Aristotle: The Four Causes (actually, the Four "Becauses" -- answers
to "why" questions). The Greek word is aitia:
1. Formal (A plan)
2. Final (A purpose)
3. Material (What is used)
4. Efficient (What causes the change)
“All persons, by
nature, desire to know."
"... the elements of a right life. First believe that God is a living
being immortal and blessed ... ."
Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus.
-- (Epicurus, living ~ 200 BCE, was a
religious person, not an atheist.)
"... to arrive at accurate knowledge of the cause of
things of most moment is the business of natural science ... ."
Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus
"... In the first place, Herodotus, you must understand
what it is that words denote ... the primary significance of every term
employed must be clearly seen... ." – Letter to Herodotus
(Rule #1: Clear
"We must consider … all clear sensory evidence, to
which we refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of
uncertainty and confusion." Epicurus,
"Principle Doctrines," #22.
(Rule #2: Look at ALL the
"... we are bound to believe that in
the sky revolutions, solstices, risings and settings, and the like, take place
without the ministration or command, either now or in the future, of any being
who at the same time enjoys perfect bliss along with immortality.."
Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus
(Rule #3: Ascribe nothing
to the gods.)
" …[in ~200 BCE] the Epicureans taught that science must
accept two fundamental principles. First, it should take account of all the
evidence available, and second, it should not explain perplexing phenomena by
referring to the possible intervention of the gods. In a very real sense this
Greek philosophy of science was the beginning of what might be called
methodological atheism [methodological naturalism]." (note – NOT
philosophical naturalism). Strunk, Atheism, 1968, p. 50.
What this means for natural science – Aristotle’s causes 1 and 2
are, by definition, ruled out.
Titus Lucretius Carus (Lucretius) 98 – 55 B.C.E.
“Nothing is ever generated from nothing; nature consists of atoms moving in a
void.” An atheist, drawing on Epicurus, he expounded a materialist philosophy,
1214-1292 C.E. Experimental science.
of Ockham, 1280-1350 C.E. Ockham’s Razor principle. An explanation with fewer
assumptions than an alternative explanation is preferable. Empiricism.
Bacon, 1561-1626 C.E. Inductive
methodologies of science
Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662 C.E. Probability mathematics, the vacuum, … .
Agent (IA). Postulated by Isaac Newton,
1642-1727 C.E. as a cause which kept the planets in their paths.
three things known
about the IA, assuming an IA exists:
1. An IA has more technologically advanced knowledge and engineering
than present day civilization
2. An IA has least equal intelligence to present day civilization
3. An IA has a distinct sense
LAPLACE ENVISAGES SCIENCE AS A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE FUTURE
“We ought then to regard the present state of the universe as the
effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow.
An intelligence which should be acquainted with all the forces by which nature
is animated, and with the several positions at any given instant at all the
parts thereof, provided that its intellect were vast enough to submit these
data to analysis, would include in one and the same formula the movements of
the largest bodies and those of the lightest atom. Nothing would be uncertain
for it, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes. The human
mind, in the perfection it has been able to give to astronomy affords a feeble
outline of such an intelligence. Its discoveries in mechanics and geometry,
joined to that of universal gravitation, have brought it within reach of
comprehending in the same analytical expressions the past and future states of
the systems of the world. All its efforts in the search for truth cause it
continually to approach the intelligence we have just conceived but from this
intelligence it will ever remain infinitely distant. -- (Essai Philosophique
sur les Probabilitis. Laplace. 1814.)
that no human intelligence can reach his ideal. But the whole passage is based
on the unconscious assumption that laws of nature that have been found to
account for the facts over a period of a few centuries and within our limits of
experimental error, can be expected to continue to apply with perfect accuracy
for limitless centuries.
"When you can measure what you are speaking about, and
express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure
it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and
unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to
the stage of science." - Lord
Kelvin, ~ 1900
The object of all science, whether natural science or psychology,
is to co-ordinate our experiences and to bring them into a logical system. –
Einstein, The Meaning of Relativity, 1921.
“Science is a systematic
method of continuing investigation, based on observation, hypothesis, testing,
measurement, experimentation, and theory building, which leads to more adequate explanations of natural
phenomena.” – adopted in 2002 by the Ohio State Board of Education.
