The Epistemology of Dogmatic Sciencey Skepticism

"I am the hierophant of epistemic autocracy! Behold my labcoat and collective groupmind scientifically melded to all other scientists past-present-and future!"

Or, The Enlightenment rationalist laid bare By: Jay An interesting discussion/debate recently transpired.  A friend who is a scientific "skeptic" discussed his dubious demeanor in terms of there being advanced secret technology for two reasons.  First, such "conspiracies" are doubtful because they are "theories" and come from persons who want to promote a certain worldview (namely a conspiratorial one).  Evidence is gathered, so the theory goes, that is interpreted in a certain fashion to back up the said theory.  Pause for a minute: doesn't that sound a lot like the modus operandi of those who utilize the "scientific method" to "prove" a certain theory?  Why, yes it does! Second, he made the argument that the process of scientific advancement is such that whatever advances occur, occur because "someone contemporary to said person would eventually discover the same thing."  Scientific advancement and discovery happens (so this narrative goes) in a community of objective, non-biased "scientists" committed to the use of "reason" and the building up of human knowledge and progress.  Communities of scientists don white lab coats and thereupon, like Mormon underwear, become sacramentally endued with a sciencey force field that shields them from bias, groupthink, deception, forgery and other nasty human tendencies. Let's examine both of these arguments philosophically.  The business of philosophy is the questioning of assumptions and presuppositions, and all the sons of the Enlightenment gloat to no end about their forebears who exalted "reason" above and all "revelation."  The operant assumption at work here is that there is a universally shared international discourse of egalitarian scientific rationale that men are nobly committed to.  The warrior souls have long battled religionists, only to wrest control of the university and the social arena from "God talk" and letting "science" have the free reign.  These enlightened ones are the true Promethean heroes who distilled the superstition of the middle ages and brought about the dawning of the new age of evolutionary progress into computers, cellphones and the Xbox.  Do you notice that this is starting to look like a religious mythology?  There is a narrative developing, you see, that encompasses past, present and future, and the fittest (namely, those who have sufficiently mastered this reductionist quantification of all reality) press on to inherit the future. "But wait!" comes the cry from the army of lab coats, "you now reveal yourself as a Luddite!  Nietzscheanpostmodernisthorkheimeradornoist!  You are refuted by the very computer you type on!  Unenlightened fool! You're no philosophe, you're a philo-oaf!"  I say no such thing.  I reject the mythology of the Enlightenment just as much as what I believe to be the false mythology of the postmodernists, Marxists and existentialists. I still hold to the rationality of religious revelation and tradition, but that is another argument.  For now, we are examining whether it is "rational" to take our doubting to a deeper degree than the Enlightenment thinker above did.  He doubted his religious views of youth and so adopted what he saw as a freeing, "scientific" worldview.  This then inducted him (so he would think) into the glorious association of the communion of saints of "science" and lab-coated genii.  But wait--the foundation of all this is the "scientific method."  This great building block of all modernity is now what grounds our many theories upon a certain and firm basis - trial and error, which then confirms our theories, or conversely falsifies them. 

But if we are now believing things to be true on the basis of the “scientific method,” then we must ask for the demonstration of the scientific method on the basis of the scientific method.  This cannot be done, and is logically and mathematically demonstrated as impossible by Godel’s incompleteness theorum.   There is no inner-system principle which can be appealed to to justify the system itself.  The Enlightenment rationalist’s (and his sciencey progeny) appropriate distrust of Thomism and classical foundationalist epistemology ends refuting their own!  And the beauty of Godel’s theorum is that it’s “scientific”!   Ah but wait–once you bring these facts up, you will begin to see how quickly irrationality and bias sets in!  “Godel’s theory is only a mathematical analysis!  It doesn’t apply!  It doesn’t matter!”  I though we were guided by reason and logic and mathyness in this great sciencey age?  The opponent is now trimming the evidence to fit his preferences, and the crucial point here is that this is common among human activity.  The keen student of human interaction is anything but a glorious legacy of enlightened objective “scientists” (as if this was some ontological class of being to which a certain group belongs), but rather individuals who become proficient in certain areas.

Thomas Kuhn showed how revolutions in science occur, and they are paradigm shifts that occur with certain individuals who begin to see things in a radically new way, shifting the dominant paradigm of collectivist groupthink into which the academic masses had been previously ossified.  Kuhn is wrong, I think, to think that rationality itself is culturally relative.  However, this questioning of equal rationality among men is correct, and is yet another assumption by many “sciencey” types–the idea being that “reason” is somehow equally distributed amongst all men of all nations, who will only utilize it based on proper education and schooling.  This approach is utterly naive and again based on an ignorance of human nature which, in most cases, flees rationality, and delights in its rebellion against reason.  And this has nothing to do with a lack of education, but as those in the know know, relates far more to DNA and genetics: yet another sciencey discovery that disproves the mythology of the Scientific Enlightenment’s assumptions.  Since rationality is had by few and is not the province of any special collective in labcoats, it thus follows that scientific advancement and progress is done by individuals and this brings us to the second objection my friend had.

