Robert Wright: Coyne Has "Misrepresented My Argument"

By Chris Mooney | August 17, 2009 8:29 am

This sounds familiar:

Here is a partial list of false or misleading things Jerry Coyne says about my book The Evolution of God in his review of it in The New Republic. I want to emphasize that I think these are innocent mistakes. I have no reason to believe he intentionally misrepresented my argument. Indeed, his errors are of a kind that most of us have committed under deadline pressure or under the influence of deep intellectual passions. Nonetheless, his misrepresentations are collectively significant, because together they form the foundation of most of his criticism of my book. Once you correct them, his critique basically collapses. If Coyne wants to write a devastating review of my book—and there can be little doubt that he wants to—he’s going to have to start over.

We encourage you to read Wright’s full description of how Coyne has gotten him wrong–and then compare with our own documentation of how Coyne has “strongly misstated our views” in his first (online) review of Unscientific America.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Unscientific America

Comments (176)

  1. 1. Are we really surprised that authors of reviews are quote minning to support their points?

    2. Are we really surprised that Prof. Coyne reviews a book that agrees with him in many ways through a lens that says that no one agrees with him, and must therefore be combatted?

    3. Are we really surprised that readers of a book don’t always interpret the words written in the same way the authors intrepreted them when writing them?

  2. Sorbet

    I am reading Wright’s book right now and am actually finding him pretty interesting. As for Coyne’s criticism, personally I don’t think your criticism of scientists for lack of effective communication is misplaced. However I do think that this and especially your focus on the New Atheists are exaggerated to the point where they overshadow other more pressing reasons for scientific illeteracy (some of which you do mention but which get relegated to the shadows because of the obsession with the New Atheists and the scientists).

  3. Jon

    There often seems to be a belief in a kind of universal competence on the part of science enthusiasts: if you can do science, you can do tons of other things competently–for instance, exegesis of non-scientific texts, competent argumentation based on those texts, a full understanding of interpretive traditions, etc.

    A lot of this involves being able to stay in the bounds of what you know, and being curious, and not so quick to judge what you don’t.

  4. I’ve come to think of Jerry Coyne as a scrappy street-fighter who writes to win. That is, he writes to be perceived as the winner. Somehow the ways of politics (think Sarah Palin and death panels) are starting to take hold everywhere. Blecch.

  5. Jon

    Sorry, in between my two paragraphs, I should have written that people in the sciences *can* speak competently about all these things, but it involves staying in the bounds of what you know, being curious, etc.

  6. Davo

    I’ve come to think of Jerry Coyne as a scrappy street-fighter who writes to win

    And yet he writes a mean book on evolution! I just finished reading it and it’s very clearly and nicely written.

  7. Dan

    Chris,
    Whether Coyne misrepresented Wright or not, I’m not sure – even Wright says that on the points that Coyne misrepresents him are minor. For myself, I’m not sure how Wright could write a book on the evolution of god(s) or religion without discussing the merits of secular humanism and atheism, which he doesn’t devote a chapter to (maybe he mentions it in passing). So whether Coyne’s review is good or not, the book looks suspicious to me.

    So yeah, that is a familiar story. Kind of like how Unscientific Criticism is ripe for criticism, regardless of whether Coyne represented each and every point of yours fairly.

  8. gillt

    Is this the same adaptationist, Robert Wright, who wrote a sniveling little hit piece on Gould in one of his books, claiming Gould was such a bad scientist he was giving creationism support?

    Judge for yourself: http://www.nonzero.org/newyorker.htm

    I’m curious, is this good science communication according to the authors of Unscientific America?

  9. Jon

    When it comes to anything remotely having to do with religion, even when written by fellow atheists, this is the New Atheists’ theme song.

  10. Lowell

    As long as we’re talking about misrepresentations, will M&K ever address the fact that Unscientific America misrepresents the views of Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists” as claiming that “scientific norms and practices . . . entirely preclude God’s existence”?

    Will there be an errata in the paperback or some other kind of retraction?

  11. tomh

    I’ve never seen so many authors whine so much about negative reviews. They should grow up.

  12. Jon

    Yeah, sissies. When someone does a bad job reviewing your work, the problem is that you’re not bucking up, camper! Be a grownup and let their obvious mistakes stand!

  13. tomh

    Sure, if someone disagrees with your conclusions, then he obviously “wants to write a devastating review of my book”. And if someone points out that a book like Unscientific America lacks any evidence for the conclusions or has any intellectual rigor, they must be written by this weird cult of New Atheists that have it in for you. Book reviews, good, bad, or indifferent, have a long tradition. Let the books themselves answer the criticism.

  14. (The above is not mine, but is from Sigmund at the Sneer Review)

  15. Sorbet

    Wow. That really cracked me up after having watched the movie itself and many parodies of this scene. M & K, you have got to reply to this novel and unique critique (and especially have to now debate Ray Comfort) as also many other real ones.

    By the way I hope you are not trying to make the “argument from analogy” (Wright criticized Coyne’s review of his book. It sounds about right. Therefore Coyne’s review of our book must be misguided)

  16. Jon

    Yes, obviously there’s no shortage of silly melodrama… and Chris and Sheril are responsible for all that [laughs up sleeve].

  17. Jon

    If I had lots of time on my hands, I would do a clip with Hulk Hogan and The Rock, and put in the subtitles Coynes’ and Myers’ response to Scientific America. Aggreived, righteous, trembling, intellectually wronged, each with their wrestling fans cheering. All over a few short pages in Scientific America (of course with those pages included, you can ignore the rest of the book).

  18. Jon, you go ahead. Laughter is mother nature’s way of giving out hugs.

  19. Jon

    You sure you want to hug me, Benjamin? I’m an “accomodationist.”

  20. Woody Tanaka

    Chris, give it up. Face facts: He beat you; he wrote a far superior book. The ideas in your book are weak and shallow at best, and are probably do more harm than good by failing to identify — let alone deal with –the bright, blinking and neon-red streak of irrationality that is proudly exercised by most of your fellow USAians. And religion is only a small part of it.

    I can understand the motive to continue to beat this dead horse, if that’s what it takes to move a few more units. But really, the continuing slams against Coyne makes you look pathetic.

  21. Shrug. I’m not very mothery or naturey, but sure. Still, I reserve the right to post a “kick me” sign on your back.

  22. Jon

    He beat you; he wrote a far superior book.

    As if we’re talking about dueling, way-cool sports cars, as opposed to the merits of particular arguments.

  23. Skeptic

    For God’s sake Chris, why couldn’t you demonstrate the same level of intellectual rigor and comprehensive insight in Unscientific America that you did in The Republican War on Science and Storm World? Especially the first book was an admirable piece of scholarship that was spot on while this one fell flat on its face with regard to intellectual sophistication, relevance and depth of arguments. What happened? Plus, your lack of comprehensive responses to negative reviews and mostly dwelling on the positive reviews is making matters worse and seriously affecting your credibility in my opinion.

    As someone who really respects you for The Republican War on Science, I want to say this; please, please come up with some substantive responses to some of the recent criticisms of the book instead of just largely neglecting them or dismissing them with analogies. And there is no shame in saying your analysis was misguided and/or exaggerated. I am sure many of us would respect an admission of a mistake much more than evasion or embellishment.

  24. — I’ve come to think of Jerry Coyne as a scrappy street-fighter who writes to win. That is, he writes to be perceived as the winner. Somehow the ways of politics (think Sarah Palin and death panels) are starting to take hold everywhere. Blecch. Jean Kazez

    I see him as someone who goes entirely off balance when he’s allowed to, when he steps outside of the bounds of professionalism, when he’s writing about his specialty. I’ve told him that he reminds me a lot of William Schockley in that.

    Well, look at that a You Tube. I’ll watch it when I can get to a faster connection but it’s clear there’s a concerted new atheist campaign to destroy the reputations and careers of the authors of this book as a way to suppress books that take them on. I had a very distant cousin who might have given them a few pointers.

    As for the article, it doesn’t surprise me. Coyne’s ability to assert stuff that was garbage was one of the first things I encountered at his blog. About the only thing I don’t believe in Robert Wright’s article is that it was accidental. One or two are an accident due to the pressures of a deadline, that number and the assertion more than strains credulity. And now in more than one instance. Though, I believe that kind of ‘journalism’ is rather the rule at The New Republic these days, Jeffrey Rosen, et al.

  25. — Still, I reserve the right to post a “kick me” sign on your back. B. S. Nelson

    How very grown up of you to say that and demonstrate Jon’s point.

  26. No, I was just clowning around, which is more or less a prerequisite when discussing god(s). By all evidence we long and far left the realm of semi-serious debate some time ago.

  27. — which is more or less a prerequisite when discussing god(s). B.S. Nelson

    I didn’t realize we were discussing ‘god(s)’ I thought we were discussing intellectual integrity, which would be equally pointless to discuss with new atheists.

  28. Okie dokie!

    Ps: postcount++

  29. John Kwok

    @ gillt –

    While Robert Wright’s criticisms of Gould are substantial, they are ultimately unfair. It was Gould who revived interest in allometry from a quantative perspective, and set the intellectual seeds – through his book “Ontogeny and Phylogeny” – for the development of evolutionary developmental biology. He was also a strong critic of adaptationism, and wrote several important scientific papers pertaining to such criticism with his colleagues Richard Lewontin and Elisabeth Vrba (with Vrba he coined the term “aptation”.). And there is still substantial interest in the prospect of an “Expanded Modern Synthesis” stated by the likes of Massimo Pigliucci, Nlies Eldredge and others, which would have received ample cheering from Gould if he was alive today.

    As for Coyne, I really wish he would stick to speciation and species diversity in West African Drosophila. I think he’s on much firmer ground there, than those instances when he feels compelled to attack organized religion or strike yet another intellectual salvo against those opposing his zealous brand of Militant Atheism.

  30. And as for Mooney, I really wish he would stick to actual science and claims he can actually support with evidence. I think he’d be on much firmer ground there than in those instances when he feels compelled to attack his critics or strike yet another intellectual salvo against those opposing his zealous brand of accomodationism.

  31. Jon

    his zealous brand of accomodationism.

    Chris, your 3 pages in your book were very zealous. You see, the people opposing all religion are truly the most moderate. At least, that’s what the big white bunny told me after I fell to the bottom of the rabbit hole.

  32. Skeptic

    3 pages in the book + countless on the blog

  33. Jon

    How much was this blog saying before countless other blogs went into breathe-into-a-paper-bag mode about it?

  34. John Kwok

    Jon,

    Didn’t you hear that the Romulans are behind Coyne and Myers? Hell, I think both Coyne and Myers could be perfecly cast as Romulans in the next “Star Trek” film.

    Qap’la Qo’nos (which supports Chris and Sheril),

    John

  35. Now Chris, I’m sure there’s absolutely no way that two people could write books based on rather sloppy and incomplete arguments, then claim their points were “distorted” rather than admit fault or set things straight without taking out nasty personal grudges into the spotlight. That sort of coincidence just doesn’t happen, right?

    A statement that “it’s not completely insane to have a belief in God” is not grounds to start creating pseudoscientific histories and taxonomies of the supernatural. Wright’s thesis seems like something Dembski or even Gish would say rather than a serious scientific argument. When you talk about morality as something supernatural despite evidence of how what we call “morality” progressed in our evolutionary ancestors, you can’t claim that your arguments are being misrepresented by a scientist puzzled by your insistence on cramming religion where it doesn’t need to be.

    It’s alarming that you and the people with who you want to cozy up started borrowing a politician’s “I was misquoted” excuse. You weren’t misquoted. You made bad arguments and got a critical reply. Please learn how to live with being ridiculed when you make a mistake because it will happen again and your excuses will wear thin even to your most devoted fans.

  36. —- I’m sure there’s absolutely no way that two people could write books based on rather sloppy and incomplete arguments, Greg Fish

    I think there is a hint in this to why those who are used to thinking about science and the wanabees who want to simplify everything into a scientific construct can’t understand either of the books. I’ve read Unscientific America, I’ve only read about Robert Wrights book, though he defends himself rather well with quotes from it in his article. Both of them are dealing with subjects that are rather huge, complex, and varied events and patterns of behavior, and other things that can’t really be treated scientifically. Of course to someone who has the habit of dealing only with relatively simple problems that lend themselves to being effectively understood by algorithms, etc. could fall into the trap of believing that all of life was like that, when there isn’t any real reason to suspect that is true. For someone who declares they are a skeptic, in the mode of organized “skepticism”, who is really a rather credulous follower of scientism, it’s an irresistible habit.

