Thursday, June 18, 2009
Coyne Buys Back the Store ... Sort Of
Jerry Coyne has backed away from his previous claim that science is a "world view":
o.k. let me clarify this for everyone who seems to have misunderstood it. I don't know if I'd call SCIENCE a world view in itself. But that's irrelevant. What I meant is that the scientific ATTITUDE of requiring evidence for what one believes is incompatible with the religious ATTITUDE of requiring no evidence beyond revelation and dogma.Well, that certainly clears things up, doesn't it? Real rigor and logic there, right? Science is not a philosophy but the only "attitude" that a scientist can properly have is that everything that one believes must be supported by, presumably, scientific evidence -- or else why can't Miller accept science, as he does, and believe in nonscientific ways where science provides no answers?
This is dichotomy that I was talking about. Please get over the "world view" stuff; it's irrelevant.
As "smijer," who is one of the better commenters in the thread, pointed out immediately:
Yes, you have to assume a naturalistic attitude – or put more precisely – you have to employ methodological naturalism to do a science project. I'm not religious, but if I were, nothing about the fact that I was religious would prevent me adopting a naturalistic attitude (i.e., adopting methodological naturalism) to do a science project.I'd add that it is a rare scientist indeed who meets Coyne's standard. Larry Moran believes that J.M.W. Turner is the greatest artist who ever lived but I've yet to see him produce any scientific evidence on that point. Great art and literature, beauty, who we love, and numerous other things human beings, including scientists, "believe" are determined not on evidence but based on emotion, intuition, social convention and other unconscious or semiconscious influences. Coyne is free to try to make the case that religion is somehow different than these other very human beliefs or to try to convince us that scientists are somehow above these "failings" but, as smijer points out, merely smudging the difference between methodological and philosophical naturalism won't cut it.
Nobody disagrees with this. It's as you say, "trivial".
If your goal is to garner the authority of science for the philosophy of naturalism – an observation about attitudes and methods is only a tiny first step in doing it. To make such an observation one's entire case is probably a fallacy of composition.
Labels: Accommodationism Incompatiblism
Clifford ("The Ethics of Belief") was an evidentialist -- as he put it, "it is wrong always, eveywhere, and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." But as James responds ("The Will to Believe"), this might be a fine maxim for a scientist to adopt, but can one always live as a scientist?
It is not evidentialism to adopt this attitude with regards to our scientific inquiry, but it is evidentialism to insist upon this same attitude in all areas of human life.
It seems to me that evidentialism is beset with problems. There are problems with evidentialism both internal (what's the evidence for evidentialism?) and external (would it be good for us as human beings if we were to live as evidentialists), problems serious enough at any rate to call into question the simple equation of evidentialism with rationality per se, as Clifford and Harris and Coyne appear to do.
I'd add that it is a rare scientist indeed who meets Coyne's standard. Larry Moran believes that J.M.W. Turner is the greatest artist who ever lived but I've yet to see him produce any scientific evidence on that point.
Larry Moran says he likes paintings by Turner. That's evidence in support of the hypothesis that Larry Moran likes paintings by Turner.
Now, I suppose it's not definitive evidence since I could be lying. But surely there are ways of checking that out?
I think the question you're really interested in is why does Larry Moran like Turner more than some other artists. I have some thoughts on that question. They're related to my background and culture and interests that I acquired as I was growing up. It's perfectly scientific to ask why any particular person finds some things beautiful and not others.
Do you have another way, other than science, of answering the question? Tell me what procedure I should use to determine why John Pieret likes Turner paintings. Would examining the entrails of geese do the trick?
The issue here is did you approach the question of what you find beautiful or who you love with Coyne's "attitute" requiring evidence for what what you believe about them or did you just accept that you found them beautiful and that you love your wife and daughter? Did you do scientific tests on them and/or yourself before you came to those beliefs? If not, you've failed Coyne's "test" of a good scientist -- or else Coyne's criteria is incoherent, (which is my choice of belief -- with evidence).
I came to my love of Turner without a single scientific thought in my head -- just by looking at them -- as it should be.
If someone claimed to have proved, by scientific method, that Turner was the best painter in history, would you not object to this finding on the grounds that it confused fact with value?
Or: If someone presented a scientific argument (not an aesthetic one), perhaps referring to a study of Stone Age landscape preferences, establishing that Turner was in fact quite mediocre, would you change your estimation of him?
I guess what I object to is this idea that we should blindly form opinions on matters as important as love and beauty, and never question why we have those opinions. I think it is perfectly appropriate to wonder why I love the people in my life, and to ponder why I think something is beautiful.
Really? What science informs me of the color, form, framing or context of beauty that is empirically true?
I think it is perfectly appropriate to wonder why I love the people in my life, and to ponder why I think something is beautiful.
Of course we can and should, just as I said that we can and do ask those same sort of questions about religion. The point is how we each form our opinions about those matters, not how we can try to fit them within some larger context. According to Coyne, the scientist must have the "attitude" that only evidence should form a person's beliefs. That is, it seems to me, to be a deeply inhuman standard. Or, if he is merely speaking sloppily and not considering things where we all form beliefs separate from evidence, then he has to do better job explaining why unevidenced belief is okay in some circumstances and not in others, like religion.