Topic: ‘What role did the theory of elements play in the Presocratics’ account of cosmic order?’
Continued from part one which can be viewed here.
By the time of Empedocles the dominant thought was influenced by the Eleatic school, particularly its central figure, Parmenides. Empedocles’ thought was so shaped by this figure that he copied his style of writing that is verse rather than prose (and some, such as Kenny, state to greater poetic effect). Although Empedecles was obviously influenced by the Eleactic school of which he was part, Kenny states that Empedocles’s work could be seen as a “synthesis” of Ionian thought, in that while the Ionian’s used a single element, generally, as the dominant stuff of the universe Empedocles used all of the elements (or “roots” as he called them) as the basis for the formation of the cosmos. His cosmological theory also varied from others in that it relied on two other “motive forces.” Patricia Curd from The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy states these as: “Love and Strife. Love unites opposed (unlike) things, mixing unlikes, while Strife sets unlikes in opposition and pulls them apart, with the effect that it mixes like with like.” (Curd, 2012) In other words Love joins the different elements, and Strife separates them.
In The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy the relationship between the elements and the role of Love and Strife is described as: “the four elements combined to form the Sphere, grows into a cosmos with the elements forming distinct cosmic masses of earth, water (the seas), air, and fire.” (Audi, 1999, p.262) To Empedocles’ the “operations” of Love (Philia) and Strife (Neikos) co-mingled the different elements as a builder might use different materials in varying arrangements to create a building. There is some scholarly debate about much the meaning of these motive forces; Gordon Campbell from The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that it is not clear if the cosmic forces of Love and Strife are simply mechanistic descriptions of the way things happen. Are they internal expressions of the way in which the elements act and interact? Or, are they external expressions which act upon the elements? Still more questions could be asked, such as whether or not they are purely impersonal forces, or whether they are divinities which act with a goal toward creation or destruction in mind? Campbell states there is evidence for all of the above interpretations, but what is clear from the evidence: “is that these two forces are engaged in an eternal battle for domination of the cosmos and that they each prevail in turn in an endless cosmic cycle.“ (Campbell, 2005)
Empedocles’ theory of elements received great attention and praise from later thinkers. Kenny states that Aristotle congratulated him for having the wherewithal to create a cosmological theory that not only attempted to identify the elements which construct the universe, but to also “assign causes for the development and intermingling of the elements to make the living and inanimate compounds of the actual world.” (Kenny, 2010, p.24) To, Campbell, Empedocles theory of elements worked at the macroscopic and microscopic levels of nature, in the quadripartite representation of the elements at the macroscopic level in the Sun, the sea, the earth and the fiery aether of the heavenly bodies. At the microscopic level this theory is applied “reductively” to the constituents of matter to mirror such at the macroscopic level, in that fire, earth, air and water are used in different measures to create fundamental matter. (Campbell, 2005)
Finally we might like to see how these two thinkers contrasted with each other. The most obvious is how they used the elements to varying degrees of importance in their cosmologies. Anaximander used aperion in priority over the elements as the guiding force for the creation and indeed the destruction of the heavens and “the worlds that come into them out of this.” (Kenny, 2000, p.17) Empedocles felt that all of the elements, which are present in all things in varying composition and eternal and unchanging preceded his non-elemental forces. To him, Love and Strife, operate as opposites that work to create equilibrium in the elements, whereas Anaximander thought aperion was the basis for the elements, indeed, possibly a fifth element unto itself, and from where the elements sprung. Both thinkers’ posited extra forces in their cosmologies, the role of the elements is different in the force and order of their use, one thinker places them secondary to other forces, the latter places the elements in priority.
In conclusion we’ve seen that the Presocratics are defined as something close to those thinkers operating between c.600 BC to c.400c. BC. More specifically, they are considered to be the thinkers within the Ionian and Eleatic schools, the Pythagoreans, the post-Eleatic atomists, Empedocles and Heraclitus. Generally interested in developing systematic and naturally explained cosmologies, they turned away from previous mythical traditions of reality (mythos) handed down from Hesiod and Homer to a more rational account of nature (logos). An important focus was placed on cosmology as opposed to cosmogony – that is, the structure of the cosmos which was accomplished by a use of the elements, rather than its birth. Anaximander, whom we examined first, was novel amongst his contemporaries, to the point of being critical of his teachers, and rejected by his successors. To him, the elements weren’t of primary focus, that was rather left to his principal aperion; a unique term whose exact meaning is debated over by scholars. For our purposes it was outlined as simply a force or principle that was infinite or indefinite. What we do know about Anaximander’s theory of elements in regards to apeiron is that it was the underlying, background or initial principle that allowed his theory of elements to operate, it was fundamental to this theory, and the elements themselves. By the time of Empedocles’ work, the Eleatic school led by Parmenides was predominant. We see in Empedocles a shift toward a greater inclusion of the elements toward cosmic explanations. In combining the elements, he amalgamated some of the ideas of the Ionian thinkers before him who usually supposed a single element to be the dominant material of the universe. Empedocles considered them all important, and ultimately controlled by the opposing forces of Love and Strife. We can imagine Empedocles’ “motive forces” as two forces that draw the elements together (Love) and are pull them apart (by Strife), comingling them to create different objects at the macro and microscopic levels in a continual struggle for domination in an endless cycle. This novel idea received great attention from later thinkers, such as Aristotle. Although the theories of the elements posited by Presocratics such as Anaximander and Empedocles have been overturned in modern physics and cosmological theory, these thinkers set major cosmological questions for later philosophers, and in fact Empedocles four elements became standard in natural philosophy until the early modern era.
Audi, R. (1999). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd Edition). Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
Blackburn, S. (2008). The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd Edition). New York. Oxford University Press.
Campbell, G. (2005). Empedocles (c.492—432 BCE). The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved http://www.iep.utm.edu/empedocl/#H3
Couprie, D.L. (2005). Anaximander (c.610—546 BCE). The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/anaximan/
Curd, P. (2012). “Presocratic Philosophy”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/presocratics/
Kenny, A. (2010). A New History of Western Philosophy. Oxford, United Kingdom .Oxford University Press.
Smith, N. (2008). Ancient Philosophy. Malden MA. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Topic: ‘What role did the theory of elements play in the Presocratics’ account of cosmic order?’
In any discussion of the Presocratics it might aid us if we first begin by defining the term; Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge Simon Blackburn states that it “ought” to refer to any Greek philosopher from “c.600 BC to c.400 BC, the last year of Socrates life” (Blackburn, 2008, p. 289), although he cautions that this definition should not include all thinkers within that time. It is generally reserved for those thinkers from several different schools: the Milesian or Ionian (hereafter Ionian), the Eleatic schools, the Pythagoreans, what Blackburn calls “the post-Eleatic atomists as well as Empedocles and Heraclitus” (p. 289) – who, when thought of collectively, make up the term ‘the Presocratics’. They were interested in inquiry regarding “systematic cosmologies” with a concern toward “the nature of physical reality” (p. 289), more deeply their philosophical inquiry burgeoned close to what we would call now scientific. Investigations were done into the nature of physical substances, the existence of the void (as in the case of the atomists), the nature of temporal change (as in the case of Zeno) and the nature of physical substances (p. 289). In today’s paper we will be focusing on two specific Presocratic thinkers: Anaximander (c.610BCE –547BCE) and Empedocles (c.495BCE-435BCE) in order to tease out the role of, not just their views in regards to their particular theories of the elements in relation to the cosmic order, but also the difference in thought between the Ionian and Eleatic schools, which were separated by roughly a century.
Philosophical thought during the Presocratics time, particularly in the early Ionian schools incorporated elements of a previous interpretation of the working of the world known as mythos. It is defined roughly as a likely story, or account, of the cosmos, usually tied up with flexible religious notions of the time, and adopted from thinkers before them (such as Hesiod). This way of thinking allowed the Presocratics to scrutinize their most basic beliefs and turn away from their myths to understand the world in a way known as logos, which could be viewed as a rational account of nature. From this then, two issues became of importance to them, (1) cosmogony, which arises as Professor of Philosophy Nicholas Smith states from the merging of the words “cosmos and genesis (birth or coming into being)” and (2) cosmology, which he cites as being “(cosmos plus logos) the attempt to find unified accounts of the structure of the cosmos.” (Smith, 2008, p. 4) Different Presocratics sought to find and engage with ideas relating to the underlying physical material out of which the cosmos was made coherent – the elements. For the most part they viewed different elements (fire, water, air and earth) as fundamental to the composition of the cosmos and attempted to explain how they did so, although we will see, as with Anaximander below, there was difference and conflict in thought. (Smith, 2008)
Anaximander was a special Presocratic in that his cosmological views were somewhat contra to those stated above such that he was critical of thinkers who came before him, including his teacher Thales (another Ionian thinker). In line with the other Presocratics he denied that nature and the universe is in a state of chaos, yet still sought to find order in the natural world, the logos. He also thought that it is ordered and unified as a cosmos, but to Anaximander it was a mistake to identify the underlying material of the universe with any of the elements; instead he opted for a different fundamental principle, that was divine, “boundless and infinite” (Kenny, 2008, p. 12) otherwise known as “apeiron”. Prominent English philosopher Anthony Kenny states that apeiron is roughly translated as “the Infinite” (p. 12) which he concedes might go too far; to Anaximander it might have meant that his principle was extended eternally in space. What we do seem to understand viz. Kenny is that apeiron did not have a beginning or end, and “did not belong to any particular kind or class of things.” (p. 12) It is important to note as stated in Smith, and eluded to in Kenny, there is debate about what exactly Anaximander’s term meant, for example Smith states it to mean “indefinite” (p. 17).To Smith apeiron while not one of the elements was still a material something as the basis for all things: “the idea of aperion seemed to be that it was endless in special context so much that it was indefinite in its characteristic and makeup.” (p. 17). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy explains aperion as:
(the boundless) by a process of separating off; a disk-shaped earth was formed, surrounded by concentric heavenly rings of fire enclosed in air. At “breathing holes” in the air we see jets of fire, which are the stars, moon, and sun. The earth stays in place because there is no reason for it to tend one way or another. (Audi, 1999, p. 28)
Aperion could have even been another element, or indeed a mixture of them, from which the other elements of air, earth, fire and water would come, and ultimately return (p.17). This was a strange conception when we think of the two thinkers in closest relation to Anaximander in terms of geography and chronology: his teacher Thales and his student Anaximenes who respectively thought that water and air were the fundamental principles of the cosmos.
However as Dirk L. Couprie states on The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Anaximander’s astronomy contained poetic language of the elements to explain an already formed universe as we see here: “a germ, pregnant with hot and cold, was separated [or: separated itself] off from the eternal, whereupon out of this germ a sphere of fire grew around the vapor that surrounds the earth, like a bark round a tree” (Diels and Kranz cited in Couprie, 2005). From this we see Anaximander’s views were quite idiosyncratic among his compatriot Ionian thinkers, in that the elements were not exclusively fundamental to the structure of the cosmos, but were considered secondary to him. He still used the elements to explain the structuring and workings, as a secondary characteristic of the cosmos, or even something that came from his principle aperion, which would have been the basis for the creation of the formal structures of the cosmos, and from which the elements came.
We will continue to Empedocles’ portion, a comparison of the two thinkers and a conclusion in part two.
- Anaximander (philosophicalreader.wordpress.com)
- The Succession of Philosophical Schools (philosophy-of-cbt.com)
- Anaximenes (philosophicalreader.wordpress.com)
- The Wooden Horse (The Liberation of the Western Mind from Odysseus to Socrates) Keld Zeruneith (Overlook Duckworth Press New York 2007) (gbutz.wordpress.com)
- Some Comments on Stoicism & Cynicism (philosophy-of-cbt.com)
- The Philosophers of the Stoic School (philosophy-of-cbt.com)
- Book Review: Early Greek Thinking by MARTIN HEIDEGGER (organizedreligion.me)
- How I Ended my Lecture Last Class w/ more elaboration (aspoonfulofsuga.wordpress.com)
- Modified “Against The Miletians.page” (gwern.net)
- Spirituality – Re: LOGOS (disclose.tv)
It’s been a while between articles posts, let’s get straight into it:
Philosophy Bites – Links to the First 176 Episodes -Edmonds and Warburton.
LCA 2013: distributed democracy, speaking stacks, links -Sky Croeser.
Anti-Muslim hysteria in Australia -Russell Glasser.
We get email: Believers and their security blankets -Martin Wagner.
Good luck in Somalia- Ophelia Benson.
Egyptian atheist facing blasphemy sentence - Jacob Fortin.
Repairs under way -Ophelia Benson.
A fabulous “Manly Meal”-Ophelia Benson.
WL Craig on Morality and Meaning (Series Index) -John Danaher.
My Favourite Posts of 2012 -John Danaher.
Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective -Richard Carrier.
Prototypical Sexist Atheist on Exhibit- Richard Carrier.
Atheism+ : The Name for What’s Happening-Richard Carrier.
Waldron on pornography -Russell Blackford.
Gay Bishop Comes Up With the Worst Argument to Support Same-Sex Marriage- Greta Christina.
My Letter to the Boy Scouts- Greta Christina.
Same-Sex Marriage Opponents Increasingly Desperate and Stupid – Greta Christina.
Catholic Priest blames women for bringing violence on themselves – Jacob Fortin.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews harass sexually abused girl – Jacob Fortin.
Bill O’Reilly calls David Silverman a Fascist – Jacob Fortin.
Top 10 anti-Christian acts of 2012 -J.T Eberhard.
Most insulting fundraiser ever. – J.T Eberhard.
Don’t Say Gay legislator: being gay is like shooting heroin. -J.T Eberhard.
How often god’s moral decrees bear no resemblance to justice. -J.T Eberhard.
Craig’s Argument for God from Intentionality – Philosotroll.
