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Bad Science, Worse Philosophy: the Quackery and Logic-Chopping of David Foster's The Philosophical Scientists (2000)


3. Exercises in Self-Refutation

Richard Carrier


Some of Foster's philosophizing can be used against his own position. Chapters 4 and 5, for example, are the only good chapters in the book, in my opinion, though they do not say anything that any philosophy student should not already know. His point about the role of organization is an excellent one, but nothing new, and something that has been far better said by others already. More to the point, he seems oblivious to the real consequences of his own argument. If complex processes depend for their existence not just on their component parts, but on the very organization of those parts, then it seems highly unlikely for there to be a god. Foster regularly points out how human-order intelligence is the most complex process in the universe, and, as Foster argues himself in chapter 5, the human mind depends for its existence on both the reductive parts as well as the organization and interaction among those parts. If so (and I certainly think it is so), then, to be intelligent, god needs to be made up of parts just like we are, and those parts must be arranged in just such a way as to produce and maintain that intelligence, just as is the case for us. Foster nowhere addresses this problem nor does he even seem aware of it. Where are the organized parts of god that permit him to have not only human-order intelligence, but superhuman intelligence?

On page 179 Foster says that "if we wish to know 'where' God is, I have suggested elsewhere that this is the Void----omniscient, omnipresent, invisible mind-stuff." This is a fanciful non-answer, for it disregards the most crucial questions of all: where is god's mental processing done? Where are his memories stored? What is the physical process by which he accesses and analyzes those memories with his processor? What do his senses key on----and if he has senses, where are they? If you do not explain the physical mechanism by which God exists and works on the world, then you cannot claim the benefit of having explained God in terms of physics. It is one thing to say that God is truly super-physical and that his powers and nature are undefinable in terms of physics, but Foster wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants God to be defined in terms of physics without actually defining Him in terms of physics.

Such nonsense is common among theologians. Take for instance page 16, where he defends the illogic of the claim that "Modern scientific theory compels us to think of the creator as working outside time and space" even though you cannot have things like "work" much less thought or action or change of any kind without time. A timeless god is a statue, and thus quite useless. Then there is the oldest fallacy in the creationist book of arguments: the fallacy of intelligent design. The fallacy goes something like this: the only order-making we observe is the product of thought, therefore all order-making must be the product of thought. But to say this, one must ignore the fact that almost all the order-making that we observe (a tree, a salt crystal, the electron valences) is not the observed product of thought. In fact, all such examples falsify the premise that all order-making is the product of thought. Religionists like circular logic, because it enables them to ignore what falsifies their theory. By concentrating only on the confirming evidence, they employ that to 'prove' that the falsifying evidence is actually confirming evidence. This sort of clownish anti-scientific legerdemain lies at the heart of Foster's own argument, exemplified on page 131, where he explains that "consciousness is the essential characteristic for a sorting as distinct from a shuffling system," i.e. since there are (or appear to be) entropy-reversing phenomena, and consciousness is essential for this, therefore there must be a cosmic consciousness, and that is god. But the premise is already invalid: consciousness is not the essential characteristic for a sorting effect.

He employs all the above nonsense to complete his bogus argument against Darwinism and for Godism on page 135. There, he claims that a 'something' (which he calls the LOGOS) is "responsible for the DNA in creatures," and this is because it "may receive feedback from evolutionary life-progress" and therefore the whole system of life "is a progressive laboratory system with organic life itself the laboratory" and the 'something' that causes it is "the man in the white coat." His next sentence concludes: "This invalidates Darwin's theory of evolution." But what he has just described is Darwin's theory of evolution. So how does it invalidate it? Again, he uses evidence for natural selection ('feedback,' 'evolutionary life-progress,' etc.) as if it invalidated natural selection. He gives no justification for such logic-chopping, except the same circular reasoning already revealed: he claims this refutes Darwinism because the 'something' that manipulates 'life-progress' is "a conscious cosmic purpose and awareness directing progressive evolution." But where has he shown that? Nowhere in the book does he even attempt to provide any real evidence that there is any "cosmic awareness" or that there is anything "conscious" in the universe besides man. What he observes as a certain 'process' working through 'feedback' to cause evolution is in fact natural selection, the one force he has nowhere correctly defined and nowhere addressed or employed in any of his arguments. This is the sort of argument a quack would invent to defend his 'alternative' medical therapy when he has no evidence that it actually works.

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