Pharyngula

Almost there

Georgetown College in Kentucky has ended its affiliation with the Southern Baptists after the Baptists tried to dictate that a new hire be a biblical literalist. The Baptists wanted nonsense like this:

“You ought to have some professor on your faculty who believes Adam and Eve were the first humans, that they actually existed,” Dr. York said.

They also refused to allow the college to hire more than 25% non-Baptist faculty, and what may have really been the deal-breaker is that the university’s enrollment is less than half Baptist…so insisting on strict adherence to the principles of a minority denomination was probably costing them students. I suspect money is more important than doctrine.

I was surprised and impressed by this comment:

David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory, put it more starkly. “The real underlying issue is that fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form is incompatible with higher education,” Professor Key said. “In fundamentalism, you have all the truths. In education, you’re searching for truths.”

He’s almost there. Now we just have to work towards the day the word “religion” is substituted for the too narrow “fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form”.

(via Socratic Gadfly)

Comments

  1. #1 Uber
    July 22, 2006

    I wouldn’t call it a minority denomination, I’m sure it’s the biggest on that campus. But numbers don’t make you right anyway.

    I’m often startled by the contrast of the very sensible American Baptists to the north and their wierd aggressive cousins to the south.

    It’s almost like American honeybees and the Brazilian killer bees.

  2. #2 Rey
    July 22, 2006

    Technically, anything with under 50% of a whole is a minority. It may be the biggest, and would thus have a plurality, but not a majority.

  3. #3 steve s
    July 22, 2006

    That might be true on average, but it’s not always true. One of the most important and influential persons for liberal values here in North Carolina was Baptist preacher W. W. Finlator. My religious disagreements with him aside, he was truly on the side of the angels.

  4. #4 steve s
    July 22, 2006

    I’m often startled by the contrast of the very sensible American Baptists to the north and their wierd aggressive cousins to the south.

    That might be true on average, but it’s not always true. One of the most important and influential persons for liberal values here in North Carolina was Baptist preacher W. W. Finlator. My religious disagreements with him aside, he was truly on the side of the angels.

  5. #5 Rob Knop
    July 22, 2006

    Now we just have to work towards the day the word “religion” is substituted for the too narrow “fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form”.

    I was with you until there.

    PZ, you just don’t get religion. You really ought to shut up about it just as much as the fundies who don’t get science ought to shut up about science.

    Of course, I don’t know why I bother posting this, since you’ll just call me sutpid or deluded or something, and you’re pretty convinced in your unthinking absolutist biogted athiest position.

    You’re the poster boy for what the fundies what everybody to believe that all scientists are like. This is why I’m sad that your blog is the Internet’s most popular science blog. It just throws into higher contrast the supposed irreconcilable conflict that some would like everybody to believe is there.

  6. #6 Scott Hatfield
    July 22, 2006

    PZ, it seems to me that the search for truth must include the possibility of pursuing the possible truth of religion to its depths, if one chooses. That’s not a choice available in science, of course, but whoever said that we scientists were in the truth business?

    Besides, I’m one of those religious, and I don’t claim to have a monopoly on revealed truth at the moment, or to believe that my present understanding guarantees any future monopoly.

    Peace…Scott

  7. #7 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 22, 2006

    The article gives the impression that it’s the usual conflict between religion and knowledge and that money was indeed the main turning point:

    “Dr. Crouch and his trustees decided it was time to end the college’s 63-year affiliation with the religious denomination. “From my point of view, it was about academic freedom,” Dr. Crouch said. “I sat for 25 years and watched my denomination become much more narrow and, in terms of education, much more interested in indoctrination.””

    “”I realized that our fund-raising depended on getting non-Baptists on our board,” Dr. Crouch said.”

    I’m impressed too with the clear thinking of the college members. “What matters to me is getting my education.”

  8. #8 poke
    July 22, 2006

    whoever said that we scientists were in the truth business?

    Scientists?

  9. #9 GH
    July 23, 2006

    Rob with all due respect that was an assinine post.

    PZ, you just don’t get religion. You really ought to shut up about it just as much as the fundies who don’t get science ought to shut up about science.

    And exactly what do you ‘get’ about religion? And why we’re at it please tell us why the one you ‘get’ is worth more than the ones you don’t ‘get.

    Of course, I don’t know why I bother posting this, since you’ll just call me sutpid or deluded or something, and you’re pretty convinced in your unthinking absolutist biogted athiest position.

    Why is the atheist who demands proof and thinks people who believe in wierd unprovable things always called bigots? Why don’t they simply prove their assertions minus the name calling. And always the ‘untinking’ tag. As if that is more a problem on the atheist side than the religious side. A side that accepts all manner of irrationality and wierdness.

    You’re the poster boy for what the fundies what everybody to believe that all scientists are like. This is why I’m sad that your blog is the Internet’s most popular science blog. It just throws into higher contrast the supposed irreconcilable conflict that some would like everybody to believe is there.

    It IS an irreconcilable conflict. Unless one leans towards deism and such. Otherwise it is simply impossible to make the two ideas mesh together. They are fundamental opposites. IF people understood that and didn’t go around making decisions based on ‘faith’ criteria and used reason instead it wouldn’t be an issue. To say PZ is what the fundies think of scientists just highlights THERE bigoted and ignorant views.

    But instead they use ‘faith’ of a million flavors to ensure people can’t marry and a whole host of other lunacies.

    He’s number 1 because believe it or not people eventually see reason and seek more of it out. But you can go back to Pat Robertson or the Pope now.

    And Scot-

    it seems to me that the search for truth must include the possibility of pursuing the possible truth of religion to its depths, if one chooses.

    Of course. That is also what atheists have been saying for years. Once you get to the bottom things look a little different than what is said on Sunday.

  10. #10 JimC
    July 23, 2006

    I don’t claim to have a monopoly on revealed truth at the moment

    What exactly is a revealed truth? How would one go about verifying in fact it was

    a.revealed

    and

    b. truth

    Seems to me neither is possible.

    So what you really have is just a thought.

  11. #11 ThomasHobbes
    July 23, 2006

    Scott, perhaps it should be clarified what truth means in context.

    Scientists are in the truth business; priests, rabbis, imams, etc., are in the Truth Business. The latter do make pronouncements that cross over, and they do so all the time. At that point, of course, scientists can apply their tools to the issue and make the bridge between the two. Rarely does it happen the other way around (nor should it really; science is, at its heart, a descriptive enterprise, not prescriptive). Otherwise, though, many–if not most–claims of the religious fall outside the purview of science. That obviously does not mean that they can’t be subject to scrutiny–their claims may stretch credulity, or be logically inconsistent, or what have you. It only means that such claims are not fit for scientific investigation. What is so hard about that?

    Of course, if that question were easy to answer, we wouldn’t have debates like this, and I think that life would be much the worse for it, frankly.

  12. #12 Numad
    July 23, 2006

    I think that the statement “religion is incompatible with higher education” might come of far harsher and inaccurate than it actually is.

    Not to say that it should be sugar coated, but it is possible for people to hold religious beliefs and pursuits of certain natures in certain ways that wouldn’t interfere with science. At the conceptual level, religion isn’t compatible with science, but that shouldn’t be applied to persons.

    Dogma of any form, not just “fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form”, doesn’t qualify as a reasonable way of managing religious beliefs in the face of science.

  13. #13 Rob Knop
    July 23, 2006

    Why is the atheist who demands proof and thinks people who believe in wierd unprovable things always called bigots?

    Why is it you assume that it is the positon of atheism that I’m referrring to as bigotted?

    What I’m referring to as bigotted is PZ’s repeated insistance on referring to all non-atheists as deluded and stupid.

    His implicit statement that higher education is inconsistent with religion is a blatant, flat-out, troll, and is absolutely as asinine as anything I’ve said. More, if anything. Consider how many fundamentalists assert that atheism is inconsistent with having any moral sense. Do you find that statement asinine and bigoted and igorant? Well, “religion is inconsistent with higher education” is right up there with that.

    As for the unthinking — perhaps it’s not the case, but PZ throws out stereotypes and absolutist statements and old canards about religion just as fast as creationists throw out old canards about science that have nothing to do with reality. PZ lives in a world where all of the religions are the book-thumping absolutist biblical literalists that we all are sick and tired of. Unfortunately for him, that’s not our world. Of course, we’re all free to believe what we want and hold the prejudices that we want, and indeed to spit bile at the targets of those whom we have decided are beneath contempt (the religious, in the case of PZ). I just think it’s too bad that the net’s most popular science blog is one that does spit bile at all of religion.

    You can find lots of science bloggers who are atheists and make no bones about it, but don’t feel the need to be constantly insulting and aggressive towards all religion. Who understand that, indeed, there are things in religion that don’t have to conflict with science, and in the name of good science there’s no need to declare war on all of religion. I think it’s too bad that they don’t have the prominence that this blog does.

    But you can go back to Pat Robertson or the Pope now.

    There’s got to be some kind of Godwin’s law in here. The whole notion that “anybody religious = Pat Robertson” is absolutely as childish a notion as “anybody atheistic = utterly amoral.”

    The fact that PZ’s blog is #1 is probably a combination of (a) he’s a good writer, (b) he writes interesting stuff, (c) his posts are fun to read, (d) he posts all the time, and, not to be neglected, (e) people who make extreme statements on hot-button positions tend to attract a lot of attention to their blog, including the sycophantic religion-haters like yourself. Call it the Jerry Springer effect, or the Rush Limbaugh effect, but people just love it when somebody who holds a position similar to theirs comes out with extreme statements that utterly degrade anybody who isn’t out there on the same extreme. And, I’m not talking atheists here– there are lots of reasonable atheists, just as there are lots of reasonable non-ahteists. I’m talking “all people need to convert to atheism” types, who remind me a lot of the “one true religion” fundies.

    -Rob

  14. #14 BlueIndependent
    July 23, 2006

    Rock on. Snub the fools some more. Force ‘em to put up their evidence or shut up.

  15. #15 D
    July 23, 2006

    1. I think PZ goes a bit overboard with this one…in the past he’s typically maintained at least a sort of ‘Ken Miller and their ilk can do research if they engage in suitable mental gymnastics’ ambivalence about religious scientists. Here he says flat out, all religion, any religion is incompatible with engaging in science. Seems a bit, um, harsh.

    2. Rob Knop sounds rather silly (imo) for getting so apoplectic over a throwaway one-liner ending a post. As Dawkins and the like point out ever so often, there is virtually no other organization people belong to that is meant to be so immune from criticism in polite conversation. Go to the Daily Kos, or the Opinion Journal or Lubos Motl’s / Peter Woit’s blogs and you’ll see far, far worse about Rebublicans, Democrats, feminists, Climate Change scientists, String theorists, LQG types and so on. Rob Knop’s beliefs aren’t somehow so holy and sacred that it’s wrong to mock or ridicule or make fun of them.

    So PZ doesn’t like religion. Why the moral outrage and high dudgeon? Get over it, as they say.

  16. #16 GH
    July 23, 2006

    Ok Rob, humor me please.

    on referring to all non-atheists as deluded and stupid.

    Look I’m a non-atheist. I am quite possibly deluded and stupid in this area. It’s just the truth. I believe some things that make me feel better, give me comfort etc. It doesn’t change the fact they maybe stupid. Much like I think people who think they are getting 72 virgins are the same. It’s all stupid.

    His implicit statement that higher education is inconsistent with religion is a blatant, flat-out, troll, and is absolutely as asinine as anything I’ve said

    No one denies one can be a scientist and be religious. But I personally think it is a blantant falsehood to say they are truly compatible and even more so reason and religion to coexist. They are to fundamentally different to have both without compartmentalizing one or the other.

    PZ lives in a world where all of the religions are the book-thumping absolutist biblical literalists that we all are sick and tired of.

    No PZ lives in a world where a certain type of thinking is given a privelege because it is ‘just so’. All PZ does is show that type of thinking for what it is and people who have accepted the ‘just so’ idea can’t stand it. I say to bad. It’s not just the fundies. It’s all types of religions that impose irrationality from top to bottom. The creationists are just one form and extension.

    but don’t feel the need to be constantly insulting and aggressive towards all religion.

    You keep saying ALL religion as if one somehow doesn’t spread irrationality. Now not all are like the fundies in regards to creationism but you have RCC fundies who believe and push equally bizarre shit. In the area of evolution the nominal fundie has no equal but in the area of irrationality he has plenty of company.

    The whole notion that “anybody religious = Pat Robertson” is absolutely as childish a notion as “anybody atheistic = utterly amoral.”

    Actually Rob you missed my point. I put Robertson and the Pope. Simply to show a range. Not necessarily to imply that one is better or worse but that one is no less wacky in the religious nature of their ideas. One thinks evolution is nuts and the other thinks playing with your nuts is quite terrible. Either way both are irrational.

    Now are all religious people like this? Of course not. I’m not. But most likely we all have some childhood indoctrination, natural fears, social ties and such accomapaning quite a set of irrational potential delusional ideas.

    The key is perhaps recognizing this and not pretending what we believe is an actual ‘truth’ but simply an ideal.

  17. #17 Rob Knop
    July 23, 2006

    Rob Knop sounds rather silly (imo) for getting so apoplectic over a throwaway one-liner ending a post.

    One of my self-immolation rituals is to every so often drop by and bitch at PZ for being such a jerk about religion.

    He does it all the time. I don’t usually say anything about it. When I do, my reacton isn’t to an isolated one-liner, but to a lot of integrated bile.

    -Rob

  18. #18 goddogtired
    July 23, 2006

    I think PZ has a weed up his, y’know, that could be pinched off without so much whining, but I’m 110% behind him when he evokes hissy-fits of idiocy like Rob’s here; just a tad more purple in your babbling, Mr. Knop, and you’ll be a perfect…

    …maroon.

  19. #19 386sx
    July 23, 2006

    It IS an irreconcilable conflict. Unless one leans towards deism and such.

    It looks like you and Mr. Knop can agree on at least one point: It’s irreconcilable except when it’s not.

    By the way, am I the only one who finds it ironic that deists would never have gotten their idea about deism if it weren’t for the other “poofier” religions? Otherwise how would they ever have come up with the idea?

  20. #20 Mnemosyne
    July 23, 2006

    Frankly, PZ’s been getting even worse lately — have the e-mails from fundies been ratcheting up lately?

    I’m not particularly religious, if “religious” means “belongs to or believes in a particular denomination.” But, frankly, PZ sounds like a color-blind person telling everyone else that they’re stupid for liking a painting by Monet or Renoir, because he himself can’t see what’s so great about it.

    Religion falls into the same realm as art — it’s a spiritual, intangible thing. Do you really think the best way to appreciate the Mona Lisa or Michaelangelo’s David is with a spectrometer?

  21. #21 Scott Hatfield
    July 23, 2006

    Mr. Hobbes: Always a pleasure to read you again, sir. I hope you’ll forgive me if my comment is brutish and short, though I hope it isn’t nasty.

    I entirely agree with the distinction between ‘truth’ (lower-case, the kinds of things that can be determined via science) and ‘Truth’ (upper-case, the bailiwick of the non-falsifiable). That evolution, for example, is a fact is a ‘truth’. The meanings that are claimed to be derivable from it are often claims of the upper-case variety.

    Similarly, JimC asks about ‘revealed truth': claims of revelation are also obviously upper-case type claims, as is the alleged insight that universe is ‘blind, pitiless and indifferent.’

    Peace…Scott

  22. #22 GH
    July 23, 2006

    It looks like you and Mr. Knop can agree on at least one point: It’s irreconcilable except when it’s not.

    Good point, I meant in the case of deism there is less irrationality about what God thinks or doesn’t thinks. It’s a he exists type deal versus he doesn’t. A philosphical dead heat-almost.:-)

  23. #23 JimC
    July 23, 2006

    I entirely agree with the distinction between ‘truth’ (lower-case, the kinds of things that can be determined via science) and ‘Truth’ (upper-case, the bailiwick of the non-falsifiable).

    I would say things that aren’t non-falsifiable don’t qualify as any type of truth at all.

  24. #24 Rob Knop
    July 23, 2006

    I would say things that aren’t non-falsifiable don’t qualify as any type of truth at all.

    So how do people like you appreciate Beethoven or Shakespeare?

    The attitude seems to be that the only kind of scholarship worth doing, and the only kind of things worth knowing or thinking about, are fields and things succeptible to the rigorous scientific method. Which, fine, perhaps you think that, but it does represent a rather narrow view of the potential of human intellectual life.

  25. #25 JimC
    July 23, 2006

    Oh C’mon Rob. I can appreciate Shakespeare without thinking it is something remotely approaching what I think about the sun or evolution.

    This is such a weak canard. You confuse opinion with fact. I can appreciate Shakespeare because something within my cells finds it agreeable. Likewise many do not like Shakespeare because they don’t find it agreeable.

    We all know the sun is a fusion reactor because of science.

    This is not a narrow view at all. That is another false canard. You just keep tossing them out there. No one thinks the way you are saying they do. In essense your arguing a strawman. That is different from making the claims religions make and then trying to sell them as ‘The truth’ when they violate every natural law we know of. Why is it more narrow to think of the world as it is and attempt to understand it? Does the world magically become more broad by inventing and buying into BS?

    Last time I read a book or listened to music it didn’t violate any natural laws.

  26. #26 Rob Knop
    July 23, 2006

    I can appreciate Shakespeare because something within my cells finds it agreeable. Likewise many do not like Shakespeare because they don’t find it agreeable.

    We all know the sun is a fusion reactor because of science.

    Religion is more like the former than the latter for those who don’t insist that religion can explain the mechanisms of the natural world.

    You can find truth and beauty in literature, music, art, and religion, in a way that is not succpetible to the process of science.

    You accuse me of throwing out a straw man, and yet frequently I read in these comments that a scientist much approach everything in life with the scientific point of view.

  27. #27 Davis
    July 23, 2006

    You can find truth and beauty in literature, music, art, and religion, in a way that is not succpetible to the process of science.

    Methinks this is a bit of equivocating in the use of the word “truth.”

  28. #28 ConcernedJoe
    July 23, 2006

    Religion when is it good:
    As a social construct?
    I guess as long as it isn’t controlling of all other interactions
    As a vector for maintaining ones culture and heritage?
    I guess as long as it doesn’t maintain stuff that should have been dumped long ago.
    As a framework for a life philosophy and set of values?
    I guess as long as it makes no claim on THE Truth and can morph and exert itself positively
    As a source of knowledge about things natural?
    MOSTLY USELESS! And to that I believe PZ directs his opinions.
    As a purveyor of the supernatural?
    TOTALLY USELESS! And to that I believe PZ directs his opinions.

  29. #29 Martin Christensen
    July 23, 2006

    Rob Knop:

    You can find truth and beauty in literature, music, art, and religion, in a way that is not succpetible to the process of science.

    You accuse me of throwing out a straw man, and yet frequently I read in these comments that a scientist much approach everything in life with the scientific point of view.

    Come, now, you surely do not so simple as to think that scientists necessarily apply the scientific method to everything in their lives? That’s just silly. While a few may indeed try, I would not consider that to be a sign of good mental health.

    The scientific method is a tool for deriving knowledge about the natural world in which we live. No rational person (and even less a true Scotsman) would make any claims that it would help us to appreciate art and such. Let’s not take every little imprecisely formulated claim to absurd extremes. If you really want to hold on to the claim that the scientific method should be applied to everything, at least do the same mental rewriting that we science types do: “the scientific method should be applied to everything pertaining to understanding the natural world.” The alternative as ridiculous as fundamentalists wanting to apply the Bible to everything, and yet I’ve never heard of them using the “Biblical” pi of 3 (1 Kings 7:23) when doing calculus.

    Martin

  30. #30 Z
    July 23, 2006

    Why does religion have such a bad rep these days? Granted, religious fanaticism has long been used to agitate the populace towards violence. It holds back the pace of human understanding, affecting even some of the most brilliant of minds. It can be subverted and twisted into a caricature of the former self and used for harm…

    But, in truth, religion is essential to humanity especially at this low level of development and mass intelligence.

    Remember Occam’s Razor – the idea that the simplest explanation is most often the correct one?

    Which version of The Truth do you think George the high school dropout with below average IQ will accept more readily? The one with a benevolent being creating the universe in a week, with the purpose of George’s existence in mind, or, the version that requires *gasp!* Math formulae, and can truly be understood only by the most specialized of scientists in their field, if at all. The second might be completely logical and true, but the first is infinitely easier to understand, internalize, and find comfort in, no matter how misguided or false it turns out to be.

    Do you want to put the power of self determination into the grubby hands of this simple George? You can’t depend on intellect to put you in the position of superiority. At some point you may be in his power… and at that point do you want him to remember “Thou shall not kill?”

  31. #31 a maine yankee
    July 23, 2006

    When we are children we ‘believe’ in childish things . . . could something wonderful and interesting be aborning?

    Darwin wrote:

    “Do not despair about your style; your letters are excellently written, your scientific style is a little too ambitious. I never study style; all that I do is to try to get the subject as clear as I can in my own head, and express it in the commonest language which occurs to me. But I generally have to think a good deal before the simplest arrangement and words occur to me…”

    Perhaps it is time to leave childhood behind.

  32. #32 MHB
    July 23, 2006

    I went to Rob Knop’s blog Galactic Interactions but couldn’t see how to contact him, so I’ll post here…

    PZ clearly enjoys tweaking people with whom he disagrees, and you even noted that the blog would be much less fun to read if he didn’t. You’re like a straight man here (in a comedy act…).

    PZ isn’t very nice about it, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. This clearly isn’t a blog for religious folks… And I haven’t seen much of PZ trying to convert the religious to atheism – he makes fun of them. Why that pisses you off so much I’m not sure…

    Your irritation reminds me of the gay folks deciding to breed and move into traditional gay enclaves and asking that some store displays as well as some of the public displays at social events be toned down because the neighborhood now has kids. One long time resident asks, “they’ve got the entire world, why do they need to take over here, too?”

    Rob, you’ve got the entire world, why do you need to have religion here, too? And how do you expect to get it without being able to prove the existence of your god?

  33. #33 PZ Myers
    July 23, 2006

    Whoa. We’ve got a news item that takes for granted, without objection, that religious groups impose quotas on faculty hires, and even worse, try to demand that new faculty believe and promote stupid ideas to their students.

    I express a forlorn hope that someday, religion will not be criterion for employment in higher education, and that religion itself, not just fundamentalism, is a source of ‘revealed truth’ that is incompatible with learning.

    And I’m the one who is the extremist bigot?

    This is exactly what I rail against…that people have become so casual about the dominion of faith that they are unable to recognize its flaws.

  34. #34 Caledonian
    July 23, 2006

    The scientific method is a tool for deriving knowledge about the natural world in which we live. No rational person (and even less a true Scotsman) would make any claims that it would help us to appreciate art and such.

    I’m sure you get a great deal of mileage from defining words like ‘rationality’ and ‘appreciate’ however you like in order to support your positions, but what arguments to you have to support your claims that your definitions are reasonable?

    Art is a part of the world. Science is how we derive knowledge about our world. Why, then, is science an inappropriate method for examining art? How is it irrational to use science to examine art?

    I think your rhetorical reach far exceeds your grasp.

  35. #35 Z
    July 23, 2006

    Problem with art and science is that it is difficult to apply an objective system to a highly subjective field. Not to say that you will get nowhere, but it might be akin to using a microscope to bash open coconuts. The coconut may be destroyed, the microscope will never be the same, and natives will laugh at you.

  36. #36 PZ Myers
    July 23, 2006

    No, this is a different issue. It’s not about approaching a work of art with a spectrometer, it’s about recognizing that it is a material object in the natural world that has effects on an acculturated biological entity…all of which are completely natural phenomena. The religious love to claim “art” as part of their domain, as if it needs some supernatural, immaterial agent to be done or appreciated. It’s not true. It’s another self-serving lie from believers.

  37. #37 Caledonian
    July 23, 2006

    Art relies on science — just look at painting! Perspective was derived from mathematical analysis of angles, and from the Impressionistic era on, understanding of human visual perception was vital to constructing a work.

    There is a strong tendency to turn away from reason and towards raw emotion, and most if not all of the people who insist that art cannot be understood through science seem to elevate raw sensation and unthinking emotional responses over more sophisticated mental processes. Emotion has its uses, as reflexes do, but just as mere reflex is an inferior tool to dealing with the world, emotion by itself doesn’t work very well.

  38. #38 Albert
    July 23, 2006

    What’s so great about religion?

    If PZ is wrong to criticize faith in a religion, then it must be because it is (or, rather, it is seen as by the religious) in a separate sphere from reason. If this is so, however, then anyone can make up anything they want to and claim they have faith in it and no one can possibly naysay them. This is the point of the Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster often mentioned by the more outspoken atheists – if it is “reasonable” to believe in a god-man who rose from the dead, it is no less “reasonable” to believe in the IPU or FSM!

    So we’re left with either total “faith relativism” or reason, which will inevitably lead to the destruction of faith.

  39. #39 Martin Christensen
    July 23, 2006

    Caledonian:

    I’m sure you get a great deal of mileage from defining words like ‘rationality’ and ‘appreciate’ however you like in order to support your positions, but what arguments to you have to support your claims that your definitions are reasonable?

    Art is a part of the world. Science is how we derive knowledge about our world. Why, then, is science an inappropriate method for examining art? How is it irrational to use science to examine art?

    Okay, I admit to have been a tad too quick on the keyboard. Let me attempt to clarify my position.

    When I hear a well-played Bach fugue, I can enjoy it on many levels: I can distinguish and compare the voices as they play variations on the same theme; I can enjoy the tensions being created and released by the use of harmonics; I can marvel at the sound of a great organ on which the piece is played (I would almost consider my visit to Westminster Abbey a sort of pilgrimage, and I endured several evensong services for the sake of the organ and the choir); or I can turn off the analytical parts of my mind and simply enjoy the music without giving particular thought to why I should be enjoying it. Typically I go through each of these when listening to a single piece of music – hell, sometimes I am even caught in fascination by the physics of the sound and the mighty instrument that makes it – and some of the enjoyment is, in a way, from understanding in more or less scientific terms what’s going on. However, science isn’t needed to enjoy it, and I am not aware of any science that in a fairly direct way explains the enjoyment of music.

    Music theory gives us a long list of do’s and don’t’s in musical composition. For instance, it tells us to not make quint and octave parallels. However, when a master like Mozart ignores the rules and composes music any way he wants to, how are music teachers going to tell their students that he was wrong? They don’t. Instead, exceptions are introduced (Mozart parallels), which is largely not allowed in natural science. Now, music theory isn’t exactly physics with its unbreakable laws, but it’s the best we have to describe music from what I know. But we can’t use it to make predictions like ‘this piece, given sufficient exposure, will be popular’ or even give us a metric for the quality of a certain piece.

    I’ve heard a few pieces of music that were composed by people who thought to have reduced music to an exact science, and who composed music according to the principles they had derived. It was uniformly horrible.

    It’s much the same in literature and art. To my very best of knowledge, no-one has yet created any succesful and widely accepted measures of quality for creative works, nor do there exist any models capable of predicting the popularity, cultural value or what have you of any creative work. If we had indeed derived the hard science of art to this degree, I’m sure computers could be made to create masterpiece after masterpiece.

    Since all human creativity, and the human mind itself, exists in the natural world, of course there is some element of science to it. You mention, for instance, the use of perspective in art, and that is just one good example out of a long, long list. However, I’m sure that to enjoy a painting, you do not immediately break out a ruler and start taking measurements to see if the perspective is entirely in order. If so, you’d loathe Escher, I’m sure. This is the kind of absurd extremes I was talking about in my previous post, as is the spectrometer example. As Douglas Adams once said, scientists are good at taking things apart to examine how they work, but when you take apart a cat to see how it works, what you have on your hands is a non-working cat. The enjoyment of creative works is more or less the same thing, as I see it: if you take it apart particle by particle to see what’s so good about it, you’re probably going to miss it.

    There’s plenty of science hidden away in the understanding of creative works, not least in psychology and a host of social sciences, but I doubt that they’re going to help us enjoy them very much. In this respect, I’ve found history to be much better by providing context and perspective.

    Martin

  40. #40 j
    July 23, 2006

    Martin Christensen:

    Wow, there’s a fellow musician among the Pharyngulites? I’m definitely pleasantly surprised.

    (I’ve always hated music theory. Too many rules.)

  41. #41 JimC
    July 23, 2006

    You can find truth and beauty in literature, music, art, and religion, in a way that is not succpetible to the process of science

    No, I can find beauty and appreciation in literature, art, and music. I don’t find them to be a source of truth. I just don’t see that angle at all.

    Religion makes claims, don’t drink, don’t have sex, that are given a free pass from critism and are called ‘truth’ when in fact they are no different than the opinion your crazy uncle has.

  42. #42 Scott Hatfield
    July 23, 2006

    PZ:

    I don’t question that music, in one sense, is natural. That concert ‘A’ can be set at precisely 440 Hz, or that a Stradivarius has unusually dense wood associated with harsh winters are obviously aspects of music that perfectly lend themselves to scientific investigation.

    I am less sanguine about whether the perception of music in all its aspects is such a topic: how is it, for example, that one culture comes to perceive chords with minor seconds as dissonant and another as consonant? There seems to be a complex interaction here between the physics of sound, their psychological perception and the cultural context in which these experiences are acquired.

    That in no way requires a ‘supernatural agent’, granted. But it might well be an example of a phenomena that has aspects that will never submit themselves to objective analysis. It could be, in the language of the philosophers, ‘non-natural’. So, I would argue that while the aesthetic qualities of music do not demonstrate the supernatural, they do speak to the possibility that there are phenomena which science can not entirely explain by appealing to natural causes.

    The analogy to religion is obvious, though of course I am not claiming that this demonstrates the reality of the supernatural, either. One can be agnostic about the naturalistic status of certain phenomena without asserting (sans proof) that the subjective aspect implies supernaturalism. Similar arguments have been proposed by Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers and Colin McGill with respect to consciousness.

    Peace….Scott

  43. #43 OB
    July 23, 2006

    Whoa. We’ve got a news item that takes for granted, without objection, that religious groups impose quotas on faculty hires, and even worse, try to demand that new faculty believe and promote stupid ideas to their students.

    From my perspective, “little” things like this are clear evidence that the religious are successfully employing a strategy of boiling the frog slowly. The acceptance of and aquiescence to “ceremonial deism” by the Courts in cases like Newdow’s is another example.

    And I’m the one who is the extremist bigot?

    This is exactly what I rail against…that people have become so casual about the dominion of faith that they are unable to recognize its flaws.

    Keep railing PZ. If I had a dollar for every time I’d been called an “extremist bigot,” or (far more often) terms more obscene, vulgar and/or insulting, I’d be a multiple-thousandaire!

    Some frogs are smart enough to know that it’s time to jump out of the pot, rather than basking in a warm bath because it’s comfortable and poses no immediate threat. Others will end up boiled alive because they didn’t realize what was happening until it was far too late.

    Alarms are often painful and offensive to the senses, because being so is effective at getting people to evacuate a dangerous situation. If some people decide not to seek safety simply because they find the sounding alarms annoying or offensive, then they deserve whatever gruesome fate befalls them.

  44. #44 Caledonian
    July 23, 2006

    However, I’m sure that to enjoy a painting, you do not immediately break out a ruler and start taking measurements to see if the perspective is entirely in order.

    I don’t need to consciously enact a measuring process to study the perspective — I have neural modules that perform my measuring for me, automatically, hardwired into my nervous system. Their evaluations of how visual proportions relate to each other, how compatible different colors and shapes are, and the mathematical structure of musical harmonies are the most basic aspect of my enjoyment of visual and musical art.

    Your objection is founded on a very tiresome and commonplace confusion between rationality/irrationality and explictness/implicitness. We are long past the times and places where such confusion could honestly be chalked up to simple ignorance — in our civilization, such a lack of comprehensioin of such a simple set of concepts can only be attributed to willful stupidity.

  45. #45 BlueIndependent
    July 23, 2006

    QUOTE: “…faith relativism…”

    Thank you for making that distinction, because hard-right religious types LOVE waxing ecstatic about “moral relativeism” and the “excesses of secularism”. I’m truly sorry, but the myriad denominations of even Christianity (let alone other faiths) show that even these solid church morals deviate to a degree. And on top of that, every denomination believes every other denomination is wrong and are destined for hell, so ultimately, I guess it’s all about getting on with your clique.

    For me, it just comes down to simply living your life responsibly, ethically, and admirably. IMO no other “ticket to heaven” is as guaranteed as that, no matter who you are or where you come from.

  46. #46 Martin Christensen
    July 23, 2006

    Caledonian:

    I don’t need to consciously enact a measuring process to study the perspective — I have neural modules that perform my measuring for me, automatically, hardwired into my nervous system. Their evaluations of how visual proportions relate to each other, how compatible different colors and shapes are, and the mathematical structure of musical harmonies are the most basic aspect of my enjoyment of visual and musical art.

    Oh, come off it! I was saying that the scientific method was not necessary for the enjoyment of art, and that it’s an absurd idea that something cannot be enjoyed for which we do not have (and understand) full, formal theories. That our brains have circuitry to help us recognise perspective, match colours etc. is very nice, but completely besides the point… at least besides mine. I have not said that there is no science in art, merely that it is absurd to consistently apply the scientific method to all aspects of life, sometimes art included. The scientific method works wonderfully on all that we can weigh, measure and count – and I’m of the belief that given sufficiently advanced science, we can probably measure, weigh and count everything – but when I see a painting, it is not the first tool I grab for in order to determine if I enjoy the painting. As Z has said, that’s subjective. Now, if I want to conduct a study of what works of art are particularly loved and why, that is entirely another matter.

    Martin

  47. #47 Damien
    July 23, 2006

    As for religion being incompatible with higher education, I have to point out that a lot of universities had religious foundations, in Europe, America, and maybe the East — Nalanda was a famous Buddhist university in India, though since the Buddha is said to have given lectures there it may pre-date Buddhism by a bit.

    As for art and religion: yes, one generally doesn’t use the scientific method to appreciate art and music. But art and music generally don’t claim to be True, and aren’t taken automatically if they do make such claims. The first ‘truth’ about a piece is whether one likes it or not, as observed by oneself. A play or novel may seem to express a truth one recognizes (perhaps without having consciously recognized it before) about the human condition, but how much the ‘truth’ really is true would ultimately be settled by scientific methods. Beauty tells us that something resonates with people, and some of our desires, but not that it is true, Keats and some mathematicians notwithstanding.

    What this has to do with religion, I don’t know. Some religious expressions may resonate, like art, but that’s not truth about the world, just truth about what some of us want.

    As for the analogy I’ve seen elsewhere, that atheists are spirit-blind the way some people are color-blind, there’s a problem: the color-not-blind can agree on the colors they see, unlike the spiritual people. The color-blind can see that others are agreeing on distinguishing various objects. These days at least the colors can be shown instrumentally. And we can explain how and why some people are color-blind. None of this carries over to a spirit-blind analogy.

  48. #48 HP
    July 23, 2006

    J, I’m another musician among the regular Pharyngulites. I’ve even got some fancy credentials. I would argue that no one ever “turns off their mind” and just listens to music. But most musical learning is informal and pre-verbal, and occurs through socialization. Linguists will tell you that even toddlers use grammar; it’s just not standardized, received grammar. In the same way, some stoned headbanger rockin’ out to Rush is applying specific music appreciation criteria that he learned by observing peers. (“Dude! Check it out!”) Music may feel like a transcendent experience, but it’s actually a social one. Granted, it’s a very real and very powerful social experience. (There’s an obvious suggestion here that religious experience too is social, rather than mystical. One of my music teachers, many years ago, while discussing music in the black Pentacostal church, related that during one long Sunday service on game day, his exasperated father said to his mother, “Woman, would you fall out already so we can all go home?”)

    Anyway, back to Rob’s sutpidity: My sense of PZ’s argument is not that all — or even most — religious people are demented fuckwits. It’s that religious thinking involves abdicating responsibility for what you think and believe to some outside authority. No one ever gives themselves over to God; they give themselves over to a powerful social institution that has its own motivations for wanting to control people. (The big lie of American Protestantism is the “personal relationship with God.”) Even the vaguest notion of a “higher power” creates an environment in which the real demented fuckwits can flourish, and, as we’ve seen especially in recent years, do real harm to the world.

  49. #49 HP
    July 23, 2006

    HP, good point about religionsist not giving themselves fully to their beliefs. It is truly impossible for, say, a Christian to “fully rely on God” as the saying goes. If you point this out, a religionist might say that God gave them a rational power that they are expected to use. If this is so, though, why don’t they apply that rational power to their religious beliefs. Saying that belief is separate from reason is just an abdication of one’s own rationality.

  50. #50 Albert
    July 23, 2006

    Oops…that last comment was from me. I must’ve inadvertantly put HP in the “Name” box. :-) He wasn’t just congratulating him or herself.

  51. #51 Albert
    July 23, 2006

    I agree with Albert.

  52. #52 HP
    July 23, 2006

    Ha, ha. That was me trying to be funny.

    Actually, I think people do give themselves over to their beliefs. Except that what Dr. York (in the original post) calls “God,” I call “the institutional interests of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

  53. #53 Stogoe
    July 23, 2006

    HP:
    My sense of PZ’s argument is not that all — or even most — religious people are demented fuckwits. It’s that religious thinking involves abdicating responsibility for what you think and believe to some outside authority. No one ever gives themselves over to God; they give themselves over to a powerful social institution that has its own motivations for wanting to control people. (The big lie of American Protestantism is the “personal relationship with God.”)

    This whole thing about abdicating responsibility for one’s thinking is spot on, I think. I have my parents to thank for my eventual abandonment of religion, as they helped me learn to think for myself. Not sure they wanted this freethinking of mine to lead to this outcome, but it’s too late for that, eh?

  54. #54 GH
    July 23, 2006

    The analogy to religion is obvious, though of course I am not claiming that this demonstrates the reality of the supernatural, either

    It isn’t obvious because religion makes claims. Music doesn’t. One can appreciate the pomp and circumstance of religion but the claims there in are definetly different.

    Actually, I think people do give themselves over to their beliefs.

    I don’t see it. Most religious rarely read religious material. Most religious people live their lives as if God didn’t exist. As poll after poll shows the religious and the non-religious behave exactly the same. Except in terms of criminal behaviour then the religious have the upper hand.

  55. #55 Albert 386sx, Ooops
    July 23, 2006

    Martin Christensen said:

    I can marvel at the sound of a great organ on which the piece is played (I would almost consider my visit to Westminster Abbey a sort of pilgrimage, and I endured several evensong services for the sake of the organ and the choir); or I can turn off the analytical parts of my mind and simply enjoy the music without giving particular thought to why I should be enjoying it. Typically I go through each of these when listening to a single piece of music – hell, sometimes I am even caught in fascination by the physics of the sound and the mighty instrument that makes it – and some of the enjoyment is, in a way, from understanding in more or less scientific terms what’s going on.

    So the scientific analysis makes it more interesting rather than less. Or, as Richard Feynman said: “It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

  56. #56 Albert 386sx, Ooops
    July 23, 2006

    Martin Christensen said:

    I can marvel at the sound of a great organ on which the piece is played (I would almost consider my visit to Westminster Abbey a sort of pilgrimage, and I endured several evensong services for the sake of the organ and the choir); or I can turn off the analytical parts of my mind and simply enjoy the music without giving particular thought to why I should be enjoying it. Typically I go through each of these when listening to a single piece of music – hell, sometimes I am even caught in fascination by the physics of the sound and the mighty instrument that makes it – and some of the enjoyment is, in a way, from understanding in more or less scientific terms what’s going on.

    So the scientific analysis makes it more interesting rather than less. Or, as Richard Feynman said: “It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

  57. #57 Albert 386sx, Ooops
    July 23, 2006

    Martin Christensen said:

    I can marvel at the sound of a great organ on which the piece is played (I would almost consider my visit to Westminster Abbey a sort of pilgrimage, and I endured several evensong services for the sake of the organ and the choir); or I can turn off the analytical parts of my mind and simply enjoy the music without giving particular thought to why I should be enjoying it. Typically I go through each of these when listening to a single piece of music – hell, sometimes I am even caught in fascination by the physics of the sound and the mighty instrument that makes it – and some of the enjoyment is, in a way, from understanding in more or less scientific terms what’s going on.

    So the scientific analysis makes it more interesting rather than less. Or, as Richard Feynman said: “It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

  58. #58 Albert 386sx, Ooops
    July 23, 2006

    Martin Christensen said:

    I can marvel at the sound of a great organ on which the piece is played (I would almost consider my visit to Westminster Abbey a sort of pilgrimage, and I endured several evensong services for the sake of the organ and the choir); or I can turn off the analytical parts of my mind and simply enjoy the music without giving particular thought to why I should be enjoying it. Typically I go through each of these when listening to a single piece of music – hell, sometimes I am even caught in fascination by the physics of the sound and the mighty instrument that makes it – and some of the enjoyment is, in a way, from understanding in more or less scientific terms what’s going on.

    So the scientific analysis makes it more interesting rather than less. Or, as Richard Feynman said: “It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

  59. #59 HP
    July 23, 2006

    GH, we may be arguing semantics. There are few words less adequately understood than “belief.” If I say, “I believe that chair will support my weight,” I’m pretty comfortable with the meaning of that statement, even if I never sit in that particular chair. Most of the time I’ll go ahead and sit in a chair without ever consciously considering its weight-bearing capacity. Is that blind faith? And what if I said, “I believe in this chair”? Clearly, I’d be in need of a long, convalescent rest. In a sturdy chair.

    If we assume that “give themselves over to their beliefs,” means “abdicating responsibility for thinking for yourself to some outside authority,” then I think that happens all the time. “Belief in God,” in that sense, means less about metaphysical notions of embodied omnipotence, and more about “I believe homosexuality is wrong because my church tells me that I’m supposed to believe that.”

    If someone tries to influence science curricula because their church leaders tell them that this is what they should do, what would you call that other than “giving themselves over to their beliefs”?

    In some ways, I think the ontology of God is red herring, because what most people really mean by “God” is “institutional authority by decree.” That’s why I mentioned music earlier. The mystical experience of God feels real, in the same way that the mystical experience of, say, John Coltrane‘s “A Love Supreme” feels real. But in both cases it’s a human, social experience.

    Stogoe, my parents, too, brought me up with to respect inquiry and intelligence and critical thinking. My mom thought this would turn me into a protestant William F. Buckley. All loving parents want their children to grow up without making the same mistakes they did. Most parents tend to be rather frustrated when this actually happens. :-)

    (Goodness, I’m wordy today. After this, I take a break.)

  60. #60 allastair
    July 23, 2006

    I believe that those who have been most critical of Rob Knopp are talking past him to some extent. As I understand his point, he believes that PZ is saying that religious belief is incompatible with learning. This indeed seems like a reasonable interpretation of what PZ is saying. It is perhaps not the only interpretation but it is abslutely a fair one.

    It is also flatly untrue statement in the theoretical senses in which it might be analyzed. There is no reason, for instance, that a religious person cannot get an extremely good education or alternatively, there is no reason why a religiously based institution might not offer an excellent education. I am an athiest myself but I went to a very good Jesuit high school and I hope we can all agree that there are many adequate institutions of higher learning that have a religious basis.

    Now of course it is true that religion and particularly the process of religious indoctrination sometimes compromises higher learning in actual practice but this certainly does not have to be the case. That seems to be all Rob is saying and it is difficult to see where he is wrong in that. The accusations of bigotry are a little overreaching perhaps but I think its fair to say that PZ’s is as well.

  61. #61 TP
    July 23, 2006

    Consider how many fundamentalists assert that atheism is inconsistent with having any moral sense.

    Rob: Being atheist IS inconsistent with having “any moral sense”. As an atheist, I’ve been telling people that for years.

    Any reasonable person would realize that there is no absolute “right” or “wrong”, only what in any given situation is beneficial or detrimental to those involved.

    Far too often the less rational of us use “morality” as a crutch when they are unwilling or unable to explain their belief. Atheists should never have a problem doing that.

  62. #62 alexander Vargas
    July 23, 2006

    “Now we just have to work towards the day the word “religion” is substituted for the too narrow “fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form”.”

    This is how black and white extremist like PZ “help the cause”: Making guys like
    David W. Key look like traitors to all religious folks by “giving in” to the “evil scientits”

    What can I say. Such shameless irresponsibilty is a sad sight coming from a scientist. More so knowing it has no rational basis but is mere hostility towards religion. We get plunged into fights for no good reason.

    And then PZ will act like he has never implied that science disproves god… which of course is either incoherent or plain fake disclaiming.

  63. #63 GH
    July 23, 2006

    I think allastair as well as HP makes very valid points. I think I agree.:-)

    This is what makes this website so good, the exchange is usually at a good level.

  64. #64 Martin Christensen
    July 23, 2006

    386sx:

    So the scientific analysis makes it more interesting rather than less. Or, as Richard Feynman said: “It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

    Well, in a manner of speaking, yes, but it depends. I’ve mostly found that greater understanding of exercises in human creativity only helps me to appreciate them more, but within certain limits. If I am to enjoy a particular piece of music, there are limits to how much analysing I can do at the same time. My experience and, I suppose, meager musical talent allows me to do a modicum of analytical thinking about the piece I am listening to while still appreciating the whole. But since I am altogether a musical amateur, it doesn’t take too much to overstrain my mental resources, and if I analyse too much while listening, it will be at the expense of my perception of the whole. So I can elect to study the music, where I may sacrifice my immediate perception of the whole, and what I learn will usually, in some small way, add to my later enjoyment of said whole. At the same time, however, I am aware that many people do not feel the same as I do on this issue, and for them, greater understanding adds nothing.

    I’m starting to feel that perhaps I wasn’t nearly as clear on my position on this subject as I thought I was yesterday. :-) However, it still seems to me that if, when it comes to enjoying the subjective things in life, the first thing one reaches for is the scientific method… well, Maslow, hammer, nail. The tiny psychologist in my belly tells me it’s not too different from when the fundies reach for their scripture of choice. Fortunately, most people can interact just fine with the world around them without always requiring science or religion as a filter.

    Martin

  65. #65 Kagehi
    July 23, 2006

    It is also flatly untrue statement in the theoretical senses in which it might be analyzed. There is no reason, for instance, that a religious person cannot get an extremely good education or alternatively, there is no reason why a religiously based institution might not offer an excellent education.

    And ***up to a point*** this may be true. But at some point, which can differ greatly from person to person, either the religion fails, do to the aquisition of knowledge that invalidates it in the mind, or the mind rebels from the realization that such may be imminent and the person “stops” learning. That focal point becomes like a spire of hardened rock in the middle of a river. The river grinds away the world to either side, leaving the spire sticking like a knife into the sky, until such a time as the river washes over a bank, changes its course entirely one some other track, and leaves the failure dry and unassailed. The problem is, for those that stop learning, its not because their interests have natural diverged, so much as their asthetic pretentions of the nature of the particular spine of irrationality they chose to cherish, which by act of will, they broke the dam of the rivers edge, to divert it from its course, so as to intentionally prevent further erosion. At that point, religion **has** become a barrier to further education.

    Sorry about the complex prose. I just bought myself an old Palm Zire 31 and it came with Last of the Mohicans installed on it. My style tends to shift slightly to reflect the prose of those I am currently reading at times, and the author of this book was almost as wordy and taskingly complicated as Hemmingway. lol

    In any case, to cover someone else’s earlier post as well, to claim that there is no significant problem with a system that endevors to propogate special treatment of religion, while claiming in turn that his has no substantive effect on the outcome, is as rediculous as claiming that someone who has intentionally cut off their leg is not significantly disadvantaged in a world that gives away free crutches, wheel chairs or artifical appendiges to all those that opt for such self mutilation. This may even be true, as long as you ignore the consequences of such a choice that may render them incapable of “some” things, at least without a great deal more effort and help, as well as the abject stupidity of doing it to themselves in the first place. A crutch is a crutch, and by its nature, it can harm those that have no real need of it, limit those that do in ways that may not be immediately obvious and can in some cases become such a dependence as to render a person unable (or at least extremely, to the point of near paranoia) of even trying an alternative.

