5 Awesome Things about PZ Myers

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 4, 2010 in General Atheism

myers

Many of my readers don’t like that I criticize atheists so often. But this is necessary, because irrationality is not a religious trait but a human one.

I tend to aim my criticism of atheists at the New Atheists for many reasons. First, because they are well known. Second, because they are easy targets: none of them are trained in philosophy of religion, currently my primary study focus.

So I criticize the New Atheists pretty often.

One New Atheist I haven’t said much about yet is PZ Myers of Pharyngula. But let me now do the opposite of what my readers expect. Let me list 5 awesome things about PZ.

Five Awesome Things about PZ Myers

Here we go…

5. He’s from Minnesota.

Ah, my home state. Land of lakes, loons (both bird and buffoon), Lutherans, and ludicrously low temperatures.

4. He doesn’t shy away from criticizing religious nutjobs.

Some recent example: one, two, three, four, five, six.

3. The Holy Cracker Incident

It’s a long story, but the climax is that PZ ‘desecrated’ a Catholic communion wafer with a rusty nail – along with pages of the Qur’an and The God Delusion – saying that nothing must be sacred. Perhaps just as admirable is the university chancellor who affirmed “the freedom of a faculty member to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint.”

2. He’s an activist for good causes.

PZ devotes great time and effort on behalf of noble causes. He goes out of his way to clarify scientific issues on Usenet. He helped launch The Panda’s Thumb and does other great work debunking the harmful nonsense of intelligent design. He’s a member of Minnesota Citizens for Science Education.

1. He’s a scientist.

As we all know, science is better, more important, more exciting, and far sexier than philosophy. PZ contributes to one of the noblest professions in existence.

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{ 125 comments… read them below or add one }

NFQ June 4, 2010 at 6:06 am

Yay for PZ Myers! … But … I’m sorry to be a party-pooper, it’s just … could we please not call science “more manly”? Science does not have a gender affiliation. (Nor does philosophy.) I agree with the underlying point, though. How about “more awesome”?

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Revyloution June 4, 2010 at 6:45 am

Nice cyber hug for PZ.

I love your criticisms of other atheists. That’s the core value of science, that we can question and criticize everything. That was my favorite part of the Cracker Incident, PZ staking the God Delusion with all the other bits. Question everything. No sacred cows.

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ildi June 4, 2010 at 7:49 am

As we all know, science is better, more important, more exciting, and more manly than philosophy.

It takes a manly man (with great hair) to admit it…

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Justfinethanks June 4, 2010 at 8:13 am

Though it would pretty neat if we could perform an repeatable experiment to, say, test the ontological status of abstract objects or which epistemological framework is most accurate for holding true beliefs.

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Bill Maher June 4, 2010 at 8:18 am

Pharyngula, along with Bad Astronomy and Sean Carroll’s blog are the science ones I frequent. I get a lot of mileage out of all 3 of them.

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Paul June 4, 2010 at 8:59 am

I was not familiar with the Holy Cracker incident. I love it.

Thanks Luke for this.

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Lorkas June 4, 2010 at 9:08 am

I agree with NFQ. Great post, but the vision of science as a man’s profession is something scientists have been working awfully hard to shed, so in deference to their awesomeness, we probably shouldn’t refer to it as a “manly” profession.

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Ajay June 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

I would say that his beard is also pretty awesome…

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Reuben June 4, 2010 at 10:07 am

That best part about your declaring the manliness of science is that Myers himself made the following post *just yesterday.*

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/stereotyping_women_right_out_o.php

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cl June 4, 2010 at 10:07 am

Regarding 3, I disagree with the imposition of “nothing should be sacred” just as much as I and most atheists disagree with the imposition of “X should be sacred,” where X = the tenet of some religion. IMO, something like “to each their own” is a superior philosophical imperative, whereas Myers and other NA’s strike me as engaging in an odd sort of “converse theism” for lack of a better word.

That said,

..irrationality is not a religious trait but a human one.

…you’ll get a BRAVO from me every time I see that sentiment. I honestly believe that either inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that simple truth is one of the biggest impediments to understanding between (a)theists.

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Grad Student June 4, 2010 at 10:29 am

So which of these five points are you really serious about? Let me guess:

#1 is absurd (which I say as a scientist) and rather funny assuming you’re joking.

#3 is pathetic. The holy cracker incidence was like taking candy from a baby. Of course the child will start crying, but you sure as hell didn’t teach it to hate sweets.

#5 is intentionally trivial ;)

So that leaves #2 and #4, which I would agree with to some degree.

In the end though, I approach much of PZ Myers’ rhetoric the same way some intellectual conservatives (e.g. Ross Douthat of the NYT) treat Rush Limbaugh et al.: entertainment. To take the analogy a bit further, I think it’s unfortunate that PZ Myers is one of the leading voices of atheism just as it’s unfortunate that Limbaugh, not folks like Douthat, is the de facto leader of the republican party.

(Disclaimer: All analogies break down at some point. I assure you that I think Limbaugh’s rhetoric is far worse than Myers’ rhetoric.)

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Bill Maher June 4, 2010 at 10:32 am

^^^^^ this guy needs to chill out and quit taking himself so seriously.

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Reginald Selkirk June 4, 2010 at 11:37 am

He’s from Minnesota.

For some definition of “from.” While Myers lives and works in Morris, Minnesota, he was born and raised in Kent, Washington.

He’s an activist for good causes.

I presume you mean cephalopods. They are definitely a good cause.

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Atheist.pig June 4, 2010 at 11:52 am

It seems PZ has taken over Dawkins as the most “strident” atheist on the planet in the past couple of years.
PZ wrote this a few days ago:

So is [Francisco] Ayala claiming that evolution is not a product of god’s actions? Or is he just a goddamned dimwitted airhead?

Funny as it is. I doubt Dawkins would ever make such a statement. Ayala is a Darwinist to the core and has been one of the chief defenders of evolution against the fundies and ID’ers.

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 1:05 pm

“As we all know, science is better, more important, more exciting, and more manly than philosophy.”

Actually, scientists are to philosophers as paralegals are to lawyers:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/early-wittgenstein-on-scientism.html

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Sly June 4, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Is anyone else not surprised at ayers response?

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Reginald Selkirk June 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

“Philosophy is to science as pornography is to sex.” – Steve Jones

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Bill Maher June 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Ayer,

philosophy is to science as pornography is to sex.

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Reginald Selkirk June 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm

“Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” – Attributed to Richard Feynman

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lukeprog June 4, 2010 at 1:31 pm

NFQ,

Sorry, I didn’t mean to be sexist, but of course I’m not making much of a serious point there.

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lukeprog June 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm

ayer,

I used to think, roughly, that scientists are to philosophers as paralegals are to lawyers. But no more.

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Emanuel Goldstein June 4, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I have been trying to find some of PZ Myers groundbreaking Peer Reviewed publications, because he is such a great scientist

But I am having a little trouble.

Can anyone give me some leads?

I mean,he HAS made many contributions to science…hasn’t he?

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm

“I used to think, roughly, that scientists are to philosophers as paralegals are to lawyers. But no more. ”

For some reason atheists tend to put scientists up on a pedestal, which leads them to make the mistake of looking to Dawkins, etc., for leadership in formulating their attacks on theism. Big mistake.

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Gil S. June 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I am not sure whether to take the 1st point seriously or not but it seems like a mixure of humor and seriousness. Though, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong there. Philosophy and science are merely tools for reflecting on different aspects of reality. You can’t say a screwdriver is better than a wrench since they both are useful for their respective function. Science is basically philosophy that’s been applied to the natural world.

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Bill Maher June 4, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Ayer,

Are you sure you aren’t dogging scientists because what they discover tends to be caustic towards religion? Also, your point about Dawkins is rather invalid towards us who generally post on this site.

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Haecceitas June 4, 2010 at 3:41 pm

“Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

Actually, that’s not a bad analogy because many scientists’ understanding of philosophy seems to be on the level of the average bird’s knowledge of ornithology.

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lukeprog June 4, 2010 at 3:46 pm

ayer,

Some people put scientists on a pedestal because they engage in by far the most successful and world-transforming research project ever.

Philosophers have been working on a basic human question like “What ought we to do?” for 2500+ years and have yet to give a confident answer.

Scientists brought us from a 10-second airplane flight to walking on the moon in less than 70 years.

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lukeprog June 4, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Here is one paper by PZ Myers.

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cl June 4, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Actually, that’s not a bad analogy because many scientists’ understanding of philosophy seems to be on the level of the average bird’s knowledge of ornithology. (Haecceitas)

LOL!! So true.

Some people put scientists on a pedestal because they engage in by far the most successful and world-transforming research project ever. (Luke)

True, but cherrypicked. Sure, without science, we wouldn’t have the lightbulb or the internet, but at the same time we wouldn’t have oil spills, guns, or nuclear bombs, either. In less than 70 years, scientists also brought us from the ability to kill only one individual at a time to the ability to kill a majority of the Earth’s population with just the push of a few buttons. Would you not say that scientists are also responsible for an equal if-not-greater amount of negatives that one must ignore in order to promulgate this one-sided attitude?

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Chris Hallquist June 4, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Emanuel Goldstein: I don’t know of anyone who’s claimed Myers is a “great scientist.” But it took me all of 15 seconds on line to find a list of his scientific publications. Just scroll down.

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Rhys Wilkins June 4, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Ayer:Actually, scientists are to philosophers as paralegals are to lawyers:

Wow,

This is so not right this isn’t even wrong. Philosophy is good at raising questions, science is fucking awesome at answering questions.

Lots of philosophy is armchair speculation which tends to result in agreeing to disagree. Science brings results.

You know what the definition of irony would be? Ayer flying to Vietnam in a Boeing 747, 30000 feet in the air, reading this blog on his iPad, his pacemaker beeping away in his chest, hearing aids in both ears, decked out with a completely prosthetic left leg, fresh off a cornea transplant, in the middle of a course of antibiotics, declaring “Philosophy is a superior field to science”.

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cl June 4, 2010 at 5:02 pm

I dunno, Rhys: science is founded on philosophy, which is why I’m skeptical of superiority claims.

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lukeprog June 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm

cl,

That’s a different question than the one I intended to address. The point is that when seeking knowledge and understanding, science works. Knowledge and understanding can be used for many purposes, good or evil.

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lukeprog June 4, 2010 at 5:06 pm

cl,

Everything is ‘founded’ on one’s philosophy because philosophy is defined as the most basic mode of inquiry. But that doesn’t make philosophy superior to science in the way that I intended to communicate in the above post.

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Lorkas June 4, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Science is to philosophy as doubling the life expectancy of the human race is to wondering what happens after you die.

Science is to philosophy as curing polio is to asking why bad things happen to good people.

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 5:34 pm

“Philosophers have been working on a basic human question like “What ought we to do?” for 2500+ years and have yet to give a confident answer.”

You’re saying that William Lane Craig does not give a confident answer to that question? You are confusing lack of unanimity with lack of confidence.

“Scientists brought us from a 10-second airplane flight to walking on the moon in less than 70 years.”

The ability to walk on the moon is somewhat trivial if one has no idea “what one ought to do” with one’s life (indeed, how would one even know that one should find out how to walk on the moon?)

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cl June 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I respect good scientists because good scientists figure things out.

Would you not say that scientists are also responsible for an equal if-not-greater amount of negatives that one must ignore in order to promulgate this one-sided attitude? (cl)

That’s a different question than the one I intended to address. (Luke)

I’ll take that as a yes.

The point is that when seeking knowledge and understanding, science works.

Again, cherrypicked. Often, science doesn’t work.

Everything is ‘founded’ on one’s philosophy because philosophy is defined as the most basic mode of inquiry.

There are many things not founded on any philosophy whatsoever, so can you clarify exactly what it is you’re trying to say?

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Bill Maher June 4, 2010 at 5:52 pm

el,

The irony of you using a PC to dog science.

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Lee A.P. June 4, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I think ayer is William Lane Craig. Hey Billy, why does it always sound as if you are whining in your debates and speeches? You sound like a brilliant petulant child.

Often religionists/supernaturalists, in their zeal to knock down “scientism” go laughably overboard by simply poo-pooing all the brilliant scientific progress that they themselves take full advantage of. Its stupid. It really is.

It does no good to ponder the great philosophical questions when you are dead of small pox or polio.

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 6:13 pm

“I think ayer is William Lane Craig.”

Wow, I will take that as a compliment (sort of like an atheist would if mistaken for P.Z. Myers).

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cl June 4, 2010 at 7:32 pm

The irony of you using a PC to dog science. (Bill Maher)

The irony of you – presumably a critical thinker – ignoring the aforementioned:

I respect good scientists because good scientists figure things out.

Quite obviously, I’m not dogging science, but you’re free to believe what you want.

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Justfinethanks June 4, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Ayer: You’re saying that William Lane Craig does not give a confident answer to that question?

No, he doesn’t. Even if we grant his version of divine command morality, the answer to many moral questions remain extremely muddy and unconfident.

For example, God hates divorce, but ought a woman divorce an emotionally abusive man? Is it better to stick it out and try to make it work, or does God value the happiness of the woman more than his aversion to divorce?

God also hates it when people harm another? But ought one torture a terrorist if they have information that could save lives? If so, what methods of torture are morally acceptable?

Craig’s theistic based morality doesn’t provide us with confident answers to these murky moral questions.

On the other hand, science has provided us with astoundingly confident answers to questions as diverse as: What is matter composed of? How fast does light travel? How strong is gravity? What are the fundamental units of living systems? How do those fundamental units reproduce?

Probably most astoundingly, even though philosophers have been quarrelling for millenia over the question “How did humans get here?,” is was confidently answered not by a philosopher, but a meek Victorian scientist.

While I certainly understand the importance of philosophy, even in providing a framework for science to operate, the success of the two fields in providing us with confident answers about our universe are just not comparable

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Sputnik June 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm

cl wrote: “Again, cherrypicked. Often, science doesn’t work.”

Actually it does. Scientific ideas that don’t work are discarded. That’s the point.

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Rhys Wilkins June 4, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I cant even believe this is an issue. If we didnt have science we would still be doing cave paintings and banging our cocks together as a part of a spooky ritual voodoo war dance to get the evening camp fire going.

If we didnt have good quality philosophy we’d be…well, just as confused as we are now I guess.

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Atheist.pig June 5, 2010 at 3:07 am

Billy Lame Craig at his best

…We’ve already said that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role.

This is an abomination to philosophy and even a “sophisticated” theologian would squirm at this monstrosity. Why is a charlatan like Craig taken seriously outside of a pulpit? Or am I just being cognitively biased?

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Bill Maher June 5, 2010 at 3:55 am

“The irony of you – presumably a critical thinker – ignoring the aforementioned”

You just committed the tu quoque fallacy and completely dodged the point. Are you listening to an Ipod and watching tv also?

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ayer June 5, 2010 at 5:04 am

“Craig’s theistic based morality doesn’t provide us with confident answers to these murky moral questions.”

And neo-Darwinian theory doesn’t provide us with confident answers to the remaining unanswered questions in evolutionary theory–but it provides the overarching answer, which is the most important thing.

Similarly, theistic-based morality has murky issues at the edges where moral principles must be reconciled, but it provides the overarching answer as to “what one ought to do” (i.e., love God and love neighbor as yourself), which is the most important thing.

Science’s answer to “what ought one to do?”…….{crickets}

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ayer June 5, 2010 at 5:06 am

“This is an abomination to philosophy ”

Uh, no, actually it is the product of philosophy, namely drawing on Plantinga’s “Warranted Christian Belief.” See http://www.ccel.org/ccel/plantinga/warrant3.html

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Atheist.pig June 5, 2010 at 6:31 am

Uh, no, actually it is the product of philosophy,

Yes ayer, and Ken Ham’s 6000yr old universe hypothesis is the product of scripturally inspired science. Ken Ham has “warranted” reasons for his belief in this hypothesis, namely that he’s retarded.

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Hansen June 5, 2010 at 7:03 am

For some reason atheists tend to put scientists up on a pedestal, which leads them to make the mistake of looking to Dawkins, etc., for leadership in formulating their attacks on theism. Big mistake.

I always find it laughable when theists claim that atheists see Dawkins (or some other high-profile atheist) as leaders. I am pretty sure that the vast majority of atheists have never even heard of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, PZ Myers, or Christopher Hitchens. (Hitchens is probably the most well-known but I think most know him for other reasons than his atheism.)

It’s even more laughable considering that many of the atheists that do know Dawkins et al. are highly critical of them. Anybody remember the controversy some months ago on Dawkins’ website? Most of his so-called “fans” certainly didn’t display any kind of subservient loyalty towards him and his employees. In the end Dawkins had to post a formal apology.

Is there some projection going on here? Or maybe it’s just a matter of thinking that if they can “put down” Dawkins, they have effectively crushed atheism. Both reasons are pretty laughable.

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cl June 5, 2010 at 9:22 am

Bill Maher,

You just committed the tu quoque fallacy and completely dodged the point.

Please. From FallacyFiles: “Tu Quoque is a very common fallacy in which one attempts to defend oneself or another from criticism by turning the critique back against the accuser.

As one can see, your claim is based on an incorrect understanding of the fallacy. You criticized me for “dogging science” while using a PC. I did not turn your criticism back against you. Rather, I successfully rebutted your criticism by referring you to a statement I’d already made that’s incompatible with your claim. That I prefaced my rebuttal as you prefaced your criticism might be what’s confusing you.

As far as “the point,” you left no point other than your naked claim that I was “dogging science,” which has already been shown false. If you have some actual evidence for your claim, you know, something besides your own opinion, bring it. If you feel I should respond to somebody else’s point, clarify.

Are you listening to an Ipod and watching tv also?

Ah, cute. Are you even listening at all? No offense, but maybe you should stick to entertainment, funny guy.

Sputnik,

I’m contesting the insinuation that science is superior to or somehow “better than” philosophy. That’s all.

