Casting out demons, or, the modern god of the gaps

February 17, 2014 § 24 Comments

I’ve spoken before about positivism: about how the enlightened modern insists that everything meaningful about a given part of reality can be formally codified into communicable knowledge; and the postmodern, suspecting (correctly) that the modern project of banishing all mystery and codifying all meaningful knowledge in any sufficiently interesting domain is impossible, leaps to the conclusion that he definitely knows that no definite knowledge is possible and people who say such things are tyrants.  The one thing moderns and postmoderns agree upon is that if we cannot in principle become omniscient like God, then a pox on reality.

To the modern knowledge is like a sphere, the acquisition and codification of knowledge fills in the empty spaces in the sphere, and the remaining “gaps” in knowledge are closing all the time.  Benighted superstitious Christians fill in those “gaps” in knowledge with their “God”, and because those gaps are now filled in with “God” the Christian is inherently against acquiring more knowledge and specifically against Science[tm].  Acquiring more knowledge would, to the positivist, squeeze out any epistemic “room” left for God.  Har har har you superstitious Christians, once the sphere of knowledge is complete your God will disappear.

I’ve also discussed before that God is God of both the gaps and the non-gaps, and that in any case this picture of the relationship between knowledge and mystery is incoherent and irrational.  I won’t explain why in detail, but if you don’t understand why positivism (and its reflection in the mirror, postmodernism) is crap you should keep on exploring reality until you do.

That is all just preliminary background to the subject of the post.

I recently visited one of the top medical facilities in the world and spoke to some of the smartest doctors on the planet.  What I found interesting is that whenever a particular discipline is forced to look at a particular case and say “I don’t know what is going on”, the immediate (and appropriate) response is to refer to other disciplines.  That’s great as far as it goes.  But what is pertinent here is that medical science as a whole is very, very reluctant to admit when it has run out of explanations.  The neurology clinic at this facility sees many patients who present with the physiologic symptoms of seizures, for example.  Of these, one doctor estimated that a third do not have epilepsy; that the cause is unknown to neurology.  These are classified as “pseudoseizures” and are referred to … drum roll please … psychiatrists/psychologists.  He explained that the mind is much more complex than the brain and that, here is the punch line, because we know it isn’t caused by the brain it must be in the mind.

Got that?  We don’t know what caused it, so the cause must not be physiological.

Evolution makes the contrary assertion: we don’t know what caused it, but the cause must be physiological.

Watch those “gaps” close between the scylla of evolution and the charybdis of psychology, ladies and gentlemen, and make sure you remember to take your antidepressants!

Is it any wonder that the great last stop on the modern explanatory railway, the telos of modernity-as-religion, is evolutionary psychology?

§ 24 Responses to Casting out demons, or, the modern god of the gaps

  • Scott W. says:

    Is it any wonder that the great last stop on the modern explanatory railway, the telos of modernity-as-religion, is evolutionary psychology?

    Nope. This is why I’m always railing against modern liturgy. So much of it has the characteristic of secular therapeutic culture.

  • jf12 says:

    Psychosomatism of the gaps, eh?

  • Indeed, the problem with “knowledge” is that the more you know, the less room there is for God to work. The constrainment of rules and regulations flow in and you become like the Pharisees.

    Such is the second side of the coin. The more I know, the more I see God because His characteristics are shown in His creation. I assume that’s why the “fear/reverence of the Lord” is the beginning of knowledge.

  • Zippy says:

    Deep Strength:

    Indeed, the problem with “knowledge” is that the more you know, the less room there is for God to work.

    I’d modify that to “the positivist conception of knowledge” for clarity, since what we are describing is a false understanding of the nature of knowledge; but yes.

  • jf12 says:

    Re: “Indeed, the problem with “knowledge” is that the more you know, the less room there is for God to work.” The combination of Romans 1:20 and Hebrews 11:3 clearly (!) says that the more we know, the more room there is.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @jf12

    But what do you know, and how do you know it?

  • jf12 says:

    @Cane Caldo. What I know of the world cometh by observation.

  • Aquinas Dad says:

    Scott,
    Modern
    Liturgy
    Can they really go together ?

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @jf12

    What I know of the world cometh by observation.

    There’s your problem.

  • jf12 says:

    Are you gonna believe yer lyin eyes, etc.

  • Sis says:

    there have been several philosophers (Kant) who connected God and science as one thing that couldn’t be disconnected, but I don’t think they won out in our modern philosophy, nobody has even heard of their ideas they are so unpopular. There was a struggle between God scientists and scientists who wanted to explain reality without God and the latter won. A sad day in history when God was written out of the philosophy and science books. Both Plato and Aristotle connected God to philosophy, the great Greek thinkers acknowledged a God as being essential to scientific thinking, but we deny it today. Ironic how we’ve gotten stupider.

  • Zippy says:

    Sis:
    Kant is worth working through and may have been the last famous philosopher to really understand the problem of modernity and try to save it from itself, but I don’t think his approach works. As Jim Kalb (I think) once said, Kant’s metaphysics depends heavily on the distinction between phenomena and noumena and the supposition that we can only say things about the former. But if we can’t say anything important about noumena then how can we include them in our philosophy? Notice the kind of proto-positivism there: an attempt to slice off part of the world where we can “fill in all the gaps” and banish mystery to its own separate box where we don’t have to deal with it.

    Anyway, I am probably a kind of Platonist-light with Spinozan overtones, for what it is worth, though I don’t really claim any particular philosophy as my own. I think there is at least a little bit of Platonism in everyone who is sane. And the crazy definitely starts from trying to banish God, if only from some particular defined domain[s].

  • jf12 says:

    We theists adhere to a God of the non-gaps. He is revealed in His creative Word to anyone and everyone who will hear or read.
    Psalm 19:1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

  • Scott says:

    Most of the pseudoseizure patients that get referred to me have co-morbid anxiety manifesting in peculiar ways (like tics, picking at scabs, etc).

    I generally take a “it’s probably this, and therefore probably not that” approach to these cases. Psychological testing helps too, because they [the really good ones] use pretty sophisticated psychometrics [discriminant functions, or calculating low-base rate phenomonon as statistical permutations] to detect malingering and other non-medical causes of behavior.

    But in the end, I have no issue with not “knowing” the cause of some identified anomaly.

  • Scott says:

    It’s why, for example, in forensic cases we usually write in the report “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.”

  • Scott says:

    Just a quick on word on one of the ways psychometric testing works.

    Lets say I develop a test to detect several different disordered processes. In that test of a bout a bazillion items, I include this item:

    “Yesterday, I flew in my own airplane from Dallas to Houston” Y/N

    The likelihood of any random member of the general population answering “yes” to that item and it is actually true, is very low.

    But lets say I also include this item:

    “My two favorite sports to watch are archery and fly fishing.” Y/N

    The likelihood of any random member of the general population answering “yes” to both of those items, and it is true approximates zero. Therefore, when I get a protocol with both of those items answered “yes” I am able to draw reasonable conclusions about the validity of the entire protocol. There are a number of things that can cause this, but “telling the truth” is the least likely.

    That is ONE way (of many) that we determine whether we can trust the responses to be an accurate depiction of the patients symptoms.

  • sunshinemary says:

    One of the most common things written in the fine print on medication package inserts is:

    The exact mechanism of action of _________is not known.

    You’d never suppose that, though, if you never read package inserts and only just interacted with doctors.

  • Scott says:

    SSM- That is particularly true of psychotropics.

  • jf12 says:

    I actually don’t think “To the modern knowledge is like a sphere.” Much if not all of modernity considered itself the Heraclitean fire successor of the Enlightenment’s burning away of the Dark Ages of the Parmenidean sphere of Tradition. Right? To the true modern, knowledge is like a network, and a rather ad hoc one at that. Try to cram Joyce’s Ulysses into sphere!

  • jf12 says:

    @TUW, yes, but nonspheroidal.

  • […] when the Aztecs sacrificed you to their gods you got to visit a nice ziggurat.  Modernity’s gods are so much more […]

  • Samson J. says:

    What I found interesting is that whenever a particular discipline is forced to look at a particular case and say “I don’t know what is going on”, the immediate (and appropriate) response is to refer to other disciplines… But what is pertinent here is that medical science as a whole is very, very reluctant to admit when it has run out of explanations.

    Well, before taking this too far, consider that in many ways this is simply a matter of legal liability. I *have* to exhaust all possibilities, all specialties, in order to CYA. It’s not so much that I’m reluctant to admit that I don’t know why something is happening; I think in fact a lot of doctors are okay with admitting this.

  • Zippy says:

    Samson J:
    I’ve found doctors to be quite willing, as individuals, to admit when they don’t know. But that is completely orthogonal to the point of the post.

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