Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The folly of scientism

Here. 

Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality, frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate. But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.


In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research. Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are inherently beyond its ability to answer.


Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that questions the ability of science to address even the questions legitimately within its sphere of competence. One longs for a new Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition.
 



81 comments:

ozero91 said...

Logical positivism, pragmaticism, etc, etc. I think rank sophist's discussion in that old post, "The path to total skepticism" is important here.

cl said...

Add to what ozero91 said, postmodernism, evolutionary psychology, and, there's not a word for it, but, there's already a growing backlash to the Harrisian neurophilosophy as well. All these follies repeat themselves. They're just evolving expressions of sloppy thinking.

If there's one lesson gnus really need to learn, it's this one, that scientism is untenable and intellectually naive. Not just for the sake of proper induction, either. This has grave consequences for our future. Unfortunately I think many are already lost, blinded by the priests in white coats.

B. Prokop said...

CL,

I'd cut the "priests in white coats" some slack here. although there are some very public examples of those relatively rare professionals who cross the line, I believe (as I've been arguing in my exchange with Matt on another thread) that the majority of actual scientists know very well where their expertise ends and that of others begins.

The real culprit here is the huge unwashed mass of non-scientists (That's humor, people, so don't jump all over me!) who couldn't integrate e to the x if their life depended on it, who wrap themselves in a mantle of "science" (of which they know only popularizations) to buttress their shaky worldviews.

B. Prokop said...

"Examples of questions that are inherently beyond the ability of science to answer?"

Why is there something rather than nothing?

What is the purpose of life/the universe?

What is Good, and why is there evil?

How and why are we aware of our own existence?

Beatles or Stones?

How shall we live?

What is the meaning of Mahler's 2nd Symphony?

Is there life after death?

Are physical events guided/unguided?

What is Truth?

... just a few examples.

Syllabus said...

it is also a mistake to make pronouncements about what science will never be ever to tell us.

Can science ever tell us whether the scientific method is valid?

ozero91 said...

Start with the hypothesis, "If the scientific method is not valid, then X." What could X be? Obviously, it would have to be something that doesn't beg the question.

Syllabus said...

Start with the hypothesis, "If the scientific method is not valid, then X." What could X be? Obviously, it would have to be something that doesn't beg the question.

Which it would if you used science - which by definition uses and presupposes the scientific method - to determine it.

Karl Grant said...

Bob,

I would also add logic and math to the list. Science presupposes and is built upon rules of logic and math, so it can't exactly be used to validate them.

cl said...

Bob,

"I'd cut the "priests in white coats" some slack here. although there are some very public examples of those relatively rare professionals who cross the line, I believe (as I've been arguing in my exchange with Matt on another thread) that the majority of actual scientists know very well where their expertise ends and that of others begins."

I wholeheartedly agree. My jab was at those who adore scientists as priests in white coats, basically, your average gnu combox warrior.

:)

Zach,

"Bob is right, it isn't the scientists at the bench..."

We were all right. My jab was at the cheerleaders, not the scientists.

Karl Grant,

Good point.

im-skeptical said...

"My jab was at those who adore scientists as priests in white coats"

Not to mention the ones in the black coats.

B. Prokop said...

CL,

Boy am I dense sometimes! I missed the nuances of your comment.

"In dust and ashes do I repent."

ozero91 said...

"Not to mention the ones in the black coats."

In my lab we only have blue coats...

Tony Hoffman said...

If by scientism we mean the breathless and blind acceptance of pronouncements because they appear "scientificky" then I think everyone would agree that that such is a kind of foolishness.

I think Harris is a favorite whipping boy in this kind of topic for his having proposed that morality is something that can be studied scientifically, and while I haven't read any of his books what I have read of his on this subject I think that the criticism in this regard seems unfair.

I'd suggest that there also appears to be a kind of "philosophism" that seems to knee-jerk dismiss the thought of examining moral questions, for instance, with scientific rigor. The author of the article that was linked to in this post also seems to stumble when he points out that while Harris can't point to where we should cross the fact-value divide, this is a problem inherent in every other moral system as well. Etc.

In other words, while I agree that scientism may be a problem for some, I see the same problem of "philosophism" popping up with the same kind of frequency. Isn't it just simpler to point out circularity, faulty premises, etc. in whatever argument is being made, and keep an open mind about the possible benefit of looking at age-old problems with a new approach?

im-skeptical said...

"In other words, while I agree that scientism may be a problem for some, I see the same problem of "philosophism" popping up with the same kind of frequency."

