Jul 31, 2007

beyond the evidence

Timothy Sandefur, on a creationist's appropriation of "pomobabble:"
Trask argues that magical understandings of the universe are just as acceptable as scientific understandings, but that preferences for science and reason over “revelation,” emotionalism, whimsical impulse, and other “ways of knowing” is just so much prejudice. “Scientific epistemologies,” he writes, “legitimize the exclusion of those who do not understand truth exclusively through empirical verification.” Science is cruelly shoving magical theories away from the table, through its emphasis on such things as testability, or evidence, or replication of results and silly stuff like that....

Moreover, a demand for evidence and experiment is not a religion. A religion is a belief in something in the absence of, or in spite of, the evidence. It is faith—that is, belief in something which is not subject to evidence and cannot be proven.... Science is certainly an epistemology, and, I would argue, part of this complete, nutritious worldview. But it is not a “religion,” and certainly it is not a “religion” in the Constitutional sense of the term. At the time of the Constitution’s writing, “religion” was not understood as referring to secular, scientific worldviews.
My brother, in response, asks,
What problems are there for a political system where the only “evidence” allowed is empirical?
The answer is "not many," at least when the question under discussion is, "What is the proper subject of study in a public school science class?" Matt's error is in broadening the question.

Science doesn't work via "still small voice," "divine light," "burning in the bosom," feelings, visions, trances, or ecstatic revelations. Its purview is observation and experimentation, with a heavy dose of mathematics. It exposes the post hoc and spits out the ad hoc. Its truths are not eternal, but provisional, subject to change with further study. Though sometimes helped along by intuitions and hunches, and hindered by personalities and politics, science ultimately stands or falls on the evidence--no po-mo quote marks needed.

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