Pharyngula

Magic isn’t science

Steven Novella has an excellent critique of the Discovery Institute’s pathetic assault on materialism. But then you all read Neurologica already, right?

Comments

  1. #1 Richard Harris
    October 25, 2008

    Awwwww, some folks just wanna believe in magic. Unfortunately, there’s no proof that magic doesn’t influence the world. But there’s no evidence for it, either.

    The scientific method, relying upon materialism & philosophical naturalism, has no place for magical thinking. The D I are really showing their dishonesty & stupidity. We just have to bang on about magic having no place in science, because these liars & fools are dangerous.

  2. #2 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    October 25, 2008

    Unfortunately, there’s no proof that magic doesn’t influence the world

    exactly how would you determine that?

    There’s no proof that underpants gnomes aren’t in your closet either.

  3. #3 tim Rowledge
    October 25, 2008

    One of the few encouraging points common to many of the stupid attacks on science is that the religidiots are trying to use science against science. I see it as an indication that logic has, if not won, then gained a very strong position even in their own minds.

    Perhaps I’m not writing this very well (it’s early in the morning) but I hope you get my point.

  4. #4 Bjørn Østman
    October 25, 2008
    Unfortunately, there’s no proof that magic doesn’t influence the world

    exactly how would you determine that?

    There’s no proof that underpants gnomes aren’t in your closet either.

    Sure there is. If you open the closet and find no gnomes, that good evidence that there are no gnomes in there. Of course, if you mean “proof” as in “We are 100% sure”, then no, but…

  5. #5 Cuttlefish, OM
    October 25, 2008

    The Discovery folks, in defiance of science,
    Pretend that their methods are new and improved;
    The cost of believing in magic is tragic–
    These people have clearly had brain parts removed!

  6. #6 Nerd of Redhead
    October 25, 2008

    Cuttlefish strikes again! Good thing I wasn’t drinking/eating when I read the verse.

  7. #7 Sili
    October 25, 2008

    Nope, only just started listening to Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe last week.

    And can we give Cuttlefish the OM with seaweed and tentacles already?! (Dunno why people think oakleaves would be appropriate.)

  8. #8 Mantecanaut
    October 25, 2008

    “But then you all read Neurologica already, right?”

    Of course. Top 5 of my ‘Thinking Man’s Bookmarks’.

  9. #9 E.V.
    October 25, 2008

    It’s not just about magic. These people believe the Universe was created for them, that the purpose of all of this, the physical plane, is a testing ground for humans and whether they’ll be rewarded or punished in an eternal afterlife. They cannot recognize the blatant arrogance of that mode of thought since they can claim no responsibility for their point of view, rationalizing that a creator willed it so and who are we to question the creator?

    In their little delusion, they can impose purpose and order where there is none. It’s why they tenaciously cling to fantasy and deny any empirical evidence that contradicts their desperate fiction.
    Ultimately, they believe their lies and misdirections are altruistic.

  10. #10 Glen Davidson
    October 25, 2008

    Seriously, the only real point of science is coming up with replicable results using “real data.” “Naturalism” and “materialism” are epiphenomena. In fact, it is likely the only reason “naturalism” is even considered is that scholastics wanted to divide our knowledge into the “natural” (the mundane or earthly) and the “supernatural” (realm of ideas, and heaven), that is, they wanted to save religion by claiming that something falls outside of science.

    Science (at the level of philosophy, anyhow) is not in the least wedded to “naturalism” or “materialism,” but only to demonstrable results based upon honest interpretation of the phenomena. But it’s nice of many scientists to give the IDiots a false conception of science which they can attack.

    I just have no idea why anyone thinks that’s a good thing for our side.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  11. #11 Magnus
    October 25, 2008

    He covered this case on the podcast as well.

    I don’t really know how the dualists could give evidence for a soul that makes choices. It would be nice if they could provide evidence for the soul itself and not just the effect it has. Of course they decided a long time ago that the soul was supernatural, which means that science cannot discuss it. This would quickly be turned around if we found physical evidence for the soul.

    If this soul affects the brain then it should produce energy in the brain that can not be accounted for otherwise. If this can be demonstrated, even in single neurons, then they would have least have a foot in the door. It would also cause a sensation in physics as well because it would overcome thermodynamics. This means that souls could be used to make perpetual motion machines. Imagine the headlines soul powered cars would create!

