Is Modern Science Rational?

A former student of mine came upon a post entitled: Is Modern Science Rational.  He posted that he had read it and liked it.  I replied, after reading it, that the author was full of bullshit, had no idea what he was talking about, and didn’t have any justification for his beliefs and conclusions.

Now, I will demonstrate that this is the case.

First, we need to consider the author and his organization.  This is not to establish that he’s not an authority because of where he works.  It’s a matter of credibility.  I write about science, because I love the subject and study it daily.  I do not write about Russian Literature, I’ve never read a Russian book. 

There are two “Bongale” articles in PubMed, neither are the author of this paper and each one only has one article.  There is not a single article by SR Bongale in Google Scholar.

The

I only bring this up because how can someone who has not done science be considered expert enough to have an opinion on how it works.

Now for his organization: The Anantacharya Indological Research Institute.  As far as I can determine, this organization is only authorized to grant diplomas in Sanskrit

These are the main objectives of the organization (from their home page):

  1. To undertake and promote research in literature with modern scientific knowledge pertaining to Ancient Indian Philosophy, Yoga, Ayurveda, Sangeet, Natya and Indian culture with a view to properly interpreting and understanding the original tenets.
  2. To undertake and promote research in scientific subjects as contained in ancient literature and other documents.
  3. To translate from one language to any other language and publish with modern scientific notes, and publish works with scientific background relating to Indian Philosophy, Yoga, Ayurveda, Sangeet, Natya and Indian culture.
  4. To train bodies of research students and workers with modern scientific knowledge in the proper method of interpretation of the works relating to aforesaid subjects.
  5. To organize and arrange lectures discussions with modern scientific approach on Literature, Ancient Indian Science, Philosophy, Comparative Religion and Jurisprudence, culture and Fine Art.
  6. To organize classes in Philosophy, Yoga, Ayurveda, Sangeet, Natya and Indian culture and provide forum for advance studies in Shastras and to train teachers in the Art of teaching and to examine and award certificates of proficient to the successful candidates.
  7. To establish, maintain, conduct and publish journals, magazines, books and other periodicals of general interest.
  8. To establish, maintain library and reading room and research hall.

Now notice, in none of the missions do they actually perform scientific research.  Oh, the words are used, but they don’t actually do anything with it.  Also consider that much of the work directly relates to ancient practices and superstitions, not modern scientific thought. 

It’s like applying science to Intelligent Design… you can do so, but it instantly shows you what a fraud ID actually is.

Let’s take a quick look at their ‘research projects’

Projects under progress:
1.       ‘Historical and Cultural Geography of India, Vol 1 -Maharashtra’ by Dr. H.S Thosar for Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi
2.       ‘Vakataka Art and Architecture’ by Dr. A.P. jamkhedkar, for Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi.
3.       ‘Garuda: His Unique Position in Tamil Nadu’ by Dr. (Mrs) Vanamala Parthasarathy for Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. Of India, New Delhi
 
Projects in proposal
1.       Life and Mission of Ananthacharya
2.       India in pre-independence period: a study on the journal Manjubhasini
3.       Valmikibhavadipa of Anantacaray: a critical edition with translation in English, Hindi and Marathi
4.       Brahmiya Citrakarma Sastra: A Critical edition with translation in English

No science there.  That’s all translation and historical research.

Now, let’s take a look at what Doctor of Philosophy Bongale actually writes.

First sentence

To be rational is to show wisdom in our judgements concerning our understanding of physical nature with which science is concerned.

I find the definition of rational here.  No mention in any definition of ‘rational’ of wisdom in judgements or understanding of physical nature.  So right off the bat, with his first sentence, he’s attacking a strawman.

There really isn’t any reason to go further… but I will because there is so much idiocy to deal with in this simple paper.  BTW: This is an excellent example of a debating tactic known as the “Gish Gallop” in which one presenter says so many wrong things that the opponent doesn’t have a prayer of examining why all of them are wrong, thus leaving the impression that the presenter is correct on something.  It’s a logical fallacy, but a good debate tactic.

In connection with the judgements of understanding of nature and reality wisdom and reason are our guides. Reason is a harmonising agency. The essence of reason is coherence among all our cognition. Reason stands for a synthetic and synoptic outlook in our pursuit of truth. That is the bearing of one form of cognition on another . Reason stands for a harmony of different forms of cognition.

