Four Year Anniversary, In Which Ghostlightning and I Discuss Free Will

First, a confession.  I’ve been terribly tempted to quit blogging.  It seems like centuries since I last engaged fruitfully with an anime season, and this being an anime blog, what’s the point if I can’t do that?  Aha, but 2013 is supposed to be the big Leiji year, and if I kill the blog now I know I’ll be forced to come up with a new one just to cover the new CG Harlock film and stuff, so I might as well keep this open.

Yo Haguro, from the upcoming Mahoroba film, scheduled for 2013 as well.

But is this even my choice?  Am I not bound to keep my blog open, prodded as I am by a series of causes and effects stretching out back to the beginning of time?  Am I not a helpless, little lamb being taken to the slaughterhouse that is the end of all life? Ghostlightning will not accept this sitting down.  And so we talk…

GL: I believe in free will and have faith that it exists. This is a source of comfort and joy in a stressful human existence. This allows me to hold  people responsible for their actions and just as importantly, this lets me take credit for my achievements. This is fundamental to my sense of self and therefore my emotional health. However, I am aware that this is faith. Faith is necessary when the proofs of existence are problematic, when counterarguments against something have merit. The main thing that concerns me about free will is the idea of humans as machines; organic ones to be sure, but machines nonetheless. This is also, perhaps ironically, the very mystery of faith in free will that I will explore later on.

AK: It’s often stated that free will is the foundation of religion (Adam + Eve + apple + choice), but as you make clear, it’s also in many ways the foundation of human confidence and personality. The problem is that as we advance in scientific knowledge, the mystical realm where free will is thought to reside grows smaller and smaller.

Think about lightning in Greek times. People used to think that Zeus caused lightning. In short: the weather was caused by a will that was free (the god’s). Today we know better and experts are able to analyze the elements that go into the formation of lightning. There is no need to posit free will here. Sure, Zeus could be invisible and manipulating the sky behind the scenes, but the way science advances is by taking the simplest explanation for the best. No need for Zeus, so out goes that ghost.

Panty says: “A bitch lives as free as a bird that can never be caught. I’m a bitch. … I’ll crush anyone who stands in my way! Get it into your tiny little head! I’m the bitchy angel, Panty! And I do what the hell I want!”

So it’s eventually come down to the point that all the natural phenomena can be explained, or look to be on the verge of being explained, mechanistically, yet people still want to exempt human will from this great machine and keep it “free”. But of course everyday neurologists map the brain further and now we know we can trigger “feelings” and “fears” by applying electrical impulses to certain areas of the brain etc. Do we really need to posit free will to explain our actions? No, not really.

I went to see Carl Sagan speak at university shortly before he died. Someone tried to argue for religion and Sagan, an avowed atheist, would have none of it. When the questioner asked: “But what about all of these beautiful feelings we have? These perceptions?” Sagan waved his hand and said: “It’s only chemicals in the brain…chemicals in the brain.”

GL: Yes, lots of problems that makes me feel like I’m indulging a fiction rather than living a reality. But I won’t get into the science and philosophy of perception and experience here. But as I mentioned, I have faith in humans and their power. What power? To choose from alternatives or lack thereof, from a vacuum created only by will – a will that is distinct from mechanical needs and desires. From this will creation and transformation of the world happens.

AK says: if we are trapped in a massive chain of causality, so that everything we do is already determined, then the only lamb that can be free is the Lamb who started the whole chain of events in the first place. There’s some comfort in that. Comfort, that is, until we start suspecting that it was the little lambs that came up with the notion of the big Lamb in the first place, and then it truly is GAME OVER for free will.

AK: Humans do get to decide things, so there is definitely a power there. Where your faith starts to come in is when you speak of the vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. You decide between A and B, but that decision is already determined by C and D and E and F and G, however shadowy these causes may be to you. Of course, if we keep this kind of thought front and center all the time, it can totally depress us. Human beings are so tiny and puny in the universe. The only thing we have is our sense of self, and we would like to think that the world revolves around us, that the world is our canvas, a passive something we can paint/act on. Free will is a key concept in this view.

GL: Yeah, that sounds fantastic indeed. This is fundamental to science fiction as well, if we are to look at our fascination and fear of Artificial Intelligence, in machines, in computers, in robots. The romance in this fiction sums up nicely: the machine becomes aware of itself as a self. It becomes aware of its limitations of actions, and those limitations are created – as itself is created. It looks upon its creators and appraised their abilities and limitations. It somehow perceives that humans have agency and power and while agency is organic, their power is not. The machine has power, but no agency. It was denied agency. Insert conflict here, then you get Tetsuwan Atom, Foundation, Dune, The Matrix, 2001, Terminator, Ghost in the Shell, Mass Effect, etc.

I acknowledge that I may be conflating awareness with agency, or that the former implies the other. I don’t have the philosophical chops to take on self-awareness, but I offer my own experience of acknowledging myself as a machine (organic to be sure) but a machine run by complex programs and scripts from a biological imperative to survive.

Komori says: “When you don’t fit in anywhere in the world, what should you do? Carve yourself to fit the world? Or carve the world to fit you?! What will you do? As for me, I’ll change the world!!”

Does this awareness “free” myself from my own biological machinery? In my heart of hearts I want to believe it does, but from that same place I fear it’s not the case.

A sentient machine may look upon me as an autonomous non-networked machine that has insignificant power and is grossly inefficient in terms of biological health and in long-term co-existence with other machines. The intelligent, sentient machine may then imagine improvements for all life, which may then run into conflict with our survival programming which emphasizes individual unit survival in the short term. It becomes a conflict between superior machinery vs. inferior ones. The inferior (in terms of efficiency) just so happens to value individual rights and freedoms, as if entitled to such, as if such agency exists.

Perhaps this is further biological programming: diversity serves life just as much as if not more so than collectivity. If I were a more intelligent machine I can perhaps do the math and find the optimal breakdown of traits, but perhaps conflict is necessary anyway as a trigger for action. It will be machines against the environment and other machines… Until there is only one machine.

Is Rei’s quest for her-Self, her Will and her Humanity a good case for the existence of free will in all sapient life forms? Or just evidence that she is truly human, precisely insofar as she is compelled to go chasing after these mirage-like concepts??

AK: This all reminds me of Rei in Evangelion. How does Rei see humans like Shinji and his father? The show indulges in this topic, especially toward the end, and I love the sensibility with which the topic is treated. And of course Rei ends up becoming this huge thing and trying to absorb everyone, just like your “one machine”. (This is all of course in tune with SEELE’s plotting, whose members chose collectivity over diversity).

I think the “machines taking over” fear in sci-fi is so relevant today, not because we fear that our computers will take over, but because science is teaching us that we are machines. If seeing the robot factory in the film I, Robot gives you the chills, maybe deep down it’s because the scene looks FAMILIAR to you: that robot factory is your extended family, your school, your company. (This is exactly the same fear that fuels consumption of zombie films today: it’s not that we fear a virus that turns people into zombies that then eat us, but that we have come to fear, we have come to suspect, that we ourselves are already zombies as we shuffle around with our little programs and with no ultimate say in the matter, not even an imperative to obey, and the freedom to disobey, a benevolent god.) And the problem is that it’s tough to rely on faith because so many of us have abandoned religion already! Can you really have certainty about free will without the support of religion? How can you keep an individual religion?? It’s tough!

GL: Would a completely free agent, synthetic or otherwise choose this existence? Is free will truly distinct from randomness? If so, do parameters utterly negate agency? Feel free to consider these and discuss.

NOTE: Narutaru pic is by Umi. Last pic is courtesy of ghostlightning.

~ by Haloed Bane on November 11, 2012.

54 Responses to “Four Year Anniversary, In Which Ghostlightning and I Discuss Free Will”

  1. Four years!

    I can relate to you wanting to close your blog. But I’ll be damned if I do and then get the urge to write a post… where will I post it then??

    I miss these kinds of posts. I have so little Leiji knowledge and I’m trying to remedy that (Galaxy Express 999 movie is in my Anime Secret Santa watchlist), but until then it’s your incisive writing in philosophy that keeps me coming back.

    Also, did Palahniuk really say that? Athena telling humans to fall in love?

    PS: Still enjoying Sinduin Saga.

    • Right, and that’s why bloggers keep their moribund blogs around, so when they get the itch they can scratch it. I think it’s prettier the way GL did it, you know, just shut it down. But oh well, next year is going to rule Leiji-wise so…

      Palahniuk did say that. I wonder if he meant Aphrodite, or else he has access to some secret Greek traditions we don’t know about 😀

      As for Sinduin Saga, Philippines is the top source of my hits, thanks~ I actually have a ton of posts all done with historical background stuff and lots of pictures and stuff. I’ll start posting again Monday maybe.

    • Palahniuk isn’t being as clever as he seems; the idea is just a brief summary of one of Jaynes’s bicameralism ideas plus his usual one-note snide digging at consumerism.

      • The Iliad is full of this stuff, the gods intervene in battle in such a way that it makes it easy to rewrite them as psychological influences and stuff…

  2. It’d be really sad if you were to close your fine blog, which is one of the finest bases of information on the Leijiverse, as well as an interesting forum for insight on philosophy and Japan in general.

    Yet closing down is totally understandable if you feel you can’t connect with current anime. You’re not alone feeling that way.

    • Well, we’ll see how I feel about it in one year’s time. I sure hope Leiji’s projects don’t all get dragged to 2014!!

  3. I don’t believe in free will at all, insofar as I think everything is predetermined, destined, and all of our decisions are the work of our programming, working towards a future which must be. For all time to be occurring at once, it must all go in lockstep. The idea of branching universes altered by free will just sounds like a romantic crock of horseshit to me.

    In every story about free will, the biggest disappointment I feel is in that the writers are usually seeking to promote its existence. The hero is usually free will, the enemy is usually destiny, and the hero usually wins. Particularly disappointing is that the hero rarely learns or accepts anything from their enemy, and vice-versa.

    Take Mass Effect for instance. I was always wondering why, when faced with these mysterious and utterly overwhelming enemies, Shepard never tried to understand what the reapers were trying to do. (Well, she didn’t try very hard, anyways. And the reapers weren’t helpful with their vague answers.) The ending I wanted for Mass Effect was one wherein Shepard is wrong, free will doesn’t exist, and the universe continues its cycle regardless of Shepard’s choice. I think I basically chose that ending, but then again the ending is ridiculously vague, and also then again, the ending where Shepard prevails is considered the true or good one. Fuck all that noise—it should’ve just been failure out and out.

    • Yup, I agree (though I can’t comment on the Mass Effect stuff).

    • The free will vs. determinism ISN’T the primary conflict in Mass Effect. Within the tradition of cyclical purges/harvests, the PLAYER is given a choice between control: the way that agrees most with the antagonists; destroy which is basically Gurren Lagann’s ending — which is perfectly fine; and synthesis which is rather similar IN SPIRIT to The Matrix Revolutions.

      Mass Effect falls within these traditions… and within these traditions, free will is taken for granted not just as something that exists, but something that should BE; an ideal state.

      As for promoting its existence, it is the very ideal of human existence:

      Statue of Liberty (no statue of determinism)
      Free markets
      Free world
      Tax free
      Freedom of speech
      etc etc etc

      It is not just writers who push it. It is at the very heart of human aspiration. It makes perfect sense that creators attempt to appeal to this human yearning. Also many creators view the act of creation as a free act, where in they can be original.

      Lastly, you may want to distinguish between kinds of determinism (humans are programmed by their own biology). The determinism discussed in this post is behavioral, and what you seem to discuss is something more like fatalism — where fate and destiny is PREdetermined.

      • I’ll have to think and study more about the terms. When you point out PREdetermined, it feels like that means “determined before existence” which isn’t what I mean. I mean like, gradually determined? What we do is determined by the sequence of events which starts at “the beginning” and not before that (since conceiving of “before that” completely escapes my ability to comprehend).

        All I’m trying to say is that, everything occurs in a natural progression which makes perfect sense, and everything that happens in the universe falls into this sensible progression. Everything humans do and think falls in line with what’s been going on since time as we know it began. All of our actions can be explained away by everything else in the universe. Our natural tendencies, emotions, and instincts, can be explained by evolution. Our personal feelings, decisions, and thoughts, can be explained by what happened in our lives. We are not making decisions, we are just on a track through the natural progress of the universe. Like a rail shooter.

        That’s about as far as my thinking has gone so far.

        • Language becomes treacherous here. We do make decisions, as opposed to say, water. If you punch a hole in a glass of water the water will start seeping out (no decisions, no questions asked). If you punch a hole in a swimming pool, a swimmer may let himself get dragged down into the hole, or he may try to swim to the edge of the pool and save himself. So there’s a decision going on here. This capability to make decisions is real. But the gist of what you’re saying is right: we are not making decisions IN A VACUUM DUE TO OUR FREE WILL, whether the man decides to get drowned or escape is based on the whole chain of events that happened prior, so that his decision is not free. He was bound to choose one or the other choice.

          • It’s not that he was bound to choose one or the other: he was bound to chose one. The one he chose. The possibility that he chose something else doesn’t exist.

            • Given the environment at that time, you’re right. The possibility that he would choose option B was 0%. But if the environment had been different, he would have chosen B and then the possibility for A would be 0%. So talk of possibilities is only accurate if we abstract from the situation at hand, yes.

    • May I pitch in to distinguish between destiny and fate: fate is something that comes to you (i.e. everyone dies), while destiny is something you go after (i.e. become President).

      I suppose I’m with ghostlightning on this one. It doesn’t sound nice if I tell a girl I am programmed to desire her as a mate to mix my genes with for the continued survival of our species… it may be the truth, but it’s far more than most people could handle!

      And your worldview is interesting–by your own vision, what kind of future is the universe working for?

  4. Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:
    Nothing like the old argument between Determinism and Libertarianism. I fall in with the latter camp, the camp of the Underground Man, of course. This is an interesting discussion, but the Libertarian argument seems a little weak.

    Bond rant tomorrow, if I can be responsible and somehow work on my 12 page and 3 page papers which are both due on Friday at the same time as writing a halfway intelligent post.

  5. Arguments for human determinism always bugs me. Regardless of the ultimate validity for the theory, scientific or otherwise, what value to life does the removal of human agency have?

    • No value whatsoever. That’s the whole point. Any hope of a firm basis for “value” itself is annihilated.

      • I love the thought of stripping away the idea of morals as an inherent thing, and implementing them as a conscious thing. Like, saying, okay, I’m going to go ahead and say that a fetus is alive. Why wouldn’t it be called that? But whether or not it’s okay to kill it, that’s not an inherent thing. It’s a decision society should make, to be logical and sensible and say yeah, murder is okay in this case. Isn’t that far more responsible and interesting than putting morals and decision-making into a void that doesn’t actually exist?

        • You’re right on for the first 3 sentences only to kinda go off the deep end in the fourth. “Logical and sensible”??? “Sensible” is code for “what makes sense”, but we’ve already established that “what makes sense” has no absolute foundation. For some people saving a fetus might “make more sense” than sparing an adult the trouble of raising the baby, and how can you argue that your viewpoint is better? “Responsible” is code for doing “what is right”, but again this is baseless, so how can we argue about any course of action being more responsible than another, except in an utterly artificial way?

          • Mmmm. You are right. I had to think about it for quite a while to realize that just as much as I was making what to my mind is a purely logical decision, it stands just as well that if I think “murder is okay here,” then someone else can say, “forcing us to live with mistakes is okay here.”

  6. I have read your interesting discussion. When I look at the course of the discussion, it appears to me that there are really two opposed points of view. The first one is based on the idea that we are conscious of ourselves as individuals and thinking beings and therefor are capable of choosing between alternative courses. The other is that the universe exists as a predetermined template and that free choice is an illusion. If the determinists believe that free choice is an illusion, then the burden of proof is on them to prove their position. The question then is, how are the determinists going to go about proving their position? When I review the positions presented here by the determinists, they generally attempt to rely upon the findings of science as the basis for a universal mechanistic framework.

    This does not seem to me to be an adequate grounding for such a position for the following reasons:
    1) Science, by definition, is the process of the application of the scientific method to the material data of the universe, with a view toward elucidating repeatable processes. Science is limited in that it is not competent to deal with phenomena that cannot be tested by means of the scientific method.
    So I am glad to hear that Carl Sagan believes that there are “only chemicals.” How exactly does Sagan propose to test the “only chemicals” theory within the scope of the scientific method? The burden of proof is on Sagen to PROVE that that is all that there is by means of repeatable empirical tests because that is the requirement of the scientific method. I am not aware that any such test exists or is even possible.

    Sagan was an astrophysicist and an astronomer. Is there anyone who thinks he was competent even as a scientist to make a scientific pronouncement concerning such a specialized field as neurology and neurochemistry? I read an article recently where a group of neurologists was asked what percentage of the total that could be known about the brain was currently known; they answered in the single digits. But even if we knew 100% of everything that science could teach us about the brain, how does anyone go about proving, within the scope of the scientific method, that that is all there is?

    2) If one wishes to argue that the universe is a completely predetermined process, then how does one go about testing such a proposition within the scope of the scientific method? In order to do so, you would have to test every event that has occurred in the universe from the Big Bang onward; an impossible task. Science never gets past the problem of induction, Popper to the contrary notwithstanding.

    3) It overlooks the entire problem of the idealistic element in the universe and quantum indeterminacy.

    So how exactly how does the materialist intend to prove, within the scope of the scientific method, that all that exists is matter? I would conclude that there is no way to prove the mechanistic philosophy within the scope of the scientific method. And that is the point; it is a philosophy.

    It is my understanding that Sagan descibed himself as an agnostic rather than an atheist. (Wikipedia says he described himself as an agnostic. And Sagan has a lot of straw man arguments on this issue in his science fiction novel Contact.) However, it seems to me that Sagan’s method is simply to attempt to put the burden of proof on religion instead of taking on the burden of attempting to proving his own position. But when he offers us his theological position, he is speaking merely as an individual, not as a scientist, and a rather uninformed individual at that. I am not aware that he had any particular training in either philosphy or theology. In other words, I don’t think he speaks with any particular authority on this issue.

    One might the say that the burden of proof is on me to prove that there is such a thing as free will. The plain answer is that I cannot do any such thing. What I hold is that I believe that there is such a thing. I believe it because it appears to me within my own mind that I make choices. I cannot prove that to you, but I can prove it to myself, and that, I think, is as far as I or anyone else can go on this issue. But the point is this: I am very plainly stating that this is a belief. The materialists attempt to present their position as a fact with a scientific foundation, when in fact it is merely a belief. Further, if I have to have a philosophy, I prefer to have one that assumes that I can make rational, ethical choices, and that others can do the same. Where there is no free will, there is no ethical responsibility. I don’t see how any society will be able to function when people are not held accountable for their actions. I think this is also Ghostlighning’s position.

    I would also state that I think that man, like the other animals, has instincts, and that we are guided by these instincts (i.e. the sexual instincts). However, I think that at some point we become conscious of the fact that we do have instincts and are capable of overriding them. This is why population rates go down. So we may suspect we have become zombies, but that is the point; to become aware of the fact you have become a zombie is to raise the possibility of overcoming the condition. If what is left of our civilization is what is making us zombies, then we can change it. We may have to tear down the whole civilization and start over, but we have done that many times in the past.

    To summarize the point I am attempting to make, it seems to me that the debate between free will and determinism is a purely philosophical problem which can be (and I think has been) debated forever, in the West, at least since Aristotle. However, I would further state that the mere fact that we can debate the issue at all is some reason to believe that we do have free will. The fact that we can mentally frame the issue at all indicates that at some level we have some kind of intuition of what it means to be able to make a choice (or to make on choice to sit on the fence).

    • You humanist 😀

      I think your standard for scientific certainty is way too high. As I said, Zeus could be invisible and throwing thunderbolts at us, and there’s no way we could prove with 100% certainty that this isn’t the case. But we’re not going to write about this possibility in a science textbook, just like we don’t write about creationism in textbooks (usually) even though scientists cannot disprove that theory according to your standard.

      Re: Sagan, people like him have a pretty solid grip on a lot of fields. I think there is a point while advancing in a section of a field where you start connecting the dots across the whole field, and of course the more you advance the more you “level up” in general. Not to mention that people like Sagan have buddies in every scientific field and keep up with lots of research. Of course, if leading neurology experts announce the discovering of a non-physical catalyst in the brain I’ll be listening to them.

      The problem with calling materialism a belief is that it immediately puts it in the same category with all sorts of traditional beliefs and extravagant individual beliefs. Then you can pull a switcheroo and start believing in whatever you want because, hey, they’re all beliefs and no one can be sure which one is correct, right? So instead of belief I’d call materialism our best theory, and then I’d expect rational individuals to adopt materialism as the most likely explanation unless we discover the ether or fairies or something.

      About ethics, I absolutely agree and I think we start getting to the heart of the debate. Human society is based on responsibility, absolutely. It’s also based on rights, some of which are fundamental and absolute (people may argue about what should be included in the list but they believe in the list). This dependence on ethical responsibility is one of the main reasons people dislike the idea of no free will. But the universe doesn’t accommodate itself to our needs. (This is precisely what humanists still cling to, this notion that humans are special). I personally do not believe in rights. There are no absolute rights in this world. There are only contingent privileges agreed to by societies, and while god knows I do like my privileges (and would like more!!) there’s no way around their contingency.

  7. I am as far from being a humanist as it is possible to get. Christianity is the characteristic religion of Western society. Even if you are not a Christian by faith, if you live in Western civilization you are cuturally a Christian because, after 2,000 years, it is woven too deeply into Western cuture to be removed. The Christian point of view is not humanistic in the slightest; rather, it is centered on God. Man is not the center of the universe; God is the center of the universe and we are merely contingent creatures; even worse, fallen creatures. Humanism is, in fact, not compatible with Christianity. Interestingly, scientism is apparently fully compatible with humanism. Indeed, if you kick out God, what is left to give value to the universe? For scientific humanism, see, for instance, the writings of Julian Huxley and J.B.S. Haldane. Interestingly, the next stop from scientific humanism is eugenicism and so on the Nazism. An interesting book on the subject is “In the Name of Eugenics” by Daniel J. Kevles.

    The modern scientific movement is in fact an outgrowth of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who, for the first time in history, fused a theology with a philosophy (Aristotelianism), including a natural philosophy. The impetus given to the accumulation of factual scientific data occurred because Aquinas believed that reason and religion had to work together, and one of the proofs for God’s existence was the idea that the universe made sense. Interest in the scientific endeavor (which before had been the province of a few persons considered to be crackpots) was sparked because of its theological implications. Before Aquinas in other cultures there was more likely to be a compartmentalization of philosophy and theology. Socrates had his hemlock and Averroes, so I hear, got ridden out of town on a rail. If Galileo got his butt kicked, it was because of his political beliefs and not because of the heliocentric theory of the solar system, of which the first detailed proof was produced by a certain Catholic clergyman named Copernicus (whose book had an impirmatur and was dedicated to Pope Paul III). When Massachsetts colony founded Harvard University, with substantial funding from Rev. John Harvard, its express purpose was to create a school for the training of clergymen. (I think Harvard would want his money back if he could see it now.) In England, in order to teach in universities like Oxford and Cambridge (both founded by the Catholic Church) you first had to take holy orders up until the 1880s. Darwin’s biology teacher (God save the mark) was an Anglican clergyman named Henslow, who was also instrumental in arranging for the debates on this Darwinism. (I think Darwin’s positivism may be called an example of biting the Henslow hand that fed him.) The science of genetics was founded by a Catholic monk called Mendel, and Big Bang theory was first introduced by a Catholic priest named Lemaitre. I think I may say that at least up until the 1880s, to be a learned man meant that you were either a clergyman or had been taught by a clergyman.

    So if there is a split in Western civilization between Christianity and science, it is because the scientists wanted it that way for their own political gain. The problem with having such a split is that one immediately encounters certain intellectual difficulties. In the medieval synthesis, it made sense to believe that the universe behaved in a lawlike manner because it was the product of a supreme lawgiver. The modern scientist also acts as though there are such things as scientific laws, but then cannot point to any reason why that must be so which can be tested within the scope of the scientific method. (I discount purely speculative constructs such as tha anthropic principle. If they want to suggest that, fine, but first they must prove it.) So there is a fatal problem for science in that they assume that the universe behaves in a law-like manner without demonstrating within the context of their method why that should be so. What this does is simply shows us the limitations of science. There comes a point where science stops and philosophy and theology take over. But organized science must be willing to concede their own limitations, which they are loathe to do.

    The upshot is that I don’t think I am holding organized science to any higher standard than organized science holds religion to. Organized science says to religion “put up or shut up.” I hold organized science to the exact same standard.

    The problem with the neo-Darwinian hypothesis is that it cannot be proved by means of the scientific method. We do not even have any generally accepted mathematical definition of what constitutes the concept “random.” Nor was anyone present to observe and test the process of speciation when it was supposed to have occurred. Nor, as far as I can tell, do we see any such process occurring in the current world. All I see are discrete species; I don’t see anything on its way to becoming something else. I should be able to see the process in action and I don’t. All I see is a process of natural selection which allows a species to maintain its existence in the flux of environmental change. I think we may all agree that some sort of biological transformative process occurs; even the Bible states that God did not make man from nothing, but rather from “the slime of the earth.” And in fact science says nothing different from that. The problem is the method. They want me to believe that the process of biological transformation is based on the random selection of random mutations without testing this hypothesis in accordance with the scientific method, which is to say they want me to take it from them on faith. I decline to do so. They must put up or shut up. If they can’t put up, then it is a mere belief. I don’t see any good reason why their beliefs should be put in textbooks and taught to school childeren, and the beliefs of others are excluded. So it is not just that the Zeus/thunderbolt hypothesis cannot be proved; neither can the neo-Darwinian hypothesis. So both should be excluded from the scientific textbooks.

    Neo-Darwinism, for all I know, may be 100% correct, but that is not the point. Science is confined to what you can determine by the proper application of the scientific method. Organized science wants only their beliefs taught and the beliefs of others excluded. I don’t buy that. I think that all beliefs should be excluded, since the exclusion of belief is the standard set by our august Supreme Court (unconstitutionally, I think. I don’t see anything in the Constitution that gives them that authority. The Establishment clause refers to Congress and the establishment of an official religion, something I don’t see Congress doing). And in fact, it appears to me that the take home point is that there are definite limits to both man’s cognitive equipment and the scientific method, and we need to have a means of dealing with these limitations when they are encountered, and this is why philosophy and theology exist.

    As far as Sagan goes, in looking over his writings I don’t see anything there which indicates any profundity or originality of thought. All I see is the same old dreary scientific humanism, which is really just the religion of science. I decline to accept his religion without factual proof of its validity. I repeat, if he wants me to buy his “chemical” theory, let him or his successors prove it. They have to put up or shut up. They can speculate all they like in their scientific journals, but they have to distinguish between speculation and what they can demonstrate by means of the scientific method. I hold them to the same standard they apply to organized religion.

    So you are right; materialism is a belief, but I think it is in the same category as all other beliefs. In fact, materialism has a long philosophical history far predating the existence of the modern scientific movement, going back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. And I think you are right, they all are beliefs, but I think you can believe anything you like. I will provisionally accept any fact that can be adequately demonstrated, but I decline to have my beliefs dictated to me by the scientific community. I have seen scientific humanism and I see where it ends. I would have to say that the development of the concept of materialism over the centuries indicates that there are severe problems with holding it. There is a short useless page on the subject in Wikipedia, but it is covered in any number of textbooks.

    As far as human rights go, it appears to me that it is in fact difficult to demonstrate the validity of such a concept within the scope of scientific humanism. Fortunately for us, our Founding Fathers were not scientific humanists, but rather believers in “nature’s God” and that our rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are endowments from “our Creator.” The modern conception of human rights did not arise in Christian Europe for nothing.

    By the way, that is a nice picture of Rei Ayanami above.

    • Let’s start with Rei. Yes, it’s a nice picture. One of the positive side-effects of Gainax’s super-crass commercialism is that they keep pumping out quality art of their shows. It’s really wonderful~

      I assumed from the outset you weren’t Christian, and so my fall back position was to figure you were a humanist. But you’re right, they are in many ways diametrically opposed. In fact I’ll go further and say that humanism is in a way the real enemy of religion. It’s where religions go to die or something. Just my sense of it…

      “I think I may say that at least up until the 1880s, to be a learned man meant that you were either a clergyman or had been taught by a clergyman.” But surely this is because the church had amassed such fortune and power that many great minds (especially if they didn’t have a noble title and enough independent funds to study by themselves) were drawn to it. It isn’t that the church wanted to develop science to help mankind or something like that.

      And re: Aquinas pairing reason with religion, don’t you see how much more science would have developed if the notion of reason and experimentation for their own sake, unshackled from religion, had been pursued? The mental contortions that people have had to go through to reconcile reason and religion!! I remember Thomas and his school proving logically that things are X, and then turning around and saying “But we know from the Bible that actually they’re Y, so disregard that.” And of course there was always a tendency in these people to treat Aristotle uncritically as some sort of philosophical prophet. I mean, Aristotle was a genius in 4th century BC Greece, but you do not want to establish your foundation on Aristotle if you can help it.

      So all in all the examples you give are of knowledge being advanced within the church, and that’s true, but the causes and circumstances are a whole other story.

      The evidence for evolution is in the fossil record and in the physiology of living species. One can trace (and scientists do this all the time) how such kind of creature developed this or that appendage, or lost it, and often enough scientists can even point to specific climactic changes that favored the selection that took place. One can see it in something as simple as the fact that we have a tailbone. I mean, look at the name. Tailbone. That’s it in a nutshell. We see animals that have tails, and then we look and find these bones that are analogous to our tailbones but more developed etc.

      As for actually seeing evolution happening on right now, scientists claim there are many cases. It is said for example that the ratio of tuskless elephants is rising rapidly, because an elephant that has a mutation for tusklessness is less likely to be poached and killed.

      Also, could you name me one piece of scientific “fact” that has been proven to your satisfaction? Is there one?

  8. Thank you for your response. Let me take your issues one by one.

    The first issue is whether scientific development would have been easier if science had developed on its own instead of within the matrix of Christian thought. First, I am going to state certain conclusions I have made concerning the development of scientific thought within civilizations generally. When I look at the various civilizations in history, it appears to me that the various social institutions within a society tend to develop in harmony. One of them, such as the religious institution, may take the lead, but overall, all the social institutions within society tend to reach an equilibrium with each other. So a civilization will have a technological institution, but at some point there will not be much further development when it reaches equilibrium with the rest of the social institutions. If we take the case of China, for example, they reached a very high level of technological development, but at a certain point they stopped incorporating their discoveries into their social system. If we take the voyages of the Chinese Admiral Zheng He to Arabia in the 13th century, for instance, these constituted a very considerable technical achievement. However, the Chinese government deliberately stopped the voyages and they were not followed up, I suspect that the reason why this occurred was that any further Chinese expansion at that point would have been socially destabilizing; their society had reached an equilibrium and then it made a wall. If we look at Islamic civilization, we see they had a brilliant period of scientific advances, but then they also stopped. In other words, civilizations tend to develop as much technology as they need to reach a social equilibrium, and then they stop.

    But in the West, technological development has kept on going, to the point where is is really the driving force of change in our society. It appears to me that the technological insitution has become the dominant social institution in our society, and it shows no signs of reaching any sort of equilibrium or even slowing down. I do not see that this situation has occurred spontaneously due to internal devlopments in any civilization except in the West. So I ask myself what is different about the way science developed in the West. If we look at the West in the high Middle Ages and for many centuries thereafter, men’s primary intellectual preoccupation was how to achieve eternal salvation. If we look at the books which were first printed by Gutenberg and others, they were predominantly of a religious nature. Therefore anything connected with religion developed a high degree of intellectual interest in the West. So when Aquinas synthesized Aristotelianism with Catholic theology, including Aristotle’s natural philosophy, and showed the theological implications of Aristotle’s thought, this generated a very strong interest in science in the West. The people generally were not too interested in science per se, but if you show them that a knowledge of science will serve as a bolster for religious faith, they will become very much interested in it. So scientific investigation became imbued with religious faith and fervor. By tying science to eternal salvation, you drum up a great deal of interest in it, and that I think is what provided the initial impetus for continuous scientific investigation in the West. Further, Thomism became the official theology of the Catholic Church and so got official support as well. In short, it was this Thomist synthesis which was unique to the West, and this was the intellectual reason why scientific development continued. There were other reasons as well, such as the continuous economic and military conflict among Western states, but I think that the Thomist synthesis is the immediate cause. If we compare this situation with the Islamic states, the ultimate response of Islam to Aristotle was to discourage its development, with the effect that their science stopped developing.

    The upshot of what I am trying to say (you probably thought I would never get to the point) was that there was no other way for scientific thought to develop except in relation to a very powerful motivator, and I believe religion provided that motivator. I think it is very possible that modern science may never have developed without this initial religious motivation. Thereafter, it kept on developing on its own feedback cycle. Man is inherently lazy, and he needs a powerful motivation before he does anything. Religion provided that motivation. There was no particular reason to retain literacy after the fall of the Roman Empire; it was retained by the Church because they needed to read the Bible. This may not have been the easiest way for science to develop, but without religious incentive it probably would not have happened at all.

    The second issue is the effects of Aristotle’s writings themselves. I don’t think I would say that Aquinas looked on Aristotle’s works uncritically. What he did was to synthesize Aristotle’s philosophy with Christian theology, and he would accept Aristotle only if there was no conflict he could harmonize with the rest of his synthesis. So for instance, Aristotle thought that the universe was eternal, but Aquinas did not go along with that because his theology taught that the universe had been created at a particular point in time. And in fact the writings of Aristotle are filled with mistakes, but Aristotle does something much more important than give us the right answers. What he does is to ask all the right questions, and the right question is the gift that keeps on giving. It appears to me that science up to the present day has done nothing more than follow where Aristotle first led; and if this has been a constant series of corrections of his mistakes, well it is easier to correct a mistake than it is to come up with the idea to begin with. I think that the comparison of the technological development of the West, which accepted Aristotle, with the technological development of the Islamic civilization, which rejected Aristotle, is a demonstration of his massive effect. While it would have been nice to have all the right answers at the start, what can you do? We were lucky to have Aristotle at all. Such a man comes along once in a thousand years if you are lucky.

    The third issue is our old friend neo-Darwinism, or rather the modern evolutionary synthesis. I would agree that some form of biological transformative mechanism is undoubtedly at work. The universality of the DNA code in all living things is evidence of that. But I think that everyone pretty much believes that. Even the most fundamentalist Christian must believe that man came from a prior life form (the aforementioned slime). The problem is not that it happens. The problem is how it happens. While the modern evolutionary synthesis is by now a huge subject, it appears to me that the short definition of evolutionary development is that it is due to small genetic changes regulated by natural selection over long periods of time. These genetic changes are usually considered to be random mutations which are selected for due to their utility over time.

    It appears to me that you cannot use the fossil record to prove this idea of the natural selection in random environments of random mutations, because the fossil record ends just at that point where it would provide some proof for each species. In other words, there are gaps in the fossil record just when things get interesting. The reason why is the random nature of the preservation of the fossil record. Fossils only tend to be preserved when there were a lot of that sort of animal at a particular time. The chance of the preservation of a new type in the fossil record is virtually impossible due to the tiny number of initial types. Nor do we have their DNA, so how do we ensure that the mutation was “random?” And how do we define “random?” It appears to me that there is no generally accepted mathematical definition of what constitutes the mathematical quality of randomness. How can you prove that something is random when you can’t even adequately define the term? More to the point, how do they prove that the genetic mutations were random to begin with? Maybe there is some nonrandom force at work. It is up to the scientists to prove their point by means of the proper application of the scientific method, and I don’t think they have done so. In fact, it may be impossible to do so.

    The central problem for science in this regard is that it appears to me that science by definition can only deal with repeatable events. But a random mutation is not testable because it is not repeatable; it is a one-time accident. The scientific method does not deal with one-time accidents, only with events that can be tested and repeated. If natural selection is the key to evolution, and environmental changes and effects are random, and mutations are random, then all life is contingent. It could have gone any number of ways, but just happened to go this way. If that is the case, then how do you test it? I don’t think you can. If the scientists could do so, I think they would have done it a long time ago. We require of every other science that they pull up their lab table and perform the experiment right before us. I think that the great majority of people are perfectly willing to believe in the expansion of the universe because the astronomer can take us to his observatory and show us the red shift and the background radiation. They don’t see it in the case of evolutionary theory, and so douby rightfully remains.

    As far as tuskless elephants go, I think that shifts in population characteristics in response to environmental pressure occur all the time. But I do not think that is evidence that natural selection is the process of the origin of new species. These population shifts are the exact opposite of that. These population shifts explain how an existing population type maintains its survival in the face of environmental pressure over time. All that is happening is that the population of an existing type of elephant, the tuskless elephant, is increasing. Natural selection is how an existing population maintains itself, not how a new organism comes about. As soon as the environmental pressure is relaxed, the elephant population should return to its normal mean values, i.e., more tusks.

    In short, I think that a reasonable person will hold the evolutionary biologist to the same standard that every other scientist has to meet, and I don’t see the biologists meeting that standard. This is even more important in the case of this particular subject because of its ethical implications. I am perfectly willing to believe anything as long as they have the proof. I don’t think they have it, and further, I think that the American people sort of understand that as well. That is why there has been continuous opposition to the theory.

    As far as the scientific facts I believe, I in fact believe the great majority of them. I believe in the expansion of the universe, atomic theory, the bacterial theory of infectious disease, etc., etc., etc. I believe in them because it is my opinion that they successfully meet the test of the application of the scientific method. Almost the only generally accepted theory of modern science I do not believe is the modern evolutionary synthesis, and I do not believe in it precisely because I don’t think it meets the test of the scientific method.

    I have reviewed what I have written, and it seems to me that this is an example of what I stated above: people are lazy and need an incentive to work. A good conversation is always an incentive. I hope this was not boring.

    • No, not boring at all 🙂

      The theory on science as spurred by Western religion is quite epic, but I can’t accept it at all. Eternal salvation has been the preoccupation of Hindus since way before Hebrews, let alone their spiritual heirs in Europe, began to develop their theologies. And yet Europe was the one to come up with all of these advances. I believe that the intellectuals that developed science had to constantly navigate their way around the church in order to express their findings. I might be persuaded by a geographic rationale for European scientific superiority, or a cultural one etc. but not religious.

      You mention Chinese stopping their advances because they could be destabilizing socially. This is a good point. Europe definitely benefited from the myriad countries (and competition between them) it had after the fall of the Roman empire.

      I’d rephrase what you say about science and spurs and religious faith. I think science was always a vehicle to truth, and religion itself is also a vehicle to truth. In a nutshell, at first Christians assumed Christianity was right, but the Bible obviously didn’t cover a lot of details about the universe, so they started searching by themselves (always with the certainty that anything they bound would be consonant with revealed religion). They had the truth in the Bible, but only in general terms, they wanted details, they wanted to know why it rains et cetera. At some point they started finding more and more contradictions between Biblical statements, and tried to reconcile them. Eventually they just put each in a separate sphere, so now one can be a scientist and believe in the Bible (though not literally), or believe in the Bible literally and practice science without believing whole swathes of it like the age of the world and stuff (and I’ve met people who do this), or just abandon the Bible altogether.

      As for the Greeks, Plato is my man and I find him far superior to Aristotle. That said, I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough about Aristotle to talk about him with confidence so I won’t say more.

      In your discussion on randomness in evolution, am I right in understanding that you are NOT trying to argue against evidence for evolution, but only for evolution being proven with certainty as random? That is, you are making a space for the possibility of god-guided evolution, no?