Bravo.

grodrigues said...

@ozero91:

"In my lab we only have blue coats..."

Ah, you are lucky to have coats! We just sit around huddled all 300 hundred of us naked inside a hole in the ground, warming ourselves to the cold ashes of a match stick, with mud for drink and stones for food.

(with appologies to Monty Python)

Crude said...

If by scientism we mean the breathless and blind acceptance of pronouncements because they appear "scientificky" then I think everyone would agree that that such is a kind of foolishness.

"Central to scientism is the grabbing of nearly the entire territory of what were once considered questions that properly belong to philosophy. Scientism takes science to be not only better than philosophy at answering such questions, but the only means of answering them. For most of those who dabble in scientism, this shift is unacknowledged, and may not even be recognized. But for others, it is explicit."

I'd suggest that there also appears to be a kind of "philosophism" that seems to knee-jerk dismiss the thought of examining moral questions, for instance, with scientific rigor.

"Harris is right that new scientific information can guide our decisions by enlightening our application of moral principles — a conclusion that would not have been troubling to Kant or Aquinas. But this is a far cry from scientific information shaping or determining our moral principles themselves, an idea for which Harris is unable to make a case."

Isn't it just simpler to point out circularity, faulty premises, etc. in whatever argument is being made, and keep an open mind about the possible benefit of looking at age-old problems with a new approach?

The new approach isn't all that new - read the book sometime and see why. And to say that we shouldn't just dismiss whole fields of thought and methods of inquiry and instead should focus on the particular arguments offered is to announce the end of the Cult of Gnu. No more rejecting ideas just because they're 'religious' or 'theological' or 'philosophical', and sniffing that there's no need to even understand what's being said because you can be sure in advance it's all wrong.

cautiouslycurious said...

Tony,

I would add that as another unfair criticism of Harris. Harris doesn't propose that morality is universally prescriptive so asking him for a solution to the is-ought gap is disingeuous.

ozero91 said...

"And to say that we shouldn't just dismiss whole fields of thought and methods of inquiry and instead should focus on the particular arguments offered is to announce the end of the Cult of Gnu. No more rejecting ideas just because they're 'religious' or 'theological' or 'philosophical', and sniffing that there's no need to even understand what's being said because you can be sure in advance it's all wrong."

Or at the very least, they may lose the rhetorical/polemical edge.

David B Marshall said...

Amen to this article! In the five years since The Truth Behind the New Atheism came out, in interactions with hundreds of atheists, it has seemed to me sometimes that the only New Atheists who could argue worth spit were almost all philosophers. The scientists all think they are arguing science, but usually argue bad philosophy instead, sometimes calling it science.

On the other hand, philosophers can sometimes overreach as well. I suggested just now that Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism may be one such over-reach:

http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/12/why-plantingas-evolutionary-argument.html

I'd be very interested in your thoughts, Victor.

David B Marshall said...

That link doesn't seem to work. Please search "Marshall Why Plantinga's EAAN doesn't work" if you'd like to see the post.

BenYachov said...

"philosophism" is what? The belief that Philosophy is the only valid means of knowledge?

Well technically that is true. Historically Philosophy and Science are somewhat interchangeable. Philosophy is a science & what we call empirical science today is nothing but what has classically been called practical natural philosophy.
Modern Scientism/Positivism then is the belief the only valid or meaningful form of knowledge is practical natural philosophy (& this concept is wrong for the obvious reasons).

Also Gnus who rely on Scientism equivocate & make category mistakes by equating the categories of philosophy of metaphysics with those of practical natural philosophy.

Like claiming 2+2=4 is doubtful because it can't be falsified or claiming evolution is not possible because it "contradicts" the Second Law of Thermodynamics or some such nonsense.

Scientism would not happen if one learned some philosophy & avoided category mistakes.

Update: My Dad has come threw is operation & is alright so far.

ozero91 said...

"Scientism would not happen if one learned some philosophy & avoided category mistakes."

I dunno if elementary/middle/high schools do or not, but sneaking in some basic philosophy of science couldn't hurt, like differentiating between metaphysics and science, hypothesis and theory, the proper application of science, etc.

B. Prokop said...

Ben

Good news about your father. How are you doing?

BenYachov said...

Yes the problem is there are too many Scientists who happen to be Atheists who are either ignorant of philosophy & or ignorant plus hostile to it.

Stephen Hawking comes to mind. I hated THE GRAND DESIGN not because of his doubts of the Divine or his superficial arguments against a Paley style creator deity. His statement "Philosophy is dead" on the first page was unforgivably irrational as was his general philosophical ineptitude through out the rest of the book.

Hawking is a genius in his own discipline & as Catholic Physicist Stephen Barr said Hawking's Cosmology is quite elegant but he overreaches when he conflates science with metaphysics.

BenYachov said...

@Bob

I'm ok.

B. Prokop said...

There's a very interesting side note to make about scientism here. Note that no one expects "science" (even followers of scientism) to have all the answers. It is, in fact, one of the legitimate glories of science that, when its methodologies are properly adhered to, people are unafraid to say "We don't know" when appropriate.

But... Your average gnu scientism-follower will demand that a person of faith have all the answers to everything all the time, and will ridicule anyone who says (when appropriate) "It's a mystery."

(By the way, there's got to be a single word noun we can all use to indicate "follower of scientism." "Scientist" doesn't cut it here, because scientists can be Christians, Hindus, Muslims, or atheists, and totally eschew scientism. "Scientismist" just looks and sounds silly. Any suggestions?)

ozero91 said...

Neo Positivist.

Dammit that actually sounds awesome when I say it. Can I be a Neo Positivist?

B. Prokop said...

Well, I for one don't want to be a neo-anything!

How about we just pick the next "prove you're not a robot" word that comes up? The one for this posting is "oodetart" - that sounds about right!

So from now on, all followers of scientism are oodetarts.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"Scientismist" is silly, granted, but since scientism is silly, it seems rather appropriate to me.

BenYachov said...

>By the way, there's got to be a single word noun we can all use to indicate "follower of scientism."

Fundamentalist Positivists.

Fundamentalists tend to be per the stereotype uncritical thinkers.

All Cult of the Gnu types as has been our experience fit this too a tee in their championing of Scientism & ignoring philosophy.

B. Prokop said...

"Fundamentalist Positivists"

that's two words.

im-skeptical said...

I think you can call it whatever you like. It's just another name you use to deride people who have a different outlook. The fact is nobody calls himself a follower of scientism, just as nobody calls himself a gnu.

B. Prokop said...

Tell me, im-skeptical, why should anyone, having a fully-stocked toolbox at his disposal, stubbornly insist on using only the Phillip-head screwdriver for everything and ignore all the other tools in the box?

That's precisely what the scientismist does, when he declares that the Scientific Method (invented by Christians, by the way) is the one and only legitimate method of arriving at truth.

Now you yourself may not be a scientismist (I can never keep all these internet pseudonyms straight), but there's no ridicule involved here. That was a very touchy (and perhaps revealing) reaction there. I just went back over all the comments here. I couldn't find any ridicule.

Re-read my list of questions that "science" cannot answer (in the 6th posting down on this thread). Trying to answer any of them (and many, many others) using the Scientific Method would be like using that Phillips-head screwdriver to tighten a bolt. It's time to pull out the wrench!

BenYachov said...

>I think you can call it whatever you like. It's just another name you use to deride people who have a different outlook.

Not really. Mere disbelief in "gods" doesn't make you a Fundie Positivist since an Atheist who knows proper philosophical polemics against more than one concept of Theism and or positive philosophical arguments for his particular naturalistic worldview can't be said to be a positivist.

One must actually hold these beliefs uncritically to be one.

>The fact is nobody calls himself a follower of scientism, just as nobody calls himself a gnu.

Actually before the 50's some skeptics, Atheists and Naturalists did call themselves Positivists.

AG Flew flirted with it till he abandoned it as a hopelessly incoherent philosophy during the 50's at the height of his Atheism.

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

I'm not arguing about what science can or can't answer.

I'm saying that gnu is a derisive term. Scientism is a derisive term. This is not my emotional reaction. Look it up in Wikipedia.

When I hear those things, I wonder if you aren't engaging in a bit of projection.

How many people accept the doctrine and dogma of the church without question? Or the writings of Ed Feser? How many can't imagine what it's like to NOT belong to some religious group and then declare that atheists are members of some cult?

I think Tony Hoffman made a good point.

People who are not philosophers sometimes make legitimate points about things that may be disagreeable to you, and they don't get a fair hearing in this forum. Would it be fair to call that "philosophism"?

One more thing. There certainly are people who look to science as opposed to philosophy to provide answers. They probably feel that they have very good reason to do so (even with the understanding that science can't answer every question). Look at the track record. On any question at all, you can find philosophers who take vastly differing stances. Which of them (if any) have the correct answer? How do you know? You can say "my logic is sound" and your opponent will say the same thing. At least the scientific community tends to come to a consensus on issues that are reasonably settled, and recognize when things are not so well established.

