From Modeled Behavior: On The Religions Of Positivism, Secular Humanism and Monotheism

Karl Smith, writing on Modeled Behavior, in response to Ron Rosenbaum falls into a rational argument between theism and atheism. And demonstrating that both he and Rosenbaum err. Even the early theologians did not make this mistake. Religious debate is allegorical, not scientific. Only fundamentalists argue for the sicentific basis of gods and religion. And fundmentalism is a political reaction to the rise of science in politics. However, neither side of this populist debate (and it is a populist debate, not an intellectual one) has much to offer.

Karl says:

Ron Rosenbaum launches a long and varied attack on the New Atheism. His complaints are many and his tone heavy, but I don’t think I do him much injustice by saying his central claim is this:

Atheists have no evidence—and certainly no proof!—that science will ever solve the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Just because other difficult-seeming problems have been solved does not mean all difficult problems will always be solved. And so atheists really exist on the same superstitious plane as Thomas Aquinas, who tried to prove by logic the possibility of creation “ex nihilo” (from nothing). . .

In fact, I challenge any atheist, New or old, to send me their answer to the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I can’t wait for the evasions to pour forth. Or even the evidence that this question ever could be answered by science and logic.

If Rosenbaum means that he wishes us to explain the “universe” then we should talk about the properties of high density energy and the creation of bubble universes. Or, we can tell a story about 11-dimensional membranes which may have collided and produced everything that we could ever see.

However, I think the Rosenbaum wants more than that. I think he doesn’t want to stop at our universe but wants to ask – from the outside of everything in the moment before the first event – why did it become so?

Actually, that’s a false premise he’d be arguing if he did. The question he’s really asking is “what are the implications for my anthropomorphic anthropocentric view of the universe. In other words, how can I make this universe about the creature man rather than a universe in which man is not central, and in fact, may be an improbable accident? That’s the question he’s asking and the problem he’s seeking, becaus that is the comfort that religion brings to man: anthropocentrism. But that anthropocentrism also adds value to political discourse. Because ANY ANSWER includes a proscription for human behavior. I think we forget too often that the purpose of religion is to provide an inexpensive means of proscribing behavior for humans who must coexist in large numbers. Externalizing requirements as scriptural is simply an inexpensive means of lawmaking.

However, there simply is no sense to be made of these propositions. Equally, there is no sense to be made of the question “why is there something” that is unless Rosenbaum is using different definitions of “why” and “something.”

This just misses the point. It confuses truth with utility, and in politics these things have no relevance.

Now, if I don’t believe that science, reason or logic can answer “why something as opposed to nothing.” Then what do I mean when I say that I am an atheist? I mean that I believe all answerable questions can be answered with science, reason and logic. Said slightly more formally, there exists no question which can be meaningfully answered that cannot be answered by science, reason and logic.

Lets return to Rosenbaum’s query to see how that works. He asks “why is there something” The theist might answer that God created the something. But, then the theist must be referring to a limited set of something. Indeed, typically we imagine the theist as referring to the physical universe, space, time, etc.

Well, you’re making an argument against his STATED reasoning instead of his UNDERLYING reasoning. And, as Pareto, Weber, Michels, and Sorrel will remind you, this is YOUR error, not theirs.

Now, does my belief in science, reason and logic constitute a faith? No.

Perhaps. But your use of logic for the purpose of political debate is pretty ameturish.

First, I have evidence for the belief. Predictions based on science, reason and logic tend to come true.

Oh no. You don’t realize what youve stepped into here. In fact, you’re making the EXACT mistake that your opponent is. You have incomplete knowledge and the process you follow may yield consistent results, even if you do not fully understand the process. The process of religion and belief in god produces consistent results, even if that process is irrational. In fact, in the history of science, those predictions that exist int he physical world have largelly been false, and tehrefore they are scientific but wrong. The problem with the sphere of human action is that we know less about it than we do the physical world, simply becuase itis more COMPLEX than the physical world, because humans can LEARN.

Indeed, I am not currently aware of a case where they have failed to come true and no subsequent reasoned explanation was found. So the trio of science, reason and logic carry with them an incredible track record.

Phlogiston theory? Aristotle’s motion? The human genome project’s assumption of a manufactured man rather than a grown one? The limits of Aristotelian, Newtonian and Einsteinian physics?

However, this track record could plausibly come to a halt. A pillar of fire could appear before me and declare that he is the lord. He could then go on to predict the violation of the laws of physics and subsequently show them to be false.

Or we could find that the mythical structure is a very useful pedagogical contrivance and that the unarticulated content of these myths contains devices for assisting people with cooperating in agrarian society and in a division of labor and knowledge, where the limits of their perceptions and knowledge in a complex society exceed their tribal biological capacities.

This is actually what’s expressed by the content of most of the christian mythos and dogma.

Now, conversely, there is a great deal of incredibly destructive content in the monotheistic religions. One could successfully argue that they institutionalize ignorance. The appear to institutionalize poverty. But they appear to spread like a virus along with the underclasses. But they do serve their purpose, which is to override tribal sympathies and sentiments, and essentially create a new tribal identity, while preserving of class systems. Some are simply far worse than others (Islam). Some are useful despite their ridiculousness (Judaism).

He could show me that despite all of my reasoning to the contrary that 2 + 2 = 5, that the logic I depend on explains nothing and that my confusion of this moment tells me nothing about my confusion in the next. Every prediction I make would have results no better than chance but every prediction the pillar makes would come true.

Any number of fairly great minds have pondered this problem at length, and you’re really not even scratching the surface at the level of an undergraduate. I’m not trying to be antagonizing, I’m just stating the obvious. There are volumes on this subject.

[callout]The only reason for this debate, is for the purpose of coercing someone to do with himself or his property what you wish, against his desires, without compensating him with something for which he would willingly part with it.[/callout]

“Gods exist like numbers exist”.

They exist because people act like they exist. People use them in the same way: to calculate. To reason. To estimate. To judge. We lack the knowledge, the experience, the perception, the time and computational ability to exist as a polity in a market, in a division of labor, without them. The question is the form of their existence. Do they have the properties that people attribute to them? No, but neither did shakespeare or Socrates, Washington or Alexander. Edison or Michelangelo. Marx or Machiavelli. And the existence of these concepts as memories, as memes, and as complex symbols have extraordinary long term impact on individuals, groups, cultures, and civilizations.

Science is, and always has been, a ‘faith’. Scientific knowledge is the most perishable that we have. Entire bodies of knowledge have expired with one innovation. It’s pretty certain that thousands more will do so. Certainly, we are fairly sure, that we are missing something very important at the subatomic level. Certainly we are very sure that we are missing something very important in the human experience: hume’s problem of induction. Certainly there is something wrong with out entire concept of mathematics. Certainly our belief that the genome project would deliver to us vast knowledge, but in the end, only confirmed our ignorance.

Science is a formal process for discovering patterns and replicating them. It is a process. That is all. What we know from science is that which is falsifiable – the negatives, not what’s ‘probable’ – the positives. Science is largely eliminative. But scientific knowledge is constantly open to further revision, greater explanatory power, and the elucidation of error. It is constantly being disproven. Contrary to our religious wisdom, science is egregiously more perishable. In economics in particular, vast swaths of our knowledge is patently false. THe entire DSEM model appears to be false.

One should separate fully articulated reasoning from the results produced by it. Our politicians rely upon what they believe is scientific thought, and it is articulated as a rational process, even if with competing means and ends. But they have made a terrible mess of the world economy because they believed Nobel laureates – some of whom are being disproven at this very moment, for reasons that most of history’s philosophers would have stated were obvious, as violation of the calculus of measurement. By contrast the church built a vast bureaucracy that governed europe for nearly two millennia and did exceedingly well at it, despite the fact that it’s dogma was absurd, and methods of argument laughable by almost any measure.

Plenty of religious doctrine is simply well-though human behavior codified as the word of god. Sure the reasoning behind it is ridiculous. But it works. Wisdom is generalization. It is rules to apply when facing the unknown. But largely, wisdom is our protection against ignorance and hubris. Warning against Hubris in all it’s forms is the primary teaching of the body of greek mythos. THe fact that it’s conveyed by the allegory of the gods is simply a pedagogical device.

Secular humanism is as much a religion as is any other silly set of beliefs. Humans aren’t that plastic. The greek myths are just as important a set of lessons as are fairy tales, and the two sets of knowledge may be more useful than all the knowledge that science bequeaths to us.

The most important question is this:

The only reason for this debate, is for the purpose of coercing someone to do with himself or his property what you wish, against his desires, without compensating him with something for which he would willingly part with it.

In other words, these are political arguments. As political arguments, like all law, they are practical, not truthful. THey are for the purpose of persuasion. And the only reason for political persuasion is to redirect resources and energies from where they are, to wehre you want them to be.

And as such, political, pseudo-scientific, religious and moral arguments are nothing but feints and parries in a fencing match. And you, the spectator, are simply distracted by the hand-waving prestige of the magicians on the sidelines.

