Thursday, September 6, 2012

Supernatural: Sibling rivalry or fraternal incest?

Here are working (coherent) definitions of "supernatural:" 1.any agent of change in the world identifiable with entities revealed by previous religions and revelations 2.any change in the world violating strongly verified laws of nature 3.effects without causes 4.effects achieved by human actions or desires with no possible causal efficacy

The first definition highlights the strange ability of believers to assign supernatural effects to their favorite supernatural being, even though the work comes unsigned.

The second definition highlights the point that poorly understood or exceedingly rare phenomena cannot be assumed to be supernatural.

The third definition highlights the issues involved in defining causality. It seems to me that many supernaturalists tend to suddenly switch to a very narrowly physicalist definition of causality, playing on interpretations of probability to spread confusion.

The fourth definition highlight the need to consider the bias from wishful thinking in our studies.

I think supernaturalists also tend to share these basic definitions but commonly equivocate between the various meanings of "supernatural" while making arguments. That seems to be the problem, rather than a conceptual incoherence. Besides, an empirical approach can still make progress despite conceptual incoherence. If you consider science as a model of the universe, the existence of phenomena which are not yet understood implies that all science heretofore (and for the foreseeable future) are incoherent. Philosophy is interested in the valid instead of the incoherent, but science is concerned with the true, regardless of whether we understand it completely clearly.

Reposted from Larry Moran's Sandwalk blog. This is my diary, so I can point out that the supernaturalists also switch from supporting each other against the naturalists (fraternal incest) to fighting each other over their favorite supernatural agent. Which, by the way, also includes karma and maya and the dao and yin and yang and the qi and the five elements. Which rules out the mystifying exemption of "Oriental" religions.

But even more controversially, it does not rule out some, maybe even all, versions of Mathematical Platonism, which might include structural realism. (More anon, eventually.) Science is constantly being infiltrated!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Piglucci's Call to Arms

Steven Novella at Neurologica was so bold as to address Piglucci's attack on bad skeptics. I think he failed. My post below.

Dear Professor Novella,
You write "Massimo’s point is that, as a community, we need to constantly remind ourselves that, while we respect and aspire to reason, we are imperfect and subject to bias and motivated reasoning just like every other human being."
Prof. Pigliuccki does write "The point of this list, I hasten to say, is not that the opinions that I have expressed on these topics are necessarily correct, but rather that a good number of people in the CoR, including several leaders of the movement(s), either hold to clearly unreasonable opinions on said topics, or cannot even engage in a discussion about the opinions they do hold, dismissing any dissenting voice as crazy or irrelevant." The opinions themselves are held to be unreasonable. Perhaps he feels he personally doesn't "dimiss" unreasonable opinions, much less imply they are "crazy or irrelevant," and those who hold unreasonable opinions do. But this clearly implies that it is first of all the rationality of certain opinions he is attacking, not just bad manners. I think you misrepresent him.
In fact, I dare say that when Prof. Pigliucci is so kind as to label his targets A, B and C, we should take him at his word. Prof. Pigliucci is not reminding us to be humble and mild-mannered, he is attacking A) anti-intellectualism, B) I'm smarter than you syndrome and C) failure of leadership.
As for his assault on A, he quickly aims his fire at..."scientism." He add anti-intellectualism "proper" next. This is frankly what political writers have called an amalgam, falsely lumping together two different things to rhetorically taint the one with the other. Whatever your feelings about so-called scientism, redefining it as anti-intellectualism means excluding science from the sphere of intellect.
And looking at his list of objectionable opinions, it is by no means clear which (any, even?) are in fact attributable to "scientism." Why do you accept that scientism, whatever you conceive it to be, is anti-intellectualism and that it is responsible for these irrational opinions? And if you don't, why haven't you articulated your disagreement with Prof. Pigliucci on this key point?
Could I suggest instead that it is the undefined nature of skepticism that invites people who hold these irrational opinions? One thing skepticism notably is not, is neither simple atheism nor even scientific materialism. If skepticism were either, it wouldn't be upheld as something separate and better, after all. But, if skepticism is better than materialism, won't people who reject science's materialism sometimes become skeptics? Won't people who reject materialism's dogmatic certainty about science's ability to describe reality sometimes become skeptics?
Isn't the real cure for this kind of embarrassment being a thorough-going discussion as to what metaphysical beliefs skepticism really does hold. If it is anti-realist, or agnostic on the existence or knowability of reality, mustn't it therefore admit to its ranks those who hold what some of us would unhesitatingly affirm to be irrational?
I admit that actually defining skepticism would be a fractious business. But since Prof. Pigliucci is in so many words arguing that the skeptic movement already includes people who are irrational, he is already arguing the movement should be fractionated between the rational and nice as against the irrational and not nice. Instead of a laundry list of specific issues and complaints about people's behavior, wouldn't it be better to clarify thinking about what skepticism really means in terms of ontology, metaphysics, epistemology? It's not materialism or atheism, so what is it?
As for his assault on B, this secondary target is what he perceives as the attitude of too many skeptics. As such, the mere existence of a widespread "I'm smarter than thou" syndrome is as questionable as the use of the pronoun thou. This is a nicely invidious motive to ascribe to people. I also daresay that there are quite a few motives at work in the people whom he dislikes. After all, this is about people whom he dislikes, first for their irrational opinions and secondly for their inability to politely argue their case.
I'm not sure it is legitimate to blend these two criticisms together, but he does. In particular, the importance of the internet means that the contradictions between a public forum and a private blog creates an anarchy of standards. With the best will in the world it is not possible for the same manners to serve in a public debate and a private correspondence.
At any rate, those people who are genuinely concerned that religious fanaticism is a rising menace (to cite one common example,) are not going to be as placid as the professor wishes. To dismiss their ardor as "I'm smarter than thou" really seems to be intentionally demeaning. This is particularly striking in a supposed plea for civilized debate! I'm sure there are other emotions at work in some of the people whose opinions and manners Prof. Pigliucci. My anecdotal but vast experience of people tells me they have all sorts of reasons for their behavior, not just one.
It is also particularly striking that there is no logical connection demonstrated between the problem of anti-intellectualism and the laundry list of behavioral modifications Prof. Pigliucci proposes! There is an implicit demand for deference by others to his professional credentials, I think. That isn't actually an argument. Perhaps I'm misreading and Prof. Pigliucci really does mean to argue that believing only science provides knowledge is irrational. But that argument isn't there either.
As for his assault on C, the bad leaders of the CoR, his vade mecum of skeptical etiquette, is indeed aimed directly at certain people. By their absence we can guess Richard Dawkins (is he a "skeptic?") Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers et al. Now I'm sure that being part of the charmed circle  of approved leaders makes it seem ungrateful to disagree that these should be drummed out of a movement that not only isn't organized, but has no agreed upon principles. I should daresay that this list really has no meaningful role to play in combating anti-intellectualism. But it's not really a program, is it? It's really a bill of indictment. As I read your comments on this aspect of Prof. Piglucci's post, it really seems as though you wish that the bad leaders would plead guilty in return for probation/suspended sentence. Is it really reasonable to think it can work out like that?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Professor Roughgarden

Professor Roughgarden, the participatory experience you praise as the true meaning of religion (as opposed to superstitious faith,) includes far more than you will admit.

It includes the Sunday segregation hour.

It includes the religious schools that don't just get around segregation laws but teach creationism as science.

It includes the megachurches whose missions in Africa exorcise demons and support politicians who legislate punishment for immoral people.

It includes fraudulent Christian counseling for individuals and families, purporting to help but in fact pushing their reactionary morality.

It includes teaching parents to reject their gay children.

It includes teaching ignorant people that Palestine belongs to the Jews instead of the Palestinians.

It includes teaching that America is Chosen.

It teaches that God is not just an American Patriot but a Conservative, if not even a registered Republican.

