A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Masque of Science.

Eddington is more agnostic about the material world than Huxley ever was about the spiritual world.

-- G. K. Chesterton, "The Well and the Shallows"
Dedicated revolutionary

1. The Rise of Modern Science
Ancients and medievals had studied Nature, but the Modern Ages were a time when Science could be spelled with a capital-S, and the mere act of wearing a white lab coat could endow the speaker with the magical ability to sell products on TV.  Science, with its effort to describe the world “as it really was” went hand-in-glove with representation in the arts.  Though which was the hand and which the glove is a fine point. 

The medievals had sought to appreciate the beauty and interconnectedness of Nature -- how Her ends meshed with one another. But in the early 17th century, a number of remarkable men revolutionized the way in which science was done by wedding physics to mathematics and engineering in a ménage a trois
  • Mathematics.  Descartes believed that if physical theories were expressed in mathematical language, they could be proven with the same rigor as mathematical theorems! 
  • Engineering.  Francis Bacon compared Aristotelian natural philosophers to little boys, who could talk, but not impregnate women [i.e., Nature] to bear children [i.e., useful products].  Descartes agreed that the purpose of science was not simply to learn about Nature, but to make men her “masters and possessors.”  

The heart of the Scientific Revolution was a re-imagining of man’s relationship to Nature.  Science shifted from art appreciation to handmaiden of industry. 

I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave. …  [S]o may I succeed in my only earthly wish, namely to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man's dominion over the universe to their promised bounds.
– Francis Bacon, The Masculine Birth of Time, ch. 1.  [FB]
In the 1660s Robert Boyle listed the most pressing problems for scientists to tackle:
  1. Prolongation of Life; 
  2. Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as new Teeth, new Hair colour'd as in youth; 
  3. A ship to saile with all winds and a ship not to be sunk; 
  4. The attaining of gigantick dimensions; 
  5. The acceleration of the production of things out of seed; 
  6. The art of flying; 
  7. The making of armor light and extremely hard; 
  8. The practicable and certain ways of finding longtitudes; 
  9. The cure of diseases at a distance, or at least by transplantation; 
  10. Potent drugs to alter or exalt imagination, waking, memory and other functions, and appease pain, procure sleep, harmless dreams, etc.; 
  11. Freedom from necessity of much sleeping exemplify’d by the operation of tea and what happens in mad-men; 
  12. The emulating of fish without engines by custome and education only. 
The remarkable thing about Boyle’s list is how little concerns the study of Nature as such.   It’s all about – well – Alice, when she’s ten feet tall (#4) and living longer and getting your hair back.  In fact, the list sounds a lot like the science fiction of the Golden Age.  The Scientific Revolution thus shifted Science from an end in itself to a means of achieving other ends: a new product, racial hygiene, Save the Planet! 

Now, not every scientist is personally motivated by the Baconian program.  But the idea of practical applications to improve human life is never far from his thoughts.  Or at least from those of his funding source.  Even the most abstract theoretician hastens to assure us that his research project will eventually have practical uses someday, somehow. 

2. Vermis in pomum
And that was the worm in the apple.  If, as Stephen Schneider wrote, “we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place,” then we run the risk of breaking Science to the saddle of our goals and objectives.  What exactly does it mean to make the world “a better place”?   Hence, Schneider’s concern about “the right balance between being effective and being honest.”  [Discover, Oct. 1989, pp. 45–48]  Or Eisenhower’s concern in his Farewell Address about the effects of the government-science complex.  He who pays the piper will eventually call the tune. 

The goal of “mastering and possessing” nature necessarily focused scientists on just those aspects of nature that could be predicted and controlled; and this required Descartes’ quantitative, mathematical approach.  Baconian science thus ensured that Nature would be “quantifiable, predictable, and controllable” by defining nature as quantifiable, predictable, and controllable. 

