Re: preposterous

From: Jonathan Clarke (
Date: Thu Apr 05 2001 - 08:33:11 EDT

  • Next message: george murphy: "Re: preposterous"


    I think we have substantial agreement here. Just some final comments.

    John W Burgeson wrote:

    > [Snip] Jonathan went on to say: "Perhaps you need to be more specific. By
    > evolutionary, do you mean "organic evolution by natural selection",
    > "descent with modification" or any theory of the earth and universe that
    > involves naturalistic origins?"
    > A fair question. I was thinking in generalities, of course. I have no
    > problem with any of the three categories above, however, as a person
    > trained in quantitative physics, I am uncomfortable with the lack of
    > quantification in the first two of these. By "uncomfortable," I do not
    > mean to denigrate, only to understand that I don't really know how to
    > defend them (the various theories) without a quantitative model to appeal
    > to.

    Quantification means different things to different people. Statitiscs is the
    essential form of quantification in the social sciences, but has only more
    specialised application in most other sciences. The equivalent to
    quantification in historical sciences is documentation, both documentation of
    events (represented by their evidence) and the time sequence of those
    events. For example a good evolutionary study of speciation in the fossil
    record qould consist of documenting the variance in morphological
    characteristics of a species through a straigraphic succession and showing
    how this split into two lineages, each with it own range of characteristic
    variances. Keith Miller has examples in one of his articles. That is why I
    emphasise that one of the important characteristics of science is that it is
    evidence based, a term I hope is broad enough to capture both quantification
    and documentation, as well as the concepts of falsification, repeatability,
    and prediction.

    > [snip]
    > It is very likely the case that as a physics student, too many years ago,
    > I was brainwashed into thinking that physics is the "queen of the
    > sciences" and that all other fields of science are, somehow, second rate.
    > I know I did believe that once; I am older and wiser now. Well -- older,
    > anyhow.

    Was it Rutheford who said that "Science consists of physics and stamp
    collecting"? I think that attitude with its self righteous sense of
    superiority to lesser mortals has permeated conciously or otherwise much of
    the culture of physicists. Certainly when I was an undergraduate I
    encountered it and it was only partlyu tongue in cheek. This has been
    reinforced by much of the popular work of the philosophy of science (e.g.
    Popper and Kuhn) also being written from the perspective where physics
    provided the norm and the illustrations. At least, that is how I remember
    them. If we are going to talk about philosophy of science I think we need
    to conciously distance ourselves from such views because they are so


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