Monday, July 01, 2013

Atheism's Assualt on all forms of Knowledge

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 Jerry A. Coyne* is on the war path against all forms of thought that are not science.On his blog, "Why Evolution is True," he defends scientism as the only from of knowledge. He doesn't defend science but "scienTISM." The thing about that is that term has always been used to refer to an phony exaggeration in the confidence one places in scinece. It's always meant a sort legalistic worship of science. Apparently those adjectives accurately describe Coyne's feelings about the subject. For him there's only one form of knowledge. He goes after Eric MacDonald who is actually opposing religious obstacles to the right to die. He runs a sight called Choice of Dying. Whatever his site is about he makes the satement oppossing scientism:

 I won’t go into the detail of the arguments (or non-arguments) presented in this thread. That was not the focus of my concern, which remains even when everything said here has been said. Certainly, for example, to say that Mozart is a greater composer than Hummel requires evidence, and the people who would be the best judge of what constitutes evidence in this case would not be scientists, but experts in music, composition, direction, performance, and appreciation. I don’t think that a study of the structure of music as related to brain structure or response would tell us very much. I may be quite wrong about this, but I think there is more going on here than simply those things discoverable by science. And that is precisely my problem with what I am here calling “scientism.” It is, basically, a “faith” position, since it is not in fact based, and cannot, in the nature of the case, be based on empirical evidence, for it is, essentially, a meta-claim about such evidence, and the belief that only those beliefs based on the kind of evidence in question constitute knowledge.

 This is too much for Coyne. He summarizes MacDonald's battle plan thusly:

 As I pointed out in the first part of my critique, these pieces espoused three themes: the failures of New Atheism, especially its inability to replace what religion gives people; the dangers of scientism, which Eric apparently sees as a pervasive and destructive attitude; and the fact that there are Ways of Knowing other than science.  Yesterday I analyzed—and disagreed with—Eric’s claim that New Atheism is an abject failure because it a). criticizes simplistic caricatures of religion rather than serious theological thought, and b). tears down religion without replacing the essential human needs that religion meets. This morning I’ll address “other ways of knowing.”

 MacDonald is saying that experiential forms of knowing are required and are valid forms of knowledge in their own right apart form the formal scientific collection of data. You can't really know music just by  knowing a lot of technical data about sound waves, without actually hearing the music. That's not good enough for Coyne. He complies a short list of forms of knowledge MacDonald says require other froms of knowing than just scinece and it includes:

  • Aesthetic judgments
  • Moral judgments
  • Law
  • History
 He points out that science is not a collection of people with Ph.Ds or a body of results but a method. In the broader sense that method invovles evidence that can be deduced systematically and can be tested by others. "Evidence that cannot be tested and confirmed by others is not reliable evidence: it falls into the purview of things like religious revelations, which many theologians do see as “evidence.” He asserts that construing scinece broadly one can include things like auto mechanics and plumbing. Well of course he fails to distinguish between using scientific methods or approach and applying them to problems rather actually doing science; something has to be said about science as inquiry. It's not just a pragmatic tool fo re-roofing your house it's about actually learning for the sake of knowledge itself. It has has something to do with knowledge about the workings of natural world not the workings of anything, so the workings of impressionists painters are excluded. If we make he definition too board in encompass everything then it's not even meaningful to distinguish bewteen science and not science. Of cousre he actually knew something about theology he would know that some aspects of it can be appraoch through replicable methods that yield evidence which can be checked by others, such as textual criticism.

 Then there's no reason why theology should produce that kind of knowledge. The purpose of theology is not mirror scinece. It's to answer problems and understand developments in religious tradition. the first thing scientistic types always do when they see anything about other forms of knowledge is hold up to scinece and assume that their purpose must be to imitate scinece. For them that's all life is about, science, its not about experiencing things its about collecting data. This gimmick of reducing everything to science is followed by Coyne until he incorporates all of the "other forms" into scinece. History and archeology, he argues, test hypotheses so they are scinece."Archaeologists and historians often act as scientists when trying to determine truth about the past. Indeed, that is the only way they can be credible.."

He does acknowledge that aesthetic and moral judgements are not in the same category (not scinece) because they can't be verified determined objectively. A set of criteria that might render a judgement true in that sense is nevertheless set up subjectively. But not only are they not reduced to scinece but they are not true either. So he reduced truth to that which suits the scientific method. He repudiates moral thinking on the same ground because it can't be given the official stamp of scinece (even though as we have seen there are schools of thought that think they are doing that). He accepts Math and philosophy as uses of logic that are "almost scientific." So he makes a small niche for something that is not scientific per se (no replicable, no empirical data). It's still on the basis of being able to discern an objective basis through the use of logic, making it an alley of science (he doesn't use that phrase). He says,"I think philosophy and mathematics are “ways of understanding”, and come close to science in that one can demonstrate truths within an accepted system of logic."

Literature she shuns because it tells us nothing external until scinece is use (again scinece in the loosest sense of anything that's not subjective) to confirm it. By that way of thinknig then psychology is out. Psychology ceases to be scientific. Of course individual judgement is out.

He reduces all to naturalism:

What I argue, then, is that anything that is claimed to exist in our universe can be verified only with the methods of science, broadly construed. I don’t see that Eric has convincingly demonstrated that there are real and objective moral and aesthetic judgments that can be demonstrated by “evidence.”  How can you test your claim that Mozart is better than Hummel by checking it against the real world? All you can find out is that many people think that Mozart is better than Hummel. But others may dissent, and who can prove them wrong? How can you prove someone wrong who says that it’s immoral to abort babies after the first trimester?
 Mozart vs. Hummel was MacDonald's example of a time when you listen to the music rather than gather data. He totally glosses over the meat of the point and reduces everything to data collection. There is no experience;  experience of the world doesn't give us truth, truth is nothing more than the simulacra that results from having put data through the process of replication. We are not getting reality, he's divorced truth from reality. Just as he's divorced music from listening. Of cousre he assume it has to be subjective, there can't ever be any kind of subjective value, which is no wonder he's just eliminated the arts completely. Then concepts like personal enlightenment wouldn't even appear on his radar. Whole traditions like Buddhism and some forms of Christianity and other oriental religions will just be left out and even confiscated,consigned to the nether world of "the subjective" and the 'not truth' because they seek the kind of verification he can control. Finding what people think about Mozart based upon actually hearing his music is good enough. After he's eliminated the concept of inter-subjectivity, but why should it be when it is verifiable? We have a sense of checking the subjective machinations of each others world views by comparing notes on the subjective. That all carefully designed to steer us into avenues scientists control and ordinary people can't have access to. His final statement says it all:

Finally, although this isn’t Eric’s aim, much of the “other ways of knowing” palaver is used to advance the “truth claims” of religion. But I hardly need to add that I don’t think religion is a way of knowing anything about the real world. That’s simply a truism, for our understanding of any divinities, transcendent beings, or “moral truths” derived from faith alone has not advanced one iota since the ancient Greeks. Hell, after millennia of apologetic and “proofs” of God, we don’t even know whether there is a god, much less one god or many, or what said gods are like or want us to do.
 Holy question begging Batman, so that's what it's all about? The exclusion of subjective ideas is carefully controlled to get rid of religion. Of course he's already got the ideology down, he's already opposed to religion before the deliberations even start. Everything he says in that paragraph is propaganda. It's all based upon the refusal to learn theology. He says other ways of knowing (which are just palaver) can just be ruled out because they support religion. Don't' show me the evidence, it might not concur with what I want to hear. That religion is not a way to know anything is clearly propaganda BS. First of all it's a way to know spiritual things and religious thing.s For that that "likes it" that's a good thing. Of course It's not for those who are predisposed to think of it as "the enemy." The idea that faith has not advanced, that's a matter of ignorance. the 20th was one of the most amazingly progressive times for theology. Theology made huge advances in the last century. I doubt Coyne would understand any of it as advancement because he can't control it and it doesn't advance the robot mind control ideas of atheism and reductionism and scientific.

One of the most amazing advances of the last century, in terms of religious knowledge, was the M scale, Hood's measurement study instrument or understanding the validity of mystical experience. That actually gives us a handle on empirical evdience for the existence of God, through the universal arguemnt made possible by the M scale (see the link). Speaking of that there's an interesting possibility by observing how Coyne reduces everything that can produce any kind of tangible results to scinece. Not only does that lose the distinction between science and not scinece but it also means that we can extend the same connection to religious belief and include it in the same way. Not does the M scale make this possible but also arguments like fine tuning that employ scientific data. He says we don't know if there's a good. I know there is. We have rational warrant for belief becuase we have wealth of argument and data to back them up. More importantly by employing the same strategy he does we can reduce everything to ethology. science becomes theology through the M scale and fine tuning data, God on the brain evidence, and that backs up the warrant for belief. It's can't be used with an atheist assumption since it's no part of theology. It becomes theological by the same token that all those other forms of knowing become scientific. The mediating principle that incorporates them is provide data backing the co-determinate.

The co-determinate is Schleiermacher's concept of an aspect of the naturalistic dimension of human experience that telegraphs the divine in human experience, such as the presence of God in the sense of the numinous. This fits with Tillich's concept of the correlation whereby doctrines of the faith are lined up with data from human behavior and experience. In other words do people in fact experience this presence and what does it do for them when the do? Just like a finger print this aspect is always there to  mark the presence of the other, as the print marks the presence of the finger though it is absent. In do doing, by the same logic that Coyne uses, we can make theology science and scinece theology.

*Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology.

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