F. McGee and closet
So nature became a cloud of colorless, odorless, featureless particles “advancing in perfectly predicable lines with perfect predictability in empty space.”   But since these colorless, tasteless particles combine somehow to form delicious, sweet, red apples, reality had to be re-imagined in quantifiable form: heat/cold as molecular motion; color as the reflection of photons; sound as compression waves, etc.   How these things actually felt, looked, and sounded in conscious experience was shoved into the subjective closet of the mind.  This worked fine for physics and chemistry, not quite so well for biology, and not at all for the “social sciences,” where most of the interesting stuff actually does happen in the mind.  Thus, when scientists attempted to study the mind itself as “meaningless particles in motion” all the subjective stuff that had been shoved into it for three hundred years came tumbling out as from Fibber McGee’s closet. 

Popper goes the weasel
3. The Collapse of Modern Science
The reaction began with Karl Popper, whose subversion of the scientific program was so successful that today even scientists themselves talk of his “falsification” thesis as the very hallmark of science.   Science was demoted from “certain knowledge” to “educated opinion.” 

Objections to the mechanistic account appeared early on.  What does it mean to say that the perfectly engineered machine of Nature is “really” a cloud of particles, a “colorless nothing.”  The idea had lasted because"science worked," but science would "work" regardless of the mental metaphor held of nature.  Who knows?  It might even work better.

 Starting in the early 1900s physicists began to abandon the old mechanical model as too simplistic.  Galileo had distinguished “objective matter” as having “size, shape, and location,” but modern physics denies these properties to the subatomic world.  What exactly is the shape of an atom?  Where precisely is an electron locatedWerner Heisenberg wrote in The Physicist’s Conception of Nature that “the desired objective reality of the elementary particle is too crude an oversimplification of what really happens.”  Physics, he said, no longer describes the world, but our perceptions of the world.  Matter itself was suddenly subjective and materialism could no longer account for matter.  Physics became very strange.  

Biology lags behind, a bastion of 19th century thinking; but even there genes are no longer seen in the role of "atoms."  Philosopher James Chastek writes:
The Postmodern world is conflicted about what to do with the old modern account of nature.  Many of the conclusions that were drawn from the Modern account are still around, but the basis they stood on has vanished.  People still try to force quantum physics into the old billiard-ball mold of nature, but such attempts are more and more the stuff of lower and lower amateurs.  Philosophers no longer call themselves “materialists” – since they realize that the billiard/mechanical model of matter is no longer rational.

Meanwhile, radical movements had emerged in the late 1960s that were profoundly suspicious of the whole Modern mythos of “progress, science, and industry,” preferring a new mythos of oppression and pollution. 
  • Feminists noted the “masculinist” terms in which Baconian science was conceived.  Man’s relationship with “feminine” nature was one of power and domination, and a matter is “scientific” to the extent it can be conveniently manipulated.  The Enlightenment philosophers – Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau – supposed a “state of nature” depicting men as “atoms of force” and disregarding children, women, families, and other complications.  Women were valued to the extent that they approximated the male as controller.   
  • The environmentalist movement regarded the Baconian-Cartesian project of dominating nature with horror.  Technological innovation began to be viewed with suspicion by a small but growing fraction of the Western world.  The Precautionary Principle pushed the idea that it was better to do nothing than to do something that had risks.  The old slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry” began to seem a sick joke.  In 1989 the American Chemical Society commissioned an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History to be called “Science in American Life.” 
The ACS scientists naturally expected an exhibit celebrating the triumphs of 20th century American science and did not imagine that this needed to be spelled out in the contract.  But five years and $5 million dollars later, what the scientists got was an exhibition that presented American science as a series of moral debacles and environmental catastrophes: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Silent Spring, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and the explosion of the space shuttle. [CS]

These critiques - from philosophers, quantum physics, feminism, and environmentalism - had some merit.  Scientists are creatures of their time no less than anyone else, and few of them are out to dominate nature in the manner of the Early Moderns.  Seventeenth century-style vivisections are no longer done.  Female corpses at convenient stages of pregnancy are no longer fortuitously available to study the anatomical course of pregnancy.  Black men are not left untreated in order to study the course of syphilis.  Most people now sympathize with the basic ideas of feminism and environmentalism, even if they balk at the more extreme expressions.

