Sunday, January 30, 2005

R. Plaut responds to my critiques and the comments

Rabbi Plaut sent me this response to my critiques and your comments:



Right near the beginning of his comments, Dilbert writes: "I don't
understand why there needs to be a difference between what is easily
observable and what is not easily observable." He has correctly
identified
this as one of the critical points of the essay, but confesses that he
does
not understand it. I, for one, would have been happy to take him at his
word. However Dilbert seems to think it important to prove that he is
honest, for he continues on with several hundred more words of comments
that make it absolutely clear that the first comment is correct.

The distinction is not one that I made up and it is not obscure. Any
undergraduate text on philosophy of science should have several essays
explaining it. It is not controversial.

While the misunderstandings in the comments to the second essay are not
as
egregious, I would nonetheless suggest that interested readers not rely
on
the comments. but read the essays for themselves.

How to Succeed in Knowing Without Really Seeing is at
http://www.geocities.com/mplaut2/htsikwrs.html

The Scientist as Poet; the Baal Mesorah as Scientist is at
http://www.geocities.com/mplaut2/tsap1.html

and a third essay that was referenced is

And How is the Way to Love of Him? which is at
http://www.geocities.com/mplaut2/ahistwtloh.html

To answer some of the comments and questions that have cropped up:

I do not condemn, ignore and certainly do not regret any science that
leads
to concrete, practical results and the knowledge that underlies the
same. I
make a distinction between the parts of science that are involved with
this
(called technology) and parts that are not, which are pure scientific
"knowledge." Some entire fields are part of the the latter such as
cosmology, and in other cases the same field can include both, such as
evolutionary biology. In ancient times, the first type of field was
called
an "art" and only the second was called "science." The usage today is
not
the same, but it must be borne in mind. My critical remarks are only
directed at the second area, in which science presumes to deal in
knowledge
and not just problem solving. I am happy with technology, in general.

On a related topic, even in the medieval era, science was full of the
study
of the purpose of the world and, as all the science text books say
derisively, it did very little experimentation. It was quite different
from
what is called science today. Here is a quote from Peter Gay: Medieval
science, then, like medieval philosophy, took its place, prominent but
secondary, in the hierarchy of human activities: it was, like
philosophy,
guided by man's search for holiness and salvation. . . . Medieval
science
was thus double teleological: its purpose was knowledge for the sake of
G-d; and its discoveries were discoveries of purposes -- G-d's
intentions
for His creation. ("The Enlightenment," p. 248)

Gay is not chareidi and he does not like this (so you do not have to be
suspicious of him), but he describes it. I have a whole series of
quotes
from him, but I do not think this is the place to post them all.

In my opinion, anyone who realizes and appreciates this difference will
see
that applying the statements that were made about science by the
rishonim
to what is studied today is problematic, and in some important cases it
is
downright wrong.

It is one of the proudest achievements of modern science that it has
banished all discussion of purpose, even from biology where the last
vestiges existed only 40 years ago and it is the first to distinguish
itself from the science of earlier eras.

At first the distinction seems to apply only to the atmosphere and
environment in which science was conducted in those days, and it is
tempting to think that it is just similar to the different ways in
which a
modern believing scientist and an atheistic scientist approach their
work.
But this is superficial and wrong since the differences go very deep
and
embrace the very subjects studied and how they are/were evaluated.

I do not think that the observation that modern science can help only
in
emunah and not in ahavah as the Rambam says about his science, should
really be that controversial once all the ideas are sorted out
properly,
though it is very surprising and it is surprising that it was never
noted
before.

The world is 5,765 years old and counting.

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