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Re: Many Thanks and Some Questions ...
by Luke Rondinaro
28 July 2002 16:09 UTC
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Mike Alexander Wrote; my responses follow 

[Mike:]  Why doesn't always imply should.  When why is used in terms of purposeful action, then should is implied.  I am not implying moral agency.  I simply wished to point out that there are important questions that science cannot answer.

You’re right.  It doesn’t always; and no you aren’t really implying moral agency in your argument (at least in the more direct, intentional sense of such.).  I’m not even saying you are.  What I’m saying is, there’s a problem in this terminology we’re using.  It carries with it a number of false suppositions and logically implied-premises or axioms that we may not as scholars necessarily agree with at all, pick up on always, or fully grasp in terms of their problematic character.  The problem isn’t in your argument or in our arguments.  The problem is in the terminology and oftentimes in the way it’s related to other terms in our arguments (even sometimes in the way we naturally would group such terms & arrange them in our writings so as to construct analogies and create or use metaphors, as in the WHY/SHOULD illustration I pointed out and used.

 [Luke:] Yet, even aside from such discussions of moral philosophy in history – variations on the theme of Catholic Universal History - and Natural Law in the ethical sense, this WHY/SHOULD juxtaposed relationship is problematic.  Clearly the WHY and “WHY YOU WOULD WANT TO implies the extrinsic determination of human action in history and the issue of motivation.  Neither of these notions necessarily implies a universal moral qualifier to human activity over time; instead, “determination” (via evolution and other macro-cosmic phenomena) and “motivation” (the driving micro-cosmic dynamics of deep-seated human emotions & psychohistory) shape human action in history and through that, by shaping the active mental process of reflective/comparative judgments people make as individuals and via communities as they encounter new experiences in life, new ways of interacting with their environment, and new connections they can draw between external phenomena A,B,C and internal mental phenomena within themselves X,Y,Z, moral universals are formed.  [Mike:] Some human actions involve motivation and intention. I am not trying to imply that there is a purpose to human action in history.

Motivation and “determination” (in a very real way) are essential to human action in history, though they don’t always come down to a universal moral qualifier.  They do imply “purpose” (as in a form of somewhat loose directionality) to human events; however we as human beings don’t necessarily see – nor can we always see - where the ebbs and flows of World (Systemic) History are taking us nor where the internalized dynamics of our deep-seated emotions (or Psychohistory) are taking us either.  (For a good explanation of Psychohistory and the psychogenic theory of human experience, go to http://www.psychohistory.com and take a look at Lloyd de Mause’s The Emotional Life of Nations (& esp. his Chapter on The Psychogenic Theory of History)

[Mike] In the matter of Galileo, it was the opinion of the Jesuit astronomers (whom the pope consulted) that Galileo was probably right.  The opponents did not have evidence and reasoned arguments with which to oppose Galileo.  It was not a scientific matter.  The arguments against Galileo were theological in nature.  A modern analogy is the battle between creationism versus evolution.  Evolution is accepted as "true" by scientists today, just as heliocentrism was in Galileo's time.  The argument against evolution (and against Galileo) is (and was) theological in nature.  There is NO theological support for evolution.  It plainly says in the Bible that God created the heavens and the earth--end of argument.  Evolution is wrong because it is not biblical.  Similarly, it was generally known in a scientific sense that the earth was round in Columbus's time.  The arguments for a flat earth were theological in nature. Finally, Socrates was guilty of corrupting the morals of youth and he was a subversive.  His accusers were perfectly right about him.

Good points!  However, if one were to have asked Galileo’s opponents at the time, they would say they too had evidence and reasoned arguments just as he did.  The difference comes down to different criteria of evidence and different models of reasoning.  They may have even said, were they asked, that it was a matter of both Science and Theology at issue (perhaps even two kinds of Sciences/Theologies) – since according to the classical definition itself from Patristic times there had been the tradition to call “Theology” the “Queen of the Sciences.”

