Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

NYT columnist Ross Douthat trashes neuroscientist Sam Harris’s scientism

arroba Email

Recently, Harvard’s Steve Pinker has been getting it right, left, and centre, for his defense of scientism. Now, columnist Ross Douthat goes after materialist atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris for thinking that science can be an arbiter of moral values:

I have no problem, and nor should anyone, with Harris declaring that he favors a particular moral system, defining its terms to the best of his ability, and then explaining why he thinks scientific inquiry can help us maximize the end that system privileges. If you know what moral ends you’re driving at, then clearly science can be of assistance in your quest; the idea that the two spheres of inquiry never overlap is obscurantist and silly. But he would be much more persuasive on that narrower point if gave up on the broader one, and reconciled himself to the fact that his style of utilitarianism is not the self-evident and scientific foundation for all sensible moral inquiry that he believes it to be.

Scientism is the clown car of mechanistic materialism. People have lots of fun pointing to it and laughing. How many of them will still be here when the materialist’s combat vehicles move on dissenters and their damning evidence, now that is another matter.

tg, Had me thinking there. I really think it is a trivial matter in the whole scheme of things whether ID is consistent with materialism. It doesn't need to be; but it doesn't contradict if materialism is true. Alien beings could have seeded the earth, and they could have done it with information. The problem with all materialist claims on origins; whether cosmological or biological, is that they don't resolve larger issues. They are either happy not to, or they don't believe they have to. I'm talking about infinite regresses and such. The materialist is ever confined to a metaphysic that is intellectually inadequate. I hope your surgery went well. CannuckianYankee
KN, busy but will reply soon as I can. Cataract "surgery" tomorrow. Looking forward to excellent vision again. :-) tgpeeler
Are you saying that ID and/or materialism are consistent with scientism or are you saying that ID and materialism are consistent with each other since they are both consistent with materialism? It seems both. If I am correct in my understanding, how do you figure that? ID involves information, teleology, mind, etc… all of which are, insofar as I’m aware, conspicuously absent from any version of materialism worth its salt, or a robust materialism, if you prefer.
I was saying that ID is consistent with both 'materialism' and with 'scientism.' Design theory would be inconsistent with materialism only if we had a theory of what intelligence is which showed that intelligence cannot be explained in terms of arrangements of matter (or whatever the basic constituents of physical objects turn out to be). But, we lack such an account, and given the explanatory successes of cognitive science, there's good reason to expect that eventually, we will be able to understand intelligence in terms of brains (or brain-like structures, for non-terrestrial intelligences). Besides which, however, I don't see why design theory would need to saddle itself with the thought that intelligence must be immaterial. Intelligence, material or immaterial, is all that design theory must be committed to. So there's no tension between design theory and a materialistic explanation of intelligence, so far as I can see. As for 'scientism', scientism only says that scientific theories are superior to non-scientific forms of understanding. But design theory, if it is a scientific theory, can perfectly well accept that. So there's no tension between design theory and scientism, so far as I can see. That's why I said that design theory, or the theory of intelligent design, is fully consistent with both scientism and materialism. Hence, anyone who wants to oppose either scientism or materialism (or both) will have to look elsewhere than to intelligent design. Kantian Naturalist
CY, I agree that materialism cannot be lived out and for those (and other reasons involving the moral law) but I don't see how that follows that ID is consistent with materialism because it too, requires information, as does any enterprise which requires thought. No? tgpeeler
tg, I think the point is, is that ID is consistent with materialism and with non-materialism, while materialism itself is not consistent with materialism. You can't live consistently with materialism. Why? Because, while information, teleology, mind, etc., have no explanation in materialism; materialists require at least two of these, mind and information to make their case. ID on the other hand works whether materialism is true (improbable), or not. Panspermia is an example of how ID would work if materialism were true. You don't find many (if any) panspermia supporters on here for good reason. As far as scientism, I think that's a whole other animal. Scientism is an offshoot of materialism for certain; but I think it's the methodological dictum of materialism. Materialism is the creed, while scientism is the method for arriving at the creed. It's all very circular, because the creed says - "'nature' is all there is," while the dictum of scientism says "you can't look at anything but 'nature'." CannuckianYankee
KN @ 2 "Whatever one thinks of “scientism,” it is fully consistent with intelligent design theory. For that matter, so is materialism." Are you saying that ID and/or materialism are consistent with scientism or are you saying that ID and materialism are consistent with each other since they are both consistent with materialism? It seems both. If I am correct in my understanding, how do you figure that? ID involves information, teleology, mind, etc... all of which are, insofar as I'm aware, conspicuously absent from any version of materialism worth its salt, or a robust materialism, if you prefer. tgpeeler
ForJah, "Proving" that objective morality exists from a materialist standpoint is a rather strong request. What is proven to a materialist apart from what passes as empirical? If you want to know that there are objective moral truths, try living consistently with moral relativism. That's all the real evidence you need to be more certain that there are standards against which we dare not deviate. CannuckianYankee