  12. #12 Richard V Harris
    October 25, 2008

    RevChimp, @# 2,

    exactly how would you determine that?

    Sorry, but it’s for you to prove the converse. Just like I don’t have to prove the non-existence of any gods. (What’s gotten into you?)

    There’s no proof that underpants gnomes aren’t in your closet either.

    Oh yes there is, because if there were, I would have heard my wife’s screams.

  13. #13 Aleksi
    October 25, 2008

    Nice to see some link love towards Dr. Novella. His articles on Neurologica are excellent. He also contributes on the Science-Based Medicine and Rogues Gallery blogs. In addition he hosts the Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe podcast where PZ has been interviewed twice.

  14. #14 Aleksi
    October 25, 2008

    Apparently there is a new blog Dr. Novella contributes to:
    http://skepticblog.org
    Looks very promising.

  15. #15 Pierce R. Butler
    October 25, 2008

    Richard V Harris @ # 12: (addressing Rev. BDC, KOT, OM): What’s gotten into you?

    Metabolic byproducts of excessive ethanol intake, according to comments on previous posts this morning.

  16. #16 eddie
    October 25, 2008

    *creotard alert*

    They don’t have the guts to go after Religulous and prefer to pray on weaker targets. I hear they are protesting the new Richard Jobson movie; New Town Killers.
    The movie is about corporate sociopaths using poor folk for sport. The protest seems to be ‘how dare we criticise our masters’.
    See the movie and show the love.

    */creotard alert*

  17. #17 SC
    October 25, 2008

    In short, the anti-materialists at the DI and elsewhere, attempting to push their wedge by targeting evolution ran up against a savvy and effective army of evolution defenders who were able to defend the integrity of science from this attack.

    Like any predator, the anti-materialists are looking for easy prey. They are probing for a softer spot in the world of science to insert their wedge, and they think they have found it in neuroscience.

    I have just the slightest wisp of a problem with his presentation here. Rather than discussing evolution and neuroscience as though they were distinct, I think it would be better to emphasize repeatedly that neuroscience is in fact an evolutionary science. Minor quibble.

  18. #18 Gregory Kusnick
    October 25, 2008

    #11:

    If this soul affects the brain then it should produce energy in the brain that can not be accounted for otherwise.

    I don’t see how that follows. Why couldn’t the soul affect the brain in an energetically neutral way, say by teleporting ions across a membrane to energetically equivalent locations on the other side?

    Note that I’m not arguing for the existence of a soul. I’m just saying I don’t think it would necessarily violate conservation of energy.

  19. #19 Magnus
    October 25, 2008

    #18:

    I don’t see how that follows. Why couldn’t the soul affect the brain in an energetically neutral way, say by teleporting ions across a membrane to energetically equivalent locations on the other side?

    Sure, that is a possibility. I should have replaced “should” with “could.”

  20. #20 Richard Harris
    October 25, 2008

    Glen, @ # 10,

    “Naturalism” and “materialism” are epiphenomena.

    I don’t follow. Epiphenomena are secondary symptoms, which may occur simultaneously with a disease etc., but are not regarded as its cause or its result.

    The mental realm, for epiphenomenalists, is nothing more than a series of conscious states which signify the occurrence of states of the nervous system, but which play no causal role. … Mental states are as smoke from a machine seems to be, mere side effects making no difference to the course of nature. (Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    Science is necessarily materialistic. Naturalists reject all forms of supernaturalism & a priori knowledge.

    Philosophers argue about naturalism with regard to general methodological principles, particularly those regarding scientific inference, because of the difficulty of providing norms for legitimate scientific inferences. But the practice of science is naturalistic.

  21. #21 Glen Davidson
    October 25, 2008

    Yes Richard, some people do believe in “naturalism,” despite having no basis from which to do so.

    Since you deal with none of the issues that matter, I think I will leave it at that.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  22. #22 Richard Harris
    October 25, 2008

    Glen @ # 10, I see what you’re saying, now. “Naturalism” and “materialism” are as smoke to the machine of science.

    I’m not sure that I agree with that. It seems to me that they are in more of a cause & effect role. Science both depends upon & creates “naturalism” and “materialism”.

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    October 25, 2008

    Why couldn’t the soul affect the brain in an energetically neutral way, say by teleporting ions across a membrane to energetically equivalent locations on the other side?

