EarthfromSpace

In defence of weak naturalism – Post 2: a response to Gary Robertson

In defence of weak naturalism – Post 2: a response to Gary Robertson’s Is Naturalism more probable than Supernaturalism?

by Hugh Harris

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The position I propose to defend is weak naturalism. Conforming broadly to the standard of scientific inquiry known as methodological naturalism, it can be distinguished from the stronger position of philosophical naturalism, which claims categorically that the natural world is all there is.

Weak naturalism: as far as we know, the natural world is all there is. I defend the claim that naturalism is more probable than supernaturalism, in my essay Naturalism versus Supernaturalism- the false dichotomy – I argue that the observance of the natural world along with its laws combined with the absence of any evidence of the supernatural, amounts to a strong prima facie case for naturalism, and its likelihood in comparison to the sans-evidence claims of supernaturalism.

In his first post, Is Naturalism more probable than Supernaturalism?, Gary Robertson seems to exclude science from the debate, only to later revive it to provide the foundation for the kalam cosmological argument. Gary states that “Methodological naturalism restricts scientific enquiry to the study of natural causes and processes”, thus, “methods of enquiry into the existence of a supernatural reality are beyond the scope of empirical science”, and thus, “all propositions about ultimate reality will necessarily be philosophical”. I’m not sure why Gary does this, but I suspect that it’s so he can trade off the equality between the definitions of naturalism and supernaturalism . Perhaps philosophically they are equal inversions, in the sense that naturalism is the denial of the supernatural and the supernatural is the affirmation of it. But evidentially, they are not equal.

Virtually all scientists operate under the assumption of philosophical naturalism – all causes are empirical and naturalistic ones which can be measured, quantified and studied methodically. When our children are ill, we don’t look for magicians or witch doctors summoning supernatural forces. Why? Because there is no evidence they work, and much evidence suggesting they’re harmful. And this is despite the plethora of religious faith healers such as the discredited John of God faith healer, who scratches at the eyes of the credulous and who has made over $10 million out of selling crystals and other fake cures, and yet, had his own cancer treated by chemotherapy in a hospital.

And so Gary might have to forgive my reluctance to sideline science altogether from this debate. Additionally, I assume we’d agree that philosophy cannot exist in its own bubble, separated from empiricism, with no regard for the real world. Ontological naturalism is indeed a philosophical position, but as a study of the ultimate nature of reality it cannot be simply hived out and segregated from science. Further, the ultimate nature of reality is unlikely to vary depending on what University faculty building one happens to be in.

Evidently Gary agrees, given he goes on to claim that “supernatural causation logically follows from empirical evidence in the field of cosmology that strongly suggests the universe had a beginning and that nature…did not exist prior to the universe coming into being. Thus, … the universe transcended nature and was, therefore, supernatural”.

But I disagree that that’s what the scientific/empirical evidence suggests, as indeed do the majority of philosophers and scientists. The kalam cosmological argument:

 

Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

The Universe began to exist.

Therefore, the Universe had a cause

 

Objecting to my previous critique, Gary issues the following challenge: “I would certainly be keen to know how the deductive arguments formulated above equate to “conflating the process of coming to an invalid conclusion using empirical evidence rather than simply observing the empirical evidence itself””.

The cosmological argument uses the causality, we observe in the known world to make the case that the known world itself must have a cause. But this self-referentially uses the laws of causality, to explain their own existence. Bertrand Russell exposes that moving from the contingency of the components of the universe, to the contingency of the universe, commits the Fallacy of Composition, which mistakenly concludes that since the parts have a certain property, the whole likewise has that property. If all bricks in a wall are small, is the Great Wall of China small?

The kalam cosmological argument makes the invalid assumption the universe began to exist. Given that space and time are inextricably linked, the contention that the universe began suggests a moment preceding its existence. But, as Stephen Hawking has pointed out, this is like seeking a point more northerly than the North Pole – the universe can be both finite and without a prior moment or beginning.

Adolf Grunbaum 1994, explains that the singularity of the Big Bang does not conform to an actual “physical event” given its unbounded nature, infinite density and scalar curvature. Thus, it does not even have the requisite chrono-geometric relations specified by the space-time metric, to which a cause could be applied – it cannot in fact “be the effect of event-causation or agent-causation alike”.

Additionally, the laws of conservation do not suggest that we can keep on subtracting elements from the universe until we get nothing. Parmenides famous adage, “from nothing, nothing comes”, does not suggest that nothing preceded something and that something needs a cause. Rather, it expresses the riddle of existence itself. There is no reduction of something into nothing in the natural world. And so, the state of nothing which is supposed to precede something, is doubtful at best, and antithetical to our observations of the natural world at worst.

