Re: preposterous

From: Jonathan Clarke (
Date: Thu Apr 05 2001 - 19:16:49 EDT

  • Next message: Jonathan Clarke: "Re: preposterous"

    I am glad you finding this useful, so am I. I also believe we are achieving
    common ground which is the goal of these conversation. I am having trouble
    keeping up with all the posts though! Some further thoughts.

    I am not quite clear what you mean that physics is the prototype of all
    sciences. Physics did develop early on, however many people who thought on
    physics also wrote on other subjects. Aristole wrote not only on physics but
    also biology, astronomy, geography, and philosophy. Galileo on physics but also
    astronomy, Kepler on physics, astonomy, and magic, Descartes astromony, physics,
    geology, and philosophy. If by prototype you mean exemplar of the scientific
    method, again I am not sure this is correct. The scientific method was the
    result of developments not only in physics but also astronomy, geology (Steno,
    the Newton of geology, wrote in the 17h century) terms, togther with history,
    philosophy and theology. Each subdiscipline developed its own special methods to
    deal with the particular problems of its field. Taxonomy in biology, for

    I am glad you are not a metaphysical reductionist (as a Christian I would be
    most surprised if you were). However I think we also have to be careful to
    avoid reductionism with respect to science as well. While physics underlies
    every interaction in the world, it is, in itself, not a complete explanation for
    everything. So where the holy grail of a physical TOE appear, the only people
    unemployed would be physicists, the rest of us would still have a lot to do.

    Finally, we can always talk about things outside our expertise (life would be
    boring if we could) and outsuide people also bring a fresh perspective to
    something. But of course the contribution of insiders must always be


    Moorad Alexanian wrote:

    > Physics is the prototype of all sciences. I do not say that everyone who
    > knows what science is will say that. Historical sciences are not like
    > physics, why then qualify it with the word historical? Any person who wants
    > to treat his/her subject matter of study quantitatively and with rigor can
    > learn a lot from the methodology followed in physics and they do! I do not
    > reduce everything to physics. I am a Christian and realize there is more to
    > reality than matter. That is why it would be silly to attempt to deduce
    > political norms, etc. to physics (materialism). I agree with your statement
    > that man must analyze reality and thus introduce different disciples but
    > later one must integrate all that knowledge to truly understand nature and
    > man. There are, for instance, different levels of description of man that
    > include, chemistry, biology, physics, theology, psychology, sociology, etc.
    > One disciple cannot claim to explain man. It is clear that history handles
    > its data in a different ways than physics handles its data. Establishing
    > facts are done differently in those fields; of course, the human brain works
    > equally in all these areas of endeavor. There is a difference between doing
    > biology and discussing about biology. The former is the technical aspect
    > while the latter is the study of the presuppositions made in biology and how
    > they relate to other disciples. We can all discuss the philosophy of biology
    > without being practicing biologists. I have enjoyed this exchange and hope
    > you have learned as much as I have. Moorad
    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: Jonathan Clarke <>
    > Cc: <>
    > Date: Wednesday, April 04, 2001 8:26 AM
    > Subject: Re: preposterous
    > >
    > >
    > >Moorad Alexanian wrote:
    > >
    > >> What I wrote and what you say I said are totally different. That is the
    > type
    > >> of rigorous thinking that is lacking in the speculative areas that deal
    > with
    > >> questions of origins. You "summarize" what I said with the phrase "How
    > many
    > >> times do you need to be told that there is more to science than physics?"
    > >> Please explain to me, how does that logically follows from what I said?
    > >
    > >My statement was based several conversations we have had in the past when
    > you
    > >have expressed statements to the effect that physics was superior to
    > historical
    > >studies. How does this lack in rigour? Your most recent statement
    > supports
    > >this. You certainly said "I judge the work in that area (ie evolutionary
    > >biology and historical geology) and compare it with the rigor that is
    > needed to
    > >do good physics and realize that most, if not all, is very speculative and
    > may
    > >border on bad science." Therefore good physics is better than most or all
    > >evolutionary biology.
    > >
    > >> Chemistry, biology, microbiology, etc. are sciences and I can assure you
    > >> that every person that practices such disciples wants to do his/her
    > science
    > >> they way physicist do theirs!!
    > >
    > >Every person? I don't know any biologist (or geologist) who wants to
    > emulate
    > >physicists. There may be some who might suffer from physics envy, but that
    > is
    > >their problem.
    > >
    > >> In fact, some will even say that those disciplines can be eventually
    > reduced
    > >> to physics.
    > >
    > >Some may say this, but they are guilty of the most naive reductionism. In
    > what
    > >way can animal behavior be reduced to physics? In what way can a sequence
    > of
    > >historically contingent events in a sedimentary basin be predicted from
    > >physics? In what way can physics allow us to determine the political norms
    > of a
    > >given society? Biology, geology, and the social sciences wrestle with
    > questions
    > >that physics cannot even begin to to answer.
    > >
    > >What we need to recognise is that there is a taxonomy of disciplines we
    > call
    > >sciences. These share certain common characteristics, which is why we call
    > them
    > >sciences. These include being observation based, rational, attempts at
    > >determining relationships in the material world. Common tools include
    > >deduction, induction, falsifiability, repeatability, prediction, and
    > explanatory
    > >power. Within this larger taxonomic grouping there are differences in
    > >methodology based on the object of study. So we have the theoretical,
    > >experiment, observational, historical, and behavioural sciences. It is
    > >pointless it fault the methodology of one because it does not conform to
    > the
    > >methodology of the other. The theoretical rationalism and even
    > instrumentalism
    > >of some theoretical physics works well in that field but is perhaps
    > irrelevant
    > >to biology. the historical principles of Steno are essential to
    > archaeology and
    > >geology but completely irrelevant to sociology or quantum theory.
    > >
    > >> Did O.J. killed Nicole and her friend? Forensics science may say yes,
    > but the
    > >> answer may be no.
    > >> How many shooters killed president Kennedy? So we really know!! Those
    > are
    > >> the sort of questions asked in historical sciences. Are the answers to
    > these
    > >> questions conclusive? You tell me.
    > >
    > >Of course there are limits what we can know about the past. But the fact
    > we do
    > >not know everything does not mean we therefore know nothing. We may not
    > (thanks
    > >the obfuscation of the legal profession combined with insufficient data)
    > know
    > >who killed Nicole and friend , but I presume that even you do not dispute
    > that
    > >the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, that Napoleon lost at Waterloo or
    > Jerusalem
    > >was destroyed in AD70. How is this dissimilar to the situation in the
    > physical
    > >sciences. Because there is no TOE (and perhaps will never be a TOE),
    > because of
    > >quantum uncertainty, does this mean that it is impossible to say anything
    > about
    > >physical interaction?
    > >
    > >I ask again: How much work in historical geology (or evolutionary biology)
    > have
    > >you actually done and how much have you reviewed for you to make this
    > judgment?
    > >Have you actually done the morphological analysis of fossils through a
    > >stratigraphic section? Have you looked at gene distribution and
    > transmission
    > >in isolated populations? Have you actually attempted to work out the
    > geological
    > >history of an area or even a single depositional unit? How wide a range of
    > the
    > >literature in these fields have you read? I don't mean popularisations, I
    > mean
    > >actual papers. Unless you have done this sort of work you have no basis
    > for
    > >your sweeping generalisations.
    > >
    > >Jon
    > >

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