Wednesday, October 20, 2021

On Medium: Thomas Huxley’s Scientism and the Agnostic’s False Modesty

Here's an article that explores the potential for plausible forms of agnosticism, given Thomas Huxley's implausible scientistic formulation of the initial concept.


  1. Thoughtful essay. I'm uncertain if probability figures into Kierkegaard's leap of faith; but if it did I'd put my money on the least credible choice Credo quia absurdum. If you're going to exert faith in something, then the more extravagant the better. Why waste such a wondrous capacity on a belief that's probable & perhaps even true -- that scarcely demands any faith at all?

    1. I make that point in an upcoming article, in the context of the handicap principle. The article's called, "Atheism and the Burden of Refuting the Preposterous."

  2. I didn't know his liberal economic background.

    Disappointing but naive and ignorant on my part because I never had the interest to know.
    It's always good to know about the underlying motivations that influence writers.
    This explains some of the names of BraveNewWorld dystopia, such as Lenina.

    I believe this whole debate starts with the phrase

    ''Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence''

    If you don't have any evidence of what you're saying but you also don't have any evidence to the contrary, then a symmetry has formed.

    In the case of belief in god/eternity, this is a false symmetry because there is no single TRACE of evidence for the existence of god/eternity.

    There is a spectrum of variation in skepticism and for these beliefs it is at the highest level.

    If there is a hypothesis that has not yet been fully proven, it is possible to see patterns that corroborate its veracity.

    I love the example of biological influence on human intelligence.

    There is no way to prove scientifically that this influence exists and that it is stronger than the influence of the environment.

    But there are many traces of evidence or patterns that positively corroborate to reinforce the veracity of this hypothesis.

    1. When you refer to a biological influence on human intelligence, are you talking about Huxley's social Darwinism? I believe he eventually gave that up.

    2. Not.
      His defense of social Darwinism is a conclusion from his belief in the determining influence of biology on human intelligence.

      I believe too but what I conclude is the opposite.

      social Darwinism is

      let the most adapted free dominating the world

      What I believe and propose is opposite

      It is the same as defending the free market OR its regulation by the state

    3. In other words, Darwinism is the opposite of eugenics

    4. So there's the question of what natural selection entails, and there's another question of whether the social effects of natural selection can be countered.

      Richard Dawkins emphasizes the social impact of Darwinism, but he awkwardly says we ought to derive our values elsewhere. So he also avoids social Darwinism, but only by retreating to a kind of Romantic or sentimental philosophy which doesn't fit his overall reductive outlook (the one you find in The Selfish Gene).

      Then there are biologists who say natural selection has collectivist rather than individualist implications. The question, then, is whether evolution selects for groups or for individuals (or for genes).

    5. I don't like the use of this metaphorical language "does evolution select for groups or individuals??". I could substitute the word evolution for god and I don't think it would make a difference. This may sound like divine providence but in a more secularizing way.

      I don't know if there are universal rules for evolutionary processes, but it seems to me that, regardless of the contextual circumstances of each population, these events tend to change them collectively, if individuals are essential components of any group. I can understand a phenotypic change caused by a change in the adaptive niche by altering the frequency of a certain physical or behavioral characteristic of a population. But I can't imagine it on an individual level. Would you have a specific example of "maybe evolution selects by individuals and not groups"??

    6. Natural selection has taken place in complex human societies, but not completely free or with any control or regulation, especially with modernity.

      Because high-functioning psychopaths have dominated complex societies from the start, the results of this dominance were definitely not homogeneously positive.

      Natural, in this context, is anything that is allowed or left to flow without planned control or regulation or critical analysis.

      "Let's leave the most greedy and power-hungry individuals free to compete for dominance of our society"

    7. It's what's known as the problem of the unit of natural selection. Here are some articles on it.