NARRATIVE DISPLACEMENT IN THEORIES OF

SCIENTIFIC METHOD: SCIENCE AND ITS PHILOSOPHY

 

            One of the great minds examining intellectual history, Carl Becker, claims that the most important event in the field of science in modern times was the shift in the place of logic in science. Becker claims that in the time of Aquinas and through all the Middle Ages, the place of logic declined in the period of Galileo and Newton. The fusion of fact and reason proved to be somewhat irksome in the 19th century. The 20th century was interested in natural facts but there was a minimum emphasis of the theoretical and reason.

            Surely Galileo was no less concerned with logical consistency than Aristotle, nor was Einstein’s theory of gravitation more factual and less rational than Newton’s. Science has developed beyond Aristotle and the Medieval schoolmen—the mechanistic conceptions of nature began with Galileo and Newton and reached its peak in the 19th century. Becker claims that the entire period from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the 18th century Enlightenment was characterized by the belief that there is a rational picture of the world. Becker traces the intellectual climate from less logical and rational and more factual and in some ultimate sense, irrational (see my essay “Loss of Transcendence in Post Christian Culture” and “Tracking the Maze From Foundationism to Pantheistic Monism in Post Modern Culture”). But Science that has repudiated logic has not and cannot exist! Surely Becker did not mean that Einsteinian Relativity and Quantum Theory is no longer concerned with reason. A more careful analysis would probably lead to the result that organismic as well as the mechanistic principles of science draw their plausibility from the fact that they seemed to reflect faithful pictures of our “common sense” daily experience. The developments among the philosophers of the 18th century Enlightenment still felt that theirs was a worldview provided completely by autonomous reasons (see appendix chart Shaping Cultural Characteristics of the Enlightenment). The worldview of the Enlightenment was provided completely by autonomous reason (see by essay “Resurgence of Autonomous Man in The West”).

THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT

1.         The demise of Natural Law, at least in its Augustinian sense, as grounded in a personal lawgiver: (a) Newtonian science removed God from the cosmos; (b) Lockean psychology removed God from man; and (c) Comteian sociology removed God from society.

2.         The collapse of Aristotle’s hierarchy of Being as an interpretive schema of all reality.

3.         The new hope was grounded in the power of reason.

4.         The promise of science: Salvic method.

5.         The prospect of Utopia: Social peace, prosperity and progress.

6.         Education as the Messianic source of renewed humanity and society. Happiness is man’s Summum Bonum, attainable only through adequate education.

7.         Autonomous reason, i.e., the Law of Reason was in harmony with the Law of Nature, and both could discover the Law of Society and produce the new earth. God becomes irrelevant for explaining and understanding the cosmos, man as a sinner in need of redemption, and reasons for social disorder. Despair and powerless existentialism, romanticism and mysticism seek to fell the Word. (Louis I. Bredvold, The Brave New World of The Enlightenment (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962

 

DOMINANT INTELLECTUAL THEMES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT

1.   Rejection of history and the past in favor of Reason.

2.   Institutions and traditions inherited from the past had to give way to Reason and Science. Religion, marriage and the family had to be supplanted by the State. The State became man’s vehicle of salvation.

3.   The Christian doctrine of man as a sinner was abandoned. Man’s nature was neutral, if not good and perfectible.

4.   The rule of society must be in the hands of the enlightened ones, the elite.

5.   Basic to this view, faith is that man and society must be humanistic, not Christian.

6.   Science must replace religion as the source of judgment and authority (see esp. H.G. Reventlow, The Authority of The Bible and The Rise of The Modern World (Fortress Press, E.T., 1985

7.   Biblical view of sin and punishment are replaced with psychotherapy (See U.S. News and World Report, December 10, 1990 and March 25, 1991).

8.   Conscription came in the French Revolution. The professional army is replaced with a state created army and a hold on youth.

9.   Foreign policy is given priority over domestic or internal affairs. Hitler, George Bush, Gorbachev (before and after the coups of August 19-21) spoke of the “New World Order.” The goal of politics has a world scope, not a local one.

10.  The new god is man, or Humanity, and the goal is “to be truly human” which means to be stripped of all religious and moral standard and faith, derived from supernatural revelation, i.e., the Desacralization and Demythologization of reality.

11.  The world’s economic problem is seen as one of distribution, not production (cf. Entitlement, rights and welfare).

12.  Power is centralized in the State (cf. Coup attempt in Russia’s 70 hour plus coup, August, 1991).

13.  Reality is seen as basically impersonal, ruling out the Christian God, Creator and Redeemer.

14.  The new established Church becomes the state school (see Bloom, Hirsch, Nash, and my three essays on Western education).

15.  There is an increasing control over private property and a virtual confiscation by local and federal taxation, the goal of “the illumination.”

(Louis L. Bredvold, The Brave New World of The Enlightenment, 1961)

THE POST MODERN FOUNDATIONS OF ANTI SCIENCE

1.         There is no scientific certitude.

2.         The illusory nature of the ideal of objectivity.

3.         The illusory nature of definitions.

4.         The illusory nature of the absolute truthfulness of mathematics.

5.         The illusory nature of “factual” truth.

6.         The breakdown of the mechanical concept of causality.

7.         The principle importance of potentialities and tendencies.

8.         Not the essence of “factors” but their relationship counts.

9.         The principles of “classical” logic are no longer unconditional.

10.        At the end of the Modern Age the Cartesian partition falls away.

 

            After the scientific developments in the 20th century, it is obvious what the characteristics are: (1) with the rise of non-Euclidean geometry, (2) the physics of relativity and (3) the mechanics based on the de Broglie waves, the basic principles of physical science are no longer a direct formulation of our everyday experience; they were no longer obvious and plausible to “common sense.” Their only justification consisted now in their property of yielding observable facts by means of a chain of “logical conclusions.” The illusion disappeared that the principles of science were of eternal validity or could at least be interpreted as conclusions from such principles. Materialism (i.e. matter is eternal) no longer obtained. Twentieth century sources had use for logic but not metaphysics. To interpret the principles of science as results of our common sense leads to the presupposition that they are self-evident and cannot be refuted by further empirical checking. This belief is the very core of the metaphysical interpretation of science (see E.A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, (2nd edition, NY: Doubleday, 1932); P. Duhem, Evolution des Theories physiques (1896); E. Mach, The Science of Mechanics (4th edition, Chicago, 1919); W. Whewell, History of The Inductive Sciences (3 vols., 1847).

            The developments in the physical sciences declare that metaphysics is a meaningless enterprise. All interpretation means translation. But we have no criterion of what is correct analogy. Kuhn’s concept of paradigm is a use of analogy; only then can there be rational explanation of “Narrative Displacements.” This theory was one of the historical roots of the new physical theories. Surely this theory of meaning guided Einstein in his “restricted” theory of relativity as well as his general theory. When Einstein in 1905 introduced his interpretation of the Lorentz transformation which was the essence of the special theory of relativity, he pointed out that the statement “two events at a spatial distance takes place at one and the same time” cannot be used to derive any observable fact. Therefore, this statement cannot be a part of any physical theory. Einstein clearly understood that this statement needs in addition a semantic rule or operational definition. In the development of the general theory, we again have statements of the type “the rotation of this body is responsible for a centrifugal force.” This statement is regarded as a legitimate statement in Newton’s mechanics. But Mach pointed out that such a statement cannot be used to derive observable facts because it does not contain any rule by which one can check by observation whether a body is rotating (R.W. Bridgman follows this claim in The Logic of Modern Physics) NY: MacMillan, 1927).

            The developments in quantum mechanics proceeds along an empirical theory of meaning. The decisive turning point in the theory was Heisenberg’s of 1925 in his book Zeitschrift fur Physik (33 (379), 1928). Heisenberg introduced not the position of the electron but the Fourier co-efficient of the radiation that is emitted by the atom as a result of the Keplerean motions of the electron. These Fourier coefficients developed into Heisenberg’s matrices and Schrodinger’s wave function. In his “Remarks on Bertrand Russell’s “Theory of Knowledge” (The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, (Vol. 5 of the Library of Living Philosophers (R.A. Schlipp, editor, Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1944), “Einstein says of the conceptual system that it must be firmly enough connected with sensory experience.” (P. 289). The positivistic requirements of the general principles can be translated into statements about sense observations. The general principles themselves are the products of mathematic and logical imagination, which has to be checked by applying the “positivistic” or “operational” requirement.

            This procedure is applied to the new “unified field theory” proposed by Einstein and Schrodinger. Einstein’s use of “free imagination is theory construction but he denies that this procedure requires “metaphysics,” for they are subjected to “operational” or experimental criterion of meaning. The criterion of truth remains ultimately with the checking by some observation as the “older positivists” claimed (see esp. J. Hademord’s “Essay on The Psychology of Invention in The Mathematic Field” (Princeton University Press, 1945).

