Friday, July 08, 2005

A Functional Philosophical Structure Must Have an Understanding of Evil

One of the major denominations of the religion of the Left is scientism. And one of the dogmas of the Church of Scientism is that anything worth investigating can be, or should be, reduced to a hypothesis which is either proved or disproved. Anything which does not fall within this boundary is anathema to these fundamentalists.

A paradoxical dogma in Scientism is that of relativism. Ever since Einstein intuited and explained this feature of time and space, the Church of Scientism has sought to apply it to daily life. They failed to understand that Newtonian physics still works quite well to explain the quotidian; Einstein's intuitions are for the spaces between things... this categorical error on their part has led to no end of mischief.

A particularly unfortunate result of all this intellectual relativism is the atrophied faculty of moral reasoning in otherwise well-educated adults. Discussions of good and evil leave them embarrassed and without voice. They lack the vocabulary or the cortical connections to speak of good and evil; the best they can do is utter bromides about 'tolerance' -- though surely this is one of the least practiced of their commandments when it comes to those with whom they disagree. In that respect these Mandarins are as ignorant as the people Theodore Dalrymple describes in Life At The Bottom:The Worldview That Makes The Underclass.

Neuroconservative expands on this idea:
    ...the one frame of reference that has been written out of Western scientistic discourse is the moral dimension, which is critical to understanding this fight.
And here is the heart of his argument:
     The root cause of terrorism is evil. We must reclaim the ability to perceive evil as a motive force in the realm of human affairs; it is one of the oldest pieces of wisdom of our civilization, yet has been relentlessly denied by the most "civilized" in our intelligentsia... make no mistake: evil cannot be reduced to a set of physical properties or sociological phenomena.
As he points out, we have recurrent problems accepting the reality of evil. Perhaps it is the optimism of youth, for I can remember a time when I thought evil was merely some Freudian projection which could be vanquished with education and insight. If someone were to ask what the greatest mistaken belief of my life was, it would be that. But I was not, am not, alone. Neuroconservative reminds us:
     Civilized men have long had difficulty accepting the presence of evil in the world; "the problem of evil" has literally bedevilled theology since its inception. But one recent example with devastating consequences: Before the Holocaust, many Jews could not accept the possibility that their compatriots would devour them; ever after, Jews have questioned how God could allow such evil into the world.
To emphasize the bedrock truth of his observations, here is the complete text of the London Bombers:

In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, may peace be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace be upon him.

Nation of Islam and Arab nation: Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters.

We have repeatedly warned the British Government and people. We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahideen exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid.

We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the Crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He who warns is excused.

God says: “You who believe: If ye will aid (the cause of) Allah, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly.”

A future post will dissect this manifesto in more detail. For now, it suffices to say with Neuroconservative --
     I have come to the conclusion that any functional philosophical structure must have, at its core, the understanding of evil...


Lisa said...

God says: "You who believe: If ye will aid (the cause of) Allah, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly."

This is Qur'an 47:7, from a surah (chapter) mostly about jihad, as these other verses show:

47:4 Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost.


47:20-21 Those who believe say, "Why is not a sura sent down (for us)?" But when a sura of basic or categorical meaning is revealed, and fighting is mentioned therein, thou wilt see those in whose hearts is a disease looking at thee with a look of one in swoon at the approach of death. But more fitting for them were it to obey and say what is just, and when a matter is resolved on, it were best for them if they were true to Allah.

And finally:

47:35 Be not weary and faint-hearted, crying for peace, when ye should be uppermost: for Allah is with you, and will never put you in loss for your (good) deeds.

Very interesting selection of a verse, and even more interesting when one considers the context.

Engineer-Poet said...

There are a lot more loony adherents of Christian fundamentalism in the USofA than there are believers in what you call "scientism".

I see the term "scientism" used a lot by people who deny that empiricism works where dogmatism does not.  They wish to live in a fantasy world where things are not as they are but as they wish them to be, e.g.:

1.  "Abstinence education" is not associated with increased rates of STD's and reluctance to seek treatment.
2.  Biology, geology, cosmology and physics do not fit into a coherent picture of a 13-billion-year-old universe, a 4.3 BYO Earth, and life on Earth descended from at most a few common ancestors.
3.  Most damning, a great many of them believe that destruction of the environment will lead to the Second Coming.

