Why science says nothing about truth.

For the purposes of this debate, “truth” = “models purported to be actual conditions of reality”.

Science is a method of collecting independently reproducible, empirical data, interpreting the data, categorizing it and developing useful and predictive models from that data – useful in the sense that it predicts future data of the same sort, hereafter referred to as IRdata. One can consider “science” to be, entirely, the collection and development of a kind of IRdatabase, the purpose of which is to take IRdata and develop it into useful IRmodels.

For this argument’s sake, Let’s call all other data and models non-scientific, or NSdata and NSmodels.

Am I obligated to accept as true (in the sense of “what reality is”) any model developed by science, regardless of how useful and independently repeatable it is? Certainly not. In the first place, science doesn’t claim that “what reality is” (truth) is the same as that which is independently repeatable (scientific data & scientific theories/models). Science only claims its models function successfully and are independently repeatable. Science claims its models are provisional and subject to future revision or even abandonment; this is contrary and irreconcilable with any claims that a scientific model = truth claim about reality. Scientists that make truth-claims about reality are necessarily abandoning the fundamental principle of the provisional and fallible nature of scientific model-building.

Secondly, there is no natural or man-made law that says I should consider science at all when developing my views on what reality is. I’m simply not obligated to consider science anything more than a tool that happens to be useful in my experience – and I’m not even obligated to hold science as that much if I wish otherwise. Science itself makes no metaphysical demands upon my worldview whatsoever.

All scientific models are provisional and subject to change. There is no added scientific value in considering any scientific model “true” and, in fact, such a view might be a problem if new data indicates a different model. Once invested in as “true”, scientific models become psychologically entrenched as a paradigm that might thwart the development and acceptance of better models. Science eschews the assertion that scientific models represent truth (the way reality is). That is a metaphysical or religious worldview.

What does science say about NSdata (non-scientific) and NSmodels? All it has to say is that such data doesn’t meet the criteria for being admitted into or used by the scientific database. It doesn’t claim such data is true or false, only that it is not appropriate for scientific modeling.

What does science claim about models that contradict its models, such as the model that the Earth is only 6000 years old? Science would only be able to claim that the old-earth model is more useful than the 6000-year model; science doesn’t claim either model is true or false, because all scientific models are provisional and only models, not claims of reality. Science doesn’t claim its models are true, only useful (as described above), and so cannot be used (as far as science is concerned) to claim the 6000-year model of Earth is false. In science, the term “prove” is not a true-false claim about reality, but only about a provisional model’s capacity to produce independently reproducible (IR)data.

Am I obligated to dismiss NS data and NS models when it comes to beliefs about reality? Certainly not. Science has nothing to say about what the true nature of reality is; it only talks about IR models developed from IRdata. Nothing more.

So, how is it that some people claim that science has disproven, say, a Young Earth Creationist model of reality? Science can only say that the YEC model is not as effective at producing IR data as some other model – say, the old-earth model. Science itself can make no claim about the “reality” value of either model. Science cannot claim the Earth “is”, in reality, more than 6000 years old; it can only claim that its current, most effective IRmodel is that of a much older Earth. Some new evidence may show that our previous means of determining the age of earth were mistaken and that the Earth is more likely young – just as, in the past, scientists changed their view of the age of the Earth from thousands, to millions, to hundreds of millions, to billions of years.

Whatever the age of the Earth actually is may be entirely irrelevant to the usefulness of the IRmodel. If a false IRmodel produces more useful IRdata than a true NSmodel, then in science the true NSmodel will be discarded in favor of the false IRmodel.

One might wonder, how could a false IRmodel produce more useful IRdata than a true NSmodel? The answer is that reality itself may not mostly or entirely conform to the consensus, independently repeatable paradigm. Thus, in some cases, the true model may not be independently, universally repeatable (NS). As such, science would not even be able to accept the NSdata that would lead to such an NSmodel; it could only find whatever approximation could be supported by IRdata translated into an IRmodel.

Also, it might be that humans have only a limited access to true data, have a limited capacity to interpret it, and have a limited capacity to model it towards the ends of generating IR predictions. IOW, it may take something other than a human to be able to create scientifically functional true models; the best we may be able to do with limited capacity is to generate scientifically useful false models. IOW, the 6000 year-old earth model may be true in reality, but reality may be such that there is no IRdata that would support that model, or at least no IRdata that a human mind can apprehend, translate and model as such.

When one claims that science has either proved or even just indicates that some other model is not true (meaning, not a factual condition of reality), they are no longer speaking from a scientific viewpoint, but rather from a metaphysical viewpoint that has incorporated the IRdata and model system as part of its ontology – also known as “Scientific Realism”.

Science cannot disprove anything in any ontological sense; it cannot ascertain if the YEC model is true or false. Science cannot even say if it one model is more likely true than the other without circularity. Science can only say that one model is currently more scientifically effective at making independently reproducible, empirical predictions about data than the other, given the nature and limitations of the human condition & experience.

100 thoughts on “Why science says nothing about truth.

  1. William J. Murray: The term “prove” science means that one model is more effective in terms of producing IRdata. It has nothing to do with claims about reality. Try to keep up. “Disproven” simply means that science has found a more effective IRmodel.

    Your whole way of looking at it is hopelessly muddled.

  2. William J. Murray: I suppose you mean “not getting hit by cars.You keep bringing up this false dichotomy; because I don’t hold reality as being entirely IR doesn’t mean I hold none of it to be IR. This thread is explicitly about examining the domain limitations of the IR model and not about claiming that it is irrelevant or counter-productive in terms of usefulness in that domain.

    But you’re functional materialist. You don’t have the courage of your convictions.

  3. William:

    I’ve actually asserted nothing in the OP that most here haven’t either stated themselves or at least agreed with – I just re-worded it in a way that draws attention to the contradictions that come up when they make statements that contain inherent truth-claims about reality and are not provisional in nature.

    William,

    You’re getting yourself all confused again.

    “Truth claims about reality” can be provisional. Every truth claim I make is provisional, which is why I insist that absolute certainty is a myth.

  4. William J. Murray: I’ve also seen them reject the idea that science asserts “truths”, and insist that all science does is create provisional models, which is what makes it different from religion.

    There’s a lively debate between scientific realists and pragmatic instrumentalists that’s been going on for hundreds of years — at least since Berkeley realized that phenomenalism + instrumentalism could do (most of? all of?) the epistemological work of materialism without anti-religious implications. There’s no reason to think that the debate will be resolved any time terribly soon, as each position gets more refined and more subtle from the criticisms received from the other side.

    This much is quite clear, of course: a pragmatic instrumentalist and a scientific realist cannot appeal to the same arguments for distinguishing between science and religion. For the former, following in the wake of the logical empiricists, metaphysics itself is relegated to pre-scientific culture, and science is post-metaphysical. For the latter, the difference is not between metaphysics and post-metaphysics but between pre-scientific metaphysics and scientific metaphysics. I used to be more sympathetic to the former view than I am now, partly because I don’t think that metaphysics is avoidable, and partly because the criticism of metaphysics (e.g. Heidegger, Carnap, Rorty, Derrida, Habermas) no longer seems as compelling to me in light of what I’ve since learned from reading Deleuze, Sellars, and Adorno.

    The key point here is that while there are many aspects of the traditional conception of metaphysics that are deeply problematic, the task is to not abandon metaphysics as such but to construct a new conception of metaphysics.

    I’ve actually asserted nothing in the OP that most here haven’t either stated themselves or at least agreed with – I just re-worded it in a way that draws attention to the contradictions that come up when they make statements that contain inherent truth-claims about reality and are not provisional in nature.

    So you keep saying — you insist that it’s inconsistent to accept a claim as true provisionally, or as Sellars puts it, to be tentative about what we take to be necessary. (After all, physical laws are necessary truths in one sense — nomological necessity is a kind of necessity!) Yet we ought to be prepared to revise our conception of the laws of nature should sufficient evidence make it reasonable to do so.

    For the scientific realist, we ought to be prepared to do so because the laws of nature are constitutive a priori principles of a conceptual framework, and any conceptual framework may be replaced with a more adequate one (more precisely, with a conceptual framework that the users of which will be able to see as more adequate than previous frameworks).

    Yet you seem to think that this is all deeply contradictory or incoherent — that one cannot both hold that a claim is true and accept that that claim is provisional. Despite these assertion, there’s been absolutely no argument for it. Is it supposed to be “self-evident”?

