Review: God’s Undertaker – Has Science Buried God?

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 30th, 2008

by John C. Lennox

I have fixed feelings about this book. His two central arguments are:

1) Science is not incompatible with God.
2) Scientific evidence supports the existence of God; this is the Intelligent Design argument.

I have limited agreement with the first point and I disagree with the second.

The book is an interesting read and covers a great deal of material. It also attempts to address common criticisms such as God of the Gaps and Occam’s Razor (in the chapter “The complexity of God: a fatal objection?”). On the negative side, the explanation of science is hopelessly biased to ensure the author gets the desired outcome – straw man attacks abound. The most controversial chapters are near the end of the book, including those addressing ID and criticism of ID. Presumably he hopes the reader is worn down in earlier chapters to accept things without question. He also constantly confuses the issue of the origin of life and Darwinism. Darwinism is not concerned with the origin of life!

From my experience, you will find the core argument of most ID books, including this one, to be:
1) Either natural selection is correct or there is an intelligent designer.
2) Natural selection is false.
3) Therefore an intelligent designer (God) exists.

First off, statement 1 is a false dilemma. I could equally say “natural selection or pan-dimensional mice did it” or “natural selection or the brain in a vat scenario”. Both are more likely from a scientific view.

Secondly, this is an argument from ignorance. Lack of evidence to support evolution (or “gaps”) is not disproof of evolution. Personal disbelief is not disproof of anything. If there was empirical disproof of evolution, that does not automatically provide support for any alternative theory.

The author does argue scientific evidence points toward the existence of God. The argument is something like (forgive any straw men): A cell containing DNA is like a computer with a program. The program runs in a deterministic way and cannot itself produce any novelty (“information”) that is not already expressed in its DNA. Since DNA is passed from generation to the next, no new information is added and no progress is possible. This argument is relatively new to me.

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this argument. The most obvious one is cells (or life forms) do not exist in an empty world – their survival is dependent on the cells characteristics in context with their environment. Natural selection transfers information from the environment into DNA by the process of elimination i.e. those less adapted do not have their DNA transferred into their offspring. The DNA itself is not the selection mechanism!

Another dubious point is this argument is a based on information theory which is mathematical in nature. Mathematical knowledge is a priori. Empirical knowledge is a posteriori. You cannot say physical process X is impossible because of mathematical theory Y! It is only through observation that we see mathematics sometimes reflects physical reality. If we choose the wrong mathematical model, it is not applicable to reality. I already outlined about why this model does not apply to natural selection. (The author also seems to think science is inductive – which I find a bit weird. See the section on perpetual motion.)

Finally, his rebuttal of Occam’s razor:

“The deeper down you probe into the ultimate nature of the structure of the universe, the more complex it becomes.” “If Richard Dawkins objects to the complexity of God as an ultimate explanation in terms of concepts like ‘energy’ since we do not really understand them”

First, tu quoque! If particle physics is “complex”, what has that to do with the “simplicity” of God? Secondly, the idea that fundamental particles (e.g. quarks) are more complex that compound materials (e.g. atoms) is nonsensical: atoms contain quarks! Therefore individual quarks are more simple! Third, he does nothing to address my point that God is the maximally complex hypothesis.

To conclude: a fun read … but the reader should beware! If I had to point out every fallacy, we would be here for the rest of our natural lives.

Anti Citizen One

PS I think I will read Nietzsche to unwind… I need the cobwebs removed lol

“Never send a man to do a machine’s job.”

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 29th, 2008

I found references to a “Fascinating (and long: 117-page) paper on ethical implications of robots in war.”

Hollywood often portray robotic soldiers as being very unreliable – but is that any worse than the humans currently in war zones?

Anti Citizen One

Liebniz – God’s chosen world

Posted by on January 26th, 2008

Following on from AC1’s really stimulating post on the search for the “now” I thought i’d post a series of short articles on freedom and determinism within the context of Philosophy of Religion and ‘Eternalism‘.

Eternalism is a theory that models ‘time’ as a dimension in physics with a similar ontology to space. In other words there is no objective flow to time, no past, present and future, in the sense that future events are “aready here”. It is also called “Block Time/Universe” theory. Anyway I can’t do justice to the full theory in this short post so please follow the above link and wiki the term for more information.

This theory has implications for our views of free will, for if the future is “fixed” and unalterable in much the same way as the past is then the events we experience as being within “time” are to a degree determined.

