A-debate a-brewing

Ludwig Wittgenstein in his youth.

Ludwig Wittgenstein in his youth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Wittgenstein put it in the “The Blue Book”:

Our craving for generality has [as one] source … our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is “purely descriptive.

Part one of the debate here.

Part two is here.

Challenges to Science

English: A game of Tug of War during College R...

English: A game of Tug of War during College Royal at the University of Guelph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote this paper about 30 years ago for the HiC magazine. I welcome comments on it now. Has anything changed over those many years?

Next week I want to consider some of the current problems we face: climate change deniers, beginning and end of life issues, distribution of scarce resources, and others.


Humanist in Canada, Summer 1983; by Bob Lane

   – ©2005, 2007 Bob Lane

Over the past two hundred years science has proved itself to be the most powerful intellectual method yet devised. The “scientific method” has become the paradigm for all disciplines which deal in empirical fact. Observation, generalisation, falsification, repetition of experiments have become orthodox methodology which is rarely questioned and not often understood.

Today there are several challenges to science. In the United States, and to some degree here in Canada, one of the centerpiece theories of contemporary science — evolution — has come under strong attack by a group of fundamentalist Christians who call themselves “creationists”. They are trying to get creationism taught in the school system as a scientific theory on equal footing with evolutionism.

A second challenge comes from those who believe in paranormal phenomena: ESP, out-of-body travel, clairvoyance and the like. The tremendous interest in this area of “psychic” phenomena is witnessed by the procession of movies, books, television shows, and newspaper columns devoted to the mysterious powers of people who can, seemingly, bend spoons with mind power alone, predict events before they occur, and, in general, are tuned in to some dimension of reality that the rest of us, bound by our five senses, can only vicariously experience. Are any of these phenomena real? Or are they merely hoped for evidence of some spirit world that promises us immortality? Or are they, more seriously, hoaxes perpetrated on a gullible audience for very non-scientific reasons, like greed?

Continue reading

SS: on finding truth

There are several competing religions, and each claims it has the Truth. We read daily of clashes between Sunnis and Shia. The last time I counted there were 144 different flavours of Christianity. How could they all be true at the same time? How would one determine which, if any, has a corner on truth? I think the most damning criticism of religion comes out of considerations like this one. David Hume pointed this out long ago in his essay on religion. Is there any truth to the claims of religion?

And what about science? Does it do any better? One day coffee is said to be good for you and a week later it is bad for you. Is sunshine good or bad?  Is global warming real or just “the sky is falling” fear mongering? Compare religious claims with scientific claims. Religious claims depend on authority. What is different about scientific claims? Don’t they too depend upon authority?

One of the strengths of science is its capacity to resolve controversies by generally accepted procedures and standards. Many scientific questions (especially more technical ones) are not matters of opinion but have a correct answer.

Scientists document their procedures and findings in the peer-reviewed literature in such a way that they can be double-checked and challenged by others. The proper way to challenge results is, of course, also through the peer-reviewed literature, so that the challenge follows the same standards of documentation as did the original finding. [Source]

Also on topic is this discussion between Krauss and Dawkins.