Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


8 Little Foxes that Spoil the Church’s Vines 5

posted by Scot McKnight

Fox.jpgIn their new book, Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives
, Steve Wilkens and Mark Sanford examine cultural scripts that work against the gospel work in the Church. 

Our theme today: scientific naturalism.
The motto: “Only matter matters.”
We are back to the world of RJS: Where do you draw the line with the empirical and the natural for explanations? Is there God? Is there Spirit? Are we more than our chemicals and matter? 
Another worldview script shaping culture and church is the one that claims that only what is scientifically demonstrable is true knowledge, and all things important can be reduced to the natural. The supernatural is hereby excluded. All we have are the perceived laws of nature — eternal, unchanging, and somewhat deterministic. But also this makes the world reasonable. Naturalism is salvific as it guides humans into the good life.  

Naturalism helps us with seeing the value of science and of reason; it helps us see the unity of matter and the world and it is fundamental to resolving questions and problems.
But…. scientific naturalism is a quasi-religion. Thus, the problems:
1. Diminishes the value of humans. (That we are Eikons.)
2. Devalues the importance of morals. Can “matter” be moral?
3. It can undercut rationality because it makes all things chance or accident.
4. Cannot define progress or explain purpose (which was John Walton’s major point).


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Ann

posted November 18, 2009 at 1:42 am


This scientific materialist view is showing up in churches as an acceptance of death as meaning the body decomposes and returns to earth, but without an understanding of bodily resurrection or journey into Christ. It celebrates a gnostic, psycho-social form of resurrection, in memories only, in a tree or flowers planted at the grave. Tom Long, author of Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral, noted how the proleptic anticipation of fulfillment after death of the gospel message has been replaced with shallow, personal biographies of the one who is “still here”, “watching us” from the gnostic ether, “will never be forgotten” and “is always alive in our memories.” If we visit a cemetery and see unattended graves, perhaps we’d remember Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15, that our faith is empty and vain if there is no resurrection of the dead body. We miss the bodily presence of the deceased; we certainly don’t miss our memories of them, although those, too, will fade.
So, in diminishing the value of humans, I’d say that this view further diminishes the value of the embodied human, and the value of what we do in these bodies that are created good and for holiness and worship by God. Even many/most church funerals have ceased to celebrate our belief in the resurrection, and have become pastoral counseling for the ones left grieving the loss. It’s not that such grief should be minimized, but the Christian funeral should exhibit the promise of our hope in Christ!



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pds

posted November 18, 2009 at 6:56 am


peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
I think that this script is what leads to some of the attacks on intelligent design proponents in biology. Theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins have no problem in affirming design arguments from cosmology. But he denounces design arguments in biology (based on the form of the arguments), and I have never seen him explain why he makes that distinction. It seems that some theists are functional materialists in some areas. (I have absolutely no problem with critiques of ID in all areas based on the merits of the arguments.)
Where do you draw the line with the empirical and the natural for explanations?
This gets at the question: What is the dominant paradigm for science? Empiricism or Naturalism? Do you follow the evidence wherever it leads (Empiricism)? Or do you make a priori rules and not allow any solutions that might suggest a non-natural solution (Naturalism)? What do you do when the 2 conflict?
I think Empiricism triumphs, but there are a lot of people that seem to be scripted the other way.



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RJS

posted November 18, 2009 at 7:54 am


pds,
This is a tough issue. I will not venture to speak for Collins, but I will speak for myself. I don’t denounce design arguments overall because I do believe that there is a God and that he designed the world intelligently and for a purpose. More importantly that we (collectively and individually) have a purpose.
I am skeptical of all of the explicit design arguments, those that purport to find evidence (proof) for an intelligent designer, in biology because to this point I have found none of them convincing. Every one of them has serious logical flaws.
I have Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell and will begin a discussion on it in a few weeks. I have two other books I want to discuss first (starting tomorrow). I also don’t want to start to post on Meyer’s book until I have time to do it carefully, and that won’t happen until the middle of December.



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RJS

posted November 18, 2009 at 8:18 am


Scot,
Are the 4 points at the end from Wilkins and Sanford?
Certainly scientific naturalism can define progress, it simply cannot define purpose because it denies that purpose has any meaning. Matter just is. It diminishes the ability to defend the value of humans because matter just is – and humans are just animals. It devalues morals because there is no purpose and matter just is. I don’t think that the comment that it undercuts rationality by reliance on chance or accident is a significant comment – and the way that it might be significant is covered completely by the other three points.
I find that scientific materialism, scientific naturalism is insufficient as a world view because it carries no purpose and attaches no significance to life. I find it insufficient because there is no recognition of core concepts that we “know” exist. All is reduced to chemical signals and survival advantage.
But this is the “little fox” I struggle with the most. Is there any “proof” that there is more than the natural? On the other hand is Wright correct when he talks about more than one way of “knowing?” Perhaps the search for proof in a scientific sense actually demonstrates how deep this “fox” really penetrates into our culture and mode thinking.
I tend to think that the way forward is to realize that scientific knowing only answer a specific subset of questions. Other questions it cannot address, but they are still valid questions with defensible and “correct” answers. I also think that the “proof” of God is in his relationship with his creation, and this cannot be measured and analyzed.
Interesting topic.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 18, 2009 at 8:37 am


RJS, yes. From Wilkens and Sanford. I agree with you that this little fox is pervasive and not as silly as some have declared over the years.



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Rick

posted November 18, 2009 at 8:54 am


RJS-
“Certainly scientific naturalism can define progress…”
Only if there is no value assigned to “progress”, as in simply change of a certain sort. No better, no worse.
If we look at Merriam-Webster, “progress” can mean “a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or goal)”, or “gradual betterment; especially: the progressive development of humankind.”



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T

posted November 18, 2009 at 9:46 am


Good discussion. On this question by RJS: “Is there any “proof” that there is more than the natural?” What constitutes “proof” is part of the issue. The legal and scientific differences here, for instance, are miles apart, because their goals are different. The scientific goal seems to be more about building, very, very slowly and surely, a large cumulative body of knowledge based on conclusions which are verifiable by repetition. The “normal” scientific study produces, therefore, far fewer and less ambitious hard conclusions than the layman would expect. By contrast, the goal of legal evidence is to make a comparably bolder set of conclusions (that will be acted upon in significant ways) based on the best information we have at the time. As a result, the legal concept is a much broader concept, allowing a combination of circumstantial and direct evidence (very little of which is repeatable) towards the goal of making a decision, often on a preponderance of the evidence (what’s more likely than not). Most people think of “proof” more in the legal sense, for the purpose of making decisions on all relevant information which is a much, much less exacting standard than the scientist’s concept of what is “proved.”
But my point is this: Too many people to count, myself included, have had several experiences which they are convinced was God acting within the natural sphere with power from beyond that sphere. Arguably, since the gospels themselves are particular examples of this, these experiences and the accounts by witnesses of them are at the foundation of our faith. But are such experiences and the accounts of them “proof” that there is more than the natural? Not to the scientist, from what I understand. Just because happenings can’t be explained by natural means (yet) doesn’t (ever?) constitute proof of something beyond nature. If I’m beginning to understand the scientific approach correctly, even personally witnessing everything recorded in the gospels wouldn’t help the scientist have “proof” for God for the scientific community–nothing repeatable on command; nothing verifiable. Hope for a natural explanation springs eternal. The only such proof possible would be something we could control.
But for the layman and the lawyer, testimony of trustworthy witnesses is proof. Circumstantial evidence is proof. And the question is not whether something is verifiable by repetition (how do we repeat what we cannot control?) but whether one set of conclusions about what actually happened is more likely than another, for the purpose of taking necessary and immediate action on the issue.



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pds

posted November 18, 2009 at 10:47 am


The Design Spectrum
RJS #3,
You said:

I am skeptical of all of the explicit design arguments, those that purport to find evidence (proof) for an intelligent designer, in biology because to this point I have found none of them convincing. Every one of them has serious logical flaws.

So you find logical flaws in design arguments from biology, but not in design arguments from cosmology (that Collins and Tim Keller make)?
The logic of each argument is the same. The strength of the evidence and counter-arguments may certainly vary. That’s where we should be having a lively, civil debate.
By the way, “evidence” is different from “proof.” Evidence can lead to a design inference, which is not the same thing as “proof.”
I think it is a shame if Collins and the Biologos people refuse to dialogue with ID proponents like Stephen Meyer. I think you and I and Bruce Waltke agree about this.



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RJS

posted November 18, 2009 at 11:02 am


pds,
I think that the design argument in biology that Conway Morris makes is analogous to the cosmology arguments that Keller, Collins, and others make. I find this argument worth pursuing. The arguments advanced by most others are not holding up as I think through them.
We will get to some of this I am sure when we discuss Meyer’s book. I assume you have the book?



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Ray Ingles

posted November 18, 2009 at 11:08 am


What would it even mean to say that the universe has “purpose” or “meaning”? Whose “purpose”? “Meaning” to whom?
This point is put very well here:
http://badidea.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/the-meaning-of-meaning-why-theism-cant-make-life-matter/
“To say that some event means something without at least some implicit understanding of who it means something to is to express an incomplete idea, no different than sentence fragments declaring that ?Went to the bank? or ?Exploded.? Without first specifying a particular subject and/or object, the very idea of meaning is incoherent.
Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions. They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist? But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom? Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?
Once those clarifying questions are asked and answered, the seeming impossibility of the original question evaporates, its flaws exposed. We are then left with many more manageable questions: What is the meaning of my/your/their life to myself/my parents/my children? These different questions may have different answers: your parents may see you as a disappointment for becoming a fireman instead of a doctor, and yet your children see you as a hero.



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Ray Ingles

posted November 18, 2009 at 11:15 am


Questions like “Are we more than our chemicals and matter?” have always bugged me. Of course we are. We are extremely subtle and unique arrangements and processes of “chemicals and matter”.
Arrangement makes a difference. My wife can take flour, butter, eggs, and so forth and produce an amazingly delicious cake. I can take the exact same ingredients and produce an inedible mess. Even if they’re made of identical numbers of the identical parts, one is a lot more valuable than the other – just ask my wife’s customers.
I don’t think humans are less valuable because they are, at root, ‘physical processes'; I just have more respect for what physical processes are capable of.



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pds

posted November 18, 2009 at 11:53 am


RJS #9,
Happy to hold off till the Meyer book. I don’t have it yet, but I guess I will. Is it noteworthy? If you have good things to say, it will mean a lot. It seems to be from the discussion that I have seen. It is one of Amazon’s Top Ten science books of 2009:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=br_lf_m_1000446551_grlink_2?ie=UTF8&plgroup=2&docId=1000446551
By the way, I just posted on the flow/logic of design arguments from nature to show that they contain both a positive and negative element:
http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/the-form-of-design-arguments-from-nature/
Curious to get your thoughts. Later I plan to show how these elements are part of the design arguments Collins thinks are good, and also those he thinks are bad.



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Your Name

posted November 18, 2009 at 12:09 pm


Ray,
One key angle of the “meaning” issue is the meaning of lives in relation to the big-picture story we’re in. If the big-picture story that we’re in is the one told by scientific naturalism, that is not a story that tends to inspire a sense of “meaning” for human life that many find particularly compelling–survive for as long as you can; compete successfully against other consumers of resources by whatever means will work; reproduce, if you want your DNA to live on, etc. Indeed, many folks that have spent much time dwelling on the meaning of their life within that story (and in relation to other beings within it) end up in despair. This is not unique to scientific naturalism, though, even if more obvious there. I just mentioned here a few days ago about how the big-picture story of life that I perceived in fundamentalist/reformed Christianity helped lead me into despair at least for a spell. As my understanding of the big-picture story of the universe shifted toward Jesus as the main character/hero of the story, and on his actions and intentions, the despair reversed. My point is that the story we think we are in matters in terms of the meaning we see in our lives and in others.



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Edward T. Babinski

posted November 18, 2009 at 12:18 pm


DOES THE AUTHOR DISTINGUISH BETWEEN NATURALISM AS THE METHOD OF SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY, COMPARED WITH NATURALISM AS A PHILOSOPHY? I.E. noting the difference between naturalistic methodology and naturalistic metaphysics? If not, then the book is cr*p. Just ask any theistic evolutionist Christian.
As for the four points… Scientific naturalism…
1. Diminishes the value of humans.
According to the Bible God damns people to eternal hell and we’re all worms in God’s eyes as Jonathan Edwards used to say, dirty sinful worms worthy of nothing but divine anger and punishment, to be crushed beneath God’s heel for eternity.
2. Devalues the importance of morals. Can “matter” be moral?
Atheists would answer with a resounding “yes,” namely that our cosmos consists of matter (and let’s not leave out energy too, including electro-chemical energy in the brain, and both matter and energy are interchangeable according to E=Mc2) so matter-energy evolved into stars which produced the wide variety of different elements out of simple hydrogen (and are doing so now), and stars are continuing to form today, as are planets as well, and so on up to reproducing chemicals and finally consciousness which invented ethics and morality.
A counter question might be, WHAT are “Christian” morals? The Bible does not lay down rules for how a society must act except in the O.T., while in the N.T. it’s all about what to believe and do in order to “be saved” (be baptized and believe such-and-such). So taken together the Bible goes from saying kill your enemies and they flee from you in the O.T. (a literal verse in fact), to “love your enemies,” and “give all to anyone who asks.” It’s individual Christians and churches who have to decide how to act, neither in an O.T. fashion nor a N.T. one. So Christians are in the SAME BOAT, making decisions.
3. It can undercut rationality because it makes all things chance or accident.
Wrong. Science examines regularities, and how new properties may emerge when new combinations of matter and energy take place, but then once discovered we continue to study the regularities of the new emergent properties.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted November 18, 2009 at 1:14 pm


Let me apologize. Could someone please delete my off-topic comment. When I refreshed the page for a new “captcha” my browser deleted my response and reposted from my cache (materials which I shared yesterday on another thread).
At any rate, I have archived my original response here:
Science vs Scientism
In that response, I affirm RJS’ summary that we are dealing with different subsets of questions and I amplify what those questions are and how they might best be related to one another. Basically, we are distinguishing between science as a method and scientism as a philosophical system, or methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. I flesh this out in the above-referenced link.
There is yet another distinction that comes into play. There are different positions regarding both the philosophy of mind and the nature of the soul. This is a related but distinct question. In my view, whether someone, as a believer, adopts a full-blown Cartesian dualism between body and soul, an Aristotelian hylomorphism or even a nonreductive physicalism, it does not change, phenomenologically, and does not diminish, philosophically or anthropologically or theologically, the value of human nature.
The most advanced neurological and biological sciences recognize the radical semiotic discontinuities (human consciousness) from other species that emerged in the evolution of human nature. It has been said that Christianity remains in search of a metaphysic and that sounds right-headed to me. The essential beliefs of Christianity are not intertwined with any particular metaphysical conceptions of the soul or consciousness.
With our brains as manifestly open-ended processors, free will and so-called determinism are not at stake even in physicalist hypotheses of mind. Those who advocate a purely reductionistic approach to consciousness, which IS incompatible with belief, are semiotic illiterates unschooled in emergentist reality and typically have an agenda. I commend Terrence Deacon’s book, “The Symbolic Species.”



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Brian in NZ

posted November 18, 2009 at 1:20 pm


I, like others above, also struggle with this ‘little fox’ (or should it be called a ‘big wolf’?)
I genuinely don’t think a scientific proof of God can ever be discovered, any more than a 2D person could prove that there is a 3D world (metaphorically speaking). The 2D person simply doesn’t know of the existence of the the extra dimension that we take for granted. In a similar way, how can any science discipline prove the existence of a spiritual dimension when it is outside the very capability of its measuring tools.
As a sideline thought, one of my biggest ‘little foxes’ with science vs faith is how/when did we humans develop a sense or awareness of God’s existence?