It teaches that human nature is not just sinful but immutably sinful and that only God can change things for the better.

It teaches that the world will end at God's will and we cannot shape the future for our posterity.

And especially it teaches that if you are so depraved as to really notice what religion offers besides promises of magical rewards is the warmth of being in an in-group that is holier than the others, well, it teaches that all you have to do is use your own personal moral superiority and better taste to just pick another, better church or religion or synagogue. It teaches that it is reasonable to deny that anything other than personal preference stands as a legitimate critique of religion.

Someone I love is suffering not just from lung cancer but from the belief that God is punishing her for her sins. In despair she has missed appointments, delayed treatments, failed to comply with therapy. seeing this I'm reminded that the enemies of humanity are not just in pulpits but include people like you, who've elevated your self-regard for your own social manners to the criterion of moral principle. It is a hateful and contemptible principle.

You're not one of the good guys, you're one of the villains.

Attempted to post above at Rationally Speaking, which I keep forgetting is a fake forum.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Interview with a Naked Brain

I conducted an interview with written questions with a naked brain, this one named Massimo Piglucci, with explanatory background. This was posted previously. The replies are in! Only the questions and answers however are reprinted below.

Interviewer: Doesn't this example [of  nonscientistic objections] suggest that the attribution of the hodge podge of positions widely held by skeptics that you dislike are not attributable to scientism?

Piglucci: "     "
Translation: I don't like scientistic people but I can call anyone I don't like scientistic and I'm a professional philosopher and don't have to justify my opinion. I'm a believer in philosophical rationalism instead of realism, which puts me at odds with real scientists. Therefore I must attack scientism, a duty which far exceeds getting right piddling details about people I don't like.

I:  Is it not possible that the nature of the skeptical movement is so mixed because skepticism is undefined?

P: "     "
Translation: If I define skepticism, it would mean I couldn't criticize people for not being good skeptics on grounds they don't agree with me. Also, if I am clear about being an anti-realist, for instance, people might be able to articulate criticisms of me. If I am unclear about what I believe, I can dismiss most criticisms as misunderstandings by obtuse people.

I: Is it not possible that clarifying the metaphysical presuppositions would be more useful?
P: "     "
Translation: It would only be useful in really understanding the issues, not in supporting my position. I didn't quite understand your grammar about what is "not scientism in any ordinary sense" but I'm not interested in understanding your position. It might be reasonable criticism. It is rude to jab people with pointed questions you can't answer without admitting implicitly you might be wrong.

I: In fact, is it possible that emphasizing niceness above all else can lead to gross error?

P: "     "
Translation: Niceness is more important than truth. Niceness is what makes the world pleasant for me, and quarrelsome people who keep jabbing pointed questions at me should be ignored.

I: Since so much of this boils down to not liking people's bad manners for holding positions you disagree with, such as scientism, the final question is, why are your feelings privileged?

P: "If you think that what I have written, including links to previous posts, amount to just feelings about people I disagree with, I can only say you have missed much of the point, and I don't have the energy or time to restart from scratch."

As you should expect, none of the links in his post were relevant to the questions asked.

Obviously it is personally very aggravating to try to ask serious questions with paragraphs trying to make them perfectly clear, just to be ignored, to be insolently dismissed. It takes a lot of gall to claim I missed the point when he clearly ignored everything I asked. Particularly since his actual program did in fact boil down to attacks on people he didn't like (not naming them directly is a petty subterfuge if you ask me.) Well, I guess that's what being a philosopher is all about.

Despite the personal rudeness, naturally I still try to see what else he may be driving at that I missed. I reconsidered his point B, about "skeptics" and "atheists" and "humanists"  (not scare quotes, I have only a vague suspicion what the man could possibly mean) feeling superior. I have no doubt that this occurs, inasmuch it occurs in all voluntary groups in some degree. It seems to be a social bonding mechanism. And I am sure that a man such as himself who joins such groups regularly sees it more often. Nonetheless this is so categorical I tend to suspect projection, not even anecdotal impression. Certainly it lacks very much sensitivity to other human beings. People are so various it is on the face of it unlikely that this kind of petty judgmentalism has much chance of being right.

