Thursday, November 21, 2013

Does the effectiveness of science support philosophical naturalism?

James Chastek from Just Thomism:
On the inference from the success of science to Naturalism being probable 
[Scientism] attempt[s] to bootstrap from the success of a natural explanations to the probability of naturalism. The relevant argument is this one: The sciences have had such great success with natural explanations that it is improbable that non-natural explanations are true.

First off, the argument obviously works in one very limited sense: if you see enough natural explanations in a row, you’ll likely be surprised if a supernatural one comes along. Now one sense of “improbable” is indeed “surprising”, but if this is all the Naturalist argument comes to, then there needn’t be any rational basis for Naturalism, since simply being surprised by something doesn’t make the surprise rationally informed (for example, one sort of surprise comes from things we were too ignorant or too oblivious to see coming). In order for the natural success—>Naturalism inference to have a rational basis we would need some account of how often we would expect a non-naturalist explanation to occur. Thus, even granting that the scientific method could rationally deal with a hypothesis of the divine existence, how often would you expect it to do so? If that question is too hard, try your luck at a simpler one: assuming a world with only Euclidean geometries, how often would you expect geometers to develop the idea of non-Euclidean geometry? Say you lived any time between Euclid (300 B.C.) and the rise of non-Euclidean geometries in the 19th century. What p-value could you assign to the rise of non-Euclidean geometry?* Should you rationally expect it to develop after 500 years (200 A.D.)? After a millenium? When exactly? The question demands a sort of knowledge we just can’t have, whether our method is scientific or otherwise. There are historical contingencies, free choices, sheer accidents, and a hundred other things at play that keep us from ever being able to figure out whether such a thing will ever come to pass at all, much less what its probabilities are. 
And so, in an irony that the heavens have no doubt long laughed at already, the attempt to argue that the multiplication of successful natural explanations makes Naturalism more probable is itself a straightforward piece of junk science. In fact, it might not even rise to this level: junk science conclusions can at least be based on a junk p-value – but the Naturalism inference can’t even base itself on this. 
If God – that is, the ultimate cause of the universe – really exists, and if scientific methods of discovery are adequate to find him, we shouldn’t expect the discovery to occur until the science has gone on for a while (one doesn’t tend to find ultimate causes right away). This all assumes that God is a possible concept in a natural hypothesis, which can only happen if science is not methodologically naturalist. Those are three pretty significant if’s and, if anything, they seem to suggest that science could carry on a very long time before it ever can rationally raise the question of God by its own methods. It is ridiculous for us to assume we are in any position to have found the ultimate basis of things when we know our two main theories of the universe cannot both be ultimate. But whatever we think of this last reason or others that might be put against it, the fact is that we have no precise idea whatsoever of when we should expect a science capable of forming supernatural hypotheses to form its first plausible one, and so no way to make the repeated successes of natural science contribute to the probability of naturalism.

The scientistic view that the success of natural explanations demonstrates the truth of philosophical naturalism (the view that nature is all that exists) is a non-sequitur.

Consider this analogy. Among scientific disciplines, none is more "successful" than engineering. Engineering really works-- electronics, computers, cars, lights, airplanes, etc. It is, in our everyday life, the most successful kind of science. It does not follow, then, that all science must be understood in terms of engineering. There is scientific truth that does not restrict itself to engineering principles, just as there is metaphysical truth that does not restrict itself to scientific principles.

The success of one mode of inquiry does not mean that all truth can only be approached through that mode of inquiry.

In the matter of science, the view that science cannot give us the whole truth is particularly obvious, given that the assertion that science can give us the whole truth is itself not a scientific assertion.

As Chastek noted wryly, the scientistic mode of thinking is junk.


  1. Are you sure that engineering is science? I know that engineers are not considered scientists.


    1. Engineering is an applied science.

    2. "I know that engineers are not considered scientists."
      True, Ben.
      A badge of honour for them! They are the NCO's of the scientific world and do not like being called 'sir'.

  2. 'In the matter of science, the view that science cannot give the whole truth is particularly obvious...'

    No. Statements involving an absolute ('cannot') are almost always not true.

    The statement should read; 'In the matters of science, science may not always give us the whole truth...' And exceptions need to be listed and discussed as to why scientific methods are incomplete.

    And anyway, science isn't really concerned with 'whole truth'. It's concerned with producing useful models of reality, which in some cases appears to approach very closely to absolute reality.

    If you think that there are any matters of science, that science cannot deal with, then what are they?

    And I agree with Ben. Engineering isn't science. It's just applied technology.

    1. @Bachfiend:

      If you think that there are any matters of science, that science cannot deal with, then what are they?

      The origin of the universe. Consider the "argument for the limits of science" (adapted from Bo Jinn):

      Premise 1: The explanation for the origin of any derivative (i.e non-original) something A cannot be A itself,.nor can it come from within A. The statement "if A, then A" is a circular argument, and is not logically valid.

      Premise 2: The universe is a derivative something.

      Conclusion 1: Therefore, the universe cannot explain its own origins. One cannot say, "The universe is an explanation of the origin of the universe."

      Premise 3: The universe cannot explain its own origins.

      Premise 4: Science (according to its own rules for itself) is concerned only with the universe.

      Conclusion 2: Therefore, science cannot explain the origins of the universe.

      Now, these arguments are clearly enthymematic. One hidden premise of the second syllogism is that man, and all the human faculties utilized by man in his scientific endeavors, are part of the universe. For purposes of argument, assume that this hidden premise is correct. If it is correct, Conclusion 2 seems inescapable.

      Conclusion 2 is a categorical statement; it admits of no exception. So, on naturalistic/materialistic presuppositions, the quest for an explanation for the origins of the universe on scientific grounds is doomed to fail.

    2. Kent,

      The origin of the Universe isn't the Universe. The origin of the Universe is the Big Bang.

      That's a virtual certainty. The evidence for the Big Bang is almost as certain as the evidence for evolution (and that's not downplaying the Big Bang - the comment was made by a lead researcher, George Smoot, who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics as representative for the COBE group).

      The cause of the Big Bang is a continuing question in science (it may never be answered) - whether it may have been one event in an endless series in a larger Multiverse.

      The Big Bang neither confirms nor rules out the existence of God. If God exists and caused the Universe to come into existence, then the Big Bang was the mechanism used.

    3. The origin of the universe is prior to the the Big Bang, and will never be explained by science, since we are ignorant (in scientific terms) of any laws that might have been operating beforehand. The Big Bang is a physical phenomenon -- i.e. it is the physical something that came into being. The Big Bang was the universe, at the beginning.

      In my opinion, the evidence for the Big Bang is far better than it is for naturalistic macroevolution, which is a religious preference rather than an established scientific fact.

      The cause of the Big Bang [equivalent to the cause of the universe] is a continuing question in science (it may never be answered)...

      We can state categorically that the cause of the Big Bang will never be answered by purely scientific means. There is no sense waiting for "scientific" evidence that science is, by its own definition, incapable of supplying. The multiverse hypothesis, which is nothing more than religious speculation, simply points us back to a more original source.

    4. Not sure what you mean by "prior" in this context. Time and space appeared at the Big Bang. There was nothing prior to that.

      Asking what was before the Big Bang is similar to asking what lies beyond the 90-degree latitude. The question is not even wrong.


    5. @Hoo:

      Not sure what you mean by "prior" in this context.

      Causally prior, as opposed to chronologically prior.

      You think that the universe sprung from nothing?

    6. In physics, Kent, causality is defined in chronological terms. Not sure how you can define it otherwise.


    7. @Hoo:

      Who's talking physics? The explanation for the Big Bang, for the genesis of the universe, lies beyond physics. That, I believe, was my original point.

      One could define causality in terms of sequence, if one wished. Time hardly seems necessary to causality. Admittedly, in the context of the material universe, we're used to observing and thinking about causality in the context of time.

      Do you think that the universe sprung from nothing?

    8. The Big Bang is certainly physics. However, I agree that the definition of causality in sci-fi might be different.


    9. @Hoo:

      The Big Bang is certainly physics.

      Agreed. The Big Bang is a physical phenomena. But I wrote that the explanation for the Big Bang (i.e. a description of its causal origin), lies beyond physics.

      Do you agree that there exist realms of knowledge that lie beyond the reach of physics?

      Do you think that the universe sprung from nothing?

    10. How do you learn about stuff outside the Universe? How do you check that your knowledge is accurate? Absent that check, such knowledge is no more than fiction.


    11. One means that an intelligent person might conceivably learn about stuff outside of the universe would be revelation. Assuming the integrity of the one outside of the universe making the revelation, and the integrity of the communication channel, and the integrity of the one receiving the revelation, this is a rational possibility.

      How one might go about checking the integrity of a purported revelator, the communications channel, and the one receiving the revelation, are separate questions. My point is that revelation is a rational possibility.

      What percentage of the scientific assertions that you hold to be true have you fact-checked personally? I.e., not from "book-learning", but by direct observation?

      Do you think that the universe sprung from nothing?

    12. I agree that it's a possibility, Kent. The problem is that it is not possible to check it, even in principle.

      And that's the difference with physics. No, I did not check all of the experimental findings in physics. That would clearly be impossible. However, there is a possibility to check them in principle. So claims made by experimental physicists are verifiable. And I did check a few of them myself.

      For example, I did measure the photoelectric effect, saw the discrete spectrum of atomic light, observed circular motion of an electron beam in a magnetic field, and measured the electron charge. I also happen to know people who did various other measurements.

      So I don't think the parallel works. Physics claims are verifiable. There are people who verify them. Some claims don't pan out and some scientists are exposed as frauds.


    13. @Hoo:

      For example, I did measure the photoelectric effect, saw the discrete spectrum of atomic light, observed circular motion of an electron beam in a magnetic field, and measured the electron charge.

      Suppose now you're shipwrecked on a remote island, with no science laboratories available. You encounter a native islander whose scientific knowledge is primitive (and who conveniently happens to speak English). You begin to explain to him the wonders of the discrete spectrum of atomic light. Absent the physical tools of modern scientific investigation (microscopes, chromatographs, etc), how do you go about persuading your new friend that what you're describing is true (in the scientific sense)?

      Do you think that the universe sprung from nothing?

    14. Kent,

      I will happen to be in possession of a CD, which acts like a diffraction grating. With it I can demonstrate the discrete nature of light spectrum given off by a flame. Why don't you make the problem harder by making the islander blind and (for good measure) deaf?

      Frankly, I don't see the point of this hypothetical. We don't live on an island and we have access to spectrometers. If you are motivated you can try to verify any experimental claim. It might take a while to do that (you might have to go to grad school and become a professional physicist), but that is what people do. Your hypothetical amounts to a refusal to rely on empirical verification. Why would I agree to do that?

      In fact, we can verify some of the claims presented in the revelation. The Genesis 1 account of world's creation makes no sense whatsoever. Light appears after the earth and water are made. Days begin after that. Plants arise in the span of a single day and so do animals (all herbivores). This story is easily discredited.


    15. @Hoo:

      Frankly, I don't see the point of this hypothetical.

      We do, in fact, live on an island -- the universe. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we live in an island.) That which is beyond, or "outside", of the universe, corresponds to all that lies beyond the coastlines of the island. You have a message to communicate. You have a communication medium (spoken English). Your islander has the intellectual tools common to all reasonably intelligent men. You have tools (both intellectual and moral) which might inspire his confidence in your message. Granted, the analogy is not perfect, but it's there. My point (among other things) is not that empirical verification is not possible, but that sometimes it's not trivially available, and that it's reasonable and rational not to demand it in some circumstances. You yourself take many scientific assertions as fact, even though you've not directly proven them experimentally.

      The contradictions that you find in Genesis 1 are understandable, but seem to be based upon some misconceptions.

      Verse 1 states that God created "the heavens and the earth". The phrase, "the heavens and the earth" is used consistently in the Hebrew scriptures to reference the totality of the physical universe:

      "Hashamayim we ha'erets ("heavens" plural and "earth" singular with the definite articles and the conjunction) carries a distinct meaning... Hashamayim we ha'erets consistently refers to the totality of the physical universe: all of the matter and energy and whatever else it contains. All of the stars, galaxies, planets, dust, gas, fundamental particles, background radiation, black holes, physical space-time dimensions, and voids of the universe--however mysterious to the ancient writer--would be included in this term." (Hugh Ross, in The Genesis Question, 2nd edition, NavPress, 2001, page 18)

      Henry M. Morris proposes the following paraphrase for verse 1: "The transcendent, omnipotent Godhead called into existence the space-mass-time universe." (The Genesis Record, Baker, 1982, page 41)

      In verse 2, after setting the big-picture context, the perspective moves from a universal level to the planetary, earthly level. In earth's primordial form as a young stellar object (YSO), "darkness covered the surface of the deep". Perhaps the darkness was due to an opaque atmosphere, laden with interstellar debris. (Ross has comments on this; see the context of the prior citation.)

      In verse 3, God declares, "Let there be light". God's statement does not call light itself into existence; light already pervades the universe, from the time of the Big Bang. God is simply, perhaps by wholly natural processes, causing light to shine through a gradually clearing atmosphere.

      The word "day" in verses 3 and following need not refer to a 24-hour period. It can refer to an age or an epoch.

      The contradictions are apparent, not actual. The account is credible as it stands, even in light of modern scientific discoveries.

    16. @Hoo:

      My question still stands: Do you think that the universe sprung from nothing?

    17. Kent,

      Attempts to reinterpret Genesis 1 are valiant, but the results are not very convincing.

      For example, you interpret the "formless and empty" earth as a young stellar object. What about the "waters?" These concepts are too specific to be interpreted as something else.

      Furthermore, if the earth had not yet been formed, what do the evening and morning refer to in the next verse? These concepts make no sense if you have no planet orbiting a star and revolving on its axis.

      Interpreting "let there be light" as anything other than creation of light from scratch is unconvincing.

      And what does God do after making plants? Why, he takes a break to make some auxiliary object: "God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars." Apparently, plants didn't need the sun.

      Minor details, I know, but they kind of accumulate as you read along.


    18. Kent: The word "day" in verses 3 and following need not refer to a 24-hour period. It can refer to an age or an epoch.

      What about "morning" and "evening?" They are mentioned regularly alongside "day."


    19. And if "the waters" in the first verse wasn't really water, what does verse 9 refer to?

      And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.”

      And don't we know that the Earth was first very hot after its formation, so the ground appeared first and the water only later?

      Come on, Kent. It's a hopeless task to fit the ancient just-so story into the framework of modern natural history.


    20. Kent,

      Congratulations. You're very good at parroting the creationist script book.

      Anyway. The evidence for evolution is better than that for the Big Bang. We can observe evolution occurring today in real time. We can only observe the effects of the Big Bang.

    21. @Bachfiend:

      I'm not sure what "the creationist script book" is. Care to inform me?

      My argument is not with microevolution, which is the only--I repeat, the only--kind of evolution that's ever been observed in the scientific era. My argument is with a specific concept of macroevolution, namely materialistic macroevolution, which does not rise above the level of hypothesis, and has never been observed in the scientific era. Macroevolution in any form lies at "the end of an inferential trail", as David Berlinski (correctly) puts it. The gaps in the materialistic branch of that inferential trail are enormous--widening by the day-- and I for one am not willing to bridge them by faith, given the present state of scientific knowledge. The evidence favoring the Big Bang is many orders of magnitude greater than the evidence favoring materialistic macroevolution.

      (I keep qualifying macroevolution with "materialistic" because I'm not, in principal, opposed to the idea of a "fully gifted creation"--something that would fit comfortably into the deist's concept of creation. I'm not a deist, but I suppose God could have created the universe that way. In any case, I believe the universe is the product of a transcendent, causally prior intellect-and-will.)

      The biblical concept of creation by the all-wise, all-powerful, benevolent Deity is far more satisfying intellectually than the materialistic psuedo-alternative.

    22. @Hoo:

      I understand there are difficulties with interpreting the first couple of chapters of Genesis. How you approach the book will depend upon whether you believe God exists, and if he exists, what kind of God he is. It will also depend upon whether you believe the Bible is his word.

      If you believe God doesn't exist, or he exists but he's a liar, or a buffoon, or if you believe the Bible is not from God, then you'll approach the text one way. If you believe there is a God (i.e. that He exists), and that He is a wise, powerful, good, and benevolent being, and that the Bible is his word, then you'll approach the text another way.

      Do you believe God exists? If so, what is your concept of God? What do you understand God to be? Do you believe the Bible is God's communication to man?

      As an aside, none of the difficulties with Genesis are on the order of the difficulty of an assertion like, "Time and space appeared at the Big Bang. There was nothing prior to that." (Your words.)

      Do you really believe that the universe came into being from nothing?

    23. Kent,

      With all your comments, you keep digging yourself further into the creationist pit, with all your attempts to make Genesis literal not metaphor (which it is).

      There's more evidence for evolution than the Big Bang. There's no difference between macroevolution and microevolution. We see evolution in real time, as in Richard Lenski's 25 year experiment on E. coli.

      He achieved an enormous result, as demonstrated by Andrew Schlafly's (of Conservapedia fame) effort to discredit it. Two lines out of 12 evolved the ability to metabolise citrate, achieving an enormous reproductive advantage. The ability to metabolise citrate makes them new species.

      Schlafly realises what such an enormous result it was and wanted to cast doubt on the results.

      And that happened in just 2 out of 12 flasks in less than 25 years. Thinking that even more profound changes couldn't occur over the much greater volume of the Earth in millions or billions of years takes even more faith.

      'Nothing' in physics doesn't have the same meaning as in everyday life. The Universe is 'nothing' anyway. The energy content is zero. The positive energy (ordinary matter, dark matter and dark energy) exactly balances the negative energy of gravity.

      So, 'nothing' has come from 'nothing'. If God exists and created the Universe, then it was a pretty good 'trick'.

  3. I'm pretty sure people can name a few breakthrough discoveries made in the last 100 years in science. Theory of general relativity. Quantum mechanics. The invention of the laser. Etc.

    Can anyone name a breakthrough discovery in philosophy in the last 100 years? It need not be useful, just a discovery that most people would consider significant. Like proving Fermat's theorem in mathematics.


    1. Well, Hoo. There have been several immense breakthroughs in philosophy in the last several hundred years. They are seen in the progress of human relations and systems of government. There have also been, just as in science, some spectacular failures and reversals.
      Natural philosophy (science) is just one field of that endeavour. So, if you're looking for some successes, I would suggest reading a constitution, rights act or charter, or maybe a moral proclamation or two. You'll see how many leaps we have made.
      If you want to see how many stumbling blocks you could use the currently discussed philosophical naturalism, racialism, Marxism, and some other nasties.
      Philosophy cannot sleep. If it did, science itself would cease to to be a reality and enter the world of dreams.

    2. What, moving the goalposts a few hundred years and offering no specifics? I am underwhelmed, crus.


    3. Hoo,

      A few hundred years? LOL!

      In the nation you live in today that may indeed be the accepted case ( a real shame), but let's just broaden that scope a bit, shall we? Let's consider humanity as a global reality, rather than a regional phenomenon for a minute. For millions of people these leaps are very recent and profound. They are life changing. For hundreds of millions more again it has yet to happen. Even so, for some unlucky souls they have been reversed!
      As for the goal posts, I laid in my hat trick precisely where they were set. The problem is not the posts, but an entire lack of defence against a successful series of strikes. In fact, one of them could be called an 'own goal'.

    4. Crus, you keep referring to those breakthrough philosophical discoveries. Can you be a little more specific?


    5. Hoo,

      Okay. I'll give you two that are currently being realized (and reversed).
      Constitutional governance and the implementation of basic natural/human rights protections.
      These ideals are the direct result of moral debates. The realm of philosophy, not natural sciences.

    6. @Hoo:

      [Can anyone name a breakthrough discovery in philosophy in the last 100 years?]

      Where to begin? Husserl's Phenomonology, Brentano's intentionality, Kirkregard's /Sartre's Existentialism, Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, Rawl's theory of justice, Derrida's Postmodernism, Chomsky's demolition of Behaviorism, Wittgenstein's Tractus and Investigations, to name just a few.

      Why, Hoo, admit your ignorance so publicly?

    7. I see your point, crus, though I do not entirely agree that these would be good examples. Let me explain why.

      Suppose you asked me to give an example of a success in science and I pointed out the automobile. That would not be entirely accurate.The automobile illustrates a great success in engineering, not science. Likewise, constitutional democracies are a successful example of governing, not philosophy.

      To be sure, the invention of the automobile would not be possible without certain scientific breakthroughs; for example, the development of thermodynamics. That is a scientific breakthrough that led later to the automobile, among other things.

      So perhaps you should rework your example in a similar way and point out the philosophical breakthrough that was vital to the rise of constitutional democracies.

      I am not saying you can't do that, only that you have't done it.


    8. Egnor,

      If you consider Derrida's postmodernism a breakthrough in philosophy, the field is indeed in deep trouble.

      I will give you half a point for mentioning Gödel. Half because his theorems belong in mathematical logic.


    9. Of course Derrida's post-modernism is a breakthrough. I don't agree with a good part of it, but it's influence has been massive, at least as far-reaching as any modern scientific breakthrough. Its impact has been felt in all academic disciplines and in much of modern life.

      Please explain why you believe that Husserl's Phenomenology isn't a breakthrough. Then we can discuss Wittgenstein's theory of language.

      Show us the profound insights your scientism has led you to.

    10. Seeing Michael Egnor defend post-modernism is sheer delight.

      Of course Derrida's post-modernism is a breakthrough. I don't agree with a good part of it, but it's influence has been massive, at least as far-reaching as any modern scientific breakthrough. Its impact has been felt in all academic disciplines and in much of modern life.

      This paragraph is a concession that the bestest philosophy in town does not put us any closer to truth. It has massive influence on humanity departments alright, but truth it ain't.


    11. Hoo,

      I appreciate what you're saying, but yours it a category error.
      You are presuming philosophical achievements are to be measured in a scientific frame. That is just not how it works, usually.
      Philosophy is an amalgam of ideas. Ever growing and adapting, true - but the very structure of the inquiry is different than Bacon's methodology. The breakthrough point is at the level of application and even then it is subject further adaptation.
      Philosophy is an ongoing endeavour.
      A good example of this is the old American saying: 'Freedom is not free.' Freedom must constantly be maintained and guarded. The philosophy behind the ideal itself requires constant revisiting and constant vigilance. It is not an equation about material events or properties. It is a distinctly immaterial precept that is non-the-less extremely important.
      Further, if we are to apply overlapping models it is philosophy that is prerequisite to science, not the reverse.
      For one simple and modern example: Atomic physics. When the philosophical models of the morality of use are abandoned we fall into an ethical crevasse. Atomic physics requires a sound moral philosophy for the application of the actual science to be used for moral purposes. Whether we are talking about a reactor or a bomb.
      We can live without atom bombs - as we did for thousands of years, but now that the djinn is out of the bottle, we cannot live without the moral framework that tells us NOT to use them with wild abandon.
      Philosophy gave birth to science. Science in turn opened that bottle, philosophy tames the genie.
      I guess what I am saying is that it would be foolish to underestimate the benefits of EITHER discipline or the effects they have on each other. They should be hand in glove - not held as exclusive monistic models for reality. Such thinking requires sophistry and a strict dogma that undermines either mode of inquiry.

    12. Crus: "You are presuming philosophical achievements are to be measured in a scientific frame. That is just not how it works, usually."

      No, not really. I am suggesting a common yardstick for both. Do they put us closer to truth? Higgs's theory does. Derrida's, not so much.


    13. Hoo:

      So you don't like Derrida. Remember, we're talking about philosophical breakthroughs in the 20th century. Derrida's is only one of many.

      What do you think of Husserl?

    14. No, Michael, the point isn't that I don't like Derrida. It's not even that you don't like Derrida. The point is that philosophy lacks a yardstick by which one can determine whether a theory puts us closer to truth. Other than "I like it."


    15. @Hoo:

      What is "truth", to which we strive to be put closer?

      That's a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

      Science is natural philosophy, and the assertion that science provides a yardstick for truth, and philosophy doesn't, is just gibberish.

    16. Michael, read more carefully what I write.

      Science does not provide a yardstick for truth. It relies on one.


    17. @Hoo:

      Correct. Science relies on philosophical inferences, such as "truth".

      Philosophy is prior to science, and indispensible to it.

    18. Great. We have established one undeniable success story of philosophy: giving birth to science, a.k.a. natural philosophy, sometime in the 17th century. I think we can all agree on that.

      What are the great achievements of philosophy since then?


    19. Dr. Egnor,

      Derrida? Really?

      - C

  4. Throughout history every mystery ever solved has turned out to be NOT MAGIC. Religion has never revealed anything true about the natural world beyond observations that any clever 6 year old could make. Hiding God in what you think may be the most unknowable question, perhaps the only unknowable question, “what is the cause of the universe” makes that god very tiny indeed.
    Besides, you seem to fail to realize, that if science ever finds a “supernatural” explanation for anything, that will be the precise moment whatever it is loses its supernatural status and begins to be scrutinized with the scientific method. We are a curious bunch. We will not give up looking for the causes and mechanisms of observed phenomena just because it appears to be in line with some preexisting religious belief. Science will never just throw up its hands and say “it’s magic”.


