Greg Laden suggests A multiplicity of strategies is better than infighting when addressing creationism and related problems. That seems reasonable, and I’m intrigued by his diagnosis for the conflict over accommodationism and New Atheism:

I have always thought, naively and probably incorrectly, that what defined Accommodationist is what they think, not how they argue. At the same time, I have always thought that what defined a “New Atheist” is how we argued, and not what we think.

This strikes me as potentially right, and that the distinction between what one thinks and what one argues is a valuable one in this context.

When “accommodationists” (whatever that term means) and New Atheists (whatever that term means) tangle, it tends to go in circles, and that’s a hallmark of issues where people are talking past one another. If New Atheism is a style of argument and is oriented towards changing accommodationists’ style of argument, that’ll fail to connect with accommodationists who are trying to change New Atheist modes of thinking, and vice versa. New Atheism’s novelty (I’ve argued) is its focus on criticizing religion, not just on defending godlessness as a personal choice. I think that matches up nicely with “how we argue.” And accommodationism is rooted in a commitment to pluralism: to a methodological naturalism that need not entail a philosophical naturalism, and that therefore can include religious folks as allies in defense of both science and a pluralistic, classically liberal society. And I think that can fairly be described as what we think, not simply a style of argument.

The best thing about Greg’s assessment is the realization that, to the extent these terms apply to different axes, not to different ends of the same axis, it is possible in principle for a New Atheist to be accommodationist. So, when Richard Dawkins – whose writings helped define New Atheism – says that science and religion can be compatible in some sense, he could well be both a New Atheist and an accommodationist. When he and PZ Myers reach out to religious groups as allies against creationist school plans, they could be both New Atheists and accommodationists. And if New Atheism is, as Greg argues, a style of argument, then it is not a matter of identity, but is a rhetorical style that one can cast off at times, and can re-adopt at other times. Accommodationism can be a mode of thinking that is useful in some cases, and New Atheism can be a style of argument that could be useful in some cases, and the question would not be who is right. The question would simply be under what circumstances it would be best to apply either or both.

Under this framework, the issue is not one of personal identity, but of what approaches work best for a given goal. I’ve yet to see a compelling empirical case for New or gnu atheism as a style of argument, but I remain open to it. I’ve tried to lay out the empirical and philosophical arguments in favor of accommodationism (the preceding links are examples, not meant to be comprehensive), and I hope others found those arguments compelling. As I’ve said repeatedly, my goal (and, to my knowledge, that of other accommodationists) is not to have New Atheism go away, nor for New Atheists to “shut up.” If their arguments are philosophical, then those arguments belong in philosophy journals. If they’re political or tactical, they belong in political science journals. If sociological, then there are journals for that, too.

I can happily endorse Laden’s call for pluralism. Let a thousand flowers bloom. But I also have to endorse Tribal Scientist Mike McRae’s warning:

There are frequent olive branches thrown down in request of a ceasefire. Perhaps the most common is the plea for diversity. This call seems democratic, inclusive and reasonable. After all, if there are many different problems and many different audiences, there must be a need for many different methods. Let’s all live and let live, right? If one approach doesn’t work, another will. …

Yet there is an element of intellectual laziness in this view. Of course, no one approach in communication will reach all demographics, or solve all problems. Diverse approaches are indeed necessary. Yet this is not the same as saying all approaches are necessary. Some will conflict. Some will be resource hungry and have no hope of success for one reason or another. Identifying solutions to the problem of how best to communicate science in the face of religion will take more than guessing, hoping and shouting into echo chambers. Like anything in science, it demands research, critical thinking and evaluation. No act of communication should be above criticism or beyond the need for evidence, clarity and precision.

Science communication suffers from a lot of confounding factors in the community, of which religious faith is but one. To atheists, it’s an important one. Making ground on these problems will take good information and calm, rational thinking. If atheists feel that there is a specific problem attacking science, what better tool to solve it than the tools of science itself?

Emphasis added. McRae has done a lot to dig out the evidence as it bears on this issue, and has found it lacking for New Atheism. I’ve yet to see any effort by New Atheists to respond to that critique, or to produce their own supporting evidence either by searching the literature or performing new research. And that’s a problem.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    May 5, 2011

    Nicely put! Somehow, the word “axes” (plural for an “axe” that one might grind) and “axes” (plural for axis) have to be worked into the cartoon I imagine showing New Atheists and Accomodationists talking past into each other in an increasingly frenetic circling motion…

    Well, I’m glad this is all settled now.

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    May 5, 2011

    Mike’s approach, research, and framing tend to suggest there is only one goal and one audience to be had. So do yours, Josh. I would invite you to go back and finish reading this post on which you left a comment for more context: http://almostdiamonds.blogspot.com/2011/04/support-of-new-atheism.html

  3. #3 Egbert
    May 5, 2011

    New atheism is really very simple: having less respect for religion, and naturally in doing so, you’re not going to be as sensitive to a person’s irrational beliefs and opinions. Religious beliefs are held to be the same as any other opinion.

    Those atheists who have argued against the new atheist approach do so because they still retain this respect for religious beliefs.

    And so accommodationists have been actively damaging the goals of new atheists who want to raise the consciousness of everyone concerned (both atheists and theists) about this inequality of religious privilege. Accommodationists have been reinforcing the belief that religion deserves some special privilege and status in its opinions.

  4. #4 Rob Knop
    May 5, 2011

    It’s difficult to see how the new atheists fit into a respect for pluralism and diversity, an more than fundamentalist religious types fit into that. In both cases, you’ve got somebody who thinks that their philosophical approach to religion is the only viable one. In the case of the new atheists, it’s philosophical materialism; they think that any other religious philosophy is inconsistent with science.

    What they need to realize, in their language, is that their own personal philosophy has no special privilege with respect to science. It’s fine that they hold it, but their problem is that they then believe (or at least assert) that their philosophy is the *only* philosophy consistent with science, and that’s empirically untrue.

    Once you get past believing that strict philosophical materialism isn’t consistent with science, you realize that it does become possible to respect other philosophies that are consistent with science. Not all religious philosophies are; fundamentalism isn’t. But again, science does not equal strict, dogmatic philosophical materialism, any more than spirituality equals strict fundamentalist biblical literalism.

  5. #5 Rob Knop
    May 5, 2011

    Once you get past believing that strict philosophical materialism isn’t consistent with science

    er… I meant to say, “isn’t synonymous with science”.

  6. #6 Jim Lloyd
    May 5, 2011

    One of the best voices of atheistic humanism is Dale McGowan, editor of the book Parenting Beyond Belief and author of Raising Freethinkers.

    Dale has multiple examples on his blog from his real world experiences detailing how he approaches conflict. His approach is always one that accommodationists would approve of.

    Dale wrote a very positive piece about Phil Plait’s DBAD speech (and also praises Neil deGrasse Tyson’s rebuke of Richard Dawkins): http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=4329

    You might think that Dale is squarely in the accommodationist camp. But Dale is a big fan of PZ Myers. He wrote a post praising PZ’s method of trashing the communion wafer: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=272

    Dale says: “I wouldn’t want to do without Myers and Hitchens and Condell. They speak to me. I think they tell the damn truth. They voice my frustration and outrage. I would never want them shut down. But there’s another thing that needs doing as well – an opening of space around people so they can think clearly, sometimes for the first time in their lives, about their beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs. And it takes place, more often then not, one on one.” http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=2939

    I think we need all atheists to speak up. Some of us will sometimes stay stupid things, and when that happens, others of us will point out our mistakes. And maybe we’ll learn our lesson and adjust our behavior a little the next time. But hopefully no atheist feels so burned by the exchange that they give up and go silent. And hopefully some silent atheists become exposed to the dialog, and decide to add their voice to it, and that leads to other atheists joining in as well.

  7. #7 ShaunPhilly
    May 5, 2011

    Actually, in many ways it seems that many gnus, including PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Eric MacDonald, and Ophelia Benson have pointed out that the necessity of a plurality of messages is essential. Many of us (gnus) feel like many accommodationists, Rosenau included, fail to see the necessity of the Gnu atheist perspective.

    But further, I don’t see it this way at all. I think the major division is one of views about the relationship between rational analysis and theology. Theology simply has nothing of substance to offer, and while we need to respect the legal right to hold theological opinions, no respect for the opinions themselves are necessarily warranted. As for respect for people, that depends on the people and their willingness to be honest, open to criticism, or whatever other criteria we choose to judge people with (and we all judge people, even if we would prefer not to for whatever reason).

    Yes, their is often a difference in how we communicate, how we argue, but frankly I have seen a lot of invective from people who are criticizing gnus. Tone IS NOT the issue. It is really the substance that makes us different here. It is just that the perspective of gnu atheists is seen as distasteful, so it seems worse when said to non-gnus.

    Some tings can never be said, even quietly, that don’t offend. Gnu atheists hold opinions people don’t like. But we really do believe those things, and we have the right to say what we think.

  8. #8 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2011

    What’s generally objectionable about the new atheist program is very easy to state.

    1. Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people.
    2. The assertion that religious thought is inherently irrational and superstitious (see Egbert @3).
    3. That both atheism and materialism is known and not merely believed.
    4. That just about anything goes in criticizing religious people and religions because of 1, 2, and 3.
    5. The identification of science as being the property of atheists and atheism.

    Though as the fad metastasizes and mutates it produces many variations, most of them as malignant as any other form of bigotry.

    I’ve got a large problem with the use of it to identify being on the political left with atheism and hostility to religious belief, which has the potential to alienate the majority of people from the left. Which is a far bigger problem than the mere damage to a relatively small section of high school biology classes. A large majority of people will never have any need for an accurate knowledge of evolutionary science but an ignorance of other parts of science could seriously damage their lives and, by extension, the life of the entire planet. Evolution is an important subject, it’s not the only important subject. It’s far, far less important than an accurate knowledge of global warming and environmental destruction, accurate, scientific birth control and avoidance of venereal diseases, nutrition, etc.

    I don’t think we can afford to gratify the unreasonable desires of new atheists which will be both politically and educationally counterproductive. Their program is extremely naive. The Soviet Union wasn’t able to seriously damage the belief in religion with drastic suppression. I don’t think that obnoxious behavior will do more than state sponsored anti-religious propaganda through the schools and media and other measures up to and including pogroms and genocide programs did.

  9. #9 Jim Lloyd
    May 5, 2011

    “1. Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people. ”
    Huh? That sounds like you projecting your own feelings on what Gnus actually say. In fact, even your use of “sin” here is suspect. Gnus say that religion causes more harm than good. We do not say that every religious person causes more harm than good.

    Your other points are equally flawed.

  10. #10 Gray Falcon
    May 5, 2011

    Gnus say that religion causes more harm than good.

    Any evidence for this? Can you even define “good” and “harm” in a purely materialistic sense? From that perspective, genocide is just one bunch of moving bags of water damaging another bunch of moving bags of water.

  11. #11 Anthony McCarthy
    May 5, 2011

    “1. Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people. ”
    Huh? That sounds like you projecting your own feelings on what Gnus actually say. Jim Lloyd

    http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Secular-Philosophies/The-Problem-With-Religious-Moderates.aspx

    You can also read the same stuff in The End of Faith which virtually every major figure among the new atheists endorsed, Richard Dawkins infamously said it should be in every motel room. In other places Harris said that religious moderation was “a virus”. It’s an idea that is endorsed by most of the major and many of the minor figures in the fad.

    It’s another thing about the new atheists, they and their major figures say outrageous things then they deny that it was said. Proving that it’s the new atheists and not religious liberals who have a lot in common with scriptural fundamentalists of the worst kind.

  12. #12 Mike McRae
    May 5, 2011

    @Jim: What is religion then, if not a behaviour people engage in? How does it even make sense to distinguish a religious person from religion? It might make it easier to attack a faceless concept, but in the end it still amounts to attacking the generalised behaviour of a collective of individuals. Religion doesn’t exist outside of human actions.

  13. #13 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 5, 2011

    Crybabies.

    The god-botherers run the damned show, demanding reverence for any ridiculous, magical idea that creeps into their heads. The worst damage that one of the “gnus” has done to anyone is hurt their feelings. Seriously. That’s it. The lot. If this has been devastating to anyone here, I would be glad to call you a waaaaah-mbulance.

    And this:

    @Jim: What is religion then, if not a behaviour people engage in? How does it even make sense to distinguish a religious person from religion? It might make it easier to attack a faceless concept, but in the end it still amounts to attacking the generalised behaviour of a collective of individuals.

    Religion isn’t simply a behavior, but is behavior motivated by ideas. I could mimic the behavior of a priest (quite well in fact), and lift the host high in the air to the tinkle of bells. However, the idea that this action transforms bread into flesh is ridiculous. The primary difference between the Accomodators and the Gnus is that the Gnus refuse to pretend that such a proposal isn’t baldly fatuous*. This idea is not a person. This idea has no rights. A worthless idea doesn’t render the person holding the idea worthless. Being wrong ≠ being an asshole. But recognizing that your opponent in an argument isn’t an asshole doesn’t magically make the idea right.

    It doesn’t make any sense not to distinguish a religious person from a religious idea**. And so far, all any of these so-called New Atheists have done is attack ideas. In balance, they are no more insulting than those who disagree with them.

    ***That “the assertion that religious thought is inherently irrational and superstitious (see Egbert @3).” is considered objectionable stupefies me.
    **And the fact that you can’t see this makes me frightened of you.
    Not really. But it is creepy.

  14. #14 John Kwok
    May 5, 2011

    @ ShaunPhilly –

    Too often the GNUs have tended to denigrate efforts at outreach toward religious people. I applaud Greg Laden’s comments, and, I might add, have found him to be far more thoughtful than some of his GNU friends (who shall remain nameless). In this regard, he is similar in attitude and outlook to Lawrence Krauss, who, for example, accepted the World Science Festival’s offer to participate in its Science Faith session back in June 2009 – which Jerry Coyne had rejected using rather harsh rhetoric – but unlike Coyne, Krauss accepted AND still noted that he questioned the very rationale for having it while speaking as a member of the Science Faith session that also included Ken Miller and Jesuit Brother – and Vatican Astronomer – Guy Consolmagno.

  15. #15 Jim Lloyd
    May 5, 2011

    @ Gray Falcon: “Any evidence for this? Can you even define “good” and “harm” in a purely materialistic sense? From that perspective, genocide is just one bunch of moving bags of water damaging another bunch of moving bags of water.”

    I like that you asked for evidence. But then you went off the rails. Is your phrase “purely materialistic” supposed to imply that there can be no morality without some supernatural intervention? You then set up an absurd strawman made of water and seem to think I should be surprised at how clever you are when that waterman goes down the drain.

    Let me define four instances of harm:

    1. One priest rapes a child.

    2. The largest Christian organization in the world systematically works to protect many priests who rape children, and systematically works to keep those children and their families from speaking out.

    3. One specific woman who is a moderate Catholic and is sensible enough that she chooses to disobey her Church’s teachings on the use of condoms, yet remains silent on the raping of children by priests.

    4. Many moderate catholics all choosing to remain silent on the raping of children out deference to the authority of the church, when if they instead banded together and demanded change, they could make a huge difference.

    Note that cases 1 and 3 are the works of individuals. If we knew the individuals, we might think they do many good things. I believe that the priest in case 1 does more harm than good no matter what else he also does, his crime is so great. But hey, that’s just my moral compass talking, your mileage might vary. On the other hand, I know women who fit case 3, who I think do more good than harm.

    Cases 2 and 4 are the works of groups of people, where the group is defined by their common religion and commitments to their church. Both of these groups do great harm. Do they do more harm than good? I believe the answer is yes in both cases. But again, your mileage might vary.

  16. #16 Jim Lloyd
    May 5, 2011

    @ Anthony McCarthy: Thanks for posting that beliefnet link for the article by Sam Harris. I always enjoy reading Sam.

    Here is his thesis:
    “However, religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others.”

    Anthony, you act as if Sam Harris has committed some grievous crime by putting forth that argument. He is making an argument in the free marketplace of ideas. I think his argument has strong merit. But somehow it offends you so much that you demonize him. Sorry dude, but from where I sit, that just makes you look irrational.

  17. #17 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    Jim Lloyd, I presented the link to one of the Harris screeds in order to refute what you said in response to a point I made:

    “1. Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people. ”
    Huh? That sounds like you projecting your own feelings on what Gnus actually say. In fact, even your use of “sin” here is suspect. Gnus say that religion causes more harm than good. We do not say that every religious person causes more harm than good.

    Your other points are equally flawed.

    I supported what I said with evidence. I would have provided links and quotes galore but didn’t want to wait for them to be reviewed. Since what I said was accurate, as your comment @16 proves, if my other points are “equally flawed” that would mean they are also spot on.

    That a fan of Harris would mistake the rational support of an point with evidence – subsequently supported, as well, by your statement, within your own response – as a sign of irrationality, shows how meaningless rationality is to the Harrisites.

    The new atheism is a shallow, bigoted intellectual fad. Though I use the word “intellectual” very loosely in this case.

  18. #18 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    Antiochus E. The evidence of history shows that wherever they have held political power that atheistic regimes impose violent despotisms. There isn’t a single instance in which an anti-religious state has been anything other than a brutal despotism. I’d love to go into an intellectual analysis of that, looking for why that might be true.

    I increasingly suspect that viewing people as an assemblage of molecules, having the same status as inert matter, produces a tendency that is far, far more likely to result in a brutal indifference to rights, the entire range of manifestations in those “scientific” regimes, than in a decent society. I also believe that, despite the ubiquitous failures to live up to it, than a belief that people are made in the image of God, that they are a manifestation of divinity, is more likely to produce a respect for rights, resisting the desire to do violence to them and use them towards ends, than materialism does. The rare, historical and contemporary instances when people consistently act as if they believed that people have that most non-material status is generally associated with religious belief. Though I’ll acknowledge that even atheists can act well, I’ve never heard them explain an imperative to act well that way which didn’t dance around an unadmitted belief in something unavailable in materialism or even science. I do believe that it is the habitual view that other species are lacking that association with divinity that leads to the habitual brutality that is visited on them by humans, atheist as well as religious. As, in the case of those rare religious individuals and bodies that consistently act well towards people, it is essential to see living beings as having an inherent status higher than inert matter placing them beyond the commerce of a utilitarian materialism.

    The big difference between me on atheism and you on religion is that I don’t really care why atheists act well, no more than I do religious folks. I don’t see a rational, integrated explanation for their acting as if people have rights, consistent with their ideology but I’m willing to look at their consistent personal behavior and judge them on that basis, being indifferent to how they explain why they do that. You, as all new atheists I’ve ever heard do, judge religious people en mass, through a clap trap of prejudiced rationals based on assertions that are unfounded in their individual actions, which are quite often refuted by actual life. Those rationals remind me of the excuses for pogroms and mass murder of religious people by atheistic despots, as well as by religious despots, translated into more genteel terms, more palatable to the casual consumer in the middle-higher brow audience.

    I’d rather take a chance of people violating positions which begin by asserting that people have the strongest possible claims to being treated decently, by divine command, than I would with materialists who can’t identify a real motive within their ideology for believing that people, if not all of life, has the right to that status.

    Many of the countries which enjoy a decent, relatively peaceful life with the greatest freedom for all of its citizens and residents to exercise rights have established churches. Though every country has its individual history and development so you have to evaluate them on an individual instead basis as well as individual people in order to tell the truth about them.

  19. #19 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 6, 2011

    Anthony: Care to address anything topical?

    You have a persistent reading comprehension fail…eg, this:

    You, as all new atheists I’ve ever heard do, judge religious people en mass, through a clap trap of prejudiced rationals based on assertions that are unfounded in their individual actions, which are quite often refuted by actual life.

    This is what I wrote about such practices:

    It doesn’t make any sense not to distinguish a religious person from a religious idea.

    And

    A worthless idea doesn’t render the person holding the idea worthless.

    The rest of your comment is irrelevant to anything being discussed here and pure nonsense to boot.

  20. #20 TB
    May 6, 2011

    Laden frequently comes up with perspectives that challenge and that I – sometimes – agree with.

    It’s probably best to view all this as not best represented in blog posts and comments. Even this thread seems to have quickly devolved into an exercise in identity politics.

    And that’s where possibly legitimate criticisms can taken as personal attacks.

    Take @9 for instance (not to pick on you Jim, or get involved in the debate’s essentials).

    “(McCarthy) “1. Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people. ”
    (Lloyd) Huh? That sounds like you projecting your own feelings on what Gnus actually say.”

    Well, if we drop the identity politics and look into the history of McCarthy’s complaint, we can see that he has a point. We know that PZ has, in one instance that I recall, said that moderate religious people share in the blame for the death of a child who wasn’t given medical treatment.

    Anyone can google this. He said they share that blame simply because they continue to perpetuate what PZ thinks is unreasonable belief in prayer that allowed those parents to believe what they believed. Even though we could probably say with a fairly high degree of confidence that most moderate religious people in this country would seek reputable medical help for their child.

    So that position seems unreasonable and frankly irrational to me, even though I strongly support the idea that atheists should enjoy equal respect and opportunity in this society. And yet it was said by someone strongly identified with the New Atheist movement.

    But identity politics keep us from having a rational discussion about this. McCarthy painted all people who self-identify as New Atheists with the same kind of broad brush that PZ used.

    Hell, for all I know Jim Lloyd was giving an honest answer – he may not have even known about that particular example or others, may agree with my analysis and may identify with New Atheists (or not) for other reasons entirely.

    But, in order to get to reasonable discussion based on Laden’s observations, identity politics need to be set aside. And we know how difficult that is.

  21. #21 J. J. Ramsey
    May 6, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I also believe that, despite the ubiquitous failures to live up to it, than a belief that people are made in the image of God, that they are a manifestation of divinity, is more likely to produce a respect for rights, resisting the desire to do violence to them and use them towards ends, than materialism does.

    I’ve directed Antiochus Epiphanes in the direction of Pascal Boyer, and I’ll do the same to you. In this case, I’ll point you to Chapter 5, which has a discussion of morality and religion. What’s pretty clear is that religion piggybacks on our moral intuitions, not the other way round. Also, comparing the irreligion of Western Europe to the despotism of Soviet and Asian Communist movements would tend to indicate that the problem is with getting caught up in stamping out competing ideologies by force, not with theism or atheism per se.

    And anyways what does this have to do with the whole controversy about accommodationism?

  22. #22 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 6, 2011

    JJR: FWIW, I have ordered Religion Explained. Should be arriving in the mail any day. Thanks for the suggested reading.

  23. #23 Laurence
    May 6, 2011

    “1. Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people.”

    Not all New Atheists make this claim. There are some who do, but I have found that there are others who do not.

    “2. The assertion that religious thought is inherently irrational and superstitious (see Egbert @3).”

    A good many of religious beliefs are superstitious by nature. Given what we know about the world, there is no good reason to belief them.

    I also haven’t heard any religious argument that can be justified rationally with logic and evidence.

    “3. That both atheism and materialism is known and not merely believed.”

    Given what we know about the universe, there is no good reason to believe that there are any non-material entities in existence. For every non-material entity posited, I have heard a good argument against its existence, and the more we learn about the world, the more unlikely it becomes that non-material entities exist.

    In the case of atheism and theism, every argument I have heard for theism has fail. The fact that it is difficult to even come up with a coherent definition of god does no speak in theism favor.

    “4. That just about anything goes in criticizing religious people and religions because of 1, 2, and 3.”

    Anything that requires a person to accept something purely on faith should be discouraged. When faith is taken as a good reason to belief in something, we have a world where anything goes. Any belief can be justified solely on faith, and if we accept this situation as desirable, then I think it will lead to undesirable consequences.
    “5. The identification of science as being the property of atheists and atheism.”

    Some claim this, others don’t. Science is the best tool we have to learn about the world. Science has given us the information required to overcome many superstitions and learn actual knowledge about the world. This doesn’t necessarily lead to atheism, but as the superstitions of religious dogma are revealed as false by science, it becomes much easier to accept that science is infinitely superior to religion in regards to understanding the world we live in. However, science cannot answer every question. This is where philosophy comes in to answer the questions of an altogether separate category.

  24. #24 Laurence
    May 6, 2011

    J. J. Ramsey,

    I would also argue that atheism and theism aren’t ideologies themselves, but are only ideas (for lack of a better word) that can be incorporated by actual ideologies. Hence theism and atheism themselves should never be blamed for atrocities. So basically, I agree. :-)

  25. #25 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    What’s pretty clear is that religion piggybacks on our moral intuitions, not the other way round. JJR

    I will read what you recommend, if I can get hold of it, but I doubt that anything about that would be pretty clear. I suspect any conclusion about that would rely on both accepting assumptions and ignoring some things that are assumed by others as well as making assertions about the unrecoverable past.

    Also, comparing the irreligion of Western Europe … JJR

    The “irreligion of Western Europe” is largely mythical. While organized religious services are far less widely attended, I doubt that most Western Europeans are “irreligious”. A lot of those who aren’t members of churches hold religious beliefs, a number of them of a Pagan or new age character, as well as other non-Christian religions.

    to the despotism of Soviet and Asian Communist movements would tend to indicate that the problem is with getting caught up in stamping out competing ideologies by force, not with theism or atheism per se.

    I only pointed out that there has never been an officially atheist government which hasn’t been a brutal despotism. Which is a fact. I could point out that in countries where those governments have fallen, overt religious practice has become widespread again. There are a number of countries with official, state religions which are paragons of freedom and tolerance. I’d recommend Marilynne Robinson’s essays on Calvinism in the collection “The Death of Adam” for some interesting observations on the fact that Calvinist Holland was about the most tolerant place in Europe. Though I’m not a Calvinist, looking into her points has been a real eye opener for me. You could also look at those places in the American colonies where Quakers predominated or the American mid-West in the 19th century, which was a hot bed of reform and liberty based in the ambient religious climate.

    I could also point to this rather maudlin review by Bertrand Russell from 1929 in which he predicted a resurgence of occult-like belief with the fall of classical physics and the rise of quantum physics, with all of its fascinating epistemological consequences.

    http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bright/russell/twilight-of-science.html

    Interestingly, he associates it with the rise in occultism with the decline in scholastic theology during the Renaissance. I might well have recommended it to you in the past for other reasons.

    And anyways what does this have to do with the whole controversy about accommodationism? JJR

    Blog discussions are known to develop as the topic is discussed. However, I think I’ve given my reason for accepting an accommodation with those who hold with materialism and even those who hold the superstition of scienism based on an acknowledgement that their consistent behavior could be at odds with my conclusions of where those ideologies logically lead, based in an observation of the history of officially atheistic, “scientific” governments. I am not so wedded to the results of my reasoning about their asserted beliefs that I can’t see the results are quite different in the real lives of individual materialists.

  26. #26 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    McCarthy painted all people who self-identify as New Atheists with the same kind of broad brush that PZ used. TB

    I wouldn’t identify anyone who doesn’t practice that kind of blanket, vicarious guilt of all religious people as being new atheists. It is a defining prerequisite someone has to actually practice before I’d identify someone as an NA. The term has no meaning otherwise.

    I have always distinguished between new atheists and most atheists on that basis, as have many atheists.

  27. #27 Jim L.
    May 6, 2011

    [Note, I am switching to the typepad identity "Jim L.", but I am the Jim Lloyd from several comments above.]

    “I supported what I said with evidence. I would have provided links and quotes galore but didn’t want to wait for them to be reviewed. Since what I said was accurate, as your comment @16 proves, if my other points are “equally flawed” that would mean they are also spot on.”

    Anthony, you provided a link to something Sam Harris wrote, but the link didn’t in any way prove your claim of “Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people”. You’re missing some crucial distinctions, and distorting what Sam says in order to make your point. Sam is criticizing a specific problem. First, there is the primary problem that religious extremists promote and act on bad ideas. Then there is the secondary problem that religious moderates provide a shield for these extremists under the mistaken notion that religious ideas are to be respected solely because the ideas are religious beliefs.

    TB in #20 gives an excellent example, where religious moderates defend the right of religious extremists to withhold necessary medical care that leads to suffering and death of their own children. The primary problem is the parents who are so delusional that they will let their children die. This is root problem that needs to be addressed. But if religious moderates defend the religious extremists rights to practice their religious beliefs, then they are contributing to the problem, and yes, in some sense they share the blame.

    Let’s go back to your claim: “Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people”. There is of course a grain of truth buried in your claim. Sam Harris is indeed trying to say that religious moderates are secondarily responsible for the harm caused by religious extremists. But you are painting over what Sam says with a very broad brush. Your claim sounds like you are saying that if any one religious person does anything harmful, then every religious person must share in the blame. Sam’s argument doesn’t come anywhere near that broad claim.

    If you want to discuss this further, please read my comment #15 and lets talk about the 4 specific examples of harm that I provided (or TB’s example from #20). We should focus on when groups of people who share a religious belief take actions based on those beliefs that result in harm. Note that in the context of my specific examples, there are Catholics who are speaking out in very strong terms against the actions of the Catholic church’s protection of priests who rape. These people are not remaining silent, so they are not contributing to the harm. (One might argue that they still partly contribute to the problem by remaining Catholic, but I’m happy to stipulate that isn’t true for the sake of this argument.) But note that these people are in a very small minority compared to the world population of Catholics, and the vast majority are remaining silent.

  28. #28 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    I also haven’t heard any religious argument that can be justified rationally with logic and evidence. Laurence

    Have you ever read William of Occam?

    Risking further complaints that I’m the one going off topic…

    You would have to define what you mean by “evidence” before I could address what you say. Though, if you are asserting that any argument or belief that isn’t founded in physical evidence produces superstition you would be restricting yourself to a seriously limited number of beliefs and arguments based in those relatively few beliefs.

    We constantly make reference and use ideas for which no evidence exists. You assert that there is no reason to believe that a supernatural exists based only on your observation of the material universe, while the idea that what you can say about the material universe could tell you about anything outside of it is quite unfounded in either logic or evidence. It, necessarily, can only refer to observations of physical objects and forces, which, by definition, wouldn’t be the same kind of thing and wouldn’t share the same kind of qualities that anything non-physical would have. If any proposed non-physical entities had the same qualities as physical objects and entities, they would be identical to physical objects.

    Most people, at any rate, don’t seem to agree with your conclusion. They don’t seem to be impressed with the arguments of materialists and they don’t seem to find their constant experience of the material world to be sufficient to include the entirety of their experience.

    Personally, while I’m not a radical idealist, I think any POV which ignores that everything we know of the external universe and our own consciousness intimately involves and is entirely mitigated by it being based in our unknown and likely unknowable consciousness, intentionally and willfully looks at only a superficial part of that experience. There is no solid evidence as to what our consciousness is and how it even senses the external world or the relationship between our conception of that and what it really is. Yet all of us depend on it for everything we say and think.

  29. #29 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    It doesn’t make any sense not to distinguish a religious person from a religious idea. A.E.

    And yet, in the typical anti-“accomodationist” argument, it is asserted that the religious idea pollutes the whole person, rendering even their reviewed, scientific product suspect. If not placing a dunce cap or even a target on them.

    A worthless idea doesn’t render the person holding the idea worthless.

    Well, that’s mighty broad minded of you. How about worthy of a hearing and respect?

    As to the relevance of what I said, I answered that in my response to J. J. R., which explains my intention in saying it in the context of this discussion. I’m sorry if you don’t care for drawing logical conclusions and exploring consequences of the new atheist program as applied to materialism and scientism. I’d thought it was fairly obvious, though maybe that was assuming too much.

  30. #30 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    Then there is the secondary problem that religious moderates provide a shield for these extremists under the mistaken notion that religious ideas are to be respected solely because the ideas are religious beliefs. J.L.

    That’s not a problem, it’s a lie. 9-11 was widely condemned by religious moderates and many religious folks who are far from moderate. The government of Iran was among the first to express condolences to the United States and condemnation for the suicide attack.

    I’ve never heard a religious moderate call for tolerance of crimes committed in the name of religion.

  31. #31 Laurence
    May 6, 2011

    “Have you ever read William of Occam?”

    Not directly. Are you referring to the fact he believe that theism was only based on faith and private revelation? If so, this is a dangerous idea because it can be used to justify any idea, and there is no real way to argue with a person when they are not relying on reason to justify a position.

    “You would have to define what you mean by “evidence” before I could address what you say”

    I basically mean rational and logically sound argumentation. I don’t necessarily restrict everything to physical evidence, but when you are making a claim that can be justified using physical evidence as opposed to supernatural intervention, it makes much more sense to rely on the physical evidence than the supernatural intervention.

    Before I can accept the existence (or reality) of any non-physical entities, I have to be given a reason to believe in these entities. If presented with a sound argument, I would accept the existence. The problem is that there are not any arguments. I haven’t heard a convincing argument for the existence of an immortal, unchanging soul that is the essence of who we are. Because of the fact that physical conditions can change who we are and occasionally our entire personality, it makes much more sense that there is not an immortal, unchanging soul that is the essence of who we are. Also there is the question of how does a non-physical entity interact with a physical entity. Given all this, I don’t see any reason to justify the existence of an unchanging, immortal soul.

    “Most people, at any rate, don’t seem to agree with your conclusion. They don’t seem to be impressed with the arguments of materialists and they don’t seem to find their constant experience of the material world to be sufficient to include the entirety of their experience.”

    I’m not really impressed with an argument from popularity. At one time, most people believed that black people were inherently inferior to white people. It doesn’t, of course, mean that they were right.

    “There is no solid evidence as to what our consciousness is and how it even senses the external world or the relationship between our conception of that and what it really is.”

    This lack of evidence does not imply the existence of non-physical entities. And the more we learn about the brain, the more we learn about consciousness which seems to imply that our consciousness relies on the brain. If our consciousness relies on the brain, then I don’t see any reason to imply that there are any non-physical entities involved. If there are non-physical entities involve, how do they interact with the physical brain and what is the relationship between the two? These are important questions that need to be answered about non-physical mind that is separate from the body.

  32. #32 TB
    May 6, 2011

    Jim Lloyd: “TB in #20 gives an excellent example, where religious moderates defend the right of religious extremists to withhold necessary medical care that leads to suffering and death of their own children.”

    That’s not what I said. I don’t think even PZ in that post claimed religious moderates were defending such beliefs or rights. His point was that moderates should be held responsible for extremists actions, even though moderates may disagree with the fundamentalists, simply because moderates support of religion enables the continuation of religion.

    A position I find ridiculous and offensive. You really misread that badly, Jim.

  33. #33 Gray Falcon
    May 6, 2011

    Come to think of it, Jim Loyd never did give me any evidence that religion causes more harm than good. He gave me a single instance, which isn’t enough to prove a trend, and never even looked into whether it was religion or an authoritarian power structure was more responsible for the mess that happened.

  34. #34 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    OK, I’m pressed for time but think I can fit this in.

    Are you referring to the fact he believe that theism was only based on faith and private revelation? Laurence

    Though I wouldn’t put it exactly that way, something like that is part of it.

    I basically mean rational and logically sound argumentation. Laurence

    Well, Occam is certainly among the theologians who would satisfy that requirement. Most of the rigorous ones do.

    I don’t necessarily restrict everything to physical evidence, but when you are making a claim that can be justified using physical evidence as opposed to supernatural intervention, it makes much more sense to rely on the physical evidence than the supernatural intervention.

    You assume that there is a separation between the two, which there may or may not be, thought there isn’t any way to come to a conclusion about that on the basis of evidence. People who believe that God created the universe, including its operation and its continued functioning would probably assert that there is no separation.

    You seem to think that your non-belief is a major concern of people who believe themselves. As I had to tell an atheist on another blog, I really don’t care if you believe or not, I’m addressing the arrogant presumption of someone who seems to believe that a reasonably educated religious person wouldn’t have thought about these things. I wasn’t really religious until after I’d reasoned things out to agnosticism, which is as far as reason can get you. Religion that is based only in ideas is futile, though, and I began to think about what is made actual, through performing belief in life, something that could take lifetimes to do.

    This lack of evidence does not imply the existence of non-physical entities.

    It implies nothing about their non-existence or existence. My point was made to demonstrate the irrationality of believing that the criteria of physical evidence were relevant to a proposed supernatural. The demand for physical evidence in the absence of known relevance of physical evidence and what seems to be the likely irrelevance of it is not reasonable.

    And the more we learn about the brain, the more we learn about consciousness which seems to imply that our consciousness relies on the brain.

    There isn’t any way to know the extent to which that might be true, for similar reasons to the above. What consciousness is has not been defined. It’s not possible to study something that is undefined to the extent that you could exclude something like a non-physical component or even it being entirely non-physical, especially since all of what was said above would apply to any non-physical consciousness.

    I’m extremely skeptical about any kind of behavioral or cognitive “science” due to its wretched track record of producing reliable information. But I won’t go into that again except to say that the value of science is defined by its production of reliable information, exactly of the kind that these proposed sciences have not produced.

    When you are talking about religion, you are talking about belief, the demand for physical evidence is largely irrelevant to challenges to it, except in those cases when religious assertions about those parts of the physical universe for which evidence can be collected and analyzed with sufficient rigor to investigate them with science or history or similar methods of discovering information with which to refute or confirm them or to add anything relevant to their consideration. Religion, though, can use any information that it can get from those as well.

  35. #35 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    I forgot this:

    If there are non-physical entities involve, how do they interact with the physical brain and what is the relationship between the two?

    It’s quite possible that a non-physical consciousness produces the entire manifestation that we know as consciousness. A non-physical motivation could move the brain in ways that aren’t susceptible to scientific detection.

    You might want to look up William James Lowell Lecture that deals with the idea of survival of consciousness after death. I can’t remember the name of it but I know it’s available online.

  36. #36 Anthony McCarthy
    May 6, 2011

    Here is a link to the James lecture, Human Immortality

    http://www.archive.org/details/humanimmortalit02jamegoog

    Though I was wrong, it was an Ingersoll Lecture, not one of his Lowell Lectures.

  37. #37 Verbose Stoic
    May 6, 2011

    Laurence,

    Descartes put out a rather long set of arguments for why the mind — based on introspection — couldn’t be physical, arguments that still at least partially stand today. For example, one of his arguments is that all physical things are in space, but when you introspect on your mind, it isn’t in space. If mind isn’t in space and you have to be in space to be physical, mind isn’t physical.

    But this depends on your definition of physical, as do all of his arguments, and the definition of physical he was using has changed over time. We don’t quite use that definition anymore. So, I’ve used a different definition: That which is physical are the things that can be observed directly through the five senses or, failing that, can only be observed indirectly through their effects on things that can be observed directly through the five senses. I have access to my mind/consciousness directly without going through the five senses, as I can introspect on it. So, then, by that definition mind isn’t physical.

    Now, this may look like a convenient definition of physical, and in some sense it is. But it’s hard to imagine any other definition that would capture all that science currently studies and would also include the qualities we introspect about mind. If you have one, I’d love to hear it.

    Additionally, even if mind is physical that wouldn’t make it brain, and all of the mind/brain interactions can be explained by a dualist approach using a computer metaphor (too long to get into here).

    Anthony,

    You should trust Cognitive Science more, since it is philosophically informed and so questions about phenomenal experience and epiphenomenalism and materialism will actually be asked; it can’t presume a naturalist/materialist/scientific approach because philosophy is a major component and it refuses to make those presumptions.

  38. #38 J. J. Ramsey
    May 6, 2011

    Verbose Stoic: “even if mind is physical that wouldn’t make it brain”

    No, but it would sufficiently account for mind within a materialist framework. You can insulate ideas like an immaterial “soul” (which isn’t exactly a mind, really) from falsification, but I think you’re chasing your tail to try to argue that materialism is insufficient to explain the mind.

  39. #39 Anton Mates
    May 6, 2011

    That which is physical are the things that can be observed directly through the five senses or, failing that, can only be observed indirectly through their effects on things that can be observed directly through the five senses. I have access to my mind/consciousness directly without going through the five senses, as I can introspect on it. So, then, by that definition mind isn’t physical.

    But physical phenomena can sometimes be observed through introspection. For instance, you can identify the presence of various recreational drugs in your body by their effect on your thoughts and feelings. Conversely, mental processes can be observed through the five senses, as we regularly do when we make inferences about the minds of others. Parents and friends often know more about a thought or a mood you’re experiencing than you do!

    In general, I don’t think there’s a meaningful line between introspection and sensory perception. We’ve actually got a lot more than five senses, which we use to monitor all sorts of aspects of our brains and bodies. Quite often we use the same neural circuits for mental “introspection” and physical observation–see mirror neurons, for instance, or the activation of the visual cortex when you merely imagine a particular visual scene.

  40. #40 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2011

    Verbose Stoic, the only ways of knowing anything about the experience of consciousness is through the reports of those experiencing them. The means of reporting on experience is sufficiently imprecise that I’m very doubtful that it can reliably be made into science. And that’s only one of many reasons I’m skeptical of most of “cognitive science”. The track record of its siblings in the social-behavioral “sciences” is abysmal as compared to the physical sciences and even as compared with much of the humanities. After a lifetime of looking at its ever shifting bodies of holdings, looking into its history, I’m not buying it.

    I doubt that the mind follows anything like physical law, there was never anything to base the assumption that it did in anything like evidence, that was just something that was assumed to be true. I don’t think, given the going on a hundred fifty years of scandalous unreliability of their findings despite having quite generous resources and a free hand to establish factual information, that the results warrant considering the social and behavioral “sciences”, as they are constituted now, to be sciences.

    I don’t think the fMRI pictures will catch consciousness, I don’t think you can catch that with the nets available to science. If sometime in my lifetime there is reliable evidence that they have, I’ll revise my conclusion.

  41. #41 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 7, 2011

    Have you ever read William of Occam?

    and then this…

    It’s quite possible that a non-physical consciousness produces the entire manifestation that we know as consciousness. A non-physical motivation could move the brain in ways that aren’t susceptible to scientific detection.

    ad hoc much?

    O. Henry has nothing on you.

  42. #42 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2011

    ad hoc?

    Which O Henry story are you referring to?

    “Brain only” is a belief. I used to think it was primarily a scientific dogma but now I think the virtual impossibility of anyone to challenge the idea demonstrates that even within the soc-cog sci framing, it’s primarily an imposition of ideological materialist hegemony.

    Going on past practices, the cog-sci folks will pick and choose aspects of the REPORTED experience of a tiny number of test subjects, whose reports will be nothing like objective reports due to the impossibility to get clean ones uninfluenced by preexisting concepts and expectations, in order to come up with something which will be the product of even more biased analysis based in preexisting expectations arising from professional ideology. The results will be called “consciousness”. That is until the rivals of that ideology defeat it with their succeeding “consciousness”, based as insecurely in the practices of the “science”. That is what will always happen when the subject is something that can only be known through unreliable self-reporting instead of physical observation. The fMRI pictures alone are just pictures, except in some extremely limited, very simple tests of sensory stimulation and similar things.

    At least that’s the basis of my skepticism of it. A bit more specific than the objections you hear from most “skeptics”.

  43. #43 Verbose Stoic
    May 7, 2011

    J.J. Ramsay,

    My claim is that depending on how one defines “material”, it may be the case that the properties of the mental that we observe would mean that it must be immaterial, which is what Descartes’ approach was. If a definition of material comes up that can include it, that’s fair enough but it wouldn’t make that brain. I’m also not convinced that my position about mind — my position is about mind, not soul, but either would cause issues for materialist positions — are insulating it from falsification. Scientific falsification, perhaps, but that’s not all falsification.

    Anton,

    You do raise a slight issue about things that impact mental states, but the worst that would commit me to is saying that they aren’t quite physical. However, I’d probably simply change the last part of my definition to say “can be themselves perceived in some way” and everything would still work. I can get mental states directly without the five senses, but the drug can only be sensed directly by the five senses or indirectly on the basis of things that can be perceived, like its effect on mental states. Mental states, then, would still fail the definition while everything that is uncontroversailly physical would still be physical.

    Note that nothing in my definiton says that you can’t get mental — ie non-physical — things indirectly due to effects on physical or sensible things; it just says that you can get it directly without them.

    As for what gets used in the brain with perception, that depends on the specific theory of mind we’re going with. An interactionist dualist theory of mind has no problem at all with claiming that visual areas of the brain are used when visualizing, but would still maintain that mind is not just the brain.

    Anthony,

    I agree with you that I don’t think that a third-person science can get consciousness as long as consciousness includes phenomenal experiences (and have a page on my blog about that). However, despite the name Cognitive Science is multidisciplinary and includes things that aren’t necessarily scientific, like philosophy. And so it won’t make bad presumptions and in theory philosophy will help it delineate what science can and can’t study about mind and consciousness.

  44. #44 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2011

    Verbose skeptic, the problem is that they almost never limit themselves to things that are simple enough to control sufficiently. If they could do that I’d be a lot less critical.

    The idea that consciousness is known so that its material composition and it’s physical nature can be confidently asserted today is far more absurd than the idea that it is possibly non-material and isn’t controlled by physical laws. I think the materialist position on that is far more of a leap of faith than the skepticism that consciousness will ever be a proper subject for science.

  45. #45 harold
    May 7, 2011

    I hate the term “accommodationist”.

    I suppose by some standards I am one. I have no religious beliefs, but I strongly support the right of others to have religious beliefs. I very, very strongly oppose discriminating against other people on the basis of the religious group they are presumed to belong to, and that very much includes massive opposition to any implication that a person’s religious beliefs are relevant to their work in or understanding of science, EXCEPT where they specifically do relate directly the science.

    When it comes to ethics, I condemn behaviors, regardless of invisible motivations.

    Having said all of this, I find the suggestion that I “accommodate” or “compromise” to be offensive. I don’t pretend to find religious arguments convincing. I vehemently oppose efforts to teach creationism in schools or use religious dogma to guide public policy. I strongly express my utter rejection of creationist ideas.

    Anthony McCarthy –

    I noticed that we have strong ethical views in common on another thread; I’m not trying to start a fight here, just giving feedback.

    1. Vicarious blame of all religious people for the sins of any religious people.

    I agree that this certainly should not be done.

    2. The assertion that religious thought is inherently irrational and superstitious (see Egbert @3).

    This is a semantic question. I certainly don’t consider all religion to be “irrational” because to me, the word “irrational” means “contradiction of what is rational” not “holding beliefs that are not logically testable” (a standard by which everyone is to some degree irrational). Denial of evolution or AGW is irrational. Believing that Jesus saves souls is, in my view, neither rational nor irrational – it is an untestable belief.

    Both “superstition” and “irrationality” are partly defined by social norms. Magical beliefs are not clinical delusions if they are condoned by the believer’s culture.

    3. That both atheism and materialism is known and not merely believed.

    I don’t self-identify as an atheist, but as an apatheist. Having said that, I behave as if methodological materialism describes the real world, and as if there are no deities. To some degree, my behaviors do imply that I perceive these things to be “known”. I was raised in a nice church and have tried to be religious; I love religious art, architecture, and music; it is very unlikely that I will ever become religious in a traditional sense. It is logical to conclude that, as much as it is possible, I seem to feel that I “know” that my beliefs are “true”. I don’t think it is fair to criticize people for this. We have to live in a world where we don’t agree with each other on a religious level.

    4. That just about anything goes in criticizing religious people and religions because of 1, 2, and 3.

    I agree that individual religious people should not be unfairly criticized.

    5. The identification of science as being the property of atheists and atheism.

    I agree that this would be incorrect.

  46. #46 harold
    May 7, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy –

    Also –

    The evidence of history shows that wherever they have held political power that atheistic regimes impose violent despotisms. There isn’t a single instance in which an anti-religious state has been anything other than a brutal despotism. I’d love to go into an intellectual analysis of that, looking for why that might be true.

    But you’re talking about states that punish those who fail to genuflect to an official ideology. Of course such states impose violent despotism. But that has nothing to do with atheism. Ferdinand and Isabella did the same thing in the name of Catholicism. I strongly oppose any state that uses violence to try to force people to atheists, OR to try to force people to be religious.

    Explicitly or implicitly tolerant, pluralistic, secular states, on the other hand, have by far the best record on human rights.

    I increasingly suspect that viewing people as an assemblage of molecules, having the same status as inert matter, produces a tendency that is far, far more likely to result in a brutal indifference to rights, the entire range of manifestations in those “scientific” regimes, than in a decent society.

    No-one views human beings as having the same “status” as “inert matter”.

    I also believe that, despite the ubiquitous failures to live up to it, than a belief that people are made in the image of God, that they are a manifestation of divinity, is more likely to produce a respect for rights, resisting the desire to do violence to them and use them towards ends, than materialism does.

    I disagree profoundly.

    However, this is also irrelevant. I don’t believe in God and I do believe in strong human rights.

    My lack of belief in God is not voluntary. It doesn’t matter whether believing in God would make me “even better” at respecting human rights. If I don’t believe, I don’t believe. I can’t force myself to believe simply because someone says believers create more humane societies.

    As it happens, I think that tolerant, secularly governed societies can provide the best environment for religious and non-religious people to live and work together in a humane way.

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2011

    But you’re talking about states that punish those who fail to genuflect to an official ideology. harold

    I think it went a lot farther than that. From the Reign of Terror to the Khemer Rouge, there hasn’t been a single, officially atheist regime that hasn’t brutally suppressed religious people. There are a number of countries which have had established churches which have not brutally oppressed people of other, or no religion. If those countries had uniformly practiced the same thing during the same period you might be able to equate the two, but that’s not what it’s been like.

    Ferdinand and Isabella did the same thing in the name of Catholicism.

    Yes, they were especially brutal as were many others, especially during that period and they deserve condemnation for that.

    No-one views human beings as having the same “status” as “inert matter”.

    I’d disagree. I think that view of other human beings is quite common, it’s what’s behind much of the everyday brutality to workers, to the unemployed, to members of minorities, to the destitute, etc.

    A lot of people habitually view people in reductionist terms that compares them to machines or as a collection of physical phenomena. Anyone who sees behavior and consciousness as a manifestation of chemistry is, in fact, reducing people to a merely more complex chemical reaction with a bit of electricity thrown in.

    However, this is also irrelevant. I don’t believe in God and I do believe in strong human rights.

    You missed the point I was drawing, that despite what my intellectual analysis of the logical conclusion of materialism and scientism, that looking at the actual behavior of atheists I know forces me to conclude that they aren’t required to fit into my analysis and match what I conclude about the intellectual explanations of materialism. I’m always glad when people behave better that I expect them to.

    Which is why I said “Though I’ll acknowledge that even atheists can act well, I’ve never heard them explain an imperative to act well that way which didn’t dance around an unadmitted belief in something unavailable in materialism or even science.”

    as well as:

    The big difference between me on atheism and you (A.E.) on religion is that I don’t really care why atheists act well, no more than I do religious folks. I don’t see a rational, integrated explanation for their acting as if people have rights, consistent with their ideology but I’m willing to look at their consistent personal behavior and judge them on that basis, being indifferent to how they explain why they do that.

  48. #48 Anton Mates
    May 8, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    However, I’d probably simply change the last part of my definition to say “can be themselves perceived in some way” and everything would still work. I can get mental states directly without the five senses, but the drug can only be sensed directly by the five senses or indirectly on the basis of things that can be perceived, like its effect on mental states. Mental states, then, would still fail the definition while everything that is uncontroversailly physical would still be physical.

    I’m not entirely sure what distinction you’re drawing here. Mental states can be perceived without the five senses; so can the physical presence of the drug within the body. Are you arguing that introspective perception of the mental state is “direct,” while introspective perception of the drug is “indirect?” If so, what’s your operational definition of “direct?” It’s certainly possible to be mistaken about one’s own mental state, so I doubt that our perception of mental states is qualitatively more direct than our perception of everything else.

    Note that nothing in my definiton says that you can’t get mental — ie non-physical — things indirectly due to effects on physical or sensible things; it just says that you can get it directly without them.

    Can you apply that definition in a testable way, though? We’ve never discovered a situation in which mental state is clearly independent of the body’s physical state. So how would you determine whether you can perceive any mental states without relying on corresponding physical effects?

    As for what gets used in the brain with perception, that depends on the specific theory of mind we’re going with. An interactionist dualist theory of mind has no problem at all with claiming that visual areas of the brain are used when visualizing, but would still maintain that mind is not just the brain.

    And that can’t be disproved, certainly, but it seems unparsimonious to me. If external sight and mental visualization involve the same chunks of brain, I see little reason to think that one is essentially “physical” while the other is essentially not.

    Of course, parsimony judgments are very subjective things, so I don’t expect dualists to agree with me.

  49. #49 harold
    May 8, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy –

    A couple of final replies.

    I think it went a lot farther than that. From the Reign of Terror to the Khemer Rouge, there hasn’t been a single, officially atheist regime that hasn’t brutally suppressed religious people. There are a number of countries which have had established churches which have not brutally oppressed people of other, or no religion.

    Here I feel that you are persisting in a very unfair apples to oranges comparison.

    The “atheist regimes” you describe are regimes that forced demonstrations of loyalty to a rigid ideology.

    “Having” and official church is not the same as forcing people to attend an official church.

    The correct comparison is between countries which are democratic and human rights-supporting, but without an official church, and those that are democratic and human rights-supporting, but with an “official” church (often symbolically headed by a constitutional monarch), but an “official” church that no-one is required to attend and which does not suppress other religions or the non-religious. Here we see that, in modern times, there isn’t much difference. The correct conclusion is not that a traditional “official” church is necessarily good for human rights (historically, they tended not to be), but rather, that it can be compatible with them in the context of overall tolerance, democracy, and constitutional protection of individual rights.

    I’d disagree. I think that view of other human beings is quite common, it’s what’s behind much of the everyday brutality to workers, to the unemployed, to members of minorities, to the destitute, etc

    Here you are making an assertion that should be backed with evidence, and providing no evidence.

    First of all, in the United States, support for what you just described is massively associated with ostentatious claims of religiosity, not rejection of religion. Usually post-modern Evangelical Protestantism. However, there is a strong component of “conservative Catholics” who also take these positions. Several of them are well-known SCOTUS justices – Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.

    I can state with strong confidence that in US or Canadian society, support for the positions you describe here is negatively associated with open lack of religion, and positively associated with religious claims.

    Your original claim was that “thinking people are equivalent to inert matter” caused such attitudes. This claim is even weaker than stating that lack of religion causes such attitudes, because, for example, I am not religious, and consider it silly to call living biological organisms equivalent to non-living inert matter. However, clearly, all Christians by definition think that humans are not inert matter. Therefore, since support for brutal right wing policy is massively likely to be accompanied by claims of religious faith, we can dismiss your hypothesis.

    You’ll have to find another explanation for why people are so mean to each other.

    (Please note that I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that religion makes people inhumane. It clearly doesn’t. Many religious people are overall humane, and some sects are very tolerant and humane. However, the inhumane are even more likely than the humane to be religious.)

  50. #50 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2011

    Here I feel that you are persisting in a very unfair apples to oranges comparison.
    The “atheist regimes” you describe are regimes that forced demonstrations of loyalty to a rigid ideology.
    “Having” and official church is not the same as forcing people to attend an official church. Harold
    harold

    If a state that requires attendance at an official church – and even states with far less onerous religious policies – could be considered as something religious people in general are answerable for, then it is legitimate to consider the officially atheist, anti-religious regimes as being something that atheists, in general and expecially the new atheists as answerable for those.

    I will not accept the ability of new atheists to maintain a double standard that favors their side.

    First of all, in the United States, support for what you just described is massively associated with ostentatious claims of religiosity, not rejection of religion. Usually post-modern Evangelical Protestantism. However, there is a strong component of “conservative Catholics” who also take these positions. Several of them are well-known SCOTUS justices – Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.

    I’m someone who has condemned the attendance of people like Scalia at the appalling “red masses” in Catholic churches, I have criticized the hierarchy of the Catholic Church for its promotion of the far right. I would certainly include the present pope and John Paul II as being at odds with the social teachings that even they have promulgated through their actual support of, let’s not mince words, fascists. The criticism of that position comes most strongly within the Catholic Church, look at the National Catholic Reporter’s articles about that internal criticism and you will see that it is often priests and sisters who criticize the bishops and the Popes on those issues, many of them very prominent, many of them prominent theologians. I would suggest looking at what Hans Kung has said.

    I believe that, despite their professions of religion that Scalia and Thomas see large numbers of people in terms that aren’t functionally different from the most reductionist of materialists. Alito, during the confirmation hearings, was shown by Prof. Sullivan’s testimony to make a huge distinction between the civil rights status of rich people and poor people, between a wealthy woman and a poor child. That’s not surprising, as I said in my comment that you object to, religious people can be as callously reductionist as extreme materialists, their professions of faith in religion are more than cancelled out by their actions.

    When it comes down to reducing people to objects, it’s a question of use. I object to any utilitarian analysis into which people are inserted, people have inherent rights, I believe placed there by God, which make them most certainly not rightly seen in that way. I have read a lot of the atheist-utilitarian double-side-step to try, try to come up with an intellectual basis of a decent view of human beings that conforms to materialism. I haven’t encountered one that is successful, that doesn’t conform to materialism and which doesn’t open up dangerous assertions about human rights. Given the effort put into it by people who aren’t unintelligent and who seem to want to do the right thing, I doubt that can be done. There is no place for the discussion of civil rights in science. Science is entirely unequipped to deal with it. Anyone who is rigidly and obsessively fixed on adhering to materialism and scientism is likely to deny that there are inherent rights just as many of them have denied that there was any such thing as consciousness. If they can deny the fundamental experience of being a sentient, living creature, they can deny anything that is, essentially, an extension of that experience.

    Happily, many, perhaps most, atheists don’t bother with trying to square their ideology with their better impulses, they do it without bothering with an intellectual explanation. I’m entirely in favor of people acting better than they can explain. And that’s as true for religious people as it is for atheists.

  51. #51 J. J. Ramsey
    May 8, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy: “If a state that requires attendance at an official church – and even states with far less onerous religious policies – could be considered as something religious people in general are answerable for”

    But it isn’t. A state that requires attendance at an official church is merely what would be a proper counterpart to the officially atheist regimes that we’ve seen.

    Anthony McCarthy: “I’m someone who has condemned the attendance of people like Scalia at the appalling ‘red masses’ in Catholic churches”

    That’s all well and good, but that hardly refutes harold’s point that the correlation between atheism and brutality to workers, minorities, etc. is very poor.

    Anthony McCarthy: “Happily, many, perhaps most, atheists don’t bother with trying to square their ideology with their better impulses”

    Atheism isn’t an ideology. It can be an element to ideologies as virulent as Stalinism or as benign as secular humanism.

  52. #52 TB
    May 8, 2011

    Harold: “However, the inhumane are even more likely than the humane to be religious.”

    Leaving aside the question of how one could possibly measure this, there’s the idea that this isn’t necessarily a problem in that most people are also religious.

    Where it would become a problem is if the level of inhumanity increased or stayed the same while the number of religious decreased. Again, how anyone could possibly hope to measure this in such a way to prove that either religion or atheism is a base cause as opposed to simply a correlation is problematic.

    A person is also most likely to be Asian, if we go by population. Does it follow that being Asian is most likely to be a base cause of inhumanity?

  53. #53 TB
    May 8, 2011

    JJ: “harold’s point that the correlation between atheism and brutality to workers, minorities, etc. is very poor.”

    I certainly agree with this, and your point about atheism and ideology. However, it is useful to use examples of societal experiments that purport to remove religion as a primary influence, such as Stalin’s Russia and communist China, to show how equally ridiculous it is to blame religion for society’s ills.

    When we’ve run these experiments without religions, we find regimes are perfectly capable of being inhumane without religion. It’s certainly reasonable to ask people who see religion as a base cause for the ills of the world if it’s OK to extend their logic and condemn atheism for these instances.

    One could even say that the whole question of religion or atheism in this specific debate is a red herring.

    The answer, in cases with religion and without, is that human beings will find a justification for what they want to do regardless. Getting people on either side of the debate to concede that doesn’t happen very often.

  54. #54 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2011

    But it isn’t. A state that requires attendance at an official church is merely what would be a proper counterpart to the officially atheist regimes that we’ve seen. JJR

    Well, you would have to point one out so it could be compared to the regimes I brought up. It might or might not be depending on the degree of depravity practiced.

    That’s all well and good, but that hardly refutes harold’s point that the correlation between atheism and brutality to workers, minorities, etc. is very poor.

    I said that kind of thing was common in human societies. Among the professedly religious as well as among the irreligious. However, in the case of people who are supposed to believe that people are made in the image of God, it’s a violation of that belief. It may or may not be a violation of other beliefs, but it wouldn’t be a violation of materialism of any variety I’m aware of.

    Atheism isn’t an ideology. It can be an element to ideologies as virulent as Stalinism or as benign as secular humanism.

    In the United States there is a rather large complication. The Humanists began rather well, until they came to be dominated by Corliss Lamont, among the more infamous and durable Stalinists here. I think his influence is still apparent in the organized “skeptics” of the 1970s and the alphabet soup of groups that were spawned by them as well as the new atheists.

  55. #55 J. J. Ramsey
    May 8, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy: “The Humanists began rather well, until they came to be dominated by Corliss Lamont, among the more infamous and durable Stalinists here.”

    A fact that does nothing to diminish the fact that secular humanism is blatantly incompatible with an ideology that involves forcible suppression of those who dissent from it. It’s an interesting bit of history, but a non sequitur nonetheless.

    Anthony McCarthy: “I think his influence is still apparent in the organized ‘skeptics’ of the 1970s and the alphabet soup of groups that were spawned by them as well as the new atheists.”

    Really? Debunking spoon-bending and fake faith healers is tied to Stalinism?

  56. #56 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2011

    secular humanism is blatantly incompatible with an ideology that involves forcible suppression of those who dissent from it. It’s an interesting bit of history, but a non sequitur nonetheless. JJR

    Well, the Humanists here didn’t seem to mind his dogmatic influence all that much. He was the Humanist Association’s “Emeritus President” and they named him “Humanist of the Year” as late as the late 70s. As the foremost “humanist” society in the United States I’d say it’s a reasonable conclusion that its members must have had no problem with a man who might have been the last Stalinist in North America.

    Really? Debunking spoon-bending and fake faith healers is tied to Stalinism?

    The dogmatic belief of the CSICOPs that they knew exactly what people should believe and, even more so, what they shouldn’t be allowed to believe, is right in line with Stalinism. Its alphabet soup siblings are as intolerant of anything that deviates from a narrow, materialist line. I’ve long been interested in how much if any funding that offshoot of the Humanist Association got from Lamont and how beholden they might have been to him. I’ve seen some estimates that he provided at least half of the American Humanist Association budget and that he had effective control over the constitution of its governing body, though I haven’t been able to verify it.

    I never have understood the fixation with spoon benders. As long as they own the spoons being bent, it seems like a harmless enough hobby, if one with no apparent practical application. If they hadn’t been so fixated on harmless stuff like that they might have debunked more than a hand full of phony healers and others who were bilking the susceptible.

    I’m not especially impressed with their scientific activities, which pretty much amount to the sTARBABY scandal and its cover up and promotion of the odd physics ideas of Phillip Klass.

    As I’ve said before, I’ve always wondered, as well, what the very scincy Corliss Lamont might have said about Lysenkoism during its strongest influence, when, under his great hero, it was far more a danger to scientific biology in the Soviet Union than biblical fundamentalism ever was to it in the United States. I mean, there isn’t a list of geneticists and other evolutionary biologists who were executed or sent to concentration camps here, unlike in the scientific paradise. And in other countries where it was imposed. All of them anti-religious, “scientific” regimes.

    I haven’t read this yet but hope to get to it someday.

    http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/content/78/5/339.extract

  57. #57 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2011

    You might find this interesting, as an example. I haven’t heard all of the talks listed in the sidebar but it might be interesting as well.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZGKoGzCe_o

  58. #58 J. J. Ramsey
    May 8, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy: “Well, the Humanists here didn’t seem to mind his dogmatic influence all that much.”

    You’re doing the same non sequitur that you were doing before, using the history (or at least your rendition of it) of sometimes hypocritical humanists to insinuate a connection between secular humanism and Stalinism, rather than looking at the actual content of secular humanism itself.

    Anthony McCarthy: “The dogmatic belief of the CSICOPs that they knew exactly what people should believe and, even more so, what they shouldn’t be allowed to believe, is right in line with Stalinism.”

    Really? People using argument to persuade people to disbelieve in scams and falsehoods is right in line with Stalinism?

  59. #59 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2011

    The Council for Secular Humanism is one of those many, many groups Paul Kurtz began, that alphabet soup I referred to above. As the Wiki article says:

    The Council for Secular Humanism with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and The Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health are all headquartered at the Center for Inquiry, adjacent to the State University of New York.

    Kurtz may as well be considered a protegee of Corliss Lamont, the two had intertwining activities going way, way back,l I would be surprised if Lamont wasn’t involved with funding a good part of it.

    CSICOP was/is a group for the suppression of anything that its “President for Life”, Paul Kurtz, and his inner circle decided was too strange to allow. It threw out Marcello Truzzi, one of the founders, because he wanted to really investigate things, not merely enforce pre-determined prohibitions.

    It kicked out Dennis Rawling when he tried to stop it from lying about its botched and incompetent “investigation” of neo-astrology, proving, among other things, that Kurtz, a couple of its other high up members and its most famous, now ex-memeber, James Randi were too incompetent to even judge the issue. I really wonder how, for example, Kurtz or Randi are competent to judge the controlled research into PSI when both admitted that they were ignorant of statistics, as self-exculpation in the affair. “Scientific investigation,” ha! Neither of them are competent to even come to an informed conclusion rejecting it, that is if the basis of that rejection is “science”.

  60. #60 J. J. Ramsey
    May 9, 2011

    You’re not responding to my actual point, McCarthy. As I said before, you are avoiding discussing the actual content of secular humanism in favor of guilt by association.

    Anthony McCarthy: “CSICOP was/is a group for the suppression of anything that its ‘President for Life’, Paul Kurtz, and his inner circle decided was too strange to allow.”

    Now you just look unhinged.

  61. #61 J. J. Ramsey
    May 9, 2011

    BTW, more on what happened with Dennis Rawlins: http://www.notaghost.com/2010/06/revisiting-starbaby.html

    Not a good chapter in CSICOP’s history, but not enough to support your ranting on CSICOP and its members. As for Truzzi, that looks more like the case of a skeptic who got too sympathetic toward frauds like Uri Geller. You’re really not helping your case by appealing to his story.

  62. #62 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    J.J.R. if you want me to look at the formal statements of what “secular humanism” is supposed to be, that could be done but it wouldn’t really give you anything like a whole picture of what the group you linked to as representing it is in the real world and the context in which it exists. You can look long and hard at, say, the Gospels or the Bill of Rights and they won’t tell you an awful lot about the Southern Baptists or the United States. I don’t think you could intuit either of the statements of intent from the actions of those two entities.

    Now you just look unhinged.

    Not to anyone who has taken a long, honest look at what the CSICOPs have actually done and to its history and the inner politics of it. They’re no more likely to produce an honest account of themselves than any other ideological pressure group.

    I notice you don’t deny what I actually said but just assert that anyone who could be deeply skeptical of the “skeptics” is unhinged.

  63. #63 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    J.J.R. Marcello Truzzi was a real skeptic who knew that in order to investigate alleged phenomena it was necessary to be as impartial as it was possible to make yourself. I would put his record up against James Randi’s any day. He also knew that the mere appearance of replication, a la Randi, wasn’t confirmation of fraud, it only showed that was one possible way in which a phenomenon could be faked.

    I’ve read that he regretted coming up with that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” stuff that Sagan stole from him. And he should have because 1. the criteria for classifying claims as “extraordinary” were subjective and unreliable, 2. if the ordinary standards of confirmation aren’t adequate to deal with alleged “extraordinary claims” then they weren’t reliable for “ordinary” ones, 3. if the methods of Randi and Hyman were imposed on everything then most of science would be debunked overnight. Certainly just about all of psychology would be, which customarily makes extremely extraordinary claims and which conducts research at a far lower level of control and quality for those extraordinary claims than the far more modest claims of formal, controlled PSI research. Have you read Jessica Utts’ analysis of that, by the way, I believe I might have recommended it to you in the past. You don’t have to believe in PSI but the comparison between its formal research and that of psychology, especially in light of the “extraordinary claims” credo, should make any honest skeptic quite uneasy.

  64. #64 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    And, J.J.R. that little snippet you link to leaves out most of the story, including that as soon as Rawlins saw the “challenge” that Kurtz, Abell and Zelen issued to Gauquelin, he knew the incompetence of it would result in confirmation of Gauquelin’s findings instead of their refutation. He went through quite a bit of angst trying to get them to own up to the original challenge having been incompetently framed before the rest of the hilarious catastrophe for the “science” side of things happened.

    This is the best source I’ve seen on the original scandal, Rawlins’ sTARBABY account, Phil Klass’s incompetent hatchet job, “Crybaby” and the eventual fall out of it that still resonates through the criticism of pseudo-skepticism.

    http://www.discord.org/~lippard/kammann.html

    Of the CSICOPs involved in it, all of them proved to be incompetent except Rawlins and he’s the one who got booted out. He’s a pretty obnoxious, anti-religious bigot but his science is competent. Jerry Coyne has a lot in common with him, except I can’t imagine him seriously bucking the “skeptical” establishment.

  65. #65 Verbose Stoic
    May 9, 2011

    Anton,

    By direct I mean, well, direct. For example, when you look at a car you get its colour directly, through a direct sense perception. You aren’t inferring its existence from other data or its effect on other things, but are simply perceiving it. Thus, your drug example does not apply because by your own admission that’s an inference you make (you note the change in your mental states, and conclude that the drug is in your system), and your example of your knowledge of the mental states of other people doesn’t apply either. As for errors, even in the car colour example there may be issues and illusions that may cause you to get the colour of the car wrong, just as you might get your mental states wrong, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get access to mental states directly, at least not in the relevant way.

    Note that my definition doesn’t itself say anything about cause, but it would cause issues for a physicalist view because it would say that the mental cannot be physical, and therefore your comment about independence from physical states and the like simply doesn’t apply. If that definition of physical is reasonable, then mental states can’t be physical; it is, indeed, a good argument for mental states not being physical.

    This also addresses your last point: the argument is that through introspection we see that the mental contains properties that mean that it cannot be physical, by that definition of physical (which seems not unreasonable). That makes it not physical. That it interacts with the brain and that the same mechanisms are used, then, is in no way evidence that overturns that conclusion.

  66. #66 Anton Mates
    May 9, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    By direct I mean, well, direct. For example, when you look at a car you get its colour directly, through a direct sense perception. You aren’t inferring its existence from other data or its effect on other things, but are simply perceiving it.

    I would disagree with that. When you look at a car you get a perception of color–say, red. But everything you might conclude from that–from “There is a car in front of me, and it’s painted red,” to “red light is reaching my eyes,” to “my red-sensitive cone cells are going off,” all the way down to “I am currently perceiving the color red”–is an indirect inference. (If the last example seems implausible, consider blindsight–it’s quite possible to be unaware of a perception you’re currently experiencing, or to confabulate a perception you’re not experiencing.) They need not be conscious inferences, of course, but they’re still indirect, in the sense that their existence is not logically equivalent to the state of affairs which they affirm to be true.

    To put it another way, perceptions may be direct, but knowledge cannot be–even knowledge of perceptions. IMO, anyway.

    Again, it may be that I don’t understand your use of “direct.” Or perhaps I’m just generally confused. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  67. #67 Verbose Stoic
    May 10, 2011

    Anton,

    Ah, see, the problem is that I’m not talking about knowledge, but just about perception. For knowledge, we’d need to get it to at least be reliable, and while most of the time both introspection on mental states and sense perceptions are reliable, they need not be. You can have an illusory experience of both. But that doesn’t seem to me to weaken the notion of “direct” in any way that impacts my definition.

  68. #68 Anton Mates
    May 10, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    Ah, see, the problem is that I’m not talking about knowledge, but just about perception. For knowledge, we’d need to get it to at least be reliable, and while most of the time both introspection on mental states and sense perceptions are reliable, they need not be.

    I wondered if that was part of the distinction you were drawing. In that case, though, what keeps most (non-mental) physical states from being equally direct? When you approach a car, say, you get a small shift in the magnitude and direction of your weight due to its mass. (I’m talking about the actual physical force on your body here, not your sensory perception of weight.) No inferences required, no possibility of error; it’s just something that happens to you, much like your visual perception of the car. Is there another component of “directness” that’s present in your visual perception but not in your weight shift?

  69. #69 Verbose Stoic
    May 11, 2011

    Anton,

    At this point you seem to be mixing up too different fields: philosophy of mind and epistemology. You don’t directly experience the gravity thing because you don’t have a perception of it, and aren’t actually aware of it in any sort of way (even, it seems, consciously or subconsciously). Philosophy if mind is all about perceptions and awareness. Now, if we can consider that awareness and perception to give us a justified true belief is a matter for epistemology. So my directness here is about what we perceive and is about what we are aware of.

  70. #70 Anton Mates
    May 12, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    At this point you seem to be mixing up too different fields: philosophy of mind and epistemology. You don’t directly experience the gravity thing because you don’t have a perception of it, and aren’t actually aware of it in any sort of way (even, it seems, consciously or subconsciously).

    Here you beg the question, I think. A fluctuation in one’s weight isn’t directly experienced via perception or awareness, certainly, but that’s because it isn’t a change in mental state in the first place!

    As I understood it, you were arguing that direct experience can be used to distinguish between the mental and physical, because mental events can be experienced directly, but no physical events can be. But if you now say that direct experience must be mental by definition, b) reduces to the claim that physical events aren’t mental, which is exactly the point on which we disagree.

    Assuming you’re not completely out of time/interest on this issue, let me stop trying to throw counterexamples at your distinction and just advance the standard physicalist position: each mental state is equivalent to some set of physical states, which we can semi-accurately summarize as “brain states.” Suppose it’s the case that each mental state at least corresponds to some set of brain states, in that the latter are always found to occur when the former occurs. (Plenty of non-physicalists would provisionally accept that as true, although I don’t think Anthony would.) Can your definition show that the mental state and the brain states are nevertheless different sorts of things?

    To use the car example: in what way are you directly experiencing your visual perception of the car, but not directly experiencing the corresponding pattern of activity in your visual cortices?

    Philosophy if mind is all about perceptions and awareness. Now, if we can consider that awareness and perception to give us a justified true belief is a matter for epistemology.

    “Awareness” itself is an epistemologically loaded term, though, and implies some sort of agreement with its object, just as “knowledge” does. Unless you’re speaking of awareness in a purely behavioral sense, I don’t think it’s acquired any more directly than knowledge is.

  71. #71 Verbose Stoic
    May 12, 2011

    Anton,

    “As I understood it, you were arguing that direct experience can be used to distinguish between the mental and physical, because mental events can be experienced directly, but no physical events can be.”

    That’s actually explicitly not what I argued. I argued that physical things — I didn’t talk about events at all, actually — can only be observed directly by the five senses or, barring that, only indirectly by their impact on perceptible things (which was my patch-up after your reasonable objection). I never said you couldn’t get them directly, but that you got them through the senses, which are as sense perceptions. Mental states, on the other hand, can be observed through things that aren’t sense perceptions (even without introspection, none of my experiences of mental states are sense perceptions because they are qualitatively different from them). If that definition of physical works, then mental states can’t be physical by definition. Otherwise, we need another definition of what it means to be physical.

    “…each mental state is equivalent to some set of physical states, which we can semi-accurately summarize as “brain states.” Suppose it’s the case that each mental state at least corresponds to some set of brain states, in that the latter are always found to occur when the former occurs. (Plenty of non-physicalists would provisionally accept that as true, although I don’t think Anthony would.) Can your definition show that the mental state and the brain states are nevertheless different sorts of things?”

    Well, as seen above, the answer is clearly “Yes”. But to take on your view, I’d ask you this: when you talk about “physical states”, what definition of “physical” do you use to determine that those states are, in fact, physical? Without a definition, why should even neural states be called “physical”? So, you have — at least implicitly — a definition that you use, and when we suss out what that is then we can ask if mental states can be physical by that definition, which was the whole point of my initial comment in the first place.

    “”Awareness” itself is an epistemologically loaded term, though, and implies some sort of agreement with its object, just as “knowledge” does. Unless you’re speaking of awareness in a purely behavioral sense, I don’t think it’s acquired any more directly than knowledge is.”

    Well, first, in philosophy of MIND there’s no such loading. Yes, in general claiming awareness seems to claim something about having accurate access, but philosophy of mind could proceed in talking about awareness even if that turned out to be false, like say if all experiences were by definition ilusory or only about a world of appearances and not about the world as it is (a la Kant). And in epistemology awareness and knowledge are no where near being comparable things. Again, knowledge is justified true belief; even having some agreement with the object is not sufficient to get there.

    Note that as I said awareness can be subconscious, but that’s not even the case in your gravity example. Some have tried to take awareness to the strong sense you use, but it’s generally unconvincing since at that point you seem to stop talking about mind or consciousness at all, which is what philosophy of mind does and is what we’re doing here.

  72. #72 Anton Mates
    May 13, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    I argued that physical things — I didn’t talk about events at all, actually — can only be observed directly by the five senses or, barring that, only indirectly by their impact on perceptible things (which was my patch-up after your reasonable objection). I never said you couldn’t get them directly, but that you got them through the senses, which are as sense perceptions.

    Ah, yes–I should have said that you were arguing that non-sensory direct experience can be used to distinguish between the mental and physical. Apologies for the imprecision. Nonetheless, I think the concept of “directness” remains critical to your argument, since you accept that physical things can be observed through non-sensory channels, provided the observation is indirect.

    (even without introspection, none of my experiences of mental states are sense perceptions because they are qualitatively different from them).

    Now that’s a strong statement! What about dreams and hallucinations?

    But to take on your view, I’d ask you this: when you talk about “physical states”, what definition of “physical” do you use to determine that those states are, in fact, physical? Without a definition, why should even neural states be called “physical”?

    Well, I’d say that a state is physical if it can be described (without too much ambiguity) in terms of the properties and objects discussed in physics: mass, position, time, charge, etc.  A neural state, for instance, can be described as a particular distribution of neurons (each of which is an assemblage of elementary physical particles), discharging electrical currents and leaking chemicals at each other in a particular pattern.

    I’m sympathetic to functionalism, so I don’t have a problem with states defined by indirect or higher-order physical descriptions–e.g. one can define a “neural state of arousal” as the set of specific neural states that lead to an organism’s engaging in various behaviors associated with arousal.  Since those behaviors themselves can be described physically (the organism runs faster, breathes more rapidly, etc.), this would still be an ultimately physical state.

    Well, first, in philosophy of MIND there’s no such loading.

    Sure there is. Awareness is a very close cousin of experiential knowledge, which receives quite a bit of attention within epistemology these days.

    Yes, in general claiming awareness seems to claim something about having accurate access, but philosophy of mind could proceed in talking about awareness even if that turned out to be false, like say if all experiences were by definition ilusory or only about a world of appearances and not about the world as it is (a la Kant).

    On the contrary, illusion/hallucination scenarios are typically discussed (as in the link above) under the assumption that awareness requires some degree of accurate access.  For instance, if all experiences are illusory, then one can only be aware of the perceptual content of the experiences themselves, not of any object which corresponds to them.  If you hallucinate a banana, you’re not actually aware of a banana, because there isn’t one.  You’re merely aware of the appearance of a banana, or of the content of some bundle of sense-perceptions in your own mind, or something of that sort which does actually exist.

    (Some philosophers disagree with this treatment of awareness, of course, but then many also disagree with the JTB definition of knowledge, due to Gettier-style counter-examples.)

    And in epistemology awareness and knowledge are no where near being comparable things. Again, knowledge is justified true belief; even having some agreement with the object is not sufficient to get there.

    The JTB definition is generally restricted to propositional knowledge, though; not experiential knowledge or knowledge-by-acquaintance.

    Note that as I said awareness can be subconscious, but that’s not even the case in your gravity example.

    Right; I brought up the gravity shift as an example of a not only physical but non-mental phenomenon that nonetheless was directly experienced (as I understood you to be defining “direct.”) But since you don’t hold that direct experience can be non-mental, I can see why you wouldn’t accept that example.

  73. #73 Verbose Stoic
    May 14, 2011

    Anton,

    My dreams do seem to be qualitatively different from sense experiences, being far less sharp and usually incomplete, to the point where I pretty much always know whether or not I’m dreaming. The only exceptions seem to be cases akin to when I’m watching cartoons and get immersed in the show, despite knowing that it isn’t real. The immersion allows me to ignore the differences. This may be something unique to me, I admit, but it is clearly true for me. And as far as I know I have never hallucinated, and so I’d have to see what happens in those cases.

    So, then, let’s take your definition of physical and apply it to mental states. As Descartes pointed out, they aren’t in space and don’t have a position. They also don’t have mass, or charge. We’d have to have a clear definition of time to say that mental states are in time. But just from that, it doesn’t look like mental states are physical. And this would hold even if they turn out to just somehow be neural states. Now, it may well be possible for physical things to produce non-physical states, but then we have to determine if the neural/mental connection is causation, correlation, or identity … and this is what most of the history of philosophy of mind has been about.

    As for the loading of awareness, while certain theories of mind have epistemological consequences which might make people reconsider them, when considering consciousness it doesn’t matter one whit if awareness is “direct” in that way or mediated. If they’re right, they’re right … and the mediated view has been pretty much proven right.

    I’m not aware that the JTB system didn’t count for those sorts of knowledge, since JTB applies to the END result, not the process, and all of those, if they result in knowledge, result in justified true beliefs.

  74. #74 Anton Mates
    May 15, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    My dreams do seem to be qualitatively different from sense experiences, being far less sharp and usually incomplete, to the point where I pretty much always know whether or not I’m dreaming.

    My compliments on your unusual talent for lucid dreaming. :-) For my part, I generally can’t tell a dreamed perception from a waking one, except through later reflection–indeed, I sometimes have difficulty working out whether some fact or image I remember originates in a dream or in reality. (For instance, I recently dreamed of seeing a certain species of woodpecker. When I woke I knew that I’d never seen one in person, but it took some work to figure out whether it was a real species that I’d seen before in pictures.) As long as we’re invoking Descartes, he similarly reports that dreamed perceptions and waking perceptions are indistinguishable in themselves.

    I haven’t had powerful hallucinations either, but the history of human drug use and insanity indicates that they can be subjectively indistinguishable from “legitimate” sense perceptions.

    So, then, let’s take your definition of physical and apply it to mental states. As Descartes pointed out, they aren’t in space and don’t have a position.

