What Good Is Philosophy?

Philosophy ScienceThis post will annoy some of my friends, and maybe with good reason. Perhaps I have it wrong. I’m sure you’ll let me know if I do.

Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig often bring pop philosophy into the study of problems in physics and biology as if they’re making an important contribution to the scientific conversation. Offering common sense tips serves no purpose, because obviously the scientists are already aware of them. But scientists aren’t Craig’s audience. He’s posturing to ordinary people.

Pop philosophy example #1

For example, Craig has said, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.” That follows from our everyday experience, but surely a world-class philosopher won’t be satisfied with just a platitude. He must offer something more formal to ensure that it applies beyond our everyday experience.

Nope. Craig defends it this way:

[This] step is so intuitively obvious that I think scarcely anyone could sincerely believe it to be false. I therefore think it somewhat unwise to argue in favor of it, for any proof of the principle is likely to be less obvious than the principle itself.

I guess we know that it works just cuz.

Wouldn’t it be simpler as “Everything has a cause”? Craig tips his hand with the clumsy “begins to exist” qualifier. If everything has a cause, then God must have a cause, and Craig can’t have that. He wants to imagine that God has no beginning and so needs no cause, and so Craig adds the phrase to preserve his presupposition. He appeals to common sense when it suits him but ignores it when it doesn’t.

Worse, in this example, Craig’s intuition turns out to be wrong! The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics (there are other interpretations, but this one may be the most popular among physicists) says that some events at the quantum level have no cause. For example, when thorium-234 naturally decays into protactinium-234, the nucleus emits an electron. The electron wasn’t in the nucleus before, and it had no cause. The universe at the beginning of the Big Bang might have also been a cause-less quantum particle.

Craig could respond that this interpretation may be overturned. That’s right, but Craig has lost certainty in the truth of his platitude.

Pop philosophy example #2

Another example is, “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” Actually, this isn’t from Craig but from a song from the film The Sound of Music. Craig’s pop philosophical version is no more profound: “Out of nothing, nothing comes.”

True to form, he vacuously defends his fundamental axiom by saying that it “is as certain as anything in philosophy and … no rational person sincerely doubts it.” Apparently not reason but the fear of Craig calling us irrational supports this axiom. One wonders if Dr. Craig would accept this childish argument from one of his students.

And note how he attacks his own position. If something can’t come out of nothing, how can God have created the universe out of nothing? Even more confusing, it’s not clear that God did create out of nothing. The Old Testament has different creation stories, including one where Yahweh creates the world out of the carcass of the slain chaos monster Rahab (this Combat Myth is discussed in depth here).

Pop philosophy example #3

A related challenge is Leibniz’s “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That’s a provocative question until you realize that it assumes that nothing is the default. But why would that be? That’s a bold claim that must be defended.

And why would Christians attack with this challenge when they don’t assume that nothing is the default? They assume that God is, which is yet another claim that is asserted without evidence.

In the same way that Newton challenged the common-sense axiom that an object’s natural state is to be at rest (it isn’t, and his First Law of Motion overturns this assumption), physicist Vic Stenger concludes that nothing is actually unstable and would decay into something.

Asking why there is something rather than nothing may be as irrelevant a question as Johannes Kepler asking why there are five planets. Thanks, but I think I’ll get my cosmology from the cosmologists, not from pop philosophy.

And so on

There are other empty platitudes. That an infinitely old universe is impossible since a gulf of infinitely many moments of time would be impossible to cross. That the order in our universe demands an Orderer. That there must have been a First Cause (and the rest of Aquinas’s Five Ways). And so on.

Common sense has its place, but have the humility to realize that, at the frontier of science, it’s a poor guide. If a simple platitude resolved a difficult puzzle, we wouldn’t be at the frontier of science.

When the latest discoveries offend your common sense, the problem is yours, not the science.

What’s sauce for the goose …

Let’s be fair. Skeptics like me also use common sense arguments—no one can rise from the dead, there are no unicorns, and so on. But these are simply starting points, initial assumptions. I’m happy to reconsider them, show the evidence behind them, and hear evidence that my position is wrong. You say that someone has been raised from the dead? Okay, let’s see the evidence.

I use evidence-based common sense starting points, while Craig uses philosophical platitudes that sound right but are sometimes simply taken on faith.

Stephen Hawking has no patience for philosophical intrusions into science. In The Grand Design, he considers mankind’s big questions (“How does the universe behave?” “Where did this all come from?” and so on):

Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result, scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

That may be a bit much, even for me. But bringing up pop philosophy when the topic is physics is like bringing a popgun to a gunfight.

(For some positive comments about philosophy, see Part 2.)

Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists
as ornithology is to birds.
— Richard Feynman

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • GubbaBumpkin

    Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig…

    I think this is the problem right here. WLC is an apologist. He is practicing sophistry, not philosophy. I, and presumably you, have no problem with philosophy per se, but rather with the abuse of it we see from the likes of WLC and Plantinga. If philosophy as a field does not wish to be tarred with this brush (cough cough Massimo Pigliucci), then perhaps philosophy as a field should reign in or disown the abusers.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’m partway through Dennett’s Intuition Pumps. I hope that he will help salvage the good stuff for me.

  • Joe

    That’s right, but Craig has lost certainty in the truth of his platitude.

    I don’t see Craig ever losing certainty in the truth of any of his platitudes. Not gonna happen. All anyone will ever see is “so and so failed to do this” and “so and so failed to do that” and “so and so is actually proving my point”, therefore Craig wins, like usual. It’s all a game and he doesn’t care.

  • Jakeithus

    Hopefully everyone can agree on this; science should be left to the scientists, and philosophy to the philosophers.

    • hector

      Non-overlapping realms of magisteria?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’m still mystified what those philosophers actually deliver on. If wrestling with the hard problems at the frontier of physics is “philosophy,” and only physicists are qualified, what’s left for the philosophers?

      • MNb

        Ethics and esthetics.
        But also questions like: what is time? What is space? What is mattter? Providing mathematical models does not really answering these questions.
        If I were a philosopher I would begin with sending an inquiry to say 1000 physicists asking to provide answers in no more than say 500 words (to each question). Should provide a trained philosopher with a lot of food for thought.

        • Compuholic

          Providing mathematical models does not really answering these questions.

          I am curious as to how such an answer would actually look like.

        • MNb

          So am I. Augustinus of Hippo gave some nice reflections on time; very insightful imo. See Confessiones, Book 13, especially from chapter 12 on (you have to neglect the divine stuff of course).
          Alas I only could find Dutch and German translations.

        • Compuholic

          German is fine for me :-)
          Will have a look when I have some spare time.

        • MNb

          Seek and thou shall find. I was looking for a German translation and found this:

          http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3296/3296-h/3296-h.htm

          But here it is chapter 11 (and you have to skip a few paragraphs).
          If you prefer German:

          http://www.ub.uni-freiburg.de/fileadmin/ub/referate/04/augustinus/bekennt1.htm#1100

          Elftes Buch (again!) – Zwölftes Kapitel

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Project Gutenberg has a copy in English. (No chapter markers, however.)

    • MNb

      No. I disagree. I’m all for cooperation, exactly because modern physics has become so abstract that it almost is esoteric. But one thumbrule should be accepted: whenever philosophy contradicts modern physics (even science in general) then philosophy is wrong.
      Note that this was Carroll’s strategical foundation when debating Craig.

      • Jakeithus

        I’m actually all for cooperation, but it needs to involve both parties, which is what I was trying to express with my statement. There is a place for both science and philosophers, and hopefully they can converse with one another, but it does little good for scientists to try and dominate philosophical thought, or for philosophers to overreach into areas of science.

        Can you provide an example of your basic thumbrule, where recent philosophy has tried to contradict science in an area that should be best left to science’s expertise?

        • MNb

          OK, then we agree.

          “where recent philosophy… ”
          WLC with his Cosmological Argument. One of the premises (causality) contradicts Quantum Mechanics and when he combines CA with Fine-Tuning he neglects the fact that there are about 30 natural constants, which (if we grant him causality) all need a First Cause – hence polytheism. He also neglects the fact that the Earth is a negligible spot in the Universe.

        • Pofarmer

          Yep, considering that the earth is maybe 1/10 th of a light second across, in a universe that is billions of light years across, with 100’s of billions of galaxies and 100’s of billions of planets per galaxy, then, saying that it was designs just for us seems a little , I dunno, wasteful?

    • GubbaBumpkin

      Hopefully everyone can agree on this; science should be left to the scientists, and philosophy to the philosophers.

      That is precisely the sort of statement Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D. Ph.D. Ph.D. can use as a suppository. I read scientific papers. They routinely contain logical reasoning and even mathematics. And of course a good dollop of parsimony (Occam’s razor). The tightly circumscribed vision of science reflected in your statement is unrealistically narrow. And stupid.

      • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

        Pigliucci seems like the type of person who would disagree with that statement too. He’s constantly dogging scientists for their low opinion of philosophy.

      • Jakeithus

        I actually agree strongly with what I can find about Pigliucci. Hopefully scientists can learn philosophy, and philosophers can learn science, but neither side should presuppose they don’t need the other field, or that they can speak for the other field when it is outside their area of expertise.

        I’m personally more worried about scientists sprouting off bad philosophy as if it were true, rather than philosophers representing bad science, but that’s just me.

  • johzek

    We actually have no examples of things beginning to exist ex nihilo, that is literally from nothing. Every event in the universe is simply a rearrangement of the already existing matter and energy. This includes the so called virtual particles of quantum mechanics. These particles are part of the quantum vacuum of spacetime which is most definitely something. Craig is simply relying on an equivocation fallacy because the next premise of the argument, that the universe began to exist, uses the concept of existence in this sense of being created from nothing whereas the first premise uses the concept of existence as just a change in the arrangement of matter and energy.

    • hector

      Yes. This goes to the example of Thorium decay, which I think is inaccurate in Bob’s description. The electron, aka beta particle, emitted by the Thorium-234 nucleus was in the nucleus before, but it was combined with a proton to form a neutron. When the beta particle is emitted, the neutron that it was a part of becomes a proton and hence Thorium-234 becomes a whole new element Protactinium-234. This is, as you say, simply a rearrangement of existing matter and energy, not creation from literal nothing.

      • Jason Wexler

        Protons and Neutrons are composite Hadrons composed of 2 Up and a Down Quark; and 2 Down and an Up Quark respectively, electrons are a different type of elementary particle at the same “level” as the quark. Your hypothesis of what is happening is probably close to correct in so far as electrons and quarks may also be composites of some even more fundamental substraight.

    • Pofarmer

      This is Laurence Kraus argument, that the concept of nothing itself is incoherrent. There is no such thing as nothing. Thing is, he has empirical backing for his argument.

      • hector

        Kraus simply defines nothing as something other than literal nothing so I’m not sure that really solves the problem. It didn’t convince me that he was on to something when I heard him expound upon it, but then again I’m not a mathematician or theoretical physicist.

        I really don’t think science has enough empirical backing on this point for us to be confidently asserting to theists that something can come from nothing. It’s better to stick with what we have for now: 1) We don’t know that something can’t come from nothing, 2) if 1 is true then where did god come from? and 3) it’s perfectly possible that there never was nothing and something has always existed. Frankly I can’t see how theists ever get past the logic of no 2 alone without special pleading.

        • wtfwjtd

          It sounds kind of simple but… I never really got how trotting out a deity neatly solves the whole “where did the universe come from” conundrum. Just ask about the mother of god, and the deist is right back where they started. I guess it’s an acceptable explanation from the time when man thought that the the earth is all there is, but we’ve kinda outgrown that view and expanded our horizons a bit in the last thousand years or so.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Maybe by talking about God you get to bring in magic, so you’re not constrained by anything? Makes no sense to me, either.

        • TheNuszAbides

          that’s exactly it. that’s sufficient for at least the peace of mind of the theist who might otherwise want to be intellectually engaged. ttfwtinkm (see Non Stamp Collector on youtube) is circular thinking stretched to the most grandiose span anyone can ever imagine (at least with any semblance of conceptual coherence).

        • MNb

          In the end it’s just a god of the gaps.

        • wtfwjtd

          That reminds me of a Neil degrasse Tyson remark:
          “God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m unclear on the physics as well. My understanding was that Krauss was saying that the “philosopher’s nothing” (that is, absolutely nothing at all) makes no sense. I’ve heard philosopher/apologists respond that Krauss’s “nothing” isn’t proper nothing, but then they give no reason to think that proper nothing was actually in the sequence of events somewhere.

        • hector

          I think Kraus is really aiming for no. 3 on my list, i.e. there has always been something. But he calls that unknown original something ‘nothing’ for reasons that I admit I do not understand. I don’t think theists are going to understand it either, so I see no point in using it in debates with theists.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Space with vacuum energy might be his “nothing.” That’s a lot less than we have in our universe, but a lot more than “philosophers’ nothing.”

        • MNb

          Ah, we are getting into the more esoteric parts of modern physics. Then we get funny questions like “do vacuum energy / quantum fields actually exist?”
          Philosophy should be good for stuff like this. Exactly because such concepts are so abstract it’s not always clear what’s meant and what the consequences are; as some physicists (but certainly not all) are quite bad at philosophy (not that I’m particularly good) I don’t think we should leave these concepts only to them.
          Of course the recent Craig-Carroll debate has painfully made clear that philosophers better consult physicists before trotting out stuff. Fortunately there are more than enough helpful ones. I’m all for cooperation.

        • MNb

          You can find the link to Sean Carroll’s piece on scientific disagreement above on two places. Here I remark that it contains some solid philosophy – exactly because it’s grounded on modern science!

        • Pofarmer

          His point is that even what we may concieve of as ” nothing” still has the fabric of quantum mechanics.

        • hector

          Yeah, see, I don’t think that definition of nothing will persuade a single theist that ‘something can come from nothing’. It’s not persuading me. Theists will just say ‘god created the fabric of quantum mechanics because he knew it would lead to humans’.

        • MNb

          Yeah. A year ago I wrote something similar on Mano Singham’s blog, during his series on the higgs-boson. I haven’t met a theist yet making the point.

          Gen 1:3: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
          can be interpreted as “And God said: Let there be quantum fields: and there were quantum fields.”
          The foton is the bearer of light and it “moves” (I bet Aquino fan SteveK is going to drool now) in the electro-magnetic field, which is also a quantum field (but here his drooling might stop, because it’s a probabilistic “movement”).

        • KarlUdy

          Hugh Ross bases his understanding of creation on a similar idea. I think it is flawed thinking though.

        • smrnda

          Could it just be that our words like ‘nothing’ aren’t really adequate for explaining quantum mechanics, and that there are no good equivalents?

        • Greg G.

          Philosophical nothingness is like a Platonic ideal. A perfect equilateral triangle is philosophically conceivable but it cannot exist in reality. Likewise, a perfect nothingness is conceivable but cannot exist in reality.

          To maintain a perfect nothingness would require a maintainer, which is not nothing.

        • Pofarmer

          As Kraus puts it. “nothing wants to create something, it turns out that nothing-is unstable.”

        • Kodie

          Why does it require a maintainer? That sounds like “something can’t come from nothing” to me. I can’t think of nothingness, I think there was wind at least, lol. WTF is wind? There’s matter, and without matter, there is nothing. But without matter, could there still be something like pressure or temperature? Gravity and time are not material. These are things I find confusing. Pressure or temperature seem to be properties assigned to material objects or spaces. Like, my room is “warm” because there’s a radiator, because there’s a boiler room, etc. And it’s only “warm” because I can feel it or measure it with a thermometer.

          When I think of nothingness, I still think of space with nothing in it, and it sort of still has to be some kind of temperature and maybe it’s kind of windy.

          The idea of a literal something coming from absolutely nothing does sound like a cartoon. Blank sheet of paper, and then you put something on it. You start to draw lines or splash ink or stamp it or something. This is the same as the theist’s concept. A blank sheet of paper and a person acting over it with some medium, some materials that came from some stationery supply store. To put it another way, you’re looking at that sheet of paper and, well, in my mind, a drawing of a cube appears. The 3 visible facets are pastel colors with dark black edges, if that matters. There’s nothing, and without any evidence of applied media, this cube suddenly appears and it makes this “blip” sound. And then holy shit, it starts expanding and exploding and making violent shit happen and it’s suddenly already incomprehensibly large. It is like a stop motion film with a bunch of frames missing.

          Now doesn’t that sound crazy? In my rational mind, I don’t think it happened like that at all, but I don’t think theists are very rational. I try to imagine what things are really like all the time, like what it’s like to be home doing nothing when a catastrophic incident causes me to die. The world is watching it unfold on tv but I am already dead, how does that even work? Or, like, what it’s like to walk down my street 100 years ago or 2000 years from now, or holy fuck, what it would be like if there were dinosaurs, or how I would even react to a real whale. They’re fucking large. That’s a massive alive thing I can’t even imagine, even having seen life-size models in museums… say, not like a tree or something else pretty big like a building. It’s really hard to imagine something outside of a personal range of experience. I don’t even think most people try as hard as I do to realize how difficult it is to actually put yourself in 1st person in a completely strange situation that you can’t experience unless you do. It is most impossible to understand what it feels like to be dead – that is nothingness. Sleeping? Can you imagine that something has happened that killed you and you don’t even know about it?

          To me, this is what it is like to imagine this ‘nothingness’. Whatever you think of isn’t it, it’s not even like it. I think theists develop some built concept of what it must be like that for something to come from it would be as absurd as a drawing of a cube instantly appearing on a blank sheet of paper. Therefore god. God waved his magical hand over the paper.

        • Pofarmer

          Think of it like a vaccuum, pressure from outside tries to fill it. The same is true of “nothing” , particles from the quantum level on up are going to try and fill it.

        • Kodie

          No, I don’t understand it. Lol, thanks for trying. If there are particles trying to get in, there is not nothing. There’s an inside and an outside and a something trying to get into the space of nothing that’s also something, with limits on its nothingness, outside of which is somethingness. My personal vision of nothing can only conceive of there having to be something, like you say, some kind of infinitesimal particle or wind or something. Keep in mind, I dropped out of science classes as soon as my high school requirement allowed, and technically no smarter than a theist. I’m not like the science nerd atheist who, for as little as anyone understands about QM, know at least as much as there is to know.

        • Pofarmer

          I think you’ve got it exactly.

        • Kodie

          As far as I understand it, we can’t know the properties of nothing. We can simulate nothingness in a limited amount of space, maybe?, but it exists alongside something. I do kind of understand properties of niches and level-seeking and path of least resistance, etc. Nature finds opportunity in nothingness, and yet I just described that in anthropomorphic terms as if inanimate things are seeking emptiness to fill.

        • MNb

          “We can simulate nothingness in a limited amount of space, maybe?”
          Well, it should not be too hard to find a slice of 1 cubic cm (and remember: compared to atomic level that’s huge) in space (somewhere out of our Solar System) which at a given moment there aren’t particles, ie no mass and no energy. You could say that is a piece of nothingness. Except that there are still quantum fields in that slice (probability of particles being there is temporarily zero), which leads us back to the question: do quantum fields exist?
          I wouldn’t know.

        • Pofarmer

          As I understand it, 3 is Krause argument.

  • wtfwjtd

    I like what YouTube’s Theoretical BS has to say about the various deist arguments these days. He talks about some arguments are designed to persuade people, whereas others are simply designed to end in a “ha–gotcha!” moment, that doesn’t convince anyone. That seems to be the favorite mode of many apologists these days, and after a while all I hear is nonsense that’s almost like little kids arguing: “well, your mama”, or the good old, “I know you are, but what am I?” If this is the best that Christian apologists can manage these days, it is easy to see why college-age youth are leaving Christianity in droves.
    I guess falling back on vacuous philosophical arguments is the strategy of final resort when your position has no significant evidence to support it.

  • Pofarmer

    Oh my. Bob is going after all the sacred cows.

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      Take that, philosophy!

  • smrnda

    I think a problem is that the normal words ‘something’ and ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’ map poorly to concepts in physics. I’m not a physicist, so I really honestly don’t feel like I can ‘translate’ physics into everyday language beyond the Newtonian mechanics or basic electricity and magnetism that I took in high school, and those are far more intuitive as that’s how the obvious world we see operates – billiard balls on a table, a car rolling down a hill, the fact that an electrical current can flow through water, these things are close enough to real life experience for an average person to get. Quantum stuff? Honestly, I don’t understand it, and perhaps Feynmann was right that nobody does, and that it really actually makes no sense.

    On philosophy, there is a bit of moral philosophy that I think can really be replaced with psychology and social sciences like economics or sociology.

    • MNb

      Feynmann was right. I can explain a few things about QM, but I don’t pretend it makes sense to me. In fact I have never met anybody, not even indirectly, who claimed it made sense. Even Stephen Hawking, not exactly the dumbest guy around, addressed this in A Brief History of Time (chapter 4): “Even after more than seventy years they have not been fully appreciated by many philosophers, and are still the subject of much controversy.”

      • smrnda

        I just find it comical; I am a mathematician, and I don’t pretend to be able to understand these things, nor do I feel competent to editorialize about evolutionary biology, yet about every Christian thinker believes they can pass judgment and assess these fields.

        • MNb

          Well, I could forgive them if they actually read and tried to understand stuff like Talk Origins and Why Evolution is true. That doesn’t prevent you from all blunders, but a lot can be avoided.

        • hector

          While at the same time dismissing the atheist thinker’s understanding of sophistercated theology because the atheist hasn’t read every single word Aquinas wrote on the 5 ways along with every single word that modern apologists have written on Aquinas.

        • smrnda

          I don’t believe in fairies, yet I have not read every single tome of fairly-lore. I guess I have a totally uninformed opinion then?

          I started reading Aquinas, and it was pure sophistry and nothing else, a mess of words so vague as to be meaningless and nothing but repetitions of the fallacy of “argument by verbose assertion.” The emperor has no clothes. “Natural Law” is just an attempt to pretend that Catholic doctrines on sexuality are not arbitrary teachings but somehow can be intuited by nature, but it’s based on assumptions about *teleology* that only make sense if you assume, a priori a creator with a specific purpose for everything, something which I reject for very good reasons.

          That’s the usual Catholic argument ‘you haven’t read enough!’ Well, it’s obvious from reading any of it that it’s meaningless drivel with no connection to reality.

          I honestly think philosophy is mostly a useless field, made obsolete by science, psychology, sociology and economics.

        • Kodie

          I looked at the arguments and they start with an unfounded premise like such: “such-and-such is obvious and nobody would disagree, right? Then let’s move on.”

          You know, hold on a minute. We didn’t establish anything, and if you were better read yourself, you’d know that science has a lot to say about your premise not being sound. The conclusion only holds up if your premise is sound, and no, we cannot move on.

          I have noticed this tactic among Christians a lot. They make a basic assumption and only want to hold a conversation as if we are all agreed on their premise. The most common ones are that we agree there is objective morality, and the other one is the prime mover. The problem is, if we can ignore reality and agree their premises are sound, we do not reach illogical conclusions as far as I can tell. The arguments are framed as though the premise is obvious and agreeable, and anyone who disagrees with the premise is a stupid doody-head whose opinion doesn’t matter, and this fortifies their confidence in the soundness of the argument.

        • MNb

          “I have noticed this tactic among Christians a lot.”
          So have I. Me being a nasty Dutchman thus prefer to go after the premises as quickly as possible. You seem to have noticed too that those christians don’t take it well. That’s good for me, because pissed off christians (especially the smart ones) entertain me. Hat tip: as soon as one says “you don’t know/understand nearly enough” you may assume you have found a sensitive spot.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The intellectual obstacle should be on entering the faith. You should be required to read opinion on both sides. But Christians are eager to accept your coming in for non-intellectual reasons. It’s only when you want to leave that they pile on the books with heavy philosophy and insist that you must vanquish these obstacles before you leave.

        • smrnda

          The other problem is, what % of Catholics have actually read anything more than a trivial % of what’s been written by the church? Or take something like the whole collection of Jewish writings; there is probably no one person who has ever read it all by a long shot.

        • MNb

          Heheh – thanks to GCBill above I have another famous physicist confirming not understanding QM:

          http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/17/the-most-embarrassing-graph-in-modern-physics/

          “And yet — we don’t understand it. Embarrassing. To all of us, as a field (not excepting myself).”
          Ah – scientists are often so much more fun. Precious little philosophy is good for fun like this.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I think philosophy of science is quite important, in particular the issue of demarcation — what counts as science and what doesn’t. It seems to me that this is the key point in battling Intellegent Design. You can *believe* in whatever you want, but don’t pretend it’s science.

    Also, there is the issue of: what the hell is a cause, anyway? If some sort of Kantian answer is right, that causality is a subjective way in which we interpret the world, then we have no justification in positing it existing in the noumenal world — that is, “out there.”

  • MNb

    The only annoying point of your article is the title – WLC is certainly not representative for modern philosophy. Even Herman Philipse, the Dutch atheist philosopher who wrote God in the Age of Science only spends 4 pages out of 350+. Moreover WLC is not a philosopher per se – he is a philosopher of religion. Ask Chris H:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2013/04/philosophy-of-religion-without-apologetics/

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2013/04/a-summary-of-the-problems-i-see-with-philosophy-and-why-im-thinking-of-going-back-anyway/

    Alas I couldn’t find back the article where he writes that many philosophers look down on philosophers of religion like WLC – which should not be surprising, given that 80% of all philosophers think that there is no god.

    “this one may be the most popular among physicists”
    The most popular these days seems to be the many-worlds interpretation, but that one is thoroughly probabilistic as well.

    • GCBill

      One small nitpick: many-worlds might not be the most popular interpretation, although it is certainly among the popular ones.

