Once Again, Does Science Produce Knowledge? (Part 3)



I've been questioning Jerry Coyne's argument that:
 ...music, literature and poetry don’t produce any truths about the universe that don’t require independent verification by empirical and rational investigation: that is, through science (broadly interpreted).  These fine arts don’t convey to us anything factual about the world unless those facts can be replicated by reason, observation or experiment.1

While H.G Well's The World Set Free inspired the creation of the atomic bomb that ended World War II early and saved millions of lives, under Coyne's contention there is no knowledge in that book, or the millions of lives saved or in history itself. Are the events of history and mass deaths classifiable as knowledge? That argument leads to a rather awkward problem. Einstein's relativity theory, is not based upon experimental data but a thought experiment. Relativity is, like Flatland, a work of literature. If it's a work of literature, what is the magic moment when something becomes knowledge? 




At some magical moment, somewhere in the arc that goes from inspiration through execution to data collection to report writing to submission to review to publication to reading to verification by other scientists, scientific work becomes knowledge. If repeated experiments verify that a tree fell in the woods but no one reads the results did it really become knowledge? What is the magic moment when something becomes knowledge?
By the same token, assuming our people hear the report falling in the woods, what happens when if the supposedly verified theory is later proven to be wrong. Does it become "not knowledge?" Take Newton's laws. They only hold under certain circumstances. At the relatively small and relatively large, they can't "be replicated by reason, observation or experiment" because they break down

Of course, there is no magic moment when something "becomes" truth (or fact) just as there is no magic moment when something looses it's truthiness. 
Einstein's relativity theory was just as valid, just as descriptive of reality after it was accepted as before. The scientific process can either disprove something or fail to disprove something. The process, in of itself, doesn't create knowledge.

And, to use Coyne's other synonym for knowledge, Newton's laws are not truths in any way that most people use the term. Scientists, when asked carefully (or is that observed in a certain way?), are quite clear on this point. Einstein famously said that you can't open the watch. It was his shorthand for the observation that we can't look under the hood of the universe. Whatever rules run the great machine, they are not the ones we use to describe it. The work of Einstein, Newton, Dawkins, et al. are just our best models. While they  happen to produce numbers that closely resemble what we observe, the formulas and numbers are not the world we actually observe. While Newton had the presumptiousness to think he had discovered nature's laws, science deals in theories, models, that will always be open to challenge and are never, to use Coyne's term, "verified" in any final sense.'

In the end, Coyne's definition, leads us on a journey that strips almost everything out of the category of knowledge. It reduces the idea for the atomic bomb in H.G. Wells' novel to emotional realization. It claims that the narratives of literature, history, and human life as well as the ideas of people don't have any knowledge value. As we peel back a little farther, what we find is the converse. There is no magic moment when something "becomes" truth or fact or knowledge. Einstein's relativity theory, H.G Well's idea for the atomic bomb and Roddenberry's precursor to the cell phone were just as valid before they were concretized and experimentally tested. While the scientific method is immensely useful, it doesn't produce original ideas or new knowledge. That, so far, takes humans, experience and creativity.



1 - Jerry Coyne, "Once again: does religion produce knowledge?" Evolution is True (May 4, 2011): https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/once-again-does-religion-produce-knowledge/ (accessed 12 August 2019)

Comments

The Pixie said…
Tim: While the scientific method is immensely useful, it doesn't produce original ideas or new knowledge.

Then I have to ask, so what? Once you have conceded that it is "immensely useful" you seem to have lost the argument. Science is excellent at what it does, and what it does has revolutionised the world. Quibbling about whether it is "knowledge" or not does not change that one jot.

What science does do is give us insights into how the universe works. Sure, all it offers is successively better models, but those models are remarkably close to the real thing.

If you want to better understand the universe, do you go firstly to science or to religion or to the arts? If you want to reliably know the truth, it has to be science every time.

What truth about the universe has religion given us that is more than just opinion, i.e., that can be verified in some way? None that I know of.
Tim: While the scientific method is immensely useful, it doesn't produce original ideas or new knowledge.

Then I have to ask, so what? Once you have conceded that it is "immensely useful" you seem to have lost the argument. Science is excellent at what it does, and what it does has revolutionised the world. Quibbling about whether it is "knowledge" or not does not change that one jot.

I don't think Tim is saying that science is not knowledge but that there are types of knowledge that are not science

What science does do is give us insights into how the universe works. Sure, all it offers is successively better models, but those models are remarkably close to the real thing.

How certain aspects of the universe work. sanctifying grace is part of the universe science can;t tell us about that

If you want to better understand the universe, do you go firstly to science or to religion or to the arts? If you want to reliably know the truth, it has to be science every time.

depends upon what aspects,

What truth about the universe has religion given us that is more than just opinion, i.e., that can be verified in some way? None that I know of.

why we are here what happens when we die how we treat others why we are alive who God is,what he wants from us,
Tim Wood said…
Pixie,

Morning!

Pix: Science is excellent at what it does... Quibbling about whether it is "knowledge" or not does not change that one jot.

I am not arguing that Science is not knowledge. I'm arguing something subtler. The scientific method itself does not _produce_ ideas or knowledge. It's not a mechanism for generating knowledge but disproving theories. Ideas and knowledge are not created by the scientific method. We have chosen to use the scientific method as a mechanism to reject ideas and knowledge.

Pix: If you want to reliably know the truth, it has to be science every time

The decision to use the atomic bombs by the U.S. against Japan involved a long list of trade-offs including numbers of deaths and the implications of introducing a new category of weapon. Evaluating those trade-offs and deciding what to do was not one that could be made using the scientific method. Like many ethical, moral and philosophical questions, there is no "right" answer in a strictly materialist framework.

When Oppenheimer was trying to come to terms with the usage of the atomic bomb, he didn't turn to science. He didn't ask whether the scientific method should have been used to evaluate the decision to use the bomb. When FDR, to use your phrasing, wanted to know the truth about whether or not to use an atom bomb against Japan, he couldn't turn to science for an answer.

Pix: What truth about the universe has religion given us that is more than just opinion, i.e., that can be verified in some way?

I'm actually not arguing specifically about religion (see ethics/moral/bomb) above and I'm not debating how to evaluate and verify, I'm focused on something simpler: there is "knowledge-truth-facts" that science is capable of evaluating and there is is "knowledge-truth-facts" that science can not evaluate but that is important, relevant and useful.
Tim says: "I'm arguing something subtler. The scientific method itself does not _produce_ ideas or knowledge. It's not a mechanism for generating knowledge but disproving theories."


you Poperian!

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