It is sometimes hard to know whether a learned person while blogging is using a term conversationally or technically. I’m having this problem as I read one of James McGrath’s recent posts at Exploring Our Matrix. For context I reproduce two thirds of his post here.
Religious fundamentalists, of the sort that offer pseudoscientific critiques of evolution, typically claim that God spoke to and through people in the past. They claim that this revelation has persisted or left an impact down to our own time, in the form of texts which exist today. But today, we have only the texts – the fossils of the alleged supernatural revelation, as it were.
If one cannot legitimately deduce things about the past based on present evidence, then how can any fundamentalist make the claims that they do, while rejecting the use of deduction in science, without being thoroughly inconsistent? [emphasis added]
If James is using “deduction” in a conversational manner, then I have no problem. I agree. But if James is using “deduction” technically I think there is a problem. Deduction does play an important role in science but it is theory and model building based on induction rather than deduction that is at the heart of science. By the way, theory and model building based on induction are also at the heart of everyday epistemology.
Religious fundamentalists place deduction above induction. A few, at root arbitrary, faith based premises – the Bible is the god’s word, it is true in every particular, it is the definitive vehicle by which the god communicates his will to humans, and so forth – when combined with other premises in a conditional formulation leads to the logical impossibility of any conflicting scientific conclusion. If the Bible says P, then not P is impossible. We might ask that religious fundamentalist read their fundamental text more carefully but we can’t really fault them for not using deduction. Religious fundamentalists do not eschew induction and theory/model building in all things. If they did, they couldn’t find food, bed or toilet. It’s just that they logically subordinate induction and theory/model building to their particular set of overriding premises.
The underlying methodology of religious fundamentalism is what the Assyriologist Jean Bottéro called “deductive science.” Now Bottéro was thinking of the structure of Mesopotamian divination – if P then Q, “If a snake goes wild and circles a man, that man’s god will follow him with good fortune (Šumma Ālu, 23:13).” While the demarcation problem in science (and most other intellectual pursuits) is vexing, one can be quite confident that if a conclusion is based on deduction absent induction and conscious theory/model building it is not science.