Friday, August 05, 2005

A few good men...and a bit of metaphysics

Faith in Evolution These recruiting posters are pretty cool, methinks. The comments thread is interesting as well. Hat Tip to The Holy Fool on this one. The Fool also offers his own take down of Fr. O'Leary here. Lots of 'neocaths' are jumping on this story. I don't expect a response from O'Leary, however, unless it comes in the form of a horrid generalization based on the worst bit of writing that comes his way. More likely, he will not deign the 'little people' worthy of his time, time that needs to be spend learning how to format text...
There is also a terrific discussion about the nature of axioms going on. It starts at Waka Waka Waka (what an awesome name for a philosophy blog!) and continues at The Maverick Philosopher. Waka Waka writes:
There is enough that is common to the reasoning of most human minds that it has been possible to create an abstract method - logic - for sequentially connecting truths. The key is that logic is public - once we agree on the rules of logic, all we need is some suitable premises to start with, and off we go, proving truth after truth, with no end in sight. The problem, though, is that once we get far enough along in pursuit of some distant or unforeseeable end, it is very easy to forget where we started. The beginning of every logical chain is an act of faith: some unproven axiom, some set of postulates that were chosen because they simply felt true. There’s no getting around this, because logical inference can only draw on what is previously given, either as an axiom or a theorem already proved. To demand that every step in a logical chain depends on an earlier logical proof leads, of course, to an infinite regress.
Generally speaking, it is people who hold themselves to be 'secular' who have the most trouble with this suggestion. They are often smart and have a high degree of technical learning but resist the idea that their ontology is not something they have arrived at through their IQ. They are often, in other words, ferocious true believers in their own intellectual merits - even when their field is expertise is quite narrow. The example of Fr. O'Leary proves that the problem is not confined to the secular and now, sadly, Fr. Coyne seems set to join him:
Fr Coyne, who is 72, has been in charge of the observatory since 1978; he spends half the year in Tucson, Arizona, as a professor in the University of Arizona astronomy department, where he is still actively involved in research. In The Tablet he says that Cardinal Shönborn's article has "darkened the waters" of the rapport between Church and science, and says - flatly contradicting the cardinal - that even a world in which "life... has evolved through a process of random genetic mutations and natural selection" is compatible with "God's dominion".
In that article, Shönborn concludes that:
Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of "chance and necessity" are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.
As I understand Shönborn, scientific theories seek to explain questions of how, not why. Questions on the matter of why - especially an ultimate why - are not in the realm of science; they are metaphysics. The reason is simple, too. These are matters in which no testing or experimentation are possible.
It does not follow from this that outside of science, nothing is knowable. Bill Vacellia observes that:
Paradoxically, certain logical truths are known, but not 'logically,' i.e., not by any process of inference. Something as basic as the law of non-contradiction cannot be known via (noncircular) inference from propositions better known. It is plausible to say that one knows a truth such as LNC neither by inference not by inner or outer sense but by a sort of intellectual intuition in which the truth of the proposition known becomes self-evident.
As Francis Poretto put it today:
Intelligent Design isn't really a theory; it's a set of objections to more mechanistic propositions about the emergence and development of life, most notably Darwinian evolution. It's coupled to a conjecture that, as an explanation for the emergence of life as it stands today, the intervention of a powerful, purposeful Intelligence would be more plausible. Plausibility, of course, is a highly subjective metric. In this connection, it depends on one's appreciation or lack thereof for the possibilities from randomness, and on whether one thinks a billion years is a long interval or a short one in geo-biological time. Given the variation among opinions in this matter, not one of which is founded on an objective standard of any kind, passion would appear to be misplaced.
Poretto isn't just giving an uninformed opinion here - he's an engineer. It should surprise no one, but there is no shortage of scientists who hold either the God exits or the God does not exist axiom. What I'm driving at is that Fr Coyne's suggestion that Evolution must be understood as random is not a provable hypothesis either way. On the other hand his suggestion that - IF in fact he is suggesting this - that science the source of all 'real' knowledge, including metaphysical knowledge, is rather obviously false. And Shönborn is correct in pointing out which axioms it is that the Church has chosen. The real question here is why some want to close off or otherwise put into disrepute certain types of knowledge. Cui Bono? I see certain intellectuals attempting to play up the gulf between themselves and the 'little people.' The goal seems to be to define the battle in such a way that it takes place on their narrow turf. It is a phoney appeal to authority, in other words.

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