Link blog: mackie, phones, scientism, christianity

Metamagician and the Hellfire Club: On moral evaluations

Blackford points out that morality doesn't require anything spooky or metaphysical to be rational and non-arbitrary, so long as we're prepared to accept that "[w]hatever judgments we make do not compel all comers, regardless of their desire-sets, to act one way or another on pain of making a mistake about the world or something of the sort."
(tags: philosophy morality ethics error-theory mackie russell-blackford)

“Have friends who are atheists? Agnostics? Into Wicca? Or New Age?”

Mefi discovers "Dare2Share", which is one of those worldview based Christian evangelism things where they're training Christians to understand other people's worldviews (which is good) as a preamble to converting them to Christianity (which would be bad). I've linked to Mefi rather than the site itself as the Mefites discussion is interesting. The site has cutesy names for their examplars, like "Willow the Wiccan" and "Andy the Atheist", so the Mefi crowd have come up with a few of their own.
(tags: metafilter apologetics christianity evangelism worldview)

New Statesman – The bugger, bugged

"After a chance meeting with a former News of the World executive who told him his phone had been hacked, Hugh Grant couldn’t resist going back to him – with a hidden tape recorder – to find out if there was more to the story . . . " Coppers taking backhanders from journos, oh my. No wonder the Met dragged their feet about the phone hacking case.
(tags: news journalism crime phones privacy surveillance police hugh-grant hacking)

Scientism « Why Evolution Is True

Jerry Coyne: "when used as a derogatory adjective, “scientism” means this:

the practice of applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith.

For religious people and accommodationists, that practice is a no-no. That’s why the adjective is pejorative."

I think there is something which we could validly call "scientism", namely the belief that science can answer all our questions, or that all questions reduce to scientific ones, or something. However, Coyne's point stands: "scientism" is often code for "how dare you ask us for evidence?"
(tags: scientism science religion jerry-coyne)

7 thoughts on “Link blog: mackie, phones, scientism, christianity

  1. Some of those worldview pages are obviously just cut and pasted from each other without paying attention! Andy the Atheist “believes the Bible is a collection of myths, half-truths, and lies designed to lead ignorant people astray and give power to religious leaders over the masses” – but so does Alisha the Agnostic, word for word. They didn’t even bother to edit her version into “believes the Bible may be [all that]”.

    (And that’s leaving aside the many other obvious points. Like, might Andy not perfectly well be willing to acknowledge the possibility that the Bible was intended to communicate things that its authors honestly believed, rather than being required by his atheism to be sure it was a cynically deliberate attempt to manipulate power structures in the ancient world? But that’s shooting fish in a barrel.)

    It’s noticeable that although they present one or two attempts at actual argument (though fairly laughable ones, e.g. Pascal’s Wager), they seem to spend a lot of time talking about “focusing on” one or other aspect of their message, without any real attention given to how you convince somebody of what it is you’re focusing on, if they disagree or want to hear reasons why they should take your word for it. Particularly glaring is the one on Erin’s page, because it comes up in the middle of an attempted argument: you’re encouraged to try Pascal’s Wager, and if (among all the other possible retorts) you’re faced with the particular objection that it unfairly privileges the hypothesis of the Christian God, to focus on Christ’s uniqueness. It seems to be code for “um, sorry, we can’t think of any way you might actually convince Erin of that bit”.

    Perhaps we’re not yet living in an age where Robin the Rationalist is one of the ‘worldviews’ considered dominant enough to put in a list like that, but I’d have liked to see a page that said something like

    Things to Remember

    • Robin won’t believe anything without being given a good reason why it’s more likely than the alternatives, so be careful not to sound as if you’re making big assertions and expecting him to take your unsupported word for them.
    • Don’t use circular reasoning. Robin won’t accept “the Bible says so” as a justification until you’ve already convinced him the Bible is trustworthy – and when you argue in favour of that, don’t fall into the trap of basing your argument on things for which your evidence in turn is that the Bible says so.
    • Instead, be sure you can give a good justification for everything you say, starting only from premises on which you can be sure you and Robin already agree, and proceeding to your inevitable conclusion via irreproachable logical reasoning.
    • You can do that, no problem, right?
    • Right?
    1. I’d say all this focus stuff might work, given people’s habit of believing stuff if it’s confidently asserted by nice people. (The Mefites speculated that it was also defensive, so that the Christian wouldn’t get turned by the person they were seeking to convert.)

      Robin the Rationalist exists and even has a blog, of course 🙂

      1. I was amusingly reminded of this post the other day. My doorbell was rung by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and for once I had the leisure to indulge my long-standing curiosity and ask about their often argument-free conversion tactics. They mostly just waffled in response, but I was entertained to hear the phrase focus on drop from the lips of one of them, again at roughly the point where they ran out of arguments. Apparently it’s a more widely used code than I thought.

    2. And I notice that atheists are driven by “pure rationality, reason and the scientific method” but “most” hold the theory/fact of evolution to be true.

      Is there really a significant population of justified Lamarkists still out there?

      I mean, recognising vaguely that different belief systems actually believe something different (even if it’s filled with stereotypes) is quite good, compared to many people’s previous generalisation that everyone who wasn’t Christian knew perfectly well that God didn’t exit, but refused to admit it because they wanted an excuse to be evil. In general, it’s a good start. But I’m disappointed, because I’ve friends who actually do know a lot about different worldviews, and make me want to believe what they believe just because they’re so lovely, which makes me rather tired of people still doing prosetylisation badly.

  2. The way I use scientism is taking this kind of hierarchy seriously. You know, the idea that everything from the arts and humanities is a complete waste of space, everything from social sciences is only worth paying attention as long as it uses physics-style framings and includes lots of numbers. Asserting that maths, physics and computer science are not just more “pure” but more true (sic) than natural sciences where there’s often population variation, which are again more true that anything that involves qualitative research or studying human behaviour.

    I’ve never heard of it applied to people who base their decisions on scientific evidence rather than religious doctrine, but I can see that the meanings are close enough that I’m basically using the same word as the people you link to. And yes, it is pejorative. Numbers and physical measurements don’t by themselves automatically lead to truth or even objectivity.

    1. Well, as I’m probably a physicalist, I’d say that everything is probably built on things studied by physics, but that doesn’t imply that the best way to study everything is to use the methods of physics.

      I think it is fair to say that the established results of the physical and biological sciences are less likely to be overturned than those of the social sciences. Evolution is a fact, current theories of anthropology will be outdated in a few decades.

      The disparaging uses seem to be disparaging empiricism and evidence, either in an “unweaving the rainbow” kind of way or by saying that there are domains where empirical standards don’t apply.

      The former is silly and Sagan, Dawkins and that lot have done a good job of explaining why.

      The latter is true, in that there are domains where we legitimately don’t use publicly available empirical evidence. But claiming religious beliefs are within one of those domains seems to rely on a double standard: the believer accepts their own beliefs but wouldn’t accept someone else’s, similar, beliefs (for example, beliefs of a different religion) without empirical evidence.

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