Posts tagged ‘Isaac Newton’

June 12th, 2013

Q&A 26: Revisiting the Viability of Theistic Explanations

by Max Andrews

Question:

This is a follow up question from week 16. For a greater context please see that Q&A.

OK, thank you so much!

I’ll go through your reply point by point more or less, but I’ll try my best to be concise.

On successful research programs – Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to assume that science and philosophy aren’t continuous. Perhaps this is based on the idea that science is committed to methodological naturalism (MN). But what do you think of the idea that science isn’t looking for the best naturalistic explanations, but the best explanations, period; and it just so happens that naturalistic explanations have a successful track record and supernatural ones don’t? In other words, MN need not be seen as a presupposition of science, but as sensible advice based on past experience – MN has been tremendously successful before, so why not be committed to it? My point is this: it seems that, unless we assume science and philosophy (qua explanatory practice, at least) are discontinuous, your appeal to God as a metaphysical explanation (as opposed to a scientific one) is questionable.

June 9th, 2013

The Philosophy of Science Directory

by Max Andrews

This is a compilation of posts, which focus on the philosophy of science. These posts will cover a broad spectrum within the philosophy of science ranging from multiverse scenarios, scientific theory, epistemology, and metaphysics.

  1. MA Philosophy Thesis: “The Fine-Tuning of Nomic Behavior in Multiverse Scenarios”
  2. Natural Law and Scientific Explanation
  3. Science and Efficient Causation
  4. Which Comes First, Philosophy or Science?
  5. The Postulates of Special Relativity
  6. There’s No Such Thing as Creation Science–There’s Just Science
  7. Time Travel and Bilking Arguments
  8. “It’s Just a Theory”–What’s a Scientific Theory?
  9. Exceptions to a Finite Universe
  10. Teleology in Science
  11. Duhemian Science
  12. The Relationship Between Philosophy and Science
  13. The History of the Multiverse and the Philosophy of Science
  14. Where’s the Line of Demarcation Between Science and Pseudoscience?
  15. Miracles and the Modern Worldview
  16. Mass-Density Link Simpliciter
  17. Scientific Nihilism
  18. Q&A 10: The Problem of Defining Science
  19. Q&A 6: Scientism and Inference to the Best Explanation
  20. The Quantum Universe and the Universal Wave Function
  21. The History and Macro-Ontology of the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics
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March 26th, 2013

Q&A 16: How Robust Are Theistic Explanations?

by Max Andrews

Q&A GraphicQuestion:

Hello Max,

I’m currently reading on philosophy of religion, and I came across your site. You admit to being a “staunch proponent of abductive arguments”. It made me curious as to what your thoughts were regarding arguments against theistic explanations (such as those given in Gregory Dawes’ Theism and Explanation). For example, theistic explanations don’t fulfill explanatory virtues such as being part of successful research program (most theistic explanations failed in the past), being informative (they don’t describe in great detail the mechanisms involved in divine activity), being testable, being coherent with our background knowledge (arguably, all our knowledge involves embodied minds, so positing a disembodied one is theoretically costly), and having ontological economy (theistic explanations posit a radically new set of substances). 
 
Furthermore, given God’s omniperfection, we can expect that he will fulfill his intentions in the best possible way. But to the extent that the phenomena to be explained don’t seem to be the product of the best possible way of being actualized, it is to that extent we can doubt that God’s activity is the explanation for that phenomena. We need good reason to think the phenomena to be explained was actualized in the best possible way; otherwise, the theistic explanation won’t work.
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March 18th, 2013

Q&A 15: What, Exactly, IS Gravity?

by Max Andrews

Question:

Hello Max,

My name is Chad Gross and I am the director of Truthbomb Apologetics.  Brian Auten of Apologetics315 recommended that I email you with a question that I have.

My question deals with gravity and whether or not it is immaterial.  It seems to me that gravity is not composed of matter and/or energy; therefore, it is immaterial.  However, when interacting with an unbeliever on the topic on this post and he said the following:

“Without mass there would be no gravity, right? It’s true that gravity itself isn’t made of atoms, but you must admit that the material world is more than just particles. Einstein showed that matter and energy are equivalent and can transform into each other. When I talk about something being material, therefore, I’m thinking of both matter and energy.

It’s true again that gravity might not be a form of energy, since it’s just a force. Maybe gravity arises due to the nature of space and time. But without matter, there would be no space and time. So I think it’s uncontroversial to consider the physical forces to be “material.”

When I think of things that are not material, I’m thinking of spirit, or soul. God isn’t made of matter or energy, and God would still exist even without any matter or energy, right?” 

Now, I realize gravity is not immaterial in the same way that moral judgments, mathematics, logic, etc.  Here is my reply to him:

June 13th, 2012

Immanuel Kant’s Use of Newtonian Mechanics

by Max Andrews

Newtonian physics treated space and time as absolute inertial reference frames. Space and time was independent of all that it embraced and in that sense, absolute.  Space and time was isomorphic, and together with the particle theory of nature formed a mechanistic universe and static concepts that go along with it. Kant used Newtonian physics of space and time as intuitions.  The sensorium (reference frame) was transferred from space and time itself (or even God) to the mind of the subject.  Thus, the intellect imposes its laws upon nature and not nature upon the intellect.  Kant believed our thought imposes Newtonian concepts on our experiences.  Independent of experience our minds are organized to think about the world in the Newtonian framework.  Scientific knowledge was considered a priori knowledge of synthetic truths.[1]

This is what accounted for deductive methodology—using fixed premises and drawing one’s conclusions from these premises.  Kant believed that one could not know the Ding an Sich by pure reason.  The subject is limited to the fixed categories of the mind and one shapes the apprehensions through these categories.  Kant used these space and time intuitions as necessary. It proved inept for scientists to follow Kant’s use of Newton’s ideas as permanent features of the intellectual landscape having based their philosophy on his model of the universe.[2]

In 1865 James Clerk Maxwell had unified electricity and magnetism by developing his equations of electromagnetism.[3]  It was soon realized that these equations supported wave-like solutions in a region free of electrical charges or currents, otherwise known as vacuums.[4]  Later experiments identified light as having electromagnetic properties and Maxwell’s equations predicted that light waves should propagate at a finite speed c (about 300,000 km/s).  With his Newtonian ideas of absolute space and time firmly entrenched, most physicists thought that this speed was correct only in one special frame, absolute rest, and it was thought that electromagnetic waves were supported by an unseen medium called the ether, which is at rest in this frame.[5]

October 13th, 2011

Is Heisenberg a Defeater for an Evidentialist Epistemology?

by Max Andrews

(For further context on my epistemology see Einstein’s Impact on the Epistemic Method.  I would consider myself a moderate evidentialist.)

Scientific theology takes Einstein’s knowing and being and his understanding of reality as a whole and applies this method of theology in Christian theology.  If the world is indeed the creation of God, then there is an ontological ground for a theological engagement with the natural sciences.  It is not an arbitrary engagement, which regresses back to Newtonian engagement, but it is a natural dialogue, grounded in the fundamental belief that the God about whom Christian theology speaks is the same God who created the world that the natural sciences investigate.[1]

A major problem that presses my theory of knowledge is the Heisenberg Principle.  This principle states that an observer changes the current state of affairs being observed.  For instance, if I am measuring the velocity of a particle I cannot know the position of the particle and vise versa.  This is called uncertainty.  How this comes into the epistemic process is whether or not this principle is epistemic or ontic.  This uncertainty creates an epistemic limit.

If this principle is epistemic then what relationship does the nature of reality have on our epistemic faculty?  Heisenberg himself believed that this uncertainty was not merely epistemic but it was ontic. Back to the example of velocity and position, if Heisenberg’s ontic uncertainty is true then if an object that is not in an eigenstate[2] of position then the object does not have a position.  Position then becomes a potential property.  When the observer measures the position it is then actualized.[3]

If this principle is ontic then this may potentially be a defeater for my position.  By way of realism, there is a certain element of reality that truly is uncertain.  Causation is even worse than what Hume told us.  That is still not to say that causation does not occur, it must, but this ontic uncertainty may affect more than just the quantum world.  If all of reality is composed of particles then there is a certain extent to which properties of particle can be extrapolated to a set aggregate of particles.  It’s easy to see how this can affect evidence and meeting sufficiency for belief.  I do not believe that ontic uncertainty makes reality unknowable since, intuitively, there are some propositions that we do know to be true such as the reality and existence of the external world.  So, even if it were the case that there is an element to ontic uncertainty it would not affect my epistemic theory in a capacity that would render it void and untenable.  There may be minor nuances to my theory that would render this theory questionable but given epistemic charity or probability one may still be justified in believing any proposition that is onticly uncertain as true as long as it meets the criteria for sufficiency.


            [1] Both the natural sciences and Christian theology are to engage with the nature of reality—not deciding this in advance, but exploring and establishing it through a process of discovery and encounter.  Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004),  21-22.

            [2] An eigenstate is a state corresponding to a fixed value of a physical variable.

            [3] Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality:  Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 250-251.

September 28th, 2011

The Relationship Between Science and Philosophy

by Max Andrews

How far can science take us and at what point does philosophy and metaphysics take over?  Here is the general process of science and philosophy.

  1. METHOD. Science’s modus operandi is to observe the data while philosophy is examining the data and reasoning through it.
  2. MATERIAL. Science’s materials are facts. There are certain data that provide empirical fact to work with.  Philosophy’s material are conceptual–concepts that are the basis for the rest of the process.
  3. PURPOSE. Science is descriptive.  Empirical investigation can only observe what happens and the purpose of it is to describe the mechanism or process taking place.  The purpose, in relation to philosophy, is to be able to construct an argument.
  4. GOAL.  The goal of science is prediction.  We will see this in the strength of a theory by principle of verification and falsification.  The philosophical role is providing an explanation of the data.  Explanation is philosophical and not scientific.
  5. OUTCOME. The end of science is the production of technology. The general history of science runs in the direction of greater efficiency in its function.  Likewise, in the history of science, philosophy’s outcome is developing a worldview system.  Consider the historical development of science with Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.  Copernicus changed the worldview system with the Copernican revolution as did Newton.  I would actually argue that Newtonian physics may have made a greater philosophical impact than Copernicus in light of Kant (thanks Kant…).
  6. REASON.  We’ve already touched on this briefly, but the reason for why one does science is for efficiency.  The reason for philosophy is a search and understanding for meaning.
June 28th, 2011

Einstein’s Impact on the Epistemic Method

by Max Andrews

Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457) developed the interrogative (interrogatio) rather than the problematic (quaestio) form of inquiry.  Valla’s mode of inquiry was one in which questions yield results that are entirely new, giving rise to knowledge that cannot be derived by an inferential process from what was already known.  This method was similar to the works of Stoic lawyers and educators like Cicero and Quintilian; that is, questioning witnesses, investigating documents and states of affairs without any prior conception of what the truth might be.  Valla transitioned from not only using this method for historical knowledge but also applied it as “logic for scientific discovery.”[1]

Valla’s logic for scientific discovery was the art of finding out things rather than merely the art of drawing distinctions and connecting them together.  He called for an active inquiry (activa inquisitio).  John Calvin (1509-1564) applied this method to the interpretation of Scripture and thus became the father of modern biblical exegesis and interpretation.[2]  Francis Bacon (1561-1626) applied it to the interpretation of the books of nature, as well as to the books of God, and became the father of modern empirical science.[3]

This methodology created a split between subject and object, knowing and being, and gave rise to phenomenalism.  Newton claimed that he invented no hypotheses but deduced them from observations produced rationalistic positivism, which engulfed contemporary European science.  This split’s gulf was widened by David Hume’s (1711-1776) criticism of causality, depriving science of any valid foundation in necessary connections obtaining between actual events and of leaving it with nothing more reliable than habits of mind rooted in association.[4]  Hume weighed heavy in Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) philosophical development.  Given the Newtonian understanding of space and time, Kant transferred absolute space and time from the divine sensorium to the mind of man (the transfer of the inertial system), thus intellect does not draw its laws out of nature but imposes its laws upon nature.  According to Kant one cannot know the Ding an Sich (thing itself) by pure reason; one is therefore limited to the sensual and shaping mental categories of the mind.  That which comes through sensation the intuitions are shaped by the mind’s a priori categories.  It is in this sense that Kant played an essential part in the development of the idea that man is himself the creator of the scientific world.

Throughout Einstein’s work, the mechanistic universe proved unsatisfactory.  This was made evident after the discovery of the electromagnetic field and the failure of Newtonian physics to account for it in mechanistic concepts.  Then came the discovery of four-dimensional geometry and with it the realization that the geometrical structures of Newtonian physics could not be detached from changes in space and time with which field theory operated.  Einstein stepped back into stride with Newton and his cognitive instrument of free invention.  It was free in the sense that conclusions were not reached under logical control from fixed premises, and it was invented under the pressure of the nature of the universe upon the intuitive apprehension of it.  Einstein used Newton and Maxwell’s partial differential equations in field theory to develop a mode of rationality called mathematical invariance.  Mathematical invariance established a genuine ontology in which the subject grips with objective structures and intrinsic intelligibility of the universe.[5]

Einstein’s categories are not some form of Kantian a priori but conceptions that are freely invented and are to be judged by their usefulness, their ability to advance the intelligibility of the world, which is dependent of the observer.  As he sees it, the difference between his own thinking and Kant’s is on just this point:  Einstein understands the categories as free inventions rather than as unalterable (conditioned by the nature of the understanding).  Einstein asserts that the real in physics is to be taken as a type of program, to which one is not forced to cling a priori.[6]

Principles of method are closely related to empirical observations.  As Einstein put it, “the scientist has to worm these general principles out of nature by perceiving in comprehensive complexes of empirical facts certain general features which permit of precise formulation.”[7]  These principles, not “isolated general laws abstracted from experience” or “separate results from empirical research,” provide the basis of deductive reasoning.[8]

There is a long tradition within Christian theology of drawing on intellectual resources outside the Christian tradition as a means of developing a theological vision.  This approach is often referred to by the Latin phrase ancilla theologiae (a ‘handmaid of theology’).  The evolution of thought and method from Newton to Einstein vitalized scientific theology.  Scientific theology argues that the working methods and assumptions of the natural sciences represent the best—or the natural—dialogue partner for Christian theology.[9]

Here too logico-deductive argumentation from static concepts and mechanistic systems are rejected.  There is another reorientation of man’s knowledge leaving epistemic and cosmological dualism behind in operations that have to do with the unity of form and being.  Scientific theology is concerned with the discovery of appropriate modes of rationality or cognitive instruments with which to enter into the heart of religious experience, and therefore with the development of axiomatic concepts with which to allow interior principles to be disclosed, and in that light to understand the rational structure of the whole field of God’s interaction with man and the world.[10]

Scientific theology takes Einstein’s knowing and being and his understanding of reality as a whole and applies this method of theology in Christian theology.  If the world is indeed the creation of God, then there is an ontological ground for a theological engagement with the natural sciences.  It is not an arbitrary engagement, which regresses back to Newtonian engagement, but it is a natural dialogue, grounded in the fundamental belief that the God about whom Christian theology speaks is the same God who created the world that the natural sciences investigate.[11]


            [1] Thomas F. Torrance, “Einstein and Scientific Theology,” Religious Studies 8 no. 3 (1972):  236-237.

             [2] Valla served in conjunction with Andrea Alciati (1492-1550) as Calvin’s primary influence for his biblical interpretation.

            [3] Torrance, 237.

            [4] Ibid., 240.

            [5] Ibid., 241-242.

            [6] Donna Teevan, “Albert Einstein and Bernard Lonergan on Empirical Method,” Zygon 37 no. 4 (2002): 875-876.

            [7] Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Trans. and rev. Sonja Bargmann (New York: Three Rivers, 1982), 221.

            [8] Teevan, 877.

            [9] Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 18-19.  There are five distinct classes of things—time, space, matter, energy, and the things relating to conscious life—form with their combinations the known universe.  The fifth class must, like the previous, be permanent in quantity, variable in form, and cannot be destroyed.  This may be simply labeled as “spirit.”  In natural science dialogues, this element is often referred to as “God,” though it does not necessarily carry the theological meanings with it.  This, perhaps, is the sense in which Einstein meant the term “God.”  T. Proctor Hall, “Scientific Theology,” Monist 23 (1913): 95.

            [10] Torrance, 244.

            [11] Both the natural sciences and Christian theology are to engage with the nature of reality—not deciding this in advance, but exploring and establishing it through a process of discovery and encounter.  McGrath, The Science of God, 21-22.