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The Opening of the Scientific Mind

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David Gelernter wrote an evocative essay for Commentary Magazine (cleverly) titled "The Closing of the Scientific Mind." His essay was a summary of conflicts in modern "philosophy of mind." He criticized the "bullying" against atheist Thomas Nagel who concluded that Darwinian evolution is insufficient to explain consciousness and who was "unwilling" in Gelernter's opinion "to express sufficient hatred of religion to satisfy other atheists."

Then Gelernter discussed the "roboticism" of Ray Kurzweil, a leading technologist and inventor, the director of engineering at Google. Kurzweil, for those who don't know, predicts the "singularity" some time after the year 2045. The singularity—the point when artificial intelligence matches human intelligence and overtakes it. When that time comes, so the theory goes, science will make man immortal by uploading his mind to a machine. He will live forever and be whatever he wants to be, a self-directed evolution.

Gelernter described how science has banished human subjectivity, a vanishing appreciation for the interior human mind, the "room with a view" to our mental states. The materialistic view of "computationalism" likens the mind to software and the brain to a computer, which means there is no interior reality. All is objectively exterior. Gelernter concluded that these flawed views have brought about a closing of the scientific mind, and argues for a "fully human" science.

"A world that is intimidated by science and bored sick with cynical, empty “postmodernism” desperately needs a new subjectivist, humanist, individualist worldview. We need science and scholarship and art and spiritual life to be fully human. The last three are withering, and almost no one understands the first."

I agree. I have some thoughts about what fundamentally closed it and how to open it back up. The underlying flaw, as I see it, affects all of us regardless of religious conviction or lack of it. This flaw is a confusion about the definition of science.

And I blame materialism for this confusion.

So pervasively has a materialistic ideology—the belief that only material things, and what emerges from them, exist—been grafted onto science, that even those who are not materialists may not realize the effect. Materialism shrinks existence into its own box, which happens to be the box science can address. This has dissonant effects. On one hand, materialism magnifies science and makes it appear as if science is the way to gain all knowledge and answer all the questions humans face. Materialism seems to turn science into omniscience. On the other hand, materialism restricts the search for answers to that box, and our human intellect cannot tolerate such confinement.

If existence is both material and spiritual, as most religions hold, then science can only answer some of the questions we face, and not the most important ones about ultimate destiny and purpose. Something has to give if you are a materialist. Either science is limited or existence is limited. Materialism demands that you embrace the latter and reject the former. However, if your worldview allows you to embrace a broader existence, then you have an intellectual means to consider the difficult questions science cannot answer, and you do not expect science to be the savior of mankind.

For the materialists who presume a priori that there is nothing spiritual, it is reasonable that they conclude religion is false, roboticism is possible, and human subjectivity is nothing more than the objective output of the brain running its program. This is consistent with their worldview. While unfortunate, it is not surprising that the materialists would assail anyone who suggests that their presumption was wrong, for that could mean entire careers and deeply held convictions were, from the first steps, on the wrong path.

For the religious, it is likewise reasonable that they would reject the conclusions of the materialists. A body and a soul cannot be reduced to a robot. The subjective experience of the mind cannot be disregarded when this is the intellectual source of our greatest achievements—scholarship, innovation, and art. The pursuit of virtue, knowledge, beauty, and love cannot be illusions because they are the core of who we are. The human experience tells us every day that our existence is bigger than materialism.

The stranglehold of materialism has made it difficult to define science. Consider these common definitions, and remember, the word “definition” means to put boundaries around something.

The Academic Press Dictionary of Science & Technology defines science as “the systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts.” Where are the boundaries in this definition? “Events,” “conditions,” and “principles” can be interpreted broadly. Under the mindset of materialism, everything is “natural” and thus the search for knowledge is restricted to the laws and principles of matter. Everything is the purview of science.

In 2009 the Science Council in the U.K. announced a new “official” definition of science, the first "official definition of science" ever published according to The Guardian. It took a year for the members of the council to declare science to be “the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.” This definition is even more ambiguous. If science encompasses the "natural and social world" then indeed where are the boundaries? David Edgerton, professor of the history of science and technology at Imperial College, commented that the definition "would include historical research and indeed some journalism!" (Exclamation is his.) He called it a "good and sensible thing" that the definition does not demarcate "science from the humanities." Atheist philosopher AC Grayling applauded the generality of the definition. This definition is a hat tip to materialism.

Per the definition, love, morality, evil, justice, hatred, and beauty can all be deemed scientific topics, and that seems to be the direction atheists are going. Atheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris, who wrote the book that claims Free Will is an "illusion" (although he is offering $20,000 to anyone who can make him freely recant his views) and who argues that morality is in fact a scientific subject, recently argued that all scientists should be materialists and that there are "no real boundaries between science and philosophy." So, there it is.

In stark contrast, the late Fr. Stanley Jaki (1924-2009), a physicist and Benedictine priest, used a more precise definition throughout his work because he realized encroachment of materialism decades ago. His definition was not ambiguous. "Exact science is the quantitative study of the quantitative aspects of objects in motion." This definition has boundaries, and it means the same thing as the other definitions if there is a firm commitment not to smother science in materialistic ideology.

Consider how the previous definitions are clarified with Jaki's language. The Academic Press definition could be reworded. Science: the systematic observation of the quantitative aspects of objects in motion to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts. The U.K. Science Council definition of science becomes: the pursuit of knowledge and understanding about the quantitative aspects of objects in motion following a systematic methodology based on evidence. Why yes! That is physics, chemistry, and cosmology. Biology is about living things, but as an exact science, living things are objects in motion and science studies them quantitatively. Where less exact sciences deviate from this definition, they become subjects for reasoned discourse, but the meaning of exact science is crystal clear.

It is clear that science never could answer questions about the soul, it cannot reveal where consciousness comes from or what consciousness is. And clearly, immortality is not the work of science. As Jaki put it, “And it is always with measurement that the buck stops with science.” (A Late Awakening and Other Essays, 68)

Will committed materialists like this definition? Probably not. Such clarity, after all, leaves no doubt about the limitations of science. However, as Ian Sample, the science correspondent who wrote The Guardian article noted, crossing the scientific line goes both ways. He expressed concern that creationism or intelligent design could be called "science" by that definition, and he was right.

With Jaki's definition, it is clear that science cannot prove God's existence if by "proof" you mean scientific proof. God cannot be weighed and measured, neither can angels, demons, or souls. If you mean logical proof? Yes, science can contribute to proving God's existence with reasoned discourse, in the same way that a child picks a dandelion, stares at it with awe, and says, "Wow, look what God made."

In this way, Jaki's definition is also an important standard for philosophers and theologians. Consider his strong admonishment, an admonishment materialists should appreciate, and one I never forget:

"Whenever a philosopher/theologian yields the fraction of a hairsbreadth on the intrinsic limitation of exact science, he runs the grave risk of the heedless boy who put his hand through the fence of the lion’s cage. The risk is that of a potential tragedy." (Science and Religion: A Primer)

Potential tragedy? Although I cite materialism as the culprit for the present state of high-level ambiguity, theologians and philosophers only worsen the confusion by invoking science to validate their material. Theology and philosophy do not need to rely on science to shore up those disciplines. When theologians and philosophers try to do this, they lend credence to the idea that science can answer all our questions, which has the same effect as materialism. It blurs the definition of science.

Information about quantities of objects in motion is not necessary to defend what reason can discover or God has revealed. Scientific discovery can point to the existence of God, can aid in a deeper understanding of philosophy and theology, but those disciplines should first stand on their own merits. The proof of God's existence can be known by reason, and it can be known whether a person has a complete knowledge of the intricacies of, say, dandelions or not. True, the more the layers of matter are uncovered, the more an admirer can appreciate God's handiwork at its minutest and grandest scales, but even a child can pick a dandelion, grasp nothing other than beauty, and still admire the handiwork of the Creator.

I say we all—anyone of any religion, agnostics and atheists—need to become more childlike in our pursuit of science and enjoy experiencing this awe. This is how to keep the scientific mind open, and it is protected by understanding the boundaries of science and insisting they be respected. There are plenty of examples in the human experience that demonstrate how clear boundaries bring about a true and legitimate freedom. Ask a parent.

Can a non-believer share that awe? Of course. I did when I conducted scientific research before I held any religious conviction. Speaking of my experience, I notice something else in all the essay-writing and dialoguing about science and religion that bears mentioning. There is hardly ever any talk about what scientists actually do. I can testify that in the daily work, where the white coats and Neoprene gloves meet the test tubes and data, rare are disagreements about faith. When faith is discussed, it is in the spirit of camaraderie. "Oh, and what do you believe...okay, let's get back to work." In my experience as a non-religious scientist for over a decade in both academia and the industry, and in global relationships with other scientists of all different religions on four different continents, I never once heard any discussion about this conflict between science and religion, not even from atheists. Not once. Scientists, believe it or not, are curious and open-minded.

It can be frustrating when people who have not done scientific research, and therefore do not appreciate the intensity of the specialization and focus demanded by the detail of investigation, opine on the intersections of science and faith. Sometimes writers and debaters make it seem like people of different worldviews cannot abide each other in the same room, and that simply is not the case. I qualify this, admittedly, as personal experience, but I only heard of the science and religion conflict after converting to Catholicism, mostly from people online who were so biased against the so-called "anti-science" Church that they seemed unable to focus on anything else. I have a suspicion that those who are still painting this mighty image of conflict are 1) relatively few, 2) resoundingly vocal, and 3) probably have not worked alongside a diversity of colleagues in many laboratories.

As I have argued before, science ought to be a place where people come together regardless of religious conviction. Scientists should be applauded for developing new computational skills. Scientists should be encouraged, not impugned, for studying evolution insofar as it involves physical things. Evolution teaches us about the diversity of life, and these discoveries push us to think harder about what it means to be human. Scientists should be praised, not doubted, for pushing the boundaries of physics and cosmology. Even if they are trying to hide from God, as if they could, Catholics should give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them push the boundaries of robotics. Armed with a solid understanding of the limits of science, it is easy to reject the materialistic conclusions that claim science can create consciousness or achieve the immortality of mankind. It is easier, then, to pick out and appreciate the real science. The talk of singularities, as so many other buzz-words have, will likely die out before 2045, but I think it is a worthy question to ask if humans will direct their own evolution some day. Maybe we already are. The study of the physical brain and its cognitive processes and functions should be studied because the brain does influence the mind. Perhaps if it were better understood that neuroscience is a physical, exact science, and psychology a discipline that serves both body and soul, then better advances could be made that heal the whole person, as Gelernter suggested. And maybe people could even stop arguing about whether creationism or intelligent design should be taught in a science class. They should not, and neither should materialism. The fact that science can only deal with matter is not evidence for materialism. Period.

As for grown-up bullies, like those Nagel faced, I see no reason why they should be taken seriously. Bullying is a display of insecurity, the act of a coward. We should ignore them.

In conclusion, if scientists do not cross the line out of science and into ideology, and if theologians and philosophers do not cross the line into science, everyone can watch scientific discovery unfold together. A precise definition allows this. Rather than waxing platitudinous and declaring world peace and "Dandelions for everyone!", I will borrow the 1956 concluding words of one prominent figure who knew all too poignantly the power, and the limitation, of science, non-religious though he was:

"We cannot make much progress without a faith that in this bewildering field of human experience, which is so new and so much more complicated than we thought even five years ago, there is a unique and necessary order: not an order that we can tell a priori, not an order that we can see without experience, but an order which means that the parts fit into the whole and that the whole requires the parts." (Robert Oppenheimer, The Constitution of Matter)

Dr. Stacy Trasancos

Written by

Stacy A. Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She teaches chemistry and physics for Kolbe Academy online homeschool program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She teaches Reading Science in the Light of Faith at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. She is author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Ave Maria Press) comes out October 2016. She works from her family’s 100-year old restored lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband, children, and two German Shepherds remain top priority. Her website can be found here.

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  • David Nickol

    "Exact science is the quantitative study of the quantitative aspects of objects in motion."

    I don't really understand the "objects in motion" aspect. Are electromagnetic waves objects? Is there anything in the physical world that is not in some very real sense "in motion"? I just watched an enjoyable episode of the television show Brain Games about color perception. The study of color perception seems to me clearly to be science, but unless you wildly stretch the definition above, color is not about "objects in motion," and much of it is not quantitative. I don't see how evolution fits the definition.

    I have spent some time delving into the philosophy of science recently, and while I think trying to define science is clearly a worthwhile and legitimate pursuit, it is very, very difficult to come up with a definition that includes what we intuitively think of as science and excludes what we don't think of as science (intelligent design, astrology). It seems to me the above definition could be used to include most of pseudoscience or exclude most of authentic science, depending on how it is interpreted. It seems to me, though, that the intent of the definition is to narrow as far as possible the definition of science.

    • Peter Piper

      The other problem with this definition is that it isn't clear that it bounds science in the way that Dr Trasancos would like it to. For example, it was not clear that heat was a matter of `objects in motion' (the jiggling of all those molecules) until we had developed the modern conception of it, before which someone following this definition could easily have made the mistake of thinking that it lay outside the scope of scientific inquiry. A similar comment applies to the life of cells before the advent of molecular biology. Ben Posin gives more examples in his comment above.

      • Ben Posin

        This the point that pretty much unravels the above post. Ms. Trasancos seems to think it's obvious that consciousness and the "soul" are beyond the bounds of "objects in motion," when there's really no basis for this belief. To the contrary, all evidence we have suggests that consciousness is utterly created and dependent on "objects in motion."

    • Andrew G.

      Failing to exclude astrology or whatever by definition isn't actually a problem; astrology has been tested and found to be false on the evidence, so you can regard what makes it "pseudo" as the fact that it is sticking around after being disproved, rather than any inherent property.

      Having a definition based on evidence does mean that you rule out claims that try to violate the conservation-of-evidence rule (e.g. by claiming that X is evidence for Y, and also that not-X is also evidence for Y); or claims which refuse to engage with the world at all (thus making them untestable).

      • David Nickol

        Failing to exclude astrology or whatever by definition isn't actually a problem . . .

        It strikes me as a problem if you want a definition of science that allows you to say what is science and what is not. If your definition of science doesn't rule out astrology as a science, then it seems to me you are forced to grant it the status of a science while pointing out that it generally fails to produce helpful results (something believers in astrology will no doubt hotly dispute). Or you could modify your definition of science to require that to be a science, it must be in some way successful. By that standard, string theory may not be a science.

        • Andrew G.

          Astrology can be formulated as a scientific hypothesis - and tested, found to be false, and thrown out. The "based on evidence" part of the definition makes it unscientific to maintain a belief in a theory when the evidence has refuted it.

          String theory for a long time was a mathematical speculation rather than a science - but with the opportunity to predict masses for possible new particles, it's getting into testable territory, even if not yet conclusively ruled in or out of contention.

        • Mike A

          So the problem is you're using two different definitions for the word science- first, Science- the overarching term for the method of rational enquiry, and second, science- a subset of investigation.

          Science includes astrology, in that astrology makes testable claims, which turn out to be false; astrology isn't "a science" in the sense that it's not a valid discipline to study. I don't see the problem.

        • picklefactory

          Some philosophers of science hold the opinion that it is hard to have a 'bright line' in this area of science vs. pseudoscience. Massimo Pigliucci, who @Geena_Safire:disqus mentioned earlier as one of the philosophers pursuing a better definition of naturalism, wrote a whole book on this topic which I like very much, Nonsense on Stilts.

    • I like Paul Feyerabend's operational definition of science. Science is whatever most scientists get paid to do. I am suspicious of any more detailed or restrictive definition than that.

      • Andrew G.

        Postmodernist vapidity.

        One of the important corrective mechanisms for science is that it tests its own success - without that it is no better than stamp collecting, regardless of who is being paid to do what.

        • Paul Boillot

          "Vapidity"

          I'm sure there are interesting truths to be learned about stamps; the best kinds of glue to use, how different inks age over time, relative contrast ratios necessary to easily and quickly distinguish stamps at-a-glance etc...

          I think I'll change my major to stamp-science.

          • Jean_A_Bluestone

            There are at least 100 less comments at How Contemporary Physics Points to God than before. There are at least 60 fewer comments for this article.

        • Geena Safire

          Aw gee, Andrew, he was giving an operational definition, and probably making a bit of a joke.

          "Atheism is a religion as not stamp-collecting is a hobby."

          • Andrew G.

            The intended reference was to a famous comment by Rutherford, nothing to do with atheism. :-)

          • Geena Safire

            Yeah, but the stamp-collecting reference was hard to resist.

          • MichaelNewsham

            I thought he was referring to Rutherford's comment "All science is either physics or stamp-collecting"

          • MichaelNewsham

            Ooops, already answered

        • Postmodernist vapidity

          Sounds like a great name for a band.

    • Paul Boillot

      I think the key to this is the easy-to-overlook phrasing of "aspects of objects in motion."

      Since mass is just condensed energy, any "aspect" of either is in the scientific purview; wavelengths, amplitudes, etc...

    • Geena Safire

      ID and astrology are not science not because their ideas are outside of the sphere of a definition of science. They fail as science on other grounds, as do many other proposed hypotheses that have been proven to be false.

      "Intelligent design" is not "a science." It is also not a scientific theory. At best, it is a hypothesis within the field of biology, and a failed hypothesis. As the judge in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case noted: "We find that ID fails [to be science] on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community."

      "Astronomy" is not "a science." It is a hypothesis within the field of cosmology/astronomy/physics. This hypothesis, regarding the influence of planetary bodies on humans, has been scientifically tested and found to be false. As theoretical physicist Sean Carroll said, the gravitational force of the planet Saturn at the moment of your birth did exert a gravitational influence on you, but it was less than the gravitational influence of the nurse standing beside your mother. Also, the planetary bodies do not generate a different effect on different people based on their differing horoscopes.

