Thursday, February 04, 2010

On the limits of science

From the interaction of Vincent Cheung with fundy atheist Derek Sansone:

Sansone: Technology has provided sufficient data that can be examined by scientific experiment and repeated, this works for me...

Cheung: What technology? How do you know that the technology is reliable to test something if you need the technology to test that something in the first place?

"Sufficient data"? Sufficient according to whom? Sufficient according to you? If so, then your standard is subjective, but you said that you depend on "objective evidence." What objective evidence defines that there is "sufficient data"?

So you trust "scientific experiment"? But I have shown in my books that the method of experimentation commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. That is,

If X is true, then Y is true.
Y is true.
Therefore, X is true.

But this is a fallacy because it may be that A, B, or C causes Y to be true, not X. To repeat experiments is only to repeat this fallacious procedure over and over again.

As even the atheist Bertrand Russell admits:

All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: "If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true." This argument is, of course, formally fallacious. Suppose I were to say: "If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone, and stones are nourishing." If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based.

And Karl Popper writes:

Although in science we do our best to find the truth, we are conscious of the fact that we can never be sure whether we have got it….In science there is no "knowledge," in the sense in which Plato and Aristotle understood the word, in the sense which implies finality; in science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth.…Einstein declared that his theory was false – he said that it would be a better approximation to the truth than Newton's, but he gave reasons why he would not, even if all predictions came out right, regard it as a true theory.


...See also "Is Science Superstitious?" by Bertrand Russell. Near the end of this essay, he writes, "The great scandals in the philosophy of science ever since the time of Hume have been causality and induction....Hume made it appear that our belief is a blind faith for which no rational ground can be assigned....This state of affairs is profoundly unsatisfactory...We must hope that an answer will be found; but I am quite unable to believe that it has been found."

33 comments:

NAL said...

But I have shown in my books that the method of experimentation commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. That is,

If X is true, then Y is true.
Y is true.
Therefore, X is true.


Straw man argument.

If X is true, then Y1 is true.
If X is true, then Y2 is true.
If X is true, then Y3 is true.
If X is true, then Y4 is true.
Y1, Y2, Y3, Y4 are true.
Therefore, X is likely to be true, given that P(X) > 0.

That's how science works. Probability is the logic of science.

Rhology said...

So in your mind it's better to commit numerous fallacies than just one. Thanks for letting me know.

NAL said...

No commission of falla>acies at all.

An application of Plausible Reasoning.

If A is true then B is true
B is true
Therefore, A becomes more plausible.

The evidence does not prove that A is true, but verification of one of its consequences does give us more confidence in A.


That's how science works.

marhaban said...

So simple example,

If you lower the temperature of H2O below 0C, it becomes a solid.

This is testable and repeatable.

How does the If Y, then X work? Why would this be a fallacy?

PChem said...

The problem with verificationism is that it cannot be verified. This is why it fails as a test for truth. Sure it was in vogue for a while, but it has serious problems grounding itself.

A very nice post on the limits of science Rho.

justfinethanks said...

Except this isn't really arguing that science has limits, which I don't think anyone disputes, it argues that science is an irrational enterprise at heart.

This is actually Cheung's position.

There is no rational justification for saying that there is any truth at all in science. The inherent irrationality and even epistemological impossibility are built into its assumptions and method.

Of course, doesn't that mean that taking medicine is an irrational enterprise? That using the internet and refrigerating food are completely illogical activities?

Here's how he tries to deal with that:

To appeal to the effect of science (medicine, microwave, etc.), is only an appeal to the fallacy of affirming the consequent again. Affirming the consequent is just another way of saying an appeal to the result or effect. The assumption is that if you seem to be getting the result that you want or predict, then there must be some truth behind the assumption that yields this result. Again, that is a logical fallacy. Correlation does not indicate causation. But my contention is that science cannot even detect or establish correlation.

http://www.vincentcheung.com/2010/01/22/gang-of-pandas/

In other words, he doesn't deal with it at all beyond repeating himself. But it necessarily follows that if science is irrational, then everytime anyone puts a gallon of milk in their fridge or types on a computer, they are being illogical. In other words, EVERYONE is irrational and illogical.

axisoflogos said...

In other words, he doesn't deal with it at all beyond repeating himself.

Would dealing with it mean he must come to a different conclusion? In the Panda article, Cheung is reaffirming the conclusion to a sound argument.

But it necessarily follows that if science is irrational, then everytime anyone puts a gallon of milk in their fridge or types on a computer, they are being illogical. In other words, EVERYONE is irrational and illogical.

Everyone is irrational and illogical (deceived) with regards to Truth (and buying milk) if they do not have the foundation only provided by the Christian worldview.

http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/credenda-agenda/milk_buying.html

zilch said...

This is what happens when one believes that the word is more important than the world.

What this argument boils down to is this: since we can't use words (i.e. formal logic) to justify calling science "truth", then science is meaningless, and we must seek some set of words that call themselves the "truth". And the Bible is such a set of words- thus, the Bible is the truth and science is meaningless.

This is why most of philosophy and theology is bunk: words are decoupled from the world and allowed to chase their own tails until they arrive at some conclusion, and then this conclusion is applied to the world. This only works if the words have real referents, but often enough, in philosophy and theology, they do not, and thus are simply wordplay: elegant but content-free.

Vox Veritatis said...

In other words, he doesn't deal with it at all beyond repeating himself. But it necessarily follows that if science is irrational, then everytime anyone puts a gallon of milk in their fridge or types on a computer, they are being illogical. In other words, EVERYONE is irrational and illogical.

No, Cheung's position is more nuanced than this, as he makes a distinction between knowledge and opinion. In the vein of Gordon Clark's operationalism, Cheung would say that science can produce useful opinions, but not knowledge. Making use of a useful opinion is certainly rational, while asserting an opinion to the level of knowledge without proper warrant is not. The latter is Cheung's emphasis in his writings on science, though I don't believe the former is ruled out by his position. This can be seen in a blog post of his back from 2005:

"Then, although I affirm that only the biblical propositions and their implications are infallible, I never said that these are the only propositions by which we function. Instead, I entertain many extra-biblical propositions in my daily thinking and living — nevertheless, only as opinion, not infallible revealed information. This allows me to function and discuss many things just as the non-Scripturalists do, only that I make a clear distinction between fallible opinion and infallible revelation, and I never elevate opinion to the level of revelation. And when it comes to apologetics, my opinion is not my religion, so it is not what I defend; therefore, it is no problem for me to acknowledge that I hold to some things as my fallible opinion, but that when it comes to my biblical worldview, I hold to it as infallible revelation.

On the other hand, the non-Scripturalist standard for considering something as “knowledge” or reliable information is quite low and irrational, and so a lot of things are considered knowledge or reliable information even when they lack rational justification, and that are really mere opinion and guesswork. The result is that their belief systems are mixtures of uncertainty and confusion, and their irrational epistemology corrodes almost every part of their noetic structure. "

J. et K. said...

Bonjour,

First time visitor to your blog and I have to say that I LOVE your links to 'Witty Things I've Said'. That is awesome.

Nice to meet you, by the way.

- K

Rhology said...

marhaban,

If you lower the temperature of H2O below 0C, it becomes a solid.

This is testable and repeatable.

How does the If Y, then X work? Why would this be a fallacy?


It's the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, affirming the consequent.
As I said, repeating a fallacious inference over and over again doesn't somehow magically un-fallacise it, no matter how badly you might want it to.



jft,

Of course, doesn't that mean that taking medicine is an irrational enterprise?

You don't understand Cheung's position at all, it would seem. He believes in the God of the Bible, Who orders the universe and grounds it. this may come as a shock, but he doesn't think the universe is atheistic. He's pointing out the implications of atheism. An internal critique.


zilch said...

This is what happens when one believes that the word is more important than the world.

And your statement is a textbook example of wishful thinking leading to begging the question.


J&K,

Et merci pour ta visite!


Peace,
Rhology

zilch said...

Rho says:

And your statement is a textbook example of wishful thinking leading to begging the question.

What wishful thinking? Are you reading my mind again? And what question am I begging?

Vox- so are you saying that, according to Cheung, there's "knowledge" and there's "opinion", and science is "opinion" and the Bible is "knowledge"? If so, I would tend (once again) to agree with you (assuming this is your position as well), but would simply say that "opinion" is all we have that is coupled with the real world, and "knowledge" is "religious conviction", which is coupled with personal revelation. That being the case, I think it's rather tendentious to chose a pejorative term such as "opinion" to mean "knowledge (such as it is) about the real world", and a term that sounds all objectivy, "knowledge", to mean "what I believe God told me". But as long as we keep the definitions clear, we can simply ignore the chaff.

cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

NAL said...

If knowledge is only obtained via infallible revelation, then how does one acquire this bit of knowledge? Through infallible revelation?

Rhology said...

Yes, through infallible revelation, sufficiently accessible by fallible agents.

NAL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhology said...

How so?

NAL said...

More an example of circular logic.

Rhology said...

1) Yes, I presuppose the reality and speech of the God of the Bible. And freely admit it, and then proceed by deduction therefrom.

2) OTOH, you also engage in circular reasoning, but it is viciously circular and you don't acknowledge that you're doing it.

3) Circular reasoning is not the same as affirming the consequent, but you deleted that comment, so hopefully you realised it.

NAL said...

But that presupposition is just an opinion. Your basis for knowledge is an opinion.

Rhology said...

Please speak for yourself.

My presupposition and basis for knowledge are from an ultimate authority who does not lie and who sees and ordained everything.

Yours is from...what? How do you know what an opinion is?

NAL said...

A presuppostition is either knowledge or opinion. If it's knowledge, there's no reason to presuppose it. If it's opinion, then it's subjective.

Claiming that your presupposition comes from that which you presuppose is not a valid argument.

Rhology said...

I know it b/c I presupposed it. It provides the preconditions for knowledge and intelligibility. It is logically beforehand in reality and ontology, but my presupposing it does not bring it into existence. It merely makes my worldview line up with reality.

Now ask the same questions of your own worldview. That might be where atheists are weakest.

marhaban said...

It's the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, affirming the consequent.

Ok. From what I have read on post hoc ergo propter hoc, it is a fallacy if there are other variables that could also be causing the result. I can see where this argument would be valid in some cases, but not for simple experiments where you are able to control all of the variables. If it is a fallacy shouldn't there be a competing reason why the water becomes solid if the temperature is below 0C?

Rhology said...

Thing is, you CAN'T control all of the variables. You assume you can, but there is no reason to accept that assumption, as there are zillions of possibilities, things unknown, things unobserved and perhaps even unobservable. To rule them out outright b/c it's inconvenient (and death to your "Science gives us truth" mantra) is to beg the very question at hand.

marhaban said...

Thing is, you CAN'T control all of the variables. You assume you can, but there is no reason to accept that assumption, as there are zillions of possibilities, things unknown, things unobserved and perhaps even unobservable.

I really think you are misusing post hoc ergo propter hoc since there is not another identifyable cause. But, for the sake of trying to understand your viewpoint, let's assume you are correct and nothing can be known 100%.

What reasons are there to not accept my assumptions? If there is an unobservable possibility that is causing the water to solidify at lower temperatures, why do I need to know about it as long as the results continue to be the same?



To rule them out outright b/c it's inconvenient (and death to your "Science gives us truth" mantra) is to beg the very question at hand.

Why does it matter if we learn about our world scientifically, or if we assume God created the world and set in motion the laws that govern it? Isn't it the same world and same end results?

Ryan said...

"..let's assume you are correct and nothing can be known 100%."

Repudiating the unsound presuppositions of empiricism does not make one a skeptic.

marhaban said...

Repudiating the unsound presuppositions of empiricism does not make one a skeptic.

I don't follow you. What are you talking about? Who is a skeptic?

Ryan said...

"Who is a skeptic?"

I don't know. You were the one who said that it was Rhoblogy's "viewpoint" that "nothing can be known 100%." That is skepticism by definition. The thing is, I haven't seen Rhoblogy affirm skepticism - I've seen him repudiate unsound presuppositions of empiricism. The only conclusion I can draw from your statement, then, is that you believe one implies the other. I wrote what I did to disabuse you of that notion.

marhaban said...

I don't know. You were the one who said that it was Rhoblogy's "viewpoint" that "nothing can be known 100%." That is skepticism by definition. The thing is, I haven't seen Rhoblogy affirm skepticism - I've seen him repudiate unsound presuppositions of empiricism. The only conclusion I can draw from your statement, then, is that you believe one implies the other. I wrote what I did to disabuse you of that notion.

Ok. I got the impression that he was saying that you can't know anything 100% since there are there are "zillions of possibilities, things unknown, things unobserved and perhaps even unobservable." But maybe I misinterpretted him. Thanks.

Rhology said...

marhaban,

You're half right, and so is Ryan, both expressing one side of the coin.

IF ATHEISM IS TRUE, I see no reason not to be a total skeptic. And yes, that would include being skeptical of skepticism. The entire epistemological enterprise, IF ATHEISM IS TRUE, is self-contradictory and hopeless. Atheists who like to say "give science a chance" or whine "God of the gaps" or say "if it's not scientific, it's not true" have not at all grappled with this issue. Bertrand Russell sorta did and sorta didn't - he was honest enough to say it out loud but not brave enough to follow it to its nihilistic conclusion.

IF CHRISTIANITY IS TRUE, then God grounds the reliability of nature and induction and the repetition of observation, etc...sorta. We are still humans and still faulty, and induction still has a problem, but we don't rely on inductive reasoning to arrive at ultimate truths. We rely on deduction from the Word of God. Cheung is (Gordon) Clarkian; fellow Clarkian John Robbins says "If you want to know what's true, read your Bible." As I said to NAL above, repeating a fallacious inference 1000 times doesn't make the situation better than committing only one fallacious inference.

Ryan said...

It is heartening to see you so explicitly affirm Scripturalism, Rhoblogy. I believe you have read some of my posts, but I don't know that you've read this one. Thought you might find it interesting.

Rhology said...

Wow, nice essay. Thanks for pointing me to it.

BTW, I don't think that I'm properly called a Scripturalist; for one thing I'm new to Clark and haven't read any of his stuff, am 1/4 of the way thru Cheung's Ultimate Questions and have read some others of his pdfs, and have listened to numerous of Robbins' lectures on the TrinityFoundation website, so that's not a great deal of research. I shy away from saying that the only things we can know for sure are from Scr, but I forget how best to describe it. My friend Vox Veritatis has a good way of putting it, and durn it I should write that down! I'll ask him.

Finally, from what I know of Cheung's occasionalism, I don't think I would affirm it either.
But I am definitely a presuppositionalist. Usually. :-D

Ryan said...

Either way, I look forward to future posts on the subject.