1/07/2008

STAN-DING DISCUSSION #1a

OK, in response to the previous question Stan writes:

"...a working scientist has to believe that for each physical effect there exists a physical cause that is measurable and repeatable per the rules of empiricism, otherwise the efforts toward empirical resolution would be futile."

I hasten to say that the italics (and thus the emphasis) are mine, and that I've chosen to highlight this term to point out an area of doubt. I do not think that a 'working scientist' is obliged to 'believe' the above, for a number of reasons:

1) 'Belief' implies an act of faith; I do not think you have to take anything on faith to be a working scientist. Operationally, one can simply accept a certain claim is axiomatic or foundational for the purposes of doing work. Empiricism could be thought of as a belief system, but it could also be seen as an epistemological hypothesis, held provisionally like any other hypothesis within science....

2) Therefore, empiricism in the latter sense would not assert that for each physical effect there must be a physical cause that is measurable/repeatable, etc. This 'working scientist' would recognize that there are anomalous events detectable by the senses which do not seem to have a discernible physical cause, or which fall below the threshold of measurement, or which are unlikely to be repeatable on the basis of what is presently known. Note that none of these conditions necessarily implies an appeal to a non-physical cause, just a healthy skepticism about what can be known...

3) In any case, with or without the non-physical/immaterial/supernatural etc. there is nothing which obligates the working scientist to do anything other than work within the axioms of science, and empiricism as a belief system does not appear to be one of science's axioms, or else how could Newton cast horoscopes, or A.R. Wallace enthusiastically embrace spiritualism, etc.? As far as 'efforts toward empirical resolution' being futile, the question is not whether we have a complete or entirely accurate description, but whether a given model is the best at explaining the greatest number of observations. To the extent that this is true, the model is accepted provisionally as the best fit to its data. This is entirely sufficient to do science, and it no more or less futile an endeavor than painting a picture or writing a sonnet is futile.

6 comments:

S Hinton said...

Hey Men, thanks for the intriguing dialogue. But first I’ve just got to admit that you are way out of my league and I probably ought to just grovel at your feet for a while. However, I did want to throw something in that may be really out of place at first, but I think something that does apply at a deeper level. Scott, you mentioned Newton and he is certainly someone to consider. If I’ve got my facts right, Einstein said that all other scientist are pigmies compared to him. If true, then old Newt ought to have something to say in the bigger picture of science and faith. A great deal of scientific thinking today suggests that science and faith are totally unrelated and have nothing to do with each other. But yet Newton was not only a guru of the sciences, but a strong man of faith. The Bible is attacked on numerous levels today, but Newton said of the Bible that “There are more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history.” Point; Newton seemed to think that we really could not understand all the discussed issues without first really knowing God. Yes, I know, this really sends the discussion into regions that you did not intend, and may for you just be a huge rabbit trail. But I just wanted to throw my two cents in there as Newton is often touted as such a great scientist, but is rarely shown to be the serious man of faith that he was.

Anyway, thanks for your grace on a big novice like me. It’s great to read Scott’s material as well. Chemistry, wow, I think I got through that class with a “D” and “C” back in 85-86. If either of you get board, feel free to check out our new blog at www.mynewhorizons.org. up in Nor. Cal.

PS. Scott, you said that Newton casts horoscopes. That is something I have not read before. Sure about that?

S Hinton said...

Hey Men, thanks for the intriguing dialogue. But first I’ve just got to admit that you are way out of my league and I probably ought to just grovel at your feet for a while. However, I did want to throw something in that may be really out of place at first, but I think something that does apply at a deeper level. Scott, you mentioned Newton and he is certainly someone to consider. If I’ve got my facts right, Einstein said that all other scientist are pigmies compared to him. If true, then old Newt ought to have something to say in the bigger picture of science and faith. A great deal of scientific thinking today suggests that science and faith are totally unrelated and have nothing to do with each other. But yet Newton was not only a guru of the sciences, but a strong man of faith. The Bible is attacked on numerous levels today, but Newton said of the Bible that “There are more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history.” Point; Newton seemed to think that we really could not understand all the discussed issues without first really knowing God. Yes, I know, this really sends the discussion into regions that you did not intend, and may for you just be a huge rabbit trail. But I just wanted to throw my two cents in there as Newton is often touted as such a great scientist, but is rarely shown to be the serious man of faith that he was.

Anyway, thanks for your grace on a big novice like me. It’s great to read Scott’s material as well. Chemistry, wow, I think I got through that class with a “D” and “C” back in 85-86. If either of you get board, feel free to check out our new blog at www.mynewhorizons.org. up in Nor. Cal.

PS. Scott, you said that Newton casts horoscopes. That is something I have not read before. Sure about that?

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Well, there are and always have been men and women of science who privately believed things that were unscientific, because (frankly) that's just what men and women, scientists or otherwise, do. I count myself in that group, because just like Newton, I take certain things on faith that can not be tested.

But let's be clear: when Newton did that then, or I do it now, neither Sir Issac or myself is acting or speaking as a scientist. Science is a game that is played by certain rules, and one is that you can't build models based on claims that can't be tested through the natural world. That's why, strictly speaking, science is a godless enterprise, yet has no opinion about whether gods exist. That's simply not how the game of science is played.

It is a understandable temptation, by the way, to take a scientist's personal views and conflate them with the practice of science. But the fact that E.O. Wilson (one of my heroes) doesn't share my belief in God doesn't make him any more or less a scientist; the fact that Newton privately harbored Unitarian views and (yes, he really did) play with the occult and cast horoscopes doesn't make such things science.

S hinton said...

Hey Scott,

First let me apologize that I see that my comment went up on your site twice. I guess I made my comment at the end of a very long day and did not mean to send it twice. Actually, being that I was exhausted, I’m not sure I made a whole lot of sense.

I think one reason that I gravitated to your referring to Newton in your post is that he is an example of someone who was an expert in science and still acknowledged the existence of God and reverenced Him. That is something that is often quite foreign today. Somewhat along those lines and the whole issue of truth, I’m finding more and more that many leading scientific minds today, particularly in the evolutionary field, are more concerned with anti-god politics and positions than they are in just simple science. As I noted in my blog, http://www.mynewhorizons.org/, much of evolutionary theory today is just bad science in that they continue to put forth their arguments as being FACT when they are based on so many things that have totally been proven false. One example would be all the flaws in radioactive dating. Along with that it seems that when they date something and don’t get the date they want, they just throw it out. Anyway, I would be happy to have your thoughts on the new blog that I set up about six months ago.

Again, sorry for my mishap above, and thanks for your grace with a scientific pigmy like me.

S hinton

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

I think you're mistaking a subculture of the scientific community (science blogging, which tends to the skeptical side) with the practice of science. If you read scientific journals, you will not see much ink devoted to anything other than issues within the discipline. Evolution as a field of study is no more inherently irreligious than cosmology.

I also have serious reservations about your description of radiometric dating. Here's a link to an article on the American Scientific Affiliation web site, which is an organization of Christians, many evangelicals, who hold degrees in the sciences. (Disclaimer: I'm a member). Anyway, the article by Dr. Roger Weins is likely to startle you, as it present a detailed explanation of how dating works and why the scientific community has such confidence in the method. I urge you to read it.

In the meantime, I will check out your blog, thanks for the invite.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Steve Hinton, I visited your blog and (I don't know how else to put it) it was pretty dispiriting for a guy who is committed to science education, and I ended up leaving a rather testy critique of the level of discourse.

I wrote, in part:

"When I read this thread, I was filled with sadness. There are simply so many misleading or inaccurate arguments and claims, uncritically repeated by fellow Christians smugly congratulating themselves for having learned various factoids that they imagine somehow trumps science as practiced. What’s worse, I feel that whether you realize it or not, you are participating in a sort of self-serving cottage industry within Christianity that substitutes a cartoon image of science for the real thing. This makes real dialog with the scientific community increasingly difficult, and sews the seeds of unearned distrust for science educators like myself."

I then left two strongly-worded examples of things that bug me, and based on what I wrote, you may not want to have too much to do with the likes of me. But, if you want to continue the dialogue, we can respectfully agree to disagree. I can take the heat if you can.

Sincerely...Scott