Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Humean Ideology in Science.

  photo crab-nebula-552300.jpg

 In the last installment I was making the point that the validity of lack of validity in God arguments depends upon perspective. I was interested in a certain kind of God argument That stems from realizations about the law like nature of the universe, and it's "behavior." One such example is design arguments, even the fine tuning argument. I will deal with specific examples on either friday or Monday. I don't have a film to review on Friday. Today I'm going to finish the discussion about the two schools that argue between laws of nature and phsyics are merely descriptions of behavior vs. they are actual laws.

It is understandable that naturalistic thinkers are uneasy with the concept of miracles. So should we all be watchful not to believe too quickly because it is easy to get caught up in private reasons and ignore reason itself. Thus has more than one intelligent person been taken by both scams and honest mistakes. By the same token, however, it is equally a danger that one will remain too long in the skeptical place and become overly committed to doubting everything. From that position the circular reasoning of the naturalist seems so reasonable. There’s never been any proof of miracles before so we can’t accept that there is any now. But that’s only because we keep making the same assumption and thus have always dismissed the evidence that was valid.
            Of course in the nature of scientific realism we see ideology at work on both sides. They are not arguing about the empirical data suggesting how the workings of the physical world proceed. They are not arguing about a big pile of facts that are totally factual and do not require any sort philosophical component. These things are part of the discussion but the frame work of the discussion for both sides is clearly philosophical and thus ideological as well. Scientific realism in many of its versions distinguishes between ontological and epistemological views. In the world of Roy Bhaskar’s realism there are commonalities with the Frankfurt school that is with neo-Marxist social and political criticism.[1] So for, it is anti-realists who are working from a postmodern reading of constructivism. Whichever school prevails, science has to make the assumption that our observations really tell us what’s there, if they want to rule out God and religion and other “primitive” things as “unscientific.” It wouldn’t really work to assume that the objects of scientific understanding are just “constructs” and then try to use them to rule out the reality of other ideas such as God. They have to make an assumption of a realist nature at some point. They can argue that assumption as a theoretical one, thus allowing a constructivist to remain a constructivist and still assume the reality of objects of scientific scrutiny. Otherwise we can’t assume string theory or mutliverse, or that there’s solidity at the basis of matter. To dismiss belief on the basis that we are just imposing patterns is also to dismiss the ability of science to predict the workings of natural world.
            We can go all the way on assuming Humean view (description only) if we are prepared to be solipsists in the end. We can go to the other extreme and assume law like regularity if we are prepared to impose our own ideas. The only logical way out is to be consistent and follow what works, but that might just mean having to refrain form ruling out some version of SN. What works is the assumption that our perceptions are real. We don’t play on the freeway on the assumption that our perception of patterns is just imposed and all that oncoming traffic is not real. Solders on the battle don’t stand in the line of fire on the premise that bullets are just theoretical constructs. We go with what works and what works is to assume that when our perceptions of regular, consistent, and shared (Inter-subjective) they are worth heeding. One of the areas in which we should make such assumptions is in the assumption that order and regularity is indicative of prescriptive laws of nature, and in turn prescriptive laws are indicative of the will and ordering of mind.
            Order bespeaks mind in that mind is the only example we know of purposive ordering. As Vera Kistiakowsky stated, “The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine….I am satisfied with the existence of an unknowable source of divine order and purpose.” [2] This quotation shows us that it was not that long ago that it was understood in science to view order as indicative of prescriptive laws at least in the sense of being a creation of mind. I use the word “purposive” and that’s a key because it is the hint of purpose that makes us think of mind. Why assume there’s a purpose? The whole atheist concept of answering final cause and design arguments is to divorce the universe form purpose. “Things are just here” they tell us, “there’s no ultimate reason, there’s only the descriptions of physics.” The problem is the description describes perfect order and absolute regularity. These aspects fit the need to produce a life bearing universe. That hints at purpose. Purpose hints at mind. The fact that it’s bankable, it’s always there, it’s relentless order makes it seem prescriptive. The concept of cause and effect seems a prescriptive concept.
            Systems analysis approach to the question of laws raises the possibility of mind:

