Sunday, November 22, 2009

For PZ Myers 3: Ross and Phoebe

It had crossed my mind to stop posting and hand over this blog to the commenters. They seem to be doing a better job than me. But perhaps I'd better straighten a few things out. Please note that at the end of this post P.Z.Myers will still be a jerk and I still won't be.
I was in the middle of writing on Friday when I noticed, as if for the first time, a habit of mine. For pace and economy I often set up a point of view without reservation or comment from me. Thus, for example, 'Hitler was right. Arnold Bonkers says....'. This seems to confuse people. Furthermore, I tend to write hybrid pieces - typically about 20 per cent column and 80 per cent news feature. The latter involves transmission of information, but not for the purpose of illustrating my own approval of disapproval of something or other. This further confuses people. On top of that, I had to shorten the Darwin piece that all this fuss was about by about 40 per cent at the last minute. It happens. This required me to tighten up my economy and pace habit even further. This definitely confuses people.
To be clear: I have no problem with the plausibility and coherence of a Darwinian explanation of the development of the eye. Indeed, to be honest, I don't care one way or another: it's not on my agenda or within my realm of competence, though I do regard myself as free to report the views of those who do find it unconvincing. On the other hand, I think Darwinism has become, in some hands, unhealthily imperious. It is presented as explaining everything. Evolutionary psychology, for example, is always said to be true because it must be. But, since we have no clear idea of how the mind supervenes on the brain, this, for the moment, is an assumption too far.
Ten years ago, had I raised questions about Darwinism I might have been amiably dismissed by Darwinians as wrong or, perhaps, a touch eccentric. Indeed, I dimly recall an episode of Friends from that period in which sweet, scatty Phoebe challenges pompous, irritating Ross on the subject of evolution. Ross, in the end, retreats and Phoebe gets on with her sweet, scatty life, convinced she has won. It was Ross that was being satirised. Our sympathies were entirely with Phoebe. Doubtless today the swivel-eyed Myers mob would be firing off bile-laden letters of protest.
The big point is that, since that episode, ideology has migrated from politics to religion and science. This is bad for religion and very bad for science.
The minor reason it's bad for science is it generates public confusion and mistrust. So, for example, mention intelligent design and the likes of Myers will be hurling abuse. But I gather from reading John Gribbin's superb exposition In Search of the Multiverse that ID is, in fact, a perfectly respectable hypothesis among some physicists - the designer would not be a deity but a more technically advanced civilisation. So the world is 'designed' then? 'No!' howls Myers; 'Maybe,' murmur the physicists
But there's a bigger reason than that. Treating science as an ideology, an occasion for polemic and abuse, and anathematising those who dissent is profoundly unscientific. It is an attitude that will, in the end, damage not just science itself but science as a public institution. Science is, as Thomas Nagel put it, a 'view from nowhere', it is a method, not a posture towards the world. It assumes - and, indeed, attains - the possibility of a superhuman perspective. As such, it is a profoundly admirable and magnificent achievement of the human intellect. But it is only one such achievement. When science aspires to be anything else - ideology, for example - it is prone to delusion, fantasy and intolerance.
That is where we now are, a dangerous place where people set up web sites that abandon mere explanation and promote science as an ideology, as, in effect, an opinion held with such ferocity that all dissent must be crushed. This phase, I hope, will pass. But I am beginning to have my doubts.

85 comments:

  1. Agree with every single word of this. Anything I might add would be superfluous.

    So I'll shut up now.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Phoebe from Friends? Dammit, Bryan, we spend days defending your honour in the face of your dicey reference to the controversial Behe and now you expect us to champion the cause of Phoebe? What are we supposed to say, that underneath she is in touch with a richer atavistic wisdom? OK, man, I'm loyal as always, but I want danger pay.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have no need for this! From the first I have not been at all confused by your method--the title of the blog is explanation enough. If others, those who don't get it, and want to pile in and strut their stuff (for a while) then that just varies the amusement (everyone, no doubt, parting with an enhanced sense of superiority).

    Your post was an act of kindness. It seems to have acknowledged that you had gotten into a discussion with some people with an extremely reductionist outlook and laid things out. Fair enough.

    In the same vain the remainder elaborates your original observations--and I am grateful for the added insights--but I don't think any of your regular readers had difficulty understanding and anyone making a good faith effort to understand could hardly have failed to notice that something interesting was being brought into the open.

    you have discerning readers. This is not as easy to do as it looks and it is not so easy to find it done so well.

    Here's to lots more confusion. Blogs that don't perpetually confuse me bore me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Bryan,

    Just taking this excerpt here:

    It is presented as explaining everything. Evolutionary psychology, for example, is always said to be true because it must be. But, since we have no clear idea of how the mind supervenes on the brain, this, for the moment, is an assumption too far.

    There may be no worst case of the bullying tactics of evolutionists that what you have identified. It is political. It has to do with "respectability" in furthering the studies of the cognitive by applying the scientific method as best as we can.

    Psychology as a study needs to get some balls, and accept the primacy of the psyche over the physical. Then we just might be able to see how we are absurdly reduced when considered merely physical.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sorted, we've all thrown away our weapons and said "teach us to be christians", time for reconciliation.

    Now, what time does the Séance start? Phoebe needs another chat with her Granny.


    Tom P, how can anyone be described as an idol who has on his shelves this little lot.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sorted, we've all thrown away our weapons and said "teach us to be christians", time for reconciliation.

    Now, what time does the Séance start? Phoebe needs another chat with her Granny.


    Tom P, how can anyone be described as an idol who has on his shelves this little lot.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think you'll find that the physicists you mention in your post aren't meaning "biology on earth as we know it" when they talk about "ID" - they are talking theoretically about some other civilisation (as you write).

    As for example, Dawkins so aplty showed in The Blind Watchmaker, you don't need any supernatural or ad hoc explanations for the evolution of the eye (or anything else).

    You might be interested to read "15 evolutoinary gems", a free resource of historical articles provided by Nature as part of its year-long celebrations of a couple of Darwin anniversaries. See www.nature.com/nature, Darwin special content. Enjoy reading. PZ does not feature in it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Re Maxine's point re Dawkins. That you do not need a supernatural explanation does not, logically, preclude that there may be one.And I say that as someone who is both a lifelong theist and a lifelong subscriber to Darwinian evolution. But then I don't believe that God is some great Edison (or Hammurabi) in the sky, either.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's funny how Darwinism has permeated everything from economics to how we perceive everyday life. You get creationists who dismiss Darwin, while advocating cut throat turbo capitalism that owes a lot to Darwinism.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The minor reason it's bad for science is it generates public confusion and mistrust.

    Generating public confusion and mistrust of science is the mission of the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute. Have they no responsibility for the current state of affairs?

    ReplyDelete
  11. You inspire us with truth. Stop writing when pigs fly!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Any blog that will tolerate my rabid loathing of Darwinsm can't be all bad.

    Modeled after W.C. Field's quip -

    "Any man who hates children and dogs can't be all bad."

    Thank you Bryan Appleyard. Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Ack! I had thought you were a reasonably intelligent man and now I find you watch Friends. How sad.

    To claim that the universe or Earth or my new jacket was created by beings from another planet has one small problem... there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. One might as well claim that the universe was created exactly as is just 5 seconds ago. How would we prove it isn't true? Does that mean we must accept it as a working theory?

    "Evolutionary psychology, for example, is always said to be true because it must be."

    Evolutionary psychology is a brilliant example of an idea in search of a way to prove anything it suggests. There isn't much in it that can't be answered with, "maybe" or even better, "prove it."

