[asa] RE: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerichon TE and ID)

From: wjp <wjp@swcp.com>
Date: Mon Jun 08 2009 - 08:18:20 EDT


I want to say more about this later.

Briefly, I'm trying to think what we will make of physics if there is
"no metaphysics."

If we say that physics is simply, merely and no more than instrumentalist
tools to associate phenomena, is that a non-metaphysical "science"?

Keep in mind that in order to accept this idea of physics we are going to
have to give up any "realist" notions of the derivatives of physics.
We cannot, I think, lean on any epistemic "virtues" to attest to the
"truth" of science. All such talk of "truth" must be abandoned.
Notions that scope or coherence are marks of a "true" or "reliable"
theory are decidedly metaphysical, as is Ockham's Razor.

Aside from the enormous difficulties that such a science presents for
discovery, that is my question: is a thoroughly instrumentalist,
pragmatic physics devoid of metaphysics?

Such a position begins to take on a positivist flavor it seems.

Anyway, I wonder.


On Sun, 7 Jun 2009 23:17:53 -0400, "Alexanian, Moorad" <alexanian@uncw.edu> wrote:
> Hello again, Cameron,
> I want to emphasize what the subject matter of science is, that is, what
> does the physicist, say, plays with. It is not inferences plus data but
> data, which are snapshots of reality. The development of theories is how
> we put together all those snapshots. Newton was able to summarize the main
> data or observations of the solar system and terrestrial motion by
> introducing the notion of force and dynamical equations that made
> predictions. I do not think that Newton would say that he was inferring
> gravity. Remember Newton used mathematical description and the verbal
> description of the force as gravity is more incidental than necessary. We
> know that “action at a distance” was eventually supplanted by the
> notion of fields, which actually become measurable entities, witness
> gravitational waves, electromagnetic waves, etc.
> Honestly Cameron I do not see any metaphysics in the doings of physicists.
> Physicists, and all other scientists for that matter, deal only with the
> snapshots of the real thing, metaphysics deals with the real thing using
> the snapshots and all else that is available.
> It could be that abhorrence of “action at a distance” based on
> metaphysical presupposition may have hasten field theory earlier than it
> occurred historically. One may say that Einstein was so motivated.
> However, in many instances, physicists may use differing sort of
> inspirations or instincts to arrive at better descriptions of Nature.
> Surely, "final cause" in Nature is metaphysics talk, not physics talk. The
> experimental scientist provides the data; the theoretical scientist
> develops the theory. The metaphysician may use the data, the theory, plus
> other data, which certainly are not snapshots of Nature, and infer what
> reality truly is. As my philosophy professor would say, the real thing is
> “mobile being,” the physicist studies the mobile not the being. The
> metaphysician deals with being and thus integrates the mobile with the
> being.
> The existence of a Creator is an unavoidable conclusion of serious and
> honest reasoning. However, such a conclusion I do make as a physicist but
> as a human being whereby I am trying to put together not only scientific
> studies but also the totality of the human experience. Obviously, the
> question of a Creator comes at the very beginning with the simple
> question, How come existence? I cannot separate the notion of a designer
> from that of a Creator.
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu [asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu] On Behalf Of
> Cameron Wybrow [wybrowc@sympatico.ca]
> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 10:00 PM
> To: asa@calvin.edu
> Subject: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on
> TE and ID)
> Hello again, Moorad:
> I would never claim that there are physical devices to measure design in
> nature, and I agree that design is an inference from the data, not an
> observation. But isn't most science like that? Newton had no device
> which
> could directly reveal "gravity"; he inferred the existence of gravity as
> the
> best explanation of a certain set of facts. In contrast, Galileo refused
> to
> accept gravity because to him there were no data pointing to the
> possibility
> of "action at a distance"; he thought such notions implied "occult
> forces",
> i.e., supernatural explanations, which had no place in science. In other
> words, Galileo was a "methodological naturalist" in his own manner, before
> the invention of the term. He therefore would not make the inference that
> Newton later did, and hence his explanation of the tides, based on the
> assumption that action could be communicated only by direct contact, was
> wrong. Galileo could be seen as more data-driven than Newton on this
> point -- normally action appears to be communicated only by contact -- yet
> everyone agrees that Newton's science was better. This shows two things:
> (1) Science is data plus inference, not mere data; (2) The things inferred
> by science sometimes expand our view of what "nature" is, or what "nature"
> includes.
> So the question arises why, if we can infer an intangible, invisible,
> massless thing like "gravity", without violating "methodological
> naturalism", why can't we infer something intangible, invisible and
> massless
> like "final cause" in nature? I am not arguing that we *should* make the
> inference that final causes operate in nature; I am only asking why such
> an
> inference is shut out of science *in principle*. If we had accepted
> Galileo's notion of what was to be excluded from science *in principle*,
> the
> progress of modern physics would have been arrested indefinitely. That
> should caution us against deciding, on the basis of some abstract notion
> of
> "science", that certain realities may not be inferred from the data.
> Of course, nothing I have said above implies that people should just
> accept
> the design arguments of Behe and Dembski uncritically. Nothing I have
> said
> even implies that they are well-formulated arguments, or well-founded in
> the
> data. But the point is that many people here want to rule out design
> inferences *in principle*, no matter how tight the argument, no matter how
> good the data, and no matter how astronomical the odds are against a
> non-design explanation. People are unwilling to have their vision of
> nature
> expanded to include an aspect of final causation, just as Galileo was
> unwilling to have his vision of nature expanded to include a universal
> force
> of gravity. Why do we assume that nature cannot surprise us? It appears
> to
> me that just as 19th-century mechanistic physics had to be willing to let
> its view of nature be expanded by relativity and quantum theory, so
> 20th-century mechanistic biology ought to be willing to let its view of
> nature be expanded, in the 21st century, by teleological concepts -- *if*
> the evidence points that way.
> I'm not contending that design in nature has been proved; I'm just noting
> that the scientific establishment is inherently hostile to inferences in
> that direction, and that while the hostility can be justified by
> high-sounding principles such as "methodological naturalism",
> high-sounding
> principles have led science astray before. My preferred notion of natural
> science is based not on abstract principles of method, but on letting
> nature
> speak; and that means adapting not only our theories, but even our
> sacrosanct principles of interpretation, to the form of nature, rather
> than
> dictating to nature the form it must take to suit our intellects. Of
> course, in saying this I am aware that I am flying in the face of
> Descartes
> and Kant. Well, so be it.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <alexanian@uncw.edu>
> To: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>; <asa@calvin.edu>
> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 8:01 PM
> Subject: RE: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID
> Hi again Cameron,
> Science is based on data gathering and I am inclined to the "gatherer"
> being
> purely physical devices. Therein lies the objectivity of science. It may
> be
> argued that this limits the subject matter of science but as a first
> attempt, it is better and makes clear what we mean by the word
> “science.”
> Surely, there are no purely physical devices that can detect design in
> Nature. It would be foolish to think that such a device would exist. It is
> the inferences that human minds make of the data that gives rise to
> theories. Of course, the data is of real things whereas the data itself is
> merely the physical aspect of the real thing. Now it is not inconceivable
> that one can use the data and conclude that the real thing may have been
> designed. I always thought that the issue of design is inexorably
> connected
> to the issue of existence, which goes beyond the physical data and dwells
> into the metaphysics of reality.
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu [asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu] On Behalf Of
> Cameron Wybrow [wybrowc@sympatico.ca]
> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 4:12 PM
> To: asa@calvin.edu
> Subject: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID
> Hi, Ted!
> I don't doubt that Gingerich's intentions are faithful or that he's a very
> fine person. And I grant that there's a legitimate difference of opinion
> over whether or not design can be recognized scientifically. So let me
> make
> it clear that I am not accusing Gingerich of being a bad Christian or a
> non-Christian for concluding that design detection is not in the province
> of
> science. Nor do I wish to dispute any of Gingerich's other explicit views
> on evolution, science, theology, etc.
> My comment was really aimed at a broader concern, one which I think that
> all
> reconcilers of Christian theology and science -- and not just on the
> question of evolution, but on other questions, such as free will -- need
> to
> think about. I was concerned that the language Gingerich used -- quite
> unconsciously, I suspect -- gives away too much to a radically
> subjectivist
> approach to theology and to knowledge in general.
> I doubt very much that Gingerich admires the philosophy of existentialism,
> but his language has an existentialist ring to it -- "choosing to
> believe",
> for example. It is not surprising Gingerich or any other
> non-existentialist
> would pick up this language; it's all around us. And that's not the only
> case where language which reflects a fundamentally subjectivist account of
> the world is used by conservative people who would see themselves as
> anti-subjectivist. For example, the word "values" is used by conservative
> people all the time. But the language of "values" is not the language of
> classical moral philosophy; it came to us from Nietzsche. It implies that
> good, evil, just, unjust, proper, improper, etc. are not in the nature of
> things, but come from human decision. It's one of the ironies of the
> modern
> age that conservatives use the language of Nietzsche in order to argue for
> a
> return to older moral standards.
> This turn toward the subjective is connected with the modern tendency to
> divide reality between "subjective" and "objective" realms. We tend to
> regard "nature" as part of the "objective" realm, and have assigned the
> understanding of this "objective" realm to a non-teleological science. As
> that non-teleological science has grown in explanatory power by leaps and
> bounds, to the point where it now purports to explain even how the
> passions
> and the mind work, religion is crowded ever more and more into the
> "subjective" realm, where, it is believed by many, religion will be
> invulnerable to anything science can discover about nature or even human
> nature. So we can choose our religion, and continue to believe in it out
> of
> sheer will, or desire, or preference, and never be in contradiction with
> what the world is really like. In this view, science purportedly
> describes
> nature "objectively", and atheists and Christians are then free to apply
> their "subjective" religious glosses to the objective reality disclosed by
> science, and make statements which are utterly beyond public verification
> or
> falsification.
> It sounds great, in principle, since it guarantees the protection of
> Christian faith from any imaginable advance in natural science (including
> natural scientific discoveries which might seem to many to destroy the
> possibility of human free will). But this immunity of Christian faith
> from
> the facts of nature comes at a high cost in terms of public prestige,
> since
> many people in the modern world, including leading members of its
> intelligentsia, take the "objective" realm to be "real" and the
> "subjective"
> realm to be of dubious status; possibly the subjective realm, including
> the
> realm of religious feeling and experience, is a mere epiphenomenon of the
> movements of matter which has no real existence. Thus, from the point of
> view of many, Christianity is no more than a particular illusion or
> neurosis
> which helps Christians get through the day. And by adopting a
> subjectivist
> account of faith, Christians in effect make this charge irrefutable. They
> can personally believe that their free will and their faith and their
> religious experiences and so on are not mere epiphenomena of neural
> activity
> in the brain, but they cannot expect the world to believe the same,
> because
> the very subjectivism which protects their faith from disproof also rules
> out the possibility of proving that their beliefs have any grounding in
> reality.
> Pre-modern Christian metaphysics and ethics did not use the language of
> "subjectivity" and "objectivity", and the word "real" did not have the
> sense
> that has acquired in modern times. Nor, for that matter, did the word
> "science". The categories that bedevil us are of modern provenance.
> Pre-modern Christian metaphysics did not divide, but sought to harmonize,
> the truth of the world that was known with the reliability of the human
> apparatus that knew it. It therefore seems to me that at least part of
> the
> blame for the sundering of our knowledge and our world was the break-up of
> the pre-modern metaphysics. One of the main forces responsible for that
> break-up was Protestantism itself. This, I think, is why many Protestants
> have not resisted, and have even promoted, the subjective/objective
> division. For certain Protestants -- those of a fideistic temperament --
> nature, conscience, etc. have no reliable touchpoints with God or Christ,
> and so the "choice" for God or Christ is not in any sense natural or
> rational. The adoption of a religion is thus like a roll of the dice.
> Once again I refer to the Pope's Regensburg speech. The question is
> whether
> Christianity should be interpreted in an Islam-like way, i.e., as at
> bottom
> radically fideistic, or in a Patristic-Medieval way, i.e., as a theology
> in
> which elements of faith and reason are interwoven in an inseparable way.
> Clearly I prefer the latter interpretation. The question is where
> Protestantism sits between these two ways. Its language is inconsistent
> and
> wavering, in part because Protestantism is not a tidy unity, but comprises
> a
> broad range of Christian views, some closer to the classical-Christian
> synthesis that I endorse, and others further away. In some Protestant
> statements that are made here, I hear the clear accents of a fideism which
> would make Christianity impervious to any possible result of science, but
> at
> a cost I am unwilling to pay. I would rather have a Christianity that
> could
> be put at risk by at least some imaginable discoveries about the way the
> world is, and therefore boldly asserts something of an essentially public
> nature, than a Christianity which is bullet-proof because it is a pure
> fideism, but threatens no one and changes nothing because it asserts
> nothing
> of public relevance.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Ted Davis" <tdavis@messiah.edu>
> To: <asa@calvin.edu>; <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
> Sent: Sunday, May 31, 2009 7:52 PM
> Subject: Re: Gingerich on TE and ID
>> Cameron,
>> I have nothing more to add concerning the approach that Owen Gingerich
>> takes
>> in "God's Universe." I find it both eloquent and faithful, whereas you
>> are
>> not impressed and want to have a stronger role for natural theology
> here.
>> (I think this is what you are saying and invite correction if not.)
>> That's a basic disagreement, and IMO a fair one. Most TE advocates
> would
>> say that, if there is a role for natural theology (and Owen thinks there
>> is,
>> devoting an earlier chapter to that topic), it's a modest one with
> limited
>> scope, and primarily in the realm of metaphysics rather than science
>> (though
>> science of course can be used in the arguments). I realize that
> "Design"
>> as
>> used by ID advocates is not understood by those advocates to be a type
> of
>> natural theology -- the natural theological step is separate from the
>> design
>> inference (which is scientific, in the opinion of ID advocates).
> Whereas,
>> TEs typically think that "design" inevitably entails theological
>> inferences
>> and goes well beyond science.
>> Have I put this fairly?
>> Ted
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Received on Mon Jun 8 08:19:05 2009

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