Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Doctrine of Joint Belief

The Doctrine of Joint Belief is the idea that just because a single person holds two different worldviews (e.g. science and religion, Christianity and racism, free market capitalism and universal health care) it follows logically that those two views are compatible. Clay Shirky has written a nice summary of the logical fallacy behind the doctrine [Religion and Science]. His article is effective because he used to believe in The Doctrine of Joint Belief.

Lately, Chris Mooney has been arguing in books and blogs that the so-called "new atheists" are hurting his cause by arguing that science and religion are incompatible. Mostly it's a political argument, and that makes sense because Chris Mooney is interested in policy and politics and not science or philosophy.

On Friday, however, Chris shifted gears and tried to defend accommodationism on logical grounds. This is not his forte [Eugenie Scott Powerfully Makes the Case for Science-Religion Compatibility]. It's the classic defense according to The Doctrine of Joint Belief, explained in this case by Eugenie Scott.



Jerry Coyne exhibits a great deal of patience when he explains, for about the millionth time, why the doctrine is logically absurd [Eugenie Scott and Chris Mooney dissemble about accommodationism].

Isn't it about time for one of the accommodationists to speak up and admit that this argument makes no sense? It's about as logical as saying science and Intelligent Design Creationism are compatible because of Michael Behe.



39 comments :

  1. I don't think that they ever will step up and say that the doctrine is illogical, because it is more of a political "necessity" than anything related to science. They are afraid of jettisoning the support that religious intellectuals have for science, and don't want to rock this particular boat.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dr. Scott has done a great deal of good in the defense of science education in the face of the stupidity of gullible parents, and the religious right's useful fools on school boards around the U.S.

    But, I wish that the NCSE would stick to promoting science and leave religion completely out of it.

    For me, the logic and reason of science are simply incompatible with the superstition and slavish devotion to mythology that is religion.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Shirky "achieves" this supposed logical error by claiming that science is a "system of thought," i.e a philosophy. Needless to say, if you don't accept the premise that science is a philosophy, there is no logical fallacy because no method need be applied to everything, anymore than all tools need to be hammers.

    There is no question that the method of science is "incompatible" with the "method," such as it is, that the philosophy/theology of religion employs ... a fact admitted by the "accommodationists." Nor is there any question that religion is incompatible with the philosophies of some scientists.

    The question is and has always been whether the philosophies of some scientists are the same thing as "science." Merely repeating the same assertions without addressing the real claim involved, as Coyne does, is not addressing anything. It is the same sort of blind assertion we expect from creationists. That Coyne asserts that disagreeing with him on that point is "dissembling" is syptomatic of his level of intellectual discourse.

    ReplyDelete
  4. John the logical fallacy has nothing do do with whether science and religion are compatible. It has to do with whether the existence of Francis Collins proves that science and religion must be compatible. Or, for that matter, whether the existence of Jerry Coyne proves that science and religion are NOT compatible.

    ReplyDelete
  5. John the logical fallacy has nothing do do with whether science and religion are compatible. It has to do with whether the existence of Francis Collins proves that science and religion must be compatible.

    As I've expanded on at my place, the point of citing to religious scientists who scrupulously apply the scientific method to science is to demonstrate that the method is not a philosophy. It is only with his premise that it is a philosophy that the existence of such scientists is not cogent evidence on the point. In short, he is, like Coyne, misconstruing what the evidence is offered to show.

    As an aside, I would also point out that merely stating that people can hold inconsistent/incompatible beliefs is not the same as demonstrating that science and religion are necessarily inconsistent/incompatible.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Eleke Scherwitz: proof that being a Jew and being an officer in the SS are compatible.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What John said:
    As I've expanded on at my place, the point of citing to religious scientists who scrupulously apply the scientific method to science is to demonstrate that the method is not a philosophy. It is only with his premise that it is a philosophy that the existence of such scientists is not cogent evidence on the point. In short, he is, like Coyne, misconstruing what the evidence is offered to show.

    Metaphysical naturalism and religion are NOT compatible. Methodological naturalism and religion are.

    For some reason, Jerry Coyne seems to have a pole vault up his ass about this....

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ford Prefect, HairdresserSunday, July 12, 2009 5:10:00 PM

    I'm sick of your rantings, Larry. PLEASE read this excellent review of The God Delusion by H. Allen Orr, as it is the best antidote I have found. I do not believe in God, but sometimes hardcore atheism can be just as irrational as religion.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19775

    ReplyDelete
  9. And note that Orr doesn't appear to be a believer, either

    ReplyDelete
  10. John Pieret says,

    It is only with his premise that it is a philosophy that the existence of such scientists is not cogent evidence on the point.

    Nope. There could still be a debate about whether the application of methodological naturalism is compatible with the claims of most religions. I maintain that they are not.

    In that case, the existence of scientists who think their religious beliefs are compatible with the methods of science is NOT prima facie evidence that they are correct. That's the logical fallacy behind the Doctrine of Joint Belief.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ford Prefect, Hairdresser said,

    I'm sick of your rantings, Larry.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Do you have an opinion on whether the belief that God answers prayers is compatible with the way we approach a problem as scientists?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I for one am not sick of your “rants”. In fact, I want to hear more of them. I want to hear everyone ranting. A rant condenses, simplifies, and clarifies positions far more than any other form of communication.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous said...

    "A rant condenses, simplifies, and clarifies positions far more than any other form of communication."

    Thanks Anonymous, that's a philosophy I can identify with.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ford Prefect, Hairdresser said...
    "read this excellent review of The God Delusion by H. Allen Orr, as it is the best antidote I have found."

    I read H. Allen Orr's review and one comment struck me:

    "Neither the institutions of Christianity nor those of communism are, of course, innocent. But Dawkins's inability to see the difference in the severity of their sins—one of orders of magnitude—suggests an ideological commitment of the sort that usually reflects devotion to a creed."

    So which institution's sins were/are the most severe? My guess is Christianity.

    ReplyDelete
  15. There could still be a debate about whether the application of methodological naturalism is compatible with the claims of most religions.

    Take your pick, Larry. If the scientists who are cited are applying methodolical naturalism correctly, then they are relevant to the issue of whether methodological naturalism or Coyne's philosophy is the essential nature of science and there is no logical error in citing them. If your claim is that "most religions" (any empiric evidence on that?) don't do what those scientists do, they are still relevant to what religions should be doing (as much a point of the accommodationists as that science can be compatible with religion -- accommodationists are "preaching" to theists as much as to scientists) and, therefore, there is no logical error in citing them.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Veronica Abbass:

    So which institution's sins were/are the most severe? My guess is Christianity.

    Hypothetical 15th c. manuscript illuminist:

    Do heavier bodies fall faster to earth than lighter ones? My guess is that they do.

    Galileo:

    We get much better answers if we engage in research and experiment, rather than just guessing.

    R.A. Fisher:

    It also helps to measure the significance of your data against a null hypothesis, to make sure that one has phrased the problem correctly.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Ford Prefect, ApothecaryMonday, July 13, 2009 4:43:00 PM

    Veronica said, on ranting:

    "Thanks Anonymous, that's a philosophy I can identify with."

    Creationist also identify with this philosophy readily.

    Veronica, did you also read the part of the review where Orr aptly notes that Dawkins compares religion in practice with atheism in theory, instead of both in practice/theory? When one compares both atheism and religion in theory, they are both remarkably sweet and innocent; whereas in practice, both have accommodated atrocity.

    Also, Larry, your smug retort was an inadequate proxy for a reasoned response.

    ReplyDelete
  18. to Ford Prefect:

    My "smug retort" was a perfectly adequate response to your non sequitur comment.

    I notice you didn't answer my question.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ford Prefect, President, International Beekeper FraternityTuesday, July 14, 2009 12:12:00 AM

    Fine then. Larry said:

    "Do you have an opinion on whether the belief that God answers prayers is compatible with the way we approach a problem as scientists?"

    I agree that from a scientific standpoint prayer and miracles are invalid. But, and I say this with some trepidation, I think Gould was right about this point: science is silent on metaphysics and deeper questions such as meaning.

    Again, I am not a believer, but I sure do not approach morality in "the way we approach a problem as scientists." To do so would be to subscribe to an empty scientism, and commit the naturalistic fallacy on the way. So you must concede that science is limited to the empirical, observable world.

    ReplyDelete
  20. underverse takes exception to my use of the word guess. Let me rephrase my sentence:

    So which institution's sins were/are the most severe? My [answer] is Christianity.


    Ford Prefect says
    Again, I am not a believer, but...

    In imitation of underverse, who uses other peoples words to make a point, I offer this

    "[Ford] doth protest too much, methinks.
    Hamlet Act 3, scene 2

    ReplyDelete
  21. Ford Prefect says,

    Again, I am not a believer, but I sure do not approach morality in "the way we approach a problem as scientists." To do so would be to subscribe to an empty scientism, and commit the naturalistic fallacy on the way. So you must concede that science is limited to the empirical, observable world.

    That's not much of a "limitation" is it?

    What else is there? Do you believe in the existence of an unobservable, undetectable world?

    As for morality, unlike you I do believe we can approach ethical decisions in a scientific manner. Whenever we have a conflict we can ask ourselves what's best for our society, making sure we have our facts straight. Aside from scientific reasoning (evidence and rationality), I can't imagine what other way of knowing could lead to the correct answer. Can you?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Is it possible to be religious and be a scientist? Yes. Does that show that one's religious views are logically consistent with one's scientific views? No, because people can believe inconsistent propositions, and I'm sure that most people do.

    Are religious and scientific methodologies different? Of course.

    Are their subject matter different? Yes, but they overlap, at least as most religious believers understand their own religious views, and where they overlap there is potential for (and almost always is) conflict.

    Is it possible to formulate religious views that do not conflict with science? Sure, but such religious views are well out of the mainstream for religious believers in the United States.

    Is it possible to use science to study religious belief and practices and provide better explanations than religions provide for themselves? I think so, and that it's well worth doing.

    Does science logically entail atheism? No. Does it provide evidence that accords better with atheism than with theism? I think so, at least unless the version of theism is carefully crafted to be consistent with the same evidence. But if you compare to the actual versions of theism in the wild in the general populace--atheism is a better fit, easily.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Larry, of course I feel that our ethical decisions should be informed by science. But science can only produce clones; it cannot tell us whether or not cloning is ethical.

    I do not believe "in the existence of an unobservable, undetectable world," and I don't recall saying that I did.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Ford Prefect says,

    But science can only produce clones; it cannot tell us whether or not cloning is ethical.

    Why not? Science as a way of knowing (evidence + rationality) is the only way I use when trying to decide whether something will be good for society (i.e. ethical) or not (i.e. unethical).

    What way do you use?

    I do not believe "in the existence of an unobservable, undetectable world," and I don't recall saying that I did.

    So when you say, "... science is limited to the empirical, observable world" that's no limitation at all since there aren't any other kinds of worlds. Right?

    ReplyDelete
  25. You make a false dichotomy; just because something is not supernatural doesn't mean it is justly subjected to scientific inquiry.

    Is a certain poem beautiful — this is a question that is neither supernatural nor empirical, neither mystical nor rational. Poetry is a perfectly natural part of our world, but that does not make it available for scientific analysis.

    You said:

    "Science as a way of knowing (evidence + rationality) is the only way I use when trying to decide whether something will be good for society (i.e. ethical) or not (i.e. unethical)."

    But two equally rational, sensible people can come to starkly contrasting doctrines on subjects such as cloning, etc. Was Fisher any less rational than some modern geneticist, Lewontin perhaps? Surely not. Yet he advocated eugenics in his book.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Ford Prefect,

    In regards to beauty, why can't beauty be subjected to scientific analysis?

    According to the Oxford dictionary, beauty is defined firstly as "a combination of qualities that delights the aesthetic senses" and of course tests can be done on people to determine if, say, a poem delights them in some way (by for example, scanning their brain). So yes, the beauty of poetry can be tested.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Ford Prefect says,

    You make a false dichotomy; just because something is not supernatural doesn't mean it is justly subjected to scientific inquiry.

    I don't think it's a false dichotomy. I think it's perfectly valid to say that all true knowledge that's part of the natural world (i.e. everything) can be determined by using the scientific way of knowing.

    Is a certain poem beautiful — this is a question that is neither supernatural nor empirical, neither mystical nor rational. Poetry is a perfectly natural part of our world, but that does not make it available for scientific analysis.

    It's not your fault for bring up this common myth but you have to understand that people like me find it incredibly annoying.

    The appreciation of beauty, like every other example of animal behavior, is perfectly amenable to scientific analysis.

    Let's say you observe someone who favors a particular kind of poetry. You want to understand why this particular person likes those kind of poems. How do you go about answering that question? What way of knowing, other than scientific, do you use?

    This idea—that knowledge about how humans behave is somehow outside of science—has been refuted dozens of times but it keeps coming up. I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that most individuals are completely unaware of the fact that their biases and preferences have perfectly rational explanations.

    They probably think that their love of Shakespeare's sonnets, for example, is a completely arbitrary expression of free will. They probably imagine that they could just as easily have fallen in love with traditional Chinese poetry or medieval French poetry. The fact that they were raised in an English-speaking culture and learned about Shakespeare in school must seem like an inexplicable coincidence.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I can see that our discussion is going nowhere, so I am cutting it off.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Larry,

    This would be the "twinkie defense" of bad taste?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Ford Prefect wrote:

    So you must concede that science is limited to the empirical, observable world.

    While religion is only limited only to what it makes up and then claims as fact. Unfortunately, it wants everyone else to accept its made up answers as though they were true. In reality, religion is limited by the fact that all its views are made up nonsense.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Larry says,

    As for morality, unlike you I do believe we can approach ethical decisions in a scientific manner. Whenever we have a conflict we can ask ourselves what's best for our society, making sure we have our facts straight. Aside from scientific reasoning (evidence and rationality), I can't imagine what other way of knowing could lead to the correct answer. Can you?

    The problem with this (and the main source of the naturalistic fallacy) is that "what's best for our society" is not the correct measure for all ethical systems. If you reject utilitarian values, it is the wrong measure.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Yeah anon has it right.

    Honestly, Larry, in light of all your stalwart opposition to reductionism in biology, you seem to take a very reductionistic view of human affairs when it comes to morality. I was very surprised at your July 15, 12:25 post. You sounded like a Pinker.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Ford Prefect says,

    Honestly, Larry, in light of all your stalwart opposition to reductionism in biology, you seem to take a very reductionistic view of human affairs when it comes to morality. I was very surprised at your July 15, 12:25 post. You sounded like a Pinker.

    I said nothing at all about the evolution of morality and I am strongly opposed to the idea that there's a strong genetic component to most human behaviors.

    Thus, I am extremely puzzled by your claim that I sound like Pinker.

    I notice that you didn't answer my question. How do *you* go about deciding moral issues?

    ReplyDelete
  34. anonymous says,

    The problem with this (and the main source of the naturalistic fallacy) is that "what's best for our society" is not the correct measure for all ethical systems.

    You may be right but right now I can't think of any examples.

    I'm aware of the fact that some societies might have strange beliefs and they might make strange ethical decisions based on those beliefs. I'm aware of the fact that some societies might make decisions based on the "will of God" even though those decisions might not be too good for the society.

    However, given that I am an atheist, are there any reasonable ethical decisions that I could make while knowing full well that they are not good for the society I live in?

    ReplyDelete
  35. You can make many "reasonable" ethical decisions that are not good for the society that you live in, if you do not value that.

    Some examples of other thing you could value:

    I ought to do what is right for me.

    I ought to do what is right for my family and friends.

    I ought to do what is right for another society, which has been victimized by my society.

    I ought to do what is right for carrots. :)

    I am an atheist as well, but other than ruling out ethics based on theism, it doesn't really help to determine what we *ought* to do.

    ReplyDelete
  36. OK Larry, I'll tell you how I make moral decisions: I ask myself, "What pathway is the one most beneficial towards the most human beings, in both the long and short term, balancing both. Once human beings have been taken into account, the rest of life is to be regarded with equal sincerity."

    Science can not gauge such benefits, because such decision invariably induce contradictions: abortion may be something that we would like to eventually be rid of, because of the emotional and financial expense, but right now we should support abortion, as a matter of women's rights.

    Now its your turn to explain your views. With respect to the abortion issue, for example, how would you undertake a scientific investigation in order to discern the "proper" policy?


    As for my assertion that you sounded like a Pinker, allow me to clarify: I realize that you are "strongly opposed to the idea that there's a strong genetic component to most human behaviors." But your earlier post that I referred to was still a deterministic one; it was discordant from Pinker's determinism only in that it invoked environmental determinism as opposed to genetic determinism.

    I, for one, have an appreciation of art from a variety of cultures, and while I do not feel it to be an "arbitrary expression of free will," I also think that a measure of self-determination was involved.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Ford Prefect asks,

    Now its your turn to explain your views. With respect to the abortion issue, for example, how would you undertake a scientific investigation in order to discern the "proper" policy?

    Science is a way of knowing that requires evidence and rational thought.

    In order to decide whether abortion is ethical I'd use the same thought processes that you demonstrated in your response. That kind of reasoning is scientific because it relies on evidence (is abortion harmful? etc) and the application of rational thought (is this what's best for society).

    I guess the reason you disagree with me is that you don't refer to this way of knowing as "science." What do you call it?

    ReplyDelete
  38. Well, I am glad we seem to agree on something. No, I would not call that reasoning process science, nor do I have a name for it.

    I suppose the reason I do not think moral decisions can be addressed fully and properly by the scientific method is that in science, although conflicting views are widespread, eventually there is in reality only one version of the truth.

    Whereas in the moral sphere, I don't feel that there is any ultimate truth (morality is relative.) In fact, moral absolutism is a hallmark of religion. Hence, two conflicting points of view may be equally valid on their own terms.

    Do you believe in an absolute moral code? If you do, then your views are justified, for humans can, over time, learn it—in the same manner we learn empirical truths about nature (science). But if you feel, as I do, that morality is relative, you are living with a large contradiction.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Ford Prefect asks,

    Do you believe in an absolute moral code? If you do, then your views are justified, for humans can, over time, learn it—in the same manner we learn empirical truths about nature (science).

    There is no absolute moral code. This isn't a "belief" it's a scientifically observable fact of human behavior.

    But if you feel, as I do, that morality is relative, you are living with a large contradiction.

    Why is there a contradiction? What is moral relativity conflicting with? My view is that each society constructs its ethics based largely on what's good for the majority in that society. I maintain that we make that decision based on evidence and rationality—although I admit that we can make mistakes once in a while.

    I maintain that the existence of God has nothing to do with those decisions. That doesn't mean that religion isn't involved. It's involved in the same way that other forms of dogma can influence the decision.

    ReplyDelete