Pro-Dalai Lama petition

A followup to our previous story about this:

The anti-Dalai Lama SFN speech petition is at:

http://www.petitiononline.com/sfn2005/

A newer, pro-Dalai Lama SFN speech petition is at:

http://www.petitiononline.com/sfn2005a/

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5 thoughts on “Pro-Dalai Lama petition

  1. It’s about time that a counter-petition started circulating. Just glancing through the signatures on the anti-Dalai Lama speech petition shows some confusion — a lot of people who, from their comments on the petition, appear to be in support of the lecture seem to have signed it. Looking at this page of signatures, I found at least two people who indicate that they support the lecture in their comments! Strangeness!

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  2. I am agnostic about whether he should speak there. However, I don’t like the following line in the pro-Lama petition:

    Indeed, science can be viewed as its own sort of religion, a faith that this or that theory alone represents the most logical or most parsimonious explanation of one’s observations – and thus the very opposition to mixing religion and science may itself be a form of religious belief!

    While it would take 10 pages to clearly articulate what is wrong with this paragraph from a philosophical angle, but the petition otherwise makes an excellent to which this line adds nothing, and detracts significantly. This is the kind of argument you get from the creationists. It conflates belief (to take something as true) with faith (to take something as true despite there being a lack of evidence). Since its inception during the Enlightenment, modern science has run counter to faith, refusing to allow introspective revelation or appeal to authority to fix beliefs. Rather, the guiding epistemic principles became evidence and rational argument. This obsession with evidence and logic is still in place, not because of unfounded faith, but because it has been shown (empirically) to be the best way to understand how nature works. Faith will not show us the effects of meditation on the brain. Science, and only science, will reveal such effects.

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  3. yeah, i have to agree with Eric, the petition would have been stronger without that sentence. it is not neccessary to agree with that sentence in order to agree with the rest of the petition, so all it can do is scare people away. Maybe someone (Eric?) should create a third petition which leaves out that sentence but is otherwise identical.

    My personal stance is that science is similar to a religion only in that, in both cases, a skeptic could argue you to a draw and force you to admit that your justifications of your beliefs ultimately depend on some “axioms” which you accept “on faith” (but the type of axioms used in science and religion are very different). Also, sociologically, both are ideologies and hence there are some social/cultural processes that they both share.

    But just saying that science is a religion, without qualification, implies a bunch of other attributes typical of religions, which I don’t think is correct.

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  4. It is indeed unfortunate that they included a paragraph that is questionable philosophically, and indeed, that they included a paragraph of cheesy philosophy of science at all. To actually address the issues brought up would, unfortunately bring us into the thick of epistemological disputes. The picture of knowledge that people have, which Bayle alludes to, is one of logical deduction. Say I make deduction with premises P1..PN. Well, how do I know that P1 is true. Do I have an argument for that? If so, what about the premises used to argue for P1? And so on, you get an infinite regress. Descartes set epistemology on a garden path for over 300 years, trying to find axiomatic beliefs that we can know with certainty (‘I think therefore I am’ was the first axiomi). This kind of approach is called foundationalism in epistemology, and frankly I think the paragraph is operating under this kind of (intuitively appealing) unproductive epistemic theory. Under this theory, you end up obsessing about things like whether there is really an external world and other masterbatory problems.

    Nowadays in philosophy very few people take this Cartesian approach seriously. Especially since Quine, philosophers have come to think that there are no first principles from which all true beliefs can be derived. The axiomatic analogy does not work for the human condition because we start out in the middle of a messy world, struggling to make sense of what we see, and science is a particular growth out of this process. The metaphor isn’t a building foundation, but a ‘web of belief’, in which some beliefs play a more central role (e.g., there is an external world), and others a more peripheral role and are modifiable by evidence (e.g., there is a cup on the table). Instead of foundations, there are central beliefs that play a role in so many inferences, and which are so successful on a pragmatic level, that we are very much unlikely to change them. These core beliefs are not accepted on faith, but (I imagine) are supported in a kind of Bayesian-net kind of fashion: the likelihood that they are false, given all our evidence and other beliefs, is very low. However, no individual belief is certain, nothing is immutable, and we continue to rebuild the raft of knowledge as we float about on it navigating the world.

    Man, I must be freakin’ tired.

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  5. I’m also very upset by this issue; one of the reasons I find neuroscience such a fascinating area is entirely because of its potential for understanding religion, and even political behaviour. The Dalai Lama has expressed his interest in science forcefully on numerous occasions, and even said that in areas where buddhist scriptures disagree with what has been scientifically proven, the scriptures should be changed. That strikes me as a highly enlightened position to take for a religious leader. (I realise that this sounds somewhat odd, given his beliefs about reincarnation, but in his defence, I don’t think science is really capable of disproving reincarnation, at least not yet — to me at least, that’s one of the difficulties concerning religions. At least he’s expressed a wish to keep an open mind!)

    Unfortunately, I also agree with Eric about the counter-petition; I didn’t think that it addressed the real issues involved in this debate, and I’m a little nervous that it will do more harm than good.

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