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Michael Lackey - African American Atheists and Political Liberation
Posted: 09 October 2008 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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the PC apeman - 08 October 2008 07:57 PM

Doug, I don’t think I’m hung up on certainty.  That problem dissolves for me the more I explore coherentism (both as a theory of truth and an epistemology.)  The attraction there for me is the reduced reliance on ontology or other metaphysics.  I still don’t see how one justifies the ontological commitment correspondence requires.  Surely the ability to make such a commitment arises solely from our knowledge.  It’s not that I’m uncertain, I just don’t see the need to make any leap of faith.

Well, I’m not seeing where faith comes into it. And any fully worked-out philosophical system has to have an ontology. That’s not something that you can get away from. The only question is whether it is workable and clear or confused and hidden.

Re. coherentism, it is usually contrasted with foundationalism in epistemology. In that sense, I am a coherentist, as should be apparent from my rejection of the cartesian program. However I would prefer not to get hung up on “-isms”, since they bring a lot of unpacked baggage.

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Posted: 09 October 2008 08:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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tinyfrog - 09 October 2008 01:25 AM

Tinyfrog:
I see several problems here. I commented on “science as a fiction”. You respond by talking about how some great thinkers came to wrong conclusions about women. Okay. First of all, the men you named are not and were not “scientists”. Second, just because a scientist says or believes something doesn’t mean it is science.  And third, they never even claimed that “science proves that women are inferior”, nor did they provide a line of reasoning or study to support the claim.

Not true. The natural inferiority of women, like the hierarchies of racial inferiority, were ‘scientifically’ proven beyond all argument by multiple lines of inquiry during the 19th Century, and prominently featured in textbooks well into the 20th.

That the ‘Sciences’ (e.g. phrenology, social darwinism) supposedly justifying this position were later shown to be crap (or refined to reject these earlier tenets) simply illustrates that science cannot escape its nature as a human endeavor, intimately linked with social conditions. The theories of racial hierarchy supporting eugenics, by the way, continue to enjoy periodic revivals in a number of disciplines, not to mention the popular press. Stephen J. Gould’s remarkable work “The Mismeasure of Man” is no post-modernist tract, but certainly underlines the relationship between science and capitalism’s need to cultivate ‘scientific’ rationalizations for the prevailing social order.

In fact, I saw this pattern a lot in the podcast - people would say, “the Bible legitimizes racism” or “humanists of the day legitimized racism” and then, instead of tackling the claims themselves and asking whether there’s a clear logical pathway from one to the other (there isn’t), the postmodernists use the nuclear option: deny the existence of everything, claim that everything is fiction. Wow. Talk about throwing out the baby, the house, and the neighborhood with the bathwater.

One of the more irritating aspects of post-modernism is that its advocates are generally reluctant to define what the term means, while its opponents are more than ready to define it in the most pejorative and nonsensical light possible (drawing from a wealth of examples to support their most extreme conclusions).

The hostility and irritation betrayed in most of the reactions to Lackey’s use of this little word ‘fiction’ are perhaps the best confirmation that he is on to something significant. Imagine a living breathing post-modernist appearing on - of all places - POI and the CFI forums, where we “defenders of Science” all thought we were safe! Why this Lackey fellow even has the impudence to respond thoughtfully and at length to our posts, while accepting major aspects of the enlightenment rationalist worldview (cries of outrage)!

Clearly, the incestuous relationship linking ‘science,’ with politics, money and state power (i.e. the real world) has major implications for science itself… so why would the pro-science camp, of all people, object so angrily to placing such a relationship in the sharpest possible focus? 

But rather than standing back and dispassionately examining where Lackey is coming from historically, weighing the contributions and shortcomings of post-modernism as an approach (and acknowledging the range of opinion among its adherents), we get post after post taking turns ‘swinging for the fences’ at postmodernism (in its standard CFI-issue cartoon version), but rarely making contact with, or even acknowedging a single real point Lackey is making.

