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Bill Nye is Not the Philosophy Guy

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Reliable sources have informed me that for the millennial generation Bill Nye is a figure of great importance, due to his widely-watched program from the 1990’s called “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Evidently, he taught a large swath of American youth the fundamentals of experimental science and became for them a sort of paragon of reason. Well, I’ll take their word for it.

But judging from a recent video in which Bill Nye discussed the relation between science and philosophy, I can only tell you that he sure is not the “philosophy guy.”

In a rambling and largely incoherent response to an interlocutor who wondered whether philosophy is still relevant, Nye denigrated the discipline, stating that philosophy never deviates from common sense, that it doubts the reality of sense experience, and that it engages in speculation about whether we might be part of an intergalactic ping pong match! In regard to the first observation, I would say that, pretty much from Socrates on, philosophers have practically specialized in deviating from common sense. In regard to the second (which flatly contradicts his first assertion), I would say that some philosophers—Descartes most famously—speculated along these lines in order to perform a sort of epistemological experiment and certainly not to prove the non-existence of the physical world. In regard to the third, I can only say that this has more to do with someone on an LSD trip than any serious philosopher that I’m aware of.

I don’t want to spend any more time engaging Nye’s rather silly claims, but I do want to address an issue that undergirds everything he says and that is infecting the minds of many young people today, namely scientism. Not to put too fine a point on it, scientism is the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge. In other words, it is a strict identification of the rational with the deliverances of the scientific method developed in the late sixteenth century. That this method—empirical observation, followed by hypothesis, followed by experimentation, followed by confirmation through repeated experimentation—has indeed rendered abundant fruit is obvious to anyone. And that its accompanying technology has benefitted the world in countless ways is beyond dispute. But the very success of the sciences invites the distortion of scientism, an epistemological imperialism which consigns extra-scientific forms of rationality to the intellectual ash-heap. And what an impoverishment this produces!

At the very dawn of philosophy, Plato spoke to us of prisoners chained up inside a cave. All they can see are flickering shadows on the cave wall. One prisoner managed to free himself from the chains, escape from the cave, and find an upper world of light and substance. He realized that the shadows that he had spent his life watching were but simulacra of what is truly real. Finally, he gazed up to the sun, whose brilliant light made all things visible. This splendid fable is the metaphorical representation of the process by which one moves from knowledge of the evanescent world of nature to knowledge of the more permanent things and finally to the source of all knowledge and being. Plato’s disciple Aristotle presented the same idea in a more prosaic manner, speaking of the transition from physics (the study of matter in motion) to mathematics (the study of numeric relations), and finally to metaphysics (the study of being as such). Neither philosopher despised what we would characterize today as science—in fact Aristotle can credibly claim the title as father of Western science—but they both recognized that there are things the sciences can’t know, things that are, in point of fact, the most important, lasting, and fascinating.

The physical sciences can reveal the chemical composition of ink and paper, but they cannot, even in principle, tell us anything about the meaning of Moby Dick or The Wasteland. Biology might inform us regarding the process by which nerves stimulate muscles in order to produce human action, but it could never tell us anything about whether a human act is morally right or wrong. Optics might disclose how light and color are processed by the eye, but it cannot possibly tell us what makes the Sistine Chapel Ceiling beautiful. Speculative astrophysics might tell us truths about the unfolding of the universe from the singularity of the Big Bang, but it cannot say a word about why there is something rather than nothing or how contingent being relates to non-contingent being. How desperately sad if questions regarding truth, morality, beauty, and existence qua existence are dismissed as irrational or pre-scientific.

The scientism that I’ve been describing and criticizing is but a symptom of a more far-reaching problem, namely, the fading away of the humanities in our schools. If the study of literature, the arts, and philosophy is regarded as impractical and “soft” in comparison to the study of the sciences, we will produce a generation of, I’m sorry to say, prisoners chained inside of Plato’s cave. They will know a great deal about the evanescent world of nature, but they won’t know anything about how to live a decent life, how to differentiate between the sublime and the mundane, how to recognize God. So listen to Bill Nye as he leads you through an experiment, but please don’t listen to him in regard to the higher questions and the more permanent things.
 
 
(Image credit: Chicago Tribune)

Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I agree with the article that scientism is incorrect. But from what I recall, I've only ever heard scientism brought up by critics of it, never by proponents. Are there any commenters here that would defend scientism?

    • ClayJames

      Most commenters on here know too much philosophy to hold Bill Nye´s scientistic views. However, this should be viewed on a spectrum and I have encountered several scientistic ideas along that spectrum by commenters here.

    • Chris Snowden

      I don't imagine too many people would explicitly defend "scientism." My understanding is that "scientism" is a worldview. It thus falls into the category of a philosophy. Most advocates of this worldview are not philosophers, strictly speaking. I suppose then that the people who would rightly advocate for it: 1) don't call it by its name and 2) would not explicitly defend it. What we do see often is it is implicitly advocated by scientists, engineers, or whoever. These people dabble into philosophy (often unknowingly) and muddle the lines between philosophy and science quite often.

    • Michel

      Scientism as a term is not meant to be defended but as term used to criticize certain positions. What some people defend here is something close to neo positivism

    • Doug Shaver

      Are there any commenters here that would defend scientism?

      I would, in an oblique sort of way. I will happily admit to, and defend, being a reductionist. Quite often, when I see people complain about scientism, their disapproval seems to be directed against some version of reductionism.

      • How is that the case if reductionism is an ontology, and yet scientism is an epistemology?

        • Doug Shaver

          I don't agree that reductionism is an ontology. That sounds like something its opponents might say.

          • Well, there are forms of reductionism as epistemology and ontology. Perhaps i mistakenly attributed the latter to you. To clarify, then, what form of reductionism are you referring to?

          • Doug Shaver

            Causal reductionism. Ontologically, I'm a materialist, meaning that I believe matter and energy are all that exist, and so whatever happens is just matter and energy doing their thing.

          • What separates when matter and energy are doing rational things and when they are doing irrational things?

          • Doug Shaver

            The rationality of any action is a judgment made by rational beings, and we humans, so far as I know, are the only rational beings that exist. We are capable of doing irrational things, and of judging those things to be irrational, because of the complexity of the matter and energy of which we are made.

          • But human judgment is just the laws of nature evolving our brains through time. What distinguishes when the time-evolution is toward a 'rational' state and when it is toward an 'irrational' state? It's not like I choose anything that isn't really just nature yanking my strings like the Wizard of Oz. Somehow you know that not every time a person claims to be thinking rationally is he. But in those moments, that person will think it's you who are thinking irrationally. What arbitrates?

          • Doug Shaver

            Somehow you know that not every time a person claims to be thinking rationally is he. But in those moments, that person will think it's you who are thinking irrationally. What arbitrates?

            Arbitration is not always necessary. You think your religion is rational and I think my skepticism is rational. So what? We can try to persuade each other by arguing as rationally as we know how to do, but even if one of us changes the other's mind, there is nothing guaranteeing that the victor will be the more rational person. Conversions are rare, but they happen in both directions.

            As long as we're both committed to a live-and-let-live attitude, we can leave it at that. We're not compelled to resolve anything unless one of us, because of his beliefs, feels justified in coercing the other into conformity with his beliefs. We then have a range of options. At one extreme, the coerced party can simply submit to the other without protest. At the other, we can fight until one of us kills the other. Hopefully, we would find some way less extreme than either of those options to settle our disagreement. But again, there is no guarantee that the prevailing party will be the more rational party.

            If your question really is, How can we know beyond possibility of human error who the more rational person is? then my answer is: We can't. I think we are incorrigibly fallible, all of us, without exception. That doesn't excuse us from trying, as well as we know how to try, to identify our errors and correct them. But we can only reduce our errors. We cannot eliminate them.

          • I'm still confused. What differentiates "A is more rational than B" and "I like A better than B"? Back up and recall that what I like or judge, according to your ontology, is merely the laws of physics evolving the state in my brain (and environment around my brain) forward in time. And yet, you want to say that sometimes, when this time-evolution happens, the state in my brain is 'more rational' and sometimes it is 'less rational'. And yet, what power exists which can distinguish between the two? The laws of nature cannot do the distinguishing, on pain of contradiction. And yet, according to you, there are no other causal powers! Therefore, I see no way in which 'rationality' can cause me to make a choice between A and B. Only the laws of nature can do that.

          • Doug Shaver

            Therefore, I see no way in which 'rationality' can cause me to make a choice between A and B.

            I didn't say it could. Rationality is not a cause of anything. It's just a characteristic of a certain way of making choices.

            you want to say that sometimes, when this time-evolution happens, the state in my brain is 'more rational' and sometimes it is 'less rational'. And yet, what power exists which can distinguish between the two?

            We do the distinguishing. We don't do it perfectly, but we don't have to. Our survival depends on our doing it right just often enough to avoid situations that kill us.

          • I didn't say it could. Rationality is not a cause of anything. It's just a characteristic of a certain way of making choices.

            How can you know anything about something with which you do not causally interact?

            We do the distinguishing.

            But 'we' are not causal powers. I'm just a causal nexus through which chains of causation flow. With your metaphysic, I exert zero causal force, because 'I' am not the laws of nature. They hold a strict monopoly on causation. The idea of a person making judgments is necessarily an epiphenomenon according to your metaphysic. That's not what is really going on, underneath the hood. God's judgment is not a causal power and neither is human judgment.

            Our survival depends on our doing it right just often enough to avoid situations that kill us.

            Evolution requires adaptation to the environment. If that is all you mean by 'rationality', then ok. I take it to have a connection to truth, a.k.a. reality as it ultimately is.

          • Doug Shaver

            But 'we' are not causal powers.

            Perhaps we disagree on the meaning of causation. Can you tell me what you mean when you say that A causes B?

          • I think there are different kinds of causation. One comes from Nancy Cartwright:

            C causes E if and only if C increases the probability of E in every situation which is otherwise causally homogeneous with respect to E. (Causal Laws and Effective Strategies, 423)

            But I think there must be another, which Gregory Dawes gets at:

            3.4.1 Intentional and Causal ExplanationsA first objection rests on the very character of intentional explanations. It suggests that a theistic explanation could not be both intentional and causal, since these represent distinct and mutually exclusive forms of explanation. No intentional explanation is a causal explanation. But I believe this claim to be wrong, for reasons I shall outline later (Appendix 1.1). I have no argument with the idea, defended by Donald Davidson, that intentions are causes and that intentional explanations are also causal explanations.[76] There is one issue that needs to be clarified here. I have suggested that intentional explanations are not nomological (3.2.1). They do, if you like, depend on something resembling a law, namely the rationality principle. But they do not depend on law-like generalisations linking particular intentions and particular actions. Does this mean that they cannot be regarded as causal explanations? Only if you believe that the citing of causal laws is a necessary condition of a causal explanation. But I shall argue later that it is not (Appendix 3.3.1), that causal explanations do not necessarily involve causal laws.[77] If this is true, then there is no difficulty with the idea that an intentional explanation is also a causal explanation. (Theism and Explanation, 51)

            The key here is "not nomological", and that means that the cause is not operating everywhere at the same time and in the same way. Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin plays with the idea that causation might not only be exclusively due to omnipresent, uniform laws in A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think there are different kinds of causation.

            Then I need to back up a bit. When you said, "'we' are not causal powers," did you mean that no human being can be the cause of anything?

          • As far as I understand your metaphysic, humans can only cause things in the sense of being a noticeable intermediary in a chain of causation which passes straight through them, with the human exerting zero influence on that causal chain. It's like saying that on a break, the cue ball causes the racked balls to disperse. Actually, the cue ball did nothing of its own accord; it was struck by a cue. Humans are like the cue ball, on your metaphysic. They don't get to impart any Lucretian swerve. Any swerves that happen are 100% due to chance, not due to humans as causal powers.

          • Doug Shaver

            did you mean that no human being can be the cause of anything?

            As far as I understand your metaphysic, humans can only cause things in the sense of being a noticeable intermediary in a chain of causation which passes straight through them, with the human exerting zero influence on that causal chain.

            That doesn't answer my question. I asked what you mean. You told me what you think I mean.

          • I should be using Aristotelian language. When I say that humans are "not the cause of anything" or that they are not "causal powers", I mean that they do not exhibit anything other than efficient and perhaps material causation. They certainly cannot exhibit final causation—action based on true, ontologically existing purposes. An efficient cause is a cause which is a passive component in a chain. Just like that cue ball. The active component, in my metaphysic, would be the person who strikes the cue ball with the cue. But on your metaphysic, as far as I can tell, the person who strikes the cue ball is himself/herself a cue ball.

          • Doug Shaver

            I should be using Aristotelian language.

            If you accept Aristotle's metaphysics, yes, you should. I don't accept his metaphysics, and I suspect that that explains all that needs explaining about why we disagree.

          • Doug Shaver

            I should be using Aristotelian language.

            OK, but I don't accept Aristotle's metaphysics. That probably accounts for much of our disagreement. Causation, in my lexicon, is just a label we stick on a certain abstraction. It's certainly a useful abstraction, but I see nothing to be gained in our understanding of the universe by reifying it the way Aristotle did.

          • If you want I can provide you rigorous mathematical language (category theory) which can be used to distinguish 'efficient' and 'final' causation. No need for Aristotle's ontology. Instead, it would be a study of what entailment is possible in various different mathematical structures. For example, differential equations are but one way to model change over time. If we think too strongly in terms of them, we put on a mathematical straight jacket.

            But now it sounds like you don't think there is such a thing as 'causation'. Do you think that all that really happens is a certain probabilistic correlation of events? For example, do external objects cause your neurons to behave in certain ways, or do you actually really just think that statistically, there will be some correlation? I'm very curious as to how one ought to approach and understand reality if one denies the reality of causation.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you want I can provide you rigorous mathematical language (category theory) which can be used to distinguish 'efficient' and 'final' causation.

            I get the distinction. Expressing it in mathematical language won't change my mind about its utility. I see no point in saying that A causes B if A is not a sufficient condition for B.

            it would be a study of what entailment is possible in various different mathematical structures. For example, differential equations are but one way to model change over time.

            Assuming we have the correct differential equations, any other model could have utilitarian or other advantages in some situations, but only as long as it is consistent with those equations. If it's inconsistent, then it's going to bite us.

            But now it sounds like you don't think there is such a thing as 'causation'. Do you think that all that really happens is a certain probabilistic correlation of events?

            What happens is what we observe happening. In order to explain what we observe, we might be justified in believing that certain unobserved things are also happening. If those unobserved things are a sufficient condition for the observed happenings, then they are the causes of what we observe. I see no denial of causation in any of that. All I am denying to causation is its ontological independence.

            For example, do external objects cause your neurons to behave in certain ways, or do you actually really just think that statistically, there will be some correlation?

            I don't believe anything happens, anywhere in the universe, unless a sufficient condition for its happening has obtained. I am taking it for granted that if any necessary conditions are lacking, then a sufficient condition cannot obtain.

          • I see no point in saying that A causes B if A is not a sufficient condition for B.

            That seems confusing; I shall illustrate with an example. In order for my striking a cue ball to end up in a break, the table must be in sufficiently good condition, I must be decent at striking a cue ball, the cue ball must have appropriate structural integrity, etc. All of these are necessary conditions for B to happen—for the racked up balls to be broken. The notion of "all other things being equal" has been formalized in the philosophy of science: Ceteris Paribus Laws. I'm not even sure how one would speak of causation using your version.

            What happens is what we observe happening.

            Really? Prior to Galileo, what many people saw happening was the sun and stars orbiting the earth. But... surely you don't think this was what happens? In another comment, I included a quote where Galileo said that "reason must do violence to the sense" when it comes to this observation people were making in his time.

            I don't believe anything happens, anywhere in the universe, unless a sufficient condition for its happening has obtained.

            How is this not just a simple tautology? What would it mean for something to happen without a sufficient condition for its happening being the case? That seems like a logical contradiction.

          • Doug Shaver

            In order for my striking a cue ball to end up in a break, the table must be in sufficiently good condition, I must be decent at striking a cue ball, the cue ball must have appropriate structural integrity, etc. All of these are necessary conditions for B to happen—for the racked up balls to be broken.

            Right. Each is necessary. But none alone is sufficient.

            The notion of "all other things being equal" has been formalized in the philosophy of science:

            In any particular context, we may or may not be entitled to the assumption that other things actually are equal. The mere existence of a structurally sound cue ball will not cause a break. To be the cause of a break, the ball must be subjected to a force of proper magnitude and direction, on a level table, within a gravitational field of a particular kind, etc. etc. That is why I said, "I am taking it for granted that if any necessary conditions are lacking, then a sufficient condition cannot obtain."

            Prior to Galileo, what many people saw happening was the sun and stars orbiting the earth.

            No, that' s how they interpreted what they saw. They saw the same movements of the sun and stars that we do.

            Galileo said that "reason must do violence to the sense" when it comes to this observation people were making in his time.

            That was a nice rhetorical flourish on his part. I wouldn't treat it as a principle of scientific methodology.

            I don't believe anything happens, anywhere in the universe, unless a sufficient condition for its happening has obtained.

            How is this not just a simple tautology?

            Your question was: "do external objects cause your neurons to behave in certain ways, or do you actually really just think that statistically, there will be some correlation?" Pick any neuron in my brain. It will not fire unless some sufficient condition has occurred. That condition could be some state of affairs in the external world or it could be the activity of one or more other neurons in my brain. Whatever that condition is, I would call it the cause of that neuron's firing.

            Statistical correlations obviously make everything a lot more complicated, but we can begin thus: If it is the case, for example, that B happens 95 percent of the time when A happens, then we might be justified in saying that A has a 95 percent probability of causing B.

            What would it mean for something to happen without a sufficient condition for its happening being the case?

            It would mean that it was possible for some events to be uncaused.

          • Right. Each is necessary. But none alone is sufficient.

            Ok, so can you give me an example of "A causes B" with fully sufficient conditions?

            No, that' s how they interpreted what they saw. They saw the same movements of the sun and stars that we do.

            Of what relevance is that assertion, if all perceptions are interpreted? Or are you saying that somehow you can peel away the interpretive layer?

            That was a nice rhetorical flourish on his part. I wouldn't treat it as a principle of scientific methodology.

            Only if there is such a thing as an interpretation-free observation. Otherwise, what Galileo is saying is that the interpretive aspect of observation can be wildly wrong, and need correction that isn't merely empirical in nature.

            Statistical correlations obviously make everything a lot more complicated, but we can begin thus: If it is the case, for example, that B happens 95 percent of the time when A happens, then we might be justified in saying that A has a 95 percent probability of causing B.

            That doesn't work, because there could be a C which actually causes A 100% of the time and B 95% of the time. There is a crucial difference between correlation and causation, one which you don't seem to be allowing for.

            It would mean that it was possible for some events to be uncaused.

            Why is the sufficient condition for B happening always a non-empty set? I would ask you what sense-data have convinced you of such a thing, and how the reasoning went from sense-data to assertion.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ok, so can you give me an example of "A causes B" with fully sufficient conditions?

            You mean an example that you'll accept? Probably not, but here's one for the lurkers.

            For an internal combustion engine to start and continue running, a sufficient condition is the conjunction of three conditions. They are: (1) a proper mixture of fuel and air, (2) proper compression of that mixture, and (3) a properly timed ignition spark. Those three (A) will cause the engine to operate (B).

            They saw the same movements of the sun and stars that we do.

            Of what relevance is that assertion, if all perceptions are interpreted?

            I was talking about seeing, not about perceiving. Seeing and perceiving are not necessarily the same thing.

            Or are you saying that somehow you can peel away the interpretive layer?

            I accept the assertion all observation is theory-laden. If you and I disagree about something we observe, then we can inquire whether our disagreement is due to conflicting theories that we bring to the observation. If it is, then we can put the observation on hold and discuss the relative merits of our theories.

            There is a crucial difference between correlation and causation, one which you don't seem to be allowing for.

            You asked me, in effect, to define causation. I have defined it in terms of correlation. That is not the same as defining correlation in terms of causation, and I intended nothing of the sort.

            In the example to which you are responding, I said, "If it is the case, for example . . . then we might be justified in saying that A has a 95 percent probability of causing B [emphasis added]." Now, suppose you manage to prove that, notwithstanding the 95% correlation, it is actually possible in any situation for B to happen without A happening. Then you will then have demonstrated that some condition other than A is a sufficient condition, and in that case B might have more than one cause. Or it might have only one cause, but whenever it occurs, A also occurs 95 percent of the time.

            We have to consider these possibilities whenever we think we have identified a cause for anything. Whatever we perceive to be the cause might not be the actual cause.

            What would it mean for something to happen without a sufficient condition for its happening being the case?

            It would mean that it was possible for some events to be uncaused.

            Why is the sufficient condition for B happening always a non-empty set?

            You asked me what I meant by causation. Whether it's possible for the empty set to be a cause of anything is a different question, and right now I'm not interested in addressing it. If you believe that some events have no causes, then I'm not going to argue with you about that.

          • For an internal combustion engine to start and continue running, a sufficient condition is the conjunction of three conditions. They are: (1) a proper mixture of fuel and air, (2) proper compression of that mixture, and (3) a properly timed ignition spark. Those three (A) will cause the engine to operate (B).

            Ok, let's work with this definition. If you trace the requisite dependency backward, how big is the sufficient condition in an actual situation? Is it a time-series of events which stretches back to the beginning of reality? I'm not actually sure that my focus on necessary conditions is an important contrast with your focus on sufficient conditions.

            What I really want to know is whether humans 'causing' things, in your view, is anything other than the cue ball causing the racked balls to be broken. Key here is that the cue ball itself necessarily acted as it did because of some antecdecent state of affairs. When we judge people to be controlled in this way, we generally absolve them of any responsibility; we say that it wasn't really them acting, but instead they were being coerced. However, it's not clear that you can support such a distinction between free action and coercion.

            I was talking about seeing, not about perceiving. Seeing and perceiving are not necessarily the same thing.

            As long as you'll acknowledge that it is an article of faith that they all saw the same thing, I'll work with it. After all: if all perception is interpreted, and we are only conscious of what we percieve, not directly of what we see, then we cannot actually know that they all saw the same thing. Recall that the statement of yours which sparked this tangent is "What happens is what we observe happening." If you define 'observe' = 'see', then this is a faith-statement. If you define 'observe' = 'perceive', then that statement seems manifestly false—at least for some people, since perceptions have changed drastically. If you define 'observe' otherwise, please provide a definition.

            You asked me, in effect, to define causation. I have defined it in terms of correlation. That is not the same as defining correlation in terms of causation, and I intended nothing of the sort.

            The difference is between causation merely being the constant conjunction of events and between there being a necessitarian aspect to it. One way to understand this is that sometimes, many different scientific models can adequately capture some phenomenon. However, it is generally assumed (per Nancy Cartwright's study of how scientists actually do science) that there is only one causal mechanism which is truly taking place. So while the phenomenon correlates nicely with many models (such that under each model, conditions sufficient to the effect happening occur), that doesn't suffice to attach the description of 'caused'.

          • Doug Shaver

            The difference is between causation merely being the constant conjunction of events and between there being a necessitarian aspect to it.

            Maybe we're getting into an equivocation over necessity. I've already said that any sufficient condition must include any necessary conditions. If C is a necessary condition for B, then by definition, B does not happen if C does not happen. And so if A can happen without C also happening, then it is incorrect, in some sense, to say that A causes B. But at the same time, if A actually is a sufficient condition for B, then we often say that if A happens, then necessarily B will happen.

            The best answer to any question (such as "What caused X?") often depends on why we're asking the question. Whenever an airplane crashes, the government spends a huge amount of taxpayers' money trying to figure out the cause. This is not because nobody knows how to create a sufficient condition for crashing an airplane. The purpose of any crash investigation is to prevent future crashes by identifying conditions that (a) were necessary for the particular crash and (b) were preventable. If you prevent a necessary condition for any event, then the event does not happen. And so, what we mean by "cause" may depend on context. In most contexts, I believe, we're looking for a sufficient condition, but in some contexts we're more interested in necessary conditions. But in either case we're talking about a necessary conjunction. When we say that A causes B, we mean either that A cannot happen unless B also happens, or we mean that B cannot happen unless A also happens.

            If you trace the requisite dependency backward, how big is the sufficient condition in an actual situation? Is it a time-series of events which stretches back to the beginning of reality?

            Again, context matters. Having determined that A caused B, we might have good reason to ask what caused A, and then to ask what was the cause of that condition, and so on as far back as we want to go. But could we trace the conditions sufficient for the occurrence of 9-11 back to a millisecond after the Big Bang? I won't pretend to know, but even if we could in principle do that, we'll certainly never be able in practice to do it.

            What I really want to know is whether humans 'causing' things, in your view, is anything other than the cue ball causing the racked balls to be broken. Key here is that the cue ball itself necessarily acted as it did because of some antecdecent state of affairs. When we judge people to be controlled in this way, we generally absolve them of any responsibility; we say that it wasn't really them acting, but instead they were being coerced. However, it's not clear that you can support such a distinction between free action and coercion.

            That is a tough philosophical problem, and I cannot solve it in an essay short enough to post here. Daniel Dennett wrote a whole book (Freedom Evolves in which he attempted to solve it, and I don't know anyone (myself included) who thinks he was entirely successful. I do think he is on the right track, though, insofar as his argument hinges on answering the question: Exactly what do we mean by the "free" in "free will"? I don't think the answer is as obvious as many people seem to think it is.

            After all: if all perception is interpreted, and we are only conscious of what we percieve, not directly of what we see, then we cannot actually know that they all saw the same thing. Recall that the statement of yours which sparked this tangent is "What happens is what we observe happening." If you define 'observe' = 'see', then this is a faith-statement. If you define 'observe' = 'perceive', then that statement seems manifestly false—at least for some people, since perceptions have changed drastically. If you define 'observe' otherwise, please provide a definition.

            Whether I would agree, regarding anything I say, that it is a faith statement depends on how you're defining faith. Like every other human being, there are things I believe but cannot prove. If you wish to call them faith statements, go ahead, but I prefer to call them assumptions.

            As for the distinctions among seeing, perceiving, and observing, I just don't have time. From that, you may infer what you will.

          • Doug Shaver

            As far as I understand your metaphysic, humans can only cause things in the sense of being a noticeable intermediary in a chain of causation which passes straight through them, with the human exerting zero influence on that causal chain.

            You misunderstand my metaphysics. Probably, that's because I don't have a metaphysics. All I have is physics. And I didn't get it by reading Lucretius. I got it by reading the works of present-day scientists.

            In my physics, a cause of anything is just a sufficient condition for that thing. If A is a sufficient condition for B, then A causes B, i.e. A -> B. If B in turn is a sufficient condition for C, then B -> C. To extend the chain of causation indefinitely is not to negate any link in the chain.

          • Probably, that's because I don't have a metaphysics.

            You don't believe in any causation other than the regular conjunction of events? If this is wrong, I would be interested in an accounting of how you gather data on causation exclusively from sense-data. Hume argued this could not happen, but perhaps you think he is in error? If it turns out that he is not in error and that you hold to a robust form of causation, then you indeed do have a metaphysic: one that gives you an idea of causation which is not purely based on sense-data.

            To extend the chain of causation indefinitely is not to negate any link in the chain.

            When a person is manipulated into making a choice, we generally think that the quality of that choice is very different from one 'freely' made. Indeed, we assign moral culpability based on this difference! If there is no such difference—if making what was the first element is made a second—then we have some work to do in bringing our conceptions of moral responsiblity up to snuff! We'd be making invalid distinctions and making some people suffer terribly as a result!

          • Doug Shaver

            I would be interested in an accounting of how you gather data on causation exclusively from sense-data.

            Causation is the label I attach to sense data of a certain kind.

            Hume argued this could not happen, but perhaps you think he is in error?

            Perhaps I do. Do you believe he was infallible? If not, why should I think he never made a mistake?

            then we have some work to do in bringing our conceptions of moral responsiblity up to snuff!

            Yes, we do. It isn't easy, but fortunately for our moral instincts, it is work that can be done.

          • Causation is the label I attach to sense data of a certain kind.

            What is the best account you know of for how this is done?

            Perhaps I do. Do you believe he was infallible? If not, why should I think he never made a mistake?

            Neither of your questions needs to be true for Hume's argument to be worth attending. Instead, he merely tried to rigorously understand perception, and by his lights, causation cannot arrive via sense data. Per Hume, all one can do is see correlation. Causation can never be inferred; instead, it is more of a model which can be fit to the data. Indeed, there are many concepts of causation which can be fit to the data—some better than other, some more philosophically robust than others.

            Yes, we do. It isn't easy, but fortunately for our moral instincts, it is work that can be done.

            Do you think we can really have any sense of moral responsibility if a person is never anything but a cue ball, struck by a cue? Moral instincts can be built on useful fictions, but we want to know what is ultimately true, right? We want to dig below the appearances, below environments which are only contingently some way and not another.

          • Doug Shaver

            Causation is the label I attach to sense data of a certain kind.

            What is the best account you know of for how this is done?

            If you're asking why we talk the way we talk, a good place to start would be The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker.

            Neither of your questions needs to be true for Hume's argument to be worth attending.

            Questions cannot be either true or false. If you assume they can only have certain answers, then those answers can be true or false, but not the questions themselves.

            he merely tried to rigorously understand perception,

            Yes, and he did a great job. But he didn't have the last word on the subject, any more than Newton had the last word on the things he wrote about.

            but we want to know what is ultimately true, right?

            Right. But what we want is irrelevant. The universe is the way it is, quite regardless of whether we'd like it to be that way.

            We want to dig below the appearances, below environments which are only contingently some way and not another.

            That is a worthy endeavor, and it's kind of what science is all about. We should continue the effort to the best of our ability, but never forgetting that we're unlikely ever to be entirely successful.

          • If you're asking why we talk the way we talk, a good place to start would be The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker.

            Well, I'm interested in a justification for why what we're doing is valid. Enlightenment folks asked the same of religious folks and found many holes. Think of me doing the same, although much less eloquently. The reverse is even done today: it is said that we have a hyper-active agency detection device but that it misfires when it comes to belief in divinity. Well, maybe we have in-built models of causation which also misfire, or pretend to be comprehensive when they are but one kind.

            Does Pinker attempt to justify what we do, or does he merely describe what we do, when it comes to thinking about causation?

            Questions cannot be either true or false.

            My apologies; I meant that neither of your questions requires a "yes" answer for Hume's argument to be worth attending. I'm actually a little surprised that you asked them, because it seems self-evidently ludicrous to hold to a "yes" answer to either one.

            Yes, and he did a great job. But he didn't have the last word on the subject, any more than Newton had the last word on the things he wrote about.

            Well, what do you think Hume got wrong?

            LB: [...] but we want to know what is ultimately true, right?

            DS: Right. But what we want is irrelevant. The universe is the way it is, quite regardless of whether we'd like it to be that way.

            That's an odd reply. Are you saying that perhaps it will be impossible for us to know what is ultimately true? Actually, what we really want is to have some idea that we are moving toward what is ultimately true. That is required for science to make anything resembling 'objective' progress.

          • Doug Shaver

            Well, I'm interested in a justification for why what we're doing is valid.

            Our linguistic habits evolved as a way to expand the transfer of information from one brain to another and, probably, to facilitate the processing of information within each brain. There was no way for natural selection to ensure that the information being transferred or processed was always accurate, if that's what you mean by validity. To work on that problem, we had to develop science.

            Does Pinker attempt to justify what we do, or does he merely describe what we do, when it comes to thinking about causation?

            I don't recall his addressing that particular issue, but I see no reason to think it would be different from all other linguistic issues. Words are defined by usage. Our definitions cannot be true or false, but only more or less useful. If you and I define causation differently, then at some level and to some degree, we are literally not talking about the same thing.

            Well, what do you think Hume got wrong?

            In the present context, I'm not interested in either attacking or defending him. If I were, I'd have to spend a considerable amount of time, not currently available to me, re-reading his essay. I'm trying to tell you what I believe and why I believe it. Whether or what extent Hume might have disagreed with me is just beside the point.

            Are you saying that perhaps it will be impossible for us to know what is ultimately true?

