Re: MD Science vs. Theism: Where's The Beef?

From: Matt Kundert (
Date: Fri May 06 2005 - 19:59:22 BST

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    Hey Mark,

    Mark said:
    Ok, so you're saying that it's inconsistent for someone to buy the
    polar-cartesian analogy and nevertheless claim that theism and science are
    in conflict. I'm not so sure.

    I'm not exactly saying it would be inconsistent or a contradiction because I
    don't think we would run into any clear refutation. (I think the
    philosophical waters at this level far to muddy for anything like a clear
    refutation.) I said originally that, if you claim that science and theism
    are in conflict, you'd need to either do some rebutting of James/Pirsig or
    some qualifications. Going the qualification route could get you to
    fundamentalist atheism/scientism. What I'm saying is that the line of
    thought that springs from James and Pirsig wouldn't end in such a
    position--you'd need to head it off at the pass and curb it another

    For instance, you can use the "different maps, different purposes" for the
    evaluation of geometries, but I don't think you can use it for different
    "metaphysical systems" without qualifying what you mean by "metaphysics."
    If you mean what traditionally has gone by "metaphysics," that there's one
    Metaphysical System that corresponds to Reality and it is our job to find
    it, you have to be especially careful to keep such a pragmatist slogan in
    check, because if you let it get out of hand it'll dissolve the very notion
    of a single Metaphysical System. If you mean by metaphysics something more
    like a "paradigm" or "language game" or "map for getting around the world"
    you can let the slogan run free. The first instance is an example of
    qualifying James and Pirsig because they want to let the slogan roam where
    it wants to.

    The overall reason I think qualification of James/Pirsig is needed if you
    take a hard stance against religion is because I think pragmatism a
    philosophical acid that eats through any Platonic, philosophical
    pretensions. If you wanted to say _strongly_ that theism and science are in
    conflict, you'd have to dilute some of the acid because the pragmatist
    position would seem to allow the two if the purposes of the two can be
    differentiated--which Sam and Scott have been arguing that modern theology
    does. And with this you seem to be willing to agree. Another way to get a
    strong push behind "conflict" is to say something like, "If we have science,
    we don't need religion." But if we accept that science and religion are
    differentiable, that they have different purposes, saying we don't need
    religion just about amounts to saying you, personally, don't need religion,
    but its not at all clear how this is supposed to be a motivating argument
    against religion. One way to argue is to say that scientific-types are
    "tougher minded" (which is the Nietzschean line), but Scott's already
    commented on this non-starter. Another way is to argue that religion, and
    its purposes, are best left by the wayside, that our culture as a whole
    would be best without it. This, however, is a pragmatist argument through
    and through, and not really an argument so much as a suggestion/prediction.
    Its a difficult suggestion to get to stick and, still, its not entirely
    clear why the religious should be motivated by it.

    Mark said:
    However, I don't see how the passage I quoted above [from ZMM about
    Euclidean and Riemannian geometries] clearly refutes the idea that there may
    be a conflict between theism and science. That is, in one case we are
    comparing geometries or map coordinates, very similar KINDS of systems. In
    the other, are we sound in saying that science and theism are sufficiently
    similar for the analogy to hold? It's clear that the geometries, though
    different, are internally consistent, Can the same be said for religious
    systems in general?

    I think this is the wrong tact to take with the passage. The passage I was
    thinking of was in Lila where Pirsig compares polar and rectagular
    coordinates for maps (unfortunately, I don't have the book in front of me,
    but its towards the beginning, I think the chapter he talks about the
    objections of logical positivism and mysticism). This passage is obviously
    rooted in the same line of thought that the ZMM passage is, but I think it
    makes for a better analogy because it brings out nicely that the reason we
    need maps is for making our way about the world. There are an infinite
    number of maps to be made, all depending on what you want to see. Think of
    the maps a political consultant would have at her disposal: popular vote
    maps, electoral maps, lib v. con maps, awareness, favoribility,
    likeablility, etc., etc. What determines what kinds of maps we have are how
    useful they are to us. So, to my mind, it is exactly the point that science
    and theism are sufficiently dissimilar in purpose that allows them to not be
    in conflict. (And I think pretty much anything can be made to be internally
    consistent. That doesn't neccessarily make it useful, though.)

    I hope that clears up what I've been saying, since you seem to basically be
    in agreement with the pragmatist line.


    p.s. I don't have access to my e-mail at home, so I haven't been able to
    give due attention to our other thread. Since it is a good one, and needs
    good attention, I'll hopefully be able to get something done by the middle
    of next week. The heads up on what I'm thinking is that there are two basic
    problems in our discussion: one "political" and one "philosophical." By
    "political" I mean I want to again take up the difficulty in using the
    social/intellectual distinction in down to earth argumentation. And by
    "philosophical" I mean I want to continue the other line that the principles
    needed to hold up the distinction are unsavory. Ironically, the
    "philosophical" side was inadvertantly transmutted to Sam's "The Ideology of
    Capitalism" thread, a thread which suggests itself to be very political, but
    as I see it, the crux of the issue is rather very philosophical.

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