Friday, October 08, 2010

The Great Accommodationist Dud

 
I watched the whole three hours streamed live on the conference website. It was about as exciting as watching paint dry except that drying paint doesn't make you angry. All four panelists managed to miss the point.

It wasn't until we got to the very last question that anyone grasped the important point; namely, that PZ Myers and Vic Stenger have very different goals than Chris Mooney and Genie Scott.

Chris and Genie want people like PZ and Vic to keep a lid on it because the Gnu Atheists are making their life more difficult. Tough. There's no reason why PZ and Vic (and the rest of us) have to share their goals just because they think they're more important than getting rid of religion.

And why did Vic and PZ allow Genie to get away with defining science as methodological naturalism?

I was very disappointed in everyone on the panel, and in the moderator.


31 comments :

  1. I also watched all three hours and agree with you.

    The moderator was awful, taking sides and promoting her books.

    The panelists didn't really say anything noteworthy.

    The guy that had the last word has a brilliant future ahead of him. His comment would have been a great start for the debate.

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  2. Is there a way for us who didn't tune in to see it after the fact?

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  3. It was as insipid as you describe.

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  4. From your description it seems it would be a waste of three hours for me, so I am going to pass

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  5. I think the key point PZ made is an interesting and useful one, though: this is all about truth. That the main objection to religion is that its claims are false, and that falsehoods should not be propagated.

    Christianity, happily, agrees. It's about truth.

    Now, I can already hear theist keys being warmed up with some variation of 'what is truth, anyway?', and to that, I'd say:

    True.

    OK. Go for it. Perhaps this is a way of discussing God in a way that cuts past the linguistic issues of proving something does or doesn't exist.

    So ... what parts of the god hypothesis, as laid out in - say - the Bible are true? What parts do you consider to be false?

    Not 'could be argued to be truth' - what do *you* understand to be true?

    Adam and Eve. Only a moron would call it 'true' in the sense of it being an historical or scientific account. But does it contain any truth at all, and if so, what? Is there poetic truth, metaphorical or whatever?

    Most Christians at this point roll their eyes and go 'oh, we're not creationists, you know'. I know.

    It's an odd position - imagine if Constitutional lawyers rolled their eyes and said 'come on, no one takes the first page *literally*, it doesn't matter if you ignore the first four sections'. But ... it's a pragmatic position to hold.

    But does it contain *any* truth, or can we all skip that bit?

    Name a few things, or even one, about the Bible or God, as you understand them, you consider to be 'true'.

    Again, this is a very simple task. We have to navigate and consider truths and falsehoods all the time. Humans are built to do it. Not always very well, but we don't freeze up or bang on about notions of truth if someone says: 'true or false, Paris is the capital of France?'.

    And I, at least, don't want to challenge anyone. Say whatever you like. 'I believe it's true that God sent a she-bear to kill all those kids for mocking Isiah's baldness'. I won't say a word.

    So: please just state something - or more than one thing - in the Bible, or about God, you consider to be true.

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  6. What is your problem with "methodological naturalism?"
    A link to another post will be sufficient.

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  7. I assume this will work here, but since DM (nice pic, btw) has bugged John Loftus, he used a script to keep his stench away (http://code.google.com/p/blogbanscript/). Might clear the air up a bit.

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  8. There's no reason why Chris and Genie have to share PZ’s and Vic’s goals just because PZ and Vic think PZ’s and Vic’s goals of getting rid of religion more important than getting science properly taught.

    What is your problem with "methodological naturalism?"

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  9. The goal of the NCSE seems akin to the trend in standardized testing - just replaced with standardized polling. If we keep asking the same poll question year after year and more people say they accept some sort of evolution, then victory can be claimed. Doesn't matter if they actually understand evolution, doesn't matter if they believe their supernatural being of choice helped evolution along the way, doesn't matter if they believe other things totally unsupported by evidence. Just accept evolution and all of out problems will be solved.

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  10. I am not a fan of this format and there wasn't enough time for replies either. I am a great fan of PZ though and I think the question 'Is it TRUE' is the key one. I don't care what religion is good for (if anything), I care about the truth. It is NOT TRUE, and that's what really matters.

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  11. Methodological naturalism is merely an observation about science, namely that its methods and conclusions are entirely naturalistic. It's not that supernatural methods are never employed, it's that they don't work; evidence for supernatural phenomena is lacking, and supernatural explanations have so far proven unnecessary.

    That doesn't tell you very much about science, though.

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  12. Heleen says,

    There's no reason why Chris and Genie have to share PZ’s and Vic’s goals just because PZ and Vic think PZ’s and Vic’s goals of getting rid of religion more important than getting science properly taught.

    That's correct. So why are Chris and Genie being so critical of the Gnu Atheists? Why are they telling the Gnu Atheists to tone it down because they are hurting "the cause"?

    What is your problem with "methodological naturalism?"

    It's an artificial and incorrect limitation on science. I maintain that science is a way of knowing requiring rational thought, evidence, and healthy skepticism. I do not accept that there are any questions that you cannot investigate using this way of knowing. That includes all claims of the supernatural.

    see:
    Methodological Naturalism - How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism
    Is Evolution Guided or Unguided?
    Accommodationism in Dover
    Methodological Naturalism
    Good News from Gent
    NCSE v National Association of Biology Teachers

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  13. Larry is still fighting to get rid of "methodological naturalism", as I can see. This will ultimately be settled by feats of strength I say!

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  14. thegoodatheist says,

    Larry is still fighting to get rid of "methodological naturalism", as I can see. This will ultimately be settled by feats of strength I say!

    I think the concept of "methodological naturalism" is flawed and I'd like to see it scrapped.

    However, I accept that others have different opinions and the issue is controversial.

    Where I really disagree with NCSE, and other groups, is that they deny the controversy. They present their position in favor of methodological naturalism as though it were an absolute fact that's accepted by all scientists and philosophers. That's a lie.

    It's one thing to defend a particular position but it's quite another to deny the existence of contrary opinion.

    Judge Jones was fed the NCSE propaganda during the Dover trial. There were no expert witnesses called to dispute the definition of science promoted by NCSE. It's no surprise that Judge Jones quoted extensively from the NCSE brief in his decision.

    Now Genie Scott and her supporters declare that the court has defined what science is and what it isn't. Since when do judges and lawyers decide such things?

    It's time for NCSE, AAAS, and NSF to stop deceiving the general public. What they should be saying is that there are many philosophers and scientists who believe that science and religion are separate ways of knowing but there are also many philosophers and scientists who believe that science and religion are incompatible. They should then go on to say that their organization does not take a position on this question because the issue hasn't been decided.

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  15. Science can only discover things it was set up to discover through its specific methods. Thus by definition, everything outside this domain cannot be discovered by science.

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  16. What is science and what is its domain?

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  17. Larry, con you demonstrate that science needs to be metaphicsically naturalistic in order to produce the knowledge about the world that it has produced up to this point?

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  18. Science can only discover things it was set up to discover through its specific methods. Thus by definition, everything outside this domain cannot be discovered by science.

    Well, that's rather trivial and tautological. Any epistemic system can only ever acquire knowledge of those things it has domain over. The non-trivial issue of substance is what domain of knowledge is science missing out on, and how exactly is this domain covered by rival epistemologies like those put forth by religion?

    I guess the standard example would be "morals" and "values," i.e. science does not have a way of assigning truth values to moral propositions like "it is wrong to murder," but naturally the followup is how does religious epistemology accomplish this? (This is even assuming that one can even say that a statement like "it is wrong to murder" can be regarded as "true" in the same way 2+2=4 is true).

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  19. What do you think of this description of science?

    A method to overcome the subjectivity of personal experience.

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  20. Micahel M asks,

    Larry, con you demonstrate that science needs to be metaphicsically naturalistic in order to produce the knowledge about the world that it has produced up to this point?

    No.

    The idea that naturalism is all there is comes as a logical conclusion from science as a way of knowing. The conclusion is not a requirement for doing science. It could have turned out differently.

    Science could have discovered that there were such things as supernatural beings who transcend the laws of physics and chemistry.

    The thing that's wrong with methodological naturalism as a restriction on science isn't that it's better than assuming physiological naturalism, it's that it prevents us from even investigating the possibility that science could lead to the conclusion of true naturalism.

    The accomodationists and the theists don't even want us to use science to explore that possibility so they rule out the investigation by fiat. According to them, scientist aren't even allowed to address the question because some self-appointed referee will rule them out-of-bounds!

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  21. "the followup is how does religious epistemology accomplish this?"

    Exactly. It's what I call the 'therefore: God' argument, and it runs 'there's a flaw in the scientific argument / logic, therefore: God'. There's never any explanation as to how 'God' explains it, let alone why there are somehow only two possible explanations.

    'We don't understand consciousness, therefore: God'. 'While evolution is true, it doesn't explain how life started, therefore: God', 'science accounts for the beginning of the universe, except for the very first fraction of a picosecond, therefore: God'.

    One of the reasons I'm an atheist is I find the God 'explanation' so dissatisfying, I do admit that. It just feels like *cheating*.

    And part of that is that it's a non-explanation explanation. God did it - not why or how, or why didn't he do something that, on the face of it would have been a lot more simple to implement and caused a lot less suffering ... he just did it, and we wouldn't understand.

    I don't understand how anyone could be happy with that answer.

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  22. Thought I would reproduce the longest relevant section of Judge Jones' opinion re 'methodological naturalism,' which does contain bits of what Larry objects to, but also, IMO, contains much he'd agree with:

    Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (9:19-22 (Haught); 5:25-29 (Pennock); 1:62 (Miller)). This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. (5:28 (Pennock)). Since that time
    period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth. (9:21-22 (Haught); 1:63 (Miller)). In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. (9:21 (Haught); 1:64, 87 (Miller)). While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. (3:103 (Miller); 9:19-20 (Haught)). This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. (5:23, 29-30 (Pennock)). Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based
    upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify. (1:59-64, 2:41-43 (Miller); 5:8, 23-30 (Pennock)).


    The stuff about science having ground rules or self-imposed limitations, and supernatural explanations being 'important' but (by fiat?) not part of science: yep, all objected to by Larry (with good reason) in various posts and comments.

    The bit about science not considering issues of 'meaning' and 'purpose' might also be considered objectionable, in that it again implies a self-imposed artificial limitation, rather than science having, in the words of Laplace, "no need of that hypothesis."

    But the opinion's description of a quest for observable, testable, verifiable explanations rather than accepting arguments from authority, or on the basis of philosophical coherence, seems to me to be fairly close to a definition of science-as-a-way-of-knowing that Larry (and the rest of us) could live with.

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  23. "Science could have discovered that there were such things as supernatural beings"

    It's been a one way process the other way: plenty of things we thought had supernatural origins don't. But it's more than that - in every case, things that looked 'directed': plagues and storms and earthquakes 'sent to punish those who angered the gods' have proved to be entirely untargeted, oblivious processes.

    The people who argue for magisteria say that science should deal with 'how', not 'why' ... but those are 'why' questions. 'Why did that city get hit by an earthquake?' ... science has the answer. Just as pertinently, it also demonstrates that religion doesn't have an answer.

    'Science can't answer "why" questions' misses two utterly fundamental points - 1) yes, in many cases it certainly can and 2) well, neither can you, matey.

    It's as simple as this: 'science' here doesn't just mean the body of current knowledge, it means the scientific method. It means logic, maths and truth essentially. And the ancient Greeks settled it: logic, maths and truth are greater than the gods, because the gods are bound by them. 2+2=4. A god might be able to twiddle the dials to change the 2s into something else, but he can't get 2 to mean something else and still be 2. A God can't create something that simultaneously has the property of 'being red' and 'not being red'.

    Or, if so, we can't make any claims about the gods. They would literally be nonsense, and you can't get sense from nonsense. And that would apply to theists just as much as atheists.

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  24. Jud says,

    But the opinion's description of a quest for observable, testable, verifiable explanations rather than accepting arguments from authority, or on the basis of philosophical coherence, seems to me to be fairly close to a definition of science-as-a-way-of-knowing that Larry (and the rest of us) could live with.

    I think its important to base your explanations on evidence rather than wishful thinking but that's not the same thing as insisting on explanations that are "observable," "testable," and "verifiable."

    A lot of true science involves tentative explanations that are evidence-based but not necessarily observable, testable, and verifiable. The possible existence of a multiverse is a good example and so are possible explanations of the Cambrian explosion. I think Judge Jones is promoting a naive and incorrect view of science on all counts.

    Now, I suppose you could concentrate on the "quest" part of Judge Jone's definition and claim that true science requires explanations that will be observable, testable, and verifiable in the future but this seems to be an unnecessary distinction.

    I can't think of a definition of science that rules out the speculations of Doug Axe, Michael Behe, Francis Collins, and evolutionary psychology while allowing Gould to speculate about punctuated equilibria and species selection and allowing Richard Dawkins to promote the idea of selfish genes.

    There are all "science" as far as I am concerned. Some of them are examples of BAD science (not naming names) but that not the same as saying they aren't science at all. That's where I think the Dover trial went off the rails.

    Intelligent Design Creationism shouldn't be taught in school because it's BAD science not because it's NOT science. That's why it's not taught in Canadian schools and in the schools of all other countries that don't have laws against public finding of religious schools.

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  25. "not considering issues of 'meaning' and 'purpose' might also be considered objectionable, in that it again implies a self-imposed artificial limitation"

    Yeah ... but how do you avoid it? In his new book, Hawking makes the self-evident point that you can have an entirely self-consistent, testable, coherent account of the creation of the universe without any reference to God. Does that cross the line?

    When a scientist (or, indeed, any sane post-Enlightenment human being) explains that lightning strikes are entirely about how tall something is and how insulated it is, not whether someone has angered the gods, does that cross the line?

    Evolution doesn't have 'purpose'. Once you understand that, you understand evolution. I admit that as an Arts grad, for the longest time I thought that evolution (which I have always believed in without wavering, and fuck the theists for making me have to clarify that in the year 2010) was about progress and that it was useful to talk about 'evolving into a giraffe' or whatever.

    The point being: you can't *explain* evolution without touching on issues of purpose.

    The problem between the religion/science divide and 'science doesn't have all the answers' is that it flatters religion. It makes it sound like there are just 100 answers in the world, and science only has 95, and religion, by default, must have the other 5.

    Whereas it's more like religion thought it had 100 answers, all of which were 'God', 95 of which even they concede were wrong, 5 of which are still open questions.

    The analogy is a student doing a quiz about Presidents who only needs to get one answer right to pass, and writes 'Lincoln' as every answer. And still scores 0, so complains about how the test didn't ask the right questions.

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  26. "Intelligent Design Creationism shouldn't be taught in school because it's BAD science not because it's NOT science."

    As the British comedian Chris Addison puts it, teaching creationism in Science class is like teaching Narnia in Geography.

    I don't think you can 'teach the controversy', but I do think that any theory is honed by challenge. I always believed eyes evolved, but I don't think I'd *understood* until I read Dawkins' explanation, and I don't think he'd have written it down except as a counterblast to creationists.

    Although you'd need a climate in the US, as exists in the rest of the Western world, where a teacher can go 'the Bible is wrong'. And that's not the sort of climate change I believe in.

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  27. Larry writes: Now, I suppose you could concentrate on the "quest" part of Judge Jones' definition and claim that true science requires explanations that will be observable, testable, and verifiable in the future but this seems to be an unnecessary distinction.

    I am not sure "observable, testable, and verifiable" are being used in Judge Jones' opinion the way you think they are.

    Clearly, observable, testable and verifiable are not the same as presently observed, tested, and verified. Thus I think the plain words contain a "future" component insofar as they denote capability (possibility) rather than present fact.

    I'm not aware of any reason in principle that possible explanations for the Cambrian explosion couldn't be scientifically tested, verified, and, depending on the candidate explanation, observed. On the other hand, multiverse and related 'landscape' theories have been subject to some discussion regarding whether they truly are scientific, because it may not be possible even in principle to observe, test, or verify them.

    Intelligent Design Creationism shouldn't be taught in school because it's BAD science not because it's NOT science. That's why it's not taught in Canadian schools and in the schools of all other countries that don't have laws against public funding of religious schools.

    ISTM the primary reason for the position of the NCSE and the expert witnesses in Kitzmiller is that currently the most effective means of ensuring the teaching of evolution isn't swamped by ID creationism in U.S. classrooms (to a greater degree than it already is) is to show ID is an attempt to pass off a religious story as a factual, scientifically tenable theory. This necessitates the attempt we see at drawing a bright definitional line between "science" and "religion."

    As you've pointed out in many posts and comments, some of the implications of such a position (e.g., NOMA) are an unfair self-imposed intellectual handicap on science in any comparison of religion and science as ways of knowing. But query whether that's a price worth paying in U.S. courtrooms, leaving our foreign friends free to carry on a more unfettered discussion?

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  28. What is your problem with "methodological naturalism?"
    @Larry
    It's an artificial and incorrect limitation on science. I maintain that science is a way of knowing requiring rational thought, evidence, and healthy skepticism. I do not accept that there are any questions that you cannot investigate using this way of knowing. That includes all claims of the supernatural

    What you posit here does not get you out of methodological naturalism.

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  29. Heleen says,

    What you posit here does not get you out of methodological naturalism.

    I don't need to "get out" of methodological naturalism since I was never in there to begin with.

    Maybe you could explain your definition of methodological naturalism and why I should adhere to your definition?

    What we're clearly discussing here is the form of methodological naturalism called Intrinsic Methodological Naturalism by Boudry et al. (2010). That view is the one popularized by accommodationists in order to separate science from moderate religious beliefs.

    Here's the version promoted by the National Academies of Science (USA),

    Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes,
    it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is
    precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside
    its provenance. (National Academy of Sciences 1998, p. 124)


    Do you agree with the NAS that, as a scientist, I am precluded from investigating claims of the supernatural? What about claims of the paranormal? Do the rules of science preclude scientific investigation of claims of the paranormal?

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  30. The NAS statement presumes the supernatural exists. I don't think there is any good evidence that it does exist.

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