            The debate over the place of metaphysics of a system of statements, the “truth” of which is judged according to the experimental criterion of meaning, continues over the distinction between science and metaphysics. Such an interpretation of 20th century physics was given by Eddington (A.S. Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science (NY: MacMillan, 1939). Logic has never been removed as a vital part in the developments in 20th century science. Einstein says in his Herbert Spencer Lecture, 1933--”Experience, of course, remains the sole criterion for the serviceability of mathematic construction for physics, but truly creative principle resides in mathematics. This means that the creative process in theoretical physics consists in the creation of symbolic or formal systems by a kind of “logical imagination.” The formal system must always be judged by the experimental data. This debate between science, philosophy and theology continues to the present postmodern hour. The words of Jacques Martian and E. LeRoy must be denied a voice in our present brief examination, but they have important things to contribute to the discussion. The question is—is there/can there be—any rational connection between Science and Metaphysics? In the scientific way, the statements of science are interpreted by man’s operational definitions as statements about observable facts and every observable fact in physics can be expressed in the language of common sense experience. The metaphysical interpretation is actually a particular kind of semantic approach; it is a translation into common sense language. The “materialistic” and “idealistic” interpretation of science owe their appeal to the “common sense” meaning of the words “matter” and “mind” and not to their scientific meaning which can hardly be stated precisely. It is a historic fact that many physicists preferred to say that they reject relativistic mechanics not for metaphysical reasons but for reasons of “common sense.” The rationalistic metaphysicist rejected new theories on the ground of ‘reason,’ the empiricist and metaphysician rejected them on the basis of ‘common sense.’

            The father of empiricist philosophy, Francis Bacon, rejected the Copernican theory for not being in agreement with “ common sense;” the leader of 19th century British empiricism, Herbert Spencer, argued that the total mass of the system of material bodies cannot depend on their distribution in space. August Comte, the father of “positivistic philosophy” predicted that no mathematical theory of chemical phenomena will never be advanced because our “common sense” tells us that the chemical processes, if we consider to what degree all these predictions have been refuted by the actual advance of science, we can learn two things: metaphysics has never been an obstacle to the advance of science, and second, if we hear today that biology will never become a science in the sense that mathematical physics is or that sociology can never use scientific methods, we can never account for the cultural and epistemological relativism of our post modern culture of 2002.

            What is the significance of science for man personally and socially? What is the relationship of metaphysics, philosophy and theology, if any? The psychological and social significance of science for a Christian believer is a fundamental challenge in our postmodern multiculturally diverse global village. Are there any questions that scientific investigation cannot engage? (See M. Bube’s Seven Patterns of Christian Response to Science; and especially Enrico Cantore, Director of the Institute for Scientific Humanism, Lowenstein Center at Fordham University, New York, The Scientific Man” The Humanistic Significance of Science (ISA Publishers, 1977)

            There are two central challenges of the post modern anti science and the neurobiological revolution, i.e., reduction of the human mind to the brain and then to a low-grade computer. The ultimate consequence is the repudiation of “The Self” (The Person). If man’s uniqueness is rejected, it spells the death knell to all humanistic concerns.

            Only a look at the Narrative Displacement in the history of science could address the rise and fall of humanistic concerns in this marvel of human construction. Postmodern attacks on certain views of science is that science per se is impersonal, dominating, (controlling) and destructive. The entire history of scientific development has affirmed the dynamic orderliness of nature—until the influence of Kant and Hume and the post modern anti science movement reached its zenith. Since the time of Kant and Hume, cosmic teleology has been under attack but the epistemological cultural relativism thesis has all but gained controlling force in the academy.

            Science has historically been wonder and awe and surprise at natural order, admiration of discovery and the astonishment at natural intelligence (see esp. The response of Behe and Polkinghorne to the wonder, complexity and order of science). A sense of surprise has been the dynamic of the work of all creative scientists. Heisenberg provides a marvelous example when he first met Bohr. He was suspicious of his motive for doing science. Bohr was continually speaking in terms of planetary representation of atoms. Was he perhaps moved by desire to impose a rationalistic-mechanistic scheme on nature? Recalling the genesis of his famous theory, he rejected emphatically the idea that his starting point might have been the desire to mechanize the structure of the atom. “But for me the starting point was the stability of matter which from the standpoint of traditional physics is a pure wonder.” (W. Heisenberg, Der Teil und des Ganze: Gesprache in umbreis der atom physik (Munich: Piper, 1969, pp. 60ff.)

