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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In the bolshevik cabaret - John Gray

I'm not usually a big fan of the depressing, pessimistic philosopher John Gray, but I do like some of his individual observations from time to time - and I relished this review of a couple of new books by adherents of the secular religion of Marxism.

I haven't read the particular books, so I can't say whether or not Gray is on the money with his opinion of them. But he's certainly right to worry about Marxism making a comeback. As a matter of fact, I think he should be a bit more worried, because his attitude seems to be that no one serious (or with real social support) actually wants a communist revolution, and that such books as those he's reviewing provide an irrelevant spectacle for our amusement, something like a cabaret act. Perhaps ... but, then again, maybe not. Marxism is at best a distraction from the real job of building truly liberal and rational societies - societies in which individual freedom replaces conformity to any conventional template for living our lives. It would be better if Marxism withered away, much like the state is supposed to do in Marxist fantasies about the future.

It's unfortunate that this religion-like belief system, with its in-built apocalypticism, authoritarianism, and allegiance to dogma, and its quasi-God of History, still persists. The need for critique of Marxism (and its various flavours) has been less urgent in recent times than the need for critique of more clearly supernaturalist religions, such as Christianity and Islam ... mainly because the latter are still deferred to in Western countries: for some reason, it's widely imagined that religious leaders are our moral leaders and have something of value to say about how we ought to be governed. By contrast, Marxism is thoroughly discredited in the eyes of most people in the West.

But Marxism is every bit as much an irrational, comprehensive belief system as Christianity or Islam, and its tendencies to totalitarianism and apocalypticism make it especially dangerous. Of course, Marx may well have had some genuine insights (such as the way economic circumstances can shape beliefs and values). In a trivial sense, we are all Marxists now, in that we've absorbed whatever is of lasting value in Marx's writings. But that doesn't justify treating those writings - or those of Lenin or Mao or others of the sick crew - like holy books.

Marxism as we've known it over the past 100 years or so - as a sort of political religion espoused by fanatics such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot - has been a disaster. People of reason should regard revolutionary Marxists with the same horror that they feel for fundamentalist Christians, or radical Islamists, or nutjob followers of Ayn Rand. Sure, there are some important distinctions to be made (in favour of the Randians, they are usually not inclined to personal acts of violence; in favour of the fundamentalist Christians, at least some of them are prepared to live within a liberal state side by side with people who disagree with them). But really, they're all pretty much as bad as each other.

If they are sometimes each other's enemies, that doesn't make any of them our friends.

54 comments:

Russell Blackford said...

And none of this is to deny that some regimes were so bad that they deserved to be overthrown by a communist revolution (which may even have led to an improvement in conditions overall, if we did a utilitarian calculation). Maybe the current Iranian regime is that bad - it's certainly arguable.

But to concede this is not to say that the quasi-religion of revolutionary Marxism deserves a free ride, or any respect or deference from Western liberals. It's just as deserving of harsh opposition as any of the other religions on offer.

NewEnglandBob said...

We can say there is some bit of worthy actions or policies in every cultural construct but that is usually outweighed by the dogma and malicious policies and actions of the majority of systems.

I would also love "building truly liberal and rational societies" but until homo sapiens evolve from the hunter/gatherer mindset, it is not likely to get close to the ideal.

Lorenzo said...

In recent times, there has been a certain amount of movement from Marxism to Islamism: less surprising if one considers their underlying similarities.

The "all as bad as each other" comment is just silly. The Randian ambition of forcing people to look after themselves, even if one does regard it as a bit heartless, is not remotely like (say) burning people alive for having sex with each other or propounding the "wrong" opinions and even less like purging the world of "exploiting" classes and "counter-revolutionaries".

Russell Blackford said...

"A bit heartless" is a pretty big understatement. But I did say that there are distinctions to be made.

Russell Blackford said...

That said, though, let me add this by way of concession.

It would indeed be silly to think that all the examples I mentioned are equally culpable historically, equally a threat to our freedoms, or even equally implausible. I am guilty of not refining even in my own mind exactly what I meant when I wrote the relevant sentence that mentioned Randians.

Part of what's behind it is that I've had a fair bit of experience with doctrinaire Randians. Perhaps their claims as not as implausible as those of fundamentalist Christians (say), and they've never had their hands on state power. But they are still pretty damn annoying in the way that they hero worship their very flawed prophetess and treat her writings as holy revelation. They are similarly dogmatic and simplistic as Christian fundies in their general approach to life and particularly the way that they cling to an implausible and morally dubious body of thought.

BlackWizard said...

I'm a little concerned the overarching label of "Marxist" might be wrongfully including some folks that don't belong under the rightly-deserved derision you heap on the deluded revolutionary sort. For instance, what you say about someone like G.A. Cohen? I get no semblance of a quasi-religious or loony view coming from him, and he's often described as a "neo-Marxist".

J.J.E. said...

@Lorenzo

I'm willing to give Russell the benefit of the doubt in this case. I agree that all of the ideologies he discusses are "pretty much as bad as each other" if he's talking about the irrationality rather than the consequences of belief systems.

e.g.:
"It's unfortunate that this religion-like belief system, with its in-built apocalypticism, authoritarianism, and allegiance to dogma, and its quasi-God of History, still persists."

and

"Marxism is every bit as much an irrational, comprehensive belief system as Christianity"

True, Russell did seem to be a bit less than precise with his language and even 'fesses up to some lack of refinement.

However, your (Lorenzo's) argument is basically an appeal to consequences, which, when used to argue about the validity of a proposition, is a logical fallacy. If you are arguing consequences, it obviously isn't a fallacy.

However, he doesn't seem to me to be arguing consequences. My reading of Russell's post seemed to me at least to be oriented towards arguing the (lack of) merit of dogmatic belief systems more than the magnitude of their consequences.

David said...

NEB,

I would also love "building truly liberal and rational societies

Not if it is like, say, PZ’s blog. There the truly secular, liberal and rational disagree violently on such topics as animal testing, gun control, and libertarianism. They are so ugly when their vaunted uber-rationality and access to the same data nevertheless leads to radically different conclusions. (How does that happen?) It doesn’t look at all like a representation of a pleasant society.

NewEnglandBob said...

David, you expected everyone to sit around singing kumbaya? How naive. Do you prefer right wing constant lies? Secularists might yell and argue but they wont kill in the name of dogma, at least not nearly as often.

J.J.E. said...

@Heddle

So, hashing out the arguments in bareknuckle brawling in the comments section of a rowdy blog is somehow indicative of bad society whereas quashing dissent with dogmas that lead to consequences of demonstrably large magnitude, some of them bad (AIDs in Africa vis a vis Catholics for just one example) is a good way? Or do Calvinists have just the perfect formula and you only deign to defend that brand of arbitrary dogmas, erm, I mean self evident axioms?

Anonymous said...

So Marxists aren't really atheists?

Gee I guess they aren't True Scotsmen either.

David said...

J.J.E.,


So, hashing out the arguments in bareknuckle brawling in the comments section of a rowdy blog is somehow indicative of bad society whereas quashing dissent with dogmas that lead to consequences of demonstrably large magnitude, some of them bad (AIDs in Africa vis a vis Catholics for just one example) is a good way?


Would you like to try false dichotomies for $2000?

I’m very libertarian. And a Baptist. You might recall we invented the western idea of separation of church and state. I don’t like the idea of a Calvinistic theocracy any more than a huge secular, rational EU style state run by uber-rational bureaucrats.

I am merely pointing out that a society with everyone being secular and rational is hardly a utopia. How are secular, rational primate researchers going to feel if told they can no longer do research on live animals?

Actually it is a deeper statement than that. The reason the rational secularists disagree, even when presented with the same data, is that ultimately they have different values—and these values (animal testing is good/bad) are as irrational as religious beliefs.

BlackWizard said...

Anonymous, saying someone is religious isn't the same as saying they're not an atheist. Some religions or religious sects are at least arguably atheistic; particularly Eastern religions.

NewEnglandBob said...

David, you need to specify what kind of libertarian.

If you mean like Jefferson and Adams and others from the enlightenment, that is one thing. Those people were Deists at most.

If you mean modern libertarians who are anarchists and despise all forms of government and want the chaos of an unfettered market economy with no regulation then that is another kind. These people are closer to fascists and the far right wing and the opposite of Jefferson et al.

David, you are confused:

"The reason the rational secularists disagree, even when presented with the same data, is that ultimately they have different values—and these values (animal testing is good/bad) are as irrational as religious beliefs."

Tat statement is nonsense.

NewEnglandBob said...

Anonymous, Marxism is a dogma, just like a religion. They might not believe in gods but they substitute a different dogma.

David said...

NEB,

If you mean like Jefferson and Adams and others from the enlightenment, that is one thing. Those people were Deists at most.

I do mean something like that and what does it matter if they were deists or atheists or Methodists? I didn't say I was a libertarian because I was a Christian, though many Christians are.

Tat statement is nonsense.

Well since you say so it must be true.

Anonymous, Marxism is a dogma, just like a religion. They might not believe in gods but they substitute a different dogma.

This is the old "no True Atheist™ is bad" because if they are bad then they are in fact religious--Marxists, Stalinists, Maoists, Pol-Potites--they are all religious, because, well, no True Atheist™ could be so bad.

NewEnglandBob said...

David, I was trying to find out what you meant by libertarian since there are so different and contrary meanings to the term.

David, don't attribute words to me that I didn't say. It is malicious. Go look up the definition of dogma.

David said...

NEB,

I know what dogma means. It means a prescribed doctrine. Such as: Mary was a perpetual virgin. If you don't accept the dogma then you can't be in the club—and you are labeled as something else, generally something inferior. For example if you accept Christ as you Lord and Savior but don't accept Marian Doctrine then you are not a Catholic but perhaps a heretic and schismatic (pre-VaticanII) or a separated brethren (post-VaticanII) or simply a Protestant.

Similarly if you are a scientist who does not accept the doctrinal statement "religion and science are incompatible" then you are an Appeaser or a Faitheist.

Is it not clear that I know what dogma means?

Greywizard said...

No, David, it is not evident that you know what is meant by dogma. Those who say that science and religion (at least as generally understood, viz., some form of supernatural religion) are incompatible are making a reasoned, not a doctrinal point, and they have argued it out in some detail.

It's a bit like the relationship between scientific medicine and alternative medicine. As soon as alternative medicine shows its effectiveness in curing disease, and shows how its modalities of treatment address the cause of disease, it becomes part of scientific medicine. When the same kind of compatibility is shown to exist between the evidence for religious entities and the evidence for what we know about the natural world, then religion will become a part of science.

Of course, like all scientific theories, this will make "religious" or, perhaps better, religio-scientific knowledge (as it will then be) continuously revisable in the light of further investigation and experiment. But it might achieve, at some point, the degree of factuality of, say, evolutionary theory. The improbability of any of this happening - it breaks all sorts of religious prohibitions about what we may or may not say about God already - makes the continued incompatibility of religion and science almost a dead certainty. It also removes religion from the realm of knowledge, since anything we know must be consistent with science and, in some sense, continuous with it. Science so far provides us with the only reliable paradigm that we have of what it means to know.

Russell Blackford said...

David, try not to be a smartarse. I've defended you in the past as at least being an honest debater. Don't make me regret it.

I have no idea what you are going on about in some of your comments. No one is saying that Marxism includes worships of the Abrahamic God. Neither does Buddhism, but so what? Do you really think that I am so one-dimensional as to base my whole life and philosophy around opposition to the Abrahamic God, or that the only belief systems I criticise are those with this feature? That would be a very serious misreading of my philosophical position and of my overall body of work:

http://jennybl.customer.netspace.net.au/biblio.htm

David said...

Rusell Blackford,

David, try not to be a smartarse. I've defended you in the past as at least being an honest debater. Don't make me regret it.

I have no idea what you are going on about in some of your comments. No one is saying that Marxism includes worships of the Abrahamic God.


I don't need you to defend me and have no idea what the hell you are talking about. Your comment about Marxism and the Abrahamic God--in fact your entire comment--has nothing to do with anything I have written. Was that directed at someone else? I was writing nothing directed at you and have no interest in your body of work. My comments were directed at NEB and JJE.




Greywizard,

Those who say that science and religion (at least as generally understood, viz., some form of supernatural religion) are incompatible are making a reasoned, not a doctrinal point, and they have argued it out in some detail.


No they aren't making a reasoned point, they are making an assertion. They can't possibly prove that they are incompatible--they can only argue--as in preaching to the choir. So can Catholics argue that Mary was a lifelong virgin. And they can argue it in "some detail."

J.J.E. said...

True Scotsmen and True Atheists. That would be a good argument if it actually applied. How tiresome to point out the obvious.

Those murdering demons have many common salient features like their status as revolutionary politicians, that they are men, that they required dogmatic adherence to their precepts, and for some of them, atheism even. Though for Hitler, Hirohito, Kim for three examples, it is very hard to make that claim.

Anyway, any honest examination of such problems is an indictment of authoritarianism, demagoguery, and dogma, not an absence of sincerely believing in myths with origins among desert nomads ~3,500 years in the misty past.

C'mon, at least take your argument to its logical conclusion. Chris Mooney, Josh Rosenau, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Genie Scott, Mao, and Polpot. Birds of a feather.

It is disingenuous of you David to claim that people like me can't argue vigorously for a perspective without being dogmatic about it. I will vigorously argue that relativity is a better approximation of reality than is classical mechanics. That doesn't make me dogmatic. Nor does it make me right or wrong.

Again, unless you are willing to tell us what could impeach your faith, you are dogmatic. I can tell you exactly what would would cause me to abandon evolution or relativity, etc.

As for being "dogmatic" regarding compatibility of science & religion, that falls out as a definition. Science seeks to strip away as much of dogma as possible in order to subject as much of the world to testing as possible. Any system that resists testing is to that extent "incompatible". This includes subject areas that aren't typically regarded as scientific anyway, like sports fandom, much of art appreciation, etc. And it includes religions with dogmas.

If someone's religion falls into the same category as sports fandom (i.e. something that can be folded away after the Sunday festivities so that more important things can be dealt with) then I'm fine with it. I don't care if you think that "the Steelers really ARE the best NFL team" or that "God sacrificed himself to appease himself by offering up his avatar who also happens to be his son for torture and execution" as long as those aspects of your life don't impinge upon parts of life that we can actually find mutually agreeable consensus on.

NewEnglandBob said...

David, you have truly lost it and have gone off the deep end.

Anonymous said...

Science itself requires some dogma. It's based on Popperian falsification, which itself is a non-falsifiable concept and therefore (ironically) non-scientific.

At its foundation, science itself is a faith based enterprise.

UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 11/24/2009, at The Unreligious Right

NewEnglandBob said...

Anonymous, your statements are utterly devoid of worth and meaning.

David said...

NEB,

Actually I think anonymous has a point of sorts. Those of us who do science do it based on the presupposition that it is not a fool’s errand. That is, we have faith that with hard work and time we can make progress. That really is faith: at any time we could hit a brick wall, based either on the limits of our intellect or upon arriving at a scientific dead zone, and science could grind to a halt. We have faith that that won’t happen, and that progress will continue, and that progress will occur on the scale of years or decades, not millennia.

Greywizard said...

Oh, come, let's not have that old chestnut about science being based on faith. Science is an extension of ordinary ways of knowing, made more systematic and self-correcting within the community of scientists. But no more faith is involved in science than in the confidence with which most of us go about our daily affairs, and claim to know ordinary things. And, as for Popper, science is not based upon Popper's falsification principle. Indeed, that has now, for a long time, been recognised as an incomplete account of how science works.

Where Popper was not wrong, it seems to me, is in his analysis of the open society and its enemies, based on systems of dogma, philosophic or religious, which possess no mechanisms for revision or correction, and are therefore blind to the needs and the rights of ordinary people, and end up treating people as less important than the supposed goals of whatever ideology is in question, whether communism, fascism, or the supposedly perfect society prescribed by the sacred texts of Islam.

NewEnglandBob said...

You are wrong again, David. That is not faith. Faith is based on no evidence or in spite of evidence. The evidence of progress in the past has billions of examples. Look up the definition of hypothesis.

"A hypothesis (from Greek ὑπόθεσις; plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for an observable phenomenon.

David said...

The faith that science is not a fool’s errand is not meaningless. Many scientists have commented on the “unreasonable” effectiveness of mathematics. Just imagine if Newton’s laws were nonlinear, with no good linear approximation. We'd still be in the dark ages. We all go into the lab with the assumption that we will continue to move forward. Perhaps in fits and starts, but inexorably and on the timescale of human lives. That is based entirely on history. In reality progress could stop today. We have faith that it will not, or we wouldn’t do what we do. We wouldn’t spend billions and invest lives if not for the faith than the next advancement of science will be comprehensible to our minds, calculable through our mathematics, and attainable through hard work.

NewEnglandBob said...

Again, it is not faith, but observation. Making up nonsense 'what-ifs' is useless. Once again, David, you do not see what is reality.

Gingerbaker said...

"The reason the rational secularists disagree, even when presented with the same data, is that ultimately they have different values—and these values (animal testing is good/bad) are as irrational as religious beliefs."

That has got to be the dumbest comment I have seen you make, heddle. Having a difference of opinion on the merits of animal testing is as irrational as believing only in the 10,000th invisible sky god?

Below you.

David said...

Gingerbaker,

That has got to be the dumbest comment I have seen you make, heddle.

Always a winning argument.

No it is the same thing. If you push the debate on animal testing between opposing secular rationalists to its limit, the disagreement will be on different irrational suppositions. One will feel that animal testing is OK, maybe because he believes that human life is more valuable. The other will feel that it is not OK, maybe because he believes that human life is not intrinsically more valueable.

None of these "feelings" or "beliefs" are rational. One person cannot, through logic and reason, prove that his feelings or beliefs in this matter are correct. If they could they would, or someone would, and all rational people would be obliged to accept the proof. No, they just hold these feelings or beliefs or values for no discernible, rational reason.

Just like a religious belief. I can't prove to you that God exists. You can't prove to me that human life is more valuable or less valuable than other life.

NewEnglandBob said...

"None of these "feelings" or "beliefs" are rational."

Now there is an argument with facts and evidence. Oh wait - it is just his belief.

Some people arrive at their conclusion by feelings. Others do not. I can enumerate several rational reasons. You can not because you are using the argument from ignorance.

The value of life is on a sliding scale, dependent on the species and whether it has a nervous system, sentience, etc. It is not absolute.

J.J.E. said...

Silence from David Heddle.

I take it then that he agrees that atheism played no causative role in the authoritarian atrocities in the 20th century and further that dogma was more to blame.

If David disagrees, he would do well to actually address my points.

David said...

J.J.E,

I have no idea what your "points" are that I am supposed to respond to, but if my lack of response allows you to declare victory, then go for it. No need to consider the possibility that you didn't make a substantive or cogent argument that warranted a response.

Maybe they are this, looking at your previous comment.

Coyne does have the stench of the dogmatist about him, because declaring that it has been demonstrated that science and religion are incompatible is bullocks. And inventing names for the apostate is another sign.

Your example is nonsense. "I will vigorously argue that relativity is a better approximation of reality than is classical mechanics" is nothing like "science and religion are incompatible" I mean, duh. I can prove that relativity is a better theory both theoretically (by deriving Newton's Laws in a classical limit) and experimentally (e.g., the precession of Mercury's perihelion).

Once claim is science, and you can defend it to the death without being a dogmatist because you can demonstrate it experimentally.

The other (Coyne's nonsense) is an opinion, which he is free to have, but which he has now perverted into a simplistic dogma.

NewEnglandBob said...

"...because declaring that it has been demonstrated that science and religion are incompatible is bullocks."

Now there is an argument with logic and evidence that is well thought out and has excellent presence. I am now a believer in woo.

Oh wait, no it isn't any of that, it is just dogmatic opinion. Just the usual from that source.

J.J.E. said...

No David. It isn't presumptuous or a stretch for me to say I'm cogent enough and your reading comprehension is sufficient for my argument to impinge on your consciousness if you tried in good faith. But that doesn't mean you actually care to try most of the time. I don't think you even tried to engage my argument.

Your following comment completely ignored my comment:
This is the old "no True Atheist™ is bad" because if they are bad then they are in fact religious--Marxists, Stalinists, Maoists, Pol-Potites--they are all religious, because, well, no True Atheist™ could be so bad.

This is disingenuous. There are entire works written on the nature of totalitarian thinking predating this iteration of arguing theism, and invariably religious comparisons arise (read "The Origins of Totalitarianism" by Hannah Arendt and "The God that Failed" edited by Arthur Koestler). Your statement only works if atheists use that line of argument in a fallback, ad hoc defense when confronted with an obvious and valid comparison to totalitarian dictators. But no, it has been consistently demonstrated that the totalitarian regimes don't fit at all in same argument as Dawkins & Coyne. Maybe you're not being willfully obtuse, but Dawkins and Coyne et al. define themselves SPECIFICALLY in terms of rational, evidence based skepticism. This definition is in part IN RESPONSE to the hackneyed trotting out of the old "No True Atheist" chestnut. That argument that you have made has already had its impact on the conversation, and your interlocutors have already incorporated that into their thinking and arguments. You're reliving an old battle.

Their particular arguments may or may not be valid and that is something to be debated. And in fact, you might even successfully point to dogmas they hold that they claim they do not.

HOWEVER, and this is the crucial part, any person even passingly familiar with the arguments by the popular atheists of late (Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens and Coyne in his TNR piece, etc.) would be mistaken if they tried to claim that they aren't making a case that SPECIFICALLY takes into account dogma.

If you are arguing with "New Atheists", then you have to have some appreciation for what they represent and how they define themselves. And yes, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot are not true "New Atheists" in much the same way that someone who was born and died in Borneo without ever leaving isn't a true Scotsman.

That's the restatement and elaboration of my first point. And the crucial difference is because the matter at hand, the salient issue is one of dogma. Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and most religions, and plenty of benign organizations (I'm not making a guilt by association argument here) have dogmas. The fall, original sin, the divinity of Christ, the diktats of Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot are true and good, etc. That's all dogma.

The "New Atheists" have provided statements of what would change their assessment of the existence of god(s), and as such, their provisional disbelief in god(s) is not dogmatic. And none of them has to my knowledge made the "I'm certain there is no god" argument. In fact, I'm certain that several of them have explicitly made room for the "I can't prove there is no god" exception, included among them Harris, Dawkins, and Coyne, just for starters.

[continued]

J.J.E. said...

[continued from above]

Finally, let me paraphrase my understanding of Coyne's argument:

1) science does its best to question everything and to reject dogma when possible. It can and does fail to do so, but it at least holds as a goal these aims;
2) religion is many things, and some religions (deism, certain strains of Quakers, Unitarians, etc.) have few if any recognizable dogmas. However, the majority of religion as practiced by self-identified religious people in the world adhere actively to certain dogmas. Some actively adhere to a very small number of dogmas, some to a very large number;
3) It is the willful adherence to dogma in #2 and the goal of rejecting dogma in #1 that defines the sense in which Coyne claims incompatibility between science and religion.

So, basically, Coyne isn't making a dogmatic claim. It is a simple exploration of the consequences of defining science and religion in fairly non-controversial ways.

You may certainly object to the definitions, but conditional on those definitions, I don't think you can disagree with Coyne. If Coyne is dogmatic about anything, it might be in asserting that those definitions are the best ones. But the clear consequence of those definitions is that science and religion are in some important and non-trivial sense, incompatible.

David said...

Coyne, the dogmatist, casts his lidless-eyed inquisitioner's gaze upon Michael Shermer. Michael Shermer! He has been charged with faitheism and accommodationism. Let him be anathema.

Coyne speaketh: Let Us remind Shermer, the apostate: "the only kind of religion not at war with science is deism."

So let it be written. So let it be done.

J.J.E. said...

Again, I anticipate your fairly predictable arguments. Let me quote myself regarding precisely this point:


So, basically, Coyne isn't making a dogmatic claim. It is a simple exploration of the consequences of defining science and religion in fairly non-controversial ways.

You may certainly object to the definitions, but conditional on those definitions, I don't think you can disagree with Coyne. If Coyne is dogmatic about anything, it might be in asserting that those definitions are the best ones. But the clear consequence of those definitions is that science and religion are in some important and non-trivial sense, incompatible.


You didn't address this point. Basically, "religion isn't compatible with science" in the sense explained above. That is an argument. You speak as if (quoting myself again):


people like me can't argue vigorously for a perspective without being dogmatic about it.


And basically, you equate any vigorous defense of a position in the compatibility/incompatibility discussion as dogmatic. You aren't even engaging on the front lines of discussion.

J.J.E. said...

And of course, since you are linking the validity of your argument to the personal characteristics of one of Jerry's objects of criticism, you are committing a logical fallacy related to an ad hominem argument.

It doesn't matter if Mao, Jesus, Stalin, Santa Claus, Pat Robertson, George Bush, Dennis Kucinich, or even Michael Shermer advocates that position that religion and science are compatible. Their argument and the argument of Jerry stands or falls on its own merits.

Your rehashing of Jerry's consistent position in light of the fact that <gasp> a fellow atheist disagrees is irrelevant information and does nothing to advance the interplay of ideas other than give you an opportunity to snark with a silly line you got from watching Yul Brynner one too many times.

David said...

JJE,

Coyne is absolutely making a dogmatic claim. And an especially disingenuous one, given that he also argues that we know what we know through science.

As such, he should be held to requirement of providing a scientific test of his claim "science and religion are incompatible," otherwise it ain't science, it is opinion, and given that he applies it as a test of orthodoxy, lest you receive the mark of faithiest, it is dogma.

Just to remind you I offered two possible scientific tests.

1) To do a blind test where you identify which authors of peer-reviewed scientific papers are believers.

2) Describe any experiment that I, as a believer, would perform differently than an unbeliever.

I am open to other tests.

If Coyne's hypothesis can't pass these tests then it is falsified.

Or, if his hypothesis cannot be tested and falsified, then it is not science. Which, given that what we know we know by science suggests the obvious question: how then do we know what he says is true?

And given that he can't prove it, and yet uses it to establish his circle of orthodoxy, proves it's dogma.

J.J.E. said...

You are making a category error. You are conflating ideas with people.

Marital fidelity and adultery are not compatible IDEAS by definition. But just because you never cheat, doesn't mean your belief that fidelity and adultery are compatible is correct. Similarly, faith and methodological naturalism are incompatible. Just because a theist scientist never applies faith in science doesn't mean that faith and science aren't incompatible.

You are going on again about the "trivial sense" of compatibility that has been addressed before:


First of all, nobody doubts that science and religion are compatible in the trivial sense that someone can be a scientist and be religious at the same time. That only shows one’s ability to hold two dissimilar approaches to the world simultaneously in one’s own mind. As I’ve said umpteen times before, you could say that being a Christian is compatible with being a murderer because a lot of murderers are Christians.


One more time: Incompatibility. Is. Not. About. The. People; It. Is. About. The. Ideas.

So your blind study isn't testing the right thing. Just like measuring my marital fidelity would say nothing if I were to claim that "adultery is compatible with marital fidelity". I would be wrong EVEN IF I WERE PERFECTLY FAITHFUL.

And your argument is even weaker than that. Let's say that I claim that adultery and marital fidelity were compatible. And you only examined my work life. For 50 years as a productive worker in my company, I never once cheated with a co-worker. Therefore I've proven my point! But that says nothing about all the prostitutes I might slept with outside of work. And of course, my behavior still says nothing about the compatibility of adultery and marital fidelity, and just opens up the person that compartmentalizes between work and non-work up to possible hypocrisy.

The concession everyone I take you to be addressing in the conversation (e.g. Coyne) has always been willing to make is the following:

"Possessing religious faith does not preclude its possessor from conducting science at the highest levels."

That's been conceded since day one. And that point is PRECISELY the point made by your blind test. WE AGREE! Full stop.

You still haven't addressed the compatibility of the ideas.

David said...

JJE

One more time: Incompatibility. Is. Not. About. The. People; It. Is. About. The. Ideas.

One more time: If Incompatibility between Religion and Science has no actual effect that can be detected then: It. Is. Just. An. Opinion. It. Is. Just. Psycho. Babble. It. Is. Not. A. Demonstrable. Fact. I. Can. Just. As. Easily. Claim. Coyne. Would. Be. A. Better. Scientist. If. He. Believed. In. God.

So your blind study isn't testing the right thing. Just like measuring my marital fidelity would say nothing if I were to claim that "adultery is compatible with marital fidelity".

Of course not, because unlike Coyne's incompatibility I can devise an experiment to test the marital infidelity theory. Namely: find 100 men engaged in marital infidelity and reveal the information to their wives. If there is a net negative impact on the marriages, that would indicate an incompatibility. Or maybe there is no impact, indicating a compatibility. In any event, unlike Jerry's voodoo pronouncement, I can do an experiment.

"Possessing religious faith does not preclude its possessor from conducting science at the highest levels."

That's been conceded since day one. And that point is PRECISELY the point made by your blind test. WE AGREE! Full stop.


No, that is not my point and yes, I know you agree. Please, full stop on telling me you agree. My point is this, please listen: the incompatibility of science and religion is only meaningful if it has a demonstrable effect. Otherwise it is just impotent, pseudo-scientific, gobbledygook. In other words: who gives a rat's ass if you or anyone else thinks they are incompatible, if you cannot demonstrate how it matters.

J.J.E. said...


My point is this, please listen: the incompatibility of science and religion is only meaningful if it has a demonstrable effect. Otherwise it is just impotent, pseudo-scientific, gobbledygook. In other words: who gives a rat's ass if you or anyone else thinks they are incompatible, if you cannot demonstrate how it matters.


Finally, we're getting somewhere. Nobody claimed it had no effect. We all agree that religion (and more generally dogma) doesn't preclude good science.

But it most certainly does have an effect on it. In the U.S., the objections to evolution, cosmology, deep time, cognitive neuroscience, and many other fields have a very strong Christian lobby against them. In Turkey, the most prominent anti-evolution force is motivated by Islam. In Russian genetics (technically Soviet genetics) Lysenko was detrimental to Mendelian genetics. Do we even need to mention Galileo? So, Protestant dogma, Soviet dogma, and Catholic dogma are all very important in influencing science in a negative way.

So yes, production of good science can in fact be STRONGLY influenced by the willful maintenance of dogma, though it is emphatically not PRECLUDED by it. That is the argument.

NewEnglandBob said...

Once again, like every single time, David wants proof of a negative.

David needs to supply evidence that religion and science are compatible, but he refuses to do so because he can not. He has no valid argument.

David then attempts to make others try to prove a negative and uses ad hominem attacks (lidless-eyed) and disingenuous flawed arguments and dogma by the tonnage.

Benjamin Button in VA said...

JJE,

That is a fair point but ultimately it doesn’t withstand scrutiny. I have not stated that people cannot damage science based on religious motivations: they can. The can do all the things you mention.

This is a political question, not one at the heart an incompatibility. Religion, at times, has also been a benefactor of science.

And, politically speaking, science can thrive or be damaged under any ideology. Mao’s secular state nearly destroyed Chinese science with its cultural revolution. If award-winning atheist Bill Maher became president: watch out. If Sam Harris became president, would he use the NSF to fund some of his pseudo-science crackpot ideas?

Suppose PZ became president. How does he feel about big science (say, funding the next giant accelerator or manned space program)? I don’t know if he is for or against it, but he must have a position and it is not obvious that both ends of the spectrum are equally beneficial to science, so the wrong choice, at some level, is harmful at least in the sense that it is sub-optimal.


NEB,

I provide simple evidence that they are compatible: it happens all the time. Religious people do great science and, here is the important part, cannot be distinguished from the science of unbvelievers.

The only refutation of these data is the usual say-nothing-say-all "compartmentalization" mumbo jumbo and the incorrectly applied charge of cognitive dissonance. No measurable evidence is offered.

The experiments I suggested for Coyne's thesis can also be applied to the positive claim of compatibility. Those experiments demonstrate that you cannot distinguish the science of a believer from an unbeliever. Therefore they are compatible. QED.

By the way you still don't know what ad hominem means. It does not mean mocking ("lidless eye" is mocking) or insulting.

David said...

oops,

previous comment was from me--the family computer was logged into my wife's blog profile.

NewEnglandBob said...

"I provide simple evidence that they are compatible:..."

That is just superficial. That proves nothing except that some people can live with a dichotomy in their mind. It is equivalent to saying marriage and adultery are compatible. You can call it mumbo-jumbo all you like but they are still not compatible.

You have supplied nothing in evidence except apologetics.

Believing in the supernatural with no evidence whatsoever and miracles and god-as-man-as-cracker is completely incompatible with the science process. Using your arguments then fairies are compatible, unicorns are compatible, Santa Clause is compatible, Harvey the rabbit is compatible.

David said...

NEB,

It is equivalent to saying marriage and adultery are compatible.

No I already answered that. (Because unlike Coyne I believe in experimental verification.) So I’ll repeat: You can test whether marriage and adultery are compatible. Find a hundred men committing adultery and reveal the fact to their wives. You can then measure the effect of adultery on marriage. I believe the test will indicate an incompatibility—but that’s just my pre-experiment bias.

In a way you are right—both “marriage and adultery are compatible” and “science and religion are incompatible” are alike in the sense that they are either falsifiable by experiment or they are unscientific nonsense.

NewEnglandBob said...

David, your logic is so immature. By your 'logic' then religion and science is incompatible because if one asks 100 fundagelicals whether they are compatible then they will probably all say no.

You obviously do not understand what a proper scientific experiment entails. You start out with bias. Either you are ignorant or malicious with your laughable test.

David said...

Thanks NEB. That was sho' nuff a substantive response.

NewEnglandBob said...

Just returning your nonsense, David. How does it feel? You must be so proud of your obfuscations.