Monday, May 15, 2017

The End of Science

In article at Evolution News Denyse O'Leary argues that metaphysical naturalism, the view that the cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, is actually doing great harm to science.

O'Leary argues that science is based upon the assumption that truth is objective, that it's out there waiting to be discovered, but that metaphysical naturalism actually undercuts that assumption. On naturalism truth becomes much more subjective and malleable. What's true for the scientist is what coheres most comfortably with his worldview. If his worldview is naturalism then any theory that eliminates the need for a God will be embraced, will be considered "science," regardless of the state of the evidence.

O'Leary writes:
Let’s start at the top, with cosmology. Some say there is a crisis in cosmology; others say there are merely challenges. Decades of accumulated evidence have not produced the universe that metaphysical naturalism expects and needs. The Big Bang has not given way to a theory with fewer theistic implications. There is a great deal of evidence for fine-tuning of this universe; worse, the evidence for alternatives is fanciful or merely ridiculous. Put charitably, it would not even be considered evidence outside of current science.

One response has simply been to develop ever more fanciful theories. Peter Woit, a Columbia University mathematician, is an atheist critic of fashionable but unsupported ideas like string theory (Not Even Wrong, 2007) and the multiverse that it supports. Recently, Woit dubbed 2016 the worst year ever for “fake physics” (as in “fake news“). As he told Dennis Horgan recently at Scientific American, he is referring to “misleading, overhyped stories about fundamental physics promoting empty or unsuccessful theoretical ideas, with a clickbait headline.”

Fake physics (he links to a number of examples at his blog) presents cosmology essentially as an art form. It uses the trappings of science as mere decor (the universe is a computer simulation, the multiverse means that physics cannot predict anything…). Conflicts with reality call for a revolution in our understanding of physics rather than emptying the wastebasket.

....The need to defend the multiverse without evidence has led to a growing discomfort with traditional decision-making tools of science, for example, falsifiability and Occam’s razor. And metaphysical naturalism, not traditional religion, is sponsoring this war on reality.... Can science survive the idea that nature is all there is? The initial results are troubling. Where evidence can be ignored, theory needs only a tangential relationship to the methods and tools of science.
In other words, what matters is that metaphysical naturalism be propped up. If that means sacrificing traditional methods and principles in physics, well, then so much the worse for those methods and principles. One reason for the hostility of many scientists toward the theory of intelligent design is not that it is an assault on science, it's not, it's that it's an assault on metaphysical naturalism. It's the threat to their metaphysics, not to their science, that has many scientists outraged by the inroads made by intelligent design theorists:
What if a theory, such as intelligent design, challenges metaphysical naturalism? It will certainly stand out. And it will stand out because it is a threat to all other theories in the entire system. Merely contradictory or incoherent theories clashing against each other are not a threat in any similar way; there are just so many more of them waiting up the spout.

Could intelligent design theory offer insights? Yes, but they come at a cost. We must first acknowledge that metaphysical naturalism is death for science. Metaphysical naturalists are currently putting the science claims that are failing them beyond the reach of disconfirmation by evidence and casting doubt on our ability to understand evidence anyway.

ID is first and foremost a demand that evidence matter, underwritten by a conviction that reason-based thinking is not an illusion. That means, of course, accepting fine-tuning as a fact like any other, not to be explained away by equating vivid speculations about alternative universes with observable facts. Second, ID theorists insist that the information content of our universe and life forms is the missing factor in our attempt to understand our world. Understanding the relationship between information on the one hand and matter and energy on the other is an essential next discovery. That’s work, not elegant essays.
O'Leary concludes with this:
We will get there eventually. But perhaps not in this culture; perhaps in a later one. Science can throw so many resources into protecting metaphysical naturalism that it begins to decline. Periods of great discovery are often followed by centuries of doldrums. These declines are usually based on philosophical declines. The prevalence of, for example, fake physics, shows that we are in the midst of just such a philosophical decline. It’s a stark choice for our day.
Modern science germinated in the fertile soil of a theistic worldview. Most of the founders of the modern scientific era were theists. They believed that the universe was rational because it was created by a rational God and that because it was rational it could be elucidated by logical, empirical analysis. They also believed that the universe was a suitable subject of study, that there was no sacrilege in examining how it worked because the universe was not itself divine nor "enchanted."

By thinking God's thoughts after Him, these great minds assumed, it was possible to unravel the mysteries of life and the cosmos, but contemporary scientists, having abandoned the metaphysical foundation of the scientific enterprise, have been running on fumes for a century or more and have turned what was traditionally the pursuit of truth into a desperate attempt to prop up their naturalism.

This probably won't end well for science.