Robert Wright: A Grand Bargain Over Evolution

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 23, 2009 1:39 pm

An excerpt from Robert Wright’s thought-provoking piece in today’s New York Times:

12fulfordspan.jpgOf course, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on awe and inspiration. The story that science tells, the story of nature, is awesome, and some people get plenty of inspiration from it, without needing the religious kind. What’s more, science has its own role to play in knitting the world together. The scientific enterprise has long been on the frontiers of international community, fostering an inclusive, cosmopolitan ethic — the kind of ethic that any religion worthy of this moment in history must also foster.

William James said that religious belief is “the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.” Science has its own version of the unseen order, the laws of nature. In principle, the two kinds of order can themselves be put into harmony — and in that adjustment, too, may lie a supreme good.

Read the full article here

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion
MORE ABOUT: Robert Wright

Comments (241)

  1. I like how this debate is at a level of seriousness and creates human misery to such an extent that we’re prepared to call it a “war”. But I guess after the War on Drugs we North Americans are willing to fatten up our lexicon with all the hysterics that we think we’ll get away with.

    Well, sure, whatever. Here’s my opening salvo, as I close ranks with fellow missionaries and fire a cannon of word-bombs, laying waste to Hiroshimas of ad hoc common sense with the atom bomb of the evolving scientific story, preparing the way for the invasion of two armies of militant evangelicals, who will play out a brutal post-apocalyptic cage-match fighting over the right of ownership over the last shreds of freedom in a soulless universe, etc.

  2. foolfodder

    Alternatively: http://scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2009/08/the_unseen_and_unknowable_has.php

    William James said that religious belief is “the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.” Science has its own version of the unseen order, the laws of nature. In principle, the two kinds of order can themselves be put into harmony — and in that adjustment, too, may lie a supreme good.

    The religious unseen order is not just unseen though, it’s also undetectable by any other means, unlike the laws of nature.

  3. MadScientist

    @Benjamin S. Nelson: People who have never been in a war seem quite happy to brand everything with “war”. War on obesity, war on drugs – the list goes on. I think I’ll start a war on branding things with “war”.

  4. Michael Heath

    The Wright piece is an exercise in sophomoric thinking. There is no more reason to argue ‘god did it’ for altruism as there is for the behavior of ants, for convergent evolution. Wright sacrifices both evidence and sound argument at the altar of accommodationism; and all for naught.

    In fact, worse than naught. Wright would have us bring an irrational, evidence-less argument which can’t be tested or falsified into consideration that only weakens the current explanatory model we have and which is consistent with all discovered evidence to date. Scientific methodology conceding that ‘god coulda done it’ won’t bring more creationists to the table of reason and understanding; it instead provides ammunition to them to falsely characterize our understandings are more tenuous than we like to admit.

    In addition, I sensed that Wright has not adequately conceptualized the amount of time we talking about relative to the evolutionary rates required. Perhaps the ‘god did it’ consideration he’d like to throw in the mix is his response to his own inability to develop his concept of the time span we’re required to consider.

  5. Ian

    One only need to look into the history of science to realise this is old news.

  6. ShowsOn

    There’s a good summary of why Wright’s article is nonsensical here:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/robert-wright-pirouetting-on-the-fence/

    Atheists are often attacked for mischaracterising what religion actually is, well, what does Wright do? He says that the only acceptable religion is one where God doesn’t do anything after the big bang, which is not what most religious people think religion means. So on that grounds alone Wright isn’t even characterising one of the members of the debate properly.

  7. Davo

    And Paul Myers’s take on it, albeit not as comprehensive as Coyne’s
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/morality_doesnt_equal_god.php

  8. gillt

    According to Wright, as long as any old speculation is not incompatible with known science, then we must take it seriously. Is he serious?

  9. Erasmussimo

    Upon reading the criticisms of Mr. Wright’s irrationalism, I am reminded of an apt quote:

    “Let he who is without irrationalism cast the first stone.”

  10. Sorbet

    Wright claims that science cannot say much about morality, again without evidence. As Myers indicates, there is a good model of self-interest that can explain why human beings don’t steal and don’t kill each other on a whim (and it also explains why humans do these things too). What about the evolutionary and neuroscientific models of pity, kindness and altruism (many arising from self-interest, as described in for instance, Michael Shermer’s “The mind of the market”)? What about the discovery of mirror neurons and their fascinating activity that seems to indicate a scientific basis for empathy? Sure, maybe these models could turn out to be flawed, but it goes against the grain of Occam to simply proclaim that morality is beyond the ken of science.

  11. gillt

    Not every trait, even complex behavioral traits, is a result of selection. Wright doesn’t appear to understand that chance is a heavy hitter in evolution, as evidenced by his bloggingheads talk with Dennett and his argument from design. Am I allowed to question whether Wright understands genetic drift and neutral mutations, or would I be casting a stone?

  12. Sorbet

    Larry Moran has often emphasized random genetic drift on his blog, a fact that as you state Wright does not seem to mention.
    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2009/08/evolution-of-god.html

  13. gillt

    There is a legitimate argument among scientists who study this stuff on how much natural selection versus genetic drift (non-environmental and non-adaptive pressures) factor into populations and even speciation events. Wright apparently has no interest in this argument; he’s already committed to one view. Wright NEEDS to be a pan-adaptationist, at least in respect to altruism, for his musings to graduate to a just-so story.

  14. Erasmussimo

    Sorbett, there’s a huge difference between science’s explanation for the factors underlying morality and the determination of an individual’s moral code. Science can explain our preference for fat and sugar but that doesn’t mean that everybody should eat fat and sugar.

  15. GM

    The spirit of this blog get more and more creationism-friendly… and less and less accurate science finds its way on it. Because this is the essence of accomodationism – sacrifice the science for politics. Which is exactly what happens in such pieces like the one cited here

    The scientifically accurate view of human nature and morality is that there is absolutely no such thing; the only reason we adhere to some norms of behavior is that the benefits minus the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits minus the costs of not doing so. It is also the reason why we are getting more moral/civilized with time. Our society has simply become more complex and with it, the interdependence between individuals is much greater now, and in turn, the cost of not adhering to the norms has grown too. Being “moral” is simply the right Darwinian strategy right now. However, reduce society’s complexity (likely to happen in the not so distant future due to cold hearted physical factors that don’t give a damn about our imagined morality), and by doing so change the cost-benefit balance of behaving morally, and watch what happens. Chances are, we will be able to see the hypothesis that we are as inherently moral as we would like to think we are tested on a very grand scale.

    There is absolutely nothing that requires invoking God to explain human behavior. It is not only bad science but actually extremely dangerous to do so because it drills some very foolish and inadequate understanding of our own nature and behavior into our heads, which is likely to backfire very bad on us.

    Shame on the self-proclaimed science communicators for falling in that trap and making the task of the few who actually know what they’re talking about even harder.

  16. Jon

    It is also the reason why we are getting more moral/civilized with time.

    I don’t think that’s obvious at all.

    But it’s always interesting when some starry eyed NA comes out and says it for everybody.

    This is the unstated belief of a lot of the New Atheists: “if we just hit people over the head hard enough, some day… a Rationalist Utopia!!” (Never mind the historical record of rationalist utopias.)

    People with any knowledge of history know that the record of tolerant liberalism does much better than ultra-rationalist illiberalism

  17. Hmm interesting theory. But I think this is a closer approximation of the New Atheist psyche that I’ve come to know and love:

  18. Skeptic

    It is obvious to a thinking person. It’s human evolution itself which progressed through the interplay of complex human agents (read Carl Zimmer’s book for instance) so such an evolution of morality can be very well contemplated. There is no reason to think morality does not arise out of self-interest. It’s the ones who think otherwise and who believe morality arises from some ‘higher’ purpose who are starry eyed.

  19. Sorbet

    Sure, the determination of an individual’s moral code should not (and does not) necessarily take place on a scientific basis. The problem arises when you begin to argue that a religious basis alone is necessary or important for the emergence of such a code, not just as a matter of fact but as a matter of principle.

  20. Granted that there are significant and awesome constructive advances made in ethics by the leading lights of our culture(s). Nevertheless, it seems to me that this has no bearing on the question of the evolution of moral conduct of real people, which is both entwined with an individual’s own changing relationship with their environment in a lifespan (i.e., it is tightly connected with prudential judgments, access to tangible resources, and real political situations, etc.); and also is a matter of the actor’s direct choice, again within a lifespan.

    Oh, I suppose that we can stretch the analogy if we wanted to talk about evolution(s) in a single generation, if we fancied doing that, but it would risk making the term pretty much meaningless.

  21. Jon

    There is no reason to think morality does not arise out of self-interest.

    Sounds like an Ayn Rand fan. Fits well with the rationalist utopia thing…

  22. Jon, in fairness you might want to take a look at the literature around contractarianism (formulated as a response to contractualism). It takes enlightened self-interest as central, and is light years away from loopy Randisms.

  23. GM

    Nobody is talking about utopias here. But we need to realize that our current approach to society building, i.e. what is best for the individual is best for the whole group, is extremely naive and misguided, and if we want to create a working society, our biological nature has to be taken into account.

    That means that we need to accept the simple fact that we are no different from other animals and just as they do, we aim at getting as many copies of our genes into the next generation as possible; and we will play that game with as little rules as the situation allows. In simple terms this means that things like the desire to have many kids, the pursuit of material wealth and the outrageous waste of resources many indulge in as status symbols to attract the other sex (which in turn is “wired” to like such behavior), the “It doesn’t matter which kids are the most talented, mine has to come out on top no matter the cost” attitude that most parents have, and many other totally destructive for our species as a whole behaviorial patterns, are readily explained by some basic principles of how organisms without a long evolutionary history of social life behave in nature.

    Only by making sure each and every individual fully understands these things and the impact they have on all of us if left unchecked, and by designing a set of rules that keep our animal instincts in check, can we create a stable society that will last for thousands of years. But it will be by no means a utopia because it will have to balance the interest of the individual against the large-scale and long-tern interests of the species, and this will not always be pleasant for the individual.

    And, needless to say, there is absolutely no place for any kind of superstition, much less religion in such a society. This is the message that has to come out of scientists, not distorting and hiding the facts to the point of actually lying about them, which is what too many these days suggest.

  24. Jon

    by designing a set of rules that keep our animal instincts in check, can we create a stable society that will last for thousands of years.

    Who are the “designers”? Who appointed them?

    Again, this idea that self-appointed rational people can reduce nature and “design rules” to last “thousands of years” (in a perfectly disinterested way, of course) strikes me as something out of early 20th century technocracy–which did not fair well.

    I think we do better with a lighter touch. Enlightenment doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s presuming quite a bit to think it will take the form that YOU think it will, that “religion is the root of all mankind’s conflict“, etc.

  25. GM

    Religion isn’t the root, it is a symptom of deeper problems, but in the same time it is also a barrier to overcoming those problems because it shuts down people’s eyes and minds.

    The basic problem with Enlightenment is that it is too slow (and it may also suffers from the diminishing return of investment problem, I just don’t see a peaceful way to “enlighten” people who actively resist being “enlightened”). Look at how long it have taken to achieve some laughably marginal results. The number of atheists is still very small compared to the large mass of people still living in the stone-age, and out of that atheists minority a very small portion actually “get it”. Because it takes a lot of effort just to escape religion but it takes orders of magnitude more effort than that to escape all the cultural influences piled up over the centuries that shape the thinking of each and every one of us.

    In other words, we don’t have the time for Enlightenment to do the job, it is on pace for doing so for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, we should have started in the 50s…

  26. And here I’ve been wasting my efforts several threads below the fold.

    – There is no reason to think morality does not arise out of self-interest.

    Only the direct experience of what morality that is derived from rather clear self-interest, consists of. Self interest produces the opposite of the moral code professed by the majority of people, even those which make a distinction between moral behavior within a group and in those outside of that group. So, in order to make self-interest, the driver of morality you have to first account for how selfishness becomes its opposite in real life as opposed to the scribblings of adaptationist ideologues. When it’s just juggling publishable words, it’s so, so easy. But it produces junk which can only be accepted by denying experience. The adaptationist creed produces what it needs in this case, even in though it flies in the face of experience and reason producing phony clarity through promulgation of an internally contradictory definition.

    It’s interesting the extent to which the natural-selection vs. genetic drift folks ignore the possibility, I’d imagine, the likelihood that the numbers of reproducing, behaving, organisms over the unimaginable billions of years in varying conditions, which comprise what we call “evolution”, happened through many, many mechanisms and processes which we’ve hardly had the time to discover. And yet they want to squeeze something as vast and varied as “morality” into either or both of those concepts. Pardon me for being skeptical of the effort at this point in time or in the entire effort the entire human species will expend on the problem in the, perhaps, decades the species has left before our most unenlightened self-intersts destroy us and perhaps all of the product of life on this planet.
    At this point, I think the argument is ludicrous.

    It’s interesting to see him citing James who I’ve been reading this summer too. And I’ll take the opportunity to mention Eddington who I’m feeling pretty resentful was belittled in my college years and we a lot of us discouraged from reading him before.

  27. Sorbet

    -Sounds like an Ayn Rand fan
    You may be, I am not. I pretty much hate her and there is a cult which has grown up around her. For instance see the chapter on her in Michael Shermer’s “Why people believe weird things”. And the fact that self interest can produce morality has nothing to do with Rand. Witness Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

    McCarthy you will find plenty of support for your thoughts and criticisms of the adaptionist creed on Larry Moran’s blog (http://sandwalk.blogspot.com)

  28. gillt

    McCarthy: “Pardon me for being skeptical of the effort at this point in time or in the entire effort the entire human species will expend on the problem in the, perhaps, decades the species has left…”

    haha What!?!

  29. Anthony McCarthy

    If I want validation Larry Moran’s is not going to be my first place to look for it. And I’m not interested in validation from authority.

  30. Anthony McCarthy

    “haha”

    gillt’s idea of the higher criticism.

  31. Jon

    You may be, I am not.

    You’re from the Pee Wee Herman school of argumentation, eh?

    I didn’t say you were an Ayn Rand fan, I said you sounded like one.

    The idea that everything comes back to self interest is definitely not something I’d teach my kids… That idea has a kind of mechanistic quality. Every generous act can be reduced to selfishness. We’re all selfish actors and we should be happy to live like that. If you have inspiration otherwise, then you must be hallucinating, or at least you’re not the superior Rationalists that we the Chosen are.

  32. gillt

    Don’t flatter yourself. I’ll save [my] “higher criticism” for a bigger intellect.

  33. Sorbet

    Strange, because you seem to be quote mining scores of authorities. Plus, whether you like him or not, Larry Moran shares your disdain for adaptionism. And Jon, you seem to be from the Little Red Riding Hood school. Big bad new atheists! And if selfish means lead to mutually beneficial ends, what do you care? As with other idealists, you seem to be more concerned with the means and not the ends. And McCarthy, you still haven’t replied to BN’s point about prudential vs moral judgements.

  34. Sorbet

    And McCarthy, there is actually a lot of philosophy in raw humor. For instance see John Allen Paulos’s “I think therefore I laugh”

  35. Anthony McCarthy

    - And McCarthy, you still haven’t replied to BN’s point about prudential vs moral judgements.

    Anyone who wants to see that this isn’t true can go read that exchange on the tread below. I replied at length, though for fundamentalists, religions and anti-religious, anything but total agreement with them is a failure to “reply”.

    - I’ll save [my] “higher criticism” for a bigger intellect. gillt

    You clearly intend to abide by your “keepin’ it” contract, since there’s been no higher criticism from you. Did you get a silver ring during the ceremony?

  36. Sorbet

    Unlike Mc and NACs for whom anything goes

  37. Jon

    Sorbet: Strange, because you seem to be quote mining scores of authorities.

    Whatever that means. I pick quotes because they’re part of larger conversations that I’d hope people check out. And some “authority” has to start some conversation somewhere. Usually you pick some “authority” because he’s a common reference point. Everyone with an education knows who Plato and Aristotle is, for instance. If you quote Plato, and you know philosophy, you get some of the benefit of all his “footnotes” too. Of course, if you think history and philosophy is bunk, and SCIENCE!!1!1! is where it’s at, then of course you can just junk all this stuff in the New Atheist religion bin and forget it.

  38. Sorbet

    For all the words that you expended, my comment above was not directed at you. And it’s SCIENCE!OMG

  39. Jon

    OK. These wacky intertubes…

    And yes, science, just one discipline. There are others.

  40. gillt

    Are M/K done posting reviews of their book so soon? Well, here’s another review of Unscientific America from this Evolutionary Anthropologist at The Primate Diaries:

    http://scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2009/08/rebranding_science.php?utm_source=selectfeed&utm_medium=rss

  41. The validity of charges of arguing from authority can often be an indication of the integrity of the one making the charge.

    Citing a good argument and giving an honest attribution is hardly the same thing as basing an argument on the authority of the source. Sorbet’s recourse to the age of William Jame’s writings is a frequent tactic in making that kind of dishonest charge. Consider who else we’d have to stop using if we accepted that rule. Charles Darwin, for one. I’d really rather not have to give up people just because they had the misfortune of having lived in the past. Nor does it mean that because I cite a good idea someone had that the same person couldn’t also have ideas that were bad or which became superannuated due to events after their deaths.

    Is this the recourse that succeeds phony charges of “quote mining” that and “cherry picking” in the kit bag of the new atheists?

  42. 41. gill

    So yet another ScienceBlogger faults the authors for not having produced a comprehensive solution to the problem of science illiteracy in the United States. I think a plane landed safely somewhere yesterday too.

    The clear effort to blackball the critics of the new atheism, to suppress the reading of their book and to discourage the publication of subsequent criticisms needs to be addressed. It’s clear that those self-appointed defenders of science and free inquiry are running an old fashioned smear campaign.

    I’m going to ask about the number of ScienceBlogs that seem to be in on that effort. Do they represent a corporate policy?

  43. gillt

    When you cite McCarthy the idea is to use quotes from the original source for the sake of accuracy. The “I seem to remember Dawkins saying blah blah blah.” is spreading gossip not citing a source.

  44. gillt

    McCarthy: “The clear effort to blackball the critics of the new atheism, to suppress the reading of their book and to discourage the publication of subsequent criticisms needs to be addressed. It’s clear that those self-appointed defenders of science and free inquiry are running an old fashioned smear campaign.”

    Sound like you’ve discovered a real problem: the New Atheist Corporate Mafia running of ScienceBlogs. Maybe you should write a rant, I mean book, about it that details the problem but make sure to not offer any practical solutions.

  45. gillt

    McCarthy: “I’m going to ask about the number of ScienceBlogs that seem to be in on that effort. Do they represent a corporate policy?”

    McCarthy’s idea of research. lol all day long.

  46. GM

    The idea that everything comes back to self interest is definitely not something I’d teach my kids… That idea has a kind of mechanistic quality. Every generous act can be reduced to selfishness. We’re all selfish actors and we should be happy to live like that. If you have inspiration otherwise, then you must be hallucinating, or at least you’re not the superior Rationalists that we the Chosen are.

    Totally wrong. If you don’t teach your kids that they are selfish actors, they will behave like selfish actors because that’s what they are. The idea is to make them understand how the world works so that they can change their behavior accordingly and in such a way that we don’t live in a world where everyone follows their self-interest without caring about the rest (i.e. the world we live in now). While a lot more of our behavior is biologically determined than we would like to think it is the case, it is also true that because we are sentient being we have the power to overcome a lot of those instinctive urges. When this happens, it isn’t always a move towards rationality (people will die as martyrs in the name of religion because this elevates their status in the imagined world they live in, even though it has exactly the opposite effect in the real world and in terms of reproductive fitness). But it can be. However, this will never happen without a lot of education and preventing kids from being exposed to fairy tales and falsehoods at an early age.

    In essence, what you are suggesting is equivalent to the idea that you can prevent teen pregnancy and STDs by not telling the kids anything about sex, or that you will prevent drug use by not telling the kids that such a thing exists.

    BTW, I am not advocating a world where generous acts are reduced to acts of self-interest (which is what they are, being generous is a status symbol within our species, which is why we do it, it feels good and the wealthiest among us do it the most). I am advocating a world where such acts are not needed at all.

  47. Sorbet

    McCarthy, quote by attribution to authority is relevant if the substance of the quote is also supported by current evidence. Nobody takes Newton’s ravings on alchemy and metaphysics seriously, although his work on physics is highly regarded because it is supported by tons of current evidence. Similarly, there is scant reason to rely on someone whose opinions on organic causation of religious experiences were proferred at a time when he had insufficient evidence for backing up these opinions, no matter if otherwise he was a distinguished intellectual. Not his fault, but also no reason to take them seriously.

  48. Jon

    I am advocating a world where such acts are not needed at all.

    Right. In other words, Utopia.

  49. gillt’s idea of argument, go right for a personal dig, ignore the substance.

    – Similarly, there is scant reason to rely on someone whose opinions on organic causation of religious experiences were proferred at a time when he had insufficient evidence for backing up these opinions, no matter if otherwise he was a distinguished intellectual. Not his fault, but also no reason to take them seriously. Sorbet

    Why, I cited him as making the point that neither dis-belief nor science are any less the product of organic causation. You have some evidence that isn’t true? Cite. It.

    Did you read this piece of current research I mentioned several threads below?

    “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/#

    Tons of current evidence, that evolution happened over a period of more than three billion years, involving every organism that has lived and reproduced in that period but has been studied by a limited number of human beings for about a hundred-fifty years. You can make a ratio of the time estimate, you couldn’t possibly come up with a ratio of scientist hours to the entire organism hours during which all of the various organisms, their biological mechanisms, environmental impacts, etc. etc. etc. that would figure into a guess of how much of evolution we have or will ever know about. And that’s not talking about the vast ranges of what might have been data but cannot be due to its being irretrievable in the wastes of time.

    And yet you’re proposing to shove “morality” into what we know now.

    Evolution is a lot like mathematics in terms of scale, an effectively infinite topic which we will know some interesting and useful things about but which we won’t ever know even half of. Once you think about it, a lot of the squabbles look a lot more petty.

  50. — Totally wrong. If you don’t teach your kids that they are selfish actors, they will behave like selfish actors because that’s what they are. GM

    I’d think it was more likely that they’d say, “oh well, it’s all my genes’ fault and that lets me off the hook”.

    I think the price we’re going to pay for that brave new faith is only beginning to come into focus.

  51. GM

    See, I am as cynical, misanthropic and having low opinion about my own species as probably anyone has ever been. In the same time I think I would be considered a person of pretty much exemplary behavior as far as moral values go. The two things are very very closely related, as strange as it may seem.

  52. Jon

    See, I am as cynical, misanthropic and having low opinion about my own species…

    No, you just have certain ideas (which I consider very problemmatic) that you want to foist onto the rest of the population. That wouldn’t be a problem, except there’s a bunch of you feeding each other these ideas in an echo chamber, and insisting that anything else shouldn’t be taken seriously. And you treat people who dissent from them in even small ways (eg, this thread) with the kind of drive-by contempt you normally see on right wing television.

  53. Anthony McCarthy

    — And you treat people who dissent from them in even small ways (eg, this thread) with the kind of drive-by contempt you normally see on right wing television. Jon

    Some of it gets down to the hate-talk radio level. A lot of it is more like that.

  54. Anthony McCarthy

    In case that comment doesn’t come out of moderation soon, I’m going to repost the link to that article about the folly of reading too much in brain imaging. This was especially interesting:

    Unfortunately, these pretty pictures hide the sausage factory,” says Geoffrey K. Aguirre, a professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. When Aguirre looks at an fMRI image, he reminds himself that the picture is actually some “fancy statistics,” and not an exact snapshot of brain activity. “It’s important to ask what assumptions allowed the researchers to find these patterns of activity,” he says.

    The reason fMRI data requires so much statistical analysis is that the machines rely on indirect measurements of brain activity. Neurons communicate using bursts of electricity and squirts of neurotransmitter, but the scanners can only calculate changes in blood flow. In 2001, Logothetis published one of the first papers to directly test whether blood flow can be used as a proxy for what neurons are doing. Although he found that changes in blood flow often correlated with changes in neural activity, Logothetis also concluded that certain types of neural activity couldn’t be reliably detected by fMRI. In these instances, increased blood flow could occur at the same time as a flat – or even decreasing – neural firing rate. As a result, scientists might see activation where there was only a subdued circuit of cells.

    More recently, a paper from the lab of Mriganka Sur at MIT reported that the vast majority of the signal detected by fMRI machines was actually a byproduct of astrocytes, which are common cells in the brain that provide neurons with oxygen and energy. When the activity of astrocytes was blocked, but the activity of neurons remained unchanged, 80 to 90 percent of the fMRI signal disappeared. This suggests that fMRI machines are vulnerable to any disorder or drug that leads to changes in astrocyte function, since such changes will dramatically skew the imaging data. “Astrocytes remain so poorly understood,” says Sur, “but researchers should keep in mind that astrocytes are largely what fMRI is measuring, and not neural activity directly.”

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

  55. GM

    No, you just have certain ideas (which I consider very problemmatic) that you want to foist onto the rest of the population. That wouldn’t be a problem, except there’s a bunch of you feeding each other these ideas in an echo chamber, and insisting that anything else shouldn’t be taken seriously. And you treat people who dissent from them in even small ways (eg, this thread) with the kind of drive-by contempt you normally see on right wing television.

    I would very much like to see that bunch you are talking about, I haven’t seen the views I express being supported by many people, certainly not here.

    You are deeply mistaken if you think me or other like-minded people want to force our views onto the population for some egoistic reasons, or we are in any way similar to the right wing TV folks.

    It isn’t simple, but I will try to summarize it here:

    1. We have some very big problems to solve and if we don’t we go extinct, and with us most of life on the planet, or in the best case scenario we are back to the stone age to stay there forever.

    2. The root of the problem is the founding myths of our civilization, one of which is that we are somehow different from other organisms and we can always escape or manipulate the laws of nature to our advantage.

    3. This myth together with our still very animal nature makes for an extremely dangerous combination. Without civilization, we managed to wipe out the megafauna from pretty much everywhere we appeared, now we have advanced technology and a whole planet to exercise on.

    4. These myths are codified and reinforced by religion. Which also reinforces and codifies the next point.

    5. People refuse to listen when you try to communicate these things to them. This is in part because of our biological characteristics, in part because of religion and the immunity to evidence it provides, in part because it takes a lot of education to teach people to think and know the facts (what I refer to as the high enthropic cost of knowledge), and without that it is impossible to understand our situation.

    6. Because of all the above, the inescapable conclusion is that there is no way out within the intellectual and political framework of our current society. There is also no practical way out in general because of the huge momentum of ignorance that has accumulated and that simply can’t be overcome (see point 5)

    7. This is a very depressing conclusion but it doesn’t prevent us from trying to figure out how we could do it differently. However, after some thinking on the subject, another inescapable conclusion is that if you are to do it differently, it has to be everybody on the same page. Because the people who aren’t will very quickly take over, for obvious Darwinian reasons.

    This has nothing to do with personal ideas, feelings, views etc. It is just not being afraid to follow the logic and the evidence, no matter where they lead you. If there is an element of contempt, it is towards people who are afraid to do so.

  56. GM

    The formatting is messed up, sorry

  57. Jon

    I would very much like to see that bunch you are talking about, I haven’t seen the views I express being supported by many people, certainly not here.

    Just look at your average Pharyngula thread.

  58. GM

    I don’t think you understand what I am talking about.

  59. Jon

    Yes, I think I do. I agree that we have to get it together as a society and a civilization, believe me.

    But one question for you: what would happen to religion if you had your way?

  60. GM

    I think I have said this hundreds of times – religion in all forms MUST be completely eradicated.

    And I don’t understand why you’re asking this question, it implies that religion is somehow something good

  61. Jon

    You asked me what bunch you’re talking about. I’m talking about the bunch that put those ideas in your head.

  62. Sorbet

    McCarthy, so what? That proves nothing. These opinions only prove that like all good science, caution has to be exercised when interpreting fMRI scans. The fact that fMRI measures brain activity indirectly is a fact that is applicable to almost any scientific measurement and has nothing to do with the validity of the technique itself. That hardly means all fMRI scans are suspect or that they are potentially incapable of providing insight into brain processes. The fact that care has to be exercised in interpreting such measurements does not mean such measurements are fundamentally incapable of shedding light on brain processes, otherwise most scientists would have abandoned them. (As an aside, it is always amusing to see how you impressively draw on science when it apparently supports your case but reject it when it doesn’t).

  63. Sorbet

    And if you want to rely on a bona fide scientist in the field, see this article by Andrew Newberg of UPenn who is well aware of the limitations that you are linking to and still narrates how such techniques (and not just fMRI which you seem to link to) can shed valuable insight into religious experiences. A longer discussion is included in his book which was recently published.
    http://www.metanexus.net/Magazine/ArticleDetail/tabid/68/id/9468/Default.aspx

  64. GM

    You asked me what bunch you’re talking about. I’m talking about the bunch that put those ideas in your head.

    I’ve had pretty much the same ideas since I was 10 years old (and I was an atheist even earlier than that, at 6). The only things that were put in my had by anyone at that time were some basic facts about how organisms interact with each other and how evolution works plus some data on the numbers oh humans living on this planes 50 years ago and at the time. You really don’t need more to figure out that something isn’t right, the rest is filling the gaps and understanding the problems in depth

  65. Sorbet, you really need to learn to take skeptical inquiry more calmly. If you read the article it said this:

    The scanners, they say, excel at measuring certain types of brain activity, but are also effectively blind when it comes to the detection of more subtle aspects of cognition. As a result, the pictures that seem so precise are often deeply skewed snapshots of mental activity. Furthermore, one of the most common uses of brain scanners – taking a complex psychological phenomenon and pinning it to a particular bit of cortex – is now being criticized as a potentially serious oversimplification of how the brain works. These critics stress the interconnectivity of the brain, noting that virtually every thought and feeling emerges from the crosstalk of different areas spread across the cortex. If fMRI is a window into the soul, these scientists say, then the glass is very, very dirty.

  66. — 2. The root of the problem is the founding myths of our civilization, one of which is that we are somehow different from other organisms and we can always escape or manipulate the laws of nature to our advantage. GM

    I don’t think that’s the root of the problem. The present day mass extinction event is due to overpopulation, greed and the enhanced ability of people to plunder the environment through science and technology mixed with increased numbers and social organization.

    I think this whole line is part of a myth of modern scientism. You ever heard of Lake Karachay? It wasn’t religious folk who turned that into one of the premier ecological disasters in the world.

    — I think I have said this hundreds of times – religion in all forms MUST be completely eradicated. GM

    This sounds like what a Dalek would sound like if it was Sam Harris who came up with them.

  67. Vindrisi

    — I think I have said this hundreds of times – religion in all forms MUST be completely eradicated. GM

    And lurking in that statement is a holocaust waiting to be unleashed…Tell me, what then of the religious in your brave new world?

  68. Sorbet

    While that may be true, firstly that does not discount the use of fMRI; it only admonishes us to be careful in its interpretation. Plus, fMRI is merely one way of measuring religious states in the brain. Did you read Newberg’s article? Not only is he aware of the limitations cited but he is also aware of successful studied that have overcome such limitations as well as other techniques which have probed this phenomena. For instance Newberg gives references and says:

    However, several investigators have successfully utilized fMRI and have performed the study by having subjects practice their meditation technique at home while listening to a tape of the fMRI noise so that they become acclimated to the environment (Lazar, Bush, Gollub, Fricchione, Khalsa, Benson, 2000). The MRI noise can also affect brain activity, particularly in the auditory cortex. Functional MRI also relies on a tight coupling between cerebral blood flow and actual brain activity, which while a reasonable assumption, is not true in all cases. Well known examples in which brain activity and blood flow are not coupled include stroke, head injury, and pharmacological interventions (Newberg and Alavi, 2003

  69. Sorbet

    Comment in moderation. In a nutshell, people are aware of these limitations and yet perform successful studies, and as Newberg says, also supplement fMRI with other techniques.

  70. GM

    — 2. The root of the problem is the founding myths of our civilization, one of which is that we are somehow different from other organisms and we can always escape or manipulate the laws of nature to our advantage. GM
    I don’t think that’s the root of the problem. The present day mass extinction event is due to overpopulation, greed and the enhanced ability of people to plunder the environment through science and technology mixed with increased numbers and social organization.

    Those are the proximal causes. I prefer to look deeper than that. In other words, what are the causes of overpopulation and why are people with enhanced ability to plunder the environment not restraining themselves?

    I think this whole line is part of a myth of modern scientism. You ever heard of Lake Karachay? It wasn’t religious folk who turned that into one of the premier ecological disasters in the world.

    I am very well familiar with the case.

    However, once again you show that you completely fail to get my point. While theorectially better because unlike democracy, actual solutions to problems, that is solutions that maybe unpleasant for some but beneficial for the whole, can be implemented (if the whole world was one big communist state AND IF the party understood the sustainability problem, it would be solved very quickly and efficiently), in real life and in terms of ecological literacy communism was just as bad as capitalism and the party was just as ignorant about these things as western corporations.

    Understandable, given that it was build on the same fundamental myths (man as the center of everything).

  71. Anthony McCarthy

    GM, so, tell me, is modern Humanism not a “man as the center of everything” ideology? Isn’t any system that makes “science” one also, since people are the only organisms we know about which practice science?

    I don’t think you are going to find anything “deeper” than enhanced selfishness and increased population as the reason for our being willing and able to destroy everything or that we are made ever more able to do it through technology and science and social organization.

    Other than that I think you are rather fixated on that one conceit, which is quite popular with your fellow new atheists whose glorious alternative vision looks pretty man centered to me.

  72. Wowbagger

    This sounds like what a Dalek would sound like if it was Sam Harris who came up with them.

    and

    And lurking in that statement is a holocaust waiting to be unleashed…Tell me, what then of the religious in your brave new world?

    Why do you assume that eradicating something = science fiction monsters and/or genocide? Anyone who didn’t want to read this in a ridiculous, sensationalist, fearmongering moral panic fashion would see that the key word GM used was religion – not the religious.

    Oh, that’s right – you prefer to distort and misinterpret because it suits your pro-woo agenda.

    Does claiming to want to eradicate poverty mean murdering or imprisoning the poor? Does wasn’t to eradicate homophobia mean killing anyone who’s anti-gay? No. It means changing things so undesirable conditions and irrational behaviour don’t control people’s lives.

    Education, critical thinking and intellectual honesty should, if applied correctly, ‘eradicate’ religion – without any Daleks, pogroms or concentration camps. While I suspect that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon – because, as is demonstrated on this site on a daily basis, the human tendency to want to believe in things that have no validity beyond the point of making them feel special – it doesn’t mean it’s not something we shouldn’t hope for.

  73. GM

    Science is a method for understanding the world around us. It is not a way to improve our well-being. If it was, you would have a point, but it isn’t and the fact that most people think of it this way is a sad reflection of the profound ignorance of our society.

    I haven’t said anything positive about “modern humanism”

  74. —- It is not a way to improve our well-being. GM

    Oh, really. You hear that, all you new atheists, science isn’t the boon to humanity that you’ve all thought it was, it’s not going to save us all. Now, watch as nothing happens.

    You are wrong and could not be more wrong. Science has always been about finding out how to do stuff that people wanted done, that use of science almost certainly precedes your Olympian vision of the quest for knowledge, it is what actually is the reason for both the funding and the repute of science around the world. You don’t see people knocking themselves out to fund philosophy, now, do you. Even the development of much of mathematics has its origin in the solution of practical problems, many of them rather pedestrian, even mercenary.

    To deny the practical motivation of most of the science done and that even the “pure science” justifies its funding through the promise of future, as yet unknown, applications is so romantic as to be out of touch with reality. That many of those applications turn out to favor eco-cidal profit over sustained life, and that many a scientist has become rather well off through some rather awful applications of their work, is denied only by the most willful romantics. Scientists are just as prone to all the vices as any member of any clergy or the laity of many religious congregations. While there are certainly scientists who have been motivated by altruism and are justly praised for that, I doubt that most of them would continue in their work without getting paid.

    You are seriously unrealistic, you have no understanding of the world around us.

  75. As to humanism, what could be more human centered than the idea that “Man is the measure of all things”. Why won’t you address that obvious man centered doctrine?

  76. Thinking about it more, why in the world should anyone care about the pursuit of knowledge more than the improvement of well-being? I can understand how a rich, smug, satisfied person living well might get to pretend that they do but if they were deprived of their creature comforts, or food, they’d change their tune mighty fast. Maybe that holds a clue as to why so many allegedly educated Americans are so scientifically otiose.

    There isn’t any higher calling than improving the well-being of living creatures, there isn’t a more worthy way to spend time or resources. I don’t trust religion that doesn’t practice that and I certainly don’t trust science that doesn’t.

  77. Sorbet

    That’s a pretty blatantly ignorant statement McCarthy. The fruits of science have always largely been side products of the process of curiosity and discovery. You think Fermi bombarded elements with neutrons to discover a practical source of power? You think Oppenheimer researched black holes for discovering fossil fuels or praise from colleagues? And you think pure mathematicians work with the goal of discovering a better cure for diabetes? The fruits of science have always been important but they have also always been largely secondary. You are seriously unrealistic and you have no understanding of history.

  78. Jon

    This sounds like what a Dalek would sound like if it was Sam Harris who came up with them.

    I thought of that reference too…

  79. Sorbet, you name two scientists out of how many and a romantic view of their work. Are you unaware that both of them were heavily involved with applied science? This little thing called “The Manhattan Project”? And you tell me I’m unrealistic and have no understanding of history. Do you think that neither of them were unaware of the possible applications of their work?

    Pulling it out of a hat is the polite way of saying it, Sorbet.

    I’m wondering what will happen to all that black hole stuff if Krauss is right about them. I’m predicting that science will take a real hit in its credibility if that idea turns out to have credibility. Which would be unfortunate but that’s the risk you run when you go with romance instead of hard reality.

  80. Sorbet

    So do you think the majority of Fermi and Oppenheimer’s research was conducted with the express purpose of having practical applications and making bombs? You don’t seem to know the first thing about them. I have contributed about 50% of the Wikipedia entries on both scientists and provided extensive references. Maybe you can get over your irrational Wiki-phobia and take a cursory look.

  81. Sorbet

    What black hole stuff are you talking about?

  82. Do you think that the non-applied work of Fermi or Oppenheimer represents most of the science that was done and funded during their life times? I wonder what a representative sample of the papers done during their lifetimes would show about the total indifference to possible applications. I am 100% certain that most of the research that is funded is with applications in mind. You’d never convince most people that it was worth spending their taxes on unless there was the promise of applications that would have some benefit to them, and there isn’t any reason to expect them to care about any which are without that possibility.

    Science divorced from practical application is science that has crossed the line into a being an esoteric and devout faith activity.

  83. And, uh, Sorbet, I’m not Wiki-phobic, I’m wiki-skeptical. The funny thing about reference material, when you’re looking up something you don’t already know about, the past record of the resource really does matter. Wiki has been fraught with various problems throughout its history, my skepticism began with suspicions that the “skeptics” and new atheists used it as a propaganda tool. I believe you were the one who bragged about PZ and his Ranger buddies altering the “New Atheism” page, which wouldn’t meet any smell test.

    Your bragging about your participation in it doesn’t lead me to change my opinion of it. Hardly. I’ll go with professionally edited reference material instead of the hit-or miss of Wiki.

