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Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of Science

Yuval Noah Harari on What Drives Science

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In academic circles, many are naive enough to believe in pure science. They believe that government and business altruistically give them money to pursue whatever research projects strike their fancy. But this hardly describes the realities of science funding. ¶ Most scientific studies are funded because somebody believes they can help attain some political, economic or religious goal. For example, in the sixteenth century, kings and bankers channelled enormous resources to finance geographical expeditions around the world but not a penny for studying child psychology. This is because kings and bankers surmised that the discovery of new geographical knowledge would enable them to conquer new lands and set up trade empires, whereas they couldn’t see any profit in understanding child psychology.

Charles Townes on the Interaction Between Science and Religion

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Science has been digging deeper and deeper, and as it has done so, particularly in the basic sciences like physics and astronomy, we have begun to understand more. We have found that the world is not deterministic: quantum mechanics has revolutionized physics by showing that things are not completely predictable. That doesn’t mean that we’ve found just where God comes in, but we know now that things are not as predictable as we thought and that there are things we don’t understand. For example, we don’t know what some 95 percent of the matter in the universe is: we can’t see it – it’s neither atom nor molecule, apparently. We think we can prove it’s there, we see its effect on gravity, but we don’t know what and where it is, other than broadly scattered around the universe. And that’s very strange. ¶ So as science encounters mysteries, it is starting to recognize its limitations and become somewhat more open. There are still scientists who differ strongly with religion and vice versa. But I think people are being more open-minded about recognizing the limitations in our frame of understanding.

Pigliucci’s Exhortation to Skeptics, Atheists, and Secularists

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No matter their cause, every group falls short of its aspirations. Amongst skeptics, atheists, and secularists, some less fêted voices like Michael Ruse and Julian Baggini have lamented the rise of a cavalry of imperious and hostile firebrands that have become the face of atheism. More recently, Massimo Pigliucci, a member in good standing of said community, echoes their concerns. He calls upon his cohorts to reject scientism, anti-intellectualism and a number of vogue theories and instead embrace classic epistemic virtues like charity, respect, and civility. Notably, he draws particular attention to the irony that it is the so-called “community of reason” that is so often hostile to the discipline of reason: philosophy.

Darwin’s Doubt

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When Charles Darwin finished The Origin of Species, he thought that he had explained every clue, but one. Though his theory could explain many facts, Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain. During this event, the “Cambrian explosion,” many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock.  In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this explosion of animal life—a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal. During the last half century, biologists have come to appreciate the central importance of biological information—stored in DNA and elsewhere in cells—to building animal forms. Expanding on the compelling case he presented in his last book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer argues that the origin of this information, as well as other mysterious features of the Cambrian event, are best explained by intelligent design, rather than purely undirected evolutionary processes.

An Introduction to Design Arguments

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The history of design arguments stretches back to before Aquinas, who claimed that things which lack intelligence nevertheless act for an end to achieve the best result. Although science has advanced to discredit this claim, it remains true that many biological systems display remarkable adaptations of means to ends. Versions of design arguments have persisted over the centuries and have culminated in theories that propose an intelligent designer of the universe. This volume is the only comprehensive survey of 2,000 years of debate, drawing on both historical and modern literature to identify, clarify, and assess critically the many forms of design argument for the existence of God. It provides a neutral, informative account of the topic from antiquity to Darwin, and includes concise primers on probability and cosmology. It will be of great value to upper-level undergraduates and graduates in philosophy of religion, theology, and philosophy of science.

Dave Gelernter on Immodest Science

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The huge cultural authority science has acquired over the past century imposes large duties on every scientist. Scientists have acquired the power to impress and intimidate every time they open their mouths, and it is their responsibility to keep this power in mind no matter what they say or do. Too many have forgotten their obligation to approach with due respect the scholarly, artistic, religious, humanistic work that has always been mankind’s main spiritual support. Scientists are (on average) no more likely to understand this work than the man in the street is to understand quantum physics. But science used to know enough to approach cautiously and admire from outside, and to build its own work on a deep belief in human dignity. No longer.

Where the Conflict Really Lies

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This book is a long-awaited major statement by a pre-eminent analytic philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, on one of our biggest debates — the compatibility of science and religion. The last twenty years has seen a cottage industry of books on this divide, but with little consensus emerging. Plantinga, as a top philosopher but also a proponent of the rationality of religious belief, has a unique contribution to make. His theme in this short book is that the conflict between science and theistic religion is actually superficial, and that at a deeper level they are in concord. Plantinga examines where this conflict is supposed to exist — evolution, evolutionary psychology, analysis of scripture, scientific study of religion — as well as claims by Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Philip Kitcher that evolution and theistic belief cannot co-exist. Plantinga makes a case that their arguments are not only inconclusive but that the supposed conflicts themselves are superficial, due to the methodological naturalism used by science. On the other hand, science can actually offer support to theistic doctrines, and Plantinga uses the notion of biological and cosmological “fine-tuning” in support of this idea. Plantinga argues that we might think about arguments in science and religion in a new way — as different forms of discourse that try to persuade people to look at questions from a perspective such that they can see that something is true. In this way, there is a deep and massive consonance between theism and the scientific enterprise. ~ Book Description

Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion

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If we want nonscientists and opinion-makers in the press, the lab, and the pulpit to take a fresh look at the relationship between science and religion, Ronald Numbers suggests that we must first dispense with the hoary myths that have masqueraded too long as historical truths. Until about the 1970s, the dominant narrative in the history of science had long been that of science triumphant, and science at war with religion. But a new generation of historians both of science and of the church began to examine episodes in the history of science and religion through the values and knowledge of the actors themselves. Now Ronald Numbers has recruited the leading scholars in this new history of science to ­puncture the myths, from Galileo’s incarceration to Darwin’s deathbed conversion to Einstein’s belief in a personal God who “didn’t play dice with the universe.” The picture of science and religion at each other’s throats persists in mainstream media and scholarly journals, but each chapter in Galileo Goes to Jail shows how much we have to gain by seeing beyond the myths.

Victor Reppert on Materialist Strategies

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Defenders of materialism usually use three types of arguments to criticize the family of arguments I presented earlier. They use Error replies if they think the item that the antimaterialist is setting up for explanation can be denied. They use Reconciliation objections if they suppose that the item in question can be fitted within a materialist ontology. Moreover, they also use Inadequacy objection to argue that whatever difficulties there may be in explaining the matter in materialist terms, it does not get us any better if we accept some mentalistic worldview such as theism. We can see this typology at work in responses to the argument from objective moral values. Materialist critics of the moral argument can argue that there is really no objective morality, they can say objective morality is compatible with materialism, or they can use arguments such as the Euthyphro dilemma to argue that whatever we cannot explain about morality in materialist terms cannot better be explained by appealing to nonmaterial entities such as God.

God’s Universe

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In God’s Universe, Owen Gingerich, a Harvard University astronomer and science historian, tells how in the 1980s he was part of an effort to produce a kind of anti-Cosmos, a television series called Space, Time, and God that was to counter Sagan’s “conspicuously materialist approach to the universe.” The program never got off the ground, but its premise survives: that there are two ways to think about science. You can be a theist, believing that behind the veil of randomness lurks an active, loving, manipulative God, or you can be a materialist, for whom everything is matter and energy interacting within space and time. Whichever metaphysical club you belong to, the science comes out the same. In the hands of as fine a writer as Gingerich, the idea almost sounds convincing. “One can believe that some of the evolutionary pathways are so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of random chance,” he writes, “but if you do not believe in divine action, then you will simply have to say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see. Either way, the scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems in much the same way as his atheistic colleague across the
hall.” ~ Scientific American

Eugenie Scott on Methodological Naturalism

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My position is to distinguish between philosophical and methodological naturalism, but of course, the leaders of the ID movement reject this distinction and conflate the two. I think the distinction is real, it should be appreciated, and it is one of the keys to solving the problem of the rejection of evolution. And a lot of scientists agree with me, even those who are nonbelievers. But it’s much easier for the leaders of the ID movement to keep flogging Dawkins and Provine than to reflect the philosophical reality out there. ¶ I think much of the antievolution sentiment in the public is because anti-evolutionists have sold the public a bill of goods that because science CAN explain through natural cause, it means that science is saying that therefore "God had nothing to do with it."  Evolution, like all science, explains through natural cause. It tells you what happened, and nothing about ultimate cause. If a religious position makes a fact claim, like special creation of living things in their present form, at one time (the YEC view), science can propose that there are no data to support this view, and much against it. But if God wanted to create that way, but make it look like living things appeared sequentially through time, science of course could not refute the claim. The claim — like all claims about God’s action in the natural world — would in fact not be testable (and therefore not scientific) because ANY result is compatible with God’s action (assuming God is omnipotent.) ¶ The blame lies partly with science professors and partly with the public. In defense of science professors, students rarely challenge them for making atheistic comments when discussing, say, cell division ("Prof. Jones, you just said that ‘enzymes A & B make chromosomes  line up on the equator.’ Are you saying that therefore God had nothing to do with it?") When they are discussing evolution, scientists treat it the same way as they treat cell division: here are the natural processes that result in the splitting of a lineage, or whatever. Students are more likely to read philosophical naturalism into methodological  naturalism when the topic is evolution than when the topic is cell division — and we can’t blame that on professors. It would help if students would be a little more reflective on this issue! But professors can be more sensitive to this issue, certainly. And I find that once the difference between philosophical and methodological naturalism is pointed out, they "get it", and few argue that this isn’t a good idea.

Agents Under Fire

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Philosophical naturalism is frequently advocated as the only doctrine that a scientifically informed intellectual of our time can possibly consider. Angus Menuge has shown, however, that a wide range of powerful considerations can be brought forward against this philosophy. Menuge provides a close examination of leading naturalists such as Dawkins, Dennett and Churchland, and draws upon a wide range of critics from C. S. Lewis to Michael Behe, to provide what is arguably the most comprehensive critique of naturalism yet to appear. People who are interested in the Argument from Reason should be especially interested in Menuge’s disucssion. A must read for naturalists and for their opponents. ~ Victor Reppert

Scott D. Sampson on Interpretive Paleontology

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The bones were the same, nothing had changed. But people started to look at the dinosaurs differently. Same fossils. New ideas… People keep forgetting that paleontologists are really limited. We have a bunch of bones and teeth — for the most part — to work with. So really it’s the ideas that drive the science. The ideas, of course, are driven by the biases of that particular moment. So we went from a lizard bias to a bird bias, and now the pendulum is actually swinging, once again, back to the middle.

The Divine Lawmaker

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John Foster presents a clear and powerful discussion of a range of topics relating to our understanding of the universe: induction, laws of nature, and the existence of God. He begins by developing a solution to the problem of induction — a solution that involves the postulation of laws of nature, as forms of natural necessity. He then offers a radically new account of the nature of such laws and the distinctive kind of necessity they involve. Finally, he uses this account as the basis for an argument for the existence of God as the creator of the laws and the universe they govern. The Divine Lawmaker is bold and original in its approach, and rich in argument. ~ Product Description • "John Foster… uses his philosophical background to analyze the question of the rationality of belief in God as a causal agent for nature’s regularities… Foster is writing for the philosophically literate; The Divine Lawmaker will appeal to the specialist and professional philosopher of science or religion…" ~ Science & Theology News

Richard Swinburne on Simplicity

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Its degree of simplicity and its scope determine the intrinsic probability of a theory, its probability independent of its relation to any evidence. The simpler a theory, the more probable it is. The simplicity of a theory, in my view, is a matter of it postulating few (logically independent) entities, few properties of entities, few kinds of entities, few kinds of properties, properties more readily observable, few separate laws with few terms relating few variables, the simplest formulation of each law being mathematically simple. … A theory is simpler and so has greater prior probability to the extent to which these criteria are satisfied.

Michael Crichton on SETI

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Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two-week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation: N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL. Where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live. ¶ This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses — just so we’re clear — are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice. ¶ The Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion… ¶ The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage — similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationist new claim, for example — meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.

Michael Crichton on Scientific Consensus

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I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had. Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period… I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way…

On Pascal

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On Pascal, like other titles in the Wadsworth Philosopher’s Series, offers a concise, yet comprehensive, introduction to this philosopher’s most important ideas. Presenting the most important insights of well over a hundred seminal philosophers in both the Eastern and Western traditions, the Wadsworth Philosophers Series contains volumes written by scholars noted for their excellence in teaching and for their well-versed comprehension of each featured philosopher’s major works and contributions. These titles have proven valuable in a number of ways. Serving as standalone texts when tackling a philosophers’ original sources or as helpful resources for focusing philosophy students’ engagements with these philosopher’s often conceptually daunting works, these titles have also gained extraordinary popularity with a lay readership and quite often serve as “refreshers” for philosophy instructors. ~ Publisher’s Description

Jonah Goldberg on Postmodernism and Science

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For obvious reasons, PoMos hate science more than dogs hate vacuum cleaners, and they bark at it about as much. You see, scientists work on precisely the opposite assumptions as PoMos; they actually think that facts exist outside of clever word games. You can say all you like that physics is phallocentric, but it’s not going to change the rules of thermodynamics. This really pisses off PoMos, because scientists keep making really cool gadgets that work while, to date, Duke’s English department hasn’t been able to make an airplane run on metaphors or to illuminate a football stadium with the adverbs from James Joyce’s Dubliners.

Richard Dawkins on Baffling Quantum Phenomena

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Quantum theory is counterintuitive to the point where the physicist sometimes seems to be battling insanity. We are asked to believe that a single quantum behaves like a particle in going through one hole instead of another but simultaneously behaves like a wave in interfering with a nonexistent copy of itself, if another hole is opened through which that nonexistent copy could have traveled (if it had existed). ¶ It gets worse, to the point where some physicists resort to a vast number of parallel but mutually unreachable worlds that proliferate to accommodate every alternative quantum event. Other physicists, equally desperate, suggest that quantum events are determined retrospectively by our decision to examine their consequences. Quantum theory strikes us as so weird, so defiant of common sense, that even the great physicist Richard Feynman was moved to remark, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Yet the many predictions by which quantum theory has been tested stand up, with an accuracy so stupendous that Feynman compared it to measuring the distance between New York and Los Angeles accurately to the width of one human hair. On the basis of these stunningly successful predictions, quantum theory, or some version of it, seems to be as true as anything we know.

Joe Firmage on Scientific Knowledge

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You are not alone in a lack of understanding about the nature of inertia. Physicists do not know why objects resist acceleration — why objects push back when pushed. They do not know for sure why your head snaps back when your car speeds up. Inertia “just is.” Also, contrary to popular assumption, scientists don’t understand the mechanism that causes matter to attract itself — the force of gravity that makes objects fall to the ground. To be sure, scientists have painstakingly measured the rates of fall and resistance, and so we can build all sorts of technology that work flawlessly within the equations of these everyday forces. But we do not know why these forces work the way they do.

Richard Dawkins on Science vs. Relativism

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How should scientists respond to the allegation that our “faith” in logic and scientific truth is just that — faith — not “privileged” over alternative truths? An obvious response is that science gets results. As I once wrote, “Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 feet, and I’ll show you a hypocrite… If you are flying to an international congress of anthropologists or literary critics, the reason you will probably get there — the reason you don’t plummet into a ploughed field — is that a lot of Western scientifically trained engineers have got their sums right.” Science supports its claim to truth by its spectacular ability to make matter and energy jump through hoops, and to predict what will happen and when.

Richard Dawkins on Science

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Is it just our Western scientific bias to be impressed by accurate prediction, to be impressed by the power to sling rockets around Jupiter to reach Saturn, or intercept and repair the Hubble telescope, to be impressed by logic itself? Well, let’s concede the point and think sociologically, even democratically. Suppose we agree, temporarily, to treat scientific truth as just one truth among many, and lay it alongside all the rival contenders: Trobriand truth, Kikuyu truth, Maori truth, Inuit truth, Navajo truth, Yanomamo truth, !Kung San truth, feminist truth, Islamic truth, Hindu truth. The list is endless — and thereby hangs a revealing observation. In theory, people could switch allegiance from any one “truth” to any other if they decided it had greater merit. On what basis might they do so? Why would one change from, say, Kikuyu truth to Navajo truth? Such merit-driven switches are rare — with one crucially important exception: switches to scientific truth from any of the others. Scientific truth is the only member of this endless list that evidentially convinces converts of its superiority. People are loyal to other belief systems because they were brought up that way, and they have never known anything better. When people are lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to vote with their feet, doctors prosper and shamans decline. Even those who do not, or cannot, avail themselves of a scientific education choose to benefit from technology made possible by the scientific education of others.

Phillip E. Johnson on SETI

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[I]ntelligent design theorists need to explain why the vast majority of evolutionary scientists refuse to consider evidence of intelligent design in biology, scornfully dismissing the entire concept as “religion” rather than “science.” [It] is because they identify science with naturalism, meaning that only “natural” (i.e., material or physical) forces may play a role in the history of life. Where the designer is itself some natural entity, such as a human being, evidence for design is welcome. Space aliens are also permissible entities, and so Carl Sagan’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) radio telescopes scan the sky for signals, which they could identify as products of intelligence by precisely the same methods which intelligent design theory applies to biology. The difference is that scientific naturalists want to find evidence for extraterrestrial life, in part because they would count it as evidence that natural laws produce life wherever favorable conditions exist and hence as clinching the case for naturalism. They don’t want to find evidence for what they think of as an “interfering” God, meaning a God who does not leave everything to law and chance. Hence they will refuse to see evidence of design that is staring them in the face until they are reassured that the designer is something whose existence they are willing to recognize.

Consilience

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The biologist Edward O. Wilson is a rare scientist: having over a long career made signal contributions to population genetics, evolutionary biology, entomology, and ethology, he has also steeped himself in philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences. The result of his lifelong, wide-ranging investigations is Consilience (the word means “a jumping together,” in this case of the many branches of human knowledge), a wonderfully broad study that encourages scholars to bridge the many gaps that yawn between and within the cultures of science and the arts. No such gaps should exist, Wilson maintains, for the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give understanding a purpose, to lend to us all “a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws.” In making his synthetic argument, Wilson examines the ways (rightly and wrongly) in which science is done, puzzles over the postmodernist debates now sweeping academia, and proposes thought-provoking ideas about religion and human nature. He turns to the great evolutionary biologists and the scholars of the Enlightenment for case studies of science properly conducted, considers the life cycles of ants and mountain lions, and presses, again and again, for rigor and vigor to be brought to bear on our search for meaning. The time is right, he suggests, for us to understand more fully that quest for knowledge, for “Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us…. Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.” Wilson’s wisdom, eloquently expressed in the pages of this grand and lively summing-up, will be of much help in that search. ~ Amazon.com