Re: Science is a Philosophy
- From: "hersheyh" <hersheyhv@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 5 Apr 2007 18:37:59 -0700
On Apr 4, 1:05 pm, "Seanpit" <seanpitnos...@naturalselection.
On Apr 4, 8:40 am, "Von R. Smith" <trakl...@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
That there is a body of philosophical work about subject matter X doesAnd, of course, let us not forget:
not make subject matter X a philosophy.
I guess Sean would argue that war is a "specific view and philosophy",
The following is an interesting discussion of this topic by Rand
Simberg - a "recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space
commercialization, space tourism and Internet security" who has
written many such articles that have been published on occasion by
"Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there
a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted:
1) There is an objective reality
He needs to clarify what he means by "an objective" reality. If he
means that the scientific method excludes all possibility of a
"subjective" reality, he is wrong. If he means that the scientific
method is constrained to analysis of the those things that are part of
a "material universe that exists outside and independently of one's
personal mind". That is, the scientific method is constrained to the
shared material world of things, processes, and events that both you
and I can, at least potentially, observe and compare our observations
on or measure and compare our measurements on.
So, yes. If one assumes that there is no "objective" reality (reality
outside ourselves) and takes the post-modernist idea that everything
is an independent mental construct, then you would clearly not be able
to use the scientific method in analysing such a reality. And, in
fact, there are indeed many things that cannot be analyzed by use of
the scientific method. Sometimes that is because the examined "thing"
really is nothing but a mental construct that has no reality outside
the head of the imaginer. In other cases it is because the phrase
used or description is sufficiently subjective that each individual
will have a different idea of what the words means (the description is
unshareable). Phrases like "intelligent design" come to mind.
The important point to remember is that science constrains itself to
analysis of the material world which is describable in a shared way.
That is, the statements of science must be, at least potentially,
testable. To be testable, the ideas must be communicated to others in
such a way as to be independently testable by others.
In practice, of course, one often relies on accumulated past knowledge
and 'experts' or 'authorities' that you believe have correctly done
the appropriate methodology. In science, of course, *because* of the
method, such authoritative sources are (at least potentially) subject
to a checking mechanism.
A contrasting "method of knowing" is personal revelation, where a
person 'knows' something because he or she receives a message from
some mysterious entity or has a feeling that x is the answer.
Like science, one often relies on accumulated past knowledge and
'experts' or 'authoritative sources' that one believes has correctly
done the appropriate methodology (looking at entrails, praying to god,
reading and interpreting a translation of a translation of a
transcription of an oral history, throwing dice, whatever). The
difference is the absence of a way of using this methodolgy (way of
knowing) to independently check the source. One could use the
scientific method to check this way of knowing, but that is not using
the same methodology.
2) It obeys universal laws
This is not a necessary assumption of the scientific method. It is an
empirical observation that many things, processes, events in material
nature obey apparently universal laws. As Heisenberg would point out,
that doesn't mean that everything does. Nor does it prevent results
from being probabilistic rather than rigidly causal.
3) Its nature can be revealed by asking questions of it in the form
All that is required is the formation of precisely enough worded
questions (the precision in wording and in practice, often requiring a
numerical or measurement value, is needed for the results to be
shareable to others) that can be tested by observation of material
reality. Actual experiments are one way to parse out the impact of
different variables, but not the only one.
4) The simplest explanation that fits the facts is the one that
Again, he needs to explain what he means by "simplest". Goddidit is a
"simple" (perhaps simple-minded) explanation in one sense. It can
explain anything. But the causal agency invoked by the phrase is
anything but "simple". The scientific method does require
*constrained material explanations* of processes, things, or events.
Supernatural explanations, precisely because they can explain
anything, are considered worthless in science.
There are other tenets, but these are the main ones.
My own gripe about science education in this country is that it's not
taught as a philosophy of how to attain knowledge, but rather it's
simply taught as a compendium of "facts" that must be learned. Given
that it starts out with this fundamental misunderstanding
(promulgated, unfortunately, by many incompetent science teachers),
it's not surprising that many take umbrage at the teaching of "facts"
that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Pretty much every science course I ever had started out with a
description (sometimes a piss poor one and always at an
unsophisticated level) of the scientific method. None of these
methods claimed to be a "philosophy" or "religion" as opposed to a
very useful way of knowing about the natural (aka, materialistic)
phenomena to be explored in that course. Yes. They did indeed assume
that there was a material universe outside of the hormone-soaked
brains of the teenager reading the text. Stuff like rocks and stars
and chemicals and friction and biological organisms that are not just
the fervid religious imaginings of adolescent brains.