I have other points on this under consideration, but for now “big up yourself” to POI and Mr. Grothe for (occasionally) taking us somewhere off the tired old track of ‘rationalist’ self-congratulation.

[ Edited: 09 October 2008 08:07 AM by Balak ]
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Posted: 09 October 2008 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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tinyfrog - 09 October 2008 01:25 AM

Second, just because a scientist says or believes something doesn’t mean it is science.

Added formatting for emphasis just in case this point is missed. You can’t call phrenology science, and “beyond all argument”, that’s absurd. It is not science, if someone were to study the creation and methodology of phrenology then it should be obvious it is pseudo-science. Newton believed in alchemy, that doesn’t delegitimise calculus, Newtonian physics, or Newtonian optics, but conversely it does not legitimise alchemy. Science is knowledge gained by the scientific method, if you think that phrenology is science then you have absolutely no idea what the scientific method is, so cannot say anything intelligent about science.

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Posted: 09 October 2008 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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My point was that phrenology was generally understood as “Science” according to the standards of the 19th Century, and was later exposed to be, in fact, serving other social purposes. Today, likewise, “Science” can be used by some to support various elements of race theory. Does this mean science is simply a narrative on the same plan as alchemy, shamanism or religion? No. Does it point to the need to understand “Science” in its social context? Yes. And above all to remove the idealist, semi-religious aura that some of its would-be defenders (including at CFI) seem prone to attach to the word.

[ Edited: 09 October 2008 11:12 AM by Balak ]
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Posted: 09 October 2008 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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Lots of things were considered science in the 19th century and earlier that are clearly not science as we use it today, you’re conflating two separate things. It is not 19th century figures that determine what is science and what is not science. It has no relation to the scientific method or modern science, you’re ignoring decades of work in the philosophy of science, this is not the 19th century. You cannot blame science for pseudo-science or non-science, you cannot criticize science by using examples of non-science, this is the type of intellectual dishonesty I was talking about. It is not the social context that determines the validity of a theory, that sounds to me like passing knowledge through a filter of doctrine. Whether it is genuine science or not determines the validity. Scientists already treat their study as provisional, they are highly sceptical, highly critical of each others work, no scientific knowledge is ever treated as dogma or doctrine. If you do not know what science is, you cannot legitimately criticize it, or participate in it.

[ Edited: 09 October 2008 10:23 AM by Aj ]
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Posted: 09 October 2008 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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Balak - 09 October 2008 08:00 AM

The hostility and irritation betrayed in most of the reactions to Lackey’s use of this little word ‘fiction’ are perhaps the best confirmation that he is on to something significant.

Touche.

I have continued to ask myself what could possibly be the value in calling sciences (or all thoughts for that matter) a ‘fiction’, given all the obvious downsides?  Then it donned on me, by keeping this idea on the back burners (a provisional construct) it acts as another tool in the toolbox to amplify skepticism and aid in overcoming personal bias.  Lackey would say, claiming all science can be broken down into a meta-narrative or a construct. This seems to be the same thing Doug says about certainty not being 100%:

dougsmith - 08 October 2008 06:13 PM

It is largely an illusion. There is virtually nothing that we can really be certain of.

Let me reiterate with an example.  When the Dover Trials were getting started the media called Ken Miller to get his reaction to the sticker that warned that “evolution is a theory” being added to his text books.  He surprised them by saying something like, “That’s great!  They just didn’t take if far enough.  It should say that all sciences are theories, they are just the best theories to date.”

This response is extremely humble and attentive to the integrity of science.  It points out how science is an ever updating tool, constructed by people, which can only be updated because certainty never reaches 100%.  We should all strive to hold to the big picture concepts that bring on this clarity when analyzing truths.  I didn’t become an atheist because it was true; I became an atheist because it was the most likely conclusion given the evidence.

[ Edited: 09 October 2008 10:49 AM by retrospy ]
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Posted: 09 October 2008 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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Basically what I am saying is that “yes, science is a fiction” but we need to remember to go one step further.  Everything we call knowledge is a fiction, it’s the commonality between our understandings that get us as close to truths as we are able.  Science happens to be the best method for distinguishing these commonalities, to date, because it can be verified by different observers when the conditions are replicated.

Just like we didn’t get mad at Ken Miller for making everyone in the Dover trial think harder about science, we can’t get mad at Michael Lackey for making us think harder about epistemology.  However, another of Lackey’s comments appears to rubs me the wrong way and I’d really like to hear more.  I assume this is related to the Munchhausen Trillema?

Lackey
I am planning to write an essay to explain why postmodernism ultimately makes skepticism incoherent.


abstract thought / side note: does the following count as a joke, and is it funny?

Should Munchhausen be spelled with one “h”?  rolleyes

[ Edited: 09 October 2008 11:19 AM by retrospy ]
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Posted: 09 October 2008 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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dougsmith - 09 October 2008 07:02 AM

Well, I’m not seeing where faith comes into it. And any fully worked-out philosophical system has to have an ontology. That’s not something that you can get away from. The only question is whether it is workable and clear or confused and hidden.

Re. coherentism, it is usually contrasted with foundationalism in epistemology. In that sense, I am a coherentist, as should be apparent from my rejection of the cartesian program. However I would prefer not to get hung up on “-isms”, since they bring a lot of unpacked baggage.

I hadn’t picked up on your preference for coherentist epistemology.  I’m sure reading your posts in that light will be even more instructive for me.  And yes, it was sloppy of me to lump together coherence theory of truth and epistemological coherentism.  Though I thought you had invited less technicality in terms and I thought it was clear that I was speaking about two different things.  No matter.

I may have an idea that will clarify the theory of truth point I’m trying to make here.  But I’m currently stealing a moment at work to make this reply.  I’ll put it together later this afternoon when I get a bit more time.

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Posted: 09 October 2008 03:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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I usually judge an idea on its merits but I’ve heard of this method. Before we all start measuring ire to see whether an argument is legitimate lets remember the other subjects that raise the same fustrations, for instance, Creationism.

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Posted: 09 October 2008 06:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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Doug, and anyone else who is interested,  I’ve moved my hijack to a new thread.

Michael, if you have the time and inclination, I’d like to hear your perspective too.

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Posted: 09 October 2008 07:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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Gransha, I don’t have much time, but I want to respond quickly to your message.  Your position is virtually identical to Jacques Derrida’s, and explaining why will help me expose some of the fallacious assumptions about postmodernism.  Derrida’s distinctive brand of postmodernism derives from Nietzsche’s claim in the Genealogy of Morals, which is based on this idea of the concept: “all concepts in which an entire process is semiotically concentrated elude definition; only that which has no history is definable.”  Because there is no God to author or authorize neutral and objective concepts, what we have of concepts are human constructions.  Because human constructions are embedded within space and time, they will inevitably shift and evolve.  In other words, only that which has no history is definable in a metaphysical sense.  But since everything is embedded within history, nothing is definable.  For postmodern rationalists, concepts about gravity are extremely valuable, not because they are metaphysically true, but because they enable us to systematize our world and to function well within that world.  So when fundamentalist humanists say that postmodern rationalists deny the existence of gravity, the postmodernist can only look at the fundamentalist humanist with absolute puzzlement.  Postmodernist rationalists believe that science, as a fiction, is one of the most effective systems of constructed knowledge we have available to us for living the good life.  THEY DO NOT REJECT SCIENCE, REASON, OR LOGIC: THEY MERELY CLAIM THAT THEY ARE EXTREMELY VALUABLE HUMAN CONSTRUCTIONS.

(As a side note: Fundamentalist Christians consistently tell me that atheists cannot be moral.  But when I retort: let’s look at the writings of humanists, skeptics, postmodernists, and atheists, and you will find that they consistently take moral stances.  And when we examine their lives, we find that they actually behave in a moral way.  No matter how much I argue, they simply refuse to listen.  You cannot argue in a rational or civil manner with fundamentalists.  I would say that the same applies to fundamentalist humanists.  No matter how much I tell them that postmodernists discriminate between conceptual systems, no matter how many times I claim that fiction does not necessarily mean false, no matter how many times I say that I respect science and that I think religion is nonsense, no matter how much I affirm the need for logic and reason, fundamentalist humanists impute to me (and postmodernists) a position that I do not at all hold—that in calling science a fiction, I am denying the existence of gravity.  They treat me the same way a fundamentalist Christian treats me: as if I’m stupid, uneducated, or evil.  The problem here, of course, is not with humanism.  The problem is with fundamentalism, and you don’t have to be a Christian to be a fundamentalist.)

Now let’s get to the core of the position.  Since concepts are human constructed, and since they have a history, we can never totally pin them down.  This is Derrida’s position.  Take, for instance, the idea of postmodernism.  What do we mean by postmodernism?  The line of postmodernism I follow runs from Nietzsche, Vaihinger, and Saussure through Sartre and late Wittgenstein, to Derrida, Lyotard, and Nancy.  But there is another tradition of postmodernism that begins with Heidegger and builds toward Deleuze and Guattari.  Now, if you were to ask me to define postmodernism, I would probably give you a language-based definition, and in my definition, the writings of all the writers I mention above in the first list would play some sort of role.  If you ask a Heiedeggerian-inspired postmodernist, he or she would probably give you a Being-based definition.  Put simply, there are an infinite variety of definitions of postmodernism, though they all seem to have something to do with getting rid of metaphysical truth.  In their details, they differ from one person to the next.  Given the infinite number of possibilities, Derrida draws exactly the same conclusion as you (Gransha), that “one’s personal experiences can never be shared because we do not share a mind or the same personal history that has brought us to the point in time where we are sharing an experience.”  When Derrida says that we can never have exact knowledge of a concept, what he means is this: words take shape within different contexts, and since our contexts are so radically different, and since there is no such thing as a transcendental signifier, the concepts that we have will differ from one person to the next.  Does this mean that gravity, for Derrida, translates into non-gravity?  Absolutely not.  What it does mean is that two people will never have matching concepts in their two brains.  But if they understand the basic axioms of a particular conceptual system, they will be in the same ballpark.  So gravity, for a postmodernist, cannot mean non-gravity—that is just a humanist’s cartoon caricature of postmodernism, and when humanists make that joke about postmodernism, they are saying nothing about postmodernism.  They are just disclosing the fact that they haven’t read postmodernist texts. 

I have so much more to say, but I really have to run.

Talk to you later,
michael

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Posted: 10 October 2008 05:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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lacke010 - 09 October 2008 07:55 PM

Postmodernist rationalists believe that science, as a fiction, is one of the most effective systems of constructed knowledge we have available to us for living the good life.

Why is it effective for living the good life? To propose this as an assurance that you don’t reject science is another deception, you’re being intentionally vague. When favouring science you say nothing about its relation to nature.

lacke010 - 09 October 2008 07:55 PM

THEY MERELY CLAIM THAT THEY ARE EXTREMELY VALUABLE HUMAN CONSTRUCTIONS

It implies relativism and extreme scepticism, your explanations only make this clearer. If by “constructions” you mean the same as other post-modernists and how the term is commonly used then clearly this is the case. If not then you can’t expect readers to understand you, as with “fiction” meaning “provisional” (a perfectly unobjectionable word). You can’t disregard the utility of language, which is to communicate.

Also, sticking “fundamentalist” in front of humanist, and “rationalist” behind post-modernist, is not arguing in a rational or civil manner, and neither is continually being disingenuous.

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Posted: 10 October 2008 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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AJ, Of course language has utility.  That’s its function.  I don’t understand why it wouldn’t have utility.  And as for relativism, there needs to be some nuance here.  There’s absolute relativism—gravity, as some humanists impute to postmodernists, could equally mean non-gravity.  Postmodernists would reject that assertion, and they would do so because of the way we use the word gravity.  But then there’s soft relativism—the word gravity will have different meanings within different contexts and among different people.  You probably have a thousand pieces of information in your brain about the concept of gravity, and I might have only 847 pieces of information.  Those subtle shades of meaning will never match up.  We will never be able to say with certainty that your fictional concept of gravity is the same as my fictional concept.  But we have both accept some similar ways of conceptualizing the word gravity (despite all of our minor differences and nuances), which is why we can have a discussion about the word.  That’s the postmodernist position about language be unstable.  By the way, I’m not trying to persuade any of you to become postmodernists.  I’m just trying to show you that we are not as stupid, uneducated, irrational, or illogical as many of you portray us to be. 
m

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Posted: 10 October 2008 08:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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AJ, One last comment: you seem to be critical of my usage of postmodern rationalists and fundamentalist humanists, but let me briefly explain why I do this.  There are, no doubt, make postmodernists who are intellectual hacks—their work is sloppy, incoherent, and inconsistent.  And some postmodernists do adopt an anti-rationalist position.  I find that brand of postmodernism unfortunate and unconvincing.  So I distinguish postomdern rationalists from anti-rationalist postmodernists.

Now what about fundamentalist humanists.  Here’s an interesting thing for me.  Some people have commented on this thread that DJ caught me when he pressed me on the topic of their being no concept out there because there is no God.  Do you all realize that before the interview with DJ, he goes over the questions with the person he is going to interview?  Do you also realize that he tells the person he is going to interview that he intends to challenge him or her during the interview.  Here’s what he said to me: I’m going to challenge you in order to draw you out, in order to get as much of the position out there as possible.  DJ is, in no way, shape, or form, is a fundamentalist humanist.  During our email conversations before the interview, he asked extremely respectful questions about my view on postmodern humanism, and he even said that he liked much of what I was saying.  I do not believe that he wholeheartedly agrees with what I say (in fact, I’m relatively certain that he would disagree with me on some key issues), but I can assure you, he listened patiently to my ideas, he understands what I am saying, and he has been supportive and respectful during this whole process.  There are, however, fundamentalist humanists who will use the exact same strategies as fundamentalist Christians to demonize those people with whom they disagree.  To my mind, fundamentalism is less about the ideas than one holds than it is about the way we engage others. 

I hope this explains why I make these distinctions. 
michael

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Posted: 10 October 2008 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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And in this case it would seem that post-modernism is badly explaining trivial claims. It seems trivial to suggest words, as meaning carriers, are relative to context and person. We cannot be certain that others have the same concept of gravity. Post-modernism, in this regard, doesn’t seem to be adding anything new, or objectionable. Concepts as “pieces of information” is not helpful, also a difference in quantity of pieces of information doesn’t necessarily mean a different concept. We can’t be certain that the concepts in minds are the same. Scientists don’t have to be certain that their concept of gravity is the same, just be reasonably assured that it is. We don’t have to be certain, but we can investigate, reduce, and test expressions of concepts to a high standard. As you can assure me that DJ understands you.

As you should know, “fundamentalism” has a common meaning. You use words expecting me to know the meaning of them, but cannot reasonably expect me to understand new meanings carried by words with different common meanings. The same goes for “fiction”, “construction”, and “post-modernism”. If I use the common meanings of these words, your statements seem to be suggesting a truth relativism, and extreme scepticism. If you’re not using those meanings, then you might as well make up new words, because I’m not going to understand you either way. When you say you accept science, but think it’s a construction, that’s a contradiction to me, knowing what I know about post-modernism and what a construct is.

When I say “relativism”, as I understand in common in general, I am talking about truth relativism. This seems to be confirmed, if the only difference you can give between science and religion is that one can be rationally discussed or it’s democratic then that’s a rejection of science as knowledge. If science is not superior because of its relation to truth, but for its democratic and rational nature, then knowledge gained by science has no different relation to truth than the revelations of religion, that implies to me truth relativism and extreme scepticism, a rejection of science.

[ Edited: 10 October 2008 10:28 AM by Aj ]
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