By no means does this theory by itself imply a creator God, or posit any divinity at all. But this theory is compatible with a theistic/deistic eternalism. St Augustine apparently wrote about God being outside of time – a model that would suggest he views the universe as a “Block Universe”.

In this post I want to consider Liebniz’s (1646-1716) view. His view was that God was an eternal and infinite mind who saw and determined everything in the created order and who had chosen to make the world exactly as it is. This is not creationism by the way, the theory could/should fit with an evolutionary mechanism – indeed a theistic “Block Universe” theory would necessitate such a view. Looking at the world as a “whole” Liebniz argues that because one thing may be incompatible with or dependent upon another, a change in any one individual thing ion the world would require that everything else be changed as well. In other words, there may be a number of possible worlds, in which things are quite different from those we find in this one, but within this particular world, everything has to be as it is. In addition, since he believed that it would have been possible for God to have created any sort of world, he argued that – since God chose to create this one – it must be the best possible. There follow two things from this.

1- Within this word we cannot predict exactly what will happen, since we do not have God’s infinite mind and therefore cannot see the way everything works together. Therefore, not knwoing that we are completely determined, we actually experience ourselves as free. In other words (not Leibniz’s) freedom is not knowing all the reasons why you do what you do.

2- A world within which there is human free will, and in which ther can therefore be the evil and suffering that come from its misuse, is to be judged better than a world which lacks freedom but is free from its evils. He argued this on the grounds that a perfect God would create the best of all possible worlds.

But notive here that there is still a great difference between what is experienced (freedom) and what is actually the case (a world totally determined by the mind of God). How can these be related in such a way that the one does no undermind the other? Kant attempts to respond to this and I will save this for another post.

Thanks to Mel Thompson for the above ideas, extracted and adapted from his book “Religion and Science”.

Some things strike me about Liebniz’s form of eternalism/block universe theory. Particularly a radical re-evaluation of the problem of evil is required. God’s good is not our good. Or more accurately human concepts of good and evil are subjective and relative notions that arise from our being within space-time and our inabiity to process all the facts (all in the infinite sense).

It is also interesting to note that Leibniz influenced Einstein. He suggested (independent of Newtonian calculus) that “an object’s ability to do work was proportional to the square of its speed, rather than its speed alone” thus of course squaring an objects speed was a vital part of Einsteins thinking.

Overlapping Language Games and Misinformation

Posted by on January 26th, 2008

A keen and very bitter debate is underway that highlights the dangers of overlapping language games and misinformation and misinterpretation.

A statement by certain scientists has attacked the Catholic Bishops Conference for spreading lies and misinformation in order to promote their opposition to animal-human hybrid experimentation. The controversy centres around an information pack published by the Bishops Conference for use in each parish and includes within it a statement that in some cases has been read from the pulpit decrying the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.

According to the scientists there are blatant inaccuracies being reported misrepresenting both their position and their intentions. In specific the scientists argue hybrid embryos which have been designed to provide stem cells to treat human diseases are not half-animal half-human hybrids as has been suggested. Nor does it involve the cross fertilisation of a human egg with animal sperm as it is claimed the Bishops statement declared. Rather an animal egg with its nucleus removed and replaced with that from a human cell will create an embryo that possesses 99.9% of human DNA. And of course the embryos once harvested would be terminated and will not be allowed to gestate and develop full-term.

On a superficial investigation of the competing documents it would look to my opinion as though some form of wilful misinformation has been propagated by the Bishops Conference and clearly despite the ethics of the issue (which I am deliberately avoiding discussion of) such misinformation serves no good to anyone.

However if we scratch under the surface it would appear that the scientists reaction has been hasty and perhaps unfair. According to a spokesperson for the Church the documents prepared by the Bishops Conference are intended to highlight along with ethical objections overall to the research also specific problems with the scope of the proposed legislation. Thus talk of half-human half-animal hybrids express the fears of a procedural deterioration – a sort of slippery slope argument (a rhetorical device) that speculates on the extreme scenarios that ambigous legislation can entail. Particular attention is focused on clause 4 of the legislation that allows licenses to be given for the creation of hybrid and “interspecies” embryos which the bill defines as “an embryo created by using human gametes and animal gametes” – this according to the Bishops spokesmen includes half-animal half-human.

Reaction to this controversy has been mixed, with some editorials criticizing the scientists for getting wound up over challenges to their authority “This reflects a growing tendency to demonise anyone who doesn’t buy into their brave new world”. (Daily Mail editorial).

