NZ Evolution Survey

This from Scepticon (see Evolution Survey).

“Just a quick post to spread the word about a survey covering the public acceptance of evolution in New Zealand and the effect (if any) of religious/spiritual beliefs on the the extent to which evolution is accepted in the wider community. The survey can be found Here, and the results will be presented around November 2009.

The survey is being conducted by Drs Marc Wilson and Peter Ritchie of Victoria University in Wellington. I hope to secure an interview with the two Drs closer to the release of the data to get their views on the implication of the findings. In the mean time go participate in the survey, it will only take a few minutes and will be time well spent.”

I have just done the survey – its pretty thorough but doesn’t take long.

Definitely worth doing – and I certainly look forward to the results.

Thanks Scepticon

Go to New Zealand Evolution Survery

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49 responses to “NZ Evolution Survey

  1. I did the survey and one of the questions about whether you believe God guided evolution made me think: if you are a ‘theistic evolutionist’ how is this different from being a ‘cdesign proponentist’? Aren’t they really just one-and-the-same? I know that many IDers believe in evolution but that it wouldn’t have happened the way it did without direct intervention from God. Does a theistic evolutionist believe that life followed the path it did without the influence of God? If so, why not just ‘evolutionist’?

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  2. Good question, Damian,
    I’d say the key distinction between a Theist who warmly accepts evolution and a ‘CDesign’ Theist is that the “CDesign-ist” would point to “gaps” in natural processes which evolution by natural selection cannot “leap” (most commonly pointing to the [currently] widest ‘gap’, right at the start of evolution: abiogenesis), declaring ‘God had to have advanced the biological machine at this point’; whilst a Theist accepting evolutionary theory (or any biological theory) sees divine activity as the (here come the metaphors) ‘foundation’ for and ‘source’ of natural activity.

    And, I agree about the “theistic evolutionist” tag; it’s far better to distinguish biology from theology when such issues come up. However, perhaps the term is useful for a passing affiliation-demonstrating tag, demonstrating a person’s affiliation with both evolution and theism?

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  3. This may be a result of my current thinking because of the book (Quantum God) I am reading:

    Isn’t the concept of the role of a god for kicking things off, foundation, starting life or setting the rules a deist position?

    Isn’t the Christian god an “interfering” god – and therefore more consistent with most of the ID people who claim that an intelligence interfered to provide information, create complexity – all things that could not (in their view) arise from below?

    If so aren’t most modern theologians who accept science tending towards a deist position.

    And aren’t most (or a good proportion of) lay Christians who believe in an interfering god they can communicate with and which will change, interfere in, the world, actually more in line with the attitude of the IDers?

    (I agree that the ID concept could be aligned with deism, a god that sits back after designing and kicking things off. But in practice practically all creations/IDers would lump for an intervening god.)

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  4. I’ve done the survey. I found myself nitpicking some of the questions… (what else is a scientist to do?)

    ‘develop’ in the first panel and the reference to a particular G-d have problems. Although correct in one sense, ‘develop’ is too broad, including processes outside of evolution or (conventional) theology. For example, any reply from Raelians would probably confound the question.

    In the second page, the subtleties of evolution make some questions not quite right for a nitpicking biologist 🙂 To my thinking, anyway. Taking the “general public” view of what a biologist thinks you’d reply “most strongly”, but the devil in the detail leaves you replying a tad less.

    For example: Throughout the ages living things have developed to better fit their environment, what about genetic drift?

    Also: All life on earth developed from a common ancestor via mutation and natural selection. Genetic drift is missing (which some consider more important than selection), and there is the issue this wording implying a single common ancestor (this isn’t as trivial as one or two or whatever, once you consider horizontal transfer, fusion and other similar events).

    Earliest life on earth dates to 3.7 billion years: you’d suspect the exact date will change, I’ve see 3.8 billion given for example. There is also some argument over the earlier micro-fossils as to if they are actually cells or the result of some (to me!) rather exotic geological processes.

    All plants and animals evolved from other species: strictly speaking you might be able to argue this isn’t true for the first plant or animal if you’re bothered by the notion of prokaryotes having species.

    I guess I could be accused of over-thinking some of the questions in the survey 🙂 But, hey, I know it.

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  5. A bit busy at the mo, so can’t get into a long discussion, but just a quick comment to say that the Christian picture of God is certainly not deistic, but rather is of a God who creates and sustains/upholds. Not only a one-off deistic single act of creation, but a continual acting to sustain, bring order, etc. The language of ‘intervention’ could be unpacked for a few hundred comments 🙂 , but the idea is that God is always active in His creation – sometimes powerfully.

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  6. Stunning level of pedantry there Heraclides, have you considered joining the league .

    Thesitic evoluton the way it’s usually articulated does seem pretty deist to me – accepting evolutionary biology explains the origins of life etc but hanging on to God the Creator as the force which made a universe in which evolution could work.

    I’ve heard others talk about God giving life a helping hand and certain key junctures (like the monoliths in 2001?) which is the same kind of the thing as cdesignism (but admriably not masqarading as a scientific theory or being pushed on highschool biology teachers)

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  7. David,

    Nah, that’s for people who are permanently pedantic 🙂 I’m only doing it for fun. I find it fun how most questionnaires are misleading if taken literally, as opposed to working off what (you guess!) is the intended meaning. Most of the others above are saying much the same really, just on the particular points they find curious to themselves. (This also reminds me of a certain public referendum, for that matter!)

    Some researchers really would object to leaving out genetic drift, though, e.g. the author of Sandwalk” (http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/), who frequently points out instances of genetic drift being left out. Genetic drift may not be well known to the “lay” public, but it’s an important source of evolutionary change.

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  8. I think Larry Moran read Stephen Jay Gould at a very impressionable age (the way other people read the bible or Ayn Rand). Genetic drift is no doubt an important phenomenon but the main question your man on the street wants answered in terms of evolution is ‘how did all those creatures get to be so good at what they do’ and in that case the answer really is natural selection so the two concepts of evolution and natural selection get munged together in people’s minds.

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  9. Did the survey.
    There seemed to be a lot of repetition, but otherwise the survey wasn’t too badly designed.

    I noticed one leading question (in particular):
    “One of the negative effects of science and technology is that it destroys people’s religious beliefs.” – That rather depends of whether “science” means as discovered or as propounded.

    Also, there was a lack of distinction with regards to the disparate aspects of evolution: common descent vs natural selection within a gene pool.

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  10. Ross

    That question:

    One of the negative effects of science and technology is that it destroys people’s religious beliefs

    … annoyed me too, but for different reasons.

    I do hold the opinion that science and technology destroys people’s religious beliefs. However, I consider this to be an extremely positive aspect of science and technology.

    Oh, dilemma

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  11. Yes – that question stick out for me too. My reaction was the same as Ubiquitous Che.

    Dale – I take your point about the Christian god – but it does present a dilemma for theistic evolutionists. I can see a theistic scientist arguing that her deistic god created the universe and its rational order (in their sense created physical laws – although that is a funny sort of assumption). So this enables them to do science.

    However, because the Christian god intervenes, violates these physical laws, how can they do science? There seems to be a basic conflict with the Judean/Christian/Muslim god belief and a rational, law-abiding universe envisaged by the scientific process.

    I think this leads to all sorts of theological mental gymnastics – such as opportunist use of quantum mechanical and chaos theory concepts by people like Keith Ward and others.

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  12. Ken,
    Again, just time for a quick comment. First there is the non-deistic-ness seen in pretty much all forms of monotheism, in the ongoing, continual sustaining and ordering action of God (through, but not limited to, nature). And second, there is the question of how to view ‘interventions’ (or whatever we call them). You use the word ‘violates’ (with hostile connotations), but I think we can also see these ‘interventions’ in a way that is not a violation of nature. Some have made a distinction between the ‘normal’ course of things on one hand (the language of ‘sustaining’ is fitting here), calling these the “customs of the creator” (thus making scientific enquiry a rich and fruitful enterprise); and on the other hand ‘non-normal’ activity.

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  13. Dale – I appreciate that you may “see these ‘interventions’ in a way that is not a violation of nature.” But, from a scientist’s perspective so-called “violations/interventions” of the rationality of reality have to be seen as rational and logical in themselves – capable of being investigated and incorporated into a rational concept of reality. We are quite used to adjusting our theories of reality – so why should we make exemptions for a religious claim? We have to see it as part of a rational reality.

    That’s where I think any attempt to reconcile religion with science breaks down. For example – Ken Miller impresses me as a scientist and a communicator. But when I read his attempts to reconcile his religious views with his science he comes across very weakly. I suspect he is quite aware of that so does not do it very often.

    I think people like him are probably happiest when they accept compartmentalisation. After all, we all do that to some extent.

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  14. You might want to call this ‘bafflegab’, but I think it’s relatively simple and easy to understand that when you talk about the need for ‘interventions’ “to be seen as rational and logical in themselves – capable of being investigated and incorporated into a rational concept of reality“, the question is raised: “what method of ‘investigation’ do we have in mind?” Surely if it’s a non-normative (i.e. non-natural) action, then we wouldn’t expect it to be ‘investigated’ with natural methodology, would we?

    But this (I sense) is really about ‘miracles’ (non-normative divine actions upon created reality), and whether or not they are ‘welcome interventions’ of natural processes. We need not even bring in a discussion of the ‘miraculous’ to see that the Christian picture of God is of a continually active, sustaining/ordering creator who acts (among other ways) through nature (which is compatible with the theory of evolution).

    And you may call that ‘compartmentalisation’, but others simply see it as distinguishing natural and divine activity (or physics and metaphysics).

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  15. Dale,

    Just for fun: try define “normal” in this context. I suspect it’ll show up your biases 😉

    No offence, but none of your claims are substantiated, nor can be.

    There is a (big) difference between being straight-forward and saying “I know these claims of mine can’t be substantiated in any way” and trying to make justifications for them.

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  16. Heraclides,
    1) What kind of ‘substantiation’ do you have in mind, and 2) how do they fail to be ‘substantiated’?

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  17. Copping out all over the place, aren’t you?

    ‘Nuff said.

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  18. Sorry Heraclides, not good enough. You’re not allowed to ease off. I won’t allow it. ^_^

    Dale:

    1) ‘Substantiated’ in this case is just a fancy word for ‘shown to be something more than a mere work of fiction’.

    2) A claim fails to be ‘substantiated’ if such a distinction cannot be made.

    Also, you failed to define normal as requested.

    As an additional challenge: As you raised the subject of physics vs. metaphysics, can you provide any evidence to suggest that any form of metaphysics is anything more than a mental construct in the minds of human beings? Such a construct may be of high utility value; but even so, a construct it would still remain (please quote Kant, please quote Kant, please quote Kant…).

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  19. U.C., et al:
    On ‘substantiation’:
    I hope you’re not of the opinion that God can be proven or disproven. ‘Substantiation’ can be empirical/scientific (i.e. “there is a substantial body of empirical/scientific evidence for evolution by natural selection”), and it can be logical/philosophical. Theological claims are not scientific claims, but philosophical ones.

    On ‘normal’:
    As for ‘normal’, I’m referring to the normative (which was the actual word I used) pattern of behaviour which characterises nature. This belief underlies all controlled experiments, for if nature could behave differently under exactly the same conditions, then experiments could not be controlled, etc.

    On physics/metaphysics:

    …can you provide any evidence to suggest that any form of metaphysics is anything more than a mental construct in the minds of human beings? Such a construct may be of high utility value; but even so, a construct it would still remain (please quote Kant, please quote Kant, please quote Kant…).

    You ask for ‘evidence’ that any metaphysical entity is anything ‘more’ (or ‘other’?) than a mental construct in the minds of human beings. First, I presume you mean ‘logical’ evidence, yes? Second, it occurs to me that any logical ‘evidence’ for metaphysical things could itself be said to be a mental construct (as could any logical ‘evidence’ against metaphysical things).

    For me, what very little I know of Bernard Lonergan (sorry, I don’t know enough Kant to quote him!), I find his notion of critical intelligence compelling. These imperatives are self-evidently ‘true’, such that any critique of them serves to be a demonstration of their veracity.
    1. Be attentive (pay attention, get the whole picture, listen, etc.).
    2. Be intelligent (critically reflect on, understand and ‘make sense of’ what you’ve been attentive to).
    3. Be reasonable (make sensible judgments based on critical reflection on this…).
    4. Be responsible (respond appropriately, etc.).

    Again, any critiques or natural (evolutionary, etc.) explanations of the above imperatives will themselves serve to demonstrate obedience to the very imperatives being explained.

    Now, also it’s hopeless trying to prove that ‘x’ is actually only ‘b-masquerading-as-x’ merely based on observations of ‘b’. In other words, the mental activity (constructive or otherwise) to ‘get to’ metaphysics does not even for a moment reduce metaphysics to merely that mental activity.

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  20. I hope you’re not of the opinion that God can be proven or disproven.

    Of course not. Proof and disproof are mathematical concepts. However, God’s existence may still be evaluated.

    I’d also ask you to clarify your distinction between “empirical/scientific” and “logical/philosophical”. My understanding of logical argument was that the arguer will attempt to achieve a controversial conclusion by constructing a sound logical argument based on uncontroversial statements from which that conclusion logically follows.

    So the logical/philosophical endeavor requires that both the Logical Objection (the argument does not follow) and the Material Objection (the premise of the argument is untrue) must be successfully overcome. That is to say; I have understood that empiricism is an inherent part of the logical/philosophical endeavor. If that is the case – and I invite criticism if you feel me to be incorrect – then I feel you’ve set up a false dichotomy by contrasting one against the other, as if evidence was separate from logic, or that there could ever be a philosophical conclusion that did not rely on evidence to support its premises.

    You ask for ‘evidence’ that any metaphysical entity is anything ‘more’ (or ‘other’?) than a mental construct in the minds of human beings. First, I presume you mean ‘logical’ evidence, yes?

    Err… I wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as ‘logical’ evidence. As described above, my understanding is that there is the logical form of an argument, and that the premises on which that argument rests must each be supported with persuasive evidence.

    As to the nature of that evidence – well, we cannot be certain that the universe really is as it seems, but we can at least be certain of how the universe seems. That seeming, flawed though it very well may be, is the only thing of which we can rightly say we know. It is from that seeming that the foundations (premises) of our arguments must be laid down. Anything else is fabrication of mind – good as art in general, but poor as that subsection of art known as ‘logical argumentation’.

    Second, it occurs to me that any logical ‘evidence’ for metaphysical things could itself be said to be a mental construct (as could any logical ‘evidence’ against metaphysical things).

    So given my confusion over what I do genuinely feel to be a contradiction in terms – ‘logical evidence’ – I’m sure you can see how I find the text above to be utterly incomprehensible. I have completely failed to understand you.

    For me, what very little I know of Bernard Lonergan (sorry, I don’t know enough Kant to quote him!), I find his notion of critical intelligence compelling. These imperatives are self-evidently ‘true’, such that any critique of them serves to be a demonstration of their veracity.

    That there could be such a thing as the self-evidently ‘true’ – now there’s a controversial claim in need of a sound argument!

    That aside, all I see here is a list of disconnected impositions; that is to say, a moral code. And I can consider several situations in which they don’t work.

    For example, consider attentiveness. Attentiveness has rewards, but is costly. To be attentive to the point that the cost exceeds the reward would be foolish. And to be attentive in a situation where no reward can be had from such attentiveness at all even moreso.

    And although you may wish to argue that I have ‘proven’ the point by my attentiveness here, that is also skewed. My attentiveness is appropriate to the context – that doesn’t change the fact that in other context, the appropriate level of attentiveness is none whatsoever.

    Now, also it’s hopeless trying to prove that ‘x’ is actually only ‘b-masquerading-as-x’ merely based on observations of ‘b’.

    Of course – proof only exists in mathematics, as I have previously said.

    However, if we substitute ‘explain’ for ‘prove’, then it is obvious that you have ignored a, c, d, and e. The best explanation is that which accommodates them all. It may still be false, and we may need to alter it when we get around to looking at f. Thus my understanding that x is never true in a metaphysical sense – it is only a temporary mental construct, tuned for the best results in dealing with a, b, and c.

    In other words, the mental activity (constructive or otherwise) to ‘get to’ metaphysics does not even for a moment reduce metaphysics to merely that mental activity.

    I think that I’ve just shown that to be the case, actually. If something really was metaphysically true, we could still only find out about it via some kind of seeming – even thought itself is something that ‘seems’ (I have a nifty mental experiment that demonstrates this property of thought if you’re interested).

    I am yet to discover or conceive of any such ‘seeming’ that could do the job of ‘getting to’ such a metaphysical truth. Thus, I have understood all metaphysical claims to be useful lies about the world.

    Have you some ‘seeming’ denied to me that has suggested otherwise?

    If you do, then why be so miserly with this knowledge?

    And if you don’t, what possible line of logical argument could you even begin to propose to justify the conclusion that there is any such thing as metaphysics – a term you have conflated with divine activity? I can’t even imagine what a sound logical argument of this form would even begin to look like.

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  21. I hope you’re not of the opinion that God can be proven or disproven.

    I hope you’re not of the opinion that the Flying Spaghetti Monster can be proven or disproven.

    I hope you’re not of the opinion that ghosts can be proven or disproven.

    I hope you’re not of the opinion that Pink Unicorns can be proven or disproven.

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  22. As for ‘normal’

    I probably should really have asked for examples of what is normal, rather than a definition, but never mind…

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  23. Thanks U.C.,
    The tone and patience of your engagement is exemplary.

    I have understood that empiricism is an inherent part of the logical/philosophical endeavor. If that is the case – and I invite criticism if you feel me to be incorrect – then I feel you’ve set up a false dichotomy by contrasting one against the other, as if evidence was separate from logic, or that there could ever be a philosophical conclusion that did not rely on evidence to support its premises.

    I certainly want to value empiricism and empirically-derived knowledge. But the logical/philosophical endeavour includes both empiricism and other-than-empiricism (note that this is not ‘anti’-empiricism). I contrasted them not to imply that they were mutually exclusive, but rather that evidence for a being prior to all things would not be empirically investigated (as if a creator of all things would have the same kind of existence as what it created!).