His phrase about a culture of insults really gives away his game I think. It's just people gettting excited, and invested in their opinions. In particular, his notion that atheists and skeptics and humanists aren't afraid of the people with the strange ideas is kind of offensive. It's like sneering at us for getting worked up over nothing. The notion that we might be angry about the crimes justified by these strange beliefs is also rather offensive. Piglucci may think this is all really sort of a game he plays as he climbs the academic ladder but some of us really have strong feelings about public affairs. Piglucci has already made it plain he considers decorum more important than reality, but honestly, the point bears repetition. Lastly, there are those of us who have a hobby of trying to put together a model of the world. As a professional philosopher, Piglucci is professionally rewarded for dissing such aspirations. No doubt it is incomprehsible to a climber whose reward is rather worldly success that the feeling of understanding is about as close to a feeling of power that many of us will ever have. We are, each of us, Gods when we play with our model of the universe. (Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator playing with the globe!) Professor Piglucci, the Public Philosopher, doesn't even want us to be permitted that much! We are to have nothing, not even dreams.

What kind of a man finds his feelings about proper decorum so important he attacks so many?

As I was saying...

The Popperazi's problem with induction keeps making them say silly stuff. Richard Dawkins posted a claim that a single fossil could refute the theory of evolution. Laurence Moran properly rebutted this. My comment follows.

Of course Prof. Moran is correct.

If, that is, you do not accept the falsificationist mantra. Dawkins' statement is scientifically wrong, grossly disrespecting the factual content of science as it really is. But it is philosophically respectable, and particularly popular with those who want to adhere to a predictivist vision of science. It seems to me that this position is held by a majority of scientists whenever they talk about science outside their professional journals.

My best judgment is that this philosophical viewpoint is so popular because of its origins in Popper's anti-Communism, which is not a dead issue. It is also adaptable to attacks on supposedly liberal viewpoints in the social sciences, as in evolutionary psychology. Consult the works of Steven Pinker for the current leader in pop science philosophizing in the US.

The thing is, errors like Dawkins' are not a simple misunderstanding of science, but outcomes of a conservative world outlook. Isn't probable that you can't make progress in refuting such nonsense without demonstrating the bias that led to it?

Prof. Moran followed up with a link to T. Ryan Gregory, which was an excellent detailed rebuttal. Being me, it seemed more could be said. My comment follows.

Pretty good article. In practice, if you look at the contemporary evidence from embryology and genetics showing common descent, the testing and exploration of the idea lead directly to writing the history of life. This is particularly true since paleontological evidence provides fossil evidence that raises a host of questions about the history of life (path, as you put it.) But, separating the fact of common descent from its history highlights the point that corrections to the science does not erase the mountain of evidence confirming the broad generalization of evolution. It is very common to talk about science as something provisional. In all everyday language something provisional is a short-term arrangement, equally liable to complete abolition as to correction. Strongly corroorated inductions like evolution are corrigible, not provisional.
Although what you say about Coyne’s version of evolution is impressively cogent and correct, might it not be possible to comment on the pattern in his recension? 1. It seems to me Coyne limits himself to microevolution rather than macroevolution because controlled experiments are possible there in a way unfeasible to macroevolution, which must rely on historical evidence. Many natural scientists (and more philosophers) deny a priori the possibility of an historical science. 2. I think he conceives gradualism as an essential component because the population genetics of natural selection requires gradual change. I think he’s making a claim that natural selection is the main driver of change, to the extent that it’s falsification would refute evolution. 3. I think that here Coyne is tacitly conceding the existence of a huge body of paleontological data demonstrating the reality of macroevolution without actually saying anything about macroevolution. Again, I think he is extremely uncomfortable about the scientificity of historical sciences, even the natural historical sciences. Certainly Popperians are, and this article is pretty explicitly Popperian. 4.What Coyne himself calls the converse of #3 is desirable because it starts from the experimentally available present instead of the suspect past. By those lights, I suppose this is not superfluous. 5. Prof. Coyne directs much of his commentary to people tempted by creationism. The real point of defining natural selection causing the appearance of design as essential to evolution is to highlight its nature as a scientific explanation.
Notably (I think) the proposed falsifications appear to imply that evolution is something even narrower than the five point list above. 1. The point about fossils may be Popperian. Occasionally, as here, I see a scientist implying that’s kind of foolish. But my powerful impression is that both the majority of scientists and the large majority of lay people adhere to predictivism and falsifiability and such Popperian folderol. If you believe this, it is in principle “reasonable” to regard evolution as a provisional hypothesis awaiting falsification by fossis etc. stuff. Hence, the importance of emphasizing the many times evolution has survived falsification, instead of simply pointing to the evidence.
2. The emphasis on the selfishness of adaptations is the selfish gene or Spencerian survival of the fittest Social Darwinism considered the essence of Darwinian theory. 3. The emphasis on genetic variety within a species is deemed essential because it is the material for intraspecific competition, key to projecting Darwinian struggle into society.Social Darwinist justifications for the social order are only as powerful as the alleged biological differences in individuals. 4.The key point for Coyne I think is the increasing fitness of adaptations. The Social Darwinist names the survivor as superior, not just lucky, not just a random variation, not just another step in a predetermined process, but inherently superior. 5. In many respects this is just #2 restatedin intraspecific rather than interspecific terms. Evidently Coyne regards selfishness as absolutely essential to his view of evolution.
#6. This restates the selfishness of genes yet again, this time in terms of behavior. This is implicitly aimed against the notion of culture, I think. All these suggest an agenda of defending evolutionary psychology’s version of evolution. I gather that Coyne would deny this. But something like this post or his absurd defense of Steven Pinker’s lame intervention against Edward O. Wilson say otherwise. His outrage at Wilson really seems to have little other ground.
7. The key term is “complete discordance” I think. This is entirely true I think. Your objection that we would rethink evolution actually concedes the point I believe. If genetic and fossil data were completely discordant, our scientific views really wouldn’t be what we would now consider “evolution.” But this is completely counterfactual. Nature has already done that experiment and the results are in. This is more or less a waste of time, unless you buy into Popperism.
Thanks for the post.

No typos were harmed in the making of this post.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Naked Brains Strutting the Catwalk

We are told that there is a problem of induction. Commonly it is held that David Hume is the one who articulated this devastating critique of empiricism most succinctly, but I gather the experts better like Pyrrho and Carneades and possibly other ancient Greeks. Basically, we cannot draw conclusions to causality by associating a sequence of events. Just because we have seen the passage of time end each night with day, we cannot conclude that time causes the end of night. We merely associate them. There might be an exception in the future. At best, the objection says, we can only regard this induction as provisional.

I rather tend to agree that Hume was aiming his fire more at philosophy. His famous comment about consigning works that were not about quantity (mathematics, in other words) or about matters of fact (what we would think of now as the sciences) powerfully suggests this to me, as to others. The ideal, abstract ego is only aware of a sequence of sense impressions. In popular but unphilosophical thought, from real organs providing real data about the real world. But philosophy only concerns itself with logically valid a priori arguments and an ideal abstract ego, the naked brain, has only subjective experiences. The technical term now I think is "qualia." We cannot establish by any logical a priori argument that qualia give us any reliable information about the real world. Indeed we cannot establish that any person's qualia are in any way similar to another person's qualia.

With a wonderful economy of effort, such notions lead us into error in not one, but two directions. Who says there has been no progress in philosophy? First, the tacit assumption of individualism rules out the data from the collective enterprise of science, beginning with the most basic observations. Every person who has fed an infant a bitter substance has seen the same faces that we ourselves might make upon tasting the same substance.

We could do formal experiments along the same lines with controls and such, but professional scientists have better things to do than waste time. For one thing, we know from such phenomena as Daltonism or phantom limb pain or synesthesia, as well as the homely optical illusions or less homely hallucinations that the senses do not provide a direct, complete or inarguably correct knowledge of the world. Nonetheless, the bulk of our daily experience only makes sense if other people do in some way sense the same things more or less as we do.

Much of the time it appears to be the same kind of sensation, qualia, as well. One may like bitter coffee and another like sweet tea, but they can reliably taste test for the other. Naturally, people generally agree with themselves as to the qualia. It is interesting to note that this is not perfect, as nothing ever seems to be. Still,  a true explanation should address the usual case as well as the falsifying exceptions. The insistence that qualia have mystical properties does not do this. Insofar as qualia, if such a nebulous concept can be held to be a coherent idea, are truly unknowable, insofar their relevance is questionable. The imperfections of the senses, both errors and limitations, are why measurement and comparison of different points of view (both geographically and temporally) are essential components of the collective verification process, science, broadly considered.

There is however the oft overlooked difficulty the supposed problem of induction presents for the naked brain. The naked brain is that peculiar entity that has no connections to the real world, whose sense organs, including even kinesthesia and balance, are stripped away. We might think the naked brain an unhappy organ, bereft of all contact with the outside world. We might think that this wrinkly mass might fail to learn to talk, like the stories of feral children. But the philosophers' naked brain, is by a literally convoluted logic, a beauty. It struts the catwalk invisibly adorned like a fairy tale emperor by the introverted Platonic forms called qualis. Throughout philosophy classes across the land, gorgeous cloud castles of logical apriori arguments spray out like glowing pixie dust.

I myself am homely: The beautiful minds of the philosophers never look back at me from my mirror. And if I look inward for my beautiful naked brain, all I see are sensuous memories and learned abstractions. I think that there is such a thing as a solid object because I associate a sequence of sensations with what I induce to be something real. When I cannot legitimately induce the existence of an outward reality by the mere association of sensations (however imperfect and need of scientific reconstruction,) or even by the shifty qualia, then my naked brain disappears with my fatuously naive empiricism. Personally, like John Locke, I can't think of a single observation of my brain, as opposed to the outside world. It must be indecently clothed. There arealso  a pititful handful of abstractions, but honestly I can't say any of them are decently philosophical intuitions. All my abstract ideas came from pages and pixels, conversations and culture. These posts sketching out a rough and ready scientific weltanschauung may like citations but that's because they aren't scholarly papers.

We can immediately conclude that  a philosopher of science, who claims to find a problem in induction, is a figment of the imagination. If they truly believed that, they should be concerned with justifying the illusion of consciousness, not attacking scientific thinkers (great, professional and amateur.) If they don't, they are imposing their figment upon the gullible. I say this because I am going to arrogantly declare that those who are gifted with superior intuition of qualia and the naked brain are citing a personal authority I cannot find any confirmatory evidence for. I can't falsify the argument, which many seem to imagine is all they need. But a reason to disbelieve is not a reason to believe. They have no reason for us to believe there is a genuine problem of induction.

The rest of you may admire the beauties strutting the catwalk, preening for the admiration of the viewers.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Massimo Piglucci attacked the supposedly scientistic and anti-illectual thinkers in the skeptical movement and the bad manners of internet posters. Skepticism historically has been associated with a certain kind of conservatism. Like Hume, often the practitioners are trying to find a middle ground between religion and materialism, that rules out religios bigotry while also ruling out any materialist nonsense about the equality of persons. (No, science has not established any superiority of persons save the rather obvious one that the young do not possess their full powers yet.) There doesn't really seem to be any difference about the modern skeptical movement. They want to be anti-leftist without being outright superstitious reactionaries. Since this is not a principled position, you get an extraordinary variety of incompatible positions in the movement. Piglucci has been distressed apparently. On the one hand he can't help but attack people for wrong thinking but on the other he can't really object to anything but manners. I'm not altogether sure whether he wants to be the philosophical pope or just the Miss Manners. It is sad to see a professional philosopher be so confused. Philosophy doesn't concern itself with truth but it is supposed to concern itself with valid arguments and clarity of thought generally!

Here's my post at Rationally Speaking, with a sentence fragment deleted (and possible paragraphing changes due to cut-and-paste.)

As near as I can tell, the belief that the social sciences are "soft" is justified by Popperism, the belief that science can only falsify predictions. Crudely put, science is doing experiments: Ergo, no social science. Popper of course had notorious problems with the historical science of evolution. Popperism of course is philosophy, one of the most non-embalmed philosophies. It seems to be quite a stretch to accuse the Popperazis of being scientistic when one of their main goals is to deny that there is such a thing as an historical science.

Doesn't this example suggest that the attribution of the hodge podge of positions widely held by skeptics that you dislike are not attributable to scientism? Is it not possible that the nature of the skeptical movement is so mixed because skepticism is undefined?  "Skepticism" is a visceral felling of anger at unwarranted certainty, a distaste for dogmatism (defined as a pomposity.) Thus a person who feels that people ranting about science showing there is no God is arrogant notes that science cannot address religion. 

But if one objects "skepticism" is also an epistemological position, it is unclear how it is different from philosophical materialism. It must be different, because its proponents set themselves up in opposition to philosophical materialism.  One thing "skepticism" seems to say, is that "science" is, variously, not knowledge in any philosophically meaningful sense; not the only path to knowledge; that agnosticism about ontological questions is is not only coherent but reasonable; the empirical component of knowledge derived from philosophy, logic and math; a (merely?) pragmatic substitute for true knowledge which is or may be unattainable, and peculiar combinations of all. Of course none of this is scientism in any ordinary sense of the word.

As used here, "scientism" appears to shrink down to the belief that the idea of free will is absurd; that the universe is deterministic; that science cannot address morals because of the is/ought distinction. The post above is careful to define free will as the power to make decisions which is not what anybody else I know of means by free will. Nor does it make a positive affirmation that the universe is undetermined. Also it concedes that science may inform moral reasoning. My best judgment is that the power to make decisions is completely irrelevant; that the prima facie case is that the notion of an undetermined universe is incoherent even in philosophy; that saying science can "inform" moral discussion is a literally meaningless concession, leaving us with the assertion that the is/ought divide is an unbridgeable chasm, a position I'm sorry to say I think is embarrassingly wrong, no matter how popular it is.

Whether you accept the counterobjections to your skeptical propositions about scientism is kind of irrelevant. Because frankly, it seems to me that skepticism, being an, ah, eclectic opposition to materialism can still admit such positions. By the definition of skepticism as taking offense at someone's arrogance of course these positions are plainly scientistic. I suppose that explains the insistence that better skepticism boils down to better manners will lead to a better skeptical movement. Is it not possible that clarifying the metaphysical presuppositions would be more useful?

In fact, is it possible that emphasizing niceness above all else can lead to gross error? Consider your insistence that it is unreasonable to label religious education as child abuse. You asked "why a secular education wouldn’t be open to the same charge, if done as indoctrination (and if it isn’t, are you really positive that there are no religious families out there who teach doubt?" The first question equates secularism with religion, which is dubious. The answer is simple, that secular education doesn't teach superstition. As for the second, "doubt" can be and often is simply anti-intellectualism. Plenty of skeptics have that, which in other contexts offends you, as you made clear in your post, and plenty of religious too. As for the hypothetical example of a family which teaches their children the scientific arguments against religous superstitions, I can only point out that is a secular education, not a religious education.

The real problem with your complaint is that you refuse to draw a conclusion because it is unpalatable. You feel it would be rude to imply so many parents are harming their children with a religious education. And this supposed rudeness is unacceptable. As I understand it, that is a gross fallacy. What you need to show is why we should accept that a religious education might be beneficial to children. Good luck with that one.

Since so much of this boils down to not liking people's bad manners for holding positions you disagree with, such as scientism, the final question is, why are your feelings privileged?