202. #202 couchmar
    December 22, 2011

    eric @190

    My response is the same as V. Stoic @ 191. You are using the term “empirical” to me something like “scientific” or such, which isn’t how I understand it. Nevertheless, if we agree that introspective reports can be knowledge I’m fine with that.

  203. #203 couchmar
    December 22, 2011

    Here is what Pinker says in reply to the question, “Does science make belief in God obsolete?”:

    “Yes, if by ‘science’ we mean the entire enterprise of secular reason and knowledge (including history and philosophy), not just people with test tubes and white lab coats.”

    V. Stoic: I take this to concern the use of reason, broadly understood. This would include reason and observation-based inquiry as found in science, math, history, philosophy, etc. I am not intending to limit this to the idea of reason narrowly conceived as a specific faculty of the mind, say in the sense where “reason” is contrasted with “the senses.”

    “While I’m not here to defend religion as a way of knowing, I don’t want to adopt a definition of reason that excludes it by definition and not by analysis either.”

    Yes, I see your concern here. Understood broadly, I don’t see why the term should be problematic, since it leaves open the possibility that religious claims could be established on the basis of reason and observational evidence. In other words, I don’t read Pinker as saying all the evidence involved must be “secular”; merely that the notion of secular reason concerns reason/evidence based inquiry. Let me make clear that I don’t think there is any good religious evidence that would be satisfied by this approach, but it wouldn’t be ruled out apriori.

    coelsblog: I would resist your assimilation to “empiricism” here, because I don’t think reason and logic are products of empiricism. To me empiricism suggests a fairly specific scientific approach towards knowledge that relies on sensory observation, and math/logic/introspection/etc. are not empirical in this sense. If you understand “empirical” more broadly, then we may not disagree.

  204. #204 eric
    December 22, 2011

    VS:

    And I have, in fact, listed some. [other ways of knowing]

    Math, history, philosophy…did I miss any? Just tell me the relevant comment number and I’ll reread what you suggested.

    …OR, alternatively, that isn’t such a broad definition that we have no reason to actually call that science as opposed to philosophy or a completely different term.

    When you made this argument to Jason, he was happy to call it something else. As was I. As was everyone else who answered you. Clearly for guys you think are scientism-ists, neither the narrow definition of science nor the term itself is really critical to the thought they are trying to express.

    I guess my only real remaining question is whether you consider it ‘scientism’ when someone claims broad empiricism is the only reliable way of gaining knowledge about the physical world? If the answer is no, then stop calling empiricism support like what Jason and others articulated ‘scientism.’ If the answer is yes, it seems you are committing the same terminology error you accuse others of making.

  205. #205 Anthony McCarthy
    December 22, 2011

    ildi, you would have to read his work to know that Joseph Weizenbaum was far more than just a computer programmer. But, then, that would require reading a rather demanding book and thinking about it.

    Jason, as a mathematician you must be impressed at how superficial the view of science among a significant part of the people in this discussion is. It isn’t science as anything other than an ideological position at most, an analogue to a sports team to be supported at least. Is that any way to run a definitive intellectual endeavor?

  206. #206 Anthony McCarthy
    December 22, 2011

    Eric, science derives its power from being a narrowly defined study of narrowly defined phenomena. That is the only thing that gives it enhanced reliability in regard to its subject matter. If you don’t like it being narrowly defined you trade off a wider field of view for decreased reliability. As in the social sciences in which huge masses of “knowledge” are regularly junked, even up to entire schools of thought. Even within physics, Plank said that progress was measured in funerals as the old order died away, though the swings are generally far less drastic, measured in hundreds of years instead of decades or less. Two major schools of psychology have gone from being relied upon “science” to antiquated junk within my adulthood. I’m looking forward to living long enough to see Sociobiology-evo-psy junked as well.

  207. #207 Anton Mates
    December 23, 2011

    P.S. Jason has strong filters that stop long messages, practically any message with a link, as well as rapid multiple posts. Don’t take it personally, lots of my stuff has got caught too.

    Yup. I’ve got two variants of a reply to Nick waiting in there; I don’t think I dare try again, or when they finally get passed it’ll look like I crapped all over the thread!

  208. #208 coelsblog
    December 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “And why can’t non-empirical reasoning produce knowledge, and so be a critical part of a way of knowing? Does all knowledge have to be empirical?”

    Yes, all knowledge has to be empirical at root. (Certainly, all knowledge about our universe has to be empirical.) Yes, logical reasoning can build on that empirical case and expand it, but logic cannot be derived ex nihilo and so can only be validated (at least as applying to our world) by empirical observation. So even logical reasoning (including maths and philosophy) is empirical at root.

    So non-empirical reasoning can indeed be a part of acquiring knowledge, but only as part of a wider empirical ensemble. And that empiricism is why I label the wider ensemble “science”.

  209. #209 coelsblog
    December 23, 2011

    Couchmar:

    To me empiricism suggests a fairly specific scientific approach towards knowledge that relies on sensory observation, and math/logic/introspection/etc. are not empirical in this sense. If you understand “empirical” more broadly, then we may not disagree.

    I am indeed using “empiricism” in a broad sense. For example, why did mankind start using the concept “1 + 1 = 2″? I suspect it wasn’t because they’d just read Russell and Whitehead, but because eons earlier it had been found, empirically, to work in our universe. Similarly for all the basic “axioms” of logic.

  210. #210 Anton Mates
    December 23, 2011

    couchmar,

    Second, I’m inclined to think that aside from the examples mentioned there is also something I’d call “introspective knowledge.” Take the claim: “I am thinking right now.” This seems true, and something I know. It is not based on empirical observation (e.g., using the eyes) and so I wouldn’t say this is empirical knowledge, but is knowledge nonetheless.

    Like eric, I consider mental introspection to be a form of observation and therefore empirical. And yes, I think we’re probably mostly in agreement even if you don’t define empiricism this way; at least, we can perhaps agree that science and math are both covered by some union of empirical observation (using either of our definitions) and mental introspection.

    That said, I don’t really see how you would distinguish between introspection and empirical observation, even as you define the latter. All empirical observations rely on introspection; to observe a duck, you have to experience the perception of a duck. And this perception happens in your mind/brain, not in your eyeballs. You can perceive a duck without using your eyes at all, perhaps when you’re hallucinating or dreaming.

    Moreover, you can use introspection to make empirical claims about the world. If you perceive a duck when your eyes are closed, you might for instance infer that the substance you just ingested was a hallucinogen.

    This extends to knowledge about your own thoughts and emotions. “My thoughts are a bit muddled right now,” and “I am feeling euphoric,” are presumably claims verified by introspection. But they’re also claims from which you might infer that, say, the punch you just drank was alcoholic. Is this not an empirical conclusion, and could you not say that you’ve empirically observed the effect of alcohol on the functioning of your mind?

    If not, it seems to me you’d have to conclude that much research in psychology is non-empirical, because it produces and draws inferences from “introspective knowledge.”

  211. #211 Verbose Stoic
    December 23, 2011

    Michael Fugate,

    If thoughts in your brain are not empirical, how do you know they are taking place?

    The cheap answer to what you might be saying here is simply to say that you’re assuming your conclusion, arguing that we can only know things that are empirical and when an opposing view is posited arguing that those things must be empirical because we know them. This, of course, is an invalid argument and can be ignored.

    The more charitable interpretation is that you’re claiming that internal thoughts are sensed as well, like someone else — maybe you — did elsewhere by arguing that it is sensed just not through the traditional five senses. My retort to that is that empiricism is indeed defined as knowledge acquired through the traditional five senses, and I see no reason to adopt introspection and phenomenal experience as a sense, and have seen no argument for that as far as I can recall beyond that it makes your statement that all knowledge is empirical sensical (pardon the pun).

  212. #212 Verbose Stoic
    December 23, 2011

    Couchmar,

    V. Stoic: I take this to concern the use of reason, broadly understood. This would include reason and observation-based inquiry as found in science, math, history, philosophy, etc. I am not intending to limit this to the idea of reason narrowly conceived as a specific faculty of the mind, say in the sense where “reason” is contrasted with “the senses.”

    So, then, why call it “secular reason” as opposed to just plain old reason? What advantage do you or Pinker get from calling it secular reason? After all, I think a very good case — I’d even dare say a convincing one — could be made that the Ontological Argument is, in fact, just plain old reason, a purely rational argument that thus should be considered a philosophical argument. It happens to be about God. It also happens — at least in my opinion — to not work. But we can’t claim that an argument is irrational or unphilosophical if it happens to not work anymore than we would call a failed scientific theory unempirical or unscientific. They would be INCORRECT scientific or philosophical arguments, but would remain scientific or philosophical arguments nonetheless.

    So, again, other than as an attempt to rule out religious arguments by definition, what purpose does calling it “secular reason” serve? Is the OA an argument of secular reason?

  213. #213 coelsblog
    December 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “My retort to that is that empiricism is indeed defined as knowledge acquired through the traditional five senses, and I see no reason to adopt introspection and phenomenal experience as a sense, …”

    Part of what those defending scientism are arguing is that “traditional” definitions and ways of thinking may need updating. If one brain module (say a module involved with consciousness) gains information from another brain module by purely physical means (electric potentials, neurotransmitters, etc) then that information is “empirical” in the sense that science is “empirical”.

  214. #214 Verbose Stoic
    December 23, 2011

    eric,

    When you made this argument to Jason, he was happy to call it something else. As was I.

    Unfortunately, my longer comment never appeared, because in it I answered this question and pointed out that if you don’t call it “science” anymore then it isn’t scientism. However, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t still wrong if you leave out things like philosophy — which he did — and doesn’t mean that you don’t need a definition so that I can rule out things like religion if that’s what you’re trying to do.

    Here, I’ll add another caveat: Or if you use a definition that is derived itself from the narrower forms of science and thus gives it primacy and excludes other ways of knowing by definition. All you would have done, then, is change the term, not the argument. Attempts to limit it to the empirical or the physical world smack of just such a move.

    I guess my only real remaining question is whether you consider it ‘scientism’ when someone claims broad empiricism is the only reliable way of gaining knowledge about the physical world?

    Again, in the lost longer comment I asked why you’re now limiting it to knowledge about the physical world. I deny that mathematical and philosophical knowledge are necessarily about the physical world — depending on what you mean by that — but I claim they produce knowledge nonetheless.

  215. #215 Verbose Stoic
    December 23, 2011

    coelsblog,

    You make the same shift that eric does; moving from knowledge in general to knowledge in a specific domain — ie the “universe” or “physical world” — and then arguing that that is what justifies the claims about empiricism. The problem is that at least I have not claimed that philosophy or mathematics necessarily provides that. They have different domains and so aren’t to be held to that standard. But that does not mean that they do not provide knowledge.

    Yes, all knowledge has to be empirical at root. (Certainly, all knowledge about our universe has to be empirical.)

    How would you prove that empirically? This is the exact problem that logical positivism ran into: they claimed to know something very much like what you claim to know, but when challenged to show how their knowledge then met their own criteria they found that to be impossible. I don’t think you’re immune from that sort of charge.

    So non-empirical reasoning can indeed be a part of acquiring knowledge, but only as part of a wider empirical ensemble.