Your creationism versus evolution example is good, although it would perhaps be better to term it “fundamentalist creationism versus Darwinian evolution.”  G. may have been in and among the majority of scientists of his day by holding to the heliocentric model, but an equally-valid question arising of your answer would be – was he in the majority or the minority belief among the public and other thinkers of the day besides scientists?  If he and his scientific colleagues were in the minority, then he was obviously fighting against the grain of both public opinion at the time and the intellectual conventions/funded knowledge of his generation.  Point is, if that was the case, his generation was wrong (even with their own funded knowledge, even with what they thought was their own evidence and reasoned arguments.

Regarding, your Science/Evolution = Theology/Creationism analogy; there are some problems.  The fundamentalist who argues against evolution by citing the concept of Biblical literalism is a very different breed from theologians who practice theology.  It’s like comparing Karl Rahner with Jerry Falwell.  It doesn’t necessarily work too well.  Theologians see fine layers of nuance in Scripture, fundamentalist creationists see no nuance but dictation from the Almighty.

I think you’re mistaking “theology” with “religion” here.  Theology is the “study of God” through Scripture and the Christian doctrinal teaching tradition.  It is the intellectualized, largely academic study of Divine revelation through the Bible and the dogma of Christian teachings in faith/morals.  “Religion” is its subject matter.

It’s always helpful to point out to fundamentalist creationists & biblical literalists that the Bible is not one monolithic text that “always was” and “was composed all in the same period of time.”  It was the product of its times and the Hebraic cultures that produced it. Even the contents of the New Testament weren’t fully agreed upon as one unit that all Christians acknowledged as the definitive canon of sacred texts until later years within the first thee/four centuries of the Christian Church at one of the Patristic Era Church Councils.  Until that point much of Christianity relied both on the preaching of “the Gospel” and various NT gospel accounts of the life of Christ – (Gospel of Thomas, Shepherd of Hermas fr/ the Apocrypha), epistles of the nearly all the apostles/disciples and their followers in the generations following the death of Christ, plus numerous “Acts” narratives [in addition to the writings we see today in the accepted canon of Christian Scripture]  So, even the biblical literalist would have to admit that the Bible was not just “One Book” from the beginning with but a single style or tenor to it.  If he/she were to consult early Christian authorities up to Augustine and Jerome, she/he would find that not only were there many scriptures to go through & choose from in the Christian tradition, there were also many different kinds of writing employed in Scripture along with numerous, numerous shades of meaning within the text. The Word of God was not and is not as cut and dry as the Biblical literalists seem to think it is, even for the staunchly traditional, deeply literal and literary Christian Fathers.  With Scripture, it wasn’t as simple as dictation from the mouth of God; there was both Divine inspiration and human inspiration (which expressed itself in many forms from legal code to poetry to history, etc.) in the authorship of the Bible - according to the traditional understanding of such concepts within Christianity, which wasn’t called into question in the Christian tradition, in both East and West -> until the time of the Protestant Reformation.  So, matters are a little more complex than just “the Word of God trumps mere human words.”

Point is it’s neither as simple (nor simplistic) with Scripture as Biblical literalists or fundamentalist Creationists make it out to be.  “Seven days, period(!)?”  … Well not exactly.  To see the complicating factors, check out the works of Augustine and Aquinas.  I’m providing here some Internet links for your review of this matter, if you’re interested.





[Luke:] I suppose I could have scratched the word “legitimate” from my point there in that passage.  The reason why I included it and also the word “good” was to make to make a crucial distinction between true scholars and pseudo intellectuals/ charlatans like Erik Van Daniken.  Because the problem is:  EVD had his “good” facts/”evidence” and he had his persuasion (that at least worked on the public who bought his books). 

[Mike:]  EVD did not any “good” facts/”evidence”.  His argument was similar to that of all pseudo scientists.  He raised a lot of questions and answered.  The whole approach was to cast doubt on accepted ideas.  It is simply assumed that if the accepted explanation is wrong that makes his view right or at least possible.  EVD made no convincing demonstration.  Nobody who knew anything about his subject matter went along with his ideas.  