  84. Sorbet

    Umm…if you look at the two articles you will find they have been “professional edited” by me and others. You don’t have to take my word for it; the articles are extensively referenced and the references are all books written by experts on the topic. You can wallow in your ignorance all you want but that does not change the high-quality of many Wikipedia articles. Are you aware of the Nature study comparing Wikipedia and Britannica in which Wikipedia proved to be slightly better and more accurate than Brittanica? Maybe you should read up a little before offering erudite wisdom.

    And by all means, hurl false accusations that I bragged about some New Atheist article on Wiki. Typical McCarthy; bad articles on atheism on Wiki translates to all of Wiki being flawed.

  85. Sorbet

    McCarthy, the non-applied work of both Fermi and Oppenheimer constitutes the majority of the work they both did. This is an incontrovertible fact, and if you are really interested in knowing the truth you would look up “J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century” by David Cassidy and “Enrico Fermi: Physicist” by Emilio Segre which describe their work in detail. That is of course if you are actually interested in knowing the facts are not busy declaring science as a faith activity.

  86. Sorbet

    And my so-called “bragging” actually represents reality unlike your armchair bragging about things you are ignorant about.

  87. - bad articles on atheism on Wiki translates to all of Wiki being flawed. Sorb.

    Excuse me for pointing it out, but aren’t you alleging that flaws in the editing of Brittanica (which I seldom look at) translates into it being flawed? As to that study, I’ve read there isn’t unanimity about its validity, though I haven’t looked at it all that closely. I’m not very happy with Brittanica since Mort Adler got his hands on it, though it wasn’t one of the encyclopedias we had in our house anyway.

    – will find they have been “professional edited” by me and others. Sorb.

    Clearly a new use of the phrase “professionally edited” that probably didn’t exist before Wiki. You know, when I started blogging three years ago, the third day I came to realize a hard truth “A man who acts as his own editor has a blogger for a client”, which I’ve got priority as having said .

    I wonder how that relates to this concept of “professional editing”.

    I’ll leave it to others to judge whether or not I’ve been bragging about anything or if anything I say makes sense, they will anyway so I don’t need to worry about it.

  88. Sorbet

    McCarthy, instead of whining about Wikipedia, why don’t you go and edit some articles yourself. Classic example of the armchair philosopher who wants to whimper about the world’s problems and does not lift a finger to do anything about them. I am pretty sure the article on Oppenheimer I have contributed is as good as any “professionally edited” article anywhere. In fact I challenge you to find major (or even minor) flaws in that article. Me and a couple of others have worked on that article for months and supplied major and extensive references, and a clueless ignoramus who does not know anything about the subject is not credible to say the least. The same goes for several other articles.

  89. Sorbet

    Two comments in moderation. I challenge you to find major or even minor flaws in the Oppenheimer articles. If you are so concerned, you would stop whining and whimpering from your armchair and actually contribute something useful to the articles.

  90. Sorbet

    And also give me a reference seriously questioning the validity of the Nature study. Your ignorance of the subjects you offer your erudite opinions on and unwillingness to read even basic information related to them has become a pathological signature.

  91. Sorbet, I’m not sitting in an armchair and I’m not going to contribute to Wikipedia because I wouldn’t participate in producing reference materials without subjecting what I produce to a professional editor. People who consult reference materials have a right to expect it’s passed through some form of rigorous quality control, though you don’t get that unless someone pays for it, even if it’s the public library.

    Are my 0pinons erudite? You seem to think that’s some kind of insult, which leads me to believe you don’t know what the word means. I’d suggest Webster’s Collegiate after the 8th edition, they started giving first recorded use in the 9th edition.

  92. Sorbet

    Seems you have lost the capacity for understanding sarcasm along with that for critical thinking (Look up the word “sarcasm” in the same edition). The point is that there are several experts who contributing to Wikipedia. Unlike before, now it is very hard for you to get something in unless you have demonstrated it from a well-known source, like a book that has been reviewed by experts. If you try to contribute, you can be almost certain that there will be someone who is an expert who will critically judge your entry.

  93. Sorbet

    Also, experts themselves have frequently praised Wiki for its accuracy. For instance historian Deborah Lipstadt and physicist Peter Woit have said that the articles from their fields that they have browsed are among the most accurate they have encountered.

  94. —- Unlike before, now it is very hard for you to get something in unless you have demonstrated it from a well-known source, like a book that has been reviewed by experts. Sorbot

    Then why wouldn’t I want to go right to the source that has been reviewed by experts instead of a version which may or may not have been subsequently modified?

    You can read my comment at 93 and accuse me of not getting sarcasm. Now that’s funny.

    Deborah Lipstadt and Peter Woit don’t have occasion to survey topics in Wikipedia impinging on the interests of the new atheists or the organized “skeptics”, I’d guess. I wonder if they would so quickly praise it on topics they weren’t familiar with unless they went to the trouble of rigorous verification of what they found there. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend they rely too heavily on it, though many users seem to consider it as the definitive authority.

    You were the one who said PZ Myers and his pals had editied the article on new atheism, aren’t you? I would think letting Pat Robertson edit it on the topic of “christian” fundamentalism would be an equivalent act of scholastic integrity.

  95. GM

    Oh, really. You hear that, all you new atheists, science isn’t the boon to humanity that you’ve all thought it was, it’s not going to save us all. Now, watch as nothing happens.
    You are wrong and could not be more wrong. Science has always been about finding out how to do stuff that people wanted done, that use of science almost certainly precedes your Olympian vision of the quest for knowledge, it is what actually is the reason for both the funding and the repute of science around the world.

    You are mistaking what people (you included) think about science and what science really is. It is a fact that purely commercial goals drive a lot of the people who work in science. But there is a line between the people who just work in science and the real scientist, i.e. the old “science as a profession” vs. “science as way of knowing the world” division.

    Because you don’t know the history, you probably have no idea that before what we call science was called science, it was called natural philosophy, and what was called natural philosophy grew out of practices we call just philosophy (and a lot of it was religiously motivated, which is really the biggest irony in the history of science – it’s rooted in theology and ancient philosophy and in the end is showed us that religion is nonsense). And those were very impractical things done by people who really had no interest in improving our material well-being.

    Historically, technology developed in parallel with science and often independently. But technology always used the tools and knowledge already generated by science and mathematics. Engineers didn’t invent calculus and mechanics (although some contributed to their development later)

    Today, because technology is so complicated and there is so much science involved in it, a lot of people, you included fall in the trap of not appreciating the difference between the two. But that’s just ignorance, and just because your ignorance makes you to say something, it does follow that that something is true

  96. GM

    Just to add: only science can save us. However, it won’t be through technological fixes, although some of that will be necessary, but through the understanding the world around us that I am talking about.

  97. Wowbagger

    Just to add: only science can save us. However, it won’t be through technological fixes, although some of that will be necessary, but through the understanding the world around us that I am talking about.

    But…but…you’re forgetting the all-important ‘other ways of knowing‘ and the unimpeachable, never subjective and immune from criticism ‘genuine experiences of the supernatural‘ – both of which are far more valid and true than rotten old science, which only leads to killing people, just like Ben Stein and Anthony McCarthy say it does.

    Up with woo! Down with science!

  98. – But there is a line between the people who just work in science and the real scientist, i.e. the old “science as a profession” vs. “science as way of knowing the world” division.

    Where in the “brains only” brains of scientist is that hard line drawn? Would is show up on fMRI?

    A scientist is someone who successfully publishes research which passes peer review and is acceptable as science in the community of scientists. That’s the only real definition of a “real” scientist. It is a professional determination. It’s your airy-fair notion of “science as a way of knowing” that is unrealistic. Who the heck do you think does that “knowing” except for people, individuals who are part of the limited number of HUMAN BEINGS who can understand what is being asserted.

    I guess it comes down to a view of science as it actually happens in real live vs. a story book version that reminds me of the worst of orthodox, conservative Catholic mythology about the history and practices of the church I was reared in. The Catholic version of fundamentalists don’t like people pointing out the reality of it much either. That doesn’t stop honest Catholics from doing so.

    Wowbagger, I’m on record all over the place saying that Ben Stein is a liar and a sleaze of many different varieties. Including this blog when it was at ScienceBlogs, if memory serves me right. I said no one should be surprised about that. Just as no one should be surprised when new atheists lie and distort what their opponents have said continuously, as you just have.

  99. Who knows, perhaps we will come to see that we need to care for Earth’s ecology the way the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us protect their insatiably greedy interests in the unbridled growth of humanity’s soon to become unsustainable global economy.

  100. Sorbet

    McCarthy, be my guest. Go ahead and trudge through every single reference for an article in Wikipedia until you convince yourself that your knowledge is “authentic”. Lol. And keep on generalizing from articles on new atheism to all Wiki articles. That’s what you do best. I merely pointed out the edit of the New Atheism article. And again, you haven’t really offered any criticism of substance about it.

  101. — Just to add: only science can save us. However, it won’t be through technological fixes, although some of that will be necessary, but through the understanding the world around us that I am talking about. GM

    Talk about your disconnected romanticism. Global warming is going to be remided, environmental plunder is going to be reversed, pandemics are going to be avoided or lessened, over population is going to be stopped by “understanding the world around us” in some Platonic miracle without all those vulgar “technological fixes”. Talk about your disconnected, aristocratic delusions. If any of those problems are going to be successfully addressed it won’t be only thorough science but by a combination of applied science along with successful appeals to people’s moral sense, political ideals and quite unscientific desire to save themselves and others. The eradication of polio has run into problems because of insufficient public education appealing to their unscientific thoughts and moral sense of people. But it never would be possible to begin with without the “technological fix” of vaccine.

    And yet there are people who still deny that scientism is the expression of faith in a disembodied, supernatural, entity they call by the name of “science”.

  102. Sorbet

    McCarthy is under the impression that technological and political fixes to problems like global warming are somehow independent of first understanding the essential elements of the problem. Keep living in your world of fantasy.

  103. The Sorbot is under the impression that people who read this blog are unable to grasp the rather unsubtle point that much of the understanding of “the essential elements” of the problem are motivated by a desire to fix problems or do stuff in the real world. And that most people don’t think that the solution of problems in the real world is more deserving of respect than the pursuit of “knowledge for its own sake”. Which is a common delusion among the aristocracy of intellectuals in a late stage empir and the plebs who delude themselves into believing they can join that elite.

    Like I’ve said, you’re just a different kind of conservative fundamentalist.

  104. Wowbagger

    Just as no one should be surprised when new atheists lie and distort what their opponents have said continuously, as you just have.

    No-one needs to distort your words, Anthony; the woo-kook is right there in your posts for everyone to read, as they are.

  105. Sorbet

    Anthony Jenny McCarthy, real scientists simply don’t work the way you think they do; as an academic scientist me and my colleagues can vouch for this. Again, you sit happily in your armchair without having an inkling of how real scientists work. Immense hubris and an unwillingness to actually read up on things, traits whose existence is now almost pathologically symptomatic of your deluded views. Educate yourself, read a book every now and then, or Google.

  106. Sorbet

    -And yet there are people who still deny that scientism is the expression of faith in a disembodied, supernatural, entity they call by the name of “science”.
    -You’re just a different kind of conservative fundamentalist

    McCarthy: Science is as supernatural as belief in god. I win!

    Of course, every time I am programming my computer or using detergent in my laundry I am worshipping a supernatural entity…The God of Tide anyone?

    I am proposing a new law called “McCarthy’s Fantasy”. The law states that every time there is a discussion about science and religion, McCarthy will end up declaring that “science also rests on faith and is therefore simply another religion” or something equivalent in approximately 100 comments. Now if I had a penny for every time this law manifests itself…

  107. Wowbagger, so, cite my words to that effect, the ones that led you to write:

    “But…but…you’re forgetting the all-important ‘other ways of knowing‘ and the unimpeachable, never subjective and immune from criticism ‘genuine experiences of the supernatural‘ – both of which are far more valid and true than rotten old science, which only leads to killing people, just like Ben Stein and Anthony McCarthy say it does.

    Up with woo! Down with science!”

    I’ll rely on honest people to evaluate what I’ve said. If they want to be bothered to read up thread.

    Sorbot is going into “Eliza” chatterbox mode again and so there isn’t any reason to respond.

  108. How To Hear Crickets

    Ask a new atheist to back up what they say with actual quotes.

  109. Sorbet

    As an aside, I just attended a meeting in Germany where 23 Nobel Prize winners gave talks and had discussions with me and my colleagues. I personally interviewed 5 of them, and probably 1% of all said they made their prize-winning discovery during the process of finding something useful. Most of them without exception said they were simply trying to explore some interesting observation about atoms, cells, proteins or molecules that was completely devoid of any practical application.

  110. Sorbet

    -Sorbot is going into “Eliza” chatterbox mode again and so there isn’t any reason to respond

    Translation: I cannot think of a response so let me get into my pre-programmed ad hominem poo flinging mode again. Now switching, 1, 2, 3…

  111. Are Nobel Prize winners a random sample of the entire population of scientists? I’d guess not. And I’d really like to hear them say that in their own words, with their names attached before I’d really believe you asked them that and they responded in that way. And that still wouldn’t get to how they got the money to do what they did, how they justified their funding.

    Were any of those five awarded the economics prize?

  112. Sorbet

    Here are some names; Roy Glauber, Peter Agre, Richard Schrock, Richard Ernst, Harry Kroto, Rudolf Marcus. And sure, for you, no sampling of scientists, no matter how accomplished will be enough. Hardly surprising.

  113. I was making assertions about science in general and how its funding is justified. The Nobel Prize isn’t awarded on a random basis and your selection of five of 23 of those who appeared at a conference would hardly be a random selection of even those 23.

    Funny to see such a sciency guy get so huffy when the clear non-randomness of those he selects to refute the argument about the general population in general. Or are you going by the rules that govern so much of the soc-behavioral sciences?

    Who funded your trip, for what purpose and where can we expect to see it published? Or are you exempt from the rules of journalism as well as statistics?

  114. Looking at that list again, what was the nature and purpose of that conference? What conference was it? You’ve got my curiosity up now.

  115. Sorbet

    McCarthy, I have published it but for obvious reasons I cannot divulge my identity here. And I said less than 1% of the 23, not 5. Have you been reading. And you can keep grumbling about non-representative samples but the fact remains that these gentlemen have practised science at the highest level. You might also be interested in knowing that hardly one or two of them hold views similar to the “New Atheists”; in fact most of them think science and religion can be reconciliable. Just in case you accuse them of some agenda.

  116. What was the nature of the conference and what was your assignement? If you’ve published already and you have cited your research you can certainly tell me that, you’ve already revealed your sources. Do you quote them in your article as having said what you assert they did or was that background?

    If someone else has published an account of that conference someone could quite easily mistake them for the “Sorbet” who has said all kinds of things here. I wonder how they’d like to be answerable for what you’ve said here, though I’d defer to professional journalists to judge the impropriety of your having created that possibility.

  117. OK, now I see. Your secret is safe with me but you’re really foolish to out yourself. And you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism, kid.

  118. Sorbet

    Huh, how have I outed myself? My real name is still not out and the information and sources I have divulged are limited. I have still not said which conference it was (although stating this won’t really make a difference since there were dozens of attendees, any of which could be “Sorbet”). And I don’t claim to be a journalist anyway so it won’t matter.

  119. And, about what is and isn’t a non-random sample of a population, a non-randomly chosen subset of a non-randomly chosen subset of a much, much larger population than even the larger of the two subsets, will not produce a reliably representative sample of the universe from which those were chosen.

    And, Sorbet, I’ve already said I wouldn’t out you, though I’m certain I know who you are now.

  120. Sorbet

    So who am I? (Not Spiderman). The examples are not statistically random but represent the best the science has to offer. These are the experts. If you want to dismiss their views you can go ahead and soak a little more in your ignorance.

  121. — The examples are not statistically random but represent the best the science has to offer. These are the experts. Sorbet

    My argument had nothing to do with expertise, it had to do with the motivation of most of science and the reason for which that science is funded. Without some intention of eventual application that will benefit the population the request to fund research, especially very expensive research, would be a request for the public to finance what is, in effect, an elite hobby. I don’t think that the public being given reason to believe that they are being asked to subsidize the curiosity of a small elite is really going to be helpful.

    – If you want to dismiss their views you can go ahead and soak a little more in your ignorance. Sorbot

    I haven’t heard their views, I’ve heard your assertions that they told you what you said. I didn’t dismiss them except for the clear and mathematically sound observation that they would not constitute a reliably random sample of the universe of all scientists. I really rather thought that the Nobels liked to think of themselves as being in some way distinguished from the herd, are you sure they’d welcome the idea that they were typical scientists? Now, that’s something you might be able to poll Nobels about. Though you’d have to choose a random sample of living ones in order to come up with a reasonable hope of your conclusions being representative of the universe of all Nobel prize winners in science. Though, if you don’t leave out the economics laureates, I’ll give you an argument.

    I’ve been polite and not mentioned the notorious rumors of politics in choosing the Nobels, though I’d bring that up too if this goes on much longer.

    I’m really surprised that I’d have to remind you of some principles of statistics you should have learned the first week.

    It was the libertarianism that clued me in, Sorby, on top of the rest of it.

  122. Sorbet

    Let me let you in on a secret McCarthy; academic scientists especially are experts in couching their pure research in practical terms that would encourage the NIH and NSF to fund them. However this is not entirely an act of deception, because some kind of practical application is always potentially possible, no matter how far fetched it can be. However I can definitely tell you from personal experience that the practical application is not the primary motivation for this research, it often is a secondary or tertiary one. The bottom line is that most technological discoveries (including computers, genetic engineering and atomic bombs) have come from such primary motivation simply based on curiosity.

  123. Sorbet

    The fact that Nobel scientists are not in any way separate from the herd is also validated by the simple observations that hundreds are nominated every year whose research and style is similar to the ones who eventually win. Also let me save you the suspense and the inclination to be impolite; your thoughts about the role of politics in awarding the prize are accurate and this is hardly something that is not known. The belief among the regulars generally is that those who have won definitely deserve it but there are manyfold more who deserve it and never get it.

    And you are sadly mistaken that I am a libertarian. I do agree with some libertarian ideas (social ones) but also vehemently disagree with others (economic ones) and on the whole believe that that herd of thinkers is most often divorced from reality and highly idealistic.

  124. GM

    My argument had nothing to do with expertise, it had to do with the motivation of most of science and the reason for which that science is funded. Without some intention of eventual application that will benefit the population the request to fund research, especially very expensive research, would be a request for the public to finance what is, in effect, an elite hobby. I don’t think that the public being given reason to believe that they are being asked to subsidize the curiosity of a small elite is really going to be helpful.

    Anti-intellctualism 101

  125. GM, if elite scientists want to run very expensive programs and construct very, very expensive equipment to satisfy their deep curiosity about things which have no promise of practical applications that would make life better for people, they shouldn’t expect those people to subsidize their hobby. They should fund it themselves.

    You think your position is intellectualism? No it’s aristocratic entitlement of a particularly bad kind. The position of science in society is in bad enough shape without having snobs who think they are entitled to a subsidy from people they look down on.

    On second thought, it’s what used to be called having rocks in your head.

  126. —- The fact that Nobel scientists are not in any way separate from the herd is also validated by the simple observations that hundreds are nominated every year whose research and style is similar to the ones who eventually win. Sorbot

    You really don’t get this random selection thing, do you. And you really don’t get the reason that science gets government and, especially, corporate funding, do you. And you really, really don’t get the point I just made to GM, not at all.

    It is astounding to me how far you can get in the culture of science these days without having the most basic level of understanding of statistics and logic.

  127. Sorbet

    So you think the LHC has enormous practical value? I guess the governments of a dozen nations were misguided when they funded it with billions after all. Maybe they should appoint you as their chief advisor McCarthy. You seem to lack the most basic understanding of science and research. Here I am, an actual academic scientist, telling you that most scientists do what they do only because they want to find out more about the world, and you keep hawking your ignorance simply because you want to oppose what me and GM are saying.

