January 25, 2010
This is my sixth response to jim's series, Proof of God's Existence.
jim spent the first few paragraphs of The Party arguing that science arose from our need to perceive the world as it really is. For example,
All of us want to be objective. That is, we all want to see the world for what it truly is. … This is why we have science. Science is that small part of us that wants to get a handle on how the world REALLY operates. To garner a bird’s eye viewpoint unclouded by ignorance, or purely emotional concerns, or simply by the unwieldiness of way too much information. Science is a process by which we seek to see more clearly and completely.
I would agree with jim there, and would add that granted the methodologies are different, I believe that's why we have philosophy and religion, too. jim went on to create what I saw as a meaningful distinction between the commonplace "little science" normal people use every day, and the not-so-commonplace "Big Science" that professional scientists engage in under controlled circumstances. I took jim's "little science" to be categorically analogous to the "common sense inquiry" he alluded to in the Introduction, and all of this built to the following question:
What gets in the way, then, of practicing ‘good’ little science? Mostly, it’s when we ignore the common models of reality most of us share, for reasons other than objective truth seeking. Out of fear, or greed, or a hundred other psychological reasons…or sometimes, out of plain old fashioned ignorance, or even laziness, we chuck our normal way of seeing things and opt for cherished viewpoints that we’d kick ourselves over in other areas of life.
I would again agree that each of those influences can and do get in the way of "good little science" and "common sense inquiry." Where I disagree is with jim's implicit assumption that all theists necessarily ignore the common models of reality most of us share for reasons other than objective truth seeking. jim may object to me claiming this assumption is implicit in his argument, and I would be more than willing to talk to him about that, but I don't argue such to be implicit in jim's argument. Rather, I infer from previous assertions he's made about the insufficiency of theism in general. If the whole shebang is for the birds, then all that fly do so into the cuckoo's nest. If theism is never warranted, the best we can say about any given theist is that they're rational and intelligent but throw it out the window when discussing theism, and that's an unfair generalization if you ask me.
As an aside, it's not as if scientists don't occasionally ignore common models of reality most of us share for reasons other than objective truth seeking:
Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant . . . I should like to find a genuine loophole.
-Arthur Eddington, astrophysicist commenting on the Big Bang in the 1950s
The biggest problem with the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe is philosophical-perhaps even theological-what was there before the bang? This problem alone was sufficient to give a great impetus to the Steady State theory; but with that theory now sadly in conflict with the observations, the best way around this initial difficulty is provided by a model in which the universe expands from a singularity, collapses back again, and repeats the cycle indefinitely.
-John Gribbin, Nature, after the discovery of the cosmic background radiation
So what's new in the hypothetical world of Bob, Mary, Carol and Mr. Garcia?
To be honest, not much. At least, not much in the way of any new empirical developments. We have a party toasting an absent Mr. Garcia. A subset of partygoers adopted the "official story" and heralded the absent Mr. Garcia as a philanthropist. Another subset of partygoers offered neither positive nor negative appraisals of the situation. Carol lamented her inability to see Mr. Garcia with her own eyes, and grew increasingly uneasy.
Personally, I think Carol needs to ease up and enjoy the party. I see Carol as an overly-involved, nosy neighbor. To me, Carol seems irrationally fixated on her demand to see Mr. Garcia. This implies an exaggerated perception of importance. If it's possible to error because one is lax in one's skepticism, it must be equally possible to error because one is overly skeptical. What if Carol's "overskepticism" is one of those things that can get in the way of "good little science?" If she didn't spend so much time trying to find the answers, who knows? Perhaps she would have met one of Mr. Garcia's associates while getting another glass of champagne? It is certainly valid that her suspicions might be self-induced, mere results of overthinking that reflect nothing meaningful in reality.
As has become his usual custom, jim closes with a few direct questions:
Back at home, they undress and slip into bed. Carol wants to talk, but Bob is about two-and-a-half sheets to the wind and is already snoring before she can work up a coherent sentence. Her frustration spilling over, she smacks him in the back with her small fist, just a hair on the other side of lovingly. This jolts him partway awake. He turns over in the bed, gives her a peck on the cheek (which wouldn’t be nearly as sloppy if he were sober…and perhaps might lead to other things), mumbles “‘Night, hon,” then turns back over. Right before he starts snoring again, he mutters “Isn’t that Mr. Garcia a great guy? A gentleman, and a scholar.” Carol bites down on her knuckle, finally drifting to sleep with it still in he mouth.
QUESTION: How many unjustified assumptions can you count on Bob’s part, both tacit and explicit? On Carol’s? On a scale of 1 to 10, how unjustified are they?
Seems like Bob made three to me, and judging their level of justifiedness is difficult because we don't know who Bob relied on for that information. People who claimed to be associates of Mr. Garcia? Or neighbors simply relaying the hearsay? Without knowing, the best I can surmise is somewhere in the middle.