Kenneth Howell Responds A Third Time

As I indicated earlier I came away from the debate against Dinesh with some new Christian friends. Kenneth Howell is one of them. Friends are more important to me than most everything else, and I do like learning from one another. He's previously responded to some comments and I appreciate his thick skin to do so again.
Okay, now that I am initiated to the world of AAF blogging, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Let’s clear away a few preliminaries:

1) I am a guest in John’s house (blog) and as a guest I have a responsibility to refrain attributing to him the attitudes and feelings of others who happen to be there too.

2) Irrelevant topics at this point: Bible, Transubstantiation, the honesty and integrity of AAFs and Christians.

3) Things to keep in mind about me: a) I don’t assume that Christians are morally or intellectually superior to AAFs. The behavior of Christians in the past should be ample evidence to anyone who is willing to look. Neither do I assume the converse. b) I am not a Bible-toting Creationist and I reject categorically any God-of-the-Gaps explanation c) I believe in intellectual engagement for the purpose of understanding truth and am willing to question the cherished assumptions of religion and science. I have been doing it my whole life.

4) I am going to work at not psycho-analyzing my interlocutors. As some have rightly pointed out, such attempts are irrelevant to the issue of truth.

What then are the issues? Unobservables in science and the nature of explanations. Secondarily, how these issues bearing on formulating a worldview.

On the matter of electrons, it was not, of course, about electrons per se but about unobservables in scientific theories. As several entries pointed out, all proposed entities in science must submit to empirical tests. This is the nature of science. So, when unobservables (dark matter, electrons, black holes) are postulated, science devises tests to verify or falsify them. Understood long ago. But, as Paul Wright and others pointed out, a scientist can take at least two positions on the ontic status of unobservables. One is the realist; the other is the instrumentalist. As far as I have been able to detect, many working scientists take the pragmatic position expressed by Richard H. Richard said,

“We're using different definitions of "true".

So in the context of the science, "X is true" is really, "X describes observable reality in a consistent and useful way, such that I'm willing to accept it with a very high degree of certainty."
Howell seems to be using a philosophical definition of True. As a scientist, my answer to, "Is it True that electrons exist?" is "I can never know. Knowing wouldn't alter any of my decisions. So I don't care."

KJH: Absolutely! But then, on Richard’s view, science becomes not the pursuit of truth but a useful tool for prediction. This was the position of logical positivists in the first half of the 20th century. In other words, all we know is that theories predict the observable results. I do not accept this view of science. I understand that scientists need to get on with their work and so must, at times, desist from the truth question. But my studies of the writings of the great scientists of the Scientific Revolution (e.g. Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Newton) taught me that they all viewed science as truth about the universe. At the origins of modern science there is a deep commitment to Truth. What do I mean by true? Finding the one theory that will predict the data properly AND offer an explanation for the laws (empirical regularities) we have discovered. Example: Einstein’s relativity theory. It overturned the Newtonian notion of absolute space and time for a concept of spacetime. (please correct any real deficiencies in my understanding).

How do we know when we have arrived at the True theory, the theory of everything? I don’t know and I have doubts that any human being can know this. But it seems to me that the search for a final theory conceptually presupposes (demands) belief in the possibility of the Truth of scientific theories, not just their pragmatic utility. I am realist in the sense that I am looking for truth, not pragmatic “truth” but the True Theory of the universe. To me, science makes no sense without that assumption.

How does this bear on AAF-Christian discussions? Simple. If anyone, AAF or Christian, does not believe in the pursuit of Truth in science and in every human endeavor, I cannot have any conversations with him/her. They would be pointless. But if anyone professes to be pursuing truth, the other danger to avoid is the assumption that our current knowledge of science (or anything empirical) does not involve unproven assumptions. Honest skeptics should be willing to examine unproven assumptions. Right? Of Course. And your entries show that you are willing. But we cannot be selective in our critical pursuits. And more importantly, a truly critical thinker cannot make grandiose claims for science or anything else that is not justified by the data. To me, this is what AAFs seem to being doing when they invoke scientific theories as substitute explanations for God. This last sentence leads to the point of my second post about levels of explanation. But since this way too long already, that will have to wait.

100 comments:

Glock21 said...

It's not substituting science for god, it's not seeing any use for god theories at all. Using science in an attempt to find truth has value due to its predictive nature. Sometimes we find out our earlier theories were wrong, or often incomplete, when we find observations that defy the predictions. But that has never negated the usefulness of the prior work.

What do go theories offer in the pursuit of truth if they have zero predictive powers and have the explanatory power of making up anything from mega-mice to apollos to generic intelligent designers that in and of themselves, it is argued, cannot be explained themselves!

One would hope that truth would be useful, and indeed if it is true, that it would have some application to our lives that help confirm it as true. Science offers that in an arguably imperfect way, but at least it is a way.

You claim you do not support any god of the gaps notions, but what use then is an explanatory god theory? Science can at least offer clues into the underlying "Truth" of the universe. Explanatory entities that cannot be explained offer nothing in the pursuit of truth, just hiding from admission one hasn't the first clue.

Is it rude to point this out? I don't think so. Am I crazy for pointing this out? I don't think so. It seems a concise summation of the sides of the debate. Your attempts to insult those who argue passionately about it as if we shouldn't be concerned about your motivations, stated and otherwise, is just a bit baffling considering your own sensitivity. I don't get it. But I've been in the cyber-trenches a long, long, time. As I said before, PC vs Mac debates are typically more uncivil.

Keith said...

Dr. Howell,

Thank you for participating here. I'd like to ask if would clarify what you mean by "unobservable", as I'm not sure that electrons really are unobservable. Certainly we can't see them with the naked eye, but we can't see bacteria with the naked eye either, and I doubt anyone would characterize bacteria as "unobservable". What qualities should an entity have to qualify as "unobservable", and could you give a few more examples of things you think are unobservable. Thanks.

feralboy12 said...

Truth is information that corresponds to reality. Reality is what happens whether you believe in it or not.
Our brains are not perfect instruments. They are subject to mistakes, bias, hallucinations and various other pitfalls. The repeatability under controlled conditions and predictive value of scientific theories are ways to confirm that we have avoided those pitfalls and have found something that exists objectively.
Religion tends to be full of miracles and vague, symbolic prophecies. Is there really any reason to believe God is not a fabrication of the human brain, a placeholder for real understanding?

Hendy said...

Very interesting points made! Some responses:
- I think the point between absolute and pragmatic approaches to truth is somewhat difficult to prove. How would we know when we arrived at the ultimate truth? You are correct that we need certain assumptions to even begin (we actually exist, knowledge can be obtained, what I see is happening, etc.), but I don't know that it's warranted to be certain that we can fully know something in entirety. This is actually the beauty of science. We are able to rest on those theories that currently seem to accurately describe what we experience. How would you differentiate 'absolute truth' that was 'proven' and 'that which has not been able to be disproved yet'? For this reason, I don't know how you could even prove when you arrived at the 'absolute' answer... it's fine to hypothesize that there is an ultimate truth about something scientifically, but it actually does work out to a matter of practicality as to when we can consider the search for an explanation for the most part to be over.

- You also bring up a lot of areas where science has to make blind assumptions to move forward and I take this to subconsciously request the same for supernatural explanations. Do you think this is the case? I ask this as even in your examples of 'dark matter, electrons, etc.' science has proceeded to posit observable, natural answers to these phenomena. Granted, it may be 'expanding' our concept of natural, but it's by no means supernatural in the same sense as a timeless, spaceless, omniscient, all-loving creator would be.

- So for my last point... even if science has some 'blind' assumptions, what reasons could you bring forth to suggest that we add supernatural causes attributed to the trinity of Christianity to that list of blind assumptions? We've been doing amazingly well hypothesizing all kinds of natural causes for the unexplained through time and other than some phenomena that happened 2000 years ago (and aside from perhaps healings, the sun dancing/changing colors, statues crying, etc.) there have been no examples of interaction between the hypothesized supernatural realm and the natural/experiential other than emotional feelings (anecdotal evidence), potential coincidences, and a book riddled with inconsistency.

Re. the healings thing... we might as well say that god acts through the placebo effect. At least this is double blind provable again and again! One would think that god would want to be proven clinically as to help those who are sick more than he want so remain hidden so that he can become added to the list of 'blind assumptions' science must use.

Glock21 said...

Hendy... you make some interesting observations on the value of science. Some of which seem to go to the model versus absolute reality pursuit of truth, which I've frankly avoided in prior responses due to it being a device used in this challenge to distract from the absolute uselessness of god theories as a useful or even valid alternative.

Generally anything in the universe that we cannot experience through first hand sensory input is immediately suspect, as it should be. We can immediately observe and test the effects of gravity, but for something beyond the limits of human sensory input, like gravitons, we need models.

Howell's attempt to conflate that with somehow being on par with aspects of metaphysical god theories is merely a long and intricate attempt to avoid the real question at the heart of the matter: the sheer uselessness of god theories in the pursuit of truth.

We can quickly dismiss this particular distraction by asking for an alternative for second hand confirmation of things beyond our senses, i.e. if we are to believe something beyond our senses exists, how do we confirm that without looking at their observable effects?

Obviously we lack the capability to genetically engineer superhumans with senses so great as to confirm the overwhelming majority of the indirectly observable. We could probably do little things, corrupt cone encoding genes to see ultraviolet light, for example, but we'd immediately run into limitations of biochemistry to confirm things like subatomic particles.

So for things we can't directly observe because we simply lack the sensory input capabilities to do so... what else is there beyond models? It's not like any of us will ever directly see an electron. Even if it gives off a photon it is merely expelling a packet of energy that we couldn't individually discern.

But we can confirm or disprove the model works. And through that we can gain an understanding of the underlying "Truth" of the universe, with limitations of course. In the end the attempt to conflate that with faith based on unexplainable explanatory theories is just outrageous. It is neither an alternative nor is it complementary to the pursuit of truth. It's simply hiding a lack of explanation by obfuscating it behind an inexplicable explanation.

It's a lot of work to end up right back where you started.

Just my 2 cents

Hendy said...

@Glock21: thanks for the comments. I have a lot to learn about my understanding of the scientific method, progress, and this whole area of models vs. absolute discerned truth about things!

I agree that regardless of whether we discuss theories that work as 'being truth' or merely 'describing truth', the god hypothesis doe not help. As you know from other posts I am questioning a lot and one of my early observations when trying to tackle this on a philosophical level was that I'll just never know one way or the other.

The way I see it... I'm left with two choices:
- be comfortable with not knowing what caused the universe, why the first molecules combined and began to form DNA, etc.
- hypothesize something even further outside of my realm of possibly knowing, perceiving, and understanding to answer that which is already lacking a comprehensive and satisfactory answer.

I agree - in all matters of not knowing... god does not seem to help anything. This would be a completely different matter if those in touch with god could provide something useful like specific prophesy to allow those in Haiti to escape before a natural disaster struck. Even better... that multiple Christians from around the world simultaneously predicted this in ample time. This would be, as you pointed out, indirectly observing the unobservable. I can't access the thing itself (gravity), but I can absolutely perceive it's effects (things falling at a repeatable rate of acceleration). Until the god hypothesis provides something useful, believable, or testable... I just can't see how it is a logical choice.

Richard H said...

But my studies of the writings of the great scientists of the Scientific Revolution (e.g. Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Newton) taught me that they all viewed science as truth about the universe.

I hate to appeal to a movies, but it comes down to the question, "are we in The Matrix?" (Or some other scenario where philosophic scepticism would be important)

If yes, then science doesn't really make any progress towards Truth.

If no, (what those scientists seemed to assume, as do I, though none of us could justify this via logic) then scientific truth can approach real Truth.

But, the 'no' assumption rules out the possibility of the sort of perfectly invisible gods that you're proposing.

Under this assumption, the strongest claim we can make is, "does not exist in our universe, but could exist in another."

What would it even mean for a perfectly non-intervening god to 'exist'?

Tyro said...

To me, this is what AAFs seem to being doing when they invoke scientific theories as substitute explanations for God.

Like what, exactly?

Plate tectonics, climatology, chemistry, biology and physics have already replaced virtually everything that God is said to have done. Do you reject all of these scientific disciplines or just selected ones? Please do tell us where scientists should respectfully stop working so that they may protect the few remaining shreds of dignity that the "God" idea has left?

And more importantly, a truly critical thinker cannot make grandiose claims for science or anything else that is not justified by the data.

This is a preposterous assertion coming from a theologian, doubly so when it started with an absurd and ignorant attack on electrons.

Steven Carr said...

KENNETH
Irrelevant topics at this point: Bible, Transubstantiation, the honesty and integrity of AAFs and Christians.

CARR
Transubstantiation is hardly irrelevant, as the subject is directly related to your claims about your metaphysics.

Can't you defend your beliefs?

Gosh, I had no idea Catholics put up such little fight when questioned about why they think their metaphysics are reasonable.

It is like a boxer going into the ring and then declaring that his chin is out of bounds.

Steven Carr said...

KENNETH
What then are the issues? Unobservables in science and the nature of explanations.

KENNETH
Irrelevant topics at this point: Bible, Transubstantiation....

CARR
So Kenneth thinks the issues are 'unobservables in science and the nature of explanations'

And declares Transubstantiation irrelevant to the issues!

Transubstantiation is the example par excellence of unobservables and the nature of explanations and Kenneth declares it out of bounds for debate.

Sorry, Kenneth, but I know somebody who is not prepared to tackle the issues he himself claims he wants to discuss.

Come back when you are ready to talk.

Steven Carr said...

KENNETH
Honest skeptics should be willing to examine unproven assumptions.

CARR
'honest' skeptics... 'unproven' assumptions.

This leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, as it comes from a man who declares that he will not talk about his belief in Transubstantation.

Chuck O'Connor said...

I don't reject supernatural claims a priori, I just haven't ever encountered an observable methodology to falsify them in a coherent or useful way.

Rob R said...

Again, at the risk of not wholly reading the other comments, and since the issue of reductionism has been brought up, if we are to take the scientific endeavor as having succeeded in the pursuit of truth, then we must reject reductionism since the most basic reductions in science, ie physics have brought us to a contradiction which has not been yet clearly resolved, that between relativity and quantum mechanics. I'm currently reading through Nancy Murphy's "Anglo-American Postmodernity" where she points out that it is precisely from science where reductionism is being demonstrated as a failure and is being rejected. Causation is an area demonstrating this where causation from the bottom up, from merely the laws describing the movements and behaviors of particles is not enough. We are observing top-down causation and whole-part causation where causation comes from higher levels of organization, where the whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts. She gives many examples of this, such as the jaws of termites which are explained in terms of levers. Such laws of levers are consistent with the more basic laws of individual molecules but they are not reducible and fully entailed by those laws. The evolution of the termite further demonstrates this as it is the interaction of that species within the greater organization of the environment that pushes the changes in the DNA demonstrating causation from the top down. Of course, even from a evolution/common descent skeptics point of view, irreducible complexity itself provides another (albeit very controversial) example of top down causation where the whole cannot be reduced to the sum of the parts.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob invokes a Fuller Theological Professor and a duly awarded Templeton winner as an objective standard for discussing science.

Sorry Rob but I have to invoke Sagan's first suggestion in his Baloney Detection Kit, "Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts."

You trotting out a thinker who simply takes a position which you have already concluded (and constantly demonstrate in argument) epistemologically and ideologically true is does not meet any standard of independence. It is just another example of your altar call pretense dressed up in honest scholarship and intellectual curiosity.

And yes, this may be construed as an ad hominem on my part but, really it is just the old common sense skepticism of "consider your source" when you read an opinion. Your ideas Rob amount to the intellectual depth of an organizational press release. Just admit you are a warrior in the fight for Christian dominance because, when you say you seek truth it is offensive.

Don said...

"Unobservables in science and the nature of explanations." How is this something that can be discussed?

We can not know anything about the unobservable. By its very nature it's "unknowable". Unless something can be observed, directly or indirectly, can it even be said to exist? Any discussion about the unobservable is an argument from ignorance by definition.

Richard H said...

@Chuck
I don't reject supernatural claims a priori, I just haven't ever encountered an observable methodology to falsify them in a coherent or useful way.

I think you're being generous here.

My problem is that supernatural claims are iteratively reduced as people propose tests.

Relics seem like a good example. It's easy enough to falsify, "this relic has healing properties". So, relics stopped having healing properties.

Now they induce feelings. Perhaps (true) communion creates a special spiritual peace that could only come from eating the flesh and blood of christ.

But, even this would be testable. Take some sufficiently pious monks. Give communion to half. Give wine and crackers to the other half. Repeat for a month.

If people can 'sense' the spiritual dimension of the host, then the monks should be able to figure out who's been eating the host, and who has been eating crackers. If it's all psychosomatic, then they won't be able to do better than chance.

But, as soon as we propose this test, the supernatural claim will shift to exclude it.

The problem is that, all through the process, people pick language that makes it sound like they're defending the original, substantive claim.

For instance, in modern apologetics 'God' isn't gendered. But, if we substitute the word "Goddess" into their arguments, they all start to read rather oddly. They're defending 'the unknown' but and relying on the Christian connotations of the word 'God' to make their claim seem non-trivial.

Kenneth said...

A few clarifications.

1) Transubstantiation is not out of bounds forever, just while we are discussing other things like science.

2) Keith said,
I'd like to ask if would clarify what you mean by "unobservable", as I'm not sure that electrons really are unobservable.

Keith: There are degrees of observability: direct, indirect, complicatedly indirect, truly non-observable. Electrons may be indirectly observed as bacteria are. I may be wrong but higher (or deeper) level theories tend to have more unobservables. Some of the examples given by others: dark matter, black holes. All unobservable things in science ought be in principle observable because it's all about the physical world.

However, are scientific laws directly observable or, to be careful, should we not say that the laws are compilation of data which we have made? That, of course, brings up the issue of the truth which others have addressed. More later.

Steven Carr said...

KENNETH
1) Transubstantiation is not out of bounds forever, just while we are discussing other things like science.

CARR
No,we are discussing unobservable things and the best explanations of observable data.

It is you who claims some special technique, not known to science, which lets you work out unobservable things, from the observed data.

Let us see this technique in action.

I already know science works.

What have you got?

Nothing, that's what you've got.

Richard H said...

Some of the examples given by others: dark matter, black holes. All unobservable things in science ought be in principle observable because it's all about the physical world.

These things are, in principle, observable in the physics sense of the word.

If you're genuinely curious about the state of the art research into these topics, I'd direct you to http://arxiv.org/.

However, are scientific laws directly observable or, to be careful, should we not say that the laws are compilation of data which we have made? That, of course, brings up the issue of the truth which others have addressed. More later.

What, specifically, are you asking scientists to do?

For instance, if I were to present a disclaimer at the beginning of a class, what would it say?

Tyro said...

Interesting how methodological flaws with theology are declared as "irrelevant", and the only issues are "unobservables in science".


Is attacking science the new way of supporting religion? Throw enough mud and maybe everyone will look dirty. And maybe some people will get so carried away with attacking science they'll forget just how bankrupt theology is.

Carr is right to continually bring up transubstantiation, not as a way to distract but as a concrete illustration of the methodology for examining claims works in theology. If Howell truly believes that we need are seeking truth and avoiding falsehoods then he should give us an example of how theologians do this. If transubstantiation doesn't work for you, pick another example but coming up with weak attacks on science while ignoring the glaring flaws in his case looks like special pleading and gross intellectual dishonesty.

Richard H said...

How would an "unobserable truth" of the universe work?

For instance, let's say I've got a wafer that looks green. I ask other people. I even check the frequency of the light that reflects off it. Everything points to green.

What would it mean for someone to say, "In Truth, the wafer is really red."?

It seems like this would rely on a definition of 'Red' that has no connection, at all, to the normal sense of the word.

Presenting this 'red' as though it were relevant to a discussion on colors seems inaccurate.

Steven said...

Rob,

if we are to take the scientific endeavor as having succeeded in the pursuit of truth, then we must reject reductionism since the most basic reductions in science, ie physics have brought us to a contradiction which has not been yet clearly resolved, that between relativity and quantum mechanics.


The key word in the above statement is "yet." Have you ever heard of String Theory? String theory actually does resolve the contradiction between relativity and quantum mechanics. Now, it is true, that string theory has other problems, but the point is that physicists have figured out how to resolve the contradictions, and actually string theory isn't the only possible solution. The only way you can confidently assert a rejection of reduction in this case is if you can show that a resolution is impossible, and no one is making that claim, yet. Thus rejecting reduction on the basis of your argument is just invoking God of the gaps style thinking. And that goes double for your ID reference.

Steven said...

Kenneth,

Be careful of what your are saying here, as I feel your argument is becoming increasingly disingenuous. I don't think you can honestly establish the idea that "deeper" theories have more unobservables.

Some of the examples given by others: dark matter, black holes. All unobservable things in science ought be in principle observable because it's all about the physical world.

By and large, science does not make predictions about things that can not be observed, at least in principle. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, it is looking like we have strong evidence for the existence of dark matter as a real thing, black holes are generally accepted to exist by analyzing the motion of gas and stars around such objects (and we can even place limits on mass and density using these methods to further confirm our suspicions).

It is also the case that science has predicted things to exist that were, in principle, observable but later determined not to exist. Look up the Michelson-Morley experiment that attempted to detect aether as an example of this. The concept of aether is deader than a doornail because the experiment that was designed to detect it found nothing. Another interesting case of this is Bell's theorem in quantum mechanics which disproved the notion of hidden variables in quantum theory.

At best, all you are doing is pointing out that there's a lot of stuff on the fringes of scientific research that haven't been well established and may be confirmed or rejected at some point in the future. You have yet to show anything that suggests that modern scientific theories not just contain, but require the existence of things that are unobservable, in principle.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Yeah, Rob is an indoctrinated dipshit who thinks his superstitious rationalizations have broader meaning beyond his ego.

Glock21 said...

"However, are scientific laws directly observable or, to be careful, should we not say that the laws are compilation of data which we have made?"

We call them models. This isn't anywhere near as complicated as you seem to be dragging it out.

Our sensory input limitations only allow us to directly observe so much. Some things are entirely beyond those limits yet have a direct impact on our observations of other things.

The human eye can't see an electron. We can't hear one buzz. We can't taste one. We can't feel one. We can't smell one. Now lots of 'em and we can start getting into human sensory input. A single electron itself has to be modeled.

What else could there be for things outside of our sensory input range but models? When we depict ultra-violet light we generally do so with a false-color representation as a model within our sensory input limitations.

A person who has always been blind may have to model concepts such as shape and size via touch sensory inputs. This is a cube, feel. This is an a cube that is an inch each way, this one is a foot each way. This is what it feels like to walk a foot, a mile, etc.

The key here is that we're talking about models for things that actually have an impact on the universe. A non-model that is merely a inexplicable explanatory device using an unknowable super-secret model we can't possibly fathom... ie god models... reveals no underlying truth. It provides no understanding. It has no use, except perhaps as an excuse to avoid that ever so terrifying concept of "I don't know."

Every scientist has undoubtedly reached that fun part of their studies when they realize that these things they're studying beyond our sensory input limitations will never really be understood directly in those sensory terms.

This isn't "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids into Quarks"... this is the reality of being a limited and imperfect species seeking truth beyond its limitations. We need models. Even when those models start to get layered, as long as they continue to work (ie have predictive and real explanatory use) they have value in finding the underlying truth. If we discover our models are off because this or that observation just doesn't fit... the value isn't entirely diminished, it helps us continue the pursuit.

It's not an alternative for god theories. It's an actual tool for the pursuit of truth. Yes for some things beyond our sensor input limitations it must necessarily rely on models. But they are models designed for human understanding of those things. God theories rely on models beyond human understanding, making them useless to human pursuits of truth.

None of this is especially complicated. I know a pretty spunky 8 year old who seems to grasp it fairly well. But then she wasn't indoctrinated to put her faith in silly hats to explain the world with inexplicable explanation cop-outs.

Keith said...