    I don’t know how long you are going to keep calling the grapes sour. Did you fail to get into a prestigious science program McCarthy? Were your hopes of becoming scientist dashed because of one reason or another? That would explain your decided anti-scientific leanings. This is definitely anti-intellectualism at its worst.

  128. Sorbet

    -who think they are entitled to a subsidy from people they look down on.

    Not people, simply you. We look down upon you because of your irrational anti-science and anti-scientist bigotry and your complete unwillingness to simply Google or pick up a book.

  129. Wowbagger

    That would explain your decided anti-scientific leanings. This is definitely anti-intellectualism at its worst.

    Remember, McCarthy is on record as claiming that ‘genuine’ personal religious experience as just as valid as any scientific finding. That indicates exactly how little regard he has for science or those who practice it.

  130. GM

    You think your position is intellectualism? No it’s aristocratic entitlement of a particularly bad kind. The position of science in society is in bad enough shape without having snobs who think they are entitled to a subsidy from people they look down on.

    Science shouldn’t have to be accountable to society for the crumbs society gives it. Each year a lot more money are spent on utterly meaningless (and ultimately self-destructive as was discussed in length above) consumption than on science. Just the money spent on advertisement (so that you are persuaded to indulge in mindless consumerism) dwarf the money spent on research.

    And you are talking about how scientists should be accountable to people for what they study and why it is not directly targeted to bringing people “cures” and fancy gadgets???

    It should be very simple and clear to everybody but because it is not, I will state it here: our existence seems to have no purpose but the search for understanding of the world around us is pretty much the only thing that can bring meaning to our lives. In the light of that realization, the question shouldn’t be why we spent 12 billions on the LHC, but why we didn’t spent the trillions that were spent on wars in the last decade on building something much bigger.

  131. — Remember, McCarthy is on record as claiming that ‘genuine’ personal religious experience as just as valid as any scientific finding. Wowbagger

    Then produce the record of my having said that, quotes in my own words with places to find them instead of your, gillt’s or Sorbet’s false attributions. Mendacity is the mother tongue of the new atheism.

    – Science shouldn’t have to be accountable to society for the crumbs society gives it. GM

    Why not. They’re not entitled to public subsidies, not if the citizens of the country don’t support what they’re doing. You’re not doing anything but supporting my point about an aristocracy with a sense of entitlement. Being a snob about it isn’t going to buy science anything but hostility and decreased support.

    —- And you are talking about how scientists should be accountable to people for what they study and why it is not directly targeted to bringing people “cures” and fancy gadgets?

    You’re the one who started this, GM when you said:

    75. GM Says:
    August 25th, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Science is a method for understanding the world around us. It is not a way to improve our well-being. If it was, you would have a point, but it isn’t and the fact that most people think of it this way is a sad reflection of the profound ignorance of our society.

    That’s the absurd and arrogant point I’ve been addressing.

    — but why we didn’t spent the trillions that were spent on wars in the last decade on building something much bigger. GM

    And how many of those dollars went to scientific research into weaponry and a myriad of other aspects of waging those wars. Up to and including the psychologists who participated in the CIA torture program.

    You don’t seem to have much of an idea of what science is like in the real world as opposed to your fantasy.

  132. — So you think the LHC has enormous practical value? I guess the governments of a dozen nations were misguided when they funded it with billions after all.

    You pose a question and then give an answer you want people to think I’d give. The new atheist idea of honest debate. See my answer to your fellow prevaricator, Wowbagger.

  133. Wowbagger

    Oh, Anthony. Is your memory that short?

    I don’t think the program to associate science with atheism couldn’t help but hurt science in the general population whose experience leads them to conclude that there is a supernatural of some kind. Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    Emphasis mine. Sound familiar? I can’t recall which of the Intersection blog entries of the last few months you posted it in, and can’t really be bothered tracking it down right now; however, you can be sure that it’s in here somewhere. I copied it out because of how fascinating an example of woo-powered stupidity it was.

    Do you deny those are your words? Don’t be shy now. Let the nice readers know if they are or they aren’t.

  134. Sorbet

    McCarthy has embarrassed himself countless number of times by demonstrating his raw ignorance of the history of science as well as how science actually works. In addition he is so dim that he does not even understand this ignorance. Also, notice how he again steers the discussion toward the new atheism when the discussion had nothing to do with it. McCarthy, you clearly don’t know anything about science funding or about the LHC; if you want to save yourself more embarrassment you would at least Google? The fact that governments put billions into funding something which is going to have almost no practical value flies in the face of your ignorant parading of rubbish. But of course that’s your specialty.

  135. Sorbet

    McCarthy, answer the question about the LHC. It flies in the face of all that you have said.

  136. Wowbagger

    Anthony McCarthy,

    Mendacity is the mother tongue of the new atheism. woo-struck.

    There. Fixed it for you. No, that’s alright – no thanks necessary.

    You may feel free to apologise for calling me a prevaricator anytime you like, Anthony. I can wait. But if you lack the character to admit your egregious error that’s okay; I won’t be surprised.

  137. Probably too subtle a point for the Sci-Ranger patrol to handle but let’s try.

    So Wowbagger, when challenged has come up with this: “Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge. ”

    Which he has translated that into meaning:

    – Remember, McCarthy is on record as claiming that ‘genuine’ personal religious experience as just as valid as any scientific finding. Wowbagger

    Let’s begin with Wowbagger’s evidence, his would be smoking gun. It says nothing about the validity of the knowledge gained through personal experience, it only deals with what people find most convincing and compelling. So his subsequent claim isn’t supported on that crucial point. Further more there is a huge difference between what people find compelling and convincing as opposed to what is considered valid knowledge such as science produces. I could also go into the FACT that I’ve said from the beginning that the knowledge produced by science (when it is done well) produces the most reliable knowledge we have about those aspects of the MATERIAL UNIVERSE covered by that science, available to us.

    Put those two things together and you get that personal religious experience doesn’t produce the same kind of information as science, so it can’t produce information of the same kind of validity.

    Go fish again, Wowbagger, you’ll still come up with nothing to support your lie.

    You keep saying “woo”, exactly what is it that I’ve supported as fact that you classify as “woo”? Again, quotes in my own words with locations that anyone who wants to find them can look. Not something you, or gillt, or Sorbet or any of the other Sci-rangers have attributed to me, things I’ve actually said.

  138. —- McCarthy has embarrassed himself countless number of times by demonstrating his raw ignorance of the history of science as well as how science actually works. Sorbot

    That would be as opposed to someone who thinks that most science has been done without any kind of application in mind? Someone who seems to believe that most of the science that has been funded by government and industry has been done without any kind of application as the goal?

    Oddly, I don’t think I’ve been embarrassed by anything I’ve said on those subjects. I’m sure you’ll get gillt and Wowbagger and maybe GM to agree with you but I don’t really care what their opinion is so I’m not feeling embarrassed.

    — McCarthy, you clearly don’t know anything about science funding or about the LHC; if you want to save yourself more embarrassment you would at least Google? Sorbot

    You think that constitutes the majority of funding of science and technology that has been done, even by governments? And you are accusing me of ignorance? It’s one big project and I’ll bet that the governments involved have spent a heck of a lot more on other projects, though I’d look at the actual records before making some kind of definitive statement on that – I told you you had a lot to learn about journalism, kid. Not to mention the money that industry spends on research and development.

    I wonder if any of the documents prepared to promote the LHC mention the possibility of finding applications of what might be learned there or if it just talks about long term benefits of basic research. Have you looked into that, boy reporter?

    I wonder what the percentage of scientists who ask for money from governments mention applications in their grant applications. I wonder what percentage of industry R&D is done without any kind of application in mind.

    Thursday is my busy teaching day, so I’m not able to play longer today.

  139. Just a brief comment:

    While there are certainly scientists who have been motivated by altruism and are justly praised for that, I doubt that most of them would continue in their work without getting paid.

    Perhaps. Let’s change things slightly.

    While there are certainly [elementary school teachers] who have been motivated by altruism and are justly praised for that, I doubt that most of them would continue in their work without getting paid.

    Pretty sure this is true. Indeed, they even keep asking for money! Clearly examples of the evil educational-industrial complex! (Which, ok, does kinda exist, but is more a publishing/testing thing, I think).

    I’ve seen at least one survey showing (undifferentiated?) “scientists” as having almost absurdly high levels of job satisfaction; anecdotally (given that scientists are varied, individual people in varied, individual situations), in general, they certainly seems to come out rather well in the ‘And they’re actually *paying* me for the privilege of getting to do this?! {dazed look}’ sweepstakes.

    Wandering OT, but it’s certainly interesting to contrast these sorts of career love affairs (at least, for the people in them) with the *very* different experience of work that I think most folks have ’round here (modern US specific), including how that difference is actively widened by various policies. Also something about the creative, ludic nature of science and many of the similar “OMG I LOVE THIS!1″ occupations, and etc., quotes from Marx, so on.

    Also, Anthony – my reply to your comment-which-finally-came-out-of-moderation itself finally came out of moderation, far below on that Wright/Coyne thread, if you care. (I can certainly understand tiring of that particular merry-go-round).

  140. Dan, I wasn’t criticizing scientists getting paid, I was mocking the belief that it was the elite hobby divorced from that so, so vulgar and plebeian motivation, improving life, that GM and Sorbet seem to think it is.

    I was mocking the romantic view of science, not asserting that scientists shouldn’t get paid like most people in the arts aren’t for the vast majority of the hours they put in.

    What do you think about the idea that the public should give their money for science that isn’t intended to have any “way to improve our well-being”, which, I’m happy to point out, contradicts one of the big selling-points of the new atheism?

  141. Sorbet

    -That would be as opposed to someone who thinks that most science has been done without any kind of application in mind?

    That would be opposed to someone who knows next to nothing about the history of science and the motivations for most great scientists’ research Jenny.

    -You think that constitutes the majority of funding of science and technology that has been done, even by governments?

    It’s 12 billion plus dollars. Plus most of my colleagues have their research funded by NIH, research which has no tangible applications, so I can give an informed answer to your question. That’s the way science has progressed. Most important technological discoveries have come out of people simply tinkering around. You clearly known next to nothing about the history of science.

    As for the LHC, the biggest explicitly stated motivation there has been to find the Higgs boson, which has no currently forseeable applications. Did I mention you know next to nothing about how actual science is done?

  142. Sorbet

    In fact are you even aware that some of the most spectacular applied research ever to come out of places like Merck and Bell Labs (especially in the 80s) was done in an environment that promoted research without any short-term tangible benefits? And do you realise that the research productivity in these organizations has greatly slowed down precisely because they have abandoned this model? Many now realise and lament this. But of course you are not interested in knowing about anything that harms your case.

  143. Sorbet

    -I was mocking the romantic view of science

    Again, profound and perverse ignorance of the history of science. Cavendish, Lavoisier, Rumford, Kelvin, Davy, Darwin, Volta, Dalton- all “aristocratic romantic snobs” who contributed immensely to science through mere tinkering and observing. If you really want to know something about the world, you would pick up, for instance, Richard Holmes’s recently published “The Age of Wonder” which precisely documents how it was the romantic age that provided some of the greatest practical discoveries in science.

  144. Sorbet, I’m under absolutely no delusion that you, Sorbet, the great and powerful Wikimaster, speak for any of the various scientists you have named, a number of whom I know for a fact were neither unaware of nor uninterested in practical, life improving aspects of what they did.

    And I am absolutely certain that without producing improvements in the lives of we, the mere people whose money funds their careers through our taxes (and even more so the investments of corporate share holders), would not be interested in giving money without results.

    I’m really finding this interesting, how deeply offended you and GM and, I’d guess, the Wowgagger are that someone might think that scientists would be primarily motivated by the desire to make life better. How very, very aristocratic of you, how very idealistic in a really twisted way, of you. I hope that the authors of this blog are taking note and seeing the possibilities of at least another chapter in a future edition of their book.

  145. Wowbagger

    Ah, Anthony McCarthy, you never fail to disappoint – well, not in terms of your predictable equivocation at least. Intellectual honesty, on the other hand – well, it’s probably been so long since you experienced it that you’ve forgotten what it’s like.

    I’m still waiting for that apology for calling me a prevaricator after I produced your exact quote. But, as I indicated upthread, such a trait is not unsurprising in a person as bereft of character as you.

    One thing in your favour: at least you didn’t try to claim Chris and Sheril were monkeying with the posts like you lied about PZ doing.

    You keep saying “woo”, exactly what is it that I’ve supported as fact that you classify as “woo”?

    You claim that personal religious experience (of the supernatural) can be – as your quote, despite your attempts handwave it away, indicates – the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    But you’re right (see how easy that was? Character, Anthony); I don’t know precisely which woo fuels your anti-skeptic, anti-science kook engine – but that’s only because you are either too disinenguous and/or too cowardly to actually own up to the kind of cockamamie delusion you actually subscribe to. So, don’t blame me for not being able to guess at what it is that you, out of shame and/or the fear of being criticised, work so very hard at keeping hidden.

    If you want to keep it hidden you’d better stop making so many statements giving you away as woo-burdened.

  146. Dan, I wasn’t criticizing scientists getting paid, I was mocking the belief that it was the elite hobby divorced from that so, so vulgar and plebeian motivation, improving life

    Which comes through elsewhere in the comment (#76), but in that particular bit

    While there are certainly scientists who have been motivated by altruism and are justly praised for that, I doubt that most of them would continue in their work without getting paid.

    you seem to have been carried away a little by your dislike of scientists – oh horrors, most of them, besides the independently wealthy, wouldn’t be able to continue formally working (in fields that generally require large expenditures of time and often extremely to prohibitively expensive supplies etc.) without being paid! More than that, it kinda works against your point, as you’re now arguing that it has less to do with “improving life” than making money (granted, certainly a “vulgar and plebian” motivation. Of course, this sort of thing pales next to the astounding hypothetical you suggested on another blog – pondering if (iirc) it was discovered that a giant meteorite was heading right towards us, whether people would be allowed to unknowingly live out their last days in blissful ignorance, or whether some arrogant, boastful scientist would spill the beans so they could get to be famous. (if I have this wrong or somehow confused you with another poster, please set me straight). Certainly over-romanticizing science is silly (and even dangerous), and of course science itself is both a desert topping and a floor wax -I mean, both a method to understand the world around us and a way to improve our well-being; individual motivations range from the pure drive to discover to altruism to etc. (and mixtures thereof) . . . but again, you seem to go reflexively too far off the other end. Take a peek over at the autism thread to see what kind of ideas one often sees attached to that sort of attitude, and one reason (if only one) why lots of folks get kinda reactive against it.

  147. What do you think about the idea that the public should give their money for science that isn’t intended to have any “way to improve our well-being”

    Well, that’s (kinda-ish) up to them, although given the way basic research tends to ultimately lead to very helpful stuff, it would be a pretty shortsighted way to save a couple of bucks off their taxes. (Personally, every tax dollar spend on basic science means one less funding wars of aggression and torture of prisoners, which is quite alright with me, if oversimplified).

  148. —- You claim that personal religious experience (of the supernatural) can be – as your quote, despite your attempts handwave it away, indicates – the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge. Wowbagger

    Do you think anyone believes anything deeply except through their experience of it? Even reading a mathematical proof is an experience, as is reading a scientific paper, assuming you’ve had either of those. How do you propose that someone could believe anything without experiencing it in some manner? As to the matter of its being compelling and convincing to have had a personal experience, yes, that is more of both than having someone tell you something about something you’ve never experienced yourself. I’d think anyone who didn’t know that was amazingly inexperienced.

    This is what you are calling “woo” that I’d point out that people find their own experiences more compelling than the assertions of experts or others? You like that, Dan?

    Keep looking, Wowzie.

    —- I don’t know precisely which woo fuels your anti-skeptic, anti-science kook engine Wowbagger

    Well, we saw earlier today just how dishonest your assertions of what I was “on record” as having said stuff I never said was, now you’re hiding in the fens of ignorant supposition, where you’ve always been, it might seem. “Anti-skeptic”, no, I’m not anti-skeptic, I’m anti-”skeptic”, as in the pseudo-skepticism of the type that Marcello Truzzi encountered in the fad of organized skepticism. “Anti-science”, yeah, that makes sense since I said that those things which science can successfully study with its methods and within its range of vision yields the most reliable information we have about those, I guess to an adherent of the superstition of scientism, that might seem “anti-science”.

    I seriously hope that you don’t have a job that has anything to do with science or the teaching of science. I hope you’re just another of the blog wannabees, though I’m kind of disturbed to find out that there are people who work in science who are as ignorant of its foundations and methods as you obviously are and who are as incapable of following a moderately complex line of reasoning which deviates from their a priori dogma.

    Dan, for crying out loud, you could have saved yourself from writing a sentence that I think might outdo even me for running on if you had merely realized, I hold that the worker is worthy of their wage. I don’t think there is anything immoral or dishonorable about a working scientist getting paid for what they do. It’s a JOB. Though there are jobs within science that have anything but moral results. Or do you think that because it’s “science” that makes it all right. Sort of makes me of the scene in My Little Chickadee right after Mae West “marries” W.C. Fields and so becomes respectable.

    Don’t try to associate me with the autism-vaccine folk, you known very well that I’m not one of them. I’d have thought you were above that kind of thing. Maybe you’ve been keeping bad company.

  149. Wowbagger

    Anthony Ben McCarthy Stein wrote:

    I’m really finding this interesting, how deeply offended you and GM and, I’d guess, the Wowgagger are that someone might think that scientists would be primarily motivated by the desire to make life better.

    Whoosh! Swing and a miss.

    Deeply offended? Please. I’ve no idea what scientists’ motivations might be for why they do what they do, and have never made any comments on the issue. Feel free to find and quote any of my words that contradict that claim; I’ve already shown you how it can be done.

    For which I’m still awaiting an apology – or, at the very least, an admission that I was correct in my assignation of those words to you.

    But, while you think about how not doing so reflects on your character, feel free to keep on building and tearing down new and even more ridiculous armies of ‘new atheist’ strawmen as you attempt to further your pro-woo/anti-science agenda. I’m finding it awfully entertaining; no doubt others are as well.

  150. Sorbet

    -a number of whom I know for a fact were neither unaware of nor uninterested in practical, life improving aspects of what they did

    And where’s the evidence for this further addition to the bag of ignorance? Nobody denies that practical applications were also on these scientists’ mind, but that was never ever the primary motivation. I have been reading scientific biographies since I was a kid and I dare you to find me any substantial evidence that Faraday, Davy, Cavendish or Rumford did what they did primarily for practical goals. It’s just not true and you can keep on blatantly lying about this but it does not change history.

  151. Sorbet

    -I’m really finding this interesting, how deeply offended you and GM and, I’d guess, the Wowgagger are that someone might think that scientists would be primarily motivated by the desire to make life better

    Of course you would find it interesting since it’s not obvious to you at all what image a non-scientist projects to people who are actually scientists when he not only displays an almost complete lack of understanding of how science has actually worked, but proudly wears his ignorance on his lapel and flaunts it with glee. Now, I understand; your visceral hatred of science and scientists has placed you beyond help and reasoning, but that does not mean we tiptoe away from pointing out your deep-seated delusions. Again, Richard Holmes’s “The Age of Wonder” among many volumes, although I know you are not interested in actual knowledge, but we try.

    -I hope that the authors of this blog are taking note and seeing the possibilities of at least another chapter in a future edition of their book.

    Yes, I do hope they are taking note of the anti-intellectualism that riddles the progress of science with its holier than thou attitude. Or, to put it more simply, Anthony McCarthy.

  152. Wowbagger

    Sorbet asked:

    And where’s the evidence for this further addition to the bag of ignorance?

    Sorbet, when will you learn? Anthony McCarthy need not sully his hands with icky old ‘evidence’ – or, for that matter, ‘facts’, ‘truth’ or ‘a foundation in reality’; he has other ways of knowing (jazz hands!) that provide him with everything he needs to make claims.

  153. Wowbagger, you demonstrated your mastery of “evidence” earlier when you failed to back up your assertion of what I was “on record” as having said. I don’t know if anyone but a posse of new atheists is reading this but if they are, they can look above to see what kind of credence they should give what you say about anything.

    Obviously I’ve blasphemed against science in the eyes of Sorbet. He is just outraged that I’d accuse scientists of wanting to improve life and can’t stand the idea that I’m still saying it. I’ve got nothing against science as an elite hobby, just that scientists who want to pursue it should fund it themselves. Maybe out of the money they make from doing corporate science in their paying jobs. You do know, Sorb, that corporate money outstrips government money in the United States, don’t you? Or haven’t you wikied that info yet? You think corporations give money without some expectation of a return? Maybe you should ask some Econ-Nobels about that.

  154. Sorbet

    And where do you think the science behind corporate research comes from? Let me give you a hint. It does not come from corporate research.

  155. Wowbagger

    Wowbagger, you demonstrated your mastery of “evidence” earlier when you failed to back up your assertion of what I was “on record” as having said.

    What did I need to ‘back up’? You, in your own words – exactly as I quoted – described experience of the supernatural as being the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    So, based on that, all one need do is say they’ve had a personal religious supernatural experience of something – e.g. in the words of your brother in anti-science faith, Ben Stein, ‘science leads to killing people’ – and it’s instantly validated and beyond criticism, because such experience ranks above actual facts or evidence in your eyes.

  156. W0wbagger, I’m only going to try to explain it to you once again, though I’m sure it’s only an exercise in futility.

    You made a charge that I was “on record” as ” claiming that ‘genuine’ personal religious experience as just as valid as any scientific finding,”.

    When challenged to produce that record you claimed existed, in my actual words, you came up with:

    “Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge. ”

    Which is a statement about what people find most compelling and convincing NOT a statement about the validity of any kind of knowledge.

    Apparently all you could come up with from that “record” you say exists to back up YOUR charge has nothing to do with the validity of scientific knowledge or the knowledge people derive from their experience. YOU FAILED TO BACK UP YOUR STATEMENT. And apparently you are so devoid of logic that you don’t realize that.

    You compound that by trying to smear me with a link to Ben Stein, someone I’ve despised for decades before some of you boys were born and who I am actually on record as having called a liar who is like a Dick Morris who can fake gravitas (Dan S. might help you find that), by trying to put his words in my mouth, which is typical of the new atheist application of what they take for “logic”.

    You’ve got several contenders among those who troll this blog but you are in the running as among the most dishonest..

  157. — And where do you think the science behind corporate research comes from? Let me give you a hint. It does not come from corporate research. Sorbet

    What a silly argument. You might as well point out that chemistry had a good part of its origin in alchemy or that mathematics passed through numerological and Pythagorean mysticism.

  158. Sorbet

    The point seems to have sailed over the top of your pointy Steinian head like a kite. The point is that most of industrial research has also come from pure scientific research done by scientists who were simply trying to find out more about the world without aiming for any practical applications. Just think of computers, radar, genetic engineering and MRI.

  159. Sorbet

    -Obviously I’ve blasphemed

    You have not. You are simply ignorant about science. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but the problem here is that you actually proudly flaunt your ignorance and are almost completely immune to learning from people who happen to do science, all because you want to always be right and harbor an irrational and visceral hatred of scientists and science.

  160. Wowbagger

    Calm down, Anthony- there’s no need to shout. And all that spittle is probably bad for your keyboard.

    Which is a statement about what people find most compelling and convincing NOT a statement about the validity of any kind of knowledge.

    So, to clarify: you’re asserting there is knowledge which can be both the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge (again, your words not mine), and yet have no validity?

    What a fascinating epistemological position. I guess I can’t argue with that ‘logic’ – though I don’t imagine anyone else could either; we’re getting well into Time Cube territory here. But, as I’ve said before, that’s a testament to the power of woo (jazz hands!).

    You’ve got several contenders among those who troll this blog but you are in the running as among the most dishonest..

    Don’t fret, Anthony – you’ve got your hands very firmly grasped on that particular crown; you flatter me to assume that I – or, for that matter, anyone else I’ve seen here over the past few months – could ever wrest it from you.

  161. Wowbagger

    Gah. Blockquote fail. Apologies. You’ll see once it gets through moderation.

  162. Rather than continue to adamantly pursue the “primrose path of endless economic growth” that will likely lead the children to confront some sort of colossal ecological wreckage, the likes of which only Ozymandias has witnessed, why not choose a new behavioral repertoire? Unsustainable lifestyles derived from dishonesty, arrogance and avarice could be replaced with sustainable behaviors.

    In any event, at some point in time greed and ill-gotten gains perpetrated by “thieves of the highest order” will not be rewarded as we if these thieves are paragons of virtue. Perhaps the dubious leaders who sponsor “the goodness of avarice” will be named, shamed and replaced by people with a different set of values and an intention to live sustainably in this wondrous planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit……and not to destroy as a fit place for human habitation by the children.

    It is one thing to unconsciously live unsustainably and, by so doing, precipitate the collapse of a great civilization. That has happened before. We know those people did not know what they were doing. On the other hand, for one consciously reckless, voracious generation of knowledgeable greed-mongering leading elders to so conspicuously perpetrate the ruination of the Earth as a place in which the human species and life as we know it can merely survive, let alone thrive, that is beyond the pale.

  163. Anthony McCarthy

    – all because you want to always be right Sorbet

    Are you accusing me of being human?

    — and harbor an irrational and visceral hatred of scientists and science. Sorbet

    Here we have a specimen of the results of an irrational belief that science is supernatural, existing outside of fallible and limited human beings who can have motives of all kinds and differing and variable levels of accomplishment. Anyone who has a realistic view of science is irrationally believed to have a visceral hatred of scientists and science, merely because they refuse to pretend that they are what they are not.

    Wowbagger, when I’ve said something to apologize for, I’ll apologize. I’ve never felt it necessary for me to apologize when someone has lied about me.

  164. Sorbet

    -Are you accusing me of being human?

    Seems you are admitting to letting your emotions and biases overrule your rational thinking apparatus. Not surprising though.

    -Here we have a specimen of the results of an irrational belief that science is supernatural

    Are you describing yourself? I never denied that science and human beings are fallible, but as Einstein said, it’s still the most precious thing we have. You are the one who is accusing scientists of scientism and declaring that this in some way makes us no different from religious people who have private experiences which are supposed to constitute “truth”.

    And we have seen your “realistic” view of science in your thoughts about science funding.

  165. Sorbet

    By the way Dan S has a long and detailed reply to your comments on the last post.

  166. — You are the one who is accusing scientists of scientism and declaring that this in some way makes us no different from religious people who have private experiences which are supposed to constitute “truth”. Sorb

    It was a surprise to me to find so much scientism among people who actually work in science, I’d figured all of them had training in the foundations of science. I’ve only accused people who express scientism of following that superstition, there are a number of scientists who are among the critics of scientism.

    Did I say that peoples’ private experiences constitute “truth”? It doesn’t sound like something I’d say. Go do what your Ranger buddy, Wowbagger, so notably hasn’t and backed it up with a quote and where to find that quote.

    If scientists want people to be enthusiastic about funding science, expressing an arrogant sense of entitlement mixed with disdain for the common good and dismissive outrage when someone suggests that improving life was more important than satisfying the curiosity of elite scientists, isn’t the way to go.

    I don’t really think there is any more to say to deluded elitists than that.

    There you go, Dan S. You’ve got Sorbot on your team. Enjoy.

  167. Sorbet

    McStein, you said that people’s private experiences also provide “compelling and convincing” knowledge and according to you this should be taken as seriously as scientific knowledge.

    As for science funding I will leave you with a statement by one of the greatest and most modest scientist of modern times that strikes the right balance:

    Humanity needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research- Marie Curie

  168. Wowbagger

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Did I say that peoples’ private experiences constitute “truth”? It doesn’t sound like something I’d say.

    But it’s exactly what you did say. Yet again, I refer you to your words:

    I don’t think the program to associate science with atheism couldn’t help but hurt science in the general population whose experience leads them to conclude that there is a supernatural of some kind. Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    Translation: people’s experience tells them there is a supernatural – that the supernatural is ‘true’ – because experience is basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    >Go do what your Ranger buddy, Wowbagger, so notably hasn’t and backed it up with a quote and where to find that quote.

    You wrote it right here, liar.

  169. Wowbagger, you’re just going to keep asserting that you didn’t change a statement I made about what people found convincing into a judgment of the validity of scientific knowledge no matter how many times it’s pointed out that you were lying and when challenged you couldn’t back up what you said.

    On the remote possibility that anyone who is objective enough to judge whether or not what Wowbagger found on his fishing expidition cum face saving effort meets his charge, here’s the entire comment.

    — J., if you qualify that claim any more and soon you’ll be saying “hostility from atheist science bloggers causes people to be hostile to atheist science bloggers”. Which would be partly correct, and partly missing the point, since it certainly breaks down the status quo of disengagement. Benj. S. Nelson

    While I’m sure JJR can answer for himself, I’ve figured that the new atheists, and the ScienceBlogs in particular, almost all have attempted to associate science with atheism and not just to associate themselves with science. The various arguments that you can’t really be a scientist and religious are an example of that. I’ve wondered if it isn’t an unstated Seed goal to promote atheism.

    I don’t think the program to associate science with atheism couldn’t help but hurt science in the general population whose experience leads them to conclude that there is a supernatural of some kind. Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    I’ve noticed a widespread practice of the new atheists to deny some of the most obvious foundations of their cult, the denial of science to the religious is one of those things that have been exhaustively discussed here. To pretend that isn’t an intention made explicit by the new atheists words is to deny clear reality. It was in the reaction to the thread discussions here to a statement made by Lawrence Krauss about the incompatibility of science and religion, that I’ve come to conclude that idea is so clearly contradicted by the history of the rise of modern science and the large number of scientists who are also religious, makes belief in that incompatibility a superstition perhaps even more unfounded in reality than creationism.

    Note that I called creationism a superstition and that in no place did I assert the truth of what people knew as a result of their own experience, I merely noted that people found their own experience to be the most compelling and convincing forms of knowledge.

    If you want to go over the history of Wowbagger’s slowly morphing charges against me on this thread, you will find that even he is apparently aware that his original accusation can’t be sustained on the basis of my own words. And now he’s pretending he hasn’t been exposed due to his inability to back it up.

    Sorbet, Marie Curie was hardly uninterested in the applied use of radium, so much so that she seems to have desperately denied the dangers of it as her colleagues and she became increasingly ill from it and despite her teacher, husband and colleagues citing the dangers of it in his work and, if I remember correctly, his Nobel speech. I don’t have any doubt about her desire to produce benefits for humanity or the tragedy of her inability to see what was happening right before her eyes and with warnings that she must have known about.

    Marie Curie would support my position about scientists motivations, not your romantic and detached indifferent Olympian view of science. Apparently you’re too invested in your position to see reality.

    “McStein”, that supposed to be some kind of ethnic joke?

  170. Wowbagger

    Anthony McCarthy, barefaced liar and peerless equivocator, wrote (in desperation):

    Wowbagger, you’re just going to keep asserting that you didn’t change a statement I made about what people found convincing into a judgment of the validity of scientific knowledge no matter how many times it’s pointed out that you were lying and when challenged you couldn’t back up what you said.

    What did I change? Where did I do anything other than quote your exact words? How is that lying? You said there are people in the world with ‘genuine experience’ of the supernatural, and that ‘genuine experience’ is the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    Please, cite the post where I altered your words to distort their meaning – or are you finally going to claim that Chris and Sheril have monkeyed with the older posts, just like you lied about PZ doing?

    You rank evidence gained by woo as higher than evidence obtained via science. If that’s not what you believe, retract your claim. If it is what you believe, how am I lying by pointing it out?

  171. Sorbet

    However that wasn’t her primary purpose. Like many others she was fascinated by radioactivity from a purely scientific viewpoint. All the tedious radioactive separations carried out in her shed with Pierre were emphatically not for applications. The applications came later. You can read about it in Barbara Goldsmith’s biography of Curie for instance.

    And Wowbagger has clearly pointed out what you said; your denial is just making things worse. It’s going to be increasingly hard for you to call us prevaricators from now on because we simply have to point to this thread.

  172. — However that wasn’t her primary purpose.

    How the world would you know what her primary purpose was? Or Dalton’s or any of the other scientists you’ve presumed to speak for? You think you can predict what you’d find at the core of the onion of their personalities but you’re just imposing your agenda on them. It’s obvious that you think this quest for abstract, and pure “truth” divorced from the context in which both its discoverers and those mere helots whose labor and money fund their work (I’ll leave the corporate context out for now) is more pure and holy than the mere desire to alleviate the conditions of suffering humanity and, as I’d have it, life in general. Well, you might see that as idealistic intellectualism, I see it as perverted aristocratic diversion.

    If Marie Curie’s denialism as she and her colleagues got sick and started dying wasn’t due to her desire to find an application for her radium that would be “a way to improve our well-being”, it was for some entirely more sordid reason. And it was denialism, her own husband was the co-author of what I seem to recall was the first paper about the delitirous health effects of radium and he mentioned it in his Nobel speech (I don’t know if it’s available in English online, though I’ve found it in French in the past). You think the desire to help improve our well-being is vulgar and of secondary importance, I think, if you include all of life in the attempt, it’s the only important reason for any of this, the one that, if observed carefully, is the best protection against the perverted and destructive uses of science that are all around us.

    That’s the difference between smug, indifferent, aristocrats assuming their priorities and interests are all important and people who think that the welfare of people, other animals and eventually the entire biosphere is more important than their personal curiosity.

    More abstractly, you think that a point made about what people find convincing and compelling – made in the context of what would harm the reputation of science in the general population – equals judgment made about the value of what people find convincing and compelling as compared to the product of science in the absence of that kind of judgment being made in the argument. It was a political point made about a political problem, not some Platonic assertion about “the truth”. You and Wowbagger are truly devoid of the basic principle of logic that things have to equal each other in order to be equal. You and the Wow-guy need to review the part of high school level algebra where you cover the basic principles of mathematics. Only, that’s one that even the kids needing remedial help I used to tutor didn’t have any problem getting, so I really don’t know how to explain it to you. It’s interesting how stunningly untruthful you’re willing to become in the defense of “the truth” as you hold it. I’m not going to ask the two of you to forgive me for being skeptical about the value of this “truth” you seem to think you represent if that is the result. I don’t need forgiveness from people who think the way you do.

  173. Oh, and, thinking about it more, a biographer doesn’t reproduce the inner life of a person, they interpret the life of their subject. Reading a biography might or might not lead you closer to the inner person, they can’t give you an objective view of them because they don’t even produce their research in its entirety.

    I know that looking at the product of scholarship and science and finding that there is no such thing as absolute objectivity seems to make some people nervous, but that doesn’t make it any less true that all of us, even scientists and even careful biographers, are presenting the view they have. There is no such thing as absolute objectivity, it’s a matter of degrees of subjectivity and often objectivity is just well disguised subjective decisions. But once you get used to reality, you stop being afraid of it.

  174. Sorbet

    So now rejecting an authoritative biography is your way of saying that you don’t want to admit that there may be a world beyond your beliefs? Nice! Although again, not exactly a novel tactic coming from you, the consummate sour grapes fan. And of course, as usual, tremendous hubris in dismissing other people’s work without having a scrap of actual knowledge about it.

    McCarthy: X did not do this
    Blogger points out that A has written an authoritative biography of X which indicates that X did in fact do it
    McCarthy: But A cannot “reproduce the inner life of X”. Therefore nobody can reproduce the inner life of X.

  175. You are really the all or nothing type, aren’t you. I didn’t say a good biography is useless, I said it was limited. “Authoratative” biographies of the same person can come to quite different conclusions on some points, or are you unaware of that? Which one should you believe when that happens? Consulting yet another “authoritative” biography? Yeah, I guess so, or looking at the primary documentary material, which would have been the best, though often not the most practical, option to start with. Or are you the kind of “biographer” who goes with secondary and tertiary material by preference? Which wouldn’t surprise me in someone unaware of the methods of historical research, as so many in the sciences apparently are.

    You want absolute reliability, which is available only in math and in some of the physical sciences, which is why people shouldn’t be hoodwinked into believing that those are the only real methods of finding reliable information. Most of life isn’t like those two very focused and self-limited areas of investigation. You try doing biography like that, you’re going to produce the most subjective kind of junk.

    Could “skepticism”, scientism, the new atheism all stem from emotional problems of dealing with the inherent uncertainty of much of life, leading to a denial that’s the way things just are and always will be? I did say it was just another form of conservatism, didn’t I?

  176. Wowbagger

    You are really the all or nothing type, aren’t you.

    No, I suspect he’s the woo or reality type. But if you understood there was a difference we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    I did say it was just another form of conservatism, didn’t I?

    Indeed you did – but, as it was as bereft of any anchor in reality or supported by any evidence or valid argument beyond your own profoundly disingenuous assertion, it can readily be consigned to the dustbin of intellectually dishonest woo-kookery as every other piece of garbage that’s emanated from your anti-science mouth.

  177. Sorbet

    McCarthy, this untrammeled flood of words without even looking at the biography? Pretty typical, but never fails to disgust. Goldsmith’s biography has been praised as accurate by many. Yet of course you want to pontificate without even taking a look at it. As I said before, you are becoming a pathological case that can be easily diagnosed by a specialist, a disgraceful example of the kind of human being who does not want to actually learn anything, only proffer ignorant opinions.

  178. Sorbet

    You can see it as “perverted aristocracy” as much as you want, but that is never going to change the fact that lots of scientists indulged in it, and that this indulgence led to some of the most important practical discoveries in science and technology. But of course you won’t ever know about this because you have a congenital aversion to facts, real knowledge and books. You are ignorant and you will stay ignorant, because not once will you actually pick up a book to learn.

  179. Sorbet

    And in any case, Wowbagger has exposed your prevarications and barefaced shameless dishonesty by citing your own exact words. This thread should be a marker for all those who would want to believe your erudite-sounding nonsense from now on. You know nothing about Cavendish, Dalton, Davy Fermi, Rabi, Oppenheimer, Feynman or Rumford to claim that their main motivation was not obtaining pure knowledge without application (in fact I wonder if you are hearing these names for the first time). I have read several biographies of these gentlemen and can say that this was true for a fact. But of course you don’t want to even consider what I am saying, let alone read some references, because you want to oppose me as a matter of principle. Dogmatic pigheadedness as its best.

  180. Sorbet

    McCarthy; a tribute to other ways of knowing
    http://img36.imageshack.us/i/jazzhands.jpg/

  181. Sorbet, I didn’t say a single word about the biography you were referencing, I was talking about your concept of an “authoritative biography” and what it could and couldn’t be expected to tell us.

    You’re the one who’s gone the celebrity route, the one who apparently misses that most of science isn’t done by the big names but by lesser known and unsung working scientists.

    Wowbagger, you’re obviously the unsupported lie type. You’ve never pointed to what you mean by “woo” which I’m supposed to have supported. Again, my own words, with links to where those can be found and checked. I knew you were avoiding giving the link to what you tried using before since it showed you were misrepresenting it. I’m not going to bother to point it out again, you’ll just keep saying it but I’d think anyone who can read and wants to look would see that you’re not credible.

    I would think anyone who might be interested would also know that for the last two days I’ve just been doing research into the pathology of the new atheism. For my own information, not as science.

  182. Wowbagger

    Wowbagger, you’re obviously the unsupported lie type. You’ve never pointed to what you mean by “woo” which I’m supposed to have supported.

    Ah, a goalpost shift. Interesting – another sign of desperation?

    Previously you were insisting that you didn’t say any words which meant that you considered experience of woo the most valid form of knowledge; now you’re trying to weasel out of it by demanding that I point to where you’ve described what the woo is.