    This would obey the conservation of energy (presuming there is no potential difference across the membrane, etc., etc.) but it would basically make the soul a Maxwell’s Demon, violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

  24. #24 Richard Harris
    October 25, 2008

    Glen, sorry, that should’ve finished, …creates the grounds for “naturalism” and “materialism”.

  25. #25 Katharine
    October 25, 2008

    Since the last thread degenerated into eristic crap the last time I saw it, I will continue the discussion here.

    One of the things which dualists don’t apparently consider is neurocybernetics. One string of dualist claim insists that a system cannot reproduce itself or put itself in motion, but cybernetic theory refutes this by introducing the concept of an autopoietic system. Maturana and Varela describe the autopoietic system thus:

    “a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production, transformation and destruction of components that produces the components which: i) through their interactions and transformations regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and ii) constitute it as a concrete unity in the space in which they exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network.”

    The brain is very much an autopoietic system open to influence from the outside: it adapts via experience!

  26. #26 John Morales
    October 25, 2008

    My rejection of supernaturalism is based on the belief that it’s an unnecessary assumption, since so far as I know it doesn’t provide any additional explanatory or predictive power over naturalism.

    I think this is a sound basis for the rejection, but based on my experiences here I suspect someone smarter than I will correct me…

  27. #27 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    October 25, 2008

    Sorry, but it’s for you to prove the converse. Just like I don’t have to prove the non-existence of any gods. (What’s gotten into you?)

    I’m not sure I understand what you are telling me here.

  28. #28 Sven DiMilo
    October 25, 2008

    presuming there is no potential difference across the membrane

    Yeah, kind of a risky presumption, particularly for neurons. (By the way, we know about “potentials across membranes” largely from squid research in Plymouth, England–I kid you not.)

  29. #29 Kel
    October 25, 2008

    Is it possible for anyone who understands neuroscience to explain to me about the different types of brain injuries that are associated with a loss of functionality?

  30. #30 Gregory Kusnick
    October 25, 2008

    Kel: Pick up any book by Oliver Sacks to find numerous case studies of brain injury and how it affects cognition. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat is probably a good place to start.

  31. #31 Luftritter
    October 25, 2008

    Humm…
    Non materialist causation = magic

    HAHAHAHAHA….!

    I can`t believe they are speaking seriously. I think they need to consult a neurologist quickly.

    Excellent piece by Dr. Novella as usual. (Skeptic’s Guide To the Universe is my favourite PODCAST!)

  32. #32 Blake Stacey
    October 25, 2008

    Yeah, kind of a risky presumption, particularly for neurons.

    Yep. Hooray for Hodgkin and Huxley!

  33. #33 Brian's A Wild Downer
    October 25, 2008

    Of all the big names in the skeptics and atheist movements, Steven Novella is my favorite. I’ve heard more from him in the forms of his podcast and blogs than i have from any of the others, and have still have found the least to disagree with him on.

  34. #34 Art
    October 25, 2008

    I will believe in non-materialist explanations of the universe and will start contemplating the end of the materialism as an explanation when major universities open departments of metaphysical engineering and start getting patents on useful and salable products.

    Until that time non-materialist explanations of the universe will remain nebulous abstractions within the departments of religious studies and philosophy. Concepts which are taken off the shelf every once in a long while, dusted off, momentarily contemplated and returned to their shelf in the dark recesses of their large and storied library of useless but interesting ideas.

    As with so many things, charlatans often claim their ideas are going to march to victory and vanquish their foes in the near future. Right before they fail so miserably that they become little more than footnotes in the long list of failed concepts.

  35. #35 Sastra
    October 25, 2008

    I read NeuroLogica regularly, Novella rocks.

    As usual, he nails it. One of the major reasons creationists are going after neurology is in order to increase the base, and try to remove Christianity from the issue. Most of the evolution-friendly spiritual liberals are just as hostile to naturalism and materialism as the Religious Right. They embrace evolution as the “natural unfolding of Spirit” and think it’s guided by Forces. This whole quantum consciousness crap is coming from people who insist they are not “religious” at all.

    If they get on board the attack on neurology — and these are their own arguments, so they might — then the ID people can try to argue that this has nothing to do with “religion.” It’s still pseudoscience, but that won’t trip the Lemon test and Constitutionality.

    I disagree with Novella, however, on his insistence that science is committed to “methodological naturalism.” I think that phrase and concept is bogus. There’s nothing in the methods of science which make any distinction between natural and supernatural. It depends on how “the supernatural” is defined, of course, but we can imagine a world where the supernatural is real, and clearly observable, and testable. That’s not our world. It could have been, but isn’t.

    As it turned out, science takes no note of the supernatural because there hasn’t been any good evidence for the supernatural (or the paranormal –same damn thing.)

  36. #36 Blake Stacey
    October 26, 2008

    It depends on how “the supernatural” is defined, of course, but we can imagine a world where the supernatural is real, and clearly observable, and testable. That’s not our world. It could have been, but isn’t.

    Wait a minute — life isn’t like Star Trek after all?

    Damn.

  37. #37 Richard Harris
    October 26, 2008

    RevChimp,

    I’m not sure I understand what you are telling me here.

    Me, likewise. It must be the medium, or else, maybe, I’m just too thick.

  38. #38 Richard Harris
    October 26, 2008

    Glen @ # 21,

    Yes Richard, some people do believe in “naturalism,” despite having no basis from which to do so.

    Since you deal with none of the issues that matter, I think I will leave it at that.

    I’m still wrestling with that. If you’re referring to skepticism, surely science carries on regardless of such doubts, because it only deals in material things (including psychology). The D I assault will try to introduce super-naturalism into neurology & consciousness studies, under the pretense that they’re doing science. But there’s no room for the supernatural in science, because it’s materialistic & naturalistic. But you know that, of course.

    Naturalism in science is different to naturalism in philosophy, because the former is a process, & needn’t get tied in knots by considerations of what are legitimate norms for scientific inferences. This looks like an Achilles heel for the I D assault, unless we, (as rationalists, or naturalists, or materialists), are clear about our terms of reference.

  39. #39 Steve LaBonne
    October 26, 2008

    I’ve been predicting for a while that the front lines of the obscurantists’ pathetic war would shift to neurobiology after they belatedly realized that it’s a much more profound threat to their nonsense than evolution. I’m saddened but totally unsurprised to see this happening. You can wave your hands and talk real fast and pretend that evolutionary biology is “compatible” with religion, but that’s much harder to pull off with neuroscience, because substance dualism- which is totally and unredeemably anti-scientific- is the non-negotiable bedrock of religion.

  40. #40 Steve LaBonne
    October 26, 2008

    Another thing I’ll say again is that “supernatural” is just a noise you make with your mouth, and doesn’t correspond to any coherent concept at all. Either something is observable, in which case it can be studied scientifically and is thus a natural phenomenon, or it’s inherently unobservable (a bizarre position which seems to be the last refuge of the scoundrels) in which case… it simply doesn’t exist.

  41. #41 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    October 26, 2008

    RevChimp,

    I’m not sure I understand what you are telling me here.

    Me, likewise. It must be the medium, or else, maybe, I’m just too thick.

    hehehe

  42. #42 Richard Harris
    October 26, 2008

    Steve,

    “supernatural” is just a noise you make with your mouth, and doesn’t correspond to any coherent concept at all. … it simply doesn’t exist.

    That’s not the point. Some people think that it does exist. This includes people in, & running for, high office, as well as the crazy folk at the D I. They will let their supernatural (= magical) beliefs ruin our lives.

  43. #43 Richard Harris
    October 26, 2008

    RevChimp,

    Back on the bottle, eh?

  44. #44 Gramsuil
    October 26, 2008

    Religion isn’t magic. It’s the opposite. It’s the suppression of magic. It’s the destruction of the magical. Art is magical. Love is magic. Religion is the censorship of the magical. Contrary to appearances, religion hates mystery because mystery is open and beautiful. Au revoir mes amis!

  45. #45 windy
    October 26, 2008

    Paul Bloom thinks that we have multiple selves. Would the magic believers have a problem with this theory or just think “more souls to save!”?

  46. #46 Arnosium Upinarum
    October 27, 2008

    Gramsuil #44 – you make an excellent point. Religion does indeed suppress the full potential of the iMAGination, and lessens people’s humanity thereby.

    And, yes, “mystery” is good. But while the religious labor under a peculiar definition of the word that somehow nevertheless allows them to avoid its meaning while simultaneously providing them with a means knowing everything that it conceals (in how readily they put words into the erstwhile Mystery of all Mysteries, the Mouth of God, for example), science defines it for what it is, the natural unknown, and patiently chugs along working out how to reveal what hides there.

