Monday, June 7, 2010

Science and value.

The more I think about it, the worse the state of 'science' seems to be in our modern era. At least in terms of science being understood as science, and science's boundaries being known and respected.

I refer again to Stanley Fish's Are There Secular Values?. Walk around someday - even in a supermarket - and just try to count how many times you'll see scientists (usually in the form of organizations representing what the public considers to be scientists) engaging in and endorsing one value over another (even 'modest' ones, like 'good health' or 'protecting the environment').


The Phantom Blogger said...

Lawrence Auster on the Essay by Fish:

Crude said...

I notice that article mostly points out that, hey, Fish isn't an ally of traditional morality (to say nothing of religious belief) - he's some kind of Nietzchean.

I accept that. But I also think Fish is saying frankly and flatly what too few religious people, Christians in particular, are willing to say. And I have to admit, the man says it eloquently.

It's also a challenge to Christians, of course. I think few people understand the gravity, the onus that is placed upon the modern Christian, with the realization that there are no secular reasons. That religious belief and thoughts about justice and how society should be run can't all be divided into nice, non-overlapping boxes, where we have "secular reasons" that are discussed in public and in politics, and then we have "religious reasons" which are entirely private or elective community affairs.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Some other Auster articles covering similar ideas.

And a good review of a Stanley Fish book at the Mises Review.

I think that Auster's point about the unprincipled exception is very good, explaining the need of secular people and institutions to use transcendent ideals and language, in order to infuse a sense of morality and importance into there arguments.

Here a good piece from Auster's:

In today's Daily Mirror TV guide, Alice Roberts is interviewed about her documentary, "The Incredible Human Journey," which the reconstruction of Cro-Magnon man you wrote about was prepared for .

The article is titled "We Are Family," and includes such choice quotes from Roberts as: "One of the big messages is we're all closely related. It's science telling us to look after each other."

It also has photo captions--for a picture of Alice with Namibian Bushmen, the caption is "connected." For a picture of a Namibian village, the caption is "One World."

Fascinating. It's quite openly not about science, but about realizing the liberal ideal of one humanity.
See, she's in her liberal glory. The main thing is, "We all One, we're all One with nonwhite people." This is the liberal's religion. This is the "highest" for them.

In a comment Ben W. writes:

Alice Roberts: "It's science telling us to look after each other."

Who or what is telling us this? By what moral authority? What moral authority does science have to posit an "ought?" Where is that foundational moral principle in science?

Science is made out to be an "authoritative" canon of laws. How did this come about and when?

Science is "telling us" or is it Alice Roberts who is doing the "telling?" She makes "science" to be a monolithic, approved body of laws that has authority in and of itself to specify to human beings what ought and what ought not to be done.

But is "science" just such an authoritative body of laws? In fact is "science" itself a unified "body," or is it a collection of disparate views that have internal contradictions and lack inherent consistency? For example, where is the consistency between string and atomic theory, or between wave and particle physics? Where has the bond between chemistry and Darwinian biology been established?

Liberals love telling us that "science" (whatever it's flavor du jour is) sets the standard for ethical behavior. But they also love to tell God to butt out ... When did this "science" descend to us from Mount Sinai?

The Phantom Blogger said...

Sorry, I forgot to post this part of the article to explain what Alice Roberts, documentary was about:

In the ultimate travel story, Dr Alice Roberts crosses the globe to find out exactly how our ancestors colonised the planet, and traces the world's biggest family tree.
"One of the big messages is that we're all closely related," she says. "It's science telling us to look after each other."

In the opener Alice treks through Ethiopia to the spot where the earliest known human remains were discovered, and in Cape Town she learns that every person who isn't African is descended from one group of people who left Africa around 70,000 years ago.

Her journey also takes her through Europe, Australia, Siberia, and the Americas--and has some hairy moments on the way. "It was scary sleeping outdoors in Namibia. I could hear hyenas howling," she says. "And in Australia I drove through a river filled with crocodiles."

Crude said...

Thank you for the links.

I think it all serves to illustrate that so much talk about the value and importance of science turns out to be incorrect.

Take Dr Roberts. What if she realized that science manifestly is NOT 'telling us to look after each other'? What if science was - and had to be - silent on such questions, in order for it to remain as science?

This is one reason why I'm skeptical of the whole 'scientism' claim - that there are people out there who seek to make 'science' the sole arbiter of knowledge, etc. Not only is the stance self-contradictory, but the sort of "science" they have in mind bears little relation to what science actually is. It's like saying I subscribe to scientism, on the grounds that my definition of science includes viewing Aristotileanism/Thomism as a likely true 'theory'.

IlĂ­on said...

I once linked to one of Fish's essays for the potential benefit of some supercilions self-proclaimed-rational secularists. They didn't like it.