            Heisenberg relates in detail his first motivation for doing physics. His basic question was to know “why there are, in the material world, forms and qualities that always reoccur.” (Ibid., pp. 375). The same basic trait of scientific attitude was expressed by Planck—“. . . compared with immeasurably rich ever young nature, advanced as men may be in scientific knowledge and insight, he must forever remain the wondering child and must constantly be prepared for new surprises.” (M. Plank, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (Tr. By F. Gaynor, NY: 1949, p. 117) “One thing about science is that the search for understanding is far more exciting than I had ever expected it to be when I was young.” (B.T. Edison, Scientists: Their Psychological World (NY: Basic Books, 1962, p. 157).

In this same view, E. Mach states in his words: Novelty excites wonder in persons whose habits of this gift are shaken and disarranged by what they see. But the element of wonder never lies in the phenomenon or events observed; its place is in the person observing. People of more vigorous mental type aim at once at an adaptation of thought that will conform to what they have observed. This does science eventually to become the natural foe of the wonderful. (E. Mach, “On Transformation and Adaptation of Scientific Thought,” in his book, Popular Scientific Lectures (Translated by T.J. McCormack, LaSalle, IL: Opencourt, 1943, pp. 214).

Mach’s view of science is based on logical mathematical interpretation. To sum up, Mach’s position is clear and forthright, but it is certainly not derived directly from his own experience as a scientist. Rather, it is a statement stemming from his philosophical interpretation of the science of mechanics. (E. Mach, The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Account of Its Development (Trans. T.J. McCormick, Open Court Press, p. 87)

 

For Einstein, science contributes to wonder (see A. Einstein, Lettres a Maurice Solovine (Paris: Gauthier Villars 1956, p. 114). Einstein is . . .”astonished to notice how sublime order emerges from what appeared to be chaos. And this cannot be traced back to the workings of his own mind but is due to a quality that is indirect in the world of perception. (A. Einstein, Prologue to M. Planck, Where Is Science Going?, Trans. By J. Murphy (NY: Norton, 1932, p. 111; On the awesomeness of nature, see E. Rutherford in J. Needham and W. Pagel, editors, The Background of Modern Science (NY: MacMillan, 1938, p. 68)

 

The singular voice of these scientific giants is that wonder and science are deeply interconnected. Some of the greatest scientific minds in the 20th century have claimed the intelligibility of atoms in precise mathematical language (from Plank and Einstein to the mathematic physicist Polkinghorne and the Geneticist, Behe).

 

These and other greats have always expressed an awareness of inexhaustible stability!—as “The ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before,” (Newton) (see esp. E. Cantore, Atomic Order: An Introduction to The Philosophy of Microphysics (Cambridge: MA: M.I.T. Press, 1960), 115-132).

            Though Darwin’s Origin of The Species has wreaked havoc on the Judaeo/Christian faith, he could never repress his original experience. “There is a grandeur to the view of life with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that while this planet has gone cycling, or, according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been and are being evolved.” (C. Darwin, The Origin of The Species (NY: Collier, 1962, pp. 48ff. Notes in the foreword by G.G. Simpson, p. 7)

            The relationship of science and Christianity has a long history, as we continue its encounter in the 21st century must avoid scientism and positivism, subjectivism and emotionalism. Science is a phenomenon affecting the whole being of the person involved. The scientific awareness of wonder and the surprisingness of nature is a possible point of encounter. Even the leading non Christian anthropologist, M. Eliade, expresses a marvelous awareness of wonder in nature: “Everything unusual, unique, new, perfect, or monstrous at once becomes imbued with magico-religious powers and an object of veneration or fear according to the circumstances, for the sacred usually produces this double reaction.” (M. Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Trans by R. Sheed (NY: Meridan, 1963, p. 126); see also his The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion (Trans W.R. Fresh, NY: Harper Torchbook, 1961, pp. 115ff.)

            Even the critic of the Christian faith, A.N. Whitehead, affirms the conviction that without Judaeo/Christian assumption science could not have arisen at all: In men the inexpungable belief that every detail that occurs can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principle. Without this belief the incredible labors of scientists would be without hope. It is this instinctive conviction vividly poised before the imagination which is the motive power of research, that there is a secret which can be unveiled.” (Alfred North Whitehead, Science and The Modern World (NY: Mentor Books, 1948, p. 12-17)

James Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL