Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Science-Philosophy Schism


I am always bemused to see religionists trying to lecture the rest of the world on matters of science and philosophy.  Very often, they try to assert the primacy of philosophy over science.  Joe Hinman does exactly that in a recent post titled Philosophy Still Owns Science.  This can be a tough case to prosecute if you are not well-acquainted with one ot both of those enterprises.  Very often, when Joe tries to expound on the concepts and ideas of scientists or philosophers, he fails to understand what they say, and then misinterprets their meaning, usually to fit with some theistic notion he has.  And that's why it is difficult for me to swallow an argument like the one he makes here.

Joe starts with "Popper's Verisimilitude".  He is asserting that science is dependent on the philosopher's view, and that bad atheist scientists like Dawkins and Stenger don't adhere to the dictates and guidance offered by philosophy.  But supports this assertion by creating a straw man view of scientists' way of thinking.  He seems to think that these scientists live in a little bubble he calls the "fortress of facts", and that they think science establishes absolute truth based on these facts.
we see [from larger article] that Dawkins, Stenger and company place their faith in the probability engineered by scientific facts. The problem is probability is not the basis upon which one chooses one theory over another, at least according to Popper. This insight forms the basis of this notion that science can give us verisimilitude not “facts.” Popper never uses the phrase “fortress of facts,” we could add that, science is not a fortress of facts. Science is not giving us “truth,” its’ giving something in place of truth, “verisimilitude.”
Joe is here to school those dumb scientists on how science should really work.  The problem is that these scientists are not nearly as far removed from Popper's philosophical views as Hinman supposes.  You don't hear scientists go around saying that their theories have been "proven" by scientific facts, or that they have arrived at the truth that underlies reality.  That is just the the straw man he constructs so that he can say "They are wrong, and the smart ones agree with me and Popper."  The fact is that Joe simply doesn't understand how scientists actually work, or what they think about scientific knowledge.  He has his own misguided view of it that doesn't comport with reality, and that's what he argues against.  Popper's philosophy of science is an after-the-fact distillation of what science does and how it proceeds, and it comes from being scientifically informed.  Scientists do not generally look to Popper for guidance on how to proceed or what they can investigate.  Science was practiced successfully before Popper's philosophy.

Joe then moves on to a discussion of reductionism.  He seems to be confused about the distinction between the philosophical view known as reductionism and actual scientific method.  And once again, he establishes a straw man that depicts scientists as "methodological reductionists".  He seems to be making the case that scientists (especially materialist ones) insist that everything bust be broken down to its fundamental components in order to be understood scientifically.  He quotes from a science website that contains a page describing the philosophical concept of methodological reductionism:
"... The only way to comprehend fully the sheer complexity of the human brain is to look at the individual pieces."
What he doesn't seem to realize is that this is a philosophical concept, and real scientists, who actually try to understand how things work in our world, generally don't subscribe to methodological reductionism as a guiding principle in the practice of their work.  Yes, they may believe that everything is composed of fundamental elements, and yes, there are certain classes of problems that can best be tackled with a reductionist approach.  But there are different levels of understanding and knowledge about complex things.  At one level, we may understand the interactions between particles, and we agree that the brain is composed of such particles.  But it is absurd to think that we can have a scientific understanding of social interactions between brains defined in terms of particle interactions.  That is a completely different level of interaction that requires a different level of scientific investigation and understanding.  But Joe seems to think that there are certain levels of understanding that are inaccessible to materialist scientists who, in his straw man view, are ideologically restricted by their reductionism.
Here we can definitely see the ideological aspects of science at work. These advocates of this certain type of reductionism believe that “everything can be explained through science.” Obviously for this to be true science has to be the most valid from of knowledge if not the only form of knowledge. Materialists, who tend to philosophical reductionists, and this includes phyisicalists, go step further and just refuse to accept as knowledge anything that can’t be quantified and pinned down by their methods. God can’t be apprehended by their methods so there must not be a God. This notion of science as the most or only valid form of knowledge is clearly ideological and stems form philosophical concerns.
Again I think this straw-man view of science arises from the fact that Joe just doesn't understand real science, doesn't know how it proceeds in practice, and has a limited concept of what kind of knowledge it encompasses.  But here we can see the real reason for his scorn against atheist scientists.  It's because their materialism leaves no room for a philosophy that includes God.  And without that theistic philosophy, their access to knowledge is severely restricted, in Joe's view.

I think Hinman has it exactly backwards.  Science need not be informed by philosophy, and much scientific progress has been made without any specific guidance from philosophy.  Science is based on logic, to be sure.  But logic is not philosophy.  Logic is an aspect of our physical world, and we come to understand it by observing our world, not by learning philosophy.  But philosophy absolutely must be informed by science to be useful.  Just as science may be pursued independent of philosophy, philosophy may be pursued independent of science.  But when that is the case, it is divorced from reality.  Science is what keeps philosophy grounded in reality.  Without being informed by science, philosophy tends to go off into the weeds.  Non-theistic metaphysics, for example, is informed by, and moves in lock-step with scientific advances.  But non-scientific metaphysical views are hopelessly out of touch with the real world.  Think of Thomism, with its teleology, and act and potency.

And this is the kind of scientifically uninformed philosophy that Joe wants to see as a guiding light for science.  It is theistic philosophy that he wants all scientists to incorporate into their practice.  By adopting theistic philosophical views, scientists would gain access to a whole different kind of knowledge - the knowledge of God.  The trouble is that philosophy doesn't really create knowledge.  It allows us to structure our thinking, and to justify what we believe.  It doesn't lead to discovery of new information.  Discovery what science does.  But bad philosophy can lead to speculation about reality and false justification for belief in things that don't exist.  In Joe's view, philosophical understanding implies theistic belief.  There is good philosophy, which is scientifically informed, and there is bad philosophy, which enables belief in things that are not part of any observable reality.  The marriage of science and philosophy is ideal.  The marriage of science and theism leads only to pseudo-science.

Theists think there is a schism between science and philosophy.  True, some scientists are philosophically uninformed.  That does not make them bad scientists.  The only real schism is between science and theism.  Because science seeks to discover that which is observable, and to postulate what can be reasonably believed about reality based on what is observed.  Theism postulate things that have no basis in observable facts.  But there is no schism between genuine science and genuine, scientifically informed philosophy.


25 comments:

  1. another case where belittlement noting tries overenthusiastic knows more than qualified scholar who pushed journal.

    you still don't get that there are theologians who are respected b philosophers. scientists areot good thinkers outside fields.,You are not onlky ignorant of qcdemica but contemptuous of it too,

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    1. You got it wrong, Joe. Of course I understand that there are respected theologians, but they are respected mostly be fellow religionists. Theology as an academic pursuit is worthless. I have spent my share of time in academia, but I didn't waste my time in some bible college learning how to defend belief in things that don't exist. I studied real science.

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  2. "I am always bemused to see religionists trying to lecture the rest of the world on matters of science and philosophy. Very often, they try to assert the primacy of philosophy over science. Joe Hinman does exactly that in a recent post titled Philosophy Still Owns Science. This can be a tough case to prosecute if you are not well-acquainted with one ot both of those enterprises. Very often, when Joe tries to expound on the concepts and ideas of scientists or philosophers, he fails to understand what they say, and then misinterprets their meaning, usually to fit with some theistic notion he has. And that's why it is difficult for me to swallow an argument like the one he makes here."

    (1) your little derogatory term 'religionist' doesn't take away the fact that I have more in the way of formal credentials than you do,I studied history/philosophy of science SECULAR Ph,D. program in univerity of Texas system. I presented papers at conferences, where you do your doctoral work now?

    (1) like most atheists you argue from guilt by association .
    Some "relogoiiosts" are stupid joe is a religionist" therefore Joe is stupid, there is no such thing as a 'religionist' that is an atheist hate term.

    You think of science as part of atheism but there is no reason why IO'm not just as connected to science or moreso. you think of each scientific fact as a point against religion but religious thinkers have as much science going for them as you do,. no scientific fact actuality disproves religion or justifies atheism,

    "Joe starts with "Popper's Verisimilitude". He is asserting that science is dependent on the philosopher's view, and that bad atheist scientists like Dawkins and Stenger don't adhere to the dictates and guidance offered by philosophy."

    Piss poor understanding of the argument, talk of dictates andm guides lines show that you really don't know anything about it, Isaid nothing remotely about dictates or guidelines of philosophy,
    science uses philosophy an it has to to work logically, that;s not a didctate it;s a fact of logioc,


    "But supports this assertion by creating a straw man view of scientists' way of thinking. He seems to think that these scientists live in a little bubble he calls the "fortress of facts", and that they think science establishes absolute truth based on these facts."

    they are not straw men i did not make them up, at best you should say they are Representative, although they are representative of a certain faction. They constutite real thinkers among my oppponetsso it;s a straw man, you dont know what kis do you?

