Dr. Dr. Dr. Pigliucci replies

August 9, 2010 • 5:14 am

Last week at Rationally Speaking, (Dr.)3 Massimo Pigliucci criticized my position that scientists who accept untested (or untestable) supernatural hypotheses as truth, while refusing to do so in their professional lives, are “philosophically inconsistent”.  Although Pigliucci did not explain how he sees this kind of consistency, he argued that I was philosophically naive, unqualified to comment about such matters without extensive philosophical training and, presumably, the relevant Ph.D.  I responded here, explaining again what I meant by philosophical consistency.  Last night, after five days of severe drubbing from his commenters, Pigliucci issued a terse response as a comment after my post.  I present it here without further response.

Massimo Pigliucci
Posted August 8, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink (Edit)

My Dear Jerry,

in answer to your two proposed hypotheses to explain my “sweaty” behavior:

> 1. He doesn’t like me

I’ve met you exactly once. I have no personal opinion about you, so there is no reason to wine [sic] about imaginary personal dislikes.

> 2. He thinks I don’t know anything about philosophy and therefore I — and most other scientists — should shut up about it.

That’s exactly on the mark, unless you are willing to do your homework seriously. I’m sure you would say the same to anyone who started writing about speciation without knowing the basics, yes?

158 thoughts on “Dr. Dr. Dr. Pigliucci replies

    1. It’s almost like discussing football with people who’ve never actually played the game at a high level… You know all this stuff… And you try to explain it…

      They just yell and wave their dicks…

    2. Does MP3 not consider it strange that in all the years Jerry Coyne has been making his point about the incompatibility of science and religion it is only MP3 who finds it philosophically naive?
      Surely there should be hordes of philosophers lined up to point and mock and yet Massimo finds himself at the head of a very short queue.

      1. The issue is of course that there are plenty of philosophers who will be on Jerry’s side. It isn’t as if MP can call Jerry’s position wrong and contradictory of a consensus.

        The best MP can do is say “I’m more qualified at saying why I’m right and why you’re wrong than the converse.” Which doesn’t actually say anything about whether Jerry’s basic position is right or wrong.

        I suspect some philosophers will support the core of Jerry’s thesis against Massimo in coming weeks, if they haven’t already starting doing so.

        1. Dude, so its like, an enormous appeal to authority? Like, dude, I though that was a red herring fallacy!? Totally, like.

          1. Even an appeal to authority can be rebutted, though it shouldn’t be necessary. MP doesn’t lay out his logic clearly (though he does expound at length). As a result, not only is MP left with only an appeal to authority, he is left with a WEAK form of appeal to authority. Hence my invocation of philosophers that agree with Jerry. Like, yeah.

  1. One might think it would be incumbent upon smart guys like Dr^3 P to enlighten the rest of us about how and why religious beliefs are philosophically compatible with science rather than just calling the contrary position “naive” and its proponents unqualified to comment.

    Especially since it seems obvious to many people that the two are incompatible, other than the trivial level in which the same mind can hold incompatible ideas at the same time.

  2. Massimo Pigliucci wants to be King of the Playground! Now I need to decide whether to unsubscribe to his blog or keep watching for the belly laughs he provides.

    1. There’s more than belly laughs there. The list of links posts are worthwhile and his co-bloggers seem decent. Julia Galef agrees with Coyne and it will be interesting to see if either she or Dr. Cubed writes a full post on the subject. If the good doctors doesn’t, he must be completely deluded or have no self respect.

  3. Yes Professor. In order for you to be qualified to ridicule belief in myths, you should quit your day job and go back to school and study philosophy. Better yet, study the philosophy of religion and spend a few decades deciphering ancient scrolls. Then you will be able to understand the genre, subtlety, context, history and literary form of the Bible. Better yet, you’ll be armed to use more or less any interpretative tool to defend the indefensible portions of the Bible.

    [dripping in sarcasm]

    1. Yep, this is a classic instance of the Courtier’s Reply. “You have not studied the intricate details of this area of study, therefore you can’t comment on this one very obvious, simple, and fundamental point.”

      1. What’s really funny is that none of his doctorates triplicate is in anything like religion – the closest he gets is philosophy of science.

        By his own logic, shouldn’t he shut up about it? After all, he’s done about as much “homework” on this subject as Mr. Coyne has.

  4. How dare DrDrDr Pigliucci use words to write his screeds! Yet another example of philosophers overstepping their bounds. Leave the writing to the linguists, Dr^3.

  5. Well, I think that Dr. Dr. Dr. Pigliucci really owed you more than that very terse response. Indeed, just telling you to keep off the philosophical grass is not enough. He must say how much more is needed to say something smart about philosophical consistency. Failing that, he has, as someone aptly points out, shot himself in the foot — which is, by the by, a coward’s way of getting out of a battle.

    In order to demonstrate the accommodationist point, the accommodationist must show that religion is, in some sense, a way of knowing that is distinct from scientific ways of knowing, and yet consistent with it. At least Gould was aware of this requirement, even though he failed to show this.

    The point is that science is a way of coming to know. So, in order to be compatible with it, religion must be a way of knowing that is consistent with the canons of scientific investigation, including evidence, observation, and at least the ability to show that certain lines of investigation are ruled out (falsification). The assumption is that religion uses analogs of scientific methods in producing religious knowledge.

    Talking about compatibility without these capabilities is mere persiflage, and it means that the compatibilist hasn’t done the necessary research. Actually, very few of those who talk about the relation between science and religion have even the shadyist idea what religion is really about, and theologians are certainly divided. There is no consistent theological method, though there are many proposals as to how theology can set about doing its task. (Gordon Kaufman has written a small book on theological method, as has the great Canadian theologian Bernard Lonergan, in his Method in Theology, the conclusion of which suggests that there is no unity in theology.) So, before speaking confidently, as Dr. Dr. Dr. Pigliucci does, about the compatibility of religion and science, he really must begin to do some serious work on theological method. This is the sine qua non without which nothing that he says on the subject is really to any point at all, except that it keeps him on good terms with his religions friends for speaking about things he does not understand.

    1. “So, in order to be compatible with it, religion must be a way of knowing that is consistent with the canons of scientific investigation,…”

      I don’t think this follows. compare the 2 ways of finding out what the author of a literary work meant by some phrase:

      1) Use the standard methods of textual and literary analysis.

      2) Ask the author.

      I would argue that these 2 “ways of knowing” are compatible though different.

      1. If the two ways yield opposite conclusions, then they probably aren’t compatible.

        If one way yields mutually incompatible conclusions with no means of resolution then perhaps it isn’t even internally consistent as a means of knowing (eg: author is dead, author regularly lies, author is demented, author is unknown and we ask different people, etc.)

        It also seems to me that if asking the author (or using religion & revelation) had some value, it would be subsumed into the scientific process.

        1. Actually, “asking the author” is part of the peer review process. Referees will often ask the author to clarify what they mean if their writing is ambiguous.

      2. I said ‘consistent’ with it, not identical with it. Asking the author is consistent with scientific ways of coming to know, though, of course, strangely, asking the author doesn’t necessarily answer the question, ‘What did he mean when he wrote that?”

        Of course, asking the author is a bit difficult in the case of religion, since there is no way of distinguishing genuine answers from fake ones. As soon as you have found a way, let me know.

        But, this being the case, we need to have some other way, and all we’ve got are the facts as they are, and reading those facts, in order to give us religious information (or knowledge), cannot be inconsistent with the canons of scientific investigation. So the requirement of consistency still stands.

  6. All experts stand on top of large boulders, where they can take in spectacular vistas. To enjoy the vista, you have to earn it – climb the rock.

    Or, if you want to show someone else the terrific view, you can help them up the rock: guide them through the handholds and the tricky parts, and help them avoid the slippery bits where most people fall off.

    Or, if you are particularly small-minded, you can get a kick out of standing on top of the rock and telling everyone else how superb the view is, without attempting to help anyone climb up to share it. Maybe even kick a few stones over the edge so they will land on the heads of those below.

    1. This.

      It’s curious that Massimo used Creationism as a comparison since there are countless examples of places where scientists devote considerable time & energy to educate people in order to refute creationist ideas, something Massimo seems unwilling or unable to do. Didn’t I just read a book about this, “Why Evolution Might be True but I Won’t Tell You Unless You’re A PhD Biologist”? It was a short book but powerful.

  7. I think some here are missing the point. MP does not think that religion is a way to generate useful knowledge, or that one should study religion to learn to appreciate it. He is an outspoken atheist, but thinks that only trained philosophers are allowed to say that religion is bull, and scientists for some reason aren’t. This is not accommodationism but rather “get off my lawn”.

    1. Yes. Massimo seems to characterize religion as not-even-wrong (“nonsense on stilts”) which he feels undermines Jerry’s scientific criticism on religion.

      1. But famously, scientists must be able to tell not-even-wrong. Indeed, it is usually a bit more demanding than graduate stuff, since it usually isn’t so easy to tell as in religion.

        Maybe Dr Dr Dr should get off Coyne’s lawn?

  8. What makes Pigliucci think he knows anything about philosophy ? I know he makes much of his doctorate in the subject, but nothing he has said offers any evidence he actually has anything worthwhile to say.

  9. “I’m sure you would say the same to anyone who started writing about speciation without knowing the basics, yes?”

    Sorry, no, he doesn’t. Not that I’ve ever seen or heard, that is. Like all other intellectually secure and well adjusted people, Jerry listens to an idea, say speciation, and then points to any flaws, explaining each flaw. This is what people do when they really are more educated than their counterpart in a conversation.

    I would suggest that Pigliucci read the article in question, note how Jerry makes a clear and concise argument for his case, and simply point out where (or if) the reasoning is wrong, since if it is wrong, we would all benefit from knowing why. Since such an answer reply by Pigliucci is unattainable, though, we are all in the position of needing to accept Jerry’s proposition as the most reasonable proposition available.

  10. By the way, Jerry, Massimo’s sophisticated take on this issue derives not from his background in Philosophy (which is really a bunch of unrelated fields under one roof), nor from his background in Philosophy of Science (which is still an incredibly broad field) but from a single paper by a one Barbara Forrest, easily located via Google Scholar:


    Massimo is essentially claiming to be nineteen pages more sophisticated than you on this issue. And THAT’S why you should NEVER talk about philosophy! Bad biologist, bad!

    1. Curiously, I have indeed read Forrest’s paper–twice. Even more curiously, it clearly undercuts Pigliucci’s own position, which is that there’s no firm basis for adopting philosophical naturalism when practicing methodological naturalism.

      1. If “philosophically inconsistent” is taken to mean “logically inconsistent”, then Massimo might be talking sense, since Forrest allows that philosophical naturalism is not deductively implied by methodological naturalism. Forrest instead argues that methodological naturalism’s success provides a strong basis for acceptance of philosophical naturalism. Am I understanding Forrest right?

        1. Yes.

          MP seems to have glommed onto the “not logically entailed” bit to the exclusion of the whole rest of the paper, and used it to talk smack about Jerry in post after post after post.

          1. Quite true, but, arguably, Jerry is right on the button with ‘philosophically inconsistent with…’, whereas, according to Forrest, he would not be right had he said ‘logically inconsistent with…’. So, despite his posturing the Dr. Dr. Dr. is just wrong, philosophically.

            1. Even, or especially, I would underwrite that.

              I believe it isn’t about met nat vs phi mat, but naturalism vs materialism. Still, in no way does any of this follow without empirical input, as anything in science. Anything else wouldn’t be, well, logical.

      2. I think the scientist is pushed towards philosophical naturalism, but I really don’t see why one cannot be *contingent* in one’s ontology; in fact, the scientist *should be*, surely?

        Nonetheless, this seems to be a battle over:

        1) *Whether* evidence can be used, or
        2) *What* evidence can be used.

        If the first, well, if there’s no allowable evidence, that renders the theist as legless as the empiricist. If the second, the only way to judge what evidence is useful is the bottom up system we’ve developed, called science. No other method has provided useful evidence. So one has to contingently accept this, and move on. That is the scientific position, and it’s at odds with the theist position, hence the claim of incompatibility. Seems clear to me. But perhaps I need to read more philosophy.

      3. There’s an irony here that I didn’t notice before, which is that we know about the Forrest paper precisely because MP cited it as the reason he changed his mind about the NCSE and Genie Scott and compatibilism. We looked it up and read it for that very reason, and were well rewarded. But it says the opposite of what MP says, except for the minor point that methodological naturalism does not logically entail metaphysical naturalism. Forrest’s emphasis is all the other way – that mn is the reasonable view.

        1. I’ll post this note at this point too, since I posted it just above in a similar connexion.

          Since it is the reasonable position, Jerry is right on the button with ‘philosophically inconsistent with…’, whereas, according to Forrest, he would not be right had he said ‘logically inconsistent with…’. So, despite his posturing the Dr. Dr. Dr. is just wrong, philosophically.

        2. Actually, it occurs to me that it was Dr. Dr. Dr. Pigliucci’s responsibility to set Dr. Coyne straight regarding his philosophy, if he thinks that Dr. Coyne is wrong — and he does think this. He certainly shouldn’t respond repeatedly by saying, ‘Keep of the philosophical grass!’ This is a very odd response — from a philosopher. But from a religious believer, perhaps not. Are we sure about Dr. Dr. Dr. Pigliucci’s atheism?

            1. … and to ward of indignant replies: I’m also and perhaps foremost referring to the faith based claims that a) religion is compatible with science (which isn’t a fact methodologically, there are testing for one) and b) that there is no evidence for or against gods (which it isn’t a fact factually, there are likelihoods for one). The later is technically agnosticism, but is often used by accommodationists and is a similar duck.

  11. And anyway, why would a professional philosopher bother demanding that non-professionals keep away from the rationale for dismissing god, or accepting evolution? The arguments are nothing more complex than you would find in the first term of an undergraduate philosophy degree.

    It’s like an optical quantum physicist telling people not to make judgements on whether or not the light-bulb in their lamp has broken.

    1. This is another reason Massimo is being silly: the philosophical arguments to be discussed here are really not that dense,\ or arcane. Philosophy can be dense and difficult–see Parfit’s famous Reasons and Persons–but Massimo is certainly not talking about a particularly complex philosophical issue here. Jerry debating Massimo on this issue is nothing even remotely like me debating Edward Witten on string theory or me debating Kenneth Rogoff on economics. But Massimo would have you believe that it was just like that.

      1. For philosophy the arguments here are very simple.

        They can be surmised with one question. Is is scientific to propose non-materialistic explanations for physical event ?

        That is what it comes downs to. To give an specific example, is it scientific to think Jesus had no biological father ?

  12. This is the problem with philosophy in a nut shell. When someone suggests ideas that are uninformed about speciation, you can point them to evidence. When someone suggests ideas that are uninformed about philosophy, you can point them to…. what, exactly? You can make arguments, but there is nothing conclusive to point to. Arguments can change, and be re-thought, while the evidence for speciation remains solid (parts can be re-interpreted, but the observation itself remains valid). It seems like Doctor Doctor Doctor, lacking the ability to direct Coyne to evidence, instead is trying to argue on the basis of authority. But without facts, its no better a way to convince people than politicians arguing about what form of taxation is best. And frankly, it smacks of laziness that he does not bother to lay out his rebuttal any more clearly than that.

      1. Its amazing how entropy is misunderstood. One of the favorite things I ever learned was that biological molecules are built in a way that seems counter to entropy by tying their construction to more entropically favorable events, like breaking a bond in ATP. In a very real way, entropy is how we are built.

  13. Did Pigliucci demonstrate at any point that Coyne had missed “one of the basics”?

    I didn’t see that bit.

    And while we’re on the subject, could I ask some WEIT commenters to tell me if this is a good summary of the basics of anti-accommodationism?

    In particular, I can’t remember any serious objection which counters the basic argument. But, I also think that I’ve made a novel contribution to the discussion by emphasizing the normative aspect of science presupposed by both accommodationists and Gnu atheists. So, I’d like to be told that what I said was horribly unoriginal as well to break my spirits.

    1. tell me if this is a good summary of the basics of anti-accommodationism?

      I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is any one basics. One can have several reasons for rejecting accommodationism.

      * For me, foremost is that science is fact-based while religion is faith-based. As I noted elsewhere here, the accommodationist claim is faith-based, so basically a religious claim.

      Why faith-based? Because they make either of these claims:

      a) religion is compatible with science (which isn’t a fact methodologically, there are testing for one) and b) that there is no evidence for or against gods (which it isn’t a fact factually, there are likelihoods for one).

      The later is technically agnosticism, but is often used by accommodationists […]

      Backing faith-based reasoning with more faith-based reasoning is compounding any problem with faith vs facts, not resolving them.

      * But I also make the claim that atheism is falsifiable. Whether that is a fact or not, it is a testable claim I make based on actual facts, and so it is an explicit hinder for the accommodationist claims of “compatibility” and “no evidence” both.

      I’m sure there are more such, if one looks for them around the web.

      As for your analysis, no offense I hope, but with the above context it is too much overhead for my personal liking.

      I’m sure it can be correct (so I’m lazy too), albeit the initial argument abstracts away from what actual science is. Another reason I like the hands on arguments here is the fact that science is empirical means they are likely more faithful to the subject. (OK, so technically the facts-vs-faith argument can be said to be about religion. But it is based on the very sharp distinction between facts and faith.)

      One thing I don’t agree with is “presupposed”. _A method doesn’t rely on supposition but on being successful._ Hammering nails doesn’t depend on “supposing a hammer”, or worse, “supposing an ideal hammer”. You can as well use a stone if the particular stone works well enough.

  14. I’m sure you know that the secret philosophical consistency weapon he holds over the head of every atheist and old-creation believer (includes deists) is the extremely shortened version of the Omphalos hypothesis: Last Day-of-the-weekism. I find two problems with it. For one, even if it were true, nothing about reality would change in practice. The other problem is that the Omphalos hypothesis is impossible to corroborate with evidence and so establishes its credibility by its ability to be thought of by philosophers and lesser people, which we know cannot be used to establish credibility for anything else.

    1. He’s used that argument before, saying that scientists can’t say anything about last Thursdayism, but I pointed out that we can – we can ask “where is your evidence that this is true?” Never got a response.

      1. The problem is not just that the world would look the same in Last Thursdayism, but it would also look the same in Matrixism, and in Descartes’ Evil Geniusism, and in Inceptionism, etc. etc. etc. In other words, there is really no theory there, as it can’t be distinguished in principle from other accounts that involve radically different underlying causality.

    2. Yes, I discussed this on the older thread. The short answer is that it doesn’t affect falsification (for the reasons Badger3k and Tulse mentions).

      Of course, Dr Dr Dr reject falsification, so the longer answer is: “… and testing works.”

  15. Although I think Pigliucci’s comment was unnecessarily rude I find myself agreeing with most of his original article. Pigliucci says that he doesn’t believe that “reason = science.” That’s fair enough and, so far as I know, Jerry would agree. So he’s suggesting there’s something in the larger scope of non-scientific reason that might bear on the existence of God or the nature of religion. On that basis, someone can be “philosophically consistent” as a religious scientist because they take their religion to be based on reason but not science. They could, for example, believe that there is a workable a priori proof of the existence of God or that religious language is metaphorical or whatever. Pigliucci’s being coy by not saying what he takes the extra-scientific rational reason for belief to be.

    I think his point is that it’s merely possible to do so though. If there are no legitimate extra-scientific reasons for believing in God then that’s another matter entirely. That wouldn’t be an issue of philosophical consistency. He appeals to the distinction between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. If one is a philosophical naturalist, one does not believe there can be any extra-scientific reasons for accepting the existence of something, but being a practising scientist does not (supposedly) commit you to this view.

    Now, personally I take serious issue with the categorisation of science as “methodological naturalism.” To say science has no philosophical or metaphysical consequences is to attach a rather bizarre philosophy to it. That is, to me, contradictory to our purposes. It’s just not true that science contains some methodological rule that says we have only to explore the “natural world.” Rather, the view of the scientist is like that of the common sense thinker: he takes things to exist just the way he finds them. So, on the naive view, I think the scientist is quite obviously committed to the existence of theoretical entities and equally committed to the non-existence of those things his theories rule out as impossible, just the same way as a common sense thinker is committed to the existence of tables and chairs and to the non-existence of fictions. To claim otherwise is revisionary and you do not need to make any additional arguments regarding the success of science in order to justify the alleged leap from methodological to metaphysical. Methodological constraint is a philosopher’s fiction.

    Thus, the only non-scientific rational argument for religion would be those that either construe religious language as metaphorical or those that undermine the naive view of science (i.e., a revisionary metaphysics or epistemology) and show that scientists are mistaken about their conclusions. What I object to is imposing “methodological naturalism” as a constraint on science. So to a degree I agree with Jerry: to be a religious scientist is philosophically inconsistent on the naive (default) view. But I also think there are two possibilities where one could consistently be a religious scientist because one could undermine the default view or construe religious language as metaphorical. Both of these possibilities are outside the domain of science (they’re philosophical) so, to some degree, I agree with Pigliucci.

    1. Pigliucci’s being coy by not saying what he takes the extra-scientific rational reason for belief to be.

      Of course, whatever this reason is, Pigliucci doesn’t think it’s a good reason. After all, he’s not a believer himself.

  16. Well, I read D3s response as the following:

    “Shit, I’ve been pwned, but I don’t really know how to back out of this mess I’ve found myself in. I better just raise my hackles and dig in, lest I be branded as philosophically inconsistent.”

    It probably should go without saying that, since none of D3s degrees are in theology, then each and every theologian in the room could demand that D3 STFU about things which he has no training — including the entire theme of this little debate.

  17. By his own rationale, Massimo should shut up about religion, since he doesn’t have a PhD in Theology (as of August 2010, at least)

  18. That is such a cheap reply – it ignores all the substantive disagreement, from others as well as Jerry (others including his own co-blogger Julia Galef!), and just repeats the stupid “Get off my grass I iz better than you.”

    I guess he’s a lost cause.

  19. Stephen Hawking predictions highlighted in FoxNews(?)add new flavours to the questions adressed in this blog. “It’s time to abandon Earth, warned the world’s most famous theoretical physicist.In an interview with website Big Think, Stephen Hawking warned that the long-term future of the planet is in outer space. In May Hawking said he believed humans could travel millions of years into the future and repopulate their devastated planet. If spaceships are built that can fly faster than the speed of light, a day on board would be equivalent to a year on Earth. That’s because — according to Einstein — as objects accelerate through space, time slows down around them. Time travel was once considered scientific heresy, and I used to avoid talking about it for fear of being labelled a crank. These days I’m not so cautious.”
    Talk about methodological naturalism.

    1. Yes. But cranky.

      We have good simple reasons to believe ftl and time travel are impossible, for example the continued existence of the algorithmic tower of difficulty. (With time machine computers anything is easy as 1+1 = 2.)

      Or to use Hawking’s solution to SETI: “where are they”? The time travelers, that is.

      1. Or to use Hawking’s solution to SETI: “where are they”? The time travelers, that is.

        They are hiding very carefully to avoid creating paradoxes.

        In fact, if single time-line time travel is possible, the time travelers probably HAVE been here and they’ve been avoiding telling people they’re time travelers, because they know when time travel was discovered (presumably) and it’s not yet.

        If we assume time travel paradoxes are impossible but that time travel is possible, then we’re in a sort of Russell’s teapot scenario where we simply can’t know if time travel is possible because learning it too early would create a paradox (contradicting our assumptions).

  20. This is all part of an accomodationist stance the skeptic community has adopted lately. It is an effort to not offend the religious in the group and (in their minds) make skepticism more inclusive. This is why philosophy ideas like the demarcation problem and the mantra “if it is not testable it can not be examined by science” are very popular on skeptic circles.

    I have tried the approach of asking what do you know exists but can not be tested and the philosophical argument degenerates into color preferences or thought processes. Needless to say this accomodationism is grasping at straws.

    1. “and the philosophical argument degenerates into color preferences or thought processes.”

      The one I always see is “how do I know I love my girlfriend/wife” (it always does take that form, oddly).

      1. PZ gave a wonderful reply to that argument.

        He pointed out that nearly all of us know how. Which is why we know there is a difference between loving someone and stalking them.

  21. Pigluicci would tell the boy who cried “the emperor has no clothes” to shut up because he isn’t a tailor.

  22. Massimo says in a comment on his blog:

    I read all the comments, though of course it would require a book to answer them all properly. Now, there’s an idea…

    Apparently, the only alternative he could see, and which seemed much more appealing, was: do not reply to them at all. And he has the gall to talk about intellectual honesty.

    1. Ha! False dichotomy.

      Many comments. Can’t answer properly under book length. Ergo, won’t answer at all. Will simply smirk knowingly and leave it at that.

      Rationally speaking?!?

      1. I believe the technical term for this is ‘pulling a Mooney’. Except Pigliucci hasn’t even written the book to point to yet.

        1. I think Mooney borrowed the “Buy My Book” strategy from Densey O’leary and/or Dr Dr D. Although, to be fair, I’m not sure they use it the same way – i.e. to deflect questions – I try to read them as little as possible to preserve my brain.

  23. What was this saying again .. something about being in a hole, and something about digging?

  24. Two things:

    If the Pigliuccian ill-logic is applied to Darwin’s work, it would have to be thrashed. For despite his years of toil, Darwin could claim expert knowledge only on Barnaclaes, Pigeons and orchids. The rest of the pieces of the puzzle, he gathered from correspondence and/or what he learned from his personal observation during the voyage of the Beagle. Sometimes a ‘think-outside-the-box’ outsiders view is necessary to forward science. How else do you explain all the physicists and mathematicians flooding biology.

    Second, isn’t one of the perks of being a skeptic or a rational thinker, also being open to new suggestions and constructive arguments. Anybody with aspirations of having influence over people should first learn to engage the audience, even when criticized, not ask them to shove it. The STFU type responses just stink of hypocrisy – no philosophy lessons needed to figure that out. Play in the spirit of the game, Massimo.

    1. Physicists and mathematicians flood biology because they feel they’re automatically equipped to hold forth on biological topics. As a result of this, we get such great items as quantum microtubules (Penrose), bacteria born in space (Hoyle) and the Rosetta algorithm for folding proteins, which is several orders of magnitude dumber than a ribosome.

      1. Sometimes we need an invasion to know that our weapons are outdated. Math & Phys guys have periodically injected some quantitative stuff into Bio, in many cases with benefit. Yeah, quantum microtubules is really out there, but I have to say, I found Holye quite entertaining to read. Holye and Wickramasinghe – boy I wonder what they were on.

      2. To be fair, you also got Max Tegmark trashing the microtubules or quantum biology woo in general on account of decoherence.

        [No, his calculation doesn’t apply to singular molecules like chlorophyll. Which makes the new observations of quantum functions in photosynthesis so interesting.]

  25. Hey all, tomorrow (Tuesday) evening Massimo and I are going to tape the next episode of our podcast, and the topic will be, roughly:

    “When is it appropriate to defer to the opinion of an expert, and what kind of expertise is necessary to qualify someone to speak about a topic?”

    Since this and the earlier thread on WEIT have focused greatly on this question, I wanted to invite you to leave some comments/questions on our Podcast Teaser so we can incorporate them into our episode taping tomorrow night: http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/08/podcast-teaser-deferring-to-experts.html

    1. I’m having trouble posting on your site, Julia.

      I tried to post this:

      If there is no evidence and could never be any evidence, then how could someone come to know about some unevidenced something –and could that way of knowing be scientifically consistent?

      How is the supernatural different than magic?

      Is Massimo’s position the following: “so long the “magic” is unfalsifiable and the “magic” is logically consistent, then it’s ‘philosophically consistent’ with science?”

      What philosophy consistent with science allows someone to believe that some “magic” is part of reality (true), while discarding the majority of such claims as fanciful?

      If Jerry had said that the religious scientist is “methodologically inconsistent” would Massimo agree? What if he just said the religious scientist is being inconsistent without any modifiers?

      Are Scientology “Thetans” scientifically consistent? How about engrams? Reincarnation? Zeus? Wormhole visitors? Channeling the dead? Demon possession? The belief that people “create their own reality” via their thoughts? Is belief in fairies as “philosophically consistent” as belief in souls? Is a young earth with Satan planting fossils and other evidence philosophically consistent with science? Is belief in hell?

      1. Dr Dr Dr doesn’t seem to like being accused of postmodernism, seeing his comment on return.

        Maybe you (articulett) should ask him if that is “scientifically consistent” or ““philosophically consistent””?

    1. I’m not sure why she uses the example of a deist who believes in a non intervening first cause God – that has never been the point of the science-religion incompatibility argument. Why not simply use a typical theistic God who occasionally causes miracles to occur (bringing people back from a 3 day case of rigor mortis or virgin birth)? Surely a God who frequently defies the laws of thermodynamics here on Earth is a better case study?

      1. Sigmund, actually, that occurred to me after I posted.

        But there are (at least) two separate issues here.
        (1) Is it inconsistent with a scientific worldview to believe in an untestable entity, like a non-intervening god?

        (2) Is it inconsistent with the scientific worldview to believe in an intervening god, and to use principles like Last Thursdaysm to explain away the contradiction with science?

        I’ve been unclear on exactly what position Massimo’s taking, so I wanted to start with #1. But I might soon follow up and ask about #2 also.

          1. Artikat, please stop with this kind of post or you’re outa here. Julia is not unclear at all; she’s making good points and deserves answers.

        1. I might be misunderstanding Pigliucci, but I’d guess he’d answer something like:

          A: Inconsistent? It has nothing to do with a scientific worldview one way or the other, any more than having toast with marmelade vs. butter is consistent vs. inconsistent with listening to Bach.

        2. In my reading of Dawkins, Coyne and others, the point is made that there is no case *for* a deity, but no case against such a non-intervening entity either, so there is no inconsistency. However, there is a good case against the immanent, intervening, caring, punishing,…etc god of religious belief, and thus an inconsistency with scientific methodology.

          1. But how could someone come to know about such a deity when science cannot know about such a deity (that is, there is no measurable evidence)? There isn’t even evidence that consciousness of any sort can exist absent a brain and there’s lots of evidence that people are prone to making up such entities.

            1. We believe lots of things that cannot be proved scientifically. I believe that I am not a brain in a vat, and that other humans have the same consciousness that I do, but there is no scientific way of proving it.

              The point is about consistency and inconsistency. No one is saying that a deity is a scientific hypothesis, only that there is no inconsistency.

            2. I’d say you don’t believe you are a brain in a vat… but what philosophy allows someone to disregard the hypothesis that we are a brain in a vat while believing a competing claim with as much scientific evidence going for it as the “brain in a vat” hypothesis?

              I guess a kind of post modernism idea where you “create your own reality” or the notion that truth can be felt or that it “resonates” with someone… could be such a philosophy–

              So Massimo’s definition of “philosophically consistent with science” is that a claim can’t be logically contradictory and it must be unfalsifiable if it involves the supernatural–

              So this makes “the brain in a vat” hypothesis as “compatible” with science as deism?

            3. I would say that if scientist does believe that he is a brain in a vat, then he is hopelessly insane but not philosophically inconsistent. 😉

  26. I’m merely an engineer so can someone tell me how many Phd’s are required to identify a pompous ass?

    1. On the evidence it looks likely that 3 is sufficiently delimiting.

      [This can be made into a great engineer story.

      Disclaimer: I’m both an EE and PhD in electronics/microelectronics material processing, so I can do this sort of transiting story fine: tell Dr Dr Dr.

      (With those qualifications, statistics tells me I can also do a great Crackpot one day, if not yet.)

      Oh. The story:

      1 PhD: Has an ass.
      2 PhD: Has a pious ass.
      3 PhD: Has a pompious ass.]

  27. I tried to comment but they have that stupid login policy that I always screw up (I can’t remember which one I have, what the passwords are, and it takes too long to go to another website to verify then back to sign in.) If they want me to go through that to comment, then why bother?

    Anyway, the discussion there is interesting. Gets into some serious Quantum Woo. Massimo’s response on natural vs supernatural doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Anybody figure out if it is anything more than waffling?

    1. He was upset because I called him a PoMo. But all that chit chat about quantum shit in his blog, including his own comments, is borderline postmodernist gibberish.

  28. I’m sympathetic to Pigliucci — I always enjoy what he writes, and I think he’s a smart and likeable guy. He falls into the same trap, though, that most really smart philosophers ultimately do — he thinks so intensely and so deeply about one topic that he’s able to split hairs that no one else sees. Now, there might be some hypothetical situation in which it’s advantageous to be able to ever-microscopically split the ends of your hairs, eventually creating beautiful fractal-like hydra sub-sub-sub-splits. But for most of us on the way to to the barber, it’s moot because it’s all going to get chopped off in about 15 minutes.

    Jerry’s point is close enough to correct to work on a day-to-day basis. Pigliucci is totally correct that it’s not philosophically complete — but the only appropriate answer to that is, “Yes, but so what?”

    1. Good point. I get the feeling that Massimo is dealing exclusively with a removed, deistic god even though it seems pretty clear from context that Jerry (not to mention Francis Collins and other Christians) are talking about an active, interventionist god such as that of Christianity.

      1. If I grokked his gist, he’s saying that the interventionist God’s interventions are statistically indistinguishable from random chance — since almost no one claims to worship a God who is subject to natural laws and therefore subject to prediction.

        1. … and he follows up by agreeing with Jerry, in saying, “and if God’s hand is indistinguishable from chance, then God is totally irrelevant to scientific explanations.” It’s just that he doesn’t equate “irrelevent” with “incompatible” — like I said, splitting hairs.

          1. Yeah, and he says that, because the faithful will reject scientific conclusions using Last Thursdayism their beliefs are not inconsistent with science. How can you argue with that?

          2. “It’s just that he doesn’t equate “irrelevent” with “incompatible” — like I said, splitting hairs.”

            I think that this is more than a small gap. But, one can cross it by noting that the basic idea is the selective acceptance and rejection of non-evidential chances. The inconsistency with science/rational inquiry generally arises in the selective nature of this acceptance, especially whenever one claims that any other irrational claim can be criticized on those grounds.

          3. It’s just that he doesn’t equate “irrelevent” with “incompatible” — like I said, splitting hairs.

            All that would be avoided if Dr Dr Dr actually looked at science methodology – statistical certainty makes “irrelevancies” “incompatible” – specifically by way of testing, but more generally as proven/tested/verified “beyond reasonable doubt”. Last thursdayisms goes right out the window.

            This is germane to the subject. How could he have missed it?

            [Half joking, it is routinely dismissed by quasi-inductionist philosophers and theologians. But Dr Dr Dr has put himself on that pedestal.]

            1. “All that would be avoided if Dr Dr Dr actually looked at science methodology…”
              As we all agree — but remember that Pigliucci’s stance is that science and philosophy are both rational inquiry methods, but that they overlap only, and are not synonymous — which leaves him open to pick bits of the scientific process that contradict his thought experiment (like the one you point out) and throw them away or ignore them.

        2. Which makes quantum mechanics supernatural. Woot!

          Problem is that while random chance may not be predictable individually, it can be described statistically.

  29. Apart from anything else, the debate that MP’s post has spawned surely shows that philosophical naivete isn’t a charge that sticks to Jerry’s words, since a number of *philosophers* have expressed some agreement with them.

    His charge stems from a keen urge to observe a limit to science’s remit, I think. See this comment:

    “When you say “the idea of believing in things for which there could never be evidence violates some fundamental principles of reason” I completely agree. But science does not equal reason, the latter is a much ampler notion and to equate the two is to engage in scientism.”

    So I guess his point is that a *scientist* need not be reasonable too. I confess I would always include reason in a definition of scientific methodology, but he wants to keep it for philosophy, I suppose. It’s just an argument over the boundary line between two gardens.

    1. Ah – I just made a related point there, in reply to his latest comment, saying he doesn’t know what Jerry means by “philosophically incompatible” and neither does Julia. I offered my understanding of what he means (which I think is pretty self-evident):

      That it is irrational to believe things that are irrational and that that is inconsistent with the scientific way of thinking. That’s what I’ve always understood him to mean.

      Somebody tell me if that’s all wrong.

        1. Comments aren’t showing up because what you said is right. If you want comments–say something stupid. I have.

        2. Blogger (blogspot.com) is currently having commenting hiccups that are affecting various blogs, making some new comments disappear. Maybe the same glitch has hit Rationally Speaking.

    2. But science does not equal reason, the latter is a much ampler notion and to equate the two is to engage in scientism.

      I think that is a naive description of scientism. The religious use seems to be that “there are more ways of knowing”, it doesn’t say anything about rational knowing.

      The religious use is a fact, we have at least both science and learning. What they then imply is that we shouldn’t claim that science is the more powerful (successful). But that is another fact.

      For all practical purposes, scientism is a mere fact.

  30. For the benefit of the possibly larger crowd here, and since Massimo is reading this blog anyway, I’ll post this here rather than at the other place.

    One thing before we start: Massimo does not insist that critics have academic credentials; he does insist that they “engage the literature of the field(s) that they wish to comment upon”. So, although the jibes at his multiple PhDs are quite funny (I particularly like MP3 ;>), they are a bit beside the point.

    As far as the literature is concerned then, let me simply say that Massimo “literally does not know what he is talking about”. Neither about Dawkins, nor, rather more damningly, about Popper, his view of whom is in fact “philosophically very naive”.

    First, Massimo’s ill-conceived idea about the “god hypothesis”:

    gods are not hypotheses, to paraphrase Dawkins’ famous book title

    Now, I have no idea what this “paraphrase” is about. (One rather suspects something akin to a pun, or the other thing, which read the same backwards as forwards). But apparently Massimo thinks that Dawkins is attacking any and all conceptions that people might have of ‘god(s)’:

    Conceptions of gods are infinitely more flexible … and they are thus simply not falsifiable.

    Now, even Wikipedia could have told him that Dawkins included a reasonably specific definition of his “god hypothesis” on p. 13 of TGD. To not even quote this and make readers aware of the fact that Dawkins is not as naive as Massimo paints him suggests that perhaps Massimo himself wasn’t so aware.

    But this—and I hope believers in engaging with the literature will appreciate the aptness of the term—schoolboy howler is small beer compared with the actual philosophy of science stuff, which Massimo is supposed to know something about. In reality, not so much.

    Starting off with a little condescension is always a popular move, so he prefaces his remarks about Popper’s most famous idea by saying that “scientists often dig up falsificationism from their limited inventory of philosophical knowledge”. But the the professionals apparently “have moved well beyond falsificationism”, in support of which Massimo produces the idea of underdetermination. This basically says that we cannot judge a scientific theory on the basis of the available evidence; a different theory could be just as consistent with the evidence. The page Massimo quotes gives a helpful example:

    if I all I know is that you spent $10 on apples and oranges and that apples cost $1 while oranges cost $2, then I know that you did not buy six oranges, but I do not know whether you bought one orange and eight apples, two oranges and six apples, and so on.

    This shows a basic asymmetry in the nature of evidence: a certain theory may not be proved beyond doubt, but it may be falsified beyond doubt. Incidentally, this insight was what prompted Popper to come up with falsificationism in the first place. And although Duhem and Quine go to considerable, and I think futile, rhetorical lengths to show that science is less rational than many make it out to be, there is actually next to nothing there that Popper hadn’t already addressed in his 1953 lecture on falsificationism.

    And it is especially ironic to quote underdetermination, with its heavy focus on ‘justification’, against Popper, who wrote in The Myth of the Framework (p. 159, emphasis in the original):

    It is important to note what scientific criticism does not try to show. It does not try to show that the theory in question has not been proved or demonstrated. Similarly, it does not try to show that the theory in question has not been established or justified—because no theory can be established or justified. Incidentally, it does not try to show that the theory in question has a high probability (in the sense of the probability calculus)—because no theory has a high probability (in the sense of the probability calculus).

    After all this, it comes as not much of a surprise that Massimo says about the ‘god hypothesis’ that it “elevates religious belief to treat it as science”. Popper’s demarcation criterion, though, is specifically about scientific theories, not science as such. (Cf. ‘schoolboy howler’)

    So, in one respect Massimo is absolutely right: one should indeed try to engage the literature and the relevant ideas. If only he could walk the walk and not just talk the supercilious talk.

    1. if I all I know is that you spent $10 on apples and oranges and that apples cost $1 while oranges cost $2, then I know that you did not buy six oranges, but I do not know whether you bought one orange and eight apples, two oranges and six apples, and so on.

      …but I have a strong personal personal conviction that there were 10 apples purchased, for this homogeneity of fruit choice and maximization of fruit number is ideal. It echoes through our culture with such power and attracts such devotion that one would be loathe to criticize it, and criticize it, one should loathe to be. Breaking in my thoughts and elevating my senses, I feel the truth of decappleism reverberate throughout my essence, pitched forks ringing chorus in my soul. It binds my friends and family together. It brings the dying peace. So…

      How dare you say that my conviction is unreasonable based on science! My conviction is outside of science! I am tired of fundamentalist new atheist extremist marginals marginalizing my beliefs.

      You hate poetry!!!

      – Accommodationist on the limits of knowledge and the harmonious compatibility of science and faith.

      (Fun aside, one is missing a big piece of the puzzle if “science is not definitive concerning X” can be taken to be “believing X or `not X’ is consistent with science,” not when science is supposed to have objective/normative value.)

      And isn’t Pigliucci referring to Victor Stenger’s The God Hypothesis here, perhaps?

    2. When religion makes claims about reality– objective reality… then they stepping into the science “magisteria” so-to-speak and the claim should be treated the same as a scientist would treat any other scientific hypothesis or pseudoscience. If it’s purported to be real, it’s part of the scientific “magisteria”, right?– And, so, science can weigh in on the subject.

      If you can’t measure it or test it or find evidence to support its existence, then it’s not compatible with science per many scientists–it’s more compatible with the imaginary or mythological. It, is, however, compatible with science to Massimo just so long as there is no contradiction and nothing that can be falsified –It’s an extra that is “outside” the scientific purview.

      So I’m presuming that the belief that we are “brains in vats” hypothesis is compatible with a “philosophically consistent” scientist to Massimo just like a gods who don’t want to be detected are… as are deistic gods; whereas, most scientists and many philosophers would conclude that the “brain in a vat” is not a scientifically consistent hypothesis because it presumes that someone could have knowledge about something that has nothing empirical that one can know about it. So what could they “know” via what means?

      I also want to know is why the accommodationists think we should treat the unfalsifiable god concept differently than we’d treat an unfalsifiable “brain in a vat” hypothesis? Or should we? Do they? Is there a rational reason beyond the fact that some people think we have to be careful not to alienate believers? And where do you draw the line given the fact that it’s rather easy to make any woo or notion of “magic” unfalsifiable. Does Massimo really think that all logically consistent, unfalsifiable claims are “philosophically consistent” with science? Or is he making an exception for god(s)? And if he’s not making an exception, then isn’t it just a matter of philosophical semantics regarding the what “philosophically consistent” means? That is, there is no agreement on meaning– even amongst doctors of philosophy?

      I can’t prove rain dances never cause rain… and it’s logically possible that rain dances COULD affect rain even though we don’t have a mechanism for such believing that they can and we do have information as to why humans might confuse correlation with causation. Doesn’t that mean the belief in rain dancing is “philosophically compatible” with science per Massimo’s definition? Do religious people understand that THIS is what he means when he’s saying “philosphically compatible” with science”?

    3. gods are not hypotheses, to paraphrase Dawkins’ famous book title Wasn’t it Victor Stenger who wrote a book called ‘The God Hypothesis’? Not Dawkins?

  31. Now boys, play nicely!

    This is all part of the determinism-indeterminism struggle. The two sides have opposing assumptions (see “The Ten Assumptions of Science”). On the scientific side, we insist that there be no contradictions in our work. On the religious side, contradiction is the name of the game. Massimo Pigliucci’s knowledge of the finer points of philosophy is merely more of the same.

    Glenn Borchardt

  32. As always the atelic/teleonomic argument comes to mind. Why one supernaturalist understands that teleonomic causes guide evolution, so he pontificates that that is only apparently so, because God so loves us that he deceives us! This is the new Omphalos argument that is as stupid as the old one!
    Faith doth that to people!
    Errantists make me laught!

  33. Artculett, amen and indeed!
    I use Pigliucci’s points about knowledge in his book against creationism as against evlutionary creationism or creationist evolution’
    Creationism = theism .
    Theologians are comedians!
    Carneades Thales Strato of Ga.@ Atheist Bloggers
    Ah, retirement lets me blog away at my many blogs!
    aka Skeptic Griggsy [ Google that!]
    Skeptic @ wordpress.com
    rationalist ditto
    Strato of Ga. ditto
    Ignosticmorgan’s blog ditto

  34. Science can disprove resurrections, miracles, religious experiences, seeing the pareidolia of agency and design when there are only teleonomy and patterns, prayer, God-caused Big Bang. God is unemployed, a useless redundancy Alister Earl McGrath notwithstanding! Advanced theology is no better than any other, just dressed in finery! And theologians are no more better than paranormalists, even dressed in in the finery of modal logic and so forth!.

  35. He “met you exactly once” and calls you “My Dear Jerry”. What does this condescension mean other than he really doesn’t like you, whether it is considered hate or not?

  36. I think in a general sense, Massimo’s point is a valid one. But it’s hard to think of any theist who makes claims that don’t in some sense contradict what is known by science. The only way to avoid this is to make a God of the gaps, where it becomes a philosophical issue in the sense that it is beyond the epistemic limits of inquiry.

    1. But even a deist god or god-of-the-gaps is iffy because it involves an invisible undetectable, conscious being– Someone that “thinks” and “feels love” but has no material brain– in fact, no material parts at all! (So one has to wonder what is meant to say we are created in his image.)

