Monday, January 26, 2009

Ongoing Discovery

I will doing a series of posts for DISCOVER magazine on my favorite topic (well other than why Tom Waits should be made a saint).

You can find the post here


  1. (Much like another comment, but needs to be seen here):

    Unlike Sean over at Cosmic Variance, I think the dialog idea from Adam Frank is a good proposal and I'd love to read his book.

    There were IMHO some major fallacies and downers in the CV critique, however well-intentioned. First, the wrongness of this:
    When you start talking about “spirituality,” people are going to take you to mean something that goes beyond the laws of nature, in the sense of being incompatible with them, not just “hard to understand in terms of them”
    Nope, the more sophisticated approach (I use that without apology, pls. anyone don’t blather humble populist drivel against elites) is to ask why the laws are the way the are, are they that way for a purpose, if anything/any”One” is responsible for that way to be etc. That’s a heck of a ways off from crude interfering issues (not that it is self-evident or probable that our universe can’t be interfered in by something, if not “God” then other realms, “other universes” etc.) There is also the issue of experience as spirituality, and more I’m sure. No, it isn’t like being Humpty Dumpty. Words have layers of meaning, contexts; just look at the numbered distinctions in a dictionary entry.

    Second, this is one of the worst ways to think about/angle on issues themselves:
    But there is a deeper point, which is consistently missed by the gentle-minded/accommodationist/agnostic/liberal-religious/sophisticated-theology segment of the debate: It’s Not About You.
    Ugh. First, the fact that most people are either conventional believers or outright doubters is not the point (argument ad populum fallacy, here including the false idea that only the popular ideas were relevant, not just the fallacy that such ideas have to be true.) Yes, it matters to social policy etc., but minorities (and within a category) often have the best ideas. Why not engage the best the “other side” has to offer, instead of focusing on their most pathetic rabble (which I suspect is more to have an easily beatable straw man whipping boy than any earnest concern for practicality of application.)

    Third, I’ll defend the claim that more “sophisticated” approaches to religion are better (and more relevant for people’s edification, not to be confused with relevant to political brawling), well yes. One way to look at it: It just doesn’t make sense to think that it’s OK to wonder about the deep meaning of laws in the universe and be impressed with that, but not go up a step further (yet not all the way to a “being” like traditional God) and get the notion it’s likely to have a purpose or point geared to having inhabitants because of anthropic fine tuning, etc. Really, if you can look for “expressions” of things like symmetry and “beauty” in the universe (without a “someone” to make it so) why not inherent, “purposefulness” too? Some thinkers have noted, the latter can be a foundational element without a specific “personality” to make it so.

    Finally, I and others in the “spiritual centrist” category get tired of putting it all up as this false two-ways system of science v. religion and whether they can be compatible. It reminds me of how libertarians are sick of the liberal/conservative face off as if they didn’t exist. But ultimate questions are also dealt with by philosophy, which does what it can with issues not directly open to empirical study. (The argument that something has to be empirically knowable to be worth believing or meaningful etc. is itself philosophy, there’s no getting away from big P. It is philosophical reasoning which frames what our epistemic givens are, how “shared” etc, to get science off the ground.) Legitimate philosophy by definition is not derived from cultural traditions (other than necessary entanglement with “intellectual history” but that is unavoidable …) or claimed revelations. It works on whatever good knowledge there is and various reasoning processes to try and find answers.

    Hence philosophy has to be compatible with science - meaning no contradiction - but it deals with questions that may not be part of science (and of course, the question of whether there are such issues and what to do about them if anything.) Questions like, is the universe necessary or contingent, is there a necessary being and what is it, is it all that exists, is modal realism a cogent answer to the question of why one or some possible worlds exist and not others; etc., are not “religion” even though they deal with the same issues that religions do.

    PS: For background context, I am Unitarian Universalist and an independent “seeker” who isn’t buying anyone’s simple-minded, hand-me-down religion or disreligion.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful responce. I agree with what you are saying about the minority. The point here is exactly that - create something new from what we already understand.