Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Scientists have proved…

…well, what, exactly?



Reading Clark's The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (1964), I noticed an interesting link between his comments on the underdetermination of scientific data and James Ross's argument about the immateriality of the intellect (as a power that can determinately dematerialize [or, "pick from among"]) formal operations. Clark says this of scientific laws (pp. 58-60):

[S]ince the Newtonian laws do not describe the actual workings of nature, [but only ideal-theoretical descriptions,] they cannot be used as a satisfactory demonstration of the impossibility of God and miracles. … [N]on-observational factors are essential ingredients in scientific law. … [When deriving a law from measurements why] does the scientist choose the mean rather than [the median or the mode; i.e., the middle number or the most common number, respectively]? … [N]othing in the observational data has dictated his choice. … [When plotting a graph to describe the data in a law-like correlation,] the empirical data do not necessitate any given curve. … [T]he scientist could have chosen a law other than the one he actually selected. Indeed, his range of selection was infitnie; and out of this he chose, he did not discover, the equation he accepts. … [I]f mathematical equations could describe nature, the chance of choosing the correct description is one over infinity, or zero. Therefore, all the laws of physics are false. … [Can empirical] acquaintance with any part of the universe justify a conclusion true for the universe as a whole?

The point is that physical reality can accommodate an infinity of mathematical descriptions, since nothing in the physical world perfectly fulfills or instantiates one mathematical-nomic description to the exclusion of other descriptions.

Clark then presents his critique of scientific verificationism (p. 71), a critique stated in formal logic around the border of the book's cover: If p, then q; q; ∴ p.

A simple argument of verification proceeds as follows: The given hypothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives those results; therefore, the hypothesis is verified and can be called a law. Obviously, this argument is the fallacy of asserting the consequent; and since all verification must commit this fallacy, it follows that no law or hypothesis can ever be logically demonstrated.

Consider this syllogism (NB: attributed to Bertrand Russell, but, distressingly, I have had trouble finding a primary citation):

If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone and stones are nourishing.

Now read this in conjunction with Ross's summary of his argument for the immateriality of thought and, thus, the mind (found in the 4th footnote of his stimulating essay, "The Fate of the Analysts: Aristotle's Revenge*: Software Everywhere" (my comments in brackets):

(1) Every physical process, no matter how long (even infinite), is indeterminate among incompatible pure functions [i.e., it could always be described as, or according to, some other function, say by both "p + q = r" AND "p + q = r except after r exceeds n" -- EBB]; (2) so, no such process can be IDENTICAL with any of them, nor can it uniquely determine a function among processes that is IDENTICAL with any pure function [i.e., it doesn't exhaust the options of instantiating that function, e.g., it could always be exemplified-plus-one -- EBB]. [That follows from the arguments used by Wittgenstein, Goodman, Kripke and many others.] (3) But we know beyond any doubt that WE think in forms that are pure functions (addition, squaring, conjunction, modus ponens) and are not indeterminate among incompatible functions. THEREFORE, our thinking, in so far as it is the realization of a determinate pure function, cannot be any material process or any function among material processes. Thus, human thought, as intelligent, is immaterial.

I think that argument will survive along with the argument that the understanding can have no organ and similar considerations recited in that Chapter. But one must remember that the argument is not to be understood to deny that the medium of human awareness is animal consciousness, [See Aristotle and Aquinas, both saying human understanding requires {animal -- EBB} sensation], which is properly regarded as a physical (or physically based, anyway) process, explicable scientifically.

Hence, showing the brain at work in all thought processes utterly misses the point, that point being that while human thought is always sensible and neural, yet thought per se, though mediated by perceptual-neural physical reality, is immaterial and therefore performed by an immaterial power. Brains, like computers, can simulate thought without actually, formally dematerializing it. In this case, a completely physical description of human cognition qua physico-chemical phenomenon is possible and desirable, without however accounting for the immaterial source of thought as such, such a reduction being the goal of physicalism as opposed to physics proper, of scientism rather than science.

2 comments:

Michael Turton said...

[I]f mathematical equations could describe nature, the chance of choosing the correct description is one over infinity, or zero. Therefore, all the laws of physics are false. …

Yes, if the choosing process were random. But it isn't. But considering that this is the tail of a long string of fallacious arguments and misunderstandings, it really isn't surprising. Consider this:

[S]ince the Newtonian laws do not describe the actual workings of nature, [but only ideal-theoretical descriptions,] they cannot be used as a satisfactory demonstration of the impossibility of God and miracles.

1. Nobody uses Newton to deny God; Newton himself was a Christian and heretic who wrote far more on theology then on science, wasting more than 1.5 million words on the topic.

2. The word "satisfactory" here indicates that the writer's response is simply an emotional appeal. What would constitute "satisfactory" to such a mind? Well, since it is a priori committed to belief, the answer is clear.

3. The author's simpleminded view of the argument is what is really surprising. The issue isn't whether a particular scientific model describes reality completely, it is whether it describes it in useful and reliable ways, ways that enable us to find it useful in manipulating reality, and that are repeatable with identical results each time (reliable). It is the combination of the two that rules out the existence of the supernatural.

… [N]on-observational factors are essential ingredients in scientific law. …

Hey, no kidding! Give the man a cigar! If non-observational factors weren't involved, laws would just be directly observed and there would be no need for science. But instead, they are deduced through careful study of regularities in the universe. But that hardly invalidates science.

When plotting a graph to describe the data in a law-like correlation,] the empirical data do not necessitate any given curve. …

That's just gibberish. Of course the empirical data do not necessitate any given curve -- they are just data, to be processed by reliable methodologies. Curves don't pop out until after processing, not before. Has Clark ever done any actual research?

A simple argument of verification proceeds as follows: The given hypothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives those results; therefore, the hypothesis is verified and can be called a law. Obviously, this argument is the fallacy of asserting the consequent; and since all verification must commit this fallacy, it follows that no law or hypothesis can ever be logically demonstrated.

That is, flat out, the funniest statement on scientific verification I have ever read. An entire half century of debate from Popper to Lakotos simply ignored. Hypotheses do not imply certain definite results, hypotheses are statements about what we expect reality to be like, based on a prior model (hey! Not mentioned here! Wonder why....could it be that Clark is setting up straw men?) We then conduct the experiments not to verify the results but to TEST them. Oops! Hypotheses are then tested against the results using some kind of formal methodology. If hypotheses are found consisted with the data as processed by the methodology, they are somehow fitted back into the model -- which is not a law, but may have deterministic or lawlike properties. Further research may well result in the regularity being so resoundingly discovered in that it might be termed a law, but that is not often the case. Your writer seems not to have ever thought about the social sciences, and certainly has never considered the idea of testing....

Is this the dumbest book on science and god ever written? Well, no, most of the ID stuff is probably worse, and then there is the straight creationist garbage. But this must be right up there.

Why don't you read something intelligent on the nature and process of science and cognition, like Giere's old _Explaining Science_. Send me an email with your address and I'll put the book in the mail for you. Quit wasting your time with this useless crap, Elliot.

Michael

the Cogitator said...

Hey Michael,

Thanks for stepping up this time and making some sustained comments. I will say you are off-base on a number of points, but I haven't the time now to go into details. If you think no one has used Newtonian mechanics to refute theism, you're thereby turned a blind eye to your own Enlightenment-legacy. Do the names Laplace, de la Mettrie, d'Holbach, et al., mean anything to you?

In any case, do you think I actually agree with everything I post at FCA? Clark is an operationist, which I am not (beig a realist), so I disagree with his radical severance between science (as a laboratory method) and truth, though I give him his fundamental point: unless you can say methodical science gives you truth, rather than just contingent "results", you can't use its findings as proof (ie., truth) against religious claims. Even Nietzsche said, Just because something works doesn't mean it's true. Of course, I believe you have a very dim view of something called "truth", so it probably doesn't matter to you whether man can grasp it or not.

The bottom line, which you consistently enjoy hovering over, is that induction does commit a basic logical fallacy, so your typically snide dismissal of Clark's statement about verification is just that: a mere snide dismissal. It does not good, logically, to say hypotheses are descriptive predictors of experimental subjects based on standing models, since the models themselves are only drawn on the basis of a string of induction. A model is but a coherent set of "affirming the consequent" statements. It doesn't matter how many times you say, "if p, then q; q; thus, p," since each instance is itself a fallacy.

I would like to have a look at Giere's books, thanks. I can pick up mail at the Shuinan Catholic Church, 17 Chong Ching Road, Beitun, 400. 水楠教堂在北屯區17中清路. The nán should actually be a yuènán de nán with a water radical at left, but it's an obscure third tone character I can't find on my Mac.