    More of your isunderstanding

    "Joe is here to school those dumb scientists on how science should really work. The problem is that these scientists are not nearly as far removed from Popper's philosophical views as Hinman supposes. You don't hear scientists go around saying that their theories have been "proven" by scientific facts, or that they have arrived at the truth that underlies reality. That is just the the straw man he constructs so that he can say "They are wrong, and the smart ones agree with me and Popper."

    It's true that scientists don't usually talk that way but i never said they did,It's not sciencests I am castigating but atheists, their groupies,that;s who I am criticizing. Atheists make the fortress of facts fallacy all the time even those who know better,


    all of your criticisms arebased upon similar miconceptions

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    1. (1) your little derogatory term 'religionist' doesn't take away the fact that I have more in the way of formal credentials than you do,I studied history/philosophy of science
      - You do NOT have more academic credentials than I do, and I studied REAL science in REAL universities, not a bible college.

      (1) like most atheists you argue from guilt by association .
      Some "relogoiiosts" are stupid joe is a religionist" therefore Joe is stupid, there is no such thing as a 'religionist' that is an atheist hate term.

      - You rail against "new atheists". I rail against religionists. Religionists place their superstitious beliefs above reason and logic. They even try to co-opt science and philosophy to support their beliefs. That's what this article is about.

      You think of science as part of atheism
      - No. I think atheism is a consequence of scientific understanding.

      no scientific fact actuality disproves religion or justifies atheism,
      - I keep telling you, Joe. You don't understand scientific thinking. Scientists make no such claim. Ypu're the one who keeps going on about "proof".

      Isaid nothing remotely about dictates or guidelines of philosophy,
      science uses philosophy an it has to to work logically, that;s not a didctate it;s a fact of logioc,

      - You don't get it, Joe. Science was doing its thing BEFORE philosophers of science began to describe and justify scientific practice. We both agree that Krauss is not a philosopher. But he IS a scientist. On the other hand, without knowing and understanding science, Popper would have NOTHING to say about it.

      they are not straw men i did not make them up
      - Your "fortress of facts" is a straw man, whether you invented the term or someone else did. It simply does not reflect the thinking of scientists.

      It's true that scientists don't usually talk that way but i never said they did,It's not sciencests I am castigating but atheists, their groupies,that;s who I am criticizing. Atheists make the fortress of facts fallacy all the time even those who know better,
      - You were talking about scientists like Dawkins and Stenger, as far as I can tell. If you meant to talk about people who are uneducated in science, you certainly didn't make that clear. But atheists in general tend to be better educated in science than religionists.

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  3. I think Hinman has it exactly backwards. Science need not be informed by philosophy, and much scientific progress has been made without any specific guidance from philosophy. Science is based on logic, to be sure. But logic is not philosophy. Logic is an aspect of our physical world, and we come to understand it by observing our world, not by learning philosophy. But philosophy absolutely must be informed by science to be useful. Just as science may be pursued independent of philosophy, philosophy may be pursued independent of science. But when that is the case, it is divorced from reality.


    they need to know philosophy and the better one.s do know it to some extent. There are idiots like Karauss who want to destroy philosophy when scientists shoot their mouths off outside their fields they need to know the field in which they are speaking; Hellier is a good example.He's a crappy historian.


    the real issue of my essay is science groupies among new atheists,they have developed an ideological cult around the use of science that is really pretty ignorant of science as a whole,

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    1. they need to know philosophy and the better one.s do know it to some extent. There are idiots like Karauss who want to destroy philosophy when scientists shoot their mouths off outside their fields they need to know the field in which they are speaking; Hellier is a good example.He's a crappy historian.
      - Krauss is a good and competent scientist, despite your ranting and raving about him. He doesn't pretend to be a philosopher, so I don't see the point of all your bitching about him. There are plenty of philosophers (and others) who are totally ignorant of science, and they go around proclaiming how their understanding of reality is so much superior to that of Krauss. They are hypocritical jackasses.

      the real issue of my essay is science groupies among new atheists,they have developed an ideological cult around the use of science that is really pretty ignorant of science as a whole,
      - And I have been trying to point out that there are religionist groupies who belong to an ideological cult of their own. They think they know more than the rest of us because they have superstition in their epistemological toolbox, in addition to the empirical knowledge that the rest of us rely on. These religionist groupies suffer from the delusion that their view of reality is superior.

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    2. Joe, as are most religionists, is somewhat slow to understand and appreciate the ineducable mess that theism has so fundamentally wrought on societies. This glacial slowness is not only an indicator of religion's incapacity to explain what is going on in the world, it's zenith as an explanatory mechanism so low to the ground as not to be able to escape the parochial nature of the miasma of its own making, it is also an apt metaphor for religion's intellectual incapacity to subsume or accommodate even the most basic of scientific understandings of the world without serious and fatal compromise to its own core tenets and beliefs.

      The sheer doggedness in denial by the religionists like Joe to appreciate this fundamental change only serves to illustrate the point: "The dramatic success of the new science in explaining the natural world, in accounting for a wide variety of phenomena by appeal to a relatively small number of elegant mathematical formulae, promotes philosophy (in the broad sense of the time, which includes natural science) from a handmaiden of theology, constrained by its purposes and methods, to an independent force with the power and authority to challenge the old and construct the new, in the realms both of theory and practice, on the basis of its own principles." Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

      What religionists fail so abysmally to recognise and understand is that science has elevated philosophy to a level of intellectual thought so many orders of magnitude above that which two thousand years of religious pontificating was incapable of accomplishing, let alone sustaining.

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    3. Obviously, Joe still sees philosophy as the handmaiden of theology, as do so many religionists. But he seems to go a step beyond the rest. While most of them are content to call atheists ignorant for rejecting their theistic philosophy, Joe also calls atheists ignorant for their supposed lack of scientific knowledge. This is a new twist, because Joe fancies himself to be knowledgeable in science, presumably because of taken a couple of courses in history of science. Has he studied physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, biology? No. How about analytic geometry, or differential equations? No. Design of experiments? No. He doesn't have the basis to understand what constitutes real science versus pseudo-science. But he sits on his high horse, and he imagines himself as belonging to the educated elite because he was in a PhD program at a bible college. He has the unmitigated gall to to castigate atheists for their supposed lack of scientific knowledge, when he himself has not the faintest clue about how to recognize what knowledge they have, other than seeing what degree they have.

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  4. '...a straw man that depicts scientists as "methodological reductionists". '

    A straw man, indeed. Isaac Newton described the process that he used for "natural philosophy" as Analysis and Synthesis. Where the analysis part (the breaking things down) precedes the synthesis part (the construction of a model or theory).

    Synthesis with out facts can come up with pure fantasy, it is the analysis that constrains the theory to reality. But analysis without the synthesis lacks understanding.

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  5. It is the all time irony of history that Christianity discovered and had to appropriate for itself the philosophical traditions of the golden age of ancient Greek thought [thought which found powerful and profound human expression through the great minds of pagan philosophers such as Plato and Socrates, of Aristotle, of Epicurus and Thales of Miletus], well over twelve hundred years after they were first written down.

    It is indeed the greatest of great ironies that in desperately attempting to construct some semblance of intellectual substance to the Christian narrative, itself an unexpurgated fable [and as the historical record demonstrates beyond question, is founded on, and a product of, earlier centuries of accreted bronze age mythos, ignorance and superstition], it sought to commandeer the works of the Greek pagan philosophers and fashion a backbone over which they could drape that flaccid and intellectually enervating christian fable.

    As Bertrand Russell said of Aquinas's philosophy:

    ”He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophise, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. I cannot, therefore, feel that he deserves to be put on a level with the best philosophers either of Greece or of modern times.” A History of Western Philosophy, [1967], p. 463

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    1. I never read what Russell had to say about Aquinas. I agree completely. The whole teleological concept of reality that underlies Thomism, with its presumption of "pure act" (unsupported by any kind of science or observation) moving everything, is nothing but theistic question-begging. And JJ Lowder calls Russell ignorant for not buying into this line of "reasoning". Such is the power that theistic philosophy exerts over otherwise rational people.

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    2. What has Lowder called Russell ignorant for? If I recall correctly, Jeff has only said Russell was ignorant of cosmological arguments if he believed the standard cosmological argument advocated by theist philosophers contained a premise stating that "Everything has a cause", or something equivalent to saying "Every x is such that x has P". If you're saying Lowder called Russell ignorant for not buying into Thomism, then you're definitely misrepresenting Lowder.

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    3. Ryan,

      I would be interested in hearing your comments on my post Understanding Cosmological Arguments, where I mention the issue of ignorance in responding to the argument.

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  6. A question begging argument is any argument where one of the following scenarios occur:

    Scenario 1 - [An argument contains its conclusion as a premise used to prove it]

    E.g.

    1. P is true.
    2. Therefore, P is true.

    That is the shortest possible question begging argument for scenario 1. Others are not always so short nor so explicit. Other times, a question begging argument contains a premise which is syntactically distinct from the conclusion but is logically equivalent to it. e.g. "P → Q" is equivalent to "~(P & ~Q)", but the sentences have different representation.

    Scenario 2 - [an argument contains a premise used to prove a conclusion which is equally or near equally as controversial as the conclusion]

    E.g. Suppose a theist wanted to prove to a naturalist that God exists, and used a premise stating that there are immaterial minds to do so. Such a premise would be equally or near equally as controversial to the naturalist as the conclusion itself.

    Traditionally, an argument being question begging really only refers to scenario 1, and an argument being circular would be scenario 2, but often a question begging argument refers to both. Whenever I see you talk about theists begging the question, it's hard to see is your claim fits either scenario 1 or 2. I imagine your charges are closer to fitting scenario 2, at least with respect to modern theists who are trained in symbolic logic.

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    1. The Aristotelian-Thomist view of the world assumes a teleological nature, with pure act (or God) as the source of all movement. This is before any argument is presented. It is at the very foundation of their philosophy. Thomistic arguments proceed from this understanding, despite the fact that these assumptions may be unstated. That's why I think they are question-begging.

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    2. We need to be clear in what it means to say an A-T metaphysic assumes a being of pure actuality exists. In one sense, an A-T metaphysic assumes it in the sense that there existing a being of pure actuality is a necessary condition for an A-T metaphysic being true. In another sense, we can say an A-T metaphysic assumes there exists a being of pure actuality in the sense that all the arguments for A-T metaphysics presuppose that a pure act being exists. I don't think the latter is accurate of Aquinas' arguments for an A-T metaphysic since he did attempt to argue that a being of pure act must exist.

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    3. That's interesting, because I seem to remember Feser's critique of Russell, in which he castigated Russell for seeming not to interpret Aquinas' argument in light of his metaphysical presumptions. Damned if you do, and damned if you don't, I guess.

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    4. Weasel-words, is a term that comes to when one looks at Aquinas's argument in light of his metaphysical presumptions. In respect of contemporary philosophy, it is never too often to bear in mind:
      "Thomistic scholasticism [A-T metaphysics] in the English speaking world went into decline in the 1970s when the Thomistic revival that had been spearheaded by Jacques Maritain, √Čtienne Gilson, and others, diminished in influence. Partly, this was because this branch of Thomism had become a quest to understand the historical Aquinas after the Second Vatican Council. Still, those who had learned Scholastic philosophy continued to have unresolved questions about how the insights of the medieval synthesis could be applied to contemporary problems. This conversation departed from the academic environment and entered internet discussion groups such as Aquinas,[24] Christian Philosophy,[25] and Thomism,[26] and websites such as Open Philosophy,[27] where it continues today." HERE

      Apart from Feser's valiant but ineluctably forlorn rearguard efforts, I'm not sure A-T metaphysics makes much of an imprint, if at all any, in today's philosophical discourse. It is largely a discussion at the outer margins of modern philosophy.


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    5. A-T metaphysics is not at all a popular view among philosophers. I wouldn't even think that Feser would be among the proponents of A-T metaphysics who actually makes a dent in the literature. People would be better off looking to people such as David Oderberg.

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    6. I have read Real Essentialism. I don't see it as shedding much light on a rational way of thinking.

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  7. What does 'a being of pure act' look like and how does one recognise it? For me, the notion is no more than a rather clever literary conjuration with all the attributes of a Dennettian deepity. Just the phrase itself intimates a wholly existential reliance on a teleology, an intent or purpose. Such a proposition is both an unwarranted and tendentious assumption.

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    1. Exactly. As I have said, the teleological presumption comes before any argument is made. And it is implicitly included in everything Aquinas argues, whether or not they want to admit it.

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    2. Maybe you could say there are presumptions, but Papa would also start his position off with assumptions such as "Everything that exists has a physical representation and can be recognized".

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    3. Ryan, you say that as if that is a bad thing. As a general rule I would argue there is more to that proposition than imagining that an unmoved mover, a being [?] exiting outside of time and space no less, is the progenitor of all that exists. :o)

      Just saying.

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    4. Agreed that we all make presumptions. We presume that we can trust the senses to some degree. Empiricism results in evidence-based belief. Theism does not.

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