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Reality and conventions #4

This post continues a series of posts. The previous one is here.

Modern natural science attempts a systematic account of the causes of change in the physical world, and is willing to go against the appearance of the physical world if that will further its goals. This differs from the ancient Platonic attempt to “save the appearances” at all costs by placing appearances within an ad-hoc but meaningful system.

In one sense, philosophy is the helpmeet of science. It aids in the task of putting our conceptual household in order: tidying up arguments, discarding unjustified claims. But in another sense, philosophy peeks over the shoulder of science to a world that science in principle cannot countenance. As Professor Scruton put it elsewhere, “The search for meaning and the search for explanation are two different enterprises.” Science offers us an explanation of the world; it may start out as an attempt to explain appearances, “but it rapidly begins to replace them.” Philosophy seen as the search for meaning must in the end endorse the world of appearance. The New Criterion, vol. 12, no. 10

Saving the appearances famously led to tweaking Ptolemaic astronomy despite its inability to explain why celestial bodies should move in epicycles. The Newtonian system didn’t give ultimate explanations but at least it gave laws that applied on Earth and skyward.

Yet there is nothing “wrong” with saving appearances such as the motion of the Sun relative to the Earth. In that sense, geocentrism was never wrong despite generations of people being taught so. Whether saving the appearances or saving the system is a goal, both must accept some conventions that include things such as the celestial body of reference – or lack thereof.

One may legitimately pursue a phenomenal science that saves appearances by sacrificing some consistency in conventions. For example, the Moon is in orbit relative to the Earth and the Sun is in a different kind of orbit relative to the Earth. In order to save both of these appearances, one would have to use a gravitational dynamics for the Earth-Moon system and a levitational dynamics for the Earth-Sun system. Awkward, perhaps, but legitimate.

Reality and conventions #2

This post continues the topic of the previous post here.

Every pair of contrary opposites may have one or more conventions associated with it. That is because there is a symmetry between the two that can be reversed. Note this is not the case with contradictory opposites: they are not symmetric. Note also that terms may be symmetric without the references of the terms being exactly symmetric.

I’ll start with the latter point. A common example is the terms for male and female. In some respects they are symmetric opposites but in other respects they are not. The language can mislead on this point. Males and females have some similarities, some contrary (or complementary) differences, as well as differences that are not contraries, just different. Some aspects of male-female relations are conventions but not every aspect is.

The deconstructionists associated binary opposites with power structures (not unlike Hegel). They would reverse the meaning in order to undermine them. That assumes pairs are complete contraries, which is not as common as they thought. Deconstructionism works mostly on texts, in which the language of contrary opposites is deconstructed. The conventions associated with contrary opposites can be reversed but not all binary opposites are genuine contraries.

Contradictory opposites such as good and evil or true and false are not symmetric, contrary to the language that is often used. Not-evil is not necessarily good and not-false is not necessarily true. What is a matter of goodness or truth are not mere conventions.

There is a reality independent of us (or of our minds) but some things are conventions that are dependent on us. Motion is real but all motion is relative so it is a convention as to what motion is relative to. Galileo and the Scholastic philosophers (and their supporters) were wrong to think of the Earth as either only at rest or only in motion. Whether or not the Earth moves is a convention.

Classical Model of Science

Another paper that should get wider exposure: “The Classical Model of Science: a millennia-old model of scientific rationality” by Willem R. de Jong and Arianna Betti. Synthese (2010) 174:185-203. Excerpts:

Throughout more than two millennia philosophers adhered massively to ideal standards of scientific rationality going back ultimately to Aristotle’s Analytica posteriora. These standards got progressively shaped by and adapted to new scientific needs and tendencies. Nevertheless, a core of conditions capturing the fundamentals of what a proper science should look like remained remarkably constant all along. Call this cluster of conditions the Classical Model of Science. p.185

The Classical Model of Science as an ideal of scientific explanation

In the following we will speak of a science according to the Classical Model of Science as a system S of propositions and concepts (or terms) which satisfies the following conditions:

(1) All propositions and all concepts (or terms) of S concern a specific set of objects or are about a certain domain of being(s).

(2a) There are in S a number of so-called fundamental concepts (or terms).

(2b) All other concepts (or terms) occurring in S are composed of (or are definable from) these fundamental concepts (or terms).

(3a) There are in S a number of so-called fundamental propositions.

(3b) All other propositions of S follow from or are grounded in (or are provable or demonstrable from) these fundamental propositions.

(4) All propositions of S are true.

(5) All propositions of S are universal and necessary in some sense or another.

(6) All propositions of S are known to be true. A non-fundamental proposition is known to be true through its proof in S.

(7) All concepts or terms of S are adequately known. A non-fundamental concept is adequately known through its composition (or definition). p.186

The Classical Model of Science is a recent reconstruction a posteriori of the way in which philosophers have traditionally thought about what a proper science and its methodology should be, and which is largely set up, as it were, by abduction. The cluster (1)-(7) is intended, thus, to sum up in a fairly precise way the ideal of scientific explanation philosophers must have had in mind for a very long time when thinking about science. p.186

A proper science according to this Model has the structure of a more or less strictly axiomatized system with a distinction between fundamental and non-fundamental elements. p.186

The history of the conceptualization Science knows three milestones: first of all, Aristotle’s Analytica posteriora, especially book 1; secondly, the very influential so-called Logic of Port-Royal (1662), especially part IV: ‘De la méthode’, written mainly by Antoine Arnaud and relying in many respects on Pascal and Descartes; and finally Bernard Bolzano’s Wissenschaftslehre (1837). p.187

The formulation coming closest to a systematization of the ideal of science we codify in the Model is perhaps the description of scientific method given in the Logic of Port-Royal, ‘The scientific method reduced to eight main rules’:

Eight rules of science

1. Two rules concerning definitions

1 . Leave no term even slightly obscure or equivocal without defining it.
2. In definitions use only terms that are perfectly known or have already been explained.

2. Two rules for axioms

3. In axioms require everything to be perfectly evident.
4. Accept as evident what needs only a little attention to be recognized as true.

3 . Two rules for demonstrations

5 . Prove all propositions that are even slightly obscure, using in their proofs only definitions that have preceded, axioms that have been granted, or propositions that have already been demonstrated.
6. Never exploit the equivocation in terms by failing to substitute mentally the definitions that restrict and explain them.

4. Two rules for method

7. Treat things as much as possible in their natural order, beginning with the most general and the simplest, and explaining everything belonging to the nature of the genus before proceeding to particular species.
8. Divide each genus as much as possible into all its species, each whole into all its parts, and each difficulty into all its cases. pp.187-188

… the Model is a fruitful analytical tool. Its influence lasted until recently; having persisted at least to Lesniewski, it in fact extended far beyond what one might expect at first glance. It is certain, however, that at a some point the Model was abandoned without being replaced by anything comparable. p. 196

Science and uniformity

Science studies uniformities. There is uniformity in the physical universe and science is the study of that. In addition to uniformity there is uniqueness in the universe. One can study that, and apply science to understand it better but science does not study uniqueness per se. Other disciplines deal with aspects of uniqueness – history, philosophy, theology, and literature for example.

One does not need a principle of uniformity – that nature is uniform – in order to do science. Behind a principle of uniformity is a logical point as to the nature of induction. John P. McCaskey has explained this and is writing a book on the topic. I have written before on this topic here.

A uniformity principle implies that the future is like the past but cannot say which past properties imply which future properties. That is what induction does: it classifies things that share essential properties, whether in the past or future. Inductive classification is needed, not a principle of uniformity.

Science need not affirm that there is only uniformity in the universe or that nature is only uniform. That was understood before the late 19th century, when naturalism was promoted by TH Huxley and others as the only way to do science.

Scientists should say that the science of biology covers the uniform part of biology and the rest is handled by others. But scientists assert that the science of biology covers all of biology, which is false unless one accepts naturalism or defines biology as the study of those aspects of organic life that are uniform.