Dr. Howell,

Thank you for replying to my question, although I'm not well satified with your answer. If I may push you a little, how useful is it to use one term to refer to all these different levels of observability? I'm thinking it would be clearest to reserve "unobservable" for entities that are "truly non-observable". Would you agree?

If you do, it would be helpful if you would give your own example of something from science that is truly unobservable, as you seem to agree that electrons are, in fact, observable. Also, I don't think black holes or dark matter qualify as unobservable either, as they can both be indirectly detected by their gravitational effects on nearby objects.

Also, I find it odd that in your first post you characterize human personality as something "which may never be observed, even in principle". How is it that psychologists have all kinds of assessment tests for personality, some people with brain damage are described by family and friends as having completely changed personalities, and I have a very clear sense of what my (for example) older brother's personality is like, if personality is unobservable? Maybe when you typed "personality" you really meant "soul"?

Thank you for clarifying.

Keith

Richard H said...

@Glock

To add, we don't even need to go that modern.

I can watch an apple fall. But, my eyes are pretty limited. Without instruments, I can't tell if the acceleration is 9.8m/s^2 or 10.1m/s^2, or even 10m/s^(2.1).

So, I'd need a stop watch and a ruler. Even then, I'm not going to be able to measure perfectly, so there will be an error bar on my calculations.

The only difference between this and the millikan experiment is a decent lens and a capacitor.

So, all scientific observation is going to be indirect.

Glock21 said...

Richard... aye. And most of our sensory input is deceiving to boot. That apple is overwhelmingly empty space, just as our hand that touches it.

Truly nothing about the human experience is at it seems to be. Our sensory input limitations make sense of it as best they can, tuned over eons for survivability, not the pursuit of scientific discovery. All those photons being absurd and shot back out of the surface of that apple paint a lovely image for our rods and cones to interpret via the brain.

The energy contained within it is spectacular. It's true composition awe inspiring. It's fall reveals secrets of astronomical proportions, literally! It's place in our unclosed thermodynamic system, converting the nuclear fusion reactor of the sun into the "greatest show on earth" is humbling.

Who needs gods? An apple can give me tingles of awe and smallness.

Kenneth said...

Keith et. al.

Regarding unobservables and “the real”

To clarify with examples, let me stick to something I know well and can do off the cuff. I don't have much experience with bubble chambers but the point can be made with another example. My first training was in linguistic theory.

Most English speakers think that the sound /p/ is real. They can hear it, write it, and read it. But the letter we think is /p/ really consists of 3 physical sounds: an aspirated {p} as in {pat}, an unaspirated {p] as in {spit}, and an unreleased {p} as in {tap}. We recognize these three physically different sounds as one sound because they are all physical manifestations of one phoneme. All languages have an inventory of phonemes that are expressed as different physical sounds in different phonetic environments (complementary distribution).

Most practicing linguists talk as if phonemes are real. But if we only admit physical data into our thinking, phonemes are NOT real. They are part of a sound system in our heads. We hear different sounds are being the same because of this mental system. A fastidious empiricist would claim that phonemes are not real because they are not physical. A realist open to higher “things” would say that they must be real because we can see their effects in the physical world and because the system we call English would not be a stable communication code without it. I take the latter position. Phonemes are real but not physical. Though I suspect that our interlocutors will dispute this, I am willing to argue that there are many other entities that are real but not observable: the number 3, love, the moral maxim “to kill the innocent is always wrong.”

Richard H said...

What empiricist denies the existence of waveforms?

And you're mixing up a debate about concepts with a debate about external reality.

"Is this sound the same as that sound?" is one question. "Is there a cultural concept under which both sounds would be considered the 'same'."

We can introduce ambiguity by phrasing both as "Is this real?"

But, that's just a debate caused by unclear phrasing, not any actual conflict.

Justkem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glock21 said...

Just more obfuscation of concepts and actual things. The concept of 3 has little impact on the fact there are 3 actual rocks that can be confirmed, tested, and effects observed. The concept can be useful in modeling that reality though, even if we're talking about 3 electrons.

A label for three distinct sounds is a concept, the distinct sounds are verifiable, testable, and can be observed.

Conceptual models in mathematics can be quite useful. Conceptual models in language can be helpful in understanding how language is perceived. Applying that to reality in a meaningful way is all fine and good.

But attempting to bury the real issue of useless god models that explain everything by explaining nothing and playing on the layman confusion of scientific exploration of things beyond our limited sensory input... well that's just getting us nowhere fast.

(oh and typo fix in the post above... "absurd" should have been "absorbed")

Keith said...

Dr. Howell,

Again, thanks for responding to our questions. I would still like to know if you would agree to reserving the term "unobservable" for entities that are "truly non-observable". Do you agree?

Also, it would be more helpful if you could give an example of an entity studied by scientists which is unobservable, but which is not an abstract concept.

I actually think abstract concepts are real and have a physical basis, as patterns of neurons (or maybe patterns of certain molecules inside neurons, or perhaps patterns of neurons and also glial cells) in our brains. But then we'll have to get into a complicated discussion about the relationship between entities "out there" in the world, and the language we use to describe our experiences of the world.

Before getting into all that, it would be cleaner if we could be clear on what we mean by "unobservable". Thus I would like to ask for an example that is not an abstract concept.

Also, I'm still wondering what you meant when you characterized human personality as something "which may never be observed, even in principle". Could you explain that. Thanks.

Keith

Steven Carr said...

Kenneth had a chance to explain why his metaphysics was so good.

And he blew it , by declaring it out of bounds.

He said he wanted to talk about explanations involving unobservable things.

And then he ran away from discussing his beliefs about Transubstantiation - the prime example of explanations involving unobservable things.

Believers are never going to convince atheists if they prove themselves incapable of producing rational arguments for what they believe.

Instead we get meaningless waffle about how 'love' is not observable.

If Mr. Howell thinks emotions are not observable, he needs to spend some time with people, observing their emotions.

What is NOT observable is any rational grounds for belief in Catholic dogmas about Papal infallibility, Transubstantiation, Hell, Heaven etc etc

Chuck O'Connor said...

Howell

It is obvious that you don't have a point.

Kenneth said...

I would like to respond to many of the queries given but I simply don’t have time. I am, as I am sure you are all, busy with many other things in life. Glock21, Richard H and Stephen have posed good questions. Maybe soon.

But Keith asked:
I would still like to know if you would agree to reserving the term "unobservable" for entities that are "truly non-observable". Do you agree?

Provisionally yes but I’d like reserve the right to think about this more.

Keith:
Before getting into all that, it would be cleaner if we could be clear on what we mean by "unobservable". Thus I would like to ask for an example that is not an abstract concept.

Example: A phoneme is not an abstract concept for the speaker of the language. It is a mental regularity that organizes sensory input. Does that help?

In general, remember that I have a goal of understanding the worldview(s) of AAF people and many of your queries and comments are slowly showing me what I want to know. Please don’t take this as deceptive; I am just trying to figure out where the TRUE differences lie. And these discussions are not co-extensive with the sets of believers and unbelievers. People of different religious commitments (or none) can be on both sides of these issues dealing with the nature of science.

The reason I feel to the need to explore is what Paul Wright said, namely, that my perception (subjective to revision) is that AAF people may be unwittingly naïve about science. In short, I have encountered so many people, especially grad students in the sciences, who cannot distinguish scientism from science.

If I refuse to engage you about specifically theological topics like Transubstantiation, it is because there is a prior issue that must be discussed first. It is epistemology and ontology i.e. how do we know what is real and by what criteria are we going to accept certain things and not others. A person with a scientistic (as opposed to scientific) worldview simply will not accept as knowledge propositions derived apart from modern science.

Richard H said...

Example: A phoneme is not an abstract concept for the speaker of the language. It is a mental regularity that organizes sensory input. Does that help?

Which texts use 'phoneme' in this way? It does not match the definition I've encountered.

"The neural net that processes the k-sounds in skill and kit as /k/ in the brain of an native English speaker" != "The concept of /k/ as it exists in the modern English dialect."

The latter is an example of a phoneme, with the former is not.

Neither of these are the same as "The qualia of /k/, as experienced by an English speaker with no particular linguistics training."

In short, I have encountered so many people, especially grad students in the sciences, who cannot distinguish scientism from science

What is your evidence for such a claim? Is there a reason that we should have confidence in your ability to accurately evaluate their states of mind?

Using electrons as an example of something 'unobservable' indicates a very significant lack of understanding of modern science.

And, you claim to be learning how AAF people think.

This is fundamentally incompatible with the claim, "I know how many scientists think, and understand what they believe. They are believers in scientism."

I'm entirely willing to believe that you think scientific claims are phrased with more certainty than the evidence justifies.

But, I don't think we've seen evidence to support the assertion that the problem lies with the graduate students.

Tyro said...

Kenneth,

A phoneme is not an abstract concept for the speaker of the language. It is a mental regularity that organizes sensory input. Does that help?

Not really, no. While the sounds may have subtle difference, the sound-waves are objectively observable and quantifiable. I understand there may be some debate over the terminology linguists use to describe these language elements and their classification.

As an example, it sounds (ha!) like the debates that happen when new fossils are found and we try to force a species label on them. Since populations evolve smoothly (though at varying rates) there's never a clear line separating one species from another so as we gather more fossils and plug more gaps then our terminology which hinges on separate, distinct groups comes in conflict with the reality of smooth variation.

Is this what's happening with linguistics, where we know that there are sounds and words and we know our brains process them but we're debating what's the best way to decompose and describe the method that this happens? It sounds to me like you're pointing to an abstraction that linguists use and saying this is "unobservable" when in fact there is really an imprecise mapping between the abstraction and the messiness of real speech. If so, I see the problem lies with the terminology (as with "species") rather than with anything being unobservable.

A person with a scientistic (as opposed to scientific) worldview simply will not accept as knowledge propositions derived apart from modern science.

I grow very tired of this coy sniping.

It has nothing to do with the propositions as you should know if you had listened to what we say instead of trying to psychoanalyze us and determine why we were saying things.

As has been said many times, the singular failing of theology and faith isn't what propositions it makes but the fact that it lacks a coherent methodology for evaluating claims and weeding out falsehoods. Instead of dealing with all these diversions, pony up and tell us what other methodology we should use!

Richard H said...

If I refuse to engage you about specifically theological topics like Transubstantiation, it is because there is a prior issue that must be discussed first. It is epistemology and ontology i.e. how do we know what is real and by what criteria are we going to accept certain things and not others. A person with a scientistic (as opposed to scientific) worldview simply will not accept as knowledge propositions derived apart from modern science.

Transubstantiation seems exceptionally relevant here.

Before we can answer the question, "How do we know what is real?" we need to answer, "What do we mean when we say 'real'?"

And, there's no reason we need to limit ourselves to a single definition.

I know with certainty that I perceive a world. I could define 'real-1' within the context of that perception.

At this point, the question of "how do we know what is real-1?" becomes quite tractable.

But without a working definition of 'real', the question seems to reduce to "how can we conclude if a thing has an unknown property?"

This is where transubstantiation becomes relevant. I cannot approach the question of, "how do we know if this object is a cracker or Jesus's body?" unless I know what it would even mean for a wafer to "be" Jesus's body.

Chuck O'Connor said...

"scientism" is a Christian apologetics perjorative invented to find some sort of moral equivalence between the desire for evidence based epistemology and supernaturalism.

You expose yourself as the huckster you are when you use that term.

Russ said...

To Dr. Kenneth Howell:

Dr. Kenneth Howell said,

1) I am a guest in John’s house (blog) and as a guest I have a responsibility to refrain attributing to him the attitudes and feelings of others who happen to be there too.

It's good that you refrain from making such attributions because, unlike the religious, we Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers see ourselves as unique individuals with knowledge, understandings, thoughts, feelings and emotions sufficiently distinct that no two of us walks exactly the same walk or talks exactly the same talk.

For Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers there cannot be, even in principle, some predetermined one-size-fits-all path of knowledge, enlightenment or truth that all should follow. In fact, given that all people are so diverse in their intellectual and emotional makeups, its absurd to assert that their could be any such path. Moreover, since all of us is changed by our accumulated knowledge and experience as our lives move on, few if any of us can stay on any one path for very long. As we change, all our needs change with us.

The rapidly diversifying and increasingly incompatible Christianities - 40000 or so now with 1000 new ones each year - are an acknowledgement of just how absurd it is to think all people can, or should be, expected to conform to the ideas and ideologies presented to them by some individual, or some politically motivated committee from the Holy See. You yourself decided that the Presbyterian version of Christianity you were ordained into was wrong and you switched to Roman Catholicism.

We too "have a responsibility to refrain attributing to him[you] the attitudes and feelings of others who happen to be there[in Christianity or Roman Catholicism] too." Despite the fact that many Christianities, and it is especially so with Roman Catholics, desperately strive for uniformity of thought - pounding themselves as they do with mantras suggesting that they all believe the same things or worship the same god - we see that they don't. Just looking at Roman Catholicism, we know that there is no way to know what you actually believe or if your saying you believe it has any value or meaning at all.

Russ said...

To Dr. Kenneth Howell:
Roman Catholics, for instance, blast away at contraception but most Roman Catholics use contraception. Ironically, the lowest birthrate in the world among Roman Catholics is in Italy, right under the Pope's nose. Roman Catholics scream about abortions, but, in the US, at least, Roman Catholics have the highest abortion rate out of the thousands of Christian sects. I personally know active Roman Catholics who are atheists, but they like the church as a social outlet. Roman Catholics claim to care about children before and after birth, but we see that it is just not so. The church has put more effort into vilifying those children who were rape victims of the clergy than they put into helping any of them. Child rapist is part and parcel of what it means to be a Roman Catholic clergyman from the Pope on down. And, though the Roman Catholics claim to put a premium on human life, they have absolutely no reservations whatsoever about excerbating the AIDS plague in Africa in service to their definition of moral. These are not ancient inhumanities that might be forgiven as archaic ignorances or superstitions after a long period of morally exemplary behavior. No, these are happening now, today, right this minute. People are dying and being otherwise abused for what Roman Catholics say they believe. And, observably, there never has been a time in the church's history when Roman Catholics could be said to be moral exemplars.

So, we can't attribute any specific belief to you based on your being Christian or your being of the Roman Catholic variety, and certainly we have no idea how what you claim to believe will translate into behavior or moral decision-making. Surely, you'd rather not be judged by association, but you're a committed member of a dehumanizing, abusive and morally corrupt institution who faithfully puts money in its coffers to cover up its ever ongoing abuses and to vilify its innocent accusers, and who himself puts much time and effort into rationalizing away its offenses. There is no reason you should not be painted with the same brush. No doubt, you would apply guilt by association to anyone who was a card-carrying member of the Worldwide Rapists Union or Spread the AIDS International.

For some reason you abandoned Presbyterianism, and consciously and intentionally chose to embrace Roman Catholicism. You tell us one of the irrelevant topics at this point is the honesty and integrity of Christians. When Roman Catholics like you support such an inherently reprehensible organization, honesty and integrity are irrelevant only because the quality of their character is obvious. Many people of high moral character have stopped supporting the Roman Catholic church financially and have walked away from it for greener moral pastures. Realistically, no one needs Roman Catholicism to lead a life filled with health, happiness, joy, love, generosity, and contentment. You once walked away from one Christianity you saw as inferior, but, frankly, it's hard to see that it could possibly be worse than this one. Maybe you should return to your old one, or pick a new one. There are lots to choose from. And, it might help keep others from attributing to you the horrors and corruptions you so support and defend with your money, your heart and your soul.

Steven said...

Kenneth,

I have to agree with Tyro here. These accusations that we're unwilling to accept any knowledge that isn't based on a scientific methodology are bogus.

I think we're all more than willing to consider other methodologies. The problem though is that whenever we ask theists to elaborate on what these other methodologies are, all we get is a broad mish-mash of presuppositional appeals to scripture, prayer, personal experience, anecdotes, etc. All of which have been considered within philosophy itself, or with more empirical methods and found to be unreliable in the contexts that theists want to use them in.

In fact, most people, theist and non-theist alike, tend to reject these lines of reasoning for the more mundane propositions of everyday life, which makes theology's reliance on such faulty evidence and argument to appear to be one huge case of special pleading (and I'm being more than generous by saying it is only an appearance).

Kenneth, if you want to know what I think, I'll tell you straight out. Do you have a methodology that can be used to reliably evaluate religious propositions, or not? To date, I have yet to see any theist ever propose a methodology that could not be shot full of holes (and most of the shots come from other theists, I might add).

The lack of any sound methodology for discovering truth within a religious context is why I drop back to a scientific methodology with respect to religious issues (for lack of anything else to rely upon). This isn't a personal requirement of mine, it's just the only thing I know to work with any sort of reliability.

The ball is in your court. We're willing to listen, but please don't insult our intelligence with appeals to methodologies that we already know are less reliable than the scientific one.

Steven Carr said...

KENNETH
If I refuse to engage you about specifically theological topics like Transubstantiation, it is because there is a prior issue that must be discussed first. It is epistemology and ontology i.e. how do we know what is real and by what criteria are we going to accept certain things and not others.

CARR
Translation.

The Catholic Church says some things are true, and Kenneth is going to accept the dogmas of his church and refuse to discuss why.

If Kenneth really had reasons to justify his belief that Transubstantation was true, do you think for one minute he would not be beating atheists over the head with them?

Instead, he has gone all coy...

Chuck O'Connor said...

"The lack of any sound methodology for discovering truth within a religious context is why I drop back to a scientific methodology with respect to religious issues (for lack of anything else to rely upon). This isn't a personal requirement of mine, it's just the only thing I know to work with any sort of reliability."

Well said. And I would add that it is the only one that operates with a sense of humility (personality and rhetoric don't work to improve the validation of an empirical observation).

That's the thing that burns me the most, theists want to be perceived as humble observers of nature because they think their god is "awesome" but, never invite true scrutiny of this assertion.

Kenneth said...

Tyro said:
Instead of dealing with all these diversions, pony up and tell us what other methodology we should use!

Richard H said:
Transubstantiation seems exceptionally relevant here.

Before we can answer the question, "How do we know what is real?" we need to answer, "What do we mean when we say 'real'?"

And, there's no reason we need to limit ourselves to a single definition.

KKJH: Great! I’ll pony up but it will take more words than the limit allows so I’ll have to ask John’s cooperation. It will probably have to be in installments.

Just a pointer. Transubstantiation is not the primary issue when it comes to the Eucharist; it is what Catholics call “The Real Presence.” And it isn’t about unobservables and observables --- I’ll get to that --- but there’s a lot of groundwork first. I’ll write something and post it. I have to work around my busy schedule.

Glock21 said...

I very much look forward to such 'ponying up' to address these repeated concerns. I certainly appreciate you taking the time to do so. The time spent thus far hasn't been entirely wasted, but a lot of it seems to have been cutting through fairly basic inaccuracies and confusion over what science is and the very real value it has in the pursuit of truth, even in the realm of supernatural concepts claimed to have real-world effects.

I share some of the frustration of posters above that you seem inclined to stereotype us wanting to limit what we'll consider in the pursuit of truth, when we've been repeatedly requesting some methodology in line with what you seem to keep inferring exists to bridge the gap.

I don't recall anyone here dismissing the value of conceptual or speculative methodologies, such as mathematics or philosophical ones, respectively. But most of the conversation has focused on casting doubt on the pursuit of truth via scientific methodology. That, quite frankly, is difficult for a skeptic such as myself to see as little more than muddying the waters. Especially while nothing has been offered as a useful alternative/improvement to tackle your concerns.

It is not the same as, but somewhat analogous to, fairly common debates on intelligent design that focus mostly on casting doubts on evolution and science in general. The complaints are overwhelmingly based in a lack of understanding of both, but also fail to provide any backing for the usefulness of their own theories. Those theories are demanded to be given scientific credibility, but as soon as the real world effects claimed are challenged for evidence and working models, they tend to hide behind the speculative portions of the claims that leave it as little more than philosophical thought experiments. It's the ultimate 'have your cake and eat it too' conundrum.

It doesn't appear from the conversation here, or generally, that skeptics would take issue with the philosophical ideas being debated in a philosophy course or examined in philosophical disciplines.

The hang-up seems to be in theists wanting credibility for the real-world claims beyond mere speculation, which in spite of the supernatural basis, those effects must meet the burden of proof for natural phenomenon. Attempting to obfuscate with semantics fails here because by meeting such burden we're no longer strictly dealing with super-natural phenomenon (e.g. scientific confirmation of the power of prayer would move it beyond supernatural explanation/theory).

If there's a better way to do it, we're all ears. We've been endlessly requesting your alternative. But if you merely want to lower the burden of proof simply because you can't meet it, just as every other speculative and/or supernatural phenomenon must before its real world effects are given credibility, then it will obviously just come off as wanting an unearned pass.

And we're right where we started. The philosophical thought experiments still seem appropriate for philosophy courses. For real world effects of things, science offers a methodology to confirm or debunk in the pursuit of truth... and this is true whether we are talking about a scientific model, a supernatural idea, or pseudoscience like homeopathy.

If there's a better way, as seems to be implied in your writings here thus far, we haven't seen it articulated. Instead, right from the get-go, it has come off as merely wanting a pass via an elaborately constructed (obfuscated, perhaps?) begging of the question.

Kenneth said...

Dear Glock21:

I very much appreciate your last post. And if I misjudged the openness of some via stereotyping I apologize. I think my current willingness arises from my perception of an openness I didn’t perceive before (I stress “perceive”). I do think I found evidence of scientism and reductionism in some of the posts but that is largely irrelevant now. If you say you are open to different methodologies, I take you at your word.

What frustrated me was what I perceived as a repeated attempt to shift the question from the nature and limitations of science to theological topics like transubstantiation. I enjoy the philosophy of science and for a good reason. I think science, and especially mathematics, is one of the greatest human achievements in all of history. And I am no friend of ID because to the extent that I understand it, it seems to me a god-of-gaps approach, an approach that is philosophically flawed. We could continue the debate over theoretical entities for a long time. I will rest my case on that score but I urge all concerned to understand the points that Paul Wright made. He understood the issues.

As to appropriate methodologies, in my first post I will speak of 3: phenomenological, historical, and philosophical/theological. One thing I think I have learned in many years of reading and teaching is that methodologies are to some extent discipline and/or community dependent. For example, biologists have their own methodologies and they don’t ask for the approval of physicists and vice-versa. Why? Because they are dealing with different kinds of phenomena. If this is true, then it requires of us all to learn the methodologies used in a community of inquiry. We may, of course, choose not to enter into that community and its methodologies but that is a different matter.

Well, it’s late and I need to read myself to sleep. Thanks again for the content and tone of your post.

Richard H said...

One thing I think I have learned in many years of reading and teaching is that methodologies are to some extent discipline and/or community dependent. For example, biologists have their own methodologies and they don’t ask for the approval of physicists and vice-versa.

What made you think this?

In my experience that is not true at all. I saw a rather excellent talk on this paper at a physics department:

"Quantifying Influenza Vaccine Efficacy and Antigenic Distance," Vaccine 24 (2006) 3881-3888

There's a remarkable amount of cross commentary within the science community. Both Science and Nature take articles from many fields.

Perhaps I'm completely misunderstanding your point? Could you give me an example of a method which you think is above cross-disciplinary review?

Richard H said...

I have a general question for people who have been involved with both theology and science.

Is there a difference in tone when results are being discussed within the field?

If I'm presenting research, the custom is that professors can interrupt talks with question pretty well whenever they want. And, specific or pointed questions aren't taken personally.

From this background, atheist blogs don't seem particularly mean. Getting an argument picked apart (occasionally line by line, with citations) is just what happens when I post things that are wrong.

But, people from religious backgrounds seem genuinely surprised (and sometimes offended) at how 'mean' the atheists are to each other.

What do intra-theist discussion look like? If someone makes factual mistakes, are they corrected in the same ways?

Steven Carr said...

KENNETH
What frustrated me was what I perceived as a repeated attempt to shift the question from the nature and limitations of science to theological topics like transubstantiation.

CARR
No, transubstantation is a claim by the Catholic Church that something has changed when everybody agrees that no observable data has changed.

As you were the one claiming some knowledge of how to intepret observable data, it is up to you to show us how you know something has changed, when no change is detectable.

Of course, you do it by listening to what priests say and accepting whatever they say as fact with docility.

I quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church :-

'Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me", the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.'


Don't lecture us on epistemology when you are signed up to 'receive with docility' whatever your pastor decides to teach you.

Even if such teachings include a ridiculous order to believe that you know a change has happened even when no change can possibly be detected.

Steven Carr said...

Perhaps as Kenneth wants to limit the subject to discussion of epistemology, how does he know the following is true :-

'"The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.'

As the Catholic Church has just declared that atheists cannot understand the Bible properly, why is he talking to us?

What does he hope to gain from talking to people that he knows for a fact cannot even read a book correctly without getting it wrong?

Justkem said...

@Kenneth

I've been lurking on this for a while, but so far others have said pretty much everything I wanted to say. I appreciate the time you're putting into this discussion, it's interesting to read your responses. When you do have time to post again, would you please keep in mind the following?

"As to appropriate methodologies, in my first post I will speak of 3: phenomenological, historical, and philosophical/theological."

1) Linguistic studies are studies of human invention. They may "evolve", but they do not follow basic laws of physics in the way that the natural world does. I can create a new language, if I'm enough of a giant geek, with nothing more than the power of my brain. The natural world doesn't work this way, and attempts to use observed patterns in philological analysis in a way that tries to predict or explain the natural world are inherently flawed. This is one of those areas where the whole concept of NOMA is absolutely appropriate.

2) I'll wait to see what you have to bring up from history, but I hope that this isn't going to turn into a Hegelian synthesis/creation metaphor. Again, the same concern that I have with philology applies when discussing models of our human narrative of life. That narrative, the thoughts about our past that shape our perception of the present, could disappear from the face of the planet without leaving a trace. The same is not true for the physical world.


"One thing I think I have learned in many years of reading and teaching is that methodologies are to some extent discipline and/or community dependent. For example, biologists have their own methodologies and they don’t ask for the approval of physicists and vice-versa. Why? Because they are dealing with different kinds of phenomena."

This is flatly misleading. The same principles of observation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and experimentation are used in both cases. The physicist may not be an expert on the biologist's field of research, but both are equally capable of examining the methodology of an experiment, looking at the data, and making an informed decision about whether or not the conclusions are valid.

Tyro said...

For example, biologists have their own methodologies and they don’t ask for the approval of physicists and vice-versa. Why?

What makes you think that biology uses such different methodologies, at least beyond the trivial differences of gathering data (e.g.: growing cultures). What differences are you thinking of?

Because they are dealing with different kinds of phenomena. If this is true, then it requires of us all to learn the methodologies used in a community of inquiry. We may, of course, choose not to enter into that community and its methodologies but that is a different matter.

I'm at a loss to understand what you mean.

Either "methodology" refers only to the issues of data collection - e.g.: astronomers use telescopes, biologists use microscopes - in which case it is trivially true but irrelevant, or "methodology" refers to the scientific method in which case it is wrong.

Placed in the context of discussing the differences and similarities of science and theology it makes me more than a little scared that you will declare that when we move to a new field of study we should not apply the principles and methods of science learned in one domain but instead should uncritically accept whatever is practised in the new field and so we should accept revelation and gut instinct (the "personal experience") and tradition (the unchallenged proclamations of ancestors) as reliable guides just because they've been used for centuries.

If so, I'll reiterate an earlier point: what's key about the scientific method isn't about gathering data but about identifying and excluding falsehoods, mistakes, and fallacies. I think we're all open to new methods for gathering data provided we have a way to evaluate correctness.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Kenneth you said,

"One thing I think I have learned in many years of reading and teaching is that methodologies are to some extent discipline and/or community dependent."

I agree and that is why I oppose the kind of dishonesty you represent.

Your thrust is to empower a particular religious system using the pretense of democratic scholarship.

Until your community of superstitious dogmatists stop trying to force their ancient theocratic social model onto our enlightened democratic republic, you will probably always conclude that atheists are biased and angry.

Your community thinks it is legitimate to oppose useful scientific inquiry (embryonic stem-sell research); necessary medical practice (abortion); and equality under the law (gay marriage) because they believe their community group think offers some sort of superior moral insight. And they do this while continuing to finance the greatest (and on-going) child-rape case in modern history.

Yeah, excuse me if I find your community dependent methodology invalid.

Kenneth said...

Richard H said:

Perhaps I'm completely misunderstanding your point? Could you give me an example of a method which you think is above cross-disciplinary review?

KJH: I certainly did not mean that there is no cross-fertilization among scientific (or any other) disciplines. I was referring more to the criteria used in the context of the justification of theories. Example Question: If Nature or Science received a paper on the formation of galaxies, would they ask a biologist to referee it? Or if an astronomer recommended rejection of the paper based on DNA experiments, would such an objection be seen as legitimate?

Justkem said:

The same principles of observation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and experimentation are used in both cases. The physicist may not be an expert on the biologist's field of research, but both are equally capable of examining the methodology of an experiment, looking at the data, and making an informed decision about whether or not the conclusions are valid.

KJH: Of course. How could I disagree? I wasn’t denying this at all.

Russ said...

Dr. Kenneth Howell said

c) I believe in intellectual engagement for the purpose of understanding truth and am willing to question the cherished assumptions of religion and science. I have been doing it my whole life.

Show us that science is completely devoid of merit and you still will not have demonstrated that any religious notions are true. Show us that all non-Christian religions are devoid of merit and you still will not have demonstrated that any notion from some Christianity is true. Show us that all non-Roman Catholic Christianities are devoid of merit and you still will not have demonstrated that any Roman Catholic notions are true. If there is truth in what you have to say, demonstrate it with positive evidence, not some feeble denigration of science, which you apparently see as the refutation to your religion.

Remember that there was a time when Christianity - more pointedly, Christianity of the Roman Catholic strain - had free rein throughout the realm, completely unimpeded by foolish notions like science, human rights, freedom, liberty, or democracy. Christianity spent more than a thousand years proving itself to be a miserable failure at finding truth of any kind. Over all that time it showed itself to be great at asserting its presuppositions as truth and violently oppressing people into claiming to accept those assertions as truth, but it did not once demonstrate that any of it was true. Nothing stood in opposition to it except bare reality, and, still, in more than a millenium, it could not concoct a compelling case for the veracity of any of its claims. Science has never been needed to point out the obvious uselessness of Christian-specific theology: Christianity has done that all by itself. Science does, however, make the uselessness of all things Christian-specific clearer and more quantifiable.

Do you not understand that the reasoning for why religion is a failed path to truth is far simpler than you choose to make it? If religious claims were true in any sense that would be meaningful to people, it would be observable. Although you do not have to complicate this, you appear to have a personal need to. If religious claims were true we would all observe the effects. No tortuously labyrinthine philosophical defenses would be necessary. That you deem such circuitous defenses to be needed tells us that you recognize the absence of compelling evidence. Again, what we observe is that, despite your intense drive to have your arguments respected, hardly anyone does respect them. What is observed is that what you, your Pope and other theologians say is ignored by almost everyone - ignored by Roman Catholic Christians, ignored by all the other Christianities and ignored by everyone outside the Christianities. These are observable facts which you, evidently shielded from that reality by your tangled philosophical overgrowth, simply choose to ignore.

Russ said...

Dr. Kenneth Howell
Intellectual engagement can be fun. Intellectual gamesmanship can be a marvelous diversion. But, you would have us believe that the theology game you're playing is real and that your theology game should be given more weight than the theology games that are being played in different Christianities or other religions and arriving at different conclusions. In games we can bend the rules. In philosophy and theology we can change assumptions right and left and instantiate, for the sake of argument, brand new gods, including many new Christian gods. Reality is not a game. In reality we can't change the rules or assumptions and we can't willy-nilly instantiate new realities where gods do what they are claimed to be able to, like answer intercessory prayers.

We're told that reality itself stands as a monument to your version of a Christian god, and that that same god reshapes would-be all-natural outcomes in that reality to the benefit of the faithful who ask it to do so in prayer. We all stand together here in the same real world where prayers are conspicuously not answered. Sure we see some post hoc coincidences, but nothing that has no natural explanation. Pray all you like for a starving child and without being provided all-natural food via some all-natural means the child will die. Many Christians, inculcated to believe prayer is effective, do nothing for others but pray. Christians deluge their gods with millions of prayers for starving children every day, yet 25000 children a day die for want of food. If we were to ask you why that was the case, you would hightail it off to some philosophical netherworld where the obvious answer - there is no god - is always off the table. Prayers are never answered here in the real world, but the obvious reason why - there's no god to answer them - is never given much consideration beyond lip service. Mankind is failed by the Christianities, their gods, and their hired guns and professional excuse-makers, the theologians.

You say,

I believe in intellectual engagement for the purpose of understanding truth

Truth is not an object that sits in front of you like a lamp or a bottle of gin. Saying "understanding truth" suggests that you think you already possess truth and that your task is simply to study it, as if by peering at it long enough or from enough angles or through the right lenses comprehension will befall you. It is known that you do not possess truth. Further, you belong to a religious society that neither values nor brooks truth, choosing instead to synonymize truth with its own presuppositions, dogmata, doctrines, and ad hoc justifications. Thinking you possess truth while you obviously do not means you will never "understanding truth." Almost two thousand years of experience and history tells us unequivocally that the Christianities neither possess truth nor do they know where to look for it.

Tyro said...

Almost two thousand years of experience and history tells us unequivocally that the Christianities neither possess truth nor do they know where to look for it.

I take the milder stance that Christians (or Hindus, Muslims, Mormons or any other religious group) may have somehow stumbled onto the truth. The question is how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Given the bewildering profusion of claims, often contradictory, how are we to determine which if any have any validity? At the very least, how do we identify ideas which are definitely false?

We have slowly cobbled together a methodology for this which has become known as science and this seemingly simple task of identifying falsehoods and discarding them has led to an unprecedented explosion of development and knowledge.

What is this methodology in theology? That's the question I'm sure we're all hoping you'll answer (but which we all doubt you can).

Kenneth said...

Tyro:

From what you said in your last post, I'd say we're on the same page. And that is important because when I first read some of our posts, I had an impression which I now realize I must change.

And I don't mind if you doubt my ability to come up with a methodology that is acceptable to you. And I don't mind if you reject the content and methodologies of my Christian beliefs. You are free agent. All I ask is that you give it a studied hearing.

I have had some friends to look at these exchanges and give me their impressions. They are all well-educated people. The overwhelming response is that of the proverbial ships passing in the night.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Kenneth,

You seem to be a smart guy but I am confused by people like you. You want to affirm your Christian faith yet decry ID advocates. These people would be your brothers and sisters in faith and gain social and political power from the work you do. Do you realize you enable bad ideas that hurt notions of freedom because you feel a need to align yourself with a superstitious institution. I believe you have the right to believe anything you want but, that doesn't mean what you believe is useful or good. You admit that yourself when you decry Intelligent Design but, those folks basis for their belief is the same as yours and they simply just come up with a conclusion you find distasteful (for what reason, who knows). What methodology do you employ to decry Intelligent Design? If you investigate that question honestly, you will understand why I decry that your Catholocism should have the same epistemic value as empricism.

Richard H said...

Or if an astronomer recommended rejection of the paper based on DNA experiments, would such an objection be seen as legitimate?

In many cases, sure. I can imagine a paper extending the Miller-Urey experiment into astrophysics. There DNA research would be topical and a biology reviewer would be entirely appropriate.

I note that you have still not mentioned any specific methods. Which method, specifically, do you think a physicist could not comment on?

Your post seemed to be driving at, "The results of some experiments might not be germane to all research topics."

But, this is true within fields. For instance, the evidence for dark matter is almost entirely unrelated to the evidence for black holes.

So by the standard that you've proposed, the field astrophysics is not equipped to comment on (or review) the methods used in the field of astrophysics.

More generally, I think your vision of peer-review is backwards. The relevant question is not, "Is the paper right?"

Instead, it is, "Are there any cases I can think of where the paper could be wrong?"

A physicist is able to see flaws in a biology paper. A biologist is going to be much, much better at it.

So, the reason that most critique comes from within a discipline is that, by the time the methodological flaws are apparent to physicists, the biologists have already pounced on them.

Chuck O'Connor said...

I think Kenneth is unwilling to admit that his superstitions do not count much in the AAF community and, when pressure-tested with hard, accountability-demanding reason, his "faith" appears to be immature wishful thinking. It is too bad that he can't see this and chooses to enable and empower ane evil and corrupting institution.

Russ said...

Tyro,

I take the milder stance that Christians (or Hindus, Muslims, Mormons or any other religious group) may have somehow stumbled onto the truth.

I fail to see that any truth stumbled onto by the religious is distinct from that body of truth which is common to all of humanity. The religious are not morally better, and, are, in fact, morally inferior in many ways. They do not possess insights that go beyond human experience and many of the insights they choose to act on are downright inhuman.

I'm particularly sensitive to those insights that allow the religious to cause or allow suffering in children when it is entirely within their power to stop it. Parents abusing their children as witches. Parents watching their child die as they substitute prayer for known-effective medical intervention. Roman Catholic clerics raping children. Clerics defending clerics who rape children is another. This Pope has guaranteed child rape will remain an employee perk among Roman Catholic clergy for the foreseeable future. Right now the Roman Catholics are fighting in the US Courts to be granted the right to deal with their priestly rapists independent of secular law, in their own way, which of course means continuing the child abuse as they have done for centuries.

Religiously condoned rape, abuse and neglect of children is not common to all of mankind. No religion is common to all mankind, so nothing specific to any religion is part of whatever truths may have been stumbled onto by some member of the human race who by accident of birth happened to inculcated into some religion. The contributions I've made to man's understanding of the natural world are not directly related to my being an atheist. Some may have resulted from my not having wasted my time in churches, but they are not related to my lack of belief in the silliness of supernaturalism. Bill Gates did not become the wealthiest self-made man on the planet because he was an atheist, but neither did he need religion to make it happen. Same goes for Warren Buffet, the second most wealthy self-made man.

No people on the planet can be distinguished as those preferred by some deity. There are accidents of more resources, more financial wherewithal, more military and fortuitous conquests, but there are no chosen people. "Chosen" is simply a solipsistic human construct. The atheists of Scandanavia have better moral grounding than do the psychopaths inhabiting the Vatican.

So, Tyro, let me voice my agreement with all you said by piggybacking one of your caveats: if one or more clearly discernible Christian-specific truths have not not been ferreted out in the nigh onto two thousand years since the earliest books of the New Testament were written, it is unlikely there are any such truths to be had.

Kenneth said...

Russ:
Many Christians, inculcated to believe prayer is effective, do nothing for others but pray. Christians deluge their gods with millions of prayers for starving children every day, yet 25000 children a day die for want of food. If we were to ask you why that was the case, you would hightail it off to some philosophical netherworld where the obvious answer - there is no god - is always off the table. Prayers are never answered here in the real world,

KJH: Your words above struck a chord in me in a very positive way. How many times I have sat in my office at the University of Illinois and wondered if I should just give up my intellectual work and go feed the poor! In fact, were I free to do so, I would. But to say that Christians only pray for starving children is not accurate. I personally know hundreds of Catholics who do exactly that, feed the poor. I encourage you to take the time to learn about the thousands of Catholic organizations that are feeding the poor, clothing the naked, giving education to the underprivileged. As many posts have repeatedly pointed out, there are major problems in the Catholic Church but one of them is NOT a callous indifference to our fellow human beings.

One does not have to choose between being a thinker and caring for the underprivileged (in any form). Intellectual work is what universities are about. It is not the most important work in the world but it is a noble vocation. And it is, or at least can be, humanizing. When Aristotle wrote in the opening sentence of the Metaphysics that “all people stretch out for knowledge,” he was expressing something very profound. To be human is to long to understand, to know. Education has an appropriate place in elevating our sense of humanity.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Kenneth,

I am a businessman so I often look at the world from cost/benefit analysis and your comment made me think of your faith justification in those terms. You said, "I personally know hundreds of Catholics who do exactly that, feed the poor. I encourage you to take the time to learn about the thousands of Catholic organizations that are feeding the poor, clothing the naked, giving education to the underprivileged."

I don't think these good deeds are mutually exclusive to Catholics and they don't make up for the terrible harm the Catholic institution has done historically and recently so, if you want to celebrate the charity of some of the Catholic agencies please be honest and do so with regard to the terrible atrocities the same institution has performed.

From my cost/benefit perspective the Catholic Church is in the red and the charitable work they do would still be conducted by well-meaning secular organizations whether they existed or not.

AdamK said...

"As many posts have repeatedly pointed out, there are major problems in the Catholic Church but one of them is NOT a callous indifference to our fellow human beings."

This is not true. The "problems in the CC," almost without exception, stem from a callous indifference to human beings. That callous indifference is exactly what is wrong with Catholicism, whether priestly child abuse, anti-gay activism, interference with anti-AIDS efforts in Africa, misogeny, etc. "A callous indifference to human beings" exactly describes it.

Glock21 said...

As with most students of science, I've done a great deal of cross-disciplinary studies, so when you say that the methodologies are dependent on phenomenon being studied to some extent, it really throws us as to what extent you could possibly mean.

It really seems to come across as the scientific disciplines being bubbles that only have limited routes of interaction where they meet. But this is entirely backwards from my perspective of those disciplines all being specialties, i.e. the specialization of scientific methodologies to certain areas of nature.

As human beings we are far too limited to learn and research effectively on anything and everything in a lifetime beyond cursory treatments. If we're going to make any headway in biology we will need specialists in the field. Granted it helps having survey coursework of other fields to have a more rounded education, but without the specialties we'd run out of time, brain resources to devote, etc before we even learned everything already discovered. Leaving no time or brain resources left to make new leaps on genetics, astronomy, etc.

The scientific method is the same whether we're biologists, physicists, sociologists, etc. The application may vary considerably, but to what extent the methodology changes, I'm unaware of any.

You seem to generally agree in your clarifications and comments later, but they still left the impression that you're attempting a "geocentric" perspective on a "heliocentric" system. ie... looking at it from the view of the specialized discipline to look outward at methodology and other disciplines. When the reality is all of those disciplines revolve around the methodology of modern scientific philosophy: the scientific method.

Also, it'd be impossible to decouple most major disciplines from one another. Biology without chemistry, chemistry without physics, astronomy without chemistry, etc. The "light" of the scientific method informs them all in a very cohesive system where their "gravity wells" of knowledge all have an impact on one another.

JustKem's concerns about the hints of your planned trajectory from here caught my eye as well. I hope in your 'ponying up' some of those concerns are addressed as well. Otherwise I feel we may be walking into another conversation mostly dealing with the extents and limits of those fields, and working out any confusion over how well or poorly it applies to the overall claims being made or questions being asked.

If nothing else I hope this helps explain some of the aghast responses and others that seem to be "oh here we go again" among this side of the intellectual pond.

Justkem said...

The physicist may not be an expert on the biologist's field of research, but both are equally capable of examining the methodology of an experiment, looking at the data, and making an informed decision about whether or not the conclusions are valid.

KJH: Of course. How could I disagree? I wasn’t denying this at all.

I guess I'm just confused then. I wrote this specifically because of your comment about needing to understand the distinct methodologies that are dependent on community. It seems that you see these methodologies as disjoint, when in fact they are very much in harmony with one another. If you aren't trying to say that a shift in perspective is necessary to understand and evaluate a scientific methodology, then I apologize for misinterpreting. Could you clarify what you meant by this, though?

For example, biologists have their own methodologies and they don’t ask for the approval of physicists and vice-versa. Why? Because they are dealing with different kinds of phenomena. If this is true, then it requires of us all to learn the methodologies used in a community of inquiry. We may, of course, choose not to enter into that community and its methodologies but that is a different matter.

Like Glock, this strikes me as completely antithetical to everything I ever learned about science. A thorough understanding of the scientific method, taught as early as 3rd grade in most schools, is really all that is necessary to evaluate any methodology.

M. Tully said...

"How do we know when we have arrived at the True theory, the theory of everything? I don’t know and I have doubts that any human being can know this. But it seems to me that the search for a final theory conceptually presupposes (demands) belief in the possibility of the Truth of scientific theories, not just their pragmatic utility. I am realist in the sense that I am looking for truth, not pragmatic “truth” but the True Theory of the universe. To me, science makes no sense without that assumption."

Oh, I finally get it. You really have absolutely no understanding of us.

Yes, the quest for the theory of everything is the prize, but take a survey of us about whether we think will ever actually get there. I think you'll find the answer is, "I don't know." Now, ask us if we think a theory we are currently applying will eventually be overturned. I think you'll find a good deal of "probably" out there. It's not some ABSOLUTE TRUTH, it's what is the closest approximation to perfect predictability we can get. It allows us to not fool ourselves and to also say, "hey, we're absolutely wrong about this."

Sure, would it be great to find the absolute theory of everything? Yes. Does putting it in that term make it fun? Absolutely. Do we accept that as the base premise to give us a reason to continue? Absolutely not!

Whether or not there is ultimately a single theory of physics that joins quantum mechanics and gravity is in the end unimportant. However, trying every day to understand the universe as it exists is important. And with that motivation alone we have made stupendous strides.

Make an honest comparison of the understanding of the physical universe in the year 1270 to today. We didn't have a unified theory then and we still don't today. But look at we do now understand. From the standard model of the atom to the cosmology of the background radiation. From natural selection to the human genome. Quantum theory today makes predictions that are experimentally demonstrated to values that the magnitude of was inconceivable of just 20 years ago.

Those strides were made not by thinking we had absolute truth, but by asserting we didn't and in fact we couldn't. And because we don't think there is an ultimate truth we spend our time trying to show we are wrong.

Do you wake up everyday with the goal of empirically laying waste to the very idea of Christianity? Would you suggest it as the ultimate goal to the leaders of your faith? Could a religion, take on as its ultimate quest to prove itself entirely wrong? We do. And it has brought us a level of prophetic accuracy that religious prophets could only dream of.

Can you make an honest comparison of theology from Aquinas to today and without any equivocation claim strides in even a remote magnitude to those of the science?

Yet theology rests on the premise that there HAS to be a theory of everything.

Based on the evidence, that premise seems to lack the necessary impetus for gaining a true understanding of the universe we live in.

Shorter version of a naturalist viewpoint, I don't have an absolute truth and neither do you. But, based on the evidence, if one of us is going to find it, it will be me. And that truly is pragmatic, but a pragmatism you can cure diseases with and fly to the moon on.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Well said M Tully. Well said.

AdamK said...

http://gay.americablog.com/2010/02/dc-archdiocese-drops-foster-care-hatred.html

Kenneth said...

Chuck said:
From my cost/benefit perspective the Catholic Church is in the red and the charitable work they do would still be conducted by well-meaning secular organizations whether they existed or not.

KJH: I don’t think we’re as far apart as one might think. It is an essential part of my faith to recognize goodness from whatever source it originates. When atheist individuals or organizations engage in charitable work, I celebrate that. The Church is willing in fact to work with any who want to better the lot of humankind. The only question of difference has to do with what constitutes a moral means of doing so.

Chuck said:
I don't think these good deeds are mutually exclusive to Catholics and they don't make up for the terrible harm the Catholic institution has done historically and recently so, if you want to celebrate the charity of some of the Catholic agencies please be honest and do so with regard to the terrible atrocities the same institution has performed.



KJH: The need to make reparations for the sins of the Church in the past was one of John Paul II’s primary missions. That is why he proposed and the Israeli government accepted his visit to Jerusalem, especially to Yad vashem, the holocaust memorial, where he lamented in biblical fashion “the sins of the fathers,” the complicity of Catholics in the Holocaust. It is precisely because we believe in Divine forgiveness that we can face up to the sins of the Church.

