iSoul In the beginning is reality

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Even if evolution were superseded, something just as reductionistic would replace it without a broader cultural and intellectual shift.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