    1. KW,

      Tear down that straw man.

    2. KW:

      [Throughout history every mystery ever solved has turned out to be NOT MAGIC... Science will never just throw up its hands and say “it’s magic”.]

      I am not sure what you mean by magic, but to give you the benefit of the doubt I'll assume you mean something with supernatural implications.

      So how does science explain creation of the universe ex-nihlio? What is your naturalistic explanation for creation from nothing? How does naturalism explain the astonishing correspondence between mathematical objects and regularities in nature? How does naturalism explain subjective conscious experience?

    3. Modern science does not explain these questions. Neither does philosophy.

      Science does explain how the Universe was developing since the Big Bang. Philosophy doesn't.

      Science 1, philosophy 0.


    4. @Boo Hoo

      "Science does explain how the Universe was developing since the Big Bang. Philosophy doesn't. "

      Since science is done using philosophy/philosophical assumptions then you do not know what you are talking about.

      Reason 1 Boo Hoo 0

    5. “What is your naturalistic explanation for creation from nothing?”

      Please define “nothing”. If you mean some sort of absolute nothingness, my position is that our very existence demonstrates that an absolute nothing does not, and cannot, exist.

      Lack of an explanation currently doesn’t mean we will never find one. I’m comfortable with the notion that there are questions science may never be able to answer.

      As you may or may not know, the expansion of the universe is accelerating. If the accelerating expansion continues, in the very distant future civilizations will find themselves bereft of the observations that have led us to our current understanding of the Universe. All the other galaxies will have withdrawn beyond the cosmic horizon, and the cosmic background radiation will be redshifted to unobservably long wavelengths and masked by interstellar plasma. Regardless of how advanced the future civilization becomes they will never make the observation that the universe is expanding, and may never theorize the big bang. That won’t mean the big bang never happened, just that they’ll never figure it out. We may be in a similar situation with important mystery solving observations already hidden from us.


    6. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyNovember 21, 2013 at 4:22 PM

      Popeye: "our very existence demonstrates that an absolute nothing does not, and cannot, exist"

      IOW, "I am, therefore nothing is not."

      Very deep, dude. Reminds me of another Deep Thinker, Jack Handey:

      Boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.

      Deep, dude.

  5. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyNovember 21, 2013 at 7:36 AM

    Methodological naturalism is a choice, one approach among several possibilities, and in no way reifies or necessarily supports a philosophy of naturalism. In fact, one can choose methodological naturalism as one's approach without being a philosophical naturalist.

    But first, some confusion about engineering and science needs to be cleared up.

    barkfar: "science isn't really concerned with 'whole truth'. It's concerned with producing useful models of reality"

    In my opinion, that's actually a better description of engineering than science. It would be a stretch to describe what many scientists do as "useful". Yes, yes, I know... It may become useful someday in the future, who can say, human curiosity, the beauty of truth, etc., etc., etc. Still, it would be a stretch...

    Engineering is also not "applied technology". First off, the term "applied technology" doesn't make any sense to me. Is there a "pure technology" that is not applied?

    Engineering is the application of models and heuristics to design and, if necessary, build technology. In all cases I can think of offhand, the models used by engineering are derived from scientific results gained via methodological naturalism.

    Technology can be tools, processes, organizational structures, etc. applied to solve a problem. A packet-switched network is an example of several levels of technology, ranging from the physical level, to the signaling level, to [insert levels here], to architecture, to the user interface, all organized to solve a communication problem.

    And a given individual can be both a scientist and an engineer. Scientists often design custom laboratory research instruments that did not previously exist, based on a scientific theory. For example, the Geiger counter was developed by two physicists, Gieger and Müller, in Rutherford's lab, all based on the discovery of Townsend discharge.

    Now, back to the point... Methodological naturalism cannot inform us, by definition, of non-naturalistic matters. And for naturalism to claim that methodological naturalism suggests the truth of naturalism is more likely is, in fact, silly. "Junk", as described above. If mankind had voluntarily restricted scientific investigations to matter one was capable of dropping on one's foot (e.g., Galileo's cannonballs), that approach would almost certainly have turned out to be fruitful to some degree, but it would not have supported an argument that the success of "methodological matterism" imples that "matterism" is Truth. And it would have been impossible to have determined the degree of success using only "matterism" as a methodological l approach. But I have no doubt that some would have recoiled at the notion of "waves".

    Going further, it is possible to draw only with a compass and straightedge, but the impossibility of trisecting an angle with these two instruments in no way implies that angles cannot be trisected.

    1. Grandpa,

      'Useful models of reality' doesn't mean being of immediate use to humans in a concrete way, as in producing a useful product such as a photovoltaic solar panel. 'Useful' means being able to make predictions of future events based on the present model and being able to produce better models.

      Technology may not be necessarily applied, that is not producing useful results. A new design of a photovoltaic panel might be constructed, which is more efficient, but if it's too expensive, it might not be practicable. Impossible to put into production.

    2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyNovember 21, 2013 at 8:04 AM

      Grandpa Jr: "Useful models of reality' doesn't mean being of immediate use to humans in a concrete way, as in producing a useful product such as a photovoltaic solar panel"

      I agree, and did not suggest otherwise.

      " A new design of a photovoltaic panel might be constructed, which is more efficient, but if it's too expensive, it might not be practicable. Impossible to put into production."

      In other words, it failed at solving the problem.

    3. Grandpa,

      You're still confused as to what 'useful' means in 'useful models of reality'. 'Useful' doesnt mean having a concrete immediate use for humans. Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 for the theory of the photovoltaic effect. It was a very useful model of reality in explaining quanta and providing evidence for the particle theory of electromagnetic radiation. But it had no practical uses for humans in everyday life. Not for a long time.

    4. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyNovember 21, 2013 at 3:22 PM

      Grandpa Blinkfast, the only thing I'm confused about is what "useful model of reality" one might extract from a study of gaydar:

      Although participants judged women's and men's sexual orientation with above-chance accuracy for upright faces and for upside-down faces, accuracy for upside-down faces was significantly reduced. The reduced judgment accuracy for upside-down faces indicates that configural face processing significantly contributes to accurate snap judgments of sexual orientation.
      --- Tabak & Zayas (PLoS One, 2012)

      Or what vital aspect of reality will be illuminated when the $1.5M grant to study why lesbians are fat has been spent.

    5. Grandpa,

      'Useful' doesnt mean as useful as Einstein's photovoltaic effect theory. 'Useful' can also be 'minimally useful', as a lot of science research appears to be at first glance (and even at second, third, fourth...)

      I'm not certain about the right way or upside down viewing of faces in the appraisal of sexual preference. I have read somewhere that humans aren't very good at assessing the mood of humans when the image is upside down. But that domestic dogs are very good at doing this - perhaps because they have a lot of practice at it when they're in the submissive belly up position and viewing their owners?

  6. Scientism is a bankrupt philosophy based on false assumptions in the best case and deliberate (self) deceptions when propagated. Just more elitist nonsense based on the original lie. Further, it is counter to the entire scientific effort. An impediment.
    There are dozens of ways and means to illustrate that point. The author hits on a few of the scientific ones.
    It should be no surprise at all that it is accepted by people who are trained and not properly educated; or that by extension it is popular among 'academics' in the present.
    Re Engineering: It is an applied science, and thus a form of scientific endeavour. It is laughable that people (trained) in other disciplines attempt to define this fact away. Talk about insecurity!

  7. Egnor: "The success of one mode of inquiry does not mean that all truth can only be approached through that mode of inquiry."

    That's true. And pretty lame. A natural follow-up question is whether the other mode of inquiry (i.e., philosophy) has any chance whatsoever of approaching truth. What are the successes of philosophy? What bragging rights does it have as a discoverer of truth?


    1. Is it true that freedom is better than slavery? I am not looking for an post hoc naturalistic description of those conditions, Hoo. Nor am I looking for an marker of collective efficiency. Rather I am looking for the source of that truth.
      Philosophy is the better mode of inquiry in these very real matters.

    2. Crusader Rex,

      Slavery isn't 'a matter of science', so science has nothing to say about it. Slavery is a matter of economics, or sociology, or ethics.

      Egnor claimed that 'in the matter of science, the view that science cannot give the whole truth is particularly obvious...' That's a non sequitur. In some cases, science 'may not' give the whole truth. There may be value judgements which are just as important, if not more so.

    3. Bach
      "[...]science has nothing to say about it."
      Precisely my point.
      Science is just not the too for the job. The philosophy GUIDES the science.
      Scientists working in a well intentioned philosophical environment tend to do good. Scientists working in a bleak and nihilistic environment tend to do evil. Science is simply not an end in of itself.
      It's quite simple really: Good science requires a good philosophical base.
      This is even varies with the work of individual scientists.
      Take Von Braun. In Peenemünde he worked between six and twenty five thousand slave labourers to DEATH. His philosophy at that point was that of the SS. An extremely scientistic system.
      Later, when paperclipped away to the USA and working under a far more sound national philosophy, he helped put men on the moon.
      Same science. Same scientist. Different philosophical framework.

    4. Science that was not. Engineering, yes.

      Hope you won't complain that I exploit my grad students.


    5. Hoo,

      Werner Vob Braun was a world famous rocket scientist who specialized in innovative propulsion systems. He did engineering (hands on) and worked with engineers, yes. But no science ever gets to application without it.
      Von Braun is considered the 'father of Rocket Science'.
      He was an SS commander. He only escaped Nuremberg and the rope or perhaps decades in Spandau because he was useful, and the people in my own profession whitewashed his record to bypass State Dept. rules and get him citizenship rules in your country. He, the men under his direct command, and his scientific effort to produce ballistic missiles (and cruise missiles) murdered thousands.
      Unless you are literally using concentration camp inmates and political prisoners for your grad pool and are working them to death, beating them to death for not reaching quotas, and starving them to death to meet budgets, I don't think it compares.
      I certainly would not compare his ethics or philosophical framework with your own.

  8. Here is philosopher Ernie Lepore describing Donald Davisdon, "one of the most important philosophers of the latter half of the 20th century:"

    <Whether or not his philosophical outlook is ultimately judged to be successful, his development of a consolidated response to the largest problems of the philosophical tradition — of mind, world and self — together with the way in which he brought into his work so many different strands of influence and combined them, is an enormously impressive achievement. The strands of his own legacy have been multifarious, and are still developing. It is too early to tell what Davidson’s place in the history of philosophy will be, but it is hard to imagine what the landscape of contemporary philosophy would have been like without him.

    The bottom line: one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century has developed an impressive theory, but it remains to be seen if it is a successful theory. Good try!

    Let's contrast this with science. There is no question whether the theories of Peter Higgs, Phil Anderson, Lev Landau have put us one step closer to truth. They have.

    That's the difference between philosophy and science.


  9. Worlds collide... its weird seeing one of Chastek's posts discussed here, in this context. I hope Chastek's irenic and non-polemical approach rubs off on some of us!

    Hoo, up there somewhere, showed a little incredulity about "breakthrough discoveries in philosophy". Guess what? He's right!

    Hours of close and valuable study of Derrida and Foucault are required to extract even a kernel of truth from their obtuse and often self-contradictory systems of thought. Analytic thinkers strive for clarity, but are they really that much better?

    Scientific discovery has outpaced philosophy tremendously. It's no surprise, then, that the one area of philosophy seeing the most progress is 'philosophy of science'. And even that area has been full of missteps (Popper, Kuhn, those other "Scientific Irrationalists")

    Actually, Chastek and the Laval School Thomists get my vote for most coherent, logical, simple, beautiful and true way of looking at science and nature. Charles De Koninck was the trailblazer. Still a lot of work to be done

    On the other hand metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics have been so mired with error that the real job of contemporary philosophers is to sort through the muck and point out the contradictions. On this topic, Mortimer Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes is a must-read.

    - Curio

  10. One more thought, specifically for Hoo whose opposition to philosophy I can empathize with, while strongly disagreeing

    Richard Feynman was no doubt a giant of physics and communicating science to the public. He also thought philosophy was a useless waste of time. It's funny then, that his book/lecture The Character of Physical Law is better philosophy than many "philosophers of science" writing around the same time.

    The Character of Physical Law actually comes close in some ways to the Aristotelian-Thomistic view of De Koninck or Wallace. He doesn't confuse the map with the territory, to give one example

    "You will say to me… Do you mean to tell me that a planet looks at the sun, sees how far it is, calculates the inverse square law of the distance and then decides to move in accordance with that law?’ In other words, although I have stated the mathematical law, I have given no clue about the mechanism"

    - Curio

    1. Hi Curio,

      My opposition to philosophy comes with an asterisk. Some of the great physicists have been quite philosophically inclined. Bohr, for instance. His polemics with Einstein over the EPR paradox is really fascinating.

      Among more contemporary physicists, David Mermin is a good representative. His essay "Is the moon there when nobody looks?" is the best explanation of quantum measurements I know.



    2. Hoo,

      Never heard of Mermin but if he can explain quantum mechanics without ending up in la-la land he's earned his philosophical merits in my book! (Please tell me he answers his title question in the affirmative)

      And yea Bohr, Einsten and Heisenberg were all pretty astute philosophically. Maybe education was more comprehensive at the turn of the century

      - C

    3. "Maybe education was more comprehensive at the turn of the century"
      Precisely, Curio.

    4. "Maybe education was more comprehensive at the turn of the century"
      Precisely, Curio.

      Yeah - Bohr, Einstein and Heisenberg are a good random sample to support that conclusion.

      In those halcyon days a very small elite could afford a good comprehensive education and take their time to do research. Nowadays PhD students have 3 or 4 years to complete their thesis in the face of intense competition. It's a very different world.

    5. n = 3, p>0.05. more research needed. possibly biased sample.

      Troy, I considered throwing in another sentence before the education remark. It would have read "these days it's hard to find a physicist who can discuss philosophy without embarrassing him/herself". Quantum mechanics seems to invite wild and bizarre speculation (google "Biocentrism")

      I also had in mind the fact that philosophy and logic aren't taught at the high school level (they should be) and given a pretty superficial treatment at the college level for science students.

      - Curio

  11. The scientistic view that the success of natural explanations demonstrates the truth of philosophical naturalism (the view that nature is all that exists) is a non-sequitur.

    Is there anyone who actually holds to this view, as formulated here? I doubt it. Please provide some examples.

    Of course science can't prove that some invisible magic man rules the world. What science can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt is that the biblical creation stories are bullshit and that Christianity is therefore a load of crock. No need to assume "philosophical naturalism" to do that.

  12. Troy

    "If there is a single theme unifying the history of science, it is that naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanations work. [...] the history of science is some evidence for metaphysical naturalism .

    "Science wins because it works. That’s a quote from Stephen Hawking, and Rosenberg, like me, agrees: we can ground a philosophical naturalism in the remarkable success of methodological naturalism in helping us understand nature, and the abject failure of any other methology, especially religion, to find the truth"

    "I conclude that the relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion given (1) the demonstrated success of methodological naturalism, combined with (2) the massive amount of knowledge gained by it"

    - C