Tuesday, October 06, 2009
And On .. And On ...
To continue (but, gentle readers, with the end at least hoving into view) with Nick Smyth's response to criticisms of his article at 3 Quarks Daily, next are his following points:
5. Your division of theories into "true" and "false" is actually the same as the division between "science" and "pseudoscience". You say that the sciences approach the truth and that astrology does not, and this is all we need for distinguishing science from pseudoscience (Matzke, Pieret).
6. Epistemology, or the task of finding general methods with which to arrive at genuine knowledge, is just as difficult (hopeless?) as the task of defining "Science". You say we have no criteria for "Science", but after centuries of effort we also have no criteria for "truth", so you've just pushed the debate back a step into even murkier territory (John, Namit Arora).
Anyone who has read this blog would know that I most certainly don't think that those other things Nick mentions -- "non-scientific activities (such as artistic creation, engagement with literature, first-personal reflection and moral reasoning)" -- cannot arrive at "truths" or that (with the possible exception of how we actually do "moral reasoning") they can be reduced to scientific explanations.
The problem is: what kind of "truth" are we talking about? Nick has appealed to "clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules," as what will deliver truth. What clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules tell us "true" art from "bollocks" art? Or demarck a "true" emotional response to one piece of music and a "bollocks" emotional response to another piece? If moral rules are obvious applications of logical rules, why are there so many different moral principles, many of which are contradictory?
My claim is not that "truth" is the exclusive province of science; it is that the sort of clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules Nick is talking about help to deliver a certain kind of "truth" but not all the things we call "truth." Nick is slurring over the ambiguity in the word "truth" that is every bit as intractable as the ambiguity in the word "science." If one is too vague to use "in order to exclude certain people and ideas from public life" (from Nick's point 7), so is the other. If one can be used for political/social purposes, so can the other, especially in the limited contexts the law is interested in, as I explained in my last post.
Those kind of rules do show up in science but the causal arrow is pointed in the opposite direction. Such rules are not unique to science but are, instead, so clear-cut, so obvious and so widely accepted, that it is inconceivable that the scientific community, acting as a group, would not apply them.
Nick's argument skills really fail him in this section:
I did a large amount of research in preparation for my initial essay, reading anthologies on ancient and modern science, poring over natural philosophy, and delving into 150 years of the demarcation debate. ... Epistemology may be a daunting field, but if a fledgling philosopher can get up off his arse and read Newton, Bacon, Kepler, Mill, Comte, Darwin, Bohr, Einstein, Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Laudan and Gould in order to say something about science, then a scientist can get off his arse and read epistemology before he claims that truth is not definable.
... While I do not claim to have a fully developed theory of why [scientists'] confidence [in science delivering truth] is justified, many other philosophers do, and we cannot accept this criticism until we have been shown that their projects fail.
Of course scientists think they are discovering truth, not least because they, as a group, do apply those "clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules," perhaps more rigidly than any other group. But most of all, they think science delivers some sort of "truth" because science appears to work. Our knowledge about how the material world operates has clearly and objectively improved over time because of what we call "science," while it is far less clear that the "truth" we garner from art or introspection or moral reasoning has grown greater, though it may have become more refined and more expansive.
I don't think any court could use the kind of "truth" we can get from art "in order to exclude certain people and ideas from public life." But courts can certainly look to the kind of behavior exhibited by the scientific community, including the consistent application of those clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules, and use that, in the limited context of balancing competing claims to constitutional rights, to distinguish "science" from that which is not.
Labels: Smyth's Bollocks
Which didn't however stop him from giving the worst and most incorrect rendition of Popper's falsificationism that I have ever read and boy have I read some real stinkers.
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