Posts tagged ‘scientific explanation’

October 6th, 2013

Cosmic Darwinism: Evolving Laws of Nature?

by Max Andrews

The following are a few questions raised in light of Rupert Sheldrake’s The Science Delusion: Freeing The Spirit Of Enquiry. 

The argument that he advances in the chapter involves something he calls ‘habits’, which are “a kind of memory inherent in nature”. (From what I understand, he has also advanced this within a theory of ‘morphic resonance’ in his other published works.) Putting aside his case for these ‘habits’, three questions that he poses to materialists at the end of the chapter caught my eye:

1) If the laws of nature existed before the Big Bang, and governed the Big Bang from its first instant, where were they?

2) If the laws and constants of nature all came into being at the moment of the Big Bang, how does the universe remember them? Where are they ‘imprinted’?

3) How do you know that the laws of nature are fixed and not evolutionary?

June 12th, 2013

Q&A 26: Revisiting the Viability of Theistic Explanations

by Max Andrews


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
    read more »

May 27th, 2013

Q&A 24: Induction, Deduction, and Falsifiability

by Max Andrews


Hello Max,

I did have a few questions in regards to the nature of scientific explanation and furthering (or ‘advancing’, if you prefer) scientific knowledge. Hume had recognized that the problem of induction can not be justified by an inductive rule (that would be circular) or a deductive rule (or else the principle wouldn’t be inductive – we cannot deduce the truth of induction from the axioms of logic). This of course being Hume’s fork.

However, does Karl Popper’s interpretation of scientific methods being deductive (or falsifiable) solve this problem more so than science on the inductive interpretation? In short, Im just curious if we are reasonable in rejecting Hume’s skepticism, but sound in still adhering to science hinging off of induction.


Hi Steven!

I did a lot of work on this question in my MA thesis. My full answer is a bit long but I hope it’s easy to follow. For the Reader’s Digest version, I’d say that I’m not a fan of deductive arguments and I prefer inductive arguments. (Actually, I love abductive arguments much more but that’s another issue!) I’m very sympathetic to Popper’s criterion of falsifiability but it’s not a necessary condition for science–it’s just preferable. I’ll try to contextualize and elaborate on some of the hidden talking points in your question so some of the readers can follow along.

April 26th, 2013

Natural Law and Scientific Explanation

by Max Andrews

In the eighteenth century David Hume held that the relation of cause and effect obtains only when one or more laws subsume the related events—that is, cover them as cases or instances of the operation of the law.[1]  This method and criticism of causality deprived 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.  Hume’s mode of inquiry was one in which questions yield results that are not entirely new, giving rise to knowledge that can only be derived by an inferential process from what was already known.  Humean regularities and constant connections cannot be reduced to scientific explanations. If scientific explanation is causal explanation, and causation is law-governed sequence, then it follows that scientific explanations require laws.  However, a problem with this (i.e. the ideal gas law: PV=nRT) is that instead of making things clearer, it threatens to involve the analysis of scientific explanation in a thicket of “metaphysical” issues that several philosophers and positivists sought to avoid.[2]   Scientific explanation requires a causal explanation, which requires a law-governed explanation.

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.
read more »

March 11th, 2013

Q&A 14: Why Don’t the Laws of Nature Evolve?

by Max Andrews


Hey, Max.

I’ve just started reading Rupert Sheldrake’s The Science Delusion: Freeing The Spirit Of Enquiry and came across three questions about the laws of nature.

In Chapter 3, Sheldrake begins by saying:
“Most scientists take it for granted that the laws of nature are fixed.”
He then leads on to this question:
“If everything else evolves, why don’t the laws of nature evolve along with nature?”
The argument that he advances in the chapter involves something he calls ‘habits’, which are “a kind of memory inherent in nature”. (From what I understand, he has also advanced this within a theory of ‘morphic resonance’ in his other published works.) Putting aside his case for these ‘habits’, three questions that he poses to materialists at the end of the chapter caught my eye:
1) If the laws of nature existed before the Big Bang, and governed the Big Bang from its first instant, where were they?
2) If the laws and constants of nature all came into being at the moment of the Big Bang, how does the universe remember them? Where are they ‘imprinted’?
3) How do you know that the laws of nature are fixed and not evolutionary?
Although I can hear the materialists cry that these questions are not even wrong, I wondered what you thought about them.
Best Wishes,
Mark Hawker (UK)
read more »

