iSoul In the beginning is reality

Characteristic speeds

In a sense every speed is a local conversion of space and time. But a characteristic speed (or modal speed) has the following properties:

(1) The speed is relative to a mode of travel or movement.

(2) The speed reflects the travel conditions of the mode, with or without additional conditions such as congestion.

(3) The speed serves as a general conversion between space and time for some region or universally.

Such a speed is characteristic, that is, it characterizes the mode and the travel characteristics. It may be a standard speed, such as the speed of light in a vacuum. It may be the free flow speed. It may be a typical speed, such as the average or mean speed of a mode of travel. It may simply be a reference speed, which is an estimated or conventionally used speed to relate distance traveled and travel time.

There is a corresponding characteristic pace (or modal pace), which is mathematically the inverse of the characteristic speed, but with units of space (length, distance) instead of time. Speeds less than the characteristic speed may be called submodal speeds, and those greater than the characteristic speed may be called supermodal speeds. The best known examples are the subluminal and superluminal speeds, respectively.

The characteristic speed has previously been called the standard or reference speed but characteristic speed is a better term. Some previous posts may be edited accordingly.

6D space-time compresses into 4D

Observation changes conceptions. A full conceptual space-time is pre-observation, not a priori in Kant’s terms because it comes after many observations and experiments. It is a categorical induction: a conceptional scheme that makes observational sense and forms the basis for deduction. That is how science operates.

With a conception of space-time in hand, one may observe and then place the observations into the space-time conception. What happens then is that the space-time may simplify or compress. An observation of velocity makes 6D space-time into 4D: 3D space + 1D time. An observation of celerity makes 6D space-time into a different 4D: 1D space + 3D time.

The Lorentz transformation is built on either the Galilei transformation, which is 3D space + 1D time, or its complementary form, which is 1D space + 3D time. So even though the Lorentz transformation is properly 3D space + 3D time, it may be compressed into four dimensions in two ways.

Then is there a 6D space-time uncertainty principle, analogous to the one in quantum mechanics? In a sense. The full conceptual scheme is 6D, with 3D space + 3D time. But observation may entail a choice that reduces the dimensionality of space-time. One choice is whether space or time is the independent variable. Or whether space or time is directional. In an observation, they cannot be both at once.

Constitutional authority undermined

I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but those who are have been sounding the alarm over the actions of a Supreme Court and President that are extra-constitutional. I write to point out that an official under a constitution who officially acts outside that constitution has undermined their legitimacy. The constitution remains but the official who sets it aside lacks legitimate authority.

As background let’s look at a few excerpts from the dissenting opinions in the Court’s Obergefell same-sex marriage decision: from Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent:

[T]his Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.”

The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.

From Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent:

“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”`

“[W]hat really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”

Here are some excerpts from a report on extra-constitutional actions of the President:

President Obama has said repeatedly that he would take unilateral executive action whenever necessary to achieve his political ends if Congress and the courts did not acquiesce to his demands. He declared openly and repeatedly that America “cannot afford to wait” on Congress or the courts to act on his agenda, and he made good on his threat to bypass the Congress and ignore the courts numerous times in his first term, as we documented in this report. After he was re-elected to a second term, Mr. Obama became even more brazen.

With his kitchen cabinet of czars in place a broader strategy to expand presidential power by executive fiat is unfolding. Obama’s “new normal” promises rule by executive fiat, plain and simple. On the issues of gun control, illegal immigration and fiscal policy, Obama has sneered at Congress and the judiciary.

Those who are called President and Supreme Court justices hold their offices by virtue of the Constitution they have sworn or affirmed to uphold. If they act extra-constitutionally, to that extent they undermine their claim to such an office. In short, their acts are not official acts, despite any outward appearance.

Direction in three-dimensional time, part 1


Multidimensional time is easier to see if we look at transportation. Consider the time table of a railway or subway system. Directions are typically shown by the station at the end of each line. The time table lists arrivals and departures – events in space and time. A railway station some distance away is in a certain direction both in space and in time within a system. For example, a famous distance-time graph by Etienne-Jules Marey shows the Paris-Lyons line in the 1885.

If we know something about the geography of the area, that is likely to be in our minds when reading a railway time table. But if we don’t know much about the geography, travel times provide a way to map the railway system. The “time scale” may even be more useful than the distance scale. Here are two examples of time scale maps for the Boston-area MBTA: Time-Scale Commuter Rail Map and Time-Scale Subway Map.

Another way to see time directions is simply to take a time-space or isochron map and remove indications of spatial directions and distances. See for example Travel Times on Commuter Rail. The point is that time directionality is real. To see it requires separating time directions from geographic directions.


