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Science and Religion: Mixed Results
Science and religion are at war. Or, at least that’s the impression you might get from bloggers who watch the spectacle of Republican primary candidate debates. Columnists at the
New York Times
are up-in-arms at the hostility toward, and ignorance of, science on the part of the candidates, who seem to be vying to outdo each other in their anti-intellectualism. Some want to lay the blame for the Republican Party’s
at the feet of evangelical religion, using the statements of Republican candidates as a sign of attitudes in conservative churches. But evidence from a number of recent sociological studies indicates that the picture is a lot more complicated.
John H. Evans, professor of sociology in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, wrote about his recent research in the
Los Angeles Times
, where he compared conservative Protestants—regular church attenders who take the Bible literally—and those who don’t admit to any religious participation. He concludes:
The conservative Protestants are equally likely to understand scientific methods, to know scientific facts and to claim knowledge of science. They are as likely as the nonreligious to have majored in science or to have a scientific occupation. While other studies have shown that the elite scientists who work at the 20 top research universities are less religious than the public, it appears that the vast majority of people with workaday scientific occupations are like their neighbors, religiously speaking.
Evans concluded that church-going conservative Protestants at the grassroots don’t at all sound like Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum on questions of science. For Evans, the seeming conflict between science and religion is much more over values that over facts. He even argues that the evangelical rejection of evolutionary theory isn’t a sign of being anti-science.
Science and Religion are Friends
Some support for the argument that religious people actually see compatibility between science and religion comes from Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and Furman sociologist Kyle Longest, who just published a paper showing that 18-29 year olds are more integrative in the way they view science and religion (
, behind a firewall). As quoted by
Rod Dreher at The American Conservative
, Smith and Longest find the following:
Most clearly, high religiousness, in the form of importance of faith, frequently reading scriptures, and committing to live one’s life for God, increases the likelihood that emerging adults agree that religion and science are compatible and not in conflict. Counter to the prevailing wisdom on highly religious youth, emerging adults who are more religious are not less but more likely to believe that religion and science can be integrated. Interestingly, attending a Protestant high school, often portrayed as being the training ground for religiously sectarian or militant youth . . . is one of the strongest predictors of the integration perspective, as these emerging adults are extremely likely to agree that religion and science are compatible and their faith has been strengthened by science, as well as being significantly unlikely to agree that the two are in conflict. This shared context appears to have created a cognitive norm of viewing religion and science as potentially symbiotic, rather than overtly hostile to each other. These emerging adults are able to maintain the authority of religion by finding a harmony between faith and science.
is worth reading in full…)
Another study showing that religiosity leads to harmony between science and religion comes from Baylor University, where researcher Aaron Franzen finds that increased frequency of Bible reading is tied to, among other things,
improved attitudes toward science
. “Respondents were 22 percent less likely to view religion and science as incompatible at each step toward more frequent Bible reading,” according to David Briggs, who
reported the Baylor study for Association of Religion Data Archives
. (Interestingly, higher rates of Bible reading were also correlated with greater support for social and economic justice, simple lifestyles, humane treatment of criminals, and with lower support for abortion, same-sex unions, the death penalty, and the expansion of the war on terrorism.)
Are Evangelicals Science-Friendly but still Ignorant?
Set against those salutary findings is evidence that conservative religion goes along with decreased science literacy, as measured by a standard large-scale survey of Americans conducted since 1972, which, since 2006, has contained a standard set of elementary (mostly true-false) science questions (“True or false: All radioactivity is man-made” or “True or false: Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria”).
Darren Sherkat of Southern Illinois University analyzed the results (paper in
Social Science Quarterly
—behind a firewall). He threw out questions relating to hot-button issues for religious conservatives, like evolution, but kept in questions on the big bang and continental drift. Even when they got a pass on evolution questions, Sherkat found that sectarian Protestants (that is, evangelicals), Catholics, and fundamentalists scored significantly lower than secular Americans on the basic science literacy quiz. He controlled for variables like low educational attainment, income disadvantages, ethnicity, and regional effects (like being in the South), and still found that conservative religious affiliation drove scores down.
Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education
found the same thing.
Is there a way to reconcile these seemingly disparate results? Could it be that increased bible reading and other signs of religiosity really do drive greater thoughtfulness and a deeper appreciation for science? Does reading the Bible regularly build a more expansive and integrative worldview than merely holding to evangelical beliefs? In that case, the reports about lower science literacy might be due to individuals who give lip-service to orthodox beliefs, but who don’t put them into practice (cultural Christians, as it were). The Baylor study mentioned above did find a divide between those who read the Bible a lot and those who believed it to be literally true but who didn’t read it.
A less favorable interpretation is that those Christians who find compatibility between science and their faith are picking and choosing which bits of science they consider “science,” or even that they confuse science and technology.
How does the actual practice of Christianity influence your own view of the compatibility of science and faith?
Does your growing faith cause you to be more accommodating or more critical of scientific findings?
Editor's Note: This image is of
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory snap
of a very young and powerful
Or perhaps it is that the response given by "sectarian Protestants" reflects accurately on their worldview and the test results were skewed due to the worldview of the tester? Without knowing the tests questions this article is rather meaningless. Most of the diatribe from the "science vs religion" crowd comes from those with a materialistic worldview and is nothing more than ad hominem and straw-man arguments.
Nice piece Rusty
Who is our God? Either our religion and faith will impact our study of science or our science will impact our religion and faith.
I love science but it doesn't love me back! Jesus Christ Loves me and that is something that supersedes knowledge.
To answer the 2 questions at the end of this piece, I think that we need, as Christians, to do as Jesus instructed and walk that extra mile with those who compell us to walk just 1 mile with them. I think there are a lot of people that are willing to walk a mile with us but we're not open enough or secure enough in our spheres of influence to make that happen. As Christians, we should be totally open to veiw a scientific theory with an open mind and be ready to discuss the findings as mature children of God. We don't have to accept everything we hear and we should be able to relate our point of view in the discussion to the point that good comes from the discussion. I honestly believe science and religion can coexist- the point being that both have areas that can't be fully explained. In my experience though, here in the south, I find that argumentation is more "acceptable" than articulation and cultivation of true and open discussion. The louder the argument the more "true" it is we seem to think. The whole fact of this matter boils down to what God told Isaiah: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Is. 55:9)
This post raises good questions, though I would agree with Brian that without the questions asked in the surveys, we have no context for accurately interpreting the results.
One fundamental misconception in the whole "science vs religion" debate (oversimplified as it is) is that science and religion have the same end in mind. Scientific inquiry is primarily concerned with the question, "How?" while religion on the whole is interested in the question, "Why?" The problems arise when scientists begin to meddle in the "why" (like Dawkins) and Christians apply the Bible to "how" questions (like Answers in Genesis). When we understand the respective purposes of science and religion, we find that there is in fact no conflict and that the two can, indeed, work together.
Thomas Aquinas observed that civilization is constituted by civil arguments in which citizens, convinced of each others capacity for understanding and free will, attempt to influence one another's judgements and to forge public choices by personal persuasion, never by coercion.
Doug and Brandon make very good points. I want to particularly emphasize Doug's "extra mile" reminder, because my comments might seem to belie it. Apologies for a long reply, but one of my points is somewhat intricate.
At the links above, I find candidate attitudes that quite concern me. Also at these links, I see pundits with vitriolic and dismissive rhetoric that I find unhelpful (at best) and poisonous for their own constituencies. But even more, and building on Brandon's point, I find the underlying basis of the argument to be ill-conceived and at odds with both science and religion.
At odds with religion: Religious belief systems — whether humanism, atheism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, classic Buddhism, Christianity, or others — are of faith and mystery. Part of the mystery, and for me a frequent source of spiritual insight, involves the tension between bias, revelation, and observation. Faith needs good science and, when appropriate, we can by faith live in the resulting paradoxical tension.
At odds with science: It is one's (implicit or explicit) philosophy of science by which one confidently says, "This we know." A scientist, observing the indisputable fact that people the world over posit a preternatural realm, may confidently conclude it to be superstition — based on philosophical assumptions that anything real will have physically detectable causality. Another scientist may further observe that, in extant conceptions of the preternatural, preternatural actors may operate without leaving physically detectable proof of their actions, and thus conclude that it is beyond the abilities of science to deny or prove the existence of a preternatural realm or how it may interact with the physical world.
Both philosophies exist in the hearts and lives of today's scientists, but I find only the latter to align with doing good science free from preconceived bias. We can vigorously pursue everything science
know while allowing, as to preternatural actions behind physical phenomena, that good science can and should say nothing but that it is a possibility, over and against the philosophy that any physical phenomenon will always and only have physical causality.
I'm not suggesting here that we raise up "spiritist scientists," I'm merely observing that many scientists have a hard time living appropriately with preternatural uncertainty, at times tending toward a trap credited to Mark Twain: "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." Scientific over-eagerness deserves pushback, yet prevailing scientific philosophy/culture can disallow it. Along these lines, I find these critiques of Republican candidates to contain a sort of "science as religion" that is every bit as unthinking, dogmatic, and unscientific as that of which they complain. I long for more thoughtful, "extra mile" dialog aimed at the deeper foundations of the disconnect.
I find that most scientists are more modest in their assessments of the limits of science. They operate within the material-causes bound imposed by the method not because they believe that will always hold, but because they honestly do not know the limits of their epistemic endeavor and experiment is an excellent way to investigate that question.
This is not to say that other attitudes that dismiss nonmaterial cause a priori don't exist, simply that they are more often the attitudes of observers of science rather than doers of science.
Those drawn to science are often fascinated by the question, "what can we know?" If the answer were presumed to be known in advance (everything), fewer would do the hard work needed to enter the discipline. I imagine that it is for this reason that practioners tend to be less triumphalist. Where they are, I find it has more to do with a defensive stance against others who oppose their work based on claims of epistemic certainty than it does with their own zeal for a belief in limitless science.
Thanks, Jason. Around the questions I raise, cultural interactions by science observers and the general public are, of course, also of great concern. I realize that science observers can both 1) exacerbate and exaggerate issues created by scientists that overreach and 2) create issues of overreach where there were none. Also, I realize that many scientists that do well with the concerns I raise.
Yet, the very framing and commonality of "science vs religion" (Rusty's backdrop) says that our citizenry does not generally understand science's impotence regarding the preternatural, and I find that scientists (as a body) share in culpability for this. So, good on the ones that do well, but let's not defend all of the scientific community on grounds that most do well. Prominent scientists, using their reputations/credibility as scientists, make overreaching statements (e.g., Dawkins, Sagan). Over the decades, in the general run of societal dialog around evolution, scientists have not en masse opposed (and have frequently supported) notions that evolution somehow concludes against God. Cognitive scientists find mere correlation between religious thought and cognitive patterns, yet frame their conclusions as a causal explaining away of religion. And so on.
What would I have the scientific community do? Two things: First, hold its own accountable. When the Dawkins of the world overreach, I'd ask for an outpouring of critique and "public peer review" (versus the single voice here or there). Second, I'd ask for them to champion societal education on philosophy of science and its implications. For example, we needn't add full-on intelligent design to school curricula, but the evolution/ID debate provides an excellent and very important context for raising up a citizenry that understands what science can and cannot do and for helping citizens recognize when scientists and science observers have misstepped or overreached (e.g., As to
evolution, education might address: In the progression from idea, to articulated theory, to sparse chain-of-fossils, to step-by-step chain-of-fossils, to laboratory creation of a whole new genus, to observation of natural genus creation, how should scientists judge/speak of the theory's reliability? How should ID's probabilistic techniques be viewed? How should one view ID's notions of irreducible complexity vis-à-vis macro-evolutionary conceptions of incremental mechanisms for complexity? etc.). Such education would also have benefits for mutual respect in a pluralistic society.
I applaud efforts to foster an appropriate appreciation of science and religion, but as I see it, these efforts tend to focus only on the failures of non-scientists, painting white hats on the scientific community without analyzing its failings or expounding on how to hold the community more accountable. Both sides need a look in the mirror.
Jason E. Summers
You raise a fine point that scientists need to have concern for how their work is understood by the public. Of course, most scientists have little training in the philosophy of science. Nor do they control school curricula. But, like those who engage in any vocation, it is appropriate for them to understand and communicate broader implications.
At the same time, we should not hold them to an unreasonable standard. I expect an average churchgoer to offer some account and defense of their faith, but I do not assume they can fully place, for example, their moral beliefs in a comprehensive philosophical framework. Similarly, I expect my mechanic to have a clear vision of ethics that includes not only his business practice but his quality of work, yet I don't demand that he expound on it.
With respect to accountability, I'd suggest that the situation you describe in your second paragraph above is not so different than the one evangelicals find themselves in. On multiple occasions prominent evangelicals have been known to say outrageous and offensive things. All too frequently these individuals are solicited for opinions as means of assessing the view of the evangelical community at large. From the inside, the misrepresentation is clear. From the outside, reporters and others in media wonder why evangelicals don't better police their own and control their public voice.
Over the last ten years or so evangelicals have made great strides toward achieving just that. But the problem is never over as it rests on a flawed sociological premise: it neglects the internal differentiation of the group. There is no one voice or singular authority.
I'd ask you to consider that as a backdrop for the claims you are making about scientists. It would be fairly easy to take a statement like "...in the general run of societal dialog around evolution, scientists have not en masse opposed (and have frequently supported) notions that evolution somehow concludes against God..." and replace "scientists" with "evangelicals" and the misapplication of evolutionary theory with a great number of heinous perversions of religious doctrine.
People in the pews are well aware that fellow evangelicals are not, by and large, intolerant, anti-intellectual, bigots in the pocket of big-business conservatism. But poll data among young people suggests exactly such beliefs are common.
Indeed you are correct that both the scientific community and the evangelical community need to better tend to their public voice and that both share culpability. However, I don't see that either group is getting a free pass. Given the right social milieu, both are subject to gross misrepresentation.
Hmmm. If indeed scientists don't get a modicum of education on philosophy of science — at least enough to clearly understand and articulate the importance and the implications of our discussion here — I would view that as a big problem in and of itself (and one that
within the community's power to solve). But leave that aside for now.
I must clarify some of my points in light of your response. As to an "unreasonable standard," my intent is to hold the
accountable, not every individual average scientist. The community has organizations and leaders and forums through which it can exert leadership in society toward my proposals. Of course scientists do not
school curricula, but my point does not require that. My proposal is that they
certain curricula enhancements. There is plenty of opportunity for scientific institutions to insert themselves into the discussion (debates over evolution/ID education being a prime example where good philosophy of science might serve toward peacemaking and mutual respect).
Certainly evangelicals have similar issues with policing ones that "say outrageous and offensive things" or "[misapply] evolutionary theory." But just because another is also guilty doesn't mean we should fail to address the one's issues. I chose to highlight the science community's issues because there
a major social context where I see it getting a free pass in the "science vs religion" debates. To wit: I'm unaware of opinion pieces in national forums (e.g., Washington Post, New York Times) that excoriate (or even simply reproach) scientists for overreaching on issues related to cultural foundations (e.g., evolution, non-material conclusions). Please point them out if you are aware of them.
So, leaving evangelical accountability in these matters for other threads of discussion, I do mean to focus for the moment on only the scientists' side. If we would work toward the common good, we must at times go underneath the tangle to the roots below, speaking frankly about how each community might make its contributions to the common good.
As I see it, for the scientific community, it goes beyond "how their work is understood by the public" and policing overreachers; it includes working prominently to improve society's (and apparently their own) understanding of the philosophical foundations and proper limitations of their work and its conclusions.
Jason E. Summers
I believe I understand your assessment of and suggestions for the scientific community, but I think your reasoning is flawed on a couple of counts. I hope to address those in part in the following.
I cannot emphasize enough that scientists are not generally in the business of making metaphysical claims in their professional capacities---there are no metaphysical claims in any of the hundreds and hundreds of scientific journal articles I read in a given year.
Popularizers of science are sometimes in the business of making metaphysical claims, and among them are some small percentage of scientists such as those you've mentioned. But, in making such claims, those individuals do not and cannot speak for "science" as a whole, as it is an internally differentiated, diffuse, and nonhierarchical group of individuals and institutions. In the same way, no small group of individuals speaks for the South, African Americans, or Evangelicals, for example.
Even so, many scientific organizations (NSF, AAAS, etc.) have ongoing and intensive efforts to help scientists better communicate their findings to the public in a way that avoids misinterpretation (i.e., drawing extrascientific conclusions) and have ongoing efforts to help members work out the societal implications of their research. Moreover, there are programs such as AAAS DoSER that explicitly address the intersection of science and religion.
Obviously this is imperfect and incomplete, but it is still quite commendable in my view. It is at least on par with similar efforts in the medical and legal professions and far exceeds that of almost every other profession I can think of. You could note, for example, the large number of authors on this website on topics of science and technology are now or were formerly practicing scientists or engineers. The same is true for law, medicine, and perhaps the fine arts, but less so for all other professions.
I think this is especially admirable given the amount of other training scientists must receive (typically nine or more years of undergraduate and postgraduate education for a career in research). Moreover, unlike lawyers or doctors, scientists generally engage with such questions on their own time and at their own expense. The degree to which they do (e.g., overflowing the auditorium of AAAS by a factor of two at the recent DoSER lecture) suggests a high level of interest and commitment.
Also, it is important to understand that there is no process by which, e.g., scientific institutions might choose to sanction Richard Dawkins's claims that are outside the realm of the competence of science. In fact, scientists, having multiple roles in society, should be able to draw whatever extrascientific conclusions they wish in those other roles without the sanction of science. Scientific institutions are able and competent only to adjudicate scientific questions. But, as popular authors like Dawkins do not write their views in scientific journals, those views are not subject to the review of scientific institutions.
What scientific institutions can do is address the validity of the science underlying extrascientific claims or suggest whether a claim is or is not scientific. To that end, I cannot begin to count the number of public lectures, books, and articles I have encountered that address just those concerns.
Now, naturally, national newspapers are not particularly interested in printing op-eds that state simply, "X's claims are extrascientific. While X did not make those claims in a scientific journal, since X is a scientist and others may not understand that X's claims were not scientific in nature, I just want to make it clear for the record." Besides, I think there is something fundamentally unproductive about those kinds of claims. Certainly they are common (e.g., "as such-and-such type of person I want to make clear that Y, also a such-and-such type of person, does not speak for me"). But they accomplish little or nothing.
Newspapers do, however, publish opinion pieces regarding the topic more broadly. You might, for example, look at the columns of Melanie Phililps, the conservative columnist for the Daily Mail, who is widely published on this topic. Of course, by biasing the sample from which I draw, I can find either few articles or many.
The discussion over ID you mention provides a good example of the principle I am attempting to articulate here. Scientific organizations are not competent to determine what is good pedagogy or what is an appropriate philosophical or religious education. They are, however, able to give opinions on the scientific standing of certain views. This, by and large, is what was done. Other nonscientific organizations (so of which included scientists operating outside their scientific capacity) offered other views on other aspects of the question, which was appropriate for them to do.
An analogy may be helpful: churches are free to (and ought to) correct their members on issues of doctrine. However, it is inappropriate for a church to sanction a member on the grounds that the church believes that member's interpretation of the political implications of his or her faith is flawed. Churches are not competent to adjudicate political questions. Rather, the working out of the political implications of Christian faith should be carried out within political organizations and perhaps explicitly Christian political organizations.
In the same way, there ought to be organizations of Christians in science working actively to mediate a Christian understanding of their work. Thankfully, many such organizations exist, often led by prominent scientists.
In summary, I think that you are overlooking many of the current practices of the scientific community and are advocating practices that are fundamentally inappropriate for scientific institutions to engage in.
Jason - I do appreciate the ongoing and constructive dialog. I must clarify that I have not asserted that scientists "[make] metaphysical claims in their professional capacities" — I would be astounded if there were any direct metaphysical "God claims" in recognized scientific journals. Further, I agree entirely that scientists "should be able to draw whatever extrascientific conclusions they wish" when operating outside their role as scientists, and I understand that, outside of the publications it controls, the scientific community rightly has no power or mechanism to prevent such publication.
in the scientific community's power to comment/resolve on published extrascientific claims. I do not think the community should (much less has capacity to) comment on every such violation, but rather to do so selectively, focusing particularly on major human questions and public policy issues. By analogy, if certain MDs were making extrascientific claims that smoking has no health risks and politicians were thereby dismantling established safeguards, I would expect medical institutions to counter such claims.
Rather than metaphysical
in professional capacity, I find physical claims that are based on metaphysical assumptions of naturalistic philosophy (and related forms of overreach). You mention AAAS DoSER, and I find DoSER's work to offer a useful example.
The 2002 AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory expresses the Board's concern about the public influence of ID, particularly ID as "a challenge to the quality of science education," asserts that the "theory of biological evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry," and advocates a strong public policy position regarding science education . As quoted in a companion article, AAAS CEO Alan Leshner states that "science-based information and conceptual belief systems should not be presented together" in the classroom, and the AAAS calls for promotion of "fact-based, standards-based science education" .
One of DoSER's own publications calls the Resolution's assertions into question. In relation to popular conceptions that evolutionary theory begins "pre-life," it states that evolutionary biology rests on the foundation of origin-of-life research . Yet, while "there is as yet no consensus on the possible mechanisms of the emergence of life, and though this process has not yet been simulated in the laboratory, scientists are confident that a primitive living system emerged on Earth a few billion years ago by natural means" . What gives scientists this confidence? Philosophy. "Science is not a body of demonstrated truths and scientific activity does rely on belief where we cannot provide proof. Naturalism as a system of beliefs is clearly of a different status than empirical data and like all philosophical claims cannot be confirmed or refuted by facts. There are no facts to 'demonstrate an entirely material origin of life', nor facts to refute it" . On this basis, the confidence of scientists is so strong that "[d]espite the difference in the empirical evidence for evolution and the origin of life, the distinction between unproven-as-yet origin of life and evolution-as-fact is not justified" .
Thus, AAAS's implied assertion that education on biological evolution is separate from "conceptual belief systems" is undermined by the DoSER publication's acknowledgment that scientific confidence in natural origin-of-life, on which biological evolution follows, is based on "a system of beliefs."
I think it would surprise many average citizens to learn that, within peer-reviewed scientific publications, naturalistic beliefs are accepted as a foundation of scientific confidence, and this even in the face of an admitted lack of both scientific consensus and empirical evidence.
In light of this, I find that the AAAS Resolution would be more candid and forthright if it expressed concern about ID, asserted "robust[ness]" for parts of the broad origins-to-evolution spectrum while acknowledging areas of theory-founded-on-beliefs, and proposed specific curricular remedies (both science and philosophy) to better educate society on the actual scientific and philosophical (i.e., metaphysical) status of origin-of-life, macro-evolution, and micro-evolution theories.
Finally, to counter the assertion that closes your previous comment, the AAAS Resolution (though I find it to be flawed) demonstrates that the AAAS, for one, believes that both of my two proposals
appropriate for scientific institutions to engage in.
 I. Fry. Philosophical aspects of the origin-of-life problem: the emergence of life and the nature of science. In
Exploring the Origin, Extent, and Future of Life: Philosophical, Ethical and Theological Perspectives
, ed. C. M. Berka (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 63.
 Ibid, p. 63.
 Ibid, p. 75.
 Ibid, p. 75.
Jason E. Summers
I think there remain some additional points of confusion.
The AAAS resolution you cite in your reference one seems to do exactly what I suggested scientific organizations are competent to do: "address the validity of the science underlying extrascientific claims or suggest whether a claim is or is not scientific." They state that, in their view, ID does not have scientific warrant and therefore ought not be considered part of that body of knowledge known as science nor taught as such.
It seems to me that you disagree with their particular philosophical understanding of the nature of science. Certainly you can hold that view, but your doing so does not invalidate their legitimacy in holding their own position.
It is reasonable of you to suggest, like Clouser and others, that all thinking is properly religious in grounding. But many, including Plantinga, would disagree with the conclusion you seem to draw about the naturalism implicit in evolutionary theory.
Additionally, you seem to misunderstand my usage of the term extrascientific. You wrote, "By analogy, if certain MDs were making extrascientific claims that smoking has no health risks and politicians were thereby dismantling established safeguards, I would expect medical institutions to counter such claims." But such claims are manifestly within the professional competence of the medical establishment. Its is quite properly their role to comment on the health risks associated with use of certain substances. By "extrascientific" I mean claims that cannot be arrived at via the epistemic enterprise of science (as grounded appropriately in what Plantinga would call basic beliefs, which is to say, roughly, grounded in foundational religious beliefs or worldview).
Finally, the conclusions you are drawing based on the existence of differing views in the AAAS resolution and the AAAS DoSER edited volume are not really material. There is not and cannot be a singular authoritative voice of the science community, therefore it is not self contradictory in the sense you seem to be claiming. Your reference three is an edited volume representing a variety of views, among which is that of Professor Fry, a philosopher of science. She might disagree with the position of the AAAS, but others would not from an equally principled position.
Science as a group of institutions within society is subject to its own internal norms and the epistemic basis for the enterprise resides with those institutions. Pluralism in society should be enabled to flourish by providing means by which those that share Professor Fry's views need not include the teaching of evolution within schools they choose to send their children to. However, in doing so it is quite outside of their competence to determine the definition of science.
Jason - As I reflect on what may be at the root of our disconnect here, I notice a pairing of tendencies running through your various remarks: On the one hand, you emphasize (A) how "[t]here is not and cannot be a singular authoritative voice of the science community." On the other, you defend (B) the authority and legitimacy of scientific institutions to determine what "ought not be considered part of that body of knowledge known as science." It seems to me that (B) implies (at least something approximating) a "singular authoritative voice," so I'm unclear how these two opposing positions fit together for you. Perhaps you might elaborate.
On other aspects of our dialog, along the lines of (B) you assert, "Science as a group of institutions within society is subject to its own internal norms and the epistemic basis for the enterprise resides with those institutions." By this, do you mean to imply that "science" (i.e., the "group of institutions") is not accountable to society at large as to the broad foundations of its norms and epistemic basis? Is science not accountable to clarify, for the public at large, the degree to which its confidence is based on naturalistic assumptions versus empirical data?
If, because of (A), it's fruitless for us to discuss institutionalized foundations of science (because it seems to devolve into your dismissals of the "that's just what one person says" variety), let's talk between just you and me about what we personally find to be science properly done. Perhaps it may benefit some in the Q community. Personally, I find:
(1) That science should conspicuously recognize its impotence in matters involving the existence of a preternatural realm and the degree to which the physical realm might potentially be affected by interaction (causal or not) with preternatural actors or phenomena.
(2) That methodological naturalism is entirely appropriate and in keeping with science's potency to pursue understanding of the physical realm.
(3) That, as to the formulation of
for investigation, it is inherent in methodological naturalism to pursue a "naturalism in the gap" approach (i.e., wherein a researcher assumes that there
a fully natural explanation).
(4) That, as to the determination and communication of scientific
conclusions and confidence
, and especially for scientific frontiers, a confidence (particularly a confidence rising to the "X-as-fact" level) based on "naturalism in the gap" is every bit as egregious as one based on a "God in the gap" approach, since both are grounded in metaphysical bias, not material/empirical observation.
How closely would you, Jason Summers personally, come to agreeing with these four points as an appropriate and solid foundation for responsible science within society? How would you articulate such a foundation?
Jason E. Summers
In response to your first paragraph, it is important to understand that spheres of society are composed of multiple entities. Thus, families have an exclusive realm of competence governed by norms specific to families, though there is no singular voice that represents all families as a whole. Competence to adjudicate claims within a sphere does not require a singular institutional enactment of that adjudication. The same is true of churches, which are exclusively competent with respect to ecclesial matters, yet do not have a singular voice and, as a sphere, are internally differentiated. Science is the same in this respect.
With respect to the final portion of your response above, I'll note that you have made your position quite clear. Your points 3 and 4 are flawed logically and I'd encourage you to discuss them more fully with others. My general encouragement to you is to have such conversations about the practice of science within those institutions involved in the doing of science.
Jason - Thanks again for the continuing discussion. Perhaps the brevity of your last response indicates that you are tiring of it, so maybe that's why you didn't reply to my questions or take up my invitation to speak personally. If so, I understand. Feel free to bow out.
That said, I must say it seems a bit of a cheap shot to say simply, "Your points 3 and 4 are flawed logically" with no indication of what you find those flaws to be.
FWIW, I might clarify that, in my point (3), "inherent" implies "valid and appropriate." I find that scientists
use a "naturalism in the gap" approach when formulating hypotheses for investigation.
Jason E. Summers
Apologies if I seemed curt.
I am quite familiar with debates over the aspects of this topic that seem of greatest interest to you.
I am also quite familiar with the argument you presented as four statements above.
A review of the literature on the topic of methodological naturalism found, e.g., by searching Google Scholar, will provide a good overview of the logical flaws and weaknesses. I have little to add on the matter.
My point in this discussion has been to explain why the framing of such debates is seen to be flawed when the functioning of individuals and institutions in civil society is understood correctly. Whatever conclusions one might draw simply are not relevant to the just ordering of institutions in civil society, nor the practice of science. Thus, I don't have a response to your arguement other than a rejection of the question.
Fair enough, Jason. My hope for the discussion has been to gain pointed (though concise and general) clarity for Q readers on some key questions underlying the sometimes vitriolic "science vs religion" clashes, rather than merely referring off to the heap of related literature. While our joint dialog has not provided that, it has heightened my awareness of what I might call a Fortress Science perspective, which seems to runs along the lines that, in the correct functioning of a civil society, scientific power structures and institutions are answerable only to themselves (and each separately unto itself), with (collectively) the sole competency, and thus the sole right, to define for society what constitutes science properly done. Furthermore, that on this basis, it is Fortress Science's role to advocate public education policy aimed to ensure that its definition, being the only proper one, solely forms the content of society's public science education. Although this rendering is not entirely free of cynicism, it would explain the reticence I commonly encounter from those involved in the doing of science to directly, pointedly, and candidly address questions like those I've raised.
For the record, since our conversation has touched heavily on evolution/ID, let me add that I am not an ID proponent, although I do find, as noted to above, that the evolution/ID debate gives rise to important questions that should result in change to science curricula.
Thank you again for the extended conversation. All the best.
Jason E. Summers
I want to make clear that your summary above does not represent my position and misrepresents some of my direct statements. Rather than "Fortress Science," as you term it, I've simply been articulating a fairly widely held doctrine within the Christian faith. In the Catholic tradition it is called subsidiarity. In the Reformed tradition it is called sphere sovereignty. If you are unfamiliar with these ideas, you may find this short tutorial of some help:
--- note that the doctrine applies to all institutions in society, not scientific institutions alone.
Also I want to particularly note that you seem to have missed my statements about the relationship of the scientific enterprise to education, such as, "scientific organizations are not competent to determine what is good pedagogy or what is an appropriate philosophical or religious education" but are "able to give opinions on the scientific standing of certain views." For additional detail I refer you to Carlson-Thies (a contributor here), Clouser, Glenn, and Skillen---all of whom apply much the same framework as I do to questions of pluralism in education.
The position I'm articulating here isn't intended to quash discussion, rather it is necessary for just functioning of society. As an illustration, consider the following example:
Churches compose a sphere of society that is exclusively competent to adjudicate ecclesial matters. Suppose some members of broader society took issue with what they understood to be the philosophical underpinnings or moral implications of the soteriology of Evangelical Christian churches. Perhaps, for example, they might argue that exclusivity claims are a threat to free society, particularly because these beliefs influence public behavior and decisions.
Imagine then that this group demanded a singular "Evangelical Position" on the doctrine of salvation. We Christians would argue that no singular position exists since multiple views are held and the group is internally differentiated with multiple authority structures.
Suppose also that this group in broader society argued it was manifestly unfair and irresponsible to allow churches exclusive right to adjudicate soteriological claims within the structures they establish because of the public implications of their beliefs. Moreover, imagine that they argued that churches alone should not have exclusive claim on the definition of what their religious doctrine comprises when it is expounded publicly. We Christians would quite legitimately understand such claims to be overreaching and unjust.
The solution to such problems is the recognition that institutions have exclusive competence governed by internal norms and that individuals' faith commitments are manifested in a variety of ways within the various roles they serve. Thus, political groups cannot exercise authority over the soteriology of churches nor can legal groups exercise authority over the definition or practice of science within scientific institutions.
A related conclusion is that the content of educational curricula is determined by educators working in concert with parents, ideally allowing plurality of educational opportunities. Science, history, and other fields of academic inquiry remain solely competent to determine the content of their respective bodies of knowledge, though they do not control what is taught nor how it is taught.
My apologies, Jason. If something seemed to imply that my ad hoc rendering of Fortress Science represented your position, it was entirely unintentional. I meant it only as stated: that our dialog heightened my awareness of such a perspective. That said, to be candid, I do find elements of Fortress Science in your remarks.
I get the points you've been making about sphere sovereignty, although I believe a critical point is missing from your analysis (and from that of others, if indeed it is missing there). In your examples throughout our discussion, it seems to me that you have been drawing a direct equivalency of the relation to society held by religious and scientific (and other) institutions (albeit each with their own separate spheres). I submit that there simply is not a
equivalency. Instead, there is a continuum(s) along which different categories of institutions ought have different degrees of accountability to society at large.
A religious institution (in which category I include secular humanist organizations, et al) is established for the benefit of the limited group of its faithful and whatever corporate action they may then undertake. The institution may attempt to influence society, but since theology is widely recognized as an inappropriate foundation for public policy and public education, broad society has no standing for complaint regarding the internals of a religious institution's theology/metaphysics. Whether done well or poorly, it is the institution's own business, and the rest of society (including any other religious institution) is free to ignore internal matters of whether its theology is properly done. Of course, the public
critique the religious (individuals, institutions, and via broad banners like "evangelicals"), and wise religious institutions will listen to and engage with significant critiques.
By contrast, the work done in the scientific community
have direct influence on public policy and education — and scientific conclusions are broadly accepted as valid input to social policy. This, I assert, justifies a call for a higher burden of social accountability on scientists and their institutions, since the rest of society is thus
entirely free to ignore their work.
Pennings and Brink point out (at the link you provided) that Kuyper was criticized as suggesting "sphere
." Religious institutions, having at most indirect impact on social policy, might indeed have complete autonomy to define "theology properly done." But the scientific community, having a recognized and direct impact on social policy, should not be autonomous but rather society deserves (or if necessary ought to demand by rights) from scientific institutions transparency, candor, and cooperation both in the definition of "science properly done" and in achieving clarity on the basis and strength of confidence in major scientific conclusions.
Certainly there are nuances and details that lay underneath these broad characterizations, yet they would be merely refinements to the broad thrust of what I've articulated. Thus, I hold that the scientific community (in its various institutions) is
competent to define, yet should open itself to gain societal consensus on, the broad parameters of "science properly done," and it should hold itself socially accountable for transparency as to the factors inhering in the confidence level for major scientific conclusions. To the degree it does so, it is living within appropriate checks on the sovereignty for its sphere. To the degree it does not, it is retrenching toward Fortress Science.
Jason E. Summers
I disagree both on theological and empirical grounds with the rather low and limited view you seem to have of the proper role and scope of influence of religious belief and institutions. I also disagree on empirical grounds with the scope and degree of influence you ascribe to science. Finally, I think you have misunderstood the role of the public square and how multiple competing claims are adjudicated in society.
Following Clouser, Gerson, Skillen, Volf and others I would argue that theology has a substantial and direct effect on public policy and it cannot be otherwise. There simply cannot be a naked public square. As Clouser has noted, no thought is religiously neutral.
Empirically, the broad public role of theology is also quite clear as much of our current political discussion is religious in character and explicitly asks about the public consequences of theological beliefs. Moreover, public censure of theology is widely discussed with respect to beliefs of certain faiths; my example above was not entirely fanciful.
Given the nature and frequency of explicitly religious arguments in politics, I can't see how anyone is "entirely free to ignore" religious and theological claims.
Likewise, I'm confused by your assertion that, in contrast to religion, the scientific community has "direct influence on public policy and education" and that "scientific conclusions are broadly accepted as valid input to social policy." Based on empirical grounds, that simply is not true to the extent you claim.
Many questions encountered in modern politics have scientific components and, therefore, legislators have science advisors, as does the executive office of the president. Also, government sometimes calls on scientific experts to address certain questions (just as it calls together people from various religious communities).
But scientists seldom write primary- or secondary-school textbooks, nor do they design curricula. Neither do they approve through any formal process how science is taught or legislated. Moreover, many consensus views of the scientific community are widely rejected by lawmakers and voters (by the majority in some cases), ensuring that such views do not have unquestioned influence on policy.
You seem quite concerned with how science is taught in public schools, which seems to be the basis for your false belief about the influence of science on public policy. However ensuring the ability of parents to choose schools with curricula that reflect their religious views is the appropriate means of addressing your concern. In other words, one does not revise Catholic theology if one finds its application in parochial schooling offensive, one chooses a different school. If one cannot do so the problem stems from lack of religious freedom, not from a need to redefine the theology.
Finally, I think you misunderstand the comment by Pennings and Brink about "sphere autonomy." Their next sentence clarifies that spheres are sovereign with respect to the "unique purposes of the institutions, not the broad scope of their influence." Here the role of the state to ensure justice and prevent overreach becomes essential. This is why, for example, science has unique competence to determine what is science, but not to autonomously enact policy based on its findings.
Your argument that public influence brings with it necessity for the public to determine by consensus the content of a field of study or practice would have political philosophers and economists, for example, having to determine how their work is done by discussion in the public square. This is rather obviously inappropriate, to say nothing of the implications for other spheres of society with substantial influence such as families. Clearly it would very inappropriate for the parenting style of families to be subject to the consensus view of society at large where such decisions are not a matter of safety and well being. This is true even though families have a huge influence on citizens and their beliefs.
In conclusion, it is important to understand that all groups of institutions have varying influence on society at various times, but that does not alter their sovereignty within their sphere. If religious views form the basis for a proposed law, as they sometimes do, the law is open to public debate, the legislative process, and the judicial process to ensure that the law is just. However, at no time must the churches that gave rise to the theological basis of that proposed law find it necessary to "gain societal consensus" for their theology. That is achieved with respect to public implications through discussion in the public square. Similarly, your concerns about the use of science are concerns to be discussed and adjudicated in the public square. Unfortunately, the current political climate hinders these discussions by the continuing threat of overreach in the form of subjecting institutions to public definition of their unique purpose, such as you proposed above. But, as Christians, we should recognize that neither government nor the institutions of civil society are legitimized by popular consensus. Rather, they are accountable and responsible to norms and, ultimately, God.
Thank you, Jason. But you read too little into my remarks about the influence of theology, too much about the influence of science, and wholly too much about the sort of checks on Fortress Science that I propose. In general, you seem to think I'm making several broad and sweeping points, when actually my points are considerably more pointed and modest, and this seems to lead you to certain misrepresentations of my remarks.
To state concisely, my points are that: (1) The differing statuses of theological work and scientific work in relation to public policy formation argue for differing manners of accountability in relation to their sphere autonomy and (2) because of this, the scientific community should submit to very limited touch points of accountability. To extend and clarify my points:
Indeed, theology may indeed have great influence on society and public policy, and religious influencers may indeed act on the basis of their theology, yet (and this is the extent of my core point about the status of theology) in a pluralistic society, it is illegitimate (and recognized as such) to explicitly use theology as a basis for public policy (e.g., "In our theological work, we reasoned from Bible verses W and X and concluded Y. Based on Y, we propose to make Z binding on all citizens").
In public debate about Z, the status of W/X/Y is "metaphysical personal belief" and, as such, they have little or no theoretical weight against opposing metaphysical beliefs (practical weight may vary). Thus, the debate fundamentally turns to the precise formulation of Z and its potential effects in society (it is in this sense that I intend "free to ignore" W/X/Y, since the religious say simply "I'll believe what I want"). Nonetheless, opponents may continue to question W/X/Y, even to the extent of "public censure" as you suggest, and the religious, when acting wisely, will genuinely, graciously, and candidly engage and look for common ground for the common good.
Indeed, science does not have unmitigated influence on public policy, yet (and this is the extent of my core point about the status of science) in a pluralistic society, it is quite legitimate (and recognized as such) to explicitly use science as an argument for public policy (e.g., "The scientific community has broad consensus that A and B cause C. Based on this, we propose to make D binding on all citizens").
In public debate about D, the status of A/B/C is (approximately) "substantiated physical reality" or "A/B/C-as-fact" and, as such, they have considerable theoretical weight against opposing views of reality (practical weight may vary). Society-at-large thus has a vested interest to ensure their trustworthiness, and A/B/C validly remain as focal points in the debate about D. During public examination of A/B/C, the scientific community ought to genuinely, graciously, and candidly engage, including in questions about how the science was done and its basis for confidence. I find it inappropriate for Fortress Science to rebuff public examination by saying, "we alone are solely competent (accountable only to God) to decide whether A/B/C is good science justifying our stated confidence."
Thus, as a framework for genuine, gracious, and candid engagement, I propose that the scientific community open itself to accountability (by mechanisms yet to be discussed) as to "broad parameters" of doing science and its "basis and strength of confidence" in specific conclusions (I say "accountability" because my earlier phrase "gain societal consensus" seems to have read considerably more broadly than I intended). These are very much more narrow than your mischaracterizations that I would have scientific institutions submit to "[determination] by consensus the content of a field of study," to "public definition of their unique purpose," and to being "legitimized by popular consensus."
As to public education of science: If a parent's advocacy is for their own children, the remedy you call out is quite adequate ("one chooses a different school"). However, this remedy is irrelevant if one's advocacy is for the common good of society (i.e., that the broad public should understand the general limits of science and the specific limits of current scientific confidence). Throughout our dialog, and following my assertions that the scientific community should
public education in certain ways, you have at least three times pointed out that the community does not
it. Lack of control is irrelevant to the decision to use whatever influence one may have, and the referenced AAAS resolution's call "upon its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of "intelligent design theory" as subject matter for science education" is sufficient proof that some in the scientific community recognize this.
Apologies, but I misspoke in my point (1) immediately above, which should read, ". . .argue for differing manners of accountability in relation to their sphere
. . ." (or, alternatively, ". . .in relation to the degree of autonomy which their sphere sovereignty affords them. . .").
Jason E. Summers
You are drawing a false distinction between a theologically grounded moral claim forming the basis for a proposed law and a scientifically based claim about cause forming the basis for a law. Detailed exegesis may not be a common part of the dialog in the public square, but neither is the detailed practice of science. Rather moral claims arrived at by exegesis are part of the discussion just as the results of scientific deduction are. I see no difference there. Both types of claim are rejected or accepted by some subset of the populace as representations of reality based on their worldview.
With regard to the transparency you seek, I'll note that the processes of science are uniformly open for all to view. Results are published in journals with sufficient detail to ensure that experiments are reproducible. The reasoning process is open to public scrutiny.
Clearly, you want more than that. But it would be helpful if you clarified by explaining what exactly you mean when you ask for accountability with respect to (1) the "broad parameters of doing science" and (2) its "basis and strength of confidence."
Are you, for example, looking for a statement of faith (i.e., basic beliefs) from every scientist involved in every endeavor having public implications? A report from each on their epistemology? Would you like all scientific papers to be accompanied by a corresponding philosophical statement from each co-author? If so, who will look at these items and who will pay to produce them? Would your goal be to weight the degree to which you accept results based upon your agreement with the basic beliefs of those scientists involved?
It seems that, in general, you want to place bounds on the epistemic validity of science based on philosophical or religious grounds. That is reasonable, given that all worldviews place bounds on the epistemic validity of certain means of gathering knowledge. However, those bounds will always depend quite a bit on an individual's basic beliefs. Thus there will be variation in the understanding of these bounds by individuals both inside and outside of science. The same is true of history, economics, and every other epistemic field I can think of.
Regarding science education, I've said that the role of scientific institutions is quite legitimately to clarify what is and is not science and what is the content of science. Thus the call in the AAAS resolution to "assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory" is quite in line with the scope of what I've said is appropriate and proper (though their perspective may not be in line with your beliefs). What are you suggesting the role of the scientific community acting in their capacity as scientists should be if not clarifying the content of scientific knowledge and what constitutes science? If you would like the scientific community to also articulate a singular view on the epistemic bounds of science, you are asking for the impossible. There is no one view and, as I have said, there cannot be because of the plural nature of the religious commitments of scientists.
Looking back at your original comments, it seems you recognize this plurality of worldviews but would like to impose a singular perspective, which you believe to be the correct one, e.g., the one you believe "to align with doing good science free from preconceived bias." Now, clearly, science does have some agreed upon methodological practices and norms like all epistemic approaches; that is why it coheres as a body of knowledge. But there remains substantial room for a plurality of views that still subscribe to those norms; as there must be given the plurality of worldviews represented by those doing science.
Again, looking back at your earlier comments, It seems your concern stems from a misunderstanding of what science is and does. For example, you wrote as an example of two worldviews:
"A scientist, observing the indisputable fact that people the world over posit a preternatural realm, may confidently conclude it to be superstition — based on philosophical assumptions that anything real will have physically detectable causality. Another scientist may further observe that, in extant conceptions of the preternatural, preternatural actors may operate without leaving physically detectable proof of their actions, and thus conclude that it is beyond the abilities of science to deny or prove the existence of a preternatural realm or how it may interact with the physical world."
But none of the actions you describe above are part of the practice of science. They are statements of philosophical/theological beliefs. However, this misunderstanding then shapes your complaint:
"Prominent scientists, using their reputations/credibility as scientists, make overreaching statements (e.g., Dawkins, Sagan). Over the decades, in the general run of societal dialog around evolution, scientists have not en masse opposed (and have frequently supported) notions that evolution somehow concludes against God. Cognitive scientists find mere correlation between religious thought and cognitive patterns, yet frame their conclusions as a causal explaining away of religion."
But, as I've said, these are extrascientific conclusions not written about in journals and not part of the practice of science. Some scientist believe such things and some do not. Science is not a religion that imposes basic beliefs, but rather an institution of society shaped by the basic beliefs of those individuals that participate in it.
Ultimately you seem to want to argue for something like Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria as an imposed guideline on the interpretation of science. But that's not viable given that, empirically, overlapping claims often occur and these claims sometimes conflict due to the fallen nature of those people engaged in the epistemic work (e.g., exegesis, theology, science, history).
Jason, we agree that the primary foci of public policy debate are the outcomes of theological or scientific work, not the internals of the work. Where we appear to disagree is (but your comments aren't clear enough for me to tell), within public debate, whether the outcomes should be accepted/rejected only at face value, whether/when/by whom it is legitimate to question the work itself, and what constitutes a worker's/institution's good reaction to such questioning.
When you say, "Detailed exegesis may not be a common part of the dialog...neither is the detailed practice of science," it appears that you allow some type of inquiry into the work (though it would not be "common"), but the thrust of that paragraph seems to disallow it. Also, your general resistance throughout our discussion to anyone outside of Fortress Science critiquing anything inside the fortress walls seems to disallow such inquiry. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I conclude that you do disallow such inquiry as part of policy debate.
Be that as it may, on the empirical basis that "[b]oth types of claim are rejected or accepted," you are free to conclude that there is no theoretical distinction between them in a pluralistic society (specifically regarding the strength of public accountability for the work being properly done). In my book, greater scrutiny is appropriate for that which claims to be true for all (i.e., science, in our context) and it is only in a theocracy that theology provides direct, "true for all" justification for public policy.
As to more specifics on what I propose: I have no concern for the belief system of any individual scientist (or the belief system that seems dominant at any scientific institution) — not the least because stated beliefs do not necessarily carry into one's actual work. What I most care about are the standards of reasoning employed to arrive at a given level of confidence in scientific conclusions, together with how institutions handle such issues in their public policy advocacy.
We agree that it is valid for a scientific institution to enter public policy debates with clarifications of what is/isn't good science. I find that the AAAS resolution overreached in its statement of confidence in biological evolution (because of softness in origins-of-life research), and this type of overreach is a major driver of my concerns.
You state that "science does have some agreed upon methodological practices and norms," and here you render "science" as if it were a single entity with a single body of norms upon which there might be a "plurality of views that still subscribe to those norms." So, where is this single body of norms to be found? Would it not be good for the community itself for these to be documented coherently? Yet let's take up your competing assertion that there can be no singular set of norms and build on an assumption of strong scientific plurality.
For science's relation to society, I believe it would serve the common good for each institution, separately or (for efficiency) collectively with others, to publish its broad set of standards/norms for science properly done —
it is done with candor and an attitude of open dialog and not as Fortress Science might post a banner on the side of the castle wall. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? I say not. Such statements could serve the common good by addressing broad societal concerns like the limits of science in relation to existence of/interaction with the preternatural, whether/when methodological naturalism is allowed to extend into scientific confidence (e.g., naturalism in the gap), whether additional care is appropriate when concluding about the frontiers of science, and what measures the institution takes to foster peer review processes that enforce its standards. Ideally, in my view, these would be formed to foster "doing good science free from preconceived bias" (understanding human limits), but if not, transparency as to preconceived bias is all the more reason that such statements would serve the common good (even if offered in a Fortress Science attitude).
Your critique of my "A scientist, observing..." quote is misguided. In context, it was
as expounding on the influence of philosophy of science on scientific conclusions. As to your extrascientific discussion following that, I'm merely pointing out some of the effects of not having a clearer societal understanding of science, its limits, and its expression of confidence.
I honestly can't tell how you draw the conclusion that my views are close to NOMA. If I were to encapsulate what I'm ultimately arguing for, it would be genuine, gracious, and candid transparency and accountability on the part of science (separately or collectively). As you point out, there is a public record in the literature, however to this point in our conversation, you seem to have staunchly defended the view that those not doing institutionally sanctioned science have no standing to question the record, rather they are only allowed to accept or reject it as is. Furthermore, you seem to staunchly disallow the legitimacy of anyone outside the Fortress critiquing how science is done. In other words, you seem to hold that the scientific community is not accountable to society on these points. If indeed that is your view, then perhaps we have come to the core of our disagreement.
Jason E. Summers
It is very misleading of you to characterize the thrust of your argument as advocacy for "genuine, gracious, and candid transparency and accountability on the part of science." Rather, I observe that you began your comments by arguing that it is "beyond the abilities of science to deny or prove the existence of a preternatural realm or how it may interact with the physical world." And this position has been the underlying emphasis of all of your arguments.
You've stated that you believe a philosophy of science that explicitly affirms its "impotence regarding the preternatural" to be the only appropriate one. Thus you draw a clear boundary regarding the epistemic limits of science, placing it in a magisterium that excludes much or all of religious doctrine. This is essentially NOMA with respect to the epistemic bound it imposes on science. I'll grant that you have not said what you believe the epistemic bounds bounds of theology or exegesis to be, so perhaps you only espouse half of the conventional NOMA position. That partial position has certain rhetorical advantages, but in the interest of the openness you advocate, you should clarify what exactly you believe the epistemic bounds of both science and religion to be. Can they, in fact, make overlapping and conflicting claims?
That would help clarify what I view to be the deeper problem with your thinking, which is your flawed understanding of the weight of religious claims. When you write "greater scrutiny is appropriate for that which claims to be true for all (i.e., science, in our context) and it is only in a theocracy that theology provides direct, 'true for all' justification for public policy." Your statement is clearly not true. Religiously motivated claims about universal truth are the basis for laws in the U.S. with great regularity. So I can't see how you are able to draw your distinction on such a basis. Such a distinction does not exist in practice and, moreover, drawing one rests on a flawed theological premise that truth learned from faith only claims to be relative and not "true for all."
My position stems from the understanding that there should be no fundamental difference with respect to their treatment in civil society between the various spheres that seek knowledge as part of their unique purpose. As such, anyone is welcome to examine and critique the scholarly work of historians, economists, scientists, or theologians as part of a policy debate or at any other time. However, for the conclusions they draw to be called history, economics, science, or theology, the critics would need to actually engage in the practice of those disciplines.
For example, if I were to ask my doctor about his diagnosis of me in some instance, he would certainly be happy to detail the process through which he reached his conclusion. However, if I were to argue with his use of reasoning or a particular test, I would be free to refuse treatment but not to revise his prescribed treatment and call it licensed medicine.
My position does not in any way make disciplines "not accountable to society," because (1) society is made up of people involved in those fields who manifest their basic beliefs (in varying degrees) in their work and, most importantly, (2) the entire process through which the conclusions are drawn is transparent and can form the basis for one's acceptance or rejection.
However, you have clarified that accountability for you would require "statements...addressing broad societal concerns like the limits of science in relation to existence of/interaction with the preternatural, whether/when methodological naturalism is allowed to extend into scientific confidence (e.g., naturalism in the gap)...." But these considerations are outside of the scope of the kinds of methods that become part of the normative practice of science. Pluralism within science cannot allow otherwise. Your desire to enforce standards on these particular issues by means of institutional peer review amounts to a restriction on religious freedom for scientists. That is not permissible.
What you seem not to understand is that the methodological norms within scientific institutions stem from basic epistemological (and not necessarily ontological) agreements that allow certain methods to be accepted (e.g., senses tell us something meaningful about the world, and so forth). Such norms remain agnostic to the questions you raise and allow for a diversity of views within science. The reason for this is that, just as "God in the gap" is not part of science, neither is "naturalism in the gap." The same is true for your other concerns. They are all philosophical/theological questions that institutions of science do not adjudicate.
The core of our disagreement is not, as you suggest, what you claim is my desire for science to be unaccountable to society on the specific questions that concern you, rather it is my insistence on allowing religious freedom in science through a plurality of views on issues like the "limits of science in relation to existence of/interaction with the preternatural, whether/when methodological naturalism is allowed to extend into scientific confidence" and your opposing desire for institutions to articulate and enforce uniform views on these matters. While I think you believe your prescription would be of help to society, in practice it would be an unjust restriction to the religious freedom of those practicing science.
Another point I think we disagree on is whether holding that evolution is scientifically valid requires philosophical naturalism or some other belief that is properly outside of the scope of scientific adjudication. Your concern over the AAAS statement seems to indicate you do believe that. However, I and many others disagree (e.g., Collins and Plantinga); there is no need to assume philosophical naturalism to hold that evolution is scientifically valid.
Jason, you seem to have some preconceived bias about what my position is, and it continues to lead you to quite confident but incorrect conclusions about my position. As a matter of record, I'll address these below, but first I'll address the core question that we've come to: By what mechanism(s) should the scientific community be accountable to society?
To this question, I find two relevant statements in your comments: (A) "[T]he institutions of civil society are...accountable and responsible to norms and, ultimately, God." I understand your use of "norms" here to refer to the norms of the institutions themselves (individually or within a sphere/discipline). (B) Your position includes accountability "because (1) society is made up of people involved in those fields who manifest their basic beliefs (in varying degrees) in their work and, most importantly, (2) the entire process through which the conclusions are drawn is transparent and can form the basis for one's acceptance or rejection."
I agree with all three parts of these two statements, but I see nothing in them that amounts to accountability to society. Thus I find them insufficient for my intent. As stated, (A) contains zero accountability to
, but rather only to self-determined norms and to God. If you intend for this to imply some form of accountability to society, please expand. On (B), I don't understand how, for you, accountability derives from (1), yet perhaps you intend (1) merely as a precursor to (2). As stated, (2) simply means that science can do its work however it pleases, and society is free to inspect and reject it. That's not accountability, at least not as Merriam-Webster has it (i.e., tracing back to an "account" as a "(a) statement explaining one's conduct, (b) a statement or exposition of reasons, causes, or motives").
Is there more to your notions of science's accountability to society? To repeat a question I asked earlier, which you have not as yet addressed directly: "[D]o you mean...that 'science'...is not accountable to society at large as to the broad foundations of its norms and epistemic basis?"
The above is the intended extent of my comments to which I ask you to reply. The remainder is simply my "for the record" indications of correctives to the most significant (not all) of your latest reply's misrepresentations of my remarks. Throughout our conversation, the most frequently occurring form of this involves hyper-extension of a single point to the exclusion of qualifying nuances. IOW, as I noted in an earlier reply, you read "broad and sweeping points, when actually my points are considerably more pointed and modest." Please keep this in mind in any of your continuing analysis of my remarks.
* You say: "It is very misleading of you..." Perhaps your pejorative characterization here stems from a preconceived bias that leads you to overconfidence as to your understanding of my position.
* You say: "you draw a clear boundary regarding the epistemic limits of science, placing it in a magisterium that excludes much or all of religious doctrine." True, I draw bounds on the limits of science as to the preternatural, but the "magisterium" bit is your extension of my remarks. As to your "Can they, in fact, make overlapping and conflicting claims?", re-read my first reply to Rusty's post, leading to where I say, "we can by faith live in the resulting paradoxical tension" (i.e., paradox from overlap).
* You say: "Your statement is clearly not true. Religiously motivated claims about universal truth are the basis for laws..." You've missed my distinction between this as a practical reality and its theoretical underpinnings (e.g., the US Constitution's Establishment Clause).
* You say my position "amounts to a restriction on religious freedom for scientists" which doesn't account for my statement that "I have no concern for the belief system of any individual scientist" (IOW, they can believe what they will). My position focuses on "the standards of reasoning employed to arrive at a given level of confidence."
Jason E. Summers
Let me first answer your primary question about accountability of science with respect to the "broad foundations of its norms and epistemic basis." The accounting you want, "a statement or exposition of reasons, causes, or motives," being epistemological, would be of necessity a statement grounded in properly basic beliefs. As such, your asking for such a statement from institutions that are religiously pluralistic, with a diversity of basic beliefs, makes no sense. I can't answer your question directly because it cannot be answered properly as you've asked it. It is a loaded question that is based on a faulty premise: science has a single epistemic basis.
Imagine, for example, we were discussing nonprofit charitable institutions comprising members with different basic beliefs and faith commitments. Your question is much like asking for a theological basis for the charitable work done by a particular organization or group of similar organizations. However, while the members of a charitable organization could agree on what is to be done, that what is being done is good, and that it is good for all people in society, they would not be able to give a singular theological account for their views. In fact, the organization might comprise, for example, a secular humanist operating out of a utilitarian ethic, a Christian, and a Buddhist---all of whom would disagree about why and how the work is both good and good for society. This is true despite the fact that the organization might publicly advocate for the universal good of its cause.
In the same way, historians agree on what constitutes history and how one engages in the practice of historical investigation, but not on why we can know something historically. You could not ask historians to give a singular epistemological account. The best that one could hope for in the case of history, as in the case of science, is a much more modest statement about the practices of the discipline.
In the course of their regular work, scientists observe things, build mathematical and other types of models of what they observe, test those models using observations, make new predictions using the models, test the new predictions, discard, refine, or develop new models, and so on. In so doing they agree that observation is the way to test models. The greater the predictive ability with respect to observations, the more confidence is given to the model (N.B., the epistemologically precise meaning of this will vary in usage among scientists). Those are, in essence, what I've called the methodological norms of science (distinct from God-given structural norms embedded in creation), with some variation and augmentation in various domains of inquiry. These methodological norms are quite evident in the documentation of the work of science.
Critically, this rather modest set of methodological norms allows that scientists can and do disagree about the ontological status of their findings, which they describe with varying levels of precision ("truth after a means," "toy models," "verisimilar reality," "reality," and so on). Similarly, they can and do disagree on the epistemological basis for the work and on its bounds.
Might there be some properly basic beliefs that would not agree to the methodological norms? Certainly. Subjective idealists might not agree with these methodological norms. Perhaps also some followers of upanishadic hinduism. They are, however, free to reject any part of the scientific enterprise and its findings. The same is true for all people. Certain epistemic findings will conflict and we all must struggle to sort out the degree to which those findings accord with our basic beliefs.
Looking back on your earlier comments, it seems clear that you would like for scientific institutions to comment on the "philosophical (i.e., metaphysical) status of origin-of-life, macro-evolution, and micro-evolution theories" and other similar aspects of the understanding of scientific findings that are controversial in society. But, as I've said, there is no single worldview required to accept such theories as the best current scientific explanation. Likewise, scientists have many different views and theologians and philosophers differ in their understandings of the implications of various theories. Which one of these many views should an institution present? Better it seems to me to keep the presentation to a clear and modest description of the findings arising from the methodological norms and resist making extrascientific claims. Resolution of disagreements on philosophical or theological grounds is outside of the competence of scientific institutions.
Finally, I'll note that the establishment clause is by no means a barrier to use of theologically based moral argument in the public square (see, e.g.,
). If it were, moral arguments would be impossible.
Thanks, Jason. Your multi-faith nonprofit example, and that you liken my remarks to its members giving "a singular theological account for their views," brings out an error, or at least an unnecessary limitation, in how you use the term "epistemic." You appear to give it only a religious meaning (at least in your latest reply, I note at least one earlier usage where you seem to be less restrictive). I'm using the term, as Merriam-Webster has it, as a more general term, without religious connotation (epistemology = "study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity" —
Thus, while your example holds, it does not parallel my intent. I will illustrate how my intent
come into your example, but I must say in advance that it still will not precisely parallel the scenario with science. Suppose the organization's work involves small group sessions facilitated by one of the organization's workers for the people the organization serves. As its leaders consider how to run the organization, this question might arise: "Will we allow the workers to form their sessions around their specific faith beliefs?" The organization might decide for or against allowing this. This "how the work is done" question is analogous to where my concern enters (i.e., "the standards of reasoning employed to arrive at a given level of confidence"), however, my framing intentionally allows for concerns beyond "naturalism in the gap" and other religious/metaphysical concerns.
With the exception that science itself is grounded in philosophy of science, I agree with you that "[r]esolution of disagreements on philosophical or theological grounds is outside of the competence of scientific institutions." Furthermore, I agree with your comment in your 2d previous reply that "just as 'God in the gap' is not part of science, neither is 'naturalism in the gap'" — this is simply another way of recognizing that science is impotent in relation to the preternatural. Thus, whereas the multi-faith organization might allow or disallow faith "in the work," it seems we both want to disallow faith commitments (including naturalism, atheism, etc.) from the work of doing science (as far as humanly possible, and to correct it when it is found).
And this is why the Fry paper that I referenced earlier serves as an important example to consider. At minimum, DoSER's inclusion of that paper in a peer-reviewed publication means that it is respectable work. In the context of examining extant science on origins-of-life and
a strong confidence in natural-origin-of-life-as-fact (and with heavy critique of ID), Fry indicates that such confidence is properly grounded in "Naturalism as a system of beliefs" (i.e., "naturalism in the gap" in my rendering). In relation to the multi-faith organization example, this is to say that workers are directly and intentionally inserting their faith beliefs into how the work is done
as a matter of proper practice
. DoSER's respect for Fry's paper argues that this should be taken seriously.
Thus, Fry's assertions are an example of reason for concern as to whether your (and my) ideas of proper norms are being upheld in (at least certain areas of) the doing of science. This is the type of concern that, to me, calls for some degree of accountability, but apparently not so for you.
BTW, Secular humanists would strongly disagree with your contention that "moral arguments would be impossible" without being "theologically based." You use the phrase "by no means a barrier" in referring to the Establishment Clause. Again, you focus on the practical, not theoretical, aspect of the question. Yes theology-based proposals are proffered, even passed as law, but this happens either on the proposal's broad moral merits (regardless of theology) or at risk of it being struck down if it imposes one religion's practices on all citizens (as were the old "blue laws" that required stores to be closed on Sundays).
To return to the multi-faith organization example, perhaps my using your example to demonstrate the proper place for my proposal may help you understand more clearly and allow you to respond to, rather than reject, the question. If not, then I continue to understand your position to be that you find it improper for science to be accountable to society for its norms and epistemic basis.
Jason E. Summers
My example of the charitable organization was an analogy. In that case theology as the basis for ethics and a notion of the good serves as an analog to basic beliefs as the basis for epistemolgy. Is that helpful in clarifying?
My usage of epistemolgy as a term is the standard one and, following reformed thought, I ground it in basic beliefs. Also, following reformed thought, I treat basic beliefs as religious in the sense that they are par of a worldview. However, that is not important for my analogy.
Also, to clarify, I do not by any means want to disallow faith commitments from the work of doing science. Following reformed thought, I argue that all thinking builds from basic beliefs and thus is never religiously neutral. Everyone works out of the ground of their own basic beliefs.However, science provide a pluralistic frame in which people of different basic beliefs can engage in a common epistemic enterprise.
With respect to Fry, her point applies only to the extrascientific views of individuals. Not properly scientific work of pluralistic institutions. But you want to police institutions, not individuals, as you said before. If that's the case, your question about accountability is still flawed.
Finally, with respect to the establishment clause, my references included citations to supreme court decisions; they should clarify that grounding a moral claim in theology is not sufficient basis to evoke the establishment clause as understood by the court.
Yes, Jason, I understood the multi-faith charity bit as an analogy. Let's bypass debate about the definition of epistemology and use your sense, wherein basic belief precedes epistemology (which perhaps aligns with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's discussion of "reformed epistemology" — its definition of "epistemology" aligns with my usage). I would then build on your usage to call out two places for deciding an epistemic basis: (A) in the forming of the organization (e.g., are we a Christian organization? Muslim? Interfaith? Nonfaith?) and (B) in setting policy for how work is done (e.g., shall the work itself to be basically faith neutral, or do we allow workers to publicly express their faith in the work, with potential prosyletizing effects?). I emphasize again that this does not precisely parallel with my sense of how this analogy would apply to science, and my concern is with (B).
In trying to reconcile your statements that (1) "just as 'God in the gap' is not part of science, neither is 'naturalism in the gap'" and (2) "I do not by any means want to disallow faith commitments from the work of doing science," how do (A) and (B) above apply? In our (limited) analogy, if you intend (1) to apply to (B) and intend (2) to apply to (A), then we are in agreement. If not, please clarify.
If not, it seems that we must be using "the work of doing science" in different senses. I presume you would find it to be improper "work of doing science" for a worker to publish something that amounts to (even if not directly stated this way) "I observed L and M. Combining this with my belief in Naturalism that N is true, I say it is a proper scientific conclusion, with high confidence, that P is true." Or, substitute "belief that God does N." Such is the core of what I'm focusing on with "the work of doing science."
Another clarification, please: For you, does "extrascientific" include everything outside the body of published papers documenting scientific experiments and such, or does it extend to the analysis of a group of such papers to draw larger scientific conclusions? Does it apply to what a scientist teaches in the university classroom based on the literature (for scientists in academia)? Is the work of philosophers of science always extrascientific?
Regarding the Establishment Clause, the Federalist Society link makes clear that whether something is "inherently religious" or is "advancing religion" is the key issue. If policies/actions "happen to coincide with the religious views" is when, as you say, it "is not sufficient basis." IOW, if the theological reasoning is, in a sense, hidden behind the public good that a program is doing, then it may be allowed. To tie back to my earlier assertions, the public policy determination here is made on the
of the theological work, and the theological work itself is irrelevant to the public policy determination.
Rather than write this from a mobile device as I did yesterday and am doing now, I'll get back with you after the holidays.a
Understood — good time for a break, anyway. I wish you the best for Christmas.
Jason - one quick addition to my last point, in relation to my distinction in due accountability to society between religious and scientific spheres: In the referenced legal battles, leading to and including the Supreme Court cases, the question of whether it was good or bad theology would never have been at issue (hence it was "irrelevant"). The religious organization involved can have/practice whatever good or bad theology it wishes (short of human sacrifice and the like), hence it is not accountable to society for its theology. But whether a claim is good or bad science is commonly at issue in the courts, as evidenced by competing expert witnesses in cases.
Jason E. Summers
Resuming from our discussion before the holidays:
I think that there are other options than those you outline in the first paragraph of your reply above with respect to your options A and B. Particularly, with respect to your option B, I think it is not simply a matter of asking "shall the work itself to be basically faith neutral, or do we allow workers to publicly express their faith in the work." Rather, the manifestations of faith commitments cannot be limited and work can never be done in a way that is faith neutral. Individuals always bring their deepest commitments to bear on their work.
With respect to science, this means that the doing of science is never an idealized objective process. Rather, the method itself ensures the external validity and universality of the conclusions, but the process is shaped by the commitments of those doing the work (you may find echoes of Polanyi here, as on this point I find his views substantially correct). The basis for theorizing and intuition together with the understanding of the results all have their ground in basic beliefs and faith commitments.
In this way, "X in the gap," fails the test of the method (it is "the gap" precisely because it is extrascientific to make claims regarding it given the current state of scientific knowledge, though it is quite proper to develop theories that attempt to explain what is observed there). Yet, at the same time, faith commitments remain an inextricable part of the doing of science. So what you've labeled (1) and (2) apply to both (A) and (B). However, I'll note that properly doing science from a Christian perspective in no way requires belonging to an institution aligned with Christian faith (as in your option A).
Now consider your statement of an example of reasoning you find problematic: "I observed L and M. Combining this with my belief in Naturalism that N is true, I say it is a proper scientific conclusion, with high confidence, that P is true." This is not what science does. What you have presented is a logical argument, not a scientific one. However, if the statement read instead: "I observed L and M. Combining this with my belief in X-ism that X is true, I developed a theory, tested that theory, refined it, others tested it, refined it, and so on...so that the community says it is a proper scientific conclusion, with confidence commensurate with it's agreement with data and it's predictive power." Then the statement is a scientific one with which I see no problem, regardless of what X is. As to whether P is "true," it is so to the extent that one's basic beliefs and faith commitments say the conclusions of science are "truth."
Finally, when you ask about my usage of the term "extrascientific," what do you mean by "does it extend to the analysis of a group of such papers to draw larger scientific conclusions"? Are you taking about meta-analysis? Could you give an example of what you are thinking of?
In terms of the work of philosophers of science, that is typically philosophical in nature not scientific. They do not, "observe things, build mathematical and other types of models of what they observe, test those models using observations, make new predictions using the models, test the new predictions, discard, refine, or develop new models, and so on." Of course, one's philosophy of science might shape how one does science, just as faith might, but that does not thereby make it science.
As for teaching science in university classrooms, this overlaps the domain of science (in determining the content of scientific knowledge) and the domain of education (in determining curricula and pedagogical approach). University professors who are practicing scientists, have both roles and, as such, in the context of their professional communities, are competent to adjudicate both matters.
The fact is is that science is science and religion is religion. But what makes the two so different. Science is the study of what is natural and observable. Science is the explanation of life itself. Religion, on the other hand, is the explanation of the meening of life itself. These two fields are not meant to be crossed by contradiction. The goals are completely different from one another.
Here is where the mix-up occurs. Religion, at some-point-in-time, decided that science was anti-biblical and anti-God. This created a contradiction with basic scientific principles. Up to that point science was based off of the premise that God exists (just read Isaac Newton). Now that the God seaking group denounces science, science whips back and denounces religion. Creating a war.
Since that day, science has begun to result to using nonscientific methods (not observation) to describe the origins of the universe and the origin of man and life itslef. Obviously, science can look at how the universe is today and infer how it was millions of years ago. But science can't observe what happened millions of years ago and are caught up using nonsense and irrationality to describe the orgins of what we call life. With all that in mind, science has begun to contradict basic laws of thermodynamics and physics in trying to "disprove" the existence of God (not all scientists by the way). When in fact, all evidence points to an intelligent design, which means, for there to be an intelligent design there must be an intelligent designer. It's obvious.
But why does scientific contradiction to evidence cause such a war with the "religious right?" It comes with the education of the teachers. For decades, religious teachers lacked knowledge of anything outside of the bible. It was literal. 6,000 year old earth, 6 day creation. The argument lies in the evidence that the world is millions of years old and science denounced a literal meaning to the creation story. Once that happened, religious folk got all up-in-arms about the "evil" that science is bringing to this world. This led to a chain reaction that caused religious people to not believe in scientific fact and science to not follow the observable evidence that there is a creator. This created what has been referred to as "the war."
But science contradicts itself when the teachings of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and Hitchens are taken into account. It's all hoop-la if you understand the logical fallacies in the claims of such teachings. Like-wise, Christians have there issues as well in denouncing science. And when politicians follow those teachings they make us all look bad.
If we look at the evidence, using the second law of thermodynamics, Newton's laws on cause and effect, and the evidence that there was a definite beginning to the world, then there really is no argument here. Science proves that there is an intelligent creator. As pertaining to evolution, Micro vs Macro, there is strong evidence of Microevolution. Different dog breeds, different cat breeds, different human races. But as pertaining to macroevolution. There is not one single piece of evidence that supports the gradual evolution of all species from a singular ancestor. No matter how many times species reproduce and adapt, they will always be the same species. Dogs will be dogs. The genetic make-up of all creatures is very similar. But it is so different. Man shares 90% of it's genetic make-up with an ape species. But did you know that Man also shares 90% of it's make-up with mice?
Regardless, I've gone on a bit of a rant. Moral of the story, science and religion back one another up. Science affirms the claims of religion and religion gives a reason for science to continue on. When you are strong in the faith, all science can do is reaffirm that faith. When you are stong in scienctific knowledge and understanding, all faith can do is push you to seek more truth about the natural world.
It's all inclusive. All we can do as Christians is give a strong case for what we believe to be the truth.
Evan, although I don't find the case to be nearly as black/white as you state it, I understand where you're coming from, especially in there being reactionary moves from elements of both the theist and scientific communities. But, in working for the common good, I think there is more that Christians can do than simply "give a strong case for what we believe to be the truth" (which, when done poorly, simply throws more fuel on the fire). Thus, I made a couple of specific suggestions for the scientific community, and from there the discussion has been hashing through a number of nuanced points as to whether and how science might foster a better foundation for trust from and service to society.
Jason, I'm thinking all the more that, in this venue at this time, we won't come to agreement on the core issues here, and that perhaps the best we can do is crystallize the core of our disagreement. That said, as I expected, you confirmed our agreement that the "X in the gap" of my "L and M + N => P" example is not good science. Furthermore, we agree that scientists may validly insert their personal views, as in your "with my belief in X-ism...I developed a theory" rendering (ref. my earlier comment "that scientists
use a 'naturalism in the gap' approach when formulating hypotheses"). Were the likes of these two foundations (1: no "X in the gap" when drawing conclusions and 2: metaphysical beliefs only at theory formulation) strictly adhered to, I doubt we would be having this discussion now.
But as you seem to admit, scientists are human: personal beliefs and bias
infect the scientific process in violation of these foundations. As I understand it, your remedy to the problems this can cause (e.g., "X in the gap" leading to falsely high confidence) has the scientific community operating with no accountability to society because (1) "the method itself ensures the external validity and universality of the conclusions" and (2) those outside the scientific community are incompetent to question
anything at all
about what happens inside the community (the emphasis is to keep in view my quite limited suggestions toward societal accountability versus your broad characterizations that I would have the public "determine by consensus the content of a field of study" and the like). With this remedy, society is left with only two options: to accept science's conclusions as is, or to reject a conclusion and be derided as un-/anti-scientific. Society has no middle ground, no third way, to credibly suggest that something may be amiss within the Fortress on any given scientific conclusion/confidence.
I find that to be too much sphere autonomy, given the dynamics of the relationship between science and society. You seem to find it to be perfectly adequate. What might explain our different POVs? You seem to have an unqualified trust in the community/method (e.g., trust that implicit X-in-the-gap violations are always quickly rooted out); I do not have such trust. I see respected observations of the community like Fry's (e.g., that naturalism in the gap is alive and well and appropriate) and I get concerned (I understand that you consider Fry's statements — I can't call them critiques, since they are in support of how science is and ought to be done — to be extrascientific and thus irrelevant to what happens inside the Fortress, but we disagree as to their relevance). I see the contrast between the quantity of tentative language (e.g., "it is likely that") in evolution discussion and the AAAS resolution's confident statement that "evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry" and I get concerned — especially considering the no-consensus state of origins-of-life research and the dearth of discussion distinguishing micro/macro-evolution (note: evolution is not my only such concern, only the most readily referenced).
Although it could turn out to be a red herring, another root of our disagreement seems to be how to characterize and treat science-related work and discussion on a continuum from "peer-reviewed papers about a particular study" — to "papers intended to coalesce other results into a bigger conclusion" (possibly statistical meta-analysis, as you suggest, but really any form of analysis performed by "those doing science," especially when peer-reviewed, aimed to draw conclusions that are on a larger scale than an individual study can do) — to "resolutions by scientific associations" — to "expert reviews of scientific work" (e.g., by philosophers of science) — to "books published by active scientists" — to "news media reports of science" — to "general public punditry about science." In moving along this ad hoc continuum with an eye toward the scientific community's participation in and responsibility to society (individually and collectively), you seem to draw the line very narrowly and to strongly disclaim science's responsibility toward discussion above that line, furthermore considering such discussion incompetent or irrelevant if it is not from active scientists. I would tend to draw the line later and to at least consider the merits of individual instances above the line.
If I've here misread or misrepresented your views, please correct me — particularly if you
hold to any sort of societal accountability for science. If I'm correct in this summary, what would you add as something at the core of our disagreement?
Jason E. Summers
Glad to see you back.
Your comments above concern me because they lead me to believe that you have not understood my position. This misunderstanding exists in each of the points you bring up and seems to have something to do with my understanding that science is a pluralistic enterprise in which the diverse faith commitments of the practitioners play an inextricable role that is not harmful.
I'll try to address this in the order of your comments above in the following.
My point previously was not that your example is not an example of good science, it is that it is not an example of science. It would be quite legitimate to critique such logical philosophical reasoning for arriving at a conclusion as not being scientific. But, as I've said, when one talks about the validity of quantum mechanics or general relativity or the like, one does not apply such reasoning---other than an implicit acceptance of the methodological norms (as I discussed previously). Science develops confidence in its findings on the basis of evidence accumulated under the methodological norms, but it does not "conclude" in a final sense. Thus, a product of scientific inquiry may be highly robust---having well explained all available data and made accurate predictions---but it is not a logical conclusion.
However, you seem to believe that such logical reasoning is used as a basis for evaluating the validity of hypotheses with some regularity. I don't see evidence of that. You've cited Fry a number of times arguing otherwise, but I find her perspective flawed. Are there other examples you could suggest to support your contention?
Finally, let me clarify that I am not agreeing with you that scientists should use "naturalism in the gap" when formulating theories to be tested, rather I am asserting they can, will, and must, use anything they please. There is no imperative to draw from a particular worldview. If this were not the case, it would be a restriction of the religious freedom of scientists.
With respect to your third paragraph, I should clarify that manifestations of personal views in the manner I have described in no way violate the foundation of the scientific process. I refer you here to Polanyi for details. Suffice it to say that it is not "infection" as you state, rather it is normative and necessary.
Thus, I do not see any need for "implicit X-in-the-gap violations [to be] ...quickly rooted out." Rather, I think the inextricable presence of the personal is not any sort of violation and that it does no harm to the process in shaping the formulation of hypotheses. Forming a hypothesis draws on the basic beliefs and faith of an individual, but this does no harm to the scientific process. In contrast, drawing a conclusion using the basic beliefs and faith of an individual is simply not part of the scientific process. Perhaps you could give me an example of where you view the latter to occur? I cannot think of an example.
If you are concerned by statements such as "evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry," I encourage you to look at the open literature and review the case for yourself. As a theory it has been consistently able to explain observations and make predictions that have been verified by observation. That is what is meant by "robust" in this context. And it is this robustness that gives confidence. That is how the scientific process works: confidence is accorded based on the correspondence with data and the accuracy of predictions when tested repeatedly. There is not another step in which one uses a logical process to arrive at a conclusion. Such a step would only form the basis for a new hypothesis.
Also, I should note that your use of the term "sphere autonomy" is a rather severe distortion. Spheres are not "autonomous," they are "sovereign." That is to say, they interact with one another in complex ways, but each alone is competent (has authority) to judge its unique and specific elements.
In general, I'm troubled that you seem to view "society" as pitted against "science." That is a false distinction. Science comprises institutions in society and is practiced by members of society. It is no more in opposition to society than is history, economics, or any other discipline. Do you have similar misgivings about the authority of these domains of knowledge and practice? I would be greatly helped in understanding your perspective if you could clarify whether, e.g., historians defining history or economists defining economics are similarly problematic in your view.
My point has never been that public discussion is irrelevant nor that it is generally incompetent. In fact, it is vital and important, and scientists, like all citizens, should engage in it and bring their unique perspective and skills to bear in that context. Rather, my point is that public discussion is not competent (in the sense that it does not have legitimate authority) to determine what constitutes science as a body knowledge and practices.
You'll note, for example, that the AAAS volume containing the Fry essay you have mentioned is subtitled "Philosophical, Ethical and Theological Perspectives." And, indeed, that is what that book contains. These perspectives on science are important, to be sure, but they are not part of the body of knowledge and practice called science. Simply because it is published by AAAS does not make it science. Scientific organizations I belong to publish things that are not science: histories, memoirs, directories, and cookbooks. My point is that what is science is not status conferred by imprimatur; what is science is so because it conforms to norms of practice. This is true for any discipline: a history of economics is not economics, it is history.
Society, via government, has much oversight of institutions of science, which extends to ethics, funding, broad research directions, and the like. The same is true for economics, medicine, history, etc. This is appropriate. Thus, I am in no way suggesting that those not involved in science are "incompetent to question anything at all about what happens inside the community." Rather, I am simply suggesting that they do not have authority (are not competent) to determine those things that are unique to scientific institutions, which is to say the body of knowledge and practices known as science.
I think my previous comment still stands:
"The core of our disagreement is not, as you suggest, what you claim is my desire for science to be unaccountable to society on the specific questions that concern you, rather it is my insistence on allowing religious freedom in science through a plurality of views on issues like the 'limits of science in relation to existence of/interaction with the preternatural, whether/when methodological naturalism is allowed to extend into scientific confidence' and your opposing desire for institutions to articulate and enforce uniform views on these matters. While I think you believe your prescription would be of help to society, in practice it would be an unjust restriction to the religious freedom of those practicing science."
In moving forward, it would be helpful if you could give an example---other than one related to the origins question, as we have already discussed it---of what you view to be overreach by a scientific institution based on what you interpret to be a conclusion it claims, which you believe is founded in part on a basic belief system (such as naturalism). That would help me understand your concern, because, as you've described it, your concern seems to be about something that does not happen in a scientific context based on a process that is not science.
Jason, I'm starting to feel that our discussion is going a bit in circles, and I'm trying hard to break out of it. I find your summary of our disagreement (next-to-last paragraph) to misrepresent my position — and your verbatim reiteration of it, ignoring my intervening clarifications, increased my sense that we are going in circles. Briefly: Though you allow certain types of societal accountability, you have not as yet allowed accountability for the core of my concern, which is "the standards of reasoning employed to arrive at a given level of confidence." I have already clarified that "I have no concern for the belief system of any individual scientist" and that I allow for plurality of personal belief, which should not be limited by institutions in any way other than when it comes to drawing conclusions and characterizing confidence in them.
Per the request in your last paragraph, I can elaborate on an example or two I've given and give other examples, but I don't see the usefulness at this point until we're clear on more foundational points. You said that my "concern seems to be about something that does not happen in a scientific context based on a process that is not science." Perhaps that is partially true, depending on the bounds of science you intend in making this statement (I introduced my ad hoc continuum, above, as an attempted basis for clarity here). If, for example, you intend that science, and any societal responsibility it has, stops at peer-reviewed papers, then indeed I hold science responsible for more than you (particularly in relation to major societal issues). On that basis alone, perhaps you might categorically disagree with my concerns (or reject my questions as invalid, as before).
Briefly to other points in your reply: It is precisely my "look[ing] at the open literature and review[ing] the case for [my]self" that has given rise to my concerns on origins and macro-evolution (not micro). I've made no such statement as "logical reasoning is used as a basis for evaluating the validity of hypotheses." I agree with the expansion of my "naturalism-in-the-gap" to "X-in-the-gap or anything" as a more appropriate basis for hypothesis formulation. Polanyi's personal knowing is good, but he did not believe that we are inescapably trapped in it — and you and I agree that "drawing a conclusion using the basic beliefs and faith of an individual [i.e., X-in-the-gap-for-conclusions] is simply not part of the scientific process." I do not "view 'society' as pitted against 'science'" — but I do find that a rethinking of science's accountability to society is in order, as a matter of clear definition of science's sphere sovereignty. Sphere sovereignty implies some degree of autonomy within the sphere, which raises the question of the bounds of that autonomy and makes "degree of sphere autonomy" a valid concept to discuss, together with the relational basis of accountability between society and a given sphere. The bounds and mechanisms of appropriate societal accountability will, in my view, vary from sphere to sphere. In business, public accounting and public corporations have a considerably higher degree of accountability than science — and many citizens think it is still not enough. Appropriate accountability for history, economics, et al will differ: It seems to me that history tends to carry less public policy clout than science, and economics, while having extensive public policy influence, is recognized as a varied and contentious field.
Certainly sphere sovereignty implies that, within the sphere, there are areas of content that those outside the sphere do not have authority/competence do on their own. Conversely, that a sphere operates with some degree of societal accountability, even as to aspects of its core practices, does not imply that society has overrun and eliminated the sphere's sovereignty. Would it help, for you, if a mechanism for societal accountability were such that science determined its norms/standards, but in a way that, for key points of societal concern (not everything), was done cooperatively with society?
P.S. Starting tomorrow, my schedule gets much busier, so going forward it may take me longer to reply.
For the question at the end of my reply, I should clarify that I'm asking this
— ignoring for the moment the practical aspects of what the mechanism itself might actually be.
Jason E. Summers
The "mechanism for societal accountability" you propose "such that science determine[s] its norms/standards" would, by necessity, formally codify "the standards of reasoning employed to arrive at a given level of confidence" about which you are concerned. These standards would be the same as they are now: statistical hypothesis testing (including Bayesian methods and the like). Through these methods, the scientific process accords a level of confidence based on agreement with data. There is none of what you term "drawing conclusions" beyond this according confidence as specified directly by hypothesis tests. For example, if you look closely at the AAAS statement that troubles you, you will note that it is phrased quite specifically in terms of the language of hypothesis testing.
I don't see how it would or could make any difference if "for key points of societal concern" this "was done cooperatively with society" unless that involved a rejection of the scientific norms of hypothesis testing. But, if, as you propose, scientific institutions are alone to determine these norms, such rejection would not be allowed. And, if for some reason, the process rejected statistical hypothesis testing in certain cases only, the result would no longer be science. So what, then, is it you hope such a process would achieve?
Finally, I would like to point out one important correction to your comments above. The process of science has at least as much public accountability as publicly traded corporations do. This includes strict financial-control and audit requirements when work is conducted using public funds (as it almost always is) in addition to required submission of detailed technical reports and public availability of research products, such as data. Moreover, public representatives (program officers at funding agencies) have direct control over detailed aspects of scientific practice. This is substantially greater than the control shareholders have over a chief executive and it is afforded to all citizens through a government representative (the program officer) rather than only those who hold shares.
Jason, fair enough that scientific institutions also have strict financial accountability measures, especially when using public funds — and their extensive use of public funds is one more data point in considering science's sphere sovereignty/autonomy and societal accountability, as detailed supervision by bureaucrats indicates. On the other hand, the somewhat onerous Sarbanes-Oxley, for one, applies only to publicly traded firms, not not-for-profits (although many NFPs have adopted SOX elements), as do many other forms of regulation.
Note that, for the following remarks, and in relation to my ad hoc continuum, I'm intentionally including more than the narrow "peer-reviewed papers" end of the continuum. I'm still concerned about how our differences related to the continuum may be derailing our conversation, but nevertheless I shall press forward.
I most certainly agree that the integrity of current scientific practice must survive any cooperative improvement to science's societal accountability, but I disagree that it would merely codify the status quo. As a primary outcome of the cooperation, I would hope to build a stronger foundation for societal understanding of science and extant scientific conclusions, particularly the basis and bounds of current scientific confidence. I believe this would benefit multiple ways in which society touches with science including public policy debates, education, factional contention (e.g., science/religion), and general discussion and debate about the human condition.
