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

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Mon Jun 08 2009 - 23:38:53 EDT


On the one hand, I agree with you that metaphysics is commonly said to
study the nature of being. This is how Heidegger defines it in any
case, the being of Being.

But it appears that others (and I) commonly mean metaphysics to be
something broader, or at least more explicitly broader.

Metaphysics might be taken to be any principle or presumption that is
behind the phenomena and appearances. Metaphysics is an organizing
principle that is not itself empirical, but is presupposed by the
empirical. So causation would be considered a metaphysical principle, as
would the unity of the cosmos. They are not unlike Wittengenstein's

I think that if you use the term metaphysics to only be about the "being
of Being" that you will run afoul of its general usage here and elsewhere.

If we do constrain metaphysics to Being, what do we call the kinds of
principles and presumptions that I refer to above?


On Mon, 8 Jun 2009, Alexanian,
Moorad wrote:

> Hi Bill,
> Metaphysics is the study of being. It is true that scientists deal with real, existing things. However, the data used by scientists is devoid of being since the data is just mere numbers. Therefore, theories are developed based on the obtained physical data.
> Metaphysics may come when one wants to integrated the physical aspect of elements in Nature with being, which is usually nonphysical and even supernatural. For instance, the physicist, the physiologist, the psychologist, the neurologist, the theologian, etc can study man. All may be studying different aspects of man, which can be reduced to one or more within the triad: physical/nonphysical/supernatural.
> Now metaphysics regulates all these different kinds of knowledge, since all that exist is being, so it is the task of the metaphysician to put together the results of all these studies and have a total description of what man is. All the differing contributions of the study of man are necessary for obtaining the true nature of what man is. The elimination of any of these necessary kinds of knowledge is a form of reductionism and can even can reach the extent of being nihilistic. For instance, if some nutty scientist claims that man is nothing but atoms and molecules.
> I thank all for these discussions. Hope these contributions helps.
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: wjp []
> Sent: Monday, June 08, 2009 10:35 AM
> To:
> Cc: Alexanian, Moorad; Cameron Wybrow
> Subject: Re: [asa]RE: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re:Gingerichon TE andID)
> Moorad:
> I'm back from chores.
> It seems to me if we are to ask what it is to do without
> metaphysics we must have some understanding of what exactly
> we are doing without.
> Prima facie, it seems that to think we can do without metaphysics
> would be to have lost our blooming minds, literally.
> Metaphysics, if we take it to be that which stands behind everything,
> that which gives being to everything, is what makes a world.
> This is why it must be "beyond something."
> Without metaphysics there is no world, no thing, no place, and
> nothing that "stands" out or endures. There is only a buzzin',
> bloomin' confusion. There would be no-thing to make a science
> of. Nothing would be familiar, nothing to make less than familiar
> into an object. Science, even an objective science, must begin
> in a familiar world in which we are at home. Otherwise there would
> be nothing to subtract from.
> So since you cannot mean this. You must mean something like,
> "physics has no more metaphysics than the 'ordinary' kind."
> What is it, then, that you think metaphysics consists in?
> Can you provide some examples?
> We surely must have a notion of the "universal" and the
> participation of the particular in the "universal."
> We require notions of "similarity." What is to be included
> in the similar and what not. We require this to create
> a notion of classes, even classes of observations (no
> observations are ever identical). We require a logic,
> a language. A way of comparing and speaking of and
> universalizing "observations." A way of "comparing"
> abstractions with "observations."
> Are these metaphysical or are they merely conventional?
> What else for a minimalist physics?
> Remember we are trying to avoid any ontological commitment
> to the relationship between our models and theories and
> the particulars of observations. We provide the "substance"
> and continuity that is unobservable, etc. What is "data"
> is purely of our making. There is no givenness, just
> appearances, and none that need saving.
> bill
> On Mon, 8 Jun 2009 06:18:20 -0600, wjp <> wrote:
>> Moorad:
>> 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.
>> bill
>> On Sun, 7 Jun 2009 23:17:53 -0400, "Alexanian, Moorad"
>> <> 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: [] On Behalf
>> Of
>>> Cameron Wybrow []
>>> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 10:00 PM
>>> To:
>>> 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" <>
>>> To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; <>
>>> 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: [] On Behalf
>> Of
>>> Cameron Wybrow []
>>> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 4:12 PM
>>> To:
>>> 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" <>
>>> To: <>; <>
>>> 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
>>> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
>>> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
>>> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
>>> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
>>> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
>>> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
>> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
>> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Jun 8 23:39:23 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Jun 08 2009 - 23:39:23 EDT