Re: [asa] on "baconianism" & American evangelicals

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Mar 06 2007 - 16:08:36 EST

Ted's remarks are on target & on reading them it occurred to me that an
oft-quoted statement of Thomas Huxley tends to support this "Just the facts,
ma'am" notion of science. Huxley said (I don't recall the exact wording)
that science is often a process of the slaying of a beautiful theory by an
ugly fact. Of course there's a good deal of truth in that but it overstates
the matter. 1st, as we've increasing come to find since Huxley's time as
the phenomena with which we deal get farther and farther from everyday
experience, our observations of "facts" are theory-laden. Without some
theoretical framework we couldn't get from a network of bubble trails to a
reaction of hadrons, leptons &c. & 2d, sometimes - though with considerable
caution - the theorist is justifying in saying "So much the worse for the
'facts'" because the observations which established those facts were wrong
or have been misinterpreted, or because the conditions in which the theory
should be applied haven't been established correctly.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: "David Opderbeck" <>; <>
Cc: <>; "Carol or John Burgeson" <>
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 1:45 PM
Subject: [asa] on "baconianism" & American evangelicals

> This is IMO one of the most important points that has been raised thus far
> in our exchanges about global warming, population, and evolution. The
> American evangelical tradition, since the 19th century, has been heavily
> invested in the so-called "Baconian" view of science. I won't argue about
> the propriety of the label, which I do accept myself. I will point out
> what
> it means, both micro and macro.
> In a micro sense, it means that American evangelicals tend to follow
> Thomas
> Reid's "common sense" philosophy, when it comes to matters scientific.
> Science for them consists in "facts" that have been established directly
> from observations, and inductions that are really just broad
> generalizations
> of those observations. They tend to think that the kinds of broad,
> far-reaching theories that provide coherence and explanatory nexi for
> diverse, apparently unrelated (ie, unrelated without the larger theories)
> facts are not legitimate parts of science; ie, they do not constitute
> scientific "knowledge" as such (remember that our word "science" derives
> from the Latin participle "sciens" = knowing). They are too speculative
> and
> cannot be "known" with certainty, thus they are "mere theories" that can
> be
> opposed and jettisoned at will. This is what I call the "Dragnet" view of
> science, after Joe Friday's character, who appears at the door and asks
> the
> (often) housewife to tell him "just the facts, ma'am," concerning what she
> saw last Thursday night, etc.
> IN a macro sense, this is a profoundly unscientific view, in terms of what
> the scientific community has actually done increasingly since the early
> 17th
> century, when Galileo and others started to work with H/D models of
> explanation. Such models tended to move from the physical sciences into
> the
> historical sciences and experimental biology in the early 19th century.
> In
> Darwin's case, the influence of John Herschel's "consilience of
> inductions"
> was crucial. American evangelicals continue to buy into a philosophy of
> science that is nearly four centuries out of date at this point. The
> enormous chasm between what they tend to think science is, and what the
> scientific community thinks it is, only grows ever larger, esp when the
> Dobson's and Ham's of the world are the ones who seem to count.
> For an historical account of this in the late 19th and early 20th century,
> see James Gilbert, "Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an AGe of
> Science." Good stuff.
> Ironically, Americans accept this type of H/D reasoning, when it comes to
> convicting people of unwitnessed crimes. They understand that it yields
> conclusions that are short of absolute certainty, but that very strongly
> supported conclusions can still be drawn. When the Bible, however,
> provides
> a real eyewitness to the creation (as Ham would clearly claim), the
> eyewitness takes precedence over the merely probable inferences of
> "atheistic" scientists.
> Ted
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Received on Tue Mar 6 16:10:21 2007

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