  66. #66 oldhippie
    July 23, 2006

    “In fundamentalism, you have all the truths. In education, you’re searching for truths.”
    Religion is compatible with education as long as it stays right out of educaton and does not try to inluence its content, or the people that teach it. Same goes for science. There are good religious scientists out there.
    So if you can put religion in a similar category to art or “life tricks” (it does help some people) – have it as a “feeling thing” with no claim ot “truth” other than personal experience, it is not incompatible with either. The thing about fundamentalists is they are sure they KNOW the truth. That is where religion gets bad. But some religious people are quite humble about their beliefs and even accept they might be wrong…

  67. #67 speedwell
    July 23, 2006

    “But some religious people are quite humble about their beliefs and even accept they might be wrong…”

    In my crowd, we call those people “pre-atheists.” Heh.

  68. #68 Arun
    July 23, 2006

    Now we just have to work towards the day the word “religion” is substituted for the too narrow “fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form”.

    The above is a statement of PZ Myers’ belief. If he could demonstrate with empirical evidence that the above is indeed a good outcome, he’d be one of the greatest social scientists of all time.

    There is no point in getting worked up over anyone’s belief. There is nothing to argue about a belief. Even atheists and scientists have beliefs, this should be no surprise.

    Ah, you say, but PZ Myers is getting worked up about religious belief. Well, it is **his** blood pressure (and his blog, too).

  69. #69 Arun
    July 23, 2006

    Let’s put it this way. The Founding Fathers were way wiser than us, and that includes PZ Myers. So don’t worry, PZ can’t take away your religion from you. He can only rail at it; but this is not very different from the evangelist railing at all those who don’t embrace Jesus.

  70. #70 PZ Myers
    July 23, 2006

    A lot of you still aren’t getting it. You can talk about art and metaphor and music and literature and beauty in the context of religion all you want, but all you’re doing is avoiding the issue of the supernatural. Those lovely, human, liberal artsy things that everyone starts waving around madly to fend off the atheistic philistine are irrelevant: they’re natural. They’re part of the atheist’s world, too, and we don’t need a god or magic incantations to appreciate them and create them.

    You’re trying to pull a well-practiced sleight of hand, doing a quick substitution of art for supernatural dogma, and hoping the cruel atheist won’t notice.

    Sorry. I notice. I’m not fooled. I do hope someday to see religion abandoned in the university, except as a quaint historical relic. That does not mean that we will lose beauty and imagination—so quit trying to conflate them with superstition.

  71. #71 Caledonian
    July 23, 2006

    Any reasonable person would realize that there is no absolute “right” or “wrong”, only what in any given situation is beneficial or detrimental to those involved.

    What a foolishly short-sighted position. What makes you think that ‘beneficial’ and ‘detrimental’ are any more meaningful in the way that you use them than ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? Do you truly think that you can put up a boundary that divides everyone into those that are involved and those that aren’t?

    All understandings of the nature of the world are wrong… but some are more wrong than others. Absolutes are, and their existence is not dependent on our awareness of their existence. You are in no position to speak about the nature of absolutes.

  72. #72 Caledonian
    July 23, 2006

    I have not said that there is no science in art, merely that it is absurd to consistently apply the scientific method to all aspects of life, sometimes art included.

    Why? The scientific method can be applied to art. It can even be applied to enjoyment. I don’t believe anyone here has shown, or suggested, that non-application of the method to an experience is necessarily wrong — but what exactly is ‘absurd’ about its application?

    Be specific, now. If you can.

  73. #73 j
    July 23, 2006

    Caledonian, you don’t believe that humans can perceive reality?

  74. #74 Caledonian
    July 23, 2006

    Humans do nothing but perceive reality.

  75. #75 Scott Hatfield
    July 24, 2006

    Hmm. I don’t see what I’m saying as a dodge, since I explicitly acknowledge than an analogy between art/music and religion doesn’t demonstrate the reality of the supernatural. All I’m saying is that I’m skeptical that certain aspects of the aesthetic experience will ever fall within the domain of science; in the same way, aspects of the religious experience are likely to be excluded as well.

    I can certainly do what Dennett calls ‘heterophenomenology’ upon either, by the way, and so even certain aspects of religious experience may become naturalized. But it seems likely to me that certain aspects of experience are not only unlikely to lend themselves to a naturalistic program, they are unlikely to yield themselves, period. Nagel’s question (‘what is it like to be a bat?’) is not going to be answered any time soon, if ever; no matter how spectacular our success at describing the workings of echolocation, the physiology that achieves it or the genetic basis of its development, at the end of the day, we are not bats and we are not going to be able to experience things from the bat’s point of view.

    So, what Chalmers calls the “hard problem” of consciousness has some bearing on this analogy: we can not, it seems, explain the qualia of experience (including religious experience) on the cheap. That doesn’t demonstrate the supernatural, but it does suggest that there is something about its perceived experience that, while not open to scientific investigation, is nonetheless real. And, before you folks get out your knives, please note that one can affirm this without taking any position as to the ultimate reality of the ‘supernatural’. At the end of the day, this position offers no comfort to the believer, because it doesn’t really affirm the ultimate reality of their beliefs. It merely opens another window of skepticism and humility for all concerned.

    Peace….Scott

  76. #76 SocraticGadfly
    July 24, 2006

    Socratic Gadfly here. Thanks for noticing my post, PZ.

    I’m an atheist with a graduate divinity degree, so I guess I have a special insight on these issues from the religion and philosophy side.

    PZ’s “substitute religion for fundamentalism” comment is certainly provocative. But, to the degree every religion claims that certain metaphysical truths are a priori true, his comment is also perfectly valid.

    This post reminds me that everybody should be required to take a class on critical thinking in high school. Textbook would be Bob Carroll’s The Skeptic’s Dictionary plus a book on informal logic.

    Contrary to Rob, science does not have a contrary a priori that supernatural items do not exist. It rather simply says they are not amenable to scientific study and therefore outside of consideration. It’s not the same thing at all.

    Beyond that, Rob, nobody says scientists must approach everything in life with a scientific POV. I don’t approach Beethoven or Shakespeare, or my own poetry writing or nature photography that way.

    Indeed, PZ, I did a newspaper column about that, including how I can experience “inspiration” in a naturalistic sense, poignant emotions that could be considered ineffable, etc., all without any need for supernaturalistic explanation.

  77. #77 HP
    July 24, 2006

    Those lovely, human, liberal artsy things that everyone starts waving around madly to fend off the atheistic philistine are irrelevant: they’re natural.

    Bah. There’s nothing natural about music. It’s just about the most abstract, unnatural, ritualistic activity humans regularly engage in. You know that sense of joy, or transcendence, or exhilaration you feel when listening to certain music? It’s not the same as the feeling you get from a beautiful sunset or a well-turned ankle. It’s not supernatural, either. It’s completely artificial — a product of learned biases and expectations.

    Music is like religion, but only in that they are both entirely man-made. Does everybody here consider sociology a science? No? Anthropology, then. That’s the science that can be used to understand music.

    Consider the music in nontechnological societies. People chanting and singing around a fire, maybe some drums or clapping sticks or a bullroarer. It has a social function; it promotes social cohesion, group identity, tribal awareness. Even Average Joe watching a documentary on TV understands that. But modern, technologically advanced music is exactly the same thing — from the stadium rock concert to the philharmonic hall to the nightclub to the vicarious community created whenever you plug the headphones into your iPod. It’s all about chanting around the fire. The fact that music often feels so profoundly moving is testament to the social nature of Homo sapiens.

    So, why do I maintain that this is important to know in a discussion of religion? Just as music is not natural, religion is not supernatural. It feels supernatural to the religious. It looks like supernaturalism to the non-religious. But it’s not. It’s social and tribal, and it never goes further than that. To the religious, the experience of God is very real. But it’s an experience that is entirely the product of learned biases and expectations. The difference, as someone pointed out above, is that religion makes truth claims, and music doesn’t. That’s why music is benign, and religion is not.

  78. #78 SocraticGadfly
    July 24, 2006

    Mnemosyne said:

    “Religion falls into the same realm as art — it’s a spiritual, intangible thing. Do you really think the best way to appreciate the Mona Lisa or Michaelangelo’s David is with a spectrometer?”

    NO. But, do my eyeballs have to have read some religious books, or my chemically vitalized carcass have to have been in a church/synagogue/mosque/temple/ashram to appreciate Mona Lisa or David as much as a religious person?

    NO, again.

    People like you, who insist something about the human spirit/striving/personality/aesthetics/emotions/values DEMANDS a religious antecedent are the ones who “don’t get it,” not people like me.

    I addressed this issue, as well, in the newspaper column I wrote.

  79. #79 GH
    July 24, 2006

    That doesn’t demonstrate the supernatural, but it does suggest that there is something about its perceived experience that, while not open to scientific investigation, is nonetheless real.

    It doesn’t suggest one tiny little thing about the supernatural. You experience it between the ears that much I agree with but outside of there it doesn’t demonstrate a thing.

  80. #80 Scott Hatfield
    July 24, 2006

    GH wrote:

    “It doesn’t suggest one tiny little thing about the supernatural.”

    I agree. It suggests nothing about the reality of the supernatural itself. That’s why I wrote “its perceived experience.” The believer, of course, completely equates the latter with the former, but within the domain of science this is an unwarranted conclusion. I am not reasoning from the reality of the latter to the possibility of the former, much less the reality or certainty of the supernatural.

    My point, rather, is to demonstrate not that the supernatural exists, but that the possibility that there are non-natural aspects to phenomena such as aesthetic or religious experience. The only thing I am taking exception to is the claim that such phenomena are ‘completely natural’ in the sense that they are, in principle, completely explicable by reference to natural causes.

    I would also argue that this is not a meaningless distinction, but one which serves the best interests of science. I agree with SocraticGadfly, who affirms that science does NOT deny the possibility of the supernatural a priori, but simply excludes this possibility from consideration. The moment we affirm the former, we are in trouble because we are in the position of affirming something we can not possibly put to the test. It’s “turtles all the way down.”

    On the other hand, if we allow the possibility of non-natural causation (which includes but is not exhausted by supernatural claims) but maintain that such causes are simply outside the domain of science, we not only banish the demon-haunted world, we demonstrate that the a priori commitment to METHOD (not metaphysics) is not exclusively directed at religion or the supernatural, but against any claims that can not be put to the test.

    Hopefully this clarifies my views. My interests here, as usual, are predicated in how epistemology and philosophy of mind interact with the practice of science.

    Peace….Scott

  81. #81 Scott Hatfield
    July 24, 2006

    HP:

    I agree that music often has a social function and that it, drama and other sorts of aesthetic expression emerge from ritual. The early Greeks who took the first halting steps toward modern science would probably be puzzled by a society where music is made for the sake of music, rather than as part of a temple drama.

    That doesn’t make music ‘unnatural’. Many species communicate not just with sound, but (arguably) with song. Communication, courtship, pair bonding, the establishment of roles and function as members of a group: these sound like perfectly ‘natural’ things for organisms to do.

    You continue by claiming that music is not only not natural, but ‘artificial’, a product of ‘learned biases and expectations.’ I’m sorry to disagree with you; as with other species, there seem to be some built-in expectations of what constitutes lyricism, tonal centers and harmonic motion.

    To name but one example, consider the ‘Ur-song’ of children in many different cultures: “7 4 9 7 4″, or the prevalence of a dominant (fifth degree of the scale) derived from a 3:2 division of a model resonator. What say you?

    Curiously…Scott

  82. #82 Martin Christensen
    July 24, 2006

    Caledonian:

    I have not said that there is no science in art, merely that it is absurd to consistently apply the scientific method to all aspects of life, sometimes art included.

    Why? The scientific method can be applied to art. It can even be applied to enjoyment. I don’t believe anyone here has shown, or suggested, that non-application of the method to an experience is necessarily wrong — but what exactly is ‘absurd’ about its application?

    You yourself mentioned the element of raw emotion in experiencing art, more specifically that some people rely only on that exclusively to inform them of art and disregard any intellectual element. Unless I am wired very differently from most other people, raw emotional responses to, and critical thinking about, a work of art are mutually exclusively somewhat á la the uncertainty principle in that the more you want of one, the less you can have of the other. This, I suppose, is really my basic premise, and you yourself seem to suggest something along the same lines.

    My point now is that if you want to fully experience a Wagner symphony, a Shakespeare play or a Munch painting, if you’re being entirely scientific about it, you’re going to miss something, because raw emotional responses are an important part of these works. Not everything, mind you, but a fair bit, just as you’d miss a lot by approaching Talis, Molière and da Vinci and not be open to a significant intellectual element.

    To take another example from above, a scientist observing the tribe chanting and signing around the fire has a choice to make: he can either sit on the sideline and observe its behaviour, analyse the music etc., or he can jump in and experience what they’re experiencing. Both are valid approaches in their own right, but unless he’s a hell of a lot better at multitasking than I am, he is not able to do both at the same time.

    Martin

  83. #83 Caledonian
    July 24, 2006

    since I explicitly acknowledge than an analogy between art/music and religion doesn’t demonstrate the reality of the supernatural. All I’m saying is that I’m skeptical that certain aspects of the aesthetic experience will ever fall within the domain of science; in the same way, aspects of the religious experience are likely to be excluded as well.

    There’s the problem: you are implicitly assuming what you explicitly deny.

  84. #84 Caledonian
    July 24, 2006

    he can either sit on the sideline and observe its behaviour, analyse the music etc., or he can jump in and experience what they’re experiencing.

    Wrong. He can jump in and experience what he experiences. What they experience is a far more difficult question.

    SocraticGadfly is also incorrect. Science does not insist as a premise that any particular thing that is perceived to be supernatural doesn’t exist. Science insists that nothing that is put within the category of ‘supernatural’ can exist. If something exists, therefore, it cannot be considered supernatural — thus, nothing supernatural exists.

  85. #85 Robster
    July 24, 2006

    At the risk of appearing to be on the original topic of the post…

    I am a proud alumnus of the Georgetown College Biology dept., and more recently. Religiously, I come from a stridently non-fundamentalist denomination, and have grown up to be a deist. GC was not always the most welcoming place, buut I could argue circles around the SBaptist kids. Only a few had actually read the Bible, and fewer had the ability to discuss it. Sad, really.

    This is, perhaps, one of the best things that could happen to GC. While I have butted heads with Dr. Crouch on more than one occaision, I have to say that this was a great day for the “Belle of the Blue.” Damnit, now I’m getting all homesick.

  86. #86 Robster
    July 24, 2006

    Unfinished thought, more recently… a PhD in toxicology, less about bragging on myself than giving props to the dept that prepared me for graduate school.

  87. #87 Keith Douglas
    July 24, 2006

    Scott Hatfield: Funny that you should appeal to Chalmers, since he’s shown his almost antiscientific attitude when it comes to the work of those who work to explain our subjective experience. (Which, of course, is part of reality too, just a different part.) For example, if you leave experience as a mystery, how do you explain Paul Churchland’s new colours? (Yes, Paul Churchland predicted and then verified the existence of new colours based on the structure of our visual system.) (And putting Dennett in the same category as Chalmers? All I can say is: huh?)

  88. #88 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 24, 2006

    Here is an interesting question which Pharyngula often touches. The scientific method isn’t applicable to everything, but it is bad practice to abstain using a successful tool kit where it can be applied. At least it is a conflict if other methods are used on areas where science has something to say, even if the demarcation problem is difficult at times. If I’m not mistaken this is often argued here.

    Setting aside experiences and other relative issues, what remains as fundamental conflicts between science and religion?

    Science and math observes existence of dualities, different descriptions of the same underlying reality, such as AdS/CFT (gravity with spacetime = a field theory on world sheets). That conflicts with religions claim of a particular description of truth. But is eminently coherent with the view of faith relativism.

    Religion claims existence of dualisms, different entities (realities), such as supernaturalism, souls, vitalism et cetera. That conflicts with the method of parsimony and science observation of naturalism.

    If we allow bad practice, there is still the question about demarcation. Where is the line when religion intrudes onto science? One identifiable place is creationism, last thursdayism in the distant past. That includes the common deistic creationism from the cosmological argument (first cause) or the teleological argument (design and parametersetting). There are several cosmologies that are uncaused and avoid parametersetting by being eternal. There are several physics theories that avoid the same parametersetting by ideas of forcing, symmetry breaking, inflation, see-saws and anthropic coincidences. So creationism is at best temporary and at worst an unscientific choice of theory that afflicts both deism and theism.

    “So, what Chalmers calls the “hard problem” of consciousness has some bearing on this analogy: we can not, it seems, explain the qualia of experience (including religious experience) on the cheap.”

    I believe Keith Douglas, who frequently visits here, adresses the qualia of experience:
    “Qualia are said that which is over and above representational content. But what brain subsystem is not representational? Not all systems need represent external states of affairs; many neuronal assemblies no doubt “monitor” things within us. However, there just does not seem to be any place for a strict “feeling” being produced. I am not denying that things appear to have certain internal feels or appear to have certain colours. I am denying that these are anything but “how the representation seems to us” – but this does not occur (pace Penfield (1975)) at any place in particular in the brain. Representation occurs all over. There is no need to posit a further “place where it all comes together”.

    It seems that a banana has a yellow “covering” we call a colour. It seems like an indication from the stomach to eat something is a “stomach ache like this”. But there’s no systems in the brain that do anything but represent – none “present” to an audience (the “self”). Hence there are no qualia in the contentious sense.”

    He precedes this discussion with a nice demonstration why our experience of space is a representation without the qualia that it appears to have, an experiment that takes a few seconds to perform. ( http://prime.gushi.org/~kd/ProfessionalWebPage/papers/neuro.PDF , pp 20-24.)

    I find ideas of qualia and similar such as a platonic basis for math interesting. They seem to be expressions of dualisms, like those discussed above. Or is there another interpretation?

  89. #89 Steve LaBonne
    July 24, 2006

    In learning how consciousness works I somehow find myself anticipating more enlightenment from neuroscientists than from philosophers. I’m funny that way. ;) Another one of my quirks is that when I read stuff by the “new mysterians”, for some strange reason I don’t seem to be able to stop myself from thinking of vitalism…

  90. #90 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 24, 2006

    I agree with you, Steve. But it seems Keith is a philosopher enlightened by neuroscientists, so it seems to work out too.

  91. #91 Steve LaBonne
    July 24, 2006

    Absolutely, and to be fair to philosphers Keith is far from the only one like that.

  92. #92 Thomas Paine
    July 24, 2006

    It is an affront to truth to treat falsehood with complaisance.

  93. #93 ivy privy
    July 24, 2006

    No, this is a different issue. It’s not about approaching a work of art with a spectrometer,…

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends…
    never mind.

  94. #94 Scott Hatfield
    July 24, 2006

    Caledonian:

    “…implicitly assuming what you explicitly deny”. . .?

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I feel that my views are being distorted. Clearly, “the reality of the supernatural” is a distinct proposition from “aspects of the religious experience”, else there would be no believers to mock.

    Why does this distortion happen? Your subsequent post suggests that it may be due to apparent conflation of the real with the natural. You write that if something exists it cannot be considered supernatural. Ignoring the fact that you are claiming to “prove” a negative by definition (always risky), let’s assume that this claim is true.

    Does it follow, then, that if something exists it must be considered natural? My point (which is pretty much the same point as made by McGill, Chalmers, Nagel et al) is that this conclusion does not follow. With respect to the general category of subjective experience, the qualitative aspect of such experience appears real, but impossible to objectively measure or to ‘explain’ by reference to natural causes.

    Such ‘qualia’ as the ‘redness’ of red can, as Dennett suggests, be studied indirectly by comparing objective measurement of a particular phenomena (say, a certain frequency of light) with the subjective reportage of multiple observers (the experience of a certain color). But, what this ‘heterophenomenology’ will never achieve, apparently, is a description of how the latter is mapped upon the former.

    That is certainly NOT a claim that the source of the qualitative aspect of any experience, including religious experience, must be supernatural in origin. Atheists would be quick to deny that they need God in order to experience red!

    I deny it as well on logical grounds: as with Nagel’s example, the qualitative aspect of a bat’s experience is doubtless real, but equally inaccessible, and so, as Haldane (no friend of the supernatural) once remarked, “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

    This is what Chalmers calls the ‘hard problem.’ Here’s an article from Scientific American that places all of this in context:

    http://consc.net/papers/puzzle.pdf

    Perhaps, Caledonian, if you would take the time to review this source, we might have a more fruitful discussion. It’s very tiresome to see my genuine interest in epistemology characterized as something else, and I would hope that you would see this reply as a good-faith attempt to place the focus on the former.

    Sincerely,

    Scott

  95. #95 wamba
    July 24, 2006

    Here is an interesting question which Pharyngula often touches. The scientific method isn’t applicable to everything, but it is bad practice to abstain using a successful tool kit where it can be applied. At least it is a conflict if other methods are used on areas where science has something to say, even if the demarcation problem is difficult at times. If I’m not mistaken this is often argued here.

    I am reminded of commentary of some provocative scientific theory: His theory is both original and interesting. Unfortunately, the parts that are original are not interesting, and the parts that are interesting are not original (Sorry for not having a direct quote or attribution). While it is possible for a scientist or a rational person to be religious, the religious parts of that person are not rational or scientific. It is like a mixture of oil and water. It may be possible to have a mixture of, say, 90% water and 10% oil, but that doesn’t mean they really mix well.

  96. #96 Steve LaBonne
    July 24, 2006

    The vitalists sounded pretty convincing in their day, Scott…

  97. #97 Scott Hatfield
    July 24, 2006

    Comments for Steve, Keith and Torbjorn.

    So now I’m a vitalist? Steve, Steve, Steve. Where did I go wrong? I’m trying to get to Pismo Beach, and some of you fellas keep insisting I took the wrong turn at Alburquerque. But, really, I was never in New Mexico: at least, not on this trip.

    Steve, you’re right to infer that I’m influenced by the so-called ‘new mysterians’ like McGill, but you’re mistaken if you think that I would regard philosophy as somehow more authoritative than neuroscience in the investigation of consciousness. The value of philosophy to science is not that it offers us truth, but that it provides us with an evaluative tool to clarify what it is that we are investigating. I’m only interested in doing philosophy to the extent that it can refine the pursuit of science.

    Keith, Torbjorn: thank you for your serious, thoughtful responses. I’m not familiar with the aspect of Churchland’s work commended by Keith. I will check it out. With respect to placing Dennett and Chalmers in the same bag, I’m aware they don’t agree about the prospect of investigating the natural causes of consciousness. They both acknowledge, however, the difficulty of doing so and it was in that sense that I invoked Dennett, especially in terms of his ‘heterophenomenology’ (see my prior post to Caledonian)

    I agree with, and think I understand the global view of how representations are achieved that Mr. Larsson refers to (and which I gather represents your views, Keith). I do not, however, see how or where representations are realized in the brain as the same thing as the qualitative experience of said representation. I will check out the link you mentioned and see if it gives me any greater understanding.

    Torjborn: I deny mind-body dualism. My interpretation is not that, with respect to the ‘hard problem’, that the origin of mind is not natural. My interpretation is that not all aspects of natural phenomena are accessible to human beings. Again, see my prior post to Caledonian.

    Finally, is there something fundamentally wrong about the way we tend to talk about epistemologies in this sort of forum? Many seem determined to spin any discussion of same into some sort of religious argument, pro or con, and that seems less interesting, less relevant to me.

    Peace…Scott

  98. #98 Steve LaBonne
    July 24, 2006

    My interpretation is that not all aspects of natural phenomena are accessible to human beings.

    Which is exactly analogous to what the vitalists said about life. If the shoe fits…

    This sort of prediction has been made many times through the ages and up till now has always turned out to be wrong. If you want to bet your money that it will be different this time be my guest. My money is on science.

  99. #99 Damien
    July 24, 2006

    On the other hand, if we allow the possibility of non-natural causation (which includes but is not exhausted by supernatural claims) but maintain that such causes are simply outside the domain of science, we not only banish the demon-haunted world, we demonstrate that the a priori commitment to METHOD (not metaphysics) is not exclusively directed at religion or the supernatural, but against any claims that can not be put to the test.

    Enh, I don’t get this whole line of argument about what science excludes, from either side. If something is a cause, it has effects, and from observing effects we can make a model of the cause. If the pattern is weird enough we might create a model that we would in the past have called supernatural; whether we still would afterwards, or would have moved the goalposts, I don’t know.

    I’d say (off the cuff) science is ultimately driven by predictive power (including predicting backfilled details of explanations.) As heuristics in finding our predictive models, we assume the absence of intelligent intervention unless there is no other plausible cause, and we resist models, or even alleged data, which violate known physics, unless the data is very solid.

    The first principle — assuming non-intelligence — isn’t limited to Creationism or souls, it also shows up in animal cognition, where lots of researchers scrutinize claims of emotions or planning or even memory by animals as closely as debunkers scrutinize claims of ESP or “real magic” (which, as Dennett noted in a talk, isn’t real, and real magic isn’t “real magic”. But I digress.) Also radio signals from space won’t be considerd to have an intellgent source unless non-intelligent processes are ruled out, big dim infrared sources won’t be initially assumed to be Dyson spheres.

    Intelligence is really complex, so don’t invoke it without good reason, and if someone needs to change the basic laws of the universe, let them convince the physicists before they expect biologists to take them seriously.

  100. #100 Scott Hatfield
    July 24, 2006

    Steve:

    I throw up my hands in dismay. If we’re going to reason by analogy, how does putting your ‘money on science’ differ from Pascal’s wager?

    After all, I am NOT saying that natural causes are not to be preferred, nor that if we don’t find natural causes, we must presume the reality of the supernatural. That doesn’t follow at all, and labeling my position ‘vitalism’ doesn’t address the arguments that I and others have made.

    I maintain that it is a strength of science that we confine ourselves to natural causes and recognize experimental constraints. Pretending that there are no constraints, and that everything will eventually fall completely under the purview of our naturalistic enterprise does not really increase our confidence in the workings of science. Rather, it undercuts it by pretending that there is a prospect of certainty that we can not possibly know to be true.

    If you want to pretend that you in principle can know what it’s like to be a bat, more power to you, but that doesn’t strike me as a testable claim. It strikes me as scientism, which (in fairness to you) I imagine is as much of a caricature as the label of ‘vitalist’.

    I further note that if I were to claim that non-natural causes definitely exist, I would be making a similarly untestable claim–but I didn’t claim that. I merely stated that some items appear to be real, but not accessible to scientific investigation. This is not an appeal to ignorance, but simply an acknowledgement of constraints, and there does not appear to be any way to proceed naturalistically without at least acknowledging those constraints.

    Cheers….Scott

  101. #101 Steve LaBonne
    July 24, 2006

    Sorry, throwing up your hands and saying

    and there does not appear to be any way to proceed naturalistically without at least acknowledging those constraints

    IS both an appeal to ignorance and a gambit that’s been played many times before in the history of scientific inquiry- to date, always unsuccessfully. And it does damage in the short term- there was a significant delay in the willingness of neuroscientists to tackle consciousness because the pooh-poohing of so many philosophers had made it seem like a good area to avoid if you wanted to keep your reputation.

    Color me unimpressed.

  102. #102 Kagehi
    July 24, 2006

    Hmm. I would like to point out one serious flaw in the premise that there is some universal emotional capacity in music, which isn’t dictated by the natural world (or more or less to that effect), which is being argued here as an example of what religion could be. I had a friend in highschool who never listened to music. Why? He, in his own words, “didn’t understand it.” This isn’t to say he didn’t understand the cultural aspects, couldn’t analyse its mathematical properties, didn’t “see” how it effected other people, or how it could be used to incite some emotion in those people. What he meant by it, and this was very clear, was that he himself literally did not understand it on an emotional level. It didn’t move him. To him it was just interesting noise, without any personal value or purpose. He would have preferred watching TV, movies, etc. “without” it, so it didn’t distract him from the story. To him, the first time hearing the theme song from Titanic would have no more moved him to tears than would some classical piece bring to mind sunsets or rainfall.

    Personally, I believe that for some people, religion is like that. Something in their mental wiring makes it so that they don’t just fail to “get it”, they actually “can’t” get it. To them, nothing that others attribute naturally to unknown outside forces and a higher order, they will “ever” equate with the same thing. And, as with my old friend, and every other similar construct that defies linear logic, people are wired from one extreme to the other. Just as some can “never” experience something, some can’t blow their nose without experiencing it.

    This unfortunately also means that sufficient indoctrination could convince someone that a thing “must” exist, but also induce in them a belief that their own choices and “sins” are preventing them from experiencing it. I can’t imagine anything more dangerous than someone who can’t “feel” what they believe is there, has been convinced that the only reason for this must be their own mental inadequacy and convinces themselves by that measure that they need to “fix” the rest of the world to redeem themselves and thus “somehow” become able to experience what they have been told they are missing.

  103. #103 poke
    July 24, 2006

    Philosophy is a conversative discipline. What you do, as a philosopher, is try to find reasons to hang on to your old beliefs given new information (either from other philosophers or, increasingly, science). (We call this “being rational” and it’s a good example of why rational argument without evidence is lame.) I think that’s the major problem with contemporary philosophy of mind. It’s all dualists finding ever more convoluted ways to claim they’re physicalists. Even Churchland, who’s at the extreme end of physicalism, hangs on to a view of consciousness and representation that contains crypto-dualism.

    Take the “Mary’s room” thought experiment. Mary has grown up in a colourless environment but knows everything total science can tell us about colour and the visual system. One day she leaves the colourless environment and experiences red for the first time. The argument is that she learned something new from this experience (what it’s like to experience red) and therefore total science cannot tell us everything there is to know about colour. The significance of this argument rests on your being a crypto-dualist. If you were not, you’d be confused right now, wondering what’s so interesting about the fact that objects and their descriptions aren’t the same thing.

    Current philosophy of mind is, I think, fundamentally broken in this regard. It’s at the point where the philosophy of science has been forced to adopt absurd views simply to support the so-called “autonomy of psychology” that computationalists (another variety of crypto-dualist) hold so dear. I’m of the opinion that neuroscientists and laymen shouldn’t pay any attention to it, but that’s just me.

  104. #104 Steve LaBonne
    July 24, 2006

    If you were not, you’d be confused right now, wondering what’s so interesting about the fact that objects and their descriptions aren’t the same thing.

    So true, and so funny- I’m glad I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read that!

  105. #105 Scott Hatfield
    July 24, 2006

    Well, Steve, I’d rather be one who makes a poor impression than be a ‘vitalist’. Look, let me try this from a different tack, so you can at least understand why I think my position has something to offer the working scientist.

    Consider the following two propositions:

    (A) Science will eventually demonstrate that phenomena such as X have natural causes which are knowable

    (B) Phenomena such as X appear to be real but are not accessible to scientific investigation at the present time

    Which of these is falsifiable?

    I would argue that (B) is falsifiable, even though it speaks to existing constraints. Scientists must acknowledge the constraint, but that does not relieve them of their obligation to falsify it, which they could do either by objectively demonstrating it is not real or that there is a way to make it accessible to our method. I’m sympathetic to your observation that passive acceptance of a constraint damages the scientific enterprise by cultivating defeatism. That’s possible, but as you pointed out, it’s likely to be temporary.

    Now, (A) as baldly stated is not falsifiable and essentially constitutes an admirable sentiment, one which motivates us as scientists to consider the possibility that we can extend our explanatory framework to the very limit. I much prefer (A) to a defeatist philosophy, certainly. But it’s of no use as a hypothesis, whereas the cautious and self-constrained (B) is eminently useful, especially in those cases where it can be falsified.

    Is this helpful?

    Scott

  106. #106 SocraticGadfly
    July 24, 2006

    I have to distinguish myself from Scott and disagree with Caledonian.

    Caledonian says:

    SocraticGadfly is also incorrect. Science does not insist as a premise that any particular thing that is perceived to be supernatural doesn’t exist. Science insists that nothing that is put within the category of ‘supernatural’ can exist. If something exists, therefore, it cannot be considered supernatural — thus, nothing supernatural exists.

    I didn’t say what you claim I did. I rather said that science simply “brackets” (In a Husserlian phenomenological sense, if you will) what is claimed to be supernatural (whether it actually exists or not), as being outside the scientific enterprise.

    Now, with philosophical naturalism, if something exists, it must have a naturalistic cause. Of course, if it is proven that event A does not have a naturalistic cause, either philosophical naturalism fails or must be redefined. This would be my nuance on Scott’s epistemological stance.

    On music, as bird-song demonstrates, it has a naturally-caused starting point; however, what modern humans call music has a strong social control.

    Martin, meanwhile, misses the forest for the trees:

    My point now is that if you want to fully experience a Wagner symphony, a Shakespeare play or a Munch painting, if you’re being entirely scientific about it, you’re going to miss something, because raw emotional responses are an important part of these works.

    First, Martin, the study of emotions, via functional MRI scans of the brain, or sociology as a social science, etc., ISscientific.

    Second, and primary, the “forest for the trees”? NOBODY, including no SCIENTIST, engages with Wagner/Shakespeare/Munch while in “science mode”; he or she is in music/poetry/art appreciator’s mode.

    I have to say that your comment, as it stands, is both stereotyping and quite dumb.

    Poke has an interesting comment:

    Current philosophy of mind is, I think, fundamentally broken in this regard.

    Current philosophy of mind, at its cutting edge, says there is no “I”, a point about which I’ve blogged extensively at my second blog, The Philosophy of the Socratic Gadfly.

  107. #107 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 24, 2006

    “It may be possible to have a mixture of, say, 90% water and 10% oil, but that doesn’t mean they really mix well.”

    Funny you should mention that, considering that one can spray an oil-water mixture through a burner and watch the flames. You may be on to something deep. Say, is it holy water and natural oil, or incense oil and natural water? Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe it has the same qualia. :-)

    “I do not, however, see how or where representations are realized in the brain as the same thing as the qualitative experience of said representation. I will check out the link you mentioned and see if it gives me any greater understanding.”

    I think there was a discussion on other aspects of qualia. Alas, the reference is about as much as I know. Hopefully you can enlighten me.

    “Torjborn: I deny mind-body dualism. My interpretation is not that, with respect to the ‘hard problem’, that the origin of mind is not natural. My interpretation is that not all aspects of natural phenomena are accessible to human beings. Again, see my prior post to Caledonian.”

    I must read your reference. This is something that I don’t have a good picture of yet. There are several complications off the cuff.

    – Our theories aren’t nature, they are models of it. Formal theories are infinitely extendable by Gödel, so they are in principle rich enough to model nature as close as necessary.
    – Dualities such as AdS/CFT and pluralities such as QM interpretations says that different models describes the same system equally well (or nearly so for the interpretations) but with different properties and objects. This partly explains emergent properties, such as of spacetime, but maybe not all.
    – Physicists tend to be naive realists insofar (some) objects are concerned. There are even some theorems and results on different objects individualities. Bosons are indistuinguishable, for example.
    – QM says that noncommutating observables cannot simultaneously be known with infinite precision at the same time, but one can observe eigenstates of a particular observable perfectly.
    – When quantum systems interacts (with other systems, the thermodynamically equilibrated vacuum state, classical systems, or ‘measurement systems’) wavefunctions become entangled, so that the original quantum systems ceases to exist as an independent entity.
    – Theories may have virtual or lowenergy ‘invisible’ cutoff particles, onshell/offshell, ghosts, and what not. But they aren’t observables – do they ‘exist’?
    – Entropy and holography says that there are a finite amount of information within the observable universe.

    Uff! I must make a simplifying money bet meanwhile. I will place my money on that phenomena have contingent observables (QM) and contain finite information (entropy, holography). If there are unaccessible aspects they aren’t well defined due to dualities, possible in nature and not only by our models of it as far as I can tell, which means that the question about unobservable aspects of nature isn’t well defined.

  108. #108 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 24, 2006

    I’m not impressed by Chalmers’ article. While I don’t feel like picking on everything questionable, there are things that concerns some commentaries here.

    I think, as some other here that much of the soft and hard problems disappear when one realises that individual brains encode and use information differently. Confusingly, Chalmers’ use that later to conclude that the substrate of the brain is exchangeable, a result I agree with.

    I too see signs of cryptodualism (an excellent term BTW) and discussion regarding nature instead of consciousness. For example, it references Weinberg saying: “If the existence of consciousness cannot be derived from physical laws, a theory of physics is not a true theory of everything.” I’m reminded of the existence of life that evolution makes possible to emerge without being based on detailed physical laws as such.

    Neuroscience will likely lead to such ideas. For example, Tononi et all uses the concept of mutual information between subsets (of neurons) to define neural complexity. It is maximum between randomness and uniformity as it should be. And they can explain how information is both segregated and integrated in the brain, and model the basic dynamic properties observed. ( http://www.striz.org/docs/tononi-complexity.pdf )

    Unfortunately, Chalmer’s applies such basic emergence directly to describe consciousness. He also refers to the same direct correspondence between visual field and its representation that Keith refutes by experiment. I don’t see why he introduces “experience” or Crick et al “meaning”. I thought the consensus explanation currently is that consciousness is our modelling of our own awareness instead of modelling others behaviour.

  109. #109 Belathor
    July 24, 2006

    If it is the case that “atheists are color blind”, then why is it that theists see so many different colors when religion is concerned?

    As far as Beethoven is concerned, from my subjective experience I don’t think people “feel” him anymore. To the vast majority, his music is the opening motiff to his 5th symphony and that is all. To the rest, most of them go to hear his music out of intellectual curiosity and ‘status’. This is borne out by how much of a history lesson such concerts are today. The only people who “feel” his music are the people who are used to hearing it a lot. You “feel” what you are used to. Given my opinion, I completely agree with the idea of music and quite possibly all art as being primarily a promoter of social cohesion.

    As for any comments on music theory, I originally thought it was too restricting, but now find that idea absurd. Music theory is just the axioms you accept to follow for the creation of a piece of music. If you want music that sounds like Verdi, you are not going to use the same theory as you would if you wanted it to sound like Reich or free jazz.

  110. #110 SocraticGadfly
    July 25, 2006

    I want to add one thing to my previous comment about Martin’s comment.

    Martin, would you say that a plumber would go to Niagara Falls and talk about nothing but flow rate?

    Or that a printer would read a Shakespearean sonnet and think of nothing but typefaces and font sizes?

    Or that a carpenter would look at a Munch painting and see nothing but the wood of the frame?

    That’s about how ludicrous your comments are about scientists approaching art.

    Physicists doesn’t approach art that way.

    But, the social scientists who DO study the respective arts DO bring to the table the appropriate tools of their respective social scientists. That’s why we have music and art critics and historians; and, even with the Nigaras of nature, we have landscape archtects working to recreate some of the aesthetics of nature in urban areas, using not only principles of social science, but neuroscience and cognitive science in the future, I am sure.

  111. #111 Caledonian
    July 25, 2006

    Mary has grown up in a colourless environment but knows everything total science can tell us about colour and the visual system. One day she leaves the colourless environment and experiences red for the first time.

    Ah, but that’s impossible. Knowing everything science can tell her about color, she already knows the outcomes of all color experiments, which means she has in her memory an engram that represents the pattern of activation associated with ‘red’. She’s already experienced it.

  112. #112 Steve LaBonne
    July 25, 2006

    No, Caledonian, I don’t think the brain works that way. (“Engram” is so, like, 60s science fiction…) Whatever complex patterns of synapse activation and inhibition in the brain correspond to the experience of the color red, they are not under voluntary control. So Mary can know everyting there is to know about what those patterns look like in someone else’s brain, but they will never before have occurred in her own because she will not have been able to cause them to occur in the absence of the experience that produces them. (I’m evading the additional issue of how similar those patterns really are in different brains, since by stipulation Mary would know everything about that, too.)

    Of course, as poke already pointed out, no fancy crypto-dualist conclusions follow from this; an experience is like any other entity in that its description, however complete, is not identical to the experience itself.

  113. #113 Keith Douglas
    July 25, 2006

    Scott Hatfield: Dennett, the Churchlands and myself simply deny the claim that Chalmers makes about explaining your “qualia”. If we can go so far as to predict part of the structure of its organization (see the last message about Paul Churchland’s prediction), we’re well on the way. Moreover, Paul and Pat Churchland have an argument see On The Contrary that shows in some sense there must be experiential simples on pain of infinite regress. These would appear to be “brute facts of experience” but that would be just an appearance.

    poke: Ahem. I have changed my philosophical views several times. For example, under the influence of physics textbooks and popuarlizations, I was an operationalist for a long time. I am now a scientific realist. I also have substantially changed my view on the Church-Turing thesis, which is basically a philosophical position. As for the “Mary” thought experiment, haven’t you read Churchland’s answer? He gives what is another version of yours. (As it happens, it was my answer, too.) Namely, that the knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance systems of your brain are distinct!

    On the other hand, the Colin McGinn (not McGill) “mysterian” position ticks me off as much as the philosophers who refuse to learn any neuroscience at all and yet work in philosophy of mind. (As I recall, Jaegwon Kim has adopted this position.) Chalmers at least is honest, though I’d love to know whether he’s sincere.

  114. #114 poke
    July 25, 2006

    Keith: I don’t mean to imply that all philosophers are conservative, but I think it is a very conservative discipline. For example, metaphysics, as far as I can tell, reacted to the development of quantum mechanics by adding footnotes stating “this could also apply, with some changes, if the world is fundamentally probabilistic” and continued on its way. I’ve read Churchland’s answer. The difference between our responses (if I’m remembering it right) is that I’m not arguing that the important distinction is in the way the brain works; rather I’m saying one thing is an object, the other a description, and that’s all that need be said. (Obviously the brain needs to differentiate between the too, but that’s not what’s important here.)

    I say Churchland is also a “cryptodualist” because he’s strongly commited to representationalism. If you talk about representation in the philosophers sense (in the sense that it has the properties of arbitrariness, errancy, etc), IMO, you’re talking about something extra-physical. (I think this comes through most clearly in Churchland’s pseudo-realist philosophy of science.) You’re talking about creating something beyond the physiological response. (Which is not to say physiological responses can’t have the properties of arbitrariness, errancy, etc; but it would never be a general conclusion. I don’t think you can ever get from the physical brain to a general conclusion such as that our experience is always mediated; you can only do that through cryptodualism, by arguing that experience is a thing, and the brain mediates between that thing and our world.) I tend to prefer Gelder’s dynamicism.

  115. #115 poke
    July 25, 2006

    Note: I don’t want to be too harsh on Churchland though. I think eliminative materialism is basically correct. He’s worth reading, especially because I think many people don’t realise that identity theorists and other seemingly reasonable physicalists are arguing for retaining “folk psychology,” a position that I’m sure is obviously absurd to most people (especially scientists) when it’s made clear.

    “Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind” is one of my favourite works of philosophy. The middle chapters where he talks about replacing common sense are brilliant (it’s almost like Zen Buddhism for nerds). And the final chapter gets epistemology right, I think, except that it’s too focused on the individual brain (another one of his odd commitments).

  116. #116 SocraticGadfly
    July 25, 2006

    Poke, Keith, Scott and others:

    Re Churchland, theories of mind, folk pschology, etc., I recommend a couple of other books.

    1. The New Unconscious (Social Cognition and Social Neuroscience) by Ran R. Hassin. Goes beyond the overrated Dennett (see my wordsofsocraticgadfly.blogspot.com blog for more on my thoughts on this issue in general and some ways Dennett is wrong in particular) on how lack of a Cartesian Mean leads to nonexistence of free will, which then leads to lack of a unitary self.

    2. The Illusion of Conscious Will (Bradford Books) by Daniel M. Wegner. The first book to directly address this issue in depth; Wegner points out Dennett’s illogic in not himself recognizing conscious will is an illusion, though Wegner pulls a few punches himself, and doesn’t deal with the issue of “unconscious free will,” which Hassan does do.

    See more on both these books on pages 1 and 3, respectively, of my Amazon book reviews, linked from the above blog and my socraticgadfly one.

  117. #117 Scott Hatfield
    July 25, 2006

    Keith, Torbjorn:

    Wow, there’s a lot to think about here. Can either of you guys provide me with the source for Churchland’s new colors? It’s been about ten years since I had a course in this and I’m not up to speed, apparently.

    Thanks…Scott

  118. #118 Steve LaBonne
    July 25, 2006

    Denial of a unitary self, and will, is one of the philosophical foundations of Buddhism. Hardly a new idea. But probably a good one.

  119. #119 poke
    July 25, 2006

    Scott, I decided to check the paper out myself. The title is “Chimerical colors: Some Phenomenological Predictions from Cognitive Neuroscience” by Paul Churchland in Philosopical Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 5, October 2005. If you don’t have access I can send you a copy. Just email me at inflatable0 at gmail.com.

  120. #120 Torbjörn Larsson
    July 26, 2006

    Scott:
    Thank you, you made me throw up a list on a subject I hadn’t formed an opinion on and make sense of it a posteriori, instead of arriving at a conclusion piecemal from a tentative a priori position. That made my conclusion much of a surprise for myself, always a rewarding feeling.

    I have some notes on my idea that the question about unobservable aspects of nature isn’t well defined. I think the idea that the existence of dualistic models also allow dualistic reality (objects and probably measurements) is correct, but I don’t need it. It is enough to reason from the existence of the theories themselves.

    The idea that theories gives answers that aren’t well defined for the questions that are irrelevant isn’t new. Lubos Motl, a string theorist, notes over at his blog: “Things can only become zero or infinity if we ask unphysical questions. And we should never do so.” ( http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/04/detlev-buchholz-algebraic-quantum_21.html ). But he also discusses the idea of introducing temporary cutoffs in physical theories, to be able to reorder terms and get finite, physical answers after removing the cutoffs. So one should not immediately assume a bad answer mean a bad question – one may have to change method to arrive at the correct answer.

    But here I did something special. I looked at the combined theories to draw a similar conclusion. Scientifically, it seems to be a valid generalisation, but it is not a regular method. OTOH the idea is also analogous to QM observations, where the answer wave or quanta depends on the measurement, but aren’t welldefined before that. Either it’s a weakness or a new idea (a little hubris won’t hurt :-), but I will keep my conclusion meanwhile.

    poke:
    You give a lot of clarifying input. I’m not sure how much Gelder’s dynamicism is worth neuroscience wise, but I like it if indeed dynamical systems can be superturing, which seems a reasonable result and a reasonable property for a brain. The possibility of a definite algorithmic description such as a Turing machine seems unrealistic, compared to emergent dynamic properties. For someone with a physicist background these models are quite likeable too. :-)

    Regarding the conservativity of philosophy, any area without direct observations has a slow process of eliminating wrong ideas. I don’t think it is a fault to explore new ideas until they are shown to be barren or wrong, or simply less fruitful than others. But perhaps there may be some reluctance to accept new venues of interest from without as you say.

    keith:
    Nitpick: The Church-Turing thesis seems to be a supported and useful conjecture in computer science.

    Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math calls it one of “two of the fundamental rules of computer science: 1. The Church-Turing Thesis: all mechanical computing systems are basically the same: there is a fundamental limit to what is computable, and any “acceptable” system can compute anything up to that limit – so if you can find a way of doing it on any computing device, then you can, ultimately, do it on every acceptable computing device.” ( http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/06/an_introduction_to_information.php )

    “Any computing system that reaches that limit is called an effective computing system (ECS). Anything that one ECS can do, any other ECS can do too. That doesn’t mean that they’re all identical. A given computation can be really easy to understand when described in terms of one ECS, and horribly difficult in another.” ( http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/06/why_so_many_languages_programm.php )

    Apparently any Turing-complete language or system is found to be equivalent so far. That and the apparent acceptance by CS, if Mark is truthful, makes me say that it is a CS thesis. Since it is supportable my guess is that they have a firm definition of the thesis too.

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