      • I think you meant astrology. Astronomy is certainly science, it is not a hypothesis but contains numerous hypotheses and theories. It is just a label we use to talk about people who study non-earth objects.

      • Andrew G.

        It's important (I think, anyway) to note that the idea of a rule in science against supernatural causation is not quite what some people (like the IDers and other anti-science theists) claim it is.

        Specifically, there is no Giant Stone Tablet with "Thou shalt not invoke supernatural causation" on it.

        Instead, it's a derived rule, based on the principle that theories must be rationally related to the evidence. Part of that is that a complex theory should not spring into existence from nowhere - choice of theory should be guided by evidence. Another part is that theories should constrain our expectation of the future as tightly as possible, so a theory with mind-like parts (as usual, following Carrier's definition of the supernatural here) is inherently less predictive than one without.

        (Saying "because God" is not a simple theory, despite the lack of verbosity, because what counts is the amount of code - primitive mathematical operations, computer instructions, whatever - needed to make the predictions of the theory, not the human-language description.)

    • WHB

      The shallowness of most of you 'internet' experts is appalling. You go to any and all extremes to deny the obivous--an omnipresent Creator and come up the silliest stuff.

      So how might you in your wisdom 'detect' these invisible EM waves? Or perceive color? In both cases a 'detector' is required and what might such detectors be made of? Matter, objects, particles in motion and that's what you measure. There is nothing wrong with Jaki's definition. It is the central issue to why when materialists try to cross the line from Science to Philosophy and Theology they fall flat. You are now treading upon the ground of Reasoned Discourse. I suggest you start studying something more substantial than the latest 'pop science' TV program or web blog, get out from under the denial of your own mind! Yes that's what it is.

      As Nagel points out in the very last paragraph of his book on the mind, the one that has caused so much consternation among his fellow non-believing materialists, no amount of hand-wringing, soothsaying and wishing is going to show that reductive materialism can ever show how the mind was created or evolved. In this words, and I quote,

      "But to go back to my introductory remarks, I find this view antecedently unbelievable— a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. The empirical evidence can be interpreted to accommodate different comprehensive theories, but in this case the cost in conceptual and probabilistic contortions is prohibitive. I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two— though of course it may be replaced by a new consensus that is just as invalid. The human will to believe is inexhaustible."
      -----------------------------------------------------------
      Nagel, Thomas (2012-08-04). Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (p. 128). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

      ---------------------------------------------------------------
      Adios.

      • Mike A

        Wow, baseless ad-hominem attacks from a Christian. What a surprise.

        ;)

        • Andre Boillot

          You're countering ad-hominems wrong :)

          • Mike A

            ...I guess that wasn't as funny as I thought it was.

          • Andre Boillot

            I didn't get the irony...if you edit in a wink, i'll switch my vote!

          • Mike A

            Wink added!

            Blackmailer.

    • Miguel Adolfo.

      Well; aren't objects, at the end, electromagnetics waves? Photons are particles and waves, and everything has a vibration, so everything is an "object in motion".

      I remember to have read that it had been discovered that after all, even photons had a certain amount of matter.

      Now, I apologize in advance if the next feel offensive, it is not my intention, but I can't express it better. I get the feeling that you attach yourself too much to words and their basic meaning, and that is not (at least not always) how language works. The fryar/scientifics used the word "objects", sure. But did he mean the "classic" object, like Galileo and Newton knew it? Or was it a general term for -it is a proposal- "every thing that can be researched", like "every object of research"?

      Not only physical entities, materail or not (and look how complicated becomes every thing when we try to avoid every possible confussion or ambiguity with words), but also cultural entities, either concepts or whole civilizations, change, and can be considered "mobile" or "in motion", so that definition could be useful and well done.

      Obviously, everything human-made can be improved, and even more obviously I am not trying to convince you to accpet and/or adhere to that deffinition, but only presenting my notion (my conviction if you want) that -and I, again, excuse in advance- find you claims often over critical.

  • Ben Posin

    "It is clear that science never could answer questions about the soul, it cannot reveal where consciousness comes from or what consciousness is. And clearly, immortality is not the work of science. As Jaki put it, 'And it is always with measurement that the buck stops with science.'"

    Lord Kelvin, a premier scientist of the 19th century, noted with dismay that the method by which muscles could be directed to move, or plants grow from seeds, both so different from the ordinary, undirected behavior of matter, was "infinitely beyond the range of any scientific inquiry hitherto entered on." Like Ms. Trasacos, he found such things impossible to understand from a measurement of the "fortuitous concourse of atoms." And this man was a real smart cookie, who really believed in the power of measurement and its role in knowledge and science, indeed, he had a unit of measurement named after him!

    But Lord Kelvin was wrong. The problem of how an animal can move its muscles, or plants grow and reproduce, is long solved, certainly fascinating, but something one could feel confident getting accurate information on from wikipedia. Ms. Trasacos now stands here and tells us that the problem of consciousness stands infinitely beyond science's reach, but I'm at a loss to tell you why, save that she has a distaste for materialism, which she thinks renders people "robots." Her distaste and subjective reaction to materialism are, to me, the actual signs of a closed mind, and despite them my money's still on science.

    • Ben Posin

      And what my above post left out is this: we're making a pretty good start in consciousness through science's study of the brain, which we have greater access to than ever before with all kinds of nifty imaging gadgets. And all the evidence we have suggests that a person's memories, personality, decision making, etc., depend on the condition of the physical (dare I say, material) brain.

      I brought a very good overview of this subject to Ms. Trasacos' attention once: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/a-ghost-in-the-machine/
      which I commend to everyone's attention here. She dismissed it as lacking in "philosophical" understanding, but I don't see how that detracts from the mountain of evidence that identifies what we think of as the mind with the physical brain. As to souls...well, as with certain other things Ms. Trasacos says science can't understand (such as "angels" and "demons") right now this seems to be a word without a referent.

      • Conscious Objector

        I don't think it's so much 'distaste' for Materialism that causes Theists to reject it so much as it is, inherently, a self-refuting, irrational premise. Under the constraints of Materialism, only material evidence serves as 'proof' of any claim, with transcendent reality and intuition denied even the possibility of existence. However, the premise that only material evidence is valid cannot be shown to be vaild through use of material evidence alone. The materialist must devolve to first principles of logic which are i) Intuited and ii) transcendent. In other words Materialism declares that intuition and other transcendences cannot
        exist, but the basis for Materialism is itself intuitive and transcendent. This internal logical contradiction means Materialism is irrational.

        • Ben Posin

          Sure, and I'm told the scientific method can't prove the validity of the scientific method.

          I think we're looking at things a bit differently. I'm not out to prove the philosophical underpinnings of materialism. It's a bit simpler for me. So far, every phenomenon that mankind has really been able to dig it's teeth into has turned out to be not magic. Explaining things in terms of material causes and physical laws has a pretty amazing track record.

          I'm not standing here declaring that all things MUST have a material cause and nature (though I don't know what a non-material thing might be like). But if you want me to believe in causes or "things" beyond the material, give me a reason. Show me things we can agree are real that are inconsistent with material causes. But consciousness is not such a thing. We have a staggering amount of evidence suggesting consciousness is a function of the very material brain. The article I linked to is a decent place to get started, and I'd be happy to discuss it with you.

          • Conscious Objector

            Thanks for the response Ben, I will read the article, but may take a while to get back to you as I have a baby due imminently! In the meantime, let me try to respond to your points:

            'Sure, and I'm told the scientific method can't prove the validity of the scientific method'.

            Agreed!

            'I think we're looking at things a bit differently. I'm not out to prove the philosophical underpinnings of materialism. It's a bit simpler for me. So far, every phenomenon that mankind has really been able to dig it's teeth into has turned out to be not magic. Explaining things in terms of material causes and physical laws has a pretty amazing track record. I'm not standing here declaring that all things MUST have a material cause and nature (though I don't know what a non-material thing might be like). But if you want me to believe in causes or "things" beyond the material, give me a reason. Show me things we can agree are real that are inconsistent with material causes.'

            If you're not interested in looking at the philosophical underpinnings, I can't show you what you're asking me to show you. The nature of something immaterial, is that it cannot be demonstrated by material means. The philosophical underpinnings are important. You've stated that empirical observation of physical laws/processes has an amazing track record, (I think?) in which case I agree with you. But have you considered why this should be so? If empiricism 'works', then apparently the reasoning we used to establish the rules of empirical process must be sound. (Unless the whole body of scientific knowledge is just a fluke of course).

            Empiricism is derived from first principles of logic, and first principles of logic are intuited. As such, they are immaterial. So do you accept such a thing as logic i) Exists? and ii) is immaterial?

            'But consciousness is not such a thing. We have a staggering amount of evidence suggesting consciousness is a function of the very material brain. The article I linked to is a decent place to get started, and I'd be happy to discuss it with you.'

            I haven't read past the first paragraph yet, so I'll largely pass on this for now, except to say that a materialist view of the brain requires an acceptance of determinism. My initial questions to you on this topic then would be:

            1. Do you believe all your actions to be pre-determined, and that you have in fact no agency of your own? 2. If so, do you live your life accordingly? (To give you a for instance of what I mean by that second question, consider the implications of determinism for crime and punishment. If all actions are deterministic, there is no 'good' or 'evil'. In which case, we have no rational basis for discriminating against, say, a rapist, by imprisoning him. After all, such a person would not be responsible for his actions.)

            3. Do you find such things (determinism, no 'good' or 'evil') to be compatible or incompatible with your own experience of life as an individual?

          • Conscious Objector

            Sorry Ben, to clarify that should read that, on determinism, there are no 'good' or 'evil' *actions*.

          • Ben Posin

            Conscious Objector:
            That's a lot to respond to, so please don't take it amiss if I only address a couple of points at this time. I think you may be raising a legitimate topic of discussion, but it's certainly far afield from where I started, which is that we have a lot evidence supporting the idea that consciousness is a creation of the physical brain. I'm loathe to try to solve the material/immaterial nature of logic, mathematics, etc. and whether they are a human creation, something woven into the fabric of the universe, or in some way "immaterial" at this juncture...it seems unnecesary unless you can make a case that some sort of "immaterial" principle of logic is reasonably comparable to an immaterial mind or person. I feel like this has been kicked around on this website before though, so if someone has something in the can on this subject feel free to jump in--my gut reaction is that it's a red herring, though.

            Why does the scientific/materialist method have a good track record you ask? NI'd say not because it is born of pure logic and intution, but because, as best we can tell, it turned out to be correct! When tested against the world it has shown itself to map on to it properly. If you want to call the method or its source "immaterial" knock yourself out, but let's not pretend the important thing about it is that it might at some point have been "intuited."

            As to determinism: I don't concede that a material mind means determinism is correct, though it may be so, and some people agree with you. I certainly do believe that we are not just "free" to do anything at any moment, but that our actions and thoughts and desires are certainly bounded in various ways. Your questions are on balance reasonable things to ask about the implications of a material mind, which the evidence overwhelmingly shows humans to have. But they all come downstream of the actual question of whether consciousness has a material basis. My personal views of good and evil may make no sense when compared with the actual reality of how the mind works, but that's a problem with my views, not reality.

          • Conscious Objector

            That's a lot to respond to, so please don't take it amiss if I only address a couple of points at this time. I think you may be raising a legitimate topic of discussion, but it's certainly far afield from where I started, which is that we have a lot evidence supporting the idea that consciousness is a creation of the physical brain.
            I don't think it's far at all. I'm going to give you evidence for a non-material source of consciousness. Unlike the 'evidence' for a material brain, it will not be based on a logically non-coherent foundation. You said: Show me things we can agree are real that are inconsistent with material causes. and you're right to ask this. Before we can tackle consciousness, we need to first agree that non-material things exist, and I am proposing 'logic' as such a thing.

            I'm loathe to try to solve the material/immaterial nature of logic, mathematics, etc. and whether they are a human creation, something woven into the fabric of the universe, or in some way "immaterial" at this juncture...it seems unnecesary unless you can make a case that some sort of "immaterial" principle of logic is reasonably comparable to an immaterial mind or person.

            Then let me try to save you some time. Logic is either:
            1. Material
            2. Non-material but 'woven into the fabric of the universe' (e.g. a law of the universe, or a first condition set at the big bang singularity)
            3. Non-material.

            If it is material, empirical science can measure it like everything else that is material. Empirical science cannot do this, so it is not material.
            If it is 'woven into the fabric of the universe' in the manner of, say, gravity or entropy, it would produce effects that are materially observable. It does not do so in any known way, so it is not 'woven into the fabric of the universe'.
            It seems we are left with non-material.

            I feel like this has been kicked around on this website before though, so if someone has something in the can on this subject feel free to jump in--
            Quite possibly, this is my first conversation here :)

            my gut reaction is that it's a red herring, though.
            It's not and I will unpack the link between logic and the non-material source of consciousness if you agree that logic is non-material.

            Why does the scientific/materialist method have a good track record you ask? I'd say not because it is born of pure logic and intution, but because, as best we can tell, it turned out to be correct! When tested against the world it has shown itself to map on to it properly.
            You seem to have misunderstood me. I wasn't questioning it's record at all, which I agree is bullet proof. I was asking you why it should be that empirical enquiry should be so uncannily successful?

            If you want to call the method or its source "immaterial" knock yourself out...
            Hurrah! So you do agree that logic is non-material. Excellent, we can proceed.

            ...but let's not pretend the important thing about it is that it might at some point have been "intuited."
            Agreed for the purposes of debate, I used the term only to illustrate the non-material nature of logic.

            As to determinism: I don't concede that a material mind means determinism is correct, though it may be so, and some people agree with you.
            Can you lay out any evidence for such a position? What seems to be claimed as the best evidence for a non-deterministic material mind is, in my limited experience, successful only in removing the problem of the obvious existence of free will by one step.

            I certainly do believe that we are not just "free" to do anything at any moment, but that our actions and thoughts and desires are bounded in various ways.

            If you mean we might feel bound by, for instance social conventions, feelings etc, I would agree. If you mean we are actually materially bound from engaging in certain behaviour, I would require evidence for that.

            Your questions are on balance reasonable things to ask about the implications of a material mind, which the evidence overwhelmingly shows humans to have.
            Can you define what you mean by 'evidence' please?

            But they all come downstream of the actual question of whether consciousness has a material basis.
            If you do not accept upstream we must start with downstream. You have agreed now that logic is not a material thing. In the interests of moving the discussion on I'm going to assume that you believe logic to be a creation of (material) minds and therefore materially derived. Is this fair?

            My personal views of good and evil may make no sense when compared with the actual reality of how the mind works, but that's a problem with my views, not reality.
            I'm not sure what you're getting at here. My point about there being no 'good' or 'evil' actions on a deterministic, material world-view is that determinism is incompatible with agency and machines cannot be moral agents.

      • Conscious Objector

        Ben, I've read your link now. Here is an article about Dr Sam Parnia and his ongoing research into resuscitation medicine and the persistence of consciousness after death in patients with no observable brain activity: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/04/consciousness-after-death/all/

        In light of research like this I do not accept your claim of 'overwhelming evidence' for a material brain. To quote Parnia:

        Scientists have come to believe that the self is brain cell processes, but there’s never been an experiment to show how cells in the brain could possibly lead to human thought. If you look at a brain cell under a microscope, and I tell you, “this brain cell thinks I’m hungry,” that’s impossible.

        So what evidence do we have?

        All the evidence we have shows an association between certain parts of the brain and certain mental processes. But it’s a chicken and egg question: Does cellular activity produce the mind, or does the mind produce cellular activity? Some people have tried to conclude that what we observe indicates that cells produce thought: here’s a picture of depression, here’s a picture of happiness. But this is simply an association, not a causation.

        What do you think of this? Do you still think the evidence of a material mind is 'overwhelming'?

        • Ben Posin

          Yep, quite overwhelming. When Parnia comes out with peer reviewed controlled study, rather than a Wired interview citing unspecified anecdotes, well, I'd be happy to talk again. But not here, as it looks like Brandon has gotten ban happy, and is deleting people's past posts as well. All the best.

          • Ben, you cite a source that is not peer reviewed, and then you hold peer review as the standard. Why?

          • Ben Posin

            Oh dear, I thought I'd stormed off in a huff, but I am weak willed and have been drawn back in: I pointed to an article that, truly, is not peer reviewed, or a scientific study. What it IS is an aggregation of references of well documented medical cases which support a particular point of view, and reasoned discussion of what these might mean. I pointed to it as a starting point, not an ending point. Do you really doubt that you and I can dig up peer reviewed studies supporting the basic points in this article about the connection between brain damage and changes in personality, memory, etc? And can you really not see the difference between the article I linked to and a magazine interview that doesn't point to ANY specific, documented cases? Find me a study showing that people who didn't have functioning brains were still aware of the world around them, and we'll talk. But point me towards Eben Alexander's ramblings and I'll just weep into my beer.

            And I hope that Brandon (and you, and others on this site) understand that my fear of finding all my posts vanished really removes my incentive to spend time assembling a list of studies for us to talk about. Brandon, you are not just denying yourself and others access to the views of people smarter than yourself with your banning (e.g., Geena), you are lowering the quality of the discourse that remains.

          • Michael Murray

            I assume you saw the Esquire article on Alexander ?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Because Science!

            Really though, I think this whole discussion is flawed from the start. Suppose we were to see something immaterial, like a spirit, interacting with our world. Then, we wouldn't see the spirit, but rather only its affects on matter.

            Now, assuming the spirit operated according to an interior logic (and I don't see how it couldn't), its effects on matter would be orderly and thus predictable. In other words, science could indeed study the behavior of the matter and come up with a set of so-called "material laws" that governed it, all the while being (by necessity in fact) totally blind to the spirit lurking beyond.

