Sunday, September 22, 2013

Journal of a Soul 33

General Reflections

Chestnut tree Candles
It is amazing how certain, and indeed dogmatic, some people can be in their position vis-a-vis the world in general and the meaning of life in particular.  This happens when some of these people reduce their method of approach to life to a narrow scientific one, or one properly called "scientism" which allows of no other avenue of approach to life except that of the natural sciences.   On the other hand, as a philosopher, I must allow that there are equally certain and dogmatic believers who see the world through the narrow lens of their own religious optic and allow science very little look in.  In other words, narrow-mindedness is a quality that can be shared by people of all hues of belief and unbelief. 

I was not at all surprised, then, by a recent interview between Pat Kenny and the illustrious evolutionary biologist, ethologist and polemical atheist Richard Dawkins (born 1941), that he has a very narrow "scientistic" outlook.  You can access this interview, which took place on Newstalk Radio, 106-108 FM on 12 September 2013, HERE. I will attempt hereunder to transcribe just a very short piece of that interview:

PK: "... with something as small as viruses we can see Natural Selection and evolution at work... as they adapt to protect themselves in the face of threats. But, then, you go back to the whole idea of who designed the system... who designed the rules of nature, if you like, everything from gravity to quantum physics...?"

RD: "The point about... eh...  The basic principle from which we started is that they are very simple and don't, therefore, need a designer.  You only need a designer if you have something very complicated, and you can't explain how it became complicated.  If you've got a good explanation of how it became complicated, having started out simple, then that is the explanation you seek.  To say that it was designed is to re-import something complicated right at the start which entirely defeats the object of explanation."

It is apparent that both Dawkins here and Hawking elsewhere (most notably in the book he co-wrote with the physicist Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Bantam) have a very narrow idea as to what philosophy is.  Philosophy for this writer here is that approach to reality in its entirety (I'm taking it in the sense in which Wittgenstein describes it in his Philosophical Investigations) which asks all questions of the world or reality before it.  Why can we not ask the further question, which patently Dawkins here won't allow, namely, why should we not ask where these simple structures came from in the first place.  Why are we not allowed ask the question, "Where did these simple structures come from in the first place?"?  In philosophy, and indeed in science, surely, this is a reasonable question to ask.  I remember once reading the great philosopher and atheistic mathematician Bertrand Russell who proclaimed that some questions like metaphysical questions were never allowed in good philosophy as they were as ridiculous as asking questions about whether a teapot orbited the earth.  However, this question here, which I am admitting could be pushed to its metaphysical limits, can also be asked in a more practical sense, in an inquisitive sense which I would argue is that starting point for all good sciences.  I'm simply asking the question, yes, while I accept that the simple structures come before the more complicated ones in evolution and that the more complex ones do issue in theories to explain their complex structures which have evolved, I can still ask the question, what actually caused or brought about those simple structures?  I can also ask other questions like, "Were these simple structures always there?" "If so, what are the implications of such a statement?"  And so on.  Notice, I have not  once mentioned the G-word!

The World as a Whole

Rotten timber, but beautiful nonetheless
That Professor Dawkins, and many other atheistic authors, who are evangelical in their convictions and may wish to convert us to their viewpoints, are very intelligent there is no doubt.  However, that they confine their debate to the mere cerebral is a tragedy, I believe. If one enters debate with them one must confine oneself to the limitations of their arguments as they do not allow for the full complexity of the human brain; for the full complexity of the human mind; or for the full complexity of human culture as it engages with reality in its totality. To engage in debate with them one is confined to only using 3 or so of the nine intelligences outlined by modern psychology, especially by Howard Gardner in his book Multiple Intelligences (1993: Basic Books.  Dr Gardner's web page is accessible HERE) and they simply do not at all allow for the possibility of either EQ (Emotional Quotient: Daniel Goleman and others.  Note especially that Dr Goleman also talks about Social Intelligence and Ecological Intelligence.  See his web page here: GOLEMAN) or SQ (Spiritual Quotient: See HERE).  They will, no doubt, dismiss these theories as pseudoscience, but once again philosophy will come into play, because a good philosophy of science will ask questions about what is admissible and inadmissible in science.  After all, when the observer uses an electron microscope s/he by using it alters what is before them by bouncing electrons and other particles out of their original places.  How objective are the very pure atheistic scientists, then, anyway? Philosophy allows us to ask questions about their presuppositions, presumptions and axioms. After all, Euclidean Geometry is a very precise and fine system with tightly defined arguments.  However, there are many other geometries of the plane in existence which start from different axioms.  They are not mutually contradictory.  No. They are just different systems with different starting points or assumptions or axioms. Philosophy teaches us that we can always ask further questions.  That is its beauty.

Let us beware, then, of dogmatism and narrow-mindedness no matter what their provenance - whether in religion, science, politics or whatever.  The beauty of philosophy, (and note that every subject under the sun, including science has its respective philosophy), in that it is open-ended, and is always seeking the truths behind the seemingly apparent facts, the generally accepted theories and all those working hypotheses we humans are wont to invent for our development as individuals and as a society.  

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