Monday, April 21, 2014

Reducationism (part 2): Scientific Methodology, Atheist Philosohy, Rhetorical Ploy.

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 I resume my three part discussion of reductionism as a philosophy and a rhetorical strategy of atheism. Scientific reductionism may, at times, be a valid scientific method, but as a philosophy applied broadly to the whole world reductionism only serves to impose ideological view point of scientism. (see part 1). In this segment I show reductionism as a rhetorical strategy of atheists. I show philosopher Wyne Proudfoot using it to dismiss religious experience as a valid option. I also deal with other issues.

Reducing Religious Experience:

            Proudfoot makes a certain amount of valid criticism of mystical experience so I wont bother with discussing everything. I want to focus on those aspects where he uses re-labeling, re-describing and losing the phenomena. Losing the Phenomena is a particular tactic of reductionism. It means some behavior or experience will be taken apart and so reduced to the point that it will no reflect the phenomena that makes it what it is. Then the reductionist is able to say “see there’s nothing there.” This essentially what they are doing when they reduce “self actualization” to “getting happy.” They lose the phenomena involved in transformation. A simple version of this is seen above where some reduce a long list of transformative characteristics to “getting happy.” Proudfoot does a much ore complex version of the same thing.  He goes beyond methodological reduction to ideological redicutionism. He begins this by correction of Schleiermacher’s language. This is also an example of re-labeling. One of the aspects of mystical experience is that it is said to be beyond word, thought or image. This is said to be a pure moment where the experience proceeds any attempt to describe it. Of course this must be understood in a particular sense and is probably a misstatement because to say hat one has a sense of the numinous or an all pervasive sense of love, a sense of the divine, one must use words, thoughts and images.  Obviously then the experience is not so entirely beyond such our understanding in once sense, that we can label it in certain ways. But Proudfoot exploits that seeming contradiction then uses the inaccuracy of the original experiencer’s label to pull off a bait and switch. He essentially argues that what we believe about an experience determines the nature of the experience. We can see this in his statement “The belief that a particular moment of consciousness is immediate and prior to all concepts and beliefs may well be constitutive of the experience..”[1] Constitutive would mean that it is made up of more simple concepts tht are used tu build the construct like an edifice, then in tern becomes another building blog in a more complex edifice. That means its’ not just a pure moment of experience but what is being experience is conditioned by prior understanding.
            There is probably some extent to which that is true. Yet we see a bit of a bait and switch here. He didn’t say if the moment is immediate he said if we believe the moment is immediate. He’s changing the idea form the actuality of a pure moment that really be experienced to ideas about experience that we might hold. Perhaps we can’t have a puree movement that is not conditioned in some way, that doesn’t mean that the experience itself can’t contain this aspect that is not expected and that in some way exceeds understanding. He’s not concerned with the actual experience but with losing the phenomena and re-labeling. In other words what we believe about an experience may determine that experience. That may sound valid and probably is in some ways. If we believe going to the Dentist is no big thing we may not amplify the pain in our minds and we may find it less painful than if we dread it and worry and think it a very painful experience. The problem is this gives the impression (and excuse) that any time we experience something of the divine it must be conditioned by expectation and it ignores experiences when they are new, when they are totally unexpected and it ignore reflection upon the past. If all ideas of experience are read back into the memory then there is no memory that is unconditioned by belief. This is not necessarily the case. If we look for ti to be the case or dogmatically assert that it always is then we lose the phenomena because ignore the aspects of those times when it is not. By Proudfoot’s logic we have no experience. We never did love we never did enjoy, we don’t really miss our parents, this is all back reading into a moment that never was. The tactic becomes a means of knocking down the experience of being human and replacing it with an ideology about someone else’s ideas of what being human means. Proudfoot is going to use this bait and switch to wipe out the concept of religious experience completely. In fact he actually will wipe out all experience.
            Proudfoot  re-labels Schleiermacher’s view of emotions and feelings from an honest appraisal to “apologetics.” By re-labeling it in this way he moves it out of the category of an empirical approach to something of which we must be suspicious. He observes that religious experience has come to be associated with a set of experiences that transcend the verbal, according to “some quarters.” He finds that there are two reasons why this is so. One is descriptive, the other apologetic. The descriptive is the need to find commonality among “different experiences we call religious.”  The second reason is to distinguish “religious” experience from other kinds of experience. This latter reason (2) he dubs “apologetic.” Now Schleiermacher believed that religion is more deeply entrenched in the lives and communities of people than are doctrines. Feelings are more basic and more entrenched in life than words on paper. This probably seems pretty reasonable to most people but to Proudfoot it is an apologetic ploy. In calling one reason “descriptive” and the other “apologetic” he is trying to cast a pall on the whole process of attempting to make a distinction between religious and other kinds of experiences. This is important for his strategy because it will enable the switch from religious experience feelings to all feelings.[2] If we can describe commonalities between religions does that not automatically imply that we can distinguish between religious and non-religious feelings? If not then how can we find commonalities? If so, then why is no. (2) apologetic? It seems that both are equally necessary to one another, and that both are equally apologetic and equally descriptive. Of course even if there is an apologetic going on that does not mean there are no religious experiences. But setting that up is part of the hermeneutic of suspicion and losing the phenomena. After page 78 he slides in to a critique of all feelings in general.
            Proudfoot uses the example of Stephen Bradley, an example of a dramatic religious experienced found in William James Verities of Religious Experience.[3] The example Proudfoot selects seems to be that of a man who is having a heart attack and takes it for religious conversion. He is in fact converted by the experience. The experience was brought on while at a revival meeting. Proudfoot centers on the physical phenomena, the man’s heart speeding up very fast and beating like a trip hammer, but says nothing about any other aspects, such as any special feelings or anything that might have put Bradley in a mood to repent. The assessment is entirely in terms of physiological phenomena then of course analyzed as the recipient labeling physiological phenomena so he would know what to think. Then that is taken as proof proof that internal states are nothing more than labeling physiological phenomena. Of course all he’s done is mine the data. He ignores other aspects. Of course most mystical experiences do not contain such overt physical phenomena. The subject does speak of being filled with “the joy and grace of the Lord.” These aspects are ignored he doesn’t think about them at all. These are obviously the feelings that produced the idea that he was being saved. So it’s clear Proudfoot ignores the aspects that count against his view. He only pays attention to the aspects that confirm the labeling theory. Proudfoot says of this instance:  “Bradley, like so many prospective devotees before and since, could not understand his feelings in naturalistic terms. Religious symbols offer him an explanation that was compatible both with his experience and with his antecedent beliefs.”[4] One problem with this is that his antecedent beliefs were not religious. He even says “had any person told me prior to this that I could have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in the manner in which I did I could not have believed it.”[5] This actually disproves the labeling hypothesis. Moreover, since this was a conversion experience it’s important because it disputes the “placebo” argument. Religious experience is said to be a placebo, but placebos requires expectations and Bradely had none. Many such religious experiences are conversion experience with no prior expectation.
            We see reductionism at work here in a major way. The reductionist is just reading the situation in terms favorable to his theory, even at the experience of losing phenomena by ignoring aspects that don’t fit the theory. The classic sense of the phrase “losing phenomena” means when the reductive process is finished the phenomena has been explained away and lost rather than experienced. We might suspect, however, that a great of reductionism is helping along the process of losing the phenomena by ignoring part of it. There’s another case where Proudfoot does very similar things. [6]

Other reductionist arguments

            When atheists make the general assumption that there is no God, as a matter of  course, they are reducing the God belief phenomena to naturalistic proportions as a consequence of this assumption, weather they have proof or not. Thus they are employing techniques of reduction to make this move. The old atheist saw that religion was invented by priests and leaders for social control and that after life is just a reward and punishment system designed to enforce the social control is an ancient form of atheist reductionism.[7] This approach evolved into a psychological reductionism in the ninetieth century with Freud and Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity. [8] In more recent times these tactics have developed into an attempt at evolutionary reductionism. That is the nature of evolution is used to account for the evolution of religious belief in humans, thus the sense of the numinous that has guided religious experience is reduce to evolutionary biology. Of course this is based entirely upon assumption. Dawkins argues that the “deeper” explanation will be the one that explains why people are susceptible to the allure of religion. He contends that this more fundamental than the social control argument (also assumed) because it explains the basis upon which people are vulnerable to social control and upon which people hit upon such approaches to social control. [9] Of course all of this is assumed prior to any sort of proof and without ever obtaining any. Both Dawkins and Dennett, major contributors to the New Atheist arsenal, draw upon evolutionary psychology to offer a biologically reductionst account of religious origins.[10]
            Both Dawkins and Dennett are working from a prior assumption by Pascal Boyer[11] The theory says that religion is a by product, not directed selected for but a “misfiring by product,” whatever that means. Presumably they are thought to be the result of some dysfunction of brain chemistry, since all of human thought is reduced to that. Moreover, “Drawing upon evolutionary psychology, Dawkins suggests that if the brain is an aggregate of organs or 'modules' for dealing with particular sets of data, religion can be regarded as a by-product of the mis- or over-firing of one or more of these modules..”[12]

