iSoul In the beginning is reality

Science qualified and unqualified

Science is about public matters that do not require prior philosophical or religious commitments beyond acknowledging the existence of an orderly world and the possibility of understanding that order.  Historically, science did receive impetus from beliefs about the orderliness of the world and human abilities for understanding that order, beliefs that were based on Christian or classical teachings.  But now the possibility of scientific knowledge is widely held without reference to such teachings (how long that can last is another matter).

Science is sometimes considered secular but that implies a way of life which excludes or ignores matters beyond this age/world or concerns about ultimate matters, which are the focus of religion.  Science should affirm the importance of ultimate matters no matter what age or world or religion but deny itself the answers, or skepticism about the answers, and not promote secularism, or anti-secularism, as a way of life.  Science should be respectful of whatever answers people believe and practice about ultimate matters.

Science is sometimes considered agnostic but that implies a degree of skepticism or unbelief about ultimate matters.  But the strength of science is in its reasonableness to people with a wide variety of beliefs about ultimate matters.  Science should be self-limiting in this regard; it should not take a prior position on ultimate matters, nor should it give the impression that ultimate matters are not important or that science has answers to ultimate questions.

Science might be called “mesognostic” because science per se does not have access to ultimate answers.  Thus science should not require the exclusion or inclusion of prior commitments to any ultimate answers.  Science works in a limited domain of questions and provides a limited range of answers.  Ultimate questions and answers are beyond science.

It is possible that the results of science may lend some credence to particular beliefs about ultimate matters.  That does not rule against the scientific validity of such results.  That’s just the way it has turned out at this point.  Also, it may depend on how the results are interpreted.  Wait a while and science may change and lend credence to different beliefs.

Science is about middle matters, not ultimate matters.  Those who look to science for answers about ultimate matters are seeking to turn science into something else, namely, scientism.  They would push science beyond its limits.  They should be resisted for they undermine science.  The place of science is in practical and empirical questions, not ultimate questions or answers.

Several positions on ultimate matters have been advanced by many as required for science, notably, naturalism, materialism, and atheism.  A contrary requirement has been advanced by a few under the heading “creation science.”  While it is certainly possible to engage in scientific research and teaching and have prior commitments, it is a mistake to exclude those who do not have the same commitments from science per se.

It is often said that naturalism (or materialism or atheism) is part of the methodology of science.  But if naturalism is false, why should it be part of the methodology of true science?  Does truth follow from falsehood?  No.  Are the conclusions of such science qualified by the disclaimer, “assuming that naturalism is true”?  No.

A science that depends on a prior philosophical or religious commitment is not a public science.  It is a science only for those who accept the prior philosophical or religious commitment; those who do not are excluded.  Naturalistic science, materialistic science, and creation science are not science tout court.  They are science qualified since they are only for part of the public.  It is deceptive to pass off science qualified as science without qualification.

It may well be that adding prior philosophical or religious commitments to science enables such qualified science to investigate or answer more questions, even concerning ultimate matters.  But such science should always be qualified.  “Naturalistic science” is one thing; science is another.  Science should keep itself in the middle ground between philosophies and religions.


Dialogue on induction

Greek Coffee

Philario was sitting in the coffee shop, typing into his computer when he saw his friend Hector and greeted him.

Philario:  Hi, Hector.  What’s up?

Hector:  Well said, Philario.  What is up.  Who is down.

Philario:  Are you trying to Costello me?

Hector:  I wasn’t Abbott to do that.

Philario:  Very funny.  I’m searching on induction.  Can you tell me what it is?

Hector:  It depends on what kind of induction you want.

Philario:  I want the kind of induction used in natural science.

Hector:  OK, say we’ve got this large urn. You put your arm in and as far as you can tell it’s full of pieces of pottery.  Then you pull out one piece, and it’s painted blue.  What do you conclude about how the other pieces are painted?

Philario:  I don’t know; they could be painted anything.  Perhaps they’re from a beautiful urn that broke in pieces.

Hector:  Now think like a natural scientist.  What do natural scientists say about nature?

Philario:  They say nature is uniform.

Hector:  So if nature is uniform, how are all the balls painted?

Philario:  They must be painted the same way.

Hector:  That’s right!  So the natural scientist says they’re all painted blue.

Philario:  But they could easily be wrong!

Hector:  Did you ever notice how often natural scientists change their opinions?  They don’t seem to worry about being wrong.

Philario:  Well, I would worry about being wrong.

Hector:  Then you’re not a natural scientist!  Now suppose you pull out another piece, and it’s also painted blue.  What do you conclude?

Philario:  There’s beginning to be a pattern.  So it’s possible they could all be painted blue.

Hector:  You need more confidence if you want to be a natural scientist.

Philario:  I didn’t say I wanted to be a natural scientist.  I just want to know how they think.

Hector:  So try thinking like one.  What do you say?

Philario:  I suppose I should say they’re all painted blue.

Hector:  Now do you have any evidence to back that up?

Philario:  I don’t have much evidence; only two pieces.

Hector:  But is there any contrary evidence?

Philario:  No, not yet.

Hector:  There’s no contrary evidence so no-one can say you’re wrong yet.

Philario:  That’s not much consolation.

Hector:  You need more confidence, my man!  You can prove your case by appealing to all the available evidence.

Philario:  But someone else might take out other pieces and find they are painted differently.

Hector:  Has that happened yet?

Philario:  No.

Hector:  So you’ve made your case for now.  No-one can prove you wrong.

Philario:  Now suppose you put your hand in and pull out another piece, and it’s painted red.  What do you say?

Hector:  I would say I was wrong about all of them being blue because some of them are red.

Philario:  That’s weak, much too weak.

Hector:  I could say based on the evidence two-thirds are probably blue and one-third are probably red.

Philario:  That’s what statisticians say!  You’re trying to think like a natural scientist.

Hector:  So what should I say?

Philario:  You should say there are two kinds of pieces in the urn.  One kind are all painted blue and the other kind are all painted red.  You might say that the blue kind are from a piece of blue pottery and the red kind are from a piece of red pottery.

Hector:  That sounds like a hypothesis.

Philario:  Yes, it is a hypothesis!

Hector:  So natural scientists make bold statements based on flimsy evidence and call them hypotheses.

Philario:  You might put it that way.  But remember they are careful not to contradict evidence, unless they want to say the evidence is erroneous.

Hector:  Why would they say evidence is erroneous?

Philario:  Because it gets in the way of a good hypothesis!

Hector:  So it’s all about making up hypotheses that sound good.

Philario:  You’re catching on!

Hector:  I think I’m too cautious to be much good at that.

Philario:  Have you considered becoming a statistician?

Hector:  No, do they like to be cautious?

Philario:  Boy, do they like to be cautious!  That’s probably all they do.

Hector:  They must eat sometimes.

Philario:  Probably.  But you can’t be 100% certain.

Hector:  I think I can be 100% certain about some things.

Philario:  Like what?

Hector:  I can be 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow.

Philario:  OK, let’s consider that.  What do you base that assertion on?

Hector:  I base it on the fact that it’s risen every time in the past.

Philario:  I didn’t know you were as old as time!

Hector:  Well, I haven’t personally witnessed the sun rising every day, but someone has.

Philario:  Who has?

Hector:  Other people.  There are records that go back to Babylon.

Philario:  What about before Babylon?

Hector:  Well, I suppose it must have risen before that, too.  We’ve got thousands of years’ worth of evidence that the sun rises every day.

Philario:  So there’s a high probably the sun will rise tomorrow.

Hector:  That’s what I said!

Philario:  No, you said you were 100% certain the sun will rise tomorrow.

Hector:  That’s virtually the same thing.  You’re not going to split hairs, are you?

Philario:  Of course I am!  We’re thinking like statisticians now.

Hector:  Oh no.  You mean statisticians are super cautious?

Philario:  Professionally, yes.  They’re paid to be hedge their bets.

Hector:  I don’t think I’m cut out to be a statistician either.

Philario:  You could always be a philosopher.

Hector:  Why is that?

Philario:  They can take any side of an argument!

Hector:  I think you’re better at that than I am.

Philario:  Study philosophy and you’ll get better at it.

Hector:  I’d rather have a latte.


The Darwinian evolution paradigm

The Darwinian evolution paradigm is based on the evolution paradigm and forms a “bundle of theories” that are contrary to the special creation paradigm. It concerns the origin and development of organic life on earth.

1. Science and History

The subject of natural history is primarily natural science and secondarily history. The laws and generalizations of science have greater significance than the purported actions and events of recorded history. If a scientific law or generalization is sufficiently attested, then it must be accepted, whether or not it fits any historical writing.

2. Naturalism Assumed

Nature is all that exists or ever existed or ever will exist. Nature is self-existing, self-caused, and self-sustaining. Matter, motion, and the laws of nature are all there is.

3. Uniformity of Natural History

Natural rates of change are uniform or nearly uniform and so may be extrapolated to large spans of time. Uniformitarianism is the main method of inference in natural history.

4. Purposelessness of Natural History

Natural history has no purpose or center. Earth arose via the purposeless operation of natural laws. Life could have arisen elsewhere and probably has in some form.