Witch Hunts in Papua New Guinea – Leo Igwe.
Randal Rauser on William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide -Chris Hallquist.
More Powerpoint Slides from a Christian Pastor’s Anti-Gay Sermon – Hermant Mehta.
Who Still Thinks the Church Has Any Moral Credibility? -Hermant Mehta.
Shells and switches -Deacon Duncan.
God and the PlayStation 3 -Deacon Duncan.
The Gypsy Curse -Deacon Duncan.
For the moment, let us take a second out of our discussion on Feminism, or rather, Bell Hooks’ view of such, and take a very brief look at Postmodernism (here after “PoMo”), particularly in relation to science. Recently I read The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism, 2004 (I recommend the Cambridge Companion series on just about any topic they have, they’re a great resource for interpreting complex authors and movements – for a look at what they have to offer, see here) and although many of the chapters were interesting, and indeed deserve a more, shall we say, ‘interested’ review and critique than that which will be presented here, I will only be looking at, and discussing Ursula K. Heise’s chapter, entitled ‘Science, technology, and postmodernism’ today.
Heise states that scientific knowledge and technological rationality have been “seriously challenged” by PoMo modes of thought that have been developed in philosophy, history, sociology and cultural study and are fundamentally critical of certain social institutions and traditions of thought, based on a skepticism toward “Enlightenment assumptions about subjectivity, knowledge, and progress.” (p. 136) Heise says the critique of PoMo attempted to show that science and technology’s ”narratives of progress and mastery of nature” are not “unequivocally positive forces”. (p. 136)
The postmodern moment, then, is characterized by two distinct tendencies with regard to science and technology. On the one hand, scientific insights and technological applications are advancing at a more rapid pace than ever, and some of their more spectacular developments have changed the material environment and a vast range of values, beliefs, and expectations, along with the meaning of the words “science”, and “technology” for average citizens. On the other hand, science and technology are met with ambivalence, skepticism, or resistance not only because of soe undesirable ”side effects” their rapid evolution has generated, but in terms of some of their most basic assumptions about nature, progress, human observation, appropriate methodologies for creating knowledge, and the role this knowledge should play in public policies. (Heise, pp. 137-8, Science, technology, and postmodernism, Ed. Steven Connor, 2004)
Although the notion of PoMo technologies is one of two undercurrents in Heise’s thesis and is an interesting one, deserving of its own blog, it is her second thesis , the substantiation of scientific knowledge, or “crisis of legitimation” that I wish to look at today. Heise states that skepticism toward the tide of progress, from a historical perspective led to a parallel questioning of the justification of many modern institutions: “in particular, it led to historians and philosophers to postulate a crisis in legitimation of science as one of the pillars of western thought and society.” (p. 148) Specifically Heise refers to such PoMo authors as Jean-Francois Lyotard who argued that the pursuit of scientific knowledge in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries began to lose its force in the early twentieth century due to a lack of support for the “narratives” that had served to legitimate it. Two factors are noted; namely the Hegelian idea “that the human spirit itself progresses over the course of history, and that the expansion of knowledge is one of the most visible forms of this knowledge.” and the other is the “Enlightenment belief that the acquisition of knowledge contributes to the liberation and emancipation of individuals and communities.” (p 148) Lyotard argued contra to these ideals, viz. Wittgenstein that science has disintegrated into highly specialized research projects that contain very little communication with each other, that contemporary science is no longer a unified truth-seeking pursuit of knowledge but rather a disconnected series of “language games”
… in which facts no longer count, but only ‘performativity”, instrumental functioning. As critics of Lyotard have pointed out, this account falls far short of a convincing portrayal of contemporary science. Perhaps for this reason, his argument did not provoke any great resonance among scientists at the time of its publication, but it became enormously popular among scholars in the humanities and social sciences who saw its argument about the demise of large-scale metanarratives of legitimation as a defining feature of postmodernism across a whole range of sociocultural phenomena, (Heise, p. 148, Science, technology, and postmodernism, Ed. Steven Connor, 2004)
Heise goes on to discuss the growing “controversy” among philosophers, sociologists and natural scientists over the basic nature and function of scientific knowledge, but one really has to wonder how much controversy there is amongst those versed in the methods, protocols and theory of the scientific method. This also presents what is most interesting to me regarding PoMo, questions of legitimization are important (although the metaphysical nature of such an approach would more than likely be scorned by those same PoMo theorists, perhaps an internal contradiction in their reasoning?), only when we are exposed to possible weaknesses in theories can we plug them. But as we see with Lyotard above, the critique does not always seem fair, or even particularly educated in the “narrative” of science.
Heise states that critics of science have argued that the scientific method and knowledge have no special cognitive status, and like many other epistemological tools cannot be separated from its sociocultural context, which limits its claims to objectivity and universality. But the critics go further than this though, and state that all knowledge is socially constructed. Moreover, that scientific research is not “value-neutral, as its advocates maintain, but that fundamental beliefs and even ideological assumptions are hardwired into the definition, goals and procedures of scientific inquiry” (p. 150) Heise goes on to say that this assumption has worked to serve dominant social groups at the expense of knowledge to the “common people”, although Heise does not state exactly what the critics of science mean by this assertion, or even that this assertion can be demonstrated with any degree of certainty or reliability.
As Heise accurately states, and as you may be able to tell from the above paragraph, the advocates of science responded with the charge of relativism, and have defended
… the specificity of scientific knowledge, and the stringent procedures as well as logical and empirical controls that are applied to establish the validity of a particular knowledge claim. These procedures, they argue, account for both the changing character of scientific knowledge and its gradual progress in the understanding of nature. (Heise, p. 151, Science, technology, and postmodernism, Ed. Steven Connor, 2004)
The critique continued basing its method largely around Thomas Kuhn’s work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, they viewed it “as a point of departure”, they considered science as an activity rooted in “particular sociohistorical and cultural contexts” , which derives its authority from social consensus not from any privileged grasp of reality or verification/falsification of hypotheses through empirical findings or replication of results by independent researchers. To get around the obvious charge of relativism (that always seems to follow PoMo) of their so-called “social constructivism” the critics stated that
… it is possible to admit that science is socially conditioned in multiple ways without giving up the claim that science’s particular set of social constructions provides a type of access to the natural world that is more accurate or successful from a cognitive or explanatory perspective, than other constructions. (Heise, p. 151, Science, technology, and postmodernism, Ed. Steven Connor, 2004)
Moreover Heise states that scientists would agree with this statement, that some “dimensions” of scientific inquiry are dependent on “social and historical circumstance”, for example in general areas and specific topics which are deemed worthy of research, or in grant giving, and how well the results are disseminated to the public all depend, Heise states, on “a particular societies structure of interest.” (p. 151) This of course seems to ignore the fact that there is no European science, or American science, or for that matter, Muslim, or Christian science, there is only verifiable, reproducible science. What is discovered and verified by the Chinese, can be peer-reviewed (and indeed, should) by anyone else. The results of scientific inquiry go to everyone – Heise’s view of science seems narrow, and self-serving.
