Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The science delusion?

A new book tries to counter The God Delusion by claiming science has the same problems atheists claim that religion has... Huh?
Despite their prevalence and the millions of copies of books they have sold, the so-called “New Atheists” have a big problem. These authors, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, have fallen victim to the same thing they spend so much of their writing critiquing: religiosity.
How? They aren't religious, so  how can there be religiosity. Is there passion there? Sure, but that's something different.
When an avowed leftist like Noam Chomsky, far from a traditional theist by any definition, calls Hitchens and Harris “religious fanatics”, clearly something has gone amuck
Indeed. It means that Chomsky has no idea what 'religious fanatic' means.
Richard Dawkins and his supporters completely overlooked the religious associations that are bound with the “Out Campaign”, an advocacy movement wherein atheists wear lapels with the scarlet letter “A” as a sign of their being ostracized by society.
Wearing an 'A' pin doesn't make atheists religious. The folks that work at my bank wear pins of the bank logo. Is my bank a religion too? What about US flag pins, sports team pins, or any other kind of pins? The claim made here is just sad.
Such an unironic appropriation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel shows the New Atheists’ blindness to the fact that fanaticism and zeal are not exclusive to religion.
I've never heard anyone ever claim that. This is not new news to me, nor do I think it would be news to any atheist one were to speak to. 
New Atheists are likely to applaud the line that opens Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” One doesn’t need to be an advanced philosopher to recognize that judgment is not scientific, but metaphysical. The claims made by New Atheists, claims that fall under the umbrella of “scientism”, are as grandiose and as easy to make as “God created everything that is, ever was, or will be.”
Scientism? Great, he's one of those guys that make up a word to try and pass science off as bad or claim that atheists don't actually follow real science...

As for the Sagan mention, Brice is missing the point. An atheist will likely agree with Sagan, but at the same time I'm not going to claim it as absolutely, unmovingly true like those that claim God is eternal. In short, our minds can be changed. Show us evidence that what Sagan said wasn't correct and we will discard that stance and change our mind. But the believer that says God is just eternal never will. This makes the two examples offered completely different.
His rebuttal to scientism begins with a seemingly benign example from Dawkins’ The God Delusion, where Dawkins describes a lunch he had with Jim Watson. He deems that lunch was “a good lunch.” White’s question for Dawkins is simple: “What’s a good lunch?” Using the metrics that one could reasonably justify from the framework of evolutionary biology, it’s not clear what “good” would mean as Dawkins uses it.
More word games? Why is it so hard for some to understand that comparative terms like good or bad make sense coming from an atheist or believer alike?
As White rightly observes, terms like “good”, “dazzle”, and “amazement”, which are often invoked by scientists in describing the grandeur of the universe and scientific discovery, “[don’t have] anything to do with the practice of science.” Even descriptive words that do have scientific merit, such as “complexity”, do not in themselves explain anything more than what they are describing. Saying that the cosmos is “beautiful” because of its complexity says nothing other than that it is complex.
Sigh...  Scientists are allowed to use descriptive terms too, you know. Scientists are human and are conveying their human feelings and emotions. I fail to see any problem here.
While it may be circular to say that belief in God is proved by God (e.g. “The Bible is all true, God told me in the Bible that he was right”), so too is it circular to say that the absolute truth of the scientific method proves itself true.
Except that no-one claims that science is true because of  it's own existence. We can safely say that we can rely on science because of it's results, not because of it's existence. By doing science we end up with answers and results. These outcomes can be further tested to see if they are accurate. We can even take these results and make predictions of what should happen. If doing more science shows that what we say should happen does, it strengthens the case for the the science. Science is not simply deemed to be true because it is, but because it works!
Now, the easy response to White’s argument is to say, “Well, of course we know the things science tells us are true; we don’t question that the earth rotates around the sun, or that we need oxygen to breathe, etc.” White counters this when he points out, “But this ‘of course’ is the marker of ideology, and the ideologist resists examining his own assumptions because to do so would be to make vulnerable his claims to authority.”
But scientists and atheists are open to counter claims.  So there goes that claim... Also, 'of course' is not the marker of ideology as White claims. Rather it is a marker of how sure a person is about something. I can be sure of something and answer 'of course'. But even though I am sure, if you show me evidence that I am mistaken, my mind can be changed.
When thinkers like Plantinga refute the New Atheists, the argument ultimately becomes that all world views, religious or otherwise, rely on unproveable faith claims.
Except that science relies on facts and evidence, so one that relies on science need not rely on faith at all.
White himself expresses skepticism at scientism’s ability to provide a coherent picture of the world that goes beyond mere description of facts.
He does know that discovering and understanding the facts is exactly what science is trying to do, right? It strives to uncover the facts and put them to use. What exactly does White think science is doing that is over reaching?
In particular, he calls for a return to the Romantic spirit. “It was Romanticism,” he writes, “that first challenged the emerging dominance of the scientific and rationalist worldview
Because challenging a rational worldview is somehow a good thing? Romanticism may feel good, but it's not always rational, and certainly isn't always accurate. I fail to see how irrational is supposed to be superior to rational. That's not to say there's no room for the arts or such in a rational world of course.
“But nowhere does he explain why ‘I am my connectome’ should make anyone feel better about themselves than ‘I am my genome.’”
Um... Science is concerned with what is true, not what makes you feel good. Truth doesn't have to align with what people like or want.
Science is beautiful when the confirmation of its theories disconfirms the dominant beliefs of the culture it is working within, or simply disconfirms the intuitions of the human brain itself.” This is paralleled by artistic invention: “Most art innovations are, at first, accused of being impious, or treasonous, or ugly, or decadent, depending upon the ideology.”
But this is exactly what science is open to every single day. So where is the problem?
Scientism and New Atheism reject this idea in favor of absolutist, accidentally metaphysical claims like Sagan’s “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
No, no, no, no no! We are the same kind of scientists that are open to being proved wrong. Sagan was open to changing his mind. He made that statement based on what he knew at the time. To claim he was stating it as a forever unyielding stance is dishonest. What if I am told I am eating an organic pear, and say "This pear is organic"? Am I being stringent? No. Because what if I then see the sticker on the pear and it says it isn't organic? Then I'd correct what I said and say "Oops, it wasn't organic, but it was still good." To pretend years after Sagan's death that he would have refused to admit the pear wasn't organic is quite disgusting to me and makes me question the author's motives.

-Brain Hulk

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