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Ch. 1 - Science: "Truth Without Certainty" 
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Post Ch. 1 - Science: "Truth Without Certainty"
Please use this thread for discussing Chapter 1, which is entitled, "Science: Truth without Certainty." ::155




Sun Oct 01, 2006 9:54 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Science: "Truth Without Certainty"
Euginie Scott's discussion of scientific methodology is quite well-done, in my opinion. She could stand to delve a little deeper into the epistemological problems that brought about the need for a testable science, but other than that her explanations and justifications are good. She emphasizes that science is a search for non-dogmatic truth, something that few people realize is required given our epistemic limitations. She does an admirable job showing why the tentativeness of science helps to lead to truth better than dogmatic, rigid, and unquestionable beliefs taken from "revelation".

I think that a little elaboration was needed in her discussion of the importance of disproof. She says that disproof is important because it is easy to construct scenarios where evidence seems to support a certain hypothesis, but I think it would have helped to delve into the philosophical issues behind this fact. Her example of rain is not helpful. She says it is easier to disprove the claim, "It is raining outside" than it is to prove it--but it seems just as easy to prove it. If you go outside and see that it is indeed raining, then you've pretty solidly confirmed your assertion. She should have used an example that wasn't a statement of fact, but that was a generalized law or inductive inference or theory, because that is where the problems occur and where disproof becomes necessary. For instance, I think she could have discussed the problem of induction and how scientific methodology is related to this problem. Essentially, the problem of induction can be applied to the various "laws" of science we hold to be true in certain contexts. An example is the second law of thermodynamics. Certainly, closed systems are always observed to tend towards disorder. But what gives us reason to suppose that the next closed system we observe will do so? The fact that all the others in the past have is not really proof that the next will. It is logically possible that the law will fail in the next instance. And we can't justify induction by saying, "We know induction is true because it has turned out to be true in the past", because this response assumes induction and begs the question!

So how does science attempt to avoid this problem? It doesn't in any direct way--and this is why science emphasizes uncertainty and tests. We can't ever be sure about our knowledge because of this problem. However, we can be more sure about a theory being disproved than a theory being proved. For instance, if we argue that the sun will rise tommorrow, this is difficult to prove--we can point to all the times it has rose in the past, but this isn't really evidence that it will rise tommorrow. However, it would be quite easy to disprove. If we wait until tommorrow and the sun does not rise, then that pretty much settles the question. We can then rule out this theory and search for a better one to replace it.

This is a sort of simplified Popperian analysis of science, but I think Popper's insights, while not absolutely true in the end, would be good to introduce in a book attempting this level of discourse.

Her discussions of scientific terms like hypothesis, theory, and law were breaths of fresh air, as well as her dispelling of the idea that only "laboratory" experiments are considered "scientific". I think a creationist reading this with an open mind would quickly realize that the fact that evolution cannot be directly observed is not an argument against its truth, because there is plenty of indirect evidence of evolution. I especially like her emphasis that laws are below theories, because laws are not really explanatory in any way, but just generalizations of empirical facts.




Fri Oct 06, 2006 9:37 pm


Post Re: Ch. 1 - Science: "Truth Without Certainty"
Scott argues in this chapter that creationism is not testable in most of its varieties. Does anyone else agree with this?

I tend to agree, but not necessarily because God is supernatural. Even if one posited a natural and very powerful deity that created us, it would still seem that this would be largely untestable. Even if we observed a progression of life from complexity to simplicity, a lack of homologous structures, a lack of transitional fossils for every creature, and so on, "design" could still account for this. There appears to be no observation that could disprove the design hypothesis. And, because disproof is so important in science, this is a huge problem for the design hypothesis. If it explains everything, then it in fact explains nothing. For an example, saying, "It's magic" to explain events would certainly apply to any observation, be it a toaster producing toast or a flying goat--but the fact that it does not prohibit any observations by which we may test it produces the problem.

For me, the fact that God is supernatural is also reason to view God as untestable--but I go further than Scott and believe this gives us good reason to believe that God actually does not exist. But I'll save that for a later chapter...

What do you think? Is creationism testable?




Fri Oct 06, 2006 9:48 pm


Post Inconsistencies?
Dawkins, as well as many other atheists, would be prone to argue that some versions of creationism actually are disprovable. Dawkin's argument is that the traits that the God hypothesis is intended to explain are actually multiplied by positing a God, so the God hypothesis is actually unwarranted and sort of unravels itself.

The problem is that creationists invoke God as an explanation for order and apparent design. However, a designer capable of producing such order and design is necessarily just as, and probably more, ordered and designed than its creation. So, if we consistently followed the creationist's principle that order implies designed, we would be well on our way to an infinite regress of increasingly more complex designers, and monotheism would seem to be thoroughly refuted by this.




Fri Oct 06, 2006 9:59 pm
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Post Re: Inconsistencies?
Let me copy down some of my notes on this chapter, and then I'll get back to responding to some of S. Gas' comments.

Before I do that, though, let me situation myself here so that no one gets me wrong. I have some objections to some of the assumptions that Scott makes, but I'm not a Creationist. I believe that evolutionary theory is, in essentials, the best explanation we have for a great many questions in biology, and I'm not seeking to undermine evolution with anything I say here. In fact, I sympathize with Scott a great deal, not only because I think we're likely to agree on a number of things, but also because she's saddled herself with the task of summarizing the most widely held views in a very broad field -- one too vast to do full justice to in a single chapter. I'm simply using a lot of her comments as spring boards to discussion of issues related to the central gist of the chapter.

Getting down to business...

The chapter's description of science and scientific method takes a rather vague view of "nature" and the "natural world". A huge amount of study and thought in the last 100 or so years (and before, in different forms) has gone towards recognizing that what we perceive of as nature is something of a social constuct. In this case -- and Scott is simply describing what actually takes place in many, perhaps most, cases -- "nature" is being used to signify raw fact. "Nature", in that sense, is code for "what we aren't going to question", even as science proposes that we question it.

When Scott turns to describing other avenues towards knowledge, it strikes me that her descriptions of authority and revelation look almost synonymous. I wonder if that's the case. If revelation is different from appeal to authority, then we should probably treat it differently, at least when trying to understand how it contributes to the controversy. Authority is a kind of second-hand account; someone else knows a thing, and they've told me. It seems to me that many instances of revelation aren't really appeals to authority, but are presented rather as a kind of direct experience of something which, under normal circumstances, couldn't be experienced. That's a fairly apt description of gnostic revelation, for instance, and I think it's a better characterization of, say, the revelation had by the Buddha. I think it's probably also more applicable to a great many of the revelations in the Judeo-Christian tradition -- Paul's conversion, Jesus' baptism, Jacob's vision.

On p. 4, Scott writes, "Information obtained through revelation or authority is difficult to verify because there is not an outside referent that all parties are likely to agree upon." This points to one of the more persistent problems in the philosophy of science, and I think this is a good way to open it up. In Scott's statement, verification is linked with consensus -- whether or not a given statement can be verified is tied to whether or not we can agree on a perspective from which to view it. But why should consensus be the basis for knowledge, for verification? And wouldn't consensus be, itself, a form of authority, where the authority figure is the majority which forms the consensus view?

The section on logic leaves unasked the question of whether or not logic is really capable of "reference to the 'real world'." For example, a statement like "All wood has carbon atoms" is definitional and axiomatic -- all wood is composed of whatever we would call wood is composed of. In that sense, logic is really about the consistency of statements -- really about language itself. That's a point that's held pretty consistently in modern philosophy, but which has been stubbornly ignored by those who argue for the direct correspondence of science and logic as ways of dealing with the "real world".

I think it's also worth questioning Scott's statement that "dogma... is anathema to science." (p. 8) Thomas Kuhn gave a convincing description of the way that scientific theories which are central to the conduct of a scientific discipline becomes a kind of dogmatism, which is only seriously questioned when a viable alternative arises to take its place. One of the strengths of Darwinian evolution is that it provides a unifying center for biological science, and in the sense that so much of the biological establishment depends upon evolutionary theory that modern biological practice would be unthinkable without it, Darwinian evolution has become a scientific dogma.

The section on "disproof" seems to me to owe a lot to the continuing influence of Karl Popper on scientific theory. I don't think Popper's philosophy of science was terribly tenable, though. Sadly, it looks as though the previous conversation Interbane and I had about Popper's "Objective Knowledge" was erased during the ezboard crash about a year ago.

Scott's section clarifying the scientific use of the terms fact, hypothesis, law and theory raises the question of why the scientific establishment insists on using a set of words that has decidedly different meanings in another context. Why not circumvent the confusion by coining a new set of terms that don't have double meanings?

I love a well turned phrase, and I think it's worthwhile pointing out Scott's description of evolution as a "robust scientific idea". (p. 17) That's part of the beauty of a good scientific theory -- that it's robust.

Looking ahead a little, Scott notes that she'll later be defining religion as "a set of ideas concerning a nonmaterial reality." (p. 19) It may be a little early to be broaching this question, but it's probably worthwhile asking whether or not that definition really accords with examples of religion as they're really practiced and taught.




Mon Oct 09, 2006 7:56 pm
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Post Re: Inconsistencies?
Saint Gasoline: Euginie Scott's discussion of scientific methodology is quite well-done, in my opinion.

I think it's a good summary of what Thomas Kuhn would call "normal science" -- that is, science as it is usually practiced, without much reference to the conceptual difficulties of science. And that's really all she could be expected to present, both because there are limitations placed on the scope of the chapter and because most of the real tricky problems of science come not from Creationists -- who haven't really caught on to the more sophisticated problems of scientific method -- but from philosophers, who aren't part of this book's focus.

She could stand to delve a little deeper into the epistemological problems that brought about the need for a testable science

BookTalk might do well, in the future, to tackle a book about the history of science, starting with the problems that set people out looking for a methodology.

She does an admirable job showing why the tentativeness of science helps to lead to truth better than dogmatic, rigid, and unquestionable beliefs taken from "revelation".

She's also careful to point out that science is better in a specific context, and that outside of that context, science isn't of much help. That's a point that a lot of people on the anti-Creationist side of the debate are quick to gloss over.

But what gives us reason to suppose that the next closed system we observe will do so?

Hume says, nothing, and that inductive reasoning is never fully and logically justified. Popper attempted to find a way out of that dictum, but I don't think his efforts were particularly well rewarded.

but I think Popper's insights, while not absolutely true in the end, would be good to introduce in a book attempting this level of discourse.

I'd say that, whether intentionally or not, Popper's assumptions underly the assumptions given in this chapter. It's probably better that Scott didn't make them explicit as that would have opened a very large can of worms that are beyond the scope of a primer like this.

There appears to be no observation that could disprove the design hypothesis. And, because disproof is so important in science, this is a huge problem for the design hypothesis.

I'd say that the first part is dead on. The second part is only problematic in as much as the design hypothesis aspires to scientific credibility. There are plenty of IDCers whom, I think, would probably be content just to dodge scientific rebuttal.

If it explains everything, then it in fact explains nothing. For an example, saying, "It's magic" to explain events would certainly apply to any observation, be it a toaster producing toast or a flying goat--but the fact that it does not prohibit any observations by which we may test it produces the problem.

I haven't encountered a form of Creationism yet that really struck me as an attempt to explain the natural world. That's where the controversy comes in. Creationists have other agendas which motivate their objections to evolutionary theory. If it were all about accounting for biological facts, I doubt very many people would adopt Creationism against so elegant a theory as evolution.

Dawkins, as well as many other atheists, would be prone to argue that some versions of creationism actually are disprovable.

It looks as though Scott would tend to agree. Her caveat is that any claims made by Creationists about the natural world are susceptible to scientific verification or falsification. So long as Creationists restrict themselves to claims about what undergirds natural processes, their out of range of scientific disproof.

The problem is that creationists invoke God as an explanation for order and apparent design.

That invocation, however, tends to invert the logical priority typical of religious experience, and that strikes me as one of the hazards that religious believers run when they really stretch their beliefs in order to accomodate Creationism. Because once you take a long held belief and twist it around like that, you bring upon your belief system all sorts of problems and consequences that weren't there before.

