Friday, June 22, 2012

Confidence in the progress of science is not the same as confidence that gaps will be closed

It seems to me that you have to have faith that the gaps will be closed. That's different from having faith that science will progress. If science closes the gaps, that's progress, and if it discovers that the gaps can't be closed, that's progress, too. Future science is FUTURE. It's not here yet. Science has gone against its previous trajectory so many times that we shouldn't be making all sorts of predictions about what it will eventually say.

34 comments:

unkleE said...

There are two assumptions in any discussion of gaps, especially when criticising 'God of the gaps' arguments.

1. It is assumed what is a gap, and what lies outside the scope of science. Sometimes it is clear that a lack of knowledge is merely a gap (e.g. finding the Higgs boson), but other times we seem to be outside the scope of science (e.g. why is there something rather than nothing?). And other times, it is arguable - is the process of abiogenesis a gap, or will it forever lie outside science?

2. In the end those who argue that apparent gaps shouldn't form the basis of any metaphysics are effectively exercising faith that a particular unsolved problem is a gap rather than a scope issue. Unless they can demonstrate that they have a proof that nothing falls outside the scope of science, this faith remains.

Crude said...

That's a good way to put it. There's a difference between believing that science will continue to discover new things generally, and that science will be somehow 'gapless'. People sometimes suggest that the gaps are ever-shrinking, but sometimes gaps grow, and some gaps are just not targeted by science anyway. The impression I've gotten is, prior to quantum physics, the idea was that physics was pretty much done and all that was really left was some dusting up and minor bookkeeping. That sentiment was wrong.

Though I think you've got two different threads in your OP that are woven into one by accident. On the one hand, the fact that science will continue to progress doesn't mean that science will inevitably bridge all gaps - you can have perpetual progress and perpetual gaps. On the other hand, there's no guarantee that the progress of science will give us the answers we expect either. To use the physics example again: prior to QM, a scientist dedicated to classical physics could have said "science will eventually come up with an explanation for what we're seeing at micro scales!" He'd be right - it just wouldn't be the answer he was certain would come.

That's one thing I found interesting about Alex Rosenberg's book, that no one seems to have focused on. One of his planks in the whole "scientism is great" thing wasn't just a commitment to science, but a commitment to the idea that the science of the future would not be very different from the science of the past. Which, to me, seemed like one of the most anti-scientific moves someone could make.

Papalinton said...

Refresh us Victor, the times science has gone " ... against its previous trajectory so many times that we shouldn't be making all sorts of predictions about what it will eventually say", and has been incapable of self-correction?

Science was never about prediction, Victor, not in the biblical sense. That form of prediction, or prophecy, is best left to the theological experts. No, science is predictive only in the sense of an hypothesis, it is about testing the hypothesis, whether something is substantiated or not. If it doesn't work, it gets thrown into the garbage. By analogy how much of christian theism has been thrown into the bin? Of all the claims christianity has made: about man, about the environment, about society, about the universe, or about god[s], how much of the rubbish has been thrown out?

Perhaps I should make it clear for your, the issue is about which methodology of recording the human experience provides the best and most efficacious of explanatory tools. Is it the christian narrative or is it the scientific method? Faith has nothing to do with it. To speak of faith in science is to theologize science, is to revert to speaking 'in tongue', to begin 'snake-handling' the issue of science in the community. To speak of faith in science is to falsely interpolate science through the religious prism which science has utterly rejected.

Religious explanation is predicated on the primeval, the primitive instinctual physiological and neurological drivers of our intuitions. Religion is born out of a time when there was no known differentiation in our intellectual knowledge and understanding, which saw superstition, instinctive reaction, and the physical nature of the environment all of equal contributors to our 'reality'.

Much of that primal instinctual response still forms the unschooled and unskilled intuitive foundation of much of the way religious believers assimilate the world. The content of this OP reflects much of the thought processes by which believers misconstrue even the most basic understandings of science, such as evolution, quantum mechanics, cosmology, biology, the emerging fields of neurosciences. And take for example, unkleE's comment as a classic piece of nil understanding of the sciences and the religious lens he views his science, especially Point 2.

Equally, crude jots something in respect of 'scientism', not because he understands even what the term means but because it has a resonance with theists, another ism, [scientism], an enemy, against his beloved theism, the existential battle, the crusade of 'theism' against the ungodly scourge of 'scientism', something he can draw a christian sword to and smite with all his might. He is yet to realize that 'scientism' as a pejorative is simply the new strawman being levelled at people who prefer science and reason over magical thinking.

The question reasonable people must decide, scientism or theism?

Papalinton said...

"The cause of lightning was once thought to be God's wrath, but turned out to be the unintelligent outcome of mindless natural forces. We once thought an intelligent being must have arranged and maintained the amazingly ordered motions of the solar system, but now we know it's all the inevitable outcome of mindless natural forces. Disease was once thought to be the mischief of supernatural demons, but now we know that tiny, unintelligent organisms are the cause, which reproduce and infect us according to mindless natural forces. In case after case, without exception, the trend has been to find that purely natural causes underlie any phenomena. Not once has the cause of anything turned out to really be God's wrath or intelligent meddling, or demonic mischief, or anything supernatural at all. The collective weight of these observations is enormous: supernaturalism has been tested at least a million times and has always lost; naturalism has been tested at least a million times and has always won. A horse that runs a million races and never loses is about to run yet another race with a horse that has lost every single one of the million races it has run. Which horse should we bet on? The answer is obvious." From the Carrier Blogs.

Longstreet said...

Is that quote supposed to be impressive in some fashion?

Longstreet said...

"We once thought an intelligent being must have arranged and maintained the amazingly ordered motions of the solar system, but now we know it's all the inevitable outcome of mindless natural forces."

Please. You know nothing of the sort. What arrogant self-congratulatory claptrap.

BeingItself said...

Feynman on gaps:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zi699WzAL0

BeingItself said...

Longstreet,

Do you deny that the historical trend of explanations has been that what was once given a mystical superstitious explanation (demon possession, angry gods causing crop failure, witches causing plagues) have now been replaced with a natural scientific (and more useful) explanations?

Pap and Carrier are just pointing out the obvious.

But keep blaming things on goblins and snarks, demons and angels. It's what your church teaches, so it must be true.

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

This discussion has gotten so repetitive and predictable that it is Boring, Boring, Boring. No one... not me, not Papalinton, not anyone has added anything of substance to this faux debate for decades.

The atheist trots out an imaginary history of the supposed origin of religion ("People were afraid of lightning, so they made up gods to explain it") that puts the cart before the horse. The awareness of God came first. the explanation of lightning came afterwards, and was ultimately irrelevant to the belief in God.

A supposed (and entirely fictitious) "God of the Gaps" is brought up as an easy strawman to defeat, despite the fact that NO BELIEVER worships a "God of the Gaps" - He worships a "God of the Filled-In Spaces". Science is religion's ally!!!

The True Situation is we are facing an "Atheism of the Gaps". The atheist isn't satisfied by Christianity's explanation for existence, and he fills the gap with atheism.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"The True Situation is we are facing an "Atheism of the Gaps". The atheist isn't satisfied by Christianity's explanation for existence, and he fills the gap with atheism."

That is a delightfull irony: filling an explanatory hole with... atheism.

B.L.T. said...

Thats not as ironic as what many atheists are saying about quantum physics. They say that quantum physics shows that not everything needs an explanation. In fact, they would say that the fundamental nature of the universe is indeterminate. This isn't just saying science can't progress, but that science isn't really needed, and it seems to give us reason to doubt whether science has truly progressed as much as we think it has. Is there really such a thing a gravity or do things fall to the ground inexplicably and we just inexplicably discovered gravity for no reason what so ever.

William said...

I seems that goblins are out of vogue, yes, but this has been no bar to other kinds of conspiracy theories. I suspect that neither atheism nor belief in God is much of a a bar to the recent ones:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/howaboutthat/3477148/The-greatest-conspiracy-theories-in-history.html

Papalinton said...

"The atheist trots out an imaginary history of the supposed origin of religion ("People were afraid of lightning, so they made up gods to explain it") that puts the cart before the horse. The awareness of God came first. the explanation of lightning came afterwards ..."

I am sure Bob will enlighten us on the source of this Revelation.

No? Of course not. This is one of those throw-away lines which is the essence of the theistic misconstrual of science, precisely what I was mentioning earlier. This utterly false notion of precedence comes right from the foundational source of the christian Apologetical tradition of equivocation. Why?

Picture for a moment. The Earth is some 4 billions years old. Analogous weather patterns consistent with today's weather formation has been active on this Earth for some 2-3 billion years; lightning, thunder, rain, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, precipitation, evaporation etc etc have all been ubiquitous elements of this planet forming process for as long. Some two million+ years ago the first of the antecedent homo family begins the evolutionarily drift away and breaks into a family of hominids of which we are a relation to. Can you imagine Lucy, looking up into the sky and saying, "Damn! I wish I could think of what's causing all that noise when lightning strikes". And it wasn't until a million years fast forward that we have any semblance of the thinking patterns of humans, with the big brain. So lightning, thunder, flash floods were completely inexplicable while man concurrently was unable to conceptualize god.

I would suggest, a far more probable and simple solution to the precedence. It is so simple as to defy logic and reason. The human looked up to the sky and when asked what caused that, he said, "Mwoomba [god] did it." It was elemental weather that precipitated the concept of god.

After that everything was explained. When the drought came, god did it. When the river rose, god did it. Epilepsy? God did it. Schizophrenia? God did it. Leprosy? God did it? or better still, Satan; disease? The work of Satan. The mental virus of the last two millennia hit its straps.

"... despite the fact that NO BELIEVER worships a "God of the Gaps" - He worships a "God of the Filled-In Spaces". What an interesting concept? Tell me, when you say 'filled-in spaces' do you mean like, parthenogenesis? Bodily resurrection? Walking on water? Physical ascension? Coming back from the dead? The 3-in-1 godhead?, The creation of the universe in Genesis?, The reality of original sin? Many christians say most if not all these are supposed be considered allegory. Most tell me the main substance of scripture is allegorical.

It is only now, at the beginning of the 21st C CE, that a critical mass of the community are rising from their slumber and really seeing for the first time that the "God did it" epithet is perhaps not the most useful of explanatory tools available to humanity. Indeed they are finding that it is an inherently retrograde step in explaining 'reality'.

And the question remains, though the outcome is clear, do we persist along the road of 'goddidit' intuition, or do we face the new challenges with fresh eyes?
Do we persist in explaining life as set out in the scriptures, or is there a 'real-life' dimension to human existence and the human condition?
Is it 'theism' - by which people live their lives as an allegory? Or is it 'scientism' - by which people prefer to guide their lives through science and reason over magical thinking?

B. Prokop said...

"It was elemental weather that precipitated the concept of god."

To (almost) quote someone else on this website:

I am sure [Papalinton] will enlighten us on the source of this Revelation.

B. Prokop said...

You may comfort yourself with your completely fabricated and imaginary history, but my point two postings ago was that anybody can play this game. We have zero data to work with, so we can justify whatever narrative we wish, thus "proving" our going-in positions.

As it happens, I actually do regard my narrative as the more probable. Animals never ask "why" - I doubt primitive Man did either. But once he was endowed with a soul, and God breathed His Spirit into him, he looked around (already knowing God), and quite appropriately ascribed various phenomenon to Him.

I have no problem with that. In fact, it was right and proper for our ancestors to do so. Or for us to do so as well. I see the beauty of a plant, a storm, a landscape, the stars, and see the Handiwork of God, and praise Him for it.

Rasmus Møller said...

"inevitable outcome of mindless natural forces" - shorthand IOOMNF

Papalinton, you know that according to your stated position (and that of Carrier) every thought and every idea is IOOMNF. That means that every religion is IOOMNF - and so is atheism. In fact all so called "knowledge" is IOOMNF.

Have I understood the Argument from Reason against Naturalism correctly; that if Naturalism then every act of Reason is IOOMNF and therefore meaningless?

B. Prokop said...

What does IOOMNF mean?

Rasmus Møller said...

As noted in the beginning of my post, I meant it as a shorthand for "inevitable outcome of mindless natural forces"

William said...

Since nobody seemed to get my previous remark,let me lay it out better:

1. In the past and now, people tend to believe things that are not likely true.

2. However, it's not true that such mistaken beliefs divide along naturalism/theism lines. Most weirdly persistent incorrect theories, folklore, and urban legends are about non-supernatural topics!

3. It therefore begs the question for someone to claim belief in God is such as an mistaken belief by analogy with ancient versions of today's urban legends.

Crude said...

William,

Very good point. And I think it could be fleshed out more to great effect.

Matt DeStefano said...

William,

You're right in pointing out that it's not true that mistaken beliefs divide along naturalism/theism lines, but that isn't what is being argued. Rather, naturalists are arguing that historical supernatural explanations have continually been replaced by natural ones as science progresses. Consider this rough sketch of an argument:

(1) Historically, people have provided supernatural explanations for various phenomena.

(2) Historical supernatural explanations have been replaced by natural explanations as science advances. (Disease, lightning, etc.)

(3) Given 1 & 2, it is probable that current supernatural explanations will be replaced by natural ones as science continues to advance.

Jeffery Jay Lowder has a somewhat similar argument laid out: The Evidential Argument from the History of Science.

Thrasymachus said...

I agree it is precarious to say that (thanks to tracking) that science will fill in all explanatory gaps. Although lots of science has progressed, arguably it hasn't made much progress at all in things like the hard problem (and I'm unsure whether the track record *there* is suggestive of a gap never being filled. However, naturalism doesn't need to commit themselves to something so strong.

All he *really* wants to say is that we will never fill in gaps with supernatural explanans, so our completed explanation of everything won't recourse to "and this happens through divine agency" or similar. And the history of science (cf. Matt) provides a pretty robust track record of that: there is a one-way trend of supernatural explanations being super-ceded by methodologically naturalism, and the fact this works so well is further evidence for Metaphys-Nat.

Papalinton said...

"We have zero data to work with, so we can justify whatever narrative we wish, thus "proving" our going-in positions."

No, we don't. Only christian theism operates within a 'data free' zone. The mountains of scientific, paleo-anthropological and paleo-biological knowledge of earlier primates and homo varieties, from before and after the advent of big brain development, clearly exposes the self-imposed disavowal of the evidence in favour of emotional surrender to magical thinking and christian shamanism.

"As it happens, I actually do regard my narrative as the more probable. Animals never ask "why" - I doubt primitive Man did either. But once he was endowed with a soul, and God breathed His Spirit into him, he looked around (already knowing God), and quite appropriately ascribed various phenomenon to Him."

As noted in another site, it is the deep and extremely worrying pathology of the religious mind that has not only the problem but the difficulty of assimilating the greatest medical, scientific, and most particularly the social and psychological finds and discoveries of the contemporary world. It is the congenital inability of the indiscriminately trained religious mind to distinguish superstition from science, from the natural and the supernatural, to distinguish between fact and fantasy. It is the process of theologizing science as the only mechanism by which the religious-minded can make sense of their world, the blighted vision through which 'reality' is permanently imprinted into the neural networks of their mind, where naturalism, superstition, supernaturalism, spirits and devils and angels all mingle, where gods and jesuses and granddads and aunties and lost sons and past relatives all swirl in the grand miasma. It is the deep cognitive impairment of the incapacity to mark where reality leaves off and allegory segues in.

" .. endowed with a soul ..", "god-breathed spirit .. " Now, these are truly the made-up stuff of ".. whatever narrative we wish..." Does anyone remember the position of the Magisterium when babies could not enter heaven and remained in limbo? Does anyone remember the inviolable concept of purgatory? Does anyone remember when the star literally shone on the stable in Bethlehem guiding the three 'wise' men? I remember being unequivocally told at Sunday School the facts of this incident.

And one has to compare this stuff with that of the progress of science as equally viable explanatory methods? Hardly!

Crude said...

Thrasymachus,

And the history of science (cf. Matt) provides a pretty robust track record of that: there is a one-way trend of supernatural explanations being super-ceded by methodologically naturalism, and the fact this works so well is further evidence for Metaphys-Nat.

I'm not so sure of that. First of all, wouldn't any explanation science gives be a natural explanation by default? In that case, it seems that there's a problem with arguing that science has "only gone in one direction" when it comes to explanations - that's because it can only go in a single direction in principle.

Second, any claim that supernatural explanations have been replaced by natural explanations is going to require stating clearly what comprises a natural or a supernatural explanation. That's turned out to be incredibly difficult for many to do, even for proponents of methodological naturalism that I've encountered. (I remember Carrier took a swing at this. His view fails miserably, and wreaks havoc on the very argument I think you're sketching.)

William said...

Matt,

I guess I see more people thinking of things like fate, or God, as a reason for natural events, than I do people believing in a purposeless universe of events. You can say that's delusional, but that just begs the question again.

I'd change your argument a bit to agree with it:


(1) Historically, people have provided [both natural and supernatural] explanations for various [natural] phenomena.

(2) Historical [natural and supernatural] explanations have been replaced by [other natural] explanations [by the natural sciences] as science advances. (Disease, lightning, etc.)

(3) Given 1 & 2, it is probable that current [natural and supernatural] explanations will be replaced by [other natural] ones [as they become available in the natural sciences] as science continues to advance.

There, I agree :)

rank sophist said...

(1) Historically, people have provided supernatural explanations for various phenomena.

(2) Historical supernatural explanations have been replaced by natural explanations as science advances. (Disease, lightning, etc.)

(3) Given 1 & 2, it is probable that current supernatural explanations will be replaced by natural ones as science continues to advance.


This is based on vulgar generalizations and arbitrary exclusions, as with most metanarratives.

BenYachov said...

I agree with RS. A heathen so called "deity" causing an event in nature why would that be classified as "supernatural"?

Why wouldn't the meta-entity in question be part of Nature?

BenYachov said...

"God-of-the gaps" is a post Paely/Hume Theistic Personalist "deity" who writes a set of Laws of nature that He deactivates or breaks and that is defined as "Supernatural".

The other view or as I like to call it the correct one. Things have essences and natures that behave with certain regularities. Things that are already Actual make certain potencies actual in a certain way. Something Supernatural is when Pure Actuality actualizes a potency directly and not threw some secondary agent.

Some other random thoughts. If we for the sake of Argument postulate Divine Occasionalism then how does that fit into the whole "supernatural explanations for natural phenomena" meme?

BeingItself said...

Ben,

You are still a god-of-the-gap'r.

"Things have essences and natures that behave with certain regularities."

I think that's right too, at least at the level of elementary particles. The difference is you claim an outside something-or-other is required to keep those particles existing.

You've plugged an imaginary god into an imaginary gap.

BenYachov said...

@BI

>You are still a god-of-the-gap'r.

Says the fruitbat "Atheist" who thinks the only thing wrong with the "Second Law of Thermodynamics refutes evolution" YEC meme is that the Sun isn't really a young few thousand years. Where it not for that fact it would be a good argument in your view.

http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/2012/05/moving-right-along.html

Most of us with a basic knowledge of philosophy theist or Atheist know it is a catagory mistake. Some of us who are Cult of the Gnu have missed that and actually think YEC are internally consistant.


>>"Things have essences and natures that behave with certain regularities."

>I think that's right too, at least at the level of elementary particles. The difference is you claim an outside something-or-other is required to keep those particles existing.

>You've plugged an imaginary god into an imaginary gap.

Stop lying you are not very good at it. I believe a natural explaination such as a non-local hidden variable could be at the heart of virtual particles arising in the quantum vacuum. You are the "gap believer" and who fills this particular gap with your "un-caused" magic. Your kneejerk reductionist materialism can't conceptionally differentiate between Reality/Being on the one hand vs the material world.

To philosophically conclude at the ground of our reality there is something Purely Actual keeping everything in existence is no different then me concluding a Sum Function that ends in a product of 5 must contain numbers in that fuction vs you foolishly claiming the existence of numbers in the fuction are a "gap".

One of these Days BI you will actually have to learn Philosophy. But to date you refuse to do the heavy lifting.

B. Prokop said...

The "God of the Gaps" idea is entirely in the atheists' imagination. The more we learn about the physical world, the more we see that "The Heavens [indeed] declare the glory of God." The irony is that it is the atheist who sees a gap in his understanding of himself and of creation, and fills that gap with atheism. The Christian perceives no gap, because he knows that God created the world ex nihilo, so indeed, as St. Paul wrote, "What can be known about God is plain ... Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature ... has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made."

So where is this so-called gap?

grodrigues said...

B. Prokop:

"So where is this so-called gap?"

Between the ears of the atheist's skull.

(runs for cover)

Mr Veale said...

In another desperate attempt to shamelessly plug a website, ministry and book (-:

Saints and Sceptics have attempted to deal with the "God of the Gaps" objection

here

David Glass has also dealt with the issue in his book Atheisms New Clothes,( which has just been reviewed here )