One Magesteria, not two

Over at the NPR group blog, Stuart Kauffman has an excellent response to Stephen Jay Gould’s argument that there are two non-overlapping magesteria–science and religion. Kauffman’s critique of natural law as a sufficient basis for understanding evolution argument Meillassoux’s argument concerning necessity. As Meillassoux argues that regularities bring about necessity only on the condition that this regularity is related to a totality, similarly Kauffman argues that natural laws presuppose a ‘sample space’. Kauffman, however, does not draw upon the non-totalizable nature of transfinite sets, but rather draws upon the impossibility of knowing a sample space in accounting for evolution. In particular, we cannot know the preadaptations that may arise through evolutionary adaptation, and hence we cannot know the sample space that would enable us to apply natural laws to evolutionary processes. This paves the way for Kauffman’s monism, for the One Magesteria. Science as the process of formulating natural laws is a limiting case of the One Magesteria, the same magesteria that is appealed to when one speaks of that which is irreducible to the given and yet inseparable from it (our religious impulse so to speak). The preadaptations that became the swim bladder were indeed real and inseparable from the swim bladder that evolved, but these elements and this relationship cannot, for Kauffman, be reduced to a functional, natural law explanation. It is for very similar reasons that I think philosophy is irreducible to science. The concepts philosophy creates consist of a multiplicity of elements that cannot be reduced to a sample space. So when Stephen Hawking argues, as he apparently does in his recent book, The Grand Design, that philosophy is irrelevant and that all important and meaningful questions and problems can be left to scientists, I couldn’t disagree more.


2 responses to “One Magesteria, not two

  • Tim Morton

    Couldn’t agree more. Science has no real way to talk about itself. (Hence the phobia concerning science studies.)

    I’m about to teach a class on the history of rhetoric in which we’ll investigate the moment at which Peter Ramus separates invention from rhetoric, thus opening up science. I think most scientists believe in something like this—they are still having a sixteenth-century conversation.

    • Jeffrey Bell

      Hi Tim, I nearly started upon a project to analyze Petrus Ramus for the very reason you mention. It became too daunting but I’ll be keen to read what you come up with. Along the same lines, Lorraine Daston has some great work on the historiography of science. Her Biographies of Scientific Objects and Objectivity are excellent.

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