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will the outcome be? ... Will mechanical models in any case persist, or will new, non-mechanical models prove better adapted, and the component factors of energy control absolutely the domain? . . . Is it possible that the conviction will ever arise that certain representations are per se exempt from displacement by simpler and more comprehensive ones, that they are true? Or is it perhaps the best conception of the future to imagine something of which one has absolutely no conception?” And the author concludes a criticism of Principal Rücker with the comment, "after all, then, he is only defending a working hypothesis, and one, moreover, that has lost greatly in prestige in the last half century.”ı
Now the folly of such arguments lies in the fact that they can be urged with equal force against any human pretension. It amounts, all of it, to no more than the hoary commonplace that mortal mind is fallible. Any assertion whatsoever may prove to be mistaken, even Professor Ward's criticisms, and the “Spiritual Monism” of his own adoption. This fact of human fallibility, since it may be urged against all knowledge, cannot be urged against any. It justifies a certain modesty and open
a mindedness in thinkers, but can never constitute ground for the rejection of any particular theory. Knowledge can be disproved only by better knowledge. If a specific scientific theory is doubtful, well and good; but it can justly be regarded as doubtful only for scientific reasons, and these had best be left to the scientist himself. It is scarcely necessary to add, that if variety and change of opinion are to be urged against any branch of knowledge, the philosopher of religion can least afford to urge them. For of all cognitive enterprises his is on this score the most in need of indulgence.
Where the general fallibility of human knowledge is urged against a special branch of knowledge, it betrays an over-eager and blind partisanship. An apologist for religious orthodoxy writes as follows: “Men of science may be right or wrong in their deductions from the fragmentary information possessed by them. Generally they are wrong, as is clearly enough shown by the fact that a large part of the work of each generation of men of science consists in overturning or modifying the theories of their predecessors.” Hence “the utter futility of setting up the deductions of the human reason against the assertions of the Word of God.”'1 To such ideas as these Professor Ward virtually gives countenance. But how reactionary, and how fatuous! Science and religion are both institutions which serve man. A religious believer, since he is a man, needs science; as a scientist needs religion. Hence a philosopher of religion who seeks to discredit science, injures himself. He abets a domestic quarrel. There can be no victories for science that do not promote man and all his works, including religion; nor any defeat of science that is not a common disaster. For science and religion are the supporting wings of one army engaged in the conquest of ignorance and death.
1 Naturalism and Agnosticism, second edition, Vol. I, pp. 307, 314.
8 5. The criticisms of science to which I shall now invite attention avoid in the main both the obsolete policy
of interfering in the affairs of science and the The Disparagement of the obsolescent animus of partisan strife. Science Descriptive
is to be acknowledged as unimpeachable when Method
it acts within its proper sphere; and is admitted to friendly alliance with philosophy and religion. But it is held to be inherently lacking in self-sufficiency and finality. It presupposes something else; and that which it presupposes is more fundamental, or more 'real,' and confers priority on philosophy and religion.
I shall first consider what may be regarded as the methodological critique of science. According to this
1 P. Mauro: “Life in the Word,” published in a series of pamphlets issued in defence of Christian orthodoxy, and entitled The Fundamentals, Vol. V, p. 47
* This critique is intimately connected with the pragmatist's attack upon “intellectualism,” and will receive further treatment in Chapter X.
critique the concepts of science are ‘mere' descriptions, and the laws of science hypothetical or 'contingent.' Science, although systematic and complete in its own terms, cannot, owing to the nature of its method, yield reality. Its findings are true only in the limited sense of being convenient. They are not necessary, but only expedient. Like conventions, with which they may be classed, they are not inevitable, but optional and arbitrary.
It is significant that this critique of science is based upon the acceptance of what I have called “the analytical version' of scientific concepts. It urges against science the very refinement and exactness of its method. That which in the judgment of critical naturalism commends science, and justifies its exclusive claim to the title of knowledge, is here regarded as a deficiency.
James Ward, again, will serve as an illustration. This author traces with admirable lucidity the development which such conceptions as 'matter,' 'mass,' 'force,' and 'energy' have undergone in the history of science. He finds that these terms now connote factors in the exact calculations and formulas of science, and are no longer charged with the vague ontological predicates of common sense. So far the author's exposition is unexceptionable and instructive. But somehow at the same time that science has been growing more exact, it has lost its hold upon reality. "To distinguish them from the old school, whom we may fairly term physical realists, we might call the new school physical symbolists. . . . The one believes that it is getting nearer to the ultimate reality, and leaving mere appearances behind it: the other believes that it is only substituting a generalized descriptive scheme that is intellectually manageable, for the complexity of concrete facts which altogether overtask our comprehension.” To this symbolistic version of modern science, Professor Ward subscribes. He quotes
But it is by no means peculiar to pragmatism; it is, in fact, employed by the great majority of contemporary opponents of naturalism.
Cf. above, pp. 60-62.
approvingly Karl Pearson's characterization of scientific laws as “conceptual shorthand.” Or as he himself expresses it, "the conception of mechanism enables us to summarize details that would otherwise bewilder us,” but “this cannot possibly nullify our independence.” “Such conceptions may furnish an admirable descriptive scheme of the motions that occur in nature,' but they explain nothing." "In short, one may take it as definitely conceded by the physicists themselves that descriptive hypothesis takes the place of real theory.”ı
But what can this disparagement of description possibly mean? Is it possible to mention any motive of thought more completely governed by the nature of its subjectmatter than the motive of description? Description means the reporting of things as they are found. The gradual substitution, in the procedure of Science, of description for "explanation,' means simply that science has grown more rigorously empirical. 'Explanation, as contrasted with description, suggests a reference to trans-experiential powers, and mysterious essences, or a one-sided version of things in terms of human interests. Science has abandoned explanation in this sense, because such attempts diverted the attention from its proper subject matter, and engaged it in irrelevant speculation. If we are to believe some of the critics of science, description is a sort of game, and the adoption of this method a sort of senile playfulness that has overtaken science in its degeneracy. It happens, however, that this descriptive period of science is the period of its most brilliant successes. And science is of all branches of human knowledge the one in which caprice is most fatal. For science is engaged at close quarters; dealing as it does with the proximate environment, its findings are promptly verified, or discredited; its day of judgment is always near at hand. It is impossible that science should have succeeded,
James Ward: op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 304-305, 83; Vol. II, pp. 251, 88–89, 73.
* See above, pp. 53, 54.
save by a scrupulous fidelity to fact. This is what the descriptive method properly signifies. It is a discriminating disregard of the irrelevant, and a single-minded renunciation of ulterior motives.
And yet Professor Ward would have us believe that description is somehow arbitrary, that it does not necessarily reflect the nature of things. “To suppose,” he says, “that the rigorous determinism deducible from the abstract scheme — for the simple reason that it has been put into its fundamental premises — must apply also to the real world it has been devised to describe, is just as absurd asto take a very trivial illustration - it would be to say that a man must fit his coat, and not that the coat must fit the man."! As though a coat could be fitted to a man without the man's fitting the coat, or a scheme be "devised to describe,” the real world without“ applying” to it!
$ 6. But what, it may be objected, are we to make of the formal criteria of the descriptive method, such, e.g., as The Ideal of
simplicity? Is this not, after all, an æsthetic Descriptive or subjective criterion, a matter of convenience, Economy
rather than a revelation of reality? Professor Ward can quote scientists, in their capacity as exponents of naturalism, in support of such a view. But does science justify such a view?
In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish within the system of science itself, between written symbols or signs, and the concepts, ratios, and laws to which they refer. There is evidently a difference between the Greek letter , or the mark V, and what these signs mean. Signs are conventions, arbitrarily chosen and agreed on; and their abbreviation of complexity is a matter of convenience. But this does not in the least affect the status of the things which the signs mean. Because the signs which I use in the equation, 2+2=4, are arabic, lower font, etc., I am not justified in concluding that the numerical equality expressed is similarly contingent on the choice of language and type.
10p. cit., Vol. II, pp. 67-68.