Department of Low Standards

Just in case you were thinking that religious institutions have not always bathed themselves in glory in their relations with science, here’s Ronald Numbers to set you straight:

Historians of science have known for years that White’s and Draper’s accounts are more propaganda than history. … Yet the message has rarely escaped the ivory tower. The secular public, if it thinks about such issues at all, knows that organized religion has always opposed scientific progress (witness the attacks on Galileo, Darwin, and Scopes). The religious public knows that science has taken the leading role in corroding faith (through naturalism and antibiblicism) . As a first step toward correcting these misconceptions we must dispel the hoary myths that continue to pass as historical truths. No scientist, to our knowledge, ever lost his life because of his scientific views, though, … the Italian Inquisition did incinerate the sixteenth century Copernican Giordano Bruno for his heretical theological notions. (Emphasis in original)

That’s from the introduction to his recent edited anthology, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion.

That’s a pretty high standard Numbers is setting. I mean, gosh, at least the church has never actually killed a person solely for his scientific beliefs. Guess I’ve been too hard on them all these years.

In two recent posts (here and here) I discussed science and religion disputes specifically in the context of the Galileo affair. My main point was that while there is no question that understanding the political situation of the Church at that time is essential to comprehending what happened to Galileo, that should not be used as an excuse for ignoring the critical science/religion aspect of the issue. That it was a political dispute does not mean it was not also a dispute between science and religion.

Numbers is using a similar evasion. It is absurd to pretend that Bruno’s theological views can be treated as completely separate from his scientific views. That the stated reasons for Bruno’s execution involved his heretical theology does not mean that he was not also killed because of his scientific views. One suspects that for Bruno, as for so many modern thinkers, his science and theology complemented each other, to the point where it is difficult to say which aspect of his thinking was scientific and which part was theological. If you have the incredibly simplistic idea that Bruno said, “I think the Earth goes around the Sun!” and the church immediately killed him for it, then Numbers statement can be a useful corrective. As an attempt to reconcile science and religion, however, it falls flat.

Like so many religious institutions before and since, the church of Bruno’s time arrogated to itself the right to decide what constituted acceptable thinking, and to mete out extreme punishments for falling out of line. Bruno ran afoul of this dictatorial tendency, and paid a particularly high price for it. Galileo had similar problems a few decades later.

The “religious public” is absolutely right to think that science has taken a leading role in eroding faith. What could be more obvious than that? If this public thinks that science has made it flatly impossible to preserve a traditional religious faith, then it is nice that people like Numbers are around to disabuse them of that notion. But traditional religious faith has certainly become harder to defend in the light of science, as evidence by the endless supply of books by philosophers and theologians trying desperately to explain how it can be done.

As for the “secular public” I very much doubt that people think the church has always stood in the way of scientific progress. After all, most of the things scientists study have nothing to do with anything religious authorities care about. Why should there be conflict in those cases? I would guess that most people hold the far more sensible view that there have been many cases where the church placed itself in opposition to science, both by direct action against people like Galileo, and indirectly by creating an environment in which scientific thinking, in the form of dissenting from orthodoxy, would bring the full weight of authority down upon you.

Was Bruno a martyr for science? It depends how you define your terms. He was certainly a martyr for free-thought, and in an era when religious institutions, fancying themselves uniquely competent to discern God’s will, are running the show, that amounts to the same thing.

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    January 20, 2010

    In many ways it’s a meaningless distinction. Just look at creationism. While some high-falootin theologians might argue that theology only deals with the transcendent metaphysical, most creationists would consider creationism to be an integral part of their theology. And hence Evolution (which contradicts creationism) is to them, a theological subject.

  2. #2 Richard Prins
    January 20, 2010

    Sounds like the usual revisionism so common from theologically liberal apologists: “religion never did anything wrong to science. Au contraire, it’s happy and eager to accommodate. It’s those atheists that want you to believe otherwise.”

    Their more fundamentalist brethren still show the more common anti-science attitude (revealed knowledge forever trumps the lowly and arrogant knowledge of Man). Evolution is a good example, but also technologies like IVF or research w.r.t. stem cells have been problematic for wider circles of believers. They also tend to know ‘exactly’ how the cosmos came about.

  3. #3 Ken
    January 20, 2010

    A religion runs Iran. Are we to believe that no scientists in Iran have been killed by that theocracy for scientific views? … i bet some have and that other theocracies would have their own examples

  4. #4 llewelly
    January 20, 2010

    Actually, Bruno held creationist views, and he was persecuted for those views.

  5. #5 Jim Harrison
    January 20, 2010

    I have no idea about Number’s motivation, but he is quite correct in rejecting the White and Draper version of the warfare of science and theology. It just isn’t good history, and pointing out that it isn’t good history has nothing much to do with one’s attitude about religion. That Bruno wasn’t burned at the stake for claiming that the sun was in the middle doesn’t mean that he should have been burned at the stake. The various churches have a lot to apologize for; it’s just that hostility to science isn’t the main thing.

    The obsessions of the village atheists aren’t a good basis for doing history.

  6. #6 intercostalwaterway
    January 21, 2010

    “If you have the incredibly simplistic idea that Bruno said, “I think the Earth goes around the Sun!” and the church immediately killed him for it, then Numbers statement can be a useful corrective.”

    The problem is that I’ve seen that “incredibly simplistic idea” presented seriously many times – several books on space I had as a child said it that way, and I believed that for years. One even attributed the apocryphal “E pur si muove” thing to him (generally attributed to Galileo, although even he does not appear to have actually said it) as Bruno’s “last cry from the burning stake”.

    And I’m not all that sure that his scientific views had anything at all to do with it — or at least there does not appear to be contemporary evidence that they did. IIRC that is a (much, AFAIK) later slant to the story.

    Was it justifiable? Of course not! Did it have anything to do with science vs. religion? Probably not.

    Nitpick @2: “but also technologies like IVF or research w.r.t. stem cells”

    The argument here is generally not with the science (or the validity of any knowledge), unlike the evolution/creationism thing, but with the use of the technology (whether a particular use of that knowledge is morally acceptable). Two totally different issues.

  7. #7 Andrew
    January 21, 2010

    One of the reviews on Amazon for this book claims that the Templeton foundation had a finger in it – does anyone know if this is the case?

  8. #8 bob koepp
    January 21, 2010

    I’ll follow Ron Numbers’ lead here, since he’s simply applying normal standards of evidence for historical explanations. The documentary evidence we have does not support the idea that Galileo’s troubles with the church stem from a clash between scientific and religious epistemologies. That we discern a logical tension here does not constitute evidence that this tension was a factor in the actual historical dynamic played out nearly 400 years ago. Projecting our own concerns onto the actors in long ago episodes isn’t how serious history is done.

  9. #9 eric
    January 21, 2010

    The “religious public” is absolutely right to think that science has taken a leading role in eroding faith.

    Science may have a leading role in eroding faith now, but other areas of learning have done plenty of eroding in the past. Plato’s Euthyphro was eroding religious faith long before Christianity even existed.
    Political enlightenment thought basically killed the religious idea of the divine right of kings, and lets not forget the 15th-cent. RCC opposition to printing the bible in common languages, for fear that the common people might decide for themselves what it said.

    Not to mention modern surveys, which show that self-reported faith is negatively correlated with education, but that the correlation in scientific areas (biology, physics, etc…) is not statistically stronger than any other area of higher education.

    It seems that what erodes faith is critical thought in any form; science is just a poster child for it.

  10. #10 Alex
    January 21, 2010

    Bob Koepp, I don’t think you can separate the logical tension between the epistemology of science and the epistemology of religious authorities from the tension between Galileo and the Catholic church. If there was no logical tension to begin with, what would the root cause of the disagreement be? If the epistemology of science is subsumed seamlessly into religious thought, why would we ever have seen Galileo be contradicted by church authority? That scientific investigations will contradict religious dogma at some point is made almost certain by the epistemological incompatibility. What the religious do when that happens is very much contingent on the specific political state of affairs, and it may be better or worse than what the religious do to other challengers to their authority. Nevertheless, without the epistemological incompatibility, no claims made on scientific grounds would conflict with claims made on religious grounds, and there would be no root cause of tension.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    January 21, 2010

    “Projecting our own concerns onto the actors in long ago episodes isn’t how serious history is done.”

    One such modern concern being, perhaps, the boundary between science and theology (which continues to be friable in the minds of the devout).

  12. #12 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 21, 2010

    Andrew -

    Yes, the involvement of the Templeton Foundation is explicitly mentioned in the Acknowledgements section of the book.

    bob koepp –

    Galileo was explicitly forced to recant his scientific opinions and his book describing his astronomical views was banned by the church. I think it is pretty hard to argue that Galileo was not a martyr for his scientific views. More to the point, though, science is as much an approach to inquiry as it is a collection of facts. The Church of the time believed and enforced the idea that all inquiry had to be conducted within the confines of Church doctrine. That is a profoundly anti-science attitude, then as now. In light of that it is overly simplistic to draw clean distinctions between whether Bruno, say, was persecuted for his theological or his scientific views.

    Alex -

    Well said!

  13. #13 bob koepp
    January 21, 2010

    Alex, Blake, Jason – My point concerned the standards for historical explanations. If you can point to documentary evidence that supports your take on the Galileo affair, I’m sure that Ron Numbers and other historians of science would give it fair consideration.

  14. #14 Jim Harrison
    January 21, 2010

    Alex,

    Even if we buy the idea that there is such a thing as “the epistemology of science,” it would take some doing to make a case for such a thing as “the epistemology of religion.” The various theologians argued ferociously about the relationship of reason and revelation for centuries. There is no epistemology clause in the Nicene Creed. Meanwhile, while certainly were deeply irrationalist theologians just as there have been irrationalist but secular philosophers of science (Feyerabend!), most of the Churchmen were rationalists who believed that there was not and could not be a conflict between religious truth and natural philosophy.

    By the way, it’s easy to complain about the Catholic insistence on the role of authority in matters we now call scientific, but authority issues don’t go away just because you are a secularist. The contemporary practice of science would be quite impossible if just anybody were allowed standing to participate in the process. Institutional science doesn’t burn holistic doctors at the stake, but it does make sure that they can’t publish in SCIENCE, which is a good, or at least necessary thing.

  15. #15 CybrgnX
    January 21, 2010

    Numbers is correct about the distortions of history.
    There is NO war of science against religion. The war is science against religious beliefs being push on the public as scientific fact.
    And it is not just religion. Look how many people still think the civil war was mainly about slavery, or that Lincoln freed the slaves, or even sillier Washington chopped down a cherry tree.
    Even in science there are factual distortion that are employed not to be dishonest but to make it easier to visualize but others think that is the way it works. The evolutionist would say -’the bear spent so much time in the water that it lost its legs’- well NO!!! but it is a short cut that become FACT to others.
    These distortions and short cuts finally cause some to say – WTF!!! and then when you try to explain in detail – they go glassy eyed from the excessive brain use.
    Since most things take 3 books of text to really explain something then it is easier to say -Galileo was imprisoned for his science then to go thru the details.
    Nothing is ever simple from the religious ‘g0d didit’ to the science ‘Galileo was jailed for science’. Everything is more complex and unfortunately most are too lazy to get the complete answer

  16. #16 Jerry Coyne
    January 21, 2010

    Numbers has long been an accommodationist, sometimes to an extreme extent, viz. his mutual back-patting with young-earth creationist Paul Nelson on bloggingheads.tv, and an equally nonconfrontational “debate” with Michael Behe in the same place. Numbers obviously has a let’s-be-nice-to-faith agenda.

  17. #17 bob koepp
    January 21, 2010

    It might well be that Ron Numbers is “guilty” of being an accommodationist. That’s not relevant to the methodological/historiographical question about what sorts of evidence are necessary to establish historical theses. So I’ll repeat my invitation to point to actual evidence from the time in question that bears on our interpretation of Galileo’s confrontation with church authorities.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 21, 2010

    bob koepp -

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are asking for. As actual evidence that Galileo was persecuted for his scientific views I pointed to the facts that he was forced to recant his views and his book was banned. I could have pointed to other facts as well. For example, well before Galileo had been put on trial, church authorities were lecturing him in no uncertain terms about the precise manner in which he was allowed to present his ideas. Sure looks like religious interference with science to me.

    Are you denying those facts? I was not aware they were controversial in any way. Assuming you accept them, then you know at least part of my basis for saying the Galileo affair was a conflict between science and religion. There are many other dimensions to the Galileo affair as well, such as the political pressures faced by the Church at that time that may have led them to respond more dramatically than they would have in happier times. Those other dimensions are important, but they do not negate the critical role of the differing approaches to knowledge represented by science and religion.

  19. #19 bob koepp
    January 21, 2010

    Jason – No, I’m not denying those facts, just asking what evidence supports your interpretation over the interpretation that many historians of science have arrived at after examining the actual documentary evidence and relating it to its historical context.

    I imagine that what you describe as lectures “about the precise manner in which he was allowed to present his ideas” are the exchanges Galileo had with Bellarmine about the relative epistemic merits of an instrumental vs a realistic interpretation of the heliocentric theory. (A lot of students of scientific methodology think Bellarmine had the better of the argument.) Granted, the church imposed an instrumentalist interpretation on Galileo, and it was wrong to do so. But instrumentalism is hardly a religious doctrine, and the arguments favoring it aren’t religious arguments, even when they come from the mouth of a Cardinal.

  20. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 21, 2010

    bob koepp -

    Are you familiar with the legal expression res ipsa loquitur? It means the thing speaks for itself. In the Galileo affair we have church authorities coming down on him specifically for his scientific views and the manner in which he expressed them. They forced him to recant under threat of imprisonment and they went on to ban his book. Well before his trial they were dictating to him precisely which views he was allowed to defend. What am I to call that if not a dispute between science and religion?

    Bellarmine did a lot more than discuss with Galileo the relative epistemic merits of different approaches to science. He informed Galileo in no uncertain terms that while he was allowed to discuss heliocentrism, he was not allowed to hold or defend that view. Pope Urban VIII also forbade him from advocating the heliocentric view. Again, how is that not an instance of religion standing in the way of science?

    As for what historians think, what can I say? If there are historians running around claiming that the Galileo affair is purely a political dispute in which a conflict between science and religion played no role, then I think those historians are wrong. Had the church not arrogated to itself the right to use revelation as a source of definitive knowledge about the natural world, Galileo would have posed no threat to them whatsoever. All the interpreting in the world will not make that simple fact go away. That is why I think it is fair to say that, in addition to being a political dispute about rival claims to authority, this was also a case where science and religion came into conflict, with disastrous results for both sides.

  21. #21 bob koepp
    January 21, 2010

    Jason -
    1) Yeah, I’m familiar… but I don’t think that bit of legalese applies to the Galileo affair (… more below).
    2) I think I already mentioned that the church imposed an instrumentalist interpretation, so yes, I’m aware that Bellarmine did more than “discuss” methodology with Galileo.
    3) I don’t recall saying, and I don’t recall Ron Numbers saying, that “the Galileo affair is purely a political dispute in which a conflict between science and religion played no role.”
    4) Getting to the nub of the matter, you say, “Had the church not arrogated to itself the right to use revelation as a source of definitive knowledge about the natural world, Galileo would have posed no threat to them whatsoever.” Here you make a quite specific claim to which ‘res ipsa loquitur’ definitely does not apply. So I repeat myself… Can you point to any documentary evidence that beliefs about revelation as a source of knowledge about the natural world played any role at all in the Galileo affair? And just to be clear, the fact that some of the prominent players in the affair certainly had such beliefs is not evidence that those beliefs were “a factor in the actual historical dynamic played out nearly 400 years ago.”

  22. #22 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 21, 2010

    bob koepp -

    Here you make a quite specific claim to which ‘res ipsa loquitur’ definitely does not apply. So I repeat myself… Can you point to any documentary evidence that beliefs about revelation as a source of knowledge about the natural world played any role at all in the Galileo affair?

    Where did the Church ever get the idea that heliocentrism was something to oppose? Why did the Church even have an opinion on this subject? It was because of their interpretation of the Bible, and their view that the Bible was a definitive source of evidence on any subject it addressed.

    I really do not understand what point you are trying to make. To me it looks like you are just denying the obvious.

  23. #23 bob koepp
    January 21, 2010

    Jason – “Where did the Church ever get the idea…?”; “Why did the Church even have an opinion…?” Excellent questions! But then you go and say, “It was because…” without offering so much as a scrap of documentary evidence for the specifics of your claim. It seems to you that I deny the obvious. It seems to me that you appeal to “obviousness” to deflect requests for evidence.

  24. #24 Fred W
    January 21, 2010

    Oh koepp, put a sock in it! If you can’t figure out where the Church’s opposition to heliocentrism came from, then you’re living on Mars.

  25. #25 Pierce R. Butler
    January 21, 2010

    Numbers might be said to have a point about there never having been a real conflict between religion and science, particularly not in the time of Bruno and Galileo.

    The term “science” was not coined and applied to the domain of systematic research and theory until the 1830s.

    Bruno was killed and Galileo confined because of a conflict between religion and what they were doing, which they called philosophy. Watch your step, historian of science and you-know-what Ronald Numbers!

  26. #26 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 21, 2010

    bob koepp -

    Of all the things I thought people might take issue with in the opening post, it never occurred to me that someone would challenge the idea that the Church’s opposition to heliocentrism arose from their understanding of the Bible. If you would like to suggest a different source for the Church’s views on this matter, I would be happy to consider it.

  27. #27 Tyler DiPietro
    January 21, 2010

    “As a first step toward correcting these misconceptions we must dispel the hoary myths that continue to pass as historical truths. No scientist, to our knowledge, ever lost his life because of his scientific views…”

    I had to stop reading right there, anyone who thinks that one soundbyte Numbers used effectively encompasses the issue of religion vis a vis science is self-delusional. Numbers is clearly using rhetoric in lieu of facts, as is common practice among historians.

  28. #28 intercostalwaterway
    January 22, 2010

    “the Church’s opposition to heliocentrism arose from their understanding of the Bible. If you would like to suggest a different source for the Church’s views on this matter, I would be happy to consider it.”

    Well, I would argue that — while the Bible was certainly a factor — it was at least as much the medieval reverence for Aristotle, Ptolemy, and such. Yes, they saw it as coming from the Bible — but the Bible doesn’t really talk about how the universe is set up (in the physical sense). They only saw that in the Bible because they were reading it through a filter of classical Greek learning. I don’t think someone coming to the Bible ‘blind’, or from a non-Greek background, would draw any conclusion about what the Sun and Earth do. (In the same way that Christianity worldwide has the same Book of Genesis, but creationism is dramatically more common in the US than elsewhere.)

  29. #29 William Miller
    January 22, 2010

    And I’m not sure that the idea of science corroding religious faith is nearly as clear-cut as some say. Yes, they happened more-or-less concurrently; but the intellectual class of Classical Rome (and later Greece) was pretty skeptical/secular too. The causes may be social more than scientific.

  30. #30 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2010

    I would ask Jason to do a post on exactly what he means by “science” and “opposition to science”. It appears that you are employing these terms with a great deal of convoluted convenience.

  31. #31 Rahere
    January 22, 2010

    A particularly fruitful period for people being bumped off by the Inquisition for their beliefs is the 12th/13th Century. It’s hard to say how far the dispute with the Cathars went in the determinism of creed and science, as they were particualarly notable contributors bringing Greek and Persian knowledge to the free-thinking of the south of France of their time, which was to lead to some of the 15th Century cosmology which would in turn inspire Hooke, Boyle and Newton. Similar aspects relate to the Jews: for example, Flamel bought his Book of Abraham from a Jew fleeing a pogrom. However, Jewish Pogroms were often stage-managed to a script, much as the Templar trials were, and putatively for a similar reason: there is a common alchemical thread running through a lot of this stuff, right up to van Helmont’s problems.
    On the other hand, are we right to restrict it to Catholics? The Puritans did more than their fair share of witch-burning in the seventeenth century: wise-women suffering for their knowledge.

  32. #32 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 22, 2010

    intercoastalwaterway -

    Galileo was specifically accused of contradicting holy scripture (among other things), not of contradicting Aristotelian philosophy. There are, indeed, several verses in the Bible whose most natural interpretation is that the Earth is stationary and the Sun revolves around it, the verse in Joshua about the Sun having stopped in the sky is the most obvious example. Your thought experiment about approaching the Bible “blind” is too abstract. Everyone approaches a text through the lens of the social forces acting on them. I have no doubt that the Church authorities of the time allowed considerations external to the Bible to influence their interpretations, it could hardly be otherwise. The fact remains that they believed the Bible taught geocentrism, and they believed that contradicting the Bible was a very bad thing to do. This put them into conflict with Galileo’s approach to knowledge.

    William Miller –

    In saying that science has taken a lead role in eroding religious faith I am referring to modern times. I am not saying that at all times and at all places the primary reason for nonbelief has been a thorough understanding of science. But I do think that the main reason that nonbelief is thriving today as never before in the world, and the reason that traditional religion is so much more on the defensive than ever before, is the growth of science.

    Just to be clear, skepticism of religious institutions is not the same thing as skepticism of religion. For example, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation were deeply skeptical of the authority of the Catholic Church, but they certainly were not skeptical of religion. The reason a completely naturalistic view of the world is so much easier to defend today than at any time in the past is because of the growth of science.

    Colin –

    I’m viewing science as an approach to inquiry. It’s main tenet is that assertions of fact about the natural world should be based on experimentation, evidence gathering, hypothesis testing, and all the other sorts of things scientists do. Placing the Bible in an exalted place and saying it is a source of evidence that trumps all others is a profoundly anti-science attitude.

    In saying that I am not claiming that this is how people viewed things at the time, indeed, the term “scientist” did not exist until relatively recently. Nor am I suggesting that the Church of the time viewed itself as anti-science, or that they were chronically opposed to any investigation of nature, or anything like that.

    My point is simply that in the Galileo affair (among others) the Church defended an approach to knowledge that put it squarely at odds with the sort of free inquiry that is essential for science as we understand it today. I think it is fair to say, on that basis, that this was a conflict between science and religion, with the Church on the wrong side. That is an essential feature of what happened, and not some incidental side note that distracts us from the more important political factors.

    I’m sorry if you find that convoluted, but I think I’ve been pretty clear about how I am using my terms.

  33. #33 Rahere
    January 22, 2010

    Another handle on the Galileo problem is that he knew he could quote Nicholas of Kues (Cusanus), a Cardinal of the mid-fifteenth century who not only questioned heliocentrism, but also suggested orbits were eliptical – this was where Copernicus got it from. And if orbits are eliptical, then the shell-model of the spheres jams solid as soon as anything shifts…perfect defence.
    In fact, there were at least two areas which suggest the church was somewhat selective in their oppression. Not only does their ground shift as much as does Galileo’s, but they also seem to have been somewhat selective in their targets. Why? Go do some thinking. An interesting base-line is Heilbron’s The Sun in the Church, a study of ecclesiastical research in the area at the time: they too were working, desperately trying either to follow/play catch-up to intercept any flaws in the thinking, or to head ‘em off at the pass – you pays your money and you takes your pick.

  34. #34 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2010

    I’m viewing science as an approach to inquiry. It’s main tenet is that assertions of fact about the natural world should be based on experimentation, evidence gathering, hypothesis testing, and all the other sorts of things scientists do. Placing the Bible in an exalted place and saying it is a source of evidence that trumps all others is a profoundly anti-science attitude.

    You’ve got a real issue here. Actually several, but just one will do for now. You’re hanging onto the ORV. That cannot be done in cosmology. It’s not applicable. Can you test cosmological arguments? Can you repeat them? Can you test and repeat historical argument? (In theology the joke is: Define God. Give 2 examples. In science a corollary might be: Define the natural universe. Give 2 examples.)
    As such, this verificationism just does not cut it. That’s what makes this discussion a bit convoluted.

    The RC approach to knowledge was authoritarian and their cosmology was Aristotelian, not Biblical. (The Bible contains very little cosmological information.) The conflict was one of authority, not one of “science” in any sense. It was a matter of choice as to the source for knowledge. The question was whether the church should be the sole authority.

  35. #35 William Miller
    January 22, 2010

    I am not saying that at all times and at all places the primary reason for nonbelief has been a thorough understanding of science. But I do think that the main reason that nonbelief is thriving today as never before in the world, and the reason that traditional religion is so much more on the defensive than ever before, is the growth of science.

    Possible. But the connection doesn’t seem very firm to me; if it was really based on science I would expect the decline of religion (to whatever degree it’s real*) to be more uniform worldwide. Is Latin America ‘less scientific’ than than the US? Is the US ‘less scientific’ than Europe? It’s certainly far more religious. I think it’s better seen as a social thing mostly exclusive to Europe and the most Western-European-influenced countries (US, Canada, Australia).

    *I’m not sure how much of the perceived decline of religion is an actual decrease in belief and how much of it is simply that atheism/agnosticism/nonbelief is more socially acceptable and therefore more visible.

  36. #36 prasad
    January 24, 2010

    “Had the church not arrogated to itself the right to use revelation as a source of definitive knowledge about the natural world, Galileo would have posed no threat to them whatsoever. All the interpreting in the world will not make that simple fact go away.”

    Well said!

  37. #37 eric
    January 25, 2010

    Colin @34: You’ve got a real issue here. Actually several, but just one will do for now. You’re hanging onto the ORV. That cannot be done in cosmology. It’s not applicable. Can you test cosmological arguments?

    The same way you test practically any hypothesis in science: you identify what it says about some bit of data you don’t know, then you go collect that bit of data and see which (if any) hypothesis it supports.

    Big bang model(s) predicted the CMBR long before it was found. Inflationary big bang models predicted the CMBR would show scale-invariant anisotropies long before they were found. And I’m sure competing flavors of the next refinement of cosmological theory will make predictions about some bit of data we haven’t collected yet, and cosmologists will then go and collect that.

    The bigger point is: real science is not separated into historical and experimental branches, with different rules for each. That’s a false distinction promoted by creationists to keep their biblical origin theory immune from study. In reality, there is much about past events we don’t know, and so hypotheses about those past events can be tested by collecting novel data, just like in any other experiment.

  38. #38 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 25, 2010

    eric,
    The same way you test practically any hypothesis in science: you identify what it says about some bit of data you don’t know, then you go collect that bit of data and see which (if any) hypothesis it supports.

    Gotta be careful here. You can test your model all you want, but you cannot test the universe behind the model. That is not the scientific method.

    What if the model (big bang) turns out to be either entirely wrong or greatly in error? Is it still legitimate “science” because it can produce a utilitarian result? Is the science true because the result is true, or is the science true because it is true?

    You are confusing model science with empirical testing. That is not a legitimate treatment of the subject. There are many types of models and many ways to treat them, some of which are questionable. AGW comes to mind.

  39. #39 Chris Schoen
    January 25, 2010

    Was Bruno a martyr for science? It depends how you define your terms. He was certainly a martyr for free-thought, and in an era when religious institutions, fancying themselves uniquely competent to discern God’s will, are running the show, that amounts to the same thing.

    This seems to me to make Numbers’ point for him. Bruno had no “scientific views” to speak of and he was in fact staunchly anti-empiricist. We can’t project a scientific stance upon him just because he stood up to the church (as Jim Harrison writes @5). His ideas about the sun being the center of the universe were based on neo-Platonic mysticism, not science. Bruno was essentially a martyr for “woo.”

  40. #40 eric
    January 26, 2010

    Colin: You can test your model all you want, but you cannot test the universe behind the model. That is not the scientific method.

    Pointing a camera into space and observing that there factually is an anisotropic microwave background is a test of the universe. Regardless, I don’t see how anything in your most recent post supports your argument that we can’t test and repeat historical claims. When testing hypotheses what matters for the scientific method is when the data is collected, not when the event occured.

    What if the model (big bang) turns out to be either entirely wrong or greatly in error? Is it still legitimate “science” because it can produce a utilitarian result? Is the science true because the result is true, or is the science true because it is true?

    It seems to me that you can’t even define “in error” without reference to empirical testing, so your “model science” which you claim is different from empirical testing seems to be a dead concept. In any event I would say that yes, science is largely concerned with useful knowledge rather than metaphysical certainty. If you want the latter sort of truth, why not just admit you’re doing philosophy or theology? Why is getting the “science” label so important to you?

    Look, nobody’s preventing you from going off and doing any type of exploration you want by any rules you want. If you think you have some better non-empirical method of discovery, go out and use your method to discover something – rather than wasting all our time trying to convince us why your method is deserving of our logo.

  41. #41 bob koepp
    January 26, 2010

    Eric -
    FWIW, you won’t find many philosophers who claim certainty regarding any empirical matters, and some even doubt that we can attain certainty in formal sciences like logic and maths. Since I’ve already mentioned formal sciences, I’ll also note that defining “in error” doesn’t require reference to any sort of empirical testing. After all, there’s no empirical test that bears on the truth or falsity of “2+2=4.”

  42. #42 eric
    January 26, 2010

    FWIW, you won’t find many philosophers who claim certainty regarding any empirical matters

    Agreed. But Collins’ ‘is it true because of its results, or is it true because its true?’ comment seemed to be a complaint about any discipline which leaves us in metaphysical uncertainty, and I was responding to him…not mainstream philosophers.

    there’s no empirical test that bears on the truth or falsity of “2+2=4.”

    Agreed. But while mathematics is foundational to physics, chemistry, biology, etc… it generally isn’t considered one of the sciences. At least not in my experience.

    Math is a great counter-example to creationist claims that we need to redefine science to include them. Here you have a discipline which is respected. Its well known. People understand its importance. And it got that way without claiming to be science or being labeled as science. Bottom line, its the contributions your discipline makes that should matter. Math has loads. Its hard to imagine modern society existing without it. Creationism has none, so they put their effort into marketing instead. To steal from the Simpsons, they’re hoping that by calling themselves Sorny or Magnetbox, the Homers of the world will think they have the quality of a Sony or Magnavox. :)

  43. #43 bob koepp
    January 26, 2010

    eric – Perhaps you didn’t get my references to ‘formal sciences,’ but the term ‘science’ is not generally restricted in application to empirical domains. Maybe you’re not used to calling math a science, but others have been doing so for a couple thousand years.

  44. #44 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 27, 2010

    Eric,
    Think of my statement in a different way. Do you judge the truth of string theory by (a) the Soundness of the mathematics, (b) the fruit that it produces — a Utilitarian approach, or (c) its Accuracy in describing and representing the universe behind it. These are not exclusive matters, but certainly ones where opinion differs. There have been many who accept a science as legitimate because it produces useful results (your post #37, for example). Utility is not adaquate warrant to justify science.
    Now, if you want to broaden empiricism so that it covers something as simple as observation (e.g., pointing a camera, the simplest type of testing, and my basic call to accuracy which I’ve not called empiricism) then the word will have lost most all its meaning. You’ve reduced science/empiricism to “Look, Mommy, a butterfly.”

  45. #45 William Miller
    January 27, 2010

    @26: “The reason a completely naturalistic view of the world is so much easier to defend today than at any time in the past is because of the growth of science.”

    I’m not sure of this. The growth of science has played a role, certainly. But I’d argue a bigger part is the difference in thought. Modern education is more career-focused, less on the ‘humanities’ – philosophy, classics, etc. The faster pace of modern life, and all that.

    The new social phenomenon is not atheism; that is millennia old at least. Nor is it explaining observed phenomena by the operation of unintelligent forces rather than intelligent beings such as gods (I phrase it that way in the absence of a definition of ‘supernatural’) – that was done by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The radically new social phenomenon is people of education and leisure (=people who have time to think about these things rather than focusing most of their efforts on getting enough to live on etc.) who don’t really deeply consider these things.

    (On a more philosophical tack: What does “naturalistic” mean, anyway? Science can deny particular claims we tend to label ‘supernatural’ (such as creationism), either by offering an alternate explanation (evolution) which is empirically supported, or by showing evidence contrary to a particular claim (radioactive dating of rocks shows the earth is billions of years old). But ‘a naturalistic explanation’ is equivalent to saying ‘the supernatural does not exist’, which is meaningless until you define ‘supernatural’. Does ‘supernatural’ mean ‘not material’? ‘Not measurable’? But (going with the math examples of previous posters) mathematical facts are not material, nor are they precisely measurable. (They are provable, but these are based on axioms – which are not proven in the same way.) Yet we do not consider mathematical facts to be ‘supernatural’ entities. In my opinion the word ‘supernatural’ either needs to be defined or discarded. )

  46. #46 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 27, 2010

    William,
    Let’s deal with three senses for the more general term “naturalism”
    1. Philosophical (one sense having two components)
    1.1 The rejection of a priori knowledge
    1.2 Philosophy exists only as a part of the physical universe

    2. Scientific (this field having 2 senses itself)
    2.1 Metaphysical — Only the physical universe exists
    2.2 Methodological — Only the physical universe can be tested

    ‘Supernatural’ would then be
    – outside of the confines of the physical universe. Sort of like a different dimension of time/space.

    Treating mathematics as something self-existing would be called ‘particularism’.

  47. #47 eric
    January 27, 2010

    Colin @44:There have been many who accept a science as legitimate because it produces useful results (your post #37, for example). Utility is not adaquate warrant to justify science.

    Your first sentence contradicts your second. Your second is mere assertion. And IMO its facially wrong. Dow chemical, Genentech, Intel: why do you think they fund scientific research, if not for the utility of the results?

  48. #48 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 27, 2010

    Eric,
    Really, now. Of course there is utility in science. But that is not what makes it true. Pleas deal with the question straight on. What makes something true? What are the tests for truth?
    Is string theory true because it produces a valuable result? What if there are not strings?
    Is tachyon theory true because it can be put to use?
    What if there are no tachyons?
    If you want utility as a test for truth, you should not be engaged in science.

  49. #49 eric
    January 27, 2010

    Really, now. Of course there is utility in science. But that is not what makes it true.

    That’s not what you argued at 10:30am. You argued that utility is not an adequate warrant for (doing) science. I was responding to that point. Do you agree with me, then, that utility is an adequate warrant for doing science?

    Pleas deal with the question straight on. What makes something true? What are the tests for truth?

    Straight on: I don’t know, and I don’t have any test for truth. Because science doesn’t need one. We leave that to philosophers and theologians. I respect your search for truth, but like a lot of evangelists you seem to have wrapped yourself around the axle worrying about whether a scientific theory meets some objective criteria which science doesn’t need and working scientists don’t use. We understand our theories are useful approximations. Some are very useful, some are very exact, but they’re always subject to possible revision and therefore not guaranteed to be true in some metaphysical sense.

    Look, it would be very nice if we had some test for truth that, once a theory has passed it, we could be absolutely confident in that theory being 100% reliable. But we don’t need such a test to do science. Pointing out that we don’t have one is, well, not particularly illuminating or helpful.

    If you want utility as a test for truth, you should not be engaged in science.

    Well, thank goodness you aren’t the science Czar. Let me be clear: I don’t claim that utility is a test for truth. I claim there is no test for truth (a nod to Bob K – at least not in the physical sciences). And I’m not sure how you decided we needed one.

    To any students who are reading this; you are welcome to become scientists whether you think utility is a test for truth or not. We welcome all philosophical positions about “truth” and other imponderables, as long as you’re willing to do good work.

  50. #50 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 27, 2010

    eric,
    Do you read contextually, or do you pull out statements that suit your point?
    whether a scientific theory meets some objective criteria which science doesn’t need and working scientists don’t use.
    Wrong. Read Ploanyi, Suppe, W H Newton-Smith, and all the others who set up the criteria for “science” and see what they are. There are tests for validity, a level of truthfulness in your pursuit of science. If you cling to utility as the object and do not allow your processes be guided by anything else, this is a dangerous direction to take.
    I do not use the term test for truth in the common religious or philosophical sense here. I mean it in a scientific sense. Let’s put it another way: When you look to arrive at an end product, are you justifying that effort by the ends, or is the processes properly, contextually defined by other criteria?

    I will clarify the question once again, hoping you will get it:
    Again, per the examples, what if there are no ‘strings’ or ‘tachyons’? Is it still ‘good’ science to accept it based on the results (that is a proper understanding of utility) even if it proves to be entirely wrong in its representation (modeling) of reality? (The current debates on whether string theory is even valid would make for some interesting conversation.)
    That is the question of how you view utility. Yes, you can find and argue from other example of how utility might be appropriate, but so far you’ve only used examples of where the material was validated. (You’ve created a false dilemma. Not a sound argument.)
    So deal with the question of how you should view the ‘science’ if the model is wrong but the results are useful, and tell me if that is legitimate science.

  51. #51 eric
    January 28, 2010

    So deal with the question of how you should view the ‘science’ if the model is wrong but the results are useful, and tell me if that is legitimate science.

    What do you mean by wrong? Known to be inaccurate and/or superceded by a more accurate but more complex model? Has boundary conditions we don’t fully understand? Provides an incomplete description of some phenomena? Scientists continue to use models which are “wrong” in all three of these ways (examples: ideal gas law; QM; gravity, respectively), so I would have to say that yes, it appears that’s a legitimate practice of science. Scientists will even use contradictory models of the same phenomena, using one to solve some problems and the second to solve others (example: liquid drop and shell models of the nucleus).

    But if you have some other definition of wrong (or entirely wrong) in mind, you’re going to have to say what it is.

    Now, certainly scientists use statistical measures of confidence to help assess the validity of a conclusion based on the data. But I don’t think you’re talking about (an example:) reporting the standard deviation when you talk about tests for validity. I think you mean something deeper (but if not, let me know).

    And you’re going to have to explain what you mean by ‘dangerous direction.’ What is dangerous about saying that we will use the scientific end product “A=A(0)*e^-(lambda*t)” until some more accurate or complete description of the same phenomena comes along? That’s a utility-only based approach I’m clinging to, and I don’t see any danger in it.

  52. #52 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 28, 2010

    What do I mean by “wrong”? That was quite clear.
    What if there are no tachyons?
    What if there are no strings?
    What if the theory is wholly incorrigible?

    The danger? Margaret Sanger, Peter Singer, and Joseph Mengele. That is science run by utilitarians.

  53. #53 William Miller
    January 29, 2010

    ‘Supernatural’ would then be
    – outside of the confines of the physical universe.

    OK, define ‘physical universe’. If the universe — no modifiers — is “all that exists”, what is the ‘physical universe’ as distinct from any other kind of universe or part of the universe.

    What criteria do we use to label tachyons as ‘physical’ or ‘natural’ and angels as ‘supernatural’? Neither is proven to exist. Is it testability? But some pretty nearly untestable speculations (anything involving other universes which are per se unobservable) get labeled as physical or natural.

  54. #54 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 29, 2010

    William,
    Physical universe
    What is observable and measurable. Some would include estimable to cover things like tachyons and strings just in case they exist.

  55. #55 bmkmd
    January 31, 2010

    Jason:

    An important aspect of the “conflict” has to do with intent.

    Troubled theists see the underminning of fundametalist relious views of the world as the intent of science, as if scientists want to live wihout morals and found a way to do it by studying the world without reference to the bible.

    In psychology this is known as projection. I don’t see any scintists around “preaching” for the overthrown of morality or law. I see lots of fundamentalists wanting to overthrow troubling scientific discveries and understandings of the world, with the INTENT to do so.

    The projection of negative intent to harm is a scared person’s solution to the harsh reality of the real world.

    They are like the person who read so much about the bad effects of smoking that they gave up reading. The fundamentalists gave up scinetific understanding in the parts that they do because it is too painful to notice the conflict with their literal interpretations of the bible.

    And that is their open intent.

    Denial and projection.

    Is this finger pointing?

    Yes, and rightly so.

  56. #56 William Miller
    January 31, 2010

    @54: “What is observable and measurable”

    OK, then anything involving parallel universes (which are unobservable even in principle) is just as supernatural as angels and ghosts.

    It works for me, but some physicists would be annoyed…

  57. #57 eric
    February 1, 2010

    What do I mean by “wrong”? That was quite clear.
    What if there are no tachyons?

    Then it will be good science to accept and use models based on the results, until some other model comes along and gives better results.

    The danger? Margaret Sanger, Peter Singer, and Joseph Mengele. That is science run by utilitarians.

    Ah, I understand now, you’re confusing the utility of a scientific theory to describe and predict phenomena with moral utilitarianism. You do realize that the scientific method only concerns the first, right? That it has nothing whatsoever to say about utilitarianism, or any other ethical principles? For the scientist, ethics must be derived from some source outside of the scientific method itself.

    In that respect the physical sciences are no more “dangerous” than math, poetry, or auto mechanics. Those disciplines also have no ethics component. The proper instructions for writing a haiku do not tell you whether you should write a haiku.

  58. #58 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 2, 2010

    Then it will be good science to accept and use models based on the results, until some other model comes along and gives better results.
    You’ve completely missed the point.
    Again: What if it completely incorrigible?
    In simpler language that you might understand: What if it cannot be improved and should be completely dismissed? Like flat earth?

    Moral? I brought in no moral discussion. What those disgusting named bring into the discussion is “science” that is driven by its utility. That was the point that I was making from the beginning. You are confusing the discussion once again.

  59. #59 eric
    February 2, 2010

    In simpler language that you might understand: What if it cannot be improved and should be completely dismissed? Like flat earth?

    Then it will be dismissed. Can you cite a counter-example? An actual scientific hypothesis which is “completely incorrigable,” cannot be improved, has no utility, and yet is not dismissed?

    Neither of the two cases you’ve harped on (string theory and tachyons) fit that bill. String theory makes predictions about sub-atomic behavior which can be tested in the future, such as with the LHC. So there’s certainly room for improvement in that respect. And its not useless; a simple google search showed that scientists in 2009 used it to help understand some specific phase transitions in condensed matter.

    As for tachyons, the term is generally associated with science fiction. I’m not familiar with any serious “tachyon theory” promoted by science. If you know of one, you’ll have to point me to it. I’m certainly not going to concede

  60. #60 eric
    February 2, 2010

    D’oh! Incomplete post.

    …I’m certainly not going to concede that science holds on to blatantly wrong theories, contradicted by all empirical evidence and useless for actually doing science, without an example of such a theory.

  61. #61 SLC
    February 2, 2010

    Re eric

    1. Relative to tachyons, Prof. Bob Ehrlich of the George Mason Un. physics department speculates on their possible existence in one of his popular science books. Like the Higgs boson, tachyons may or may not exist.

    2. I think it is incorrect to describe string theory as a theory of physics at this time. It is actually a theory of mathematics which may or may not have application to the physical universe and therefore would be better described as a physics hypothesis. As an example, group theory is a theory of mathematics which became a theory of physics when it was shown that it had application to physics.

  62. #62 eric
    February 2, 2010

    SLC,
    Re: 2, I agree on the ‘physics hypothesis’ label.

    Collin keeps bringing up these two examples, but for what he’s trying to show they are really bad choices. His point seems to be that without some “truth” component, science is in danger of accepting complete theories that are blatantly incorrect in verifiable ways, like flat earthism. But his examples are not complete, at best provisionally accepted, not theories in a formal sense, and not blatantly incorrect in verifiable ways.

  63. #63 Anton Mates
    February 3, 2010

    In simpler language that you might understand: What if it cannot be improved and should be completely dismissed? Like flat earth?

    If you didn’t judge a theory’s truth by its predictive utility, how would you know that flat-earthism is wrong and should be dismissed? It’s not as if it can be logically disproved; the reason science has rejected it is precisely that round-earthism makes more useful predictions.

    The danger? Margaret Sanger, Peter Singer, and Joseph Mengele. That is science run by utilitarians.

    Accepting string theory turns you into a pro-life pro-choice Nazi anti-Nazi mad scientist philosophy professor birth control activist animal rights champion?

  64. #64 SLC
    February 3, 2010

    Re Anton Mates

    Of course, Mr. Brendemuehl, in denouncing scientists who have had immoral views always omits theists with equal or greater immoral views. Case in point, Martin Luther, the second greatest antisemite who ever lived. In addition to the fact that the hierarchy of Catholic and Lutheran churches in Germany collaborated with Hitler during the 1930s. The fact is that, in questions of morality, the record of the hierarchy in many Christian churches is far worse then the record of the preponderance of scientists (e.g. Cardinal Law, Cardinal Egan, Cardinal Mahoney, just to mention the American enablers in pedophilia). And of course, not to let their Jewish compatriots off the hook, the record of far right wing rabbis in Israel who call for an Eichmann solution to the Palestinian problem is yet another case in point.

  65. #65 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 3, 2010

    Eric,
    They fit the bill precisely. Flat earth has already shown itself to be false. But you still miss, or perhaps wish to avoid, the what if of the two noted theories are incorrigible. I don’t expect that are able to answer such a fundamental issue.

    Anton,
    If you didn’t judge a theory’s truth by its predictive utility, how would you know that flat-earthism is wrong and should be dismissed?
    Well, you could examine and validate the evidence apart from the utility.

    SLC,
    Your statement about tachyon an string theory is correct. I wonder if you can answer the question: What if they prove to be entirely incorrigible, but yet provide some positive utility? Would they still be considered legitimate science? Eric insists that this implies something moral or some metaphysical sense of “truth”.

    As to your view of 1930s eugenics, it is a bit short-sighted. Not also people like the ten Boom (via the book The Hiding Place) family and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There was no simple unanimity that one can attach.

  66. #66 eric
    February 3, 2010

    But you still miss, or perhaps wish to avoid, the what if of the two noted theories are incorrigible. I don’t expect that are able to answer such a fundamental issue.

    At the point when some other hypotheses proves more useful, they will be put aside. While they are useful, they will not be put aside, even if they are believed to be wrong. I said the same thing @59, with examples.

    If two contradictory hypotheses of the same phenomena exist, but both are useful, then science will use both even though logically we know beyond a doubt that (at least) one must be wrong. I’ve also said this before, and given you an actual example.

    What if they prove to be entirely incorrigible, but yet provide some positive utility? Would they still be considered legitimate science? Eric insists that this implies something moral or some metaphysical sense of “truth”.

    Collin, YOU brought up “truth” as something important in science in your post @38. Then you did it again in @44 – adding that “utility is not [an] adequate warrant to justify science” – and again @48, and again @50. So, instead of playing Socrates and just questioning every position I take, why don’t you just plain tell us how you think science should determine incorrigibility and what you think science should do with theories that are incorrigible but useful.

  67. #67 Anton Mates
    February 3, 2010

    Well, you could examine and validate the evidence apart from the utility.

    But how would you do that? We validate a theory against evidence by comparing the evidence to the theory’s predictions. If there’s some question about interpreting/error-checking the evidence itself, we validate hypotheses about that by comparing their predictions to prior evidence.

    How do you get away from predictive utility here?

  68. #68 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 3, 2010

    Eric
    I brought up “truth” as a matter of the validity of the science. As you can also read (I trust) I modified the terminology to something more appropriate, and inserted the term incorrigible in lieu of a sense of accuracy. So when you learn to read then perhaps we can have a “fruitful” conversation.
    I have a definition of science. I will share it after you share yours.

    Anton,
    Evidence is validated by the prediction?
    You do not need to know “2″ is “1+1″ to know what “1″ is. “1″ will have its own definition, is clearly understood, and is not validated by “2″ in any sense.

  69. #69 Anton Mates
    February 4, 2010

    Collin,

    Evidence is validated by the prediction?

    Evidence is validated by the predictions of the hypotheses you using to interpret it.

    E.g., you say, “This fire was arson, and here’s a charred gas can from the building’s ashes as evidence.” Here you’re building on a variety of subsidiary hypotheses: that the object you’re holding is in fact a charred gas can, that gas cans are much more likely to be found after arson than after accidental fires, and so on. Each of these hypotheses can be tested by testing its predictions. If they don’t pan out, your evidence isn’t worth much.

    You do not need to know “2″ is “1+1″ to know what “1″ is. “1″ will have its own definition, is clearly understood, and is not validated by “2″ in any sense.

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. What sort of scientific theory would have the number “1″ as supporting evidence? “1″ and “2″ are abstract concepts, not observations or fact claims.

  70. #70 eric
    February 4, 2010

    Collin: I have a definition of science. I will share it after you share yours.

    I don’t have a formal definition of science. There, you’re turn.

    Not that I think you’ll produce anything. In @48 you demanded I deal with the question ‘what makes something true’ and in @49 I did. In @50 you demanded I deal with the question of whether a wrong-but-useful model can be legitimate science, and in 51, 57, 59, and 61 I said yes, with examples. Now you’re demanding I share my definition of science before you give one. I’ve given you a straight answer; I don’t have a formal definition. I’m about 95% confident that you won’t recriprocate – you’ll turn the conversation in another direction, tell me I don’t understand, or play the concern troll. But I’d be happy to be shown wrong on this.

  71. #71 eric
    February 4, 2010

    Oh and one more thing Collin – I never demanded you define science. The last thing I queried you on was how you think science should determine incorrigibility, and what you think science should do with theories that are incorrigible but useful. Neither of these questions demand you give me a definition of science, and I still hold out some hope you might give me your answers to them.

  72. #72 Chris' Wills
    February 5, 2010

    He was certainly a martyr for free-thought

    Bruno was a woo meister and not a scientist, testing and checking the natural world wasn’t on his agenda.
    You could call him a free thinker if you wish, but to claim that his methods related to science is untrue.

    P.S. Doesn’t mean that Bruno should have been burnt of course. Just as burning present day free thinkers, such as Chopra, might be considered poor form.

    ,,,,in an era when religious institutions, fancying themselves uniquely competent to discern God’s will, are running the show, that amounts to the same thing

    Does that differ much in any culture at anytime?
    The powerful decide what is right and proper be they socialists, fabians, communists, democrats, enlightened atheists etc.

    Do they kill those who oppose their righteous rules, of course they will if they can otherwise they’ll try to silence dissent by other means.

    Those not in power seek to gain power to impose their righteous rule.
    ——————————

    On Galileo and the Church.
    The existing theory of epi-cycles continued to hold sway for many centuries after Galileo, taught in all the best Universities and Naval Schools.

    Why? Because it gave more accurate results, it was better at predicting what would be seen in the sky and so had practical utility that heliocentrism with circles lacked until ellipses replaced circles.

    The model based on epicycles was based on the earth being at the centre of everything, its model made useful predicitions that got better as minor adjustments where made to the model over the years, it was the consensus science of its time and it had utility.

    So the Church, perhaps for other reasons, was defending the then scientific consensus of the day.

    The fact that the Church was happy to have it taught as a mathematical model that gave useful results, rather than a claim that it was true, is closer to the modern idea that science is in the utility business rather than the truth business.

    On the moons around Jupiter, well mismatches had been accomodated before. The model would have been modified.

  73. #73 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 5, 2010

    Eric,
    concern troll
    Really, now. Still, your condescension is expected. It’s what happens here.
    You have only excused yourself from the questions. Your cursory answers do not indicate that you’ve given the subject any serious thought. For instance, you confuse utility as the determiner of science (me @44) with utility as a component of science (you @47). You answered the question, but gave the wrong answer. In @49 you say that science does not need a test for truth. (Hmmm. Flat earther.) And in @62 you say that currently accept science is not really science — to you. That’s avoidance. This lack of understanding is reflected in @51 as you persist that utility as a component (last paragraph) is what I’m questioning. But it’s not. (Perhaps your grasp of English will improve over time.) So you insert your own examples to prove a different point. That’s an answer, but to a different question. The question is not “is there value in utility within science” but whether “utility determines science”. In short, you don’t know how to answer questions.

    And in response to your question:
    What I also said (attempted to get across) was that there is no room for incorrigible theory even if the utility is valuable. What you have indicated is that incorrigible theory is acceptable because of. That means you might accept “flat earth” as “science” if the theory can produce something, anything, useful. Again, utility is not the determiner of value. So I’ll just let you remain a (potential) flat-earther.

    Anton,
    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. What sort of scientific theory would have the number “1″ as supporting evidence? “1″ and “2″ are abstract concepts, not observations or fact claims.
    It’s a question of the place of utility. I thought you might understand. Apparently not. It seemed quite clear that you can understand “1″ without the utility of “2″ (the product). Utility has its place (“=”) but is not necessary for understanding the evidence (“1″) that feeds into it.

  74. #74 Anton Mates
    February 6, 2010

    It’s a question of the place of utility. I thought you might understand. Apparently not. It seemed quite clear that you can understand “1″ without the utility of “2″ (the product). Utility has its place (“=”) but is not necessary for understanding the evidence (“1″) that feeds into it.

    No, I really don’t understand. You seem to be using “utility” in some idiosyncratic sense that embraces everything from ethical utilitarianism to mathematical equality. What does this have to do with utility in the predictive sense, which is what eric has been talking about?

  75. #75 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 7, 2010

    Anton,
    Utility is a principle, of course. And utility, in terms of results, is understood. But utilitarian approaches, finding their only concern in the results, are problematic.
    You are correct that, no how much I explain and example it, that Eric just doesn’t get it.

  76. #76 eric
    February 8, 2010

    Collin, I had a hard time understanding your last response to me, but I you didn’t define science, or say how you think science should determine incorrigibility, or say what you think science should do with theories that are incorrigible but useful.

    What I also said (attempted to get across) was that there is no room for incorrigible theory even if the utility is valuable.

    Your claim “there is no room” etc. is just an assertion. Why not? What rule of science says that we must abandon PV=nRT because it assumes volumeless atoms undergoing elastic collisions, which we know to be wrong?

    That means you might accept “flat earth” as “science” if the theory can produce something, anything, useful.

    Absolutely. And in fact local land surveyors assume that a triangle made from three points at the same height above sea level will have internal angles adding up to 180 degrees. Which is true for a flat earth, but not for points on a sphere. For long distances they use a spherical earth model because then the flat earth one becomes poor at predicting the distances and angles between points. But if you want to survey your neighborhood, no ones going to bother; the spherical model is going to yield approximately the same answer for a lot more work, which makes it less useful.

    Again, utility is not the determiner of value.

    So you assert. But you refuse to offer any alternative, so I will stick with utility until you can mention some better determiner of value I can use instead.

  77. #77 eric
    February 8, 2010

    In hindsight my previous post does not say what I wanted to say. Science rejects flat-earthism as objectively untrue even while scientists and surveyors may use a flat-earth approximation when that approximation is good enough. In that way, it is similar to PV=nRT: we know atoms have mass and volume, we teach that atoms have mass and volume, but we still use the approximation PV=nRT in cases where its good enough. And there are many other examples.

    However, you are wrong on your assertions because in the real world we do, in fact, find room for both. And we do, in fact, use utility as a determiner of value of a theory: the ideal gas law is useful in a lot of circumstances (it is a very good approximation of the van der Waals equation of state), so its very valuable, while flat-earthism is only useful in a few cases, most of the time it is a very poor approximation of the spherical earth theory, so it is not very valuable.

    I really gotta read my posts before hitting “post.”

  78. #78 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 9, 2010

    ven while scientists and surveyors may use a flat-earth approximation when that approximation is good enough.
    Not on your life. Anyone who owns farm land knows that the n/w corner of a section has the curve of the earth applied to it. And even if a cartographer flattens the image, it does not come out of a “flat-earth approximation” as though that weere a part of the theory. Flat earth is useless.

  79. #79 eric
    February 9, 2010

    Collin, what’s your determiner of value, if not utility?

    If you don’t have one, are you suggesting we stop doing science until we find one, or are you perfectly happy with scientists using utility until some better determiner comes along? If the latter, we are in agreement.

  80. #80 Anton Mates
    February 10, 2010

    Collins,

    Utility is a principle, of course. And utility, in terms of results, is understood.

    It is? I see no reason to assume that any of us automatically understands what everyone else finds useful and why.

    But utilitarian approaches, finding their only concern in the results, are problematic.

    Okay. What about the considerably different position that our only criterion when judging the “truth” of a theory is the predictive accuracy of its results?

    That doesn’t mean we might not have other concerns when it comes to other questions, like whether a particular theory should be taught in schools or whether a particular application of that theory should be pursued. And it doesn’t mean that we judge the theory’s truth based on any other kind of potential utility, like whether advancing the theory gets us a date and a million dollars.

    Is that position problematic, and if so, why?

  81. #81 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 10, 2010

    Eric
    Collin, what’s your determiner of value, if not utility?

    Again: Sanger, Singer, and Megele love you. Immensely.

    If you don’t have one, are you suggesting we stop doing science until we find one, or are you perfectly happy with scientists using utility until some better determiner comes along? If the latter, we are in agreement.

    To insist on utility as the determiner of the value of the components as well as the value of the results is improper logically and scientifically. This is utilitarianism at its worst.

    *******

    Anton,

    It is? I see no reason to assume
    It was because we had no disagreement on that point earlier in the dialogue.

    Is that position problematic, and if so, why?
    Why? This approach does not address the character of the data that is being fed into the theory. You do now allow adequate constraint to say that the process is valid.

  82. #82 Anton Mates
    February 11, 2010

    It was because we had no disagreement on that point earlier in the dialogue.

    Sure we did; that’s why eric objected that you were conflating predictive/descriptive utility with moral utilitarianism.

    Do you think that you, I, Mengele, Singer, and Sanger all agree on what makes a theory useful?

    Why? This approach does not address the character of the data that is being fed into the theory. You do now allow adequate constraint to say that the process is valid.

    Can you give an example? What test on the “character of the data” can be made

  83. #83 Anton Mates
    February 11, 2010

    Sorry, hit post by accident. To finish off, what scientifically relevant test on the “character of the data” should be performed that isn’t, ultimately, based on testing predictions? (Plus parsimony, I guess?)

  84. #84 eric
    February 11, 2010

    Eric: Collin, what’s your determiner of value, if not utility?
    Collin: Again: Sanger, Singer, and Megele love you. Immensely.

    That’s it? That’s the best you’ve got? You’ll spend paragraphs prattling on about how scientists are doing science wrong, but when asked your opinion of how we might do science better, you decline to give an answer?

    To insist on utility as the determiner of the value of the components as well as the value of the results is improper logically and scientifically.

    I’m reminded of Churchill’s quote about democracy. You seem to utterly fail to grasp that until you provide an alternative, we’ll take an improper determiner of value over none at all.

  85. #85 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 11, 2010

    Eric,

    That’s it? That’s the best you’ve got?
    You don’t think the practical, real, historical results of utilitarism are reason to dismiss it? Amazing. Truly amazing.

    Ok, I’ll get more specific.
    When you read Gould, Mayr, Prothero, etc., you will find two types of logical arguments. (But I will not provide lengthy quotes here as that would be rejected on account of length. But I can be certain that you’ve read them, though maybe not in this fashion.) On the one hand the arguments are analogical. They argue from naturalism to evolution. On the other hand you will also find them univocal, arguing from the evidence to the presupposition. They type of overall structure creates an unfalsifiable situation. It also means that the arguments are irrational, incapable of presenting a consistent solution to the question of origins.
    That is more than adequate answer to the problem of theory structure.

    ..we’ll take an improper determiner of value over none at all.

    Really? It appears obvious that you do not understand the implications of utilitarianism as a system of reasoning apart from its implications.

    ****

    Anton,

    Do you think that you, I, Mengele, Singer, and Sanger all agree on what makes a theory useful?

    I don’t. But then, I’m not utilitarian. Hopefully my response to Eric (above) answers something about how data is handled. Again, “1″ does not change meaning according to the utility of “2″. Simple utilitarianism fails logically. And historically. And morally.

  86. #86 eric
    February 11, 2010

    They[sic] type of overall structure creates an unfalsifiable situation. It also means that the arguments are irrational, incapable of presenting a consistent solution to the question of origins.
    That is more than adequate answer to the problem of theory structure.

    No, its not. You’re still telling me why my approach is wrong but not providing me with an alternative.

    For sake of argument, I’ll completely agree with you. Utility bad. Let’s throw it out. As of today, science will no longer use utility as a determiner of value.
    Now – what do we replace it with?

  87. #87 bob koepp
    February 11, 2010

    The discussion above is about as confused as can be. Adopting predictive utility as a normative standard is not related to ethical utilitarianism (which is about pleasure or happiness, not accuracy of prediction). On the other hand, even though you’ll find “instrumentalists” claiming that predictive utility (i.e., saving the phenomena) is _the_ criterion by which scientific hypotheses should be judged, most scientists still hold to some sort of “realism” according to which truth is the proper aim of science. Also, it’s relatively easy to demonstrate that the criterion of predictive accuracy won’t reduce the “contenders” among hypotheses to a unique “winner.” There’s always more than one hypothesis that can save the phenomena.

  88. #88 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 11, 2010

    Eric,

    It’s clear that you have no understanding of the answer. I *never* said that utility was bad. I said that utilitarainism was bad. Do you do the difference? Do you own a dictionary?

    Bob,
    Utilitarianism is a framework for matters outside of ethics.

  89. #89 eric
    February 12, 2010

    It’s clear that you have no understanding of the answer. I *never* said that utility was bad. I said that utilitarainism was bad. Do you do the difference? Do you own a dictionary?

    Then I take it you are fine with utility as a determiner of value in science?

    That is, after all, what I proposed. Not utilitarianism; utility.

  90. #90 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 12, 2010

    Then I take it you are fine with utility as a determiner of value in science?

    “a determiner” — yes
    “the determiner” — no — that’s the -ism

    The problem is that, when I suggested that the -ism was wrong, you defended it.

  91. #91 eric
    February 12, 2010

    The problem is that, when I suggested that the -ism was wrong, you defended it.

    For the record, I didn’t. And I’ve quoted myself below to remind you of this. Be that as it may, I think we are making progress. We agree that utility is a determiner of value. Do you think there are others? What other determiners of value would you like to propose? Or, was your only point that we ought to have others, without identifying what those others may be?

    *****

    Eric @57: “Ah, I understand now, you’re [Collin is] confusing the utility of a scientific theory to describe and predict phenomena with moral utilitarianism. You [Collin] do realize that the scientific method only concerns the first, right? That it has nothing whatsoever to say about utilitarianism, or any other ethical principles?”

    Were you referring to that defense of utilitarianism?

  92. #92 Anton Mates
    February 12, 2010

    I don’t. But then, I’m not utilitarian.

    I’m not sure you realize what utilitarianism means, Collin. Wikipedia’s as good a source as any:

    “Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its utility in providing happiness or pleasure as summed among all sentient beings.”

    Do you understand that none of us are currently discussing the moral value of a given scientific theory, nor are we advocating judging it according to that particular sort of utility? And–purely out of curiosity, since it’s hardly relevant to this issue–do you really think that Josef Mengele was primarily motivated by a desire to maximize the total happiness of all sentient beings?

    Utilitarianism is a framework for matters outside of ethics.

    Again, you seem to be using these words in rather idiosyncratic ways. That’s fine, but you’ll need to make it clearer what you mean by “utility” and “utilitarianism,” as well as why you think they lead to being a pro-life pro-choice Nazi anti-Nazi mad scientist philosophy professor birth control activist animal rights champion.

    Hopefully my response to Eric (above) answers something about how data is handled. Again, “1″ does not change meaning according to the utility of “2″.

    That doesn’t answer anything, sorry. Are you suggesting that the number “1″ is data? If so, data about what? And how are you evaluating the “character of the data” here, as you said in #81? How would we know if “1″ was trustworthy data, or flawed in some way?

  93. #93 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 13, 2010

    Anton,
    Wikipedia is unreliable. It is not to be trusted.

    You will find about half of the definitions deal with it formally as it is used in ethics. Merriam-Webster online does that as well. But others provide a application of its core principle as the definition. Dictionary.com says this:
    The belief that the value of a thing or an action is determined by its utility.

    I think that Megele was motivated by the eugenics movement’s desire to better humanity — to produce a happier species. That matter is one of both practical methodology and moral/ethical outcomes.

    That’s how I used the term and how I applied it consistently through the discussion.

  94. #94 Modusoperandi
    February 13, 2010

    Collin Brendemuehl “I think that Megele was motivated by the eugenics movement’s desire to better humanity — to produce a happier species.”
    And if there was a species called “Aryan” and “to better humanity” meant “to kill most of humanity”, that sentence wouldn’t be what it is, which is wrong.
    “Sending half of the slavs (and others) to be worked to death and murdering the other half” is Utilitarian only in the sense that words have no meaning and definitions are whatever you need them to be in order to smear beliefs that you don’t share.
    If you have to compare or conflate something with something that the Nazis did or supported or believed or professed to believe or can be spun to appear to be any of these option, you, and I can’t stress this enough, have just painted practically the whole world Nazi. Christianity? Nazi. Abortion? Nazi. The exact opposite of abortion? Nazi. Parades? Nazi. Vegetarianism? Nazi. De-friggin-mocracy? Nazi. Everything ends up Nazi.

  95. #95 Anton Mates
    February 14, 2010

    Collin,

    Wikipedia is unreliable. It is not to be trusted.
    You will find about half of the definitions deal with it formally as it is used in ethics. Merriam-Webster online does that as well. But others provide a application of its core principle as the definition. Dictionary.com says this:
    The belief that the value of a thing or an action is determined by its utility.

    It’s rather amusing that you consider Wikipedia fatally unreliable, but accept Dictionary.com.

    More importantly, do you notice that the Dictionary.com definition is so vague as to be applicable to almost anyone? I mean, by that standard, the Jesus of the Gospels is a utilitarian; he repeatedly states that the value of both actions and things (“And if your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out…”) is determined by their utility for gaining salvation.

    You yourself have argued against the “predictive/descriptive utility” criterion for scientific validity, on the grounds that it will lead to pro-life pro-choice Nazi anti-Nazi mad scientist philosophy professor birth control activist animal rights champions. In other words, you oppose our criterion because you think it has no utility (or negative utility) for producing the sort of people you’d prefer. You terrible utilitarian, you!

    I think that Megele was motivated by the eugenics movement’s desire to better humanity — to produce a happier species.

    Why do you think that? Mengele was a Nazi, and Nazism was not distinguished by an interest–even a pretended interest–in maximizing human happiness. The explicit goal of the Nazi eugenics program (and Mengele’s own letters show that he shared this goal) was to create what they believed would be a stronger, more virtuous, more beautiful and dignified humanity; whether this humanity was happier was hardly relevant. Like other fascists, Nazi writers tended to condemn hedonism.

    That matter is one of both practical methodology and moral/ethical outcomes.

    That’s how I used the term and how I applied it consistently through the discussion.

    So you consistently applied the term in two different ways? Okay. By now you presumably realize that we haven’t been applying it that way, so…what does our position on the practical methodology for a particular question within a particular field have to do with your fears of ethical utilitarianism?

  96. #96 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 14, 2010

    Anton,
    Now you’ve resorted to lying.
    All I have said is that your insistence about utilitarianism being *only* about ethics and *not* about framework is shortsighted at best and dishonest at worst, but false in either case.

    Modus,
    Keep obfuscating and you can make anything you want.

  97. #97 Modusoperandi
    February 14, 2010

    Collin Brendemuehl “Keep obfuscating and you can make anything you want.”
    That’s your gig. “Utilitarianism is bad because Mengele was a Utilitarian” is the kind of statement to which I would ordinarily reply with a simple {citation needed}, but I chose instead to regale you with a paragraph of my own, frankly and humbly, magnificent prose on the vacuity of your argument.
    Do try to keep up.

  98. #98 Anton Mates
    February 15, 2010

    Collin,

    Now you’ve resorted to lying.

    You will, I’m sure, explain at some point what I’ve lied about, and perhaps go on to answer the other questions I’ve posed.

    All I have said is that your insistence about utilitarianism being *only* about ethics and *not* about framework is shortsighted at best and dishonest at worst, but false in either case.

    I get that what you mean by utilitarianism is related to framework. You seem to get that what we mean by the term is limited to ethics, and I don’t really care whether you think that’s because we’re evil or whatever.

    Now that we’re past that…again, don’t you think your chosen definition is a little over-broad for your argument? Why should we expect that utilitarian (in your sense) science will lead to utilitarians like Mengele*, as opposed to utilitarians like the Jesus Christ of the Gospels, or like yourself?

    *I leave aside Singer and Sanger because, as I think we’ve discussed on previous occasions, the rest of us just don’t think they’re as scary as you do.

  99. #99 eric
    February 15, 2010

    Why should we expect that utilitarian (in your sense) science will lead to utilitarians like Mengele*, as opposed to utilitarians like the Jesus Christ of the Gospels

    Whatever ethics science teaches – be it utilitarianism or something else – its pretty clear that the vast, vast majority of scientists are just normal people. They don’t become monsters by practicing science. Saying scientific utility leads to Mengele is about as myopic as saying christianity leads to Torquemada. Both arguments erroneously assume that being part of the group will lead to behavior which is, in real life, abnormal in the extreme.

    But this is just a distraction. Collin has yet to voice any alternative metric for theory assessment (other than predictive utility). His armchair quarterbacking is so far limited to saying the coaches are calling bad plays, without even a suggestion as to what play(s) might be better.

  100. #100 Anton Mates
    February 16, 2010

    But this is just a distraction. Collin has yet to voice any alternative metric for theory assessment (other than predictive utility). His armchair quarterbacking is so far limited to saying the coaches are calling bad plays, without even a suggestion as to what play(s) might be better.

    Well, he has at least said it’s something to do with how the “data should be handled.” Now we just have to know what that handling method should be and why it’s better.

    …and why Josef Mengele would be repulsed by it, of course. That’s critical.

  101. #101 Neal
    February 16, 2010

    Good science is good science whether the church or government or scientists support it or persecute it. Bad science is still bad science whether the church or government or scientists support it or persecute it. Blaming the church on some of the bad science that originated by the Greeks from of time of Ptolemy is nuts.

    WHAT EXCUSE DO SCIENTISTS HAVE TODAY ABOUT THE BAD SCIENCE OF THE GLOBAL WARMING SCAM? Whatever the church did to support the bad science of the Greek Ptolemy view of the solar system is nothing compared to the multi-billion dollar scam that the global warming and politicians tried to pull over on billions of people. Their lab coats are not white and without hyprocrisy.

  102. #102 SLC
    February 16, 2010

    Re Neal

    I have a flash for Mr. Neal. The scam relative to ABW is the millions poured into phony think tanks like the Dishonesty Institute, The Heartland Institute, and the George Marshall Foundation by Exxon and the other energy compainies to spread lies like thos Mr. Neal perpetrates in his comments on the subject. Mr. Neal apparently delights in being an Exxon shill.

  103. #103 Modusoperandi
    February 16, 2010

    SLC, if Jesus didn’t want us to burn all that gas and coal, He wouldn’t have put it there during the Flood.

  104. #104 Neal
    February 17, 2010

    So you guys are still willing to go down with the ship of global warming? Who was driving an SUV and from what well was Exxon pumping from when the Vikings were planting gardens in Greenland?

  105. #105 Anton Mates
    February 17, 2010

    The Medieval Warm Period wasn’t global, Neal.

  106. #106 Modusoperandi
    February 17, 2010

    Plus, Anton, if Neal’s statement was globally true, I don’t see how 60,000 Greenlanders’ gardens would help the 10,500,000 people in, say, Chad.

  107. #107 Modusoperandi
    February 17, 2010

    Oh, and our position isn’t that the environment doesn’t change, it’s that our actions (particularly since industrialization) are one more variable. Unlike the CO2 you breathe out, every puff from a coal-plant or car exhaust is CO2 that hasn’t been in the atmosphere for millions of years (and, at the time, most of that was in the biosphere, as dinosaurs and plants and whatnot).

  108. #108 Anton Mates
    February 17, 2010

    I don’t see how 60,000 Greenlanders’ gardens would help the 10,500,000 people in, say, Chad.

    Well, if Al Gore wasn’t crippling the world petroleum industry, the good people of Chad could simply board a fleet of planes and start a new life of plenty in Greenland.

  109. #109 Maria
    February 25, 2010

    To live is to resist

  110. #110 Neal
    February 25, 2010

    I’m thinking that a higher % of Darwinists have accepted the global warming propaganda than those that are skepical of Darwinism. Perhaps it is all related to where one puts his or her faith. Darwinists seem to have an unquestioned faith in scientists and Darwin is their prophet. Yah, I know, but just think about it.

  111. #111 eric
    February 25, 2010

    I’m thinking that a higher % of Darwinists have accepted the global warming propaganda than those that are skepical of Darwinism.

    Strip away the insulting bombast and I’m thinking you’re right. Of course, a higher % of people who accept evolution also probably accept that germs, not demonic possession or sin, cause disease.

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