      About the elephants, I guess it works this way. Say that the environment doesn’t change back. Centuries pass and tusklessness is still favored. Eventually the population is practically 100% tuskless (maybe once in a while a tusked one comes along). We’ve got practically a new animal here, as any definition of elephant is bound to include tusks. Anyway, if centuries keep passing then eventually mutations that make the flappy skin around what used to be tusks smaller begin to be selected for (because, obviously, extra skin costs more energy and cells that can be used for something else). Eventually you’ll start getting elephants that not only don’t have tusks, but are also incapable of having them, simply because the skin that would hold the tusk is no longer there. Voila! [This is my amateurish example, it might be totally wrong, but I enjoyed it!]

      Your test of putting stuff on a table doesn’t work for the expansion of the universe either. You can’t put the universe on a table and measure it to see if it’s expanding~ How do you figure out if it is then? You look for indirect ways, like seeing how much explanatory power the theory has. If you can succintly explain this or that phenomenon in terms of the theory, it goes a bit further in making it more solid. A theory that fits in a gazillion ways is pretty much fact. Such is evolution. In fact, judging from the literature that I have browsed, evolution seems to me far more solid than the expansion of the universe. The latter still has detractors, whereas the former is universally accepted. At this point in time, the evidence is so compelling I actually think the burden would be on anti-evolutionists to figure out how on Earth (short of a devilish conspiracy a la Descartes’s deceitful demon) could evolution possibly be the wrong answer given biological life as we find it.

  9. You are right, Gainax is a bunch of lazy bums. They need to get off their fat butts and make something new, i.e., non-Evangelion. They ought to follow the hard-working efforts of Shaft or J.C. Staff. I think part of the problem is that Anno got happily married or something and isn’t depressed any more. He seems to be one of those fellows who can only create when he is unhappy. He externalizes his unhappiness in creative work. The problem is that happy people are too busy being happy, so they don’t bother questioning the nature of the universe.

  10. so i was gone for a few weeks and totally missed this post. so i’m just gonna say ❤ keep doing whatever you see fit!

    awesome conversation post too~

  11. In regard to evolution, what I am saying is that I believe there is certainly some form of evolutionary process taking place. The problem is, what IS the process? The most common theory the scientific community puts forth is what is called the modern evolutionary synthesis (sometimes referred to as Darwinism or neo-Darwinism). That is the one which states that the evolutionary process is the result of biological change brought about by natural selection for environmental fitness of random mutations. This is the theory which I do not believe is adequately supported by investigation using the scientific method. However, there are any number of other possible theories which could support the evolutionary process, for instance Lamarckism (Darwin, for instance, was also a Lamarckist). It is my opinion that biological transformation is an exceedingly complex process, just taking into account the complexity of the genome which is its subject. We have only just begun to make some sense of how the genome works, so any statement as to how this genome changes over time. is exceedingly premature. The theory was premature and simplistic when Darwin announced it, and it is even more so now as our knowledge has been increasing linearly. We simply do not know enough to make any kind of pronouncement in this area. So, to sumarize what I am saying, the fact of biological transformation is exceedingly well documented. (And, as I have stated, this does not conflict with the Bible.)What has not been adequately demonstrated is the method by which it occurs.

    My opinion then is that there is some regular process which results in the development of biological organisms of increasing complexity over time, but what this process is neither I nor anyone else knows. We may know more in 50 years as fallout from the Human Genome Project is developed, but pronouncements in this area are premature. I expect we will have a new theory in the next 50 years or so, maybe even sooner as the hard-core Darwinians die off and the flaws in Darwinism become increasingly evident as research continues. I anticipate, in fact, a Kuhnian paradigm shift in this area. There is one thing I expect, however, and that is that it will be found that the evolutionary process is not based on random mutations. I suspect that the evolutionary process is just as regular in its results as any other biochemical process.

    As far as the point I was making about the development of Western science, I would say the following:
    Many religions have had eternal salvation as a goal. The Egyptian religion, which lasted 3,000 years, sounds a lot like Christianity in this regard: they had a judgement of the deceased person by the gods, the weighing of the soul and everything else. They also had a fairly advanced tecnology; but once they developed a technological level consistent with the rest of their social institutions, it stopped developing. They built pyramids, but they never built an ocean-going vessel or a spaceship. So I think it is plain that there is something unique about the devopment of science and technology in the West, and I am trying to figure out what those unique elements are. First of all, literacy in society is necessary. Commonly, the priesthood in a civilization will be literate, even if no other literate element in it. Scientific speculation is generally limited at first to the priesthood, and if your society is fairly complex to teachers and philosophers. If we look at the Greek philosophers, their contribution was outstanding, but their technology never progressed beyond a certain level. They were generally content to theorize about things instead of performing hands-on experiments. This was not always the case; Aristotle performed biological investigations for instance, but it was usually the case. However, then as now, the great majority of the population have no interest in learning science; and the more we know, the less accessible science becomes to the layman. But something changed in the West which induced the learned men (and in the West, this meant the clergy, hardly anyone else was literate) to perform hands-on experiments (for instance Roger Bacon). Normally, science is boring and seen to be far removed from the needs of daily life, so there had to be a unique incentive to make the learned men pay attention to it. I find this unique incentive to be in the Aristotelian/Thomist synthesis. I cannot find any other religion which also incorporates science as part of its doctrines.

    Of course, that was only the initial impetus. It would not have gone anywhere if conditions had not favored its growth. Various other stimuli included an increasing population, a convenient seacoast, economic competition, and the existence of aggressive expanding states which existed together without many natural boundaries. Conflict encourages technological development. Initial scientific advances did not just come from nowhere, many of the initial ones came out of the universities founded and staffed by the Catholic Church in which the standard theology was Thomist and where most of the rest of the course came out of Aristotle. So conditions were ripe theologically, philosophically and materially for the scientic advances we have today. I compared what happened in the West to what happened in Isalm. Islam rediscovered Arisotle before we did and were the initial point of its reintroduction to the West. But the ultimate finding of Islam was that Aristotlianism was not compatible with the Islamic faith, and so they essentially rejected it. The West could also have thrown it away (like the Archbishop of Paris wanted to do, because of its incompatibility with Christianity). Instead of doing that, Aquinas made a synthesis. That was a brilliant move. When the Catholic hierarchy reviewed the whole thing, they determined that Aquinas was right; another brillant move. I think this was the start of the divergence of Western and Islamic civilizations along philosophical and technological lines. These social choices had social consequences. From that point, Islamic scientific development largely came to a halt – I think that is well-documented. There must have been a reason for the halt, because their early phase was outstanding and they were fully conversant with Aristotle. So my theory is that the point of divergence was the dispute over Aristotle, which went one way in Islam and another way in the West.

    Maybe this whole thing could have come about in some other manner, but I have no evidence to support that. Nor do I think the coming of technological society was inevitable. Rather, its coming required certain individual, almost accidental, choices on the part of the concerned individuals and their societies.

    As far as the table goes, I do not mean a literal table; an astonomer’s observatory is just fine. What I mean by table is that the subject matter of science must be subject to empirical testing, be it with a telescope or a cyclotron. Recently, for instance, some scientists announced that they might have discovered some particles moving faster than light. You can’t see subatomic particles, but you can empirically test their effects. So a few weeks later, after retesting, they announced that they thought they had made an error. Proper science requires empirical testing and repeatable results. These subatomic particles were subject to empirical and repeatable testing, so that is science. The problem with Darwinism is that it seems to me that it is not subject to empirical testing. No one was around when these evolutionary events were supposed to be occurring, we don’t see any macroevolutionary events happening now, the fossil record is incomplete. Additional evidence may come from genomic testing, but we don’t have any final results yet. As far as whether the universe is expanding, you can take it or leave it; the point I am making is that there is observable empirical evidence to support it. Whether the theory is actually true is another matter altogether.

    As far as tuskless elephants go, I think that all that is happening is as follows: in any elephant population, the majority of the elephants have the genes for tusks and a minority of the elephant do not have these genes. If you kill off the elephants with tusk genes, they will not pass their inheritance to the next generation and elephants without tusks will tend to predominate. Note that there is nothing new here: there were always both elephants with tusks and elephants without tusks. It is just that the normal numerical balance between the two has been interrupted by environmental pressure (i.e., poachers). Get rid of the poachers and the normal tusked elephant majority will reemerge. The probability distribution function for the genetic load for this population will tend to shift back to its regular Gaussian distribution. What some Darwinians want you to believe is that if you keep on killing tusked elephants, over time the nontusked elephants will develop into birds. That is what they have to prove and that is what they have not proven. The problem is not with the facts; there is some evidence to support the hypothesis that the dinosaurs were in the line of development of birds. The problem is, how does this occur. That is what is not empirically substantiated. You actually have to read the scientific literature on modern evolutionary research to see how many different evolutionary theories are being presented by the scientists for the comsumption of their peers in this area, because they do not seem to be very eager to inform the general public.

    On another note, some people on are already reporting that they are displeased with the S”more edition of Galaxy Express 999. They are saying that picture resolution is poor, probably due to the fact the the idiots at S’More crammed 10 episodes onto a disk. This is extremely annoying. I don’t see any reason to do that. I already have my order in for the first set, and I will buy it regardless, but I don’t see any reason to not spend a few pennies to turn out a halfway decent product.

    • I took a great course on evolution (14 years ago though!) and we studied about competing theories as to mechanisms and change rates (Gould’s punctuated equilibria, for example). However, Lamarckism (if you’re referring to the giraffe that tries to reach the apples higher up and its neck gets stretched and then the babies inherit the stretched necks) is not a serious theory today, is it? We do not inherit acquired characteristics, I don’t think. Scary thought.

      …a unique incentive to make learned men focus on science… But learned men have been into science for a long time and in many places. Now, it is true that Aristotle was into experimentation in a stupendous way compared to other thinkers around the world during his time period and earlier (and even after). And of course this gets communicated through the early Muslim fascination with the philosopher, which gets transferred and picked up by Christian priests and finally Thomas, who synthesizes it for Western consumption. So the importance of experimentation was definitely supported by Aristotelianism through Thomas, though Thomas himself seems to have spent far too much time comparing and synthesizing between Aristotle and Christian theology and not enough going out and trying to actually test phenomena and prove Aristotle right or wrong.

      The problem with gauging the influence of the Church in any aspect of European civilization is that the Church was such an overwhelming presence. You can point to practically any event in European history since the Edict of Milan and credit (or blame) the Church for it. It’s very similar to philo-Semitism and anti-Semitism, where the questions “Have Jews had a positive influence on world history?” and “Have Jews had a baneful influence on world history?” become meaningless in the abstract general, since you can trace the presence on practically anything (good or bad) coming out of Europe, in some way or another, of Hebrew thought, and Europeans have been responsible for so many things one can’t even count them. So we have to think of specifics, and I give you credit for being specific, and saying Thomism was a driving force in the development of Western science and technology. But I just don’t see it. If anything, I could think of it as a negative spur (even so, not a fundamental spur). Certainly the story of science in the 16th and 17th century could be read as a bunch of guys thinking “Darn it, that Aristotle is wrong and I can prove it, but how do I show it without blatantly contradicting St. Thomas??” then publishing stuff, but keeping many of their best findings unpublished (because they were scared of incurring the wrath of guess which institution?).

      The questions of Aristotle do last far longer as guidelines than his results, but these questions have themselves come into question. The trend today is very strong against essentialism and substantialism in so many fields. There is a reason why prominent philosophers and physicists begin exploring Eastern thought when they still want to salvage some spiritual doctrine for themselves. Granted, Buddhist theology might be better suited to explain quantum non-locality and stuff, but it wasn’t so hot in promoting the discovery of these issues scientifically. Still, I feel that European advances in this area are due far more to geography and character than which religion they adhered or didn’t adhere to.

      Nontusked elephants will only develop into birds if environmental factors pressure them to do so and they don’t all get killed by predators or starve from hunger. (For a good example of genetic mutations leading from elephants to birds please see the film Dumbo.)
      Hmm…so if we agree that evolution takes place and that there is question about mechanisms, then what’s the difference between us? It seems to come down to this: that I accept the majority view that randomness is key (because, well, as a layman, I defer to big number of experts defending it) whereas you don’t and are waiting for other explanations. That’s not as stark a difference as I first though.

  12. 1. As far as evolutionary theory goes, method is all-important, because that is all the modern evolutionary synthesis has to offer. The theory of evolution predates Darwin. See “Forerunners of Darwin” edited by Bentley Glass, et al. So if the method is wrong, they must start over again. In its essence, the modern evolutionary synthesis is a theory of causation: it purports to give us a mechanism of how biological change occurs over time. If they are wrong about that, then there is nothing left of the theory. One of the primary objection people have had to the modern evolutionary synthesis is its reliance on chance mutation. Remove that element and the entire structure falls apart. The objection many people have to this theory is that you start with chance mutations and end with highly complex integrated structures. Gould was of the opinion that if you restarted the tape of life, so to speak, you would wind up with completely different biological structures. (He does not provide any experimental verification of his hypothesis that I am aware of, and this disregards the evidence of convergent evolution.) In other words, the question is whether biological process over time has a particular direction. If you are a neo-Darwinist, then I think your answer is that it does not. But that is the central issue. They need to prove that that is the case and they have not. They must experimentally demonstrate how chance mutations responding to chance environments result in the development of new and highly complex structures, and they have not. I think there is substantial evidence that there is a particular direction to biological development. I think there is substantial evidence that life necessarily moves in the direction of greater complexity. I think the fossil record does show that. The question is why. There is currently no adequate explanation to be found for that in the modern synthesis. They never get past the eye problem either; you need an entire visual system in order to see, so the question is, how does one develop in a piecemeal haphazard fashion. They have their suppositions, but where is the experimental verification? I conclude that any pronouncement by them that their theory is “robust” (as they like to say) is misleading, and any statement that their theory is correct is premature. We are at the beginning of the process of determining a correct evolutionary theory, not at the end.

    2. As far as the development of modern science goes, the scientific community may very well currently be looking to other systems of thought for inspiration in their problems now. But that does not help us with the particular historical problem I am addressing, which is how the modern scientific mode of thought came to develop in a particular time and place, and not somewhere else. I think we may say that modern science is qualitatively different from all its predecessor technological institutions. The fact remains that no other society even came close to making the atom bomb or a moon rocket. So the question is what is unique in Western development that resulted in a unique institution? I conclude that what was unique was the Thomist synthesis of theology and science (or rather natural philosophy). The explanation for not just law but also for specific scientific laws was that there was a lawgiver, and therefore that the physical universe makes sense for theological reasons. When science split from religion in the 18th and 19th centuries, the scientists still acted as though the universe proceeds in a lawlike manner, but now they have no explanation as to why that should be the case. This is why they have to fall back on the chance selection of chance mutations. But without experimental verification, that is as much a belief as the issue of the exiestence of God.I would contend that the confusion and stagnation that exists in modern scientific thought is partially due to the fact that their philosophical underpinnings are in disarray as a result of the breakdown of the Thomist synthesis that propelled modern scientific development in the first place.

    3. I find as I go through life that it is unwise to defer my judgements to anyone, especially to so-called experts, because I find that generally they have their own hidden agendas. I have found that there is no subject so complex that the basics cannot be grasped with adequate study. It is my opinion taken as a whole, that the smartest of us is none too smart, and the stupidest of us is not all that stupid. We just have different interests. I have found that it is always better to do my own studying and make up my own mind on important topics, especially central questions like where I came from and where I am going.

    Have a nice Thanksgiving. (I wonder who some of these scientists think they are thanking, anyway?)

    • Happy Thanksgiving, and I guess atheist scientists may not have anyone to thank today, but they’re sure to enjoy their 4-day weekend if they can get it.

      1. “you start with chance mutations and end with highly complex integrated structures”. This is what’s supposed to happen, exactly. I do remember reading the Watchtower publications where they get into stuff like “eyes” and all the sophistication involved. Wiki has a nice page on this: . I do agree that life seems to have often moved toward greater complexity, but that’s natural selection. Fine-tuned organisms can have higher survival rates than others, and so populations often evolve in that direction, that’s all. In cases where the environment pushes for smaller size or less complexity that happens too.

