29th December 2011

“It is a mistake to believe that science consists in nothing but conclusively proved propositions, and it is unjust to demand that it should. It is a demand only made by those who feel a craving for authority in some form and a need to replace the religious catechism by something else, even if it be a scientific one.”

Sigmund Freud1856 – 1939

11 Responses to “29th December 2011”

  1. Dan Says:

    The other side of the coin is the rampant Kuhnsian relativism that way too many people take in the opposite direction. I think Xhim makes this mistake repeatedly, for instance. The reality is somewhere in the middle, where many factors come together to “boot-strap” our way to greater confidence in conclusions. And Kuhn’s omits this aspect of science.

    Both groups – those Freud was describing here and the Kuhnsians, would do well to read books like A.F. Chalmer’s What Is This Thing Called Science? for at least a brief overview of philosophy of science.

  2. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    I thought about what a scientific catechism might look like:

    • What are the four main chemicals of a cell? The, The cell contains amino acids, lipids, porphyrins, and polynucleotides.
    • Why is skin important? The skin is an organ that helps regulate body temperature and is a disease barrier.
    • What is the function of the heart? The heart is the most powerful muscle in the body, pumping 4,000 gallons of blood a day.
    • What is the importance of the lungs? These two organs pass oxygen into every red blood cell carried through their capillaries.
    • What is the function of the medulla oblongata? The medulla oblongata is the lowest part of the brain and is responsible for automatic responses, like breathing.
    • What is the cerebrum? The cerebrum is the part of the brain which controls memory, senses, consciousness, and reasoning.
    • What is the job of the cerebellum? The cerebellum is the part of the brain associated with voluntary responses.
    • What are proteins? The smallest known living thing; proteins are long chains of amino acids.
    • What are chromosomes? Chromosomes are long, thin strings composed of DNA and proteins which carry genes.
    • What is the percentage of oxygen necessary for human life? The earth’s atmosphere must always contain 21% oxygen to maintain life.

    Something like this I suppose. As for a scientific catechism replacing a religious catechism by those seeking authority I don’t know that Dr. Freud is quite getting it right. I mean it just doesn’t seem to fit in the same way.

    For instance:

    1 God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

    2 So that this call should resound throughout the world, Christ sent forth the apostles he had chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”[4] Strengthened by this mission, the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”[5]

    3 Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer

    I’m not sure it matters whether or not a person believes science consists in conclusively proved propositions, at least where authority is concerned.

    Unjust is a lot of word to describe one demanding that it does matter. I might just say the person is a bit off in the head?

  3. Xhim Says:

    Dan, do you see me as applying Kuhn to science or the supernatural? Just curious, because I am not used to being described as a relativist.

  4. Dan Says:

    Xhim,
    You’ve forgotten this conversation?:
    http://atheistweb.org/qotd/1711#comments

  5. Dan Says:

    Xhim,
    To be more specific: The bit about equivocating a half-baked anecdote with two hundred years of highly competitive research across a wide variety of disciplines, can only be explained as Kuhnsian relativism as far as I can see. Because sure, paradigms flip all the time, right?

  6. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    Kuhn was reluctant to fully embrace relativism, he denied an accusation of being a relativist. I don’t think Dan is saying what you think he is Xhim.

    There is widespread agreement for instance that creationism, astrology, homeopathy, Kirlian photography, dowsing, ufology, ancient astronaut theory, Holocaust denialism, and Velikovskian catastrophism are pseudosciences.

    Kuhn often used inflammatory language that offended many supporters of science and that has likely led to misunderstandings.

    Philosophers and other theoreticians of science differ widely in their views of what science is. Kuhn should had paid more attention to Popper.

  7. Xhim Says:

    Thanks. That helps.

  8. Dan Says:

    Sinjin,
    I’d just add to what you said by saying that it wasn’t just Kuhns who caused problems with “Kuhnsian Relativism.” A lot of people took The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to conclusions that I’m not sure Kuhns ever intended.

    Regardless of what Kuhns intended however, his book has been used repeatedly since it was written to suggest, in all of those pseudoscience areas that Sinjin you mention, that we should consider the possibility that those areas are on the verge of overturning well-established paradigms. Kuhns didn’t intend this, but that’s how he has been spoken of nonetheless.

    And no, Xhim, you didn’t express yourself as a relativist previously, but yes, you did indeed suggest the possibility that we should view highly dubious claims as being worthy of a second thought.

  9. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    Thanx Dan!! I appreciate your insight often if I have’t said so previously. I’d think most people would misunderstand Kuhn if know him at all.

    Xhim’s reliance upon the method of tenacity, of the “pseudoscientific”, apparently can never know a boundary?

  10. Dan Says:

    And thank you Sinjin, and I return your compliment! 🙂

    Well I sure hope that Xhim isn’t that bad. We can actually have conversations with him even if we disagree, which is far better than, say Solomon. That in itself makes him welcome here.

  11. Data Says:

    One argument I hear used frequently against atheism is “Well, evolution is just a theory.” This is a very pervasive form of ignorance, and it’s just a complete lack of knowledge (and lack of drive to learn) about the subject. One of my favorite answers to that is “So is gravity”. Science doesn’t presume to know things that it hasn’t proven in every case; therefore, since there are infinite cases, we use the word theory when we are 99.99999999% sure, just in case. Conclusive proof is really quite impossible, so demanding that we have it is irrational.