So if science is a religion (in the sense of a belief system, which I
think it is), then is it a legitimate subject for public schools?
Yes. As long as most people regard material reality as actually
existing, science, the most effective method for understanding that
material reality, should be taught *in preference to* methods that
rely on 'personal revelation', either directly or indirectly.
Personal revelation methods are not shareable, not testable, and,
practically speaking, worthless as a describer of the material world.
There are philosophy and world religion courses that are available to
discuss those topics.
Having a personal revelation from God that you can levitate out the
23rd story window may be a fine way to ruin your own personal day, but
I fail to see why it deserves *any* time (much less equal time) in a
class discussing F = ma. I would regard it as educational abuse to
give time to a theory as worthless as your personal revelation (based
on some obscure text) that you can fly, especially in a class
dedicated to understanding material reality, lest anyone else start to
believe your arguments that the mere 'theory' of gravity can be
overcome by pure thoughts.
I've said previously, this is largely a symptom of a much larger
problem--the fact that we have public schools, in which the "public"
will always be at loggerheads about what subjects should be taught
how. But given the utility of learning science (something that I
employ every day, whenever I troubleshoot my computer network, or
figure out what kinds of foods are good or bad for me), I think that
it is an important subject to which everyone should be exposed. But
I were teaching evolution, I would offer it as the scientific
explanation for how life on earth developed, not a "fact" or "the
I would offer evolution as the best current explanation for the *fact*
that life on the earth has changed over time. One that is remarkably
consistent with the evidence. And I would point out the congruence
and consistency of that evidence.
The problem arises when some scientists, blind to their own faith and
its tenets, come to believe that their beliefs represent Truth, and
that those who disagree are fools and slack-jawed yokels.
No more fool and slack-jawed yokel than any other person who thinks he
can levitate out the 23rd story window.
that, I come full circle in once again agreeing with Hugh that the
media does a disservice to the debate when it doesn't respect the
beliefs of those who feel that their children are being indoctrinated
away from their faith.
I have no objection to disabusing children of the idea that they can
levitate out high windows if they think good thoughts. Nor do I have
any objection to disabusing children of the idea that the earth is
6000 years old, that there was a world-wide Flood, and that Fred
Flintstone rode Dino are ideas just as valid as science as the
...I have faith in the scientific method, but I can't prove it's the
best way to achieve knowledge to anyone who doesn't. Unlike many who
believe that the scientific method is the correct one, I admit that
this belief is based on faith.
The scientific method is, because of its self-correcting feature, more
likely to result in a closer approximation to the way material reality
works than any of the other non-correcting methods. If I were a
betting man, when it comes to describing empirical reality, I know
which way to bet. No contest.
To me, the argument of evolution versus...well, other unspecified
unscientific) explanations is not about true and false--it is just
about science versus non-science. If I were to teach evolution in a
school, I would state it not as "this is what happened," but rather,
"this is what scientists believe happened."
"This is what scientists currently conclude is the most likely
scientific explanation of the observations of the empirical reality
that organisms have changed over time."
In other words, I don't want to indoctrinate people what to believe--
Sure you do. Indoctrination (appeal to some authority or
authoritative source) is the *only* way to transmit ideas that arose
by someone's personal revelation.
just want to make sure that when they take a science class, that
they're getting science, and not a religion dressed up as science.
Whether they want to accept science is up to them...
Wait! Weren't you just claiming that science *is* inherently a
religion or belief and thus is no different than your personal
revelation-based ideas? Can't you keep an argument straight for even
one full post?
...Unfortunately, the debate can tend to degenerate quickly, on both
sides. Many creationists view evolutionists as godless propagandists,
with the agenda of poisoning the minds of their children against
Only if that 'faith' requires the rejection of empirical reality and
the best explanation of that empirical reality in the pragmatic and
useful way that science can produce such knowledge. *Most* Christians
have no trouble being both Christian and accepting of science's
finding, whatever they may be. They simply do not regard their faith
as requiring that *nature* bend to their religious ideology.
Some evolutionists (particularly devout atheists), don't
recognize that their own belief system is faith based, and believe
that it really is an issue of right versus wrong."
Like I said, both sides of the argument. Science is somehow not
religion, until you disagree with it, and then it is. Stand in front
of a train and test the evil materialistic proposition that F =ma. If
you have faith, then maybe the train will pass right through you.
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