Different ways of knowing?

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roveplatoIn discussions with  religious apologists we often hear the claim that “there are different ways of knowing!” This is often used as a counter to science. It amounts to claiming knowledge which is not based on evidence and not testable against reality.In many cases it’s a defensive argument, a retreat. It’s claiming a logic or justification for the theist belief without allowing the normal checking that should go with knowledge claims. That’s OK –  if it is just personal justification. We all do that from time to time.

However, sometimes religious apologists will go on the offensive with this argument. They use it to justify a knowledge claim that conflicts with scientific knowledge. In fact, they will use it to claim they have access to knowledge which is more reliable than scientific knowledge.

Should theology trump science?

Matt Flannaghan, from the MandM blog, provides a useful example of the latter approach. In his comments on his own posts (Evolution should not be taught in State Schools: A Defence of Plantinga Part I and Part II) Matt claims that:

“If the relevant evidence points towards a theory it does not follow that all the evidence points towards it. That’s because there might be evidence which science does not consider, such as theological claims, that are relevant.”

He specifically argues for this regarding evolution:

“because on many issues the relevant scientific evidence is the only evidence, but on questions of origins that is not the case. The question of our origins is both a scientific and theological question so a correct examination of the issue will take into account both the theological and scientific evidence.

To teach evolution is the true theory of origins one would have to show it is probable on all relevant evidence, and seeing science excludes relevant theological evidence from the discussion it cannot claim to have shown its true on all relevant evidence.”

And:

“You should not teach its true in a science if you have not examined the philosophical issues.”

Leave aside, for the moment, concepts of “truth” – the word means different things to theologians, scientists and the person in the street.

Implicit in the “different ways of knowing” argument, and hinted at by Matt in his comments, is the desire to change the science process to include theological “evidence” and claims that are not based on, or tested by, evidence. To give theology a “free pass.” This is consistent with the Wedge strategy. Matt’s ginger group Thinking Matters often pushes this line (see their comments on scientific issue on their blog Thinking Matters Talk and in the  Thinking Matters Journal).

From myth, to logic to evidence

The way I see it, humanity has developed its approach to knowledge over time. Initially much of our knowledge was superstitious and mythical. Mythology provided explanations. A philosophical approach, based on logic and reason, developed in Greece and Italy from about the sixth century BCE. Today, modern science has its feet firmly placed on evidence. Scientific ideas are, must be, tested against reality.

These phases of human knowledge are not clearly demarcated. In fact many modern people still fall back on mythology. Logic and reason was heavily influenced by mythology during the 17th century when experimental science, or natural philosophy as it was then called, developed. And logic and reason play an important role in today’s scientific culture and process.

In the modern scene there is a distinction between science, which has experimental confidence, and philosophy which doesn’t. But this is not so historically. The two started to diverge from their “common ancestor,” which was heavily influenced by theological mythology, during the 17th century.

To assert today that we should revert to a pre-scientific era, that theology or philosophy should trump scientific knowledge, is to claim that mythology/logic/reason is more reliable than evidence.

Most of us, and most reasonable religious people, would not strongly defend a role of mythology and superstition in modern understanding of the world. But the claim for an overriding role for reason and logic (usually theological reason and logic) can be more persuasive. After all, we all have some sort of philosophical world outlook, and we do try to use logic and reason.

Logic must follow evidence

Of course logic and reason are important – and they can contribute to knowledge. They can provide a synthesis, an overview, and intuitions to the researcher. But they are not a substitute for evidence. In the end our reason and logic must conform to the evidence, not displace it.

The philosopher of science Alan Chalmers recently commented: “because of the stringent way in which scientific knowledge is required to pass experimental tests it is the best kind of knowledge we have.” He also pointed out that modern society and the technological experience of humanity “provides ample evidence that scientific knowledge has a validity that has no analogue in philosophy.” (Matt described these sort of comments as “just rhetoric”).

It’s not surprising that philosophy/logic has limitations. It is after all just a refinement of common sense by reason. Philosophical/logical principles arise from intuitions and may not properly represent reality. Quantum mechanics is an obvious example. Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek commented in an Edge interview: The classic structures of logic are really far from adequate to do justice to what we find in the physical world.”

It also suffers from susceptibility to subjectivity – which is reinforced by the lack of testing against reality. Clearly individuals, organisations, political parties, religions will use philosophy/logic to justify preconceived beliefs. Logical distortions for ideological reasons are inherent in the process. In science the requirement of evidential input counters this subjectivity.

Today, the resort to “other ways of knowing”, to a trumping role for philosophy or even theology, is just a cheap attempt to avoid reality. To impose prejudices based on mythology and biased logic/philosophy.

Stalinist consequences

So what would the trumping of science by theology/philosophy be like? We have seen some disastrous examples. Such as Stalin’s promotion of Lysenko, trumping of science by Stalinist interpretations of Marxism-Leninism. This put Soviet genetic science back many years and led to the death and persecution of many scientists. In many ways the current theological /creationist/wedge attack on science is of a similar ilk to Stalinism.

When religious apologists refer to philosophy and logic they almost invariably mean theology. It’s a deceptive way for them to try and give credibility to their theological arguments. And it can be a deceptive way of giving respectability to superstitious and mythological beliefs.

Matt, for example, has used his “philosophy” and “other ways of knowing” argument to give respectability to fundamentalism. He argues that teaching evolution is actually teaching “fundamentalist children that their religious beliefs are false.” Well, of course that is a problem for fundamentalism, not science. We cannot ignore reality because some silly people are offended by it. (And what’s with this “fundamentalist children,” Matt? Just consider the terms “Marxist child,” “post-modernist child,” “Tory child,” etc. Silly isn’t it?).

I have come to expect apologists to use the “other ways of knowing” argument, and to attempt to the trump science with philosophy, theology and mythology in debate. But I find Matt’s use of the arguments to justify withholding of modern knowledge from children particularly repulsive.

Imposing ignorance on children is surely a form of child abuse!

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198 responses to “Different ways of knowing?

  1. Great post Ken.

    I find the “other ways of knowing”” argument very frustrating. Particularly when it is clear to me that these “other ways of knowing”” are wide open to the various failings and biases of human nature.

    Interestingly, in past debates on your blog on this point, none of the metaphysics crowd wanted to engage with me on this point. Thought experiments and intuitions are extremely useful things, but some of the modern cognitive and neuroscience is indicating what shaky foundations these can be.

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  2. If you take what we know through the application of science/reason and subtract that from the sum total of all knowledge, including that gained from these ‘other ways of knowing’, what is left? I suggest nothing is left that is of any value vis-a-vis truth and falsehood.

    To put it another way, if we take scientific knowledge and we add to it the knowledge your Christian theologists have, would it not be prudent and fair to add the knowledge from the Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Roman, and Scientologists just to mention a few? And how do we decide between the competing theological claims?

    It seems that theologists have a different definition for ‘knowing’ than the one I’m familiar with.

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  3. I love the cartoons you come up with :-)

    I’d have to have a fun poke and ruminate whether a particular kind of “truth” can be created from repetition of a lie, just not an objective truth. (I’m referring to subjective “truths” created by re-enforcement, etc.; they’re convincingly true to the beholder.)

    I don’t like the “other ways of knowing” thing either. It often appears to me to be used as a pre-emptive strike to attempt to prevent others from commenting on their “arguments”. It also makes me think they must lack confidence in their arguments if they need to “protect” them in advance like that.

    It’s a bit like the G-d-of-the-gaps thing where you have to create a “gap” for the religion; here they seem to be trying to create an “alternative space” for their arguments. For me it fails horribly when you bear in mind that historically people once used similar thinking, but moved on past it for good reasons. Once you look at it historically, it isn’t so much “other” as “backward”, or at least “weaker” (?). Just thoughts.

    I guess one common link between Stalin’s promotion of Lysenko and creationists (etc.) promotion of theological “thinking”, is that they insist that one particular interpretation is “just right”. Science, of course, has to work with understanding of things changing as we learn more and acknowledgement that what we know at present is invariably limited (if by nothing else, our limited resources to study things). I’m reminded of one of Grayling’s statements I liked from the article you linked previously: Science is the outcome of being prepared to live without certainty and therefore a mark of maturity. It embraces doubt and loose ends. (This is also consistent with a vague idea I have about brain function and those with overly strong religious leanings.)

    While I’m writing, has anyone read Greg Bear’s City at the End of Time?

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  4. There are two ways in which I think science, as a way of learning about the natural world can be distinguished from other proposed methods. First, science is not a personal and private experience. It is available equally to all and is identical regardless of gender, creed, etc. It is not dependent on private revelation or a personal experience. Secondly, it is self correcting. Nothing in science is held to be absolutely true; everything is provisional and ready to be discarded or modified when evidence shows science and reality to differ.

    No theology I’m aware of has either of these features. That is not to say that no theology has ever changed over time, nor that no theology has ever been discarded. But theologies do generally claim absolute knowledge, usually from a revealed source. Modern Jews and Christians will generally claim to disdain slavery; however their sacred writings do not. In this case, either the revealed source or the alteration of belief must be in error.

    I do not claim to have made an exhaustive search for methods of learning about the world. If someone has a method which can be shown to produce correct results significantly more than half the time, please bring it to my attention.

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  5. (1) Hmmm… arguing with philosophy that science should trump philosophy. This is profound, Ken. I didn’t expect this from you. Well done.

    (2) The other fundamental mistake here is that evidence does not constitute knowledge. Any basic study in hermeneutics will inform you well that all evidence is interpreted. Its the interpretations that are considered knowledge, not the evidence itself. And all interpretations are always coloured by world-views – also known as philosophies.

    Philosophy is the discipline that studies all other disciplines – even itself. (3) While science gathers, studies and interprets the natural evidence, philosophy studies the methods of the interpretation of the evidence. So the study of philosophy should rightly be considered before and above (that is prior to and of higher importance than) the study of evidence.

    Your definition of philosophy and logic leaves much to be desired. Philosophy is simply the love of knowledge. It is the evaluating of ideas. It is a label which encompasses sub-disciplines such as epistemology, metaphysics, value theory, and logic. Logic, rightly understood, is akin to mathematics and (4) receives when properly executed a level of certainty unparalleled by any truth arrived at by science. Consider the scientific idea that global warming is caused by man’s impact on the planet – that theory will eternally be less certain than the law of non-contradiction – a philosophical idea – which states P cannot be non-P in the same time and place in the same way.

    For that reason, and those above I have offered, it is philosophy which is the discipline best suited for understanding reality as it truly is. And so there are other ‘ways of knowing’ that are, if not better than, of equal importance to science. (Just so no one misunderstands, that does not mean I consider that the study of evidence is not a vital part of the method for discovering true beliefs)

    Finally,

    Matt does not support imposing ignorance on children. His argument in support of Plantinga’s argument is that evolution should not be taught as the sober truth in state schools when relevant philosophical issues are not also considered. In misrepresenting Matt you’ve argued with a fallacy (specifically a strawman fallacy) – and that in itself is poor philosophy on your part.

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  6. Nutshell: you’re still trying to wishfully dismiss evidence.

    The other fundamental mistake here is that evidence does not constitute knowledge.

    You seem to be the one making the error here: I can’t see that anyone has claimed evidence = knowledge literally, as you make out. What they have claimed is that evidence is what knowledge is built from, a different thing.

    What I’m pointing might look vaguely what you try go on to use against ‘evidence = knowledge’, claiming it to be “interpreted”, but you are using “interpret” in a particular meaning, one implying uncertainty and “allowing” for the addition of input from the researcher’s “worldview” (whatever that is supposed to mean in this context), which is not what interpret means in science. You might well be describing what theologists and apologists do—in fact, that’s an impression I get of how theologists and apologists commonly use evidence myself—but it’s not how evidence is used in science. In particular, you (“conveniently”?) leave out where the evidence, taken together, “speaks for itself” (i.e. a particular inference can be drawn from it).

    So the study of philosophy should rightly be considered before and above (that is prior to and of higher importance than) the study of evidence. and later And so there are other ‘ways of knowing’ that are, if not better than, of equal importance to science.

    No one area or method of study is “above” or of “higher importance” that all others. Each area of study or approach is just a tool. One area of study (tool) might be more appropriate for a particular kind of study, but to call one area (tool) more “important” that all others is mere aggrandisement. Get off the soap box ;-) And put the trumpet down, it’s making you look silly, loudly blowing it all off key like that ;-)

    If you don’t believe me, just look apply your reasoning to other lines of study that you’re not so fond of ;-) Physicists might argue everything is ultimately physics (some certainly do!), but physics is not the most suitable tool for all studies. It follows that it can’t be more important that all other approaches to study. Ditto for philosophy.

    You’ve also mixed two different meanings of ‘interpretation’ in your post, although you don’t seem to be aware of it. You also appear to be mixing several different definitions of philosophy. It’s a very “mixed up” post :-)

    For that reason, and those above I have offered, it is philosophy which is the discipline best suited for understanding reality as it truly is. Here you say philosophy is a tool for a particular purpose, but choose the wrong purpose. (The mixing up things seems to be continuing!) In my experience, philosophy might be a useful tool for exploring (completely) abstract things; this is, after all, what it’s used to study… But generally it’s a (very) poor tool for studying reality itself. Observation and experiment tend to be far more practical and appropriate. (Metaphysical philosophy is more limited still, being limited to abstract arguments founded on assumptions.)

    I think you’re mixing up what, as an apologist, would wish you could do with philosophy compared to what it is actually limited to and used for (e.g. as used by philosophers without a religious agenda to fill).

    There are too many other bizarre claims in your post to address and I have to get to bed… For example, you bizarrely claim that because philosophy includes logic, it somehow must be “above” science, which makes no sense at all. Science uses logic, too, were it’s appropriate.

    You leave out one of philosophy’s great weaknesses: dealing with imperfect or incomplete data. Statistics is one useful tool to help here.

    You also leave out that, in itself, philosophy does not do experiments to test hypotheses, even hypotheses that philosophical approaches might generate.

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  7. Stuart,

    I don’t see how if a rock is dated at over a few million years old, one can bend the interpretation to a young-earth-creationist view. Some evidence do constitute knowledge after all.

    Your discussion on logic and mathematics suffers a bit:

    mathematics provide ideal models that can never be attained in reality. They are built on top of axioms that are taken to be truth (and hence the whole domain they reflect presumes their truth). This makes mathematical models very domain specific as is evident with the various geometries for instance.

    Logic works based on premises as well. But now, as opposed to mathematics which work on ideal models, if you claim to apply logic to reality, you need to verify your premises then. Hence, evidence still play a role in validating logical premises.

    The law of non-contradiction might be more certain than ALL of scientific theories, but that doesn’t really help us explain reality, does it? (btw, “100% certain” fallacy, anyone?)

    When it comes to knowledge, we are concerned about what best describes reality. And the only way to do this is through evidence -because they are based on reality!

    I consider philosophy as a means for hypothesizing, not as a means for attaining new knowledge… but that’s just me…

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  8. As I see it, this whole “argument” is nothing but a blatant and transparent attempt to inject religious beliefs into science classes. What a surprise that it was forwarded by Plantinga, who has an established track record of involvement with the ID movement.

    So we should consider “theological evidence” when teaching the theory of evolution? Let’s see how that works:

    According to fundamentalist Christian “theological evidence”, humans and all other animals were created in their present form by a deity called “Yahweh”. Since this is plainly contradictory to the theory of evolution, there might be a slight problem on how to teach them together.

    But wait, according to the “theological evidence” of theistic evolutionists, said same deity uses evolution by natural selection to create the biosphere. What do we do now?

    Oops, seems I was too fast. I have just received news that according to Muslim “theological evidence”, it was in fact Allah, not Yahweh, which created humans and animals. Now I am starting to get confused about all this “theological evidence”.

    Oh my. I have just received reports that according to Buddhist “theological evidence”, humans and animals are locked in an eternal cycle of Samsara (birth, death and re-birth) without beginning or end, except in Nirvana.

    So, how do we incorporate all this “theological evidence” into science classes? Should we teach all of it alongside the theory of evolution? Should it be decided by majority vote? Or maybe the parents get to decide which kind of “theological evidence” their kids are exposed to?

    To me this seems like self-evident hogwash. It is the purpose of a scientific education to teach the scientific consensus on a given topic as it currently exists. Any metaphysical speculation over and above this can not be part of the curriculum. If this causes cognitive dissonance in kids who for the first time hear about such ideas outside their faith bubble, I fail to see the disadvantage.

    Re science vs. philosophy:

    I would agree that the scientific method rests on certain metaphysical and methodological assumptions/conventions. I would furthermore agree that philosophy can play an important and helpful role in discussing/evaluating/improving said assumptions and conventions. However, stating that philosophical inquiry is generally superior to scientific investigation and leads to certain knowledge is fundamentally naive.

    As a counterexample, we simply need to consider the fact that it was scientific investigation into the structure of our cognitive apparatus which basically consigned the philosophical position of naive empiricism to the trash bin.

    The realization that our senses are not passive receptors which faultlessly transmit incoming stimuli, but rather come equipped with certain built-in “theories” that inevitably shape and influence our sensory perceptions, rendered a form of empiricism which posited the certainty of empirical observation untenable.

    Generally, when it comes to beliefs about the physical world, empirical verification/falsification, while not leading to certain, indubitable truths, is the only way to go. A single piece of contradictory evidence is sufficient to falsify even the cleverest and most beautiful philosophical thought experiment.

    Naturally, one can always interpret any data as supportive of (or not contradictory to) one’s pet theory. The price one pays for this immunization from criticism is that one has no possibility to know whether said pet theory is true or false. Or in other words: if one is unable or unwilling to specify the conditions under which a belief about the physical world could be falsified, one holds this belief irrationally/dogmatically.

    Concerning the comparison between logic/mathematics and science, one must be careful not to conflate two different definitions of “truth” here.

    Logic/mathematics uses a formal definition of truth, i.e. it mostly consists of analytical truths/tautologies that are independent of the physical world.

    In contrast, science employs a synthetic concept of truth with regard to content and whether its statements correctly correspond to physical reality.

    Thus, while logical/mathematical truths might enjoy higher certainty than scientific ones, they are free of substantive content. I think Wittgenstein said it best: “All logical propositions state the same: Nothing.”.

    Btw, Stuart, since you are posting here: over the last couple of days I have watched this self-styled “physicist who has extensively worked on the inner-quark structure of protons and neutrons” make a complete fool of himself by spouting nonsense about the second law of thermodynamics and abiogenesis. I further note that he has gone conspicuously silent since he was introduced to scientific papers that trivially refute his claim.

    I say the following with all honesty and sincerity: you are doing tremendous damage to the credibility of your blog by giving this guy a platform. Anyone with even a rudimentary education in physics/chemistry will be put off by reading such a brain-dead “argument” from the bottom of the barrel. The message you are sending out by endorsing this crap is that Christians either have to leave their scientific brains at the door or distort the science if there is a perceived clash with their faith. I think the majority of Christians would reject both options.

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  9. Stuart, the Flintstones is not a documentary.
    The Earth is not 6000 years old.

    It’s just plain wacky to believe in such a thing.

    Not even most people who call themselves Christians believe that.
    Many years ago, I was told that there were people who believed in a 6000 year old Earth.
    I flat out didn’t believe the story.
    It sounded just too far-fetched.

    Then, many years later, I found out that there were American deep-fried fundamentalists that seriously believed this.
    There was something truely horrifying about it all. So horrifying that you just can’t tear your eyes away from it because you just don’t believe it.

    It’s like finding out that there are people who derive sexual pleasure from eating their own feces. A sane person just has to stop and go…”WFT! Please tell me you’re joking!!”

    Young Earth Creationism is the intellectual version of eating your own feces.

    There’s revulsion and at the same time a need to ask why anybody would do that to their own brain.

    Young Earth Creationism isn’t even very old.
    The orginal YECism mostly died out a couple of centuries ago.
    Unfortunately for Christians everywhere, a Seventh Day Adventist mystic called Ellen White and an odd fellow called George McCready Price decided to revive it.

    Wierdos? Oh yeah. But they’re facinating wierdos.

    Brainwashing children to believe that the Earth is 6000 years old is wrong. Fortunately, there are those that have the courage to get out of the YEC ghetto.

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  10. Stuart says:

    it is philosophy which is the discipline best suited for understanding reality as it truly is

    I’d say ‘you can’t be serious’, except that you are. I don’t get how you can use the abstract concepts and vague language of philosophy to ascertain anything at all concrete about reality. I’m certainly glad you’re not a structural engineer, or for that matter, in any profession where the health and safety of others is at risk.

    Plantinga’s argument is silly. In his view, teaching 2 + 2 = 4 would be inappropriate if a significant percentage of the populace thought it could sometimes equal 5. He doesn’t see creationism in the same way, but he should. Among any technical profession that can be called on to evaluate the creationist story*, the consensus is clear and overwhelming. Creationism is false.

    Also amazing is that individuals untrained in any of the relevant disciplines, feel that somehow they have seen, usually immediately, the gaping hole in scientific thought totally missed by professional scientists. The hole that allows them to think their pet mythology of past millennia is somehow a history text unburdened with error.

    We cannot choose to teach subjects to our children ignoring the advice of those educated in the subject in favor of those who are uneducated and ill informed. We would not stand for it in language arts, math, social studies or even chemistry, so why would we allow it in the case of biology?

    *Note I did not say the Christian story of creation. There are many creation myths and some of them are wildly different. We cannot privilege the Christian one without some evidence it is correct and the others incorrect. Were we to teach all of them equally, then there would be no time left to discuss actual science.

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  11. Reminds me a bit of a science-fiction story (can’t remember the name, drat it!) in which after some unspecified environmental catastrophe the world had regressed to a rather simple technology. Exact measurements were forbidden, on pain of all sorts of nasty punishments. Builders, architects & so on had to make do with the ‘rule of thumb’ as a basis for their measurements – but there could be no standardisation; each man’s thumb length was as good as the next. As a result there were some predictable cock-ups when two different builders were working on the same project…

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  12. Well, Stuart, you have confirmed my assessment of the “Thinking Matters” approach to science. I look forward to your rejection of a future article I will do on scientific epistemology which will unpack some of Matt’s comments in this area. (Matt did a good job of expressing the “Thinking Matters” science delusions in his comments).

    I know you don’t like evidence – preferring to get by on bald statements. But surely you should have given some evidence for claiming logic provides “a level of certainty unparalleled by any truth arrived at by science.” Come on – put the two approaches side by side for a specific area of knowledge (I suggest the facts and theory of atoms). How far has each got us? How far did bare “logic”, without any testing against reality, get us in formulating the current understanding of the atom – and application of that knowledge for the benefit of society.

    I made quite clear the limitations of logic (its subjective use and its “common sense” basis) and you have not responded to that.

    Science has the power that it has (and I include mathematics and logic as part of science) because it is always connected with reality. Scientific knowledge, unlike theology, must be validated against reality. That’s why “theology” is very much a world view – but science has mechanisms to override a world view.

    So, come on (again). Justify your statement that philosophy is “best suited for understanding reality as it truly is.” Give me an example – you know – evidence! Explain how ignorance of reality, non-interaction with reality, can possible help us to understand reality – let alone react with it.

    And admit it, Stuart. Matt is arguing for denial of knowledge to children. he is specifically arguing against inclusion of some well known and accepted biological knowledge in lessons at a state school if some fundamentalist parents object to it (are “offended” by it – just imagine all the things these nutters can be “offended” by).

    You actually don’t need to read much further than the title of his posts – “Evolution should not be taught in State Schools”. Very clear, I think.

    And your reference to “philosophical issues” in this context is blatantly disingenuous. You mean theological myths, religious creation stories, don’t you?

    I do hope children are taught about the philosophical issues, the truly relevant ones, in their science classes. Issues outlining the nature of science and evidence, the nature of ideas, hypotheses and theory, the nature of scientific knowledge, scientific epistemology, the way it is continually tested against reality and changes as the world changes and/or more information comes in. That’s the sort of philosophy that should go alongside the teaching of scientific facts, theories and speculations. I would love to see more of that.

    Humanity doesn’t need the return of the dead hand of theology in science. We split away from that 400 years ago.

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  13. 1) All of you are using philosophy,
    2) All of you (presumably) think the points you are raising are correct.
    3) Thus, philosophy is another way of knowing.

    1) philosophy studies logic and reason themselves, and the validy of argents and the methods oc other disciplines.
    2) science uses logic and reason as tools.
    3) thus philosophy is better suited for discovering what is logical and reasonable.

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  14. [Off-topic. Wayyy off topic]

    Hi Alison,

    It reminds me that before some time in the Industrial Age, there was no standardisation of screws, bolts, etc. I can’t remember where I read it, but it was mentioned in passing in a book and it struck me. I think Charles Babbage might have been one of the players encouraging the standardisation of them (and the book perhaps The Cogwheel Brain).

    It also reminds me of that the Bugis shipbuilders apparently build (built) schooners by rule of thumb.I’d guess that they have a single foreman though…! (Random useless bit of knowledge: the Bugis were the “original” pirates, dressed much like the stereotypical Holloywood pirate and were the inspiration of the word ‘boogeymen’.)

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  15. Stuart,

    You’re full of silly illogic.

    First set (‘A’):

    A1: Over generalising, to try capture something that doesn’t really belong in your argument set. This by itself makes what follows irrelevant. You seem to be on a theme of this lately; look back on your earlier post.

    Second set (‘B’):

    B2: As you say and as you imply science has more tools that just them. Therefore science has more tools than philosophy. Great! So maybe I should say science is better than philosophy? You tell me.

    B3: You totally ignored what I pointed out earlier. I did point you to some reasons why philosophy is weak and other tools are more practical and useful…

    PS: ‘Hollywood’ for ‘Holloywood’ in my previous post. Swore I corrected that…

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  16. Well Stuart – with all that generallising (and no response to specific requests for evidence) surely you will admit that children are already getting philosophy with the science lessons.

    So what is your bitch?

    Oh – that’s right. When you use the word “philosophy” you really mean theology – don’t you? At least when it comes to imposing something on children.

    And haven’t you just provided a beautiful example of how subjectively “logic” can be used when not connected to reality?

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  17. Here is your evidence that philosophical proofs can be 100% certain.

    1) if p then q
    2) p
    3) therefore q

    Can science achieve such certainty? It seems correct to me that all science is subjective interpretation

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  18. Stuart,

    Still avoiding what I and others have pointed out… do read other’s posts, or just talk to yourself ;-)

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  19. Opps ‘do you read’, left the you out; typing in a rush (I have a job to get off too and all that…)

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  20. Stuart – isn’t that childish? Is that what you understand by “philosophy?”
    “1) if p then q
    2) p
    3) therefore q”

    We don’t have to give this a high-faluting name. It’s common sense – but sensibly it should not be used indiscriminately as the particle physicists will tell you. When we get to interact with the real world at scales outside our common sense experience often we have to modify, or make more abstract, common sense assumptions.

    Come on Stuart – tell us how philosophy alone, with no course to testing against reality, gave us our knowledge of atoms on which so much of our technology (and your life style) is based.

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  21. Stuart, your arguments are idiotic.

    1) All of you are using philosophy,
    2) All of you (presumably) think the points you are raising are correct.
    3) Thus, philosophy is another way of knowing.

    1) philosophy studies logic and reason themselves, and the validy of argents and the methods oc other disciplines.
    2) science uses logic and reason as tools.
    3) thus philosophy is better suited for discovering what is logical and reasonable.

    Philosophy has no way of confirming any relationship of its premises to reality. Last thursdayism is completely valid as a philosophy as are many others (Matrix, anyone?), but none can be shown to be the one correct view using only philosophy.

    Philosophy is another way of knowing only when you define ‘knowing’ very differently from the rest of us.

    1) if p then q
    2) p
    3) therefore q

    Can science achieve such certainty? It seems correct to me that all science is subjective interpretation

    Science has no special limitation regarding logic. If you formulate the deduction scientifically, it’s as airtight as your philosophical version. Where science improves the odds is in empirical observation, which connects the statements to the reality we inhabit. Another way to put it is that in your deduction above, when you get to step 2, if you’re using any kind of observation at all, you’re doing science.

    It seems to me that you’re trying to muddy the waters by elevating philosophy on some pedestal, then conflating theology with philosophy. All of theology has a deity as a premise. It’s a naked assertion and unprovable, thus everything deduced from that assertion is tentative at best until your assertion is shown to be true.

    While back in high school, I did a class in non-Euclidean geometry. In this version of geometry you do proofs just as you do in Euclidean geometry. The primary difference is in one axiom; In Euclidean geometry there is exactly one line through a point that is parallel to another line. Non-Euclidean geometry does not allow this axiom, meaning that there may be many such lines or none at all. One can do all sorts of interesting proofs that bear no relation to reality.

    You doing philosophy with no empirical observational input has exactly the same effect.

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  22. It seems to me all of you conflate philosophy with science. And no I don’t conflate philosophy with theology. Theology is a sub-set of philosophy. Mythology is a subset of theology, like Christian theology and other religious philosophies.

    Back to work

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  23. Stuart,

    You made out science to be a subset of philosophy, but it’s not. It includes techniques that philosophy doesn’t. If anything, modern science is a superset to philosophy. I did point this out to you earlier, but you seem to want to ignore it.

    Modern science can choose to call on philosophical approaches when it seems appropriate, and in rare cases some scientists do. It is rare, because other approaches are generally much more appropriate. I mention this as the practice of science in fact shows that it is a superset of philosophy. (Note: I’m not interested in “better”—that’s just grand-standing—appropriateness for a purpose is more relevant.)

    In distant times, philosophy was considered the “first” science, but those days are long, long gone. Somewhat more recently philosophy made some contributions to bringing about the present-day approach to science. The modern scientific approach adds techniques and approaches that philosophy on it’s own lacks. Effectively, while historically philosophy contributed to the “birth” of modern science in various ways (ways not always retained, I might add), the “child” has grown to have more skills than its parent ever did. I pointed out at least two of the skills philosophy lacks compared to science earlier. (Please note that in using ‘contributed/contributions’ I am referring to the fact that philosophy is not the only thing that made present-day science what it is; even from a historical perspective philosophy is not a superset of, or sole predecessor of, present-day science.)

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  24. Heraclides:You also leave out that, in itself, philosophy does not do experiments to test hypotheses, even hypotheses that philosophical approaches might generate.

    Well, technically they do. Their experiments however are usually thought-experiments which are intended to help clarify concepts or to falsify ideas. There have been some real world experiments proposed by philosphers however, usually on colour perception.

    As to the broader debate I think that perhaps there is some confusion as to what philosophy means. Most people these days take it to mean academic philosophy of the kind that you learn in a university philosophy dept whereas Stuart appears to be using in the broader original sense where it includes everything (incl natural philosphy) as subdisciplines.

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  25. Philosophy is thoroughly reliant on experience/evidence/observation. Think about it. Without accurate evidence philosophy is a ship without a rudder. Just read history and follow the convoluted debates on the effects and properties of the music of the spheres to see how far philosophy can go off course in the absence of evidence.

    Now, I love well-grounded philosophy. But the philosophy trotted out by creationists is exactly the same kind as that of the historical philosophers studying the attributes of the music of the spheres.

    Practice a philosophy that ignores the evidence and you end up in a loop that’s impossible to get out of. You end up in a religion.

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  26. chiz,

    You do know what experiment means, you do know that they are quite different and of course I know of thought experiments, I use them myself. Bringing up ‘thought experiments’ doesn’t change what I wrote; it amounts to playing word games really and you obviously know that!

    There have been some real world experiments proposed by philosphers however, usually on colour perception.

    But note the word ‘proposed’… Your example in fact illustrates the point several people here are making. In order to test the ideas out, these philosophers have essentially asked for help from those outside of philosophy… philosophy itself can’t do the experimentation, it doesn’t have the means to…

    I think we’re all well aware that Stuart is trying to mix different definitions of philosophy (I referred to this earlier by the way). It’s basically just a variant of the “word definition” game that apologists seem so fond of.

    You’re wrong about the general definition of philosophy including everything, you even gave an example of it failing yourself! ;-) I’ve also pointed out earlier that using philosophy in the ancient sense of being the “first science” doesn’t work in the modern context.

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  27. Damian,

    I agree. Basically, philosophy needs sound starting assertions/assumptions. You then need to think how to make sure the starting points are sound reflections of reality… Beyond the simplistically obvious, the answer to that lies in using science…

    Apologists, of course, by-pass this by supplying their own starting assertions, based on what they would like to be true and simply not worrying about checking that these starting points are sound (or rather, asserting that they “just are” correct). They can, of course say if the starting assertion(s) is(are) correct, then “some stuff”, but the logic rests on the assertions.

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  28. Alison’s blog has a nice snippet on this general topic:

    http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/2009/07/science-as-a-way-of-knowing.shtml

    (Excuse my rain of posts.)

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  29. Heraclides:But note the word ‘proposed’… Your example in fact illustrates the point several people here are making. In order to test the ideas out, these philosophers have essentially asked for help from those outside of philosophy… philosophy itself can’t do the experimentation, it doesn’t have the means to…/I>

    Not completely true. I know of one well regarded philosopher who proposed an experiment involving nothing more than colour afterimages and wrote up a paper on it and his results and he has been presenting this experiments at talks where people can indepently confirm his claim.

    In general you are right that when philosophers propose experiments involving the real world that they don’t usually carry out them out themselves but I think that has more to do practicalities than anything.

    And your rain of posts needs no excusing :-)

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  30. oops. close italics

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  31. Heraclides,

    I’ve not been responding to you because if I adressed every point I disagreed with Id be at this all day, and that’s a habit I don’t have the time to support. That is why I’ve been sticking to my main point – that there are other legitimate ways of knowing than just science (which I take to mean empirical method).

    I don’t make out that science is a subset of philosophy, as you accuse. Philosophy is a distinguishable discipline that analyses thought, logic and reason, so that presents to all another way of knowing. Science employs philosophy and relies upon it, as does every other discipline. There are other ways apart from science and philosophy to know things, like moral intuitions, life experience, and tradition. Theological knowledge is formed from a mixture of these plus information that is specially revealed. I’d like to post on this topic at TM if I have the time. Suffice to say now there are other ways of knowing, and everyone who argues with philosophy only emphesises that point.

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  32. One of the deceptions the “Thinking Matters” people use is to present “philosophy” as a specific, well defined subject – ignoring the fact that there are a whole range of philosophies. Not surprising – philosophical thought arises in society, it is pressured by (and serves a purpose for) a whole range of ideological, financial, religious and political interests. It is not surprising that some of these philosophies are absolutely useless for obtaining reliable knowledge about reality.

    By avoiding that fact and then lecturing us scientists about how we should do our science, or selectively rejecting scientific knowledge, the TM people are disingenuously trying to impose their naive, mechanical, theologically driven philosophy. And they hide behind words like “philosophy,” “logic,” and “epistemology.” Noticeably, while attacking others, they never like to reveal the true nature of their own “philosophy.”

    As I said in my article, researchers actually do make use of philosophy – implicitly if not always consciously. And I speak from experience on this. It is inherent in the scientific method, in the science culture and the social processes of science. But it is not the TM philosophy. Scientific philosophy is very much connected with reality. It provides that knowledge should be based on evidence and validated against reality. This philosophical attitude, which has taken over and dominated science in the last 400 years has been extremely successful. All of humanity is dependent on it – and most of us are extremely grateful for it. (Matt describes that as rhetoric – he seems to think science has not been at all successful – and presents an extremely naive argument to support that claim).

    Of course, there are those who hate scientific philosophy – who wish to replace it with a theological philosophy – “Christian science” as the Wedge strategy outlines. The “Thinking Matters” ginger group adheres to that approach which is basically reactionary and pre-enlightenment.

    There is something arrogant about people who demonstratively don’t understand science or the scientific method, who themselves have a naive understanding of philosophical issues, have strong ideological biases, etc., lecturing scientists about the nature of science or the nature of knowledge.

    They often make the arrogant claim that scientists don’t understand philosophy. Well, if Stuart and his mates actually read the comments made by a number of supporters and practitioners of the scientific method here they would surely realise there is a philosophical appreciation which far outweighs anything they can produce.

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  33. @ chiz, one example does not a case make ;-) No need to make excuses either, philosophy doesn’t have the tools for experimentation. There nothing more to it than appropriateness in the end, nothing terrible is going to happen by admitting there are more appropriate tools for some jobs!

    @ Stuart, I don’t make out that science is a subset of philosophy: you did, you just didn’t mean to; that’s what I pointed out. If you want to take it back, as you seem to, that’s fine, but then you’ll have to take back your claims that philosophy is “better” and your implications that philosophy is a superset of science.

    Science employs philosophy I said that myself earlier, thanks for coming around to it. I also pointed out earlier that while science can choose to use (formal) philosophy, it rarely does as usually there are more appropriate tools. (I should make clear I was referring to formal philosophy, it’s fairly clear this is what you meant to refer to, before you started trying make a “grab-all” bag by switching to a different, looser, meaning for the word.)

    information that is specially revealed See the comment Alison excerpted. This is one of the failings of theology/apologetics, not a strength.

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  34. Ken,

    Your previous comment was obfuscation. It would be helpful if you distinguished between a philosophy (as in a particular world-view) and philosophy (as in the discipline that is concerned with critiquing ideas and discovering truth). And while your using philosophy to argue your point (and not employing any scientific method), this only places emphasis on the fact that philosophy (the discipline) provides another ‘way of knowing.’ You’ve admitted that science uses philosophy, or at least acquires a philosophical outlook on reality. This underlines that point.

    Heraclides,

    With respect to me supposedly making out that science is a subset of philosophy; don’t put words in my mouth. I’m perfectly capable of recalling and knowing what I said.

    Science employs philosophy (yes, came around to stating it explicitly, I have never denied it), but I would go further and say that science heavily uses philosophy and that science requires philosophical assumptions in order to function. For example, all participants here are all scientific realists (at least it seems to me): that is you believe that science progressively secures true, or approximately true, theories about the real, theory-independent world “out there” and does so in a rationally justifiable way. That is a philosophical position. (To be clear I think that is a wholly reasonable assumption.) An instance of this is; we believe we are entitled to believe in the reality of atoms because atomic theory works (or seems to) and has predicted successfully (explained, described) a number of experimental evidence.

    Regarding information that is specially revealed being a weakness of theology; it is only a weakness if that information is not specially revealed – i.e., if it were false that any information is given specially from a divine source. You should know that merely asserting this renders it an empty statement. How do you propose to prove that? and which method of truth discovery is best suited to accomplish that task – empirical science or philosophy?

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  35. An instance of this is; we believe we are entitled to believe in the reality of atoms because atomic theory works (or seems to) and has predicted successfully (explained, described) a number of experimental evidence.

    Yes but…you don’t believe it. :)
    You believe that the Earth is 6000 years old.
    Radiometric dating says it isn’t.

    Actually, multiple independent lines of evidence say that the Earth isn’t 6000 years old.
    (Ice Varves, Dendrochronolgy, Plate Tectonics, magnetic alignment in lava flows etc)

    …it is only a weakness if that information is not specially revealed.

    You don’t have any evidence that there’s an invisible sky person to specially reveal anything to you, so it’s a bit of a stretch to say that you have info that’s specially revealed.

    All you have is meaningless babble and hand-waving.

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  36. Stuart,

    With respect to me supposedly [...]

    Suit yourself, you don’t seem to realise that you did and still don’t. That’s fine by me, it won’t make any difference.

    [...] requires philosophical assumptions [...]

    You’re playing word games again (and only fooling yourself, no one else) mixing up different meanings of ‘philosophy’ as you have all along. In your latest comment you’ve moved from the sense of using formal philosophy, to “requires philosophical assumptions”, then try stretch to”a philosophical position”: three different, unrelated, things! (You doing the conflating thing you did earlier, again.) Like I said quite a while back you are doing a lot of mixing up in order to achieve what you want to be true. That you have to do that speak volumes.

    Next you’ll be making it “think at all”, in which case, yes, you can include everything, but only by conflation of the meanings of the word.

    all participants here are all scientific realists

    You aren’t ;-) And you’d be wise to ask what chiz is before assuming, I’d think.

    Regarding “information that is specially revealed” being a weakness of theology; it is only a weakness if that information is not specially revealed

    That’s as a silly an argument as I’ve heard in a while. It’s nothing like the reason it’s weakness. Did you even read the link to see why revealed knowledge is such a weakness? It’s said quite clearly.

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  37. Heraclides says :

    Stuart says: Regarding “information that is specially revealed” being a weakness of theology; it is only a weakness if that information is not specially revealed

    That’s as a silly an argument as I’ve heard in a while. It’s nothing like the reason it’s weakness. Did you even read the link to see why revealed knowledge is such a weakness? It’s said quite clearly.

    And just how do you propose to verify any information as being specially revealed, Stuart? Yes I know you believe certain information to be specially revealed, but how do you convince others? At its most fundamental level, that is what science is: a method for understanding and modeling reality, independent of the viewpoint of any individual and accurate for any observer.

    I am confused about the link mentioned above by Heraclides. If it is referring to the link given above by Alison to her own blog, that entry (unless I’ve messed something up) refers to the first paragraph of my second comment in this thread. Please let me know if I’ve missed something along the way.

    Finally, logic and reason are not owned by philosophy. We do not need to declare ourselves as existentalists, idealists, naturalists, verificationists or whatever to enjoy the use of these tools. We do not need to be philosophical naturalists in order to do science. We do need to employ methodological naturalism to do science in order to avoid ascribing every effect to an interventionalist supernatural entity.

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  38. You have probably seen this already Ken, but here is a link to a recent blog post from Sean Caroll with a good clarification of what sorts of things science can/could answer. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2009/07/15/what-questions-can-science-answer/

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  39. Stuart – you assertion: “Your previous comment was obfuscation. “

    This is only obscure to you because you don’t understand the scientific method/epistemology. If you did, or had some experience in this, you would see it as obvious. Calling ignorance on your part “obfuscation” on mine is just a cop out.

    Meanwhile – you continue to ignore my point that there are a whole range of “philosophies.” Some are just silly (like those relying on “revelation”) and cannot contribute to our understanding of reality (even though they may give some psychological satisfaction to their proponents). Others are intimately integrated into the process of interacting with and understanding reality.

    As for you claims about testing the “truth” of revelation: “which method of truth discovery is best suited to accomplish that task”. Obviously any claim about reality can only be evaluated against reality – using evidence and validation. As Stenger and others point out revelation is not rejected out of hand. If the claims of a special access to knowledge were true it could provide a powerful process. The fact is that whenever such claims are tested they are found to be false. The method is shown to not work.

    Now, of course there are people who want it to be true, want revelation to work. They can’t justify it with evidence or scientific testing (the only way such things can be tested) so they make an assertion of their prejudice/bias – and call it “philosophy.”

    As I said – there are philosophies and “philosophies. Some are only there to “confirm” financial, political, ideological and religious bias.

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  40. Sorry about the circular reference, I didn’t take much notice of where Alison link was pointing to!

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  41. Thanks for the link Nick. I had read Sean’s previous article but hadn’t caught up with this one yet.

    It’s a good article – I particularly like that he points out the problems with the term “methodological naturalism.” Agree with him there. I just wish defenders of science would keep away from the mechanical use of those sort of terms. (We’ve come to expect the distorted us from opponents of science).
    Sean Caroll’s always worth reading (except when he writes for the limited particle physics specialist audience when I just cant follow him).

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  42. I am a scientific realist. Heraclides and cedric would do well not to ascribe to people positions to they fo not hold. Cedric – as to the age of the earth, for instance, I have no fixed views. If the evidence points one way conclusively then so be it – no damage done theologically.

    Ken, could you please clarify what you mean by ‘evidence’? Is it always emipical?

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  43. If the evidence points one way conclusively then so be it – no damage done theologically.

    Really?
    That would be nice but…would you mind demonstrating it?
    How old (in your opinion) is the Earth?
    Please, no bafflegab.
    Just a straightforward approximate number will do.

    Dinosaurs.
    When were they around?
    Were T-Rexs etc. on the Ark?
    Did humans and dinosaurs co-exist?

    How are you any different from your stock standard YEC nutter?

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  44. Stuart – you are definitely not a “scientific realist.” Surely that is obvious from your statements supporting Johnson Philip’s complete misrepresentation of the second law of thermodynamics. That is definitely not realism. That’s wishful thinking – trying desperately to find a gap for your god. Despite many people having pointed out how incorrect Philip is.

    Why do you encourage such a “Walter Mitty” type? It only appears pathetic and gives Christianity a bad name.

    What can you possibly mean by claiming “no fixed views” on the age of the earth?? Do you mean you don’t want to decide between 4.65 and 4.71 billion years? (Many of us recognise the range of uncertainty). Or is your “mind open” to 6000 or 10000 years. It’s not a matter of having a “view.” Its a matter of accepting evidence. Your bafflegab about “evidence pointing one way conclusively”is just avoiding the issue. We know what the evidence is, where it points and how conclusive it is.

    And now you ask for clarification on what is meant by evidence!! If you don’t understand what the word means why do you think you can tell us how to do science?

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  45. I certainly am a scientific realist, and that is compley comsistant with not having a considered opinion on the scientifc evidence and agreeing (or disagreeing) with other scientific realists such as Johnson on what specific theories say and what the correct intepretation of the evidence should be. If you have an issue with Johnson discoursing on science you should chat with him directly.

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  46. My judgement is that you are not a scientific realist – and I think the evidence supports that judgement.

    Philip a realist!! Come off it – he is anything but.

    I don’t have an issue with Philip – he has an issue with science. He lies about the second law of thermodynamics – a lie which most high school science students would see through. You yourself are unwilling to specifically voice agreement with that lie on this forum (so I suspect you realise he is wrong). Just as you did not answer my specific questions about the age of the earth (A scientific realist would not have had a problem).

    Chatting with him directly! As you know my comments on your blog have been deleted (as have many others). So discussion there is impossible (I am not prepared to waste time commenting when there is a likelihood of deletion).

    Philip is quite welcome to participate in the discussions here (in fact his son has). I can assure him that he won’t be deleted. If he was honest he would as he has been specifically challenged. My software indicates he has been checking in to some of my relevant posts.

    However, he clearly won’t even participate properly in the discussion on your blog. He is wrong, he knows it but won’t admit it

    I suggest you pass on to him this invitation – perhaps ask him why he doesn’t participate here.

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  47. You clearly do have a problem with Johnson, or if not his views. And you clearly don’t understand what being a scientific realists commits you to.

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  48. Stuart – are your prepared to answer NO to the question:
    Can entropy decrease in an a part of an open system? (see The entropy fib).

    If not then you also must accept that Philip is lying.

    Now that is a question a scientific realist has no problems with.

    Come on now – a simple question. YES or NO?

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  49. Stuart wrote: I am a scientific realist. Heraclides and [C]edric would do well not to ascribe to people positions to they [d]o not hold. Cedric – as to the age of the earth, for instance, I have no fixed views. If the evidence points one way conclusively then so be it – no damage done theologically.

    You are not a scientific realist. No need to pretend otherwise. The evidence lies in many of your posts. Your example above illustrates it. You can conclusively give a minimum age, or range of ages, to the earth. That you want to be “open”, would be more accurately viewed as that you don’t want to be open to the fact that it’s a closed issue (i.e. there is a conclusive finding).

    My strong suspicion is that you are doing this because you want to leave “open” what you would like to be true, even though has conclusively be shown to be false.

    So, perhaps you’d like to be open (your word, and—hey—if you can play a word to another meaning, why can’t I?), honest and answer Cedric’s question “How old (in your opinion) is the Earth?”

    (Reading on, I see Ken has already pointed this out in other words; so I guess I’m agreeing independently. That you support PJ really does reenforce that you’re not a science realist. PJ’s positions are so wide of science—well accepted, conclusive science—that you can’t be a science realist.)

    Ken wrote: My software indicates he [Johnson] has been checking in to some of my relevant posts. Shame he wouldn’t address the objections raised here. Mind you, he seems to have given up in many ways. Having retreated to resting his case on a term he has “introduced” that subsequently has shown not to be used at all by anyone else, he is now trying to “defend” this!

    Stuart: most people have “issues” with other people that won’t take sincere criticism on board, for fairly obvious reasons. (To make myself clear: merely reading criticism and making some reply of some kind isn’t the point, but taking on board the criticism is. That Johnson does do this, is “yet another” hallmark showing that he’s no scientist.)

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  50. Stuart? Hello? Still there?

    How old (in your opinion) is the Earth?
    Please, no bafflegab.
    Just a straightforward approximate number will do.

    Dinosaurs.
    When were they around?
    Were T-Rexs etc. on the Ark?
    Did humans and dinosaurs co-exist?

    How are you any different from your stock standard YEC nutter?

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  51. You all seem to be suffering under the delusion that scientific realism commits you to certain scientific theories/descriptions/positions. This is inexcusable as I gave a clear definition. All this is distraction from the point I was making when I used it as an example. It also shows you all are more interested in discrediting me by engaging irrelevant ideas rather than the actual topic.

    Scientific realism is a philosophical position that cannot in principle be addressed by emprical science or evidence. As such it shows how philosophy undergirds the topic, and thus constitutes another “way of knowing.”

    there are other ways of knowing which are just ad trustworthy as science. For instance, in the early 1900’s when eugenics was being propounded, and the best science of the day conformeed the conclusions of that social agenda, what would be your reaction, and how would you know?

    I’ll leave you all with that. Stuart signing off.

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  52. I’ll leave you all with that. Stuart signing off.

    Brave Sir Robin

    How old (in your opinion) is the Earth?
    Please, no bafflegab.
    Just a straightforward approximate number will do.

    Dinosaurs.
    When were they around?
    Were T-Rexs etc. on the Ark?
    Did humans and dinosaurs co-exist?

    How are you any different from your stock standard YEC nutter?

    I am a scientific realist.

    Bwahahahahahahahaha.
    No, Stuart. You are a tool.
    A clueless tool.
    Every time you enter your church, you leave your brains at the door.
    Sad.

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  53. Stuart,

    Your reply even implies an incorrect definition of ‘scientific realism’! I suspect you’ve picked up a definition from somewhere in apologetics that is twisted with the intent of “attacking” science. Perhaps you might care to tell us what you definition is?

    (You might want to consider that asking you for the age of the earth does actually test if you hold a philosophy consistent with scientific realism and factor that into your answer.)