Perhaps one caution. As a historian, I know all too well how many are the misconceptions about history, including the history of the Church. There is much to lament and make reparations for. However, it is equally true that there were events and developments that are condemned by some out of lack of understanding. Example: I spent about 10 years studying the life and work of Galileo. It is sad that after so many good scholars have corrected the myths around Galileo, they still persist. Or a second, if you believed the secular media or John Cornwall of Hitler’s Pope fame, Pius XII was at best indifferent to the plight of the Jews in WWII, at worst a positive Anti-Semite. The facts in the context just don’t support that interpretation.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Kenneth,

My point is that an institution that claims holy concert with the resurrected Christ on a weekly basis should have a better moral track record than they do if, their claims to this relationship were true.

I don't see how you can acknowledge RCC history and still hold to RCC Catechism V. 1358.

As I quote, "1358 We must therefore consider the Eucharist as:

- thanksgiving and praise to the Father;
- the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his Body;
- the presence of Christ by the power of his word and of his Spirit."

So the presence of Christ passively stands by on a weekly basis as child-rapists consecrate the Eucharistic elements.

The RCC has to make up for their crimes and the most responsible way to do that would be to dissolve the failed institution it is.

Kenneth said...

Chuck:

You and I share the sense of outrage for the reprehensible actions of these priests. We just lay the blame at different doorsteps. One I choose is the bishops who have not dealt with the situation. It was their responsibility.

I am afraid that there is more suffering in this tragedy than you may know. The sufferings of the victims of clergy abuse are intolerable. And so are the sufferings of the falsely accused. I know several priests who are victims of false accusation. One has been deprived of the one thing he wanted his whole life, the chance to help others by being a priest. His bishop removed him from ministry even though he was cleared in a court of law. Another is spending his dying years in prison and there are only two possible explanations: either he did it and he flat out and bold-faced lied to me or he is innocent. Everything I have ever known about him suggests the latter.

Glock21 said...

An interesting tangent. While I'd never suggest there aren't innocent men in prison, the anecdotal testimonials of friends and family are generally not very persuasive for horrific crimes. Not merely because others who are unfamiliar with them tend to lean towards the horror of the accusation... but because generally people who engage in horrific and socially taboo acts would do everything to keep it a secret from others, especially the people they care about.

I still find it hard to believe one of my co-workers way back when raped and murdered his daughter, but the evidence made it a slam-dunk case. I could honestly argue that it conflicted with everything I thought I knew about him.

Not trying to imply the guilt of anybody else, just that testimonials from friends/family generally are unreliable indicators of innocence.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Kenneth

The question for me would be, why do you align yourself with an institution whose leadership practices evil while claiming an exclusive relationship with God inferring status? Seems irrational to me to empower such an organization and give it implicit sanction to its claims by providing explicit defense of it.

Richard H said...

So, are there any claims left regarding science?

It seems like the 'Science overstates its claims' has been clarified down quite a bit, as well as 'Science has well-partitioned fields with methods that the other disciplines are not equipped to cross-check.'

I'm still curious what it means for something to be religious knowledge and how we'd verify it.

All the methods I'm coming up with leave a Liar-Lunatic-CorrectDenomination trilemma with regard to theologians of different faiths.

John W. Loftus said...

Kenneth, let me chime in here. I was raised a Catholic but it surely looks to an outsider like me that your church is not a divine institution at all. The failings of the church down through history and now with these sex scandals are strong indicators of this. And if this is so why should I believe ANYTHING that it teaches as divine truth? Why should I even accept the canon it chose? If any other institution did the horrendous wrongs as your church did you would join me in condemning it. William Lobdell in his book, Losing My Religion is a page turner. You see, it's not just the harm that some priests did to children. It's the massive cover-up by your church that is so horrendous. The church even knowingly sent molesters to parishes in Alaska where nearly every boy was molested. That is, your church facilitated these molesters.

Again, I see no divine mind behind your church. It's a human institution created by males. Yes, it has done a great amount of good, by so do other organizations. You'd expect that since we're human beings in human institutions. But the misdeeds need to be explained, not explained away.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

You see, I think the last thing I would do if I were a minority is embrace the faith that brutalized my ancestors, and this doesn't merely indict the Catholic church, but Christianity as a whole.

Chuck O'Connor said...

John,

You've summarized the tipping point for my atheism which I am provisionally calling the Historic Argument against organized religion. Thanks for all your work. I am 100% supernatural-free and haven't been happier and more self-accepting in my life.

You've done a good job of "pastoring" me in the possibilities of free-thinking. This site has been a life-saver.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks so much Chuck! It means a lot to me that there are people like you who listen to what I say. And you have a great deal to share as well.

Chuck O'Connor said...

John,

Your OTF was a great position to assess truth claims.

Good work man!!!

Russ said...

Dr. Kenneth Howell
You said,

I am afraid that there is more suffering in this tragedy than you may know.

Sure, it's more than we may know. It's more than we can possibly know given the vast resources thrown at covering it up. But, there's one thing we can absolutely say about the Roman Catholic church: they love to watch people suffer. How do we know? Simple observation.


The sufferings of the victims of clergy abuse are intolerable.

For caring people their sufferings are intolerable, but not for the Roman Catholic church. What you've said here is a lie. The entire instititution did every thing it could to further dehumanize the victims. The sufferings of the victims meant nothing to the church. The former Grand Inquisitor himself, the current Pope, by his own hand, did all in his power to humiliate and crush the spirits of the victims and their families. Some small children, seven, eight years old, were said to have seduced their abusers. In Roman Catholic schools, teachers and students added to the abuse these children suffered. From the standpoint of the church it was simply unfortunate that forums on the internet helped many victims realize they were not alone in this.

From you the word intolerable seems nothing more than a bit of rhetorical brandish. What word? What word would an actually caring person use? Oh, yes, intolerable. Intolerable seems like something an observably caring person might say. Intolerable has strong implications. I think you wanted but feared using a semantically much weaker word. What word? What word could reflect what Roman Catholics thought about the the revelation of centuries of abuse by priests and its coverup? What word would reflect the obseved "callous indifference" to the suffering of children. Actually, there are lots, aren't there? Inconvenient, apathetic, indifferent, unconcerned. Those are all more precise than intolerable. Semantically, intolerable means impossible to tolerate. But, Roman Catholics will brook any horror whatsoever commmitted as de facto Roman Catholic dogma.

Raping and molesting by priests has always been supported by the whole of the Roman Catholic church, clergy and layman alike. The church's CEO's, CIO's, and CFO's, and the legal council carefully and faithfully nurtured the practice, never intending to stop it. The laymen endorse and feed the practice with every cent they give to the church. We can all see that there are many more worthwhile organizations than the Roman Catholic church, but, in their delusion of faith, they would rather support a vast infrastructure committed to the rape of children, than to give their money to a more deserving institution.


And so are the sufferings of the falsely accused.I know several priests who are victims of false accusation.

Cry me a fuckin' river. Tell me, did any of these falsely accused know of the abuse and fail to report it to secular authorities with the power to intervene on the victim's behalf? "Yes," is the proper answer. That's criminal collusion and conspiracy, and part of the outrage in this is that the secular authorities have failed miserably at pursuing justice for no reason other than the perpetrators, their conspirators and benefactors being religious with political connnections. Hell, according to court records, many of these priests gangraped their victims.

In one case an eight year old boy was lured to his Roman Catholic rectory and repeatedly orally and anally fucked by six priests. Imagine them standing in line overflowing with lust, cock in hand, watching this child being tortured - literally tortured - and waiting their turn to do the same.

There's no "callous indifference"?

Roman Catholicism has stripped these people of their humanity, and when they were found out, the faithful in the pews just kept pumping in the moral and financial support.

So, again, cry me a fuckin' river.

Kenneth said...

Well, I can certainly see that I have opened a can of worms. Richard reminded us that we are far from our original topic on science and Glock spoke of an interesting tangent. True. I am preparing my post “The Eucharist for Skeptics.” I hope to have part 1 within a few days. I leave next week on Thursday and will be out of touch for a few days so I hope to have it up by then.

Still, several of you have brought up an issue that will be relevant later so let me say a few preliminary words. You have posed the question as to why a person would join or remain in an institution where such moral atrocities have been done. Have I rightly understood the problem? If so, …

When the news of clergy abuse surfaced back in 2002, many pundits predicted a mass exodus of the faithful from the Church. To the best of my knowledge, this didn’t happen. Why not? I think it lies in how Catholics view the Church from the inside versus how outsiders see it. John said, “I was raised a Catholic but it surely looks to an outsider like me that your church is not a divine institution at all.” The Church is a divine-human institution. It has both. It has human sin and also divine forgiveness. Catholics lament --- is there a stronger word? I will use it --- these heinous crimes done by their clergy but they believe that the truth of the faith does not depend on the quality of its leaders. Of course people may not agree but I am explaining why Catholics do not abandon the church when the clergy commit horrible deeds. For the insider, they believe that the Church is its beliefs and its rites. For them, the truth of the faith does not depend on the behavior of individuals.

The USA condoned slavery for about the first 100 years of its existence. Should we abandon the Constitution because of this blatant hypocrisy? I don’t think so. The ideals of Constitution transcend the behavior of Americans. Agree with me for the sake of argument that the war in Vietnam was immoral. Should we all voluntarily relinquish our citizenship? Or because Joseph Stalin murdered millions of people in the Gulag, does this negate Marxism? In the name of liberty, fraternity, and equality, the French revolutionaries murdered thousands, maybe ten of thousands of French citizens. Should we be cynical about the ideals of liberty, fraternity, and equality?

In all these cases, the reprehensible actions of those who espouse a belief system do not answer the question about the truth claims being made.

John W. Loftus said...

Kenneth, what I'm saying is that the church looks entirely like a human institution with both good and bad in it. The church was and is a child of its times just like every other human institution. Since other institutions don't claim a divine side to it no they do not fall under the same criticism. We expect that they are, you see.

Glock21 said...

Kenneth, I think you have a point with US history versus the ideals espoused in our early documents enshrining classical liberalism... many people do in fact point to what the Constitution initially allowed to dismiss Constitutional arguments against policy/ideology they favor in conflict with it. I'd happily join them in criticizing the early documents and people behind them as imperfect, and argue on why I think the amended version still has a great deal of value, but...

You must admit it puts a damper on the claims that we were founded as a "Christian Nation." If we were it highlights the Biblical indifference, and outright support, of slavery. The cherry-picked modern moderate views would certainly consider that a very unchristian thing for it to do.

But just as with the Church, the religious views within the United States have generally lagged social progress outside of it. Once popular enough it is often forced to relent and adopt a new interpretation after years of resistance. It must be so, as defending a religion based on ancient holy books is an inherently results in a generally conservative ideology.

It is the argument of many skeptics that if there truly were divine inspiration going on here, such social progress would be lead by, not lagged by institutional religious powers claiming such divine inspiration.

It is of little surprise why an atheist such as myself would be quite inspired by a "radical" minister castigating the established church leaders in a letter from a Birmingham jail. It's certainly not because I think he suddenly found an interpretation of a religious text explicitly endorsing slavery. It's because he had powerful ideas in spite of the flawed religion and it highlights the painful lag that its inherent conservatism results in.

****

I can't stress this other issue enough. When adherents of the Church and its endless offshoots have lied endlessly about the people I care about, specifically my homosexual friends and loved ones... to smear their reputation with bogus research, to whip up hysteria and fear among the ignorant to encourage oppression, hatred, and ostracization...

...ESPECIALLY when their fearmongering is based on the dishonest accusations of EXACTLY what the Church, among its own leadership, is itself guilty of doing and protecting...

Well, you can just assume how claims of being divinely inspired will fall on deaf and increasingly angry ears.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Kenneth,

I thought you would be better than this. You equivocate, plain and simple. None of the institutions or ideologies or atrocities you mention claimed to a counselor in the person of God, namely the Holy Spirit. I will amend my question but the point is the same, how can you defend an institution that claims to have the internal counsel of God yet, perpetrates child-rape. Either the God infusing that institution is a monster or the institution is not what it claims. You either defend evil (if the Church is what you claim it to be) or, empower a lie. My question, why?