As this post is getting long, and there is still some involved subject matter to cover, we may like to leave it here for now, and wrap up our discussion on Heise in part two.
Heise, U. K. (2004). ‘Science, technology, and postmodernism’, in S Connor (Ed) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism, New York. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 136, 137-8, 148, 150, 151.
In Michael Martin’s edited book: The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, one of the contributors, Evan Fales, discusses physicalism and naturalism – today I want to focus on a type of naturalism he discusses briefly: methodological naturalism.
Fales begins by stating, and this is something you will see in almost any apologetics book, that scientists are often charged with “restricting scientific investigations to natural phenomena” (p.123):
… “scientific creationists” and their fellow anti-Darwinians, the advocates of “intelligent design,” often accuse scientists of assuming naturalism as a metaphysical commitment.. and therefore being committed methodologically to excluding a priori the possibility that supernatural entities play any role in explaining natural phenomena. But scientists don’t simply adopt methodological naturalism a priori. (Fales, Naturalism and Physicalism, p. 123, 2007)
(1) The claim that – although tentative, it is well supported that there are no supernatural causes to be investigated. (p. 123)
(2) The supernatural is in principle beyond scientific investigation. (p.123)
(3) Scientific investigation of the world – including, in particular, any historical study of the past would be rendered impossible by the admission of supernatural interventions in the world. (p. 124)
In defense of (1) Fales states that the defender can point to the long (sordid) history of paranormal claims, that have, upon investigation, turned out to be without merit, or fraudulent:
On this approach, methodological naturalism is not so much fundamentally a methodological commitment as it is a (well-confirmed) finding of science, one that enjoins the rule: always look for natural causes (or explanations) of phenomena, supernatural hypothesis are to be entertained only as a last resort. (Fales, Naturalism and Physicalism, p. 123, 2007)
Fales states that anyone who employs the above does not exclude the supernatural a priori, but rather uses experience to determine that supernatural hypothesis are unlikely to yield reliable results.
The defender of (2), in which Fales admits is problematic, can state that whatever is proposed as supernatural is to say it exists outside of time and space, or both. If this is the case then: “there is no way to detect such a thing; it escapes objective measurement. (p. 123)
Fales states that it is important we don’t beg the question here:
We should not incautiously presume to know enough about causation to rule out dogmatically the possibility that an agent existing outside space or time (or both) could causally interact with physical matter. (Fales, Naturalism and Physicalism, p. 123, 2007)
We can ask though: suppose we do grant, for the sake of argument, that God does act in the world, how could such actions possibly be identified and scientifically investigated? Fales states that we can, if we choose, be so strident in saying that science should only investigate the “space-time world and natural causes.” (p.124) But that a more sensible approach would be to use science to explain whatever phenomena we uncover and, in particular, to discover the causes of things. This definition – would focus on anything that has causal influence over material things – including any supernatural entities. As Fales mentions, success in causal analysis of the supernatural would give no guarantees of success, as supernatural causes might be elusive, but it is important to note that that is not the same as saying that they can not in principle be discovered. (p.124)
What can fairly be said on this score is that supernaturalistic explanations have, to date, been decidedly arid in articulating causal mechanisms or proposing experimental procedures. (Fales, Naturalism and Physicalism, p. 124, 2007)
Finally, the defender of (3) is arguing that:
… inferences of any kind from known effects to unobserved causes, or known causes to unobserved effects, require that nature behave in orderly ways. So the very possibility of history – and of science generally – assumes natural events are governed by laws without supernatural interference. (Fales, Naturalism and Physicalism, p. 124, 2007)
Fales states that from this we can assume, with reason, as a methodological principle, the proposition that “nature, at least so far as it can properly be brought within the purview of scientific investigation, is free of supernatural causes.” (p.124)
A possible objection to this, Fales states, could be that there is no necessary link between a supernatural agents intervention and science being able to detect the world. God could simply intervene on rare or significant occasions in ways that do not perturb the natural order, in a way that does not incapacitate our scientific understand of nature. We need not assume the behaviours of agents are erratic or inexplicable.
Fales says however that:
This objection does not perhaps fully appreciate the force of the difficulty. The odd miracle might indeed not so disrupt the order of nature as to vitiate scientific efforts to understand the world. But if miracles are possible, how can we know that they occur only sparsely, and with limited effects on the course of nature. Must not the evidence for such a claim itself presuppose the validity of scientific methods – and hence presuppose that the world is not chaotically miracle infested? (Fales, Naturalism and Physicalism, p. 124, 2007)
Fales concludes it is the admission that miracles occur that moves us to a deep skepticism about our inductive inferences over and above those already discovered by philosophers.
While not addressing every possible objection raised against methodological naturalism ,we see at least prima facie evidence of its reliablity, methodology and worth. I leave it for you to decide where you stand in accepting it.
Fales E. (2007). ‘Naturalism and Physicalism‘, in M Martin, The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. New York, New York. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 123, 124.
- THE EGO (FALE SELF) VS. THE SOUL (TRUE SELF) [Mini-Blog] (themoecashchronicles.com)
- Shadows And Fire Preview (scifitalk.com)
- Christmas gift ideas: The human mind – a history (openparachute.wordpress.com)
- Theological Hypocrisy and Exceptionalism Part II (scotteriology.wordpress.com)
- Some Formulations of Methodological Naturalism (geopolicraticus.wordpress.com)
- Loftier Musings on The Kalam Cosmological Argument. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- The Nature of Naturalism (socyberty.com)
- Discussing Science (triangulations.wordpress.com)
- Diverse Web series grows through social media (seattlepi.com)
- Diverse Web Series Grows Through Social Media (abcnews.go.com)
Hey guys, I’ve added a new sub-heading this week “philosophy”, enjoy!
Guest post: Catholicism waning in Ireland – Sigmund.
Why are the young abandoning Christianity? -Jerry Coyne.
Religion of peace firebombs a paper for satire -Jerry Coyne.
Afghan woman’s choice: 12 years in jail or marry her rapist and risk death -Nick Paton Walsh.
Republicans insane; want to establish theocracy -Jerry Coyne.
Child Rape, Penn State and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad? – Greta Christina.
Afghan women have continued to struggle -Ophelia Benson.
Atheists are the most generous—even without heavenly reward! -Hank Pellisier.
‘Tis a good day to #creozerg -PZ Myers.
The Kensington Forgery -PZ Myers.
A very silly calculation -PZ Myers.
William Lane Craig and the problem of pain -PZ Myers.
What have the students been up to this week? -PZ Myers.
Watts wrote a check he couldn’t cash -PZ Myers.
Humans learn to walk like rats -FREYA BOARDMAN-PRETTY
“New” Genes May Have Played a Role in Human Brain Evolution -Charles Q Choi.
Did climate change doom roaming Neanderthals? -Emily Sohn.
Neutrino experiment repeat at Cern finds same result -Jason Palmer.
LHC Combination Of Higgs Limits: MH<141 GeV -Tommaso Dorigo.
A whole book on the evolution of eyes -Jerry Coyne.
More religious incursion into science -Jerry Coyne.
Skeleton of ancient human relative may yield skin -Catherine Brahic and Rohan Hooper.
Twenty Years After “Darwin on Trial”, ID is Dead -Jason Rosenhouse.
Benefits tied to immunisation-Daniel Midgley.
“Great Dying” Lasted 200,000 Years -Brian Handwerk.
Top Ten Myths About the Brain -Lauren Helmuth.
NASA Researchers: DNA Building Blocks Can Be Made in Space -Bill Stiegerwald.
Life began with a planetary mega-organism-Michael Marshall.
Worms Can Evolve to Survive Intersex Populations -Dannielle Whitaker.
Should Zygotes be Considered People? -Mike Labossiere.
Keith Ward & The Jerry Coyne Challenge -Jim P Houston.
Can philosophy or religion alone establish facts? -Jerry Coyne.
Is science so limited? -Russell Blackford.
Does religion answer factual questions? -Russell Blackford.
Marriage, A Few Modest Proposals -Mike Labossiere.
On Science and What Is the Case -Eric MacDonald.
How Theologians Play With Words -Eric MacDonald.
Bibliography on Arguments for Atheism-Jeffrey Jay Lowder.
Hitler was a True Christian™ -PZ Myers.
How Darwinian and atheistic were the Nazis? -Jerry Coyne.
Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus-Bradley Bowden.
Apologist Josh McDowell: Internet the Greatest Threat to Christians-Jeffery Jay Lowder.
Links and News — 21-Nov-11-Jeffery Jay lowder.
Links and News — 19-Nov-11-Jeffery Jay Lowder.
God, Multi-verses, and Modal Realism-Graham Oppy.
Moreland on Consciousness-Graham Oppy.
Hume’s Beautiful Argument-Keith Parsons.
Geisler and Scholarship-Keith Parsons.
Skeptics Are Not Gloating Over the Treatment of Michael Licona-Jeffery Jay Lowder.
Why I am an atheist -Russell Glasser.
The one (of many) where I’m threatened with Hell… -Matt Dillahunty.
Question about Possible Worlds-Randy Everist.
What part of “nothing” don’t you understand?- Edward Feser.
A Christian Gives Thanks That America Is Not A Christian Nation-Parker J. Palmer.
What if God commanded murder?-Randy Everist.
- PZ Myers Talks About Junk DNA (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
- Quote: PZ Myers (alwaysquestionauthority.wordpress.com)
- IDiots and Incivility (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
- Articles For Women. (killsessionmusings.wordpress.com)
- PZ Myers: The Smear Gets More Personal (greylining.com)
- The failure of accommodationism (barefootbum.blogspot.com)
- Articles. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- PZ Myers is angry (somersplace.wordpress.com)
- Eric Hovind Has Been Crying to PZ Myers (anatheistviewpoint.blogspot.com)
A couple of apologetics blogs (see here, and here) have done an apologetics and philosophy book list as a guide for gifts for Christmas, both for the beginner, and more learned apologist. I thought it was such a great idea that I’m going to respectfully steal it, and apply it to atheist and philosophy literature for both the beginner and more learned atheologist.
Unfortunately I can only include the literature I’ve read myself, so please, feel free to add to the list those which you feel would be appropriate.
For the Beginner/Intermediate
Malcolm Murray, The Atheist’s Primer – This is a neat little piece from a serious philosopher that deals with the arguments for the existence of God, the burden of proof, the definition of an atheist, agnosticism, problems with some definitions of God, morality, meaning, mysticism, falsifiability and death – in a fairly simple manner.
John W. Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist – Similar to Murray’s this book covers a wealth of topics, its general theme – criticising religion, primarily Christianity.
Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted – This is the only book of Ehrman’s that I’ve read, I’ve used his The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings as a reference, and it is probably the better book, but having not read it cover to cover I can’t speak authoritatively on it. As it is Jesus, Interrupted is straight forward and deals with many of the objections modern scholarship has with the Bible – a good start for those looking for more depth on it.
Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution is True – True it is that this issue isn’t necessarily tied to atheism. However, many atheists are science minded, or at the very least enjoy learning about science – this book is a great resource to learn about the *ahem* myth of evolution.
Robert M. Price, The Case Against The Case For Christ – As a nod to the aforementioned apologists I guess I should include some work that critiques popular apologist’s literature. Price does a great job in this to point out the obvious flaws in Strobel’s case.
For the Advanced
Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification – At the time I read this it went a little above my head, but it’s a solid read and deals with just about anything you could imagine regarding atheism, and reasons to reject theism.
George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God – Not, technically a difficult book to read, and could have gone in the beginner/intermediate section, it deals, really well with many of the same issues as Martin’s, Murray’s, Loftus’ with it’s own style.
Kai Nielsen, Atheism & Philosophy – A huge follower of Wittgenstein, Nielsen deals with a philosophical case for atheism. You may ask why I’ve included 3 books in a similar vein? As you might hear, so many times theists talk of there being no real scholarly work in or on atheism, well, here it is.
Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism – While not, specifically about atheism, and also on a worldview I don’t hold, this book does give a pretty good defense for about as strong an atheistic worldview as you can get, and for my money, does pretty well defending it.
Robert M. Price (Ed.), The Empty Tomb – A collection of authors ranging from Michael Martin to Keith Parsons answering proponents of the Resurrection accounts. More detailed work on Biblical scholarship than Ehrman’s for the reader who can keep up.
There are a plethora of other books I could include, but these ones cover several different branches of information with varying depth and clarity – all good reads, all educational, no matter what beliefs you may hold.
- Loftier Musings On John Shook’s Views On Atheism. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- On Being a Sophisticated Atheist (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
- Dogmatic New Atheism. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Respect. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Articles (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Loftier musings on (my) atheism/atheists.. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Articles (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- How to avoid the charge of Logical Positivism? The issue of falsifiablity (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Defining Atheism (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
- Friendly Atheists and the Other Kind of Atheist (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
For part 1 see here.
Disclaimer- for those small number of actual philosophers who read this, you should know this and it’s sister, are introductory blogs to those who have no experience with logic, critical thinking and fallacies – hence it’s obvious parochial nature.
Now we turn to Venuto’s eight reasons we are susceptible to weight-loss myths.
Reason #1 – Social Proof, Conformity, and appeal to masses.
In this section Venuto discusses a logical fallacy known as the argumentum ad populum otherwise known as the appeal to popularity. Ventuo states that:
Usually you assume a behaviour is appropriate if a lot of other people are doing it. This is known as social proof. Psychologists tell us this phenomenon also applies to beliefs. We believe what we do because it’s what most other people believe. (Venuto, The Bodyfat Solution, p. 25, 2009)
Now we may remember from our last blog that this relates to epistemology as our beliefs are a subset of what we know – moreover it might be appropriate to label knowledge as ‘justified true belief‘ – as in what has been substantianted. The reason we call this a logical fallacy is that truth does not rely upon the popularity of the proposition, it relies upon it’s substantiation. It is one of the most common fallacies as philosopher Keith Parsons states in his book Rational Episodes:
Humans are social creatures, we are strongly motivated to want to belong and not to be left out ostracized… In short, nobody likes to be the wierdo. There is, then, enormous pressure to act like other people act and think the way other people think. Manipulators well understand this aspect of human nature and use it against us. They gives us arguments that, either subtly or not so subtly, try to get us to accept or reject some belief, opinion, or idea because, well, you don’t want to be a weirdo, do you? (Parsons, Rational Episodes, p. 223, 2010)
Parsons continues suggesting that the popularity of any doctrine is simply irrelevant to the question of whether it is true or not, or even whether there are good reasons to accept it – as stated above. We accept a doctrine as true because it is reasonable, rational, well-grounded and depends on the arguments and evidence that can be offered to support it. Anyone who tries to convince you of anything via an argument from popularity is not doing so on the basis of rationality, but are merely trying to trick you. (p. 223)
Reason #2 – Appeal to authority and loyalty to gurus
The next logical fallacy we are discussing is another popular one, it is known as the ad verecundium or as Parsons’ calls it “the illicit appeal to authority“. (Parsons, Rational Episodes, p. 223, 2010) Venuto, p. 27, explains that it seems only natural to rely upon the information disseminated by “experts”, whose opinions are based on credentials, reputation and experience. We see this all the time, particularly among personal trainers – they latch on to a philosophy that a strength coach they like promotes and then uncritically push that same philosophy – I know, because I’ve done it too. The problem is, experts don’t count, facts do.
The problem as Parsons, 2010, p. 224 says with trusting an authority is when the “authority” isn’t one – merely someone pretending to be one – or someone presented to you as one, by someone who wants you to believe in him or her and buy what he or she is endorsing. The example Parsons uses is of Michael Jordan selling you a brand name product or some other celebrity doing the same – what makes Jordan an expert? Of course he isn’t one – hence his word is useless.
Parsons also points out that it is not simply advertising that attempts to sell us of false information:
Much more serious is the fact that there are many organizations that present themselves as bodies of experts who are serving the public interest by offering objective, impartial, scientific information that bears on important issues. (Parsons, Rational Episodes, p. 224, 2010)
The example he uses is of the “National Canter for Global Climate Research” which purports to promote rational science on the state of the global warming research – instead it promotes motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, faulty research etc. The important point – is how do we know this institute is bunk? We investigate – we research. When looking for experts we want good books written by popular authors – when we listen to an expert like Lawrence M. Krauss in matters of physics, his word isn’t the end of the discussion, we can take his information to other experts in the field of physics to confirm or disconfirm his ideas. As Venuto states:
All information must be analyzed critically and never accepted blindly. If the advice comes from people you respect and admire, then listen, but still verify. (Venuto, The Bodyfat Solution, p. 26-7, 2009)
Reason #3 – Anecdotal evidence and testimonials
We see this type of tactic used to promote supplements, and amazing fat loss claims all the time, but as Venuto, p.27, states anecdotes don’t prove anything in the factual sense – which amount to little more than heresay.
Philosopher and ex-physicist Victor J. Stenger – in his book The New Atheism - supports Venuto’s contention when he states that when deciphering testimonial claims we need to base our acceptance of them proportionate to the nature of the claim presented:
If an airline pilot flying over Yellowstone National Park reports seeing a forest fire, we have no reason to doubt her. But if she reports seeing a flying saucer whose pilot waved a green tentacle at her, I would demand more evidence. (Stenger, The New Atheism, p. 60, 2009)
Reason #4 – The news said so
This one falls to the same errors as the argument from authority.
Reason #5 – Confusing correlation with causation
We have actually discussed the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc here (see “myth #7″).
Reason #6 – Confirmation bias
This is a common one, it is part of our fundamental reasoning that our unconscious mind deletes and distorts information based on past prejudices and preferences, says Venuto. Another way of looking at confirmation bias is how John Allen Paulos describes it in his book Irreligion:
… a so-called psychological tendency to seek confirmation rather than disconfirmation of any hypothesis we’ve adopted, however tentatively. People notice more readily and search more diligently for whatever might confirm their beliefs, and they don’t notice as readily and certainly don’t look as hard for what disconfirms them. (Paulos, Irreligion, p. 108, 2008)
Venuto says we do this because it’s comforting, it feels good to be right, and embarrassing to be wrong . The problem being of course, that if we continue to only stay within our comfort zone, accepting truths taught to us, and accepted uncritically it can lead to “close-mindedness, poor decisions, discrimination and justification for odd behaviours.” (Venuto, The Bodyfat Solution, p. 30, 2009)
Humans are by nature, habitual creatures, Venuto states that this power of habit can hold us back from changing things up, as trainers for example. When we find systems that work – for me it’s HIIT and MRT and for others it’s distance cardio and high carb diets – we tend to stay with them. The problem with this, a particularly in the world of training is what’s known as “the law of diminishing returns” – the longer we stick to a single protocol – the less reward we receive from doing it.
The lesson is: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. If you want different results, do something different. Or as the humorous Demotivators calendar says: “Tradition… Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid.” (Venuto, The Bodyfat Solution, p. 32, 2009)
Reason #8 – Wishful thinking
This one is important – Venuto states that:
It is tempting to form our beliefs according to what we wish were true rather than on evidence or logic. It’s more reassuring to believe that excess fat is not your fault and that a slow metabolism is to blame. (Venuto, The Bodyfat Solution, p. 32, 2009)
Rather than basing what we believe to be true on what feels good, we should base it on evidence, as Venuto states above. This comes back to what Martin was explaining in the previous blog – about believing for epistemic – or justified reasons, versus believing for beneficial reasons. I’ll add only to simply state – when investigating any claim what makes us feel good or what we wish to true has little bearing on reality – and if we are to operate in this world with both eyes open, we should base our perceptions on the evidence, not on how we would like the world to be.
This ends my very basic look at some epistemological pitfalls we all fall into, myself included – being aware of these traps, simply helps you to be aware of your environment – of the tricks brought to bear against you – but it doesn’t immunize you. That you must do on your own – investigate every claim you can, don’t accept anything based on dogma, tradition, authority (including my own – challenge me, it’s healthy to do so), search out the truth of claims yourself – this of course doesn’t mean push yourself to some relativistic wasteland where you are the only one with any kind of truth – but, rather, make sure you don’t accept uncritically, and form for bad reasons the things you think are reliable.
Parson K. (2010). Rational Episodes. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. Pp. 223, 224.
Paulos J. A. (2008). Irreligion. New York, New York. Douglas & McIntyre Inc. P. 108.
Stenger V. J. (2009). The New Atheism. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. P. 60.
Venuto T. (2009). The Bodyfat Solution. London, England. ThePenguin Group. Pp. 25, 26, 27, 30, 32.
