iSoul In the beginning is reality

Hemidemisemi science

A quarter note in music is classically known as a quaver. A sixteenth note is half of a quaver, which is called a semiquaver. For a thirty-second note the prefix “demi” is used instead of a second “semi” to make a demisemiquaver. Similarly, a sixty-fourth note is a hemidemisemiquaver. As we shall see, these prefixes will come in handy.

“Science” is a term for what was called in centuries past “natural philosophy” or what Isaac Newton called “experimental philosophy.” Physics is the pre-eminent science and has always set the highest standard for anything else to be called “science.” It is primarily characterized by highly controlled experiments. The particular value of controlled experiments has been precisely described recently by the study of causality (see Judea Pearl’s book, Causality: models, reasoning, and inference. Cambridge, 2000.)

In order to trace out a causal chain it is best to have sufficient control over all variables and then vary one individual factor at a time while holding all other variables constant. Such highly controlled experiments are only available for hard science such as physics and chemistry. That plus inductive generalization is science. Anything else that claims to be science should be measured by such a standard.

By relaxing the standards somewhat one can engage in fairly controlled experiments in other subjects. Medical science uses limited experiments to validate results of treatments on patients. However, unlike electrons and molecules, patients are individuals that vary and whose particular history cannot be controlled so statistical approaches are required for more predictable results. But medical science does not have the precision of physics or chemistry. One may call medical science a “semi-science.”

There is great interest in making psychology and sociology into sciences. But greater limits on experiments prevent them from reaching the standards of medical science, much less physics or chemistry. One may call psychology or sociology a “demisemi-science.” It is a similar situation with fields such as astronomy and botany in which the main source of data is not experiment but field observation. There may be much observational data and empirical generalization but causality is elusive without experiments. They are demisemi-sciences, too.

There is great interest in making the study of the past into science but there are many reasons why the subject of history is not science and should remain with the humanities. For one thing, the role of documentation is much more important. The best sources of history are trustworthy documents based on direct experience and observation of past happenings. Understanding and evaluating such texts is primarily an activity that must consider wider aspects of life — religion, culture, philosophy, and the like. There is a limited place for science.

Some say that natural history is science because its sources are objects such as rocks rather than texts. But again the best sources are documents based on direct experience and observation. A written account of a volcano observed, for example, is much superior to trying to estimate the date from rocks of today. Interpretation is required which takes us away from the controlled world of science. One may call natural history a “hemidemisemi-science.”

So while many would try to wrap themselves with the prestige of science, there is nothing that has the rigor of physics and chemistry because they cannot control all variables. Other disciplines are half or a quarter or an eighth of a science. Our terminology should reflect this if we are trying to avoid exaggeration.

October 2011

Kinds of explanation

Different kinds of explanation may be distinguished by how they project phenomena onto ranges over pairs of opposites.  For example, an explanation may focus on natural laws but acknowledge measurement error or noise as well.  A combination of law and error/noise is one kind of explanation.  Other kinds of explanations combine created and fallen aspects, gradual and catastrophic events, macrocosmic and microcosmic aspects, wave and particle, etc.

Each kind of explanation has its uses and its limits.  Evolutionary explanations combine law and chance to derive whatever is being explained.  This would not be so bad as a limited projection of phenomena onto one of many opposites.  What’s objectionable is the grand claims that are made for no design, no purpose, etc. — these are based on excluding other explanations rather than replacing them.

The world is manifold and multiple kinds of explanation are appropriate.  We need to understand the uses and limits of each kind of explanation.

September 2011

Two scientific methods

Data-driven (DD) science is focused on the collection and use of a diverse archive of observations.  Data analysis discovers generalizations in the archive, which are inductively extrapolated to the world.  This leads to a search for empirical consequences and their corroborating (or not) data via field observations and experiments.  New results are added to the archive and the process repeats.  In this way general laws are discovered and justified.

Hypothesis-driven (HD) science is focused on generating and testing hypotheses.  After a search for evidence or experimental testing, an hypothesis gains or loses support.  The process repeats with further investigation of the same hypotheses or alternative ones.  While the hypotheses are often based on data analysis, they may be based on intuition, dreams, ideology, or whatever.  The data used for HD hypothesis testing is often not made available for others to use.

DD science is more conservative and slower to progress but has a stronger justification.  It is how younger sciences work best, leading to well-grounded laws.  It is how statistical sampling works, where random samples justify generalization to the whole population.  For natural science, the greater the archive of observations, the more there is a sound basis for universal generalizations.

HD science is better at quickly accumulating minor advances of a mature science with well-established laws.  However, it is open to faddishness and ideological bias.  The hypotheses that are investigated tend to be ones that are trendy or ideologically correct, while alternatives are ignored.  Data sources may be cherry-picked to ensure positive results.  This may lead to research with support for contradictory hypotheses, a notable problem with medical research.

DD science works best when much data has been collected.  If data collection is too expensive or impossible (e.g., the subject is in the past), the temptation to say something immediately leads researchers toward HD science prematurely.  This happened with geology and biology in the 19th century.  The accumulation of large scientific databases has led to more interest in DD science but HD science is strongly entrenched as the standard.  Bioinformatics is providing an opportunity for DD science with its large archive for well-grounded research.

HD science is often called hypothetico-deductive though that is not the original meaning of Whewell’s term.  It is a common misconception of Whewell’s nuanced “Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences”.  Darwin was one of the first to make it:  take a grand hypothesis and look for scraps of evidence to prop it up.  That is not justified induction, i.e., science.

Creationists have adopted HD science with a biblical foundation instead of the dominant naturalistic one.  While this may be a good apologetic approach, it has all the weaknesses of HD science, which leads to dueling hypotheses rather than consensus.  DD science takes longer but leads to general laws with strong support and so is a better methodology when there is controversy.  The strongest arguments creationists can make are based on DD science, not HD science.

August 2011

Introduction to creationism

There are different sources of knowledge: historical, scientific, engineering, business, philosophical, theological, etc.  They work best when they work together.  For example, even the best business could not construct a very good bridge if they ignored engineering knowledge.  This also applies to the sciences.  The natural sciences need to consider knowledge from history and engineering for example.  The odd thing is that this is not normally done.  In fact, some would say that science is the only source of knowledge and so should ignore everything else.  This is called “scientism” or “positivism” and it is a form of willful ignorance.

In particular, those studying the subject of natural history have in past centuries included knowledge from ordinary history in their studies but this began to change in the 19th century.  People such as Auguste Compte openly called for excluding other sources of knowledge from all sciences.  He called this ideology “positivism” and surprisingly it caught on so that many people in the sciences think they cannot consider knowledge from any other source at all.

Some scientists and others dispute this ideology and are open to all relevant sources of knowledge when investigating the natural world.  One group of these scientists are commonly called “creationists” because they include knowledge from ancient history in their understanding of natural history.  In particular, they include sources of knowledge that indicate an original creation, degeneration, and catastrophe should be included when studying astronomy, biology, and geology.

July 2011

Creationism and naturalism

Some creationists emphasize the difference in religious/metaphysical assumptions of creationism vs. evolutionism as if this explains almost all their differences.  But if that were true, creationists should focus on defending their religious/metaphysical assumptions instead of criticizing evolution. Since they do spend much time criticizing evolution, they are at least implicitly saying they have enough in common with evolutionists to have a dialogue.  Evolutionists seem to want only monologue. What do creationists have in common with evolutionism and conventional science in general?  In addition to a belief that some truth about the world can be found empirically, they have in common a form of naturalism, which leads to a search for natural laws and explanations.  However, in the 19th century, science accepted extreme naturalism, which in practice is indistinguishable from metaphysical naturalism.  It insists that science must be naturalistic “all the way down”.  It says that if God exists, His direct actions are empirically undetectable.

Creationists are accused of the other extreme, supernaturalism, in which divine or semi-divine agents intervene in the world at any time for any purpose or no purpose.  This was the mythological world that ancient Greeks starting with Thales objected to.  But creationists hold to neither extreme.  They accept a moderate naturalism in which a reasonable and loving God creates and upholds the natural order, and sometimes intervenes in the natural world. Creationist method recognizes both the actions of God and the consistency of the natural order.  It is naturalistic in that the default assumption is that natural laws and explanations are expected unless there is historical or revelational justification for supernatural events.  In particular, the six-day creation, the great flood, and the dispersion at Babel are sufficiently attested.  Other events are possible but the burden of proof is on those suggesting them; otherwise, naturalistic laws and explanations prevail.

Christians who promote theistic/deistic evolution accept extreme naturalism and a God who is undetectable.  To them the acts of God are completely indirect and can be known only through esoteric knowledge that interprets conventional science through gnostic readings of the Bible.  This is properly called gnostic because it severs God from the natural, physical world, contrary to the Incarnation and revelation of God in history. Those who promote progressive creation must hope that previously unknown miracles supply what naturalistic science cannot.  Their case is weak scripturally and scientifically. Creationists need a moderate naturalism for methodological purposes as well as showing the inadequacies of their opponents.

July 2011

Rise and fall of science

In broad Aristotelian terms, this is how it happened:

Aristotle articulated four types of causes — material, efficient (mechanism), formal (design), and final (purpose) — with the final cause as the most important.  His biology tried to find these causes but he had to speculate about final causes and his biology failed.

Fast-forward to Francil Bacon who separated material and efficient causes, which science would investigate, vs. formal and final causes, which were left to philosophy and religion.  From the Enlightenment on the material and efficient causes were deemed sufficient to explain phenomena.  Occam’s razor was a tool in this reductionistic and scientistic move.  The formal and final causes were left as superfluous, something for poets and stripped-down theologians.

This happened before Darwin.  With Darwin this scientistic understanding was incorporated into mainstream science.  Those who wanted to include formal and final causes were banished from the scientific community.  The Prussian model of the university consolidated this move in Europe and later elsewhere.

Even if evolution were superseded, something just as reductionistic would replace it without a broader cultural and intellectual shift.

