I apologize if this is stupid. But there's something I can't quite reconcile and I would appreciate your help. Scientism is this sort of dogmatic view that says “any question science can't answer is meaningless.” However, it seems like you use science to dismiss various metaphysical schemes that entail morality or the supernatural, which makes plenty of sense. Yet you turn around sometimes and say “well we shouldn't dismiss everything, because we don't know the limits of science, and it may well be more limited than we think.”
It seems to me like you have one foot in the door. You use science when it's convenient for dismissing theism and various metaphysics. Yet you reject science when it might suggest that holding onto the manifest image [the prescientific account of the self] at all is pointless. In other words, you seem to want to be able to build morality in line with scientific conclusions, and reject morality and metaphysics that are not in line with scientific conclusions. This is where my problem comes in. If you say science is practiced as scientism, then why are we limiting what we consider to be possible? For example, the multiverse formulation of QM [or chaos theory and the ecological perspective in biology] might make the mechanistic view moot. We should then also consider that the reductionistic view of consciousness could be flawed. [Thus, contrary to scientism, science itself seems limited.] But again, you turn around and use science to show the flaws in other systems of thought, seemingly on the basis that science is a better explanatory tool.
I know that's not exactly straightforward, and quite jumbled. But I'm curious where you draw the line. I want to know how you feel you use science to destroy certain metaphysics or morality competently, while maintaining that science also does not have this all-encompassing reach. How does it go just far enough to get your work done, without going quite all the way? What justifies aesthetic morality over Christian/slave morality? Would it not be possible that because human beings have, say, a biological intuition that other people are ends-in-themselves, we could consider that intuition an aesthetically pleasing object, even if clichéd? If we could make the world more egalitarian and less dominated, wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?
I guess part of my problem is about where to draw the line with your aesthetic morality. Once science destroys metaphysics and morality, what is there left to cling to? And if we're going to allow that science can't give us normative or subjective answers, why then must we destroy, for example, a Kantian conception of morality? Simply because it ultimately derives from Christianity?
Do you see where I'm coming from? I'm not attacking your conception. These are questions I struggle with generally. And they're questions that I've found few satisfying answers to. You touch on them in your blog, but I still don't quite see a cohesive synthesis on this front. Any illumination would be greatly appreciated.
Some of your questions touch on the debate I've been having with Scott Bakker. I'll try to clarify my account for you. First, we've got to be clearer on some of the terms. I reject scientism, not science. Scientism is the self-refuting philosophy that says science is cognitively unlimited. On the contrary, science is limited because it has no normative implications. Thus, the whole domain of normative questions is left to philosophy and religion to sort out. The naive self-image is committed to there being meaning, purpose, and morality, and the naturalist who thinks this self-image isn't just a delusion must find a way to naturalize those phenomena. I try to do that by speaking of evolution, complexification, and emergent properties.
By contrast, Bakker discounts the phenomena as mere delusions. I think the self-image is partly illusory and can become delusory in the form of exoteric theism, but I also think the subjective, inner realm of consciousness, self-control, imagination, and creativity is important (it's where the existential struggle happens) and isn't yet reducible to neural mechanisms. To be sure, scientists have a lot to say about our nature, but folk psychology as a model of the mind is still indispensible for practical purposes. Whether that utility counts as cognitive depends on whether you’re a realist or a pragmatist about science, and I don’t see how Scott Bakker can afford to be a realist, given his minimalist ontology which excludes intentionality and truth. Pragmatically speaking, there are just more or less useful (fruitful, testable, etc.) models. Talking about our limited self-control, for example, is useful because it helps explain how we're manifestly different from the other animals. When we reduce ourselves entirely to mechanisms, we just change the topic and lose sight of much of the evidence of our uniqueness.
Also, I reject neither religion nor theism, but mainly their exoteric (flagrantly irrational, reactionary, superstitious, inane, clichéd, archaic) versions. I'd reject some esoteric religions as well, namely those that aren't compatible with philosophical naturalism or that entail some creepy New Age con. And I don't use science to discredit religion so much as I use reason generally. Through philosophical naturalism, science refutes exoteric theism (especially religious fundamentalism), but I'm a philosopher, not a scientist, so I refer more to the philosophical arguments.
You're asking, then, whether I'm being inconsistent or arbitrary in my appeal to reason. How do I preserve some moralities and religions while discounting others? Again, this isn't a question for science. Scientismists run into the naturalistic and genetic fallacies when they try to use science to shut out all such nonscientific issues. So that's a principled reason not to dismiss all morality and religion on scientific grounds. In any case, my esoteric standards are largely aesthetic. I reject moralities and religions that are ugly, according to my artistic taste. That might seem arbitrary, but it's not, contrary to some postmodern aesthetes. Nor is the aesthetic approach incompatible with naturalism; on the contrary, an emphasis on human creativity flows nicely with the cosmological account of the universe's undead creativity.
Slave morality is just a rationalization for resentment towards masters (sociopathic power elites) for their mistreatment of slaves (automated betas and social outsiders). Disgust with the elites is justified, but the Christian myths that are based on that disgust are both artistically and existentially inferior, since they depend on delusion and thus don't foster personal authenticity. An exoteric Christian doesn't take up this aesthetic perspective on her religion or recognize that the Christian gospel is just a fiction to cover up for the ancient Jews’ omega resentment towards their Roman masters. Instead, these Christians literalize their metaphors and myths, degrading themselves in the process. Their religion is appalling because it holds back great art. The Renaissance happened in Europe despite Christianity, because of a resurgence of ancient Greek ideals, preserved by Muslims. Christianity is for betas, not omegas, and omegas make for better artists.
So it’s not so much a matter of science or reason “destroying” some metaphysical system or myth. Metaphysics and religious myths are aesthetic matters because they're fictions! We don't turn to science when we interpret our favourite stories. We wrestle with them as they challenge our deepest convictions; art changes our perspective, our character, and our framework for interpreting our experience. Art has the existential role of facilitating our interpretations of the meaning of human life. All such meaning is subjective, just as the heroes in our fictional narratives are objectively unreal. But this doesn't mean we should or even can dispense with aesthetic evaluations, nor does it mean that all fictions are equally valid. Ultimately, I admire those fictions that blow me away. Any myth which seems stale, half-hearted, or uninspired I dismiss on aesthetic grounds.
Also, if the myth is interpreted as having supernatural implications, as in the case of exoteric theism, I employ reason (not just science) in defense of naturalism. Naturalistic metaphysics is likewise a fiction in that it's partly the work of artistic philosophy, but I defend it for the Nietzschean reason of wanting to grapple with the worst-case scenario. So my defense of naturalism is partly ethical and pragmatic, not just rationalistic. (I reject hyper-rationalism along with scientism.)
You ask why we don't create optimistic, people-friendly myths instead of just dark, cynical ones. This might partly be a matter of taste, but I also happen to think that naturalism has unpleasant implications, such as atheism and humiliating Darwinism. So again, while we can create whatever fictions we like, the best stories will be the most useful ones to us in our existential predicament. In the postmodern age, this means that myths should help reconcile us to naturalism. Happy-talking myths are bound to skip over the unsettling truths of what we really are (e.g. by positing an immaterial spirit or an afterlife) and thus they'll fail as artworks in the existential context.