Naturalism is Shaping the Utilitarian Values of Our Society

October 23, 2008 | By | 47 Replies More

This title is an incisive quote from our regular responder, Karl K. My personal and immediate response to this statement is, “Duh”. Naturalism, or the acceptance of the results and conclusions from the application of the Scientific Method, has created huge advances in the survival and comfort of all humanity. In the couple of centuries since the Enlightenment, more progress has been made toward that goal than in the previous 50 centuries under theistic ruling philosophies. There is great utility for society as a whole in following naturalistic views.

However, then Karl proceeds with the following non-sequitur:

Can I therefore assume that you would concede the point that if somebody has to die to solve some of the world’s problems it should be people like ERIK who preach religious dogma in a manner that offends you. In fact this would apply to anyone who says interpretive science needs to be knocked out of its prominent position in our secular society be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, […]

Actually, evolutionary theories (one subset of naturalistic conclusions) prove that variety (a wide bell curve in every characteristic) is necessary to the long term survival of societies, as well as species. Only people with narrow world views advocate eliminating non-aggressive adversaries. Genocide is practiced by theists, not naturalists. Usually by theists of the newly-formed personality-cult sort as with Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. These cult leaders claim to be scientific to the world, yet the first thing they do is purge actual scientists and intellectuals, leaving a core of pseudo-scientific yes men to lead their institutions. They all refuted Darwin. Look how well that worked out for them.

It is a scientific necessity to keep around those who disagree, if only because they might be right despite all evidence currently available. Even if there is no God, maybe the belief itself has social utility. The basis of the scientific method still is adversarial in nature. Advances come when someone disproves currently accepted theories. But solidly disproved ideas that keep appearing as new insights by those who refuse to peruse the news of the views they refuse are not helpful.

The problem with the term “Utilitarian” is that it means different things to different people. To the Saved-by-Jesus crowd, it appears to mean selfish and without regard to society. It seems that many of the Faithful were raised with the odd idea that morality comes from carefully following ancient rules, rather than understanding the effects of ones own actions as a part of living society and its future. To rational atheists like myself, the morality of Utility is implicit. If an action provides for the greater good, then it is useful, has utility. If it also gains something for myself, then great! See Utilitarianism.

The growth of Utilitarian philosophy around the time our nation was founded led to things like our Bill of Rights. Read about Jeremy Bentham and James Mill and their Utilitarian ilk.

Science is not dominant because those in politically and socially powerful positions say so. It is dominant because those who follow its methods create such visible benefit that they are often elevated to positions of social or political authority. Read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin for the life of a true theist who gained in rank largely because of his diligent applications of the scientific method to everyday life. He believed in the guiding hand of a benevolent god, yet taught that “God helps he who helps himself”. Very utilitarian.

To knock the methodology of science off of its pedestal in a society would have the same effect now as it did when the Romans did it to Greece. It took a couple of generations to really feel the damage done, and then it was too late. Europe recovered from the loss about 2,000 years later. I don’t want that to happen to my own nation for purely pragmatic, Utilitarian reasons. I don’t want it to happen in other nations, because they try to share their anti-scientific enlightenment in non-utilitarian ways, as on 9/11/2001.

The capitalized Erik to whom Karl refers demonstrated repeatedly that he wears tight blinders to prevent any ideas from penetrating his preconceived conclusions. He was essentially banished from this discussion board for repeatedly violating posted policies after many warnings. He’d be welcome back if he would accept the paradigm of rational discussion of ideas, even though his views are antithetical to those held by several (but not all) of our regular authors.

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Karl asks, "Why can’t naturalistic science investigate the possibility of an event like the flood having cascading mechanisms like those claimed to take millions and millions of years? I’ll tell you why – it doesn’t fit with the premises and assumptions of naturalsim that’s why."

    Actually, Karl, many (probably most) early scientists in the western hemisphere were Christians, and many did seek proof of the stories told in the Bible. They probably realized that finding such proof would have instantly elevated them to just about the highest status of anyone in human history. Unfortunatly for them, and for Christianity, their inquiries produced *zero* confirmation of Bible dictrine and, instead, caused them to develop rational explanations that would fit the observed data. And let's not forget that the Church in their time had far more coercive power than it has today.

    In other words, Karl, the battle you wish to fight was fought and lost by the Christian church centuries ago, by people with far more material, political and intellectual resources than you have.

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    “Why can’t naturalistic science investigate the possibility of an event like the flood having cascading mechanisms like those claimed to take millions and millions of years? I’ll tell you why – it doesn’t fit with the premises and assumptions of naturalsim that’s why."

    Karl, I'm still confused by the way you use the term "naturalistic science". Does it mean science based on empirical reasoning? If so, what is the alternative?

    Is your "world-wide flood with cascading mechanisms" meant to be a theory or model that explains quantitative observations about the real world, and which can be tested and potentially falsified? If so, isn't it an attempt to do "naturalistic science"?

  3. Vicki Baker says:

    There are many famous public embarrassments in science

    In general that's a good heuristic for trusting a source, isn't it? Those that have the most to lose by publishing false information, and which have to admit their errors publicly, are more trustworthy.

    It seems like for Karl, though, 99% rather than 100% impartiality in a source is a good reason to trust a source that doesn't even attempt impartiality.

  4. Karl says:

    Dan states:

    "So scientists are subject to unscientific moments, but the scientific method always will reach an objectively verifiable final answer on any topic. But in science, said final answer is always provisional; subject to testing with new data or methods."

    Karl states:

    Kind of reminds me of that miilionaire program. Is that your final answer? Do you want to phone a friend, poll the rest of the audience, or try for a 50-50?

    Are you sure that is your final answer?

    Sounds to me like science draws too many lines in the sands of time.

  5. Karl says:

    Grumpy,

    Diferences in doctrines between protestants and catholics caused the initial rift in church authority. Gallileo and Copernicus used naturalistic observations to show how interpretations of church doctrines could be wrong. It was a model needing correction by the use of data.

    Once the scientific sides of nearly all universities were essentially in shambles it took less than 100 years for the long existent philiosophy of an old earth and uniformitarianism to dominate the field of geology by constructing a model that eliminated the possibility of a Global World Wide Flood. From there the influence spread to biology and we know the rest of the story.

  6. grumpypilgrim says:

    Karl claimed, "From there the influence spread to biology and we know the rest of the story."

    Actually, Karl, evidence of an old earth did not come from biology; it came from fields that ran the gamut: astronomy, glaciology, geology, limnology, oceanography…the list goes on. But if you want to believe there is a global conspiracy among scientists in all these different fields to undermine your bizarre beliefs about the supernatural world, no one can stop you. Indeed, we might make the same claim concerning the Flying Spaghetti Monster: obviously, the reason there is no evidence to prove the existence of the FSM is because no self-respecting scientist would publish such evidence even if it became available. Yawn. Think about it, Karl: if the anyone seriously believed that science could prove that two centuries of scientific research in a dozens of different fields were bogus, and that the Bible's flood story were literally true, don't you think SOMEONE (e.g., the Pope, Mel Gibson, some other wealthy Believer, etc.) would have already financed an effort to find the evidence? Don't you think many such attempts have already been made, and the reason we haven't heard about them is because they all ended without success?

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    An old Earth doesn't eliminate the possibility of a short-term world-wide flood. A total lack of any evidence in favor of such an event does that.

  8. Vicki Baker says:

    Diferences in doctrines between protestants and catholics caused the initial rift in church authority. Gallileo and Copernicus used naturalistic observations to show how interpretations of church doctrines could be wrong. It was a model needing correction by the use of data.

    How can you be sure this isn't also true in your case? There are differences in christian doctrine on this issue too. Many if not most Christians accept evolution and an old earth.

  9. Karl says:

    Vicki asked:

    Is your “world-wide flood with cascading mechanisms” meant to be a theory or model that explains quantitative observations about the real world, and which can be tested and potentially falsified? If so, isn’t it an attempt to do “naturalistic science”?

    The model I would refer to could use the same evidence that the uniformiatrians used to stretch the time frame across the surface of the earth into millions of years and show how the evidence could also support the model I refer to.

    There are such enigmas in the geologic record that people have to look to either consider long periods with catastrophic episodes. or else consider shorter time frames but with directly related catastrophic episodes.

    I choose to beleive in the short time frame with such an intense transformation to the earth's surface that the events might have seemed supernatural or unbelievable to some, but really it is jsut as valid of a model as those who would view the catastrophies as being separated by unconnectable time frames and events.

  10. Karl says:

    Vicki states:

    How can you be sure this isn’t also true in your case? There are differences in christian doctrine on this issue too. Many if not most Christians accept evolution and an old earth.

    If any group of people, be they church affiliated, or some society related organization are using a faulty model, be it based upon some model that is not provable by theology, science or interperative science, most of the people have gotten it wrong in all of these venues.

    How can you be sure this isn’t also true in your case? There are differences in christian doctrine on this issue too. Many if not most Christians accept evolution and an old earth. Many people also believe many things true about terms (like few, some, many and most) which I hold in reserve as shifting sands.

  11. Karl says:

    grumpy states:

    Actually, Karl, evidence of an old earth did not come from biology; it came from fields that ran the gamut: astronomy, glaciology, geology, limnology, oceanography…the list goes on.

    Karl responds: I never said the evidence came from biology, I said it came from a mind set that has been around since the days of the Greeks or earlier. The modern day dominance of the perspective has been solidified since the vacuum left in the univeristy science departments of catholic and protestant universities allowed skeptics to espouse interpretive philosophy into data that could then and still can now be interpreted in more than one way.

  12. grumpypilgrim says:

    Karl wrote, "I never said the evidence came from biology, I said it came from a mind set that has been around since the days of the Greeks or earlier."

    Really? I thought the young earthers weren't shown to be wrong until the 18th or 19th century. What's your evidence to the contrary?

    Karl wrote, "The modern day dominance of the perspective has been solidified since the vacuum left in the univeristy science departments of catholic and protestant universities allowed skeptics to espouse interpretive philosophy into data that could then and still can now be interpreted in more than one way."

    Would someone please translate Karl's run-on sentence into English?

  13. Karl says:

    Grumpy,

    I would call your attention the ancient philosophy/mythology of the greeks called Gaia. This was a much of a religious perspective to the Greeks as

    you would call creationism today.

    The Renaissance took this ancient wisdom and used that perspective to interpret data claiming that "Mother Nature" could be stripped of her supernatural ability by making her ancient and beyond fully being known.

    The extension of time made the Gaia hypothesis into respectable science in the minds of "atheists" and those not happy with what the church had been doing for centuries.

    It's not wise to fool with "mother Nature" you know.

    That is the foundation of naturalism that is used to interpret geologic evidence for or against any specific model. Claim all you like that the data speaks for itself, I believe data can always be interpreted in one of two ways. Either for or against a specific worldview.

  14. Dan Klarmann says:

    Karl: You seem confused. Much of what you are calling modern Naturalism was based on discoveries by Christians who completely rejected earlier mythologies.

    That the Naturalist understanding of the universe superficially resembles some aspects of earlier beliefs is no more significant than that some American Indian cultures used a cross as a symbol of veneration long before they heard of Jesus. Mormons have a different idea about that, of course.

    I don't know where you got the idea that an old universe is a precondition. As we've mentioned many times, it was a hard-fought battle to prove each age as it diverged from Biblical thinking.

    Example: Ask any petroleum geologist about how deep sedimentary rock runs (about 10 miles in some places). Imagine that it all came from a single event. Then figure how thick the loose sediment would have to be before it compacted (about twice that, if it all formed within about a year). Then work out how long the fastest, vastest imaginable process could have produced so much sediment from igneous rock without vaporizing the oceans. You get an old Earth, because these conditions cannot co-exist.

    It is not a deep time preconception that leads to confirming interpretations of the evidence. It is the massive evidence that cannot be explained by any other interpretation, that leads to deep time.

  15. Karl says:

    Dan, ask any coal geologist how (if) he can explain hundreds and hundreds of feet of anthracite coal in multiple places all over the globe.

    I've yet to see any even remotely proposed model that can explain that.

    But, given enough time, any thing is possible even though coal is only suppose to form gradually over millions of years.

  16. Dan Klarmann says:

    Karl: Coal is well understood. If you haven't seen an explanation, you haven't looked. Fossils are regularly found in coal, all dating to the Carboniferous Era. Ironically, not via carbon dating (because coal is a factor of 7,000 too old for this method).

    What do the narrow hundreds-of-feet of coal have to do with the 50,000 feet of sedimentary rock? Or the effect of our understanding the natural world in its own terms on values?