    …‘logical’ evidence. As described above, my understanding is that there is the logical form of an argument, and that the premises on which that argument rests must each be supported with persuasive evidence.

    Perhaps it’s better to say “the evidence of logical coherency”?

    That *seeming*, flawed though it very well may be, is the only thing of which we can rightly say we know. It is from that seeming that the foundations (premises) of our arguments must be laid down. Anything else is fabrication of mind – good as art in general, but poor as that subsection of art known as ‘logical argumentation’.

    Can I ask you: if we’re starting from a foundation of ‘seeming’-ness of reality, how do we distinguish between a fabrication or a truth – between poor art and good art (as you put it)??

    on critical imperatives:
    First I think the self-demonstrating aspect of these imperatives is “the evidence of logic” 😉 that they are ‘self-evidently true’. Any critique of them obedieintly follows them.

    For example, even your critique about there being contexts where no attentiveness is best, etc. is itself reached prior to an 1) attentive observation about a relationship between context and attentiveness, 2) & 3) intelligent reflection on it and a reasonable judgment about it, and 4) the desire to be responsible to the observations about there being some times where attentiveness is not best.
    Thinking about these imperatives in reverse order (and they do have an order, they’re not ‘disconnected impositions’) may help. We don’t get notions of what is responsible action without making what we hope to be a reasonable judgment about things, and we don’t make reasonable judgments divorced from intelligent reflection on things, and we don’t reflect intelligently on things we’ve not been attentive to.
    I think it’s pretty self-demonstrating.
    Love to hear your thoughts.

    The best explanation is that which accommodates them all. It may still be false, and we may need to alter it when we get around to looking at f. Thus my understanding that x is never true in a metaphysical sense – it is only a temporary mental construct, tuned for the best results in dealing with a, b, and c.

    I agree. But in the sense of reality –especially if we’ve only a ‘seeming’ foundation for our perception of it!– we don’t know how many “letters” are in the “alphabet”. We can merely reach for coherence with what we know (and how we know it). Having said that, it might be more helpful to say it like this:

    Now, also it’s hopeless trying to prove that ‘4’ is actually only ‘b-masquerading-as-4’ merely based on observations of ‘b’.

    Thus, the number/letter distinction can be likened to the metaphysical/’physical’ distinction…

    If something really was metaphysically true, we could still only find out about it via some kind of seeming – even thought itself is something that ’seems’ (I have a nifty mental experiment that demonstrates this property of thought if you’re interested).

    Do share the thought experiment. 🙂

    Look forward to your engagement – it’s a breath of fresh air.

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  24. EDIT:
    “…even your critique about there being contexts where no attentiveness is best, etc. is itself reached prior to after an 1) attentive observation…”

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  25. rather that evidence for a being prior to all things would not be empirically investigated

    Can you recognise this as dismissing inquiry, Dale?

    It’s a standard tenet of all religions: make out to followers that the central claims are off-limits to inquiry.

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  26. Heraclides,
    It’s not dismissing all inquiry, just empirical inquiry (as if that were the only kind of inquiry?).

    And you could say it’s a standard tenet of many (note I did not say ‘all’) atheists that all possible gods be fully accessible to empirical enquiry 😉

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  27. Hmm… I think this response will work best if I actually work backwards through your post.

    ————————————

    Last thing first: Here’s the thought experiment – although perhaps ‘thought experiment’ is a misleading term. Hmm.

    Anyway, you want to perform the following:

    1) Allow yourself to breathe normally.
    2) As you breathe in, mentally count one for the entire length of the breath; … ooooooonnnnnnnneeeeee…
    3) As you breathe out, mentally count two (… twwwwwwoooooooo…)for the entire length of the breath.
    4) Continue the count upwards, and when you hit ten, start the next in-breath at one.
    5) Repeat as necessary.

    This exercise will focus concentration on counting your breath. Eventually – and probably very quickly – your concentration will be interrupted by a thought. What you are trying to do in this exercise is to observe that moment of interruption.

    What I’ve found (and others before me) is that the thought inflicts itself upon consciousness as if it were something from outside. It is something that is experienced, something that seems, just as sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell are things that seem.

    Give it a go – I’m always interested to hear how people react to this little exercise in observation.

    ———————————–

    … it might be more helpful to say it like this:

    Now, also it’s hopeless trying to prove that ‘4’ is actually only ‘b-masquerading-as-4’ merely based on observations of ‘b’.

    Actually, I’ll be annoying and suggest an alternative. I’ve noticed that a certain kind of metaphysical thinker get’s drearily enthusiastic about capitalization, and will insist on referring to Absolute Truth.

    Taking this in mind, could I suggest the following notation:

    “Now, also it’s hopeless trying to prove that ‘A’ is actually only ‘a-masquerading-as-A’ merely based on observations of ‘a’”

    It doesn’t really matter – I just find that this feels a bit nicer on the brain, is all.

    I’ll assume that notation from now on, unless you object. If you don’t like it, I’ll use whatever notation you like, it’s no biggie.

    ——————-

    I agree. But in the sense of reality –especially if we’ve only a ’seeming’ foundation for our perception of it!– we don’t know how many “letters” are in the “alphabet”. We can merely reach for coherence with what we know (and how we know it).

    You have no disagreement from me there – I think that the crux of our disagreement is the implications we draw for metaphysics from this point.

    I am arguing that this means we cannot ‘get to’ metaphysical truth at all – even to the point that we cannot know, to metaphysical certainty, that there is a ‘metaphysical truth’ to get to in the first place.

    1a. Metaphysical truth (if such a thing exists) cannot be ‘got to’ via seeming.
    2a. Seeming is the only basis for knowledge that we have.
    Therefore,
    3a. We cannot ‘get to’ metaphysical truth.

    So to me, the ‘real’ is a, b, c, d, and so on. A, B, C, and D are just lies we tell ourselves about a, b, c and d.

    Due to necessity and boredom, we have a powerful need for such useful lies. But as far as I can tell, lies are all that we are capable of telling ourselves about metaphysical truths. The claim that there is such a thing as ‘metaphysical truth’ may itself be true. But to tell ourselves that we know it is true, that seems to me to be a lie of impressive utility, but a lie nonetheless.

