Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I have generally held that PZ Myers was more right than wrong when it came to philosophy but I'm afraid that he has a blind spot about the philosophy of science.
In his post "Am I to be the next enemy of the NCSE?," he criticizes the NCSE for having a "Faith Project." I agree with this. It's one thing for an organization dedicated to science education, in a society as religious as ours, to make soothing noises in the direction of believers and quite another to actually set up a theological arm to dispute particular religious beliefs.
That part doesn't interest me. But he has again proclaimed that:
These guys always seem to use "science" as a word demarcating a very narrow field of endeavor involving white lab coats, test tubes, and strangely colored solutions, but it isn't. Science is simply a process for examining the world, and anyone can do it, even if you do't have a lab coat. If something has an effect or influence, you can try to examine it using the tools of science — so when someone announces that gods cannot be detected by observation or experiment, they are saying they don't matter and don't do anything, which is exactly what this atheist has been saying all along.There is a lot wrong with this.
Besides the scientism ("The only way [God] can escape our probes is if he doesn't exist" ... what scientific evidence does PZ have that nothing exists except that which is amenable to scientific investigation?) and the suggestion that atheism is a scientific result (which would play hob with our constitutional law), the notion that science has no formal aspect and is something that one person can do is flat out wrong.
Sure, you don't need to have a science degree or a fancy laboratory in order to do real science. But you do need to publish your systematized results in such a way as to attract peer review. It need not be in refereed journals and their often leaky peer review, but nothing is "science" unless and until the scientific community has seriously considered it and a consensus has formed that the method of the proposition is "scientific" (even if no consensus on the right answer has emerged). Has PZ ever published his "experiments" in cuddling and has any consensus arisen in the scientific community that what he was doing was real scientific investigation?
Certainly, PZ's cuddling with the Trophy-Wife-to-be is not "science" ... unless Deepak Chopra's "interpretation" of a single PBS program is also "science."
What marks the difference between "thinking about things" and "science" is the engagement of the scientific community. Absent that, you are only aspiring to science.
Strangely, people like Ken Miller understand this while PZ doesn't. Miller doesn't claim his musings about facts of the world such as quantum mechanics supports his metaphysics, only that they do not contradict and may even be amenable to that metaphysics. PZ, on the other hand, insists that any musings whatsoever that he deems to count as "science" positively supports his.
Labels: Accommodationism Incompatiblism
There must be many people who do experiments or carry out research, using scientific methodology, but who have not yet published. I'm sure they count themselves as scientists, doing science.
Sure, knowledge and conclusions must be subject to peer review and/or replication to become part of the body of scientific knowledge. But in cases where scientific theories are successfully replaced with better scientific theories do the original scientists suddenly become non-scientists?
If they are using the method with the aim and intention of publishing, I would grant that they are "doing" science, though their results themselves are not yet science. Indeed, if PZ had done that with his wooing of the Trophy Wife, I'd agree that it would be doing science. However, it would also make him, as I said before, a pretty terrible person.
But in cases where scientific theories are successfully replaced with better scientific theories do the original scientists suddenly become non-scientists?
No, of course not, as long as the scientific community thought it was science at the time. Science is always going to be wrong in some aspects ... unless we suddenly become omniscient. That goes with the process.