Monday, January 16, 2006

Debunking "Scientific Objectivity"

Alanyzer opens with this:
The first thing we must recognize is that the question of the nature of science is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one. . . .

. . . methodological naturalism [is] the claim that science can only appeal to natural causes as explanations. . . .

But there are some big problems with this appeal to methodological naturalism as an essential characteristic of science. Indeed, it sets up a dilemma that is likely to backfire on the scientific establishment. I'll explain tomorrow in a follow-up post.
Here are portions of the follow-up post:
In yesterday's post I gave some background on the Intelligent Design (ID) debate and noted that an increasingly popular move by the mainstream scientific establishment has been to stipulate that "science" requires methodological naturalism. In other words, the claim is that properly "scientific" explanations can only make reference to 'natural' laws and entities, the kinds of laws and entities that would presumably find inclusion in a completed form of physics. . . .

[T]his way of defining "science" is historically and philosophically arbitrary. Prior to the rise of Darwininsm and Comtean positivism in the 19th century, no one--not Galileo, not Newton, not Kepler, Boyle, you name it--would have thought to define "science" in terms of a commitment to methodological naturalism. Instead, beginning all the way back with Aristotle, the various sciences were defined in terms of the object of their study, not the types of explanatory entities they were allowed to invoke. . . .

Noted 19th-century logician, philosopher, and scientist Charles Sanders Peirce argued that to "block the road of inquiry" was to commit a cardinal sin against rationality. To "block the road of inquiry" is to set up a priori restrictions on where inquiry can go and on what kinds of answers it can reach. The reason why Peirce saw this as a sin against rationality was because it takes our focus off of truth and insulates certain 'pet theories' from potential refutation. It's like saying "I've made up my mind about X, Y, and Z, and I refuse to countenance any evidence weighing against those opinions." Such dogmatism, Peirce held, is antithetical to the spirit of science. Ironically, in the name of promoting genuine "science", the mainstream scientific establishment wants to do the very thing that Peirce held to be fundamentally antithetical to science, i.e., block the road of inquiry. What they are saying, in effect, is that the only answers that will be tolerated are naturalistic answers.
Maverick Philosopher chimes in, with a "Fisking" of Daniel Dennett:
Dennett's main point here is that belief in God and in an afterlife are epistemically on a par with belief in the Easter Bunny and black magic. . . . Few philosophers today would claim that that God and afterlife can be definitively proven. But no fair-minded person can deny that there are many powerful arguments in their support, and many powerful arguments against naturalism, and in particular, arguments against Dennett's extreme version thereof.

What Dennett is suggesting, of course, is that religion is just a form of superstition. . . . It is also quite absurd to suggest that all the intelligent people — the brights — are on one side of the issue. . . .

Indeed, if one looks back through the history of philosophy, one sees that the greatest philosophers were theists of one sort or another, and that the atheists and materialists were second-string or worse. . . .

Another point that must be mentioned is Dennett's tendentious and unclarified use of 'supernatural.' . . .

Is the supernatural perhaps that which violates the laws of nature? Is the supernatural the same as the miraculous? This may well be what Dennett has in mind. But God, unlike the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and other Dennet favorites, need not be understood as violating any laws of nature. Think of a God that does not intervene miraculously in the workings of nature, but is merely the sustaining cause of the existence of nature. Then there would be a clear sense in which God would not be a supernatural being. Though outside of nature (and precisely because outside of nature) he would not violate any natural laws. Something not subject to natural laws cannot be said to violate them. . . .

At the very least, we need to know what 'supernatural' means to fully understand Dennett's opposing of the naturalist brights to the supernaturalist dullards. Does it mean nonnatural, miraculous, or naturalistically inexplicable? If Dennett is using it as a bludgeon, as a portmanteau term of abuse, the way lefties use 'fascist' and 'theocrat' to tar their opponents, then that is contemptible.
Finally, Pat Michaels reminds us just how biased, venal, and opportunistic scientists can be:

Two recent events underscore how predictable is the distortion of global warming by those who gain from exaggeration. The events were the Montreal “Conference of the Parties” which had signed the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. Both took place in early December.

The sheer volume of hype was impressive. Following are the headlines, along with the sources, generated on the afternoon of December 7, first from the Montreal UN conference. (University news sources are those that were eventually picked up in other stories). These were obtained from Google’s news search page.

•Global warming to halt ocean circulation (University of Illinois)

•Warming trend adds to hazard of Arctic trek (Salem OR News)

•Pacific islanders move to escape global warming (Reuters)

•Tuvalu: That sinking feeling (PBS)

•World weather disasters spell record losses in 2005 (Malaysia Star)

•Arctic peoples urge UN aid to protect cultures (Reuters)

•Threatened by warming, Arctic people file suit against US (AFP)

Next, from San Francisco:

•Ozone layer may take a decade longer to recover (New York Times)

•Earth is all out of new farmland (London Guardian)

•Forests could worsen global warming (UPI)

•Warming could free far more carbon from high arctic soil than earlier thought (University of Washington)

•Rain will take greater toll on reindeer, climate change model shows (University of Washington)

•Methane’s impacts on climate change may be twice previous estimates (NASA)

•Average temperatures climbing faster than thought in North America (Oregon State University)

How can things be so bad? . . .

Scientists compete with each other for finite resources, just like bankers and corporations. In this case, successful competitors are those who are rewarded by their universities or institutions. In all science, this means publishing research articles in the refereed scientific literature. That research costs tremendous amounts of money and there really is only one provider: Uncle Sam (i.e. you and me).

No one gets much of this pie by claiming that his or her issue may, in fact, be no big deal. Instead, any issue – take global warming, acid rain, and obesity as examples, must be portrayed in the starkest of terms. Everything is a crisis, and all the crises are competing with each other.

Similar logic applies in the policy arena. Remember that the job of policymakers is precisely that: to make policy, which does not get made unless whatever policy there might be is “absolutely necessary” to avoid certain doom.

Then, finally, what gets played on TV and in the papers? More crises. Near-death experiences sell newspapers and attract viewers. Those who question this need only look at ratings for The Weather Channel. Some people may remember that it used to be the station where you turned to for round-the-clock national and local weather. The ratings were in the tank.

Now, in prime time, you are more likely to see the twentieth re-run of how this tornado went over that house and how everyone almost died, usually with some pretty snappy home video. Or, just to get your attention for sure, a re-enactment of the sinking of an oil rig in a howling cyclone — re-enacted because everyone on board drowned. Ratings have boomed.

Perhaps it is dismaying that science has become as blatantly biased in the direction of tragedy as television. But, given the way we fund and reward science and scientists, it was inevitable, and global warming is only one of many of science’s predictable distortions.

In sum, many (most?) of today's scientists adhere to a flawed scientific framework. And, even by the standards of that framework, many of today's scientists are nothing more than charlatans.

Related posts:

Global Warming: Realities and Benefits
Words of Caution for the Cautious
Scientists in a Snit
Another Blow to Climatology?
Bad News for Politically Correct Science
Another Blow to Chicken-Little Science
Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance
Bad News for Enviro-nuts
Going Too Far with the First Amendment
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Hockey Stick Is Broken
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Religion and Personal Responsibility
Science in Politics, Politics in Science
Global Warming and Life
Evolution and Religion
Speaking of Religion...
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Hurricanes and Global Warming
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Global Warming and the Liberal Agenda
Science, Logic, and God
A Dissonant Vision