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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Thursday, January 20, 2011

SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY

"Philosophy always buries its undertakers."
-Etienne Gibson

Recently Ed Driscoll wrapped up a lot of different links in an attempt to show how the left seems to be the anti-science side, not the right, as they claim, calling it their "Creation Science*". In that article he points out how the vaccine fraud was created by a left wing reporter, how the repeated claims of no more winter are so humiliatingly wrong, and how other junk science the left touts is believed not based on logic or facts, but faith.

In the resulting discussion in the comments, quite a bit of interesting debate takes place (not the least of which is something I've pointed out here before -- how uncomfortably similar the arguments, stances, and attitude of AGW hysterics are to Evolutionists). Much of it is concerns about how the left clings to things that aren't so, but some if it is more worry about science its self. Thomas Wicklund writes (emphasis mine):
The problem is when politics and science intersect. Both Climate Change and Evolution / Creation have become major ideological and theological (in the case of creation) issues. I find this results in both sides becoming more and more polarized. Thus, an evolutionist who expresses any question (even about the mechanism of evolution) is quoted (out of context) in support of creation theory (and vice versa). Each side hardens its position so as to not allow any opening for the other to gain credibility.

The problem here is that the normal questions and uncertainties of scientific research have to be abandoned to avoid the political aspect. While science is often portrayed as “collect data then form a theory”, in practice scientists routinely start with a theory then look for the data to support it. However, the normal peer review / journal / etc. process tends to weed out the junk science (though not perfectly, it can take many years).

Throwing politics and the general public into the mix means that the scientific process cannot occur smoothly. One aspect is the current politicized Climate Change or Evolution / Creation (extending into religion / atheism) debates. Another occurs when there is a problem with no real solution, thus “alternative” medicine, vaccine questions, the (probably hundreds) of different “here’s how to cure ADHD” popular book prescriptions, etc.

The further one goes from repeatable, experimental science (e.g. drop the apple, it hits Newton’s head), the more room for interpretation. When science must depend primarily on observation and a lot of interpretation (such as with rocks that look like bones) and cannot perform perfectly repeatable experiments (as with medical science, people are individuals and each individual reacts differently to a treatment), there wide room for interpretation and fitting data to the theory. Adding the news media and politicians into the mix makes it that much worse.
Someone named Flicka47 linked an article at First Things about Stephen Hawking's latest book. In it, he attempts to argue that philosophy and natural theology have been left behind by the latest scientific theories (more on that in a moment), and that anyone who clings to those things is hopelessly outdated and behind the times. This isn't the first time some scientist declared God to be dead and philosophy useless. John Haldane writes:
Notwithstanding their death notice for philosophy, in introducing their idea of a fundamental physical account of the universe, M-theory, the authors themselves cannot resist engaging in evident philosophizing about the nature of theories and their relationship to reality. To address the paradoxes arising from quantum physics, they use what they call “model-dependent realism,” which “is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world.”
When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other.
While a professional philosopher might disambiguate and refine some of these expressions and formulations, Hawking and Mlodinow are describing a position familiar within the philosophy of science and known variously as “constructive empiricism,” “pragmatism,” and “conceptual relativism.” They are not replacing philosophy with science. Indeed, their discussion shows that, at its most abstract, theoretical physics leaves ordinary empirical science behind and enters the sphere of philosophy, where it becomes vulnerable to refutation by reason.
And ultimately, that's where Hawking tends to end up in his writing. He wants to write about the bleeding edge of new physics and theory, but ends up almost entirely writing about theory, with precious little science behind it, and thus ends up in the realm of philosophy himself. He isn't writing about what scientists are able to observe using reliable and reproducible testing, but what he thinks those observations mean and what that means about life, the universe, and everything. He wraps it all in terribly complex scientific jargon and mentions research, but most of Hawkin's writings are in fact his theories and ideas rather than science its self.

And too much of modern science is in this realm. Instead of scientists finding out a little bit more and demonstrating it through experimentation and measurement, they're slouching off into other realms like wizardry and philosophy. They can't actually test, measure, or empirically examine their theories about "string theory" and quantum physics in many cases, they can only speculate and each new layer of speculation has less and less concrete scientific basis. These men are getting beyond the point we can understand and know with the present limitations of science, and as such are leaving science behind entirely.

That's fine... if you label it as speculation, philosophy, and curiosity, but they label it as hard science, physics, and truth; what's more guys like Hawking declare it to have destroyed exactly what they're engaging in. Science is very beneficial and useful, when done properly and restricted to its area of proper use. It becomes worse than useless when extended beyond that boundary; it becomes destructive and pernicious.

The same thing happens when religion or philosophy tries to transcend its boundaries into, say, science, as we saw during the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. This too becomes destructive and evil. The proper thing to do, then, is to respect the boundaries of your work and not presume upon the expertise of others.

*Driscoll actually calls it "creationism" but that's a misnomer; creationism is the understanding that all existence was created by God, creation science tends to try to jam the world into a few passages of scripture not meant to be scientific. Newton was a creationist; Creation Scientists argue that the grand canyon and all fossils were caused by the great flood, and that the world is only a few thousand years old. Creation Scientists make the same mistake AGW hysterics do: they start with a conclusion then try to ram data into it until it fits like a child with a star-shaped block and a square-shapedhole.

Its possible that Driscoll, like a lot of people unfamiliar with the field, does not know the difference, and its possible that he simply thinks anyone who believes in a creator god is some kind of knuckle dragging cretin.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said...

Now I give Radhasoami Faith view of Creation Theory. In Sar Bachan (Poetry) composed by His Holiness Soamiji Maharaj the August Founder of Radhasoami Faith the details of creation and dissolution has been described very scientifically. It is written in this Holy Book: Only He Himself (Supreme Father)and none else was there. There issued forth a great current of spirituality, love and grace (In scientific terminology we may call this current as gravitational wave). This is called His Mauj (Divine Ordainment). This was the first manifestation of Supreme Being. This Divine Ordainment brought into being three regions, viz., Agam, Alakh, and Satnam of eternal bliss. Then a current emerged with a powerful sound. (first big bang) It brought forth the creation of seven Surats or currents of various shades and colours (in scientific terminology we may call it electromagnetic waves). Here the true Jaman or coagulant was given (in scientific terminology this coagulant may be called as weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force). Surats, among themselves, brought the creation into being.
These currents descended down further and brought the whole universe/multi verse into being i.e. black holes, galaxies etc. were born.

7:42 PM, January 22, 2011  

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