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ten years ago, had I raised questions about Darwinism I might have been amiably dismissed by Darwinians as wrong or, perhaps, a touch eccentric.

    Ten years ago, the Intelligent Design movement was just coming into its own in the US. ID is not a dispersed group of courageous scientists persecuted by a materialist scientific community. It is, in fact, a well-funded movement dedicated to interfering with American science education. They've lost some inertia in recent years, mostly, I think, because they've failed to gain any traction among influential social conservatives (e.g., Dinesh D'Souza, Leon Kass), who recognize intellectual dishonesty when they see it. Still, just last year, the ID crowd were able to persuade Louisiana to protect science teachers wishing to mislead their students. Scientists reacted to this provocation, and I'm grateful that they did. If some, in the course of the conflict, were radicalized to the extent of Paul Myers, that has been, of course, counterproductive.

    Perhaps the principals of the ID movement were clever enough to anticipate radical reaction, and now feel they are in a position to exploit it. In any event, those wishing to understand why all of those damned Darwinists have been so vocal over the past fifteen years might want to consider the possibility that they haven't been on the offensive.

    ReplyDelete
  15. There's still a sleight of hand going on here. The implication of the argument here is that the scientific method isn't capable of establishing facts, and that anyone who claims that it is, has transformed it from a method into an ideology.

    An ideology contains dogmatic beliefs, beliefs which are held without sufficient reason or evidence. In contrast, the scientific method is capable of establishing true beliefs which are supported by reason and evidence. In other words, the scientific method is capable of generating knowledge.

    The sleight of hand is to imply that because science has a hypothetico-deductive method, then propositions such as the Darwninian evolution of the eye must be merely hypotheses, rather than facts.

    Belief in the Darwinian evolution of the eye does not transform a method into an ideology. The Darwinin evolution of the eye is not just a hypothesis with "plausibility and coherence", but a fact, supported by reason and evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi kynefski,

    I'm not someone who would defend the current ID movement to the point of its ultimate validity, never have, so I won't. That established, you undercut your own argument when you say this: "Still, just last year, the ID crowd were able to persuade Louisiana to protect science teachers wishing to mislead their students." You are assuming that the science teachers involved were, and then would be, wishing to mislead their students. It may be that they were wrong about a matter, whatever it was, and from reading you, I would stay open to the possibility that the scientists who "reacted to this provocation" were just that, overreacting, because they took it as a provocation (even if you are "grateful that they did"). You then say, "Perhaps the principals of the ID movement were clever enough to anticipate radical reaction, and now feel they are in a position to exploit it." At this point in your comment, I am stil wondering if the exploitation is only on, or also on, the side of the scientists. What specifically was it that made you say that there were teachers wishing to mislead their students?

    ~~~~~

    Hi Gordon,

    You just perfromed a sleight of hand yourself. You said:

    The sleight of hand is to imply that because science has a hypothetico-deductive method, then propositions such as the Darwinian evolution of the eye must be merely hypotheses, rather than facts.

    There is a difference between showing that a model can be applied to a given hypothesis, and saying that that hypothesis has been proven by the model, when the model is a hypothesis in the first place. Your sleight of hand was to have the reader accept that if a model has been upheld by its application to a hypothesis, then the model (evolutionary theory in this case) and the hypothesis (Darwinian evolution of the eye in this case) both, through such sleight of hand, become facts. Not so. All you have done, assuming that the Darwinian evolution of the eye is indeed compatible with the current evolutionary model as you say, is show that Darwinian evolution of the eye cannot be used to disprove the type of evolutionary theory that was applied.

    ReplyDelete
  17. What specifically was it that made you say that there were teachers wishing to mislead their students?


    Teachers who did not wish to mislead their students would not have needed the legislation. But you make a valid point, which is that not everyone who expresses admiration of ID arguments - John McWhorter is a famous recent example - is part of the program.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Maybe the teachers who felt they were not misleading the students wanted the legislation. This seems very possibly to be the case, whether we agree with the teachers on whatever grounds they used for a legal case or not.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Please forgive me if I'm long-winded. I've been a student of intelligent design for many years, and I'm fascinated with how it works.

    The legislation we're talking about, which was introduced with identical language in at least half a dozen states, was written to ensure that teachers who could be recruited to push ID arguments in the classroom would be immune from being held accountable to their peers and administrators. The central provision in all of these bills was this:

    Neither the Louisiana Department of Education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, superintendent of schools, or school system administrator, nor any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course or courses being taught.

    Now, that sounds a little awkward, especially that last clause, so let's clean it up.

    ...from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner diverse scientific theories pertinent to the course or courses being taught.

    I mean, I think that's how we're meant to read it, right? But, no, that wouldn't work at all to the purposes of those who wrote the legislation. "Strengths and weaknesses", as well as "existing", are critical, because that's how ID works. ID is not an attempt to understand nature. It is not a scientific theory, nor are the elaborate arguments about complexity and information constructed by intelligent design scientists intended to provide a foundation for any scientific theory. (This simple fact is little appreciated.) The sole objective of the entire movement is to challenge naturalism. The dynamic here is to argue that conventional evolutionary theory cannot adequately explain the process leading to this or that detail of biology. It can’t explain abiogenesis. It can’t explain the genetic code. Provided one holds adequately explain to mean account for all individual evolutionary events leading to a phenomenon, one has a wide range of phenomena from which to choose. Of course, the challenges are one-way; conventional theory is the only existing theory under discussion. ID advocates don’t have a theory, so they don’t need to explain anything. (Design itself is not an explanation, but a conclusion.) While this is convenient, it also means that ID scientists are not, in fact, engaged in scientific investigation and, consequently, have nothing to offer science education. It is appropriate for educational administrators to insist that science teachers focus on explanation, and do not attempt to substitute argument for it. The legislation ensure that this can't happen.

    So, in the classroom, a teacher would introduce conventional evolutionary theory, indicating that, while it is very good at explaining micro-evolutionary variation (e.g., evolution of drug-resistant tuberculosis), it doesn’t offer detailed explanations for macro-evolutionary changes (the Cambrian explosion is a favorite). The teacher doesn’t differentiate does not explain from cannot explain, leading students to conclude that conventional evolutionary theory is fundamentally flawed. The "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories…" language protects the teacher from being held accountable. At the same time, teachers in theologically conservative districts who wish to help their students understand the weaknesses of intelligent design (or, for that matter, young earth creationism) are not protected by the provisions, because there is no existing theory associated with ID.

    I know this all sounds borderline paranoid but it’s not. Anything having to do with intelligent design is always intelligently designed.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hey, what happened to my apostrophes?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Well, this is interesting:

    The teacher doesn't differentiate does not explain from cannot explain, leading students to conclude that conventional evolutionary theory is fundamentally flawed. The "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories?" language protects the teacher from being held accountable. At the same time, teachers in theologically conservative districts who wish to help their students understand the weaknesses of intelligent design (or, for that matter, young earth creationism) are not protected by the provisions, because there is no existing theory associated with ID.

    The only quarrel I have with that is that ID is not also questioned. Just because a theory can explain something, does not mean it is the best explanation to use in thinking a matter through.

    It is important to question where currect evolutionary theory may be wrong or misguided, and to indicate where the gaps may be. Any teacher who would do this, would be acting sincerely, and certainly would not be purposely misleading students, but having them keep an open mind, where an open mind is appropriate.

    In other words, take that law and put it into the hands of a responsibile teacher, and great classroom discussions would result. Some of those discussions maight confirm evolutionary theory, and some may not.

    By the way, on the differentiation of does not explain from cannot explain. It is an important point you bring up. Such a differentiation can lead to a reasonable conclusion of doesn't explain as well, whatever grounds a reasonable person may use for as well

    For instance, if I am writing along, and suddenly a Freudian slip comes out, the best model we have to explain this is that something came up from my subconscious---(my id, as it were, and notice we are discussion ID, hmmm, how to explain that . . .). An alternative explanation, a prevailing and stronger model for psychologists, is behavior modification, that would not take on a belief in a subconscious or id, but explain my behavior in terms of how I have been reinforced for such behavior in the past. Such an explanation would not ultimately fail after all its ducks were in order, but it would certainly not be as elegant and applicable as some polished psychoanalytical theory.

    ReplyDelete
  22. It is important to question where currect evolutionary theory may be wrong or misguided, and to indicate where the gaps may be. Any teacher who would do this, would be acting sincerely, and certainly would not be purposely misleading students, but having them keep an open mind, where an open mind is appropriate.

    In other words, take that law and put it into the hands of a responsibile teacher, and great classroom discussions would result. Some of those discussions maight confirm evolutionary theory, and some may not.


    That's right but, of course, those teachers don't need legislative protection. Although...If you're familiar with the movement, you may know that stories of persecuted teachers who just wanted their students to learn all sides feature prominently. See Roger DeHart.

    And, yeah, the value of defeating such legislation (at a political price in Louisiana, I can assure you) would be minimal. It doesn't limit good teaching, and most of the bad teaching it protects already has administrative support. I suspect the main (intended?) effect is just to block parents' complaints about poor science teaching. That, by the way, is why this stuff is called "academic freedom" legislation.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hey, what happened to my apostrophes?

    Let me guess. You typed your reply in Word and then pasted into the comment box? Happens to me all the time. Blogger doesn't like smart quotes.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hi kynefski,

    I think one of the reasons I favor evolution over ID, is that the word is so general. All it has to mean is that what is happening is based on what occurred before. The theory then becomes massageable, more of an attitude that may never be lost, than of an assertion of unknown mechanisms, or even possible explanations, even though those become part of the fun.

    ID as a counterargument to that cannot counter it in its entirety, and so becomes secondary out of the gate. Behind it might be an earnest spiritual argument, but that's not going to be "won" on physical grounds. In that physical sense, ID is as you say, more of a conclusion, as if to say, if and when science gets around to it, it will be shown that ID was there all along. In the mean time, all ID can do, on such physical grounds, is to look at the gaps, and appeal that ID should be considered as an explanation.

    I'd rather say, hey, go for it, whatever you want to prove in evolution, but don't try to disprove me as a spiritual being. Here's an article in Time Magazine that shifts the argument a bit:

    Mary Karr on Becoming Catholic. In the Q&A, she says:

    "My spiritual director, Joan, asked me: 'What if the solution to all of your problems is spiritual? You've been in therapy for 15 years, you've done self-examination, you've read all this philosophy. What if by spiritual practice, [your depression] can be solved, not just incrementally but completely?'

    "So I dec...ided, maybe I'm just going to give this a whole–hearted try. Joan taught me a centering prayer."


    Physical is not all we are. Above, I noted that behavior modification prevails in the psychology world, over the psychoanalystic or psychodynamic line of studies. This is partly because we get more documented results using it. If I know you like cheeseburgers, and want you to change your behavior, then I set up a behavior modification program that includes cheeseburgers and measurements of your behavior. Cheeseburgers work, and so do strawberry shortcakes, and favorite TV programs. Spouses use sex a lot, and so forth.

    I bring this rule of positive reinforcement up, because it is universally applicable. A few decades back, behaviorists noted that all behavior can be explained with the rule of positive reinforcement, and so it ought to be a scientific law.

    These may be the two modern theories that fall short of being a law, evolution and positive reinforcement. Those involved with either are insistent that we should consider them as truth. And even of it is politically decided to call either of them laws, we should acknowledge the power of these models, while we raise students who would be so open minded, that they will bring forward new models.

    Yours,
    Rus

    ReplyDelete
  25. I think I've heard Mary Karr's story before, perhaps narrated by her on radio, or maybe I just read the piece you linked to. I remember thinking that I hope her sharing it will have a positive impact on others. It seems to me that half-hearted faith is a troubling condition, and I am (almost) as pleased to see my neighbors embracing God's presence fully as I am to see them accepting His absence.

    ReplyDelete
  26. It is important to question where currect evolutionary theory may be wrong or misguided, and to indicate where the gaps may be.

    Yes, but do you really think someone with a BA in Education is qualified to decide where evolutionary theory is wrong?

    And as far as ID proponents being abused by the scientific world, if anyone could prove that ID was correct they would win a Nobel Prize. The problem is that ID is simply a theory that claims to be right because evolution is wrong. That isn't a theory. That's wishful thinking.

    And ignoring everything else, ID has only one purpose. It's to try to get around the Supreme Court and get god back in to the classroom.

    ReplyDelete
  27. ..that ID is, in fact, a perfectly respectable hypothesis among some physicists...

    And I'm sure von Däniken's theories are perfectly respectable among some botanists.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hi Tom,

    In ID's favor, it cannot be cast aside. It is altogether possible. When the spiritual aspects of life are taken into consideration, there seems to be design by an intelligence. And, after all is said and done, we are primarily spiritual beings, not primarily physical beings. The trick of evolutionary theory that gets people all caught up in it, is that it gets people focussed, not on the spiritual stuff that we are made of, but the physical realm that, as Einstein noted, is a persistent allusion. Evolutionary scientists are not qualified to address this issue. But some would like to arrogate this to themselves.

    Yours,
    Rus

    ReplyDelete
  29. Sorry for the typo/misspelling. That should be "illusion".

    Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
    --Albert Einstein

    ReplyDelete
  30. In ID's favor, it cannot be cast aside. It is altogether possible.

    Many things are altogether possible. It is possible that the the movie The Matrix is a documentary. That doesn't mean these things are likely. ID has no evidence to support it.

    ReplyDelete
  31. In ID's favor, it cannot be cast aside.

    Alright, but it should be set aside until someone proposes what it entails. We all understand that life evolves by some process of descent with modification, and that the outcomes of that process are recorded in the genomes of extant organisms. The modern synthesis proposes that the process involves indifferent genetic variation and differential reproductive success. Lynn Margulis proposes that the process involves illegitimate recombination. Michael Behe proposes that the process involves...What?

    I would love to see a theory of biological evolution by design, but I'm not holding my breath.

    ReplyDelete
  32. There are truckloads of wisdom literature from throughout the ages, that have survived. And if we listen, we will find mystics among us who can add perspective. We are in an information age when we can bring it together to explore possibilities, note parallels, and come up with interpretations and explanations. There are some things that physical science cannot tell us, and some things it will lead us like a pied piper off a cliff with, giving us explanations as if we are looking at a dim funhouse mirror. These are matters for theology and mysticism. In fact, how to integrate science's findings into spiritual matters has been cast aside by science, and is in the domain of theology as well. Science's forte and muscle is in physical results, how my medication will keep me from having another heart attack, how my car will get me to work in a half hour.

    We can discuss as we do on blogs, whether metaphor is meant in some wisdom writings, or whether common mystical experiences are being referred to, and whether these experiences were related by the mystics, or interpretations from others. Many mysteries will always remain mysteries. Our science will never explain everything, even about the physical world. This doesn't mean we don't talk about matters, and bring them up in schools. It means we that we must.

    Tom said:

    ID has no evidence to support it.

    That's a weird statement, even if true. The sense it makes is in considering whether it is a tautology, that something has no physical evidence, because it is not physically based. On the other hand, we are not physically based either, and there is no evidence for our spiritual existence in the physical world. We are left with the physical world as an illusion, and so made up of spiritual stuff as a degraded reflection of what we are. Does this spiritual stuff have a source to it, a superintelligence? Mystics will tell you yes, along with a beauty and power.

    If there is intelligent design, there is an intelligence that is superuniversal who just may have some things in mind for this world. This is and always has been possible. We pray to God, and always will. Science may never discover the physical reflections for all this is and how this works spiritually. So we should not become blue people, holding our collective breath waiting. Rather that sitting on the floor getting blue in the face, we can sit up to the table and look at scripture for help in finding what the most spiritually attuned can tell us.

    ReplyDelete
  33. In fact, how to integrate science's findings into spiritual matters has been cast aside by science, and is in the domain of theology as well.

    Rus,

    How to integrate science's findings into spiritual matters has never been in the limited realm of science, and has never been a responsibility of scientists. So I'm interested in how you came upon that phrase "cast aside", because I think it relevant to these posts of Bryan's and how we discuss them.

    My sense is that maybe you think it should be a responsibility of scientists, but I yield to you for clarification.

    ReplyDelete
  34. How can we look to scripture for help when it tells us so many contradictory things?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Webster's 1828 defines psychology as "A discourse or treatise on the human soul." Merriam-Webster's Online has this definition: "the science of mind and behavior." Psychology has taken out our soul. It gave that up to be a science using scientific method. It's not that psychologists cannot wax philosophical. But when we move into theoretical science, we have this as UOregon's synopsis on their Institute of Theoretical Science:

    Research interests of the institute's members include particle physics (ideas for physics beyond the standard model, quantum chromodynamics, heavy ion physics, accelerator design), astrophysics and cosmology (dark energy, neutron stars, general relativity), condensed matter physics and statistical mechanics (quantum phase transitions, liquid crystals, complex fluids and polymers), mathematics (group theory, algebraic geometry, the geometrization conjecture, partial differential equations), atomic physics (highly excited atoms), nonlinear dynamics (highly excited vibrations of molecules, chaos), optical physics (microcavity optics), biophysics (flocking, protein dynamics, signal transduction mechanisms), and the foundations of quantum mechanics (quantum control theory and quantum computing, quantum manifestations of chaos).

    No mention of psychology, nothing spiritual.

    Let's get specific and see where the soul might be integrated at UC Berkeley's Center for Integrative Genomics:

    Faculty at the Center are drawn from a number of academic departments at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, including molecular and cellular biology, integrative biology, statistics, computer science, bioengineering, plant and microbial biology, biostatistics, mathematics, physics, and public health.

    No psychology, nothing spiritual. Indeed psychology is coming up with nothing of import for genomicists.

    But let's not blame Theoretical Science either. Decades ago, psychology turned away from its soul to bask in being a science. Yet of all disciplines, shouldn't psychology be a life science, at least as much as biology?

    Psychology isn't coming up with pills that colleges and companies can get money for either. They aren't building a better bicycle, never mind landing on the moon. No one is asking them to solve the economic crisis. No tangible results. So part of the spiritual stunting is economical, part is the practicalities of science. As applied to our school systems, we can see that this has made science drunk with political power, as I said: how to integrate science's findings into spiritual matters has been cast aside by science.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hi traherne,

    I read it for the truth it gives, what I can glean in the gestalt and the details, what it can tell me about life, a new perspective, an aha here and there. These writings are passed along by the shamans, the priests, and the scribes.

    I read poetry and need to keep an open mind to contradictions. Same with meeting different people. People contradict each other. But we keep listening. Sometimes the greatness of a person is in the contradictory thinking that he or she represented to the world.

    Just as in good sermons, the verses of the Bible and other wisdom books reveal different truths to different people in different situations, and to see different aspects at different readings. That itself is contradictory, but it is how life goes.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Hi Rus

    Which is great, until someone insists on taking action in the physical world based on their interpretation of scripture.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hi traherne,

    (I'll need to post this in two parts, as I am getting a blogger error, not a maximum character error, when I do it on one. The blogger forum identifies this as a recent posting problem, and a suggestion came though to shorten the posts.)

    Let's apply some contradictory writing to this conversation. Let's go with Plato's rendition of The Myth of Er, Plato being a mystic, and The Myth of Er contradicting other prophecies about what happens to dead souls.

    When Er was slain in battle, his body did not decay, and he remembered what happened when his soul left his body. There was a place with judges, wherefrom the bad souls went down somewhere and the good souls went up. Er was told to remain in the intermediate territory, and observe, in order that he could go back and tell people on earth what goes on. Souls who came back down to this intermediate territory, told of how inconceivably good it is to go up, and those who came up told of how tenfold bad it is to go down. Then we learn:

    Now when the spirits which were in the meadow had tarried seven days, on the eighth they were obliged to proceed on their journey, and, on the fourth day after, he said that they came to a place where they could see from above a line of light, straight as a column, extending right through the whole heaven and through the earth, in colour resembling the rainbow, only brighter and purer; another day's journey brought them to the place, and there, in the midst of the light, they saw the ends of the chains of heaven let down from above: for this light is the belt of heaven, and holds together the circle of the universe, like the under-girders of a trireme.

    ReplyDelete
  39. (cont.)

    Let's not worry so much about whether Plato gets the physical universe physically correct through the Spindle of Necessity. Let's identifiy that he does not. This story is identified as a myth, so the space he is talking about, although it might be neat to look at the universe again, to see if there is any credence, any parallels whatsoever, to the description, which would be neat to find after all these years of science, we can see he is talking about the spiritual landscape in physical terms, and how our spiritual sides intersect with our physical universe.

    The spirits are in a meadow in the spiritual world, and are asked to choose their next lives. This was for all but Er, who was to return to his old life with these memories. There were beautiful lives to choose and evil ones, famous ones, and not famous. Good guys were choosing to be bad guys, and bad guys good guys. And all these qualities intermingled in the meadow. So we have Plato's version of reincarnation contradicting Hindu "karma" readings, and certainly not agreeing with the Biblical renditions. But Plato has Socrates say something interesting:

    Let each one of us leave every other kind of knowledge and seek and follow one thing only, if peradventure he may be able to learn and may find some one who will make him able to learn and discern between good and evil, and so to choose always and everywhere the better life as he has opportunity.

    He is not talking about urging each of us, after we are dead and gone, to choose a better life. He is talking about now. He is saying for us to apply this myth each moment of our lives, that we each have this same meadow available to us. That said, let's step into the myth further. The spirits in the meadow, before reentering the physical realm, "marched on in a scorching heat to the plain of Forgetfulness," in order that they forget about the spiritual meadow.

    In this, we have two contradictory teachings come to the fore. One is to remember where you came from, that you are spiritual. The second is to enter the world wholeheartedly, be the fool, and take part in the physical. We each can be Er, when we take on his state of awareness, which is available to us.

    Socrates says of Er's dramatic return to his old life: "But in what manner or by what means he returned to the body he could not say; only, in the morning, awaking suddenly, he found himself lying on the pyre."

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hi Rus

    That's a nice story. Unfortunately some people think that furthering "the good" entails murdering all those who disagree with you. If you're sufficiently persuasive you can make a lot of others feel the same way. Whole nations in fact.

    I'm not sure I would agree with Plato's interpretation of Good either; I always felt Russell was a bit ambiguous about him &, after reading Popper's "Open Society & Its Enemies" I'm pretty anti. However, I'm sure there are those who could plead his case very effectively.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Murdering people who disagree with you has to do with politicians, not mystics, and is applied to the more atheistic governments as well as those who are tied to religions. It has to do with tyranny, not religion, and a tyrant will use whatever is available. This is often religious beliefs. When using religions are often self-appointed or power-hungry tyrants who have no business representing the teachings of the mystics.

    The point is that what mystics bring to us is who we are. If we decide to kill people over this, it isn't their faults. Indeed, Plato parodied this in The Republic by noting how power tripping tyrants would have to get rid of the poets, in order for such a system to work.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Steven Pinker: Morality is rooted in the interchangeability of perspectives: the fact that an intelligent social agent, in dealing with other such agents, has no grounds for privileging his interests over theirs.

    This, of course, is empathy. For a deeply empathetic person, a life of religious devotion can provide opportunities for the service that fulfills the spiritual life of such a person. Thomas Merton is called to mind, and I'm privileged to have known many others.

    But not every person is empathetic. Some, unfortunately, are sociopathic, and these see every reason to privilege their interests over others'. Unfortunately, a life of religious devotion does not temper sociopathy, but rather provides greater opportunities for its expression. This is, literally, yesterday’s news. (You can ignore the link. You know what it is.)

    It is my opinion that, in raising our children, we should focus more on empathy and less on religion.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Totally agree with that kynefski.

    ReplyDelete
  44. My own upbringing taught me that we are all children of one God. I was also raised to be tolerant and to be able to make up my own mind. It was never assumed that I would be a Congregationalist just because that was the association of the church I attended most often (and which I do not attend now). I learned also the beauty and value of the Catholic religion (which my father just converted to before getting married this year). As a child I had freedom of religion, and the freedom to choose not to be religious or how much I would be religious, and so did my siblings.

    Religion and empathy are two different aspects with great overlap. Deciding to highlight one over the other is a little like saying we're better off teaching kids how to read and less how to write. No child should be stunted by being told he or she is not a spiritual being. Teaching a child that he or she is primarily spiritual will not make that child a sociopath. Quite the reverse.

    The effectiveness of empathy is in accepting others as fully human, as being spiritual beings like us. It is okay to beat women if men believe women are less human than we are, if they are somehow subhuman; same with people of different ethnicity, same with children, same with animals, by the way, same with embryos, same with people raised with different religions, who have different ideas of any kind.

    We do not solve problems of inequality by teaching people that they are soulless, organic zombies. That is a power economic teaching to effectively transform us into machines, to exploit us, enslave us, or worse, when we are an economic burden, to make us disposable. Each step along the way of liberating enslaved, slaughtered and downtrodden peoples who have been discriminated against by those who had an idea of their own superiority, contains a decision to accept such people as being equal, fellow human beings.

    That you are as human as I am is a decision that I have made, nothing that scientists or anyone else can prove, but something that can be taught. If you are not spiritual, then I am wrong in my decision to accept you as equal. If you are, then I am right to empathized with you.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Hi Rus

    How far down the food chain do you go? Does a flea have a soul? Or an amoeba? Plants.

    So what happens just prior to the sperm hitting the ovum? Is there a pre-existing soul?

    I'm afraid I can't get past these sort of problems.

    ReplyDelete
  46. We do not solve problems of inequality by teaching people that they are soulless, organic zombies.

    By teaching people that they are soulless, organic zombies, do you actually mean by not teaching them that they should claim knowledge of supernatural agency that they can only claim because we have insisted upon it? I hold you in high esteem, Rus, but I will not accept this Chestertonian "if we do not believe we will not be fully human" nonsense.

    We teach people that they are moral agents, literally related to every other person on earth and social descendents of extraordinary cultural legacies, including religions, which they can never fully understand, but which they can spend a rich lifetime in contemplation of.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Hi traherne,

    You ask:

    How far down the food chain do you go?

    Some American Indian and Canadian Aboriginal teachings would say to go all the way down: for instance that a buffalo has given up its body and earthly existence, in order to give us physical sustenance. They pray to the spirit of the buffalo. Not a bad idea. There I just gave PETA a boost. Can you show me that lab animals are not suffering at the spiritual level, and aren't organic zombies without a subjective experience as we know it? Do animals or don't they, come from a spiritual source, maybe the same as us. Can you prove it one way or the other? No. We decide, often times based on convenience and how much we profit from such treatment.

    We take for granted the people we accept as equally human. Not too long ago here in America, our constitution counted Negroes as 60%. They would have been legally down your food chain. When the people here with European heritage decided to take political control, they had to think less of the American Indians, and they betrayed the Capital building of all its tribute to our Indian leaders and the culture the people shared, and made it look more Greco-Roman. Those white people who would think you were foolish if you thought a black person was equal, were backed up by law, even after the slave trade was abolished. We had to write in amendments that made all people equal under the law. There was nothing to prove, just to decide upon and accept.

    That we accept some as being equal is a political matter, not a theological one, unless those in power are seeking rationalization. Indeed, when you talk about food chains, you are talking about the economics of the situation, and what lordly powers we are willing to give to those who are in power, until such time as the powerful become tyrannical and arrogate what they want for themselves, deciding who should live and die. No one is rapt in a religious experience when they flog a woman in the streets. Precisely the opposite. They are thugs using religion as an excuse, and any clerics who back them ought to be removed from power, exposed as fakes, and tried in a court of law.

    You cannot prove a black person has a soul, nor that a woman has one. This is not in the realm of science, and certainly not in the realm of economics. It does, however, come under theology, and ought to be addressed by any science or set of studies calling itself psychology. There is no excuse for forgetting who we are, and not teaching our kids the wisdom that has been passed on. That is a sure-fire way of inviting tyranny in, to teach our kids they are zombies to be control, or to be the controllers.

    You also ask:

    So what happens just prior to the sperm hitting the ovum? Is there a pre-existing soul?

    How we take on our physical bodies is a mystery. There are some who throw their hands up and say that there is nothing human until some time after birth. They have chosen to go with a belief that anything of value to be respected as if human, cannot happen until a baby interacts with other people. If we keep looking at the physical world for our answers, we completely disappear. We should start any argument assuming that we are spiritual. Otherwise we get all sorts of foolish isms, like the bigger your brainpower, the more human you are, so low-IQ people can be gassed. If we look for ourselves in the physical world, we are already lost.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Hi kynefski,

    We teach people that they are moral agents, literally related to every other person on earth and social descendents of extraordinary cultural legacies, including religions, which they can never fully understand, but which they can spend a rich lifetime in contemplation of.

    Sure. I'm saying that. However, you prefaced your remark by implying that if people were to teach or pass on that we are spiritual beings, they would "claim knowledge of supernatural agency that they can only claim because we have insisted upon it." Not so. Mystics will get that no matter what we do to squelch it. That's why they are politically threatening. I say start with what we are, not what we find of ourselves in the physical world, which still appears to be an illusion.

    You say that we can never fully understand religions. We certainly won't go very far in our understandings if we do not assume our spiritual aspects first. In fact when we forget, we get some warped and dangerous views of things.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Hi Rus

    I'm sorry but this all bouils down to an appeal to authority. Your authority. Throughout history there have been the most appalling murderers & torturers who are just as convinced as you that they have a soul & that they are doing God's work.

