Thar She Blows Again!

A few weeks back, I showed you how PZ Myers misleads people with the word ‘science’ by falsely making it synonymous with a critical, rational examination.  Well, Jerry Coyne recently did the same thing.

Coyne begins by recognizing there are limitations to science:

Okay, let me get one thing clear at the outset.  I do not believe, nor have I ever asserted, that science provides us with all the answers that are worth having.  Some answers worth having involve subjective taste:  which bistro should I eat at tonight?  Should I go out with Sue or with Megan? Is Joyce’s The Dead truly the best story ever written in English? (The answer to that, by the way, is “yes”.)  Why does Beethoven move me to tears while Mozart leaves me cold?  And there are the moral questions, such as “Is abortion wrong?”

But then he goes on as follows:

Dawkins, too, is not immune to the blandishments of art and literature, as you can see by simply reading his books.  I suspect that both Richard and I are advocates of “scientism” only to the extent that when questions are amenable to logic, reason, and empirical investigation, then we should always use those tools.  If that’s “scientism,” then so be it.

But Pigliucci is off the mark, I think, when insisting that we can’t apply science to the supernatural.

Did you catch the sleight of hand?  He seamlessly transitioned from “logic, reason, and empirical investigation” to applied “science.”  But the logical fallacy involved is the same one that tripped up Myers – just because science entails logic, reason, and empirical investigation does not mean any inquiry or decision that uses logic, reason, and empirical investigation is science. We all use logic, reason, and empirical investigation in our everyday decisions and beliefs, but that does not mean we are doing science.  Nor does it mean we are all scientists.

In fact, let’s go back to one of those questions Coyne poses – “Should I go out with Sue or with Megan?”  Does Jerry answer this question by flipping a coin?  Does he pick a flower and begin pulling off petals while saying, “She loves me…?”  Is it a decision rooted entirely in the whimsical moment?  If so, Jerry would be a very superficial and fickle man.  But if he is like the rest of us, he will use logic, reason, and empirical facts to inform his choice.  He will consider the appearance of Sue and Megan and he will consider all the information he gleaned from talking with them (and perhaps their friends and his friends).  Then, he will use his reason and logic to make the best choice in light of his mind’s objective.  The date, in turn, will give him some information that feeds back on his decision.  And if he asks himself whether he made the right choice, he’ll find it is easier to determine a “no” answer (falsification) than a ‘yes’ answer.

So what does this all mean?  Either I am correct (and I am) in pointing out that the use of reason, logic, and empirical information is not sufficient for earning the label ‘science’ or Jerry’s decision to date Sue, and not Megan, should be listed on his CV as one of his scientific accomplishments.

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17 responses to “Thar She Blows Again!

  1. “We all use logic, reason, and empirical investigation in our everyday decisions and beliefs, but that does not mean we are doing science. Nor does it mean we are all scientists.”

    There are societies throughout history that have invested heavily in science. Some make the argument that all good reasoning comes from these select countries. Others hold the more dangerous view, all reasoning comes to only those select countries directed by science. Unfortunately many fall into this illogical trap. Science can be a vital part of healthy society. But only as an instrument used for good.

  2. We all use logic, reason, and empirical investigation in our everyday decisions and beliefs, but that does not mean we are doing science. Nor does it mean we are all scientists.

    1- It is not a given that everyone uses logic, reason, and empirical investigation in our everyday decisions and beliefs.

    2- Is it the degree- PhD- that makes the scientist?

    Was Ben Franklin practicing science when he was investigating electricity? Why or why not?

  3. For me what is and is not science can be found in this example. A politician hires a professional political consultant. The consultant does focus groups and baseline studies to gain a better social understanding of the people. Preferably the people asking the questions will be unbiased. You might ask an uncle – but he might bias the answer. This is the scientific part of the study. But the politician has goals. The questions are biased towards his goals. I think there is a need for professional scientist. They can be unbiased in how they go about their studies. But their research goals are bias and this is not part of science. I also think that amateurs can be scientist.

  4. So are ya doing science when you decide to date Sue instead of Megan?

  5. So are ya doing science when you decide to date Sue instead of Megan?

    The scientific process is not used in his decision making. But if he hired an unbiased person to look for certain traits in women to help make the decision, then science would be have been done.

  6. Hi Tim,

    The scientific process is not used in his decision making.

    Agreed. Nevertheless, the decision making almost always involves the use of reason to integrate empirical facts in light of an objective. The product of the decision – the date – can also be viewed as an empirical investigation.

