Monday, March 11, 2013

The Return of the Index of Forbidden Books: Secular Version

“If there were a philosophical Vatican,” Simon Blackburn declared in the New Statesman, “the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.” I hope that one day he regrets that sentence. It is not what Bruno, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Voltaire, Hume, Locke, Kant, and the other victims of the anti-philosophical Vatican had in mind.

This is from a response to the anti-Nagel mentality in the New Republic. Thomas of Torquemada will not be too far behind. 

18 comments:

Dr. Evangelicus said...

With Dawky as Inquisitor General.

Papalinton said...

Oh Dear. Weiseltier making a running commentary on Blackburn and on the science thugs of conformity.

"It is also pertinent to note that the history of science is a history of mistakes, and so the dogmatism of scientists is especially rich."

But despite his hyper-inflated and self-anointed superluminal ego, it will not be Weiseltier, nor Nagel for that matter, who will be the leading lights in correcting the mistakes of science. It is and always will be scientists that do the correcting. Science stands or falls on its own merits.

So his [Weiseltier's] characterisation of the dogmatism of science is nothing more than a snivelling whine, a misplaced and mischievous conferring of the reality of religious dogmatism onto an area of scholarship about which he is abjectly ignorant. We all know the ubiquity of religious dogmatism, a dogmatism which is the central operant feature of superstitious supernatural belief. To imagine scientists as little better than the high-priests of religious dogmatic woo, is to indelibly inscribe one's ignorance right in the middle of one's forehead. Weiseltier has done so in no small measure.

Staircaseghost said...

What part of "if" is giving you the most trouble, the vowel or the consonant?

John Mitchell said...

He is called Wieseltier

Zach said...

For goodness sake it was in the same paragraph as him saying "There is charm to reading a philosopher who confesses to finding things bewildering." We need to be less thin skinned.

This post contributes to the quixotic persecution complex among evangelicals.

Longstreet said...

Science stands or falls on its own merits.
Yes it does. And it would be wonderful if we could leave it at that. However...

It is and always will be scientists that do the correcting.
therein lies the problem. Scientists are human, and subject to all the failings of that species. Putting on a lab coat doesn't automatically make a person more open or honest. No matter how vigorously the science fetishist pats himself on the back, scientists are not immune to the "lyin' cheatin' gene". They can be and often are close-minded, dogmatic and parochial.

To imagine scientists as little better than the high-priests of religious dogmatic woo...
Imagine my ass. It is the behavior of the Papalintons of this world, and those like you, that lend so much credibility to the charge.

And I'll close with the same correction I've mentioned each time I've seen the error. Scientist!=science. Just because we don't trust scientists doesn't mean we don't trust science. Science, done properly, is trustworthy. Scientists, otoh, have given plenty of reason to be skeptical.

Papalinton said...

It seems Wieseltier has a history of attacking 'new atheists', such as Rosenberg, Dennett. So it is not unexpected that he would eventually come to defending Nagel against those Wieseltier indiscriminately imagines stereotypically represent New Atheism [particularly the real scientists and philosophers that properly sought to correct the mash of Nagel's misplaced interpretations of the underlying science]. See HERE.

Bit of a joke really. The religiose despairingly hanging onto the handful at the periphery of the debate [Nagel, Wieseltier] with hopes of bolstering their inexorably and rapidly depreciating value of their stock.

Victor Reppert said...

But here it is again, the usual crap about giving aid and comfort to creationists and advocates of intelligent design. We don't dare follow the philosophical argument where it leads because these enemies of civilization might find some support. This is of a piece with the idea that, if you see problems with Darwinian theory, or naturalistic accounts of the origin of life, then you certainly shouldn't mention them publicly, because, if you do, you might get quoted on the Answers in Genesis website. This is a sure-fire way to make sure that science does NOT progress, and does not correct itself. Science is a human institution, and has no inherent immunity to the flaws that human institutions are prone to. The idea that we have to prevent people from saying certain things because it goes against our favorite theories is a threat to the integrity of science.

Papalinton said...

"This is of a piece with the idea that, if you see problems with Darwinian theory, or naturalistic accounts of the origin of life, then you certainly shouldn't mention them publicly, because, if you do, you might get quoted on the Answers in Genesis website."

Get real Victor.
Most criticism of science, by far the vast majority, comes from theologists [philosophical and religious]. Just read BioLogos. The unschooled ignorance behind the denial of evolution has little if anything to do with Darwinian flaws, as is the level of disapproval and opposition to the competing perspectives of methodological naturalism, empiricism, materialism etc. It is the perceived direct threat they pose to superstitious supernaturalism. All manner of supernaturalists are scrambling in their desperate need to keep the heavily water-logged and inevitably sinking mythos of religious fantasizing afloat, whatever the means, be they foul or foul. The pedestal raising of Nagel is but one of the most recent examples of clutching at straws.

Wieseltier, as I read, is the product of a strong Jewish traditional background, and consistent with his history cannot but project conspiratorial agency on the part of New Atheism that he imagines threatens his tradition. One need simply to look at his theologised-intoning admiration of Nagel's sympathies " .. in grateful view [Nagel's] of the full tremendousness of existence .." and, ' .. he speaks, by example, for the soulfulness of reason." I know what he means but what is the relevance? Wieseltier's whine is none other than a plaintive cry, an angry plea, an appeal to emotion and the prospect of a warm fuzzy feel inside?

There is nothing wrong in making such appeal per se but it is simply out of place, unneeded and not germane in philosophical and scientific discourse.


im-skeptical said...

"Science is a human institution, and has no inherent immunity to the flaws that human institutions are prone to."

A scientist can certainly be wrong, but science corrects itself in the end, unlike the institution of religion (which also happens to be a human institution, by the way).

WMF said...

A scientist can certainly be wrong, but science corrects itself in the end

What does "in the end" even mean in this context?
Also, would you care to move beyond making a bare assertion in the face of Victors argument that a certain mindset can prevent this from happening? Because "science will correct itself" is compatible with what Victor said about the implications of the mindset he objected to, but it would require giving up that mindset.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know why you can just say science will correct itself and religion will not. Take a look at Vatican II. After centuries of doing things one way they made some very fundamental and significant changes. Science will correct itself unless something is put in the position of Something That Cannot Be Questioned. Once you do that, the self-correcting mechanism is going to break down. If any questions about Darwinian theory are going to be met with "You're only saying that because you have religious motives," or "you don't want to say anything that might end up quoted by Answers in Genesis," then despite all the prestige of science, we have a dogma here, in precisely the perjorative sense.

im-skeptical said...

WMF,

I think Papalinton said it better than I can. I any case, it is the fact that science is willing to hear and evaluate the evidence as it becomes available that assures it will continue to unveil more and more of the truth. Contrast this with the dogmatism of theism, which claims to have the truth in hand already. Weiseltier's reference to "Dawwinist dittohead" mobs and inquisitors is sheer projection - an apt description for elements of the religious community, but hardly for scientists.

im-skeptical said...

Victor,

"Something That Cannot Be Questioned" is characteristic of religious dogma, not of scientific theories. Come up with new information or a better theory, and it will be accepted eventually if it really is better, but it must be viewed with skepticism first, and rightly so. That's the nature of science.

Victor Reppert said...

That's precisely the dichotomy that I am questioning. Science is done by people, and there is nothing stopping people in the scientific community from behaving like Grand Inquisitors. What is more, we religious people do a lot of questioning.

Wearing a lab coat and being on a science faculty doesn't guarantee that you will exercise the epistemic virtues that have led to the success of science so far. And if you start acting like fundamentalists, then that is what you are even if your organization is call "foundation for reason and science."

im-skeptical said...

Victor,

As I said, it is possible for an individual in any profession to operate outside the norms of professional practice or to adopt unreasonable positions. But Weiseltier uses a broad brush to paint a picture that is absurd. And who in the scientific community is this Grand Inquisitor? I'm afraid that expressing disagreement doesn't fit the bill.

Papalinton said...

"I don't know why you can just say science will correct itself and religion will not. Take a look at Vatican II. After centuries of doing things one way they made some very fundamental and significant changes."

Victor, to imagine that the Vatican II changes had anything to do with the correction or substantiation of fact or the veracity of the fundamental tenets of the church is to draw too long a bow. Vatican II saw the writing on the wall for the way the church traditionally peddled its supernaturalist message. The Vatican II change was an institutional response to the loss of tens of thousands of regular tithe paying customers that woke up and realized there was nothing of value to buy in the Catholic store. It wasn't a self-correction of some fundamental truth, or proof of incorrect core tenets that necessitated the changes. Rather, it was a change in customer service delivery that was the principal driver of the refurbishment undertaken under Vatican II. It was a belated strategy to stem the leakage of congregants in order to protect their revenue stream. But horror upon horrors, the depletion in numbers continued its downward trend at an increasing rate even after the changes implemented under Vatican II.

Reason? People were simply not buying the religious argument any more. The value of supernatural stocks plummeted as demand fell, and people began to understand and appreciate that what was once thught a real-live genuine fact, a 'truth' [putatively live entities that inhabit a parallel supernatural world], was no more than a figment of the collective imagination of particular groups usually found within most diverse and eclectic communities.

So Vatican II was not a self-correction of an errant fundamental truth; it was a change in the process of delivery, a largely perceived change at best. And it is not that surprising of the level of angst among traditionalists that bellowed, "we'll all be rooned!"

Papalinton said...

Correction:

'thught' = 'thought'