Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Myth of Progress in the Evolution of Science?

This looks like a very interesting paper.


Eric Koski said...

"The myth of Indefinite Progress can be summarized thus: Once we have entered the age of Science, scientific development cannot regress. Inventions and discoveries will follow one another at an always increasing rhythm, and the curve of scientific development should be approximately exponential."

Whose myth do you think this is? Can you name a prominent philosopher of science who would agree with this?

I found the paper pretty weak, actually.

legodesi said...

It seemed to undermine itself when the author says

"I don't think that Science has reached its limits and doubt those limits can ever be reached."

I did think its points beginning -middle were well made (some of them reminded me of the Problem of Pain).

C.S. Lewis talks of a myth of progress (specifically in talks about evolution), but without such technical language like discoveries increasing in rhythm; he suggested that the notion of progress is unintelligible if the road to progress is inevitable and ultimately unorchestrated.

Victor Reppert said...

Since philosophers of science have all read Kuhn, I suspect believers of this in the scientific community may be rare, at least in the form presented.

Victor Reppert said...

But it might be far more widespread in the wider community and amongst people with strongly scientistic philosophies. I remember being an assistant for Patrick Maher's philosophy of science course, and finding that his presentation of what I would certainly think of as pretty benign theses in the philosophy of science was kind of shocking and almost anti-scientific to his students.

Ray Schneider said...

I tend to think that real scientists are far less impressed by Kuhn than philosophers of science.

For one thing I think scientists do not fully accept Kuhn's "paradigm shift" thesis.

It is true that scientists tend to be very conservative, preferring to patch a theory than to do something revolutionary.

I thought the points the author made about popular myths were well taken.

Victor Reppert said...

The criticism is that Manuel is attacking is that people who are sophisticated about science don't accept these myths.

I guess one area of exploration would have to do with certain science-based anti-theistic arguments. These arguments are not often formulated in clear terms. But if they were clearly stated, would they be invoke myths about science.

Ray Schneider said...

Science adopts a methodological materialism. In some cases this is also the worldview of the scientist.

The intelligent design thesis is that design can be detected in nature through identifying specified complexity and irreducible complexity, both of which have no other explanation than intelligent design.

The myth/science fault line lies along the misapplication of science in the popular mind to create myths which seem supported by science. C.S. Lewis offers the example of evolution the science versus evolution the myth.

By its very nature, science tends to be a process of successive approximation, trying at each step to get closer to the truth. This naturally produces a myth of inevitable progress.

Manuel said...

As Victor pointed, and like the other myths mentioned in the paper, I think the myth of indefinite progress is believed by lots of educated people, not necessarily scientists or (prominent) philosophers of science. My paper is mainly addressed to them.

There is a further myth which I did not mention explicitly: the myth that physics has practically discovered everything. Against this was the quote "I don't think that Science has reached its limits and doubt those limits can ever be reached." It does not undermine my thesis: both myths are false. We aren't neither at the border of knowing everything, nor in the middle of a permanent trend of discovery. That's what I meant.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Change 'exponential' to 'on average, increasing', and I would agree with the myth and refer to Kitcher's book The Advancement of Science which is a fun and creative book.

Note I'm replying to the above quote from the paper, and haven't read the paper. I started it, but it seemed a bit of a kludge so I grew impatient and abandoned it.

Gregory said...

Scientists want to believe in the indefinite progress of science like King Arthur believed in pursuing the Holy Grail: because it gives them something to do.

In the case of experimental scientists, an infinite well of empirical discovery gives them grant money, publishing conceits, prestige/recognition, Academic and Nobel awards, and a paycheck.

That might sound a bit cynical...but nobody, especially the scientist, likes losing their job. I mean, what if all the mysteries of the world were completely unraveled in Darwin's day; what would Darwin do?? Retire as a banana snack glutton in a Galapagos primate resort??

I found Jefferey Burton Russell's "The Myth of the Flat Earth", Larry Laudan's "Progress and It's Problems" and Thaxton and Pearcy's "The Soul of Science" very helpful.