Yet, the scientific world expressed wariness not at the pomo threat from the academic left, which gnaws at the very roots of modernist science, but at such fringe groups as creationists, whose deepest yearnings are to have their religious beliefs exalted to the higher level of Science™.  This, despite the fact that the creationists will never be taken seriously within the Academy, while the pomos have been.
The trend was set by a cluster of ideas emanating mainly out of the French philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. These philosophers' work is often subtle and insightful (more so in Foucault's case), but that of their herds of followers rarely is, and can be summarized by two complementary principles: look for the power structure, and do not indulge in fantasies of "objective truth." You want to understand why astronomers refer to certain phenomena as "black holes"? Look to the astronomers' bosses' skin color and forsake any notion that this may somehow have to do with the intrinsic properties of the phenomena in question. The two "principles" have thus spawned an entire generation of studies that amount to little more than nonsense. Worse, they have propelled a fundamental change in attitude toward nature and the spirit of research among our academics, supplanting the basic wonder at the world that animated previous generations of scholars with a ubiquitous and deep-seated cynicism. If everything is power and nothing is truth, such a change in attitude was inevitable.
 -- Uriah Kriegel.  “Autumn of the Humanities.”

4. Destinatum edacissimum
$7.71 at B&N
$7.99 at Amazon
In the wildly popular sci-fi epic Firestar, by an author whom modesty prevents me from naming, the character Belinda Karr cautions her friend Mariesa van Huyten, "Don't let the Goal eat you up."  Even worthwhile goals can become so all-consuming that they devour the means used to achieve them.  It's not so much that the End justifies the Means, but that the End, when one is lacking in σωφροσύνη (balance), can distort and corrupt the Means. 

Example.  In a letter to the Financial Times, 9 April 2010, Martin Rees (President of the Royal Society) and Ralph J. Cicerone (President of the US National Academy of Sciences) wrote: “Our academies will provide the scientific backdrop for the political and business leaders who must create effective policies to steer the world toward a low-carbon economy.”  Read that again: the purpose of the two scientific academies is to help steer toward a predetermined policy goal.  As science becomes progressively more subordinate to goals, its mystic aura in the culture will fade. 

5. Scientia voodoorum
Needs more than the appearance
to capture the essence of science
By the end of the Modern Ages, the term "scientific" had become, like "creative," simply an expression of approval; and Really-Truly Science™ was imposed on various fields to which it was ill-suited.  As already mentioned, the further you go from physics, the heartland of the scientific method, the fainter it becomes.  The social sciences always wants quote marks around "science."  Yet there seems an insistence that if only the practitioners dress up in white lab coats and use a pseudo-technical jargon (e.g., refer to "questions" as stimuli) they will be really-truly scientificalistic.  The remarks of Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart regarding Daniel Dennett's effort to apply the scientific method to the study of "religion" seems to apply here, too. 
There can be no science of any hard empirical variety when the very act of identifying one’s object of study is already an act of interpretation, contingent on a collection of purely arbitrary reductions, dubious categorizations, and biased observations. There can be no meaningful application of experimental method. There can be no correlation established between biological and cultural data. It will always be impossible to verify either one’s evidence or one’s conclusions-indeed, impossible even to determine what the conditions of verification should be.
in a sense, Dennett is himself a cargo cultist. When, for instance, he proposes statistical analyses of different kinds of religion, to find out which are more evolutionarily perdurable, he exhibits a trust in the power of unprejudiced science to demarcate and define items of thought and culture like species of flora that verges on magical thinking. It is as if he imagines that by imitating the outward forms of scientific method, and by applying an assortment of superficially empirical theories to nonempirical realities, and by tirelessly gathering information, and by asserting the validity of his methods with an incantatory repetitiveness, and by invoking invisible agencies such as memes, and by fiercely believing in the efficacy of all that he is doing, he can summon forth actual hard clinical results, as from the treasure houses of the gods.