    ————————————————-

    On the other hand, you seem to be arguing (and please do correct me if I am mistaken) that the inadequacy of seeming validates other methods of inquiry into metaphysics as valid.

    1b. We can ‘get to’ metaphysical truth.
    2b. We cannot ‘get to’ metaphysical truth by seeming alone.
    Therefore,
    3b. There must be another way to ‘get to’ metaphysical truth that is not via seeming alone (other-than-empiricism).

    Once again – I don’t wish to misrepresent your view. If you have an objection to the logical form I have constructed from your posted argument, I’d be happy to accommodate it.

    ———————–

    on critical imperatives:
    First I think the self-demonstrating aspect of these imperatives is “the evidence of logic” that they are ’self-evidently true’…

    … we don’t reflect intelligently on things we’ve not been attentive to.
    I think it’s pretty self-demonstrating.
    Love to hear your thoughts.

    Hmm. I’m vaguely irritated – I predicted this response, and I thought I’d preempted it in my last post. But to address it again:

    I still disagree with you. Yes, I obeyed the ‘be attentive’ injunction in my critique. This just shows that in certain contexts, the ‘be attentive’ does work. This doesn’t change the fact that ‘be attentive’ doesn’t necessarily work in all contexts. As such, it is not a self-evident truth.

    To phrase it symbolically, where x = ‘Be attentive’, you have established ∃x, but you have not and (as far as I can see) cannot establish ∀x. It is the latter that must be established for a ‘self-evident truth’.

    (Note: In revising this post, I realized that not everyone knows what ∃ and ∀ mean, which is actually quite rude of me – I apologize if I’ve lapsed into symbolic predicate logic inappropriately.)

    ————————————-

    I certainly want to value empiricism and empirically-derived knowledge. But the logical/philosophical endeavour includes both empiricism and other-than-empiricism (note that this is not ‘anti’-empiricism). I contrasted them not to imply that they were mutually exclusive, but rather that evidence for a being prior to all things would not be empirically investigated (as if a creator of all things would have the same kind of existence as what it created!).

    The thing that immediately jumps out at me here is the idea that there are different kinds of existence. I understood that something either exists, or it does not – but the idea that there could be different kinds of existence is an interesting idea, rich in multiplicity.

    If you don’t mind, I don’t know how I feel about that concept just yet. I’m going to have to mull that one over for a while.

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  28. I’ll be busy the rest of the night – might get a comment in late tonight, but in the mean time, because this is yet another comment exemplary of fruitful, patient interaction… will you marry me?

    😀

    -d-

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  29. And you could say it’s a standard tenet of many (note I did not say ‘all’) atheists that all possible gods be fully accessible to empirical enquiry

    Now that’s a dumb statement. Think, Dale, think. Firstly, most atheists say the… opposite. That the existence of gods cannot be accessible to empirical enquiry. That’s one of the reasons I keep nagging you, I know you can’t “prove” any of these “G-d”-related things, despite you persisting in presenting them as facts.

    Secondly, if you leave out empirical aspects, then you are leaving out being able to sort out if any of your claims are true. I wrote about this in the other thread, when you tried to say that poetic language, etc., was just as good and I pointed out something to the effect that that’s not true unless you don’t care about the truth of what you’re saying. So I presume you don’t care if what you’re saying is true. All that matters is that you want to believe it. (And why is it so hard for your lot to say that? It’s a dead simple statement.)

    Besides, tell us what non-empirical “enquiry” is and how it can resolve the truth of anything.

    Also, I note you still haven’t answered anything I’d asked. Avoiding something?

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  30. Heraclides,
    What part of “I’m not presenting these as facts!!!” do you not understand?

    And I’ve never said I could “prove” any God-related things!

    Rather than you “nagging” me about “proving” these “facts” (which I’m not presenting them as), why not tell me why empiricism is the only way to test a truth claim? Is empiricism the only way to truth!?

    I don’t have time for interacting someone blinded by their own scientism. I hope that’s not you.

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  31. Dale,

    Of course you can go your own merry way, but if you don’t even try look at what you are saying, you will never be able to claim you are telling the truth, let alone talking sense.

    Also, see the quotation in the other thread.

    What part of “I’m not presenting these as facts!!!” do you not understand?

    I’ve explained this already: obviously I understand what you wrote, but I also can see major flaws with your “explanation” as I explained. Why can you not see these flaws too? They’re common-sense, nothing terribly difficult.

    (Just to remind you, over the past few days I’ve been told several times that I “don’t get” something, when so far every single time I haven’t gotten it perfectly well. It’s increasingly looking like either a cheap cop-out or the person making the claim is unwilling, or unable, my reply and so think “attack” is a form a defence.)

    Rather than you “nagging” me about “proving” these “facts” (which I’m not presenting them as), why not tell me why empiricism is the only way to test a truth claim? Is empiricism the only way to truth!?

    You’re “missing” a deeper issue. If it’s not up to empirical examination, it’s not in existence 😉 I’m just slowly dragging you along there.

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  32. I’ll be busy the rest of the night – might get a comment in late tonight, but in the mean time, because this is yet another comment exemplary of fruitful, patient interaction… will you marry me?

    Ha!

    I don’t call myself a rhetor for nothing, mate. ^_^

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  33. All others than Heraclides,
    When Heraclides says the following, is he not tending toward (or fully immersed in!?) scientism?

    If it’s not up to empirical examination, it’s not in existence

    U.C.,
    Honestly, I’m tempted to reply now, but I’m tired, and have a nasty cold (runny nose, sneezing, etc.), so I think “rest is best” and I’ll try and comment late tomorrow?

    ((Tomorrow and Saturday, I’m attending the 2 full days of a 2.5-day conference at Laidlaw college which is reflecting on evolution as it relates to theology, etc.))

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  34. Dale,

    You left out the wink, and along with it, the tone. You’ve done this before and I’ve pointed it out, etc., before, too.

    What I said has nothing to do with your strawman “scientism”. You’re also avoiding the points, again 😉

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  35. Still looking forward to your response.

    As for this:

    When Heraclides says the following, is he not tending toward (or fully immersed in!?) scientism?

    If it’s not up to empirical examination, it’s not in existence

    I don’t think so.