Russ said...

Kenneth Howell,
You said,

You have posed the question as to why a person would join or remain in an institution where such moral atrocities have been done

which you attempted to follow up with your own answers of

they believe that the truth of the faith does not depend on the quality of its leaders

and

they believe that the Church is its beliefs and its rites.

As justifications for why people remain in a failed institution neither of these succeeds. Do you not realize that there is no "faith" independent of those who define it? There is nothing to indicate divine insight in religious mumbo jumbo. Limbo is in; limbo is out. Latin only masses are in; latin masses only are out. One day the Assumption of Mary - dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 - was not dogma, the next it was. At one time priests were permitted to marry, now they're not. Indulgences are in; indulgences are out; indulgences are back. One day there is only Roman Catholic dogma, then Eastern Orthodox splits off, then we have all those Protestants. The faith not only depends on the quality of its leaders, it is, in fact, defined by those leaders. Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and though it's not Christianity, Scientology is always good for a laugh. You're a theologist? A philosopher? Right? Do you actually not know this? Do you think atheists don't know this?

And, again, the assertions made by theologists are not "true." That they are accepted by some mass of followers, exactly as in Scientology, does not mean they are true. Is it "true" that contraception use is bad or evil as your church teaches? Most US Roman Catholics use contraception. Italy is dense with Catholics yet they have a birthrate lower than the deathrate because of contraceptive use. How do we know these things? Simple empiricism.

You said, "they believe that the Church is its beliefs and its rites" also fails. Even if they are taught to say that that is what they believe, as I pointed out in my first comment on this thread, it's trivial to see that they don't believe it. Why? Their behavior. They can be socially prodded into saying most any words, but they behave consistent with what they actually believe.

Neither of your assertions above justifies why parishioners stay in the failed Roman Catholic church, but, inculcated fear, including the fear of hell, fear of losing the love or respect of family and friends, and fear of losing their social network. We see that many Christians are viciously cruel and heartless when their faith is called into question, and that many of those would repudiate their own children(theologically, how's disowning one's own children stack up against killing and maiming them as witches?).

Most Americans lack even a basic understanding of Christian literature like the Bible, and almost none care at all about theology, yours or any other. Half cannnot name the four Gospels. More than half can't the person who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. A good chunk think Sodom and Gomorrah were married. Some believe that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. Almost none read their holy book, including clergy. Of those Christians who attend church regularly, just over half can recite their standard creed and their own liturgy, but only a small fraction can explain any part of it.

The reasons you've proposed for why the faithful stay are factually baseless. Religions are defined by their leaders, while the pew dwellers are divorced intellectually and behaviorally from what that definition is. People stay with abhorrently failed religions for psychological reasons unrelated to how their version of religion is defined. People stay with abhorrently failed religions for the psychological reasons that make them abhorrent. One such reason being that they can make a parent hate their own child for apostasy.

razeh said...

Kenneth said:
When the news of clergy abuse surfaced back in 2002, many pundits predicted a mass exodus of the faithful from the Church. To the best of my knowledge, this didn’t happen.

I don't want this to disolve into a discussion on what the words "mass exodus" means, but consider this article in the Chicago Tribune.

The short summary is that Chicago diocese's mass attendance was increasing before 2001, and peaked at 572k. After 2001, it declined to 463k in 2009. While Chicago (which is a subset of the Chicago diocese) has had a small population decline in that time frame, from just looking at the graph on Wolfram Alpha it is nowhere close to 20%.

Chicago is, of course, only one diocese in the Catholic Church.

J said...

O.K.,

DR. Howell, I am going to try to be respectful, but damn! I went back and read your previous comments to see if there was something I missed that made me misunderstand you, and sure enough there was:

"But no scientist can say, “I have concluded that belief in the existence of laws of nature is wrong” because to do so would be to undermine the entire enterprise of science. To assume that the laws of nature are really in nature is a foundational belief of science. "

O.K., I'll explain this slowly (to someone who has a PHD in a scientific field), yes we look for predictable patterns. What you put in quotes as the "existence of laws of nature."

And you're right in that if patterns were NEVER OBSERVED there would be no reason for science to exist. However, PATTERNS DO EMERGE! And, they emerge in a way that allows us to explain events in the past and make predictions about the future in a way that any god hypothesis has never come close to.

And now I will ask John's indulgence in one particular area and ask you a straight forward question: In six years of post secondary education in biology, didn't anyone ever ask that question before? How did you survive in an undergraduate science class where the students didn't ask basic methodological questions of the instructor?

I would have been bored. But the short answer is, "Of course we look for patterns, the evidence demands we do. To search without the ideas of patterns, would be quite frankly, contrary to everything we have observed."

Based on everything we have observed to date, to suggest throwing out empiricism, seems well, ridiculous. I would be interested in any argument you had for why we should ignore what we observe for something else. That, would be after all, a scientist asking us to dispose of science, as you suggest in your post.

Tyro said...

Kenneth,

It has been a couple weeks. Are you still going to give us that common methodology or the illustration of transubstantiation? After three posts and plenty of comments, we've only seen attacks on science but nothing positive from you and it would be a shame to let it end that way.

John W. Loftus said...

Tyro, Kenneth sent me an email defending transubstantiation. I hesitate to post it because I'll be slammed along with him for thinking it was worthy of posting. If you insist, I will.

Tyro said...

LOL! Well, if you think it's unworthy then that's your call. I appreciate you telling us that he did respond. Perhaps this is something that could/should end here in the comments.

Kenneth said...

Dear Interlocutors:

I apologize for being gone so long. I have been traveling and have been swamping upon returning. As John said, he made an administrative judgment on the piece on the Eucharist. I respect his judgment. If any of you would like to see it, I'd be glad to send it to you personally. My email is kenneth.howell@sjcnc.org or kenneth.howell1952@gmail.com

I do want to reenter the discussion on other fronts. One would be explaining the nature of faith since that concept seems to be so poorly understood by both believers and unbelievers.

Kenneth said...

The Nature of Faith

The concept of faith is poorly understood by believers and unbelievers alike. The most common misconception is fideism, the notion that faith is based on faith, or alternatively, that faith is a blind leap in the dark without any rational grounds. Example? When Catholic students here at the University of Illinois converse with their unbelieving peers on controversial subjects like abortion, the unbeliever often responds that their Catholic opposition to abortion is based on their faith. It is assumed that since the opposition arises from faith, it cannot be persuasive for those who don’t have any faith. In this situation, the uninformed Catholic is usually stymied because he/she shares the assumption of their peers that faith is just faith and has no grounds outside that faith.

This situation betrays ignorance in both parties. The concept of faith has several different meanings and dimensions. One classic distinction in Christian theology is between the fides quae creditur and the fides qua creditur. The former (fides quae creditur = the faith which is believed) signifies the CONTENT of the Christian faith. This content has traditionally been interpreted as a matter of public determination and not subject to individual subjective opinion. The latter (fides qua creditur = the faith by which it is believed) signifies the personal and subjective faith of the individual. This classic distinction is lost on moderns; since about the late 18th century there has been a growing view of faith as only the subjective.

A corollary of this subjective view of faith is that it does not represent any kind of bona fide knowledge. It is just opinion and cannot be adjudicated by any canons of rationality. There is therefore no relationship between faith and truth. Catholicism utterly rejects this view of faith because it believes that faith must be in accord with the truths discovered by reason. Let’s take the abortion example again. Contrary to modern ideas of faith, the position held by the Church is based largely on facts and good logic, not on any specifics of the Catholic faith. In its simplest form, it consists of the moral maxim, “killing the innocent is always wrong.” Then, supplied with the genetic knowledge of the human fetus, the Church reasons that taking the life of the fetus is taking a human life. Since the fetus is undeniably “the innocent,” the Church affirms that abortion is a violation of the moral maxim stated above.

Notice that one does not have to be a Catholic, a Christian, or a religious person at all to come to the same conclusion. All one needs to affirm is the moral maxim (“killing the innocent is always wrong”) and accept the biological facts of genetics. You see, Catholicism holds a high view of human reason’s ability to arrive at truth. When it does, that too becomes a part of the objective content of the Catholic Faith (fides quae creditur).

Tyro said...

Creating your own private definition of "faith" doesn't change the fact that faith as in "blind leaps without sufficient evidence or reason" is also an integral component. It also fails to give the methodology for reaching theological conclusions or for validating claims.

I've no idea why you should think that creating another definition of "faith" should be relevant here but it certainly doesn't do anything to answer the questions and instead appears as if you haven't understood any of the issues, despite the number of times they have been repeated. Most disappointing.

Richard H said...

Contrary to modern ideas of faith, the position held by the Church is based largely on facts and good logic, not on any specifics of the Catholic faith.
There are two problems here.

The first is that, in logic, "largely" doesn't count for anything. A system is entirely based on good logic, or it is unsound. There are not degrees of logical unsoundness.

The bigger problem is that using this argument as a defence of 'faith' is treading near some significant dishonesty.

Consider the claim, "Apples are great for baking into pies!" In this case 'Apples' is a string that references a meaning that's tied to fruit.

One cannot reasonably respond, "No, you are wrong! Apples are made of plastic and silicon and are quite inedible."

The problem is that we can't equivocate meanings within someone's argument like that. To do so completely change their meaning.

However, we can make two non-trivial responses.

1. The fruit-definition of apple is not universal.
2. The original argument did not address all possible definitions of the string 'Apple', and would not apply to many of them.

Your definition of faith is non-standard (in the sense of 'the definition commonly expected'). From this, we can break down the claims a bit.

1. The atheist's attack on 'faith' is correct, but only for the meanings that the argument actually addressed.
2. There are meanings of 'faith' which were no substantively addressed by the argument.
3. Some of these can be justified in various ways.
4. Your particular definition is one of the justifiable ones.

I'm happy to accept points 1-3. (I'm sure I can identify at least one undergrad named 'Faith'. So, "belief in faith" is reasonable in at least one case).

As to #4, I can't really identify what you mean by faith, so I can't really comment on justification or not.

In its simplest form, it consists of the moral maxim, “killing the innocent is always wrong.”
Since there's no objective definition of 'innocent' this is a pretty trivial moral claim.

"I think it is always wrong to kill the people who I don't think should be killed!"

Plus, if we add in non-humans, the claim gets even more vacuous.

"It's ok to kill some things. Other things aren't generally supposed to be killed, except where they are."

Not only is that true, I can express it as symbolic logic. Take P='is morally killable', or='||' and not='-'.

P||(-P||P) => True

Richard H said...

To put the last bit a little more simply, the logic is assuming the thing it's trying to prove.

Specifically, we start from the assumption that human genetics demands moral consideration.

Then we re-phrase the claim a bit to make it seem like a substantial argument. And, then we pull back out as, "Since that thing has human genetics, it is owed moral consideration."

The argument isn't really wrong so much as it's trivial. If someone chooses to give deference to human-life because of it's humanness and life, then that's their choice.

But, that is absolutely not some universally-accepted moral truth.

Cancer-cultures cultures or stem cells have human genetics and are alive, and I don't value them.

Dolphins are not human and I do think they deserve rights. I'd respect the wishes of a deceased person, even though they are not alive.

Catholics respect human-life. I respect agency. In as far as a thing has plans, hopes, dreams and comprehension, I choose to give those things deference.

To me, this isn't really a point of faith; I'm not claiming to have any universal truth. Instead it's a choice I make because I wish to.

But, Catholics don't seem to act in a manner consistent with the belief, "all human life is sacred."

If a medical facility were performing experiments on caged 3-year-olds, I'd consider sabotage to be morally laudable and probably morally necessary.

Medical clinics do perform experiments on things that are claimed to be morally similar to 3-year-olds. But, they attract little more than strongly worded letters.

Steven Carr said...

How can the nature of faith be poorly understood when the Catholic Church has written a catechism to help people understand it?

I quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church :-

'Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me", the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.'


Kenneth, please feel free to lecture us on faith after you have 'received with docility' whatever your pastor decides to teach you on the subject.