The second objection was that “someone eventually would have made paradigm-shifting discovery x,y,z, so there is no special relationship to the genius of Tesla or Newton or Einstein.  Not only is this a bogus argument based on a non-existent future/past contingency, it’s also another naive assumption about human nature and its patterns of operation.   The assumption again is that there is a rational society of objective thinkers, free from bias, who operate with the motivation of “furthering science.”  Is this how humans operate?  Why is it that objective sciencey analyses of scientific lab interactions and examinations of the sources for grants and funding demonstrate that the lab operates no different than any other realm of human action?  Note that I do not agree in toto that all scientific facts are arbitrarily constructed, but the point still stands–humans are humans and donning a lab coat and title does not shield anyone from standard flaws.  I thought this was the whole point of challenging the Medieval Aristotelian dominance?  Yet we see another power structure erected in its place, just as Foucault accurately describes.  To think that humans suddenly become purely rational and objective in a lab is an example of magical, irrational thinking.  It’s not true.

“But look at the inventions of science!  You are saying they are all wrong!”  Not at all.  Newton’s experiments were accurate in spite of his physics not being applicable at the subatomic level.  His experiments and theorums for our dimension also weren’t dependent on his lack of knowledge of the subatomic level.  Godel’s theorum doesn’t mean mathematics is irrational: it means it’s supra-rational, and that is the point.  It’s foolish and arbitrary and precisely human to make the presuppositional error the rationalist science-worshipper makes.  It is this “position” which becomes a new dogma–a dogma of irrational and impossible skepticism that is more often than not a device for tossing aside any facts or evidence that do not fit the preconceived and accepted orthodoxy of the Enlightenment’s methodology.

What becomes evident upon analysis of this debate is that the disbelief of secret and suppressed technology is rejected and not pursued before any evidence has been presented.  To examine the evidence could lead to a shifting of paradigms or worldviews, and one thing humans hate is being wrong.  Again–isn’t that why we rejected Medieval Aristotelianism?  Does that mean reason is never attained?  Of course not, but it is certainly not attained by the masses, and often unattained by those who loudest proclaim they are rational scientists.  Scientific knowledge of human patterns of behavior should make this obvious.

Consider Susan Cain’s talk which is essentially about individuals.

10 Comments on The Epistemology of Dogmatic Sciencey Skepticism

  1. It’s a good article. I’m glad Godel, Foucault, and the social constructionist school of scientific knowledge were referenced. It’s difficult to even get liberals to acknowledge them nowadays, they are as bent on technocratic domination and quantitative positivism as conservatives are, truth be told.

    But I just don’t understand this line of thinking from Christian fundamentalists. It seems as if all they want is to hit the ‘system reset’ button of the entire cosmos and return the universe to the harmonious time before Satan and his Great Rage did his meaningless rebellion thing against God, life be damned. But what’s the point of that??? We can’t go back to this ideal template anymore than we can put squeezed toothpaste back in the tube- it’s the law of entropy. What’s done is done.

    And it’s not like going back to heaven and the way things were will be beneficial to us, either. Remember, God created the cosmos and he created Satan, too, which means that Satan is God’s responsibility, not ours. The evil and flawed nature of Satan also exists in God for God to create such flawed evil. As is said in Christianity, an evil rotten tree cannot bear good fruit. If Satan and evil are God’s creations and responsibilities, then it speaks much of God’s character. So why would anybody in their right mind want to go back to this rotten and misguided ideal template and spend such an eternity with God in the kingdom of heaven, then??? Seems like only those with the learned helplessness of battered-person syndrome would find any respite rooming with a toxic, disrespectful, clumsy God.

    But notice how this ideal among Christian fundamentalists and puritans mirror the development of modernity along with science and technology. Resetting a system back to an ideal template is the exact same mindset of a forlorn hapless technician in some sterile lab using science methodology to reboot a system back to some idealized spec. Most, if not all, modern jobs incorporate some form of conforming your self-hood and your work to some pre-idealized and standardized format. We’ve all been socialized to be so anal-retentive as to fear anything that doesn’t conform to official expectations and authority- be they work errors, pathogens, creativity, other cultures, etc… This is what makes modern living for us (along with its meaningless and heart-grinding nature), and it came out of Christian fundamentalism ironically enough. That’s what Max Weber’s insight was in “The Spirit of Capitalism and the Protestant Work Ethic.”