Wait… what?  Reason is a ‘harmonising agency’?  Is this anything like termites being intelligent agents?  What this is, ladies and gentlemen, is a word salad.  In this salad, the normal definition of words are thrown out and the author makes up whatever definition he likes.  He fills the writing with random, usually complex sounding words, then proceeds to not explain them and (usually) change the meaning in mid thought without telling anyone.  In this manner, confusion results and the author can claim, no matter what argument was used against him, that “That’s not what I meant.” 

Of course, scholarly writing, should be as clear and straightforward as possible, in order to convey the correct impression to the reader.  That’s not what we find here, or in many pseudoscience topics (creationism, ID, global warming denial, anti-vaccine movement, etc).

BTW: What are the different forms of cognition?  In reality, there is only one form of cognition.  That is science.  Nothing that can be perceived cannot be studied by science and there is no other method for gaining knowledge about the world around us.  If you disagree, please feel free to post that other method of knowledge.

In this essay I am following Whitehead’s criticism of modern science. He has also shown how traditional technology of historic religions has given us a creator God who has imposed his will on the course of nature which has resulted in an irrational cosmology; since God becomes the author of all evil in the word. For this reason philosopher Shankara rejected the conception of a creator God in philosophy.

First of all, Whitehead’s criticism of science was from 1933.  Now, old does not necessarily mean wrong, but it’s curious that in 70+ years, no one has done anything else with this work  .Hint, they have, but apparently Bongale doesn’t care enough to research it OR it doesn’t support his position.  All 10 of the references in this paper are Whitehead, the most current of which is 1979.

In traditional theology the laws of nature arc due to deistic imposition which is an essentially irrational conception. For this reason traditional theology is equally irrational like that of modern science. But in this essay we are only concerned with the arguments to show why science is irrational.

Wow, so science is just as irrational as theology.  Well, I know of a few hundred thousand scientists that would disagree with you and many of them are highly religious individuals. 

Notice that he doesn’t actually defend any of these statements.  He just asserts them and claims that’s the end of it.  Does that remind you of anyone else?

OK, enough of this preliminary stuff.  Let’s look as his nine ‘evidences’ for the irrationality of science.

1. Modern science is based on the metaphysical dualism of Descartes who inherited it from Neo-Platonism. We must always remember that both in science and philosophy facts are made by theories. Our criticism of science will be misunderstood unless we remember the truth that modern science began with a study of nature as mechanism in which life was suppressed. That is, in modern science nature is conceived as lifeless and so it is not a locus of developing organisms which involve self-organization on their part in the very nature of the facts given by modern science a rational cosmology becomes impossible.

I’d disagree with his first sentence here.  Descartes and Plato were philosophers, they didn’t know about the scientific method.  To them, things were true because they were.  There wasn’t an experiment to verify their ‘truth’.  That’s the fundamental basis of any science.  The scientific method, one of the fundamental concepts of which is experimentation.

Facts are not made by theories.  Facts are facts.  It is a fact that the sun is hot (for some value of the word hot).  The theory of nuclear fusion explains why the sun is hot and years of observation allow us to predict the suns actions based on what it looks like (sunspots and flares for example).

Science may be a study of mechanisms, but life is not suppressed.  Since the author doesn’t define ‘life’ in this case, it’s hard to figure out just where he is wrong.  Science isn’t ‘lifeless’ and nature is full of ‘life’.  So what that organisms self-evolve?  That’s one of those ‘facts’ the author dismisses.  How can he dismiss a fact on one hand, then use the same fact to argue against the system of knowledge that allowed us to develop the fact.

The conclusion of the paragraph is wrong because the arguments used within it are wrong. This is not evidence that science is irrational (though I’m not so sure about the author).

2. As at present modern science is still deeply influenced by the historical revolt of science against the unrelieved rationalism of the later middle Ages. As a consequence it refuses to understand that metaphysical analysis of nature is relevant for a satisfactory explanation and understanding of physical nature. This is why Whitehead has said “The anti-rationalism of the moderns has checked any attempt to harmonize the ultimate concepts of science with ideals drawn from a more concrete survey of the whole of reality. The material, the space, the time, the various laws concerning the transaction of material configurations, are taken as ultimate stubborn facts, not to be tampered with. The effect of this antagonism to philosophy and for science…. “Philosophers are rationalists. They are seeking to go behind stubborn and irreducible facts: they wish to explain in the light of universal principles the mutual reference between the various details entering into the flux of things. Also they seek such principles as will eliminate mere arbitrariness; so that, whatever portions of fact is assumed as given, the existence of the remainder of things shall satisfy some demand of rationality. They demand meaning”.

Wait, this guy thinks that the middle ages were rational?!?!  What is the enlightenment then?  Metaphysical analysis is not useful for understanding anything about the real world.  Almost by definition, it cannot be.  Metaphysics is interpretable and indeed, arbitrary.

Science is about defining things correctly so that arbitrariness is eliminated.  Creationists arbitrarily declare that Genesis 1 is correct and Genesis 2 to be wrong.  They give no explanation for why.  This is what science seeks to eliminate.  I can go to any biologist and the world and say Tursiops truncatus and he will know what I’m talking about… even if we don’t speak the same language.  Being specific is not a weakness of science, it’s a strength.

I will also have him know that not all facts are immutable.  Many times in the last 150 years, things that we assumed we hard facts have been shown to be not quite the way we initially thought.  That exploration and constant questioning is a hallmark of science, unlike some other things we’ll not mention.

3. It is a fact that modern science made possible the development and progress in the fields of dynamics, physics and chemistry for about ten generations. By using its own method, it formulated apriori laws which are all subjective. It enlarged the area of knowledge in several ways. Whatever its achievements in several fields of knowledge using its own methods, it has signally tailed to satisfy the demands of rationality in its refused to accept intrinsic connections between our various forms of cognition. The demand of rationality is the requirement of coherence. The essence of rationality is to satisfy the criterion of coherence. Which demands its criterion to be extended and made applicable beyond the frontiers of any and every discipline in its pursuit of knowledge. The criterion of coherence which science makes use to within its own fields must be extended and made applicable beyond the physical to the aesthetic, moral and religious demands of our experience which form a harmony. Here, coherence with experience means propositions based on our experiences, that is, with all direct cognition in general. It must be realised by scientists and philosophers that all forms of cognition mutually imply each other. The pursuit of this ideal is the meaning and essence of rationalism.

Ten generations? OK whatever.  There are no a priori laws in science.  A priori means that knowledge is independent of evidence.  That is not the case in ANY FORM OF SCIENCE.  By definition, science does not take anything a priori.  If it does, then it’s not science.

Again, the hallmark of science is the questioning and exploration of ideas, even previously held ‘immutable’ ones.  Einstein turned Newton on his ear.  So this entire piece of evidence, is again, based on an incorrect assumption.

Also, almost by definition, science does not (cannot) make statements about the aesthetic, moral and religious.  That’s not how science works. 

I will continue to ask what other form of cognition there is.

4. Just as traditional technology is based on the deistic imposition of the laws on nature, so also modern science is based on the concept of imposition. The failure in the possibility of understanding nature is inherent in the very nature of modern science based on the conception of the doctrine of law as imposition with its notion of external relations which it inherited from Newtonian cosmology. And this imposition is continued in Einstein by the role he assigns to physical concepts as “free creations of the human mind”. Modem science is based on common sense view of things with their simple location. It did not adopt the ‘law of immanence’ by reason of which internal relation between facts is established through causal interaction, in which cause is a potential for the effect. This law is the only law which makes for the possibility of understanding nature. For this reason, all the laws of modern science being apriori can only be mental constructions. They do not describe the ‘formal’ nature of things and events in nature. The actual working of nature of space and time are beyond the comprehension of science. This means that science does not give real knowledge of nature and cannot promote our understanding of it. The mere fact that science has given us apriorilaws and enlarged our knowledge of a particular kind is no reason for saying that it is rational. So has religion and theology given us several true propositions concerning God and ethics. But this does not prove that traditional theology is rational.

Science and technology are NOT based on a deistic interpretation of anything.  Interpretations are what science strives to avoid.

Einstein’s work was not about the “free creations of the human mind”.  Everything that Einstein developed and thought has been tested in the real world and shown to be accurate.  There’s nothing interpretive, a priori, deistic about any of it.

And science does describe things and events in nature.  That’s what it is.  I really don’t understand how this clown can say these things.  He doesn’t know the first thing about science.

The difference between science and religion/theology (and why it is rational) is because it is the same.  Within known variations, if you drop a ball off a building it will accelerate at the same rate.  It doesn’t matter how high (mostly), what building you drop anything from, or who is doing the dropping, it will accelerate at the same rate.  Religion and theology do not work like this.  There is nothing within them that is consistent, including interpretation of their various holy books.

Almost halfway there.

5. Modern science claims autonomy for its doctrines and so far it has asserted itself at the expense of the older points of view like aesthetics, ethics and religion. It is this autonomy claimed by science with its exclusive reliance on sense perception as the sole source of cognition for our understanding of nature that has resulted in its obscurantism and irrationalism. At the present day it has come under the increasing influence of positivistic philosophy which repudiates the general ideas or principles of metaphysics. We must note that “Irrationalism involves the denial that ‘reasons’ or general principles are attainable, either at all, or beyond a certain point-usually that which the special sciences happen to have reached. This is the core of ‘positivism’, the doctrine so widely accepted today in almost all intellectual spheres. It is the basis of the positivistic rejection of metaphysics. Because of its essential irrationalism Whitehead has attacked positivism as treason to philosophy and science alike. It is evident that there can be no ‘rational’ defence of ‘irrationalism’. (3) Under the influence of Bacon’s method of rigid empiricism, science has continued to repudiate that general ideas of metaphysics as giving us knowledge worth pursuing.

Again, please provide me with another form of cognition that has had any measure of success.  With what other tool than our senses should we use to perceive the natural world? 

Science has not repudiated the general ideas of metaphysics.  The ideas of metaphysics have been shown to have no value all by themselves.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that praying for a rocket to lauch doesn’t work, but the right mix of chemicals will work just fine… every time.

Some might say that morals and ethics are metaphysical ideas that are worth pursuing.  Unfortunately, morals and ethics are not consistent within cultures.  Indeed, culture defines ethics and morals much more than religion or science or anything else does.

I’m going to have to start editing these down a bit.

6. However, science exhibits a curious mixture of rationalism and irrationalism. Whitehead says “It’s prevalent tone of thought has been ardently rationalist within its own borders and dogmatically irrational beyond these borders”.4 Science is dogmatically irrational, because, it rebuses to cohere with other forms of knowledge.

I thought he said that science isn’t rational.  Now he’s saying it’s a curious mixture.  This emphasizes one of my points nicely.  A scientific article would never be so ambiguous as this.

And I ask again, what other form of knowledge is there.  He (and Whitehead) keep talking about them, but he never explains them.  Much like Intelligent Design, they keep talking about CSI and information and complexity, but they never define them.

7. Science does not aim unlike the thinkers of the Middle Ages at “the ideal of attainment of a harmony of the understanding”. (6) At present it has no such aim.

Finally something more or less correct.  Science aims at the truth, reality… not some ‘harmony of understanding’ which cannot be defined and could easily be different for different people.

On the other hand, I have been present and involved in the discovery of the answer to a particularly complex problem that had consumed many of us for months.  Now that was a harmony of understanding.

Science doesn’t say, “We’re going to discover x.”  Science asks a question and explores factors that may or may not influence that question.  Discoveries are often accidental.

8. The word autonomy as used in this essay means the claim of science that it can explain the meaning of its concepts satisfactorily without the need to refer to the basis principles of metaphysics. It is not enough for science to explain its facts in terms of its own general principles. It must also recognise that general principles of wider generality are relevant for a rational explanation and understanding of nature. The present day scientific philosophy has so far repudiated metaphysical principles such as ‘final cause’ and ‘purpose’ as outside its domain. For this reason, science can give no meaning to the activity of events in nature except purposeless and aimless adventures of energy. It is obvious, such a conception cannot promote understanding of nature. It makes no sense and hence is irrational.

Yes, science can explain what it is taking about without the need for metaphysics.  So?  Why is it not enough to explain facts in terms of its own principles?  (Of course, with the incorrect definition of ‘fact’, I guess I can understand this statement.)

Purpose is not a part of science.  Why does that make science irrational?  In fact, I would defy you to find a purpose of the universe, of humans, of anything in the universe.  Go ahead, find a universal purpose and have everyone in the world agree with you.  I’ll wait, but I won’t hold my breath.

I wouldn’t say ‘aimless’ energy.  There are several well-known tendencies for the flow of energy in the universe. 

It is not obvious that principles of science cannot promote an understanding of nature.  It makes no sense to the author, but then, he doesn’t use words correctly and that’s not science’s fault.  Here he is still stating his claim as evidence without actually providing any evidence.

9. In the place of matter, according to modern view “We are left with the notion of an activity in which nothing is effected”. (9) Further, why this activity takes place in a coherent manner, remains a mystery. “There is merely a formula for succession, but there is an absence of understandable causation. At the present-day positivistic science has worked itself into a state of complete contentment with an ultimate irrationality”. (10)

huh?

Well, that’s it.  Nine evidences for the irrationality of science.  I’ll still say nine, even though the last evidence is someone else (Whitehead) saying that science is irrational.  Talk about argument by authority.

This entire article is full of misconceptions and wrong ideas.  It is full of statements with no support.  It is full of logical fallacies.  It is not obvious, because he didn’t actually say anything.

If you made it this far, thank you and do let me know if you enjoyed this or not.  It was a PITA to write and I won’t do so again unless I get some positive feedback (and links to similar articles).

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6 Responses to Is Modern Science Rational?

  1. Scott says:

    Oh god, it burns. Postmodernist writing is just a painful slog to get through. I’m impressed that you managed to critique the entire article, when I gave up after reason 5. I’ll give the guy some credit, though: that was one hell of a mental gymnastics routine.

  2. Pete says:

    Your article was very generous to the authors considering how the original document didn’t make any scientific sense. We can sum up all these religious scientists and their theories as “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, and go from there.

    My question is why continue to beat a dead horse? To a spiritual religious person that word salad sounds perfectly logical since they believe so much it hurts and are just happy that someone with big words is defending their cause. Furthermore, I can comfortably state that no scientist or anyone else will EVER change ANY fundamentalist/ evangelical’s mind concerning science or the scientific method or the big bad one, the principle of falsification.

  3. ogremkv says:

    You’re probably right, there is no way to change a fundamentalist mindset. I guess what I hope to do is provide a resource that the non-fundamentalist that was raised with incorrect information can find correct information.

    I know. I’m one of them, to a point.

  4. david salako says:

    Science is the organised or methodological study of the world(by the way science is a broad term). Philosophy is part of science up to an extent. But the role of philosophy is to examine the limitations of knowledge on the basis of their own methodology. Understanding the origin, source, and limitations of knowledge is called epistemology. In fact scientific methodology can be examined under the philosophy of science. Such methodlogies of science such as-deduction, inumerative induction, abductionism, falsification, hypothesis, observation, and experimentation are all examined by philosophical thinking. And indeed the methodologies of science have their limitations. Therefore philosophy when used rightly can and has aided science. Moreover the evidence provided by science on the basis of experiments is based on theories and pressupositions. If this were not so then there would be know reason to test in order to confirm what is being tested if what is tested is already known.

  5. david salako says:

    i must say that your position about other views cannot be entierly accurate on the basis that there are things in those views that are worth while. Moreover you are ready to criticize other views, while maintaining that yours is complete and absolute, even though no system is entierly perfect and free from error. Dont get be wrong-i also have a bent for science-and i know science as well. And i also have a bent for philosophy. And i also have a bent for christianity as well. And i have richly benefited from all aspects. Know this-science cannot explain everything. And most intellectuals do not believe this idea again. For there are other ways of understanding the world. And there are other ways to derive knowledge-e.g by logic. Logic is the science that deals with forms of thinking and principles of valid arguement. The fact is many things you claim to be knowledge are just beliefs on the basis that one cannot confirm them on the basis of experiments or logic. Knowledge is verified opinion. Belief is opinion

  6. OgreMkV says:

    I only criticize views that have no merit. You are not engaging in a scientific discourse, you are trying to say that God did it with no evidence.

    I have never said that science knows everything, or even can know everything. I have never said that any system is free from error.

    However, there is no other method for knowing. If you belief this to be so, then feel free to state it. Revelation doesn’t work, because, as you’ve pointed out, it’s all interpretation.

    I have not claimed one thing that is not confirmed by numerous experiments. However, you continue to do so.

    I’m not going to get into an argument about authority with you, but I know that you know very little about science, and, as I have shown, you know very little about Christianity. I could show you all the things you don’t know, but then this would turn into a religious discussion, which I don’t really want to get into.

    Again, you have zero evidence for any of your claims, while every single one of my claims can be verified (and is verified) by peer-reviewed research.

    I know that you think you are right. Unfortunately, you are not.

    Let me ask you this. I know exactly what evidence would cause me to change my mind about many of the topics I discuss on this website. What evidence would cause you to change your mind?

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