- Epistemology -Philosophy and Exercise Pt. 1 (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Epistemology -Philosophy and Exercise Pt. 1 (killsessionmusings.wordpress.com)
- List Of Metabolism Raisers- Pt.2. (killsessionmusings.wordpress.com)
- List Of Metabolism Raisers- Pt.1. (killsessionmusings.wordpress.com)
- Discourse on Descartes discourse. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Loftier musings on (my) atheism/atheists.. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Tom Venuto Reviews (rowjielogy.com)
- Penelope Cruz: ‘Venuto Al Mondo’ in Rome! (justjared.buzznet.com)
- Logical Fallacies 101: Argumentum Ad Populum (thinkthatthrough.wordpress.com)
- Two Articles on Formal Epistemology (choiceandinference.com)
This is a post from my personal training blog – on health and fitness – I decided it covered enough of the same ground as this blog to include it. Enjoy!
When reading Venuto’s book, The Bodyfat Solution I was struck by how well he promoted a robust epistemology, for those of you who don’t know what that word means, please allow me to define it for you:
Epistemology (Greek, epistèmè, knowledge) The theory of knowledge. Its central questions include the origin of knowledge; the place of experience in generating knowledge, and the place of reason in doing so; the relationship between knowledge and certainty, and between knowledge and the possibility of error; the possibility of universal skepticism; and the changing forms of knowledge that arise from the conceptualization of the world. (Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 118, 2008)
Basically it is how we come to know things, how we come about knowledge – what structures, tools and methods we use – for example, science and philosophy are tools of epistemology. Belief is a part of this too as it is a subset of knowledge – our beliefs about the world, generally, reflect how robust our theory of knowledge is. As Sam Harris states in his book The Moral Landscape:
The human brain is an engine of belief. Our minds continually consume, produce, and attempt to integrate ideas about ourselves and the world that purport to be true: Iran is developing nuclear weapons; the seasonal flu can be spread through casual contact; I actually look better with grey hair. What must we do to believe such statements? What, in other words, must a brain do to accept propositions as true? This question marks the intersection of many fields: psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, economics, political science and even jurisprudence… We form beliefs about facts: belief in this sense constitutes most of what we know about the world – through science, history, journalism etc. (Harris, The Moral Landscape, p. 14, 2010)
Venuto has a great, succinct list of “eight reasons we are susceptible to weight-loss myths” that I want to cover in a pt. 2 of this series, but for today let us turn to historian and philosopher Richard C. Carrier, from his book Sense and Goodness Without God for a little look at just why we would need a method to evaluate claims:
Why? Because anything you intend to investigate, or assert, first requires that you have some criteria on hand to distinguish the true from the false – or in the most basic sense, what can reasonably be asserted and believed, and what cannot. In other words, if you ever assert something (“My wife is a brunette” or “Truth is good”), are you being reasonable? Do you have reasons to trust you are right about that? (Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God, p. 23, 2005)
Carrier continues stating that before we even begin to believe, or assert anything there are 3 steps we need to take: firstly we need to have some sound and clear idea of what we are investigating or asserting, for example “What is a ‘wife’ or a ‘brunette’? What is ‘truth’? What does ‘good’ mean?” Secondly Carrier states that we must have a sound and good idea of how we would go about discovering whether it can be asserted or believed, for example: “How do I prove my wife is a brunette or that truth is good?” Lastly, and perhaps most importantly – you must actually follow through with that procedure, before asserting anything. (Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God, p. 23, 2005)
Why is all this important? As Venuto will demonstrate in our next post, science is a complex method of knowledge – there are many people, institutes and authoritarians in the exercise science field (just as an example) who are promoting supplements, exercise programs, life choices, health choices etc that are not backed by reputable, reliable, peer-reviewed scientific literature. It is important, as consumers to distinguish between something we have a good basis to purchase, in reality – and something that we think has a good basis for purchase, but is actually based on fallacious reasoning – both on our part, and of the part of the person selling us a product. You may still be asking why that’s bad? Allow philosopher Michael Martin from his book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification to answer that for me:
“… it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe in anything on insufficient evidence… believing on insufficient evidence has a variety of harmful consequences. It corrupts our character, undermines public confidence, leads to irresponsible action and fosters self-deception.” (Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, p. 33, 1990)
If , for example, you buy a supplement from someone you think to be reputable, but have spent no time researching or even coming to understand what it is you’re looking for – you leave yourself open to be taken advantage of, to be sold an invariably expensive placebo, or worst case scenario? Something harmful and ineffective. Moreover you’re buying the supplement based on the person selling you somethings authority – this is a fallacy known as an appeal to authority, and Venuto will discuss it a little in the next post.
Now, to the discerning reader, it may seem as if I’m making a distinction between believing for beneficial reasons (as in buying a supplement that is a placebo) versus believing for epistemic reasons (as in buying a supplement because it is backed by reliable, peer-reviewed literature). Martin argues that epistemic reasons for belief are superior to beneficial reasons in most circumstances. I shall paraphrase his argument in light of a sports science focus.
Whatever benefits are given to us by positive belief in the placebo effect of an ineffective supplement are mitigated by the negative effects on one’s entire belief system – re: how we operate in the world when we form beliefs based on what is beneficial to us in the face of negative evidence demonstrating the falsity of, say, the supplement mentioned (i.e the fact that it is a placebo). This is why we have a strong moral obligation to base our beliefs on epistemic reasons, rather than beneficial ones – not simply because we may be duped, but moreover because we leave ourselves open to harm (as in the case of a harmful supplement).
Just before we finish up today it is worth noting that when we talk of epistemic reasons for belief, for having a robust epistemology – certainly no one is saying that you will be right 100% of the time, or that if you apply the principles described herein that you will never get duped – or more importantly that we, as humans have access to absolute and inviolable truth. I tend to side with Kai Nielsen when he states in his book Atheism and Philosophy:
There is nothing that can be established to be absolutely true or that can have an unconditional warrant. What is justifiable and what is not is time and place dependent… truth is time dependent and confirmation (justification or warrant more generally) is time dependent. (Nielsen, Atheism and Philosophy, p. 21, 2005)
Now – allow me to qualify – it is generally considered true that we can have some certain answers in mathematics and logic (errors in reasoning and logic will be covered in the next post) – there are established practices in mathematics whereby we can show a claim (10 + 10 = 20 is Nielsen’s example) is warranted. But anything less than that and we are always open to some uncertainty, hence we don’t, generally accept absolute truth.
Stick with me for part 2 of our look at discerning truth from falsity.
Blackburn S. (2008). The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd Edition). New York. Oxford University Press. P. 118.
Carrier R. C. (2005). Sense and Goodness without God. Bloomington, Indiana. Arthur House. Pp. 23.
Harris S. (2010). The Moral Landscape. New York, New York. Free Press. Pp. 14.
Martin M. (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia. Temple University Press. P. 33.
Nielsen K. (2005). Atheism and Philosophy. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. P. 21.
- List Of Metabolism Raisers- Pt.1. (killsessionmusings.wordpress.com)
- Two Articles on Formal Epistemology (choiceandinference.com)
- Discourse on Descartes discourse. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Susan Haack – Epistemology: who needs it? (manwithoutqualities.com)
- Editor’s Personal Entry: To You, the Self-Proclaimed Atheist (reasonandrhetoric.wordpress.com)
- ABC gets it wrong again: Atheism and Humanism, forms of civil religion? (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Reasons for Reason (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Epistemics of Divine Reality – What Knowledge Claims of God Involve (A Video Synopsis) (marbaniang.wordpress.com)
- Two New Papers That May Be of Interest (experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com)
- Ophelia Expects To Be Taken Seriously Too, Part 2 (greylining.wordpress.com)
“A system of treating illness based on the premise that like cures like. The homeopath treats symptoms by administering minute or non-existent doses of a substance which in large amounts produces the same symptoms in healthy individuals. Homeopaths focus on treating patients as individuals and claim to be able to treat virtually any ailment, from colds to heart disease.” (Ernst & Singh, p92, 2008)
Homeopathy, according to Ernst and Singh has gained huge popular status in the last couple of decades (p93), and they suggest that from this a kind of argument from popularity is occurring whereby people use (and promote) it simply because it is popular.
The authors trace the beginnings of homeopathy to Samuel Hahnemann who used a Malaria treatment, as a cure all tonic, working under the assumption “if I take something that cures me of illness it will make me feel even better if I’m not sick”. This, however made his health decrease, moreover, it led him to experience some of the symptoms of Malaria. This gave a Hahnemann a thought, that what if he experimented with other treatments to see if he got the same results? He did, and he did. He, by reversing the logic of his experiments came up with an ultimate principle: “that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms”. (pg95) This bizarrely led Hahnemann to the conclusion that he could improve remedies by diluting them (to this day it still remains a mystery why he came to this conclusion).
Hahnemann was not without his merits, he tested his hypothesis on others, administering daily doses (in an experimental procedure he called “provings”) to several healthy people, who were asked to keep detailed diaries of their symptoms. This gave Hahnemann some figures with which to work from, he argued that the identical remedy given to a sick person could relieve the same symptoms (p96).
This is where it gets interesting, and well, bizarre (more so?), Ernst and Singh explain the procedure to accrue homeopathic remedies:
“If a plant is to be used as the basis of a homeopathic remedy, then the preparation process begins by allowing it to sit in a sealed jar of solvent, which then dissolves some of the plant’s molecules. The solvent can be either water or alcohol, but for the ease of explanation we will assume it is water…After several weeks the solid material is removed- the remaining water with its dissolved ingredients is called the mother tincture.
The mother tincture is then diluted, which might involve one part of it being dissolved in nine parts water, thereby diluting it by a factor of ten. This is called a 1X remedy, the X being the Roman numeral for 10. After the dilution, the mixture is vigorously shaken, which completes the potentization process. Taking one part of the 1X remedy, dissolving it in nine parts water and shaking again leads to a 2X remedy. Further dilution and potentization leads to 3X, 4X, 5X and even weaker solutions- remember that Hahnemann believed that weaker solutions led to stronger remedies.” (Ernst & Singh, p97, 2008)
There was a reason I put such a long quote up, I want you, the reader, to fully appreciate just what homeopathy is and what it sells you (at a high premium). Ernst and Sing accentuate their point:
“A 4X remedy, for instance means that the mother tincture was diluted by a factor of 10 (1X), then again by a factor of 10 (2X), then again by a factor of 10 (4X), and then again by a factor of 10 (4X). This leads to dilution by factor of 10x10x10x10, which is equal to 10,000… homeopathic pharmacists will usually dissolve one part of the mother tincture in 99 parts of water, thereby diluting by a factor of 100. This is called 1C remedy, C being the Roman numeral for 100. Repeatedly dissolving by a factor of 100 leads to 2C, 3C, 4C and eventually to ultra-dilute solutions.
For example, homeopathic solutions of 30C are common, which means that the original ingredient has been diluted 30 times by a factor of 100 each time. Therefore the original substance has been diluted by a factor of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,0000,000,000,000,000. This string of naughts may not mean much, but bear in mind that one gram of the mother tincture contains less than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules… The bottom line is that this level of dilution is so extreme that the resulting solution is unlikely to contain a single molecule of the original ingredient (emphasis added). In fact the chance of having one molecule of the active ingredient in the final 30C remedy is one in a billion, billion, billion, billion. In other words a 30C remedy is almost certain to contain nothing more than water. (emphasis added)” (Ernst & Singh, p98-9, 2008)
Again, sorry for the long quotes but for me personally that should be the end of this post, what more do you need to know about homeopathy?
Ernst and Singh continue mentioning that some homeopathic pharmacists stock 100,000C remedies which means they’ve diluted 30C remedies “already devoid of any active ingredient” further by a factor of 100, another 99,970 times, this costs money, upwards of 1,000 pounds! (p100)
Obviously from a scientific perspective there is no reason a homeopathic remedy should work (apart from the placebo effect). There are some ad hoc theories given by homeopaths to describe how it works: some suggest that the remedies have a “memory” of the original ingredient (p100), Hahnemann proposed that a “vital force”, something close to a spirit, determined a persons well being (p105), they have also been known to hold a pendulum over a shortlist of possible remedies to determine which one to use (p104) . The authors continue explaining just what homeopathic remedies have been suggested to be effective on: diarrhoea, coughs, headaches, to arthritis, diabetes and asthma, from bruises and colds to cancer and Parkinson’s disease (pg100).
Both DARPA (U.S Defense force), scientific studies and even James Randi have tested the efficacy of homeopathy, with no positive results. In 1999 Dr Andrew Vickers meta-analysed 120 research papers on homeopathy and found no reproducible effect (p125). In fact James Randi is still offering his $1million dollar prize to anyone who can demonstrate its efficacy, no-one has. Randi also ingested sixty-four times the dosage of a homeopathic sleeping remedy before a meeting of the U.S congress and “didn’t even feel drowsy.” (p126)
If you want to drink water please use filtered bottled water, if you want to get medical treatment, see your doctor!
Ernst E., Singh,. S. (2008). Trick Or Treatment. New York, New York. W.W Norton & Company. Pp- 93,93,95,96,97,98,99,100,104,105,125,126.
- The ultimate homeopathic remedy (scienceblogs.com)
- How Far Should the Government Go to Protect Us from Snake Oil? The Case of Homeopathy. (reason.com)
- If it quacks… (lifeofalabrat.wordpress.com)
- Homeopathy as a Science (triangulations.wordpress.com)
- The British Homeopathic Association Undermine Public Confidence in Medicine (quackometer.net)
- MHRA accused of “clothing naked quackery” (quackometer.net)
- Homeopathy for Coughs (sonalh.com)
- Notes On ‘Trick Or Treatment’- Chapter 3- Homeopathy by Ernst & Singh. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Notes on ‘Trick Or Treatment’- Introduction & Chapter 1 by Ernst & Singh. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Notes On ‘Trick Or Treatment’- Chapter 3- Acupuncture by Ernst & Singh (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)