Saturday, September 01, 2012

John Wilkins Defends Philosophy: Begging the Question

John starts his defense by explaining the correct use of "begging the question." I agree with him 100%. I hate it when people misuse this phrase by thinking it means "prompts me to ask the question."

He then goes on to give an example ... [Begging questions about philosophy, science and everything else]
But we expect better of the educated and cosmopolitan. It comes, therefore, as a continuing pain to me that scientists will often offer this piece of question beggary:
  • Science finds out things
  • Philosophy does not find out things the scientific way
  • Therefore philosophy is a waste of time and effort
The begged premise here is that only knowing things the scientific way is knowledge, or if the philosopher in question doesn’t say that knowledge is what philosophy offers, that only knowing things the scientific way is worthwhile. Some may even hint that only science delivers beauty, too.
It pains me to read this because I expect so much better of an educated and cosmopolitan Australian.

I'm not aware of any scientist who argues like this.

The closest I can come is an argument that I made myself, many times. It goes something like this ...
  • Science is a way of knowing that relies on evidence, healthy skepticism, and rational thinking
  • The scientific way of knowing has produced knowledge of the sort that everyone can agree on. It has a proven track record.
  • Many philosophers argue that philosophy and religion are different ways of knowing that also produce knowledge
  • I have asked repeatedly for examples of this kind of knowledge but no philosopher or theist has provided one
  • My working hypothesis is that philosophy and religion are not different ways of knowing and that they have never produced unambiguous knowledge
I'd love it if John Wilkins could actually address the challenges that are being raised by some scientists instead of erecting strawmen.

John goes on to say,
Ever since I started doing philosophy I have been told, and have believed both on authority and on my own reflections, that the goal of philosophy is to make people think and to deliver clarity where before there was just confusion. Sometimes clarity means showing that confusion is inevitable, but I never thought, and most philosophers do not think, that philosophy delivers scientific knowledge. Instead they hope for insight, understanding, clarity and charity towards the ideas of others.
This is what is most valuable about philosophy. It helps us understand rational thinking and it helps us weed out faulty arguments. That's why Chris DiCarlo, a philosopher, is giving many lectures in my course on critical thinking. Philosophers are experts on this topic. Thinking clearly is an absolute prerequisite for discovering knowledge. But it doesn't appear to be sufficient.

Philosophers are quite capable of producing knowledge using the scientific way of knowing. I've seen John do it. He employs evidence to produce knowledge. The question before us it whether there's another way on knowing, used by philosophers, that can also produce knowledge. Many philosophers attack science by claiming that there's another way of knowing. This is especially common among theistic philosophers. They claim that philosophy is superior to science in producing truth. They claim that anyone who believes otherwise is guilty of "scientism," an insult that appears to be worse than calling someone a theist. (I'm sure John would never do that without backing up his accusation.)

John is just warming up ...
Generally, scientists do not. I know this sounds harsh, but it is true. Scientists want straightforward answers based on data, and will argue over meanings, interpretations and concepts only when they must, either to present or to defend a view. They want just so much clarity and understanding as they need to convince others their hypothesis, results or explanations are correct. Often, this is not, itself, very scientific. Having seen scientists argue over theories and doctrines of different research programs, I can say they use rhetorical and sophistical arguments as much as any political party when it suits them. Usually, though, scientists care very much about the truth of their claims. What they don’t care about is either history or interpretation.

Scientists live in a kind of self-contained hermeneutic bubble. They simply cannot usually see the point of any view other than their own. If they think science disproves religious beliefs, then so far as they are concerned, any person – scientist or not – who takes religion seriously is simply stupid. Anyone who grants, even for argument’s sake, that there might be pathways of knowing other than the mythical (since no such beast actually exists) “scientific method”, is a mental defective, a liar, or a self serving individual trying to get money out of someone. In other words, for that kind of scientist, they treat religion, philosophy and any non-scientific activity exactly the same way that some religious and science deniers treat science they do not like: as an act of faith that is simply false.
Now it's going to take some time to unpack these claims because, not being a philosopher, I can't cut to the chase as quickly as they can.

The first thing I want to say is that science as a way of knowing is not confined to physicists, chemists, biologists and geologists. Therefore, I reject any attempt to turn this into a debate about the behavior of scientists. We're talking about a way of knowing that applies equally well to historians, sociologists, economists, and even (gasp!) philosophers.

So let's not confine the discussion to the way scientists behave.

People who think scientifically do NOT think that their way of thinking DISPROVES religious beliefs—at least not in the sense that stands up to rigorous philosophical analysis. What they say is that there is no evidence of god(s). Since the scientific way of knowing requires evidence for beliefs it follows, as night follows day, that belief in god(s) is not compatible with the scientific way of thinking.

Philosophers tell us all the time that this argument is misguided. They claim that science, sensu strictu, can never say anything about the existence of god(s), the existence of a soul, miracles, the efficacy of prayer, or the possibility of life after death because those questions are entirely outside of the magisterium of science. They invoke something called "methodological naturalism." This is a limitation on the scientific way of knowing that forbids its application to many important questions that are best left to philosophers and theists. As far as I can tell, philosophers just made this up without ever thinking seriously about the evidence of how scientific thinking actually works outside in the real world.

John, do you believe this? If so, can you tell me what other ways of knowing can be applied to questions like the existence of god(s) or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Do those other ways of knowing give you an answer? Have philosophers discovered whether god(s) exist or not? Can they give us a rational explanation of whether the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists or not?

John, I really resent your assertion that scientists cannot see any point of view other than their own. I'm trying really hard to understand what philosophers and theists are trying to say and so is Jerry Coyne. That's why I'm asking questions like What Kind of Knowledge Does Philosophy Discover?. That's why over the past two decades I've been asking theists to give me their best argument for the existence of god(s). People who ask questions are not ignoring other people's point of view, they are simply asking them to defend it.

Frankly, your accusation is not only silly but hypocritical. From my perspective, there are many philosophers who pontificate regularly about biology and evolution without ever considering the point of view (and the facts) of science. It's like they are living in a "self-contained hermeneutic bubble."
Now is this a criticism of those scientists? Yes, and no. Yes in that this approach simply abandons the canons of civil discourse that have been accepted in the western tradition for over 2500 years as being the best and most “rational” (i.e., requiring reasons for your claims, and not prejudging the debate one might have about those reasons). This is simply a matter of what used to be called “positivism”, a view that was invented by August Comte in the early 19th century. Science is all there is, and nothing else has worth unless it can be made scientific.
I don't know for sure what you mean by "positivism" and I'm pretty sure that if you ask ten philosophers you'll get ten different answers.

However, I have adopted, as my working hypothesis, the idea that the scientific way of knowing is the only valid way of acquiring true knowledge. It would be easy to refute this hypothesis. Give it a shot.

As for civil discourse, I reject your assertion that I have abandoned the canons of civil discourse. I give reasons for my claims. When philosophers and theists tell me (rather uncivilly, I might add) that I'm full of excrement, I try to respond by addressing their critiques. I admit that the arguments can get a bit heated but that's not what you're asserting, is it?
But on the other hand, if one thought there was something better than science, one might not be a scientist at all. Science is hard. It takes years to become a professional, and the return on investment is small. Few scientists end up wealthy; many end up doing something else. Almost none are ever remembered. So one cannot fault scientists for not being philosophers, another profession that takes most of your formative years to become competent in (contrary to many popular writers’ apparent belief), and which ends up with little to no remuneration (again, contrary to many popular writers’ experiences).
As far as I'm concerned, this is not about scientists. It's about people of all sorts who value the scientific way of knowing.

It is about philosophers. I'm questioning whether the claims of philosophers—claims that they alone have special insight into, and answers to, metaphysical questions—are valid. So far you have done nothing to address that question except insult scientists.
But still the begging of that question bugs me. When scientists try to extend science to cover all human activity, when they deny that other people who might disagree on the specific views they think are true (but which are not scientifically verifiable, like the value of art) have any standing or sense to them, when they simply denigrate anything that isn’t what they do personally, yes, that really is scientism.
I'm not begging any questions but you are.

I'm not interested in the value of art. I don't think the answer would contribute to true knowledge in the sense I'm thinking of. I'm interested in important questions like, "Does God exist?" This is a question that can be addressed using the scientific way of knowing. The answer is "no." There's no evidence for the existence of god(s) (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster).

So, is there another way of knowing that gives a different answer and is there any logical reason why I should trust that this other way of knowing actually produces knowledge? Why not answer the question using the subject you just brought up, the value of art. What is the answer and how did you get it by not using the scientific way of knowing? Is it something you describe as true knowledge?

As for scientism, I know you mean this as an insult but the more I listen to the insults from theists and philosophers the more I begin to realize that it may actually be a valid way of describing my position. I'll accept it as long as you realize that what it means is that I tentatively hold to the view that the scientific way of knowing is the only valid way of acquiring true knowledge.

All you have to do now is refute that view by providing examples of true knowledge that can be reached by any other way of knowing. You seem certain that you can do it. I'm looking forward to your next post.
This post is inspired by, and illustrated by, scientists Larry Moran’s and Jerry Coyne’s posts attacking philosophers Massimo Pigliucci and Elliot Sober. Because the latter attend to questions of clarity of concepts, logic and meaning, and do not deliver “knowledge” (and what is knowledge one might philosophically ask?), Larry and Jerry accuse the philosophers of “arrogance” and “denigrating science”, neither of which seem to me correct. Moreover, arrogance seems to be inherent in the broad dismissal of a profession simply because it doesn’t do what the accuser’s profession does. Yes, Larry, that really is scientism. It is treating science as if it were a belief system that supersedes and excludes, by some sort of divine right, all other human activities.
John is right to focus on Eliott Sober since that was a real turning point for me. Biologists have concluded from studying the history of life on Earth that there is no evidence of guidance or purpose. Thus, we say with some confidence that the history of life is consistent with unguided evolution.

Elliott Sober gave a lecture at the University of Chicago in which he put forth the argument that a sneaky all-powerful god could have guided evolution in a way that is undetectable by humans. Thus, there's no reason for theists to be upset because science cannot say for certain that evolution is unguided.

This is a logical argument, according to philosophers, but it's ridiculous nonetheless. It tells us nothing about the existence of god(s) and it tells us nothing about their character. It tells us nothing about whether evolution is guided or unguided. I made fun of the argument by constructing another, perfectly logical, argument showing that The Flying Spaghetti Monster Steals Meatballs.

Yes, it's true that Sober attended to a question of clarity, logic, and meaning, but he used an argument that we've known about for hundreds of years; namely, that if you construct the right premises you can make a logical case for just about anything you can dream up. Is this what passes for front line research in philosophy? Apparently. I think it says something about philosophers that they consider this form of argument to be useful in clarifying an issue.

Supposedly respected philosophers lose my respect when they use this kind of argument to dispute the scientific way of knowing. They might as well be arguing that George Bush and the CIA are responsible for 9/11 because philosophers can construct an elaborate conspiracy theory that nobody can refute.

I'm sorry if this upsets you, John, but rather than writing a post that just insults scientists, why not defend philosophy? Do you honestly think that Sober's talk makes a meaningful contribution to the debate over the existence of god(s)? If a philosopher repeats it next year will it still be meaningful? How about if ten philosophers put it into their books over the next decade? Will that make it any better?

Apparently that's what philosophers think because the same argument has been made repeatedly for decades yet it still seems to get Sober an invite to a special talk at the University of Chicago.


75 comments :

  1. Have philosophers discovered whether god(s) exist or not?

    Philosophy has a very long history of presenting both arguments for the existence of God and refutations of the same. In the process, critical thinking has helped delineate some of the terms, language involved and limitations on some of the concepts. Some of this is covered in the proverbial "Philosophy 101"; see for example the Ontological Argument. It shouldn't come as a surprise that philosophers versed in the field do not engage you and your "hostile student" type interrogation as above. Wilkins is being incredibly polite in this regard.

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    1. Moran's argument is 100% intellectual and sincere, it is not hostile.

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    2. Philosophy has a very long history of presenting both arguments for the existence of God and refutations of the same.

      Exactly. Philosophers love the arguments but they don't seem to be the least bit interested in resolving the question. Is there a god or isn't there a god.

      The scientific way of knowing is giving us the answer. Perhaps that's why philosophers are upset? It's taking away their major source of entertainment.

      The Ontological Argument for the existence of god is exactly the sort of thing that causes some of us to question the usefulness of philosophy.

      It's a semantic shell game that has no bearing on whether supernatural beings exist or not.

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    3. The arguments and the analysis of the arguments is, indeed, philosophy. Philosophy is about the process, not the actual answers. If that has no use for you, that's fine.

      When philosophers point out that "the scientific way of knowing is refuting the existence of the scientifically unknowable" is logically inconsistent, the actual existence or non-existence of the scientifically unknowable is not germane to the philosophical argument.

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    4. The arguments and the analysis of the arguments is, indeed, philosophy. Philosophy is about the process, not the actual answers. If that has no use for you, that's fine.

      It's of tremendous use to me. That's why I teach those skills and it's why I believe that philosophy should be a required first year course in university.

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  2. Out of curiosity, what do you mean, precisely, by the "scientific way of knowing"? If you just mean rationalism rather than superstition (or making up BS), wouldn't that include most *good* philosophy? In my grade 12 philosophy class, the teacher made it clear that every single "philosophical" argument ever presented for the existence of god could be refuted on the grounds of some form of logical flaw or fallacy, or at the minimum was not a conclusive argument.

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    1. It is an empirical evidence first approach, follow the evidence. Pure logic from any arbitrary premise is not a scientific way of knowing. Everything must be grounded in empirical evidence as the starting point, logic is applied only to what is evidenced to draw conclusions. Philosophy that is restricted and disciplined empirically can be productive. Promiscuous philosophy that is just a game of drawing conclusions logically without evidence from arbitrary assertions is unproductive and counter- productive.

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    2. "Everything must be grounded in empirical evidence as the starting point."

      This is simplistic in the extreme. There have been many approaches to understanding nature that did not rely on "empirical evidence" first. To cite the most famous example, if everyone were strict empiricists, we would all still be heliocentrists.

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    3. Sorry, I meant we would all still be geocentrists.

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    4. Oh, so all the data that lead to an heliocentric model was not empirical evidence? I think you might have a weird definition for empirical.

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  3. I'm interested in important questions like, "Does God exist?" This is a question that can be addressed using the scientific way of knowing. The answer is "no." There's no evidence for the existence of god(s) (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster).

    Since you take science as of paramount importance and since you want to move this into the question of "existence", is there any evidence for the existence of the second dimension? Or the first dimension? I mean physical evidence, the kind of evidence that science requires? I'd like to know how as neither of them has physical existence. too flat and flat-flat-flat....

    The evidence that the flying spaghetti monster is that it's creator is known and, I'd, it's copyrighted or trade marked. So it's nothing like the God of Exodus.

    A number of philosophers have said that God doesn't exist, that existence is subordinate to God so God couldn't merely exist. Deal with that God.

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    1. Absolutely, the three dimensions of space and one of time are evidenced, they are central to the standard model of physics and they have physical properties which are measured according to behaviors modeled by equations such as the general theory of relativity. You have an impoverished view of empiricism and evidence if you mistakenly think otherwise. I think this reflects poorly on education.

      Furthermore, the origins of the god of Exodus are fictional, the story did not originate with empirical evidence. Don't confuse the fact the the story self- asserts evidence, or that we don't know who wrote the story, with e notion that the story is non- fictional. Even if the story has elements that are historical, and we don't know whether it does or does not, it is almost certainly mixed with fiction because it was not written as an eyewitness historical account.

      The assertion that "existence is subordinate to god" is a very good examples of bad, non- productive, counter- productive, silly, foolish, philosophy. It is an entirely arbitrary assertion.


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    2. A number of philosophers have said that God doesn't exist, that existence is subordinate to God so God couldn't merely exist. Deal with that God.
      Here's how I deal with that god: I don't need to disprove that god, I only need to show there's no good reason to believe it exists.

      Allow me to do that succinctly:
      How do these philosophers know this about that god?

      QED.

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    3. Explicit atheist, that isn't a demonstration of their physical existence, only that the first and second dimensions are part of the formal and mathematical human conceptions of space. Do you have any evidence that even one other species in the universe recognizes them as existing? I've got no problem with them being real but, of course, I raised them for a different reason.

      For materialists especially those who are also wedded to scientism, if the first and second dimensions are real things, then their ideology has a major problem of non-physical, immaterial entities having a direct and intimate effect in the physical universe. Non-material entities having effects on matter is a central contradiction of materialist dogma.

      Rumracket, you atheists always want to conflate beliefs with knowledge, obviously for your own polemical purpose, which is a distortion of what religion generally holds. The idea that God would be subordinate to anything in the physical universe that God created is to subordinate the Creator with the thing created. That includes "existence". Now, that's a belief derived from logical analysis based on a belief. I wouldn't call it knowledge such as science generates. The conflation of belief with knowledge is done by atheists to create what you boys might call a "straw man" that can easily be knocked over. I'm unaware of anyone who seriously discussed this idea who called it "knowledge". I'm unaware of any serious theologian who uses the term "know" or "knowledge" in their work in the same sense those are used in science. I'm pretty sure philosophers are usually far, far more careful in their use of language about knowledge than most scientists are.

      I'll note for a start that the idea of God being above existence, deals with an idea that is as large as the entire universe, a relatively small part of human science has coped with, to date, and an idea that is infinitely more.

      Scientists hold many beliefs about the physical universe about more than what they can actually demonstrate to be reliable, often less than honestly presenting what they believe as having the same status of reliable knowledge . Richard Dawkins' entire fame in science is based on that kind of stuff. If scientists want to get arrogant about philosophers and theologians speculating about such questions, scientists give them more than enough to dish it back at them due to that.

      Just out of curiosity, how do you guys feel about Daniel Dennett, Dawkins' bulldog, of sorts? Some of his holdings, especially his insane extension of natural selection to physics, is often parroted by blog atheists as if it was knowledge. And Dennett is a PHILOSOPHER by profession.

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    4. If you require a demonstration that the second dimension exists, point forwards with one hand and sideways with the other. I think you're confused as to what you mean by "existence".

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    5. My hands exist in three dimensions, you can't see in two dimensions, eyes and light wouldn't work in two dimensions, they wouldn't exist in two dimensions. Though your demonstration doesn't even get to the inadequate level of the demonstrations in Flatland, that, at least, posited actual two dimensional objects, though viewed from an above that wouldn't exist in two dimensions.

      I think you're confused as to what you mean by "existence".

      Oh, you think everyone who talks about "existence" doesn't have a confused idea of it? If you have access to a university library, go look at Arthur S. Eddington's The Philosophy of Physical Science and read the chapter called "The Concept of Existence". If I'm confused about "existence" I'm in good company with him.

      I got into this argument one time and trapped an atheist into talking about the idea that being able to falsify something was a requirement for it to exist. Then I asked him to explain how to falsify existence, to get, yet another, demonstration of how common it is for atheists to revert to the useless form of logical positivism when they couldn't get their mind round their own inability to back up what they say.

      Atheist rhetoric consists mostly of dodges, buzz words and more dodges mixed with appeals to prejudice and arrogance.

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    6. There is no "2nd dimension", so asking for evidence to prove its existence is meaningless. You can, of course, choose to arbitrarily label direction along a particular axis as the "2nd" if you like.

      If you can demonstrate the existence of three spatial dimensions, then one of those can be labelled as the 2nd.

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    7. The Thought Criminal, are you more interested in questioning existence itself or questioning the existence of god?

      Does the latter not strike you as a more useful question?

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    8. Anonymous, I have no particular quibble with the existence of the second or the first dimensions, in fact, they have been useful to me in this argument as they are problematical for materialism. I'd suspect they don't really exist but are just something people use to try to make the spacial aspect of our experience comprehensible. Maybe they have as much reality as the meters and other units of measure which are used to measure space. If people can make up "all possible universes", an act no more audacious than proposing an omnipotent deity, infact, since it's a concept of human imagination of a stupendously large number of entities, it's far less humble than the idea of an omnipotent God that exists independent of human conception.

      DCoburn, I'm interested in showing that people who claim that evidence treated by science is essential to the existence of things are quite ready to give up with that it serves a purpose they desire. I'm quite happy with existence existing -unfalsifiable as it is - and that God surpasses the category of existence. I'm not hung up on the falsifiability thing.

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    9. The Thought Criminal, I have no idea what you could mean by the statement 'God surpasses the category of existence'. Is this statement intelligible to you?

      Also, I don't see the concept of falsifiability being a requirement for something to exist since you cannot by definition falsify the existence of something that does exist. We simply use falsifiability when trying to probe reality, it is a tool not a property of the thing under examination.

      But to address your main point that we aren't applying the same rules of inquiry right up to existence itself. Do you see anything productive coming out of this? What insight do we gain when we start questioning existence itself? What does this illuminate?

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  4. As a scientist myself, I would define scientific knowledge to be based on the examination of empirical evidence and on always asking yourself either "what would demonstrate that I am wrong?" or "what other options are there and do they have a higher likelihood than my favoured model?"

    In that sense, I would say that there are ways of knowing that are not scientific but that also work - for their specific areas. But, and this is important, they do not provide the same type of knowledge. Where science is the only working way of examining what is true about the specific universe we find ourselves in, essentially by definition because every new tool that would work would immediately be incorporated into the scientific method, they can provide knowledge that is necessarily correct in any given universe.

    They are logic and math, essentially. A married bachelor or an omnipotent god are impossible in every given universe because these concepts involve self-contradiction. (Examples such as these also demonstrates to me that the value of philosophy or, in the strict sense, logic, lies not in discovering positive knowledge on the level of what the distant side of the moon looks like or whether a god exists, but negative knowledge about what concepts are incoherent and wrong.) And a circle has a certain relationship between its diameter and its circumference even if there is not a single circle in the actual universe the mathematician inhabits.

    But again: to figure out what actually exists in this our universe, science is the only way to go. If that makes me a proponent of scientism, so be it.

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    1. A married bachelor or an omnipotent god are impossible in every given universe because these concepts involve self-contradiction.

      A married bachelor is impossible only because of the definition of marriage and a bachelor, states that people have invented and defined. Those have no other status in reality than how they are defined. If, before the Loving decision, a man married to a woman assigned. by law, to another race in Massachusetts, would be married in Massachusetts. If he traveled to Virginia, his marriage, valid in Massachusetts would be considered invalid in Virginia. He would have the legal status as a bachelor in Virginia while he was married in his home state. A status that differences in state laws concerning gay marriages, first legal in Massachusetts, create for men to this day. The federal law would have to change for it to not be possible for there to be married bachelors in this, very, universe.

      An omipotent God wouldn't be "in a universe" to start with. An omnipotent God would be able to transcend every single limit that would bind God within a universe. Even logical ones.

      And the idea of "any possible universe" is not known to be anything except a human concept, not a single other one has been actually discovered. The actual universe we live in is the only one that we know is actually possible. Any others are conjecture. If there really are any "other possible universes" they would seem to be unavailable to inspect for conformity with our conceptions of logic and mathematics, the stuff of that conjecture. Not to mention that, possibly, every single other "possible intelligence" might see things quite differently and that we can conceive of that with tools they wouldn't recognize or consider possible. I'd love to find such beings with a greater technical capacity than ours, just to put arrogant physicists who like to impose limits on universes they can't inspect and beings they can't consult in their place. But, don't get me started on physical evidence being the real test of a scientific theory. That seems to be too old fashioned a concept for the "we're all about evidence" folks.

      A physicist using logic and mathematics to talk about "every possible universe" able to include a universe that transcends logic and mathematics in their set of "every possible universe" is impossible in every universe defined with logic and mathematics.

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    2. Oh, I missed the chance to point out that the concept of other universes is a good example of a belief that is given the status of reliable knowledge, very often by atheists who are physicists, and certainly for the myriad of blog atheists existing in ignorance of either the logic or mathematics involved but who believe in the idea based on their faith in the reliability of what such physicists say about it.

      And, of course, since absolutely no such universe is available for inspection and analysis, any statement made about them is made on the basis of faith in the possibility of physicists to discern such things that might turn out to not be possible if available for observation.

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    3. I shouldn't rely on spell check this hour of the morning. Or my editing.

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    4. Thought Criminal,

      I fail to see your point. Mine is that even if other universes are conjecture, something on the lines of, for example, the Euthyphro dilemma, would still be a valid argument even if you knew next to nothing about the nature of our universe. Philosophy has produced the piece of knowledge that, regardless of whether gods actually exist or not, they would not and could not be the source of our ethics.

      It is, by the way, also not very helpful to say that philosophy can only deal with the married bachelor because marriage and bachelorhood have been defined in a certain way by humans. Do you really think it is different for science? Well, then go ahead and try to demonstrate scientifically that positrons do or do not exist without first defining what a positron is. Of course that would not work because you would not even know what to test.

      I am merely saying that I count certain philosophical and mathematical insights as knowledge but that they are of a different kind than the knowledge produced by science. I am not saying that theology or revelation produce any kind of knowledge, or even that more than a few percent of everything written by philosophers is of any use whatsoever.

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    5. What you fail to see is a single other universe the properties of which you can attempt to verify, in one case, and the fact that someone can be both married and a bachelor in the United States, even today, in this, the one universe you can see. And that an omnipotent God is, by virtue of omnipotence, not bound "in any universe". I hadn't thought of it before just now, but I'd imagine creating a universe would sort of guarantee you'd know all of the aspects of it and how to surpass those. Like someone who creates a mechanism and is careful to understand it well enough to bypass aspects of it. Have to think about that more.

      Euthyphro, good, Lord. Have you read the dialogue? Which is a totally phony set up job, as all of the Socratic dialogues are, which leave out huge areas of relevant consideration in order to arrive at the predetermined outcome. The last time I discussed that with someone here it was clear they didn't know much more than the name and a few things they'd read in atheist bilge which is, also, a set up job to arrive at a predetermined outcome.

      You see, the ability to set stuff up to achieve a predetermined outcome is enhanced by things being theoretical, not having to consult external reality. As in Dawkins' "First bird to call out" conjecture, often presented by blog atheists as if it and his "altruism genes" are known to be real.

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    6. Really, this is not so difficult. If you are married in one state, then you are married, and not a bachelor. An omnipotent god is impossible, full stop. The conundrum with creating a stone that is too heavy for said god to lift, or creating anything really that it cannot subsequently unmake, only appears tired because it is ignored by theists, not because they have ever provided an answer. The same is true for the Euthyphro problem. Many a theist thinks themselves smart because they answer "both", but that necessarily means that they have answered yes to the "the pious is loved by the gods because it is pious", and that means that god is superfluous. Really, covering your ears and going nanananana while you pretend that the problem has been solved will not change anything.

      I am not a friend of the form of the Socratic dialogue either, but how on earth would you resolve an issue like that by testing external reality? External reality has a rather significant shortage of evidence for gods, so one cannot really address theists' claims about the necessity to have gods to provide morals that way.

      Still not really sure what your position is anyway. Your seeming insistence that philosophy does not produce knowledge appears to put you on the side that says only science can produce any, but then you seem to be a theist. Weird.

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    7. I didn't insist that philosophy doesn't produce knowledge. And I have always argued against scientism. Scientism is self contradicting since the basic holding of scientism isn't susceptible to being demonstrated scientifically. Bertrand Russell holding with it shows that he had feet of clay.

      You might want to read something I wrote on that very question last week in which I pointed out that history can often achieve absolute certainty about some matters while science seldom can. I also point out some of the advantages that documentary evidence has over physical evidence. As well as the ability of history to deal with a far wider range of life and experience than science can. It's part of a series that I hope becomes infamous.

      http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-note-about-documentary-evidence-and.html

      I believe in God.

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    8. I think you are a bit confused. How can documentary evidence not be physical?

      And I would consider history at least partially coextensive with science. Not the part where a historian reads a bunch of books and then produces another book with a slightly different interpretation of course, but the part where a historian develops hypotheses about what happened where and when and then goes out to find textual or archaeological evidence to test that hypothesis.

      From previous readings, I assume that Larry Moran (and Jerry Coyne) would agree. So answering the question whether something outside of science can produce knowledge with "history" in that sense is probably not something he would find interesting or remarkable.

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    9. I didn't say that documentary evidence isn't physical, I said it wasn't the same as the physical evidence that science was made to study. The physical evidence of science wasn't consciously made of language with the intention of transmitting what it is about. Which is why history, for example, can often tell us some things about reality to the effective level of absolute certainty, which science seldom can. Though history can also be based on bad evidence and lead away from reality. And if evo-psy and the pseudo-social-sciences have their way, science will become as unreliable as bad history.

      I think Larry and Jerry might rather have their tongues cleave to the roves of their mouths than agree with something I've said. I don't know why. I've said I agreed with LM that evolution is a fact and Jerry that evolution is true. I think I said evolution was a fact before Larry started his blog. Only to have atheists furious at me for not saying evolution was a theory, like a good sciency guy is supposed to, even as they have no idea why.

      Well, evolution is a fact, natural selection is the theory, though it's one I grow more skeptical of the more versions of it I read in what scientists have articulated. I think it's probably just a habit of thinking now and suspect its one that will have to be overcome before newer and more reliably and physically based mechanisms finally leave it in the past. But that's a suspicion based on reading science, not a fact. I really don't think the conjecture of Malthus will prove to be subtle enough to base a reliable general mechanism of evolution on.

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    10. I think Larry and Jerry might rather have their tongues cleave to the roves of their mouths than agree with something I've said. I don't know why.

      Thanks for providing a bit of humor on a Monday morning.

      [Note to the irony deficient. This is an example of what my daughter calls "doubletalk." My statement has two different interpretations. Some of you will understand it on one level and others will understand it on a very different level.]

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    11. In what sense is what I said, "doubletalk"?

      You'll love my Labor Day Post, nothing ironic about it, on my part at least.

      Darwinism and Economic Democracy: William Cobbett on Malthus

      http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/

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  5. I don't see methodological naturalism as forbidding science from examining religion. In philosophy, it's more a matter of definition. Think of a venn diagram. Circle A: Natural Causes, Circle B: Supernatural Causes. There is overlap where these causes intersect.

    However, science largely is the study of results. The data of science isn't about causes, causation is always, at least somewhat, inferred. This is why it's important to be aware that 'correlation is not causation'.

    Now imagine another Venn diagram, Circle A: Naturally Caused Events, Circle B: Unaturally Caused Events. Now you are going to have two circles without any overlap. An event, arguably can only have one cause. (It's a bit more complicated than that, when you start dealing with proximate vs ultimate causes, but human thinking on such things is often oversimplified, this is not always good)

    Since science examines the natural world, for natural causes, it's not so much than science, or scientists, are forbidden from examining religion, (Science can actually debunk many religious claims: about the natural world) it's that science has no way of dealing with unnatural events.

    Now, I'm a skeptic, so to a certain degree, my bias is to say that supernatural events simply do not occur, that everything should have, and in my experience indeed does, have a natural explanation. But, science also has trouble dealing with 'random', or seemingly random events. Is any event truly random? Did the universe begin with a random quantum fluctuation? What does it mean to say that something has no cause? We can talk in terms of probability. But when it comes to single random events, science, which excels in the area of repeatable and testable, and developing theories from such things, runs into trouble.

    Miracles, events with supernatural causes, and random events present similar problems for science. So in a sense, you can look at supernatural events as events 'caused' from outside the system. And science deals with the system (the natural universe)

    Methodological naturalism is an assumption. It is the assumption that all natural events, have a natural cause. So all events can be investigated. But it acknowledges this as an assumption. There may be unnaturally caused, natural events. And if so, although science can analyze the event, science will never find the cause.

    Sometimes religious people use this as an out, saying science can't examine god, but it is just as important for science, because it keeps things like 'god did it' out of science. This is very important to things like pseudoscience... and dealing with creationism. Limiting science is about protecting the integrity of science. Scientific integrity is what forbids it from considering supernatural causes.

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    1. This notion that "science has no way of dealing with unnatural events" is popular and mistaken. Science deals with empirical evidence. So anything that leaves evidence or that fails to leave expected evidence falls within the scope of science. There is no restriction or limitation to events that are "natural", whatever that means.

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    2. Also, your claim that methodological naturalism is an assumption of science is mistaken. Science has ruled out praying and worship and the like (methodological supernaturalism) because those alternatives to methodological naturalism are complete and absolute failures. That is the ONLY reason that modern science relies exclusively on methodological naturalism. There is no bias, or presumption, for or against anything, other than success and failure. Science is 100% pragmatic and 0 % ideological, it simply adopts whatever approach to obtaining knowledge works and rules out any approach that doesn't work. Again, this notion that science is a-priori, presuming, and requiring, as some sort of pre- requisite, methodological naturalism is both common and false. If prayer and worship worked then science would be based on prayer and worship. In that alternative universe, priests would be scientists.

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    3. Science has ruled out praying and worship and the like (methodological supernaturalism) because those alternatives to methodological naturalism are complete and absolute failures.

      Name the studies you're talking about. List them. NOT because I think science can study those things, as I said on another thread, I pointed out why science couldn't.

      Since you made the statement that science has done this, back it up with citations.

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    4. The proof is simple: If prayer and worship is an effective way to acquire knowledge about how the world works then prayer and worship would the methods taught in science textbooks and practiced by scientists.

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    5. Regarding. "not that I think science can study those things ... I pointed out why science couldn't.". There are literally hundreds of gods in history, and some of those gods were worshipped by a large percentage of humanity at one time. Once you take the irrational approach of denying that empirical evidence is the only proper way to justify belief about how the world works, as you are doing here, then ALL faith based beliefs have equal validity, including even the Spaghetti Monster. Again, evidence first, follow the evidence wherever it takes us, or else live in a fantasy world of your own creation. That is the only choice.

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    6. Explicit Atheist, no you said that "science has ruled it out". You don't do science on hunches, you do it on published studies. Where are the studies? You produce the studies or you were pulling it out of some unicorn.

      I've got to stand up for the integrity of science here. If science was done the way you're proposing it would effectively destroy the last four hundred years of science.

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    7. It is ruled out by pervasive failure. There is not a single example of discovery of any new fact about how the world works that is obtained by prayer or worship, but that are countless examples of methodological supernaturalism failing. For example, priests of Osiris and Isis, of Gibil, of AEsculapious, of Jahveh, all claimed to have powers over disease, and many people believed in those gods and sought out the priests for a cure, but the claims of the priests were false. In India, China, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, etc. it was mistakenly thought that the sick were afflicted by demons. Over and over again, the factual assertions of religious authorities were wrong. No explanation about how the world works that claims divine revelation as its source has ever worked. The track record of methodological supernaturalism is so unrelentingly bad that anyone who claims to acquire knowledge by divine revelation is automatically considered to be a kook.

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    8. Like I said, it's about inferred causes for these events that is the problem, but maybe I wasn't clear. There is really no way for science to determine that something actually has a supernatural cause.

      Anything science can measure, is by definition, natural in some sense. It is merely not well understood, by science. For a scientist saying something is supernaturally caused is nonsense. Any supernaturally caused event, by definition, would not be scientific and not make sense to science.

      Think of creationism: god did it.

      Is this a scientific explanation? Richard Dawkins actually addressed this issue in his debate with Cardinal Pell. He was asked if he could think of any evidence that could be presented to him that would prove god exists. He said he wasn't sure, sometimes he thinks yes, sometimes no.

      The bottom line is, any scientific explanation for something resembling god, would likely run along the lines of how Star Trek deals with the character Q. In the show, Q has godlike powers, but is essentially just a really powerful alien. He is part of 'the universe', he has a place in nature, and is subject to certain laws, just different ones from us.

      Supernatural, by definition, means not part of the natural order. It's like how Krauss's book on nothing was about defining nothing scientifically, rather than really answering the age old question about why something rather than nothing.

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    9. Now you're trying to weasel out of backing up your statement that "science has ruled it out". Clearly, you're the kind of champion of science who doesn't know the first thing about science.

      I'm always so interested in how the sci-guys who are all about evidence say stuff that isn't supported by either to be science. The new atheism is a total fraud. It's just the old atheism only less literate and even less aware of science.

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    10. The criteria for evaluating methodology is success versus failure. You are the one who is weaseling, you are refusing to acknowledge that the only methodology that has any track of success is methodological naturalism and that methodological supernaturalism has a track record of failure. I cite every study that has produced results versus every holy book that is a failure. Everywhere anyone looks, there is not one example of methodological supernaturalism working, it is a complete and total rout.

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    11. Joe, it is true that there is a murky line between super- powerful alien and a god, but the fact remains that the available empirical evidence can favor or disfavor the existence of a super- intelligent or powerful willful agent. The available evidence very much favors the conclusion that there are the laws of physics and nothing else. Again, it could have been otherwise. Our universe could have been full of empirical evidence favoring the existence of super- intelligent and/ or powerful willful agent, it could have been that religious worship or revelation was a source, or even the best source, of knowledge about how the world works. But that isn't the universe we live in. These are properties of the universe that we live in, they are not pre- requisite, and intrinsic to science.

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    12. Joe, let me put it this way. Science is an equal opportunity endeavor with respect to theism and atheism. It starts with absolutely no favoritism or presuppositions other than the pragmatic consideration of utilizing WHATEVER method works to obtain knowledge. Again, in our universe it is exclusively methodological naturalism that works and the available empirical evidence strongly favors the conclusion that our universe functions by strictly materialistic mechanisms. If it were otherwise then science would either adopt a different methodology and/ or adopt different conclusions. This issue of alien versus god would be significant if we lived in some alternative universe where the empirical evidence favored those options. But that controversy over how to interpret the evidence is not a scientific controversy in the universe we live in so it's not of any particular relevance.

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    13. Thought Criminal: when I say ruled out, I mean in the present context given the available empirical evidence. I don't mean ruled out forever because we cannot know what the available empirical evidence will look like in the future. Maybe because I always leave the door to the unknown future open you think that makes my argument weaselly? But that is a logical imperative because we do not know the future.

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    14. "The available evidence very much favors the conclusion that there are the laws of physics and nothing else."

      Maybe I should clarify, I am not defending religion or the supernatural. I am an atheist and skeptic (in the classical sense). Religious people and those who believe in the supernatural simply do not put the same value on empirical evidence as science does. Religion tends to put value on intuition(gnosis,revelation,divine inspiration) and argument from authority. Which is why it is so often shown to be wrong by science. Conversely science does not recognize divine revelation as a form of evidence. It's not just a matter of being wrong or right about X. Science isn't just gambling.

      Methodological naturalism is the assumption science makes in order to pursue research into a natural explanation. What science does not do, even though some would claim it is so, is assert metaphysical naturalism. There is no (absolute)Truth in science, all claims are tenative. Methodological naturalism is just about assuming there is a natural explanation and then looking for one on that basis. If you don't make this assumption, there would be no reason to look for such an explanation. God did it, would suffice. The project of science is based on the idea that there could or even should be a natural explanation for X.

      "It starts with absolutely no favoritism or presuppositions other than the pragmatic consideration of utilizing WHATEVER method works to obtain knowledge."

      Sorry, but this is simply not true, and it would be impossible. I'm not saying that scientists don't make every attempt to be objective, but theoretical physicists don't spend equal time looking through ancient religious texts looking for answers about dark matter and dark energy. They assume that there is a natural explanation and based on that assumption go looking for one. That doesn't mean this assumption is an absolutist claim.

      "Again, in our universe it is exclusively methodological naturalism that works and the available empirical evidence strongly favors the conclusion that our universe functions by strictly materialistic mechanisms."

      Methodological naturalism can be contrasted with Metaphysical naturalism, it is not about the way the universe is, but rather an approach one takes to find out.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysical_naturalism
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)#Methodological_naturalism

      My experience with scientists who object to the assumption of methodological naturalism, is that they view it as a shield that religious people can use to protect their god from scientific analysis. But this is just religion running scared and claiming a 'god of the gaps'. The real value of methodological naturalism is that it clears away unscientific hypotheses like creationism. Creationism is not science... not because it is wrong(it is wrong), but because 'god did it' is not a naturalistic (or a particularly useful) explanation. Such explanations would have no value to science, even if they are true, because while you can observe the material effects of a supernatural cause, the cause itself would not be identifiable.

      This doesn't mean scientists can't debunk claims about nature made by religion. That is a different thing however.

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    15. when I say ruled out, I mean in the present context given the available empirical evidence. I don't mean ruled out forever because we cannot know what the available empirical evidence will look like....

      Explicit Atheist, then you should be explicit and say, 'it isn't science that has ruled it out, my ideological hunches have ruled it out". Science cannot study the general efficacy of prayer, etc. It's not possible to set up a study to test that. It can say if in any individual case there is a natural explanation either ruling out the presence of a disease or condition to be healed or that an apparently spontaneous recovery has a natural explanation, though it couldn't rule out that a supernatural agency didn't use what we would call natural mechanisms to effect a cure. You don't have to believe the claims that healing are miraculous but there is no way for science to deal with that last idea and no one has to believe what you want to butt in and say about the life of someone else either. They could tell you to mind your own business.

      Now, who in this exchange has been more respectful of science?

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    16. @joe,

      .. I am not defending religion or the supernatural. I am an atheist and skeptic (in the classical sense)

      I'm sorry, joe, but that's just not true. You ARE defending the supernatural even though you don't believe in it.

      You even end up defending creationism.

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    17. @joe,

      For a scientist saying something is supernaturally caused is nonsense.

      Why do you say this?

      People (scientists, historians, philosophers, etc.) who use the scientific way of knowing are quite capable of discovering that something occurred that appears to be outside of the normal laws of physics and chemistry. We could conceivably have solid evidence, for example, that Jesus did not have a human father, that he actually made bread out of thin air, and that he rose from the dead.

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    18. Please feel free to quote where I defended creationism. I have said it is wrong, and that the process used to reach such a conclusion is flawed. If that is defending creationism, even Richard Dawkins is guilty.

      Evidence that Jesus did not have a human father is not the same as evidence he was the son of god, or even that god exists.

      And when you talk about evidence of unique events, like the miracles of Jesus, you can talk about evidence in the empirical sense, like when police use scientific evidence to reconstruct crimes, but again you would have evidence about an event, not it's supernatural cause.

      And if you could describe exactly how Jesus created bread out of the air, then you have essentially described a physical process, not a miracle. Supernatural is about magic. At best science can say, something not covered by our current theories.... happened. Dark Matter is a good example of this. Dark matter doesn't mean Angels are holding galaxies together. Nor would any modern scientist go looking for evidence of Angelic interference in the structure of galaxies.

      David Hume has a great argument against believing in miracles. People don't believe in miracles because of evidence. Physical evidence can be used to develop theories of what occurred at a given time, but those theories are dependent on the 'consistent' nature of the physical world. Miracles are inconsistencies, by definition.

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    19. Claims that a god exists or that a particular individual,is a god go beyond merely evidencing the supernatural. This arguably illustrates just how large the gap is between the evidence we have and the religious claims people make. This gap does not illustrate that evidence for the supernatural in general is not possible or that evidence for a god existing or even that a particular individual is a god are not possible in principle. Proof in an impossible to achieve absolute sense never possible, but evidence favoring or disfavoring various conclusions about how the universe works are possible, contrary to popular accommodationist nonsense that science can say nothing at all about religious claims.

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  6. Larry, if you don't know what John means by "positivism" (or, at least, know what ballpark he is talking about) you are not trying really hard to understand what philosophers are talking about.

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  7. I think philosophers would gain some respect if, instead of waiting for science bloggers to do it, they themselves vigorously attacked some of the most egregious public misuses of philosophy from the Sophisticated Theologians™ (I’ll send JAC his royalty check if he gives me an address)
    One of the strengths of science is peer review- nothing is even considered ‘scientific knowledge’ until at least a few scientists agree its worthy. Perhaps peer review is unrealistic for philosophy but why cant a philosopher such as Colin McGinn produce a detailed, point by point dismantling of some of the more ridiculous claims of someone like Plantiga.
    Philosophy needs to clean its own house

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  8. I have asked repeatedly for examples of this kind of knowledge but no philosopher or theist has provided one

    The kind of knowledge obtained through logical inference.

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  9. So far, I see two different valid ways of gathering knowledge, which incidentally produce two completely disjunct sets of knowledge, and those are science on one hand, and math and logic on the other hand.

    Now, philosophy is where both of these got their start, so I might hypothesize that any other way of gathering knowledge has a good chance of, again, being born in philosophy, and producing another disjunct set of knowledge - best after it gets separated from its parent.

    Or there might already be one, and I just don't know about it. That's entirely possible. I don't claim omniscience. Is there?

    Theology certainly doesn't qualify. As far as I can tell, it never produced even a single reliable bit of knowledge.

    Philosophy in general seems to me - I gather I agree with Larry on that - to be not very good at producing knowledge, but very useful at figuring out - and teaching - how to think about things so the above two ways of gathering knowledge actually work.

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    1. I wonder why you call them disjunct. That seen to imply that they are without connection, but we would expect truth to not be mutually contradictory, pretty much by definition, right?

      (E.g., math can calculate the radius of the ideal circle, and science can observe hundreds of real, not quite perfect circles and provide an estimate to compare against the calculation? Or something?)

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  10. FWIW, Wilkins only offers one potential example in that post of something that might be 'true' yet beyond the purview of science:

    When scientists try to extend science to cover all human activity, when they deny that other people who might disagree on the specific views they think are true (but which are not scientifically verifiable, like the value of art) have any standing or sense to them, when they simply denigrate anything that isn’t what they do personally, yes, that really is scientism.

    [bolding added]

    It seems to me this boils down to a question of what constitutes truth and knowledge. I agree that art has value to individuals, cultures, societies, etc. (And I don't mean merely monetary value). That is true, but I don't think that truth is beyond the intrinsic purview of science. Some aspects of that truth may be beyond the current technical capabilities of scientific study, but that's a different matter.

    But does art have intrinsic value, in some way distinct from its quantifiable or qualifiable values to people & cultures? Is that 'true?' Can we 'know' that it's true? That's where I think things break down. Personally, I don't think true or false even apply to such a claim, but then IANAPhilosopher.

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  11. RodWilson, Khms name five current books of academic theological writing you've read.

    If you think the kind of attacks made against real theology in science blogs are a tool of gaining intellectual respect among real intellectuals older than high school sophomores, well, it's what would be expected.

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    1. Ah! Sophisticated Theology - Das ist die ewige kunst!

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    2. chemicalscum, I suppose that's what passes as a witty remark. Gee, you folks are so smart you can know all about things with out having read a single thing about it and when challenged to back up what you say you can't. Third week running that you boys here fail that test. And, yet, you're the Bright ones.

      What a total fraud your movement is. I think I was being generous, you guys are all 12.

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    3. (I know you will have heard that one before, but it is just the only relevant answer here:)

      Name five current books of academic flower-fairy-ology you have read. If you cannot name any, and you still confidently reject the idea that flowers are built and maintained by fairies, you are doing well, except you still need to buy $5 worth of intellectual consistency.

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    4. I have not characterized "flower-fairy-ology" I have said nothing about and expressed no opinion about your newly and opportunistically invented branch of study.

      It's not hard boys, WHEN YOU EXPRESS DERISION OF SOMETHING FROM A BASIS OF COMPLETE IGNORANCE YOU ARE SHOWING THAT YOU ARE BIGOTED FOOLS, NOT UPHOLDING SCIENCE.

      You know, there was a time when people considered to be educated used to understand such basic concepts that you needed to know what you were talking about before your opinion was something other than an expression of ignorant bigotry. Atheists and, especially pseudo-skeptics seem to think that's a rule that doesn't apply to them and too many others fall for their phony pose of standing on science as they express their ignorant bigotry.

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    5. Maybe if you boys had studied more philosophy you'd know how to distinguish between your opinion and knowledge. I think reading and thinking about philosophy is how I learned what I know about that difference.

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    6. Fairyology is really highly relevant; the entire point of (particularly specific, such as Christian) theology, and the entire point of philosophical attempts at putting religion beyond the magisterium of science, is based on nothing but special pleading. It cannot be stressed enough: nothing but.

      All the arguments for scientists not being able to reject god boil down to arbitrarily granting theists the right to move goalposts or hold unreasonable assumptions while arbitrarily not granting, for example, believers in flower fairies, bigfoot, alien visitations or perpetuum mobiles the same privilege. It is indeed bizarre that so many philosophers are unable to see that logically, if they shout "you cannot prove a negative" whenever a scientist concludes that the Christian god does not exist, they would also have to shout the same at a scientist who concludes that the Loch Ness Monster, phlogiston or the ether do not exist. The difference is merely that less people are emotionally attached to the latter.

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    7. @The Thought Criminal

      "chemicalscum, I suppose that's what passes as a witty remark."

      Well I was ROTFL at your original comment, so I must admit that your post was wittier than mine. While we are on the subject name five current books of by atheist academic philosophers you've read.

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    8. chemscum, you'll have to take into account that I grew up on Eve Arden, Shelly Berman, Nichols and May

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5pXggZIr6I

      back when comedians took great pains to be, you know, funny. I don't find the lazy-assed, not to mention stupid, post Andrew Dice Clay - Penn Jillette style junk funny.

      Alex, name the works of theology (Christian especially) you base that remark on.

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    9. Courtier's Reply in aisle 3.

      Paging the epistemological clean up crew to mop up the latest mess left by TTC.

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    10. I think it's time for me to write a reply to PZ's all purpose permission for atheists to not know what they're talking about.

      Maybe a series with material drawn from his archive will stir up the Sage of Morris.

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    11. Thought Criminal,

      You do that, enjoy yourself.

      You know, I can actually understand the irritation that theists must feel when confronted with the accusation that they have made the Courtier's reply. Would not, after all, any field expect that one first come to terms with its literature before rejecting it? Would not the average atheist lose patience with a creationist who dismisses all the relevant literature, from Darwin's Origin to a contemporary university textbook?

      But there is a difference, because virtually nobody actually doubts the existence of life, and we are merely squabbling over an evidence-based vs superstition-based explanation for its diversity. Theology, on the other hand, is the study of something that does not exist.

      I freely admit not having read religious literature beyond the actual holy books (and even then never all through from start to finish). I admire the perseverance of those who bite that bullet for me, like Jerry Coyne does. But why should I personally be required read the works of theologists when they are necessarily as pointless as would be the works of cryptozoologists discussing the population genetics of Yetis? As is, the theologian knows exactly as much about the character, plans and wishes of the gods as I do, i.e. nothing, so I will not gain anything from reading them.

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    12. Thought Criminal,

      You do that, enjoy yourself.

      You know, I can actually understand the irritation that theists must feel when confronted with the accusation that they have made the Courtier's reply. Would not, after all, any field expect that one first come to terms with its literature before rejecting it? Would not the average atheist lose patience with a creationist who dismisses all the relevant literature, from Darwin's Origin to a contemporary university textbook?

      But there is a difference, because virtually nobody actually doubts the existence of life, and we are merely squabbling over an evidence-based vs superstition-based explanation for its diversity. Theology, on the other hand, is the study of something that does not exist.

      I freely admit not having read religious literature beyond the actual holy books (and even then never all through from start to finish). I admire the perseverance of those who bite that bullet for me, like Jerry Coyne does. But why should I personally be required read the works of theologists when they are necessarily as pointless as would be the works of cryptozoologists discussing the population genetics of Yetis? As is, the theologian knows exactly as much about the character, plans and wishes of the gods as I do, i.e. nothing, so I will not gain anything from reading them.

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  12. I am enjoying the discussion between Larry and John Wilkins, so
    I recommended it to the readers of Canadian Atheist: http://canadianatheist.com/2012/09/02/recommended-reading-philosophy-versus-science/. I know that regardless of who argues most convincingly, I will not learn that literature is the font of all knowledge.

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    1. Actually, typography would be the font of all knowledge.

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  13. It seems to me that philosophy has focused on the structure and form of the argument and not so much on the validity of the premises. I think of virtually every philosophical argument I've ever heard as being wrapped in a giant conditional - IF the premises are true, then.... They do not seem, in my experience, especially worried about whether the premises actually are true.

    Science, on the other hand, seems to concern itself with both the form of the argument and the validity of the premises. Science is surely built upon the rational, critical scaffolding that philosophy provides. But it also seems to have recognized that there's no particular utility in an argument the premises of which aren't (or cannot be) validated in some way.

    That's why I see science as being the next "logical" step beyond philosophy.

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    1. @Filippo Salustri
      Probably 99% of the decisions people make every day, OUTSIDE academia, are simple, how-shall-I-get-through-this-day? or how-shall-I-handle-this-situation? type questions.
      What do I feel like making for dinner?
      My daughter's teacher says she has lost all interest in studying lately...how should I handle this?
      I think that person just deliberately ditched me in the supermarket line. Should I say something or just forget about it? Who needs the conflict?
      Etc., etc.
      A person's philosophical stance, whether religious, humanist, etc.; is likely to play a large role in how these choices are navigated. How about science? What is its involvement in the overwhelming majority of decisions that non-scientists make every day in work and life?

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