Science studies uniformities. Uniqueness also exists but science is not the study of that. One can be open to what is unique, non-uniform, or mysterious and do science.

Unlimited banks of explanation

In his 1869 Presidential Address to the Geological Society of London on the subject of Geological Reform TH Huxley said:

Catastrophism has insisted upon the existence of a practically unlimited bank of force, on which the theorist might draw; and it has cherished the idea of the development of the earth from a state in which its form, and the forces which it exerted, were very different from those we now know. That such difference of form and power once existed is a necessary part of the doctrine of evolution.

Uniformitarianism, on the other hand, has with equal justice insisted upon a practically unlimited bank of time, ready to discount any quantity of hypothetical paper. It has kept before our eyes the power of the infinitely little, time being granted, and has compelled us to exhaust known causes before flying to the unknown.

He went on to say that Evolution “embraces all that is sound in both” of them. If only that were true. Instead evolutionary theories draw from “a practically unlimited bank” of force and time.

Explanation is easy with an unlimited bank of resources to draw from. With two unlimited banks, force and time, one can explain just about anything. The problem of explanation is solved. The problem then is that explanation is too easy.

Consider if one had “a practically unlimited bank” of money to draw from to explain contemporary events. You could easily show how money controls everything — just chercher l’argent (look for the money trail) and you’ll find suggestive evidence everywhere. Pick your boogeyman and match them with money since there’s “a practically unlimited bank” of liquidity floating around.

Good explanations require something better. They require a balancing of solution spaces and solutions. An equation that is easy to solve for complex numbers may be very difficult to solve for integers, which is the challenge of Diophantine Equations.

What is the right domain of solutions? The one that is real. People don’t believe in speeds greater than the speed of light because that would lead to imaginary values for space and time. Restricting the domain is necessary to maintain correspondence to reality.

Somehow many people accept deep time, deep force, deep multiverses, etc. Meanwhile science gets deeper in debt to inflated explanations and goes off the deep end.

Renaissance for today

What does it take for a renaissance? A willingness to go back and take another path. That is, a willingness to go back in history and take the words, thoughts, and actions of others as applying to the present. Ad fontes was the cry of the Renaissance, and later the Reformation, which looked to the sources of civilization and religion.

The “now generation” will never have a renaissance. Those who think the present is superior or who merely ignore the past will never have a renaissance. They are too self-satisfied, self-uncritical, and self-focused.

Progressive disciplines have a problem here because they have an inherent bias toward more recent knowledge and practice, which are taken to be superior to anything prior. How can they reconsider the past which in some ways has been rejected?

A renaissance is spurred by a reconsideration of the past, which could arise because of new discoveries about the past such as recovery of lost or forgotten manuscripts, or from a crisis in the present, which leads people to reconsider another way forward. The latter is the situation of today. Many, even a majority depending on what is asked, agree that contemporary civilization is in crisis, that things are going in the wrong direction.

What can be done? We can reconsider what has been rejected. Some are doing this in regard to Christianity, and are rejecting Christianity for other religions or the religion of “none”. The question then is whether what is rejected is a certain variety of Christianity or Christianity in toto. I think it is the former because critics of Christianity are often using Christian criteria to reject Christianity.

It should not be a matter of mere rejection but of openness to other ways of thinking, with an implied critique that current ways of thinking are not adequate. But it must be aimed at something that is a major component of current thought and action. Otherwise, it will lead only to an alternate way of doing things, rather than a challenge to current ways.

For example, a major component of current thought and action is naturalism, which arose in the 19th century, especially from the influence of Thomas Huxley, and took hold in the 20th century. Those challenging the limitation of the natural sciences to naturalistic causes today are the intelligent design theorists and those working in the Goethean approach to science.

The foundation of the modern world is anchored in the rejection of geocentrism and the acceptance of a mechanistic view of the world, as modified by quantum and relativistic theories. This includes the establishment of absolute time — now modified by relativity but otherwise intact — within a 3D spatial universe. I have challenged some of this but more work needs to be done to open the door to a renaissance of civilization.

Ad fontes!

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.