Monday, December 04, 2006

Science & scientism

***QUOTE***

PETER SAID:
Steve wrote: "For Hawking, the paradox is a pseudoproblem since, for him, a scientific theory isn’t supposed to be true to reality. Rather, it’s only supposed to be true to our measurements of reality. But if a theory doesn’t correspond to reality, then it has no ultimate truth-value. It corresponds to our measurements of reality, but our measurements of reality are not equivalent to reality itself—according to Hawking."

If I understand correctly, the discussion is between the following propositions (which I think could both reasonably be called `scientific anti-realism'):

1) Science teaches us things about the world, but not about an "ultimate reality" such as God. Claims about the world coming from other sources (e.g. human speech or divine revelation) can theoretically come into conflict with scientific knowledge of the world.

2) Science does not teach us anything about the world. It is purely self-referential and the influence of scientific experiments does not extend outside science. In particular, scientific knowledge is by definition disjoint from what revelation tells us about reality.

I am a supporter of (1), and I get the impression you adhere to (2). For clarification, I prefer not to call (1) anti-realism but critical realism or something similar.

I don't understand what you mean by the second paragraph of the above quotation, especially by a theory that "doesn't correspond to reality". I believe that a theory "corresponds to measurements of reality" in the sense that there are certain aspects of reality which can be measured and that the results can be compared to theoretical predictions. From what you wrote, I'm not sure to what extent you would agree with that. "Corresponding to reality" is a stronger property of a theory than "corresponding to measurements of reality", but it is not justified to conclude from this, or from Hawking's philosophical views, that a theory can predict much about measurements of reality yet say nothing about reality itself. You seem to make such a conclusion, however, when you say:

"Unbelievers claim that science falsifies Gen 1. But, other issues aside, that would only be possible if scientific theories are truth-valued."

I believe geology and biology do not "correspond to reality" in the sense that there is a 1-1 correspondence between the facts of the world and the propositions of those sciences. Still, they allow us to say enough about the world (that there was no time when both dinosaurs and humans lived on the earth, for example) to conclude that a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is inconsistent with those aspects of reality that geology and biology touch upon.

The only way out I can see is to believe that God not only hides Himself from scientific investigation, but even intentionally makes the world appear in such a way that scientific investigation leads to conclusions that contradict God's revelation of the way He acts in the world.

***END-QUOTE***

Hi Peter,

1. There are two potential sources of misunderstanding here:

i) The relation of my scientific philosophy to Hawking's scientific philosophy. Are they the same? Different? Do they intersect?

ii) The fact that in this post I haven't attempted to spell out my complete position.

2. To avoid unnecessary complications, let's leave the exegesis of Hawking's position out of the picture.

3. Speaking for myself, I'm an indirect realist. Science does teach us about the world, but the phenomenal world. The world as the percipient senses the world.

4. Now, I'm an indirect realist rather than a phenomenalist or idealist. So I do believe in the existence of an external, extramental world underling the phenomena.

(Mind you, I couldn't prove that from empiricism or rationalism.)

So I do think there are physical objects generating these stimuli. Ontologically speaking, it isn't appearances all the way down.

But from the epistemic viewpoint of the observer, it is appearances all the way down. Phenomenal layers. Phenomenal filters.

5. What sciences measures are appearances And I do think there's a *correlation* between appearance and reality. That's why we can successfully navigate our environment.

But what we lack is a *correspondence* between appearance and reality, in the sense that there's no way of telling, from the viewpoint of the observer, the degree to which, if any, our perception *resembles* reality. To what extent, if any, appearance is *like* reality?

For example, there's a correlation between a music score and a musical performance. But a music score doesn't sound like a piece of music. It doesn't sound like anything. It's just a code. A way of encoding music.

6. That said, some codes are more accurate than others. It's possible to mistranscribe a piece of music.

7. My distinction between appearance and reality is not between the sensible and the supersensible (God).

I do think that science can arrive at a knowledge of God. That there's scientific evidence for the existence of God.

But I don't regard scientific theories as literally descriptive of the physical world.

8. Indirect realism is not the only card in the deck. We can also discuss biology and geology on their own terms. I've done that elsewhere. And others have done that elsewhere—on both sides of the fence. Technical analysis is best left to those with training in the requisite field of specialization.

9. Even so, specialization doesn't obviate the metascientific issues. To say the world looks one way according to science, and another way according to Genesis, is an unscientific statement, for it conceals a number of metascientific assumptions.

6 comments:

  1. "7. My distinction between appearance and reality is not between the sensible and the supersensible (God).

    I do think that science can arrive at a knowledge of God. That there's scientific evidence for the existence of God."

    This is a bit interesting...I'm curious what kind of evidence you believe there is for a transcendent, timeless, immaterial Being. Especially because someone who doesn't believe will often protest that the existence of God is something beyond the limits of science (as we know it, at least)

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  2. I happen to think the ID arguments for fine-tuning, specified complexity, and irreducible complexity are promising.

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  3. I happen to think the ID arguments for fine-tuning, specified complexity, and irreducible complexity are promising.

    Don't get your hopes up, Steve. Those arguments will not dispel your doubts. No arguments will.

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  4. sala unideras12/05/2006 12:32 AM

    "Don't get your hopes up, Steve. Those arguments will not dispel your doubts. No arguments will."

    Gropius, neither shall Darwinism, genetic mutations, and small bone fragments from the supposed "missing link" dispel yours. No arguments will.

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  5. bigus dickus12/05/2006 2:18 AM

    TOPEKA, KS—In response to a Nov. 7 referendum, Kansas lawmakers passed emergency legislation outlawing evolution, the highly controversial process responsible for the development and diversity of species and the continued survival of all life.

    "From now on, the streets, forests, plains, and rivers of Kansas will be safe from the godless practice of evolution, and species will be able to procreate without deviating from God's intended design,"

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/55807

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  6. First of all, thanks for your clarifications, Steve. Because of what I took to be your views in the post I responded to and because of your identification as a creationist and scientific anti-realist in your profile, I was under the impression that you were unreasonably dismissive of science.

    Anyway, like some of the other commenters, I am unconvinced by scientific arguments for the existence of God, and I do not believe the ID folks have found scientific evidence for it. I do think that cosmological fine-tuning (which is actually a meta-scientific question evoked by scientific observations) poses a problem for atheists, but there is nothing to stop them from just positing the existence of all possible worlds, for example.

    ReplyDelete