Other aspects of the systems approach have made philosophers wary. Some argue that this approach will have the untoward consequence that laws are inappropriately mind-dependent in virtue of the account's appeal to the concepts of simplicity, strength and best balance, concepts whose instantiation seems to depend on cognitive abilities, interests, and purposes. The appeal to simplicity raises further questions stemming from the apparent need for a regimented language to permit reasonable comparisons of the systems.[3]

            Cause and effect might be taken as an example of prescriptive laws. In spite of the descriptive nature of physical law in modern scientific outlook, cause and effect is not made obsolete but still bears a crucial place in human thought. Some argue that cause and effect is outmoded due to quantum theory. Quantum theory (QM) posits acausal happenings such as the appearance of quantum particles. That has been discussed in chapter 8, “disprove God,” In connection with Krauss’s book. QM doesn’t replace cause and effect in all of science. It’s only under very specialized conditions that it can be assumed to be acausal and it’s only in connection with a certain theoretical outlook. Of course the question of laws is very complex now. We are not sure we know what laws are. The idea that the universe contains a law of some sort in some heavenly realm and natural processes obey that law is ninetieth century, no one really thinks that way now.[4] We can speak of general principles or “universals” of some sort. There certainly do seem to be principles that are generally active and keep the universe running along certain lines. We can see these are “organizing principles.” Calling them laws is sort of one sided because it conjures up images of a celestial legislator. The term too directly links to the watch maker, law implies Law giver. Organizing principle could imply any sort of origin source, personal or impersonal, purposive or not. One such principle is cause and effect.
            Descriptive physical laws do not undermine the notion of causality. As James Franklin puts it:

The notion of Cause remains crucial to science, even though the most general physical laws do not mention causes. No physical laws or interpretations of those laws call into question such facts as that some diseases are caused by viruses...every technological application of science requires the notion of an intervention that will effect change...That physical laws are descriptive does not undermine the notion of causality. The motion of billiard balls in interaction is described and predicted by purely descriptive of conservation of momentum and energy, for example. That does not in any way supersede our understanding that one ball hit another and caused it to go flying off." The laws just describe the course of the causal interaction." It's a description complete in one way but partial in another, in the same way as a complete description of a person's actions without reference to their motivations...[5]

Nor is causality equal to determinism. Determinism is often confused with cause and effect but conceptually they are not the same and one does not necessitate the other. The fact that they can get mixed up with each other raises an important issue: the nature of cosmological issues as inherently philosophical. None of the issue addressed so far can be resolved by just observing facts; they all require philological investigation, and that means that ideology can’t be far behind. Not that philosophical thinking is inherently ideological, but it’s constantly opening the door. Ideology is like a leach that seeks to attach itself to philosophical thinking every chance it gets. The relative nature of prior probability of God based upon one’s personal search, the nature of laws, the nature of purpose and order, the problem of descriptions and how they very according to empirical observation, the acceptance of strange phenomena (miracles), all the things we have touched  upon so far require philosophical thinking, thus run the risk of ideological connotation.
            This raises major conceptual problems for atheism. First because atheists tend to be determinists to a large extent, but also because the naturalistic reading of the universe (that’s just the way it happened) usually entails the implication that this is the only way it could happen. “This is just the way things happen,” it’s not amazing nor does it suggest purposes because they had to happen this way due to cause and effect. The implication is they really couldn’t happen in other ways, but such is not the case. Nature is all about contingency and naturalistic being is contingent being. Even Karl Popper tells us so; "Empirical facts are facts which might not have been. Everything that belongs to space time is a contingent truth because it could have been otherwise, it is dependent upon the existence of something else for its' existence going all the way back to the Big Bang, which is itself contingent upon something."[6] Paul Davies tells us:

Some scientists have tried to argue that if only we knew enough about the laws of physics, if we were to discover a final theory that united all the fundamental forces and particles of nature into a single mathematical scheme, then we would find that this superlaw, or theory of everything, would describe the only logically consistent world. In other words, the nature of the physical world would be entirely a consequence of logical and mathematical necessity. There would be no choice about it. I think this is demonstrably wrong. There is not a shred of evidence that the universe is logically necessary. Indeed, as a theoretical physicist I find it rather easy to imagine alternative universes that are logically consistent, and therefore equal contenders for reality.[7]

If true this would mean the universe is contingent. That is to say it is dependent upon some ontologically prior condition that makes it as it is. That condition would have to entail some form of organizing principle that makes for order and precision. The best thing we know for organizing is mind. Davies begins to wax eloquent about efficiency and sufficiency of the laws of physics, affirming their reality and then links to God:

Now you may think I have written God entirely out of the picture. Who needs a God when the laws of physics can do such a splendid job? But we are bound to return to that burning question: Where do the laws of physics come from? And why those laws rather than some other set? Most especially: Why a set of laws that drives the searing, featureless gases coughed out of the big bang, towards life and consciousness and intelligence and cultural activities such as religion, art, mathematics and science?...You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives, offering a potent mix of freedom and discipline, a sort of restrained creativity. The laws do not tie down physical systems so rigidly that they can accomplish little, but neither are they a recipe for cosmic anarchy. Instead, they encourage matter and energy to develop along pathways of evolution that lead to novel variety-what Freeman Dyson has called the principle of maximum diversity: that in some sense we live in the most interesting possible universe [8]

This does leave the atheist in a pickle. I hesitate to evoke this argument because it’s a double bind and I don’t like double binds, I think they are often phony. Yet this one is problematic either way. If the universe just has to be this way then it’s bound to be prescriptive with respect to physical law. Thus it’s a contradiction to say laws are only descriptions. Thus a descriptive universe must also be a contingent universe. That much is true, but we can’t push it and say “either way it has to be God” that would mean either prescriptive or descriptive is an implication of God, that’s a double bind. It seems more honest to just say that what is described is order, and that even though “laws” or organizing principles may be compelling they don’t make a necessary universe, but they are aspects of a contingent universe that is none the less ordered and prescribed by some higher principle. Then of course the argument centers around weather or not that principle is mind. In any case the contingent nature of the universe lends itself to several God arguments hat involve the ordered nature of the universe.

[1] Bhaskar, R.A., Philosophy and the Idea of Freedom, London: Blackwell. 1990
[2] Margenau, H and R.A. Varghese, ed. 1992. Cosmos, Bios, and Theos:Scientists Reflect upon Science, God and the Origins of the Universe…  La Salle, IL, Open Court, p. 52. qjoting Vera Kistiakawsky: bor in 1928, Professor of physics at MIT, she served as president of the Association for Women in Science in 1980-1981.”She had been a staff member of major research installations and had combined teaching with basic research in nuclear physics both at Columbia and Brandeis Universities before joining the faculty at MIT in 1963, and rising in 1972 to the rank of Professor of Physics.  She is now professor emerita there.” From her webapte at Mt Holyoak college (she went to school there—class of 48): URL:  visited 2/8/13
[3], John W Carroll, "Laws of Nature", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = . Carrroll cites D. Lewis, , “New Work for a Theory of Universals”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, (1983) 61:367
[4]Santo D'Agostino, op cit.
[5] James Franklin, What Science Knows and How it Knows it. Jackson Tennessee:Encounter books 2009, 64-65. Franklin teaches at University of New South Wales, he’s a mathematician who publishes on History of Ideas.
[6] Karl Popper quoted in Antony Flew, Philosophical Dictionary, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979, 242.
[7] Paul Davies, “Physics and the Mind of God, The Templeton Prize Address,” First Things. (1995). Davies was born in 1946, he is recipient of the Templeton prize, the largest monitory aware for scientific achievement, In the past he has taught at University of Cambridge and is currently director of “BEYOND” center for fundamental concepts in Science.

[8] Ibid.

No comments: