The Case for a Creator: Credential Inflation

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 10

Chapter 10 of Case, which concerns human consciousness and the brain, is an interview with J.P. Moreland, a Christian philosopher and theologian. Like many of Strobel’s other interview subjects, Moreland is not a scientist and has no scientific credentials to speak of – this despite Strobel’s initial boast that he’ll be interviewing “authorities” [p.28] in the relevant fields.

I’ve already pointed out how Strobel tries to put a positive gloss on his interviewees’ backgrounds to make them seem more like scientists, but his attempt to inflate Moreland’s academic credentials is particularly hilarious:

Moreland’s science training came at the University of Missouri, where he received a degree in chemistry. He was subsequently awarded the top fellowship for a doctorate in nuclear chemistry at the University of Colorado but declined the honor to pursue a different path. He then earned a master’s degree in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Southern California. [p.253]

Amazing! So now everyone who has an undergraduate degree in chemistry is a scientific authority. Who knew?

This is the final interview of the book, which is fortunate for Strobel, since he’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point. If the book had gone on any longer, he’d probably be reduced to claiming that some Bible-thumping Christian theologian is a scientific authority because he learned Newton’s laws in high school. And please note, even if Moreland had been a master chemist, that field is still completely irrelevant to the subject of this chapter! Why is it that Strobel couldn’t find even one actual neuroscientist who was willing to speak to him?

This credential inflation is a direct and necessary consequence of the ideological straitjacket that Strobel has forced the text into. Throughout this book, it’s clearly demonstrated that he doesn’t conduct adversarial interviews; he only seeks out people who already have the same opinions as him, so the “interview” is just a matter of asking the right questions to give them an opportunity to regurgitate those opinions. This approach rules out interviewing more qualified people who genuinely do dissent from the orthodoxy in significant ways, such as the philosopher John Searle, who’s quoted in the beginning of the chapter as follows:

“You can expand the [computing] power all you want, hooking up as many computers as you think you need, and they still won’t be conscious, because all they’ll ever do is shuffle symbols.” [p.248]

The problem, in Strobel’s eyes, is that even though Searle dissents from the mainstream view of consciousness, he’s not an evangelical Christian. (He’s actually an atheist.) Therefore, he can be quote-mined, but no more than that; he must be kept at arm’s length and can’t be given the opportunity to express his actual views. This restricts Strobel’s potential interview subjects to the very small set of people who are not only orthodox evangelical Christians, but are willing to put that belief ahead of their scientific research. It seems that there’s no one at all in the field of neuroscience who fits that description, which is why Strobel is reduced to interviewing a Christian theologian with no scientific credentials and trying to pass him off as an authority on the brain.

Lastly, I want to point out the curious fact that, according to Strobel, Moreland was offered a fellowship to get his Ph.D, but turned it down in order to attend seminary. Why is that, I wonder? Is it remotely possible that he realized succeeding in the field of chemistry requires actual, concrete results… while being a theologian tends to be a cushy job which makes few demands on its practitioners and has no objective measure of success? Such is the intellectual waste produced by the non-subject of theology, a field of inquiry possessing not a single piece of verifiable data. Countless minds, many of them quite brilliant and perfectly capable of producing something of benefit to humanity, have been squandered in the idle and futile speculations of religion.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    This is funny, I hadn’t noticed Strobel’s inflation of Moreland’s credentials when I read the book. For those who know nothing about academia: the phrase “top fellowship for a doctorate in nuclear chemistry at the University of Colorado” means “they offered him a scholarship to go to their grad school.” That kind of thing just requires showing some promise as a student, it doesn’t make you a scientific authority.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    It’s also worth pointing out that, as smart as Searle is, he’s most probably wrong. “Just manipulating symbols” is probably what our brains do… in a chaotic too-complicated to predict way. I’ve been reading Freedom Evolves from Dennett. It’s… brilliant!

  • Archimedez

    “If the book had gone on any longer, he’d probably be reduced to claiming that some Bible-thumping Christian theologian is a scientific authority because he learned Newton’s laws in high school.”

    This reminds me of Maxwell Smart’s “Would you believe…” routine, where Max comes up with progressively less credible yet more ridiculous examples to support his various stories and bluffing attempts.

  • Ritchie

    “Such is the intellectual waste produced by the non-subject of theology, a field of inquiry possessing not a single piece of verifiable data. Countless minds, many of them quite brilliant and perfectly capable of producing something of benefit to humanity, have been squandered in the idle and futile speculations of religion.”

    Hmmmmm, can’t quite decide if that’s not being a little harsh. What is you opinion, I wonder, of philosophy? That’s probably just as fact-free and futile a field of study as theology. Would you consider philospohy to be a phenominal waste of otherwise potentially brilliant minds?

