• Quote for the Day: D Rizdek on naturalism

    Over on another post and thread, D Rizdek is doing a fantastically erudite job of mounting a solid case for naturalism. Here are two of his quotes from that thread which are well worth replicating – indented quotes belong to whom he is debating:

    Unfortunately the debate is asking “Does science embrace all in the universe?” In other words what is the status of scientism?


    I certainly don’t consider all of what I am to be “in science”

    These tell me two things.

    One, I don’t think the person really understands what science is. Referring to it as scientism suggests he might discount the fact that from the time we’re 6 months old…earlier in fact…we are doing “science.” A baby’s eyes become adjusted to see and she starts to notice these things she’ll eventually learn to call her hands, waving about before her eyes. She notices that when those “hands” bump something, she gets other sensations. She does NOT get those sensations when she sees someone else’s hands bump things and soon learns these are “her” hands and those are “not her” hands. She then maybe realizes a sense of something she later learns to call, “cold.” This sensation goes away when she sees a blanket spread over her or she feels clothes being put on her. As a toddler, she learns about sharp corners and learns not to stand up under a table. Her body gives her sensations she likes or doesn’t like. Etc. It’s all rudimentary, but essential for survival. It is science, this using our senses and our brains like a toddler to figure out how to survive in the world around us. True, through history we’ve figured ways to make the process more rigorous and we’ve made and learned how to use tools that help us measure with more precision, but in the end, it’s the same as the toddler bumping his head or stubbing her toe.

    Two, his comment…”I don’t consider all of what I am to be in science,” while not making as much sense (to me) as I imagine he hoped, seems to be a code for “I have a supernatural part of me and some of me lives in a non-natural state. He seems to be alluding to what some call a soul. And this soul somehow detects things senses/nerves can’t detect.” Once a person believes that, and perhaps even believes what his soul “detects” is more important than what his nerves detect, they probably imagine themselves “beyond the ken” of those of us who don’t even “know we can know with our soul.” It’s almost as if some people just can’t deal with the fact that we are just animals, born of natural processes and that there isn’t some big permanent guy in the sky who is aware of, and keeps track of. our accomplishments (and our naughty things). They can’t relate to a world where there isn’t someone who hands out purposes like candy to a chocoholic i.e. someone addicted to being told what and why with no way to figure out whether it is good or bad other than through the very moral routine given us by the candy (purpose) distributor. It’s like if a candy manufacturer somehow created our taste buds to make us think the flavorless candy they make tastes really good.

    Probably the best way is to continue harping on, what exactly do you know and how do you know it? Where is the falsifiability? What assumptions must you make to “make this knowing work?” Where is the ground truthing that is survival related? What happens, really, if what you “know with their soul” is wrong? And don’t succumb to the “well how do you know” because it will then degrade to the: “Oh yes you are/Oh no I’m not – debate…”

    Some key elements that seem to be important to emphasize are:

    Falsifiability…that is ways to know better is an essential element in how to know reality with better and better precision.

    Iteration, do repeated experiments, conducted the same of even slightly differently come out with consistent conclusions?

    Corroboration: do others doing the same or similar experiments find supporting results and/or are any differences explainable through other known processes or other experiments?

    Objective vs subjective: Does it depend on someone’s state of mind when they experiment? Does a physicist have to be “believing” that light has a particle/wave duality to conduct the light table experiment? OR can they be as skeptical as they please and still see the patterns?

    Does the method he is thinking of have a survival aspect to it?

    Invariably, it seems, what one thinks his soul detects and what he thinks he learns about reality via this soul, has nothing to do with survival. It, by definition in my opinion, has got to be about things for which there is no means to know better. In other words it’s unfalsifiable…no one can prove him wrong, EVER.

    For example, this person might know with his soul that his morality is more than something that evolved naturally, i.e. it has to have been given him by a god. That thought has no effect on his survival. No one can prove him wrong, it’s a “survival neutral” meme. He might “know with his soul” that Jesus died on the cross and his sins are forgiven. Again, there are absolutely no survival implications at all in that thought and no one can prove him wrong. He might “know with his soul” that his love for his fellow man comes from God. He might know with his soul that homosexuality is wrong. He might know with his soul that he’s going to spend eternity in heaven and has avoided eternal hell. He might know with his soul that life without a god would be meaningless. Yes, yes, yes and yes, no one can ever prove him wrong. His knowing with his soul is every bit mental masturbation with no end in sight other than making him feel good for a while. And he can imagine he’ll feel good for eternity…no one can prove him wrong until he isn’t aware that he was wrong.

    As to the last point of no one can prove him wrong…given how many people seem to have NDEs and OBEs associated with “almost” dying, it is very very likely most will have some sort of fleeting “thoughts” at the time of death. But for those who actually DO die, they can’t report back what dreams or hallucinations they had. So these “believers” in free beer tomorrow will probably actually have some sort of illusion that they are meeting Jesus and the apostles, sitting beside god, walking streets of gold, feeling euphoric and contented just like they imagine what they’ll experience and how they’ll feel, and the feeling will be eternal…ie will last as long as time lasts…for them.

    Won’t that be the kick in the pants for us nay-sayers? Especially for any nay-sayers who still harbor latent concepts of hell. Their last thoughts might be of them descending into hell and being there for eternity…downer.

    And then he continues:

    Thanks for the effort. I understand.

    In answer to my own question, I think we are all physical…no supernatural component at all.

    I think this not because I have arguments showing it’s impossible or even unlikely that there is a spiritual or “non-physical” component NOR that I’m particularly opposed to thinking in terms of “some other realm/reality” i.e. supernaturalism. I don’t think there is a supernatural element to our being because I have no reason to think that. I try, for the most part I hope, to base beliefs on either some reason I can point to or out of operational necessity. And neither apply in this case.

    So, IMHO, there is nothing in my thinking that is beyond the ken of science in its broadest sense. I think science applies to all of our thinking and all of what we sense. Our bodies, and in fact the bodies of our evolutionary ancestors were doing “science” millions and hundreds of millions of years before we evolved as a bipedal primate species.

    When a cheetah chases an antelope and narrows the distance by putting on a burst of speed at just the right moment or cutting an angle carefully when the antelope dodges is doing science.

    The female wolf that smells her mate on the breeze wafting across the tundra is doing “science.” She is measuring in which direction her mate is and probably approximately how far.

    The soaring owl, using it’s extra sensitive eyes to spot tiny rodents in the thick grass first determines if it is indeed prey and then calculates the correct rate and direction of his dive to catch it is “doing science.”

    The matriarch elephant who has been across the expanse of desert many times and learned (from her mother) the location of the waterhole is doing science when she retraces the path she learned and sniffs the air to reinforce that it’s still there is doing science. She’s remembering and following the path she remembers and is using her sense of smell to find the way.

    The toddler who first has a feeling of frustration when something is taken from her is doing science when she measures her level of frustration and starts crying because it has reached a certain level.

    The person who becomes outraged at an atrocity does so because they “measure” the level of feeling that atrocity creates in their minds, compares the results to personal standards and reacts accordingly.
    In the last thousand years or so, we’ve formalized the scientific process, developed tools to increase our ability to sense smaller and more distant objects and take more careful readings and we’ve documented the value of repeating experiments, third part corroboration and recognizing the value of falsifiability…but in the end, it’s just a fine-tuning of what humans and animals had been doing for millennia.

    While I am sure some of what I consider science is controversial, it is why I claim nothing that goes on in my brain, up to and including consciousness, morality and a sense of personal awareness is “beyond the ken of science.” It isn’t in any way diminishing the significance, mystery and almost miraculous phenomena of consciousness as a emergent quality but it paints science in a much broader, and I hope more useful, context. We should never say, “merely science” or “just science.”

    I agree, each of us knows…or at least knows of…the human inside but I consider our knowledge of that is based on sensations and thoughts, which are as I said earlier all physical. Our consciousness is an emergent quality from the complexity of our brains. That doesn’t mean we can now, or ever will in the future, be able to hook up a meter to some organism and say with any certainty that “this one has consciousness,” and “that one doesn’t have consciousness.” But the organism itself is the arbiter of who it is and how it perceives itself. IF you perceive yourself as an “I” with an identity, someone with moral thoughts and a will, then you are a person with identity, moral thoughts and a will.

    Finally, we know that a person’s ability to think, to maintain morally, to think of themselves as an person or even be conscious of their existence at all can diminish and even leave entirely due to physical changes/diseases/damage to their brain or nervous system. That is strong evidence that all of those are physically based and that when I die, I’m sorry to conclude all that is “me” will die as well. The only immortality I can hope for is offspring to pass on our memories for a short while, our genes for a longer time and that the atoms of our bodies will probably never be destroyed…or at least not for trillions of years.

    Category: EvolutionNaturalismPhilosophyScience


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce