December 21, 2005

BUILDING THE PERFECT CIRCLE:

Defending Science by Defining It (David Brown and Rick Weiss, December 21, 2005, Washington Post)

The ruling gives two arguments for why intelligent design is not science but is, in the judge's words, "an old religious argument for the existence of God."

The first is that intelligent design invokes "a supernatural designer," while science, by definition, deals only with natural phenomena. Second, the court found that intelligent design suffers from blatant flaws in logic, one of the chief tools of science.

Since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, "science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena," Jones writes, noting that the scientific revolution was explicitly about the rejection of "revelation" in favor of empirical evidence.

Since then, he writes, "science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea's worth."

As part of that fact-based approach, Jones emphasizes, science goes out of its way to avoid a search for "meaning" or "purpose."

By contrast, intelligent design's views on how the world got to be the way it is offer no testable facts, choosing instead to rely on authoritative statements.


You can hardly make this stuff up. In the first place, he simply makes an authoritative statement himself, defining science in such a way that it banishes even the study of the Big Bang, which is by definition supernatural, having created Nature. As a logical matter, he's trapped himself in a tautology: only natural causes can be considered in science, therefore anything outside of Nature is unscientific, irrespective of whether it impacts phenomena. Truly, ignorance is bliss.

As to the notion that explanations of evolution are scientific, in the sense the judge contends,the greatest Darwinist of all time disposed of that one himself:

Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The first is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle's concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.

These four insights served as the foundation for Darwin's founding of a new branch of the philosophy of science, a philosophy of biology. Despite the passing of a century before this new branch of philosophy fully developed, its eventual form is based on Darwinian concepts. For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain. [...]

One of the surprising things that I discovered in my work on the philosophy of biology is that when it comes to the physical sciences, any new theory is based on a law, on a natural law. Yet as several leading philosophers have stated, and I agree with them, there are no laws in biology like those of physics. Biologists often use the word law, but for something to be a law, it has to have no exceptions. A law must be beyond space and time, and therefore it cannot be specific. Every general truth in biology though is specific. Biological "laws" are restricted to certain parts of the living world, or certain localized situations, and they are restricted in time. So we can say that their are no laws in biology, except in functional biology which, as I claim, is much closer to the physical sciences, than the historical science of evolution.


Of course, Darwin too acknowledged that his theory wasn't based on any evidence, just faith:
When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed (i.e. we cannot prove that a single species has changed): nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Nor can we explain why some species have changed and others have not.

...and was explicit, if accidentally so, that his motivation for inventing the theory was simply theological:
With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

This escape from God is why Darwin was embraced, as Edward Larson explains in his fine book, Evolution:
By the 1870s, Darwin was an international celebrity. Even if people did not believe they descended from apes, they talked about it--and about Darwin. And for many of those who did believe, Darwin became a kind of secular prophet or high priest. Secluded in his remote country home at Downe, perpetually ill or supposedly so according to some, Darwin played the part of hermit sage receiving favored guests on his own terms. [...] Surveying the scene, Huxley sent Darwin a sketch of a kneeling supplicant paying homage at the shrine of Pope Darwin. Given their almost visceral contempt for Catholicism, both Huxley and Darwin surely enjoyed the irony.

Hardly a surprise then that 150 years on, Darwinism serves no scientific function, only a political one. And, in politics in a democracy, the minority never prevails for long.


MORE (via Tom Corcoran):
It’s God or Darwin: Competing designs (David Klinghoffer, 12/21/05, National Review)

Tuesday's ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, disparaging intelligent design as a religion-based and therefore false science, raises an important question: If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself? After all, many proponents of Darwinian evolution have philosophical beliefs to which Darwin lends support. [...]

In fact, both Darwin and design have metaphysical implications and are expressions of a certain kind of faith. ID theorists are not willing to submit to the assumption that material stuff is the only reality. Darwinism takes the opposite view, materialism, which assumes there can never be a supernatural reality.

In this it only follows Charles Darwin, who wrote the Origin of Species as an exercise in seeking to explain how life could have got to be the way it is without recourse to divine creative activity.


The judge's decision is anticonstitutional precisely because it establishes a state religion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 21, 2005 8:19 AM
Comments

Still tilting at windmills?

Posted by: Brit at December 21, 2005 9:21 AM

Just demonstrating such to those who mistake them for giants.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 9:24 AM

Your heroic daily battle with science is Quixotism par excellence.

Posted by: Brit at December 21, 2005 9:28 AM

Yes, but Quijote has won. No one buys Darwinism any more here in the States, except intellectuals, who we uniformly loathe.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 9:30 AM

That's ok, so long as you keep taking your medicine.

Posted by: Brit at December 21, 2005 9:36 AM

Brit,

You write as if your position is unassailable. This is a transparent tactic of one who has little or no ground to stand on.

Have you read Behe, Schoeder, or any of the others who make the case for ID?

Alternatively, do you REALLY take the position that all the universe is merely a purposeless accident? The "steady state" universe has already been shown to be false.

___

To all others here...

I think it is time for those of us who know of Darwin's shortcomings to STOP calling belief "Supernatural."

The "natural/supernatural" frame (see Lakoff) works to the left's benefit. There is no "supernatural", only nature that we don't understand yet.

I know that many theologians would take issue with me on this, possibly arguing that I'm making "God" something "understandable" or less than "God."

I'm doing no such thing. I'm merely asking that we start framing our language in a way that gets rid of the false divide that works in our opponenet's favor.

Whose "nature" is it anyway?

Posted by: Bruno at December 21, 2005 10:14 AM

Bruno:

The judge is right about ID, there is no scientific case for it. The problem is that his entire opinion applies to Darwinism as well.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 10:22 AM

The problem with Darwininian evolution, besides its denial of God, that's more a metaphysical
one, is its preference of randomness and uncertainty as a key principle. Most scientific
and/or mathematical principles, have fixed rules
often expressed as equations; (ie: e=mc2, to use
one example. Evolution, by contrast, exalts the
idea of change, but doesn't set parameters for
how fast, what rate, or even what criteria limit such change. That makes it almost as'unscientific'
as creationism; and a close second to intelligent
design

Posted by: narciso at December 21, 2005 10:26 AM

Bruno:

Certainly I've read Behe. And other Men of La Mancha, like Berlinksi.

Posted by: Brit at December 21, 2005 10:45 AM

The honorable judge needs a history lesson. The notion that "testability" has been a, or even the, defining characteristic of science since the 16th or 17th century shows complete ignorance of the facts.

I'm not sure whether having a judge attempt to "define science" is hilarious or obscene. Whichever, it's not good for science, or society.

Posted by: b at December 21, 2005 11:30 AM

b:

It at least makes it clear that the definition of science is now merely a political rather than a scientific question.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 11:34 AM

Darwin spends a large amount of the Origin
of the Species discussing the history of
artificial selection and domestication because
it was the one example of the mutability of
species that was provable to all.

Genetics and the heritability of traits is
real science and should be the common denominator
in teaching Biology.

The ID vs. Darwin argument is a distraction from
teaching students about useful things that can and
will have a profound effect on the future.


Posted by: J.H. at December 21, 2005 11:43 AM

Brit - It's never a good idea to debate someone about Darwinism or even "Evolution" since these terms can be made to mean almost anything depending on how much the proponent can get away with.

However, if you understand that Darwinism is the belief that all life can be explained by random mutation and natural selection and if you further believe that Darwinism can explain or even come up with a possible 'imagining' of all the history of lving things, then you are quite mistaken.

Posted by: Fugate at December 21, 2005 11:56 AM

Just to expound a little bit on my comment--the notion that science is defined by "testability" or "falsifiability" (not the same thing) is only ~50 years old. Blame Popper (I realize that some can point to others going back to the early 20th century, but Popper is the conventional guy to credit). Blame philosophy, and the culture at large. Science (i.e., running experiments) became *the* accepted way that knowledge is gained by the 20th century. Now, philosophers naturally believe that thinking (not acting) is the way to gain insight into the universe, so they decided to move in and make "science" a branch of philosophy. I doubt any scientist before the 20th century cared quite so much about what science is in the abstract way that is done today. Not that there wasn't some of what we now call "philosophy of science"--read the latest issue of Physics Today for a fascinating Einstein-related (of course) article on the topic, concentrating on his revulsion at the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Posted by: b at December 21, 2005 12:18 PM

The judge makes an old mistake, confusing "supernatural" with "not natural," which is a little silly, if you think about it for a moment.