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  54. Within philosophy, I can uses premises and logic to create an argument such as:

    If a god exists, then that god is omnipotent.*

    Perhaps Stuart would say then that he ‘knows’ gods are omnipotent. This is using the word ‘know’ in a way that is technically incorrect. The conclusion is still subject to the premise, which has not yet been shown to be conclusively true. Philosophy has in this case given us conclusions based on our assumptions and premises, massaged by reason & logic, but has not given us knowledge. At least it has not given us knowledge in the same way that one can predict the flight of a cannonball using the facts of initial conditions, a few formulas and the gravitational constant. For philosophy to do the same, it must be connected to reality somehow, and that is where empirical observations are needed.

    From the Stanford Enclyclopedia of Philosophy:

    Scientific realism is thus the common sense (or common science) conception that, subject to a recognition that scientific methods are fallible and that most scientific knowledge is approximate, we are justified in accepting the most secure findings of scientists “at face value.”

    Stuart claims to be a scientific realist. I presume this to be because he realizes that denying the majority of science and its results is a fast ticket to the asylum. As an example, modern GPS navigation depends on the theory of relativity. Personally, I find relativity much more difficult to understand than evolution. How is it that some people can accept that scientists working in one field have it right while scientists working in another are blind to the obvious and gaping holes in their theory? Perhaps Stuart claims to be a scientific realist in relation to relativity, but not in relation to evolution, geology, paleontology or atomic theory.

    Using the above defintion, Stuart, you are not a scientific realist, or you have some other issue impeding your ability to say what you believe regarding the age of the Earth. Not accepting the current estimate of 4.5 billion years requires you to deny the understanding of scientists in many disciplines. You cannot do this and simultaneously claim to be a scientific realist.

    Though I do not know you, Stuart, from what I’ve read so far it seems that you deny the cumulative work of thousands of scientists across multiple disciplines in favor of the beliefs of one civilization among many of the late Bronze Age. I’d love to hear a rational, cogent, scientific and evidenced explanation for why you might prefer a 2300 year old answer for one that is current and can be checked independently.

    *Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that I agree with that argument at this point, only that I wish to use it as an example.

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  55. Ray S,

    Nothing in the definition you give says a scientific realist has to commit themselves to particular scientific theories/interpretations/models/consensus’. Your idea that it is possible to be a selective scientific realist makes it clear you’ve missed that finer point. Disagreeing with a scientific theory/interpretation it totally consistant with believing science describes the real, theory-independant world.

    With respect to the age of the earth I am an agnostic. That is I have no considered opinion as to it’s age, but am quite willing to accept an old-earth perspective. No damage done theologically. I’ll also respectfully consider and listen to young earth arguments.

    But all that is irrelevant to the epistemological question. Ray S, you say philosophy provides arguments, but that we do not know in the proper sence because the conclusions are reliant on the premises. First off, science can provide empirically tested premises and so the conclusions of the philosophical argument will be more certain. But second, and more importantly, how do you know what you said concerning philosophical arguments and knowing is correct? Philosophy, not science, gave you those conclusions.

    So philosophy can provide a ‘way of knowing’. Justified true beliefs spring also from moral intuitions, life experience, tradition, etc., and not just science. This should be self-evident (self- evident truths being another way apart from science to know things). there are properly basic beliefs, such as “I am now reading this comment” or “There are other minds that are not my own.” Science provides a powerful way, but certainly not the only way to know things with certainty.

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  56. Pingback: Epistemolo-what?!! « Open Parachute

  57. Stuart – you show your lack of scientific realism when you say:
    “That is I have no considered opinion as to it’s age, but am quite willing to accept an old-earth perspective. No damage done theologically”

    What the hell has theology got to do with the age of the earth? Are you saying (and I suppose you are) you are going to judge evidence, and scientific knowledge based on that evidence, according to whether it “damages theology”?? Bloody hell. I though we had got over that after the Galileo fiasco. (I suggest that all real knowledge must damage theology by definition).

    Scientific knowledge is not a matter of opinion. Its a matter of evidence and the unified knowledge (admittedly transitory in the sense of constantly improving knowledge) we can build on the evidence.

    Might I suggest the reason you cannot give a straight answer to any of the questions you have posed here is that you are afraid it might create “theological damage” – even if that damage is only the attitude of your TM mates.

    For example, if you accept what every knowledgeable high school student accepts about the 2nd law of thermodynamic (that entropy can decrease in an open system) then you will be offside with your mate Philip (who you are attempting to promote as a scientific authority!!).

    Or if you accept the age of the earth indicated by scientific realism (about 4.7 billion years) you will be offside with your TM mates who want it to be less than 10,000 years.

    Such a cowardly attitude, together with your complete lack of understanding of the scientific process and very naive understanding of philosophy/logic surely removes any authority to lecture me, and others here, about how science should be done or taught.

    Why have your TM mates put you up as their fall guy? Surely Matt, who wrote the articles I am criticising should be obliged to front up in his own defence?

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  58. Nothing in the definition you give says a scientific realist has to commit themselves to particular scientific theories/interpretations/models/consensus’.

    Then you must have an “alternative” definition from the one everyone else uses, as you and your apologist friends routinely seem to for just about everything that suits you, or everything that you need to avoid or escape. You aren’t one by the standard definition, that’s quite clear. Perhaps you might then care to answer my earlier question: Perhaps you might care to tell us what you[r] definition is?

    First off, science can provide empirically tested premises and so the conclusions of the philosophical argument will be more certain.

    Interesting to see you say this, as it shows science helps out philosophy, that philosophy (on it’s own) is limited and that philosophy can’t be “above” or “more important than” in science in the manner you earlier tried to say. You’re also trying to make philosophy separate in a way that isn’t true (i.e. conflating it to try make it separate).

    Philosophy, not science, gave you those conclusions. Conflating again. *Sigh* Ken addressed this earlier.

    So philosophy can provide a ‘way of knowing’.

    An incredibly limited one, one that is a subset of what science can do, as you illustrated. Remember that Ken asked for a different way of knowing. Philosophy—properly used, not the apologist pseudo version—is already covered, so it’s not new or different. As I wrote earlier science can call on philosophy if it wants to. It’d be like saying that mathematics provides a different “way of knowing”, but mathematics is used by science when it’s appropriate. Science is an approach that picks up what tools that are appropriate for the job at hand. You seem to be confusing tools for approaches.

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  59. To avoid any confusion, my post crossed over Ken’s latest one.

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  60. Heraclides,

    From all the examples you site, at most they show that science and philosophy have a mutual dependance, which of course is what you get when you (as does Ken moreso than you) conflate philosophy as science. I gave clear definition of scientific realism above and that is what I have been using. I also have spelled out what I mean by science (the interpretation of empirically testable evidence found in nature), by philosophy (the critiquing of ideas by the study of logic and reason), and these are all comensurate with standard definitions.

    As Ken seems to be ranting more than producing intelligent dialogue here, and there is clear propensity for irrelevant side tracks (like why Matt hasn’t responded – I suspect he has better things o do with his time than parley with those so obviously bellow his caliber) don’t expect further comments from me.

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  61. From all the examples you [c]ite What examples? I don’t give any, I just point at yourself.

    I never conflated philosophy as science, you are/were the one conflating philosophy as something larger than science. I wrote that science can “call on” philosophy when sees it as appropriate. Please read what I actually wrote, thank you.

    at most they show that science and philosophy have a mutual dependance

    Never said anything of the sort, either. Try read what is actually written, please.

    I gave clear definition of scientific realism Where? I don’t see any post where you have given a definition. The only post where anyone has given a definition is Ray’s. (Furthermore, why do you in your reply define other things, but not ‘scientific realism’? Avoiding it?)

    (You did, in passing, try say (“define”) what it’s not, but that not defining what it is.)

    Your second paragraph is a straw-man dismissal. Very silly given that you’re trying to make out that others aren’t offering substance, whilst in the midst of doing itself yourself with that paragraph!

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  62. For example, if you accept what every knowledgeable high school student accepts about the 2nd law of thermodynamic (that entropy can decrease in an open system) then you will be offside with your mate Philip (who you are attempting to promote as a scientific authority!!).

    Or if you accept the age of the earth indicated by scientific realism (about 4.7 billion years) you will be offside with your TM mates who want it to be less than 10,000 years.

    Such a cowardly attitude, together with your complete lack of understanding of the scientific process and very naive understanding of philosophy/logic surely removes any authority to lecture me, and others here, about how science should be done or taught.

    Well said.

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  63. I guess – here endeth the lecture, or more appropriately the sermon!

    I may have been a bit hard on Stuart but I must admit I find it hard to treat him seriously as he prefers to lecture rather than engage. And talk about avoiding the issues!!

    I actually have sympathy for people who are ignorant about some things – after all we are all ignorant about many things outside our fields. So we shouldn’t put someone down who is just ignorant.

    But I must admit I just can’t stand arrogance. I believe that arrogance should be treated with humour or disdain, rather than patient explanation.

    Maybe it’s my age – haven’t got time to waste.

    It is a pity, though, that Matt refuses to engage. He, after all initiated the discussion with his attacks on science teaching.

    While both Matt and Stuart belong to a very small ginger group (and therefore could be considered not worth entering into debate with) I think they raise arguments which often do find some response – particularly with other Christians. As such, these ideas are worth challenging.

    Perhaps there are others out there who have some sympathy for Matt’s arguments and would like to defend them?

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  64. Ken wrote: “Surely Matt, who wrote the articles I am criticising should be obliged to front up in his own defence?”

    Obliged?!

    I’ll pass on your feelings on the matter.

    Matt has just finished his marking and is in the final stages of completing his latest submission for publication (his projects for the week) so he may have some time this weekend.

    In light of your comments regarding there being something “arrogant about people … who themselves have a naive understanding of philosophical issues,” I invite you to take a look at the comments section of our post on Living Philosophers; several atheists have commented on their thoughts on Dawkins, Hitchens, et al’s contributions to the field.

    You also might want to take a look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website and read up on who they chose, and why, to write the section of their encyclopedia on religion and science.

    I find it ironic that you require everyone who is commenting on science to defer to those with qualifications in the field yet you seem quite happy to set this standard aside when you deem other people to have “naive understanding of philosophical issues.” Did I miss something – do you have any degrees in philosophy?

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  65. P.S. Matt’s critique was on scientism, not science itself as was evident to anyone who could follow the original article in discussion.

    (Read a philosophy of science textbook if you are not sure of the meaning of the two things, there are plenty online).

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  66. Madeleine – you also seem to be slipping into that lecturing/sermonising tone. Seems to be a “Thinking Matter” trait! As is this preoccupation with university degrees, or lack of them (I got that also from your Mate Glen).

    (By the way, strangely enough I happen to be part way through reviewing a recently published philosophy of science text book. My review should go on-line in the next few weeks. It is very relevant to the discussion in this post so I look forward to any feedback on my review from your TM people).

    I don’t think we ever discuss degrees here. Stuart was challenged on claims he made about a scientific theory (as was Johnson Philip). Both got them wrong. But they refuse to discuss it, preferring to give us arrogant lectures/sermons. Degrees weren’t mentioned – although I admit I have referred to Philip’s lack of scientific publications which I find very strange, given his self-promotion in that area.

    Anyway, I am grateful that you are getting Matt on to the job. I was disappointed that he ignored my series of posts on human morality as they had been specifically written in response to criticism he had made of some of my ideas. He might like to take up those points as well.

    I look forward to a useful and respectful discussion.

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  67. You were the one that raised qualifications on our blog! Non-scientists should not discuss science or should defer to those who are in fact scientists… if that is not a reference to qualifications I don’t know what is.

    I was taking my tone from your little sermon on arrogance above.

    Matt did read your series on human morality and your post here and is interested in responding to both – both are on his to do list. The issue he has though is time, not lack of inclination.

    Question for you:

    If it is “arrogant” for a non-scientist to comment on science, is it likewise then, “arrogant” for a non-ethicist to comment on ethics or a non-theologian to comment on theology or a non-philosopher to comment on philosophy?

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  68. Well, Madeleine – you have lost me there. I have no hang-up on qualifications.

    To answer your question.

    No it is not arrogant for a non-scientist to comment on science. A lot do and a lot of non-scientists have a real fascination with the subject. I would have thought my attitude on this should be obvious.

    But the thing is, Madeleine, I have been involved in scientific research for over 40 years. Not surprisingly, therefore,I have a good practical understanding of the scientific culture, methods and philosophy. I understand scientific epistemology. While I have studied these subjects to varying degrees – the practical experience is, I believe, invaluable.

    Now, I know that students straight out of school, studying philosophy in their first year at university can get carried away. I remember very clearly some of the immature responses such students had during my time at university. It’s perfectly natural. Fortunately they grow out of it. They mature.

    But it would be very arrogant for such a student to lecture a practising scientist about their work. To tell them they are ignorant about science/philosophy.

    That is what I object to with the “Thinking Matter” people. I am happy to discuss science and the philosophy of science with you and them. I love the subjects.

    But lecturing and sermonising (and lets face it one of your people has often described me as a fool and a moron) is offensive and arrogant. Surely that is understandable that I will treat such behaviour with disdain or humour?

    Stuart is quite welcome to tell us why he thinks the way he does about the age of the earth, or the second law of thermodynamics. He can give us his evidence. We can discuss that. We are used to vigorous evidence based debates in science. But he refuses to and instead lectures us about how science should be done, what it is, what the philosophy of science is.

    So, of course we will tell him we think he is being silly. It’s got nothing to do with degrees. It’s purely what he says.

    I have the same attitude to other fields like theology and philosophy. The later interests me, and of course I will comment on it – especially as it relates to science, to my personal experience, and where I think people are being naive or otherwise incorrect.

    As for theology – I am not at all interested. You can have it. I tend to agree with Dawkins that it’s not really a subject. Certainly not one that I want to get into.

    By the way – if Matt has been missing my articles, let him know about the latest one – Epistemolo-what?!! – which also is a response to some of his comments about scientific epistemology. I would love to get his response.

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  69. Madeleine,

    In light of your comments regarding [...] Isn’t Ken referring to Stuart, Matt, etc.? You seem to be referring to other people as far as I can see, i.e. AFAICS you’re referring to something other than the intended target as it were.

    By the way, that someone is an atheist doesn’t make them qualified in science so I’m not sure why you mention ‘atheist’ in this response or why it’s relevant, or even why a list of people who study philosophy of religion is relevant here. I can’t see were Ken is talking about this here. Perhaps you could explain.

    (I would add, I be wary of putting any weight on internet-based lists, especially as they can include/exclude people for any number of reasons. You’re really better looking at the logic of the arguments that the people you refer to present rather than point to a list as some kind of “authoritative ruling” in my opinion.)

    You might also wish to remember that ‘scientism’ is a phrase used almost exclusively by, if not coined by, those who have an agenda to “attack” science. It might be viewed as showing that he has an agenda or bias.

    Qualifications are about people’s real knowledge in an area, as I’d like to think you realise. Degrees, titles, etc.—when accurately reflecting a person’s knowledge—are short-hands for the knowledge they represent.

    I’m with Ken that is is remarkably arrogant to presume to know how to tell experienced people in any craft how to do their craft if you know little, even more so if you have demonstrated repeatedly that you haven’t the knowledge to usefully comment on that craft.

    These things always remind me of D.I.Y. disasters. The over-proud hubby thinking that he can remodel the kitchen (or whatever task) on his own, when he has no experience in joinery, plumbing, etc. Most sane people can see the disaster in their eyes before it happens!

    From a scientists’ point of view watching Stuart, Johnson, etc, is much the same as watching a hopeless DIY disaster-in-the-making, with the added twist that it’s perpetually on-going!!

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  70. I have no degrees at all, so perhaps by that measure not “qualified” to post on any subject :-)

    Given this, my knowledge, particularly of historical events/names/dates/places is somewhat chaotic.

    However, why is it that I can read a post from, say– Iapetus on philosophic ideas, and not only understand, but actually learn things. Whereas I struggle to even read some of the philosophic (TM) ideas presented by Stuart etal..

    Perhaps this is because Iapetus puts effort into highlighting and describing the limitations of particular ideas, and also the assumptions that you must accept with the idea. This is in direct contrast to the TM style which appears to be more a matter of hiding the necessary assumptions and accepting no limitations to the arguments.

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  71. with the added twist that it’s perpetually on-going!!

    Ha, all there talk on thermodynamics has actually found an exception to the 2nd law – a perpetual obfuscation machine.

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  72. @ david,

    A mental device in which anything that goes in (good or bad), comes out as garbage? Now that goes one step beyond a perpetual GIGO machine to AIGO machine! :-)

    (A = anything.)

    @ Nick,

    Nice to see good old comment sense and application still gets people somewhere.

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  73. Stuart says:

    First off, science can provide empirically tested premises and so the conclusions of the philosophical argument will be more certain. But second, and more importantly, how do you know what you said concerning philosophical arguments and knowing is correct? Philosophy, not science, gave you those conclusions.

    Let me wish you a bon voyage in your journey to solipsism. You have an overly optimistic estimate of the value of philosophy in general, and in its ability to generate knowledge. As I note and you gloss over, there are many schools of thought in philosophy, and some off those are contradictory. How are we to be sure that we have chosen correctly? Do you propose some meta-philosophy? Or will you just rely on private revealed ‘knowledge’?

    That really is the issue, in that philosophy is largely the province of one mind when it comes to an individual deciding how s/he comes about knowledge. The strength of the scientific approach is that it rules out evidence available only to one individual. Science allows multiple individuals to gain knowledge about our shared reality. If you wish to claim philosophically that there is no actual shared reality between us, then do so, but in such case our attempt at communication is predestined to fail.

    Your arguments make no sense. How can philosophy provide a more certain answer when science is what connects the premises and conclusions to reality? It seems you’ve slipped into argumentation you don’t really understand yourself; just words determined to buttress a presumed need for an invisible father figure to cuddle you and tell you everything will be alright.

    It would be interesting to see if you could survive for a month based only on what you claim to know through philosophy and without using anything that is a product of science. I know you won’t try this though. I’ve already seen you cut and run twice when the questions get too hard and you’re forced to stop tap dancing give an answer. You’re only a scientific realist when you can use you own definition of the term that guts its entire meaning. Is the only reason you want to call yourself a scientific realist is to share the mantle of science’s success? You still can’t accept the scientific consensus of the age of the Earth, parading around instead the lack of consensus in philosophical thought as superior. I think the real reason you can’t accept a 4.5 billion year old Earth is that it is very damaging to your theology. Perhaps someday you’ll recognize that theology and truth are the real non-overlapping magisteria.

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  74. Pingback: MandM

  75. Of course, Matt has misrepresented me here. What I actually said (and one can read it above) was:

    “Of course logic and reason are important – and they can contribute to knowledge. They can provide a synthesis, an overview, and intuitions to the researcher. But they are not a substitute for evidence. In the end our reason and logic must conform to the evidence, not displace it.”

    I guess Matt unknowingly acknowledges that by saying that logic infers “its conclusions from the empirical data.”

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  76. It also illustrates that logic is a tool of science, not a substitute for it.

    It’s a shame to my mind that Matt choose not to reply on this blog. After all, the question was raised here, not at M&M. But “whatever”, I guess.

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  77. I don’t have problems with people spreading discussions over several blogs, where appropriate. After all, a reply at length can get buried so putting it up as an individual post on one’s own blog helps prevent that – and may also contribute to the more general purpose of the blog.

    A proviso though – if a blog is in the habit of deleting comments (like Thinking Matters) I will answer them here as anything else would be a waste of effort.

    MandM don’t appear to delete contributions (although one of mine disappeared in the last “round” – maybe because of their complex threading system).

    I will wait to see if Matt responds to my criticisms of his distortion of epistemology (Epistemolo-what?!!) before responding to his current post. At this stage he is not saying anything new, anyway, merely repeating his previous arguments.

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  78. Heraclides the discussion between Matt and Ken is of broad interest to the readers of both Open Parachute and MandM and as Ken rightly points out, replies can get buried and it is to the benefit of all interested parties to the discussion that this does not happen.

    As for further responses, we have a lot on at the moment both personally and professionally, we have a lot of topics on our to write list and we have to keep things balanced for our readers. I know that Matt would like to respond to more than he has currently and that he intends to try to get to it.

    MandM do not delete comments unless they are clearly spam or they put us at risk legally. We do not moderate comments and we allow anonymous commenting. If a comment disappears and it is not spam or legally questionable then it will have been caused by a technical glitch at Bloggers end which we are working to rectify by our impending move to WordPress (which is being held up by a commenting issue caused by Blogger).

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  79. But “whatever”, I guess. ;-)

    Like I was trying to say, it doesn’t matter that much either way to me.

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  80. Madeleine – perhaps if Matt has “a lot on at the moment both personally and professionally” he should refrain from a lengthy screed.

    His last response to my posts was really just a repeat of his original argument. If he just did some short responses in comments he would be able to point out where he thinks I have gone wrong. And his points would not get buried in his own repeats.

    As you say the discussion between me and Matt is of broad interest to readers of both blogs. But we all have our own lives and interests and would much prefer that the discussion actually did take place in a reasonable time frame.

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  81. For Matt from the other blog (this is too long and complex for me to want to re-work around their posting limitations, given I’m short on time). Excuse any typos as I’m touch-typing on the run, as it were:

    Trying to impose your views on me doesn’t make them right, y’know ;-)

    Do you realise that you are trying to impose many of limitations of theology on science? An irony—to me—is that by raising these as problems you are re-enforcing that theology as limited. You seem to only think in terms of your choice of tools (theology), list all the problems that might have, then impose them on science. It’s a mistake, because the problems you lists are far more any issue for theology than they are for science. Science has a range of tools it can use, if something isn’t suitable for one reason or other, it’ll work with other tools (this is one of the reasons philosophy is rarely used, as I pointed out earlier, above); theology running into these problem is running into a show-stopper, as it has few other tools to call on.

    You need to be aware of the limitations of your tools, as you imply, but I get the impression that you want to make out that these are no issue for theology, but a problem only for science. (I note you’re leaving out other limitations I’ve pointed out elsewhere.)

    I actually listed things AFAICS, this is the first time you have done so in you discussion.

    such things as (i) the belief that the universe has existed for more than six milliseconds (ii)that the principle of induction is reliable (ii) that the an enduring world e exists independently of us (iii) that our senses are reliable (iv) basic axioms of logic I could go on.

    (I’m sure Iapetus would have with this.)

    Regards your points: if they can be proven “epistemologically” or not is besides the point (that might be a problem for theology, however). More importantly, you first need to demonstrate that they are relevant as criticisms of science or things that science cannot deal with some other way. I’ll deal with the relevance issue first, as it has to come first. If they’re not relevant, there is no need to consider them further. You’ve listed (ii) twice in error, I’ll call them iia and iib.

    (i) Do it yourself. You’ll have to work outside of theology or philosophy, though and I think that’s a key to way you raise it in the first place; you’re thinking of everything in terms of pure philosophy. It is a problem for theology as you say, but only if you lock yourself in to one approach. Just in fun: you can even use your web page (or this one) as “proof”. Your argument only works in the pure abstract, as you would in theology, so it’s irrelevant in the end.

    (iia) You mean ‘inductive reasoning’ or perhaps ‘logical induction’, not ‘induction’. Mathematical induction is not inductive reasoning (it’s deductive) and is easy to demonstrate. Logical induction is very well-known to be problematic and it’s one of the reasons that science tends not to rely on logic on it’s own, preferring demonstration from evidence to abstract “might be” on it’s own. So this issue isn’t a problem for science: it uses other tools to avoid the problem. It is a problem for theology, though, as if you only use logic (as theology would have you do), it can be a show-stopper .

    (iib) Not relevant really (read any modern physics textbook, this issue is well represented; and, please, it’s your homework to do, not mine to have to present to you)

    (iii) Irrelevant again. It’s actually one of things that science tries to counter in it’s approach, and something I believe I pointed out earlier (have you actually read this discussion?) That you raise this shows, yet again, that you don’t know what science actually is.

    (iv) OK, so now you want to destroy all philosophy, too. Great, fine by me! :-) Seriously, this argument is oxymoronic as axioms by their nature are ‘self evident’ assertions. If you don’t understand this, then I really suggest that you quit philosophy; alternatively if you do understand this and think you can get that past others, let’s just say I’d have a low opinion of you.

    You go on to make a lot of silly claims, I’m not going to reply to them all (I have limited time and some of these are just plain too silly to deal with). Just one: measurements don’t have to involve your senses directly. Many, if not most, scientific measurements don’t. C’mon, think about it… (Again, you seem to be locked in pure philosophy. Maybe this is a problem for theology, though.)

    If you dispute what I say then please either show me (a) that science can proceed without assuming things like (i) (ii) (iv) etc or (b) that these things can be proven scientifically in a non circular fashion. Until you do either I put to you that your comments about science are an unproven assumption and hence should be dismissed by you in the way you dismiss theology

    Firstly, you need to show that they are relevant first. I’ve shown they aren’t ;-) Seeing they’re not, there is nothing for me to do. Secondly, you have asserted that science depends on these by assertion, not by demonstration. This “error” is irrelevant now, but you really shouldn’t do that… Finally, I did not “dismiss” theology; I pointed out it is limited (throwing in loaded words, is misrepresenting others). If you are going to use a tool, you must be aware of it’s limitations. It would seem that you are unwilling to look at the limitations of theology and instead focus on trying to “attack” science. (Ironically all you observations seem to be problems for theology, though!) In any event, this brings up a point, why all the focus on attacking science and none at all on looking at theology, which was supposed to be the topic? Don’t want to face it’s limitations?

