Existential Comics tackles Scientism


This is terrible. I’m supposed to be on the side of the atheists, but I can’t help but agree that the philosophers have it right. In this comic, it’s Hannah Arendt (in gray), Mary Wollstonecraft (green dress), and Simone de Beauvoir (red scarf) vs. Sam Harris. Simone Weil and Elizabeth Anscombe help take on Richard Dawkins and Neil de Grasse Tyson in other parts.

The commentary is scathing, too.

“Scientism” is the position that Science can solve all problems, or that all problems are empirical. Philosophically, it is mostly associated with the strongest statements made by the logical positivism movement, which mostly died out in the mid 20th century. Culturally, however, it is stronger than ever, and is closely tied to movements like the so-called “New Atheists”. These newer, more naive forms of Scientism, also have a strong tendency to call philosophy “a big waste of time”, “pointless arguing”, “nothing but semantics”, etc. Rhetorically, they tend to say that non-empirical ideas have no way to guarantee they are true, so are pointless to talk about. This is a rather ridiculous point to make, since their entire movement is based around spreading a certain set of non-empirical, philosophical norms, which they apparently don’t feel it necessary to open up to criticism. What they mostly seem to mean is, assuming everyone agrees with us on the important philosophic questions, such as atheism, utilitarianism, capitalism, eliminative materialism, etc., then we don’t need anything but science. Well, this is a maybe true in a strange way, insofar that if everyone agreed on every philosophical position, i.e. if philosophy was solved, then we probably wouldn’t need philosophy. Philosophy, however, has not been solved. Furthermore, if it is going to be solved, it certainly won’t be solved by a bunch of people who don’t even read or engage in philosophy. The real goal is often just to draw a border around what we should or shouldn’t question, because they don’t want any of the fundamental aspects of society to change. And, well, people who don’t want society to change often also find themselves not wanting people to even think about changing society.

This is, of course, a deeply conservative position, and reflects the politics of the people who make this sort of claim. In a lot of ways “New Atheism” is just a political movement that is attempting to secularize conservatism (in particular, it seems, the foreign policy doctrine that the United States and Europe should be “exporting” their culture overseas, i.e. governing the Earth). People who want to change society in a fundamental way, not just improve the efficiency and technology within society, seldom use this kind of anti-intellectual rhetoric. For example, Mary Wollstonecraft, in the 1700s, was trying to convince people to allow women to be educated in the same manner as men. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that science or technology alone aren’t going to solve this kind of problem. People wanting to make comparable changes today also aren’t going to be fooled into thinking that all we need is more advanced technology, or to understand atoms better or something. Somewhat amusingly (or actually probably not that amusingly), people like Richard Dawkins, when attacked for their conservative views, will sometimes try to defend themselves by saying that they actually are feminists, or whatever. But, of course, when you get down to their views and actions, it’s obvious that what they mean by “feminism” is “gender equality was already achieved a few decades ago, so everyone needs to stop complaining about it.” Sam Harris, for instance, when asked why there were so few women in the “New Atheism” movement, had this to say:

There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women. The atheist variable just has this- it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.

The “critical posture”, of course, means “people who agree with Sam Harris”. Someone who doesn’t find it necessary to read a book about a topic before writing a book on that topic can hardly be said to have a “critical posture”.

The New Atheism is a “deeply conservative position” — but not for all of us. Unfortunately, those of us who want the New Atheism to be a progressive force are being rapidly squeezed out.

So it goes.

Comments

  1. Ichthyic says

    Unfortunately, those of us who want the New Atheism to be a progressive force are being rapidly squeezed out.

    It’s not because of the numbers of atheists that are progressive vs conservative though. progressives outnumber cons by a good 3:1 margin.

    it’s because the cons are given more money to make their voices heard in more public venues, and because authoritarians exist in both atheism and religion, you get very loud groups of minority supporters.

    basically, it’s the exact same reasons the US now has Trump as POTUS.

    this really is a war, and unless progressives start actually fighting it, they WILL be squeezed out.

  2. mnb0 says

    Fortunately I never cared much for New Atheism. I always preferred the company of progressive theists (those who use their belief to advocate things like gender equality) than the company of Dawkins, Harris etc.

  3. says

    Philosophers tend to be right on matters of philosophy. Which is why it is so annoying when scientists butt in to philosophy. I don’t tell people how to conduct peer review. Stay out of my field.

  4. biobengal says

    Mike Smith, I tend to agree that “scientism” taken to the nth degree can be a problem; however, the bunker mentality may not be the right approach. Philosophy should engage and inform science and science needs to engage and inform philosophy. The idea of soft and hard sciences, IMO, has been rightly discredited. I tend to believe “stay out of my field” indicates something to hide. Instead… engage, polinate, create.

  5. John Morales says

    Good point and well-taken, but…

    “YOU WILL NEVER HERE SUCH RHETORIC”
    “WHERE THE BOUNDRY OF WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO QUESTION”

  6. says

    There is a lot of sneering at science right there, but frankly I don’t see much difference between the sort of attitude pushed by this comic, and Donald Trump.

    I mean saying climate change is real, that’s scientism right there.

    Sure you can say you need something more than science when it comes to public policy, but should you really be dismissing science when making that policy? This comic looks very much like it thinks the answer is “yes”.

    And that final panel is telling about the whole thing, a rant claiming “scientism” leads to tyranny, and the last panel who is committing the violence against their ideological opponents?

  7. consciousness razor says

    I mean saying climate change is real, that’s scientism right there.

    No, it isn’t. That’s you endorsing a specific scientifically-supported fact.

    Sure you can say you need something more than science when it comes to public policy, but should you really be dismissing science when making that policy?

    Nobody’s dismissing science. Science isn’t the same thing as scientism (or positivism). The former is an activity some people do, in an effort to understand the world. The latter is a confused philosophical position some bullshitters take about science.

  8. consciousness razor says

    The former is an activity some people do, in an effort to understand the world.

    Let me clarify. Some people would say science is not a huge and important part of that effort, but it is the one and only genuine effort to understand the world, that everything beyond that is meaningless or pointless or useless or worthless or assorted other bad things.

    For example, if philosophers of science, hadn’t made any scientific progress of their own, when doing their philosophy (although it’s certainly debatable whether that’s true), then that is supposedly a mark against their work. Their work, or anyone’s work doing anything, is evaluated not on its own terms but on the terms of whether or not it helps scientists do science. If it doesn’t, it’s supposedly bad or worthless. There are various shades and degrees of this, but that is essentially the idea.

    Let’s turn this around, shall we? I’d like to raise an objection, as a musician. That is, I expect you all to do my work for me. If meteorology and biology and thermodynamics and finance and agriculture and mining (and the list goes on) don’t help me understand the theory or history or practice of music, if they don’t add anything to what I need as a musician to do my work as best I can, then I’m going to call all of those things “meaningless” and tell you that you’re doing it all wrong. Then, because in reality I’m at least a faintly reasonable person most of the time, I’ll expect nearly everyone in the world to complain (rightly) that I’m acting like an ignorant, anti-intellectual goon. Nobody should subscribe to that kind of agenda, not even me as a musician. It’s just patently fucking stupid to think things need to work that way.

  9. KG says

    Philosophers tend to be right on matters of philosophy. – Mike Smith@3

    Hahahahahahahahaha! Good one! As if any real philosopher would ever say something so stupid – and anti-philosophical!

  10. says

    consciousness razor

    No, it isn’t. That’s you endorsing a specific scientifically-supported fact.

    And using those facts is the thing that is most likely to get you accused of “scientism.”

    I am all for philosophy, I think it should actually be taught in schools alongside science.

    There is a lot that philosophy examines that is important – ethics for example – but when philosophers pull this shit, it isn’t some great defense of great ideas.

    The rise of dismissal of philosophy as a field is largely in response to the post-modernist attempt to push “alternative facts” and “other ways of knowing” which conflict with science.

    And the rise of this ideology has had catastrophic consequences. Bad philosophy departments like to talk about how bad the history of science is – but science wasn’t what drove Thabo Mbeki to adopt his policy of “African solutions to African problems” – that was down to his philosophy. And the net result of that a drop in South Africa’s average life expectancy.

    “Other ways of knowing” somehow got to trump virology. But hey, its not like that still happening – oh wait, the anti-vaccine movement. And yes, Trump is all for his “alternative facts”.

    In that wonderful criticism PZ quotes, there is a lot of sneering at “how atoms work” or “finding a better medicine” – but that stuff matters. Maybe not to some over-privileged shithead with sheltered employment as a tenured philosopher, but for somebody dying of a disease or a miner worried about radiation poisoning? Yeah maybe that “better technology” would be a good idea.

  11. consciousness razor says

    And using those facts is the thing that is most likely to get you accused of “scientism.”

    That’s an empirical statement, and that’s not how it has ever played out in my experience. I think you’re just making that up.

    I am all for philosophy, I think it should actually be taught in schools alongside science.

    And it is taught in schools alongside science, and indeed it’s been in schools for as long as there have been schools. So, uhhh … ???

    There is a lot that philosophy examines that is important – ethics for example – but when philosophers pull this shit, it isn’t some great defense of great ideas.

    When they pull what shit? I have no clue what the referent of “this” is supposed to be. What did they do, this time?

    This isn’t about defending philosophy (or science for that matter). Like I said, if you want to pull this scientism shit, you’re attacking artists and historians and all sorts of other non-scientists as well, not just philosophers. The splash damage from it is fucking huge, because most people are non-scientists and most everything they do is not science. Philosophers have simply done us all the service of giving this particular brand of crackpottery a name and showing the many obvious things which are wrong with it. Not surprising, since doing that sort of thing is right in their wheelhouse, not so much for musicians or accountants or medieval historians.

    In that wonderful criticism PZ quotes, there is a lot of sneering at “how atoms work” or “finding a better medicine” – but that stuff matters.

    Of course it does. Nobody you’re arguing with has claimed otherwise. It isn’t the only thing that matters. I’ll let you work through that. Do you read the words in the previous sentence, and do you notice anything specific about what precisely they do and do not mean?

    Science is often presented as if it’s under some unimaginably enormous threat. There are threatening forces out there, but taken to an extreme, this becomes more than a little paranoid. It’s like worrying about Islamic terrorists destroying the U.S. or something. The U.S. is a big powerful thing, like science is, and it isn’t actually so severely threatened by much at all. So, those kinds of concerns, while sometimes justified to a certain extent, aren’t a reason to turn your guns on everyone and everything else. But that’s what people do, isn’t it? They get a little worried about whatever the fuck, and they blow the whole fucking world up in retaliation. Probably should’ve been at least a little worried about their reaction too.

  12. Dunc says

    “Science isn’t everything” doesn’t mean “science is nothing”. Saying “understanding how atoms work better can’t help us solve a large domain of interesting and important problems” doesn’t imply that understanding how atoms work is worthless.

    Welcome to the fallacy of the excluded middle.

    It’s mildly interesting that nobody ever makes this sort of obviously flawed argument within science – for example, if you were to argue that understanding plate tectonics doesn’t tell you anything about biology, nobody’s going to accuse you of “sneering” at plate tectonics. Of course, nobody’s foolish enough to argue that plate tectonics is all you need to understand the world…

  13. unclefrogy says

    I am not sure I understand this. looks like we are trying to lock things to discrete definitions and argue which is best.
    It seems to me that we are trying to do basically is to ask questions of reality to understand what is real and how do we know it. At least that is what I am trying to do. There are some who try to answer using reason and language alone, some use ancient written texts and some of those go so far as to go by faith alone in those texts, others use various empirical test, and observations .there are some who engage in these methods who ignore any results that do not use their chosen one.
    the conflict I find tedious. it is the questions and the answers that are important here, not how they are answered and by whom.
    I would say that the progressives are not so much being squeezed out as escaping the controlling nature of the reactionary conservative types who refuse to accept that the nature of time is change and the humility that they do not have all the answers.
    uncle frogy

  14. essexgreen says

    Isn’t the problem that we should not be trying to find truth outside science ? In my mind , there are things we can do science about and which can be in the right direction like quantum physics , or false . Everything else is stuff we have to talk about and form opinions (even informed ones sometimes) about , but ultimately just that . We cannot for example prove that equality is better than inequality , maybe it really isn’t , we have to argue about it now and later and probably forever.
    And on the atheist front , “there is a god” is a scientific hypothesis about reality and is better killed in the scientific arena , instead of trying to fight it in the philosophical arena where it just runs around and around and you cant catch it .

  15. cartomancer says

    It seems a bit off to me to have Richard Dawkins as the one voicing the opinion that Philosophy is useless. I’ve heard Sam Harris say that several times, and Neil Tyson once or twice, but I can’t recall ever having heard Richard Dawkins say it. Indeed, I’ve heard him express respect for philosophy and philosophers on many occasions, particularly in conversation with his close friends Dan Dennett and AC Grayling who are both philosophers. He has gone so far as to say that the best philosophers of science tend to be the ones who engage with actual scientists and learn some science, rather than remaining detached from the enterprise, but that’s really not the same thing as dismissing all philosophy as invalid.

    Now, he HAS said, on many occasions, that Theology is pretty useless. Though even then he has suggested that most of what academic theologians do isn’t really Theology at all, but ancient history, philosophy and cultural studies, and should find homes with faculties doing those things rather than in overtly Christian environments called Theology faculties.

  16. John Morales says

    The OP offers a working definition:’ “Scientism” is the position that Science can solve all problems, or that all problems are empirical.’, which nobody has hitherto explicitly disputed.

    That claim entails that “what do you want to be when you grow up?” has a specific, scientific answer.

    (Silly claims such as that invite clarification)

  17. thecalmone says

    If scientism died out in the mid 20th century, how can it be stronger than ever?

  18. Dunc says

    thecalmone, @17: That’s not what the quote says. It says that scientism as a philosophical concept is most strongly associated with logical positivism, and that logical positivism mostly died out (implied: in academic philosophy) in the mid 20th century.

    Many ideas hang around in the wider culture long after they’re completely abandoned by the relevant academic disciplines.

  19. lotharloo says

    I think philosophy bashing is part of the stupid academic “turf wars” and I don’t really recognize it as part of New Atheism. For one thing, at least one of the supposed “four horsemen” is a philosopher and second of all, philosophy bashing did not emerge until people like Harris got famous. And when it comes to Harris, it suffices to say that the clown wanted to write about “Morality”, but no, he did not want to read the prior work, he just wanted to discover it all by himself!

    First, a disclaimer and non-apology: Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy. There are two reasons why I haven’t done this: First, while I have read a fair amount of this literature, I did not arrive at my position on the relationship between human values and the rest of human knowledge by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continued progress in the sciences of mind. Second, I am convinced that every appearance of terms like “metaethics,” “deontology,” “noncognitivism,” “anti-realism,” “emotivism,” and the like, directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe.

    That’s basically Sam Harris: little intelligence, and massive ego. That’s why he thinks he can solve all these complex problems (solve “Islamic terrorism”, “reform Islam”, “improve airport security”) and so on.

  20. rietpluim says

    In above discussion we can already see how “scientism” became an excuse of anti-scientific movements to dismiss science without further argument. Evolution? Scientism! Climate change? Scientism! Of course they’re not scientism. Evolution and climate change are definitely inside the realm of science.

  21. quidam says

    An argument that something is good because dictators don’t like it is a philosophical fallacy. Reductio ad Hitlerum/Dictatorum/nasty personum or something like that. Stange that an argument for philosophy would use it. Dictators try to shut down or seize control of anything that might detract from their control, including art, philosophy, education, religion, science, etc.

    And I wonder if the asserted premise is even true. Hitler hated modern (degenerate) art but valued the traditional. “While modern styles of art were prohibited, the Nazis promoted paintings and sculptures that were traditional in manner and that exalted the “blood and soil” values of racial purity, militarism, and obedience.’ Wikipedia
    In the same way, Hitler valued philosophy – provided philosophers agreed with his philosophy

  22. rietpluim says

    quidam I don’t think that’s what the comic says. The way I read it, is exactly like your last few sentences. The interest of dictators in philosophy (and art and literature) does not prove that it is “good” but that it is not trivial.

  23. Dunc says

    An argument that something is good because dictators don’t like it is a philosophical fallacy.

    Just as well nobody’s actually arguing that then, isn’t it?

    And I wonder if the asserted premise is even true. Hitler hated modern (degenerate) art but valued the traditional.

    The comic refers to dictators purging* art and philosophy, not completely eliminating them.

    * Purge: 1. to rid of impurities; cleanse; purify.

  24. Siobhan says

    @conciousness razor

    And it is taught in schools alongside science, and indeed it’s been in schools for as long as there have been schools. So, uhhh … ???

    One of the reasons I talked about how weaksauce my philosophy is on AtG is precisely because my public schooling never touched the subject. :/ Sure, I was taught the Scientific Method, but I was never taught why it works or why it’s more prone to self-correction than “other forms of knowing.”

  25. Akira MacKenzie says

    From the OP:

    Mary Wollstonecraft, in the 1700s, was trying to convince people to allow women to be educated in the same manner as men. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that science or technology alone aren’t going to solve this kind of problem. People wanting to make comparable changes today also aren’t going to be fooled into thinking that all we need is more advanced technology, or to understand atoms better or something.

    That sounds familiar. It reads very much like a lefty secular version of the “you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is'” line I hear from right-wing Christian assholes like William Lane Craig when they piss all over science.

  26. says

    Think I have to agree with some of the points here, regarding the absurd notion that the “problem” with certain movements is “too much focus on supposed science, and not enough of philosophy.” No, the problem, for anyone paying attention to some of the “solutions” that people come up with without involving science at all is – “Both are hollow, and ignore reality, when the people pushing them as the only solution ignore everything else.” We NEED people that look at the world and say, “This needs to be a much better place, and more fair.”, but that has to be done on the basis of, “What actually testably works.”, not on the basis of some group getting into its head that the world needs to be such and such a way, and all consequences that arise from their chosen method of “fixing things” don’t matter, because the goal is the most important thing. Because, well.. frankly, they will never ever get to the goal, at all, if the solutions on how to get there simply create a different form of oppression, denigration, injustice, etc. You can philosophize all you bloody want about what something “should be like”, but if it isn’t, and can’t be, you have to refine, and rework your solutions, to fit actual reality – i.e., adjust your goals and methods, dare I say, scientifically.

    Scientism isn’t even scientism, in the sense being argued. Nope, it is, in actual fact, “We have this philosophy about how to solve all the worlds problems, and plan to ignore the fact that its not working, along with all the reasons it doesn’t work.” It is precisely the **opposite** of actual science. It is a denial of the failure of solutions, resulting in a doubling down on what their philosophy says, “Must be the answer.”, while ignoring the empirical evidence that it is failing. This sort of thing is neither good science, nor is it good philosophy, regardless of which side you are on, or which set of “solutions” you are complaining have been “ignored”. Because, in the end, neither side is arguing from the standpoint of, “We have tested this, found it wanting, and are rethinking our hypotheses.” Instead, both sides fall into, “We must be right, because the other side is doing so badly, so we need to throw out everything but the ”pure’ solution.”

    And, honestly, are you really going to tell me that the “solutions” derived purely from social sciences and philosophy have been vastly “better” than any of the stupid stuff that pure science has come up with? Because, funny enough, I see a pretty dang screwed up world out there, and *most* of it is being driven by, “We feel this will work.”, not, “We did some science and this solution seems logical.” Except when some clown does claim the latter – and then starts babbling pseudoscience when confronted by why it isn’t actually working. And, its always pseudoscience. Because, if it wasn’t, they would eventually have to accept and admit it doesn’t actually work, and they need a new hypothesis about how to fix things (or even what the freaking problem *is* at all).

    Again, this isn’t philosophy vs. scientism – its ideology vs. actual scientific method.

  27. Akira MacKenzie says

    Edit @ 26

    That first paragraph is supposed to be block quoted. HTML fail on my part.

  28. Akira MacKenzie says

    Mnb0 @ 2

    I always preferred the company of progressive theists (those who use their belief to advocate things like gender equality) than the company of Dawkins, Harris etc.

    They’re still WRONG. I don’t care how “nice” and liberal they seem to be, superstitious fuckwittery has no place in human thought regardless who much the credulous dolt likes non-whites and gay people.

    If anything the right wing theists have an easier time working theology into their ideology. The progressive, not so much: If democracy is your ideal, who the fuck elected God? How do you shoehorn modern beliefs of social, racial, and sexual egalitarianism, along with science and rationalism, into an authoritarian religious narrative with thousands of years of scriptural and behavioral precedence? The Religious Right maybe aaholes with a horrific system of belief, but at least their faith is consistent with their politics. Progressive theists, on the other hand, have to white wash the nastier elements of their religion and hope people like you are blinded by “niceness.”

    Fuck “nice.”

  29. rietpluim says

    Siobhan Same for me. Philosophy was optional and only available to students taking ancient Greek and Latin, not science; and we never even touched the subject of scientific method, even though our high school education was called “preparatory scientific education”.

  30. Vivec says

    Frankly, I’m with Mnbo. I’ve largely fallen out with the atheist “movement” in favor of bridge building with progressive theists. Atheism has never been a matter I particularly care about in and of itself – I’m just not religious. Most of my focus is on minority rights, and I’d rather spend my time talking to nice theists than the veritable minefield of alt-right assholes that many online atheist communities have become.

  31. rietpluim says

    I’m with Mnbo too. I couldn’t care less whether someone’s personal beliefs are consistent internally or with their actions – I care whether those actions are fair and just. Not “nice”. That’s something completely different.

  32. Jake P says

    Isn’t it a bit unfair to put Neil deGrasse Tyson in the same camp as Harris? Sure, he may indulge in some benign scientism. But it is nowhere near Sam “science justifies sexism and racial profiling” Harris. Couldn’t they have just invited him for a chat and explained to him the error of his ways ;)

  33. jerthebarbarian says

    @30

    They’re still WRONG.

    Everyone is wrong about something. Often many things. I’m usually wrong 6 times before breakfast.

    What matters to me is whether the person I’m dealing with is trying to make the world a better place, or trying to make it a craphole. I’d rather be around dozens of progressive religious believers than one Sam Harris. Because those progressive religious types are working to make the world a better place while Harris is working hard to make it a craphole. Despite my atheism, they are my allies in my lifetime project of “trying to leave this world a better place than I came into it” while guys like Harris – who nominally share my religious views – are actively working against me on that front.

  34. Rob Grigjanis says

    Akira MacKenzie @30: Do you have a list of things which have “no place in human thought”? Do you advocate re-education camps for those not meeting your criteria for proper thought?

    I’m with mnb0 and Vivec. Blinded by niceness!

  35. Akira MacKenzie says

    Wow! I’m speechless. This is what atheism and the left have come to?

    And on Pharyngula, of all places.

  36. Vivec says

    I mean, as mentioned, Atheism was never a big thing to me at any point ever. I’m here because PZ and the other blogs in the network agree with me politically, not because they’re atheist. I also frequent other sites with more-religious-but-equally-progressive bloggers, and [gasp, horror] have plenty of progressive theist friends.

  37. rietpluim says

    Wow! I’m speechless. This is what atheism and the left have come to?
    Come to what, exactly? To make the world a better place? You really think that’s an abomination?
    Jesus fuck.

  38. Dunc says

    This is what atheism and the left have come to?

    Being more concerned with people’s actual actions than their inner beliefs? Yes. Most of us regard this as a good thing.

  39. rietpluim says

    Akira MacKenzie Then what the fuck do you expect us to say? “I’m sorry, I know you’re in favor of same-sex marriage, separation of church and state, equal pay for men and women, and affordable health care for everybody, but you’re a Christian so I’m gonna fight you no matter what”? Now that would leave me speechless.

  40. Vivec says

    Even in a less activist sense, I’d rather hang out with the christian LGBT people on campus that have been welcoming and nice to me, than the atheist group where I was told that they were “Skeptical” about transgenderism.

  41. Saad says

    Akira,

    They’re still WRONG.

    Yes, and nobody is saying we’ll agree with them about religion.

    My dad is wrong about the death penalty. Doesn’t mean I’ll want to hang out with every anti-death penalty person on the planet before I consider hanging out with him.

    You seem to be implying any atheist is better than any theist.

    I’d definitely vote for someone like Sadiq Khan over someone like Sam Harris.

  42. Akira MacKenzie says

    I expect you to say: “You belong to a religion that has expressly taught for centuries that, among other horrific and demonstrably WRONG physical and moral statements, claims that women are chattel, homosexuals should be murdered, and we are ruled by an unelected, unaccountable super-being who can’t be questioned. Now you’re telling me your faith is about love, peace, and freedom? When did that happen? Did you get a memo from your deity, or are you just trying to keep your suspsticious delusions relevant to keep the cash being tossed into the collection plate.”

    Or, if you prefer brevity, “After all the bullshit your religion has spewed, why should I take you seriously now?”

  43. consciousness razor says

    Siobhan:

    One of the reasons I talked about how weaksauce my philosophy is on AtG is precisely because my public schooling never touched the subject.

    Well, I attended private schools until college, and I’m not sure how different your experience may have been. However, even in elementary and high schools, many basic philosophical concepts and principles and strategies are introduced, probably without it being explicitly labeled “philosophy” most of the time.

    One thing I assume is not required is that people sit around in their smoking jackets to discuss Plato’s cave for the thousandth time. There is a whole lot more to it than that.

    If you took, for example, a political science course (which I think are mandatory in most or all US states), then you would’ve been introduced to a bunch of political philosophy along the way. If you learned some basic logic in math classes or elsewhere, you were exposed to other kinds of philosophical ideas then. If you studied some art or music or literature or whatever, then it’s the same thing all over again. You’ve got the taint all over you already, and you just didn’t know it.

    Jake P:

    Isn’t it a bit unfair to put Neil deGrasse Tyson in the same camp as Harris?

    No. They are in the same camp, in the sense that Tyson does engage in scientism from time to time. That’s true, so it’s fair. Even dabbled in it on his Cosmos remake, if I recall correctly, which is pretty unfortunate.

    If anything, it might be unfair to Harris on that account, because (in my limited experience of Harris) he’s much more often expressed positive views about philosophy and other academic disciplines. He just doesn’t understand shit about them, that’s all — but of course when he proceeds to lecture everyone about them anyway, I get how that gives the strong impression that he’s disregarding all of it as unimportant.

    Sure, he may indulge in some benign scientism.

    There is no such thing.

    But it is nowhere near Sam “science justifies sexism and racial profiling” Harris.

    Have you changed the subject here? Presumably, the question was whether or not it’s fair to criticize Tyson for his scientism, just like we ought to do for Harris, thus putting him “in the same camp” in that sense and for that reason. It is fair, and this looks like it has nothing to do with that.

    Maybe you want to say we should be much less disgusted by Tyson, compared to Harris, for tons of additional reasons like this. I would completely agree with that.

  44. Akira MacKenzie says

    Dunc @ 40

    Actions are informed by belief. If the beliefs don’t balance, why should I trust the sincerity of their actions?

  45. Vivec says

    Or, if you prefer brevity, “After all the bullshit your religion has spewed, why should I take you seriously now?”

    …Because their words and actions have lent enough evidence to the idea that they’ve largely compartmentalized their religious beliefs to warrant belief?

    I don’t know what to tell you. If you’d rather I hang out on r/atheism than a message board full of supportive LGBT christians, my answer is “No, fuck off.”

  46. Dunc says

    @46: I’m not sure I care if their actions are sincere or not. If actions are informed by belief, then based on their actions, people’s professed beliefs often don’t appear to align with their actual beliefs. People are complicated, and often hold multiple contradictory beliefs which they compartmentalise. I don’t see that there’s any point worrying about it.

    Basically, I don’t really care that much what goes on inside other people’s heads, as long as it stays there. What people actually think, feel, or believe is fundamentally unknowable. What they do and say is all that matters.

  47. chigau (違う) says

    When filling hampers at the food bank, distributing blankets to street people, cleaning up the garbage in the river valley, etc., I have rarely felt the need to determine if my work-mates were Baptists or Satanists or Whateverists.
    Do the job, have a juice and a cookie, go home. See you next time.

  48. Akira MacKenzie says

    Saad @ 43

    And my father is a right wing, Catholic, overtly racist homophobe and I wouldn’t hang out with him if he were the only other human being on Earth. Just because we share more genes in common than most humans doesn’t oblige me to love, like, or even care about the fucker. I prefer a better class of human being than the garbage who believe in either magic, conservatism, or both.

    If that makes me a “bad” person? Boo-fucking-Hoo. I have expectations about how this civilization needs to be run, and courting favor with the idiots who are fucking up the world with their delusions isn’t one of them.

  49. Akira MacKenzie says

    Besides, the religious left will be just as eager to throw atheists on the pyre as the religious right. That’s the nature of religion.

  50. Vivec says

    Congrats, we’ve achieved “edgy youtube comment” levels of discourse. Inane overgeneralized bullshit like @51 is why I tend to stay away from online atheist spaces.

  51. Rob Grigjanis says

    Akira MacKenzie @50: My dad was a Lutheran who taught me, by example, that you don’t judge people by their race, nationality, professed religion or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

    I prefer a better class of human being than the garbage who believe in either magic, conservatism, or both.

    And you’re among the “better class”? Put me in steerage.

  52. Vivec says

    @53
    Real talk, if the dividing line is such that Akira or an asshole like Hitchens is included on the good side, and every religious advocate for equality is on the bad side, fuck the good side.

  53. consciousness razor says

    Anybody who worships the creator of this universe, if there were any such being, has earned more than a little distrust from me. Never mind the dishonesty and laziness it takes to believe in a god. It hardly needs to be said that this is very often a very sad and horrible place. So, they’re being bootlickers for a tyrant? Is that “progressive”?

    Or perhaps their heads are just too far up their own asses to see how “love, peace, and freedom,” or any of their empty slogans, have not a fucking thing to do with how their world, dominated by their religions and supposedly governed by their deities, actually works.

    Any way you slice it, that’s a terrible way to build my trust that they’ll be good allies in return. I can think of better alliances to make, and I do only have so much time to cultivate those in my life. So that one looks pretty fucked, if you ask me.

  54. Vivec says

    I think most of us are referring to “progressive” in reference to their politics, not their religious beliefs, in which case, no, it’s not progressive. It’s also not relevant. If the politics they advocate for are progressive, then they’re progressive, regardless of what they’re metaphysical beliefs are.

    I am neither privy to nor care to know their actual reasoning for why they seem to advocate for minority rights just as much as I do.

  55. Reginald Selkirk says

    So art and philosphy = good, scientism = bad? Somehow it hasn’t always worked out that way, even back when philosophy was young. Socrates encouraged authoritarian dictatorships which plagued the Athenian democracy.

  56. Saad says

    Akira, #50

    And my father is a right wing, Catholic, overtly racist homophobe and I wouldn’t hang out with him if he were the only other human being on Earth. Just because we share more genes in common than most humans doesn’t oblige me to love, like, or even care about the fucker. I prefer a better class of human being than the garbage who believe in either magic, conservatism, or both.

    What are you talking about?

    I said nothing about genes in common. And nobody is talking about “right wing overtly racist homophobic” Christians.

    Holy strawman.

  57. consciousness razor says

    I think most of us are referring to “progressive” in reference to their politics, not their religious beliefs, in which case, no, it’s not progressive. It’s also not relevant. If the politics they advocate for are progressive, then they’re progressive, regardless of what they’re metaphysical beliefs are.

    I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) dispute that politically progressive people have progressive political beliefs. I fail to see how that’s relevant to what I wrote in #55.

    What is it supposed to entail, as some kind of political strategy presumably, to ally ourselves with progressive theists? I certainly don’t give a shit who you hang out with on campus, etc., and I take it that’s not the real issue anyone cares about.

    So what exactly is being asked of me, if the claim is that I should pursue the same kind of thing, because you think there is some moral/political good in it? If these tautologically-progressive people are not going to be as progressive as they used to be anymore, because I’ve criticized their religion or failed to be their “ally” in some substantial sense, then it doesn’t look like I have good options. They seem to be holding all of the cards. Apparently the only reason atheists would think about an alliance like this is because we’re a minority and need the numbers to have enough political support on our side. But if they’re not on our side in all sorts of ways that count, then that’s their fault. There’s nothing I can do about it.

    I am neither privy to nor care to know their actual reasoning for why they seem to advocate for minority rights just as much as I do.

    You don’t even care why people “seem” to advocate for the same things as you? I’ll assume it’s okay that I do.

    Do care to know if whatever seems to be happening is actually happening? If so, how would you generally try to approach that kind of issue?

  58. consciousness razor says

    So art and philosphy = good, scientism = bad?

    Nobody said those are always good. However, scientism is a flaming pile of garbage, so you go that half of it right.

  59. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @55:

    Anybody who worships the creator of this universe, if there were any such being, has earned more than a little distrust from me.

    I’m trying to imagine the collective gasp of disappointment.

  60. Vivec says

    What is it supposed to entail, as some kind of political strategy presumably, to ally ourselves with progressive theists?

    I’m certainly not talking about political strategy, and I’m confused as to when that entered the conversation. Akira’s objection seemed to be to the mere act of allying and befriending them at all.

    I certainly don’t give a shit who you hang out with on campus, etc., and I take it that’s not the real issue anyone cares about

    As far as I can tell, that is indeed the issue in question. If Akira means that we should not politically align with progressive theists, he picked a really odd set of posts to reply to, given that we’ve largely been talking about association and interpersonal contact.

    So what exactly is being asked of me, if the claim is that I should pursue the same kind of thing, because you think there is some moral/political good in it?

    I’m not asking anything of you. Feel free to associate or not associate with theists at your leisure.

    Apparently the only reason atheists would think about an alliance like this is because we’re a minority and need the numbers to have enough political support on our side

    I ally with progressive theists because I don’t give a shit about my atheism and don’t really give a shit about their theism, as long as they’re cool people and support the same political goals. If you’re talking about specifically pro-atheist activism, I don’t really care and don’t take part in any, so it’s not really relevant to my situation.

    You don’t even care why people “seem” to advocate for the same things as you? I’ll assume it’s okay that I do.

    Sure, you’re free to. Let me know when you acquire the means to ascertain their true intention for why they think the way they do, and not just the intention they profess.

    Do care to know if whatever seems to be happening is actually happening?

    I don’t think it’s possible to know for absolute certain, if that’s what you’re asking. Problem of hard solipsism and all that. I’m happy with taking things as the evidence presents them, because that’s the best we can do at our frame of reference. At the moment, I think there is sufficient evidence to reject the claim that progressive theists are all closet dominionists lying about their political advocacy.

  61. Vivec says

    Like, the specific post Akira was objecting to was about “preferred the company of progressive theists (those who use their belief to advocate things like gender equality) than the company of Dawkins, Harris etc.”

    So like, idk where this “political strategy” part came in.

  62. consciousness razor says

    Rob:

    I’m trying to imagine the collective gasp of disappointment.

    Don’t try too hard. Fuck you for the random pointless insult and all that, but it makes no difference to me. I just wanted to offer reasons for my point of view, and I think I did that.

    Vivec:

    I’m certainly not talking about political strategy, and I’m confused as to when that entered the conversation

    The word “alliance.” The word “progressive.” All of the talk about actual political goals, which would be achieved somehow (if that talk is going to mean anything) in the political sphere and not just in your interpersonal relationships. Statements like “I’d definitely vote for someone like Sadiq Khan over someone like Sam Harris.” Numerous other statements in numerous other threads like this for a long time.

    I’m not sure exactly when, where or how it entered the conversation, but I’m fairly sure it did at some point or another.

    My parents are religious — not a very dogmatic or Bible-thumping sort, but they’re lifelong Catholics and will probably die that way. I have a great relationship with them, as I do with quite a few other religious people. I have good relationships with some conservatives too, although some of the nastier stuff does put a strain on things at times, but political discussions are not typically the point of those relationships (as you might imagine). I don’t call any of them “allies” or any of these things “alliances.” There isn’t any war here, or trade agreements, or political intrigues or anything of the sort, so that’s just not the word I would use, in order to avoid confusing everyone. They’re relationships I have with friends, family, colleagues, etc. And for the record, I would probably not vote for a single one of them (including myself) to hold a public office.

  63. Vivec says

    The word “alliance.” The word “progressive.” All of the talk about actual political goals, which would be achieved somehow (if that talk is going to mean anything) in the political sphere and not just in your interpersonal relationships.

    I’m using “ally” in the like, modern SJ “shares values with me and supports me” sense, not as in a “politically motivated organization attempting to get some particular political action.”

    I don’t think we really disagree, if you’re not going around insulting us for daring to be friends and prefer to associate with nice theists over asshole atheists. However, that is literally what Akira was doing, so that’s two different issues.

  64. rietpluim says

    Akira MacKenzie
    You belong to a religion that has expressly taught for centuries that, among other horrific and demonstrably WRONG physical and moral statements, claims that women are chattel, homosexuals should be murdered, and we are ruled by an unelected, unaccountable super-being who can’t be questioned (etc.)
    Uhm, no. Someone in favor of same-sex marriage, separation of church and state, equal pay for men and women, and affordable health care for everybody, does not belong to such a religion.
    There may be a different religion that goes by the same name, but it is definitely not the same religion.

  65. consciousness razor says

    I’m using “ally” in the like, modern SJ “shares values with me and supports me” sense,

    I’m afraid I still don’t get it. That’s just a friend, or a companion or confidant if you like. (It’s “just” that, in a sense, and please don’t take that to be about diminishing the importance of friendship or something.)

    What part of “social justice” do you think isn’t about getting some particular political action? For all I care, you can leave out the part about a specific organization, like a specific party or another type of social institution, but I don’t see how justice in a society happens via you hanging out with your friends who think the same things. That’s an “alliance” of a handful of people (for/against what, I don’t know), and it doesn’t sound like in reality it’s doing anything about social justice. Those relationships are a part of your personal life, which is probably quite meaningful to you, and that’s enough isn’t it? How is justice for all human society supposed to fit into that somehow? I can only assume it doesn’t.

    My worry is that people who (mis-) interpret this kind of talk as I did will get the wrong impression. They’ll think that we as progressive atheists are being told we should form some kind of political alliance with progressive theists, to accomplish something in the form of legislation or whatever else, something to move us in the direction of social justice, minority rights, and various other progressive causes. Based on this talk, maybe they’ll think this is actually already happening in some circles, and maybe they’ll wonder when they’ll hear news about how productive this entire approach has been. But if that’s not what’s being suggested, and especially if you think it doesn’t sound like such a great idea after all, then maybe it’d be good to rethink how you’re expressing whatever it is you are expressing?

  66. rietpluim says

    BTW Right now we are part of a community that says practically the same things about women and homosexuals (not to mention Muslims or people of color) so that’s not a very convincing point you’re making.

  67. Vivec says

    I’m afraid I still don’t get it. That’s just a friend, or a companion or confidant if you like. (It’s “just” that, in a sense, and please don’t take that to be about diminishing the importance of friendship or something.)

    It’s a friend who specifically supports me in matters that, at least here, are far from having any sort of mainstream acceptance. Having a person who knows I’m Bi and Trans, and supports me with full knowledge and no judgement of that, is a step above and beyond someone who is just kinda nice to me once in a while.

    What part of “social justice” do you think isn’t about getting some particular political action?

    Depends, do you mean political as in “having to do with political issues”, or political as in “specifically engaging with the government.” Because, for example, I consider things like pride events, workshops, and meetup groups to be part of social justice advocacy without necessarily including any attempts to push legislation.

    For all I care, you can leave out the part about a specific organization, like a specific party or another type of social institution, but I don’t see how justice in a society happens via you hanging out with your friends who think the same things.

    By changing people’s hearts and minds, and hopefully convincing people to be less shitty to each other?

    Social Justice isn’t just about putting in legislation to prevent discrimination, it’s about awareness and tolerance, and trying to stop people from wanting to discriminate in the first place. Legislative action is only part of the equation.

    They’ll think that we as progressive atheists are being told we should form some kind of political alliance with progressive theists, to accomplish something in the form of legislation or whatever else, something to move us in the direction of social justice, minority rights, and various other progressive causes.

    I mean, I wouldn’t be unhappy if progressive ahteists and progressive theists work together to spread tolerance and progressive legislation? That seems largely ideal to me. I don’t think it’s an expectation for any individual atheist to go and make friends with theists, but it’s what I’d prefer.

    But if that’s not what’s being suggested, and especially if you think it doesn’t sound like such a great idea after all, then maybe it’d be good to rethink how you’re expressing whatever it is you are expressing?

    Uh, okay.
    1. I agree with mnb0
    2. I think Akira is full of shit.
    3. I’d rather hang out with nice theists than shitty atheists
    4. I personally don’t give a shit about atheist activism and prefer to focus on things like racial, gender, and LGBT equality, and I do not think whether a supporter is theist or atheist matters.

  68. Vivec says

    Like, once again, Akira was specifically objecting to the mere concept of preferring to hang out with progressive theists over scummy atheist, as well as making the batshit claim that literally all theists are closet dominionists.

  69. consciousness razor says

    By changing people’s hearts and minds, and hopefully convincing people to be less shitty to each other?

    But in the circumstances we’re talking about, you’re not changing anyone’s hearts and minds or convincing them of anything. This is the sort of person, who, as you just said, “supports me with full knowledge and no judgement of that.” That’s a good friend, who by supporting your gender/sexuality is also a decent human being. I’m happy that your friends aren’t bigotry-spewing trash. (Of course, some people’s friends aren’t, so friendliness doesn’t quite cut it apparently.) You found people who were predisposed to support you and what matters to you, and you likewise probably support them for who they are and what they stand for. That’s definitely a good thing, but I don’t see changing or convincing in any of this.

    Depends, do you mean political as in “having to do with political issues”, or political as in “specifically engaging with the government.” Because, for example, I consider things like pride events, workshops, and meetup groups to be part of social justice advocacy without necessarily including any attempts to push legislation.

    You could have an ice cream social with all of your liberal friends (I’d probably join!), but it would not be a part of “social justice advocacy” merely because you happened to have the right sort of liberal people in the crowd.

    I don’t claim that it needs to involve pushing legislation specifically, as there are many other ways to achieve social changes just like you’re saying. However, some at least potentially-productive thing needs to occur, which might end up having an actual tangible effect on society, with the very abstract and very general aim of promoting justice in society, if I’m going to say that it’s a type of social justice advocacy. Just gathering up like-minded people to make a noise or pat themselves in the back or throw a party or whatever is not doing that.

    A pride parade, for example, is certainly helpful. It’s actually engaging with the public, because it happens there. It makes the news. Large numbers of “allies” (in the sense I thought we were talking about) will join in the fun too, making it a nice big event that might end up doing something. Positions are manifestly and literally advocated to other people who can hear what those positions are, and so forth. Maybe some will change their minds about something they’ve heard. Maybe nobody takes anything very useful away from it, but that is clearly part of what people are trying to accomplish with such events.

    You choosing which people you personally will hang out with is not at all like that, in so many different ways it’s hard to count, and I don’t see how you could think they’re connected.

    I personally don’t give a shit about atheist activism

    Fine, but I do. Maybe that’s partly why we seem to be talking past one another.

    I do not think whether a supporter is theist or atheist matters.

    I think it does matter. If they’re a theist, they’re not supporting a whole lot of shit that I’d like to convince them to support. That includes things which both do and don’t fall under the banner of “social justice.”

    Some pertain to gender/race/sexuality/class and so forth, and others are just about social justice more generally. The death penalty was mentioned earlier, for instance. It must be abolished, if we want anything like social justice. Yet that is something many theists support, and if you go into it with them in any depth, you do often run into their supernaturalism very quickly. I don’t think you can take the atheism/naturalism out of that kind of argument, or mask it somehow so that hopefully nobody notices, and still be effective. Animal welfare is another issue, and although “humanists” often seem completely tone-deaf to me on that account, arguments from theists (or believers in human souls) to try to downplay that problem or neglect it entirely are not difficult to find. I would say that’s a failure of justice as well, and I think we can do a lot better generally, if we take naturalism seriously instead of blithely saying it “doesn’t matter.” It’s a pretty substantial fact about the world with a whole lot of ramifications, one that a large fraction of the world disagree about, so of course it matters.

  70. Dunc says

    @73: OK, the death penalty is a good example. Many theists support it, but many theists oppose it (often for explicitly religious reasons). Are you going to refuse to work with those theists who share your goal of abolition, simply on the grounds that they’re theists? Or are you willing to park your theological disagreements with them for the purpose of achieving a common goal?

  71. consciousness razor says

    The death penalty was mentioned earlier, for instance. It must be abolished, if we want anything like social justice.

    The right to die is another one where naturalism is a fairly obvious and important component. I remember way back when PZ used to link now and then to somebody’s blog, who focused a lot on that — can’t remember his name now or a lot of detail, but his wife died after a long and painful terminal illness. So he wrote some very beautiful and very compelling stuff.

    Anyway, there are lots of things like that. To say it doesn’t matter, I guess because it’s not narrowly your problem that you personally are dealing with right now, is pretty hard to swallow.

  72. consciousness razor says

    Are you going to refuse to work with those theists who share your goal of abolition, simply on the grounds that they’re theists?

    Well, now you’re talking about working on something…. I guess I haven’t gotten there yet with Vivec.

    Or are you willing to park your theological disagreements with them for the purpose of achieving a common goal?

    What do you mean by “park” them? If they’re willing to work with me, while I’m free to express what I think about the death penalty and about theism, then I have no problem. If they’re going to use that opportunity to silence or soften up some of their critics, then that’s their fault. I’ll still try to get rid of the death penalty, and the only question (which I can’t do anything about) is whether they’ve decided to change their position on it.

    Would I work with atheists on other things, who don’t share that particular view? Yes, obviously. And I think I should also be free to tell them why they’re right about this one issue, where we can make progress together, while they’re wrong about others, where they are part of what’s holding back progress. If they can’t handle some reasonable thoughtful criticism like that, then I don’t know why it might seem like I haven’t lived up to my end of the bargain. They’re the ones with the problem, or else through this critical process which is actually allowed to happen openly and for all parties, I need to be shown why I was the one who was mistaken.

  73. Vivec says

    CR, if you’re not opposed to us working alongside progressive theists, and aren’t opposed to us being friends with progressive theists, you’re not actually having the same argument we’re having.

    I think you’re absolutely free to criticize someone’s religion, even if they’re otherwise on your side. I don’t do that, but that’s your prerogative.

    As I’ve said like twice now, I am specifically reacting to Akira’s bullshit, which was specifically attacking us for not having ideologically pure friendships.

  74. woozy says

    @34

    Isn’t it a bit unfair to put Neil deGrasse Tyson in the same camp as Harris? Sure, he may indulge in some benign scientism. But it is nowhere near Sam “science justifies sexism and racial profiling” Harris. Couldn’t they have just invited him for a chat and explained to him the error of his ways ;)

    From the comic:

    Neil deGrass Tyson is mostly being made fun of for saying that philosophy of science hasn’t contributed to science. A rather odd statement, since anything that contributes to science would just be science. Philosophy of science asks different questions, like what science is and why and how it works. He probably shouldn’t be lumped in with the others politically, and he isn’t as anti-philosophy as a whole, as far as I can tell.

  75. Rob Grigjanis says

    woozy @78: From the comic quote;

    he isn’t as anti-philosophy as a whole, as far as I can tell

    Tyson, answering a question about Hawking’s “philosophy is dead”;

    And so what happens is, the 1920s come in, we learn about the expanding universe in the same decade as we learn about quantum physics, each of which falls so far out of what you can deduce from your armchair that the whole community of philosophers that previously had added materially to the thinking of the physical scientists was rendered essentially obsolete, and that point, and I have yet to see a contribution — this will get me in trouble with all manner of philosophers — but call me later and correct me if you think I’ve missed somebody here.

    Tyson is a PR man, nothing more.

  76. says

    The right to die is another one where naturalism is a fairly obvious and important component. I remember way back when PZ used to link now and then to somebody’s blog, who focused a lot on that — can’t remember his name now or a lot of detail, but his wife died after a long and painful terminal illness. So he wrote some very beautiful and very compelling stuff.

    I think you could be talking about Eric MacDonald. (He might have had some noxious ideas on some other subject and I angrily stopped reading him – I seem to recall something like that – but I could be wrong. His writing on assisted dying was very good, in any case.)

  77. Akira MacKenzie says

    rietpluim @ 67

    And how’s the sugar on you porridge tasting, Shamus?

  78. Vivec says

    @81
    “These two people claim to believe the same thing while having mutually exclusive beliefs” =/= No true scotsman

  79. Vivec says

    A christian deist that doesnt believe in the efficacy of prayer and thinks the bible is highly flawed and metaphorical has next to nothing in common with a christian evangelist that preaches killing gay people and thinks Jesus is literally going to show up aside from the label.

    If they disagree on literally every point of doctrine, up to and including the existence of an interventionist god, I think it’s fair to say they dont belong to the exact same religion.

  80. gmcard says

    I’d like to see more rational thinking from our global society, but only secondarily to seeing much, much more empathy. If rationality is the _only_ thing that matters, then naturally those people at the top of the heap and who are confident of holding what they have will be quite comfortable with cruel and unfair actions that keep them at the top. No fear of supernatural repercussions for their behavior, no care for what they leave to future generations. No surprise then that the New Atheist leaders, people who were so privileged they could maintain a prominent platform while championing a deeply unpopular religious position, and who have been promoting rationality as the only thing that matters, find fellowship in deplorable conservative circles.

  81. Scientismist says

    Here’s why I am proud to be a scientismist:

    When I was born, homosexuals were being jailed or even lynched. As I grew up I was aware that gay people were being purged from government jobs, and that society could be expected to reflected the received wisdom that morality was best defined by those clergy and philosophers who had declared same-sex attraction to be “objectively disordered” and that “facts” were not to be considered a criterion for moral judgement. I came of age when gay people were being systematically eliminated from positions where they might become societal leaders, and when an orange-juice saleslady was screaming “ABNORMAL!” at gays on TV. I was starting out as a University lab scientist when the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a homosexual from a job with the state “equal employment opportunity commission” (!) based on a definition of “moral turpitude” taken from a Catholic Encyclopedia.

    I was advised by the Chancellor of the California University where I worked that, while he personally opposed it, it would likely be futile to attempt to stop a state ballot initiative that would ban homosexuals or anyone who supported them from teaching or holding any job in a public school system. When I read the existing campaign materials, I found that the major justification given for the proposed law was the claim that gay men were much more likely to be child molesters than were heterosexual men, but found by reading the scientific literature that the exact opposite was more likely the case. So I wrote some pamphlets explaining Prop 6, the “Briggs Initiative” and its “reasoning”, and the scientific case for seeing its supporting arguments as a collection of unsubstantiated lies, and then spent much of the summer of 1978 handing out self-published copies on street corners.

    I watched with relief as the initiative failed, probably not because of its foundation in scientifically refuted lies, but most likely because even the former governor and future president understood it to be constitutionally indefensible.

    But I have also watched, over the ensuing 39 years, as attitudes have changed when people have learned the truth that gay people represent a completely natural, normal and non-threatening part of the diversity of human behavior.

    …And now?

    [Science accepts] Criticism of how we model an atom — yes. Criticism of how we run society? For that you need something more [than science]. Many before you have drawn a line in the sand and said: ‘No more thinking. Our ideas are finished! We need only work out the details of our system’. Not only were they all wrong, but they were tyrants! You will never here [sic] such rhetoric from a repressed minority working to change society.

    This cartoon lady has clearly not been living in the same world I have. The lines in the sand that I have seen attempting to prevent people from thinking and declaring an end to the history of ideas have been those drawn in an attempt to suppress science. Philosophy and art are certainly not in themselves enemies of the search for truth, but they are subject to use as such when they are put forward as that “something more” that is alleged to negate the probable truths of science and provide a cover for those who would rather see issues of “morality” settled in favor of ignorance and authoritarian tradition.

    I adopted the moniker “Scientismist” back before the Internet was a thing, when I audited a grad level seminar series in philosophy of science and saw philosophers try to defend lines of demarcation that were supposed to tell science where to butt out. Finally, one philosopher explained that since science was obviously limited to mere physical facts, which could be known only due to their grounding in the more transcendent facts of philosophy and morality, it followed that any citation of the merely worldly facts of science must be irrelevant to any moral discussion and a blatant form of scientism — and after all, (here comes the killer argument): Nobody wants to be called a scientismist!

    Well I, for one, do indeed want to be called a scientismist, if that means I reserve the right to say NO to the philosophers who want to aid authoritarian politicians in making laws out of lies. There are no “non-scientific” truths (probable or absolute) that can be known by human beings, be they priests, philosophers, or politicians; and insisting upon scientific truth (the merely probable kind) as the proper foundation for public policy is indeed an essential part of the rhetoric of any repressed minority that wants to work to change society. I’ve been there, and done that. And that’s the truth, no matter what some cartoon character might have to say about it.

  82. Vivec says

    @86
    Do moral truths exist, under that framework? If so, how do you bridge the is-ought gap if you’re presumably limiting yourself to descriptive observations about the state of the universe?

  83. EveryZig says

    @86
    Many arguments supporting homophobia are lies like the child abuse one you discussed, but many of the arguments binstead rest on moral claims like “abnormal is inherently bad”. The thing about moral claims is that opposition to them is inherently also a moral claim; so the counter-statement “abnormal is not inherently bad” is itself a moral claim. There is no neutral ground from which you can reject abhorrent moral claims without engaging in moral claims yourself; the supposed neutral position of “self-evident truths” or “common sense” is in fact rests on moral claims that you take for granted (such as “injustice is bad”).
    When things get down to moral claims vs other moral claims, the question then becomes how you determine which moral claims are correct, and that is something that science isn’t particularly suited for (as moral claims are unfalsifiable). For example, how would you scientifically test the claim that “inequality vs group X is bad”? You could do an experiment to test how many people agree that “inequality vs X is bad”, but the majority can be and has been wrong about such things. You could do another experiment to test whether a belief that “inequality vs X is bad” is useful, but some useful practices are also evil (like kidney theft). These sorts of tests do not actually answer the question of whether inequality vs X is in actually bad.

  84. rietpluim says

    Akira MacKenzie
    Who’s the No True Scotsman here? You’re the one insisting that people belong to a religion they observably do not belong to.
    Do you really expect me to insult my best friends, who were wed by a lesbian minister, by telling them their religion is homophobic, and to make allies with actual homophobics just because they are atheist?
    That’s some screwed-up world view you have there.

  85. rietpluim says

    Sorry for triple posting, I couldn’t resist:

    Akira MacKenzie: Christianity has expressly taught for centuries that, among other horrific and demonstrably WRONG physical and moral statements, claims that women are chattel, homosexuals should be murdered, and we are ruled by an unelected, unaccountable super-being who can’t be questioned.

    Me: “Uhm, no. My best friends are Christian and they don teach that at all.”

    Akira MacKenzie: Ah yes, but true Christianity has expressly taught for centuries that, among other horrific and demonstrably WRONG physical and moral statements, claims that women are chattel, homosexuals should be murdered, and we are ruled by an unelected, unaccountable super-being who can’t be questioned.

  86. Scientismist says

    Thanks for the feedback. Though the questions you have raised are familiar, they are also really important, so thanks for bringing them up. I cut down my commentary yesterday from something almost 3 times that length, but these objections would still have been appropriate.

    As a primer on my own science/morality position, I recommend watching the episode of Bronowski’s Ascent of Man titled “Knowledge or Certainty.”

    @87:

    Do moral truths exist, under that framework? If so, how do you bridge the is-ought gap if you’re presumably limiting yourself to descriptive observations about the state of the universe?

    My problem, I guess, is that I keep forgetting that for many (most?) people, even some atheistic material monists, “moral truth” must provide a single absolutely true answer to any situation, and that answer must have nothing to do with the context of human existence or even the universe in which we evolved. In my longer (unposted) essay I touched on Hume and the so-called Is/Ought gap, and the absurd conclusion that we must then base our moral knowledge on what is not, rather than what is. But you’ve gotten to what really lies at the heart of it: Does moral truth exist?

    Of course moral truth exists, just as truths exist about the state of the universe. But we have known for over a century, and most of us have accepted, that the truths, at least those we can know, about the state of the universe are only approximate and tentative. But in moral questions, as Bronowski put it, we have this “itch for absolute knowledge” that leads us into doing horrendous things while feeling completely morally justified, and under no compulsion to even explain ourselves in rational statements about the material world. The fiction that moral truths exist as some kind of special ought-thing, different from knowledge of is-things, and that this makes it acceptable to deceive ourselves, is part of our dualistic heritage that it is essential for us to discard. Moral truths are part of the physical world, or they don’t exist.

    @88:

    There is no neutral ground from which you can reject abhorrent moral claims without engaging in moral claims yourself; the supposed neutral position of “self-evident truths” or “common sense” is in fact rests on moral claims that you take for granted (such as “injustice is bad”).
    … the question then becomes how you determine which moral claims are correct, and that is something that science isn’t particularly suited for (as moral claims are unfalsifiable).

    Ah, but we must find an absolute answer, mustn’t we? While we’re at it, what is the absolute position and momentum of that particle over there? We can’t proceed to Final Justice until we have settled whether Bohm or Bohr is right. (Sorry that’s a bit snarky, but it’s where the absolutist argument leads, if not halted from sheer exhaustion.)

    So you are right, science isn’t particularly suited to finding absolute answers to unanswerable questions, but we always manage to find some way to do it. And then we wonder how that works.

    It works by allowing ourselves the easy out of fooling ourselves and congratulating ourselves for our foolishness. Is “inequality vs X” = “bad” true? Is “inequality vs X” = “useful” true? Maybe the truth is that neither question is itself useful, especially if we are going to fool ourselves into thinking that we can find a final answer (solution?) if we just keep at bay the nagging notion that we ought to start by sticking to the truth where and as we can know it.

    We all know that the Stonewall riots were about defending the right of a tavern to operate without a liquor license. Umm.. No, it was about the Mafia and the Genovese family that owned the tavern. About the tavern being kept open only by bribing the police. About the police nevertheless finding cause to close it and to abuse the rather unusual customers. About equal rights for gay people.

    “Good”? “Bad”? “Useful”? Even visible at the table? In the immortal words of Inspector Kemp, “A riot is an ugly thing. Und, I think it is just about time that we had one.”

    Maybe it was about all of those and none of those. Maybe it was about a group of people whose humanity had been too long denied by those with power on all sides, saying “enough is enough” and “a pox on both your houses”.

    Science doesn’t give “true” answers, just probable ones. Likewise, moral claims are not “neutral,” are not “correct,” are not “true” or “false”, but they are human, and they need to be made — as claims, not final answers. Shakespeare wasn’t saying that love trumps everything and conquers all inter-family disputes; but he was saying that systematically ignoring what we can know about the truth of the matter if we will only look (and apply the best tools we have available), and instead waiting until there is blood in the streets, leads to ever increasing tragedy.

  87. consciousness razor says

    SC:

    I think you could be talking about Eric MacDonald.

    Yes, thank you.

    Vivec:

    A christian deist

    No idea what that’s supposed to mean. Christians are theists.

    If they disagree on literally every point of doctrine, up to and including the existence of an interventionist god, I think it’s fair to say they dont belong to the exact same religion.

    Jesus walking around and doing stuff in the world is certainly intervening in it, and that’s not “deism.”

    Of course, there are many different Christian religions (politely called “denominations”), but some minimal core set of beliefs is a part of any of them. Otherwise, I don’t know why anybody would bother calling them “Christians,” instead of just vaguely saying they’re “religious” or “spiritual” or whatever else.

    Scientismist, #86:
    That’s a lot of rambling that didn’t get around to explaining why it’s appropriate to endorse scientism (as defined by essentially everyone else, not whatever idiosyncratic private meaning that you think it should have).

    Philosophy and art are certainly not in themselves enemies of the search for truth, but they are subject to use as such when they are put forward as that “something more” that is alleged to negate the probable truths of science and provide a cover for those who would rather see issues of “morality” settled in favor of ignorance and authoritarian tradition.

    This is just ignorant bullshit.

    Let’s consider music theory, since I think I know a whole lot about it…. Is that a science? Or have I not learned a fucking thing about it in my entire life? Or is there some third option? I hope you see why these are troubling questions for the views you’re expressing.

    I don’t figure that what knowledge I do have about it negates any probable truths of science. None of them contradict any of the facts of physics or any of the other special sciences, because the sciences simply don’t touch on any of this stuff. I do think that there are meaningful, true, legitimate, objective facts to know about it. If that’s not the case, there’s a fuckton that I would be unable to explain about my own experience, so I’d have to challenge to explain it all to me some other way. I simply think that (in actual fact) no scientific methodologies are used to study those things — not in the world we live in, at any rate. It’s just a different branch of academic study, producing knowledge that is not of the scientific variety. There is nothing that should seem remotely suspicious to you about that.

    We could start with some actual physics, of course — acoustics is obviously a fundamental building block, but it’s only a start and doesn’t get you very far at all. And you might call some other bits “mathematical” knowledge. Still, it’s very much applied math, with the application being musical phenomena, which are of course empirical phenomena relating to how people hear certain collections of sounds.

    For instance, there are 19 types of three-note chords (in the twelve-tone equal temperament everybody in the European tradition is familiar with), when considering transpositions as equivalent. And for more fun, there are 43 four-note chords like that. Interestingly, major triads are “inversions” of minor triads. Can you guess how many ways there are to go from a major to a minor, or vice versa, by only moving one note by a semitone? Interesting question, no? There’s a fact of the matter about that, isn’t there? That’s something a person could know, yes? We have not needed “science” to find out such things. Of if you believe we have, tell me precisely which scientific discipline(s) I must have been engaged with, without ever realizing it.

    By the way, if you counted inversions as equivalent, there are only 12 types of three-note chords. But in fact (an empirical one obviously), people do hear major and minor chords (e.g.) as being significantly different from one another. Another reasonably-familiar example would be dominant and half-diminished chords, which are also inversions of one another but sound quite different and tend to function very differently in tonal music. So one type of theory (put forward in the late 60s or early 70s if I recall correctly), which did treat them as equivalent for the obvious but purely mathematical reasons, has gotten plenty of criticism on that account, since there are much better ways of understanding these types of harmonic relationships.

    The challenge is of course to try to explain our experiences (what people actually hear), understand how certain things work in various combinations and situations to give various effects. If a certain type of theory or analysis doesn’t do a satisfactory job of that, we use all of the available tools/data/etc. to try to come up with something better. You might think psychology might be able to help a little with some of these things — indeed, there is plenty of active interdisciplinary work like that going on — but psychology itself does not answer many of the relevant questions. Fact is, music theory is an entirely independent subject, with an entirely different set of methodologies, that has been producing and refining this type of knowledge for thousands of years. Where have you been?

    If this sort of thing simply wasn’t on your radar — which I can easily believe — then put it on your radar, for fuck’s sake. We’re not all your fucking enemies, and we’re not all here to destroy or even contest anything about any actual science. Please try, at least a little fucking bit, to be careful about targeting the views/activities/people/institutions/etc. which you actually want to target (like creationists or bigots or whatever it may be that has put your undies in a bunch).

  88. Vivec says

    No idea what that’s supposed to mean. Christians are theists.

    Not necessarily. There are plenty of christians that believe that the bible is mythology built up around a god that is, in fact, non-interventionist. They agree with the (cherry picked) moral teachings of the bible, but don’t think it’s true when it comes to the claims that god or jesus actually did miracles in practice.

    This sort of conception predates the bible, so it’s not even a new thing. Plenty of the ancient greeks believed in a non-intervening deistic “source of all that is” god, with the actual greek pantheon just a cultural mythology rather than something they literally believed in.

    Jesus walking around and doing stuff in the world is certainly intervening in it, and that’s not “deism.”

    Not all self-described Christians believe Jesus is a manifestation of god, and not all christians believe the events in the bible actually happened.

    Of course, there are many different Christian religions (politely called “denominations”), but some minimal core set of beliefs is a part of any of them. Otherwise, I don’t know why anybody would bother calling them “Christians,” instead of just vaguely saying they’re “religious” or “spiritual” or whatever else.

    That’s…literally the point we’re making.

    A person who believes in the moral teachings of the bible but rejects it as a truthful account of the universe and a bible-thumping baptist preacher can both claim to be Christian, but in actuality, they have about as much in common as a Muslim and a Buddhist.

  89. Rivendellyan says

    Lot’s of equating theism in general with Christianity in this thread. I just read the whole thing and it seems pretty clear that the conversation about having religious friends started using the word “theist” but slowly drifted to talking specifically about Christians. As Vivec has rightly pointed out, not only is it perfectly possible for someone to compartmentalize their beliefs is such a way that they still consider themselves Christians, as in “people who follow the teachings of Christ”, while not accepting, practicing or believing in anything else about the religion, but it’s also very very common for people to identify as religious (or theist, or deist, in the vocabulary common to atheists in the Internet) in very religious countries such as the US (or Brazil, where I am).
    Akira was just very quick to assume that theist meant overly religious right-wing Christian, for some reason.

  90. Akira MacKenzie says

    Wow! Despite believing what Christians claimed to have believed since Jesus, the Christian Right isn’t REALLY Christian because you and your liberal Christian buddies don’t agree with their economic policies? In fact, they aren’t even really a religion at all because despite having a deity, a mythology, a moral code (cracked as it may be) an afterlife, and belief in the supernatural, they aren’t nice enough to count as a religion? Religion is only a religion when it supports beliefs you like, eh?

    Ok, I give up! Pharyngula’s commentariat has fallen to the faitheits and accommodationists! Stupidity wins, reality loses once again, all because some weak-willed people think emotions and making-friends-and-influencing-people is more important than an atheist socialist civilization.

  91. ragdish says

    “No scientific fact can give a purpose to our lives!” is a statement that reaches the pinnacle of stupidity. No, calling it stupid would be an insult to stupid people.

    For an argument against scientism, this comic was extraordinarily lame. I’m surprised that PZ gave it a thumbs up. News flash! When your sickness resolves with antibiotics, I have no doubt that this scientific fact gives tremendous purpose to your life. It does for me.

    Everyone here to a certain degree acknowledges scientism. If you truly are an atheist, then you have to accept that art, literature, history, etc.. are products of the human mind. And mind is the product of the neurophysiology and neurochemistry of the brain. Scientism! Mic drop!

  92. Rob Grigjanis says

    Akira MacKenzie @96:

    the Christian Right isn’t REALLY Christian because you and your liberal Christian buddies don’t agree with their economic policies?

    Who the fuck said anything like that? Of course they’re Christians. Not all who call themselves Christian believe the same things, nor do they have to conform to your or anyone else’s notions of what they should believe and still be “allowed” to call themselves Christian. So yes, Klaas Hendrikse and Pat Robertson are both Christian. On the other hand, their beliefs are so far apart that I have no problem with saying that they belong to different religions (as I’m sure many Catholics would say about Protestants and vice versa).

    Stupidity wins

    In your case, make that ‘reading comprehension loses’.

  93. rietpluim says

    Akira MacKenzie, are you trolling? You can’t be that stupid, can you?

  94. consciousness razor says

    ragdish:

    When your sickness resolves with antibiotics, I have no doubt that this scientific fact gives tremendous purpose to your life. It does for me.

    Uh… what? That’s the purpose of your life? Are you clear about what the word “purpose” means?

    What would that purpose to your life be, which is given (tremendously) by antibiotics? Do you exist and have a life, in order for your ailments to be treated with antibiotics? Does that mean your life is also meant to involve sickness, or are you just trying to look at the bright side here, if you happen to get medicine that works for you?

    If you truly are an atheist, then you have to accept that art, literature, history, etc.. are products of the human mind.

    If you’re honest and have any familiarity with any of them, you know that art, literature, history, etc., are not scientific endeavors. Science is something people do, in order to know certain types of things about the world (which is just to say that is the main “purpose” of doing science). The world itself isn’t “science.” It’s the world. Things like “neurophysiology” are literally the study of some of that stuff, by people. Those kinds of human activities are not artistic, literary or historical ways to study stuff.

  95. Vivec says

    Wow! Despite believing what Christians claimed to have believed since Jesus, the Christian Right isn’t REALLY Christian because you and your liberal Christian buddies don’t agree with their economic policies? In fact, they aren’t even really a religion at all because despite having a deity, a mythology, a moral code (cracked as it may be) an afterlife, and belief in the supernatural, they aren’t nice enough to count as a religion? Religion is only a religion when it supports beliefs you like, eh?

    Man, you’re either deliberately misreading things, or you’re way too worked up to read things right.

    We’re not saying conservative christians aren’t christian, we’re saying their claim to being “christians” isn’t any stronger than the liberal/deist christians.

    Stupidity wins, reality loses once again, all because some weak-willed people think emotions and making-friends-and-influencing-people is more important than an atheist socialist civilization.

    Yeah, because calling theists idiots and refusing to work with them (because you think all religious people, including weed pagans and deists, are actually closet dominionists) is a great way to bring about said civilization.

  96. rietpluim says

    Akira MacKenzie

    Wow! Despite believing what Christians claimed to have believed since Jesus,
    You do realize that no Christian has ever lived that long, do you? Most of them have believed since their childhood days, and most of them do not even agree on the most important aspects of Christianity.

    the Christian Right isn’t REALLY Christian because you and your liberal Christian buddies don’t agree with their economic policies?
    That’s not what anybody here said. On the contrary, it is you who said that libaral Christians aren’t REALLY Christian – see sentence above.

    In fact, they aren’t even really a religion at all because despite having a deity, a mythology, a moral code (cracked as it may be) an afterlife, and belief in the supernatural, they aren’t nice enough to count as a religion?
    I’m sorry, who said that again? I can’t seem to find that particular claim anywhere in the comments.

    Religion is only a religion when it supports beliefs you like, eh?
    Once again, that’s not what anybody here said. On the contrary, it is you who said that religion is only a religion when it supports beliefs you DON’T like – see sentence above.

    Ok, I give up! Pharyngula’s commentariat has fallen to the faitheits and accommodationists! Stupidity wins, reality loses once again, all because some weak-willed people think emotions and making-friends-and-influencing-people is more important than an atheist socialist civilization.
    We don’t mind a little name calling here, but it would be nice if it was substantiated. Learn how to read before you comment again, will you?

  97. logicalcat says

    Religion is terrible. I dont think its the cause of evil, but I do believe it provides the right atmosphere/environment for evil and stupid shit to manifest. However, were I living during the time of MLK, it would be incredibly stupid of me to dismiss his contribution due to his status as a reverend.

  98. EveryZig says

    Scientismist @ 92
    I did not say “absolute” truth. I am aware science finds tentative truths, and my question was not how you would scientifically find an absolute moral truth but how you would scientifically find any moral truth beyond unevidenced opinion (the equivalent of a theory vs an untested hypothesis).
    You mention “the best tools we have available” without specifying what you are saying those are. For example, suppose some bigot says “gay people are unusual which is bad and they should therefore be killed”. How do you dispute this claim on a purely scientific basis?

  99. Florian Blaschke says

    What atheists, especially brotheists, generally don’t understand is that education, affluence and equality contribute to, or indeed cause, the decline of (especially authoritarian and literalist interpretations of) religion. It’s probably not the other way round. First you build an egalitarian Nordic-style “socialist”* utopia, then increasing secularism (not institutional secularism, but gradual decline of religious faith in the populace) follows on its heels virtually automatically. Attacking religious faith without attacking the inequalities and insecurities that appear to drive it likely achieves little.

    In fact, support for West German and Nordic social democracy came to a very major extent from economically centre-left Christian democrats, and even some explicit Christian socialists, after WWII. There is a prominent tradition of Islamic socialism that anti-communist US foreign policy has done a very effective job marginalising, the resulting gap filled by the fanatics and authoritarians we now face instead.

    * Technically, social democracy, which is a form of market economy with socialist elements, but not a command economy as in orthodox socialism, hence still largely capitalist.

  100. Florian Blaschke says

    Also, would you vote for an openly atheist Trump-style right-wing authoritarian in preference to an openly religious Sanders-type democratic socialist, completely ignoring their political stances and only considering their religious beliefs??

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