    But if he hired an unbiased person to look for certain traits in women to help make the decision, then science would be have been done.

    Interesting. So experiments and peer review are superfluous to science. It sounds to me like science is then nothing more than unbiased problem solving. Wouldn’t that mean that if I set out to decide which car to buy (as I have no bias about car models), I am doing science?

    What’s more, since the mental state of the investigator (biased or nonbiased) is key, how do we determine if someone is truly unbiased?

  7. It might surprise you but for me science is not about truth getting – it is about a method of fact getting. Truth getting is what people do and is not restricted to science. To carry out experiments it is best to have unbiased workers. Also peer review is important to help lead one another to the truth without their biases interfering. But the larger motive is also always a part of getting the truth. World view without a doubt plays an integral part in the truth people are willing to accept.

  8. Seems to me you’ve got it all the wrong way round. Your general implication as I see it is that there is science on the one hand, with it’s various methodologies; and then, with a slight of hand, some science advocates change the rules, adjust what they are prepared to call science in order to win arguments.

    I see it entirely the other way round. From as far back as we can tell we’ve been trying to understand our world, and we’ve used whatever physiological and mental capacity we could muster to do that. Over time we’ve found some methods provide better results – better being more consistent, coherent, repeatable. We build the criteria with which we judge the quality of our understanding as we build the methodology itself – on the fly, through experience, inductively.

    Some of the methods are grouped into what we broadly call science. They are generally more rigorous than what we might loosely call non-science. So, for some sciences we have very stringent methodologies and tools – particularly maths, used to describe laws quite precisely. But in other cases the best we can do is observe patterns. And we tend to rely on apparent causality in all this – even if we can’t really determine the actual nature of causality, or distinguish it clearly from correlation. At the bounds of our capacity to know stuff we all have the same limits.

    But this classification of our methods as science and non-science doesn’t really detract from the fact that our acquisition of knowledge is a broad spectrum. And so in many cases it’s quite legitimate to use less rigorous science than in other cases – mainly because that’s all we have: our sensing bodies and out thinking brains.

    So, in this sense, our ‘ways of knowing’ actually boil down to a continuum of quality and rigour, and we use few or many of several methodological components, depending on the circumstances.

    The real distinction in the theist/atheist debate is not that there are actually completely different ways of knowing, but that there are instead different degrees to which the various tools are applied, and the extent to which we are willing to accept as ‘truth’ the findings of any particular application of these tools.

    In this respect atheism is a conclusion reached by many that apply the methodologies as rigorously as possible to the questions of theism – from the tentative musings of philosophy to the actual ‘sciences’ of testing stuff. It’s the relative merits of the tools used that are in question.

    The theist has no more access to any other ‘way of knowing’ than the atheist. We all use the same methodologies. And we all recognise this range of standards that we apply to acquiring knowledge. We all recognise the difference between physics and history. The more precise and rigorous we can be the more confidence we have in the results.

    What I find objectionable is the duplicitous standards that theists actually apply. And they have the nerve to accuse people like Myers and Coyne of slight of hand. The whole of theism is founded on what? There is an overriding presupposition that there is in fact some guiding intelligence, or some agent, God (in whatever manifestation the theists chooses to see him). But there is no good reason to start from this point. And without this the whole of theology, Christianity, Islam, and all the others, simply collapse.

    But it’s not like the same can be said for ‘science’. Because ‘science’ is just what humans do naturally: feel, see, hear – i.e. sense; and, what we peculiarly seems to be able to do, think. We call it ‘science’, to a greater or lesser degree depending on how rigorous it can be applied. So why do theists, like Francis Collins, apply all the rigors of science to what they think is some bounded discipline, and yet give up on those methodologies completely – not partially, but completely – in presupposing there is a God and making everything else fit that picture, by hook or by crook.

    It seems to me that it’s for theists to give us a good reason for thinking that their mysterious ways of knowing about God should be taken at all seriously.

    Simply finding flaws in science doesn’t cut it, because we know those flaws exist. They exist for scientists and non-scientists alike. Whatever objections a theist might have for how and to what science can be applied, they pale into insignificance when compared to the nonsense that is used to explain theological claims.

  9. Hi ronmurp,

    I actually agree with many of the things you wrote. But your argument, as a whole, falls apart as a function of ignoring the argument of the OP. You water down the definition of science as follows:

    Because ‘science’ is just what humans do naturally: feel, see, hear – i.e. sense; and, what we peculiarly seems to be able to do, think. We call it ‘science’, to a greater or lesser degree depending on how rigorous it can be applied.