If a genuine and wilful misinterpretation has taken place then it must be condemned as a rhetorical gambit in an ethical debate. If on the contrary the Bishops statement is a more general attack on the idea of embryo research and a speculation as to teleological consequences – including extreme outcomes (which is consistent with their long-term view) then any criticism is misguided.

Is this a free-speech issue as some journalists are proposing? Could scientists say in all honesty that they would not if the legislation permitted at some point in the future push the boundaries of their research and create half-human half-animal hybrids – and thus fulfil the doomsday scenario that the Bishops present?

Clearly it would be unfair to expect those scientists currently engaged in the research – who explicitly claim this is not their intention – that they would not go that far – to commit or restrict their colleagues future research programmes in this way.

In my opinion then the “crime” here then has been twofold. The Bishops have been wilfully ambiguous – whilst expressing a valid range of concerns and objectionable scenarios imlicit in the text of the legislation – they have done so at the cost of directly discussing the current research proposals. Consequently the scientists involved in this research feel that their specific intentions have been ignored and they have been accused of doing something that they are not. A valid self-defence without a doubt but an overly sensitive response to a broader critical review.

This provides an interest insight into the differing ways in which science and religion work. Science is particular and reductionist, whereas Religion is general and holistic. These researchers have a specific aim and method and require legislation to allow them to proceed. The Bishops object not only to the specifics of this research but to all such research and thus refer to any number of potential undesirable outcomes.

It seems to me therefore that this is fast becoming less of an ethics issue and more about rhetoric (for both sides). Which alas if it is the case raises up the spectre of misinformation and false propaganda. And in the long run when we consider the financial and political interests that are closely connected with what we may call ‘institutional science’ the recourse to rhetorical argument and name calling by both sides will only damage the liberty to open debate that allows ethicists of whatever opinion to freely state arguments for and against any given area of research. And that scenario where informed debate becomes wholly stifled is a very worrying one indeed.

In Search of the “Now”

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 24th, 2008

I attended a talk by Oliver Pooley on time and our understanding of it in light of relativity and quantum mechanics. I will try to outline some of the themes although the quantum mechanics part is probably beyond my grasp.

As usual, there is terminology problems as several different views are contained in two terms.

Presentism: the view that the present is real. Some presentists hold that the past is also real. The present is metaphysically special and shared with all observers and is objective. This is the common sense view of time.

Eternalism: the view that the past, present and future are equally real. The present time is a subjective part of the greater whole of what is real.

When we start introducing modern ideas of science into our understanding of time, we begin to find some things that seem counter intuitive. For example, the speed of light is finite. If we see a light bulb being turned on in our house, we might say “I just say the bulb being switched on” – although this is only an approximation to the truth. We are used to what we see as being the state of the world at the present time – rather like Berkeley’s view of perception giving things reality. Of course, since we are separated by some distance, we each perceive objects at different times and the present time becomes subjective.

What about stars? Since light from the closest star (apart from the sun) takes 4.37 years to travel to the Earth, what we see certainly is not in the present time. It is necessary to add this time delay to our statements. If the star exploded, when we saw it we might say “that star exploded 4.37 years ago”.

Things start getting confusing when we have observers with different relative velocities. Imagine we have a train passing through a station. At the moment the train in the middle of the station, a light at the mid-point of the train is turned on. This light travels away from the source like an expanding sphere. An observer on the train sees it arrive at the end of the train at same moment as it arrives at the start – this is as we might expect.

relativity.png

What is unexpected is an observer on the platform sees the light travel from the middle of the train towards the first and last carriage. BUT the end of the train is moving toward the observer AND the front of the train is moving away. This makes the light appear to reach the end of the train before it reaches the front!

The conclusion is that simultaneity is only relative to each observer, if they are moving with different speeds. It is unsurprising that this theory is called (special) relativity! Since we cannot agree what events are simultaneous, we cannot then say there is an objective “now”.

The general theory is too lengthy to go into here but it also hints at Eternalism. Quantum Mechanics is too mind boggling to attempt to describe. I regard QM as a work in progress. QM suggests many different possibilities ranging from Presentism to the reality of Past/Present and All Possible Futures! Since QM and relativity are incompatible, work is actively being done on this subject.

As they said in the computer game Half-Life 2:

I trust it will all make sense in the course of.. well.. I am really not at liberty to say.

