Saturday, December 3, 2016

Friday (belated) Roundup

The post-modern and physics…it’s perspective all the way down; and, we are not machines...

Is another dichotomy falling?  Is it time to revise the theory of evolution?

This looks like an interesting book and is on my list…

Seems reassuring despite a nickname like “Mad Dog” …

Indeed, “perhaps” it is true…

Many (most?) Trump supporters are fragile, insecure, and emotional weaklings…the typical bully…

Oh, how I love the Onion…though satire—this explains much of the vote for Trump…

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Whence the Agnosticism Now?

So, we’ve learned a lot through the comment threads from the last several posts.   We now know there were things “heard” and quite a bit of “reading into” things no one was asserting or saying; in fact, things I have never heard anyone say.  Apparently, Bernard has thought that all this time when Christians (at least) would assert they believed (knew) morality to be objective and universally true (which is simply to say they had the prior belief God existed) that they were, at the very same time, telling us they “knew” this by divine intervention in their brains.

Just let that sit there for a moment.  Let that sink in.  There is not one Christian philosopher or theologian, ancient, or otherwise, of any recognized credibility, that I am aware of that has ever asserted such a thing.  Ever.  I certainly have never asserted such a thing.  But this is what Bernard has been “hearing”.  I have no idea though where this came from.  His objection then, all this time, was to something no one was asserting and, as far as I know, no one believes.  A complete straw-man then.  One can go back several posts and see this.  It was what he meant by the question asked repeatedly in a previous post regarding “how” the knowledge “got in” our brains.  This was a mind boggling question at the time, but now I see what he meant.  Of course, no one was even asserting such a thing.

Even if no one was asserting such a thing, and Bernard was thinking this is what would have to be meant by “knowing”, regardless of anyone’s claim—why would it have anything to do with brain states?  Why in this one instance (an assertion of moral realism or God’s existence) would “knowing” this, when all one means is “believes” or has “concluded” such mean a divine intervention in brain states, as opposed to every other philosophical conclusion?  Putting that all aside, one should address the argument a person is making, not the one he thinks they are making, especially after one knows the true argument being made. 

We “know” what we know philosophically/theologically the same way anyone “knows” what they know (believes) about such matters, through holistic reasoning that takes in and reflects upon a wide and varied survey of information, including science, our experiences, and so on.  As is very clear from the Stanford link and just about every credible source anyone would care to consult, the way (“mechanism”—what a poor choice of words) anyone “knows” any philosophical truth is holistically—which is reasoning by taking into consideration a plethora of information and experiences, in community.  What this means is that neither our philosophical presuppositions, nor our conclusions can be founded or proved empirically/scientifically, but regardless could reflect “true” statements about existence.

As an aside, if what Bernard and JP wanted to know was how and why we choose the philosophical narratives we do, why we think them true, or the narrative that best describes, not just the physical world, but existence comprehensively, all they needed do is ask themselves how they chose theirs (we all have them).  They reasoned to it.  As far as contrasting philosophical narratives and reflecting upon one’s own, why we might consider one narrative false and another true, I have posted on that before and both were involved in that conversation.  They are welcome to peruse those posts and conversations again.  Perhaps now those posts will make better sense and Bernard and JP may better understand why their objections were, considering what we now know, off the mark then as well.

So, Bernard has tried to bracket out Christians, and, I guess all those who hold the belief that morality is objective and universal as “doing” something different than what he thinks he is doing.  Well, hopefully we all see now that no one is doing something different.  We claim nothing different than the same process he (or any rational person) uses to reach the conclusions they do of a religious or philosophical nature, even if those conclusions are that the other guy’s views clash with science.  That assertion is a philosophical claim, not a scientific one.  It is reached through the same holistic process of reasoning we all use and it has nothing to do with brain states or divine intervention.

Where much of this was given away was in Bernard’s admission he did not mean by “know” and “true” in an empirical/scientific sense.  As even Burk knew, Bernard’s argument melted away right there, putting aside the fact it was a straw-man to begin with.  If someone is not claiming they mean to “know” something is “true” in an empirical/scientific sense, then brain states and a claim of a clash with science logically go out the window.  And even Burk thought the “brain states” idea a side “adventure”, something he clearly thought wasn’t even worth addressing as he refused to even address any of the questions regarding “brain states” I gave Bernard.

To make matters worse, in addition to all this time arguing against a straw-man, we learn that Bernard (and JP) was also confusing the two senses of something being relative.  Bernard told us that because philosophical conclusions are true relative to their presuppositions, this meant truth was relative and not objective and that I was a relativist.  Here are just a couple of his statements:

“…We all reason our way from presuppositions to conclusions, and hence our conclusions can only be thought of as true relative to these suppositions…”

False.  The fact our conclusions are relative to our presuppositions DOES NOT mean our conclusions can only be thought true in the sense they logically follow our presuppositions.  Everyone knows this.  Everyone knows that one can have conclusions that logically follow (are relative to) their presuppositions but are possibly false conclusions or true ones.  The truthfulness or falsity of our conclusions have nothing to do with our conclusions following (being relative to) our presuppositions.

This is the difference between a valid argument and one that has true conclusions.  Here is an example:

All toasters are items made of gold
All items made of gold are time-travel devices.
Therefore, all toasters are time-travel devices.

The argument above has a conclusion that is “relative” to its premise, or presupposition, so it is a valid argument.  However, it’s conclusion is false.  All valid arguments are “relative” in this way, but that doesn’t mean their conclusions are relative in the sense of confirming a conclusion that morality is relative (or objective for that matter).  One of those conclusions is false, while both conclusions are relative to their premises.

“Yes indeed. You are a relativist. You think you come to beliefs that are relative to your starting assumptions, and we have no way of adjudicating between opposing moral beliefs…”

False.  I am a moral realist.  And let’s just be honest, when Bernard claims here that I am a relativist, he wasn’t just pointing out the trivially true, the obvious fact we all reason to conclusions that “follow” (are relative to) our presuppositions.  If that had been his point, I would have thanked him for the compliment—it would be like exclaiming: “Yes, indeed, you are logical—you make valid arguments!”  He clearly meant this in a “gotcha” sense however- that I was “really” a relativist, which means he indeed was completely confusing the two senses of “relative”.

I think when he realized this he tried to sweep it away by claiming it was only a word game or semantics.  It is in no way just a word game or semantics—it is critical we understand the difference in the two senses of “relative” in a conversation like this one.

JP made the same mistake:

“Moral knowledge refers to what we know of these truths. Under your approach, this knowledge is relative to world views.”

Wrong for the same reasons.  “Relative” to world-view simply means one makes a valid argument, one that follows—it is everyone’s approach we hope!  It has nothing to do with whether morality is “relative” or objective.  Everyone’s knowledge, what they think they know “of these truths”, even the knowledge we can’t know anything about them is “relative” to their world-view.  One is only pointing out the obvious here (as Ron noted—it is trivially true) while mistakenly thinking they are commenting upon the question of knowing if our conclusions are “really” true or not.  Two different things entirely.

