Maggie interviewing Curtis White, author of "The Science Delusion"

I'm going to be hosting a Q&A on Wednesday with Curtis White, essayist, novelist, and professional curmudgeon. He's got a new book out called "The Science Delusion", which ties together critiques of Richard Dawkins and The New Atheism with critiques of pop-neuroscience like Jonah Lehrer's work. If you're going to be in Minneapolis, you should join us — it should be an interesting conversation. The event starts at 7:00 pm at Magers and Quinn Booksellers.


    1.  I’m watching his talk on vimeo now

      – it seems to be shaping up into a large straw man argument.

      1. Sheldrake’s critique of the mechanistic worldview which is guiding most of the questions being asked in science today is not to be missed.  It’s important that people understand the argument.  I don’t recommend dismissing it without careful contemplation.

        1. I don’t claim to know what brings about qualia, just to get that out of the way.   In all of the disciplines you just mentioned, the materialistic worldview is the only reason we know anything about them at all.   In physics (yes, I am a physicist) there are severe constraints on any force other than the ones we know, for it to agree with the data we have.  Also, in physics, there is no evidence against the materialist world view.  ( I would point out that Sheldrake is not a physicist.)  If there were, you had better believe that people would be investigating it.   When Sheldrake provides some falsifiable predictions that are different from those of current theory, and they are found to be reproducible, then other scientists will start taking his rantings about morphogenetic fields as something other than the delusions of a crank.

          1. Re: “… When Sheldrake provides some falsifiable predictions …”

            Note that what we are talking about here is questioning a worldview, which is a simplified statement about how the universe works which scientists use, in part, to ask research questions.  Questioning our worldviews is in fact an important part of critical thinking, and actually does not need a falsifiable prediction to justify it.  The “scientific attitude” of open-mindedness to new ideas is in these observationally challenging disciplines oftentimes the only thing which stands in the way of the inferential step becoming a psychological or sociological phenomenon.  Open-mindedness to alternative paradigms and theories is one of the few ways we can fight the philosophical problem of unconceived alternatives.

            The mechanistic worldview problem which Sheldrake discusses can be considered apart from his morphogenetic field hypothesis.  I am speaking specifically about his comments on the mechanistic worldview.  It’s a far more important subject, in my view.

            Being a physicist today unfortunately does not entitle you to a better view of the controversies of science.  It’s unfortunately very easy to demonstrate that the way in which we are teaching physics today invites rote memorization, which has been argued by Joseph Novak to undermine meaningful learning, which in turn has a big impact upon the process of critical thinking.  See Jeff Schmidt’s book, Disciplined Minds, as well as the various Physics Education Research papers of Eric Mazur and David Hestenes on the force concept inventory test results, and the book or YouTube videos, Academically Adrift.

            It’s also very easy to show that we don’t teach controversies today as we should.  Decades of aether debate oftentimes get a pithy remark in textbooks.  Textbooks rarely mention controversies, even when they have been raging for many decades (such as Gilbert Ling’s work, which has seen great progress from Gerald Pollack).  Take for example the fact that few — if any — of the astrophysics programs mention that Hannes Alfven recused himself from the way in which astrophysicists apply the MHD models he created.  They gave him the Nobel for his creation of MHD, but then completely ignored the speech he gave at that reception which suggested that huge mistakes are being made in the modeling of cosmic plasmas.  There are controversies like this throughout the disciplines, unfortunately.  And they are oftentimes not taught to the students.

            Don’t shoot the messenger.  If it upsets you, then you should want to fix the way in which we educate our scientists.

          2. I am aware that there are controversies in every specialty of physics.  There certainly are in mine.  There are plenty of really bad papers that get through peer-review, that only specialists in the same field know enough about to know are bad.  None of that, nor the MHD controversy you mention, have anything whatsoever to do with the validity of the materialist worldview.  I’m not even saying that there aren’t complex organizing principles that we don’t understand.  I’m also fully aware that people are enculturated into science. The problem is that it takes a huge amount of training to even understand the point that science has gotten to at this point enough to be able to critique it, which means being a physicist does make me more qualified to critique physics than someone who isn’t. (unless,  of course, they have an alternative system that’s capable of making predictions as accurate as those made by physics. Hint:they don’t) What I’m saying is that, we don’t have ANY concrete, reproducible evidence against the “materialist” worldview. Without that evidence, there’s no reason to assume that science is wrong about it. Also, as I said before, there are serious constraints on what kinds of effects such an immaterial force could have.  If you reply, please include something that you consider to constitute that reproducible evidence. Sheldrake’s arguments against it boil down to an argument from incredulity, which is the same argument you always hear from creationists.

            PS: Considering the utter weirdness of things like the quantum vacuum, and considering that information and entropy are both physical quantities in statistical physics, I’m really not sure that “materialist” is an accurate description of our conception of reality.  I think most of the people using this word don’t really have any conception of how we think about physics now.

          3. Re: “None of that, nor the MHD controversy you mention, have anything whatsoever to do with the validity of the materialist worldview.”

            Note that I’m using the word “mechanistic worldview”, which is in direct reference to Sheldrake’s “first dogma”.

            99%+ of what we see with our telescopes is matter in the plasma state.  So, MHD does indeed have an incredible say in whether or not our conception of the universe is indeed accurate, since these are the very models which are currently widely used to model that cosmic plasma.  The question we should all ask is: What efforts have been put into validating not just the MHD models, but also the ways in which they are apparently consistently applied?

            For a layman’s-level review of the history of Alfven and MHD, see

            What you will find, if you dig into this, is that the warnings which Alfven offered towards the later stages of his career still ring true.  From that article …

            “But the critical turn in this story, the part almost never told within the community of astronomers and astrophysicists, is that Alfvén came to realize he had been mistaken. Ironically—and to his credit—Alfvén used the occasion of his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize to plead with scientists to ignore his earlier work. Magnetic fields, he said, are only part of the story. The electric currents that create magnetic fields must not be overlooked, and attempts to model space plasma in the absence of electric currents will set astronomy and astrophysics on a course toward crisis, he said.”

            In short, the cosmic plasmas are widely modeled as lacking any resistance whatsoever, which precludes  the formation of electric fields.  And where cosmic magnetic fields are observed, they are oftentimes treated as being “frozen in”.

            These assumptions are essentially beyond questioning for astrophysicists, even though frozen-in magnetic fields would seem to violate the premise we are all taught in high school that magnetic fields and electric currents tend to go hand-in-hand.

            Sheldrake’s mechanistic worldview perfectly applies to the way in which the cosmic plasma is being modeled.

            Now, switch to cell biology.  A rather large body of theory has been constructed on this notion of mechanical pumps and channels shuttling ions in and out of cells through the membranes.  Unfortunately for the theory, the cell cytoplasm inside of the membrane is also known to be a gel.  In other words, the water within it exhibits characteristics which diverge from bulk water, like in a glass.  If you read Pollack’s book, “Gels, Cells and the Engines of Life”, it becomes apparent that gels come with an ability to create and maintain ionic gradients.  We need not infer little mechanical pumps and channels to do this.  In fact, since gels already do this, we SHOULD NOT infer them.

            In cometary science, the coma is inferred to be the result of sublimation (another mechanistic worldview).  But, there are numerous reasons to doubt it (See  Perhaps the more obvious problem is the suggestion that Comet Holmes’ 1-million-mile-wide coma (the size of the Sun, btw) resulted from sublimation of an icy body that was likely just a small number of miles in diameter.

            In planetary science, we see rilles which consistently raise deep questions about their causes.  Of particular concern is the rille on Baltis Vallis on Venus, which rises and falls dozens of times, with some two kilometers separating its high and low points along its 6,800 kilometer length.  The fact that the rille is observed to defy gravity should lead us to at least ask the question of its cause.  But, the mechanistic worldview’s influence upon the inferential step halts those questions before they are ever asked.

            We see the same thing happening in radio astronomy.  Gerrit Verschuur has published a number of papers — some even in the Astrophysical Journal — which point out that the interstellar medium is oftentimes highly filamentary (as we we can observe occurring within novelty plasma globes when they are conducting electrical currents).  But, the mechanistic worldview prefers to call these structures “clouds”.  Either way, Verschuur has also identified dozens of critical ionization velocities (CIV) associated with the knots in these filaments, which incidentally, he also correlated with WMAP hotspots.  CIV’s are redshifts that you get when charged particles are slammed at extraordinary velocities into neutral gas.

            The mechanistic worldview does incredible harm to science, because it alters the questions they ask and inferences they make.

          4. That’s certainly a lot of tosh, and not a bit of it is persuasive evidence that methodological materialism has lead to problematic outcomes.

            To pick just one bone out of the heap, let me address what you’re written here: “We need not infer little mechanical pumps and channels to do this. In fact, since gels already do this, we SHOULD NOT infer them.”

            I’ve stood over a colleague’s shoulder while she imaged a transmembrane ion pump protein. That is to say, I’ve seen one of these. If your a priori commitments are directing you to dismiss the tangible evidence of your senses, something, my friend, is wrong.

          5. Re: “I’ve stood over a colleague’s shoulder while she imaged a transmembrane ion pump protein. That is to say, I’ve seen one of these. If your a priori commitments are directing you to dismiss the tangible evidence of your senses, something, my friend, is wrong.”

            Why are you acting as though there is no inference involved in suggesting that the item under inspection is responsible for moving those ions?  From Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life …

            “The observation of discrete events would seem to confirm beyond doubt that the ions flow through discrete channels … Results from the laboratory of Fred Sachs, on the other hand, make one wonder.  Sachs found that when the patch of membrane was replaced by a patch of silicon rubber, the discrete currents did not disappear … they remained essentially indistinguishable from those measured when the membrane was present … Even more surprisingly, the silicon rubber sample showed ion-selectivity features essentially the same as the putative membrane channel.” (page 13)

            If you check the book out, you’ll observe that this is really just one problematic aspect of the pump-and-channel hypothesis.  It turns out that the energy required to power all of these pumps and channels amounts to an unbelievable fraction of the body’s total.  A review of the history of the theory further reveals its ad hoc nature; the numerous types of ions dictate numerous types of pumps and channels.  At some point, it’s necessary to take a step back and acknowledge that there is a controversy here.  

            Or, you could just check out paper titled, “Doubts About the Sodium-Potassium Pump are not Permissible in Modern Bioscience”, or “History of the Membrane (Pump) Theory of the Living Cell from Its Beginning to Mid-19th Century to Its Disproof 45 Years Ago – though Still Taught Worldwide Today as Established Truth”.

            Personally, I would recommend reading Pollack’s book.  It’s really quite mind-blowing, and very instructive on how very small errors can wreck total havoc upon a discipline when they exist near the foundation.

            What I advocate when I read these things is that there MUST be a stage in between TRUE and FALSE where we all permit our beliefs to rest in a fuzzy, in-between state.  In other words, we just acknowledge that there exists a controversy.  To be honest, we should be making documentaries on ALL of the controversies, and people should be watching those instead of the garbage that’s on History TV today.

          6. I concede that dogmatism is dangerous, that humans are prone to various confirmation biases, and that knowledge of whatever kind (incl. empirical) is damnably contingent.
            That said, these points of principle would be as aggreable and useful had you not folded them into a pseudoscientific case example.
            I say with good will, if the ion pump ‘controversy’ needs a champion, do that work by citing peer reviewed work (or bu circulating work of such caliber, which has been denied publication by the zealous defenders of the ion pump paradigm.) The duck rule (does it walk like, sound like, one?) is more than a punchline… it is of great use in sorting credible claims from the crackpootery.

          7. Re: “I say with good will, if the ion pump ‘controversy’ needs a champion, do that work by citing peer reviewed work (or bu circulating work of such caliber, which has been denied publication by the zealous defenders of the ion pump paradigm.) The duck rule (does it walk like, sound like, one?) is more than a punchline… it is of great use in sorting credible claims from the crackpootery.”

            I’m sorry, but this is silly.  Google “Gerald Pollack” …


            Pollack is one of those rare individuals who is actually getting paradigm-changing papers published in peer review journals.  He’s an outstanding public speaker who has an incredible knack for simplifying complex subjects.  He’s a professor at the University of Washington and is routinely published in peer-reviewed journals.  His work is, in turn, based upon the work of Gilbert Ling — a name which is probably known to most cell biologists.  Pollack’s work is being replicated like wildfire and grad students are flocking to his program like there is no tomorrow, but nobody can pry your eyelids open to all of this activity.

            It’s not really clear to me what you think we all gain when we INDISCRIMINATELY fight for mainstream science in controversies (especially controversies with medical implications).  That’s a recipe for destroying scientific progress.

            Pollack’s work points us into a far more helpful direction for identifying how life can emerge from inanimate matter using the polymer/gel concept.  It sets us onto a better course for understanding what MRI’s are actually measuring.  It can assist researchers in creating better human-computer interfaces.  His work on water explains very clearly why life needs water.  There are very likely implications for cancer research as well.

            I am totally in favor of skepticism, but all signals are that this is a revolutionary new direction for cell biology.  You might want to rethink debunkery as a philosophy, for it fails to differentiate critical thinking from “crackpootery”.

            I think you fail to realize the value of social networking to scientific discovery.  Just because something gets published in a journal does not mean that people will find out about it.  People have to care enough to talk about it with others.  This is reality.

            The journals are flooded.  People are overexposed to information.  The science journalists tend to be timid when it comes to controversial science.  There’s an incredible amount of noise out there.  A lot of it is garbage.  If everybody decides to be a debunker, and suggest a pithy critique without actually reading or thinking about the materials, then what happens to science?

          8. It is your assumption — incorrect, and what’s worse, self-serving — that I have not read or thought about the evidences offered. Your stance (“rethink your assumptions”) is one most often encountered in the arguments of persons who have not themselves dealth thoroughly with the evidence, amateurs and armchair scientists. Someone actually engaged with the evidence and the epistemic methods of the field doesn’t say, rethink your assumptions… she says, reevaluate your evidence.
            You do know there is a Nobel Prize waiting for the cytologust or molecular biologist that shows ion pumps are a fiction?

  1. Has anybody told the toiling grad students that science is ‘the culture of easy answers’, so they can get out of the lab and get some sleep? It seems unfair not to alert them to this change.

  2. Dawkins is a professor of zoology and talks about science . White is a professor of English talking about science. Maybe White should write a book explaining just why we should listen to a humanities prof rather than a science prof on the topic of science. I’m sure it will be just as enlightening as this one.

    1.  Or….maybe the more relevant question might be why we should listen to a professor of zoology talking about philosophy, metaphysics, and theology, subjects in which he has neither formal training nor any apparent natural faculty.

      1. That would be a stronger argument if theology and metaphysics had any real basis to have training about. Indoctrination, yes. But no real facts or testable theories about gods or things beyond the physical world

          1. Appealing to science, in this case Goedel’s Theorem, we see that some things can be both true and impossible to prove. The beauty of science is that it’s a consistent, reliable system developed by objective analysis, but this means that whatever fails to meet that objective standard cannot be properly answered with science alone.

            Note: this shouldn’t be used to downplay the value of scientific conclusions, but it’s important to realize that the strengths of science make it a poor tool to deal with the inexplicable.

            Popper makes some fantastic arguments that you would likely appreciate. They’re worthwhile and will help you be a better scientist, to boot.

          2.  What entire subject are you talking about?  Metaphysics, philosophy, or religion?  Dawkins advances a metaphysical claim (metaphysical naturalism), the centerpiece of his book The God Delusion is deductive, philosophical argument which attempts to defend metaphysical naturalism and refute theism (and is a very weak argument), hence the point is that Dawkins is writing a book of philosophical and metaphysical argumentation and polemic (not science), and his lack of acumen as a philosopher is glaring.

          3. “Scientism” is a wonderfully meaningless insult that gets bandied about. It has so many different meanings but ultimately it boils down to “scientists are mean because they actually want evidence for phenomena”

          4. Re: “Scientism” is a wonderfully meaningless insult that gets bandied about. It has so many different meanings but ultimately it boils down to “scientists are mean because they actually want evidence for phenomena”

            Scientism is what happens when one’s belief far exceeds one’s knowledge of science.  Take for example the fact that few people even think to look at reviews of the peer review process.  It turns out that the review process has many times rejected papers that would later become accepted theories.  Yet, it is nevertheless common for people to place faith in the idea that this review process is being applied fairly to new ideas which threaten old lines of research.  When a person’s faith in the review process is so large that they treat scientists as though they lack the traits which are ascribed to all other humans, then these people who believe these things are practicing scientism.

            Scientists are people, and people make mistakes.  Even in big groups, collectively, sometimes.  In fact, it’s oftentimes the group that actually causes the problem.  The history of science is very clear on this point.

        1.  “The thing is, pointing out the lack of evidence for gods and other
          metaphysical things isn’t a metaphysical position any more than atheism
          is a religion.”  But Dawkins doesn’t merely point out the lack of evidence for gods, as this would be only be sufficient to establish agnosticism and not atheism, he makes a positive philosophical argument designed to refute the existence of gods, which hinges not on lack of evidence but on the problem of an infinite regress, a problem he manages to completely misunderstand.   And metaphysical naturalism (which Dawkins equates, quite correctly, with atheism in The God Delusion) is absolutely a metaphysical position (it can currently be neither proven nor falsified), and can by no means be taken as self-evident or lacking a burden of proof.

          1. The distinction between atheism and agnosticism is rather small in a practical sense. Most atheists including Dawkins don’t think that they have absolute evidence against the existence of the supernatural, just that it’s rather unlikely given the evidence. That’s how science works – probabilities rather than absolutes.

          2. The issue of absolute proof is a red herring – this is a debate about beliefs, and if anybody did have absolute evidence then the debate could not exist in it’s current form, so nobody has claimed to have absolute proof.  I don’t know any theists who claim to have absolute evidence of theism, and yet I do not consider that this makes them any more like agnostics in practice.  I also think the invocation of probability by yourself and Professor Dawkins is a red herring designed to make atheism  appear more scientific than it actually is.  Yes, science uses probabilities, and regards its findings to some degree as provisional rather than absolute, but science nevertheless distinguishes itself from other fields of study by virtue of the higher degree of certainty conferred on its findings due to testing, demonstration, prediction, and proof.  Talk about what is probable until the cows come home – until you can test it and prove it is is no more scientific than what somebody else thinks is probable.  And even prior to any consideration of proof or testing,  if you cannot establish a fully objective and scientific method for calculating the probabilities of any type of god existing as against those of no type of god existing, then you would seem to be asserting that atheism is scientific simply by virtue of the fact that somebody can argue that it is probable than not, without having an objective method of calculating the probabilities.

      2. Or….maybe the more relevant question might be why we should listen to a professor of zoology talking about philosophy, metaphysics, and theology, subjects in which he has neither formal training nor any apparent natural faculty.

        But he’s a scientist!!!! If we’ve learned one thing from all those scientists from disciplines unrelated to climate science who have denounced anthropogenic global warming as a hoax, it’s that every scientist knows everything about science. Because science!

        1. The difference is that an evolutionary biologist is rather well educated in the “where did we come from?” question. It’s not like nuclear physicists who denounce global warming.

          1. Nuclear physicists who denounce global warming really have no excuse. I’m not a climate scientist, and they deal with a lot of the complexities involved, but the fact that more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere will result in a higher equilibrium surface temperature is a  trivial result of statistical physics, confirmed by experiments, that any physicist, no matter what their specialty, should be able to derive.

    2. Dawkins qua scientist is top-notch. Dawkins qua science popularizer is tip-top-notch. Dawkins qua moral philosopher (“Science can replace other sources of moral value! Science leads directly to hippie dippie secular humanism! Also feminism is silly because of Muslims!”) is barely medium-notch.

      I’ll bet you $1 that White discusses Dawkins qua moral philosopher, not Dawkins qua scientist. Ergo, your comment is silly.

        1.  Bad at speaking eloquently about moral philosophy or bad at proposing the origins and systems for analyzing our moral philosophies?

          Because, I would probably agree with the former and disagree with the latter.

  3. From the talk description:  “In this brilliant multi-part critique, he aims at a TED talk by a distinguished neuroscientist in which we are told that human thought is merely the product of our “connectome,” a map of neural connections in the brain that is yet to be fully understood. . . . He whips a widely respected physicist who argues that our new understanding of the origins of the universe obviates any philosophical inquiry . . .”

    So… he critiques the ideas of scientists and points out holes in their arguments in order to improve the understanding of the area.
    In other words:  HE DOES SCIENCE.  

    1. Well, sort of. The problem with his connectome critiques, as far as I can tell, is that they are either covering ground that lots of scientists and science writers have already discussed (but pretending that scientists and science writers totally ignore these flaws), or they are promoting a perspective that seems to suggest that we shouldn’t be curious about how the brain creates thought and that explicitly states that consciousness is a mystery that exists because it exists (and, again, implies that it’s wrong and dehumanizing to want more of an answer than that). 

      TLDR: There’s a lot that I agree with White about, but there’s also a lot I disagree with him on. And he seems determined to think that he’s the lone voice pointing out the stuff we agree on, which, he’s not. 

  4. I read a review of this book from an reviewer very sympathetic to the central idea of the book that made it sound like the entire book was ad hominems and angry rants.  One quotation was that he referred to Feynman as “someone who was almost as famous for playing the bongos and going to strip clubs as he was for physics.”

    Based on that review I had decided that the book sounded too ridiculous to bother looking at.

  5. I am reading the intro to his book now….   Not sure that I like his ideas.  It sounds like a bit of an attack on science without taking responsibility for any real alternative.  I might agree with him that the tone of science advocates can be harsh at times but I don’t find it all that fair to critique that without acknowledging its in response to eons of “burn in hell” sentiments from those that have tried to explain our universe with supernatural explanations. 

    Also the the “Scientism” argument is a bit of an old grey mare.

    1. That’s the real sticking point: to refute the idea of “science as solution to all things” doesn’t *require* a better argument, and in fact, the point should be made that science is really the best we’ve got. There’s nothing wrong with that.

      I think that’s what he’s trying to get at with his “easy answers” concept: there *isn’t* a better explanation, it’s just incomplete.

      1.  That would all make a lot of sense if it wasn’t based in the straw-man of framing Science as a set of beliefs  rather than a system for reasoning answers and improving answers. 

        Perhaps I am a bit biases by Sheldrake’s lecture playing in the background, who seems to be making arguments to the effect of, “but it all seems too magical to be explained by the mechanics explained by science”…

        1. Re: “That would all make a lot of sense if it wasn’t based in the straw-man of framing Science as a set of beliefs  rather than a system for reasoning answers and improving answers.”

          Sheldrake is simply pointing out that science is not actually taught as a process.  It’s taught as a system of beliefs which scientists must become encultured into.  Certain questions are indeed out of bounds.  You might want to check out Jeff Schmidt’s book, Disciplined Minds.  He forcefully argues that the weeding out process is in fact politically motivated, and that the PhD programs tend to favor people who accept the established mechanistic worldview without questioning it.  The ones that stop to question what they are learning tend to drop out.  It presents a very serious challenge to the meaning of consensus in science today, as it suggests that there are forces at play in the doctorate programs which simply generate some of the instances of consensus which we can see.

          These are very deep questions which we’d be wise to engage rather than ignore.  The reward is a better system for educating our scientists, which in turn can generate better scientists.

          1.  “Sheldrake is simply pointing out that science is not actually taught as a process.  It’s taught as a system of beliefs”

            Huh?  I must have missed the day they were handing out the science bibles. 

            There are certainly those that move from accepting scientific knowledge to believing in it, but Science is a human system.  Individual scientists don’t challenge and test every element of their scientific understanding.  but that isn’t a flaw in the system is a reality based on the limits of human understanding.   I am not sure who was ignoring it.  Dawkins?

          2. Science-as-belief does not become apparent until you look closely at the set of ideas which are considered at the inferential step.  Scientists, in part, look to their worldview — which is a philosophy that does not ask questions — in order to constrain this set of explanations.  The problem is that this can sometimes solidify assumptions or judgments about controversies into stone.  What the public should care about is any evidence that there might exist a culture within the PhD program where researchers are basically encouraged to ignore particular competing inferences which match to longstanding controversies associated with their field.  The problem is that many of these students are not being taught the controversies to begin with, so they then fail to see any problem with ignoring the competing inferences which stem from those controversies.

            I present five examples further up in these comments.  It’s really quite impossible to understand this problem without looking at actual examples.

          3. “It’s really quite impossible to understand this problem without looking at actual examples.”

            Unfortunately, your examples are fatuous.

          4.  Yeah, sorry Chris.  Science as  a system of belief rather than a system of understanding exists only in those that have had their supernatural beliefs challenged by science.  Certainly individuals have come to believe scientific theory as unquestionable truths and resisted challenges, but science eventually challenges all assumptions given enough time and evidence.   And to the best of my knowledge no scientific organization has ever burned anyone at he stake for challenging assumptions.

          5. Science as a system of belief rather than a system of understanding exists only in those that have had their supernatural beliefs challenged by science.

            That certainly reads like a religious aphorism.

          6.  Antinous,

            I meant:
            “Science as a system of belief, rather than a system of understanding,
            exists only in the imaginations those that have had their supernatural beliefs challenged
            by science.”

            Less aphorism like?

        2.  “Any sufficiently advance magic is indistinguishable from technology”

          Read that somewhere :)

  6. I am a poet and an atheist activist, and can say plainly that White’s pot-shots against ‘scientism’ and ‘New Atheism’ are ill-uniformed, ungenerous, and nonconstructive. 
    There isn’t any poem in the world that a committed materialist can’t fully enjoy, nor any scientific theory that a believer can’t come to understand. The disciplines aren’t separated by philosophy as much as by inclination.

  7. Not sure if this’ll get seen in time, but is the Q&A going to be filmed/uploaded by chance? I’d really love to come along but, alas, am out of the country at the time :(

  8. This sounds delightful. There are few things more adorable and wonderful than a literature professor convinced that the tools of postmodernist deconstruction speak more truth to fundamental reality than does contemporary scientific peer review.

    It’s like watching those youtube videos of yokels skate-jumping off roofs to crack their balls on iron railings.

  9. “Science just falls in a hole when it tries to explain the nature of the soul!”


  10. Eh, after listening to Mr White I was convinced that he might have an argument that perhaps Dawkins and others might be the Al Gore of moral philosophy, but in the end his editors and perhaps his own desire to play devils advocate tried to make a much bigger argument focused on accusing the New atheists and certain scientists of believing a philosophy based on incomplete scientific knowledge that leads to a flawed understanding of morality and potentially policies forming too regimented and stifling a society.

    It seems from the reviews and the Q&A that his points are moderately sensational and over all rather incomplete.

    Dawkins on the other hand doesn’t seem to be preaching a philosophy but mining science for some insights that inform the philosophers among whom he doesn’t count himself.

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