Re: Lakatos and the hard core

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Sep 08 2004 - 17:25:04 EDT

Lakatos and the hard coreGlenn -

   One of the phrases sometimes used in our family is "I know dat." It comes from my bright younger daughter who was a very persistent questioner. When she was about 3 and one of my answers to a question seemed to her to be going over old ground & not moving fast enough she would say "I know dat." When she'd ask for the 10th time "Why did da dinosaurs die?" & I would start repeating some possibilities (this was pre-Alvarez), she'd break in with "I know dat."

    & that has to be my 1st response to your post. The Lakatosian hard core isn't invulnerable? I know dat. I've known dat for a long time, & I see no justification for the suggestion that I'm using his description of the scientific process "in a slightly wrong manner."

    But of course its vulnerability is indirect: It's not a matter of "verifying" or "falsifying" the hard core by some single "crucial experiment." It comes instead from judging whether or not the research program in question is progressive or degenerating: Does it predict or explain novel facts without significant changes in the theories of its protective belt or is it necessary to keep changing those theories to accomodate new discoveries - as, e.g., with the steady state theory? & one can really only judge between competing research programs.

    I think Lakatos provides a good description of the way science works & that there's a good deal of value (cf. Nancey Murphy) of applying it to scientific method. But I've never tried to formalize my "chiasmic cosmology" research program in strict Lakatosian fashion: It isn't a recipe for doing either science or theology. Considered as a theological program, I'd sketch my approach this way.

    Hard core: "True theology and the recognition of God are in the crucified Christ." (A quote from Luther.)
Of course this has to be fleshed out both from the Bible and from "secular" history &c. To keep it brief, "Christ" means Jesus of Nazareth as he was
proclaimed by the apostles. & lest there be any question about this, "the crucified Christ" means "really nailed to a cross & died outside Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate." & "as proclaimed by the apostles" includes the resurrection of the crucified.

    & I think I have to add: Of course people can develop all kinds of "religion-science" programs. But if something's going to be presented as a distinctively Christian program it seems to me that its hard core ought to have something to do with Christ.

    Protective belt: The main theological flexibility here is provided by the possibilities of biblical interpretation. That flexibility is not infinite though because such interpretation can't conflict with the hard core or clear knowledge of the way the world is. (The latter point would take some development but it would derive from the understanding of creation noted below.)

    Novel fact: The statement of the hard core implies that the creator and sustainer of the universe (i.e., God) is recognized in the event of the cross, so we may expect that God's method of operation in creation is also recognizable here. Those who've read stuff of mine previously will know how the argument's going to go. It leads to the claim that God's activity in the world is hidden and that the world can be understood "though God were not given," a claim that scientific progress has given a lot of support to. Of course that's pretty obvious now - though some theologies still struggle with it - but it was hardly obvious when Luther made his statement in 1518. Nor was it something I had in mind when I first started this program over 20 years ago. (In fact I remember arguing rather vehemently against Bonhoeffer's "though God were not given" statement.) So this can reasonably count as a novel fact for the program. ("Novel facts" in this sense are not limited to things that weren't known when a theory was developed, but includes those that may have been known but weren't used in the development of the theory. E.g., the prediction of the precession of Mercury's orbit counts as a novel fact for general relativity because Einstein didn't use it in developing the theory.)

    Other examples could be given - cf. my old JASA paper "A Theological Argument for Evolution."

    My basic understanding of creation there is that of the God revealed in Christ as the source of the world's being and of Christ as the agent of creation: I would refer to Jn.1:1-18 & Col.1:15-20 before Genesis 1 or 2 without at all discounting the latter. But as you know, I feel no compulsion to interpret either Gen.1 or 2 as an historical or scientific account. I have a feeling that you may then say (quoting from below), "But if one has to beg the question of christianity's truth in order to defend this hard core, it no longer is a Lakatosian defense." I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that but I suspect "the truth of Christianity" may include "truth of Genesis as history." If so we're just back to our ancient debate because I do not agree that by understanding Genesis as I do I am "beg[ging] the question of Christianity's truth."

    Needless to say, this is the briefest sketch of the program. I won't play the "Read my book" card but it won't prove anything to point out that I've failed to discuss issue X, Y or Z here.

    There's a lot more to say about this & you may be inclined to weigh in with criticisms at this point. But as I said earlier, one can really only judge between competing research programs by seeing which is more progressive or more degenerating. So I think it's fair to ask at this point what the hard core of your theology-science program is. What's in your wallet?

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Glenn Morton
  Sent: Monday, September 06, 2004 2:57 PM
  Subject: Lakatos and the hard core

  The name of Lakatos has been raised but in my opinion used in a slightly wrong manner. Lakatos's view of science is that there is a hard core at the center of each major theory. This part of the theory is surrounded by a protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses. Anomalies and counterfactual data can't easily get through to the hard core without going through a huge number of auxiliary hypotheses, all of which support the hard core and which can be altered in manners that maintain the intellectual cogency of the theory without affecting the hardcore of the theory. An example on the old evolution list was a discussion between Paul Nelson and I on neutrinos. Paul was saying that the missing neutrinos would bring down the current theory of solar energy. I noted, at that time, in lakatosian terms that that wouldn't happen because it was too close to the hard core center of the theoretical construct. I predicted that neutrino mass would be found or that switching between neutrino types would be found. A few weeks later a report came out saying that neutrinos had some mass. Now, I don't know the eventual fate of that mass, but it illustrates how science works.

  Now, it has been claimed that one can use the hard core of the resurrection as center of Christian theology. But if one has to beg the question of christianity's truth in order to defend this hard core, it no longer is a Lakatosian defense. Lakatos clearly would allow for the falsification of the hard-core. He specifically says that the hard core can't be held against all evidence and the loss of all support. He says:

  ""We may rationally decide not to allow 'refutations' to transmit falsity to the hard core as long as the corroborated empirical content of the protecting belt of auxiliary hypotheses increases. But our approach differs from Poincare's justificationist conventionalism in the sense that, unlike Poincare's, we maintain that if and when the programme ceases to anticipate novel facts, its hard core might have to be abandoned: that is, our hard core, unlike Poincare's, may crumble under certain conditions. In this sense we side with Duhem who thought that such a possibility must be allowed for but for Duhem the reason for such crumbling is purely aesthetic, while for us it is mainly logical and empirical.". Imre Lakatos, "Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes," in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Proc. Intl. Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965, volume 4 edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 134

  George raised the issue of Leninist theology failing to anticipate novel facts. And that is why I asked the question about Christian theology's failure to anticipate novel facts. That question is crucial to really having a Lakatosian view of the world. If the hard core can't crumble, then it isn't Lakatosian. Lakatos clearly says that logic and empiricism are valid reasons for the hard core to crumble. That is what I am saying about the accommodationalist mode of operation. It tries to defend the hard core with poor logic (question begging) and empirical laws of physics(communication theory) against it. When you are in that place, Lakatos says the hard core has to crumble but we fail to let it do that. We beg the question of what world view is true in order not to let that hard core fail.

  That leaves us with two options. Be in denial about the problems or work to find a new view which doesn't have God transmitting mumbo-jumbo of the false kind.
Received on Wed Sep 8 18:17:08 2004

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