Notes from the Publisher

July 29, 2008

Politics / Science and Its Epistemological Limits


One thing that should be discussed more is the limits of science's epistemology.  Filling in the gaps for us is this post at CreationSafaris.

Clearly science seems “on to something” because of its practical successes in medicine, electronics and the space program, but even then, how much of the success is due to trial and error?  How much is due to practical engineering?  How much do we assume is true simply because it works according to the best theories of the day?  One only need look at history to see many examples of practical success using theories we now believe are wrong.

The fact is, science does not even account for a small amount of the whole of knowledge.  The problem is that we fail to recognize it, and speak using scientific categories even when they are inappropriate, and it makes us forget that there is more in life than the scientific.

I shelved this under politics because the political arena is becoming so science-oriented.  Whether or not one has "scientific" views (whatever those are) seems to be what the media judges you on in many cases.  But the fact is that there is a lot more that goes into knowledge than just science, and even more that goes into decision-making.  Making science an idol has clouded our ability to see its limitations.

July 10, 2008

Politics / Secular Mythology


I've always wanted to do a book on secular mythology.  Secular types often think of religion as being mythology and secularism being a "myth-free" religion.  But the funny thing is that the mythologies that grow in the secular world tend to be much more often third-hand, and largely false stories that get repeated over and over for the propoganda effect.  A few quick examples:

  • Galileo - the Galileo story that most people know is flagrantly in error.  Galileo was actually paid by the Church to investigate the heliocentric theory.  What he did wrong was (a) offend the pope (the person whose name was "stupid" in his allegory quoted the pope), (b) claimed that he had proven something when he hadn't, and (c) claimed authority over the church for the interpretation of scripture.  The RCC at the time had nothing but support for Galileo's scientific investigations, but it could not stand for Galileo's own personal problems.  Galileo's model of the solar system was actually inferior to those of the geocentrists of his day, and his lynchpin argument for the movement of the earth was the tides, which he claimed were due to the sloshing around of the seas (the heliocentrists had correctly correlated the tides with gravity).  Also, Galileo, because he was committed to a circular orbit, still had epicycles, while the Kepler (a contemporary) had moved to ellipses and did not have epicycles (Galileo did not bother to read Kepler's work).  It would be over a century after Galileo was dead that the evidence, as well as theoretical underpinnings, began to go in Galileo's favor with the works of Newton.  Galileo lived a very comfortable life, and wrote his most important contributions to science when he was in his home imprisonment.
  • The flat earth myth - the idea that before Columbus the world was believed to be flat is patently false.  Columbus's detractors did not disagree with him over the roundness of the earth, but rather with the distance he would have to travel to get there.  It turns out that Columbus's detractors were correct, and in order to fudge his victory Columbus named the tribes he encountered as "Indians". In fact, all throughout the middle ages the fact that the earth was round was not only known, its approximate circumference was also known.
  • The McCarthy myth - McCarthyism is a favorite label by secularists.  But it turns out that McCarthy was largely right.  The until-now classified Venona project turns out to support most of McCarthy's major claims.  In fact, even the HUAC was infiltrated with at least one communist - congressman Samuel Dickstein who was later found to be on the Soviet payroll.
  • The Scopes trial - sadly, most people only know about the Scopes trial through "Inherit the Wind".  It turns out, inherit the wind has almost no historical value whatsoever.  John Scopes never taught evolution, but merely claimed to have done so in order for the ACLU to be able to try the law.  Scopes was never arrested, or even in danger of losing money.  The only one who hysterically shouted in court was the ACLU's attorney, Clarence Darrow, who objected when Bryan quoted his previous defenses of criminals, where Darrow himself had named evolutionary theory as causing criminal behavior.  Bryan was not a young-earth Creationist, though Price, on whom Bryan relied, was.  Darrow tricked Bryan into taking the stand, saying that he (Darrow) would take the stand the next day for Bryan's questioning, but then called an end to the trial before that could happen.
There's a lot more.  What's your favorite secular myth?

July 01, 2008

Politics / What it Means to be a Conservative


As usual, Glenn Beck hits it right on the money.

June 29, 2008

Politics / The Right and Left in Science and Politics


Here is a masterful piece on the relationship of the right and left in science and politics.  I don't have time to comment on it at the moment, but it is a good read and worthy of discussion. 

However, I do think it misses some big opportunities to speak to the difference between worshipping science and scientists (which moves it out of the realm of science, actually) and having a critical understanding of science, which is more true to the scientific enterprise itself than the worship of science, scientists, or even the body of knowledge produced by the scientific enterprise.