    Fish’s self-citation of his piece on the, acutally, unfounded idea that we have some biological explanation for the presence of morality and religion in human beings, displays quite a few aspects of the habit.
    First, you take “religion”, a very complex and vague range of thousands of formal and probably millions of informal “things” and pretend they are a single manifestation of the type that can be treated scientifically. A simplification of convenience there is no rational reason to believe is reliable and certainly isn’t science. As an aside, whether or not Wright’s thesis is useful, I don’t know, I don’t think he intended anyone to mistake it for science, did he? It might be telling that Fish seems to presume that was his intention because his own cultural predisposition is to see everything in those terms.

    Interpreting animal behavior in human terms and believing we actually understand what the animals are doing and thinking. I’ll leave out the presumptions and cultural biases of those in the social sciences who are doing the observing and interpretation, though you would think a “skeptic” would notice that possible source of distortion

    Pretending that the animal behavior shows us something about how pre-humans behaved and thought, though there is absolutely no evidence that our most recent ancestors- the ones who were not humans – behaved or thought in the way the modern chimpanzees might. We don’t even know that about the chimpanzees most recent ancestors. We don’t even know much about the complex behaviors and nothing about the thoughts of humans before we have real records of those, as opposed to our own culturally biased suppositions.

    And, in these days of explaining everything in terms of genes, you make up an entirely unsupported genetic foundation for the matchstick castle you’ve put together. That a self-described skeptic could go this far out on a limb, taking all kinds of things on faith, failing or refusing to take the clear opportunities for unintentional and culturally based bias in the behavioral scientists and themselves seriously, is an indictment of a good part of popular “skepticism” as it is manifested in our culture.

    Since the first time I heard this guff, I’ve always wondered why those trying to “scientifically” brush away the deep beliefs of the large majority of the population didn’t understand they could be handing them verification. IF those genetic foundations exist, and I don’t believe they do, any religious person could point out there is no reason to believe that a god didn’t put them there for the reason of influencing our behavior and making themselves known to us. You could be providing religious fundamentalists who believe in predestination something they could use rather effectively. Which I think would be unfortunate.

  37. Skeptic

    How much was this blog saying before countless other blogs went into breathe-into-a-paper-bag mode about it?

    Considerably, if you look at the archives. In my opinion this blog unnecessarily stoked the fires about the whole New Atheist deal before the book came out. I think this had the unfortunate effect of directing people’s attention on a topic that was only one topic in the book, and deflected their attention from many other topics related to scientific illiteracy.

    Since then this blog has not done much to remedy its focus on New Atheism. How many times since then have Chris and Sheril talked about scientific journalism for instance? Just imagine; if for the next two months or so Chris and Sheril write posts about topics other than New Atheism that are related to scientific illiteracy, this flamewar would largely be extinguished. Unfortunately I don’t see a sign that they want to do this.

  38. — Since then this blog has not done much to remedy its focus on New Atheism. Skeptic

    What a hoot, considering the focus of Coyne’s and PZ’s blogs. Not to mention Dawkin’s. When are they going to remedy their focus on “religion”?

    — How many times since then have Chris and Sheril talked about scientific journalism for instance? Skeptic

    The scientific pretensions of the new atheists are what necessitate science journalists addressing that topic. Just as the scientific pretensions of ID necessitate science journalists from dealing with that ideology. When challenged to go all-science-all the time for a month as an experiment, PZ was quick to reject the idea. He wasn’t even willing to try it for a month to see just how interested in science his “Scienceblog” fan base was.

    Science journalists are certainly within their rights to write on the new atheism just as they are ID and other assorted would be science topics.

  39. Skeptic

    Anthony, the explicitly stated purpose of the blogs you are referring to is science, religion and atheism, so no surprise there. But in my opinion this blog could perform a much more valuable function if it focuses more on the other reasons that are important for scientific illiteracy.

    – When challenged to go all-science-all the time for a month as an experiment, PZ was quick to reject the idea

    That may be true, but have you seen some of his recent posts on science? They were very good, especially his blogging of the Hedgehog signalling pathway. Have you taken a look at that?

  40. Sorbet

    By the way if you haven’t read Wright’s book I will definitely recommend it. You may not agree with everything he says but it is very well-researched and gives a great flavor of the diversity and origins of religious beliefs in the world; it especially makes an interesting case for why tribal religions were much more at home with the problem of evil and sin than monotheistic religions. Simply as an anthropological and historical compendium of facts it is pretty interesting.

  41. gillt

    McCarthy: “Pretending that the animal behavior shows us something about how pre-humans behaved and thought, though there is absolutely no evidence that our most recent ancestors- the ones who were not humans – behaved or thought in the way the modern chimpanzees might.”

    With arrogant and clearly uninformed opinions like this, it shows a laziness your part McCarthy in not even trying to get at the truth.

    First, Wright would disagree with you (hint, he likes evo psych), as would the psychologist and primatologist Frans de Waal, as well as most other primatologists.

    Question: Is McCarthy in a position to question the research when he clearly hasn’t done his homework?

  42. Jon

    Skeptic in 39: In my opinion this blog unnecessarily stoked the fires about the whole New Atheist deal before the book came out.

    If true, they didn’t need to. If you sneeze and it sounds something like “religion can be good”, the new atheists do 50 blog posts about your intolerable accommodationism before noon.

  43. Sorbet

    Oh, Robert Wright is definitely a big fan of evo psych. As usual McCarthy wants to pontificate without reading the book.

    unfounded idea that we have some biological explanation for the presence of morality and religion in human beings

    So according to McCarthy the best possible explanation for morality and religion is likely to be non-scientific and supernatural?

  44. Skeptic

    the new atheists do 50 blog posts about your intolerable accommodationism before noon.

    That is independent from the fact that it was still a bad strategy to focus on only this aspect of the book because it really diverted everyone’s attention from the 90% of the book that was not about the New Atheism. I am not saying the authors should never have replied to criticism, but instead of taking criticism to the NAs they should have let the NAs bring criticism to them. I am saying that the authors did themselves and their readers a disservice; because they spent most of their time on the 10% of the book that was about New Atheism, we missed out on interesting discussions of all the other 90%.

  45. Jon

    As I’ve said before, “supernatural” is an awful convenient word. It takes in everything from Spinoza’s God to seance phenomena. New atheists want to junk everything in the same bin.

  46. Jon

    Doesn’t the right do that? Blame liberalism for provoking the tea parties, etc.?

  47. gillt, so, where are these prehistoric behaviors that have been scientifically observed and documented? Name a single one which has been documented in a way that makes what has been asserted about it reliable enough to come to an uncontroversial conclusion about it. I don’t mean the assertions of the “scientists” who are very ready to make those assertions, I mean the actual evidence of actual behavior. Which doesn’t exist.

    — But in my opinion this blog could perform a much more valuable function if it focuses more on the other reasons that are important for scientific illiteracy. Skeptic

    Your opinion about what this blog should be doing is nothing that the owners of it need to consult before they decide what to put on it. My challenge to PZM was a dare, not me scolding him about the decisions he made about what to put on his blog, which isn’t my call.

  48. Sorbet

    Umm…correct. That’s the way it should be. However there are degrees of supernatural.

  49. Skeptic

    Your opinion about what this blog should be doing is nothing that the owners of it need to consult before they decide what to put on it

    So? It’s an opinion, just like the thousands you have espoused. Of course the authors don’t need to consult it (try to say something non-obvious next time). But the fact that discussions of other factors have been stifled on this blog still stands. It’s simply a factual assertion.

  50. Skeptic

    Try to be original next time McCarthy. The discussion of New Atheism has stifled other valuable discussion. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

  51. gillt

    You charge for piano lesson, and you expect me to provide you with free lessons on the basics of scientific evidence and evolutionary biology?

    No.

    Read something.

  52. — Oh, Robert Wright is definitely a big fan of evo psych. As usual McCarthy wants to pontificate without reading the book. Skeptic

    I asked if Robert Wright was trying to assert what he wrote was science, I said I had only read about the book but hadn’t read it at the beginning of my comment. I didn’t try to hide that fact. His documentation that Coyne misrepresented what he said was pretty clear, Coyne misrepresented him just as the critics of Unscientific America have repeatedly misrepresented it. Those are the only things I said about his book. You will notice I put the only statement about it’s purporting to represent science in the form of a question.

    — So according to McCarthy the best possible explanation for morality and religion is likely to be non-scientific and supernatural? Skeptic

    “The best possible explanation for morality and religion,” I know I’ve never asserted anything about any “best possible explanation” for them, I’ve said that I didn’t even think you could come to a real definition of “religion”, never mind “morality” that could be universally inclusive. I doubt such an “explanation” would be complete, it would definitely be non-scientific at this point for that reason.

    As to your assumption that I mean a supernatural explanation being the best, no. I tend to look at the results of moral assertions and religious ideas in real life to see what the results are before hazarding an opinion on them. I don’t have much faith at all in theories about things like that, I want to see the results. So, I guess the answer to that part of your assertion would be, clearly not.

    I think it’s also typical of scientism that it asserts that we have to come up with some sciency sounding supposed explanation of everything and that huge swaths of alleged behavioral science exists to fill that anxious emotional need. It might be unfortunate that large parts of human experience and the actual universe are now without real scientific explanations about them and that large parts of life and the universe almost certainly never will. It might be unsatisfying or produce anxiety on the part of those who can’t deal with the reality that large parts of life are and will almost certainly be without reliable verification. But that’s just too bad because that’s the way it is. We are stuck with reality and the limits of human abilities and human institutions, including science, are real. I wonder how much the boundaries of uncertainty could be pushed back if the junk science was junked and those people concentrated on stuff that had actual, physical evidence they could make more reliable observations about.

    Not that I think the addiction to baseless theorizing is reserved for scientists, I think that’s probably more to do with how people in academia get jobs, recognition and rewards than it does about science. John Kenneth Galbraith once pointed out that agronomists, economists who deal with concrete, physical reality were considered to be far less prestigious than the lofty and airy theorists who, I’d say, have produced mostly junk. These days a lot of those are pretending they’re biologists of the evo-psy kind.

  53. gillt, you’re the one who wants to challenge my point that there isn’t a single documented incident of pre-historic behavior in either hominids or the ancestors of chimpanzees. And you expect me to cringe when you come up with that cowardly dodge. You are a fraud.

    There is not a single observed or reliably documented incident of behavior to back up any assertion made about it pretending that it is science. Not a single one. Everything that has been said about them is story telling and creation myth.

  54. gillt

    Shorter McCarthy: “Knowledge is merely opinion!”

  55. John Kwok

    It’s rather hypocritical of Coyne to assert that he doesn’t tolerate the kind of ad hominem attacks that he believes are present here, when he is tolerating it in his blog column on Chris and Sheril’s LA Times article, with a number of people – the usual suspects like SLC, for example – are posting ad hominem attack after ad hominem attack on me. McCarthy I may have to reconsider my defense of Coyne against your harsh, but increasingly accurate, attacks against him.

  56. No, sciencey creation myth is still creation myth. No matter how many letters those making it up have behind their names.

  57. — The discussion of New Atheism has stifled other valuable discussion. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Skeptic

    New atheism’s discussions have stifled other valuable discussions, that’s not an opinion that’s a fact. That is why it’s been necessary to discuss the silly fad.

  58. Sorbet

    -Sciencey creation myth is still creation myth.

    Yes, we all know that. And trust the infamous Kentucky creation museum to gratuitously expound upon that myth.

  59. Sorbet

    McCarthy; tightly shutting his eyes and convincing himself that it’s a “silly fad” that will go away. No actual reading up on science though.

  60. I’m still waiting for that example of Paleolithic or even Neolithic behavior which has been observed and documented in a way that could be passed off as science.

    In lieu of that, provide an explanation of how a “behavior” that isn’t observed could be known to have happened, or how a “behavior” that never happened could be real. We’ll leave the matter of how to verify the meaning of such a “behavior” till after one of you can answer the more basic point.

  61. I’ve posted a bunch of comments stuck in moderation at my blog.

  62. Sorbet

    So you think that morality and religion could not be explained by biology? There is a good reasons for assuming that they can (although we don’t know for sure, cohesion among groups is a good candidate for an adaptionist trait). What’s your reason for assuming they can’t?

  63. gillt

    Complex human and non-human primate behavior can be explained, at least in part, by genes and proteins–it is well-accepted science that gets published in Nature and Science all the time. We sequenced the human and chimp genome; there are similarities.

    Because you’ve never heard of research or haven’t taken the time to look into it reflects upon you not the science.

  64. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, don’t try to squeeze out of my question, it was specifically about the behaviors of the ancestors of both modern chimps and humans I asked about, which was the relevant point about Greg Fish’s and the general evo-psy assertions about discerning an alleged biological, genetic basis to the existence of religion. Or are you just not able to follow a moderately complex chain of thought to that extent? There is not a single shred of evidence of behavior in the remote past of either species, far less in the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees to support that new atheist creation myth and none that would shed the first glimmer of light on possible materialistic implications that, as I pointed out, could cut at least two ways.

    Gillt about the only thing I rely on about you is your intellectual dishonesty.

  65. Anthony McCarthy

    OK, I watched the You Tube, it’s worse than I expected. I’d ask the Robert Welch question but I’ve never thought the new atheists had any shame to start with.

  66. Sorbet

    It’s almost an anthropological exercise to watch how McCarthy continually keeps generalizing every small instance and comment to all of the New Atheists without exception. Hardly the first time someone has resorted to generalizations to escape the complexities of nuanced and balanced thought.

    And watch the video where Adolf orders a pizza. It’s even worse.

  67. Sorbet

    I’m still waiting for that example of Paleolithic or even Neolithic behavior which has been observed and documented in a way that could be passed off as science</i.

    Ok, since you don't want to actually do any reading on your own, here's just one example among countless, and as gillt mentioned, published in Science:

    Fire As an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans
    Brown et al.
    Science, 14 August 2009:
    Vol. 325. no. 5942, pp. 859 – 862
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1175028

    Abstract:
    The controlled use of fire was a breakthrough adaptation in human evolution. It first provided heat and light and later allowed the physical properties of materials to be manipulated for the production of ceramics and metals. The analysis of tools at multiple sites shows that the source stone materials were systematically manipulated with fire to improve their flaking properties. Heat treatment predominates among silcrete tools at ~72 thousand years ago (ka) and appears as early as 164 ka at Pinnacle Point, on the south coast of South Africa. Heat treatment demands a sophisticated knowledge of fire and an elevated cognitive ability and appears at roughly the same time as widespread evidence for symbolic behavior.

  68. Sorbet

    I’m still waiting for that example of Paleolithic or even Neolithic behavior which has been observed and documented in a way that could be passed off as science

    Ok, since you don’t want to actually do any reading on your own, here’s just one example among countless, and as gillt mentioned, published in Science:

    Fire As an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans
    Brown et al.
    Science, 14 August 2009:
    Vol. 325. no. 5942, pp. 859 – 862
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1175028

    Abstract:
    The controlled use of fire was a breakthrough adaptation in human evolution. It first provided heat and light and later allowed the physical properties of materials to be manipulated for the production of ceramics and metals. The analysis of tools at multiple sites shows that the source stone materials were systematically manipulated with fire to improve their flaking properties. Heat treatment predominates among silcrete tools at ~72 thousand years ago (ka) and appears as early as 164 ka at Pinnacle Point, on the south coast of South Africa. Heat treatment demands a sophisticated knowledge of fire and an elevated cognitive ability and appears at roughly the same time as widespread evidence for symbolic behavior.

  69. Sorbet

    Sorry, comment (in moderation) accidentally published twice

  70. Anthony McCarthy

    Just for the record, I’m not answering the automatic Sorbot on purpose.

  71. gillt

    Mooney: “Dawkins’ new book, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” will inform and regale us with the stunning “evidence for evolution,” as the subtitle says. It will surely be an impressive display, as Dawkins excels at making the case for evolution. But it’s also fair to ask: Who in the United States will read Dawkins’ new book (or ones like it) and have any sort of epiphany, or change his or her mind?:

    How many anti-science Republicans had an epiphany or change of mind after reading Mooney’s Republican War on Science, I wonder?

  72. Sorbet

    Just for the record, I’m not answering the automatic Sorbot on purpose

    You just did. Heh.

  73. Sorbet

    Please respond to my comment when it comes out of moderation and give the trolling a break for a change. In your erudite omniscience you proclaimed that you wanted an example where Neolithic or Paleolithic behavior was studied using science. In the comment I provide one since you are not actually interested in acquiring knowledge yourself

    Fire As an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans
    Brown et al.
    Science, 14 August 2009:
    Vol. 325. no. 5942, pp. 859 – 862
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1175028

  74. How very sciencey, not understanding that a behavior is something that happens and, in order to back up the adaptationist fables has to happen repeatedly in the same way so as to constitute an adaptive advantage. Or that said alleged, repeated behavior has to have a genetic basis in order to survive as a genetic trait of the kind I was talking about. Of which, the use of fire might be evidence of a practice but not of the behavior which might constitute the way in which it was used. I’d imagine you could come up with a number of proposed, mutually excluding, “behaviors” to explain the physical evidence, none of which would be observable.

    And I rather think that example sort of leaves the common chimp-human ancestor quite a way back in time. But that’s something you’re supposed to ignore, little things like millions of years of separation in time, numerous intermediary species, perhaps quite different cultures among the members of those species….

    And that it has nothing to do with Greg Fish’s speculation about the genetic basis of religious belief.

  75. Sorbet

    More sciencey than you McCarthy. When was the last time you published in Science? The use of fire is an example of behavior, isn’t it? It’s obviously both a practice and a behavior. The point is that you have to glance at a couple of issues of Nature or Science to demonstrate such studies. Clearly you are not interested in doing this, but only in parading your ignorance.

  76. Sorbet

    Plus, from everything we know, the most plausible explanation for religious belief has to come from science since the last time we checked human minds were not beyond the laws of physics and chemistry. Of course at this point you will hurl the accusation of scientism at me and declare yourself the victor who has the last word. You don’t seem to get the idea of what’s most plausible.

    What’s most plausible? That religion can ultimately be explained as a product of evolution, or that religion is a product of some supernatural deity?

  77. Sorbet

    Also, did you actually read the article before criticizing it? (I suspect I know the answer to that one)

  78. Sorbet

    If you were a scientist who actually publishes (I am) you would know that the word plausible when published in a journal article does not mean most of what you have stated, and it certainly does not mean specious. For instance the statement “it is plausible that amyloid oligomers may be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease” has often been seen in journals and is far from specious.

  79. gillt

    McCarthy, the gene for a dopamine receptor agonist which causes arousal and desire in humans does the exact same thing in rats, which are further down the phylogenetic tree than chimps. You are an embarrassment to piano teachers everywhere.

    http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/v11/n8/abs/4001832a.html

  80. gillt

    McCarthy, the gene for a dopamine receptor agonist which causes arousal and desire in humans does the exact same thing in rats, which are further down the phylogenetic tree than chimps.

  81. Gill @ 56, it’s hard to pin McCarthy down on that matter, since while there are plausible and interesting things to say about the culture of science and the role of the doxastic, there’s nothing distinctive to McCarthy’s comments that would suggest that he acknowledges a distinction between prudential and moral norms, and therefore, a different quality of fit between norms and the world, which would moot all remaining poststructuralist worries.

    I’ve confronted him on this as well as many other issues of substance, but as I said above, the time for seriousness has long passed. On that note, here’s a gift to resident Katy Perry lyrics expert, Mr. John Kwok.

  82. gillt, you have any evidence that has any relevance to religious belief or that the expression of the gene is sufficiently uniform throughout the entire lines of the various intermediary species uniting rats, chimpanzees and humans so that the complex of behaviors and asserted beliefs in humans can be explained by that? That would be a neat trick. As far as I know we don’t have word one about possible religious practices and beliefs in rats, chimpanzees or any of those other, now extinct, species and vast stretches of the past human population. Never mind a uniform expression called “religion”in even the contemporary human species. Or do you have some other genetic complex in mind for that role? Though that still wouldn’t get you past the void in actual evidence.

    You see, there’s a vast difference between having something that can be observed and something that can’t be but only supposed. Or don’t you understand something that so basically separates belief from knowledge. I thought I was the one who was supposed to not know that. You can ask the Sorbot the same question in regard to his last answer too.

    Plausible, so much is plausible, if you buy into the presuppositions that precede it. When those also require presuppositions it starts getting increasingly dicey. Can that be extended indefinitely before you stop calling it “science”? Or does that depend on what your reputation is, as I already said I suspected.

  83. B.S. Nelson, I wasn’t the one who was pretending that the merely plausible was reliable, or can’t you understand that distinction either?

    You know the smiley faces that P.B. kept posting were a lot less silly than the You Tubes you prefer as a means of avoiding the issues.

  84. gillt

    We can proceed McCarthy when you admit that you’re unschooled generalizations that complex behavior has a genetic basis that can and has been traced through phylogenies through gene knock-out studies and behavioral studies, which is what that link I gave to you provides.

    Remember, your bald assertion was: “provide an explanation of how a “behavior” that isn’t observed could be known to have happened, or how a “behavior” that never happened could be real.”

    I provided you with an explanation pertaining to sexual behavior. The behavior occurs in our close and distant relatives, and it’s genetic, so we can trace the gene through the phylogeny of various species that we shared common ancestors with.

    McCarthy, genetics 101, if a functional gene has a human and fruit fly orthologue, that means the last common ancestor of humans and modern fruitflies also had this gene.

  85. Sorbet

    you have any evidence that has any relevance to religious belief or that the expression of the gene is sufficiently uniform throughout the entire lines of the various intermediary species uniting rats, chimpanzees and humans so that the complex of behaviors and asserted beliefs in humans can be explained by that? That would be a neat trick.

    Dear Joseph McCarthy,
    Sounds like the classic creationist argument to me (“Show us all intermediate fossils”).
    Love, The Sorbot

  86. Sorbet

    Ah, Joe McCarthy, the classic creationist argument (“Show us all intermediate fossils”)

  87. Sorbet

    Comment in moderation

  88. Sorbet

    -there’s a vast difference between having something that can be observed and something that can’t be but only supposed

    That does not mean there are no grounds for believing in things which are supposed if good reasons for their existence can be gained from other foundational knowledge. It happens in science all the time.

  89. Anthony McCarthy

    Plausible, so much is plausible, if you buy into the presuppositions that precede it. When those also require presuppositions it starts getting increasingly dicey. Can that be extended indefinitely before you stop calling it “science”?

    Presuppositions between the proposed genetic foundation of religious belief and knowing that is true in the way asserted by Greg Fish

    1. That there is an actual, genetically based entity “religion” that corresponds to the vast range of different and varied expressions in the human population that go under that blanket today.
    2. That that actual, entity existed in the remote human past, when we have no evidence that it existed in any reliably recognized form.
    3. That this coherent entity existed in our pre-human ancestors going back to, at least the common ancestor we shared with modern chimpanzees, though that common ancestor and many of the intermediate forms are not even identified -thought we have every reason to believe they were physically there- not to mention that we don’t even have known cultural artifacts of them. Note: I’d guess their cultural practices would be far different than our fellow humans of today, I suspect any “religions” they might have practiced or held could be quite alien to us. But that’s only a guess like all of the assertions made about their “cultures” by anyone else today.
    4. That this extremely varied “religious” expression is the result of actual genes or even, in the most romantic concept, a single gene.

    I could go on.

    I think the asserted genetic foundation of religion is the product of the culture of contemporary materialism, not of genes that have survived through conferring a completely speculative reproductive advantage. It has the feel of wishful thinking on the part of a faith community, faithless though they like to think they are.

  90. Jon

    Then there’s the obvious fact that insights gained from the physical sciences are not applicable to every part of everyday life–by a long shot. I often post this quote from a Charles Taylor interview, but it never gets so much of a passsing interest from the new atheists who post here:

    CT: Science and religion are not quite totally non-overlapping magisteria, but he is right in the sense that if anybody said, ‘I’m going to solve all the problems of the meaning of life, by only looking at the evolutionary view,’ they would be mad, they do not understand the limitations. Or, on the other hand, reading the Bible to understand how human beings evolved, that’s equally unrealistic.

  91. Sven DiMilo

    Is this the same adaptationist, Robert Wright, who wrote a sniveling little hit piece on Gould in one of his books, claiming Gould was such a bad scientist he was giving creationism support?

    I read the New Yorker piece linked @#8. I htought it was pretty good until the last few paragraphs. I don;t think it’s controversial that Gould’s ostensible popularizations were often ego- and/or ideology-driven and self-servingly misleading.

  92. re: Fish on the evolution of morality & religion; Paleolithic & Neolithic behaviors; Anthony McCarthy; etc.

    Anthony –
    1) look, I think I understand (and even, to a degree, appreciate) part of what’s motivating you here. But I think one wants to be careful about throwing out the baby with the pop-evo-psych and ‘scientistic’ bathwater.