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ayer June 5, 2010 at 10:13 am

“Yes ayer, and Ken Ham’s 6000yr old universe hypothesis is the product of scripturally inspired science. Ken Ham has “warranted” reasons for his belief in this hypothesis, namely that he’s retarded.”

Ken Ham is to Alvin Plantinga as Madeline Murray O’Hair is to William Rowe.

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Atheist.pig June 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

I’m contesting the insinuation that science is superior to or somehow “better than” philosophy. That’s all.

Give up the ghost cl, you sound like a bad amateur philosopher. At least 10,000 children were saved today and millions every year because of a vaccine we got from science. Ask the billions in the third world which is “better” or “superior”.

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Sputnik June 5, 2010 at 11:31 am

cl wrote: “I’m contesting the insinuation that science is superior to or somehow “better than” philosophy. That’s all.”

Well, you’ve done a really poor job at making your case.

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Jeff H June 5, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I really don’t see why we need to come up with some sort of hierarchy of disciplines to make sure we know which one is better than the other. Does it really matter?

Philosophy certainly has given us much, including development of a rational framework from which to approach the world, something which science needs in order to function properly. Certainly science gives more answers and is more pragmatically useful. But philosophy deals with abstract concepts, and can’t be expected to provide the same rate of answers as science. When the two are looking at different areas of reality, it’s ridiculous to try to compare them, like they’re in a race and we have to pick the one we think will win. If we were comparing, say, science and pseudo-science and looking at which gives us better answers, then that’s fair. But science, dealing with physics, and philosophy, dealing with metaphysics, are difficult to compare. They are two important tools, and we need them both.

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Tony Hoffman June 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm

JeffH: “I really don’t see why we need to come up with some sort of hierarchy of disciplines to make sure we know which one is better than the other. Does it really matter?”

I would agree if the discussion were about Russian and English literature. But it’s not.

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TaiChi June 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm

“At least 10,000 children were saved today and millions every year because of a vaccine we got from science.” ~ Atheist.pig

Does this make it better? So, Pharmacology is superior to Cosmology, too?
Nobody in this thread has defined what they mean by ‘better’ or ‘superior’, and it seems to me you’re all using these terms in different ways. I doubt there is any substantial disagreement left once everyone starts explaining the sense in which they’re using these terms.
Yes, science is superior in some ways – it has clear epistemic criteria, clear methods to increase the scope of our knowledge, and the knowledge that it does deliver is often practically useful. On the other hand, some interesting and important questions about the world are not susceptible to being answered by scientific methods – philosophy is better in this respect, because it allows us to pursue the truth anyway. As for which is superior simpliciter, I doubt there’s any such shared concept to argue over, here.

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Rhys Wilkins June 5, 2010 at 9:38 pm

The only forms of philosophy that even come remotely close to the utility of the scientific method would probably be political philosophy and maybe ethics. Even they fall far short.

There is no use speculating over what we ought to do if we do not have the power to do anything.

There is no use speculating over what creates the most functional and stable society if we do not have the power and technology to implement these ideas.

“It’s science bitches. It works.”
- Thunderf00t

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Mark June 6, 2010 at 12:19 am

Science and philosophy = non-overlapping magisteria.

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cl June 6, 2010 at 6:03 am

Philosophy certainly has given us much, including development of a rational framework from which to approach the world, something which science needs in order to function properly. Certainly science gives more answers and is more pragmatically useful. But philosophy deals with abstract concepts, and can’t be expected to provide the same rate of answers as science. When the two are looking at different areas of reality, it’s ridiculous to try to compare them, like they’re in a race and we have to pick the one we think will win. If we were comparing, say, science and pseudo-science and looking at which gives us better answers, then that’s fair. But science, dealing with physics, and philosophy, dealing with metaphysics, are difficult to compare. They are two important tools, and we need them both. (Jeff H)

I doubt there is any substantial disagreement left once everyone starts explaining the sense in which they’re using these terms. Yes, science is superior in some ways – it has clear epistemic criteria, clear methods to increase the scope of our knowledge, and the knowledge that it does deliver is often practically useful. On the other hand, some interesting and important questions about the world are not susceptible to being answered by scientific methods – philosophy is better in this respect, because it allows us to pursue the truth anyway. (TaiChi)

Well said, to the both of you. Everybody’s got a gris-gris, and I’ve noticed an odd parallel between fundamentalists and proponents of scientism. I’m willing to bet that’s at least partly responsible for the direction of this thread. That, and the silliness (whether intended or not) of Luke’s #1 from the OP.

At least 10,000 children were saved today and millions every year because of a vaccine we got from science. Ask the billions in the third world which is “better” or “superior”. (Atheist.pig)

Yeah, and none of that would have been possible without the philosophical pillars that gave rise to science.

I’m contesting the insinuation that science is superior to or somehow “better than” philosophy. (cl)

Well, you’ve done a really poor job at making your case. (Sputnik)

I’m not the one making the case. I’m the one contesting the case being made. You’ve apparently done a really poor job at following along, as well as comprehending the burden of proof.

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Bill Maher June 6, 2010 at 7:02 am

lol cl. all you essentially say is NO U!!!11!1!!1 then say you refuted something or made some point.

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cl June 6, 2010 at 7:07 am

Bill Maher,

lol cl. all you essentially say is NO U!!!11!1!!1 then say you refuted something or made some point.

That’s okay. I’m equally unimpressed with your one-liners. Seriously, Bill, if you can justify your claim that I’m “dogging science” by all means do it. If not, your time would be better spent on your endeavors-as-pundit.

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ayer June 6, 2010 at 8:36 am

“There is no use speculating over what we ought to do if we do not have the power to do anything.”

There is no use having the power to do anything if one has no idea what one ought to be doing.

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Another Grad Student June 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm

This is blatant brown-nosing.

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Rhys Wilkins June 7, 2010 at 4:09 am

There is no use having the power to do anything if one has no idea what one ought to be doing. ayer

You make it sound like without a solid foundation of ethical theory and meta-ethics, people are just hopelessly wandering, mired in misdirection, anguish and obfuscation, like blind men staggering through a Vietnam War minefield, literally no idea of who they are, what they want and where they are going.

There were many flourishing civilisations of the ancient world (e.g. Egypt, Babylonia etc.) that had a stark absence of philosophical disquisitions in the records they left, and they got along just fine. They didnt just sit there wasting away because they didnt know what they “ought to do”.

If I could go back in a time machine and give a gift to these people, I would not hestiate in giving them science. Science is more important. Philosophy can wait its turn.

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ayer June 7, 2010 at 5:10 am

“If I could go back in a time machine and give a gift to these people, I would not hestiate in giving them science. Science is more important.”

And how would they know whether they ought to accept or reject your gift?

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Rhys Wilkins June 7, 2010 at 6:05 am

And how would they know whether they ought to accept or reject your gift? ayer

It’s up to them. Do they wanna live past thirty, cure blindness, feed the hungry, fly around the world, travel faster then the speed of sound, and discover all sorts of cool things about life, the cosmos and everything? They can take it or leave it.

It doesn’t take some deep, reflective philosophical armchair ratiocination to conclude, “Yes please. Gimme gimme”.

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lukeprog June 7, 2010 at 7:40 am

ayer,

If we show them an iPad they will definitely want it. Especially if we put porn on there.

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Zeb June 7, 2010 at 7:53 am

There were many flourishing civilisations of the ancient world (e.g. Egypt, Babylonia etc.) that had a stark absence of philosophical disquisitions in the records they left, and they got along just fine. They didnt just sit there wasting away because they didnt know what they “ought to do”.

If I could go back in a time machine and give a gift to these people, I would not hestiate in giving them science. Science is more important. Philosophy can wait its turn.

Brilliant! Because the only thing an ethically and philosophically impoverished society needs is better tools to accomplish is horrific ends more thoroughly and efficiently! Think how many more pyramids they could have built on the same quotient of slave labor. And how many more slaves they could have captured and bred. No, they didn’t just sit there, they had an extreme will to power and lots of insane ideologies that they pursued ruthlessly, and that could have been served so much better by modern science.

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ayer June 7, 2010 at 8:09 am

“It doesn’t take some deep, reflective philosophical armchair ratiocination to conclude, “Yes please. Gimme gimme”.”

“If we show them an iPad they will definitely want it. Especially if we put porn on there.”

Yes, they could really have a lot of fun with some nuclear weapons, too–especially if it’s unimportant for them to worry about whether they ought to take them or whether they ought to use them; just “gimmee, please gimmee.”

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Al Moritz June 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm

“As we all know, science is better, more important, more exciting, and far sexier than philosophy. PZ contributes to one of the noblest professions in existence.”

So do I as a biochemist. However, the question is in what sense science is supposed to be more important than philosophy. When it comes to world views, philosophy rules. Science is not a world view.

