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Bangpuss
19-02-2012, 05:18 PM
After reading yet another hatchet job (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9091007/Slaves-at-the-root-of-the-fortune-that-created-Richard-Dawkins-family-estate.html) targeting ol' Dicky Dawkins from the right-wing press, I feel a Dissensus debate about the virtues of Dawkins (and his brand of aggressive atheism) is long overdue.

So here's my two-pence worth: I like him. He's got style, and manages to demolish religious nutters while keeping his cool. Having said that, I think too often he uses examples of religious extremists doing/saying horrible things and tries to pass this off as a critique of all religion.

e/y
19-02-2012, 06:20 PM
I remember reading this thread a while back about him and the bus campaign: http://www.dissensus.com/showthread.php?8369-Dawkins-Atheist-Bus&highlight=dawkins+atheist

I think he's ok generally (much more than Hitchens, for example), though I think focusing on religion as the main cause of most 'evil' in the world is quite simplistic. Also, agree with you wrt to his use of extremes to represent all religion / people of faith. And some of his hardcore followers do my head in.

I'm an atheist, fwiw.

grizzleb
19-02-2012, 09:25 PM
I don't give one iota of a fuck about the religion/atheism debate.

slowtrain
20-02-2012, 04:44 AM
I think his anti-religion arguments are a bit simple, but he is generally an alright dude.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 09:30 AM
I don't give one iota of a fuck about the religion/atheism debate.

Yet clearly you care enough to go to the effort of telling us that you don't care...

I'm always a bit surprised by how much flack Dawkins cops from people who are at least nominally left-wing - though I know I shouldn't be, because the assumption that any given socialist can generally be relied upon to be a secularist (whether or not they're an atheist themselves) has been invalid for some time.

I forget the guy's name, but there's that bloke who wrote a well-known piece in the Guardian slagging Dawkins off and saying he has no right to criticise religion because he doesn't understand the finer subtleties of Christian theology. Like, way to miss the point. The finer subtleties of some belief system are neither here nor there if you reject outright that system's fundamental principles. You don't need to know what Venus in the third house of Aquarius with Persil rising supposedly signifies to be able to dismiss astrology as a demonstrable crock of shit.

I think part of what leftists don't like about him is his insistence that religion is uniquely to blame for Every Bad Thing That's Ever Happened In The World, Ever - which, despite the terrible things that people do and have always done in the name of God, is clearly a huge exaggeration. It's just a counterpart to the view that capitalism is to blame for EBTTEHITWE, which is also an exaggeration.

By the bye, I mentally nominated Baroness Warsi for Dick Of The Week last week - did anyone else catch her helpful pronouncement that those nefarious "atheist fundamentalists" are WUINING ERRYTHING! and that Christianity needs to be put back in "the heart of British public life", whatever that is? Funny, I can't remember the last time militant atheists flew a hijacked plane into a skyscraper or bombed an abortion clinic. Interesting too that she's a Muslim sticking up for Christianity, but more and more these days you see leaders or high-profile followers of rival faiths (not the fundies, obviously) banding together in the face of the 'common enemy'.

luka
20-02-2012, 09:59 AM
astrology is much more reliable than science. FACT.how will you prove this? easy. you cant trust science. one week the earth is at the contre of the universe watching the stars spin around it, next thing you know its a blip at the edge of infinite space. always changing their minds. how can you beleive anything they say? ASTROLOGY. always the same throughout the ages. astrology is brilliant.

grizzleb
20-02-2012, 10:26 AM
Yet clearly you care enough to go to the effort of telling us that you don't care...

I'm always a bit surprised by how much flack Dawkins cops from people who are at least nominally left-wing - though I know I shouldn't be, because the assumption that any given socialist can generally be relied upon to be a secularist (whether or not they're an atheist themselves) has been invalid for some time.

I forget the guy's name, but there's that bloke who wrote a well-known piece in the Guardian slagging Dawkins off and saying he has no right to criticise religion because he doesn't understand the finer subtleties of Christian theology. Like, way to miss the point. The finer subtleties of some belief system are neither here nor there if you reject outright that system's fundamental principles. You don't need to know what Venus in the third house of Aquarius with Persil rising supposedly signifies to be able to dismiss astrology as a demonstrable crock of shit.

I think part of what leftists don't like about him is his insistence that religion is uniquely to blame for Every Bad Thing That's Ever Happened In The World, Ever - which, despite the terrible things that people do and have always done in the name of God, is clearly a huge exaggeration. It's just a counterpart to the view that capitalism is to blame for EBTTEHITWE, which is also an exaggeration.

By the bye, I mentally nominated Baroness Warsi for Dick Of The Week last week - did anyone else catch her helpful pronouncement that those nefarious "atheist fundamentalists" are WUINING ERRYTHING! and that Christianity needs to be put back in "the heart of British public life", whatever that is? Funny, I can't remember the last time militant atheists flew a hijacked plane into a skyscraper or bombed an abortion clinic. Interesting too that she's a Muslim sticking up for Christianity, but more and more these days you see leaders or high-profile followers of rival faiths (not the fundies, obviously) banding together in the face of the 'common enemy'.
You're sounding more and more like David Mitchell by the day. Of course I care - about how really quite boring the debate between atheists between atheists and theists is. It's two sides who's entire way of looking at things is fundamentally irreconcilable trying to have a debate - surely this doesn't make any sense. That doesn't have anything to do with the secularist/nonsecular debate though, of course secularism is worth sticking up for. They're entirely distinct issues though I think.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 10:39 AM
I'm not in the least bit interested in debating with theists, dunno where you got that idea.

grizzleb
20-02-2012, 10:50 AM
I didn't get any such idea, I'm just making clear my own position.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 11:18 AM
astrology is much more reliable than science. FACT.how will you prove this? easy. you cant trust science. one week the earth is at the contre of the universe watching the stars spin around it, next thing you know its a blip at the edge of infinite space. always changing their minds. how can you beleive anything they say? ASTROLOGY. always the same throughout the ages. astrology is brilliant.

2/10 - come on Ray, you can do better wackiness than that in your sleep.

luka
20-02-2012, 11:24 AM
but i beleive that

luka
20-02-2012, 11:25 AM
i dont belive in horoscopes but i think the zodiac is amazing. if you are going to write a novel youd be mad not to use the zodiac. its much better than any other phscyooogical 'types' theory. its incredible.

IdleRich
20-02-2012, 11:25 AM
I like Dawkins. He pisses people off but I've never seen anyone lay a glove on him in terms of content rather than style.


"I forget the guy's name, but there's that bloke who wrote a well-known piece in the Guardian slagging Dawkins off and saying he has no right to criticise religion because he doesn't understand the finer subtleties of Christian theology. Like, way to miss the point."
Terry Eagleton I think - not an idiot so his argument is likely dishonest rather than inept.
Here is some of what he said in attacking Dawkins' book


For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.
Quite apart from that definition being one that I suspect ninety-nine percent of Christians wouldn't accept.... what does it actually mean? Not an awful lot really, just a retreat into a position defining God that is so empty that it can't be attacked. A metaphysical game that has nothing to do with anything least of all the religion it purports to describe.
And if that's the sophisticated argument... then we're left with mainly people saying that Dawkins is against freedom of speech or, worse, that Dawkins is an atheist fundamentalist which often comes shortly before claiming that science is just another religion. If I hear one more moron parrot that at me I won't be responsible for my actions.
So, while I'm sure that Dawkins is probably an arrogant and irritating man, as long as he keeps winning the debate I kinda feel that he's entitled to act like that. It's like when your team concede a goal and you feel the anger at watching the other team celebrate - the reason that it hurts so much is because you know it's justified, you want your team to go out there and score a goal so that you can celebrate but in the moment you probably attempt to make yourself feel better by saying "look at that smug cunt" to yourself.

comelately
20-02-2012, 12:15 PM
To be fair, he did make a bit of a tit of himself when he stated that he could 'of course' state the full title of Darwin's Origin of Man. And then failed to do so when challenged. After having tried to make stock of the fact that many people surveyed (on his organisation's behalf) identified themselves as 'Christian' but didn't know that the Gospel of Matthew was the first book in the New Testament.

Re: The metaphysical game (IdleRich). I think Ken Wilber stated that he is not an atheist but that his idea of the nature of God would make him an atheist in the eyes of many. But I'm not sure that's as significant a point as he thinks it is. Sikhism is arguably an atheist religion, because the God he describes is pretty much exactly what they think of as God. 99% (I think the % would be lower than that actually, but it would be high) of Christians may struggle to accept the Eagleton definition if it was put to them, but it isn't being put to them and thus I'm not sure this hypothetical game is that significant. Dawkins wants them to play this game but because he feels it would resolve itself into people becoming just like him. But it wouldn't. It would lead to people going down the Eagleton route, becoming spiritual and playing with other narratives. If they "left their church", they would almost certainly be doing this in a market-capitalist context (Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra etc).


The reason for this shift of accent from religious institution to the intimacy of spiritual experience is that such a meditation is the ideological form that best fits today’s global capitalism.

Derrida said that the existential force of this demand for an absolute altruism can never be assuaged. The same is true of freedom. We have evolved to believe in our own autonomy, and the autonomy of others. Scientifically, if we look for it - we can't find it (the freedom of compatibilism is not the freedom we demand). The same with altruism if we really look; we can see that all altruism is ultimately self-referential. The religion of capitalism emphasises the existential demand for autonomy over the existential demand for altruism, and thus so does almost all 'spirituality' to one extent or another. This changes the way altruism manifests itself, which leads to the stuff Žižek talks about in 'First as Tragedy, Then as Farce'.

I probably haven't expressed myself too well here, so by all means dive on me. But I think the left-wing critique of Dawkins is that the atheist promised land he wishes to lead people to is a ludicrous fantasy, and the place he is really leading them to is somewhere far darker than he realises. Chopra and Dawkins are one!

I have been told that there was a TV programme where Dawkins had a brain scan and the 'spiritual'/7th chakra/god areas just were not lighting up. If this is true, it explains his error.

IdleRich
20-02-2012, 12:36 PM
"To be fair, he did make a bit of a tit of himself when he stated that he could 'of course' state the full title of Darwin's Origin of Man. And then failed to do so when challenged. After having tried to make stock of the fact that many people surveyed (on his organisation's behalf) identified themselves as 'Christian' but didn't know that the Gospel of Matthew was the first book in the New Testament."
Well, yeah, that's pretty stupid. Not so much the not being able to state it but the claim that he would be able to do so - he would have been better to point out that science doesn't stand on untouchable sacred texts whereas Christianity kinda does (though presumably not to Eagleton).


"Dawkins wants them to play this game but because he feels it would resolve itself into people becoming just like him. But it wouldn't. It would lead to people going down the Eagleton route, becoming spiritual and playing with other narratives."
I don't think you simply state "but it wouldn't" - some people obviously do become like him, Dawkins for one.
Also, while Eagleton's view is muddled and contradictory and ineffectual, I'm sure that Dawkins would prefer that to the fundamentalism and certainty which are the most objectionable aspects of religion and which lead people to demand religious say in how society operates.


"We have evolved to believe in our own autonomy, and the autonomy of others. Scientifically, if we look for it - we can't find it (the freedom of compatibilism is not the freedom we demand). The same with altruism if we really look; we can see that all altruism is ultimately self-referential."
We haven't found it yet. I'd say the jury is still out though. Although I'm tempted to agree with you, I can't really see what true freedom or altruism would actually mean.


"I probably haven't expressed myself too well here, so by all means dive on me. But I think the left-wing critique of Dawkins is that the atheist promised land he wishes to lead people to is a ludicrous fantasy, and the place he is really leading them to is somewhere far darker than he realises."
It's a fantasty, or more precisely, it's an ideal which obviously he realises will never be attained. But I see no evidence for the claim that he's pushing people towards a darker place - is that what you mean by religious people becoming like Eagleton?
Also, there is a sense in which the societal implications of what he's doing are unimportant. There is no God, that is the truth, Dawkins feels some commitment to that truth. Even if you believe that the removal of a comforting lie will ultimately be bad for society there is a debate to be had about whether or not to maintain that lie.

comelately
20-02-2012, 01:17 PM
Well, yeah, that's pretty stupid. Not so much the not being able to state it but the claim that he would be able to do so - he would have been better to point out that science doesn't stand on untouchable sacred texts whereas Christianity kinda does (though presumably not to Eagleton).

Or really to many people at all. Who really cares if Luke goes first? It kinda makes some sense to keep the really crazy one until last, from a narrative perspective. But whether people can remember the order is immaterial.


I don't think you simply state "but it wouldn't" - some people obviously do become like him, Dawkins for one.

Hardly the man on the Clapham omnibus though yes? My suspicion is that he is abnormal psychologically, but even if that is not the case he is mapping his own process onto others in a way that doesn't really sustain analysis.


Also, while Eagleton's view is muddled and contradictory and ineffectual, I'm sure that Dawkins would prefer that to the fundamentalism and certainty which are the most objectionable aspects of religion and which lead people to demand religious say in how society operates.

He may well prefer it. That does nothing for the left-wing critique of that position.


We haven't found it yet. I'd say the jury is still out though. Although I'm tempted to agree with you, I can't really see what true freedom or altruism would actually mean.

The jury may be out but as you suggest, it's impossible to conceive of what true freedom and altruism would mean. But we demand them. There is perhaps a third existential demand, the demand for facts - I suspect this will make you bristle but I would like to suggest that, without in anyway seeking to undermine the importance of science, there really are no facts. We demand facts, so we have facts, but in a crucial sense they are not there. As with altruism and freedom. We are all metaphysicists, though we all pretend not to be.

Dawkins, and this is not a criticism, seems to live and has lived a pretty comfortable academic existence. It is fine for him to emphasise the existential demand for facts (science) over philosophical libertarianism and altruism (religion and spirituality) - though he cannot existentially do without either completely. Nonetheless, he knows little of the lives of the people he is addressing - who need these ideals more (opium of the people, and all that).


But I see no evidence for the claim that he's pushing people towards a darker place

What would such evidence look like? What are you looking for here?


- is that what you mean by religious people becoming like Eagleton?

Well not exactly, he's another academic. They will buy crystals or get into Anthony Robbins or more alcohol or something along those lines in most cases.


Also, there is a sense in which the societal implications of what he's doing are unimportant.

From a perspective that demands the primacy of facts over altruism and freedom yes. But I suspect this is ultimately begging the question.


There is no God, that is the truth, Dawkins feels some commitment to that truth.

Again, 'there is no God' is a metaphysical statement.


Even if you believe that the removal of a comforting lie will ultimately be bad for society there is a debate to be had about whether or not to maintain that lie.

Sure, but someone who emphasises the nature of capitalism and a commitment to the existential force of altruism is probably going to be sympathetic to the structures that seek to harness and nurture that existential force.

Addendum: I suspect the existential demand for altruism is considerably weaker than the demand for freedom and knowledge, which is why it may need more nurturing.

DannyL
20-02-2012, 01:27 PM
But I see no evidence for the claim that he's pushing people towards a darker place - is that what you mean by religious people becoming like Eagleton?

This is John Gray's argument isn't it? No time to summarise right now, sorry.

I think a part of the puzzle that's often left out when talking Dawkins (that so nearly rhymes) is that his aetyhesitc stance can be seen in tandem with his work as a populariser of evolutionary biolgy - this brings him into direct conflict with Christians.

Another story about Dawkins being a bit of a knob:
http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/not-your-average-read/2011/jul/16/sexism-atheism-Dawkins-Watson-feminists-Skepchick/

Bangpuss
20-02-2012, 01:55 PM
Apologies for not seeing the earlier thread about the bus campaign, although that is a more specific point than a broader theological debate, which is what I was looking for.

All the stuff about defining God as a vague, undefined force, the creator of science &c. irritates me in the sense that the people who make that argument are doing so in the knowledge that it cannot be proved to be wrong, since there is essentially nothing to their god, other than as an intellectual construct they use to explain the currently unexplainable. And yet, when an atheist such as Dickie Dawkins argues against the existence of God, the most frequently used rebuttal is to say that you can't 100% prove it. Yet, the lack of proof is exactly what their arguments rely on.

Dawkins has never said, "There IS not God," hence the "probably" in the bus campaign. It's just that it's extremely unlikely.

Dan, I don't think Dawkins comes across as a dick in that article. The guy invited a feminist back to his room for coffee, however euphemistic that may be. So what?! I see nothing there that makes him a misogynist, any more than offering a minority who is waiting by the side of the road a lift in your car is patronising. The feminist's outrage does her movement no favours.

IdleRich
20-02-2012, 01:59 PM
"Or really to many people at all. Who really cares if Luke goes first? It kinda makes some sense to keep the really crazy one until last, from a narrative perspective. But whether people can remember the order is immaterial."
Yeah of course. But I assume that this is related to one of those surveys that demonstrates that Christians tend to know less about the actual important bits of their religion than atheists. The example of the order of the gospels is an unfortunate one I'd say.


"Hardly the man on the Clapham omnibus though yes? My suspicion is that he is abnormal psychologically, but even if that is not the case he is mapping his own process onto others in a way that doesn't really sustain analysis."
Well the man on the Clapham omnibus is scarcely more likely to end up like Eagleton is he?


"The jury may be out but as you suggest, it's impossible to conceive of what true freedom and altruism would mean. But we demand them. There is perhaps a third existential demand, the demand for facts - I suspect this will make you bristle but I would like to suggest that, without in anyway seeking to undermine the importance of science, there really are no facts. We demand facts, so we have facts, but in a crucial sense they are not there. As with altruism and freedom. We are all metaphysicists, though we all pretend not to be."
This depends on a misunderstanding (or at least a difference in application) of the word "fact". I take it to be a true state of the world, I think you are using the definition of a fact as a provably true statement. There either is or isn't a God - one of those things is the true state of the universe, one isn't (and one of them is therefore, I'd say, the fact of the matter). However this will probably never be definitively proven one way or another. The definition of a fact as a provably true statement says that there is thus no fact of the matter on this kind of question - and I have no problem with that, it's just that it stops too early. Call what I'm talking about fact* perhaps, I don't think you would deny that God either does or doesn't exist - maybe you would, Eagleton kind of does I guess.


"What would such evidence look like? What are you looking for here?
You said that the left-wing critique of Dawkins stems from the idea that he is pushing people towards a darker place, I'm asking why on earth they think that.


"He may well prefer it. That does nothing for the left-wing critique of that position."
OK, let me put it this way. Eagleton is an old leftie, you said that Dawkins' arguments are likely going to force people to think like Eagleton. Why should the left have a problem with this?


"Sure, but someone who emphasises the nature of capitalism and a commitment to the existential force of altruism is probably going to be sympathetic to the structures that seek to harness and nurture that existential force."
Not sure I understand this. I'm saying that Dawkins thinks that religion is a lie. I happen to think he's pretty much right and he's trying to expose this lie. Are you saying that because he's doing this in a capitalist society it will lead to more capitalism and so he shouldn't do it?

DannyL
20-02-2012, 02:54 PM
I see nothing there that makes him a misogynist

I'm not arguing that he's a misogynist. I'm just sayig that Dawkins' dismisal of her pov. - and the equivalences he draws with it - do him no favours at all.

comelately
20-02-2012, 03:08 PM
Yeah of course. But I assume that this is related to one of those surveys that demonstrates that Christians tend to know less about the actual important bits of their religion than atheists. The example of the order of the gospels is an unfortunate one I'd say.


Well the man on the Clapham omnibus is scarcely more likely to end up like Eagleton is he?


This depends on a misunderstanding (or at least a difference in application) of the word "fact". I take it to be a true state of the world, I think you are using the definition of a fact as a provably true statement. There either is or isn't a God - one of those things is the true state of the universe, one isn't (and one of them is therefore, I'd say, the fact of the matter). However this will probably never be definitively proven one way or another. The definition of a fact as a provably true statement says that there is thus no fact of the matter on this kind of question - and I have no problem with that, it's just that it stops too early. Call what I'm talking about fact* perhaps, I don't think you would deny that God either does or doesn't exist - maybe you would, Eagleton kind of does I guess.


You said that the left-wing critique of Dawkins stems from the idea that he is pushing people towards a darker place, I'm asking why on earth they think that.


OK, let me put it this way. Eagleton is an old leftie, you said that Dawkins' arguments are likely going to force people to think like Eagleton. Why should the left have a problem with this?


Not sure I understand this. I'm saying that Dawkins thinks that religion is a lie. I happen to think he's pretty much right and he's trying to expose this lie. Are you saying that because he's doing this in a capitalist society it will lead to more capitalism and so he shouldn't do it?


Forget Eagleton, he's not relevant here - that's my mistake. He's another ageing academic who has lived a life in academia.

I find your definition of fact as true state of the world to be as empty as the definition of God as 'the mysterious'. They are both reliant on existential demands that cannot be satisfied. Thus I find the idea of it being a fact that God exists or does not exist to be slightly odd.

To repeat, religious institutions emphasise oneness and altruism in a way that market-based solutions to those same problems cannot and do not. The market emphasises existential freedom in the face of all evidence and common sense. Dawkins has no way of making the problems that religion addresses go away. Obviously he thinks the cure is worse than the disease, but the choice is not between the cure and the disease - it's between cures and a left-wing critique is to suggest that this will ultimately lead to bigger problems. Some Marxists might see that as a good thing, so I'm not sure I would suggest that Dawkins should or shouldn't do what he is doing. Should Tesco have the unemployed do 'work experience' at their supermarkets? Some Marxists might suggest that they are bravely showing the true face of capitalism.

Nonetheless, what I suppose I am saying is that capitalist reduction of altruism to self-referentialism changes the way that altruism manifests itself and that this reduces the possibility of genuine long-term restructuring of society in a way that protects the long-term future of what we would broadly judge to be liberal freedoms.

I am not suggesting that this critique is problem free. But being 'against lies' is not as sustainable a moral position as it initially might seem.

comelately
20-02-2012, 03:20 PM
All the stuff about defining God as a vague, undefined force, the creator of science &c. irritates me in the sense that the people who make that argument are doing so in the knowledge that it cannot be proved to be wrong, since there is essentially nothing to their god, other than as an intellectual construct they use to explain the currently unexplainable.

To view it as an intellectual construct is probably to misunderstand the point. When yogis or whatever talk about God, or waheguru or the source, Mother Earth or whatever, they are connecting with a part of themselves. We respond to notions of the divine in a way that we can only otherwise get near through certain aesthetical and physical experiences. They are guarding the legitimacy of those experiences against attack from those who do not understand what they want to destroy.

DannyL
20-02-2012, 04:58 PM
Comelately - where is that Zizek quote from? Very interesting I think.

comelately
20-02-2012, 05:15 PM
Slavoj Zizek, “The Fear of Four Words: A Modest Plea for the Hegelian Reading of Christianity,” in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic, ed. Creston Davis (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009) 27-28.

http://rainandtherhinoceros.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/zizek-on-capitalism-and-new-age-spirituality/

I'm pretty sure he also said that spirituality should become more religious. He could certainly be said to look upon Christianity more favourably than spirituality.

Bangpuss
20-02-2012, 06:28 PM
Perhaps this should be the topic of another thread, but I don't see the relevance of Zizek or Derrida to pretty much anything. I mean, the former is a neo-Marxist believes socialist revolution is nigh, and the latter is an impenetrable elitist who disguises his lack of coherent argument by writing so impenetrably that nobody bar himself can really be sure what he's talking about. Not that this has much to do with this thread, other than to say that for me, a quote from Zizek or Derrida holds about as much weight as an observation lifted from L. Ron Hubbard. All three have some interesting insights, but on the whole, they're extremely untrustworthy and often outright crazy.

IdleRich
20-02-2012, 06:40 PM
"Forget Eagleton, he's not relevant here - that's my mistake. He's another ageing academic who has lived a life in academia."
Fair enough, I brought him up I guess.


"I find your definition of fact as true state of the world to be as empty as the definition of God as 'the mysterious'. They are both reliant on existential demands that cannot be satisfied. Thus I find the idea of it being a fact that God exists or does not exist to be slightly odd."
I don't see that at all. What existential demands cannot be satisfied?
As an aside I went out with a girl who is now a philosophy lecturer, she and others on her phd always deemed the argument that the statement "There are no facts" only has value in the case of it being true ie a fact, in which case it's not true, enough to disregard it as nonsense. It was something that was generally said by the slow one in the class when he'd missed the point.


"To repeat, religious institutions emphasise oneness and altruism in a way that market-based solutions to those same problems cannot and do not. The market emphasises existential freedom in the face of all evidence and common sense. Dawkins has no way of making the problems that religion addresses go away. Obviously he thinks the cure is worse than the disease, but the choice is not between the cure and the disease - it's between cures and a left-wing critique is to suggest that this will ultimately lead to bigger problems."
I've got a few problems with that statement. Firstly I don't think the market emphasises existential freedom of the kind discussed above which we both deem to (probably) not exist. It just emphasises freedom to do what you will (without the control over what you will) and I don't think that that is against common sense or evidence at all.
Also, it obviously doesn't matter if Dawkins can't make the problems that religion attempts (and I would say fails) to address go away. He's not seeking to do that and in debates with fundies he's been very happy to say that his worldview struggles to provide a morality (of course so does religion but try telling that to someone religious).
Are you saying that a left-wing critique of Dawkins acknowledges that he is not attempting or claiming to do this but still announces the failure of what he's doing because it does not do it?
Further, when you say that there is a choice between cures, which other "cures" are you referring to here?


"Nonetheless, what I suppose I am saying is that capitalist reduction of altruism to self-referentialism changes the way that altruism manifests itself and that this reduces the possibility of genuine long-term restructuring of society in a way that protects the long-term future of what we would broadly judge to be liberal freedoms."
I think a lot of people would struggle to see the relevance of this to what we're talking about, or what we started talking about.


"being 'against lies' is not as sustainable a moral position as it initially might seem."
You might think that but I don't think you've demonstrated it though.

Bangpuss
20-02-2012, 07:25 PM
As an aside I went out with a girl who is now a philosophy lecturer, she and others on her phd always deemed the argument that the statement "There are no facts" only has value in the case of it being true ie a fact, in which case it's not true, enough to disregard it as nonsense. It was something that was generally said by the slow one in the class when he'd missed the point.

In my arguments with the aforementioned girl, that was the point she would make to rebut my arguments for relativism. Maybe I am the slow one in the class who has missed the point. But I don't think I have. I understand the linguistic contradiction of stating "There are no facts" as fact. But I never -- and I don't think people who take my stance on this tend to, although their arguments are often presented as such by their opponents as a straw man -- I never state "There are no facts," as fact.

As Richard Dawkins hypothesises as to the probable non-existence of God (which I agree with), a true relativist can only ever say that they don't believe there are no no absolute truths, not that they don't exist. It's also not a contradiction to say that I don't think our language is adequate to grapple with true fact. Of course, "girl" counters that just because we can't describe a fact adequately, doesn't mean it don't exist. I would counter by saying that things do exist outside of our understanding of them, and even if we don't have a term for a phenomena, doesn't mean it isn't a physical or formulaic truth -- I'm not a solipsist. I can also understand that 'truth' only being a linguistic approximation of an indisputable fact that exists, while approximate, is still precise enough for us all to know exactly what it is we're referring to when we talk of truth, even if the thing we're trying to describe can't be communicated fully.

But I will paraphrase Nietzsche and say that in the (probable) absence of God/creator who can imbue particles with some kind of truth/meaning, it follows that it's also probable that there are no absolute truths.

So what I'm saying is, the probability of the existence of absolute truth is directly related to God, since I think truths outside of our own linguistic logic can only come from a creator. Seeing as I believe there is probably no God, it follows that there is probably no truth.

Or maybe I'm still the slow kid and missing the point.

comelately
20-02-2012, 07:29 PM
What existential demands cannot be satisfied?

The demand for the kind of freedom sought by philosophical libertarians, the demand for pure altruism, the demand for facts etc


As an aside I went out with a girl who is now a philosophy lecturer, she and others on her phd always deemed the argument that the statement "There are no facts" only has value in the case of it being true ie a fact, in which case it's not true, enough to disregard it as nonsense. It was something that was generally said by the slow one in the class when he'd missed the point.

I think I've missed the point? Only kidding. I think that notion of value is dependent on the precondition of there being facts and so it's no surprise that the 'there are no facts' statement appears to be nonsense. I would actually say that to say such a statement is 'nonsense' is to engage in a kind of philosophical autism. Value is subjective not logical surely?


I've got a few problems with that statement. Firstly I don't think the market emphasises existential freedom of the kind discussed above which we both deem to (probably) not exist. It just emphasises freedom to do what you will (without the control over what you will) and I don't think that that is against common sense or evidence at all.

It explicitly emphasises 'negative freedom' and this is ultimately incoherent for sure, but the idea I am talking about is that one creates one's own destiny and essentially gets what one deserves. The rich deserve to be rich, the poor are lazy and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps etc etc. Such talk is talked pretty openly right now, I am surprised you have not noticed it. It is ultimately dependent on the idea of will, which is transcendental and, in an important sense, isn't to be found. David Smail is excellent on this stuff from the pov of critiquing psychology.


Also, it obviously doesn't matter if Dawkins can't make the problems that religion attempts (and I would say fails) to address go away. He's not seeking to do that

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I'm not sure it's not fairly irrelevant.


Are you saying that a left-wing critique of Dawkins acknowledges that he is not attempting or claiming to do this but still announces the failure of what he's doing because it does not do it?

I think this is a strange reframing to be honest. I think his 'project' is shallow and pedantic, it does not necessarily fail in its intentions.


Further, when you say that there is a choice between cures, which other "cures" are you referring to here?

I think I've covered this: spirituality, self-help NLP literature, alcohol (popular with academics), watching team sports, patriotic warmongering, trolling messageboards etc


I think a lot of people would struggle to see the relevance of this to what we're talking about, or what we started talking about.

Well I pretty much just repeated what I stated in my original post, so I'm not sure that really works. Philosophy is hard, even phd philosophy students struggle it seems (to be fair, a philosophy student can get their phd without going near left wing social and political or continental philosophy). As an observation, you seem overly attached on the idea that a critique must speak to the the achievement of the projects conscious objectives, which is why I think you are struggling to grasp the viewpoint. I think I am describing some fairly complex ideas fairly simply, but I will try and do better.


You might think that but I don't think you've demonstrated it though.

Probably not. I can't spare more time on this today, I will return with more cohesive thoughts tomorrow.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 08:13 PM
Terry Eagleton I think

That's the fella. His version of the argument is probably the most well-known but I've read a lot of people on the pro-faith left use it. Basically you make up a definition of "God" that's so recondite and abstract that it sounds more like some kind of kooky po-mo meta-Buddhism than anything the vast majority of theists, of whatever flavour, would actually recognise. Then you use this to (supposedly) show that Dawkins and pals have got it all wrong because they're busy attacking the vengeful beardy man in the sky but puh-lease, who actually believes that any more? And hey presto, the "atheist fundamentalists" are revealed to be just as unsophisticated as the religious fundies they unceasingly excoriate, and can therefore be dismissed or ignored. Hurrah.

So really, it's a straw-man argument based on the fallacious accusation of a straw-man argument.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 09:16 PM
I find your definition of fact as true state of the world to be as empty as the definition of God as 'the mysterious'. They are both reliant on existential demands that cannot be satisfied. Thus I find the idea of it being a fact that God exists or does not exist to be slightly odd.
With respect, I find this line of reasoning specious and sophistical in the extreme. In what meaningful way is it not demonstrably true (that is, a fact) that fire is hot and ice is cold, that London is the capital of England or any of a million other examples we could easily come up with? Going down the road of questioning "what we can ever really know" (within certain well-described limitations such as the Heisenberg uncertainty relation) leads ineluctably to solipsistic silliness like "What it we're all just living in a giant computer simulation?". The material universe is maya, there are no facts or truths because nothing really exists, blah blah blah. Not really a position to be taken seriously.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 09:20 PM
I see nothing there that makes him a misogynist

I'm not arguing that he's a misogynist. I'm just sayig that Dawkins' dismisal of her pov. - and the equivalences he draws with it - do him no favours at all.

Well he was probably wrong-footed by her decision to take offence at absolutely nothing at all. Isn't she flattering herself a bit to assume that he OBVIOUSLY wanted to get in her pants, rather than actually drink coffee and talk? I bet if he'd ignored her she'd be in a huff about his 'aloofness'.


Watson promptly profiled Dawkins as the worst villain a person can be in class warfare – a “wealthy old heterosexual white man”.

Off with hir head!

slowtrain
20-02-2012, 09:39 PM
With respect, I find this line of reasoning specious and sophistical in the extreme. In what meaningful way is it not demonstrably true (that is, a fact) that fire is hot and ice is cold, that London is the capital of England or any of a million other examples we could easily come up with? Going down the road of questioning "what we can ever really know" (within certain well-described limitations such as the Heisenberg uncertainty relation) leads ineluctably to solipsistic silliness like "What it we're all just living in a giant computer simulation?". The material universe is maya, there are no facts or truths because nothing really exists, blah blah blah. Not really a position to be taken seriously.

Well all those things are only true linguistically oh wait maybe not i dunno what i'm saying

i agree with luka though, i think astrology is very important - i want to get some tarot cards. i think that it is bullshit, but that doesn't mean that bullshit cannot be 'real' in the sense that it affects you aye?

IdleRich
20-02-2012, 09:47 PM
"The demand for the kind of freedom sought by philosophical libertarians, the demand for pure altruism, the demand for facts etc"
I'm getting quite confused here - you said that (my definition of) facts cannot satisfy certain existential demands which you now explain as the demand for facts. Well, I'm getting confused or you are.


"I think I've missed the point? Only kidding. I think that notion of value is dependent on the precondition of there being facts and so it's no surprise that the 'there are no facts' statement appears to be nonsense. I would actually say that to say such a statement is 'nonsense' is to engage in a kind of philosophical autism. Value is subjective not logical surely?"
The notion of value depends on the pre-condition of there being facts? I don't think so, in the sentence I made it would have been the same to say "the statement only has meaning if it's true" and I'm sure you wouldn't say that facts are a pre-condition for meaning... unless you are denying all meaning. In which case, why are we talking?


"It explicitly emphasises 'negative freedom' and this is ultimately incoherent for sure, but the idea I am talking about is that one creates one's own destiny and essentially gets what one deserves. The rich deserve to be rich, the poor are lazy and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps etc etc. Such talk is talked pretty openly right now, I am surprised you have not noticed it. It is ultimately dependent on the idea of will, which is transcendental and, in an important sense, isn't to be found. David Smail is excellent on this stuff from the pov of critiquing psychology."
Yes, I've seen that talk but I didn't realise that was what you meant. Again, I don't see how this is relevant to what Dawkins has said.


"The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I'm not sure it's not fairly irrelevant."
Triple negative there, so you think it is fairly irrelevant? What is?


"I think this is a strange reframing to be honest. I think his 'project' is shallow and pedantic, it does not necessarily fail in its intentions."
So, do you have any other criticisms of his so-called project? You're saying it's shallow and it doesn't do what communism was supposed to but it does kinda demonstrate the lack of existence of God and the futility of religion. He'd probably be happy with that.


"I think I've covered this: spirituality, self-help NLP literature, alcohol (popular with academics), watching team sports, patriotic warmongering, trolling messageboards etc"
I must have missed that post. But I don't see that Dawkins has to address all those attempted cures as well as his chosen bugbear, in fact I'd go so far as to say that that would be impossible for any one person to do.


"Well I pretty much just repeated what I stated in my original post, so I'm not sure that really works. Philosophy is hard, even phd philosophy students struggle it seems (to be fair, a philosophy student can get their phd without going near left wing social and political or continental philosophy). As an observation, you seem overly attached on the idea that a critique must speak to the the achievement of the projects conscious objectives, which is why I think you are struggling to grasp the viewpoint. I think I am describing some fairly complex ideas fairly simply, but I will try and do better."
It is hard, and easily confused with other disciplines which allow less rigorous argument. But your original point "But I think the left-wing critique of Dawkins is that the atheist promised land he wishes to lead people to is a ludicrous fantasy, and the place he is really leading them to is somewhere far darker than he realises." is far from what you've said in the last few points.

comelately
20-02-2012, 09:51 PM
With respect, I find this line of reasoning specious and sophistical in the extreme.

Don't specious and sophistical mean more or less the same thing?


In what meaningful way is it not demonstrably true (that is, a fact) that fire is hot and ice is cold

They are both ultimately interpretations. Sure I'm not denying it is a useful and probably necessary shorthand to describe those things as facts. But they are not objective facts, hot and cold *are* subjective states - I think it's on you to demonstrate otherwise. I'm sure you could easily get a consensus that fire is hot, but that isn't what you want.

"London is the capital of England". Tougher but ultimately built on consensus and not objectivity. If I say that Birmingham is the real capital, how would you falsify that? Again you confuse consensus with objectivity.

I'm not saying ''there are no facts" as an isolated statement, I'm saying there is a sense in which there are no facts. Humans are meaning-creating beings that infer a=b facts, that infer that human beings (and even animals) have 'free will' of a kind that cannot be demonstrated and that infer pure altruism from acts that can probably be more accurately be shown to be self-referential. But this meaning creation is ultimately all narrative, il n'ya pas de hors-texte.

Bangpuss
20-02-2012, 09:51 PM
With respect, I find this line of reasoning specious and sophistical in the extreme. In what meaningful way is it not demonstrably true (that is, a fact) that fire is hot and ice is cold, that London is the capital of England or any of a million other examples we could easily come up with? Going down the road of questioning "what we can ever really know" (within certain well-described limitations such as the Heisenberg uncertainty relation) leads ineluctably to solipsistic silliness like "What it we're all just living in a giant computer simulation?". The material universe is maya, there are no facts or truths because nothing really exists, blah blah blah. Not really a position to be taken seriously.

Well, fire being hot and ice being cold are relative experiences. The words are artificial signifiers for human experience, which is, quite obviously, relative. Ice may seem uncomfortable and 'cold' to us, but not so to life that may or may not live in the far-out regions of space. As with London being the capital of England: it's true in a University Challenge sense, but the idea of a 'capital city' only exists because we came up with it. There was no such thing as a capital city before we decided to start calling it that. Similarly, just because Eskimos have god-knows how many different words for snow, it doesn't mean that there are, in their essence, that many different kinds of snow.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 09:58 PM
Well all those things are only true linguistically oh wait maybe not i dunno what i'm saying

How else are we meant to communicate if not linguistically? I think that's a bit reductio-ad-absurdum. Well there is another way: "1+1=2", for example. Though this is rigorously provable rather than empirically demonstrable, so I'd call it a truth rather than a fact. Both words and numbers are just symbols but if we can agree on a convention for their meaning (the English language, figures plus elementary-level arithmetic symbols...) then we can make meaningful sentences. The only alternative is telepathy.


i think that it is bullshit, but that doesn't mean that bullshit cannot be 'real' in the sense that it affects you aye?

I'm sure a lot of people would call Game Of Thrones bullshit, but it affected me. To get back on topic, you could say the same about myths, superstition, liturgy, scripture and so on.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 09:59 PM
Don't specious and sophistical mean more or less the same thing?

I think they're close but not quite the same.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 10:01 PM
They are both ultimately interpretations. Sure I'm not denying it is a useful and probably necessary shorthand to describe those things as facts. But they are not objective facts, hot and cold *are* subjective states - I think it's on you to demonstrate otherwise. I'm sure you could easily get a consensus that fire is hot, but that isn't what you want.

Well fire is hotter than ice - that removes any reference to subjective values like what constitutes 'hot' or 'cold'. If you can agree on what temperature means (the root mean square velocity of particles in a body or fluid, loosely) then "[x] is hotter than [y]" is not a tricky or subjective statement.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 10:06 PM
"London is the capital of England". Tougher but ultimately built on consensus and not objectivity. If I say that Birmingham is the real capital, how would you falsify that? Again you confuse consensus with objectivity.

It's not the seat of parliament so it's not the capital. You could then ask "well how do you define 'seat', in this case? Or parliament?" and so on ad infinitum. You end up asking rhetorical questions that you, I and anyone with a basic grasp of English know the answer to. It doesn't achieve anything and it sure as hell doesn't prove that facts don't exist. That's what I meant by specious and sophistical.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 10:10 PM
As with London being the capital of England: it's true in a University Challenge sense, but the idea of a 'capital city' only exists because we came up with it. There was no such thing as a capital city before we decided to start calling it that. Similarly, just because Eskimos have god-knows how many different words for snow, it doesn't mean that there are, in their essence, that many different kinds of snow.

