Tom Gilson

Christianity and the Nature of Science

Science and Christianity–are they at odds with each other? Is science the kingly road to knowledge, and is religion a matter of mere belief? Do they speak to each other, or do they occupy (as Gould said) non-overlapping magisteria? To the heart of the point: can a Christian really take her faith seriously in this scientific age? Can a scientifically-minded person take religion seriously?

MorelandCatNS.JPG

I’m convinced the answers to these questions all point in positive directions for both Christianity and science, properly understood. My convictions come in large part from J.P. Moreland’s Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation. First published in 1989, it is the best non-specialist’s overview of these issues I have yet seen. There is a 1999 edition available, but my dog-eared earlier version–which though it predates the term “Intelligent Design” remains relevant to all today’s issues–has been my standby.

I run the risk of contradicting myself by my own actions here, for I want to persuade you to buy the book, study it, and absorb it; for a full, extended treatment is well worth your time. Yet I am also going to blog from the book, in a series beginning with this post. If I cannot convey the range and depth that the book can, I can at least raise some issues for discussion and whet your appetite for more.

Moreland begins by asking what is the definition of science. That’s certainly still relevant: Is Intelligent Design science? How would we know? What characteristics must it have to qualify as such? What is it about ID that causes so many to declare it is not science, and do these characteristics really disqualify it? Ideally, there would be some descriptors of science that, taken together, would clearly mark out what it is and does, and exclude other fields of study.

An early “creation science” trial, the McLean case in 1989, shows that the answer is more elusive than many think. Judge William R. Overton wrote in his opinion,

“More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are: 1) It is guided by natural law; 2) It has to be explanatory by natural law; 3) It is testable against the empirical world; 4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word; and 5) It is falsifiable.”

Presumably what meets these criteria is science, and what does not meet them is not. But the first one is ambiguous: does it mean that science seeks to explain by natural law? If so, it is redundant with (2). Does it mean “motivated by a desire to find a natural explanation”? Moreland reminds non-scientists may have the same goal, for example philosophers seeking to find a natural explanation in evolution or the brain for morality. On the other hand Carl Linnaeus’s (1707-1778) pioneering work in taxonomy, while clearly science, was “motivated and guided by his belief that no natural explanation was available for the existence and nature of living organisms.”

Mathematicians often refer to non-supernatural laws of mathematics and logic, yet their work is not science. And scientists often appeal to brute fact, not law, as explanations: the Big Bang and various physical constants being examples. (The discovery, after Moreland wrote this edition of the fine-tuning of these constants adds extra interest to that point.)

Do Overton’s points (1) and (2) mean that science only deals with “the world of physical things having only physical properties that are part of one spatio-temporal system?” If so, it’s not at all clear that psychology is a science. Whether it deals with just physical properties and events is a matter of considerable controversy. If it were someday settled that thoughts, feelings, morality, the unconscious, etc. are not just physical, would that mean that every psychologist in history had been a non-scientist? Hardly.

Overton says that science involves empirical testability, apparently meaning that theories may be subjected to observational confirmation or disconfirmation. But theories may be empirically equivalent, for example, certain competing views of quantum phenomena, or (some forms of) theistic evolution compared to naturalistic evolution. More crucially, there is no such thing as observation independent of theory, so testability just by observation alone is impossible. Further, other disciplines appeal to observation: history, literary scholarship, and philosophy.

Is science defined by being tentative? Since Moreland wrote this, we have been treated to the Michael Ruse’s terribly tentative shout that “Evolution is fact, FACT, FACT!” Apparently evolution is not science. Moreland asks, “Was Newton tentative about his belief in the existence of forces? Would any contemporary scientist seriously question the theory that blood circulates?” And is science the only discipline that uses a principle of tentativeness? “Christian theologians are often tentative, that is, open to new evidence about a number of issues ranging from interpretations of specific passages to the inerrancy of the Bible and the existence of God.”

Finally, is science necessarily falsifiable? Many of us are skeptical of evolution’s falsifiability. Evolutionists say that one good fossil anachronism would be sufficient to falsify it. But they remain impervious to failed predictions, like Darwin’s prediction that the fossil record’s gaps would be largely filled in, or that there would be at least one observable instance of a new structure or function evolving under laboratory or field conditions. Moreland if extremely helpful on this.

