Saturday 3 June 2017

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom… If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise (in relation to the example of Richard Dawkins)

These two aphorisms from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell...

....combine to elucidate something I have, in my own life, found to be a profound truth - Blake's is a profound  insight into the path to truth. The aphorisms also explain why so many people so often get stuck in falsehood: stuck for all of their lives.

Error is self-correcting IF we stick by it honestly, and follow it through to conclusion.

Being wrong is not a spiritual disaster - it is dishonesty which is the disaster: it is living by expedient lies which leads to Hell. Because expedient lies prevent us from recognising error.

This created world has ultimate coherence, since it is the product of one God. Therefore, all error will reveal itself in incoherence.

(Of course, coherence is Not the same as logic; since logic, like mathematics - or which it may be the parent - is a partial model of reality; and logical coherence therefore leaves out most of reality.) 

Some people with a reputation for blunt honesty are nothing of the sort! - they  wriggle and writhe in the face of the conclusions of their assumptions.

A couple of decades ago I used to admire and defend Richard Dawkins - mainly because I considered he was unsually honest; because he was clear and blunt in expression and unafraid of contradicting people to their faces. But I gradually realised that, on the contrary, he was evasive and expedient in his reasoning.

Dawkins is a good example of one who refused to follow his path of excess to the palace of wisdom; because he was not even aiming at wisdom; he refused to persist in his folly, hence he remained a fool rather than becoming wise.

Two examples. The book Unweaving the Rainbow (1998) was an exercise in distraction, a non sequitur in response to the century-plus of observations that If natural selection were indeed regarded the ultimate truth, Then art, poetry, morality, science (including natural selection) and much else are invalidated.

(This is a fact; because all our feelings, indeed all our knowledge is revealed by the assumption as merely the side effects of adaptations to enhance reproductive success. For example, if natural selection is primary; the theory of natural selection destroys its own validity; all scientific theories being merely side-effects of the process of enhancing differential reproductive fitness.)

Somewhat later (but a couple of years before I was a Christian) I met Dawkins at a dinner party, and asked him - as, I intended, a preliminary to a deeper discussion, why the USA was both by far the leading scientific nation in the world and also by far the most Christianly-religious of the developed nations?

Dawkins's reaction made clear that this paradox had not occurred to him - and he did not have an answer ready.

But instead of noting the apparent contradiction and exploring it as possible evidence of an error in his oft asserted assumption that Christianity was intrinsically and necessarily anti-scientific; Dawkins visibly shook-off the potential discussion with the irrelevant comment that it was not the most Christian people who were the actual scientists. Then having dismissed the matter, he turned and walked away to terminate the discussion - leaving me standing and more-or-less gaping! - which had not gone further than a few sentences. After just a few steps Dawkins looked as if he had already forgotten the whole thing.

Dawkins's folly is to believe that natural selection is the primary reality. I know exactly what this feels like, because I have believed this too. Indeed, I have believed this probably considerably more deeply and comprehensively than Dawkins (reaching its peak in the appendix to my 2003 book The Modernization Imperative).

But I persisted in my folly - and kept coming up against paradoxes and contradictions. My excessive devotion to this particular simplification therefore led me towards the palace of wisdom, because I was honest enough that I would not be satisfied with irrelevant pseudo explanations.

If I have any virtue in a higher than usual degree it probably is exactly this - that I persist in my folly, with honesty, until its falsehood becomes evident and unavoidable; and then I abandon it.

I have, indeed, adhered to most of the starkest follies of modernity over my life; and my life has therefore been a process of adopting then exploring folly before abandoning it. This continues - however, the follies are probably less 'excessive' these days; since after becoming a Christian I perceived the starkest insanities and evils of mainstream modern secularism.

But mainstream modern secularism is foolish in the extreme, and yet at the same time avoids learning from its folly; because it is dishonest.

Modern media/ bureacratic culture is systematically and pervasively dishonest - dishonest in public, dishonest in private, dishonest with itself. (This is sufficient evidence of its demonic origin, since such thoroughgoing and peristing dishonesty must be purposive; and only supernatural purpose could span generations.) No folly of modernity is too extreme to escape the correction of even common sense and direct experience (for example, the current official and coercively-imposed belief that being a man or woman is - in actual practice - a reversible state).

This is why dishonesty dismays me far more than error. An honest fool will sooner or later become wise - indeed in essentials he already is wise, as such things are measured in mortal life.

By contrast; a dishonest man is a fool; no matter how great his knowledge, skill, status, wealth or power - and as such he is self-damned with a certainty that is sure, for as long as his dishonesty persists.

There is no cure for the dishonest soul.


Anonymous said...

