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Posted by Harvey on May 16, 2003 12:39:39 UTC

Hi Kyle,

***I was NOT making a claim that agnosticism is the best conceptual scheme to approach science with! That's how it looks if you take it as an independent statement! If you read it in context, I was saying that Aurino's theistic bias caused him to reject a sound scientific theory which he knew little about, but which is well supported by empirical evidence, observation and experimentation. I was simply stating that agnosticism has the advantage over theism in so far as it does not cause one to automatically exclude a theory simply based on theistic belief.***

Let me apologize. I didn't mean to take your statement out of context. I took it as an ad for agnosticism, and that was what my post was directed toward.

***Aurino by his own admission is unfamiliar with Dennettís theory of consciousness, but he knows just enough about it to realize that the materialistic reductionism of the theory is inconsistent with dualism/ a Ďsoulí/ religious belief. He therefore dismisses it (on no other grounds than this) without first bothering to learn anything else about it! His hubris doesnít stop there, he throws in an ad hominem attack and has the nerve to call Dennett a fool...)***

I don't know what Aurino meant, sometimes he's automatically dismissive of many things that irks me. I interpreted him differently than how you might have interpreted his post. The interpretation that I gathered is that because Dennett thinks he's on the right track, he is only deluding himself because we are all talking about things that we know not. Given the complexities of the human mind, and the little we know about it, are we in a position to say anything of anything with any degree of confidence? I'm one of those who agrees with Aurino in that sense. Such 'theories' probably sell more books than actual hard core knowledge. At the same time, you can't get from point A to point Z without going through B,C,D,... Dennett is not a fool in my book since he's making solid efforts to get to a point to where we do obtain a better understanding of these things. This is what science and philosophy is all about. I don't know what Dennett has said that has caused Aurino to react as negatively as he has. I'm sure that Aurino would be just as unimpressed with someone who offers any dualistic theory. One of Aurino's petpeeves are scientists or philosophers who pretend to understand more than they possibly could at this point in our knowledge. It irks him and he tends to label them fools. I think that's rash.

***After listening to his nonsense, now I have to endure the hypocrisy of Aurino (and you) implying that my agnosticism is not the best way to approach science??***

Well, I hope you read the context of my post and what I how I directed my comments. I apologize again for the misunderstanding, though.

***Open minded individuals?? Agnosticism isnít atheism! How much more of an open-minded approach can you expect? Open-minded in science simply means unbiased, unprejudiced ...particularly by belief systems that are "supernatural" and outside of the realm of science.***

I didn't say that agnostics weren't open-minded. What I said is that agnostic-like approach to science that failed to commit to particular beliefs is not beneficial as a whole to science. All that is required is being open-minded to evidence as it emerged, even if it is outside one's on conceptual beliefs. In terms of things outside the realm of science, again it is misleading to think that there is necessarily a conflict between supernaturalism and science. One can produce great science, but believe the most absurd beliefs. I personally think that Penrose's thoughts on the brain approach absurdity (sorry, but I do), and yet he's a brilliant scientist who has produced some of the finest work in physics and mathematics. Does his questionable ideas on the brain affect his science on being open-minded to clear cut evidence from theories not his own? Maybe. But, I haven't seen any evidence of that. I know that Penrose believes in an afterlife. Such supernatural thoughts do not apparently affect his ability to keep track of the latest developments in physics. On the other hand, there are many agnostic and atheist physicists who also are able to follow physics without being affected by their philosophies. They are open-minded too. It's really an 'easy' criteria to meet, and as I'm sure you'll agree, it doesn't require agnosticism to meet it.

***In science there have been exactly 5 major revolutions: The Copernican, The Newtonian, Special Relativity, General Relativity and QM. None of these revolutions occurred because of theistic beliefs. At least one of these revolutions occurred IN SPITE OF theistic beliefs!***

'Revolutions' are a little misleading. But, it is very difficult to talk in terms of the effect of theism, agnosticism, and atheism in this general sense. Eugene Wigner, for example, was an avid theist (I believe), and yet who knows if his initial work on the fundamental aspects of symmetry had much to do with his view of beauty and truth (related aspects to theism)? We just don't know the effects of these beliefs on the scientists who proposed them. Science works best with some kind of naturalism being proposed. This is not atheism as some have argued. Newton thought in terms of divine laws and physical laws governing the universe. This kind of thinking took Newton far. However, I don't know if Newton would have been successful as an agnostic or atheist. I wish we could simulate the past scientific history and change these kind of variables. This would be very interesting!

***Theism just simply is not relevant to science when the latter it is being practiced properly -- scientists (the good ones) simply do not approach science with an agnostic / theistic dichotomy in mind! Itís like you telling me that agnosticism is not the best conceptual scheme with which to approach to, say... "cooking". It's simply not relevant.***

I can't go to this point of the spectrum. I don't know what is relevant and what is not relevant. Was it relevant that Einstein worked as a patent clerk? I don't know, maybe it was. Was it relevant that the young Einstein read Ernst Mach and became a 'believer', yes, I think that was very relevant. Did the later Einstein's views that he later said were similar to Spinoza affect his scientific views and his work? Maybe it did. What cannot happen is that the justification and assumptions of one's work cannot be based on their philosophies, at least overtly. Einstein justified his early work on relativity with his Machian views, but he didn't go into any long philosophical justifications of this view. He stated it in the form of symmetry assumptions (e.g., equivalence of reference frames) and was able to justify his assumptions on special relativity theory in this manner. Similarly, I think much of Penrose's work on the brain might be based on his views of the soul, but he isn't gonna come out and say so - at least in his scientific work that is ready by other scientists.

*** I am using a modern definition of religious agnosticism that merely says that knowledge of God is impossible. You might be thinking that I am talking about a stricter philosophical agnosticism, Iím not sure. My statement cannot be generalized to encompass my approach to science because my religious beliefs are not relevant to my approach to science.***

Agnosticism has a few definitions floating around. Probably the most popular is the agnostic definition that the late Carl Sagan popularized. It is that God might exist, we just lack any scientific evidence that he does, and we could come to believe in God's existence if this evidence was forthcoming. There there is a more Thomas Huxlean definition of agnosticism that not only do we not know God exists, but it is a question that we cannot know. Such definitions hinge on the word 'know' and as Dick has demonstrated, one can do a lot of misrepresentation of this word without even realizing it.

***Aurino thinks that his little sleight of hand went unnoticed. I can't stress enough that the irony here is that he has (through you) diverted the attention to my agnosticism and away from his glaring prejudices. It is HIS theistic bias which we should be challenging! He has allowed it to result in an extremely myopic approach to science!***

Like I said, I'm not sure this is where Aurino is coming from, it might be. He does have theistic prejudices, no doubt about it (and so do I). However, I'm equally inclined to think that he is exhibiting a pet peeve against naive realism. Aurino is more or less an anti-realist and many of his nasty comments toward science come from this prejudice.

Hope that clears things up, Kyle!


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