Sunday, December 05, 2010

Critical thinking goes missing again at CFI

I am starting to think with Mr. Leo Lincourt, and surely others, that it's perhaps time to be more skeptical about alleged skepticism.

Besides the obvious offenders like Michael Shermer, there are others.

The latest? John Shook at Center for Inquiry.

His latest blog post? "How Does Science Defeat Religion." It's targeted NOT at fundamentalists, but the religiously liberal, those who might well be quite comfortable with Steve Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" on certain items.

My short, on-site reply:
NOT a good post. First, science is not designed to "defeat" anything, John.

If you had rewritten the whole "defeat" idea about philosophy and how the liberally religious try to deal with the problem of evil, you'd be cooking with gas. Instead, you don't even have a campfire.

Longer thoughts here.

If this is what the "Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry Transnational" thinks is the nature of science, oy. Really.

I agree with where I think Shook is coming from philosophically — rejecting the idea held by both Gould and liberally religious on dual magisteria. But, that's a philosophical issue as much as a scientific one, at least. Certainly, once you get past naturalistic issues, with the liberally religious accepting evolution, etc.,. it is. Science works with methodological naturalism. Therefore, if a liberally religious person claims that an incorporeal deity intruded into the natural world it's ultimately a philosophical issue.

If you go beyond methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism, well, obviously, by definition, you're now in philosophy.

Second, as Mr. Lincourt has noted in response to me, he misdefines science:
Aside from the fact that he never defines religion, rather just assumes the reader agrees with whatever nebulous definition he's using, I found this 'graph to be particularly troublesome:

"After science was invented, all things were no longer equal. Science supplements ordinary knowledge with vastly improved knowledge, and common consent gets overruled by scientific knowledge. There is a parallel superiority of ethical judgment over the "common consent" of humanity on moral matters -- after past experiments with slavery caused horrible consequences for all to see, no society could justify slavery anymore."

Umm... science was invented? I rather thought science was a constellation of philosophies, methodologies, practices and social norms that evolved out of our capacity to reason, not some monolithic creation that was conjured whole cloth out of the void one fine day by some old, bearded, toga-wearing dude and has remained relatively static ever since then.

So, moving on, science supplants ordinary knowledge? Really? I can think of half a dozen types of knowledge where science neither supplants or even has anything to say. Literature and music, just to pick two.

Leo doesn't use the word "scientism," but it seems that's exactly what Shook is practicing.

Third, Leo passed on Massimo Pigliucci's latest blog post, called "Why Plumbing is not Science."
The title of this entry is a reference to Jerry Coyne’s occasional remark that there is no substantial difference between plumbing and science because plumbers test hypotheses based on empirical evidence.

Except, of course, that plumbing is not science, and here is why. ... I don’t actually believe that anyone takes seriously the proposition that all reason-based knowledge is “scientific.” If that were the case, then pretty much everything we do every day should count as science — from picking a movie based on a review by a critic we usually like (induction!) to deciding to cross the street when the pedestrian light is green (hypothesis testing!). If the concept of science is that expansive, than it is also pretty close to meaningless.

Bingo, and it reflects at least in part another Shook mistake and why he needs to listen to some philosophers, as David Buller knows most scientists do. (Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers, who probably applaud thoughts like Shook's, definitely need to.)

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