            I have no idea how ultimate truth differs from any other kind of truth. Whatever we believe is just either true or false. If you're asking whether we'll ever get to a point where we're justified in thinking that some of our beliefs are infallibly true, I suspect the answer is no.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Strangely enough, there once were scientists conversant with philosophy: Poincare, Einstein, Heisenberg, et al. Perhaps not so strangely, they were the last generation of scientists to make revolutionary breakthroughs in natural science.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      I'll let Peter Higgs, Stephen Hawking, Watson/Crick/Franklin, Pauli, etc. know that their breakthroughs did not make the grade. Shame that the natural sciences halted 100 years ago.

      But seriously, how often do you expect "revolutionary breakthroughs" to occur? Once every 100 years? 200? I think its premature to say they were the "last generation."

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        My reply seems not to have been posted and is now at one with the aether. But see the comments to Ignatius, below.

        I don't know why you think natural science halted 100 years ago when all I said is that the revolution happened 100 years ago. SInce then we have been following up on the breakthrough. Higgs and Hawking, for example, were following up on Einstein's work. Watson et al. were trying to discern the geometry of a molecule whose existence and importance were already known as a consequence of the genetic revolution in biology. (The pre-Mendelian concept of inheritance was that the actual blood of the parents was blended in the child. That is, inheritance was continuous. Mendel showed that it was digital.)

        It's not the technological innovations at issue, but the overturning of a previous way-of-thinking that opens up new possibilities for those innovations. No one would ever have looked for a Higgs field or the geometry of a DNA molecule if they were still thinking in mechanical Newtonian terms or the blending of parental blood.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          Well.. I followed up my comment about natural science halting with "But seriously..." hoping that it would hint that the previous section was tongue in cheek.

          I understand that much of the work in the last century has been building on QM and GR, but if you are setting the bar that high, then revolutionary breakthroughs don't really happen that often. So maybe we haven't had a breakthrough that redefines a whole field of science in 100 years... but its a little early to proclaim that they have now ceased and lament the last generation.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            He's also totally missing the experimental evidence that lead to the revolution. I don't know why I post here.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            How so? No one claims a shift in viewpoint comes about for no reason.

            Experimental evidence, like any factual evidence, is not self-explanatory. It must be interpreted in the light of a theory. Duhem once told of two physicists, one who accepted the concept of pressure taught by Lagrange, the other who accepted the concept as taught by Laplace and Poincare. Faced with the same experiment with the same outcome, one would find a hypothesis involving pressure supported and the other find it disproven. This was because the measurements did not mean the same thing. The revolution involved a shift in the way facts were seen.

            As Einstein told Heisenberg, "Theory determines what can be observed," a comment which Heisenberg later said changed his life.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The paradigm didn't shift simply because great minds conversant in philosophy had the ability to think outside of the box (which they certainly had), but also because of the experimental evidence that couldn't be explained by current models.

            Things like Michelson-Morely and the photoelectric effect demanded a new explanation. Physics was revolutionized, because there was unexplained observations.

          • Do you have a sense of how many actively practicing scientists (perhaps limited to experimentalists) plenty acknowledge the theory-ladenness of observation? I wonder if this is largely a "science advocate" problem—or at least, a problem more prevalent among science advocates than actual scientists.

            Now, my viewpoint might be skewed by being married to a biophysicist who is also becoming a biochemist. The number of unobservables they theorize about is huge. Having to deal with multiple, deeply conflicting interpretations of some data set is a daily activity. I don't see how positivism can have much of a grip, there.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Oh there will be another some day. "Last" here means like "last week."

      • But seriously, how often do you expect "revolutionary breakthroughs" to occur? Once every 100 years? 200? I think its premature to say they were the "last generation."

        The worry seems to be that failing to take philosophy seriously will hamstring future revolutionary breakthroughs. I think it's a valid worry. Let's take a true revolution, that spurred by Galileo. If you think he did it by merely trusting his senses as opposed to, say, speculating on how many angels can dance on a pin—you'd have it flat wrong[1]. If you think he didn't have crucial conceptual support developed by the Scholastics(!), you'd have it flat wrong[2]. I think we've actually lost that contribution in much of popular consciousness, as we tend to think there is one right interpretation of the stuff that matters.

        A great example of philosophical ineptitude which has done fantastic harm is in the matter of causation. We're starting to pull out of it with work like that of Ilya Prigogine and critical realists in the human sciences, but there's still a lot of rank ignorance. For example, Sean Carroll insists on an incredibly simplistic concept of causation not just as a model for the particular kind of research he does, but as ontological reality. I doubt that Carroll would ever take seriously a work like Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles.

        Now, who are the ones inspiring the imagination of youngers today? Folks like Neil deGrasse Tyson. Go read Massimo Pigliucci's Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Value of Philosophy. Here's how his Huffington Post article starts:

        It seems like my friend Neil deGrasse Tyson [1] has done it again: He has dismissed philosophy as a useless enterprise and actually advised bright students to stay away from it. It is not the first time Neil has done this sort of thing, and he is far from being the only scientist to do so. But in his case the offense is particularly egregious, for two reasons: first, because he is a highly visible science communicator, and second, because I told him not to, several times.

        I think this is worrisome. Do you not?

        [1] Galileo trusted the senses? Think again:

        It is commonly thought that the birth of modern natural science was made possible by an intellectual shift from a mainly abstract and speculative conception of the world to a carefully elaborated image based on observations. There is some grain of truth in this claim, but this grain depends very much on what one takes observation to be. In the philosophy of science of our century, observation has been practically equated with sense perception. This is understandable if we think of the attitude of radical empiricism that inspired Ernst Mach and the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, who powerfully influenced our century's philosophy of science. However, this was not the attitude of the founders of modern science: Galileo, for example, expressed in a famous passage of the Assayer the conviction that perceptual features of the world are merely subjective, and are produced in the 'animal' by the motion and impacts of unobservable particles that are endowed uniquely with mathematically expressible properties, and which are therefore the real features of the world. Moreover, on other occasions, when defending the Copernican theory, he explicitly remarked that in admitting that the Sun is static and the Earth turns on its own axis, 'reason must do violence to the sense', and that it is thanks to this violence that one can know the true constitution of the universe. (The Reality of the Unobservable, 1)

        [2] The Scholastics' work was critical to the scientific revolution:

            Medieval theologians engaged in a new and unique genre of hypothetical reasoning. In order to expand the logical horizon of God's omnipotence as far as could be, they distinguished between that which is possible or impossible de potentia Dei absoluta as against that which is so de potentia Dei ordinata. This distinction was fleshed out with an incessant search for orders of nature different from ours which are nonetheless logically possible. Leibniz's contraposition of the nécessité logique (founded on the law of noncontradiction) and the nécessité physique (founded on the principle of sufficient reason) has its roots in these Scholastic discussions, and with it the questions about the status of laws of nature in modern philosophies of science. But medieval hypothetical reasoning did not serve future metatheoretical discussions alone. The considerations of counterfactual orders of nature in the Middle Ages actually paved the way for the formulation of laws of nature since Galileo in the following sense: seventeenth-century science articulated some basic laws of nature as counterfactual conditionals that do not describe any natural state but function as heuristic limiting cases to a series of phenomena, for example, the principle of inertia. Medieval schoolmen never did so; their counterfactual yet possible orders of nature were conceived as incommensurable with the actual structure of the universe, incommensurable either in principle or because none of their entities can be given a concrete measure. But in considering them vigorously, the theological imagination prepared for the scientific. This is the theme of my third chapter. (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 10–11)

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Seriously? You are taking two variables that are difficult to quantify and then insinuating a causative case? As a statistician, you should know better.

      Einstein is probably the 2nd most influential physicist who ever lived, behind only Newton. It is odd to pull a random attribute of Einstein's (conversant in philosophy) and then claim it is causitve. It could just as strongly be argued that Einstein and Newton both believed that Jesus wasn't God, no wonder they were the ones making revolutionary breakthroughs.

      It takes some time to recognize revolutionary theories (they have to be tested), and we are not necessarily able to judge their worth until some time has passed. Overlapping mentioned Higgs, but also Feynman and Weinberg.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Higgs and the rest were working within the paradigm set up by Einstein; they did not create a new paradigm.

        It wasn't just Einstein. The revolution in physics was wrought by a generation: Heisenberg was part of it; so were Poincare and a bunch of others during the "Singularity" (1880-1920). It was that whole cohort that had received a liberal education, rather than technical training.

        You cannot revolutionize unless you can examine and the "unexamined assumptions" that underlie the existing paradigm -- the philosophy, as it were. Most folks don't even know they are making those assumptions, let alone question them. The next several generations are spent unpacking and exploiting the consequences of the new paradigm.

        After QM and GR it was no longer possible to do science in the old mechanistic style of the 18th and 19th centuries. Physicists were working in a different mental universe than had been Hooke or Priestly or Helmholz. And we are still unpacking and dealing with the contradictions and problems raised by the QM/GR revolution. (For one thing: QM and GR have yet to be made mutually compatible.)

        • Ignatius Reilly

          How many times do you think the paradigm has shifted like it did in the 20th century? Do we have enough data to evaluate your conclusion?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It's not a scientific hypothesis, but an historical one. Not everything is science.

            I would say the previous paradigm shift was the one that culminated in Newton, but which also included Harvey, Dalton, and others. (Different sciences may be unfolding at different paces.) Just think of the mental wrenching needed to start viewing the heavens as an empty void within which planets and stars are whirling. The telescope, which started the revolution, introduced us to the astonishing notion that the celestial bodies were physical places and astronomy shifted from a branch of mathematics to a branch of physics.

            After Newton, scientists figured that everything could be explained by particles whipping about in a void in obedience to an inverse square law. About a century later, Coulomb's law seemed a stunning confirmation of this, and atoms were duly imagined as miniature solar systems with electron whizzing like planets around a nucleus/sun.

            Sound and heat and everything were brought into line by being reimagined also as particles in motion. How they actually felt -- i.e., the actual phenomena being explained -- was stuffed into the closet of the mind. When folks eventually tried to explain mind as particles in motion, they were in the position of trying to stuff the closet itself into the closet. And this was after the physicists had blown up the old mechanical metaphor and not even particles seemed to have objective existence anymore.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So, in the past 400 years we have had what 3-5 revolutions in science. Given that time must pass before revolutions are recognized and that they are relatively rare, how are you in any position to link revolutions to philosophy? Furthermore, given the insane amount of time it would take to come to terms with current physics, how would you even know if something is revolutionary or not?

            Darwin revolutionized biology. Was this because of his philosophical training?

          • Well, Darwin study did study the classics, learned Greek, and was trained in Cambridge's divinity schools. He wrote, at least a little, on Aristotle. He's definitely more cultured than many scientists are at present.

  • Well, my last comment to Luc Regis was that I would let 'them' have the last word. This was in reference to the allocation of such terms as 'incoherence' to some of my previous comments, (and perhaps that will include this one as well). Well, 'the last word' is a phrase often ascribed to the final words spoken before death, so whether that should be attributed to either scientism or more traditional forms of metaphysics, is possibly a subject that is not about to 'die' easily within this 'generation'. (I speak the above within a metaphorical context.)
    Why would some appear to be so frightened, or have other forms of 'aversion' towards incoherence in the first place, might I ask? Read a bit from 'the' philosophers, for instance, even Nietzsche, and one soon hears them saying such things as that if one does not dare to embrace such 'thought', one might also not access what had previously been thought to be the unattainable within -yes- even scientific discovery. Some post-moderns, for instance, (Deleuze) have 'dared' to make even the category/label Schizophrenia into a metaphorical reference to point out that our thought as 'homo sapient', may still be somewhat limited, and thus there is some interest in challenging even the 'logos' (understood in my case, as the constraints of a logic limited for instance by an either/or or an emphasis on one of alternative polarities). It has thus been interesting to note that these same scientists/mathematicians who rightly point out the subjective nature of some of my comments, also however, are not open to such writings as given by James Joyce, and others who deviate from an accepted standard of empirical emphasis even within the 'poetic'. I have even wondered what they would think of some Shakespeare.

    Yes. I have benefited greatly even from the information these comments have provided regarding historical criticism of biblical texts. Yet, I remember a class on Positivism, (the first version of scientism?) back in the 70's, and my first introduction to the term 'fuzzy thinking'. And even back then, I protested, with the alternative perspective that Aristotle's 'metaphors' were not fuzzy, but ways of putting forth the order found in proportionality. (The term reason is derived from 'ratio' - need more be said). In other words this 'beauty' was necessary to survey, before one could rise to a comprehensive appreciation, or possibility even of the development and origin of language, (which I later found to, yes, be based primarily on metaphor-Nietzsche, with words over time becoming so common place to our understanding that we could no long 'see' their 'metaphysical' significance.)

    No - I too had to put down Finnegan's Wake after the first paragraph, just as I would not be able to get through the fully structured presentation of the equation; E=M x the speed of light squared.....(although I have wondered whether there is an unintended, unexamined, possibility that there might indeed be something that travels faster than the speed of light, implicit within the meaning of this inference! just as I still 'wonder' about just what Plato 'meant' or was 'referring to' as those higher forms...) .And so I will indeed 'do' another experiment, very often, in an attempt to understand the experience, rather than the logical derivatives found within the examinations of thought limited to 'language' - alone. So I ask another question, and try again....not expecting to find answers, but able to feel more 'secure' in the 'madness' of 'self-referential' thinking, or the examination of my 'own/personal' thought processes with respect to such questions. And I do so, without apology. I'm a bit of a 'donald trump' in that regard, to give you a metaphor that will surely 'antagonize' you or even, heaven forbid, startle you into a possible irreverent thought process! (I merely suggest - could there not possibly be other modes of thinking that are what? not accessible to us, either because of the limitations of our inheritance through evolution or-- because we have not the 'capacity' of 'angels'!!!) But for me, to juxtapose such extreme possibilities remains a good exemplification of what could be called 'agnosticism', within, hopefully, a true Socratic definition of that term. (and yet he too was seen to be often in a what? -catatonic trance?- but yes his 'forms' are still with us, at least in 'theory'). Agnosticism v s. Gnosticism. Now why, as I leave this comment, I ask, would the latter have been considered a heresy, but the first - what? not worthy of any thought? Another unrecognized inconsistency within language? The polarities again?....why????? can I not bring to my awareness the needed analysis, that would be necessary to truly understand the implications, within a broader context than is assumed to be sufficient within what is accepted as our so-called understanding of what is spoken.

    In my favor, I am at least very happy in that I never feel bored, nor do I feel like I need to find a justification through debate of any of these 'poetic images', that can at least even in the writing of Immanuel Kant, be regarded as the 'free play' of the imagination. I need nothing more. Good article. Please regard this comment, as you will or won't. It is merely a reflection of where my 'thoughts' are at the moment. Who knows what shall arise after the 'post'. -postpartum/mortem/whatever!! (But I 'shall' live on, in any 'case' !!!! and I say this with ironic appreciation that it is a vague enough 'image'/statement, to allow me to get out of any possible 'argument'...)....Thank you.
    Edit: was reading Patheos, and since I mentioned Trump, I interpreted the following comparison between Kant and Nietzsche- scientific objectivity contrasted with subjectivity- or thought and emotion, etc. etc. as relevant dichotomies. As stated the solution that would be offered by Chabad, is based on having a balanced outlook. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionnow/2016/04/trump-nietzsche-and-the-jewish-tradition/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Pan%20Patheos%20041316%20%281%29&utm_content=&spMailingID=51145107&spUserID=NjM1MDAxMjE3ODES1&spJobID=901687446&spReportId=OTAxNjg3NDQ2S0

    • Lazarus

      You seem quite cheerful today, Loreen.
      Good to see.

      You say you're never bored - now that's a very under-rated modern skill, maybe even a gift.

      • Well, if I may continue to speak what comes to mind within the immediacy of my experience, your comment reminded me of conversations with my son about a decade ago, when he constantly expressed his feeling of being with the 'same old...same old'. I then happened! upon a saying that there were two alternatives in life - boredom, or the suffering of the pain of experience. Since that time I have explored 'countless' possible exemplifications of 'potential' meanings. There is 'another' alternative- maybe more....???? to what I shall address as an either/or situation, - unfortunately.

        As you are presently exploring personally, the distinctions between atheism and theism (those are just stereotypical words within this context!- for me), may I follow suit by suggesting that perhaps Buddhism or any form of stoical detachment would present a way of dealing with life in which there is given some purpose to the 'absence' of 'personal' involvement which I would identify as the basis of 'boredom'. (As in 'loving' detachment!) On the other hand, Christianity, (Judaeo-Christianity I am learning, and yes, possibly Islam, etc. I'm still investigating here) in the acceptance of life trials, either as 'bearing one's cross', or even 'taking the sins of others onto one's self', (a true? form of living 'with' forgiveness'?) or living according to Allah??? - or some central focus???? that must be 'accepted'???? could also be considered as 'ways' of living 'with' the 'experience' of suffering: i.e. within this world of 'change', yes 'change' - that which could be characterized as the explanation or inevitability that there is such!!! suffering. (Perhaps a more scientific approach to issues of Theodicy?!!!) The ''!!! are there in order to get some distance-detachment! - ironically!!!

        As far as forms of naturalism are concerned, (another word to avoid the term a-theism) I am reminded of Kant's perspective in Prologemena to any Future Metaphysics, in which he 'demonstrates'? the 'fact'? that the human 'psyche' is such that 'metaphysics cannot be avoided'. We can even use a computer term - hard wired. And indeed, modern cosmologists have more or less brought us 'back' to the origins of 'civilized religions'!!! in a replay of original Hindu thought within the multi-verse thesis. As I commented previously, I do not take seriously the possibility that this new atheism/scientism represents any 'real metaphysical exploration' as to whether there is or is not a God. Indeed this suggestion would be true to their self-depiction would it not?(irony!). No unlike all of the freethinkers I have been associated with during my life, this 'philosophy' is to my understanding, a protest movement, against the practices of religion - 'fundamentally!!!!'. My only advice would be for these 'followers' to study, within a true scientific spirit, the mind-sets that are helpful as modes of self development with the purpose of overcoming trauma, etc. etc. And interestingly, this could/would include cognitive therapy which I associate with 'philosophy' and also the adaptation of Buddhist practices such as mindfulness and meditation which have been found to have particular relevance even by that 'scientism?' of psychology. edit: Then perhaps what is primarily a protest movement could develop practical, scientific, psychological parameters, whatever, that were more 'positivistically!!!' (note irony) motivated towards an understanding of the 'personal' - if such a word would be allowed within the discourse..

        This brings us back to one of the points of this post: may I suggest that metaphysics, is an inescapable part of our being as conscious agents not only within the world - (even as in the philosophical study of the words we speak - language theories), but also the internal thought processes that with or without language, are often beyond our ability to put into a coherent perspective understandable to 'others'. I therefore would like to look at metaphysics as perhaps a scientific study (the analytic philosopher's term descriptive metaphysics is perhaps one form) or an attempt to bring about greater understanding of the internal thought processes that we identify with our 'self', including 'meaning', 'subjectivity', etc. etc.

        One other little note: I have always found it more important to emphasis the need for understanding of any battle within the mind (as exemplified in the Bahavagida even) as a primary focus of personal development. If this is the priority, then winning an argument can even be seen as somewhat trivial in comparison. For me there will surely remain a constant need to 'know myself'. And it is for this reason, I believe, that I 'never' find myself in a state of 'boredom'.

        Good to hear from you Lazarus.

  • David Nickol

    It is not at all clear to me that Bill Nye is actually espousing "scientism," and it is also not clear to me that anybody else does, either. Accusing someone of scientism seems to me somewhat similar to accusing someone of relativism. Scientism and relativism are positions that people are accused of holding, but it is difficult to find people who actually claim to hold them and defend them.

    I agree that Bill Nye gives a muddled answer, but it certainly is true that there is much that is indisputably "philosophical" that is of absolutely of no use to science—for example, Hume's thought on the Problem of Induction. I have spent a certain amount of time on the philosophy of science, and while it is fascinating, I can't see that it would be of much use to a practicing scientist. For one thing, it is full of open questions. No scientist need wait until such questions are settled (if they ever will be, which is doubtful) to proceed "doing science."

    As I say, I agree that Nye gives a muddled answer, but it does seem to me he alludes to authentic positions within philosophy that are of no use to science rather than dismissing philosophy altogether. I also think he makes an interesting point when says that both science and philosophy are human inventions (and language, too). It is not the case that philosophy was a discipline given by God and science is a mere human invention.

    • What's so offensive about being characterized as holding to scientism? If stuff that is 'subjective' does not qualify as 'knowledge', than that leaves the subject matter of science as nothing else. We can let mathematical truths slip through as a special category that is manifestly not subjective. The key is that matters of 'ought', matters of what is valuable or good, cannot possibly qualify as 'knowledge'. Even God existing would not necessarily mean that you should change any aspect of your life.

      Neither is relativism necessarily unscientific. F = ma is relatively true. It is "true for you" under certain conditions. There's zero guarantee that we'll ever find foundational truth; maybe we'll always find that our best scientific theories are only valid in certain domains. The only thing which is actually important is that the persons with whom I am currently attempting to communicate currently exist in enough of the same domain as I. Perhaps h is different in different parts of space; that wouldn't disallow any and all physics research. No constant must be absolutely constant for all of our science to be valid, when interpreted instrumentally.

      Incidentally, IIRC Jerry Coyne does make a statement awfully close to scientism in one of his books; I could try finding it if you'd like.

      • David Nickol

        What's so offensive about being characterized as holding to scientism?

        My point was that scientism is almost always used as a pejorative (as is relativism). It might help if you could find the quote you mention by Jerry Coyne, but does Coyne actually declare himself a proponent of scientism? I am no expert here, nor do I intend to spend hours googling "scientism" and reading everything I can find, but it seems to me that scientism is generally regarded as an element or a strain is someone's thinking that is pointed out as a flaw. It doesn't seem to be a philosophical school of thought in which people self-identify as "scientismists" and argue against "antiscientismists."

        Neither is relativism necessarily unscientific. F = ma is relatively true.

        I am not going to attempt to figure out exactly what you mean hear, and attempt to agree or disagree, since I was thinking mainly about moral relativism.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Apparently in one author, in one book, said something very close to scientism. I think Luke is agreeing with you that nobody actually believes the straw man that the OP just set up:

          Incidentally, IIRC Jerry Coyne does make a statement awfully close to scientism in one of his books; I could try finding it if you'd like.

        • Lazarus

          Coyne, on my reading of his treatment of scientism, would not really be an actual proponent thereof. He seems more disposed towards it being a rather meaningless and harmless idea, and if to be used we should also make use of the term "religionism".

          Ed Feser recently wrote a scathing review of "Faith v Fact", with which review I I largely agree, but Coyne's treatment of scientism in the book is very informative.

        • I'll try and find the relevant quote or quotes. As to 'scientism' being used as a pejorative, why does that mean its denotation has to be wrong? Perhaps you simply disagree with the value judgments which led to the negative connotation.

          If you want a more scholarly treatment of scientism, see Tom Sorell's Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science. If you only go off of people like Feser of course you're going to get polemics. There are also polemics against materialism, but that doesn't mean people aren't solidly materialists (or perhaps these days: physicalists).

          Fact cannot always be teased fully apart from value, but a person can be extremely negative about something while still treating it pretty fairly. For example, I'm led to believe that Nietzsche actually had a pretty solid understanding of Christianity, even though he abhored it.

          Even moral relativism isn't necessarily bad; if our ability to know in the moral domain is like our ability to know in the scientific domain, then perhaps we only come to know absolutes via relative measures. Perhaps the true laws of nature are infinitely complex; perhaps the true moral absolutes are infinitely complex. If so, then we hack at each bit by bit, establishing validity within certain domains. In the scientific domain, this is called Ceteris Paribus Laws.

          One place where I woudl say moral relativism goes sour is when "society defines what is right and wrong"; on that reasoning, it was right that Jesus was executed. Not every atheist I've asked has agreed that it was wrong for Jesus to be executed. And you know what? If God didn't have a hand in forming my moral intuitions, the relativists may well contribute toward a better social reality than I! Certainty is an extremely sharp knife, whether wielded by worshipper of deity, nihilist, or any other option.

          • David Nickol

            As to 'scientism' being used as a pejorative, why does that mean its denotation has to be wrong?

            It was not my intention to argue against scientism. It was my intention to say, first, I did not think Bill Nye, to the extent he made any clear points at all, was a proponent of scientism, and second, I did not think we have any proponents of scientism here on Strange Notions. So I wondered what the point of posting the OP was. So far, I don't think we have had a clear example of scientism either from the OP or from any commenters, so I don't feel this discussion is amounting to much of anything. Bill Nye clearly gave a muddled answer to the question put to him, but if I were going to write a post on scientism, I would find instances of people clearly espousing it and criticize them. Bill Nye wasn't so much an easy target here as a wrong target. He just doesn't seem to be a spokesperson for scientism.

          • I agree that a more systematic treatment of scientism with clear examples would be helpful. But surely you know that people frequently have muddled viewpoints, where one has to guess at what purer thing might undergird—or perhaps some combination of purer things, perhaps even a contradictory combination.

            I defend Bishop Barron in this way: I believe that the term "Big Think" means something—something which includes thinking rigorously. And Bill Nye is a public intellectual who is responsible for whether he helps reinforce the meaning of words, or acts more like corrosive acid, eating away at what is solid and making the waters murky. I think it's perfectly valid to guess that Nye holds to scientism, and then look to see if his statements are consistent or inconsistent with it. And if you want at least a partial definition, here:

            What is crucial to scientism is not the identification of something as scientific or unscientific but the thought that the scientific is much more valuable than the non-scientific, or the thought that the non-scientific is of negligible value. (Scientism, 9)

            I have to say, Nye's waffling on whether his questioner will have a future with philosophy is very suggestive of the above. No, Nye is not a spokesman for scientism. But why is that relevant? Not all racists are spokespersons for racism—sometimes they just do it subconsciously. That doesn't make it less dangerous. If you disagree with racism, you are well within your intellectual rights to criticize racism where you see it. (BTW, it's hard to pick something not-contentious to compare, for I suspect contention is integral to what I'm getting at.) Taken-for-granted presuppositions are powerful, powerful things.

          • Bill Nye clearly gave a muddled answer to the question put to him, but if I were going to write a post on scientism, I would find instances of people clearly espousing it and criticize them.

            I will agree that it would be good to have a set of examples graded by confidence that it's an example of scientism. Perhaps this could be one of them:

            In the 1960s, for example, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, wrote that

            It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. ... Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we seek its aid. ... The future belongs to science and to those who make friends with science.[3]

            Views like Nehru's were once quite widely held, and, along with professions of faith in the 'scientific' political economy of Marx, they were perhaps typical of the scientism of politicians in the 1950s and 1960s. (Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science, 2)

          • David Nickol

            I am not sure I would characterize Nehru's comment as scientism. Surely he was speaking as a politician. Would he really have meant science alone (without politicians and a government) would solve the problems of hunger and poverty? He says, "At every turn we seek its aid?" Who would "we" be, if not government and other organizations attempting to eradicate hunger and poverty?

          • Who says you cannot apply science to politics and government? The key, as I see it, is that "what is good" is assumed to be perfectly known, except for how science might fine-tune. There's no further need to do the things which science is constitutionally unable to do—those are all finished, or not worth doing. If you want an example of how this might play out:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            That's from 1998.

          • David Nickol

            If you want a more scholarly treatment of scientism . . . .

            I generally appreciate book recommendations, but I have enough on my reading list without adding a scholarly treatment of scientism. It seems to me what contributors to Strange Notions are supposed to do is make points that intelligent and thoughtful nonspecialists (what used to be called "laymen") find interesting and intelligible enough to discuss with the contributors themselves (if they bother to read and respond to comments) or with other interested nonspecialist commenters. I don't think Bishop Barron really discussed what Bill Nye actually said, I don't think he gave a clear definition of scientism, and I don't think he gave any examples. I think it's great if a post inspires someone to dig deeper into the subject and read a book, but I think very few of us come here looking for books and articles to add to our reading lists. If the OP here did its job, we would be discussing what was in it rather than looking for books to read on scientism. The current OP could have read, in its entirety, "Scientism is bad; discuss among yourselves," and it would have sparked pretty much the same discussion as we have had.

          • I could quibble, but I agree that there are much better ways to talk about scientism. There are also much better ways to talk about the degradation of importance of the human sciences. One might, for example, appeal to Romano Guardini's The End of the Modern World, where he looks at what happens if we think that the solution to our problems is more power over reality. Just more power—do more science, more engineering, and once that engine has purred for enough years, we'll be living the easy life. That story has clearly sputtered.

            We could also bring in Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society, to see just what all our technology has brought us. Did predictions match up with reality, or have they perhaps fallen well short? Humans are remarkably good at adapting to their current conditions, so if we only analyze a situation after it's "settled", we will miss things.

            This being said, I myself find this whole topic pretty muddled, as if there isn't enough theoretical work done to elucidate and clarify all this stuff. For example, the very state of the word 'subjective' is a testament, I think, to how immature thinking is on these matters. It is as if Alasdair MacIntyre is exactly right on his characterization of our culture and emotivism. Given this, I have a hard time faulting Bishop Barron too much. If anything, one could argue that this scientism article adds virtually nothing to the last. That I think I'd find one of the better criticisms, given the mitigating factor I indicated.

        • In his book Faith vs. Fact, Coyne says the following in the chapter "Is Science the Only "Way of Knowing"?":

          Any discipline that studies the universe using the methods of “broad” science is capable in principle of finding truth and producing knowledge. If it doesn’t, no knowledge is possible.

          Isn't that 'scientism'?

          • David Nickol

            Isn't that 'scientism'?

            No, having taken an admittedly very quick look at the chapter, I would say that is not scientism. A great deal depends on his definitions of "broad" science and knowledge. For example, he includes both philosophy in general and philosophy of science among the disciplines that use the methods of "broad" science and are capable of producing knowledge.

          • Where do you see that? I see:

            What about mathematics and philosophy? They’re a bit different. Although they’re useful tools for both science and rational thinking, they don’t by themselves yield knowledge about the universe.

          • David Nickol

            See the two paragraphs following the one you quote from.

            . . . . Nevertheless, it would be churlish to argue that the Pythagorean theorem, the value of pi as the ratio of two measurements of a circle, or Fermat's Last Theorem do not constitute "knowledge." They are indeed knowledge (or "truth")—knowledge not about the universe, but about the logical consequences of a series of assumptions.

            Philosophy can produce a similar kind of knowledge, and understanding of the consequences that follow logically from certain premises. Although Richard Feynman reportedly dismissed the value of philosophy to science with an infamous remark, "Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds," he was wrong on two counts. Philosophy of science is useful to scientists, and ornithology is useful to birds (many birders are conservationists). Philosophy, for instance, provides a rigorous framework for thinking about issues like consciousness, evolution, and evolutionary psychology, for finding fallacies in pseudosciences like creationism, and for interpreting science for the layperson. One of the great values of philosophy is its ability to find important logical errors. A good example is Plato's "Euthyphro Argument," which shows that, contrary to the claims of theists, most people derive their morality not from God's dictates but from secular thinking. This too seems a kind of knowledge.

            This does not seem like the "scientism" Bishop Barron is denouncing, or at least not a hard-core version of it, which I gather insists (allegedly) that the hard sciences are the only path to anything that can be called knowledge. I am not at all sure what such an approach to knowledge would look like, or how a person who was a "scientismist" would behave.

          • Michael Murray

            I am not at all sure what such an approach to knowledge would look like, or how a person who was a "scientismist" would behave.

            Dr Spock maybe ?

            EDIT: Oops. Mr Spock !

          • David Nickol

            I think you mean Mr. Spock (the half-Vulcan, half human), not Dr. Spock, the pediatrician who wrote Baby and Child Care.

            I think Mr. Spock is at least as human as any other Star Trek character, only he "rationalizes" all his actions. In fact, that's his appeal. For example, he loves Captain Kirk (and we love him for that) even though he would never admit it. Whenever he risks or sacrifices his life for Jim Kirk, he always pretends he has a purely logical reason. But we know better.

          • I'm going to have to push back against that severe characterization; Spock is a lot more logical than his crewmates. As it turns out, it's an asset to have that kind of thinking as well as the thinking Kirk and McCoy engaged in. This doesn't mean Spock never rationalizes—those are the glorious moments—but I think it's quite severe to say that he's just like the others except for coming up with rational stories to tell.

          • Michael Murray

            Oh sorry. Yes I mean Mr Spock!

          • I'm pretty sure scientism is compatible with mathematics being an entirely different kind of knowledge. One can be called knowledge_empirical and the other, knowledge_logical.

            The real point here is that under scientism, a deity cannot communicate claims about reality such that a person is possibly justified as acting as if they are true. And because ultimate reality is assumed to be dysteleological, there is no truly existing telos for anyone or anything. This of course means that humans get to make up their own purposes, no matter how conditioned they are by empirical knowledge. tl;dr There is no knowledge_theological.

            I don't think there's only one way adherents of scientism would behave, just like there are many different ways that atheists behave and many different ways that theists behave. They will disbelieve in the possibility of knowledge_theological (whether self-reflectively or unwittingly), and one interesting result is that simulated beings in a computer-generated world wouldn't be justified in knowing that they are being communicated to by their programmer(s). I find that quite odd.

      • Lazarus

        Coyne, in "Faith v Fact" (see what he did there ...) deals with the concept of scientism rather extensively. He is not convinced that it is all that harmful a phenomenon, if it exists at all. He does suggest, rather cleverly, that if we are going to make use of "scientism" we should also make use of "religionism".

        • David Nickol

          He does suggest, rather cleverly, that if we are going to make use of "scientism" we should also make use of "religionism".

          This seems reasonable to me, and it is my opinion that Bishop Barron in the OP (and elsewhere) sometimes advocates "religionism." For example, he says,

          The physical sciences can reveal the chemical composition of ink and paper, but they cannot, even in principle, tell us anything about the meaning of Moby Dick or The Wasteland.

          But first, there is more to science than the physical sciences, and second, neuroscience is in its infancy. Current psychology might very well tell us something about the meaning of Moby Dick or The Wasteland. We are not totally ignorant of the way literature "works." Reading a work of literature and reacting to it is not purely a mechanical process, but neither is it an entirely "spiritual" process. And the beauty of the Sistine Chapel is certainly open to some scientific exploration.

          • Perhaps Bishop Barron is getting at the fact/value dichotomy?

        • Your jogging my memory on the appropriate book helped me find the money quote.

  • Sample1

    What does atheism have to do with the blogger's account of "scientism"?

    Mike, atheist

    • David Nickol

      I suppose it is possible that a proponent of scientism is necessarily an atheist, but that does not at all mean that being an atheist makes a person a proponent of scientism. Since we do not seem to have any proponents of scientism who comment here, it is probably not the most appropriate piece for this audience.

      • Sample1

        "I Myself Am A Scientismist," by Scott Alexander on Slate Star Codex, here, probably would have garnered more attention from atheists than the friendly "hit job" style of blogging againt a popular figure, Bill Nye.

        Incidentally, I came across the referenced link on Andrew's counter-site, Outshine The Sun.

        It's a good read, imho.

        Mike

      • ClayJames

        Since we do not seem to have any proponents of scientism who comment here, it is probably not the most appropriate piece for this audience.

        We do not have proponents of scientism at the level of Dawkins, but we do have several commenters who hold scientistic beliefs and in that since this can be very useful.

  • George

    Robert Barron must confront the Arguments from Ignorance which the church deploys constantly in arguments to shore up belief in YahwehJesus.

    "You can't explain this, therefore I've explained it." That is the accurate simplification right there.

    "Science can't tell us how this baby survived for an hour without oxygen, so we'll say that Fulton Sheen did it. Fulton Sheen reached down from heaven and kept that baby alive. Well the doctors just said that they don't what happened!"

    You know what the most frustrating thing to deal with from christian apologists is? When they twist your words.

    Saying "But how do you, Christian Apologist, KNOW that science will never answer this question?" is not the same as saying: "Well science WILL eventually figure this out, science will figure out X, Y, Z, and you just have to wait for it."

    I'd like to see Robert Barron call this out when it happens from apologists and colleagues within his school of thought. I'd like to see Trent Horn calling it out instead of dishing it out.

    Are you interested in cleaning out dishonesty and falsehoods from your "side" of the argument? Or will you be a mercenary opportunist, willing to let anything pass as long as it superficially helps?

    • You need to quote some actual writings by Catholic apologists. Your allegedly accurate simplifications just don't cut it. Who said it? Exactly what did they say? In what context? Then we can be sure you are not refuting a straw man.

      • George

        Listen to Catholic Answers Live. Look up anything regarding medical miracles being cited to justifying designating dead people as saints.

        • Can you give me one link? Maybe even a block quote. It is so easy to ask your opponents to find data to back up your assertions.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            The Catholic Church's process of verifying miracles is only a little more than an argument from ignorance. From http://www.catholicstand.com/rational-judgment-miraculous-cure/ (bolding mine):

            In order for the event “to be regarded as a possible miracle the healing must be judged by the specialists as rapid, complete, lasting and inexplicable by current medical and scientific knowledge.

            From there, bishops check that there was some sort of connection to the Catholic faith, like that the family prayed to someone (Wow! What are the odds that a family would pray for their sick loved one?!). But it's largely "Science can't (currently) explain it, must be a miracle!"

            By definition, the amount of miracles must decrease as time goes on. As scientific knowledge grows the unexplained-by-science category shrinks. Things that today fall into the potential miracle category will not tomorrow.

          • By definition, the amount of miracles must decrease as time goes on.

            This isn't true at all. Reality could be infinitely complex, and miracles glimpses and aids at increased levels of complexity. There is absolutely no need for a miracle to be inexplicable for all time. God wants to be known (Jn 17:3), not revered at a distance for his mysterious workings and awesome power. Now pick the miracles which would accomplish the former and not the latter.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I'm dealing with the above cited definition which requires that a miracle be "inexplicable by current medical and scientific knowledge." Under that definition, whether an event is miraculous depends on it being inexplicable.

            It seems you are using a different definition of "miracle" so we are talking about two different things.

          • First, there is the option that the definition means that "current" is linked to when the miracle happened.

            Second, let us suppose that "current" means the ever-advancing Now. If the rate of miracles is constant with time, and current medical and scientific knowledge advance perfectly correlated such that what was a miracle > 2 years ago is now understood, then the current set of events called 'miracle' is constant in size with time, not decreasing.

            I don't see how your reasoning works with either interpretation. I do see how it would appear valid with an conflation of the two interpretations. Have I missed something?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I think I see where the confusion is coming from. What I meant was that the number of new miracles would decrease as time goes on. (Although I suppose you could counter that God could just focus his miracle efforts within the ever decreasing pockets of human ignorance in order to keep up His yearly quota...) So I see what you are saying. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that the playing field for miracles by definition, will shrink.

            I must say that you seem to have a very interesting understanding of what a miracle is. If an event qualifies as a miracle, were are saying that it was caused by God's intervention. If we were to later discover a scientific cause for it, then, under the first interpretation we continue to call it a miracle even though we now know what caused it and the same exact event would no longer be considered "caused by God"? Under the second interpretation, things declared miracles are un-declared once we learn more about the world. Would some saints potentially be un-canonized as well?

          • Perhaps it would be accurate to say that the playing field for miracles by definition, will shrink.

            Even that doesn't work: take away any finite chunk of infinity and you get the same infinity left over—not a single iota less. Now of course this requires that reality be infinitely complex. To my knowledge, there is zero philosophical argument for how complex we ought to suppose that ultimate reality is. There is plenty of argument that we should chip away at the extant complexity bit by bit, instead of trying to swallow huge chunks with zero analytical masceration.

            I must say that you seem to have a very interesting understanding of what a miracle is.

            My first inspiration is Kenny Pearce's Leibniz's theistic case against Humean miracles. My second is Isaiah 55:6–9, which has the opposite meaning of what is typically meant by people citing vv8–9: God wants people to follow his ways, he wants people to emulate his thoughts. And anyone who knows her history knows that the Greeks had the phrase "contemplating divine thoughts" and Christians who investigated nature had the phrase "thinking God's thoughts after him". For miracles to be permanently impenetrable just doesn't jibe with this desire of God's to want to be increasingly known. Instead, permanently impenetrable miracles denote "Might makes right."—at least, to me. (I will except a few miracles; not everything must be comprehensible only to an infinite mind. Leibniz can be understood as including two miracles in this category: creation of reality and the Incarnation.)

            If we were to later discover a scientific cause for it, then, under the first interpretation we continue to call it a miracle even though we now know what caused it and the same exact event would no longer be considered "caused by God"?

            That which eats away at God having responsibility for doing things would also eat away at human responsibility for having done things. It's a philosophical issue of agenthood and causation, not a scientific issue of any sort. I'm inclined to say that God and what & who he created enact different types of causation. This difference was lost with nominalism and univocity of being.

          • So look at the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Or look at the healing of a man born blind in John 9. How are they different. A man born blind does not suddenly gain sight. A man dead 4 days does not suddenly rise. Impossible. Maybe not completely. You could imagine a highly unlike scenario for each. But these things did not just happen. They happened immediately after that person interacted with Jesus. Is that just God of the gaps? Why not? There is some judgement to be made about how unlikely it is and how close the proximity to the interaction with Jesus was. Still it seems the conditions mentioned in Kevin's article are the right ones.

            So what about the miracle in the article. Remember the acceptance of the miracle was not being used as proof that God exists but rather as evidence that Bl Josemaria Escriva is actually in heaven. When miracles occur as result of someone's intercession that is an indication that they are not in hell or in purgatory. They are actively interceding for us before the throne of God. This is good for the faithful to know. So it is important not just that God did the miracle but that it was done through the ministry of that particular person.

            Anyway, the healing seems to be quite rare. If the diagnosis was right it was unheard of. The proximity to the intercession of Bl Josemaria Escriva seems fairly accurate as well. The intercession started and the cure was complete within weeks. It comes down to judgement. It is unlikely enough? Is the proximity close enough? I would have to read more details to say for sure but the article makes a good case for it.

            I am always surprised how little interest atheists show in digging into these miracles. They are supposed to be about evidence and reason. Yet when there is actual evidence to evaluate they don't do it. I know it takes time. Still we are talking about some big questions. You might think it worth some time.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I never said that the miracles are used as proof of God's existence. Whether they are used to confirm someone's existence in heaven or hell is irrelevant.

            If we take the Gospel of John at its word, then its completely different than the miracle claims of today. Not only is raising the dead and healing the blind on a whole different scale, but the impression given is that every healing that Jesus attempts is successful and most go beyond what is possible. So from that we could conclude at the least, that Jesus has some very amazing abilities, but not that he is the master and creator of the universe! How do we get from "that man raised a dead man" to "therefore he is the creator of the universe, author of morality, and essence of being itself"?

            If we want to take it a step further, John does explicitly say that Jesus is God. If we already accept that Jesus is God and that he healed a blind or dead man, then sure, that's a miracle. Within the context of the story, God did something supernatural - the very definition of a miracle.

            But this is not at all what we see with modern miracles. Most prayers go unanswered and on average do neither benefit or harm. What is happening here is that occasionally something unexplained happens (healing), and you're ascribing the cause to something that most people do anyway (pray). Yes, occasionally the healing happens soon after the prayer, sometimes it happens much after, and many times not at all. But this exactly what we would expect to see if no miracles occur: occasionally weird things happen shortly after someone does a common activity.

            I wonder what your thoughts are on the supposed vaccine-autism connection are. After all, some kids begin showing signs of autism very soon after receiving their vaccination. Seems that concluding that there is a connection is not much different than concluding that those healings are miraculous. Never mind all the kids that don't get autism.

          • Jesus does not just do miracles. He makes statements. He says, " I am the light of the world" and then He heals a blind man. He says "I am the resurrection and the life" and then He raises someone from the dead. It is not that hard to make the connection.

            As for the healing in the article, is that less probable? Is that less connected with the spiritual act? Maybe a bit. It still seems fairly arbitrary for you to dismiss one set of data and accept the other. Is there some line that fails to get crossed in the modern case? There may be, I am just not at all clear in what it is.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            And so it is your opinion that Jesus actually said what is recorded in the Gospels?

          • David Nickol

            I believe it is possible that many of the sayings in the Gospels go back to Jesus, but the two Randy Gritter gives are from the Gospel of John, and almost nobody believes Jesus actually said those things. It is almost universally believed (by believers!) that the discourses in John are theological meditations that the author of John placed on the lips of Jesus. The NAB says,

            Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style. For instance, some of the wondrous deeds of Jesus have been worked into highly effective dramatic scenes (Jn 9); there has been a careful attempt to have these followed by discourses that explain them (Jn 5; 6); and the sayings of Jesus have been woven into long discourses of a quasi-poetic form resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Using the NAB as a source on SN? Tut-tut, David.

          • That is a different question. I just read Brant Pitre's book so I know the historical evidence is very strong that the gospels reflect the general character of what Jesus said and did. Plus the church tells me these books were inspired so when I accepted Catholicism that came with it.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I just read Brant Pitre's book so I know the historical evidence is very strong that the gospels reflect the general character of what Jesus said and did.

            So have you rounded out your reading list with other scholars, or are you just believing what Pitre writes?

            Pitre is fringe scholarship.

            Plus the church tells me these books were inspired so when I accepted Catholicism that came with it.

            I don't think I could be satisfied with that - the Church says so therefore it is seems like rather specious reasoning. What does it mean for a book to be inspired? When the Church says that the Gospel of John is inspired, but the Odyssey is not, what does that mean exactly?

          • Lazarus

            Pitre is most certainly not "fringe scholarship". If we count heads there may be more NT scholars that may disagree with him on a few topics, but that may have more to do with the mess that NT scholarship has found it in over the last few decades than the quality of Pitre's work. David Nickol has pointed out some difficulties with Pitre's book, but his scholarship can be assessed regardless of certain of his authorship practices. Pitre of course also deals extensively with the work of other authors in this book and his other books. As far as Catholic scholars are concerned Pitre is conventional enough. Except, of course, if we want to start typifying traditional Catholic teaching as "fringe".

            While of course one can accept or reject the Church's teachings over the centuries as brought down to us today, I don't see how accepting such teaching can be "specious reasoning". On what basis has it been rejected, and who so rejected it?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Pitre is most certainly not "fringe scholarship". If we count heads there may be more NT scholars that may disagree with him on a few topics, but that may have more to do with the mess that NT scholarship has found it in over the last few decades than the quality of Pitre's work.

            Doing things like dating Matthew before Mark makes you fringe. His sourcing practices makes him a dishonest scholar. Regardless, my point still stands. Randy reads one book and does not read any books with different viewpoints. He reads a minor (arguably fringe) scholar Pitre that agrees with his preconceived viewpoints, while ignoring major scholars like Vermes, Wright, Sanders, Fredriksen, etc.

            While of course one can accept or reject the Church's teachings over the centuries as brought down to us today, I don't see how accepting such teaching can be "specious reasoning". On what basis has it been rejected, and who so rejected it?

            For people so intellectually lazy that they read one book, which agrees with their viewpoints, and consider themselves well-informed, it is quite apropos that they blindly live their life by Church dictums.
            You know, Laz, when I was an Catholic, I used to argue with atheists on the internet. They would occasionally recommend books (I requested them) on evolution and philosophy. I read them. A Catholic I knew would recommend books to further explore the topics. I read those too. I recently read a few books on Jesus (still haven't gotten around to Wright, but I will) and I started Hart's book on your recommendation. It takes time and effort to learn. I'm uninterested in people who read one book and smugly assert that the RCC is right about everything. It us unbelievably lazy, and such bores usually have poor taste in art and are no fun to drink with, so I ask, why is your Church so full of these tedious people?

            I think you, Jim, and YOS are good Catholic commenters on SN. The rest should spend many weeks at a library. To plagiarize Hitchens: it is best not to be the person who has never read the oppositions arguments. I will answer your question when I am a little less frustrated.

          • Lazarus

            Fredriksen? Now we're talking fringe.

            Why are we burying Randy. Did he say he only read one book? That not my assessment of his knowledge. I readily concede that there are "lazy" Catholics. They may with full justification ask why need to read any of the books that may interest you or me. People (I would say the majority) come to their faith simply, and they practice it simply and contentedly, without the need for constant reading and keeping up with the latest in theology. I envy them. They are not "tedious" at all. Your high intellectual standards have brought you what exactly? Atheism? Why should "my Church" have more well-read people?

            I'm really not going to ask you how we get to being tedious and lazy to having poor taste in art and being poor drinking companions. That is certainly not my experience. In fact, I find the general internet atheist (yourself specifically excluded) to be theologically and philosophically naive and far from well-read. And sometimes tremendously boring to have a drink with.

            I would like to think though that most of this comes from the frustration that you mentioned. I'm sure it won't last.

          • David Nickol

            Why are we burying Randy. Did he say he only read one book? That not my assessment of his knowledge.

            He did say the following:

            I just read Brant Pitre's book so I know the historical evidence is very strong that the gospels reflect the general character of what Jesus said and did.

            I read the book carefully, and I spent a lot of time researching the topics Pitre covered—relying mostly on Catholic sources—and there were so many problems I gave up on writing a review. If you want to see the kind of review I wish I could have written, see the review (titled Confecting Evidence) in First Things of Pitre's earlier book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. If any publication could be expected to be sympathetic to Pitre, it is the very conservative First Things, but it is a devastating review, and much of what the reviewer says is true of The Case for Jesus. Immediately after reading Pitre's book, I read N. T. Wright's far superior Who Was Jesus? and the contrast could not have been more striking.

          • Lazarus

            First Things is one of the publications that I regularly read, but they are sometimes motivated by other concerns than just conservative Catholicism. But thanks for the link, I will read it later tonight.

            On the other hand, we have Bishop Barron (who I presume no-one here will classify as a maverick liberal) who amongst other support in the afterword to "Case for Jesus" says the following :

            "Any prospective teacher, catechist, or evangelist who wants to deepen his or her knowledge of and passion for the Lord Jesus should read this book—and use it."

            Hardly "fringe scholarship" if it is recommended by Bishop Barron in this way.

            Barron goes further and points out :

            "Relying on the groundbreaking work of E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, and others, Dr. Pitre has persuasively shown that the Gospels were written by either eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) or those in close association with eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke), that they properly fit into the genre of ancient biography (and not folklore), that they were composed far earlier than the standard scholarly consensus has it, and that they are the results of a disciplined process of communication that commenced even during the earthly life of Jesus. He has thereby mounted what I think is the most successful argument against the Telephone game nonsense and has given Christian evangelists renewed confidence in the message they are bearing to the world."

          • David Nickol

            As I have said, I read The Case for Jesus, so I read Bishop Barron's Afterword, and I was frankly appalled by it. I hope he didn't actually read the book. One of the most infuriating things about Pitre's book is that he quotes "big name" biblical scholars like E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, Raymond E. Brown, and Joseph Fitzmyer disingenuously. None of them would agree with his conclusions. As I pointed out in another thread, Pitre says:

            In the words of Raymond Brown:

            When all is said and done, the combination of external and internal evidence associating the Fourth Gospel with John son of Zebedee makes this the strongest hypothesis, if one is prepared to give credence to the Gospel's claim of an eyewitness source.

            Then, in the Notes section of the back of the book, he says, "In his later writing, Brown changed his mind on this point and no longer gave weight to the external evidence for John the son of Zebedee."

            It would be one thing if Pitre had presented Brown's earlier reasoning and said he found it more persuasive than his later change of position. But he present's Brown's conclusion as if it were an authoritative statement, and buries in the back of the book that Brown later changed his mind. It strikes me as deceitful. He is presenting "the words of Raymond Brown" when Raymond Brown himself wouldn't agree with them.

          • Lazarus

            I think that you are being unduly harsh in this criticism. Brown comes to his initial conclusion, as quoted by Pitre, based on the internal and external evidence. All that Pitre points out, in my view quite properly, is that Brown relinquished his support for the external evidence. Brown's quote is in any event simply used as one strand in an argument that spans several pages and chapters.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            EP Sanders praised Fredriksen and seemed to think her book was rather mainstream. I'm on a mobile device, but I'll find the link later. Certainly if we compared Pitre and Fredriksen's academic credentials Pitre would come out the clear loser.

            Randy hasn't indicated that he has read anything but Pitre. Indeed, he claimed that he knew based on one book.

            What I find tedious is intellectual laziness combined with smugness, dogmatism, and some judgementalism thrown in for good measure. Such people usually have poor taste and are terrible drinking companions.

            What has my intellectual curiosity gotten me? At least some measure of fulfillment. It also means that my opinions whether it be on the Crusades, economics, or something else tend to be more grounded in fact. This is a good thing.

            If most people are coming to the faith in a simple way, it should be noted that that faith is not rationaly based. Such beliefs can be very dangerous.

            I'm not claiming that all atheists are models of rationality. I am saying that simple faith arguments don't cut it on a site devoted to rational conversation. Part of that is admitting to facts.

          • You so called fringe scholars point out a ton of problems with "mainstream" scholarship. Those scholars seem to ignore quite devastating criticism. So I give them the respect they deserve. Yet if you can find an actual counter argument to guys like Pitre rather than just ad hominems then I would be willing to listen.

            I don't think I could be satisfied with that - the Church says so therefore it is seems like rather specious reasoning. What does it mean for a book to be inspired? When the Church says that the Gospel of John is inspired, but the Odyssey is not, what does that mean exactly?

            There is nothing wrong with the reasoning. If God is speaking through the church then you trust it. There is nothing irrational about believing you are hearing God's voice.

            What does inspired mean? It means God guided the author to write certain things. That even parts that might be fiction would tell us about God because of that. Still the part that is presented as fact should be basically true because God does not inspire people to lie. He does inspire people to say things in a certain way. So the fact that John says, for example, that the Word was God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We know that is not just John's opinion. God is speaking to us through John.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You so called fringe scholars point out a ton of problems with "mainstream" scholarship. Those scholars seem to ignore quite devastating criticism. So I give them the respect they deserve. Yet if you can find an actual counter argument to guys like Pitre rather than just ad hominems then I would be willing to listen.

            Saying that someone is fringe scholarship is not an ad hominem. It is a description of their scholarship. Now, what mainstream scholars have you read or are familiar with?

            There is nothing wrong with the reasoning. If God is speaking through the church then you trust it. There is nothing irrational about believing you are hearing God's voice.

            You are abandoning your reasoning and moral compass to an institution. History tells us that that can be a very bad thing.

            What does inspired mean? It means God guided the author to write certain things.

            Can there be immoral or false teaching in the Bible according to your view on how God inspires these books?

          • It is an ad hominem. It is dismissing an argument by name calling. I don't think it describes the scholar at all. It does more to describe you irrational bias. So do you have an argument?

            Catholics don't abandon reason or a moral compass. Catholicism forms your conscience and informs your reason. Both facilities become more powerful when someone becomes Catholic.

            The bible describes teaching as it unfolded over time. There are some things God taught that were a step in the right direction but would no longer be acceptable. For example, saying church leaders should be the husband of one wife. That was good but is no longer good enough. Now God says polygamy is unacceptable for anyone.

          • David Nickol

            It is an ad hominem. It is dismissing an argument by name calling. I don't think it describes the scholar at all.

            I am not sure what argument is being dismissed. "Fringe scholarship" is perhaps not a designation I would use, but Pitre is not in the "mainstream." I know how much conservative Catholics hate the New American Bible, but I think it is fair to call it mainstream, and Pitre is out of agreement with the NAB regarding issues like the dating and authorship of the Gospels. In all of my Catholic references, I could not find anyone who agreed with his interpretations of the Book of Daniel, which is critical to his case.

          • I think his points on authorship and dates are much more relevant. I have no doubt the NAB says what "everyone" is saying. You don't understand his point if you expected any different.

            I don't think the Daniel stuff is as critical to his case as you suppose. I agree that he presents it as an important part of the "Do the synoptics present Jesus as claiming to be God?" analysis. Some of his examples do depend on it and I think he is right. Still my reaction to that part of the book is that he could have included many more examples. I have heard other scholars do so. So I think he could grant you the Daniel objection, whatever you think he has wrong on there, and still make his point.

            Synoptic statements off the top of my head that go beyond what any prophet said:

            All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me

            Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away

            You have heard it said "thou shalt not kill" but I say ...

            Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

          • David Nickol

            I think his points on authorship and dates are much more relevant.

            Pitre says:

            According to some scholars, Jesus's oracles about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem are not actual prophecies delivered almost forty years before the event. Instead, these scholars think these parts of the Gospel of Mark were written up after the fact by later Christians reflecting on their own experiences of the current events revolving around the destruction of the Temple in the year AD 70. . . .

            This is the primary foundation for dating the Synoptic Gospels to the late first century AD. The argument rest almost entirely on the claim that Jesus's oracles about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple were written up after the fact. . . . [Italics in original.]

            What is curious about this is that almost every source I check dates the composition of Mark before the destruction of the Temple, not after it. For example, McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible says the following:

            The date is not so well established. Irenaeus affirms that Mk was written after the death of Peter and Paul; Clement of Alexandria has a story that Mk was written at the request of Roman Christians while Peter was still living. Neither tradition can be tested. Modern critics are generally agreed that Mk was written in the decade 60-70; efforts to show an earlier or a later date have nobe been successful. The question turns principally on the "apocalypes" of Mk 13; some critics think that it reflects the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. Most contemporary scholars believe that the event would leave much more distinct and numerous traces if it had occurred before Mk 13 was written.

            Bart Ehrman (The New Testament, Fourth Edition) says the following:

            It appears that Maark, the earliest Gospel, was penned around the year 65 C.E. or so, and that John, the latest, was written perhaps around the year 95 C.E. These are only approximate dates, of course, but they are accepted by virtually all scholars. . . .

            Elsewhere, Ehrman says:

            Mark stresses, however, that the suffering would not last forever. In fact, it would not last long. Just as Jesus was vindicated, so too wil be his faithful followers. And the end was near (9:1). This may have been suggested to Mark by current events: many scholars believe that the Gospel was written during the early stages of the Jewish War against Rome (66-70 C.E.), at the conclusion of which the Temple itself was destroyed. . . .

            For what it's worth, Wikipedia says:

            The book was probably written c.AD 66–70, during Nero's persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt, as suggested by internal references to war in Judea and to persecution, but it may have been written or redacted after that period. According to Boring, the author used a variety of sources derived from accounts predating the gospel's composition, such as conflict stories (Mark 2:1-3:6), apocalyptic discourse (4:1-35), and collections of sayings (although not the Gospel of Thomas and probably not the Q source).

            The NAB says:

            Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution and when destruction loomed over Jerusalem. Its audience seems to have been Gentile, unfamiliar with Jewish customs (hence Mk 7:3–4, 11). The book aimed to equip such Christians to stand faithful in the face of persecution (Mk 13:9–13), while going on with the proclamation of the gospel begun in Galilee (Mk 13:10; 14:9). Modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria, and perhaps shortly after the year 70.

            The thing to note here is that, although Pitre claims those who date the Gospels later than he believes them to have been written do so by claiming Mark 13 must have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem AD 70), everything I have quoted above (with the exception of the last sentence from the NAB) places the date of composition for Mark before the destruction of Jerusalem.

            I suggest Dr. Pitre is at best mistaken when he says, "This [Mark and the destruction of Jerusalem] is the primary foundation for dating the Synoptic Gospels to the late first century AD." Note that Pitre is directly contradicted by McKenzie, who says most scholars conclude that Mark's account was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. As I quoted above, McKenzie says, "Most contemporary scholars believe that the event would leave much more distinct and numerous traces if it had occurred before Mk 13 was written."

            I don't believe Pitre's book is reliable when it comes to giving an account of the contemporary consensus in modern biblical scholarship.

          • So you agree with Pitre that there is no good reason to date the gospels after 70 AD? This is good. I have read that mostly about Matthew. Not so much about Mark. Perhaps Matthew's description of the event is a little more accurate.

            The same argument still applies. If the writing is deemed to be so close to 70 AD to make the prediction more plausible that seems like very similar reasoning on both sides.

          • David Nickol

            So you agree with Pitre that there is no good reason to date the gospels after 70 AD?

            Definitely not. There is no reason to date the Gospel of Mark after AD 70. There are good reasons to date Matthew and Luke after Mark, and there is good reason to date John well after Matthew and Luke—in the last decade of the first century.

            I want to emphasize what perhaps I did not say bluntly enough above. Pitre's assertion about why Mark is dated after AD 70 by modern scholars is false. Most modern scholars simply do not date Mark after 70 but rather before 70. If you want good information on the dating of the Gospels, you will have to look to someone other than Pitre. There must be many books out there by "conservative" Christians that make the case for early dates for the Gospels. The Case for Jesus is simply not a good book. I say that not because I disagree with Pitre's conclusions, but because his arguments are poor and he misuses the work of other scholars.

          • David Nickol

            To anyone: I know Brant Pitre's book has been very well received by readers who are not scholars. (See, for example, the rave reviews on Amazon.com.) However, I haven't found any reviews of The Case for Jesus or Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper by scholars that have not been seriously critical. I am trying to be as fair as I can in evaluating the reaction to his work, so if anyone can call attention to positive reviews of those or other of his books, I would be very interested to get links to them.

          • I do think he oversimplified the situation. When writing popular theology rather than scholarly theology you need to simplify. Yet I do feel like he left out some important details on this question. Thank you for pointing that out.

            Still I think he makes a pretty good case that his book is better than all your books put together. You have not defended them at all against the most devastating criticisms. I do think I was too kind to them. I often read their evidence-free assertions. I assumed they had reasons and evidence that made sense to them. I mean nobody would publish stuff with no data behind it, would they? I guess I was wrong to assume that.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No, saying that someone is fringe scholarship means that they are outside the mainstream. It is not an attack. Again, have you read any mainstream scholars?

            You want me to make an argument that Jesus didn't say the words in John?

            One does not become a better reasoner by abdicating their reason to an institution.

            So the bible does have immoral teachings in it?

          • He is not mainstream. I think fringe is too strong. It is not like there are only one or two guys saying what he is saying. There are many scholars who agree with him. If you read his book he quotes many of them as well as many who disagree. They are typically not found at big name universities. They are often employed by smaller, Christian colleges and seminaries. Yet there are quite a number of them.

            I find it ironic that you say Catholics abdicate their reason to an institution. You are abdicating your reason to "mainstream" scholarship. You are not expecting them to explain and defend their position. You are just swallowing it whole. The Catholic church does not expect Catholics to do that with its teachings. i think it is sad that you are doing it.

            "So the bible does have immoral teachings in it?"
            I explained why the matter is not so simple. Now you want to pin me down on a yes or no answer?

          • Lazarus

            Let us assume that Jesus did not say any meaningful part of what was recorded.

            The alternative then is that one or more people either created from thin air or misremembered into writing some of the most beautiful and profound and inspiring words ever recorded, words by which billions guide their lives, century after century.

            Now, which is the most probable conclusion : that a group of people created this without basing it essentially on actual words, or that a man walking among them, their friends, said all or most of it, inspiring the Gospels?

            The words used by Joseph Smith, by Mohamed, while popular and giving rise to religions on their own, are so very different from what we find in the Gospels. While Smith and Mohamed deal with general guiding principles, Jesus gives us parables, sermons, examples that are simply in a class of their own.

            Either Jesus said essentially what was recorded in the Gospels or we have here a fiction writing team of 2 000 years ago such as the world has never seen.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The alternative then is that one or more people either created from thin air or misremembered into writing some of the most beautiful and profound and inspiring words ever recorded, words by which billions guide their lives, century after century.

            Oral tradition develops over generational cycles and writers with a knack for poetical turns of phrase write it down. However, I would not call the New Testament some of the most profound and inspiring words ever recorded. You are setting up a false dichotomy here.

            Now, which is the most probable conclusion : that a group of people created this without basing it essentially on actual words, or that a man walking among them, their friends, said all or most of it, inspiring the Gospels?

            Most scholars do not think Jesus wrote the words found in John. When fantastic stories are told, most of the time the stories are invented, so if we are going to go merely by probability than I would say these stories are invented.

            One of the reason I think there was a real Jesus behind the Gospels is because the Gospels often write uncomfortable things.

            The words used by Joseph Smith, by Mohamed, while popular and giving rise to religions on their own, are so very different from what we find in the Gospels. While Smith and Mohamed deal with general guiding principles, Jesus gives us parables, sermons, examples that are simply in a class of their own.

            I disagree. I do not think the New Testament is in a class of its own. The Gospels are mainly interesting for the religious movement that they are integral to and for the occasional bits of wisdom. They are not high art. They are not wiser than countless other works of men.

            From the RigVeda:

            Let the rich satisfy the poor implorer, and bend his eye upon a longer pathway,
            Riches come now to one, now to another, and like the wheels of cars are ever rolling,
            The foolish man wins food with fruitless labour: that food – I speak the truth – shall be his ruin,
            He feeds no trusty friend, no man to love him. All guilt is he who eats with no partaker.

            From the Upanishads:

            Learn three cardinal virtues - self restraint, charity and compassion for all life.

            Seems like the world's oldest religion learned this wisdom thousands of years before Christ.

            Either Jesus said essentially what was recorded in the Gospels or we have here a fiction writing team of 2 000 years ago such as the world has never seen.

            False dichotomy. Where are you getting this idea that the Gospels would the best bit of fiction ever? Oral tradition develops. It borrows from other sources. Would Mark, taken alone, be considered one of the best bits of fiction ever? It is the earliest and most primitive of the Gospels.

            There are countless books that are wiser and more insightful than the Gospels.

          • Lazarus

            That's why I said that its one of the two. We have come to widely different conclusions.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think you have a Lewisian false dilemma going on here. I think there is a C option.

          • Lazarus

            Let's have a look at it.

          • David Nickol

            Either Jesus said essentially what was recorded in the Gospels or we have here a fiction writing team of 2 000 years ago such as the world has never seen.

            One of the books most often recommended here by "conservatives" is Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and yet Bauckham writes in Jesus: A Very Short Introduction:

            I do not think John invents events for theological purposes. However, I do think John is a more interpretive Gospel than the others, and none the worse for that. So when it comes to discourses of Jesus in John, I have been more cautious. Whereas the Synoptics usually preserve the sayings of Jesus as his disciples learned and remembered them, varying and expanding them for interpretive purposes only to a quite limited degree, John seems to avail himself of the permission generally allowed ancient historians to put into his own words things Jesus would have said. So the discourse of Jesus in John are peppered with traditional sayings on which John has expanded with his own reflective interpretation. . . .

            Ignatius Reilly's question to Randy Gritter about whether he believed Jesus actually said what was in the Gospels was in response to RG's message which contained two quotes from John—"I am the light of the world" and "I am the resurrection and the life." I think most contemporary scholars, including the very conservative Richard Bauckham, would agree that those are the words of John, not the words of Jesus.

            The answer to whether Jesus said what is attributed to him in the Gospels is not a yes-or-no question. I think almost every scholar no matter how "liberal" would acknowledge that the Gospels do record some authentic sayings of Jesus, and every scholar no matter how "conservative" (except fundamentalists) would acknowledge that not every quotation attributed to Jesus was actually uttered by him.

          • Lazarus

            I agree with most of that, that is why I specifically asked that we accept as one option that the words of Jesus were meaningfully, essentially recorded correctly. Not verbatim. No-one (ok, very few people) believes that.

            It's with the other option that things get interesting.

            And we must not make the mistake of thinking that John is "making stuff up" just because he is seems to be less literal. The other gospels also have a very high Christology, it is just expressed in a different, more Jewish context.

          • David Nickol

            I think it would be fair to say that John was "making stuff up" in that it was his theological position that Jesus was "the way, the truth, and the life," and he depicted Jesus as saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Now, if you are a Catholic, you can believe that Jesus actually was the way, the truth, and the life, that John's theology was divinely inspired, and it is perfectly legitimate for John to have put those words on the lips of Jesus.

            The other gospels also have a very high Christology, it is just expressed in a different, more Jewish context.

            The question then of course becomes, if John could legitimately put words into the mouth of Jesus based on his Christology, why couldn't Matthew, Mark, and Luke? Most scholars (even Bauckham, it would appear) believe they did, to some extent or other. So how can we be sure anything attributed to Jesus in the Gospels was actually said by him?

            As kind of aside, I think we do not give sufficient consideration to the known fact that we have none of the actual sayings of Jesus, since what we do have is in Greek, and Jesus spoke Aramaic.

          • Lazarus

            Well, that's the reductionist way of doubting all we know ;)
            Who was it, Springsteen?, who said "Heaven helps the man who doubts what he's sure of".

            The question, right from the start, was whether to accept the words of Jesus, in broad strokes, as having been recorded so as to give a generally fair reflection of what happened, or not, and if not what plausible alternative can be suggested.

            Just to get back to the Pitre / Brown quotes - I went to Brown's "Introduction" as referred to by Pitre, and there Brown is clear enough that the Zebedee option is not accepted by himself (although by many other scholars, and of course the church fathers). Brown covers the options and then picks "a minor figure during the ministry of Jesus, too unimportant to be remembered in the more official tradition of the Synoptics" as his preferred (later) candidate. While I would not quite describe it in the language that you used, and while it is a single incident, I would think it only fair to agree with you that Pitre could have presented that development more accurately and transparently.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            The line is success rate, as I explained in my last comment. If we take the gospels at their word, Jesus' miracles are 100% reliable (well, maybe except in Mark 6:5) Imagine instead, if he spent his ministry doing nothing but visiting millions of sick and dying and after saying "I am the life" or whatever other statements, he only manages to heal one.

            Because that is what we see with prayer. Millions pray to saints or would-be saints. Sometimes, something interesting happens. You are focusing on that one interesting case, while ignoring the millions of failed ones. That is where there is a dismissal of one set of data and acceptance of another.

            So to sum up the conversation (cause I feel that this is losing steam and, hey, its Friday!) I think that modern miracle claims are not much more than an argument from ignorance. The slight connection to a recent prayer is not really worth much when you look at the broader set of data. Most people pray or are prayed for when sick, so of course you can look at the few who get better and notice that they had recently been prayed for. It's like the satirical article that says that most violent crimes are committed within a day of eating bread. Well sure, cause everyone eats bread!

            So once you remove the loose connection to prayer, were left with just an unexplained event, therefore its a miracle. That's an argument from ignorance.

          • Miracles are signs. God does not heal everyone. If He did the laws of physics would not make any sense. In fact, not much would make sense. Miracles are there to point to a reality beyond the physical world. All they do is point. You don't rely on miracles for everyday life.

            I actually think the atheist position is an argument from ignorance. It is a chosen ignorance. You don't want to know the facts because it will interfere with your religious choices. Catholics have nothing to fear. The facts show many miracles and many more non-miracles. Both fit our belief system. Atheists need the facts to be a certain way and the data does not support them.

            It seems you declare every connection to prayer to be a loose connection to prayer. This does not match the data. From the article you linked:

            Dr. Nevado began praying for a cure through the intercession of Blessed Josemaria. A few days after that meeting, he traveled to Vienna with his wife in order to attend a medical conference. They visited several churches and came across prayer cards of Blessed Josemaria. “This impressed me,” explained Dr. Nevado, “and it encouraged me to pray more for my cure.” From the day that he began to entrust his cure to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria, his hands began to improve. Within a fortnight the lesions had completely disappeared and the cure was complete.

            Do you believe this kind of prayer is as common as eating bread?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Do you believe this kind of prayer is as common as eating bread?

            Yes. Sick people pray and are prayed for. I'd wager that pretty much anyone who is seriously ill has at least 1 person praying for them if they are not praying themselves.

            Do you think that Dr. Nevado only began praying after seeing the prayer cards? No... more likely, he prayed throughout his sickness. When his hands began to improve, he attributed it to his most recent method of prayer.

            You don't want to know the facts because it will interfere with your religious choices.

            You must tell me about your amazing ability to psychoanalyze my private motivations over the internet! I was under the impression that the reason I don't believe in miracles is because I find the evidence for them unconvincing. But surely, you know better and clarified that for me!

          • It is interesting that an atheist thinks everybody prays. I would say it is more common that when the doctors declare something to be incurable that people stop praying for a cure. My mother had Altzhiemers. I have to admit I don't pray for her to be healed.

            You said people who think miracles are convincing are simply ignorant. I am simply saying I believe the same about you. You do find the evidence unconvincing but why? I think the reason is mostly ignorance. You don't know how good the evidence is. When people are convinced my miracles it is because they see them up close. They know the person was really sick and the change was really dramatic. In other words they are not ignorant of the facts.

          • Rob Abney

            Why don't you pray for your mother?!!
            Do you not believe in miracles or do you not believe in prayer?

          • David Nickol

            Why don't you pray for your mother?!!

            He didn't say he doesn't pray for his mother. He said he doesn't pray for her to be (miraculously) cured of Alzheimer's. There is a lot to be said for acceptance, whether of your own condition or of the condition of a loved one, and whether you are a believer or not. I have no idea how old RG's mother is, but when you have an elderly loved one with a degenerative disease, it only makes sense at some point to accept that nature is taking its course (or things are going according to God's plan), and it helps no one to oppose it.

            There have been many cases among my family, friends, and acquaintances where the idea of praying for a miraculous cure would have seemed bizarre or selfish. There are many cases in which medical intervention to extend life a few more hours, weeks, days, or even months is not in the patient's best interest. Everybody is going to die.

            It is an interesting thought, for those who believe the Gospels, that everyone whom Jesus cured eventually died of something else, and those whom Jesus brought back from the dead just had to die again.

          • Rob Abney

            I agree that you should accept the things you cannot change if you know for sure that you cannot make a difference. But that doesn't mean giving up on things that you can influence. A person with Alzheimers disease needs other people to assist them with activities they can no longer do for themselves, it may include keeping healthy, keeping cleaned and dressed, keeping fed, and staying safe from poor judgement, just to name a few areas of need. And she may also need someone to pray for her if she is no longer able to pray herself. Prayer doesn't have to ask for a cure or an indefinite existence.

            Alternatively, the existential approach could be applied since we will all die anyway!

          • David Nickol

            Prayer doesn't have to ask for a cure or an indefinite existence.

            That was exactly my point. Your comment to Randy Gritter seemed to imply otherwise.

          • Rob Abney

            I'll just add this comment to clarify my implication: It has taken me a long time to understand that prayer is not "the least we can do" but that actually it is "the most that we can do".

          • David

            Praying is as close to the least you can do without actually doing anything. Praying only helps the person who is praying feel good about himself. I suppose that's nice but it accomplishes absolutely nothing for the target of the prayer.

          • Rob Abney

            What is the source of your knowledge on this subject? My source is the teaching of the Catholic Church, I'm not saying that you should agree because of that.

          • David

            Common sense, acknowledgement of reality, and the billions of trials that have shown prayer to be useless. Like in everything else ever, the catholic church is a terrible source and completely wrong.

          • Sample1

            As an atheist looking through the stained glass windows of this particular faith culture, prayer does seem to be a self-centered activity projecting an illusion of communion and charity when in fact it is always about a person's so-called relationship with God. This CCC section on prayer is surprisingly brief, but it supports my opinion.

            I find the Catholic/Christian view of prayer a disturbingly violent act of separating people from one another rather than reflecting on the relationships between loved ones in this life which, I might add, one will find in a Humanist's approach.

            Mike, faith-free
            Edit done.

          • Lazarus

            I didn't see this post of yours, David. I just asked a shorter and less eloquent version of your statement.

          • I do believe in miracles and prayer. It has just been a very long illness and after a while I just accepted that she is dying.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm sorry that you and your mother had to/have to suffer.

          • Lazarus

            You guys raise an interesting question. Are we absolutely and always expected to pray for terminally ill people, even potentially terminally ill people? Or is it a sign of trust in God's will to (also) pray for acceptance, perseverance, pain reduction, patience and so on.

          • David Nickol

            I think a case could be made that it is rarely, if ever, right to pray for the miraculous healing of a terminally ill person.

          • Lazarus

            Agreed.

          • Rob Abney

            Could you explain your case? If you suggesting that prayer will be the only intervention then I agree. And if you are suggesting that the only acceptable outcome will be a miraculous healing then I would also agree, otherwise I'm not sure how you can support your case.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            You are ascribing a lot things to me that I did not say. At all.

            It is interesting that an atheist thinks everybody prays.

            Not what I said. I said that pretty much everyone who is sick has at least one person praying for them. If I were to get very sick, I wouldn't pray, but I'm sure many people in my family would.

            You said people who think miracles are convincing are simply ignorant.

            Not at all what I said, and not at all what I would ever say. I'm guessing that you got this idea from a severe misunderstanding of what an "Argument from Ignorance" is. No no no. An argument from ignorance is not saying that the person arguing is an idiot.

            You do find the evidence unconvincing but why?

            I've already written two comments explaining why. I'm not going to write a third.

          • I do understand the difference between saying someone is ignorant and saying someone is an idiot.You are the one who seems to be conflating the two. A very intelligent person can be ignorant of a fact simply because nobody told him. That ignorance can lead him to many false conclusions.

            You did say:

            I think that modern miracle claims are not much more than an argument from ignorance.

            If that is very different from my phrasing then I apologize. Yet if you did not mean what I repeated back to you then I am not sure what those words do mean.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance
            Not the same as calling the arguer ignorant

          • Ignatius Reilly

            DK-effect is strong with this one.

          • Lazarus

            "By definition, the amount of miracles must decrease as time goes on. As scientific knowledge grows the unexplained-by-science category shrinks. Things that today fall into the potential miracle category will not tomorrow."

            An interesting thought.

            Would you say that there are less miracles reported today than a hundred, or five hundred, years ago?

    • I agree, in particular, that theists are remiss in failing to point out the falsity of many published counter arguments purportedly refuting Dawkins’ main argument in “The God Delusion”. In “The Last Superstition”, Feser may be excused because he doesn’t even address Dawkins’ argument based on mathematical improbability. Other books by Horn, by Madrid & Hensley, by Lennox and by Hahn & Wiker fail. Appallingly, Hahn and Wiker define mathematical probability as a ‘secondary shadow of other beings and causes’.

      Dawkins’ argues that, whereas there is a mathematical solution to the improbability of biological evolution in a single stage, there is no solution to the improbability of God. Both the problem, as Dawkins sees it, and his solution depend upon the distinction of two kinds of improbability, namely
      prohibitive and non-prohibitive, within its continuous numerical range of 0 to
      1.

      The best refutation of Dawkins’ argument is that a continuous variable implies variation in degree, not kind, and therefore a division of improbability into two kinds is invalid. It is Dawkins, himself, who presents this argument https://richarddawkins.net/2013/01/the-tyranny-of-the-discontinuous-mind-christmas-2011/

      • Everyone is remiss who does not maintain a target lock on the best arguments available from all sides, even if they are addressing lesser arguments (because those need to be addressed, too). Maybe there's a way to help more people stay aware of the best?

        When it comes to Dawkins' argument based on mathematical improbability, he mistakes Ockham's methodological razor (which is valid) with Ockham's ontological razor (which is invalid). We have zero justification for thinking that reality is simple rather than complex. We do have justification for thinking it is sometimes better to chip away at the extant complexity bit by bit instead of huge chunk by huge chunk. It is wrong to think that our universe necessarily arose from a thing-generator, which churns out things according to some probability distribution. Maybe that's the case, but we cannot put any sort of probability on it being the case, vs. there existing a necessary being who created this reality for reasons. Dawkins and others need to stop conflating epistemology and ontology.

        I suppose Dawkins could argue that we should live instrumental lives, where we never attempt to think about anything N units more complex than the the complexity of the best science. That would get quite close to collapsing ontology into epistemology. But Dawkins will have a very hard time grounding that 'should'. It's not even clear that all scientists, qua scientists, must keep their thinking to < N. And perhaps we as humans will adopt goals which can compete with the "seek more power over reality via better understanding reality" one bequeathed to us by Francis Bacon. Goodness in psyche and social could be considered something about which increasingly intersubjective agreement actually can be obtained, leading to the agreement being called 'knowledge'. It might be acknowledged that goodness cannot merely be understood in the abstract, but must actually inhabit the person in a visceral way, just like scientific intuitions (the things which generate hypotheses, and thus must be sufficiently tuned to empirical reality).

        Focus on goodness can easily take one well past N, toward a limit-value. For Christians, that limit-value is God. A God who right now, can only be known through a glass dimly and in part. Where [some] scientists lust after a theory of everything which will give them a complete model of all the complexity of reality, Christians know that God is bigger than their understanding. But that understanding can grow, and that growth can follow a discernible pattern (vs. be lawless, as the word 'subjective' can denote) which is not something which can be scientifically characterized, but is nevertheless extant. It's necessarily fuzzy and not a formal system, because it points beyond itself, to something more than itself. Formal systems are self-enclosed and finished.

        • I still think the best refutation of Dawkins’ solution to his ‘problem of improbability’ is Dawkins’ pointing out that a variable, defined as having a positive range of 0 to 1, varies
          over that range by degree and not by kind. This applies directly to the two kinds, ‘prohibitively’ improbable and ‘non-prohibitively’ improbable, which define Dawkins’ ‘problem of improbability’.

          Dawkins’ solution to his ‘problem of improbability’ of evolution in a single large stage is replacing the single stage with a series of sub-stages. The series allegedly moves the improbability from the kind, ‘prohibitively’ improbable to the kind, ‘non-prohibitively’ improbable. The replacement allegedly does so by increasing the probability of evolutionary success.

          The author of the second best refutation is once again, Richard Dawkins. He has definitively illustrated that the replacement of a single stage of mutation and natural selection with a series of sub-stages does not increase the
          probability of evolutionary success https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW1rVGgFzWU Rather it increases the efficiency of mutation https://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/evolution-probability-vs-efficiency-revisited/.

          • I'm afraid I don't understand how your first probability argument works. If there is a thing-generator and it preferentially generates simpler things to more complex things and our universe is a thing it generated, that would seem to warrant preferring simplicity in our ontology. What's wrong with this simple little argument? (Other than begging the question that it was generated by a thing-generator in the first place, of course!)

            As to breaking mutations into sub-stages, it means you have to try fewer mutations to hit some % of success. Fewer spins on the slot machine will probably get you a jackpot. All he cares about—because he's working with a thing-generator—is that the probably that our thing was generated is some tolerable number.

          • Dawkins correctly notes in his essay on the ‘Discontinuous Mind” that values of a variable defined over the range of 0
            to 1, differ from one another by size, not by kind. However, in “The God Delusion”, p 121, his main argument violates this principle. He says there is a problem of improbability, both with God and with evolution in a single large stage. Only in the case of evolution is there a solution. It is to break up the big piece of improbability that is of the kind, prohibitive, into smaller pieces of improbability, each of which is of the kind, non-prohibitive.

            On page 138, Dawkins identifies values of improbability, which are the complements of values of probability of one in a billion (10^-9) or less, as a kind variously labeled staggering, absurd or stupefying. I notice you prefer to distinguish two kinds of probability as tolerable and intolerable, rather than non-prohibitive and prohibitive.

            Probability is the fractional concentration of an element in a logical set and is thus defined over the range 0 to 1. Improbability is its complement, being defined over the range, 1 to 0.

            For the set of heads and tails, the probability of heads is 0.5. The probability of any sequence of a deck of playing cards is 1/52! = 1.2 x 10^-68. That is 10^59 times smaller than a probability of one in a billion. Both the probability of heads and the probability of the sequence of a deck of playing cards are fully in accord the definition of probability. They differ from one another by size not by class. To place the probability of the sequence, due to its size, in a class labeled ‘prohibitive’, ‘absurd’ or ‘intolerable’, is nonsense.

            With respect to the video’s illustration of three mutation sites of six mutations each, in the jargon of “The God Delusion”, the transition from the single stage to the three sub-stages breaks up the large piece of improbability of 215/216 into three smaller pieces of improbability of 5/6 each. Each piece is smaller than the big piece, but in aggregate they equal 2.5. Their sum is bigger than the large piece of improbability of 215/216, which was broken up to form the three smaller pieces. To me that sounds like the nonsense of someone who can’t distinguish the factors of an arithmetical product from the parts of an arithmetical sum. Didn’t we learn that distinction in third grade?

            “As to breaking mutations into sub-stages, it means you have to try fewer mutations to hit some % of success.”

            That is the definition of efficiency. Analogously fuel efficiency means, you need less fuel successfully to reach the same level of heating. To reach any given level of probability, you need fewer random mutations in the series of sub-stages. You haven’t increased probability. You have increased mutational efficiency. Note: In the video, Dawkins considers non-random mutations and thereby a level of 100% evolutionary success, both for the single stage and for the series of sub-stages. Using random mutations would similarly yield an increase in mutational efficiency without affecting the probability of success.

            Fewer spins on one slot-machine will get you to a level of probability of getting the jackpot when compared to the number of spins on the other slot-machine, which are required to reach the same level of probability of getting the jackpot.

            The video illustrates an increase in mutational efficiency, not an increase in the probability of evolutionary success. We should be grateful to Richard Dawkins for such a clear
            demonstration of the role of sub-stages in increasing mutational efficiency, while having no effect on the probability of evolutionary success.

  • No debate from me that anyone who says that the only path to knowledge is science, depending what you mean by knowledge (if you mean the highest amount of confidence in an empirical claim, then "scientism" is correct).

    But these attacks on scientism seem to imply that the humanities can lead to similar levels of confidence in their own subject matter. I can grant that mathematics and logic can establish abstract truths, but neither these nor science can provide objective answers to the kinds of questions The bishop raises such as meaning of Moby Dick.

    Because no one needs any method or discipline to establish a subjective position on the meaning of Moby Dick and no discipline, not science, philosophy or theology can give us objective knowledge of such a question.

    The burning question I have for his grace is "what is the theological approach to knowledge?" How successful has it been? Have theologians produced an understanding of the existence and nature or god that is generally accepted? No, they have disagreed fractured and we have now as we did 2000 years ago, a world vastly divided on these questions. Theologians cannot agree if there is one god, or many, if one, did he have himself as a son as well or not? What is the basis of morality? Can religion tell us why it is wrong to kill? Or does it just defer this question to another vague concept like its unnatural, or another mystery like "its contrary to gods nature" these are not answers.

    Sure, keep kicking scientism, and I will join you. But recognize that for virtually all questions such as meaning, truth, these other disciplines make provide us with virtually no knowledge.

    • ClayJames

      But these attacks on scientism seem to imply that the humanities can lead to similar levels of confidence in their own subject matter.

      This implies no such thing. While you are not a defender of scientism, the idea that forms of knowing that are less methodologically constrained than science are somehow inferior because there is less consensus is a scientistic idea.

      But recognize that for virtually all questions such as meaning, truth, these other disciplines make provide us with virtually no knowledge.

      I might have to take back what I said earlier because this is the scientistic mantra. Asking questions of meaning and truth have provided knowledge. It is true that the methods that lead to these conclusions are less methodologically contrained than scientific ones but you have given no reason to believe that this is a prerequisite for knowledge.

      • cminca

        "Asking questions of meaning and truth have provided knowledge."
        No. Asking questions of meaning and truth have provided opinions.

        • So... scientists' thoughts on which of the interpretations of quantum mechanics is the best description of reality deal 0% with 'knowledge' and 100% with 'opinions'? After all, some experts support one interpretation, some experts support another, etc.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Sigh.

          • cminca

            Opinion: A view or judgement formed about something.......Oxford English Dictionary

            You might notice, Luke, that it is called "the interpretations..."

            So yes--they are opinions.

            Any other questions you'd like cleared up?

          • I am just wondering if you would accept as a possible distinction between 'knowledge' and 'opinion', that in the latter case, it would be based on particulars. Of course, when these specific individuals experiences are codified within religion, for instance, which require all 'followers' to accept, such opinion would/could be classified as 'dogma'. And similarly we have such terms as 'ideologies' with respect to political precedents, whether or not these are necessarily 'correct'. But also, when it comes to knowledge, yes. I have always appreciated Kant's distinction, that knowledge demands some kind of correspondence theory of truth, and that the theory must be supported by concrete evidence.

            However, as you may be aware from Catholicism, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, (derived I believe from Platonic thought) include such intellectual? abilities as knowledge, wisdom, understanding, which in order to hopefully avoid the ever present possibility of contradiction or at least confusion, I have long ago decided must be relevant to the individuals 'opining', about one's individual experience and conscious state. But if this is the case 'opining' would indeed have to be classified as a kind of 'knowledge'. Yes, as usual I didn't avoid a contradiction after all. It's just so 'paradoxical' for me, that I can't help but continually come across such inconsistencies within language, etc. etc. So, does this 'synopsis' provide a question that 'you can clear up'???? (P.S. As a proud unknowing, agnostic I can accept that I can not have a Cartesian certitude within either religious belief, or scientific knowledge. But I feel that I can have a Kierkegaard faith despite this. How this is compatible with my sense of irony, and appreciation of the tragic-comedic, is something I am still in the process of attempting to understand.) (Hopefully this question is somewhat coherent, yet - Please don't feel any obligation to answer. I do manage to get by.) Edit: I merely submit the possibility that such an argument from ignorance may have 'some'? merit???? And, possibly it could be preferred to an argument from authority, - in some cases!!!

          • cminca

            I have no idea whether this answers your question or not--Knowledge of something can indicate the barest glancing acceptance that there is evidence something exists. An opinion indicates approval or disapproval an aspect of that existence.

            I can have knowledge of something without having an opinion of it. I can't have an opinion on something that I have no knowledge of.

            For example

            I can have knowledge that Modern Art exists--there is evidence of that--without stating that it is either good or bad.

            I can't have an opinion that Modern Art is good or bad without having knowledge that Modern Art exists.

          • Sorry! Actually I think I'm coming to some sort of crises in awareness that there is possibly more arbitrariness (correct word) in word allocation than even I had before considered. Definitions: Based on what - here! - denotation? or connotation? Yet in a way it kind of allows a 'degree' of freedom to 'think' (although not necessary say) what I will! In other words it would be best, (safer) for me to stick to your first 'definition'....thanks for you time. (In the second case, I may not have any idea of what might be accepted as 'modern art' - and like God, or perhaps any other 'abstract?' idea, just rest my 'faith' on a Cartesian epistemological 'solipsism'

          • Yes: do you think any observation is free of interpretation?

          • You've solved the above dilemna for me. 'Seeing' that something exists would not be knowledge, then, but rather terms such as awareness or observation would possibly be more 'accurate'. But can I ever 'know' something happened on the basis of testimony, without evidence, and not based on observation. What is it that is fundamental to knowledge in science - the abstractions - mathematics/-theory?, or the experimental observations, or the 'relation' between them. Just something for me to 'think about'. I possibly am just beginning to appreciate more the 'fluidity' within language. 'Living' language! -not necessarily limited in any way to equivocation, and other such factors.....'Memory' as in the Meno would then be a pretty 'comprehensive' concept!!! (I'll just let the neurons in my brain work on this a bit!!). I'm out of here. Thanks.

      • In terms of the confidence we can have in their conclusions they are massively inferior. Not because there is less consensus because they are very subjective and lack any effective reality check. The lack of consensus is a symptom of their inability to demonstrate anything objectively. The high level of consensus in scientific matters is a result of the objectivity of its method.

        Give me some of this knowledge and meaning these disciplines have demonstrated to any significant level of confidence. I put it to you that no religion has ever demonstrated the meaning of anything to any level of significant confidence.

        • ClayJames

          In terms of the confidence we can have in their conclusions they are massively inferior. Not because there is less consensus because they are very subjective and lack any effective reality check. The lack of consensus is a symptom of their inability to demonstrate anything objectively. The high level of consensus in scientific matters is a result of the objectivity of its method.

          The vast majority of the proofs for God are a result of reasonable and logical arguments. Whether you disagree with these arguments is irrelevant but you can´t say that reason and logic is ¨very subjective¨ and lacks ¨any effective reality check¨. The same can be said for history and to a lesser extent tradition and experience, if both are properly checked. It is true that these methodologies are not as contrained as science but you have yet to show why this is a requisite for knowledge especially considering that science depends on these methodologies.

          You have made similar comments before saying that religious people can rationalize anything, which is nothing more than a silly way to discount an opposing view point that you disagree with.

          You first have to show that knowledge should require the same level of methodological contraints and consensus that science has and then, you must show how science itself can be defined within the same methodological parameters.

    • Is "all people are of equal moral worth" the type of thing which can be called 'knowledge'? I would suggest that Judaism and Christianity pushed powerfully in that direction (but not monotonically). If you wish to disallow that kind of thing from the category of 'knowledge', then I would hazard to guess that much of Christianity lies outside of 'knowledge'. After all, the God of the Bible is very interested in building up particular kinds of psyche ('righteous') and particular kinds of social ('just') which, together, will lead to unending amounts of human flourishing. How much of this building process is very different from the empirical process of describing reality as it currently is? Instead, God and Jesus and the prophets continually talk about what could be. And the only way to support such claims is to actually do the building. A critical part to such building seems to be beliefs which may not qualify as 'knowledge', in your book.

      • Are you saying that Judaism and Christianity have demonstrated that "all people are of equal moral worth"? Please explain how. This idea is not found anywhere in the bible and the followers of chirst did not advance this idea for at least 1800 years.

        I disagree that it is an idea that can be reasonably interpreted from the Bible. The Old Testament is obsessed with classifying things and peoples rather than uniting and treating them equally. Yaweh destroys all humanity but one family. He distinguishes one ethnicity as his chosen people. He orders genocide on other human ethnicities. In the New Testament Jesus tells us he will judge us ultimately and decide which humans are worthy of unending flourishing and which will burn. He also tells us most will not be saved.

        • Please explain how. This idea is not found anywhere in the bible and the followers of chirst did not advance this idea for at least 1800 years.

          There is Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought for the OT from a Jewish perspective, Nicholas Wolterstorff's Justice: Rights and Wrongs for the whole Bible from a Christian perspective, and there's Paul's famous "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Whether or not these go all the way to what we currently understand as egalitarianism is irrelevant if instead they merely point very strongly in pretty much precisely that direction. You can throw in loving your neighbor as yourself (neighbor doesn't need to be Christian) and loving your enemy, if you'd like.

          Now, it would be ideal to do an extended study of egalitarianism to see how it was pushed for in various ages, to what extent it was implemented well, what motivations people gave, etc. Unless you believe that in this day and age we've reached moral perfection(!), what is important is to look at the push toward change, toward derivatives and not absolute values. And my understanding is that Jews and Christians, despite the broken vessels they were, pushed mightily toward egalitarianism. As I go through life I will be collecting data for and against this understanding.

          In the New Testament Jesus tells us he will judge us ultimately and decide which humans are worthy of unending flourishing and which will burn.

          Yes, that's after a life full of identity-forming choices. What does that have to do with your moral worth? (Maybe we mean the term very differently. I mean that the law applies equally to all, and that we ought to work to give everyone equal opportunity to flourish.)

          He also tells us most will not be saved.

          Given the number of Christians who hold to or hope for universalism, I would question that. For example, it's not clear that those who find the road that leads to life cannot tell others about it who would otherwise not find it on their own. Similarly, the number of true pioneers in science might be small, but the number of scientists large. Science actually needs both types in order to thrive.

          • This has demonstrated nothing. This is people saying things that you have interpreted as saying that humans are of equal moral worth. Saying somebody said we are equal doesn't mean it is true. In Mein Kempf and many other books people have said humans are not of equal moral worth, that doesn't make them right.

            This doesn't give us knowledge that all people are of equal worth it tells that some people said we are.

            It shows what a subjective and equivocal process theology and religion applies. This same text you used to show people of equal worth was heavily relied on to both justify and challenge antebellum slavery in the United States.

          • This has demonstrated nothing. This is people saying things that you have interpreted as saying that humans are of equal moral worth.

            I rather think I have shown you to be unjustly confident in your assertion that "This idea is not found anywhere in the bible", unless you insist that not just the necessary seeds for the idea aren't found, but the fully-fleshed-out idea is not found. It is very important that 'interpretation' play a role here, because if the Bible is meant to change people's attitudes, it will likely need to be interpretable from multiple points of view, with each interpretation exerting a kind of force on a person, pushing him/her to better interpretations. This would let the Bible speak to people in a vast array of situations and push them toward God, which is precisely the kind of thing I think a deity would do with a divinely inspired text.

            Saying somebody said we are equal doesn't mean it is true.

            I would change 'mean' → 'make', and then agree. Mere utterence of words is not a truthmaker in this context. What you would need is to argue teleologically, that everything was designed to operate according to egalitarianism, and that were the "smooth running state" of creation to be properly attained, creatures would find that they approve. That is, there would be a 'proper' way for judgment to operate.

            Now, how does the creator of a reality convince beings within it that the "smooth running state" has certain properties, when the current state is a giant mess? It'd be like uttering truth-claims about an alternate reality. How does one test such claims? One option is to attempt to use one's imagination. Another is to try and push reality toward the "smooth running state" and see if the process of doing so (i) matches predictions; (ii) yields a next intermediary which is judged 'better'. The intervening time, of course, might suck. There is pain when a bone is set.