    I find the term ‘scientisim’ a little annoying, but I think I have the concept. I can see why you might think that this is scientism, but in this case I think you’re a little bit quick on that particular trigger-finger.

    If we define existence in such a way that ‘That which exists, manifests; that which does not manifest, does not exist’, and then define ‘manifest’ to mean ‘measurable’, this understanding of existence would be compatible with Heraclides statement without being ‘scientism’.

    My understanding of ‘scientism’ is that it is a derogatory term used to refer to the innapropriate attempt to extend science’s authority in a way that is innapropriate to the subject matter.

    Like I said – I find this concept very iffy (it itches), but even so – to the best of my understanding, Heraclides’ earlier statement is not an instance of scientism.

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  36. Right – one last comment, than off to bed 🙂

    First on ‘scientism’:
    Heraclides’ statement is fairlyl short/simple – “If it’s not up to empirical examination, it’s not in existence.” The logic is fairly clear. All existing things can be empirically examined – thus giving science the authority concerning the existence or not of all things (whether or not the ‘wink’ should have automatically been interpreted as implying that he doesn’t actually think that).

    Re ‘self-evident’:
    I do maintain that it is an immediately evident truth, but perhaps it says it better that it is also a self-confirming truth. All critiques of it or attempts at exeptions such as yours (apologies if repeating this frustrates ou!) are all based on prior attentitiveness, intelligent reflection, reasonable judgment and responsible action. To clarify further, the conclusion that ‘attentiveness is not always good’ is one I can easily agree with, but we don’t reach this (agreed) conclusion apart from following those critical imperatives. Wait!!?? A further clarification just came to mind: The claim was not that these critical imperatives are unceasinly (at all moments) followed. We aren’t ‘critical’ when we’re asleep (perhaps in our dreams, though! 🙂 ). They are rather to be understood as imperatives that are simply self-demonstrating. Even if we are not ‘attentive’ 24/7, it remains that we seek to “be” attentive (not in terms of un-ceasingly being on a frantic red-alert level of awareness, but rather in the sense that we accept ‘attentiveness’ as a desirable adjective to have desribe us).

    On ‘seeming’:
    yes, the latter form of the argument is what I’m saying. I like the philosophy of Critical Realism (a la – Bernard Lonergan). We ‘critically’ take account of our subjective qualia (phenomenology of perception – a la Merleau-Ponty), but then still seek to speak truthly about reality. Epistemology is immediately relevant here. Belief in the empirically inaccessible cannot bear the burden of empirical proof – and it’s worth noting what follows: that empiricism has no word for or against the empirically inaccessible. And any ‘special pleading’ charges are as illogical as charging that it’s ‘special pleading’ for someone to say that ‘red’ doesn’t have a smell.

    Re notation:
    No problems with your adjustment come to mind at the moment 🙂

    Re breathing exeriment:
    I find that even whilst breating and counting, one’s concentration likely flickers back/forth from breathing and counting?
    I’m having trouble seeing the link with our discussion, though? It perhaps is a helpful experiment demonstrating that we find it very hard to ‘concentrate’ on two things at once? (another experiment is to press hard down on a table with one hand, and lightly touch that hand with the finger on the other hand – and try to concentrate on both the pressing hand and the touching hand! I think -from memory- that’s how it goes!)

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  37. “If it’s not up to empirical examination, it’s not in existence.” The logic is fairly clear.

    The wink was there to indicate to you not to take it too seriously. And here you are… taking it seriously. Oh, well…

    That I used the words “empirical examination” does mean I’m pushing the cause of science at all, just common-sense. Your “scientism” claim is a straw man effort… In a way you’re persisting with trying to defend yourself by attacking the other person… which no real defence at all. Generally when I see people do this, my instinct is that they haven’t any argument in reply to offer (i.e. the recognise that they can’t “win” and instead of accepting “defeat”, attack in reply).

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  38. Dale:

    On Scientism:
    It seems that I must respectfully disagree with you on this point. My understanding of scientism is that it refers to applying the authority of science in innapropriate areas. For the reasons I gave above, it still does not seem to me that Heraclide’s statement qualifies as scientism. It is a statement about the nature of existence that, if true, would render science as a prominent authority on existence. This is not a scientific statement – it is a philosophical statement. Although this philosophical statement has strong implications for the authority of science, it cannot be scientism as it is not a statement that originates within science.

    However, I am sure you will continue to disagree – and any such back-and-forth will just be a waste of both our time. If you have any further comment, I invite you to present it. Unless it is strikingly new, will forgive me if I allow the matter to come to rest on our disagreement on this point?

    On ‘self-evident’:
    As with scientism, I feel that our disagreement isn’t going to amount to much more than an unproductive back-and-forth, where we each repeat ourselves to no avail. I completely fail to understand why you think that just because attentiveness is necessary in some contexts, it is therefore a self-evident truth. I confess this with all sincerity – I am not being purposefully dense or obstinate to try and prove the point. I genuinely don’t understand how the conclusion of your argument in this particular area follows from its premise.

    You’re more than welcome to clarify the issue for me further. But once again, unless you have something particularly new or interesting to offer on the subject, I feel our bickering over this point will no longer amount to anything particularly productive to the conversation. I propose we lay this topic to rest on our disagreement.

    Re breathing experiment:
    Interesting in your response that you felt attention to be flickering… To digress entirely from our topic, did (or do, if you repeat the experiment) you feel the flickering to be something imposed on your attention, or something that was derived from within?

    As for the link to our topic – I only intended the point that thoughts themselves – along with emotion and other mental sensations – are things that seem, just as sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell are things that seem.

    This sub-point then relates back to one of my central premises; that I cannot conceive of any method by which I may know anything that is not a direct consequence of or founded upon seeming.

    On ’seeming’:
    I think we actually have the potential for some productive discussion on this point, given the structure of our arguments that I laid out above. Particularly interesting to me is that your conclusion is the negation of one of my premises, just as my conclusion is the negation of one of your premises. I think these two premises are the points about which we should relate further discussion.

    However, I’m going to ask for a delay. You keep mentioning Bernard Lonergan, and I’m utterly unfamiliar with the name, or the Critical Realism of which you refer. I think I need some time to do some research on the topic before I can actually engage you on the points your making.