A degree of space is an angular distance equal to 1/360th of a circle. An arc minute of space is an angular distance equal to 1/60th of one degree of space. An arc second of space is an angular distance equal to 1/60th of one minute of space.

A minute of time is an angular duration equal to 1/60th of a full rotation or cycle at a rate of one rotation per hour. A second of time is an angular duration equal to 1/60th of a full rotation or cycle at a rate of one rotation per minute.

Angular time is measured by a duration of angular movement. For example, if a motor turns clockwise at a rate of one rotation per hour for five minutes (like a minute hand), then turns at a rate of one rotation per minute for ten seconds (like a second hand), the angular duration of motion will be 5:10 minutes but the angular distance of motion will be 90:00 degrees.


A direction is in the context of a geometry. A moving object such as a vehicle has a travel distance and a travel time that are both scalars. The odometer is increasing no matter which direction the vehicle is moving. It is only relative to a space and time beyond the vehicle and its movement that one can speak of its direction.

This direction may be conceived spatially and/or temporally. Directions in space and time will be the same if space and time are proportional, that is, distance and duration are proportional. In that case, we might say either there is no time or there is no space, though either statement would not be not strictly correct. There is always both space and time but they may be equivalent, and one may be hidden behind the other so to speak.

Science stoppers and starters

An inference of intelligent design (ID), or any version of creationism, or whatever might hint at the supernatural is often considered a science stopper. See, for example, this and the final chapter of Stanley’s book reviewed earlier. Look at two key examples from the ID literature: Dembski’s design inference and Behe’s irreducible complexity inference. Do these stop further investigation?

One answer is Yes, because ID has a whiff of the supernatural, which some admit or boldly declare, and this violates naturalism. Stanley is right that the exclusion of the supernatural appears arbitrary, as a metaphysical restriction to science. Then who is really the science stopper here? Isn’t it those who insist that science cannot investigate anything with a whiff of the supernatural?

Another yes answer is because these authors have not followed up with more scientific results based on this inference. That is like saying, “I reject your A, B, C because you haven’t followed it up with D, E, F.” But if you aren’t convinced by A, B, C, how are you going to accept any D, E, F that depends on A, B, C? Show us your willingness to accept A, B, C first, and then your desire for D, E, F will be plausible.

Contrary to their critics, the ID community is not a well-heeled group of researchers. Unlike mainstream scientists, they have no funding from government sources. They have no state schools in which they can be employed and also teach or research ID because if any whiff of ID work becomes known, they will lose such employment. So it may take some patience waiting for further ID research.

But an inference of intelligent design or irreducible complexity should be a science starter. These are essentially discoveries of discontinuities, which should lead to new classifications and further research. The presence of a particular irreducible complexity, for example, indicates a particular class or type of organism. What are all of these classes or types? And what is the relationship between them? Here is an opportunity to conduct a whole program of science research.

Invention of the uniformity of nature

Previous posts review Matthew Stanley’s book, which describes how theistic science was displaced by naturalistic science in 19th century Britain. He calls the latter “scientific naturalism,” which is accurate since it is a version of the philosophy, naturalism. It would be opposed by “scientific theism,” though I don’t think he uses that term, perhaps because he didn’t want it to be confused with a particular version, such as the Scientific Theism of Augustus Hopkins Strong (of Strong’s Concordance fame).

One theme of Stanley’s book is the meaning of the uniformity of nature to theists and naturalists. However, he does not say that this was a new principle, one that was not previously thought necessary.

As John P. McCaskey points out in Induction Without the Uniformity Principle, the principle of uniformity goes back to Richard Whately and J. S. Mill and is based on their view of induction, which has this form:

This is true of some.
What is true of some is true of all.
Therefore, this is true of all.

The second statement (the major premise) is a uniformity principle. J. S. Mill made this central to induction. In 1843 he wrote:

Every induction is a syllogism with the major premise suppressed; or (as I prefer expressing it) every induction may be thrown into the form of a syllogism, by supplying a major premise. If this be actually done, the principle which we are now considering, that of the uniformity of the course of nature, will appear as the ultimate major premise of all inductions.

But in fact induction does not require a uniformity principle. McCaskey points out:

The other, and older, way to think about induction—Aristotle’s way, later revived during the Scientific Revolution—was to think not of particular and universal statements but of particular things, kinds of things, and universal properties, especially defining properties. If, say, attracting iron is a defining property of magnets, then by definition all magnets attract iron. In this way of thinking, the hard part is to figure out what properties should qualify as necessary to the class.

McCaskey’s whole article is worth reading but let me quote two more paragraphs:

The whole project of mature abstract thought is to identify similarities and differences, uniformities and changes, and to classify accordingly. And that—to Aristotle and followers such as Bacon and Whewell—is what induction is.

For them, classification, and therefore induction, comes before uniformity, not the other way around. It’s not that you must presume uniformity in order to classify. It’s that you classify to find uniformities. For Whately, uniformity is primary. For Aristotle’s followers, classification is primary.

These two views of induction encapsulate two kinds of science: (1) a science in which classification and the distinction of types is primary, whereas questions of uniformity or change are secondary; and (2) a science in which uniformity and uniform change are primary, whereas classification and the distinction of types is secondary.

The uniformity view of induction prepared the way for Darwin. An extreme version of the uniformity of nature prepared the way for scientific naturalism.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 8

Part 7 is here. Chapter 7 is on how the naturalists “won.” In short, they pushed their agenda with their opponents hardly noticing.

p. 242 – Huxley won. Modern science is practiced naturalistically, and most scientists would be baffled to think that there was any other way — precisely what the scientific naturalists were trying to achieve.

This is exactly how Huxley wanted one to think about science — it had always been naturalistic, just at times forced into a theistic prison that disguised it. All that needed to be done was to release it. However, as we have seen in previous chapters, this was not the case. The connections between theism and scientific values were deeply rooted, and indeed seemed completely necessary to most men of science.

The historical arc resulting in modern naturalism is long and complicated. Even in the Victorian period, many of the relevant ideas appeared outside science … However, I am interested in a precise, but critical, part of the story: how did practitioners of science come to embrace naturalism as essential to their work?

p.243 – The shift among men of science from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries was remarkable. There were surely many processes involved in the way naturalists came to dominate science. I will here concentrate on three possibilities. Two of these — taking control of science education in Britain, and naturalizing theistic concepts — were deliberate strategies on the part of the naturalists, which they carried out quite effectively. The third was the broader shifts in religious life in Great Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. All three built upon the common grounds of theistic and naturalistic scientific practices to create a smooth transition instead of a disruptive revolution. This gentle shift allowed for the sense that there had been no change in science — it had always been thus.

If the naturalists wanted to truly change science, as opposed to simply promoting themselves, they needed to alter the entire system by which professors of science were made and chosen. Huxley thought strategically about how best to achieve this. A major part of his strategy was to shape the next generation of science teachers, so as to start a pipeline of like-thinking practitioners.

[Huxley] was deeply involved in the creation of biology professorships all over Britain in the 1870s and 1880s, and worked hard to influence who received those positions. His goal was to place candidates who were ideologically sound (i.e., purely naturalistic) as well as scientifically talented. In this he was quite successful.

p. 244 – [Huxley] was not reticent to share his plans in colorful language: to one correspondent he described “a course of instruction in Biology which I am giving to Schoolmasters — with the view of converting them into scientific missionaries to convert the Christian Heathen of these islands to the true faith.” These courses trained new teachers to think naturalistically, and even to see naturalistically, as Graeme Gooday has shown.

p. 246 – The exams became a way to distribute and enforce a naturalistic catechism for science. Those hoping to become science students or teachers needed to study Huxley’s syllabus, lessons, and textbooks.

Lightman comments that “every school child that read [Huxley’s] introduction to science would be trained to reject the very premises of theologies of nature.”

p.247 –  By the end of the century Huxley’s methods were well entrenched …

p. 248 – Huxley designed his teaching to stand for what Adrian Desmond calls a “distinct ideological faction” that clearly marked off acceptable (naturalistic) from unacceptable (theistic) ways of thinking about science.

In order for the scientific naturalists to dominate, they had to make their view of science seem obvious and inevitable. This goal had the major problem of two centuries of theistic science — how could science be naturalistic by definition if it had been practiced theistically for so many years? The naturalists’ strategy was to rewrite the history of their discipline to erase the long tradition of theistic science.

Moore suggests that a critical part of this process was the development of a new naturalistic theodicy based on order and progress.

p.249 – So the practices and methods of theistic scientists could often be imported into naturalistic work with simple relabeling, or sometimes without comment at all. Huxley was particularly skilled at this.

[Huxley] simply stressed the points on which they agreed — natural laws — then elsewhere argued that natural laws were solely naturalistic.

p. 251 – For Maxwell (and most theistic scientists), it made perfect sense to discuss religious matters alongside unifications of the laws of nature.

p. 254 – Opportunities to recast theistic science as naturalistic often appeared in the form of memoirs and memorials, which Huxley and friends were happy to take.

p. 256 – The key to this naturalization strategy was for Huxley to tell a new story about the history of science. By naturalizing theistic science, he was able to argue that science had always been naturalistic. That is, by naturalizing the tradition of theistic science, he was able to remove it from history completely, making naturalism the obvious and solitary way to do science. This was why he was always eager to place his arguments in the mouths of historical figures — it gave historical continuity and gravitas to those arguments.

p. 257 – Huxley’s vision of the history of science was one of expanding naturalism, beaten down occasionally by orthodoxy, but never corrupted in its purity. Theism could be found beside science, or obscuring it, though never in it. The connections between theism and science, such as natural laws, that were so clear to Maxwell and his contemporaries were relabeled as something quite different.

The changes Huxley was seeking in science were supported in powerful ways by major shifts in the social role of religion in Britain at the end of the Victorian period.

p. 258 – Jose Harris suggests that this movement of religious practice from public to private spaces was itself the result of a critical Victorian religious value — religion should be purely a matter of private conscience.

Bernard Lightman has shown that the venerable “clergyman-naturalist” tradition survived the attacks of the scientific naturalists. … The survival of theistic science was, like Edwardian Christianity in general, quiet and easily overlooked.

p. 259 – Bowler documents the efforts of these liberals to “reconcile” science and religion. But these liberals did not see themselves as continuing the Victorian tradition of theistic science. Rather, they saw themselves as beginning a new tradition of religious science that would sweep away the alleged materialism of the nineteenth century. They accepted the story that the scientific naturalists told — that theology had never been in science. Their rhetoric about how the new science was welcoming religion only made sense if science had, in fact, been purged of religious thought.

However, naturalism by no means stayed in Britain. The works of Huxley, Tyndall, and Spencer moved to America quite quickly. Their writings proved just as popular as in Britain.

p. 260 – By far the most important American convert to naturalism was John Dewey. That educational philosopher was a major figure in making naturalism the default mode of conversation in science education.

p. 261 – Dewey’s naturalistic ideas about science became central to American educational reform in the early twentieth century.

Dewey classified religious thought as “not creative but conservative.” Anti-Darwinian ideas were not religious per se, because religion could not create new thoughts. … Conversations about science had to be purely naturalistic.

Dewey was not a ferocious [evangelizing] naturalist like Huxley or Tyndall, and that is precisely why he is significant. He had become convinced that naturalism was the ordinary and obvious way to do science, and he expressed that in his philosophy of education.

p.262 – It is remarkable how the naturalistic narrative came to be the standard even for religious figures, who seem to have forgotten their own intellectual ancestry. It is important to note that Huxley’s strategies did not make it impossible to be a religious scientist — rather, they flipped the default setting for scientists from theistic to naturalistic. Religious scientists in the twentieth century were the ones under the obligation to justify themselves, just as the young Huxley and Tyndall had been forced to do.

There was no dramatic break in which naturalistic men of science had to create their own community, as Boyle and friends had to do in the seventeenth century.

p.263 – A major remaining issue is why the theistic scientists let this happen. Why were they outmaneuvered by Huxley?

To a certain degree this was simply a matter of complacency. Theistic science had been the default mode for a very long time. Proactive organization and training to protect it seemed unnecessary for the system that was already embedded in power. Theistic men of science did not seriously think that theism could be completely displaced from science, any more than Christianity could be truly displaced from the core of British life. By the time that they realized that elementary science education was in the hands of naturalists (if indeed they ever noticed), it was far too late.


p. 265 – The transition from theism to naturalism was remarkably smooth.

[The author then contrasts this with the contemporary ID movement in terms that I think are inaccurate.]

Quite different, however, is the intelligent design community of the twenty-first century. ID scholars have not been able to participate in mainstream science journals and organizations. This is generally not because of scientific dogma or prejudice, but rather because they refuse to accept the principles of the uniformity of nature, the provisional character of science, and so forth, which have been the core methodological values of science since at least the dawn of the Victorian period.

p. 266 – A major factor that sets ID apart from theistic science is the deep concerns of Maxwell and others about the further development of science. Despite his reverence for the Bible and divine creation, Maxwell worked hard to avoid what are today called “science stoppers.” … a declaration that a mysterious phenomenon will never be understood, and must simply be accepted as divine action. An important example is Michael Behe’s claims that the lack of understanding of certain biochemical processes indicates that science will never understand those properties, and therefore nonnatural explanations (chiefly divine action) must be considered. If this claim is accepted, then biochemistry is at an end — no further research can be done, and nothing new can ever be learned.

p. 267 – … what we might think of as a “naturalism gap” — professional scientists and other intellectuals are thoroughly educated in the Huxleyian views of science, while the broader public is not.

This suggests a wider problem with the use of the term naturalism by science advocates today. They use it in the same sense that Huxley did, intending to point to positive scientific values while leaving “true religion” untouched. But the term cannot seem to shake its original pejorative connotation of opposition to the supernatural. It sounds irredeemably hostile to religion, regardless of the subtleties we might want to attach to it. Modifying it to “methodological naturalism” does not help much — Plantinga is correct that is sounds like a simple cover for “provisional atheism.” Certainly Maxwell would not have agreed that his work was methodologically naturalistic — he saw God and religious considerations as critical facets of his scientific methodology.

p. 268 – Laudan notes that philosophy has not been very successful at defining science, which makes accusations that ID is “unscientific” rather vague.

Laudan points out that if creationists make claims, “we should confront their claims directly and in piecemeal fashion by asking what evidence and arguments can be marshaled for and against each of them.” If their claims are testable, they should be tested.

But if we instead declare them unscientific because they fail the test of naturalism, those claims become irrefutable. And even worse, it makes the ground rules of science seem arbitrary and dogmatic by excluding certain claims by definition. This provides ammunition to those attacking science, who do not hesitate to paint science as functioning only through oppressive authority. Refusing to acknowledge an idea because it has its roots in religion makes scientists look as though they are afraid of open debate.

p. 270 – Theistic science was once the mainstream of science, and its successes suggest that there are a variety of ways to think about the foundations of scientific practice. Today we live in Huxley’s church, and it is easy to forget that it was not always there.

The end. Part 1 is here.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 7

Part 6 is here. Chapter Six is on free will and natural laws. A philosophical dispute took center stage, with the future of science and society at stake.

p. 194 – Victorian society’s base assumption was that the soul and will could act freely, whether to select a meal or to accept divine grace. Being divinely created and endowed, the soul was qualitatively different from the crude matter around it and was thus exempt from having all its future states already determined as a rolling billiard ball would.

Applying the uniformity of nature to the mind, [Huxley and the scientific naturalists] said, demanded that animal and humans be considered as automata. The original Greek term meant a self-moving object, but in the eighteenth century it came to refer to an entity incapable of free will, a soulless machine.

p. 195 – It was on this issue — freedom of the will — that we can see the formation of the deepest fractures between theism and naturalism in Victorian science.

p. 199 – A particularly important natural law for physiology and psychology was that of the conservation of energy. As Frank Turner showed, that principle became one of the pillars of the naturalistic worldview, not least because of its enormous impact on questions of mind-body interactions.

p. 200 – Looking back on the previous generation of physiology [research], Huxley triumphantly declared that humans, just as much s the horse, were fuel-consuming, energy-limited machines.

p. 201 – Once physiologists could measure nerve force the way they measured the length of a limb, the mind could be treated as wholly within the uniformity of nature.

The dependence of mind on matter became a serious issue for Huxley in defending Darwin’s theory, particularly around the publication of The Descent of Man, as some critics tried to object that human mental capacity could not have evolved by physical means.

p. 202 – [Huxley] acknowledged that some objected to this position as materialistic. With his typical caginess, Huxley toyed with the meaning of the term until only “rhetorical sciolists [those who pretend to have knowledge]” could object to its use.

[Huxley:] Whatever reason we have for believing that the changes which take place in the normal cerebral substance of man give rise to states of consciousness, the same reason exists for the belief that the modes of motion of the cerebral substance of an ape, or of a dog, produce like effects.

p. 203 – These unconscious movements [e.g., reflexes] were used by Huxley as the foundation for far-reaching claims about the nature of animals and humans: his theory of automatism.

The result was the infamous “On the Hypothesis That Animals Are Automata, and Its History.” This was classic Huxley: a verbose, pointed historical narrative about the triumph of naturalism.

p. 207 – The scientific naturalists were relentless in claiming the human consciousness for the uniformity of nature. They were unwilling to accept that the mind functioned differently from the material world.

p. 210 – With the body and the mind pulled firmly within the uniformity of nature, and the will defined away, Huxley arrived at a controversial position of long standing. Commonly called determinism, sometimes necessitarianism, it was usually phrased negatively: there was no room for freedom of action in the world. The laws of nature allowed no exceptions, bringing rigid causality even to the living world.

p. 212 – Huxley’s lecture on [the method of] Zadig placed successful prediction and retrodiction as the markers of true science, and also what made it so threatening to the orthodox.

Huxley was aware that the most difficult defense of free will to stamp out would be that based on direct experience — the unbreakable sense that one can choose what to eat for dinner, therefore free will must be real. Balfour declared it “ludicrous” to think it was illusory. This subjective sense of will was impossible to observe, but equally impossible to debunk.

p. 214 – As always, Huxley delighted in turning theologians against their own. He could then paint attacks on him as simple prejudice — if Balfour truly objected to determinism, why was he not attacking Luther? In truth, was this not simply one more example of orthodoxy gone awry? Augustine and Calvin were happy to see man as a conscious automaton.

p. 215 – Huxley’s automaton theory stirred deep controversy. It was one thing for Huxley to tell people they were animals; it was something else entirely for him to tell people they were machines. Even beyond Darwin, the steam-whistle model of deterministic consciousness seemed to annihilate the last vestiges of human uniqueness. With the destruction of the possibility of an efficacious soul came a host of psychological and social threats.

p. 216 – Right and wrong could mean nothing if there was not a sense of being able to choose between them. A will must be able to choose between two alternatives or there could be no moral accountability.

p. 221 – [William] Carpenter reiterated that he understood, and indeed helped formulate, much of the physiology that the scientific naturalists claimed inevitably led to determinism. Against this he denied the possibility that “any conceivable play of molecular forces” could explain how an idea could come to dominate an entire nation.

p. 227 – Maxwell’s response to these developments appeared in an essay for the Eranus Club on science and free will. He began the essay by stating that free will was the essential problem bridging physics and metaphysics. He was clear that philosophy, religious or otherwise, must take into account the progress of science.

p. 228 – Stewart argued that there were two kinds of mechanical systems, stable and unstable. Both could be considered as machines and obeyed the laws of mechanics, but because they were regular and calculable, only stable systems had been studied closely. However, there were also unstable systems where an infinitesimal amount of energy could set a system in motion, such as when a balanced eggs falls in one direction and not another.

Maxwell was delighted with the development of the concept of instability. He argued in an anonymous review that the stable/unstable division called into question many of the fundamentals of determinism, most notably the notion of an unbroken causality that can be precisely understood.

p. 230 – At a singular state “a strictly infinitesimal force of equally possible paths, as the pointsman at a railway junction directs the train to one set of rails or another.”

The problem, Maxwell said, was that investigators had not been careful about applying results from one domain of knowledge to another.

p. 231 – There were two extremes on which Maxwell thought one could err. The first was to try to explain the emergence of consciousness from material processes.

The second extreme was to accept the existence of the soul, but then try to justify its properties in material terms.

p. 232 – [The soul] was outside the explanatory range of science.

p. 235 – The same metaphor that Maxwell constructed to explore the human will reappeared here inside containers of heated gas [in what Thomson/Kelvin called “Maxwell’s demon”].

p. 236 – The pointsman was not intended to show the unrestricted force of the will. It was meant to show that the will could act even within a wide range of restrictions.

p. 238 – It follows from [the activity of the demon] that the idea of dissipation of energy depends on the extent of our knowledge.

p. 239 – Maxwell asserted that thinking of humans simply as machines was a choice: “Either be a machine and see nothing but ‘phenomena,’ or else try to be a man, feeling your life interwoven, as it is, with many others, and strengthened by them whether in life or death.” One could either accept the reality of our experiences of volition and sociability or discard it, but rejecting that reality was asserting a particular boundary to science.

p. 241 – The evidence of uniform processes at work in the human body was agreed upon by all, but how to think about the significance of that evidence caused a profound split. The differing commitments of naturalists and theists could find no common ground on these issues. The human mind, particularly the will, became the thin end of the wedge.

Part 8 is here.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 6

Part 5 is here. Chapter Five is on Intellectual Freedom.

p. 153 – The narrative presented by the scientific naturalists was one of liberation. Only with the escape from dogmatic theology was science able to pursue truth and accuracy.

But this value was also widely held by religious figures, including Maxwell and his fellow theistic scientists. They agreed completely with Huxley that intellectual freedom and the right of individuals to pursue ideas were fundamental to science. However, they linked these values to true religion while Huxley defined them as opposite to false theology.

p. 154 – Huxley proclaimed his “untiring opposition to that ecclesiastical spirit, that clericalism, which in England, as everywhere else, and to whatever denomination it may belong, is the deadly enemy of science.”

p. 155 – Huxley, despite counting a number of personal friends in the ministry, concluded that “clerically-minded people cannot be accurate, even the liberals.”

p. 156 – [Huxley] blamed his own difficulty with accepting evolution on how in his “early childhood he was indoctrinated with the reasonings of a great divine [Paley].”

Even further, he was reluctant to allow women into science because they were too susceptible to these “ignorant parsonese superstitions.”

p. 157 – [Huxley:] “Ecclesiasticism says: The demonology of the Gospels is an essential part of that account of that spiritual world, the truth of which it declares to be certified by Jesus. Agnosticism says: There is no good evidence of the existence of a demoniac spiritual world, and much reason for doubting it.”

p. 158 – Huxley delighted in demonstrating the shifting sources of ecclesiastical authority, especially if he could find disagreement among the members of a group.

p. 159 – [Huxley:] “I know that I am, in spite of myself, exactly what the Christian world call, and so far as I can see are justified in calling, atheist and infidel.”

The core version of Huxley’s narrative, around which several variants were formed, was this: a pure religion emerges and provides ethical guidance, but later figures encrust that religion with dogma and doctrines that corrupt it.

p. 161 – In seeking a life free from unjust authority, Huxley regarded as the last redoubt the right to think and believe as one wished. If liberty did not mean an unbound mind, it meant nothing.

p. 164 – [After describing Huxley’s anti-Catholicism:] As bad as the Anglicans were, at least they had good taste.

p. 166 – [Huxley on the Catholic Mivart:] … “let him not imagine he is, or can be, both a true son of the Church and a loyal soldier of science.”

p. 167 – Huxley’s placement of the Catholic Church as the distillation of all that was wrong with theology also helps explain his rejection of positivism. Some of the philosophical and methodological aspects of positivism were appealing to Huxley, but he could never accept the “religion of humanity” cloak in which Auguste Comte had wrapped them. It was no better to worship philosophers than to worship saints.

p. 168 – An essential part of Huxley’s vision of intellectual freedom was the right to doubt, to criticize, and be criticized. Vigorous, even fierce debate was held to be essential to science.

p. 171 – Huxley’s praise for the open-mindedness of himself and his friends did not, of course go unchallenged. Some of his students reported that his teaching fell far short of encouraging students to think for themselves. Critics declared that men of science had come to “constitute in our day a sort of lay-priesthood, as narrow, and intolerant, and tyrannous in temper as the priesthood of the Church ever was in the days of it darkest supremacy.” Some attacked the scientific naturalists’ idolization of Darwin as exactly the sort of argument from authority that they claimed to despise.

p. 172 – It could be phrased this way: for Huxley, religious education was acceptable, but not sectarian or theological education.

p. 174 – [Huxley] had no plan for a purely secular education that involved no religious ideals, individuals, or values.

The great surprise came when Huxley approved of the reading of the Bible in the schools.

And beyond this moral value, Huxley posited that the Bible was so interwoven with English culture and life that it would be a great crime to ignore it.

p. 175 – As an antidote to theological poison, [Huxley] recommended deep drinks from “the undefiled spring.” He emphasized that it was the right and duty of every man to address the scriptures with his own judgment and without any doctrinal filter.

p. 176 – Huxley went so far as to call the Bible “the most democratic book in the world.”

p. 178 – Maxwell provides an important lesson in the variety of religious belief and practice that was sometimes mistaken for orthodoxy.

Maxwell was known to say “I have no nose for heresy” and to look for points of agreement and cooperation with those of different positions.

p. 180 – Personal decision and responsibility were the keys. Maxwell argued, from a deeply religious position, against thinking of clerics as having any special authority and for the need of individuals to come to their own conclusions — points that would seem very familiar to Huxley.

p. 182 – Victorian Protestants saw themselves as guardians of freedom as much as political radicals did. However, they saw the source of liberty to be God …

p. 184 – Like Huxley, [Maxwell] saw Roman Catholicism as a terrible institution that functioned by compelling belief and practice.

p. 186 – The theists and naturalists’ shared values provided a solid foundation on which they could work productively.

p. 187 – Beyond this intellectual and educational intercourse, the theists and the naturalists maintained “easy social relations.”

p. 188 – The theistic and naturalistic scientists were, generally speaking, not close confidants. They were colleagues.

p. 189 – Anger at Belfast

[Note: In 1874 John Tyndall addressed the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAA) at Belfast in which he declared science to be naturalistic. This broke the collegiality between theistic and naturalistic scientists. See Lightman.]

The sentiments offered by Tyndall were not particularly new. However, I suggest that it appeared to the theists that Tyndall was trying to use his position as president of the BAAS to enforce his naturalism: precisely the sort of institution-based coercion of belief that both parties had agreed was antithetical to science.

Maxwell recorded his reactions to the [Belfast] address in two [satiric] poems … [which] show his visceral feeling of being attacked and coerced by the scientific naturalists.

p. 191 – Calling [Tyndall] a “poet-philosopher,” Maxwell mocked the molecular creation story that depended on nothing but incompressible spheres and force, particularly the idea that such stories could explain emotion and will.

p. 192 – [Maxwell] worried that the scientific naturalists were claiming the complete monopoly on power and political absolutism of Hobbes. And as the citizens ruled by Leviathan gave up their individual political activity in favor of the monarch, Maxwell feared that the diversity of individual views within British science might be quashed by the naturalistic ideology.

