Monday, April 14, 2014

Reducationism: Scientific Methodology, Atheist Philosohy, Rhetorical Ploy.part 1

 photo theoryandmodel_zpsdabbd46c.jpg

            Reductionism is a major methodological aspect of science; it also lends itself to atheist thought as a major world view, and to atheist apologetics as a rhetorical ploy. Reduction is a valid scientific methodology, but like all science it is also infused with notions of an ideological nature. When atheists use reductionism as a tool of ideology it has the fervor of scientific dedication and is cast with the aura of the sacred. It is both a valid methodological tool and an ideological propaganda device at the same time.

Definition of REDUCTIONISM

: explanation of complex life-science processes and phenomena in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry; also : a theory or doctrine that complete reductionism is possible
: a procedure or theory that reduces complex data and phenomena to simple terms [1]

Philosophical roots of reductionism

             “Methodological reductionism” is the process of reducing phenomena to its smallest constituent parts to understand what makes it function as a method for dealing with complexities that need to broken down.[2] Then there is “philosophical reductionism” which maintains as its goal a philosophical and/or ideological tenet that science can explain everything:
One form of scientific reductionism follows the belief that every single process in nature can be broken down into its constituent parts and can be described scientifically. The broadest sense of the term upholds the idea that science can be used to explain everything, and that nothing is unknowable. By looking at the individual constituent processes, scientists can gain an understanding of the whole process. For example, a reductionist believes that the complexity of the human brain is a result of complex and interacting physical processes. If scientists research and understand these underlying chemical reactions, then they can explain intelligence, emotion and all of the other human conditions. The only way to comprehend fully the sheer complexity of the human brain is to look at the individual pieces.[3]

 Here we can definitely see the ideological aspects of science at work. These advocates of this certain type of reductionism believe that “everything can be explained through science.” Obviously for this to be true science has to be the most valid from of knowledge if not the only form of knowledge. Materialists, who tend to philosophical reductionists, and this includes phyisicalists, go step further and just refuse to accept as knowledge anything that can’t be quantified and pinned down by their methods. God can’t be apprehended by their methods so there must not be a God. This notion of science as the most or only valid form of knowledge is clearly ideological and stems form philosophical concerns. In the issue of reductionism we can see one of the most obvious junctures at which philosophy has clung to scientific development and is still being infused with science. Reductionism is inherently infused with philosophy.

Reductionism encompasses a set of ontological, epistemological, and methodological claims about the relation of different scientific domains. The basic question of reduction is whether the properties, concepts, explanations, or methods from one scientific domain (typically at higher levels of organization) can be deduced from or explained by the properties, concepts, explanations, or methods from another domain of science (typically one about lower levels of organization). Reduction is germane to a variety of issues in philosophy of science, including the structure of scientific theories, the relations between different scientific disciplines, the nature of explanation, the diversity of methodology, and the very idea of theoretical progress, as well as to numerous topics in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, such as emergence, mereology, and supervenience.[4]

            Reductionism goes back to the Greeks and tied to philosophy up to the development of early modern science and beyond. The Greek atomists were reductionists. They wanted to cut up reality in order to get at the basic elements. The idea of positing basic building blocks doesn’t require that one abolish other aspects of reality. Yet certain of the pre-Socratics, such as Leucpp and Democritus, began doing this.[5] The term “reductiosm” is not very old. The modern issues enter science from philosophy. Ontological reductionism was part of the dispute between nominalists and realists in the middles.[6]  The major alternative to reductionism is holism. Holism also goes back to the Greeks with Aristotle. The Atomists had atoms in the void as the final explanation and Aristotle had final cause of an unmoved mover as the final cause and explanation of all harmony and unity in the world.[7] Modern science abhors teleology, the idea that everything is directed toward a goal or an end point. The teleological is the hall mark of Aristotle’s’ unmoved mover. Atoms in the void don’t require a goal; they are the end of the process. Thus science has had this atheistic bias literally since the Greeks. Likewise, theistic thinking takes on a holistic bias form the Greeks as well. Science was slow to completely turn over to the atomists and did so in stages. The bias against teleology was not adopted into biology until the middle of the nineteenth century (with Darwin and Wallace). Natural mutation and random selection have come to dominate in biology and replace any idea of purposefulness.[8]  The distinction between appearance and reality is a carry over from Democritus’ claim that binary oppositions in experience, such cold and hot, sweet and sour, are really just atoms moving in void.[9] We take this as empirically proved because we dismiss experience as subjective and go with the ‘objective measurement,’ never really considering how we are conditioned by philosophical hold over to think this way.

In this way, a conception of the world and our place in it evolved in the scientific revolution and the latter Enlightenment in Europe that was conducive to the development of the idea of reducing reality to only what scientists analyze out of the “buzzing, blooming confusion” we experience. Reductionist tendencies remained central to the epistemologies and metaphysics that developed in light of reflections on the modern natural scientific search for simplicity and unity. Such philosophies set the stage for explicit reductionist disputes in twentieth-century philosophy. But, contrary to many scholars’ perspective, the scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment were not the only sources of modern reductionist thinking. Another source can also be traced back to ancient thought—the quest for a viable monism.[10]

It may seem that monism is the child of mystical concerns, a refugee from a religious past, something more akin to Hinduism or Buddhism than modern science. In fact materialism/phyiscalism is heir to Greek monism.
           In terms of ontology three major approaches. Pluralists, of which Leibniz is an example) accept either plurality of fundamentally irreducible realities or plurality of real material objects. Dualists typified by Descartes two basic realities that can’t be reduced to one. Monists reduce it all to one fundamental type of reality or apparent multiplicity as a manifestation of one fundamental type of reality. Positing one reality in place of apparent multiplicity is reductive. Jones thus argues that the first type of monist is a weaker version of the second.[11] He sees Thales and the pre-Socratics and their attempt to understand the world in terms of one basic element as the orign of the reductive impulse in Western thought..[12] One might wonder, however, if that’s not just an appearance that results from following the atomists. There is a link to modern through that’s a lot more direct than a secret winding path through 2000 years of history. The skeptics and dissenters of the English enlightenment were influenced by the Greek atomists. In the restoration period the English churchmen, the Latitudinarians began arguing against a philosophical bugbear. At that time Greek thinking, especially that of the atomists, was being rediscovered. The Latitudinarians put up an apologetical front against the Greeks even though skepticism was virtually invisible to the public. Dissenters, Socinians (Latter to become Unitarians) and skeptics picked up these ideas.

            Jones understands materialism as the only form of monism produced in modern times. He does discuss Berkeley’s form of idealism known as  “immaterialism”
 which postulates that that “all reality is reduced to a collection of mental substances…merely perceptions in the mind of God.”[13] We tend to think of monism as either eastern or atheist but not Christian. Yet Berkeley was a Christian Bishop. The Bible never pronounces upon the truth of philosophical schools. That wasn’t part of the conceptual universe of the people who write the bible. It’s left up to theologians to argue for one version or another. Hume argued for a monism that was neither mental nor physical.[14] Modern materialists are not strong monists as they allow for plurality of material objects.

Types of Reductionism.

            It seems that there is no set list of types. Each author has his/her own version of the different types. John Polkinghorne, formerly professor of mathematical physics as University of Cambridge, lists constituent, conceptual (or epistemological) and causal. “Constituent” means that when a complex system is reduced or taken apart what remains is a set of fragments that correspond to the expected constituents and nothing more. The example he gives is that of a living organism, when decomposed, doesn’t leave behind any part pertaining to a “spark of life” as was once claimed by the philosophy of “vitalism.” [15] Of course that seems self defeating because the organism is dead so one would not expect to find a spark of life. Nevertheless, Polkinghorne denies that this form of reductionism implies that living beings are nothing but collections of molecules. “This kind is closely related to methodological reductionism, the widely practiced scientific strategy of studying wholes through breaking them up into their constituent parts. Again, the success of the strategy does not imply that everything relevant to the whole can be studied in this way.”[16] “Conceptual” refers to means that concepts applying to the whole can be totally expressed in terms of concepts applying to the parts. “An example of a successful reduction of this kind is afforded by the use of the kinetic theory of gases to reduce the concept of temperature (originating in the thermodynamics of bulk matter) to exact equivalence to the average kinetic energy of the molecules of the gas.”[17] Polkinghorne also sites counter examples to this second kind of reduction. Individual water molecules are not wet, for example. The third type, “causal” will probably be more important for our purposes.
            Causal reductionism:

…implies that the causes acting on the whole are simply the sum of the effects of the individual causalities of the parts. In the case of wetness such a reduction appears successful, on the reasonable supposition that surface tension is generated entirely by the action of inter-molecular forces. Since at both levels one is concerned with purely energetic properties, a translation between the two seems plausible. On the other hand, it is not at all clear that sums of firings of neural synapses can add up to produce mental qualia (feels), as there appears to be a clear qualitative difference between the two ( MIND-BODY RELATIONSHIP). Causal reductionism is closely allied to ontological reductionism, the assertion that the whole is the sum of its parts. It is quite possible to hold to constituent reductionism and to deny causal reductionism as, in fact, many do. One strategy for this is to embrace contextualism, the belief that the behaviour of constituents depends upon the nature of the whole that they constitute.[18]

This type of reduction seems to correspond to what was said above about philosophical reductionism, where the concept is not so much used as only a method in science but the basis of a philosophy.
            As we saw above there is a kind of reductionist who believes that science can explain everything, and nothing is “unknowable.”

Reductionism in Action

            Reductionism is a tool of atheist apologetics. It’s used as a major tactic because it support the materialist assumption of the world as only matter, or the physicalist assumption as the world as only physical objects. Thus any alternative to these ideologies can be ignored, and the mystique of a scientific procedure can be applied. The Reductionist is merely ignoring the possibility of spirit or of some alternative but doing it under the assumption that there can only be physical things anyway. Certain “tricks’ are employed to pull off this connection, spreading the aura of science over a purely ideological move.  Before look at those moves, however it’s important to note some of the major issues where these moves are used. Although reductionism is a standard procedure for atheist thinking so almost any issue is vulnerable, yet there are certain issues that draw more fire in the reductionist camp. The major issue on which the ploys of reductionism are used is the brain/mind issue. The idea that consciousness is not reducible to brain chemistry is a major challenge for materialists. The counter position is that of the reductionists who believe that the qualities of consciousness must be reduced to the basic physical complement that they feel produce brain function. Of course they are almost certainly arbitrarily refusing to accept a possibly of something more than brain function as the nature of consciousness. To hold their position at all is to do some form of reductionism as a founding assumption. Any issue involving free will, which includes the problem of pain and attempts to disprove god based upon Theodicy, employs a reductions approach to ignore the basis of free will as rooted in something other than brain chemistry. Thus reductionism sort of mandates determinism.
            I will look at three issues, as stated; almost any issue can include a reductionst approach. These issues are: (1) Religious experience (2) Brain/mind, (3) Free will/determinism. By “religious experience” I mean primarily of the “mystical kind.” This includes both exterrvertive and interovertive, as well as esoteric and exoteric. In other words, this includes both mystics as well as charismatics. This includes the sense of the numinous, which the feeling of prescience or meaning of overwhelming love that mystics try describe. It is not about visions and voices it is about a form of consciousness where one seems to see through he world illusion and recognizes the undifferentiated unity of all things. It can also be experienced in terms of the sense of the numinous, love and presence of divine. On a popular level atheist apologists have learned some tricks form reductionism. They meet claims of empirical studies demonstrating the transfoarmtive power of religious experience by reducing transformation to “getting happy.” They reduce the effects to brain chemistry and ideologically ignore the possibly of any form of consciousness not a side effect of brain chemistry.

Long-Term Effects

Wuthnow study:
*Say their lives are more meaningful,
*think about meaning and purpose
*Know what purpose of life is
Meditate more
*Score higher on self-rated personal talents and capabilities
*Less likely to value material possessions, high pay, job security, fame, and having lots of friends
*Greater value on work for social change, solving social problems, helping needy
*Reflective, inner-directed, self-aware, self-confident life style

Noble study:

*Experience more productive of psychological health than illness
*Less authoritarian and dogmatic
*More assertive, imaginative, self-sufficient
*intelligent, relaxed
*High ego strength,
*relationships, symbolization, values,
*integration, allocentrism,
*psychological maturity,
*self-acceptance, self-worth,
*autonomy, authenticity, need for solitude,
*increased love and compassion

These are long term characteristics that the mystical experiencing subject exhibited.[19] So then to say that all just amounts to “getting happy” is losing the actual aspects that make the experience what it is and totally changes the outcome. The standard tricks of the reductionist can be understood as follows:

Lose the Phenomena

All the complexity of relationships to self and others, self image, autonomy, social responsibility and so on are reduced to one simplistic undefined feeling of “happy.” It’s counted in such a country cornpone way that it’s clear derogatory.


The as aspect of changing “self actualization” to “happy” not only loses a lot in translation but it is also changing the label from one that connotes a complex psychological theory of personality to one that connotes little thought and simplistic motives (“gett’n happy”).


This will be illustrated in forthcoming material. It involves a way of losing phenomena by leaving out curcial aspect in re-describing what is to be recued.

Bait and Switch

This is seen in a major way on the brain/mind issue. One of the major proponents of mind (David Chalmers) argues that the reductionsits are pulling a bait and switch. They are not examining consciousness but bran function put over as consciousness. Bait “we are going to examine consciousness,” the switch, it’s really brain function they examine. This biat and switch tactic is one of the chief ways that reductionists lose the phenomena, by diverting our attention to other phenomena.

            These same tricks are used by professionals. One of the major practitioners is philosopher Wayne Proudfoot who teaches at Columbia University. Proudfoot’s Religious Experience, is a practically a blue print to the use of use of reductionism as a rhetorical device to blunt the effects of empirical research.[20] The issue comes in where skeptics try to offer counter causal explanations for the experience. Mainly the materialist/physicalist tries to explain it in term of brain chemistry since this is the order of the day, all consciousness must be reduced to brain chemistry. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (The Gilford Lectures):

Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental over-tensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined.[21]

[1 Merriam-Webser’s  Dicitonary online version URL:  visited 3/16/2012
[2] “Scientific Recutionsm,” website: URL:  visited 3/13/2012 is a site ran for educational purposes by a psychologist and other unnamed authors who work in the seicnes.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Brigandt, Ingo and Love, Alan, "Reductionism in Biology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
[5] Richard H. Jones, Reductionism: Analysis and the Fullness of Reality. Danvers, Massachusetts: Associated University Press.2000, copy, Google books, URL:  visited 3/13/2012
[6] ibid.
[7] ibid.
[8] ibid, 38
[9] ibid.
[10] ibid.
[11] ibid, 40
[12] ibid
[13] ibid
[14] ibid
[15] John Polkinghorne, “Reductionism.” Inters Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science.  p.zza sant'Apollinare, 49 - 00186 Rome: Centro di Documentazione Interdisciplinare di Scienza e Fede operating at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Edited by Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, Philip Larrey and Alberto Strumìa  On line resource, URL  visited 3/16/2012
[16] ibid
[17] ibid
[18] ibid
[19] Council on Spiritual Practices listsBoth of these lists are distilled by another writer from the two different studies by Wuthnow and Nobel. This list is found on a webstie hosted by the Council on Spiritual Pracices. “State of Unitive Consciousness Research Summary.” URL: visitied 4/5/2012.
About Council on Spiritual Pracitices: (from the site) The Council on Spiritual Practices is a collaboration among spiritual guides, experts in the behavioral and biomedical sciences, and scholars of religion, dedicated to making direct experience of the sacred more available to more people. There is evidence that such encounters can have profound benefits for those who experience them, for their neighbors, and for the world.
[20] Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experince. Berkeley: University of California Press,
[21] William James, Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Modern Library, 1994, 16.


Weekend Fisher said...

Don't get me wrong, I liked the line of reasoning and thought it was well laid out. But can I mention: love the graphic! That's hilarious.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Metacrock said...

yea me too. It's great.