    Now let’s go back to the Coyne’s claim, which was the subject of the OP:

    Okay, let me get one thing clear at the outset. I do not believe, nor have I ever asserted, that science provides us with all the answers that are worth having. Some answers worth having involve subjective taste: which bistro should I eat at tonight? Should I go out with Sue or with Megan?

    Coyne acknowledges that science does not provide us with all the answers worth having. He acknowledges that science can not tell him whether go out with Sue or with Megan.

    Now, let’s proceed to my argument:

    In fact, let’s go back to one of those questions Coyne poses – “Should I go out with Sue or with Megan?” Does Jerry answer this question by flipping a coin? Does he pick a flower and begin pulling off petals while saying, “She loves me…?” Is it a decision rooted entirely in the whimsical moment? If so, Jerry would be a very superficial and fickle man. But if he is like the rest of us, he will use logic, reason, and empirical facts to inform his choice. He will consider the appearance of Sue and Megan and he will consider all the information he gleaned from talking with them (and perhaps their friends and his friends). Then, he will use his reason and logic to make the best choice in light of his mind’s objective. The date, in turn, will give him some information that feeds back on his decision. And if he asks himself whether he made the right choice, he’ll find it is easier to determine a “no” answer (falsification) than a ‘yes’ answer.

    Now, if we use your watered-down definition of science, where science = the use of our senses and thinking brain, that dating qualifies as science.

    So here are the questions you should address directly.

    1. Is Jerry’s decision to date Megan instead of Sue an example of science?

    2. If you think dating is science, are you saying that Coyne is wrong in believing, “I do not believe, nor have I ever asserted, that science provides us with all the answers that are worth having?”

  10. Hi Michael,

    Don’t forget that even at our logical best, which is still fallible, we tend to use emotions and other non-conscious factors when decision making (Antonio Damasio and others). So even our best science isn’t ‘pure unadulterated (by human fallibility) science’ in some abstract sense. It’s all human fallible stuff. The point of ‘science’ is that we introduce methodologies to compensate for our fallibilities as best we can.

    So, at some simplistic level Jerry may in fact be using some of the methodology that is also used in the best of science. The science/non-science is the false dichotomy here. It’s a spectrum of quality among a range of methodologies. Let’s, for the sake of this argument, call it all Human Knowledge Acquisition (HKA). we all do it naturally, but with training we can do it better. Under some circumstances we call it science, and under others we don’t. It’s a relative distinction.

    “I do not believe, nor have I ever asserted, that science provides us with all the answers that are worth having. Some answers worth having involve subjective taste…” – Here he’s using the distinction between some of the degrees to which we do HKA. In this respect he’s distinguishing it from science maybe because he’s not getting members of other labs to go on dates with Sue or Megan in order to repeat his own research. He’s probably not even being to careful about setting up his test requirements before hand. And I wouldn’t consider him fickle for simply selecting one based on ‘love at first sight’, rather than using logic, reason and empirical facts – in fact many theists might criticise him for doing the latter in matters of love. In this sense Jerry is really saying that for some aspects of life (most of the every day stuff in fact) we don’t go to all the trouble that we do with what we typically call ‘science’. But that doesn’t make it a different way of knowing stuff.

    Though across these articles and blogs there are some variations in what we call science, we can easily overcome any problem this by stating what we mean by ‘science’ in any particular case. There’s nothing particularly discreditable about changing a definition, as long as it’s clear for each case what definition is being used. But ‘scientism’, when used as a pejorative label for the application of methods of science outside of what we mostly call ‘science’ doesn’t really hold water, because we all use the same methods to some lesser or greater degree in various aspects of our lives.

    The crucial point is which methods should we apply to questions of philosophy, theology, ID, God – all the questions on the edge of human knowledge capability, all the difficult stuff? I’d suggest we do all we can to use as many of the more rigorous methods of HKA we can to address these issues. We can’t set up a lab test to see if God intervened somewhere – so what? We can’t offer evidence that ID is false, or that there is no God – so what? But neither is anything offered to support these – or at least nothing that couldn’t be offered to support the case for any god whatsoever.

    What we can do, for example, is acknowledge that:
    1) From the simple human understanding of our fellows we can often tell when someone is talking bull.
    2) From psychology, behaviourism, we can start to investigate some aspects and oddities of the human mind and recognise basic symptoms like illusions and delusions, or simply poor judgement.
    3) From neuroscience we can actually measure some events, and we can control some events, to inhibit or induce experiences that correspond to what many claimed mystical or spiritual experiences.
    4) We can use basic critical thinking to categorise claims into those that can be investigated and those that are just bald unsupported claims.

    When all this is used to address theism (the human psychological act of believing and the arguments put forward to support it), or the actual content of claims themselves (the philosophy and the science of unearthly intelligent agencies), calling all that ‘scientism’, and claiming some ‘other way of knowing’ is just a cop-out, an excuse for not being as rigorous as possible, and excuse to let bald faith claims stand as if they have any intellectual merit.

  11. Ron,

    Since you never really answered the question, you are still just spinning your wheels. Take this claim:

    So even our best science isn’t ‘pure unadulterated (by human fallibility) science’ in some abstract sense.

    Okay, that makes sense if we changed it to say, “So even our best biology isn’t ‘pure unadulterated (by human fallibility) science’ in some abstract sense.” But it becomes silly if we change it to read, “So even our best dating isn’t ‘pure unadulterated (by human fallibility) science’ in some abstract sense.”

    The closest you come to answering the question is this:

    So, at some simplistic level Jerry may in fact be using some of the methodology that is also used in the best of science.

    That’s not an answer. Not to mention that some overlap between methodology, at some simplistic level, does not mean dating is science. Just because you need to be able to read to do science does not mean that you are doing science anytime you read.

    Then you add, “The science/non-science is the false dichotomy here.” No it’s not. Jerry’s decision to go out on a date with Sue and the resulting date itself is not science. To make it science, you have to water down the definition of science such that behaviors defined by emotions, desire, and bias as science or you could make it science if it was all part of a controlled psychology experiment. If Jerry is just looking for action, it is not science. And he admits it.

    The thing to do here is not to declare a false dichotomy, but to drop the word ‘science.’ You seem to get this point when writing:

    Let’s, for the sake of this argument, call it all Human Knowledge Acquisition (HKA). we all do it naturally, but with training we can do it better. Under some circumstances we call it science, and under others we don’t. It’s a relative distinction.

    Very good. AND UNDER OTHERS WE DON’T. But why call it HKA only “for the sake of argument?” Why not make the case that science is just one expression of HKA?

    That is, for HKA to become science, a certain level of rigor, certain forms of additional behavior, and community engagement with others doing likewise is required? Dating might be an example HKA, but it is not science because it does not entail these additional dimensions.

    You write:

    In this sense Jerry is really saying that for some aspects of life (most of the every day stuff in fact) we don’t go to all the trouble that we do with what we typically call ‘science’. But that doesn’t make it a different way of knowing stuff.

    If you “don’t go to all the trouble that we do with what we typically call ‘science’” then you are not doing science. It’s the extra stuff that makes science science. The whole idea behind a science education is to learn how do go to all the trouble that we do with what we typically call ‘science’ so the person can learn to do science. And if you happen to be someone who frequents the bars to pick up women, it doesn’t give you an edge in such science education.

  12. I didn’t answer directly because it was, in the context of the discussion, a misleading question. But I’ll try to be more direct:

    It could be made an example of ‘science’ by applying more of the methodologies of science to it – as I implied, by having other people date the ladies in question and comparing results to see who is the best dateable material.

    But what most people seem to do when dating is rely more on emotional influences, such as basic attraction.

    I’m not sure what sort of answer you wanted. A yes or no? That would seem inadequate. The question you posed raised more questions than a simple yes or no could deal with.

    But anyway, try this for the science of dating:

    “If Jerry is just looking for action, it is not science. And he admits it.” – Only by the definition of science Jerry is using at that time – i.e. what we generally call science. So, if you want let’s say it isn’t science. But then that restriction on human Human Knowledge Acquisition (HKA) is fine for its purpose.

    “Why not make the case that science is just one expression of HKA? ” – Fine. But your objections here seem to be semantics – the meaning and use of a particular word. It’s what we do that counts, whatever we call it. But ask yourself, is your motivation for defining specific limits on ‘science’ motivated by a desire to separate science and theism?

    “Dating might be an example HKA, but it is not science because it does not entail these additional dimensions.” – No. I’d say it simply uses less of the rigour in terms of observation and analysis.

    But none of this can be used as an excuse for not applying the best HKA we can to considering theism, does it? So the very least of HKA we can use is critical thinking. And critical thinking suggests we should be skeptical of extravagent claims, and should ask for evidence – i.e. we are creeping from the non-science of HKA towards the science end of the spectrum. HKA can be applied to the claims about God. Rigorous HKA can be applied the claims about God. I can accept that as yet some methods of science aren’t appropriate, such as looking through a microscope; but maybe looking through a telescope might. If some future deep space/time telescope sees on the backdrop of the universe ‘God was here’, then maybe we can reconsider the evidence for God. The evidence provided so far isn’t too good – just words in an ancient book.

    As a matter of interest where’s the boundary between science and non-science? I mean precisely. Where is it? I don’t think there is one.

  13. Hi Ron,

    I’m not sure what sort of answer you wanted. A yes or no? That would seem inadequate. The question you posed raised more questions than a simple yes or no could deal with.

    A no answer is more than adequate, for it tells it like it is. When people go out on dates, they are not doing science. I don’t know of a single scientist who would disagree. It’s a point that is glaringly obvious to anyone who knows science. Imagine a scientist trying to pad his CV with all his dating accomplishments. It would be considered either crazy or unethical, regardless of any clever argument the dating scientist could make in his defense.

    Only by the definition of science Jerry is using at that time – i.e. what we generally call science.

    What we generally call science is precisely what most people will hear with their minds when the word science is used. That’s where the sleight of hand comes in. If someone has quietly or privately watered down the definition of science to simply mean HKA, fine, but that’s not what people will hear when the speaker invokes “science” to serve his agenda. People will hear a scientist making claims about science and will think what we generally call science is being invoked.

    Fine. But your objections here seem to be semantics – the meaning and use of a particular word. It’s what we do that counts, whatever we call it.

    No, it’s not semantics. It’s critical thinking – understand and define terms (make others define terms, too).

    But ask yourself, is your motivation for defining specific limits on ‘science’ motivated by a desire to separate science and theism?

    No, it’s motivated by a stand on principle that dislikes it when people who have a socio-political agenda seek to draw upon the authority of science for socio-political reasons and, in the process, end up confusing people and misrepresenting science itself. You might want to consider that for over 10 years, I have opposed the ID movement’s efforts to label ID science. I did so and do so for the same reasons I oppose the New Atheist movement’s efforts to label their atheism as science. I think that efforts to water down the definition of science in order to cast a movement in the shadow of science for propagandistic reasons is wrong.

    But none of this can be used as an excuse for not applying the best HKA we can to considering theism, does it?

    I agree here. But then we must also be willing to abandon all efforts to morph HKA back into science. That is, we should not expect evidence for God to be the type of evidence that would expect in science. That’s where the sleight of hand works in reverse.

    Better than that, consider the topic of this blog. What you call HKA I call the Design Matrix. I have used HKA to write a book and over 500 blog entries to support my teleological hypotheses. But I have always been aware, and always been upfront, that HKA/the Design Matrix is not science.

    As a matter of interest where’s the boundary between science and non-science? I mean precisely. Where is it? I don’t think there is one.

    Indeed. And since we can’t pinpoint the precise boundary, that is all the more reason to be conservative, especially when it comes to movements trying to piggyback on science.

    The way I see it, if you are not doing research as part of the scientific community, you need very powerful and compelling arguments to classify your endeavor as science. It would seem to me that those who value science would agree, while those with an agenda would disagree.

  14. Hi Michael,

    You are wrapped up in semantics and missing the point.

    “for it tells it like it is” – But it doesn’t tell it like it is. The misconception is that science is something quite distinct from what humans do every day, when in fact scientists use the same basic senses and thinking brain that all of us do. It’s just that when ‘doing science’ they are using the same senses and thinking brain towards a specific end, and applying common methodologies more rigorously.

    The point I’m making is that science is a subset of HKA. The human aspect of doing science, the senses and the thinking, are the only real tools we have. Sure, scientists use instruments – but instruments only amplify the capabilities of our basic senses, by transforming data into something we can sense. Sure they evaluate research papers, but they are only doing basic reading in a more critical way. But even then, a lot of actual work that scientists do is quite mundane, day to day. And a lot of science involves mulling things over, imagining scenarios, sleeping on a problem – the very same things that we all do. Science isn’t a dark art that can’t be used for every day life – even dating, if we choose, as bizarre as that may seem.

    The point being that there is nothing fundamentally different about science that can’t be applied to any human endeavour. And more than that, there is nothing extra; no other way of knowing that a theist has that a scientist doesn’t. So whether it’s elements of science, or philosophy, or common sense, theists have no better access to knowledge about the divine than anyone else. And have no better skills at evaluating it. In fact, given their training, I’d suggest that scientists are better suited to the investigation of extraordinary claims – more so than theists who carry a lot of confirmation bias as baggage.

    “But then we must also be willing to abandon all efforts to morph HKA back into science.” – No morphing is required. Science is just a variation on using our senses and thinking brain; it’s part of HKA.

    “That is, we should not expect evidence for God to be the type of evidence that would expect in science.” – Why not? What precisely do you expect as evidence for theism? What of the human senses and thinking brain that are used in science cannot be used to evaluate theism? What other way of knowing is available to the theist?

    “But I have always been aware, and always been upfront, that HKA/the Design Matrix is not science.” – But science is HKA. And science is the best we can do when doing HKA. There is nothing else. Perhaps this is where you have been going wrong.

    “…especially when it comes to movements trying to piggyback on science.” – It’s not piggy-backing on science. Science uses HKA (senses and thinking) and enhances it. That’s all. We have nothing else.

    “It would seem to me that those who value science would agree, while those with an agenda would disagree.”

    It seems clear to me that the agenda is on the other foot. There’s a desire to put theism out of reach of all the best tools that humans have developed to understand the world. There’s a desire to break the link between our best ways of finding out stuff, because that would lead to a skeptical outlook on theism that can’t be accepted. The very skeptical critical methods that theists-scientists use in their science they want to exclude from their theism because it’s too inconvenient. They are willing to discard all the best principles of discovery in order to sustain an ancient belief system they have bought into.

    I can only assure you I have no similar agenda with regard to science – and even ‘Militant’ atheists say this too. If there really is a God, then when he does decide to reveal himself we will have to incorporate him into our field of knowledge. The same applies to ESP and other unusual psychic phenomena. When the evidence is presented (and we can only assess it with our senses and thinking) then it is evaluated.

    So if you think that evidence, as evaluated by our senses and thinking brains, isn’t going to do it for theism, exactly what is used to evaluate it? What mechanism is there? Is the bible not evidence? It’s a material object – a book, written by humans. Are we not using our senses and our thinking when we evaluate it? When researches are looking into the historicity of Jesus, what are they doing? Is there no overlap with our common notion of science? The troubel is that that many theists do in fact offer the bible as evidence, but object when it and its claims are scrutinised rigorously as any other claim would be.

  15. ” It’s just that when ‘doing science’ they are using the same senses and thinking brain towards a specific end, and applying common methodologies more rigorously.”

    I am ‘using my senses’ to type this message now. I am not “doing science”. Science is a distinct discipline, defined by its methodologies and – more importantly – its limits. As Mike seems to be saying, “Using my senses” is not science. “Using reason” is not science, unless Aquinas was a scientist.

    And if he is, we’ve made wide swaths of things – philosophy, theology, etc – science on the spot. Because the word hardly means anything anymore.

    “The human aspect of doing science, the senses and the thinking, are the only real tools we have. ”

    No. We also create tools, some of which are specific to a field, scientific and not. Yes, I suppose you can argue that at the end of the day when you get right down to it the only thing we can all be sure of is cogito ergo sum, and for all we know the external world is an illusion or such. It doesn’t follow that simply using our senses is science.

    When a scientist “mulls something over” or “sleeps on it”, he’s not engaging in science. He is, at most, engaging in something which may or may not result in a thought which he can later, to some degree, call upon in scientific practice.

    “But science is HKA. And science is the best we can do when doing HKA. There is nothing else. Perhaps this is where you have been going wrong.”

    No, it’s not “the best we can do when doing HKA”, because science is a defined discipline which – in the course of its definition – expressly limits itself to certain problems, certain methods of inquiry, etc. It’s the best, perhaps, for some particular questions. But not all questions – or answers – are scientific ones.

    “There’s a desire to put theism out of reach of all the best tools that humans have developed to understand the world. ”

    No, it’s recognizing that there are questions which the field of natural science simply does not cover. History, mathematics, etc. Complaining that “well science is a form of HKA, and HKA is all we have, and I really like science so I should be able to use science here” doesn’t cut it. Theists did not decide to conceive God as external to nature as a debating tactic – it was how God was conceived originally. Nor is anyone suggesting that natural science has limits “to keep science out of other areas” – it’s simply highlighting the limitations that already come with natural science.

    What really seems to be the problem here is you want to use the authority of science for areas beyond science, outside of science. You have that much in common with ID proponents. But insofar as such topics really are beyond science – not beyond all HKA, but beyond the typical discipline of science – you’re just abusing science, and misrepresenting it. And really, if abuse and misrepresentation is A-OK, then it will be for the people using science to demonstrate and strongly infer God exists.

    Either way, you’re playing a losing game. Just accept that science has limits, and try to realize and respect those limits. Consider it a way of tuning HKA.

    “The troubel is that that many theists do in fact offer the bible as evidence, but object when it and its claims are scrutinised rigorously as any other claim would be.”

    Actually, they more often complain about double standards rather than equal scrutiny. And they certainly don’t object to HKA being used to evaluate theism in general, or Christianity in particular. They object to inane fake-uses of science and HKA, such as arguing ‘I didn’t see a 900 foot Jesus outside my office who offered himself up to experiments. That’s what God would do if He existed. Therefore, there’s no evidence for God’s existence.’

  16. Hi Nullasalus,

    “Science is a distinct discipline, defined by its methodologies and – more importantly – its limits.” – No it isn’t. ‘science’ in the common sense is a wide range of disciplines using a wide variety of methodologies and tools to different degrees. It’s nothing like the simplistic notion your statement suggests. There are often debates about what disciplines can and can’t be called science, not because there exists some objective boundary, but ususally because there is disagreement about what tools and methodologies work in a particular case.

    There are various displines around the brain sciences for example, where some psychotherapy methods are objected to as ‘unscientific’. This doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily based their theories on unscientific, or non-scientific methods. what it usually means is that the theory doesn’t stand up to some of the rigours that it should. So it isn’t literally non-scientific, it’s more of a case of it being poor science.

    Even in mundane human experiences like cooking, science applies. The chef Raymond Blanc has a section on the science of cooking at the begining of at least one of his books, which explains the chemistry of what’s happening during the cookinmg processes.

    In this respect we can say that we can apply the methodologies of science to theology, and conclude it is ‘unscientific’, or bad science, or bad philosophy, or simply bad reasoning and evidence.

    Science is defined by its limits, I’ll accept that – but then only because those very same limits apply to all of us, because we all have the same senses and thinking capacities with their fallibilities, which are used to do science and theology.

    “And if he is, we’ve made wide swaths of things – philosophy, theology, etc – science on the spot.” – That is my point. The methodologies of science cannot be excluded from theology as if they are some other way of knowing, or as if theology uses some other way of knowing.

    The agenda of those theists that use the term ‘scientism’ is to box science up, keeping it out of reach of theology, and by implication, keeping atheist scientists and philosophers away from theology. This then excuses some pretty shabby uses of those basic tools, reason and evidence, because they are then not subjected to the normal rigors that science would put them too. Science is not restricted to use in a lab or research centre. It can be used anywhere.

    I agree that Mike and I are debating the scope of the meaning of the term science. I know Mike likes to restrict his use of terms – or at least define them. Mike wants to restrict it to the more common use of the term in order to say that when science goes beyond this boundary we can call it ‘scientism’, as an abuse of science beyond its scope. My sole purpose of extending the meaning in this debate is simply as a rhetorical tool to emphasise that for all the additional tools that science has, the scientists that use them still use their senses and thinking brains to interpret what they find. And in this, those very senses are indeed used in philosophy and theology too. The methodologies of science are the human psychological processes that are intended to overcome bias, mistaken reasoning from data, and so on. They are not restricted to use in a lab.

    There’s also the problem for atheists debating with theists that we get the ‘not my religion’ claim. So while many theists shout ‘scientism’, to keep science at bay, some theists use science to support their case. The theist Richard Swinburne uses various scientific data to support his case for believing in God. One is the ‘fine tuning’ argument. This has actual scientific implications because it is about scientifically determined properties of the universe, and philosophical concerns about them. And this type of human knowledge, while discovered using common methods of science, also requires critical thinking that is also part of science. At the limits of human knowledge science includes philosophy. But to say it’s not science, it’s only philosophy, would be to deny the overlap of science and philosophy – it’s all part of the spectrum of human knowledge acquisition. So here science can be applied to theological considerations for the existence of God. In this particular case, as in many others, the scientific and philosophical objection is that fine tuning shows only that this is the state of this universe, and the fact that science demonstrates these properties says nothing about God, or indeed the requirement that these are the only property states that would allow life. So the science is saying that theists like Swinburne are claiming more than is legitimate from the data. It’s the scientist that’s acknowledging the limits of science, and consequently human knowledge, while the theist Swinburne isn’t.

  17. Ron,

    No, I am not wrapped up in semantics. I am employing HKA to determine that your argument does not hold up. It is built on the logical fallacy that I explicitly identify in the OP:

    “Did you catch the sleight of hand? He seamlessly transitioned from “logic, reason, and empirical investigation” to applied “science.” But the logical fallacy involved is the same one that tripped up Myers – just because science entails logic, reason, and empirical investigation does not mean any inquiry or decision that uses logic, reason, and empirical investigation is science. We all use logic, reason, and empirical investigation in our everyday decisions and beliefs, but that does not mean we are doing science. Nor does it mean we are all scientists.”

    Science is just one form of HKA. You acknowledge this when writing, “The point I’m making is that science is a subset of HKA.” So it follows that we can have HKA that is not science, the HKA that is not part of the subset. This is why an undergraduate at any university will not receive science credits for taking an Art Appreciation or History of Europe course. That is why a scientist who tries to pad his CV with his dating successes would be perceived as crazy or dishonest.

    But it doesn’t tell it like it is. The misconception is that science is something quite distinct from what humans do every day, when in fact scientists use the same basic senses and thinking brain that all of us do.

    I have no such misconception, as can be seen from what I wrote in my blog entry: “We all use logic, reason, and empirical investigation in our everyday decisions and beliefs.” Look at it this way. Because all crows are black, does that mean anything that is black is a crow? That’s what you appear to be arguing.

    It seems clear to me that the agenda is on the other foot. There’s a desire to put theism out of reach of all the best tools that humans have developed to understand the world. There’s a desire to break the link between our best ways of finding out stuff, because that would lead to a skeptical outlook on theism that can’t be accepted. The very skeptical critical methods that theists-scientists use in their science they want to exclude from their theism because it’s too inconvenient. They are willing to discard all the best principles of discovery in order to sustain an ancient belief system they have bought into.

    All you accomplish here is to rationalize through psychologizing. I have no desire to put theism out of reach or any desire to break the link. My position stems from knowledge, not desire. It is the knowledge of what science can do and cannot do. The problem with your position is that it builds on magical thinking about science, as if science is a magic wand and all we need is the desire to wave it and it will cause the answers to appear before our eyes. That’s not how it works.

    Whether or not science is the “best tool” depends entirely on the context. It’s analogous to a scalpel as a tool. It’s the best tool for a surgeon, but not a tree surgeon. Your argument is akin to decrying the fact that the tree cutters don’t use scalpels and trying to blame that fact on some secret allegiance to the chain-saw companies.

    Consider it this way. What makes science such a good tool is the experiment. That is, science, as the best tool, will deploy a carefully thought out hypothesis, built from what we know, that makes predictions entailed by the truth of the hypothesis. Then, a well-designed experiment, complete with negative and positive controls, must be conducted to detect the existence of the predicted phenomenon. Take away the rigorous hypothesis and well-designed experiment, and there is no reason to think science is the best tool. So any attempt to use this tool is limited by the ability to erect such an approach.

    So if you want to use the tool of science to judge the truth about Jesus and the resurrection (for example), then you need to develop a hypothesis along these lines:

    If Jesus did raise from the dead, we would necessarily be able to detect X. The hypothesis should be tight enough such that failure to detect X would refute the resurrection and that X can only be explained by the truth of the resurrection.

    Then, you need to design the experiment to detect X (using positive and negative controls). Then, you can report the failure to find X.

    Oddly enough, neither Jerry Coyne, nor PZ Myers, nor Richard Dawkins, nor anyone else has ever published such an experiment. So why have these scientists put the resurrection claim “out of reach of all the best tools that humans have developed to understand the world?” Yes, I know they claim science refutes this resurrection. But they offer no experiments and no data. They have not done any science to refute the resurrection. They have only the poorly thought out hypothesis:

    If Jesus did raise from the dead, then lots of people should be rising from the dead.

    And that is the totality of their “science” on this issue.

    Anyway, let me end with a note of irony that brings us full circle. You pretty much end by holding up science as the best tool and the best way of finding out stuff. But if you remember, it began by labeling Jerry Coyne’s decision to date Meg instead of Sue as science. So the best tool we have is the approach we take to dating??

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