However, a designer capable of producing such order and design is necessarily just as, and probably more, ordered and designed than its creation.

Not necessarily, because we need not assume the same context of natural law and necessity for such a designer. Because the cause-effect relationship would not necessarily hold true outside of the context of the natural world, there's no need at all to assume a designer at a further remove.




Mon Oct 09, 2006 8:18 pm
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Post Re: Inconsistencies?
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I think it's also worth questioning Scott's statement that "dogma... is anathema to science." (p. 8) Thomas Kuhn gave a convincing description of the way that scientific theories which are central to the conduct of a scientific discipline becomes a kind of dogmatism, which is only seriously questioned when a viable alternative arises to take its place. One of the strengths of Darwinian evolution is that it provides a unifying center for biological science, and in the sense that so much of the biological establishment depends upon evolutionary theory that modern biological practice would be unthinkable without it, Darwinian evolution has become a scientific dogma.


Kuhn's sense of "dogma", however, is not exactly synonymous with the type of dogma routinely practiced by creationists. Scientists will believe in a particular theory or hypothesis only as a matter of course--one has to adopt a sort of framework in order to make testable claims about the world, and the reason scientists hold onto such frameworks even given anamolies isn't because they are being dogmatic and ignoring the evidence. They hold onto the framework because it is quite frankly impossible to explain the world without an interpretitive framework with which to look at our various observations about the world. This is why we must wait for periods of revolution in order to do away with old frameworks--we can't do away with these old frameworks and correct these anomalies until we have something to replace it with.

However, religious dogma is the type of dogma that is believed regardless of whether there are facts that support its framework or not, and whether its framework is testable or not. I think it is important to realize that there is a huge distinction between what you call "dogma" in the sciences and what one would call dogma in religions.

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She's also careful to point out that science is better in a specific context, and that outside of that context, science isn't of much help. That's a point that a lot of people on the anti-Creationist side of the debate are quick to gloss over.


This is actually a point of hers that I have a slight quarrel with. She seems to bend over backwards at times to paint a sort of strict boundary between science as an epistemic method and other methods of knowing about the world, but I would argue that her definition of science is pretty much the totality of all our legitimate epistemic standards. For instance, she includes logic (presumably inductive logic, as well) in science, and it doesn't seem that there is any other form of epistemic justification outside of the hypothetico-deductive and logical methods. I also think she admits the possible existence of a non-material realm in making this distinction of contexts, and I don't think this is warranted at all.

Quote:
Not necessarily, because we need not assume the same context of natural law and necessity for such a designer. Because the cause-effect relationship would not necessarily hold true outside of the context of the natural world, there's no need at all to assume a designer at a further remove.


Then I suppose I can respond that we need not assume the context of natural law and necessity for the initial order and design of the world. If the theist can use this argument to remove God's complexity of the need for explanation, treating it as a sort of brute fact of some sort, then why can't we do this with order and design itself? This objection seems to refute the initial argument by allowing leaps outside of normal epistemic contexts into unjustifiable realms.




Tue Oct 10, 2006 12:25 am
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Post Re: Inconsistencies?
Saint Gasoline: Kuhn's sense of "dogma", however, is not exactly synonymous with the type of dogma routinely practiced by creationists. Scientists will believe in a particular theory or hypothesis only as a matter of course--one has to adopt a sort of framework in order to make testable claims about the world, and the reason scientists hold onto such frameworks even given anamolies isn't because they are being dogmatic and ignoring the evidence.

Whether or not there are significant differences between the way that dogma functions in science and the way it functions in religion is a question which I think most people are too willing to answer after only having made a serious study of one term of the analogy. There's a great deal of solid, scholarly research on the way in which science develops, and the ways in which science develops around central dogmas (and replaces those dogmas -- Kuhn's influence is largely responsible for the proliferation of this research), but it strikes me that most people aren't familiar with the research concerning how religions and religious dogmas develop. We, as a society, are typically content to take the lowest common denominator elements of individuals as typical of religious thought, without taking into account the development of those beliefs over a period of centuries.

