Friday, June 16, 2006


Unsuccessful Commenting

I've been trying to respond to this comment, but have not been able to -- that website doesn't post my comment responses lately.

So I'll reverse comment-whore and place the gist of my response here:

"Science is a tool -- science doesn't have a realm" is a non-sequitor, ain't it (not that I am one to talk about non-sequitors: one time I even made one while complaining about one in the course of challenging my grade on a test!)? In fact, science as a tool has a definite sphere of usefulness -- just like any other tool. While new uses for a given tool are discovered all the time, one must still be careful that wielding a hammer, one does not view every problem as a nail.

Indeed, AFAIC, while morality must pay heed to reality (and moral systems -- and we all know which these are -- which, when confronting the complexities of reality surrender and say "oh well, you cannot help but sin" are hardly guides to living a moral life) which is best described by the tool of science, those who turn to solely to science for moral or metaphysical answers, being guilty of scientism, are really not all that different than those who insist that science back up their peculiar moral and/or metaphyiscal beliefs. The chief complaint about "Darwinism" (don't you just love that term -- it sounds like we worship Darwin or something) is that it has bad moral implications, and we argue back, quite correctly IMHO, you can infer morality from evolution no more than you can infer it from the laws of thermodynamics. But those who ask science to be a universal tool implicitly say the ID crowd is right in this regard. To turn it around, ID actually is an example of "scientism": both the "scienticists" on the left-blogs and ID proponants want to use the hammer of science where what is really needed is a spanner. The difference is that scienticists at least accept the results of science but don't accept the limits of those results whereas ID types want to bend the rules (including the peri-physics -- see my last paragraph) and results of science in order that science matches their moral and metaphysical commitments which they, like the secular scienticists, believe are not actually beyond the realm of scientific discovery (I am sure Rev. RMJ would have something interesting to say about the Greek roots of this notion of discovery underlying scienticism -- one can argue that the Ancient Greeks did not invent science, which is a product of a later era, although a traditional, secretly Romanophilic New England Baptist -- y'all know the type ... I had one of these for a math class in undergrad ... it was a fun and most informative class ... and I learned a little about math too -- might argue that science has its roots in the Franciscans, but that many were, even pre-science, scienticists.).

Of course, I do realize I have conflated morality and religion/metaphysics a bit here ... these are different questions, but the same concern of using science as a universal tool applies in both cases.

Also, in these discussions it is often useful to distinguish metaphysics as Popper uses the term from metaphysics as most philosophers have used it (about vs. beyond physics). Perhaps we should call to what Popper refers "peri-physics" and the more traditional meaning should be captured by the term "trans-physics"? I am sure even positivists then would have no problem saying science involves adopting certain peri-physical beliefs. While I could say I believe in Design as a metaphysical argument but also make the point that what irks ID types about evolution is not just the science but also the peri-physical implications of it (e.g. the importance of variation in the mean relative to the "type", i.e. nominalism over essentialism). Of course, as a non-positivist, I would say that even the statement "trans-physics" is meaningless is a transphyiscal statement, but at least by dividing up metaphysics into "trans-physics" vs. "peri-physics" we can better keep our philosophical disputes out of our common goal of defending science.

You avoid using the term evolutionary psychology. Perhaps that term is out of favor among you academics. Humor me here. Don't you think science will eventually resolve all issues concerning the course of brain (and mind) development?

Won't we come to know there is not one Absolute morality or consciousness in the universe but that different life forms have different altogether true moralities? I'm guessing bio-chemistry determines morality and that will come to be understood by science.

And equally important, don't you think it's hard to read long paragraphs on monitors? Once a paragraph fills up half the screen, my advice is to hit the enter key twice at the next period.
Yes. I have avoided using the term evolutionary psychology, and not because the term is or is not in favor among my colleagues in other departments. Just because I am a know it all doesn't mean I actually know everything. One thing I don't know much about is evolutionary psychology.

And I think that science will resolve most issues concerning development, but will never resolve them all -- the reason why science is a sweet deal as a profession, i.e. with guaranteed employment for scientists ;), is that there are always more scientific questions out there. Any answer science gives is provision and by definition subject to falsification. And anything that can happen in this great universe will happen -- therefore, anything science tells us will eventually be disproven in some or other circumstance. So science will never tell us all that there is to know about brain (and mind) development.

Anyway, though, I would reckon that still evolutionary psychology would only tell us how we've come to behave the way we have. It won't tell us how we ought to behave or why we may or may not behave in a morally optimal manner. Of course, a moral system that doesn't account for how people actually behave (and doesn't look for insights from science as to how people come to behave the way they do) is useless ... but even evolutionary psychology doesn't necessarily tell us what is optimal in terms of moral behavior.

Actually, one of my criticisms of ID as I've mentioned is that it blurs the line between science as a tool to discover what is and trans-science as a discipline of figuring out how things ought to be. If students are "taught the debate" about ID, then they may very well come away thinking "yeah, life evolved, but it sure looks like a miracle" and they'll think evolutionary systems can work miracles. But let's face it -- evolution is good at optimizing some things and not good at optimizing others.

I am sure we all have, e.g., our favorite complaint about an un-optimal aspect of the human body. Consider, for example, the joke about God being a civil engineer as She's ran a waste pipeline through a recreational zone. Although I am sure the ID crowd would take away a lesson from that about "sex being dirty" (which seems a bad lesson from the POV of my religion), the fact is much of our anatomy is not intelligently designed but the design is well explained by evolution.

But I suspect you agree with me on this scientific point. But the peri-scientific or even trans-scientific point is that you need to be very careful about inferring morality from how things are -- whether it is how we have come to behave the way we do or the co-location of our excretory and reproductive systems. Although a thorough knowledge of evolution would prevent us from making the easy mistake of inferring sex is dirty from the colocation of the excretory and reproductive openings, it may very well lead to other similar mistaken moral inferences.

I would not go so far as Dagobert Runes in completely separating morality from science (and rejecting, e.g., the trans-physical version of the Design Argument, as immoral), but I do feel you have to make a distinction between what you can learn from science about the way things are and what we can figure out, certainly with the brains we have rather than the brains we wished we had, or what we think has been revealed to humanity about the way things ought to be: even considering that one's assessment of the way one ought to behave must take into account the constraints of the reality uncovered by science.

As to paragraphing -- sometimes this is a matter of how things show up on screens. I have likely made the mistake of assuming people have the same sort of set-up as I: for me, unless I really want to indicate a consistant flow, I try to paragraph so as not to have a paragraph that lasts for more than half my monitor -- but my monitor size and resolution may be different than yours, so your results may vary. I guess I should try to keep my paragraphs a little shorter just in case?
Oh yes -- welcome to DAS Blog cmike!
Don't you think science will eventually resolve all issues concerning the course of brain (and mind) development?

In order to believe that, wouldn' you have to assume that "the human brain", as if there was one and only one, had reached a stage of development in which it could sense and successfully process and explain the entire universe? I know there have been some pretty impressive discoveries made through observation, experiment and reasoning but everything?
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