    You said:


    "That you are as human as I am is a decision that I have made, nothing that scientists or anyone else can prove, but something that can be taught. If you are not spiritual, then I am wrong in my decision to accept you as equal"


    I find that vey scary. For myself, I accept you, or anyone else come to that, to be human based on physical characteristics. How do you decide on my spirituality? That I may be lesser than you?

    It all seems to boil down to: believe what I say, because I say so.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Hi traherne,

    If you have no spirit, by definition you are a zombie. Then I see no reason why anyone should care whether you were put to lifelong slave labor until you were useless. That's what we have machines for, and you would be no greater than that, some kind of borg or zombie. All the teachings and insistences of treating other people differently would crumble. Morals would only be relative to power balances.

    I have not asked anyone to believe anything, nor have I arrogated any authority to myself whatsoever. I'm like my mother, you can believe what you want to, just be true to yourself. In this discussion, I simply ask that we recognize ourselves, our psyches souls, spirits, selves, whatever you choose to use, and I mean what you choose to use preconstructively--not after diminishing yourself by looking into the physical world for who or whatever you might arguably be. We each are the authority.

    When we give ourselves over to scientists or clerics, we make a huge mistake. That huge mistake is one way for those of us who exercise some modicum of political freedom to give it away to the next Taliban or atheistic Cultural Revolution.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I have not asked anyone to believe anything,

    Nor anyone's children, we would hope. Granting that, I thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Hi Rus

    I'm afraid you are both arrogating authority & asking for belief in something undemonstrable. There is no necessity to invoke a spirit for the physical existence of other people. Some individuals with a strong belief in their own souls have no problem treating others like zombies, on the grounds they have no (or lesser) souls. I may or may not be greater than a machine. I may be the most unbelievably complex structure, layer upon layer, which has evolved to survive on this particular planet. Me & several billion others.

    Have you ever read "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat"? Physical damage to the brain can make people change from happy, loving individuals to violent, erratic ones. Or even into zombies.

    You do not need to invoke a soul to sustain the idea of morality. As kynefski pointed out, empathy is a good starting point in determining how we should treat others.

    I have no doubt that your beliefs & actions are totally benevolent. Unfortunately this is not true of everyone, including some who are just as convinced of the existence of their soul. So the invocation to "believe what you will" is intrinsically dangerous - when you apply it to the physical world, which always happens.

    You should never give youself over to scientists, but you should always examine their arguments & attempt to form a rational conclusion.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Hi Rus

    As I said, I have an enormous problem with the notion of a supraphysical soul when it comes to the sperm-ovum situation. What makes much more sense to me is that the "soul" is initiated at this point & begins to grow - I would, in fact call its soul its humanity. This soul growth carries on through the person's life, but must eventually end with its death. It is also evident that these souls are not the same, & that some are more highly developed than others. This seems to be linked to the ability to deal with complex situations.
    This gradation carries on throughout the animal kingdom. The soul of a bacterium would be vastly less complex than the soul of, say, Claude Debussy.
    One of the main consequences of the ability of an individual to produce large, complex models of the physical world is the ability to see other human beings as similar entities to themselves. This leads to empathy & compassion, from which you can form a moral code. It means that, although there are organisms throughout the animal kingdom which clearly have a lesser ability to model the physical world, the extent to which they are similar to yourself - the ability to feel physical pain, for example - means you treat them as you would treat yourself.
    Some people, although exhibiting all the usual human characteristics, do not have the ability to see others as versions of themselves, as "existing" in the same sense that they do (this is one practical reason why the acceptance of objective reality is of prime importance). Extreme versions of this sort of individual we call psychopaths. I would say a lot of their soul is missing.

    One of the frightening consequences of your interpretation of the supraphysical soul is the, to me astonishing, assertion that it is up to you to decide whether I have a soul or not. Based on my definition above, I would never have the arrogance to say that about anyone - if someone's behaviour seems peculiar to me, I would not take myself as sole arbiter of the degree of development of their soul, but would be guided by the general opinion.

    I really do suspect there is something else, but whatever it is surpasseth all human understanding. Meanwhile we have possession of the physical world, so perhaps we should make the most of it & maximise the joy contained therein.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Hi kynefski,

    I don't have to teach anyone's children. A quick self-examination, et voila! That's why I said, no matter how much the people in power want to shove down our throats that we are physically-based beings, there will always be mystics. They have to kill the mystics to prevail in exploitation.

    So we should talk about it, blog about it.

    ~~~~~

    Hi traherne,

    This is in response to your second to last comment from 11:37:

    You do not need to invoke a soul to sustain the idea of morality. As kynefski pointed out, empathy is a good starting point in determining how we should treat others.

    Empathy is a decision we each make also, grounded in nothing, unless the empathy you speak of is to be empathetic with another spiritual being. We cannot be empathetic with a soulless machine. Once we become empathetic to animal suffering, we join PETA.

    You said something interesting that says what I have been saying:

    I have no doubt that your beliefs & actions are totally benevolent. Unfortunately this is not true of everyone, including some who are just as convinced of the existence of their soul.

    I had said too that those people do not accept others as having an equal soul. That is not necessarily the case. If those people felt they were not worthwhile, they could think others were not either. My contention, however, is that seeped in a physical world, treated as if you have no soul day in and day out, some people come to believe that they have none, they deny themselves.

    If you deny yourself, then you will not accept that you are . It is not rational, however, to deny yourself. It is also not rational to examine the physical world, "entering" to examine it each moment, to confirm the spiritual existence of the subjective examiner. These are not rational, unless done by a machine, whose existence is only in the physical world.

    This is in response to your latest comment:

    You respond with a sensitive hypothesis, also unprovable in the physical sense, but one that we seem to be socialized to accept nowadays, that there is a gradation of the soul, and that the soul, or whatever you call our consciousness, ceases to exists at our physical death. And you give the standard rationalization for this that we pass down and communicate to each other, even subconsciously through out actions. Then you say:

    One of the frightening consequences of your interpretation of the supraphysical soul is the, to me astonishing, assertion that it is up to you to decide whether I have a soul or not.

    The frightening consequence of your gradation of spirit stuff, is that you have decided that there are lesser beings than you. Your gradation, by the way, is based on complexity. If someone were to decide that you are not complex enough, then you would become subhuman, suitable for food and hard labor, and whatever other exploitations come to such a "complex" mind. And you have fed a tyrant's rationale to your own demise. You have argued yourself away politically.

    ReplyDelete
  55. To traherne,

    I left for work, and thought about the gradation that we accept, and have accepted for a long time. We in the US, as stated above, considered Negroes as 60% human. As I was driving to work, I then thought of the equality argument in a different context, in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the famous first sentence:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    We could say that to anyone who was being tyrannical, that we hold "these truths" to be self-evident. Of course, today, we intend that all men and women were created equal, which, I would argue, means children too, since that goes back to their self-evident creation, which idea in turn fuels the children's rights movements.

    Important point within this as well. If such creation is self-evident, then there is a Creation of humanity or creations of individual people. An atheist can still hold to the latter in the sense that whatever an atheist decides to go with, as to when the physical body becomes a conscious self--whether at conception or some time after the baby has encountered other people, or whenever in between and for whatever conjured rationale--he or she can still say that the consciousness was created by the physical world (and without even answering how that could be).

    Another corollary note is that there was no separation of church and state in the US until the early 1940's, and then a somewhat controversial 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court, created a domino effect that has led to some saying that it is not freedom of religion that their reading of the Constitution intended, but freedom from religion that we ought to have.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Bryan, what happened to my post yesterday? Two posts have gone missing now.

    ReplyDelete
  57. I don't know, Traherne, I've published everything except a couple of things on Ugg boots.

    ReplyDelete
  58. And thanks very much, Bryan. Your blogs have been very interesting to me, and I have been looking forward to these discussion threads, the different points of view. In fact from the time you posted Discuss 1, I have wanted to participate, and realize that my verve has made me long-winded most of the time, maybe to the point or just short of the point of hijacking. But I have been enjoying myself, and have been appreciating the forum you have provided all along without saying so up until now.

    ReplyDelete
  59. I'll try again Bryan

    Hi Rus

    I said:

    One of the main consequences of the ability of an individual to produce large, complex models of the physical world is the ability to see other human beings as similar entities to themselves. This leads to empathy & compassion, from which you can form a moral code. It means that, although there are organisms throughout the animal kingdom which clearly have a lesser ability to model the physical world, the extent to which they are similar to yourself - the ability to feel physical pain, for example - means you treat them as you would treat yourself.


    You said:


    The frightening consequence of your gradation of spirit stuff, is that you have decided that there are lesser beings than you. Your gradation, by the way, is based on complexity. If someone were to decide that you are not complex enough, then you would become subhuman, suitable for food and hard labor, and whatever other exploitations come to such a "complex" mind. And you have fed a tyrant's rationale to your own demise. You have argued yourself away politically.


    A tyrant will justify his actions using any belief system he chooses, be it religious, mystical or scientific. His only real concern is domination in the physical world - "might is right".
    How does my being "not complex enough" make me sub-human? I can conceive that some entity may exist who is more complex than me. If he has no empathy with other living beings then he is not superhuman, just a complex psycopath. You need to be a complex organism to be able to feel empathy, but empathy does not necessarily follow complexity.

    You say "I choose to feel empathy". It doesn't feel like much of a choice when confronted with images of starving children. Empathy & compassion are built into the vast majority of us. An embryo has no such characteristics, but it has the potentiality to acquire them.

    I wasn't aware this discussion was about politics, which is a different subject altogether.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Sir:
    A number of objections circulate around your endorsement of physicists affirming intelligent design. I have to agree with the objectors. Physicists are not biologists and are therefore not able to comment knowledgeably on proposition involving biology, any more than biologists are able to comment knowledgeably on, say, the details on climate modelling. It takes a while to master a particular field, and this length of time has only increased with the modern increase of scientific knowledge. A physicist should not be assumed to have mastered all scientific fields, simply because he or she has mastered one.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Hello Bryan,
    on the ID stuff, you've either misunderstood or ignored the position of most scientists (i'm sure including myers). that is, ID is a possibility. design by another (alien) civilization is far more probable than a deity b/c we know that advanced intelligence/civilization has developed before (us). On the contrary, there is no suggestion for ID by deity. So, yes, ID by deity is a scientific possibility like any other possibility (the flying spaghetti monster or russell's teapot, etc). it's just that it deserves no special place.

    ReplyDelete
  62. HI folks,

    I'm a newbie here, and an atheist, but I'm having the same problems here that I have with most such discussions. WTF is "spiritual"? I have no idea what that means, but you guys seem to know. Tell me.

    But don't appeal to other ill- (or un-) defined terms. I won't know what you mean by "soul" or "god" or most other terms you seem to understand. But if you can define them even somewhat clearly, I'd love to hear it.

    For example, give a reasonable test one can use to determine the presence of absence of the "spiritual". If "spiritual" has an opposite, compare and contrast them. Etc.

    ReplyDelete
  63. This is balderdash. "Science" is an intellectual endeavor, the RESULTS of which enhance our understanding of the world. Science is not PZ Myers. You may object to the way PZ projects his opinion on his blog, but I'd bet your salary that the science he does in his lab honors the word.

    If you think science is an ideology, than you don't understand human progress. The comments on his blog and his personal 'jerkyness' have nothing to do with what we, as humans, have learned about how nature works and how the Universe came to be.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Hi Django.

    I dunno either. That's one of the problems associated with the metaphysical; you can only use references to physical objects in order to describe it.

    Rus, for example (& I hope i'm not misrepresenting him here) seems to regard our physical selves as being just part of a larger thing which exists both in & out of the sensible world. From this assumption he draws several conclusions, with which I am afraid I cannot agree. You must draw your own conclusions.

    ReplyDelete
  65. This criticism (of science as intolerant of dissent) almost invariably comes from those who (like Appleyard) have previously shown themselves to be rather lacking both in scientific training and understanding (a trait that's particularly regrettable in science writers).

    The response has been given so often and so clearly that I fear Appleyard must be willfully ignoring it: science above all welcomes dissent, embraces dissent, cherishes dissent, *so long as* that dissent comes in the form of solid evidence or logic. Myers has said this over and over. It's not enough to whine that scientists need to be more open-minded if you still don't provide us with anything reasonable to consider. For example, the proponents of "intelligent design" typically construct their arguments entirely on (frankly, nearly always misperceived) weaknesses of evolutionary theory, but can't seem to provide any positive evidence for the action of a designer, nor parsimonious rebuttals against the weaknesses of intelligent design theory. The mere fact that you have an opinion does not somehow automatically grant it validity: you have to show your work. Making an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary work, which to date, no creationist or intelligent design advocate has produced.

    Appleyard might also take note that the hypothesized multiverse designer of theoretical physicists has no bearing on the issue of biological speciation that is the concern of intelligent design proponents, and that his canard about evolutionary psychology conjecture is considered canon only by headline-inflating journalists and the most brazen of science writers; true scholars always recognize the limitations of hypotheses that are not falsifiable. But in my brief exposure to his writings, I haven't gotten the impression he is particularly concerned about fact-checking such things.

    As far as the central criticism of ideology goes, as I recall, the contentiousness and politicization have arisen during the last decade or so not as any result of some mainstream science agenda but rather in defense against the creeping machinations of the religious right. Anybody else remember the GOP presidential primary debate which literally called for a show of hands for who believed in evolution? 20 years ago, was anyone seriously worried that evolutionary theory would be expunged from the curricula of more schools? I don't think the logic-minded, evidence-based community has any reason to apologize for getting riled up in response to such outright attacks on scientific literacy, when so much is at stake.

    ReplyDelete
  66. Let's go back to point A. The physical world may not exist. The spiritual world must. We know this by simple reflection, unless we are zombies or machines. The evidence that people seem to ask for is physical, lab-type evidence. That's not going to happen.

    I know of no mystics who have reported this teapot phenomenon.

    ReplyDelete
  67. You may be wrong about the not being a jerk part. One must make allowances for reasonable doubt.

    ReplyDelete
  68. Mr Appleyard I saw the friends episode at the time and this was the stupidest moment of the series except maybe the Rachel-Joey thing.
    If I recall correctly Ross was astonished that Phoebe didnt believe in evolution and Phoebe challenged him by saying "could there be a tiny possibility that evolution is wrong and Ross said yes.Phoebe triumphs by calling Rosses faith in evolution weak and shallow.
    Phoebe could have asked PZ Myers the same thing and his answer would be the same.But at the end instead of being speechless like Ross he would answer that OF COURSE , that is waht science is , as a scientist you always keep an open mind for new facts and evidence , we dont have beliefs and dogmas but theories and facts and the reality of the world around us.But that answer would be ville swivel-eyed ideology that would generate public confusion and mistrust... Instead we got the ha ha stupid sciency guy scene . And you I suppose liked it.I hope you were not one of the writers.

    ReplyDelete
  69. "Please note that at the end of this post P.Z.Myers will still be a jerk and I still won't be"

    What are you, 12?

