Arguing that theism isn't necessarily irrational - Part 4: Science is All Well and Good, but Dude... There's a Time and Place!!
This is the fourth essay in the series.
The first two essays, The Reason for Reason and The Roots of Logic tried to take a look at reasoning, focusing on why it is applicable to our everyday life. Where follow the rules of rules, why are they applicable and where are they not?
Aim was to show that where rules of logic/reason and are applicable, they are rooted in rules that we are already supposed to be following anyway, in the rules of the 'language game' that we were using to discuss the issue in the first place.
This is central to the entire argument as I think that the claim "Theism is necessarily irrational" is based on subtle mis-applications of reason in this manner, as I will try and show in later essays.
(Even with the definition of 'irrational' that Hamby put forward)
The third essay, Introducing the Paradigm, introduced a concept from the Philosophy of Science called the Paradigm. Kuhn's paradigm comes from two observations:
1) When we make empirical observations, how we make these observations and interpret them depends on many assumptions that we already have in place.
2) Throughout the history of science, work of the time has always been grounded in a background theory in this way. Such theories are not proved or disproved, but gradually replaced in scientific revolutions in response to the problems that the old one is facing in maintaining its coherence.
These paradigms don't mean relativity - there's a reason why the old one was riddled with problems that the new one appeared to solve. However, these paradigms can't be straight out evaluated in the same way that normal scientific premises are, as such evaluations require a background theory in place and when evaluating the paradigm it's the background theory that we are questioning.
So building on these three essays I bring you the fourth:
Science is All Very Well and Good, but Dude... There's a Time and Place!!
The scientific method has a prolific history.
Credited with countless acheivements in bringing technology and understanding to the world, the scientific tradition is understably well respected. However, with every successful phenomenon, there will always be that temptation to take it too far.
While science has had great success with the questions it has dealt with, some people would go further and claim that every question has a scientific answer.
This is surely going too far. While a hammer is great for banging in nails, that doesn't mean it's going to do such a good job at cleaning the dishes!
In the first essay reason for reason I specifically noted that the observation and logical methods would depend on the question at hand and our purpose for answering. We're not always looking for the most accurate answer, sometimes to prove something from the ground up just isn't appropiate for the situation at hand. There's a reason why we demand strict methodology when constructing technology and things need to be absolutely accurate and the same reasons don't apply to a personal worldview.
But hypothetically, imagine that we are trying to get the most accurate truth for the sake of truth, even then science doesn't always have the answer. There's more to reason than just scientific method!
Questions outside of the scientific method
As we saw in the essay about paradigms scientific method requires certain things in place before it can go ahead. Before we can do an experiment we need a background structure, a paradigm in place, in order to design the experiment and define the concepts involved.
Metaphysics is a paradigmatic subject.
In metaphysics we scrutinize the very nature of nature itself.
What exactly is a cause or a property?
When we say that something is a natural law, what do we even mean by that?
Once again, we are questioning the nature of concepts that are assumed to be in place when we use scientific experiment. To question propositions in these two areas we need a different approach.
The laws of logic still apply.
Paradigms must be logically self-consistent.
They must also fit the world as we experience it so we still use observations of sorts.
Metaphysics in particular is based around concepts we use like 'cause' and 'property' we examples of how we use such concepts can be used as observations to prove points.
The main difference between questions in paradigms and normal scientific fact is that in scientific fact there is an agreed framework by which individual facts can be confirmed or falsified.
In paradigms, the framework is the very thing being disputed and cannot be determined by a higher framework, otherwise that higher framework would be the paradigm.
Instead, paradigms are holistic affairs that are tweaked and refined rather than confirmed or falsified. We start with an intuitive grasp of the world, and as our opponent shows problems with our view, we are forced to make changes in order iron out contradictions and make our worldview more coherent.
As paradigms are holistic rather made up of individual 'facts', we tend to deal with 'the whole' rather than building it up from atomic premises. This means that it is more important to grasp the overall 'form' and 'shape' of the theory rather than getting the little details right. This is why having a couple of contradictions isn't such a big deal - as you're dealing with 'the whole' there's bound to be a few details that haven't been worked out.
It's also why intuitive world views are unlikely to be broken down by one or two logical arguments, as such arguments can only show problems with certain details rather than the picture as a whole. Arguments do make a difference though, because while a few contradictary details don't kill a worldview, an alternative without those contradictions will be much more favourable, so showing problems with an opponent's worldview will make an alternative that solves these problems more attractive.
This is what creationists attempt to acheive by poking holes in evolution.
What they forgot is that you have to understand a theory before you can spot it's flaws and that if you want to offer an alternative, it should make more sense than the one you're trying to replace!
In this essay we've dealt with areas of knowledge that are holistic rather than atomistic, where it's more about getting a grasp of the whole rather than precise individual details. When we are dealing with rough trends, the strict definitions of mathematical logic seem a bit out of place. We must now deal with looser concepts, reason in a more metaphoric way.
Concepts like 'force' and 'energy' were first applied in very metophoric ways.
They were gradually develloped into the mathematical definitions we see in Newtonian physics, but the point is that to get to Newtonian physics we had to start with metaphorical concepts that grasped a rough trend, and gradually refined them from there.
Metaphoric reasoning is essential to dealing with subjects where we don't have strict rules in place.
So far I've shown that metaphorical reasoning is essential rough guessing for where we don't have strict definitions yet. As it happens, some topics of discussion aren't suited to having such strict definitions full stop. When talking about scientific and mathematical objects, tight definitions are the order of the day. However, much of our conversation isn't suited to this tight style of language. In the [url=]essay on logic[/url] we looked at the concept of love and how it eluded strict definition. Our language is full of such concepts. Is there a strict definition to 'liking something'?
Wittgenstein famously stated that whatever definition you give to the word 'game' you could find a counter example, yet the concept is hardly random - all games are connected in some kind of way. It's a word that grew out of our need for the concept in our everyday lives rather than one that grew out of strict rules of definition.
The lack of strict definition means that strict logical rules aren't so easily applicable.
This doesn't mean that metaphorical reasoning is free from logic - rules still apply.
It just means that the logic is more subtle and less obvious.
You're less likely to find direct contradictions, but things can still come across mixed up and not making sense. There are still rules to be followed, just not the simplistic ones that can be spelled out in mathematical logic. It's more about an intuitive grasp of the concepts at hand, making it more of an art than a mathematical approach.
The precise language and methodology that we usually associate with science isn't always appropiate to the question at hand. Sometimes we need to start with a looser language for tighter definitions to evolve from, the metaphorical language being a necessary stepping stone towards a more accurate understanding of the subject at hand. Sometimes the topic at hand requires loose language by it's very nature and to try and re-word the question into scientific language is to simply change the subject and ask a different question altogether, leaving the original unanswered.
While the scientific language is perfect when we need precise descriptions of the world, for when we want to make accurate predictions and devellop technology, it's going too far to always go for a scientific explanation and assume that it's the ideal form of reason for every task. Like any tool or method, it's useful for some jobs and not for others.
So how does this relate to theism?
The billion dollar question is whether the claims of theism are relevent to science.
Even literal beliefs in supernaturalism appear to be rooted in metaphysical paradigms rather than scientific observations. So that the theist can't use scientific evidence to support their position doesn't necessarily mean that they are being irrational.
Not that their position is immune from criticism, just that a demand for scientific evidence is to miss the point of the question at hand.