Sunday, December 03, 2006

"It could be right"

Touchstone said:

“I didn't suggest that would be empirical evidence. Anything outside our universe would by beyond observation by definition Steve. But there are a lot of ways to skin a cat; direct observation is by no means the only tool in the toolbox for science and physics.”

Yes, it’s possible to derive information indirectly. But there’s still a big difference between indirect empirical evidence and a mathematical model.

“As for Hawking, you're still misunderstanding his claims.”

So you say.

“Have you read the man?”

Yes. I read his first book, as well as his published debate with Penrose, along with various articles of his.

To point out something that’s too obvious for your furry mind to grasp, it’s possible to read something in the original, and then cite the same quote from an online resource for the simple reason that an online resource is more accessible to the general public than a book.

“For him, asking 'what is reality?' is a philosophical endeavor, not a scientific one; what is *normative* are the predictions, observations, and results. For him, that's all the reality he needs to understand. Those *define* reality for Hawking, in absence of some ontic framework that transcends it.”

No, the question is whether scientific theories are true. Is it true that Schrödinger’s cat is dead or alive or indeterminate?

Of course, this is a hypothetical thought-experiment, but it is meant to graphically stand for a real life implication of quantum mechanics. At least on some quantum mechanical interpretations.

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.

“So Hawking isn't saying reality doesn't exist”

And I never said otherwise. Rather, he treats reality as inaccessible. It isn’t available for direct inspection. The best we can hope for is predictive accuracy.

“He’s saying that it doesn't matter how things are reified philosophically -- all that matters is how ever the real world (however it's defined) performs against objective tests.”

The tests are objective, but what they test is not intersubjectivally accessible.

“When you hide behind anti-realism to protect your YEC theology, your saying the opposite of what Hawking is saying. You don't care how the tests, observations and predictions perform (the things Hawking considers normative), they're useless, else they'd destroy your interpretation of the Bible.”

Several problems with your mischaracterization:

i) I could say that you hide behind the allegorical method to protect your TE theology.

ii) There is nothing wrong with my turning to preexisting conceptual resources to harmonize Gen 1 with the natural record.

I didn’t invent antirealism or metrical conventionalism or creation ex nihilo as a harmonistic device.

These have been around for a long time. They stand or fall on their own.

But if these positions have intellectual merit in their own right, then there’s nothing wrong with my adducing them when unbelievers raise intellectual objections to the faith, for these positions are both applicable to the issue and hand and responsive to the challenge.

This isn’t something that’s merely grafted onto the position I’m defending. Unbelievers challenge the timeframe of Genesis. But whether time has an intrinsic metric or not is directly relevant to dating schemes.

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

Unbelievers infer a certain process from certain effects. But if a different dynamic (creation ex nihilo) can yield the same effect, then the same effects don’t single out an evolutionary cosmology.

Everything I cite is directly germane to the methods and assumptions of the opposing position. I answer it at its own level.

You problem is not that my answers are unsuccessful, but, to the contrary, that my answers are too successful for you to skewer.

iii) I didn’t adopt my scientific antirealism to shield my interpretation of Genesis. Rather, my scientific antirealism is grounded in my theory of perception.

Now, it also turns out that this comes in handy in doing apologetics. But I came to some of my views independent of their apologetic utility.

iv) I do care how tests, observations, and predictions perform. But what they test, observer, and predict, are appearances.

God has coordinated appearance and reality to set up a functional correlation between the two. If there’s a mismatch between theory and appearance, then that has practical consequences.

Science also has various techniques for enhancing our sensory perception of the world. But we’re still dealing with appearances. How things appear to us. From our perspective, it’s appearances all the way down—even though there is an extramental, extrasensory world underlying our perception of the same.

v) While you pay lip-service to the unity of truth, you segregate truth. You wall off science from philosophy. You wall off science from theology.

I do not.

“Or at least force you to do the God-made-a-pretty-supernova-in-the-sky-that-never-was-really-there dance of "mature creation".”

i) Did I ever say the supernova was nonexistent? True to form, you’re constitutionally incapable of accurately reproducing the position of your opponent.

The question you posed, which I answered, was not whether the supernova ever existed. Rather, the question turned on the age of the supernova.

My distinction is not between apparent and real existence. Rather, my distinction is between primary and secondary causality.

Some artifacts were created by direct divine fiat. There was no intervening process involved in their production. Rather, their origination was instantaneous and complete.

And that, in turn, is what makes the subsequent cycle of natural processes possible. Creation ex nihilo is a front-loaded, top-down event, not an incremental, bottom-up process.

ii) And, as I pointed out before, modern science has widened the gap between appearance and reality. You don’t get to play both sides of the fence here.

“Hawking on the other hand, rejects metaphysics -- that's what positivists *do*. Asking "what is real?" as a philosopher is a meaningless question to Hawking; he denies there is any way to know objective transcendant truth (that would be what you and I espouse). Instead, according to Hawking, our *only* means of even getting dim, distorted glimpses of reality are through scientific theories and their application.”

This was a scientific debate between Penrose and Hawking. It is a debate over the epistemic status of scientific theorizing. If, a la Hawking, you deny that scientific theories implicate corresponding ontological commitments (in a Quinean turn of phrase), then scientific theories lack truth-value except at the purely pragmatic level of measurable predictions.

“Unless I've read you completely wrong you do *not* hold scientific theory as our limited but best way of knowing or approaching the truth. That'd be quite a novel position for a Christian to hold.”

What would be a novel position? My position? Or the position I deny?

“It's certainly true to say that we cannot, even in principle, physically observe anything external to our universe. But it *is* sensible to suppose that Susskind's idea could be right -- it's a circumstance that proceeds unavoidably from the M-theoy model, as it currently is formulated.”

“Could be right.” Many things could be right. Monadology could be right. Absolute idealism could be right. Guise theory could be right. Meinong could be right. The Matrix could be right. Panspermia could be right. David Lewis could be right. Neoplatonic theosophy could be right. Flood geology could be right. Creation ex nihilo could be right. Mature creation could be right. Geocentricism could be right. Theistic evolution could be right. The inverted universe could be right.

So many possibilities courting so little evidence.

With sufficient ingenuity, anyone can retrodict an empirically adequate and empirically equivalent theory. And I’d add that nothing is more ingenuous than string theory.

The sheer possibilities are infinite. And left to our own devices, we can never penetrate the veil of perception.

Philosophy can perform the negative service of eliminating certain impossibilities, like materialism and evolutionary psychology.

Philosophy can also help us to isolate and identify some of the truth-conditions which any viable worldview must meet.

But short of divine revelation, there is no way to pick which possibility answers to reality regarding the sensible world.

“That's what makes me smile when Steve invokes Hawkings: they mean completely different and opposite things when they each challenge the "reality of reality".”

I don’t invoke Hawking to equate his philosophy of science with my own. I never made that equation.

As I explained before—but Touchstone is supremely deaf to explanation—I invoke Hawking’s philosophy of science against those who invoke Hawking’s secular cosmology.

Yet I realize it would be completely out of character for Touchstone to grasp the opposing position—even when it’s been repeatedly explained to him.


That isn't proven, or even convincing overall in the community at this point. There are obviously good reasons to say it will never be proven, as we can't verify experientially anything beyond the bounds of our universe.

M-Theory is heavy on theory, light on observational support. In order to really test it directly we would need a super-collider bigger than the solar system. Nevertheless, M-Theory is remarkable in its ability to explain and incorporate gravity as a natural part of its model right down to the QM level.

M-Theory is notoriously incomplete and hard to test. It makes strong, ambitious and precise predictions, but they are typically only manifest at the Planck scale. That makes them quite difficult to evaluate for us.


So where does that leave you? This is where science hits a wall it can’t see around. It can speculate about what lies on the other side. But it can’t peer over the wall to double check its speculations.

In this respect, science has come to the end of the road. The road doesn’t end on a mountaintop, with a panoramic view of the world. It doesn’t end with a God’s-eye view, looking down.

Rather, it dead-ends at a wall. It never rises above eye-level. It can examine the composition of the wall. But it cannot look over the wall, to see what lies behind.

If you want a God’s-eye view of the world, look to revelation, not nature.

But with the lens of revelation, we can better see nature as well.


  1. :::SNIZZZZ!!!!:::

  2. 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.