Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Massimo Luchi, and with me, as always, is my co-host Julia going. Julia, what are we going to talk about today? Well, Martha, today you and I are on a field trip at the Center for Inquiry in Indianapolis, Indiana.
And we're at a conference on defending science and which we've been exploring with several other speakers and with our host, John, schook, we've been exploring how science and religion and philosophy relate to each other, both politically and strategically, how science and religion have been interacting with each other in recent years, and also philosophically, whether there are conflicts and where the conflicts and compatibilities are between science, religion and philosophy and where we're entering into this podcast, hot on the heels of our host John Shook's talk, in which he voiced an objection to the establishment of this, what he argued to be artificial or nonsensical demarcation line where science is considered to have a range of legitimacy just within that demarcated line.
And then on the other side of the line is where other things are allowed to take over, like religion or like certain kinds of philosophy, such as metaphysics. So John was complaining about John. Is that an accurate summary? Yes. Hi, Julia. I just, I guess, really related. You guys could join us here in Indianapolis. It's really terrific. Thank you. It's been a really interesting and I'm excited and called if you should bring our voices, it's because we're we're all called the refrigerator known as the State Library.
Yes. A beautiful refrigerator. But let it be noted. So, yes, I'm fine with long lead in. Let me now officially introduce our hosts for the event, John Sheck. John, welcome. Hi, everybody. So, John, you were a bit harsh on metaphysics. I was. Why? I defined metaphysics for the purposes of this audience interested in science and religion, debating or conflicting as an effort to know something about reality over and above.
What the science has taken together are capable of currently telling us. Now, we now know, of course, you know, science is going to tell us more about reality tomorrow. It's a fallible and somewhat cumulative enterprise. So what is considered to be natural according to the sciences? Exactly. Tracks with the sciences are capable of taking us into the future. It's not as if science could disprove naturalism. That's that's absurd. Right. That's a priori impossible.
But metaphysics does try to go beyond what the cumulative sciences are currently saying, not because they're doing science better. It's a philosophical effort, but because they think that there are additional powers of the mind not being taken advantage of by the sciences. But if you use them, you can learn a few things more about the reality. Metaphysics needn't be in the project of rejecting science or contradicting science. But with metaphysics, there always seems to be a more to the story.
And I think metaphysics tries to do this more in ways that that aren't fully, fully legitimate.
But let me challenge you on a couple of points. I'm going to go back to the metaphysics is in trying to do in a minute. But the first challenge is your your contention about the power of the mind to discover things outside of science. Well, I would suggest that there is it's easy to show that the mind can do that. I mean, mathematics and logic are not sciences. They're not empirical informed. Correct. And yet the power of our mind seems to be pretty good at discovering things in logic and mathematics.
But the logic of discovery in pure logic or in pure mathematics is not the discovery of any entities having a reality. In other words, they are capable of discovering things that follow from certain axioms or first principles of, let's say, a system of logic or certain definitions of sets of numbers, for example, and relationships. So in some sense, there is a is it a discovery? Conclusions can be drawn about SATs or or about logical inferences between things, but neither pure logic nor pure mathematics, my philosophical position is neither of them are attempting or succeeding at describing a reality with an existence of its own.
In other words, I'm not a Platonists. Well, that's right. Anything like that. That's right. Although even that can be at least challenged and reasonable grounds. I'm reminded of the fact that in a few days, apparently in Chelsea, in New York City, they will open the Museum of Mathematics. And I'm really looking forward to this. Cool. Yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing you. No, I mean, no disrespect to mathematics.
I got into philosophy because of mathematics. I was a mathematics major in college and in fact, loved it so much that by my senior year I'd taken all the undergraduate classes and was starting to graduate classes. But it was getting monotonous. And no one in the math department could answer my questions about what numbers were right. They said you need to go to philosophy, but let's go back to that point. So this is this is exactly part of the issue that I think some mathematicians and logicians would pick up on.
So you say you're not you're not a mathematical Platonist I actually tend to be fairly sympathetic to mathematical Platonism. But the interesting thing about mathematical Platonism is that it's not the kind of question for which you can use science to settle. It's a matter of ontology, right? It's a matter of what? How rich or poor or limited your ontology. Yes. Do you think of mathematical structures, let's say, as real clearly real money in the sense that you can actually point the telescope to them in another sense?
Right. Let me just clarify that ontology is one ontology is one's view on what exists. That's right. Exactly. You're defining what exists in your conception of what exists. Now, we can have a whole argument about mathematical platonism. In fact, we have had a podcast on that covering that topic already. But my point is that there are some actually interesting reasons which are brought up by philosophers of mathematics and incidentally, by the majority of mathematicians. The majority mathematicians apparently are mathematical Platonists, and those arguments can be challenged on a basis of logic on a basis.
How compelling is the argument based on reason? But they certainly cannot be challenged on the basis of empirical evidence. I deny that. You deny that? Oh, yes. Do you think that there is a lot of good, for example, mathematics? If there is a naturalistic account of how human beings invent and sustain logical and mathematical languages and in the course of appropriately using them, it would naturally feel to beings doing those sorts of things as if they were discovering realities independently of the of the phenomenological material world, then you would have a scientific account of human cognition that could simultaneously naturalise both the enterprises of logic and mathematics and very helpfully explain the mistaken phenomenology of what it seems to be like to be a discoverer of of logical and mathematical truths, because the phenomenology is exceedingly compelling.
And I get it. I was you know, I know what it's like to do mathematics, and it can really seem like you are discovering it certainly does not feel anything like inventing or creating phenomenologically. That's absolutely right. However, if there can be a full account of human cognition, how we do logic and mathematics as human beings, then that would replace the need for an alternative philosophical or metaphysical account that would be able to explain the phenomenology of discovery without actually having then to conclude that there are logical or mathematical realities being explored.
I don't see how they will follow. I mean, an account of how human beings do X with their brains and their cognitive abilities is not at all the same as an account of what X is. I can give you an account of how my brain reacts when it's thinking about ethics. That is tells you precisely nothing about ethical questions. Well, actually, I was going to bring up the parallel with ethics because I think that what John described is actually quite it's one of the better ways in which science can bear on philosophical discussions of meta ethics.
I think that it feels really strongly to a lot of people, not to me, but to a lot of people, like moral truths really objectively exist, that that there is a truth of the matter about what the. My question is to moral issues and the and that that is somehow like written into the universe in some abstract but very real way. I don't have a division, but a lot of people have intuition. But that intuition gets substantially weakened once science explains why that intuition would have evolved in the human brain.
Would you say that for anything that has to do with perception? I mean, science gives you an example. Well, for instance, science gives you a very good explanation for how it is that we perceive this room as it is, as opposed to upside down, even though we should perceive it upside down because our visual system is actually crossed and it gives you images of 180 degrees. Your brain has to do something to to to turn the image around.
But no significant question that I'm not talking about a philosophical question saying that there you have a physiological scientific account of vision, but that it tells you nothing at all about the reality that you are allegedly observing. There are distinct things. I mean, we're confusing here. There's a danger here of confusing an explanation of how the human mind does a certain thing with the reality and unreality or acceptability or unacceptability of the things that we're doing with that. Now, you've got a mouse, in your analogy, breaks down the machine.
The whole amount of attention. I like I like Julius because first, with so much more helpful to my position. Yes. Let me let me briefly stop. That is tainted by it. Yeah. That's a good one. Why the perception thing doesn't so work as well. But I'm really interested in the morality one and I'll try to be brief against the perception. The problem is, is that we would only be able to do human psychology of perception and discover this business of inversion.
We can only do that if we already have a conception of what the external world is like. Compare it with how the AI in from AI translates and interprets incoming light radiation. So you get the notion that inverted. But we only think that the image is inverted on the back of the retina because we already assume that the external world is quote unquote the right way up. In other words, science doesn't first ask, is the world really the right way up?
And then wonder how the Iwerks know that right? In something like psychology of perception, we already have to have some fairly stable notion of what something in the external world is doing. For example, in order for an optometrist to use an eye chart correctly, they already themselves have to be pretty sure what letters are on the chart before they start asking the patient. You see what I mean? Yes. So in the case of something like preception, we already have an external standard of what is going to count is correct perception.
In the case of metaphysics and science, metaphysics similarly thinks it has some way of accurately knowing reality. And then it gets started embroiled in metaphysical questions about how well science does, trying to understand that kind of metaphysics I'm talking about. Let's go back to let's break in metaphysics for a second. We'll go back to metaphysics in a minute, because there are two distinct types, I think, of metaphysics, one of which, in fact, does suffer precisely from the kind of problems you highlighted.
The other one, I don't think it does. But let's can we set aside that for a minute? Let's just go back for a second to what we're talking about. If you don't like the analogy of perception, all analogies are partial. We can win. We can amend it. First of all, it's not always true that we already know what reality looks like. We're supposed to look like the famous controversy. One of the favorite things to think about for skeptics about the history of science and religion is the controversy surrounding the Galileo affair.
Right. It's one of our favorite heroes. There goes the scientist who shows you how reality is and the stupid Jesuits just didn't get it because there were you religiously blinded by. The fact is it's not. That's the actual story is actually not quite that simple. Right? I mean, the basic version of the story says, look, the Jesuits even looked into the telescope and they refused to see that the moon has craters or something like that. But that's what they blamed the telescope.
Right. In other words, there wasn't an established body of knowledge justifying the instrument. Similarly, science has to come up with a good way of explaining how the instrument works before observations through it are worthy. Right. That's my analogy to mathematics. Here's where it all comes around, folks. Look, I think that the scientific study of how human cognition works in detail, which we don't have very well yet, but in the future would be able to show how human creatures are able to do mathematical and logical inferences with such a high degree of phenomenological repeatability and certainty, which arouses that sort of illusion that we are discovering something independent.
To have us, instead of just consulting repeated habitual pathways in our own brain, we don't understand the instrument in this case the instrument. My analogy is our cortex. If we had confidence in how the cortex actually worked, then the illusion would go away that we need to ascribe mathematical truths to some reality external to the processes of ignition. They seriously doubt it because there are very clear instances where we deploy logic and even mathematical abilities and we know we have a perfectly well these fenning that in that case we are in fact inventing stuff.
For instance, when I play chess, I don't have the feeling that I am discovering stuff about chess. Chess is an invention and I prefer that I have a condition of that and I do not have. And neither do I think a lot of mathematicians have these these idea that the chess is a game. So you really shifted ground. Well, I don't already know the outcome. In other words, the conclusion of a game should be surprising. We all know.
Second, chess is very analogous to what we're talking about because it's the rules of essentially axioms. And you derive and you derive conclusions from those actions, which are the situations in the game. And yet no mathematician would say, oh, yeah, I'm discovering stuff here. Now, this is clearly an invention that everybody would agree with. So I'm not so sure it's covering whoever wins, who wins. You're describing which players are good players, but nobody has the impression that somehow the game of chess or the outcome of games of chess is out there and it's been discovered.
It's a logical consequence. And that's why games are not like doing logic or math. At any rate, there are other there are other issues about mathematical abilities. I don't want to make this all about mathematical. Platonism, the other major argument in favor, it's what is often referred to as the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, the fact that mathematics is largely developed, completely independent of of empirical facts or scientific questions. It just goes on all sorts of directions.
And then occasionally turns out that some of these completely abstract things happen to have a very spectacular application to reality. I mean, that's that's a reasonable problem there. Which for which I don't think there is a there is an answer at the moment. But let's go back to metaphysics. So what you were referring to before, I think, is what some modern philosophers, including some of them is metaphysicians, actually refer to as new scholasticism as these pretention as this Scholastic's of the medieval ages had that just by sitting on a chair and thinking about stuff, you can discover physical things about the universe.
If that's the target of of criticism. I completely agree. I don't think that that sort of metaphysics has any future, but there are other conceptions of metaphysics and contribute to do.
We had one that I endorse. For example, John Dewey had one, an experience and. Yeah, that's right. Jundah is one way to go about it. So that's there'll be a pragmatic approach to tumultuously. Can I just interject with the question before you go on, Masimo, I'd like to present a possible counter example to the argument that you can't discover what exists just by sitting around and thinking in your armchair. What about the argument that a being that is simultaneously all knowing, all powerful and all benevolent is logically and incoherent?
If I previously believed that such a being might or probably did exist and then someone presented that philosophical, purely philosophical argument to me, I would realize, oh, that being does not exist because it couldn't exist. And yeah, and I feel like I've just discovered something about what exists in the world now just from my armchair. But that doesn't. That's exactly right. Yeah. But it's still a mystery about how the world is about what exists. I know the empirical reality is a subset, broadly speaking, of logical reality.
So if you show that something is in fact logical, impossible, it'd be really difficult for that thing to be physically possible. And so, yeah, I would agree that that's actually a very good counterexample. But the kind of metaphysics that I have in mind and I'm wondering generally because I didn't touch on them doing that, you're talking about see if I'm in Indianapolis. And besides, people are listening to this podcast. They'll know about your talk, at least not yet.
So we'll go over this anyway. So I'm going to bring you two examples of metaphysics that I think actually have reasonable applications of the word. And and one that if you have a objection or what your thoughts are about, one is one of our former guest, James Lederman, has co-authored a book with David Ross. I'm familiar, Dunross. It's called Everything Must Go. And their project is, in fact, explicitly about a naturalistic metaphysics. Yes.
And they think that what they're trying to do is that what the metaphysicians tried to do is to put together a coherent picture from all of the sciences. I endorse that. Actually, part of my positive definition, it's implicit in my museum analogy, which our podcast listeners wouldn't know about, but briefly, the museum analogy, in other words, science and naturalism is kind of like the relationship to art and museums. It's fantastic to collect representative examples of fine art in museums, just like naturalists collect the finest current results from all of the sciences.
And naturalists can ask some questions that no individual scientist in one individual field may ever get around asking, namely, how does it all hang together? And that's a perfectly respectable empirical base to throw science kind of naturalism that I'm just not making up now. I've endorsed it in previous writings on that site. Is this second type of metaphysics which I am sympathetic or at least I'm respectful of. What people do in that area is the kind of metaphysics that I think would more fairly be described as as conceptual clarification.
So these are the people who talk about, you know, OK, what is the concept of personal identity or how do scientists deploy the concept of time? And what kind of consequences do those concepts have? These people don't necessarily pretend. I mean, some of them maybe do, but these people don't actually pretend to discover new things about the physical reality of the world. But what they do is engage in what philosophy does best. They think, which is conceptual clarification of terms that can lead to confusion.
There are sometimes even deployed by scientists themselves in knots, not necessarily coherent ways. And that seems a construct. I also endorse that view. I wouldn't call it metaphysics, but they do us, me, my views. So my view is it's unnecessary to call it metaphysics for two reasons. First of all, while I endorse the project of trying to keep the several sciences coherent together, that's a that's part of this museum project, as it were.
You can also take on the additional task of trying to help different scientific fields get their ontologies to at least line up the old project of the universe. A unity of science movement was to try to reduce one ontology or at least the laws of that ontology, bridging laws and so forth. To try to reduce one field to another that may not be necessary, may only have limited use. But what is always useful is to try to make sure that scientific fields that ought to be related to each other because they have a related subject matters at least can get their ontologies coherent with each other, meaning their descriptions of what's going on at that level.
It would be extraordinarily inconvenient if the descriptions of what is going on in organic chemistry was wildly out of line and incoherent with what molecular chemists we're talking about. The individual compounds themselves very inconvenient but fixable so a scientist can put on a philosophical naturalist hat and ask about how to reconcile these ontologies that may require some adjustment of terms. It may be more than semantic semantic. It may require some real work. But here's a second reason why it's not metaphysics.
Not only is it still the work of the sciences themselves, not going beyond the sciences. Second of all, any proposed reconciliation of theoretical ontologies must go back to the sciences themselves for empirical confirmation. In other words, they still have to be tested and confirmed in the laboratory, so to speak. So that's a second way to deny this sort of helpful anthologized thing from going beyond scientific method. I don't want to I want to move to another point.
I don't want to and I don't want to turn this into too much of a semantic discussion. I would just point out, however, that even in your book out here, you don't call them the physics. The people actually do it, do call him metaphysics. So do you need to need to be careful on the word police? But what I need is a pedagogy I'm engaged in trying to help the public understand the language out there. So when I do talk about metaphysics, unclear about the kind of metaphysics that I'm complaining about.
And in the context of the talk that I gave, the kind of metaphysics I'm complaining about is not the two helpful kinds that you and I were just talking about adjustment of ontology, but the unhelpful kind which thinks that over and above everything that science says, metaphysics can figure out where science must arbitrarily halt and be unable to further explore kinds of realities that are out there. I understand it's the kind of I'm worried about is that, you know, somebody who listens to that talk and that criticism of a particular type of metaphysics then gets exposed to people who think who say that they're doing metaphysics and they're doing the kind of stuff that you said.
It's, in fact, perfectly legitimate. And so was there. Wait a minute, I found in the physics hall it was a bunch of well, I'll leave other people who want to do metaphysics. They're perfectly capable of standing on their own two feet and writing their own books and explaining what they think metaphysics are. And I'm that word police here that metaphysics metaphysicians want to talk about how to correctly do metaphysics. I'm not here to tell them they can't do that.
I just need a quick pedagogical way of conveying things. And I would never tell anybody, don't don't read things that are called metaphysical. I'm just trying to prepare them for what they may read so they can tell B.S. from something that's actually helpful to the sciences. So John's talk and the theme of this whole conference has had a large place for religion and attempts on the part of some scientists and some signs promoting organizations to reassure the public that religion and science are compatible and they mean different things at different times.
They're compatible. But I want to I want to make sure that we talk about that, because that's been a major part of John's argument and of the conference, John. There was one thing that kept jumping out to me in your talk, and you were you were objecting to these attempts to reassure people that science and religion can be compatible. And the thing that kept jumping out at me was that your your arguments were not consequentialist in the sense that you weren't arguing that these organizations should refrain from from arguing that we can have science and religion at the same time.
Because because you think the outcomes would be better if they didn't do that. Your arguments for all of the form, they shouldn't try to accommodate religion and science to other because it's not the most truthful representation of of like an accurate world view, a scientific worldview, or they shouldn't do it because they should be proud of science and and demonstrate that their pride in science by not that religion. Out in the Q&A, though, I mean, I did go there with pride in science.
So it was a very long lead-in to what I was trying to ask, which is, do you actually think that the the consequences will be better if scientific promoting organizations stop trying to accommodate religion? Yes, it will be better for science. So it'll be better for Western civilization and ultimately better for the planet. So I can I can enlarge on that. So as a philosopher, I'm interested in debunking certain myths that are promulgated on both sides, science advocates and religious advocates about science and religion.
And without rehearsing them, a couple of the main themes were this business that it's a little too easy to just say science studies nature, thus leaving the theologian to say, Oh, I've got something that'll study what's beyond nature. I really would like to kill that meme. I really want it to go away. My replacement would be in the consequentialist vein, standing up to forces that think that they can tell where science must arbitrarily stop taking pride in science, being able to confidently explain why science is so much better, understanding reality than any other method we've yet invented.
