Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pinker argues that science makes belief in God obsolete

Here.  Here we run up once again against the claim that science shows that materialism is true. But, does that mean that science could have shown something else to be true, that, had the evidence been difference, science would have told us that we have souls? If you argue that science shows that we don't have souls, then it seems to follow from that that it could have shown that we do have them. Yet, arguments in support of souls are often thrown out on methodological grounds.

Consider, for example, the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker: Why the evidence of evolution shows a world without design. Does that imply that if science had found something else, it would have concluded that we have a universe that WAS designed? Otherwise, the evidence isn't doing anything, since by definition it couldn't have discovered evidence for design even if it had been there. Right?

48 comments:

Doug said...

Excellent point. Thanks for that!

BenYachov said...

> If you argue that science shows that we don't have souls, then it seems to follow from that that it could have shown that we do have them. Yet, arguments in support of souls are often thrown out on methodological grounds.


Gnus because they are such spectacular c***s invoke the need for empirical evidence for proving the existence of God. But then dismiss all evidence contrary to their narrative on the grounds that it can't be proven true via science.

I would wish they would make up their minds they can't even do positivism correctly.

im-skeptical said...

"Consider, for example, the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker: Why the evidence of evolution shows a world without design. Does that imply that if science had found something else, it would have concluded that we have a universe that WAS designed?"

Let's consider the subtitle. It says the evidence shows that evolution is unguided. This is not a question of the methodological approach. There is clear and positive evidence that supports the thesis of unguided evolution. Even if we reject arguments in favor of things for which there is no evidence on methodological grounds, we are still left with a strong positive case for unguided evolution that is supported by ample evidence. Read Coyne's 'Why Evolution is True'.

The evidence shows what it shows. It's perfectly fair to say that if the evidence showed something different, that would result in different scientific conclusions. That's how science works.

mattghg said...

Ben, do you think asterixing out your obscenities makes them OK?

Dan Gillson said...

There was no mention of materialism in Pinker's article. In fact, Pinker isn't even arguing that materialism is true. He's saying that when compared to science, which includes both history and philosophy, God has become a useless explanans. I think that he makes a good point: when God and science are compared, scientific explanations (narrowly defined) yield more robust explanations for things like human action, the diversity of life, and the origins of the universe. Even in a field in which science, narrowly defined, can't adjudicate disputes, such as in ethics, God doesn't have much utility. We can decide what's right and wrong without reference to God; we can resolve our own disputes. The idea of God merely posits where it should explain; science, however, actually explains where it should. Obsolete notions, such as God and the soul, just don't have much utility any more.

WMF said...

And historically, which theistic philosophical traditions have argued for the existence of God by interering to the best explanation?

Dan Gillson said...

I'm not sure what you're trying to get at, WMF. Don't Plato's demiurge and Aristotle's Unmoved Mover provide us with better explanations of cosmology and causation than the Greek pantheon does?

BenYachov said...

>Ben, do you think asterixing out your obscenities makes them OK?

Obscenities are relative. The original Italian version of the LITTLE FLOWERS OF ST FRANCIS has Francis telling one of his monks threaten to S*** in the Devil mouth the next time he comes to temp him.

The Old English translations of the Bible have passages in the OT that say things like "I shall strike down all those who [urinate] against the wall. Except the actual word used begins with a "P".

I am Catholic. I drink (rarely but sometimes) and I cuss. I am not going to change anytime soon. I would rather work on not being such a d*** to people then clean up my vocal choices.

Papalinton said...

From a historical, philosophical and indeed a scientific perspective, the God Hypothesis as an historical place-marker for things about which we know nothing, has pretty much reached its 'use-by date'. The groundswell of this sentiment has never been stronger or more positive over the whole course of history than it is today. And there are many factors that have precipitated this change in understanding.

When Simon-Pierre LaPlace first intoned his famous observation, "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là", it marked the beginning of the final chapter of the passing of the God Hypothesis as a working explanatory proposition. The historical journey since that utterance has been an all-lanes superhighway towards redundancy with no off-ramps. The speed at which this hypothesis travels this highway is the only variable.

This is best reflected through 'mainstream' philosophy, to the chagrin of Feser and a few others, no longer entertaining any aspect of the god-related paradigm as a working model, not because it is not entertaining [to be sure it is truly entertaining], but rather, it has no epistemic probative value and proven to be of little functional merit in addressing the 'big questions', despite the centuries-old rhetoric we have grown up with.

BenYachov said...

Is Paps using one of those online essay writer programs to post his reposes?

Crude said...

Ben,

Is Paps using one of those online essay writer programs to post his reposes?

Well, plagiarizing didn't work out so hot for him, so...

Crude said...

Dan,

He's saying that when compared to science, which includes both history and philosophy, God has become a useless explanans.

There are a few problems going on here.

First, expanding 'science' to include history and philosophy is just flat out illegitimate. That doesn't have much to do with the question itself, but it's still worth pointing out.

Second, if you're going to include history and philosophy, then both God and the soul haven't even lost validity - if anything they've gained validity. (And, by Pinker's own labeling, we'd have to say they have scientific validity.)

But third, and this is probably the most important point - what science attempts to explain regarding God and the soul is irrelevant to either's existence or truth, and compatible with it. When Pinker says 'science shows that mankind evolved', that's great - but what he needs is 'science shows that mankind evolved, and God had no role in the process'. Note: that's not 'and science doesn't make mention of God's involvement in the process' - it's an explicit claim about God's role and activity. And science is helpless to establish that. So it goes for pretty much any scientific example that can be cited.

And it won't do to say 'Well, okay, but in principle God may not be involved at all' - because that's trivial to do with just about any example. Go ahead, make the universe 6000 years old, make humanity have appeared fully formed at year 0. You still don't have 'science has shown God exists' as a result. You don't even have 'God is now necessary for an explanation', because it's not as if God is a scientific theory through which that appearance can be explained.

Science hasn't made God obsolete. Science is simply helpless to involve God in any explanation, in an either positive or negative way. In fact, science is pretty well helpless with regards to metaphysical disputes, period. It would be trivial to rewrite Pinker's essay as saying 'science has made belief in naturalism obsolete'.

We can decide what's right and wrong without reference to God; we can resolve our own disputes.

I don't think this is noteworthy at all in one sense (Violence solvs plenty of disputes.) In another sense, once history and philosophy is included, it gets even worse as far as the bare claim goes - since that includes fields for which disputes have been raging for millenia.

BeingItself said...

Here is how science could show that we have souls:

Suppose we discover a prayer that when two people say it at the same time, their personalities/memories switch bodies, like in the movies Big and Freaky Friday. Also, MRI scans or whatever before and after the switch show the same brain architecture.

That would be great evidence that souls are real.

But souls are not real.

Crude said...

Here is how science could show that we have souls:

Suppose we discover a prayer that when two people say it at the same time, their personalities/memories switch bodies, like in the movies Big and Freaky Friday. Also, MRI scans or whatever before and after the switch show the same brain architecture.

That would be great evidence that souls are real.


I love this kind of evidence, because it illustrates something important:

For all the talk of 'God of the gaps' or 'soul of the gaps'... a gap is exactly what is demanded, particularly by Gnu-style atheists.

Notice that BI's example contains absolutely no scientific evidence, or empirical demonstration, of a soul or God. There's just an arbitrary imagining of a magical incantation which, after uttered, personalities and memories switch - and we have no explanation of how this happened, or physical evidence to go by. All we have is a gap.

But if gaps are sufficient to give 'great evidence for God and the soul', then we're already there - there's no shortage of gaps with regards to mind, the universe, and other things.

Yet if gaps aren't sufficient, then the request fails outright.

Sorry - I don't believe it's "science" to go, "Wow, I can't explain this one scientifically. I'm calling it God/soul!" It's an abuse of science, a misrepresentation of it.

And I really wish atheists of that stripe would stop abusing science, whether out of ignorance or malice.

Crude said...

And to endorse what Victor said...

Consider, for example, the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker: Why the evidence of evolution shows a world without design. Does that imply that if science had found something else, it would have concluded that we have a universe that WAS designed? Otherwise, the evidence isn't doing anything, since by definition it couldn't have discovered evidence for design even if it had been there. Right?

The point he makes illustrates the problem: science doesn't 'show a world without design'. Not with evolution, not with physics, not with anything. It shows quite a lot, it provides some useful predictive tools and theories and more - but there's a limit to it. Metaphysics generally, God, and even merely 'very powerful beings' are way outside of that scope.

I think even Pinker realizes this, which is why he starts off immediately by trying to massively expand the definition of science to the point where he may as well have flatly said that theologians are scientists - but he's still trying to act as if he was using the more restricted definition of science.

His move doesn't work. The best you can say is that science cast doubt on, say... YEC, for example. But that's not going to get him where he needs to go.

Papalinton said...

Crude claims: "First, expanding 'science' to include history and philosophy is just flat out illegitimate."

Only to the immaterial supernaturalists as you represent.
No Crude, science and history have a more enduring link to philosophy than does theology.

"The dramatic success of the new science in explaining the natural world, in accounting for a wide variety of phenomena by appeal to a relatively small number of elegant mathematical formulae, promotes philosophy (in the broad sense of the time, which includes natural science) from a handmaiden of theology, constrained by its purposes and methods, to an independent force with the power and authority to challenge the old and construct the new, in the realms both of theory and practice, on the basis of its own principles. D'Alembert, a leading figure of the French Enlightenment, characterizes his eighteenth century, in the midst of it, as “the century of philosophy par excellence”, because of the tremendous intellectual progress of the age, the advance of the sciences, and the enthusiasm for that progress, but also because of the characteristic expectation of the age that philosophy (in this broad sense) would dramatically improve human life." [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Simply read the bolded highlights to appreciate the asininity of Crude's crude rationale.

BeingItself said...

Crude,

From my interaction with Christians I understand "soul" to mean the non-material essence of a person that includes their personality, memories, and the like.

So if the personality, memories and the like of one body could be transferred to another body with no change in the material make-up or architecture of the bodies, then that would go a long way to demonstrating that souls are real.

Would there still be a gap in understanding? Sure.

If what I describe actually happened, then Christians and others who believe in a soul would glom onto it and hold the worlds biggest victory party. And rightly so.

Crude said...

BI,

From my interaction with Christians I understand "soul" to mean the non-material essence of a person that includes their personality, memories, and the like.

Who are these Christians? They're not anyone at DI I can identify, since I can't think of any who defines 'soul' that simply and loosely. Those things may have been argued by some people as non-material in some way, but 'soul'?

So if the personality, memories and the like of one body could be transferred to another body with no change in the material make-up or architecture of the bodies, then that would go a long way to demonstrating that souls are real.

Would there still be a gap in understanding? Sure.


No, no. We're not talking about there still being a gap somewhere in any otherwise thorough explanation. You cited a gap - period. That was your evidence, top to bottom. "If this thing happened for which I had zero explanation, I'd say 'God/soul.'"

And you know what? That's fine. Here's the price tag: "God of the gaps" and "Soul of the gaps" explanations are now valid by your reckoning. In fact, that's scientific reasoning by your reckoning: if you come across phenomena you can't explain, plugging in 'God' or 'soul' is legit.

You don't need a mechanism. You don't need an explanation. Hell, you don't even need a metaphysical argument. You need a gap and a willingness to fill it.

BeingItself said...

Crude,

"You cited a gap - period."

Where?



im-skeptical said...

crude,

The point he makes illustrates the problem: science doesn't 'show a world without design'.

Yes, it does. I know this is against everything you stand for but READ THE BOOK. And read Coyne, too. The whole point is to demonstrate through scientific evidence that there is no design. And they do in fact make a very strong, evidence-based case, unlike the unscientific babble we hear from DI. Of course, if that's what you listen to, it's understandable that you don't recognize real scientific evidence when you see it.

Ilíon said...

Modern science doesn't deal in truth and the alleged "scientific method" cannot be used to distinguish a truth from a not-truth. So, it's logically impossible, and thus utterly impossible, for the claim that science shows that materialism is true to be a true claim.

oozzielionel said...

It seems like the "God of the gaps" issue is based on the assumption that epistemology is all about explaining how things work. Applying this to the Bible, the story of Noah would be a story of how rainbows came to be. However, it very doubtful that is even a significant reason for the story. So if science is about explaining how things work (light refraction), theology (philosophy)are seeking truth of a different character.

The examined life is more than neurons and chemistry. Focusing on the mechanics of life is like tearing apart the rose to find the source of it's beauty.

The more we know about how our world works, the more we can manipulate our surroundings, control hostile environments, enhance creature comforts. But neuroscience has yet to create a loving family.

If God's only purpose was to tell us why there were rainbows, then science might be competition. God has more important things to tell us.

Ilíon said...

"... do you think asterixing out your obscenities makes them OK?"

That's one thing I find so amusing about people -- no matter which particular words one chooses with which to say/express a concept, one *has* said it. And yet people go all Miss Grundy over non-euphemistic words.

For example, whether one likens another’s words/expressed-concepts to ‘dung’ or to ‘merde’ or to ‘sh*t’, one has liken them to ‘shit’. So, what’s the point of freaking out over the vowel in the blunt word?

Crude said...

BI,

"You cited a gap - period."

Where?


Your entire example?

It's nothing but a gap. 'Two people behave as if they switched minds, but their brains don't change. We have no idea how they did it. So, soul/God.'

You have no mechanism. You have no theory. You have nothing but 'something bizarre happened, we can't explain it right now, therefore soul/God'. That's the very definition of God/soul of the gaps.

And that's precisely what you're endorsing here in terms of reasoning. Which, if you want to walk down that road, is fine. But I'm pointing out what results - you've given up criticisms of 'God/soul of the gaps' reasoning, because you just endorsed that very manner of reasoning.

Skep,

Yes, it does. I know this is against everything you stand for but READ THE BOOK.

Nitwit, 'I stand for' reading, understanding, and comprehending what I talk about. If I don't feel I understand it, I start asking questions. Note: I ask questions often. I qualify my statements with 'As I understand it' and 'If I interpret this correctly' and the like as needed - a practice that is as alien to you as saying 'I don't know the correct answer here.'

You? You still can't grok that I don't think ID is science. Because you're so, so slow, and easily confused by my defending ID claims against stupid criticisms.

The whole point is to demonstrate through scientific evidence that there is no design. And they do in fact make a very strong, evidence-based case,

No, they don't. If they did, they wouldn't freeze up with fear whenever someone like me asks them a simple question: provide me with the peer-reviewed experiments and research on design in anything from evolution to planetary formation to otherwise. Newsflash: it ain't there. Double newsflash: 'We postulate this process and it makes no reference to God!' ain't "scientific evidence there is no design". About the only ones who really are writing peer-reviewed papers purporting to 'scientifically infer design' are the freaking ID people.

The closest they get are claims that such-and-such is inefficient, or bad design, or evil - which garrotes them completely in terms of arguing about design, because it opens the door to A) citing incidents of good or efficient design AS design, B) works off utter subjective shots in the dark, and C) is not science.

By the by? You're a known liar around here, just as Linton is a known plagiarist. Now, unless you want me to make fun of you again and wound your already fragile ego, piss off. At least BI is giving me conversation. You can't even manage that much. ;)

grodrigues said...

@Crude:

"At least BI is giving me conversation."

Let us pour some gasoline into this fire; to quote from Dr. Johnson:

'At length he had recourse to this device. "Pray, Sir, (said he,) whether do you reckon Derrick or Smart the best poet?" Johnson at once felt himself rouzed; and answered, "Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea."'

BeingItself said...

Crude,

You have the order of reasoning backwards.

People believe in a 'soul' as I have defined it.

I then gave an example of a scientific demonstration that would give support that such a thing really exists.

BenYachov said...

>People believe in a 'soul' as I have defined it.

Crude is Catholic as is Grod and Myself. How is your "People's Definition" of a soul identical to the Papal definition which is the only one we care about?

BeingItself said...

Give me the Papal definition and I will try to come up with a way science could show that such a thing is real.

My point was to show that VR's claim that the notion is "thrown out on methodological grounds" is bollocks.

Crude said...

BI,

You have the order of reasoning backwards.

People believe in a 'soul' as I have defined it.


Who? And this is irrelevant to the response I've given you besides.

I then gave an example of a scientific demonstration that would give support that such a thing really exists.

Right - you provided a hypothetical gap. That's your scientific support. "Imagine this phenomena took place which we had no scientific explanation for whatsoever. Well, we could propose God/soul!"

And like I keep saying, but which you don't seem to recognize - that's fine, really. Reason that way if you want. Just please recognize that you are endorsing X of the Gaps reasoning, and what that cashes out to.

My point was to show that VR's claim that the notion is "thrown out on methodological grounds" is bollocks.

Argue with the people who endorse methodological naturalism and who likewise define God and the soul as supernatural, because it follows pretty trivially from their definition.

Have you considered that your own understanding may be what's bollocks here?

BenYachov said...

>Give me the Papal definition and I will try to come up with a way science could show that such a thing is real.

I have a better challenge.

Show me a way science can measure the atomic weight of Natural Selection?

In your own time Positivism boy.

BeingItself said...

Crude,

Some folks said the Higgs was real, while some others were doubtful.

Experiments have shown that a thing with all the properties of this alleged Higgs is real.

Is it "gap" reasoning to conclude that the Higgs is real?

BenYachov,

You have convinced me that essentialism is true, as you are essentially a coward.

Crude said...

BI,

Crude,

Experiments have shown that a thing with all the properties of this alleged Higgs is real.

Is it "gap" reasoning to conclude that the Higgs is real?


Higgs, according to my amateur understanding, is predicted by the standard model. It's a physical particle complete with a theoretical structure and physical behavior of properties X, Y and Z.

In comparison, you have no theory. You're not talking about a physical 'thing' whatsoever. You have no reason to believe that an immaterial soul 'should' be able to arbitrarily switch between people based on a magic word utterance - you have no mechanisms, you have no theory, you have nothing but a gap into which you're placing the soul.

And there are gaps all over the place, into which it's trivial to imagine 'God' or 'soul' fills those gaps. According to what you're laying out here, that's apparently A-OK reasoning.

BeingItself said...

Crude,

Christians who believe is souls certainly have a theory that involves an immortal immaterial soul.

I provided an experiment that would go a long way to showing that such a thing exists.

I have shown that VR's claim that science rules out souls on methodological grounds is bollocks.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

I should've been clearer. I don't think that science has made God obsolete in toto, just as an explanans for natural phenomena. I also don't think that science is directly responsible for God's obsolescence. Science may have accelerated the pace at which God was made obsolete, but even before science we had begun to define the Good without reference to the divine. (If you're interested, Charles Taylor, a Catholic Philosopher, wrote a book about the process. It's titled, A Secular Age.)

I'm not arguing that science has made God obsolete through invalidation. Science doesn't provide us with the conditions to validate or invalidate God's existence. Science made God obsolete in a way analogous to the way bleached flour made millet flour obsolete; we discovered that bleached flour could make our baked goods lighter and fluffier than millet flour could. To get lighter, fluffier baked goods we fit certain means (bleached flour) to a particular end (better pastries). Likewise with God and science. Scientific methodology gets us to our desired end, viz., the explanation of the natural world, God does not.

grodrigues said...

@Dan Gilson:

"Scientific methodology gets us to our desired end, viz., the explanation of the natural world, God does not."

I am understanding you, this is not correct and trades on a typical equivocation about explanation. In the classical theistic tradition (1) what God is an explanation of is not the sort of thing that Science could explain, not even in principle, but rather it is what Science must presuppose in the first place (2) what it means for God to be an explanation is also not the same as what it means for say, the Higgs boson is an explanation for why particles have mass.

Martin said...

Dan,

The god of classical theism is not a hypothesis to explain a set of facts, like a quasi-scientific explanation. Rather, it is intended to be a direct deductive argument, useful or not. For example, given that change occurs, that nothing can change itself, and that an essential ordered causal series requires a first member, it follows necessarily that there is something changeless that causes all change.

This may be completely "useless" as an explanation for anything, but assuming the premises are true it is still a true conclusion.

The god of classical theism was not used as a quasi-scientific hypothesis to explain a set of facts, as modern natural theology often is (for example, fine tuning arguments).

Dan Gillson said...

Grod:

I already implicitly conceded your first point. Science doesn't provide us with the conditions to determine its metaphysical ground, which we can call, for the sake of convenience, God. Science does, however, make the religious explanations for natural phenomena obsolete, so in another sense, in the sense which was implied in my argument, science does make God obsolete. The trouble isn't merely, so to speak, that I was equivocating vis-à-vis what an explanation is, but also that "God" is an equivocal notion. Sorry that that wasn't clear.

BenYachov said...

>however, make the religious explanations for natural phenomena obsolete....

What you really mean to say here Dan is science makes supernatural explanations for natural phenomena obsolete.

But of course in general the Church and Church Fathers have always believed that.

So it is uncontroversial.

Cheers.

grodrigues said...

@Dan Gilson:

As Ben said; if all you mean to say is that the proximate explanation for natural phenomena is to be found in, well, nature, then this is hardly controversial.

Karl Grant said...

Dan,

Science does, however, make the religious explanations for natural phenomena obsolete, so in another sense, in the sense which was implied in my argument, science does make God obsolete

Isn't this like saying that since Thermodynamics can explain how water comes to a boil this removes John wanting to make spaghetti as a explanation for why a pot of water is boiling on the stove?

Dan Gillson said...

Guys, honestly: I didn't think I was making a controversial point. I was merely appreciating and explicating what I thought Pinker said. Crude, as usual, caught me being un-precise. I plead haste.

BenYachov said...

@Dan

Fair play then.

cheers!:-)

im-skeptical said...

"since Thermodynamics can explain how water comes to a boil ..."

Funny. When I studied thermodynamics, it had nothing to say about how water comes to a boil.

Karl Grant said...

I'm Skeptical,

Funny. When I studied thermodynamics, it had nothing to say about how water comes to a boil.

Not surprising, especially since you obviously didn't find the definitions of displace and supersede the last time opened up a dictionary either.

im-skeptical said...

Karl,

You're a dolt.

Karl Grant said...

Nah, a dolt is somebody who says I would agree with the term A, the term B is wrong when the two words are synonyms and one is actually used in the definition of the other or says two opposing physics theories are the same thing.

Crude said...

BI,

Christians who believe is souls certainly have a theory that involves an immortal immaterial soul.

I provided an experiment that would go a long way to showing that such a thing exists.

I have shown that VR's claim that science rules out souls on methodological grounds is bollocks.


You have provided an experiment that results in a goddamn gap, period. You have no theory, you have no observation - nothing at all like that. And if 'gaps' are acceptable, then God and the soul have NOT been ruled out of bounds by science after all, because God and the soul are still primo explanations. Find your favorite fundamental gap - put God in there.

And I'm not even getting started on the way your idea clashes with actual understandings of souls in either the Cartesian or Thomist views. What you have shown is an inconsistency in standard materialist-atheist reasoning: 'God/soul of the gaps!' is the battlecry normally, but at the end of the day, when it comes to naming what evidence would convince you God or the soul exists... you name a gap. Not metaphysical argument, not logical appeals, not even a scientific theory and observation (which is inane to ask for to begin with.) You want a weird inexplicable event that kinda-sorta fits you subjective view.

And as I keep saying, that is -fine-. Go with that! But now you've given up the God/soul of the gaps complaint. So the next time someone says 'I believe in a soul because (insert gap here)', simply say - unless that gap is immediately and uncontroversally filled - 'Well, okay, that's valid.'

Crude said...

Dan,

Okay, now I'm seeing where you're coming from a bit more. I'd agree with what Grod and Ben have said on this front... but I still think there's a problem.

I don't think it works to single out 'God' with what you're talking about - since you can name (say) cosmologies or events that had nothing to do with God, and apparently science ruled/rules those out too. I've got more to say on this, but I'm on the tired side - maybe later.

Thanks for the clarification either way.