  17. Vicki Baker says:

    In the interests of offering any clarification I can, I would like to point out that as far as I know, the term "Gaia hypothesis" is usually used to refer to a specific concept in ecology to the effect that the self-regulating nature of the earth's biosphere means that it can be seen as a single living organism. The scientist who developed it and named it chose a name out of the Western literary tradition, and that's the only specific connection with Greek mythology/philosphy.

    I don't know what Karl is referring to when he uses that term. It would certainly be hard to prove that 17th -19th century natural philosophers in Europe were not influenced by any ideas of Greek or Islamic philosophers had about gradual changes producing geological features. The point is that somewhere along the line, it was no longer enough to cite Aristotle or Genesis or Ibn Sana; you had to provide some quantitave data as well.

    I think Karl is very confused when he talks about "catholic and protestant universities" having a role in the early research in geology and evolution. The bios of the pioneers in this field reveal that natural philosophy was a hobby for gentlemen of leisure and clergymen, or a side interest of less wealthy folk whose main occupation involved mining or civil engineering

  18. Vicki Baker says:

    Also, very important point: non-literal, allegorical interpretations of Genesis have been kicking around in the Christian tradition for a very long time as well. The creation myth in the Gospel of John (divine Logos as the creative principle in the universe), for example, is much more compatible with an Einsteinian God than the Genesis fable.

    Because of this, European Christian geologists were able to advance their theories without thinking that they were attacking Christianity, whatever Karl thinks.

    Also interesting, many of the early church fathers were highly conversant with the Greek philosophers Karl is talking about. And the Greeks, for the most part, were able to distinguish between poetry and philosophy. You will not find any Greek philosopher attempting to prove that the sun is literally a chariot drawn by fiery horses, for example.

    Literal interpretations of the Genesis fable gained currency when the Reformation enabled non-learned people to read and interpret the Bible in their own language, without the mediation of authority.

    The very same developments that enabled the Enlightenment, enabled its opposite.

  19. Karl says:

    Carbon dating doesn't work again. How ironic.

    Let me explain the question again.

    I asked you to explain from your perspective how several hundred feet thick if very pure anthracite coal could reasonably be formed by the conventional well understood slow gradual process of peat to lignite to soft coal to metamorphic anthracite.

    Anthracite layers that thick formed from the conventional peat bogs to metamorphic anthracite would require peat deposits and other coal depsosits that are never found as thick as the anthracite they are suppose to have been the precursors of. Thick anthracite coal deposits are an anomoly I have never seen explained to my satisfaction. Look into the matter and see if it doesn't raise a few questions to your model of coal formation.

  20. grumpypilgrim says:

    Karl wrote, "The Renaissance took this ancient wisdom and used that perspective to interpret data claiming that “Mother Nature” could be stripped of her supernatural ability by making her ancient and beyond fully being known."

    I doubt that "wisdom" is the word Renaissance thinkers would use describe the menagerie of ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Please cite authority for your suggestion that scientists of any recent era relied on ancient Greek mythology to formulate their theories.

  21. Dan Klarmann says:

    I've been to a bog. Several inches of cellulose build up every year for ages even in Wisconsin (cold). A mere thousand years gives a few hundred feet of compressed peat. Even ignoring the paleobotany that indicates that Mississippian foliage was significantly different than modern peat (with higher carbon content), one can easily see how such a bog can get buried by a flood or volcano or glacier. Sediment builds up on top, and heat and pressure break down the hydrogenation, leaving carbon.

    Now, the millions of years of the carboniferous era were warmer than now. Therefore, biological activity was much faster. Therefore, bogs would build up deeper between stopping events. The flora and fauna were very different, and their interactions apparently didn't slow bog growth in the way that modern bogs are controlled.

    I still don't understand the problem. Also, Carbon dating is one of hundreds of independent dating techniques, and is only useful from about 200 to about 20,000 years, 50k at the outside, with wide errors there. It's not about convenience but appropriateness.

  22. Karl says:

    Please cite authority for your suggestion that scientists of any recent era relied on ancient Greek mythology to formulate their theories.

    Mother Nature (NATURALISM) is the modern equivalent of the Greeks ideology that venerated the existent material world to the palce of self-sufficiency and non-dependency upon anything else for its existence.

    Many Greeks held that the natural world was indeterminably old. You wouldn't recognize it as something that could have shaped the mindset of the moderns.

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