    Can you offer any online resources, that would be a good place to start? Wikipedia is an obvious choice. Aside from that, are there any papers by Lonergan online that you could point me towards?

    I know I’ve basically had a disengaging tone for most of my responses here, and I don’t want to be seen to be backpedalling or conceding the point- however, it truly does strike me that the interesting part of our discussion has come down to the seeming issue. The others are running the risk of becoming a boring “Is so!” – “Is not!” exchange, and I’d rather avoid that particular outcome if at all possible. I hope that this suits you. ^_^

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  39. U.C.,
    Thanks for yet another wonderfully contructive/fruitful comment. My marriage proposal stands 😀

    (hopefully ‘new’ clarification) on ‘scientism’:
    Yes, ‘Scientism’ would indeed be a philosophical position. Indeed, the position that ‘ability for empirical investigation is the litmus test for being in actual existence’ is not a position which can be itself subject to empirical investigation and is thus firmly in the philosopohical domain. Happy to leave it there though 🙂

    (hopefully ‘new’ clarification) on ‘self-evident’:
    “I completely fail to understand why you think that just because attentiveness is necessary in some contexts, it is therefore a self-evident truth.”
    Sorry, that’s not what I intend to be the form of my argument (because [a] attentiveness is necessary in some contexts, [b] it is therefore a self-evident truth).

    Rather, I merely thought that:

    because
    [a] the critical imperatives (a la Lonergan) are inescapably self-demonstrating (such that even critiques of them demonstrate and follow them)…
    therefore
    [b] these critical imperatives serve as one example of a metaphysical truth (that is demonstrably true in spite of ‘seeming’).

    ((perhaps a simpler example of a metaphysical truth would have been the law of non-contradiction!!??))

    On breathing experiment:
    did (or do, if you repeat the experiment) you feel the flickering to be something imposed on your attention, or something that was derived from within?
    I’d have to say that because it is my attention that seemed to be ‘flickering’, it would seem to be derived from within?

    I only intended the point that thoughts themselves – along with emotion and other mental sensations – are things that seem, just as sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell are things that seem.
    and
    This sub-point then relates back to one of my central premises; that I cannot conceive of any method by which I may know anything that is not a direct consequence of or founded upon seeming.
    I’d want to suggest that whilst there will always be a subjective quality to all of our thinking (and percieving of the external world – and even our interpretation of our internal experience!), that we have no reason to deny that we can indeed ‘access’ (however subjectively) or ‘know’ metaphysical truths.

    On ‘seeming’:
    Yes, I think it’s this that is a major (and I think epistemic in nature) point for us. I’m not denying that there is a ‘seeming’ aspect to our knowledge, but this should make both atheists and theists merely more humble and patient in their assertions. In other words, I don’t think ‘seeming’ tips the scales either way in terms of theism/atheism (or in terms of metaphysical notions being ‘lies’ or ‘truths’).

    Here’s what looks like a very good summary of Lonergan and Critical Realism (heaps more thorough than wikipedia):

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/l/lonergan.htm

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  40. I just followed the link – looks like I have a hefty slab of reading to get through. ^_^

    I may be some time having a mull over things, so I’ll have to ask you to forgive me if I remain silent for a week or so. I’m also stupidly busy at work right now. I’ve been away from work for two weeks due to unplanned personal reasons, and my schedule for the immediate future was completely crammed anyway. I’m looking at a succession of 50-60 hour weeks, here.

    That’s one of the reasons I’ve been online. Engaging the mind in something other than software development gives me just enough distraction to take the edge off.

    Anyway, while I’m busy, might I suggest something to keep you company while I’m gone. I try not to draw too much attention to it, but Nietzsche has been a huge influence over me. I say I don’t like to draw attention to it, because it implies I agree with Nietzsche, which is not necessarily the case. However, I find that he phrases problems in a such a way as to dramatically shift the way you look at them.

    There is an essay of Nietzsche’s that keeps springing to my mind in the context of this discussion: On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense. There’s a nicely-formatted version available here:

    http://faculty.uml.edu/enelson/truth&lies.htm

    As I said – not a requirement, and I don’t plan to quote from this. But you may find it an interesting read given the context nonetheless.

    I’d recommend copying and pasting the essay into a word editor, and rearranging the screen settings to make it easier to read.

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  41. That I used the words “empirical examination” does mean I’m pushing the cause of science at all, just common-sense.

    ‘does’ should be ‘doesn’t’, sorry.

    The new coinage ‘scientism’ would appear to have arisen from religious people who insist on opposing science (rather than just noting is a another way of working), who note the remarks about how religions/religious people sometimes (often in my experience), make statements beyond what they can say. The new terms seems to be an effort to reply in kind, except is flawed as science doesn’t work in the same way as religion to start with. This might reflect these people seeing the world in terms of how they do things, not realising or recognising (or accepting) that others work in other ways.

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  42. Take your time sir – good engagement is worth the wait! 🙂

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  43. Dale

    Hey Dale,

    Note quite back yet – still a bit stretched, and working my way through the text you linked to.

    The back of my mind’s been ticking over our discussion. Just after your opinion on so I can better shape my thinking as I go.

    Considering our two premises:

    1a. Metaphysical truth (if such a thing exists) cannot be ‘got to’ via seeming.
    1b. We can ‘get to’ metaphysical truth.

    It seems like we’re going to need some kind of working definition of ‘metaphysical truth’ for this discussion. I’m unfond of dictionary definitions for this kind of discussion – they rarely fit the context well.

    Here’s my take on what is meant by metaphysical truth.

    Consider a sunset.

    We have the idea of a sunset. We have the definition of a sunset. We have the perception of a sunset.

    None of these things are ‘metaphysical truths’.

    The metaphysical truth of what a sunset really is is the essence of what it is to be a sunset. By necessity, this metaphysical truth is unimanginable, undefinable, and unperceivable.

    If this context works for you, I am interpreting your premise (1b) to mean that we can ‘get to’ metaphysical truth by inference from our imaginings, definitions, and perceptions.

    Is this a fair account to you?

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  44. Hey there, U.C.,
    I’m terribly sorry, but I’m not understanding what you mean by this: “The metaphysical truth of what a sunset really is is the essence of what it is to be a sunset. By necessity, this metaphysical truth is unimanginable, undefinable, and unperceivable.”

