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 Post subject: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:03 pm 
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Some bloggers seem to be stuck reading books from the 1950's and earlier such as The Counter-Revolution of Science by F. A. Hayek. They see the world as this battle between well-rounded, reasonable people who believe that science and religion both have their place, and "scientists" (i.e. adherents of Scientism) who think that the only valid form of knowledge is science. Almost every day, these bloggers quote people from the 19th and 20th centuries to support their attack on "scientists."

But are these "scientists" straw men?

Sean Carroll, who earned his Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard University and is now one of the foremost researchers in the world in dark matter and energy at the California Institute of Technology is an atheist, but prefers to refer to himself as a "poetic naturalist", said the following in his 2016 book, The Big Picture.

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Our fundamental ontology, the best way we have of talking about the world at the deepest level, is extremely sparse. But many concepts that are part of non-fundamental ways we have of talking about the world—useful ideas describing higher-level, macroscopic reality—deserve to be called “real.”

The key word there is “useful.” There are certainly non-useful ways of talking about the world. In scientific contexts, we refer to such non-useful ways as “wrong” or “false.” A way of talking isn’t just a list of concepts; it will generally include a set of rules for using them, and relationships among them. Every scientific theory is a way of talking about the world, according to which we can say things like “There are things called planets, and something called the sun, all of which move through something called space, and planets do something called orbiting the sun, and those orbits describe a particular shape in space called an ellipse.” That’s basically Johannes Kepler’s theory of planetary motion, developed after Copernicus argued for the sun being at the center of the solar system but before Isaac Newton explained it all in terms of the force of gravity. Today, we would say that Kepler’s theory is fairly useful in certain circumstances, but it’s not as useful as Newton’s, which in turn isn’t as broadly useful as Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

The strategy I’m advocating here can be called poetic naturalism. The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” The world is what exists and what happens, but we gain enormous insight by talking about it—telling its story—in different ways. Naturalism comes down to three things:

  1. There is only one world, the natural world.
  2. The world evolves according to unbroken patterns, the laws of nature.
  3. The only reliable way of learning about the world is by observing it.

Essentially, naturalism is the idea that the world revealed to us by scientific investigation is the one true world. The poetic aspect comes to the fore when we start talking about that world. It can also be summarized in three points:

  1. There are many ways of talking about the world.
  2. All good ways of talking must be consistent with one another and with the world.
  3. Our purposes in the moment determine the best way of talking.

...Poetic naturalism is a philosophy of freedom and responsibility. The raw materials of life are given to us by the natural world, and we must work to understand them and accept the consequences. The move from description to prescription, from saying what happens to passing judgment on what should happen, is a creative one, a fundamentally human act. The world is just the world, unfolding according to the patterns of nature, free of any judgmental attributes. The world exists; beauty and goodness are things that we bring to it.

Carroll, Sean. The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (p. 21-21). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


So here is the question. Do these bloggers take issue with "poetic naturalism" as described by Carroll? How about the people they accuse of being adherents of "scientism": would they take issue with poetic naturalism?

I predict that the bloggers who attack "scientism" will never present an accurate picture of poetic naturalism and respond to it--doing so would be a lot more difficult than attacking a straw man.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:26 pm 
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Thanks for pointing this out. I have noticed that through all the hullabaloo of Intelligent Design, there are still continuous use of Michael Behe, who is one of the most soundly and thoroughly refuted "scientists" on this planet, by both sides, the evolutionists, and the religious scientists. What people appear to me to be is unwilling to update. Once a scientist says something that tickles the ears of a creationist, nothing else matters, not even 15 years of continuing ongoing development of ideas and analysis including new evidences that come in from the space telescope, or the microscopic world, or even chemistry. It's sad really. I see Sean Carroll as one of the truly bright lights with us now. I love his stuff! I will be utterly astounded to ever see any Mormon apologist update their own theology in light of the actual science that Sean Carroll is presenting to us in its most up to date and accurate form. If they do use him, it will be to misuse him to somehow come out supporting Curelom and tapirs or something akin to such silliness. Perhaps they'll even say he somehow finds Kolob. One thing they will not do, I predict, is accurately ever grasp his knowledge in context. They will take snippets and claim it supports their theology. Or else ignore him and continue quoting old 1950's science thinking. :rolleyes:

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:18 pm 
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Is the accusation that scientism is like religion because it has blind faith in things like evolution, or because it dogmatically holds to one narrow way of knowing reality?

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:19 pm 
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Scientism as a criticism most often is leveled by someone who wants to suggest dogmatic, unthinking devotion to science as a strawman criticism of someone deploying science against something they'd prefer to believe.


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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:56 am 
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EAllusion wrote:
Scientism as a criticism most often is leveled by someone who wants to suggest dogmatic, unthinking devotion to science as a strawman criticism of someone deploying science against something they'd prefer to believe.


That is signature worthy!

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:24 am 
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EAllusion wrote:
Scientism as a criticism most often is leveled by someone who wants to suggest dogmatic, unthinking devotion to science as a strawman criticism of someone deploying science against something they'd prefer to believe.


A metaphor that comes to mind is an island of knowable truth on an ocean of the unknowable. Over the last 500 years, the island has grown substantially, with all of the best real estate indisputably belonging to science. When naturalists claim that there is only one world, the natural world, and that the only reliable way of learning about it is by observing it, they are claiming that in principle, the entire island of the knowable must belong to naturalists.

The religionist is happy to grant that some of the real estate on the island belongs to science, but they want to claim some of the island for religion. "What about meaning? Science can't tell us the truth about the meaning of life! What about ethics? Science can't tell us about ethics! Science is great as far as it goes, but we need religion for access to truth in these other domains!" The naturalist is inclined to say that just because a religionist makes up stuff from these other "domains" doesn't mean we have any reason to believe what they make up is true. Thus, what they make up doesn't really constitute real estate on the island of what's known. The religionist doesn't have a good answer to this, so decides to respond by calling naturalism the most nasty insult he can think of: a religion. "Your religion of scientism is particularly absurd, even for a religion! You claim without evidence that only science can give us truth? What about history? History is true, yet it isn't science. Hah!"

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:28 am 
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Gadianton wrote:
Is the accusation that scientism is like religion because it has blind faith in things like evolution, or because it dogmatically holds to one narrow way of knowing reality?

I would say the accusation is focused on the latter. When the naturalist says, "There is only one universe, the natural universe, and the only way to know about it is by observing it," the religionist contorts that into a dogmatic, religious faith that science and only science has perfect access to all truth. That's the straw man.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:32 am 
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Philo Sofee wrote:
Thanks for pointing this out. I have noticed that through all the hullabaloo of Intelligent Design, there are still continuous use of Michael Behe, who is one of the most soundly and thoroughly refuted "scientists" on this planet, by both sides, the evolutionists, and the religious scientists. What people appear to me to be is unwilling to update. Once a scientist says something that tickles the ears of a creationist, nothing else matters, not even 15 years of continuing ongoing development of ideas and analysis including new evidences that come in from the space telescope, or the microscopic world, or even chemistry. It's sad really. I see Sean Carroll as one of the truly bright lights with us now. I love his stuff! I will be utterly astounded to ever see any Mormon apologist update their own theology in light of the actual science that Sean Carroll is presenting to us in its most up to date and accurate form. If they do use him, it will be to misuse him to somehow come out supporting Curelom and tapirs or something akin to such silliness. Perhaps they'll even say he somehow finds Kolob. One thing they will not do, I predict, is accurately ever grasp his knowledge in context. They will take snippets and claim it supports their theology. Or else ignore him and continue quoting old 1950's science thinking. :rolleyes:


On this issue, I smell fear in his writing. His M.O. is to read old books and articles and paraphrase the arguments he reads. It's as if he's afraid that if he reads something new and actually engages the views of the scientists he is criticizing, he will learn something and be forced to change his mind. Much better to stick with the arguments of others that reach the conclusions that he needs to reach.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 10:07 am 
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EAllusion wrote:
Scientism as a criticism most often is leveled by someone who wants to suggest dogmatic, unthinking devotion to science as a strawman criticism of someone deploying science against something they'd prefer to believe.


Does it ever happen, though, that dogmatic, unthinking devotion to "science" is deployed in support of an ideological position? I think we do see something like this, but it is really to some form of positivism (usually in the social "sciences"), vestigial or revived, and not science per se that is the object of criticism.

The first time I ever heard the term scientism was in conversation with a professor (not one of mine) who displayed an astonishing lack of knowledge about what scientists do. My understanding of the hard sciences is very lopsided because I don't have a lot of formal training in the substance of it, but I've done a lot of work on the publication side of things; I have edited dissertations, theses, grant proposals, and articles for publication, and I've translated scientific articles from a few different languages for scientists in both industry and academia. I'm also married to one and have gone with her to several conferences. In short, I have had a view of the social side of science that a lot of people don't get, and I've never encountered anything like "scientism." And my editorial and translation work has shown me not only how difficult but also how necessary it is to write scientific literature the way it is written. When I explained (or attempted to explain) to the professor why scientific research is presented the way it is, she took a tack that to me was very anti-science: science is a form of persuasive rhetoric because it is constructed in a social setting, and therefore there is something fictive, perhaps even fictional and ultimately even ideological about it. That to me is not just nonsense but alarming coming from a person who claimed to be a liberal and occupied such a prominent position in academia, to say nothing of the fact that she teaches hundreds of students a year. And I've been hearing this kind of criticism a lot over the past few years on the humanities side of thing. It's disturbing.

Of course it's a construct. duh. So a house, but that doesn't mean it's not really there. The fact that it has to be constructed to be presented doesn't mean it's just propaganda. Anyway, I like the description of Carroll's that Analytics quoted, and I've heard something similar from some scientists I've talked to about this.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:50 pm 
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Scientism is a close cousin to "relativism" in my mind in terms of how it shows up in discourse.

Like relativism, scientism is almost exclusively used as a criticism of someone's thinking rather than a label anyone would identify their thinking with. If something is labeled as scientism, you can infer the labler is trying to argue the object of their criticism *reduces* into scientism.

Also like relativism, I see the term almost exclusively used as a strawman argument against thinking the user does not understand, sees as challenging their beliefs, and would prefer to dismiss. This mostly comes up in the context of followers conservative religion characterizing their critics, but I expect it just as much from, say, fans of Deepak Chopra.

So is scientism ever apt as a criticism? I think so, but for people who hold naïve ideas about the scope of scientific explanation. My sense is this overlaps with positivism, but lacks the conceptual formality of actual logical positivism. If that's all it was, we already have a term for that, after all. There are people who just have optimism in science being the answer to everything without enough knowlege of science or philosophy to understand limitations. But those people aren't usually anyone academics should be spending their time dunking on, nor are they representative of a notable school of thought.

Usually if a person is complaining of "scientism" it's people like Dr. Peterson upset that his fundamentalist apologetics is being described as pseudoscience.


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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:09 pm 
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EAllusion wrote:
Scientism is a close cousin to "relativism" in my mind in terms of how it shows up in discourse.

Like relativism, scientism is almost exclusively used as a criticism of someone's thinking rather than a label anyone would identify their thinking with. If something is labeled as scientism, you can infer the labler is trying to argue the object of their criticism *reduces* into scientism.

Also like relativism, I see the term almost exclusively used as a strawman argument against thinking the user does not understand, sees as challenging their beliefs, and would prefer to dismiss. This mostly comes up in the context of followers conservative religion characterizing their critics, but I expect it just as much from, say, fans of Deepak Chopra.

So is scientism ever apt as a criticism? I think so, but for people who hold naïve ideas about the scope of scientific explanation. My sense is this overlaps with positivism, but lacks the conceptual formality of actual logical positivism. If that's all it was, we already have a term for that, after all. There are people who just have optimism in science being the answer to everything without enough knowlege of science or philosophy to understand limitations. But those people aren't usually anyone academics should be spending their time dunking on, nor are they representative of a notable school of thought.

Usually if a person is complaining of "scientism" it's people like Dr. Peterson upset that his fundamentalist apologetics is being described as pseudoscience.


I'm not convinced you are capturing the way that Dr. Peterson uses the insult. Within him, it is about spirit/matter dualism. He portrays himself as a fan of science who is both open-minded and independent. But he only thinks science is good as far as it goes, and that there is a whole other realm filled with spirits, gods, objective systems of ethics, objective meaning, and the like. Science has no access to that realm--that is why, according to him, open-minded truth seekers are religious--they recognize the need of religion to gain access to truth in that other realm. This belief in dualism isn't a pseudoscientific claim--it is a metaphysical claim. A religious claim. When a naturalist says no, the natural world is all there is and the only way to learn about it is to observe it, that is when Peterson retorts with "scientism" and claims that it takes religious faith to believe that this is all there is.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:26 pm 
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I'm not following Dr. Peterson's recent scientism binge. If he's deploying it against physicalists, or just people who reject substance dualism, lol, that's got more layers of ignorance than I would have guessed.

I am familiar with the ID crowd he cribs from, sometimes literally as it turns out. For them the scientism charge is usually a attack on someone arguing their design arguments aren't a valid mode of explanation. "Scientism" is an attack on arguments about the insufficiency of their explanations. This takes on a couple of varients, but the two most common are accusing people of "naturalism of the gaps" and insistence that "God..err the designer did it" is legitimate explanatory analysis.

So an argument might go, "You atheistic evolutionists can't explain X and just have faith that science somehow, one day, will do so. That's scientism."

Or it might go, "You dismiss design because it allows for the inference to a God-like being and your ideology won't accept that because the supernatural doesn't fit within your scientific worldview. That's scientism."

These are unfathomably stupid arguments, but I have seen DCP adopt them in years past.


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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:47 pm 
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Wait a second, a thought religion, for Dr. Peterson isn't about providing an explanatory mechanism...

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:04 pm 
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EAllusion wrote:
I'm not following Dr. Peterson's recent scientism binge. If he's deploying it against physicalists, or just people who reject substance dualism, lol, that's got more layers of ignorance than I would have guessed.


I'm not sure if it is fair to say that he is the one who is deploying it at all. It's just the people he quotes (or summarizes, as the case may be).

A main source is a book by MIT physicist Dr. Ian H. Hutchinson, Monopolizing Knowledge. Hutchinson begins his book by saying:

Hutchinson wrote:
Scientism is the belief that all valid knowledge is science.  Scientism says, or at least implicitly assumes, that rational knowledge is scientific, and everything else that claims the status of knowledge is just superstition, irrationality, emotion, or nonsense.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterso ... KUbx4YP.99

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:06 pm 
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Symmachus wrote:
Wait a second, a thought religion, for Dr. Peterson isn't about providing an explanatory mechanism...


When your position is formed by copying and pasting the ideas of others, it isn't necessarily going to be congruous.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:17 pm 
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Analytics wrote:
EAllusion wrote:
I'm not following Dr. Peterson's recent scientism binge. If he's deploying it against physicalists, or just people who reject substance dualism, lol, that's got more layers of ignorance than I would have guessed.


I'm not sure if it is fair to say that he is the one who is deploying it at all. It's just the people he quotes (or summarizes, as the case may be).

A main source is a book by MIT physicist Dr. Ian H. Hutchinson, Monopolizing Knowledge. Hutchinson begins his book by saying:

Hutchinson wrote:
Scientism is the belief that all valid knowledge is science.  Scientism says, or at least implicitly assumes, that rational knowledge is scientific, and everything else that claims the status of knowledge is just superstition, irrationality, emotion, or nonsense.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterso ... KUbx4YP.99


Mormonism theology itself, such as it is, strongly lends itself to physicalist ontology. I think Dr. Peterson, who is up to his eyeballs in evangelical aplogetics, sometimes forgets his own faith tradition. (See also him re: divine command theory).

The definition offered is what I understand scientism to be. I don't think there's much dispute about that. It's just that almost no one actually thinks that, so the argument space is over whether that is implied by a person's thinking.


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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 5:03 pm 
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Beastie's old sig line would be appropriate on this thread. Something something religionists co-opting science when they want to be credible, something something religionists calling science religion when they want to discredit science.

It's just such a perfect and succinct way to describe their brand of insanity.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 5:09 pm 
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EAllusion wrote:
Mormonism theology itself, such as it is, strongly lends itself to physicalist ontology. I think Dr. Peterson, who is up to his eyeballs in evangelical aplogetics, sometimes forgets his own faith tradition. (See also him re: divine command theory).


More of an indication that Mormon apologetics is spent. When I think about the some of the intended targets of the old FARMS, it is almost ironic that evangelical apologists are having to foot the bill now.

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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:27 pm 
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I pulled an example of how "scientism" frequently gets used in evangelical apologetics from a random book review of Uncommon Dissent, a pro intelligent design book Dr. Peterson liked so much that he may have confused his own thoughts for passages that appear on its pages.

http://www.kirkcenter.org/bookman/artic ... -scientism

Quote:
In the book’s Introduction, Dembski describes the various “myths” that Darwinists have developed in order to defeat their opponents. The myths include ad hominem arguments, elitist arrogance, hand-waving discussions, and belief that Darwinism is much broader in it scope than the evidence allows. In other words, in the hands of its polemicists, the scientific evidence for evolution has been transformed into the ideology of “scientism.” Dembski does a good job of summarizing the attacks that have been mounted against Michael Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity,” and how these attacks have not achieved their goal of driving out those who doubt Darwinist ideology. The remark that Darwinism “is no longer merely a scientific theory but an ideology” alerts the reader to the possibility there is more at work in this field than rational inquiry alone.


Here, scientism is referred to as people who accept evolutionary biology having explanatory power where creationist anti-evolution arguments argue it does not. The reasoning is a bit muddled, but it is a variation of the "naturalism of the gaps" argument. It contends that a culture has developed within the scientific community and its supporters to assume science, dogmatically excluding God, must explain features of life. This is not because of evidence, but because of religious devotion to the notion that science must explain all. This ideological commitment blinds those people and causes them to assume "Darwinism" (here actually meaning evolutionary biology) explains things it cannot as demonstrated by anti-evolutionist arguments.

This kind of reasoning is pervasive in evangelical apologetic writing that Dr. Peterson frequently refers to and echos. Note here that the object of criticism hasn't themselves necessarily said they believe that science is the only valid form of knowledge. They haven't denounced the idea that metaethics is a separate branch of reasoned discovery from science or anything like that. The scientism is inferred from the fact that they accept evolutionary biology as generally correct. The argument contends that only religious devotion to science can explain that given how powerful the arguments of anti-evolution skeptics are. What are those arguments you ask?

Well:

Quote:
In his essay, historian of science James Barham points out that since living things strive to survive, they “value life.” But if Darwin is correct, and life emerged from a purely mechanical process, how did the ability to value anything (including life) arise? “Inanimate matter does not struggle to survive.” When Darwinists talk about natural selection (“survival of the fittest”), the tendency is to discuss what makes one organism “the fittest.” This teeters on the tautological: a trait is the most fit for survival and so it is adaptive, and it is adaptive because it is the most fit for survival. But if one does not discuss where the urge to survive came from in the first place, then “the explanatory logic of Darwinism is backwards.”


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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:40 pm 
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EAllusion wrote:
a pro intelligent design book Dr. Peterson liked so much that he may have confused his own thoughts for passages that appear on its pages.



Image

That was hilarious! :lol: :lol:

And it was EAllusion! :lol: :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: Scientism as religion. Really.
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:09 am 
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EAllusion wrote:
I pulled an example of how "scientism" frequently gets used in evangelical apologetics from a random book review of Uncommon Dissent, a pro intelligent design book Dr. Peterson liked so much that he may have confused his own thoughts for passages that appear on its pages....


An invective with multiple uses. How convenient!

A couple of years ago, a BYU biology professor by the name of Steven L. Peck gave a presentation at an Interpreter conference about how "Evolution and LDS thought are fully compatible."

The presentation was remarkable. Peck's basic argument was that evolution is true, period. Since Mormonism embraces all truth, Mormonism can embrace evolution (when asked about the theological details of how this could be done, he essentially said he didn't know and that that wasn't his department).

He fielded a question about the difference between mico-evolution and macro-evolution and provided the quote of the night: saying you believe in micro-evolution but not macro-evolution is like saying you believe in inches but not miles.

Turning the topic back to that blogger and not meaning to be snide, I don't know what his actual views are and how they compare to various anti-scientism writers. A few things are clear. He wants to be allies with the evangelicals in the bigger war against naturalists. He believes in NDEs. In dualism. In Pascal's Wager. In fine-tuning. He wants to write a book about these things, but he has few original ideas. He might be afraid that if he clearly says something about naturalism, it will come back around and bite him in the ass.

Perhaps he is still in the process of figuring out his own views on this? He's reading these various apologetics, taking notes of what he likes, and hoping that it will eventually coalesce into something coherent.

_________________
It’s relatively easy to agree that only Homo sapiens can speak about things that don’t really exist, and believe six impossible things before breakfast. You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.

-Yuval Noah Harari


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