The nature of falsifiability in science is often difficult to clarify. For example, seldom if ever are individual scientific propositions tested in isolation from other propositions or theories…. let H stand for [a given hypothesis], and let Ci – Cn be the various auxiliary assumptions involved. Then these are related to the experimental observations O in the following way:

(H & Ci & Cj & . . . Cn) –> O
___________Not – O__________
Therefore, Not – (H & Ci & Cj & . . . Cn)

The experiment shows that H or Ci or Cj or … Cn is mistaken. Which is it? Falsifiability is not always as simple as it seems. I learned in high school that the famed Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 proved that light does not propagate through an ether. In fact, the ether theory lasted a long time after Michelson-Morley as scientists adjusted their auxiliary hypotheses to fit. It took Einstein to finally settle the question; and it took several years before Einstein’s theories were observationally vindicated. They’re still working on the cosmological constant, in fact.

Other disciplines can point to falsifiability as part of their criteria. Historians’ theories can be falsified by new documents. Christianity could be falsified by the discovery of Jesus’ bones, though identifying them would be hugely problematic. Moreland clarifies,

Now, world views can be falsified in principle, at least some of them can . . . but doing so is very difficult, because their epistemic support is so multifaceted. Broad research programs in science are like this as well, and they are not unscientific for that reason.

All of Judge Overton’s criteria fall short. And so do several other definitions of science Moreland offers as examples. Now, lest you think this conclusion is just the anti-faith position of some Christian apologist, in fact Darwinist Michael Ruse came to the same conclusion in the 1996 edition of But Is It Science, the volume he edited in the wake of the McLean case. There is an updated edition of this book available, too, but it’s very new and I have not read it yet. It’s unlikely to say anything different, for philosophers have agreed that the demarcation problem–finding what clearly demarcates science from other disciplines–has no one simple solution.

In the end, Moreland, one of whose degrees is in chemistry, is not saying we can never tell science when we see it. He’s saying that the charge, “It’s not scientific” may not be as clear-cut as we have thought. More than that, though, he’s laying a careful groundwork to begin his investigation into Christianity and the nature of science. We’ll continue to follow him through that investigation in future blog posts. On the way, we’ll also take a short detour into a more recent court’s definition of science.

Related, February 26, 2008: On Blogging a Philosophy Book

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31 thoughts on “Christianity and the Nature of Science

  1. He’s saying that the charge, “It’s not scientific” may not be as clear-cut as we have thought.

    I agree. It’s why I asked Jason certain questions at the end of my comment here. You get different answers depending on who you talk to.

    I don’t want start the subjective/objective argument with DL again – but it seems to me that, in some cases, “it’s scientific” is as objective as “it’s immoral”.

    I know “scientific” isn’t a property that can be tested for. That’s what DL demands for beauty, morality, etc.

    Anyway….let’s not go there again shall we? 😉

  2. I definitely agree, in (as you said) some cases. I wouldn’t want to overstate the difficulty of recognizing science when you see it. Where it’s difficult is on the fringes. Physicists are famous telling us psychology types we don’t really do science. The same thing (for different reasons) is often directed at ID. In both cases the question is not black and white.

    MikeGene, author of The Design Matrix, blogger at Telic Thoughts, and ID proponent, freely grants that ID is not a science for various reasons; but maintains nevertheless that many features of nature raise a suspicion of intelligent intervention, which ought to be investigated. These investigations are conducted via science. From that point of view, “Is ID a science?” gets the answer no, but “Can suspicions of ID be investigated scientifically,” is answered yes. ID investigators can most certainly be doing science, even if the theory is not well-enough developed to call it a science.

  3. Tom, your distinction between “a science’ and “doing science” is very useful.

    The other issue that plays in is whether features of nature really do raise suspicions. Aside from the fact that anything can raise any suspicion, ID-deniers would say that no features of nature raise suspicions of ID, and that’s the substantive issue.

  4. Thanks for the encouraging word there, Paul.

    I would suggest you pick up a copy of MikeGene’s book. I’ll be blogging on it before long, I hope. He does a very good job of pointing out how these suspicions really do arise from within nature.

  5. “More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are: 1) It is guided by natural law; 2) It has to be explanatory by natural law; 3) It is testable against the empirical world; 4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word; and 5) It is falsifiable.”

    The word “natural” is unhelpful if you don’t define what that means. Why not just generalize it to this:

    1) It is guided by law/regularity; 2) It has to be explanatory by law/regularity; 3) It is testable against the world of experience; 4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word; and 5) It is falsifiable.

    Evolution is as factual as Einstein’s theory gravity. Yet, even Einstein’s theory of gravity could be overturned, in theory. In order to do that, we would need data so good and so plentiful that it overwhelms gravimetric human experience to date, and there’s no sign of that happening. That makes gravity both factual and tentative.

    Facts are regarded as such due to the immense weight of evidence in their favor, but they do not equate to infinite evidence. Now, in the case of evolution, the evidence is also massive and overwhelming. You need a lot of data to throw out the fact of evolution, just as you need a lot to throw out Einstein. If you want to falsify evolution, you you’re going to need boatloads of evidence (which you don’t have). A few unsolved mysteries are inadequate. It’s not that evolution cannot be falsified, but that evolution has passed so many tests and been so well confirmed, that it is now a fact.

    And Moreland singles-out Linnaeus as a scientist? There’s no doubt Linnaeus contributed to the field of science, but taxonomy isn’t really science, is it? It’s data, not science. It predicts nothing. Taxonomy might be useful for science, but so is glassware. So citing this guy is making the naturalists’ point. Throw in God as the explanation, and you might as well just create catalogs of data and give up on science.

    Christianity could be falsified by the discovery of Jesus’ bones, though identifying them would be hugely problematic.

    Yes, what are you going to compare DNA with (if that’s even possible on bones that old)? And if you find inscriptions, etc., supporting the fact that his bones were there, how would that alter Christian beliefs? I don’t believe it would significantly alter them. I think Christian theologians would be flexible and say Jesus’ spirit ascended or something along those lines. If they believe that Jesus was resurrected, then explaining a few bones is nothing.

    On to the rhetorical aspects… I think this whole line of apologetics is suspect. An attempt is being made to sow illegitimate doubt about our ability to identify science. While there may be doubts about evolutionary psychology, there’s broad and overwhelming consensus that ID is not science. The Christian right is doing just what the oil companies have done with the global warming debate. They want to say there is a scientific controversy where there is none. That way people think the matter is up in the air and they can choose to believe what they wish. The DI does exactly the same thing. The DI digs up a handful of sympathetic people with science and engineering degrees, and claims there’s a legitimate controversy about evolutionary biology. That’s like finding priests who don’t believe in God and saying that there’s a legitimate controversy about the existence of God within the church. It’s disingenuous at best.

    The irony is that Christians are the first to complain about post-modernism. I hate PM too, but Christian tactics are worse than those of the post-modernists because Christians are so effective at sowing doubt in science and secular institutions. Christian strategy is to portray the scientific community as divided when it isn’t.

    Just my $3.27.

  6. And Moreland singles-out Linnaeus as a scientist? There’s no doubt Linnaeus contributed to the field of science, but taxonomy isn’t really science, is it? It’s data, not science. It predicts nothing.

    See? It’s hard to agree on a definition of science, isnt’ it?

    Throw in God as the explanation, and you might as well just create catalogs of data and give up on science.

    Straw man.

    I think Christian theologians would be flexible and say Jesus’ spirit ascended or something along those lines. If they believe that Jesus was resurrected, then explaining a few bones is nothing.

    You are even less aware of Christian theology than I thought, doctor(logic). This exact issue is near the heart of the conservative/liberal split, and has been debated vigorously for decades. You’ve accurately described the liberal position. Conservative Christians, on the other hand, agree that if Jesus did not arise bodily from the grave then we ought to shut the whole thing down. See the original work on that.

    I think this whole line of apologetics is suspect. An attempt is being made to sow illegitimate doubt about our ability to identify science.

    And I’m really astonished to see you write that! The questions I’ve listed here about how to demarcate science are very mainstream. As I already indicated, Michael Ruse agrees with them. Larry Laudan and Thomas Kuhn have been major contributors to the discussion. Moreland didn’t make this stuff up for apologetic purposes. He stated the issues and his arguments.

    If you don’t agree, fine–but disagree with the arguments, not with the motivations. It’s that ad hominem thing, you know…

  7. Tom,

    See? It’s hard to agree on a definition of science, isnt’ it?

    How do you conclude that from my comment?

    Throw in God as the explanation, and you might as well just create catalogs of data and give up on science.

    Straw man.

    It’s not a straw man. There’s no point in studying evolutionary biology if you don’t think it’s powered by a naturalistic mechanism. At best you can collect data about what species exist(ed), and when they appeared in the fossil record. That’s data, not science. If you think God invented these things by magic, then there’s nothing else to do but catalog and collect data. Collecting butterflies is not entomology.

    You are even less aware of Christian theology than I thought, doctor(logic). This exact issue is near the heart of the conservative/liberal split, and has been debated vigorously for decades.

    I am well aware of this, though I don’t know what the exact demographics are.

    Conservative Christians, on the other hand, agree that if Jesus did not arise bodily from the grave then we ought to shut the whole thing down.

    I think that’s easy to say, given that the conservatives’ bluff is almost certain never to be called. I think it’s very much like believing that vampires lived in the 18th century (if not today), and being adamant in one’s belief unless hard contrary evidence is produced (which it almost certainly will not be).

    The questions I’ve listed here about how to demarcate science are very mainstream.

    But not as far as ID is concerned, where the judgment is virtually unanimous. What is your purpose in questioning our ability to tell science from non-science in your OP? Is it not an attempt to throw doubt on the scientific consensus that ID is pseudoscience?

  8. See? It’s hard to agree on a definition of science, isnt’ it?

    How do you conclude that from my comment?

    I wonder if others are having trouble figuring that out. I’ll leave it for others to respond to for now. What do you think? (The original is here.)

    Throw in God as the explanation, and you might as well just create catalogs of data and give up on science.

    I know I was very brief on this before. This is a straw man just because Christians don’t do this. If Christians actually did this, then there might be something to this objection. But you’re imagining something here and pinning it on believers on God–something that doesn’t exist in reality. It’s like saying (and I don’t believe this) “Throw out God as the basis for morality, and you’ll find all the atheists everywhere murdering and raping.” It’s theory without any actual basis in real fact.

    The questions I’ve listed here about how to demarcate science are very mainstream.

    But not as far as ID is concerned, where the judgment is virtually unanimous. What is your purpose in questioning our ability to tell science from non-science in your OP? Is it not an attempt to throw doubt on the scientific consensus that ID is pseudoscience?

    You’re jumping the gun here. If I decide to apply this to ID, then I will do my best to do it on the basis of a properly laid foundation. My purpose in my original post was to summarize the first part of J.P. Moreland’s book, and to try to present accurately and fairly the state of the demarcation problem. I think I have done that.

    If you think I’m going to use it for some dreaded illegitimate reason, it would behoove you to (a) wait and see if that happens, and (b) assess the legitimacy at that time based on the actual arguments presented.

    In the meantime, the demarcation problem is the demarcation problem, and it is a problem. Some things are clearly science, some are not, and in between it’s not always easy to decide. If you caught that, then you caught most of the point of the post.

  9. I wonder if others are having trouble figuring that out. I’ll leave it for others to respond to for now.

    I don’t have any trouble seeing it.

    Some things are clearly science, some are not, and in between it’s not always easy to decide.

    This is the problem in a nutshell. DL wants to pretend that there are no grey areas so in his mind there is no demarcation problem. If there was an objective (oh, not that word again) line of demarcation then it would be a non-issue.

  10. Additionally:

    doctor(logic)’s position is that Linnaeus’s work wasn’t really science. I’m quite sure, however, that we could survey biology textbooks and find Linnaeus frequently named as a scientist, and his work lauded as foundational to current biological thinking.

    For an immediately available source, see what wikipedia. Somebody out there thinks he was a scientist. Even granting that wikipedia’s scholarly usefulness is not universally accepted, the point remains:

    We have conflicting opinions on what constitutes science, thus illustrating the difficulty of pinning down a definition of science.

  11. Tom,

    You’re missing the point.

    Suppose Bob is trained in science at undergraduate level. He then goes to work at the Stanford Linear Accelerator where he devises a useful categorizing system at the SLAC library. Is this person a scientist?

    Maybe. But is his categorization work at the library science?

    Absolutely not. There’s no hypothesizing, no testing, no experimentation. Does Bob contribute to the field of science in a broad sense? Sure. Just like the janitors at SLAC contribute to the scientific enterprise.

    I’m no expert on Linnaeus, but his taxonomy was not a scientific discovery. It was, at best, some form of data collection. Maybe he did some science in his life, but his binomial taxonomy wasn’t science per se. Are you saying it was? Because, if that’s what you’re saying, then that explains why you think supernaturalism is compatible with science.

  12. doctor(logic), I’m not missing the point. The point is not that everybody ought to agree that Linnaeus was (or was not) a scientist. The point is this: defining what is or is not science is problematical. I’ve made it very clear that this is the point. I’m surprised that it is not more clear to you.

    Again: you believe Linnaeus’s work was not science. Others believe it was. Both opinions can be argued. QED: defining science is problematical.

    You could argue till the cows come home that Linnaeus’s work wasn’t science. You could amass all the evidence and analogies in the world. As long as there were still knowledgeable people who disagreed with you and could support their position too, all you would be doing is continuing to prove that it’s difficult to define the boundaries of science.

  13. Tom and DL, would it be useful to consider your positions in light of the distinction between problems defining science and problems defining the boundaries of science? Any definition has problems at its boundary – I can give you problematic examples of chairs that challenge the definition of “chair.” Perhaps you’d both agree that the core of the definition of science isn’t in dispute, and that some things at the boundary of the definition of science can be?

  14. That’s helpful.

    Let’s bear in mind that there are many areas that are certainly, indisputably science, many that are undoubtedly not science–for everybody. The continuum has a increasingly fuzzy look as you approach the middle. The fuzziness means that not everyone even agrees where the boundary between “indisputably science” and “disputably science” exactly is.

  15. Paul,

    Sorry, but I don’t think that’s helpful in this context.

    No one thinks that merely making a non-predictive catalog of animals is biological science. No one thinks that merely measuring and recording rainfall is meteorological science. These things are useful to science, but they aren’t science by themselves. Scientists may perform these tasks, but so does anyone who collects baseball cards.

    If we talk about scientific collection of weather data, we mean the use of precise protocols for that measurement, so that the resulting data is useful for scientific theories. Non-scientific weather data collection would be making notes like “Gosh, it felt real cold this week.”

    Linnaeus’s system is scientific only in the sense that it can serve as data input for science. It’s not science by itself.

    So no one thinks that taxonomy all by itself is science. It’s misleading to suggest that anyone really believes that. Taxonomy only becomes a scientific enterprise if you hypothesize a connection between the species. Presently, ONLY evolutionary biology does this.

    If Linnaeus believed there was no explanation for the species, he certainly wasn’t doing science, even if his work was useful for science.

    So, while there may be fuzzy areas, taxonomy in isolation is not science, and not even close. The same goes for ID: not science, and not even close.

    Tom, you brought up Linnaeus’s beliefs for a reason. Presumably to show that someone who thinks there’s no naturalistic explanation for the data he collects can be a great scientist. Well, that just isn’t true. You can’t just go out and collect data, and sort it and be done, and then claim you’re doing science. It’s only science when you think that you or someone else is going to devise an explanation for the data you’re collecting. Otherwise it’s trivia, not science. If Linnaeus thought there was no explanation for the species, then he was collecting trivia.

    Here’s the Gould quotation featured in the Linnaean taxonomy page on Wikipedia

    “Taxonomy (the science of classification) is often undervalued as a glorified form of filing—with each species in its prescribed place in an album; but taxonomy is a fundamental and dynamic science, dedicated to exploring the causes of relationships and similarities among organisms. Classifications are theories about the basis of natural order, not dull catalogues compiled only to avoid chaos.” Stephen Jay Gould (1990, p.98)

    “…dedicated to exploring the causes of relationships and similarities among organisms”?

    “Classifications are theories about the basis of natural order”?

    Just like I said. If there’s no lawful explanation for relationships among organisms, then there’s no science to taxonomy, and taxonomy becomes the glorified filing Gould spoke of. This isn’t a gray area.

  16. QED on one topic. On the other:

    Tom, you brought up Linnaeus’s beliefs for a reason. Presumably to show that someone who thinks there’s no naturalistic explanation for the data he collects can be a great scientist.

    I brought up Linnaeus to show that a scientist need not be a materialist, or, to quote the original, “Does [the definition of science, as defined by Overton] mean ‘motivated by a desire to find a natural explanation’?” I have also tried to show that science is hard to demarcate.

    To say that Linnaeus was not a scientist is your right:

    If Linnaeus thought there was no explanation for the species, then he was collecting trivia.

    Pretty useful trivia, I’d say.

    But regardless, my first point could be proven by many other people whose science qualifications are at least slightly better: Maxwell, Faraday, Mendel, Collins…

    My second point is demonstrated. Again.

  17. Tom, you brought up Linnaeus’s beliefs for a reason. Presumably to show that someone who thinks there’s no naturalistic explanation for the data he collects can be a great scientist.

    You’ve disputed these points for a reason, and we don’t have to presume or guess what it is.You’ve already stated it. You’re afraid I’m going to use this as the basis for an argument in favor of Intelligent Design. I’ve already responded to that.

    My final word on this: whatever you think of Linnaeus, and whatever you think of the demarcation problem, the rest of the knowledgeable world knows there is a demarcation problem. I have tried to describe and illustrate it. If my descriptions and illustrations do not satisfy you, I urge you to look up Michael Ruse, cited above. He’s a Darwinist.

    That’s all I’ve tried to do in this post. If I have failed, I’m at least confident that many others of all philosophical stripes have succeeded.

  18. DL:

    So no one thinks that taxonomy all by itself is science.

    You don’t think that, but the NAS does.. I marvel at the lengths you will go to argue an unsubstantiated point.

  19. Bricklaying isn’t a skilled masonry trade because ‘all by itself’ bricklaying is merely laying one brick on top of another. It takes no real skill. Real bricklaying requires you to build something according to plan.

  20. LOL! Steve, did you look to see what your link points to? Or did you just Google taxonomy at the NAS? You pointed to a taxonomy of degree programs. But, hey, it’s on the NAS web site, and scientists talk about it so it must be science!

  21. Tom,

    There is a demarcation problem, and there are gray areas. However, pure taxonomy is NOT in a gray area. You think you’re proving your point because you think the scientific status of pure taxonomy is somehow controversial. It’s not.

    Go ahead and find me even one person who thinks taxonomy (i.e., filing, permanently divorced from any naturalistic explanations for the species) is science.

    Gould is spot on. Taxonomy is not science (but rather filing) unless it is part of a deliberate search for lawful explanations between the species. And yet this search is precisely what Linnaeus wanted to avoid. Since Linnaeus thought the origin of species was supernatural, he was reduced to cataloging.

    It’s like a person who records weather statistics, but believes we will never understand or predict the weather. Is that person a meteorological scientist? Can you find even ONE person who thinks such a person is a meteorological scientist? I doubt it.

    While there may be a demarcation problem, taxonomy, evolution and ID are not in those gray areas. Supernatural causation is definitely not science, and no one thinks it is.

    Okay. Deep breath. Sorry for being pedantic about this, but I think it is deceptive to paint division and controversy where none exists. There are legitimate demarcation issues about some fields (multiverse theories or evolutionary psychology), but there’s no controversy about things like filing or supernatural causation.

  22. DL:

    LOL! Steve, did you look to see what your link points to? Or did you just Google taxonomy at the NAS? You pointed to a taxonomy of degree programs. But, hey, it’s on the NAS web site, and scientists talk about it so it must be science!

    That’s right. If the NAS says you can get a degree in the science of taxonomy then who are you to argue? Once again I marvel at the lengths you will go to argue an unsubstantiated point – but keep on trying.

  23. Go ahead and find me even one person who thinks taxonomy (i.e., filing, permanently divorced from any naturalistic explanations for the species) is science.

    That kind of taxonomy isn’t taxonomy – it’s filing. We have two different words in the dictionary because they have different meanings.

    Find me one person who things bricklaying (i.e. stacking bricks, permanently divorced from creating a masonry structure according to plan) is a skilled masonry craft.

    That kind of bricklaying isn’t bricklaying – it’s stacking bricks.

