Latest Headline Article in the New Scientist – “Are There Benefits to a World Without God?”


The contingency of artificial phenomena has always created doubts as to whether they fall properly within the compass of science. Sometimes these doubts refer to the goal-directed character of artificial systems and the consequent difficulty of disentangling prescription from description. This seems to me not to be the real difficulty. The genuine problem is to show how empirical propositions can be made at all about systems that, given different circumstances, might be quite other than they are.

Simon, Herbert A.. The Sciences of the Artificial . The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

 

The headline article of the latest issue of New Scientist is titled “Are There Benefits to a World Without God?”, which, however interesting a question it may be in its own right. in no way can be treated as a scientific question.  The magazine is no longer even pretending to be a ‘scientific’ journal, or even a science popularizer.

 
Neither ‘God’ nor ‘World’ can be treated as ‘objects for science’, nor can ‘benefits’ or their lack to a belief as it exists in a given world be judged scientifically.  Belief itself, as a phenomenon, is itself not amenable to analysis by science (the pseudo-sciences that have tried to ‘objectify’ belief such as evolutionary psychology and neuropsychology have accomplished nothing other than parading invalid assumptions through poor fiction.
The result of claiming that science has somehow ‘superseded’ philosophy appears to simply be mediocre philosophy being paraded as science.   There is plenty of mediocre philosophy around, whether it’s paraded as science, philosophy, politics, religion or ideology doesn’t finally make any difference to philosophy itself.  It’s not perceived harm done to philosophy, then, that is at issue, but harm done to science itself.
That science can, and occasionally does, raise questions with philosophical ramifications is certainly true.  That there are, here and there, a few scientists with sufficiently philosophical background and ability to address them is also true.  But by and large the scientific community is not even at the philosophical level of a Stephen Hawking, who in one book, just pages after making the claim that science has ‘replaced’ philosophy, makes a set of purely philosophical statements that are necessary to his understanding of science (model-dependent realism), but also, in philosophical terms, are both overly simplistic in themselves and inadequate to accomplish the function he requires them for.
 
The important aspect, to me, is that a so-called ‘scientific’ magazine has had three issues in a row where the lead article had nothing to do with science.  The difficulty for these publications is the same difficulty that has always plagued science popularizers: most questions that are properly scientific, are not all that interesting to non-scientists.  There is the occasional (not to say odd) non-specialiat that does find properly scientific questions interesting.  I would count myself among them, although I have sufficient education in the sciences that popularizations aimed at the public tend to be overly simplistic, and I would in most cases rather read the actual journal.    The result is that science popularizers like New Scientist, Discover etc. use the majority of their headline and main article space for questions that have nothing to do with science, and writing on those questions by people who have neither the scientific background to write about actual science, nor the philosoophic or theological background to write anything worthwhile on non-scientific topics.  
 
There is a major question left only partially answered in Herbert Simon’s work, which can be best phrased as “Is a science of the contingent possible?”  (Simon himself uses the term ‘artificial’, but since ‘artificial’ in Simon’s usage means ‘not necessary’, in the sense that the application of a law in classical physics is ‘necessary’, ‘contingent’ is a more accurate term).  Simon’s own answer, which is based on the distinction between mathematics and quantification, goes some way to pointing at a possiblity of such a science and how that can be utilized in the study of man-made fields such as administration, however it doesn’t answer the more basic question implied by his distinction when it is applied back to the natural sciences, which is whether a mathematical science of the non-technical is viable. (By non-technical I mean anything not produced by techne, i.e. as a product of man’s intentionality, but produced via self-origination, as we posit nature to be).  The basis of mathematics as a tool for natural science is the notion that ‘nature’ is in fact technical, originating via the techne of a creator-being, and it is not at all demonstrated that there is a valid basis for utilizing mathematics, certainly not for prioritizing mathematics, in the study of contingent beings produced via a historical interplay of self-origination.

 

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