    Which is, of course, why you avoid specifying it – as I pointed out upthread – ‘So, don’t blame me for not being able to guess at what it is that you, out of shame and/or the fear of being criticised, work so very hard at keeping hidden.‘ It’s yet another intellectually dishonest ploy on your part.

    The woo is whatever it is you believe is the source of these ‘other ways of knowing’ (jazz hands!), that is the basis of the more-valid-than-science ‘genuine’ supernatural experiences, and is that which you keep on implying – but, deviously, not qualifying or supporting with evidence – is eternally beyond the reach of science and scientists.

    I don’t care what you believe beyond the point of it being the basis of your revealed anti-science agenda. So stop trying to drag me into an argument about the number of angels on a pinhead.

    I knew you were avoiding giving the link to what you tried using before since it showed you were misrepresenting it.

    Liar. You knew nothing of the sort, because that wasn’t my motivation at all. It was a combination of laziness on my part (initially) as I had the quote already stored for just this occasion; also, a slightly snarky urge to see if you’d try to deny they were your words – since I’d observed you had a habit of doing so until the links were provided. And you were still attempting to play that card until I put the link in.

    I have been doing research into exposing Anthony McCarthy as an intellectually dishonest, anti-science woo-kook with deficient character who tries to keep his agenda below the radar. For the entertainment of myself and the others who already knew that; for the enlightenment of those who didn’t.

  183. Sorbet

    McCarthy, I have not gone the “celebrity route”. Of course there are scores of lesser known scientists who do science because it also pays the bills (duh). The point really was that most of the important technology and science that emerged in history have been the products of research done largely for satisfying scientists’ curiosity about the world. It’s not so much about who did it as what was done. You only have to take a look at some of the most important technological inventions of the modern world (computers, nuclear energy, genetic engineering, drugs) and then trace their origins to understand that most people who were involved in early research leading to these products did not actually have creating such products in mind.

    And McCarthy, let me add to what Wowbagger said to spell out your basic problem, since you don’t seem to understand it. You said that people derive compelling and convincing knowledge from “other ways of knowing”. But your failure to criticize this kind of knowledge and your other general comments make it clear that you believe that such knowledge should be taken seriously and should be accorded the same degree of respect as scientific knowledge. In other words, you believe that woo should be taken seriously.

  184. — Ah, a goalpost shift. Interesting – another sign of desperation? Wowbagger

    Now, note that “Wowbagger” is attributing the introduction of the subject of “woo” to me when he was the one who shifted that particular “goalpost”. And now he’s introducing “goalpost shifting” into the mix in an attempt to cover the clear fact that it was he who introduced it.

    — Previously you were insisting that you didn’t say any words which meant that you considered experience of woo the most valid form of knowledge; Wowbagger

    And see how, in full refutation of the misrepresentation his alleged evidence as covering his original point, he just continues to assert that you can turn what people find convincing into a judgment of truth value. It could be that the boy just simply doesn’t understand that the two are not the same thing, or it could be he does and he figures that the new atheist program of flooding the blogs with their unfounded and illogical assertions will win the day for him and the greater glory of his fundamentalist faith. Sort of like the PTL club,isn’t it.

    — I have been doing research into exposing Anthony McCarthy as an intellectually dishonest, anti-science woo-kook Wowbagger

    However, with this, clueless admission of what he’s attempted to do, and so notably failed to do, rise to my challenge to produce what he claimed I said, he exposes himself as having been both, dishonest and a dullard.

    The new atheism can’t let you look under the hood because the fad is an intellectual lemon.

  185. — You said that people derive compelling and convincing knowledge from “other ways of knowing”. Sorbet

    I would think that anyone who didn’t realize that is among the most unreflective human beings who have ever lived.

    — But your failure to criticize this kind of knowledge and your other general comments make it clear that you believe that such knowledge should be taken seriously and should be accorded the same degree of respect as scientific knowledge. In other words, you believe that woo should be taken seriously. Sorbet

    As seen in the comment that Wowbagger has been misrepresenting, I called creationism superstition, as I did Lawrence Krauss’ assertion that science and what are being called the “Abrahamic” religions are incompatible in full refutation of both the history of modern science, where it arose and the many, many members of those religions who have had careers in science, some who are certainly as important figures as he is and many, many whose work will, perhaps, outlast the fame of Richard Dawkins. Those are two unscientific ideas which I have most vehemently said should not be accorded the same degree of respect as scientific knowledge.

    There is other knowlede that is in no way a part of science but which I think should be given equal if not greater respect than much of science, the basis of civil rights, equality, democracy, due process, freedom of thought, etc. None of which has any foundation in science, all of which are more important than much of science for the continuation of a decent life on this planet. Where in science is the idea that it’s desirable for the human species to endure another generation? How about that the truth is better than a lie? Where in science can those HONESTLY be found? And don’t give me that unfounded recourse to “genes” that are undiscovered and undefined as an explanation because that’s not in any serious sense of the word science. It’s wishful thinking.

  186. I have to insist, Sorbet, considering your pretensions about the supremacy of science as the ultimate determinant of the value of ideas, where in science do you find the principle that the “search for knowlege” is of superior value to the search for applications in order to make life better?

  187. Sorbet

    McCarthy, did I necessarily say “superior”? My main point was simply a matter of fact and history, that the search for knowledge has always been more dominant compared to the search for applications.

  188. Sorbet, you could have fooled me, the way you’ve angrily denounced the proposal that much of science has had the vulgar motive of doing things, I’d figured it constituted a value judgment.

    You seem to want to demote any science which is motivated by development to a lesser status, when I’d guess the large majority of those who work in science do exactly that kind of thing. What is “pure science” and what is development and application would seem to be rather an artificial distinction in many cases. How much of chemistry is involved with finding new ways to extract or simplify the synthesis of a molecule? Pharmaceutical research is just about entirely motivated by the production of drugs and new applications for existing drugs. A lot of materials science is directly motivated by the search for new and marketable products. Are you going to consign those scientists to a lesser status so as to exclude them from your pure elite? How about others involved with researching manufacturing products? How about mining geologists, agricultural science of various kinds, those involved with the armaments industry and other military and transport industries…. The idea that industrial research and development is motivated by the pure quest for knowledge divorced from application is ridiculous. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t expect results tangible enough to turn to their advantage. Governments wouldn’t fund science, directly or through subsidies to corporations if it was not expected to return tangible, material benefits.

    I’d guess that the majority of labs in the United States, including many of those attached to universities would not exist without the applied research they are engaged in.

    I wonder if a lot of the claims of scientists about pure basic research isn’t due to the status they grant to “pure” research, as I’ve pointed out economists like to believe in, as opposed to the irrational status that science which has no immediate application seems to have.

    By chance I have these quotes from Jacob Bronowski at hand,

    “Our understanding of how the material world is put together from its elements derives from two sources. One, that I have traced, is the development of techniques for making and alloying useful materials. The other is alchemy, and it has a different character. It is small in scale, its not directed to daily uses, and contains a substantial body of speculative theory. For reasons which are oblique but not accidental, alchemy was much occupied with another metal, gold, which is virtually useless. ”

    While its uses in manufacturing and other areas are less than carbon and other elements, I’d argue that gold was largely useless in other areas of life. It is certainly useful for acquisition of wealth, concentrating the value of other peoples’ labor into metallic form so it can be amassed and transferred. So, I’m not alone in believing that the motivation for vast stretches of materials science was motivated towards achieving a specific goal and in applying what was previously learned (often from the investigation of achieving a specific practical goal) to new goals. Certainly the desire to synthesize gold was not “pure science” for its own sake, though Bronowski’s commentary makes it sound more like “pure basic research”.

    How about physics. Here’s what he says about Galileo.

    “Galileo had done deep work in fundamental science at Pisa. But what made the Venetians hire him as their professor of mathematics at Padua was, I suspect, his talent for practical inventions…. There is a convoluted glass apparatus for measuring the expansion of liquids, rather like a thermometer; and a delicate hydrostatic balance to find the density of precious objects, on the principle of Archimedes. And there is something which Galileo, who had a knack for salesmanship, called a “Military Compass”, though it is really a calculating instrument not unlike a modern slide-rule. Galileo made and sold them in his own workshop. He wrote a manual for his “Military Compass” and published it in his own house; it is one of the first woks of Galileo to get into print. This was sound, commercial science as the Venetians admired it.

    So it is no wonder that when, late in 1608, some spectacle makers from Flanders invented a primitive form of spyglass they came to try to sell it to the Republic of Venice. But, of course, the Republican had in its service the person of Galileo, a scientist and mathematician immensely more powerful than any in Northern Europe….. ”

    I wonder, since his telescope had its origin in applied science (the desire to see farther), wouldn’t that disqualify his discoveries about the planets and the moon as “pure science” in your mind? Was all of the science involved in his developing his various inventions not applied science in order to achieve an end as well?

    You could mention pharmaceutical science just about all of which has a planned application in its future, huge amounts of electronic science, geology, etc. All of which is motivated by the desire to do things, often quite specific things. Chemistry, I’d guess most chemists are involved in producing or synthesizing chemicals with specific, useful properties in mind.

    I think your idealism is, like most idealism, an artificial construct that doesn’t have much to do with real life. It’s probably not very important in science since scientists will do what they raise the money to do. I think a lot of the public acceptance of governmental funding is directly tied to expectations of tangible returns in improved life. If they lost their faith in that the funding would be far less certain.

    I wonder when people started talking about “pure science” divorced from usefulness. I know that the Socratic dismissal of the vulgar uses of geometry are influential, though the actual history of geometry is directly tied to usefulness as are the history of numbers and large parts of basic mathematics. I wonder how far you could take the concept of usefulness. Are the set of imaginary numbers not useful? Wasn’t their invention tied to a preexisting need? I’m not going to answer a question like that, though I think it’s a valid question.

  189. Sorbet

    -There is other knowlede that is in no way a part of science but which I think should be given equal if not greater respect than much of science, the basis of civil rights, equality, democracy, due process, freedom of thought, etc

    And all of these ultimately are the product of the human mind. You have not put up a good argument that the human mind would be fundamentally immune to explanation by the laws of physics and chemistry.

    -you’ve angrily denounced the proposal that much of science has had the vulgar motive of doing things

    A clear straw man. I have never ‘denounced’ such science, I have merely said that historically the fruits of science have been secondary to its purpose as an instrument for merely finding out more about the world.

    -Pharmaceutical research is just about entirely motivated by the production of drugs and new applications for existing drugs

    And yet the origins of the technology behind all of pharmaceutical research can be traced back to scientists who never had pharmaceutical and mind and who were simply tinkering.

    -Certainly the desire to synthesize gold was not “pure science” for its own sake, though Bronowski’s commentary makes it sound more like “pure basic research”

    Citing alchemy as a representative of the majority of scientific research in history can be nothing more than a complete red herring.

    -Galileo had done deep work in fundamental science at Pisa. But what made the Venetians hire him as their professor of mathematics at Padua was, I suspect, his talent for practical inventions

    That the Venetians were more interested in hiring Galileo for his practical inventions has no bearing on Galileo’s own motives for research, most of which were simply to find out more about the world and about the motion of objects.

    -Was all of the science involved in his developing his various inventions not applied science in order to achieve an end as well?

    Again, although some of it did turn out to have applications and while the goal of finding applications was not entirely absent, it was not the primary motive. The primary motive was simply finding out more about the world.

  190. Sorbet

    -You could mention pharmaceutical science just about all of which has a planned application in its future, huge amounts of electronic science, geology, etc. All of which is motivated by the desire to do things, often quite specific things.

    Again, all of pharmaceutical research arises in pure science which is most useful for discovering incidental applications. Very less fundamental science can be discovered if the goal is solely to focus on applications. And it’s this fundamental science consisting of general principles which is ultimately going to produce applied science.

    -I think a lot of the public acceptance of governmental funding is directly tied to expectations of tangible returns in improved life

    In fact that’s one of the current problems, that the public is too focused on applications. As mentioned above, almost all applications of science have arisen from untrammeled scientific inquiry, and the public’s lack of support is going to be ultimately detrimental for the discovery of applications.

  191. -There is other knowlede that is in no way a part of science but which I think should be given equal if not greater respect than much of science, the basis of civil rights, equality, democracy, due process, freedom of thought, etc

    OK, let’s look at those again:

    the basis of civil rights, equality, democracy, due process, freedom of thought, etc

    If forced to choose, I would have to drop those in the box labeled “values”, not “knowledge”. There’s certainly knowledge associated with them – we know somewhat about the experience of societies, past and present, that lack them, but . . . – which doesn’t make them any less valuable, of course. And ultimately the fact is that (as you can see in my last sentence) this value-bolstering knowledge doesn’t come from some special revelation or magical whispers or universal vibrations, but rather from a rough-n-ready version of the kind of thing which, when cleaned up and taught fancy manners, we call . . . science. Rational, empirical observation, testing hypotheses, etc.

    Vaguely related, see Greta Christina on “A different way of knowing” : the uses of irrationality . . . and its limitations.

  192. What you’re doing is shifting terminology around to suit your particular argument.

    This all started when I said:

    # 78. “Thinking about it more, why in the world should anyone care about the pursuit of knowledge more than the improvement of well-being? I can understand how a rich, smug, satisfied person living well might get to pretend that they do but if they were deprived of their creature comforts, or food, they’d change their tune mighty fast. Maybe that holds a clue as to why so many allegedly educated Americans are so scientifically otiose.

    There isn’t any higher calling than improving the well-being of living creatures, there isn’t a more worthy way to spend time or resources. I don’t trust religion that doesn’t practice that and I certainly don’t trust science that doesn’t.”

    To which you said: # 79. Sorbet Says: “That’s a pretty blatantly ignorant statement McCarthy. The fruits of science have always largely been side products of the process of curiosity and discovery. You think Fermi bombarded elements with neutrons to discover a practical source of power? You think Oppenheimer researched black holes for discovering fossil fuels or praise from colleagues? And you think pure mathematicians work with the goal of discovering a better cure for diabetes? The fruits of science have always been important but they have also always been largely secondary. You are seriously unrealistic and you have no understanding of history.”

    Now we can find that your pure research can start with an intent such as inventing a new version of a drug or to find a chemically related new drug that might have enhanced properties for the treatment of a the same condition? What else your assertions about the pure as opposed to the applied science in the pharmaceutical industry could mean? It would seem that when it suits you science which begins with the solution of a specific problem in real life can count as your “pure science”, which oddly has exactly the same characteristics as the science I hold to be more idealistic due to its specific intention of “improvement of well-being”. When it doesn’t have the merely sordid utility of maximizing profits. Of course, all too many people, scientists or others, haven’t found the most tainted money too impure to accept.*

    — Citing alchemy as a representative of the majority of scientific research in history can be nothing more than a complete red herring. Sorbet

    Now you’re making stuff up. I didn’t cite alchemy, ironically enough, as representative of the majority of scientific research, Brownowski didn’t even do that. He cited the clear history that it, as well as the applied investigation of materials which gave rise to chemistry and other aspects of materials science. If you don’t like that, take it up with Bronowoski, though it would be rather difficult as he’s been dead for more than thirty years.

    “Red herring”, “straw man”, you should watch those cliches if you want to have a career in writing.

    As for Galileo’s pure science as opposed to his inventions, you seem to think that one’s science and the other isn’t. How accidental does the result have to get, how distant from any desired use does it have to be before it’s sufficiently pure for your higher form of science? And I maintain that’s what you’ve been asserting for the past three days.

    —- The public is too focused on applications.. Sorbet

    Too bad. It’s their money that science is asking to have. And that expectation is the result of long public relations on the part of scientific research. Richard Lewontin has pointed this out a number of times, such as here:

    ” First, we are told that science “delivers the goods.” It certainly has, sometimes, but it has often failed when we need it most. Scientists and their professional institutions, partly intoxicated with examples of past successes, partly in order to assure public financial support, make grandiose promises that cannot be kept. Sagan writes with justified scorn that

    We’re regularly bombarded with extravagant UFO claims vended in bite-sized packages, but only rarely do we hear of their comeuppance.

    He cannot have forgotten the well-publicized War on Cancer, which is as yet without a victorious battle despite the successful taking of a salient or two. At first an immense amount of money and consciousness was devoted to the supposed oncogenic viruses which, being infectious bugs, could be exterminated or at least resisted. But these particular Unidentified Flying Objects turned out for the most part to be as elusive as the Martians, and so, without publicly calling attention to their “comeuppance,” the General Staff turned from outside invaders to the enemy within, the genes. It is almost certain that cancers do, indeed, arise because genes concerned with the regulation of cell division are mutated, partly as a consequence of environmental insults, partly because of unavoidable molecular instability, and even sometimes as the consequence of a viral attack on the genome. Yet the realization of the role played by DNA has had absolutely no consequence for either therapy or prevention, although it has resulted in many optimistic press conferences and a considerable budget for the National Cancer Institute. Treatments for cancer remain today what they were before molecular biology was ever thought of: cut it out, burn it out, or poison it.”

    … The entire public justification for the Human Genome Project is the promise that some day, in the admittedly distant future, diseases will be cured or prevented….

    ….Scientists apparently do not realize that the repeated promises of benefits yet to come, with no likelihood that those promises will be fulfilled, can only produce a widespread cynicism about the claims for the scientific method. Sagan, trying to explain the success of Carlos, a telepathic charlatan, muses on

    how little it takes to tamper with our beliefs, how readily we are led, how easy it is to fool the public when people are lonely and starved for something to believe in.

    Not to mention when they are sick and dying. ”

    And I don’t think it’s all cynical pro-science PR, I really believe that the search for applications are the reason that a lot of the really idealistic scientists are in it. Not everyone thinks that the improvement of life runs second place to the entertainment and funding of scientists and their fans.

    * Pierre Curie’s Nobel lecture dutifully hangs a cover over the applied nature of the science done by the patron of his award, right after he talks about the biological dangers of radium and the possible positive applications of it, which might negate the possible “criminal” ones.

    Thinking about your assertions about Marie Curie’s alleged, indifferent idealism, I wonder if she wasn’t over compensating so the men who so, so dominated science wouldn’t hold her “feminine concerns” against her. I look at her denials about the dangers of the applied use of radium and her obvious eagerness to find beneficial applications of her discovery and can’t think of why else she’d have done it. I believe she allowed her method to enter the public domain, didn’t she? I seem to recall she didn’t hold it as a proprietary secret. There wasn’t a financial motive for her to do so and, as seen in the work of so many scientists and their subsequent honors, even the most awful applications wouldn’t tarnish their renown among their colleagues.

    I don’ t think there’s anything higher or more lofty than actions intended to be useful for the general benefit of people and the biosphere. And knowledge which doesn’t have any usefulness is of lesser value down to and including being a mere curio of the mind.

  193. Dan S. I waded through G.C.’s piece, which is not a bad example of the usual claims of the new atheism, though a lot of it shares its obvious bias and some rather short sheeted blankets of assumption. The degree of uniformity and certainty of the “knowledge” of science and logic and, attenuated well past the breaking point “skepticism”.

    The problem is that when using a term like “knowledge”, the limits of the term itself isn’t known. As you kn0w I’ve been having a lot of fun going through Eddington this summer, here’s what he says in the very beginning of The Philosophy of Physical Science.

    Some writers restrict the term “knowledge” to things of which we are quite certain; others recognize knowledge of varying degrees of uncertainty. This is one of the common ambiguities of speech as to which no one is entitled to dictate, and an author can only state which image he has himself chosen to follow. If “to know” means “to be quite certain of”, the term is of little use to those who wish to be undogmatic. I therefore prefer the broader meaning; and my own usage will recognize uncertain knowledge Anything which would be knowledge if we were assured of its truth is still counted as knowledge (uncertain or false knowledge) if we are not assured.