I see nothing wrong and everything right with the attitude that we should test and check what we believe against what actually exists and happens.  Humans are fallible; if our policies fail to do what we want because they are based on faulty ideas, how will we get the results we want without using empiricism to show the faults and move away from our errors?  Isn't that what conservatives were saying for decades about welfare and a dozen other policies of the left:  that they were failures because they were not consistent with the way people actually behave?

99% of the fire aimed at "scientism" is just a mirror-image of the "social construction" nonsense of the left.  Empiricism, the cornerstone of science, is the enemy of nonsense regardless of where it falls on the political spectrum.

Engineer-Poet said...

Incidentally, you can empirically prove the existence of evil.  Stalin, Pol Pot, Mugabe and Manson can't be wished away.  The problem is when you take the nutty adherents of post-modernist philosophy who attempt to do so and call them "scientismists"; what they are doing has nothing to do with science any more than Mary Baker Eddy did, and using the label as a slur against empiricism is damaging to real scientists doing real work to strengthen the USA.

Dymphna said...

Empiricism is indeed the cornerstone of science. On that we are agreed and it is not the point of my concern.

Empiricism is concerned with truth, but it does not concern itself with the good or the beautiful, which are the focus of aesthetics and moral philosophy respectively.

The problem with empiricism run amok is that it all too often leads down that road to perdition, The Avenue of Unintended Consequences.

Empiricism is necessary, sir, but it is not sufficient. Unfortunately, it is the unexamined orthodoxy of the Mandarins and it is a thin rope on which to build a whole life. Just because it takes up all the oxygen in the room doesn't make it any less "looney" than the snake-charmers.

BTW, you might like to read Shrinkwrapped's essay on Extremism, which is what you're addressing here. I don't have the URL but he's on our blogroll.

Dymphna said...


Thanks! I'm working on a post on this and your quotes help a great deal.

Can you tell me which translation you use -- and why? I get conflicting opinions on which is better.

What's interesting about the context, and what I intuited when I read the statement, is that they "lifted" their quote out of a larger, bloody directive. I figure that they knew their Muslim readers would know the whole thing.

Bill said...

The lack of normative content in Naturalism and its variant Scientism has had a lot of discussion. William Plantagina has written a large number of papers on this and Bill Vallicella has linked to a website,, that contains links to about a dozen papers in this area. BV also has an entire section on this area in his blog.

I agree the argument is not against science or empiricism, but against its inappropriate use. Science is epistomological and as such cannot create metaphysical or normative constructs. Those may use the findings of science in their development but the findings themselves do not provide them.

Dymphna said...

Engineer-Poet said...
Incidentally, you can empirically prove the existence of evil. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mugabe and Manson can't be wished away.

No, but they can be relativized away. And claiming that Bush and the US military are their moral equivalents is evil in itself.

Generally speaking our population is scientifically illiterate. Some of them barely live in a helio-centric universe. And I'm not talking about the fundamentalist Christians, though Lord knows some of them are ignorant enough. I'm addressing the abysmal education of soft PhD's, the ones who believed Paul Erlichman for starters. And the tree-huggers and the narcissistic Gaia worshippers.

Remember the Club of Rome and their doom and gloom? They had all the empirical proof you needed to show that the population bomb was ticking and about to blow.

I'm not about to give up hypothesis-and-proof; I just want more dialogue about whether it ought to be cornerstone of moral life. In empiricism there are no absolutes (at least not beyond h and p). In family life -- just to pick one category -- there have to be absolutes or we will live in emotional squalor.

IOW, some things are wrong and they will always be wrong and they don't require proof because the heart has reasons that the reason knows not of.

Baron Bodissey said...

The problem is that most people simply don't learn enough Mathematics. Mathematics teaches you a set of rules which you apply to premises in order to reach conclusions. The premises are the crucial things: upon them depend your conclusions.

At the bottom of all the premises are the postulates, that is, things which can't be proven and so must be assumed.

If the premises are faulty, what you prove from them is unreliable. An important cultural example is this premise: New ideas are better than old ideas. It has been an assumed premise for so long that it is, in effect, a postulate. But what are the justifications for it? The results based on it have been very damaging.

Many more examples abound.

Engineer-Poet said...

Science, and empiricism in general, does not and cannot tell you what you should want; they can only help you find the best way to get it.

Confusing is and ought is a very common error, and it takes clear thinking to pick them apart.  Unfortunately, the world is full of people whose power depends on people not thinking clearly about the tripe they're peddling...

Always On Watch said...

The Bombers' statement is a twisted statement for twisted minds. Evil.

jinnderella said...