    Not that I’m sure I’d COMPLETELY disagree with you if you did – one of the things that winds me up about philosophy is the fact that you just generate more questions – never answers. And yet it can be quite conscious-raising all the same.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I think we indulge in a lot of theology ourselves, albeit from a critical standpoint. There’s nothing intrinsically futile in theology or biblical/Qu’ranic exegesis. Nor is it impossible to use such as a way of deriving an ethical and philosophical view since some theists seem to manage it. It has probably as much merit as a life spent in literary criticism or similar.

  • Brian

    At least Philosophy attemps to avoid logical contradictions. I’m enrolled in a theology class right now and we’re reading My Life With The Saints by James Martin. It amazes me how Martin reveres one of the saints BECAUSE he “lived a life of contradictions.”

    Most of what I’ve read in theology doesn’t even try to appeal to rationality. Rather, it’s one big attempt to appeal to emotions and common sense. So, I have much more respect for Philosophy (but that’s not to say there are bad philosophers out there), which at least makes clear attempts to make arguments logically consistent and avoid self-contradictions.

    In theology, the more mysterious and unintelligable the better.

  • XPK

    Re: criticisms of theology –

    @Steve Bowen – If you are a literary critic you are criticizing books that everyone can read and has access to. Theologians basically guess at what “God” is telling you, and you need to adjust your life accordingly or you will face serious consequences.

    @Ritchie – I can’t speak for Ebonmuse, but I have no problem with philosophy in general. I certainly have a problem with the philosophy of religion (i.e. theology) as a branch of philosophy that simply wastes time presuming to know what “God” meant when a scribe wrote “X” on some goat skins several thousand years ago and how that has universal meaning to our lives today.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “You can expand the [computing] power all you want, hooking up as many computers as you think you need, and they still won’t be conscious, because all they’ll ever do is shuffle symbols.” [p.248]

    Consider: ‘You can expand the computing power all you want, hooking up as many neurons as you think you need, and they still won’t be conscious, because all they’ll ever do is transmit action potentials and send transmitters across synapses.’

    Searle’s error is that uncovering the mechanism at the lowest mechanical level does not explain away what happens at a higher, emergent level. Neurons are not conscious, brains are. The objections he raises for electronics apply equally as well to neural circuitry. And before we decide whether computers can be conscious, we need to define “consciousness” first.

  • http://rejistania.wordpress.com/ rejistania

    Is it remotely possible that he realized succeeding in the field of chemistry requires actual, concrete results… while being a theologian tends to be a cushy job which makes few demands on its practitioners and has no objective measure of success?

    Don’t you think that this is too harsh? Seeing that he was supposedly offered a scholarship in chemistry, he could not have been too bad at it. Your comment violates one of my basic rules for interaction with others which is not to assume bad motives unless you have good evidence for it. It makes life much more conflict free. So, this person was deluded (in the Dawkins’ meaning) enough to decide to study something which does not benefit humanity in the least. This does not make him lazy and wanting all the fame for none of the effort. It just makes him deluded.

  • Jerri Mack

    Getting a degree in theology is sort of like getting a degree in Klingon studies.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Theologians basically guess at what “God” is telling you, and you need to adjust your life accordingly or you will face serious consequences.

    Nah, it’s more like deciding what you think you already know and reading that back into the text. Which is what a lot of lit crit does also.
    An interesting case in point is a book I’m reading called Life in our hands that my partner picked up in a charity shop assuming I’d be interested (of course I am). It is written by knowledgable scientists who happen to be committed christians. The interesting thing is they have to (by the fact of being actual credible scientists) acknowledge all the scientific facts;evolution, real status of conceptus, embryo, foetus, age of the universe etc. etc. They then argue for an ethical framework built on the presumption that all this is a work of creation (metaphorical Genesis story accepted)and the redemption of Christ. You know what? they come to (mostly) the same conclusions about;contraception,abortion, environment, cloning, G.M, surragacy etc. that I would and judging by most conversations I’ve had here, most atheists would too. So, using actual knowledge, but aided by scripture they have come to rational conclusions that we could all buy into. Their theology and exegesis has been a tool and template for arriving at an ethic most of us would find by ourselves anyway, but does that mean it was a totally futile as a starting point. Maybe God is just a useful thought experiment for some people.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com Lou Doench

    “Getting a degree in theology is sort of like getting a degree in Klingon studies.”
    Hey, there are actually people who speak Klingon! It is my firm belief that in the post industrial wasteland future there will be entire tribes of marauding “Klingons”, authentic all the way down to their cool but impractical melee weapons and lack of hair care products. And we will need someone to study them…
    ;)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    What is you opinion, I wonder, of philosophy? That’s probably just as fact-free and futile a field of study as theology. Would you consider philospohy to be a phenominal waste of otherwise potentially brilliant minds?

    Not necessarily, Ritchie. I think philosophy does us a valuable service when it helps illuminate and clarify the conceptual underpinnings of science (think of Kuhn or Popper), helps us interpret scientific findings, or calls our attention to assumptions we didn’t realize we were making or points out other errors of thinking. Philosophers can also help advance our knowledge by proposing thought experiments that can serve as a guide to future research – Daniel Dennett has done some interesting work with what he calls the “multiple drafts model” of consciousness, for example.

    The objections he raises for electronics apply equally as well to neural circuitry.

    I think Searle is well aware of that, Reginald. Insofar as I understand his position, it’s that there’s something somehow special about the way neurons process information that couldn’t be replicated in any other medium. What this property is, and how we can test for its presence, aren’t questions he’s ever attempted to answer as far as I know.

  • Eurekus

    ‘If the book had gone on any longer, he’d probably be reduced to claiming that some Bible-thumping Christian theologian is a scientific authority because he learned Newton’s laws in high school’.

    How simple it is to dismiss fundamentalist Christianity. It’s just too simple. Then why the hell does the American political system pander to these fools? Books like this worry me about the future of the USA.

    We need more militant atheists like RD. I now understand his motivation. I really appreciate the militancy of this website and realise without the rational mindedness of our lack of belief our species is in real trouble

  • Mrnaglfar

    What is you opinion, I wonder, of philosophy? That’s probably just as fact-free and futile a field of study as theology. Would you consider philospohy to be a phenominal waste of otherwise potentially brilliant minds?

    I certainly would. Philosophy is largely an attempt at intellectual pissing-contests; their only real goal is self-aggrandizement and their results aren’t all that useful (if ‘philosophy’ can be said to have ‘results’, since philosophy does not generally follow any specific method).

    I think philosophy does us a valuable service when it helps illuminate and clarify the conceptual underpinnings of science (think of Kuhn or Popper), helps us interpret scientific findings, or calls our attention to assumptions we didn’t realize we were making or points out other errors of thinking. Philosophers can also help advance our knowledge by proposing thought experiments that can serve as a guide to future research

    I would agree with all that. However, there’s nothing in that list specifically related to philosophy. That is to say, you can still do all those things and be a scientist; likewise, you can do all those things and not be a philosopher (whatever it means to be a philosopher or to do philosophy anyway, since, as I mentioned, there doesn’t appear to be a real ‘method’ to philosophy).

    Philosophy is basically like science for people who don’t feel like doing any of the work.

    On a final note, even if it is satire, uncylopedia’s take on philosophy isn’t really inaccurate: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Philosophy

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Inflationary credentialism, as I’ve come to call it, is endemic in creationist circles. It’s one of the hallmarks of crank science and pseudoscience.

  • Tak

    I loved this entry and the comments are brilliant, as always. :) I just wanted to comment and express my appreciation. You guys here at DA are a regular source of inspiration and a nice break from the madness.

  • Ritchie

    Thanks for the link, Mrnaglfar. That actually did make me lol.

    Though I’m feeling the whimsical compulsion to play devil’s advocate and take the side of the philosophers here. Surely your criticisms can be levelled at artists just as much as philosophers? How ‘useful’ is a painting? How many novels were written out of no other desire than self-aggrandizement? Isn’t the music industry awash with creative pissing-contests (if you’ll excuse the hideous metaphor)? Is art just a phenominal waste of time?

    If nothing else, philosophy does at least provide us with the intellectual tools for critical and logical thinking. And it certainly teaches that we cannot be certain of anything (and thus, cannot be certain we are RIGHT about anything) – an important lesson in humility that we all would do well to bear in mind.

  • dbhoward

    “…squandered in the idle and futile speculations of religion.”

    So well put. And to some of the above commenters: yes, I would put much of philosophy in the same basket. I gave up on theology and philosophy when I realized that, while we are still studying Aquinas and Plato, nobody still reads Galileo’s books and argues about whether or not he was right. We have a method (not perfect, but it’s the best we have at the moment) to search for the truth. So let’s use it.

    Oh, and @Mrnaglfar reminds me of a wonderful quote from Steve Jones. “Philosophy is to science as pornography is to sex: it’s cheaper, easier, and some people seem, bafflingly, to prefer it.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Insofar as I understand his position, it’s that there’s something somehow special about the way neurons process information that couldn’t be replicated in any other medium..

    Don’t make me link the “They’re made out of meat” video.

  • Mrnaglfar

    How ‘useful’ is a painting? How many novels were written out of no other desire than self-aggrandizement?

    Sure; there have been many (perhaps most) things in the world which have been created for self-aggrandizement. Paintings and music may be pleasing, but not ‘useful’ in the layman’s sense.

    That said, I still feel that a great mind would be better served doing science than philosophy (or painting for that matter). Speaking strictly in terms of putting their academic talents to use, they’d achieve a lot more in science. This is largely because there’s nothing about being a scientist that precludes doing anything a philosopher can do, whereas the reverse doesn’t hold. In fact, there’s little apparent divide between being a philosopher and not being a philosopher.

    If nothing else, philosophy does at least provide us with the intellectual tools for critical and logical thinking.

    But that’s just the thing. Philosophy doesn’t seem to have a method or provide us with something new. If anything, it’s actually science which provides us with the ability to use those intellectual tools more accurately. It’s philosophy which needs to perpetually play catch-up to science (when they even care about the results), not the other way around. What I can say for certain is that the intellectual tools for critical and logical thinking, flawed as they are, pre-date philosophy.

  • Ritchie

    Mrnaglfar,

    I agree that science is progressive (and, what’s more, cumulative), and tangible. My question really was does that intrinsically make it a more WORTHY goal? Are we really to measure human worth by how much we contribute to the sum of human understanding of the world (ie, science)?

    there’s nothing about being a scientist that precludes doing anything a philosopher can do, whereas the reverse doesn’t hold. In fact, there’s little apparent divide between being a philosopher and not being a philosopher.

    Again, the same is true of being an artist. Yet I wouldn’t describe a painting or symphony as ‘waste’, intellectual or otherwise.

    Philosophy doesn’t seem to have a method or provide us with something new.

    Not a method, perhaps, but surely it adheres to certain rules? Mustn’t a philosophical proposal make logical sense, for example? In fact, isn’t logic a philosophical concept in the first place?

    And it does provide us with something new – new ways of seeing or considering the world. I know that isn’t tangible, nor does it amount to much in any material sense, but it is still culturally important and a worthy field do dedicate one’s life to.

    What I can say for certain is that the intellectual tools for critical and logical thinking, flawed as they are, pre-date philosophy.

    ??? This one I do have to challenge. How far back are you dating philosophy, exactly? And on what are you basing the claim that the tools for critical and logical thinking pre-date it?

  • Marshall Schreiber

    Are your arguments against the validity of philosophy not philosophical themselves? I also find it funny that the validity of philosophy is being questioned on a site so heavily steaped in philosophy.

    Philosophy is any atempt to use reasoning to solve difficult questions. Most every feild of academics has a philosophy at its back bone and philosophy is fundementaly important because our faculty of reason is fundementaly important. It’s a shame that the more spurious and poorly thought out arguments out there have become the public face of philosophy. (Damned Theologians/Post-Modernists )

    “Philosophy doesn’t seem to have a method or provide us with something new”

    In fact it has two methods for forming arguments and conclusions: a prioiri conclusions and a posteriori conclusions. The former cocerns cocnclusions that can be reached from pure logic (ie: the square root of 2 can not be expressed as a fraction of whole numbers). Here one starts from a few base assumptions and logicaly deduces a new conclusion from them. The later concerns conclusions drawn from observation, and from a near pure application of the second we get science.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with the first; mathematics is an a priori conclusion, and if one’s starting premises are true and they are linked to the conclusion with proper logic there is nothing wrong with conclusions reached this way, but in practice the former is heavily abused. The aspiring philosopher starts with poorly defined assumptions and/or (most likey and) uses strained logic to reach cocnlusions. Then they forget that if this cocnlusion is to have any connection to the world they most demonsrate the truth of their starting premises with observation or else their conclusion (even if logicaly consistent[unlikely]) is purely abstract.

    Quite frankly the method of philosophy is simply the method of reasoned thought, and, yes, based on this I would call science a philospohy in and of itself, a true and very useful one at that.

    “their results aren’t all that useful (if ‘philosophy’ can be said to have ‘results’, since philosophy does not generally follow any specific method)”

    Are ethics and moral philosophy not useful?
    Civic philosophy is also quite useful. I like having my government built on well reasoned principles
    Mathematics is a purely astract logic system which was born of philosophy
    Logic was formalized by philosophy and is a philispohical concept
    The underpinings of science lie in an epistemological argument that one must observe the world to come to understand it and the philosophy of the renaissance.

    “there’s nothing about being a scientist that precludes doing anything a philosopher can do, whereas the reverse doesn’t hold”

    I have found the best philosophers are mathematicians and scientists, if I can get them to overcome the stigma philosophy has garnered for itself and to think about wider topics like ethics. These types of people recognize the importance of grounding ideas and premises in observation and are generaly better at logic.

    Sadly a formal ‘education’ in philosophy can retard a person’s ability to do it. Too often instead of being taught the faculties of logic and reason with which to create ideas, instruction skips directly to the ideas of past philosophers be they good or bad (…or terrible, there often the last two). The student never learns how to spot poor ideas or argue against them because they are never taught that there is such a thing as a poor idea. They either believe ideas and arguments from the authority of the class room or fail to construct real arguments for new ideas because arguments presented in the class room never come with quality proofs. Or they conclude any and all philosophy equaly good. On this I place the blame for cancerous post modernism and the poor reputation philosophy has.

    But as for the second portion of your statement, if you show me a philosopher who can reason about philosophy properly and can do logic properly I’ll show you a philosopher who would make a perfect scientist or mathematician (if they weren’t already one like Betrand Russel).

  • Mrnaglfar

    Are we really to measure human worth by how much we contribute to the sum of human understanding of the world (ie, science)?

    You certainly don’t have to if you don’t want to. The more general point is that philosophy doesn’t appear to “do” a whole lot, especially for the amount of time and space people spend on it. However, people have an annoying habit of holding philosophy in some kind of special regard, as if it substantially contributes to our understanding the way science does.

    While I certainly wouldn’t call a painting or song a “waste”, I’m simply referring to academic talents. I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful intellectuals who wasted their musical talent to live in the world of academia. That said, if someone wants to pursue an intellectual path their time would be better spent with science than philosophy.

    Mustn’t a philosophical proposal make logical sense, for example? In fact, isn’t logic a philosophical concept in the first place?…And on what are you basing the claim that the tools for critical and logical thinking pre-date it?

    If people couldn’t think logically, form questions, and argue (endlessly, I might add), we wouldn’t be able to “do” philosophy in the first place. I don’t think people were completely illogically bumbling about the world at random before philosophy came to be formalized and shined a golden ray of logic on people, granting them some new abilities. It more just slapped a fancy label on “asking and thinking about questions”. Which is why I said that there’s very little distinguishing characteristics between being a philosopher and not being one.

    That also said, people appear to disagree as to what exactly is or isn’t logical. Whereas science is convergent, philosophy is largely divergent when it comes to accepted results or hypotheses.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Are your arguments against the validity of philosophy not philosophical themselves?

    This is why I linked the uncylopedia article:
    Over the years, philosophy has generally avoided adopting either a purpose or a method. Therefore, it is immune to criticism, because you can never point out that it failed to reach its goal, or that its approach is flawed. If you are unwise enough to try to criticize it anyway, your statements will simply become another branch of philosophy.

    Quite frankly the method of philosophy is simply the method of reasoned thought

    The problem is that the label “philosophy” is broad enough to apply to almost anything. To quote myself above: Which is why I said that there’s very little distinguishing characteristics between a philosopher and non-philosopher (if such a thing could be said to exist; To not “do” philosophy would require you lack the ability to think, ask questions, or try to solve them).

    The aspiring philosopher starts with poorly defined assumptions and/or (most likey and) uses strained logic to reach cocnlusions. Then they forget that if this cocnlusion is to have any connection to the world they most demonsrate the truth of their starting premises with observation or else their conclusion (even if logicaly consistent[unlikely]) is purely abstract.

    That’s a pretty accurate statement. It’s also really frustrating to deal with. Another quote from the uncylopedia article feel relevant here:
    “You underestimate my ability to argue something that appears to be inherently false.”

  • Marshall Schreiber

    I have to say that philosophy does apply to most everything.

    Every academic field be it science math or law has a logical underpinning that explains why the field is conducted the way it is. These logical underpinnings constitute a philosophy specific to that field.

    There could very well be no real distinction between a philosopher and a non phhilosopher, but I’ll take a stab at it: A philosopher is one who actively contemplates and improves upon the logical foundation for an academic field. Naturally this implies that said person is involved and understands the academic field he philosophises about and suggests that philosophy as a self standing academic field is foolish; one needs more than philosophy for a mistress.

    Phillosophy as a stand alone field seems like an intellectual purgatory; should they ever come to a decent consensus over the logic of a new idea said idea just becomes it’s own field of academics like mathematics did.

    I can certainly see (and probaly agree with) your complaints about philosophy(when it is treated as an independent field as opposed to something that is interspersed amongst all of academia)

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Amazing! So now everyone who has an undergraduate degree in chemistry is a scientific authority. Who knew?

    C’mon, Ebon! If he was so unqualified, would be a fellow at the Discovery Institute? I think not!

    Eurekus “Then why the hell does the American political system pander to these fools?”
    Because they’re a third of the population. A third, it should be mentioned, that’s easy to motivate to vote (you didn’t think that all the “Protect Marriage” amendments appearing during 2004 was a coincidence, did you?). Also, a democracy elects what its citizens deserve (“By the People, Of the People…”).

    Mrnaglfar “On a final note, even if it is satire, uncylopedia’s take on philosophy isn’t really inaccurate: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Philosophy
    Uncyclopedia?! Pah! It’s the Worst!

    “It’s philosophy which needs to perpetually play catch-up to science (when they even care about the results), not the other way around.”
    I see one as “This is“, while the other, at its best, attempts to figure out what “is” means, if that makes any sense at all.

  • Eurekus

    ‘Because they’re a third of the population.’

    Modus

    You just had to remind me! I think I’ll go and shit a brick, it’ll be less painful. No wonder when an American holidays in France they’re treating like s***. The question was meant to be rhetorical toward other atheists whom I hope will also be more critical of this Government pandering.

    I think I’ll go and have a hard drink so I can forget about this percentage and the ignorance of these people.

  • Zietlos

    Modus: Encyclopedia Dramatica is far worse. Uncyclopedia sometimes gets things right, just look at the articles on Atheism_(Religion) and Atheists. I think they’re incredibly accurate portrayals… of how the extremist fundies view atheism. I’m a particular fan of the Amazonian Satan Goddess Athe, from which Atheism is named after. Wikihumour has its moments, though often situational in nature and reliant on inside jokes for the rest.

    But on topic: A philosophy professor once explained to me the difference in Science and Philosophy: “If you want a job after university, go into science. If you’d prefer to become a TA for a philosophy professor, well, that’s pretty much the only job opening unless you’re mastering in law.” When pressed for a better answer, he discussed the meaning of the word difference and how it applies in modern society. Which really answers the question: Philosophers want to be sociologists, but like creationists, their work is better suited to books than critically-reviewed journals.

  • TEP

    The difference between science and philosophy is that for the most part, science has a means of avoiding human fallibility. To examine the validity of a scientific hypothesis, you do an experiment, and see whether the results of the experiment vindicate or refute the hypothesis. All it takes to refute a scientific hypothesis is to observe a physical phenomenon which is inconsistent with that hypothesis. In contrast, to examine the validity of a philosophical hypothesis, you can’t conduct a simple experiment to determine it. Instead, you’ve got to basically go through the whole thing, look through all the arguments, and see if you can find any logical inconsistencies. However, you generally can’t perform a simple test to determine logical inconsistencies; for every apparent inconsistency you’ve got to consider every single possible counter-argument and counter-counter-argument, to see whether it really is an inconsistency. And because of human fallibility, it is quite easily possible for the proponent of even a heavily flawed doctrine to create a defense of that doctrine that requires a huge amount of time and intellectual power to refute, which means that in many cases, someone can put forth a bad argument which is accepted simply because nobody has yet had the intelligence or the time to highlight it’s flaws.

    As a result, woo-merchants in the field of philosophy are much harder to show up for what they really are than their counterparts in science. For instance, with creationists, all you have to do to prove that they’re wrong is point to the physical evidence which contradicts their claims. When they talk about a six thousand year old Earth, all you have to do to refute them is to hold up a 500 million year old fossil. For their philosophical equivalents, no such silver bullet exists. Even if someone comes up with a really crackpot idea like relativism, it doesn’t matter that their position’s been repeatedly shredded, because tomorrow they’ll probably come up with some really clever sounding complex argument that if we weren’t fallible human beings we’d see through in an instant, but with our limited minds it is not easy to refute. As a result, their position, despite its absurdity can gain some level of credibility. There can’t be anything even close to the sort of stringency of scientific peer review, as the only ‘experiments’ that can be performed to test a hypothesis is to see whether an individual, fallible human is able to refute a particular argument – which itself is dubious, as the refutation can always potentially be refuted.

    I imagine that if we lived in a hyper rational society in which everybody had an IQ of 100000 and nearly infallible reasoning skills that allowed us to all see the holes in argumentation of labyrinthine complexity in an instant, philosophy would look a lot like science. Elaborate, 600 page arguments for nonsense propositions would be instantly laughed at in the same way that nonsense scientific claims like astrology are laughed at by the scientific community, because philosophers would instantly see the absurdity. Dubious ideas would no longer be able to hide behind convoluted reasoning; there would be a recognisable difference between philosophy and pseudo-philosophy, just as there is one between science and pseudoscience today. I think the only reason philosophy seems to work differently to science is that we at the moment lack the intelligence to subject philosophical claims to tests analogously to the way that we do empirically about the universe. We currently lack the equipment to subject philosophical claims to verification to the same rigour we can with science – trying to investigate philosophy today in which our only instruments are our fallible human minds of limited intelligence is a bit like trying to study galaxies with only crude telescopes, or to study cell biology when the best equipment you have is a magnifying glass. As science progresses, we are able to investigate phenomena with more and more sophisticated tools which are capable of providing us with a far deeper level of understanding than than earlier materials could ever allowed us to obtain. We can learn things with the large hadron collider that would simply have been impossible for any medieval alchemist with their crude chemicals and test tubes to ever discover. In contrast, when we do philosophy, we’re still using the same tools that our caveman ancestors used when they began the endeavour tens of thousands of years ago. Imagine where science would be today if we’d had nothing more than caveman tools with which to investigate the universe for all of human history – we’d know virtually nothing of the things we take for granted today.

  • Mrnaglfar

    On reflection, I have two things to add:

    The first is a thought: Philosophy may ‘require’ logical consistency. Science also requires this. What philosophy does not require is factual consistency, whereas science does. It may be nice for philosophy to be factual consistent for some people, but it does not appear to be needed.