And I do (we all do) have a way of adjudicating between opposing ethical assertions or the narratives from which they arise.  When a Christian or moral realist claims that morality is universal and objective, how do they “know” this?  And there is no need to break it down any further, for instance to ask: “How do you know torture is wrong?”  The question as to any specific ethical stance is still based upon the same type of knowing and the greater question still goes to whether morality is objective and universal or relative and subjective, as any specific claim is still understood from one of those perspectives.  This would be true even if it were two moral realists who disagree regarding a specific moral assertion.  Since the disagreement cannot be adjudicated empirically/scientifically, it can only be adjudicated by reasoned argument, by contrasting and discussing the differing reasons, and in what believing such has actually produced historically (this is not an argument from pragmatism-but a normal part of the reasoning process-one of the factors any rational person considers).  As we all know, this certainly hasn’t settled these issues or disagreements to everyone’s satisfaction, but cultures and entire civilizations do tend, by consensus, to affirm certain ethical stances over others and believed them to be “true” and not just in relation to them.  Unfortunately, many times the adjudication happens violently as world wars and the need for police forces attest.  For the most part however, the adjudication is peaceful and through reasoned debate and the passing of laws.

Are these types of disputes settled or adjudicated like a dispute over an empirical matter would be?  Of course not, how silly.  What would that even mean?  Would they weigh, measure, run tests on, the two different answers?  But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a consensus that develops, wherein a person or culture can assert that the other person or culture is “wrong” and in fact this is what we have done since recorded time and do now.  As noted above, the assertion of their being “wrong” would not be simply relative to us or relative to our presuppositions, but an assertion of the violation of an objective and universal ethical assertion (taking an innocent life is wrong/evil), which may indeed be a true conclusion (or a false one).

This always leads to the next question (which has been covered in past posts): If two people disagree as to whether something is morally right or wrong, or even if morality is relative as opposed to being objective, doesn’t this fact alone mean morality is relative?  No, it doesn’t.  It just means there is disagreement.  It just means someone is wrong.  This always leads to the follow-up question: How do we know who is wrong then—how do we adjudicate this?  Well, since we all agree (except Burk) that by “know” we do not mean empirically/scientifically then how else would we proceed, how else could we “know” who is wrong?  Any ideas?

If one accepts the presupposition that not all knowledge is founded empirically/scientifically, then he must be open to other justifications for “knowing” or claiming the other person is “wrong” or holds a false belief.  Let’s pause right there.  If throughout the last comment section, unless one was being disingenuous, when we were told by “know” and “true” one did not mean in the sense of empirically/scientifically, he was, at the same time, accepting the presupposition that there are other ways to “know” what is “true”.  At the end of this post, I will ask for clarification however.

If he was truly accepting that presupposition, he will then also accept the fact that one is never going to prove the other person wrong in an empirical fashion, unless the other person is making some sort of empirical/scientific claim to begin with.  If a person tells us he believes torture is wrong based upon some empirical and scientific finding, he is then open to being disproved by those same methods.  However, if a person claims torture is wrong based upon metaphysical and philosophical grounds, he is not then open to being disproved upon empirical/scientific grounds.  He is open however to being shown his argument contains logical fallacies, or that the philosophical narrative he inhabits, that leads to his assertions, isn’t compelling or doesn’t align with the good, the true, and beautiful.  Anticipating the next question (How do we know what is good, true, and beautiful?), see the many previous posts wherein this was discussed (and in which Bernard, JP, and Burk participated).

Now, they could take the path Burk takes which is one of scientism/empiricism.  They could assert by “know” that they do mean empirically/scientifically because such is the only way we can “know” if something is “true” or exists.  I think this would be the most logical argument to make to end up where they seem to want to, which is to make it so that if one does claim morality is objective, there is a “problem” with science.  It still wouldn’t be a clash with science, but a clash with scientism/empiricism, but it would logically follow (I at least will give that to Burk).

So, given what we now know, let’s consider again Bernard’s peculiar way of being “agnostic”.  Here, as far as I can tell, was Bernard’s initial claim:

1. Let’s stipulate God may exist, and therefore morality may exist derivative to God existing.
2. However, we can’t claim any knowledge of either; or, if we do, any such claim would be     problematic from a scientific understanding.
3. Therefore, we should remain agnostic regarding God and morality existing objectively/universally.

Well, since we know Bernard agreed he didn’t mean “knowledge” in the sense of empirical/scientific knowledge and since we know no one is claiming they know by divine changes in their brains, but mean “know” in the sense of reasoning to, coming to conclude such, coming to that belief, then we can all see now the problems with the above.  Bernard’s assertion in number 2 was based upon an erroneous belief that knowledge was obtained by divine intervention in people’s brains.

We would now have to put it this way:

1. Let’s stipulate God may exist, and therefore morality may exist derivative to God existing.  

2. If God does exist, we could claim knowledge of such in the same way we claim knowledge of any metaphysical assertion or conclusion (even the opposite assertion of atheism), which is outside the purview of empiricism or science.  
3. Therefore, our agnosticism shouldn’t be based upon a claim of knowledge being impossible or being problematic from a scientific understanding, but upon the reasoned (or not) arguments made by both the theist and atheist and our evaluation of those arguments.

Neither of the above are meant to be syllogisms; the first example is meant to show the general path of Bernard’s reasoning, how it was based upon a misconception and how the second example is the much more reasonable path of thought.  I think Bernard was trying to place himself in a position where he thought he could commit to nothing, and then stand back and claim the assertions of the moral realist and anti-realist, if they asserted they “knew” morality was either relative or objective, clashed with science.  Unfortunately, to do that one does have to commit to something and what he was committed to was a misunderstanding as to number 2 (thinking it would involve divine intervention as to brain states) in his initial claim and once he gave up meaning by “knowledge”, empirical knowledge, there was no way to then claim a clash with science.

As an aside, if he were to claim that all this time he did mean empirical knowledge (as I think he originally did) he would know it meant a philosophical commitment to empiricism, scientism, which would have been question-begging (the very question of how we can “know” and what it means for something to be “true” or exist is disputed) and confirmed my suspicions he is a naturalist and he clearly didn’t want to go down that road.

I will take Bernard’s claim he is not a naturalist and that we can “know” something to be “true” in ways other than empirically/scientifically (although we will seek clarification of that point here shortly) in good faith, but he has never explained how he is always able, at the same time, to come down on the same side as Burk on any significant point.  I’m not sure how that is possible.  If I claimed repeatedly that I was not a fundamentalist Christian (as I do claim), but at every turn, where it was significant, I came down on the same side as they, I think anyone would have every right to call me on it. Of course, the way he could claim he wasn’t a naturalist, but, at the very same time, basically posit an atheistic universe/existence (because even if they did exist, we couldn’t “know” anything about them) has now been shown to be based upon several misunderstandings and errors on his part.

As alluded to above, while both Bernard and JP were willing to say they didn’t mean “know” “true” and similar terms in the sense of empirically/scientifically, I have a sense they only assented to such because they wanted the conversation to move forward and knew I had to know what they meant by those words before we could do so.  However, such doesn’t mean they actually believe, like Burk, that the only way we can “know” if something is “true” or exists, is empirically/scientifically.  They may have just meant, for the sake of conversation, I will agree by “knowing” and “true” we are talking about other ways of knowing, that you Darrell, believe we can know something to be true or exist.  So, let’s just get clear here: Do you (Bernard and JP) believe the only way we can “know” if something is “true” or “exists” is through empirical and scientific means?

This is important because if the answer is “No”, then they accept there are other ways to adjudicate disagreements over philosophical issues and questions.  I would then assume they had some in mind, such as those noted by me, their own ways, or others.  Thus, what is the problem?  If the answer is “Yes” then it is an admission of being a naturalist/empiricist, which is scientism.  This certainly wouldn’t be shocking as I think most assume this already.  Regardless, please address this question.

Finally, whence the agnosticism now?  In addition to the question above, here are a few more for both Bernard and JP (if JP feels his agnosticism rests upon the same reasoning; I’m never quite sure): Would you still explain your agnosticism as being based upon your prior reasons (even if they exist, we could “know” nothing about them), after they have now been shown to be based upon several misunderstandings?  If not, if you no longer hold to the first example (above) I gave of your reasoning, what now would your reasons be for being agnostic, if you indeed still are?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Roundup

The odds almost sound…miraculous

With the rise of Trump, this almost becomes a compelling case…

And a suicide mission it would be…

One can see we are in the post-modern when a story in the Atlantic begins this way:

“The stories we tell ourselves, far more than the evidence of scientific analysis, determine how we interpret the world around us. Accordingly, the fate of capitalism rests in no small measure on the real and imagined characters whose ethics and efforts, at any given time, seem to embody the system. Whether the system is identified with Bill Gates or Bernie Madoff, Horatio Alger or Gordon Gekko, opinions about how exactly capitalism works, no less than its moral fitness, reflect the heroes and villains who drive these tales.

To the few who peruse this blog and are American citizens I beg of you not to vote for Donald Trump.  I wouldn’t trust this man to run a small town in the middle of nowhere.  As David Hart put it, this is the man one flees at parties.  He is a bore, a buffoon, a small minded, mean spirited shell of a person.  How we even came to this place is beyond me.  God help us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sorry, Your Philosophy is Not Science or Fact...Part Two

And so it continues... (Where is Ron to point this out to us?)  I think we at least have an understanding that no one here speaks for “science”.  We may assert that the other person has a view we personally think clashes with science, and we may even be able to show that the consensus of the academic community agrees with us or doesn’t.  But hopefully we are past the unthoughtful and rather arrogant assertion the other guy’s view clashes with science, when what we really mean is the other guy’s view clashes with my philosophical premises/framework/narrative- regarding the science.

To begin, we were told in the comment section of the last post, toward the end, that Bernard holds the same philosophical premise as the majority of philosophical naturalists/empiricists/atheists to the effect that we can only “know” if something is true (objectively true, mind independently true) if we can prove such, by a preponderance of the empirical and scientific evidence—if not an outright confirmation by such.  Now, this premise, (and here is the problem), only applies to physical forces and physical objects.  To then apply this philosophical premise to every question, and especially questions of metaphysics, such as whether or not morality is objective, whether or not God exists, whether or not miracles are possible, and so on, is what’s called scientism.  It is the philosophical belief (not scientific) that in every sphere of life, in every question, in every discipline, whether metaphysical or otherwise, science (read empiricism) has the last word—the only word really.  Needless to say, while this view has some celebrity/scientist support, it is still a minority and very controversial view in the rank and file.  See here.

So we finally get to what, I think any objective person has long suspected: As I have noted over and over, this has to do with philosophical disagreements, not scientific ones.  Bernard (and JP and Burk) are not coming to this from a scientific point of view, but a philosophical one regarding the science.  I am of course doing the same—but I say it up-front.  And that was the point of my last two posts and still is to a certain degree with this one.

We now see that Bernard, and I suspect JP (although he never answered my question) use the words “know” “access” “get to” and so on to mean empirically or scientifically.  And, of course, when the anti-realist tells us he “knows” or has “access” and can “get to” the truth there are no moral truths, he does not mean he “knows” that empirically or scientifically.  So Bernard’s use of those words and what he means wouldn’t even apply to the anti-realist (Bernard’s belief).  The anti-realist may believe the science is on his side and supports his view, but the whole point of the Stanford link and quotes was to show that whether it is or not is debatable.  It is certainly not the consensus view.  As noted (All quotes are from the Stanford link noted in the previous post):

“These issues remain challenging and controversial. But the controversies are as much ongoing philosophical ones as scientific ones, and it is therefore unlikely that scientific results will settle them. Science will plainly not settle, for example, whether or not there are moral truths; and if there are, they will likely play an explanatory role with regard to at least some of our moral beliefs—something we will miss if we approach these issues from an exclusively scientific point of view.”

If I “hear” Bernard and JP correctly, what they were concerned about was if we grant that moral truths exist, “how” would we “know” what they are?  What is the “mechanism” that would allow us “access” them?  Well, as I’ve noted over and over, if they mean by those words to “know” empirically/scientifically, they are begging the question because one, we don’t accept the premise that we can only “know” or “get there” by empirical/scientifically means; second, even most anti-realists don’t think their conclusion is proven empirically/scientifically.  Nor would they agree (as it would be self-defeating) that science/evolution somehow prevents them from “knowing” or “getting to” the philosophical conclusion moral truths do not exist.

In other words, this argument doesn’t even get off the ground.  It either begs the very question of how we can know something to be true, or it asserts something that would apply to the anti-realist as well.  Further, according to Bernard and JP whether or not morality is objective or not wasn’t even the issue.  So which is it?  If the issue wasn’t whether or not moral realism is true (meaning empirically true—which no one asserts), then why the “how” and “know” questions?  And if the real objection was, even granting moral realism to be true, “how” could we “know” which moral assertions were “true”, then the Stanford writer addresses those questions (obviously not in the empirical sense, but in the sense of coming to that belief/philosophical conclusion), whether Bernard of JP agree with him or not.

So let’s bracket what Bernard and JP are asserting.  They are not asserting anything as to whether or not the moral realist is correct.  Moral truths may indeed exist.  What they are asserting is, even if they did exist, how would we “know” have “access” to or “get there”?  What is the “mechanism” for this?  Now, let’s leave aside the errors noted above--because if we leave those out and consider what most people mean by “know” and these other terms, which really mean “come to believe such” here is the answer and it applies to the moral realist and anti-realist:

“Autonomy Assumption: people have, to greater or lesser degrees, a capacity for reasoning that follows autonomous standards appropriate to the subjects in question, rather than in slavish service to evolutionarily given instincts merely filtered through cultural forms or applied in novel environments. Such reflection, reasoning, judgment and resulting behavior seem to be autonomous in the sense that they involve exercises of thought that are not themselves significantly shaped by specific evolutionarily given tendencies, but instead follow independent norms appropriate to the pursuits in question (Nagel 1979).

This assumption seems hard to deny in the face of such abstract pursuits as algebraic topology, quantum field theory, population biology, modal metaphysics, or twelve-tone musical composition, all of which seem transparently to involve precisely such autonomous applications of human intelligence...”

And here:

“On the face of it, the mere fact that natural selection would not have 'designed' our moral faculties to track moral truths accurately (as it plausibly designed our perceptual faculties to track facts about medium sized objects in typical human environments) is not obviously problematic. There are, after all, lots of cases where we seem to be able to grasp genuine truths even though those truths play no role in the story of how our basic mental capacities evolved. We are able to grasp truths of quantum field theory or higher dimensional topology or, for that matter, philosophy (or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate) even though those truths had nothing to do with why the basic mental capacities underlying these abilities evolved in Pleistocene hominins. Those capacities evolved in response to selection pressures in ancestral hunter-gatherer environments, and we have simply learned how to develop, train and exercise them in cultural contexts to discover truths that go far beyond any that were relevant to the evolution of those underlying capacities. Philosophers who endorse some form of moral realism have typically believed that we've done the same thing in grasping moral truths (see sections 2.4–2.5).”

And finally here (and remember these address all the “how” “know” “access” and “mechanism” questions if we are using them as the literature does, which is  not empirically/scientifically—the error Bernard and JP make—but in the sense of coming to understand, to grasp, to believe such exists (or doesn’t) and so on):

“Finally, Street [Bernard and JP] challenges the realist [me] to specify what faculty or capacity [mechanism; or the ‘how’] might ground our capacity to arrive at [know, access] independent moral truths, how the former evolved, and how the latter could plausibly have arisen as a byproduct of it. She claims that there is no plausible story to be told here, since the capacity to grasp independent moral truths would have to be “a highly specialized, sophisticated capacity” akin to the human eye, and no such entity could plausibly emerge “as the purely incidental byproduct of some unrelated capacity that was selected for on other grounds entirely” (Street 2006, 142–43). But the realist's story needn't take that form. The claim will be just that our capacity to grasp moral truths—like our capacity to grasp philosophical truths about metaphysical necessity, say—is simply a byproduct of our general capacities for critical reasoning, combined with the evolved capacity for forming and employing normative concepts in our thinking and decision-making.” (Bold for emphasis)

And remember, any attack on this answer is an attack also on the anti-realist’s ability to do the very same thing, reason to the opposite conclusion, and thus self-defeating.  Another clear error (also a very revealing one) Bernard and JP both made was assuming we could differentiate between some of the examples given (quantum theory, abstract mathematics) asserting that some are established by empirical proof.  Well, proving any of those examples as being ultimately true isn’t even the point, whether proving means empirically or otherwise.  The point is that they are all abstract, theoretical, and philosophical levels of discourse—and there is nothing in evolution that would preclude us from reasoning to any of the various conclusions in those areas (with some of those conclusions being morality is objective)—not that any of the conclusions are true or false (if we mean in the sense of empirically/scientifically).  What was revealing was them telling us that whether or not moral truths existed wasn’t the point, but then the attempt is made to show that some of those truths can be shown (read proven empirically) to be true.  Hopefully that wasn’t intentional and just ancillary to thinking the writer meant “grasp” and “discover” to mean proving empirically, the very same mistake made by Bernard and JP.  And, of course, he meant no such thing. Why in the world would he have meant “prove empirically” when he noted at the outset that such a question is not going to be settled by science?  Bernard and JP clearly miss-read the Stanford writer (and when they do read him correctly, they disagree with him, which means they disagree with the consensus view).

So, unless they were being disingenuous and not really trying to make the case moral realism is a false conclusion, meaning, in their minds, cannot be proved empirically/scientifically, and if they were really just trying to understand how we can “know” in the sense everyone else means here, then the above quotes from the Stanford source addresses those questions.  It does absolutely no good to then keep claiming their questions are not being addressed.  They are.  If you don’t like the answers or disagree with them, then just say so.  But to keep asking is a sure sign one is not listening.

Now, that we know the writer wasn't using the word "grasp" or "discover" to mean empirically, we can see why they disagree with the Stanford writer.  I’m sure most anti-realists do disagree with the writer.  This whole area is debatable and not settled.  But the consensus view is the view I share.  If Bernard and JP don’t want to share the consensus view, that is their prerogative.  Often the minority has turned out to be correct.  They may be here as well.  In the meantime however, what they cannot do and expect to be taken seriously is to suggest that moral realism—a philosophical conclusion, or our coming to that conclusion, clashes with science.  And if all this time they meant by “know” and “access” and “mechanism” proving empirically, then they were being disingenuous and begging the question.  Further, no one was arguing that one could even prove moral realism or anti-realism in that manner to begin with.  Only Bernard and JP can tell us what they were really trying to get at here, but all the way around their arguments fail and it should be fairly clear their assertion of a clash with science was nothing more than what we suspected all along: A clash with their philosophical premises/framework/narrative’s interpretation and view of the science, which simply mirrors those of philosophical naturalism/empiricism and in fact is scientism.

So given all this, with the above in mind, let’s return to my assertion that it is Bernard’s claims that are illogical.  From the previous post:

As for a view that is not logical, here it is: I believe God may exist, but if such a being did exist and acted upon the physical world it would be a violation of the physical laws or it would clash with what we currently know about physics or some other branch of science.  Such is simply not a logical view; it also normally entails a straw-man view of God, and question-begging (so a triple failing).  If God exists, such cannot violate any physical law by definition.  For God to violate a physical law would mean the physical law was somehow inviolable in and of itself, a stand-alone force, uncreated, unmovable,  impervious to the very being acting upon it who created it, the being from which it exists and has its law-like power.  Again, it would be like suggesting that a person could not act in the ball experiment [see previous post].  Well, no, if they exist, then yes, they could.  This belief comes from thinking of God as Bigfoot or some other object or force in the universe, rather than the ground of all being, the very thing making the universe possible to begin with including the laws by which it operates.  If one is taking the actual view of the God of Christianity, Aristotle, Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Mulla Sadra, and even Spinoza then it is logically impossible to assert such.  One cannot make this argument against, as Hart has put it, that which is the:

“...one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.”

So this argument only works against some straw-man conception of God.  It also begs the question when it asserts this God may exist, but this agent’s acting would violate physics or “clash” with what we currently know about physics/science, as this is the very thing disputed.  Whether or not the clash is with science or a different philosophical framework/narrative is what’s disputed to begin with.  Thus, not only is it not a logical view, it is question-begging and, in almost every case, based upon a straw-man view of God.  All the way around it fails as any sort of logical response.  At least the atheist is being logical knowing that only if we disallow God’s existence can we logically claim a causally closed universe with the ancillary logical implications.  No such implications exist for the agnostic.  Any agnostic out there worried about logic, should look first to this argument as it contains none.  And by the way, it matters little if one does not like or agree with Hart’s definition of God—it is the one that needs to be addressed and not some straw-man view.  And if one doesn’t understand the definition, then one needs to investigate and research it before commenting.

Another straw-man view of God trotted out in this argument is that, well, but if God can just, every now and then, capriciously intervene in the physical world, how can we trust the consistency of physical laws and the scientific method?  Well, because God is not capricious or random or out of control in any imaginable fashion.  God only acts for a reason and a reason always consistent with the nature and character of God as demonstrated in the life of Christ and the Christian narrative.  So this straw-man objection is easily addressed.  Like the agent acting in the ball example—he acted because he saw the ball was going to hit a child—God is not capricious or random.  God is not a mindless tornado or earthquake or some trickster god.

And if one’s only objection is, yes, but it would still mean a miracle would clash with what we presently know about physics and science, one is not listening.  The only thing it would mean is that there would be a clash with philosophical naturalism or the belief in a causally closed universe.  Or, read post again.  And if someone wants to show us how a causally closed universe is a recognized scientific fact, proven, widely accepted, and not a metaphysical belief—please do.  Good luck with that.  If one cannot however, then they need to give up this clear confusion of a metaphysical belief with “science” or “fact”.

Bottom line: the belief God may exist (agnosticism), but that this being acting within creation would violate some physical law or clash with our current view of science is illogical and inconsistent with the premise: “God may exist”.  If God does exist, then logically miracles cannot be a violation of a physical law.  Such would make the physical law greater than God and apart from God in some way that violates the very definition and understanding of “God” as given by Hart or classically understood.  We can only violate a law when we ourselves are under the law—meaning the law has power over us.  God, by definition, is under no such law.  Further, if God does exist, then the universe is not a causally closed system, thus, logically, our view would be that physical laws are not violated and our current view of science remains consistent because such laws operate and predict consistently, except in those cases where God might act.  This is not ad hoc, but a logical conclusion based upon the premise.

Thus, one cannot have it both ways.  One cannot claim agnosticism, but then assert the world is such that we can know nothing of this being and characterizes this being’s (we can know nothing about!) acting in the world as a violation of some sort.  These philosophical pre-set boundaries, these philosophical presuppositions regarding what this being (if such exists) can and cannot do are metaphysical faith claims, not science.  To claim one is agnostic regarding God’s existence, but then basically assert, for all practical purposes an atheistic universe, is, in my view, not only illogical but disingenuous.  Is one afraid to simply assert he is an atheist?  Is it a pointless hedging of bets?  What exactly is the point of asserting agnosticism but then outlining a (philosophical) view where God may as well not exist, because we could never know if such a being did exist (which is only because of the presuppositions I’ve adopted by faith) and if this being ever acted it would be a problem for science (and not really “science”, but his own world-view/philosophical framework)?  I love it, an agnosticism that keeps all the doors closed (but claims they really shut themselves or that science proves they are closed) just in case there really is something out there!  This may be agnosticism as neurosis or simply fear.  It is certainly not logic.  Further, if one is truly an atheist, or comes to the exact same conclusions they do in these areas, reasons the same way, then stand-up and be counted man. Otherwise, I think one is being disingenuous.



Friday, September 23, 2016

Sorry, Your Philosophy is Not Science or Fact and Neither is Mine--One of Them May be True However

Before we get to the matter of our metaphysical frameworks/narratives not being “science” or “fact” let’s start here and here where we are told our brains are not computers and that the mind will remain a mystery to science.  And, I agree with both.  As in my previous post, so much is about “seeing” and perceiving (reading) and how we see and understand is always constrained to an extent by the metaphors we choose to be the prisms, through which we see.  These can either hinder or open up what it is possible for us to “see”.  The philosophical narrative frameworks we all inhabit consist of metaphors that shape the way we “see” and “perceive” reality—in fact, help us see what is “real”.  If we are aware of this, great.  If not, then we tend towards the fundamentalist sensibility, which assumes there is a one-to-one correlation between facts (information) and our conclusions regarding those facts as if any meaning was plain, literal, or obvious (which is how fundamentalists read their sacred writings).  The fundamentalist sensibility is to think there is no interpretive nature to their “reading” of reality, to the use of metaphor; they actually think there is a straight line between their “reading” (whether sacred writings or empirical scientific information) and their pronouncements regarding meaning, even the assertion there is none, or the assertion we cannot know if there is any.

In the first link, the writer notes the inherent problems associated with thinking or “seeing” our brains as computers.  And, of course, given the ubiquitous nature of computers and their deep relation to our lives, it is a ready-made and easily grasped metaphor.  It is very easy to think our brains are like computers.  But, they are not.  The writer tells us:

“But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.

We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not...

Forgive me for this introduction to computing, but I need to be clear: computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process. They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms.

Humans, on the other hand, do not – never did, never will.”

There is something about consciousness that doesn’t seem to change, that doesn’t develop like our physical bodies do.  Instead, it seems we simply become more aware as our physical bodies develop.  Our minds open up so to speak (or, unfortunately, sometimes not!) as we interact and experience other people and our world in general.  But it is not as if our consciousness is like something that starts empty and fills up with information.  It is more like our consciousness is already full (perhaps as large as the universe, or existence itself, perhaps even eternity) but our experiences and interactions are small.  How interesting though that what our minds can conceive and produce (computers/software) we then imagine is what we ourselves are doing too when we think and use our brains, the key word here being “imagine”.

I would like to believe that any reflective soul of even a slight rationality, of some experience of life, of some education, knows they are nothing at all like a computer.  We get anxious, we fear, we love, we cry, we get angry, we desire, we often are confused, we don’t make sense, we do make sense, we are contrary, we hope, we experience joy, sadness, and grief.  We are nostalgic and melancholy.  We are capable of great acts of sacrifice and kindness toward others and also of great cruelty.  We build orphanages, but also death camps.  We communicate silently with each other in a glance, nod, or tip of the head.  We speak (which is itself a mystery) and sing songs; we write great pieces of literature, poems, and music.  We laugh, we make jokes, and we use satire.  We are capable of recognizing beauty.  We are intuitive.  We can reason.  We can feel ashamed and embarrassed.  We philosophize and theologize.  We grow and change (we hope!).  Our opinions change and not always simply because of new information, but because of experience and our rubbing up against life.  We even become different sorts of people than we were at one time.  We have “conversions”.  We are great mysteries, indeed (See Shakespeare).  There is an infinite difference between us and computers.  The idea our brains/minds are like computers or operate like them, in any way at all is nothing more than magical thinking, a grand superstition, to be generous.

The greater point here is that the metaphor “computer” doesn’t mean we have derived this term from “science” or that science demands we use that metaphor.  It derives from a philosophical view—one that reduces mind to matter, or that sees the mind as the brain and the brain as machine like.    

And that our brains/minds are not like computers leads us to the second link.  Because they are not like any machine, or like anything we can reduce to the purely physical, they will remain a mystery as far as science is concerned.  Our conscious selves remain outside the bounds of science as far as science being able to explain such in purely physical terms, although there will be much science can do (and has done) as far as doing what it does best: Give us information regarding the physical aspects of the brain.      

What is rather amazing about physicist Edward Witten is that while he remains optimistic we will one day know why there is something rather than nothing, and that string theory will turn out to be correct, he doesn’t feel the same about consciousness.  And thinking we will one day know the answers to those other questions, purely through science, is a tall order indeed.  The fact he doesn’t feel the same about consciousness, tells us something about the unique enormity of the problem specific to that question:

“Witten is optimistic about science’s power to solve mysteries, such as why there is something rather than nothing. In a 2014 Q&A with me he said: ‘The modern scientific endeavor has been going on for hundreds of years by now, and we've gotten way farther than our predecessors probably imagined.’ He also reaffirmed his belief that string theory will turn out to be ‘right.’

But in a fascinating video interview with journalist Wim Kayzer, Witten is pessimistic about the prospects for a scientific explanation of consciousness. The chemist Ash Jogalekar, who blogs as ‘The Curious Wavefunction,’ wrote about Witten’s speech and transcribed the relevant section. (Thanks, Ash.) Here is an excerpt:

I think consciousness will remain a mystery. Yes, that’s what I tend to believe. I tend to think that the workings of the conscious brain will be elucidated to a large extent. Biologists and perhaps physicists will understand much better how the brain works. But why something that we call consciousness goes with those workings, I think that will remain mysterious. I have a much easier time imagining how we understand the Big Bang than I have imagining how we can understand consciousness...”(italics added)

Hopefully this becomes a trend that will continue where very intelligent people realize the limits of science (what rational person would even deny this, really?).  Science is wonderful.  Science is extremely helpful.  Science is a necessary tool—a tool we cannot do without.  I am a fan of science and firm supporter.  And I also understand science to be in harmony with faith.  The only ones who do not are those who hold to some sort of scientism/secular fundamentalism—they see faith as a rival to science—as two opposing narratives.  Such is a huge misunderstanding of both science and faith.  Those who see these as rivals are confusing their philosophical naturalism/scientism with “science” (see prior post and comments).  I do not see science as a rival and the great majority of non-fundamentalist Christians (the vast majority of Christians) do not either.  However, regardless, I do think science has its limits and is only one way of “seeing” or “reading” and understanding the world/existence.  It is a very specific and narrow type of seeing/understanding and in that one sphere (materiality), it sees wonderfully.  If we are trying to land on the moon, we consult science not our Bibles.  But the moment we train that narrow focus on other areas of enquiry and thought, other areas of life (such as the topics discussed on this blog), we see its impotence and limitations.  To think that science can comment upon or eventually explain everything to us is to misunderstand the tool one is using, and what it is for—it would be like handing a sledge hammer to someone who was trying to sew a button on their sweater.  It is not that a sledge hammer isn’t a good and proper tool; it’s only that it is limited and in some circumstances not very (or at all) useful or helpful.

Finally, we should note that even though science is limited in its scope and what it can address, even though it holds no monopoly upon knowledge per se, every philosophical framework/narrative should be aware of and take into consideration the findings of science.  I have referenced this link many times in the past and it is a good example of this point in the area of ethics/morality.  Like most neutral academic sources, it asserts that most of the meta-ethical views (Note: philosophical views...not scientific views) are viable as far as the science goes—that there is no conflict or clash with “evolution” or science.  The essay ends with:    

“So all three metaethical views discussed here—expressivism, error theory and moral realism—remain on the table.”

However, only philosophical naturalists (and creationists) believe the science actually proves their philosophical view to be the true or correct one, and the only reason there is even a discussion is because philosophical naturalists believe there is a conflict or clash with science on the part of moral realists.  They are in the minority however.  The Stanford writer addresses a pertinent part of their objection (Italics added and I bold and underline the pertinent portions):

“Proponents of epistemic 'evolutionary debunking arguments' think it should, arguing either that evolutionary considerations support moral skepticism (Joyce 2006, 2013, Forthcoming) or that they at least undermine traditional moral realism by providing a defeater for our moral beliefs if correctness for moral beliefs is construed in a realist fashion as accurate representation of objective or independent moral truths (Street 2006, 2008). (For recent discussion of these arguments, see Copp 2008, Shafer-Landau 2012, Berker 2014, FitzPatrick 2014a,b, among many others.)

On the face of it, the mere fact that natural selection would not have 'designed' our moral faculties to track moral truths accurately (as it plausibly designed our perceptual faculties to track facts about medium sized objects in typical human environments) is not obviously problematic. There are, after all, lots of cases where we seem to be able to grasp genuine truths even though those truths play no role in the story of how our basic mental capacities evolved. We are able to grasp truths of quantum field theory or higher dimensional topology or, for that matter, philosophy (or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate) even though those truths had nothing to do with why the basic mental capacities underlying these abilities evolved in Pleistocene hominins. Those capacities evolved in response to selection pressures in ancestral hunter-gatherer environments, and we have simply learned how to develop, train and exercise them in cultural contexts to discover truths that go far beyond any that were relevant to the evolution of those underlying capacities. Philosophers who endorse some form of moral realism have typically believed that we've done the same thing in grasping moral truths (see sections 2.4–2.5).”

And what the writer means by “moral truths” are objective truths (as is clear from the reference to moral realism).  Evolution does not pose a problem here.  Nor does physics.  Why?  Because we are able to grasp moral truths including philosophical truths: “... (or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate)...” thus it would be self-defeating to assert that physics somehow precluded such as it would mean the very argument one was making was precluded or a violation of physics!  Notice this is an argument from logic and philosophical reasoning, apart from the science or any empirical fact or finding.  And no one makes the argument (that I am aware of) that to grasp such truths, brains states are altered somehow or in some fashion.  Who makes that argument?  No one.  How silly.  If brain states are not altered in our ability to grasp philosophical truths, why would they be altered to grasp moral truths—when the very same process is in play?  The fact that anyone could “hear” or think that Christian philosophers or theologians were asserting moral truths were grasped by (divine?) changes in our brain states tells us all we need to know.  Someone is not listening.  Someone is not hearing the other.  They are like Gopnik in the last post.  Moral realists do not make this argument, nor do Christian philosophers or theologians (that I am aware of anyway—if someone can show me who does—I will certainly also object).  And who would ask what the “mechanism” is that allows us to grasp philosophical truths?  How about being human (see Stanford link and quote again), if we want to call that a “mechanism”.  The mechanism is being alive in this world, this existence, and having a human mind.  Such is also what allows us to grasp moral truths.  To ask for something in addition to that, means one doesn’t understand what is being asserted in the Stanford quote or what Christian philosophers or theologians believe about such things in the first place.

Another example, which I’ve taken the time to unpack in the past, is when someone tells us that miracles are inconsistent with or “clash” with science.  What they are really telling us (whether they know it or not, as I think most do this from ignorance) is that miracles are inconsistent with their presupposition the universe is a causally-closed-system, which is a metaphysical view, not an empirical finding from science.  As David Bentley Hart has written:

“The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature. It is a metaphysical (which is to say “extra-natural”) conclusion regarding the whole of reality, which neither reason nor experience legitimately warrants.”

The assertion that such a view (a causally closed universe) is philosophical and not scientific, is so commonly known we need look no further than a basic Wikipedia reference.  So they confuse such a belief with “science” and conflate the two.  Unless one already has the faith-based view that God doesn’t exist, he would simply believe that science and natural laws are the best descriptions of how the physical world words, except in those cases when God acts.  Say we set up an experiment for a ball to launch at a certain speed so we could then measure the distance it would travel before falling to earth.  We launch our ball, and a by stander sees the ball headed toward a small child and moves to knock the ball down.  We would not then throw up our arms in defeat and abandon science and a belief in its power to describe and predict the physical world.  How silly. Once we allow for God’s existence, the logic is the very same.  If we accept it for a human agent, we must accept the same logic for God.

As for a view that is not logical, here it is: I believe God may exist, but if such a being did exist and acted upon the physical world it would be a violation of the physical laws or it would clash with what we currently know about physics or some other branch of science.  Such is simply not a logical view; it also normally entails a straw-man view of God, and question-begging (so a triple failing).  If God exists, such cannot violate any physical law by definition.  For God to violate a physical law would mean the physical law was somehow inviolable in and of itself, a stand-alone force, uncreated, unmovable,  impervious to the very being acting upon it who created it, the being from which it exists and has its law-like power.  Again, it would be like suggesting that a person could not act in the ball experiment.  Well, no, if they exist, then yes, they could.  This belief comes from thinking of God as Bigfoot or some other object or force in the universe, rather than the ground of all being, the very thing making the universe possible to begin with including the laws by which it operates.  If one is taking the actual view of the God of Christianity, Aristotle, Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Mulla Sadra, and even Spinoza then it is logically impossible to assert such.  One cannot make this argument against, as Hart has put it, that which is the:

“...one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.”

So this argument only works against some straw-man conception of God.  It also begs the question when it asserts this God may exist, but this agent’s acting would violate physics or “clash” with what we currently know about physics/science, as this is the very thing disputed.  Whether or not the clash is with science or a different philosophical framework/narrative is what’s disputed to begin with.  Thus, not only is it not a logical view, it is question-begging and, in almost every case, based upon a straw-man view of God.  All the way around it fails as any sort of logical response.  At least the atheist is being logical knowing that only if we disallow God’s existence can we logically claim a causally closed universe with the ancillary logical implications.  No such implications exist for the agnostic.  Any agnostic out there worried about logic, should look first to this argument as it contains none.  And by the way, it matters little if one does not like or agree with Hart’s definition of God—it is the one that needs to be addressed and not some straw-man view.  And if one doesn’t understand the definition, then one needs to investigate and research it before commenting.

Another straw-man view of God trotted out in this argument is that, well, but if God can just, every now and then, capriciously intervene in the physical world, how can we trust the consistency of physical laws and the scientific method?  Well, because God is not capricious or random or out of control in any imaginable fashion.  God only acts for a reason and a reason always consistent with the nature and character of God as demonstrated in the life of Christ and the Christian narrative.  So this straw-man objection is easily addressed.  Like the agent acting in the ball example—he acted because he saw the ball was going to hit a child—God is not capricious or random.  God is not a mindless tornado or earthquake or some trickster god.

And if one’s only objection is, yes, but it would still mean a miracle would clash with what we presently know about physics and science, one is not listening.  The only thing it would mean is that there would be a clash with philosophical naturalism or the belief in a causally closed universe.  Or, read post again.  And if someone wants to show us how a causally closed universe is a recognized scientific fact, proven, widely accepted, and not a metaphysical belief—please do.  Good luck with that.  If one cannot however, then they need to give up this clear confusion of a metaphysical belief with “science” or “fact”.

Bottom line: the belief God may exist (agnosticism), but that this being acting within creation would violate some physical law or clash with our current view of science is illogical and inconsistent with the premise: “God may exist”.  If God does exist, then logically miracles cannot be a violation of a physical law.  Such would make the physical law greater than God and apart from God in some way that violates the very definition and understanding of “God” as given by Hart or classically understood.  We can only violate a law when we ourselves are under the law—meaning the law has power over us.  God, by definition, is under no such law.  Further, if God does exist, then the universe is not a causally closed system, thus, logically, our view would be that physical laws are not violated and our current view of science remains consistent because such laws operate and predict consistently, except in those cases where God might act.  This is not ad hoc, but a logical conclusion based upon the premise. 

Thus, one cannot have it both ways.  One cannot claim agnosticism, but then assert the world is such that we can know nothing of this being and characterizes this being’s (we can know nothing about!) acting in the world as a violation of some sort.  These philosophical pre-set boundaries, these philosophical presuppositions regarding what this being (if such exists) can and cannot do are metaphysical faith claims, not science.  To claim one is agnostic regarding God’s existence, but then basically assert, for all practical purposes, an atheistic universe is, in my view, not only illogical but disingenuous.  Is one afraid to simply assert he is an atheist?  Is it a pointless hedging of bets?  What exactly is the point of asserting agnosticism but then outlining a (philosophical) view where God may as well not exist, because we could never know if such a being did exist (which is only because of the presuppositions I’ve adopted by faith) and if this being ever acted it would be a problem for science (and not really “science”, but his own world-view/philosophical framework)?  I love it, an agnosticism that keeps all the doors closed (but claims they really shut themselves or that science proves they are closed) just in case there really is something out there!  This may be agnosticism as neurosis or simply fear.  It is certainly not logic.  Further, if one is truly an atheist, or comes to the exact same conclusions they do in these areas, reasons the same way, then stand-up and be counted man. Otherwise, I think one is being disingenuous.

The greater point is that what is discussed here are the philosophical views (not scientific) that articulate what they think the findings of science, whether biological evolution (or physics) mean as to questions of ethics specifically (in the Stanford link), but in other places it could be life after death, consciousness, or other such questions.  What we see here is that the science neither proves nor disproves any of the major philosophical views in these areas—that is not its job—such is outside its pay-grade.  In general however, what we see is that philosophical naturalists confuse their philosophy with “science” or conflate it with “science”.  It is however no more “science” than the creationist’s views are “science” or any other type of fundamentalism.

Does every legitimate and serious philosophical framework/narrative consider the best science in a holistic way as it reasons out and unpacks its conclusions?  Of course.  But there is a huge (understatement!) difference between taking into consideration the best science and mistaking one’s philosophical views for “science”.  Nor does it mean science proves their philosophical conclusions.  When people tell us the “science” proves their philosophical views in matters of God’s existence or non-existence, morality, souls, life-after-death, and all such similar areas, they are just like the fundamentalists who tell us the Bible proves their positions/views too.  What they are really telling us is that their “reading”, their interpretation, is the only authoritative one.  This is the fundamentalist sensibility.  Whether “science” or the Bible, these people need to quit hitting us over the head with either.

Now, it will be interesting to see how this post is “read” and interpreted.  How will it be “heard”?  Remember, there is a huge difference between understanding a person’s view and disagreeing, or not understanding, and asserting things that only confirm the misunderstanding.  We may see in the comment section only the fact a conversation never took place.  If the comment is simply the repeating  of what is addressed in the post without any further point, I will simply respond: See post.  If we end up in an endless loop, so be it.  I would much rather write "see post" than re-write the entire post in the comment section.  In other words, do some work.

PS: I will only respond to comments that include, in quotes, that which they are referring to from the post.  And any general comments must still refer to a general idea or point noted somewhere in the post they can at least refer to.  We are going to discuss this post, not some other point or topic. Thank you.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Great Disconnect

A perennial problem in any exchange or conversation with atheists/agnostics heavily invested in scientism is the complete misunderstanding of the terms and concepts used by Christians specifically, and philosophers in general.  Now, do Christians also misunderstand the terms and concepts used by those who inhabit the narrative of scientism?  Of course.  Do I?  I’m sure I do.  But I would argue it is much more pronounced and there is much less self-awareness on the part of those inhabiting scientism than the other way round (ironically, we may see any comments either confirm this or prove me wrong).  Most Christians outside fundamentalism, who have college degrees, are much more familiar with the terms and concepts of those holding to scientism than those inhabiting that narrative, with similar educational backgrounds, are of Christianity and its understanding of itself.  I want to look at three links that will further unpack my observation of this disparity.

This first is here and it is a short review of David B. Hart’s latest publication, which is a collection of his essays.  Here are some portions that will highlight my point:

“Did Gopnik bother to read what he was writing there? I ask only because it is so colossally silly. If my dog were to utter such words, I should be deeply disappointed in my dog's powers of reasoning. If my salad at lunch were suddenly to deliver itself of such an opinion, my only thought would be ‘What a very stupid salad.’”

The above, it is pointed out, is Hart’s response to the comments Adam Gopnik made regarding something Hart had written.  And here, along with commentary, is what it is Gopnik wrote that prodded Hart to such a response:

“If that seems smug to you [Hart’s comments above regarding Gopnik], you might not dig Hart. His tone here gets at something else that Robinson and Hart share — a hard-earned exasperation with what passes for intelligent discourse about religion. For here is what Gopnik wrote, in The New Yorker of all places, that moved Hart to rebuke his salad: Unbelievers possess ‘a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world.’ Why? Because we know that human beings evolved and ‘that the earth is not the center of the universe’; and because we have no ‘evidence’ of a miracle's ever having taken place.’”

Clearly the above shows how someone like Gopnik simply has no idea on earth what he is talking about.  His comments show a breath-taking ignorance of even elementary philosophy/logical reasoning or Christian beliefs.

The writer goes on:

“The question of how knowing these things — not one of which any religious believer of my acquaintance would deny, by the way — implies a monopoly on scientific knowledge for materialists is, of course, easy to answer: It doesn't.

There are important arguments to make here about ideology, epistemology and background assumptions, but Hart registers a more elementary objection: As ‘Augustine or Philo or Ramanuja (and so on) could have told’ Gopnik,

God is not a natural phenomenon. Is it really so difficult to grasp that the classical concept of God has always occupied a logical space that cannot be approached from the necessarily limited perspective of natural science?

As Stanley Hauerwas put it in a discussion of Thomas Aquinas, ‘if we could have the kind of evidence of God the evidentialist desires, then we would have evidence that the God Christians worship does not exist.’

This seems like a cop-out to the acolytes of scientism, because scientism just is the belief, in MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson's definition, that ‘science, modeled on the natural sciences, is the only source of real knowledge.’ Whether or not God exists, expecting science to illuminate the question is a category mistake.”

Normally, to show an even further disconnect, the believer in scientism will reply, “ But, if God isn’t a natural phenomenon, then such does not exist” without even realizing they are begging-the-very-question and simply assuming, by faith, that only that which is natural, that which can be proved empirically, can exist.  Since that is the very point disputed, to simply repeat it over and over is the surest sign one doesn’t understand the conversation.  The bottom line is one cannot have a conversation when one side is this completely ignorant of the other’s meaning and this ignorant of basic errors of logic and category mistakes as noted by the writer.  I frankly do not see that same problem, or rather, see it rise to that level, on the part of Christians as they speak to those atheists/agnostics who repeat comments like Gopnik’s.

