A Philosophy of Science: Part I
All anyone has to do to get an American to believe any absurd lie is to hire some “scientist” with alphabet soup behind his name, put him in a white lab coat, and have him utter: “Science conclusively shows that…” Then name the absurdity: “the sky is green,” “toothpaste causes tooth decay,” or “fungi have an I.Q. equal to baboons.” The idiot American will wander off marveling and willing to vote for more limited economic conditions or to have fungi teach in the public schools.
Americans, and the West in general, can be excused to an extent for this naiveté about the claims of “science” because they are surrounded on every side with evidence of the power of science. From personal gardening, to cell phones, to manufacturing three dimensional plastic commodities of every possible shape, technology is advancing constantly in every category of life. Why shouldn’t Americans be utterly impressed with its claims? On the other hand, being so surrounded by science, it’s pathetically ironic that so many don’t understand the first thing about the nature of scientific claims. The blame for this, however, doesn’t rest solely with the modern moronic American. The fundamental issues of his confusion arise from a failure of public education that, in turn, can be traced back to the highest academic circles.
The primary culprit is failure in the field of scientific philosophy. The modern trend has been to count every field that wants to name itself scientific as scientific. This horror is a direct function of another aspect of idiotic American culture in which no one is allowed to say “no” to any other living creature. In a judicial retreat from such an obstinate enemy of reason, it seems reasonable not to be judgmental even concerning scientific judgments. Instead, it seems better to sort the fields of science into their kinds rather than to declassify branches of human study as non-science. Global warming can then be recognized as significantly different from the experimental or natural sciences in its methods, truth claims, and in the nature of the certainty it can provide.
Consider, as examples, the following categories of human study as elements that contrast with the natural sciences:
The study of man’s actions historic and current: This is the area of the greatest certainty. Words such as “true” and “false” can be applied in this area. This is the area of written history, law, and legal applications. This area does not include the science of archaeology except in so far as archaeology is involved with establishing the testimony of once living witnesses by application to written records. Causes are certain. People took actions or did not take actions that had certain specific results. Just because an event cannot be proven, someone, somewhere, past or present, dead or alive, knows or knew, what really happened. The words “cause” and “effect” have real meaning and statements are true to the events or they are less than true.
The study of logical functions: This includes mathematics, linguistics, computer science, and logic itself. Here “true” and “false” do not apply. Although we often use these words colloquially, technically, we mean “valid” or “invalid.” To some extent a philosophical system can be judged as valid or invalid. Likewise, an utter lie can be valid or invalid. Great lies, like great literature, are internally valid.
Finally, in contrast to this brief context, consider the study of the natural sciences, those concerned with accurate descriptions of regularity. The more accurate the descriptions, the more immediately the regularities can be tested and the more powerful their predictive capabilities will be. The natural sciences, then, according to this definition, do not make truth claims. Validity is not as important in the natural sciences as it is in math. While certain aspects of a definition may not be perfectly logical, as long as the description allows scientists to measure regularity within a valid mathematical paradigm, the system of natural science developed is relevant and useful.
Cause and effect do not have “truth” values in the natural sciences because they are always open to revision. In the natural sciences a scientific theory may have an internal consistency or validity, but it cannot be said to be true, for it also is always, by its very nature, open to revision. Only insofar as a natural “law” or regularity is described accurately can it serve as a “cause” in a scientific theory.
The natural sciences describe what man has not done. They describe what all humanity experiences collectively. This is a shared experience exactly because it is what humanity finds, not what humanity has done. At times the natural sciences define a world that is amazingly orderly. Although this orderliness suggests truth values for ideas like “cause” and “effect” or “law” and “design,” such conclusions are not part of the study of the natural sciences at all. Instead, the truth value of these ideas are part of the study of philosophy of which every human partakes and of which more can be said elsewhere.
This open-ended, rough copy, descriptive and testable “causal feature” is unique to the natural sciences. It is, also, therefore, critically important in separating natural sciences from other branches of study. The causal features of true natural sciences must be immediately and directly testable. Therefore, the causal claim of a natural science is not “true” or “false” but “provable” or “not provable.” If it is not provable by an immediate test, the causal feature is simply irrelevant. Because an absurd causal theory must come from a human mind rather than from a regularity found in nature, descriptions of such theories as “false” are acceptable. Descriptions of false theories as “fraudulent” or “lunatic” are equally acceptable. However, natural science itself only discovers and then accurately describes regularities in the natural realm.
By accurate I mean Newton’s gravitational constant. While Newton’s causal claim seems almost self-evident to us today, it took humanity thousands of years of studying the heavens before the accuracy of this scientific definition changed the world. In fact each of the four fundamental forces of physics exemplifies mathematically accurate causal definitions. Lavoisier, the father of the modern periodic table, murdered irrationally by the aggrieved, miserable ones of the French Revolution, named hydrogen and oxygen because they were testable causes. “Oxy-gen” means “acid maker” and “hydro-gen” means “water-maker” (See Lavoisier). The periodic table is a symphony of scientifically precise, immediately testable “causes.” The elements explain why certain compounds react and then change into others. By the way, the gravitational constant and atomic theory have been subject to change and revision throughout the last century. Science’s power is not in the immutability of its causal definitions.
Science’s power is in the application of its immediately testable first principles. The application of Newtonian physics allows us to hit the moon with a rocket. The application of the testable causes in chemistry has transformed the modern world.
Compare this now to the Theory of Global Warming. While the theories of natural science and chemistry have minutely accurate mathematical definitions as fundamental “causes,” where are such causes and constants anywhere in the Theory of Global Warming? They simply don’t exist. Where the natural sciences build citadels of mathematically valid superstructures, superstructures established by successful application to a wide range of phenomenon, there are absolutely no such mathematical ratios or equations anywhere in the Theory of Global Warming. Does the Theory of Global Warming utilize the scientific method? How could it? The effects of greenhouse gasses, the “cause” in this theory, can only be measured effectively in a closed space, yet Global Warming Theory must measure the interactions of heat and gasses on a massive, world-wide scale, enclosed only by gravity.
Is global warming unscientific? Despite the title of this article, this would be very difficult to argue in the muddled world of scientific philosophy; however, it is very much unlike the natural sciences, and that should be enough. The natural sciences, the sciences most Americans consider as the agents of “scientific progress,” depend on predicting repeatable, testable phenomenon. The arc of a cannonball doesn’t vary; that allows science to learn and predict.
So if global warming’s causes are not at all like those of natural science, then what about the knowledge claims it makes for its outcomes? No, these too are very unlike those of the natural sciences. Global warming theorists are interested in predicting a single outcome, an unprecedented outcome that depends on the agency of mankind and fossil fuels. Instead of describing a regularity, Global Warming is attempting to describe, as true, a single event. Global warming theory has no interest in reproducing regularities that occur in nature. Hence, as to causal claims and as to the outcomes it claims to predict, Global Warming Theory is very much unlike the natural sciences.
While most Americans equate “scientific” with the natural sciences, there are other branches of widely accepted fields of science that, like global warming theory, are very different from the natural sciences in either the description of their causes or in the outcomes they seek to predict or demonstrate. Many of these fields acknowledge some of their differences with the natural sciences and have come to refer to their disciplines as “historical sciences.” This however is a misnomer for these fields seek to explain prehistory. Such fields must be filled with conjecture because one can never return to the world of prehistory in order to test the predictive capability of the scientific causes involved and there are no eye witnesses whose testimony can be evaluated. All such sciences, historic sciences, are, like global warming, very different than the natural sciences. Everyone should say so loudly and often.