  24. Steve, he’s right–the taxonomy there is not a degree program in taxonomy but a taxonomy of Ph.D. programs.

    I can see why there would no longer be a Ph.D. in taxonomy, if there ever was. It’s not because it’s not science, but because it is not an independent field, especially today, when all the foundations have been laid.

    But taxonomy gets 22 pages in my daughter’s introduction to biology textbook.

    If you google “definition taxonomy” and visit the 10 first pages it returns, the majority use the word “science” as part of the definition. Some of these pages are oriented to fields other than biology–if that matters to you–so you could also google “definition taxonomy biology,” and find the word “science” in the definition in all the pages but one. Linnaeus is described as a botanist, a biologist, and/or a scientist in every description you find in those pages.

    I suggest you ask a biologist whether Linnaeus’s contribution counts as science.

    QED. doctor(logic), you don’t have to think Linnaeus was a scientist. A whole lot of people do. Science is hard to demarcate.

    Steve is still right on his main point: you’re going to great lengths here to stake out a solid position in the middle of a melting ice floe. What is the motivation? The only thing you’ve said about that so far is that you’re worried I’m going to use this to make a case for Intelligent Design.

    I’m not going to assume you’re motivated only by fear. I know you take knowledge to be deeply connected to predictiveness, so that may have much to do with it. But I would encourage you to see where this will go before you try to head off some expected argument that hasn’t even been presented yet.

  25. Tom, perhaps the reason you find the word science in your Google of “taxonomy” is because it includes (even implicitly) the scientific aspects of it that DL insists must be included in it; in which case the presence of the word “science” does not refute DL’s point.

    Let’s put it like this: Tom, do you think mere filing is science? If so, then your argument with DL is partially semantic, but we should find a new word for the field that filing is a part of, because the rest of science – what DL is insisting on – is very, very different: it makes predictions, theorizes, etc., as Gould said. If not, then DL is right.

  26. All I can do is LOL at my inability to link to relevent material…so I will. LOL!! My apologies to DL.

    Still, taxonomy is considered a branch of science and that is all there is to it.

  27. Wow, good old DL,

    Google
    “Is Taxonomy Science”

    TAXONOMY is the SCIENCE of CLASSIFICATION:
    Taxonomy is the science of classifying organisms
    Open Directory – Science: Biology: Taxonomy

    Taxonomy, science of classifying organisms.

    TAXONOMY – The science of naming things is called taxonomy.

    Taxonomy classification introduction and tutorial:

    Excerpts highlighted in yellow from: ” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000
    http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

    Taxonomy, science of classifying organisms. Probably the first scientific study of plants was the attempt to classify them.

    Linnaean taxonomy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    “Taxonomy (the science of classification)

    Taxonomy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. The word comes from the Greek τάξις, taxis, ‘order’ + νόμος, nomos, ‘law’ or ‘science’. …

    What is taxonomy? – Natural History Museum
    Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species and organising them into systems of classification.

    “Taxonomy (the science of classification) is often undervalued as a glorified form of filing—with each species in its prescribed place in an album; but taxonomy is a fundamental and dynamic science, dedicated to exploring the causes of relationships and similarities among organisms. Classifications are theories about the basis of natural order, not dull catalogues compiled only to avoid chaos.” Stephen Jay Gould (1990, p.98)

    ====
    Hi Paul,
    You’ve once again reiterated the point in question.
    If you call science one thing and not another you can eliminate some activities and not others. Thus, the demarcation problem, which “shows that the answer is more elusive than many think”.

  28. Let’s put it like this: Tom, do you think mere filing is science? If so, then your argument with DL is partially semantic

    Two responses:
    1) If the question is whether there’s a demarcation in science, it doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is that there is a question.
    2) In regard to taxonomy, I’m going to offer something by way of an unofficial impression. It’s not my field, and I’ve been referring to authorities who know (which in view of (1) is entirely appropriate to the purpose of this post). So if I’m wrong, that’s fine.

    With that heavy disclaimer, I would say that filing that (a) requires scientific investigation for the purpose of determining how to classify things, and which (b) is highly productive in terms of helping to advanced later scientific research, is science.

    Feel free to disagree.

  29. Charlie, Tom, I will try to find time to give you guys a comprehensive reply, hopefully before we’ve moved on to other issues.

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