And the long term consequences will be you will actually be a science advocate instead of a metaphysics advocate or a comforter of religious people or whatever political compromise you may have short term in mind. In other words, I think it's better if we're ever going to truly have a scientific civilization. We don't have one yet. If we're ever going to have a scientific civilization, then we ought to be able to clearly explain where science and religion must disagree, why science is better than anything religion has ever invented, and why the scientific crowd, thus providing engineering and technology is a better path for human progress than what religion is capable of offering us today.
So although pedagogically it was couched in some deep into the weeds business of clearly separating the methodologies of science from the methodologies of religion, the payoff is we will be explaining science and we won't have to do metaphysics or help theology along the way. I let me point out that it smells, smells a little bit of contrived dualism. There it is. You're making you're putting signs in opposition to religion, which I think it's perfectly fair. But those are not the only two options.
It's you know, I'm not going to help anybody who defends religious ways of knowing because I don't think there is such a thing as religious. We're on No. One. We're definitely on the same same page. But there are. Areas of human knowledge or inaudible or whatever it is, where science is either irrelevant, we mentioned the ready to logic and mathematics. There is at best marginal and informative, like in the case of ethics. Sure. I'll give you an example.
Dance. Yes, that's right. I think I think that as far as aiming to describe reality correctly, the two major ways of knowing on offer right now are science and religion. Dance does not aim at correctly understanding the reality around us. It's a different kind of cultural project. So I left out dance in the arts and other sorts of cultural forms. We were talking about morality, which is a very important cultural form of wisdom. I don't mean to say, but that is one of those philosophers who say it's either all science or it's all religion.
I reject that dichotomy. You do, Masimo. I'm a philosopher. So what that means is I think most of the human business of conducting society is not done by either science or religion. It's done by cultural forms of human achievement, like the arts, like literature for like the fun and exciting adventures that we can have on this planet. Now, I'll tell you this, science makes all of those at least a little better. For example, if you want the finest materials for your art forms, consult a scientist who knows a little bit more about clay or oils or the preservation of these sorts of things.
But what you don't see is science getting in the way of or trying to distort or trying to prevert pervert these other cultural art forms. Which form of human expression is continually in the business of trying to distort, obstruct or pervert these other valuable art, art and cultural? Oh, that's religion that keeps during that time and time again. So I'm a philosopher on the side of free expression of culture for human flourishing and achievement. I don't think science does those things for us, but I do think that if there is a form of human achievement or expression that involves having to deal with reality, some information from science can never hurt.
I don't think they can frequently help. I'm not disagreeing with that. And again, certainly I don't think that religion is anything to provide in that area. But let's let's flip the thing around for a minute. So you say that science has at least that at the level of informing or can always make better or can inform the way you do things, even in the arts, in philosophy and ethics, etc.. And I would agree. However, it's not like science.
It's done. It sounds too much. I'm not accusing you of doing this, but it sounds too much sometimes like science to some scientist themselves make it come across as if science is some kind of objective, value neutral thing out there from which facts about the world, Sprent, just. Well, then, clearly they're not they don't write. The obvious example, for instance, is that science itself is actually importing certain values from society. One of them is, you know, whenever a scientist tells me that they prefer a elegant hypothesis, which is a term that physicists use a lot, for instance, well, that elegance is an aesthetic criterion, which has to do with certain psychological characteristics of humanity.
There's no guarantee whatsoever that the world out there is describable by elegant theories. And in fact, the history of science itself shows that sometimes elegant theories go quite right. Right, right. Well, Occam's razor is another one of those things is wielded very, very nicely by scientists as if it were empirically based. But it's not it's an epistemological preference. It's a it's a Aristarchus, if you will. It often does work out that you certainly don't want to multiply unnecessarily hypothetical entities unless you have compelling evidence that they're needed.
At the same time, however, sometimes often in the history of science you're doing, then you eventually have to agree that you need a more complex theory and more hypothetical entities that you needed before. All of this is to say that science itself is in fact also a human activity, which is therefore done in a certain way because human beings as epistemic agents and psychological agents do it that way. I entirely agree. If you're looking for my affirmation, you have it.
OK, OK, so to throw in a little more disagreement before we have to. Oh no. Oh yes. I, I wouldn't be at all surprised, John, if the a lot of the people who lead signs promoting organizations agree with you or share your preference for a public stance that advocates the scientific worldview as the way of approaching questions and doesn't try to carve out this like separates even if it's empty, carve out a separate matter. And to accommodate religious people, it's just that I assume even if they do share that preference, that they think that the benefits of making all of these millions and millions of people receptive to these really important scientific conclusions outweighs that preference that they have.
And the. And, yeah, I'm not here questioning their political judgment. In other words, if I were a politician and were to give you a professional political judgment, what they don't have because I'm not a politician, but I could well imagine affirming what this science advocacy organizations are doing on sheer political grounds to make short term gains. I'm a consequentialist. You also have to weigh in the costs, especially the long term costs of what you are doing.
What you're doing is you're playing a cultural game of accommodating religious preferences for telling science where arbitrarily must halt its inquiries onto grounds, either too sacred, too personal, or just to gives religious people the shudders to think of it. Right. But I see. So I think that the science advocacy organizations would be just as well served if they advocated science. In other words, if they didn't also advocate metaphysical positions about the limits of human knowledge, limitations to what in human experience science can properly explore if they didn't give lots of cover but the theologians to go back and say to the few remaining in their churches, see, we told you it was reasonable to keep believing in God.
These science advocacy organizations agree with us. That's political cover and we know why they politically want it. What I don't understand is why science or organizations have to help them get it. Well, because they're buying this other thing that they think is really valuable, which is bringing millions and millions of people, making millions and millions of people more receptive to actual scientific conclusions like so. I mean. But I share your I share it. They will understand less and less about science.
Well, I don't see what you're interested in Oregon. I'm not interested in the conflict. So you should clear on the magnitude of the sacrifice. I will let my children hear about evolution, but even more strongly convinced that science has arbitrary limits. So I needn't actually take science that seriously. I can continue on happily in my theological beliefs. That's exactly what they want. The guys, there is a way here to answer this question because this after all, it's an empirical question.
It is exactly. And there are data out there, not a lot, but there is some data out there. So as it turns out, as a matter of empirical research in social psychology, it is the case, as Julie was suggesting, I think a minute ago, that it is much easier to bring people outside of religion, especially fundamentalist religion, if you do it by degrees and if you do it by letting them keep hold of certain kinds of beliefs and then shedding them gradually over time.
But if you subjected to a shock therapy and tell them, you know what, this is all a bunch of crap for you to come over here or you're wrong. So empirically speaking, it seems like the approach that many of these science education organization we're talking about that like the atheist or the NTSB are taking is in fact well justified. But it's a false dichotomy. I do agree I would never reject any science that says how human psychology and persuasion actually works.
Turns out it works by finding values upon which people can agree in order to get more agreement about other things that you're in conflict over. It's all about values, usually about emotions. It seems to me if you want to pick out the values that we as Americans share in order to reach more evolution teaching, don't pick out the values where we're in the business. As science advocates of saying why, yes, we value continuing to believe in religion instead.
How about appealing to common American values like pride in the achievements of scientific Know-How and engineering and technology and the vast amounts of human progress away from horrible misery, disease and death? I think fundamentalists value getting rid of human misery, disease and death. And I think if we were able to build on those shared values, science advocacy organizations could advocate science and appeal to those common values without having to additionally say, and we value religion because that's exactly what these appeasing science advocacy organizations are doing, is appealing to religious values.
I can very well see how that. To have practical, positive benefits in the short term, but I think the long term consequences of that are yet to be measured. You can talk about empirical data. I'm talking about the movement of a civilization across centuries. I think we're retarding our civilization by giving religious people one more excuse to impose an arbitrary theological limit, not a scientific limit upon the range and extent of what can be known generically. But that's not actually what we're talking about.
We're not talking about all we talking about. Well, but but there is. But that's not what the question was. The question wasn't about is it reasonable to allow religious people to impose limits on science? Nobody is actually arguing that. Certainly none of those are scientific organizations. And I'm arguing that what they're trying to do is you don't think limitations on stem cell research has limitations. So that's that's certainly not something that NASA thinks he's advocating. So those are advocating how they're helping those who are that's that's an opinion which needs to be based on empirical evidence.
What they're trying to do is simply to allow people to coexist with an acceptance of science on the one hand, including stem cell research or climate change and all that sort of stuff with their own beliefs, whatever those beliefs are. That's a different project from imposing limits on science, number one. Number two, you're saying and you said earlier that you are a consequentialist, but now you're talking about the long term terminus of civilization. Well, as you pointed out a second ago, we don't know a bit about that.
We don't know what the long term terminus of civilization is. We do have data about how people get open their mind to more acceptance of science. Well, and that way, look at the historical record we've accumulated, as I described in my talk, 400 years of past failed experiments, of theological compromises, placing arbitrary limitations on how far science may understand reality from Copernicus, through Galileo, through Darwin, through psychology. We have watched time and time again theology stamp its feet, cry and scream, and demand that science stop at some arbitrary point, either trying to understand the external world or the internal workings of the human mind.
Every one of those compromises empirically has been a failure. To the extent that those compromises were politically sustained, they retarded scientific advancement and human enlightenment to every every time science trampled over compromises that were not of its own doing and not of its own concern. Human achievement has been immeasurably advanced over the last 400 years. You want some empirical evidence? I'll take the last four hundred years of empirical evidence. OK, this has been a particularly rollicking podcast discussion, but I have to be the bad cop here and and wrap this up so that we can move on.
So let's move on now to the rationally speaking. OK. If you're a fan of the rationally speaking podcast, I highly encourage you to get your tickets sooner rather than later for the 2013 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism in New York, New York, from April 5th through 7th of 2013, you can get your tickets at Nexxus dot org.
That's N as in Nancy E C Asphaug Masimo and I will be there recording a podcast live along with a great lineup of other speakers, NextG.
Welcome back. Every episode, Julia and I pick a couple of suggestions from our favorite books or movies or websites or whatever tickles our national fans fancy fantasy. But today we have a guest. And so we ask our guest, John Shook, for his suggested. Oh, and I do have a delightful suggestion. It's not something on the Internet, although you can download an e-book version of it. I'd like to recommend a volume out written by Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Center for Inquiry and Prometheus Books.
Prometheus Books has just released a new volume by Paul Kurtz. It's a selection of his writings edited by Nathan. But the long time employee of the Center for Inquiry and someone very knowledgeable about Paul curtsies philosophy. The book is called Meaning and Value in a Secular Age. While you practice a few matters of volume of writings of Paul Kurtz. And I really recommend this volume because I'm continually asked by people who come up and they say, I know a little bit about Paul, or maybe they'll say, I met him once and they ask, what's one book of his that either I really need to have or I need the one book to recommend to a friend.
A fine Christmas gift, perhaps. And now I can finally say here is that one volume, because there are 18 chapters selected from across 14 books. It's really the best of the best. And I especially recommend it because in this book, Paul Kurtz is giving the positive secular humanist affirmation of life and the humanist ethos that we all need for advancing our lives on this planet. It's a global vision for the 21st century. It's not just negativity. It's not just atheism.
It's not just, you know, rants against religion. Although Paul's no friend of religion, but it's that plus that everybody is looking for. And that's why people have gravitated to Paul Kurtz over those years. So let me just give the title once again. It's called Meaning and Value in a Secular Age, and it's just fresh out from Prometheus Books. Great. Thank you so much, John. It's been a pleasure being your host on the podcast and having you as our host.
Thanks. It's been terrific. Thank you so much. This concludes another episode of Rationally Speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense. The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog. This podcast is produced by Benny Pollack and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York.
Our theme, Truth by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.