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how to spot a hidden religious agendum

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 27, 2009

In the New Scientist, book review editor Amanda Gefter seeks to warn her readers about putatively scientific works that contain covert religious propaganda -- which, by her reckoning, is intrinsically unscientific. Her effort is hard to understand, since on her own terms the scientists she's addressing should detect the flaws as a matter of course in the ordinary operation of their endeavors. Orthopedic surgeons don't need to be alerted against advertisements for hip prostheses blessed by Arapaho medicine men.

Be that as it may, Gefter attempts to bring some junior high metaphysics to the aid of her at-risk colleagues.  Readers of C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength will recognize the philosophy of Professor Frost, as it might appear on the lips of Sally Struthers:

Red flag number one: the term "scientific materialism". "Materialism" is most often used in contrast to something else -- something non-material, or supernatural. Proponents of [Intelligent Design] frequently lament the scientific claim that humans are the product of purely material forces. At the same time, they never define how non-material forces might work. I have yet to find a definition that characterises non-materialism by what it is, rather than by what it is not.

The invocation of Cartesian dualism -- where the brain and mind are viewed as two distinct entities, one material and the other immaterial -- is also a red flag.

I confess it's news to me that Cartesian dualism is stalking the corridors of the Vatican, but monist physicalism has some explaining of its own to do. Wait. No it doesn't.

Religiously motivated authors also have a bad habit of linking the cultural implications of a theory to the truth-value of that theory. The ID crowd, for instance, loves to draw a line from Darwin to the Holocaust, as they did in the "documentary" film Expelled: No intelligence allowed. Even if such an absurd link were justified, it would have zero relevance to the question of whether or not the theory of evolution is correct.

Gefter's absolutely right that an unsavory historical event does not falsify the theory of which it is the consequence.  But how does a strict monist "purely material forces" fan permit herself to toss around terms like "truth-value" without blushing?  Even on old Prof. Wittgenstein's understanding of metaphysics you can't squeeze a quality of a proposition out of a material force. I wonder, in fact, whether Gefter is not a clandestine agent of that dark conspiracy she is pretending to warn the scientists against.  She shoos Descartes out the back door only to let Anscombe and company march in through the front.

The fiendish cunning!

Tip  to James Taranto.

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