    No wonder the religious require a supernatural realm: they need it to support their delusion that they are 100% all-knowing. Without that ridiculous supernaturality which they make up under the auspices of nature, they could not make no sense either. (One still requires nature to be able to make no sense).

  47. #47 Arnosium Upinarum
    October 27, 2008

    It’s easy to demonstrate that magic exists. Simple. Just listen to a supernaturalist. There it is: in their minds, q.e.d.*

    [*This follows, of course, on the assumption that their minds exist in nature, being a product of material brains that reside there, and any products such as "concept" thus derived are likely to as well]

  48. #48 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    October 27, 2008

    Nah Richard. I think I must have just misunderstood the point you were making originally.

    My bad.

  49. #49 Arnosium Upinarum
    October 27, 2008

    Glen D #10:

    I don’t restrict my definition of the natural world as “earthly” at all. Mundane, yeah, in a quotidian sense, sure. But to distinguish supernaturalism as “the realm of ideas” is just absurd. So much for philosophical scholasticism as a means of ordering our sense of reality or self or whatever.

    But the last time i seriously stubbed my toe i wasn’t exactly waxing philosophically in ‘-isms’ over the reality of nature either, and I didn’t give a damn whether the experiment might be repeated. I had all the evidence i needed right there in the one shot to explain the pain.

    The thing is this: I entirely agree that science isn’t wedded to “naturalism” or “materialism” but that doesn’t mean that ALL the scientific evidence thus far accumulated can’t be construed as evidence in its own right – that the information comes from a place we can reasonably refer to as “nature” or “natural reality”, that entirety of environment within which we exist alongside the phenomena we study. How else could it be?

    Screw all the scholastic ‘-isms’. All they are is irrelevant place-keeping conceptual devices wedded to an obsession with how large groups of people think. Category play, that’s all. Very important-sounding in an academic sort of way. It’s even more irrelevant to the issue than the hard-line materialist view. And most toe-stubbing people just won’t digest it, period.

    One can argue endlessly about concepts (also made possible by natural reality), or one can pay attention to the subjects themselves, however far removed we are from wholly identifying with them. The identification process isn’t the issue in forming a good conceptual model of the world.

    I honestly don’t know what hinders people most: superstition or “scholastic philosophy” as a basis for what science (or anything else for that matter, that exists in nature) is supposed to “really mean”.

  50. #50 Arnosium Upinarum
    October 27, 2008

    Glen D.: I meant to prefix my post in response to yours with, “I agree completely!” It got away from me…So sorry.

    Funny how a single short line so alters the complexion of a statement, yes?

  51. #51 Gramsuil
    October 27, 2008

    Religion is magic with morality – and a very skewered sort of morality at that. Even in science magic exists. As Thomas Kuhn pointed out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions most significant scientific discoveries are often made when someone coming from outside the particular discipline under scrutiny brings a new pair of eyes to the subject viewed and hence sees what the person within the discipline cannot because the person caught up within the discipline has his/her view narrowed by predermined and predisposed precepts. Scientists primarily see what they are already looking for. They develop a premise and then seek the evidence for it. Nothing wrong with that. That’s the methodology. So much else is overlooked and missed, though. The magic you see is to be able to see what you weren’t looking for! Comprendez? I understand the problem of magical creationism, however. That is not what I’m talking about. The term magic should not be tied to one particular idiotic stupidity such as creationism. We in Europe don’t really undestand how some Americans fall for such fairytales. What’s interesting to me is how people on all of these blogs are tied into a suffocating narrowness of language as dictated by peoeple whose erudition and sensitivity to words leaves a lot to be desired. More erudition, more subtlety is required. These may be science blogs but science – as much as any other narrative – does not have exclusive copyright on the meannings of words. As our James Joyce said in his book more valuable to me than any science book ever badly written “In every word a world.” Slan libh.

  52. #52 Gramsuil
    October 28, 2008

    #46 I agree with Arn Up Science doex explore mystery and changes its mind and precepts when new discoveries are made to boot! Religion shuts the door on mystery yet the hypocrites are always talking about mystery…oh well……..i only came on here to find the person i love who i’ve lost….byeeeee

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