Part 7 is here.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 5

Part 4 is here. Chapter Four on the Goals of Science Education describes how Maxwell and Huxley each volunteered to teach at the Working Men’s College but for very different reasons.

p. 119 – This idea that a religious intent is incompatible with science education is a major part of the educational side of modern scientific naturalism. The claim is that the goals of science teaching are incompatible with theist religion.

We will see that the values and goals of science education for both theists and naturalists found common ground in the classrooms of the working classes.

p. 130 – An education in science was thus a crucial part of rescuing the working classes from the linked dangers of ignorance and political radicalism.

p. 133 – Despite his many projects, Maxwell devoted a great deal of effort to working-class education over the course of his career. Why? Part of this was certainly noblesse oblige from his role as a Scottish Laird. He had a genuine sense of a need to make the most of his elevated social role.

p. 134 – Upon his evangelical conversion, Maxwell committed himself to live as an instrument of God’s will, and he seems to have latched onto teaching as an expression of that. His feeling of everyday work being part of a divine plan were quite strong.

And Maxwell had high expectations for the results of his science teaching. Practical benefit and more efficient engineering were useful side effects of science but they were not the important parts of science education. In his inaugural lecture at Aberdeen he declared that science education helped grow “that well ordered steady frame of mind and manners which belongs to educated men and by which they are distinguished from the undisciplined.”

p. 135 – Maxwell did not expect his students to dedicate their lives to science, but rather to take the mental and moral benefits that came from learning science and apply those to all professions.

p. 136 – [Maxwell:] “We are daily receiving fresh proofs that the popularisation of scientific doctrines is producing as great an alteration in the mental state of society as the material applications of science are effecting in its outward life.” This was certainly very impressive, but he worried that this influence had created a situation in which people would believe anything as long as it sounded scientific.

p. 137 – [Maxwell] was very concerned about those who claimed science as a weapon in favor of revolutionary politics or against Christianity, and explicitly framed his own science teaching as a remedy for those dangers.

p. 138 – Huxley’s interest in education stemmed from a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the existing school system in Britain, which he saw as being particularly unfair to the working classes. At best, it was inaccessible to them; at worst, it actively reinforced their subservience to an archaic authoritarian social structure. He felt victimized personally by this system, having been closed out of the Oxbridge system and its resulting career boost.

p. 139 – Adrian Desmond has argued that Huxley fashioned a low-class Dissenting image of science: no priesthood had “access to her deepest secrets”: they were accessible to anyone.

Overturning the British class system and replacing it with a social meritocracy became an enduring theme for Huxley’s career.

For Huxley, the class system’s chief weapon was the traditional British education. Its greatest sin was it instillation of blind, unthinking worship of authority.

p. 141 – Huxley said a classical education was fine, as long as you had no interest in learning anything new. For that, you needed science. … “The mediaeval view was that all knowledge worth having was explicitly or implicitly contained in various ancient writings; in the Scriptures, in the writings of the greater Greeks, and those of the Christian Fathers.”

This was in contrast to his vision of a modern university, which embraced science and the values of intellectual progress.

p. 145 – For Huxley, the beneficial effects of science education came from encountering facts. … It was the conditioning of the mind to deal with, apprehend, and appreciate facts that was valuable. He credited learning anatomy as the best way to gain these skills.

p. 147 – The traditional British liberal education aimed at the formation of character, and Huxley was unwilling to concede that ground to his enemies. He argued that science could be a moral discipline as easily as literature was. Moral lessons could follow from direct encounters with facts and the laws of nature.

p. 148 – [For Huxley] The breaking point, however, was Christian doctrine. No “theological dogmas” whatsoever could be allowed in the classroom. The imposition of belief via authority was absolutely unacceptable.

Huxley hardly hid his opinion that science education would pry the misled away from the authority of the established Church, but he certainly saw room for the survival of religion. He saw his science as a danger only to the flimsy, self-serving doctrines of antiquated theology.

p. 149 – Both [Maxwell and Huxley] were interested in training the working classes to think about truth, but Maxwell’s had a capital T — scientific truth was mainly practice for thinking about the truths of God, and the truths of man as laid down by God. Huxley’s truth, on the other hand, had no divine pedigree and its revelation was reliant on messy, human common sense.

p. 150 – The social benefits traditionally associated with natural theology gradually became co-opted over the second half of the nineteenth century by those espousing a purely naturalistic cosmology.

p. 151 – … the Working Men’s College show how science education brought Christians and agnostics together. Rather than being a wedge between the religious and the secular, science education was a glue that bound them together in a common cause.

p. 152 – Advocates of the new professional science certainly aimed for complete detachment from the old ways, but for some decades their attitudes toward education fit neatly with the religious frameworks of Maxwell and his allies.

Part 6 is here.