            Let's go with the assumption that humans are spirits. This is reasonable because we have at least one attribute, namely 'consciousness', that cannot be directly observed by somebody else. It can only be intuited by another conscious being, by analogical thinking and comparison to their own subjective experience, after observing our matter's behavior.

            But science doesn't intuit transcendent causes, only principles of behavior and patterns. "If A and B, then C" kind of stuff. So, because the human spirit interfaces with the world through matter, we might very well be able to learn a lot about the inner workings of an immaterial being based solely on what it does to matter. But we would not be able to identify that there is an immaterial thing at work.

            A materialist then might be tempted to say that the subjective experience that the spirit reports arises from the behavior patterns in the matter. Because, that is the only way in which the materialist can see the inner workings of the spirit. Now, if the spirit is using matter for information processing and interfacing with the world, then doing something to its matter would affect the behavior of the spirit, and the materialist would triumphantly claim that the spirit was just a natural phenomenon, just more matter in motion.

            And he would be entirely wrong.

          • Ben Posin

            Your view seems to be: we can't directly "see" consciousness so...therefore spirits. This strikes me as a bit of a leap. It's also worth noting that we are in some ways getting closer to being able to "see" consciousness. For example, not only can we detect brain activity associated with a person's movement before they are aware they have decided to move, it's actually possible to determine when someone has made certain decisions before they are even consciously aware they have done so. So...maybe we should keep spirits as a backup plan for a while.

            Anyway, for your proposal to be meaningful, you need to do a better job of explaining what this spirit is and what it does. Right now, you have your spirit using the physical brain for "information processing" and "interfacing with the world." What else does the brain do: memory storage? decision making? the creation of emotional responses? These are things that people typically associate with the "mind," so where does the spirit come in?

            I'd also point out that this idea of a spirit driving the brain doesn't fit well with certain medical facts. For instance, if your corpus callosum were to be damaged, the right and left hemispheres of your brain would stop communicating properly. If I were then to show you a picture of something you hated to just your left eye, your right hemisphere would generatea appropriate emotional response of anger or disgust...but you wouldn't be able to articulate why! Instead, your left brain would make up some reason, which you would tell me with sincerity and confidence. How do you square this with a spirit or soul? Is a spirit divisible in this way, part of it having knowledge but not sharing it with the rest?

            Or let's talk about capgras' syndrome, which is well documented. If I disconnect your amygdala from your visual system, you will not associate things you see with emotional responses the you normally would. As a result, there's a very real chance that you would be unable to recognize some of your loved one's...or even yourself in pictures! If pressed, you would admit that that person looks identical to your mother, but must be some sort of duplicate replacement. It sure looks like emotions play a pretty big role in what we think of as an intellectual process (the ability to recognize someone!). Do you think an immaterial spirit could be confused in this way by lack of emotional data?

            The idea of some sort of operator of our brains is in some ways intuitive, but it doesn't fit the facts. To quote Adam Lee's fantastic article, which I've noted before: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/a-ghost-in-the-machine/#callosaldisconnection
            "We are our brains, and their defects are defects in our minds."

          • Geoffrey Miller
          • Ben Posin

            Tell me what you find persuasive about them...I can only claim to have given them a glance at this point, but they strike me as relatively content free. They decry the modern trend of saying the mind is the brain, but they don't seem to really address the evidence supporting this position, or offer a plausible alternative. But tell me what you think they're bringing to the table, and I'll give it my best.

            But hey, you first: what is it you think your spirit does that your brain doesn't? And how would you square medical phenomena like the ones I described (which are just two examples of many similar phenomena) with whatever your idea of the spirit is?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            So, my idea of spirit is closer to Spinozaism. I don't believe there's some spooky ghost-ball hovering above the brain in another dimension. My point was that even if this were true, it would not bar the construction of a science of the mind nor would it offer compelling evidence to materialists to abandon their philosophy.

            In my view, there is no duality between matter and spirit. Matter is just spirit seen from the outside. So, when we look into a person's brain, we can see the behavior of the matter. But we would not know the meanings behind the behavior of the matter unless we asked the person to reveal their inner life to us and then matched up what they report to the physical states that we observe.

            We cannot even categorize brain states without subjects reporting their mental states, or without ourselves comparing their behavior to our behavior when we were experiencing a similar mental state. Thus, it makes zero sense to say that consciousness "emerges" from mechanisms of matter. The two exist together. They are the same thing viewed from different perspectives.

            Thus, it sounds really silly when materialists say things like, "The brain makes a decision before our mind becomes aware of it." Well, pardon the language, but no shit, Sherlock. You typically do have to make a decision before you become aware of it. You don't need fancy neuroscience to prove this. It's pretty much just everyday logic.

            The problem I have with materialism is that it makes our minds look like puppets dancing on the strings of matter. It declares that everything is material, and then curiously forgets its own declaration.

            We are not some emergent program of the brain. We ARE our bodies. Our soul is the information, but it cannot exist without matter. Matter is what you see from the outside, soul is what you experience from the inside.

          • Michael Murray

            It seems there has been no update on Parnia's AWARE study

            http://www.horizonresearch.org/main_page.php?cat_id=38

            in the last 12 months.

          • Conscious Objector

            Ben, forgive me, but it rather seems you're running away just when things are getting interesting. Perhaps you can define what you consider 'evidence' so that I can assess your claim that it is 'overwhelming'?

            Also, since you're only willing to discuss peer-reviewed research, perhaps we could shift the discussion to Penrose and Hameroffs model of quantum consciousness which posits, in the simplest terms, that the essence of a human (us Catholics call it the 'soul') is part of the fabric of the universe, existed prior to our physical bodies, and persists after we die. The work has its critics of course among followers of irrational materialism, but presumably Penrose is sufficiently credentialed for you to discuss his work?

            Will you be replying to my other post where I responded to you on the subject of the non-material source of consciousness? I look forward to it.

            regards,

          • Paul Boillot

            "seems you're running away" & "irrational materialism"

            It would be easy to respond in-kind to you with sarcasm and acerbity. I could also engage with you on substance of your questions about "non-material" sources of consciousness.

            But I won't do either.

            You've just shown up, haven't put in the time or effort to read through the thousands of comments on dozens of pages that were here before you arrived, and yet claimed that "things are getting interesting" because...you're talking.

            Don't flatter yourself. 95 percent of the people who were interesting to listen to and interact with have been banned or have left of their own accord.

            When this comment gets deleted, you'll be able to tool around blissfully in your bubble, believing that you have knock-em-dead arguments that no one can challenge. (unless some more hapless atheists wander in here)

            You'll be able to assume that because most of the people who disagree with you have been pushed away. The webmaster has done this either directly, through post deletion and retroactive-deletion, or indirectly as people have reacted to his one-part smarmy, one-part reading-comprehension-challenged, one-part vicious, one-part zealous, two-parts unintentionally-hilarious and four-parts creepy personality.

            The one guy who has given you an up-vote is the webmaster, @bvogt1:disqus .

          • Conscious Objector

            Was that really necessary Paul? I'm not being sarcastic, I'm asking questions. Ben has made statements of his own, presumably with the intention of discussing them, (why else post them), but when engaged seems reluctant to respond.

            Out of curiousity, what is your specific problem with the use of 'non-material'?

            You've just shown up, haven't put in the time or effort to read through
            the thousands of comments on dozens of pages that were here before you
            arrived, and yet claimed that "things are getting interesting"
            because...you're talking

            What a strange complaint this is. How do you know what I have and haven't read? And since I am responding to Ben's specfic comments here in this thread why would I start that discussion elsewhere? Is it a requirement that anyone contributing must read through the 'thousands' of comments? Bizarre.

            When this comment gets deleted, you'll be able to tool around blissfully
            in your bubble, believing that you have knock-em-dead arguments that no
            one can challenge. (unless some more hapless atheists wander in here)

            I see you have me all worked out, despite knowing nothing about me. I don't have all the answers, and certainly don't claim to. Far from it in fact. I am a student of logic and philosophy in general. However the reality of materialism is that it just doesn't take very much knowledge of logic to see that it is an irrational belief. I'm sorry this has touched a raw nerve with you, but your complaint is not with me, its with logic. I'm happy to be proved wrong - but doubt you'll try to do that somehow.

            You'll be able to assume that because most of the people who disagree
            with you have been pushed away.

            It's easy to come across badly in these kind of environments, but I haven't been disrespectful to either you or Ben. My description of materialism as 'irrational' is no different from Ben's claim that his evidence is 'overwhelming'. It's my opinion and if challenged I will justify it. But the way to dispute an argument like this is not to wade in with abuse as you have done. It's rational arguments. If you have any of those you'd like to share I'm happy to speak to you, but you can save the abuse. The fact you've resorted to it, in your very first comment to me no less, suggests you don't have a rational argument to support a claim that materialism is in fact rational.

            The webmaster has either directly,
            through post deletion and retroactive-deletion, or indirectly as people
            have reacted to his one-part smarmy, one-part
            reading-comprehension-challenged, one-part vicious, one-part zealous,
            two-parts unintentionally-hilarious and four-parts creepy personality.

            The one guy who has given you an up-vote is the webmaster, Brandon Vogt .

            I hope you don't get banned as I'd like to see your defence of materialism, but also because it gives you the perfect excuse to run away from the comments you've made full of self-righteousness (as it seems you already are). I generally read these debates rather than get embroiled in them, and it's remarkable how often they end with an atheist slinging ad hominem and running away rather than engaging with rational argument.

            I don't hold a grudge Paul. let's start again if you wish.

            regards,

          • Guest

            @C.O.

            "seems you're running away" & "irrational materialism"

            It would be easy to respond in-kind to you with sarcasm and acerbity. I could also engage with you on substance of your questions about "non-material" sources of consciousness.

            But I won't do either.

            You've just shown up, haven't put in the time or effort to read through the thousands of comments on dozens of pages that were here before you arrived, and yet claimed that "things are getting interesting" because...you're talking.

            Don't flatter yourself. 95 percent of the people who were interesting to listen to and interact with have been banned or have left of their own accord.

            When this comment gets deleted, you'll be able to tool around blissfully in your bubble, believing that you have knock-em-dead arguments that no one can challenge. (unless some more hapless atheists wander in here)

            You'll be able to assume that because most of the people who disagree with you have been pushed away. The webmaster has either directly, through post deletion and retroactive-deletion, or indirectly as people have reacted to his one-part smarmy, one-part reading-comprehension-challenged, one-part vicious, one-part zealous, two-parts unintentionally-hilarious and four-parts creepy personality.

            The one guy who has given you an up-vote is the webmaster, @bvogt1:disqus .

          • Ben Posin

            CO

            My recent reply to Stacy was just deleted. Feel free to think of me as running away, if you like, or ducking posts, but it's just a bad investment for me to put too much effort into posts here.

            But to try to be a good sport, I'll lay out my position as simply and clearly as I can: science and medicine have shown us that changes to various parts of the brain alters or destroys the things that we consider consciousness or personhood, including memory, personality, and decision making. In addition to studies involving brain damage, we can now actually see various portions of the brain operating during different tasks; for that matter, a brain scan can determine when a person has made a decision before that person actually consciously realizes he has! We can also see the effects that checmicals have on consciousness, from alcohol's effect on inhibition to ssri's effect on depression. In a thousand different ways, the world looks the way we would expect it to if consciousness is a function of the physical brain, and not how we would expect it to if it was not.

            And, on the other side we have...what? What can you point to in this world that is inconsistent with consciousness being a material thing? You've referenced the Parnia interview, which suggests a reasonable, testable piece of evidence: people continuing to take in sensory input and forming memories despite completely inoperative brains. And if Parnia can ever demonstrate a verifiable example of this, you will indeed have a meaningful piece of evidence to oppose my point of view. But right now you don't. All you have is your (possibly true) belief that material minds result in determinism, which you don't seem to like. Maybe it does, and free will is an illusion--Sam Harris, for one, thinks so. Perhaps, as you suggest, our stated value system IS wrong given that fact. Again, that would be a problem with our value system, not with reality.

            Your philosophical musings about logic and an immaterial world don't strike me as germane, it's just a distraction from the discussion. As I said before, you can call the concept that 2 is greater than 1 "immaterial" if you want, you can call the eternal fact that I at one point in time loved legal seafood's clam chowder (a fact which will outlast the sun, technically) "immaterial" if you want, I'm not sure whether or not it's valid to say these things "exist" or are "true" independent of the physical world, and don't care. Because you're not showing me a bridge from math being independent of the physical world to non-material minds or non-material beings like Gods and angels.

            So, to recap: there is a lot of evidence showing minds are material, and none I'm aware of (or that you've provided) suggesting they are not. Come get me when you have some. Philosophize with someone else, and feel free to say as many scornful things about my small mindedness as you like while you do so.

  • Andrew G.

    Ah, more nonsense about science from someone who doesn't even understand the concept of "thirds".

    • Peter Piper

      This comment is too obscure for me to understand, Andrew. Would you mind explaining it a bit more?

      • Andrew G.

        Sorry. It's a thing from the early days of the site - Stacy made some comment (which I'll try and track down and link) about it being theoretically impossible to divide something in thirds and reassemble it precisely, and didn't respond when asked for an explanation. I've brought it up every other month or so since then, and still don't have an explanation.

        (I could make a pretty good bet on what it is, but I don't want to jump to conclusions.)

        • Peter Piper

          I see. It is possible, of course, that she made a mistake (as do we all from time to time). I don't know: I haven't seen the original comment. Even if true, it wouldn't matter all that much, and it certainly wouldn't exclude her from providing insights into the proper place of science.

          • Andrew G.

            Of course it's possible. The relevance may be clearer from reading the original thread, which I've now linked from my original comment.

          • Peter Piper

            The link makes your original comment clearer, which is good. However, it seems that (at worst) you have shown that Dr Trascanos is not a mathematician. Not being a mathematician is a common affliction, and not a particularly severe one. It is irrelevant to the current discussion.

          • Mike A

            No, he's shown she has a habit of posting confidently about things she's utterly ignorant of.

          • Andrew G.
          • Peter Piper

            At best, he has shown she did this once. But he hasn't even shown that, since she demonstrated in the unmentioned parts of her comments that she is not `utterly ignorant' of mathematics, merely far from expert.

          • Mike A

            Wow, I just read that original thread. Man, that is just full of empirically false statements and general nonsense. I mean, literally every axiom she posts is wrong.

            And all these proofs are ridiculous even given the wrong axioms, because if you genuinely believe every effect must be preceded by a cause (again, this is Not A True Statement), then you believe something must have created God. The only way around this is to say your axioms don't apply to God, in which case they're no longer axioms.

            I really can't find words rude enough to describe relying on people's understanding of reality 2,000 years ago. For god's sake, we didn't even understand Newtonian mechanics, let along quantum physics. Plato and Aristotle and Aquinas knew almost nothing about the nature of reality. Stop looking to them and pick up some Michio Kaku.

  • Mike

    I'd like to agree that the myth of science vs. religion isn't as large as people outside of academia would think (at least from my personal experience).

    I've worked with all types or people from very different backgrounds and with various religious beliefs: athiests, Jews, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and Quakers. I can't think of a single time that someone has claimed that myself or others are bad scientists because of our beliefs.

    There ARE certainly many people in academia who are anti-religion, and/or non-believers, but I don't think many of them would think someone is a bad scientist based solely on their religious beliefs.

    For example, I keep a cross in my office (its not prominently displayed but not hidden either) which sits right next to my thesis. I always took comfort as a Catholic that my religious beliefs wouldn't conflict with my profession. I also dedicated my Ph. D. thesis "To my lord and savior Jesus Christ, may I discover the truth you have created" and never heard a complaint from my committee, or anyone in the graduate studies department that had to read through and approve the text.

    No one had asserted, for example, that my belief in the Eucharist makes me a bad scientist, any more than someone could tell the Buddhists I've worked with that their beliefs make them a bad scientist. In my experience the supposed conflict between science and religion isn't as significant as is portrayed elsewhere.

    • Andrew G.

      (Trying this again now that Disqus seems less flaky...)

      Outside the Laboratory

      • Mike

        Hi Andrew,

        Thanks for sharing the article. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I'm wondering if you (or the article) are asserting that an individual can't be a good scientist if they are religious?

    • Andrej Tokarčík

      For what it's worth, Eliezer Yudkowsky does indeed appear to make such a claim:

      http://lesswrong.com/lw/gv/outside_the_laboratory/

      • Mike

        Hi Andrej,

        Thanks for the article. I haven't come across it before, and it was interesting to have a perspective that is different from mine presented.

        I've been very busy at work and haven't been able to respond until now. A couple of thoughts (and I speak for myself alone, I won't claim to speak for other scientists). First, I don't compartmentalize my profession and my faith. It may shock and horrify some but I pray about my work, I ask God for guidance to understand what my data is telling me. I pray for His light of truth to illuminate my thoughts, writing, and research. I'm just as much a Catholic in the lab as I am at mass, or in the confessional, etc.

        Second, so many of my scientific heroes were religious believers. It's only my opinion but genetics and DNA are far more persuasive for the truth of evolution than say the fossil record, and Mendel had a great contribution. Lets say for the sake of Argument that Dirac was a Catholic (he wasn't and I recognize that), but if he was would we discount his findings on quantum mechanics, or if Einstein was attending mass when he came up with general relativity would he be a bad scientist. He's not a Catholic, but Henry Eyring (sp?) was a devout believer and his theories are widely accepted within my own field of chemistry.

        I don't mean to trivialize this, but I think that validity of scientific investigation and religious beliefs are far more complicated than can be argued over the internet.

        Once again, thank you for the article, I always appreciate a different perspective. I think if people really are compartmentalizing it would be problematic, but I haven't found it necessary personally.

        Cheers

  • Paul Boillot

    Unfortunately for Stacy, "Exact science is the quantitative study of the quantitative aspects of objects in motion" does not help her make her case.

    1) Quantitative study
    2) Objects in motion
    3) the aspects of objects in motion

    So, we have methodical study of matter and the "aspects" of its motion. I can't help but notice that all of our laws of motion, gravity, forces, etc are "aspects" of objects in motion. (Incidentally, does that mean that Jaki thinks we can't study objects @ 0 Kevin?)

    Neuroscientists aren't advancing our understanding of subjective experience using any other tools, and if we do arrive at a materialistic understanding of consciousness, it won't be reliant on anything more than the study of things in motion, and their aspects.

    "It is clear that science never could answer questions about the soul, it cannot reveal where consciousness comes from or what consciousness is."

    One can thoroughly believe that materialist science will not do so; in fact Harris, the scientist Stacy snubs by describing first as an "author" and second a "neuroscientist," has publicly advanced that very possibility. (Note: Jaki is described as a physicist first, priest second)

    That conclusion in no way follows logically from the proposed "bounded" definition of science, even if I am wrong, and it does so-follow...Stacy has done no work to show this. She drops the definition in one paragraph, and then makes the assertion a paragraph later, with no scientific, philosophical, or logical work in between.

    The belief that consciousness-is-inaccessible is based on intuition, and on the fact that we haven't yet accessed it fully. It's a gut-feeling, perhaps well educated, perhaps ultimately to be vindicated, but the jump from Jaki's "limited" definition to her conclusion is a non-sequitur.

  • Geena Safire

    Geology?

  • Andre Boillot

    Stacy,

    While I disagree with much of what you wrote, I do find myself nodding in agreement, to an extent, when you say:

    In conclusion, if scientists do not cross the line out of science and into ideology, and if theologians and philosophers do not cross the line into science, everyone can watch scientific discovery unfold together. A precise definition allows this.

    However, I can't help but view this as a contradiction of your oft stated opinion that 'Without Dogma, Science is Lost':

    To do science well, a working knowledge of Catholic dogma is necessary.

    That’s what I tried to provide, not just a book you can read, but a book you can use to explain the startling claim that science needs to be guided by faith, and that the Catholic Church has a legitimate right and authority to veto scientific conclusions that directly contradict her dogma. This is not about the Church being against science, but about the Church being a guardian of truth. There is no purpose to science if it is not about the truth.

    http://stacytrasancos.com/without-dogma-science-is-lost/

    How do you reconcile these apparent contradictions?

    EDIT: Just to be perfectly clear, suggesting that science can only operate within the confines of what the RCC deems appropriate seems like a strange position to hold if you're writing about 'opening scientific minds'.

    • Paul Boillot

      I like to smother my science in materialism, like a nice poutine, or a chilli-cheese dog.

    • Geena Safire

      Trasancos writes (elsewhere):...the Catholic Church has a legitimate right and authority to veto scientific conclusions that directly contradict her dogma...

      In case y'all are wondering what these dogmata are, for which science is
      subject to veto (!) by the Catholic Church should it scientifically contradict:

      The 358 Dogmata of the Roman Catholic Church

      Only 255 are declared "infallible." The other 102 are merely declared "certain truths." Maybe this list should be considered part of the grant-writing criteria for NSF grants?

  • Paul Boillot

    I'm trying to slog my way through Stacy's source material, and finding it mind-numbing; truly painful.

    An author willing to use phrases like "intellectually bankrupt" should stay away from trash like:

    Luckily for mankind, there is (of course) no reason to believe that brilliant progress in any field will continue, much less accelerate; imagine predicting the state of space exploration today based on the events of 1960–1972.

    Yes....taking one small period of scientific progress is not a good indicator of future progress...much like the period of 1913-1915 was a bad predictor of humans riding dune buggies on the moon and perpetually-inhabited orbiting space stations.

    • picklefactory

      Also apparently Nagel was lynched, beaten to death, and eaten by hyenas?

      Nagel was immediately set on and (symbolically) beaten to death by all the leading punks, bullies, and hangers-on of the philosophical underworld. Attacking Darwin is the sin against the Holy Ghost that pious scientists are taught never to forgive. ...

      The intelligentsia was so furious that it formed a lynch mob. In May 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece called “Where Thomas Nagel Went Wrong.” ...

      It’s the cowardice of the Chronicle’s statement that is alarming—as if the only conceivable response to a mass attack by killer hyenas were to run away. Nagel was assailed; almost everyone else ran.

      Not only is this description of the reaction to Nagel incredibly hyperbolic, but also I think deceptive: the Chronicle's piece was construed as being supportive of Nagel, but saying essentially that he did himself no favors in the way he presented his argument.

      • picklefactory

        Also -- I would definitely run away from a killer hyena attack. That is just a matter of self-preservation.

        I would even help Dr. Gerlernter run away from killer hyenas, but I would not stick around if he insisted on staying.

        • Paul Boillot

          "I don't have to outrun the bear, Bob, I just have to outrun you."

      • Andre Boillot

        My take: the Chronicle is also not doing itself any favors by (ironically) being imprecise, while Trasancos and Gelernter are somewhat disingenuous in their presentation, or at best inadvertently some relevant data, when claiming that Nagel was attacked for failure "to express sufficient hatred of religion to satisfy other atheists".

        When taken in context, the Chronicle seems to say that it was not the attack on Darwinist Evolution per se which drew the ire of some, but rather the apparent validation of intelligent design:

        Nagel didn't help his cause by (a) being a philosopher opining on science; (b) being alarmingly nice to intelligent-design theorists; and (c) writing in a convoluted style that made him sound unconvinced of his own ideas.

        Nagel really got their noses out of joint by sympathizing with theorists of intelligent design. "They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met," he wrote. "It is manifestly unfair." To be sure, he was not agreeing with them. He notes several times that he is an atheist and has no truck with supernatural gods. He views the ID crowd the way a broad-minded capitalist would sum up Marx: right in his critique, wrong in his solutions. But ID, he says, does contain criticisms of evolutionary theory that should be taken seriously.

        Taken in context, therefore, it seems that the conclusion the Chronicle should have drawn was: 'In that climate, saying anything nice at all about intelligent design is a tactical error'.

  • Geena Safire

    If Stacy or her ilk are interested in what leading scientists and philosophers are up to with respect to defining Naturalism, they might watch this weekend meeting (presented in its entirety) from December 2012, called Moving Naturalism Forward.

     
    The participants included Sean Carroll, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Terrence Deacon, Simon DeDeo, Daniel Dennett, Owen Flanagan, Rebecca Goldstein, Janna Levin, David Poeppel, Massimo Pigliucci, Nicholas Pritzker, Alex Rosenberg, Don Ross, and Steven Weinberg.

    Stacy will be disappointed to hear that several other of the usual suspects, such as Sam Harris, were unable to attend. But they have been working with the team above toward developing a clear and workable definition of Naturalism that both scientists and philosophers can use.

  • David Nickol

    Some of the messages I wrote in this thread have been arbitrarily (in my opinion) deleted. I see no point in attempting to make further comments.

    • Andre Boillot

      Dave, if it's any consolation, I would guess many of us subscribe to each thread, and thus will have your posts in email form...

      • Paul Boillot

        I receive emails of replies to me, how do I subscribe to a whole page's thread?

    • Geena Safire

      David, it may be possible that there is a problem with Disqus, as I have experienced several times before (including yesterday!), and several others at other Disqus forums have decried.

      If the mods delete a post, I believe it always appears as "this comment has been deleted," rather than just never appearing or even disappearing.

      • picklefactory

        I saw some weirdness earlier myself, and I think Geena is right; I haven't seen any comments disappear without a trace.

        • picklefactory

          Now a bunch of them have disappeared, but not without a trace.

          • David Nickol

            Now a bunch of them have disappeared, but not without a trace.

            Yes, that's the case in this thread and the previous one (Does the Catholic Church Hate Women?).

            And the marker that I keep next to my computer keyboard for my calendar/whiteboard is gone, too!

          • Guest

            Bunch of us just got banned, no warning, no explanation.

            -Andre Boillot

            (I'll respect Brandon's decision going forward, but just wanted to post this for the record)

          • gwen saul

            Thank you all for having this conversation. I noticed a brief exchange between Andre and myself was mysteriously deleted yesterday though there was no "warning" of snark. Not surprised if the "masterminds" behind SN are censoring comments recklessly.

          • Susan

            Now a bunch of them have disappeared, but not without a trace

            Looks like another purge. A group of commentators who have contributed much to the conversation have been banned without warning and their contributions deleted, probably on some vague charge of "snark".

            Last time it happened, Brandon claimed that they were warned though there was no sign that they were and according to them, they weren't.

            Is this how "reasoning together" works?

            I wonder if I'll be next for posting this comment.

          • mgcruss

            Is it really possible that commentators like Andre Boillot and Geena Safire have been banned? I'm not seeing any of their posts. My apologies if I'm missing something here.

          • Susan

            Is it really possible that commentators like Andre Boillot and Geena Safire have been banned?

            I'm afraid so, mg. Also, Mike A and I'm fairly certain Josh has been too.

          • picklefactory

            Welp. Looks like a bunch of other stuff I noticed earlier has gone, whole-thread-wise.

            Moderation is a good thing. I welcome it. But I consider retroactively memory-holing a bunch of commenters, then nuking the conversation about memory-holing, pretty much beyond the pale for civilized discussion.

          • Argon

            Geena's posts seem to be gone from the last three articles. Others are missing in those articles' comments as well.

            What's up?

          • David Nickol

            Geena's posts seem to be gone from the last three articles.

            Ironically, one of Geena's missing posts is the one from yesterday in which she advised me to attribute the disappearance of one of my own posts to glitches in Disqus and not to SN moderators!

          • Argon

            'Disqus issues' is my working assumption. I really, really dislike Disqus, more so because it doesn't play well with Android browsers.

            I was worried that it might have been a case of what happened occasionally at The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) where people fed up with the system deleted all their posts, leaving gaping holes in the threads. Or a moderator accidentally deleting a whole account instead of a single response.

          • Michael Murray

            I think when posts disappear or reappear that's Disqus. When posts are deleted that's either the author deleting or moderator action. In this case I can confirm that Rob Tisinai and Andre Boillot have been banned.

      • David Nickol

        Thanks. There were two messages that I thought were deleted. Note that there is one notice in this thread that says, "This comment was deleted." I presume that is for the first lost message. If indeed it is, I can kind of see how a very activist moderator might have deleted it. The second message was the long, substantive one, and based on what you say, I think it very well may have been lost by Disqus rather than deleted by a moderator. I will give SN the benefit of the doubt on both, though I believe part of the fun of participating in forums like this is to quit in a huff every so often!

        I think one lesson is never, never, never to submit a message without saving your own copy. Whether it's the fault of moderators or computer glitches, a masterpiece lost is a masterpiece lost!

        • picklefactory

          If you use Firefox, Chrome, or Safari, there's an app called Lazarus Form Recovery that will autosave any form you type into, including comboxes like Disqus has. I've found it quite helpful in the past.

          • David Nickol

            Excellent! Thanks so much.

          • picklefactory

            Not at all. I saw your original post and liked it very much, and would prefer not to see your posts vanish into the depths of Disqus in the future.

        • Geena Safire

          I believe part of the fun of participating in forums like this is to quit in a huff every so often!

          Oh yes, if only because it gives us the opportunity to reach out to you and let you know how much we would miss you and how much SN would suffer from the absence of your contributions.

          I think one lesson is never, never, never to submit a message without saving your own copy.

          This is so true! Not only because of Disqus' apparent random black hole. I almost always compose in an application (unless a short comment), though mostly because of the more frequent tendency of my pinky finger to accidentally hit the "backspace" key midway through a long comment. :-(

        • Andre Boillot

          David, re: your second post, when I click on the link from my email subs it's showing up as under moderation (though it's already been upvoted x3). I don't know what triggers moderation (# of links?), but it's not deleted (yet).

        • Geena Safire

          It may be that Brandon, as webmaster, might be able to find the 'disappeared' one -- and might, if requested, send you a copy of the deleted one.

    • Please see my blog, I have been able to find some of the deleted comments.
      http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/strange-notions/

  • Mike A

    It is clear that science never could answer questions about the soul, it cannot reveal where consciousness comes from or what consciousness is. And clearly, immortality is not the work of science. As Jaki put it, “And it is always with measurement that the buck stops with science.” (A Late Awakening and Other Essays, 68)

    Serious question; if the soul has any impact on what we do (and we're not, in fact, purely mechanics) then isn't it obvious science should be able to detect and measure the soul? If we could build a model of what decisions a test subject would make if our brain structure was the only factor in play, and then compare those to what decisions said subject actually made, then boom- we found the soul by process of subtraction.

    In other words, if the soul has any effect on the material world, we should be able- with enough advances in our ability to model the material world- quantify, define, and examine the soul scientifically by looking for where our models depart from observed reality.

    Someone, please, provide a counterargument, because I can't think of one and I really gave it my best shot. And if my argument is true, all these assertions about how science can't tell us about souls (or God, for that matter) are nonsense.

    • The experiment you propose has the logic exactly correct. While we can't yet model the whole human brain at once, there have been many studies which successfully model nearly every interesting component of the brain. So far, the evidence is uniformly on the side of materialism -- no discrepancy between materialist model and measurement, no hint of nonmaterial influence has shown up.

      • Mike A

        Thanks! But what I'm really wondering, and want to ask the supernaturalists here, is not even about the empirical evidence, but the theory underlying the claim science can't study the soul or other non-material things. That position isn't compatible with the belief that the soul, or non-material things, influence the real world, as far as I can tell, and so either you have to believe that the soul doesn't effect our behavior, or you have to believe it can be studied be science.

        Trying to argue that neither is the case seems, frankly, stupid.

    • The problem lies partly in the fact that the stopping of the buck with measurement does not obviously flow from Jaki’s definition. I prefer the definition: Exact science is the quantitative study of the measureable properties of material reality. A failure to discern a quantitative relationship in the measureable properties of the brain would not be relevant to the existence or non-existence of a soul. From the perspective of science, the failure could only be interpreted as a failure to perform successful
      experimentation: No quantitative relationship discerned on the basis of these
      experiments.

      • Mike A

        That's a good point- if there the model showed incomplete results, that wouldn't imply the existence of souls.

        My point is aimed at Catholics who do believe in the existence of souls, but who say they can't be approached through material science. I'm simply pointing out that if souls actually affect the way we behave, those beliefs are self-contradictory.

      • Mike, I got your reply via email, but I don't see it here. Assuming this will appear your reply was:
        That's a good point- if there the model showed incomplete results, that wouldn't imply the existence of souls.
        My point is aimed at Catholics who do believe in the existence of souls, but who say they can't be approached through material science. I'm simply pointing out that if souls actually affect the way we behave, those beliefs are self-contradictory. 1:40 a.m., Tuesday Jan. 21
        My reply to yours is:
        No scientific model can incorporate or test the self-contradictory
        proposition that measureable y is quantitatively related to inherently
        non-measureable x. In addition to understanding science by being cognitive of its definition, what is needed is a definition of philosophy. You demand philosophical knowledge from science, which is incapable. Also, it is philosophy which justifies science.
        Philosophy is the determination of those principles which
        must necessarily be true, if what we experience of reality is to be possible. The two most fundamental principles of philosophy are: (1) things exist, (2) Everything has an explanation. These may be expressed as: Material reality is inherently intelligible. The philosophy of science may be summarized as: One aspect of the intelligibility of material reality is the existence of quantitative relationships inherent in the measureable properties of material things. However beautiful and fascinating, science is just one aspect of the intelligibility of things.

    • Martin Snigg

      The concepts and grammar you've used themselves demonstrate the soul. They're used to convey meaning which you assume is independent of the pixels and can reach me in Australia.

      As Nagel has tried to explain, we are live in a teleological universe (which implies form or soul - form follows function or telos), our thoughts themselves are the subjects of a science par excellence, given that they and the humans that do 'science' need explaining first and foremost.

      Aside: We've forgotten how 'science' was deliberately hived off into its mathematical function in the 17thC, focused on quantity and measurement and excluded 'secondary properties'. So quantity was thought to the be the really real quality. This, as it happens, had theological motivation originally but with political overtones too. Sensible natural philosophy, of the Aristotelian kind, was shepherded through the centuries by the Catholic Church, and institutional embrace of the Church was chafing to many. The baby was thrown out with the bath water. Now in a manner of speaking "there are none left who remember it". Nagel is talking common sense to people exiled and lost.

      So, the soul is the animating principle (form) of living things. Hippos don't *turn* (aren't directed to) into eagles, there is no 'hipponess particle' so lets talk seriously about our observations and not be beholden to the rather silly metaphysicians of the C17th.

      • Andrew G.

        (Retry of a comment Disqus ate. Since the comment I'm replying to has been edited since I wrote the reply, there are some inconsistencies and an addition at the end.)

        Even by the standards of previous Aristotelian contributors this is pretty weak.

        Nothing in our ability to communicate requires a "soul" or any non-material things. We learn to navigate the physical world thanks to an evolved brain and cultural knowledge, part of which involves learning one or more systems for mapping between categories of experiences and verbal or written symbols; two people with compatible mappings can exchange meaningful information by evoking the interlocutor's mental categorizations via the mapping.

        Hippos don't turn into eagles because there is no mechanism that would allow that to happen. (An ancestor of the hippo did, however, managed to have descendants who happen to be whales, and another, much earlier, ancestor of hippos is also the ancestor of the eagle along with all other birds, reptiles and mammals.) Gold and lead are not "enemies". My own suspicion is that Aristotle underrated the importance of the efficient cause because he knew so little about it; with no useful body of facts to base his reasoning on, he reached nonsensical and inadequate conclusions which, if you try and use them as a basis for thinking in the modern world, will in turn lead to serious errors.

        I suggest reading A Human's Guide to Words (link is to the first of a couple of dozen linked short articles; you don't need to read the comments)

        ----

        To respond to the edited version of the article: hippos are not "directed to" eagles, but then the common ancestor of hippos and eagles was not "directed to" either (or for that matter to humans, whales, giraffes, tyrannosaurs, turtles, etc.).

        And whether or not the metaphysicians of the 17thC were silly, it is even more laughable to be beholden instead to the metaphysicians of the 4thC BC, who had so much less knowledge to build their arguments on.

        • Martin Snigg

          'Ability' (function) 'evolved' (directed) 'knowledge'(ordering-directed
          to) 'systems' (functional interrelated wholes) 'mapping'
          (congruence-content directed) 'mental' (petitio) 'categorizations'
          (intentional) 'symbols' (see semiosis) 'mechanism' (input-output for
          something) seem to be the problem, they're all words that assume what we're arguing. Nagel again. Anyway it helps to remind
          you that you require an argument or go the Rosenberg way and eliminate
          the objective reality of the mental.

          Finer details about the
          efficient cause of change give us more information about form and
          function (telos/final causes) but can never eliminate them. Pre-hippo
          particle doesn't collide with another pre-Hippo particle and turn into a
          Hippo organism. The form is there from the start.

          When an
          organism grows and stem cells change into all the myriad tissue types,
          they are so different they could almost be different species, though the
          DNA is the same in all the cells. The cellular machinery similarly. I
          don't think you have an appreciation of how the timing of all the
          changes has to be a whole organism symphony co-ordination, mediated of
          course by chemical transmission. But it would be like saying you could
          explain a violin concerto simply by reference to the movement of the bow
          across the strings.

          Cosmologist George Ellis Causation in Complex Systems https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEhTkF3eG8Q

          Quote: "Aristotle was right"

          You miss the point re: C17th metaphysics, it has been shown to be demonstrably false E.A Burtt 'The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science' and they were explicitly rejecting Aristotle for demonstrably mistaken reasons as we know now. What you're committed to in that argument is not something 'more modern' but more primitive -BC 4thC Democritan/Lucretian metaphysics. There's no way around that.

          • Andrew G.

            I have no interest in whether 17thC metaphysicians were right or wrong (I'd bet on wrong, because they didn't have much more to go on than Aristotle).

            What do you think "the objective reality of the mental" is? The physical processes in brains certainly objectively exist, as do their relationships with sensory input and actions; no more is required.

            "Form" (in the aristotelian sense) and "final cause" are not physical concepts, they are part of the map rather than the territory.

  • Geena Safire

    I would like to compliment Ms. Trasancos on a well-written article.

    I have my disagreements, but the article was well constructed and readable.

    If scientists do not cross the line out of science and into ideology,
    and if theologians and philosophers do not cross the line into science,

    But what of the field of Philosophy of Science?

    Before the 16th century

    Plato

    Aristotle

    Empedocles

    Ibn al-Haytham
    (Alhacen)

    Robert Grosseteste

    Roger Bacon

    16th century

    Sir Francis
    Bacon

    17th century

    Galileo Galilei

    René Descartes

    Sir Isaac Newton

    18th century

    George Berkeley

    Immanuel Kant

    David Hume

    19th century

    Auguste Comte

    John Stuart Mill

    William Whewell

    George Henry Lewes

    Edmund Husserl

    Ernst Mach

    Charles Sanders
    Peirce

    1900–1930

    Henri Poincaré

    Pierre Duhem

    Niels Bohr

    Albert Einstein

    Bertrand Russell

    Frank P. Ramsey

    Moritz Schlick

    John Dewey

    Alfred North
    Whitehead

    C.V. Raman

    Satyendra Nath Bose

    1930–1960

    Alfred Ayer

    Hans Reichenbach

    Georges Canguilhem

    Kenneth Craik

    Alexandre Koyré

    Sir Karl Popper

    Rudolf Carnap

    Michael Polanyi

    Otto Neurath

    Carl Gustav Hempel

    Paul Oppenheim

    Gaston Bachelard

    R. B. Braithwaite

    Werner Heisenberg

    Taketani Mitsuo

    Stephen Toulmin

    1960–1980

    Paul Feyerabend

    Mary Hesse

    Thomas Kuhn

    Imre Lakatos

    Ernest Nagel

    Hilary Putnam

    W.V. Quine

    Carl
    Friedrich von Weizsäcker

    Mario Bunge

    David Bloor

    1980–Today

    Donna Haraway

    David Albert

    Richard Boyd

    Nancy
    Cartwright

    Alan Chalmers

    Daniel Dennett

    John Dupré

    John Earman

    Noam Chomsky

    William Lane Craig

    Bas van Fraassen

    Ronald Giere

    Peter Godfrey-Smith

    Adolf Grünbaum

    Ian Hacking

    Sandra Harding

    Michał Heller

    Philip Kitcher

    Larry Laudan

    John Lennox

    Isaac Levi

    Peter Lipton

    Helen Longino

    Ernan McMullin

    Peter Medawar

    Stephen C. Meyer

    Nancey Murphy

    Roger Penrose

    John Polkinghorne

    Alex Rosenberg

    Wesley C. Salmon

    Brian Skyrms

    Patrick Suppes

    David Stove

    Wolfgang Stegmüller

    Elliott Sober

    Kim Sterelny

    Richard Swinburne

    Sandra Mitchell

    Lawrence Sklar

    Gerard Verschuuren

  • David Nickol

    I am going to note a few comments about David Gelernter's "five flaws" from OP's linked article in case my lost message never shows up. If it does show up, I hope I don't contradict everything here that I said earlier.

    The Flaws.

    But the master analogy—between mind and software, brain and computer—is fatally flawed. It falls apart once you mull these simple facts:

    1. You can transfer a program easily from one computer to another,
    but you can’t transfer a mind, ever, from one brain to another.
    2. You can run an endless series of different programs on any one computer, but only one “program” runs, or ever can run, on any one human brain.
    3. Software is transparent. I can read off the precise state of the
    entire program at any time. Minds are opaque—there is no way I can know
    what you are thinking unless you tell me.
    4. Computers can be erased; minds cannot.
    5. Computers can be made to operate precisely as we choose; minds cannot.

    There are more. Come up with them yourself. It’s easy.

    1. One might think we simply don't have advanced enough technology and ask why Gelernter thinks it can't be done. Certainly it has never been tried. But if he means transferring something like transferring my mind another person's brain, or two bodies swapping minds (as happens occasionally in movies or tv shows), I would agree it is impossible. Firstly, his statement is incorrect. You can't easily transfer a program from one computer to another. If you are running a program on a Mac with OS 10.9.1, you can easily run that program on another Mac running OS 10.9.1, but you can't transfer it while it is running. And you can't even run it on a PC or a Mac running OS.

    More importantly, if you want to think of a human brain as a computer, every person's brain is a unique computer. Genetic make-up will determine the development of the brain from the original zygote, and each brain will be different. Also, unlike manufactured computers, learning and experience physically change the brain. So even identical twins, once their brains begin functioning (which would surely be before birth) will have different brains, and their brains (and every human being's brain) will be different tomorrow than it was today. So supposing a person could somehow "download" the entire contents of his mind today for safekeeping. It is the case (or at least it is my conjecture), should he die or have his mind wiped clean a year later, the "download" in storage won't be able to be read into his brain, because the brain will have changed.

    2. I don't think the mind is comparable to a single program running on a single computer. The mind/brain is doing many things at once, and many of those may be independent of many others. The mind is a collection or composite of many modules running in the brain. We tend not to realize how many complex processes coincide and cooperate to control something like vision. But read a few case histories by Oliver Sacks, and you will find that when one or more components of a single process malfunction and others continue functioning normally, you get bizarre neurological symptoms. Some people, for example, cannot see movement but have no problem seeing stationary objects. Vision isn't just one capability running as a subroutine of one program in the brain. It is a whole group of brain functions running separately.

    3. Of course, even if the brain were a giant and powerful single computer running on a single computer, the complexity and the volume of information it was processing would be immense. You might be able to do a memory dump at one instant, but making sense of it would certainly be beyond the ability of a single person. You can't just look at a printout of the memory of a computer and say, "Aha, I see it was working on a chess problem!" or, "Oh yes, it was calculating pi to 100,000 decimal places."

    4. There are drugs that cause short term or permanent memory loss. I don't doubt if there were some good reason to spend the money on it, scientists could come up with a way to erase human memory. Take a look here, for example. (Please note, I have only read the first couple of paragraphs. I hope it is not a site like The Onion!)

    5. I cannot make my computer do anything I want it to do! If it were possible to make any computer do anything you wanted it to do, we wouldn't have thousands of types of computers. If you have two identical computers, you can certainly make each one of them do exactly what the other one does. But as I have argued, each brain is different, so if you can hear a symphony by reading the score, and I can can tell you what day of the week any date in history was (which I can't), that doesn't mean you can do what I do and I can do what you do, even with years of practice. A computer can do only what it was designed to do (although of course the designers may not think of all the possible specific uses to which users will come up with).

    In sum, the brain is not a single computer, the mind is not a single program. Each individual brain is different from every other, and the same brain is different from moment to moment, not just in terms of the "software" it is running, but because the brain has self-modifying "hardware" and or "firmware."

    I personally don't think that if materialism is true, and "the mind is something the brain does," it makes a play by Shakespeare or a painting by Cezanne any less brilliant than they are now. The reaction of people like Gelernter, it seems to me, is similar to the reaction many people had to Darwin. "I'm not descended from apes! I'm not made only of matter!"

    • Geena Safire

      Regarding point 1, "You can transfer a program easily from one computer to another, but you can’t transfer a mind, ever, from one brain to another."

      If the analogy is "a mind" to "a computer." then it is not relevant, in this analogy to speak of transferring "a mind."

      What would be relevant to transferring a program from one computer to another would be, simply, teaching.

  • Michael Murray

    If existence is both material and spiritual, as most religions hold, then science can only answersome of the questions we face, and not the most important ones about ultimate destiny and purpose. Something has to give if you are a materialist.

    What kind of answer are you looking for to the big questions ? Do you expect to find an answer of the kind "the creator has made mankind for the purpose of ..." or would you be content with "mankind should do ...". Science can inform the latter by telling you what mankind of capable of but ultimately it's up to us to decide what we do with our own lives and humanity as a whole.

    Either science is limited or existence is limited.

    Existence is limited. But not as much as you seem to fear.

    do not expect science to be the savior of mankind.

    Of course not. Science is a tool. Mankind is the saviour of mankind. No-one else is going to help us.

    • Geena Safire

      Trasancos: [Science cannot answer] the most important [questions] about ultimate destiny and purpose.

      It's hard to imagine if science could answer them since, from a scientific point of view, these questions -- so far, at least -- do not seem to have an answer.

      • Mike A

        Agreed. "Our ultimate purpose" is a made up concept and asking questions about it is a colossal waste of time and energy. If people would just focus on trying to actually make the world we have a better place, things would be vastly improved.

        It's such a tragedy that we've wasted so many of our brightest minds on such wasteful pursuits.

        • David Nickol

          "Our ultimate purpose" is a made up concept and asking questions about it is a colossal waste of time and energy.

          It seems to me it is impossible to reach the above conclusion without, in effect, asking what "our ultimate purpose" is and concluding there is none. How do you know our ultimate purpose is a made-up concept?

          I am reading some ancient history at the moment and am struck by how much attention virtually every ancient civilization paid to its god or gods. I suppose it might be argued that primitive peoples didn't know any better, but it seems to me the conclusion to draw is that there is something in human nature that causes people to look for ultimate purposes and ever-higher causes. I would be the last to say that proves the supernatural exists, but it does indicate to me that it is a very human pursuit to look for "our ultimate purpose" or "the meaning of life." As one of Kurt Vonnegut's characters asked, "What are people for?"

          • Mike A

            there is something in human nature that causes people to look for ultimate purposes and ever-higher causes... it does indicate to me that it is a very human pursuit to look for "our ultimate purpose" or "the meaning of life."

            Absolutely. We're pattern-finding machines as much as we are anything else. This is both one of our greatest strengths, and greatest weaknesses; we end up finding patterns where none exist, which is where we get superstition.

            It seems to me it is impossible to reach the above conclusion without, in effect, asking what "our ultimate purpose" is and concluding there is none. How do you know our ultimate purpose is a made-up concept?

            To be clear, I'm not arguing we don't have an ultimate purpose, I'm arguing that not just "ultimate purpose," but 'purpose' itself, can't have any meaning without the context of an additional agent. The purpose of my keyboard is to type words, because that's the purpose I use it for. But to ask what the purpose is of something is in the abstract is not just meaningless, but meaningless by definition. Purpose is a human concept.

            I suppose you could say 'the purpose of our lives is whatever purpose we give them,' but that's not really the question the supernaturalists are asking themselves.

  • Ray Kurzweil is not a scientist, is he? he doesn't do research, he makes predictions about the future.

    I think we also need to keep an open mind about what science may be able to explain. Certainly scientists should not hive off areas of enquiry such as consciousness because this has been staked out impossible by one scientist.

    The point of this article seems to be that materialism or methodological naturalism, is insufficient to justify unfalsifiable claims like qualia. I agree, but I wouldn't want to presume that it cannot. Why would we?

    • Geena Safire

      Kurzweil is more of an engineer/inventor, with MIT training, which 'career' he started while still in his teens, and is a formidable programmer. Kurzweil was the principal inventor of the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first commercial text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer Kurzweil K250
      capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments,
      and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech
      recognition -- among many other inventions and software creations.

      Since many of his inventions are groundbreaking, the first of their kind, he should also be considered a scientist of a sort, pushing the frontiers of knowledge.

      Because he enjoys keeping up to date with the leaders in these and many other technology fields, he has an excellent vantage point from which to opine regarding technology trends.

  • David Nickol

    WHB says the following:

    So how might you in your wisdom 'detect' these invisible EM waves? Or perceive color? In both cases a 'detector' is required and what might such detectors be made of? Matter, objects, particles in motion and that's what you measure.

    The definition in question is as follows:

    Exact science is the quantitative study of the quantitative aspects of objects in motion.

    Are electromagnetic waves "objects in motion"? Maybe they are under this
    definition, but you seem to assume (as I do) they are not. The definition makes me think of Galileo dropping different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pizza or rolling balls down incline planes. The definition seems to limit science to classical physics (and not all of it, either). Of course, to be fair, we are going by a quoted sentence ortwo, not by Jaki's work itself.

    You seem to be saying, though, that the objects you study, at least in the case of electromagnetic waves, are detectors. But if you use stationary detectors made of "matter, objects, [and] particles in motion,' you are not studying the "quantitative aspects of objects in motion," you are studying detectors, or perhaps the effect of electromagnetic waves on detectors.

    As I said, I don't understand how "objects in motion"works in the definition, and you haven't clarified it at all. To expand"objects in motion" to cover either what under study or what is used to study it would not narrow the definition at all, because there is going to be some motion involved in any scientific investigation in the universe.

    But what surprises me most about your vehemence is that I don't see what Jaki's definition of science has to do with Nagel's arguments. I certainly didn't imply that because I found Jaki's definition of science to be inadequate that Nagel must be wrong. The twodon't seem to me to be connected in any way at all.

    The shallowness of most of you 'internet' experts is appalling. You go to any and all extremes to deny the obivous--an omnipresent Creator and
    come up the silliest stuff.

    This is actually the Internet, so perhaps you intended to put the scare quotes around "expert." I do not identify as an atheist, but it is not obvious (or obivous) to me that there is a Creator. I wish I knew the answers to all the big questions, but I don't pretend to.

    Who is WHB (we use our real names on Strange Notions) and why does it say, "This user's activity is private"?

    • picklefactory

      This is actually the Internet, so perhaps you intended to put the scare quotes around "expert."

      I LOL'd.

      ...why does it say, "This user's activity is private"?

      This is a Disqus account setting.

  • I think this is one of the best articles I've read at Strange Notions, and an important contribution to the ongoing discussion here about science and faith. Thank you Stacy!

    • David Nickol

      Could you or Stacy or someone with the appropriate background recommend a nonpolemical book (or a selection to choose from) about materialism and the alternatives? Sometimes it is helpful to read a balanced presentation than try to arrive at an understanding by reading two opposing sides denouncing each other—not that that isn't fun, too!

      • David, I'd highly recommend Edward Feser's book, Philosophy of Mind. While his other books tend toward polemics, this one is thoughtful and respectful (it's written for the classroom.) His chapter on materialism is particularly sharp.

    • Paul Boillot

      That a top-level contributor like Stacy could write an article which pulls almost exclusively from Gelernter's article where he says

      That science should face crises in the early 21st century is inevitable. Power corrupts, and science today is the Catholic Church around the start of the 16th century: used to having its own way and dealing with heretics by excommunication, not argument.

      and get unambiguous praise from you is really disturbing.

      If "one of the best articles" you've ever read at Strange Notions is based on an piece which claims equivalency between free, open, legal, uninhibited, uncensored public discourse about cutting edge research in the 21st century and the Catholic Church's 'bullying' in the 16th century, I think we are witnessing a failure of understanding.

      Let me try to add some perspective.

      The difference between spirited debate about hypotheses in 2013, and Catholic 'bullying' in the middle parts of the last millenium, is the following: disagreement *might* ruffle feathers and voicing truly bogus theories *might* ruin reputations; in the 16th century disagreement *might* have meant a person inhaling the scent of their own cooking flesh before they died.

  • Leila Miller

    Thank you, Stacy, for being holistic and unitive, as always.

  • Mike A

    This is the second post in three days that makes confident but evidenceless assertions about science. I wish that trend would stop.

    • Andrew G.

      I dunno... it exposes how shaky the Catholic belief system really is.