You misunderstood the point I was making.  I wasn’t saying his facts or evidence were good (as in valid or accurate) at all.  I called them “good facts” and distinguished them from “real facts.”  It’s Orwellian, as in “Newsspeak.”  Except in this case, it wasn’t a totalitarian gov’t promulgating them and using them to its own ends, but a person (EVD).  The so-called “facts” weren’t real.  They were his own whimsical, loose “observations” of things he turned his attention to for the express purpose of making them demonstrate what he wanted them to demonstrate.  Van Daniken was a consummate marketer, and all he needed to do was persuade a public hungry for the kinds of things he said in his books to buy them (and thereby discredit and dethrone in the public perception the educated community and anybody else who knew better, as if to say to scientists and other academics ‘Look everybody else accepts my ideas, so why aren’t you? … I know.  It’s because you’re cliquish, set in your ways, and can’t see things I point out for being the way they are.’ – at which point he might show his picture of the wall mural and say ‘This is clearly an alien in a spaceship’ or, looking at tracks in the ground from an aerial view, he might say ‘this is clearly an alien landing field.’) 

At least to my own understanding of the matter, EVD was far smarter I think than we give him credit for and much more slick.  I think he most certainly mastered the techniques and principles of Advertising 101 (at the very least) to be used on the public wh/ would in turn played off the academic community in order to vault his own ideas to legitimacy.  Very clever; but it was unsubstantiated and unable to be substantiated.  He ultimately could not show the public that the whole fuss of the debate was all because scientists and other scholars simply preferred their own notions to his that his ideas were not given the weight of being academically-recognized funded knowledge.

Persuasion & “good facts” + “demonstration” [in the sense of demonstration (soley) to people and not in the demonstration-in-rock-solid things][such that one makes the evidence say what one wants it to say regardless of what it really indicates] yields the Pseudo-science of EVD, the Sophistry of Socrates contemporaries, and the silly behaviorioristic, shallow material culture of Modern America.

Personally, I prefer good empiric science and good sharp Aristotelian-Scholastic scientia much better.

[Mike:]  In science, it is not rhetorical persuasion, but demonstration that is necessary.  And not only demonstration by the presenter of the ideas, but also by trusted others or ourselves.  It is the empirical demonstration that persuades the scientist.  It is the faithfulness to Scripture than persuades the religious.  It is the nature of the evidence as augmented by the rhetorical skill of the lawyer and well as his grasp of the law that persuades the jury or judge.

Yes … demonstration.  But I would add this again.  Demonstration as in show me this thing rather than just show me.  The former expression is more concrete; the second is less so.  Demonstration as grounded in ‘rock-solid-reality-real-things’ is what we should be aiming for rather than demonstration merely to persuade a Skeptical mind or even better the mind of a person or people who can’t see or know anything or understand the merits of anything beyond the confines of themselves, even when clear demonstrations are made and empirical methods are employed .  For this reason I always get a chuckle from the commercial on TV where the young lady is talking about the Nicotine patch and all the tests done on it to show its safety … she ends by saying “so I went home and did my own test!  Personal experience (which is wh/ the young lady is talking about) is no more rock-solid empirically than reading tea-leaves.  If experience is taken as the measure from which to judge our predictions and demonstration and empirical activities – and I don’t believe it is – then it’s an awfully poor measure.  The most “out there” empirical activity that modern science does right now is more solid than the experience we might personally have of this or that particular phenomenon.

If experience is the measure from which all other (empiric) measures are judged, then we have yet another example of putting the cart before the horse.  It may be more real for us to do a test and believe its validity than having another person do it and going by his or her word, but ultimately the “experience” of our doing the test is less rock solid than the test itself.  If it’s less rock solid then it can’t be the measured-basis from which all empirical investigation proceeds.  How could it?  It’s based merely in our unaided perceptions. One can’t verify the rock solid (empirical investigation) with that which is not rock solid (experience) in order to further validate one’s hypothesis and scientific observations.  It seems contradictory.