    You’re misstating Descartes’ claim slightly–and probably not significantly, but I just want to make sure we’re on the same page. He held that mental substances, the entities which possess mental states, don’t exist in space. (Presumably he also thought that mental states themselves don’t do so either, but that’s relatively unimportant. Many people would say that no state does, mental or physical; states are abstract collections of properties, and don’t exist anywhere in particular. The physical state “is currently in San Francisco” need not, itself, reside in San Francisco.)

    Also, Descartes was concerned more with showing that mind doesn’t have extension in space, than that it doesn’t have position. He believed that all physical bodies must be extended, and that point particles (which would have position but no extension) were impossible, which is why he rejected atomism.

    Anyways, yep, Descartes made this claim, but it’s clear that his arguments for it are severely flawed. In the Meditations he gives a couple of justifications for the idea that mind doesn’t exist in space. The first is that he can “clearly conceive” of bodies which have spatial extension and minds which have none, and if he can conceive of two things as distinct, then God could have created them that way, and therefore did, because God’s not a deceiver. I doubt I have to explain why that reasoning’s dubious!

    For the second, Descartes presents evidence for mind being spatially indivisible. He observes that you can divide the physical body (cut an arm or a leg off, for instance) but that these operations don’t have much effect on the mind. Of course, with a couple hundred years of neurology behind us, we know that Descartes was simply looking in the wrong place. You most certainly can “amputate” bits of the mind–perceptions, memories, faculties, personality traits–by lesioning or removing different regions of brain. And by severing the corpus callosum, you can apparently even divide the mind into two still-functioning parts (though this is near-impossible to verify subjectively.)

    So it’s very easy for a modern physicalist to hold that Descartes was simply wrong, and mind does have location and extension in space.

    They also don’t have mass, or charge. We’d have to have a clear definition of time to say that mental states are in time. But just from that, it doesn’t look like mental states are physical. And this would hold even if they turn out to just somehow be neural states.

    On the contrary, neural states certainly do include physical properties: neurons have mass and location and charge and firing times. If mental states are equivalent to neural states or sets of same, then necessarily they include these properties as well. (However, they need not include all the physical properties of a completely-described neural state, just as the physical state “boiling” doesn’t include the position and velocity of every individual molecule in a pot of water.)

    I’m not aware that the JTB system didn’t count for those sorts of knowledge, since JTB applies to the END result, not the process, and all of those, if they result in knowledge, result in justified true beliefs.

    The problem is that “truth” and “belief” are not necessarily relevant to non-propositional knowledge. I know how cilantro tastes, and I know how to ride a bicycle; it’s unclear that either of these entails me possessing any particular beliefs at all, let alone true ones. Someone might be an expert bike rider without knowing any of the facts about how a bicycle “should” be ridden, and someone might know all sorts of facts about cycling technique without having learned to ride a bike themselves.

  75. #75 Verbose Stoic
    May 17, 2011

    Note that I do have the same problem that you have telling the difference between memories of dreams and memories of real events, because re-visualization of my memory looks like dreams, and is no different. Which also strikes at whether this is something to be congratulated on, since visually it seems to be related to my simply having very poor visualization skills, and so being unable to generate realistic images most of the time. I’m better with sounds — in that I can generate excellent reproductions of music and the like — but I still get a qualitative difference between them.

    You seem to have mixed up Descartes’ arguments for mind/body separation in general with arguments specifically for that the mind doesn’t have extension. As far as I recall, that was just one argument, and the other two you give don’t relate to it. The first was an argument that explicitly argued that if you could conceive of the mind and the body as being separate, then at least that was reason to think that the are separable and so not the same thing conceptually, and the second was another argument that the mind can’t be physical because all physical things are divisible and mind isn’t. Even when lesions “remove” some experiences, mind itself still seems a whole, even if an odd whole. For extension, that was also based on introspection and pointed out that introspection on mind reveals that the mind doesn’t seem to have extension, and all physical things need to have extension. These are actually decent arguments, but as I said long ago it depends on what you mean by physical. Position seems to follow in the same way as extension, as we don’t seem to think that mental things have a position, but you seem to need it by your definition of physical.

    The God argument was a completely different argument, related to epistemology itself, not so much to mind, as far as I recall.

    Note that the states/substances distinction is one that we shouldn’t be making here, since mind and mental states here are the things that we introspect on, and so are things that we know exist as something — ie not just as an abstract concept, but as an actual experience — no matter what we call them. They aren’t states in the way you talk about states above.

    If mental states are implemented by or the same as neural states, that doesn’t mean it makes sense to call mental states physical, just as it might not make sense to call numbers physical. It just might mean that they aren’t substances. But our direct access — and the properties we observe therein — need to be explained to prove that you can reduce the mental to the physical. But note that reduction does not mean elimination; we can reduce chemistry to physics, but that doesn’t mean that talking about molecules doesn’t make sense and we should only talk about atoms.

    It might be fair to say that skills aren’t actually knowledge, even if the common way of talking is to say that they are. At any rate, that wouldn’t be relevant to awareness as used in both philosophy of mind and epistemology. It isn’t clear to me that knowing how something tastes isn’t something that can fit into justified true belief: you believe that a certain experience reflects the taste of cilantro, you are justified in that belief by, say, actually tasting it, and if the experience you believe reflects the taste actually does then it is true. That’s more relevant for awareness, but also seems unproblematic.

  76. #76 Anton Mates
    May 18, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    Which also strikes at whether this is something to be congratulated on, since visually it seems to be related to my simply having very poor visualization skills, and so being unable to generate realistic images most of the time.

    Maybe. On the other hand, you might just be able to evaluate your images in greater detail than the average person, and so you’re better at knowing that the ones you generate are substandard!

    You seem to have mixed up Descartes’ arguments for mind/body separation in general with arguments specifically for that the mind doesn’t have extension. As far as I recall, that was just one argument, and the other two you give don’t relate to it.

    Nope. See his Meditations on First Philosophy , Meditation VI in particular.

    In paragraph 9 we find:

    “Because I know that all which I clearly and distinctly conceive can be produced by God exactly as I conceive it, it is sufficient that I am able clearly and distinctly to conceive one thing apart from another, in order to be certain that the one is different from the other, seeing they may at least be made to exist separately, by the omnipotence of God….Because, on the one hand, I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in as far as I am only a thinking and unextended thing, and as, on the other hand, I possess a distinct idea of body, in as far as it is only an extended and unthinking thing, it is certain that I, [that is, my mind, by which I am what I am], is entirely and truly distinct from my body, and may exist without it.”

    So we’ve got God’s unlimited creative ability, plus Descartes’ “clear conception” of mind as thinking and unextended, plus his “clear conception” of body as unthinking and extended, used to prove that the mind and body are separate.

    Again, in paragraph 19 we find:

    “…There is a vast difference between mind and body, in respect that body, from its nature, is always divisible, and that mind is entirely indivisible. For in truth, when I consider the mind, that is, when I consider myself in so far only as I am a thinking thing, I can distinguish in myself no parts, but I very clearly discern that I am somewhat absolutely one and entire; and although the whole mind seems to be united to the whole body, yet, when a foot, an arm, or any other part is cut off, I am conscious that nothing has been taken from my mind; nor can the faculties of willing, perceiving, conceiving, etc., properly be called its parts, for it is the same mind that is exercised [all entire] in willing, in perceiving, and in conceiving, etc. But quite the opposite holds in corporeal or extended things; for I cannot imagine any one of them [how small soever it may be], which I cannot easily sunder in thought, and which, therefore, I do not know to be divisible. This would be sufficient to teach me that the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body, if I had not already been apprised of it on other grounds.”

    So we’ve got the indivisibility of the mind (as argued for by introspection, as you say, but also by evidence from amputation), plus the divisibility of the body, presented as “sufficient” to demonstrate the separation between mind and body.

    Even when lesions “remove” some experiences, mind itself still seems a whole, even if an odd whole.

    It’s the removal itself which Descartes thought couldn’t happen, though. And while the mind does usually still seem a whole, that’s hardly a point against divisibility. Have something amputated and your physical body will still seem a whole, just a different whole than before.

    Of course, there are plenty of cases in which the introspected mind doesn’t seem a whole–I mentioned split-brain syndrome, but schizophrenia and dissociative disorders provide examples too, as do experiences with various dissociative drugs. Introspection turns up very different results depending on when it’s done and who’s doing it!

    For extension, that was also based on introspection and pointed out that introspection on mind reveals that the mind doesn’t seem to have extension, and all physical things need to have extension. These are actually decent arguments, but as I said long ago it depends on what you mean by physical. Position seems to follow in the same way as extension, as we don’t seem to think that mental things have a position, but you seem to need it by your definition of physical.

    Again, “we” implies general agreement on these points, which isn’t the case. Physicalists like myself certainly do think that the mind has extension and position: it’s, well, pretty much where the brain is. Even if we’re talking purely about introspected intuitions–which doesn’t seem warranted unless you think that introspection provides an infallible and exhaustive list of the mind’s properties– have a fairly strong intuition of my mind as being located behind my eyes and between my ears, and as having a spatial size which varies with my psychological state. (Not that I trust that intuition, mind!) And people can experience all sorts of mental relocations if their temporal lobes are on the fritz.

    The God argument was a completely different argument, related to epistemology itself, not so much to mind, as far as I recall.

    Well, you’re right that God’s also invoked in an epistemological context. Specifically, the “God is not a deceiver” reasoning is used to argue for the reality of a physical world, and for bodies actually having extension in space as they seem to have. Of course, those points are critical to Descartes’ conclusions on the distinctness of mind and body, by the above arguments.

    Note that the states/substances distinction is one that we shouldn’t be making here, since mind and mental states here are the things that we introspect on, and so are things that we know exist as something — ie not just as an abstract concept, but as an actual experience — no matter what we call them. They aren’t states in the way you talk about states above.

    Ah, but that’s the problem. We don’t introspect on mental states in themselves; rather, we introspect on our mind, and find it to be in various mental states. When we consider the mental state–“anger,” for instance, as opposed to “myself when I am angry”–we’re abstracting. So we have to beware of finding a property (such as spatial location or extension) absent from the state, and therefore concluding that it’s absent from the substance. Analogously, the state of “roundness” has no physical location, but every object that actually is round does have a location.

    If mental states are implemented by or the same as neural states, that doesn’t mean it makes sense to call mental states physical, just as it might not make sense to call numbers physical.

    I don’t follow the analogy. Are numbers the same as, or implemented by, something you’d call physical? (You personally, I mean. I’d call numbers physical, in the sense that they’re mental concepts instantiated in physical brains.)

    It just might mean that they aren’t substances. But our direct access — and the properties we observe therein — need to be explained to prove that you can reduce the mental to the physical.

    They need to be explained anyway, because everything needs to be explained. But I don’t think that’s necessary to argue (Descartes may have been hoping to prove his position, but I’m not!) that the mental reduces to the physical. Direct access would only be a problem for physicalism if dualism explained it more effectively, and so far as I can see, that’s not the case. I can’t actually think of anything that dualism can explain more effectively than physicalism can–or vice versa, for that matter; their empirical consequences seem to be identical. I accept physicalism merely because I find it more parsimonious.

    But note that reduction does not mean elimination; we can reduce chemistry to physics, but that doesn’t mean that talking about molecules doesn’t make sense and we should only talk about atoms.

    Oh, sure. Few physicalists, aside from the really hardcore eliminative materialists, would say that we shouldn’t talk about minds! The intentional stance has great explanatory power, and I doubt whether scientists, let alone laymen, could ever dispense with it.

    It isn’t clear to me that knowing how something tastes isn’t something that can fit into justified true belief: you believe that a certain experience reflects the taste of cilantro, you are justified in that belief by, say, actually tasting it, and if the experience you believe reflects the taste actually does then it is true.

    That’s certainly the angle I prefer–indeed, it’s a common physicalist response to the Mary’s room scenario. A number of dualist philosophers of mind reject it, though. They’d say that actually tasting cilantro confers a sort of experiential knowledge which is distinct from propositional knowledge like “Cilantro tastes like X.”

Current ye@r *