    And a page later:

    I have said that I do not regard the term “knowledge” as implying assurance of truth. But in considering a particular body of knowledge it may be assumed that an effort has been made to admit to that body only the more trustworthy knowledge; so that usually a reasonable degree of certainty or probability is attributed to knowledge which we shall have occasion to discuss. But the assessment of certainty to knowledge is to be regarded as separate from the study of the nature of knowledge.

    You can put the political equality of people into a box marked “values” along with civil rights, due process, etc. I would hold those truths to be entirely more proven in the test of time and human history than anything within the social sciences proposed in the past two hundred years and in many of the other sciences as well.

    On the last page of the same book Eddington says:

    “The rise of political systems hostile to science alarms us, not so much because of the check to the output of knowledge, but because of the suppression and perversion of the spirit of science. Deeper than any “form of thought” is a faith that creative activity signifies more than the thing it creates. In this faith, the crumbling of hard-won knowledge in the successive revolutions of science is not the continual tragedy that it seems.

    In the age of reason, faith yet remains supreme; for reason is one of the articles of faith.

    The problem of knowledge is an outer shell underneath which lies another philosophical problem — the problem of values. It cannot be pretended that the understanding and experience gained in the pursuit of scientific epistemology is of much avail here; but that is no reason for trying to persuade ourselves that the problem does not exist. A scientist should recognize in his philosophy — as he already recognizes in his propaganda — that for the ultimate justification of his activity is is necessary to look , away from knowledge itself, to a striving in man’s nature, not to be justified of science or reason, for it is itself the justification of science, of reason of art, of conduct. ”

    I don’t think your, I’d assume, demotion of the self-evident truths of egalitarian democracy, to values is accurate. The results of their opposites have been seen existentially and in history. After more than two-hundred years, as one holding of scientific knowledge after another has been made obsolete, or quaint, under full attack by would be “scientific” political theories and regimes, those truths still stand. They are the aspiration of rational people everywhere, the erosion of their required prerequisites are the subject of most of the writing I’ve done in the past five years.

    I’d really rather do with, perhaps, most of the science that has been published in the past two hundred years if the alternative was to give up egalitarian democracy.

  194. “Existentially” in that last long comment with the Eddington quotes should be “experientially”.

    And it should say “I’d really rather do without, perhaps, most of the science….

  195. Sorbet

    -There isn’t any higher calling than improving the well-being of living creatures

    That’s what you may think. But that does not mean most scientific research is done with such an august thought in mind. Again, history speaks for itself.

    -Now we can find that your pure research can start with an intent such as inventing a new version of a drug or to find a chemically related new drug that might have enhanced properties for the treatment of a the same condition

    One example? And I already mentioned that even the most applied of sciences have their origins in pure research whose primary goal emphatically is not to improve the lot of humanity. Take the synthesis of drugs for instance. It all started with people like Dalton, Lavoisier, Priestley and Wohler whose goal was to find out more about the constitution of mater, an age-old quest that aimed at no practical applications. In case of Wohler the goal was to demolish the principle of vitalism. If any practical applications came out of these thoughts, well and good. But that was never the primary purpose.

    -As for Galileo’s pure science as opposed to his inventions, you seem to think that one’s science and the other isn’t.

    When did I say that? All I said was that one was the primary motive and the other was secondary.

    -Too bad. It’s their money that science is asking to have.

    Well, and they will soon realize that if they get too hung up on applications and neglect pure research they won’t get the very applications they are looking for. Again, the pharmaceutical industry is a good example. Without all the pure science that went into the discovery of medicinal substances, science that originally was done purely out of curiosity, no drugs to benefit the public would have been discovery. Consider the current “war on science” which you referred to. Many people now are of the opinion that rather than work on targeted therapies people should work more on simply understanding the basic biochemistry of cancer. Sure, such investigations would aid in developing drugs but on their own they would simply be aimed at finding more about cell division. Companies are also now being criticized for focusing on short-term profits since in the past the most successful companies were those which leisurely allowed scientists to simply explore the world (IBM and Merck in the 80s for instance). As for your thoughts about Curie, you should consult a reference that could support or fail to support your musings.

    -I don’ t think there’s anything higher or more lofty than actions intended to be useful for the general benefit of people and the biosphere. And knowledge which doesn’t have any usefulness is of lesser value down to and including being a mere curio of the mind.

    That was not the point and I was never making a value judgement about research which benefits humanity. It may be lofty or not, but it is going to be made possible only by the tinkering of people who pursue knowledge for its own sake, and that’s what history tells us. The point is that focusing too much on targeted research has not led to benefits. Letting scientists loose in the lab wherein they investigate phenomena simply because they are interested will actually lead to practical benefits. It’s a curious case where focusing on what you want to achieve actually does not achieve but not focusing on it does. As two other cases, consider Giant Magneto Resistance which is now used in everything from iPods to computer servers. The people who discovered it never were trying to find useful technology for these devices; they were simply playing around with basic physics. Similarly, MRI owes its existence to people who were simply playing around with magnetic properties of nuclei, and were never trying to aim for equipment to peer inside the human body.

  196. Dan S. I waded through G.C.’s piece, which is not a bad example of the usual claims of the new atheism, though a lot of it shares its obvious bias and some rather short sheeted blankets of assumption.

    You don’t like concrete examples, do you?

    . The degree of uniformity and certainty of the “knowledge” of science and logic and, attenuated well past the breaking point “skepticism”.
    Examples?

    The problem is that when using a term like “knowledge”, the limits of the term itself isn’t known.
    Well, I’d say here one problem is that “knowledge” is used to mean a number of things . . .

    don’t think your, I’d assume, demotion of the self-evident truths of egalitarian democracy, to values is accurate.

    Well, you know what they say about “assume”, right? Demote? No! We’re talking about entirely different things (values aren’t “lower” than “knowledge”, they’re on entirely different axes).

    “You can put the political equality of people into a box marked “values” along with civil rights, due process, etc. I would hold those truths to be entirely more proven in the test of time …”

    I’d draw a tentative analogy here with the creationists who insist that Genesis is a science textbook, a account of literal facts, an approach that, I’m told, would seem really bizarre for much of its history. Not, of course, that I think you’re a creationist, but (as you’ve seemed confused by analogies in the past) both cases, it seems to me, share one thing: they respond to the elite status of (scientific) knowledge by phrasing (and I’d guess understanding) their values as “truth”. Due process is ‘true’? That’s like saying marriage is true. Try to rephrase.

  197. That’s what you may think. But that does not mean most scientific research is done with such an august thought in mind. Sorb

    If science is as indifferent to the well being of living creatures as finance, it’s got no more claim to moral superiority and no more of a claim to the support of people. I wonder how a random sample of real scientists would feel about your claims. If science wasn’t useful, it would be a hobby.

    —- Again, history speaks for itself. Sorb

    As for history, I think it would tend to not support your airy-fairy view of things, I’m still wondering about the concept of “pure science”. I’m certain the present doesn’t.

    I happened to recall this interesting passage from the preface to Morris Klein’s Calculus An Intuitive and Physical Approach:

    In this book the justification of the theorems and techniques is consistently intuitive; that is, geometrical, physical and heuristic arguments and generalizations from concrete cases are employed to convince. The approach is especially suitable for the calculus because the subject grew out of physical and geometrical problems. These problems tell us what functions we should take up, what concepts we want to formulate, and what techniques we should develop.

    You might want to look at his first chapter about the history of the development of calculus in PRACTICAL problems especially that wonderful topic of the travel of projectiles, cannon balls, in fact.

    The synthesis of drugs began with herb lore not chemistry, and not a little of pharmaceutical development is still derived from pharmacognosy. A lot of the development of new drugs is derived from previously identified substances.

    The problem you’ve got in identifying a handful of inventions and innovations is that they account for a small number of those in any decade. And, as mentioned before, the definition of “pure science” in your hands would seem to be quite flexible, depending on what you need at any point in the argument. While that might be partially the nature of the subject, it becomes a real problem when you want to isolate that particular substance, which I don’t think you can with any reliability. You going to dissect the intentions of all those scientists to see what their real motives were?

  198. Wowbagger

    However, with this, clueless admission of what he’s attempted to do, and so notably failed to do, rise to my challenge to produce what he claimed I said, he exposes himself as having been both, dishonest and a dullard.

    Whoa. The irony meter creaked, groaned and smoked a little – but it didn’t blow. I’m so glad I spent the money upgrading the ‘Delusion, Dishonesty & Denial’ fuses to the top-of-the-line (‘Ray Comfort’) level.

    But I am going to petition the manufacturer to call the next level upgrade ‘Anthony McCarthy’ in your honour.

  199. The irony meter creaked, groaned and smoked a little

    Another common trait of the new atheism, the use of terms like irony which demonstrate they don’t really know what the words mean.

  200. “ don’t think your, I’d assume, demotion of the self-evident truths of egalitarian democracy, to values is accurate. ”

    My comment #198 is out of moderation, but I want to come back to your mistaken assumption here as an example, as I see it, of your tendency to do battle with demons of your own devising. After all, I’m an evil ‘New Atheist’ (except I’m not), so of course I must evilishly hate egalitarian democracy and think science should crush it, or at least that science is far, far superior to such a silly thing (except that I don’t, and think it’s incredibly precious and important).
    Granted, that’s not the only thing going on here – I’m remembering a thread back at echidne’s where you insisted over and over again that materialism and human rights were more or less opposed (iirc, you granted that there were materialists that somehow weren’t evilbadoppressors, but that seemed to be in spite of their materialism) and that human rights were (apparently – it was never very clear) made of special magical sparkly nonmaterial stuff. So some of this is that you’re just confused, too,

  201. So now my comment #198 is out of moderation, but my new comment @202 just went into it. I cannot figure out what’s tripping that switch, unless I somehow have been flagged, or the filter has gotten set at ‘way too sensitive’.

    Another common trait of the new atheism, the use of terms like irony which demonstrate they don’t really know what the words mean.

    It is extremely clear what wowbagger’s saying here, Anthony (that your scathing description of someone failing to produce the evidence to meet your challenge, and thus revealing themselves as being a dishonest dullard in fact describes your behavior) and that’s an entirely standard use of the word “irony”. Now, you may disagree , which is certainly fair, but (a bit like how democracy being really good and valuable doesn’t make it “true” (anymore than it makes it “magenta” or “soft”)) deciding that wowbagger’s claim is false doesn’t make the words they use incorrect.

  202. Anthony McCarthy

    Dan S. considering that Wowbagger was the one to charge me with two things, one of them which he said I was “on record” as having said and when challenged came up with a relatively innocuous statement about a totally different issue, your defense of you buddy isn’t without its own ironic content. Not least among those the charge that I hadn’t presented “concrete examples” in my off hand remark about G.C.’s boilerplate new atheist list of particulars against religion, presented without concrete examples.

    And you, yourself add this irony of ironies, especially in light of the cited material I gave you from Eddington.

    “Well, you know what they say about “assume”, right? Demote? No! We’re talking about entirely different things (values aren’t “lower” than “knowledge”, they’re on entirely different axes).”

    It’s the first week of school, I’ve got a raft of new students starting this week. If I’ve got time I’ll get around to her first bit of boilerplate, the “God hypothesis” cliche.

    I’m not holding my breath, waiting for you to subject Wowbagger, Sorbet, etc. to the same standards of evidence you have always demanded of me for the past several years. As seen in past disputes, the presentation of evidence isn’t what you really want. Now, why don’t you deal with those quotes from Eddington about “knowledge” and “values” and the such and his pointing out that reason, itself, is a holding of faith and not absolute knowledge.

  203. Anthony McCarthy

    Reading back through this dispute, I’m wondering if science becomes “basic research” whenever the person writing up the grant application can’t think of anything else to explain why they want to do what they want money to do. My relation who is most accomplished at getting grant money for her science isn’t here this week so I can’t ask her to comment.

  204. Sorbet

    - If science wasn’t useful, it would be a hobby

    That’s where you are dead wrong. There are scores of examples of scientists who did science purely as a hobby and made lasting contributions to both science and technology through this process. Again, just think of Cavendish, Newton, Lavoisier, Rumford, Clausius among others. You seem to be constantly and amusingly missing the point that it’s precisely such “aimless” research that leads to the kind of practical innovations and benefits for humanity that you are touting so much.

    -As for history, I think it would tend to not support your airy-fairy view of things

    Unlike you, who has not even read it? Hubris is not exactly an alien trait to McCarthy is it. I happen to have read plenty of biographical information about scientists, but of course McCarthy is never going to listen because all he is interested in is in proving himself right, not actually knowing about facts. To him things like “history” and “reality” are annoying intruders who should never take precedence above biased personal opinions and making things up.

    -the definition of “pure science” in your hands would seem to be quite flexible

    It’s not. Pure science is science done without any explicit practical goal in mind, especially that which directly is supposed to benefit humanity. If such a goal emerges naturally from the investigation, well and good. Otherwise we end up finding more about the world. However we don’t have to worry since such knowledge is almost always going to eventually lead to something practical.

    -Another common trait of the new atheism, the use of terms like irony which demonstrate they don’t really know what the words mean.

    McCarthy is like the circus clown who wants to scream “New Atheist!” every two minutes to deflect his audience from the real issue. Of course he is not half as entertaining. Add “irony” to the list of words whose usage eludes Carthy.

  205. I’ll leave it to any fair judge who might want to look over this, consider it fully, to then decide who’s made the most sense and who has been merely moving words and pre-digested chunks of thought around and who has really thought about the issues.

    They might start with these two lines from Sorbet.

    a. Again, all of pharmaceutical research arises in pure science which is most useful for discovering incidental applications.

    b. Pure science is science done without any explicit practical goal in mind, especially that which directly is supposed to benefit humanity.

    Measure those against the actual fact that pharmaceutical research begins in the attempt to find new drugs and the application of existing ones. In its, actual, commercial context, it’s an attempt by the scientists to find drugs that can be sold to make a profit for the company as well as in finding effective treatments and remedies. I’m quite certain that the most coldly indifferent pharmaceutical researchers would prefer to find a safe, effective treatment than one that merely can be sold. They can avoid recalls and law suits that way.

    Who do you think has a better handle on this particular issue of “pure” as opposed to result driven research?

  206. Sorbet

    -Measure those against the actual fact that pharmaceutical research begins in the attempt to find new drugs and the application of existing ones

    The point is that pharmaceutical research (which is applied) owes its roots to pure science (which is not applied). Pure curiosity-based research is a necessary condition for applied pharmaceutical research. I don’t know how I can explain this any more simply than what I have.

    -who has really thought about the issues

    Probably not someone who has not read the history.

  207. Sorbet, you need to read Cervantes, quite desperately.

  208. Sorbet

    Presumably I will find you in there?

  209. Ah, yes, as always, you’ve gone back to “Eliza”(-1) mode.

  210. Sorbet

    As always, it seems you have turned into the ultimate Turing test failure. I have already suggested an upgrade. I hear they are doing the premium version now.

  211. Ah, the Turing Test. The idea that we’d be able to say what constitutes intelligence by being able to be fooled. I used to think it was an impressive idea, I’m a lot less convinced after thinking it over and reading a lot more about just how vague the concept is. That is unless you reduce it to the point where you can pretend you’re making sciencey proclamations about something you’re calling “intelligence” but which is only a sketchy abstraction of what that word is used to cover in real life.

  212. Sorbet

    Was that your response? Good mimcry

  213. How easily superficial celebrity hounds are confused by an observation that isn’t part of their own program. That’s my response.

    The observation about the idea of the Turing Test was made for anyone who might be able to think outside of that box as a motive to think about it. Though it would seem none of them are reading this thread anymore.

  214. Sorbet

    You may know that people are currently howling in Britain and demanding an apology for persecuting Turing as a gay man and punishing him with “therapy”, a fact which contributed not insignificantly to his suicide.

  215. Sorbet, it never ceases to amuse me when a straight man lectures me about some aspect of gay life. Turning’s being persecuted after his exposure of himself to the police in order to report his lover’s theft was tragically and stunningly clueless and a real injustice, it has no more to do with the stupid idea of the Turing Test as a determination of intelligence than does his other, truely brilliant work in cryptology and mathematics. Much of it motivated by a rather specific application in machines.

    As a gay man with a memory of the 1950s, Turing going to the cops over his domestic problem was a mindbogglingly act for the time. From what I’m told, it would have been an especially stupid thing to do in Manchester.

  216. Make that “a mindbogglingly unintelligent act for the time”.

    I was trying to find a polite way of putting it and that was about as polite as it could be put.

  217. Oh, and to leave nothing unsaid, Turing’s “treatment” was in line with contemporary “science”. As far as I can recall, they hadn’t tried Behaviorism in the form of giving gay men shocks yet. I hope that there isn’t a time in the future when that kind of “science” can be talked about without using quotation marks as it wouldn’t have been then. But it was science, without apology, at the time.

  218. Sorbet

    I am glad “science” is in quotes. And feel amused; that does nothing to erase the stain on the government’s actions. Turing also did some stellar work in chemical and biological pattern formation. You can read all about it in Philip Ball’s “The self-made tapestry”. “Enigma” by Andrew Hodges is perhaps the best bio of Turing that I have come across.

  219. “Science” today, so often is yesterday’s science. When time has moved on and the invisible attitudes and presumptions, the actual substrate which said science rested on, with or without any “evidence” such as is found in the behavioral, social and, now, so much of the cognitive sciences, becomes apparent, through social change and so often with no thanks to science of any kind, that’s when the quotation marks become mandatory. Until someone writes something like The Bell Curve and bigotry is, once again, supported by that kind of science.

    You’re a real fan of sci-bi, aren’t you. You should really think about what a biographer does and the limits of the form before you take it too much to heart. I’m guessing that the critics of a scientist’s ideas isn’t generally the one who writes an “authoritative” biography, they write an article or a paper instead.

  220. Sorbet

    I am not a “fan” of sci-bi. But I do like to read about scientists’ work and put it in perspective. There are several biographies, but only a few are usually worthy enough to be both approximate representatives of a person’s life as well as extremely well-written. For instance if you want to read about the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear physics, no book can beat Richard Rhodes’s “The Making of the Atomic Bomb”. And there are several critics of scientists who write books, for instance Gregg Herken’s “Brothderhood of the Bomb” and “Broken Genius” by Joel Shurkin about William Shockley. Really good biographies usually are quite balanced and you can easily make this out when you read them.

    Another interesting semi-fictional book about Turing, computation and consciousness is “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines” by Janna Levin. A good recent book on science and cognitive science which you might find interesting is “The Overflowing Brain” by Torkel Klinghorn.

  221. Semi-fiction. No thank you. There’s enough of that published in the behavioral, social and cognitive sciences as it is. I don’t need it in other sciences or in history. The new atheism is largely based on such fiction.

  222. Sorbet

    You are missing out on some interesting stuff by rejecting semi-fiction. Also, since you yourself deal in fictional beliefs it would be nurturing for you to get at least a limited dose of reality now and then. John L Casti’s “One True Platonic Heaven” is another offering, this time about the personalities at the Institute for Advanced Study.

  223. with or without any “evidence” such as is found in the behavioral, social and, now, so much of the cognitive sciences,

    Pointing out flaws, weaknesses, or gross violations of human rights, historical or current, in the behavioral, social, and cognitive sciences – extremely valuable, both to science and society.
    Dismissing the whole thing (or close enough) as ludicrous nonsense: worthless.

    (This is why I was was bugging you for specifics on the previous thread, to try to get you to actually engage with detailed reality rather than vague, prejudicial handwaving (Or at least support said vague, prejudicial handwaving).. You can do it – for example, your reference to the pseudoscientific “treatment” of gay people . . . that sort of stuff is far more productive. The fact that you apparently interpreted that request/discussion as a “purposefully generated fog,” well . . .)

    Incidentally – another point off of the previous thread – research into the cognitive/biological/evolutionary bases of morality actually has made some attempt to look at stuff in crosscultural perspective. Nowhere near enough enough, I’m sure, but . . .
    (For example. (With links to quite a few papers at the link for note #7)

    your defense of you buddy isn’t without its own ironic content.
    And they said irony was dead! Or chivalry. Something like that . . .

    I’m not holding my breath, waiting for you to subject Wowbagger, Sorbet, etc. to the same standards of evidence you have always demanded of me for the past several years.
    Fair point. And I should say that you seem to be quite . .. defensible, at least, & possibly quite right re: interpreting “Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.” – that can be understood as not saying anything about the truth value of said “knowledge,” (ie, it could be extremely compelling and convincing, but absolutely wrong ” – indeed, that’s a important piece of what Greta argues, that we know our minds are really prone to getting fooled in specific ways). It’s also understandable why folks were interpreting it differently; I think part of the problem lies in the fact that you’re not especially interested in justifying belief in the absence of harm.

    At the same time, I seem to remember you – in comments to a post of yours back at Echidne’s – arguing for woo-woo “knowledge”, for the valorization of personal ‘supernatural’ experience (beyond the inherent personal validity of experience – ie, an experience is an experience; experiences of ghosts/gods/mystical communion with oneness/etc. are real (with the exception of conscious fakery, which is surely rather in the minority), they just seem to have natural causes. )

    Not least among those the charge that I hadn’t presented “concrete examples” in my off hand remark about G.C.’s boilerplate new atheist list of particulars against religion, presented without concrete examples.

    The “offhand remark” bit is certainly fair enough, although I would be curious to see how you do trying to back up those claims. “[L]ist of particulars against religion”and “without concrete examples” all seem unfair, and an extremely bad start, since her post is actually a specific and targeted argument with numerous examples. “Boilerplate”? Well, it’s a generalized argument – it’s not tied to some specific current event, nor does it focus on interpreting some specific research finding – so in one sense that’s not entirely wrong. It wouldn’t do so bad as a bit of “standard language” (as in legal boilerplate) – ie “You say ‘logic and reason aren’t everything, so take *that*, meanie science’? Well, read this! [link]. In the sense that boilerplate is preformated, predigested text with only the most minimal customization? That definitely doesn’t seem like a fair description of her post. It’s well- and somewhat idiosyncratically- developed, her emphasis on the value of irrationalism within its proper domains is unusual , etc.

    If I’ve got time I’ll get around to her first bit of boilerplate, the “God hypothesis” cliche.
    Now we’re getting somewhere interesting. (Hopefully). Certainly the “God hypothesis” idea very much does not reflect how believers understand their belief, and as a description of religious life it’s almost ridiculously impoverished. Sure. (And that can be an actual problem when that’s the only tool in the kit, so to speak). And…? A belief in God is a hypothesis about the world, however minimized (if at all). Now, folks who present their faith as fundamentally a form of play, their belief as belief in, well, an imaginary friend (in the sweetest, most serious, and least judgmental way), their religion as somewhat akin to fandom, as being less about Creation and more a kind of (unusually socially-conscious) re-creation – well, than this argument utterly collapses.*

    And there <are folks like that – and more, I think, who just don’t admit it – but is this the dominant understanding of religion in the US?

    And of course, it would seem that one of the driving forces behind the “New Atheism” was a whole lotta recent examples of folks fighting (and sometimes getting) to impose practices rationalized (at least) by some very specific versions of the God hypothesis just here in the US , to say nothing of international affairs. Combined, too, with a concurrent surge of irrationalism almost across the board, from the personal (execrable crap like “The Secret”) to the very political (the selling of the Iraq war, etc.)

    Which is not to say that I think her argument is perfect – I think she conflates two related, but not necessarily identical things. I do think she addresses the argument I assume (you know what they say . . . ) you’re going to make, though . . .
    (“And here’s the thing. That whole trope about how religious beliefs are completely beyond evidence or reason? I don’t think that’s really true. I mean, if you’re talking about the extremely abstract, “God is love” God of much modern liberal theology, the one that’s been abstracted so far out of the real world that it barely deserves the name “God”… then sure. But if you’re talking about a God who acts on the physical world in any way whatsoever, then that is a hypothesis that is absolutely not beyond evidence or reason.“. Although “barely deserves” is pretty harsh, sure – but this is the (surely correct) disclaimer everybody sensible gives.

    (And I would disagree with the idea that religion hasn’t developed over time. Not towards greater understanding of the real external world in general (except to the degree that it acquiesces to the findings of science), but – as Wright argues, no? – it has responded to human’s social world, which is what I think it’s actually dealing with.)

    * I’d add, if somebody gets all offended, I don’t think these are in any way bad things – indeed, the opposite. See Alison Gopnik on The Real Reason Children Love Fantasy.

  224. Reposting – moderation filter apparently ate post without even a trace.

    with or without any “evidence” such as is found in the behavioral, social and, now, so much of the cognitive sciences,

    Pointing out flaws, weaknesses, or gross violations of human rights, historical or current, in the behavioral, social, and cognitive sciences – extremely valuable, both to science and society.
    Dismissing the whole thing (or close enough) as ludicrous nonsense: worthless.

    (This is why I was was bugging you for specifics on the previous thread, to try to get you to actually engage with detailed reality rather than vague, prejudicial handwaving (Or at least support said vague, prejudicial handwaving).. You can do it – for example, your reference to the pseudoscientific “treatment” of gay people . . . that sort of stuff is far more productive. The fact that you apparently interpreted that request/discussion as a “purposefully generated fog,” well . . .)

    Incidentally – another point off of the previous thread – research into the cognitive/biological/evolutionary bases of morality actually has made some attempt to look at stuff in crosscultural perspective. Nowhere near enough enough, I’m sure, but . . .
    (For example. (With links to quite a few papers at the link for note #7)

    your defense of you buddy isn’t without its own ironic content.
    And they said irony was dead! Or chivalry. Something like that . . .

    I’m not holding my breath, waiting for you to subject Wowbagger, Sorbet, etc. to the same standards of evidence you have always demanded of me for the past several years.
    Fair point. And I should say that you seem to be quite . .. defensible, at least, & possibly quite right re: interpreting “Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.” – that can be understood as not saying anything about the truth value of said “knowledge,” (ie, it could be extremely compelling and convincing, but absolutely wrong ” – indeed, that’s a important piece of what Greta argues, that we know our minds are really prone to getting fooled in specific ways). It’s also understandable why folks were interpreting it differently; I think part of the problem lies in the fact that you’re not especially interested in justifying belief in the absence of harm.

    At the same time, I seem to remember you – in comments to a post of yours back at Echidne’s – arguing for woo-woo “knowledge”, for the valorization of personal ‘supernatural’ experience (beyond the inherent personal validity of experience – ie, an experience is an experience; experiences of ghosts/gods/mystical communion with oneness/etc. are real (with the exception of conscious fakery, which is surely rather in the minority), they just seem to have natural causes. )

  225. Not least among those the charge that I hadn’t presented “concrete examples” in my off hand remark about G.C.’s boilerplate new atheist list of particulars against religion, presented without concrete examples.

    The “offhand remark” bit is certainly fair enough, although I would be curious to see how you do trying to back up those claims. “[L]ist of particulars against religion”and “without concrete examples” all seem unfair, and an extremely bad start, since her post is actually a specific and targeted argument with numerous examples. “Boilerplate”? Well, it’s a generalized argument – it’s not tied to some specific current event, nor does it focus on interpreting some specific research finding – so in one sense that’s not entirely wrong. It wouldn’t do so bad as a bit of “standard language” (as in legal boilerplate) – ie “You say ‘logic and reason aren’t everything, so take *that*, meanie science’? Well, read this! [link]. In the sense that boilerplate is preformated, predigested text with only the most minimal customization? That definitely doesn’t seem like a fair description of her post. It’s well- and somewhat idiosyncratically- developed, her emphasis on the value of irrationalism within its proper domains is unusual , etc.

    If I’ve got time I’ll get around to her first bit of boilerplate, the “God hypothesis” cliche.
    Now we’re getting somewhere interesting. (Hopefully). Certainly the “God hypothesis” idea very much does not reflect how believers understand their belief, and as a description of religious life it’s almost ridiculously impoverished. Sure. (And that can be an actual problem when that’s the only tool in the kit, so to speak). And…? A belief in God is a hypothesis about the world, however minimized (if at all). Now, folks who present their faith as fundamentally a form of play, their belief as belief in, well, an imaginary friend (in the sweetest, most serious, and least judgmental way), their religion as somewhat akin to fandom, as being less about Creation and more a kind of (unusually socially-conscious) re-creation – well, than this argument utterly collapses.*

    And there <are folks like that – and more, I think, who just don’t admit it – but is this the dominant understanding of religion in the US?

    And of course, it would seem that one of the driving forces behind the “New Atheism” was a whole lotta recent examples of folks fighting (and sometimes getting) to impose practices rationalized (at least) by some very specific versions of the God hypothesis just here in the US , to say nothing of international affairs. Combined, too, with a concurrent surge of irrationalism almost across the board, from the personal (execrable crap like “The Secret”) to the very political (the selling of the Iraq war, etc.)

    Which is not to say that I think her argument is perfect – I think she conflates two related, but not necessarily identical things. I do think she addresses the argument I assume (you know what they say . . . ) you’re going to make, though . . .
    (“And here’s the thing. That whole trope about how religious beliefs are completely beyond evidence or reason? I don’t think that’s really true. I mean, if you’re talking about the extremely abstract, “God is love” God of much modern liberal theology, the one that’s been abstracted so far out of the real world that it barely deserves the name “God”… then sure. But if you’re talking about a God who acts on the physical world in any way whatsoever, then that is a hypothesis that is absolutely not beyond evidence or reason.“. Although “barely deserves” is pretty harsh, sure – but this is the (surely correct) disclaimer everybody sensible gives.

    (And I would disagree with the idea that religion hasn’t developed over time. Not towards greater understanding of the real external world in general (except to the degree that it acquiesces to the findings of science), but – as Wright argues, no? – it has responded to human’s social world, which is what I think it’s actually dealing with.)

    * I’d add, if somebody gets all offended, I don’t think these are in any way bad things – indeed, the opposite. See Alison Gopnik on The Real Reason Children Love Fantasy.

  226. [reposting . . . .]
    Not least among those the charge that I hadn’t presented “concrete examples” in my off hand remark about G.C.’s boilerplate new atheist list of particulars against religion, presented without concrete examples.

    The “offhand remark” bit is certainly fair enough, although I would be curious to see how you do trying to back up those claims. “[L]ist of particulars against religion”and “without concrete examples” all seem unfair, and an extremely bad start, since her post is actually a specific and targeted argument with numerous examples. “Boilerplate”? Well, it’s a generalized argument – it’s not tied to some specific current event, nor does it focus on interpreting some specific research finding – so in one sense that’s not entirely wrong. It wouldn’t do so bad as a bit of “standard language” (as in legal boilerplate) – ie “You say ‘logic and reason aren’t everything, so take *that*, meanie science’? Well, read this! [link]. In the sense that boilerplate is preformated, predigested text with only the most minimal customization? That definitely doesn’t seem like a fair description of her post. It’s well- and somewhat idiosyncratically- developed, her emphasis on the value of irrationalism within its proper domains is unusual , etc.

    If I’ve got time I’ll get around to her first bit of boilerplate, the “God hypothesis” cliche.
    Now we’re getting somewhere interesting. (Hopefully). Certainly the “God hypothesis” idea very much does not reflect how believers understand their belief, and as a description of religious life it’s almost ridiculously impoverished. Sure. (And that can be an actual problem when that’s the only tool in the kit, so to speak). And…? A belief in God is a hypothesis about the world, however minimized (if at all). Now, folks who present their faith as fundamentally a form of play, their belief as belief in, well, an imaginary friend (in the sweetest, most serious, and least judgmental way), their religion as somewhat akin to fandom, as being less about Creation and more a kind of (unusually socially-conscious) re-creation – well, than this argument utterly collapses.*

    And there <are folks like that – and more, I think, who just don’t admit it – but is this the dominant understanding of religion in the US?

  227. [reposting] “Not least among those the charge that I hadn’t presented “concrete examples” in my off hand remark about G.C.’s boilerplate new atheist list of particulars against religion, presented without concrete examples.

    The “offhand remark” bit is certainly fair enough, although I would be curious to see how you do trying to back up those claims. “[L]ist of particulars against religion”and “without concrete examples” all seem unfair, and an extremely bad start, since her post is actually a specific and targeted argument with numerous examples. “Boilerplate”? Well, it’s a generalized argument – it’s not tied to some specific current event, nor does it focus on interpreting some specific research finding – so in one sense that’s not entirely wrong. It wouldn’t do so bad as a bit of “standard language” (as in legal boilerplate) – ie “You say ‘logic and reason aren’t everything, so take *that*, meanie science’? Well, read this! [link]. In the sense that boilerplate is preformated, predigested text with only the most minimal customization? That definitely doesn’t seem like a fair description of her post. It’s well- and somewhat idiosyncratically- developed, her emphasis on the value of irrationalism within its proper domains is unusual , etc.

  228. [reposting]
    If I’ve got time I’ll get around to her first bit of boilerplate, the “God hypothesis” cliche.
    Now we’re getting somewhere interesting. (Hopefully). Certainly the “God hypothesis” idea very much does not reflect how believers understand their belief, and as a description of religious life it’s almost ridiculously impoverished. Sure. (And that can be an actual problem when that’s the only tool in the kit, so to speak). And…? A belief in God is a hypothesis about the world, however minimized (if at all). Now, folks who present their faith as fundamentally a form of play, their belief as belief in, well, an imaginary friend (in the sweetest, most serious, and least judgmental way), their religion as somewhat akin to fandom, as being less about Creation and more a kind of (unusually socially-conscious) re-creation – well, than this argument utterly collapses.*

    And there <are folks like that – and more, I think, who just don’t admit it – but is this the dominant understanding of religion in the US?

    And of course, it would seem that one of the driving forces behind the “New Atheism” was a whole lotta recent examples of folks fighting (and sometimes getting) to impose practices rationalized (at least) by some very specific versions of the God hypothesis just here in the US , to say nothing of international affairs. Combined, too, with a concurrent surge of irrationalism almost across the board, from the personal (execrable crap like “The Secret”) to the very political (the selling of the Iraq war, etc.)

  229. [reposting]
    Which is not to say that I think her argument is perfect – I think she conflates two related, but not necessarily identical things. I do think she addresses the argument I assume (you know what they say . . . ) you’re going to make, though . . .
    (“And here’s the thing. That whole trope about how religious beliefs are completely beyond evidence or reason? I don’t think that’s really true. I mean, if you’re talking about the extremely abstract, “God is love” God of much modern liberal theology, the one that’s been abstracted so far out of the real world that it barely deserves the name “God”… then sure. But if you’re talking about a God who acts on the physical world in any way whatsoever, then that is a hypothesis that is absolutely not beyond evidence or reason.“. Although “barely deserves” is pretty harsh, sure – but this is the (surely correct) disclaimer everybody sensible gives.

    (And I would disagree with the idea that religion hasn’t developed over time. Not towards greater understanding of the real external world in general (except to the degree that it acquiesces to the findings of science), but – as Wright argues, no? – it has responded to human’s social world, which is what I think it’s actually dealing with.)

    * I’d add, if somebody gets all offended, I don’t think these are in any way bad things – indeed, the opposite. See Alison Gopnik on The Real Reason Children Love Fantasy.

  230. [reposting]
    Which is not to say that I think her argument is perfect – I think she conflates two related, but not necessarily identical things. I do think she addresses the argument I assume (you know what they say . . . ) you’re going to make, though . . .
    (“And here’s the thing. That whole trope about how religious beliefs are completely beyond evidence or reason? I don’t think that’s really true. I mean, if you’re talking about the extremely abstract, “God is love” God of much modern liberal theology, the one that’s been abstracted so far out of the real world that it barely deserves the name “God”… then sure. But if you’re talking about a God who acts on the physical world in any way whatsoever, then that is a hypothesis that is absolutely not beyond evidence or reason.“. Although “barely deserves” is pretty harsh, sure – but this is the (surely correct) disclaimer everybody sensible gives.

    (And I would disagree with the idea that religion hasn’t developed over time. Not towards greater understanding of the real external world in general (except to the degree that it acquiesces to the findings of science), but – as Wright argues, no? – it has responded to human’s social world, which is what I think it’s actually dealing with.)

  231. [edited, reposted]

    Which is not to say that I think her argument is perfect – I think she conflates two related, but not necessarily identical things. I do think she addresses the argument I assume (you know what they say . . . ) you’re going to make, though, pointing out (as everyone sensible does) that extremely abstract theologies don’t do this, but . . . well, so?

    (And I would disagree with the idea that religion hasn’t developed over time. Not towards greater understanding of the real external world in general , of course (except to the degree that it acquiesces to the findings of science), but – as Wright argues, no? – it has responded to human’s social world, which is what I think it’s actually dealing with.)

    * I’d add, if somebody gets all offended, I don’t think these are in any way bad things – indeed, the opposite. See Alison Gopnik on The Real Reason Children Love Fantasy.

  232. Ok, instead of just invisibly eating the last bit, it now explicitly drops it into moderation, no matter what I do. (I apologize for the mess once/if stuff all comes out – that wasn’t particularly rational of me : )

    Very annoying. But not as bad as certain political/philosophical blogs where it grabs everything containing the word c1alis – including, of course, soC1ALISm . . . )

  233. Sorry for #229, #230. {Hangs head in shame, piddles on rug}.

    And you, yourself add this irony of ironies, especially in light of the cited material I gave you from Eddington.
    “Well, you know what they say about “assume”, right? Demote? No! We’re talking about entirely different things (values aren’t “lower” than “knowledge”, they’re on entirely different axes).”

    This is going over my head; I have no idea why this is ironic. Explain?

    [Quotes Richard Lewontin (who was apparently attacking our hosts' "good example", Sagan] “He cannot have forgotten the well-publicized War on Cancer, which is as yet without a victorious battle despite the successful taking of a salient or two.

    Ok, there would seem to be some actual truth to the argument Lewontin develops from this, in terms of funding and esp. publicity & reporting (something that would really be relevant on this blog ). On the other hand, it makes me want to slug the guy. ‘Ooooh, {jazzhands} look, we didn’t cure cancer yet, and some of the avenues of research didn’t pan out (or haven’t yet been translated into therapies)!!!

    Idiot.

  234. Anthony McCarthy

    One of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard was an architecture critic, talking about P. Johnson’s Glass House, calling it a “fantasy monologue of the subconscious”.

    You related to Ken Nordien?

  235. “… calling it a “fantasy monologue of the subconscious”.”

    Oh my god you are a Turning test program!

    Sorry. Er . . who? what? You’ve lost me there . . .

  236. Sorbet

    “with or without any “evidence” such as is found in the behavioral, social and, now, so much of the cognitive sciences”

    That’s McCarthy for you. Seeing everything in black and white without actually reading up on it. According to McCarthy, limitations render something completely useless.

  237. That’s the Sorbot, making a rote response using some of the words but, actully, without relevance to what was said.

  238. Actually, that was quite relevant to what was said. You can disagree with Sorbet’s comment, of course (I don’t, but after all, I said pretty much the same thing, if less succinctly).

    Anyway, I have to admit I feel pretty foolish, not just for endless multiple-postage, but for wasting some time on a lovely early-fall day writing that bloated comment to begin with, since it’s kinda pointless.

  239. Sorbet

    “Actully”

    You really need to get an upgrade McCarthy. You are making simple spelling mistakes now.

    Again, not answering Dan’s detailed comments pretty much exposes your ignorance and, true to your nature, displays an embarrassingly simple inability to understand subtlety and nuance (eg. Science has limitations when applied to social science = Science cannot be applied to social science AT ALL and must be bunk). As Dan mentioned, it is pretty pointless replying to you because one is always sure he will not get any response signifying anything more than an ant’s IQ.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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