    For some claims, perhaps. For claims about concepts, I argue that it’s the other way around. You will not find out what the concept “moon” means by going out and looking at all the things we find to be moons, since part of doing that requires you to have an idea what the concept means before doing so, and also the particular cases we see may not encompass the concept “moon”. Note that I mean the concept here, not the natural language word. So if you want to settle if the concept “moon” can include bodies with an atmosphere, you will not solve that question by looking to see if there are any moons in existence that have atmospheres, since if you find one you would still have to ask if you’ve really found a moon. So empirical examination can aid, but only as part of a wider non-empirical ensemble.

    I argue that this is what philosophy does, and since it produces knowledge it is a way of knowing where the empirical is at least at times subordinated. What’s your view on this, then?

  216. #216 coelsblog
    December 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “I deny that mathematical and philosophical knowledge are necessarily about the physical world — depending on what you mean by that — but I claim they produce knowledge nonetheless.”

    If this knowledge is not about the physical world, what is it about?

  217. #217 couchmar
    December 23, 2011

    V. Stoic,

    I thought my post was clear. The OA would be an argument of secular reason. The reason for speaking of “secular reason”, and not merely “reason”, is that the latter to my ear connotes the narrow notion of reason as a faculty of the mind (what philosophers ordinarily mean by reason). But Pinker is speaking of something broader than the use of reason-as-a-faculty. He is speaking about something that involves reason(narrow) but is not limited to it. The term seems useful because it provides an alternative to the broad notion of science we’ve been discussing.

  218. #218 Verbose Stoic
    December 23, 2011

    coelsblog,

    First, I made a long reply to your comment to me but it’s been caught by the filter. I’ll wait to see if it shows up before trying again.

    Second,

    If one brain module (say a module involved with consciousness) gains information from another brain module by purely physical means (electric potentials, neurotransmitters, etc) then that information is “empirical” in the sense that science is “empirical”.

    Why? I’m taking the sense of “empirical” in the sense of the philosophical position of empiricism versus rationalism, which as far as I know is where science gets ITS definition of “empirical” from as well. There’s nothing in the rationalist position itself that demands that the brain can’t be doing the rationalist part. Descartes THOUGHT that there was a separate mental from the physical, but that’s not required to make the empiricist/rationalist distinction nor is it what the definitions entail. So I see it being quite problematic to use the brain to make the argument you’re making, and see no reason to think it a useful move to make. We are clearly not going to go looking at our brains to figure out if a deductive proof is valid or not, right?

  219. #219 couchmar
    December 23, 2011

    coelsblog @ 208

    “So even logical reasoning (including maths and philosophy) is empirical at root…..non-empirical reasoning can indeed be a part of acquiring knowledge, but only as part of a wider empirical ensemble. And that empiricism is why I label the wider ensemble “science”.”

    This sounds to me like you accept that logic/math/philosophy provide genuine knowledge. The disagreement is whether these disciplines are empirical or not. I get that there are Millians about math, e.g., who take math to be a generalization from experience. Maybe there is an argument here that would establish this point (I’m not convinced yet). But what matters to me in this discussion is that these disciplines are knowledge-producing. The worry I have with your proposal is that, given that most people think “empiricism” means the narrow definition, talk of secular empiricism is likely to mislead.

  220. #220 coelsblog
    December 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    I’m taking the sense of “empirical” in the sense of the philosophical position of empiricism versus rationalism, which as far as I know is where science gets ITS definition of “empirical” from as well.

    A lot of these philosophical words were defined well in the past, when our understanding of ourselves and the natural world was a lot poorer. Because of that many of these philosophical definitions can be misleading and need updating.

    For example, the philosophical distinction of empiricism v rationalism harks back to a view of an “outside” world accessible via senses and an “inside” world of introspection.

    I deny that that distinction makes sense (indeed to me the whole point of scientism is to see the world as a seamless whole). Our brains are just as much a part of the natural world as any other part, and are just as much avaliable to empirical enquiry.

    Further, the above empiricism/rationalism distinction only makes sense when viewing the brain as one coherent entity. Modern science says that it isn’t really, it’s a whole bunch of interconnected modules, each cobbled together by evolution to do a particular job, and the whole lot cobbled together with interconnections and information-transfer where they are useful.

    Given that, from the point of view of one brain module, the rest of the brain is just as much the “outside world” accessible only via physical interaction with it, as stuff outside our body.

    The other way in which the empiricism/rationalism distinction does not make sense is that (as stated several times in this thread), “reason” has to be empirically founded, and validated by the fact that it works.

    Indeed, we have reasoning modules in our brain, but we have these as a result of evolutionary programming. And the only explanation for why evolution will have programmed us with “reasoning” modules is that they proved evolutionarily useful in promoting survival/reproduction, and that will only have happened if they worked — if the “logic/reason” of those brain modules mapped well to reality. So, again, our logic/reason is empirically grounded.

    So, sorry if I’m using words like “empirical” and “science” in ways that are different from their traditional use in philosophy, but much philosophical usage is now outdated, superseded by advances in science.

  221. #221 Michael Fugate
    December 23, 2011

    VS – I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the mind-body dualism that you seem to believe in. Just because something is traditional doesn’t make it correct. What is fundamentally different about the brain processes involved with observation and with introspection? The brain is not a non-physical black box. Have I actually done something different if I count to 5 on my fingers than if I close my eyes and count to five? You seem to think that observation entails verifiability and introspection doesn’t. This is nonsense.

  222. #222 Anthony McCarthy
    December 23, 2011

    By now I’d guess that brain-only is the prevailing tradition, absolutely mandatory among the sciency.

    I’m from another tradition, the we-really-don’t-know-really tradition.

    Brain modularity looks like a fad of the kind I’ve seen come and go. I’ll bet if there are still people discussing this twenty years from now it will be considered laughably naive, based in naive ideas about a very primitive form of imaging, or so it will seem then.