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Ray Ingles

posted November 18, 2009 at 1:36 pm


“Your Name” – I’d happily contend that the ‘story’ you outline – “survive for as long as you can; compete successfully against other consumers of resources by whatever means will work; reproduce, if you want your DNA to live on, etc.” is hardly the only possible “take-home” message from so-called ‘scientific naturalism’. I certainly find plenty of things to enjoy and plenty of people to love in this life – and, as I noted in comment #11, I see no reason to consider my fellow humans to be simply “other consumers of resources”.
“Meaning” is a very personal thing, anyway. To quote from the article I linked to: You either find your life meaningful or you do not, but it?s not clear to me how one would even attempt to show that someone?s experience of meaning or lack of it was a mis-perception, let alone be outright false. What standard would you compare it against? If someone were to claim that your life isn?t meaningful to you, how would they prove it? How would you prove it to them, beyond merely expressing it? What would an argument even look like?



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RJS

posted November 18, 2009 at 2:29 pm


Edward (#14),
You are railing against a form of Christian thinking that has certainly been present in parts of the church, although only really in a small part of protestantism I think. But just as scientists will get pieces wrong and need to rethink and meander along toward a more complete understanding of truth – so to will Christians. Christian thinking wanders off on tangents and gets things wrong in an attempt to follow God.
So I will suggest that the worm motif is a wander off track, as is the idea that the NT is only about what you must do to be “saved”.
But errors in attempts to wrestle with the Christian story do not negate the power of the story, or demonstrate it on a higher level as either true or false.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted November 18, 2009 at 3:02 pm


Ray Ingles (#18) I am in strong agreement with you in that we do not advance formal arguments for evaluative posits. In a similar vein, I can find no grounds to dismiss the abundant meaning to be found in our human existence, whether by people of implicit faith or no faith at all. Anthropology reveals, and no too few nontheistic friends of mine faithfully report to me, profound existential orientations to such values as truth, beauty, goodness and unity, even within their agnostic and atheistic interpretive stances.
That I take such existential orientations and interpret them also as transcendental imperatives in my theism is viewed by some as a needless multiplication of ontologies and a meaningless tautology. For their part, they inhabit a different tautology. Those believers, like myself, who view reality as radically incarnational and who do not buy into traditional views of atonement or see reality as morally depraved but as intrinsically good even if flawed, would expect that all humans would discover reality’s goodness and realize, in varying degrees, reality’s values.
So, I expect most people, for the most part, to report a mostly abundant life, once taking into account economic disparities and other senseless suffering (which doesn’t undermine many people’s fundamental trust in God, anyway). The only distinction I would offer is that I persist in faith in a particular tradition because FOR ME it seems to provide for a superabundance in my human value-realizations (including personal integrity) vis a vis other pathways and I would concede to others that this may be one of the reasons they choose their particular path.
It is perhaps too early on humankind’s journey to successfully adjudicate between the propositional elements of these otherwise disparate interpretive positions and evaluative posits, the value of which gets cashed out in our practical lived experiences.



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Your Name

posted November 18, 2009 at 5:24 pm


Sorry, all, #13 was me.
Ray, I’m not saying that those are the only take aways from naturalism. But I would say, if you ask that perspective “Tell me what a human being is” and “where does a human fit within the universe” and stick to what that perspective can offer, we’re going to have by definition, an explanation that situates the human within the basic animal framework and story. At a minimum, the naturalist must state that other, older understandings of humanity as somehow made in the image of some divine being are mistaken, and that the various ethics that have their basis in those views of reality are in fact not connected to reality and make no sense to maintain. All plans, ethics and values, if they are to be based in the naturalist view of reality, must be based in the physical world alone and its story, which is essentially a story on a darwinian stage, in which the features I mentioned are central parts. Please understand, I’m not saying that the naturalist perspective makes those who hold it only feel or value what makes sense to feel within a darwinian/naturalist reality. (Christians daily feel and do things that are inconsistent with the tenets of the Christian faith.) Just that there are many who despair when they think about what it means to be what the naturalist view says they are and story they are in.



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T

posted November 18, 2009 at 5:28 pm


Ha! captcha’d again! (It erases my name for some reason.) Your Name is me.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted November 19, 2009 at 8:34 am


T (Your Name?) wrote in #20: “At a minimum, the naturalist must state that other, older understandings of humanity as somehow made in the image of some divine being are mistaken, and that the various ethics that have their basis in those views of reality are in fact not connected to reality and make no sense to maintain. All plans, ethics and values, if they are to be based in the naturalist view of reality, must be based in the physical world alone and its story, which is essentially a story on a darwinian stage, in which the features I mentioned are central parts.”
In the end, this ends up being an appeal – not to our Judaeo-Christian heritage, but – to a foundational epistemology (a method) and a robust moral realism (a conclusion). I am deep sympathy with a moral realism that is ultimately grounded in God, but adopt that interpretive stance as a basic presupposition, which is indispensable to my faith outlook but otherwise not required as a presupposition for knowledge, itself, a method, which is fallible and probabilistic and not foundational, providing us with apodictic certainty.
As it is, with so many different authorities (religious traditions) around, all appealing to diverse foundational sources (scriptures & traditions & natural laws) and no way to successfully adjudicate between them in a logically coercive way, appeals to a foundational epistemology coupled with an authoritarian deontology aren’t going to take us very far, either meta-ethically or toward the articulation of a more global ethic.
At the same time, we can expect to reason successfully from an IS to an OUGHT, from the given to the normative, from the descriptive to the prescriptive, from a fact to a value, notwithstanding Hume’s objections, and we can distinguish between apparent and real goods, lesser and higher goods, notwithstanding any so-called naturalistic fallacy. We can also recognize, with Sartre, that, since we are similarly-situated in this somewhat universal human condition, the prescriptions we devise for any human situation we describe are going to be remarkably consistent, for all practical purposes, even if the interpretations in which we ground them are otherwise very divergent (or even relativistic), theoretically speaking.



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Ray Ingles

posted November 19, 2009 at 8:56 am


T/Your Name – you write, “At a minimum, the naturalist must state that other, older understandings of humanity as somehow made in the image of some divine being are mistaken, and that the various ethics that have their basis in those views of reality are in fact not connected to reality and make no sense to maintain.”
I agree with part 1 (‘older understandings mistaken’) but disagree (mostly) with part 2 (‘various ethics make no sense to maintain’). Consider that even NASA still uses Newtonian mechanics to pilot their interplanetary probes, with just a few Relativistic fudge factors. There are degrees of wrongness (as Isaac Asimov put it, “[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was [perfectly] spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”) And there’s also ‘being right for the wrong reason’.
An excerpt from a meditation on free will that I’m writing: “One of the most basic equations in physics – really, the fundamental equation – is “F=ma”: force equals mass times acceleration. This expresses the relationship between four fundamental concepts: force, mass, distance, and time. (Acceleration itself is expressed in terms of distance and time.) But what units to use? You are only free to pick units for three of them – then F=ma means you define the last unit in terms of the other three. For example, in the Imperial (British) system, the unit of force is the pound, the unit of distance is the foot, and the unit of time is the second. From that, you derive the unit of mass – the slug. In effect, the British system expresses it as “m=F/a”. The metric system, by contrast, assumes units for mass, distance, and time (kilogram, meter, and second) and derives the unit of force, the Newton, from those – it expresses things as “F=ma”.”
It seems to me that the commonsense notions ‘everyone’ has about ethics and morals, and even the large majority of what careful thinkers have concluded about ethics and morals, can be true and expressed in more than just the ‘classical’, ‘mystical’ systems that have been pretty much the only game in town until quite recently. We have a lot of accumulated wisdom over the past 100,000 years or so of humanity’s existence regarding how to get along. That’s not to say that those systems are perfect; the case of ‘revenge culture’ is a glaring counterexample. But it does mean those systems in some senses “work”, and not always for the obvious reason.



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