            We can then ask whether Christians, or some identifiable subset of them, throughout time, have played any special role in promoting egalitarianism. I don't have anything like the kind of comprehensive understanding of history replete with citations which I would like, but from what I have seen, I think the answer is "yes". And thus, I suspect that the Bible has the characteristics I have described and that in addition, divine power is available for moving toward the "smooth running state". As I live my life, I intend to participate in said "moving toward", as well as collect evidence for and against my suspicions.

            It shows what a subjective and equivocal process theology and religion applies. This same text you used to show people of equal worth was heavily relied on to both justify and challenge antebellum slavery in the United States.

            Oh, most definitely. The justifications were utterly pitiful. Let's look at three reasons why.

            First, by Romans 11, the Gentiles are as much 'Jews' as are the Jews, by the rule of faith. Accept Jesus into your heart and you are as much a Jew as the next Christian. Next, by Exodus 21:2, Hebrew slaves were to be released every seventh year. And so, any slave which had accepted Jesus was a Hebrew by faith, which is precisely the way most slaveholders were Hebrews (I doubt many had Jewish mothers). Was Exodus 21:2 obeyed this way? Of course not.

            Second, let's juxtapose the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to Deut 23:15: "You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you." Oh.

            Third, take a look at the 'cornerstone' of the 1861 Cornerstone Speech, given by the future VP of the Confederate Republic. Was the cornerstone of the Confederate Republic Jesus, as Ephesians 2:20 makes perfectly clear? No, this was the cornerstone: "its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man". Oh.

            So yeah, those who supported slavery were able to cherry pick from the Bible to support slavery. Humankind has been pillaging the revered texts and stories and principles to support their perverse desires since the beginning of its existence. But to think that the Bible equally supported pro-slavery and anti-slavery positions in the antebellum American South? That's just ridiculous.

          • Again, finding ideas fully fleshed out in a book does not demonstrate these ideas are true. Nor does the fact that a book changes people's attitudes.

            I would agree that one way to test the veracity of claims found I a book was if it makes predictions, are these accurate. I've seen none of this from theology.

            Again, you are entitled to your opinion of the meaning of certain textual elements, but they are just that opinions. Now you can apply textual criticism techniques or historical analysis to determine what the authors of the text thought, but you have used non-theological, non-religious methods to reach your conclusion, and your confidence in the conclusion should be relative to the strength of the method. In this case it is dependent on your reading, of the text, compared to others citing "slaves obey your masters" and the failure to repudiate the laws about being allowed to beat your slaves as long as they don't die and so on. Interpretations disagree, that is fine, it is expected on subjective questions like what does a text mean. It is also expected in science, and in empirical and objective disciplines but what distinguishes these is the ability to point to evidence that leads to general consensus. You get the opposite with religion, rather than scholars working together and figuring out objectively whether there is a god, what his massage really was etc, they seem to all use the same methods and reach completely different conclusions.

            There exists now a raging debate on the New Testament's view on slavery, homosexuality, contraception, assisted dying and indeed virtually every aspect of Christianity. Rather than apply objective methods to determine what was really meant, religious groups stick to their guns and simply fracture the religion into groups with their own interpretation. So the cult of Yaweh now has three large divisions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and within these thousands more interpretations. Again this symptom entails a methodology that is Subjective like art, rather than objective like science or history.

          • Again, finding ideas fully fleshed out in a book does not demonstrate these ideas are true. Nor does the fact that a book changes people's attitudes.

            You have moved the goalposts. Here is the assertion of yours to which I was responding:

            BGA: This idea is not found anywhere in the bible and the followers of chirst did not advance this idea for at least 1800 years.

            I think I have demonstrated that you do not have proper warrant to be as certain as you came off. If you want to talk about what could possibly demonstrate the truth-value of utterances like "all people are of equal moral worth", I would be happy to. Returning to your root comment:

            BGA: The burning question I have for his grace is "what is the theological approach to knowledge?" How successful has it been? Have theologians produced an understanding of the existence and nature or god that is generally accepted?

            The very point under contention is what can possibly be considered 'knowledge'; the very first sentence of my first response picked it out. We haven't yet gotten to it; perhaps we can, soon?

            I would agree that one way to test the veracity of claims found I a book was if it makes predictions, are these accurate. I've seen none of this from theology.

            There are at least two kinds of predictions: (i) instrumental; (ii) non-instrumental. Examples of (ii) are in terms of values and ends. Science deals exclusively with (i); it makes no attempt to judge what we are aiming for or how we are getting there. If you mean to include (ii) under 'predictions', then I would like to know what an example of such a prediction is. Perhaps MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech would qualify, or at least point in that general direction?

            Again, you are entitled to your opinion of the meaning of certain textual elements, but they are just that opinions.

            Wait a second. Given this stance of yours, how on earth did you manage to confidently assert, "This idea is not found anywhere in the bible"?

            Again this symptom entails a methodology that is Subjective like art, rather than objective like science or history.

            What is your reasoning behind history being objective? It has to deal with interpretation of texts, inference of human motivations, judging the importance of various events in their contribution to other events, believing or disbelieving stated intentions, etc.

            What of science remains 'objective' once one introduces a Kuhnian scientific revolution, where what is even considered 'data' can change? For example, in Galileo's time, was it 'objectively true' that there was a privileged inertial reference frame? Has it ever been 'objectively true' that Lamarckian inheritance is utterly false? Or perhaps we can ask what is objective and subjective by looking at the diversity at WP: Interpretations of quantum mechanics. Even there, we have issues like this:

                Nearly two hundred years ago, Joseph-Louis Lagrange described analytical mechanics based on Newton's laws as a branch of mathematics.[33] In the French scientific literature, one often speaks of "rational mechanics." In this sense, Newton's laws would define the laws of reason and represent a truth of absolute generality. Since the birth of quantum mechanics and relativity, we know that this is not the case. The temptation is now strong to ascribe a similar status of absolute truth to quantum theory. In The Quark and the Jaguar, Gell-Mann asserts, "Quantum mechanics is not itself a theory; rather it is the framework into which all contemporary physical theory must fit."[34] Is this really so? As stated by my late friend Léon Rosenfeld, "Every theory is based on physical concepts expressed through mathematical idealizations. They are introduced to give an adequate representation of the physical phenomena. No physical concept is sufficiently defined without the knowledge of its domain of validity."[35] (The End of Certainty, 28–29)

            Is Gell-Mann making an objective scientific statement? If not, then all one really means by 'objective' when it comes to scientists is that they can see the same things when they have sufficiently similar intuitions, sufficiently similar background knowledge (all observation is theory-laden), sufficiently similar purposes, and sufficiently similar instrumentation. But the same unity of observation can be achieved via brainwashing someone into a cult.

            I've been around the block quite a lot on the matter of science being 'objective'; the claim seems to be a relic from logical positivism which refuses to die—at least among internet advocates for science. It took a huge blow with Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and another with Feyerabend's Against Method. We now have extensive conversations going on about the theory-ladenness of observation, such as SEP's Theory and Observation in Science. As far as I can tell, the sense of 'objective' which can survive all this is pretty pathetic. Perhaps you could point me to the best reasoning (empirical evidence also welcome) on the alleged objectivity of science?

          • 'If you want to talk about what could possibly demonstrate the truth-value of utterances like "all people are of equal moral worth", I would be happy to."

            Okay, but i was asking how the Bible demonstrated this and to what level of confidence. I believe you responded that we can reasonably interpret Jesus to saying something to this effect.

            "The very point under contention is what can possibly be considered 'knowledge';"

            Let's not worry about "knowledge", pick a conclusion, or position you accept as true, from theology, that was arrived at by applying the theological method, explain the method and how it determined its conclusion and why we can have the level of confidence we do in it.

            "Wait a second. Given this stance of yours, how on earth did you manage to confidently assert, "This idea is not found anywhere in the bible"?'

            Because I have heard theologians time and again say that Jesus promoted equality, but they usually point to "created in God's image" language. I take your point on the passage you referred to.

            "What is your reasoning behind history being objective?"

            My reasoning is that it points to evidence and argues reasonably from inferences based on that evidence. The evidence it uses are artifacts that are objective. It has reality checks and makes predictions about what it will find that would confirm its predictions, for example, Vinland Saga suggests European settlements in North America around year 1000. This was a literary text, that may be based on historical events, but no one trusted that it proved the Norse had discovered America. But, if they had, we would expect to find archeological evidence. When this was found, I would say it objectively showed that the Norse had discovered North America. Now of course, this is not absolutely objective, and it is problematic in many respects, but it is virtually impossible to find a historian or lay person who cannot look at this evidence and agree it has been demonstrated to be the case.

            You have then moved on from objectivity to a standard of certainty. I agree nothing empirical can be certain.

            "Is Gell-Mann making an objective scientific statement" I would say no, he is making a philosophical point about the limits of science, which I agree with.

            Again, while you are great at pointing out issues with science, history and other disciplines, you have spent no time explaining what theology or religion is, how it arrives at its conclusions and what level of confidence we should give to its conclusions. Why it is a path to "knowledge" however you want to define it and how it fares compared to these other disciplines.

            I began this by explaining that I reject scientism, adn my criticism is attacks on it imply the humanities and theology are similar paths to reliable conclusions. I still don't see that.

          • Sample1

            Let's not worry about "knowledge", pick a conclusion, or position you accept as true, from theology, that was arrived at by applying the theological method, explain the method and how it determined its conclusion and why we can have the level of confidence we do in it.

            Word porn. Thank you, love this challenge. I am going to steal it and will donate owed royalties to Bernie Sanders.
            :-j

            Mike

          • Will

            FWIW I think the idea "all people are of equal worth" is blatantly false. Is Jeffrey Dahmer or Jim Jones of equal worth to Richard Feynman, Buddha, or Jesus Christ? Hell no.
            Even if we look at infants, is an infant with the capacity to become the next Mozart or Einstein worth more than a poor child born incapable of consciousness? Absolutely.
            Egalitarianism is a useful idea for legal purposes, and it's historical role was to help undo the privilege of the aristocracy (birthright is a horrible way to judge merit and worth). I don't think it corresponds well to reality and how people actually judge each other, however. Egalitarianism will only work with sufficient resources to go around, anyway. We are already seeing it's limits with regard to healthcare. The problem is that judging what people worth is, at least in part, subjective. If it helps, I don't think Jesus thought all people were of equal worth, Mark 7

            26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir,[h] even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

            It's completely unsurprising for Jew of the time to call a Gentile a dog. I don't agree with Jesus's metrics for worth, but it was his culture. Here is one from Matthew 15

            22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

            You could say Jesus was just messing with them, but then you would be accusing him of lying. Why would he say he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel if he didn't mean it? I've seen plenty of special pleading and implausible explanations, so don't waste your words with that unless you just feel obligated ;) Nice seeing you around btw.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            "
            FWIW I think the idea "all people are of equal worth" is blatantly false. Is Jeffrey Dahmer or Jim Jones of equal worth to Richard Feynman, Buddha, or Jesus Christ? Hell no."

            And WD pulls the switch and the trolley runs the fat man over.

          • Will

            If you wouldn't pull the switch to save anyone over Jim Jones or Jeffrey Dahmer, shame on you. You do know who these people are, right?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It was a joke. :-)

            I think it is very dangerous to begin assigning moral worth to human beings. It should only be done when absolutely necessary.

          • Sure i will grant you that the Bible says all are equal in Jesus, and that it is a reasonable interpretation that this means all humans are of equal worth. So the book says that, how does it demonstrate it to be true?

            "What you would need is to argue teleologically, that everything was
            designed to operate according to egalitarianism, and that were the
            "smooth running state" of creation to be properly attained, creatures
            would find that they approve."

            No, this would be a demonstration that a society designed to operate according to egalitarianism, would run smooth and would lead to people approving. That is not the same as all are of equal moral worth, this is a demonstration of what it would take to make a state run smoothly.

            Beyond that, note that you are appealing to a way of demonstrating this through social studies and science.

            I agree both sides cherry pick from an ancient text and use their subjective opinions to argue one way or the other.

            Contrast this to arguments from science. When someone states that a particular ethnicity, race or skin colour is superior and so on, we can appeal to science and empirical facts about human beings that have borne out that these distinctions do not track on to anything substantial.

            We can disprove people like Hitler's assertion that some races are biologically inferior by showing there is more diversity inside of races and ethnicities than within them (i.e. there is more difference between some "white" folks, than between some white people and some black people. We can turn to studies of acheivement among these races and ethnicities, gender and sexual orientation.

            What you cannot do with science, or any other discipline is demonstrate to others things like "value", "worth" and I would hazard, "moral". As these concepts are inherently subjective.

          • So the book says that, how does it demonstrate it to be true?

            I think it 'demonstrates' that truth-claim in about the same way that a time-traveling physicist could 'demonstrate' that negative index metamaterials can be made, without actually bringing any of them back in time. My suspicion is that it takes quite a few generations to truly manifest the promised properties of an egalitarian society. In the beginning, one would have to trust in principles and people instead of have truth-values be demonstrated. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding takes a long time to prepare.

            No, this would be a demonstration that a society designed to operate according to egalitarianism, would run smooth and would lead to people approving. That is not the same as all are of equal moral worth, this is a demonstration of what it would take to make a state run smoothly.

            Perhaps we need to back up. What, exactly, does it mean to you to say that "all people are of equal moral worth"? Can you understand the term without imagining what a society would be like where the principle obtains (at least partially, probably either growing or shrinking in influence so one can guess at causal connection)?

            Beyond that, note that you are appealing to a way of demonstrating this through social studies and science.

            There's a crucial distinction: the human sciences cannot maintain a strict fact/value dichotomy, while the natural sciences can do a pretty good job of it. This alters the character of 'knowledge' for the human sciences. I don't feel threatened by the human sciences: I worship a God who wants to be known increasingly well.

            Contrast this to arguments from science. When someone states that a particular ethnicity, race or skin colour is superior and so on, we can appeal to science and empirical facts about human beings that have borne out that these distinctions do not track on to anything substantial.

            Suppose that contra stuff like this, you're right. (I'm simply wary that politicization makes it hard to properly measure this stuff—I agree with the author that "IQ had no implications for the moral worth of individuals".) Who says we have to discriminate via ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.? Why not discriminate via IQ, social ability, or some other trait? Who determines what is 'substantial'? Perhaps just having an oppressed class has utilitarian value.

            What you cannot do with science, or any other discipline is demonstrate to others things like "value", "worth" and I would hazard, "moral". As these concepts are inherently subjective.

            Why are they "inherently subjective"? Are the parts of our brains which work with them any less conditioned by the laws of physics, initial conditions, and noise—than any other aspect of our thought processes?

            Steven Weinberg and others have talked about the importance of inculcating a certain sense of beauty in order to do excellent physics research. Who is to say that other kinds of progress (that is, better and better achieving some purpose) are not possible via inculcating other values? The idea that the only 'objective' purpose is "understand and control nature" seems question-begging. It seems to presume that the world has no teleological qualities, that wisdom and knowledge can be divorced (the Greeks never believed this), among other things.

          • I asked you how the book demonstrates this and you have not answered. You have given me an anology, instead of explaining how this book does it.

            I don't know what you meant by humans are or equal moral worth. Why don't you explain what you meant and how the bible demonstrates this rather than just stating it. The statement has nothing to do with the kind of society that exists, or existed. Whether societies adopt or enforce this value is distinct from whether it is true.

            Morality is ultimately a subjective enterprise because the fundamental values, for me human flourishing over human suffering, are intuitive and opinion. There is no way to objectively verify that promoting human flourishing is a "should" or is "good". We can be objective and scientific at times about how to further these values. But if someone asks why is flourishing to be promoted over suffering, I can only say that this is intuitive, or self serving, both of which are subjective.

            It was you that suggested that the truth of the principle all humans are of equally moral worth can and had been demonstrated. Please just explain what you mean and how you arrived at this.

          • I asked you how the book demonstrates this and you have not answered. You have given me an anology, instead of explaining how this book does it.

            Yep; that's because you've yet to address, head-on, my question: "Is "all people are of equal moral worth" the type of thing which can be called 'knowledge'?" That is the first thing I asked you. It was in response to the implication that only the sciences have really delivered things of solid value to humanity. And when I say "of solid value", I mean to exclude things which benefit just a few—especially if those benefitted are the elite. You may dispute what I've said here (e.g. there are things of great value other than truth); so far, you've simply been quite opaque on the matter.

            I don't know what you meant by humans are or equal moral worth.

            How did we get this far in the conversation with you not understanding that phrase? I suggest a look at SEP's Egalitarianism. That article contains the following sentence in the introduction: "Egalitarian doctrines tend to rest on a background idea that all human persons are equal in fundamental worth or moral status."

            Whether societies adopt or enforce this value is distinct from whether it is true.

            If you pay attention to my words, you will see that I said "manifest the promised properties of an egalitarian society". Surely you can accept that there can be truths about what kinds of society egalitarianism produces? These would be truths in the form of "If you do X, then Y will result." This is precisely the form of the claim that the time-travelling physicist would make re: negative index metamaterials.

            Morality is ultimately a subjective enterprise because the fundamental values, for me human flourishing over human suffering, are intuitive and opinion.

            How do I test whether what you claim here is true? For example, if the aspects about you which are unique to you partially define what the best way to treat you is, that doesn't mean that morality is all of a sudden unmoored from objective reality. After all, your face is also unique, and yet it's not subjective. We are also well-aware of situations where a person's self-evaluation of what is good for him/her is in error. The possibility of such errors has the smell of objectivity.

            I suspect that part of the problem is an assumed divorce between some ought-statement and a prediction of what will consequently result. It is as if our ideas of what ought to be are divorced from an imagination which looks at how said ought would function in society, approving of the result. The existence of a prediction allows testability. Something which may be important is to carefully monitor how we tend to modify our predictions in a post-hoc fashion. One place to look at how many ways we fool ourselves in this manner is WP: Affective forecasting.

            It was you that suggested that the truth of the principle all humans are of equally moral worth can and had been demonstrated. Please just explain what you mean and how you arrived at this.

            No, I didn't assert "had been". See:

            LB: I would suggest that Judaism and Christianity pushed powerfully in that direction (but not monotonically).

            LB: Whether or not these go all the way to what we currently understand as egalitarianism is irrelevant if instead they merely point very strongly in pretty much precisely that direction.

            As to the "can", again I point you to the very first thing I asked you: "Is "all people are of equal moral worth" the type of thing which can be called 'knowledge'?" I know you're frustrated, Brian—but what do you expect, if you consistently fail to deal, head-on, with an opening question of mine meant to help achieve common ground?

          • "Is "all people are of equal moral worth" the type of thing which can be called 'knowledge'?"

            Yes it "can" be called knowledge. By knowledge I mean certainty. Do I know this? No, I believe it. How confident am I that this is true. Not at all confident. Why do I believe it then? Intuition. Is how I use the term "knowledge" how the article uses them? No, I do not think so.

            I do not think I have been opaque I just do not want to change the subject. I want to discuss what theology and the humanities do, what conclusions they reach, and how confident we can be in their conclusions and why.

            I do not see how the reference to egalitarian society is relevant. There is a distinction between the statement "all humans are of equal moral worth" and "all humans should be treated equally". I would agree if you hold the former view, it leads to the latter. There are various approaches to equality, formal equality, substantive equality, realism, ideology and so on, the approaches need to balance measures to ensure substantively equal treatment with limits on freedom, if you agree that society should be liberal.

            ""Morality is ultimately a subjective enterprise because the
            fundamental values, for me human flourishing over human suffering, are
            intuitive and opinion."

            How do I test whether what you claim here is true?""

            You can advance a hypothesis to the contrary, and test that, if you confirm it, you have falsified my claim. I do not think this can be done, which is why I think this is a subjective issue. It would be like trying to test whether it is true that Moby Dick is the best novel ever written. I do not claim my foundation for morality can be tested or demonstrated or that we can have any level of certainty to it.

            Take the following example. If I were to disagree that all humans are morally equal, and take the position rather that some are more worthy than others. How would you go about demonstrating that I am wrong?

          • By knowledge I mean certainty.

            That is a very odd definition of 'knowledge'! So according to you, not all knowledge can be "demonstrated"? (I shall exclude tacit knowledge, which seems irrelevant, here.)

            I want to discuss what theology and the humanities do, what conclusions they reach, and how confident we can be in their conclusions and why.

            Well, you also asked "How successful has [theology] been?" Unless you only define 'success' via the accumulation of demonstrable knowledge (alternatively: knowledge about which one can be confident), your initial inquiry was wider than you now present it to be.

            My current guess is that you don't feel you can be confident, at all, about anything in the 'ought' realm. Is it correct?

            I do not see how the reference to egalitarian society is relevant.

            Were this a goal of Christians, and perhaps the Israelites before them, I should think they have enjoyed remarkable success. But perhaps I am using the term 'success' differently from how you intended to in your first comment.

            You can advance a hypothesis to the contrary, and test that, if you confirm it, you have falsified my claim. I do not think this can be done, which is why I think this is a subjective issue.

            Actually, I think the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that your claim is falsifiable. If it is not, then it would seem to be more a statement of dogma than anything else. I'm actually not sure there is any way for the claim of perfect subjectivity (very close to 'relativity', here) to be "demonstrated".

            If I were to disagree that all humans are morally equal, and take the position rather that some are more worthy than others. How would you go about demonstrating that I am wrong?

            There are a number of ways, but to do so I would need this disagreement to be embedded in a real-world situation, with you trying to convince others that you are right (via making predictions of what kind of reality will result from them agreeing with you and acting on that agreement).

          • The problem with terms like "knowledge" is how they are used differently by many people. Let's not worry about the term. What did you mean when you asked me if I agreed it is "knowledge" and I can tell you of I agree. I don't use that term because it is unclear what we generally mean. I speak of belief and how confident we can be in our beliefs.

            Actually I feel very confident in most of the things I believe I ought to do, my lack of confidence is in the foundation for these oughts, namely human well being. But it doesn't bother me because this actually feels very correct and is shared by just about everyone else.

            But of course we have now moved on from the topic of this conversation and into my subjective moral perspective. That is fine.

            I've answered your questions, but you have continually dodged mine. What is theology? How does it reach conclusions? How confident is it in its conclusions, and why?

            I remain where I was at the start of this. Theology is basically a field that assumes a number of things, such as the text of the New Testament is the inspired by a god. It applies textual criticism to this to understand it within a set framework (e.g. This god is good and not evil). It references philosophy tend history to justify these things but will constrain or ignore historical philosophical and historical conclusions that conflict with its theological assumptions. E.g. Substance dualism is a metaphysical position that must be correct, otherwise there is no god. Or yes the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, the apocryphal gospels were forgeries. So my understanding of theology is that it is a reasonable and interesting pursuit. But I have yet to see how theological textual criticism is different than secular textual criticism, or history or theology.

            I simply yet have to see you advance any knowledge on any definition that was determined by theology or the humanities with anything like the confidence of science or history for example, or to any other.

            Let me give you some options. How many people is god? One, three, or millions? What distinguishes a "person" of god, and how do we know.

            Why are some things good and others bad? What is the ultimate objective foundation of our "oughts" and how can we gain confidence in these?

            What do humans need to do to be saved? Do we need to be baptized? Do we need to confess our sins in life?

          • The problem with terms like "knowledge" is how they are used differently by many people. Let's not worry about the term. What did you mean when you asked me if I agreed it is "knowledge" and I can tell you of I agree. I don't use that term because it is unclear what we generally mean. I speak of belief and how confident we can be in our beliefs.

            One option I kept open was that the 'successful' in "How successful has [theology] been?" requires an accrual of 'knowledge'. Another option is that it requires increasing adherence to some standard, although for this to not involve the accumulation of knowledge seems weird to me. (For example: we learn more about reality as we try to match ourselves to it more closely.) The only aspect I think I need to add to 'knowledge' right now is that it be "demonstra[ble]".

            I do not think I have been opaque I just do not want to change the subject. I want to discuss what theology and the humanities do, what conclusions they reach, and how confident we can be in their conclusions and why.

            Among other things, they spend a lot of time asking what kind of persons we should become, and this has an inextricable moral dimension. They probe the surface and foundations of excellent personhood. The hard sciences probe the surface and foundations of reality. The operations of theology and the humanities can only be a change in subject if they cannot contribute to 'success'.

            Actually I feel very confident in most of the things I believe I ought to do, my lack of confidence is in the foundation for these oughts, namely human well being. But it doesn't bother me because this actually feels very correct and is shared by just about everyone else.

            Curious; how would you compare & contrast this with where scientists are most to least confident (we have surface, foundation, and everywhere in between)? I would argue that the lack of confidence in foundations lets the ground be slowly changed under your feet without you noticing or at least being able to do something about it. Hitler's rise to power can be instructive here, as can the development of propaganda which ultimately made the Rwandan Genocide seem legitimate to enough people. I worry about what Trump may accomplish in the US in this regard. I don't see how "all people are of equal moral worth" is consistent with his platform.

            I've answered your questions, but you have continually dodged mine. What is theology? How does it reach conclusions? How confident is it in its conclusions, and why?

            Hey c'mon; you only just answered my opening question, which was my opening sentence to you. It's lame that you write as if you had answered that question any earlier. I think many people would be absolutely shocked to see you say "By knowledge I mean certainty." In order to not look like I'm delaying an answer even more, I have to guess about what you mean by "successful".

            Your questions about theology are awfully broad; it would be like asking how science works (perhaps: how it has worked over the last 400 years) and how confidence science is in the conclusions it reaches. Especially if one takes into account work like Paul Feyerabend's Against Method and Nancy Cartwright's The Dappled World, the answers will be vague if general, and otherwise different based on the area asked about. I'm pretty sure some scientists think that what other scientists do isn't even science (e.g. some physicists about sociologists).

            Now, I presented an instance of a claimed deliverance of theology: "all people are of equal moral worth". To be more careful, I listed a few sources which argue that the OT and NT "point very strongly in pretty much precisely that direction". To actually get into the details of how this worked, who it convinced of what, and whether we ought to consider that convincing to be legitimate, is a rather large task.

            What makes this matter even harder is that theology-or rather, the form of it I know most about-is very strongly connected to "the foundation for these oughts, namely human well being". That is precisely the territory where you have "lack of confidence". This isn't surprising; Alasdair MacIntyre argues that modernity essentially nuked moral foundations and moral philosophy has been stuck in a post-apocalyptic wasteland since (After Virtue, 1–5). Brad S. Gregory argues that in the wake of the Thirty Years' War, Christian doctrines became unmoored from social life (The Unintended Reformation, Kindle locations 583–87). Multiple scholars I could cite note the paucity of theorizing about what it means to be a person (including foundations for human flourishing). If these folks are right, there will be a lack of confidence, method, and demonstrability in the kind of theology I picked out in this paragraph. Moreover, that lack will be an artifact of the way modernity changed our thought processes, our conceptual vocabularies.

            I have more to say in response to your questions (they are enormous questions—I hope you realize this), but I'll let you respond to the above, first.

            Theology is basically a field that assumes a number of things, [...]

            Every field assumes a number of things. My guess is that the more complex the field, the more that needs to be assumed to get off the ground. Theology, at least the theology which deals with all aspects of human existence (including those not repeatable enough for scientific study), is going to be pretty freaking complex. That being said, I doubt its essence requires ignoring conflicting material and I know that substance dualism is not required. Aquinas didn't even think in those terms.

            I simply yet have to see you advance any knowledge on any definition that was determined by theology or the humanities with anything like the confidence of science or history for example, or to any other.

            I'm pretty sure there's a lot of confidence that "all people are of equal moral worth" strewn about history which was very important in bringing about the world that we live today. I'm pretty sure much of that confidence did not arise through science, nor history. And I'm pretty sure that there are other aspects equally important for us having the kind of society we can have today (probably required to even do the science we can do), which came from neither science nor history. Now we can quibble about whether it came from theology or not, but first I think we need to be very careful about what 'success' in modernity we assign to science, and what we do not.

            Let me give you some options.

            And I would ask how these various abstract things connect to experienced reality. I have made some progress on the matter, but it is still too fragile to withstand a skeptical analysis. This doesn't bother me too much, because I know that your answers to questions in the realm I see as critical to theology cannot withstand a skeptical analysis, either:

            BGA: Actually I feel very confident in most of the things I believe I ought to do, my lack of confidence is in the foundation for these oughts, namely human well being. But it doesn't bother me because this actually feels very correct and is shared by just about everyone else.

            I'm sure it felt very correct, to "just about everyone else" [who cared to speak up], to execute Jesus. I don't think (i) non-rational feeling and (ii) argumentum ad populum are good enough. Sadly, I think for too long they have been held to be good enough for too many people. Well, that and a facile dependence on 'Reason' to save the day. The means to do something other than (i) and (ii) seem so ill-developed these days that many wonder whether anything else exists.

          • I am sorry I no longer understand what point you are trying to make.

          • Primarily, I'm pushing back against the idea that there isn't a wealth of things we in the West are confident of which don't come from science. My chosen example was "all people are of equal moral worth". You yourself don't seem to be all that confident of this, but I suspect most in the West are.

            If I can convince you of the above, then I can move onto a discussion of how we become confident of things delivered by something other than science. Here, I argue that our ability to deal with justification is extremely weak—I think confidence is primarily built of emotion, instead of having a strong rational component. If this is true, then any weakness in theology may have nothing to do with theology, and everything to do with the current situation we've found ourselves in.

            Now, it hasn't always been the case that people weren't confident in axiology, such as moral foundations. There wasn't always a fact–value dichotomy which pushes us toward emotivism. Before modernity came about, I suspect that theology did a lot to shape society and build toward many good things, e.g. egalitarianism. These suspicions do need to be supported by theory and data, but I'm not particularly bothered of the current scarcity of these, given both my second paragraph and the scholarly & scientific animus in modernity toward religion.

            The money quote from you is this one:

            BGA: Actually I feel very confident in most of the things I believe I ought to do, my lack of confidence is in the foundation for these oughts, namely human well being. But it doesn't bother me because this actually feels very correct and is shared by just about everyone else.

            Without venturing into justification of foundational issues and yet connecting those to day-to-day life, theology gets partioned into a component no more relevant than pure maths, and a component which is basically shallow, feel-good pop religion. What you've expressed here is a secular version of the latter component.

            And so, I suspect that what you've asked for cannot be answered within your conceptual lexicon. The conceptual lexicon of moderns in general is woefully inadequate, here. There is even the question of whether such a conceptual lexicon could possibly exist. I think one does, but unearthing it from my intuition is a ridiculously difficult task. A good first step, I think, is to demonstrate that my position is no more precarious than the skeptic's.

          • Well I do agree that we can be confident about most things without the assistance of the scientific method. I just don't think any other method can give us as much confidence.

            I feel quite confident in my moral foundations and I am sure many others do too. But I do not consider a strong feeling or emotions to be a good basis to build confidence.

            I cannot discuss the strengths or weakness in theological methods of reaching conclusions because no one seems to be able to identify what theology is or how it reaches conclusions. What distinguishes it from other disciplines.

            I recognize the problems with my foundations of morality. But I have seen no way to overcome these. If you have one, please share it.

            Nonsense, what I have asked for is simply a description of what theology,how it reaches conclusions,and what level of confidence we should accept.

          • I cannot discuss the strengths or weakness in theological methods of reaching conclusions because no one seems to be able to identify what theology is or how it reaches conclusions. What distinguishes it from other disciplines.

            Oh good grief, did you just 100% ignore this and surrounding paragraphs:

            LB: Your questions about theology are awfully broad; it would be like asking how science works (perhaps: how it has worked over the last 400 years) and how confidence science is in the conclusions it reaches. Especially if one takes into account work like Paul Feyerabend's Against Method and Nancy Cartwright's The Dappled World, the answers will be vague if general, and otherwise different based on the area asked about. I'm pretty sure some scientists think that what other scientists do isn't even science (e.g. some physicists about sociologists).

            ?

  • Short version, actually, Hulk version.

    Scientism bad, but how good theology, what theology ever figure out? How theology work give answer?

    • ClayJames

      Theology give answers. Brian disagrees with answers.

      • What answers and by what method were they reached? Yahoo answers gives answers too. So does mere speculation.

        What answers does theology provide and why should I accept them as true?

        • ClayJames

          Theology is an academic discipline that gives answers regarding the study of God and religion. You don´t have to necessarily accept the Trinity in order to accept the theological truths about the Trinity.