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  82. Matt writes (from the other blog): By this definition the claim that the earth is round is true if the earth is, in fact, actually round, and it is false if the earth is, in fact, not round.

    I picked up that this has a deeper issue that the point we was trying to make at that time (one of logic). The problem I picked up was that he made the answer out to only be “true” or “false”, whereas in this case, it actually involves a level of accuracy. Matt tried to duck my reply with:

    The problem is I did not use the example that the world was a perfect sphere and I said it was round and even if the earth is pear shaped its still round. It seems to me that the claim that the world is a perfect sphere is not true but false.

    Even more excuses!! You are aware that ’round’ means “spherical to an approximation”? So, what degree of approximation are you wanting? You have to include this in the question, or it will be ambiguous.

    As for the rest of your reply, you’re still missing the point. (Or perhaps avoiding it.) How do you demonstrate a statement is true?

    You cannot demonstrate any of the statements you give as examples as true using theology alone because theology lacks the means to. It’s a limitation of theology. Theological arguments have to have start with assumptions/assertions, owing to theology’s using logic as it only tool. It’s very limiting as you’re trapped by the starting assumptions as a result, assumptions which you have no means of demonstrating as true using theology.

    But more importantly here you miss the point, which is that when I say a statement is true I mean what the statement says is the case is the case. If you don’t like the example I used to illustrate replace it with another that illustrates the same point. The statement God exists is true if in fact God exists and false if it is not. The claim that I live in Auckland is true if I live in Auckland and false if its not. I take it that when scientists say it’s true that human beings evolved from a common ancestor they mean that human beings actually did evolve from a common ancestor, not that they are trying to say, we have a useful model for explaining the origins of species but whether it actually happened or not we do not affirm.

    Your latest examples are not comparable. The first two are circular and the latter not, which makes them pointless as comparative examples regardless of what you’re trying to achieve. In any event, you’re back at making claims, which you want to assert as “just true”. You seem to have simply circled around back to your original stance without bothering to consider what I’ve written. Claims are empty claims unless you can back them up with… (no prizes for guessing).

    I have no idea where you live, unless you demonstrate where you live using evidence. Your words alone mean only that you might live in a particular place.

    You know all this, really (I can’t imagine any normal person not knowing it).

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  83. This is another comment on Matt’s post Religion and Science: A Response to Ken Perrott’s “Other Ways of Knowing”. I will make it here for the following reasons:

    1: I am still waiting on Matt’s reply to my initial request for an example of what he means by “theological evidence” or any evidence that evolutionary science hasn’t considered. This is very basic to his whole argument so if there isn’t any evidence it calls the whole post into question.

    My point is that science should (and I hope usually does) consider all the evidence. It follows wherever the evidence leads. If Matt has reasons to think otherwise he should present it. Otherwise one is forced to come to one’s own conclusions about the underling reasons for his post.

    So far he has avoided answering this question and I feel that people are being diverted all over the place in the discussion there. So I will refrain for adding to these diversions there until I get an answer to my simple question.

    2: MandM is having big problems with the comments currently – both in formatting and length restrictions. The discussion threading is also creating confusion. Hopefully they will sort that out soon, but at the moment it is really making proper discussion (and the following of discussion) difficult.

    I wish to make an extra comment here on Matt’s assertion (a similar assertion was made by Stuart in a comment above – interesting how the theologically inclined have pet arguments they fall back on):
    “Moreover, some axioms of logic clearly are more certain and reliable than many empirical claims, the claim, for example, that Both A and Not A cannot both be true, in the same sense, at the same time is more certain that speculations about how first life arose. Similarly with the rule modus tollens, something of which we can be relatively certain, which states: if A, then B, not B, therefore, not A.”

    He is advancing the claim (which I am sure he honestly believes) that science is not an effective way of understanding reality whereas logic/philosophy are. Unfortunately he makes comparison between two quite separate subjects and should have made the comparison within each subject. I will consider them separately:

    1: How did life first arise? Humanity has been pondering this question for thousands of years – probably ever since we could reflect on such matters. For most of this time our approach has been restricted to story telling, logic and philosophy. Obviously these methods have failed miserably (unless you want to believe one of the myths).

    Today we have adopted a modern scientific approach to this question using empirical evidence and chemical/biochemical/biomolecular knowledge. It’s still a big unanswered (or not completely answered) question – but we are a lot closer to understanding this than we ever have been. I feel confident (health and safety provided) that I will live long enough to see the creation of the first artificial life in the laboratory. Already we are seeing huge advances in synthetic biology and fully expect this field to provide solutions to many of our problems. Some of Craig Venter’s achievements in this area are amazing and he is getting very close to a form of creation of life.

    Given the nature of the problem we may never understand exactly how life arose on the earth. But I have learned in my life that such attitudes are very often wrong. We may currently have no way of identifying “fossil” information from life’s initial formation – but who knows. We may well in the future.

    2: Axioms of logic. One really has to be careful with such claims and take seriously what Frank Wilczek said: “The classic structures of logic are really far from adequate to do justice to what we find in the physical world.”

    We must recognise that logic is basically intuitive and extrapolation to conditions outside human experience is risky. Matt’s example may work quite well in the middle world our species evolved in, and may be extremely useful in that sphere. But not necessarily outside those realms. And we have the clear examples of quantum mechanical phenomena which apparently violate such axioms. “A” can be “not A” at the same time in such situations – and this recognition has lead to quantum logic which offers amazing computing possibilities when/if the hardware problems are ever resolved.

    Now , Matt might consider such counter-intuitive logic is just an example of wild speculative attempts to understand phenomena – such as the postulation of quantum tunnelling in the formation of the universe. However, a physicist could show him how practically any technology he currently uses, in its basic physics and chemistry, relies on principles like quantum tunnelling. This counter-intuitive logic has produced an extremely powerful and accurate way of understanding the world. Logic/philosophy alone is not capable of doing that.

    So – the examples Matt quotes actually don’t support his case. now I don’t for one minute reject the usefulness of philosophy/logic. I strongly believe they are integrated into scientific endeavour as practised today.

    However, problems arise if we try to apply philosophy/logic naively. They are not meant to produce answers in the way science does – but they can be extremely useful in carrying out that science. My own experience is that philosophy/logic should be seen as very abstract forms of knowledge. Quite inappropriate to answering scientific questions by themselves. When that is attempted one is usually wrong – sometimes in a very big way. (It is a naive approach which theology often falls back on for obvious reasons).

    I personally have found that discovering via scientific investigation examples like those mentioned above usually mean one has to revisit one’s logical/philosophical toolbox, revise these “axioms’ and principles – and usually make them even more abstract.

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  84. I am still waiting on Matt’s reply to my initial request

    I was leaving that for you, so that I don’t get in the way!

    Axioms of logic

    Good point regards “advanced” physics and logic. When I wrote about axioms, I was thinking of mathematical axioms for what it’s worth. In any event, it’s a matter of choosing the right tools for the job. Clearly “pure” logic is a poor choice of tools for some things and restricting yourself to it is limiting.

    I feel confident (health and safety provided) that I will live long enough to see the creation of the first artificial life in the laboratory.

    Ventor’s lot are a fair down the track towards creating a “minimal” bacterium as you no doubt know. It was all over the news media, after all! To me it’s more a matter of degree in a sense, as variants on existing organisms have been made artificially for some time now. I personally think that so-called “designer proteins” are more novel and artificial in some respects (e.g. in the sense of built from first principles).

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  85. This is a reply from Matt – sent by email. It’s not showing up at MandM so I have copied it here:

    “At this stage – could you clarify what you specifically mean by “theological evidence?” the original statement was “If the relevant evidence points towards a theory it does not follow that all the evidence points towards it. That’s because there might be evidence which science does not consider, such as theological claims that are relevant.”
    Here I referred to theological claims that science does not consider. What I had in mind are the kinds of claims which are ruled out by methodological naturalism which is involved in science as currently practised. Many writers (Ruse Pennock, Forrest etc) have given definitions of methodological naturalism. But I think Plantinga gives the most comprehensive in the Stanford Encyclopedia article on Religion and Science:
    (1) the data set (data model) for a proper scientific theory can’t refer to God or other supernatural agents (angels, demons), or employ what one knows or thinks one knows by way of (divine) revelation. (2) A proper scientific theory can’t refer to God or any other supernatural agents, or employ what one knows or thinks one knows by way of revelation (3) the epistemic base of a proper scientific theory can’t include propositions obviously entailing the existence of God or other supernatural agents, or propositions one knows or thinks one knows by way of revelation.
    A theological claim then is any claim which refers to God, a supernatural agent, or a proposition one knows by faith or revelation.

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  86. Another reply from Matt – not showing up at MandM

    Specifically – what “theological evidence” should we as scientists consider in evolutionary science”? What “theological evidence” should we encourage inclusion of in NZ science classes in State schools? What “theological evidence” are we specifically missing in this context?
    I didn’t say that theological evidence should be included in science or in science classes, what I suggested is that evolutionary theory should be taught as the best theory relative to a scientific epistemic base.
    If one wants to say it’s the best theory on all the relevant evidence then one needs either to show that the scientific epistemic base is the only relevant epistemic base, which will mean either that one shows (a) revelation and faith are unreliable or (b) they are reliable but say nothing of relevance or (c) they are reliable and say things of relevance but taking this into account does not alter the conclusion. Now science has demonstrated none of these claims as true. They are largely philosophical theological questions which could be discussed in a philosophy or religious education course alongside the teaching of science.

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  87. To the first:

    Matt seems to have side-stepped that claims are of no use unless they can be demonstrated to be true.

    Leaving that aside, the list of points he gives can be reduced to just one: science has no use for things that can’t be demonstrated to exist. It’s misleading of Plantinga to write his list in terms of “G-d”. Th underlying and more general thing is that the thing must be able to be demonstrated to exist. If it can’t, then it’s of no use in a sound argument.

    To me, his comments only bring us back to having to demonstrate that something exists, is true, etc.

    To the second:

    Special pleading really, just wrapped up in (what he thinks is) a smokescreen. Matt needs to first show that this “alternative” evidence he wishes to have included is even worthy of being considered. The onus is really on him and his colleagues to show (a) through to (c), not for others to “disprove” them. (I have to note that this is a classic reversion of the “burden of proof” that apologists seem to want others to do.) No-one has to accepts someone’s claim simply because they uttered it; it’s up to the person making the claim to show it has enough merit to be considered.

    Now science has demonstrated none of these claims as true.

    That’s not correct. Anecdotal evidence of all kinds (not just religious or “faith” based) are not reliable: this has repeatedly been shown. This not a “largely philosophical theological question” either. It’s an issue that you run into if you consider the anecdotal “evidence” that various promoters of “natural health” remedies present, for example. It should be taught as part of basic statistics courses, e.g. at a high school level.

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  88. Matt – I am afraid you are swerving all over the place now. It shows that your thinking has not been clear on this subject. However, as I suspected, you have backed away from your demand of “theological evidence” being included in science to a fall back “theological claims.”

    The mind boggles at all the mythology one could then insert into science (after all there must be millions of brands of theology all with their own claims) – of course it would no longer be science. And you yourself would be extremely unhappy about incorporation of many of those theological claims (the ones you violently disagree with) being incorporated into science, or science teaching.

    You seem also to be no longer saying that in State Schools one should not teach evolutionary science without including theology. Now you want to teach religion/philosophy “alongside” science. I guess “alongside” has a hidden agenda but the fact is that all sorts of things are taught in state schools beside science. I myself am a strong advocate of religious education (not instruction) – as long as it includes all substantial religious views including non-theist ones like Buddhism, atheism, agnosticism, humanism, etc.

    Teaching philosophy as a separate subject may be a bit beyond the normal secondary school level but I strongly believe it comes into the teaching of many other subjects. I think, for example, critical thinking can be taught in English classes as much as in science classes. Hell, it probably can also be taught in religious education classes.

    So, really, haven’t you left your original articles “Evolution Should not be taught in State schools” in tatters?

    Now -your reference to “methodological naturalism” is a theological position I have strongly challenged many times here. The fact is that in 40 years of scientific research I have never had to ask myself “is this a “naturalist” explanation or a “supernatural” one?” Science doesn’t give a stuff about “naturalism” or “supernaturalism” – it gets on and does the job. It cares about evidence – not such labels. There are plenty of examples of scientific investigation of claims one could define as “supernatural.”

    And really the theological attacks from Platinga and his ilk are just laying a smokescreen to hide the fact that they want a science that is independent of evidence (so that they can insert their theological claims). That is what they really mean when they use the “naturalist” terms.

    Incidentally, I think this is largely what pro-science historians and philosophers also mean – I just wish they would say it. To a large extent these people are being political when they use such terms. They are not being scientific.

    Now, I know Matt, that you will tell me I don’t know what I am talking about and refer to Platinga or other theologians (the old argument from “authority”). However – you should be aware that it is easy to select authorities to “prove” any position you want to.

    A more intelligent approach is a critical assessment of these and other “authorities.” And I think you could also learn a lot by listening to people who have experience in this area – who are (or were) working scientists. (It would certainly be arrogant not to).

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  89. Another reply from Matt – not showing up at MandM

    Ken, the definition of knowledge as a justified or warranted true belief is not a theological argument, nor is it a redefinition. Its the standard way the term is defined by those analysing the concept( subject to the Gettier problems). Its hard to know why you keep repeating what we have already addressed.
    Nor did I claim anywhere that scientists assert their theories are true in an absolutist sense. I simply said you cannot know any thing (wether in science or theology whether its a theory or not) unless its true.
    I am willing to grant on many issues both scientists and theologians should and would be willing to state they might be mistaken and will change there position should new evidence require them to, but thats not the same as claiming a false theory consitutes knowledge.
    I also think there are many scientists who do hold that certain scientific claims are absolutely certain. Dawkins for example has said this about evolution on numerous occasions.

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  90. Matt – while some philosophical circles may discuss knowledge this way (and I notice its more common with theologians) I just don’t think this analysis really describes how we accumulate knowledge. It just doesn’t have the dynamic power of scientific epistemology.

    I discussed this to some extent in Epistemolo-what?!!

    No-one knowingly sets out to claim a false theory as knowledge (at least in science) but it is just a fact that as our knowledge improves, evolves, we find aspects which no longer have the applicability we once thought they had. The examples I give in my article are Newtonian and Einstein mechanics.

    I just don’t think the specific epistemological approach you and Glenn are advocating handles that sort of thing. It deserves a thorough discussion.

    Unfortunately, although I made a contribution along these lines on Glenn’s blog he seems to have disallowed or deleted it. I think I will just have to do my own article here to counter Glenn’s claims as I think he just doesn’t understand how scientific knowledge works.

    (Incidentally, I have a policy of refusing to contribute any further discussion on a blog which deletes in this manner – as Thinking Matters did with me. It’s just a waste of my effort – but it doesn’t stop me pursuing the points I want to make on my own blog).

    Matt – “I also think there are many scientists who do hold that certain scientific claims are absolutely certain. Dawkins for example has said this about evolution on numerous occasions.” I have already replied to this point on your blog. It’s either lost or buried with the problems you are having.

    One should always be suspicious of claims made of Dawkins and I think a bit of simple reflection, acknowledging that Dawkins is not an idiot, would show that he does not hold that “evolution” is “absolutely certain.” He often comments on the areas of speculation, the bits needing development, the uncertainties. However, he is not afraid to say the facts of evolution are facts. And that those people who deny the facts are either ignorant (for which they can’t necessarily be blamed) or outright lying.

    I have said that myself ((Evolution – a theory or a fact? andThe facts of evolution – and jealousy).

    Briefly:
    Our knowledge about evolution includes facts (e.g., fossil records, genetics, molecular biology of DNA), theories (e.g, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift) and speculation (e.g., much of evolutionary psychology). Just like any other body of scientific knowledge.”

    I believe that is also how Dawkins see things – after all he is a scientist. However, it doesn’t stop dishonest people lying about him – does it? After all – there’s a serious task of demonisation to get on with – isn’t there?

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  91. After all – there’s a serious task of demonisation to get on with – isn’t there?

    It’s important to demonise!
    Ever wonder how fundamentalists talk about atheists on their online forums?
    If Atheists Ruled the World

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  92. Excuse any typos, I’m writing on-the-fly with no editing, etc., as I have no spare time!

    Ken, the definition of knowledge as a justified or warranted true belief is not a theological argument, nor is it a redefinition.

    I believe I was the one, or at least one person, who raised objections to Glenn citing this phrase (initially with no support for his use of it), although maybe Ken said something independently. My objection was specifically to the use of the word ‘belief’, pointing out that science does not deal in beliefs, religion does. I guess we should add some branches of philosophy to the latter.

    I suspect this strictly speaking isn’t so much a “standard” definition—in the sense of being accepted as correct—as a well-known one, e.g. more in the historical sense. Perhaps Iapetus could comment if he has time? (My own quibble is that it’d rest on what you meant by “warranted” or “justified”, which could be any number of things.)

    In any event my objection was to the use of ‘belief’, in the sense that this word implies “taken on faith”, as that, in turn, implies an activity that shouldn’t be part of determining “knowledge”.

    Nor did I claim anywhere that scientists assert their theories are true in an absolutist sense.

    Several people in that discussion certainly did imply this (I haven’t time to check who), by saying that theories aren’t provisional. (The implication is that they are “fixed”, i.e. “absolute”.)

    that[']s not the same as claiming a false theory cons[t]itutes knowledge You’re jumping hoops. I can’t see that anyone has made this claim and I can’t but help think that you are “setting this up” as an excuse to dismiss theories you don’t like. I wrote that theories are more correctly theories considered as the “best at the time”. With that in mind, you’re dropping a lot of nuance in making the remark I’ve quoted.

    For example, a theory may be perfectly useful at one level of accuracy or a particular class of events, but less useful if greater precision is needed, or a different class of events is to be examined. It not simply “right” or “wrong” (i.e. in a absolutist sense), but appropriate or inappropriate as circumstances dictate. Ken gave a good example of this from physics.

    I also think there are many scientists who do hold that certain scientific claims are absolutely certain. Dawkins for example has said this about evolution on numerous occasions.

    In a (very small!) nutshell, and with the simplifying that “in a nutshell” implies: That evolution occurs is without doubt. Precisely how it occurs is still needs more study. A good number of religious people (esp. creationists) seem to not make the “that” vs. “how” distinction and get themselves in all sorts of trouble.

    Dawkins has studied this area for many years (several decades) and I would think you’d find his actual view—from his own words, not others who may wish to present him in one light or other—is quite nuanced.

    Ken: These replies from Matt that are not showing up at M&M: are these from RSS feeds, but not getting presented on the web page? Just trying to understand how you’re getting them. I don’t use RSS on blogs as I have far too much email as it is (I’m registered on several work-related discussion lists). Haven’t been to M&M for several days either, very busy!

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  93. Matt,

    I also think there are many scientists who do hold that certain scientific claims are absolutely certain. Dawkins for example has said this about evolution on numerous occasions.

    I’m going to have to ask you to back that up with a citation. I have no doubt that some scientists may claim absolute certainty (more fool them) but I’ve never heard such certainty from Dawkins.

    I quote Dawkins:

    Maybe scientists are fundamentalist when it comes to defining in some abstract way what is meant by ‘truth’. But so is everybody else. I am no more fundamentalist when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that.

    (The God Delusion, pp 283, emphasis added).

    Also, my web browser (Firefox with the NoScript plugin) blocks Javascript by default and the MandM website contains 13 different sets of scripts. My advice would be not to rely on Javascript to deliver critical content (i.e. comments, etc).

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  94. heh, ‘emphasis added’ to a blockquote that is all in italics.

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  95. Just thought I’d toss this in from another blog (http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2009/07/the_knowledge_of_the_ancients.php):

    Reading this book, I’m struck yet again by the difference between knowledge “on good authority” and scientific knowledge. Throughout the European and Islamic Middle Ages, throughout the millennia of Chinese civilisation, ancient texts were preserved and copied largely because they were believed to contain valuable timeless knowledge about the world. In a few cases, like those of Euclid on geometry and Ptolemy on geography and astronomy, this was true to some extent. But in most cases the old authors, like Galen on medicine, did not actually have anything truly useful to say about how the world works. Before the scientific revolution of the 17th century, though, people had no good way to test that. They believed in the best authorities.

    Damian: I’m not aware of any good reason to block JavaScript as a whole. Some specific actions, perhaps, if you’re particularly cautious but not the whole shebang. Things like NoScript are probably more needed by people who spend time on dubious websites…! (Not implying anything of you, just what my understanding of the issue is.)

    The “global emphasis” is notable, too :-)

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  96. I hear what you are saying Heraclides and I know there is a place for Javascript (and Flash) but I’m allergic to it especially when no HTML fall-back is provided ;) It’s a developer thing I guess.

    But let’s not get sidetracked.

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  97. [ getting sidetracked :-) ]

    I’m not keen on Flash (long boring story), but Javascript has been very useful for a lot of the sites I’ve developed, e.g. form checking, updating views of the page in response to altering selected values, etc. Using plain HTML (via CGI, etc.) for this would overwork the server needlessly. To my mind this sort of stuff can be (and I think is better) done at the client end. Either way, the implementation of the blog software M&M uses seems a bit shot!

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  98. As I am presently very short on time, just a quick comment on the definition of “knowledge” as “justified true belief”.

    This is indeed the definition that was used by philosophers from Plato and Aristotle onwards. Incidentally, “Belief” in this case is not limited to a religious, faith-based belief, but refers to any proposition that one is prepared to affirm as true. As a matter of fact, the condition that “knowledge” must be a true belief is pretty self-evident and not in serious dispute.

    The catch is the third requirement, namely that a specific belief can only constitute knowledge if it is not only true, but also justified, so that its truth is guaranteed by a justifier, e.g. empirical evidence, logical deduction, basic or self-evident beliefs etc. This is the main tenet of the justificationist framework or metacontext. It is a form of absolutism, since it demands not only that in order to constitute knowledge, a belief be true, but furthermore that it be a certain truth courtesy of justifying it via the justifier.

    Now, one can easily see the difficulty with this approach: if you demand that a belief must not only be true, but also connected to a justifier which guarantees its truth, the immediate follow-up problem is: how do you guarantee the indubitable truth of the justifier?

    Thus, you either run into an infinite regress or you have to arbitrarily stop the procedure at some point, resulting in a justifier that is itself unjustified. This is why the justificationist framework is inherently self-defeating. As far as I know, no solution to this problem has yet been found within the justificationist metacontext itself.

    One way out of this awkward situation is to water the justification requirement down and demand that beliefs need not be certainly true, but merely “supported by reasons” or “probably true”. However, I do not see what is gained by this amendment, since a belief which is supported by reasons or probably true might still be false.

    The other possibility is to discard the justificationist metacontext and its demands, define “knowledge” simply as a “true belief” and, instead of trying to justify our beliefs and theories, do our utmost to falsify them. This was first proposed by Karl Popper and subsequently endorsed by other critical rationalists like Bartley and Miller.

    The idea here is that the search for certainty regarding the truth of our beliefs is futile, since no certain, indubitable justifier exists. Thus, we can never declare any proposition to be a certain truth. However, what we can do is to weed out false beliefs, since one instance of falsification relative to our accepted background knowledge is sufficient for this.

    This method was adopted by science and forms one of its core methodologies.

    So we have every reason to accept our current scientific theories as “true beliefs”, i.e. knowledge, unless and until they get falsified.

    Furthermore, “falsification” does not have to be an all or nothing affair (although it can be, e.g. in case of Phlogiston in chemistry or the Ether in physics). It might well turn out that a theory describes reality pretty accurately and only breaks down under certain conditions (prime example: Newtonian and relativistic physics).

    It is thus naively simplistic to say that most scientific theories turned out to be false. Rather, they turned out to have limited applicability or, as Popper called it, verisimilitude (truth likeness).

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  99. Ken: “Matt – while some philosophical circles may discuss knowledge this way (and I notice its more common with theologians) I just don’t think this analysis really describes how we accumulate knowledge. It just doesn’t have the dynamic power of scientific epistemology.

    I discussed this to some extent in Epistemolo-what?!!

    Impetus: This is indeed the definition that was used by philosophers from Plato and Aristotle onwards. Incidentally, “Belief” in this case is not limited to a religious, faith-based belief, but refers to any proposition that one is prepared to affirm as true. As a matter of fact, the condition that “knowledge” must be a true belief is pretty self-evident and not in serious dispute.

    So the negation of what Ken says is self evident and not in serious dispute. I agree.

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  100. This is indeed the definition that was used by philosophers from Plato and Aristotle onwards. Incidentally, “Belief” in this case is not limited to a religious, faith-based belief, but refers to any proposition that one is prepared to affirm as true. As a matter of fact, the condition that “knowledge” must be a true belief is pretty self-evident and not in serious dispute.

    Thanks Impetus this states exactly what Glenn and I repeatedly said and was denied by Heraclites and Ken.

    As to your comments about justification, I agree with much of what you say. That’s why I used the word justified or warranted.( I use warrant as a blanket term for the third condition or conditions which need to be added to true belief to make it knowledge) I also stated in my original comment that the debate was over what constitutes warrant, and I mentioned explicitly the Gettier problems. Hence, your comments about justification do not attack anything I said.

    For the record what my original argument inferred was that one cannot know something unless one believes it and what one believes is true. As you note this is not in serious dispute

    I take it then that you agree with me and Glenn that the repeated claims by Herclides and Ken MandM by making this claim I was “redefining knowledge” and that such a definition of knowledge is something only a religious apologist would use are (a) false and (b) show a lack of understanding of the issues.

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  101. Matt,

    I have not followed this debate in detail since I currently do not have much spare time and the fact that the discussion apparently takes places across several blogs does not help to track who said what. Thus, only some general comments:

    1.) Although I am not Ken’s and Heraclides’ spokesperson, I would very much doubt that either of them would deny that a “true belief” constitutes “knowledge”.

    From the comments here I have the impression that Heraclides objected to the term “belief” because of its religious connotations. If we replace said term with “proposition”, I think he would have no problem.

    Ken explicitly stated that he would not consider a false scientific theory to be “knowledge”. As I understood him, he merely pointed out that all scientific theories are provisional and may be improved or discarded if new data comes in.

    2.) My understanding was that you attacked scientific “knowledge” (or only a specific subset of it, i.e. the theory of evolution) and its teaching in schools on the grounds that science does not produce knowledge at all, because most of its theories turned out to be false.

    As I pointed out, this assertion is not correct.

    Science devises bold, conjectural theories about the physical world and then does its utmost to falsify them. Any theory that survives this on-going process can rightfully be deemed a “true belief”, i.e. knowledge.

    Furthermore, the utter falsification of a whole theory is more the exception than the rule. The real world is a messy place, where most theories are not floating in a vacuum, but depend on many additional, auxiliary hypotheses. Thus, if we obtain a piece of contradictory empirical evidence, it might be one or more of the auxiliary hypotheses rather than the theory itself that are to blame.

    Another possibility is that the theory in question merely needs adaptation and does not have to be discarded outright. Or it will be superseded by a more comprehensive theory, but remain valid in a restricted domain.

    3.) Just out of personal interest:

    a) If you agree that there is an inherent contradiction within justificationism, do you also see Christian dogmas as ultimately not indubitably justified and therefore as potentially false/revisable?

    b) Are you aware of the fact that some members of the Thinking Matters blog endorse precisely this form of justificationism and claim to be in possession of certain, indubitable truths? Do you agree with this approach?

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  102. Damian, how’s this quote from the New York Review of books.

    To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

    Or the Blind watchmaker

    The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity. Even if the evidence did not favour it, it would still be the best theory available!’

    I take it that scientists do think it’s certain that reproduction occurs by storks. I also take it as certain that the earth is not flat. (showing again that Ken’s point that scientists never claim to have certainty is false) Its clear Dawkin’s here says that evolution is certain, in fact Dawkins seems to think that no educated sane person could even doubt it and even suggests that even if the evidence did not favour it one should still accept it.

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  103. Nice quote mining Matt. Please, open your copy of The Blind Watchmaker and provide that quote again with some context.

    It’s on page 316. Start the quote with “In short, divine creation….” and end with “…another story”. That should suffice to give the readers here the proper context.

    Tsk, tsk.

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  104. Thanks Impetus this states exactly what Glenn and I repeatedly said and was denied by Heraclites and Ken.

    I did not deny it. I don’t like people putting words in my mouth, either ;-)

    By the way, it’s Heraclides, with a ‘d’. Thought philosophers knew the names of the “ancients”! ;-)

    I don’t particularly like the use of the word ‘belief’ as it carries several loaded meanings, and not just the religious one. In particular, it commonly means to hold a view without justification. “Justified true belief” almost reads as an oxymoron to me. If you consider that the word ‘belief’ to be carrying the meaning of “statement I believe to be true without justification or warrant”, the phrase would expand to something like “justified true statement I think is true without justification”! I’d prefer to see ‘statement’ used, as it doesn’t imply anything about how someone came to, or has an opinion on, the statement they wish to present as true. ‘Proposition’ might also work but ‘statement’ is clearer to my mind.

    I’m not just playing word games here. Historically the word might be appropriate, especially within philosophy where it’s intent is understood, but in a wider and more modern context, I think it’s a poor choice of words.

    Hence, your comments about justification do not attack anything I said. My reading of it is that his observations make your arguments redundant. (JFWIW, I suspected that this phrase followed from Plato and fell into trouble on the ‘justification’ aspect myself, but didn’t have the time at present to verify this for myself. Thanks for your clear explanation Iapetus.)

    I note you have strayed from trying to make out that theology provides “another way of thinking”, to attacking science (silly to my mind, as this would never assist showing theology as another way of thinking) and now to nit-picking minor things that seem to have no special relevance to your original claims as far as I can see (some might even see it as you just trying to “score points”).

    Certainly you seem to have decided not to deal with the earlier replies to you.

    Iapetus wrote: Science devises bold, conjectural theories

    C’mon, ideal(istical)ly theories aren’t conjectural at any point! I’m kidding ;-) Seriously, I know what you mean and reality is always far less than ideal, as you were saying. (Idealistically, if the proposal is conjectural, it’s a hypothesis, which might later move to become a theory upon further substantiation.)

    FWIW, (at this point in time) I would take theories to be knowledge, but with the understanding that I consider all knowledge is provisional. Trying to make knowledge “absolutely true, for all time” is really just an abstract philosopher’s game to my thinking: useful and correct in particular contexts, or as a loose generalisation (i.e. realising that it fails when pushed), but not in general use.

    “Matthew” (July 29, 2009 at 9:08 pm):

    Or is it Madeleine? Someone mixing up accounts here? ;-)

    Its clear Dawkin’s here says that evolution is certain, in fact Dawkins seems to think that no educated sane person could even doubt it and even suggests that even if the evidence did not favour it one should still accept it.

    Dawkins did not make the latter point: your quote is out of context, as Damian pointed out. It’s not hard to find the fuller context using google.

    You might also be falling on the that vs. how issue I pointed out earlier. That evolution occurs is as certain as anything is; the details of how it occurs is still a matter for study.

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  105. Matt – you do the old creationist/apologetics tricks of quote (out of context) mining (you haven’t responded to my point on Dawkins and evolution) and false attributions (you misrepresent Heraclides and me on our comments of your definitions of knowledge).

    Perhaps you could really contribute something to clarify your definitions and understandings by practical examples of what you believe is “knowledge” as defined by your definition. Pity my comment on Glenns post was lost as I raised the issue there.

    Please:
    1: Give us specific examples of “true beliefs.” Surely you can understand that when I hear you say things like “biblical and theological truths” – I am a bit suspicious about how you use that word. Similarly when you classify “theological claims” as evidence I am suspicious about your understanding of the whole process of gaining knowledge. So examples please.

    2: Tell us specifically how the holder of the “true belief” “knows” the specific “beliefs” are “true.”

    3: Give as specific examples of how those true beliefs have been warranted or justified.

    Now – I am not saying you can’t do it. I can certainly see how we do this in science, although we never use the term “true belief” – for good reasons. That can just be another way of looking at, describing, the process. But I want your examples because the issue for me is the interpretation and use of that definition.

    No need for “put downs” – just straight specific examples. Then we will both have a clearer idea what we are talking about.

    (Pity you did not respond to my post on scientific epistemology – Epistemolo-what?!!. I am interested to see how you match this up with your understanding of “knowledge” – Glenn seems to think they are not the same. I think this is important – and shouldn’t be neglected – because scientists are very much involved in the process of gaining knowledge about reality. Therefore their understanding of epistemology is surely important. It would be childish to ignore it).

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  106. Damian,

    What I said was this:
    I also think there are many scientists who do hold that certain scientific claims are absolutely certain. Dawkins for example has said this about evolution on numerous occasions

    I gave two quotes to this effect, the first by itself suffices to show Dawkin’s does think evolution is absolutely certain, unless of course you think that the claim that babies come from storks is not something scientists are certain about. Hence, even if the second is out of context ( and I am not conceeding it is) your comments don’t address my point.

    I know ignoring others points and attacking there character is effective rhetoric but its actually poor reasoning.

    Heraclides you wrote

    That evolution occurs is as certain as anything is; the details of how it occurs is still a matter for study.

    That actually confirms and substiantes my point. What I said is that there are many scientists who do hold that certain scientific claims are absolutely and that Dawkins has said this about evolution. In the quote above you agree, you state that evolution occured ( a scientific claim) is certain

    So please stop claiming all scientific claims are always provisional and tentative because you clearly do not think this, some such as the fact of evolution are taken by many including yourself are certain.

    Note: Knowledge does involve both belief and truth, this is accepted and not disputed, its not some idea only proposed by religious apologists, and scientists like Dawkins do claim that some scientific claims are certain got any other false claims to continually make.

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  107. Matt – read my article Epistemolo-what?!! That should give you the information required to understanding something about scientific epistemology.

    Dawkins is a diversion – it doesn’t matter what he thinks – although you are ignoring the replies made to your quote mining. (You guys have a real fixation with Dawkins, Don’t you?) Have a read of Evolution – a theory or a fact? and The facts of evolution – and jealousy.

    Really, I shouldn’t have to keep repeating this.

    But – PLEASE – Matt can you reply to my request for specific examples (see July 30, 2009 at 10:39 am).

    Otherwise we cannot have a fruitful discussion. We will have to conclude that you can’t convert high-sounding phrases into practical examples.

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  108. Impateus

    . Although I am not Ken’s and Heraclides’ spokesperson, I would very much doubt that either of them would deny that a “true belief” constitutes “knowledge”.

    Actually both denied it, on more than one occasion. Despite me and Glenn stating that this was uncontroversial. I can provide citations if you wish.

    have the impression that Heraclides objected to the term “belief” because of its religious connotations. If we replace said term with “proposition”, I think he would have no problem.

    Yes he misunderstood what was meant by belief, showing he actually was not familar with the issues. That did not however stop him repeatedly commenting on them.

    Ken explicitly stated that he would not consider a false scientific theory to be “knowledge”. As I understood him, he merely pointed out that all scientific theories are provisional and may be improved or discarded if new data comes in.

    Again I can provide the exchange if you wish. My point was exactly that false scientific theories were not knowledge.

    2.) My understanding was that you attacked scientific “knowledge” (or only a specific subset of it, i.e. the theory of evolution) and its teaching in schools on the grounds that science does not produce knowledge at all, because most of its theories turned out to be false.

    Actually this is false, this clearly is not the argument I made at all. Your welcome to read what I actually wrote.

    Furthermore, the utter falsification of a whole theory is more the exception than the rule. The real world is a messy place, where most theories are not floating in a vacuum, but depend on many additional, auxiliary hypotheses. Thus, if we obtain a piece of contradictory empirical evidence, it might be one or more of the auxiliary hypotheses rather than the theory itself that are to blame.

    This is exactly the major point I made in my post. Scientific claims are not falsifiable in isolation but as part of a broader body of hypothesises. So again no attack on what I said here.

    All I added was that theological claims can be falsifiable in the same way.

    Science devises bold, conjectural theories about the physical world and then does its utmost to falsify them. Any theory that survives this on-going process can rightfully be deemed a “true belief”, i.e. knowledge.

    I don’t have any opinion on the Popperian conception of science. However nothing in it contradicts anything I said.

    ,i>a) If you agree that there is an inherent contradiction within justificationism, do you also see Christian dogmas as ultimately not indubitably justified and therefore as potentially false/revisable?

    Yes, thats in fact one of Plantinga’s major points. One does not need certain indupitable foundations and justification is prima facie.

    b) Are you aware of the fact that some members of the Thinking Matters blog endorse precisely this form of justificationism and claim to be in possession of certain, indubitable truths? Do you agree with this approach?

    Thinking matters does not have an official epistemology nor do we all agree on everything. But no I don’t agree with this approach.

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  109. Matt, define ‘absolute certainty’ for me. I’ve been interpreting what you have been saying as ‘no amount of evidence would convince one otherwise’.

    If so, then if you read what Dawkins writes (in context rather than quote-mined from Christian apologetics websites) you will see that his certainty is not as you define it. He is willing to change his opinions in the face of evidence to the contrary (unlike what your quote mine tries to have him say).

    And since you don’t appear to have actually read The Blind Watchmaker or have it to hand to provide the quote in context I’ll reproduce it here:

    In short, divine creation, whether instantaneous or in the form of guided evolution, joins the theories we have considered in this chapter. All give some superficial appearance of being alternatives to Darwinism, whose merits might be tested by an appeal to evidence. All turn out, on closer inspection, not to be rivals of Darwinism at all. The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity. Even if the evidence did not favour it, it would still be the best theory available! In fact the evidence does favour it. But that is another story.

    (Emphasis in original)

    i.e. the other competitors to natural selection are so poor that even if, say, we were to dig up a rabbit in the precambrian (a serious problem for what we understand to be the history of different species), it would still be a superior explanation to creation myths. However, if you were to provide a theory that provided more evidence and did a better job of explaining what we observe about the world around us then people like Dawkins (and myself and I presume many others) would drop Darwinian natural selection in a flash. Is this the kind of ‘absolute certainty’ you describe?

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  110. Damian, again you focus solely on my second quote. I provided two, again can you tell me do you consider the claim that reproduction to occur by human storks to be a provisional claim?

    Contrary to what you think you don’t rebut two arguments by only rebutting one.

    But I disagree with your reading of Dawkins you suggest Dawkins is saying.
    the other competitors to natural selection are so poor that even if, say, we were to dig up a rabbit in the precambrian (a serious problem for what we understand to be the history of different species), it would still be a superior explanation to creation myths.

    This seems to me unsupported by the text you cite. Dawkin’s he does not refer to creation myths( such as Gen 1) he refers to divine creation by which he includes theistic evolution ( see his comment or in the form of guided evolution).

    Second he does not say that these are competitors to natural selection that have been tested against the evidence. ( in fact theistic evolution is not a competitor to natural selection, nor is it a competitor to Darwinism as theistic evolutionists support both) his claims they are not even competitors whose merits might be tested by an appeal to evidence.

    He reiterates this point stating one can rule out any view that involves God including theistic evolution as an alternative independently of or prior to the evidence. that why he states “Even if the evidence did not favour it, it would still be the best theory available” . In other words he explictly states he would except evidence even if the evidence did not favour it.

    Moreover even if I am mistaken in my reading of Dawkins. My point still stands, the claim that scientists never claim that any scientific knowledge is certain is false. Some theories are tenative but some such as that reproduction does not occur via stalks are pretty much certain. moreover theologians often hold views provisionally and will revise them in light of new evidence. This criteria cannot be used to demarce theology from science.

    But seeing your so concerned about me not reading athiest writers ( actually I have read several ) can you tell me when you read any of Plantinga’s writings or Swinburnes, writings?

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  111. Iapetus wrote: Science devises bold, conjectural theories

    C’mon, ideal(istical)ly theories aren’t conjectural at any point! I’m kidding Seriously, I know what you mean and reality is always far less than ideal, as you were saying. (Idealistically, if the proposal is conjectural, it’s a hypothesis, which might later move to become a theory upon further substantiation.)

    No Heraclides, the Popperian view which Iapetus seems to hold, affirms that theories are conjectures which one attempts to falsify. If they are not falsified then they are retained.

    This is actually quite different to the claim you suggested on M&M that science demonstrates and empirically verfies all its claims and never relys on unproven foundations.

    No Poppers view is that the

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  112. Matt (July 30, 2009 at 12:55 pm)

    You are—yet again—misrepresenting what I wrote. Either that or, you you are so hell-bent—pun intended—on your “cause” that you are trying ever so hard to “read into” what others write what you’d like to see there.

    You (not me, your italics seem to have “slipped”) wrote: you state that evolution occured ( a scientific claim) is certain.

    Well, no I didn’t. Read what you quoted of my words: “That evolution occurs is as certain as anything is [...]”

    I didn’t write “certain”, period, I wrote “as certain as anything is” (or can be, if that’s clearer).

    Perhaps you don’t understand what ‘provisional’ means? In the context of scientific theories, it simply means that scientists are open to questioning it or revising it later. It doesn’t mean it is dubious and/or has to be stated as “tentative” or “temporary”, as it can in common language. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t say that some theory fits all available evidence and it is exceptionally unlikely to ever be falsified. “Provisional” is a state of mind about how you treat a theory, not a statement about how likely a theory is to be right.

    You are mixing up what provisional means with respect to science and “knowing for certain” in a way that isn’t consistent with how it’s dealt with in science. This—again—to my mind illustrates that you don’t understand science and with that are not in a position to criticise (judge) it.

    In practice, most theories do get revised over time, so that in hindsight they are also provisional in the sense of “temporary”, but that’s hindsight for you.

    You also oversimplify by trying to make out what might be true of one theory, to be true for all. Conflating your argument, lack of nuance, etc., etc., Yawn.

    Dawkins for example has said this about evolution on numerous occasions You are almost certainly mixing up the that vs. how of this, as many of those who oppose evolution do. See prev. paragraphs, too.

    So please stop claiming all scientific claims are always provisional and tentative because you clearly do not think this Maybe you should stop putting words in others’ mouth and over-simplifying first ;-) See prev. paragraphs, too.

    Note: Knowledge does involve both belief and truth, this is accepted and not disputed, its not some idea only proposed by religious apologists, and scientists like Dawkins do claim that some scientific claims are certain got any other false claims to continually make.

    You clearly didn’t read what I wrote. Reading is more than passing over the words, it’s understanding the meaning and taking that meaning on board. Perhaps this is your fundamental problem? Or perhaps thinking is? Whatever…

    ‘Belief’ isn’t consistent with your own version of what ‘knowledge’ means, never mind mine. Think about it. If “knowledge” were “for (absolute) certain”, there would be no need for “belief”, as you’d know for certain… belief is when you don’t know for certain. It’s the whole reason I think it’s a poor choice of words. (The irony here, is that it should be a poor choice of words for your argument, too, but you can’t seem to see that.)

    Basically, your arguments shows absolutely no nuance of any kind, only a polarised simplicity that you try sell to yourself to “excuse” your religion. While you might be sold on your own product, I don’t think anyone else is going to buy it.

    I see that you are persisting in attacking science rather than presenting anything about theology as a way of knowing. Should I presume that your real agenda is actually anti-science? If so, why does science threaten you so much? Because you are frightened that science will show (aspects of) your religion to be false and you’re too scared to question your religion?

    On that note, you really should reply to Ken. It’s not as if you’ve missed his asking.

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  113. note you have strayed from trying to make out that theology provides “another way of thinking”, to attacking science (silly to my mind, as this would never assist showing theology as another way of thinking) and now to nit-picking minor things that seem to have no special relevance to your original claims as far as I can see (some might even see it as you just trying to “score points”).

    Thats largely because none of my original points have been addressed.

    I noted that science currently follows methodological naturalism, not contested

    I noted that this means that any theological claims which might be relevant to the question are excluded from consideration. Not contested.

    I pointed out then that if there are theological claims which are true and relevant to the question scientific theories have not taken into account all the evidence, also not contested.

    Ken did try and argue against my view by making comments about Stalin, I refuted this ad hominem, no one has contested my argument.

    Ken also tried to suggest that scientific claims are included because they are falsifiable and theological claims are not. I pointed out that scientific claims are not falsifiable in isolation but only as part of a broader theory, that was also not contested (Iapetus actually supports this). I then pointed out theological claims are falsifiable in the same way. Also not contested.

    What was contested was that my definition of truth ( the standard correspondence theory) was different to the definition of truth used in science. Instead the bizzare claim was made that science does not claim its knowledge is true.

    You and Ken then made several comments that my claim that knowledge is true belief is not correct held by a few religious people and that it is a revision of the definition of knowledge. Glenn and I contested it, Iapetus has confirmed we were correct.

    The other point raised was that theology is excluded because scientific claims are always considered provisional and theological claims are not. As I have pointed out this is false to, some scientific claims are not provisional in this way ( i,e storks don’t make human babies) and many theological claims are. Again not contested instead Damian wants to get in to Dawkins exegesis.

    Ken on the other hand wants to write posts comparing me to Mao and Stalin and thinks this is a rebuttal, he then claims my not addressing such arguments some how demonstrates my position is vunerable.

    So your correct, my intial points are not being discussed. When you and Ken choose to actually do so, admit you made silly comments about epistemology, did not know what you were talking about and were mistaken perhaps some progress can be made.

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  114. Actually both denied it Not correct, for me (Ken can speak for himself). See my previous post. You should have figured this out from Iapetus’ reply, really. (BTW it’s Iapetus, not Impateus. You might want to use cut’n’paste to avoid getting people’s names wrong.)

    Yes he misunderstood what was meant by belief No, I didn’t, certainly not in the manner you present here. I understand what belief means (I’m not that thick). I pointed out a perfectly correct use of the word, one that did fit Glenn’s use of it. You might want to turn this around. You (and Glenn) were the ones trying to communicate. If you are communicating you need to consider how your readers will read your words. I, for example, made explicit that when I meant theory, I only meant it in the sense of “scientific theory” as I’m well aware that apologists/theologists commonly try place other meanings on this word. I thought ahead about how that audience would read my words and I went out of my way to make sure I communicated my intended meaning. By the way, you might want to consider that most non-philosopher readers, including religious people, will read the word ‘belief’ in the same way as I pointed out. With that in mind, it’s odd in some ways that you didn’t think this through ahead of time.

    One does not need certain indu[b]itable foundations and justification is prima facie. In others words some statement is “justified” just because some authority “just says so”? If so, duh. You might want to read my post at July 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm. You should also note that I pointed out that this doesn’t make sense some time ago.

    re your latest post (July 30, 2009 at 4:27 pm), you have missed ENTIRELY what I wrote. Can you PLEASE try read what people actually write????? (You also dropped my wink in the quote.)

    And this bit has absolutely nothing to do with anything:

    This is actually quite different to the claim you suggested on M&M that science demonstrates and empirically verfies all its claims and never rel[ie]s on unproven foundations.

    You appear to be trying to attack with a scatter-gun approach, randomly spraying around hopeful (hopeless in my opinion) shots.

    What I wrote has nothing to do, for or against Popper or even Iapetus for that matter. You don’t seem to be able to read humour either. But I’m out of time and there is a point if someone can only mangle what I’ve written, I’m going to just point that much out and let that stand…

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  115. Thats largely because none of my original points have been addressed.

    Ken has repeated asked you for further explanation, which you have stead-fastly not replied to.

    PS: has it ever occurred to you that some of your claims are so wide of the mark as to be not worth addressing?

    PPS: You are still mangling others’ words. Nuff’ said.

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  116. Matt – you have really climbed out of your tree now. Falsely attributing all over the place.

    Might I assure other readers that nothing Matt attributes to me is likely to be true. I urge you to read my posts to understand what my position is.

    Now Matt – we may not actually disagree over a theoretical understanding of knowledge. I don’t know because you refuse to respond to my post on scientific epistemology. And I have concerns about how you apply the words belief and true (as in “biblical and theological truths” for example)

    However, the practical application of this abstract philosophical definition is the important thing.

    I say this because your previous comments show a naive and mechanical understanding of scientific epistemology. As for example in your statements:
    “some have argued that in fact history shows us that scientific theories are nearly always later discredited and proven false. If so this is not a history of progress it’s a history of failures and mistakes.” and
    “This is just rhetoric, if science repeatedly fails to get it right that does not show its reliable. It shows its unreliable.”

    I would like to see how you can, in practice, resolve those comments against your abstract definition of knowledge.

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  117. Matt,

    As I said, I do not have the time at the moment to wade through several articles along with a slew of comments that are spread out over different blogs to find out who exactly said what to whom. However, my impression is that, after initial misunderstandings have been resolved, everyone agrees that in order for a person to “know” something (e.g. a specific state of affairs), said person must

    a) mentally believe/accept/hold this “something”; and

    b) said “something” must be true.

    So, if everyone finds this definition acceptable, the discussion can hopefully revert back to something more productive.

    “Actually this is false, this clearly is not the argument I made at all. Your welcome to read what I actually wrote.”

    I did read your initial two articles where you endorsed Plantinga’s argumentation that science does not take into account all relevant evidence when it comes to the question of the origin of humankind.

    However, the comment you are referring to here was actually in response to your following statements quoted by Ken:

    “some have argued that in fact history shows us that scientific theories are nearly always later discredited and proven false. If so this is not a history of progress it’s a history of failures and mistakes.”

    and

    “This is just rhetoric, if science repeatedly fails to get it right that does not show its reliable. It shows its unreliable”

    which I understand to mean that scientific “knowledge” is not really knowledge at all, since it is unreliable and false more often than not. I fundamentally disagree with this for the reasons I laid out above.

    “This is exactly the major point I made in my post. Scientific claims are not falsifiable in isolation but as part of a broader body of hypothesises. [...] All I added was that theological claims can be falsifiable in the same way.”

    Can you give a concrete example of this? And since you were arguing for the inclusion of theological claims into the teaching of the theory of evolution: what would be a concrete, falsifiable theological claim pertaining to this subject matter and how do you propose to try and falsify it?

    “Yes, that’s in fact one of Plantinga’s major points. One does not need certain indubitable foundations and justification is prima facie.”

    Yes, Plantinga sees belief in god as properly basic and therefore rationally acceptable without being certain.

    If you subscribe to this position, it seems to put you squarely at odds with the presuppositionalist faction at Thinking Matters, who hold that their approach would guarantee certain truth and knowledge. But then again, I have repeatedly found that people there get a bit carried away regarding the possibilities of their philosophy/theology, without being aware of its internal flaws and limitations.

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  118. Matt – you have really climbed out of your tree now. Falsely attributing all over the place.

    Might I assure other readers that nothing Matt attributes to me is likely to be true. I urge you to read my posts to understand what my position is.

    Readers are more than welcome to go over to MandM and read the comments thread.

    And I have concerns about how you apply the words belief and true (as in “biblical and theological truths” for example)

    Iapetus explained how the word belief is used in his post. To say X believes Y is to say X thinks Y is the case.

    I specifically addressed what I meant by truth in my post and in those dialogues you deny happend. A statement is true if what it asserts actually is the case. It’s false if its not.

    We went through this, both you and Heraclides seemed to have problems with this definition. They appeared to be based on two issues (a) with the idea that an ungrounded claim could be true or that (b) truth is not revisable.

    In response I noted that response (a) was based on a failure to distinguish the difference between a belief being true and a belief being warranted.

    (b) I pointed out was also mistaken, whats revisable is a persons belief that something is true, the person may believe something is true but latter discover what they believed was false and change it. But its mistaken to state this is a case where a true belief is revised.

    None of this is terribly controversial, especially amougst people inclined towards scientific realism. Both you and Herclides however suggested it shows I was ignorant and knew noting about what I was talking about.

    In fact these comments actually show both of you did not grasp some of the basic conceptual distinctions, and were willing to accuse others who did of ignorance. Again I am sure Iapetus can explain to you that I am correct here, seeing you apparently only accept a claim about Philosophy when he makes it.

    Now Matt – we may not actually disagree over a theoretical understanding of knowledge. I don’t know because you refuse to respond to my post on scientific epistemology.

    I am inclined towards a theory known as reliabilism, which states ( roughly)that a person knows X if they (a) believe X (b) X is true (c) x is formed by a reliable process and (d) they have no reason for thinking either that X is false or that the process that produced X is unreliable.

    Again a simply familarity with the views of Plantinga and those inclined to his views would have made this clear. Its not my fault you choose to shoot your mouth off attacking views you don’t understand without bothering to understand the views you attack first. Its not my job to educate you on what others views are after you have already publically denounced them with bad arguments.

    I say this because your previous comments show a naive and mechanical understanding of scientific epistemology. As for example in your statements:
    “some have argued that in fact history shows us that scientific theories are nearly always later discredited and proven false. If so this is not a history of progress it’s a history of failures and mistakes.”

    Well calling a position, naive and mechanical is not a rebuttal of it.

    Moreover the above statement is not a statement about epistemology its a statement about the history of science . Moreover, your dismissal of this line or argument actually shows you are the one who is naive, because what I say is true. Wether one should interpret the history of science the way you asserted is a matter of dispute.

    Some sensible respected historians of science and philosophers of science do argue what I mention above, others contest it. I have not done enough study of the history of science to know who is correct. If you can provide me with a conclusive historical study showing your interpretation is correct I am all ears.

    However when a person who is not a historian of science. Confidently asserts one interpretation of the history is the case. Then, proceeds to backs this mere assertion up with the claim that anyone who denies their position is naive and does not understand what they are talking about, then what I have is mere rhetoric?

    You don’t esthablish historical thesis’s by denigrading reputable scholars in this way. Thats rhetoric not argument. If you think you do then again its you who does not understand how knowledge works.

    The fact you seem to think that me pointing this out makes me ignorant only speaks volumes of how silly some of the things you say are. Any logican could explain to you that the ad hominem fallacy is a fallacy.

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  119. Thats largely because none of my original points have been addressed…

    Ken has repeated asked you for further explanation, which you have stead-fastly not replied to.

    Yes on issues that had nothing to do with the points I raised in my post.

    PS: has it ever occurred to you that some of your claims are so wide of the mark as to be not worth addressing?

    Actually many of the arguments I made in the post have already been made by Larry Laudan ( as I pointed out in the post ) one of the worlds leading Philosophers of science. So if you want to continually assert that my arguments are clearly and obviously flawed and based on no understanding. Forgive me for thinking, again its you thats a little uninformed here.

    And your welcome to think that my definining truth in terms of the correspondence theory of truth, probably the most widely accepted and defended definition of truth in the literature is “wide of the mark” and to be “not worth addressing”

    If you want to add this to your claims about only a few religious apologists understand knowledge as a warranted true belief be my guest but stop saying I don’t know what I am talking about.

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  120. which I understand to mean that scientific “knowledge” is not really knowledge at all, since it is unreliable and false more often than not. I fundamentally disagree with this for the reasons I laid out above.

    The problem is this is not what I said, what I said was “some have argued that in fact history shows us that scientific theories are nearly always later discredited and proven false. If so this is not a history of progress it’s a history of failures and mistakes”.My point ( evident from the context, was that the interpretation of the historical record which Ken asserted was correct is subject to dispute, Kuhn for example argued for a different picture. Larry Laudan has given a different interpretation yet again, and so on, I am aware of these different interpretations and mayself have no reason to either affirm or deny any of them. Ken however asserted his take was correct, and went on to suggest my simply pointing out it was disputed makes me “naive”( documented in the above comments) and meant I clearly knew nothing about science, and that I should not speak about the subject because I am so ignorant and that is mere rhetoric.

    Moreover,with respect I don’t see anything in your post that adjudicates this dispute. You note the regress problem with justificationism ( a point I actually made to Heraclides at MandM when I pointed out that not all beliefs can be demonstrated or verfied without getting a regress) thats true, but it does not tell us anything about the history of science.

    You tell us about Popperian methods, great but that does not tell us anything about the actual history or how to interpet it.

    Then you conclude “It is thus naively simplistic to say that most scientific theories turned out to be false. Rather, they turned out to have limited applicability or, as Popper called it, verisimilitude (truth likeness).”

    Thats seems to be just another ad hominem.

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  121. Heraclides.

    I understand what belief means (I’m not that thick). I pointed out a perfectly correct use of the word, one that did fit Glenn’s use of it. You might want to turn this around. You (and Glenn) were the ones trying to communicate. If you are communicating you need to consider how your readers will read your words. I, for example, made explicit that when I meant theory, I only meant it in the sense of “scientific theory”

    You can protest all you Actually its all documented at MandM. Both Glenn and I told you and Ken we were using the standard philosophical definition, on more than one occasion, you continued to reject what we said. In fact Glenn wrote a post at his blog explaining what he meant, explained to Ken what he meant amd sent Ken various philosophy articles which explained it. and Ken’s response, recorded on MandM was to say Glenn was trying to revise the concept of knowledge, what he said was not relevant, and that what he had sent them could be ignored. Its all there.

    You yourself alluded to this by sarcastically refering to Glenn setting homework and continuing to reject the definition. Again anyone can see Glenn’s blog documenting it and the discussion on MandM.

    In fact Ken now has said he will critque Glenns post even though all it does is explain that knowledge is warranted true belief and what these terms mean in philosophy

    So yes I know about context, in this case the context shows we explained what we meant and you still rejected it. I understand there can be miscommunications in different disciplines. however when its explained to you that you are working with a definition within a particular feild repeatedly and articles sent to you explaining it and you still persist ( usually adding that Glenn and I don’t understand what we are talking about) that is very different.

    In others words some statement is “justified” just because some authority “just says so”? If so, duh. You might want to read my post at July 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm. You should also note that I pointed out that this doesn’t make sense some time ago.

    Err No, thats not Plantinga’s position nor is it mine. Here again you, fail to understand a philsophical position, simply assume your misreading is true, and mock it,

    Not learnt your lesson I see.

    And Popper is relevant, because the claims you made where you state I did not know anything about science, were based on an account of science which is contrary to the Popperian one. Popper does not require scientific claims all be verfied, whats important is they are not falsified. Was Popper ignorant, no, ergo your critique of my article as ignorant is unwarranted.

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  122. Clearly, Matt, we are not going to make progress if you refuse to deal with practical examples. The issue is not with the abstract definition but how it is applied. How it relates to your claim of “theological and biblical truths,” equating “theological claims” with “evidence” which should be incorporated into science, and the naive mechanical application to the progressive nature of human knowledge.

    A problem is your subjective perception of what others state and this leads to misrepresentation. Another problem is your restricted source of philosophical concepts and authorities (I referred to this as The ghetto of apologetics “science”. Confirmation bias means you preferentially and continually quote Platinga et. al. even though other rejects many of their postpositions.

    In a sense we have here a debate between “theological philosophy” and philosophy in general (or at least a scientific philosophy).

    However, I am aware of a nuance which commonly operates in debates between theological and scientific proponents. Many years ago I studied Marxist philosophy and was struck then (and still very much impressed by) one of Marx’s theses. I can’t quote it off the top of my head but it went something along the lines:

    “Previously philosophers have only attempted to describe (understand) the world. The point, however, is to change it (the world).”

    My understanding – “armchair philosophy,” disconnected from interaction with reality, is pointless. Resulting abstract philosophical propositions may or may not have any real relationship with reality.

    On the other hand, a philosophy based on an intimate interaction with reality will produce a far more effective knowledge, description of reality. It has to because is derives from reality and is tested against reality.

    This served me extremely well coming at the beginning of my research career. And, on reflection, I can see how philosophy has been enriched the more it has become integrated with real investigations of the world. In contrast, those “philosophies” which have persisted in separation from the real world have not been able to contribute to humanity’s growing understanding of reality – although they may have effectively survived in (some) human minds.

    I see “theological philosophy” as very much an “armchair philosophy.” Scientific philosophy is far more dynamic, alive and connected with reality.

    So, I think this distinction is reflected here. Matt is coming from the perspective of “theological, armchair philosophy.” Consequently he finds difficulty in presenting practical examples – and leaves his definitions wide open for co-option to justify things like “biblical truth.” It also leads him to the mistake of equating “theological claims” with evidence.

    On the other hand the supporters of science here have a practical, realistic philosophy – because science is involved in the practical process of understanding reality. Not producing a story or a myth – but an understanding enabling us to practically effect the world in the interests of humanity.

    Inevitably we will continue to talk past each other.

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  123. Matt,

    Please address the questions asked and stop trying to “bash” people by falsely attributing things to them. I am increasingly of the opinion that you are merely creating hubris to avoiding facing the questions asked.

    Iapetus explained how the word belief is used in his post.

    Iapetus referred to a different context than the one Ken did. (See the quote you gave.)

    I specifically addressed what I meant by truth in my post and in those dialogues you deny happend. A statement is true if what it asserts actually is the case. It’s false if its not.

    We went through this, both you and Heraclides seemed to have problems with this definition.

    “We went through this”, yes, but not the way you keep trying to make out. Please stop trying to impose these claims on me. I have repeatedly pointed out that you are not correct in asserting this of me. I should not have to keep repeating myself on this. If you don’t want to or are unable read what someone is writing, that’s your problem I guess, but please stop falsely attributing this to me.

    seeing you apparently only accept a claim about Philosophy when he makes it.

    If you actually read my posts, you’d know that I don’t accept everything he writes and I asked him because I was short on time to confirm what I already suspected was the case. But it seems you’d rather play games with people…

    Again a simpl[e] familarity with the views of Plantinga and those inclined to his views would have made this clear.

    People can’t read minds: you do have to tell them your position, especially as there is more than one position on this. As others have pointed out many people consider Plantinga’s stuff to be resting on poor foundations (to be polite) and so wouldn’t consider much of what he has to say. You seem to treat him as some “perfect authority” that is “just right”, and by implication that if you repeat what he says, you are “just right” too. I hope this isn’t news to you, but it just doesn’t work that way.

    To your next post:

    Actually many of the arguments I made in the post have already been made by Larry Laudan

    So? Everything seems to end up with an appeal to authority with you, doesn’t it?

    In any case, you missed—or side-stepped—the point of what I wrote! I was simply asking you to consider that people might not reply because they didn’t consider it worthwhile to. That isn’t rocket science!

    And your welcome to think that my definining truth in terms of the correspondence theory of truth, probably the most widely accepted and defended definition of truth in the literature is “wide of the mark” and to be “not worth addressing”

    Foisting things on me that I didn’t write again. Please stop this stupidity, Matt.

    only a few religious apologists understand knowledge as a warranted true belief

    I didn’t write that either. Can you read anything for what it was actually written or are you so locked into (religious) denial that you have to twist others’ words all the time? (I can only think that you are trying save yourself from having to question your own views.)

    but stop saying I don’t know what I am talking about

    Well, gee, some of the things you say are so nonsensical that this is really the logical conclusion. I didn’t say you don’t know anything, as you imply here. Usually I was referring to you knowing about how science works and I have to say, you really don’t seem to have any idea how science really works. You might want to consider that the reason I see some of the things you say as nonsensical is because I understand them…!

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  124. Matt,

    Still pouring out a of excuses? None of the things you attribute are correct, again. (It’s a bit silly to accuse me of things you do, among things.)

    I think I’m going to ignore them as you seem to be just “insist” on foisting on me things that simply aren’t right, presumably because you are so bent on trying to “win” at all costs, that won’t for the life of you consider that you are misreading/misattributing what I wrote, as I have been pointing out to you again and again and again and again and again. Can you even CONSIDER this? Or are you completed demented?

    OK, that’s ended.

    What I’d like to see you do is answer Ken.

    I’d also very much like to see you answer Iapetus. I think his question is very much of the essence. I was going to write something along similar lines, but didn’t think to cast is as a simple question as he did:

    And since you were arguing for the inclusion of theological claims into the teaching of the theory of evolution: what would be a concrete, falsifiable theological claim pertaining to this subject matter and how do you propose to try and falsify it?

    You propose that you can include “theological evidence” into scientific theories. If so, according to you, the “theological evidence” would have to be falsifiable. You need to give an example of what you propose, showing that it can indeed be falsified and how you would go about falsifying it. If you don’t do this, it’s an empty claim and we can leave it at that (as an empty claim).

    If, on the other hand, we where to show that your example, or some other example of “theological evidence”, cannot be falsified, then we can claim that your proposal (that “theological evidence” should be included in scientific theories) is false.

    Savvy? ;-) (À la Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.)

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  125. Heraclides

    Well like I said its all there on MandM so accusing me of lying wont help.

    Also if you looked at my original post I actually pointed out several theological positions which can be falsifiable. Plantinga also makes the point in the article I linked to, as does Laudan, again actually reading what I wrote helps.

    But if you want an example here is one: the claim that God created the world 6000 years ago in 6 24 hour days. As Larry Laudan points out this is falsifiable. In fact, anyone who accepts contemporary evolutionary theory is commited to saying it has been falsified.

    Laudan makes the point, valid I think that if a person contends that theological accounts of origins cannot be falisified they will have to say creationism has not been falsified, that is the empirical data does not show it to be false.

    If evolution is as you say a fact as certain as any other then at least one theological account of origins has been falsified, which means of course that they can be falsified, which means of course the claim that they can’t be falsified is erroneous.

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  126. Of course theological positions can be proven wrong – who the hell says they can’t? Well some creationists, I guess. Because young earth creationism is a “theological position” – to some a “theological or biblical truth”. And there will be other theologically devoted people who make the same claim about other things. I had a god-bothered knock on my door the other day declaring that she would happily board a plane built not on scientific principles but on biblical ones. To her the faith she had in biblical mythology overrode objective evidence and the science built on this.

    This is the problem with your argument that theological claims should have the same status as evidence in science. Because for many theologically inclined it would be “sinful” to actually check such claims against reality.

    Evidence is evidence. We scientists don’t reject objective evidence just because it fits in with a particular worldview.

    No scientist is rejecting evidence, or even claims, made by theologians – denying them as a source of information for understanding reality. But they are saying that “evidence” being used to develop our knowledge should be verifiable, should be mapped against reality.

    After all, many theologically inclined people will claim the bible as a source of evidence and that this should override the objective evidence scientists use.

    And many theologically inclined people are in the habit of misrepresenting or selecting “evidence.” Fortunately, the scientific process works to filter those out. As it will filter out unjustified claims made by the non-theologically inclined.

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  127. Well like I said its all there on MandM so accusing me of lying wont help.

    I asked you to stop foisting things on me (I’ve never used the word lying: search the page for yourself).

    As I wrote I consider this matter closed as you aren’t open to listening to the other person. Yes, the words are there on M&M, but if you keep misrepresenting them or misquoting them or misreading them or whatever, I can’t help it can I? I can only point out that you are misrepresenting me and hope that you will listen, but clearly you won’t. Seeing you won’t, this matter is closed because of your closed approach to it.

    I note you’re still calling to authority rather than looking at the logic given. You might to consider this is your ultimate problem: that you simply will not look at the logic of the argument people present, only if the person saying it someone you want to listen to (presumably because they say what suits you).

    But if you want an example [...]

    Erm, that isn’t “theological evidence“, but a theological claim just as you said yourself. Evidence is what supports a claim. You have suggested a “competing” theory” (hypothesis really, and that’s being overly generous), not evidence for/against a theory.

    You were saying that you wanted to allow “theological evidence” to added to scientific theories. The “claim” is the scientific theory. You wanted to add “theological evidence” to this. Clearly you can’t “add” a complete competing “theory” to another! You could wish to add the “evidence” behind this claim, however.

    I suggest you try again.

    Bear in mind that realistically you should propose that something that you think is true. Remember “true belief” and all that, that you have been banging on about? If it has already been falsified (as you say, correctly), then obviously it can’t be included in any theory! (Put another way, if you already know it’s false, then you can’t propose it as true.)

    I’d point out that particular claim is falsified by dropping the “G-d creating” bit and reducing it to a non-theological claim “the earth is 6,000 years old”. The “G-d created” aspect isn’t actually falsifiable; it’s just in this case the claim also rests on a non-theological aspect as well, so you can work around the lack of falsifiability of the “G-d created” bit by falsifying the non-theological aspect.

    In many ways this is actually an example of what many people point out to religious people: science is quite able to deal with the “real world” ideas anyone brings up, it’s when claims/evidence rest on theology alone that they can’t be considered.

    Anyway, you need to try again: this time evidence, not claims and make sure it’s one that rests only on theology.

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  128. My post crossed Ken’s. (I write these over time in between other jobs, so my post tend to cross over others…!)

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  129. Heraclides

    I’d point out that particular claim is falsified by dropping the “G-d creating” bit and reducing it to a non-theological claim “the earth is 6,000 years old”. The “G-d created” aspect isn’t actually falsifiable; it’s just in this case the claim also rests on a non-theological aspect as well, so you can work around the lack of falsifiability of the “G-d created” bit by falsifying the non-theological aspect.

    Yes, and I addressed this point in my original post. I agreed that some theological claims such as “God created” cannot be falsified in isolation they can only be falsified as part of a broader range of hypothesis about how God created etc. But I noted the same is true of scientific claims. They are not falsifiable in isolation either, the claim “there is at least one electron in the universe” cannot be falsified in isolation from broader hypothesis about how electrons behave, how their behavour is detected etc.

    When you apply the falsification criteria either you apply it to whole theories or to isolated claims. If you do the former, then creationism is falsifiable. If the latter then many scientific claims are not falsifiable

    So again, as I said in my post simply repeating arguments I actually addressed, does not respond to what I said.

    In many ways this is actually an example of what many people point out to religious people: science is quite able to deal with the “real world” ideas anyone brings up, it’s when claims/evidence rest on theology alone that they can’t be considered.

    On the contrary the creationist example shows theories which draw on both theological claims ( by claims I mean propositions) and empirical claims can be tested against the real world.

    Of course individual theological propositions by themselves may not be, but as I argued in my post scientific propositions by themselves cannot be tested in this way either. So the opposite is shown by the example, again I have made this point repeatedly.

    Erm, that isn’t “theological evidence“, but a theological claim just as you said yourself. Evidence is what supports a claim. You have suggested a “competing” theory” (hypothesis really, and that’s being overly generous), not evidence for/against a theory.

    Sure I agree some theological claims ( as opposed to whole theories or hypothesises) cannot be falsified. But as I noted Scientific claims ( as opposed to whole theories) often can’t be falsified either. Its broader theories or hypothesises that can be falsified. So the fact that one may not be able to come up with theological claims that by themselves can be falsified is of little significance because many isolated scientific claims are in the same boat. Again I made this point in my post.

    Hence, if the you want to exclude theological claims ( as opposed to theories) because they can’t be falsified the many scientific claims must also be excluded which no scientist will exclude.

    On the other hand if you want to limit falsification to theories, then theological theories can be falsified and the fact individual claims can’t doesn’t matter.

    I note you’re still calling to authority rather than looking at the logic given. You might to consider this is your ultimate problem: that you simply will not look at the logic of the argument people present, only if the person saying it someone you want to listen to (presumably because they say what suits you).

    Well here you either misunderstand, or misrepresent me. I did not say a view was true because Lauman or Plantinga or Kuhn said so. .

    What I did say was that the assertion that an argument could only be made by a person who knew nothing about science is unlikely if the argument has been endorsed by a significant philosopher or historian of science.

    Thats what I object to, I think a little humilty is needed. Sure people Kuhn or Laudan could be mistaken ( I think Kuhn probably is on many point) but to suggest their positions are obviously silly stupid and they positions the work of ignoramous’s is simply false.

    In other contexts I cited specific arguments of people and noted the argument had not been addressed by you and Ken, thats not an appeal to authority.

    As I wrote I consider this matter closed as you aren’t open to listening to the other person. Yes, the words are there on M&M, but if you keep misrepresenting them or misquoting them or misreading them or whatever, I can’t help it can I? I can only point out that you are misrepresenting me and hope that you will listen, but clearly you won’t. Seeing you won’t, this matter is closed because of your closed approach to it.

    Lets be clear, are you denying that you stated that only a few religious people would claim that knowledge involves true belief, and are you denying that after Glenn sent articles from Philosophers to Ken explaining what is mean’t by this, that Ken continued to state things like this until Iapetus stated here this was not seriously disputed. A simple yes or no answer to this question will clear the matter up?

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  130. Of course theological positions can be proven wrong – who the hell says they can’t?

    Anyone who claims theological positions can’t be considered because they are not falsifiable.

    Well some creationists, I guess.

    Actually no, defenders of the claim that creationism is science frequently not it’s falsiable. The claim is often made by anti creationists however that theological claims are not falsifiable.

    Because young earth creationism is a “theological position” – to some a “theological or biblical truth”. And there will be other theologically devoted people who make the same claim about other things.

    So what? some people say the bible teaches X, so what? Some people say science teaches all sorts of things it does not. Hard to see anything of substance here.

    I had a god-bothered knock on my door the other day

    name calling is not an objection either.

    declaring that she would happily board a plane built not on scientific principles but on biblical ones.

    This is a false dictomomy. Why couldn’t a person believe both. Why couldn’t a person beleive for example that God created the universe ex nihlo, and created certain laws of nature which can be discovered by empirical investigation as medieval theologains did for example?

    To her the faith she had in biblical mythology overrode objective evidence and the science built on this.

    Your aware that simply calling a position, mythology and using nice terms like “objective” to describe science is just rhetoric aren’t you.

    When you actually have an argument instead of an insulting rant that calls people names uses pejorative terms, relies on caricatures of theology ( should I judge science on the basis of what I person who knocks on my door understands of it).Let me know.

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  131. This is the problem with your argument that theological claims should have the same status as evidence in science. Because for many theologically inclined it would be “sinful” to actually check such claims against reality.

    First, this is simply a caricature ( and rather insulting one) about theologians.

    Second, I am a little puzzled here, I pointed out in my post that theological theories can be tested and your response was to ask “Of course theological positions can be proven wrong – who the hell says they can’t? Well some creationists, I guess” perhaps you can be clear here. Do you think theological positions are testable or not? If so then pointing out that scientific position need to be testable is not going to exclude theological positions.

    If not, then why do you suggest only creationist deny this.

    No scientist is rejecting evidence, or even claims, made by theologians – denying them as a source of information for understanding reality.

    Actually methodological naturalism does precisely this, it claims that theological evidence as I have defined it should not be considered.

    But they are saying that “evidence” being used to develop our knowledge should be verifiable, should be mapped against reality.

    I see so were are back to the issue that theological propositions can’t be tested. Here note (a) I adressed this argument in my comments here and in my post, asserting a claim I have already offered an argument against is not a rejoinder. (b) When I repeated this this point above you responded by stating

    “Of course theological positions can be proven wrong – who the hell says they can’t? Well some creationists”

    So again you appear to be both claiming that certain theological hypothesises cannot be falsified or tested against the world and so are not scientific and also that its obvious that they can be tested. So please clarify which is it?

    And many theologically inclined people are in the habit of misrepresenting or selecting “evidence.” Fortunately, the scientific process works to filter those out. As it will filter out unjustified claims made by the non-theologically inclined.

    I see more insults about theologians again, unfortunately making insulting attacks on peoples character is not an argument.

    I have argued repeatedly that (a)theological theories can be tested (b) individual theological claims in isolation cannot but neither can individual scientific claims be tested this way.

    Ignoring an argument and repeating the same thing about testability over and over again is not an argument. Nor is resorting to character attacks.

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  132. Erm, that isn’t “theological evidence“, but a theological claim just as you said yourself. Evidence is what supports a claim.

    Again addressed this already on ManaM and again you simply repeat the claim I argued against. I use the word claim to refer to a proposition and proposition can be evidence for other claims. When one person for example infers one proposition ( a conclusion) from others ( a premise) then the second proposition is evidence for the first. So claims can be evidence, something I pointed out.

    Your objection if I understand it is that some theologians believe theological propositions without having some evidence for these claims.