Posted by: Timothy at December 21, 2005 12:35 PM

How about defining "science" in its strict Popperian sense: a theory is scientific if it is at least potentially falsifiable (not just testable) either through labexperiment or natural observations. Popperian falsification was proposed by Karl Popper himself as a replacement for the inadequate verification principle of the original Vienna School of logical positivism. In this sense, both the Big Bang and evolution are potentially falsifiable from observed evidence in nature (the universe's background radiation predicted by the big bang theory, the evolutionary fossil record, e.g.)

However, this Popperian definition requires at least its own initial "leap of faith". Critics of Popperian Falsification make a good point: falsification itself is a non-falsifiable concept. And therefore, ironically, a "meaningless" concept under the standards of logical positivism. So is PF self-refuting? Does it collapse under the weight of its own standards? Does the falsification standard, rigorously applied mean that nothing is scientific? Does it imply that every concept, including science, is in effect, metaphysical?

But if it is not rigorously applied, what else sneaks in with science? (Von Daniken's ancient astronauts? Velikovsky's colliding worlds? Creationism "science"?). Can we conclude with Feyerbrand in his "Against Method" that anything goes and voodoo and astrology are as valid as science? However, if the basic claim against PF is on target, isn't science reduced in scope to only a problem solving mechanism instead of a truth finder? Since there is apparently no "Truth" with a capital T which can ever be proven.

So if science is based on the ability to falsify, but is in itself a non-falsifiable concept you have a logical contradiction. And that would be Feyerabend's (and Kuhn, etc.) point. Science isn't any good period, since it is derived from a set of untestable assumptions. In their opinion, science is based on faith, and is therefore "just another religion".

For example, Creation theory basically says, the world is only a few thousand years old and God just made it look older. There is no way this "hypothethis" can be tested or falsified. If we could conceivably design a bridge using astrology and voodoo instead of materials science and geotechnical engineering, and if that bridge did not collapse, then according to Feyerabend voodoo is just a good as science.

Logically that is hard to refute, as the following article from the Skeptical Inquirer (http://www.csicop.org/si/9703/end.html.)makes clear:

"A little over six years ago, I attended the twenty-fifth annual Nobel conference, the only program outside of Sweden and Norway sanctioned by the Nobel Foundation. It was entitled, "The End of Science?" John Horgan, senior writer for Scientific American, has recently written a book of the same name (Horgan 1996). The subject of both of these inquiries is not the impending solution of certain scientific problems, but the impending dissolution of science itself. What prompted these projects is the growing belief that science is not the royal road to the truth. There is a view abroad in the land that science is more of an ideology than a methodology, and thus that it cannot legitimately claim to have a corner on reality. No one expresses this view more pugnaciously than the late philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. He writes:

'Science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favour of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without ever having examined its advantages and its limits. And as the accepting and rejecting of ideologies should be left to the individual it follows that the separation of state and church must be complemented by the separation of state and science, that most recent, most aggressive, and most dogmatic religious institution. Such a separation may be our only chance to achieve a humanity we are capable of, but have never fully realized.' (Feyerabend 1975, 295)

In Feyerabend's view, science is a religion, for it rests on certain dogmas that cannot be rationally justified. Thus, accepting it requires a leap of faith. But just as government has no business teaching religion in the public schools, it has no business teaching science either. In a truly democratic society, people would be as free to choose their epistemology as their political party.

The Nobel prize-winning physicist Sheldon Glashow spoke at the twenty-fifth Nobel conference in an attempt to counter these sorts of claims. His response consisted of the following "cosmic catechism": "We believe that the world is knowable, that there are simple rules governing the behavior of matter and the evolution of the universe . . . . [and that] [a]ny intelligent alien anywhere would have come upon the same logical system as we have to explain the structure of protons and the nature of supernovae. This statement I cannot prove, this statement I cannot justify. This is my faith" (Glashow 1989, 24).

Instead of refuting Feyerabend, however, Glashow vindicated him. For he admitted that his belief in the objectivity of science is simply a matter of faith. It's no wonder that science's stock has fallen so precipitously in recent years.

Scientists' ignorance of the philosophical underpinnings of their enterprise has not gone unnoticed. In 1986, biology Nobelist Sir Peter Medawar commented: Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be, and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty-eyed: solemn because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty-eyed because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare. (Quoted in Theocharis and Psimopoulos 1987, 595)

Scientists are a philosophically naive lot. But this naivetë does not come without a price. Because most scientists can't justify their methodology, Feyerabend's claims have gone largely unanswered. As a result, Feyerabend's position has become prominent in both academia and the public at large... By construing science as the attempt to falsify rather than verify hypotheses, Popper thought that he could avoid the problem of induction and distinguish real science from pseudoscience. The success of a test does not entail the truth of the hypothesis under investigation. But, he believed, the failure of a test does entail its falsity. So if science is viewed as a search for refutations rather than confirmations, the problem of induction drops out and the mark of a scientific theory becomes its ability to be refuted. Thus we have Popper's famous demarcation criterion: a theory is scientific if it is falsifiable. If there is no possible observation that would count against it, it is not scientific.

It was soon realized, however, that hypotheses can no more be conclusively falsified than they can be conclusively verified, for a hypothesis cannot be tested in isolation. Physicist-philosopher Pierre Duhem and logician Willard Van Orman Quine have convincingly demonstrated that hypotheses have testable consequences only in the context of certain background assumptions. If a test fails, it is always possible to maintain the hypothesis in question by rejecting one or more of the background assumptions.

Moreover, Popper's demarcation criterion is far too weak to distinguish science from pseudoscience. According to Popper, a theory is scientific as long as there is some possible state of affairs whose actual occurrence would refute the theory. By this criterion, however, astrology, creationism, and Immanuel Velikovsky's theory of planetary development would all be scientific theories, for they all imply propositions that could turn out to be false. Popper's demarcation criterion, therefore, lets in too much; it grants scientific status to theories that don't seem to deserve it.

Thus we have arrived at an impasse. We can't establish science's superiority by viewing it as an attempt to verify theories through induction, and we can't establish its superiority by viewing it as an attempt to falsify theories through deduction. Perhaps Feyerabend is right that there is no way to prove the superiority of science..."

Personally, I believe that Feyerbend, et al overstate their case. But more on that in another post.

Posted by: bplus at December 21, 2005 12:36 PM

bplus:

Evolution and the Universe having a starting point aren't at issue, only theoiries about them are and they aren't falsifiable.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 12:48 PM

poppper found the antidote for 19th century pseudo science in it's most destructive form: Marx and his deterministic historicism.Darwin and Freud have merely gone along for the ride. Popper was adresseing the gullibility of western intellectuals and the danger it was creating.In 'The Open Society and It's Enemies', he made it clear. Some standard was needed. The structure of scientific hypotheses is a good starting point, until a better one is found.

Posted by: TomC.,Stamford,Ct. at December 21, 2005 1:26 PM

My criticism of Popper's critics is in three parts:

1. First, they want their relativistic cake and to eat it to. Religious critics of scienctific method are steadfast in their opposition to relativism - except when it suits their purpose. When their purpose is to denigrate science, they wholeheartedly embrace relativism and claim that science is just another faith. Admittedly, secular opponents of religion commit the same mistake in reverse, promoting relativism except when defending science - which they claim possesses objective truth.

2. Popper's critics are also being very disengenuous when claiming equivalency between science and other systems of thought, as when they present a hypothetical bridge designed by voodoo. No such bridge exists, nor can it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the fact is science works. It works in the design and operation of light bulbs, telescopes, jet engines, anti-biotics, the internet, etc. Religion doesn't, nor can it. Prayer will not make an airplane fly. Voodoo sacrifices will not put a man on the moon. OTOH, science will never provide comfort or hope.

3 Lastly, those who attack science confuse their terms. Clarity can be provided by Gould's concept of "Non Overlapping Magesteria" (NOMA). NOMA rightly delegates science and religion to their appropriate spheres. Science deals with "how questions" concerning mechanism. Religion deals with "why questions" concerning meaning (or teleos). When a fundy takes a teleological stance to critique matters of mechanism (creation "science" being a good example), he is making a logical fallacy, as teleology has nothing to say about mechanism. An equal, if opposite, fallacy occurs when a scientist (like Dawkins) claims that existence has no meaning or purpose since science cannot discern meaning or purpose. Its the mirror image of the fundy's statement in that mechanism has nothing to say about teleology.

Now I know that this is a very old argument, going back at least as far as the Greek philosophers. Plato and Socrates were on the side of teleology. Epicurus and Democritus were on the side of mechanism. Yet it seems to me to be a silly argument, like fighting over which blade of the scissors is the most important. IMHO a whole person needs to integrate both views. It's necessary to use the right tool for the right job. I would no more use religion to examine mechanism than I would use a saw to pound nails.

Extreme atheists and rabid fundamentalists both strike me a half blind individuals, each blind in a different eye, and forever arguing over which is the better eye to see with. Problems arise when each tries to invade the others turf. A literal reading of Genesis for example is just plain wrong in the face of the available evidence. Genesis is a "myth" in the true sense of the word - a story which relates deeper truths than a mere literal interpretation can provide. OTOH, for scientist like Dawkins to state that life and existence has no meaning and purpose because science can find none is a logical fallacy. Science has nothing to say, good or bad, about teleology.

My favorite quote on faith and reason comes from (of all places) an episode of Babylon 5. This episode described Mankind's fate 1,000s of years after the time of the series, including a part (no doubt inspired by "A Canticle for Leibowitz"), where monks are laboring to rediscover a science almost completely destroyed by a war called "The Great Burn". One of the monks is having a crisis of faith, and the older monk explains that both faith and reason are necessary to get through life. Reason gives us tools, faith gives us hope and purpose. He described them as "two shoes for your feet, you can get farther wearing both than you can only wearing one".

Now "design" (intelligent or otherwise) deals with the issues of intent, purpose and meaning. "Meaningless design" as as much an oxymoron as "purposeful accident". Science does not deal with meaning/teleos, only with mechanism. Therefore, the concept of ID has no place whatsoever in a science classroom. However, it should be taught in the schools, but only in a relgious study or philosophy class where it is appropriate to address the issues of meaning and purpose.

Posted by: bplus at December 21, 2005 1:37 PM

Tom: The problem is that "science" has been defined far beyond what it really is, namely the process of running experiments to gather knowledge, into a full-blown philosophy. Marx should have just been dismissed as evil and wrong, but to try to draw lines to exclude such claptrap from legitimate science merely serves to constrain "science" in a box of your own design, and to separate the "philosophy of science" from the actual practice of science (Feyerabend was right about this).

Posted by: b at December 21, 2005 1:40 PM

bplus:

Sciencism isn't just another faith, it's an attempt to deny that reason is a function of faith. All knowledge is relative so far as humans are concerned, it just so happens that the Judeo-Christian faith is revealed truth.

Yes, science, when restricted to the application of reason under faith does work better than voodoo and the like, though the theories are generally useless and just a function of the zeitgeist.

Science is entirely bound within the sphere of religion.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 1:47 PM

b-

The question one may want to ask is, 'how do we know what we purport to know?'Science means 'to know'. Practical science implies the ability to prove or disprove assertions made. This seemed to be what Popper ws getting at.

Posted by: Tom C. Stamford, Ct., at December 21, 2005 2:00 PM

Tom: But in practice it is very, very hard to "prove or disprove assertions made" and so one is left with aesthetics. This is what I understand Feyerabend to be getting at (although there is violent disagreement on his work).

To give one example, there is a fully fleshed out cosmological model alternative to the Big Bang that maintains the old steady-state universe, which has a small core of devotees (fully tenured, professional astronomers) who regularly publish papers in the prestigious astronomy journals. They incorporate all the same measurements that are conventionally interpreted as supporting the Big Bang, but they reach a totally different conclusion. And I am quite confident that both the Steady State and Big Bang models are flexible enough to adapt to any astronomical measurements that will ever be made, i.e. they are really only "falsifiable" in theory, not in practice.

Posted by: b at December 21, 2005 2:11 PM

Not bound by religion (though I would give greater value and importance to issues of meaning than I would to mere mechanism), but bound by its own inherent limitations.

Shear impracticality of some scientific investigations being the first limit. have reached the point of impracticality when it comes to further investigation. For example, to provide the energies needed to show physical evidence of string theory in a bubble chamber we'll need an atom smasher roughly the size of the solar system. It is for reasons of impracticality that evolution and the big bang are not perfectly falsifiable. However, impracticality does not in itself render a theory INHERENTLY non-falsifiable. Hyothetically, if we could create test universes in the laboratory we could directly falsify claims about the origins of the universe. However, in our practical world, we can rely on natural observations and compare these observations with what a theory predicts (the background radiation left over from the Big Bang, stellar red shift as the universe continues to expand, etc.). Such observations are sufficiently scientific.

In addition to these practical limits there are apparently at least four physical attributes woven into the fabric of reality which at like unscalable walls and would seem to forever pen in our quest for knowledge like a sheepshold:

1. Godel's theorem limits what we can know about knowledge itself. It would seem to make the quest for a grand unified theory of everything logically impossible. It also strongly implies that we will never know what "consciousness" is.

2. The theory of relativity limits what we can know about the macro verse to information traveling no faster than C. Sorry "Star Trek" fans (me included) it doesn't appear that we can generate Alcubeierre warp drives or practical wormholes. This would require the generation of negative energy, in violation of the laws of thermodynamics (IIRC this was explained in Scientific American's January 2000 issue).

3. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle limits what we can know about the micro verse. At its basic quantum foundation, the universe will be forever illogical and unpredictable, without cause and effect. (And no Star Trek teleportation devices, either).

4. Chaos theory limits what we can ever understand about the workings of complex systems. When a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing can cause a rainstorm in New York, how can we hope to understand and predict things like the stock market, political polls, etc.

Any scientific claim that goes beyond these practical and inherent limitations would be what Horgan would refer to as "ironic science" - science indistinguishable from the metaphysical.

Posted by: bplus at December 21, 2005 2:35 PM

daniel: "Chaos theory" does no such thing. "Sensitive dependence on initial conditions" is what the concept means. There's probably not a more misunderstood idea in math & physics over the last few decades, all because of a "sexy" semantics choice.

Posted by: b at December 21, 2005 3:06 PM

Tom C. wrote:

Practical science implies the ability to prove or disprove assertions made. This seems to be what Popper was getting at.

I believe it's better to think of science as an effort to reliably predict future observations. It's an effort to understand the world around us, so we can know what to expect. Science allows us to say, "Under these circumstances, we can expect to observe this and not that."

The hallmark of all proper scientific hypotheses and theories is that they make predictions about future observations. In essence, this is the same as Popperian falsifiability. If a hypothesis predicts certain observations and not others, it is falsifiable and scientific. If it makes no predictions, it's compatible with all future observations, making it non-falsifiable and non-scientific.

The reason I emphasize predictive value is that it relates to the utility of science. Any knowledge that allows us to anticipate future observations is useful. For example, science predicts that certain compressed gaseous hydrocarbons will rapidly expand when exposed to a spark. That's a rather useful prediction if one wishes to develop (or use) an internal combustion engine.

I agree that science has limitations. I also agree that science is based on certain unprovable propositions. Among them, science assumes that there is an objective reality, and that past observations can reliably predict future observations. I don't see how that implies that science is a type of religion (as oj seems to suggest).

In any case, it's certainly not a religion in the sense relevant to the Dover decision.

Posted by: qetzal at December 21, 2005 3:36 PM

qetzal:

Science doesn't predict, it results from the prevailing worldviews of its time. They shift and so does the science.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 3:41 PM

oj, I disagree. I'm not claiming that science is immune to influence by worldviews. Science is practiced by scientists, and scientists are fallible humans. But that's quite different than claiming science results from prevailing worldviews.

The bottom line, scientifically, is still accurate prediction of future observations. The validity of any scientific claim is determined by its concordance with objective, observable reality. Even if everyone in the world believed in Lamarckism, it wouldn't make acquired traits heritable.

Of course, that does assume that objective reality exists independent of human belief. If you disagree with that, then we are definitely outside the realm of science.

Posted by: qetzal at December 21, 2005 4:27 PM

Regardless of whether objective reality exists, we know that we can know nothing of it except what we take on faith. So if we did believe in Lamarckianism it would indeed be true...for our purposes at least.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 4:32 PM

Let's cut through the pedantic pedifoggery, shall we? Randomness-as-prime-mover (AKA Darwinism) does not equate with evolution. Evolution is science. Darwinism is a variation of atheism and, as such, is a set of religious beliefs. While it is true that ID is not science, neither is atheism.

Posted by: ghostcat at December 21, 2005 4:35 PM

qetzal: The problem with your definition is that it pretty much eliminates most of the physical sciences as they are actually practiced. In geology, astrophysics, etc., the bulk of research involves going out and observing what IS. Then you try to come up with a theory that synthesizes all the available observations as best as possible.

Posted by: b at December 21, 2005 4:36 PM

ghostcat,

You nail down Orrin's confusion quite well. What is taught in science classes is not atheism or 'Darwinism', but the scientific theory of evolution, which is neutral on the subject of God's existence. It becomes a problem only when one puts oneself above God and imposes limits on His abilities.

Posted by: creeper at December 21, 2005 5:45 PM

ghost:

That's precisely right. If biology classes taught that life has evolved but we have no idea how the pricess occurs, with most believing God guides it, some believing it entirely random, and some believing an undetermined intelligence giuides it, the entire issue would disappear. It's only the insistence that the Darwinist faith have a monopoly that creates a problem.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 6:02 PM

creeper:

Indeed, the scientific process is a political process.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 6:08 PM

C'mon, creeper, even I'm insulted by that, and I'm not even Christian. Of course the scientific theory of evolution isn't neutral on the subject of Jehova, it's furiously opposed to him, and everybody here knows it. Claiming otherwise is the most contemptuous thing you can possibly do to a believer, and you know that. If you want to indulge that much disdain for oj you'd best be sure to kill him, and all of his kids, too, so their revenge on yours won't be so grave. Wars have been fought over less than you just did.

Posted by: joe shropshire at December 21, 2005 6:15 PM

Time out, Joe. Before you go on, please show exactly where the "scientific theory of evolution [...] is furiously opposed to Jehova".

I maintain that the theory of evolution is neutral on the existence of God. It disagrees with a literal reading of Genesis, but so does half the American public, and they're happy enough believing in God/Jehova all the same.

Posted by: creeper at December 21, 2005 6:22 PM

joe:

Note that for creeper "scientific theory of evoution" is a term of art. He means just the idea that life has evolved, which of course even Literal Creationists agree with. It doesn't deny God in the least. However his delusion that it is all that is taught in public schools is obvious nonsense.

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 6:42 PM

creeper:

Tut-tut, we're not going back and rearguing old cases here--it's boring.

These are the standards for the conversation:

The scientific theory of evolution is that life forms changed over time -- speciated and underwent significant morphological change -- it is undisputed

There are three competing explanations for how that occurred:

Creationism (God changed them)

Darwinism (Nature alone changed them)

Intelligent Design (Nature and some intelligent being or beings changed them)

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 7:02 PM

Orrin,

"The scientific theory of evolution is that life forms changed over time.--it is undisputed"

No, that is what is referred to as the "fact of evolution". There's a decent enough summary of the theory of evolution, aka the modern synthesis here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_synthesis

Posted by: creeper at December 21, 2005 7:10 PM

creeper:

See, there you go. That wasn't so hard. The scientific theory is that evolution occurs, a fact.

You're now arguing instead for a mere "theory of evolution", Darwinism or the modern synthesis, the invonmtor of which, Ernst Mayr, says is not scientific. We've been over that ad nauseum.

ttp://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/2005/02/rip_dr_mayr_1.html

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2005 7:15 PM
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