          If by ¨giving answers¨ you are refering to simply accepting the reality of some of the beliefs that are covered by Theology, then there are many answers that have been given. This site gives one set of answers (Catholicism) that were reached, methodologically, through the use of reason, revelation, scripture, history and tradition.

          • 'Theology is an academic discipline that gives answers regarding the study of God and religion."

            Yes and theology provides answers that Mohammed is the only prophet of Allah, the one and true god . That Jesus was a prophet but not god(accepted as true by all muslim theologians). That Jesus is god himself (accepted as true by all Christian theologians). That both these are wrong, the one true g-d is Yaweh, he had no son an both Mohamed and Jesus were false prophets. (accepted as true by all Jewish theologians) That there is not one god but millions and in a way nature itself is "god". (accepted as true by all Hindu theologians)

            These are not fringe views but well-established accepted as true by millions, in some cases billions. I put it to you that these positions are not unreasonable or not methodological, but so divergent because theology and religion have no reality check. They have no way to check whether one or the other is true. In essence they are subjective.

            This doesn't mean they are not important, or meaningful, but they should not be compared to empirical and more objective disciplines such as science and history.

            Science is the most objective and methodical way of interpreting nature. It has a method which is not perfect and in no way leads to certainty, but that is the most reliable and makes the best predictions. It cannot approach all questions nor does it attempt to. But on the questions it does address it provides an enormous wealth of information we can rely on to the highest degree known of confidence. This is why on the major theories, and models of the cosmos, there is virtually no dispute. Models of physics, biology, chemistry become so well established because the evidence keeps supporting them.

            By comparison, the humanities are interesting and provide meaning. But many are inherently subjective which is why we see incredible divergence of views about truth, meaning and so on.

            This is all fine, but articles like the bishop's suggest that the humanities provide similar results when it comes to knowledge which ridiculous.

            What has religion or theology or art ever demonstrated as objectively true in any way similar to what science has? Nothing.

          • ClayJames

            Once again, lack of consensus does not allow you to conclude that there is a lack of truth. You keep repeating this without showing why this is the case.

            They have no way to check whether one or the other is true. In essence they are subjective.

            This is obviously not true. The same methodology that an atheist (should) use to claim that God does not exist, a theist uses to claim that he does. Is the belief in atheism subjective? When you get into more specific religious beliefs that use different methodologies it is correct to say that those methodologies are not as contrained as science, but you have yet to show why it must be as contrained in order to lead to truth.

            Science is the most objective and methodical way of interpreting nature.

            Not at all, there are other tools that interpret nature that are way more methodical than science. The methodology that is applied when using a ruler is way more methodologically contrained, leads to a lot more consensus and less disagreement that the scientific method. However, it would be silly to say that for science to be a source of knowledge it must have the methodological constraints and the overall consensus of a ruler, which is exactly what you are doing when comparing science to other forms of knowing.

            This is why on the major theories, and models of the cosmos, there is virtually no dispute. Models of physics, biology, chemistry become so well established because the evidence keeps supporting them.

            So what? Why is lack of dispute equal strength of knowledge, especially when the scientific method is a slave to different beliefs that are in and of themselves a result of methodologies that lead to more dispute.

            What has religion or theology or art ever demonstrated as objectively true in any way similar to what science has? Nothing.

            If by ¨in the same way¨ you mean¨with the same methodology¨, then the answer is nothing but this is nothing more that begging the question. You still have to show that for something to be demonstrated as true, it must follow a process as methodological as the scientific method.

          • Darren

            ClayJames wrote,

            The methodology that is applied when using a ruler is way more methodologically contrained, leads to a lot more consensus and less disagreement that the scientific method.

            This is a very interesting thought. As I happen to have a professional interest in metrology, I would ask you to describe this ruler use methodology. I confess that I am at a loss as to how your methodology might differ from the scientific method, but I am willing to be educated.

          • "Once again, lack of consensus does not allow you to conclude that there is a lack of truth"

            Actually I never said that and it is not my position.

            "The same methodology that an atheist (should) use to claim that God does not exist, a theist uses to claim that he does.'

            I agree, but the arguments for the existence of god do not invoke theology or most of the humanities, they mainly invoke science and philosophy and history.

            There is no such thing as "belief in atheism" atheism is a position that rejects claims of the existence of any gods. Such a position may be reached by any number of paths, reasonable or not. For me it is arrived at through critical examination (logic, philosophy) of these arguments, with reference to empirical facts as accepted by mainstream scientists and historians. Atheism does not claim to be a path to knowledge. It is a label for a position. If you are claiming that theology or religion is a path to knowledge i am simply asking what is its method, what are its standards of proof, and what useful thing has it ever determined in a way that is convincing to the majority of reasonable people, in the same way that science has determined what and how to manipulate chemicals and atoms or historians who have determined the existence of Troy?

            "The methodology that is applied when using a ruler is way more
            methodologically contrained, leads to a lot more consensus and less
            disagreement that the scientific method."

            I disagree. Consider a measurement made by one person with a ruler, the person says the length of this foot is 12 inches. I think we could be confident with that. But science would say we can be much more confident. How? Science will require verification that the ruler is properly calibrated to a standard recognized by a scientific community. It will then say one measurement is not enough, the measurer could have made a mistake in observation. Let us have multiple measurements by independent observers and see if they agree. Not only this, but science will say one study of this is not enough, the authors could have been lying for some reason or there may be some problem with the study we don't notice. So only when the study has been replicated will science say, still conditionally that it has reached a scientific level of confidence.

            I am not saying that all paths to knowledge must be as constrained as those of science. But those which are not, cannot lead to the same level of confidence in their conclusions. It is also because of this that scientism needs to be rejected. It would be paralyzing to require scientific findings to accept anything as true. So it is not irrational for me to accept that I have been awarded a job because I get a phone call that tells me that. I am confident about it, but nowhere near as confident as I would be if it were derived through the scientific method.

            "If by ¨in the same way¨ you mean¨with the same methodology¨" No I do not. I mean what have these things ever demonstrated to a similar level of confidence using their OWN methodology? Or, what is their methodology, and what level of confidence are does it bestow?

            This is why I would advance something of a hierarchy in confidence, mathematics and logic can provide certainty, but this never provides any empirical knowledge only using these things with empirical observations can do that. Science has the highest standards of verification and objectivity, and has the highest confidence, but these standards require significant work or data that is impractical or impossible to obtain in most cases. Most historical questions cannot get what science needs and therefore history has lower standards and accordingly, lower confidence. I would put something like journalism next because we can expect journalists to live up to certain standards and they should be putting their reputations on the line, but there is no peer review so we might be less confident than historians, but these may be on par in many cases. Next we have anecdotal claims, someone tells you something, if you have no reason to disbelieve, then it is reasonable to accept it, but you should not be terribly confident in it compared to the methods above. Below this I would put subjective opinion. Things like the meaning of Moby Dick or the beauty of a sunrise, I don't know if you can call these "knowledge", they are certainly not empirical questions. Such analysis can be critical, but lacks any foundation.

            Let me give you an example from my own experience. I actually happen to have a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting from a leading university in my country. There are a number of methods for acting, one is even called "method" acting. Different instructors will use different approaches, in fact every prof I had used their own specific method. While enormous amounts of writing and critical thinking and analysis has occurred with respect to these different methodologies none of them can be said to be more or less effective. No one agrees on which is the best. There are schools of thought, and there are even "atheist" approaches like David Mamet who think they are all bunk. In the end there is no way to assess which method, or no method, is better, because they all seem to produce both good and bad actors. Now theatre programs could use empirical methods to figure this out, they could do studies. But they don't and I bet the reason they don't is because most actors cannot make a living at acting, and end up making a living at teaching acting. I expect the results from this is that would show just practicing acting with no theory makes better actors and this would put most of them out of a job.

            I expect the same is happening in theology.

          • Darren

            But they don't and I bet the reason they don't is because most actors cannot make a living at acting, and end up making a living at teaching acting. I expect the results from this is that would show just practicing acting with no theory makes better actors and this would put most of them out of a job.

            I expect the same is happening in theology.

            This is very amusing, Brian.

          • ClayJames

            There is no such thing as "belief in atheism" atheism is a position that rejects claims of the existence of any gods.

            I am clearly taking the definition of atheism that says ¨there is no god¨. Using this definition, there is such a thing as ¨belief in atheism.¨

            If you are claiming that theology or religion is a path to knowledge i am simply asking what is its method, what are its standards of proof, and what useful thing has it ever determined in a way that is convincing to the majority of reasonable people, in the same way that science has determined what and how to manipulate chemicals and atoms or historians who have determined the existence of Troy?

            I have given you methods. I pointed out that beliefs about god can be a result of both logic and history which both have their own methodology.

            I have nothing else to add regarding your requirement that beliefs about God must be ¨convincing to the majority of reasonable people¨. You keep offering this criteria for knowledge, I keep asking you to defend it and you just keep repeating it as if its true.

            But those which are not, cannot lead to the same level of confidence in their conclusions.

            Including science itself, since the methodology that brought about science is not as contrained as science.

            No I do not. I mean what have these things ever demonstrated to a similar level of confidence using their OWN methodology?

            If by confidence you mean consensus, then it is true that because the methodology used in beliefs about god is not as contrained then there is not as much consensus. But you haven´t defended why this should be a prerequisite? It seems that you don´t realize that science is more contrained because we have made it that way. We have also made tools that are more methodolgically contrained than science because we limit their purpose and therefore increase their accuracy. Scientism is taking science and pushing it beyond its intended limits. The reason that science is more contrained is because it is more limited.

            I find your heirarchy all over the place and somewhat arbitrary. Science does not have the highest confidence as there are other tools that because they are much more limited and more contrained, there is more confidence and consensus regarding their results. Science is limited to the natural world and because of this it is more methodologically contrained. My big answer regarding your confidence heirarchy is ¨so what?¨

            Is the fact that science is more constrained than other philosophical pursuits mean that science should be used to come to conclusions about non-scientic (non-natural) things? No

            Is the fact that science is more constrained than other philosophical pursuits mean that non-scientific truths are less important? I fail to see how this is the case since science is a slave and a product of philosophy.

            Once again, a ruler is more limited and therefore more contrained but it would be silly to say that the conclusions that result from its use are of some higher order than other scientific truth. To this example, it is usually pointed out that the ruler is a tool that we have designed, limited to measuring distance, because of our scientific knowledge and informed by the scientific method. This would be equally true for the ruler as it is for science itself. Science is a tool that we have designed, limited to the natural world, because of our philosophical knowledge that uses the same methodology used in coming to beliefs about god. How then does it make sense to say that scientific knowledge is of some higher order than philosophical knowledge?

            I expect the same is happening in theology.

            The example you gave is nothing more than determining that a variable should be eliminated from an equation because it is irrelevant. I fail to see what this has to do with theology. What is the equivalent of ¨method acting¨ in theology?

            I do find it ironic that the scientist and the actor are on opposite sides of this conversation.

          • Lazarus

            We are all believers in something, as much as that thought distresses some of us. If "belief" is the acceptance of a proposition that has not been conclusively proven then the atheist believes that the universe was created by natural means, or that such is the more probable explanation, or at the very least that it is warranted to wait until further evidence is received. That is the acceptance of perceived provisional facts without them being proven. It can be seen in the existence and creation of the universe, abiogenesis, consciousness, the afterlife and so on. What we theists call "faith". We all have it.

          • Sample1

            Who do you mean by "we"?

            You can't mean me.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Lazarus

            I most definitely mean you as well.

            For example, how did the universe come into existence according to your understanding?

          • Sample1

            It really isn't polite to heap upon someone a trait which is not part of their being. Faith is not a system that I employ in my life. Full stop. After all these years of engaging on this site, this really seems to be a barrier for believers to grasp. We will have to disagree.

            As to your question, one thing that I've learned in the past few years is that your question presupposes the universe isn't eternal. That's problematic because you can't point to any conclusory evidence for it.

            My understanding is that the big bang isn't necessarily the beginning of the universe as we know it. You can think of it rather as the point where our understanding of the universe ends. That's what I see as the honest reading of the facts.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Lazarus

            I was not being impolite. You asked a question based on my comment, which was not directed at you specifically.

            You hold your last paragraph to be true, even provisionally so. You believe it to be truer than the other alternatives that you have considered.

            That is your belief, in any real sense of the word. You believe that. It is accurate to say that. Your position has not been proven to be correct, so you hold that position without it being proven. That is belief, however you wish to describe it. Others are justified in calling that your belief.

            I find it remarkable that so many atheists go to such lengths to deny this obvious and harmless fact. No-one is saying that you believe in God. Just that you also have beliefs. Faith in that which is not proven (yet). There is an insecurity there, in that denial. A fear to acknowledge belief, any belief.

            I say again, we are all believers in something, whether we acknowledge that or not.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Hi Laz! How do you like Confederacy?

            Faith in that which is not proven (yet). There is an insecurity there, in that denial. A fear to acknowledge belief, any belief.

            I'm not sure this is accurate. I am agnostic on early universe questions. I think there is likely an answer that is unrelated to gods, but I am agnostic on deistic type gods. I don't believe in a deist god or anything supernatural, but I acknowledge that I cannot really say anything about a deistic type god. Just like I cannot say anything about the early universe.

            I think there is a difference between my agnosticism and someone that believes that the universe was created by Catholic God as a moral testing ground for humans.

            Perhaps some atheists are reluctant to admit to a pragmatic choice in beliefs, because such admissions usually end with the theist threatening hell via Pascal's wager. I'm pretty sure our 20 proofs for God here on SN ends with Pascal. That such threats are often aimed at children is abusive.
            Besides, if there is a God creating us, he gave us our ambitions, our strengths, our weakness, etc....we did not ask for it.

            Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
            To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
            From darkness to promote me?”

          • Lazarus

            Your agnosticism in itself is a set of beliefs ;)

            "Confederacy" is a magnificent book. I'm 20-odd % into the book, and I don't want it to end. The writing ...

            I am forever in your debt for recommending it. I doubt whether I would have picked it up otherwise.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            When I finished that book, I was sad that it was over. It is magnificent from beginning to end. We should discuss it when you finish.

          • Lazarus

            Will do.
            Maybe we can have a thread on it ...

          • Sample1

            I'm not in the mood for equivocation and evasiveness on this subject. You're moving the goal posts of the discussion from faith to belief. Instant turn off.

            It might help to think of it this way: I do not have belief in belief. I never contrive to believe in a proposition but rather, I accept or reject a given proposition based on the strength of the evidence.

            This is nothing like faith. Hope that helps.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Lazarus

            Condescension does not help your argument. Neither does ignoring the fact that my statement specifically dealt with belief. We are all believers, remember? You took offence to it, please don't now feel entitled to sulk about my perfectly clear explanation, which you asked for.

            Your statement that you have no belief in belief is just that, something which you hold to be true, something which has not been proven by any means. It is a belief. It is your belief. Belief in an unproven assumption is faith. Not religious faith, not belief in God, but belief, faith, nevertheless.

            Can I also suggest, given your last few cranky posts in my direction, that you refrain from commenting on my posts, and asking questions of me, if you are going to try to communicate with me in this ill-tempered manner.

          • Sample1

            I would suggest you carefully read my replies again.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Lazarus

            I have. It gets worse with each reading.

          • Sample1

            Well, if it gets worse because you see your claims weakening then that's a good thing from my perspective!

            I believe I'm right and I believe you're wrong. Let's call it a day. ;-)

            Mike, faith-free

          • "I pointed out that beliefs about god can be a result of both logic and history which both have their own methodology."

            But logic and history are not theology, they are logic and history, and neither of these lead to a reasonably belief in any deity. Clearly apologetics also often invoke scientific conclusions as well. I am happy to continue discussions in those realms, but this is about how theology is distinct from those areas.

            "your requirement that beliefs about God must be ¨convincing to the majority of reasonable people""

            I never said that and it is not my position. What I said was that widespread consensus on many issues indicates that a process is likely more objective than one which never leads to any such consensus.

            "Including science itself, since the methodology that brought about science is not as contrained as science."

            Indeed, the process that establishing the scientific method is a philosophical one, namely skeptical empiricism, an epistemology that is the best we have. What science does is require the highest and most objective standards of skeptical empiricism. Science is more reliable than the process that was used to establish it.

            "Science does not have the highest confidence as there are other tools
            that because they are much more limited and more contrained, there is
            more confidence and consensus regarding their results."

            What are these better tools?

            "How then does it make sense to say that scientific knowledge is of some higher order than philosophical knowledge?"

            It isn't, it is of a higher order in empirical questions. This was clearly stated in my hierarchy, logic and mathematics provide certainty in the abstract, never in the empirical, because of the problem of induction.

            Again, you have failed to explain what methodology theology applies, how it avoids subjectivity and bias, what standards of proof it it requires, any conclusions it has reached or why we should accept them.

          • ClayJames

            But logic and history are not theology, they are logic and history, and neither of these lead to a reasonably belief in any deity.

            This is why I am trying to bring this back to beliefs about God instead of the study of God because you seem to be mixing up these two. Logic and History are fundamental parts of theology, whether you believe that the logic or history is sound is another thing all together. I also disagree that logic and history do not lead to a reasonably belief in a diety. I think they do.

            I never said that and it is not my position. What I said was that widespread consensus on many issues indicates that a process is likely more objective than one which never leads to any such consensus.

            Even phrased this way my answer is still ¨so what?¨ There are processes that are more constrained and therefore require less personal judgement than science that lead to more consensus and are more objective. So what?

            Science is more reliable than the process that was used to establish it.

            At science. In other words, if your goal is to come to conclusions about the natural world, it is better to start at science instead of going back to the beginning and starting at the philosophical assumptions that science requires. Science is not more reliable at coming to conclusions about unscientific things, and scientism is the desire to raise scientific thought to non-scientific questions. This is like saying that a ruler is more reliable than the scientific method used to establish it. Well yea, if you are going to measure the length of your Iphone, you should use a ruler instead of going back to the method that defined the ruler. But I would argue that since you are comparing two different methodologies where one depends on the other, talking about how reliable the depending methodology is makes little sense.

            What are these better tools?

            Here is the example I gave in my previous response to you:

            ¨Once again, a ruler is more limited and therefore more contrained but it would be silly to say that the conclusions that result from its use are of some higher order than other scientific truth. To this example, it is usually pointed out that the ruler is a tool that we have designed, limited to measuring distance, because of our scientific knowledge and informed by the scientific method. This would be equally true for the ruler as it is for science itself. Science is a tool that we have designed, limited to the natural world, because of our philosophical knowledge that uses the same methodology used in coming to beliefs about god. How then does it make sense to say that scientific knowledge is of some higher order than philosophical knowledge?¨

          • Even phrased this way my answer is still ¨so what?¨

            So theology, the humanities lack the ability to provide us with conclusions, or support for beliefs, in anything like the same way. this is clear from the lack of any systemic methodology with checks that can demonstrate the objectivity of its results. It is further evidenced by the fact that rather than provide progressively a clearer picture of reality, they fracture into literally tens of thousands of schools of thought, religions and so on. We are no closer to having a reliable understanding of the meaning of Oedipus Rex now, than we were when it was written 2500 years ago. We are less clear on the existence and nature of gods than we have ever been. rather than these disciplines figuring our theism and what god(s) are and what he wants, they are more fractured than ever, all equally as confident they have it right. The point is when Bishop Barron says "The physical sciences can reveal the chemical composition of ink and
            paper, but they cannot, even in principle, tell us anything about the
            meaning of Moby Dick or The Wasteland." Neither can the humanities! They can opine, they can speculate, but as these are inherently subjective and should not be seen as equivalent paths to "knowledge" (likely meaning here justified belief).

            I am now not clear on what you disagree with in this.

      • George

        Are the answers true, heck, how are the answers justified?

        • How do you justify that "all people are of equal moral worth"? Louis Pojman surveyed ten different secular justifications of this and found each to have insurmounted problems. Here's his conclusion:

              The possibilities [for grounding equal worth] are frighteningly innumerable. My point is that you need some metaphysical explanation to ground the doctrine of equal worth, if it is to serve as the basis for equal human rights. It is not enough simply to assert, as philosophers like Dworkin do, that their egalitarian doctrines are "metaphysically unambiguous." But, of course, there are severe epistemological difficulties with the kinds of metaphysical systems I have been discussing. My point has not been to defend religion. For purposes of this paper I am neutral on the question of whether any religion is true. Rather my purpose is to show that we cannot burn our bridges and still drive Mack trucks over them. But, if we cannot return to religion, then it would seem perhaps we should abandon egalitarianism and devise political philosophies that reflect naturalistic assumptions, theories which are forthright in viewing humans as differentially talented animals who must get on together. (Equality: Selected Readings, 296)

          Maybe you cannot justify it. Maybe you just want it to be true. Maybe when a US official says "one American casualty is worth about 85,000 Rwandan dead." (A Problem from Hell, 381), that's just the practical reality you have to deal with as a hard-nosed empiricist. After all, merely wanting things to be true doesn't guarantee that they're true!

          Another way of saying this is that the resources provided to us by reality do not guarantee that we can make egalitarianism true. Maybe if we try to approximate it more than some amount, we'll fail—for one reason or another. If this is the most likely empirical truth, then it would be foolish to pour too many resources into surpassing such a barrier. Some people will just fall through the cracks and that is that. The OT and NT think that people falling through the cracks is a problem which can be arbitrarily solved (with divine aid), but perhaps they're both just wrong.

          Now, if somehow you think that a being which plausibly created our reality tells you that it was constructed such that certain things are possible, maybe it is justifiable to believe such things on faith, and then let that faith inform action—up to great sacrifice. The only way to test that faith is to watch the lived results of it. Before the results come in, the truth-values cannot be known.

          • George

            "The OT and NT think that people falling through the cracks is a problem which can be arbitrarily solved (with divine aid),."

            Good to know that god doesn't create vessels of wrath, doesn't harden anyone's heart, doesn't send an agent to divide families, and hasn't created a future where anyone is turned against Him.

            "The only way to test that faith is to watch the lived results of it. Before the results come in, the truth-values cannot be known."

            And you either care about getting particular results or you don't.

          • Good to know that god doesn't create vessels of wrath, doesn't harden anyone's heart, doesn't send an agent to divide families, and hasn't created a future where anyone is turned against Him.

            I don't see a problem with God using those who have chosen to do evil, and use their evil for good. As to Pharaoh, he was given a fine chance to evaluate which god was highest—per his reasoning, I believe that would be the most powerful god—instead of him letting the Israelites go when their god was enough of a threat to not want to test the odds. I doubt any other configuration would have forced Pharaoh to a true decision point, of whether or not perhaps YHWH was the true god, God of all gods.

            As to dividing families, you'll have to clarify. If you mean Jesus bringing a sword and not peace, that would be challenging people to have a higher loyalty than family—like truth. If you think truth is not worth setting brother against brother, then just say so. As for people ultimately choosing to not be with God—let's just say I don't see how to avoid it and simultaneously not make us robots. Maybe you've found a way that doesn't grind the laws of logic into foul-tasting sausage which you could share?

            And you either care about getting particular results or you don't.

            Do you mean... you either determine reality to turn out one specific way or you allow free beings who, by defintion, can possibly make evil choices? No offense, but I think I'm quite glad you aren't God.

          • George

            what's your defintion of a robot, and what is your definition of a free being?

          • Ehhh, I'm not particularly interested in a "Quiz Luke Breuer" session. I'd also like to learn from you. If that's not your preference right now—if you're just going to be the one asking the questions or offering the most minimal of things—I think I'll focus on one of the other conversations going.

          • Oooh, slick—you got me to reply with you 100% dodging my question. Is this an implicit admission that you actually cannot justify the belief that "all people are of equal moral worth", and that perhaps there are a whole host of things which are utterly crucial to human thriving which nevertheless don't get known or acted on like empirical knowledge is?

          • George

            did you justify trying to drag me away from the question of theology?

          • You've mixed up the timeline, and I've clearly offered to do two things at once. If you're not game—if you'd rather press and attack and not also defend a decent amount—then I'm going to be too worried that you're arguing in bad faith, demanding a higher standard of position from me than you're able to defend, yourself. :-/

  • cminca

    I'm guessing that Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others would be happy to stop discussing philosophy when fundamentalist theologians stop ascribing scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source. (And, I might add, only one of many versions of the unproven and unprovable sources currently believed.)

    I'm guessing that Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others would be happy to stop discussing philosophy when fundamentalist theologians stop trying to make school systems teach religious myth as natural science.

    I'm guessing Nye and Tyson don't want to spend any more time engaging your rather silly claims, but they do seem to feel a need to address an issue that undergirds everything you say and that is infecting the minds of many fundamentalist religious people today, namely that your goal seems to be giving YOUR particular brand of faith veto rights on what the rest of us are allowed to believe and how we act.

    "The scientism that I’ve been describing and criticizing is but a symptom of a more far-reaching problem, namely, the fading away of the humanities in our schools." Then shouldn't you blame school systems that AREN'T teaching the humanities, instead of blaming the scientist?

    And, once again Brandon, I feel it is necessary to point out that the original post clearly violates the prohibition of "snarky, offensive" in the comments rules. As they say in the military--different spanks for different ranks.

    • I'm guessing that Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others would be happy to stop discussing philosophy when fundamentalist theologians stop ascribing scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source.

      You mean like [necessitarian] causation, that thing Hume said couldn't be discerned through the senses? He nevertheless believed it. A pox on him, a pox on Newton for "spooky action at a distance", a pox on all that.

      Please also do away with moral responsibility (see Against Moral Responsibility and Two Concepts of Liberty). There's no such thing as people being free to act; it's all determined from the beginning of time or utterly random. Intelligence is an epiphenomenon—a useful fiction. We can certainly redefine what 'moral responsibility' is, but we ought to be honest about it instead of lying to ourselves that 'persons' actually exist. No, a person is at most a messy causal nexus.

      Yeah, I think we should shred everything which is "unproven and unprovable", per your meaning of those terms. Commit them to the flames. Let's start with your comment and my response, as both qualify. After all, the idea that 'rationality' made you or me say anything is utterly unprovable. Well, unless 'rationality' is just the laws of physics in operation. But then sometimes the laws of physics produce irrationality, with no power to distinguish between the two modes of operation (because no other power exists).

      Can we? Please?

      • Lazarus

        You are in fine form tonight, Mr. Breuer.

        • cminca

          Preaching to the choir normally produces that result.

          • Lazarus

            True, while some of us are tone deaf.

          • cminca

            Ah yes.....the "you don't agree so you can't understand" statement of the true believer. I'm sure Jim Jones' followers felt the same.

          • Lazarus

            You are trying very hard to get us to "understand" as you do. You're dishing out your own brand of Koolaid without seemingly realizing it.

          • cminca

            Oh honey---I'm not "trying" at all. I'm killing time between conference calls.

          • Lazarus

            Don't let us distract you now.

          • cminca

            I'd suggest you face the reality that, at least philosophically, there is no real difference between Jones' koolaid and your communion wine.

          • You're talking koolaid made communion wine - right? That's the meaning of trans-substantiation -right! I finally understand...that's 'real philosophy' - right? Except I don't believe any one receives the wine any-more. The covenant in blood does not mean we will be find salvation- only the redemption of the flesh- but now it's getting complicated, and I'm not LB. I can think thoughts, but I'm not so good when it comes to expressing them - in words! You see- I was 'robbed of my virginity' by the 'snake' eons ago, but no one has ever thought that I was possibly taking the sins of Satan upon myself, when I ate the fruit....But now I wonder: could that mean that this 'knowledge of good and evil' is not 'incarnate'??? I'm beyond my capacity, as usual, here, obviously ..Differences!!!!!!????

          • cminca

            No--I'm talking about the fact that the only difference between a cult and a religion is that a religion has greater political power.

            And the only meaningful difference between Jim Jones and the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church has better real estate and costumes

          • Oh yes. I agree - legalism went berserk, I believe, after/with Thomas Aquinas. But I wouldn't want to 'simplify' the 'story'. What I would like to understand is 'how' tradition, the rites, etc. contribute to or make possible that 'power'. Thanks though. And... It was fun for me to write a metaphorical comparison.

          • Ahahahahahaahaha. Yeah, if I actually preached to the choir, I'd have more upvotes. Again, if you're going to advertise yourself as someone who only forms beliefs based on the empirical evidence, please bear that out in your actions.

          • cminca

            You are supporting the idea that philosophy should be in control of science. Philosophy/Religion......Potatoe/Potato

          • I'm pretty sure that's false. Instead, I would say that what one believes critically shapes what one becomes conscious of; there's scientific support for this: Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). For a philosophical take, you can see SEP's Theory and Observation in Science. Thomas Kuhn was one of the earlier folks to notice that with paradigm shifts, what even counted as 'data' could change. Philosophy is a powerful tool for looking at this stuff.

            In no way do I think that the philosophers should chair all funding agencies or require all university presidents to be philosophers. I never said that and I doubt I implied that.

          • cminca

            One question.

            Your child has cancer.

            Do you want the atheist world class oncologist, the Pope, or Nancy Cartwright treating them?

            Your choice.

          • I'm not a Catholic, and my general experience is that I can pray and make use of the best knowledge we humans have yet to acquire. Maybe this is a new cancer and God will grant the oncologist special insight into what to do. I'm all for advancing the state of the art in knowledge about reality! That's, *ahem*, one reason I want philosophy involved. When it comes to matters of how we ought to go about things, I want theology to be involved ('cause otherwise there will be theology—secular or theistic—but it'll be an undercurrent, running in people's subconscious but not allowed to be talked about explicitly). I don't want this nonsense:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            That's anti-scientific, that is.

          • cminca

            First--I would suggest that, with your answer, you broke the 9th commandment.

            Second--"All of the above" was not one of the choices.

            Third--I'm sure the funeral will be lovely.

            Since you decided to tap dance around the original hypothetical--let's try again.

            You are going to be marooned on an island. You will have ONE person with you. You will never see your loved ones again if you don't get off the island.

            You can pick Barron--who will demand you share your nourishment with him while he tells you that it is God's will you are on the island. He will also pray.

            You can pick Nancy Cartwright--who will demand you share your nourishment with her while she reviews why and whether wanting to leave the island is actually a good thing.

            Or you can pick Bill Nye--who will use his scientific training and knowledge to work on a solution to getting off the island.

          • I'm not restricted to only one choice, except in your little artificial reality which has approximately jack to do with the one we both actually live in. You're focused only on the short term, where philosophical contributions to science generally aren't detectable. You care about what is pragmatic. Well fine, but I don't want to be stuck only wanting the things folks wanted 100 years ago, and I don't want to be stuck wanting only what the masses want. I care about long-term planning, clear thinking, and systematic analyses of the good. If you don't want to grease the zerks on the heavy machinery, let someone else do it and don't get in their way.

          • cminca

            "I care about long-term planning, clear thinking, and systematic analyses of the good."

            And for this you turn to a philosophy based on the written oral tradition of a bunch of bronze age herders mixed with a dash of medieval voodoo? And you call my hypothetical "artificial" and tell me that science, freed from the constraints of the church, has "approximately jack to do" with the world we live in?

            Tell me--do you think that Christianity prayed your computer into existence? That jet planes, vaccinations, and modern technology are the results of musings on Plato and Aquinas?

            Wake up and smell the C8H10N4O2.

          • Your disdain for the intellectual and cultural achievements of those who came before us, upon which we have built, is discouraging. But I've grown tired of trying to convince you of anything. I'm happy for a both-and—I love science and technology—but for some reason I cannot fathom, you think it's an either/or. You take your philosophy of life and apply it, and I'll take mine and apply it. We can then compare results down the line. That's being scientific, right? Compare prediction to results, etc.

          • cminca

            I have the greatest respect for the intellectual and cultural achievements of those who came before us, but I strongly disagree with the presentation of "opinion" as "fact"--no matter if that opinion is coming from either left or right, religious or secular.

            And if you read my original post without a pre-conceived notion about my position you'd see that I was simply stating that, IMO, Nye and Tyson would be happy to not interject into philosophical or faith discussion, but rather that they have been forced into it by people who feel it necessary to force their faith into the realm of science. For reasons, again in my opinion, that have more to do with the waning prestige of organized religion than a real concern for the good of either science or society in general.

            "I'm happy for a both-and—I love science and technology—but for some reason I cannot fathom, you think it's an either/or." I assume that you meant to say that I think science and philosophy are an either/or. I never said that. I never implied that. What I did voice (as an opinion) was that Nye and Tyson would be happy not to be discussing philosophy. And that, while many philosophers may believe that applied sciences requires philosophy to interpret scientific discovery, I don't believe that to be a fact. It is an opinion. And a heavily biased one.

            I also notice that, for all your philosophical name dropping and polysyllabic jargon you never addressed my point that, if Barron is deeply concerned about the fading away of Humanities being studied in school--why doesn't he address that rather than his attempt to belittle someone who's spent his entire life trying to teach science to students? I can actually agree with Barron that education does not pay enough attention to the Humanities. I, however, can manage to make that statement without the snark or assigning blame where blame does not belong.

            "You take your philosophy of life and apply it, and I'll take mine and apply it. We can then compare results down the line. That's being scientific, right? Compare prediction to results, etc." In order for that experiment to actually work all other variables would have to be equal. Since we don't know that to be the case, the experiment as presented is inherently flawed.

          • And if you read my original post without a pre-conceived notion about my position you'd see that I was simply stating that, IMO, Nye and Tyson would be happy to not interject into philosophical or faith discussion, but rather that they have been forced into it by people who feel it necessary to force their faith into the realm of science.

            Now you're retconning. There's no 'faith' in the paragraph I quoted. Here it is:

            cm: I'm guessing that Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others would be happy to stop discussing philosophy when fundamentalist theologians stop ascribing scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source.

            You're just refusing to acknowledge that necessitarian causation is, by your lights, "an unproven and unprovable source". So is 'rationality'. You're engaged in special pleading, unless you actually adopt a position consistent with your stringent requirements. Instead, you've soldiered on operating by a philosophy which has been declared to be as dead as a philosophy gets. Your disdain for it apparently prohibits you from even seeing this. I do not wish scientists to be blinded like you are.

            I also notice that [...] you never addressed my point that, if Barron is deeply concerned about the fading away of Humanities being studied in school--why doesn't he address that rather than his attempt to belittle someone who's spent his entire life trying to teach science to students?

            I think there's a connection between the two, like Baron does. It's quite logical: if the entities of theoretical physics are taken to be the only things which exist non-dependently, then anything that exists must be something which can be built with them. I'm happy for emergence to allow qualitatively new things to arise, but it is not a magic wand which lets anything arise from said entities. Subjectivity, meaning, value, and goodness all seem either unsupportable, or supportable in only a bastardized form which renders them distinctly second-class citizens.

            Perhaps you are incapable of this, but I can appreciate some choices of a person while criticizing others. I suspect Bishop Barron can do the same. Bill Nye, due to the respect and trust he has earned, is now abusing that trust to speak nonsense. For this, he should be taken to account. There are duties and responsibilities to being a public intellectual.

            In order for that experiment to actually work all other variables would have to be equal. Since we don't know that to be the case, the experiment as presented is inherently flawed.

            In other words, science (well, your version of it) can't touch what really matters?

          • cminca

            "
            "No Faith" in the paragraph you quoted? What do you think the word "theologians" implies?

            You are the one spouting nonsense.

            "In other words, science (well, your version of it) can't touch what really matters?"
            No--in other words your version of science isn't actually science.

          • Ohhhhhhh. Do you mean to say that if a scientist "ascrib[es] scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source", it's ok? Is it only when people you don't like—e.g. "fundamentalist theologians"—do it that it's unacceptable? This makes more sense of:

            cm: When Nye and Tyson do such ascribing it is acceptable because it is based on empirical evidence and according to the dictates of scientific method.

            Please, give me an example of where scientists use (i) empirical evidence; (ii) scientific method, to "ascrib[e] scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source". I want to understand how empirical evidence can be used to get to (a) unproven; and more interestingly (b) unprovable, things.

          • cminca

            Feel free to have the last word---you clearly won't grasp the fact that you misread and misinterpreted the first post.

          • I don't deny that I misinterpreted; I'll leave it to others to proportion responsibility to each of us for that failure. What I'm increasingly suspecting is that you don't want to out and say that "Divine revelation cannot in principle be trusted!" This I find to be obviously ridiculous, because I see no reason why (i) humans will never program up a simulated reality with sapient and sentient beings; (ii) the programmers will be unable to communicate with said beings such that they know they are being communicated to by their creators.

            If what you really want is for creationism to stop being treated as 'science', I would happily agree. Creationists and intelligent design advocates need to actually engage in prediction and verification/​falsification and establish a track record in order to match 'science' in any way, shape or form. But I would require something else: that scientists such as Richard Dawkins stop saying non-scientific things as if the results of science bolster them. They can say such things as human non-experts, but not as scientists. As long as they fail to do this, they will find religionists counter-balancing their errors. And, well, perhaps over-balancing, like the Montagues and Capulets. A pox on both their houses?

            As things stand though, it seems like you want scientists to be the de facto authorities. Yes, yes, the humanities can still exist and such, but the really respected people? Scientists. The people who will have the most influence over the evolution of society in your ideal world? Scientists. You don't have to say these things outright, you just have to advocate for sufficient conditions for this to happen. I believe you are.

          • ben

            Scenario 1:
            Oncologist: Sorry, it's incurable, 6 to 8 months left.
            cminca, atheists in general: Mercy killing is justified, just do it...

            Scenario 2:
            Oncologist: Sorry, it's incurable, 6 to 8 months
            Pope: Lord have mercy --.*** instant cure****
            cminca, atheists in general: "there are no miracles oncologist was just wrong"

          • cminca

            Ben--
            I once saw a fundamentalist preacher on TV stating that Doctors should be outlawed from proscribing pain medication for terminal patients because the suffering was necessary for the patient to "know the Lord's will".

            So tell me--when it's your two year old lying on the table, covered in sweat, screaming in agony, dying from cancer--are you going to deny her pain medication so that she can experience "the Lord's will"?

            Because if you are--you are as sick as that preacher was.

            As someone who's cancer is no longer in remission--I'll tell you I'm glad I live in a state that is compassionate enough to have legalized assisted suicide.

            As for your scenario #2--I'd be happy to believe in the miracle when the Pope can do it on demand. When he's ready let me know--we'll print T shirts.

          • Oncologist: Sorry, it's incurable, 6 to 8 months.
            Nancy Cartwright: After hearing this news does a philosophical study on the science of Oncology. The patient passes away before the study is completed.

            cminca, atheists in general: There you, see. A fact is a fact. Therefore: Science is more reasonable than philosophy.

          • I'm not encouraged to give you an up-vote here. But I think a little humility on my part is in order....so.....

        • Thanks; I got a tad snarky, but life is awfully boring with absolutely no snark ever. I really think I'm onto something with causation, although I've been super-clumsy with it for a while. Dunno when I'll emerge from the clumsiness; at least I can console myself that the clumsy on this matter is widespread, even among the smart people. Somehow (i) they did something while (ii) the laws of nature were obeyed, while simultaneously: (iii) God doing a miracle is incompatible with (iv) science figured it out. The contradiction is papered over with the word 'compatibilism', with [knowability of] rationality a casualty. I chose the more rational option? Hah! The laws of nature picked one.

          • cminca

            Your opinion is in lock step with Brandon's. You can be snarky until the cows come home without fear of recourse.

          • Oh give me a break, any snark was dwarfed by intellectual engagement with the topic at hand. I doubt Brandon has ever banned an atheist for having the ratio of snark to content in my comment. Indeed, I was attempting to take you seriously, to construct in my imagination a reality which properly matches your views. You're always welcome to correct it with reasoned argument, but instead you seem to be a good example of a follower of scientism who comments on this blog, contra @davidnickol:disqus's "I did not think we have any proponents of scientism here on Strange Notions":

            cm: When Nye and Tyson do such ascribing it is acceptable because it is based on empirical evidence and according to the dictates of scientific method.

            cm: Since Hume is a philosopher and not a scientist I'd say his opinions count as much as Barron's. Same with Nancy.

            Necessitarian causation does not come in through the senses, says Hume. You disagree, with zero rational argument. I tried!

            P.S. My view is probably at decent variance from Brandon's; I'm a Protestant, for one. Perhaps you ought to check whether you are forming beliefs based on the empirical evidence instead of stereotyping and doing other things that the religionists are supposed to be the experts at.

          • cminca

            Once again claiming facts not in evidence.

            "Necessitarian causation does not come in through the senses, says Hume. You disagree, with zero rational argument."
            I didn't disagree with necessitarian causation. I disagreed that a philosophical opinion is germane to a conversation about scientific method and empirical evidence.
            I might as well say that my opinion on who should have won the Pelloponnesian war is germane to a conversation about genetics.
            Your position is consistent with this site's opinion--as dictated by Barron and upheld by Brandon. Therefore my original statement holds.

          • It is philosophy to talk about whether necessitarian causation is an example of "ascribing scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source[s]". Stop refusing to let your assertions be examined with intellectual rigor. I claim that any scientist who uses the concept of necessitarian causation is doing what you have labeled as 'the bad thing'. And yet I find scientist using that concept. So, I conclude that you're engaged in a massive instance of special pleading. You can go all positivist and say that philosophy need not apply to such conversations, but all that would be is your refusal to back up your assertions. I would like for you to not take that course of action and instead be open to the empirical possibility that SCIENTISTS do 'the bad thing' and yet science doesn't implode. But I'm not sure you are!

            P.S. If you're so sensitive to snark being mixed in with serious conversation, I'll eliminate it. In fact I mostly have already. It'll be less fun, but I'm more interested in the intellectual exchange than said fun.

          • cminca

            Yes, but the point I made originally, which you can't seem to grasp, is that philosophy plays no part in the actual pursuit of science.

            I can design and execute any number of experiments to examine the theory that fire requires oxygen to burn. I don't need to consider if I should know this information, or if the information is inherently good, bad, or indifferent.

            Fact. End of the conversation.

            It may not be how you THINK scientist should feel--but that is only your OPINION. Thinking that is how they should feel does not make it a necessity for them to feel that way. It doesn't disable them from designing or executing experiments.

          • Yes, but the point I made originally, which you can't seem to grasp, is that philosophy plays no part in the actual pursuit of science.

            I see that is your opinion, but my suspicion is that Einstein would laugh in your face if you said that. I have no doubt that science can chug along for a while with no reflective philosophical contributions. But that's like a soccer player just playing soccer and not thinking about how she's playing soccer, how to maybe better do it, whether perhaps something fundamental in how she's playing needs changing, etc.

            I can design and execute any number of experiments to examine the theory that fire requires oxygen to burn.

            Yep, and I doubt you're going to spur any scientific revolutions by doing so. Nobody has said that philosophy is required to do what you describe, here. You're knocking down straw men.

            It may not be how you THINK scientist should feel [...]

            I doubt you can find me talking about scientists' feelings anywhere on this page. Do feel free to try. Otherwise, this is another straw man.

          • cminca

            Einstein wasn't relying on the Pope or Aquinas for his thoughts about his experiments.

            Which is where Barron's, and your, arguments fail.

            "Nobody has said that philosophy is required to do what you describe, here."
            The entire point of Barron's post was that scientism is hollow without philosophy.

          • Einstein wasn't relying on the Pope or Aquinas for his thoughts about his experiments.

            Now you're moving the goalposts. I thought philosophy was also irrelevant to Einstein's science?

            Which is where Barron's, and your, arguments fail.

            I'm pretty sure neither of us claimed that Einstein's science is predicated upon the Pope. When it comes to Aquinas the picture may be muddled; I'm not entirely clear on his understanding of causality, but it may well be built on top of Aquinas' appropriation of Aristotle. I'm pretty sure you haven't got a clue on this one. I do know that the notion of 'causal powers' (heavily influenced by Aristotle, definitely used by Aquinas) are of interest to some scientists and philosophers of science.

            The entire point of Barron's post was that scientism is hollow without philosophy.

            And this means that without scientism, scientists should feel... what, again? Pretty sure they experience awe and stuff with or without a professed belief in God. Probably some are thankful to some source outside of themselves more than others; whether this correlates with religiosity is completely unknown to me. Maybe it's different from scientists in the human sciences, but I don't think we've really included them much in the conversation. So yeah, I don't know what you're talking about, here.

          • cminca

            You seem incapable of following a train of thought.

            You stated that, in your opinion, Einstein would laugh in my face for saying that philosophy played no part in science.

            I responded that Einstein's thoughts about his experiments were not dependent upon OUTSIDE religious or philosophical influences.

            The rest of your ramblings, as they are based on your inaccurate interpretation of my meaning, are nonsensical.

            You may be God's gift to philosophy Mr. Brauer---but I know 10th graders who have better reading and comprehension skills.

          • I will leave others to consider whether this is a log or a speck issue. Your "Mr. Brauer" is pretty glorious, juxtaposed to reading skills.

          • cminca

            Spelling error?

            Your entire thread has been based on a misreading of my original post and jumping to conclusions and you hit me with a spelling error?

            That's all you've got?

          • No mention of Einstein's constant references to his belief in Spinoza's God, or in the primary importance of the imagination!!!! Who's rolling the dice here?

          • Please be patient with me. I think you can be a help to me. If: ascribing scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source, can be what 'can' be attributed to 'agency' generally. would you find any 'validity' in the possibility that 'necessary causation' can be attributed to such a source, only, or always??? When studying Buddhism, for instance, we were 'taught' (as with Spinoza) to consider such things as our birth etc. as necessary primarily as a means of gaining spiritual independence and according to Hegel - freedom is the recognition of necessity - type of thinking. This I believe, could fail a 'scientific test', and would be a kind of agency-subjective presentation of causal necessity. Would it also be compatible with the idea that god is the 'only' necessary being? (I have no problem in 'regarding' even my walk to the store for groceries - or making this comment' as necessary - but I doubt that you would!!! Neither epistemologically nor ontologically! ) Do give me a snarky answer just as the most 'necessary' and satisfactory response! Freely, of course!

          • I'm afraid I probably don't have a good enough understanding of the interplay between necessity, contingency, and freedom to give you a helpful answer. What I'm sure about is that a robust form of personal, rational agency is required for what humanity (some would say with significant divine aid) has built, to not be destroyed. I think C.S. Lewis provides a provocative introduction to this in The Abolition of Man.

            What I can say is this. Not all conceptions of causation can tolerate the idea of a truly cooperative causation. And yet, without that, all influence is manipulation or unintended. If there's no cooperative causation, moralizing is also manipulation. A result of lacking any robust notion of cooperation means that we humans can't imagine building that much together which is significantly grander than what came before. Sadly, I find precisely that to be the case. Our vision of what we could do in the future is painfully pitiful.

            Hmmm, there is perhaps something peeking out from my intuition on necessity. The building I build can only be as grand as the foundation I build it on and the materials I use. That foundation, I think, is what I am so close to believing is necessarily true that any 'probability' I assign which deviates from 0 or 1 is so close as to manifest properties of necessity. There is strong evidence that belief in absolutes is an extremely powerful psychological force in humans. It has wreaked much havoc in history. But does this mean anything other than "sharp knives are sharp"? Somewhere in all this, my beliefs about what is good will impact my beliefs about that foundation (and perhaps the building materials as well—including human nature). I think goodness and necessity have some sort of connection. More than this, I cannot [yet] say.

          • Thank you Luke. I have always 'more than appreciated' your comments. I don't like getting into the arguments, as I think my major focus is directed towards understanding more, and for this and other reasons, the primary focus found in most arguments is somehow contradictory to this 'purpose'. Besides, I've never been very good at defending my-self- or my positions.
            So from this statement, I guess I could at least assume that you would not find argument or debate, as 'necessarily' cooperative in any way! Manipulative, maybe, sometimes?
            "Sharp knives are sharp" - a tautological necessity - merely an abstraction - which perhaps you will allow me to define as mind 'separated'? from matter? You have not defined? the foundation? (to my understanding). Would - to go to Aristotelian hylo-morphism,this be in some way the form - or reason, or whatever you wish to 'morph'??? Philosophers speak of Cartesian foundationalism, in this sense of the word. It would be fun to go through all the five causes with you! But yes, following my work at putting the divisions of beauty, truth. and goodness within appropriate comparative relationships: instead how would these 'three' fit in. The intellect and order, Jesus and the HG, would of course be 'filled out' with Plato's conception of the Good - The Will - whether necessity and goodness are to be categorized epistemologically or ontologically, is of course another issue. But Perhaps this can be placed within the following context: Maybe he, and Aristotle's the last cause: 'teleology' is correct in that we can only 'aim' for -the good, but I'm immediately at 'logger-heads' again here, when I 'remember' that Plato admitted that he could not 'know' what the 'forms' 'WERE'. But if you believe in the Christian God then you indeed 'have' the 'Actuality' - but as I understand this 'absolute' is eternal- ? non-temporal- ? And yet, as someone told me, abstractions can indeed be causative. I fear I'm going round in circles again! Me and Descartes! Thanks Luke.

          • I'm sorry, I had trouble tracking that. Might you be able to pick out one or maybe two points you'd like to discuss?

          • No apology Luke. At my age, etc. I do not expect to be 'up to standard', and simply appreciate the opportunity to attempt a response. But, with thanks for the invitation, could you possible explain in greater detail your 'meaning' of: "That foundation, I think, is what I am so close to believing is necessarily true that any 'probability' I assign which deviates from 0 or 1 is so close as to manifest properties of necessity."

            I guess I was 'ruminating' - 'opining' on this phrase. If 'my' cogito is in any way the foundation! of what I will, do, think, or say, then - what is the saying? - You will 'do' what you have to do? Hopefully, however, I can and will continue to develop my 'human potential'.!!! (P.S. I just remember finding a long time ago, a book by prominent philosophers, on the distinctions between belief, knowledge, and 'opining'. (Besides Plato's Knowledge is true justified belief). Kant also wrote quite a bit about 'opinion', which might be easier to find. My point was to merely contrast personal 'knowledge' with 'collaboration'. - I do 'try'!!! Thanks Luke.
            Edit: 1) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269489505_Kant_on_Opinion_Assent_Hypothesis_and_the_Norms_of_General_Applied_Logic
            2) http://philpapers.org/rec/PASKOO

          • But, with thanks for the invitation, could you possible explain in greater detail your 'meaning' of: "That foundation, I think, is what I am so close to believing is necessarily true that any 'probability' I assign which deviates from 0 or 1 is so close as to manifest properties of necessity."

            I'm pretty sure that what we believe deeply impacts not just what we can think, but even what we can [consciously] observe. See, for example, Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). There, we find the hypothesis that we become conscious of patterns in our sensory neurons when those patterns sufficiently well-match patterns in our non-sensory neurons. This shouldn't be in any way shocking: the properties of a scientific instrument determine what it can and cannot measure. We are the instruments with which we explore reality.

            One trick is that we aren't static instruments: we can change, becoming more than we were before. Our thinking can change foundations. And so, it is tempting to say that there is no foundation. But I don't see how that really makes sense. The idea that there is no final, philosophically justifiable foundation makes sense to me, but that is not the same as my depending, right now, on some particular foundation. I suspect that my current foundation impacts the ways I can and cannot think, the ways I can and cannot observe, in a way similar to how some philosophers think of necessity. But I haven't chased this thread nearly as far as I could.

            As to "the distinctions between belief, knowledge, and 'opining'", I would point you to the arguments for scientific anti-realism, which greatly damage what can justifiably be called 'knowledge'. The thing left after those arguments are absorbed seems very anemic; it seems like we add a lot to it in order to really think about and act in reality. (For example: Underdetermination of Scientific Theory, Theory and Observation in Science.) You might also check out Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge.

          • Lazarus

            Not too clumsy at all.

      • cminca

        Actually, Luke, I NEVER mentioned whether or not it was reasonable or rational to review and interpret scientific data, using any criteria. I only stated that I believed Nye and Tyson would be happy to STOP discussing philosophy when theologians stop trying to claim that all and everything is the result of a particular version of God.

        The rest of your rant is therefore based on the false assumption that I think that there is no use for the humanities. I never said that. I never implied it. I don't believe it is a valid position.

        Perhaps if you read my comment without automatically jumping to unfounded conclusions about my opinion you might have written something worthwhile. I guess we'll never know.....

        • My comment revolved entirely around the idea that we can stop "ascribing scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source". When I try to do my best job of that, absurdity (or at least a very different reality) results. So what seems to be the case is that when Nye and Tyson do such ascribing, it's acceptable—but when theologians do such ascribing, it's unacceptable. No line of demarcation is provided to separate out the 'acceptable' from the 'unacceptable'.

          What you believe about the humanities could easily be in contradiction to what you desire happen with ascription to "unproven and unprovable source[s]". I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt of thinking that you aren't being contradictory.

          • cminca

            When Nye and Tyson do such ascribing it is acceptable because it is based on empirical evidence and according to the dictates of scientific method. That was implied by the phrase "scientific phenomena"--as the corollary would be that Nye and Tyson would NOT care what kind of other phenomena fundamentalists ascribed to an unproven and unprovable source.

            What I believe about the humanities may or may not be in contradiction to what I would desire with to the causes of scientific phenomena. It is immaterial to the realities of Nye's and Tyson's work and is not germane to my original comment. Which is why it was not included.

          • When Nye and Tyson do such ascribing it is acceptable because it if based on empirical evidence [...]

            No, it isn't. At least, not if you accept Hume's argument, that knowledge necessitarian causation cannot, in principle, arrive through the senses. Causal powers (vs. mere patterns—Sean Carroll says "unbreakable patterns") are not observable via sense-data alone. Now if you want you can do away with anything that someone pre-Hume would call 'causation'. But most scientists don't do this, as Nancy Carwright makes very clear in her work (she is a philosopher of science who studies how scientists actually do science—not how they claim to do science).

            What I believe about the humanities may or may not be in contradiction to what I would desire with to the causes of scientific phenomena. It is immaterial to the realities of Nye's and Tyson's work and is not germane to my original comment. Which is why it was not included.

            I disagree. If the human supervenes on the particular theoretical entities and other concepts of the hard sciences, and is disallowed from depending on entities incommensurate with those theoretical entities, then the human sciences and humanities must respect that limitation, on pain of irrationality. If it turns out that the humanities and/or human sciences require appeal to entities which cannot be rigorously shown to emerge from said theoretical entities, then we have warrant to argue for the radical incompleteness of said theoretical entities. I do believe we have such warrant, and I think a casualty of said radical incompleteness is that "unproven and unprovable source[s]" are required for explanation.

            Perhaps the most basic "unproven and unprovable source" is rationality. The Greeks used the term Logos, and it was a causal power. So is rationality. Otherwise, I cannot believe something because it is rational. That which cannot causally act on me, I cannot know about. And yet, we cannot poke 'rationality' with a stick. We cannot investigate it under a microscope. We cannot see it with our senses. No formalizable version of it is self-authenticating (proven). And yet, it exists! At least, I believe this. You are welcome to disagree. :-)

          • cminca

            Since Hume is a philosopher and not a scientist I'd say his opinions count as much as Barron's. Same with Nancy.

            Regarding your disagreement with my opinions on the humanities being germane to Nye and Tyson's work--Bully for you.

            "I do believe we have such warrant, and I think a casualty of said radical incompleteness is that "unproven and unprovable source[s]" are required for explanation."

            That may be your opinion. Is it necessary for Nye and Tyson to know that opinion, or agree with that opinion, for them to produce empirical evidence--whether you like it or not?

            Of course not.

          • Since Hume is a philosopher and not a scientist I'd say his opinions count as much as Barron's. Same with Nancy.

            Hey, you're welcome to tell me how you can get anything other than "unbreakable patterns" from pure sense-data. For example, you can explain to me how it is you know that 'reason' caused you to think something or choose something. Show me how I can poke 'reason' with a stick or examine it under a microscope. Prove it isn't some fiction. Only using sense-data. No cheating!

            That may be your opinion.

            Yeah I have no idea what you mean by that word. You're not a scientist, right? And so...

          • cminca

            Since the whole "sense-data" argument is philosophy and not science I'd say your challenge is as meaningful as Hume, Nancy, and Barron's opinions.

            As for the meaning of opinion--asked and answered Mr. Breuer. To you, 2 hours ago.

            "A view or judgement formed about something...." NOT empirical evidence.

            (And, if you'd actually care to notice, you might notice that I formed my original comment as an opinion. I purposefully did not claim Nye or Tyson felt something that I did not have personal knowledge of. You see--I try not to present sweeping generalization and opinions as FACT. I realize this may be difficult for a Catholic, or a philosopher, to process. Because, no matter how much you talk....no matter how many polysyllabic words you use.....philosophy and religion are NOT empirical evidence of anything.)

          • Since the whole "sense-data" argument is philosophy and not science I'd say your challenge is as meaningful as Hume, Nancy, and Barron's opinions.

            It's funny that you're allowed to talk about how science is done and what is and is not valid, but when other people try to do so, they're wrong/irrelevant. Because they're talking about science, instead of merely doing glurftub, where 'glurftub' is not a defined term because doing science does not produce a linguistic description of what it is that science is doing. Just forget that 'empricism' is critically related to 'sense-data'. Wave your hands nice and vigorously. Nobody will notice—nobody worth your time at least.

            As for the meaning of opinion--asked and answered Mr. Breuer.

            I understand. And since you're not a scientist, it's just your opinion.

            And, if you'd actually care to notice, you might notice that I formed my original comment as an opinion.

            Excellent.

            I realize this may be difficult for a Catholic, or a philosopher, to process.

            Well, since I'm neither of those things, I guess I'm not in mortal danger. :-)

            [...] philosophy and religion are NOT empirical evidence of anything.

            And they claimed they were, where, again? Perhaps you are equating 'knowledge' with 'empirical evidence'?

          • cminca

            Once again, Mr. Breuer, if you'd like to try "reading for comprehension"....

            I did NOT say that you were wrong or irrelevant. I said that, in my opinion, your challenge was one of philosophy not science and was therefore (again, in my opinion) not relevant.

            The difference between a statement of fact and an opinion. I linguistic difference you seem to have a problem with.

            Since opinion is not a scientific word--and since I was quoting the Oxford English Dictionary--my definition of the word opinion IS actually a statement of fact. Again.....a linguistic difference I'm not sure you are capable of understanding.

            "And they claimed they were, where, again? Perhaps you are equating 'knowledge' with 'empirical evidence'?"

            I'd direct you to the "God" heading and "Existence of God" subheading found on the top of the page. You'll find that I have both the knowledge of and the empirical evidence for my statement.

            I have better things to do now......Over and Out.

          • I did NOT say that you were wrong or irrelevant. I said that, in my opinion, your challenge was one of philosophy not science and was therefore (again, in my opinion) not relevant.

            I'm confused; the last time I checked, 'irrelevant' = 'not relevant'.

            The difference between a statement of fact and an opinion.

            The logical positivists thought that you could cleanly separate between observations and math/theory. Quine demolished that idea with his Two Dogmas of Empiricism. You seem in denial of this. And thus, you think that facts don't involve interpretation, that theory doesn't fundamentally shape what you observe. If you didn't think this, you wouldn't be so simplistic with your distinction between 'facts' and 'opinions'.

            Since opinion is not a scientific word--and since I was quoting the Oxford English Dictionary--my definition of the word opinion IS actually a statement of fact.

            Yes, yes, I was being tongue-in-cheek. Apparently I oughtn't do that around you, either. You're no fun. Alas, I'll play by your rules for now.

            I'd direct you to the "God" heading and "Existence of God" subheading found on the top of the page. You'll find that I have both the knowledge of and the empirical evidence for my statement.

            Specific quotations with linked context, please. "I have better things to do now......Over and Out."

          • cminca

            Once again-try reading and following the thread.

            You stated: " It's funny that you're allowed to talk about how science is done and what is and is not valid, but when other people try to do so, they're wrong/irrelevant." You accused me of calling YOU wrong/irrelevant. I did not. I called the CHALLENGE wrong/irrelevant. Which it was. For the simple reason that my sole position through this entire conversation has been that Nye and Tyson would, IMHO, not feel it necessary to engage in philosophical discussions if philosophers and theologians would get their noses out of science.

            So now you've brought up Quine. Another philosopher.

            Let me be clear--You can line up every philosopher from Plato on down and you still won't convince me. Doesn't matter how many people agree with you. Lots of people believed in WMD in Iraq--didn't "prove" that either.

            Yes, facts can be interpreted. But that doesn't mean that they cease to be facts if they aren't interpreted. Or if they haven't been interpreted yet. Or even if some crack-pot interpreter decides to "interpret" them to mean the actual opposite of what they do mean.

            The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was a fact. It was a fact even before it was "interpreted" to be a bad thing. So Luke--did it need to be interpreted to have actually occurred?

            The 1906 earthquake was interpreted by many theologians across the country as being God's wrath on the city for being so promiscuous. Was that interpretation necessary for the earthquake to have actually happened?

            And since the SF earthquake and fire burned down dozens of churches--yet Hoteling's whiskey distillery and warehouse were left intact in the middle of the charred rubble--does that mean that the earthquake was not actually a fact since the interpretation was wrong?

            Or does it simply mean that the theologians were "ascribing scientific phenomena to an unproven and unprovable source"?

            Gee--where have I heard that phrase before?

            As for your "specific quotations with linked context please"--why would I bother?

          • You accused me of calling YOU wrong/​irrelevant.

            Sigh. Let's re-examine:

            LB: It's funny that you're allowed to talk about how science is done and what is and is not valid, but when other people try to do so, they're wrong/​irrelevant.

            Yes, one interpretation is that the person is wrong/​irrelevant. But another is that the person's words are wrong/irrelevant: add the possibly implied "to do so" and the end of my sentence. Now, when you encounter an ambiguity like this, @cminca:disqus, do you preferentially pick the option that allows you to paint the person as absurd—at least, when the person holds views with which you strongly disagree? Now, can we stop dicking around with little technicalities like this and deal with the meat?

            For the simple reason that my sole position through this entire conversation has been that Nye and Tyson would, IMHO, not feel it necessary to engage in philosophical discussions if philosophers and theologians would get their noses out of science.

            See, if you were to be a little more careful in just what the offensive things are that philosophers and theologians are doing, I might actually find some common ground with you. As-is, you've generalized so broadly that I must reject your position as empirically disastrous (the best scientists do philosophy to complement and influence their science) as well as philosophically nonsensical (the precise distinction between science and philosophy cannot be drawn; see Underdetermination of Scientific Theory). If you want to see a good example of philosophy intertwined with science, read quantum physicist and philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy. Or if you insist on Nobel laureates, see Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down and Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature.

            Let me be clear--You can line up every philosopher from Plato on down and you still won't convince me.

            Ok. Don't believe anyone who describes what was a topic for philosophy turning into a topic for science, with no nice little demarcations to hive off the philosophy from the science.

            Yes, facts can be interpreted.

            And yet, earlier we had this exchange:

            LB: So... scientists' thoughts on which of the interpretations of quantum mechanics is the best description of reality deal 0% with 'knowledge' and 100% with 'opinions'?

            cm: Opinion: A view or judgement formed about something.......Oxford English DictionaryYou might notice, Luke, that it is called "the interpretations..."So yes--they are opinions.

            Strange!

            The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was a fact. It was a fact even before it was "interpreted" to be a bad thing. So Luke--did it need to be interpreted to have actually occurred?

            Interpretation does need to have a value-component. I'll also point out that the amount that had to be agreed-upon in order for an atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a polytheist to all agree that it was an earthquake is rather small. There's a reason I keep bringing up Underdetermination of Scientific Theory. What theists like me find frustrating is when folks like Nye and Tyson speak as if they have scientific authority when actually it's just dogma and mythology. A great example would be Tyson ignorantly mouthing off about religion, in a way which will promote irrational (anti-scientific) prejudice against my wife, who works in science.

            As for your "specific quotations with linked context please"--why would I bother?

            To support your assertions with the burden of proof, of course. If you don't want to be known as the kind of person who does that, be my guest.

          • George

            Is "the holy spirit told me such and such" on the same level as science then?

          • The Holy Spirit told me to say "no".

          • George

            when and where should I take the holy spirit seriously?

          • You "should" take him seriously (i) to the extent that you want what he wants; (ii) to the extent that you can hear him properly. My answer here is axiomatic and I should think, obvious.

          • George

            "to the extent that you want what he wants."

            that makes sense. is that what objective morality means?