Baron, you are so correct.
Like Max Tegmark says,
In other words, our successful theories are not mathematics approximating physics, but mathematics approximating mathematics.

There is a mathematical basis for all behavior.

Baron Bodissey said...

Jinnji, you are quite right. The physical sciences are complex and interesting -- but essentially degraded -- representations of mathematical truth.

Do you reckon that makes me a Platonist?

Lisa said...


The translation of the statement itself made use of the Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur'an, so that's what I referred to. But every translation of those verses is pretty similar--it's pretty obvious what they are referring to.

I generally prefer to read a passage in at least three or four different translations (I make use of the Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, Shakir, Arberry, Asad, Fakhry, Ahmed Ali and the "official" Saudi version, that of Hilali and Khan, as well as several others), and compare that with the original Arabic, some of which I can understand. But even if you don't understand a word of Arabic, reading several translations gives you a bit of perspective on how the words may be translated.

But I've never seen any difference in the way the phrase "strike/smite at their necks" is translated (except that a couple go all the way and say "strike off their heads"!) It's a pretty clear statement--there's really no other way to translate the Arabic words.

truepeers said...

The problem with empiricism, when talking about religion, e-p, is that religious questions are essentially those concerned with the nature of human origins. Did God create us or did we create him/it/etc. at the moment we stopped being animals and started worshipping a sacred sign/thing/place? Whether you think we are created or creator, neither position can be defended empirically. There will remain some irreducible mystery in any account of how the human could ever have emerged from the animal. We can only offer hypotheses and let the free market of ideas decide which are most plausible to human beings at this point in their intellectual development. And since in everything we do and say, we repeat, in some sense, that original moment of creation, we rely on acts of faith that must be repeated in countless situations without sufficient empirical justifications. Whatever story you choose, you will never be able to explain, wholly empirically, logically, theoretically, why this story works the best for you.

Evil, similarly, is a question of faith. Everyone has evil thoughts, but only those who indulge themselves, those who lose faith in the good, commit evil.

neuroconservative said...

Truepeers -- Well said. Somewhere in about the late 19th Century the concept of faith became distorted: it became a question of faith that God exists, which could then be contraverted by empirical approaches. Lost to language (and thus to thought) in this scientistic maneuver was the idea of placing one's faith in God, in the sense of your final sentence.

neuroconservative said...

dymphna --

Thanks for the link and for the thoughtful discussions on your boards. Part of what you and BB are getting at here is that most people, including the "intellectuals" and "scientists" simply do not know how to think -- how to examine premises, or even recognize their own underlying assumptions. As I discussed in a recent post, probably the most dangerous of these is the "rationalist fallacy" as described by Hayek, which leads us down the road to serfdom.

truepeers said...

Neurocon, i think you must be a fellow traveller; great to just discover your blog. Yes, the question of whether god exists is a limiting question to ask. Whether or not there is a supernatural divinity, god at least exists as an anthropological fact, an inevitable fact of human culture and consciousness. Thus the better question for the scientist is why do our concepts of god and (human) existence go together? If, some day, we are all atheists, we will still have to deny our belief in god since the concept of his existence will never become meaningless; this is because the concept and question are inherent in the origin of human or cultural self-consciousness, for reasons I won't go into now. We can return to putting our faith in god or "god" once we formulate an anthropology that explains why we would have no concept of human (or divine) existence, the good, evil, etc., without first having a concept of god. This is the work of the believers and non-believers who belong to the school of Generative Anthropology, perhaps the first school in a few hundred years where believers and non-believers are happy colleagues in pursuit of fundamental human questions.

neuroconservative said...

dymphna et al. ---
For a perfect case study of exactly what we are talking about, see this op-ed in the Guardian, which I fisk on my blog.

neuroconservative said...

truepeers --

I must admit this is the first time I have ever been called a fellow traveller. In this context, I take it as a compliment. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

Rick Moran said...

Evil in western society has always been associated with religion.

Didn't the enlightenment posit the notion that all men are basically good but only corrupted by their "appetites?"

Until the left gets rid of the notion that this is a clash of cultures rather than a fight between good and evil, we'll be in danger of losing.

Dymphna said...

It took me a moment to parse this:

Evil in western society has always been associated with religion.

But then I realized what you meant: that the cause of good fighting evil has had that association, that moral quality. Yes, I agree.

"Clash of cultures" is so Margaret Mead...and we know how discredited she's become. Anthropology is science for people who can't do math and don't have the emotional development for ethical reasoning.