Anti Citizen One

Theological Debate the Mongolian Way

Posted by on January 24th, 2008

William of Rubruck was a Flemish missionary and explorer. In 1253 he set out from Constantinople to convert the Tatar Mongols. In 1254 he met the Khan. He provided an account of his travels and the events that occured and it is considered a masterpiece of medieval geographical literature.

Whilst in the Khan’s court he was asked to debate Buddhist and Muslim scholars in order to discern whose Faith was the true one. A judge was appointed to consider each case. A large crowd gathered and as was common to this culture vast quantities of alcohol were consumed. Here follows a brief overview of the debate, if only all theology and philosophy of religion was done this way!

“No side seemed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent mediation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.” —Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, p. 173

And the Double-Think Award Goes To… Canada!

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 21st, 2008

Canada recently disclosed an internal government document that listed the US and Israel as states that practice torture. The Canadian government has since been in back pedal mode and withdrawn the accusation.

The Canadian foreign minster has said:

“I regret the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual used in the department’s torture awareness training”

“It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies.”

“I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten. The manual is neither a policy document nor a statement of policy. As such, it does not convey the Government’s views or positions.”

You might notice that they did not say “The United States does not torture detainees.” They did say the list “wrongly includes some of our closest allies”. This might imply they should not be on the list because they are allies!

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”

Anti Citizen One

Some concluding thoughts on Feyerabend

Posted by on January 18th, 2008

One of Feyerabend’s themes is that there is no common structure to the sciences; individuals may assert that there is, but an analysis of the history of science shows how impressively ad hoc the development of science has been. This is not exploited as a criticism of science, per se, but rather identified as a strength: it argues against placing restrictions and limits on the spirit of open inquiry that underlies science:

His relativistic “meta-methodology” was summarized thus:

“(A) the way in which scientific problems are attacked and solved depends on the circumstances in which they arise, the (formal, experimental, ideological) means available at the time and the wishes of those dealing with them. There are no lasting boundary conditions of scientific research.

(B) the way in which problems of society and the interactions of cultures are attacked and solved also depends on the circumstances in which they arise, the means available at the time and the wishes of those dealing with them. There are no lasting boundary conditions of human action.

Thus he criticises the view:

“(C) that science and humanity must conform to conditions that can be determined independently of personal wishes and cultural circumstances.”

And also the assumption:

“(D) that it is possible to solve problems from afar, without participating in the activities of the people concerned.

Finally, Feyerabend pointedly distinguishes between abstract traditions and historical traditions:

“Historical traditions cannot be understood from afar. Their assumptions, their possibilities, the (often unconscious) wishes of their bearers can be found only by immersion, i.e. one must live the life one wants to change. Neither (C) nor (D) apply to historical traditions… my main objections against intellectual solutions of social problems is that they start from a narrow cultural background, ascribe universal validity to it and use power to impose it on others. Is it surprising that I want to have nothing to do with such ratiofascistic dreams? Helping people does not mean kicking them around until they end up in someone else’s paradise, helping people means trying to introduce change as a friend, as a person, that is, who can identify with their wisdom as well as with their follies and who is sufficiently mature to let the latter prevail: an abstract discussion of the lives of people I do not know and with whose situation I am not familiar is not only a waste of time, it is also inhumane and impertinent.

Furthermore:

I say that Auschwitz is an extreme manifestation of an attitude that still thrives in our midst. It shows itself in the treatment of minorities in industrial democracies; in education… which most of the time consists in turning wonderful young people into colourless and self-righteous copies of their teachers… it shows itself in the killing of nature and of ‘primitive’ cultures with never a thought spent on those thus deprived of meaning for their lives; in the colossal conceit of our intellectuals, their belief that they know precisely what humanity needs and their relentless efforts to recreate people in their own, sorry image… in the lack of feeling of many so-called searchers for truth who systematically torture animals, study their discomfort and receive prizes for their cruelty.

As far as I am concerned there exists no difference whatsoever between the henchmen of Auschwitz and these ‘benefactors of mankind’ – life is misused for special purposes in both cases. The problem is the growing disregard from spiritual values and their replacement by a crude but ‘scientific’ materialism, occasionally even called humanism: man (i.e. humans as trained by their experts) can solve all problems – they do not need any trust in and any assistance from other agencies. How can I take a person seriously who bemoans distant crimes but praises the criminals in his own neighbourhood? And how cna I decide a case from afar after seeing that reality is richer than even the most wonderful imagination.”

From the concluding chapter of Farewell to Reason.


Feyerabend: a students perspective

Posted by on January 18th, 2008

Feyerabend was once labelled the ‘greatest enemy of science’ a title that in his later life he took pride in (he was an iconoclast by nature), but which midway through his career threw him into an enormous depression. The roots of his depression and the crass insults he had to suffer for daring to challenge the orthodox view of science were based substantially upon the misunderstanding of his work. One of the ‘problems’ with his writings is the speed with which he moves from clear point to reductio- thus without a careful reading his supporters and detractors often (myself included) end up reading the reductio as though it were his point of view. Consequently since his death with the major retrospective his work is enjoying – one philosopher going so far as to say that minus the iconoclasms he has been wholly rehabilitated – there has been a scramble to make sense of all of his work in its complexity. Subsequently a great deal of focus has been attached to the interpretations of his best students (themselves now noteworthy academics). What follows are some thoughts of Gonzalo Munevar – a one time student of Feyerabends – and now a Proffessor in his own right.

What are Feyerabends greatest contributions?

Contrary to being an enemy of science Feyerabend showed how complex and humane science is and ought to be. Of his many contributions, perhaps the most important is that there is no method or rule that can capture science completely. The most excellent idea about the nature of science has to allow exceptions. When we look at the history of science, we discover not only that the great scientists violated the methods proposed by the empiricists, but that they had to violate them, otherwise they would not have secured the great successes through which we know them today.

– Until Feyerabend and Kuhn it was supposed that scientific rationality adhered to certain methodological rules. That science was a shining beacon of rationality. Those rules were inductive. The philosophical problem was that even though we “knew” that such scientific method produced knowledge, we could not prove it. Karl Popper argued that the problem came from thinking erroneously that induction was the method of science. We just needed to realize that science was based instead on the method of trial and error. But Feyerabend’s analysis of the history of science demonstrated that adherence to all proposed methods, from Francis Bacon’s to Popper’s, would impede the progress of science. To progress, then, science needs to act against method from time to time.

The reason is very simple. All varieties of empiricism assume that experience determines the worth of our scientific ideas. This assumption is presumably justified because through experience scientists learn directly what is written on the book of nature. For example, if all observers see a stone fall vertically, the vertical motion of the stone is an immediate or direct truth given by observation – an immediate truth with which our most profound hypotheses about the world must agree. If a hypothesis implies that the stone does not fall vertically, our observations, our experience will then refute it. Unfortunately for empiricism, as Feyerabend reminds us, the Copernican hypothesis claims that the earth rotates on its axis to give us the day-night cycle, and this claim is refuted by the vertical fall of the stone.

– Munevar goes on to explain why this isnt a problem in the end for Galileo. We rejoin it after the explanation.

These considerations do not imply that scientific hypotheses or theories always defeat the verdict of experience, but they do imply that such victories by theory are possible. This result implies in turn that all empiricist methodological rules must have exceptions. The reason is that such rules assign a higher priority to experience (over theory).

Feyerabend rescued Galileo from the preposterous role of being the first and greatest hero of empiricism. By doing so, he allowed us to understand science very differently

What were Feyerabends errors?

He erred in his proposal that all traditions or ideologies should have equal standing. But eventually he realized that, as Marguerite von Brentano had argued, the Nazis and the Quakers would then have equal access to pursue their goals, even though one of the Nazis’ main goals was to exterminate other cultures.

He also acknowledged, though reluctantly, my criticism to the effect that a society has the obligation to teach its young the skills and the views they need to survive, and that in a world that depends on science that is what students will have to learn, not astrology or voodoo. He thus came to see that there were drastic limitations to his notion of the separation of science and society.

What influence did John Stuart Mill have?

John Stuart Mills essay On Liberty was a great influence to Feyerabend, Munevar explains how so, and why it is essential we see Feyerabend as part of this libertarian tradition (the better to understand his conclusions).

Feyerabend points out that we are often unable to even discover important evidence against our favorite theories unless we consider seriously alternative theories that can propose and make sense of counter-evidence… No matter how certain we may be of a theory, a scientist who fails to accept it and develops instead a different theory is doing science a favor. For as Feyerabend says, “We need a dream-world in order to discover the features of the real world we think we inhabit (and which may actually just be another dream-world).”

Feyerabend also acts against the important tradition of Plato and Descartes, whose obsession it was to discover the correct path to unique truth. Mill was the first important philosopher who rebelled against the goal itself. In his essay On Liberty, Mill argued that it does not favor society to force its members to accept the official point of view – no matter how certain it seems to be. By allowing the development of different points of view society profits, for if the official point of view is false, we gain the opportunity to replace with another that might be at least partially true. And if the official point of view turns out to be true anyway, comparing it with alternative points of view allow us to understand it better. Feyerabend’s accomplishment in this area comes from extending Mill’s philosophy to science.

Feyerabend’s ironic sense of humor led him to proclaim anarchy in the philosophy of science and to suggest that “anything goes.” But he never offered anarchy as a sort of anti-method method. Anarchy is the description that a traditional rationalist would give to the way science should be done according to Feyerabend, and particularly the description that rationalist would give of pluralism. It is that rationalist who finds it obvious that rationality consists in behaving in accordance with the rules of the method of empiricism. And it is that rationalist who recoils in horror at the “anything goes” attitude in science a la Feyerabend.

Interview extracted in paraphrases from here.

A Feyerabend outline.

Posted by on January 17th, 2008

What follows is a short outline of the main thrust of Feyerabends analytical account of the origins of science, his rejection of Karl Poppers thesis and his espousal of epistemological anarchism. This is extracted as a whole from Straw Dogs by John Gray and is one of the better, simpler accounts of Feyerabends thought.

Science’s Irrational Origins

As portrayed by its fundamentalists, science is the supreme expression of reason. They tell us that if it rules our lives today, it is only after a long struggle in which it was ceaselessly opposed by the Church, the state and every kind of irrational belief. Having arisen in the struggle against superstition, science – they say – has become the embodiment of rational inquiry.

This fairy tale conceals a more interesting history. The origins of science are not in rational inquiry but in faith, magic and trickery. Modern science triumphed over its adversaries not through its superior rationality but because its late-medieval and early-modern founders were more skilful than them in the use of rhetoric and the arts of politics.

Galileo did not win in his campaign for Copernican astronomy because he conformed to any precept of ‘scientific method’. As Feyerabend argued, he prevailed because of his persuasive skill – and because he wrote in Italian. By writing in Italian rather than Latin, Galileo was able to identify resistance to Copernican astronomy with the bankrupt scholasticism of his time, and so gain support from people opposed to older traditions of learning:

Copernicus now stands for progress in other areas as well, he is a symbol for the ideals of a new class that looks back to the classical times of Plato and Cicero and forward to a free and pluralistic society.

Galileo won out not because he had the best arguments but because he was able to represent the new astronomy as part of a coming trend in society. His success illustrates a crucial truth. To limit the practise of science by rules of method would slow the growth of knowledge, or even halt it:

The difference between science and methodology which is such an obvious fact of history… indicates a weakness in the latter, and perhaps of the ‘laws of reason’ as well… Without ‘chaos’, no knowledge. Without a frequent dismissal of reason, no progress. Ideas which today form the very basis of science exist because there were such things as prejudice, conceit, passion; because these things opposed reason; and because they were permitted to have their way.

According to the most influential twentieth-century philosopher of science, Karl Popper, a theory is scientific only in so far as it is falsifiable, and should be given up as soon as it has been falsified. By this standard, the theories of Darwin and Einstein should never have been accepted. When they were first advanced, each of them was at odds with some available evidence; only later did evidence become available that gave them crucial support. Applying Popper’s account of scientific method would have killed these theories at birth.

The greatest scientists have never been bound by what are now regarded as the rules of scientific method. Nor did the philosophies of the founders of modern science – magical and metaphysical, mystical and occult – have much in common with what is today taken to be the scientific worldview. Galileo saw himself as a defender of theology, not as an enemy of the Church. Newton’s theories became the basis for a mechanistic philosophy, but in his own mind his theories were inseperable from a religious conception of the world as a divinely created order. Newton explained apparently anomolous occurrences as traces left by God. Tycho Brahe viewed them as miracles. Johannes Kepler described anomalies in astronomy as reactions of ‘the telluric soul’. As Feyerabend observes, beliefs that are today regarded as belonging to religion, myth or magic were central in the worldviews of the people who originated modern science.

As pictured by philosophers, science is a supremely rational activity. Yet the history of science shows scientists flouting the rules of scientific method. Not only the origins but the progress of science comes from acting against reason.

J.Gray, Straw Dogs -thoughts on humans and other animals, p21-23.