Well yeah, but I still think this is missing the point. Yes, the concept of a 'capital city' is a human construct, but then so is a city itself. Does that mean it doesn't exist? Of course not.

As for different types of snow - sure, there aren't however many objectively distinguishable types of snow, but there can be slushy snow or crisp snow, heavy snow and light snow, and so on. There clearly aren't seven discrete colours in a rainbow - this is the convention because Newton was a mystic with a thing about the number seven - but there are different wavelengths of light that we can talk about in terms of the subjective experience of 'colour'.

Edit: comelately, 'free will' and altruism are much trickier things of course, and I don't have a ready answer for you on those.

comelately
20-02-2012, 10:11 PM
The notion of value depends on the pre-condition of there being facts?

Not what I wrote. Please read again.


in the sentence I made it would have been the same to say "the statement only has meaning if it's true"

I disagree. You need to demonstrate that I think (don't think you can).


It is hard, and easily confused with other disciplines which allow less rigorous argument.

A sly dig, but ultimately a silly attempt to define the analytical school of philosophy as the 'real'. Yawn. So if you ultimately don't respect/grasp left-wing continental philosophy, why should I care that you don't like its critique? - a critique I am merely trying to present rather than defend to the last. I am prepared to try and present the critique in a clearer way tomorrow; what I have no intention of doing is trying to turn a cat into a dog or defend every contentious area of philosophy that the critique presupposes.

comelately
20-02-2012, 10:13 PM
It's not the seat of parliament so it's not the capital.

There are exceptions to that actually.

comelately
20-02-2012, 10:18 PM
Both words and numbers are just symbols but if we can agree on a convention for their meaning (the English language, figures plus elementary-level arithmetic symbols...) then we can make meaningful sentences.

How do you define the meaning of words without other words? How do you define the words you've just used to define the original word(s)? Have fun!

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 10:19 PM
There are exceptions to that actually.

This is just what I mean. For any statement I make, you could come up with little niggly points like this, or disingenuously demand definitions for words that any English speaker intuitively understands, in a way that gives the impression of undermining the original statement but actually doesn't, because you're artificially creating the impression of ambiguity or possible wrongness where there isn't any.

Mr. Tea
20-02-2012, 10:20 PM
How do you define the meaning of words without other words? How do you define the words you've just used to define the original word(s)? Have fun!

I don't know, but the fact that we're having this conversation abundantly demonstrates that it's possible!

comelately
20-02-2012, 10:27 PM
This is just what I mean. For any statement I make, you could come up with little niggly points like this, or disingenuously demand definitions for words that any English speaker intuitively understands, in a way that gives the impression of undermining the original statement but actually doesn't, because you're artificially creating the impression of ambiguity or possible wrongness where there isn't any.

I am not being disingenuous. You are now the one indulging in sophistry.

comelately
20-02-2012, 10:35 PM
I don't know, but the fact that we're having this conversation abundantly demonstrates that it's possible!

Yet we disagree profoundly over quite a lot, so we are interpreting the words on the pages of this forum thread in significantly different ways - suggesting meaning is contingent on our individual narrative contexts rather than individually reaching the same closures using some kind of strange rigorous logical analysis.

IdleRich
20-02-2012, 10:59 PM
"Not what I wrote. Please read again"
This is a literal quote from you "I think that notion of value is dependent on the precondition of there being facts" - I said that you'd said "The notion of value depends on the pre-condition of there being facts?"
What am I missing?


"I disagree. You need to demonstrate that I think (don't think you can)."
Actually you're right here. It's not the same. It still retains its meaning if its untrue but can't be used for anything because, in short, it's wrong (you're making a distinction between truth and facts remember). I don't think that that is a notion of value that depends on fact whatever that means or regardless of whether you said it.


"A sly dig, but ultimately a silly attempt to define the analytical school of philosophy as the 'real'. Yawn. So if you ultimately don't respect/grasp left-wing continental philosophy, why should I care that you don't like its critique? - a critique I am merely trying to present rather than defend to the last. I am prepared to try and present the critique in a clearer way tomorrow; what I have no intention of doing is trying to turn a cat into a dog or defend every contentious area of philosophy that the critique presupposes."
Let's rewind a bit. I simply don't see that you have made any link whatsoever between some left-wing stuff and Dawkins, nevermind presented a critique or defended it. Maybe if you start again and say how the drive to freedom or whatever it was relates to a criticism of Dawkins we could talk more civilly.

comelately
20-02-2012, 11:38 PM
This is a literal quote from you "I think that notion of value is dependent on the precondition of there being facts" - I said that you'd said "The notion of value depends on the pre-condition of there being facts?"
What am I missing?

I'm not saying any notion of value is contingent on there being facts, I'm saying that the notion of value you gf was working with was dependent on there being facts. You wrote, paraphrasing your girl;


the statement "There are no facts" only has value in the case of it being true ie a fact

To me that's really clear, unless you're stating that there is no such thing as value. If you're assuming that there are facts, then obviously the statement 'there are no facts' is going to appear to be false. It's just begging the question. I think that's really clear and I don't think this is worth spending any more time discussing to be honest.


Let's rewind a bit. I simply don't see that you have made any link whatsoever between some left-wing stuff and Dawkins, nevermind presented a critique or defended it. Maybe if you start again and say how the drive to freedom or whatever it was relates to a criticism of Dawkins we could talk more civilly.

Okay. Tomorrow.

IdleRich
21-02-2012, 01:05 AM
"I'm not saying any notion of value is contingent on there being facts, I'm saying that the notion of value you gf was working with was dependent on there being facts. You wrote, paraphrasing your girl"
OK, but it's not though is it? What notion of value would give any value to a statement that is self-defeating (see below)?


"To me that's really clear, unless you're stating that there is no such thing as value. If you're assuming that there are facts, then obviously the statement 'there are no facts' is going to appear to be false. It's just begging the question. I think that's really clear and I don't think this is worth spending any more time discussing to be honest."
No, it's not begging the question. You are correct in saying it's gonna be false if you assume there are facts but it's also going to be false if you assume that there aren't any facts because, according to its own words, there are no true statements. That is very simple and occurs to most people the first time they hear it and it ought to be an end on the matter.
Maybe a better stance would be "There is only one fact and that fact is that this is the only fact and there are no others" but that doesn't have the same zing and it suffers somewhat from arbitrariness.

comelately
21-02-2012, 06:11 AM
OK, but it's not though is it? What notion of value would give any value to a statement that is self-defeating (see below)?


No, it's not begging the question. You are correct in saying it's gonna be false if you assume there are facts but it's also going to be false if you assume that there aren't any facts because, according to its own words, there are no true statements. That is very simple and occurs to most people the first time they hear it and it ought to be an end on the matter.
Maybe a better stance would be "There is only one fact and that fact is that this is the only fact and there are no others" but that doesn't have the same zing and it suffers somewhat from arbitrariness.

*shakes head*

You are assuming that the statement has to be 'true' or 'false'. If there are no facts, the objectivity of trueness and falseness fall away. I don't accept the binary you present, the precondition for accepting it is that there are facts. The fact that you're appealing to a consensus view (one that I don't really buy into at all) as authority is quite revealing I think.

luka
21-02-2012, 08:32 AM
comelately you are tying yourself in knots. too many partially digested philosphy books is my diagnosis. if the thinking is clear the writing is clear and yours is garbled. which is not to say i think youre any more wrong than anyone else here, just that you are all getting further and further away from the point, and you are to blame.
reduce the conversation to its essentials. dont get sidetracked by petty point scoring. try to commnicate not obfusacate. specious and sophistical are not entirely the same. not everything which is specious is sophistical although you could argue everything sophistical is specious. but so what? its petty point scoring. carry on.

padraig (u.s.)
21-02-2012, 08:41 AM
@comelately - bro I get that continental philosophy is your hustle but please, please keep that pomo bullshit about the impossibility of facts way the hell away from science. or don't, but be aware no one who actually does science (the real thing I mean, not sociology) cares about your rejection of binaries. I'm sure you will have a witty, condescending response. I'm also sure bruno latour already said whatever you're going to say 20 years ago, only he said it better.

edit: I should clarify that science is its own hustle (half of it, seriously, is pursuit of grant $). questions about how funding shapes research, + hence knowledge, are completely valid. what is bullshit is saying actual experimental results - protein levels in a western blot, say - are not facts.

mr. tea I know we've fought nonsense like this tooth + nail but you got to just let it go. arguing with these guys is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. there's no winning or losing, just an endless purgatory of circular arguments and smugness.

Mr. Tea
21-02-2012, 10:19 AM
*shakes head*

You are assuming that the statement has to be 'true' or 'false'. If there are no facts...

But there are, clearly. You don't actually believe that there are no facts, do you? Of course you do. Everyone does. You'd be unable to function as a human being otherwise.

Edit: padraig, you're right, I should know better by now.

IdleRich
21-02-2012, 10:59 AM
"You are assuming that the statement has to be 'true' or 'false'. If there are no facts, the objectivity of trueness and falseness fall away. I don't accept the binary you present, the precondition for accepting it is that there are facts. The fact that you're appealing to a consensus view (one that I don't really buy into at all) as authority is quite revealing I think."
I'm assuming that if a statement isn't true then it is at least partially untrue - which is all I need here. Or even more simply for you, if a statement denies its own plausibility then it is not worth trying to argue for its plausibility.
The point is that the statement you are making is utterly general and it states a lack of generalities. It can't help but be self-defeating.
What consensus view did I appeal to? Are you talking about when I say that most people can grasp this first time? Normally the accusation of "appeal to authority" does rear its head soon after "there are no facts" and slightly before accusing the person who is pointing out your errors as being "disavowed" and then saying that "science is just another religion".

IdleRich
21-02-2012, 11:01 AM
"But there are, clearly. You don't actually believe that there are no facts, do you? Of course you do. Everyone does. You'd be unable to function as a human being otherwise."
I'm not sure about this. You may intellectually believe something but only be able to function as a human being by forgetting that most of the time. For example, I do truly believe that we are made up of atoms etc and that as they are mostly empty space we are mostly empty space. But do I actually believe that in a day to day sense? I'm not sure.

Mr. Tea
21-02-2012, 12:01 PM
I'm not sure about this. You may intellectually believe something but only be able to function as a human being by forgetting that most of the time. For example, I do truly believe that we are made up of atoms etc and that as they are mostly empty space we are mostly empty space. But do I actually believe that in a day to day sense? I'm not sure.

The argument is made much more stark if you apply it to things that we can comprehend intuitively, unlike atoms. I mean, does comelately really doubt the 'fact' that he is alive? That he and other human beings are members of the same species? That if he jabs himself with a needle, it's going to hurt? That if he walks in front of a bus, he's likely to die? I think it's reasonable to say that anyone who genuinely doubts these facts is mad.

I mean, if someone claims to doubt the fact that walking in front of a bus is likely to be harmful to their health, you can invite them to try: either they'll decline, in which case they were bullshitting and believe just as solidly in the potential hazards of buses as you and I do; or they'll give it a whirl, in which case they're clearly as mad as a spoon.

baboon2004
21-02-2012, 12:12 PM
almost all relatively rich people function from day to day by forgetting that what they have is ultimately at the expense of others' misery.

there are lots of fairly objective facts that people ignore all the time or obfuscate around, in order to function.

comelately
21-02-2012, 03:24 PM
comelately you are tying yourself in knots. too many partially digested philosphy books is my diagnosis. if the thinking is clear the writing is clear and yours is garbled.

Probably a fair diagnosis. I am trying to explain something difficult, I'm not doing as good a job as I want to or perhaps need to. To put this into context, I'm coming off arguing with a 'recovering objectivist' whose personal philosophy relies on reducing altruism to self-referentialism whilst retaining the transcendental ideal of freedom.


You don't actually believe that there are no facts, do you? Of course you do. Everyone does. You'd be unable to function as a human being otherwise.

That's pretty much the point yes. We need facts and so we have facts (as I have stated), but it is possible to observe our thoughts and come to the realisation that facts are not actually facts are not really what we consider them to be. They are interpretations pretending to a certainty that does not sustain careful analysis

So what? Well human beings can't live merely in a world of such certainties either.The jump between likelihood and certainty is not side-effect free. We have other requirements as human beings which lead us to drop these certainties.


there are lots of fairly objective facts that people ignore all the time or obfuscate around, in order to function.

The most obvious example is human perception of 'will'. We have a need to perceive of ourselves and others as having autonomy - not totally, but the buck has to stop somewhere. Someone has to be accountable. Closure. The making of 'meaning'. But we cannot find this freedom through scientific analysis - it just isn't there. So we have two types of closure, two types of meaning making that will be 'in competition' some of the time. And there are other types, the desire for justice for example. Induction and analysis are necessary parts of human meaning-making, but they are not sufficient.


I'm assuming that if a statement isn't true then it is at least partially untrue

I honestly believe that is still question begging when considering the phrase 'there are no facts'. To state 'there are no facts' is not the same as stating 'it is a fact that there are no facts'. My inkling is that a more subtle deconstruction of the statement 'there are no facts' is possible, but accusations of meaninglessness are wide of the mark. With that, I'm going to leave it. Really.

I'm not trying to argue that science is another religion. It does, however, rely upon metaphysics.


please keep that pomo bullshit about the impossibility of facts way the hell away from science

Pretty much happy to do that actually. It's when Dawkins starts sharing platforms with Deepak Chopra and the like that the whole thing gets fucked up. Science should not seek to become another religion.

I'll try and restate 'a left-wing critique' of Dawkins later - I had a heavy Mexican lunch.

baboon2004
21-02-2012, 04:13 PM
But is it actually a fact that you had lunch? ;)

To return to Dawkins, who i have read precious little of, why is he so concerned about debunking religion? Insofar as it's problematic, it's just one way for people to justify madness/dogma etc, but there are so many other ways too. Madness/dogma is the problem, not religion.

IdleRich
21-02-2012, 04:13 PM
"I honestly believe that is still question begging when considering the phrase 'there are no facts'. To state 'there are no facts' is not the same as stating 'it is a fact that there are no facts'. My inkling is that a more subtle deconstruction of the statement 'there are no facts' is possible, but accusations of meaninglessness are wide of the mark. With that, I'm going to leave it. Really."
Well, obviously I think you're wrong -and I think that the statement has to contain some kind of truth which it simultaneously disavows for it to do what you want it to do - but yes, let's agree to disagree.


"I'm not trying to argue that science is another religion. It does, however, rely upon metaphysics."
Of course. It's the jump from the latter statement to the former that has me tearing my hair out.

slowtrain
21-02-2012, 09:16 PM
To get back on topic, you could say the same about myths, superstition, liturgy, scripture and so on.

Yes and I would say the same thing.

They are real and they are facts.

Bangpuss
21-02-2012, 11:38 PM
If ours is only one universe out of thousands/millions/infinite numbers of possible others, does a fact have to apply there as well, six-hundred quadrillion miles away, where they may well be operating in a whole different time-space continuum, where time travel may be possible, where there are more than three dimensions? I'd say a 'fact' or a 'truth' for it to be universal has to hold true there as well. Trouble is, we ain't ever going to know...

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 12:11 AM
The point is that whether or not we know is irrelevant. Also you could still have a fact of the form "rule x applies here and I make no claim for what happens elsewhere" so other universes or times or whatever pose no problem to the concept of facts in general.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 09:16 AM
Yes and I would say the same thing.

They are real and they are facts.

Explain.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 09:30 AM
If ours is only one universe out of thousands/millions/infinite numbers of possible others, does a fact have to apply there as well, six-hundred quadrillion miles away, where they may well be operating in a whole different time-space continuum, where time travel may be possible, where there are more than three dimensions? I'd say a 'fact' or a 'truth' for it to be universal has to hold true there as well. Trouble is, we ain't ever going to know...

As Rich says, whatever is happening in regions of the multiverse that we can't access even in principle, it doesn't have much to do with what we can say about truths or facts. And even if there is some far-flung corner of reality where time runs backwards and gravity is repulsive, that doesn't change the fact that London is the capital of England.

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 10:20 AM
If a fact is a description of a true state of the universe then whether or not they exist is a question about language (as presumably states of the universe do exist). Can we ever adequately describe anything or are we always approximating in ways which make things understandable for us and our human architecture? It seems to me that as we can create arbitrarily simple things within that universe and speak of facts relating to them then the existence of facts themselves is still trivial - and to deny them all but impossible - though to what extent that allows us to talk about, say, scientific facts I'm not sure. Then again, most scientists would say that science is a process of (hopefully) increasingly accurate approximation so that's not a particularly radical thing to say.

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 10:36 AM
Who was the guy who said that there is only one fact and that fact is the state of the universe and all other things you discover are sort of parts of that fact?

comelately
22-02-2012, 11:44 AM
What would need to happen for London not to be the capital of London? If David Cameron declared Chipping Sodbury to be the new official capital of England, would it be the capital of England? If he moved the parliament and the executive there? If the wikipedia entries were changed? If there was a referendum on which was the true capital and Chipping Sodbury won by a clear majority?

This is an extreme example and so I'm not trying to say that it isn't a 'fact' really, I'm just trying to suggest that the foundations for this conclusion are somewhat more fluid and mysterious than one, as a human living their life, pretends. A 'family resemblance' explanation of capital cities is probably a better fit for how we decide whether something is a capital or not - I think Amsterdam constitutes a pretty decent counter-example to the 'seat of government' test and I don't think it's being picky or disingenuous or particularly pomo to mention it.

I was watching The Enemies of Reason yesterday and Dawkins disputed the idea that a rock has the quality of 'rockishness', as proposed by some kind of spiritualist. He is then philosophically a nominalist and probably a (perhaps somewhat elitist) conventionalist, but my hypothesis is that humans are somewhat predisposed towards non-nominalist positions which necessarily cloud our judgement regarding the nature of facts, and thus of science (in different ways).

-----------

I was offered Reiki today. And a rose crystal.

Placebo effect appears to be scientifically proven (even when the patient knows it is a placebo, to an extent), yet it is now considered to be unethical within much of the medical community - though they were certainly at one time used more frequently. Now this can be explained as an ethical commitment to truth, an ethical commitment to the right of their patient to make a rational choice or a sort of (rule) utilitarian view about the consequences of placebos. The first two of these are clearly untestable and the third would be impossible to test perfectly; I'm not sure how you would test it at all really. Could you get a public consensus agreement that it was right of doctors to refuse to give a treatment that was proved to be effective? It would depend how you framed it to an extent, but my inkling is that you could not get a consensus on this basis.

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 12:52 PM
An interesting question in itself but one that Dawkins would surely side-step (in this debate) by saying that religion is indubitably a placebo that makes the patient worse - and has horrendous side-effects on many people who aren't even related to the patient. Though that's a debate in itself of course.
But from the point of view of someone who believes that religion is both misguided (untrue) and has negative effects his actions seem pretty reasonable.
On balance I also think that religion is misguided and the negative effects outweigh the good and that's probably why I tend to agree with Dawkins' positions more often than not.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 01:05 PM
What would need to happen for London not to be the capital of London? If David Cameron declared Chipping Sodbury to be the new official capital of England, would it be the capital of England? If he moved the parliament and the executive there? If the wikipedia entries were changed? If there was a referendum on which was the true capital and Chipping Sodbury won by a clear majority?

Some combination of those things, yeah. I still don't think it would go any way towards supporting your assertion that "there are no facts". If London ceased to be the capital and some other town was named the new capital, then the old fact would become historical and a new fact would come into being. It would still be a fact that London was once the capital of England, just as it is still a fact that Winchester was once the capital of England.

I fail to see how any of this radically undermines the concept of a 'fact'.

If the capital-city example is too wishy-washy and ill-defined, then how about a fact like 'hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe'? Define 'hydrogen', 'element' and 'abundant' - the 'universe' bit is the easiest, since we can define it as 'the spatiotemporal extent of everything we can observe' - and you have a fact that doesn't rely on anything as imprecise as human demography or politics.

comelately
22-02-2012, 01:25 PM
That's not really side-stepping the problem though, it's merely making another assertion. You are saying 'indubitably', but it's not like you or Dawkins are proposing to hold double-blind trials on the hypotheses that religion has overall negative consequences or could conceive what such trials would even begin to look like. Even if you could define negative consequences, which I heavily doubt, although Sam Harris is currently trying to resurrect 'utilitarianism as science' from the dead. As you concede, it's a 'debate' and that, for me, in itself highlights the limits of science and the issue that Dawkins is no more capable of completely restricting himself to the scientific domain than anybody else.

So when Dawkins strays from the path of true science, where does he wander? According to wikip, he suggests in The God Delusion that 'an atheistic worldview is life-affirming in a way that religion, with its unsatisfying "answers" to life's mysteries, could never be.' Life-affirming could broadly be defined as 'faith in life' yes?

Obviously that sounds jolly fine and better than its opposite, but such Nietzschean ideas are hardly unproblematic.

We also return to the issue of the good; is his philosophy good because it is the truth, because it is life-affirming or because of its utility? Or does it resemble the good through a combination of these things?

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 01:47 PM
Well yeah, something as complex and thorny as "Is religion Good or Bad for people?" can obviously not be tested with any kind of scientific rigour. One person talks about this or that wonderful religiously motivated charity or some survey showing that religious people report greater life satisfaction that atheists; another person points out the Spanish Inquisition, the Taliban or whatever, and around we go.

There are however some (I think) fairly unquibbleable arguments against religion that don't rely on weighing up the sum total of good or bad influences they have on humanity. One is that people are more likely to do bad things when they are motivated by a false belief than when they're accurately informed about something. E.g., most people in developed countries no longer believe certain individuals have the power to hurt others through occult means; as a result, harmless old ladies are no longer routinely tortured and executed as "witches". Jews have historically been persecuted because, amongst other reasons, people believed they planned to take over the world, drank the blood of Christian babies and so on. Young girls are frequently raped in southern Africa because of a mistaken belief that sex with a virgin can cure HIV. And so on.

Another argument is that surely it's better to do good things and avoid doing bad things simply out of a sense of shared humanity - 'altruism', in other words, whether you believe it strictly exists or not - rather than because of the anticipation of an imagined reward or fear of an imagined retribution?

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 01:49 PM
"That's not really side-stepping the problem though, it's merely making another assertion. You are saying 'indubitably', but it's not like you or Dawkins are proposing to hold double-blind trials on the hypotheses that religion has overall negative consequences or could conceive what such trials would even begin to look like."
I'm not saying that's what I think, I'm guessing that's what Dawkins thinks, but it's slightly unfair cos I'm putting words in his mouth. If you believe strongly that something makes something worse and it is a lie you're probably going to fight it, that's all I'm saying.
But the placebo example isn't really a good one because you quote the scientifially proven nature of the results when there isn't really an analogue if you replace placebo with religion. And without that part then the example is meaningless. What I mean is the problem you are posing is:

"placebo is a lie but works" is analagous to "religion is a lie but works"

So if there is a kinda scientific case for placebo then why not for religion? But you don't have (in fact you pretty much deny the possibility of having) the second half of the example in the analogy so the argument doesn't work.


"So when Dawkins strays from the path of true science, where does he wander? According to wikip, he suggests in The God Delusion that 'an atheistic worldview is life-affirming in a way that religion, with its unsatisfying "answers" to life's mysteries, could never be.' Life-affirming could broadly be defined as 'faith in life' yes?"
Sounds like it. I always get the impression that his heart isn't really in it when he's talking about this stuff though to be honest. It's kind of like he's got his mission and then people start asking him questions like "isn't this really empty?" so he's had a quick think and stuck this on top. Could be wrong of course, again I'm second guessing.


"We also return to the issue of the good; is his philosophy good because it is the truth, because it is life-affirming or because of its utility? Or does it resemble the good through a combination of these things?"
I think it's the truth. Or, while that is a controversial phrase, let's say that we use a kind of sliding scale, fuzzy concept kind of thing - would you accept that some things are more true than others? It may not be a fact that London is the capital of England but it is closer to being a fact than me asserting that my little finger is the capital of England. I reckon that religion is unnacceptably far towards the little finger end of that scale.
I also believe, while accepting that it's difficult or impossible to measure, that religion tends to have a negative effect, certainly these days and I don't want it to have any say in making laws in my country. So I suspect the utility of what he is saying is also part of why I think it is "good".
Of course you could ask this question for religion - is it good cos it is true, cos it of its utility, cos of something else?
(Well, I say his philosophy, I mean his anti-religious philosophy, not whatever else he happens to think)

comelately
22-02-2012, 02:03 PM
Some combination of those things, yeah. I still don't think it would go any way towards supporting your assertion that "there are no facts". If London ceased to be the capital and some other town was named the new capital, then the old fact would become historical and a new fact would come into being. It would still be a fact that London was once the capital of England, just as it is still a fact that Winchester was once the capital of England.

At this point I assert that taking my 'there are no facts' statement in isolation is to burn a straw-man, but I appreciate that this is not deliberate. A perhaps more eloquent restatement of my position is that either both statements ('there are facts', 'there are no facts') are meaningful or neither are, and that both statements can be legitimately used.

If you know what a fact is, then tell me what a fact is? Please don't give me an example of what you consider to be a fact, without pointing out what makes it a fact. The point about family resemblances (which I think you have conceded) is that it doesn't give you that, a fact is not a fact because it has a quality of 'factishness'.


I fail to see how any of this radically undermines the concept of a 'fact'.

If your concept of a fact is 'something that resembles other facts', then suggesting there is an infinite regress problem is not a particularly radical critique. You're heading straight for 'first cause' or 'God' as it is sometimes known.

Slothrop
22-02-2012, 02:29 PM
If your concept of a fact is 'something that resembles other facts', then suggesting there is an infinite regress problem is not a particularly radical critique. You're heading straight for 'first cause' or 'God' as it is sometimes known.
Although abstract logical first causes don't generally encourage people to turn up in special buildings on prespecified days, partake of no hotdog buns on friday or deny legal rights to gay people...

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 02:34 PM
I would call a fact something like "a statement that is well supported by empirical evidence". Would you significantly disagree with that?

comelately
22-02-2012, 02:35 PM
I'm not saying that's what I think, I'm guessing that's what Dawkins thinks, but it's slightly unfair cos I'm putting words in his mouth. If you believe strongly that something makes something worse AND it is a lie you're probably going to fight it, that's all I'm saying.

I agree, but my point is we are now in family resemblance, infinite regress, waheguru territory.


But the placebo example isn't really a good one because you quote the scientifially proven nature of the results when there isn't really an analogue if you replace placebo with religion.

My point wasn't that that they were completely analogue. The testing issue is on one side, the side that's all about testing (or at least pretends to be). I'm not saying anything quite as direct as 'if placebo, why not religion?' I can see how that might be inferred, but I hope you can see there is a difference between somebody apparently committed to testable propositions devoting a considerable part of his life to arguing for something that is fundamentally untestable and somebody who takes a less verificationist/falsificationist, more narrative-based, viewpoint doing the same.


Sounds like it. I always get the impression that his heart isn't really in it when he's talking about this stuff though to be honest. It's kind of like he's got his mission and then people start asking him questions like "isn't this really empty?" so he's had a quick think and stuck this on top. Could be wrong of course, again I'm second guessing.

You're probably right, but it's not like it's not part of the book he chose to write. If he is not interested in these questions, then others clearly are and that just feeds my initial critique that he does not really grasp the importance these issues have for others.


Or, while that is a controversial phrase, let's say that we use a kind of sliding scale, fuzzy concept kind of thing - would you accept that some things are more true than others?

No I don't think a 1 dimensional sliding scale of factishness works.

Slothrop
22-02-2012, 02:36 PM
I would call a fact something like "a statement that is well supported by empirical evidence". Would you significantly disagree with that?

Isn't "empirical evidence" another word for "other facts", though?

comelately
22-02-2012, 02:38 PM
Isn't "empirical evidence" another word for "other facts", though?

Bingo

comelately
22-02-2012, 02:43 PM
Although abstract logical first causes don't generally encourage people to turn up in special buildings on prespecified days, partake of no hotdog buns on friday or deny legal rights to gay people...

Not directly no. There is a debate to be had around all that stuff and its 'cause', but, given the existence of Godwin's law and that it would be a further complication to the thread, I don't intend to pursue it at length


people are more likely to do bad things when they are motivated by a false belief than when they're accurately informed about something.

They're more likely to do things full stop I think. I don't accept that an 'atheist' will necessarily have less 'false beliefs'. I'm not sure your statement is much better than:

People are more likely to do bad things when they are motivated by a false belief about doing bad things

And even then you have the problem regarding what 'falseness' actually means, although I accept there are things we here would reach consensus on; the consensus would not necessarily include the person doing the action of course. "People are more likely to do things I disapprove of if they do not share my epistemological viewpoint"

baboon2004
22-02-2012, 02:52 PM
Would anyone say that they have noticed in their lives that the religious people they have known (rather than the extremists they've read about) have been any madder/morally worse than the non-religious people? i certainly wouldn't.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 02:53 PM
Isn't "empirical evidence" another word for "other facts", though?

No, evidence is not the same as a fact. The observation of any one fossil is not the same thing as the fact of evolution.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 02:55 PM
Would anyone say that they have noticed in their lives that the religious people they have known (rather than the extremists they've read about) have been any madder/morally worse than the non-religious people? i certainly wouldn't.

They might not personally, but they might (for example) be more likely to vote for a party with illiberal social policies.

baboon2004
22-02-2012, 02:59 PM
why do you think that though? being religious doesn't entail believing in the more illiberal elements of organised religion, just as being a socialist doesn't entail excusing bad socialist regimes. To take a random example.

Dogma, especially dogma that is oppressive to others, is bad, but it exists both inside and outside religion.

What are Dawkins' politics anyway? That to me would seem to be the interesting thing.

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 03:04 PM
"I agree, but my point is we are now in family resemblance, infinite regress, waheguru territory."
I've missed something here - how does someone deciding to fight for what they think is important relate to any infinite regress?


"My point wasn't that that they were completely analogue. The testing issue is on one side, the side that's all about testing (or at least pretends to be). I'm not saying anything quite as direct as 'if placebo, why not religion?' I can see how that might be inferred, but I hope you can see there is a difference between somebody apparently committed to testable propositions devoting a considerable part of his life to arguing for something that is fundamentally untestable and somebody who takes a less verificationist/falsificationist, more narrative-based, viewpoint doing the same."
Well, I can see what you're saying but I think the example looked like it was trying to do more than that.
I can see that difference anyway but what about it? It's hardly surprising that someone who is entirely interested in empiricism is gonna be annoyed with a group of people who base their life on something that appears to be entirely made up (and then tell him what do) and is gonna attempt to dissuade them from that course. What does it matter that he'll do it in a way that is different from someone from another religion?
With some people he's obviously on a hiding to nothing, I guess he can't defeat them on their own terms, what he's effectively hoping is that they will snap over from one way of thinking to another and suddenly the light will come on. A religious epiphany in reverse basically. And of course it does happen, the number of people I've heard saying things like "suddenly I realised everyone was just talking bollocks and then I stopped believing" is surprising.


"You're probably right, but it's not like it's not part of the book he chose to write. If he is not interested in these questions, then others clearly are and that just feeds my initial critique that he does not really grasp the importance these issues have for others."
I think that removing religion would cause a lot of people to think about these questions and maybe some of them will have success. I have no problem with things that are built up piecemeal, that's how progress in a field works, he's just doing the first stage and he's doing it pretty well I'd say.


"I refer the honourable gentleman..........If you want Santa Claus to come, you have to have a way to get him down the chimney. Who is your God now?"
I'm sorry I don't get the reference, but it was a genuine question.


"No I don't think a 1 dimensional sliding scale of factishness works."
OK, you've inserted the bit about one-dimension there but does that mean that you wouldn't accept that "London is the capital of England" is closer to being a fact than "My little finger is the capital of England"?

Slothrop
22-02-2012, 03:05 PM
No, evidence is not the same as a fact. The observation of any one fossil is not the same thing as the fact of evolution.
It's a smaller scale fact, but a fact nonetheless. You believe it to be true that this thing in front of you is a fossil ie that it's the preserved trace of an animal. At some point you have to make a jump from the world of senses to the world of reason, and if you really want to argue that your world view is based on reason down to the finest detail then I can't see how you can get around that.

On the other hand, I don't really think that this works as an argument for going on a pilgrimage to Lourdes rather than taking antibiotics or asking your invisible friend what you should do rather than thinking about it for yourself.

comelately
22-02-2012, 03:20 PM
I've missed something here - how does someone deciding to fight for what they think is important relate to any infinite regress?

They have a belief about what is important. Either they think it's a fact that it is important, in which case it is because it resembles 'other facts' which itself was decided on their resemblance to 'other facts' and so on. Or the belief is somehow more directly pretending to transcendentality, same end result really.


OK, you've inserted the bit about one-dimension there but does that mean that you wouldn't accept that "London is the capital of England" is closer to being a fact than "My little finger is the capital of England"?

Well a slide generally moves in one dimension so I'm just working with the metaphor you gave me, which was significant as the nominalist point about 'factishness' is really fundamental here. I would accept that the former of those statements much more closely resembles a fact than the latter.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 03:24 PM
It's a smaller scale fact, but a fact nonetheless. You believe it to be true that this thing in front of you is a fossil ie that it's the preserved trace of an animal. At some point you have to make a jump from the world of senses to the world of reason, and if you really want to argue that your world view is based on reason down to the finest detail then I can't see how you can get around that.

Well I expect you'd have a hard time defining the number six without using reference to other numbers. I don't think that makes the concept of number tautological.


On the other hand, I don't really think that this works as an argument for going on a pilgrimage to Lourdes rather than taking antibiotics or asking your invisible friend what you should do rather than thinking about it for yourself.

Of course. I'm not entirely sure all this wrangling over facts/factiness has much to do with the central debate.

comelately
22-02-2012, 03:32 PM
What are Dawkins' politics anyway? That to me would seem to be the interesting thing.

He supported the LibDems in 2010, mostly because of their secular persuasion. I think it's fair to say that he's to the left of much of his audience, which does contain a fair sprinkling of Randian sociopaths (though I accept most of them probably found "Atlas Shrugged" before "The God Delusion") who bemoan his soft left politics. Interestingly, Sam Harris lost a lot of subscribers to his mailing list when he dared to suggest higher taxes for billionaires might be a good idea:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-lose-readers-without-even-trying

Stating that "Objectivism is basically autism rebranded" pretty much made me a fan for life. But if I'm sceptical of Dawkins' philosophy's ability to make people less crazy, then maybe you have a better idea as to why.

vimothy
22-02-2012, 03:33 PM
Watching Dawkins argue with theologians and philosophers of religion is like watching creationists argue with evolutionary biologists--except for the fact that Dawkins argues with the false authority of the scientist, whereas creationists have no authority.

Make it stop, please.

baboon2004
22-02-2012, 03:50 PM
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-lose-readers-without-even-trying


goodness. proves that there a lot of greedy,stupid atheists out there...

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 03:54 PM
"They have a belief about what is important. Either they think it's a fact that it is important, in which case it is because it resembles 'other facts' which itself was decided on their resemblance to 'other facts' and so on. Or the belief is somehow more directly pretending to transcendentality, same end result really."
I was simply saying in that part that Dawkins' actions seem perfectly reasonable given his beliefs. How those beliefs were arrived at was discussed elsewhere so of course I don't really accept that characterisation. Except on an entirely trivial level which would rule any motivated action as the first step in an infinite regress - which makes it a trivial statement.


"Well a slide generally moves in one dimension so I'm just working with the metaphor you gave me, which was significant as the nominalist point about 'factishness' is really fundamental here. I would accept that the former of those statements much more closely resembles a fact than the latter."
Not the ones I went on as a child, but OK, I just wondered if you were going to suggest a multi-dimensional one.
So... if the the first phrase more closely resembles a fact then you would accept that it is in principle possible for the phrase "There is no God" to resemble a fact more closely than the phrase "There is a God" (as I think it does)?

comelately
22-02-2012, 04:11 PM
I was simply saying in that part that Dawkins' actions seem perfectly reasonable given his beliefs.

I think reasonability, although innocently employed, is a weasel word. Yes it might be said to be reasonable that people do things, but that's distinct from those actions being based on reason alone. You sympthise with his actions, I get that.


How those beliefs were arrived at was discussed elsewhere so of course I don't really accept that characterisation.

Honestly? Please clarify where.....


Except on an entirely trivial level which would rule any motivated action as the first step in an infinite regress - which makes it a trivial statement.

Again maybe I am dumb, please explain?


So... if the the first phrase more closely resembles a fact then you would accept that it is in principle possible for the phrase "There is no God" to resemble a fact more closely than the phrase "There is a God" (as I think it does).

Not objectively. From my own subjective pov, I might be more inclined to think that, in this thread, 'there is a God' is closer to the truth. If having a debate about God with some fervent Roman Catholics, I'd probably suggest the phrase 'there is no God" to be more closely resembling the truth, as long as there was little likelihood of violence.

IdleRich
22-02-2012, 04:41 PM
"I think reasonability, although innocently employed, is a weasel word. Yes it might be said to be reasonable that people do things, but that's distinct from those actions being based on reason alone. You sympthise with his actions, I get that."
Well, yeah, I tend to but substitute "unsurprising" for "reasonable" if you like in the previous paragraph to get what I meant there.


"Honestly? Please clarify where....."
It's virtually the whole point of the debate isn't it? Does he or does he not have grounds to make this assertion? But to just slip in at that point that he doesn't as a way towards another argument seems a bit cheeky.


"Again maybe I am dumb, please explain?"
I mean you pressed the keys on the keyboard in the belief that writing would appear on the screen where I could read it and so on... but uh-oh belief, we're on our way to an infinite regress again.


"Not objectively. From my own subjective pov, I might be more inclined to think that, in this thread, 'there is a God' is closer to the truth. If having a debate about God with some fervent Roman Catholics, I'd probably suggest the phrase 'there is no God" to be more closely resembling the truth, as long as there was little likelihood of violence."
So to get it clear where you stand - presumably you think that "London is the capital of England" is objectively (otherwise bringing in this word means that you're not answering the question I'm asking) closer to being a fact than "My little finger is the capital of England" but you do not accept that even in principle "There is no God" could be objectively closer to the truth than "There is a God"?
It sounds to me as though you have a kind of two-level system of facts where there are close-to-facts, say factoids (basically the things that most people would call facts), and then other further away unknowable meta-physicals, would that be fair to say?
Although I'm not sure that your contrarianism in religious debates is an argument for the subjectivity of that factoid relative to the other one. Maybe in a given argument you might claim the little finger thing is closer to being a fact than London even though you've accepted that that is not the case...
But we digress further and further.

Edit: Just read back through the whole thread and it is one big digression. Possibly my fault. But I would really like to have an encapsulation of the left-wing critique of Dawkins' position, I still don't think I properly get it. Is it just that it doesn't attempt to answer the questions that religion attempts? Is it because in a capitalist world the void that a lack of religion will leave will be filled with more capitalism, or is it simply because continental philosophers think that empiricists should stay out of what they see as their domain? I'm beginning to think the latter.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 04:42 PM
I'd probably suggest the phrase 'there is no God" to be more closely resembling the truth

Why do you think this, just out of interest?

comelately
22-02-2012, 05:35 PM
It's virtually the whole point of the debate isn't it? Does he or does he not have grounds to make this assertion? But to just slip in at that point that he doesn't as a way towards another argument seems a bit cheeky.

I can see how it seems cheeky, and I'm inclined to take it as a compliment. I think we've reached the impasse of 'there are no facts'. I am willing to accept that 'there are no facts' contains a trace of the very thing that it denies, but I maintain the notion of meaningless is wide of the mark. what we get is another infinite regress and the pomo negative theology God. Yay!


So to get it clear where you stand - presumably you think that "London is the capital of England" is objectively (otherwise bringing in this word means that you're not answering the question I'm asking) closer to being a fact than "My little finger is the capital of England"

The objectivity/subjectivity distinction is probably a needless complication at this point. I should not have brought it in.


but you do not accept that even in principle "There is no God" could be objectively closer to the truth than "There is a God"?

Not right now, no. Principle?


It sounds to me as though you have a kind of two-level system of facts where there are close-to-facts, say factoids (basically the things that most people would call facts), and then other further away unknowable meta-physicals, would that be fair to say?

That isn't a position I particularly want to identify with.

comelately
22-02-2012, 05:42 PM
Why do you think this, just out of interest?

Haha! I see the trap here, that I end up doing more or less what I'm ragging on Dawkins for doing. Because as IdleRich suggests, I'm a contrarian.

comelately
22-02-2012, 05:56 PM
Edit: Just read back through the whole thread and it is one big digression. Possibly my fault. But I would really like to have an encapsulation of the left-wing critique of Dawkins' position, I still don't think I properly get it. Is it just that it doesn't attempt to answer the questions that religion attempts? Is it because in a capitalist world the void that a lack of religion will leave will be filled with more capitalism, or is it simply because continental philosophers think that empiricists should stay out of what they see as their domain? I'm beginning to think the latter.

2 and 3. I think I've suggested how Dawkin's views do lead to the 'life-affirming' and the 'we the living' type spirituality stuff. Zizek has talked about spirituality as the problem reframed as the solution - another link on this;http://cardiff.academia.edu/PaulBowman/Papers/94136/The_Tao_of_Zizek . I've also talked about how I believe religion emphasises the transcendental demand for altruism in a way that new-age spirituality does not and the result of less religion and more spirituality is that manifestations of altruism become more blatantly self-referring in nature, and with that do less for social justice and equality.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 06:12 PM
Haha! I see the trap here, that I end up doing more or less what I'm ragging on Dawkins for doing. Because as IdleRich suggests, I'm a contrarian.

So if most people you knew were theists of some kind, you'd be an atheist?

I appreciate the humour here but I doubt that's the real reason. For one thing, I don't think it's possible to 'choose' to believe something any more than you can choose to love someone or to like a particular food.

Also, I'm not trying to trap you into anything, I'm genuinely interested. For most people who subscribe to one religion or another, it's because it's the faith they were brought up in; some people of course have powerful experiences of one kind or another which they put down to God and therefore 'see the light'. But the sort of intellectualised nonspecific theism that you and Eagleton espouse is a different thing. I just find it curious.

comelately
22-02-2012, 06:28 PM
But the sort of intellectualised nonspecific theism that you and Eagleton espouse is a different thing. I just find it curious.

The 'God' of Sikhism isn't much different really though.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 07:15 PM
The 'God' of Sikhism isn't much different really though.

But you're not a Sikh, are you? I'm just interested in what leads someone to theism when it's not a conversion to one specific religion. Have you had some kind of epiphanic experience or was it more of a gradual thing? ('soto' as opposed to 'rinzai', if you like)

comelately
22-02-2012, 07:39 PM
No I'm not a Sikh. I'm a dancing yogi from a lineage that draws from Sikhism, as well as Hinduism. But I'm also a philosophy graduate. And I've given people shit for indulging huckster 'scientists' who babble on about 'reprogramming DNA'. I enjoy being both in and out of the tent, it's good clean pomo fun :cool:

comelately
22-02-2012, 07:48 PM
I recently had a dialogue with a vegan about amino acids. He found some quack John McDougall who has made a career out of promoting veganism, who reckoned he had addressed the issue. When you really, really look (as I did) - you find the studies he relies upon are from 1945 and 1928 and the latter involves two people eating nothing but potatoes for a fortnight and not falling ill or losing weight. Is Dawkins going to get more people doing that sort of fact-checking? I doubt it.

Mr. Tea
22-02-2012, 08:10 PM
I can't think of anyone who's doing a better job of debunking science/health bullshit right now than Ben Goldacre. Plus he's miles more charismatic and likeable than Dawkins.

slowtrain
22-02-2012, 09:29 PM
Would anyone say that they have noticed in their lives that the religious people they have known (rather than the extremists they've read about) have been any madder/morally worse than the non-religious people? i certainly wouldn't.

Yes I would say that.

You don't notice they are horrible people at first, but eventually they will crack and say/do something appalling.

baboon2004
22-02-2012, 11:03 PM
That describes a lot of people, religious or not! In my experience applies more to closet tories...

slowtrain
23-02-2012, 02:21 AM
Yes, they are kind of like a religion too.

Dodgy stuff.

I will stick with weirdoes.

DannyL
23-02-2012, 08:46 AM
Not had time to get stuck into this thread but interesting reading. Cheers all.

I've mentioned this before but there's a very strange page or two in Dawkins' Unweaving the Rainbow, where he mentions the X-Files. He states it's a type of "propoganda" for an irrationalist worldview, and compares it to texts that promote racis. Very weird, misjudged, and betrays some kind of horror, or at least distaste, for the less predictable parts of our nature, or anything you can't nail down with stats and numbers.

This makes me think of his comments re. Skepchick mentioned above. You can read her pov. here, Ollie, if you're interested: http://skepchick.org/2011/07/dear-richard-dawkins/

For me, as a man, if a woman is trying to talk about feminst concerns, it behooves me to shut up and listen. Trying to present her concerns as slight by totally off the wall comparisions (basically, "You've still got a clitoris haven't you? Shut up FFS!" is really wrong headed).

comelately
23-02-2012, 09:53 AM
or is it simply because continental philosophers think that empiricists should stay out of what they see as their domain?

Just to clarify, although there probably be is a sense of territorial warfare, I think the continental philosophers charge against naive empiricism is pretty decent . As vimothy points out, someone like Dawkins essentially wants to argue from the false authority of the scientist. If he want to be a modern empiricist, pragmatist, realist (I was taught ethics by Glen Newey incidentally) or whatever philosopher then he should become one.

baboon2004
23-02-2012, 09:57 AM
Yes, they are kind of like a religion too.

Dodgy stuff.

I will stick with weirdoes.

i think you're right./

guess my point was that i know or have known people who would self-define as Christian or Muslim, but who are also some of the most liberal and politically sound people I have ever known. They have been able to reject all the bullshit bits.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 10:09 AM
They have been able to reject all the bullshit bits.

In other words, to consciously ignore much of what it says in the basic scripture of their respective religions?

comelately
23-02-2012, 10:22 AM
In other words, to consciously ignore much of what it says in the basic scripture of their respective religions?

Yes sure, but why is that such a huge point? I don't really understand the significance of this kind of reductionism.

baboon2004
23-02-2012, 10:25 AM
@Tea absolutely. as does almost everyone religious, moderate or complete nutter. they take the bits they want to. which is fine, because it's what human beings do everywhere, including in their relationships with each other.

i'm not saying this is completely ok, but it's hardly just the province of moderate religious people, and it's far less of a big deal to do this (simply ignore bits you don't like as if they don't exist) with a book/philosophy etc than it is to do it with other people. As long as (if your'e a moderate) you're also critical of the mad bit, which all the people in question have been.

Sorry that is getting slightly off topic perhaps. Basically I dont' see any evidence in my personal life that, person for person, that atheists are any less bigoted. Bigotry has become systematised more obviously in some religious thought, true, but it has also been systematised in a less immediately obvious way in society (what slowtrain says).

I'd opt for a non-paternalistic-type religion if I ever had the inclination though. Great book by Erich Fromm on the parallels between Buddhism and psychoanalysis, which are many.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 10:38 AM
"I can see how it seems cheeky, and I'm inclined to take it as a compliment. I think we've reached the impasse of 'there are no facts'. I am willing to accept that 'there are no facts' contains a trace of the very thing that it denies, but I maintain the notion of meaningless is wide of the mark. what we get is another infinite regress and the pomo negative theology God. Yay!"
Well, by cheeky I meant question-begging.


"The objectivity/subjectivity distinction is probably a needless complication at this point. I should not have brought it in."

"Not right now, no. Principle?"

That isn't a position I particularly want to identify with.
But it seems that that is at least a crude distinction of the position you've outlined.

But more than that, seems like a lot of avoiding questions going on there, perhaps we've reached a dead end.
So this


"2 and 3. I think I've suggested how Dawkin's views do lead to the 'life-affirming' and the 'we the living' type spirituality stuff. Zizek has talked about spirituality as the problem reframed as the solution - another link on this;http://cardiff.academia.edu/PaulBowm...e_Tao_of_Zizek . I've also talked about how I believe religion emphasises the transcendental demand for altruism in a way that new-age spirituality does not and the result of less religion and more spirituality is that manifestations of altruism become more blatantly self-referring in nature, and with that do less for social justice and equality."
Well, like I say, I think that removing the spiritualities/religions that are nonsense leaves a space for someone to come up with something good (and maybe even true). Probably it won't be Dawkins.
I kind of think that religion follows the times rather than leads - I mean, Christianity was a religion of the oppressed - a country that saw no way of stopping being occupied by the Romans dreamt up a religion that said "Don't worry, when you die it will be good". Comforting to believe and maybe going to make life bearable (but also great news for those who wanted to preserve the status quo). Now Christianity is the religion of the wealthy in the west, you've got Blankfein from Goldman Sachs saying (straight-faced) "We are doing God's work". In a capitalist world Christianity is not altruistic. It's just a tool for Texas Governors to use as they justify electrocuting another mentally handicapped black man. I don't really see how any -ism can be any less altruistic than something that effectively says whatever the (not especially altruistic) people who run the world want it to say.
As for 3 - I just find that a bit depressing as a reason to be honest.

(that link doesn't seem to work by the way)

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 10:55 AM
Yes sure, but why is that such a huge point? I don't really understand the significance of this kind of reductionism.

For one thing, because it gives the fundamentalist followers of their religion ample ammunition to call them heretics, apostates or whatever. You can be painted as 'the enemy within' in a way that an atheist can't.

For another, if you have to gloss over much of what it says in the book that forms the cornerstone of your religion in order to make it palatable to your nice modern liberal progressive sensibilities, doesn't that rather call into question whether it's worth following that religion at all?

baboon2004
23-02-2012, 11:05 AM
For one thing, because it gives the fundamentalist followers of their religion ample ammunition to call them heretics, apostates or whatever. You can be painted as 'the enemy within' in a way that an atheist can't.

For another, if you have to gloss over much of what it says in the book that forms the cornerstone of your religion in order to make it palatable to your nice modern liberal progressive sensibilities, doesn't that rather call into question whether it's worth following that religion at all?

I dont' think this is true. (Ostensibly atheist) capitalism works in exactly the way you have described. Occupy is only the most obvious example - the bile unleashed towards the movement from many capitalist fundamentalist quarters was quasi-religious in the sense that you are describing, bypassing any logical or morally engaged assessment of what exactly was wrong with the protest. The arguments being levelled were totally dogmatic madness. And, of course, the Church emerged as less right-wing than the government (Although that is a side point maybe).

But what is interesting is why you find that problematic. If someone has progressive views, why does it matter if they identify as religious in some way? It seems to me to be fighting the wrong battle - where ire should be directed is at bigots, religious or atheist.

comelately
23-02-2012, 11:13 AM
Well, by cheeky I meant question-begging.

Either both statements are potentially meaningful, or neither are. You're trying to have it both ways, I am not. The statement 'there are no facts' is part of a different narrative than 'there are facts'. But to the extent one is suggesting that one is saying 'it is a fact that there are no facts' is nonsense, then 'it is a fact that there are facts' is also nonsense.


Well, like I say, I think that removing the spiritualities/religions that are nonsense leaves a space for someone to come up with something good (and maybe even true).

But what is this hypothesis actually based on? This is a deeply non-scientific statement? Is it not then nonsense?


I kind of think that religion follows the times rather than leads

Is that a fact? I think the idea that religion either 'follows' or 'leads' is obviously a massive simplification. And I have to ask again, what is this proposition really based on - how would you test it exactly? You're playing with structures and narrative to persuade, rather than proposing any kind of rigourous testing.


I don't really see how any -ism can be any less altruistic than something that effectively says whatever the (not especially altruistic) people who run the world want it to say.

Again, sure if you perform this magical reduction of the relationship between state power and religion then that makes a certain amount of sense. But it's pretty obviously facile to do so. No doubt any criticism of a left-wing critique of Dawkins is going to perceive structures and narrative differently and there's a debate to be had about that - not a debate I particularly want to have today actually if I'm honest. But again, a debate - not a series of double-blind experiments. There is nothing outside the text.

Additional: This idea that 'clearing the space' will create room for something 'good (and maybe even true)' just sounds fantastical to me. The idea that people are going to start reading 20th century empirical and pragmatist philosophy or 'improving books' or whatever, is crazy.

http://cardiff.academia.edu/PaulBowman/Papers/94136/The_Tao_of_Zizek

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 11:59 AM
"Either both statements are potentially meaningful, or neither are. You're trying to have it both ways, I am not. The statement 'there are no facts' is part of a different narrative than 'there are facts'. But to the extent one is suggesting that one is saying 'it is a fact that there are no facts' is nonsense, then 'it is a fact that there are facts' is also nonsense."
I don't think that was what I was talking about there. But obviously the statement "It is a fact that there are facts" is not nonense - though maybe tautological.


"But what is this hypothesis actually based on? This is a deeply non-scientific statement? Is it not then nonsense?"
It's hypothetical. It seems we both agree that the idea vacuum would be filled by something - any speculation such as you've engaged in on what could replace religion remains as speculation.
But you want to trap me into making an unscientific argument and call me a hypoocrite. So let's say this - neither of us can know what will replace religion, it might be something, it might be something else, it might be nothing. I'm happy with that situation cos I don't like religion.


"Is that a fact? I think the idea that religion either 'follows' or 'leads' is obviously a massive simplification. And I have to ask again, what is this proposition really based on - how would you test it exactly? You're playing with structures and narrative to persuade, rather than proposing any kind of rigourous testing."
I don't know whether it's a fact. It's the impression I get. I'm just indulging my thoughts in some meandering, don't take it as something I am certain about, it's just what I happen to think. I'm certainly willing to change my view on this if evidence or argument (as opposed to a tedious return to a sarcastic demand for measure every time) presents itself.


"Additional: This idea that 'clearing the space' will create room for something 'good (and maybe even true)' just sounds fantastical to me. The idea that people are going to start reading 20th century empirical and pragmatist philosophy or 'improving books' or whatever, is crazy."
So we should just stick with what we have even though we don't believe in it and we don't think it does us any good? Seems more than defeatist.

As an aside - an argumentative style that constantly denies the need for scientific evidence on the most outlandish claim yet oh so hilariously demands double-blind tests and impossible metrics for even the slightest hint of a suggestion from anyone else is kinda boring. We get the point, sometimes scientists say things that aren't scientific, you're right well done.
I'm not in any shape or form a scientist by the way.

Anyway, yeah, got the link working the second time, cheers. Interesting stuff - think I'm with Laclau in that Zizek's rejection of anything except total revolution kinda makes him irrelevant. Also, I've always thought that Zizek's (and many on the hard-left's) insistence on CAPITALISM as the evil answer to all questions is a pre-thought ideology that is a dead end.
As for Zizek's thing about Tao as a response to capitalism - I'm not sure - for one thing, as I said above I think you don't need a new religion because the one we've got can be changed to mean whatever you want/need it to (this certainly happens on a personal level even if I can't prove it on a larger scale), and, secondly, I suspect that half of the books that are written as the Tao of X have nothing whatsoever with Tao and just use it cos it's trendy. Of course I can't prove that, it's just a guess.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 12:06 PM
But what is interesting is why you find that problematic. If someone has progressive views, why does it matter if they identify as religious in some way? It seems to me to be fighting the wrong battle - where ire should be directed is at bigots, religious or atheist.

It doesn't bother me, I just find it puzzling. Sure, I'd rather be friends with moderate, unbigoted Christians, Muslims etc. than hate-filled, prejudiced atheists, that goes without saying. It's just that to me, as someone who isn't a believer and never has been, I have trouble with squaring the supposedly ineffable word of God as revealed through his Son/Prophet/gurus etc. with an attitude that allows one to cherry-pick the 'nice' bits of a creed and sweep the less nice bits under the carpet. That's a pragmatic attitude and, as far as I understand faith, it's rather inimicable to pragmatism.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 12:19 PM
I agree with Ollie on that. Part of me has more respect for the fire and brimstone preachers or whatever who actually follow the word of the Lord (amen) than those lily-livered types such as Rowan Williamson who attempt to sugar the pill. I think that if you really believe it's the fucking word of the lord you had better fucking follow it and get stoning some people who've let cut their forelock hair or eaten a bat.
That's obviously not a subtle response but I don't want my religion to be subtle in that way. Though I guess - no playa the game no maka the rules so I'll shut up.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 12:21 PM
Also, I'm puzzled by the insistence that 'something' has to 'replace' religion (with an implicit assumption, for a lot of people, that this must be - dun dun DUHH! - capitalism, or consumerism, or something along those lines). I'm not aware of any particular gaping hole in my psyche left by an absence of religious belief, and I don't think most of the people I know have one, either.

comelately
23-02-2012, 12:24 PM
I don't think that was what I was talking about there. But obviously the statement "It is a fact that there are facts" is not nonense - though maybe tautological.

I don't think either statement is nonsense. I, today, can sort of see that 'it is a fact that there is facts' is more persuasive than 'it is a fact that there are no facts'. I think as humans we are more inclined to spot the problem with the second statement more easily than the first - i.e. we are naturally inclined towards meaning-making. But both are equally question begging, the assertion of the fact that there are facts just leads you back to an infinite regress of justification. But I have come to appreciate that this is not easy to spot, and the 'family resemblance' narrative presents this issue in way that is much easier to grasp.


So we should just stick with what we have even though we don't believe in it and we don't think it does us any good? Seems more than defeatist.

That's obviously a massively questionable of the word 'we' and I think the 'stick with what we've got' thing is an obvious strawman.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 12:36 PM
"I don't think either statement is nonsense. I, today, can sort of see that 'it is a fact that there is facts' is more persuasive than 'it is a fact that there are no facts'. I think as humans we are more inclined to spot the problem with the second statement more easily than the first - i.e. we are naturally inclined towards meaning-making. But both are equally question begging, the assertion of the fact that there are facts just leads you back to an infinite regress of justification. But I have come to appreciate that this is not easy to spot, and the 'family resemblance' narrative presents this issue in way that is much easier to grasp."
Ah, I see what you're saying. As an argument "it's a fact that there are facts" is question begging of course, I'm just saying that it's not a nonsensical statement in a world where we already accept that we have facts.

comelately
23-02-2012, 12:43 PM
Also, I'm puzzled by the insistence that 'something' has to 'replace' religion (with an implicit assumption, for a lot of people, that this must be - dun dun DUHH! - capitalism, or consumerism, or something along those lines). I'm not aware of any particular gaping hole in my psyche left by an absence of religious belief, and I don't think most of the people I know have one, either.

Some people will be puzzled by this insistence but Dawkins does seem to acknowledge it, even though I think it puzzles him too. Humans are meaning makers, meaning making is non-scientific. There doesn't need to be 'gaping holes in the psyche' - if you persuade people that their metaphysical beliefs are wrong, they are going to be pretty much instantly replaced. Now these new metaphysical beliefs may be less stable, and be replaced again more quickly - but there doesn't need to be a 'hole' for any significant period of time. Your psyche imagining a hole in your psyche is obviously going to be problematic anyway, so it just seems like another strawman to me.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 12:50 PM
meaning making is non-scientific.

I'd dispute that.

And I don't think it's a straw man, a lot of people have worried about the "hole left by religion" in a secular society. Eliot was writing about this a hundred years ago.

comelately
23-02-2012, 01:04 PM
I'd dispute that.

Please do


And I don't think it's a straw man, a lot of people have worried about the "hole left by religion" in a secular society. Eliot was writing about this a hundred years ago.

Okay, but it's a strawman if you are asserting that as a position I have to take.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 01:11 PM
The trouble is, when man stops believing in God, he doesn't believe in nothing, he believes in everything.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 01:14 PM
Or is it "anything"?

comelately
23-02-2012, 01:51 PM
No, evidence is not the same as a fact. The observation of any one fossil is not the same thing as the fact of evolution.

I'm coming back to this because it pertains to your idea that meaning-making can be scientific. By 'observing a fossil', you're essentially drawing conclusions about that fossil, i.e. facts. By evidence you mean facts.

What you've infact outlined is the problem of induction, also troubling from your pov - because although scientists are prepared to say that they are falsificationists, best approximators etc when it's expedient for them to act humble; they don't act like that really. They naturally tend towards induction; it may be pragmatic to do so but it is not scientific.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 01:51 PM
Please do


A meaningless universe is one in which everything happens randomly, by pure chance. But that's not the case. Meaning is inherently linked to reason. Noticing that things happen for a reason is the first step towards trying to see patterns and to discern cause and effect. And that's the basis of science.

Meaning is only non-scientific if you interpret it specifically as 'spiritual meaning' - but that's begging the question.

comelately
23-02-2012, 01:55 PM
A meaningless universe is one in which everything happens randomly

So we're talking about the meaning of meaning now? And I'm the one accused of being pomo!

How is it scientific to do so and how do you get away from the infinite regress problem?

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 01:57 PM
I'm coming back to this because it pertains to your idea that meaning-making can be scientific. By 'observing a fossil', you're essentially drawing conclusions about that fossil, i.e. facts. By evidence you mean facts.

What you've infact outlined is the problem of induction, also troubling from your pov - because although scientists are prepared to say that they are falsificationists, best approximators etc when it's expedient for them to act humble; they don't act like that really. They naturally tend towards induction; it may be pragmatic to do so but it is not scientific.

I think science uses a combination of induction and deduction. I don't see the problem with induction - I mean, it works, doesn't it? What, in so many words, is "the problem of induction"?

No disrespect meant, but I've read some 'critiques' of science by continental philosophers who either clearly don't understand science or have chosen to misrepresent it in order to attack it.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 02:01 PM
So we're talking about the meaning of meaning now? And I'm the one accused of being pomo!

How is it scientific to do so and how do you get away from the infinite regress problem?

Sorry, what infinite regress problem? I don't see that there's a huge problem in defining facts in terms of other facts.

I think you're making the mistake of treating science as if it were a branch of philosophy. It may have been called 'natural philosophy' in the past but it's not really an applicable label. Science is an attempt to describe and explain the phenomena of the natural world by natural (as opposed to supernatural or metaphysical) means. It doesn't pretend to a deep epistemological or ontological rigour, and to criticize it for lacking that is a category error.

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/science.jpg

comelately
23-02-2012, 02:06 PM
I think science uses a combination of induction and deduction. I don't see the problem with induction - I mean, it works, doesn't it? What, in so many words, is "the problem of induction"?

No disrespect meant, but I've read some 'critiques' of science by continental philosophers who either don't understand science or have chosen to misrepresent it in order to attack it.

The critique of induction is hardly restricted to continental philosophy so you really are burning a strawman now.


it works, doesn't it?

Either you can test that claim, or it isn't scientific and your project fails. And you can't. If you propose examples, then you're relying on the inductive method you're trying to prove and thus begging the question. I think this is the bit where I get called petty and disingenuous, but we're back to infinite regress.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 02:10 PM
Okay, but it's a strawman if you are asserting that as a position I have to take.

Oh yeah, I'm not ascribing this position to you - just saying that it is a position I've heard a lot of other people take.

comelately
23-02-2012, 02:19 PM
Sorry, what infinite regress problem?

If meaning has a meaning, then what is the meaning of that meaning, and what is the meaning of the meaning, and what is the meaning of that meaning etc etc ad infinitum.


I think you're making the mistake of treating science as if it were a branch of philosophy. It may have been called 'natural philosophy' in the past but it's not really an applicable label.

Can you prove any of that scientifically?


Science is an attempt to describe and explain the phenomena of the natural world by natural (as opposed to supernatural or metaphysical) means.

Again, where is your test?

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/science.jpg[/QUOTE]

Pragmatism, resemblance, induction. Metaphysics.

Spouting a load of words about 'continental philosophy' and category errors shows that you are trying to create meaning through narrative, persuasion and rhetoric - not through science in itself. Meaning is non-scientific.

EDIT: To put it another way - you're stating the meaning is scientific, denying science is philosophy, and then using philosophical arguments to attempt to create meaning.

What we are doing now is going round in circles, which is amusing to me as it only serves to highlight infinite regression, but I think we're reaching the 'agree to disagree' point. I hope Luka thinks I did better in the last day or so.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 02:21 PM
The critique of induction is hardly restricted to continental philosophy so you really are burning a strawman now.

I was talking about critiques in general, which AFAIK have come mainly from philosophers of the continental sciences.


Either you can test that claim, or it isn't scientific and your project fails. And you can't. If you propose examples, then you're relying on the inductive method you're trying to prove and thus begging the question. I think this is the bit where I get called petty and disingenuous, but we're back to infinite regress.

Again, you're applying the standards of philosophical critique to science. The basis of science is empiricism; observing phenomena and noticing patterns. By its own standards, science has been incredibly successful in describing the natural world. Science isn't going to provide you with a rigorous, infinite-regress-free definition of the word 'fact', because that's the realm of linguistics and philosophy.

comelately
23-02-2012, 02:38 PM
By its own standards, science has been incredibly successful in describing the natural world.

How do you test that exactly? You're making a philosophical/metaphysical claim. A fairy absurd one I think, but it's kinda nice that Mr Science is all self-actualised and shit. :cool:


The basis of science is empiricism

So you're saying it's not legitimate to philosophically critique something based on its philosophical assumptions? That to do so is to make a category error? I'm tempted to ask how you would test that, but......


Science isn't going to provide you with a rigorous, infinite-regress-free definition of the word 'fact', because that's the realm of linguistics and philosophy.

Thus meaning is not scientific, it's the realm of linguistics and philosophy.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 02:40 PM
If meaning has a meaning, then what is the meaning of that meaning, and what is the meaning of the meaning, and what is the meaning of that meaning etc etc ad infinitum.

Well talking about the meaning of (say) DNA, or quantum probability, which falls within the remit of science, is different from talking about the meaning of the word "meaning", which doesn't.


Can you prove any of that scientifically?

No, and that's not a problem because science doesn't have the same reflexivity that philosophy does.


Spouting a load of words about 'continental philosophy' and category errors shows that you are trying to create meaning through narrative, persuasion and rhetoric - not through science in itself. Meaning is non-scientific.

The kind of meaning we're talking about now is non-scientific, yes. What do you expect me to do - produce a graph showing that I'm right and you're wrong?

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 02:46 PM
How do you test that exactly? You're making a philosophical/metaphysical claim. A fairy absurd one I think, but it's kinda nice that Mr Science is all self-actualised and shit. :cool:


How is it absurd? Tell me, when you're ill, do you get medicine from a doctor or prayers from a holy man?

Now you're just regressing into exactly the mode of smug condescension I've come to associate with the po-mo anti-science set.

comelately
23-02-2012, 03:00 PM
Well talking about the meaning of (say) DNA, or quantum probability, which falls within the remit of science, is different from talking about the meaning of the word "meaning", which doesn't.

It's not like I have too much problem with that as far as it goes, but I don't accept this thing you call 'science' can do any of that on its lonesome and am pretty sure you can't show me how it could. But you have named two examples, so maybe you can show how science generates the meaning of 'DNA' or 'quantum probability'.


No, and that's not a problem because science doesn't have the same reflexivity that philosophy does.

A.J. Ayer argued that a weighing machine cannot weight itself, but it doesn't really solve the problem of how to weigh the weighing machine or work out if its really giving you the right weights. Logical positivism isn't generally taken seriously today, even Ayer realised it was false in the end, and that's pretty much exactly the position you're retreating to.


The kind of meaning we're talking about now is non-scientific, yes. What do you expect me to do - produce a graph showing that I'm right and you're wrong?

That's kind of a YP situation. Besides, you've just stated that linguistics and science are separate concerns, so a graph wouldn't really work would it?

baboon2004
23-02-2012, 03:12 PM
It doesn't bother me, I just find it puzzling. Sure, I'd rather be friends with moderate, unbigoted Christians, Muslims etc. than hate-filled, prejudiced atheists, that goes without saying. It's just that to me, as someone who isn't a believer and never has been, I have trouble with squaring the supposedly ineffable word of God as revealed through his Son/Prophet/gurus etc. with an attitude that allows one to cherry-pick the 'nice' bits of a creed and sweep the less nice bits under the carpet. That's a pragmatic attitude and, as far as I understand faith, it's rather inimicable to pragmatism.

my mum is a Christian physicist, so I have lots of experience in squaring such things!

people are sweeping the less nice things about everything and everybody under the carpet daily (including, most pertinently, themselves). i don't see that religion is in any way remarkable for this.

comelately
23-02-2012, 03:15 PM
How is it absurd? Tell me, when you're ill, do you get medicine from a doctor or prayers from a holy man?

I like the doctor myself, but that's one simplistic example and still does not get you what you need


Now you're just regressing into exactly the mode of smug condescension I've come to associate with the po-mo anti-science set.

*Shrug* I will admit to a certain exasperation with your arguments at this point. As myself and vimothy have pointed out, Dawkins is trying to argue about metaphysics from the false authority of science. If science is about describing the natural world, then presumably Dawkins has made a mistake in devoting so much of his time to metaphysical issues? I'm not anti-science, yes I'm broadly speaking for a pragmatic demarcation of intellectual territory and a vaguely respectful sharing of common ground. On the subject of environmentalism, Zizek has stated that he thinks much of the romanticisation of nature actually gets in the way of the scientific progress that would lead to solutions to the environmental problems - so I don't accept that continental philosophy is anti-science.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 03:20 PM
It's not like I have too much problem with that as far as it goes, but I don't accept this thing you call 'science' can do any of that on its lonesome and am pretty sure you can't show me how it could. But you have named two examples, so maybe you can show how science generates the meaning of 'DNA' or 'quantum probability'.

Well DNA is just a string of base pairs that, by themselves, have no meaning at all. But what they imply, via an incredibly complex sequence of processes, is RNA, amino acids, proteins, different kinds of cells and ultimately an entire organism. Quantum probability is a number that can be derived from certain fairly sterile-looking equations but once you understand that it does in fact stand for a probability, it shows how those equations give rise to the behaviour of electrons, nuclei, atoms, molecules, crystals, light - everything that makes up the material universe.

It's a matter of debate whether science "generates" these meanings, or if they're latent within the systems being studied and science merely uncovers them. But again, this ambiguity is a problem for philosophers of science, not (for the most part) for scientists themselves.


A.J. Ayer argued that a weighing machine cannot weight itself, but it doesn't really solve the problem of how to weigh the weighing machine or work out if its really giving you the right weights. Logical positivism isn't generally taken seriously today, even Ayer realised it was false in the end, and that's pretty much exactly the position you're retreating to.

Science is about approximations. Yes, to measure something you have to make assumptions about the accuracy of your instruments. Which is why measured results are always quoted with some uncertainty range. Whether the position I'm taking conforms to some philosophical school that modern philosophers consider old hat doesn't particularly bother me because I'm not a philosopher.


Besides, you've just stated that linguistics and science are separate concerns, so a graph wouldn't really work would it?

Well yeah, that was kind of my point.

comelately
23-02-2012, 03:34 PM
Well DNA is just a string of base pairs that, by themselves, have no meaning at all. But what they imply, via an incredibly complex sequence of processes, is RNA, amino acids, proteins, different kinds of cells and ultimately an entire organism. Quantum probability is a number that can be derived from certain fairly sterile-looking equations but once you understand that it does in fact stand for a probability, it shows how those equations give rise to the behaviour of electrons, nuclei, atoms, molecules, crystals, light - everything that makes up the material universe.

But that's all language? It's not 'science', as you have conceded. All those words have meanings composed of words, which have meanings, which have meanings ad infinitum. Science does not generate or uncover these meanings with any objectivity outside of its own framework - as you concede. You have to accept 'science' into your heart. That may be a small jump, a pragmatic jump, a human jump but it is a jump and science cannot show it to be better than any other jump. You may be presenting 'scientific facts', but that speaks to the area of interest the fact to pertains to rather than the philosophical nature of the fact.


Whether the position I'm taking conforms to some philosophical school that modern philosophers consider old hat doesn't particularly bother me because I'm not a philosopher.

The fact that you are taking a philosophical position suggests that the claim not to be a philosopher is dubious but if it is true, then get orf my land!

comelately
23-02-2012, 03:50 PM
Ah, I see what you're saying. As an argument "it's a fact that there are facts" is question begging of course, I'm just saying that it's not a nonsensical statement in a world where we already accept that we have facts.

I missed this. The issue is that we also accept other things, the clearest example being a belief in human autonomy which means the non-acceptance of some facts that would be accepted in the absence of this belief. Non-sociopaths tend to believe in altruism/justice. I don't think this 'acceptance of facts' as a permanent state of affairs is a particularly accurate reduction of the human experience. The (apparently dim) student who stated that 'there are no facts' clearly didn't accept the proposition in that moment and presumably lived to tell the tale. You may need to believe, implicitly, on some level, in the existence of a chair to sit down on it, but you don't need to retain the belief to continue sitting on it.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 05:05 PM
"I missed this. The issue is that we also accept other things, the clearest example being a belief in human autonomy which means the non-acceptance of some facts that would be accepted in the absence of this belief. Non-sociopaths tend to believe in altruism/justice. I don't think this 'acceptance of facts' as a permanent state of affairs is a particularly accurate reduction of the human experience."
You're missing the point of what I was saying. I was just showing that it's not a nonsensical statement ie one that contains no sense. In a world without facts it may be untrue - doubly untrue in fact (no pun intended) - but you can still understand the sense of what it's attempting to say. It's not self-defeating in the same way as "I I A F T T A N F" statement is.


"The (apparently dim) student who stated that 'there are no facts' clearly didn't accept the proposition in that moment and presumably lived to tell the tale."
Although he failed the Bphil I believe.

comelately
23-02-2012, 05:24 PM
You're missing the point of what I was saying. I was just showing that it's not a nonsensical statement ie one that contains no sense. In a world without facts it may be untrue - doubly untrue in fact (no pun intended) - but you can still understand the sense of what it's attempting to say.

I don't think I have missed the point. I don't accept either statement is "nonsensical". I think that you can understand the sense of what both statements are trying to say. I have accepted that this frame of reference is persuasive to humans who have a natural tendency towards the empirical viewpoint, and tried to explain why I do not think this is sufficient to provide the underpinning for an empiricist philosophy.

In the end, what I think you're trying to suggest is that it is "better" for an argument to beg the question than for it to appear to contradict itself. I don't really see how that could work but I invite you to prove it (though I fear another infinite regress). I don't think a statement can be meaningful if its opposite is meaningless.

comelately
23-02-2012, 05:41 PM
Although he failed the Bphil I believe.

Well to state 'there are no facts' is to argue against the basic assumption of empiricism, he more or less killed a sacred cow. A lot of philosophy departments are fairly monocultural and dismissive of the continental tradition, so it isn't hard to imagine that he might have rubbed people the wrong way and had his non-conformist views judged to a higher standard. He might also have been a bit thick and this was highlighted as a particular example of his thickness for ideological reasons. I think I was quite lucky in the respect that Sussex had a broad range of thinkers.

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 05:52 PM
But that's all language? It's not 'science', as you have conceded. All those words have meanings composed of words, which have meanings, which have meanings ad infinitum.

Yes, we're communicating in words, well done. We could try communicating through equations instead if you think that would make things easier.


Science does not generate or uncover these meanings with any objectivity outside of its own framework - as you concede. You have to accept 'science' into your heart. That may be a small jump, a pragmatic jump, a human jump but it is a jump and science cannot show it to be better than any other jump. You may be presenting 'scientific facts', but that speaks to the area of interest the fact to pertains to rather than the philosophical nature of the fact.

'Better' in what way? No, science cannot provide 'meaning' if by that you mean 'giving meaning' to your life, showing you the 'right way to live', differentiating right from wrong, or whatever. Again, that's not its remit. Religion plays that role for some people. Other people manage to find this kind of meaning without religion.

Not sure what you're getting at with "Science does not generate or uncover these meanings with any objectivity outside of its own framework". What meaning does DNA or quantum probability have outside a scientific framework? None whatsoever.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 06:12 PM
"I don't think I have missed the point. I don't accept either statement is "nonsensical". I think that you can understand the sense of what both statements are trying to say. I have accepted that this frame of reference is persuasive to humans who have a natural tendency towards the empirical viewpoint, and tried to explain why I do not think this is sufficient to provide the underpinning for an empiricist philosophy.
In the end, what I think you're trying to suggest is that it is "better" for an argument to beg the question than for it to appear to contradict itself. I don't really see how that could work but I invite you to prove it (though I fear another infinite regress). I don't think a statement can be meaningful if its opposite is meaningless."
Look, neither is an argument is it? They're both just statements - one is a statement that is either self-contradictory (although you don't accept this) or simply wrong. The other is a statement that is either trivially true or just wrong. Neither are nonsensical in the sense that you can't extract meaning from then. One is nonsensical in a lazier usage of the word in that it is always (to me) gonna fail to do what it wants to do. That's all. I'm not gonna explain it again because this is even a side-show to the side-show of whatever the real debate was.


"Well to state 'there are no facts' is to argue against the basic assumption of empiricism, he more or less killed a sacred cow."
More like lunged clumsily at it with a rusty pair of scissors but I take your point.


"A lot of philosophy departments are fairly monocultural and dismissive of the continental tradition, so it isn't hard to imagine that he might have rubbed people the wrong way and had his non-conformist views judged to a higher standard. He might also have been a bit thick and this was highlighted as a particular example of his thickness for ideological reasons. I think I was quite lucky in the respect that Sussex had a broad range of thinkers."
Yes. This is true and probably worth a thread in its own right. The fact (oops there I go again) that half of what's called philosophers still think that the other half are total charlatans. Personally, from the small bits of continental philosophy that I have read I do feel that there is often the deployment of less rigorous argument and the use of obfuscatory language to hide this... however often isn't always and I wouldn't go so far as to dismiss the whole kit and caboodle as I may have done when younger and more angry.

comelately
23-02-2012, 06:13 PM
Yes, we're communicating in words, well done.

Just about.


Not sure what you're getting at with "Science does not generate or uncover these meanings with any objectivity outside of its own framework". What meaning does DNA or quantum probability have outside a scientific framework? None whatsoever.

Well, I'm not even pretending to understand quantums but people have certainly tried to use them to solve the problem of free will - I don't think that really works but it is done. And although a 'philosophically libertarian' world might still have no objective ethics, I think it would change the debate narrative considerably. Nonetheless, as far as I can see you're agreeing with the vimothy opinion that Dawkins is arguing from false authority - an opinion that I broadly agree with also.

baboon2004
23-02-2012, 06:16 PM
'Better' in what way? No, science cannot provide 'meaning' if by that you mean 'giving meaning' to your life, showing you the 'right way to live', differentiating right from wrong, or whatever. Again, that's not its remit. Religion plays that role for some people. Other people manage to find this kind of meaning without religion.


I guess philosophy fills in those gaps, or tries to, as well.

Maybe if religion were to come to mean whatever one uses to fill the role described above, the debate would be easier? Cos in that sense everyone has religion, some organised, some less so (but, I would argue, often still heavily influenced by institutions). I guess 'spirituality' has come to mean that, but that word has been so abused....

comelately
23-02-2012, 06:26 PM
it is always (to me) gonna fail to do what it wants to do.

I'm not sure "IT" really want to do anything but at that point we're deeply embroiled in some shit I don't think either of us fancy much right now.

IdleRich
23-02-2012, 06:28 PM
I think we can agree on that. To be honest if you had posted something more on that subject I would have just said "you're right, you win, I don't care". I wonder how many proper philosophical arguments are "resolved" in that way...

Mr. Tea
23-02-2012, 07:25 PM
Newsflash: my girlfriend just watched a live debate between Dawkins and the AB of C and says the holy eyebrow'd one kicked Dawkins's arse so hard she "wants his babies"...

DannyL
24-02-2012, 07:33 AM
Newsflash: my girlfriend just watched a live debate between Dawkins and the AB of C and says the holy eyebrow'd one kicked Dawkins's arse so hard she "wants his babies"...

Can this be found online anywhere? Sorry to lower the philosophical tone but it's curious to me how people just don't like Dawkins - even those who're in agreement with him in this thread seem to concede he's basically pretty unlikable. Possibly there's a gap in the market - Ollie, you could become the cuddly, pun-tastic face of atheism?

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 09:14 AM
'Cuddly'? I weigh about 75kg, you cheeky fuck!

The debate might be on youtube already, I'll have a look. I think you're right; while I do ultimately think Dawkins's thesis is broadly correct (there is no God, and widespread belief to the contrary causes more harm than good - he wouldn't accept that it causes any good, of course) I don't think he's the best poster child for atheism because he just gets so fucking unpleasant about the whole business. I gather he's much better when writing about his actual field of expertise.

Also, his obsession with religion as the unique cause of all the world's ills is very short-sighted - just like a Marxist who blames every social ill on capitalism and class or a radical feminist who thinks patriarchy's the root of all evil. People can be shitty to each other for all sorts of reasons, and often for a complex interrelated web of reasons, no single one of which can be identified as the unique ur-evil.

Edit: can't find the debate online, I'll ask my girlfriend if she knows if it's hosted somewhere.

comelately
24-02-2012, 09:31 AM
I think another problem with the thesis is that human society is not like a lot of atoms bouncing around a petri dish. Even if you could prove that religion has had a deleterious effect on things throughout human history, that isn't enough to actually demonstrate that it would be the case in the future.

Slothrop
24-02-2012, 09:48 AM
I think you're right; while I do ultimately think Dawkins's thesis is broadly correct (there is no God, and widespread belief to the contrary causes more harm than good - he wouldn't accept that it causes any good, of course) I don't think he's the best poster child for atheism because he just gets so fucking unpleasant about the whole business. I gather he's much better when writing about his actual field of expertise.

I think Phillip Pullman works better as a secularist poster boy - he's generally pleasant, avuncular, relaxed, can have a civilized and interesting chat with religionists, and writes books about armoured polar bears.

It is very refreshing to hear someone like Dawkins just be utterly blunt about religion, though, after years of "respecting" the beliefs of people who by dint of their beliefs show very little respect to anyone else. Jonathan Meades is the same.

grizzleb
24-02-2012, 10:02 AM
There's a difference though. Dawkins is shrill and pathological wheras Meades's dismissive attitude prompts just that, the subject is mentioned and passed over in a glance.

DannyL
24-02-2012, 10:16 AM
[QUOTE=DannyL;279863]Dawkins' bluntness lose it's power for me, 'cos I see it as part of a power-game establishing the authority of science. This isn't only something he does whilst attacking religion - several of his books echos this thread in part with predicatable slaggings off of Contential philosphy - he cites the Sokal hoax in Unweaving the Rainbow, IIRC. There's something else I read where he was misquoting an unamed philiopher really as believing the moon was a calbash in the sky 'cos he took some the myths of a tribal people seriously. Can't remember where though unfortunately.

Re: Pullman, one reason I like him is because of the way he writes about adolescent relationships and sexuality. The relationship between Lyra and Will in the "Dark Materials" trilogy is pretty clearly written to affirm sexuality, while showing how complex and difficult relationships can be. Given his core audience are teens, I think this is fantastic stuff, and I'm pretty sure he's writing it as a riposte to Christian attitudes. The Church in those books is basically a castrating force.

And (pesonal eccentricity and prejudices admitted) it seems pretty clear he's dabbled with the I Ching as well, which is surprising for an atheist, but makes me view him favourably.

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 10:34 AM
There's a difference though. Dawkins is shrill and pathological wheras Meades's dismissive attitude prompts just that, the subject is mentioned and passed over in a glance.

Yep, Meades just accepts the nonexistence of God as a given - and then delivers a brilliantly incisive mini-lecture about church architecture.

JM's dismissive attitude is important in that it flies in the face of accepted liberal mores that beliefs themselves, quite apart from the people who hold beliefs, have to be "respected". A few years ago, religious tolerance meant just that, tolerance - if you tolerate something it means you accept its existence and put up with it without necessarily approving of it. So it was expected of us that we'd respect each others' rights to hold whatever beliefs we may have, which is fair enough of course, as long as we're not talking about neo-Nazis or whatever. But at some point this changed, and it became important to respect beliefs themselves. Which is total horseshit.

comelately
24-02-2012, 10:55 AM
Sokal is interesting in that he was/is 'an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class'. Perhaps not a million miles away from Dawkins. As was conceded earlier, a lot of science has became a bit of a money-seeking hustle - I think it would be fair to say that this has increased (along with an increase in managerialism in academia) heavily since the Sokal affair. I think it's easier to be a left-wing empiricist or a realist or whatever when one is working outside a capitalist framework with a large amount of academic freedom, but without that academic freedom, it looks like an increasingly self-defeating position to take. The aforementioned 'realist' Glen Newey seems to question much about liberalism whilst being a strong defender of academic freedom, and although I think this position is problematic I understand why he sees that defence as a key part of his 'project'.

luka
24-02-2012, 11:51 AM
i dot know comelately.maybe when you get bored of this you can talk to me becasue at the moment you are talking a different lagnuage to your interlocutors. its a language they havent learnt. there are specific things you have said that i would want to home in on. maybe we can talk about those things, the more interesting things, and elaborate on them. the 'facts' discussion is in my opinon a waste of time.

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 12:42 PM
Yeah, he's better off ignoring us dinlos. We're a bit fick.

luka
24-02-2012, 01:03 PM
dont be over sensitive. its not the point i was trying to make. if you talked in some esoteric science language could we follow you?

luka
24-02-2012, 01:05 PM
of course not. remember your friend the laser researcher? on facebook? he couldnt follow a simple article in a newspaper. he thought 'materialism' meant craving material commodities, like diamond rings. does that make him thick? no, cetainly not. it just means he hadnt learnt the lagnuage. he didnt knw how to read. i dnt know much about lazers.

luka
24-02-2012, 01:09 PM
i dont expect to be clevr in evey way humans can be clever. why do you? comelately has studied philo you havent.why do you think you can compete with him on his terrortority. its inane.

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 01:17 PM
It's alright, I was just messing about.

I appreciate that CL has studied philosophy at a high level and I haven't - in fact I haven't studied it at all really, I've just picked up ideas from things I've read and stuff I've talked about with friends who have studied it. But he's taken it upon himself to critique science from a philosophical POV, which is fine when one philosopher is talking to another but gets a bit problematic when a philosopher says to a scientist "There are no facts! And induction is fundamentally flawed!" and the scientist goes "huh?"...

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 01:22 PM
never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class

how does it the help the working class exactly? actually, how does it help anyone or anything except the careers of people like zizek? not that it has to help anyone, but you'd think it'd be nice if it was useful for something.


As was conceded earlier, a lot of science has became a bit of a money-seeking hustle...I think it would be fair to say that this has increased heavily since the Sokal affair.

that was never conceded, at least not by me. certainly it is true to a degree but the relationship between raising money, the actual scientific work, and various other factors (careerist pressure on grad students + post-docs, the frequently iffy relationship between academic research + the private sector, etc) is highly complex, certainly much more so than you're making it seem. also, no offense, I am almost completely sure you don't know (in the actual sense, not in the are facts real sense) enough about it to make such broad, sweeping, vague statements. the issues with fundraising have been present for a long, long time. what basis exactly do you have for saying they have "increased heavily"?

also, again, this is pretty much a one-sided dialogue. things like sokal are an aberration. among the researches I've known there is an almost universal contempt for the social sciences (more than for philosophy I think, since it generally doesn't claim to be a "science", derrida-esque misappropriations of mathematical concepts aside) but it is pretty mild. no one cares about "false authority" or any of that, or deconstructionism, or whatever.

luka
24-02-2012, 01:29 PM
i guess all i am trying to say is youve been going in circles for 50 pages.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 01:29 PM
its a language they havent learnt

I'm pretty sure you all don't speak the language of molecular biology but I manage to talk about science without resorting to that language. if you can't express your ideas in ways that make sense to people outside your expertise what is the point talking of talking to anyone without that training?

luka
24-02-2012, 01:34 PM
canyou talk about moleculur biology in laymans language?

luka
24-02-2012, 01:35 PM
dont try and answer that.
woudl anyone try and pick a fight with you about mlecular boiloogy?
dont try and answer that.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 01:40 PM
also just quickly in re: dawkins. I don't much care about him one way or the other. he does seem like a massive, massive asshole. normally I am a fan of unapologetic assholes (especially in sports, i.e. bill belichick or kobe bryant. or MJ) but not in this case. also he's a very smart dude but I'd agree he seems to flounder badly the further he gets from talking about actual biology. I'm as stanch an atheist as can be but he's not my spokesman, nor is he the emperor of atheists. he ain't doing us many favors either with his freaking smugness.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 01:42 PM
^I could but you're right why would I. I was just making a point about jargon + expressing ideas.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 01:44 PM
science in academia is for sure a hall of mirrors but so is everything in academia

luka
24-02-2012, 01:45 PM
i think this thread is a wasted opportuity to a degree. there are ideas hinted at that havent been elaborated on. ps. padraif if you have interesting things to say about m.bio say them, no one will pick a fight with you.

luka
24-02-2012, 01:47 PM
im reluctant to sneer at academia becasue i was too proud to jump thru those hoops and i dont want to make it obvois how big the chip on my shoulder is.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 01:52 PM
I'm not worried about a fight. it's that most of things I could say would just be more specific iterations of things that've already been said more generally.

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 01:53 PM
i have friends who work as academics who think a lot of continental philosophy is pure onanism, and to whom Derrida is a swearword. i always preferred writers who i could get something from on the first reading, even if not the whole meaning - it kind of suggested there was something there to get.

unapologetic assholes in sport - floyd mayweather. he's an interesting character, though his comments about that basketball player Jeremy Lin were quite appalling.

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 01:53 PM
what basis exactly do you have for saying they have "increased heavily"?


And if it has increased in recent years, its because funding bodies are having their budgets slashed by cash-strapped governments. No-one goes into a career in science - I mean pure science, not developing the next big wonderdrug for GSK - in order to earn megabucks. It just ain't gonna happen. And with so many researchers working on so many different research programmes, and massive layers of bureaucracy and paperwork between the guy in the lab and the grant money he needs to carry on his work, it's no wonder a lot of time is spent chasing grants. It's not because of greedy scientists with $$$ in their eyes, if that's what you (CL) are implying.

As padraig says, it gets more complicated in areas of science that have strong links to the private sector. But if you want to critique this, it should be in terms of a discussion about the ethics of using public money to fund research that benefits big business, or whatever - it has nothing to do with deep issues of the scientific method, lawyer-ish arguments about the meaning of the word "meaning", and all that jazz.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 01:53 PM
I couldn't stand academia in my brush with it. I liked the people a lot but the mountains + mountains of bullshit, no.

luka
24-02-2012, 01:54 PM
lin and manny. he can fight tho. im a boxing fan. i still cant take mma serious.

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 01:57 PM
i was watching youtube vids of Mayweather fights yesterday. The skills he uses not to take many direct hits are pretty awesome. That Ortiz debacle wasn't so good though, but then the guy did headbutt him. I'd have probably done the same.

Pacquiao's quickness is electrifying though. Have to hope the fight happens, it would surely be up there with Leonard-Duran or somesuch.

What did Mayweather say about Pacquiao - don't think i've seen that?

Slothrop
24-02-2012, 01:59 PM
Is it relevant that a lot of the theists who disagree with Dawkins - I'd say the vast majority of them, in fact - would side with Tea as far as the existence of Facts goes? They tend to be quite happy with the existence of Absolute Facts, it's just that they consider one of those Facts to be that an invisible man in the sky wants them to do what He says. I mean, one standard posture for religious types these days is hostility towards "postmodern relativism".

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 02:01 PM
I couldn't stand academia in my brush with it. I liked the people a lot but the mountains + mountains of bullshit, no.

my tutor hated the people too. can't say i blame him.

luka
24-02-2012, 02:04 PM
he said 'go and make some sushi' the phillipines is not japan.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:06 PM
floyd mayweather. he's an interesting character

yes he is. not to get o/t, but the intersection of race + sports in the U.S. is a massive, thorny thing. bigger than in Europe I think, b/c the minorities here are much larger + black men so heavily dominate 2 of our 4 major sports (boxing also to a lesser extent but boxing has been largely eclipsed by mma which is actually quite racially diverse).

about lin, I understand where he was coming from but he said in a really dumb way. it is true that this wouldn't be near as big a story if lin wasn't asian, from harvard, etc, (+ if he was black). there's nothing wrong with that tho. it's insane to deny that race is a big factor in the story, mostly in a positive way (altho he's also just legitimately playing great basketball; he's actually made me root for the knicks, who I've hated since I was six yrs old). you gotta remember mayweather's built a whole career on picking at the scab of those racial undertones in sports (well also on being great boxer).

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:09 PM
luka mma is hella serious. my favorite is actually just muay thai itself (or K-1, which is watered down muay thai) but the groundwork aspect is hella technical.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:15 PM
What did Mayweather say about Pacquiao

nothing big really. they bullshit each other (or more like their people do) but that's what boxers do. I dunno there's all this nonsense about money + blood tests. big time boxing shoots itself in the foot yet again.

it'd be a great fight tho. I'm all for manny + he is a great fighter but mayweather's defense is just so flawless, even with all the weird manny can fight of off.

luka
24-02-2012, 02:17 PM
i think thats the problem. the groundwork to the uninformed (ie me) looks like two men rolling about in their undwerwear. having ex-wwf superstar becoming champions doesnt help particulalry when they get winded in under 2 minutes. boxers can fight for for 12 3 minute rounds. real athletes. different level of dedication needed.

luka
24-02-2012, 02:18 PM
mayweather beats mannyfor my money. best boxer of that generation by some distance despite being cynical/

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 02:18 PM
See, most of the chat in the last few posts means nothing to me personally but I fully accept that it has a well-defined, non-wishy-washy meaning for the people who are chatting it.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:29 PM
it should be in terms of a discussion about the ethics of using public money to fund research that benefits big business

this is it. or something like that. also reckon you're dead right about the real issue with $ being the surreally inefficient way in which it is relegated. it's set up so that scientists (+ grad students) have to constantly hustle. also grants have to be based off results so there's added pressure to show results even if there really aren't any. as well as the pressure to publish. like any academic thing science is freaking cutthroat as hell.

sidenote: one professor I worked for had his own biotech startup, which is very common (you're not allowed to use your academic research in your private venture I'm sure there's a lot of gray area). I later found out that the like 4 or 5 top guys in his sub-sub field of m. bio all had companies + all sat on the boards of each others' companies. freaking conflict of interest to the max. actually also, the stuff we were studying in that was very obscure + kind of a dead end but that guy just was a master of wrangling $. the lab was essentially his personal fiefdom which is often the case with big time tenured professors.

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 02:30 PM
nothing big really. they bullshit each other (or more like their people do) but that's what boxers do. I dunno there's all this nonsense about money + blood tests. big time boxing shoots itself in the foot yet again.

it'd be a great fight tho. I'm all for manny + he is a great fighter but mayweather's defense is just so flawless, even with all the weird manny can fight of off.

the video on youtube of mayweather jr and mayweather sr is probably his most difficult fight...

I think it would be epic. Mayweather hasn't knocked many bigtime fighters out lately though, has he, with the exception of Ortiz, which doesnt' count? So he'd presumably be relying on going 12 rounds and winning onthe scorecard, but won't Pacquiao be (a) quicker than anyone he's fought, and (b) equally technically good?

Plus Mayweather is obviously running scared. What will happen if he's behind on the scorecard coming into the last few rounds? Can his psychology handle the immediate threat of a loss?

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:33 PM
@luka - sorry but no way man. groundwork is incredibly exhausting, way more so even than striking. also kickboxing is more tiring than boxing. plus the rounds are longer (5 minutes). nothing against boxers but top mma guys are in fantastic shape. it requires a ton of hard work + dedication (+ talent) to reach that level.

luka
24-02-2012, 02:35 PM
brick lesnar?

luka
24-02-2012, 02:36 PM
look at him aginst the last guy he beat. panting hard in the first round. i dont buy it.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:38 PM
as far as brock lesnar-type bullshit 1) he's a great natural athlete, tho yes his technique is embarrassingly horrible, 2) the heayweight division is generally a joke (except for guys like cain velasquez + jr dos santos), tho isn't that also largely true for boxing, i.e. the Klitschkos?

luka
24-02-2012, 02:42 PM
yeah i was thinking that as i posted and hoped i wouldnt get called out on it. watch this.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBBVwOvFDrg
rugby league player v fat bloke

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:43 PM
the real action is at 205 lb + below. guys like jon jones + georges st-pierre for example are incredibly athletic.

if you want to see high action seriously go on YT + watch some muay thai. ramon dekkers, sangtiennoi, seanchai, guys like that.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:45 PM
you'd like sangtiennoi. his nickname was "the deadly kisser" cos he'd kiss guys on the cheek right before he knocked them out (which was almost always)

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 02:51 PM
^also every fighting sport has its embarrassing fat guys. or in the case of K-1, giant hulking roided out freaks like alistair overeem.

if you want to see a great fight watch ernesto hoost v. bob sapp in K-1. hoost was an all-time great, an undersized (but very skilled) guy with holyfield type heart. sapp was an ex-NFL player with no technique but he's just massive. like a 100 lb weight advantage. in one of their fights hoost actually broke some of sapp's ribs but somehow still lost.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 03:01 PM
here's a short doc on hoost/sapp. hoost lost both times on some of the worst bullshit TKOs ever (K-1 is corrupt as hell + sapp is wildly popular in japan so he got the hometown calls)

K-1 Classics: Ernesto Hoost vs. Bob Sapp Feud (http://youtu.be/vK-1m-q4etk)

I freaking love ernesto hoost. great fighter, great champion.

sorry, back to science + whatnot then

comelately
24-02-2012, 03:06 PM
See, most of the chat in the last few posts means nothing to me personally but I fully accept that it has a well-defined, non-wishy-washy meaning for the people who are chatting it.

I understand you accept it has a meaning, that's not under dispute. Can you tell me what the basis for this acceptance is?

comelately
24-02-2012, 03:07 PM
how does it the help the working class exactly? actually, how does it help anyone or anything except the careers of people like zizek? not that it has to help anyone, but you'd think it'd be nice if it was useful for something.

Arguably Zizek was a positive force for the democratisation of Slovenia, if that's worth anything. It's hard for me to answer this question concisely (obviously), but, quickly and dirtily, I suggest that the continental tradition is the only way to critique the empirical/analytical tradition in a way that provides a check on the inevitable fetishisation of concepts that assist capitalism, and possibly totalitarianism, that result from the fetishisation of the empirical tradition. Continental philosophy can also be used to support ruling elites too, though there is probably less 'need' for it in that instance.

Obviously that idea of such a constant intention running through the work of the 'Marxist deconstructonist' (and to call Zizek a deconstructionist is probably a mistake anyway, in many ways it's become the academic equivalent of calling someone a paki) is pretty silly. "There is no "Žižekian" system of philosophy because Žižek, with all his inconsistencies, is trying to make us think much harder about what we are willing to believe and accept from a single writer" (Ian Parker). Deconstruction is about undermining intellectual suppositions, rather than necessarily proposing new ones.

Of course, it could be argued (and IdleRich would I think) that this is pretty much what Richard Dawkins is doing. And that might be a fair point, and maybe Dawkins and Zizek are both assholes. I tend to side with Zizek because he's playing at a higher level, is interested in challenging *everybody* who reads him and appears to be a bit more self-aware, and I guess I somehow believe that he's probably a force for good (or whatever my fucked-up idea of that is) in a way that Dawkins is not. My initial call to this thread was to outline a leftist critique of Dawkins, not necessarily to stand behind it 100%.

Obviously 'continental philosophy' does provide a way to look clever, gain a certain sort of prestige, make a bit of money etc. People so easily throw this accusation at postmodernists, and in doing so imply that there's something that more earnest about being an analytical philosopher. Not sure that really stands up though.

I am not denying I was simplifying when I was talking about academia. I was under the impression that culturally things had changed quite bit vis a vis tenure and the involvement of private capital - particularly in the UK. No I probably don't have enough knowledge right now to back up vague, sweeping statements, though a quick look at wikipedia suggests there have been significant changes in the last 20 years and my inkling is that you are being overly defensive here.

My point was to suggest that advocating/having academic freedom is a pretty important feature of a 'leftist empiricism'. I was not suggesting research scientists were trying to get rich. Even if funding cuts are driven by governments lacking money rather than ideology (even though this is a false binary), that definitely still focuses grant money on research that has a commercial use:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11225197 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11225197)

droid
24-02-2012, 03:23 PM
Not sure If this has been covered, but what do people think of John Gray's position on Dawkins?

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/2361

Shorthand: Humans need myths. Make better ones instead of trying to tear them all down (or something).

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 03:32 PM
haven't read all of it, but sounds spot-on to me. Edit: read most of it - I like Gray, he writes like an unpretentious, clear, intelligent human being.

i like the sound of this book:

"In his new book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Jonah tells eight stories that share a common theme. In each case, (he chooses Marcel Proust, Walt Whitman, George Elliot, Paul Cezanne, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolf and, yes Auguste Escoffier) an artist is busy about his/her work and happens to observe something or sense something about the real world that scientists have not yet noticed, or that scientists say is not true. But because artists are so good at describing what it's like to experience the world, so intent on delivering the truth of what it feels like to be alive, so intuitive, in each of these eight cases, the artists learn something that the scientists don't discover until years later."

has anyone read it - i'm sure there must be some?

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 04:09 PM
Doug Hoffstadter is a scientist who has a great intuitive understanding of a lot of things most scientists would shy away from, I think. I'm halfway through I Am A Strange Loop, will write more when I've finished it.

Bangpuss
24-02-2012, 04:09 PM
John Gray recently wrote a negative review of Chomsky's latest book, which was a terrible review. I remember reading it and thinking that Gray was misrepresenting Chomsky's position -- that "America is virtually the sole obstacle to peace in the world," -- and critiquing it. Now I just Googled "John Gray Chomsky" and it comes up with a letter from Noam making the same point: i.e. he has never claimed that America is the sole evil, that U.S. crimes outdo those by any other regime, etc.

His critique of Dawkins is no better.

grizzleb
24-02-2012, 04:10 PM
Derrida is rubbish but he has some points to make. The problem is when entire 'continent' is written off as irrelevant nonsense. Continental philosophy can have sensible things to say where analytic says outrageous nonsense. And vice-versa. The writing style isn't that obscure anyway, I mean really, and I find some analytic impenetrable. It's such a false dichotomy, there's so much dovetailing going on it's ridiculous. True philosophers don't hold daft prejudices.

grizzleb
24-02-2012, 04:12 PM
Science is fucking beefy but that doesn't mean that we need to always look through that lens or an aesthetic one for a truthful picture of the world.

Bangpuss
24-02-2012, 04:14 PM
Regarding postmodern/continental philosophy: it can be wanky, verbose, impenetrable, etc. But so can analytic philosophers. Ever tried to read Wittgenstein? It's no less clear or penetrable than Derrida.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 04:15 PM
@CL - fair play to zizek about slovenia then. tho hasn't he also been accused of fascist leanings, + advocating some ethnic cleansing type? which may or may not be unfair slurs, I wouldn't know. then there's the whole apologias for the excesses of stalin thing. (didn't badiou do similar for the great leap forward? or am I making that up?) anyway, whatever on that count.

I'm not sure how you can say continental philosophy is the only way to critique "inevitable fetishization...". well no, you can say it but I'm not sure how that makes it accurate. the situationists seem to' have had a pretty solid grasp of it, altho possibly they were forerunners (or contemporaries?) of deconstructionism. I certainly agree about that inevitability. also the inevitability of recuperation, from which deconstructionism surely has not escaped, yes? either way a continental philosopher claiming continental philosophy is the only way feels suspiciously close to a trotyskist claiming trotyskism is the only true marxism, if you know what I mean.

I'm no philosopher but I do have a basic grasp of deconstructionism. I wouldn't bother with the usual critiques (willful obscurantism, snake oil, etc) whether or not they are true, again I wouldn't know. I still wonder what exactly it offers besides endless feedback loops of inscrutable meta-jargon (exception: foucault). does deconstructionism ever deconstruct itself? or that is a level of meta meta so intense it would tear a hole in the fabric of reality large hadron collider style?

I'm sure zizek that is operating at a much higher level than dawkins (philosophically. it's not like he could match him in a science lab or a biology lecturing hall) as stated I don't care much about dawkins, but I will note "higher" doesn't automatically equal better.

of course there have been changes in science. would you expect it to have stayed static for the last 20 years? tenure has gotten scarcer. a lot of universities are putting more people on non-tenure tracks, which is much cheaper for the school (also cuts into the faculty's power). tenure being a seriously flawed system (which is hardly limited to the sciences) likely has something to do with it too. private capital is probably more involved, mostly due to situation of govts, but it's always been involved at a serious level. further, the relation between the private sector + govt is so frequently incestuous in relation to research (see: the defense industry) that you can't always draw a neat line between the two. I'm not saying what you're saying is entirely untrue. it's just not entirely true either.

of course research focuses on things with commercial application. under capitalism what the hell else would it focus on? that isn't really a criticism of science but of the underlying issues. also commercial application includes many things which are beneficial of themselves outside their commercial value. which doesn't invalidate your point but should be noted.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 04:16 PM
Continental philosophy can have sensible things to say where analytic says outrageous nonsense.

what if you just don't care about either?

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 04:18 PM
I didn't realize how much of this was a philosophical pissing match

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 04:20 PM
His critique of Dawkins is no better.

i thought it (the article) was pretty good, making the obvious point that science can be used for ill just as much as religion can.

He may have misrepresented Dawkins but I'm more bothered about his general argument, which is sound.

Out of interest, what did he get wrong about Dawkins' views?

Incidentally I thought Wittgenstein was alright - read him alongside Chomsky and others on language. But continental philosophy in general I found intentionally obfuscatory. Very, very little is that difficult to communicate as a basic idea in plain language, as challenging/perspective-shifting as the nuances might be, and the best philosophers/writers consistently prove it. If you can literally understand nothing of what someone's saying, chances are they have nothing to say.

What was Derrida's thing that made me want to punch a wall? Oh, the thing about 'differAnce'. Foucault is in a different league, writes about v interesting things though I haven't read enough.

Going back to boxing, it's quite interesting that both Klitschko and Pacquiao are into politics in an active and seemingly non-conservative way.

padraig (u.s.)
24-02-2012, 04:31 PM
so intent on delivering the truth of what it feels like to be alive, so intuitive, in each of these eight cases, the artists learn something that the scientists don't discover until years later.

no shots at all bro but this made me hella laugh. of course non-scientists can make observations about the world that scientists haven't, but to chalk it up to their magical artistic powers of intuition + truth-living, give me a break. I mean the book might still be good but come on.

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 04:42 PM
no shots at all bro but this made me hella laugh. of course non-scientists can make observations about the world that scientists haven't, but to chalk it up to their magical artistic powers of intuition + truth-living, give me a break. I mean the book might still be good but come on.

i didn't write the blurb! no, it is overblown, but the idea is interesting i think, reducing the divisions between science and art, which is always welcome between disciplines/groups of disciplines. just as with philosophy and science. And architecture and dancing.

Bangpuss
24-02-2012, 04:48 PM
For a start, he says that horrific things have been done in the name of religion, yet it was Hitler's atheism that opened the floodgates for such evil. And he falls into that old nonsense that radical atheism is just like another religion, which I don't think it is. As though all atheists believe the same things spiritually/philosophically simply narrows the debate to spiritual/metaphysical thought being related to one's belief or non-belief in God.

Atheists want to move the debate away from God. I, for example, think a lot of other spiritual beliefs are horseshit, no better than religion, based on mumbo jumbo. Other atheists disagree and see great value in non-religious forms of spirituality. Atheists can also have radically different philosophies (see the debate above). Some of this could be atheistic evil, others could be more benevolent. But what links them isn't their atheism, radical, fundamental or otherwise.

droid
24-02-2012, 04:51 PM
John Gray recently wrote a negative review of Chomsky's latest book, which was a terrible review. I remember reading it and thinking that Gray was misrepresenting Chomsky's position -- that "America is virtually the sole obstacle to peace in the world," -- and critiquing it. Now I just Googled "John Gray Chomsky" and it comes up with a letter from Noam making the same point: i.e. he has never claimed that America is the sole evil, that U.S. crimes outdo those by any other regime, etc.

His critique of Dawkins is no better.

lol, tell me about it. it was dire. Chomsky tore him to pieces.

I dont think the Dawkins piece is anywhere near as bad though, and I have some sympathy with the general thrust of the argument. See also: southpark.

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 05:01 PM
Sure they can, but so can people with religious beliefs.

Gray just says that science can be used for good or ill. it doesn't mean it's bad per se, just as religious nutters don't mean religion is bad per se. Which would be reductive of the experience of billions of people.

But which debate is it that we are talking about moving away from God? Many people are both scientists and Christians/Muslims, for example. There are lots of facets to the experience of a human being, which is what is kind of wonderful.

I think more integration of different ways of thinking is what's needed, not a rejection of one or the other.

Bangpuss
24-02-2012, 05:02 PM
I don't think Dawkins is advocating evil science though.

comelately
24-02-2012, 05:09 PM
I don't think Dawkins is advocating evil science though.

No, but when you talk about evolution and how it is life affirming........do I really need to join the dots? As I mentioned, Sam Harris found out that he had a whole load of objectivist nutjobs among his fans - credit to him, he basically told them to fuck off when he realised; but I'm surprised he was surprised.

Slothrop
24-02-2012, 05:14 PM
I don't think Dawkins is advocating evil science though.
I don't think "science" has an inherent ethical / moral component tbh. It's a bunch of statements about how things are or how things will be and guidelines for how to come up with more such statements, but it says nothing about how things should be. To get that component is to bolt your choice of morality onto it.

Whereas I think religion does have an ethical / moral component bound up in it, at least in the forms in which it's commonly recognised.

comelately
24-02-2012, 05:19 PM
I don't think "science" has an inherent ethical / moral component tbh

Again, Sam Harris would disagree.

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-moral-landscape

http://www.samharris.org/images/moral_landscape_pbk_450.gif"]http://www.samharris.org/images/moral_landscape_pbk_450.gif

Bangpuss
24-02-2012, 05:54 PM
Comelately: The Moral Landscape is a book I wanted to read when it came out but never got round to it. What do you mean by "objectivist nutjobs"? And how exactly did Dawkins -- or was it Sam Harris, since it's not clear from what you say -- respond to them? If it's anything like the way Dawkins deals with hate mail, I'll be fucking impressed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZuowNcuGsc

Baboon: Dawkins has never claimed that all science is intrinsically ethically good. Yet John Gray implies this is what Dawkins says, when it's nothing of the sort. I don't have the passage in front of me, but I remember Dawkins making the point that science can and has been used malevolently, e.g. Eugenics, the Phamaceutical industry recommending drugs that people don't need, etc.

baboon2004
24-02-2012, 06:44 PM
Sure fair enough- as said tbh i dont know what dawkins has said. I just found the rest of the gray article v good.

Would like to read that sam harris book. He seems pretty sound.

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 09:46 PM
For a start, he says that horrific things have been done in the name of religion, yet it was Hitler's atheism that opened the floodgates for such evil.

Some pretty obvious points that I'm sure have occurred to everyone reading this thread already, but prolly worth putting down anyway:

- the Nazis were so colossally wrapped up in their own made-up mythology that Nazism was pretty close to a religion in itself. A lot of them (Himmler especially, not Hitler himself though) enthusiastically encouraged the revival of Germanic paganism. But Hitler certainly had mystical inclinations, and as far as Nazi ideology and iconography was concerned, he practically was God. So to call the Nazi regime 'atheistic' is problematic, to say the least.

- the latent anti-Semitism the Nazis tapped into was the product of centuries of Church-mandated Jew-hating.


And he falls into that old nonsense that radical atheism is just like another religion, which I don't think it is.

The old atheism-as-just-another-religion chestnut has been debunked so hard it's been practically atomised, IMO.

Mr. Tea
24-02-2012, 09:52 PM
No, but when you talk about evolution and how it is life affirming........do I really need to join the dots?

Oh please, what are you oh-so darkly hinting at here? Darwin, the godfather of Nazism? Care to blame Einstein for Hiroshima while you're at it? Give me a break.

comelately
24-02-2012, 10:29 PM
I've been quite explicit about that earlier in the thread, I'm not hinting at anything.

More strawman bullshit. Charles Darwin never tried to state, as far as I'm aware, that his views were life affirming. Dawkins has tried to take his scientific views into the world of metaphysics in a way that Darwin did not.

And whilst he recognised religion as a tribal survival strategy, Darwin nonetheless found a place for God as the ultimate law-maker (i.e. meaning maker). Darwin was not a pure empiricist. Einstein explicitly rejected atheism, preferring 'an attitude of humility'.

I accept Dawkins rejects social darwinism, as Darwin rejected it. Darwin rejecting it didn't stop it coming to prominence however - so Dawkins has the benefit of history to draw upon. Does that mean he shouldn't do science? Of course not. Does that mean he shouldn't be criticised if his arrogance leads him far away from his area of expertise to the point where he's explicitly, although presumably innocently, placing people on a metaphysical path which has previously lead many to social darwinism. If we ignore the lessons of history.......

vimothy
25-02-2012, 01:40 AM
A fundamental question seems to be: what is knowledge?

IdleRich
25-02-2012, 10:48 AM
Yes, that's what the thread has been circling around and teetering on the edge of asking without ever quite saying it explicitly.

DannyL
25-02-2012, 11:03 AM
What do you mean by "objectivist nutjobs"?

He means those who have bought into the cult of Ayn Rand.

yyaldrin
25-02-2012, 03:16 PM
Don't know a lot about the man. Have recently read "The Selfish Gene" and liked it a lot! I especially fancy the way he writes down certain parts in the beginning. It's almost as if you're reading science fiction, someone should extent this concept I think. Don't you guys think someone should make a movie about this:

“Was there to be any end to the gradual improvement in the techniques and artifices used by the replicators to ensure their own continuation in the world? There would be plenty of time for improvement. What weird engines of self-preservation would the millennia bring forth? Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators? They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.”

DannyL
25-02-2012, 03:49 PM
If the thought of SF like that that turns you on you really should read Blood Music by Greg Bear.

I read "The Selfish Gene" a long time ago. I recall finding it interesting but weirdly arid, being so concerned with models of the world, rather than the complexities of real living creatures mating and mutating. This is as much my limitation as Dawkins, I think I'd rather read natural history (i.e an explanation of how evolution can be shown to have worked in real time) than this kind of theoretical work.

Mr. Tea
26-02-2012, 12:05 PM
I don't think "science" has an inherent ethical / moral component tbh. It's a bunch of statements about how things are or how things will be and guidelines for how to come up with more such statements, but it says nothing about how things should be. To get that component is to bolt your choice of morality onto it.

Whereas I think religion does have an ethical / moral component bound up in it, at least in the forms in which it's commonly recognised.

Exactly. Science is not an ideology (whatever some philosophers might say). It is, in principle, a totally amoral way of gathering and collating information and forming theories. How science is funded, applied, commercialised, militarised - well that's a different matter.

Mr. Tea
26-02-2012, 12:57 PM
...he's explicitly, although presumably innocently, placing people on a metaphysical path which has previously lead many to social darwinism.

I find the suggestion that Dawkins should censor himself because of the risk that stupid, unpleasant people might misinterpret what he says about natural selection as indirect support for social Darwinism pretty bizarre, when you consider that the Talmud, Bible and Qu'ran - when read in a perfectly straightforward, literal way - give ample support for patriarchy, homophobia, religious intolerance and all sorts of unpleasantness.

vimothy
26-02-2012, 02:13 PM
Science is not an ideology (whatever some philosophers might say). It is, in principle, a totally amoral way of gathering and collating information and forming theories.

Would you say that this is a good thing or a bad thing?

comelately
26-02-2012, 02:28 PM
I find the suggestion that Dawkins should censor himself because of the risk that stupid, unpleasant people might misinterpret what he says about natural selection as indirect support for social Darwinism pretty bizarre, when you consider that the Talmud, Bible and Qu'ran - when read in a perfectly straightforward, literal way - give ample support for patriarchy, homophobia, religious intolerance and all sorts of unpleasantness.

So he is playing the religious game then? What is a straight, literal way of reading a 'text'?

The whole point about the infinite chain of meaning is that it discounts the possibility of science being a strictly closed system, and thus of it being strictly amoral. All closures (i.e. treating a sign as doing something other than pointing to another sign or signs) ultimately have moral implications.

Mr. Tea
26-02-2012, 02:45 PM
Would you say that this is a good thing or a bad thing?

Neither! It's just a Thing. I would say that its consequences have, on the whole, been more for the good than for the bad - you know, societies where people can reasonably expect to survive infancy, that sort of thing. Not to say that there aren't huge challenges associated with technological society as well. I'm not advocated science as the cure for all problems, obviously.

Mr. Tea
26-02-2012, 02:48 PM
So he is playing the religious game then? What is a straight, literal way of reading a 'text'?

Well if your holy book says 'kill the queers', and you interpret that as meaning that queers should be killed, then I'd call that a pretty literal interpretation. But then I suppose it all depends on how you define 'kill', 'queer' and so on, ad nauseam...


The whole point about the infinite chain of meaning is that it discounts the possibility of science being a strictly closed system, and thus of it being strictly amoral. All closures (i.e. treating a sign as doing something other than pointing to another sign or signs) ultimately have moral implications.

That's quite a claim. Can you back it up?

comelately
26-02-2012, 04:00 PM
Although a 'literal reading' of a text is not unproblematic - okay I see what you are saying. A literal reading of a text isn't necessarily the best reading of a text.

Regardng my 'claim', I feel I have demonstrated it already, several times and that it really isn't that radical. With IdleRich, I felt the circle of debate was actually moving us both towards something approaching common ground. With us that just isn't happening so I'm not that inclined to pursue it further *shrug*.

Mr. Tea
26-02-2012, 08:16 PM
You may have stated it and argued for it, but that's not the same as demonstrating it. Would you go as far as saying that something like the discovery of DNA has an inherent moral aspect to it, because it's so closely linked to issues like forensics, cloning, racial identity, GMOs and all the rest of it? Is that the kind of thing you mean?

Mr. Tea
26-02-2012, 09:18 PM
Or is this what you're referring to:


I suggest that the continental tradition is the only way to critique the empirical/analytical tradition in a way that provides a check on the inevitable fetishisation of concepts that assist capitalism, and possibly totalitarianism, that result from the fetishisation of the empirical tradition.

...which is not at all obvious to me, I have to say. I mean, sure, philosophers working in some of the more applied traditions, like ethics or philosophy of economics, might well be pro-capitalist, libertarian or whatever in a way that's wholly relevant to their philosophy (just as some might be Marxists, anarchists or whatever). But I'm extremely sceptical of claims that very abstract disciplines like metaphysics could in any meaningful way be said to "assist capitalism", or to oppose it for that matter. Is there such a think as "Marxist epistemology" or "free-market ontology"? And Sokal spare me from "feminist physics" and all that malarkey...

Also, about "totalitarianism": isn't Z-boy pretty much an unreconstructed Marxist-Leninist? These days, at least, whatever he may have done 20+ years ago. And what about Badiou? Not exactly people you'd associated with a pro-democracy stance, at least from my understanding of them - which I stress once again is a lay position, happy to be corrected if I've got completely the wrong end of the stick though.

comelately
26-02-2012, 09:48 PM
You may have stated it and argued for it, but that's not the same as demonstrating it.

In the sense that I haven't demonstrated it *to you*, I haven't demonstrated it. I am satisfied with my demonstration however. At that point, I shrug and move on. but broadly yes, I do think that 'there is such a thing' as "Marxist epistemology" and "free-market ontology". Yes I think there are metaphysical theories that assist capitalism. It's really obvious to me. Everything is connected to everything else - that is Lenin of course.

Z-boy is a misanthropic contrarian basically. Yes he identifies himself in certain ways, but that isn't to be taken at face value.

Until you grasp deferment of meaning, which is a concept that is clearly challenging for you to grasp (no offence is meant), then yeah; you're going to struggle to make sense of much of this stuff. I'm probably not the one to bring you round.

padraig (u.s.)
26-02-2012, 10:24 PM
^ @tea (CL) I refer back to exactly what I said at the beginning of this thread. there's no point in arguing with these guys. you can't win, or lose. you're just trapped in a infinite feedback loop of bullshit. if you challenge them to demonstrate a point, they inevitably say, in the most condescending manner possible, you just don't understand (which is a claim to false authority if I ever heard one, but whatever). or they make statements so vague - "everything is connected to everyone else" - as to be meaningless. or they retreat into jargon-heavy inscrutability.

also, since absolutely no one cares about continental philosophy except continental philosophers + their grad students, why even waste time "refuting" it? to quote wolfgang pauli, it's not even wrong.