5. Unlimited Change

The laws of nature allow virtually limitless change to take place when there is sufficient time. Chance variations have occurred of the type and frequency needed to develop current species without any design or purpose other than survival.

6. Biblical Insignificance

There is no singular document about ancient history. Human beings in the ancient past were more primitive than moderns, and so should not be expected to know much.

7. Earth is Old

There have been vast ages of time in the past, on the order of billions of years. The biblical chronology is either wrong or must be interpreted to allow billions of years. In any case, it is science that determines the chronology of the earth, not any human writings (cf. #1).

8. Life Began Naturally

Abiogenesis is the study of the origin of life from non-life. This is an area of active research. Whatever is determined, it is certain that life began naturally, with no supernatural intervention.

9. Earth Began Primitive

The early earth was primitive. Organic life did not exist at first but developed over long ages of time via the operation of natural laws.

10. One Kind of Life

All organic life developed from a single organism which evolved over long ages of time to evolve into millions of species. The difference between different organisms is only a matter of degree of complexity. They are all the same kind of entity with the same essence.

11. Humans Not Special

Human beings are part of nature. The difference between humans and other organisms is solely a matter of degree, not kind or essence.

12. Regional Catastrophes

Uniformity is the main theme of earth history. The catastrophic events that have occurred have all been regional, not universal. Death has always been part of life; there was no catastrophe that originated death. No world-wide catastrophe changed the geology of the earth, and nothing has happened to change all human languages. Any purported evidence to the contrary must be either false or falsely interpreted.


Approaching the unknown

We have some knowledge but it is not complete knowledge, not even arguably near complete. So what should we do about the areas where knowledge is lacking? We should certainly continue to investigate. But what do we say in the mean time? What can we justify saying about the unknown side of partial knowledge?

There are three basic approaches to the unknown: (a) assume as little as possible about the unknown and project that onto the unknown; (b) assume the unknown is exactly like the known and project the known onto the unknown; or (c) assume the unknown is like what is common or typical with what is known and project that onto the unknown.

Approach (a) uses the principle of indifference, maximum entropy, and a modest estimate of the value of what is known to the unknown. It takes a very cautious, anything-can-happen approach as the safest way to go.

Approach (b) uses the principle of the uniformity of nature, minimum entropy, and a confident estimate of the value of what is known to the unknown. It takes an intrepid, assertive, approach as the most knowledgeable way to go.

Approach (c) uses the law of large numbers, the central limit theorem, the normal distribution, averages, and a moderate estimate of the value of what is known to the unknown. It takes a middle way between overly cautious and overly confident approaches as the best way to go.

The three approaches are not mutually exclusive. All three may use the law of large numbers, the normal distribution, and averages. They all may sometimes use the principle of indifference or the uniformity of nature. So calling these three different approaches is a generalization about the direction that each one takes, knowing that their paths may cross or converge on occasion.

It is also more accurate to say there is a spectrum of approaches, with approaches (a) and (b) at the extremes and approach (c) in the middle. This corresponds to a spectrum of distributions with extremes of low and high variability and the normal distribution in the middle.

This suggests there is a statistic of a distribution that varies from, say, -1 to +1 for extremes of low and high variability that is zero for the normal distribution. So it would be a measure of normality, too. The inverse of the variability or standard deviation might do.

Compare the three approaches with an input-output exercise:

  1. Given input 0 with output 10, what is output for input 1?
    1. Could be anything
    2. The same as for input 0, namely, 10
    3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 10
  2. Also given input 1 with output 12, what is output for input 2?
    1. Still could be anything
    2. The linear extrapolation of the two points (10+2n), namely, 14
    3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 11
  3. Also given input 2 with output 18, what is output for input 3?
    1. Still could be anything
    2. The quadratic extrapolation of the two points (10+2n+n^2), namely, 25
    3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 40/3
  4. Now start over but with the additional information that the outputs are integers from 1 to 100.
    1. The values 1 to 100 are equally likely
    2. The values 1 to 100 are equally likely
    3. The values 1 to 100 are equally likely
  5. Given input 0 with output 0, what is output for input 1?
    1. Bayesian updating
    2. The same as for input 0, namely, 0
    3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 0
  6. Also given input 1 with output 5, what is output for input 2?
    1. Bayesian updating
    2. The linear extrapolation of the two points (5n), namely, 10
    3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 2.5, so 2 or 3 are equally likely
  7. Also given input 2 with output 9, what is output for input 3?
    1. Bayesian updating
    2. Since there are limits, extrapolate a logistic curve ((-15+30*(2^n) / (1+2^n)), namely, 12
    3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 14/3, rounded to 5


Theory selection and time

There are several criteria commonly used to select the best scientific theory, including consistency, confirmation, and comprehensiveness.  We discuss two criteria in particular:

(1)  “Avoid metaphysics.”  Modern science has a long history of avoiding metaphysics.  Science was often contrasted with the wrangling of metaphysicians.  While some metaphysical assumptions/presuppositions may be inevitable, a theory is preferred that has fewer metaphysical assumptions.  “Don’t make metaphysical assumptions if possible, and if unavoidable, make them as benign as possible.”  This incorporates “Occam’s razor” which says that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

Naturalism or methodological naturalism is often considered a requirement for a scientific theory but the real requirement is the avoidance of metaphysics.  Naturalism does avoid some metaphysical assumptions but it has its own metaphysical assumptions.  A naturalistic theory should not be considered free of metaphysics, rather, its particular metaphysics should be considered along with everything else when selecting a theory.

(2)  “Take the metaphysical middle way.”  When the making of metaphysical assumptions cannot be avoided, a theory is preferred that has metaphysical assumptions in the middle of the range of metaphysical assumptions that have historically been employed.  “Avoid metaphysical extremes.”  Follow something like a golden mean or an intermediate metaphysical position.

Example:  historical time

  • An ancient and primitive conception of time is that it is cyclic, that history repeats. As the seasons and celestial positions repeat so does history.  Cf. also Nietzsche’s Eternal Return.
  • A modern and abstract conception of time is that of an open time line, that history is a linear sequence of events projected onto an open-ended geometric line. Such a line has no definite endpoints or is infinite.  Relativistic time lines may be curved but the idea of an open-ended sequence remains.
  • An intermediate conception is that historical time is a closed time line, with beginning and ending points. This is the Judeo-Christian conception of time. It is like the cyclic conception in that it consists of one cycle and in some ways the ending recapitulates the beginning. It is also like the time line conception in that it is a linear sequence of events.2007
  • That which is “natural” conforms to these two principles.  It has few metaphysical assumptions and what assumptions it has are middle-of-the-road so it is easy to accept.


Modes of science

There are three modes of science: descriptive, explanatory, and applied.  The descriptive mode consists of systematic observation of phenomena followed by discovery and empirical confirmation of general laws covering regularities in the observations.  The explanatory mode uses the observations and laws with assumptions that fill in gaps to tell a story of how and why a particular sequence of events happened or something came to be.  The applied mode uses the results of the descriptive and explanatory modes in developing a product or technique.

The descriptive mode of science consists of detailed descriptions of phenomena and heuristic rules that generalize descriptions of related phenomena.  In the descriptive mode one strives for objectivity with thoroughly empirical science methods unadulterated by personal beliefs, unobservable entities, or unconfirmed assumptions.  These scientific descriptions do not explain phenomena except in the minimal sense that they can replicate aspects of phenomena that are subsumed in generalizations.  For example, a generalization about planetary motions would show that their orbits are elliptical but not why the orbits are elliptical or how planets move.

The explanatory mode of science is built on the descriptive mode by taking descriptions and generalizations of phenomena as its starting point.  The scope of each generalization is taken to be as universal as possible within any limitations imposed by other generalizations.  For example, if there is a generalization about a certain fish population, in the explanatory mode it becomes a law about all fish populations unless there are other generalizations that limit the scope to some fish populations.

Explanations are developed in the explanatory mode that are consistent with the descriptions and generalizations of the descriptive mode with non-empirical matters kept to a minimum.

In the explanatory mode the beliefs of the person presenting or endorsing the explanation may affect the particulars of the explanation.

In the explanatory mode thoroughgoing empiricism is an ideal to strive for but compromises may be made by positing unobserved entities or making assumptions that enable general laws to be a sufficient basis for a story that makes the how and why clear.  The making of assumptions should be kept to a minimum but may be necessary to provide sufficient grounds for invoking a law.  For example, some boundary conditions may be unobserved but be required for substitution in the expression of a law.  While the highest standards of objectivity should be maintained, there remains a certain subjective element in whether or not a reasonable person will be satisfied with a particular explanation.  A reasonable person may be remain unsatisfied and object to an unobserved entity or assumption.  To continue the previous example, an explanation of planetary orbits that appeals to a force of gravity as the causal agent producing elliptical motions may be sufficient for most people but be unacceptable to some on the grounds that a force is an unobserved entity.

The applied mode takes the descriptions and explanations with perhaps non-scientific influences such as heuristics (rules of thumb) and aesthetics to design a product or technique with some purpose in mind.  Engineering is the systematic practice of the applied mode.  To continue the example once more, an engineer may use the law of gravity along with other laws such as aerodynamic laws to develop the path that a satellite launch must take to attain a particular orbit.

The explanatory mode has some of the characteristics of the descriptive mode and the applied mode.  It is descriptive in that it includes descriptions of phenomena to be explained and it is applied in that it applies laws to construct explanatory stories of phenomena.

There is no single method to confirm a proposed scientific law but the basic idea is to increase the weight of evidence for it, especially in contrast to other possible laws.  Experiments that challenge the law but lead to new observations consistent with the law increase the weight of evidence.  Explanations for events or artifacts that either lacked explanations or had unsatisfactory explanations because of the unobserved entities or assumptions increase the weight.  Useful applications developed using the law that would not likely have been developed without it increase the weight.  Thus we see all of the scientific modes at work in confirmation.


The creation paradigm

The term “paradigm” shall be used to indicate what Imré Lakatos called “research programmes.”

For Lakatos, what we think of as a ‘theory’ may actually be a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques developed over time, that share some common idea, or what Lakatos called their ‘hard core’. Lakatos called such changing collections ‘Research Programmes’. [].

The creation paradigm is presented here as the common idea of theories and histories around the concept of special creation. The core propositions of the creation paradigm are described.

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History and law

The main problem with evolution is not that it has the wrong history but that for evolution history is everything.  That’s everything including the laws of nature, philosophy, religion, God, literally everything.  The one law of evolution is that everything evolves.  There is no being, only becoming; there is nothing fixed, only change.

But surely they accept the laws of physics, don’t they?  Not really.  Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Presence of the Past” attempts to show that nature has “habits” rather than any fixed laws.  Like evolutionary species, the laws of physics are temporary and evolve, too.

So arguing about chronology and history is right up the evolutionary alley.  It doesn’t shift the debate to what evolutionists cannot accept: anything that does not change — laws or created/natural kinds.

Also, if the argument is about chronology and history, it is always possible to argue that God was involved and this is consistent with basic theology.  So the debate goes around in circles because chronology cannot be a basic doctrine of Christianity.

But law is a basic doctrine of Christianity.  If there is no law, there is no gospel: law and gospel go together.  And these are not just spiritual laws, but laws that include physical reality because resurrection is physical, too.

So the debate should be shifted to be about the existence of what does not change — laws, kinds, and the nature of God.

September 2014

Science and extraordinary events

Auditors have discovered a million dollars missing in the accounts of the venerable First Bank. What is the explanation?

(1) There has been no impropriety; small rounding errors of a few pennies have occurred many times over many years, which happened to add up to a million dollars.

(2) There was an embezzlement of a million dollars.

This is the situation science faces. A large difference might be explained by a long series of small changes, but at what point does the long series of small changes become harder to believe than one extraordinary event?

Science follows the principle that what is easiest to believe should be believed. Hume and others have argued that it would take an extraordinary amount of evidence to establish that an extraordinary event occurred. One result is that a large number of ordinary events have been taken to be more believable than one extraordinary event.

Evolution requires a very long and particular series of events to occur in which small changes lead to larger and larger changes that ultimately result in the biological diversity observed today. This has the advantage of not requiring the belief in any extraordinary event. But the sheer number and variety of particular changes over an extremely long time that would have to take place are harder to believe than any one extraordinary event.

It is reasonable to expect science to minimize the number and extent of extraordinary events but if extraordinary events are thereby eliminated, the result is something harder to believe than an extraordinary event. That goes against the principle that science should believe what is easiest to believe.

July 2014

Stages of a science

Based on the most developed sciences, physics and chemistry, I suggest each science eventually goes through the following five stages:

Stage 1. The Nascent Stage is characterized by monistic ideas such as ‘everything is a form of water’ (e.g., Thales).

Stage 2. The Classical Stage is characterized by unaided observation and commonplace ideas such as things are a combination of water, air, earth, and fire (the Bible* and Aristotle).  *I think this reflects the language used in the Bible, not the level of truth implicit in it.

Stage 3. The Pre-Modern Stage is characterized by unsystematic experiments and mystical ideas (e.g., alchemy).

Stage 4. The Modern Stage is characterized additionally by systematic experiments and inductive generalizations (e.g., Galileo, Newton).

Stage 5. The Post-Modern Stage is characterized additionally by thought experiments and grand syntheses (e.g., relativity, quantum mechanics).

I would place biology, geology, and cosmology in Stage 3. For example, as alchemists dreamed of transmuting base metals into gold, so Darwinists dream of transmuting lower species into humans. Stage 4 biology is just beginning.

Let me add that earlier stages are not necessarily wrong, only limited. Later stages show the limitations of previous stages.

November 2014