Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Narrow Science, Broad Science, and Religious Questions

JonJ: You say there is knowledge beyond the reach of science. OK, what is it? Can you give us one tiny crumb of incontrovertible fact sourced from any method other than science?

Science gets it wrong at least half the time. But religion gets it wrong all the time, because it never checks.


VR: I don't think religion never checks. I'm not a fideist. I think that there are ways of checking my beliefs. There are possible arrangements of evidence that would make me doubt my religion. What happens from there is anybody's guess, but I don't follow Craig in saying that the Holy Spirit gives me such reassurance that, given any possible change in the evidence or my evaluation of the evidence. I go with C. S. Lewis's "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it." 

I think you have to distinguish between narrowly scientific reasoning and broadly scientific reasoning. Narrowly scientific reasoning is the kind of reasoning accepted in various scientific disciplines. It has some common overall themes, but differs somewhat from disciple to disciples. Should sociology try to be just like physics? Probably not, but of course there are going to be some similarities. 

If we are speaking of broadly scientific reasoning, then I can't see any reason why the reasoning one engages in in determining religious beliefs can't be broadly scientific. I believe in Bayesian conditionalization, and I do believe that what I believe religiously can be either confirmed or disconfirmed by evidence. There is something I call the "vacuity argument" which says that "supernatural" (and here the idea of the supernatural has to be clarified, because according to some ways of defining the term I don't think even God is supernatural, and I see no good reason in theory why God couldn't be a theoretical entity in a scientific explanation), explanations are excluded because they can just be stuck in anywhere, and are therefore vacuous. But I have never found this argument persuasive in the least.


21 comments:

GREV said...

What is the person's evidence for the fact that religion gets it wrong all the time?

What kind of science is he or she talking about?

Bob Prokop said...

I will here present "one tiny crumb of incontrovertible fact" from a source other than science. Listen to Mahler's Ninth Symphony, without distractions, and let it soak in. You will have experienced a Truth that cannot be put into words, and that "science" alone could never, ever arrive at.

There is Truth outside of Science, and there is Truth that is beyond language (at least, beyond the language of words).

unkleE said...

" Can you give us one tiny crumb of incontrovertible fact sourced from any method other than science?"

Here's three:

1. I had a toothache a couple of weeks ago.
2. I love my wife.
3. I think pedophilia is wrong and evil.

"Science gets it wrong at least half the time. But religion gets it wrong all the time, because it never checks."

This statement shows a reductionist bias. What is the "it" that science gets wrong sometimes and religion gets wrong all the time? The statement only works if we are talking about empirical, externally observable, facts. Science gets those things right most of the time.

But what about ethics, or metaphysics, or aesthetics or personal experience? Are my toothache or my love for my wife or my ethical conclusions about pedophilia not real? Do you have to assume God doesn't exist to say that religion, philosophy, revelation and personal experience haven't given us some truths there? How does science tell us anything about right and wrong?

Those who study these things say that one of the clear trends in the postmodern west is a distrust of science because it has led to such things as atomic weapons and dehumanisation (such as Lou Reed's bleak comment on scientific experimentation in Nazi Germany: "You can't depend on the goodly-hearted, the goodly hearted made lampshades and soap.") Now this distrust isn't a fair representation of science, but it is a fair response to overstated claims like the one this post started with.

The philosophers know that we can learn things through observation, intuition, experience, authority, reason, etc, so why would anyone limit themselves to science alone? The fact is they don't, they live and love and make ethical decisions like the rest of us, but they somehow forget that when they make pronouncements about religion.

David said...

One thing that seems beyond the scope of science or religion is which questions Victor will answer. Sometimes I read a question or comment I would like Victor to answer and other times the questions or statements seem so childish I wonder why he bothers.

People remain a mystery to me. Which is at least one reason why my faith in Christ has remained and why my faith in science has waned.

Boz said...

Victor, I have to applaud you for putting your beliefs out here for public consideration and criticism. You are braver than me! I like this blog because I have found you to be a plain-speaker.
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That said, you didn't answer the question: "What is a specific example of incontrovertible knowledge that is beyond the reach of science?"

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A stronger form of the vacuity argument is that: "sueprnatural(definition: ???) explanations are excluded, after being considered, because they are bad explanations."

Good explanations score well under the following critera. Bad explanations score poorly under the following critera. Supernatural explanations are bad explanations.

1. Testability: better explanations render specific predictions that can be falsified or corroborated.
2. Scope (aka “comprehensiveness” or “consilience”): better explanations explain more types of phenomena.
3. Precision: better explanations explain phenomena with greater precision.
4. Simplicity: better explanations make use of fewer claims, especially fewer as yet unsupported claims (“lack of ad-hoc-ness”).
5. Mechanism: better explanations provide more information about underlying mechanisms.
6. Unification: better explanations unify apparently disparate phenomena (also sometimes called “consilience”).
7. Predictive novelty: better explanations don’t just “retrodict” what we already know, but predict things we observe only after they are predicted.
8. Analogy (aka “fit with background knowledge”): better explanations generally fit with what we already know with some certainty.
9. Past explanatory success: better explanations fit within a tradition or trend with past explanatory success (e.g. astronomy, not astrology).

source:http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=11046

Blue Devil Knight said...

Can you give us one tiny crumb of incontrovertible fact sourced from any method other than science?

'Incontrovertible' and 'science' tend to not go together.

Shackleman said...

The authority given over to "Science" is quite frightening. If a "scientist" tells you something it must be true.

Laypeople no longer have much if *any* skepticism over anything that has the "science" label attached to it. They even use words like "incontrovertible" when speaking about "facts" derived from "science". And, they tend to say things like we "know", because the scientists tell us so that xyz is true and abc is false.

The trouble is, the layperson rarely if ever has the skills, intellect, and knowledge to judge the scientist's works and words. They are forced to rely *exclusively* on *other* scientists to verify claims. Laypeople have lost their ability to seek out truth for themselves, and are now lead, like sheep, to whichever waters their "scientists" bring them to and they rarely if ever question them, nor do they think for themselves.

"Science" has become the western world's ultimate and *only* source of full, unbridled authority on all things.

Chilling.

Brenda said...

Shackleman said...
"The authority given over to "Science" is quite frightening. If a "scientist" tells you something it must be true"

That isn't science, that's religion. If you believe something because someone told you it is so then you are not practicing a rational, scientific approach to the world. What you are actually doing is accepting dogma and orthodoxy. The true scientific attitude is one where one is free to challenge received truths.

"The trouble is, the layperson rarely if ever has the skills, intellect, and knowledge to judge the scientist's works and words. They are forced to rely *exclusively* on *other* scientists to verify claims."

That is true even for other scientists when they are outside of their own area of expertise. And that is why it is so important to adhere to professional standards and to the scientific method in general. Much of what I believe I believe because I trust those who tell me that, no, vaccines don't cause autism. I cannot personally check every equation or verify every study. I have to rely on the professional integrity of others that they have done so. But my trust must ultimately rest on my belief that someone somewhere actually did the math or conducted the study, and truthfully reported the results, which were rigorously criticized before being published.

This is different from religion because there simply is no method by which religious statements can be verified. Religious beliefs are not grounded in reality, scientific beliefs are. Note: the atheist belief that there is no god is not a scientific belief an my account. It is an unfalsifiable belief and therefore metaphysics not science.

"Laypeople have lost their ability to seek out truth for themselves"

If this is so it is due to ignorance and a poor educational system. I had a good education back when they used to actually teach children how to read and to think. We no longer do that in large part due to the political agenda of religious extremists. As a lay person I feel I have the capacity to judge truth claims made by fringe groups even though I am not a scientist nor even an expert in any scientific field. But I have my reason and a solid base of facts from which to go on and from that you can do a lot.

Blue Devil Knight said...

If people were huddled in fear of the authority of science we likely wouldn't have so many young earth creationists happy to contradict what they say. My experience with people is that they usually trust their judgment enough to contradict science, to ask questions when something doesn't make sense.

(OTOH some stuff from physicists studying cosmology is just annoying like when they used to say 'You can't ask about space and time before the big bang, as that's when space and time were born' and say nothing more on the topic, as if to ask the question is a fundamental obvious semantic error. Now they are eating this words of course... :)).

Bob Prokop said...

Brenda,

It is a caricature to describe the religious mindset as one of blind acceptance of dogma and orthodoxy. The most brilliant minds in Christendom (e.g., John Chrysostom, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Saints Francis and Dominic, Hildegard of Bingen, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, Dorothy Day, Gustavo Gutierrez, etc.) can scarcely be described in this manner. They were all questioners and seekers after the Truth. Whether it be C.S. Lewis’s re-examination of the relationship between the Gospels and mythology, or Peter Maurin’s emphasizing the social justice aspect of the New Testament, each great thinker left Christianity in some way changed by what they thought, wrote, and did.

Blind acceptance of orthodoxy does indeed exist, but is most definitely not an exclusive possession of religion. We see it in politics, where facts are ignored by partisans in favor of their own particular ideologies. We see it in art, where all to often works of screamingly obvious mediocrity are extolled as genius by the arts community. We see it in the great unwashed masses, who would be unable to integrate e to the x if their life depended on it, blindly going along with something they found on the internet, because it was passed off as “science”.

My personal favorite is the TV commercial that (and I quote here) boasts of its product that “emerging science suggests that there may be a connection”. Wow! Just try parsing that phrase. It is semantically null. But because it has the word “science” in it, the advert’s target audience will rush out to buy the product.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Prokop is exactly in tune to what I'm saying. Conversely Brenda, you don't even see that your comment is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

On the one hand you rightfully admit your own inability to perform the requisite checks and balances against what "science" tells you, and you're therefore at the mercy of those whom you've given over authority to. While on the other hand, you speak as though you personally are right to trust them, for no other reason than because they're scientists.

While no one is screaming for the hills because of their trust in science, I am taken aback at the cart blanche "science" has. Scientists can and do distribute "truth" to the masses and the masses soak it up with nary a question.

THAT'S what's scary. The general public's blind acceptance of it all.

Science is great. I love science. But there is *nothing*, science included, that should have that much control over how and what people think. It's a real danger to a free society.

Walter said...

"The authority given over to 'Science' is quite frightening. If a "scientist" tells you something it must be true"


I feel much the same way about organized religion. Just because a "sacred text" says something doesn't mean that it is true either.

Shackleman said...

I agree, Walter.

Brenda said...

Bob Prokop said...
"It is a caricature to describe the religious mindset as one of blind acceptance of dogma and orthodoxy."

I agree that there are and have been many great and profound religious thinkers through history. I don't think that changes the fact that most people do accept as true the religion they were born into on "blind faith". G. K. Chesterton was a great man and he would have been if he had been born a Jew and had defended the Jewish faith. Or if he had been born a Muslim. He would still have been a great thinker but he simply would have applied his talent to defending Islam.

The same is not true for science. If Einstein had been born under circumstances that did not permit him to be a scientist he would have still been a genius, but his discoveries would have had to wait for someone else. Or if he had used some pseudo scientific method for investigating reality, he simply would have been an intelligent crank. There is a reason for this. Science has as its object of study objective reality. Religion has no objectively existing referent which it can investigate.

What religion has done and why I think it is still of value is it has made "what it means to be human" its object of study. So great religious thinkers like Chesterton have had good things to say about that. But I don't think that makes the central claims of religion true. Nor, if those claims are false, does that fact make what religion has to say about the human condition without value.

Brenda said...

Shackleman said...
"On the one hand you rightfully admit your own inability to perform the requisite checks and balances against what "science" tells you, and you're therefore at the mercy of those whom you've given over authority to. While on the other hand, you speak as though you personally are right to trust them, for no other reason than because they're scientists."

That's not true. I am not at the mercy of any scientific authority. I have a base of facts and my reason with which I can judge the merit of many scientific claims. I have not given all authority to science, I have given my provisional trust. That trust is based on past performance and rationality.

I don't believe what scientists tell me simply because they are scientists. I believe them because their predictions come true and their explanations are rational. Religious predictions never come true and their explanations are often incoherent.

Shackleman said...

Brenda, you said: "But my trust must ultimately rest on my belief that someone somewhere actually did the math or conducted the study, and truthfully reported the results, which were rigorously criticized before being published."

...which is precisely my point. In fact, I couldn't have said it better myself. The problem is that oftentimes they *don't* have their results scrutinized rigorously. They often *don't* actually do the math ( like here). More importantly, you then say: "I have my reason and a solid base of facts from which to go on"

The "facts" from which you are going on are themselves derived from scientists, and you rightfully admit you are in no position personally to empirically judge their truth-claims.

You then repeat: "I have a base of facts and my reason with which I can judge the merit of many scientific claims."

Again, your "base of facts" are themselves derived almost exclusively from the authority which rests with "Science". Then, if what they say "makes sense" to you, you believe it.

So, to summarize what I hear you saying: Scientists say it, you parse it through the filter of your own reasoning faculties, and then you declare you "know the facts".

It seems to me you admonish religious people for doing basically the same thing. The difference being that the truth-claims offered by religious authorities make little sense to you.

Again, I love science. It's awesome. I've even done some myself. But it has become its own dogmatic institution, and the masses simply swallow whatever they say as the gospel truth.

Granted, many here reading this blog are probably less guilty of this. But the masses? Hook, line, and sinker.

Brenda said...

Shackleman said...
"The problem is that oftentimes they *don't* have their results scrutinized rigorously. They often *don't* actually do the math."

You are turned around and upside down. The fact that scientific fraud is even possible goes to show that there really are objective facts which are independent of our interests. If there was nothing to get wrong how would fraud even be possible? It goes like this:

There exists an objective world that is independent of our interests. If there is such a world then there is a way that it is independent of us. If there is an objective reality independent of us then we can say how it is. If we can say how it is then we can get it wrong. Statements about the external world are true insomuch as they correspond to how the world is.

Science is the method by which we discover true facts about the world. Religion cannot give us facts about the world though I think it can give us insight into what it means to be human.

"Again, your "base of facts" are themselves derived almost exclusively from the authority which rests with "Science". "

Nope, the only authority I recognize is reality. I experience brute facts, which was what I meant by a base. I also have reason, which is independent of authority. Finally, there really is an external world which scientists are trying to understand. Fraud and professional misconduct do not disprove that.

If I cheat in solving a mathematics problem the fact that I cheated does not show that mathematics is a self referential house of cards.

Shackleman said...

Brenda,

I don't think you're listening very well, honestly.

I most certainly agree with you that reality is objective.

I most certainly agree with you that reality exists apart from our desires.

I most certainly agree with you that science is a great tool to help us understand that objective reality.

Where we disagree is the notion that science and personal experience are the ***ONLY*** ways we can come to accurately understand the external world.

Further, I have been shining light on the fact that since you are not yourself a scientist, you basically are getting at minimum one half of your total understanding of reality from the authority you've granted to "Science".

You're not alone. We are all left with little recourse but to trust the people who tell us that they've discovered, through science, certain facts about the world. Let's say this another way....

At LEAST half of what you claim to know about reality is derived from the authority granted to "Science".

You don't see that as a problem or at least a *potential* problem. I do.

This quote from CS Lewis says it all.

""Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority--because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.""

-C.S. Lewis

We should not be lemmings to anything, science included.

jaydee said...

narrow science trumps narrow religion, but broad science trumps narrow science. That is, the natural sciences provide a more inclusive, accurate account of reality than any of the particular exoteric religious traditions. But an integral approach that evaluates both religious claims and scientific claims based on intersubjectivity is preferable to narrow science.

jaydee said...

C.S. Lewis fails to explain that as the evidence becomes thinner and thinner you will be needing more and more faith..

jaydee said...

Furthermore the consequences in having faith in say New York is a far cry from the consequences of a permanent, eternal heaven and hell.

The imbalance is that the one with the least consequence can actually be verified where as the other cannot be at all.

But think about it, isn't it just the size of the scare that produces the effect? But I know we are not logical beings so please disregard all of the previous..