      • MNb

        Nice! It looks like opinions have shifted once again. Alas I can’t remember and refind where I read that the many-worlds interpretation was the most popular.
        Heheh – Copenhagen is my favourite.
        This is more exciting than any national election.
        Damn – I should read Sean Carroll on a regular base.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      There is a good article saying that WLC is laughed at by philosophers, but I can’t find it. Sorry.

  • GCBill

    According to the comprehensive Bourget & Chalmers survey, modern philosophers are largely convinced of atheism, with 72.8% accepting it and 10.5% “leaning towards” it. I’m having a hard time finding a comparatively global assessment of scientists’ beliefs, but at least in the US they’re actually more likely to believe than philosophers are (59% reject God, though only 41% reject both God and a “higher power”). So it strikes me as bizarre that you’d target this particular cow, for it is the one that is most likely to nourish the movement.

    I should also mention that philosophy of religion is the one field within philosophy that holds strongly to belief in God. Apologists want to use this as a point in their favor, but I think there’s a more likely explanation: philosophers who believe in God often want to specialize in phil. of religion, whereas those who don’t believe are considerably less likely to find the field interesting. Be careful not to take the arguments of WLC, Plantinga, etc. as representative of the overall quality (or even the overall consensus) of current philosophy. If you step outside the realm of apologetics, I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  • busterggi

    I suppose philosophy has a smaller carbon footprint than masturbation but its also less rewarding.

  • ZenDruid

    I agree with Hawking and Krauss when they said that philosophy doesn’t have any answers for them. There is no meta-cosmology worth discussing. I figure that those ‘lovers of knowledge’ out there would do best by learning, for example, how to translate QFT into intelligible human language. Or else, shut up. Kudos to Sean M Carroll for his efforts.

    There is no overarching meta-philosophy for everything, of course. Let’s keep the philosophies of science, art, government, life, etc., in their respective boxes.

    • MNb

      “There is no meta-cosmology worth discussing.”
      As long as Hawking and Krauss aren’t capable of giving good definitions of space, time and mass I beg to disagree.

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

    Saying philosophy is useless to science is like saying math is useless to architecture. Math itself doesn’t create buildings, after all, so we should just leave the architects alone to build. Science is a philosophical subject, just one that deals with measurable, verifiable data. Scientists resent philosophers for the simple reason that they can’t tolerate skepticism of their ideas.

    None of this is meant to suggest that William Lane Craig isn’t full of shit.

    • Dorfl

      If science is a part of philosophy, then scientists are philosophers.

      I don’t particularly resent philosophers. I can get annoyed at them sometimes, when they act like philosophy can work like a shortcut that saves them the trouble of actually understanding the mathematics behind something – or when they assume that intuitions that are built into the human brain because they work as human-scale approximations of physics are metaphysical principles that underlie physics. To be fair though, that’s much more common among philosophers of religion than others.

      • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

        Again, I’m not talking about WLC here. I’ve read perfectly reasonable philosophy of science, particularly as it relates to creationism and ID, by the likes of Philip Kitcher and Robert Pennock.

        • Pofarmer

          Any links?

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          Sorry. I read Philip Kitcher’s Abusing Science in a library copy; his exhausive analysis of creationism’s methodological weaknesses was written in the 80s and is now out of print. Robert Pennock’s Tower of Babel: Evidence Against the New Creationism took the ID bunch to task in the late 90s.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I always like to see the ID guys get a good thrashing, but what arguments were used? If these two scholars were biologists, I guess they’d be biological/scientific arguments. But since they’re philosophers, I don’t know what they’d say.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’m not saying that philosophy is useless to science, I’m saying that philosophers are useless to science.

  • KarlUdy

    What do you mean by pop philosophy?

    • busterggi

      Which is intrinsically better – Coke or Pepsi?

      • avalpert

        Dr. Pepper because he has the academic credentials

        • busterggi

          Ah, but is his doctorate from an accredited school?

          Of course no, he didn’t have the Moxie.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The examples explain it best. By “pop” (popular) philosophy, I meant something that makes immediate sense or which hits us viscerally but which isn’t necessarily grounded in anything substantial. “Pop art” or “pop music” might be similar examples

      • KarlUdy

        This is an interesting take on “pop”. Because if “pop” just means easily accessible by the masses, then it is Richard Dawkins job as Professor of Public Understanding of Science to do “pop science”. To introduce a polemical element to “pop” is interesting in the way that you use it, because besides being easily accessible by the masses, the only real distinction seems to be that you don’t agree with it, which is made clear by your dismissal of Leibnitz – whose work could hardly be called a pop philosophy.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          This isn’t helpful. Go back to the statements that I label as pop philosophy and show me that they are well grounded, meaningful, and accurate.

          If you agree with me that they’re not, then perhaps we’re on the same page.

        • Jason

          Bob, I don’t think ‘pop’ can be reduced to inaccurate, if that’s what you’re suggesting. By any measure, you blog is pop scholarship. You distill scientific information and other scholarship and present in a way that engages the average intelligent reader. I don’t mean that as an insult.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Pop” to me means more snappy instead of thoughtful, common sense instead of deeply researched.

          Sure, common sense is often reliable. It’s when someone like WLC points to common sense as his only backup for a statement that we are on thin ice.

        • TheNuszAbides

          “Snap philosophy”. “Snap psychology”. i like it.

        • Kodie

          “Pop” anything sounds good to someone who probably has no background in the subject and no way of discerning whether the source is credible or not. It’s popular, it’s for the people. It doesn’t mean the information is right or wrong, although I think even correct information might be presented in a way that’s not entirely accurate. Pop science, for example, often ends up on a news program with some provocative headline drawing a snappy conclusion that the audience will not explore, and then go around believing they’ve learned something and repeat it to others. Then you get people online maybe talking about this study, and someone chimes in to say “well, that’s not exactly what came out of it, there’s more to it.” These are stories that sometimes lead to panics or fads.

          “One recent study demonstrated that the nutrients contained in broccoli give people an increased ability to learn a musical instrument” (I made that up) would turn into the pop version: “feed your kids broccoli before their piano lessons to boost their chances of being a musical prodigy”. In the actual study, with all the dry data to go through, the increase is real but not that much, hasn’t been assessed by the scientific community, and much later it is discovered there was an error in the experiment that may have skewed the results. This won’t make it to a headline or a 45-second news filler. Like, didn’t the doctor who is responsible for lending credibility to the anti-vax movement, didn’t he perform some actual experiments that led to the conclusion that so many people believe? He has been discredited publicly, but the pop science of “a study shows…” is what sells. They have no background or way of discerning the source’s credibility one way or another.

        • KarlUdy

          I agree Jason, which is why I asked this line of questions.

