Quality What for All?

There’s a passage in Ray Bradley’s ID article

Science, I came to realize, doesn’t rule out the possible existence of a supernatural world. It isn’t logically committed to metaphysical naturalism. But it is committed to methodological naturalism, the view that, in our attempts to understand how the world works, we should look for naturalistic explanations rather than taking easy recourse to supernatural ones. The successes of science in bridging the gaps that used to be plugged by the gods creates a strong presumption in favour of the idea that gods not only aren’t needed but don’t exist. It doesn’t prove, but it does probabilify to a high degree, the truth of metaphysical naturalism. And by the same token, it makes all supernatural beliefs highly improbable.

In our attempts to understand how the world works, we should look for naturalistic explanations rather than taking easy recourse to supernatural ones – for one thing because the naturalistic ones are the ones we can test while the supernatural ones are the ones we can’t. So the supernatural ones are not only easy, they’re also a cheat (they’re easy because they’re a cheat). It’s just an illegitimate shortcut to say ‘I don’t know so I’ll make it up.’ It’s a combination illegitimate shortcut and cheat to say ‘I don’t know so I’ll make it up and because I simply made it up I can’t test it so I don’t have to test it so that’s nice for me.’ But there’s no other way to resort to supernatural explanations – it’s not as if one can select a testable kind, is it. If it’s testable it’s not supernatural. So supernatural explanations are tainted from the outset by this immunity problem. This is abundantly obvious in many contexts – we know that if the car is making a sinister grinding sound, we should take it to a garage, not a church – but it seems to escape people’s notice in others.

And then the whole thing is further obscured, especially in the US, by the habit of translating it into stupid boring dreary political categories – by deciding that it’s a left-right issue and should be discussed on those terms, when in fact it’s an epistemic issue and should be discussed in those terms.

For instance this comment on Scott Jaschik’s article on academic controversies at Inside Higher Ed.

This is an interesting and though-provoking article. It would have been even more interesting if you had discussed the incidents at various colleges in which professors and other scientists are being censored or discriminated against by their colleagues and institutions for expressing support for intelligent design, and the prevailing academic climate in which graduate students in science are reluctant to express public support for intelligent design for fear of jeopardizing their chances of receiving a Ph.D. Why is it that academia doesn’t condemn censorship of conservative viewpoints on such topics with the same vigor that it defends the unfettered right of academics to express liberal viewpoints?

Classic. The whole subject is translated into the language of grievance, persecution, discrimination, fear – as if it were [arbitrary and unjust] discrimination to expect and demand certain basic competencies in a university setting. Well – at that rate, universities might as well give up the project of education altogether. If it became discriminatory to distinguish between warranted conclusions and invented nonsense, then what would remain to teach? ‘Liberal’ and ‘conservative’ have nothing to do with it. But years and years and years of whining and nagging by the Christian right have trained people to think otherwise, or at least to deploy rhetoric to that effect. It’s very tiresome, especially since it works.

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