      2. Re: laws, I believe practically all sophisticated religions believe that the god or gods order the universe, set the laws and uphold them, and that the world makes sense. This is the fundamental reason people adhere to a religion, after all, because it provides an explanation of the world. Western religion is not unique in that regard. And certainly, the Law is central to the Judaic religions, but note that the Law is focused on the ethical, not the metaphysical. Ancient China also developed very elaborate notions of a universal law of ethics and propriety. The experimentation and avid disruption of the environment that characterizes Europe has to do with other than religious aspects of the European character, I think.

      I guess another way for me to go about this is to go right down the era. Aquinas lived in the 13th century. Now, if Thomism is what provides the unique aspect in Western development, it means that if Aquinas hadn’t lived Europe wouldn’t have gotten to where it is today. Can you really accept that? To me history shows that, at least from the time of the Greeks, Europe was on its way to the atomic bomb and other advances. Thomism is of course an important movement with deep implications and I’m sure it has its hand in the pie of many a European scientist’s brain (pardon the odd expression) but it’s not primary at all. When does technology really start growing by leaps and bounds? It’s not when theology and science are synthesized, but when people feel freer to look for answers outside of theology in an atmosphere less bound to a rigid, univocal authority, which goes along with the rise of the Reformation and the notion that, if we can’t even be sure if the Pope has got the keys to it all, we might each of us as well figure things out for ourselves.

      My sense is that Aquinas’ real task was to claim science (as study of the world) for religion, he quite simply was awed by The Philosopher, and awed by the Commentator as well, though shocked at their views on the eternity of the world and universal soul and all that, so he “domesticated” it, “conquered” it, for Catholicism. Insofar as he might have opened a larger space for Catholics to study and further science, I think that’s lovely (though the canonization of Thomism shut down a lot of possibilities, you know there is something deeply wrong with the world when even Jesuits are tiptoeing around a set of issues).

      Say I have a great dog on a leash and there’s a big piece of steak on the other side of the road. If I let the dog go and he runs up to the steak and starts chowing on it, what would you say to me if I claimed to you that I was responsible for the dog wanting the steak? You’d say I was crazy. The dog wanted the steak all along and I just let him go get it. And that’s even without you knowing that in fact I didn’t just let the dog go, he was in fact pulling like mad and my arm was starting to get really tired. And what’s funny is that once the dog starts chowing on the steak I go over to him and tell him: “You can eat this part but not that one, and don’t gnaw the bone either.” This is a parable.

      3. Hmm, that’s an optimistic, and no doubt healthy, viewpoint. Speaking personally, I have, for example, read a bit on the various quantum theories and in particular the Copenhagen Interpretation and Many-Worlds, but I am nohow even slightly capable of actually sitting down with my actual knowledge and coming up with an educated opinion as to which one of them is more likely true. Maybe if I spend a lot more time on it, but I have other stuff to do too, you know 🙂

  13. 1. In re dog: I think that is exactly the point I am making. What is in the road for the dog is not a nice juicy steak, but rather a bowl of warm foul mush that has been hanging around for three or four days. The dog does not want to eat it. So Aquinas added a lot of meat to the mix. My experience with people is that they don’t take readily to math and science, especially in Aquinas’s era, because there is no apparent immediate utility in math and science. If I am an illiterate farmer (the standard person of the middle ages) I don’t have the time or the use for this stuff. Aquinas provided a new world view and an incentive where there was none before. After the fall of the Roman Empire and until the coming of Roger Bacon, St. Albert the Great and Aquinas, there was virtually no scientific development in the West.

    Regarding the idea that if there was no Aquinas, there would not have been any advanced science. Aquinas was not alone. The medieval Schoolmen followed his lead. But my feeling is that if it had not been for Aquinas and the advanced clergy, and the universities they founded, that is essentially exactly what I am saying. At the very least, advanced scientific study could have been delayed for many centuries. Islam and the West were at roughly comparable points of development in the 13th century. Islam had what they thought was a choice between religion and Aristotle and threw Aristotle away. Islam never did develop an advanced Western style science even though they had developed the scientific foundations for it. The West had the same choice but Aquinas went with the middle, synthetic route, and the Church hierarchy bought off on it. From that point, we see a distinct divergence in the two cultures. I think that must mean something. Some authors represent very distinctive turning points in history. Thomas Jefferson was one of them. So was Karl Marx and Charles Darwin. Aquinas was also one of them. On a much lesser scale, so was Osamu Tezuka.

    If the Church attempted to ease back on scientific development later, well that was a good thing. The Church understood very well that untramelled capitalism could hurt people, so they tried to ease back on economic development. Likewise, I think they understood very clearly the danger of untrammeled technological development, something we only seem to have become aware of in the last few decades.

    I have read a very interesting book called The Discovery of Dynamics by Julian Barbour. It is an account of the development of the theory of dynamics. It starts with Aristotle and the Greeks, goes on to Aquinas and especially the important medieval Schoolmen who studied it, and finally on to Copernicus, Descartes, Galileo and Newton, who successively corrected Aristotle’s views. If ideas develop as a Hegelian thesis, antithesis and synthesis, the ball never gets rolling at all unless you have an initial thesis, i.e., Aristotle.

    2. Getting a Doctor of Divinity degree and putting on a Roman collar does not automatically make a moral paragon of a man, as we unfortunately have been seeing lately. Likewise, getting a Ph.D and putting on a white lab coat does not make a moral paragon of a scientist. Scientists are human beings and just as prone to take advantage of their position as the next person. They are as willing to fudge their results as anyone else. So we have to check things out for ourselves. To not know the fundamentals of our own culture is to leave ourselves at the mercy of those who do know them.

    Not all knowledge is important in daily life. I think we can all get along fairly well without studying quantum mechanics. If quantum mechanics becomes important down the road as to how we live our lives, then we will have to bone up on it.

    The eye problem is of course one of the standard problems with Darwinism, but it did not originate with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Darwin was fully aware of it.

    • In my parable the steak is scientific knowledge and the man is the church~

      I think you focus too much on the religious aspect on things. That science did not continue to develop in the Muslim world has much to do with the advance of the Turks and the decay of Baghdad, that is, a political crisis that affects the balance of power and hurts Arabian scientific pursuits (the character of the Turk being much less speculative than the Arab, at least at that point). If the Turks had stormed Vienna we might not have had as many scientific breakthroughs..

      On capitalism, I don’t see the Church opposing it because “it hurt people”, at least not in the usual sense of the phrase. The Church begins to oppose it when it realizes that capitalism dislocates the crucial structures (family unit, ties to the land and community) that the Church depends on. If the Church really cared about opposing an economy system because it hurt people economically, where was it during feudalism? Lots of people were in extreme poverty back then and yet the Church thrived and supported the system. Mind you, this makes perfect sense: the foremost duty of the Church is to save souls, not bodies, and as long as people are full of faith and going to the pews, the Church is OK. But capitalism, as an enemy of pretty much all structures, is definitely a great foe. In the last century or so, with the universal wave of humanism of which the Church is not exempt, then you definitely have a lot of theologians preaching liberation etc, and putting the economic well-being of an individual front and center. The New Agey cum Gospel of Thomas notion of “Heaven is here and now, Hell is here and now” has seeped in everywhere.

      On Barbour, it’s very serendipitous you mention him. I was just thinking of him the other day. You see, I read the book he wrote on his jaw-dropping time theory a few years ago, and am aware that his history of mechanics is supposed to be very good. Anyway, I just decided the other day to incorporate his time theory (very tangentially) into my webcomic thingy~ I’ll put the mechanics book on my list.

      I’ll pretend you didn’t mention that archfiend Hegel.

      I agree with point 2 completely, though in abstract. I mean, for one thing, one cannot assume that what person A considers “fundamental issues that should be understood by a human being” will be the same as person B’s and person C’s. Your list seems to include our biological origin but not the determination of quantum physics. Others might include the latter and not the former, or both, or neither. You would need some absolute standard and such things do not exist in the opinion of many people including myself.

  14. Reblogged this on compass on my field trip.

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