          • Well, if God actually created us and reality, it would stand to reason that he did some determining of what would be good for us and bad for us. If God is good, it would stand to reason that he might try and tell us about the design parameters. But if he wants us to be persons and not robots, he can't just force us to dance properly to the music. And hey, maybe he wants us to also do some determining—but in such a way that we don't screw over some part of creation in the process. I generally prefer "right relationship" over "objective morality". The latter is too Kantian, too abstract, too prone to "I am not my brother's keeper."

          • Gee! Just read the above comments- I'm not the only one into the 'spirit'!!!. But according to Kant, one needs freedom in order to be moral. So down with the golden rule. After all that assumes you know what is best for another 'divine spirit' - and assumes that ('do onto others as you would have them do onto you' ) allows on to 'assume' that they have 'not will or autopoiesis' of their own... If I want to kill myself, would I best begin by killing my neighbor, or should I also consider the Will or Intellect of God - or the universal and the necessary according to Kant - which in his 'humble manner'?? of course admits is beyond the 'resources of the human individual' and thus his categorical imperative is 'really' - 'merely' regulative. And - is there an appeal to causation, like with a natural law, or I would prefer a 'law of karma'....(Yes, I've finally become a 'stupid' agnostic even with respect to my 'favorite' philosopher. It's all more complicated than when I thought I had the ability to understand.)

          • You don't have to treat your neighbor as a clone of yourself in order to love her. Maybe it's the case that you have some unique perspective on God which she needs, and she has a unique perspective on God which you need. This is the absolute antithesis to 'objectivity', because it would be the case that neither of you sees reality exactly the same, and yet to take only the part of reality you both see the same would be to obscure part of it. And hey, perhaps you can train up the other to see better what you're especially gifted at. How's that for a way to force created beings to either work together cooperatively or suffer permanent [non-growing] finitude? "Am I my brother's keeper?" I think Kant would say "no". I think God says "yes".

            It's a pretty academic book, but you might like Alistair McFadyen's The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships. He offers an extremely nuanced understanding of freedom within relationship. His theorizing is aided by his history working as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital and his working as a volunteer police officer in a multicultural community in the UK. Unfortunately, the writing is very scholarly—it's easy to be deceived into thinking it is merely ivory-tower theorizing.

          • I believe he told me (I'd have to verify) that 'opinion' was 'that' which was not based on 'knowing' the existence of something, but was rather some sort of normative explanation or assessment of what one did not have 'knowledge' of.....
            Oh. Oh. I'm going to get in trouble for this one, I'm sure. At least this substantiates my belief that I'm a long way from being 'up' to your arguments, and thus will have to stick to my incoherent 'stories' perhaps, for some time.
            (I had tried to distinguish between 'scientific knowledge' and 'knowledge' as in the gifts of the spirit, ending up relating the latter to a Cartesian epistemological solipsism. (Which does not make them invalid? according to what you're saying? - I realize this is not a clear and distinct idea! but can such agency be asserted as a circular argument, or even as a product of a self-referential (i.e. divine) 'awareness?')

          • Even that doesn't work. For example, physicists definitely inculcate in themselves a sense of beauty which they use to pick which theories to pursue. For more on the fuzziness which is actually how science works, see Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy:

            Epistemic Values are Values TooThe classical pragmatists, Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead, all held that value and normativity permeate all of experience. In the philosophy of science, what this point of view implied is that normative judgments are essential to the practice of science itself. These pragmatist philosophers did not refer only to the kind of normative judgments that we call "moral" or "ethical"; judgments of "coherence," "plausibility," "reasonableness," "simplicity," and of what Dirac famously called the beauty of a hypothesis, are all normative judgments in Charles Peirce's sense, judgments of "what ought to be" in the case of reasoning.[7]    Carnap tried to avoid admitting this by seeking to reduce hypothesis-selection to an algorithm—a project to which he devoted most of his energies beginning in the early 1950s, but without success. In Chapter 7, I shall look in detail at this and other unsuccessful attempts by various logical positivists (as well as Karl Popper) to avoid conceding that theory selection always presupposes values, and we shall see that they were, one and all, failures. But just as these empiricist philosophers were determined to shut their eyes to the fact that judgment of coherence, simplicity (which is itself a whole bundle of different values, not just one "parameter"), beauty, naturalness, and so on, are presupposed by physical science, likewise many today who refer to values as purely "subjective" and science as purely "objective" continue to shut their eyes to this same fact. Yet coherence and simplicity and the like are values. (30–31)

            One would also want to consult Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge. The idea that scientists don't use values to do their work is absolutely false. The idea that they are passionless [in the ideal] is almost certainly false. Just what they do to avoid the thing I think @cminca:disqus means by 'opinion' is an art, not a science. This is all obscured when the scope of the discussion is limited to why scientists accept the theory of gravity. If one doesn't bring in how the bleeding edge of science works, one isn't talking about how 'science' works, but some strict subset which can be talked about in simplistic ways that the rest cannot.

            When it comes to 'scientific knowledge', think of it as "this formal system makes good predictions when applied this way in these domains". Then you can see that one requires more than scientific knowledge to have an excellent life and promote excellence in others' lives. Unless the only kind of excellence you want to develop is an instrumental kind, which will leave you a powerful tool to be used equally well for good or evil. The fundamental difference I see between scientific knowledge and knowledge of the good and excellent and beautiful and true is that the latter type tends to point beyond itself and be the kind of thing which unfolds in time with effort—instead of something you merely build instruments to observe. Think of the difference between the knowledge of what currently exists, and the knowledge of what could be built (e.g., kingdom of heaven). The latter type is very different from the former—it has to be.

          • Will

            Since Hume is a philosopher and not a scientist I'd say his opinions count as much as Barron's. Same with Nancy.

            Philosophy is a respectable discipline when based on reason, it's my view (and that of many philosophers) that Christianity corrupted it for it's own purposes with its dogma giving us scholasticism and other things. It was in much better shape during the pre-Christian Greek days (think Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, and obviously Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle among many others. Analytic philosophy has shaken the corruption and is doing useful things today, and pondering important questions. Apologists hide behind philosophy simply because fewer people are familiar with it, and it's pronouncements are often less clear, but one shouldn't blame philosophy.
            Philosophy of science is an important subset of genuine philosophy, but it certainly does not control science, and it is usually trying to keep up with science. It's useful because it keeps up with the demarcation between science and non-science (i.e. creationism is not science for philosophical reasons), teaches us to keep an eye out for paradigm shifting science (time and space were considered philosophical/metaphysical concepts before Einstein and writers for SN don't even seem to be aware of this), and it is important for discussion of statistical methodology and improvement and variation of scientific method. Most great philosophers of science were also scientists, Hume is an exception. His problem of induction stands as a genuine problem in philosophy of science to this very day. We really cannot know with 100% certainty that models derived via induction are completely true and this is a positive thing in science because it causes us to continually question what we think we know.
            FWIW I've never taken Christianity seriously but I was sort of a deist until a really began to read up on philosophy. I am not an atheist because I don't see a good reason to think there is a mind behind the universe. We have excellent reason to find causation and induction useful even if they are not "true". There is almost no good reason at all to inject God into "the gaps" and the Null Hypothesis should stand until there is a good reason to think otherwise. One might find a weak reason to inject God, but then that creates so many more questions that can't be answered (if God heals one, why not heal others) and there are so many problems that arise with the extremely complex God hypothesis. Anyway, atheists have no need to deride philosophy. From a poll of analytic philosophers : "8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%." Religion doesn't have any academic fields on it's side other than sociology (there are real arguments that religion has been a useful tool for human civilization though the Abrahamic religions have outlived there usefulness and not just create problems in my mind) and obviously philosophy of religion which has an obvious bias ;) I hope we a domination of eastern religions that reject irrational dogma but Islam and Catholicism still spread rapidly in 3rd world countries thanks the Abrahamic religions demands to proselytize. Only the poorly educated are vulnerable, of course.

  • David Nickol

    Would a hard-core "scientismist" have to renounce love?

    • Not if it's merely a subjective feeling. There just needs to be no teleology involved; it has to be a 100% bona fide human construction, perhaps with some oxytocin support. The idea of agape, on the other hand, is in a different ballpark than such a 'love'.

    • Psychology is a science that already exists and studies love.

      • Sample1

        Pretty sure he's being as sarcastic as possible.

        Mike

  • Sample1

    Common sense is another term (like scientific knowledge) that we might do well to retire. We aren't ready to yet. We are, as Robert Provine opines:

    We fancy ourselves intelligent, conscious, and alert, thinking our way through life. This is an illusion. We're deluded by our brain's generation of a sketchy, rational narrative of subconscious, sometimes irrational, or fictitious events that we accept as reality. These narratives are so compelling that they become common sense, and we use them to guide our lives.
    ...

    However, as scientists we demand more than default explanations based on common sense. (Excerpt from: This Idea Must Die J. Brockman pp. 157-158)

    Mike

    • Lazarus

      I can see the headlines now : "Atheist denies common sense".
      ;)

  • Rudy R

    Philosophy is not the default domain for informing the meaning of things and what is right or wrong. Evolutionary biology, sociology and psychology are disciplines that have equal explanatory value. And who else has issue will Bill Nye denigrating the hallowed ground of philosophy other than philosophers?

    • Are you saying that your list of sciences includes the "default domain for informing... what is right or wrong"? I for one think that describing what is is not the same as prescribing what ought to be.

      • Rudy R

        What I'm describing is "how" things came to be, which has more import for those who rely on evidence over intuition. The is/ought dilemma only has standing in philosophical discourse and theist apologetics.

        • How, exactly, does ""how" things came to be" bear on "what is right or wrong"? Are we supposed to merely examine the trajectory of things as revealed by science, and then continue on it the best we can? Or is it the case that perhaps we should sometimes deviate from that trajectory? And if so, how do we know which direction the deviation should take?

          • Rudy R

            My point is that philosophy doesn't hold the preeminent position that decides meaning. I'm not going to argue the is/ought dilemma and if a god determines the ought. It's a tired, old argument that this atheist does not care to re-examine.

          • So what/who holds "the preeminent position that decides meaning"? I especially want to zero in on situations where "we should sometimes deviate from that trajectory".

          • Rudy R

            Not the Magic Man.

          • I'm pretty sure that the programmer of a simulated world with sentient, sapient digital beings would be able to determine quite a lot about their existence. Whether that is enough to constitute "decides meaning" depends on what you mean by the term. I would surmise that different levels of ability to decide could be granted, sort of like how an employee can be given more or less autonomy. Surely you don't think your sense of subjective conscious experience is somehow isolated from the laws of nature?

          • Professor_Tertius

            It sounds like you don't understand what philosophy is. Modern science arose from natural philosophy, a subset of philosophy which philosophers developed when they realized that SOME questions (but not all) were subject to empirical methodologies, for example.

            Anyone who thinks that science addresses all questions is woefully in need of a basic science course or even a philosophy course. Science can ONLY address issues concerning the natural processes of the matter-energy universe. That's why science is silent on questions like "Do deities exist?" Indeed, that's why you will never find a science textbook claiming to address such questions.

            That's not a criticism of science. It is simply an acknowledgment of the limitations of science BY DEFINITION.

            I had a faculty colleague long ago who had earned PhDs both in philosophy and in a field of science. I asked him why he had decided to devote his life to philosophy after publishing a number of well-received scientific papers early in his academic career. He told me, "I decided to leave the easy questions to somebody else. Science can only tackle what it has tools and procedures to investigate. In philosophy, EVERY question is on the table, and few of them are easy." (I think that's a close paraphrase. It was a long time ago.)

            Sadly, even among liberal arts students both today and in my generation long ago, there is very little exposure to basic philosophy. So it is no wonder that so many Americans assume by default that science is the only way by which we can come to know anything.

          • David Nickol

            It sounds like you don't understand what philosophy is.

            Okay, what is it? ;-)

            ". . . . Science can only tackle what it has tools and procedures to investigate. In philosophy, EVERY question is on the table, and few of them are easy."

            I understand this is reconstructed from memory, but still . . . .
            Philosophy can no more answer scientific questions than science can answer philosophical ones. And although philosophy can suggest answers to very important questions, philosophical questions can't be answered the way scientific ones are. Philosophy doesn't answer questions and then, once they are answered, move on to answer others. Rather, in your words, "EVERY question is on the table," and every question remains on the table, no matter how many philosophical answers are suggested.

            I reproduced this quote from Metaphysics, Fourth Edition, by Peter Van Inwagen, once before:

            In metaphysics there is no information, and there are no established facts to be learned. More exactly, there is no information and there are no facts to be learned besides information and facts about what certain people think, or once thought, concerning various metaphysical questions. A history of metaphysics will contain much information about what Plato and Descartes and the other great metaphysicians of the past believed. . . .

            . . . Why is there no such thing as metaphysical information? Why has the study of metaphysics yielded no established facts? (It has had about twenty-five hundred years to come up with some.) This question is really a special case of a more general question: Why is there no such thing as philosophical information? The situation confronting the student of metaphysics is in no way different from the situation confronting the student of any part of philosophy. If we consider ethics, for example, we discover that there is no list of established facts the student of ethics can be expected to learn (nor are there accepted methods or theories the specialist in ethics can apply to search out and test answers to resolve ethical questions). And the same situation prevails in epistemology and the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of law and all other parts of philosophy. Indeed, most people who have thought about the matter would take this to be one of the defining characteristics of philosophy. . . .

            According to Wikipedia

            Peter van Inwagen (born September 21, 1942) is an American analytic philosopher and the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a Research Professor of Philosophy at Duke University each Spring. He previously taught at Syracuse University and earned his PhD from the University of Rochester in 1969 under the direction of Richard Taylor. Van Inwagen is one of the leading figures in contemporary metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of action. He was the president of the Society of Christian Philosophers from 2010 to 2013.

          • Professor_Tertius

            Your first error--and the one that apparently got you headed down the road to confusion---is treating METAPHYSICS as a synonym-equivalent for PHILOSOPHY. It is a field of philosophy dealing with transcendental concepts of being. A problem with excerpts from philosophers is that virtually every significant noun has meanings and nuances when used by philosophy which require levels of definition quite different from those used in routine English. (e.g. "information", "facts".) Of course, scientists run into comparable complications when speaking casually using phrases like "scientific fact", "information", and even "truth". (I won't even try to broach the confusion arising from physicists speaking of "nothing" and meaning nothing at all like the "nothing" assumed by the man on the street.) I'm not going to try and take you through two years of undergrad philosophy in a tiny box on a blog page, but if I wanted to spend my time doing remedial tutoring, I wouldn't have retired and I'd still be keeping office hours with students.

            I never knew Peter van Inwagen beyond the level of acquaintance and brief conversation but sat in on some of his papers at the AAR/SBL annual meetings where the SCP held its sessions as an affiliate society. However, I can say that you are clearly misinterpreting his position on the purpose and significance of philosophy. (In fact, I vaguely recall a paper he delivered almost directly contesting what you are trying to mine from his statements. [I didn't say "quote-mine" because I doubt that yours is anything that deliberately deceptive.] It addressed the topic of popular misconceptions of what philosophers do.)

            It would be easy to poke holes in some of van Inwagen's generalizations---but only if I wrest his statements from their immediate context. Otherwise, I could even claim that the courses I taught for the philosophy department which were cross-listed with the mathematics department falsified his claims. But that wouldn't be fair. Yet, it would amplify the pitfalls of proof-texting philosopher quotations for the general public.

            I considered taking you down a path of explaining the development of logic and the epistemological foundations of natural philosophy and modern science. But based on the purpose of this webpage and your likely reasons for being here, the fact that it is 2am makes me reluctant to make that additional investment of my time. (In my experience, ideological conflicts are never settled in the text prompts of public forums.)

            Yes, what we "know" about philosophy is a different kind of "knowing" ---and the latter of which western culture has become so much familiar by virtue of the prominent role of science and technology in recent centuries. But to misconstrue that to mean that we can't "know" anything based on philosophy---even while logic, a fruit of philosophy, is part of the foundation of natural philosophy and modern science---reminds us of the myopia of false dichotomies.

            Dismissal and denigration of philosophy on Internet forums is often part of a strategy to thereby denigrate theology, theism, or religion in general. But if you actually talked with van Inwagen, you'd find that he has more substantial reasons for devoting his life to philosphical study than you've considered.

            I often disagree with William Lane Craig---and perhaps I had more reasons to disagree our career paths intersected significantly and I'm far more with his career and his dissertation than van Inwagen's---but I do appreciate some of his efforts to explain the value of philosophy to the general public. (And he encourages students to consider academic careers in philosophy more than anybody I've known, which used to get him into a lot of conflict with his Dean of the Graduate School.) I realize that he's a popular target and punching bag on the Internet---and I wince whenever he promotes the Ontological Argument for God or does his "animal pain" sidebar---but he does a very good job of explaining the value of philosophy study and what we can "know" through philosophy. (In fact, I think Bill would say that we can only "know" the value and reliability of modern science because of the foundations developed by the philosophers which originated natural philosophy. Even so, "knowing" in science is always a relative term, as Asimov emphasized.) Craig has little tolerance for the false dichotomies which tend to arise when philosophy is deprecated by positivist anti-theists. I join him in that.

            It is far too late of an hour for me and I must retire in the immediate sense.

          • Lazarus

            I find your insider's perspective very helpful, thank you.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Don't be fooled by crazy people on the internet pretending to be academics.

          • Lazarus

            The Prof is a crazy person?

          • Professor_Tertius

            How come I didn't get the memo?

          • Lazarus

            Ignatius seems to know something?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Yep. Uses all-caps for emphasis, responds with snark to the most insightful commenter on these pages, says very little of actual substance, but does compare DN to a remedial undergraduate. He appears to have taken a philosophy 101 and read a couple of books. How tedious.

            If Tertius is an academic, I will bet you a sixer of the finest beer that he taught at a minor college or a for profit institution. Or in other words, glorified high schools. He can pretend on the internet. So it goes.

          • Lazarus

            Well, let's ask Tertius to give us the detail of his academic life. It should be extremely simple to do. Tertius?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            As I surmised - third rate academic.

          • Lazarus

            I think you're being very harsh. Calling him "crazy", and a "third rate academic" without any evidence. This is rather uncharacteristic of you.

            But let's rather leave all of that aside, ok?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This sort of thing really doesn't sit well with me:

            I'm not going to try and take you through two years of undergrad philosophy in a tiny box on a blog page, but if I wanted to spend my time doing remedial tutoring, I wouldn't have retired and I'd still be keeping office hours with students.

            I will leave crazy and third rate academic aside.

          • Professor_Tertius

            My pseudonym exists for a reason. (Indeed, this comment section is filled with pseudonym usernames. They have their reasons to protect their identity and so do I.)

            If you've read my blog at the Bible.and.Science.Forum at WordPress (not the recently registered Young Earth Creationist relay domain meant to divert traffic by deception), you know that I began to use "Professor Tertius" for my writings against "creation science" and "Intelligent Design" pseudo-scholarship, and occasional miscellaneous topics because taking any strong public position nowadays can quickly and negatively impact royalties and even put pressure on institutions, corporations, and organizations which book me to speak. Indeed, years ago when I posted on-line my rather tame theological reflections on why I had become a Molinist, I got lots of angry protests, especially from pastors within the denomination of my ordination. (No. I've never been a full-time pastor as some assume of ordination. When I was a seminary professor, virtually everybody on the faculty got their ordination. Among other things, it qualified one to perform wedding ceremonies, a common request of graduate students.) Of course, reactions to my Molinism created a fraction of the kickback I've received from being an outspoken critic of Ken Ham, Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, and their "creation science" clown-car friends. My critical reviews of Stephen Meyer's *Darwin's Doubt* spawned similar backlash---but all directed harmlessly at Professor Tertius.

            If I used my professional academic identity in public postings, I'd have a resumption of hacking attacks on my webpages, email and telephone barrages from protesters, and vandalism of my car when I've delivered commencement addresses and spoken at churches. Been there. Done that. No thanks.

            Moreover, one should beware of the GENETIC FALLACY, the acceptance or rejection of ideas based on the source from which they originate. Ideas stand or fall on their own merits. Those who fear, doubt, or deny my comments should ignore them before hypertension takes its toll. I'll lose no sleep over whatever readers' choices may be, and I'm confident that both readers and nonreaders will go on to lead productive lives either way. (My favorite example of the genetic fallacy in these comments was the claim that upper-case characters used when no bold and italic fonts are apparent somehow automatically negates the statements. I'm definitely saving that one. What a great example of this classic logic fallacy! Yes, the genetic fallacy remains alive and sickly.)

            Better yet, pick up a philosophy textbook and review these topics for oneself. (Hint: Nothing I've posted in these comments is particularly original. Take it or leave it---but don't assume that any of it is shockingly novel within the academy.) We all know that whether or not at this moment I somehow cower at the challenge and chose to compromise the anonymity of the pseudonym which I've used for years, the vast majority of readers here will continue to maintain their present opinions and ideological positions. So what exactly would be accomplished by it? Help you to feel better about yourself? Or perhaps not?

            Indeed, simply concluding that I'm a "crazy person" and "pretender" is certainly an effortless choice, and one sure to protect whatever safe and comfortable status quo many had already chosen for themselves long before I ever posted here. For some, protecting the reassuring echo chamber between their own ears---and the self-satisfying echo chambers at some of their favorite Internet hangouts---is the actual, though rarely admitted, ultimate goal. That's why they get so worked up over the statements of an unknown stranger who scares them by mentioning uncomfortable ideas. Fear festers where there is self-doubt.

            Meanwhile, I'm not demanding anyone's real name or academic credentials---because in this kind of environment, I simply don't care. I care about the ideas. (Of course, if I were about to invest hours of my time in reading a textbook, then I would care considerably as to the qualifications of the authors in accurately summarizing the conclusions of peer-reviewed scholarship.)

            That said: By all means, resume the protestations. Assume that I'm an unemployed ditch digger with an eighth grade education. You'll feel the better for it. I know I will.

          • Lazarus

            I accept your reasons for anonymity. I don't use my own name either, so I understand the potential need for anonymity. I even have a vague idea who you are ;)

            In any event, I will continue to judge your comments on their content. Your identity would have assisted on the claimed insider track, but regardless of that, I still find value in your posts so far.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            (My favorite example of the genetic fallacy in these comments was the claim that upper-case characters used when no bold and italic fonts are apparent somehow automatically negates the statements. I'm definitely saving that one. What a great example of this classic logic fallacy! Yes, the genetic fallacy remains alive and sickly.)

            Precious. Try reading for comprehension. I did not say that your ideas are incorrect because you use all-caps. I insinuated something else.,

            Now, if you would actually discuss ideas instead of displaying your feathers I would criticize that. Sadly, you haven't brought many ideas to the table.

            Better yet, pick up a philosophy textbook and review these topics for oneself.

            I've read a fair amount of philosophy. Thanks though.,

            So what exactly would be accomplished by it? Help you to feel better about yourself? Or perhaps not?

            Nothing. I don't care whether you use a pseudonym or not. I would prefer it if you refrained from comparing commenters to remedial college students at your third rate institution.

            Indeed, simply concluding that I'm a "crazy person" and "pretender" is certainly an effortless choice, and one sure to protect whatever safe and comfortable status quo many had already chosen for themselves long before I ever posted here.

            I comment on a site devoted to Catholic Theism. All the articles are written by theists and most of the commenters are theists. This has nothing to do my willingness to put forth intellectual effort. I'm not much of an online atheist anyway. This has to do with the tenor of your comments.

            I care about the ideas.

            If this was true you would write more words about ideas and less words about your academic employment.

            That said: By all means, resume the protestations. Assume that I'm an unemployed ditch digger with an eighth grade education. You'll feel the better for it. I know I will.

            Actually, I don't care what you do. Not sure what you have against ditch diggers. They probably make for much better company than third rate divinity professors.

          • Professor_Tertius

            By the way, although I have my differences with some of Bill Craig's positions, I want to emphasize my great respect for his scholarship and public education efforts. (His speaking and debate tours are among the very few opportunities many people have for being exposed in an interesting way to the value of philosophy.) Craig earned not one but two PhDs and if my memory is holding up, I recall that when I first met him he was completing two master's degrees over the course of a few semesters. For a few years 1/3 of my faculty contract assigned me to the Dept of Philosophy but it was never my primary research specialization, so in no way no how am I on Craig's level as a top-notch philosopher.

            Accordingly, I wouldn't want a casual reader to overinterpret my reservations about some of Craig's positions. (Frankly, in retrospect, though I don't reject my lunch hours spent with my NT/OT and Systematic Theology friends, I do wish I would have spent more time with Bill Craig and the Christian philosophers quite nearby in the next building. Getting to know a colleague over lunch can be incredibly helpful when digesting their weighty tomes for years after.

            In view of Craig's academic credentials and stature, it cracks me up when Richard Dawkins tries to make excuses for his paralyzing fear of debating Craig. (Indeed, even many of Dawkins outspoken atheist philosophy professor friends in the UK have lambasted Dawkins for his lame excuses. Readers who are curious can easily Google those criticisms.) Dawkins pretended that Craig is "a nobody" and "Not a vicar, not a bishop, not any sort of religious authority"---as if American evangelicalism is structured like the the Church of England or Roman Catholicism. Dawkins even claimed that Craig is "nothing but a professional debater", as if Craig doesn't have a long CV filled with peer-reviewed publications as well as teaching and research faculty posts at several universities. (Of course, Craig also has twice as many earned PhDs as Dawkins, including a doctorate from the University of Munich---so even Dawkins' efforts to make Craig sound like just another bogus "Dr." with an unaccredited PhD fall flat.)

            Indeed, Craig is academically and professionally qualified and equipped for tackling the philosophical and theological topics Dawkins ponders in his books and lectures. In those fields, Dawkins is the "nobody" and lacks any substantive background, experience, or training to pontificate in a competent manner on philosophy topics----just as Craig is not equipped to lecture on evolutionary biology. (Of course, Craig doesn't TRY to lecture on biology and Craig certainly doesn't casually dismiss the conclusions of the science academy. Dawkins has no such reluctance to display his ignorance of philosophy, history, and Biblical studies in defiance of the peer-reviewed scholarship of Craig et al.)

            Thus, I didn't want to leave any sort of negative judgment against William Lane Craig's academic stature and qualifications in squashing Dawkins' amateurish babblings on philosophy as he often does. Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, and so many other popular atheist, humanist, and skeptic speakers have publicly debated Bill Craig, and Dawkins refused even the invitation of his own university to face Craig. Dawkins prefers much less qualified opponents. (Dawkins latest excuse has been Craig's position on the Conquest of Canaan, a set of views quite common among a large percentage of evangelical scholars. Dawkins claims to "boycott" Craig in protest of Craig believing that God is justified in giving and taking life, a view shared by most of the Christian theists with whom Dawkins has often conversed in public appearances. Dawkins has never explained why it has suddenly become a line in the sand preventing him from facing the formidable Bill Craig.)

            Richard Dawkins is an outstanding evolutionary biologist. But when pontificating outside of his specializations, his spewings are so often error-prone and reckless. (The God Delusion was incredibly amateurish and got very poor reactions from both theist and atheist reviewers. It showed little evidence of any actual research on Dawkins' part.)

            So many of Dawkins' peers continue to urge him to quit running from Craig's debate challenge. But I doubt that we will ever see that debate.

          • Lazarus

            Well, now that Ignatius has called for some verifiable information on your academic career (which would include your name) I want to join him in that request. It would certainly provide the necessary context to what appears to be an insider's perspective. Please let us have that information.

          • Professor_Tertius

            I wish my vision-assistance software had better provisions for editing posts. (Some webpage formats have to be specially programmed.) In old age I still have most of my typing speed but not my accuracy---and omitted words and substitution of homographs and homonyms seems to be an affliction growing with the passage of time.

          • David Nickol

            Your first error--and the one that apparently got you headed down the road to confusion---is treating METAPHYSICS as a synonym-equivalent for PHILOSOPHY.

            You seem to have overlooked everything past the very beginning of the quote. Note that Peter Van Inwagen broadens his comments to all of philosophy:

            This question is really a special case of a more general question: Why is there no such thing as philosophical information? The situation confronting the student of metaphysics is in no way different from the situation confronting the student of any part of philosophy. If we consider ethics, for example, we discover that there is no list of established facts the student of ethics can be expected to learn (nor are there accepted methods or theories the specialist in ethics can apply to search out and test answers to resolve ethical questions). And the same situation prevails in epistemology and the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of law and all other parts of philosophy. Indeed, most people who have thought about the matter would take this to be one of the defining characteristics of philosophy. . . .

            You may certainly disagree with what Peter van Inwagen says, but I am quite confident that I have not quoted him out of context or misinterpreted him.

            Here is another quote:

            Well, why is there no philosophical information? Why is there no agreed-upon body of philosophical fact? Why is there no such thing as a philosophical discovery? Why are there not even philosophical theories that, although they are admitted to be unsatisfactory in various respects, are at least universally agreed to be the best theories treating their particular subject-matter that we have at present?

            You said above:

            Dismissal and denigration of philosophy on Internet forums is often part of a strategy to thereby denigrate theology, theism, or religion in general. But if you actually talked with van Inwagen, you'd find that he has more substantial reasons for devoting his life to philosophical study than you've considered.

            It is not my intention to dismiss or denigrate philosophy, and I certainly do not think it is Peter van Inwagen's intention to do so! Everything I said was in response to what you presented as a remembered quote from one of your colleagues, which to me seemed to imply that philosophy was in some way superior to science. What is often implied or said outright by theists in discussions such as these is that because it is necessary to make certain assumptions to "do science"—assumptions that can be classified as philosophical—that makes science somehow subordinate to philosophy. I simply don't buy that argument.

          • Rudy R

            Where in my comments did you conclude that I don't understand philosophy? Where in my comments did I state that science is the only way by which we can come to know anything?

            He told me, "I decided to leave the easy questions to somebody else.

            And what, pray tell, are those easy questions? I suppose he is uninterested in how life began on Earth, what caused the Big Bang, and how to cure cancer. Certainly, philosophy isn't going to answer those questions. Your colleague has it backwards. The scientists are the ones doing the hard work trying to provide answers to questions we don't know, while he's studying the answers to questions that have already been addressed in philosophy.

  • Professor_Tertius

    Bill Nye also used to promote some very clueless, and fear driven, ideas about genetically modified organisms. But a group of scientists took him aside and actually explained the science to him. He did a 180 degree reversal. Unfortunately, like Dawkins and so many others, Nye tends to pontificate outside of his fields of training and specialization---and it shows. He's in no way qualified to critique philosophy. If I recall, he has an engineering background and no training in philosophy whatsoever.

    • Sample1

      He did a 180 degree reversal

      Reversing a previously held position because of a better explanation is a hallmark of fertile reasoning. Bill Nye's behavior is a feature to be lauded, not a bug to be derided.

      I've seen no evidence that the people you mention hold unchangeable positions, rather the contrary. They are always seeking to invite and to question. Dawkins and others have engaged the most senior of religious clerics and others in philosophical discussions because theology often trespasses on scientific topics such as biology and cosmology. Where we came from and where we're going, for example.

      Mike, faith-free
      Edit done

      • Professor_Tertius

        Sample1, it sounds like you misunderstood what I wrote. My point was that I've seen Bill Nye start with an adamant position despite LACK OF EVIDENCE---and then when confronted with evidence, he does a reversal. It would be much wiser on his part (and for all of us when we make decisions) to have remained neutral and not taken a strong position until he had actually reviewed the evidence.

        Yes, changing one's position in the light of additional evidence is wise indeed. Taking strong positions BEFORE one has adequately reviewed the available evidence is not.

        • Professor_Tertius

          P.S. Yes, Bill Nye corrected himself once he actually took the time to investigate the topic I mentioned. That is certainly better than IGNORING the evidence completely. But better still is reserving strong judgments until one has the opportunity to look at the evidence. (Bill Nye was publicly urging his readers and viewers to reject GMOs and urging lawmakers to prohibit them. After changing his mind, he admitted that he'd never really put much effort into gathering all the facts before reaching his conclusion. I greatly appreciate his candor, but someone who influences many thousands of American voters and policymakers has a responsibility to apply the skills of a good scientist!)

          A trend I noticed in my last years of teaching Master-level students at a state university in the USA was that there seemed to be more students who thought that taking strong positions as quickly as possible in the course of their research somehow made them look more competent than the scholar who continues to say, "I'm not sure" until sufficient data is available. Sometimes it seems that the bluster of politicians (confidently never in doubt!) has invaded academia, as if being prematurely decisive is a sign of superior intelligence.

          It isn't.