Sunday, April 15, 2018

The One-Dimensional Religionist


Joe Hinman has written a baffling piece of apologetic nonsense called One Dimensional-Church.  I say "baffling" because after reading it, I really don't know what he means by the phrase that is the title of that article.  One might expect to hear some explanation of it, but apart from the title itself, the word 'church' never even appears in the article.  The reader is left guessing what he means by it.  The article begins with a single sentence that criticizes the political right for co-opting the evangelical movement as a tool for the Republican Party.  So is this the "One Dimensional-Church" talking about?  It doesn't seem likely, because he is otherwise not critical of religion or the church, nor does he refer to them as one-dimensional, and this is never mentioned again.  But the article does criticize technological society (which produces the "one-dimensional man") and scientific thinking, so one might speculate that he is likening science to a kind of religion, although he never actually says that in the article.  Whatever Joe has in mind as the "one dimensional-church", it is not effectively communicated.  One can only guess.

So what is Joe saying?  It seems like incoherent rambling that is generally directed against atheists, and especially those who engage in scientific thinking.  The first sentence, which is critical of the right wing, is disconnected from anything else in the article.  After that, he goes into a lengthy discussion of  the "one-dimensional man", which is a socio-political concept espoused by Herbert Marcuse.  It is tied to the idea that consumerism and conformity lead to social control by the elite in a technological industrial capitalist society.
The ‘one dimension’ of the title refers to the flattening of discourse, imagination, culture and politics into the field of understanding, the perspective, of the dominant order. - Andrew Robinson
This is much more about the changing social order than about the advance of science and scientific thinking.  But there is only the most tenuous of connections between that and the next topic that Joe's article transitions into with this passage:
The prognosis for one-dimensional man doesn’t end with just supporting capitalism as the basis of false needs. The whole concept of being a thinking person who lives in a society in which thinking people can determine their own lives is called into question and in fact done away with because the concept of freedom is illusory and not scientific. The scientistic crowd is telling us that freedom is a trick. The issues of one-dimensional man don’t stop Marxism because there is more to power than just capital vs labor, or capitalism vs. Marxism. Lurking behind the accumulation of false needs (technological version of bread and circuses) is operational thinking. - Hinman
Notice how Joe slips the word 'scientistic' into the discussion.  Not that scientific thinking has anything in particular to do with Marcuse's thesis of the 'one-dimensional man", but Joe now asserts that it does.  And with that, the topic turns to 'scientism' as the chief culprit in the destruction of society.  It is scientism that denies freedom and closes us off from God, thus creating Joe's own version of the one-dimensional man.
When the only form of knowledge is science knowledge of freedom must disappear, there is no freedom in science. The concept of freedom requires a substantial conceptual background to cover all the bases. We have to understand the parameters of freedom, the possibilities, the impediments to freedom, balancing freedom against responsibility and so on. When the only form of knowledge is about the facts of nature and how they work there’s no room for an abstraction like ‘possible freedom.’ - Hinman
What Joe has done (I think) is to take a philosopher's socio-political concept from a half century ago, and use that as the intellectual backing for his own concept of the narrow-minded (or one-dimensional) scientific thinker, despite the fact that those two things have little or nothing to do with one another.

And that brings me to the point that I want to make about Joe's way of thinking.  Why does he think that scientism leaves no room for the concept of 'freedom'?  Why would he claim that Jerry Coyne castigates the arts in explaining what he means by knowledge in the light of science broadly construed?  Joe obviously needs "knowledge" to include the one thing that he cares about: God.  And if science doesn't give us knowledge of God, then there must be something wrong with it.  And to make his point that there's something wrong with science, he insists on presenting his distorted view of scientific thinking that is easily subject to ridicule.  But ask any scientist if there is room for abstract concepts like 'freedom' in his thinking.  Of course there is.  Ask Jerry Coyne if he has a low esteem for the arts.  No, he does not, but neither does he confuse knowledge with feelings.  But if Joe can convince us that these people are unreasonable in their thinking about knowledge of such things as abstract concepts and the arts, then they are equally unreasonable in their thinking about knowledge of God.

In epistemology, knowledge has been defined as belief that both justified and true.  All three elements are needed.  If you don't believe proposition P is true, then it cannot be said that you know it.  And if proposition P is not in fact true, then it cannot be said that you know it.  Furthermore, even if you believe it and it is in fact true, but you don't have justification for that belief, then it still cannot be said that you know it.  Whether something really is true in fact is problematic.  In the strictest sense, we can't say for sure whether something is true.  The best we can do is to have justification for what we believe.  And that's where science comes in (or if you prefer, science broadly construed, as Jerry Coyne puts it).  And science recognizes that nothing is known absolutely.  Knowledge is always tentative, and any claims of knowledge are justified by objective evidence and verification.  When religionists claim to know that God exists, it is based on feelings they have, not on objective evidence or verification.  So from the perspective of science, knowledge of God is not justified. 

And that's why people like Joe reject scientific thinking and apply a derogatory label to it.  In his one-dimensional mind, there is no room for any truth that doesn't include his unjustified religious beliefs.  No room for objective evidence.  No room for reality.  Joe can't get outside the box of his narrow-minded religionism.  He throws science under the bus, and in the process, lies about  what constitutes scientific thinking.  And if, as I suppose, he wants to cast science as a "one dimensional-church", equivalent to some kind of religious belief, he's really saying that religious belief is unreasonable.  And that's one thing we both agree on.

1 comment:

  1. OK. Perhaps as a response to this commentary, Joe has decided to provide a Part 2 for his article. And this one picks up where the first sentence of Part 1 left off. It actually discusses what he means by the one-dimensional church, which is the evangelical alt-right movement that supports Trump. That's great, but then I must ask, what was the point of Part 1, which is (except for that first sentence, entirely disconnected from the issue? It seems to be nothing more than a lengthy side-discussion directed at criticizing science and scientism, and has nothing to do with the main topic.

    Joe said that this material is to be one of the chapters of his new book. All I can say is if you like to read Joe's stream of consciousness, with lots of disconnected rambling that doesn't seem to address a specific point, you should get the book.

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