The Scientific Worldview has no “Higher Principle”

From Anonymous:

“Your argument contains the premise that there are "correct" and "incorrect" assumptions. The ground of this correctness or incorrectness is therefore a higher principle, beyond your 10 assumptions. This means there is a criterion by which different assumptions can be judged. This is problematic, however. If there is such a criterion, then any such assumptions are actually deductions, since they follow from a higher principle. But okay, I 'might' be willing to accept that. So, this brings up the next question: What is this higher principle? And as it must be quite important, why does it not receive a central emphasis in your treatise?”

There is no “higher principle.” One can have one assumption or a multitude of them. We determine the “correctness” of an assumption by how well it is supported by observation and experiment in the real world. Maybe that is the "higher principle" that you seek. That demand is grounded, perhaps, in the first assumption of science, MATERIALISM (The external world exists after the observer does not.), which implies that the correctness of an idea (internal world) only can be determined by interacting with the external world. Most scientists would agree, but as you know, many indeterminists have proposed numerous sophisticated arguments against MATERIALISM, demonstrating that it is an unprovable assumption. I can’t prove MATERIALISM either; I only can assume it. My claim is that none of the deterministic assumptions can be proven beyond all doubt and that all have indeterministic opposites. The arguments between materialists and immaterialists are theoretically endless, simply because the Universe is, I assume, also endless. Thus, for instance, INFINITY is supported every time we find another thing in the universe; it is “falsified” every time we fail to find another thing in the universe. One can never “prove” a fundamental assumption beyond all doubt. The Big Bangers believe that they have proven that the Universe is finite, but that cannot be. The contradictions keep piling up, showing the idea to be absurd. Even after we eventually show that the Universe is infinite instead, that demonstration will not be absolute either. Such is the nature of INFINITY. I sympathize with your wish to have some a priori or absolute with which to start your thinking. The infinite Universe, however, will not allow that. It is like a merry-go-round. We have to get on somewhere. The infinite Universe makes circular reasoning unavoidable no matter how much it is ridiculed by indeterminists. It is sort of like the question of what is matter? The answer is that matter consists of other matter in motion. That bit of matter, in turn, also contains matter in motion, infinitely so. Another way to look at it is to assume that there are no partless parts. It is an eternal begging of the question. Believers in finity will disagree; classical mechanists and mathematicians will disagree, because they can only deal with equations of finite length. That is why we are having this fundamental discussion. The belief in finity is consupponible with the belief in absolutism, but, in my opinion, it does not describe the real world correctly. Being on the opposite side of the argument, you may wish to use “The Ten Assumptions of Science” in preparing your own book on “The Ten Assumptions of Religion.” I tried to do that, but failed miserably (see p. 117 of TTAOS or p. 114 of TSW). Disconnection messed everything up.


Mike said...

Since early man first tried one option against another in a primitive experiment to enable his own survival, indeterminism has been ceding ground to determinism. Determinism’s ‘street cred’ just keeps piling up. With the notable and bewildering indeterministic exceptions of - among others - the Big Bang, bending space and Stephen Hawking's stupefyingly oxymoronic description of a universe that is "finite but unbounded", deterministic assumptions have been winning the day over the indeterministic assumptions in every test to see if humanity can move forward. Determinism works and it allows learning to continue into infinity - something that is supported by experiment and observation. Indeterminism tries to say that (just to use one example) all our questions will be answered in heaven. But I’m still free to ask questions for all of eternity. Like you said: question-begging.

Of course, scientists, theologists, sociologists continue to try and tap indeterminist in hopes of accelerating the drive towards complete pictures. Because of infinity, this cannot succeed. We can only hope that the religious practitioners and theoretical physicists will have some kind of great awakening together. I can't say I'm optimistic. The human need for ultimate, final answers - religions, theories of everything - is too powerful for most people to ignore.

Anonymous said...

I am still not convinced that your 10 assumptions are axiomatic. I see your reasoning for accepting them, but they look like deductions. If your assumption is "because" of something else, it is contingent, a conclusion following a premise. True assumptions would need no elaborate, 100 page introduction; you would simply state them and build from there.

Thus, your higher principle is applicability to the real world. Your actual assumption is that a "good" principle is one that can be recapitulated in the external world. This thesis, in dialectical opposition to its antithesis ('a good principle is not necessarily recapitulated in the external world'), cannot be argued any further. It is totally arbitrary.

On the other hand, your 10 deductions are not completely arbitrary. You find reasons beyond taste to accept them, based on your assumption of what constitutes a good principle.

The concept of religion is only absurd if your actual assumption is that all good principles conform to external phenomena. If you assume that some principles do not conform to external phenomena, it is not absurd.

To make a long story short, your critique of religion is a straw man.

Glenn Borchardt said...


Glad you agree that indeterminism is a straw man. Now, see if you can get the indeterminists to agree as well. I like your idea of simply stating the ten assumptions and then continuing from there just as Mike has done. I wish it were so simple and that the indeterministic ideas did not keep showing up at every turn in the philosophical road. Their power is shown by the supposedly scientific, but nevertheless indeterministic theories surrounding currently popular mythology in cosmology. Those silly theories exist because the "straw man" of indeterminism is made of much stronger stuff than straw. I do agree that we can try to pursue our own deductions from the opposite assumptions. So let's do it...

Anonymous said...

Dear Glenn,

I don't know if you're being sarcastic or if you've never heard of a "straw man." A straw man is a fallacy in which you do not accurately represent the opposite view. You are guilty of the straw man fallacy in describing religion. Re-read my first post, and this will become clear.

Unfortunately, I think you just saw what you wanted to see. Which is rather solipsistic of you. Which is rather ironic. Ha. You a solipsist.

You profess a faith in Hegelian philosophy. Well, Hegel believed in intimate partnership of thesis and antithesis. Your desire to make opposites go away is not in line with Hegelianism, nor even in your philosophy. You're looking for absolutes in a relativistic world.

Glenn Borchardt said...

Dear Anon:

Religion is a straw man because it is illogical. What can I say? The fact that numerous otherwise intelligent folks have tried to make something of it for millenia is not unexpected in view of what is at stake. There is no imaginary man in the sky, and that's that. It is true, that after studying determinism and the opposing indeterministic assumptions, I have now made a choice. You are correct in saying that I just saw what I wanted to see. It is part of the sifting and winnowing that we learned at U.W. In with the good, out with the bad... You will have to tell the folks in Madison that they are solipsistic. They will be rather shocked at that.

"You profess a faith in Hegelian philosophy." Sorry, no such thing. Hegel was a dualist. The only thing I took from him was the Fourth Assumption of Science, INSEPARABILITY (Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion.) Too bad he didn't actually follow his own dictum. He would have given up dualism in the process. You need to reread TSW. I have no desire to make opposites go away. I needed the bad examples provided by indeterminism to be able to develop determinism. Please do not attribute absolutism to me. RELATIVISM is the Ninth Assumption of Science (All things have characteristics that make them similar to all other things as well as characteristics that make them dissimilar to all other things.) Absolutism is a primary characteristic of religion, not of science.

Anonymous said...

I need to re-read the Scientific Worldview? I think you need to re-write it. Or otherwise, conform what you write in blog posts to what you wrote in your treatise. Because at present, your philosophy is like a machine in which the motion of any particular part causes the motion of another particular part to stop, thereby killing its ability to do useful work.

I thought maybe you just misread my comment. Obviously, you don't know what a strawman is, and you are unwilling to learn. So you are being willfully ignorant. Which is a ridiculous choice for a supposed scientist or philosopher.

Even if religion were what you claim it to be, I would have to look further than your scribblings to find it. There are "good" atheistic arguments out there. I have read them. David Hume, Frederich Nietzsche, and even Richard Dawkins make you look like a fool.

Mike said...

I was wondering when ad hominem would rear its head...

So the discussion has reached the hit-job phase. This is "gotcha discourse" at its best! I knew we'd get there...

Focusing in on a misunderstanding about 'straw man' is an excuse to be dismissive. This kind of attack is used far too often in discourse of all sorts: political, scientific, philosophical... It does nothing to advance understanding.

TSW is not an atheistic tract per se. It is an exploration of a worldview that follows from 10 mutually supportive (consupponible)assumptions that leave no room in the universe for god. None at all. It's nothing personal. Glenn has dealt with infinite regresses in one way: logical assumptions based on historical success and usefulness. Indeterminism, in the guise religion, deals with regress in another way: god. One allows scientific discovery to continue; the other is just arbitrary line-drawing.

Also, Anon said:

"Because at present, your philosophy is like a machine in which the motion of any particular part causes the motion of another particular part to stop, thereby killing its ability to do useful work."

And indeterministic assumptions are the basis of useful work how, exactly? I'd still like to see that. Personally, I wouldn't know where to start.

Religion - or rather the belief in a sky-father - is logically inconsistent, and useless to furthering real understanding and even self-understanding. So religion is a straw man from our perspective because it cannot help but be represented as fallacious, since it so badly misrepresents the real world and there for kneecaps the scientific process. You have a different perspective on this, obviously. There's not much we can do about that, except keep making the case. This is why indeterminism will never be "defeated" any real sense. But, determinism general - and Glenn's deterministic assumptions specifically - allow for more science, more increase in learning. Saying "god" stops inquiry.

(N.B. - this is a hideous way to have an discussion. I wish we could all just go for a beer.)

Anonymous said...


I think you're 10 times the thinker Dr. Borchardt is. Good points all around.

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