Kenneth Howell Responds A Third Time

As I indicated earlier I came away from the debate against Dinesh with some new Christian friends. Kenneth Howell is one of them. Friends are more important to me than most everything else, and I do like learning from one another. He's previously responded to some comments and I appreciate his thick skin to do so again.
Okay, now that I am initiated to the world of AAF blogging, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Let’s clear away a few preliminaries:

1) I am a guest in John’s house (blog) and as a guest I have a responsibility to refrain attributing to him the attitudes and feelings of others who happen to be there too.

2) Irrelevant topics at this point: Bible, Transubstantiation, the honesty and integrity of AAFs and Christians.

3) Things to keep in mind about me: a) I don’t assume that Christians are morally or intellectually superior to AAFs. The behavior of Christians in the past should be ample evidence to anyone who is willing to look. Neither do I assume the converse. b) I am not a Bible-toting Creationist and I reject categorically any God-of-the-Gaps explanation c) I believe in intellectual engagement for the purpose of understanding truth and am willing to question the cherished assumptions of religion and science. I have been doing it my whole life.

4) I am going to work at not psycho-analyzing my interlocutors. As some have rightly pointed out, such attempts are irrelevant to the issue of truth.

What then are the issues? Unobservables in science and the nature of explanations. Secondarily, how these issues bearing on formulating a worldview.

On the matter of electrons, it was not, of course, about electrons per se but about unobservables in scientific theories. As several entries pointed out, all proposed entities in science must submit to empirical tests. This is the nature of science. So, when unobservables (dark matter, electrons, black holes) are postulated, science devises tests to verify or falsify them. Understood long ago. But, as Paul Wright and others pointed out, a scientist can take at least two positions on the ontic status of unobservables. One is the realist; the other is the instrumentalist. As far as I have been able to detect, many working scientists take the pragmatic position expressed by Richard H. Richard said,

“We're using different definitions of "true".

So in the context of the science, "X is true" is really, "X describes observable reality in a consistent and useful way, such that I'm willing to accept it with a very high degree of certainty."
Howell seems to be using a philosophical definition of True. As a scientist, my answer to, "Is it True that electrons exist?" is "I can never know. Knowing wouldn't alter any of my decisions. So I don't care."

KJH: Absolutely! But then, on Richard’s view, science becomes not the pursuit of truth but a useful tool for prediction. This was the position of logical positivists in the first half of the 20th century. In other words, all we know is that theories predict the observable results. I do not accept this view of science. I understand that scientists need to get on with their work and so must, at times, desist from the truth question. But my studies of the writings of the great scientists of the Scientific Revolution (e.g. Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Newton) taught me that they all viewed science as truth about the universe. At the origins of modern science there is a deep commitment to Truth. What do I mean by true? Finding the one theory that will predict the data properly AND offer an explanation for the laws (empirical regularities) we have discovered. Example: Einstein’s relativity theory. It overturned the Newtonian notion of absolute space and time for a concept of spacetime. (please correct any real deficiencies in my understanding).

How do we know when we have arrived at the True theory, the theory of everything? I don’t know and I have doubts that any human being can know this. But it seems to me that the search for a final theory conceptually presupposes (demands) belief in the possibility of the Truth of scientific theories, not just their pragmatic utility. I am realist in the sense that I am looking for truth, not pragmatic “truth” but the True Theory of the universe. To me, science makes no sense without that assumption.

How does this bear on AAF-Christian discussions? Simple. If anyone, AAF or Christian, does not believe in the pursuit of Truth in science and in every human endeavor, I cannot have any conversations with him/her. They would be pointless. But if anyone professes to be pursuing truth, the other danger to avoid is the assumption that our current knowledge of science (or anything empirical) does not involve unproven assumptions. Honest skeptics should be willing to examine unproven assumptions. Right? Of Course. And your entries show that you are willing. But we cannot be selective in our critical pursuits. And more importantly, a truly critical thinker cannot make grandiose claims for science or anything else that is not justified by the data. To me, this is what AAFs seem to being doing when they invoke scientific theories as substitute explanations for God. This last sentence leads to the point of my second post about levels of explanation. But since this way too long already, that will have to wait.