Scientific laws describe,
they do not prescribe. A scientific theory includes (1) a mental picture
and (2) a mathematical/logical relationship. In quantum mechanics, the first of
these does not seem attainable. "There is no quantum world. There is
only an abstract quantum description. It is wrong to think that the task of
physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about
Nature." -- Neils Bohr
The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer
than we can imagine. – J. B. S. Haldane, 1892-1964, "On Being the Right Size" in "Possible
The physical continuum, and with it all the beautiful machinery of
physics, is myth. -- John Wheeler, 1988
Any understanding of the mechanisms of perception forces us to
acknowledge that we have no direct access to the world. Rather, our knowledge
of it consists of our perceptions and the inferences we draw from them. - Tim Mead, 1986 (Plato’s Cave concept)
It is clear that science is not in contact with ultimate
reality, but that it describes the waves, and not the ocean. Story of the
fisherman’s net, by Eddington.
Does science tell us that water was not changed into wine on that
day in Cana? No. It does tell us that if no other cause was operating that day
than in our normal world of today, then the probability of that change is very
small. But still not equal to zero.
Testing, in the empirical sciences, is by deducing testable claims from proposed theories.
Falsification, not verification (proof) is crucial in science.
Scientific propositions are distinguished from nonscientific in that the former are empirically testable.
A person proposing a theory must state the conditions under which
it can be rejected.
Two views of science: 1.
A search for truth.
search for what works.
Most scientists, while
insisting that there is a physical reality, will take position 2. Both sides agree that a scientific theory
need not be “true” to be useful.
Example: Newton's law of gravitation
says that two physical bodies of matter
"pull" on one another in a measurable fashion. Is this
"true?" Probably not. Action at a distance, with no physical
connection, seems weird, almost occult! There are certain other models which
try to explain this cause (attraction) in different terms, but that is not the
point here. Is the law useful? Certainly. Should it be called a
"law?" Probably so. Is it a "fact" that two bodies pull on
one another? Yes, it is. A fact of
science, which might not (probably is not, by current knowledge) be
"…what we can know
(Epistemology) will never be the same as the way Nature really is (Ontology).
In other words, as stated … by …Werner Heisenberg, our knowledge of Nature can
never mean anything more than the perception of connections, unifying features
or marks of affinity in the manifold." -- Gopala Rao, Metanexus,
Many argue there is no adequate, satisfactory
definition of science (even when narrowing the definition to the natural
sciences). Moreland “Christianity and
the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation.” 1989. Philosopher Alvin
Plantinga writes about the “demarcationist” view of science in Origins &
CRITICAL THINKING – SIX RULES
James Lott, Skeptical Inquirer,
Winter 1990. A FIELD GUIDE TO CRITICAL THINKING
It must be possible to conceive of
evidence that would disprove the claim
Arguments must be sound, based on
known facts and relationships
All of the
evidence must be considered
Peer overview and review necessary to avoid self deception
Experiments must be repeatable
(and repeated) by disinterested colleagues
The burden of proof rests on the claimant
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
c. Arguments based on authority or testimony
a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena,
eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and
reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an age of
Science … cosmology and evolutionary theory ask the ultimate origin questions
that have traditionally been the province of religion….” Michael Shermer,
Scientific American, June 2002, p. 35.
A scientist's verse: Psalm 27:4 -- "One thing
have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the
house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to enquire in his Temple."
Science – doing one’s best with one’s mind – no holds
barred. – Bridgman, ~ 1935
Trap of “nothing buttery” thinking.
Science is not the affirmation of a set of beliefs but a process
of inquiry aimed at building a testable body of knowledge constantly open to
rejection or confirmation. In science, knowledge is fluid and certainty
fleeting. That is at the heart of its limitations. It is also its greatest
strength. -- Michael Shermer, Inside the Mind of God, p. 75.
"Intelligent Design (ID) argues that intelligent causes are
capable of leaving empirically detectable marks in the natural world. Aspiring
to be a scientific research program, ID purports to study the effects of
intelligent causes in biology and cosmology. It claims that the best
explanation for at least some of the appearance of design in nature is that
this design is actual. Specifically, certain kinds of complex information found
in the natural world are said to point convincingly to the work of an
intelligent agency. Yet for many scientists, any appearance of design in nature
ultimately derives from the interplay of undirected natural forces. What's
more, ID flies in the face of the methodological naturalism (MN) that prevails
throughout so much of science. According to MN, although scientists are
entitled to religious beliefs and can entertain supernatural entities in their
off-time, within science proper they need to proceed as if only natural causes
are operative." -- Angus Menuge
(as yet unpublished)
There are many lessons to be learned from science. #1 is humility.
– I. Rabi
Four stages of acceptance:
This is worthless nonsense
This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view
This is true, but unimportant
I always said so
-- J. B. S. Haldane
Nature abhors a vacuum. So does science. A theory continues to be
viewed as authoritative until (and unless) supplanted by another theory.
Theories do not purport to describe “truth,” but only a model of truth, always
tentative. – subject to modification, change or a complete discard. – author
The work of Science is
to substitute FACTS for appearances. - Ruskin, 1853
"Science is a hierarchy of causal explanations
characterized by increasing generalizations, quantifications, and mathematical
simplicity arrived at by an inductive-deductive process characterized by
isolation, control and repeatability." – author unknown
Three types of science:
science. Experiment and run repeatedly. Physics, chemistry, some medicine,
science. Regular events but little or no control. Astronomy, meteorology,
science. Events and processes in the past. Geology, archeology, origins,
Natural science is a disciplined and systematic human
activity that includes observation, measurement, experimentation, theory
formulation and theory evaluation. Activity in any one of these categories is
likely to stimulate fruitful action in the others. The goal of the natural
sciences is to understand what our physical universe is like, how it functions,
and how it got to be the way it now is. To that end the sciences seek to craft
theories that give an adequate/satisfying account of what can be observed
(qualitative) and measured (quantitative) in our world. – Howard Van Till,
12/28/2001 on the ASA LISTSERV.
Science is the human attempt to understand the predictable,
reproducible aspects of nature, with nature defined as that part of the
physical universe with which we can interact. – Kevin O’Brien, 3/8/1999, ASA
Science may be regarded as a minimal problem consisting of
the completest presentment of facts with the least possible expenditure of
thought. -- Ernst Mach, Science of
Mechanics, 1883, p. 6.
The purpose of science is not to open the door to everlasting
wisdom, but to set a limit on everlasting error. -- Bertold Brecht
From the point of view of the physicist, a theory of matter is a
policy, rather than a creed; its object is to connect or coordinate apparently
diverse phenomena, and above all to suggest, stimulate and direct
experiment. J. J. Thompson, 1907
Science is built up of facts, as a house is with stones. But a
collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house. -- Poincare'
In the end, Einstein came to embrace the view which many, and
perhaps he, himself, thought earlier he had eliminated from physics in his 1905
paper on relativity theory: that there exists an external, objective, physical
reality which we may hope to grasp - not directly, empirically, or logically,
or with fullest certainty, but at least by an intuitive leap - one that is only
guided by experience of the totality of sensible "facts". Events take
place in a real world, of which the space-time world of sensory experience, and
even the world of multidimensional coninua, are useful conceptions, but no more
than that . . . Einstein . . . preferred to call his theory not "relativity
theory", but the opposite: Invariantentheorie. It is unfortunate that this
splendid, accurate term did not come into current usage, for it might well have
prevented the abuse of relativity theory in many fields. - Gerald Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific
Thought, Harvard, 1977 (?)
It is an interesting question whether biology is physics
writ large in the sense in which chemistry is certainly physics writ large. –
One lasting product (of contemporary science) is the grand idea that
the entire universe is governed by a few simple laws and that these laws are
within human understanding. Leo
At the highest level of mathematical sophistication, beyond
numbers and relationships, are theories. The device for putting them into words
is analogy, the very essence of scientific popularization. Physicists are
comfortable with analogy because in some sense their whole enterprise, the
modeling of nature by means of mathematical constructs, is analogical. -- Hans
Christian von Baeyer, 1986
As a scientist, I share the credo of my colleagues: I believe that
a factual reality exists and that science, though often in an obtuse and
erratic manner, can learn about it. --
Gould, THE MISMEASURE OF MAN, p 22, 1981.
"The scientist is by profession a map-maker; and like other
map-makers he is pledged to allow his own particular values to distort as
little as possible the representation he makes of the state of affairs.
'Whether I like it or not, or you like it or not, that's the way it is as far
as I can see.' In this sense, he strives to make scientific knowledge
'value-free.' His maps are meant to be reliable guides to other people, of
whose values he knows nothing; so 'scientific detachment' and
'depersonalization,' far from being arbitrary eccentricities of the trade, are
all part of his duty as an honest craftsman.... His maps are not merely of
observables but of correlations between observables and (in due course) of
interacting causal factors." -
Donald M. MacKay, PERSPECTIVES, Vol 38, # 2, June 1986.
Science should reduce the description of more complex phenomena to
that of simpler ones. Niels Bohr, 1932
Science -- Investigations of the natural world based on the
fundamental principle of Ockham's (or Occam’s) razor. This is a rule in science
and philosophy stating that entities should not be multiplied needlessly. It is
interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is
preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted
in terms of what is already known. Also called THE LAW OF PARSIMONY. It was first formulated by William of
"The conclusions reached by the scientific enterprise are
determined not merely by observations and experiments, but by the outcome of
debates about how to interpret observations and experiments, and such debates
can be influenced by a variety of factors (incl. politics, religion,
personality, various background beliefs, aesthetic commitments, etc)." -- Allan Harvey
"Nullis in verba" (Take nothing on faith) Royal Society
of London, 1660
All scientific knowledge comes from sense-impressions, mental
studies of mental impressions. All descriptions must be reducible to
sense-impressions. Scientific observations are always a selection of our
sense-impressions, never the whole. Science gives us an intelligible picture of
what our senses perceive, in so far as those sense-impressions concern numbers,
sizes, motions, etc.
Our wills are not part of science. Science cannot tell us what to
do. Beauty is not a scientific measurement.
You cannot extract moral reasoning out of science. But you CAN use
science to inform your moral reasoning.
The parable of the fishing net with a two-inch mesh. The scientist
uses it and proclaims that no fish is less than 2” long. By his definition, he
is right. (Eddington -- 1939).
Five Science myths (from FRONTIERS OF ILLUSION:
1 Infinite benefits. More science = more public good.
2 Unfettered research. Any line equally likely to produce a good.
4 Authoritative. Objective basis to resolve political issues.
5 Endless frontier. New knowledge has no moral connection.
Science – a search for models that will (1) explain and (2)
predict. Not a search for “truth.” A scientific theory does not need to be true
to be useful.
Science – the systematic study of natural causation.
Systematic -- an emphasis on
measurements and repeatability.
Study -- classifying, theorizing,
modeling, with an end to explain all effects as coming from a set of causes via
a well defined set of laws.
Natural -- non-supernatural. No
"outside the universe" explanations are acceptable. No
"intelligent agent (IA)" may be postulated if a reasonable non-IA
cause can be postulated.
Causation -- every effect comes from
a natural cause, or a set of natural causes. It is assumed that no
"outside the universe" cause exists.
Arguments from the negative are not
acceptable. If a cause/effect cannot be postulated, it is not acceptable to
postulate an IA (God of the Gaps) cause.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic.” -- Arthur
A conclusion from this is that there
can be (in science) no observation of a supernatural event. There can be, and
indeed are, many unexplainable effects. It is the assumption of the scientific
method that, as techniques improve, the set of present-day unexplainable
effects will tend to diminish, and that new unexplained effects will come along
to take their place. – author unknown
A common operational methodology of
many, not all, scientists, is to label one's opponents as "fools." If
one's opponents happen not to share the same philosophical presuppositions,
this tendency increases. -- unknown
"The principle error I see in
most theoretical work is imagining that a theory is really a good model
for...nature, rather than being merely a demonstration...Theorists almost
always become too fond of their own ideas... ." --Frances Crick, WHAT MAD
One may draw a line which is
continuous from fact to conjecture. Maybe this one:
Each term on this scale differs from
the previous one by a factor of 1000.
There is a problem with all this.
Questions of how the universe (or any part of it) are today, and work today,
are difficult to separate from questions of how they came to be this way in the
present from causes in the past.
John Casti’s PARADIGMS LOST
describes how science tries to both explain and predict. Some sciences do both well. Some do only one
well. Some do neither well at all.
Prediction A | o
Quantum Mechanics o Mechanics
| o Economics o Biology
D C B
Science is not technology.
Technology builds on science.