Grunbaum 1994, further argues that “a galaxy of theists… take it to be axiomatic that if there is a physical world at all, then its spontaneous, undisturbed or natural state is one of utter nothingness, whatever that is… Why, in the absence of an external supernatural cause, should there be just nothing?” Further, the “presupposition of the spontaneity of nothingness lacks even the most rudimentary plausibility”. Many philosophers have argued against the proposition of nothingness as unintelligible. Why assume nothingness as a default, or a brute fact?

The other consideration, is that the cosmological argument assumes the universe itself cannot be a brute fact (or eternal) because everything that begins must have a cause; and then goes on to suggest that therefore there must be a brute fact (such as God) to explain it. This is begging the question. One cannot logically deny the existence of brute facts as a premise (whatever begins to exist has a cause) and then insert a brute fact as the conclusion (a necessary, uncaused being). One can simply ask why can’t the universe, or an element within it, be the brute fact. Crucially, even if one accepts that the universe begins, why cannot it not begin due to a timeless natural force which governs all of existence?

Thus, it’s invalid to suggest that the evidence points to a supernatural cause of the universe. In regards to teleological arguments we’ll have to discuss the specific versions. Then, my generalisations on this subject – “arguments from incredulity” – can be supported by considering the particular teleological argument in question.

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Scientology’s personality test said I have “no real reason to live”

As published in The Daily Telegraph Scientology’s personality test said I have no reason to live -13/01/17 and Rationalist Society website

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Stepping inside Scientology’s Castlereagh Street headquarters in Sydney, with its images of erupting volcanoes and Star-Trek-style video pods, I feel like I’d been transported back into the realm of 1960’s science-fiction.

Waist-coated attendants zip back and forth.

Soon, I’m looking down at Scientology’s Oxford Capacity Analysis personality test: 200 often strangely worded questions, asking how I “feel RIGHT NOW” about a disparate range of issues.

“Does an unexpected action cause your muscles to twitch? ”

“Do some noises ‘set your teeth on edge’?”

“Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for fun?”

“No,” I answer, to all of these.

Pondering whether I “enjoy telling people the latest scandal about my associates”, I’m distracted by the roped-off office of church founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard. Presumably, the great man beams in from out-of-galaxy from time to time.

Suddenly, a young man is talking.

“Hi, I’m Scott*, come and let’s check out your results,” he says.

“This graph indicates what you have told us about yourself”, he says, reciting the standard preamble. “These results are not my opinion, but a factual, scientific analysis of your answers.”
Pinpointing scores on a scale from -100 to +100 for ten personality traits, including items like ‘Stable’, ‘Happy’, and ‘Composed’, the graph divides them into regions for ‘Normal’, ‘Desirable State’ or ‘Unacceptable State’.

My graph was disturbing to say the least: a mostly submerged iceberg, with only the tip rising above ‘Unacceptable’.

Staggeringly, I scored the lowest possible -100 for ‘Depressed’, along with dire scores for ‘Nervous’, ‘Critical’, and ‘Withdrawn’.

oxfordgraph

At first I laughed in surprise and embarrassment. Apparently, I am the most depressed person in the world.

But then, I recalled giving answers suggesting that I’m not depressed at all: answers indicating that I’m generally happy, I often sing or whistle just for the fun of it, I sleep well, I find it easy to relax, and I cope with the everyday problems of living quite well.

How did these answers fail to improve my worst-possible score for depression?

Scott said the analysis is a complex reading of all my answers.

“What this shows is there’s something on your mind. You’ve got some problems in your life, right now.”

“Have you had any breakups, or loss?”

Sure, I said, but haven’t most people?

Noticing Scott reading from a printout, I asked if I could see it.

One after another, the page was filled with blunt, judgmental observations.

“You see no real reasons to live as your life is full of problems and difficulties that your despondent attitude prevents you from solving”.

“You are completely irresponsible.”

“You are very irritable and can become hysterical or violent in your actions.”

And so on. No longer was I laughing.

Recommending urgent treatment in Scientology’s Dianetics program, Scott brought out the books and the DVD’s. I stopped him there. Explaining to Scott that he could put it down to my critical nature, but I simply didn’t accept the report’s findings.

Jokingly, Scott pointed to me -96 score for ‘Critical.’ We both laughed.

Scott gave me a copy of the printout, shook my hand, and then let me loose on central Sydney.

Seemingly, the personality test is calibrated to generally produce an alarming result. L. Ron Hubbard advocated reinforcing the “ruin” of the subject’s personality, followed by advice on salvaging it by using Scientology. Regarded as manipulative and unethical by many psychology organisations, the test is not scientifically recognised, nor has it been substantiated using standard psychological methods.

As I left the Sydney building, I noticed what looked like Uni students in the lobby – and wondered how I’d have reacted to such a damning character assessment at such an impressionable age.

After a Daily Mail reporter undertook the test in 2003, she said felt like “curling up in a ball and never going out again.”

Only a few hours after taking the test in 2008, Norwegian student Kaja Bordevich Ballo, took her own life by jumping from her 4th-storey dorm room window. Despite leaving a suicide note for her family apologising for not “being good at anything”, the resulting police investigation failed to confirm a causative link to Scientology.

Still, looking at these smiling young faces, I want to tell them to get out of here.

After kidnapping his wife in 1951, L. Ron Hubbard was reportedly diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by her doctors. This may explain Scientology’s hostility to the field of psychiatry, which it describes as “an industry of death”, and why the church spurns psychiatric drugs in favour of vitamin supplements, and spiritual practices.

The ramping up of advertising for free personality tests coincides with the recent opening of a $57 million ‘Scientific Wonderland’ in Chatswood, NSW, where Scientology will treat people with mental issues caused by depression, substance abuse and trauma.

Despite diagnosing and treating mental illness, Scientology escapes the regulation of health authorities because it offers its services under the guise of religion – that’s how it continues to get away with claiming it’s services are “factual”, and “scientific” – without proper scrutiny. Surely, this is a loophole which needs closing.

 

Oxford Test Explanations Printout

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Mark No Religion on the 2016 Census

blah blah – Hugh to add

Childpraying

The Census Asks About Religion Not Culture

My Neighbour Can Say There Are 20 Gods Or None, Just Not On Census Night The Huffington Post Australia 9 August 2016

Until recently, I was ambivalent about the welcoming smiles of faith. I’ve always admired the famous quote from U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson: “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god.”

 But when my son came home from state school singing songs about Jesus and waxing about the amazing Creator-God who made the world, I was jolted out of my metaphysical slumber. Apparently, not everyone is ambivalent. Ingratiating smiles suddenly hardened with purpose.
 Many Australians inherit a cultural affinity with Christianity. Many of us have attended Christian schools, baptised our kids, been married in church-run ceremonies, or attended church for life’s big moments. But cultural heritage is unaccompanied by belief in the tenets of the religion, or by regular participation and membership.
Thus, question 19 of the 2016 Census provides an opportunity to reflect upon our beliefs and to reassess our religious affiliation. The Census collects data used for planning and funding.

The beneficiaries of religious funding are organised faith groups. The state provides hundreds of millions for chaplaincy and Sunday school style faith classes, it pours $11 billion into religious schools, and forgoes about $20 billion in tax. Many tax-free faith groups run profitable businesses as well. Taxpayer funded faith-based groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

More taxpayer money per student is provided to independent schools run by the secretive Plymouth (ex-Exclusive) Brethren, and those linked to Scientology, than to State schools. While new developments in genetics and evolutionary biology make headlines, we spend a billion dollars on schools teaching Creationism.

There’s scant benefit for the nonbeliever in the state financing of religious enterprises. The taxpayer sponsors groups who may discriminate against them, espouse disagreeable views, and provide no public benefit. Since the primary goal of most faith groups is to promulgate their own beliefs, citizens marking the Census should carefully consider whether they still subscribe to those beliefs.

Do they believe in the profession of the faith? The Nicene Creed? The Apostle’s Creed? Was Jesus virgin-born? Do they believe in God? The Trinity? Do they still believe in Heaven and Hell? Did Jesus rise from the grave and ascend to heaven? Are humans aggregated to either eternal bliss or damnation on the basis of faith?

Many Australians have turned away from church because of the child sex abuse scandal, and the spectre of jihadism. Despite Muslims only accounting for 2.2 percent of the population, a preposterous scare campaign encourages lapsed Christians to tick a Christian denomination on the Census to avoid Australia becoming an Islamic country.

Even if this fear were remotely justified, a more appropriate response would be reasserting our secular nature by marking “No religion”: the only response likely to lessen the influence and funding of faith-based groups.

Other Australians have turned away from faith due to skepticism of its non-evidenced and unverifiable claims. In an information exploded world, where facts are clicked in an instant and where medicine and technology proceed at warp speed, the dizzying claims of faith face an unprecedented challenge.

Most Australians strongly support secularism: 78 percent of those polled by Ipsos in January thought it important to separate religious beliefs from the business of government.

We inherit a rich cultural tradition, arising out of enlightenment thinking, Christianity, Westminster, free-market economics, and secularism, and we are now a culturally diverse, multi-faith society.

We applaud the freedom “for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or none”, but as Jefferson went on, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.

Alas, in our democracy, religion does pick the pocket of taxpayers. Governments are hardly ambivalent towards faith, subsidising it to the tune of billions of dollars, despite fewer and fewer tax payers subscribing to it. So when filling out the Census on Tuesday night, I hope Australians look beyond a historical cultural affiliation, and critically reflect upon their religious or irreligious beliefs.