    2) My impression – and correct me if I’m wrong – is that you don’t have much of a background in paleoanthropology, archaeology, primatology, etc. That’s certainly ok – the percentage of people who do is incredibly, ludicrously small (I certainly wouldn’t count myself among them, unless by ‘much’ we mean ‘any at all, however slight’). But it never hurts to remember when one isn’t particularly well-versed in areas being discussed (and to remember that other folks might be). Intellectual overconfidence isn’t a condition limited to (perhaps) certain new atheists.

    3) Let’s look at Greg Fish’s piece. What is he claiming?

    Basically, I think, that morality predates religion, having evolved a ways back in our family tree, and that the latter – apparently unique to our species – has evolved in part by building on the former. (nowadays, anyway!)

    Evolved morality? This is a very interesting new area of study (& to be fair, no little speculation). If you read the post, Fish links to examples of other primates -our relatives – acting in ways some of which we would, in humans, view as having to do with morality, even if in a very basic sense. One can find a number of other examples; basically, there seem to be links, shared capabilities, etc. Perhaps this is *only* because of shared social situations – that we’re all social animals? Well, we shouldn’t entirely dismiss that – both orangutans and cats will vary social behavior depending on resource availability and pop. density … but at the same time, cats aren’t orangutans, and vice versa; at the end of the day, their social and&moral worlds, despite flexibility, are very and seemingly inherently different. Of course, one could suggest that the different primates all *independently* evolved such capacities. But ultimately a simpler (if still provisional) explanation is that this represents, to some degree, a shared heritage from a common ancestor. (Similarly, the fact that one finds indifference to sugar across members of the cat family would suggest such a shared heritage even if we didn’t know of the genetic basis).

    Note that the nature of this heritage is left pretty open – the minimum claim here would be merely that this is genetic in the sense that we’re all genetically endowed with enough generic brainpower to act in this complex fashion.

    On the other hand, religion seems to be specific to us (again, nowadays). Now, this is a bit trickier – as you mention. And examples of chimps charging and waving branches in response to thunder, or performing complex displays before waterfalls perhaps suggests . . . well, something, maybe. But whatever it is seems far more tenuous. Of course (for an absurd example), there obviously isn’t a single ‘religion gene’ which codes for evangelical monotheism as expressed in the 21st century US. The stuff we lump into religion is extremely varied, and our framework often a very specific one derived – almost as absurdly – from an academic(ish) tradition based off modern western textual monotheisms. And one big factor here is the social and practical world of one’s people. Going off ethnographic, historical, and archaeological data (all tricky, but…) and to a very rough approximation, hunter-gatherers living in small, rather egalitarian bands will tend to have very different kinds [of practices/ customs/ behaviors we’d think of as religious-ish] than sedentary agiculturalists living in dense, highly stratified societies. All the same, there would again seem to be certain commonalities and continuities, this time *within* our species, for which we seem to find at most the faintest echoes in our extant relatives.

    Note, again, that Fish doesn’t seem (to my ears) to make really specific claims about any exact genetic basis (besides basic primate morality and language) – again, the minimum claim would be merely be merely that we’re ‘smart’ enough to be suchwise. Whatever ‘religion’ consists of, it really does seem unique to humans (granted, cats appear to have a kind of religion in the sense that they consider *themselves* gods, but that’s another matter). At *some* level, that has to be genetic, I would think, even if in the most trivial sense. My understanding, in fact, is that there’s different tendancies within the evolution of religion field, from folks taking a adaptationist/ modular approach, to folks who see it as a forest of spandrels (appropriately enough!), the by-product of various other cognitive traits and capabilities (ie, I’ve evolved such sensitivity to intentionality and other minds that I might see them even in things that don’t have bodies, etc.) Very interesting . . .

    Granted that this is all extremely tentative (and not always presented as such, for various oversights & reasons): Anthony – what do you disagree with here? (And Greg – have I *badly* mangled what you were saying? Sorry…)

  93. A few more things before I doze off.

    Anthony – you seem to have misread what Greg was saying? He doesn’t trace some coherent religion back to our shared ancestor with chimps – indeed, the opposite (except to the degree that he sees religion as an extension, codification, etc. of evolved basic primate morality, I think?)

    Paleolithic behaviors? (Yes, the combination of great importance to us & very rare, very sketchy, & very difficult (at best!) to interpret data means that there’s enormous room for mythmaking. That said -don’t forget warnings about babies and bathwaters ….)

    Toolmaking
    Hunting
    Construction of shelters
    Burial of the dead
    – eventually including grave goods
    (Apparent) self-decoration
    Production of things representing other things. (“art”)
    – cave paintings
    – ‘Venus figurines’
    – other concrete and abstract? representations
    Possible production of calendars?
    Possible proto- bear ceremonialism
    Burning of red spearheads from exotic materials in front of a sculpted stone resembling a snake in the Tsodilo Hills?

    Neolithic
    Look up “Neolithic” in wikipedia, ok? I have to go to sleep tonight. See also: Çatalhöyük

    —-

    I know you have this thing where you think/complain about how I’m trickily trying to make people think you’re a creationist or something, (and you’re going to start with it again now, I suspect) but as Sorbet brought it up, the “Were YOU there?!” and “You can’t explain every tiny individual last detail! Clearly everything you say is worthless!” are also seen in creationism. I say this not to tar you with the idiot brush of creationism – you’re not one, let me repeat again – but because ’round here I’m guessing this is an easy way to point out that these aren’t actually very good objections. (other things you say are rather better).

    You’re certainly right to point out that we don’t understand very much at all. The problem, as I see it, is that without being even passingly familiar with what we *do* (however extremely provisionally and tentatively) know or at least reasonably suspect, and based on what evidence, one doesn’t really have a way to distinguish between mostly-fantasy being passed of as Science, and actual research. One only has politics, and skepticism run wild.

    —-

    re: “religion” and definitions – good definitions are extremely important, but there’s a point where one has to try to start examining stuff instead of standing paralyzed before the complexity of the world. Science (including social science) isn’t a one-off, but a process, a reiterative one at that.
    —–

  94. While my comment #96 inexplicably sits in moderation (I think it was the umlauts. They’ll getcha every time . . . ), a link to some hot-off-the-presses new research about Paleolithic behaviors:

    Early Human Hunters Had Fewer Meat-sharing Rituals
    ScienceDaily (Aug. 18, 2009) — A University of Arizona anthropologist has discovered that humans living at a Paleolithic cave site in central Israel between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago were as successful at big-game hunting as were later stone-age hunters at the site, but that the earlier humans shared meat differently…

    (But how can she tell? After all, she wasn’t there! – Read the article. Although remember: provisional,)

  95. Just one bit from my currently-in-moderation comment: “Anthony – you seem to have misread what Greg was saying? He doesn’t trace some coherent religion back to our shared ancestor with chimps – indeed, the opposite (except to the degree that he sees religion as an extension, codification, etc. of evolved basic primate morality, I think?)”

  96. Tony,

    That never happened. So anyway, back to me: I never did get an answer about the morals v. prudential norms matter. Different? Yes, no, maybe?

    Also,
    :) :-o :~) ^_^

  97. Dan S. I don’t think I misread Greg Fish, it wasn’t that complicated and it’s a bunch of stuff I’ve read from other places. I didn’t misunderstand the new atheist argument about “morality” preceding “religion”, an aspect of that argument is one of the first disagreements I had with Coyne the first day I ever posted a comment on his blog. My point is the same, that any assertion made about that even in the early human population is so speculative that I wouldn’t consider it more than wishful thinking by those with an ulterior motive and I don’t think motives come any more ulterior than in the social and behavioral sciences. Except possibly those motivated by the urgent desire to prove faith, such as fundamentalism in its religious and anti-religious forms.

    “Primate morality”, it’s come to a point where we’re making complex comments about “primate morality” and I’m supposed to take that phrase seriously in the context of science.

    So many issues that could be raised, so little time.

    How do you know that chimpanzees are better at making manifest their moral aspirations through actions than people are? What percentage of the teachings of Jesus do you think you could derive from mere observation of the behavior of contemporary “christians” without recourse to prior knowledge of those? How about even with prior knowledge of those but without the self-identification by the individuals you were observing as adherents of Christianity? I’ve observed many Jews, Buddhists, Moslems, agnostics who are better followers of those te achings than many “christians”. How well do you think that people who hold those teaching as their moral code practice them? Well enough that you don’t have to depend on their articulated self-identification as “christians”. And that’s just one of several complex riddles you would have to solve to some artificial and hardly universally held “human morality”. That is unless you change the meaning of “morality” itself, in order to construct some totally artificial “morality” that probably doesn’t exist within even one individual human being but which you can write up and publish in order for those with a similar professional, perhaps largely materialistic culture to agree with it out of what outsiders such as myself could suspect were less that unself-interested reasons.

    I know you or gillt or the Sorbot will object at my daring to analyze the moral and ethical practices of behavioral and social scientists at this point, voicing my suspicions that their “objective” observations and interpretations of chimp morality and their analysis of the relationship of these “moralities” and “religion” are less than objective. But, unlike chimpanzees, the species that separate our species and theirs in the dead past and the pre-literate human and always illiterate earlier chimpanzee histories, there is a documented present and past in the communities of behavioral and social scientists to make recourse to. Any assertions made about their motives would be based on what folk such as yourself and Greg Fish and anyone who wants to say anything about it SAYS about it. And there is a written and documented record of what has been said about things like that in the past have come to. You must be able to appreciate that, unlike all but modern and relatively modern, human beings all those other beings are inarticulate, we have no access to their concepts of their actions, in all cases other than those where we can document their actions, those are totally absent as well. I don’t know how you could make the assumption that their “morality” isn’t evidence of a “religion” among them, that’s the development of a prior ideological position, not anything that someone who doesn’t believe that’s valid needs to take seriously.

    You do remember that argument we had about the 35,000 year old statue last spring, when I had to point out to you that all of the speculations made about the motives of the human artist were contemporary inventions, none of which seemed to consider that the artist might have been a woman making a self-portrait or an image of her mother, that the figure could have been considered a piece of junk, even by the artist and a number of other points? Everything that was said about that available physical object, sprang from the imagination of a “scientist” or would be scientist or some blog wannabee or news scribbler. Any “correlations” such as the one you wanted to make to much later manufactured objects from much later populations and times (correlations with other, prior, speculations about those) had considerable gaps in time and place to contend with, no documented connection with those, as well as the lack of any real knowledge of meaning and intent by those making or viewing or using them. In the case of these, sometimes presumed to be, religious objects we don’t even have a plausible utilitarian use for them. It was speculation building on speculation filling in gaps with presumption, none of which had any basis other than previous presumptions and speculations in fulfillment of extraneous and, perhaps, ulterior desires on the part of those articulating them.

    You can call that science if you want to, I can’t stop you. If that’s what “science” is, you can cancel everything I’ve said about science as a means of attaining more reliable information about the material universe because it looks a heck of a lot like a more sophisticated version of creation mythology to me. If physical and other hard scientists are content to contain that within science, then it’s going to pay a price and, perhaps, already is.

    I was thinking that you hadn’t been trailing me lately just the other day.

    B.S. Nelson If you’ve got a point, come out and make it because I’m not seeing much in what you say that’s worth making the effort to wonder about. I’d rather watch chimpanzees flinging stuff at people in zoos.

  98. Oh, and, Dan S. I forgot to mention, about that 35,000 year old statue. I’ve yet to see any speculation about its “meaning” that takes into account that the attitude of the artist, never mind anyone else viewing it and the ideas they had about the object, was fixed for all time. The ideas that an individual have about a work of art changes, develops, sometimes is entirely overturned over time. You don’t know if the artist had second thoughts and went back to make modifications after they’d originally considered it finished. You don’t know if a second or third individual made modifications in it. Perhaps it was looted from another culture or was a found object and then modified.

    Isn’t it fun to make up stuff about something like that? And to post comments you wonder will show up before what it refers to does? Though I’m going to post these two comments on my blog so they’ll appear in order.

  99. And to post comments you wonder will show up before what it refers to does?

    The Intersection moderation filter works in mysterious ways. I’m still waiting for my list-of-paleolithic-behaviors comment to show up . . .

  100. John Kwok

    @ Benjamin S. Nelson –

    My reply is in moderation, but I saw that video months ago.

  101. John Kwok

    @ Benjamin S. Nelson –

    Could you enlighten Ophelia B.? She thinks I wrote that Katy Perry song.

  102. One last observation before I have to leave for the day:

    One of the problems is that you seem to think that something called “morality” exists outside of people – and, perhaps, other organisms – as a uniform and discrete entity that can be considered and reported objectively, which is delusional. Considering that the actual assertions use reports of behavior of hardly uniform individuals, it is incredibly sloppy thinking.

