Re: MD Philosophy and Theology

From: Valence (
Date: Thu Apr 03 2003 - 04:24:17 BST

  • Next message: Valence: "Re: MD What is a fact?"

    Hey Sam,
    Looks like it's going to be a late night for me, because I just can't resist
    answering a few of these posts. Pirsig was right when he said metaphysics
    is a degenerate activity, and just like the other degenerate activites, it's
    easy to get addicted to...

    > The first is brief, the second is the more philosophically interesting.
    > 1. You seem to be under the impression that I think "all Christian thought
    > is metaphorical". I think all language about God is metaphorical, that's
    > quite the same thing.

    I'm sure you've probably explained the difference before in a post I missed
    (or don't remember) so could you explain it one more time for me? Also, is
    this distinction meant to indicate that you do take Christian doctrine (ie.
    the Bible) literally?

    > 2. The much more interesting thing is to do with objectivity, where you
    > "knowledge rooted in objectivity is superior to (ie. better than)
    > rooted in
    > faith, though I don't believe objectivity to be a truly 'neutral'
    > (as I understand your use of the term). It isn't a neutral source of
    > it's just a better source of truth. The results that have been produced by
    > 'objectivity' I think are just too stupendous to be ignored. No religion
    > that I know of can lay claim to
    > anything even approaching the phenomenal power of the descriptions of
    > reality produced by science."
    > I think we need to pay a little attention to what 'objectivity' actually
    > is - it's the attempt to make our judgements less dependent on personal
    > preference.

    I understand what objectivity is. Like you said: "'s the attempt to
    make our judgments less dependent on personal preference." LESS dependent,
    not INdependent. More neutral (or less biased), not totally neutral.

    > So the core of scientific method is an emotional distancing from the
    > being studied; an emotional distancing which is geared around getting a
    > clearer view of the matter at hand.


    > As such, this intellectual discipline is one part of a wider intellectual
    > discipline which, historically, had a very happy home in Christian
    > where it was called the cultivation of 'apatheia'. The central element in
    > Christian spiritual growth is 'not my will but Thine' - in other words,
    > development of the ability to put our own 'wills' and our own
    > to one side - again, an emotional distancing.

    I think you're blurring the margins again. You seem to be implying that
    because the Christian discipline of 'apatheia' involves emotional distancing
    and because science involves emotional distancing then science must be
    compatible with Christianity (or vice versa). But the logic doesn't flow.
    It's saying that because two things share one common feature they must agree
    with each other completely. But I ask you: If science and objectivity have
    such a happy home in Christianity, then why are school boards across the
    nation under siege from Creationists who think that evolution and the Bible
    stand on equally 'scientific' footings? Why did it take until 1995 for the
    Pope to pardon Galileo?

      Of course, in the Christian
    > process, this distancing is one movement in a sequence that, through
    > results in the transformation of the will so that it becomes transparent
    > God. It is a process of dismantling all our idols - all the things that we
    > value other than God. In MoQ terms, it is the renunciation of all static
    > patterns in order to cultivate the openness towards DQ.

    But science studies static patterns. Do you think renouncing all static
    patterns in order to cultivate the openness towards DQ is really that
    similar to renouncing social patterns in order to cultivate an openness to
    the perception of other static patterns? And moreover, is this to say that
    you believe 'god' is just a metaphor for DQ?

    > So when you wish to defend the scientific method, and say that it is a
    > thing, I would agree - it is, both as a matter of historical fact and in
    > philosophical terms an outgrowth of Christian theology.

    Even if that's true (which I'm not prepared to say it is) then I would
    suggest that the outgrowth has outgrown its source. Alchemists paved the
    way for real chemists (it is often forgotten that Isaac Newton was a very
    serious alchemist), but that doesn't mean that any of the value of chemistry
    rubs off onto alchemy... does it? Apatheia may have paved the way for
    objectivity, but that doesn't mean that any of the value of science rubs off
    onto religion... does it?

    > However, the great Modernist mistake, carried forward by Dawkins etc,
    and -
    > I really should emphasise - totally disembowelled by Pirsig, amongst
    > is to think that gaining emotional distance from a subject is a way to
    > out the 'final truth' on a matter.

    Agreed. There is no "final truth". Pirsig puts that baby to rest nicely.
    But there are better truths. And I think the success of science (that we
    both acknowledge) in finding those better truths has been rooted in that
    emotional distance.

    The main problem is that the process of
    > emotional distancing is a process of delaying value judgements (for
    > are essentially judgements of value).

    I agree that emotions are judgments of value. But that's not the same kind
    of value that is being judged in the science. Those value judgments have no
    place science and science is right to do everything it can to insulate
    itself from those emotional judgments. That's where it's power comes from.

    When it comes to questions of
    > metaphysics - which determine how all the 'objectively' produced data are
    > interpreted - we are plunged straight back into questions of decision,
    > (as a matter of logical and empirical fact) depend upon emotional
    > with the issue at hand.

    The problem comes when a particular pre-existing metaphysical (or religious
    view) comes to clash with the data that has been objectively gathered. I'll
    use the creationists as my example again. By reintroducing their emotions
    into the metaphysical decisions, they wind up ignoring and skewing all the
    objective data to force it to fit with their views about god creating the
    world in 6 days (Scott uses some of these skewed arguments in his recent
    post to me in this thread).

    Much more interestingly, as soon as we get away from
    > questions of 'physics', and into all the areas that we find humanly
    > interesting, like 'how should I live', then science has nothing to say.

        I know. Religion has plenty to say about how we should live. It just
    has no way to back up those claims. It draws them as if from the air and
    backs them up with faith alone.
        Science and logic may have nothing to say how we should live, but they
    are indispensable in weighing the value of *shoulds* offered by those who do
    claim to know how we should live. Just think how much better a place the
    world would be if just one suicide bomber asked someone to show him some
    evidence that there are 10 virgins waiting for him in heaven after the bomb
    goes off.

    > My view is that the objective stance is simply a tool - a useful
    > for use in particular cases, and something which can enable us to develop
    > better sources of information -

    That is my view as well.

    ...but to discern the answers to our most
    > fundamental and most interesting questions we need to re-engage our
    > emotions, ie our discernment of value. As is built into the very
    > of the MoQ.

    Why do social-level emotions need to included in questions of metaphysics?
    Where do you read that in the MoQ?

    > By the way, I think your assessment of religion is drawing on a Modernist
    > mistake. Faith is not a matter of knowledge (ie faith and science are not
    > two species of the same kind). It's essentiallly about judgement.

    Could you unpack this a bit for me? How does the statement "God exists"
    differ when taken as 'faith' rather than taken as 'knowledge'?

    > By the way 2, if Dawkins didn't assume materialism then how do you explain
    > his vehement disagreements with Gould? They don't disagree about the
    > 'facts'. If Dawkins was able to be objective about his own prejudices he
    > would be a much more compelling figure.

    Agreed. If Dawkins was able to be MORE objective about his own prejudices
    he *would* be a much more compelling figure.

    > Very happy to pursue this in more detail if you want.

    Having fun so far,

    take care

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