      I mean, I wouldn’t really bring this up with a believer, because I know it makes them defensive– but I don’t think consciousness without a brain is a notion consistent with science.

      Sure we can’t prove that no such entities exist, but we can point out that, despite eons of belief and a vested interest in the subject, there is not an iota of evidence that such beings even can exist and there is certainly no way to tell a real such being from a mythological one.

      To me, it seems a scientist would reject all such beings whether people called them gremilins or gods and not carve out specious reasoning to believe in some… if that scientist was “philosophically consistent”, that is.

      Most gods that scientists believe in appear to be supported by arguments from incredulity and I don’t see how a scientists believing in them is more “philosophically consistent” than a scientist believing in demons.

      Is Massimo really going to argue that belief in demons is “philosophically consistent” with science? Or is he carving out a special place for god belief?

      1. From what I can gather of Massimo’s position, his argument is that such questions are currently beyond the epistemic realms of science. It’s not that they might be one day scientific questions, but as they stand now science cannot rule on them one way or another. They are philosophical problems until such time as science has the capacity to evaluate such questions. And on that I can respect his position. It’s not appeasing, it’s not nonsense, it’s just a recognition that some claims are beyond what science can rule on.

        It doesn’t mean there aren’t logical and conceptual problems with the assertions, but that’s what philosophy is for. Consider David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion where he savages the argument from design. While evolutionary theory can explain the diversity of life, it doesn’t disprove that a designer was involved. Meanwhile Hume’s philosophical objections make the inference of design completely untenable.

        I do have some objections to Massimo’s position, however. I find that the claims that almost all theists give are claims that are in some way scientific claims. An interventionist deity by necessity is (unless you make the deity so diffuse that you hide it in quantum probabilities), and because of that one can look at the notion of compatibility from the perspective that eventually a theist has to explain how God is compatible with methodological naturalism. It’s not just a philosophical issue.

        Furthermore, I think this whole debate would go away if someone could actually show a theistic entity as being compatible with science and still being a conception of God that appeals to most theists. The best we get is “they aren’t necessarily incompatible” and that’s not good enough.

    2. The only way to avoid this is to make a God of the gaps, where it becomes a philosophical issue in the sense that it is beyond the epistemic limits of inquiry.

      I disagree, in ways that I described in the previous thread in answer to CW. Gods of gaps can’t prevent a falsifiable atheism, for the same reason that fairies can’t prevent a falsifiable quantum mechanics.

      It is precisely when you try to make not gods of gaps, but empirical inquiry to philosophic inquiry you get problems. But that is because generally philosophy can’t tell facts from fantasy.

      Science, however, can. Don’t blame it for success. 😀

      1. Not blaming science for its success, just trying to point out that there are questions that aren’t scientific in nature because they are either too vague or beyond the epistemic limits of empirical inquiry so as not to be falsifiable through scientific means. Yet this does not mean “free pass”, the tools of critical thinking and rational inquiry still are used to analyse claims.

        To say it’s blaming science for its success is arguing a straw-man. From what I gather of Massimo’s position, he’s recognising the epistemic limits of scientific inquiry.

        1. Yes, there are questions that are beyond empirical inquiry. (Eg. “do I love this or that”?) That doesn’t engage whaqt I commented on. Atheism specifically is falsifiable, because it is a theory predicting facts.

          As for me making a strawman out of Pigliucci’s strawman, I don’t think so. Part of what Pigliucci is about is positing an empiric question as a philosophic, whether he is aware of it or not.

          The problem is that he claims that then the _empiricist_ should back off, on grounds where he has either misunderstood or dismissed how science works. [Statistical certainty makes “irrelevancies” “incompatible”! And this is moreover germane to testing and science.]

          One possibility is that Pigliucci is concerned about that this takes away gods-of-the-gaps arguments from theology and philosophy both.

          … but I was mostly joking at that point. The manner of Pigliucci’s argument does that to a serious argument.

          1. Yes, there are questions that are beyond empirical inquiry. (Eg. “do I love this or that”?)

            I disagree. The only interesting part of that question is WHY you “love” this or that, and that is an eminently explorable question, scientifically.

            I’m quite tired of seeing that posted as an argument for the limitations of the scientific method. Can’t philosophy wonks come up with a better example?

          2. Falsifiable ≠ empirical inquiry. And what Massimo would say (from what I gather of his position) is that atheism itself is a philosophical position. So even if atheism is falsifiable, it doesn’t make it a scientific position.

            The problem is that he claims that then the _empiricist_ should back off, on grounds where he has either misunderstood or dismissed how science works.

            Empiricism is a philosophical position and that (from what I can gather) is his point. Underneath what science is lies philosophy, and science as a discipline isn’t all-encompassing. The methodologies while incredibly powerful don’t take away the underlying philosophical considerations that need to be addressed.

  37. Maybe someone has already posted this in a previous iteration of this thread, but I think Haldane anticipated your view, Jerry:

    “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”

    Although he avoided any mention of “philosophy” and thus, perhaps, the attention and opprobrium of philosophers.

    Or does Pigliucci have a different definition of intellectual honesty as well?

    1. Yes, exactly. I should have realized that a) scientists in general avoid philosophy b) scientists in general are atheist means:

      This is already said several times over, and no one have been upset by those New Scientists at the time.

  38. Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Gnu Accommodationist knows philosophy can’t tell facts from fantasy.

    But he likes to say “de-moo-rcation”.”

    1. [Great! Wrong thread. The intended post in the follow-up thread:]

      Gnu Atheist sez:

      “Gnu Accommodationist knows philosophy can’t tell facts from fantasy.

      But he likes to say “de-moo-rcation”.”

      Gnu Athiest addz:

      “Gnu Accommodationist also likes to say “h-moo-work”.”

  39. As comments top 200, there’s an interesting summary:

    GoogleGhost said…

    Dear Massimo,

    A quick one…

    You said: “If you are aware of a metaphysical cult of homeopathy, then that’s religion, and science’s got nothing to say about it.”

    I understand this as meaning “if someone makes false scientific claims then scientists can bring evidence to bear to show it’s nonsense but if some makes identical claims and adds a few phrases about supernatural magic then the same scientific evidence becomes irrelevant”. I suspect you can’t mean that – please can you help me to understand?

    Massimo Pigliucci said…

    Actually, that’s pretty close to what I mean. In the first case there is a hypothesis: smaller and smaller concentrations of substance X help cure disease Y because of theoretical structure Z.

    In the second case the claim is still that X cures Y, but Z has disappeared. That’s why one can reject specific young creationist claims but not the “theory,” for the simple reason that there is no such thing as a theory of supernatural explanation.

    So, water which has magical memory because of distillation and memory: a claim which can be tested scientifically and dismissed.

    Water which has a magical memory because of priest’s blessing in god’s name: a claim which can’t be tested and is untouchable by science.

    Homeopathy is bunk while holy water isn’t.

    Now that everything is cleared up, don’t you feel embarrassed by your naiveté and pretentiousness?

    1. Ye gods. Had not seen that, thanks. It confirms what I had dimly suspected but did not want to believe. If that is really his argument – and I use that word in the loosest possible meaning -, it is basically just giving the religious apologist a get out of jail free card that you arbitrarily do not give the secular quack or crank. In one word: inconsistency!

      If he is unable to see the problem with that arbitrary privilege, no further discussion is possible.

    2. Well, he should be embarrassed, and again because he hasn’t engaged with the relevant literature, also again by Popper, whom Massimo himself has brought into the discussion. The above-mentioned problem (‘just call it a miracle and science has to back off’) has been part of the accommodationism debate for some time, famously because of Genie Scott’s insistence that, “The basic idea of whether the supernatural exists or not is not something science can measure.” Back then, Jerry called that “dissembling”.

      I thought it was philosophically illiterate. But it also touches upon a technical term that Massimo (mis)uses, ‘intellectual honesty’, which, incidentally, is a term that Popper is famous for advancing. The relevant paragraph from last year’s comment:

      The only avenue open to one who would propose the existence of a god then is to say that it is completely out of this world. In Richard Dawkins’s phrase, this “epistomological safe zone” is supposed to shield that god from the prying inquisitions of science. Genie says, “Now you’ve stepped outside of science. Science can’t say that’s wrong.” Actually, what you’ve done is you have stepped outside of rational discourse, eschewing even the theoretical possibility of being wrong. Statements, however, that cannot even be wrong are not just deeply unphilosophical. In the words of the most influential philosophers of science of the last century, Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, such statements are intellectually dishonest.

      But, as this thread and others like it have shown, it is not only embarrassing to Massimo himself, it is an embarrassment to all of us working in philosophy, and especially the philosophy of science. This kind of self-aggrandizing intellectual masturbation gives everybody else in our field a really bad name.

    3. That’s why one can reject specific young creationist claims but not the “theory,”

      He SHOULD have gone on to say that such things, while entirely unrejectable (like unicorns or the FSM), are nonethless ignorable as entirely ridiculous.

      the reason he won’t do that is he’s either insane, or merely trying to attract attention to himself.

      I went with the latter contention after his initial publication, and I’m sticking to that.

      for now.

  40. In addition to what I said on Dr Dr Dr Pigliucci’s mistaken claims on science on the old thread, there have surfaced more of his direct problems with keeping cognizant of it:

    * Pigliucci likely mistakes Dawkins for Stenger: “… gods are not hypotheses, to paraphrase Dawkins’ famous book title.” (Thanks Zach Voch and others.)

    * Pigliucci likely is a crypto-inductionist, as he comments on his blog, on “historical sciences” no less: “As for the BB, theories concerning it still require the continuity of the laws of nature.”

    First, standard cosmology is not an “historical science” anymore than optics are. The difference in time scale between a space-time event inside the process and its observation doesn’t affect that the process happens as we discuss.

    The “historical sciences” argument is of course a creationist strawman. But let us continue a while.

    Second, here is the explicit a priori – a posteriori mistake of creationists, the strawman supported by crypto-inductionism through history. Science, who never assumes naively but tests it assumptions along with other predictions, doesn’t require continuity. But standard cosmology results in it, and coincidentally shows why it is a good basis for theory.

    In fact, as we discuss people are testing (actually falsifying AFAIU) an alternative cosmology which is based on precisely asymmetry writ large, a failure of continuity of mass distribution leaving a putative void centered on us. (Fancy that.)

    Again Massimo has to climb down from that pedestal before he falls down. Rather, this is a good example of why falsification is a successful program, as continuity makes the simpler theory which was tested first.

    Finally, on the old thread alongside the mistaken claims I discussed how science was safe from philosophical claims on it. It behooves me to wrap up why math is similarly safeguarded:

    Logic and mathematics are additional obvious examples: mathematical theorems are neither discovered nor proved by using scientific methods at all. Unless one wishes to conclude that math is not a rational enterprise,

    – Mathematical theorems are proved by using heuristically developed methods. Without going into the large evidence-less discussion whether platonist mathematians are correct or not, one can simply note that there are mathematicians that predicts that both some proofs, especially in or with computer science, and proof methods are more or less empirical. (Chaitin, for example.)

    – Mathematical theorems can, as theories in science, be discovered by many curious means that does not bear on the later proof respectively test method.

    So like science, there isn’t much left that philosophy can sky-hook onto. Math works independently of philosophy, and it can be theorized how it works independent of philosophy.

    I will finish with an irresistible quote on religion that I stumbled on while researching for these threads:

    Physics isn’t a religion. If it were, we’d have a much easier time raising money. ~Leon Lederman

  41. “(In private correspondence with me he recently even said that PZ’s intemperance against Michael De Dora was perfectly justified, apparently gratuitous insult is part of his acceptable toolbox.)”

    WOW!He really,really dont like you. He is now resorting to what we call a snitch,Tattle-tale,stooly,dimer.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up. I have posted the following comment on his website; we’ll see if it makes it through moderation.

      “As for Coyne’s tone, go back and read what he has been writing for a couple of years now, and you’ll see what I mean. (In private correspondence with me he recently even said that PZ’s intemperance against Michael De Dora was perfectly justified, apparently gratuitous insult is part of his acceptable toolbox.)”

      Good God, Massimo, you are stooping so low as to publicize private correspondence between us to prove that I’m intemperate? Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?

      I never have and never will publicize private emails on my website without permission of the sender. And you shouldn’t either, even as part of your jihad against me. You’re piling indiscretion on top of arrogance.

      And yes, I thought P.Z.’s comments on De Dora’s execrable piece were appropriate.


  42. Philosophers often get hung up on what we can “know,” which unsurprisingly is very little, and ignore the more pragmatic question of “what do have good reasons to believe?”

  43. This is so hilarious, and it fits both the science (Pigliucci) and math (Giberson) thread:

    Conservapedia: E=mc^2 is a liberal conspiracy that doesn’t square with the christian texts. [HT: Pharyngula.]

    Seems Andy Schlafly insist on that science and math are incompatible respectively non-religiously inspiring in one fell swoop.

    [Pigluicci: But Schlafly is No True Christianman. Hence compatibility.
    Giberson: But Schlafly is No True Christianman. Hence religious impulse.]

  44. Articulett, yes, after eons theologians just make woo and never will establish that existence of Sky Pappy or the Ground of Being, it’s no argument from ignorance but here, as Articulett hints, lack of evidence is indeed absence of evidence is evidence of absence in accordance with Charles’s Moore’s autoepistemic rule.
    What are psychological arguments we can use to help the woo lovers to overcome this superstition?

  45. Can someone please provide a link to the piece by De Dora that Prof. Coyne mentions, and if possible, to PZ’s comments on it? Thanks heaps

    1. I think it’s this one: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/04/witless_wanker_peddles_pablum.php

      And, note, that De Dora “started it” just like Pigluicci did here.

      Like Mooney, these guys build themselves up by criticizing their colleagues and then they get miffed when a criticized in return.

      I agree with PZ on this one. One of the great things about science is that it allows everyone to know things that people in the past could not have known. It’s been humanity’s guiding light out of our superstitious past and into a world of wonders and technology that past generations would find miraculous.

  46. It seems that Massimo Pigliucci has left evolutionary biology to take up a post as a philosopher. Perhaps we’ll a get less sefconscious Extended Evolutionary Synthesis now, if evolutionary biology is left to take its own course unaided.

  47. on the original response:

    he argued that I was philosophically naive, unqualified to comment about such matters without extensive philosophical training and, presumably, the relevant Ph.D.

    Yup, Matti (#7) hit on the exact thing I was thinking of when I read that response.

  48. Lamberth’s atelic argument against all arguments with intent, is that the weight of evidence reveals no teleology- planned outcomes but teleonomy- no planned outcomes- so that the God-hypothesis contradicts teleonomy, resulting in the Omphalos-last Thursdayism stupidity! No Primary Cause-intent, no Grand Miracle Monger, no Grand Historical Actor-intent[ Saving Jewry? the Holocaust].
    And not only is He and thus creation evolution and evolutionary creationism incompatible with science from the side of science, but also violates the Ockham. A double whammy,folks!
    From the side of religion, anything is compatible with it!
    Those scientists accept the fact that evidence requires itself in science but are inconsistent in being superstitious- not applying reason and evidence!
    We ignostics find the God-hypothesis facrualy meaningless whilst semantically meaningful like dear old Santa or Lrod Russell’s celestial tea pot!
    Theology can be wrapped in finery, but it is still woo!

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