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Thought experiment
Posted: 28 March 2011 08:23 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I had an idea for an essay recently and would like to hear your thoughts:

Imagine, in our modern world, that science did not exist. For whatever reason, there is absolutely zero scientific knowledge available. Would you still think naturalism (and thus atheism, etc) the most reasonable position? Why or why not?

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Posted: 28 March 2011 09:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Are you also positing that the scientific method does not exist?  That would require the elimination of several schools of philosophy, which would affect the results of your thought experiment.

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Posted: 28 March 2011 11:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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If the scientific method did not exist, I think it’s the world’s safest bet that the modern world would not exist. At best, we would be primitive hunter-gatherers swinging around in the trees.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yeah, it’s tough to make headway here, since it’s not clear what’s involved in there being ‘absolutely zero scientific knowledge’; even the Romans and Greeks had scientific knowledge; even during the dark ages the European stonemasons knew how to build cathedrals. And even hunter-gatherers would have had knowledge we might consider at least proto-scientific.

Presumably you mean that we turn the clock back to sometime before the 16th C; maybe even before the Greek golden ages around the 5th c. BCE or the Egyptian empires earlier still.

But that may be asking too much. The whole notion of God comes historically from cultures that are well on their way to being state-level, with established hierarchies that allow a professional priestly class to engage in philosophical cogitation about the universe. Hunter-gatherer cultures do not pray to God or gods, usually their ‘religions’ (such as they are; in some measure the concept of a religion begins to break down) involve such things as ancestor worship.

So let’s take it a bit farther forward.

Usually the point is made that before Darwin the Argument from Design made God the most plausible explanation for life. That is, before Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable to be an atheist, but after Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable not to be one. There’re plenty of caveats there. In particular, even before Darwin the Argument from Evil made belief in a God somewhat tenuous. But I think there’s plenty to be said for the line of reasoning that makes Darwin crucial to the atheist position, by kicking away one of its most solid supports.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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As Doug already said, I can’t imagine how “absolutely zero scientific knowledge” would be possible. I know, however, that even the poorest and the least educated people in the Czech Republic are atheists. They might not understand evolution or even know who Darwin was, but they would consider a belief in a god as unreasonable as a belief in ghosts, spirits, sprites, etc. Why that is I have no idea.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Michael De Dora - 28 March 2011 08:23 PM

I had an idea for an essay recently and would like to hear your thoughts:

Imagine, in our modern world, that science did not exist. For whatever reason, there is absolutely zero scientific knowledge available. Would you still think naturalism (and thus atheism, etc) the most reasonable position? Why or why not?

I suspect the Religious Prophet would be the accepted source of authority. Individuals who believed themselves to be in communication with the almighty. Whatever crazy thing prophets would demand of people the people would do for fear of angering the gods.

Of course a prophet is only as good as their ability to predict. Likely as not they would have developed some systematic approach to prediction. However they would have kept it a religious secret. Historically the more successful find positions as advisers to rulers.

Someone like the Pope would have ultimate legal authority. Ours wars would take place at the behest of some deity via their “official” spokeshole here on earth.

Likewise a scientist is only as good as their ability to predict. Just replace all scientific positions with clergy.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 29 March 2011 04:14 AM

So let’s take it a bit farther forward.

Usually the point is made that before Darwin the Argument from Design made God the most plausible explanation for life. That is, before Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable to be an atheist, but after Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable not to be one. There’re plenty of caveats there. In particular, even before Darwin the Argument from Evil made belief in a God somewhat tenuous. But I think there’s plenty to be said for the line of reasoning that makes Darwin crucial to the atheist position, by kicking away one of its most solid supports.

This is really what I was getting out. Perhaps science makes it more reasonable to be a naturalist and atheist, but wouldn’t naturalism and atheism still be the most reasonable position without science? Why would God suddenly seem like a compelling idea without biology?

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Posted: 29 March 2011 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Michael De Dora - 29 March 2011 09:21 AM
dougsmith - 29 March 2011 04:14 AM

So let’s take it a bit farther forward.

Usually the point is made that before Darwin the Argument from Design made God the most plausible explanation for life. That is, before Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable to be an atheist, but after Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable not to be one. There’re plenty of caveats there. In particular, even before Darwin the Argument from Evil made belief in a God somewhat tenuous. But I think there’s plenty to be said for the line of reasoning that makes Darwin crucial to the atheist position, by kicking away one of its most solid supports.

This is really what I was getting out. Perhaps science makes it more reasonable to be a naturalist and atheist, but wouldn’t naturalism and atheism still be the most reasonable position without science? Why would God suddenly seem like a compelling idea without biology?

Well, as I say, it’s the Argument from Design. Where did all this apparent design come from? Why are things so well suited to their environments? Without Darwin, an intelligent God becomes plausible.

It doesn’t get you anything like the God of Abraham. But to take some illustrious examples, many of our Founding Fathers were Deists, presumably for something like this reason. (One required a Divine Watchmaker to get the whole thing started).

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Posted: 29 March 2011 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Seems to me there may still be tribes in the deepest jungles which are examples of a non-scientific society.  I recall a tv show which featured a visit to NewYork by a tribal chief from an obscure tribe which had never seen a white man. He was clearly astounded, but was able to maintain his regal composure.
As I recall, this tribe used only naturally found “tools” and foods from foraging.

Then also comes to mind the famous movie, “The gods must be crazy”, where a simple Coca Cola bottle (dropped from a plane)causes havoc, until one tribesman actually throws it back to the evil god up in the sky. The bottle actually falls back and hurts a child, a clear sign of the displeasure of this god.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Michael De Dora - 29 March 2011 09:21 AM

Perhaps science makes it more reasonable to be a naturalist and atheist, but wouldn’t naturalism and atheism still be the most reasonable position without science?

As I already said above it is the most reasonable position among those “without science” in the Czech Republic. It is also a known fact that many of the 9/11 (and other) Muslim terrorists were educated in science. But let’s keep ignoring these facts and keep pretending that education and scientific knowledge will solve all of our problems.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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George - 29 March 2011 09:50 AM
Michael De Dora - 29 March 2011 09:21 AM

Perhaps science makes it more reasonable to be a naturalist and atheist, but wouldn’t naturalism and atheism still be the most reasonable position without science?

As I already said above it is the most reasonable position among those “without science” in the Czech Republic. It is also a known fact that many of the 9/11 (and other) Muslim terrorists were educated in science. But let’s keep ignoring these facts and keep pretending that education and scientific knowledge will solve all of our problems.

Hey, I never said education and scientific knowledge would solve all of our problems!

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Posted: 29 March 2011 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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dougsmith - 29 March 2011 09:27 AM
Michael De Dora - 29 March 2011 09:21 AM
dougsmith - 29 March 2011 04:14 AM

So let’s take it a bit farther forward.

Usually the point is made that before Darwin the Argument from Design made God the most plausible explanation for life. That is, before Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable to be an atheist, but after Darwin it was somewhat intellectually questionable not to be one. There’re plenty of caveats there. In particular, even before Darwin the Argument from Evil made belief in a God somewhat tenuous. But I think there’s plenty to be said for the line of reasoning that makes Darwin crucial to the atheist position, by kicking away one of its most solid supports.

This is really what I was getting out. Perhaps science makes it more reasonable to be a naturalist and atheist, but wouldn’t naturalism and atheism still be the most reasonable position without science? Why would God suddenly seem like a compelling idea without biology?

Well, as I say, it’s the Argument from Design. Where did all this apparent design come from? Why are things so well suited to their environments? Without Darwin, an intelligent God becomes plausible.

It doesn’t get you anything like the God of Abraham. But to take some illustrious examples, many of our Founding Fathers were Deists, presumably for something like this reason. (One required a Divine Watchmaker to get the whole thing started).

An intelligent designer God might become more plausible, but I’m still not sure it would become reasonable. Even without the scientific knowledge we have, there’s no good reason to believe a divine watchmaker started the whole thing.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Michael De Dora - 29 March 2011 11:17 AM
dougsmith - 29 March 2011 09:27 AM

Well, as I say, it’s the Argument from Design. Where did all this apparent design come from? Why are things so well suited to their environments? Without Darwin, an intelligent God becomes plausible.

It doesn’t get you anything like the God of Abraham. But to take some illustrious examples, many of our Founding Fathers were Deists, presumably for something like this reason. (One required a Divine Watchmaker to get the whole thing started).

An intelligent designer God might become more plausible, but I’m still not sure it would become reasonable. Even without the scientific knowledge we have, there’s no good reason to believe a divine watchmaker started the whole thing.

Well, the scientific knowledge we have now includes Darwinian evolution. Now we have a sense of how everything developed from randomness and the laws of nature. We don’t need anything intelligent there at all.

What you were asking before was what we should have thought pre-Darwin (or pre-scientific-revolution). Certainly pre-Darwin there was no good explanation for the apparent design of biological organisms, except the notion that someone very smart designed them to exacting specifications. (E.g., a deity).

Independent a Darwinian explanation, surely there is some reason (= it’s somewhat reasonable) to accept such an argument.

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Posted: 29 March 2011 06:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I think we start far too far beyond the origins of the scientific method.  It is based on the observation of and response to cause and effect, and even amoebas do that.  It’s basic to the survival of all animal life and even quite a few plants.  If you eliminate recognition of cause and effect, you don’t have to worry.  all advanced (above bacteria and fungi) life would have died off. 

You may want to refine your question to be more precise, Michael.

Occam

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Posted: 29 March 2011 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon - 28 March 2011 11:52 PM

If the scientific method did not exist, I think it’s the world’s safest bet that the modern world would not exist.
At best, we would be primitive hunter-gatherers swinging around in the trees.

[thumbs up smilie]
why this needs to be pointed out, is a whole another question

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Posted: 29 March 2011 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Occam. - 29 March 2011 06:38 PM

I think we start far too far beyond the origins of the scientific method.  It is based on the observation of and response to cause and effect, and even amoebas do that.  It’s basic to the survival of all animal life and even quite a few plants.  If you eliminate recognition of cause and effect, you don’t have to worry.  all advanced (above bacteria and fungi) life would have died off. 

You may want to refine your question to be more precise, Michael.

Occam

Thank you Occam, I was getting real confused reading this thread: like isn’t the scientific process a way of rationally looking at the world around us and rationally processing that incoming information. Seems sort of fundamental.
But, you say it nicer - even if I used less words wink


I’ll wager those first dudes that figured out the correct type of rock, and where to find it, and then how to nap it into useful tools, were exercising the scientific method.

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