    Two of the more important considerations in discussions of morality in the real world are awareness and intent. Human beings without an awareness of morality, through intellectual inability or mental illness generally aren’t considered to be capable of moral agency*. Is there any evidence that these or any chimpanzees have awareness of morality or intent to violate or follow that sense of morality? Are chimpanzees, in general, more rational or intelligent than humans who are deemed to not be capable of moral agency? Or does this behavior-sci invention being called “morality” exist in those without the ability to exercise moral agency? Where does this “morality” reside and how could it be manifested in the chimpanzees’ actions if it wasn’t within them? If a human being raises an ape to the extent that they can articulate something of their thoughts, how could anyone know the extent to which the human being introduced the expression of morality into them? And without that articulation, how could we know the first thing about that internal experience? How, without administering some kind of test – guaranteed to be controversial in its legitimacy, could you know if an chimpanzee whose behavior you were reporting was competent to be considered a moral agent?

    No, the investigation of morality among articulate, sufficiently rational and intelligent contemporary humans is too complex to be treated scientifically. Proposing anything like that in pre-humans or apes in their natural state is not going to produce science either. Making up some new meaning for “morality” in order to publish papers about it in apes goes past pseudo-science and on into mass delusion.

    Clearly, morality is something that science should leave to the law, religion and moral philosophy. Science isn’t equipped to handle the issues. I think one of the problems is insufficient consideration of why anyone might be interested in animals to start with, clearly the issue is conservation and not using them in ill-disguised, anti-religious polemics. That is the clear motivation of a lot of this “science”.

    I like reading about observed animal behavior just as I like reading about human cultural folk ways (including scientists’), but that doesn’t mean I take it as being scientific, because it clearly isn’t sufficiently objective for that. It would be more honest to include at least some of it in the humanities, which would expand more easily to include human reports of animal behavior undamaged than science can. Science can deal with those aspects of animal populations and conservation that have some reliable physical evidence to base their findings on and inform us of those in order to promote conservation. But conservation is a political and cultural issue, in the end. I think treating animal behavior culturally might have better political effects than seeing animals as vicious and degraded moral agents whose survival might not be quite as popularly appealing to those who have to make sacrifices on their behalf.

    * Holding the incompetent to be innocent is, in itself, a moral position that isn’t uniformly held.

  103. Anthony, my point is a question. You left it dangling last time, and haven’t answered it yet, and it’s an issue that arises again @56. So here’s an opportunity to make up for that. Do you recognize the difference between prudential and moral norms? If so, what is that difference?

  104. B.S. Nelson. Without you laying out definitively what you mean by both of those rather vague terms, I wouldn’t bother trying to answer a question like that because I’ve seen how easily the rug is pulled out from beneath a good-faith effort by an opportunistic definitional switch. In other words, I’m not going down that rat hole without a road map.

  105. Sorbet

    The presupposition that matter, including human brains, can ultimately be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry is not an unreasonable presupposition. Note that I am not arguing for a wholly reductionist approach here. Even emergent properties are ultimately contingent on the laws of physics and chemistry, even if traditional reductionist science cannot explain them. As someone here said, morality is ultimately a product of the human mind, so there is no reason to think that it is independent of the laws of science. At least some of morality such as altruistic behavior has now been fit into evoltuionary constructs. Hopefully we will understand more soon.

  106. Anthony, in other words, you want me to answer the question before you answer the question. Well, fine.

    Prudential norms are rules that are followed that make for demonstrations of sound judgment in one’s practical affairs, while moral norms are based on reasons that have a special authority. Both are norms, therefore are directed towards the regulation of conduct. But prudential norms are based largely upon a background of beliefs about goal-seeking that will be successful for the individual, while moral norms are based (at the best of times) on reasons for accepting these regulations, and do not necessarily extend to self-interest.

    The point here is that, owing to its explicit basis in real-world consequences (in this case, egoistic), prudential norms are obviously world-responsive. However, with moral norms, the basis in real-world consequences is tokenistic at best, and whose canonical examples leave the background of worldly beliefs implicit. If we can say that scientific activity of the relevant kind is prudential — say, by citing its reliability at achieving some effects, as you do — then it becomes clear for one and all that even if all knowledge were mere opinion, they would be opinions of such distinct kinds that a pragmatic scientism is strongly recommended.

  107. Sorbet

    Nice enumeration of the difference between prudential and moral norms.

  108. My 12:30 seems to have canceled.

    — in other words, you want me to answer the question before you answer the question.
    B.S. N.

    “Prudential norms” has a use in financial law, which is where I’m used to seeing the phrase. That is why I wanted to see how you would define it before I waded into a swamp not of my own choosing. I can see problems with your distinction. Just off hand:

    — Prudential norms are rules that are followed that make for demonstrations of sound judgment in one’s practical affairs, while moral norms are based on reasons that have a special authority. B.S. Nelson

    Sound, prudential judgements to what end, which is determined to be sound, how and by what criteria? I don’t think you can get there without some resorting to some external authority. How you determine the “specialness” of that “moral” authority as opposed to whoever makes up the rules for your prudential norms, I’d like to know. Explain to me who determines the rules, if not an authority? If I’m not mistaken, “prudential norms” in the legal sense are defined by law and contracts, which seem to be what is meant by “sound judgement” in that case, how more authoritative can it get?

    If you’re talking about what I said about judging morality based on what the outcomes of that were in actual life and experience, as opposed to theories, I’ll go into that. I’m wondering where, in actual life instead of in sterile academic discussion, your distinction between your definitions of prudential and moral norms are made manifest so they can be judged in those ways. How is it useful? I suspect the distinction you draw is more a case of abstract philosophical jargon than of demonstrative, practical, reality. Though I’m open to your pointing out how that could be wrong.

    And I don’t see what this has to do with @ 56

    56. gillt Says:
    August 18th, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Shorter McCarthy: “Knowledge is merely opinion!”

    A complete and intentional misstatement of anything I’ve ever said.

    If another student cancels, perhaps I’ll get back to the rest of it but I really don’t have an opinion about the distinction except that it seems artificial.

  109. Sound prudential judgments are, in principle, grounded in one’s own ends and one’s own criteria, and rest upon relevant beliefs.

    Take the norm, “If you want to avoid being soaked on a rainy day, take an umbrella.” Who defines soaked? You do, according to whatever criteria you like. If your definition of ‘soaked’ is “not a single drop on you” (corresponding to a relevant desire), then you won’t accept the norm. What determines the grounds for the norm? The relevant belief(s): i.e., experience of correlation between raining and being soaked. Who is the relevant authority in this case? The question does not necessarily arise, because it is by no means clear that an authority is necessary to the formation of any of the grounding beliefs.

    If the above distinction is correct, then “authority” in the moral sense is unique from (say) prudential authority. We say someone (or some reason) is a moral authority on guiding our choices on some matter when we are inclined to defer to them without believing that we’re consciously referring to anything. Meanwhile, if a prudential authority advises you that you’ll stay perfectly dry when you go out in a rainstorm without an umbrella, we have obvious reason to call that person a charlatan and to revoke their authority, since he got his facts wrong.

  110. — Sound prudential judgments are, in principle, grounded in one’s own ends and one’s own criteria, and rest upon relevant beliefs.

    Take the norm, “If you want to avoid being soaked on a rainy day, take an umbrella.” Who defines soaked? You do, according to whatever criteria you like.

    I think you might find that “prudential norms” might actually have a stronger enforcement mechanism when it’s in a legal context, though I’m not a lawyer.

    Would “Do not do to others that which is hateful to you” be a prudential or a moral norm under your definition? How about the prohibition on taking the Lord’s name in vain in the United States where there is no enforcement of that commandment? I could probably come up with hundreds of other examples to try to find out how you would classify those according to this system. It might be interesting to ask other people to classify them and find out if they have identical results.

    If that’s what you mean, I think any practical use for that distinction is probably slight, at most and generally artificial and as superfluous as memes.

  111. Davo

    Interesting discussion. I think that the adage about not doing unto others what is hateful to you is a prudential norm since it is grounded in one’s own ends and self-interests. In this case as BN noted, what is hateful to you would naturally be entirely defined by you.

  112. Vindrisi

    Anthony, give it up. Benjamin can use incomprehensible jargon to justify whatever he already believes or wants to do. That means he wins! Always! Don’t you understand that? People like him have their jargon shields to defend them from reality and rational persuasion (just like creationists). In fact, I doubt you could formulate any argument that he couldn’t just dismiss with a wave of his jargony, jargony hand.

    And people wonder why there is such contempt for philosophers.

  113. Anthony,

    I suspect that we can take the legal case as an explication of the meta-ethical sense that I just rehearsed. If your favorite legal definition varies wildly from a plausible meta-ethical one, then we might have a disagreement. But at the present moment, since we’re attempting to suss out the points of comparison between entire fields of study with each other, it pays to adopt the policy of using the most appropriate and most general sense available to us, which would mean favoring the meta-ethical over the strictly legal.

    Both of your examples are clear moral norms. Do you believe they are prudential norms? If so, why?

    We agree, incidentally, that “memes” are artificial and ill-defined.

    Vin “Vinny” Deisel,

  114. — But at the present moment, since we’re attempting to suss out the points of comparison between entire fields of study with each other, B.S. Nelson

    I don’t know what you’re trying to do, I’m trying to look at various assertions you guys keep making in the name of science and reason and truth and goodness, often without much truth, or reason and in violation of the most basic requirements of science. I’ll leave the evaluation of goodness out of it for now, though I will go into honesty as seems useful.

    —- it pays to adopt the policy of using the most appropriate and most general sense available to us, which would mean favoring the meta-ethical over the strictly legal. B.S. Nelson

    I don’t really think that examining assertions about whether or not human beings can determine if chimpanzees and long extinct species we have never laid eyes on, have any form of morality that is relevant to what real people mean when they talk about morality. I don’t think inventing a fictitious thing and calling it “morality” in order to publish papers and get written up in the nyt or even the Guardian arises to the level of complexity requiring the tortured gyrations of the sort you are proposing. And I think what can be rather easily understood about it by a disinterested party casting a mildly skeptical eye on the claims, would preclude the creation of imaginary genes to make up a story about this “morality” conferring an a favorable reproductive advantage, the new atheist version of “making the word flesh”, as I never tire of pointing out. I don’t think your analysis is necessary to demonstrate that the idea is quite likely unfounded bunkum and any subsequent claims made against “religion” on that basis is compounded bunkum.

    You want to impress me, answer the points about how you could determine if modern chimps are capable of exercising moral agency in the way that rational, mature humans are held to after they have attained sufficient years.

  115. Matti K, I don’t see any evidence in that hit job on Chris and Sheril you linked to. I thought you guys were the ones who always have to have evidence to back up what you say. It’s just another hit job by someone who doesn’t like what they wrote.

    The new atheism is a shallow, dishonest, bigoted intellectual fad that is conducting an old fashioned smear campaign to try to suppress their critics. Their ideas and behavior can’t survive honest criticism and they don’t want publishers to put out books that do that or the authors to write them. Making those authors damaged goods with the majority of people who can be depended on to not have actually read them is the tactic.

  116. Sorbet

    The new atheism is a shallow, dishonest, bigoted intellectual fad that is conducting an old fashioned smear campaign to try to suppress their critics

    You would know, right? Generalize generalize…

  117. Sorbet

    And of course, you keep on asking for evidence when you and the authors have never provided evidence that the New Atheists are holding science literacy back.

  118. Vindrisi

    And the writer doesn’t seem to have even read the book. His arguments are as much a caricature of the book’s points as those of most of the NAs who have been posting here. Frankly, the extreme, unthinking, and childish response from the NAs illustrates just how much truth there is to the book’s criticism of the NA community.

  119. Sorbet

    Vin, is asking for evidence extreme? If so your definitions are different my friend. It is understandable that M & K might be put off by PZ Myers since some of his language is harsh. But that’s totally different from putting forward a substantive argument that these kinds of opinions are seriously affecting scientific literacy. Providing evidence is the least one could do in such a case.

  120. Vindrisi

    Oh please. Demanding evidence in this case is just a way of getting away from even considering the argument, and in now way, shape, or form justifies the twisting of M and K’s positions that every NA screed against them has been guilty of. The NA reaction shows with crystal clarity just how childishly unthinking and emotional the NA community’s impulses really are. Just spare us all the smug dodges.

