Jim Manzi on Expelled

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Very nice synopsis and reasoning.

The attempt to sneak evolution in through the back door, while insisting on the compatibility of scientific knowledge and arbitrary speculation about supernatural beings, is ultimately counterproductive.

Let's stop making excuses for rationality. Attempting to understand the natural world by reference to a cosmic father who ties up all loose ends is cro-magnon thinking. And as Sam Harris points out, religious moderates who acclimate themselves to the fruits of modernity just provide cover to their more consistent, radical brothers in spirit.

People are blowing up buildings because of this kind of thinking. It needs to be made clear to such people and to their intellectual enablers that the jig is up.

Although I rarely agree with St. Augustine, I really DO agree with his statement (used as a closing in the article):

Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipse of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

I would very much like to see how anti-evolutionist Xtians would try and distance themselves from Augustine's (here) quite lucid (and seemingly obvious) statement.

Let's stop making excuses for rationality. Attempting to understand the natural world by reference to a cosmic father who ties up all loose ends is cro-magnon thinking.

rationality is just a process of deductive inference generation from axioms. it only entails contingent upon the axioms. and my understanding of jim's point is that he is suggesting that science is the best way to model the natural world. don't act like all religious people are tarded fundamentalists; it's false and it's stupid.

All religious people are, however, being irrational; there is no rational case to be made for religious thought on its own merits.

rationality is just a process of deductive inference generation from axioms. it only entails contingent upon the axioms.

No, the conclusions are contingent upon the axioms. Rationality itself is not dependent upon the things it operates on.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 05 May 2008 #permalink

don't act like all religious people are tarded fundamentalists; it's false and it's stupid

I neither acted like it nor said it. Smart people can be egregiously wrong. What's false and stupid is the idea that scientists should be bending over backwards to accomodate stone age cosmology. My point, taken from Sam Harris, is that smart people who have compartmentalized this stone age irrationality into a little box in their minds labeled "What I do on Sundays" make it much easier for the retarded fundamentalists to exist in our society and plan their periodic bombing expeditions.

And no, rationality is not just deductive inference from axioms. Rationality is inference from sensory data, i.e. from evidence, both deductively and inductively. Rationality is not a formal system, it is a basic orientation toward the world granting primacy to what one sees and hears and smells over what other people (like imams and priests) say or what random excretions proceed from one's own subconscious.

You know, I have a very practical view of science. It has the job of developing non-obvious, useful and reliable causal rules that we can employ to do things like build planes and develop medicines. In the end, we don't grant science authority because of some rationalist view of its methods, but because airplanes generally stay up.

By Jim Manzi (not verified) on 05 May 2008 #permalink

It's both, actually: the rationalist view of the results is what informs the rationalist examination of the methods. In short: they work.

If you could show that some other methodology could reliably produce useful models, it would be absorbed and incorporated into science - but you almost certainly can't do that.

The scientific method IS inquiry. It's what people have always used whenever they want a practical answer - it just wasn't formalized until recently.

The real key is wanting the practical answer in the first place, instead of the nonsense humans usually want.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 05 May 2008 #permalink

This begs the question: "Let's stop making excuses for rationality."

I've yet to receive a compelling non-circular answer, either scientific or religious, of the deeper question: "Why be rational?"

That's like asking "why be right, when we can be wrong"? There's no point to being wrong.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 06 May 2008 #permalink

Well then, Caledonian, are you saying that every human being should be rational BECAUSE there's no point to being irrational?

That leaves a lot of explaining to do, about why so many folks ARE irrational. That may irk those of us who consider ourselves rational, but then we're stuck with a normative, rather than a descriptive, theory of human behavior.

To be sure, some of the irrationals claim to be transcendental.

the deeper question: "Why be rational?"

Because being rational predicts the future better than being non-rational, so rational behaviour will (usually) maximise your future utility. It's quite simple when you think of it.

Incidentally, that's also the answer to Alvin Plantiga's intriguing little sophism (which essentially assumes that a non-rational brain would be just as useful as a rational brain).

That leaves a lot of explaining to do, about why so many folks ARE irrational.

Because man is not a rational animal. Man is an animal that is capable of being rational, sometimes. The reason is easily found: in some specific cases, an irrational behaviour (say, stereotyping) can actually quite useful in terms of self-preservation - and thus be favoured by evolution.

You know, I have a very practical view of science. It has the job of developing non-obvious, useful and reliable causal rules that we can employ to do things like build planes and develop medicines.<\i>

In other words, shut up geek, go make me some ipods, and I'll handle all the grand questions of man, society, and the origin of the cosmos. Some day the geeks may shrug.

Rationality is making a decision while explicitly recognizing the reasons for that decision. A rational decision isn't necessarily correct in an absolute sense, but is correct given the data available to the actor.

Non-rational decisions may or may not be correct; there is no conscious evaluation of the mechanism by which the decision is made.

Irrational decisions are explicitly nonsensical but are made regardless; they may end up working, but the reasons they were made are necessarily wrong.

Rationality is better than non-rationality, but it can't always be managed and sometimes (because of the costs involved) shouldn't be attempted. Irrationality is always wrong, period. Asking why we should prefer rationality to irrationality is ridiculous on its own grounds.

Humans are irrational because we've inherited certain preferences and cognitive shortcuts that produced adaptive behavior in our original environment but that have persisted long after they've become obsolete or even actively harmful.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 06 May 2008 #permalink

Because he made at least one incisive sociological point and I don't want to pretend I came up with it.

I have to admit, I don't find the creationists very threatening. They have almost zero power. For the vast majority of Americans, it doesn't matter what their opinion is on evolution.

There will be a few kids who have the intellectual ability to contribute to our biotech industries and knowledge-base, but will be stunted due to growing up in a fundamentalist family or school system. But these smart kids will just become successful in another field instead, not a huge loss for them or society.

Actually, I knew a guy who went to Liberty University (Jerry Fallwell U). He was a super fundamentalist Southern Baptist. He also was getting a Masters in molecular biology - his specialty was x-ray crystallography.

Especially with the decentralized education system we have in America, the damage the Creationists can inflict is very small.

Compare that to the Environmentalists, who've worked hard, and successfully, to limit the supply of energy and who are actively seeking carbon taxes to reduce energy demand ... all to prevent their insane apocalyptic fantasies.

I'll get worried about the Religious Right when I start having to pay a Rapture Prevention Tax. The Irrational Left has much more power over my daily life.