    Amazing how much both liberals and conservatives detest hearing how much modernity and science were the direct byproducts of Christianity and Christian fundamentalism. It just wouldn’t be science and modernity without Christianity. Both science and modernity can’t live with but cannot live without Christianity. It’s just like the love-hate relationship between God and Satan all over again. Funny how God’s karma shows up in our own daily affairs.

    So this is why I don’t understand Christian fundamentalists (and nor these sciency dogmatic types, either). There’s just no clarity in thinking they are anything different from the sinful nature of modernity. They’re both sides of the same vile and corrupt coin.

    But let it be known, I am no atheist. I do believe there is a God (albeit as flawed as we are). And I believe that even though it isn’t fair that we have to deal with God’s excesses and externalities imposed on us via Satan and evil, we can’t be moaning and complaining endlessly about it. We must have compassionate understanding towards God and find a constructive solution in all this mess in order to help inspire God to better deal with the likes of Satan. What choice do we really have in the matter? It’s not like we can force God to be a better character; he may be as flawed as us (we and our sinful natures did originate from him after all), but God is immensely more powerful. So you don’t want to make his life further hell by torturing him with blame or punishment because he can do unto us 1,000,000x. As miniscule and relatively powerless human beings, our situation is even more delicate and precarious, so we have to be smart about how we exist in the middle of this tense standoff between God and Satan.

  2. -Thomas. God created both Satan and us with the power to choose between good and evil. If we did not possess this ability we would be no better than robots. If God is not perfect but flawed as you suggest, then he would be more akin to the Gnostic notion of the demiurge than the true Christian notion of God, since it would suggest the existence of an objective moral standard, metaphysically higher than this flawed creator. Angles (such as the devil) and humans (such as David Lee Roth) aren’t like God in our “innate evil”, since we are not “innately evil.” We are like God in our “innate ability to make free choices.” Choices that lead towards God (loving your neighbour, etc) are called good; choices that lead away from God (enjoying the movies of Katherine Heigl) are called evil. The idea that God contains in him the co-contaminants of good and evil and therefore so do we, is classic kabalistic occultism. This line of thinking not only lets us make excuses about own evil actions but it even leads to normalizing evil or even worse, making it something sacred. Anyway, that’s just my humble opinion. No need to take notice though, it’s not like I’m somebody important like Oprah or CNN’s Doctor Sanjay Gupta.

    • Illogical. For whatever rationale God thinks he created us and Satan that you are giving me, the fact still remains we (along with Satan) are His creations, His experimentation of free choice of good or evil, and therefore, His responsibility. Nothing you say can change this fact using this kind of rationalization fallacy.

      But just because Satan and evil are God’s responsibility, what excuse in indolence and incorrigibility does that give us in wining, complaining, and falling complacent in life about the state of things in the universe? Where are you getting this line of thinking from that merely having an excuse somehow makes everything alright?? In real life, having excuses doesn’t mean jack s**t to life and the cosmos- whether just or unjust, you deal with things as they come as constructively and creatively as you can; and if you’re in a good enough state of flow, you can completely overturn things for you in your favor. You’re not one of those people that think you can sit around moaning and complaining that things aren’t fair and wait for someone else to fight your battles for you, are you? Of course not. You’re reading Jay’s Analyses here forgodsake; you obviously have some brains for this caliber of website to hold your attention. So all I’m asking here is, why this double-standard in assuming I will take advantage of excuses when you don’t?? That’s an insult to my sense of self-respect to impose such an unfair double-standard on me, but I’ll forgive you for this one because I prefer to believe this is just a case of innocent naivety on your part that can be squared away here in dialogue.

      And as for this notion of an objective moral standard metaphysically higher than this flawed creator of ours…it’s evolution. Change. Things change. Paradoxically, that’s the only constant. But I know this answer doesn’t sit well with you guys here; because it’s not that evolution is wrong or inaccurate and therefore shouldn’t be taught in highschool science courses. This fight over religion and evolution has nothing to do with the current state of things in past or present, truth be told. The past and present have already happened- that’s boring. Nothing interesting there. Nobody fights for the past. Every fight in human history has always been about the unpredictable future. No, this fight isn’t about the past, instead, it is about the future. It’s a plea to God to put a stop to any further evolution so that the ancienne régime of heaven and hell are not undermined. But, truth is, God is unhappy about the sorry state of things in the cosmos. God is alienated from his own self, Satan and humanity. But he is like a child and doesn’t know how to constructively deal with his conflicted emotions; much like conservatives and liberals today. But God and this spirit of evolution will come together and radically undo this tense Cold War peace between heaven and hell that threatens to rip apart the entire cosmos.