ForJah @ 3: Objective morality can be easily identified. Here's a small summary by Norman Geisler: "The Judeo-Christian concept of right and wrong, unlike non-Christian alternatives, is the only adequate basis for moral action. The reasons for this are many. First, while other ethical views can postulate good moral principles, only a Judeo-Christian view can justify them. This is true for two reasons: (1) Unless ethics is rooted in the unchangeable nature of a morally perfect being (God), there is no basis for believing in moral absolutes. Only an absolute Moral Law-Giver is a sufficient ground for absolute moral laws. (2) If everything is relative, then there is no good reason why anyone ought to refrain from doing anything he or she wants to do, including rape, murder, and genocide. Of course, humanists and others who deny moral absolutes can believe in general moral principles, many of which are noble.18 What they cannot do is justify this belief, since according to their system, there is no real ground for such a belief. Furthermore, only an ethic rooted in a Moral Law-Giver can be truly prescriptive in any objective sense of the word. As noted earlier, a descriptive ethic is no ethic at all. It merely tells us what people are doing, not what they ought to do. And people are doing all kinds of evil of which even relativists do not approve. All that is required to demonstrate this is to try insulting, raping, or killing a relativist. His or her reaction will betray his or her true belief that these acts are wrong. This leads to the observation that we cannot always tell what someone really believes to be right by their actions (since we all fail our own ideals). Reactions to being impinged upon are a far more accurate gauge of what one believes to be right." Barb
Whatever one thinks of “scientism,” it is fully consistent with intelligent design theory. For that matter, so is materialism.
Absolutely because ID is good science. jerry
On the physical reality of objective morality: That objective moral values really do exist is readily apparent to most people with common sense, save for the most die hard atheists who are willing to deny anything and everything rather than ever admit there is any evidence for God:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I think this quote from Martin Luther King is very fitting as to stating objective morality's position within reality:
“The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws.” - Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
But do we have actual empirical evidence for ‘moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws’ as Dr. King held? Yes! I think we now have very good evidence that moral laws are just as abiding as physical laws. In this following study it is found that,,,
Moral evaluations of harm are instant and emotional, brain study shows – November 29, 2012 Excerpt: People are able to detect, within a split second, if a hurtful action they are witnessing is intentional or accidental, new research on the brain at the University of Chicago shows. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-11-moral-instant-emotional-brain.html
Which is pretty good evidence, especially considering the fact that neo-Darwinists cannot maintain a consistent identity towards a stable, unchanging, cause for objective morality in the first place;
The Knock-Down Argument Against Atheist Sam Harris’ moral landscape argument – William Lane Craig – video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL_vAH2NIPc
And although a split second reaction to hateful actions is pretty good, non-locality of morals (i.e. morals that arise outside of space and time and are grounded in the perfect nature of God’s transcendent being) demand a more ‘spooky action at a distance’ proof. And due to the seemingly miraculous advances in science we now have evidence to even this ‘spooky’ level:
Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared. http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/views/TimeFlies.html
As well, the following experiment is very interesting in that it is found that ‘perturbed randomness’ precedes a worldwide crisis:
Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter - Random Number Generators - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007 Mass Consciousness: Perturbed Randomness Before First Plane Struck on 911 - July 29 2012 Excerpt: The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.,, Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers. 'It's Earth-shattering stuff,' says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon. http://www.network54.com/Forum/594658/thread/1343585136/1343657830/Mass+Consciousness-+Perturbed+Randomness++Before+First+Plane+Struck+on+911
Thus we actually have very good evidence supporting Dr. King’s observation that ‘that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws’. In fact, since the emotional reactions happen before the violent images are even viewed, or before the worldwide tragedies occurred, then one would be well justified in believing that morality abides at a much deeper level of the universe than the ‘mere’ physical laws of the universe do (just as a Theist would presuppose that morals would prior to investigation). Moreover, the atheistic materialist is left without a clue as to how such ‘prescient morality’ is even possible for reality. Music and verse:
Keith Urban - For You http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWK1sG3spiE Mark 10:18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.
Blue, you are absolutely right if you are talking about objective morals. They absolutely must come from God. Now prove that objective morals exist and you can finally make a case. And please come up with one that doesn't involve "feelings". ForJah
Whatever one thinks of "scientism," it is fully consistent with intelligent design theory. For that matter, so is materialism. Kantian Naturalist
This is why Dr Lennox's wonderful "Grandmother's Tea" illustration is so powerful. Science is wonderful for many things, but it cannot determine whether something is moral. We FIRST have to do that by a moral code, which comes not from atheism (which can justify anything as 'nature' ergo, okay) but from GOD. It all starts with the moral principle that humans have a right to life, something atheism cannot imbue because in atheism, humans are just an accident and no more special than any other living organism. If it's not immoral to kill bacteria, why is it immoral to kill humans in atheism?
At the beginning of their book, they proudly claim to be atheists. Perhaps so. But my suspicion is that, like those scorned Christians, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world. We have to be special, superior to other denizens of Planet Earth. Christians are open in their beliefs that humans are special and explaining them lies beyond the scope of science. I just wish that our authors were a little more open that this is their view too. http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2010/02/14/new_critique_intends_to_rebut_darwins_ideas/?page=2
This is why morality MUST come from GOD. Blue_Savannah

Leave a Reply