Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Metaphysics of Science - Carl F. H. Henry

Scientific study is not nearly as disengaged from metaphysical commitments as it is often represented to be. The fact of causality, for example, was for a long time as dogmatically affirmed in the study of physics, and with far less justification, as is the reality of God by theologians. More recently, due to the evident limitations of empirical method, many physicists concede that causality is a non-experimental idea, and they speak more guardedly of observed sequences of events. Yet contemporary science is nonetheless replete with metaphysical postulations. Who has ever seen an atom or an electron? It will be replied, of course, that vast differences separate the celestial beings with which the ancient religions filled the invisible world and natural selection, gravitational fields, electrons and other postulates of modern science. For one thing science is a method of knowing that accepts nothing as final (let it be said with finality!) and stands always ready to revise its finding (the word findings may itself be less than accurate). But if we remember that mathematical formulas reflect statistical averaging, the question arises whether the reported mathematical connection have in all or in some cases ever been observed and whether nature per se corresponds to them. Surely it will be pointed out that the empirical scientist does not simply assume metaphysical realities (a biblical theologian can only welcome reassurance at this point), but instead postulates them for purposes of explanation and then seeks to disprove his hypothesis, whether one speaks of a gravitational field or of electrons. If this is intended to imply that metaphysical affirmations become rationally significant only when both evidence and criteria of verification of disproof are introduced, the emphasis is no less welcome in theology than in empirical science. But if it implies that the empirical scientist additionally has a special way of testing the truth of metaphysical assertions, it is wholly of being correlated with sense verification is giving rise to new doubts. Operational science does not assume but denies the reality of an electromagnetic field. The scientist has on the basis of empirical methodology no legitimate metaphysics at all. Electrons in distinction from centaurs permit deductions which seem at present to sustain rather than to refute them, but whether natural selection and electrons are less imaginative than centaurs may well depend upon which generation of scientists one asks.

Carl F. H. Henry; God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. 1 p. 172

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At Thursday, June 07, 2007 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Exist~Dissolve said...

I think Henry is making a categorical error by speaking of metaphysical considerations in science and religion in comparative terms. After all, a consistent metaphysic is not based on the unsubstantiated existence of that which might be (with the right tools) experimentally verifiable on the basis of phenomenological observation. Rather, metaphysics concerning that which is supernatural must begin from the starting supposition that that which is beyond the realm of science and phenomenology is so not because of a present ignorance in human knowledge and observational methodologies, but rather, because the very categorical nature of the supernatural is incapable of access by empirical investigation regardless of the proximity of the methodologies of the same to infinitude.

At Thursday, June 07, 2007 11:02:00 AM, Blogger christopher said...

Henry seems to be saying the same thing that you are. He's just saying it in English. :)

He is saying the even with all explanations to the contrary the scientist in the use of his methodology has already by beginning instantiated metaphysical categories unverifiable withing the genetic limitations of the methodological constraints.

He does not "find" the real, and then describe it, because a real is presupposed in the very act of the investigation of the real, and this, is the primary establishment of a metaphysic whether or not the Scientist as scientist is willing to admit the fact, so that we can then demand an explanation of the metaphysic and call for its verification and argument for its coherence.

Now Henry is positing a basic operationalism, and that might be key to grasping his critique.

But to just say that Henry is confused because he is dealing with apples and oranges here because Science is one thing dealing with the experiential artifacts of the phenomenological world whereas God, or religion, is other than all of these things seems to miss his point. Being, that neither can be done without an implied metaphysic.

If we talk about anything at all, we speak of what we think is real.


At Thursday, June 07, 2007 5:07:00 PM, Blogger Exist~Dissolve said...

I understand your point. I must be operating with a different conception of metaphysics than that of which Henry is speaking. Having not read the fuller context of his work, I suppose it is inappropriate of me to assume a definitional trajectory in his thinking that may or may not actually exist within his methodological framework.


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