"For example, if natural selection is primary; the theory of natural selection destroys its own validity; all scientific theories being merely side-effects of the process of enhancing differential reproductive fitness."

How do you figure? If we have evolved general intelligence then surely we can trust logic *within that framework*? Or do you mean to say that the logic-capability we have evolved is of some lesser sort, geared only at survival & reproduction, and therefore we lack access to some unfathomable higher logic which we would need to be able to postulate something like natural selection? Just trying to understand here...

Bruce Charlton said...

I seldom publish Anonymous comments - are you ashamed of your question?

The answer is that - if Natural Selection is the ultimate explanation; then general intelligence is evolved to enhance differential reproductive success under contingent, historical, time-bound circumstances.

There is no reason why intelligence would lead to truth (rather than reproductive success) - indeed (if variation is undirected/ 'random') there are an infinite number of ways intelligence would not be true, and only one way that it would be true (by sheer chance, I mean).

So the probablity of intelligence being true is infinity divided by one - which is still infinity. Why would we assume it was true? Obviously (by this reasoning) intelligence is merely a temporary cobbled-together expedient that happened to be useful for reproduction at some point in our evolutionary history.

Indeed, in the modern world, higher intelligence is strongly damaging to reproductive success, esepcially in women. Typically, the most intelligent women have only about a quarter of minimum replacement fertility (i.e. half a child on average) and are therefore rapidly going extinct. This underlines that level of intelligence is contingent on specific evolutionary situations - hence is not always adaptive, hence cannot be justified as necessarily truth-generating On Evolutionary Grounds. (ie Intelligence does not Necessarily lead to improved reproductive success.)

Anonymous said...

Building on your idea. The devil's primary business model becomes clear. It is reassurance. The feedback that would lead to correction and wisdom, must be processed. The defenses in the stages of grief model just begin to hint at the depth of the toolkit available.

Thank you for your honest walk.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon 14:32 - Thanks for your comment. In future please use a pseudonym, since I seldom print comments from Anonymous.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I know this is getting off your main point, but do you have an answer to the question that you and Dawkins posed together? Why would not-very-Christian members of very-Christian societies tend to make the best scientists? No simple assertion that Christianity is either "good for science" or "bad for science" seems to do justice to the facts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Dawkins has argued that a Christian *society* is a bad thing for science, reason, and morality. This is why he is an active and evangelical atheist - he wants to destroy the credibility of all religions, because they are supposed to be harmful to the things Dawkins most values.

SO, he clarly believes that a Christian society is damageing to the conduct of science. My point - which was intended to open the discussion, rather than to settle it - is that apparently the larger residuum of Christianity in the US culture did not significantly damage science - indeed, on the face of it, it looks as if it supported science; since US exceptionalism includes (or did 15 years ago) both exceptional science and Christia practice.

I agree, that a counter argument could include that the most religious people, and regions of the US, are the least scientific. But even this admission weakens the overall imperative to annihilate religion; since it would then seem there would therefore be a possibility of productive coexistence between the religious and the scientific/ atheist.

If the coversation happened now; I would also have mentioned that nearly all the great scientists were brought-up as Christians or observant Jews, even when these ideas were later abandoned or rejected; at the very least this did not perceptibly harm their scientiific abilities. Later generations raised atheist cannot match their achievements. (Charles Murray gave me this idea - reading Human Accomplishment - I had not read this at the time I met Dawkins, but I had already published an article about the decline of genius).

Ben said...

I came to belief in a similar way I think.

Uneducated atheist within very atheist surrounding --> angry at the affect of the dishonesty on me personally --> not wanting to appear a hypocrite, mulishly stuck to philosophical integrity --> followed atheism in this way as much as possible --> found the abyss at the end of this and then had proper, true, religious experiences.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ben - Yes, for me a long and extraordinarily slow process... But on the plus side, I do therefore understand many facets of what we are up against!

Sackerson said...

I'd respond:

1. The truth value of a proposition is independent of the genetic predisposition of the mind considering it - I think Bertrand Russell said something to that effect about this.

2. Is it intelligent women who have this low birth rate, or merely ones who have had an extended period of formal education? Possibly some of the cleverest have kept their light under a bushel and selected good mates and providers early.

Bruce Charlton said...

@S -1. I used to agree, but not now. Science must, in practice, be able to trust the motivations of the proposer, and also evaluate the comptenece - or else the signal will be swamped by noise (from liars and incompetents). In other words, there is no 'scientific method' that can grind truth out from mostly-nonsense.

2. Intelligent women, as well as those with prolonged education. I am citing two cohort studies of intelligence measured in childhood, when the kids were followed up for a few decades. The first was by Terman - done in California from the 1920s. ie. before modern contraception.