The Corner

Re: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science

Peter:

If that is a fair specimen of Tom Bethell’s arguments, I’ll pass on the book.

“If material causes only are admitted, and nothing exists in the

universe but molecules in motion, then evolution must be true—a

logical deduction from the premise of materialism.”

—Evolution, like any scientific theory, is an induction from

observed facts. Science is empirical (facts beget theories), before

it is rational (theories beget predictions). Induction (particular to

general) precedes deduction (general to particular). Theories like

“evolution,” by which I suppose Bethell means modern biology, are

reached by induction from observation, classification, and

measurement, not by deduction from metaphysical premises. If you

can’t grasp this–and the author of those words plainly can’t–you

should not try to write about science.

—Evolution is not the end term of a syllogism: it is an explanation

for the observed variety of living species–an extremely successful

and fruitful explanation. For 100 years and more, every new fact

brought to light has conformed to the theory; none have contradicted

it. Nor is any alternative theory in play. Nobody is doing science

– tackling problems, uncovering new facts, generating testable

hypotheses, making predictions — on the basis of any other theory.

Nobody, nowhere.

—Not even the most materialist of scientists believes that “nothing

exists in the universe but molecules in motion.” If Tom will glance

through any science textbook published later than, oh, 1905, he will

see all sorts of non-molecular components hypothesized and explained:

electrons, quanta, neutrinos, quarks, gravitons, wave functions,

twistors, spinors, 11-dimensional Calabi-Yau mainfolds tucked away at

scales below a trillion trillion trillionth of an inch, and even

stranger things. The mathematician David Hilbert, told that one of

his students had quit to become a poet, said: “I’m not surprised. He

didn’t have the imagination to be a mathematician.” Perhaps Tom

should take up poetry.

—And yes, material causes only are admitted in science, because

science is the attempt to find material explanations for observed

phenomena. Likewise, only hollow balls 2.5 inches in diameter are

allowed in tennis, because tennis is a contest played with 2.5 inch

diameter hollow balls. Whether other kinds of balls exist is a matter

of opinion among tennis players and fans, I suppose; though if a

player were to come on court and attempt to serve a basketball across

the net, the rest of us would walk away in disgust.

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