At this point in time, where my intent is to raise awareness of a need I perceive, I have no strong ties to any particular or specific changes that the cooperation might implement, but I do have ideas. My focus is on improving clarity and increasing the level of broad and concise accessibility to the work. Elements that the cooperation might improve include: clearer discussion of assumptions underlying the work and their implications (e.g., a work I saw investigating "how did selflessness evolve in humans?" begins with the assumption that selflessness is an evolved trait, biasing the work in certain ways), concise identification of hypothesis testing methods (e.g., direct observation, Bayesian methods, survey analysis, etc.), clearer classification of scientific work in relation to major topic areas (e.g., origins-of-life vs micro-evolution vs macro-evolution), clearer documentation of how the work handles questions of correlation vs causation in drawing conclusions, and stronger clarity as to the work's implications for scientific confidence (e.g., classification of work along a continuum from theoretical analysis to repeated experimental demonstration). Another area for improvement might elaborate on the norms and standards for how scientists may argue that prevailing scientific confidence goes too far (e.g., much of the evolution/ID debate turns on disagreement as to probabilities, and one angle by which aspects of ID's probabilistic concerns have been rejected is to claim that it is invalid to deconstruct one theory without offering a counter theory — it is viewed as invalid to say "we don't know, but current work is flawed by concluding too much"). Such measures preserve (and potentially improve) the integrity of scientific practice while improving the basis for society's application of science (and providing a more usable "product" in return for its public investment).
To facilitate grounding of public discussion in actual scientific work, scientific papers (particular those in key areas of societal contention or at the edges of current scientific limits) might somehow document characteristics like these in a more concisely and broadly accessible manner. Statements like the AAAS resolution could leverage such characteristics to more clearly and accurately characterize the state of scientific confidence. Extra-scientific discussion (wherever that begins along the continuum) could have a stronger structure and basis for understanding. Science education could leverage this to build a more nuanced public understanding of how philosophy of science underpins scientific method and how different methods build different types of confidence. Finally, wherever any of the overreach we've discussed occurs anywhere along the continuum, there would be a stronger basis for pointing out where and how it occurs.
You may not agree with my suggestions, and you may choose to simply reject the whole of it. If an example I've provided doesn't work for you, you might choose to refute the example instead of assessing the intent of the idea. But might I ask you to, in a spirit of cooperation toward the common good, work with me and find something in it on which to build a basis for a proposal?
Jason E. Summers
To clarify my prior point about accountability: I was specifically addressing the difference between reporting requirements for public companies, such as those imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley, and reporting requirements associated with federal funds (e.g., FAR and DFARS compliance as assessed by DCAA audits on accounting practices, time keeping, and specific details of indirect rates). They are different in many ways, but certainly more than on par with respect to the amount of oversight. This is to say nothing of 990 requirements for nonprofit organizations that must be met in tandem with fiscal controls associated with funding from federal agencies.
To your broader set of suggestions: your impetus is a fine one, but I think you would be surprised to learn the extent to which many of these are already part of the normal scientific practice. Where they are not, your suggestions tend to be problematic for various reasons. I'll try to address these in the following.
As to "concise identification of hypothesis testing methods," there are entire professional societies devoted to this field. The methods are well characterized, but quite diverse. When, for example, astronomers learn about certain aspect of the universe from red shifts in the cosmic background radiation, the error analysis involves many steps, a fair amount of physics, and some detailed math. A single comprehensive taxonomy of every such method from particle physics to genome sequencing would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and would be of essentially no use to nonspecialists, who already know the standards. Helping nonscientists better understand the underlying concepts is important, but a taxonomy is not the way to achieve that. Also, note, as hypothesis testing is a body of statistical methods, the mechanism of data gathering (as you mentioned "direct observation,...survey analysis, etc") is only important to the extent it affects the statistics/probabilities.
I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean by suggesting "clearer classification of scientific work in relation to major topic areas." Many questions of interest have broad application and are best investigated across disciplines. Much of my own work is like this (bridging cognitive neuroscience, machine learning, psychometrics, information theory, signal processing, and so forth). If your intent is that work from one topic not inform another, I think this is a rather counterproductive suggestion. If your intent is to help lay people better understand technical work, I think there are better (educational) approaches.
When you suggest "clearer documentation of how the work handles questions of correlation vs causation in drawing conclusions," I think you are misunderstanding what science does. When doing scientific work, one doesn't say: "I think thus and such is true," then look at the world for evidence that may back the claim in a correlative sense, and draw a conclusion based on that. One must test predictions via experiment and/or against new data. Besides, science does not draw conclusions in the sense you use the term; as I've said, it affords greater confidence to the degree with which predictions are in accordance with data. No theory becomes broadly held based on correlational evidence, though such evidence may motivate further testing.
Jason E. Summers
That said, an understanding of the processes through which science is done would well serve all members of society. I'm certainly in favor of more STEM education that address these issues as part of the education of all students. But science is neither accounting nor plastics manufacturing; a strict rubric for the process would do more harm then good, just as it would for the processes involved in being a family member, a lawyer, a philosopher, or a husband.
Finally, let me address your point about "norms and standards for how scientists may argue that prevailing scientific confidence goes too far." I've attended many talks, read many papers, and myself both given talks and written papers that question the process and findings of prior work on theoretical and empirical grounds. This is a standard part of the scientific process and a primary way by which hypotheses are tested. As such, it manifestly quite allowable to argue that current work is flawed by, ideally, demonstrating that it makes predictions that are in disagreement with evidence and, if possible, providing a theoretical grounding for why the predictions of the current theory fail. What is not welcomed is holding up evidence and suggesting that a theory cannot explain it. Rather, one would have to actually work out the predictions of the theory in that case and determine whether the empirical data are in accord (cf. Popper, though he is not comprehensive in his description of the processes used in science).
Also, I remain confused about the practical outcome of your proposal. Taking as an example the AAAS statement, what would you have it say? For example, ought it have said, "the modern theory of biological evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry, by which we mean: it has so far been found that the predictions of the modern theory of biological evolution are confirmed by all available data, therefore we afford great confidence in its predictions"?
It seems to me that the primary need is for educating lay people as to the nature of the scientific process and for having scientists involved in this effort, rather than for creating additional structures of accountability and formal definitions of practice. The former kind of effort, along with formal and informal dialogues in support of it, is the sort of work for the common good I could (and do) support---in fact, it is the primary reason I have engaged in this conversation. And it is this sort of effort that would enable better and more productive public discussion.
However, as to philosophical questions and the issue of what is and is not within the scope of science and "how[, if, and which] philosophy of science underpins scientific method," there will be inevitable disagreements. It would be inappropriate to define these away through a universal set of standards. At best we can hope for an informed and civil process. It would be rather improper to impose a single standard when different people express different views based on their own deeply held beliefs. As an example of this, you and I hold (I presume) similar basic beliefs, yet we disagree on the epistemic basis of science, the philosophical basis in general, and what does and does not constitute overreach, among other things. The differences throughout society will be larger still.
In this respect, I find in your comments an element of Aristotelianism: you seem to hold that singular definitions of the common good and other philosophical issues (such as those surrounding science) are needed to constitute a well functioning political community (cf. MacIntyre). For my part, while I have some sympathy toward communitarian views, I don't think that we will arrive at normative views through discussion in the public square because of the real differences in basic beliefs held by members of society. I view norms as embedded in the structure of creation. However, rather than impose these norms on a pluralistic society, I believe institutions should be structured to respect the diversity of beliefs held by their members to the extent that it still allows those institutions to realize their distinct function and purpose.
Jason E. Summers
My hope is for a robust public discussion that is scientifically literate and also respects the basic beliefs of all individuals, allowing them to argue fully from their most deeply held convictions. However, I'm afraid that such as discussion would still not address your concerns. For example, your concern about macro-evolution could be openly discussed and you would be free, as you are now, to question the motives, philosophy, ethics, or methods of scientists. However, your concerns, unless they were explicitly scientific in nature (e.g., if you were to argue that it is false to assert that the common-ancestor hypothesis predicts that humans should have a fused chromosome, derive the alternative prediction, and show that the data do not agree with it), would neither alter what are considered the findings of science nor the degree of confidence afforded to them. As to issues of extrascientific discussion, I'm afraid you would be similarly dissatisfied: just as Christians are wont to argue that the Bible supports conflicting views, so too would people be able to claim science "proves" various competing claims. This is inevitable because there is no central authority that adjudicates such claims and it is the role of the political process (broadly speaking) to decide among them.
Jason, so far as I can tell, our broad hopes are quite similar — perhaps identical — though our proposals would differ. We certainly agree that there is a need for significant improvement in "educating lay people as to the nature of the scientific process and for having scientists involved in this effort." The standard layman's version of the scientific method we learn in high school is simplistic in comparison with current scientific practice (and the philosophies of science on which it is based) and thus inadequately prepares the public (including elected representatives) to engage with scientific issues.
It seems our difference is about the "having scientists involved" part. Whereas you find no reason, need, or responsibility for adjustments on the part of the scientific community (other than helping with public education), I believe that appropriate, helpful, limited, and non-onerous adjustments are possible. Your critiques of the starting points I offer demonstrate only that it is possible to take these starting points too far (as you have done before with of my points), not that the starting points have no merit. Your "already part of the normal scientific practice" point simply demonstrates my contention that my ideas build on, rather than compromise, scientific practice. To the causal/correlation discussion, I'm not misunderstanding what science does, I'm pointing out that successful predictive models can be so in a causative way or merely as correlation, and that clarity in this regard is important. (Yes, one might say that, ultimately, all is statistical correlation, yet causative understandings are part of the process.)
The AAAS resolution could be improved (whether in itself or with an accompanying paper) by accounting for the fact that the public's broad understanding of the term "evolution" (e.g., "goo to you") is different than the more restrictive term "biological evolution" used in the resolution, by breaking the public's understanding into its constituent parts and recognizing their different levels and types of robustness, and by going beyond rejection of ID education to call for specific improvements in the education of scientific practice and philosophy sufficient to inform and improve public discussion on issues like ID/evolution (perhaps even suggesting ID/evolution as a quite suitable educational case study for this purpose).
You have asserted that my ideas are flawed, in part, because they would establish "a universal set of standards." However, by claiming, as you have, that "what is science is so because it conforms to norms of practice," you are affirming the need for some manner of universal standards. Also, I've clarified already (multiple times) that I affirm respect for diversity of metaphysical beliefs among scientists. Thus, although we may differ on the proper content of scientific norms and standards, your "universal" and "Aristotelian" critiques do not hold.
Of course there will be disagreements in science and in philosophy of science, but have humans now arrived at the best practical set of current scientific norms of practice? Is there today no room for improvement in how science prepares its work for society, especially in regard to major societal issues? It appears you would answer "yes" and "no" to these questions (at least you've offered nothing in response to my queries probing for such). By contrast, my hope is that continued dialog might either push back the bounds of disagreement or find better ways of clarifying how these disagreements affect the conduct of science, providing a more solid foundation for the "informed and civil process" by which the public and "the political process (broadly speaking) [decides] among" competing claims.
This is my hope, and I see some small ways in which it might be pursued. You find these ways to be unhelpful. Fair enough. I very much appreciate the time and effort you have taken to pursue the discussion. I think it has been valuable to lay out a useful set of opposing perspectives on the matter. However, I'm not confident that continued discussion in this forum at this time would add significantly to the foundation we've laid, so I propose to close the discussion.
Again, thank you, Jason, for the time and effort you've expended.
Jason E. Summers
I've been happy to have the discussion. I'm afraid you have never quite understood my view of how institutions in society should work together. And perhaps I don't understand your view, which still seems to me to require one or more central authorities to enforce additional societally agreed upon standards placed on the conduct of science---something I believe would be inevitably onerous and likely constitute government overreach.
In any case, I'd very much encourage you to continue such efforts as these, particularly in those disciplines in which you are vocationally engaged, as is it is this manner (the working of Christians in their various spheres of life) that faith finds its most significant expressions in culture.
In your doing so, I suggest that one of my major critiques of your thinking may have some value, viz. norms of practice associated with a vocation or discipline are distinct from metaphysical groundings. Thus, while broad agreement regarding norms of practice is possible among those holding various worldviews, substantial agreement is not possible on philosophical and metaphysical issues. Thus, it is quite impossible to have pluralistic institutions in which there is broad agreement on philosophical or metaphysical issues. One might "respect" other beliefs in theory, but unless one allows that there is not and cannot be an institutional view on issues not specifically necessary to the norms of practice, such respect is ineffectual. If agreement beyond basic norms of practice is required, institutions must then have a specific and explicit religious character.
Thanks for your participation in this conversation; I hope it has proved useful to you.
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