      • Octavo

        I'd complain about the neuroscience denialism in the article, but I think it's somewhat fundamental to Catholicism. If the mind cannot exist without the brain, then all the promises of Christ are in vain.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • BrianKillian

          I've heard of a Christian materialist philosopher who believes in the resurrection.

  • Michael Murray

    Perhaps if it were better understood that neuroscience is a physical, exact science, and psychology a discipline that serves both body and soul, then better advances could be made that heal the whole person, as Gelernter suggested.

    If I interpret the soul as the mind I think it is ultimately reducible to matter. That doesn't mean I think that the correct way to treat problems with my mind is to study the movement of my brains atoms and electrons. Often talking to another mind is better although in the case of something like epilepsy perhaps not.

    It seems like the things that the author feels are somehow beyond science are just things I would argue are perhaps best not always studied by a reduction to their smallest particles.

  • Moussa Taouk

    I'm not so sure about the proposed definition, mainly because I'm not sure that everything in nature has to be in motion. (Initially I think it's true... but I don't think the definition is getting to the core of "science").

    Science comes from the word "scientia" or "knowledge". So how about this:
    Science - the study of things that can be known by testable, repeatable experimentation, and that can provide predictable results according to natural laws.

    That leaves the fields of philosophy and theology to study things that are not testable by experimentation (things pertaining to immeasurable logic and also things of faith).

    Also, if something is not scientifically knowable presently, it doesn't mean that it might not be scientifically knowable in the future. I think that line is necessarily elastic depending on scientific progress.

    • Andrew G.

      How can you be said to have "knowledge" about something that is not testable?

      • Moussa Taouk

        I think knowledge is something like a spectrum. Things can be Unknown, intuitively known, subjectively known, logically known, scientifically known, absolutely known.

        Scientific knowledge is that gained by empirical testing. But that in itself is not absolute knowledge. Because there could be factors that are hidden to the scientist at this point in time (such as the speed of velocity... it was originally accepted as being a linear relationship between distance and time, but I believe that changed with relativity), or there is no discounting that the scientist isn't having a hallucination or is part of a dream or whatever.

        But we can call it "scientific knowledge" because it's the best we have for knowing and predicting the behaviour of the material world.

        • Geena Safire

          "Unknown" can be further divided into "Unknown Unknowns" and "Known Unknowns."

        • Andrew G.

          I would put it quite differently.

          Knowledge is the ability to constrain our expectations of experience. If I hold a ball in midair and let go, my knowledge of gravity tells me it will go down, rather than up. Knowledge can be more or less precise - the ancients know from observation that objects would fall, Galileo knew that they would fall with a constant acceleration independent of mass (neglecting air resistance), Newton knew how that acceleration would change with distance, Einstein knew how fast an observer would see a clock in the ball tick. In this sense "scientific" knowledge is distinguished only by precision, not by some category boundary.

          If I say "I know Fred", it means I have interacted with him enough to have a mental model that constrains my expectation of what I will experience if I meet him again. (One might even say "I guess I didn't know him after all" if he did something wildly outside the model.)

          Since knowledge is a constraint on experience, it follows that experience is a test of knowledge. If things start happening that I don't expect, it's a sign that my knowledge was incomplete or my beliefs erroneous.

          (On "logical" knowledge, I am currently somewhat undecided, but I think the following position is consistent: to say that we "know" something about a relationship between abstracts implies that we would we able to constrain our expectations of the properties of concrete representations of those abstracts. Where no such representation is possible, as in some infinite cases, it may be that "knowledge" is not an applicable term and that we are in the realm of fictionalism.)

        • Hubristic-humility

          There are known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, unknown unknowns, and mistaken knowns, so sometimes you just have to go on faith.
          -Rob

  • Sean Healy

    I personally believe one of the key reasons for the advent of Western science
    From within Christendom was the structures the CC rolled out over Western Europe including Cathedrals, cathedral schools, hospitals, universities and a plethora of welfare institutions. Each of these largely were staffed and run by members of the
    CC in co-operation and discussion of best practice across national boundaries. These institutions are basically the building block of the modern world.

    Please see the James J. Walsh Online Books Pages :

    http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Walsh%2C%20James%20J.%20(James%20Joseph)%2C%201865-1942

    • Ben Posin

      But what have you done for me lately?

      • Michael Murray

        What have the Roman (Catholics) ever done for us ! :-)

    • Mike A

      This seems entirely off topic.

    • Geena Safire

      Hi Sean, Welcome to Strange Notions. Thanks for sharing your beliefs with us. You might want to read the guidelines for SN postings. One of these is to make comments that are relevant to the posted article.

      • Mike A

        You also might want to take a look at a map of the world and notice how small Europe is, in comparison.

    • Michael Murray

      Your comment would fit better back here

      https://strangenotions.com/debunking-the-mythical-conflict/

    • cminca

      Actually, the size and quantity of early European city states, all battling for economic supremacy, was the reason for the advent of Western science and rapid advancement.

      Yes, the cc had schools, etc. But it wasn't the school's Catholicism that created or motivated the changes in Western society.

      As a much later example, Charles Darwin studied theology at Cambridge. While there he studies botany (under Henslow) and geology (under Sedgewick).

      Would you say that it was his degree in theology that created "The Origin of the Species" or was it the culture of the university that was more important in creating Darwin the scientist?

      • Sean Healy

        Your example is very late but even here you have a Christian, raised in a Christian community, attending a Christian institution to study Christianity and use his learning to further investigate the nature of God's creatures. I think we can agree that events and outcomes are multi-faceted, but Christianity to my mind what as the forefront. I remember reading in Darwin's autobiography that he would quote verses of the Bible to the unbelieving deckhands on the Beagle as he was travelling from port to port pursuing his interests.

        • cminca

          You are, of course, free to believe whatever you want.

          The fact is that Darwin stopped attending church with his family in 1849. He was, by his own statement, an Agnostic.

          "Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities."

          • Sean Healy

            Thankyou for your reply. I am aware of Darwin's later life, such as his support for the local Church despite being absent on Sunday mornings. Relating Darwin to the broader question of Christianity's support for science, my opinion is that Darwin's early motives and institutional opportunities to do science would count for more than his religious thoughts afterwards, which I would categorise as somewhere between 'general theist / agnostic'? I agree with you completely though on the point of there being other factors beyond a Christian civilisation in the advent of Western science. It seems we disagree on the importance of the difference factors.

      • Irenist

        Europe's fragmented sovereignty may have motivated innovation more strongly than in the more unified empires of eastern and southern Asia. However, the Scholastic belief that the laws of nature are rationally knowable, and the Scholastic education of a large percentage of the population (future clergy and clerks) in the trivium and quadrivium (as opposed to the more strictly humanistic literature of Confucianism, or the more mystical literature of certain South Asian traditions and of Taoism) seems to have played a role as well. Historical change is always already complex and multicausal, but I think the Catholic Church played a prominent role in laying the intellectual groundwork for later innovations. A useful resource is James Hannam's "God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science."

  • Martin Snigg

    Don't want to go off topic but it might be of interest to link to a slightly different understanding of the empiriometric/empiriological and its relation to natural philosophy. 'Science' and 'philosophy' are modern and confusing terms and Dr Trasancos knows there are slightly different traditions (related to Duhem/Jaki and science as 'saving the appearances' which I wan't go into here) running from the ancients to us and their willingness to use modern language. It might be worthwhile to add to her essay with one from a more strictly Aristotelian, and some say more faithful to Aquinas, take on *natural philosophy*. http://www.charlesdekoninck.com/natural-science-as-philosophy/

  • Danny Getchell

    if scientists do not cross the line out of science and into ideology,

    The line is crossed by the popular science authors who demand the acceptance of a completely random universe. I can't imagine they comprise a serious threat to philosophers and theologians.

    and if theologians and philosophers do not cross the line into science,

    The line is crossed by the openly young-earth creationists and the creationists who sail under the false colors of ID. I can't imagine they comprise a serious threat to science.

    and everyone can watch scientific discovery unfold together.

    Yayyyyyy!!

    A precise definition allows this.

    Unfortunately, not gonna happen, not gonna be accepted. However, I don't anticipate much trouble in determining for myself what is science and what isn't.

    • David Nickol

      I really doubt that the "new atheists" or the popular science writers who are materialists are making any (or at least many) converts. Nor do I think critiques from people like David Gelernter, Stacy Trasancos, and Fr. Stanley Jaki have much chance of converting materialists.

      Just to quote some hastily googled figures

      • only 21% of Americans believe human beings evolved without God guiding the process
      • the percentage of Americans who answered "Yes" to the question "Do you believe in God?" in periodic Gallup surveys over the years has been as follows: 96 (1944), 94 (1947), 98 (1953), 98 (1954), 98 (1965), 98 (1967), 92 (2011)
      • "Fifty-two percent (52%) say there’s not enough religion in the schools, while 29% view the current level as about right."
      • "Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans will offer a prayer for the New Year on New Year’s Eve [2006]. Thirty-six percent (36%) will have a drink to welcome in 2007."
      • "Fifty-three percent (53%) of voters say that they pray every day or nearly every day. A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 Likely Voters found that another 15% pray several times a week. Just one-out-of-eight voters (12%) say they rarely or never pray."

      While I freely admit I have no evidence, it seems highly likely to me that by the time a child starts school, what he or she will eventually believe about God, religion, materialism, etc. is pretty well determined, though not set in stone.

      • Danny Getchell

        I agree. Gelernter's writing has impressed me in the past (anyone who was a target of the Unabomber must be getting something right) but this essay seems to be devoid of any real point or relevance.

      • While I freely admit I have no evidence, it seems highly likely to me that by the time a child starts school, what he or she will eventually believe about God, religion, materialism, etc. is pretty well determined, though not set in stone."

        My thoughts on all three subjects have no only changed dramatically since school, but even within the last five years. I think you'll hear similar stories from many Catholics in this forum.

        • Paul Boillot

          I agree, my Catholic story is also one of change, albeit on a slightly longer time scale.

          In middle/high school (most of which were homeschooling associations or private Catholic institutions) I was a several-times-a-week/daily mass attendee. I challenged my science teachers about their secular take on subjects like Evolution and Creation.

          By the start of college, a Christian college, I was a still a staunch Catholic, though down to weekly-mass-attendance. Having argued with my pre-med classmates extensively, I was beginning to understand that I had had a faulty education.

          By the end of my higher education I was an atheist who accepted that ID/Creation 'science' was fundamentally flawed.

          • David Nickol

            One of the key events in my religious uneducation was, strangely enough, reading The Pelican New Testament Commentaries a few years after graduating from college. I was appalled at how much modern biblical scholarship had been kept from us. It is not so much that I believe modern biblical scholarship is damaging to religious belief. It's that what I had been taught (and the way I had been taught it) for twelve years was so inadequate. I think it was somewhat like what Bart Ehrman must have felt about Bible College when he began to do graduate work at Princeton.

          • Paul Boillot

            I stopped attending one of my mandatory religion classes in college because the professor was teaching us about the "Q" source, explaining how the gospels pulled from each other etc...

            No one had ever talked to me about that sort of textual analysis when I had been going through my primary Catholic education; encountering it "in the wild" was a serious blow to my understanding of Scripture.

          • Michael Murray

            In the research Dan Dennet and Linda LaScola did on non-believing clergy many flagged learning about biblical scholarship as the turning point for them. Look what it did to Bart Ehrman !

          • Ignorant Amos

            Look what it did to Bart Ehrman !

            In fairness Michael, it was the issue of suffering that converted Ehrman to agnostic...as he explains on the first paragraph of the first chapter, "Suffering and a Crisis of Faith", from his book "Gods Problem".

            http://www.amazon.com/Gods-Problem-Answer-Important-Question-Why/dp/0061173924

            Even after becoming a world leading authourity on scripture. The problems of forgery, lies, interpolation, etc., may have decimated his faith and his belief in biblical in-errancy, but it was theodicy that clinched it.

            Ehrman still holds to an historical Jesus, albeit an itinerant preacher that rubbed the establishment up the wrong way and got put to death for it, not the supernatural miracle working god-man.

            His disappointingly poor last book, "Did Jesus Exist?:The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth" was well beneath par and focused more on the creationist type argument that by pointing out flaws in ones opponents arguments, ones own arguments are strengthened.

            http://www.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062206443/ref=pd_sim_b_5

            Unfortunately for Ehrmans integrity as an objective scholar in the field, the rebuttal effort, "Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman s Did Jesus Exist?", a reply by those scholars he denigrates, shows Ehrman to be totally unsavoury and disingenuous in the historicist v mythicist debate.

            http://www.amazon.com/Ehrman-Quest-Historical-Jesus-Nazareth/dp/1578840198/ref=pd_sim_b_1

            The myhicist tome is chock full of fascinating gems I never knew. e.g. nowhere does it say Jesus was "nailed" to the cross. The inference is drawn from the doubting Thomas tale in the gospel according to St. John. Which scholars agree is a yarn made up to denounce docetism. Not the only one may I add.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah yes I was exaggerating a bit :-) I do agree with him that the problem of suffering is the biggest issue for gods. Well at least for nice gods.

            The myhicist tome is chock full of fascinating gems I never knew. e.g. nowhere does it say Jesus was "nailed" to the cross.

            That's interesting. I thought I read somewhere that Romans usually just tied people to the cross.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Well at least for nice gods.

            Yep....what we know of the universe, particularly the our world, and the Abrahamic god...the 'evil god hypothesis' fits the gap supremely better.

            That's interesting. I thought I read somewhere that Romans usually just tied people to the cross.

            It seems nails were used also...just not as often, for obvious reasons.

            The nails motif in John's doubting Thomas parable, is an effort to move the crucifixion from the heavenly realm, as believed by first century Docetic Christian cults, to the earthly realm of first century proto-orthodox Christian cults. The theopolitical power struggle between the Docetists, separationists, Gnostics and the what became the orthodox cults is written all over early Christian texts, both canonical and apocrypha.

            The fact that the city (polis) called Nazareth, the place the Jesus was alleged to have come from , an empirical claim in the NT which can and has been proven untenable, was a device to give an earthly Jesus a place to come from, A "Jesus from Nazareth" had to be a physical, in-the-flesh, earth visiting man/god, ergo, the silly Docetists are heretical and we proto-orthodoxy cultists have it right..

          • Hubristic-humility

            Has anyone ever seriously argued a main attribute of God is "niceness" ? nice is a very "squishy" word for God, I can only imagine an ambiguous or lesser God being nice. Unless of course you are talking about a characteristic of Gods work such as nice workmanship on DNA (though I still contend nice here isn't quite "precise" enough)…then I could see an argument for the imperfection/stain of evil on his work, but then you have to deal with argument of a fallen world by man's defiance/rejection of God. And the complications of our limited wisdom of what "niceness" is; thinking we are as wise or wiser than perfect wisdom. God in his "benevolence" told us not to touch the hot stove, we didn't listen, we got burned and still haven't learned. We keep trying to touch it for wanting to prove God wrong/unwise. Thinking he's mean/stupid for telling us what we can't/shouldn't do, or for not stopping us from doing it. Who is he to deny us an experience of life? Why wouldn't he have stopped us from burning ourselves? Why did he create "hot" that hurts? So we devise ways to show we can touch the stove without getting burned. See I have an oven mitt on my hand I'm not getting burned now; see I don't need Gods wisdom, seeing the mark of the burn is our knowledge and remembrance of the event, (thats why we knew to make the mitt) but pridefully ignoring that it was God's wisdom and benevolence that told us what would happen. God's benevolence that allowed us to learn the lesson on our own leading to creating the mitt. All we've done is devise a way to temporarily solve the problem of being burned, thinking ourselves wiser, but in actuality we've only put a barrier between our knowledge and God's wisdom.
            -Rob

          • Ignorant Amos

            A drink driver, while going home from the pub, hits a man at a crossing. When the drink driver gets his 4x4 into his garage, he realises that the guy is still lodged on the hood of his car, still alive, groaning for mercy..."get me some help, PLEASE!".

            In a state of panic, the driver runs into his house and hides for four days, all the while he hears the poor chap crying from the garage. Eventually the noise stops, the guy is dead. Felling bad the drunk driver goes to the authorities. He is charge, it is discovered if he had only got the poor guy hung up on his SUV some immediate help, he'd have been fine.

            So, the whole community castigates the Driver, and rightly so, what a ghastly piece of work he is. He had within his means to do something about a life or death situation, but chose do do nothing. What a piece of garbage.

            Did you know over 19,000 children die daily in Africa?

        • David Nickol

          I think you'll hear similar stories from many Catholics in this forum.

          I was born and raised Catholic, went to Catholic school for 12 years, and in high school even took the first steps toward becoming a Christian Brother (FSC not CFC), but doubts began to surface in high school, grow in college, and continue to grow even to this day. So I (along with many people who have posted here) am an exception to my own rule. If you were an atheist and/or materialist when you started school as a child (which I have a hunch is not the case) then you are an exception too. But the people who post here are not representative of the United States. Most people here know who Edward Feser and Daniel Dennett are, but I'd be willing to bet few average Americans do. Most people have some kind of religious influence touching them as they grow up, or 92% of Americans would not have said they believed in God in 2011. If the New Atheists or materialist scientists or philosophers have really converted any theists into atheists, I would assume the number is very small. I think the vast majority of people read authors like Feser, Dennet, Harris, and Craig to clarify for themselves, or collect arguments for, what they already believe.

          I am not saying this is a bad thing, either. I wouldn't want to take this too far, but I think there is much to be said for paying attention to your gut response or intuition. It can, of course, be disastrous to do so without constantly reminding yourself that you could be wrong. After all, bigotry is almost always the result of paying attention to your gut response or intuition. On the other hand, I think conscience is also largely a matter of gut response or intuition.

          Also, in arguments about religion, I am much more likely to be influenced by a religious person who seems caring, sincere, and compassionate than I am by someone who is off-putting and and knows the Summa Theologica backwards and forwards. If Jesus had spoken the way Edward Feser writes, he would have had no followers. I certainly do respect brilliance, but there are brilliant people on each side of almost every important debate.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Isn't it amazing how we can be so influenced by a person's humility? I recently watched a debate between Lawrence Krauss and W.L. Craig. I think if Krauss had been more mature / humble / gentle in his approach his arguments would have affected me a lot more than they did.

        • Jean_A_Bluestone

          Brandon, Are you willing to say why you banned me (Geena), without warning, and despite my extensive, detailed, informative and thoughtful contributions? -- Geena

          • Stjepan Marusic

            I've been following this site from the start, and I have loved the quality of the discussions here (though the articles less so, but that's fine). However, if you are going to start permanently banning productive, thoughtful posters without warning or explanation and retroactively deleting their posts, you have completely betrayed the stated goals of this site, and there is nothing for me here any longer.

      • I'm not interested in converting materialists. I'm interested in ending the pointless battles.

  • josh

    "While unfortunate, it is not surprising that the materialists would
    assail anyone who suggests that their presumption was wrong, for that
    could mean entire careers and deeply held convictions were, from the
    first steps, on the wrong path."

    Was this sentence found under the dictionary definition of 'projection'?

  • David Nickol

    Bunch of us just got banned, no warning, no explanation.

    I've
    written a few posts since I read this, but I am now feeling a bit
    guilty. Moderating this forum (especially for strongly committed
    Catholics) must be very difficult, and I think the approach has
    generally been admirably tolerant. But I think banning is a serious
    step, and banning without warning is even more serious.

    I am
    going to declare a personal, temporary moratorium on posting here until
    it becomes clear exactly what is going on.

    I only hope I can cope with
    the withdrawal symptoms.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I don't understand this either.

      Brandon, I would appreciate your perspective. I can appreciate that it must be difficult for you and the other moderators to apply a fine scalpel to ensure civilized debate, but to outside eyes this nuclear option seems unwarranted.

      I didn't read every single thing they wrote, but to my eyes Geena and Andre were quite respectful. Snark infects all of us at times, but I would have hoped that minor transgressions would be balanced against the sincere and very substantial efforts they made toward dialogue.

  • Casey Braden

    I think a distinction needs to be made between materialism and naturalism. Science requires naturalism, at least in the methodological sense, since it is only able to investigate causal relationships that are part of the natural world. There is no requirement in science to assert that nothing supernatural can exist, but there is a requirement to understand that the supernatural is something science really can't say anything about. I'm not sure we can say anything about whether the scientific method is limited, since we don't know the things that we don't know. But I think we can say that it is, at least currently, the best method that humans have discovered for discovering the ways in which the universe works.

    • BrianKillian

      The only reason I can see for calling the method of science 'naturalism' is to derive a fallacious argument like this:

      Methodological naturalism has been so awesomely successful, that philosophical naturalism just has to be true!

      However, the term 'naturalism' as used in 'methodological naturalism' and the term 'naturalism' as used in 'philosophical naturalism' have nothing in common, and they only play a semantic role in making fallacious arguments look pretty.

      It isn't naturalism when a piano teacher refrains from invoking God to teach his students piano. And it would be pretty silly to say "see how successful piano pedagogy is without God? This shows just how groundless the idea of God's existence is!"

      But that's the silliness that's invited by using 'naturalism' for the method of science.

      IMO.

      • Casey Braden

        I'm pretty sure that we're in agreement. Science requires methodological naturalism, and I think philosophical naturalism is an indefensible position that there could not actually be evidence for.

        • Martin Snigg

          The term 'methodological naturalism' at best is a sop to poor souls who still can't distinguish method from metaphysics. It's embrarrassment is that a tautology is thought to be doing useful conceptual work.
          "If, for example, you wanted to study and learn Euclid’s Elements you have to be “methodologically Euclidian” but this in no way commits you to Euclidianism, i.e. the claim that Lobachevsky’s or Reimann’s geometries were false; if you want to explain classical physics then you have to be “methologically Newtonian”, even if you think that Newtonianism is false." thomism.wordpress.com/?s="methodological+naturalism"

          • Martin, first, welcome to the site. But second, while you can freely disagree with methodological naturalism, there's no need to describe it in such derogatory terms. Please see our Commenting Policy which describes the level of charity and civil discourse we're aiming to promote here. Thanks!

          • Martin Snigg

            Understood mate. Thank you for all your efforts with site among other things.

          • Irenist

            Uh-oh. I think this new reader's comments may have crossed that line in a few places. (Runs away to read Commenting Policy ASAP.)

      • Argon

        Both Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins (cell and molecular biologists) have used 'methodological naturalism' as a description for the mode of science. Dr. Collins is Director of the NIH and an Evangelical who also helped create an organization, Biologos, to help navigate the waters of science & religious issues, particularly among Evangelicals. Dr. Miller is a Catholic who teaches at Brown. Both have frequently discussed the relationships between science and religion. I would recommend the Biologos website for the similarity of discussions and topics often presented here.

  • Ben Posin

    Brandon et al.:
    Could we please get confirmation as to who has recently been banned? Unless something really weird is going on with Disqus, it looks like Geena has been, and possibly others. I'm a bit shocked, as Geena's posts are about as intelligent and constructive as any I've ever seen, and are a large part of why I participate in this forum.
    You have the right to ban anyone you want. You also have the right not to tell anyone who you have banned, or why. But if that's what you're choosing to do, it would reflect poorly on your character, and to the extent that you are attempting to be an ambassador for Catholicism here, you'd be reflecting poorly on your church and religion. It's my hope that this is a disqus issue, and I'll find myself embarassed for thinking you'd act in this way, because such actions would show every claim you've made about the purpose of this site to be hollow and dishonest.

    • David Nickol

      You have the right to ban anyone you want. You also have the right not to tell anyone who you have banned, or why.

      I agree with this. The asylum does not belong to the inmates. But there is something 1984-ish about this development in that history, if not rewritten, has been erased. I think even Geena's helpful hints on HTML coding have disappeared.

      • Ben Posin

        Oh, certianly, if this is what's happened it's incredibly creepy, and cowardly, not to mention ironic, given the virtual ink spilled by apologists here trying to explain that Catholocism is about seeking truth and knowledge, and gets a bad rap for attempted censorship.

        • Michael Murray

          Andre Boillot has been banned. So that's him and Rob Tisinai as two definites.

          • Jean_A_Bluestone

            One whole month of Geena's posts were deleted.

            For heretics, the Catholic Church formally presents the charges and allows recantation and forgiveness and reconciliation. SN is apparently not so inclined.

          • Michael Murray

            Last time we had bannings and a very large group of us left there wasn't this wholesale deletion of posts. What a waste of Geena's time! Surely if a post from a month ago was deemed inappropriate it could have been dealt with a month ago.

            It's a real downside to Disqus that you can go to http://www.disqus.com and you can see your posts on the dashboard but the content you have there is not under your control. Whenever the site administrator chooses to delete it it's gone.

          • Susan

            So that's him and Rob Tisinai as two definites.

            And Geena.

            It seems likely that Josh, Andrew G and Mike A were also banned but no confirmation yet.

            I'm trying to figure out who else is MIA.

            Banned. No warning. Posts deleted.

          • Michael Murray

            Dave H and Cui Pertinebit.

          • Susan

            Dave H and Cui Pertinebit

            Seven so far. I wonder how many in total.

          • Jean_A_Bluestone

            The last month of SN articles' combox discussions are going to look a bit strange with all these deletions.

          • Mike

            Hi All,

            I received this nice post this morning, and didn't get a chance to respond before the comment was deleted. It was on an older article, but there seems to be more traffic here. I have included the comment from Geena in parenthesis, and my response below.

            (I appreciate your feedback and your gentle, clear style and your willingness to consider other points of view, Mike. I hope I have been able to be as respectful of your positions

            However, my main issue, actually, is not the church being eventually forgiving. My main issue is that those involved were not just parochially but also financially punished forsaving a woman's life in a situation which had about 100% chance of killing her if the pregnancy continued -- a situation for which nobody should even feel guilty about anything.)

            Hi Geena,

            I feel that you have been respectful of my
            positions. You are clearly passionate about your beliefs, which I hope we all
            are to one extent or another. (Side rant coming then I'll address your point).
            I never know what other's intentions are in posting here, mine is to dialogue
            with others, to get to know what they think, feel, believe. I'm not necessarily
            trying to convert others, or even convince them that my view is correct, but to
            exchange views, and I think by doing so the other intentions follow. When
            engaging in dialogue with others I think its important to come with an open
            mind, at least to me if both parties aren't willing to concede that they aren't
            100% correct its not really a dialogue, but more of two people yelling at each
            other. I can hear two people yelling at each other on my morning commute to
            work, I don't need to come to a website for that.

            Now to your point, given the surface
            understanding of the situation I would tend to agree with you. That said I'm
            not a bioethicist, and to be direct I don't have the time in my day to
            investigate it further. I don't know if the Church has a good explanation, but
            if it does I'm clearly not the right person to give it. In reading the comments
            here I find people (more often than I would like) comment or respond to a post
            when they don't have a good response, or clearly don't know enough to give a
            sufficient explanation.

            For example I find too many people feeling
            qualified to comment on particle physics because they saw a youtube video of
            Sean Carroll. As a side note, I have gotten the impression you are also a
            scientist, can I ask what field and what you work on?

            My personal opinion is that some people post
            responses because they want to have the last word in a conversation, or feel
            they need to say something. I know I'm not perfect on this subject either, but
            I prefer to remain silent and be thought a fool by the posters here, than post
            something I shouldn't and remove all doubt.

            In summary, I think to really advance these
            conversations (which I think are worth having) we need to have commenters who
            have the right background. I mean from what I've seen in my limited time here
            there are maybe two dozen regular commenters here, and I think the
            conversations on SN would be better if we had more people with the right
            backgrounds to have these conversations.

            Sorry for the long post!

          • Jean_A_Bluestone

            Susan, You have my authorization to share my contact info if anyone asks -- but only if you think it will not cause a problem for you, or if you invite the requester to see your post at a friendlier site, such as at the end of a combox for some older blog post of one of the blogs at patheos.com/Atheist.html . (My phoenix alias 'contact info' posts for Geena have already been deleted, so I suspect the rest will soon follow.)

          • Susan

            Susan, You have my authorization to share my contact info if anyone asks

            Thanks Geena. I'd be happy to pass it along.

          • Susan

            Hi Geena,

            Please post it one more time. I thought I'd copied and pasted it earlier and I can't seem to find it. It won't last long but I'll get it right this time.

            Sorry and thank you.

          • Jean_A_Bluestone

            g   r   e   e   n dash s   a   p   p   h   i   r   e at h   ot   ma   il &nbsp dot c   o   m

            b   a   n   n   e   d dash n   o     wa   rn   in   g. dash 1 m   o   nt   h of p   o   s   t   s, g   o   n   e.

          • Susan

            g r e e n dash s a p p h i r e at h ot ma il dot c o m

            Perfect. Thank you. Got it.

        • Jean_A_Bluestone

          gre   en dash sa   ph   i   re at ho   tma   il dot c   om

          G   ee   na he   re. Ba   nn   ed dash no   wa   rn   in   g

      • Octavo

        If Geena's been banned with no explanation, I don't see the point in commenting anymore. Eventually, someone will just delete everything I've ever written here.

        • Jean_A_Bluestone

          g   r   e   e   n dash s   a
            p   p   h   i   r   e
          at h   ot   ma   il &nbsp dot c   o
            m

          b   a   n   n   e   d dash n   o  
            wa   rn
            in   g

    • Michael Murray

      If you look at the comment box below an article there is a Community drop down menu. That used to show a very long list of people active on the site. I can't make it do that now -- I just see Top Commentators. If you can get the long list you can tell who has been banned because they don't appear anymore.

    • Michael Murray

      Rob Tisinai has confirmed on Twitter that he has been banned. So I think it's a safe assumption that everybody else who is MIA is likewise banned. Don't expect too much explanation. We didn't get much last time.

      Looks like I am off again.

    • Moussa Taouk

      Is there a standard that ought to be kept for self-preservation on this site? Did the people who got dismissed not keep this standard? I can't say I've ever seen Geena say too much that didn't make me think. I suppose Rob's comments didn't usually resonate with me as being of the most enlightening quality. But then again if only highly intellectual people are allowed to contribute... I'm sure I should have been banned by now.

      Do people get any warnings before being banned?

      Some clarity around this issue would be good.

      • Jean_A_Bluestone

        Zero warning. Just woke up this morning and a month of my posts were deleted. No response yet to my message to Brandon. -Ge   e     na

        • Susan

          Zero warning. Just woke up this morning and a month of my posts were deleted.

          There was no warning to the last batch either or at least not to the people whose reports I heard afterward.

          Brandon said he warned them but there was no evidence of that and reports from the people who'd been banned said they had been given no warning.

          In this latest purge, the comments have been deleted.

          The conduct speaks for itself, really. There's no point in me stating the obvious.

      • Michael Murray

        Do people get any warnings before being banned?

        The official answer I think is yes but I know people who will deny this such as Geena.

        Some clarity around this issue would be good.

        You will be fine. For a theist to get banned their behaviour has to be very obnoxious which yours is definitely not.

    • Stjepan Marusic

      Well said. Geena was one of my favorite posters too. And the worst part is that not only the "offending" posts (whatever they were) got deleted, but ALL their posts a month back at least. No notice, no explanation, nothing. And since these were prolific posters that always had substantial and intelligent contributions to any topic, this makes the last month of discussions on this site unreadable, with people responding and commenting posts and ideas that are no longer there.

      Not just preventing people from posting, but removing them from history... I just can't fathom how a site that started out so well could make such a terrible move. Even ignoring what this says about the site's intellectual honesty, it's also terrible in the sense that any newcomer will find many discussions garbled and unreadable, and won't return.

      Though I have been an avid reader, I honestly don't think the site, still in its infancy, can survive this, at least not without losing most of the quality and openness it had up to now.

  • Paul Boillot

    To those who were interested in others' points of view: I wish you the best of luck.

    To those who claimed they wanted to hear other points of view, and then deleted them: your reward is your punishment.

  • Gary Bararona

    So, are you really just going to clear the decks like this without any comment at all? I had very little respect for Brandon but this is beyond the pale.

    • Stjepan Marusic

      It seems so. It bothers me a bit that all trace of this travesty will be lost, and newcomers will likely be unaware of what will happen when the next purge comes: all their posts will get deleted, not just the "offending" ones. That's not a good feeling, I'm sure.

      • Octavo

        They wiped out my posts on this article as well.

        This mass purge has been quite unethical. I don't think I'll be coming back to Strange Notions since the mods are not as interested in civil discussion as they claimed.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Gary Bararona

          I'll keep tabs on this just in case an explanation does come. But, with nearly all of the interesting posters gone, there is very little point in reading comments any more. The articles are largely garbage but the comments section almost always had something worthwhile (and 100% of the good stuff came from the atheists) but I can't see how that can continue.

        • gwen saul

          Exactly. I've wasted too much time here already. A benign comment I made earlier today was censored without my knowledge or permission.

      • Paul Boillot

        Deleted posts are still contained in the HTML of the page. You have to view the "page source," but everything that offends Brandon is still there; you just have to dig for it.

    • Peter Piper

      Brandon: moderating with a heavy hand is ok, since you are very explicit that you will do it. But it would help build trust if you were more transparent about it. Maybe you could have a page where you list people who you have banned, together with two or three banworthy comments by those people? This would make your standards much clearer. Also, perhaps you should be more explicit on the MUST READ page about your policy of occasionally removing all comments by a particular person in a thread, even if only some of those comments violated the guidelines.

      • Danny Getchell

        Actually what I think Brandon has to do is to ban everybody who has ever engaged in a series of comments with the personae non gratae. After all, it's pretty obvious to us when Geena, Andre, etc. vanish overnight.

        Then it would be possible to start the whole site over afresh. Especially with a whole cadre of seminarians "accidentally" wandering into the comboxes.

  • Paul Boillot

    I'm posting this at top-level for easy-of-visibility, it seems like a good way to end my SN run.

    For the record, this is in response to Conscious Objector's post.

    "seems you're running away" & "irrational materialism"

    It would be easy to respond in-kind to you with sarcasm and acerbity. I could also engage with you on substance of your questions about "non-material" sources of consciousness.

    But I won't do either.

    You've just shown up, haven't put in the time or effort to read through the thousands of comments on dozens of pages that were here before you arrived, and yet claimed that "things are getting interesting" because...you're talking.

    Don't flatter yourself. 95 percent of the people who were interesting to listen to and interact with have been banned or have left of their own accord.

    When this comment gets deleted, you'll be able to tool around blissfully in your bubble, believing that you have knock-em-dead arguments that no one can challenge. (unless some more hapless atheists wander in here)

    You'll be able to assume that because most of the people who disagree with you have been pushed away. The webmaster has done this either directly, through post deletion and retroactive-deletion, or indirectly as people have reacted to his one-part smarmy, one-part reading-comprehension-challenged, one-part vicious, one-part zealous, two-parts unintentionally-hilarious and four-parts creepy personality.

    The one guy who has given you an up-vote is the webmaster, @Brandon Vogt:disqus .

  • mriehm

    One problem with this essay is that it attempts to conflate a wide range of subjective experiences together - including scholarship, innovation, knowledge, art, beauty, love, virtue, spirituality, and religion - and then categorically distinguish these from a materialistic world view.

    I hold a materialistic, scientific world view, so I reject the latter two. But I embrace the others.

    • Irenist

      While I don't doubt that you personally are tasteful, loving, and virtuous, how can one embrace the possibility of objective judgments in aesthetics or ethics with any logical coherence without positing a Summum Bonum?

      (If you're entirely a relativist, then feel free to ignore the question.)

  • mriehm

    The main problem with the application of a subjective, spiritual world view to analyze the universe is that subjectivity is so... subjective.

    Paraphrasing Gandhi, there are as many subjective interpretations of the universe as there are believers. So if you discard materialism, you open up to a bewildering array of explanations for our existence, and you have no tool to distinguish between them.

    • Sean Healy

      I agree that metaphysics largely becomes conjecture as we do not have the tools to properly investigate what lies beyond the material world. For myself though I have come to accept that there is a primary base existence from which our physical material world springs. For me this was evident when the observer effect experiments in quantum mechanics wrote consciousness into the laws of physics (Eugene Wigner 1963) and the Bell Inequality experiments heavily suggested that the base of our reality was non local (John Bell 1985).

      • Susan

        For me this was evident when the observer effect experiments in quantum mechanics wrote consciousness into the laws of physics

        What do you mean?

        • Sean Healy

          What shook me out of atheism was my study of how the Observer Effect in quantum physics worked in such experiments as The Delayed Choice Double Slit experiment. The change in how matter behaved (as a particle or wave) was directly related to the knowledge of sentient beings. There have been many creative experiments that show this. From my previous ideas of scientific materialism, the laws of physics which determine how matter interacts should have nothing to do with what a scientist ( or any human ) knows at the time. As Eugene Wigner (Nobel prize winner for physics) said "I could not formulate the laws of quantum theory without reference to consciousness.'

          • David Nickol

            From my previous ideas of scientific materialism, the laws of physics which determine how matter interacts should have nothing to do with what a scientist ( or any human ) knows at the time.

            Here's a question, though. The universe is about 13.8 billion years old. Modern humans date back maybe 50,000 to 100,000 years, but let's be generous and go back to before Earth was formed 4.54 billion years ago. For the first 9 billion years or so, how did matter know what to do without anyone observing it?

          • Sean Healy

            That is exactly the question. The only reasonable answer, I believe, is that not only was there a conscious being(s) before humanity arrived, but a conscious being(s) before the laws of physics arrived 13.8 billion years ago.

          • David Nickol

            How else can we reasonably account for consciousness being written into the laws of physics?

            Is consciousness really in the laws of physics in the way you seem to suggest? It does not seem to me that a conscious observer is necessary in order for events to take place. Galaxies did not even begin to form until about 200 million years after the big bang. Any intelligent life could not have come along until long after that. And I don't think God can be counted as an observer. I don't think it makes sense even to say that God is conscious. (Although saying that God is not conscious, if God does indeed exist, is different from saying a rock is not conscious.) I don't see how a being who is omniscient and outside of time can be thought of as on observer (in the quantum-theory sense).

          • Sean Healy

            As the physicist Paul Davies has said - it seems remarkable that the laws of physics saw us coming.'

          • Susan

            The change in how matter behaved (as a particle or wave) was directly related to the knowledge of sentient beings.

            How so?

            There have been many creative experiments that show this.

            Such as?

            From my previous ideas of scientific materialism, the laws of physics which determine how matter interacts should have nothing to do with what a scientist ( or any human ) knows at the time.

            How do they?

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DGgvE6hLAU#t=10&hd=1

          • Sean Healy

            Hello Susan,

            The ‘how so’ and ‘how do they’ questions can be answered in the same way. That is, basic matter behaves in two very different ways – as particles and as waves. The isolated variable on why they behave differently is the state of (potential) knowledge of an observer.
            From an atheistic materialist philosophy this cannot be considered reasonable because conscious knowledge is supposed to be a random product of a purposeless
            universe, not written into the laws of how matter (the universe) works from the very beginning.

            It is as my earlier quote from agnostic physicist South Australian Paul Davies and Templeton prize winner explains, ‘it is as if the laws of physics saw us coming’.

            The guy in the video (let’s call him Video Man) is very passionate but doesn’t say a great deal, He seems to be
            criticizing the New Age Writings of Gary Zukav

            http://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Wu-Li-Masters-Overview/dp/0060959681

            I have read a few chapters of this book and would be critical too, but Video Man really needed to be specific
            with his objections and refer to scientific experiments to support his viewpoint. In fact he really needed to state clearly what his viewpoint was.

            He is criticizing points of view on quantum physics which are contrary to his own (which I assume is materialism
            but again he didn’t say).
            He is also critical that ‘these people’ he is arguing
            against don’t quote ‘proper physicists’. I have quoted Wigner and Davies, two distinguished physicists.

            I will also quote Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, two fathers of quantum physics and another two Nobel prize
            winner for physics in their own right –

            “the idea of an objective real world whose smallest parts exist objectively in the same sense as stones or trees exist, independently of whether or not we observe them … is impossible …” Neils Bohr

            “The concept of the objective reality of the elementary particles has thus evaporated…” Heisenberg.

            If one wants to give an accurate description of the
            elementary particle. . .the only thing which can be written down as description is a probability function. But then one sees that not even the quality of being. . .belongs to what is described. Heisenberg.

            Both of these distinguished physicists point to their pioneering study of quantum physics leading to a
            questioning of matter as an objective primary reality. Werner also says :
            ‘The first gulps from the drink of natural science will make you an atheist, but God is waiting for you at the bottom of the glass.’

            This contradicts Video Man’s assertion that the questioning of objective reality (the primary material
            universe) was not supported by physicists.

            Many materialistic physicists struggle with the idea that an immaterial non local force lies behind their
            field of study.

            Einstein had similar objections as this article in Physics Today by physicist David Mermin explained in April 1985:

            http://classes7.com/download.php?id=37736

            As Video Man conceded, the fact that matter on the other side of the universe instantaneously changes it’s
            characteristics because of a conscious detection of an entangled particle on this side, is a scientific fact.
            It was the outcome of one of the experiments I mentioned earlier which pointed to a ‘non local universe.’ A universe that looks on the macro scale to look work as local ‘cause and effect’ but actually doesn't.
            This was the Bell Inequality Experiment and is also highlighted in Mermin’s above link on Einstein.

            Video Man seems to want to acknowledge ‘weird stuff’ at the quantum level but then not acknowledge that
            the macro level reality is made from what happens at the micro level.

            As mentioned before there are many experiments that have been devised to show how the universe works at the
            micro level which are pertinent to this discussion. I have mentioned two previously – The Bell Inequality and the Delayed Choice Double Split Experiment.

            Others are Einstein’s thought experiment involving cooling matter (later completed after his death); another is the Quantum Zeno effect experiment; another is measuring the spin of electrons at different points in a circuit, controlling for conscious knowledge of the previous readings; and yet another is the Gendanken experiment.

            In the above link from Physicist David Mermin I notice he mentions some of these also.

            I am travelling through S.E. Asia at the moment so can only drop in occasionally.
            I look forward to your comments on the scientific interpretations of the experiments mentioned.

          • Susan

            That is, basic matter behaves in two very different ways – as particles and as waves.

            It's fields.

            (Introductions end around the 2 minute mark).

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwdY7Eqyguo

            I look forward to reading your comments on the scientific interpretations of the experiments mentioned.

            You'd do better to look into what physicists and neuroscientists have to say on the subject in 2014 and even philosophers who have taken the time to look into the evidence that these disciplines have produced on the subject of "consciousness".

            What do you mean when you say "consciousness"?

          • Michael Murray

            Sean, Susan has beaten me to the reply I was going to give which was the link to your namesake.

            Note also that the idea that "observer" in quantum theory has to be some kind of sentient being is very much a minority position. The vast majority of physicists would equate "observer" to "classical measuring device".

            By the way Paul Davies was only at the University of Adelaide for a short period of time so I'm not sure we would claim him as a South Australian. He was born in London.

          • Sean Healy

            Sean Carrol uses the model of fields to describe the canvas of our perceptible reality. Others use strings, others 9 or 13 dimensional space folded in on each other, etc.
            As an aside these theories are a continuation from the 1740’s with the Italio-Croatian Catholic priest Joseph
            Boscovich. He theorised that our perceptible reality was made from atoms containing dimensionless points caught in fields of attraction (and of repulsion at very close distances). He theorised that it was the different
            arrangements of these points that led to the different properties of matter, such as strength, conductivity etc.
            We know Maxwell read Boscovich, used his terminology and pioneered field theory. We know Faraday read Boscovich, used his terminology and pioneered particle physics.

            How the universe behaves with regards to consciousness though is independent of the different models which seek to explain what it is made from. The video of Sean Carrol did not address the consciousness involvement in the workings of our reality.
            Whatever is the best model to think about our reality, we know it behaves in different ways, categorised as particle behaviour and wave behaviour. We also know from
            the experiments mentioned previously that consciousness plays an important role on whether matter behaves as a particle or a wave,

            Michael, it is definitely not simply a detection device
            which causes the difference but a conscious detection (or a potential conscious detection).

            It would be amazing enough if it was simply a detection
            device. How would an elementary wave/field etc ‘know’ it has entered a Geiger counter and it should start acting like a particle. How does it know the Geiger counter
            is turned on? Or if it is working properly?

            The above experiments provided in previous posts show clearly it is even more than a measuring device that causes particle behaviour. We can set up many different kinds of circuits and make matter traverse it. We can place lots of measuring devices at different parts of the circuit. We can record the data to computer and then decide afterwards whether to destroy or keep the data at different sections.
            The results of whether matter acts as a wave or particle always corroborates with what we know (or potentially can know) about the matter beforehand. As I mentioned previously with the quote from the Nobel prize winner Eugene Wigner, there’s no getting around consciousness being at the heart of physical law. The obvious question is why? Which leads I believe to an even more obvious answer.

            The best examples of these circuit experiments are with
            electron ‘spins’ but I have included a link to a 6 part short video explaining the results of the Delayed choice Double Split experiment. In total, it is a touch shorter than the Sean Carrol video and sets the history and theory in the first 3 videos before looking at the results of the experiment in the 4th video.
            I would like to hear your comments regarding the nature of our universe that this (or other experiments provided) shows.
            Michael, to say again, the delayed choice experiment clearly demonstrates it is conscious knowledge and not a measuring device which effects how matter will behave.

            As a disclaimer, I have no connection with the website
            provided nor endorse any other of the material it houses. I’m simply using their videos because of the clarity and thoroughness of the presentation.

            http://www.bottomlayer.com/

            Down the page. 2nd link titled Video Presentation of
            the Double Slit Experiments.

          • Michael Murray

            Michael, it is definitely not simply a detection device

            which causes the difference but a conscious detection (or a potential conscious detection).

            It would be amazing enough if it was simply a detection
            device. How would an elementary wave/field etc ‘know’ it has entered a Geiger counter and it should start acting like a particle. How does it know the Geiger counter
            is turned on? Or if it is working properly?

            It doesn't matter if the Geiger counter is turned. All that matters is that it is a big enough assembly of particles that quantum effects no longer are important we can regard it as classical.

            Wigner was certainly a great physicist but his concerns go back to the beginnings of quantum theory to a time when physicists where still trying got sort out what was happening.

          • Sean Healy

            Hi Michael,
            as with the delayed choice double slit experiment above : we can hook any measuring device (Geiger counter included) to record data. We can make this process part of a bigger experiment and the decision to destroy or keep the data will affect the results of the how the matter behaves and is recorded in a later part of the experiment.
            The results clearly show this. I would be very open if you could show me that it doesn't. But you must point to an experiment which shows this. Saying a big enough group of particles stops the quantum affect has to be backed up by experiments. Otherwise it has no strength behind it.
            As video guy conceded in Susan's first video, entangled particles react instantaneously over any space large or small. Video man brought up the distance of the whole universe.
            As my video experiment shows, the turning off of the detectors at the double slits (hence no potential knowledge) changed the way in which the matter behaves. In that case from particle to wave. The detectors were still there. Still it was a large group of atoms which did not stop the matter from acting as waves.
            The detectors had to be turned on AND the data had to be available to be viewed by a conscious observer.
            I am open to experimental arguments to the contrary. But they have to be based on experimental findings.

          • Michael Murray

            OK let me go and think about the delayed slit experiment. It might be awhile !

  • Anton

    We can't broaden the definition of science without legitimizing a broad range of extremely questionable pursuits. If anyone who can spell the word evidence gets to call what he does science, there's no way to discern between responsible empirical or historical inquiry and total numbnuttery like Intelligent Design or 9/11 Truth. Science isn't supposed to involve assembling factoids willy-nilly to support one's prejudices. It's supposed to be about forming a coherent, inclusive, testable framework in which we interpret the results of future empirical research.

    However, this also means that we have to realize what's legitimate territory for scientific inquiry and what isn't. We deserve to question the validity of applying the scientific method to all facets of human endeavor, whether or not the issue in question is truly empirical and testable. For instance, the notion of memes as a rhetorical shorthand may be acceptable, but their scientific validity isn't.

    I happen to agree with Gelernter's critique. The illusion of objectivity that modern scientific inquiry has developed makes it hard to point out to people that the View from Nowhere (in Thomas Nagel's words) isn't the only perspective that makes sense. I share Gelernter's disdain for the machine fantasies that are the only models of human life and cognition that people seem to think have value. These anti-human notions have long outlived their usefulness to neuroscience, and we're overdue for a better model.

  • SM637

    “Scientists should be encouraged, not impugned, for studying
    evolution insofar as it involves physical things. Evolution teaches us about
    the diversity of life, and these discoveries push us to think harder about what
    it means to be human.”

    May I ask how you define the term “evolution”?

    • Briefly explained here, http://stacytrasancos.com/teach-kids-evolution/

      Thank you!

      • SM637

        Hi Stacy, thank you--I have read your previous post, and responded to it as S.M. at the end of the comments (had to login through disqus this time, thus the different handle).

        May I presume that you define evolution in the following statement:

        "That offspring differ from their parents, and as such, sometimes respond
        to environments differently can be observed and quantified. The change
        in populations over time can be measured, and is the basis of
        evolutionary science."

        But is the change in populations that we can currently observe and quantify sufficient enough to extrapolate into the past in order to account for the change in populations that would have been required if all biologic organisms are descended from a single-celled common ancestor? What do we currently observe about the limits to genetic change, or are there any limits at all?

        • Oh so sorry I didn't respond. (I can barely keep up with email.) I don't think that is answerable with any certainty. I'm not an evolutionary biologist, so my knowledge is based on what I've read of the work of others. It is possible that all diversity evolved from a single cell, but scientifically there is no way to prove it. The idea is more an image in the mind where with the mind's eye we imagine that over enough time, and with the right conditions, living things slowly evolved by genetic mutation and natural selection to what they are today. It's a metaphysical (beyond physical) explanation. So is it possible? It's possible, and in the greater context of faith, if that's how God created bodies to change, then that's how they changed. There's no conflict with faith as long as evolution is not taken as proof of materialism, which it never could be anyway.

          What is currently observed? There are plenty examples of speciation, but all that means is that animals can change over enough generations to exhibit different characteristics or to be unable to breed with the original species. The definition of species is man-made, a way of classifying in retrospect what already existed or exists now. I like this link: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/100201_speciation

          It's worth noting that marine biologists only estimate that 1/4 of marine life has even been discovered. (Of course they don't know the actual total, that's an estimate too.) http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704847104575532031662747228

          What are the limits? I don't know, but scientists have observed that phenotypes do change through selective breeding. What is observed is limited to the number of generations that can be studied. Dr. Ted Garland's work is fascinating, fast-running mice. http://biology.ucr.edu/people/faculty/Garland/Experimental_Evolution_Publications_by_Ted_Garland.html

          I think you asked whether man will evolve to another species? That remains to be seen. We don't know. Some say no. Some say yes. Some say we will guide our own evolution. I think it's an interesting topic, but any opinion is speculation.

          I hope some of that helps.

  • Miguel Adolfo.

    I read, in a book about athomic theory, that within physic, everything which was impossible for us to know, had to be discarded, Well, that hardly can be considered "unfair" in the realm of scientific research; no one can research something totally outside of human capacity to know. My problem is that, to my (limited? Too limited?) knowledge, that principle seems to have been extrapolated to claim, for example, that there is no causality at the quantic level, when, to my knowledge, the fact is that we can not know or test if there is or not -but I have heard repeatedly in documentaries and so that denying- or the argument from the burden of the proof in order to deny the existence of God.

    For me, there is a radical, even if philosophycal, difference between what we can know and what can exist, and the limits of the first shouldn't be assumed as the limits of the second.

    Now, even if I am agiant been to picky with words (I just wrote a message toward David Nickol on that) I will have to -mea culpa-: In a quote the word "individualism" is praised, and surely collectivism as "real socialism" performed it is quite perjudicial to spiritual grow. But I can hardly consider "individualism" an acceptable alternative:

    "Individualism" can perfectly fit, and often does, with egoism, egotism and the like, and normaly spiritual development, as much as is meant to produce one form or another of personal -and then yes, individual- development, is also meant to increase the capacity of the individual person to care about others.

    I know that, today, in general usage of language, there is no difference between "individual" and "personal", and their derivates. Nevertheless, I think in the Christian tradition there is a very important difference indeed: In the development and calrifying of the doctrine -and understandign- of the Holy Trinity, emerged the concept of person as, yes, an individual entity with a unique identity, but also, if not always at least many times, in connection and relation to other persons, each unique in its identity, but similar in its -sorry for the term- essence.

    Not to say that the experience of love, in many of its manifestacions, produce both, a depeening of the personal condition of the one who loves, and a greater concern in that person for the loved.

    What I try to express is that, since the concept of "person" can embrace both, the individue and his cairng connection to others, and therefore the notion of "community" or "felowship", it sounds more christian to me. even if I have to assume the fact that, in current parlance, there woulnd't be any etihcal improvement on refering to "personalism" instead of "individualism".

    And then, possibly, that could be the time for a longer explanation... Maybe?