    ReplyDelete
  70. "The physical world may not exist. The spiritual world must."

    This assumes a rather incredible amount. By what basis can you possibly assert that our subjective experience is "spiritual" with all the many attached connotations of that word? We can indeed agree that we have a subjective experience of what (at least within that subjective experience) seems to be a communally-agreed upon reality as well as our own private reflections on it.

    But calling all that "spiritual" is, at best, unhelpful. First of all because "spiritual" is not even a concept that means anything OTHER than a contrast to the material, which is precisely the thing we've yet to agree exists.

    And second of all, even if we accept the term spiritual, what else have we learned about what is going on anyhow? Have we explained or illuminated any of the phenomena we're examining? I can't see how we have.

    Instead we have attached a word full of all sorts of provincial connotations tracing back to various faith beliefs that exist in a world which... well, which at leat at point A, we haven't even yet agreed exists in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
  71. When we begin our childhood inquiry into whether the physical world parallels our experiences, and then how much this can be so in our adolescences, we are on the right track. When we lose ourselves in the physical world as adults, we are not.

    Should we now assume, that our consciousnesses are created from the physical world. What is the mechanism for this? Do a group of highly trained biologists dance around a newborn to have this take place? Did they find the teapot in the brain where the physical world translates itself into our subjective representation of it?

    The answer is that there is no physical mechanism for the creation or derivation of the conscious experience. Whether this helps you in finding the cure for cancer is neither here not there. It's life.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Reached the end of this post, and you're still a jerk...and probably always will be. Live with it.

    ReplyDelete
  73. It's obvious that you and your cheerleading commenters neither understand science or logic.

    As to Doctor Myers - Still one of the best rational atheist bloggers out there.

    And you - just pitiable without a shred of sense.

    ReplyDelete
  74. It seems to me that your approach to writing and indeed your "writing", suffers from a mix of poor preparation and lackadaisical thought processes.

    So it goes without saying, that one so handicapped, should never even approach subjects of a scientific nature.

    The faulty rationale that prevented you from coming to this conclusion yourself, is only an indictment.

    ReplyDelete
  75. "Please note that at the end of this post P.Z.Myers will still be a jerk and I still won't be,"

    Grow up.

    ReplyDelete
  76. "Should we now assume, that our consciousnesses are created from the physical world. What is the mechanism for this?"

    That's a good question. Of course, it's also potentially a bad question: we don't really even know what consciousness is in the first place.

    But the key point here is not that while science has no final answer to the question at the moment, I very much doubt you have ANY form of "non-material" answer with which to contrast it.

    That's the problem with most of this vacuous spiritualism: it touts the inability of anyone to explain this or that phenomenon via material means... without even the slightest attempt to explain what a "non-material" explanation would entail, let alone trying to actually give one.

    At least scientific study of the brain and consciousness has revealed all sorts of fascinating insights into the connections between perception and brain function. What demonstrable insight into the mechanism of consciousness has airy non-materializing EVER materialized?

    ReplyDelete
  77. Here's how Intelligent Design works:

    http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html

    ReplyDelete
  78. Let's be careful here not to conflate evolutionary biology with PZ Myers.

    Not all scientists react with bile, even in the face of what can be extraordinarily frustrating intrusions by those attempting to derail the scientific method. And, to be sure, intelligent design and its component parts are precisely such an attempt.

    Let's judge such issues on the merits of the science, and not on personalities.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Peter Burnet said... "Phoebe from Friends? Dammit, Bryan, we spend days defending your honour in the face of your dicey reference to the controversial Behe and now you expect us to champion the cause of Phoebe? What are we supposed to say, that underneath she is in touch with a richer atavistic wisdom? OK, man, I'm loyal as always, but I want danger pay."

    No, man. You're loyal to a fault, you gotta ditch this guy. C'mon, religion lacked any idealogical biases until that one episode of Friends? He can't be serious.

    ReplyDelete
  80. Let's see: Ross hurt Phoebe's feelings so it's okay for her to believe something that is really dumb.

    PZ Myers hurt Bryan Appleyard's feelings. and Bryan is like Phoebe.

    It's better to be a jerk and right than to defend nonsense under the guise of not hurting people's feelings.

    ReplyDelete
  81. This is a good example of the typically deceitful rhetoric of a creationist, making arguments based on assuming false premises.

    1. Evolution is not "treating science as an ideology". Evolution is science.

    2. This sentence has no meaning: "Science...is a method, not a posture towards the world."

    3. People who promote pseudoscience hate to be criticized.

    4. People who promote pseudoscience hate for anyone to dare to "hurl abuse" at them when they demonstrate scientific incompetence and use conceptual fallacies in their argumentation.

    5. It is not an "ideology" to know that anyone who says "the sun goes around the earth, not the other way around, and it's wrong for anyone to hurl abuse at us for teaching that this is a valid scientific alternative to heliocentrism" is (a) scientifically incompetent, and (b) loves using fallacious rhetoric like referring to those who criticize pseudoscience promoters for their scientific and conceptual errors as "treating science as an ideology" and "hurling abuse".

    6. Creationists treat science as an ideology that they must oppose, as motivated by their particular religious doctrines.

    7. Creationist rhetoric is permeated with empty polemic and abuse of science and abuse of critics of the ideology of creationism pseudoscience.

    8. Creationists are prone to delusion, fantasy, and intolerance in their rhetoric.

    9. Creationists set up web sites that abandon rational argument and promote pseudoscience canards, and in discussion groups that they run ban dissenters (i.e., critics of their many errors) from discussion with abandon.

    10. Creationists love to use utterly hypocritical remarks in their rhetoric.

    ReplyDelete
  82. Some evolutionists are like that too, I've noticed.

    ReplyDelete
  83. You seem quite crazy.

    ReplyDelete
  84. Darwinism is the most persistent hoax in the history of science. It has persisted for one reason only. It is because the atheism which enveloped Western culture in the guise of The Enlightenment will not, indeed cannot abide the notion that phylogeny might have been a guided process. Darwinism's major surviving champions, Richard Dawkwins and his New World crony Paul Zachary Myers, both realize that the Darwinian fantasy is a shambles but they are congenitally incapable of considering the only conceivable alternative which is a guided phylogeny. That is why they have both abandoned science entirely to dedicate all their energies to the destruction of any hypothesis dependent on supernatural intervention even in the remote past. They have painted themselves into a corner from which there is no escape except total rejection of their cast in concrete mindset. This they are quite unable to do which is a beautiful thing for this investigator to savor.

    I have recently finished an essay "What's wrong with Darwinism," which can be found with my other essays on the Essay button on the top of my webpage. I would be happy to defend that essay here or anywhere else where the great mystery of phylogeny is under discussion.

    jadavison.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  85. This thread is amazing. Some comments bring up the fundamental problem here: none of these things are defined. Rus, what does it mean for something to be spiritual? It's been asked already, but not answered. If you don't believe in physical reality, I challenge you to define spirituality. Can you do it without invoking physical reality? If there is no logically consistent definition for spiritual stuff, then how is it a useful concept? It is absolutely not self-evident that we are spiritual beings. I don't even know what that means. For that matter, the premise of this article lacks definition. What does "ideology" mean? You accuse science of becoming ideological, but it is not clear to me what you are trying to say. If you mean that science ignores evidence, that is patently false. The scientific method is fundamentally empirical. Here is what merriam-webster says about ideology: "a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b : a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture c : the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program." I guess I don't deny that science fits that description, but how is that problematic? Please, let's be more precise with our thinking.

    ReplyDelete