Just as theology is another way of knowing than is science, legal thinking is also a different way of knowing than science. A legal proof is not the same as a scientific proof.  In science a valid answer is "I don't know".  In the law a decision is obtained to every question posed, the court must make a ruling.  That is its purpose.  In many case legal decisions have nothing to do with what is true.  So no, a lawyer would a poor choice for making a scientific argument (much as a theologian would).

{"What If" Time} - I’m wondering though:  supposing the lawyer also had a scientific background and/or truly understood Science in its breadth and depth (and perhaps even had a panel of scientific colleagues who helped to advise him on matters of the discipline), would he or just an ordinary scientific specialist next to him be better able to usher through the argument to a particular scientific conclusion?  Would the sharp quality of this lawyer’s or a Scholastic theologian’s logic [either of whom is posited in our discussion to also have a good background in scientific understanding] be able to more effectively make the case on a scientific proof than the specialized scientist? … And why?

[Luke:] ...the fact that it’s not just knowing the techniques and methods to use that’s important in convincing others of one’s ideas; it’s equally important – or perhaps more important – to find common ground on an issue in terms of the basic facts that both the presenter and the audience can agree upon, plus common ideas, shared applied paradigms, and so forth) before & even while the presentation takes place)   [Mike:]  Yes that's right.

They can agree on the common ground of an issue in terms of the basic facts.  And these facts have been empirically established and scientifically demonstrated.  It’s an issue of realism versus a manner of experientialism, where a person on the street or a scientist must consider between the reality of things versus one’s experience of such a reality, so that one’s “experience” is made the judge of one’s empirical inquiry (and not vice versa as it should be).  As the saying goes, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’  But my experience is no more valid than my tests or another’s tests.  My experience of it can only open up the validity of the test for me; it can’t do much more.  It can’t carry through a scientific proof.  It’s not within its own natural ability to be able to do so.  Only empirical tests and demonstrations can do that.

[Luke:]  I’d stand by my claim: persuasion isn’t everything.  Our job as scholars and academics is not about un-restrained PR like that which comes through on TV commercials; it’s about bringing people to an accurate understanding of the facts and a to a consensus in shared meaning about agreed upon real things that thinkers in the past have called “truth”  [Mike:]  I never said persuasion was everything.  I brought persuasion into the issue to show the importance of  empirical demonstration in scientific persuasion. 

I completely agree.  But the empirical demonstration of “what there is” logically precedes “proving it to this or that person in terms of his or her experience.”  To cite an example:  proving the existence of quarks to me is somewhat less important than proving that quarks exist.  My experience can’t validate an empiric test, but an empiric test can validate my experience of some physical phenomenon I notice in my life.

In science, persuasion requires empirical demonstration, either by experiment, through prediction, or through explanation of a large body of observations, including observations not yet made  (which is a form of prediction).   It is the empirical nature of scientific persuasions, with the emphasis on replication, that makes them much less dependent on rhetorical power or stylistic features than what lawyers or advertisers do.


As you wrote, one cannot bring people to an "accurate understanding of the facts" and a to a consensus in shared meaning about agreed upon real things (i.e. the “truth”) if they do not have common ground on the issue in terms of the basic facts that both the presenter and the audience can agree upon, plus common ideas, shared applied paradigms, and so forth. 


This is why scientific persuasion is conducted among other scientists who share certain paradigms about the utility and value of doing science.  It is a waste of time to try to persuade  a person operating out of a religious paradigm, for example, that his religiously-derived ideas are false.  How can they be?  Within his own paradigm they are, by definition, true.

Agreed on the first point.  And, I believe an equally-valid carryover could be established with philosophers of Greco-Roman/Medievalist outlook as well.  A scientist could find common ground with these scholars as well in terms of shared logical methods in their analyses.  However, on the next two points, things are more complicated than what you make them out to be.  Perhaps common ground could not be established with Biblical literalists and fundamentalist creationists; but were one to engage in a scientific and philosophical dialogue either with Eastern Orthodox theological scholarship or with intellectuals in the Thomistic/Patristic (Church Fathers) Western tradition, common ground could be found where theology, philosophy, and science could find concurrence.

All the best!


Luke R.

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