          On that definition I would not argue the fact that William Lane Craig does pop philosophy because he does write and present a lot for a popular as opposed to academic audience. (Although to be fair, he does also produce academic philosophy as well – I don’t expect many of us to read it, academic writing tends to be not easy to read for a layman).

          But I am perplexed by the inclusion of Leibniz as a pop philosopher. His philosophical writings were not for the layman, and were at the forefront of philosophical thinking for his time.

        • MNb

          Karl, you’re silly again, which is a pity, because you do raise some good points this time.

          “But I am perplexed by the inclusion of Leibniz as a pop philosopher.”
          Read the paragraph again. Slowly. Closely. Nowhere BobS even hints that he thinks Leibniz a pop philosopher. He writes about the question “why is there something rather than nothing”, which in our days has produced a lot of pop philosophy indeed – or is used as a debate stopper.

        • KarlUdy

          Karl, you’re silly again, which is a pity, because you do raise some good points this time.

          Wow. Damned with faint praise. I guess I’ll have to take it. It’s the only kind I’ll get from some people on this board.

          Read the paragraph again. Slowly. Closely. Nowhere BobS even hints that he thinks Leibniz a pop philosopher.

          Ok. Here goes. Bob starts with this …

          A related challenge is Leibnitz’s “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

          And finishes with …

          Asking why there is something rather than nothing may be as irrelevant a question as Johannes Kepler asking why there are five planets. Thanks, but I think I’ll get my cosmology from the cosmologists, not from pop philosophy.

          It seems that Bob thinks that anyone who asks the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is engaging in pop philosophy. And he states at the beginning that Leibniz is someone who asks this question. It certainly seems like he is identifying Leibniz as someone who, according to him, engages in pop philosophy, which would make him, according to Bob, a pop philosopher.

          I think that counts as at least a hint, don’t you?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Let’s focus on the question and how it’s used and misused. What I think of Leibnitz as a person (sartorial choices, political opinions, boxers vs. briefs, etc.) isn’t interesting.

        • KarlUdy

          This is a change of tune from you after you have said on this thread …
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2014/03/what-good-is-philosophy/#comment-1283054385:

          This issue is philosophers, not philosophy.

          and http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2014/03/what-good-is-philosophy/#comment-1283006632:

          I’m not saying that philosophy is useless to science, I’m saying that philosophers are useless to science.

          But if you want to talk about the philosophy instead of the philosophers luckily you can read what I wrote above on why I think your dismissal of the question was wrong.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Sorry this post is such a struggle for you. I’ll try to write more simply next time.

        • KarlUdy

          The only struggle I’m having is trying to figure out why you’re being so evasive. If it helps I’ll copy my criticism and invitation for you to respond :

          The question doesn’t assume nothing is the default. What it does assume is firstly, that we are agreed that there is in fact something (ie the world, universe, or whatever you want to call it), and secondly, that it is not obvious that this something exists necessarily. If you want to argue that these premises are not well-grounded, then go ahead.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, I’m evasive. I’m avoiding your tangents. You’re just trying to make conversation. Let’s talk about the argument in the post instead.

        • KarlUdy

          Tangents?!

          Your original post characterized the question (generally attributed to Leibniz) “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as pop philosophy. I’m not sure whether your argument is that anyone who asks this question is by definition doing pop philosophy (in which case you’d have a lot of serious philosophers to contend with), or whether your mistaken idea that the argument assumes nothing as the default is a fatal flaw?

          Which is the main road, and which is the tangent? I’ll let you decide.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Here’s the point: when you ask, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” let’s avoid the assumption that nothing would be the default.

          Why is this hard? I mean, besides your earnest desire to make it so?

        • KarlUdy

          Here’s my point: the question does not assume that nothing is the default. All it assumes is that it is not given that something must exist.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And that point deserved all that bluster and outrage?

          I agree. However, taken in a pop philosophical manner, as some are eager to do, it can assume that something must exist. It can be used as a mindless appeal to common sense: “Oh, you’re so smart? Then how do you explain why there’s something rather than nothing?” That’s the point. That’s what bugs me.

          Are we in violent agreement now?

        • KarlUdy

          And that point deserved all that bluster and outrage?

          I did have to write it three times before you engaged with it.

          This seems to be a different issue than what you wrote about in your original post, where you seemed to categorize the question itself as pop philosophy. Whereas now you are saying that the use of the question as a smokescreen or non sequitor “gotcha” is pop philosophy.

          But if this is your point, why include your examples #1 and #2, which are not even questions, let alone “gotcha” conversation-stopping questions?

        • MNb

          “before you engaged with it”
          Ah, Jesus teaches how imperfect Homo Sapiens is but Karl isn’t capable of reflecting of himself. Typically christian.
          Silly, this is because you focus way to much on “Boooo, BobS calls Leibniz a pop philosopher” and “Booo, BobS has changes his tune”.

        • MNb

          One sincere advise. Forget the silly “Boooo, BobS thinks that Leibniz is a pop-philosopher” and “Boooo, BobS has changed his tune” stuff and focus on “the question does not assume that nothing is the default”.
          That’s the interesting and relevant discussion.

        • KarlUdy

          MNb,

          I did. And what was the response I got …

          Yes, I’m evasive. I’m avoiding your tangents. You’re just trying to make conversation. Let’s talk about the argument in the post instead.

          How about calling Bob out on answering the interesting and relevant questions instead of avoiding them, if that’s what you really want.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          What’s to avoid? We apparently were in agreement.

        • MNb

          “It seems ….”
          To you. Not to me. That’s why I asked you to reread.
          Apparently you are determined once again to accept the most disflattering interpretation. Which is a pity, because like I wrote it distracts from the good points you raise.

        • KarlUdy

          Um, have you read Leibniz, or did you just come across that line attributed to him somewhere online? Because you do realize that this wasn’t an isolated one-liner that he threw out for a soundbite for TV or the blogs, right?

          You said:

          A related challenge is Leibnitz’s “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That’s a provocative question until you realize that it assumes that nothing is the default. But why would that be? That’s a bold claim that must be defended.

          The question doesn’t assume nothing is the default. What is the does assume is firstly, that we are agreed that there is in fact something (ie the world, universe, or whatever you want to call it), and secondly, that it is not obvious that this something exists necessarily. If you want to argue that these premises are not well-grounded, then go ahead.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who snickered at the pat dismissal of the dilemma of Being itself. Sam Harris attributes the question to Schelling (no pop philosopher either) and characterizes it as an unrivaled mystery.

          Incidentally, I find the Feynman epigram for this post a little puzzling. Could it be that he was trying to be ironic? It seems obvious to me that, although they might not be able to understand it, birds benefit enormously from ornithology. As we understand more about their migration, diseases, and feeding patterns, we can protect bird species from epidemics or extinction.

        • KarlUdy

          Shem,
          Glad to know I’m not the only one fighting the echo chamber here.

          If Feynman wasn’t being ironic, it’s a classic example of hubris.

          It seems to me that some who place all their trust in science, can’t bear to consider the lack of certainty that the introduction of philosophy of science brings to their endeavours.

          And then they rail on how apologists like WLC can’t cope without certainty. Now, that’s ironic.

        • Kodie

          I think pop science gives people the feeling that they’re smart for learning something but the audience is still unable to fathom why the article may be reporting right information or wrong information. It is a good way for academia to translate the high points so that the populace can grasp it. Creationists like Ken Ham trade in this subject just the same. Nobody knows what he’s talking about but it makes sense. It’s marketing a tough subject for idiots in a way that appeals to their ego. Just like pop philosophy. I would not say it is not substantial, just that it appeals to people’s superficial interest in understanding a subject and once consuming the arguments, have a tendency to make them think this means they are smart. Kind of like you.

    • Jason

      An ancient example of pop philosophy is Cicero’s Paradoxes of the Stoics. Cicero was an intellectual but not a philosopher, and in this treatise he presented a sequence of paradoxical statements with philosophical significance. It’s pop because its not thorough or rigorous in approach. Average readers might not understand its full significance but they could understand isolated points in a basic way and apply them to something. Similarly, Christian apologists (and Bob, to a certain extent, you do this for your Atheist followers) arm their followers with canned arguments of pop scholarship (e.g. well the universe must have had a beginning, so God exists; Palestine was too small for anyone to get away with a false gospel so they must be all true).

  • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman
    • avalpert

      Do you have a cite for this particular quote – seems like a paraphrase (and more poorly written one at that) of what he wrote in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea:

      “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination”

      • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

        It’s on page 20 of Dennett’s Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.

        In either phrasing, the quote makes the point that conducting scientific research, not to mention assessing the fruits of such research, involves philosophical assumptions that are beside the point for practical-minded people.

        • smrnda

          There are some assumptions, but I tend to find that they aren’t exactly wild assumptions that are slipping under the radar.

          Part of this is that we’ve seen how scientists were wrong in the past. Some psychologists declared internal mental states to be outside the realm of science because they could not be observed, but that was only because they didn’t have the equipment, so we’ve improved and now admit that some things we just can’t know or measure right now.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          I tend to find that they aren’t exactly wild assumptions that are slipping under the radar.

          I didn’t intend to suggest they are, and I doubt Dennett would say they are either. However, it’s easy to forget that there are assumptions about the nature of reality and causation at work in scientific research of whatever kind.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      This issue is philosophers, not philosophy.

    • Compuholic

      […] just science that has been conducted without any consideration of its underlying philosophical assumptions

      Probably true. And yet we seem to do just fine without caring about philosophical assumptions. I never felt the need to talk to a philosopher about anything.

      • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

        And yet we seem to do just fine without caring about philosophical assumptions.

        People brewed beer for millennia without knowing anything about microbiology. Does that mean that an understanding of yeast life cycles is irrelevant to zymurgy?

        I think that’s what Dennett was getting at. Whether or not we acknowledge or examine our assumptions, they’re there. And if we’re uncomfortable with examining them too closely, maybe that’s a problem.

        • Compuholic

          Does that mean that an understanding of yeast life cycles is irrelevant to zymurgy?

          In a way, yes. If the knowledge of yeast life cycles is not required for brewing beer, then it is by definition irrelevant for this task. However I would agree that it is not irrelevant for zymurgy.

          Relevance is only a meaningful concept with regard to a certain context. Similarly, the philosophy of behind the assumptions behind science is probably interesting and relevant to philosophers. However to me as a scientist it is utterly useless. I am only concerned with what works and what does not. And what works is only determined by experiment.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          Relevance is only a meaningful concept with regard to a certain context.

          Okay, and if you give yourself permission to ignore all the context you want, then you can dismiss anything as irrelevant. I can’t deny I’m brewing beer in the “context” of microbiology, or that the assumptions of empirical inquiry aren’t relevant to science just because I can’t be bothered to acknowledge them.

          As far as what “works,” there’s a lot of context there too. How raw data is generated, organized, and interpreted involves a lot of philosophical assumptions, regardless of whether you’d rather others not examine them or critique them.

        • Compuholic

          Then please explain to me: If philosophy is so fundamentally useful to science. Why is it that no scientist ever seems to need help from a philosopher? I don’t know of a single colleague who ever sought help at the philosophy department.

          How raw data is generated, organized, and interpreted involves a lot of philosophical assumptions, regardless of whether you’d rather others not examine them or critique them.

          Again: I don’t doubt that philosophers talk amoung themselves about this. However they never seem to be needed when I am working with data. I often wanted to talk to a mathematician but never to a philosopher. Isn’t this odd if philosophy is indeed so fundamentally useful for working with data?

          Philosophers certainly often come with an overinflated sense of their own importance.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          If philosophy is so fundamentally useful to science. Why is it that no scientist ever seems to need help from a philosopher? I don’t know of a single colleague who ever sought help at the philosophy department.

          It couldn’t be because scientists are set in their ways, or that they resent anyone pointing out methodological flaws in their practice? Why would you expect scientists to be any more amenable to correction than any other type of put-upon employee in society?

          Philosophers certainly often come with an overinflated sense of their own importance.

          And I assume that, in contrast, scientists are filled with humility and the desire to learn. Right?

        • Compuholic

          […]or that they resent anyone pointing out methodological flaws in their practice?

          If our methodology is so flawed why is it that all the technological progress is not made by philosophers?

          […] scientists are filled with humility and the desire to learn.

          I don’t know about humility but certainly with the desire to learn. But the only authority we bow to is nature.

          But you are always welcome to prove me wrong: You said that philosophy has much to teach us about working with data.

          I happen to have some data right here. Maybe you could walk me through an example of what philosphy could provide that is of interest to science and not just philosophy itself:

          I am currently doing some experiments with my own local image descriptor based on this paper: http://goo.gl/qQv18A There is certainly a lot of data in this paper. Maybe you could illuminate me on what philosophy would have to contribute. Maybe we can even write a paper about this knowledge.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          You said that philosophy has much to teach us about working with data.

          I didn’t say that. What I said is that scientific research, in which raw data is generated, assessed, and interpreted, happens in the context of a methodology based on philosophical assumptions.

          I’m glad you have some data right there. What better way to demonstrate that scientists don’t get petulant whenever they have to admit that their discipline is based on an overarching philosophy than dumping a jargon-boulder on someone’s head? I get it. You’re like the musician who plays the Beethoven sonata but denies there’s any music theory involved: “What good is all that philosophy? You only hear the notes I play!”

          Sorry I mentioned context. Enjoy your research.

        • Compuholic

          What I said is that scientific research, in which raw data is generated, assessed, and interpreted, happens in the context of a methodology based on philosophical assumptions.

          Yeah I get it. And I didn’t deny that. You also claimed that this is important not only for philosophers but also for doing science. And that is the claim I am challenging. I repeateadly asked you to explain why that is important to do science? As far as I can see that is only relevant to philosophers. So please give me a concrete example how this is applied in scientific practice.

          And this is exactly an example why philosophy is so useless. Philosophers can only talk in nebulous and vague terms. Feel free to use a different subject than the one I suggested above but give me a concrete example of where the knowledge about the philosophical assumptions have been scientificly useful in data analysis.

          I get it. You’re like the musician who plays the Beethoven sonata but denies there’s any music theory involved

          No, you didn’t fucking get it. I guess the analogon would be: “Give me an example of how music theory helps the musician to play his instrument.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          In response to a request to understand the value that a philosopher would bring to a difficult science problem, you said:

          It couldn’t be because scientists are set in their ways, or that they resent anyone pointing out methodological flaws in their practice?

          I think we’re in agreement that philosophy is useful. Given a broad definition of the word, scientists practice it all the time. It’s the philosophers who are the issue. How would they help?

          Are you saying that they could help a great deal if scientists would simply accept their input? I need examples.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          I’m not a scientist or a philosopher, so I can’t present lab-based examples of how scientists and philosophers work together to produce results. But I recall during the evolution wars, plenty of philosophers of science weighed in on what constitutes science and what doesn’t. It seems the ID people use all the practical trappings and jargon of empirical inquiry, so their literature seems indistinguishable from legitimate science: can you offer analysis of Stephen Meyer’s works on a technical basis? I can’t. But it appears that the methodology of the ID crew is what sets them apart from actual scientists, and philosophers like Robert Pennock from Michigan State demonstrated how terms like “irreducible complexity” are pseudoscientific smokescreens.

          There are at least a few philosophers of science who are trying to introduce new dimensions to the field of neuroscience, where the analogy of the brain as a biological computer has become a dogma and the hard problem of consciousness abides. If a different way of conceptualizing the human, the mind, and the self, one that doesn’t rely on machine fantasies, would help neuroscience progress, wouldn’t that demonstrate useful collaboration between scientists and philosophers?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If philosophers are fighting the good fight, that’s great. Philosophers summarizing what makes good science seems redundant to scientists doing the same thing. Biologists who have the time and interesting in stamping out nonsense like ID–not all do–would make quick work of Meyer’s “contribution” to science.

          I’m not trying to be dogmatic here. Hey, maybe I’ve overlooked something. But it seems to me that the value that a philosopher can offer to a field is proportionate to that philosopher’s knowledge of that field. That is: show me a philosopher who’s making a substantial contribution to neuroscience and I’ll show you a neuroscientist.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          But it seems to me that the value that a philosopher can offer to a field is proportionate to that philosopher’s knowledge of that field.

          That’s absolutely true. Philosophers and scientists have to learn from each other.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m still unsure what philosophers bring to the party.

        • https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SteveFarrell Shem the Penman

          An awareness of context?

          I’m unsure of what you expect them to bring to the, um, party. Since the only philosopher you mentioned more then once in your post was the execrable William Lane Craig, I can’t help but wonder whether you judge all philosophers by that sorry standard.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Time is limited, as is my view of philosophy. If there are better examples than our beloved WLC, let me know.

          I’ll grant that smart people can give a fresh view to other fields–perhaps something along the lines of “Hey, in my field, we have something called X. That sounds morphologically similar to your problem Y. But we have resolved it nicely in my field, while you’re still stuck. Maybe our solution can give insights.”

          Maybe a philosopher can take the 30,000-foot view and provide this insight. Cool. But this would seem to me to be the exception rather than the rule. The counterexamples that come to mind are William Shockley (Nobel in physics) dabbling with race issues and Linus Pauling (Nobel in chemistry) dabbling with life extension.

        • MNb

          “If there are better examples”
          I haven’t ever mentioned this guy yet, have I?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Philipse
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_in_the_Age_of_Science%3F

        • MNb

          Put this way I agree with you. “Philosophy helping science” is too much asked. “Philosophy reflecting on what scientists do” is good enough.

        • TheNuszAbides

          this is exactly what impressed me the most about Sam Harris’s CV.

  • King Dave

    Great article once again Bob

    Why do people want to boycott Sea-world when most have had a solitary fish in a bowl slowly suffocating?

    Size does matter apparently

    Tolerance of others is easy to say when your neighbors are not Nigeria’s Boko Haram

    Rightfully so most people think all life is precious, but won’t hesitate to squish a spider under their boot

    Apparently looks matter as well

    This stuff keeps me up at night

  • Jason

    Bob, I agree with your rejection of these philosophical platitudes, as you call them. But you seem to reduce philosophy to (the misuse of) logic and science to responsible empiricism, but I don’t think either of those holds true. Logic and empirical evidence go hand in hand, for any responsible scholar. Calling bad logic philosophy would be like calling creationism science (which I’m sure you would object to). Creationist use empirical evidence just like your Christian philosophers use logic–inappropriately.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yes, bad logic and idiotic science are both bad.

      I’ll give (my take on) the other side of the issue tomorrow. Read that and see if the whole is a balanced package.

  • Justin

    Honestly, calling Craig a philosopher is a stretch. He doesn’t even realize that many of his own arguments undermine theism. For example, Craig often insists that the existence of an ‘actual infinite’ is logically impossible, and uses this to attack naturalistic theories about the origin of the universe, among other things.

    However, his own theism requires the existence of an ‘actual infinite’. For God to be God, he must be omnipotent, or in other words, infinitely powerful. After all, if he’s not, then one day Yahweh/Jesus/Allah/Zeus will run out of ‘power’ and thus cease to be God, which is unthinkable to a Christian like Craig.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Good point, thanks.

      I call WLC a philosopher because he has a doctorate in it, but if “by their fruits shall ye know them,” I agree that he ain’t much.

  • john

    “It’s intuitively obvious!”

    Sure, so too is it intuitively obvious that the sun and the planet all revolve around the earth.


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