  5. I am not impressed with WJM’s post. Surely science has discovered some truths. It is true that water consists of objects we call water molecules H2O. This knowledge is not tentative. It’s a closed subject, no further debates.

    It is also true that a hydrogen atom consists of an electron orbiting a proton. We may learn more about the inner workings of the proton, but that will not change the well-established facts about the mechanics of the hydrogen atom.

    Your postmodernism is showing, William.

  6. petrushka:
    Didn’t anyone watch Indiana Jones? Science deals in fact, not truth.

    Steven spielberg movies are never right about anything at all.
    There is no science. its just people figuring things out.
    so its about conclusions. Its not just about facts.
    Evolution is not a fact. its a conclusion invented by combining facts.
    I never saw why that movie was received so well.

  7. Yet you seem to think that this is all deeply contradictory or incoherent — that one cannot both hold that a claim is true and accept that that claim is provisional. Despite these assertion, there’s been absolutely no argument for it. Is it supposed to be “self-evident”?

    As I said in the first line of my O.P.:

    For the purposes of this debate, “truth” = “models purported to be actual conditions of reality”.

    If you think the assertions: 1. model X is an actual condition of reality and 2. model X may not be an actual condition of reality are not mutually exclusive commitments about X, I dont’ see how further debate can continue. You might as well say, “X is Y, and X may not be Y” where X is the theory and Y is the quality of being true.

    If that’s not incoherent, nothing is, and you might as well dispense with the fundamental principles of logic.

  8. “Truth claims about reality” can be provisional.

    No, they cannot. This is where your sloppy thinking and compatibalist semantics hide from you your internal, irrational inconsistencies. That, or you are simply abandoning logic. X is Y and X may not be Y are two incompatible statements about X. You can either claim a thing is true, or you can claim it may or may not be true. You can’t have it both ways and abide the principle of non-contradiction.

  9. William, the confusion about logic is entirely your own, and it arises from conflating quantification, predication, and modality. (There are limits to autodidacticism, and this is one of them.)

    Here’s the correct way seeing the logical structure of the argument. (I apologize in advance for not knowing how to put the right symbols in place here — any advice from others would be welcome for future reference.)

    The key assertion is not, as you put it here, “X is both Y and possibly not Y” — akin to “the sky is blue and maybe also not blue” (which does seem to skate on the thin ice of violating the PNC).

    Rather, the provisional character of truth-claims is rendered as, “P, but possibly not-P”. And if you want to make this more clear in predicate (rather than sentential) logic, it would appear as: “there exists an x such that Px, but possibly not-Px.” This would be incoherent only if the following inference-rule were the case: “for all x, if Px, then necessarily Px.”

    And that’s just not so. There is no such rule. Some assertions are necessary truths, and some are not. And science deals with contingent, non-necessary truths. This only seems confusing to you because you’re not appreciating the different syntactical roles played by predication (what is said of a thing), quantification (the entities over which the predication holds), and modality (whether the assertion is possibly, actually, or necessarily true). Once the different syntactical roles are made clear, the illusion of violating the PNC vanishes.

  10. But you’re functional materialist. You don’t have the courage of your convictions.

    I don’t have any convictions. You keep forgetting that. I have models that I find useful.

    “Getting out of the way of speeding cars” is not a behavior owned by materialists. That behavior is fully justified by my own metaphysical views. I would have a rather poorly constructed metaphysics if it didn’t account for that which is independently reproducible and commanded me to step out in front of speeding cars for no good reason.

  11. KN, you cannot take the truth-claim commodity (Y) out of the equation altogether, replace it with a provisionality commodity (P) and think I’m not going to catch it. “Provisionally true” is an oxymoron of sloppy thinking and semantics.. Something might be conditionally true (if X, then Y), but saying that X may or may not be true is not the same as claiming it is true (but may not be true). Provisionality describes scientific facts, not truth-claims about some condition of reality.

    How tortured are you going to make your reasoning just to disagree with what is a logically necessary point?

  12. KN, you are trying to make an equivalence between these statements:

    1. The sky appears to our best observations and science to be blue, but it may not actually be blue;
    and
    2. The sky is blue, but may not be blue.

    You don’t get to substitute #1 for #2 and say “it’s the same thing”.

    #2 is clearly a violation of the principles of logic. One cannot say “the Earth is 6000 years old, but may not be 6000 years old” and claim to be rational.

  13. William J. Murray: The sky appears to our best observations and science to be blue, but it may not actually be blue

    What does it even mean for the sky to be “actually blue?” It’s about human perception. It’s trivially true that humans perceive the sky to be blue.

    You, guys, crack me up.

  14. olegt: What does it even mean for the sky to be “actually blue?” It’s about human perception. It’s trivially true that humans perceive the sky to be blue.

    You, guys, crack me up.

    I used KN’s example. It represents the truth/provisionality issue, it isn’t supposed to be taken as an actual example of scientific claims/theory. It’s simpler than posing the issue as “in our best scientific models, gravity appears to be the result of the curvature of space-time, but it may not actually be a curvature of space-time that produces the effects we call gravity”.

    If the curvature of space-time model of gravity is X, one cannot both say (rationally) X is true (it is actually a curvature of space-time that causes the effects we call gravity) and say that X may not be true. X is either asserted as true, OR one can assert that X may not be true. You cannot have it both ways.

  15. Actually, what you would say is that for a known range of conditions, the equations of general relativity will always give the correct answer.

  16. Actually, what you would say is that for a known range of conditions, the equations of general relativity will always give the correct answer.

    Exactly. That’s an assertion about the efficacy of a model in generating independently reproducible data.

  17. Philosophical arguments about the nature of truth are interesting, but what concerns me are the practical consequences of discounting science when making public policy.

    From an AP Poll

    Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith.

    Ignoring science in favor of revealed truth when setting public policy has moral consequences: if one rejects man-made climate change, or the effectiveness of vaccines, then one is behaving in a way that will cause needless suffering.

  18. William J. Murray,

    There are two basic knots or twists in your thinking that are leading you astray.

    The first is that you’re thinking of “is true” as a property of the object, whereas it is a property of the proposition about the object.

    The second is that you’re not appreciating the power of the redundancy theory of truth. Basically, the idea is that a commitment to the truth of a proposition is implicit in the act of asserting that proposition:

    ‘P’ is true if and only if P.

    So we’re not affirming and denying the property of being true to the object; we’re saying that the proposition about the object is a warranted assertion, but not necessarily so. For all contingent assertions, it is possible that the assertion is false. That’s all that we’re saying here.

    You’re creating logical paradoxes where there aren’t any because there are basic distinctions between different types of syntactical function — predication, quantification, and modality — that you’re not willing to recognize.

    (For the experts: I don’t think that a redundancy theory of truth is completely right, but I do think that a prosentential theory of truth is the only semantic account of truth that we need. Whether we need non-semantic accounts of truth is another question!)

  19. William J. Murray: 2. The sky is blue, but may not be blue.

    I took KN to be saying: We assert that the sky is blue, but it may not be blue.

    There’s no logic problem there. It is just as recognition that our assertions, even when made on the best of evidence, could be mistaken.

  20. Neil Rickert: I took KN to be saying: We assert that the sky is blue, but it may not be blue.

    There’s no logic problem there. It is just as recognition that our assertions, even when made on the best of evidence, could be mistaken.

    Yes. Even more precisely: “it is reasonable, on the basis of current evidence, to assert that X is the case, but it may be reasonable, on the basis of future evidence, to deny that X is the case”

    Since the provisional character of empirical inquiry takes into account that inquiry is diachronic (historical), the PNC is not violated, since the PNC only says that one ought not to assert, for any proposition P, both P and ~P.

    (Here I’m taking “asserting” and “asserting as true” to be the same thing, though that’s controversial.)

  21. Bill Clinton: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

    KN said:

    The first is that you’re thinking of “is true” as a property of the object, whereas it is a property of the proposition about the object.

    Then since I defined truth in the O.P. as:

    For the purposes of this debate, “truth” = “models purported to be actual conditions of reality”.

    you agree with me that science says nothing about truth as defined in the O.P.

    Neil said:

    It is just as recognition that our assertions, even when made on the best of evidence, could be mistaken.

    Assertions can be worded to included provisions and conditions. The value of any assertion is dependent upon how well it is worded.

    “Is” doesn’t mean “probably is”, or “might be”, or “might not be”, or “provisionally accepted”. “Is” statements about things are not statements about the beliefs of the person making the statement, although they may reveal things about their beliefs. “The Earth is 6000 years old” is a declarative truth-statement about the object – the Earth – not about the state of one’s current, provisional scientific model about the age of the Earth. It doesn’t contain any terms that imply the statement is either provisional or conditional.

    The statement “the Earth is 6000 years old” is a truth-claim about some condition of reality. Or, are you going to pull a Clinton-esque equivocation about the meaning of “is”? Yes, the claim might be wrong, but if one wishes to qualify their statement to include the potential for it being untrue, they should say “Current scientific models indicate…” or “It is my opinion that the Earth is …”

    You and KN might always intend your truth-claims to be hedged as conditional and/or provisional, but then I suggest the way you employ the term “truth” is problematic. We already have a term for the provisional and conditional: scientific fact or theory, and the word “opinion”.

    Are the two of you attempting to eliminate any term that is intended to be a claim about an actual condition of reality – the thing in itself, claimed as true without supposed intended qualification? If not, what term – other than “truth” or “true” (such as, X is true) – would you prefer be used when making a non-provisional, unqualified assertion about something?

  22. However, I’m perfectly content to leave the debate at Neil & KN claiming that these two statements:

    1. X is true
    2. X may not be true

    … are not mutually exclusive assertions.

  23. keiths:

    “Truth claims about reality” can be provisional.

    William:

    No, they cannot… X is Y and X may not be Y are two incompatible statements about X. You can either claim a thing is true, or you can claim it may or may not be true. You can’t have it both ways and abide the principle of non-contradiction.

    William,

    I claim that you’re a human. I base that claim on good evidence, and it seems true beyond any reasonable doubt. However, I can’t absolutely rule out that you’re an alien or an advanced computer program capable of passing the Turing test. Indeed, future evidence might convince me that you are not human.

    That is what it means to say that “truth claims about reality” can be provisional. “William is human” is a truth claim, but it can be overturned by new evidence — it is provisional.

  24. KN,

    Rather, the provisional character of truth-claims is rendered as, “P, but possibly not-P”. And if you want to make this more clear in predicate (rather than sentential) logic, it would appear as: “there exists an x such that Px, but possibly not-Px.” This would be incoherent only if the following inference-rule were the case: “for all x, if Px, then necessarily Px.”

    I disagree with that. The provisional nature of scientific truth claims is better rendered as “almost certainly P, but possibly not-P”, or “probably P, but possibly not-P”.

    “P but possibly not-P” is a contradiction, because P is being asserted unconditionally.

  25. keiths: The provisional nature of scientific truth claims is better rendered as “almost certainly P, but possibly not-P”, or “probably P, but possibly not-P”.

    Here we’re exceeding the limits of my knowledge, because how we represent formally probabilistic reasoning is not one of my areas. But I don’t disagree with that way of putting it.

  26. The huge problem with what William is saying is that there simply are no non-contingent “truths” at all. We could be wrong about everything, except possibly about something existing and ruminating. It’s Descartes all over again, maybe I can say that “I exist,” or at least that the thought “I exist” exists at times (cogito isn’t exactly as simple as he thought, but something’s happening), and if we don’t credit his sensing of infinity “clearly and distinctly” (and how could we?), everything but the bare persistence (“existence” is another word that raises a lot questions of meaning) of some mentation at times is contingent upon matters that can’t be pinned down with absolute truth and certitude.

    If “mentation happens” is all that can be called truth, well, what’s the point anyway? It’s not that science doesn’t give us absolute truth and something else does, it’s that we simply don’t have access to absolute truth, except probably some version of the cogito. Math is said to be the realm of “proof,” where certainties do prevail–oh, except for the fact that all of those certainties are based upon assumptions that can’t be proven, hence we’re back to contingent “truths.”

    As for this:

    For the purposes of this debate, “truth” = “models purported to be actual conditions of reality”.

    It doesn’t yield meaning, except perhaps that any model is truth so long as it purports to be the actual conditions of reality (really?). If it’s supposed to mean that a model can only be truth if it certainly does model the actual conditions of reality, such certainty is impossible.

    Science doesn’t give us truth as William would define “truth,” that seems to be clear. But by the same standards “truth” hardly has the meaning that people give to it, since we “speak the truth” in court and in science, and have no business doing otherwise.

    We know that “standards” can always be made too high to reach, but what purpose does this ever serve, except as someone’s attempt to put one over on others? Science doesn’t measure up to someone’s “standard of truth”? That’s the problem of that person, not of science, since science supplies all sorts of truths that we rely upon, using more conventional and useful measures of truth.

    Glen Davidson

  27. William J. Murray: Bill Clinton: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

    Bill Clinton was right. The meaning of “is” can be dependent on context.

    The statement “the Earth is 6000 years old” is a truth-claim about some condition of reality.

    It is not that simple.

    The truth of the statement depends on some conditions of reality. But it also depends on questions of concept and meaning.

    The YEC bases his concept of time on claimed historical records of past events. The scientist has a very different basis for time.

    “The earth is 6000 years old” and “the earth is 4.5 billion years old” could both be true, as long as we use the YEC conception of time for the first and the physicist’s conception of time for the second.

    Your way of looking at things depends on rigidly fixed meanings for all words, on rigidly fixed concepts. We don’t have that. Rather, we have concepts that are refined over time, and some where revolutionary conceptual change occurs.

    You and KN might always intend your truth-claims to be hedged as conditional and/or provisional, but then I suggest the way you employ the term “truth” is problematic.

    You see it as hedging truth claims. I see it as recognizing the significance of conceptual change.

  28. Neil Rickert,

    The question you and I keep circling around on, Neil, is whether there is any good sense to the question as to whether a conceptual framework is, as such, more or less adequate map of reality.

    Carnap, with whom a few of you might be familiar, famously distinguished between “internal questions” and “external questions”. Ontological questions, such as “are there hoofed mammals?” are ‘internal’ to the choice of a conceptual framework. If we use the framework of biology, then yes. But the question, “shall we use the framework of biology?” is not itself an ontological question — it’s a practical one as to which framework is expedient, useful, etc.

    In this fashion, Carnap proposes to do away with traditional metaphysics, because the question, “which frameworks are more or less adequate to reality than others?” is not a question that Carnap thinks makes any sense.

    By contrast, Sellars thinks that this question does make sense, and he attempts to answer it. I’m not thrilled with his answers in any major regards, but Sellars was right about this: the viability of scientific realism depends upon whether or not the question “given the history of conceptual change, are any frameworks more adequate to reality than others?” makes sense.

  29. Neil,

    The YEC bases his concept of time on claimed historical records of past events. The scientist has a very different basis for time.

    “The earth is 6000 years old” and “the earth is 4.5 billion years old” could both be true, as long as we use the YEC conception of time for the first and the physicist’s conception of time for the second.

    YECs and scientists agree that a year is the time required for the earth to orbit the sun once. They have a common basis for time, but they disagree on how much time has elapsed since the earth was formed.

    The YECs are simply wrong. “The earth is 6000 years old” is not true in terms of that common basis for time.

  30. Glen,

    The huge problem with what William is saying is that there simply are no non-contingent “truths” at all.

    That’s right. William thinks that truth claims aren’t provisional unless they are couched in explicitly tentative terms, which is ridiculous. No one is going to append “probably” or “in my opinion” to every single statement he or she makes.

    What’s especially funny is that William has been violating his own rule throughout this thread by making truth claims without qualifying them.

    William, slow down and think.

  31. keiths: YECs and scientists agree that a year is the time required for the earth to orbit the sun once. They have a common basis for time, but they disagree on how much time has elapsed since the earth was formed.

    No, that does not make for a common basis for time. At most, it is a common basis for contemporary time. There is no agreement on how to extrapolate that backward to much earlier times.

  32. Neil Rickert: No, that does not make for a common basis for time.At most, it is a common basis for contemporary time.There is no agreement on how to extrapolate that backward to much earlier times.

    “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”

    If one day equals a thousand years, then 6000 years is 2,190,000,000 science years.

    Or if one night (half day) is like a thousand years, it’s 4,380,000,000 years.

    😉

  33. Kantian Naturalist: The question you and I keep circling around on, Neil, is whether there is any good sense to the question as to whether a conceptual framework is, as such, more or less adequate map of reality.

    I have not read a lot of Carnap, and I have read very little of Sellars. So I’ll go by your description.

    Based on that, I am probably closer to Carnap’s position.

    Given two conceptual frameworks, F1 and F2, let’s say that F2 > F1 if F2 is more adequate than F1.

    Then I’d agree that for some pairs, (F1,F2) we can say that F2 > F1. But I see it as, at most, a partial ordering. There will be pairs of frameworks for which it makes no sense to ask if one is more adequate than the other.

    This is really the debate going on at UD and Sandwalk — or at least it is an analogue of that debate. Dawkins says that if we could rewind the tape of life, and then try again, we would get about the same biosphere. Larry Moran (and Gould) says that there are too many contingencies and we would likely get a very different biosphere.

    The analog is rewinding the tape of civilization. I’m taking the Larry Moran position. If it were to be tried again, there are many contingencies and we would likely wind up with conceptual frameworks that could not be compared to those we have now.

    As I see it, our notion of realism need to be detached from requiring specific frameworks.

    If our main concern is whether science is making progress, then I don’t suppose it matters. As long as science is following an approximation of an ordered chain of frameworks, it is making progress.

    My main concern, however, is with understanding human cognition. And there, it does make a difference. From one perspective (presumably the Sellars view), cognition mainly needs way of refining frameworks to make them better. From the other perspective, cognition requires ways of inventing wholly new frameworks. In particular, creativity becomes far more important.

  34. Neil,

    No, that does not make for a common basis for time. At most, it is a common basis for contemporary time. There is no agreement on how to extrapolate that backward to much earlier times.

    Are you aware of any YECs who don’t think that the earth is young in terms of “contemporary time”?

    I haven’t encountered a single YEC who thinks that the length of a year has changed dramatically since the earth was created.

    In fact, they try to use the uniformity of processes over time as an argument against an old earth. See this, for example.

  35. petrushka,

    If one day equals a thousand years, then 6000 years is 2,190,000,000 science years.

    Or if one night (half day) is like a thousand years, it’s 4,380,000,000 years.

    😉

    You’re not doing the ID math right. Let Bill Dembski show you how it’s done:

    For instance, the Scriptures teach that with God a day is as a thousand years. But if a day is as a thousand years, then each day in a thousand years is itself a thousand years. Thus, if you run the numbers, a day with God is also as 365 million years. Follow the math to its logical conclusion, and with God an instant is an eternity.

  36. Neil,

    I’m disputing this statement of yours:

    “The earth is 6000 years old” and “the earth is 4.5 billion years old” could both be true, as long as we use the YEC conception of time for the first and the physicist’s conception of time for the second.

    YECs and scientists agree that the earth orbits the sun once a year, and that the duration of the year has not significantly changed over the last several thousand years.

    The two statements you quoted cannot both be true in terms of this common understanding of what the word “year” means.

  37. Neil Rickert: The question does not make sense.

    I think it means 24 hour days with no thousand year expansions. There are lots of flavors of creationism.

  38. keiths,

    YECs do not agree with the use of tree rings for determining dates. They do not agree with the use of lake varves for determining dates. They do not agree with the use of geological strata for determining dates. The do not agree with dating methods based on radioactivity.

  39. But they do agree that the earth orbits the sun once per year. A year means the same thing to them as it does to scientists. It’s just that the YECs believe there have only been several thousand of them since the earth was created, while scientists know better.

  40. Glen Davidson said:

    If it’s supposed to mean that a model can only be truth if it certainly does model the actual conditions of reality, such certainty is impossible.

    Whether or not the model is actually true is irrelevant to the point of the argument. The argument is about the claim of truth, not whether or not the model is actually true. As I said, if everyone here agrees that the two assertions:

    1) X is true
    2) X may not be true

    … are not mutually exclusive, I’m happy to leave it at that.

  41. William,

    As I said, if everyone here agrees that the two assertions:

    1) X is true
    2) X may not be true

    … are not mutually exclusive, I’m happy to leave it at that.

    We don’t all agree on that. See this, this and this.

  42. I think that one source of confusion here is that formal logic is usually used as a binary. Absolutely true vs. absolutely false. That’s how computers work, etc.

    That doesn’t change the fact that we know that we don’t reach 100% certainty. Premises are often begun by “if,” so that, for instance, if Euclid’s fifth postulate is true the Pythagorean theorem is proved by it and by other “if” statements (I believe that we see axioms as rather less certain than many Greek thinkers did, however). Nevertheless, it’s a postulate, and both Riemann and Lobachevsky thought that it might not be true, and did geometry with other postulates. As it happens, we can send up rockets using geometry treating Euclid’s fifth postulate as true, since it apparently holds true on smaller scales, and more recently it’s been said that the universe itself is “flat,” hence Euclidean geometry presumably works well enough on all scales.

    In most formal logic we must assign certainty that we don’t have for it to work properly. In formal logic, of course

    1) X is true
    2) X may not be true

    is senseless, but we know very well that Euclid’s fifth postulate has to be treated as 100% certain to do geometric proofs with it, while it’s still an “if” statement. “If” Euclid’s fifth is true (at least for our purposes), then many proofs incorporate it to show iron-clad certainty–but only if our assumptions hold. It can be called equivocation or whatever one wishes to call it, but it’s how things actually work, we have no excuse to pretend absolute truth for our assumptions, yet we can treat some pretty good inferences as if they were true and come up with some pretty amazing results.

    There’s just something odd about arguing all of this, though. Many of us have been there and done that, we’re used to treating things “as if” they were 100% certain without in the least supposing that they actually are. That is, we can do formal logic without supposing that the premises used are in fact indubitably true. Yes, there’s that whiff of philosophy 101 in William’s objections, so let’s get stoned and think about how math and science aren’t absolute yet hugely productive. A lot of premises are in fact so reliable that we do treat them as if they were complete truth, but of course we in fact are in a way brains in vats, since all our thinking selves, our brains, are simply fed nutrients, oxygen, and sensory data that the brain itself can never check against truth, or even against “real world” probabilities.

    We know all of that. It’s not a problem, even if some people cavil over it.

    Glen Davidson

  43. William,

    Keiths,

    I’m happy to leave those equivocations as-is.

    If those were equivocations, then you’d be able to demonstrate it.

    Instead, you’ll run away as usual.

  44. Neil Rickert: My main concern, however, is with understanding human cognition. And there, it does make a difference. From one perspective (presumably the Sellars view), cognition mainly needs way of refining frameworks to make them better. From the other perspective, cognition requires ways of inventing wholly new frameworks. In particular, creativity becomes far more important.

    I certainly don’t intend to deny the importance of creativity!

    One salient difference here is which moment of the whole cognitive process we’re talking about: the prospective, forward-looking phase of hypothesis-generation, or the retrospective, backward-looking phase of hypothesis-evaluation (after a hypothesis has been successfully tested and holds up in light of testing).

    The other difference bears on what, in my view, is the main difference between science and other cultural practices. In all sorts of cultural practices — art, philosophy, music, poetry, and so on — we find divergence and proliferation as new techniques are invented, new possibilities of experience are disclosed, new systems of thought and feeling are developed, and so on. Whereas in science, I would gladly contend, there is also convergence as we figure out more and more about how the world really is.

  45. I would like to distinguish here between the following questions:

    (1) what does the model say?
    (2) on what basis should accept a given model over others?
    (3) what should say about a model that we have been found to be preferable to other models?

    I don’t see it as problematic that responses to (1) will take the form of unqualified assertions.

    The debate between constructive empiricism, instrumentalism, and scientific realism all hinges on (3).

  46. Kantian Naturalist: One salient difference here is which moment of the whole cognitive process we’re talking about: the prospective, forward-looking phase of hypothesis-generation, or the retrospective, backward-looking phase of hypothesis-evaluation (after a hypothesis has been successfully tested and holds up in light of testing).

    You cannot form hypotheses until you have concepts. I’m looking earlier than that, at questions of concept formation.

    Kantian Naturalist: The other difference bears on what, in my view, is the main difference between science and other cultural practices. In all sorts of cultural practices — art, philosophy, music, poetry, and so on — we find divergence and proliferation as new techniques are invented, new possibilities of experience are disclosed, new systems of thought and feeling are developed, and so on. Whereas in science, I would gladly contend, there is also convergence as we figure out more and more about how the world really is.

    I suspect that has mainly to do with the way that science has been institutionalized as a cooperative venture.

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