B. Prokop said...

"I'm saying that gnu is a derisive term."

That's interesting that you say that. for the longest time, I refused to use the term, also thinking of it as a term of derision. I even took Victor to task for it once (off forum, in an e-mail). He responded that atheists used the term proudly in referring to themselves, and that no one took offense. Well, I thought, so I won't worry about that.

It would be of some value to find out how many people feel the term is derisory, and how many embrace the label. Obviously, we can count on you as one that doesn't like it. I will, however, not cease to use the term solely because one individual gets offended by it. That is what we call "political correctness". After all, you can't say anything about subjects that really matter without offending somebody.

However, as regards "scientism", if it truly is a derisive term, then we'd better come up with an acceptable alternative - and quick. Because no matter what we call it, the phenomenon is real, and it is dangerous. (And I do not mean "dangerous to faith" - I mean "dangerous to humanity".)

And that's what I was getting at in a previous posting. We need a good, single word term to describe a person who believes that there is no valid path to knowledge other than via the Scientific Method. It would be extremely cumbersome to have to repeat that entire phrase every time one wished to refer to such people. So until someone suggests something better, I will stick to either scientismist or oodetart. Take your pick.

cautiouslycurious said...

Two points I'd like to make in reference to whether said terms are derisive. The first is in regards to new/gnu atheism. New atheism was considered a derisive term and instead of adopting it to refer to notable atheists, gnu was adopted by atheists to respond to said attacks. However, I doubt that any atheist would consider its usage on this blog in the same spirit, especially when describing it as a cult. As far as scientism goes, this has been covered by Dennett: a term invented as an epithet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FU7fmb7_pHM @5:00).

B. Prokop said...

cautiouslycourious,

Then kindly provide a more "acceptable" alternative. Because as I said in my last posting, one is needed.

Now since oodetart was randomly generated by this blog's software, it can't possibly be offensive to anyone, and there is no legitimate way to accuse anyone of being insulting if they used it. How about we just all settle on oodetart to replace scientismist?

Hmmm... given current meme theory, it wouldn't take much to have it spread all over the internet, making it impossible to stamp out. It could be a done deal by noon tomorrow.

Crude said...

Wait a second here.

The Cultists of Gnu - not to be confused with atheists or agnostics or the merely irreligious - have, as a core tenet of their approach, aggressive disrespect, mockery and insult of people who disagree with them.

But if you call them Cultists of Gnu, it's a derisive term and everyone should stop using that?

Sorry, no. The label is not only deserved, it's appropriate. The fact that it was originally fumblingly conceived by a cultist of gnu just makes the whole thing that much more amusing.

You'd think they would have learned a lesson after the whole 'we're brights!' thing.

cautiouslycurious said...

Bob,
“Then kindly provide a more "acceptable" alternative. Because as I said in my last posting, one is needed.”

Why is one needed? I just posted Dennett saying that he didn’t recognize a single scientist who could be accurately described as ‘scientismist’ or whatever you’d like to call it. Who do you think this applies to and what is the foreseeable danger you see on the horizon? Also, how is what you described different from empiricism?

B. Prokop said...

"he didn’t recognize a single scientist who could be accurately described as ‘scientismist’

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I had a lengthy argument/discussion with Matt over this same issue in a recent thread. I said the very thing that you just did (as quoted), although in different words, and was jumped all over as being "anti-science" for doing so.

My point is not there are many genuine scientists who subscribe to this poisonous doctrine, but that there are legions of gnus who do.

cautiouslycurious said...

Bob,
"My point is not there are many genuine scientists who subscribe to this poisonous doctrine, but that there are legions of gnus who do."

Are we going to play "not a true scientist" now? Is Coyne not a genuine scientist? Did Hawking and Mlodinov not subscribe to said doctrine when they declared "Philosophy is dead"? Are they not genuine scientists? What about Neil Tyson when he made comments in a similar fashion, or Feynman for that matter. Their criticisms of philosophy are indistinguishable from the supposed legions' views that are criticized on this blog for being 'scientismic'.

Tony Hoffman said...

Bob Prokop: "We need a good, single word term to describe a person who believes that there is no valid path to knowledge other than via the Scientific Method."

Most likely this is based on a seemingly contrived confusion about the (widely) accepted epistemology of those who refuse to accept the tenets of various religious proponents.

Modesty is probably the best term ascribed to those many in this thread would like to call Scientismists. Modesty, both in the number and level of a philosophical axioms accepted (existence, mind, and maybe a few others), and also the conviction with which beliefs built on this basic premises can be known. Is it possible that the gods of various religions exist? Sure, but a consistent application of the principle of modesty forces us to accept that none of the various religious beliefs comes close to the level we require for just about any of our other beliefs, both mundane and extraordinary.

Scientismists, as some here would have them, are merely pointing out that a premise (God exists) is neither a necessary axiom (all due respect to Victor but I think the AFR does not fly), nor is it probable through various methods of knowing, chiefly induction and empiricism. In short, scientismists are modest about what they accept as basic premises, and what they accept as probably true based on those premises and those things that can be verified intersubjectively (verifiable, reliable, and objective). If that's what those here want to call scientism, sign me up as a proud member.

ozero91 said...

“The universe is comprehensible because it is governed by scientific laws; that is to say, its behavior can be modeled.”

I submit that Hawking and Mlodinow probably have higher IQs than I will ever have. But that quote of their's killed me. Scientific laws are abstractions.

ozero91 said...

"Scientismists, as some here would have them, are merely pointing out that a premise (God exists) is neither a necessary axiom (all due respect to Victor but I think the AFR does not fly), nor is it probable through various methods of knowing, chiefly induction and empiricism."

What does the AFR have to do with God? Reppert's AFR neither assumes God's existence nor does it arrive at God's existence as a conclusion.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ozero91: "What does the AFR have to do with God?"

This seems like a side issue, but the AFR is widely considered an argument for God.

This is the first line from Wikipedia on the subject:

"The Argument from Reason is an argument for the existence of God (at least as a supernatural instantiater of human reason) largely developed by C.S. Lewis."

ozero91 said...

It would be great if we could have a sort of "story time review" of "The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science" and "The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment," on this blog. Or maybe I could just stop being cheap and buy them for myself.

Another thing, Tony. If "God exists" was an axiom or premise, (which it is not) then theology would be as dead as logical positivism. It would be circular and self defeating.

ozero91 said...

I haven't read CSLDI yet, but IMO accepting the AFR does not make you theist. It just makes you a non-naturalist. IIRC, even Lewis didn't become a theist because of the AFR, it just got him out of naturalism. To say that theism is the only alternative to naturalism is a false dichotomy. But I'll look into your claim further.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ozero91: "Another thing, Tony. If "God exists" was an axiom or premise, (which it is not) then theology would be as dead as logical positivism. It would be circular and self defeating."

Your definitions seem idiosyncratic to me, although that's fine -- I understand you to mean something different from theology than what I normally mean when I use the word.

I don't agree that theology defined with God as a premise would necessarily be self-defeating. I think it fails as a belief system because it is ad hoc and inductively unproductive -- god beliefs, at least all that I know of, are not verifiable, reliable, and objective in ways that my other beliefs are.

ozero91 said...

"I think it fails as a belief system because it is ad hoc and inductively unproductive -- god beliefs, at least all that I know of, are not verifiable, reliable, and objective in ways that my other beliefs are."

Is that so? I think we'll have to agree to disagree here, because it would takes pages to sort out all the issues, rationalism, metaphysics, induction, deduction, laws of logic, Platonism, fact-value distinctions, explanatory power, simplicity, the myriad of traditional problems, the historical background, and the list goes on. But I have one question:

1) All men are mortal.
2) Socrates was a man.
C) Therefore, Socrates was mortal.

Do you consider this syllogism to be useless, because it is inductively unproductive?

Tony Hoffman said...

Ozero91: "I think we'll have to agree to disagree here, because it would takes pages to sort out all the issues, rationalism, metaphysics, induction, deduction, laws of logic, Platonism, fact-value distinctions, explanatory power, simplicity, the myriad of traditional problems, the historical background, and the list goes on."

You could. I would merely point out that despite all that, Gods do not show up in real life.

Ozero91: "Do you consider this syllogism to be useless, because it is inductively unproductive?"

Not sure what you're driving at. I was talking about successful belief systems, and I suggested that belief in gods appeared ad hoc (unnecessary, etc.), and unproductive (by which I mean that it doesn't have any meaningful effect, such that it is reliable, verifiable, and objective). It's valid, if that's what you mean by productive.

ozero91 said...

Off topic: This survey is interesting:

http://www.necessarybeing.net/

B. Prokop said...

"I would merely point out that despite all that, Gods do not show up in real life."

Uhhh... actually, He did. A little over 2,000 years ago, in Bethlehem.

Tony Hoffman said...

B Prokop: "Uhhh... actually, He did. A little over 2,000 years ago, in Bethlehem."

I'd like to stay on topic here regarding scientism, but I feel I have to point out that showing up in stories is no the same as showing up in real life. If that were to be your standard, you'd have a whole lot more gods showing up than your monotheism could ever sort out.

Crude said...

I'd like to stay on topic here regarding scientism, but I feel I have to point out that showing up in stories is no the same as showing up in real life.

Oh boy.

Karl Grant said...

Crude,

Did you really expect anything else from old Tony? The guy is pretty predictable.

B. Prokop said...

Actually, Tony did us all a huge favor. In one brief posting, he revealed all the shortcomings of scientism, in as clearly a manner as one could hope for.

"showing up in stories is not the same as showing up in real life."

Need I say more?

William said...

A small reminder to the "polemicists": here's some hard science instruction about current hard science concerning what is really natural, with fine tuning as the issue:

http://online.kitp.ucsb.edu/online/higgs_m12/arkanihamed/rm/flashtv.html

Naturalness? It's not naturalism :)

Tony Hoffman said...

Okay, to recap then, scientism is bad because it gets in the way of accepting the unverifiable story one grew up with that is contradicted by an uncountable number of other stories.

I'll just point out, again, that this does not appear to be an actual shortcoming. It would, however, require that theists examine and reject a treasured belief, so I do agree that that is uncomfortable, and many (most) people are too entrenched in their thinking to undergo what they perceive will be a tremendous mental upheaval.

If anyone wants to point out where and how my comments actually fall astray I'll listen, otherwise I think we've all stated our understandings.

Cheers.

B. Prokop said...

"that is uncomfortable, and many (most) people are too entrenched in their thinking to undergo what they perceive will be a tremendous mental upheaval"

I love it when people claim that an examination of one's beliefs would be "uncomfortable", when most of us have spent our whole lives not only doing just that, but have actively sought out such examination.

Tony, far from uncomfortable, examination of one's beliefs is liberating. I have indeed examined the Gospel accounts thoroughly and repeatedly, probably for a longer period than you've been alive. I am quite "comfortable" indeed, after a 60-year long process of doing so, in proclaiming the Truth of their message and the historicity of their narratives.

Karl Grant said...

that is uncomfortable, and many (most) people are too entrenched in their thinking to undergo what they perceive will be a tremendous mental upheaval.

Usually, the people who say it is uncomfortable for people to examine their beliefs are the ones who personally find it uncomfortable and avoid doing so themselves.

B. Prokop said...

You're probably right, Karl. A classic case of Projection.

"If anyone wants to point out where and how my comments actually fall astray I'll listen"

OK, I'll bite. Tony, when you objected to "stories", you fell right into the scientismist trap of refusing to accept data from any source other than one you might be comfortable with. Might I call to your attention that, unless you reject all history as fiction and unworthy of your time, that we have better evidence for the historicity of the Gospels than we do for, say, Socrates's existence. In fact, you'd have to get fairly close to contemporary times before the evidentiary trail for any historical event matches what we have in the New Testament.

ozero91 said...

I was content just leaving it at the question begging statements.

Anyways, check out the survey in my last comment guys.

Tony Hoffman said...

Karl Grant: "Usually, the people who say it is uncomfortable for people to examine their beliefs are the ones who personally find it uncomfortable and avoid doing so themselves."

This seems wrong to me. In my experience, people who are aware of common biases and traps in thinking are far ahead in this regard compared to those who are not so self-aware. How is it that you know this?

Tony Hoffman said...

VR: "Tony, when you objected to "stories", you fell right into the scientismist trap of refusing to accept data from any source other than one you might be comfortable with."

I didn't say that I was uncomfortable with religious stories. I said that I don't find them credible, chiefly because they are extraordinary AND unreliable, unverifiable, and are contradicted by other stories.

It sounds to me like you are stating now that scientism is a refusal to accept unreliable, unverifiable stories that are contradicted by other stories. This doesn't seem like a trap to me.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ozero: "I was content just leaving it at the question begging statements."

If you are referring to my statements please point them out to me.

Tony Hoffman said...

B Prokop: "I have indeed examined the Gospel accounts thoroughly and repeatedly, probably for a longer period than you've been alive. I am quite "comfortable" indeed, after a 60-year long process of doing so, in proclaiming the Truth of their message and the historicity of their narratives."

This is my point. You have invested heavily in your religious beliefs. And this makes it very hard for anyone to rationally investigate, and reject, those beliefs. We are all subject to human nature, etc.

But here's a question for you: what are the top 3 reasons, off the top of your head, that we should not trust the accounts of the Gospel? As one who has examined this question for 60 years, I wonder what you think the top 3 are (and if you wanted provide me with more I'd be interested in those as well).

Karl Grant said...

Tony,

In my experience, people who are aware of common biases and traps in thinking are far ahead in this regard compared to those who are not so self-aware.

Not necessarily. I have seen many people who think that just because they know about biases and faulty thinking they are somehow immune to making those same mistakes. This breeds arrogance and arrogance breeds stupidity and complacency.

How is it that you know this?

Maybe because I watched and observed many people who make this statement over the years. Most of the people I seen utter this statement rarely, if ever, practice what they preach. Case in point, let's take a look at your past behavior on this site. Earlier this year I posted links to articles with quotes from Dawkins and Meyers about the nature of evidence for God, mainly their refusal to even examine any evidence that might run contrary to their beliefs. Now refusal to examine contradictory evidence is to a cherished belief is part and parcel of what you are talking about.

Did you criticize Dawkins and Meyers for these statements? No, you defended them and thereby removed any right you had to be taken seriously when making a statement like that above.

B. Prokop said...

Tony,

Top three? I'm in a good mood, so I'll bite again. Note that your phraseology "not trust" is a bit question-begging. I'll list my top three "difficulties":

1. We do not have the original words spoken. The gospels were written in Greek, but the dialogues quoted were in Aramaic.

2. Although not insurmountable, the post-Resurrection accounts are difficult to sync with each other.

3. The lengthy monologues in John are out of character with the "pithier" sayings in the Synoptics. (This one scarcely deserves the label "difficulty", but I needed three.)

Now, you tell me the Top Three reasons why you should trust the Gospel accounts. If you do not do this, I will henceforth regard you as a hopeless ideologue who cannot think outside your preconceived ideas.

Tony Hoffman said...

KG: "Case in point, let's take a look at your past behavior on this site. Earlier this year I posted links to articles with quotes from Dawkins and Meyers about the nature of evidence for God, mainly their refusal to even examine any evidence that might run contrary to their beliefs."

Yeah, it looks like you misrepresented my position there and in this comment thread, and that you don't understand science and testable hypotheses, etc. Thanks for relinking -- I do recommend it for anyone who is curious how KG misunderstands both these kinds of questions and the epistemology of those who strive to apply skepticism and empiricism to their beliefs.

KG: "Did you criticize Dawkins and Meyers for these statements? No, you defended them and thereby removed any right you had to be taken seriously when making a statement like that above."

I refer to the link KG provided (and I re-pasted above) for anyone to read who is confused here.

Tony Hoffman said...

Bob P: "Note that your phraseology "not trust" is a bit question-begging."

How so? If you say that you have examined your Christian beliefs, doesn't that entail the consideration that they may not actually be correct?

Bob P: "Now, you tell me the Top Three reasons why you should trust the Gospel accounts. If you do not do this, I will henceforth regard you as a hopeless ideologue who cannot think outside your preconceived ideas."

I'd say that the Gospel accounts could be trusted where they are consistent with reality.

So I'd say they are to be trusted wherever they are:

1. consistent with what we know about people, societies, and events we experience both today and can examine in the past;
2. consistent with what we otherwise know (independent verification from the period) regarding the period and place;
3. are consistent with non-documentary evidence concerning (age of paper, archaeological evidence, etc.).

For instance, I think it highly probable that they were first written from around 80 to 140 AD, and that they represent the beliefs of religious communities of that period, etc.

Btw, my ideas about the Gospels are not "preconceived," as my ideas about them know are different than what they used to be. So your characterization of my ideas about the Gospels as being "preconceived" is false.

I'll go through your top three later. Thanks for responding.

B. Prokop said...

"Bob P: "Note that your phraseology "not trust" is a bit question-begging."

How so?
"

Would somebody else kindly explain the obvious to Tony? I'm too lazy to do so just now, and besides, I'm on my way out to a Christmas concert.

Tony Hoffman said...

B Prokop: "Would somebody else kindly explain the obvious to Tony? I'm too lazy to do so just now, and besides, I'm on my way out to a Christmas concert."

Yes, please do. I am curious how a question can be question-begging (assume the conclusion in a premise), among other things.

Karl Grant said...

How so very typical and boring. Dodge the question, try to put down your opponent, try to prop up your own ego, try to claim victory prematurely...so very, very predictable. So very, very boring.

Tony Hoffman said...

KG: "How so very typical and boring. Dodge the question, try to put down your opponent, try to prop up your own ego, try to claim victory prematurely...so very, very predictable."

Not sure if you mean me, but even a casual perusal of this thread shows that this is not a fair representation. I don't think I've gotten much here in the way of substantive discussion about what scientism actually is, and why it's such a problem.

Karl Grant said...

Tony,

I was referring to your comment:

Yeah, it looks like you misrepresented my position there and in this comment thread, and that you don't understand science and testable hypotheses, etc. Thanks for relinking -- I do recommend it for anyone who is curious how KG misunderstands both these kinds of questions and the epistemology of those who strive to apply skepticism and empiricism to their beliefs.

It shouldn't have taken a genius to figure out what I was referring to. The fact you didn't, is well, not too surprising either.

Tony Hoffman said...

KG, I disagree with your portrayal, and agree with my prior assessment. As you simply made an assertion, and one that is obviously wrong to me (that I refuse to listen to contrary evidence?), and provided a link to a discussion that was already fairly well explicated, I am not sure what it is you are even (accurately) accusing me of. Seriously, I don't think you're being at all cogent. I understand you disagree with me, but in order to persuade you'll have to form some kind of argument.

Tony Hoffman said...

Also, if anyone could please explain to me what Bob meant by my begging the question with my question I would appreciate it.



cautiouslycurious said...

Tony,
“Also, if anyone could please explain to me what Bob meant by my begging the question with my question I would appreciate it.”

Your question assumes that there are 3 reasons why not to trust the gospels. Bob may have found that there is no reason not to trust the gospel so an inability to answer the question is inconsequential. A more appropriate question would have been more like “what caused you to have doubts in the past and what the resolution to those problems was?”

A quick question from the other thread:
Do you interpret “A bunch of atheists jumping down theists' throats, which is the same exact thing that occurs here in reverse” to mean anything other than “theists jump down atheists throats on this site”?

Tony Hoffman said...

CC: "Your question assumes that there are 3 reasons why not to trust the gospels. Bob may have found that there is no reason not to trust the gospel so an inability to answer the question is inconsequential. A more appropriate question would have been more like “what caused you to have doubts in the past and what the resolution to those problems was?"

Hmm. Not sure I really see the distinction. I think of both of these questions above are the same thing. I think it's reasonable, when someone says that they have examined their beliefs, to ask what are the possible ways in which their beliefs could be wrong. Otherwise, it doesn't sound like those beliefs are really being examined -- unless Bob wants to say that his examination of the Gospels began with the assumption that they were 100% true (and that is, I think, possible -- he's said some interesting things in the past about how he views historical questions, etc).

CC: "Do you interpret “A bunch of atheists jumping down theists' throats, which is the same exact thing that occurs here in reverse” to mean anything other than “theists jump down atheists throats on this site”?

I understand the second quote to be equivalent to to the first. Not sure if that's what you're asking, but that's how I read it.

cautiouslycurious said...

Tony,
“Not sure I really see the distinction. I think of both of these questions above are the same thing. I think it's reasonable, when someone says that they have examined their beliefs, to ask what are the possible ways in which their beliefs could be wrong. Otherwise, it doesn't sound like those beliefs are really being examined -- unless Bob wants to say that his examination of the Gospels began with the assumption that they were 100% true”

I guess what I’m saying is that your question came across (or at least could have come across) as asking for what he currently thinks as 3 reasons not to trust the gospels. Like you said, he may have had several reasons prior and have found ways to overcome them. That doesn’t mean that he has any reasons to currently not trust the gospels, which is why I thought making the context about prior examination more explicit would be more appropriate. Or perhaps he thinks the reasons you’re asking for are supposed to be reasons to distrust the gospels in totality rather than minor problems. Since he doesn’t distrust the gospels, he wouldn’t be able to come up with such reasons. So instead of saying not trust, you would ask what the hardest part about establishing the reliability of the gospels is. I think the point of objecting to the question has more to do with objecting to the suspected assumptions of the questioner than the question itself, so these minor alterations clear up your intentions.

“I understand the second quote to be equivalent to to the first. Not sure if that's what you're asking, but that's how I read it.”

Thanks. Just asked since three theists come up with a different interpretation and wondered if it was on my part.