    A further complicating issue that there is a lot of disagreement as to what constitutes ‘logical consistency’. Since there’s very little way to successfully sift through this mess of ideas without science, philosophy’s use is compromised relative to science. It’s like having evolution without natural selection. There’s just a ton of random drift. Sometimes this drift may eventually create some useful design, but in the process of doing so you end up with countless forms exhibiting no apparent design whatsoever.

    The second thing is that I remembered Monty Python did a sketch about philosophy soccer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79vdlEcWxvM

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Zietlos “Modus…Uncyclopedia sometimes gets things right…”
    I was joking. I do that, sometimes. (Hold your mouse cursor over my name below)

    “But on topic:”
    But what?! Stop talking crazy!

  • MisterDomino

    Most humanities departments these days are beginning to distinguish between theology and religious studies; the former is more the philosophy of religion, whereas the latter is the history of religion.

    In the past, the entire thing was under one umbrella, and studying the effects of religion on society necessitated a degree in theology. But maybe they’re splitting the two up because legitimate scholars don’t want to be associated with these kinds of people anymore.

  • Thupmalumpacus

    Philosophy is any atempt to use reasoning to solve difficult questions. Most every feild of academics has a philosophy at its back bone and philosophy is fundementaly important because our faculty of reason is fundementaly important.

    I’ve yet to see a serious problem solved by philosophers.

  • Eurekus

    Thump

    You big bully. I’m an Engineering type but I still wouldn’t say that.

    Look at how many potential wars were stopped because of philosophy. Europe has had a bloody history but it could’ve been a lot worse without this type of reasoning. Maybe you could look in my back yard. The English and Maori may have had a war in New Zealand, even though the English undoubtedly would’ve won, the use of reason to grab hold of the reality that they could develop a symbiotic relationship stopped it.

    The use of philosophy will, I believe, help all of humanity grab hold of another reality. The stark reality being that we’ve evolved and there is no God. Once we generally embrace philosophy, as opposed to listening to a minister with his/ her own interests at heart, nonsensical creationist arguments and their credential inflation will have limited effect. What are your thoughts?

  • Thupmalumpacus

    The use of reason is not neccessarily the practice of philosophy. Reason is valuable in many different fields.

    I distrust any discipline which purports to prove both a proposition and its abnegation.

    Are philosophers less dangerous to the common good than ministers? Certainly. Unfortunately, they share the same fault of not understanding where their influence and views leave off, and the real world takes up.

  • Eurekus

    Thump

    When I get a chance we’ll continue this conversation via E-Mail. It’s probably a little too far off topic for this thread. But one thing I’ll say here,your last sentence may be correct.

  • Thupmalumpacus

    I don’t carry on e-mail debates.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Thupmalumpacus doesn’t even have e-mail. Heck, he posted here on punchcards.

  • Zietlos

    And he did it with Reason too! I am willing to continue the conversation here. As long as it is rational, thought-out, and kept clean, Ebon may grumble but probably won’t object too violently. Besides, we are discussing the credentials of the subject of today’s TCfaC, one of my favourite segments on the site. :)

    I won’t go so far as to say philosophy gave us nothing exactly. Solving a serious problem, there was one big problem they solved, but a long, long time ago: They solved the problem of trying to solve problems. Religion does not like people thinking, or trying to get us out of the “purgatory” we live in by making it better, solving things. Not even ancient religions liked it much: The gods would provide. Philosophy first introduced the concept that perhaps thinking for oneself was a good thing. Sure, you get things like Plato’s Oneness Twoness Redness Blueness, but that is an important part of it: Breakthroughs in science are not by repeating the work of others, or even often building off of it, but rather trying something completely new. In other words, new discoveries rarely are declared by “So if I repeated his experiment correctly…”, and much more often by “Well THAT wasn’t supposed to happen”.

    The earliest philosophers were modern science’s ancestors. Sophists all of them, but they were, so they did give something. Can’t think of anything for the more recent philosophers, but remember that constants aren’t, nothing is an “ever” or “all”. It is merely part of the current situation. There’s probably something. I read a nice book about women’s rights written by a philosopher a few weeks ago, maybe that’s something they helped with.

  • Thupmalumpacus

    Philosophy first introduced the concept that perhaps thinking for oneself was a good thing.

    I submit that this drive probably predates formal philosophy.

    I wouldn’t argue that philosophy has contributed nothing to our civilization; but I would suggest that for the most part philosophers overrate their own usefulness.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. It’s hard to even find a practicing philosopher.

  • Mrnaglfar

    It’s hard to even find a practicing philosopher.

    Probably because most philosophy isn’t worth a dime to anyone.

  • Richard Blaine

    Regarding the abovementioned credential inflation, this is completely bogus for another reason. Virtually everyone accepted to full time graduate studies in chemistry in the US is offered a fellowship. I had one for 4.5 years, and I was no Lavoisier.

