On the topic of the small and the great, I’m afraid this entire blog is hopelessly quixotic. (No, not because of its name… that’s not quixotic at all, at least not in the usual sense of the term….) I started this blog because of the deep conviction that there is no current philosophy of science which is really adequate. That, actually, is a nice way of saying that contemporary philosophies of science are not just inadequate; they’re false. And unfortunately, there is not — I am very convinced of this — one school of thought that has succeeded much better than others at surmounting falsehoods. Thomism and analytic philosophy, for instance, are nearly at opposite extremes in essential ways, and yet when it comes to the philosophy of science, not only the latter, but even the former often suffers from serious impediments, and impediments of the same kind, only in different ways. By impediments I mean nominalism, David Hume, bad scholasticism, the concept of force, a failure to examine with much depth how final and efficient causes are related, the confusion of words and symbols, … to name a few.
There may be some who are surprised to hear me say this even about the various strands of Thomist philosophy of science, but I think it is often true. Of course, it’s not that Thomists themselves are nominalist (for example), but they still tend to adopt views about the nature of science that derive from nominalism. These views seem acceptable because they are current, and also because they appear to be convenient. Their convenience derives from the fact that they almost always involve a certain degree of skepticism, ultimately inherited from Hume and nominalism. The Thomist intellectual tradition has often been willing to accept this skepticism — not, of course, for itself, but for science, which it thus can keep at arm’s length.
The one really noteworthy exception I know of to what I just described is Charles De Koninck, who thought and wrote better, and more profoundly, about the philosophy of science than anyone else I know of. There is an important effort currently underway to reawaken appropriate attention to his writing. But even such attention, supposing that it does get reawakened, deserves supplementary reflection, which it has been my hope to arouse. Trying to do that, though, with a blog I rarely seem to find enough time to post to, and one that only has a handful of readers, doesn’t exactly seem promising. In fact it looks like this:
So why, you might very reasonably ask, should one bother with this?
Well, there is something else. We — the West, that is, and maybe the world — are currently witnessing a very great uprising of scientism against religious faith. Judging by the flurry of anti-Christian activity now on the Internet, and by the virulence with which much of it derides Christian faith while advocating scientism as the alternative, one can make a surmise as to where it will all lead. The surmise is not a happy one. Here is an example.
Scientism, however, isn’t the same thing as science; it’s a sort of faith in science which poses as an alternative to faith in divine revelation. It pretends to be the advocate of reason as against faith, which it sees as foolishness. What it fails to recognize, for the most part, is that it is precisely not science as such that stands in opposition to faith; what stands in opposition is the corrupt philosophy (or philosophies) of science I have just alluded to, based on false principles such as those I referred to
Those who read between the lines will see that this is a complex picture. Why? Because, first, the philosophies of science which I am accusing of falsehood are skeptical, but science itself is not skeptical. The combination of science with the customary philosophies of science therefore results typically in a sort of schizophrenia which would be surprising if it were not so common. Those imbued with the spirit of scientism are, typically, skeptical about anything which transcends direct observation; but they are naturally not skeptical at all when it comes to what they can directly observe; indeed, therefore, they take the sensibly observable as more or less the very definition of truth. Meanwhile, those who try to oppose this scientism on the basis of the same faulty philosophical principles — I am here especially referring to many Thomists — undercut themselves, because they put the lack of certitude in precisely the wrong place; they put it in the scientifically observable rather than in the pernicious philosophy of science that lurks in the background, which they are, as I said, all too willing to assent to.
So… how is it likely that a little blog like this will get anywhere?
I guess I’ll just have to leave it to her!
Now… where was I? Ah, yes: telescopes. And “a principle small in size, but great in consequence.” It’s great in consequence because it is an absolutely decisive key to seeing where the Humean principles are wrong, especially in their application to science.
I think that I should underline what I just said, so that readers of this little blog will understand that I am serious. The principle in question is small in size, but very great in consequence.
The principle is instrumental causality, as applied to our ability to know the world. Since I’m out of time, I’ll describe it next time. For now, I’ll just leave a hint: the entire Humean philosophy of knowing, now applied to science by philosophers of all stripes, founded itself on complete obliviousness towards this principle. And as I said, Christian intellectuals have been all too willing to play along.