Saturday, August 08, 2009

Fighting the seven signs of apparent profundity

Larry at the Barefoot Bum says:

the humanities (i.e. non-scientific, especially philosophical and political) intelligentsia lacks a serious ethical commitment to the ordinary, prosaic, factual truth.

The humanities have looked down their noses at the scientists for more than two millennia, going back to ancient Greece. It was the scientists who adopted a commitment to the factual truth by desperate practical necessity: you just can't do science at all unless you're confident in your colleagues' data.
Once you have a commitment to the factual truth, you undermine not only outright lies but also bullshit, i.e. assertions of truth with no factual basis. And without bullshit metaphysical, mystical and political, 95% of the professional humanities intelligentsia would be working at McDonalds. Contrawise, if you deprecate the need for factual truth to permit bullshit, it becomes just a solecism to lie about the facts. The facts are, after all, mostly irrelevant: the real meat is in the apparent profundity of the bullshit.

There’s a lot of truth there, although it’s worth remembering that a lot of these people, while disparaging science, also like to co-opt the appearance of its rigour in order to flavour their bullshit.

Right on cue, Bryan Appleyard reviews Robert Wright’s book The Evolution of God:

Wright’s case is that, from a purely materialistic perspective, [religion] is indeed good for us, and even that God exists, though perhaps both “God” and “exists” should be in inverted commas. …
Wright is an agnostic and treats God, for the most part, as a product of the human mind. But this does not make him any less real. …
…humans… require a different type of explanation from rocks. It may be natural selection or it may be some innate force in the universe. Either way, it is reasonable to associate this force with morality and God.
This is an entirely decent and persuasive argument against the intolerance of the atheists, in that it shows religion makes perfect sense, and getting irritated because you think it’s “untrue” is just silly. The religious share with scientists the intuition of underlying order and neither side is in a position to say the other is wrong.
…this is an important book in that it is a scientifically based corrective to the absurd rhetoric of militant atheism.

In the same sense that the jargon in cosmetics adverts is “scientifically based”?

1 comment:

anticant said...

Appleyard is a twit (or twat). He's always coming up with this kind of waffly gobbledegook. I stopped bothering to read his stuff a while ago.