Lately I have noticed more and more people of good academic repute offering up “science” as an answer or refutation to just about anything. It’s to the point where every time I hear someone drop the “Science Trump Card” a red flag goes up that this person probably has no other defense or answer so we just say the magic words and presto! An instant scientific refutation emerges.
The knowing entrprise doesn’t work that way. To simply announce “science” as a refutation is to commit something like a fallacious appeal to authority. The problem is that scientests are just as prone as anyone else to exclude contrary evidence. I think the article below by Michael Crichton plainly points that out. Tell me what you think.
Testimony of Michael Crichton before the United States Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works
September 28, 2005.
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the important subject of politicization of research. In that regard, what I would like to emphasize to the committee today is the importance of independent verification to science.
In essence, science is nothing more than a method of inquiry. The method says an assertion is valid-and merits universal acceptance-only if it can be independently verified. The impersonal rigor of the method means it is utterly apolitical. A truth in science is verifiable whether you are black or white, male or female, old or young. It’s verifiable whether you like the results of a study, or you don’t.
Thus, when adhered to, the scientific method can transcend politics. And the converse may also be true: when politics takes precedent over content, it is often because the primacy of independent verification has been overwhelmed by competing interests.
Verification may take several forms. I come from medicine, where the gold standard is the randomized double-blind study, which has been the paradigm of medical research since the 1940s.
In that vein, let me tell you a story. It’s 1991, I am flying home from Germany, sitting next to a man who is almost in tears, he is so upset. He’s a physician involved in an FDA study of a new drug. It’s a double-blind study involving four separate teams—one plans the study, another administers the drug to patients, a third assesses the effect on patients, and a fourth analyzes results. The teams do not know each other, and are prohibited from personal contact of any sort, on peril of contaminating the results. This man had been sitting in the Frankfurt airport, innocently chatting with another man, when they discovered to their mutual horror they are on two different teams studying the same drug. They were required to report their encounter to the FDA. And my companion was now waiting to see if the FDA would declare their multi-year, multi-million dollar study invalid because of this chance contact.
For a person with a medical background, accustomed to this degree of rigor in research, the protocols of climate science appear considerably more relaxed. In climate science, it’s permissible for raw data to be “touched,” or modified, by many hands. Gaps in temperature and proxy records are filled in. Suspect values are deleted because a scientist deems them erroneous. A researcher may elect to use parts of existing records, ignoring other parts. But the fact that the data has been modified in so many ways inevitably raises the question of whether the results of a given study are wholly or partially caused by the modifications themselves.
Continue reading here.
What are you? Conservative? Liberal? Do you even know? Time has a little quiz that will help you know. Access the quiz here. Don’t forget to check back with me and post your results in the comments.
In our last post we talked about Thales and his foundational belief that all is water. What is significant about Thales is his departure from the standard way of answering questions about origins which was to invoke the deities. Thales was looking for something that he felt was more tangible. Therefore he was seeking answers in nature. Our next Pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander (born 612 BC also from Miletus) also takes up this naturalistic model but arrives at something different than water.
We can trace Anaximander’s thought like this:
1. Everything has a beginning
2. To explain a beginning we must have an antecedent
3. However, the antecedent must also have a beginning
4. In order to explain that antecedent we must have another preceding antecedent
5. This antecedent chain cannot go on forever
6. There must be something that does not have a prior antecedent
7. And that thing we call the infinite
Like Thales Anaximander is interested in origins and seeks to find origins from what he observes in nature. But he isn’t satisfied with water because water itself requires an explanation. So Anaximander believes foundationally in the boundless or infinite.
Arguments Against God: Gary Gutting Interviews Louise Antony Professor At University of Massachusetts
You can find the interview here.
Today’s meditation comes from the pen of none other than the Archbishop of Hippo Saint Augustine (354 – 430 AD).
…I have no fear of the arguments of the Academics. They say, “Suppose you are mistaken?” I reply, “If I am mistaken, I exist.” A non-existent being cannot be mistaken; therefore I must exist, if I am mistaken. Then since my being mistaken proves that I exist, how can I be mistaken in thinking that I exist, seeing that my mistake establishes my existence? Since therefore I must exist in order to be mistaken, then even if I am mistaken, there can be no doubt that I am not mistaken in my knowledge that I exist. It follows that I am not mistaken in knowing that I know. For just as I know that I exist, I also know that I know. And when I am glad of those two facts, I can add the fact of that gladness to the things I know, as a fact of equal worth. For I am not mistaken about the fact of my gladness, since I am not mistaken about the things which I love. Even if there were illusory, it would still be a fact that I love the illusions. (CG 11.27)
“Suppose you are mistaken?” is what we have called the “Skeptical Thesis” (ST) in other posts. For those with a skeptical outlook the ST represents the universal trump card. The reason is we have all experienced instances where we have been mistaken about certain beliefs. The problem with ST is because I have been wrong about some things ST assumes that I can be wrong of all things. It follows the argument:
I am sometimes wrong
Therefore I am always wrong
Or to put it another way:
X is sometimes Y
Therefore X is always Y
We can model this argument:
The Seahawks sometimes win the Super Bowl
Therefore the Seahawks always win the Super Bowl
The problem with the ST is it wants to doubt whether we can have knowledge at all. What Augustine is demonstrating is because I have been wrong about some things doesn’t mean I’m always wrong about all things. Moreover, for Augustine it is important for him to be able to say with certainty that he exists, that he knows he exists, and that he is glad of it. To know is important to Augustine because at the end of the day Augustine’s ultimate desire is to know God and the soul (SO 2.7). This is important for Augustine as he refers to the Septuagint translation of Isaiah “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.”