    Graduate fellowships are very common in nearly all technical fields. These can take the form of teaching or a research assistantships, or mixtures of both. The money to support the fellowships comes from undergraduate tuition and research grants.

    Also, qualified US-native chemistry BS graduates seeking graduate education are in short supply, and even average students almost always get accepted to one or more university programs (with the accompanying fellowship).

    In any case, a degree in chemistry (even a PhD) is pretty much irrelevant to neurology. Few chemists have any training or experience in this field.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Exactly my point, Mr Nag.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Welcome back Thupm! I mean Thump.. I Thikn.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    all right, msart aleck.

  • Eurekus

    Thump

    Who said anything about a debate? I was just going to send an E-mail further expressing my view. And perhaps expecting you to send one with your view, I never had a debate in mind. Sorry.

    Mrnaglfar

    ‘Probably because most philosophy isn’t worth a dime to anyone’

    Oh yes, how humanity has been held back because of the almighty damn dollar. To change back to the subject of this thread, without a doubt this almighty dollar is the real reason for creationist credential inflation. If the clergy can keep the BS going for a few years longer, I’m sure they’re realising they’ll be so much richer. And when us in the first world no longer fall for it, there’s always the 3rd world.

  • Arkhitekt

    Sorry for the rather lengthy philosophy apologetic this late in the thread, but here it is anyway.

    While we’re bemoaning the failure of philosophy to be natural science, let’s not forget all the branches of philosophy that associate themselves very closely with the sciences and are more or less continuous with them – philosophy of natural and social science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of physics, philosophy of mathematics, logic and the philosophy of logic, for example. Philosophy of language is a close ally of linguistics, and the interest of philosophy of mind in cognitive science seems to grow by the day.

    These fields are contributed to by philosophers and scientists alike. There’s no reason to dismiss the more conceptual end of rational enquiry any more than there is to go without empirical tests.

    Once you allow that maybe its legitimate to make sure our theories make sense and clarify their assumptions in these fields by doing a bit of hard armchair thinking (not to mention debating), you’ve legitimated a good chunk of philosophy.
    You’ve also let many of the distinctive problems of philosophy in through the back door – issues like causality, the nature of science, the foundations of mathematics, the nature of logical consequence – closely followed by issues in metaphysics, such as making sense of the kinds of things our theories commit us to the existence of – minds, numbers, theories themselves, indeterministic events and so forth. If you really thought it was important, you could probably give an account of how most of the issues in philosophy naturally arise out of problems that begin in the practice of science and the content of the theories it yields – various philosophers spend their time doing this, although perhaps they shouldn’t have to.

    All of this without mentioning ethics, aesthetics and political philosophy, which natural science certainly doesn’t have a handle on. (Some fields like psychology might have aspirations in these areas…perhaps misguidedly.

    I found the quote from Uncyclopedia that you can’t dismiss philosophy without doing it very true, and perfectly acceptable – similarly, you can’t dismiss a scientific theory without doing science. The only other way is caricature and plugging your ears. It seems pointless trying to give reasons against engaging in some field of rational enquiry from outside – whether that field is ultimately worth the effort will be something that can only be determined when the investigations of that field have run their course. And in philosophy, which unavoidably is burdened with the hardest questions and the most fallible methods, is in so many areas in a state of only-just-beginning that it seems unwise to declare it worthless so far in advance.
    The natural sciences have given us a taste for rapid progress, but we ought to keep a hold on our frustrations and let those with the patience for it get on with the job. No academic field deserves to be dismissed just because we don’t know what practical import parts of it might some day have or because its contributions to the furtherment of human knowledge in general are hard to quantify.

  • Mrnaglfar

    let’s not forget all the branches of philosophy that associate themselves very closely with the sciences and are more or less continuous with them

    Those branches are hangers-on to science. Occasionally, some philosopher may make a neat insight into something science may want to do, but scientists do that as well. Philosophy doesn’t grant one any special ability to add any insight or method to help work out problems like that.

    These fields are contributed to by philosophers and scientists alike

    But scientists are the ones who actually provide results and tests on top of their hypotheses.

    All of this without mentioning ethics, aesthetics and political philosophy, which natural science certainly doesn’t have a handle on.

    Philosophy doesn’t have any more of a handle on them, largely because ‘oughts’ don’t have objective answers.

    And in philosophy, which unavoidably is burdened with the hardest questions

    Either there are objective answers to questions – in which case you’re better served by science – or you’re trying to answer questions which don’t have objective answers – in which case philosophy isn’t much help either.

    The natural sciences have given us a taste for rapid progress, but we ought to keep a hold on our frustrations and let those with the patience for it get on with the job.

    And there’s the clincher: Science works; it’s progressive; it adds to itself. Philosophy has spent far, far more time ‘in use’ and hasn’t left us with much. Sometimes it may catch up to science and lend a suggestion as to a future direction, but it terms of standing on it’s own achievements? It comes up lacking.