According to this explanation of religion, religion has a survival advantage insofar as it is a product of the human tendency to 'overshoot' in attributing agency - since from an evolutionary perspective it is better to be wrong in attributing too much agency to things in the environment than another agent's dinner due to a failure to attribute enough agency (e.g., to predators), the religious probably had a survival advantage: 'At the root of human belief in gods lies an instinct on a hair trigger: the disposition to attribute agency - beliefs and desires and other mental states - to anything complicated that moves. The false alarms generated by our overactive disposition to look for agents wherever the action is are the irritants around which the pearls of religion grow.’ Dawkins concurs with Dennett that the 'intentional stance' has survival value, pointing for example to experimental studies showing that children are especially likely to adopt the intentional stance towards inanimate (but moving) objects.[13]

The main problem so far is that this really doesn’t tell us why belief should count for survival. So people are more likely to attribute consciousness and intention to something if it moves. But how dose that enable survival? Such a view might explain why humans moved in the direction of belief in a god like their father, but it doesn’t explain religion overall. We will deal more extensively with the nature of religion in the final chapter. The main point is that religion is not based upon explaining things. This is the assumption that scientists make because it enables them to do their reductionist techniques and also because that is their main concern. That doesn’t mean it’s the main concern of religious people. It seems it might be more helpful to survival if we weren’t even conscious. Attributing intuition to innate moving things might just get a whole tribe killed. What if they think volcano god just won’t be satisfied until they are all dead? This seems to be an assumption necessitated to legitimize the reductionist assumptions but based upon no proof or logic. It also seems to ignore the basic motivations of religious belief. Of course it does this because it has to in order to justify reduction. They can’t accept the idea that there is a sense of the numinous because that would mean there’s something more there, an added dimension besides the material. Moreover, religious experiences are a complex, diverse, and rich in both nuance and texture. They are not surfaces level aspects of human being but indicative of the existential depth of human being. They cannot be reduced to mere physical workings of brain chemistry without losing the phenomena.
            The sense of the numinous is correlated with mystical experience. The sense that there some special aspect of reality, perhaps vested in an object or an activity (prayer); a sense of truth and all pervasive love, or the sense of meaning or ones in all things. This is the basis of religious experience. Rudolf Otto called this the “sense of the Holy.” Holiness is a part of this special aspect. Otto used Latin term to show the extremely special quality of the sense. The numinous is  wholly other, entirely different from anything we experience. It provokes a reaction of silence, sometimes terror. Otto used the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Tremendus mystery and fascination. He used the Latin terms to emphasize the unique nature of the experience. The experience is both terrifying and fascinating that is merciful and gracious. The term numinous is from the Latin noumen meaning the power implicit in a sacred object.[14]
            The sense of the numinous is part of mystical consciousness and saying that it is correlated with mystical experience is to say that empirically it has been found in connection with it. The scientific basis for understanding mystical expense is provided b the “mysticism scale” (Or “M-scale”) develop by Ralph Hood Jr. and validated by him and others in specific research.[15] I have dealt with Hood and M-scale and the scientific basis for the study of mystical consciousness at length in The Trace of God.[`16] The corroboration of Hood’s studies demonstrates a universal nature to mystical experience.[17] Hood’s work on the M-scale is designed to validate the theory of W.T. Stace, and was able to do so with corroboration from several studies done in many cultures. Instead of dealing with the nature of the experience itself, with its nuances and it’s texture, the reducitonists lose the phenomena by focus upon assertions involving causes. They assert that the cause must be chemical since the nature of the experience can only be epiphenomenal and illusory. This is the same trick we see above, although a more sophisticated version, where by the atheist reduces the complex set of results to one concept of “getting happy.” There are two aspects of the research on mystical experience that the reductionisms are overlooking and that really make the case against reductionism: (1) The effects of having had the experience; (2) the universal nature of the experience.
            These two major points form the basis of the apologetic arguments that can be made based upon religious experience, and they also form the basis of the defense that the studies provide the believer against charges of religion as a coercive source of mental illness, derangement, or pathology. The studies that indicate that religious experience results in a healthy psychological state such as the studies of Nobel and Wuthnow on self actualization listed above make up a huge body of empirical scientific work. This body of work stretches back 60 years to the 1960s, and culminates in Hood’s M-scale research which brings all the findings into focus with the means of scientific control on mystical experience.

