The (ir)Rational Atheist--More Vox Day
Starting off chapter two, which is entitled “Defining Science,” is a brief description of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, unknown to most, but a troupe of traveling masochists (or so it seems) who represent his caricature of science. These little side stories can have more of an effect than the reader understands, though. Right off the bat, science is seen as either freakish or trivial due to the association with that particular experience of his. Because of this, I find it necessary to give you the actual definition of “science”:
1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws
2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation…
4. systematized knowledge in general.
5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
6. a particular branch of knowledge.
7. skill, esp. reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency. (from dictionary.com)
There are other, more precise definitions, but this is a decent general overview. Notice the emphasis and repetition of words like “systematic,” “knowledge,” and “facts.” Keep that in mind, ladies and gentlemen.
Vox Day launches his tirade by attempting to confuse the reader and blur the line between scientific and non-scientific inquiry. He goes on to present the words “studies show” as some kind of atheist mantra or magic spell that automatically convinces our opposition of our veracity. The major flaw here is that when one is dealing with issues that can be studied with some measure of reliability, studies are of immeasurable worth in demonstrating the truth or falsity of a proposition. Experimentation is the foundation of science and without it, science is merely a naturalistic philosophy with no real answers or solutions. It is true that many in the media or general populus don’t understand the proper way to interpret these studies and may latch on to some obscure results prematurely, but that does nothing to discredit the practice or findings of scientific study.
His next major criticism, after some attacks on Dawkins’ affection for science and implications of hallucinogenic drug use, is that many scientists today subscribe to the Popperian philosophy and rely on falsification as the determinant for a scientific versus non-scientific endeavor. He claims that this is outside the definition of science and is a flawed addition. What he fails to see when he makes his case by claiming that a hypothesis about the language of god is theoretically falsifiable is that by his own definition, provided from the Oxford English Dictionary, the language of god is excluded before we even get to Popper because it is not a physical, natural phenomenon that can be observed and tested. Thus, it fails to qualify as science per any definition, with or without Popperian philosophical baggage.
Perhaps the most amusing aspect thus far is his total lack of comprehension regarding Euthyphro’s Dilemma, which dealt with the source of morality—not the existence of god(s). Beyond that, he practically asserts that some kind of resolution was reached in the dialogue and that, if applied to science, it could be extrapolated that science doesn’t exist. (This is the point at which I’m looking at my monitor with a look of amazement and confusion—what kind of thought process led him there?) No wonder he thinks that the execution of Socrates was a good thing, although he places it erroneously within the reign of the Council of Thirty, while Apologia clearly explains that it was a jury of 500 citizens who convicted him of impiety. That same document states an incident that Socrates had with the Council, and also that they had been ousted. It’s a common mistake given the proximity, so I guess we can cut him some slack there, likely never having read Socrates’ defense for himself. (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/socrates/)
Alright, I was wrong earlier. The funniest part of this chapter is when Day makes this statement: “…[T]he very existence of the Intelligent Design movement is a testimony to a respect for scientific methodology…” (p. 33) Excuse me? Their attempt to redefine science to include supernatural explanations is “respect,” but Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion was a useless distortion of science? Interesting.
His rhetorical question about the hazard posed to science by religion and the resulting “hostility” betrays his lack of awareness of just how detrimental religion has been to science. He busts out this gem: “Some of history’s greatest scientists are known to have been men of great Christian faith.”(p. 34) Well, if I lived in a time period during which I could be tortured, killed, or otherwise persecuted for my lack of belief, I’d likely be a “christian” as well.
As for Vox’s assertion that the Dark Ages were not caused by christianity, all I can say is that is highly debatable. I am not prone to vilifying the Catholic church for rejection of science, at least not since Vatican II. They are likely the most progressive church from a scientific perspective (or possibly Episcopalians, but we all know that they have the same origins thanks to Henry VIII). Nevertheless, Vox again attempts to mislead the reader with his quote from Philip Jenkins (p. 35). The Dark Ages were brought on largely by the destruction of a large part of the knowledge base that had been acquired, like the library at Alexandria. Most documentation contrary to christian ideology was destroyed or interpolated. The average person has no idea that prior to that time period, the earth wasn’t thought of as flat, and even the concepts of evolution and atomic particles had already been postulated. The “monolithic church” was one that varied from country to country or region to region—nobody I know of ever asserted that one church had power over the entire known world. The fact remains that religious motivations and prohibitions caused most of what was essentially a millennium-long scientific void. Pointing out the various sects of christianity does nothing to disprove that.
In his defense of the Dark Ages, Day mentions that an Italian Christian actually “coined” the term, so to speak, and that its meaning has been perverted by those who assign an anti-religious bias to it. I don’t know that there is a fallacy specific enough here, but it would seem to be similar to an etymological fallacy in that he is using a definition that has no support or relevance in modern society. The term “Dark Ages” may or may not have been anti-Germanic in origin—it is not now.
He briefly touches on the French Enlightenment philosophers, just enough to hold them accountable for the French Revolution (again) for “weakening the social and judicial pressure” (p. 37) that had previously kept the proletariat silent. What a horrible thing to do! As I stated in my previous blog post, this will be dealt with in more depth later.
One of Vox Day’s hobbies appears to be analyzing the order in which people place things conversationally so as to draw conclusions as to his/her motivations to do so. He spends some time on Dawkins, claiming that it is not science that he wishes to defend, but mostly his Enlightenment ideals. Mostly based upon the fact that Dawkins says that the “Enlightenment is in danger” and then lists science fourth in a list of other endangered ideologies. If that doesn’t leap off the page and scream “Non sequitor,” I don’t know what will.
He finishes off the chapter with more seemingly unrelated arguments concerning the (apparently) evil Enlightenment, never realizing that the reason why modern atheists seem to share so much with them is because that was essentially the birth of rationalism and empiricism, not some kind of ancient idol worship. As far as science in Iran goes, why exactly does he think science is booming there? Nuclear weapons, anybody? ICBMs? I am far from an alarmist, but let’s be realistic here. This was a pathetic attempt to, once again, vilify atheists and declare us guilty by association (through philosophical similarities) with people who may or may not have done terrible things, such as the killers of Lavoisier—somebody who one would think would have been well-received.
I must say, his tactic is ingenious. Plant little seeds in your minds—make connections and correlations to atrocities which had nothing at all to do with me or the fact that there’s no proof for the existence of god and science just doesn’t apply to the supernatural—in order to have you nodding your head in agreement when he casts us as immoral baby killers (as he will shortly—we’ll get to it.) Very subversive; under the radar, but ultimately superficial. All you need to do is take a quarter and scrape off the silver lining to see the words “Better Luck Next Time.”
I’m sure I’ll see you on the rebuttal and/or chapter 3 for more fun with Vox Day!