Readings in the Philosophy of Science
For a lazy Sunday afternoon, try learning some things about what science can and cannot do, and the biases that affect it.
Educated people need to get over the simplistic picture of science as a guarantor of truth and the opposite of religion. These essays and book reviews can help, even if they include materialistic assumptions.
Moving beyond the paradigm (Science). This book review by Joseph Swift gives a remarkably fair review of Paul Feyerabend’s 1975 treatise, Against Method. It’s remarkable because Feyerabend was a firebrand against the assumption that the “scientific method” (whatever that is) produces reliable conclusions. His book angered many scientists at the time. According to Feyerabend, the scientific method can actually perpetuate myths and inhibit truth from being found.
As proof of principle, Feyerabend elegantly demonstrated that a strict adherence to the scientific method would have forced Galileo to give up his hypothesis that Earth orbits the Sun. Not only did the existing evidence support the idea that Earth was stationary, the practice of science in the 17th century was largely entrusted to human perception. This meant that not being able to feel Earth moving would have been considered by many to be sufficient to falsify Galileo’s theory. Feyerabend asserted that Galileo needed to break the existing scientific paradigm by presenting a new one and that he only succeeded in doing so by going beyond what rational argument allowed, drawing upon, for example, ad hoc hypotheses and emotional language.
Swift’s own leftist bias shows up in the concluding paragraphs (mentions of climate change and system racism in America, for instance), but he agrees that some return to non-empirical practices can help to awaken slumbering scientists from adherence to unquestioned paradigms. It might even promote more public trust in what scientists do for a living.
Imaginary demons and scientific discoveries (Science). Science is demon-possessed! —depending on how one defines demon. Consider Maxwell’s Demon, for example—proposed by James Clerk Maxwell who was a devout Christian. In this review of a new book by Jimena Canales, Bedeviled: A Shadow History of Demons in Science (Princeton, 2020), reviewer Jan G. Michel conjures up some of the historical “demons” of science, which served as placeholders for ignorance when researchers hit roadblocks. “Darwin’s Black Box” could be one. Dark matter could be another. But math? But taxonomy?
As Canales maintains, demons are “neither just psychological delusions or simplistic heuristic fictions nor simply auxiliary midwives who help scientists deliver knowledge.” On the contrary, she argues that the notion of a (scientific) demon should be regarded as akin to other, more established philosophical notions or tools, “such as concepts, numbers, classes, and categories”—a welcome contribution to the philosophy of scientific discovery that deserves further scholarly attention.
Philosophical thoughts for the future (Phys.org). After reading the above, use this article by David Bradley as an example of philosophy done poorly. Bouncing off an article by Austrian scientist Franz Moser, Bradley perpetuates the idea that evolution created our minds and that we are on a progressive path: “humanity’s path from ignorance to knowledge and how ego structures have evolved into truth.”
“The present world view, the Newtonian paradigm, confronts us with a divided world of contradictions, antagonism, and egotism,” writes Moser. This arises from the basic human delusion of dualism wherein we imagine mind and matter to be separate rather than our minds, our consciousness, emerging from the electrochemistry of our brains. “Ego illusions prevail and dominate man’s behaviour towards his fellow man and towards himself,” adds Moser.
Bradley ends with this false hope: “Ultimately, once we cast off the dualism, humanity can move from a place of ignorance, scarcity, and fear to knowledge and truth.” He and Moser fail to realize the self-refuting nature of their monism. If our minds are mere manifestations of the electrochemistry of our brains, then it would be impossible to affirm anything as true, including their own belief that the mind is a manifestation of the electrochemistry of their own brains. There is no knowledge in materialistic monism, where only particles and forces exist. There is no truth in materialism, either. It takes a mind to perceive truth.
Dualism is a prerequisite for science and for philosophy (see Michael Egnor’s defense of this point at ENV). Christianity as a worldview provides the prerequisites for reason, logic and truth that science requires.
Woe to scientists who follow the BBC‘s advice, “Launching the search for the Gretas of the future.” Science does not need more media-promoted young crybabies to dominate social media with their shallow rants about things they do not understand. Unexamined opinion is the definition of prejudice.