Re: ASA and the History and Philosophy of Science (HPS)

From: Mervin Bitikofer <>
Date: Wed Nov 09 2005 - 20:04:48 EST

    Gregory, I for one am more than fascinated with HPS -- indeed with
philosophy and religion in general, and I haven't meant for my lack of
posts using the "HPS" subject heading to be interpreted as a snub.
Like you, I only have so many hours in a day. I also assume that
virtually everything in the various subject posts will fall under the
broad umbrella of HPS. Some subjects are just "zoomed in" to specific
scientific discussions in which the larger context is not the feature of
interest, and others "zoom out" to examine the larger context of "life,
the universe, and everything". (D. Adam's phrase)
    I think I share your interest in trying to get others to recognize
the importance of examining underlying philosophies, and as a teacher I
welcome those discussions in which students want to "zoom out" and look
at the bigger assumptions made about reality. But on the other hand, I
can also recognize why some have a reticence about all this philosophy
talk. They are too busily immersed in the fascinating details of the
practice of science itself. C.S. Lewis made this observation about
religion, but I think it applies to disciplines like science as well.
Lewis observed that a man does not refer to his own beliefs, practices,
and relation to God as 'religion', because he hasn't the time.
'Religion' is the label given by an outside observer or by the man
himself at a later time as he reflects on his earlier experience. But
while he is still engaged in it -- he isn't thinking about how religious
he is, or if he is, then his thoughts are detracting from the experience
itself. This is a rough paraphrase of Lewis' thought. I think the same
could be said for scientists. If scientists are busy collaborating with
each other to solve a problem, they wouldn't generally be engaging in
simultaneous 'meta-reflection' about their philosophy of science. Such
thoughts would rather interfer with their task of the moment. We can't
always be expecting them to wax philosophical when they just want to get
their hands dirty with the science itself. BUT -- we surely can expect
that they don't run from the opportunity to ask the bigger questions
when occasions such as these origins debates present the opportunity.
That's what I love about this forum. We can discuss the bigger
questions of 'religion' without frightening too many away, while also
recognizing our own places within the various belief systems and the
inherent and inescapable limitations on our own objectivity. I would
argue that HPS is not a 'side course' or even the 'main course' but
could be thought of as the entire meal here. We just don't eat the
entire meal all at once -- but rather one dish at a time.


Gregory Arago wrote:

> In a way, I'll take the quick slowdown of this thread as an indication
> that 'HPS [is] rather maligned by pure scientists and philosophers as
> a sub-discipline and not a main course itself.' Since if it was a
> 'main course,' there would likely be much more discussion about how
> contextualizing the history and philosophy of science would/could
> indeed help people to understand what evolution 'means' to scientists
> and how intelligent design can be contextualized as not such a great
> 'revolution' like some are claiming of it. The idea of 'design' is
> certainly already tried and tested (e.g. W. Paley), but since being
> newly connected with such things as information theory, probability
> studies and (that philosophical concept) irreducability, ID has
> received new 'life' in the American context of science and religion
> discourse. History and philosophy of science would likely help to give
> perspective on how unique or not-unique ID is as well as where
> evolution stands in its current position of scientific and
> non-scientific influence.
> Some comments from the thread that I personally found interesting and
> perhaps provocative for further discussion are highlighted below.
> Others are of course free to choose different parts of the postings
> with interest. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to offer an
> appropriate response and the next few days don't look any more
> opportune, so I take a brief moment now in the wee hours of noche. We
> are working on the church for a special service on Sunday, so I'm late
> night checking ASA. Hopefully this pick n' choose method will not be
> seen as belittling folks or their other contributed words and opinions.
> "[T]heology is a component that usually gets left out" - G. Murphy
> "What is distinctive - & IMO wrong - about the present ID movement
> is...the claim that some features of the world can't be understood
> without the concept of intelligent design & that that concept should
> be made a part of scientific theories." - G. Murphy
> "Scientists and philosophers may find themselves re-inventing the
> theological wheel if they start discussing this topic without
> knowledge of the theological tradition." - G. Murphy (from link)
> "If theology is thinking about what we believe, all Christians in
> possession of their faculties ought to be theologians to some extent."
> - G. Murphy (from link)
> "The fundamental problem with ID as science is that it attempts to
> draw lines that separate purely natural events from designed events.
> Science makes progress ordinarily only by assuming the existence of
> natural explanations and then working to find them." - D. Winterstein
> (Note: here the methodological naturalism vs. philosophical or
> metaphysical naturalism dichotomy is sometimes applied for clarity of
> what science is and isn't.)
> "ID as an aspect of God's mode of creation is, along with natural
> selection, believable to me." - D. Winterstein
> "[T]here is probably a use for the History and Philosophy of Science
> (in addition to sound Christian theology, which is probably most
> important) in helping people understand that it is a category mistake
> to view 'evolution' and 'creation' (or 'evolution' and 'design' for
> that matter) as competing and incompatible concepts." - A. Harvey (in
> his words, not his cat's!)
> "[T]he significance lay with the word 'guided.' And on that point, I
> think the entire
> controversy rests...I would love to hear knowledgeable theologians and
> scientists elaborate on what divine guidance may or may not look
> like." - M. Bitikofer
> "[God's] Preservation, Cooperation, Governance (e.g. guided)" - G.
> Murphy (in response to question about 'divine guidance')
> " direct evolution in the desired direction. This could be done
> without any violation of the laws of quantum mechanics." - G. Murphy
> (Note: the participles 'to direct' and 'to design' could possibly be
> compared as for their relevance in or outside of scientific theories
> of evolution, which HPS would likely help to reveal.)
> "[T]here is an appalling amount of claptrap (not to use earthier
> terms) around that can be demolished by proper historical studies...I
> am sure that some approaches misunderstand science and demean the
> deity." - D.F. Siemens Jr.
> "[I]f someone were to eliminate all gaps via good scientific
> explanations, it would have little effect on my theology. (But it
> would change my perception of how God acts.) ... [M]y position can be
> characterized not as 'God of gaps' but as 'world of gaps'." - D.
> Winterstein
> Perhaps where we wind up after these comments is in wondering if there
> are any 'gaps' in our knowledge(s) that evolutionary theory does not
> (yet) fill adequately that i+d theory could somehow improve upon. I
> agree with G. Murphy that ID's challenge is to convince people that
> some features of the world can't be understood without 'intelligent
> design.' The concept duo recruited for this understanding/knowledge
> task does seem a bit strange or awkward sometimes to the ear and it
> has been the goal of the social-political movement to convince people,
> mainly Christians but also some non-Christians, that i+d is the best
> figure of speech. Aristotle reminds us that people must relate to/with
> language they feel comfortable using and it is plainly obvious from
> polls in America that evolution, though spoken even by the U.S.
> President in his speech-making, has never been such a comfortable
> concept for common or scientific usage.
> Currently I am writing a short paper about the Imago Dei. It would be
> indeed strange to 'reduce' the Image Dei to an expression of
> 'intelligent design,' even if those words both express some semblance
> of the truth. The issue for the IDM and the DI, however, is being
> framed as a 'scientific revolution,' as a purely scientific challenge
> to (neo)-Darwinisim and evolutionism, materialism or naturalism
> (depending on the ID promoter's agenda and scientific knowledge), such
> that a predominantly philosophical or theological challenge to
> secularism (or re-education about it) is not the desired approach.
> History and philosophy of science (seemingly) helps to reveal that
> evolution's place in the scientific literature is well-supported by
> evidence collected by both religious and non-religious persons. I
> wonder why it is not referenced more closely to help in the defense of
> theology against those who would try to stretch the definition of
> science with appeals to non-natural or supernatural causes and effects.
> "If a science teacher in a science class wishes to discuss challenges
> to the explanatory efficacy of Darwinian evolution, it's entirely
> appropriate to do so in the context of discussing some philosophy of
> about ID's critique of evolution in
> connection with evolution." - Ted Davis
> But then this would be mixing philosophy (and history) of science with
> 'actual' science, i.e. what evolution is said to be. Perhaps the
> question of 'where to discuss this' is really more urgent and
> practical than some people outwardly acknowledge. This is why the
> 'Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness' (well-named IDEA) clubs
> are gaining such popularity at some American universities. If ASA
> could help to organize something that would help provide a forum for
> students to discuss challenges or critiques of evolution, where valid,
> in the context of science, philosophy AND theology, maybe it could be
> a significant contribution to the discourse.
> Gregory
> P.S. The third branch of Christianity is Orthodox, though omitted by
> Dr. Murphy in his linked paper, perhaps Orthodox Christians would have
> something important to contribute to the discussion too...
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Received on Wed Nov 9 20:11:14 2005

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