  121. Sorbet

    Vin, you are again being evasive without addressing the question. Do you actually know of data or even of a relatively informal or casual survey that indicates that the New Atheists (who are no more than 5-7 years old) have done any substantial harm to scientific literacy? Do you also have any kind of data that says that the number of people they have put off science outweighs the number who they have drawn toward science and reason? Let’s debate substance and stay away from general character attacks.

  122. Vindrisi, you don’t really have to answer the Sorbot. It’s pretty similar to what you’ve pointed out, he’s an automatic response mechanism, two settings, one for new atheists, one for the opponents. Guess which setting contains all of the automatic demands for evidence and the denials that any provided are legitimate or sufficient.

    “Let’s debate substance and stay away from general character attacks, ” Isn’t that rich, considering the source of it.

  123. Anthony, I have a comment that is trapped in moderation. Suffice it to say, if you have been slandered with the opinion that all knowledge is mere opinion, then we do not disagree.

    Sorbet, I think there is an indirect argument to the effect that the new atheists have clearly turned Vindrisi off of science, since that person has clearly have abandoned any evidence- or reasons- responsiveness. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but technically correct. I expect mea culpas on my desk by noon tomorrow, everyone.

  124. Sorbet

    Dear Joey McCarthy
    I did take the Eliza test and I was startled when it said “You are not a human! You are an imposter and your name is Anthony ‘Joe’ McCarthy!”. Actually it was kind of fun.
    Lots and lots of love, The Sorbot

    Still no evidence from the McCarthy Word Processor

  125. Sorbet

    Are we done with the personal attacks now? Can we talk about evidence? I can do the ad hominem all day long.

  126. Vindrisi

    Twist, dodge, ignore substance, defame. Keep doing the NA polka. Notice still no defense against my point that you guys seem to constantly miss what M and K wrote and instead just go off in attack mode because they were so thoughtless as to criticize you (after all, only NAs may legitimately criticize anyone for any position – I’m sure Benny has a philosophical argument proving it so he never has to doubt it).

    And Benny, that indirect argument you allude to would be as far removed from reality as most of your jargon-laden philo-pablum (but oh must it make you feel so good and superior).

  127. Sorbet

    So maybe you could enlighthen us ignoramuses about what we missed. Please.

  128. Vinny baby,

    You’re so right. This is from a documentary on my life:

  129. Vindrisi

    Well, Sorbet, you could try actually reading for comprehension.

    Ah, Benny-boy, how cute.

  130. Sorbet

    Vinny, I happen to have actually read that part of the book and definitely thought that the authors think the NAs to be partly responsible for scientific illiteracy in the present and the future. You seem to think otherwise, that’s why I am aching to hear your alternative explanation.

  131. —- Are we done with the personal attacks now?

    Are we?

    —- Can we talk about evidence?

    You can talk about it, how about presenting it?

    —- I can do the ad hominem all day long.

    We know.

  132. Sorbet

    -We know

    You would of course. It’s your specialty, perhaps more so than the piano

  133. Sorbet

    -You can talk about it, how about presenting it?

    The evidence is in Chapter 8, pg 95-109 of the book. The counter-evidence is what seems to be lacking. How about presenting it?

  134. Sorbet

    Sorry, I meant to say the material in Chapter 8, pg 95-109 is not really supported by data. How about presenting some?

  135. Vindrisi

    And where are your data that support the assertion that overheated, insulting, demeaning, and polarizing rhetoric aimed at the vast majority of the population and backed by outright religious bigotry help the cause of science literacy? Where are your data supporting the assertion that tying science to crusading religious atheism helps? You don’t. M and K made an argument that is intuitively obvious to them and a great many others. Are the data there yet? Not beyond anecdote, but neither are the data there for your side. Someone will do a study at some point, and then there will be data. You can demand the data then. For now, in response to their argument, the NAs could have, like truly rational people, taken the argument into consideration and reflected on whether or not they are helping or hurting. If they are carrying out a carefully thought out campaign, or just venting their spleens. Did they? Perhaps a few, but most clearly did not. Instead they went into howling histrionics at the very idea that they were criticized for anything and launched vile, personal, unthinking attacks backed by overheated, insulting, demeaning, and polarizing rhetoric. Rational people don’t act like that. People certain beyond all doubt in their self-righteousness and blinded by their hatred of others who aren’t like them do. Come on, give me some of that bile you enjoy spitting so much little sherbet.

  136. Sorbet

    Do you understand the simple concept of burden of proof (and sorry but I am not going to take the ad hominem bait that you have extended)? The authors are the ones making the assertion that the NAs are putting people off science. They are the ones who should supply proof for this positive assertion.

    On the other hand, we suspect but make no pretense of claiming that this is not the case. What is necessary as you said is some kind of data showing that this is not the case. You yourself also say that in the absence of data from either side one cannot reach a consensus. But that is why we haven’t written a book, the authors have. We did not write a book saying that the NA’s are not putting people off science. They are the ones who wrote a book insisting that they do. Again, very simply, the burden of proof is clearly on them as any thinking person will realize.

    And it might be “intuitively” “obvious” to you, them or a hundred others, but I hope you do know the problems associated with relying on intuition; rational debate does not proceed based on intuition. If nothing else a survey or poll should settle the question, but in its absence there should not be assertions made which are based on intuition and personal feelings.

  137. Sorbet

    Comment in moderation. Wait for it. And don’t worry, I am not going to respond to your ad hominem name-calling.

  138. Sorbet

    In a nutshell, the burden of evidence is on the authors (and you) since they are making a positive assertion.

  139. – In a nutshell, the burden of evidence is on the authors (and you) since they are making a positive assertion. Sorbot

    I’m making a positive assertion that this is a standard the new atheists don’t hold themselves and their heroes to. If you want evidence, look at how the question about determining the moral competence of chimpanzees has gone unanswered.

  140. Sorbet

    We are not talking about the moral competence of chimpanzees here, are we Jenny? We are talking about a specific point made in the book.

  141. . If you want evidence, look at how the question about determining the moral competence of chimpanzees has gone unanswered.

    Well, I’ve been a bit busy, and once the thread fell off the front page, I figured it was probably too late. But, short version: do you think the phrase “chimpanzee toolmaking” is just inherently ludicrous/offensive?

  142. Vindrisi

    Okay. Insulting, attacking, demeaning, and polarization and religious bigotry promotes acceptance of science and anyone who argues otherwise must endure irrational, defensive, and bigoted attacks. Period. End of sentence. No self-reflection or questioning needed. Got it. I kinda figured that would be your response. Typical NA.

  143. Do I think the phrase “chimpanzee toolmaking” is just inherently ludicrous/offensive?

    First, don’t mistake me for a logical positivist. I didn’t declare the phase “primate morality” to be ludicrous or offensive, just that the state of our knowledge or ability to obtain knowledge about any proposed “primate morality” was such that it couldn’t be proposed as a legitimate scientific concept reasonably expected to produce reliable infomration. I think it promises to be more unproductive or counterproductive than ludicrous or offensive, though the latter two rather depend on the extent to which it is taken and the arrogance with which it is asserted. Though it does seem rather offensively presumptuous of we humans, who, in aggregate, are demonstrably morally depraved, to be judging those species who, perhaps, have the wisdom to not let us in on their inner lives in terms of morality. Chimpanzees aren’t engaged in mixing technology, science, social organization, ideology and selfishness in an insane and foolish race to destroy the biosphere, committing suicide through ecocide.

    On the other hands, the making and using of tools by chimpanzees is something that we can observe, something we cannot directly observe in our or their most direct, not to mention more remote, ancestors. It is an act using physical objects to achieve an observable, material end. I would guess we could be on more solid grounds of science to use the human concept of “toolmaking” in coming to some preliminary ideas about what is observed in another species might find as an analog in human experience. Though making the great leap of illogic, assuming the act tells us something about we of a rather different species, is a great leap of faith as well. One I’m not willing to take very far because it seems both rather presumptuous and not necessary by any rational exigency. I think the new atheist use of such ideas is, rather, an indication that a lot of unrelated junk can be put into imaginary baskets. Now the study of THAT, looking the propensity of human beings to phony up their ideological preference with all kinds of would-be science might a useful way for members of our own species to spend their time. Looking at how allegedly scientific folk grasp at straws to try to pull the objects of their desire from the impenetrable earth in order to feed on them just might yield something a bit more reliable and, perhaps, useful to avoiding problems.

  144. Sorbet

    Vinny, how about answering the question instead of more repetition of the catch phrases? Typical NAC

  145. — instead of more repetition of the catch phrases? Sorbot

    Why? You worn them all out already?

  146. Sorbet

    No, you wore mine out

  147. Oh, was that “Jenny” supposed to be something that would bother me? I just figured it was a glitch in the programming.

  148. Sorbet

    Ask your designer to modify your CPU so that your word recognition gets better Jenny. You are seeing glitches where none exist and seem to be unable to identify simple names and alphabet patterns. Don’t worry, I am sure the upgrade would benefit you.

  149. The Sorbot has discovered the inverse Turing Test, where a computer program tries to identify if someone’s another computer program.

  150. Sorbet

    And Jenny McCarthy failed because it seemed to only mimic a computer program but was actually closer to an abacus

  151. I read your piece in the Sunday NYT today. While I was at Smith College my colleague George Fleck (Department of Chemistry) and I described exactly the cosmic fundamental you wonder about in your essay.

    See: R. E. Morel and George Fleck, “A Fourth Law of Thermodynamics,” Khimiya, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 305–308 (2006).

    The law states that thermodynamic systems increase entropy at the maximum rate available to them. Star formation and candle flames are expressions of this law. In living systems that dynamic becomes managed maximization, that is, optimization. Therein resides the essence of evolution, from cells to civilizations and theologies.

    In theological terms I call this law the expression of the hand of a minimal god. Virtue is indeed embedded in this universal dynamic. The Golden Rule applies as the communion of matter and energy unfolds the rich dynamic that we witness as the human enterprise, experience, and spirit.

  152. Does he expect me to be insulted because he’s calling me a girl name? I guess it’s devolved from jr. high to the fourth grade.

  153. Sorbet

    It’s the irrationality and not the girl (your distant cousin as you once mentioned) that’s important silly. What grade are you in? Oh, I forgot…programs only have versions, not grades.

  154. Jenny McCarthy’s become sorta the Queen of Woo, and potentially harmful woo at that. She’s your distant cousin? Huh. Anyway, that’s going too far, as I see it – I disagree with you on a bunch of these issues, and think here you’re committed to a stubborn (if understandable) hands-over-ears naa naa naaaa I can’t hear you! opposition to science’s ability to explore human nature that’s only bolstered by an apparent ignorance of the research in question (a bit like the time you kept insisting that exobiology was absurd, without displaying any real familiarity or understanding of it). But you’re not anywhere near the level of preaching extremely dangerous anti-vaccination idiocy to parents, risking countless children’s (and adults’) lives.

    Anyway, I’ve got to get back to work, but here: the wonderful (if thoroughly pop-science) RadioLab on morality
    Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? We peer inside the brains of people contemplating moral dilemmas, watch chimps at a primate research center share blackberries, observe a playgroup of 3 year-olds fighting over toys, and tour the country’s first penitentiary, Eastern State Prison. Also: the story of land grabbing, indentured servitude and slum lording in the fourth grade.

  155. No, the investigation of morality among articulate, sufficiently rational and intelligent contemporary humans is too complex to be treated scientifically.

    See, now this is another example of that kind of obscurantism – scientific research has revealed all sorts of fascinating (if sometimes highly disturbing) things about human morality, from the shocking Milgram experiment and Stanford prison experiment to the brainscans+trolley problem work Joshua Greene’s been doing to the discovery that lesions in a very specific part of the brain (the VMPFC) turns people into utilitarians to studies revealing that our moral judgements are unconsciously influenced by our surroundings (bad smells), whether we just washed our hands, or simply unscrambling purity-related words to . . .

  156. —- She’s your distant cousin? Dan S.

    News to me. I have a second cousin named Jennifer who is a blue collar worker who just had her second child. I doubt she’s ever published anything even online.

    —- you’re committed to a stubborn (if understandable) hands-over-ears naa naa naaaa I can’t hear you! opposition to science’s ability to explore human nature that’s only bolstered by an apparent ignorance of the research in question. Dan S.

    I’ve seen scads of stuff that is sloppily conceived and carried out, without any attempt at a random sample of the population, resting on amazingly far fetched foundations and methods, etc. Sorry, Dan, but professionally done parapsychological research is almost uniformly better at running a clean shop than psychology. I’ve seen little of it that passes the smell test, when one’s honestly given.

    —- lesions in a very specific part of the brain (the VMPFC) turns people into utilitarians Dan S.

