Saturday, November 6, 2010 12:25 AM
Last meetup turned out to go in an unanticipated direction, but it was a good discussion. Paul brought the main point to the table, which was the concept of naturalism and whether science/scientist is/are engaged in illicit practice by over-commitment to it. We agreed that if a scientist is a 'strict naturalist' (i.e. operates on the assumption that there is nothing else but the physical/natural universe), then he is doing poor science, since the super-natural world is beyond the capacity of science to draw conclusions about. We agreed (mostly) that science ought to be agnostic about the supernatural. Though, (playing devil's advocate) I presented arguments to the contrary (from William Paley and Michael Behe) that science indeed *can* draw conclusion about the supernatural, so long as the evidence exists to support such a hypothesis. We decided at the end to make this into a topic for a future meetup.
Within this discussion, we also touched on the topic of randomness and whether or not certain aspects of evolution, like mutations, are actually random. Tom pointed out an important difference between probability applying to *things* versus probability applying to our knowledge about things. This is a deep topic, actually, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about it from Amol. I wished to make the point that the mutations are not random at all (in the sense that probabilities apply to the processes), since there are laws that govern the processes, and these make evolution highly deterministic. Tom, however, asserted that, with respect to what we know, the mutations are indeed random. -Both positions are not mutually exclusive, but which one is proper for the discussion of evolution (especially vis-a-vis creationism)?
Tom, Bill, and Christopher took especially strong positions against the 'intrusion' of religion into science, and Paul defended a more 'inclusive' position, though was quick to point out his differences with 'fundamentalists'.
Finally, we touched on another interesting topic (also introduced by Tom): whether or to what degree science could, in principle, replace other areas of knowledge? For instance, could science one day replace the evaluation of Art? If Artistic value is not real in the sense that aliens from another planet would understand or appreciate our art (or have any notion of it whatsoever), then is it then just a product of human neurology, etc.? If so, then couldn't science one day determine it's value with greater precision and clarity? -- A future meetup topic? -- Paul, took the position that non-science areas of knowledge (like Art, etc.) are completely and exclusively outside of science, that science cannot even in principle ever converge on them.
We had a great talk, and everyone in attendance made important contributions! We hope to see those of you who missed it next time!
P.S. Special thanks to Bill for supplying some good reading material.