June 2011

The order of life, liberty, and property

The first and second article of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was written by George Mason and adopted unanimously by the Virginia Convention of Delegates on June 12, 1776, states:

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

The (U.S.) Declaration of Independence, which was primarily drafted by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, states:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I suspect that the omission of “property” from the Declaration was to avoid the potential for this revolutionary document to be challenged as an attempt to abrogate British property rights.  In any case, the rights to “life, liberty and property” are asserted in the Declaration of Colonial Rights, a resolution of the First Continental Congress.  The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution declare that governments cannot deprive any person of “life, liberty or property” without due process of law.

The U.S. Civil War can be understood as a conflict over the rights of liberty vs. property.  Slaves were chattel property and their right to liberty was not acknowledged until the war was decided.  The right to liberty trumps the right to property if there is a conflict.

The continuing clash over abortion can be understood as a conflict between the right to liberty and the right to life.  It is greatly to be hoped that the right to life will prevail as liberty means little if a life can be taken without due process of law.

In short, the rights to life, liberty, and property should be acknowledged in that order with life taking precedence over liberty and liberty taking precedence over property.

January 2011

Three 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’. (1)

Here is a description of three research programmes concerned mainly with biology but also with geology and cosmology from the distant past to the present.

The Aristotelian Research Programme

Aristotle and those who followed him described a world that is largely static. Archetypes of all species were created by special act of God (or the gods) and species have not changed since then. The earth is also the same as it was from its beginning. Whether the cosmos has always existed or was created, it has never changed appreciably.

Aristotle asserted that the cosmos has always existed and was always basically the same. This was changed in later centuries to a relatively recent special creation (<10,000 years ago). In either case, it is a static world picture.

The Evolutionary Research Programme

Darwin and those who followed him described a world that is largely dynamic. All species developed from other species and the original simple organism developed somehow from inanimate matter. No special act of creation was involved. Lyell and those who followed him described an earth that is in slow continuous change with minor exceptions.

An evolutionary research programme requires that there be long ages of time for gradual changes to accumulate and produce the world of today.

The Combination Research Programme

This programme describes a world that is both static and dynamic.  Archetypes of basic kinds of organisms were created by special act of God and all species have developed from these. The earth was created and has not changed drastically except from a global flood in ancient times.

Question? Aristotelian Combination Evolution
Change? Static Both Dynamic
Continuity? Discrete Both Continuous
Initial state? Complex Both Simple
What dominates? Initial state Both Process
Change from initial state? No change Some change Complete change
Species? Fixed species From kinds to species Changing populations
Past time? Eternal or short Short or long Long
Nature or History? Nature Both History
Type of change? Catastrophic Both Gradual
Character of change? Revolutionary Both Evolutionary
God’s relation? Direct Both Indirect

 

Genuine Dialogue between Science and Theology

Nowadays there is increasing concern for a dialogue between science and “religion” – which usually means Christian religion. The implications of science for religion are discussed in serious tones and tomes. But if there is genuine dialogue, then the implications of religion for science should also be considered. However, there is a problem at this point: science has no way of incorporating religion – unless it operates by the methods of science, that is, unless it becomes scientific. We can see why by a dialogue like this:

Theologian Tom:  Sam, we really should talk. I’ve been reading about the theological implications of science. The boundaries between science and theology are breaking down. There should be some way that scientists and theologians can dialogue together.

Scientist Sam:  Tom, you’re right. Science has much to offer religion and scientists are often religious, too.

Tom:  One thing I don’t understand is what are the scientific implications of theology?

Sam:  Theology is about “why” and science is about “what”.  Scientific knowledge can help theology in many ways.

Tom:  But Tom, I said the implications of theology for science.  How can science best react to the conclusions of theology?

Sam:  You don’t mean that science should consider theological explanations? That would be impossible. Scientists can’t do that.

Tom:  Why not, Sam?  Theologians consider scientific explanations. Why not the other way around?

Sam:  You don’t understand, Tom. Science considers the evidence and develops explanations that are, well, scientific. There’s no place for religion in there.

Tom:  But I thought we agreed to have a dialogue about science and theology. What’s up?

Sam:  We, we just can’t do that. Scientists have rigorous scientific methods. We demand empirical proof. Theology is so, so different. We could never invoke God to explain anything.

Tom:  Then it’s up to others to take scientific theories and compare them with other explanations and decide what to do?

Sam:  Yes, take scientific theories and apply them anywhere you want.

Tom:  But I’m talking about modifying the theories to take into consideration events like miracles that science ignores or explanations like divine agency that science doesn’t consider.

Sam:  Don’t modify the theories, just apply them.

Tom:  You seem to think that science has the final word.

Sam:  Only about the natural world, Tom. We wouldn’t step on theologians feet when they talk about the spiritual world.

Tom:  But you’re supposing that reality is neatly partitioned into two worlds, and that science covers one world and theology the other. We live in a uni-verse, Tom.

Sam:  I don’t know about that. I just know that science doesn’t consider theology.

Tom:  Then you’re not able to have a two-way conversation.

Sam:  Well, I guess not.