    Nonetheless, I’ll share the thoughts that this raises in my mind. 🙂

    Of course, a sun-set is not a ‘thing’ per se, but more a term we use to describe our experience of the earth’s rotation causing us to progressively see less and less of the sun as the earth blocks it progressively more and more.

    As for me, I think a more immediate example would be that of worth/dignity – be that of soil, a symphony or a son. To use the overly-cliched phrase, you cannot put worth, dignity or value ‘in a test tube’. These qualities are undeniably in the realm of metaphysics. We have no ‘unit of measure’ for them.

    (on ‘units of measure’, you may find my post measuring value of some interest – fairly brief as well…)

    So then, far from ‘metaphysical truths’ refering to some invisible bullet-point list of metaphysical truths in the sky. I’m rather refering to things that we take for granted every day.

    This is where your language of ‘useful lies’ comes in. I contend that whatever we may think about the limited ‘seeming-ness’ of our perception of the world, the lack of certainty certainly does not point this or that way concerning things like worth/value. In other words, no matter how fuzzy our perception of the world may be, it does not follow from this that things like worth/value are ‘useful lies’. It is equally possible that they are ‘useful truths’.

    And perhaps if we take the word ‘useful’ seriously, we could infer that if they are actually and truly ‘useful’ then their ‘useful-ness’ may point toward their being ‘truths’ as opposed to ‘lies’.

    Anyway, that’s enough from me for the moment. And by the way, don’t worry about digesting that entire paper I linked to – I certainly haven’t either (let alone his massive work ‘Insight’). You might want to just try to discern the relevant sections?

    Anyway, cheers for now. Look forward to your reply when you get time.

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  45. It is equally possible that they are ‘useful truths’. You’ve contradicted yourself. If they’re metaphysical, at the very most you could only say that they are ‘useful possible truths’. You could never determine if they were true or not.

    You can measure values, it’s just the measurements are relative, not absolute; subjective, i.e. is from a particular individual’s point of view; and are not fixed “for all in time”, but changing over time. We do this all the time, it’s part of how we decide preferences to one thing over another. It would be more accurate to say that for some things there is no universal absolute measure of “worth” that can be used by all individuals.

    I get a feeling you may not be understanding what is being mean by “useful lies” here either.

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  46. Dale – I wonder if you could give us a definition of “metaphysics – and perhaps comment on how you and other might be using the term?

    Matt Flannaghan’s use of the term did provide me with some insight – in the sense that the “metaphysical” argument provides a useful way to avoid or deny scientific knowledge. He is claiming, in effect, that “metaphysical knowledge should trump evidential knowledge. That in determining truth we should take theological, “metaphysical” knowledge into account.

    Therefore he will claim that evolutionary science offers the best scientific knowledge – but this can be trumped by theology. Hence fundamentalists can deny the right of children to learn about evolutionary science because it offends their (fundamentalist) beliefs – their theological, “metaphysical” knowledge.

    Now, I can see the logic of having philosophical/”metaphysical” concepts but if these conflict with reality as determined by evidence then they are being applied too concretely, too specifically – inappropriately. Actually, dishonestly, because they are being used as a way of bolstering prejudices against evidence.

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  47. Ken,
    A couple points:

    1. Due to time constraints, I’m keen to keep my engagement focussed mostly on the fruitful interaction with U.C. Of course, no body needs permission from me to comment and exchange with eachother, but at the moment, I’ll be mostly interacting with U.C. But I do have time to interact with others, esp. when I sense it will be fruitful. So I’ll do so here briefly.

    2. I’ve followed Matt’s recent post/discussion a bit, and felt that his argument was too complex, and that a different argument would have been more effective and less mis-leading. For this reason, I’ve not got the time to try and compare my thoughts with his (esp. as presented in the recent post/discussion).

    As for a definition of ‘metaphysics’, for the moment I think it’s always best to be as ‘concrete’ as possible, and that my examples of ‘worth’, ‘dignity’, ‘value’, etc. are sufficient examples of ‘things’ which are squarely in the metaphysical category, and things for which the ‘evidence’ will be other-than-physical/empirical. This is not an anti-science statement or a science-avoiding tactic; rather it’s merely a generally accepted distinction. (I refer again to the ‘skepdic'[tionary] entry on ‘metaphysics’)

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  48. Thanks for the link Dale. I guess I will just have to go with a few dictionary definitions.

    I am thinking of writing a post on the “metaphysical” argument as used by Matt Flannaghan and another one on his naive scientific epistemology. I don’t think one could pin him down on definitions but, nevertheless, I think it would be interesting (and possibly worthwhile) to analyse his arguments and find their motivation.

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  49. Heraclides

    Dale, I read your latest post as mostly side-steps:

    1. Avoiding points raised by those would won’t indulge you. Your choice of course.

    2. Avoiding Matt’s argument. Again, your choice, but it seems to be a bit of odd one given the source of this “conversation”.

    3. While not stated, an underlying point I think you’re avoiding is that metaphysics won’t really help make your religion any more “real”. Bit of biggie, really, in my book seeing that this seems to be the reason for your interest in “metaphysics”.

    Anyone is welcome to correct my thoughts below (but, please, without theological agendas).

    As far as I can see anything claimed to be “metaphysical” can’t be shown to be a ‘truth’ (or ‘true’). It seems to me that all metaphysical arguments start with assumptions (assertions, whatever). It would follow that at most, they can only be shown to be self-consistent. You could of course show that they would have certain properties if the starting assumptions hold, but there’s the catch: you’re limited by the assumptions the argument started with. (By contrast scientific arguments try work with respect to observations and a methodology that tries to ensure that the findings are independent of the observer among other things.)

    Following this, it seems to me that a religious followers trying to assert that their religion is “metaphysical” in nature have to then accept that their religions can’t never be shown to be “true” and hence that they can never claim it to be “true” either. Which is to say that making their religions “metaphysical” in nature doesn’t seem to be helpful: it won’t make the religion more real (or even more convincing).

    (A practical reality is that some try set this up as a justification for long-winded impressive sounding arguments, which on closer examination are empty. Bafflegab, in other words.)

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