Archive for the ‘Presuppositions required in science’ Category

40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were killed to ‘prevent’ the spread of the 1665 Plague

December 8, 2009

During the Plague of London, 1665, the death toll peaked in September at 7,265, Daniel Defoe..reports that 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were killed, as it was feared that these domestic animals might be carrying the disease. In fact this was the worst possible action to take, for the real culprits were the fleas carried by the black rats. In the absence of their natural predators, these rats multiplied and the plague spread.

Faith Cook, Fearless Pilgrim: The Life and Times of John Bunyan, Evangelical Press, 2008, p.245

Human solutions are not always beneficial.

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Unless Nature always goes on in the same way, the fact that things had happened ten million times would not make it a whit more probable that it would happen again

November 11, 2009

Unless Nature always goes on in the same way, the fact that things had happened ten million times would not make it a whit more probable that it would happen again. And how could we know the Uniformity of Nature? A moment’s thought shows that we do not know it by experience. We observe many regularities in Nature. But of course all the observations that men have made or will make while the race lasts cover only a minute fraction of the events that actually go on. Our observations would therefore be of no use unless we felt sure that Nature when we are not watching her behaves in the same way as when we are: in other words, unless we believe in the Uniformity of Nature. Experience therefore cannot prove uniformity, because uniformity has to assume before experience proves anything. And mere length of experience does not help matters. It is no good saying, ‘Each fresh experience confirms our belief in the uniformity and therefore we reasonably expect that it will always be conformed;’ for that argument works only on the assumption that the future will resemble the past – which is simply the assumption of Uniformity under a new name.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles, 1959, p. 123

The whole enterprise of science rests precisely on the assumption that it is an ordered world in which pattern can be discovered and categories established

October 11, 2009

The whole enterprise of science rests precisely on the assumption that it is an ordered world in which pattern can be discovered and categories established. The ordered rationality of the created world, deriving from the transcendent rationality of the creative Word, is a basic asumption…of natural science. There would be no science at all without an ordered world.

David Atkinson, Genesis 1-11, p.19

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as science “without any presuppositions”…a philosophy, a “faith,” must always be there first of all, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right to exist

October 11, 2009

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as science “without any presuppositions”…a philosophy, a “faith,” must always be there first of all, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right to exist…It is still a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science—and we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato’s, that God is truth, that truth is divine. — But what if this belief is becoming more and more unbelievable, if nothing turns out to be divine any longer unless it be error, blindness, lies—if God himself turns out to be our longest lie?”…Science itself henceforth requires justification (which is not to say that there is any such justification). Consider on this question both the earliest and most recent philosophers: they are all oblivious of how much the will to truth itself first requires justification; here there is a lacuna in every philosophy—how did this come about? Because the ascetic ideal has hitherto dominated all philosophy, because truth was posited as being, as God, as the highest court of appeal—because truth was not permitted to be a problem at all. Is this “permitted” understood?— From the moment faith in the God of the ascetic ideal is denied, a new problem arises: that of the value of truth.

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, THIRD ESSAY: WHAT IS THE MEANING OF ASCETIC IDEALS?, 24

there is nothing that cannot be understood, that there is nothing that cannot be explained, and that everything is extraordinarily simple

October 11, 2009

The (atheist) scientist, Peter Atkins, in his book ‘The Creation’, claims that, ‘there is nothing that cannot be understood, that there is nothing that cannot be explained, and that everything is extraordinarily simple.’

His assertion is, in reality, a faith, a belief that the simplicity we require really is in the world. Why should the world be simple? Who made that decision? Who imposed it? There is no answer, for nowhere can we find any such guarantee. The leap from effectiveness to truth is a leap of faith. The reality of Atkins’ assertion is that it is a statement of this faith. And its passion arises from the way his faith has been tested by the revelations of 20th C. science, most vividly of quantum and chaos theory. For these revelations are, at heart, revelations of complexity.

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There is more wisdom in Locke’s observation:

We cannot fathom the mystery of a single flower. Nor is it intended that we should.

John Locke

Science draws upon…the idea that we live in a world which has been ordered in a rational way, by a lawgiver, that there is a lawlike order in nature which is imposed from above

October 5, 2009

Science draws upon…the idea that we live in a world which has been ordered in a rational way, by a lawgiver, that there is a lawlike order in nature which is imposed from above.

Most cultures do not share that view…nature is a battle-ground, capricious, a tension..Galileo, like many of the early scientists was deeply religious…The motivation for doing science was this belief that there really is a scheme of things that can be discerned through experimentation. If he had not believed that, he would never have embarked upon science…It was usual to say man was created in God’s image…the human mind reflected in some diminished way God’s power, so there was an intellectual basis to nature.

Source unknown

Behind and permeating all our scientific activity, whether in critical analysis or discovery, there is an elemental, overwhelming faith in the rational constitution of things, but faith also in the possibility of grasping the real world with our concepts

October 5, 2009

Behind and permeating all our scientific activity, whether in critical analysis or discovery, there is an elemental, overwhelming faith in the rational constitution of things, but faith also in the possibility of grasping the real world with our concepts, and above all faith in the truth over which we have no control but in the service of which our rationality stands or falls. Faith and intrinsic rationality are interlocked with one another… Science does not operate from an axiomatic set of formally defined and verified propositions, as the positivists claim, but from ultimate informal assumptions which cannot be proved or refuted and which cannot be completely formalized, yet without implicit reliance on them would be no scientific knowledge at all. As examples of these ultimate assumptions we may refer to belief in truth or belief in the lawfulness of nature, neither of which we could prove for we would have to assume them in any attempted proof, but both of them are nevertheless all determining constituents in our fundamental frame of belief, affecting the entire shape and scope of our scientific activities and their results as well, Hence Polanyi insisted that the premises of science on which all its inquiry rests are the beliefs held by scientists on the intelligible nature of reality independent of themselves and its capacity to disclose itself in an indeterminate range of yet unknown and perhaps even unthinkable ways. Far from being subjective or irrational these beliefs have to do with the structural kinship between the knowing subject and the objective reality he seeks to know, and they arise in his mind as intuitive convictions which he cannot reasonably avoid for they are thrust upon him as elemental aspects of reality pressing for realization in his understanding.

Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology of Scientific Culture, Oxford University Press, New York, 1981, pp. 63-66

Once when I asked Professor Einstein how he had arrived at his theory of relativity, he replied that he had discovered it because he was so firmly convinced of the harmony of the universe

October 5, 2009

Hans Reichenbach, now professor of philosophy at the University of California, repeated a particularly revealing conversation he had with Einstein: “Once when I asked Professor Einstein how he had arrived at his theory of relativity, he replied that he had discovered it because he was so firmly convinced of the harmony of the universe.  This faith was and still is the very foundation of his scientific effort…”Einstein’s work contains,” added Reichenbach, however, “more implicit philosophy than do many philosophic systems.

Gradually Einstein came to realize this himself. Now he is certain of it. He has often repeated to Infeld: “I am more of a philosopher than a physicist.”

THE DRAMA OF ALBERT EINSTEIN, Antonina Vallentin

the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs

October 5, 2009

Says A. E. Taylor in discussing the question of the uniformity of nature, “The fundamental thought of modern science, at any rate until yesterday, was that there is a ‘universal reign of law’ throughout nature. Nature is rational in the sense that it has everywhere a coherent pattern which we can progressively detect by the steady application of our own intelligence to the scrutiny of natural processes. Science has been built up all along on the basis of this principle of the ‘uniformity of nature,’ and the principle is one which science itself has no means of demonstrating. No one could possibly prove its truth to an opponent who seriously disputed it. For all attempts to produce ‘evidence’ for the ‘uniformity of nature’ themselves presuppose the very principle they are intended to prove.” Our argument as over against this would be that the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs. But the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world. We cannot prove the existence of beams underneath a floor if by proof we mean that they must be ascertainable in the way that we can see the chairs and tables of the room. But the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath. But there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments.

Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 103, emphasis added.

(Science) came to full flower in its modern form in seventeenth-century Europe. Have you ever wondered why that’s so? After all the ancient Greeks were pretty clever..

October 5, 2009

(Science) came to full flower in its modern form in seventeenth-century Europe. Have you ever wondered why that’s so? After all the ancient Greeks were pretty clever and the Chinese achieved a sophisticated culture well before we Europeans did, yet they did not hit on science as we now understand it. Quite a lot of people have thought that the missing ingredient was provided by the Christian religion. Of course, it’s impossible to prove that so – we can’t rerun history without Christianity and see what happens – but there’s a respectable case worth considering. It runs like this.

The way Christians think about creation (and the same is true for Jews and Muslims) has four significant consequences. The first is that we expect the world to be orderly because its Creator is rational and consistent, yet God is also free to create a universe whichever way God chooses. Therefore, we can’t figure it out just by thinking what the order of nature ought to be; we’ll have to take a look and see. In other words, observation and experiment are indispensable. That’s the bit the Greeks missed. They thought you could do it all just by cogitating. Third, because the world is God’s creation, it’s worthy of study. That, perhaps, was a point that the Chinese missed as they concentrated their attention on the world of humanity at the expense of the world of nature. Fourth, because the creation is not itself divine, we can prod it and investigate it without impiety. Put all these features together, and you have the intellectual setting in which science can get going.

John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos and Christianity, p.18

It’s certainly a historical fact that most of the pioneers of modern science were religious men. They may have had their difficulties with the Church (like Galileo) or been of an orthodox cast of mind (like Newton), but religion was important for them. They used to like to say that God had written two books for our instruction, the book of scripture and the book of nature. I think we need to try to decipher both books if we’re to understand what’s really happening.

Quarks, Chaos & Christianity, page 29-30.

John Polkinghorne (born October 16, 1930 in Weston-super-Mare, England) is a British particle physicist and theologian. He has written extensively on matters concerning science and faith, and was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2002.