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  1. #1
    Senior Member Kephalos's Avatar
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    Default Scientific Knowledge vs. Catholic Dogma

    I came across this article at a Catholic site called "The Catholic Thing":

    http://www.thecatholicthing.org/colu...gton-five.html

    At one point the author compares the development of Catholic dogma with the development of the discipline of computer science. But, I think this comparison misses an important point about scientific knowledge: eventually scientific knowledge changes, and what once was commonly accepted among leading academics may change and become obsolete. That is particularly true of a field like computer science. New scientific theories have the task of explaining phenomena explained by older theories and in addition resolve problems that arise with old theories; sometimes a new solution changes the direction of research and may even overthrow the explanations given in the older theories. But, this is not the case with religious dogma: it must remain the same because, since its believers think it is infallible, why would anyone want to change it? Therefore, any new language introduced into dogma must seek to conform with old dogma in a manner that new scientific opinions may not have to agree with older scientific opinions.

    This is because computer science, like numerous other fields of study, is a knowledge tradition.

    Over time that tradition, like all others, develops standard practices, ways of assimilating new discoveries and insights into already established understandings, and a hierarchy of expertise that grounds the authority of those in the profession.
    Egopapism and the Arlington Five

    All that the Church is asking the Arlington Five is that they treat the Church’s theology and its development with as much respect and deference as Ms. Riley expects others to treat the knowledge tradition about which she is an expert.
    Egopapism and the Arlington Five

    Another interesting parallel that this author makes is between academics working on scientific research and the priestly caste that governs the Catholic Church. But, again, there are crucial differences. On the one hand, there is no need in principle no requirement except perhaps some previous serious study to engage in an academic debate. But, in order to be a part of the body that makes Church doctrine, one needs fit certain criteria that can arbitrarily exclude other people.

  2. #2
    Senior Member reason's Avatar
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    The comparison is fair.

    Computer science is a branch of study that deals with specific problems, and computer scientists have developed a body of knowledge and traditions to address them. There is a history of evolving problem-situations and attempted solutions, and there are specialists who devote much of their lives to understanding and trying to solve them. Such people are authorities with regard to computer science. That is, if you had a problem that fell within their domain, then you would likely seek the assistance of a computer scientist.

    Much the same thing could be said of Catholic theology. There are people who specialise in problems which afflict Catholicism; they attempt to understand and solve these problems within the confines of particular dogmas. There are, unfortunately, people who devote much of their lives to these tasks, and they are authorities with regard to their particular field of study. If you happened to be a Catholic, then you might seek their advice with regard to particular problems you might have with Catholicism.

    The author does not push the comparison further than this. You're quite right: there is a great difference between scientific knowledge and catholic dogma. However, the article you link to really has nothing much to do with this difference but rather correctly draws attention to some similarities.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kephalos's Avatar
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    But the word authority here is used ambiguously. It can mean that someone is an very knowledgeable in some specialized field, for example, an entomologist who is an expert in a very rare species of spider. But the word authority can also be used to mean that someone's own opinion requires assent from everyone else by virtue of some of position in a hierarchy, tradition or some other circumstance. Now, I don't think that authority in the second sense applies to any field of scientific research. It is only out of convenience, because of the advantage of division of labor, that people are used to deferring to the judgment of specialists in all sorts of matters. But, even specialists in the field of theology must in the case of the Catholic Church defer to the judgment of the officers in charge of doctrine.

    Another example of the different meanings of authority is the treatment of texts. In some religions some texts are considered authoritative, whose content is binding on people in religious spheres. But outside of religion texts do not have that kind of permanent authority. For example, one might read today Darwin's Descent of Man out of curiosity or while studying the history of science, but it is hardly authoritative in more modern research on the evolution of man, since much more information has become available since then.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    Incidentially given that its possible to infer from your post that you believe there is a dichotomy between religion and science, that you find comparisons between the two vexatious why are you surfing to Roman Catholic websites?

    Anyway, in so far as that in both the RCC and academia the conserving and transmission of knowledge across generations the preserve of scholarly elites the comparison is fine, there are parallels, just because the selection criteria is more or less open or exclusive for the elite in either case does not actually invalidate that point.

    The dogmatics of the RCC is essentially similar to earlier scholars, even scientists, norms of truth and knowledge in so far as what is sought is perrenial and universally true data, scientists used to investigate or seek to discover by investigation these natural laws.

    The principle of falsifiability, an 'agnostic' mindset about data, is only a more recent post enstein and post Popper innovation in thinking. It is not itself dogmatically asserted by scientists because if it were you could not perform experiments or research so radical would be your doubt about the likely findings. However, in terms of research norms, dialogue, dispute and 'saving face' among academics who have sometimes to risk stating theoretical hypothesis which can be superseded it no doubt has its uses.

  5. #5
    I'm not Trunks
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    I don't know anything about catholic dogma..I like scientific knowledge, its more logic to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trunks View Post
    I don't know anything about catholic dogma..I like scientific knowledge, its more logic to me.

    Religion is falsifiable.

    Wait 'til Allah comes and see if we don't have an observation.

  7. #7
    I'm not Trunks
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    Quote Originally Posted by jontherobot View Post
    Religion is falsifiable.

    Wait 'til Allah comes and see if we don't have an observation.
    I really dislike talking about religious things and anything similar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trunks View Post
    I really dislike talking about religious things and anything similar.

    Hm, meant to quote op. Oops.

    But anyways, the post was supposed to be incredibly sarcastic.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kephalos View Post
    But the word authority here is used ambiguously. It can mean that someone is an very knowledgeable in some specialized field, for example, an entomologist who is an expert in a very rare species of spider. But the word authority can also be used to mean that someone's own opinion requires assent from everyone else by virtue of some of position in a hierarchy, tradition or some other circumstance. Now, I don't think that authority in the second sense applies to any field of scientific research. It is only out of convenience, because of the advantage of division of labor, that people are used to deferring to the judgment of specialists in all sorts of matters. But, even specialists in the field of theology must in the case of the Catholic Church defer to the judgment of the officers in charge of doctrine.

    Another example of the different meanings of authority is the treatment of texts. In some religions some texts are considered authoritative, whose content is binding on people in religious spheres. But outside of religion texts do not have that kind of permanent authority. For example, one might read today Darwin's Descent of Man out of curiosity or while studying the history of science, but it is hardly authoritative in more modern research on the evolution of man, since much more information has become available since then.
    The collection of new data doesn't undermine computer science, it just affirms it! You should join the Catholic Church!

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kephalos View Post
    But the word authority here is used ambiguously. It can mean that someone is an very knowledgeable in some specialized field, for example, an entomologist who is an expert in a very rare species of spider. But the word authority can also be used to mean that someone's own opinion requires assent from everyone else by virtue of some of position in a hierarchy, tradition or some other circumstance. Now, I don't think that authority in the second sense applies to any field of scientific research. It is only out of convenience, because of the advantage of division of labor, that people are used to deferring to the judgment of specialists in all sorts of matters. But, even specialists in the field of theology must in the case of the Catholic Church defer to the judgment of the officers in charge of doctrine.
    The author appears, without coming right out and saying it, to be using the word 'authority' in a much stronger sense than we normally think of scientific authorities. This is, perhaps, a consequence of his belief in incorrigible sources of knowledge that particular 'authorities' have special access to. However, even so, there remains nothing wrong with the comparison he draws between Catholic theology and computer science--he doesn't say they are exactly the same. Presumably, the author does not believe computer scientists have access to the same infallible sources of knowledge as Catholic authorities.

    Another example of the different meanings of authority is the treatment of texts. In some religions some texts are considered authoritative, whose content is binding on people in religious spheres. But outside of religion texts do not have that kind of permanent authority. For example, one might read today Darwin's Descent of Man out of curiosity or while studying the history of science, but it is hardly authoritative in more modern research on the evolution of man, since much more information has become available since then.
    It seems you want to discuss the philosophical issue of dogmatism versus fallibilism. That's fine; I've spent an awful lot of time thinking about it myself. I don't think this article, or at least your initial criticism of it, are a particularly good way of addressing the matter.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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