To us skiffy folks, this potential change stings the most.  But we can certainly imagine that we are moving into an age when science will be nudged by the goals of its practitioners and funding sources to supply the findings needed to support the goals.  Publish or perish, after all.  But this can only undermine the scientific program, as more an more people come to see that what is being done is not Science™ but Policy-mongering.  Even generations ago, when covering the Scopes Trial, G.K.Chesterton saw that the real root of the resistance of the Tennesseans (dare we say "the 99%"?) was not to evolution as such, but to what they perceived as socio-political bullying.

Latest attack on science
by cargo-cultists
6. Pulsu pergit
William M. Briggs, "Statistician to the Stars," has noted a recent trend in Goal-Oriented Cargo Cultism; viz., the use of pseudo-scientific coloring to disguise attacks on untermenschen.  In the present instance, the untermenschen are conservatives, Republicans, and Christians, often conceptualized as one and the same thing.  Case in point is a new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality.  That's right, sports fans!  They actually claim to be doing Really-Truly Scientificalistic Stuff!  But since it is obviously tendentious propaganda using Science™ as a masque of approbation, it can only serve to discredit science in the Postmodern world.

One of the blurbs for the book reads: "A significant chunk of the electorate, it seems, will never accept the facts as they are, no matter how strong the evidence."  One is tempted to wonder strongly what might follow from "and therefore..." on a statement like that.  Perhaps such untermenschen should be excluded from the electorate.  Or perhaps, as Sam Harris has said, "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them."  However, the people saying these things are genetically superior, smarter cogitators.  We know this because they tell us they are.  

From descriptions, the book seems to be not actual science but only a compilation of statistical studies by non-statisticians, confusing correlation with causation.  The aforesaid Wm. Briggs, as a public service, has made a similar list of tendentious peer-reviewed papers, pointing out the methodological and statistical flaws of each. 
One factor not often mentioned is that these "neurological" and "behavioral" studies almost always employ a small sample of college students as their subjects -- so called WEIRD people (i.e., Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) -- and then purport to generalize to the human race as a whole.  But the inferences of a sample can only be extended to the population from which the sample was taken (or to one identically distributed, which of course is that which was to have been proven.)  The Briggs list is, as of 5/5/12
It is difficult to conceive of such a concerted freshet of papers as the coincidental product of a dispassionate sense of scientific inquiry.  More likely, practitioners are tworked off at the untermenschen and are using the Masque of Science in order to strike back.  After all, if in pomoland there is no such thing as objective truth and everything boils down to power relationships, all that matters is effectiveness in achieving a sociopolitical goal.   This leads to conformation bias, to tendentiousness, at worst to outright fraud, depending on whether one is fooling oneself along with everyone else. 

7. Conclusio
Late Modern science is under attack, not by creationist outsiders but by academic insiders.  It does not require a majority of the Academy, nor even a large minority.  The trust of the public is easily lost even when a very small percentage is involved.  Ask Detroit automakers or the Catholic priesthood.  The question for the future (a venue within which skiffy folks like to cavort) is whether this will be a passing fad or whether it represents a genuine implosion of Modern science.  (There is also the separate problem of Paralysis of Analysis.)  If so, what will come next?  If Medieval science was a kind of "art criticism" and Modern science was "dominating Nature," will Postmodern science be a kind of "salesmanship"? 

On the positive side, there are evidences that certain positive features of Medieval science are making a comeback, and of course not everything in the feminist/environmentalist/Popperian critique is without merit.  The result may be an improved foundation for natural science, and the present difficulties may be only a temporary bad spell.  We will still "do science" in the Postmodern Ages.  But we might not "do it" the same way as in the Modern Ages. 


  1. Briggs, William M.  Why Republicans Deny Science—And Reality: Request For Help Statistician to the Stars (5 May 2012)
  2. Chastek, James.  “The Modern account of nature,” Just Thomism (10 August 2009)  
  3. Eisenhower, Dwight.  “Farewell Address.” (17 January 1961)
  4. Feser, Edward.  “Blinded by Scientism,” Public Discourse (March 9, 2010) 
  5. Flynn, Michael.  "The Autumn of Modern Science," The TOF Spot (12 January 2012)
  6. Hart, David B. "Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark,"
  7. Kriegel, Uriah.  “Autumn of the Humanities.”  TCS Daily, 8 March 2006.  
  8. Lukacs, John.  At the End of an Age(Yale Univ. Press, 2002)
  9. -----------------. The Passing of the Modern Age.  (Harper & Row, 1970) 
  10. Sommers, Christina Hoff.  “The Flight from Science and Reason” (Wall Street Journal, 7/10/95)
  11. Zimmer, Carl.  "A Sharp Rise in Retractions Prompts Calls for Reform," (New York Times (4/16/2012)


  1. Mr. Flynn, unless I'm mistaken, you had the opportunity to study under Dr. Lukacs. I wonder what approach to history he used in his classes; it must have made for some interesting conversations!

    If you'll permit me a bit of "auto-history," I first recall coming across Lukacs through the book "Historical Consciousness" back in my own remembered past of a few years ago (when I was a history major, as opposed to an aspiring philosopher/sci-fi writer/theologian or "man of all seasons"). I first figured Lukacs another postmodern skeptic, but after further thought found his point to be that scientists do science (instead of “Science tells us…”), which is why there is a history of science (“creatures of time”). James Chastek wrote in his blog that we do not start with nature telling us how we will study it scientifically (imagine the natural world full of post-it stamp reminders!). As Lukacs puts it simply, nature comes first, then man, and then science.

    [Mr. Flynn, I'd like to thank you for your "Story Cube" and "Story Idea" advice. Now, if only I can actualize my sci-fi writing potential, which I think is a "secondary potentiality," as Dr.Feser says.]

    1. I was a German major in my first semester, then switched to math in the second. Dr. Lukacs taught the honors history seminar, which was something like seven or ten students sitting around a boardroom table with the professor. It was History of Western Civilization, of course. There was a big fat textbook which we had to read; and then a set of other readings. Huizinga (in the only English translation then available). Power's Medieval People. His own A History of the Cold War. I forget what all else. This was back 1965-66.

      I remember he used to say you cannot study history scientifically, but you can study science historically. The history of science is the history of scientists. We used to collect Lukacsisms. "All the isms are wasms." Of course, back then I was young and stupid. Now I am old.

      I see here that Lukacs is also older:
      + + +
      Thank you for your kind words. I am contemplating posting more often on writing per se.

  2. What all sides forgot was that what works in one domain does not work in the other. For a simple-minded example, faith healers can cure psychosomatic problems, but for a broken leg, infection, or cancer, it's better to start with the physician.

    Incidentally, systems theory has proven a useful way of looking at the problems of such things as nature - and the policy makers who want to push us into a low-carbon lifestyle are really frightened by some of the trends they see in the natural world. If you truly believe the biosphere - on which we humans depend - is in danger, you'll raise the alarm loudly and proclaim drastic solutions, for the same reason that someone who thinks the house is on fire will shout, scream, and grab the water bucket.

    Whether the house is on fire or not - and I know you've put forth many arguments saying "Pooh, pooh, they don't convince me," is a very valid question for science to answer. And not liking the answer may be a recipe for disaster if the current consensus is correct. But that's for another column - the real problem as I see it is simplistic theories applied to questions of a much higher order than the theories address.

  3. Heisenberg wrote in the first flush of quantum mechanics when it was believed that a conscious observer was necessary to collapse the wavefunction.

    Now, either the physicists have largely given up on the fundamental problem or they have interpreted the collapse problem as resulting from the inevitable decoherence the wavefunction undergoes when it interacts with a macroscopic measuring device.
    It is not clear to me what the mainstream physics view is. Papers get published in both streams.

    The multiverse theory dispenses with the observers but still requires a point at which the split should take place. I do not know how this point is
    provided-perhaps by decoherence?

    The Science aims at understanding and it is undeniable that we now understand natural world much better, One can read Stephen M Barr's A Student's Guide to Natural Sciences.

    Currently I am reading Koestler's Sleepwalkers--a guide to the changing cosmologies and practically a companion and counterpart to A Discarded Image.
    However, I don't find Koestler as profound as CS Lewis. Koestler takes too much to be granted. He does not question his assumption as why superlunary sphere should have the same laws as sublunary. I think it was a great leap that Newton took-that the laws are universal.

