Best of AW

Monday, April 21, 2014

Atheist Reduction of Knolwedge to science part 1


  photo Wieseltier_zpse524414a.jpg
 Leon Wieseltier
           The Scientistic movement cuts across many boundaries. It includes, but is not limited to, atheism. One major facet of its ideology which has been especially important to atheism is the transformation of knowledge to technique. I refer to Barrett’s concept of the illusion of technique, of which I spoke in chapter one. The first move is a reduction of knowledge from a multiplicity of forms to one thing only, scientific knowledge. Then scientific knowledge lends itself to the working of technique in shaping our understanding by manipulating reality and thus truth. This reduction of knowledge to scientific data, is reflected on the popular internet site answers.com. One such question asked: “is science the supreme form of knowledge?” The answer it gives us is, “Science is the only form of knowledge. There is no way to know something without it being scientific in some way.”[1] It goes to ask “what is science knowledge the answer is “science knowledge is the understanding of everything around us how they process or work. To have Science knowledge it will allow you to have good explanations of many things…”[2] It reads like it’s written by a third grader. Science knowledge is everything, nothing escapes it, and it gives good explanations of many things, not all things? It gives a little testimonial just incase the definition doesn’t sound quite right. That its good for explaining things.
            In popular terms, the site “debate.org” has a debate on the question “is science the only source of true knowledge.” That should at least reflect the fact that people are asking the question. Their straw poll, which is of course not scientific and not representative, shows 44% of people who visited the sight, says yes science is the only form of true knowledge.” 56% say “no.” It’s true that even with a specialized computer going audience the ‘no’s’ have it, yet 44% is a large percentage.[3] They quote Hume:
“If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”[4] English Commedian Ricky Gervias is featured in a piece for Wall Street Journal, “why I am an Atheist.” He says:
People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.[5]
That’s an example of how deeply this kind of thinking as been absorbed by the popular level.
            Austin Cline is a blogger and an expositor of atheist opinion. He writes about the nature of scientific knowledge defending the statement “God does not exist,” as a scientific statement. If we examine his view it turns out that the reason he says it is because he’s reduced the nature of knowledge to his understanding of science. He says that objecting to the statement on the grounds that God is beyond scientific proof is a misunderstanding of what the statement means. The statement, “God does not exist” (as a scientific statement) means that it can’t be proved by scientific means. If it can’t be proved then it doesn’t exist. That’s the same as saying “my view is all there is.”
When a scientist says "God does not exist," they mean something similar to when they say "aether does not exist," "psychic powers do not exist," or "life does not exist on the moon."
All such statements are casual short-hand for a more elaborate and technical statement: "this alleged entity has no place in any scientific equations, plays no role in any scientific explanations, cannot be used to predict any events, does not describe any thing or force that has yet been detected, and there are no models of the universe in which its presence is either required, productive, or useful." [6]
I’ve never actually seen a scientist who says that, except for the professional atheists such as Dawkins. Even Dawkins doesn’t actually say that he’s making a scientific statement. One might think that the comparison to aether is not valid, seeing the Michaelson/Moraelly experiments as disproof of the possibility of aehter. Technically all they really did was fail to find any evidence in favor of aether and the modern scientific understanding of the universe failed to produce a place for it.[7] That’s really the point Cline makes, science doesn’t have to disprove God, just not finding a place for God means God doesn’t exist (for scientism) because scientism only accepts that for which science makes a place. In other words, by this method, knowledge is reduced all other forms to science alone, or least to their reading of science alone. Cline himself rejects an absolutist position (of disproof) on the part of science. “What should be most obvious about the technically accurate statement is that it is not absolute. It does not deny for all time any possible existence of the entity or force in question.”[8] Of course it doesn’t have to. Since it has mandated a methodology that excludes God sense it only allows that which is found in sense data, then God will never meet the requirement unless he wants to submit to scientific scrutiny. God seems to have his own ideas about being in charge, so this is not likely. The effect is only things that compare to scientific methods can be considered knowledge. That is only a good argument if one only accepts religious belief as a scientific hypothesis. The assumption is clearly that science is the only from of knowledge and if it’s not scientific then it’s not worthy to be known. The point is that for scientism (and New atheism)  science is the only valid form of knolwedge.
            Jerry A. Coyne argues that science is the only valid form of knowledge and he doesn’t mind castigating the arts in doing it. On his blog[9] he takes to task Patrick MacNamara, the professor in Neurology at Boston University who edits the series of books on Where God and Science Meet.[10] In the course the discussion Coyne begins to argue that science is the only from of knowledge, only scientific knowledge can be validated. He says:
First, music, literature and poetry don’t produce any truths about the universe that don’t require independent verification by empirical and rational investigation: that is, through science (broadly interpreted).  These fine arts don’t convey to us anything factual about the world unless those facts can be replicated by reason, observation or experiment.  All of the other “truths” from the arts fall into the class of “emotional realizations.”
I may, for example, feel a oneness with humanity from reading Tolstoy, or a feeling that I need to “seize the day” from watching Never Let Me Go. While one might consider these things worthwhile knowledge, with “knowledge” defined broadly, they are not what we atheists—and many of the faithful—mean by “truths.”[11]
His reasoning is pretty convoluted. Literature and poetry don’t produce truths because they don’t require independent verification. That’s a statement not in evidence. Just because they don’t require his kind of verification doesn’t mean they don’t require any. That may be what personal experience is for. Or that may be what other literature is for. Moreover, who says that knowledge has to be verified to be knowledge? That’s only the case if you already accept up front that scientific knowledge is the only kind. I think that writers like Coyne are merely demonstrating the failure of our educational system to instill within the students in its charge a love of learning or a sense of the humanities. At the very least his position is begging the question. He doesn’t understand the nature of literature or what it does for you, and he takes it very literally and tries to approach it like science. We can see this in his statement:
when you read a novel like Anna Karenina, you know it’s fiction: if from the endeavor you realize things about yourself, or about human emotions, you are not required to sign onto the genuine physical existence of Count Vronsky or Karenin.  In contrast, emotional realizations that derive from faith require absolute belief in a number of ridiculous, incorrect, or unverifiable propositions.[12]
.
He does understand that fiction is fiction but then why can’t he extrapolate from that to the nature of religion? He thinks religious belief has to be literal. It can’t refer to emotions or internal states. That feeling stuff is not truth that’s just stories.  He issues his own challenge to believers: “tell me exactly what ‘knowledge’ religion has provided that is not derivable from secular reason.  Like Hitchens, I still have not received an answer.” [13]He sure will. I’ll send him a copy of this book.  Why would anyone think that reality one discovers in God is not knowledge or that it’s not “real?” Why shouldn’t it be verifiable? But why must it be verifiable in scientific terms? Spiritual knowledge is real; Knowledge of God is real knowledge. Noetic knowledge from mystical experience is real. Historical knowledge is real knowledge that can pertain to religious teaching. It’s absurdly silly to say that science is the only true knowledge.  I’ll go into greater elaboration on this in the chapter on supernatural. This will all be discussed in the chapters on supernatural (chapter nine) and perspective (chapter 10).
            Peter Atkins writes, in “Science as Truth,” that “…there can be no denying that science is the best procedure yet discovered for exposing fundamental truths about the world…This claim of universe competence may seem arrogant, but it appears to be justified.”[14] He points to science’s experimentation guided by elaboration and improvement of theory as the basis of scientific acuity. He points to the function, the success, the “science works” aspect to demonstrate the truth of science. “No other mode of discovery has proved to be so effective or to contribute so much toward the achievement or aspirations of humanity.”[15] Like Atkins those who defend Scientism and who seek to reduce all human knowledge to one form of knowledge, scientific, usually claim to do so in the name of humanity. Yet in so doing they threaten to destroy not only some of the most cherished aspects of human knowledge but humanity itself. This is no ideal threat. There are four major harms impending as a result of this movement:
(1) Loss of the arts as a valid understanding of human being
(2) Loss of human freedom as a value in society,
(3) Loss of humanity itself in the face of technological augmentation
(4) Separation from God.
            The process of reducing knowledge to just scientific knowledge alone was at work eroding the value of the arts through most of the twentieth century. George Richmond Walker wrote a fine article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, way back in 1964. In that article, “Art, Science, and Reality,” he demonstrated that civilization has always assumed that knowledge spread over a wide variety of subject matters and disciplines. Knowledge belongs to all the endeavors of humanity, they were all worthy of being called by that name, especially the arts. As sited in the first chapter, Dewy and the positivists were skeptical that the arts provide knowledge, yet, “in times past there have been many thinkers who asserted or assumed that art as well as science reveals something of the true nature of the actual world.”[16] He cites Plato and Aristotle who say that art is a form of knowledge. I would not expect Plato and Aristotle to cut much ice in this day and age. He adds, “religion was understood and is still generally believed to be concerned with reality of some kind.”[17] He quotes the philosopher Bosanquet “the spirit of art is faith in ‘life and divinity with which the external world is inspired so that the idealizations that are characteristic of art are not so much imaginations that depart from reality as they are revelations of the life and divinity that is alone ultimate reality.’”[18] Richmond argues that modern science is giving us an exacting knowledge of the external world but through quantum theory we know that the essential substance of the world is mathematical not physical and external. Thus he grounds true knowledge in experience of the world, which is reflected through the arts as well as science. He sites Whitehead in saying that neither physical nature nor life can be understood without understanding the interconnections that can only be understood through experience. He bases this view in a monism that speaks of the interconnections of all things, thus to screen off just one aspect such as the objective quantifiable aspects that science provides and ignore the experiential that the artistic provides is merely to miss the whole. We are not missing just one aspect but the whole.[19] All knowledge is generated by experience and the only thing we know of that brings experience to the table is humanity. He makes the point that we don’t know what we are approaching as a species or what we are unleashing but we do know we can’t escape being human. We are finally confined to our humanity and art is our unique expression as humans that reflect our experience in ways that allows us to bridge the known.
            Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic, gave the commencement address at Brandeis University in 2013. Peter Lawler wrote an article for The Standard based upon that speech.[20] He pointed out the threat to the arts and thus to freedom from scientism and technologism. He points to Neuroscientists who seek to displace theology, philosophy, poetry. This is the idea that there is a ready genetic explanation for all we do and that understanding brain function is to understand all that there is to know. We can see that through Cyone’s literalistic approach to literature. The technologism of which he speaks is a good example of what I talk about in chapter one under the heading of “illusion of technique.” the idea that we can do anything, we can manipulate the world to match our desires, thus we control meaning and truth. Yet this only applies to one form of knowledge, science, and all other forms will all but wither away. This is because science feeds technology, the basis of manipulation and control.
            Reduction of knowledge to science will only result in a loss of freedom; free speech, freedom of action, political freedom. Back in the 1970s B.F. Skinner achieved fame and notoriety with his work Beyond Freedom and Dignity[21], in which he argued that freedom and dignity were concepts holding us back from saving the planet. He pointed to pollution and world hunger and agued that we were not doing the things needed to be done because ideas of human freedom stood in the way. We are not willing make the impositions on the individual that need to be made to illicit the proper human behavior. He advocated using operant conditioning. Skinnerism found a wide audience for a time but then I think society began to take a real look at what he was talking about and decided human freedom and dignity were worth keeping. Skinner’s school of thought made an impact in clinical psychology, the giving tokens for rewards in exchange for behavior, this school was called “behaviorism.” We began to figure out that freedom and dignity are two of the things that make life worth living. Losing them is losing some of the thing for which we want the world made safe and preserved so that we might enjoy them. Saving the world at the expense of those is like destroying the village to save it. Wieseltier points to Marxism as an example of what the scientistic mentality does to freedom.[22]
            Determinism is the outcome of scientism: because we know it all we can study and understand what causes everything, thus we have proved that there is No free will. Because there’s no free will there is no problem taking away political freedom. All we need to do is tell the sheep they won’t miss it because they only think they want it anyway. There is no greater threat to freedom then the philosophical twaddle that rationalizes it’s loss with a lot of nonsense about how veg the concept of freedom is. Daniel Dennett tries to answer by showing that he believes in freedom politically and lives free in a deterministic world because determinism cuts down on randomness. Randomness is what destroys freedom because you can’t predict the future in reliable way,[23] while determinism doesn’t mean inevitability.[24] To pull this off Dennett uses some slick tricks. To prove determinism is not inevitable but allows freedom he does two things; first, he uses the analogy of a bullet, its trajectory is inevitable if unblocked, but we have a bullet proof vest the striking is not inevitable. Of course the problem is that it assumes we can think freely to act. If our thoughts and desires are also controlled, then we can’t act freely to wear the vest. With Harris’s ideas of determinism, for example, all causes are the same as determinism and for him free will is just a illusion.[25] Thus we can’t think freely to wear the vest. The second thing Dennett does is to compare scientific determinism to belief in God. He refers to aspects of belief a lot. He refers to the Deus ex Machina[26] (don’t look now, not a Biblical concept). The reason is because he expects us to accept that by comparison scientific determinism is less inevitable and controlling than the concept of fate, which he links to God or the divine. A large portion of the book is aimed at disproving notions of free will, which means he’s just doing the reductionist trick (see chapter “reductionism,” chapter 5) reducing reality to the bit he can control then claims that’s all there is. Loss of free will isn’t a problem because free will is not very expansive anyway. Based upon this lackluster performance of its defense we can assume it is in grave danger. One can only imagine how this tactic would be applied by the real purveyors of power in a world ran by the dictates of scientism.
We have to wait until Friday to find out