    Have you approached Alonzo Fyte with this? I can’t wait till they find out what kind of brain damage produces pragmatism and …. and, come to think of that, here’s what an arch pragmatist had to say…..

    Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too
    simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical
    materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to
    Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an
    epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of
    Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox’s discontent with the
    shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a
    symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle’s organ-tones of misery it
    accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental
    overtensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter,
    mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to
    the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet
    discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual
    authority of all such personages is successfully undermined….

    …. To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in
    refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite
    illogical and arbitrary, unless one has already worked out in advance
    some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with
    determinate sorts of physiological change. Otherwise none of our
    thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our
    DIS-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for
    every one of them without exception flows from the state of its
    possessor’s body at the time.

    We’ve been over so much of this ground before in various fights at other blogs. You know that I’m not ever going to accept the universal applicability of “findings” from a tiny sample of non-randomly chosen subjects, who often could be expected to be able to intuit some motive in the exercise. And those are only a few of the problems I’ve got with large amounts of soc-behavior sci stuff.

    —- studies revealing that our moral judgements are unconsciously influenced by our surroundings (bad smells), whether we just washed our hands, or simply unscrambling purity-related words to . Dan S.

    Only someone with the most superficial and artificial view of the huge, varied, vague and non-unanimous topic of what is moral could make that kind of statement. I don’t think science could come up with an honest definition of morality that both has some correspondence to that concept in real life which could be the subject of scientific study. Make that THOSE CONCEPTS, since what is and isn’t moral is itself subject to wildly varied and inconsistent interpretation due to quite unknown motivations. I don’t even think a moderately honest student of religious ethics would think they could come up with a universally acknowledged code of morality. “Purity-related” words. And those would be, what universally acknowledged words?

  157. Sorbet

    Morality is that which stems from our self interest. As for Jenny, you yourself hinted that she was your distant cousin in a past post.

    Also, “To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in
    refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite
    illogical and arbitrary”…

    James was writing at the dawn of the twentieth century when almost nothing was known about neurons or mechanisms operating in the brain. Clearly James’s opinions about organic causation of religious states of mind were stated as opinions without evidence.

  158. — Morality is that which stems from our self interest.

    OK, this doesn’t surprise me from a libertarian materialist. You a devotee of Ayn Rand?

    — As for Jenny, you yourself hinted that she was your distant cousin in a past post.

    Did I? I don’t think I ever heard of her before. Can you give me the exact location of where I said that?

    James’ point stands quite well since it addresses exactly the wildest claims of “brain only” orthodoxy, that organic causation would have to also explain the existence of all other manifestations of human thought, including atheism and science. The howls of you guys to my pointing out that science could be unique to the human species as a means of understanding the material universe shows that you aren’t emotionally equipped to deal with that idea.

    I’d think that the idea of a God or other supernatural aspect of our lives would stand up better than the merely materialistic one in view of your assertions. After all, a creator God could have put the material mechanism there in service to our understanding as a means of coping with the material universe. If it’s the mere byproduct of our own peculiar kinds of neural architecture, its validity could also be quite peculiar and incapable of addressing large parts of the actual universe which might be out there. As both James and Eddington address in their writings on the topic.

    But, as I always point out, we don’t seem to have been let in on that secret in any manner which could be considered objective. Which doesn’t trouble me much for reasons I’ve long ago given here.

  159. Sorbet

    Actually I pretty much hate Rand and think there is a cult of people around her who shameless worship her (See the chapter on her in Michael Shermer’s “Why people believe weird things”). And it’s only you who seems to hear ‘howls’ where there are none. Citing James’s early 20th century belief that organic causation cannot explain religious states is clearly an argument from authority. Also, the fact that drug use can cause experiences very similar to religious experiences clearly shows that it’s not a tall stretch to explain religious experiences through organic causation. James was completely unaware of all this. And if you want to be a deist, fine by me.

  160. If it’s the mere byproduct of our own peculiar kinds of neural architecture, its validity could also be quite peculiar and incapable

    Oh sweet baby Jesus, you’ve discovered (or are referring to) Plantinga’s argument against evolutionary naturalism (which of course fails to understand exactly why science is as reliable as it is).

    The howls of you guys to my pointing out that science could be unique to the human species as a means of understanding the material universe shows

    I think people are reacting (though I too, am a bit confused about these supposed “howls”) to you saying stuff that sounds like postmodern-y ‘science is merely a product of society’ claptrap. (The “merely” there is doing a lot of work – obviously science is a product of society, often in extremely limiting (and too often rather unfortunate) ways, but for all of that there’s also a real world out there that science is extraordinarily successful at touching.

    that organic causation would have to also explain the existence of all other manifestations of human thought, including atheism and science.

    Well, ultimately, yes. And in interaction with the world, of course. Really, it’s not so shocking – we take if for granted in re: all sorts of other body things.

    I want to reply to your 162 comment, but have to sleep. Tomorrow? A few brief things. 1) I’m being way over-simplistic and leaving out all sorts of caveats in my comments here (something unheard of in rushed blog comments, I know, but still) – for example, most of the folks working on this sort of stuff * don’t* talk about primate morality, but rather of ‘proto-morality’ or the roots of human morality in primate sociability and etc. And as you point out, many of these experiments do have small sample sizes and very limited demographics – that’s certainly something to consider.

    2 “Have you approached Alonzo Fyte with this? I can’t wait till they find out what kind of brain damage produces pragmatism and …. and, come to think of that, here’s what an arch pragmatist had to say…..

    Ok, but that’s not really relevant to what I said (which, to be fair, was rather simplistic – better: people with damage to that part of the brain seem to make rather utilitarian judgements when asked very specific kinds of moral questions). Your comment does not in any way address the results of this study. Abstract is here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v446/n7138/full/nature05631.html
    Use the google and you can find all sorts of details without having to pay!

    3) “Purity-related” words. And those would be, what universally acknowledged words?
    ” pure, washed, clean, immaculate or pristine” (also described as “cleaning-related” words.) Now, there’s certainly questions of cross-cultural applicability, no question about that. But would you say anything different were they to be resolved?
    (more: http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2009/04/how_wrong_is_it_to_use_a_kitte.php

    . I don’t even think a moderately honest student of religious ethics would think they could come up with a universally acknowledged code of morality.
    What does this have to do with anything? (Although it’s likely possible to come up with a sort of (very) minimum morality that almost everyone would agree with). Science is always a work in progress.

    Only someone with the most superficial and artificial view of the huge, varied, vague and non-unanimous topic of what is moral could make that kind of statement.

    Not sure how this follows. Sure, my statement is a simplification. Ok . . .? Perhaps if you would read the research, and – if you would be so kind – explain to me what the problem is? Small, doable, practical steps, you know? That’s how (in one respect) how science works.

    . I don’t think science could come up with an honest definition of morality that both has some correspondence to that concept in real life which could be the subject of scientific study.

    You seem very eager to insist that science could never never ever tell us anything whatsoever at all about the way morality works in humans (which is, of course, a different question from “what is moral”, unless you believe that the law of gravity means we have to go around pushing people off cliffs). Why?

  161. Perhaps one problem is the number of issues in play here. When I mention research about morality, I’m not here discussing whether God exists or if religion is just a badly-digested potato or 20 other things, but rather whether science can shed any light on how human morality works. You seem very convinced that it can’t, even though it’s not clear you’re at all familiar with any recent research on the subject (presumably stuff you’d want to test that opinion against). I don’t know how many links will send a post into moderation, but I’ve been trying to include enough info to make it all easily google-able (and also a link to some audio content – the radio lab show.

  162. — Citing James’s early 20th century belief that organic causation cannot explain religious states is clearly an argument from authority.

    First, James didn’t specifically say that organic causation couldn’t explain religious states, his argument was more complex and subtle. It was that if you were the equivalent of a “brain only” ideologue that you couldn’t depend on that argument as an invalidation of religion without also invalidating disbelief or even science since both of those would also be the result of organic causation. You, and just about every modern example of the ideology, fail to realize that there is no reason to believe that the product of organic causation would produce an absolute and unconditioned conception of reality but would produce one entirely moderated by the peculiarities of the mechanism of conception, the limits of that mechanism among those. Your faith is that the ideas that humans hold through logic and science are an accurate representation of some objectively existing truth just as fundamentalists believe that they get theirs from scriptures (I will leave aside both the peculiarities of their use of those scriptures and other issues because it’s not productive to the point). But the “brain only” ideology becomes fundamentalism partly through ignoring that clear implication of inherent limitation at the most basic level. What would be produced by even the combined force of many “brain only” brains is clearly and severely limited by the instruments capabilities and range or use. The more scientistic side of that, which wants to claim some bizarre exemption from those limits, ignores that, in the end, “science” doesn’t have some independent existence but is what resides in the brains of individuals at any given time. Maybe it would be more honest to address that when talking epistemology and talk about “sciences”, us all possessing only what we possess and can actively cope with. This “science” which is supposed to contain the sum total of the knowledge taken as reliable at any time, is supernatural since it doesn’t have any kind of material existence.

    You’ve got more in common with Ayn Rand than you’d like to imagine.

    —- Oh sweet baby Jesus, you’ve discovered (or are referring to) Plantinga’s argument against evolutionary naturalism Dan S.

    I’m not familiar with Plantinga but I haven’t made any kind of anti-evolutionary statement. Evolution happened, the science that supports that evolution happened is as close to rock solid as anything in science, perhaps, I’m coming to think, more so than some of modern physics. Naturalism, unless you’re referring to the mis-named necessity of science only addressing the material universe, is an ideology and I’d think it should be as removed from science as any aspect of theology.

    —- to you saying stuff that sounds like postmodern-y ’science is merely a product of society’ claptrap. Dan S.

    Could we be running head long into one of the clearer roadblocks of our neural architecture? The dependence on previously digested concepts as a way of summarily brushing aside arguments on the basis of not liking them? I didn’t say that “science is merely a product of society”, I said that science is, in itself, a social manifestation. I gave my reasons for saying that, the dependence on peer review and the community of scientists among the most obvious.
    I don’t really claim to understand what “post modernism means”. I tend to think it means nothing since neither the alleged post modernists nor their critics have ever come up with any kind of coherent and widely accepted definition of what that is. I think in the new atheism, it’s a buzz word to dismiss those who take a close look at things that undercut their romantic, actually mystical, view of science, through looking at the more obvious conditions it really exists within. But refusing to consider those conditions or the historical and social conditions of any movement or mass ideology doesn’t get you to understanding. I’m always having to point out how like fundamentalist religion your faith is. You’re at bottom just another form of conservatives, it’s just that what you want to conserve is a different preferred conception of reality.

    —- Science is always a work in progress. Dan S.

    And as seen in the scrap heap of the soc and behavioral sciences, what gets called science is often a work in regress or, at least, the futile pursuit of validation for a widely varied host of delusions and ideas promoted on the basis of the professional interest of those holding them. In some of the worst cases of applied science, in clinical practice, those holdings can be perpetuated even within the bosom of the scientific community as long as it’s profitable to those practicing their ‘science’. From past experience I expect you to be outraged that I’ve mentioned that, though it’s something I’d point out manifested in religion or history or other kind of human culture which purports to integrity and, even, moral superiority.

    —- Perhaps if you would read the research, and – if you would be so kind – explain to me what the problem is? Small, doable, practical steps, you know? That’s how (in one respect) how science works. Dan S.

    About the “doable”, I’ve got very strong doubts, especially given the sloppiness of the methods and practices in the behavioral sciences, as we’ve gone into many a time before.

    I’m not the one making claims about the ability of science to study “morality”, it’s you guys who are asserting the possibility of that to the extent that you’re ready to declare you’re on the verge of of identifying the genetic basis of it. How “morality” which has been taken to mean so many different, and sometimes, contradictory things which has no set definition and which has every appearance of eluding even those who hold it, could be the manifestation of genetic causation, is rather basic to the problem of doing science around it.

    Let’s take an interesting religious problem, the “christianity” professed by so many in the military and even more so the chicken hawks who are so enthusiastic about militarism in the United States. Their ‘morality’ professes to hold the teachings of Jesus to be the Word of God, absolute and unbending moral truth that must be followed on pain of eternal damnation. Let’s begin with “those who live by the sword die by the sword” and the record that shows that his earliest followers, those who at least knew someone who actually heard Jesus, being pacifists. Let’s talk about the violence inherent in the military profession, it’s use in American foreign policy to do far, far more than “defend” the United States against attack. Let’s talk about its use to murder, oppress and enslave millions of people in the cult of Mammon that is the real religion of American conservatives, moderates and, I’d have to conclude many liberals and even leftists. I won’t go to the chastity and marital fidelity for which the military community is so notably NOT famous because I don’t think Jesus seemed very interested in that, though he was most definite on the question of divorce and remarriage, which is also a notable practice within military culture .