Numbers exist. Gods exist. Science exists. They exist in the same form. As ideas. And the only reason to debate them is to lie, cheat and steal. Because otherwise we would simply engage in mutually beneficial trade.

Then another person enters the conversation:

Curt. Lots of words and hefty references, none of which support your thesis, which I take to be:

“But belief in the scientific method, particularly in the social sciences, is entirely erroneous.”

Science is empirical, faith isn’t. The scientific method is an attempt to understand the real world based on the measurable properties of the real world. The only faith involved is that the careful use of the senses and invented measuring devices is capable of giving real information about real things. If that is wrong, they we all might as well believe in unicorns.

The concept of “social science” is less valid than “natural science” because a collection of people is more different, and in a greater variety of ways than a collection of oxygen molecules or green beans. Hence, the use of probability becomes problematical. Let’s not even go there.

Faith involves belief in the unprovable. Science is a search for what can be proven.

You might not know this, but before Adam Smith wrote THE WEALTH OF NATIONS he wrote THE THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS. Which, like the writings of Keynes, is totally irrelevant to the discussion.


Curt Doolittle

You made my point. Thank you. Empiricism is a ‘faith’. So is Positivism. A positivist or empiricist puts his faith in the process that he uses. A theist puts his faith in the process that he uses. We know that much knowledge provided by these processes is false. But we know that we obtain utility from using these processes, despite their imperfections.

[callout]Empiricism is a ‘faith’. So is Positivism. A positivist or empiricist puts his faith in the process that he uses. A theist puts his faith in the process that he uses. We know that much knowledge provided by these processes is false. But we know that we obtain utility from using these processes, despite their imperfections.[/callout]

Religious ‘Faith’ is a political and social concept, and social content is NOT probabilistic. It CANNOT be. We can debate wether in retrospect we can measure correlation of historical data. But human behavior is only correlative and historical. It is not probabilistic and predictive. The fact that legions of positivists fall into the trap of treating empiricism as a truth rather than a method, is no different from the error that theists fall into when they think faith is a truth rather than a method. Knowledge is not finite. It is not static. Knowledge is embodied in our methods, not in what is static and certain.

And, contrary to your accusation, all of my references support my position. Almost everything here is just Popper revisited. And popper along with Kuhn is the author of the philosophy of science, as well as much of the theory of knowledge. Popper argues for an open universe. He argues (along with Godel) that we have made a mistake in the calculus of measurement. Nassim Taleb make the same argument and warns of the fallacy of prediction in financial markets. Hume argues that we cannot know what we do not know and correctly posits that this is the fundamental problem that humans must solve. Kant tries to solve the problem and fails miserably, although artfully by trying to create a closed (chrsitian apologist) system. Weber refers to content of religious concepts. Pareto describes the limits of human knowledge and the human reliance upon sentiments when faced with insufficient information by which to make decisions. Hayek warns us about the limits of knowledge, and that we should not debase traditional knowledge. Michels warns us that bureaucracies must possess limited knowledge and therefore become self serving. Mises makes the same proposition in ‘Bureaucracy’.

Conversely, the line of probabilists from Walras to Keynes to Samuelson all argue for probabilism, but all their models are demonstrably false in practice. They are false in practice for this reason: the categorical representation of any measurable object of utility is necessarily erroneous because the UTILITY of any object is plastic or polymorphic. Unlike the physical world. And therefore it is the DIFFERENCE between possibilities that is the real, and therefore, hidden cost of all human behavior. (All costs are opportunity costs.) Therefore we only record and quantify history but not our hypotheses, because the hypothesis is unimaginably complicated and purely mental in construct without external representation and therefore not readily open to categorization and quantitative representation. Likewise, (via Mandelbrot) people and markets react to learning curves and forgetting curves. The greater and more frequent the stimulation the more attention it gets, and the less the less it gets. This is the only logic present in the stock market: frequency of stimuli and the plasticity of the objects traded in reaction to that stimuli. There is a vast body of knowledge that is critical of the philosophy of secular humanists (which is the religion you’re a member of).

The point is, that you are confusing TWO DOMAINS OF KNOWLEDGE that are critically analyzed by different METHODOLOGIES and committing an ERROR in doing so. The gains from science are in the PHYSICAL non-heuristic fields of DISCOVERY of an existing and CLOSED system. The gains in the political sphere are horrendously more complicated than that of the physical world and far less open to our method of scientific testing as we currently understand it. And our current understanding is limited by the somewhat linear and non-causal, categorically implastic mathematics that we make use of in our analysis, exposition, and prediction.

So in making your argument with me, and with Rosenbaum, you are applying an irrelevant standard to the concept of god. ( And it’s an impossible problem to define these things rationally. Social Good is one of my favorites. So is the french “liberty fraternity equality”. They are meaningless terms. They express sentiments, not reason. If “social good” exists, then god exists. Good luck defining either one of them. And without defining them you cannot argue a position. )

So, you’re making an ERROR, the nature of which you do not understand. Science is a method. What you do not see is that religion is a method. It is an argumentative and philosophical method for the resolving differences between ‘shoulds’ and achieving cooperation of large numbers of people in a vast division of labor, and among vastly different people of different ages. And achieving that vast labor where rational pedagogy (reason and science education) did not exist, or where it is insufficient (where we are too ignorant), or where the people are too limited in ability, or konwledge, or time, to make use of rational means. Or where, because of the pragmatic nautre of politics, reason, which is an elitist tool, is not available to the majority of the polity engaged in decision making, especially in a democratic society. Reason is a poor political tool. People need narratives. And we have not YET produced sufficient narratives under empiricism to replace mythic content. And the narratives that we have produced (which are those of secular humanism) are patently FALSE.

Secular humanism posits:
1) People are equal. (They are unequal) : IQ Deniers.
2) Everyone can be of the same social and economic class (they cannot) : Class Deniers
3) Race is immaterial. (Races are material because people act as if they are material, and they act that way because status in-group and extra group is achieved at different costs) : Race Deniers.
4) Infinite Plasticity of Humans (Natural Law is correct in that people have permanent tendencies) : Anthropo-implasticity Deniers
5) Limits to Political Consensus On Means Of Achieving Goals : Democratic Limit Deniers
6) Limits to empiricism and Probabilism In Human Behaviors : “Positivists”, or Limits Of Empiricism Deniers.

These are all failures of the religion of secular humanism, that is the result of empiricism.

The great thinkers alive today would state (because they do) that they are not trying to solve a problem of objective truth but of practical utility, while understanding that scientific thought is very limited in scope. The fact that you do not take this same position of skepticism, and that moreover you ignore the record of the history of what utility that civilizations have gained from the absurd technology of monotheism, means that you are indeed a member of the positivist ‘faith’.

The monotheistic religions are ridiculous as stated. But they are terribly successful algorithms. Much of science in human history has been well articulated, but entirely false.

That said, I’m not supporting monotheistic religion but I do understand the problem of pedagogy:
1) children must learn symbolic social judgements by habit and narrative before they have the capacity to understand rational judgements.
2) people are vastly unequal in their ability to make rational judgements. In fact, it is an expertise and a product of life long mastery.
3) reason has been demonstrably ineffective compared to law and religion and credit, in creating social order. Largely because it is so susceptible to error and fraud.

Reason is insufficient and the narrative method and allegorical content are a superior means of providing actionable content to human beings of different abilities, different ages and different experiences. We live in a vast division of knowledge and labor, with multiple social classes, multiple mythologies, and multiple forms of social cooperation encoded in different categories of property rights, freedoms and constraints.

Science is the process by which we slowly chip away at discovering fundamental objective causality. But as it stands, it is insufficient for the composition of a social order. And it has been demonstrably harmful to apply such standards to the social order in the vain assumption that our traditions err.




Politics is a process of utility not truth. And the only purpose of debate is to obtain another’s property for one’s desires rather than theirs. By inventing politics we traded violence for fraud. ”

Shouldn’t this be: property is theft, war is struggle over it, politics negotiation on it, and trade exchange of it? In war, might makes right, politics lowers the cost through the fraud of property, which trade can then exchange. Even the prehistory is reversed. Politics can reduce war, and trade can reduce politics, but larger populations, densities, and interactions increase politics and politics increase war.


@Lord. First, thanks. Second, your summary is both astute and accurate.

Although, the form you’re using (which is the civic republican set of assumptions, and assumes equality) employs a neutral point of view, and the form I’m using (which is is machiavellian politico-scientific which assumes inequality) is intentionally constructed to demonstrate the error of applying the criteria of either religion, science, or philosophy, to the field of politics — when the first three presume a search for objective truth, and the latter is the domain intentional rhetorical fraud for the purpose of obscuring the contests over property and masking the facility with which the bureaucracy exploits it’s position for self gain behind the necessity of implied moral contrivance, and political expediency. In other words, I’m assaulting the assumptions upon which republican government are based.

So I was chastising the authors for silliness by stating that the only reason for debate is to mask their attempt at taking each other’s property.

But back to forms: The civic republican model is based jupon the assumption that public debate and voting will produce optimum use of resources among people with similar interests. However, this model originated with small populations, with a minority of the productive social class of participants, with hard money, and where these politicians possessed similar economic incentives, and where the agrarian model, and sail-based shipping guaranteed long time frames for decisions, and accounting periodicity, and where production consisted of fairly simple products converted from a resource to a consumable. All of wich allow for fairly simply accounting processes, and limit the bureaucracy to what can be borrowed from external entities, and therefore what non-bureaucrats are willing to subsidize.

Today, instead, we live in an industrialized world of multi-part products composed from across the world, with complex human capital requirements, and vast differences in price structures, and where the rate of movement of economic forces is incomprehensible to an individual. (And where it is precisely that incomprehensibility that makes socialism impossible – socialism being management of production, but which is now commonly applied to redistribution.) Further, we live in a world where the government is both a domestic and international empire that abuses multiple groups under the auspices of shared benefit, while bankrupting the civilization on scale unimaginable by the Athenians. Where politicians do not read, and cannot even understand much of the law that they pass. And where, having removed the gold standard, and allowed the pooling of financial information both through taxation on the way in and lending on the way out, we launder all ability of individuals to comprehend the instructions we give each other through the pricing system, both temporal, and inter-temporal. And by this laundering, and loss of the boundary held in place by hard money, have removed the only means by which external wisdom can limit the ignorant politicians, and the corrupt and ideological bureaucracy.

So, In practice, debate is fraught with fraud. There is nothing dishonest about violence. ie: we have traded violence and the use of the parliamentary system to protect us from undue violence by the king and unite us in that pursuit, for fraud, and the use of parliamentary drapery to subject us to extortion and class warfare.

So, in practice, yes, you are both succinct, and correct. But you’re not providing the reason why – and as such, are positing a memorable solution but one easily dismissed. The reason you’re missing out on is an epistemic one: That the government is large enough, over too divergent a set of interests, and our pricing, accounting, tax and law systems inadequate to provide politicians with the information necessary to make decisions about the matters with which we charge them, and possessing levers that are too imprecise to achieve their desired ends. In this environment of inadequate information, bureaucrats have no choice but to rely upon metaphysical and cognitive biases when making decisions. And because law makers feel the need to make laws, they do so, and poorly. And because laws do not perish with the fools that write them, the are calcifying the body of law, and as a byproduct losing the faith of the populace not only in them, but in rule of law itself.

Politicians are not evil. they are merely human. And they are unable to synthesize sufficient information about our state of affairs to make rational judgements because our information systems are insufficiently complex enough to allow them to do so. Consequently, rhetorical debate is easily fraudulent under this system because there are no external checks and balances via credit and hard money, vie minority vote, vie accounting, on the politicians or on the bureaucracy. And in this arena a fraud, debates about religion, science, and the like are ridiculous. They are ridiculous first, because they are insufficient means of solving the problem, and second because the only reason you would need to rely upon them is because you lack rational, scientific, quantitative information, OR are not regulated externally by limits to credit, and as such, one must resort to Morality, Beliefs, Preferences, instead of resorting to facts as established by monetary information and access to credit.

Personally, I would much rather than we stop debating the virtues of science or religion, because both are falsehoods, and instead discuss implementing schemes by which we improve our accounting, tax, credit, baking, and forecasting abiltites so that our politicians cannot hide from information, or make obviously erroneoius statements about fianances.

And if christians want to do some moral good, stay off the biblical quotes and get onto the real issue: economic calculaitno is now impossible for our governemnt, and teh tools we thought we had, in the Dynamic Stochastic Equilibrium Model and the ambitions of full employement under Keynesianism are profounding erroneous, ans simply a schme by which we have dstroyed western civilizatoin and force our politicians to resort to chicanery, fraud, ideology, ignorance, and pettiness.

The bible, and all scriptural religion are allegorical wisdom.They are not science. Even Science itself is inapplicable to the social sciences. And as such neither religion or science is sufficient to replace ‘quantitative information’ given to us by the system of prices and credit. Because the only truth we know of, is the truth men tell by their actions with their money.

One response to “From Modeled Behavior: On The Religions Of Positivism, Secular Humanism and Monotheism”

  1. […] 7th, 2010 in Bias and Rationality | by Karl Smith Curt Doolittle does me the honor of offering an essay eviscerating my post on atheism. I thought I owed at least a bit of a reply. Curt, I am not pretending to […]

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