Monday, December 19, 2016

The Scientific Revolution, Hypotheses, Assumptions and the Case of Fred Hoyle

First principles (archai) characterize modern science and other fields of knowledge. Contemporary scientia forms hypotheses, makes assumptions, then begins to advance from those archai by means of testing and observation. However, it was really the advent of modernity that made science begin to focus more on quantities and measurements instead of syllogisms and philosophical inquiry. For instance, Copernicus worked out his sun-centered universe by deploying math, and it was by utilizing the data of Tycho Brahe that Johannes Kepler worked out his laws of motion, which included the formulation of elliptical orbits. Copernicus and Galileo replaced the geocentric model of the universe with heliocentrism--this feat was accomplished through mathematical precision and empirical observation instead of relying on metaphysics. Newton and Galileo also focused more on a quantitative view of the universe; the former especially saw no need (per se) to create a nexus between physical objects and metaphysical explanations.

As everyone knows, despite its generally dismissive attitude toward philosophical inquiry and religion, modern science has been known to change its paradigms from time to time: examples of paradigm shifts include the wholesale rejection of Aristotle's Physics and Ptolemy's Almagest. In their place came Newton's Principia Mathematica, and later, Einsteinian physics. The emphasis then shifted towards physical laws, mathematical theory, application of theories, and technical instrumentation. Science also works within certain paradigms and feels the need to stay within those given set of parameters. So if one departs from the current paradigm, he/she will be considered eccentric or "unscientific."

Fred Hoyle illustrates how this characterization might work. While Hoyle is a brilliant scientist, there are times when he evidently holds "dissident" views that are not congruent with the professional community of scientists as a whole. Some of Hoyle's famous opinions have been with regard to the Big Bang and his metaphysical views, which he tried to couple with scientific theory ( i.e., mysticism). How have scientists usually responded to Hoyle's efforts?

[To be continued]


Sean Killackey said...

What do you think of the arguments of those who say that final causes are either unnecessary due to modern science, or are disproven by it? Likewise, what of those who hold the opposite position.

Edgar Foster said...

Final cause is usually defined as the purpose, function, telos or the "that for the sake of which" (Aristotle) something exists/occurs or takes place.

Since reading Edward Feser's "The Last Superstition," I've asked myself whether a theist is committed to belief in final causes or not. Whichever side one takes, I don't see how science makes final causes superfluous. For instance, learning about the material of hearts (the matter of which they're made) and how they function doesn't render the "why" question about hearts superfluous. Suppose that we could find out all we could possibly know about universal matter and the "push and pull" of material bodies (also known as efficient causality). How would such knowledge negate the why question of the universe?

As for disproving final causes, I don't understand how science by its very stated mission/methods can do any such thing. However, I'm not convinced that a theist is committed to Aristotelian final causes; it's possible our conception of teleology or final causality could be reoriented.

Briefly, let me say that I think it's a heavy lift to prove that Aristotelian form and final causes exist. Why should we be limited by his idea of final causes and entelechy?