John Wilkins takes Larry Moran and PZ Myers to the woodshed.

I wrote: “As an accommodationist, I think that whether or not science and religion should be treated as compatible, in fact they are, or as compatible as any potentially competing set of beliefs may be, such as the belief that science is the only way to gain justifiable beliefs, which is not, itself, scientifically justifiable.” Larry read this thus:

I argue that if you adopt science as a valid way of gathering knowledge then most everything about religion fails the tests of science. Those who claim to be scientists and still believe that there’s a God who answers prayers are expressing two contradictory positions. You can’t claim to be thinking like a scientist while holding on to beliefs that have been refuted by science.

Only I didn’t say that religion is a way of knowing. It may be, if it is true, but I have no dog in that hunt, and I don’t need to. I said that this was about ways to gain justifiable beliefs. PZ Myers, who I also claim as a friend and will be flying to meet when he finishes the Atheism Lovefest in Melbourne (no, I’m not miffed I wasn’t invited to speak, why do you ask?), makes the same mistake – he tries, as Chris Schoen discusses, to show that his love for his wife is a scientific inference. I think there’s a clear is-ought fallacy here; trial and error may explain why Paul and his Trophy Wife[tm] found each other compatible, but the justifiable belief that he loves her is not the result of anything like a scientific inference. It’s what linguistic philosophers call a “performative”: he loves her in virtue of expressing the love. How he got there is beside the point.

A belief can be justifiable in a number of ways – in Wittgensteinian terms, a belief is justified when it satisfies the criteria for that sort of belief among a language community, who have a self-contained set of rules. Chess players have beliefs about what it is wrong to do (you can’t punch the other player, for instance) that are not in any sense scientific. Religious beliefs may be of that kind; that’s for those who care to argue. I don’t need to say they must have ways of knowing, merely that they have beliefs that satisfy some criteria, and we can then talk about those criteria.

Deep down, it isn’t theology the militants really have a problem with. It’s philosophy.

3 thoughts on “

  1. PZ's awkward attempt to portray his knowledge of his own love for his wife as a result of scientific inference reminds me of a similarly humorous display of scientism at National Review a couple years ago.

    Someone (I think Jonah Goldberg) had accused John Derbyshire of scientism. Derb's rather miffed response was that no, he wasn't guilty of thinking that science was the sole arbiter of truth because, get this, he believed that the earth had revolved around the sun before science discovered it.

    In other words, he showed that the best example he could think of to defend himself against the charge of scientism (the belief that science is the only rational guide to truth) was a truth found by science – essentially confirming the accusation in his attempt to deny it.

    Anyhow, Ed Feser recently wrote an excellent first part of a two-part series on exactly this topic.

  2. Another thing that has occurred to me. In terms of content, scientism is simply logical positivism, nothing less and nothing more. The only real difference is, logical positivism was mainly bought into by philosophers, and so at least had a rigorous philosophical definition (which was abandoned as everyone came to the realization that it had been disproved).

    Scientism is the same idea, but it's subscribed to primarily by people who are totally ignorant of philosophy, and so engage in it incompetently. So despite promoting it, they never define its terms clearly or examine it like the philosophers did, and so never come to the realization that the idea they're promoting is actually identical to a philosophical doctrine that has been defunct for more than half a century.

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