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TOTD 15 Jun 2001

The modern era was the age of science; it was also the age of what is sometimes called scientism -- the naive acceptance of science as the source of absolute truth. Scientism -- still going strong in some circles -- is a kind of fundamentalism. If you set a true religious fundamentalist, say one of the "inerrantists" who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God, next to a fundamentalist of science who believes that the folks in lab jackets have all the right answers, the two will probably have plenty to argue about. But if you listen carefully you will note that, although they are literally worlds apart in terms of what they believe to be true, they are close together about how they believe it.

-Walter Truett Anderson

We scientists are not finding it as easy as it used to be to convince people that rational inquiry is the best way to seek useful knowledge. The religious fundies, the premods, and postmods don't believe us. I wish we could get all of them on one side of a line out in the Nevada desert with us scientists on the other. They could use all their weapons on us: prayers, incantations, calling down UFO attacks, emailing us long unreadable discourses; and we could nuke 'em.

-Professor Vic Stenger

I took the Walter Truett Anderson quote from The Truth About the Truth : De-Confusing and Re-Constructing the Postmodern World


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 15th, 2001 12:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, I do love the nuke em part. There have been plenty of times I wanted to use a localized nuclear blast to take out some long on air, short on concept fundamentalist who was beating me with their words cause I didn't believe the same as them.
Jun. 15th, 2001 01:42 pm (UTC)
Re: ROFL!!!!
These days I find the scientistic zealots, Randroids, and other dogmatic rationalists far more irratating than the Jesus Freaks.

I find Prof. Stenger's statement particularly amusing, not because I agree with him or sympathize with his plight, but rather because I think his statement embodies some of the most common and destructive fallacies inherent in dogmatic rationalistic thinking. Only someone with a rigidly reductionist mindset, hopelessly mired in the either/or dichotomies of aristotelian logic, would imagine that a clear line would divide the folks in that desert into two distinct groups.

On which side of the line does the ethnobotonist who understands the chemical composition and neurological effects of entheogenic brews and yet who still respects the spiritual traditions from which the use of those brews originates stand?

How about the chemist who starts her day with a cup of coffee and her horoscope? Or the evolutionary biologist who sees the brilliant mind of the creator expressed in the dynamic interplay between organisms and environment?

On which side of the line would the good professor place Fritjof Capra, Frank Tipler, Gary Zukov, Terence McKenna, and the Dali Lama?

What kind of nuke does he think will wipe out the folks on one side of his arbitrary line but leave folks on the other side untouched by the blast front or radiation?

Jun. 15th, 2001 06:38 pm (UTC)
Re: ROFL!!!!
A fission device with a two megaton yield, and a line 15 miles from the epicenter, would do just fine.

Far more irritating than Randroids are people who dismiss all Rand readers and thinkers as Randroids. But I guess either you're a Randroid or you're not...
Jun. 15th, 2001 09:00 pm (UTC)
Randroids and sweeping generalizations

Not all readers, or even appreciators, of Rand count as Randroids in my book. You'll find her books on the shelves in my house. You'll find folks who list her among their interests on my friends list. If you take the time to investigate, you'll find that I've quoted not only Rand but Nathaniel Brandon and Michael Cloud in my TOTD mailings.

I think objectivism serves as a great mindset for someone on a path of intellectual exploration and personal liberation to pass through, but the folks who read Atlas Shrugged and decide that they've reached the promised land and that the catagories presented therein will never need refining or expansion get under my skin.

"But I guess either you're a Randroid or you're not..."

I take this to be an ironic statement about the arbitrariness of catagorizations like "Randroid." If so, I agree. If not, then I don't know what you meant to convey with this statement.
Jun. 16th, 2001 08:42 am (UTC)
Re: Randroids and sweeping generalizations
I prefer to think of the term "Randroid" as more in line with the zealous skeptics who follow the guru "The Amazing Randi" and his ilk, spending inordinate amounts of time in their circle-jerking congratulations and refusing to listen to any argument that doesn't contain what they consider to be authoritively sanctioned statistics and research. I read an article over at Randi's site entitled "Why Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Proof" which was basically admitting that they hold anything outside the mainstream to a higher standard of proof than the status quo... as if modern science is infallible. Look out, oh modern Galileo, you'd still have to swear the sun revolves around the earth to avoid being excommunicated... none of your proof will be good enough for the skeptics.
Jun. 18th, 2001 11:13 am (UTC)
extraordinary claims and extraordinary evidence
While I see James Randi and his CSICOP brethren as embodying a kind of blind fanaticism for their preferred brand of intellectual hegemony, I do subscribe to the notion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

If you tell me that you got your radio at K-Mart, other things being equal, a cash register receipt would provide adequate confirmation for your claim. If you tell me you got your radio from aliens, a cash register receipt won't cut it.
Jun. 19th, 2001 02:27 pm (UTC)
Re: extraordinary claims and extraordinary evidence
A quote from Rupert Sheldrake:

"Healthy skepticism plays an important part in science, and stimulates research and critical thinking. Healthy skeptics are open-minded and interested in evidence. By contrast, Skeptics with a capital S are committed to the belief that "paranormal" phenomena are impossible, or at least so improbable as to merit no serious attention. Hence any evidence for such phenomena must be illusory."

In other words, if I was a Skeptic, you could produce an alien with a radio, and I could watch you accept it, and I'd think you farced it up with some ILM special effects and glamour. There are still people who don't believe that we went to the moon. Some people will not be convinced, and it's a waste of breath to try ;-)

My main beef is, that everyone should be held on an equal basis for proof, no matter how crazy or offbeat their postulations/hypotheses are. We have a limited ability to measure subjective experience as science knows, and so science if fond of denying that subjective data has any relevance. I can't dispute your reality; I can only compare it to mine. Like the blind men and the elephant, we all have a different opinion based on our perspective.
Jun. 18th, 2001 07:26 am (UTC)
Re: Randroids and sweeping generalizations
Yes, it was an ironic comment.

I agree with what you said about Atlas Shrugged</i>. I've seen people swing from being the dogmatic Randroid to the dogmatic anti-Randroid, the kind of person who goes to great lengths to prove to others that they are independent and open-minded. These people take every opportunity to say something bad about Rand. The same calibre of people who virulently proclaim Rand's supremacy in philosophy are the same who virulently proclaim that Rand was an idiot (and more importantly) anyone who follows most of what she said is an intrinicist. That's just infuriating because its a blanket statement, and not a very fair one.

I'm a big fan of Rand's. Most of what she's said is right on. I'm just sick of being characterized as a Randroid because I believe so, even if the label isn't directed at me in particular.
Jun. 18th, 2001 10:56 am (UTC)
significant digits
personally, i think that the fault with "scientism," or the woship of the world's scientific "absolutes, is the principle of significant digits. (It seems odd to me that "pure" scientists seem to so often overlook this idea when they make sweeping generalizations based on their latest earth shaking discovery.)

Significant digits says, essentially, that we are only as precise as our most precise instruments. We can only know what we can effectively measure. Meaning, to me anyway, that any conclusions or advances must necessarily be made in light of this current instrument. Anything more precise can only be a hypothesis. Witha ruler that measures in inches, we can imagine quarter inches, but unless we create a ruler with those graduations, we can't measure them. If our conception of an inch (an effective example on it's own, an "inch" was traditionally derived by the distance from the tip of the King's thumb to the first joint on his finger...The distance between physical objects in the world depended upon the genetics of the current "ruler!") anyhow, i digress, if our conception of an inch is in any way flawed, then our hypotheses, our dreams of quarter inches and sixteenths, are also flawed. With each layer of precision, error is multiplied... As more detail is discernable, any error becomes enormous.

The history of science (and i'm specifically thinking "physics" here,) is replete with "laws" and absolutes and impossibilities that we daily find fault with. Currently the physical world itself is in jeopardy, with science unable to answer a simple question posed by Planck 50+ years ago...("Why do pokers glow red when you heat them, when they should be glowing blue?") and inventing alternate universes and layers of possibilities to try and explain it all, when the actual answer is probably far simpler and just out of reach. Science has found the point where it's flaws have become too magnified to continue, and now they must rethink all of their tools. With this in mind, we can't call any scintific advance "absolute" without the benefit of hindsight, and even then we can't be so sure... That is the fault of scientism.

"all become mired and die..."
Jun. 19th, 2001 01:18 pm (UTC)
Re: significant digits
Amen and Amen.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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