They hold onto the framework because it is quite frankly impossible to explain the world without an interpretitive framework with which to look at our various observations about the world.

I'd say that the same is true, with modification, of religious points of view -- it serves a functional purpose related to worldview, and certain points of view and modes of behavior are quite frankly impossible to substantiate without some recourse to a framework.

However, religious dogma is the type of dogma that is believed regardless of whether there are facts that support its framework or not, and whether its framework is testable or not.

What's your support for that statement? Is all of your evidence on this count anecdotal? And if so, how can you be certain that your observations had a proper degree of fidelity with the actual significance of the circumstances? In other words, what were your controls in determining that the dogma was believed without recourse to some sort of "fact"? This is my point -- we seem to be drawing a great many of our "facts" about religion and religious belief out of thin air.

I think it is important to realize that there is a huge distinction between what you call "dogma" in the sciences and what one would call dogma in religions.

I'll concede that it's a possibility, but I think that there are viable alternative viewpoints, and until I come up against a criteria for choosing between them, I don't think it's prudent to simply assume that science has more reasonable motives for standing on dogma than religion.

She seems to bend over backwards at times to paint a sort of strict boundary between science as an epistemic method and other methods of knowing about the world, but I would argue that her definition of science is pretty much the totality of all our legitimate epistemic standards.

So would you say that science can answer for us aesthetic questions like, "Is Mozart's music more moving than Madonnas?" Or would you contend that the question is meaningless?

For instance, she includes logic (presumably inductive logic, as well) in science, and it doesn't seem that there is any other form of epistemic justification outside of the hypothetico-deductive and logical methods.

There may be no epistemic justification outside logical method (incidentally, am I right in supposing that Ayer's philosophy has influenced you on this point), but justification is not necessarily a criteria for knowledge. Justification is used to substantiate personal knowledge in the effort to build consensus, but a person need not justify something known in order to know it.

Then I suppose I can respond that we need not assume the context of natural law and necessity for the initial order and design of the world.

You could. So much depends on what one assumes to be the basic parameters of the question.

This objection seems to refute the initial argument by allowing leaps outside of normal epistemic contexts into unjustifiable realms.

It doesn't allow those leaps as though they could be included or left out at will -- they're part and parcel of the theistic answer to the question. I'm not trying to justify the character of that answer, but it's important to recognize that character when you're dealing with the theistic point of view.




Tue Oct 10, 2006 1:02 pm
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Post Re: Inconsistencies?
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What's your support for that statement? Is all of your evidence on this count anecdotal? And if so, how can you be certain that your observations had a proper degree of fidelity with the actual significance of the circumstances? In other words, what were your controls in determining that the dogma was believed without recourse to some sort of "fact"? This is my point -- we seem to be drawing a great many of our "facts" about religion and religious belief out of thin air.


It should be rather obvious that the dogmatism of religion is usually of the variety that ignores evidence to the contrary or else is untestable. For example, dogmatic refusals to believe in heliocentrism and evolution were common to believers, not because they were attempting to create a testable framework, but simply because their holy books said that the opposite was true. Scientific dogmatism, in other words, is necessary dogmatism. Scientists will cling to a theory, even in spite of anomalies, because "facts" make no sense without some sort of theoretical construct to place them in. However, religious dogmatism is often not concerned with facts or evidence, but assumes certain Biblical truths to be unquestionable and self-evident. It seems to me that there is plenty of reason to suspect that religious belief is thus a sort of "foundational" dogmatism, whereas scientific dogmatism is one that looks for coherence with facts and emphasizes testing and the search for better theories.

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So would you say that science can answer for us aesthetic questions like, "Is Mozart's music more moving than Madonnas?" Or would you contend that the question is meaningless?


I'm not sure if the question is meaningless or not. What do you mean by it? At any rate, I think science can answer such questions, or at least show that these questions are ill-formulated (perhaps by showing that there is no objective standard or set number of attributes that makes a particular piece "moving").

But what I mean is that Scott's definition seems to encompass all of our epistemic justifications is simply that her distinction between scientific knowledge and non-scientific knowledge is really a rather unimportant question. Science, no matter where you draw the line of what you want to call "science", is basically intended to be a tool for gaining knowledge. Science grew out of philosophy and we only decided to bracket it off as some different way of "knowing" about the world very late in history. So her bracketing of science off from other valid ways of knowing, and then trying to say that other forms of knowledge are unimportant because they are not science strikes me as odd. But this only concerns my gripe with her dismissal of what she calls "philosophical naturalism"--she thinks calling it "not science" is enough to discredit it, but given the fact that her definition of science includes logic, I think it is arguable that we CAN call philosophical naturalism a science. But I'm saving that for another post.




Tue Oct 10, 2006 6:32 pm
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Post Re: Inconsistencies?
Saint Gasoline: It should be rather obvious that the dogmatism of religion is usually of the variety that ignores evidence to the contrary or else is untestable.

Conclusions people tell me are obvious are typically the ones I'm most careful to question. Treating a given conclusion as obvious is the easiest way to let an oversimplified or misconstrued notion slide. Why should it be obvious?

For example, dogmatic refusals to believe in heliocentrism and evolution were common to believers, not because they were attempting to create a testable framework, but simply because their holy books said that the opposite was true.

You're talking about attitudes that were presumably common centuries ago. But how do we know those were the attitudes? I, personally, haven't read a single argument against heliocentrism from that period -- the only contemporary argument I've read at all is Galileo's, and all of the arguments he addressed were from logic rather than authority. So why should we assume that it was common to argue from Biblical authority? In fact, just about everything I've read about the period suggests that it was more common to argue from scientific authority rather than religious authority, and it may be telling that the only arguments from authority addressed by Galileo himself were those derived from the the authority of Aristotle.

If that's the case, then we might try considering the possibility that absolute adherence to religious dogma, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, may be more typical of certain segments of modern society than it usually was of ancient societies. And if that's the case, then it behooves us to figure out why. My objection to the black and white view of religious dogma that you've presented is that it allows us to be complacent when it would be more socially progressive to give a great deal more thought to the question of why some people are antievolutionists.

Me: So would you say that science can answer for us aesthetic questions like, "Is Mozart's music more moving than Madonnas?" Or would you contend that the question is meaningless?
Gasoline: I'm not sure if the question is meaningless or not. What do you mean by it?

Does it matter what I mean by it? What I take Ayer to be saying -- and you seem to have said the same thing in the past -- is that I can make statements that I think are meaningful, but which are actually (and quite literally) nonsense.

At any rate, I think science can answer such questions, or at least show that these questions are ill-formulated (perhaps by showing that there is no objective standard or set number of attributes that makes a particular piece "moving").

It looks to me as thought science (or philosophy, actually, as Ayer defines it) shows that questions are ill-formulated by demonstrating that they can be made more universally consensible by answering them in some other way. If you can't answer a question in that way, then Ayer's philosophy assumes that they're ill-formulated. But if a piece of music is moving to me, does it matter whether or not someone else also finds it moving? And if not, then what has science to do with answering that question?

Science, no matter where you draw the line of what you want to call "science", is basically intended to be a tool for gaining knowledge.

I don't think that's the case. Science is basically intended as a tool for bringing certain elements of what we define the natural world into our control. In the interests of that goal, it seems a surer grasp of those things, but it never seeks for knowledge without some sense of what it intends to do with that knowledge.

Science grew out of philosophy and we only decided to bracket it off as some different way of "knowing" about the world very late in history.

Nor would I say that philosophy was essentially a tool for gaining knowledge. That's an assumption Ayer makes, but it isn't necessarily one warranted by anything implicit in philosophy itself.

But this only concerns my gripe with her dismissal of what she calls "philosophical naturalism"--she thinks calling it "not science" is enough to discredit it, but given the fact that her definition of science includes logic, I think it is arguable that we CAN call philosophical naturalism a science.

I don't see that she's dimissed philosophical naturalism at all. She's drawn a distinction, but I think that distinction is intended to provide a way of drawing a line between theist scientists and non-theist scientists.