An atheist might argue that his/her positions are scientific and objective, since they are an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world. This, however, overlooks the fact that this extrapolation, while it may claim to be based on science, is a philosophical extrapolation, not a scientific one, since it transcends the realm of strictly scientific knowledge. The atheist’s position is no less philosophical than the theist’s position – which, when it comes to, for example, the fine-tuning argument, can also be an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world

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Atheist.pig June 7, 2010 at 2:04 pm

The atheist’s position is no less philosophical than the theist’s position

I don’t consider the theists position philosophical, it’s theological. I expect my philosophers to be radical skeptics or at least skeptical critical thinkers.

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Al Moritz June 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm

“I don’t consider the theists position philosophical, it’s theological.”

You do not seem to know much about the position of theism then. It is both.

“I expect my philosophers to be radical skeptics or at least skeptical critical thinkers.”

Me too. That is why I feel intellectually more at home with many of the theistic philosophers (some I do not care about).

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Rhys Wilkins June 7, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Yes, they could really have a lot of fun with some nuclear weapons, too–especially if it’s unimportant for them to worry about whether they ought to take them or whether they ought to use them; just “gimmee, please gimmee.” Ayer

I could just tell them that they might end up destroying the Earth if they use enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons. Philosophy won’t help them here. Philosophy could be used to justify the extermination of other civilizations with the nuclear weapons. A simple analogy would be Big Bad Bill Craig, who uses philosophy in a subservient way to justify his presuppositions about the world.

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Atheist.pig June 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Me too. That is why I feel intellectually more at home with many of the theistic philosophers

Ye, because believing in yahweh is the best critical position a radical skeptic can take.

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Al Moritz June 7, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Ye, because believing in yahweh is the best critical position a radical skeptic can take.

It can certainly be a better critical position for a radical skeptic than the uncritical acceptance of the dogma of naturalism, regardless of the immense philosophical difficulties that this produces. For a thoughtful atheistic philosopher who is very much aware of some of the difficulties, read Thomas Nagel, The Last Word.

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Atheist.pig June 7, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Can you show me something thats not natural? Can you show me something outside of nature? Give me anything? Science gives us glimpses of reality, I don’t claim anything beyond that. Nobody knows why there’s something rather than nothing, I’m cool with that. You believe the ancient tales of the desert tribes, so don’t give me that “dogma of naturalism” bullshit.
Just be honest and say your a person of faith, you have an imaginary friend and a personal relationship with a radical preacher thats been dead for 2000yrs.

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ayer June 7, 2010 at 5:01 pm

“I could just tell them that they might end up destroying the Earth if they use enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons.”

And so they ought not to do so?–science is useless to you in coming to that conclusion.

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Rhys Wilkins June 7, 2010 at 6:10 pm

And so they ought not to do so?–science is useless to you in coming to that conclusion. Ayer

In this modern age of robust philosophical discourse, people still debate these questions! This is why I thank Zeus that Sarah Palin did not get elected VP. Imagine that Young Earth Creationist Rapture-Ready fruitbat having access to the United States nuclear codes!

But more to the point. If they want to live and prosper, they would probably conclude that they ought not to blast themselves into oblivion with nuclear warheads. An in depth intellectual symposium of thought is not really needed, a desire for survival and a brain that can think is all what matters. I will concede that this is not a given. They are human and some humans have proven themselves more then capable of vindicating Einstein’s Theory of Limitless Stupidity.

I’m not saying that a good understanding of moral philosophy wouldn’t be useful in this case (it would help), just that science overall has more utility. Furthermore, philosophy can be used to justify rather then reason away a malevolent agenda, e.g. Aristotle devised an erudite philosophical justification for slavery during the times of the Athenian Empire (which was accepted by the Athenians), Bill Craig uses Divine Commandment Theory to justify the mass slaughter of the Cannanites in the OT, Descartes used Cartesian Dualism to justify animal cruelty etc. In fact, alot of ethical philosophy is based on intuitive precepts of what is right or wrong and trying to create a ontologically economical model which accurately describes those intuitions and attempts to make the case for why we ought to act on them.

Science itself can also be used to justify horrible things (e.g. animal testing), but even Peter Singer would agree somewhat that its a necessary price for living in a modern society. Nevertheless, I would still like to see animal testing abolished and a better alternative erected in its place.

It is also important to note that the prime conditions for the evolution of good philosophy are conditions which science can provide, i.e. food supply, water supply, strong medical science, efficient methods for storing and transferring knowledge (mass stationery production, internet and so forth), child education based on sound psychological and neuroscientific principles, etc.

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Rhys Wilkins June 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Brilliant! Because the only thing an ethically and philosophically impoverished society needs is better tools to accomplish is horrific ends more thoroughly and efficiently! Think how many more pyramids they could have built on the same quotient of slave labor. And how many more slaves they could have captured and bred. No, they didn’t just sit there, they had an extreme will to power and lots of insane ideologies that they pursued ruthlessly, and that could have been served so much better by modern science. Zeb

As I mentioned in my above post, the moral philosophy of Aristotle was used to justify slavery.

On the other hand, well founded neuroscience and psychology would cut through the myth that slaves are sub-human derelicts who should be forced to grovel like pigs to their human “masters”. Neuroscience and psychology would show that slaves are capable of pain, pleasure, happiness, and so forth. Also, with science, the freedom to exchange information with no boundaries is amplified, creating opportune conditions for grassroots campaigns to raise consciousness about topics such as feminism, slavery, racism etc.

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Al Moritz June 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Can you show me something thats not natural? Can you show me something outside of nature? Give me anything? Science gives us glimpses of reality, I don’t claim anything beyond that. Nobody knows why there’s something rather than nothing, I’m cool with that. You believe the ancient tales of the desert tribes, so don’t give me that “dogma of naturalism” bullshit.

Just be honest and say your a person of faith, you have an imaginary friend and a personal relationship with a radical preacher thats been dead for 2000yrs.

I suggest you read the book The Last Word by atheist Thomas Nagel. It might get you thinking about why naturalism is not such a self-explanatory position to take.

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lukeprog June 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Al,

It may indeed be that naturalism as its own paradoxes to overcome. Books like Good and Real by Gary Drescher are explicitly written to take another step toward resolving such paradoxes of naturalism.

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ayer June 7, 2010 at 8:25 pm

“I’m not saying that a good understanding of moral philosophy wouldn’t be useful in this case (it would help), just that science overall has more utility.”

And how do you know that “utility” is the proper standard of judgment? (Even your attempt to privilege science over philosophy must draw on the philosophical perspective of utilitarianism!)

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ayer June 7, 2010 at 8:27 pm

“creating opportune conditions for grassroots campaigns to raise consciousness about topics such as feminism, slavery, racism etc.”

And how would science determine that we ought not to engage in slavery, racism, subjugation of women, etc.?

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ayer June 7, 2010 at 8:34 pm

“Can you show me something outside of nature? ”

Abstract objects:”…at least some abstract objects are necessarily existent. That is to say, some abstracta exist in all possible worlds. For example, propositions which are broadly logically necessary, such as “whatever has a shape has a size” seem to exist and be true in all possible worlds.”

http://www.doxazotheos.com/?page_id=99

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Rhys Wilkins June 8, 2010 at 1:05 am

And how would science determine that we ought not to engage in slavery, racism, subjugation of women, etc.? ayer

It doesn’t. Science provides optimal conditions for the free exchange of information, and therefore the freedom to raise consciousness. It provides the opportunity for these issues to be discussed in an intelligent way.

It would enable the downtrodden to make their case openly, and force others to listen. That’s all I’m saying.

I think we’re gonna have to agree to disagree. This is going absolutely nowhere.

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Tony Hoffman June 8, 2010 at 6:27 am

Ayer: “And how do you know that “utility” is the proper standard of judgment? (Even your attempt to privilege science over philosophy must draw on the philosophical perspective of utilitarianism!)”

I love theists who ask endless “why” questions about what one ought to do, as if they are immune from such enquiry into why we should obey their putative God (let alone how we can agree on what we’re supposed to do if said God exists).

Why should we want to please the God you think exists, Ayer? Why do we believe that he is good?

At least desires exist. I’m betting that’s a pretty sound place to start if you really want answers to your line of questioning.

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ayer June 8, 2010 at 7:34 am

“Why should we want to please the God you think exists, Ayer? Why do we believe that he is good?”

That’s an interesting discussion for another thread, but not the topic we are discussing, which is whether science is more important than philosophy (which addresses questions such as “what ought one to do?”). Since the ability to do something without knowing what one ought to be doing is worthless, and nothing in this thread has shown otherwise, I still maintain: scientists are to philosophers as paralegals are to lawyers.

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drj June 8, 2010 at 7:42 am

Why ought people work to discover what they ought to do?

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drj June 8, 2010 at 7:49 am

Isn’t it the dichotomy here a little problematic? Science actually is a particular kind of philosophy.

So this argument here is a little like arguing over whether ancient peoples would be better off with bread, or toast.

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Tony Hoffman June 8, 2010 at 8:19 am

Ayer: “That’s an interesting discussion for another thread, but not the topic we are discussing, which is whether science is more important than philosophy (which addresses questions such as “what ought one to do?”).:

I think you mean that you don’t like your criticism being leveled at your Emperor. It appears that you are purporting philosophy to be a superior endeavor because it addresses a question with an answer that can’t be known, while dragging back out into the open a canard that scientific inquiry into your question is impossible. I think that Desirism offers a way for scientific inquiry to answer the question of what we ought to do while allowing the same or fewer entities, with the advantage that it deals with something knowable (our desires).

Ayer: “Since the ability to do something without knowing what one ought to be doing is worthless…”

That’s a fairly outlandish thing to say. Seeing as how you aren’t bothering to support your assertion there, I’ll assume you’re joking.

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ayer June 8, 2010 at 9:27 am

“I think that Desirism offers a way for scientific inquiry to answer the question of what we ought to do”

Desirism is science? Talk about outlandish statements.

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ayer June 8, 2010 at 10:09 am

This blog:
“The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory…”
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=7985

Wikipedia:
“Ethics (also known as moral philosophy) is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and bad, noble and ignoble, right and wrong, justice, and virtue.

Major branches of ethics include:

* meta-ethics, about the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions and how their truth-values (if any) may be determined;
* normative ethics, about the practical means of determining a moral course of action;
* applied ethics, about how moral outcomes can be achieved in specific situations;
* moral psychology, about how moral capacity or moral agency develops and what its nature is; and
* descriptive ethics, about what moral values people actually abide by.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics

There’s a reason ethical and moral theory is taught in the philosophy department, not the science department.

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cl June 8, 2010 at 10:36 am

..I think that Desirism offers a way for scientific inquiry to answer the question of what we ought to do…

If that’s the case – that desirism offers a way for scientific inquiry to answer the question of what we ought to do – then why don’t desirists take this approach? I’d be far more persuaded by desirism if its proponents actually tried to utilize its’ alleged objectivity by running numbers. To date, I’ve not seen anything besides philosophical posturing – which is ironic for a thread full of people preaching the strengths of science over philosophy. FWIW, I’ve made a couple attempts at what I’m advocating, lest anyone be tempted to pigeonhole me as a complainer who doesn’t vote.

OTOH, when, regarding pederasty, Alonzo supports his claim that “the Greeks were probably wrong” not with an argument, but a passing allusion to some set of unspecified venereal diseases, I’m not persuaded at all. Rather, I get the same feeling an atheist gets when they ask a Fundamentalist to explain their position in greater detail.

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Tony Hoffman June 8, 2010 at 10:47 am

Ayer: “Desirism is science? Talk about outlandish statements.”

Of course, I didn’t say that Desirism is science. Why not respond to what I wrote instead of trying to re-state it as a strawman? You know, we both might even learn something.

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Tony Hoffman June 8, 2010 at 11:18 am

cl: “If that’s the case – that desirism offers a way for scientific inquiry to answer the question of what we ought to do – then why don’t desirists take this approach?”

I don’t know that they do or they don’t. Do you know that some or all Desirists eschew scientific inquiry?

But even if no proponents of Desirism have taken a scientific approach, that doesn’t change the fact that desires could be subject to scientific inquiry, and could provide a scientific answer to the ought question that Ayer seems to think science could not.

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cl June 8, 2010 at 11:45 am

Tony Hoffman,

Do you know that some or all Desirists eschew scientific inquiry?

I know that I’ve not seen any desirist attempt any sort of numerical quantification, or anything else that might lift desirism out of the philosophical puddle it seems to be drowning in.

…even if no proponents of Desirism have taken a scientific approach, that doesn’t change the fact that desires could be subject to scientific inquiry…

Of course. I’ve not argued or implied otherwise, and if I gave you that impression then I apologize. For future reference, what exactly do you mean in the string, “desires could be subject to scientific inquiry?”

…and could provide a scientific answer to the ought question that Ayer seems to think science could not.

I’m skeptical of any answer to the “ought” question, let alone a purportedly scientific one. It seems to me this loaf needs to be baked in the philosophical oven first, and for that, I applaud Alonzo. I’d say that currently, the most science could do would be to say something like, “X is good, and research shows that method Y is the most effective way of obtaining X.” The problem, at least as I see it, is that philosophers are having a hard time distilling good into a beverage that scientists can drink. IOW, philosophy must precede science, yet again.

Still, I’m very much interested in hearing support for all variants of the claim, “science can answer the ‘ought’ question,” so if anyone has it, hammer away.

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Atheist.pig June 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm

which is ironic for a thread full of people preaching the strengths of science over philosophy.

I can’t speak to the notion of Desirism since I havn’t read anything on it. But personally I don’t think we need a new moral theory.

Take the issue of stem cell research, philosophy can’t answer the ethical issues of stem cell research any more than science. Scientists didn’t wait around for philosophy to give answers it hasn’t got, we all (except crazy people) realize the utility of this type of research to save lives and cure disease. Philosophy isn’t gonna provide 9 billion people with cheap clean energy harnessed from the sun, wind, or the atom. Nor will it cure HIV, polio, malaria, with a vaccine.
Scientists gave us a tablet a couple of years back that cured a fatal type of leukemia in children, many more are on the way. Science will help feed billions of children in the third world over the next 50 years. Science tells us where we came from, why where here in under two centuries or so of hard science.

And just to be clear, 99% of the examples I gave above are probably based on self interest initially. Individual curiosity, patents, nobel prizes, economics. But we all benefit from it. Science used to wait around for philosophers, not anymore, most good philosophers now are actually doing experimental science since the science has come so far.

Philosophy or science doesn’t answer the ought question, but science doesn’t need to, it surges on. Philosophy is stuck on that question since it started. It can’t answer it.

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ayer June 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm

The “science superiority complex” evidenced here reminds me of the character Weston in “Out of the Silent Planet”:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Out_of_the_Silent_Planet#Weston.27s_speech_and_its_translation

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Al Moritz June 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Al,

It may indeed be that naturalism as its own paradoxes to overcome. Books like Good and Real by Gary Drescher are explicitly written to take another step toward resolving such paradoxes of naturalism.

Thanks Luke. I have ordered the book today, together with Thomas Nagel’s A View from Nowhere (and Maxwell Davies’s string quartets 5 & 6 ;-). Unlike most, atheists and theists alike, I do not shy away from thoroughly informing myself about the opposite world view.

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cl June 8, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Atheist.pig,

Disclaimer: I’ve just a fielded a handful of comments from haters in other threads, so I apologize if you detect any sort of irritation in my comment. I assure you that, at least until given a reason otherwise, I give you my full respect as an intellectual equal here. I say this not to patronize you or kiss your ass, but because it’s too easy to let personal issues corrupt these types of conversations, and I’ve noticed that trend is unfortunately on the increase here.

That said, let’s party:

Take the issue of stem cell research, philosophy can’t answer the ethical issues of stem cell research any more than science.

Do you mean to say that philosophy hasn’t answered the question? Or that it actually can’t? If the latter, why not?

Philosophy isn’t gonna provide 9 billion people with cheap clean energy harnessed from the sun, wind, or the atom. Nor will it cure HIV, polio, malaria, with a vaccine.

Of course it won’t, at least not in any direct sense. Such ends are beyond philosophy’s scope. However, I’m unsure as to the extent which people generally – and proponents of scientism especially – realize that science is founded on philosophy. Specifically, science is founded on the philosophies of methodological naturalism, Popperian falsifiability, and logical positivism. Without those philosophies, there is no dependable science. This is why I believe that casting philosophy and science as existing in some sort of competition is a false dichotomy.

Scientists gave us a tablet a couple of years back that cured a fatal type of leukemia in children, many more are on the way. Science will help feed billions of children in the third world over the next 50 years.

Sure, but in doing so, we’re inched that much closer to the [inevitable?] outcomes of overpopulation. I anticipate at least a bit of shock and horror regarding what I’m about to say, but who the hell says saving lives is good anyways? By “saving” lives we protest nature. This is not aimed at you per se, but generally, I find it ironic that so many atheists deny intrinsic value on the one hand, then praise science’s life-saving abilities thusly – as if “lives saved” has some sort of intrinsic value.

Science tells us where we came from, why where here in under two centuries or so of hard science.

It is my opinion that such is overstated. Science does not tell us why we’re here. It doesn’t even tell us where we came from, at least not in any sort of ultimate sense. When it comes to making confident, empirically-grounded statements about ultimate origins, it is my opinion that good scientists shut their mouths somewhere close to or concurrent with, but definitely not before, Planck time.

…just to be clear, 99% of the examples I gave above are probably based on self interest initially. Individual curiosity, patents, nobel prizes, economics. But we all benefit from it.

In some cases, yes, I would agree that we all benefit from science. However, that’s exactly the type of one-sided argument that raised my contentions in the first place. These types of claims distill to subjective, cherry-picked opinions, and are certainly not any sort of evidence for the superiority of science over philosophy.

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Tony Hoffman June 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Cl: ‘For future reference, what exactly do you mean in the string, “desires could be subject to scientific inquiry?” ‘

I mean that desires can be detected, so you can at least count them. Measuring them would seem to be a problem, but you can probably also compare them on sort of relative scale. I’m sure we could make a big hairy mess of scientific Desirism, but I can’t rule out a coherent, scientifically rigorous ethical system that’s built on an objective accounting of desires. And that seems more promising to me than any foundational “ought’ based on an unknowable, supernatural (and probably impossible) theistic god.

I don’t have well-formed views on ethics or morality. I am on the fence about moral realism, among other things. I think that Morality may exist, but only as a result of its relation to two or more agents. Whether that makes morality real or not is something I still don’t understand.

I agree with several commenters here that (with the exception of Ayer, I believe) we all basically agree here.

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cl June 9, 2010 at 11:14 am

Tony Hoffman,

I mean that desires can be detected, so you can at least count them.

I’m with you there. I think that’s what proponents of desirism should be doing, if they wish to establish the objective veracity of their theory. To date, much of what I’m hearing distills to some variant of, “because I say so.”

Measuring them would seem to be a problem, but you can probably also compare them on sort of relative scale.

I’m not so sure. I actually think Alonzo’s “what would people of equal wealth pay for state of affairs S” is actually a decent attempt.

And that seems more promising to me than any foundational “ought’ based on an unknowable, supernatural (and probably impossible) theistic god.

More promising in terms of what? Getting something solid that everybody should (at least in theory) be able to point to and agree on?

I think that Morality may exist, but only as a result of its relation to two or more agents.

Would it be appropriate to paraphrase your position as, “all is permissible given a single agent?”

I agree with several commenters here that (with the exception of Ayer, I believe) we all basically agree here.

I’m hesitant. It seems to me the only thing we all agree on is that science is more pragmatic than philosophy. We seem to be pretty evenly split regarding the conclusions we draw from there. I’m certainly getting the feeling that the philosophy of scientism is being heavily promoted here. That concerns me.

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Tony Hoffman June 9, 2010 at 11:47 am

CL: “More promising in terms of what? Getting something solid that everybody should (at least in theory) be able to point to and agree on?”

Yes, that is what I meant.

CL: ‘Would it be appropriate to paraphrase your position as, “all is permissible given a single agent?”’

That seems like a logical conclusion from what I wrote.

CL: “I’m certainly getting the feeling that the philosophy of scientism is being heavily promoted here. That concerns me. ”

Were that the case, what would concern you about it?

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cl June 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Were that the case, what would concern you about it?

Well,

The term scientism describes the position that natural science is the most authoritative worldview or aspect of human education, and that it is superior to all other interpretations of life. (Wikipedia)

I deny that natural science is the most authoritative worldview or aspect of human education. I deny that this position is superior to all other interpretations of life. I argue that despite the good, at least as much bad has entailed science. I question the philosophy that exalts “saving lives” as some sort of intrinsically good thing. In fact, the very concept of scientism seems so biased and one-sided to me that I can’t fathom how ostensibly rational people buy into it. I see it as the converse of the error many religious people make – that their preference or interpretation is the best preference or interpretation. I believe we should keep vigilant for bias and arrogance.

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Atheist.pig June 9, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Do you mean to say that philosophy hasn’t answered the question? Or that it actually can’t? If the latter, why not?

It hasn’t and it can’t. If theism is considered a proper philosophical position as Al Moritz has said, then the position of the catholic church and most evangelical theists is that stem cells (that have been fertilized) are human beings. The other position is that they are no more human beings than a skin cell or a sperm cell. Philosophy can’t answer this question one way or the other, but scientists don’t care, they realize the benefits outweigh the costs, which are zero, and big pharma certainly doesn’t care.

However, I’m unsure as to the extent which people generally – and proponents of scientism especially – realize that science is founded on philosophy. Specifically, science is founded on the philosophies of methodological naturalism, Popperian falsifiability, and logical positivism. Without those philosophies, there is no dependable science. This is why I believe that casting philosophy and science as existing in some sort of competition is a false dichotomy.

I suspect people know that science came out of philosophy, although philosophy and science were considered the same thing (natural philosophy) until a few centuries ago when some smart people realized science is a much better and far superior explanatory tool for understanding nature aswell as giving practical solutions to solving problems. Philosophers havn’t made a major contribution to our understanding of nature in quite a while. And I agree on the false dichotomy.

I anticipate at least a bit of shock and horror regarding what I’m about to say, but who the hell says saving lives is good anyways? By “saving” lives we protest nature.

If thats a serious comment then Dr. Goebbels would be proud of you. If your against protesting nature thats fine, I didn’t know that was a sensible theistic position. Theres a good chance most of us on this thread wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for protesting nature.

I find it ironic that so many atheists deny intrinsic value on the one hand, then praise science’s life-saving abilities thusly – as if “lives saved” has some sort of intrinsic value.

You just lost any credibility you had with me, this is similar to the crazies who say “How can an atheist have any morals without believing in allah or yahweh to tell us whats right or wrong, hehe”. Empathy and shame among others, are good enough for me, we all got these emotions from the same place and in some people they are amplified more than in others. Moral philosophy can certainly enhance these, superstitious dogma hinders it.

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cl June 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Atheist.pig,

Philosophers havn’t made a major contribution to our understanding of nature in quite a while.

Michael Jordan hasn’t grinded a handrail in quite a while, either, and that’s because he doesn’t skateboard. The reason philosophy doesn’t do that which you criticize it for not doing is because making contributions to our understanding of nature is outside the scope of philosophy. OTOH, philosophers have made major contributions to the nature of our understanding, and these contributions gave direct rise to science. For this reason and others stated here, I reject scientism.

If thats a serious comment then Dr. Goebbels would be proud of you.

Yeah, I figured somebody would take the easy route and try to smear me. I didn’t figure that it would be you.

You just lost any credibility you had with me,

That’s fine, but note that I actually explained why I believe your position lacks credibility. If you can explain how your position has credibility, I’m all ears. If not, take care.

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Tony Hoffman June 9, 2010 at 5:55 pm

CL: “I argue that despite the good, at least as much bad has entailed science.”

I find this view difficult to accept. Inasmuch as science is not a worldview, I don’t think it’s possible to blame science for what we do with the knowledge that science brings us. That seems to me like railing against the universe for entailing the blowing up of nuclear bombs.

CL: “I question the philosophy that exalts “saving lives” as some sort of intrinsically good thing.”

I applaud your questioning this (because I think it’s worth questioning, and because it does make you vulnerable to easy criticism), but I don’t think that scientism entails saving lives.

I think you mean that scientism entails some other worldview or philosophy. Is that correct?

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Atheist.pig June 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Yeah, I figured somebody would take the easy route and try to smear me. I didn’t figure that it would be you.

It was a cheap response to a cheap comment. You, being a theist, would naturally believe that humans have intrinsic value, thus saving human lives has intrinsic value. Therefore, my Goebbels quip surely couldn’t have been a smear against a theist, unless you have succumbed to the Führers propaganda. Neither you or I get our morals from ancient scripture, we develop them through complicated social interactions along with evolved traits. You took the discussion along an unnecessary path of why I, as an atheist, could give intrinsic value to saving lives and not being in favor of social Darwinism by protesting nature.

I took it for granted that you and I think it is good to reduce suffering in our fellow human beings and save the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves. My mistake.

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cl June 10, 2010 at 1:37 am

Tony Hoffman,

To be clear, I feel I should emphasize that I’m making a distinction between scientism and application of the knowledge science gives us. Two different things.

I find this view difficult to accept.

Why? If you don’t think it’s possible to blame science for what we do with the knowledge it gives us, surely you don’t think it’s possible to praise science for what we do with the knowledge it gives us, right?

I applaud your questioning this (because I think it’s worth questioning, and because it does make you vulnerable to easy criticism),

Well thank you. I think it’s a very valid question, one that far too many atheists are allowed to get away with not answering. I can say something like, “I believe saving lives has intrinsic value because God created lives to be lived eternally.” Or I can say something like, “I believe saving lives has intrinsic value because we all need as much time as possible to prepare ourselves for reuniting with the Creator.” If it’s true that God exists, then there you go: I’ve got a reason besides personal preference to support my answer to the question “why should lives be saved?”

If I were an atheist, I couldn’t say those things. I wouldn’t believe in intrinsic value. Although, I wouldn’t be one of those atheists who simply claims to reject intrinsic value; I really would reject intrinsic value. A human killing another human becomes no different than a bear killing another bear. We’re all animals, right? If that’s the case, screw special privileges. Sure, it sucks, and there’s always a loser, but if our claim is that the universe is indifferent, well then hot-damn, let’s act like it.

…I don’t think that scientism entails saving lives.

I don’t either. My point regarding the saving of lives was to contest the willingness of some to exalt the saving of lives as some sort of properly basic intrinsic value, without justification and while [in some cases] ironically denying the existence of intrinsic value. This is especially peculiar considering the population situation. Many atheists talk a big game about the need to support claims with evidence, then refuse to touch evidence with a ten-foot pole when asked to support the “saving lives has intrinsic value” argument.

I think you mean that scientism entails some other worldview or philosophy. Is that correct?

Well, my tongue-in-cheek reply would be that yes, scientism entails a lopsided worldview and an ignorant philosophy, but to give you the official reply, no. I’m not arguing that any particular worldview or philosophy necessarily entails scientism.

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Tony Hoffman June 10, 2010 at 5:11 am

CL: “If you don’t think it’s possible to blame science for what we do with the knowledge it gives us, surely you don’t think it’s possible to praise science for what we do with the knowledge it gives us, right?”

That’s an interesting point as well. I’d respond that I believe the pursuit of knowledge is desirable (because I desire it), and that on balance increasing knowledge tends to increase the amount of satisfied desires in our world. I am pro-knowledge not for any such reasoned position, though –- I just know that I want to know.

It sounds like you disagree with my pro-knowledge position (I believe that Craig’s anti-Enlightenment stance, and that blogger who Luke traded letter with a few months ago whose name escapes me now, among others, are not so sanguine about increasing our knowledge. I find the position intellectually provocative, so, again, it’s appreciated.)

CL: ‘If it’s true that God exists, then there you go: I’ve got a reason besides personal preference to support my answer to the question “why should lives be saved?”’

Well, I’m not so sure you do there. I’d have to ask you why you care about pleasing God, and I think you might run into an unavoidable confrontation with your personal preferences under that line of questioning.

CL: “If I were an atheist, I couldn’t say those things. I wouldn’t believe in intrinsic value.”

This seems to cross the line from provocative to absurd. But maybe I don’t understand the definition of intrinsic value. I am a non-theist, and believe that the pursuit of knowledge is an intrinsic good (in that I desire it, and that I believe that it increases the amount of satisfied desires in the world, if I were to come up with a shorthand definition of the term.)

CL: “A human killing another human becomes no different than a bear killing another bear. We’re all animals, right?”

I’ve never bought into this line of reasoning. I think it might be the most persuasive reason I know of for the maintenance of religion – that without it all these theists would then go off and start popping everyone in sight.

I can’t tell you what you think (which is why I never question a theist’s stated – but entirely foreign to me — experiences of God), but I can tell you that as a non-theist I instinctively desire to help other human beings (and puppies and other animals, on a sliding scale of cuteness and empathy). I cannot escape these feelings, and I like to imagine that you are similarly confined, and that these feelings are not a result of your having read the Bible.

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al friedlander June 10, 2010 at 10:53 am

“Although, I wouldn’t be one of those atheists who simply claims to reject intrinsic value; I really would reject intrinsic value. A human killing another human becomes no different than a bear killing another bear. We’re all animals, right? If that’s the case, screw special privileges. Sure, it sucks, and there’s always a loser, but if our claim is that the universe is indifferent, well then hot-damn, let’s act like it.”

Hi Cl,

Amateur question, here. I’m a bit confused. Are you saying that, if an atheist/agnostic conforms to his/her core beliefs, that they would then need to adopt that line of reasoning/meaning in life? Are you implying that, under atheism, the world would degenerate into human-kill-human as to bear-kill-bear?

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cl June 10, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Tony Hoffman,

I need more time than currently allowed to give your last comment the address I feel it needs. Since it’s a little shorter, I’m going to take al’s first.

al friedlander,

Are you saying that, if an atheist/agnostic conforms to his/her core beliefs, that they would then need to adopt that line of reasoning/meaning in life?

No. I’m not prescribing anything for any atheist, and my comments in this thread aren’t relevant to agnostics – at least not in any meaningful way that I can see. I am saying that I believe following atheism to it’s logical conclusion supports the statements I’ve made. Does that make sense?

Are you implying that, under atheism, the world would degenerate into human-kill-human as to bear-kill-bear?

I’m hesitant to answer because of the “under atheism” part of the question. Although I’m a theist who believes humans can experience the divine, ontologically speaking, I believe it’s accurate to say we are “under atheism” right now. Do you see any all powerful God looming in the horizon anywhere? I sure don’t. So, in my opinion, we exist “under atheism” right now.

I’m willing to bet I’ve misunderstood you, though. If you could elaborate on the question, I’d be glad to try again, and please don’t get discouraged if I’m slow in responding. There’s quite a bit going on around here right now, so I’m going slow to keep an even keel.

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al friedlander June 10, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Hi cl,

I suppose I’ll just wait for you to answer Tony’s questions. They’re more in-depth than mine, and are also very much relevant to the topic at hand.

As a matter of fact, to clarify my own position, I’ll deliberately steal from him here:

“I am a non-theist, and believe that the pursuit of knowledge is an intrinsic good (in that I desire it, and that I believe that it increases the amount of satisfied desires in the world”

“as a non-theist I instinctively desire to help other human beings (and puppies and other animals, on a sliding scale of cuteness and empathy). I cannot escape these feelings”

I suppose another way to phrase the gist of what I’m asking is, to you, are these things ‘allowed’/valid? In other words:

“We’re all animals, right? If that’s the case, screw special privileges. Sure, it sucks, and there’s always a loser, but if our claim is that the universe is indifferent, well then hot-damn, let’s act like it”

It’s incredibly likely that I simply misread you, but basically, as I read this bit, I thought ‘I concede the point that my worldview entails that the universe is indifferent. But as an agnostic-atheist, I really wouldn’t wish of our society to revert into behaving akin to the raw, animal kingdom (AKA abandon human morals)”

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cl June 10, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Makes sense. I’ll get to Tony’s comments tomorrow. Thanks for reminding me actually. Today and yesterday were such whirlwinds I need help catching up!

One thing I’d like to comment on at the moment though:

It’s incredibly likely that I simply misread you, but basically, as I read this bit, I thought ‘I concede the point that my worldview entails that the universe is indifferent. But as an agnostic-atheist, I really wouldn’t wish of our society to revert into behaving akin to the raw, animal kingdom (AKA abandon human morals)”

Hmmm… let me try it this way. As some variant of Bible-believing theist, I, too, really don’t wish that our society degenerate into a more animal-like state. If I were an atheist, I’d feel the same way. The difference is, as an atheist, I can’t justify my claim that anyone else should respect the same things I respect, morally speaking. I’m not saying that if atheism is true, then everyone should act more like animals. I’m saying that if atheism is true, the person who wishes to act more like an animal is inherently no “better” or “worse” than the person who wishes to work and go about their business.

Take helmet laws as a real-world example. As an atheist, and more specifically, a metaphysical naturalist who believes some variant of the statements “humans are just sentient conglomerations of atoms that disperse permanently upon death” and “humans are just another animal,” how do you justify forcing other people to wear helmets? Especially in an ostensibly free country like America. I mean, I get that where everybody agrees and promises to uphold the same values, there we have a justifiably enforce-able prescription, but if I like red and you like blue, who are either one of us to judge the other if there are no external or eternal standards?

As for your phrase “revert into behaving akin to the raw, animal kingdom,” my response is that no reversion is necessary. I think it’s an easily defensible claim to say that humans currently behave akin to the preponderance of behaviors we see in the raw, animal kingdom. Though there are exceptions to nearly every rule, generally, our species is just as much about killing and infighting and protecting our own and sex and dominance and pleasure as the next, if you ask me.

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cl June 10, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Tony Hoffman,

A quick question before moving along to some of the others:

This seems to cross the line from provocative to absurd. But maybe I don’t understand the definition of intrinsic value. I am a non-theist, and believe that the pursuit of knowledge is an intrinsic good (in that I desire it, and that I believe that it increases the amount of satisfied desires in the world, if I were to come up with a shorthand definition of the term.)

Would you say that the pursuit of knowledge is good for everyone, and that because of this, we should all pursue it? If your answer to that question is yes, then by my definition of intrinsic value, I would say you most certainly believe in intrinsic value.

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Tony Hoffman June 11, 2010 at 11:31 am

CL: “Would you say that the pursuit of knowledge is good for everyone, and that because of this, we should all pursue it?”

I can think of examples where the above is not necessarily true — is Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapon technology good for everyone, for instance? So I don’t think I would agree with that statement, because I can think of examples where it doesn’t appear to be true.

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cl June 11, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Tony Hoffman,

So I don’t think I would agree with that statement, because I can think of examples where it doesn’t appear to be true.

Let me clarify: for now, forget about specific instances where the pursuit of knowledge leads to ‘bad’ consequences. Pretend for a second that people are not capable of abusing knowledge towards evil ends. Leaving what entails the knowledge temporarily out of the question, would you agree to the general statement that, “yes, people should pursue factual knowledge above all else?” If so, it seems reasonable to conclude that you’re a proponent of scientism, and that you believe in intrinsic value.

I’m still thinking about your other questions in this thread. Just so you know.

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Tony Hoffman June 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm

CL: ‘…would you agree to the general statement that, “yes, people should pursue factual knowledge above all else?”’

I would strike “above all else” because that seems to reintroduce instances where the pursuit of knowledge would clearly be undesirable — my quest to find out what’s behind that door even if it resulted in someone being killed, etc.

Sorry if it seems I’m being evasive. I am comfortable assenting to “People should pursue factual knowledge,” and even stronger (but not ultimate) variants, like “People should pursue factual knowledge even if that pursuit introduces the potential for more misery,” or something along that line.

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al friedlander June 11, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Hi cl,

“Today and yesterday were such whirlwinds I need help catching up!”

Hey, no problem. I know you’ve had quite a lot on your plate recently.

“Though there are exceptions to nearly every rule, generally, our species is just as much about killing and infighting and protecting our own and sex and dominance and pleasure as the next, if you ask me. ”

That’s a fair correction. I didn’t mean to imply that we were beyond animal instincts. I suppose I am somewhat speciesist (not in the sense of condoning animal cruelty, but rather, that we are superior due to relative intellect).

“The difference is, as an atheist, I can’t justify my claim that anyone else should respect the same things I respect, morally speaking. I’m not saying that if atheism is true, then everyone should act more like animals. I’m saying that if atheism is true, the person who wishes to act more like an animal is inherently no “better” or “worse” than the person who wishes to work and go about their business.”

Ah, OK. Yes, I believe I do see the line of logic you’re trying to convey. (I suppose this is partially why many debates on this blog revolve around ethics). If I were to take a wing at it, I’d say we should uphold ‘relative moral values’ because it sustains society. Without general morality, a majority of individuals would surely suffer as a result. In addition, I believe there exists this intrinsic sense of ‘right and wrong’. I hope that this group mentality, alone, can sustain some sort of ethical system.

In regards to ‘justifying’ why it is we should engage in moral behavior, my answer is weak, but essentially, it’s because we kind of -need to-, in order to function as a society. That’s what cops/prosecutors are for, I think.

“how do you justify forcing other people to wear helmets?”

You got me there. I’ve always been wondering about this myself.

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Tony Hoffman June 13, 2010 at 6:04 am

CL: “The difference is, as an atheist, I can’t justify my claim that anyone else should respect the same things I respect, morally speaking.”

I think that this stems from an arbitrary requirement that in order for morality to have meaning it must have ultimate meaning. I don’t think that it’s unjustified for me to conclude that because the golden rule is good for me, and good for you (cooperation among humans being the principle reason our otherwise fragile species is still around), you and I should respect the golden rule.

I think in order to argue what you have said above, you would need to demonstrate that morality must have ultimate meaning in order for it to be justified (I think this is clearly false), and that morality does indeed have ultimate meaning (this would seem to be highly questionable as well).

CL: “I’m saying that if atheism is true, the person who wishes to act more like an animal is inherently no “better” or “worse” than the person who wishes to work and go about their business.”

Well, I think that we can achieve an objective basis for morality by constructing something like Desirism, treating the increase of fulfilled desires as axiomatic. It seems obvious to me that under this ethical system behaviors could be judged to be better or worse, and this system is perfectly compatible with atheism.

CL: “As an atheist, and more specifically, a metaphysical naturalist who believes some variant of the statements “humans are just sentient conglomerations of atoms that disperse permanently upon death” and “humans are just another animal,” how do you justify forcing other people to wear helmets?”

Using my own poor understanding of Desirism, I’d ask is the desire to not wear a helmet the kind of desire that increases or decreases other desires, such as the desire to not die, suffer disfiguring injury, brain trauma, etc., as well as the desire of others to pay lower motorcycle insurance costs, have a friend/brother/neighbor who does not suffer from a brain injury, etc. This calculus might be practically impossible, but I think the theory is sound, and that it could be used to justify the wearing of helmets.

CL: I think it’s an easily defensible claim to say that humans currently behave akin to the preponderance of behaviors we see in the raw, animal kingdom. Though there are exceptions to nearly every rule, generally, our species is just as much about killing and infighting and protecting our own and sex and dominance and pleasure as the next, if you ask me.”

I think that we show an unusual level of cooperation among the primates, and certainly among other animals. I would say that the hallmark of humanity is our ability to cooperate with one another, despite our animal competitiveness, and that our ability to formulate moral systems is on a level with walking upright and opposable thumbs. I’d even guess that what we call consciousness is an inadvertent (and perhaps fatal) outcome of the evolutionary development of our cooperative traits.

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cl June 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Tony Hoffman,

Today I remembered that you’d made points and asked questions I haven’t yet addressed in this thread.

…I believe the pursuit of knowledge is desirable (because I desire it), and that on balance increasing knowledge tends to increase the amount of satisfied desires in our world.

On the one hand, I can agree with you. We (meaning you and I) can look at something like technology and say something like, “Knowledge has increased the amount of satisfied desires in the world: people live longer, a significant subset of diseases have been cured, and we have unprecedented access to information.” On the other hand, I can disagree with you. We can also look at technology and say something like, “Knowledge has by many orders increased the magnitude to which criminals, tyrants and despots can thwart other people’s desires.” So, I’m skeptical of the alleged correlation between increased knowledge and satisfied desires.

If it’s true that God exists, then there you go: I’ve got a reason besides personal preference to support my answer to the question “why should lives be saved?” (cl)

Well, I’m not so sure you do there. I’d have to ask you why you care about pleasing God, and I think you might run into an unavoidable confrontation with your personal preferences under that line of questioning.

Whether or not I want to please God is irrelevant to the claim. AFAICS, the atheist who says “lives should be saved” needs to provide a reason. To date, I’ve never seen a reason that didn’t amount to a personal preference for the saving of lives, or of happiness, etc. OTOH, the theist who says “lives should be saved” also needs to provide a reason. However, the theist isn’t limited to personal preference. The theist can say something like, “That’s what God wants.” On this line of reasoning, I continued,

If I were an atheist, I couldn’t say those things. I wouldn’t believe in intrinsic value. (cl)

…to which you replied,

This seems to cross the line from provocative to absurd. But maybe I don’t understand the definition of intrinsic value. I am a non-theist, and believe that the pursuit of knowledge is an intrinsic good (in that I desire it, and that I believe that it increases the amount of satisfied desires in the world, if I were to come up with a shorthand definition of the term.

With all due respect, I stand by what I said, exactly as I said it. I believe I have raised sufficient warrant to doubt the claim that knowledge increases the amount of satisfied desires in the world. I would counter with something like, “knowledge – charitably applied – tends to increase the amount of satisfied desires in the world.”

…as a non-theist I instinctively desire to help other human beings (and puppies and other animals, on a sliding scale of cuteness and empathy). I cannot escape these feelings, and I like to imagine that you are similarly confined, and that these feelings are not a result of your having read the Bible.

I’m similarly confined.

al friedlander,

I suppose I’ll just wait for you to answer Tony’s questions. They’re more in-depth than mine, and are also very much relevant to the topic at hand.

I have yet to address Tony’s most recent comment, but were the questions I answered above the ones you had in mind?

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Tony Hoffman June 17, 2010 at 5:16 pm

CL: “On the other hand, I can disagree with you. We can also look at technology and say something like, “Knowledge has by many orders increased the magnitude to which criminals, tyrants and despots can thwart other people’s desires.” So, I’m skeptical of the alleged correlation between increased knowledge and satisfied desires.”

Yes, and your position is a valid one, as seen in the resonance of myths like Prometheus through to just about every Sci Fi movie ever made, etc. We do fear the effects of knowledge, and for some good reason. I disagree to the extent I can express my own preferences for knowledge (I just want to know), but I admit that the pursuit does not guarantee the satisfaction of more desires, or even generational survival (which I also desire, for reasons that are hard to explain).

CL: ‘Whether or not I want to please God is irrelevant to the claim. AFAICS, the atheist who says “lives should be saved” needs to provide a reason. To date, I’ve never seen a reason that didn’t amount to a personal preference for the saving of lives, or of happiness, etc. OTOH, the theist who says “lives should be saved” also needs to provide a reason. However, the theist isn’t limited to personal preference. The theist can say something like, “That’s what God wants.” ‘

I think you’ve avoided the question here. I think that the theist still needs to explain why she is motivated to do what God wants. It seems to me that she is motivated to do what God wants because she is grateful, or because she is afraid. Both of these seem like personal preferences to me. (I want to please the one to whom I am grateful, or, I want to avoid the wrath of the one I fear.) In other words, even if I admit for the sake of argument that God exists, and I ignore the problems of the Euthyphro dilemma, I still think that the theist has to explain the reason that she wants to save lives.

OTOH, those who subscribe to a moral theory like Desirism are not just accounting for their personal preferences (Desirism is not Hedonism), but the desires of all others, which I presume would include a preponderance of desires to be saved. Because it tries to account for the desires of others (and not just personal desires) Desirism offers a way to provide objective values in a way that I don’t know if you have accounted for.

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Becky Transsexual June 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Here’s another ‘awesome’ thing about ‘Professor’ P Z Meyers: This ‘Yid’ will get her ‘pound of flesh’. He’ll know what I mean.

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Ignostic Morgan December 6, 2010 at 12:22 am

Ayer, and the same for Alvin PLantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Haught, Keith Reid and Dawkins’s nemesis, Alister Earl McGrath, who all spout solecistic, sophisticated sophistry of woeful.wily woo!

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