 Sources
[1] Answers.com “Is Science the Supreme form of knowledge?” Internet resource: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_science_the_supreme_form_of_knowledge  (accessed 12/27/13).
Answers.com is owned by the Answers corporation began in Israel. The name domain name was purchansed by Bill Gose and Hendrick Jones. The domain name sold to guru net based in Israel.
[3] Debate.Org, “Is Science the Only True Source of Knowledge?” owned by Juggle, LLC   online resource:
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ricky Gervais, “Ricky Gervais: Why I am An Atheist.” Wall Street Journal: Arts and Entertainment. (Dec. 19, 2010). Online copy: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/12/19/a-holiday-message-from-ricky-gervais-why-im-an-atheist/   accessed 12/31/13.
[6] Austin Cline, “Scientifically God Does Not Exist: Science allows us to say God Does not Exist, there is role for God in science, no explanation that God can provide.” About.com, Agnosticism/Atehism. Online publication: http://atheism.about.com/od/argumentsagainstgod/a/GodScience.htm  accessed 12/27/13.
[7] Richard Staley, (2009), "Albert Michelson, the Velocity of Light, and the Ether Drift", Einstein's generation. The origins of the relativity revolution, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-77057-5
[8] Ibid.
[9] Jerry A. Coyne, “Once Again, Does Religion Produce Knowledge,” Why Evolution is True,  blog, Mya 4, 20/11. URL: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/once-again-does-religion-produce-knowledge/  accessed 12/27/13. Coyne Ph.D. , is professor of Ecology and Evolution at University of Chicago. From his blog: “Coyne has written over 110 refereed scientific papers and 80 other articles, book reviews, and columns, as well as a scholarly book about his field (Speciation, co-authored with H. Allen Orr). He is a frequent contributor to The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement, and other popular periodicals..”
[10] Patrick McNamara ed., Where God and Science Mee:How Brain and Evolutionary Experiences Alter Our Understanding of Religion, volumes I-III. Westport CT:Praeger Publishers, 2006.
[11] Coyne, Op. Cit.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Peter Atkins, “Science as Truth,” History of the Human Sciences,  Volume 8, no 2 (1995) 97-102
Attkins is former professor of Chemistry at Oxford, author of many books, scholarly and popular. He’s well known as an atheist and speaks and writes on behalf of atheism.
[15] Ibid.
[16] George Richmond Walker, Op. cit. 9.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[20] Peter Augustine Lawler, “Defending the Humanities,” The Weekly Standard, Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38, 2013.  from the Online copy Jan 1, 2014 http://www.weeklystandard.com/keyword/Scientism  accessed 1/1/14.
[21] B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971. 1.
[22]  Quoted in Lawler, Op. Cit.
[23] Daniel C. Dennett, Freedom Evolves, New York: Penguin Books, 2004, 13, 309.
[24] Ibid, 56.
[25] Sam Harris, Free Will,  New York: Free Press, 2012.,10.
[26] Dennett, Freedom Evolves, Op cit. 47.

2 comments:

JBsptfn said...

I think you mentioned Peter Atkins in this entry. That name stood out from Jime's blog:

Subversive thinking-Peter Atkins

Peter is the one who thinks we are nothing and came from nothing (oh, brother).

Metacrock said...

it never ceases to amaze me how dishonest and screwed the atheists are.