    1. I can see where Dr. Barr would say "understanding," since he is heir to the medieval view, which required more than simple knowledge. But Modern Age Science, since the time of Bacon and Descartes has been geared toward the practical benefit of man. This is true even if many of the practitioners of Modern Age Science have aesthetic purposes. (In fact, Darwin himself was one of these, even though he claimed to abandon finality.)

      You write "the inevitable decoherence the wavefunction undergoes when it interacts with a macroscopic measuring device" rather than with a "conscious observer." But surely, a macroscopic measuring device implies a conscious observer? The point still remains: matter has become subjective and the old machine metaphor is obsolete. (What is the "shape" of an atom; where is the "location" of an electron? There is serious discussion whether electrons even exist as such.)

      You are correct that the many-worlds theory was proposed in order to avoid uncomfortable notions stemming from the Copenhagen theory of Bohr and Heisenberg. And the standing wave theory and the transactional theory and all the other theories of quantum mechanics. (The mechanics works the same way regardless of theory, much as the heavenly appearances were saved by both a geostationary and a geomobile theory of the World.)

    2. No, the collapse is interpreted as
      a docoherence induced by interaction with a macroscopic body, and is analyzable using the methods of QM itself. There is no explicit role for consciousness.
      I think this is the track most working physicists take today.

      I still think that you underestimate the quest for understanding that possesses and drives the best scientists.

  4. Or Eisenhower’s concern in his Farewell Address about the effects of the government-science complex. He who pays the piper will eventually call the tune.

    Most people are aware of Eisenhower's warnings about the growth of the "military-industrial complex" (even though Eisenhower himself helped to expand that complex). But few people talk about his other warning regarding a "scientific-technological elite," driven not by intellectual curiosity, but by political factions with agendas.

    Both warnings should have been heeded, and should still be heeded today. But, as Eisenhower departed the presidency, people were too enchanted by a new president promising "change" to pay attention to those warnings.

    Great post.

    1. Eisenhower's warning of a growing "military-industrial complex" was heeded while his also-prescient alarm over a "scientific-techonological elite" was not because near the surface of common American culture was already a narrative of demonizing war makers and war profiteers. In contrast, the cult of going gaga over men in white lab coats was still rising.

      P.S. After decades dominated by Great Depression, WWII, Iron Curtain, Korean War, and Cold War, people were understandably ready for "change" led by an assimilated Irish-American young war hero. Compare and contrast this with the current user of "change" as a political buzzword.

  5. The problem is that is is getting increasingly difficult to make scientific progress without major funding. The government wants some notion of value attached to the science it funds; private industry looks for an direct impact on the bottom line. If you hapen to be a scientist and also a multi-millionaire, you can fund yourself, but there are very few of them wandering around.

    It doesn't cast much to pay a mathematician to sit in his office and come up with mathematics that will likely have no practical applicaiton and been seen by 10 people in the world. You spend more for an artist, but the audience is broader. Science is very expensive, and even the government wants some return on the investment.

    1. The problem is that is is getting increasingly difficult to make scientific progress without major funding.
      --One Brow

      Yeah, that plus the availability of all that "major funding" tempts people into putting time into seeking that funding rather than hunting for the clever and insightful work-around. Big Science giveth and Big Science taketh away.

  6. More worrying than any of these papers, imo, was that one last year arguing that reason "evolved for" winning arguments rather than finding truth. Rather than the paper being scorned to ribbons for the whole idea being obviously incoherent, the concept made its way into popular consciousness and around the blogosphere, with various bloggers preening that this explained why their ideological opponents just weren't capable of being reasonable enough to agree with them (unprincipled self-exemption is always key with these sorts of things).

    Of course, this was always the inevitable implication of the "mechanistic revolution" in science. Nothing, including reason, can be irreducibly "for" anything, on that view. "Function" or "forness" has to be redefined in mechanistic terms, where "A is for B" translates to something like, "A survived as a result of happening to do B". For one thing, as Ed Feser pointed out in Aquinas and TLS, this is actually an elimination of function rather than a reduction of it, and has the absurd implication that you can't know the function of anything unless you have historical knowledge of what caused it to survive. But more than that, truth simply can't be defined in mechanistic, causal terms, so it follows as a matter of course that reason can't be "for" finding truth under the mechanistic view.

    But while the idea that reason isn't for finding truth was always implied by the mechanistic view, the sheer incoherent absurdity of it has, I believe, kept scientists from fully embracing it previously. Indeed, it's the main conceit of the New Atheists that they are superior adherents of "reason" and therefore objective truth.

    But, as seen in all these papers you linked to, they like applying the basic premise to the rational faculties of conservatives/Christians only, while not mentioning that it must apply to themselves as well.

    That paper said outright what all these other papers merely use as a background assumption about people the writers don't like, and tried to make it out to be a "scientific finding", with the feigned authority of hard science (well, harder than sociology anyway) that applies to the human mind generally.

    I suspect that as evo psych continues to work out the implications of the mechanistic view and apply them to the human mind, you will see a further decline in scientific quality as the idea that truth is subjective becomes more and more a background assumption for these "researchers", and so you'll see more and more garbage papers like these. After all, why do careful statistics if truth is relative and "reason" is all about winning the argument? While they may only publicly denigrate the rational faculties of the religious and conservative, the fact that they've internalized the view more generally shows up in their cavalier approach to truth in statistics.

    1. The Deuce,

      I don't know which New Atheits you read, but the ones I read are just as skeptical of studies like those as you are. If a scientific finding sounds too karmic to be true, it probably is.

      I'm curious what you think looking for function, as opposed to activity, adds to scientific knowledge. The heart pumps blood. If it is for pumping blood, does that tell us more about it scientifically? What does it tell us? IF it is for tying together the veins and arteries, and the pumping is secondary, what does that tell us about the heart? What's your added value here, besides abstract knowledge?

    2. Inasmuch as "science" is nowadays defined as knowledge of use of metric efficient causes in order to increase man's dominion over Nature, the answer to your plaint is that knowledge of other than metric efficient causation adds nothing to scientific knowledge as such.

      It may, however, add to our knowledge of the heart.

    3. TheOFloinn,

      I'm a fan of abstract knowledge, and certainly did not mean to claim otherwise. However, it is the domain of philosophers and mathematicians, among others.

      Going back to TheDeuce's complaint, if reasoning is realy for finding truth, how does that change the study of how it is used? On the other hand, let's say it is for winning arguments? How do you study it differently? Does it change experimental design? In what way? Can you provide an example of one sort of experiemnt that needs to designed differently based on a knowledge of function? An example of one geographic location to dig in that changes based on this knowledge? What does a knowledge of function (as opposed to capability) change about the actual carrying out of science?

      Also, since people are so fond of saying scientists don't study function at all, what type of cause does capability fall under? Are all examples of capabilities effecient causes, to you?

    4. An efficient cause is a driver; a final cause it what it drives toward. Without a towardness, the efficient cause would not behave in a lawful way. It is entirely possible to do useful things without knowing some facet of the reality. For example, my auto mechanic can repair car engines without knowing anything of thermodynamics. So "how it is used" is a separate question from understanding and appreciating nature. The narrower your scope, the less you need to know.

      However, the gist of the post is that even among those who profess the Modern Dispensation of Descartes, Bacon, et al. we find that goal-oriented science ends with the goal eating the science. That is, the final cause of Modern Science consuming the efficient cause thereof.

    5. So, stripped of its teleology, the portion of final cause which is regularity can (and I think we would agree is) studied by science. In particular, capabilities exhibit regular behavior, and thus are partly under the domian of final causation.

  7. Mr. Flynn,

    You write: "we find that goal-oriented science ends with the goal eating the science."

    I would humbly suggest that much of goal-oriented science is the result of efforts by people with a specific agenda, who are unable to dazzle us with brilliance, resorting to the attempt to baffle us with the excrement of a male bovine.

    On an unrelated note, I very much enjoyed Eiffelheim, to which I was pointed by a fellow parishioner, and am looking forward to reading more of your work as time allows.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer


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