The Wuthnow study was an example of a study using questionnaires. Wuthnow collected questionnaires from a systematic, random sample of 1000 people in the San Francisco-Oakland area. He asked them about transcendent experiences, revealing contact with the sacred, beauty of nature, harmony with the universe, whether it was within the last year or before, and if it made a lasting difference in their lives. For those who said they had had contact with the sacred: 68% of those experiencing within one year said life is very meaningful, while 46% of those (contact with sacred) not within one year answered this way. Forty-six percent of those (contact with sacred not in the last year) said yes but it was not lasting, and 39% and 36% respectively said they had not had such an experience or they did not want to have such an experience. "Knowing the purpose of life" applied to 82% of those experiencing within one year and 72% of those whose experiences were further back than that, compared with 18% and 21% for those who had not had or did not want an experience. The figures for the other categories (sensing beauty of nature, harmony with the universe, etc.) were similar. One of the more compelling findings was that 41% of past-year experiencers and 39% of those whose experiences were further back than one year felt greater self-assurance, compared with just 22% and 31% of the no-experience groups.[18]

In Macnamara’s ground breaking collection of essays, Where God and science meet, Ralph Hood Jr. links psychologists convinced of the falsehood of religious belief with the reductive impulse.[19] In comparing mystics who either accept religious interpretations and traditions or who reject religion in the name of a deeper “spirituality” Hood finds that the experiences are the same when the specific terms identifying tradition are controlled for.[20] This means that the experiences are universal as other studies have found commonalities transcending specific traditions and that all religions have mystics.[21] The specific arguments these studies are used to back up are not important here. Just to be clear about the issues, however, I ague that because the dramatic positive effects, such as self actualization, are identified consistently with religious experiences there’s a valid reason to understand these experiences as “the trace of God,” like the track or footprint in the snow they are indicative of divine presence and experience because the long term positive nature of the effects can’t accounted for in naturalistic terms. The second argument is that due to the navigational abilities offered (emotional stability and strength to get through the trails of life) as well as regular consistent and inter-subjective nature of them, they fit the criteria we habitually use to understand the real nature of experiences anyway. They studies do show that these experience are regular, consistent and inter-subjective, at least in the sense that they are found in all times and cultures and shared by all faiths.
            The point here is not to argue for the validity or benefit of religion but to show what reductionism misses and how it loses phenomena. As we have seen already Dawkins and Dennett both make abductive claims about the origin of religion: they argue that reductionism enables them to best explain why people are susceptible to religious claims. They begin with the assumption that there is no valid basis to effects which would tip us off as to origin. In approaching the issue abductively they claim to demonstrate an explanation that answers the conditions we find empirically existing. Not to say that abduction is necessarily reductionistic, yet no attempt is made account for the full texture of the experiences. Instead the experiences are assumed illusory, reduced to “happy” and the cause is put over as the only way to determine truth. Why assume people are “susceptible” to religion as though it’s some sort of false claim that hoodwinks people? The fact that the effects are transformative is enough to indicate that it’s valuable and positive. If it is such then it’s not likely to be a lie or a false claim. Seldom does it work out that lies and false claims are very good for us. At this point the atheist will assert that an advantage is not a valid argument for the truth of a hypothesis. That’s not true in science because it is assumed always that working is an indication of truth content. If we ask the scientist “how do you know science is giving us truth?” they will “it works.” Workability is one of the major assertions about truth content. Barabra Forrest in the academic journal Philo states:

I conclude that the relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion given (1) the demonstrated success of methodological naturalism, combined with (2) the massive amount of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of evidence for the supernatural. The above factors together provide solid grounding for philosophical naturalism, while supernaturalism remains little more than a logical possibility.[22]

That’s a fancy way of saying science works so we can trust it to be true. The point is that she is equating working with truth content. The attack that science must rely upon philosophy and naturalism is a philology that must draw upon metaphysics is given a happy faced and turned into an assault upon Supernaturalism on the grounds that naturalism works to supply the fortress of facts while Supernaturalism doesn’t. In other words, science works so we know it’s true. We just saw that religious experience works to do what religion is supposed to do, make life better. That workability is reduced to “happy” and to other fleeting issue that are easy to ignore, and causality is put over as the only important aspect because reductionists can actually correlate that with naturalistic processes through their methods without challenging their own assumptions.
            There are our old friends the popular level new atheists such as the blogger for “why evolution is true.” In “refuting” the works of a literary critic (Stanley fish) who argues that science can’t furnish a priroi reasoning as justification for it’s theories he responds:

Fish’s big mistake: the reasons undergirding that belief are not that we can engage in a lot of philosophical pilpul to justify using reason and evidence to find out stuff about the universe. Rather, the reasons are that it works: we actually can understand the universe using reason and evidence, and we know that because that method has helped us build computers and airplanes, go to the moon, cure diseases, improve crops, and so on.  All of us agree on these results.  We simply don’t need a philosophical justification, and I scorn philosophers who equate religion and science because we don’t produce one.  Religion doesn’t lead to any greater understanding of reality. Indeed, they can’t even demonstrate to everyone’s satisfaction that a deity exists at all!  The unanimity around evidence that antibiotics curse infections, that the earth goes around the sun, and that water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, is not matched by any unamity of the faithful about what kind of deity there is, what he/she/it is like, or how he/she/it operates.  In what way has religion, which indeed aims to give us “understanding” has really produced any understanding?[23]

He says it pretty explicitly, science works to provide the knowledge and religion doesn’t. Except the studies I’ve been discussing prove that it does. Atheists assume providing the goods is a sign of truth content, thus they should consider the truth content of religion. Yet the reductionstic approach rules out the possibility before the data is even presented. Look for example at the way the blogger reduces the issue to physical evidence because that’s the kind his method can procure. Other kinds of working such as making one a better person are not important because atheists don’t’ truth feelings and accept the thesis that we can be better people through religion. No need to observe that religion works for the things it sets out to do. They are not the things we want to accept as valid anyway, so we can lose the phenomena. The way science really works and they way it’s fans think it works aer often two different things. As shown in the chapter on fortress of facts, with Popper, science doesn’t prove theories but furnishes explanations. The debunking ability of science clears away competing explaining and we take the one’s fit best, not the one’s that “prove truth.” Yet according to the studies of Hood the common core theory of mysticism is the explanation that best explains the results of mysticism. Hood is actually a social scientist (psychology) and his works is scientific. It’s the “new atheists” ideologues who reject as not scientific because it doesn’t back their fortress of facts but threatens to offer explanations that are not negative toward religion.

[1]  Proudfoot, ibid, 13.

[2] Ibid 75,76

[3] Proudfoot, Ibid, 103, quoting from William James, the Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nautre, being the Gifford Lectures Delivered at Edinburgh, 1901-1902. New York and Bombay, Longmans Green and Company 1905. 190-193.  

[4] Ibid, 104

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Investigating Atheism.” Online resource, Researchers at Faculty of Divinity at Cambrige and Oxtord Universites,URL:  visited 4/17/2012.
This sight is the product of a group of academics from the faculty of Divinity at both Cambridge and Oxford, it takes no stand either way on the topic. On this point they site Winfried Schroeder, Ursprunge des Atheismus: Untersuchungen zur Metaphysik- und Religionskritik des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts (Tubingen: Frommann-Holzboog, 1998), 213.

[8] Furerbach referenced in ibid.

[9] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam Press, 2006), 169. sited in “Investigating Atheism,” ibid.

[10] Dawkins, ibid, and Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Penguin, 2006), 115. both sited in “Investigating Atheism.”

[11] Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors (London: Vintage, 2002). Sited in “Investigating Atheism,” no page reference made.

[12] Investigating Atheism sitting Dawkins, ibid, 179.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Bernard Spilka, Ralph Hood Jr., Bruce Hunsberger, Richard Gorsuch. The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. New York, London: The Guilford Press, 2003. 292

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hinman, Trace…, ibid. (see chapter four, “Studies”).

[17] ibid

[18] Wuthnow, Robert (1978). "Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18 (3), 59-75.

[19] Ralph Hood Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism,” Where God and science meet, P, Westport, CT: Praeger,. McNamar (Ed.), Vol. 3,. 119-138.

[20] Ibid, 134-35

[21] D. Lukoff,. The diagnosis of mystical experiences with psychotic features. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, (1985). 17(2), 155-181.

[22] Barbara Forrest, Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturism, Clarifying the Connection,” Philo, Vol. 3 no 2 (Fall-Winter 2000) 7-29, Abstract.

[23] “Why Evolution Is True, “ Blog, online resource, March 31, 2012. URL: visited 4/24/2012.

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