Fri Oct 13, 2006 1:15 am
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Post Re: Inconsistencies?
Mad:

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But how do we know those were the attitudes? I, personally, haven't read a single argument against heliocentrism from that period -- the only contemporary argument I've read at all is Galileo's, and all of the arguments he addressed were from logic rather than authority.


Uhm...maybe you do not see any argument against heliocentrism BECAUSE of the attitudes prevalent at the time? And look what happened to Galileo when he presented his arguments from logic! You seem to be supporting Gas's point here.

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is that I can make statements that I think are meaningful, but which are actually (and quite literally) nonsense.


I have been saying this about you for YEARS now! lol

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Nor would I say that philosophy was essentially a tool for gaining knowledge.


Ok. Being the novice in the pratice of philosophy I need you to clarify this for me. HOW can a system that asks questions NOT be looking to gain knowledge?

Quote:
Science is basically intended as a tool for bringing certain elements of what we define the natural world into our control.


I do not see it this way. Replace 'understanding' for you word: control. It is the human nature that then controls. But there are some people, like me, who just year to know WHY first.

Mr. P.

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Post Re: Dogma, dogma everywhere
Mr. P: All I have ever said is that science strives for knowledge.

Science doesn't strive for anything: scientists do.

Mr. P: I think you are attributing more to it than I am by implying there is a motive.

Anytime you introduce humans to an equation, you are introducing motives. And, there are motives behind introducing and leaving humans out of equations too.

Mr. P: Science itself is a system of gaining knowledge, humans will manipulate it from there.

There is no "science itself"...only humans acting scientifically, applying scientific tools, methods and rules to the agendas that dominate their attention, or the allegiences that dictate their roles and evaluate their performances.


Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 10/20/06 5:30 pm



Fri Oct 20, 2006 4:24 pm
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Post Re: Dogma, dogma everywhere
Now you are nit-picking.

I mean science as a system is a systematic attempt to gain an understanding of the way things actually work and how other things function.

Mr. P.

Mr. P's place. I warned you!!!

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

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Fri Oct 20, 2006 5:37 pm
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Post Re: Dogma, dogma everywhere
misterpessimistic: The periodic table is structured by observed properties of the elements. What "function do we ascribe to those elements", regarding how the table was structured?

But what criteria made us decide to arrange elements into a table according to their atomic weight? You see what I mean? Once you start asking questions like that, it's easier to see science as a creative endeavor. It functions in large part by manufacturing a framework that we can use to organize our observations about the world in practical ways. We've constructed a "table" for the elements not because it was obvious that the atomic number was a more essential knowledge of the elements, but because it was handy. It allowed us to treat elements in certain ways, and those way of handling the elements allow us to do certain things with them.

And I, for one, don't think that saying so robs science of either its potency or its dignity. Jacob Bronowski, just to give one example, does an excellent job of communicating the majesty of science as creative act, rather than one of sheer discovery.

All I have ever said is that science strives for knowledge.

I don't think it does, and I think attempts -- like those made by Popper, Ayer, etc. -- to build a stronger relationship between science and truth have demonstrated that it requires more effort to defend that claim than it does to simply accept the alternative view that science is a creative, cultural institution with certain practical strengths and limitations. What science strives for are different ways of dealing with the natural world.




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Post Re: Dogma, dogma everywhere
Something I didn't see in this chapter (which has been an extremely accessable education in the fundamentals of science) is an examination of the psychology of the scientist; more to the point: a discussion regarding the motives, agendas and goals that mobilize a scientist to engage her practice and expand her field.

Tied to this involves the role of political ideology, economic class, and gender relations in shaping not only the motives of the scientist, but determining the avenues made available to the scientist through grants, institutional support, etc.

I know this muddies the water and makes it difficult for us to enjoy the pristine splendor of the scientific endeavor: but I think we do ourselves a disfavor if we think we can understand this tremendous ability and knowledge if we simply divorce it from the human, all too human.

I hope it was this chapter, but I was very impressed with the distinctions between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. An atheist will always be both a philosophical and methodological naturalist, but a methodological naturalist will not always be an atheist or philosophical naturalist. Anybody care to pursue this line further?




Tue Oct 24, 2006 6:23 pm
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