Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Duhem or Chesterton?

I have found what seems to be a startling parallel - or perhaps I might say a convergence of ideas - between Duhem and Chesterton. Even more remarkable, it is a sort of derivative from Darwinian evolution - though it is what we might call a sane form of Darwinian reasoning. It suggests a great mystery, and yet a positive one, since it urges fruitfulness: to me this strongly suggests the great "Analogy of the Body" from St. Paul (1Cor12). See what you think.
-- Dr. Thursday

Here is Duhem:
What is true of all living beings, is also true of scientific doctrines: It is through struggle that selection is made among them; it is the conflict which fragments and sweeps away the false ideas; it is the struggle which forces the right ideas to make more precise and more valid the proofs which they claim to themselves; it is the struggle which forces the fruitful ideas to deliver all their products.

Now this struggle of ideas is impossible if science is entirely in one single locality; when this absolute centralisation is in effect one finds before long in each branch of knowledge only one teacher, and the disciples of that teacher. The teacher, no longer exposed to being contradicted, and long since accustomed to seeing his best ideas received as products of a genius, hardly has any concern to protect himself from an exaggerated confidence in his own judgment, confidence which delivers him defenseless against the habit of making errors. The disciples, receiving their master's teachings as oracles instead of improving them with free discussions through a contact with opposite doctrines, yield to the nonchalant habit of repeating a lesson already learned which ends in no longer being comprehended.

Precisely because we feel how dangerous it would be to let French science reach that point, we desire to see our universities vigorously armed for engaging in a contest with one another. We wish that a doctrine proclaimed in Lyon may see an opposite doctrine rise in Toulouse or Nancy, that a doctrine proclaimed in Paris might develop in Lille or in Bordeaux. We wish that in France each man of science may find at every moment these two essential conditions for scientific work: the freedom which permits him to put forward all his ideas, and the opposition which obliges him to produce only mature ideas.
[PD quoted in SLJ, Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem 133; see my note at the end.]
And here is Chesterton:
Because a man prayed and fasted on the Northern snows, flowers could be flung at his festival in the Southern cities; and because fanatics drank water on the sands of Syria, men could still drink cider in the orchards of England. This is what makes Christendom at once so much more perplexing and so much more interesting than the Pagan empire; just as Amiens Cathedral is not better but more interesting than the Parthenon. If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:304]

I might add that Jaki has a caveat about the implications regarding "evolution", and I could add my own. But I think we can examine the ideas here without jumping to any unwarranted conclusions; Chesterton (and Jaki) have plenty to say about Darwin, as they remember to distinguish proper science from improper philosophy - but we shall defer that topic for the time being.

A note about the Duhem quote: There appears to be a typographical error in SLJ's text. In checking the footnote reference, there is a diswcrepancy of pagination, so it seems that the article by Duhem must be what SLJ would note as "1989(13)" and not "1898(12)", but I do not have access to the materials in question to verify. The footnote of the citation gives page 246 for "1898(12)" but the bibliography has "On the General Problem of Chemical Statics", JPhCh 2:1-42 and 91-115. Item 13, however, is "Une soutenance de thèse de doctorat à la Faculté des Sciences de Bordeaux", RPBSOu 244-50 (avril); which agrees with the context of the quotation.


Ron Van Wegen said...

And of course this applies doubly so to the current global warming farce being "settled science".

[Oh, by the way, is the word verification really necessary considering you receive virtually no comments at all!?]

b5df98bc-4b60-11e0-9d0b-000bcdcb2996 said...

These exerpts remind me of Duhem's comments on the French and German deviation from perfect science. It is in effect an elaboration on what you just cited here. This, not quite three page extract from La Science allemande (Paris: Hermann, 1915), pp. 3-4 and 141-143 (1915-2)

Entitled In Defense of the French Mind, this short text I read in SLJ's Scientist and Catholic: Pierre Duhem pg. 269-271

"French science, German science, both deviate from ideal and perfect science, but they deviate in two opposite ways. The one possesses excessively that with which the other is meagerly provided. Here the geometric spirit reduces the subtle intellect to the point of soffocation. There the subtle intellect dispenses too willingly with the geometric spirit.

In order, therefore, that the human science might develop in its fullness and subsist in harmonious equilrium, it is good that one see French science and German science flourishing side by side without trying to supplant each other. Each of them ought to understand that it finds in the other its indispensable complement.

Therefore the French will always find profit in pondering the works of German scholars. They will come across there at times the solid proof of truths which they have discovered and formulated before being properly assured of it, at other times the refutation of errors wihch an imprudent intuition has caused them to receive.

It will always be of use to Germans to study the writings of French inventors. They will find there, so to speak, the statements of problems to the resolution of which their patient analysis ought to apply itself. They will hear there the protestations of common sense against the excess of their geometric spirit.

That German science in the nineteenth century took its departure from the work of great French thinkers no one from the other side of the Rhine, would, I think, dare to contest. And no one from this side dreams of failing to recognize the contributions with which, later on, this German science has enriched our mathematics, physics, chemistry, and history.

These two sciences, then, ought to respect the harmonious relations that exist between them. It does not follow that they are the same rank. Intuition discovers truths; demonstration comes after and secures them. The geometric mind gives body to the ediface which the subtle intellect conceived in the first place. Between these two inclinations there is a hierarchy analogous to that which ranks the mason in respect to the architect's plan. The geometric mind does not pursue fruitful deductions if it does not direct them toward the end which the subtle mind has discerned.

On the other side, on the part of science which constructs the deductive method, the geometric spirit can well assure a rigor without reproach. But the rigor of science in not the truth of it. The subtle intellect alone judges whether the consequences of demonstration are conformable to reality. In order for science to be true, it is not sufficient that it be rigorous; it must depart from good sense in order to return to good sense.

The geometric spirit which inspires German science confers on it the force of a perfect discipline. But this narrowly disciplined method can only come to disastrous results if it continues to put itself under the command of an arbitrary and senseless algebraic imperialism. The instruction which it ought to obey and to recieve, if it wishes to do useful and beautiful work is from that which is the principle depository of good sense in the world -- that is, from French science. Scientia germanica ancilla scientiae gallicae."