    Considering how much hostility

  223. #223 Anthony McCarthy
    December 23, 2011

    Cont.

    Considering how much hostility the obvious fact that people have to be convinced of scientific and mathematical assertions before they accept them, many of the same people are mighty eager to make wild speculations of all kinds about matters that can’t even be defined.

  224. #224 Owlmirror
    December 23, 2011

    By now I’d guess that brain-only is the prevailing tradition, absolutely mandatory among the sciency.

    I’m from another tradition, the we-really-don’t-know-really tradition.

    The “sciency” would welcome an experiment from the “we-really-don’t-know-really” tradition involving a demonstration that thought can and does continue after autodecerebration. It would advance the cause of science knowledge! It would prove the “sciency” wrong!

    Why do you hesitate to pith yourself?

  225. #225 Anton Mates
    December 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (continued)

    You will not find out what the concept “moon” means by going out and looking at all the things we find to be moons, since part of doing that requires you to have an idea what the concept means before doing so, and also the particular cases we see may not encompass the concept “moon”. Note that I mean the concept here, not the natural language word.

    What do you mean by “the concept” here? Concepts are subject-dependent. Do you mean “the concept that the people around you connect to the natural language word ‘moon’?” If so, you will certainly find out what it means by going out and looking at things and asking people, “Is that a moon?” Seems to me that’s how most people do it.

    Or do you defining the concept “moon” in some other way?? If so, how are you identifying it as the concept “moon” in the first place?

    So if you want to settle if the concept “moon” can include bodies with an atmosphere, you will not solve that question by looking to see if there are any moons in existence that have atmospheres, since if you find one you would still have to ask if you’ve really found a moon.

    Then why not ask? Isn’t asking other people whether Io and Titan are proper moons, and listening to their responses, an empirical research program?

  226. #226 Anton Mates
    December 23, 2011

    Then why not ask? Isn’t asking other people whether Io and Titan are proper moons, and listening to their responses, an empirical research program?

    blockquote fail; this bit in my previous post was written by me, not Verbose Stoic.

  227. #227 eric
    December 23, 2011

    By now I’d guess that brain-only is the prevailing tradition, absolutely mandatory among the sciency. …based in naive ideas about a very primitive form of imaging,

    The idea of different components or sub-units in the brain observing each other is much older than brain imaging, and has to do with what happens when one or more areas of the brain are damaged. The most startling observations are when the two hemispheres aren’t allowed to communicate; the left side will start making up reasons why the right side does what it does, typically having nothing whatsoever to do with the actual, real stimulus given to the right side.

    OT, but these observations are also generally consistent with the idea that what you think are conscious, free will decisions, aren’t – the real decisions are made before you consciously become aware of them, and your ‘conscious’ decision is more of a post-hoc justification. Its one part of your brain going “I meant to do that” after some other, non-conscious part of your brain actually decides what to do.

  228. #228 Raging Bee
    December 23, 2011

    ildi, you would have to read his work to know that Joseph Weizenbaum was far more than just a computer programmer. But, then, that would require reading a rather demanding book and thinking about it.

    Notice Anthony doesn’t tell is what else Weizenbaum does that casts any specific doubt on the validity of any particular scientific findings? Does this guy do anything BUT bluff?

    I’m from another tradition, the we-really-don’t-know-really tradition.

    Oh yeah, the pretend-no-one-else-knows-anything-I-don’t tradition. An old tradition with a long history of benefiting no one and accomplishing nothing.

  229. #229 Raging Bee
    December 23, 2011

    …many of the same people are mighty eager to make wild speculations of all kinds about matters that can’t even be defined.

    …says the guy who has nothing to offer but vague accusation and terms he never bothers to define. Care to specify which of us is making which unfounded wild speculation? Didn’t think so.

  230. #230 Anthony McCarthy
    December 24, 2011

    Owlmirror, well, I’m sure the sciency would welcome all kinds of empirical evidence of a reliable nature would be produced on many, many topics. I’m sure they would love to have some confirmation of whatever species of string-membrane-M theory they have as their hearts desire. But, as the line goes, people in hell want ice water, that don’t mean they get it. The substitution of a lousy substitute for reliable evidence, which most of what is provided in the name of science isn’t reliable. “Brain only” is an ideological position, not the product of evidence anymore than mind-body dualism is. It’s only accepted because it’s interpreted as being in line with the mandatory materialism current in the culture of the dominant faction in the culture of the self-defined sciency folks. As I said above, a lot of the tissue paper science that is here today and scrapped tomorrow is the product of that ideology.

    As on full display here, the self-regarded sciency folks aren’t especially good at understanding even the obvious foundations of science, indeed the foundations of any knowledge or thinking.

    The allergy among materialists to admitting that no one knows the answer to that question is a pretty good hint that materialism is about as far from honest science as biblical fundamentalism or Paganism is.

  231. #231 Anthony McCarthy
    December 24, 2011

    Bee, you really are the most oddly illiterate person I’ve ever encountered on a blog. And they aren’t rare on the blogs.

  232. #232 Verbose Stoic
    December 24, 2011

    coelsblog,

    Part of what those defending scientism are arguing is that “traditional” definitions and ways of thinking may need updating. If one brain module (say a module involved with consciousness) gains information from another brain module by purely physical means (electric potentials, neurotransmitters, etc) then that information is “empirical” in the sense that science is “empirical”.

    Well, a couple of problems here:

    1) You seem to be making this sort of move: all things physical are known empirically, reasoning is implemented by physical mechanisms, reasoning is thus physical, therefore it’s empirical. Please correct me if I’m wrong. This is a massively bad argument since it presumes your conclusion and introduces an attachment to the physical that those who are not empiricists have never denied.

    2) Even if that can be justified, it’s still a bad argument because since we are talking about knowledge, we have to understand what our propositions actually are and how they are justified. Non-empirical claims like abstract mathematics and conceptual claims are not, in fact, justified by looking at a brain. The propositions just aren’t about brains at all. Therefore, how the brain works is irrelevant to their actual justification, and we have to talk about how the claims are justified outside of that. So this fact about the brain is irrelevant as the claims aren’t about the brain at all.

    Now, you can try to justify a move to including them as empirical based on this argument, but that seems to be a rather odd argument to make. There’s no reason to insist that everything physical is empirical a priori, and that’s pretty much all you do here, it seems to me.

  233. #233 Verbose Stoic
    December 24, 2011

    coelsblog,

    If this knowledge is not about the physical world, what is it about?

    Well, tell me first what you mean by “physical world”, and then we can talk [grin].

    However, I did say in the long comment that has now appeared that philosophy, for example, is about concepts. Concepts are about the physical world in the same way that fictional concepts are. And you don’t go look at the “physical world” itself to talk about fictional things.

  234. #234 Verbose Stoic
    December 24, 2011

    couchmar,

    The reason for speaking of “secular reason”, and not merely “reason”, is that the latter to my ear connotes the narrow notion of reason as a faculty of the mind (what philosophers ordinarily mean by reason). But Pinker is speaking of something broader than the use of reason-as-a-faculty. He is speaking about something that involves reason(narrow) but is not limited to it. The term seems useful because it provides an alternative to the broad notion of science we’ve been discussing.

    The problem is that none of these arguments ring true:

    1) This line of argumentation is actually an insult to philosophers. As part of philosophy, we always need to make sure we know how broad or limited a definition we are using to avoid equivocation. Thus, Pinker’s “secular reason” is either a form of reason that philosophy already considers to be reason or it’s a form of reason that philosophy needs to examine. So, if Pinker’s “secular reason” is a valid examination of the concept reason, philosophy will have to accept it. Thus, then, it won’t be broader than what philosophy considers, but philosophy will still have to say when it is appropriate to use the broader or more limited form. So to say that that’s not what philosophers ordinarily mean by mind is, to me, to say that either they need to change their usage OR to ignore the fact that their ordinary usage is justified and not merely asserted.

    (To be continued).

  235. #235 Verbose Stoic
    December 24, 2011

    couchmar (cont),

    2) When you add a prefacing word to a term, that usually means that you’re making it more limited, not broadening it, so saying that what would normally be a more limiting move broadens it is quite odd to me.

    3) It’s hard to see what the term “secular” does here if it doesn’t attempt to exclude religious reasoning.

    4) Pinker’s context — at least in what you provided — seems to be about excluding religion; it would be a fair charge to say that you’re reading into his definition what you want it to say, not what he actually means.

    5) Given this and your description, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. What is this reason that’s more than reason? This can’t be a good alternative if it’s less clear and more misleading than the term we’re trying to avoid.

  236. #236 Verbose Stoic
    December 24, 2011

    coelsblog,

    So, sorry if I’m using words like “empirical” and “science” in ways that are different from their traditional use in philosophy, but much philosophical usage is now outdated, superseded by advances in science.

    But in order to really say this, you have to get into philosophy to do it. It cannot, obviously, be a conclusion of SCIENCE that the PHILOSOPHY is outdated. This means, however, that you have to understand the philosophical debates and what they were about first, and your justifications seem to show that you don’t.

    I deny that that distinction makes sense (indeed to me the whole point of scientism is to see the world as a seamless whole). Our brains are just as much a part of the natural world as any other part, and are just as much avaliable to empirical enquiry.

    Fair enough … but what does that have to do with empiricism and rationalism? There were immaterialist empiricists — see Berkeley — and I’m sure there were materialist rationalists (though I can’t think of one off of the top of my head). This, then, has nothing to do with the definitions or positions because, as I said, they weren’t about brains. They were about methods. Even if you expand empirical to include them both, you’d still have the problem that they are, in fact, still different methods and there is still a problem of deciding which one to use in which situations.

    Indeed, we have reasoning modules in our brain, but we have these as a result of evolutionary programming. And the only explanation for why evolution will have programmed us with “reasoning” modules is that they proved evolutionarily useful in promoting survival/reproduction, and that will only have happened if they worked — if the “logic/reason” of those brain modules mapped well to reality. So, again, our logic/reason is empirically grounded.

    That our reasoning faculty evolved because it was useful provides not one whit of justification to claim that there’s any real empirical grounding there. The truth of a specific deductive statement does not, in and of itself, depend on empirical examination and data. And you’ve also changed definitions of the terms in the middle of your argument here; this is clearly referring to the narrow definition, not the broader one.

  237. #237 Verbose Stoic
    December 24, 2011

    coelsblog,

    To carry on, one of the big problems with your view is that for the most part philosophy accepts that for the “physical world”, empiricism mostly won. Empirical science is our best source for going out and looking at how things work “in the world” and getting knowledge from that. But mathematical and philosophical claims are not, in fact, about that sort of world. They’re both useful to those examinations — mathematics and analysis of concepts are important to figuring things out — but at the end of the day you do not justify mathematical or philosophical claims by going out and saying “See, the world really works that way”.

    Perhaps it is best to think of it as this: mathematics and philosophy are about universals that apply to all universes. Science is about particulars that apply to this one. You can’t really prove the former by looking at this world and looking to apply it to all universes is a really bad way to look at this one. The empirical generally looks at this one; it’s hard to get empirical data about a possible world. Rationalism, however, can extend past this universe without issue.

    And before you object that it’s all in brains, it isn’t; these concepts exist no matter what strata they are implemented in, as far as we can tell.

  238. #238 Verbose Stoic
    December 24, 2011

    Michael Fugate,

    I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the mind-body dualism that you seem to believe in.

    Fortunately, my arguments rely on no way on any sort of mind-body dualism.

    Just because something is traditional doesn’t make it correct.

    Good thing that’s not what I’m doing, then. However, if you are going to wander into a discussion and start redefining the terms, you had better have a good reason for it beyond that it makes your presumptions seem reasonable. It would be ridiculous to redefine evolution to be specifically “Change over time guided by a overseeing being” to make theistic evolution be what is meant by saying “We evolved”, and I see the moves here as being just that sort of redefinition.

    What is fundamentally different about the brain processes involved with observation and with introspection?

    Who cares? The claim is not about what the brain is doing, but about what the methods are.

    Have I actually done something different if I count to 5 on my fingers than if I close my eyes and count to five?

    Obviously, yes, since you can differentiate them here. However, if all you mean is if they aren’t both counting, well since they ARE both counting then no. But so what? That, again, is not what’s in dispute here.

    You seem to think that observation entails verifiability and introspection doesn’t. This is nonsense.

    It’s also nothing at all like what I actually said. I have no idea how you got that from what I said; care to enlighten me?

  239. #239 Miracle Eyes
    December 24, 2011

    Yes, Well, tell me first what you mean by “physical world”, and then we can talk [grin].

    However, I did say in the long comment that has now appeared that philosophy, for example, is about concepts. Concepts are about the physical world in the same way that fictional concepts are. And you don’t go look at the “physical world” itself to talk about fictional things.

  240. #240 eric
    December 24, 2011

    VS @211:

    My retort to that is that empiricism is indeed defined as knowledge acquired through the traditional five senses, and I see no reason to adopt introspection and phenomenal experience as a sense, and have seen no argument for that as far as I can recall beyond that it makes your statement that all knowledge is empirical sensical (pardon the pun).

    The argument against your definition is that it leaves out stuff which any sane person would define as empirical. Such as: my sense that I’m leaning at a 45 degree angle (sense of balance). My sensing my own heartbeat (internal pressure). My ‘sense’ as to whether I’m awake or dreaming.

    I can’t see any good reason to carve out a special exception for other sense experiences.

    Think about it mechanically, VS. All sensory input gets translated into nerve impulses; electrochemical reactions in nerve fibers, completely physical and well understood. That is ‘really’ what the brain senses. What you are claiming is that some of those very mundane and physical nerve impulses are empirical, but others are not.

  241. #241 Owlmirror
    December 24, 2011

    The substitution of a lousy substitute for reliable evidence, which most of what is provided in the name of science isn’t reliable.

    I keep trying to parse this, and the only conclusion I can reach is that not only do you have no idea what you’re talking about, you have no idea how to write coherent grammatical English.

    “Brain only” is an ideological position, not the product of evidence anymore than mind-body dualism is.

    What would be evidence for “brain only”, other than what we already have?

    Pith yourself, and convince everyone that science is wrong!

    It’s only accepted because it’s interpreted as being in line with the mandatory materialism current in the culture of the dominant faction in the culture of the self-defined sciency folks.

    You’ll have to remind me where materialism is made mandatory. Is there a contract that has to be signed in blood, perchance? No papers are accepted unless the scientist in question is a paid-up member of an atheist group?

    Actually, you’ll also have to remind me what “immaterialism” even means.

  242. #242 Anthony McCarthy
    December 24, 2011

    Acutally, Owlmirror, what I have is called “legal blindness” I don’t always get everything in the edit. You find what I said incoherent as compared to Raging Bee? Really?

    There is absolutely no evidence of what the relationship between the mind and the brain is. Everything that is said about that is the product of surmise, not of evidence. Usually surmise based in prejudice. If you begin with the insistence that the mind is equal to the detectable activity of the brain you, brace yourself, come out with that at the end. If you begin with the belief that the mind is not the mere product of the brain then you won’t come out there. As I said, I’m of the strict “we-don’t-know” school because we don’t know. I’m extremely skeptical of the idea that the mind is governed by physical laws but I don’t know that it isn’t.

    Try going around the Scienceblogs in disguise and diss materialism and see what happens. And not only on the Scienceblogs but on most blogs that cater to a middle-brow audience of people who were trained in American or British universities and see the pinafores get tied into knots.

  243. #243 Owlmirror
    December 24, 2011

    There is absolutely no evidence of what the relationship between the mind and the brain is.

    Because there are so many brainless people walking around with perfectly functioning minds?

    Everything that is said about that is the product of surmise, not of evidence.

    Technically, it’s called a parsimonious inference from the evidence.

    If you begin with the belief that the mind is not the mere product of the brain then you won’t come out there.

    If you begin with the belief that breaking a mirror brings 7 years bad luck, you won’t come out with the inference that superstition is baseless, either.

    As I said, I’m of the strict “we-don’t-know” school because we don’t know.

    We don’t know that breaking a mirror doesn’t bring 7 years bad luck, either.

    Try going around the Scienceblogs in disguise and diss materialism and see what happens.

    Materialism’s mom is ugly and dresses materialism funny!

    OK, now what?

  244. #244 Raging Bee
    December 24, 2011

    Try going around the Scienceblogs in disguise and diss materialism and see what happens.

    Here’s what normally happens: you get at least one request to define exactly what you mean by “materialism.” And if you can’t provide a workable definition and stick to it, you get laughed at and the conversation ends there.

    So…what’s your definition of “materialism?” Oh that’s right — you don’t really know what the word means. Buh-bye and merry Christmas.

  245. #245 Anthony McCarthy
    December 24, 2011

    As I said, watch the pinafores automatically get tied in a knot.

    Getting evidence of scientism to express itself is like shooting an old boot at two feet.

  246. #246 Owlmirror
    December 24, 2011

    Getting evidence of scientism to express itself is like shooting an old boot at two feet.

    Why are you shooting old boots at two feet? Does it have something to do with legal blindness?

  247. #247 Anthony McCarthy
    December 26, 2011

    Geesh, Owlmirror, if my meaning wasn’t obvious it’s no wonder you don’t realize that science relies on an individual being convinced of the truth it, not to mention its foundational underpinnings, in the same way they do other things.

    Rereading this thread, it would seem a lot of new atheists really do think science is some kind of magic.

  248. #248 Owlmirror
    December 26, 2011

    So…what’s your definition of “materialism?”

    Since Anthony wants to wibble on about knotted pinafores, shooting boots, and some sort of incoherent and confused rant about science being magic, rather than defining terms and actually trying to make sensible arguments, I guess you’ll have to look elsewhere for a definition.

    Here’s Sean M. Carroll, in “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists”

    It is important from the outset to distinguish between two related but ultimately distinct concepts: a picture of how the world works, and a methodology for deciding between competing pictures. The pictures of interest in this paper may be labeled “materialism” and “theism.” Materialism asserts that a complete description of nature consists of an understanding of the structures of which it is comprised together with the patterns which those structures follow, while theism insists on the need for a conscious God who somehow rises above those patterns.

    (emph mine)

    I don’t entirely agree with everything he writes, but I think that makes a good start at defining the term “materialism”.

    I suspect that finding out if Anthony agrees with it, or disagrees with it, and why, will take a lot of patience while he shakes his tiny fist and spews more incoherent verbiage about transformations to various articles of clothing and magical science. Perhaps he wants to pull a rabbit out of a hat?

  249. #249 Owlmirror
    December 26, 2011
  250. #250 coelsblog
    December 27, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “But in order to really say this, you have to get into philosophy to do it. It cannot, obviously, be a conclusion of SCIENCE that the PHILOSOPHY is outdated.”

    This is really the heart of our disagreement. I don’t accept what you’ve just said at all. I am asserting that knowledge is a seamless whole, without uncrossable demarcation lines. I’m asserting that philosophy and science are the same thing, both rooted in empirical enquiry, and thus they inform each other and thus, yes, developments in science can show that some philosophy is outdated.

    “The truth of a specific deductive statement does not, in and of itself, depend on empirical examination and data.”

    I’d assert that yes it does. You cannot derive logic ex nihilo, and logical axioms and logical reasoning can only be grounded in the empirical fact that it works!

  251. #251 coelsblog
    December 27, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    “Perhaps it is best to think of it as this: mathematics and philosophy are about universals that apply to all universes. Science is about particulars that apply to this one.”

    How do you know that your maths and philosophy applies to all possible universes, unless you have empirical data showing it? I don’t accept that we can “just know” logical truths that are independent of our universe. At least, no-one has demonstrated that to be the case.

    “at the end of the day you do not justify mathematical or philosophical claims by going out and saying “See, the world really works that way”.”

    Again, I’d disagree, since the axioms you would have used would have come from our empirical heritage. It really is no accident that the maths our mathematicians come up with happens, time after time, to be applicable to our universe. The y may be reasoning way ahead of what physicists are studying. But we always end up finding a deep connection between the mathematicians’ reasoning and physical reality. Why would that be unless the mathematicians’ axioms and reasoning are actually products of our universe?

  252. #252 Verbose Stoic
    December 27, 2011

    eric,

    I actually tried posting this over the weekend but it seems that the server was not functional, so trying again.

    Starting with the last point:

    What you are claiming is that some of those very mundane and physical nerve impulses are empirical, but others are not.

    Or, to put it another way, that some brain functions are different from some other brain functions. That seems uncontroversial in and of itself to me; we know that we can divide brain functions into automatic and non-automatic, for example. Why do you find such classifications so controversial?

    Back to your senses argument, I see no reason why those things should be uncontroversially empirical. That inner sense of balance or of your heartbeat is not sensed, and differs from when you detect that angle by looking at the wall and consciously inferring it, or hearing your heartbeat and inferring from that. I see no reason why those senses should be called empirical at all. As for the sense that we are dreaming or awake, there is no such sense, as we have known for thousands of years. Determining if we are dreaming or aware is an INFERENCE from our experiences and our attempts to generalize them, unless you are like me and have completely different sorts of experiences when you’re awake than when you’re dreaming (poor visualization, for me). You could argue that THAT is empirical, and I wouldn’t argue too strenuously against it. But that wouldn’t get you all that far, since that’s a generalization from experiences and reasoning out abstract concepts is generally not, unless one tries to define inner speech as that sort of experience which then runs you into the problem that it is not a generalization from those experiences nor is it the case that those experiences justify anything, which is generally required for empirical under my definition.

    So, then, you’d need a definition to work with, clear enough that we can at least argue over that.

  253. #253 Verbose Stoic
    December 27, 2011

    coelsblog,

    I’m asserting that philosophy and science are the same thing, both rooted in empirical enquiry, and thus they inform each other and thus, yes, developments in science can show that some philosophy is outdated.

    The heart of our disagreement is not that philosophy and science can inform each other or that they are continuous, but that you seem to think that philosophy is empirical and I don’t. Note that while you say that they are the same thing at the end you immediately distinguish them again, just as you did in the first comment, at which point you proceeded to jump on me for taking them separately.

    I’d assert that yes it does. You cannot derive logic ex nihilo, and logical axioms and logical reasoning can only be grounded in the empirical fact that it works!

    Works for what? I can define, say, logical systems that are completely inapplicable to the world, and they will still work as logical systems. That the ones we most commonly use DO work in the world doesn’t mean that they are justified by so doing, especially since much of the philosophy of logic is bent on inventing new logical systems that do better reflect the actual world (see, for example, fuzzy logic).

  254. #254 coelsblog
    December 27, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    I can define, say, logical systems that are completely inapplicable to the world, and they will still work as logical systems.

    Perhaps, but at best you’d arrive only at a series of “if … then …” statements that would not be *about* anything, and thus would not be knowledge about anything.

  255. #255 Verbose Stoic
    December 27, 2011

    coelsblog,

    Perhaps, but at best you’d arrive only at a series of “if … then …” statements that would not be *about* anything, and thus would not be knowledge about anything.

    What I’d have knowledge of would be of how that logical system works, what deductions are true and how to transform logical statements and symbolic logical statements into other forms. It might not give knowledge about the world, but since it’s not SUPPOSED to be knowledge about the world that’s not a problem.

  256. #256 Chris Lawson
    December 29, 2011

    You know, Nick, I used to admire your posts on Panda’s Thumb, but you’re turning into a purveyor of rank dishonesty. It is dishonest to say that Dawkins intended to replace history or the humanities with “memetics.” It is dishonest to report scientists over-stretching their pet theories (as Skinner did with behaviourism) and call that scientism. It is dishonest to refer to Mary Midgley as a source of scholarly analysis as she has been as crooked as a dog’s hind leg on the subject of science. It is dishonest to suggest that secular charities more or less don’t exist or don’t do much work when there are dozens of successful charities that are completely secular, such as Medicins Sans Frontieres, Oxfam, ACLU, Amnesty International, Rotary, and Planned Parenthood. It is dishonest to claim that the term accommodationist was a “scare” word since it was created after Mooney and others complained that the term “appeaser” had excessively negative overtones (which it did) — and Mooney even accepted “accommodationist” as a reasonable descriptive term for his position. I would welcome further pieces by you on the subject of flagellar evolution, where you seem capable of presenting useful information and seem to be able to constrain yourself from throwing around bulldust.

  257. #257 korova
    December 29, 2011

    Alaskan Mals Melarus http://alaskanmal.ru/

  258. #258 Nick (Matzke)
    December 31, 2011

    It is dishonest to suggest that secular charities more or less don’t exist or don’t do much work when there are dozens of successful charities that are completely secular, such as Medicins Sans Frontieres, Oxfam, ACLU, Amnesty International, Rotary, and Planned Parenthood.

    Oh, gimme a break. These are all secular organizations in the original (correct) meaning of the word, i.e. non-religious but not anti-religious. None of them are specifically atheist.

    And, I have yet to see one of the Gnu critics of Midgley actually read a few of her books and attempt a scholarly treatment to justify their negative view of her. Back in about 1996, I thought as you do, based on misreading one of her short articles and thinking that Richard Dawkins magnificent science writing meant that his broader worldview was also good science. But then a professor recommended one of her books — The Ethical Primate — I spent a night reading it, and I never took naive reductionism etc. uncritically again. Read her books, I dare you.

    Re: memes — have a look at H. Allen Orr’s review of Dennett. I think there is some very interesting material to explore in the meme concept, in fact I am using it in some phylogenetics research I am doing right now, but it’s just a fact that it is also extremely problematic when it is taken to apply outside of cases that closely resemble genes. It’s not any more convincing than other attempts to reduce complex human affairs to simple monocausal “explanations” — Skinner’s behaviorism is a fantastic example, since it is far enough in the past that most of us can see the problems. And it’s not like I “dishonestly” invented the scientism accusation at Skinner, Chomsky leveled the charge explicitly in the 1970s.

    Re: accommodationist — actually, the term goes back to 2003 at least. Amongst other problems, the term as it is used now is used to suggest that *science* should be accomodated to religion, which is just an insult to the numerous longtime science defenders that have been pasted with this label. The term would make sense if it was applied only to those who think their religion should accommodate science — since those people do exist. But this would not have a negative connotation, since this is a good thing.

    Apparently you respect the work I did on the bacterial flagellum, intelligent design, etc. It’s the exact same person, me, saying what I am saying now. The problem is, I can’t just turn off the critical thinking and the attempt to be scholarly. And I can’t just abandon people who I know are basically good pro-science folks, just because they fell afoul of the Gnu crusade which is apparently an easy thing to do.

  259. #259 Mike
    January 5, 2012

    @Nick:

    On the issue of the Chomsky vs Skinner debate that was brought up earlier, you mentioned that nobody could read his review without concluding that Skinner reached some “silly conclusions”. However, it’s important to note that the majority of what Chomsky wrote about behaviorism and Skinner was a ridiculous strawman. So much so, that it took over 10 years for anyone to respond to his infamous review of “Verbal Behavior” because nobody could figure out who he was supposed to be attacking. Mccorquodale gives a good overview here of why the only conclusion we can reach from Chomsky’s review is that he had never read a book on behaviorism or any of Skinner’s work: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1333660/pdf/jeabehav00145-0085.pdf

    Basically, Chomsky argues that behaviorism is wrong because it is a stimulus-response, blank slatist, and black box approach to psychology that ignores the inner world of organisms. These are all positions that are explicitly rejected by Skinner’s behaviorism. The “silly positions” often attributed to Skinner are usually blatant misrepresentations.

    As for the charge of scientism against Skinner, that’s nonsensical. His philosophy was purely pragmatic, and only argued to apply science to where he thought it was applicable and useful. Attempting to extend scientific principles to areas not traditionally thought of as scientific is not scientism. Instead, scientism is attempting to apply science to where it is inapplicable.

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