Friday, March 03, 2006

Contextual Royalty

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief (roughly speaking).

The second part of Ernie's response is Context is King. I had stated that

The "context" part is a bit murky here. Ernie introduced this in "Brothers, Can Youse Paradigm", but without a clear (to me) description of what is included or excluded by the context. ...

Ernie's response provides some clarification. He equates "context" with "what you're trying to do". Context is also related to an "(implicit or explicit) level of precision" within an "(implicit or explicit) domain".

For purposes of our ongoing discussion, do we need to elaborate a purpose, a required level of precision or the domain? If I am now understanding Ernie's use of "context" (which is perhaps doubtful), I think those will be reasonably clear. If there is something more that should be said now about our (shared?) context, perhaps Ernie can fill me in.

As far as this being "an apparently ad hoc approach to knowledge", that is more or less why I described the situation as "bothersome", but I did not mean to imply by that that we can do better. That has become increasingly clear to me these past few years.

Not that this necessarily fits exactly with what we are discussing, I was reminded recently of this quote from Stephen J. Gould:

In science, 'fact' can only mean confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.

Since I could not remember the exact wording, I searched for it just now. One of the hits came from Darwin on Trial, a review by Raymond Bohlin of a book by the same name by Phillip Johnson. Bohlin includes the above quote, and follows it immediately by this gem:

In other words, evolution is a fact because a majority of scientists say so, and you are "perverse" if you do not agree. We quickly begin to see that evolution holds a privileged place in the scientific community, which will go to extraordinary lengths to preserve that status.

What? Is "confirmation" just "because a majority of scientists say so"? Scientists would disagree. I think Bohlin might need a new paradigm.


Dr. Ernie said...

Actually, "confirmed" usually means "widely accepted by the vast majority of members of a community who have looked into it", which is actually a reasonable definition. No?

Alan Lund said...

But evolution is confirmed not just because so many scientists have "said so", but because they have examined the evidence and tested its predictions. Bohlin is twisting this, trying to make the case that scientists are abusing their supposed positions of authority by saying that evolution is a fact merely because the majority of scientitsts say so. I do not disagree with Ernie's elaboration, but I do disagree with Bohlin.