Archive for ‘science’

May 5, 2013

Is science a religion?

by Neil Rickert

The answer, of course, is no.  However, others often claim that it is.  Take, for example, this quote, which I am copying from a recent post at the Don Hartness blog:

Another reason that scientists are so prone to throw the baby out with the bath water is that science itself, as I have suggested, is a religion.

Those words are not from Don Hartness himself.  He quotes them for a book, and is not completely clear on whether he agrees with them.

To be fair, the author apparently uses “religion” to refer to a world view.  That makes it hard to know what he means.  I don’t much like this talk of “world view.”  As best I can tell, the “world view” language is something that theists use to delude themselves that their rejection of a lot of evidence is okay because others do it too.

December 2, 2012

HSW2 – How I see Newton’s mechanics

by Neil Rickert

This continues my discussion of how science works, a topic that I introduced in a recent post.  The “HSW” in the title of this post is intended to indicate that.  My plan, for this post, is to describe how I look at Newton’s laws.  I won’t be discussing his law of gravity here, mostly to keep this post reasonably short.  I might post on that at a future time.

A note on history

I am not an historian.  My primary concern is with how the science works, rather than with how it was discovered.  If you think that I have said something about history, then you have misunderstood.  Some of what I am discussing here might actually be due to Galileo or to other scientists.

November 25, 2012

How does science work?

by Neil Rickert

For the moment, I am presenting this as a question.  It is a question for which I believe I have the answer.  But I will postpone discussing that until future posts.

I am currently watching (for the second time), a TED talk by David Deutsch:

In that video, Deutsch is puzzling about what changed at the time of the scientific revolution.  He correctly points out that people have been making observations and coming up with explanations for thousands of years.  We often describe their explanations as myths.  Something must have changed in what we are doing, that made science possible.

October 12, 2012

On science and scientism

by Neil Rickert

Coel Hellier has a new post on his blog, on the subject of scientism:

The tagline of coelsblog is “Defending Scientism” so it is no surprise that Coel is a proponent of scientism.  However, his post also brings out some points on the nature of science, and that’s what I want to discuss here.

June 27, 2012

Science and the supernatural

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post, Jerry Coyne claims that science can test the supernatural.  I disagree, and this post will be a response to that claim.  In my view, what Jerry is really talking about, is testing the claims about the natural world that are made by some supernaturalists.  And, for sure we can, at least in principle, test claims about the natural world.  But testing claims about the natural world is not testing the supernatural.

May 1, 2012

On Kuhn’s “Structure …” and its impact

by Neil Rickert

It is around 50 years since Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was published, and there have been retrospectives at various sites.  I want to look at the retrospective in Scientific American, written by Gary Stix.

Stix begins with:

Scientific American’s review of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1964 ended with the pat pronouncement that the book was “much ado about very little.” The short piece, which appeared two years after the initial publication of Structure as a monograph in the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, discarded as unoriginal Kuhn’s critique of the positivist argument that science progresses relentlessly forward toward the truth.

The reviewer’s glib dismissal missed the mark.

It is not all that clear to me that the reviewer missed the mark.

April 29, 2012

On falsificationism

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne asks, “Is falsifiability a good criterion for a scientific theory?”  My short answer is “No”, but I’ll try to flesh that out.  Coyne writes:

The “theory” of evolution, for example, could be disproven if we regularly found well-dated fossils out of the proper order (like mammals in the Devonian, for instance), if species didn’t have genetic variation to respond to selection, or if we often found “adaptations” in member of one species that were useful only for another species (e.g., a special nipple on a female mole that was only used for suckling mice).

April 26, 2012

Philosophy and science (part 2)

by Neil Rickert

David Weinberger discusses Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in a recent article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I want to discuss that here, because it illustrates where I disagree with much of what is written as philosophy of science.

By far the most consistently attacked idea was what Kuhn referred to as incommensurability, a term taken from geometry, where it refers to the lack of a shared measurement. In SSR it means something like the inability to understand one paradigm from within another. In the book, Kuhn borders on putting incommensurability in its strongest imaginable form: A new paradigm causes scientists to “see the world of their researcher-engagement differently. In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world.”

April 26, 2012

Philosophy and science (part 1)

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse asks, “How can philosophy be done like a science?”  And that’s the question I shall address in this post.

In raising that question, Ruse is expressing some admiration for science.  He goes on to say, “I think science whatever its nature is our best way of knowing, so I wanted to be like a scientist (or as we say in the trade, I wanted to take a naturalistic approach).”  However, when all is boiled down, I don’t think Ruse really does want philosophy to be all that much more like science.  In a more recent post, he states “I respect and admire science. But I am not a scientist. I am a philosopher. And I am and always have been proud to be one.”

April 7, 2012

Science and scientific theories

by Neil Rickert

This is partly a comment on “The Knight’s Song, or What is a [scientific] theory?” and partly a post on my own view of science and how it differs from what philosophers of science say.

If we follow the Shannon-Weaver theory of communication, then

  • we start with semantic information (the natural world, as studied by science);
  • we encode that in a symbolic form (syntactic information, Shannon information, linguistic representation);
  • that syntactic information can then be transmitted or recorded;
  • a final receiver of the syntactic information can decode it to recover the semantic information.

With science, the method we use for symbolically encoding nature is what we call “measurement”.  This process of encoding produces the data on which science very much depends.  I also discussed this way of looking at measurement in an earlier post.