Here is the bottom line: The moment we hear an atheist/agnostic, in relation to the question of God’s existence, the truthfulness of Christianity, or similar topic, begin to ask for evidence, for empirical or scientific proof, as if we were speaking of Big Foot or something that would show up on radar, we know the person is simply speaking to a straw-man, who, when that is pointed out, will then just beg the question.  Further, it shows they have no idea what people, whether Christians or philosophers, are actually talking about.  It is a non-starter, a dead end.  No real conversation took place then, no matter how much the atheist/agnostic thought there was an exchange of information.    

The next link is here.  The writer is discussing some reasons why fewer Americans are going to church services.  But this is how the writer begins:

“The standard narrative of American religious decline goes something like this: A few hundred years ago, European and American intellectuals began doubting the validity of God as an explanatory mechanism for natural life. As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinking—not just about medicine and mechanics, but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.

Of course, this tale is not just reductive—it’s arguably inaccurate, in that it seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality behind contemporary American belief. For one thing, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly religious, despite years of predictions about religion’s demise. A significant number of people who don’t identify with any particular faith group still say they believe in God, and roughly 40 percent pray daily or weekly. While there have been changes in this kind of private belief and practice, the most significant shift has been in the way people publicly practice their faith: Americans, and particularly young Americans, are less likely to attend services or identify with a religious group than they have at any time in recent memory.

If most people haven’t just logicked their way out of believing in God, what’s behind this shift in public religious practice...”

What’s interesting here is the writer recites the secular conventional wisdom, basically the “Enlightenment” story of the decline of religious belief and practice but then points out its reductive nature and probable inaccuracy on a purely factual level.  Putting that aside, the problem for those who believe in scientism is the complete unawareness, the total non-reflective assertion of the story as if it were a basic fact or “everyone knows that” type of historical reality.  The writer simply notes it, dismisses it, and moves on.  That is where we are presently and I think it a good thing.  Until those who still, in knee-jerk fashion, just believe this story can realize it is only one view, only one story, and not established “fact” they too should be dismissed.  Again, it is a great example of their unawareness, their obliviousness to how their story is seen by many.  It is embarrassing frankly.  Most non-fundamentalist Christians, however, know their own story is not an established “fact” as if it were just as common and known as the earth being round.  Until atheists/agnostics can come to this same realization regarding their scientism and the “Enlightenment” story, there will continue to be a huge barrier in the ability to hear other narratives of either religious decline or its continued relevance.

The final link is here.  He writes:

“What if reality and unreality are not a one or a zero, a true or false affair? What if there are degrees of reality?

Simone Weil, whose religious philosophy weaves Plato with the New Testament and shows a scrupulous concern with the material world, writes in Gravity and Grace, ‘The mind is not forced to believe in the existence of anything…the only organ of contact with existence is acceptance, love. That is why beauty and reality are identical. That is why joy and the sense of reality are identical.’

Her idea is that something, anything—the Bible, the cross, the person slumped over there in the cafĂ© or asleep on that park bench—can become more or less real depending on the degree to which we accept them, how much we are open to loving them. She says, ‘Among human beings, only the existence of those we love is fully recognized.’

I’m beginning to accept the stories and symbols of Christianity without expecting they come out of the gate fully real or believable for me. I continue to harbor doubts about them. I’ve experienced them by turns as sites of wonder and as stories whose literal and historical truth I wonder about.

If God is the ultimate transitional object, occupying an intermediate space between our subjective experience and external, measurable reality, so be it. God is both transitional object and provider of the re-enchanting holding environment we all still need, the one in whom Paul says ‘we live, and move, and have our being.’

To live is to be in transit, moving as we do between fleeting people and moments. One option is to let the Great Big, Very Real Disappearing Act make us seek escape in the deadening pendulum swing from private anxious fantasies to external distractions. (Lest I risk succumbing to the temptation of playing the prophet with perfect vision that I discovered in adolescence, here’s where I confess, and halfheartedly repent of, my current “reality” addiction: Season 12 of “The Bachelorette”).

Another option is to trust that with repeated exposure, the signs and wonders of religion—undeniably tarnished by abuse and neglect—can become less rote, more real. And with its increasing vividness, the imagined world that takes shape inside our brains can draw us more fully out into the world of hurting, in-transit humans, who need as much real presence and attentive holding as we can pass along.”

Does the writer mean he believes in the Christian narrative, even though he knows it’s not really true?  I don't think so; it is more complex than that.  He notes that even though this world takes shape “inside our brains” it becomes “more real”.  How can something be “imagined” and more “real”?  How might we talk about the above?  Fundamentalists can’t quite get their heads around the above, just like many teenagers can’t quite get their heads around the difference between love and sexual urges.  The above is about first accepting something, to be able to really see it.  It’s about loving to be able to perceive.  The above is about beginning to realize that existence is that which always points beyond itself, whether the cross or a person “asleep on a park bench.”  The above is about an orientation to existence, and not a set of beliefs or ideology about existence from a distance.  If we hooked a teenager up to a machine that monitored his heart rate, temperature, and chemical reactions throughout his body, while he was talking to the person he had a crush on, we could just print out the findings and say "this is love", we are seeing love here.  But that is not "seeing" love.  We can't see love that way.  We may have an ideology that love can be reduced to the print-out and think we are seeing love, but that is actually to be blind.

Or perhaps that person is “just” a collection of molecules at rest on a bench in a park—another collection atoms and molecules.  Perhaps it points to nothing.  Perhaps the chemical changes in one’s body when one meets that “significant” other is nothing more than that and the songs, the poems, and the literature that well up, that bleed out, that cry out, and laugh out, in response to those changes (as humanity has produced from time immemorial) is some weird palsy, some form of brain malfunction, pointing to nothing (all that literature, all those songs, and poems) other than chemical reactions and matter-in-motion.  And perhaps the only meaning is that which I assign to it, or not assign, knowing all along, either way, it is meaning made up in my head, based upon nothing that is true outside my head.  Perhaps.

What are we open to?  What are we willing to see?  What if we can only recognize the truth when we love and every “fact” and piece of “evidence” is only true to the extent it is seen and understood from a perspective of love, even though we all see the same facts and evidence.  Now the fundamentalist will read this and shake his head; “nonsense” he will mumble to himself.  “All this talk of ‘love’ and ‘acceptance’ to know what is true.  Good grief.  All I have to do is go out and proceed empirically, scientifically, and I will know what is true.  Love and acceptance have nothing to do with it.  The sun is the same distance from the earth whether I love or accept anything” And with this attitude, therein lies the problem, the disconnect, the complete misunderstanding of what is being talked about, the complete act of talking past the other, of not hearing.

I think non-fundamentalist Christians, for the most part, get what the great majority of atheists/agnostics are saying, whether we agree with them or not, although I’m sure we still have much work to do in that area.  We are certainly nowhere near where we need to be in truly “hearing” the atheist/agnostic.  I'm sure I'm more than guilty in that regard.  The question I pose to the atheist/agnostic is: How close are you to hearing the non-fundamentalist Christian?  I think one has to leave fundamentalism before he can “hear” the other.  That is the journey I have been on for the past decade at least.  I have far to go.  For both secular and religious fundamentalism, that is indeed the only way out of this blindness, this deafness, and the only way to get past the disconnect and the inability to even participate meaningfully in these types of conversations with the "other".