      But I know this reasoning won’t be accepted by Christian fundamentalist conservatives, nor even liberals. You guys are staked in the Newtonian-influenced technician’s model of the universe where endless (and expensive) ‘system reboots’ are the norm for anything that goes wrong…natural evolution and normal system dynamics and systemics are threats to you. You guys can only handle system statics. That’s your institutionalization. You guys don’t know how to creatively nor constructively deal with nuance and anomalies. All you can do is war them, sterilize them in your sterile labs, and fit them in your square pegs (while you make a ton of money in your static capitalist system as agents of destructive conformity in doing so). Christians are just too influenced by Newtonian thinking alone. But this ideal is not how the cosmos run. Maybe I am not right either about my dynamic model of the cosmos- sure, it’s always possible. That’s why they call it faith which even scientists must exercise. But even if I am wrong- it doesn’t mean that you are right, either. And even if right or wrong- who cares? Correct or incorrect insight isn’t always everything. Life moves on.

      Before you dismiss my argument (if you are inclined to do so) and say that I am a prisoner of logic for thinking this way, let me remind you that you are the one using reason and rationality (albeit improperly) in order to argue your point, so I am just turning your logic on its head in order to expose the weaknesses in your argument.

  3. God is alienated from his own self? Cosmic evolution as the sole constant? Sounds kinda like Hegel or Jacob Boehme. Like I said man, I aint Oprah, your best bet would probably be to ignore me all together but thanks for the friendly advice if nothing else.

    PS: Jay, you must of got a meme going. Check out this weeks Corbette Report. It’s also on sciencey skepticism.

    • I have my own idea of an “objective moral standard, metaphysically higher than this flawed creator” that revolves around the phenomena of chaos, complexity, and non-linear dynamic systems whose ongoing internal mechanics change both the boundary conditions of the entire system along with the internal mechanics with it, so on and so forth (entropy and evolution). So, yes, I believe the tail can wag the dog, or the universe can wag God in our case. But you don’t have such an objective moral standard, metaphysically higher than God just as I do???

      Of course you do. For me, this moral standard is evolution. But for you, it is statics. Simply put, as a Christian fundamentalist, your model of the universe is one where God is the ‘GEO’ (God-Executive Officer) sitting on top of the universe (the God-Politic) that is subordinate to and takes top-down authoritarian directives from God according to His divine conspiratorial plan for how all the details of the universe will be determined and hierarchically aligned. Any deviation from ‘the program’ and God comes down and cleans-house back to technical specifications to how things were before Satan was expelled from heaven, thereby destroying the universe in fire and brimstone according to the Apocalypse. Hell along with Saddam-Hu’Satan will perish and get sterilized along with the universe, too, as I’m sure God’s militarized army will want to earnestly invade, nuke, and impose pre-manufactured “democracy and free markets” on the Middle East…errrum…I mean Middle Heaven. Never mind that we here, in the United States of Heaven, effectively put Saddam Hu’Satan in power in Middle Heaven in the 1960s and are therefore also responsible for the trouble he caused mankind there.

      You believe that God is orderly, lawful, linear, and static and that He is accountable and subordinate to this objective moral standard you impose on Him. You say that it is bad for gnostic types to have an objective moral standard higher than God, but you have already gone on and done it, too. So why can’t I? Again with the double-standards!! What’s with all the hypocrisy on your part?

  4. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think I’ve started several small memes. Important persons do read this blog.

  5. One of my buds is a big fan of the gnostic media guys and posts stuff there, so that might be why.

  6. Oh this is great. Corbett annihilates Shermer.

  7. Synchronicity – one of my old debate partners from the old blog, which you may recall, has been interviewed on gnosticmedia on his book. He sent me the early version of it two years ago, and it’s a good book. Ross, you would particulalry find this interesting.

  8. Interesting talk, though I’ll make one correction cause I’m such a pedantic doucher; at the beginning they confuse Democritus with Demosthenes. He mentions that when we hear of Democritus the traditional picture is of the guy who put pebbles in his mouth and yelled at the waves to improve his oratory skills but that’s Demosthenes (the rhetorician who died in 322 BC that the Skull and Bones society are all hung up on) Democritus, the father of Western Atomism, is the guy who’s often confused with a slightly later Democritus who may have been one of the earliest alchemists. Anyway, despite that one minor flub, that probably was just a mental brain fart on his part anyway, this was a very interesting talk.

    Interesting also how the host mentioned that he’s friends with a writer on Star Trek and that they’ve worked on ideas together. That legitimizes stuff that both you and I have claimed for a while now; that gnostic ideas are indeed being considered by people in media.

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