November 26th, 2012

Call for Papers on the Philosophy of Science and Science

by Max Andrews

This is a call for papers to be submitted to me for online publication with Sententias. I’m looking for about ten papers. Please include an abstract and Turabian format. The paper can be a minimum of 4 pages but there’s not maximal limit. I will compile the papers and put them in the first volume and issue of the Sententias Journal (Free online PDF file). This is just to kickstart more activity for Sententias to take part in. Depending on the feedback and participation we can make this a peer-reviewed process so we can have some respectable esteem. But, for now, we need to start modestly. Theists, atheists, Christians, evolutionists, and intelligent design proponents are all welcome. Here are a few suggested options:

  • What’s a scientific theory?
  • What’s a scientific explanation?
  • Breaking down a particular interpretation of quantum physics.
  • Brak down a model of cosmological origins.
  • Argue for Darwinism
  • read more »

  • September 9th, 2012

    The Inductive-Statistical Model of Scientific Explanation Preferred over the Deductive-Nomological Model

    by Max Andrews

    The Deductive-Nomological model, strictly speaking, certainly seems ideal but is untenable.  This is ideal for empiricists arguing from fixed premises but this view hardly seems amenable to novel discoveries and even predictions.  D-N does have a robust explanatory scope and power of causal laws such as the law of conservation. This model doesn’t have any explanatory power for other laws (i.e. the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which prohibits atomic electrons from collapsing in on the nucleus and being propelled away from the nucleus).  The D-N model, if it were to implement the Pauli Exclusion Principle, would have a self-defeating condition in the explanandum or explanans (depending on how the principle is being used). So, the model itself seems inert to the effect that it could never be verified or falsified by its own merit and criteria.  It stands in a privileged explanatory position.

    Additionally, the D-N seems incompatible with many models of our universe.  This model assumes that the universe is deterministic.  Its view of causality is more than the Humean notion of effects rooted in habits of association, and rightly so, but it assumes that causality is applicable in every instance of a law.  There are several problems with this in the quantum world.  Quantum calculations are solely based on probabilities.  The vast majority of quantum interpretations are indeterministic (i.e. the traditional Copenhagen, GRW, Popper, transactional, etc.).  Additionally, there are other interpretations that suggest that the quantum world is deterministic (i.e. de Broglie-Bohm and Many Worlds).[1] What this goes to say is that the world may not be completely deterministic but it’s certainly not chaotic either.[2]  This is where I get caught between the efficacy of the I-S model and the D-N-P model.  The D-N-P model makes sense of deterministic and probabilistic explanandums.

    June 14th, 2012

    Necessitarian Theory and Why Logical Positivists Attempt to Avoid Nomic Necessity

    by Max Andrews

    The necessitarian states that there are metaphysical connections of necessity in the world that ground and explain the most fundamental regularities.  Necessitarian theorists usually use the word must to express this connection.[1]  Thus, NT maintains must-statements are not adequately captured by is-statements (must ≠ is, or certain facts are unaccounted for).[2]  Nomic necessity claims that it is difficult for mere regularity to account for certain counterfactual claims because what happens in the actual world do not themselves imply anything about what would have happened had things been different.[3]  If it is now true that Q occurs if P causally precedes Q then the necessitarian can adequately account for counterfactual claims.  Given the present antecedent condition of P at tn and P implies Q at tn and it was true that P implied Q at tn-1 then using P as an antecedent for R at hypothetical tn-1’ then R is true if P was a sufficient condition R at tn-1’. Thus, there is certainty in the truth of counterfactual claims.  However, counterfactuals allow for conflict between truth functional interpretation and ordinary language.  For instance, any counterfactual claim with the necessary condition having a false truth-value and the sufficient condition obtaining a truth-value that is true then the counterfactual claim will be invalid.

    Why is supporting counterfactual conditionals a symptom of nomic necessity? I would ague that there must be a connection or relationship between the conditions.  Consider the argument, as modus ponens, that if the moon’s core is made of cheese then my desk is made from mahogany.  What relationship do these two conditions have?