Noah’s Dove Avoids Capture

So Jaybercrow is once again my muse. He wrote an article last night on what he makes of science and while Wife-Unit gets ready for the day I thought I’d riff on his theme. We’re off to make homemade beer and insulate a house and maybe do some organic gardening so if Konchog is right then my karma will be sky high and I’ll cash it all in for a convincing argument.

Science is our greatest invention. I say that because I hope maths is something we discover rather than invent. But science is even more impressive than velcro and usb disco lights put together. It has been astoundingly successful at making things turn and move and polarize and for a computer geek like me, the doping of sand which produces wafers we can turn into computer processors- it just still seems like magic. I am a nerd enough to get off on books about panda’s thumbs and the development of infinity but I am sane enough to still be very excited by the fact that light can react to paper to record a moment of time, trapped in a photograph.

So in case it isn’t clear yet, I think science rocks.

But because it is so successful we sometimes make a logical error of making science into a tent that covers all knowledge. Certainly, this is a mistake made by quite a few generations of historians who pursued a scientific method for doing history, a scientific historiagraphy. The guys who organised this effort got lots of funding and encouragement because scientific chemistry was working so well and scientific geology rocked (HA!) so much that surely scientific history would make similar objective, dispassionate, proveable, true for all cases advances.

There was lots of scientific history written, but history hasn’t been kind to it. As Jaybercrow points out (point 3), no human being can ever come objectively to any topic. We are subjects who are bound to be subjective. Our individual viewpoints, by dint of being ours, cannot be everyone’s. So the assumptions behind scientific history was wrong headed.

Science works excellently. But its grand trick, the mechanism that like the coil of the spring in a jack-in-box that makes it work is its ability to generalise. The scientist takes the hard-nosed data gathered from numerous experiments done the same way in different contexts and then makes a create leap to hypothesize a general cause. Jaybercrow dealt with this in point 2. Science is a way of inducing the creative spark that sees behind many disparate individual events to recognise the general cause at work. It turns out that the universe, whether made by God or not, has boundary lines drawn by generalised laws. So science is successful.

But back to humans. Each of us are individuals and entirely subjective at that. There is no way to generalise for humanity in any meaningful sense. If history is the study of human mistakes (or achievements), then there is no hope of applying the scientific method to it. There have been many leaders of the German territories and there shall be many more. But none of these experiments in Kaiser-dom are similar enough to justify generalisation. Kaiser Wilhelm II is an unrepeatable event. We can draw similarities between him and Charles V or Helmut Kohl, but the idea of a generalised law of German leadership is a laughable fantasy, although one many bright men pursued.

There is no way science can prove that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. In fact, the very importance and relevance of historical claims is of a different nature to that of a scientific claim. In the end, we have to evaluate each historical claim from the understanding that it is a distinct, individual and absolutely unrepeatable event that occurs in time just one time only. You might end up thinking like Ford that history is bunk, but if that is true, how do you know Ford said that, or even existed?

Examining intellectual history, as Jaybercrow has already said, what you see is not the scientific method standardising and regulating and refining the practices of other disciplines, but a myth of scientific objectivity that has hid the ever-present reality that science has more to do with creativity and human assessment (just like history, theology, literature and music) than Dawkins and all the Priests of Positivism would ever admit.

Your Correspondent, His eyes are small but they have seen he beauty of enormous things

5 Responses to “Noah’s Dove Avoids Capture”

  1. QMonkey says:

    Caesar crossed the Rubicon or he didn’t. The only way to know is to examine the evidence. You haven’t put forward a better way to determine this.

    You’re right, humans are subjective. That’s why we have double blind tests and peer review.

    I should really comment on Jaybers post -- annoy him for a bit and leave you alone shouldn’t i.

  2. zoomtard says:

    He either did or he didn’t. I proposed examining the evidence. I just pointed out pretty exhaustively how you can’t examine that evidence “scientifically”. Seeing as you seem to think that the historical claims of Christianity somehow need to be answerable to science, this post is pretty relevant to you and it would be fair sport at the very least to do business with the post instead of ignoring it or restating it.

    It’s so lovely the way double blind tests and peer review do the work themselves. Oh wait. Humans do it. Subjective humans.

    There’s little point in commenting on Jaybercrow if you continue to ignore the actual content of the arguments we make and instead treat each of us like some parody of a fundamentalist.

  3. QMonkey says:

    I did read your post, it was very interesting, well written and thoughtful, I just felt it was over complicating a less than complicated process, hence my to the point response. Sometimes it comes across as if consider anyone who has too much faith as a fundamentalist and anyone who has too little faith is closed minded and a slave to science ?
    (of topic, and feel free to ignore, but have you ever witnessed a miracle or know anyone who has? -- defined as something demonstrably at odds with current scientific understanding)

  4. jayber crow says:

    So are you saying I’m right, or what?

  5. zoomtard says:

    Yeah, you be totally right. Amen and all that!