    Prey, tell me how “science” could identify the “morality” of a fundamentalist “christian” of the kind who wants to regularly stone people back to the stone age, “Let ‘God sort them out”, who excuses the rape and plunder of war, the provision of underage prostitutes (as seen just this past month in revelations from one of our more notorious supplier of mercenaries of an ultra-“christian” persuasion) and the infinite variety and depravity of that real life manifestation of “morality”?

    And that’s just one extreme example of the real as opposed to the abstract when it comes to “morality”.

    This is what you propose to treat with “science”. I’d say doing so is entirely impractical and any steps forward will most likely be illusory and eventually end up on that huge scrap pile of decommissioned behavioral “science” that no one seems to ever want to address. Pretending that you’re going to establish that mess in genetics is a smokescreen masking basic inability, just as the substitution of phony “scientific” definitions of terms such as “morality” has been. The success of finding even those absurd simplifications is notably skimpy.

  163. – Also, the fact that drug use can cause experiences very similar to religious experiences clearly shows that it’s not a tall stretch to explain religious experiences through organic causation. James was completely unaware of all this.

    You have clearly never read William James. Varieties of Religious Experience as well as a number of other books are available at Project Gutenberg, a more reliable free internet resource than Wikipedia is.

    As to whether or not the reported experiences of those who have had drug induced “religious” revelations are very similar to those who have not taken drugs, there isn’t any reason to believe that’s the case other than the language used to describe them. That could be no more than a reflection of the paucity of vocabulary or, as I often suspect in experimental psychology, that a significant number of the generally few subjects reporting to researchers might have some clue as to what they’re expected to experience.

    While there is certainly use of psychoactive substances in religious practices, there is also noteworthy prohibition on using them among those who believe they produce a delusional experience that hinders real spiritual experience. Which are right? I don’t have any idea but I’m sometimes more impressed with the morality manifested the actions of those who don’t indulge in that kind of religious experience. But it varies. I judge morality and religion on the basis of actions, not on professions of faith.

    — And if you want to be a deist, fine by me. Sorbot

    I wish you people would learn something about religion, your ignorance of the subject is manifested in just about every sentence you issue about it. I’m not a deist and no one with the slightest idea of what they and I are talking about would mistake me for one any more than they would a fundamentalist “christian” or a practitioner of Vodun. Deisism is a belief in a superfluous god, a non-religion which it’s amusing the new atheists find more congenial than agnosticism. I suspect they don’t like the dangers to their scientism inherent to agnosticism. Once you lose your fear of admitting the limits of cognition, you tend to notice the application of that insight in other areas than in the search for the objective God which there is no reason to believe in anyway.

    — You seem very eager to insist that science could never never ever tell us anything whatsoever at all about the way morality works in humans (which is, of course, a different question from “what is moral”, unless you believe that the law of gravity means we have to go around pushing people off cliffs). Why?

    I think you know why. It’s too big a topic, too ill defined, there is no unanimity about what it means, etc. I believe science is incapable of telling us anything about most of life. Can it tell us about the right to due process? Can it tell us about why it’s desirable for our species to contiue into another generation? Can it tell us why existence exists? I’m not emotionally dependent on pretending that science can do more than it was invented to do, I’m not willing to pretend that the sciencey stuff that folks like you have an interest in calling science, is science. I’m not willing to indulge your feelings in that area any more than I am those who want to pretend that the King James translation of The Bible is science or history or even a unified work instead of the collection of diverse human writings that an honest look at its origins reveals it to be. The results of that kind of delusion, on both sides, have been disastrous. I think the problem, Dan, is way too much credulousness in purported truth and not enough honesty about why the results are dubious. Too much “skepticism, in the sciencey guys, no honest doubt.

  164. Sorbet

    Maybe science cannot explain these things. But what makes you think religion can explain them any better Jenny? What does ‘explain’ even mean in that case? Also, how do you know drug induced experiences aren’t the same? After all the narration of many religious experiences is private, and so is the narration of drug induced experiences? Meditating Yogis’ brain patterns have been studied and have been shown to be similar to drug induced brain patters. There is a perfectly good reason for the suggestion that religious experiences entail known brain patterns and chemical action in the brain. There is nothing to suggest that such experiences will forever be beyond the ken of science.

  165. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Meditating Yogis’ brain patterns have been studied and have been shown to be similar to drug induced brain patters. Sorbot

    “There are so many bad brain imaging studies, it’s hard to believe,” says Nikos K. Logothetis, director of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany. “Too many of these experiments are being done by people who, unfortunately, don’t really understand what the technology can and cannot do.”

    …. The data looks rigorous – it has the veneer of cutting-edge science – and people assume it’s valid, even when the reasoning is shoddy.

    “You can’t just put people in a scanner and ask them whatever question you want,” Logothetis says. “Many of these [fMRI] papers are such oversimplifications of what’s happening in the brain as to be worthless.”

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/08/17/picturing_our_thoughts/#

  166. Sorbet

    Clear cherry picking Jenny. How about citing the studies that do demonstrate the equivalence, such as Andrew Newberg’s studies? At least science is providing some evidence, unlike you who dismiss the possibility based on no evidence at all.

  167. Whoa, I just say your (previously moderated?) big comment #168. I’d love to respond at length to all this, but am currently on a eat/sleep/work schedule (should be doing one of the last two right now) – will try to find more time tomorrow. Until then, a few points again:

    First, something simple and concrete. I asked:
    —- Perhaps if you would read the research, and – if you would be so kind – explain to me what the problem is? Small, doable, practical steps, you know? ….

    You responded:
    About the “doable”, I’ve got very strong doubts, especially given the sloppiness of the methods and practices in the behavioral sciences . . .” and then launched into several paragraphs about how morality is incredibly complex and stuff about decommissioned behavioral “science” and the morality of fundamentalist chickenhawks. Whatever the merits of all this, you completely failed to respond to my actual question. Now, this may well be my fault – upon a second glance it maybe sounds as if I’m unreasonably asking you to read &respond to all the research about morality (and right now!), instead of the two very specific studies discussed in the linked cognitive daily blog post. So: I’m asking you, if you’d like, to read about those two very specific studies – if only though that post – and explain what difficulties you see in that research, rather than vague (if all too relevant) condemnations of all the failures of science. You may note I’ve made a similar request re: the study I mentioned & linked to about damage to the VMPFC and moral judgement, which you also have not responded to. You’re welcome to do so now! (And I’d throw in some (google: Joshua Greene moral) for fun).

    Your faith is that the ideas that humans hold through logic and science are an accurate representation of some objectively existing truth

    No, it’s rather that through painstaking and in some ways rather “unnatural’ effort this ongoing process is the closest we’ve been able to get so far – and for all its many admitted flaws, it can be pretty darn impressive sometimes. (I think part of what I, at least, am reacting to in your comments is an impression (right or wrong) that all you seem to see (or consider worth commenting on) in the work of science is filth – sexism, racism, foolishness, greed, arrogance, destruction – with no sense of its concurrent value, promise, even beauty. Which, I suppose, balances out the folks who go too far the other way, but . . . ). That’s because science is to a large – tho’ imperfect – extent a body of cognitive, social, & institutional practices that work to minimize our particular limits, in part by constantly checking our ideas against the world. Again, very imperfect – see: people – but you presumably realize that it’s also been amazingly effective in a way that’s hard to ignore. Of course, religion does something similar, except instead of being able to refer to a supernatural reality (I don’t think one exists, but if so we don’t seem to have any meaningful access to it) it can only deal with specifically human factors – psychological and social issues.

    This “science” which is supposed to contain the sum total of the knowledge taken as reliable at any time, is supernatural since it doesn’t have any kind of material existence.

    Is the internet supernatural?

    You’ve got more in common with Ayn Rand than you’d like to imagine.
    Swords at dawn, then?

    I’m not familiar with Plantinga
    He’s a philosopher who has published work attempting to deal with the problem of evil which, if I understand correctly, invokes in passing ~demons as a cause of natural ‘evil’ – although this may be some philosophy thing that I don’t get, like my completely innocent, coulda-happened-to-anyone little mixup involving philosophical zombies . . .
    Anyway, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism

    Naturalism, unless you’re referring to the mis-named necessity of science only addressing the material universe

    Remember, the concept of methodological naturalism (assuming/addressing a natural universe for the purpose of doing science, as a method) as championed by folks like – notably – philosopher Robert Pennock (in, ie, his book Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism) is one that’s been praised by our hosts here, and criticized by a number of ‘New Atheists.)

    is an ideology and I’d think it should be as removed from science as any aspect of theology.

    I think that’s not an indefensible argument.

    I didn’t say that “science is merely a product of society”
    Sure. But while every other corner of the internet is a paradise of pure reason and calm, careful, measured debate . . . Yeah. I’m just suggesting one possibility why folks may have responded in a certain way.

    I don’t really claim to understand what “post modernism means”. I tend to think it means nothing
    That’s either very deep or very shallow. Or both. Anyway, I’m using it here, in scare quotes, to refer to approaches that seem to ignore or reject the idea that science can ever relate in the slightest sense, however limited, to empirical reality, instead of being completely&utterly an evil oppressive racistsexistcolonialist badthing. (Yes, this is kinda unfair to everything involved, insofar as they can be seen behind all that straw, but . . . . )

    , it’s just that what you want to conserve is a different preferred conception of reality.
    Yeah, the one that gets us vastly improved childbirth survival rates.

    From past experience I expect you to be outraged that I’ve mentioned that,

    On the contrary, I think that this sort of basic critical thinking/self-defense, however exaggerated, here, is vital for the function of science both in itself and in society. My problem’s justthat you don’t stop at – ‘and this is why we have to be really careful and critical scientific citizens’ but slide all the way to ‘Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! Eviiiiiiiiiiil!

    Prey, [!] tell me how “science” could identify the “morality” of a fundamentalist “christian” of the kind who wants to regularly stone people back to the stone age, “Let ‘God sort them out”, who excuses the rape and plunder of war, the provision of underage prostitutes (as seen just this past month in revelations from one of our more notorious supplier of mercenaries of an ultra-”christian” persuasion) and the infinite variety and depravity of that real life manifestation of “morality”?

    I’m really failing to understand whatever point(s) you’re making here. That’s not to say that there isn’t one (or more), but all I’m hearing is the all-too-familiar insistence that ‘it’s too complicated! science can never ever even start to explain it! it’s hopeless, not even worth trying! just give up!’ Which is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, it’s true that not every single attempt in defiance of this dreary moaning have currently proved this untrue, but I’d say the track record is such that one would have some pretty big doubts. Anyway, perhaps you could explain what you see the problem is? And is one issue here the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive, etc?

    Nikos K. Logothetis

    I’d be afraid to argue with someone named Logothetis -I fear I’d end up convinced I was actually a character in some ancient philosophical dialogue

  168. My reply to #168 is awaiting moderation . . . .

  169. An excerpt from my comment-in-moderation:

    …something simple and concrete. I asked:
    —- Perhaps if you would read the research, and – if you would be so kind – explain to me what the problem is? Small, doable, practical steps, you know? ….
    You responded:
    About the “doable”, I’ve got very strong doubts, especially given the sloppiness of the methods and practices in the behavioral sciences . . .” and then launched into several paragraphs about how morality is incredibly complex and stuff about decommissioned behavioral “science” and the morality of fundamentalist chickenhawks. Whatever the merits of all this, you completely failed to respond to my actual question. Now, this may well be my fault – upon a second glance it maybe sounds as if I’m unreasonably asking you to read &respond to all the research about morality (and right now!), instead of the two very specific studies discussed in the linked cognitive daily blog post. So: I’m asking you, if you’d like, to read about those two very specific studies – if only though that post – and explain what difficulties you see in that research, rather than vague (if all too relevant) condemnations of all the failures of science (and there certainly are questions and issues, as I see it). You may note I’ve made a similar request re: the study I mentioned & linked to about damage to the VMPFC and moral judgement, which you also have not responded to. You’re welcome to do so now! (And I’d throw in some (google: Joshua Greene moral) for fun).

  170. I’d be afraid to argue with someone named Logothetis -I fear I’d end up convinced I was actually a character in some ancient philosophical dialogue

    And yet you’ll make common cause with Wowbagger and Sorbet. You pals with Science Avenger too?

    Dan, I don’t see much in this but I might get around to answering it sometime. Though what point I used to see in doing that is growing ever smaller as it recedes into the mist of your purposefully generated fog.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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