    Again as I pointed out, this objection assumes that a proposition is rationally accepted only if there is adequate evidence for it, the problem is this leads to an infinte regress I pointed this out in the comments section on MandM. Iapetus actually makes the same point above.

    Now, one can easily see the difficulty with this approach: if you demand that a belief must not only be true, but also connected to a justifier which guarantees its truth, the immediate follow-up problem is: how do you guarantee the indubitable truth of the justifier?

    Thus, you either run into an infinite regress

    In other words if I need cannot believe P unless I have evidence Q, on what basis do I believe Q, well on the basis of evidence R and so on.

    The position of Plantinga which I endorse and is endorsed by many epistemologists ( called foundationalists) is that all knowledge wether scientific or theological or ethical or whatever must start with some propositions ( claims) which are not based on evidence. But which one can legitimately assume until they are demonstrated to be false.

    Iapetus has a different approach I think, ( if I understand him correctly) he suggests we make a conjecture and then see if its false. If this is the case then I can simply make theological conjectures and you can’t falsify them then they are acceptable.

    Either way dismissing a claim because it can’t be proven by evidence actually shows a flawed view of epistemology. If we are to know anything at all there must be some propositions or at least conjecture which can be believed without evidence for them.

    I have been through this with you already on MandM. Again I will add that merely repeating a claim I have argued against is not a rebuttal, this holds even if you add attacks on a persons knowledge and character to the claim.

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  133. Matt – Calm down. You are going around in circles because you are reacting emotionally. There’s no need for that.

    Perhaps we should get back to one of the things that sparked this off. This was Glenn’s claim “theories are not knowledge. Theories may or may not be true. Knowledge is true. “ Now, I, and plenty of people talk about scientific knowledge. We use the normal understanding of that (consult any dictionary).

    I can see that Glenn wants to inject an abstract philosophical definition of knowledge. This could add precision but is creating confusion because of the normal understanding of words like “belief” and “true”. We all understand warrant and justify. But you yourself use the terms “biblical or theological truths”. So you can understand why we want more rigour in the definitions.

    I intend to critique Glenn’s comments further. But you could help by being specific in examples – and no – quoting Lauman’s electron example won’t do. I read his article – basically an attempt to discredit legal rulings against teaching creationism in science classes. I found him very confused about science. (actually I find anyone who attempts to impose a “materialist”, or “naturalist” worldview on science confused. These are terms which I just don’t accept – although I realise that they are often used political to defend science).

    I realise you may have problems thinking of specific examples yourself. Perhaps you could reply to my specific questions.

    Do any of the following aspects of scientific knowledge qualify as “knowledge” according to the abstract definition you are promoting:

    Thermodynamic laws – specifically the first (conservation) and second law (entropy);

    Atoms and atomic theory – especially the standard model;

    The standard cosmological model;

    Boyle’s gas laws

    Newtons laws of motion

    String theory.

    Of course, words like theory and law are used here as part of the normal nomenclature rather than implying any particular status of knowledge.

    If none of these qualify – could you give a few specific examples of what you would consider as scientific “knowledge?”

    As an extra, and perhaps you won’t want to do this, could you give specific example of what “theological evidence or claim” you want to be included in science – specifically evolutionary science” This is what sparked the debate but I have yet to hear any specific example.

    Another extra – specifically what examples do you have of scientific “claims” that can’t be tested? (This probably tests the personal understanding of what is meant by a “claim”).

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  134. Matt – “should I judge science on the basis of what I person who knocks on my door understands of it”
    No of course not. And I don’t judge all Christians by what these godbotherers say either. Because I have Christian friends who think differently.

    But then problem is, Matt, when you insist that “theological evidence and claims” must be inserted into science – and yet won’t tell us what specific “claims/evidence” you refer to, what are we to think? Perhaps the worst? After all, you have demonstrated some rather strange ideas (eg. the non-progressive nature of scientific knowledge).

    Anyway, whatever is considered in science will be tested against reality (whether one wants to classify the evidence theological or otherwise). So do your worst. Submit your evidence and claims.

    Obviously there are some pretty wild theological claims around which would, these days, be laughed at. After all we have been testing those sort of theological claims for donkeys years and they have just not measured up to reality.

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  135. Glenn’s claim “theories are not knowledge. Theories may or may not be true. Knowledge is true. “

    Glenn’s point follows from any definition of knowledge which holds that knowing X means X is true, which as has been established is an uncontroversial claim. Seeing theories can be false, but knowledge by definition cannot be theories are not identical to knowledge.

    Now, I, and plenty of people talk about scientific knowledge.

    Agree, Glenn is not denying that scientific propositions can and often do constitute knowledge or even that theories can constitute knowledge he is denying that that a scientific theory and knowledge are not the same thing.

    An example might help, some people are tall but a person and tallness are not the samething. Similarly some scientific theories are knowledge but scientific theories and knowledge are not the same thing. I am aware the abstract distinctions can get lost in discussion some what

    We use the normal understanding of that (consult any dictionary).

    No, a dictionary tells us common understandings, epistemology tries to tell us a correct definition or understanding.

    I can see that Glenn wants to inject an abstract philosophical definition of knowledge. This could add precision but is creating confusion because of the normal understanding of words like “belief” and “true”.

    Fair enough, except I defined what I meant by truth in the post you criticized. I suspect from your critique you failed to distinguish between a true belief and a warranted belief. As I stated a belief can be true and not warranted, someone might by fluke hold a true belief.

    We all understand warrant and justify

    Actually no, this is the part of knowledge which is the most contentious there are various accounts of warrant being debated and no consensus. But I think its something like “being formed by a reliable method”

    But you yourself use the terms “biblical or theological truths”. So you can understand why we want more rigour in the definitions.

    I told you what I meant by a theological claim ( by claim I mean proposition) earlier. Such a claim is true if what it affirms actually is the case.

    But you could help by being specific in examples – and no – quoting Lauman’s electron example won’t do. I read his article – basically an attempt to discredit legal rulings against teaching creationism in science classes. I found him very confused about science. (actually I find anyone who attempts to impose a “materialist”, or “naturalist” worldview on science confused. These are terms which I just don’t accept – although I realise that they are often used political to defend science).

    Ok but saying you find his comments confused ( he is a leading philosopher of science so clearly is not ignorant of the issues) does not show whats wrong with his claim. It seems to me quite correct to say scientific claims are not falsifiable in isolation from any other claims.

    I have to go now will comment more latter

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  136. Matt,

    1.) Re. the history of science

    As I said, I do not have the time to read all the comments on different blogs that have accumulated. If you feel that Ken has misrepresented you here, you are free to clarify this (as you did).

    That being said, I find it a bit hard to believe that you neutrally informed about different positions regarding the history and nature of scientific progress (or lack thereof). Was it not also an attempt to negate Ken’s optimistic account of science getting ever closer to a correct picture of reality, implying that you endorse or at least give some credibility to the views you cited?

    Be that as it may, since this really is a side issue I will only give some final thoughts on this and then consider the topic closed.

    Of course I know that, while methodologically Popperian falsification is firmly adopted by science, his views on the nature and history of science are not accepted by everyone. But then again, that’s philosophy for you. I do not know any field where a unanimous consensus about more than the merest trivialities exists.

    Having said this, I believe that, contrary to your statements, the overwhelming majority of people in the philosophy of science department do not deny that science accumulates knowledge about reality and furthermore that it is progressing. Frankly, it would be insane in today’s world, which is so thoroughly dependent on and shaped by science and its results, to dispute this. And from what I have read by Kuhn and Laudan, neither of them does. What is being discussed to some extent is exactly how this progress is being made and the nature of the knowledge that is being accumulated.

    Laudan holds that science is basically a problem-solving activity, where progress is defined as a better capability of problem-solving and the resolution of inconsistencies between different theories. However, to my reading he does not deny that progress is and can be made.

    As to Kuhn, although his idea of “paradigm-shifts” is historically and sociologically interesting, to my understanding he does not state or imply that the history of science is one of failure or that it merely travels around in circles.

    Finally, I fail to see how labelling a statement of yours as “naively simplistic” could be an ad hominem, especially regarding the fact that it was preceded by a detailed argumentation as to why I attached the label. If you do not agree with this assessment, fair enough.

    2.) Re. theology & falsification

    Let me see whether I understand the development of your argumentation here:

    You started off by demanding that “theological evidence” be incorporated into the teaching of the theory of evolution. In this context, “evidence” can also mean certain theological propositions or theories, which are used to infer other propositions.

    In order to separate truth from falsehood and to avoid an infinite regress, we either start from an unjustified but warranted base (your approach) or dispense with justification and warrant altogether and go for falsification (my approach).

    You then apparently went along with my approach by stating that theological claims are principally falsifiable and gave an example.

    Now, if you consider the claim of a 6000 year old cosmos that was created in 6 literal days to be a theological claim that has been falsified, would you agree that the claim “A deity created every living thing on Earth past and present in its current form out of nothing.” is also a theological claim that has been falsified?

    If you do not agree, why not?

    Furthermore, the example you gave deals with a claim that has already been falsified, thus we would not include it into science classes anyway.

    So, what would be a theological claim relevant to the theory of evolution that is potentially falsifiable and how do you propose to try and falsify it?

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  137. Looks at all of Matt’s posts. **Backs off**

    I haven’t time to reply all of what you’ve thrown at me as you’re back at the scatter-gun thing again. A Gish Gallop of your own kind :-(

    So, I’ll summarise and pick up odd points and drop the rest. Just a heads’ up: just because I don’t comment on a point doesn’t mean I think you’re right, it’ll just as likely be because I simply haven’t time or can’t be bothered explaining my position.

    Starting at post July 31, 2009 at 3:00 pm, To summarise: you’ve side-stepped what we asked, I stand by staying that you have to try again. None of the excuses you give seem right, most are simply irrelevant and (ironically to me) evade your own proposal.

    You don’t have to falsify all of a claim. You seem to be contradicting yourself on this, too. You only have to falsify any essential part to prove a claim wrong, as I pointed out with your example.

    So again, as I said in my post simply repeating arguments I actually addressed, does not respond to what I said.

    Trying to dismiss me out of hand whilst not having addressed what I wrote doesn’t cut it.

    On the contrary [...]

    You’ve side-stepped what I said again. Part of what you say is right, but it’s all mangled up. You wanted theological evidence to be admissible to scientific theories, in particular the theory of evolution. Any “non-theological” stuff isn’t relevant, so banging on about that is just avoiding your own proposal! So, go on, try what we’re asking. If you can’t show an example that works, then we have to consider that your original proposal either is empty or doesn’t work. Over to you.

    Sure I agree some theological claims [...] Still ducking and weaving. Just get on with it and show an example that works, eh? ;-)

    Hence, if [...] you want to exclude theological claims ( as opposed to theories) because they can’t be falsified the many scientific claims must also be excluded which no scientist will exclude. Nonsense. Not worth the time to explain. But silly enough I want to say that much! :-) (Never mind me and my silly humour.)

    On the other hand if you want to limit falsification to theories I never wrote that. How you think I did I have no idea.

    but to suggest their positions are obviously silly stupid and they positions the work of ignoramous’s is simply false. Falsely attributing again. Can’t stop, can you? :-)

    Lets be clear [...] I’ve already explained. The matter is closed because of your persistent refusal to read what I wrote and continually misrepresenting me after I pointed out you were doing so (and still obviously doing it, because here you are repeating your assertions on me again, in fact adding new claims). I have no inclination to come back to this. Blame yourself. In future when someone protests you are misconstruing them, don’t reply by repeatedly imposing your view on them, they’ll just walk away as I am. Let me emphasis: this matter is closed.

    Again addressed this already on ManaM and again you simply repeat the claim I argued against. Empty dismissals of this kind as you keep doing are only showing is that you’re not prepared to consider what others say.

    I would strongly encourage you to present an example. Without this, your proposal is in inconsequential.

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  138. Matt – you have not answered my specific questions. You want to support a vague statement of Glenn that much of what I consider to be scientific knowledge is not knowledge (according to your abstract definition) and that at least some of theological knowledge is “true’ (because you define it as true?).

    There is no indication of how you determine if one of your “beliefs” is “true”. That is the issue – I have no problem with the concept of justification (specific cases would of course have to be evaluated on their merit).

    But I am left with your support that for Glenn’s claim that much, if not all, of scientific knowledge is not “knowledge.”

    So your abstract definition is of no practical use to me, or I suggest to any other honest person, unless it can be applied. (I say “honest” because I thinks such abstract definitions and mental gymnastics can easily be used, and are used, dishonestly).

    You offer no way of applying the concept and you seem not to be able to apply it yourself – at least to scientific knowledge – per the specific examples. (Although I note you have absolutely no problem declaring theological knowledge as “true.” The mechanism of determining truth doesn’t even seem to crop up).

    I guess if you were swotting up for a philosophy exam you would hope that the question in this area would ask only for definitions and would not ask for their application or for examples. I think such an exam question would not be an effective way of determining a student’s knowledge.

    The concept about knowledge of the electron depending on other knowledge, experience and technology is not a revelation. It’s really trivial (at least to a scientist) and glaringly obvious. Lauman was attempting to justify his opposition to a legal position and was using his arguments opportunistically. I really can’t see what the relevance is – either to your attempts to limit science education in state schools, or Glenn’s argument that much if not all of scientific knowledge is not knowledge.

    I await you response to my specific questions – for specific examples.

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  139. Hi Matt,

    Up to provided an example yet?

    Should we take it that you’re not willing to back your acceptance that “theological evidence” should be considered in scientific theories? Or should we take it you have the opposite view, that “theological evidence” shouldn’t be part of scientific theories?

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  140. Opps, (arrgh), ‘providing’ for ‘provided’. Sorry.

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  141. Heraclides – to be fair, Matt did back away form “theological evidence”. He replaced this with “theological claims.”

    My interpretation is that he doesn’t really think there is such a thing as “theological evidence” (to which I agree – evidence is evidence, we don’t need adjectives). But, the back down leaves him in an even more untenable position. Becuase, to the extent he has explained what he means by “theological claims” he sees them as claims for existence of gods, demons, spirits, devils, etc.

    Now, that would certainly change the nature of science to incorporate unjustified claims into scientific knowledge. Science would no longer be science.

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  142. OK, fine, but I can’t see how this helps him or how it actually moves his position.

    A claim has to be supported by evidence unless it’s an empty claim, in which case it’s moot. If none of the evidence supporting his “theological claims” are “theological” (that is to say, has a basis from the religious “beings” or mythologies), then the claim can’t be “theological” either, surely? The thing I’m getting at is that it seems to me that it will simply come back to “theological evidence” once you start testing the “theological claim”.

    Following your logic (which I agree with) he’d have to throw away the adjective entirely and just make it a plain “claim” instead of making it “special” in some way with an adjective. Now we can just worry about if he can justify it.

    I can’t see allowing “theological claim” does this. I can see that removing “theological” might.

    This would then bring us to the point that including unjustified claims wouldn’t make sense, as you say.

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  143. If I thought science had provided a complete answer to every scientific question, I might agree with your thesis. But we’re still a long way from a unified field theory, don’t have any clue to the abiogenesis puzzle, and can’t tell why time goes forward and not back.

    I believe that science asks some questions that it cannot answer. Mathematicians have proven that there are theorems that are true that cannot be proved. (See “Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid” for a more in-depth defense of this point.) If one accepts those premises, there is at least a possibility that some truth lies beyond the boundaries of science.

    One of the BIG questions that seems to lie beyond the reach of science is whether God exists. There are some philosophical tricks you can play to try to make that a non-question, like the “Logical Positivism” of the early 1900s , but that hasn’t turned out to be a particularly viable school of thought.

    If you treat the possibility of God’s existence as a legitimate question, you next have to ask “WHICH God?” Garrison Keillor jokes that even the atheists in Minnesota are Lutheran–“It’s the Lutheran God they don’t believe in.” There’s a lot of non-scientific evidence one can examine to follow up this question, with meaningful results.

    The Qur’an proclaims a God, “Allah,” who reveals His unchangeable will in Arabic and orders his subjects to establish governments to impose that will on all humans.

    The Hindu Scriptures teach a multitude of gods who cycle through their own incarnations.

    The New Testament proclaims a God who reveals Himself to humans and demands a response of faith–but refuses to coerce that faith. Romans 1 claims that everybody can discern God’s nature just by looking around them but then insists that humans can and do ignore that evidence.

    When I review just these three major alternatives in light of what I know about physics, ethics, and psychology, I find the Christian alternative to be the best fit with what I know of science. If there IS a God who has chosen to reveal Himself, I would expect humans to be able to receive that revelation. At the same time, if this God refuses to coerce faith, I wouldn’t expect the physical evidence to force any person to believe.

    In my opinion, Christianity survives the first cut of compatibility with experimental science in a way that most other major religions don’t. (I also respect how Zen Buddhism fits with physics, but I’ll save that for some other post.) The REASON I can say this is that there is non-scientific evidence as well as scientific evidence that is relevant to this extra-scientific question.

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  144. Scott – your statement “If I thought science had provided a complete answer to every scientific question, I might agree with your thesis” is rather silly isn’t? Science is not a dead discipline with claims of total knowledge about everything (I think that actually described religion, doesn’t it?).

    You are quite welcome to have any religious belief you have – go ahead. It doesn’t worry me as long as you keep your hands to yourself.

    But your claim of a fit between Christianity and science is easily made, hard to prove (and, sure, you don’t try to). But from the history of treatment of science by political and religious totalitarians I am sure most scientists just don’t want an imposition implied by your “fit.”

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  145. Scott,

    don’t have any clue to the abiogenesis puzzle

    I can’t speak for the physicists, but this much isn’t really true Scott. It would suggest you’ve only read popular works and/or ones that are either a little dated or try “sell” that not much is known.

    Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid is a popular work, not “a more in-depth defen[c]e”. I’m getting a feeling you only know up to a popular level. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s the case you should try recognise your limitation. (The old cliché “a little knowledge is…” comes to mind.)

    Even if it were true that some theorems can’t be proven (i.e. assuming this for a moment), this does not imply “at least a possibility that some truth lies beyond the boundaries of science”, it just implies that some theorems can’t be proven. You’ve take quite a logical leap there ;-)

    I’m going to ignore most of the rest, as you’re rather obviously trying to self-justify your own religion.

    Christianity survives the first cut of compatibility with experimental science in a way that most other major religions don’t. In my opinion, Christianity actually does very poorly and other religions would be a much better fit with science if you really had to insist on having a religion alongside science. Bahai would be one obvious choice. (My understanding is that their screed explicitly states that they accept science. All religion try find a “space” to “place” their G-d to give it credibility and rather unfortunately the one they chose was the ether, which a relatively short time later was shown not to exist! I’ve no idea how they’ve resolved that. [Perhaps they now use the dark matter in it's place???!] If you think that’s a problem for the Bahai, Christianity is on a worse footing on that front having tried an revised their position on this one several times.)

    there is non-scientific evidence as well as scientific evidence that is relevant to this extra-scientific question.

    Stating something by assertion doesn’t make it right ;-) You can state it as an opinion, one that you’ll have to provide support for, though.

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  146. Hmmm.

    I’m trying to make a sincere but somewhat sophisticated argument here. I doubt this is the most open-minded audience for it, but I’ve stuck my foot in this far, so I guess I’ll give it one more shot. Let me dismiss one objection and then explain why I didn’t list Baha’i in my original list of religions that (I think) pass their first cut with science.

    I don’t really need Goedel’s Theorem to claim that there may be truths beyond science. I did read Goedel, Escher, Bach to make that point, but I haven’t done the math myself, so I’ll let it pass. If you think that all truth is scientifically provable, I’d like to see your scientific proof for that claim.

    As for Baha’s: I’m not saying Baha’i doesn’t survive a first cut with science, but that can be explained by timing rather than inspiration. Baha’i emerged long after the clash between science and religion became obvious. It COULD be that God finally revealed his truth to Baha’ullah, but it’s just as possible that Baha’ullah’s human reasoning led him to avoid an unnecessary conflict between faith and reason.

    By contrast, Zen Buddhism and New Testament Christianity emerged long before the conflict between reason and revelation became apparent. Both these religions can be harmonized with modern science without a lot of effort, unlike a LOT of other religious systems. That could mean that Buddha and Christ (and/or the followers who wrote down what they allegedly said) were just plain lucky. But it could also be consistent with a real God who really reveals Himself.

    If the whole concept of real God who really reveals Himself is a self-disproving absurdity to you, we aren’t going to have much to say to each other. But if you are willing to accept that as a hypothesis worth investigating, I’d love to continue the conversation.

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  147. Scott – “But if you are willing to accept that as a hypothesis worth investigating, I’d love to continue the conversation.”

    Investigating hypotheses is what science does. But, of course, that requires evidence, and properly formulated hypotheses derived from the evidence.

    Now, I have never come across a properly formulated, structured, god hypothesis. I believe it is possible to develop one at a very speculative level (such as in the science fiction story Cosm – really about a creator not a god).

    In fact theists really shy away from doing this. As Dennett noted when he did some field work on beliefs of church-goers: even theists who are friends, members of the same congregation, sit alongside each other “worshipping” on a Sunday, usually have very different concepts of their god.

    This indicates to me that the god concept is very much a psychological/social concept – not an attempt to describe a really existing phenomenon.

    I think one can develop a very good god hypothesis as a personal/psychological/social concept. In fact this seems to be emerging form the scientific study of religion. Dennett, and Boyer are well worth reading for further information.

    I don’t think we will make progress understanding religion or god concepts by talking about bibles, revelations, or what the individual religions claim as truths.”

    Have a look at the video (Jared Diamond on the Evolution of Religion or video) of Jared Diamond’s lecture and the discussion at Human Morality IV: Role of religion.

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  148. If you think that all truth is scientifically provable, I’d like to see your scientific proof for that claim.

    Firstly, ‘truth is’ would be better replaced with ‘claims are’. (You’re pre-supposing something is right.)

    Replying to If you think that all claims are scientifically provable: no, simply because in some cases there will be insufficient data/evidence at the present time, for one thing.

    Thirdly, regards I’d like to see your scientific proof for that claim: this approach of “demanding that others defend” while not providing any support for your own claim is what we see from the ID crowd, for example where they attack science, “demand answers”, proposing that if people don’t the ID position “must” right, when it says nothing of the sort. They never provide any real support for their own position, which is what they’d need to do to advance their cause. Same for you.

    More practically, criticising “scientific proofs” is going to help advance your cause anyway as I pointed out earlier:

    Even if it were true that some theorems can’t be proven [...], this does not imply “at least a possibility that some truth lies beyond the boundaries of science”, it just implies that some theorems can’t be proven.

    I can’t see that you’ve shown why you didn’t list Baha’i. In fact, I could read it as supporting why you should have listed them. They intentionally tried to avoid a conflict with science that they saw in other religions, as I pointed out. (I see a little humour in you trying to hold your religion above all others and it does point to what is likely to be real motivation.)

    Christianity conflicted and failed in the sense that the position that Christianity had on several things had to be altered in order for Christianity to remain credible.

    Could I suggest you read an accurate history of your religion? (One written by someone without a vested interested in presented it any particular light.) In my opinion it helps to understand the history of whatever “your thing” is, whatever it is.

    If the whole concept of real G-d who really reveals Himself is a self-disproving absurdity to you

    I doubt very much that many scientists (speaking as scientists) would write that. They might write that “the concept of real G-d who really reveals Himself” lacks support, which is a fair comment, but “self-disproving” isn’t something I’d expect to see. They might say the anecdotal accounts are evidential, which is also a fair point. Can you show us some of the many examples of scientists claiming that “concept of real G-d who really reveals Himself is a self-disproving absurdity” that your statement implies must be happening?

    If your hypothesis is “that there is a real G-d who really reveals Himself”, then you might want to start by showing the that latter (that “he” has really revealed himself) has been observed in a testable way.

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  149. @Scott. I think I might have spotted your problem :-)

    I’m trying to make a sincere but somewhat sophisticated argument here.

    You are firstly setting up a straw man. Nobody has claimed that science, or more specifically the human race (as science is just the mechanisms by which we acquire knowledge about reality) can necessarily know everything. How can we know that we can know what we don’t know (damn Rumsfield).

    You are conflating Gödels incompleteness theorems, which are about the limitations of mathematical proofs, with this whole bugbear of 100% certainty of knowledge again. You don’t need, and arguably, can’t have 100% certainty about any knowledge. Perhaps you have been listening a bit too much to Matt and Glen. It is the religious crew that are claiming this 100% certainty, not the scientists. If anything, bringing up Gödel incompleteness further undermines the concept of 100% certainty espoused by Glen etal.

    I suggest you read some of Ken’s past posts on scientific methods. I have no direct experience of it myself, but from what I understand, science as actually practiced is a very pragmatic process. Scientists will use any technique at all that reliably adds to our knowledge. Including, but not limited to mathematics. Knowledge can even contradict traditional logic, consider wave/particle duality (in case Glen reads this, you could even interpret that as 1+1=1). Even within mathematics, you can work productively without proofs. Have a read up about Monte Carlo techniques sometime.

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  150. A further observation. There is a common thread here.

    It seems to me that there are a group of people that see the world in a very binary fashion. Knowledge is either 100% certain or not knowledge, something is either good or bad, actions are either moral or immoral.

    With this view, perhaps it is obvious that they fall straight into a religious mindset, as the only way to impose these binary conditions on reality is by definition. Eg. we define this and this as being true, so we are 100% certain about it. Or, these actions are defined by god as being wrong, so this defines our immorality.

    An interesting question is: What comes first, the mindset, or the religion? Do they have this mindset because of the religion that they have been taught? Or has their pre-existing mindset made them more susceptible to the religion? Where do the people that can compartmentalize their religion (such as religious scientists) fit in?

    One final point, coming from the other camp, that sees everything in terms of uncertainties, complexity and probabilities, I don’t even see how the definitional approach to certainty helps. How can you be sure that you have understood the definitions correctly? What about all the documented problems with human communication, instincts and reasoning? Even if the externally defined definition is correctly communicated and understood, what makes the definition relavent to reality?

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  151. Nick, If I were intentionally setting up a straw man, I’d KNOW it. Since I don’t, I may be the most deceived person here–but I’m not an intentional deceiver.

    Ken, you say, “Investigating hypotheses is what science does.” Maybe I’m so scientifically oriented that I impose science on every other discipline–but I routinely form hypotheses about other fields and pursue them. For example, I wonder whether Chaim Potok intended the title of “The Chosen” to refer to the Jewish people as a whole, not just to Reuben, the protagonist. Is that science, or literary criticism, or is literary criticism “science,” or have I misunderstood what a “hypothesis” is?

    Heraclides, I’m still not listing Baha’i for the same reason good police officers don’t take a confession of a crime as “proof” unless the confession includes information that only the criminal could know. Any uninspired human could choose to avoid an irreconcilable conflict between science and religion. In the same way, any disturbed person who reads about a murder in the news could call the police to confess it. I’m looking for “scripture” of some sort that tells me something that isn’t common knowledge.

    I doubt any of this will satisfy anyone here, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to discuss it. I’m pretty sure that I’m at least 99% wrong about whatever I say–your criticisms are bound to help me see a little more of where I’m overconfident or out of touch with reality.

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  152. Scott. You are being very humble with your last post there, I will try to be the same.

    I wasn’t trying to say that you intentionally set up a straw man, I was just saying that I thought that this was a straw man.

    As far as your point to Ken about hypothesis setting in what as far as I could tell is a biblical context, I don’t have any problem with that at all, as long as you don’t say that tells you anything about reality. You could almost call this a sort of “thought experiment” or parable.

    And I think your point to Heraclides about the good police officer is a great one. I wish you luck finding something in scripture that isn’t common knowledge. If you found something convincing, it’s probably one of the things that would have some of us here sitting up and reviewing our positions regarding religion. I think however, its pretty safe to say that we are not expecting any surprises here :-)

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  153. Scott,

    Your point is a fine point leave on it’s own, but it seems to be about a different issue, not what you wrote earlier to which I replied.

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  154. Nick, BioInfo, thank you for your kind responses. I’m glad I went out on that limb!

    Nick, the hypothesis that I’m pursuing is that there IS a God who DOES reveal Himself. (I’m open to “Himself” being “Itself” or “Herself,” by the way, but I don’t think gender-neutrality leads to shorter comments, so I’ll stick with the generic “He” for now.)

    If I thought that science could answer every question, I’d pursue this hypothesis through science–but I DON’T think science can prove every truth. The people who claimed science could prove every meaningful truth dominated American philosophy in the early to mid 20th century, but they’ve pretty much all gone to seed by now.

    Here’s a piece of the puzzle I’ve been working on, lately: John Wheeler, the man who coined the term “Black Hole,” argued that quantum physics could yield a universe that was “programmed” to produce intelligent life. His argument, put briefly, was that any system of interacting particles would generate a waveform of quantum possibilities until that system was “observed,” at which the point the wave of possibilities would collapse into some concrete actuality. Wheeler thought the entire universe might continue in such an entangled state until intelligence became one of the possibilities–at which point that possible intelligence would “observe” and become actual. (This is known as the “Participatory Anthropic Principle” or “PAP” hypothesis.)

    I’m VERY intrigued by Wheeler’s idea. I don’t know exactly what constitutes an “observer,” for quantum physics purposes, but I’m reasonably certain there was no biological “observer” for a few million years after the Big Bang. That leaves an awful lot of entangled particles generating an awful lot of possibilities.

    Wheeler’s hypothesis turns out entire universe into a quantum computer programmed to generate intelligence.

    If humans were the FIRST observers in a PAP universe, it would be hard to test test that hypothesis. But I can’t see the FIRST observer, for quantum physics purposes, would survive that initial moment of observation. Like the sperm whale in Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” an observer could only be around for a few moments before classical physics catches up with it. That means we might find evidence of dramatic bursts of genetic change (resulting in an observer) followed by a period of “explosive radiation” until the gene pool generates another observer.

    Our own planet has generated enough interesting evolutionary bursts (the Cambrian Explosion) and surprising genetic advances (google “Birds Came First” to see what I mean) for me to think there MIGHT have been more than one “observer” before humans showed up. If there were, we could tell it by looking hard at the genetic sequences of the various animal phyla. Quantum-driven “participatory” evolution would not follow the same pattern that chance-driven “neo-Darwinian” evolution would. Both would follow the same rules of classical physics and biology, but one would look like a quantum computer in action while the other would display a “random walk” pattern.

    So here are three take-away questions:

    (1) is my “Cambrian-Observers and Bird-Observers Came First” hypothesis a legitimate scientific hypothesis?

    (2) If so, does it stop being scientific just because I read Genesis 1 before I came up with it?

    (3) If an otherwise scientific hypothesis stops being scientific because it is biblically based, then is science really a “method” or does it also require a secular state of mind?

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  155. Scott – you haven’t actually described an hypothesis. This would be more than an idea or speculation. It would have some structure, some supporting evidence and some indication of how it could, in principle, be experientially tested (even if the technology was not available at this time).

    Plenty of scientists are practising Christians/Jews and therefore presumably have read Genesis 1 before participating in their day job.

    Give us an example of what you mean by a biblically based hypothesis. This could mean, for example, that the earth stopped revolving on a specific day or the red sea parted to enable people to walk across. Or it could mean something else. But in principle a statement of facts about the real world can be developed into a hypothesis for testing.

    I guess there a plenty of hypotheses which could be developed from reading the bible which have been shown experientially to be wrong. So, at a stretch one may have called them “scientific.” But it is certainly unscientific to continue promoting them once they have been shown wrong.

    What the hell is a “secular” state of mind? And what are the alternatives? Is this a condition of sanity vs madness, for example. A condition of looking for evidence vs acceptance of magic? I just don’t know what you mean.

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  156. (2) If so, does it stop being scientific just because I read Genesis 1 before I came up with it?

    Scott,

    That’s not the point at all. In fact, I think Ken at least would very much like you formulate testable hypotheses that follow from your religious beliefs – so they might measured against something a bit more concrete that ‘revealed knowledge’ and deduction from untested hypothesis.

    If you can articulate something testable about you version of the anthropic principle then please do (I don’t how to check it a genome is like a computer computer, and evolution by natural selection is not random, so you’ll need to be a bit more precise than you have). The ‘birds first’ hypothesis is testable (good) but is so far removed from the available evidence that there is no point in taking it seriously (that’s bad).

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  157. I’m going to need a little more room than I’ve got in these comments to spell out the procedure for testing quantum-driven evolution, but I’ll give the shorthand version here.

    Neo-Darwinian evolution proceeds in a “random-walk” pattern that produce a tree of related species with an “upward-branching” pattern. Species 1 may have two useful genes, which I will call “A” and “B.” Species 1.1 adds a new gene, “C,” resulting in “ABC.” Species 1.2 adds gene “D,” resulting in “ABD.” Unless there is a powerful agent for moving genes between species (and a virus might do that), you should NEVER see a species that combines genes C and D.

    Quantum-driven evolution, by contrast, follows the shortest physically possible track from an unobserved entangled state to an “observer.” It should race through genes A, B, C, D, E, F, G… all the way to gene Z or whatever it is that enables the organism to “observe” and thus “collapse” the waveform into one actuality. This infinitely improbably lifeform may not survive the experience–but it leaves behind it a line of progenitors.

    The intermediate steps in quantum-driven evolution (true missing links) would continue to produce offspring, but some of those would suffer true mutations–they would lose otherwise functional genes. The “downwards” evolution that followed would yield gene sequences with ANY combination of letters. “C” and “D” might easily appear together. So could anything else.

    I know I went over that quickly. I have no reason to believe I’ve really explained what I mean well enough for anybody else to understand it, but I’m pretty sure the information-theory part of this is sound. It might be wise to ask a few questions about the procedure before you pounce on what I’ve said as flawed. I’d be happy to flesh this out in more detail.

    The technology to do this kind of testing is right around the corner–the big boys are sequencing more and more species, so it’s just a matter of time before we can start building evolutionary trees on the basis of DNA sequences rather than external morphology.

    IF the gene sequences show the quantum-driven pattern rather than the blind-walk pattern, it would prove “Intelligent Design” (a universe-scale quantum computer counts as “intelligent” in my book), but it wouldn’t prove the existence of God. If the gene sequences showed a quantum-driven pattern that was completely compatible with Genesis 1, on the other hand, it would suggest (to me, at least) that there really might be a real God who really reveals Himself.

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  158. Scott,

    I don’t think you’re reading properly. My response was to point that while your statement was fine taken it’s own, i.e. without reference to anything I wote, it didn’t address what I’d wrote nor was relevant to it, so you shouldn’t have made out that you were answering what I wrote.

    Neo-Darwinian evolution proceeds in a “random-walk” pattern that produce a tree of related species with an “upward-branching” pattern. Species 1 may have two useful genes, which I will call “A” and “B.” Species 1.1 adds a new gene, “C,” resulting in “ABC.” Species 1.2 adds gene “D,” resulting in “ABD.” [...]

    Evolution actually works by modifying existing genes and there is such a thing as convergent evolution (although this usually is convergence of phenotype rather than genotype).

    Your “new” genes would be duplicates of existing genes (followed by divergence) or re-assortments of existing genes. New genes don’t appear “de novo” from nowhere.

    Quantum-driven evolution [...] Oh, right. This is so much nonsense, I think I’m just going to walk away…

    I’d be happy to flesh this out in more detail. Don’t bother. It’s crap from one end to the other. Seriously. To even consider this you’d need to be seriously in trouble. Are you a Scientologist? A Raelian? On drugs? Sorry if you’re offended, but you need to know that it’s that bizarre and wrong.

    (Generalising for simplicity and brevity, quantum mechanics applies at the sub-atomic level, not at higher levels.)

    it would prove “Intelligent Design” You’d first have to ask the ID people what they mean by intelligent design. I think you’d be waiting a lifetime ;-) (They don’t seem to be into telling people what the “ID theory” actually is.)

    That last sentence has at least two enormous logical leaps, I’ll leave them as a “homework exercise” ;-)

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  159. Heraclides, I had to go back to reread your original comment to see what you said. I’m afraid I wasn’t really making an effort to respond to you, at this point. Could you restate your original point so I can address it directly?

    As for “quantum-driven evolution” being nonsense… it’s not MY nonsense. John Wheeler was a pretty good physicist. If you believe a quantum computer can be built (which I do), then “quantum-driven evolution” is anything but nonsense. It may not really be possible, but it’s a straightforward application of the original Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics.

    You say that “quantum mechanics applies at the sub-atomic level, not at higher levels.” That’s true in our existing observer-rich environment, but it’s not obvious (and certainly not proven) that this holds true in a system with no observer. The famous “Schroedinger’s Cat” thought experiment is based on a system with a cat in it–that’s a “higher level,” in my book. I’m not saying you’re wrong here–I could have missed some research that proves this point. If so, I’d love to see it. I could eliminate the entire “Participatory Anthropic Principle” hypothesis then and there if this is settled science.

    I’m totally with you on the concept of “convergent evolution.” Birds have wings and bats have wings, but I’m pretty confident they developed them separately. Octopus eyes are VERY similar to vertebrate eyes–did they arise through an independent chain of mutations, or did vertebrates spring off the mollusc line somewhere? I think we can tell a lot more about this by looking at the DNA sequences that produce these features. If mollusc DNA has the exact same base-pair sequences as vertebrate DNA does, I’d argue that vertebrates descended from molluscs. If different DNA sequences produce similar anatomical structures, I’d argue that it reflects convergent evolution, not descent.

    What I’m hoping the next generation of DNA research will show us is how DNA sequences match between species, orders, classes, families, phyla, and kingdoms. “Random-walk” evolution should produce sequences like “ABC,” ABD,” “ABCE,” “ABDF” but no “ABCD” or “ABEF” sequences. What I’m calling Quantum-Driven Evolution (QDE, hereafter) should have just as many ABCD and ABEF as anything else, since the majority of species would “devolve” from an improbably advanced genotype rather than “evolve” from more primitive ancestors.

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  160. Just to avoid unnecessary confusion: here’s a link to an article on “cladistics” that provides the basic terminology and some of the methodology I would use to distinguish between “random walk evolution” and “QDE.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cladistics

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  161. And as long as I’m at it, here’s John Wheeler’s obituary. He may be wrong, but he was no light-weight or fruitcake:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-john-wheeler-titan-of-20thcentury-physics-who-coined-the-term-black-hole-810338.html

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  162. Scott,

    Could you restate your original point so I can address it directly?

    That ship has sort-of sailed.

    it’s not MY nonsense

    So? You give it air time and clearly think it’s worth considering.

    John Wheeler was a pretty good physicist.

    So? Aside from the appeal to authority fallacy, there is a long list of pretty good people who have done stunningly stupid things, especially in their latter years. Your mentioning his name is neither here nor there.

    You should be aware that “quantum evolution” (more accurately, the “modern” “quantum evolution” model; there is an older one) has major flaws, to be very polite. In any event it’s a solution search of a problem (and evidence!).

    (If you understood molecular biology at the level of how molecules work—as I do—you’d know how “out there” it is. I’m just giving you a head’s up that it’s—ahem—not something you’d want to give much time unless you’re into trying to “invent” unnecessary, overly complex “solutions” for problems that don’t exist and for which there is no evidence. I’d suggest you take the hint.)

    The famous “Schroedinger’s Cat” thought experiment is based on a system with a cat in it–that’s a “higher level,” in my book.

    That is an imaginary thought experiment to illustrate the principle, it’s not an actual example that could happen. If you like, it’s metaphorical. I have to be honest and say that see how a sensible person would read this as a literal example that could actually happen.

    I could have missed some research Stop be a poseur ;-)

    What I’m hoping the next generation of DNA research will show us is how DNA sequences match between species, orders, classes, families, phyla, and kingdoms.

    That’s been shown for years. Methinks you’re not only reading only popular science, but out-date-popular science. To be far, work over the last few years has accelerated this. (PZ Myers has one recent article up about one aspect of this, FWIW. Alison at bioBlog has pointed it out too.)

    “Random-walk” evolution should produce sequences like “ABC,” ABD,” “ABCE,” “ABDF” but no “ABCD” or “ABEF” sequences.

    No, only if you restrict yourself to your wildly simplistic model of evolution that don’t reflect how evolution happens. (Anyway, we know lateral transfer occurs, it’s been documented, so there is no need to evoke some strained idea that evokes quantum mechanics when I much simpler and known mechanism already exists.)

    What I’m calling Quantum-Driven Evolution (QDE, hereafter) should have just as many ABCD and ABEF as anything else, since the majority of species would “devolve” from an improbably advanced genotype rather than “evolve” from more primitive ancestors.

    See above. In any event—as a practical matter—all you’ve done is to circle around to assert what you started with. You don’t appear to really have taken notice of what I wrote. This notion is very marginal, to be polite, and any one looking at it honestly (in the academic sense) would say so.

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  163. People these days tend to forget (or it is purposely kept from them) that Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment was presented as a criticism (ridicule if you like) of a particular interpretation of QM. There was never any suggestion of reality there (for a cat anyway).

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  164. Heraclides, you said “quantum-driven evolution” was nonsense. I told you it was invented by the guy who came up with “black hole.” You say that’s an “appeal to authority.” Just to be clear–I don’t claim that John Wheeler’s impressive credentials PROVE that QDE is true. I just think that John Wheeler’s impressive credentials suggest that it is not nonsense.

    Ken, I’m not saying Schroedinger’s cat is real, or would really work. I’m just saying that I don’t know any research that proves that quantum mechanics is limited to the micro-level IN THE ABSENCE OF AN OBSERVER. If there is such evidence, it would make a VERY big difference to me–it would enable me to eliminate one of the three major interpretations of quantum physics that don’t otherwise be susceptible to experimental tests.

    Heraclides, you clearly know MUCH more about biochemistry than I do. I’d LOVE to have your help in applying real science to real questions. You’ve got things at your fingertips that would make my slow, fumbling, awkward attempts so much easier.

    But I’ve got to ask–you start your last response by saying, “That ship has sailed” and end it by saying, “You don’t appear to really have taken notice of what I wrote.” Now I’m REALLY curious. What’s the point that I’m missing?

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  165. I just think that John Wheeler’s impressive credentials suggest that it is not nonsense.

    Very poor thinking.

    Newton was into alchemy.
    Newton had impressive credentials.
    Alchemy remains nonsense.

    Appeal to authority.

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  166. Interesting argument, Cedric. By that logic, I’d dismiss Newton’s theory of gravity because he was into alchemy. You can CALL my reliance on Wheeler an “appeal to authority” if you want to, but I’d rather point to Wheeler’s reasoning than rely on my own. If I trotted this out as my own theory, you’d fall into the trap of attacking

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  167. Sorry–sudden word processing spasm!

    If I offered the “participatory anthropic principle” as my OWN thinking, I’d be guilty of plagiarism and you’d be tempted to attack me for my own lack of professional credentials–which, I think, is an “appeal to non-authority.”

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  168. If I offered the “participatory anthropic principle” as my OWN thinking, I’d be guilty of plagiarism and you’d be tempted to attack me for my own lack of professional credentials…

    Your credentials (or lack of them) are not the point.
    Neither is John Wheelers.

    It’s possible to have wonderful credentials and…be wrong.
    Completely and utterly and embarassingly wrong.
    An Argument from Authority carries no weight.

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  169. Scott,

    You really are a long way out on a short branch with all this quantum mysticism (just for instance, people have been making DNA trees for about 20 years…) but just think about this statement


    I’m just saying that I don’t know any research that proves that quantum mechanics is limited to the micro-level IN THE ABSENCE OF AN OBSERVER.

    Isn’t this the best example of an untestable idea you’ve ever heard? No matter what the outcome of a quantum experiment a “Collapse requires Conciousness” believer just says, “well it all collapsed when the scientists learnt the result”.

    In the mean time we have no reason to believe that quantum superpositions last more than about 1×10-13 seconds, or on big enough to be scales to incorporate whole organisms.

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  170. Scott,

    I think Cedric has pointed nicely to where you did appeal to authority; I think my point stands ;-)

    I have tried politely as I can to point out to you that this notion is, let’s say, a little unusual, but rather than take the hint you seem to prefer to dismiss me. Suit yourself, but I think you’re the one losing out here.

    you clearly know MUCH more about biochemistry than I do I’ve already given you my (very) condensed version of this and you’ve dismissed me on other points I’m unlikely go beyond saying it’s bunk ;-) You’d do well to take the hints. Isn’t it a bit unwise to be trying to make rather large claims about things you don’t know much about?

    What’s the point that I’m missing?

    Sorry, I don’t reply to trolling that much… ;-)

    You kept avoiding what I wrote, so I decided to let it go. Perhaps the lesson to be learnt for next time is to read more closely and try not avoid what the other person is saying?

    david,

    people have been making DNA trees for about 20 years

    Quite a bit longer actually! :-) They’ve been made since the (late) 1960s. See Walter Fitch’s early work, for example. Or from the 1970s, see New Zealand’s own David Penny and Allan Wilson. (To be fair, the early trees were often of protein or RNA sequences, which were easier to obtain—relatively speaking—back then.)

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  171. Scott commented: Neo-Darwinian evolution proceeds in a “random-walk” pattern that produce a tree of related species with an “upward-branching” pattern. Species 1 may have two useful genes, which I will call “A” and “B.” Species 1.1 adds a new gene, “C,” resulting in “ABC.” Species 1.2 adds gene “D,” resulting in “ABD.” Unless there is a powerful agent for moving genes between species (and a virus might do that), you should NEVER see a species that combines genes C and D.

    In fact, horizontal gene transmission sees genes shunted around between species all the time – usually via bacterial agency. In other words, there is an agent for this.

    and Octopus eyes are VERY similar to vertebrate eyes–did they arise through an independent chain of mutations, or did vertebrates spring off the mollusc line somewhere? I think we can tell a lot more about this by looking at the DNA sequences that produce these features. If mollusc DNA has the exact same base-pair sequences as vertebrate DNA does, I’d argue that vertebrates descended from molluscs. If different DNA sequences produce similar anatomical structures, I’d argue that it reflects convergent evolution, not descent.

    This is actually an incredibly reductionist approach – there is far more to understanding the phenotype than simply looking at a comparison of base sequences in the DNA. Similiar DNA sequences could (& in reality do) produce quite different phenotypes, depending on how those sequences were epigenetically modified. And with regard to ‘the’ eye – there is one basic organising sequence, found in all sighted organisms as far as I know (having heard a presentation on this from one of the leaders in this field), that controls the expression of eyes. Insert the human version in a fruit fly & you’ll still get (fruitfly) eyes, so the DNA sequence there is highly conserved. Which would suggest that the possibility of sight is a) extremely old & b) found in most phyla. And is not to say that vertebrates ‘descended’ from molluscs :-)

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  172. Hi Alison,

    Similiar DNA sequences could (& in reality do) produce quite different phenotypes, depending on how those sequences were epigenetically modified.

    One of the key themes emerging from “evo-devo” (evolutionary developmental biology) is that much differences often involve altering the regulation of genes, rather than altering the genes themselves. One analogy is using the same components different ways. Epigenetics can be thought of as a different form of gene regulation.

    The reverse also applies, as in your example of conserved gene regulatory elements in eyes.

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  173. David W., it seems to me that all the work on quantum teleportation requires entangled states to last a good deal longer than you suggest, and across extended distances. Given the amount of grant money being poured into quantum computing and quantum teleportation, SOMEBODY must think quantum states can exist beyond the micro-level.

    You can use the word “mysticism,” if you like, but I’m proposing an evidence-based way to determine whether this might have actually occurred. I call that “science.”

    Allison, I don’t trust phenotypes as far as I can throw them. The only evidence I’m willing to rely on, when it comes to relationships between species, is actual DNA sequences. I believe in those. Phenotypes are subjective. Genotypes aren’t.

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  174. The point I was trying to make, Scott, is that there is more to an organism than the simple sequence of bases in their DNA. Just because two organisms have identical sequences of coding DNA does not mean that those sequences will be expressed in the same way. To think otherwise is to apply a highly reductionist approach that simply doesn’t stack up in the ‘real’ world of gene expression.

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  175. Point taken, Allison.

    If I had a complete DNA readout for two organisms, I wouldn’t care what they look like. It seems like one could make some objective deductions about how those two organisms were (or were not) related to one another, without caring about what they looked like.

    The hypothesis I’m pursuing, for example, suggests that vertebrates are more closely related to molluscs than any other phylum. I’d be looking for shared DNA sequences that appear in at least one mollusc grouping which also appears in all vertebrate orders. Descent from a common ancestor should transmit large blocks of similar DNA, while viral or bacterial transmission of genetic material should show smaller areas of overlap.

    I’m NOT expecting to see any major morphological similarities between molluscs and vertebrates (although the eyes do intrigue me). Just DNA sequences. And lots of them.

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  176. Scott,

    The practical reality is that genomes are complex and a simplistic comparison of complete genomes like you suggest isn’t possible.

    Just as one small example: you write as if genomes of any species could be compared by simply laying whole thing down and comparing from left to right. That isn’t possible. Different species have different numbers of genes, in different orders and on different strands, with different typical intron sizes (for eukaryotes), with different GC biases, on different numbers of chromosomes, etc., etc. (And that’s without considering how you determine where the genes actually are in the DNA sequences before you do this. Or locate the non-coding genes, the small expressed RNAs of different kinds, etc. (Toss in IS’s, ERVs, etc.) Or consider that detection/prediction of gene regulatory sites is subject to a high false positive rates. And so on…)

    Statements like “I’d be looking for shared DNA sequences that appear in at least one mollusc grouping which also appears in all vertebrate orders.” or “Descent from a common ancestor should transmit large blocks of similar DNA, while viral or bacterial transmission of genetic material should show smaller areas of overlap.” show you’re still babbling on about something you don’t understand making statements that don’t gel with reality and suggests that wouldn’t work.

    (To the former, you’d fine conserved genes anyway as most central metabolic genes will be conserved in almost all species. To the latter, relatively little stays completely conserved: long blocks of absolutely conserved sequences over long evolutionary distances (aka time) are rare. To the previous paragraph, you wouldn’t know which conserved bits “mattered” nor which changes had functional effects without functional studies. (There are methods to try deduce this, but they are far from perfect.) On top of that, the DNA sequences won’t show you epigenetic effects, as Alison (one ‘l’) was pointing out.)

    I’m not giving anything beyond tiny pointers here as it’d take a small textbook to show the fullness of the mistakes you’re making… which, of course means that the practical thing for you to do is get decent textbooks yourself, learn then come back once you’re done.

    Why don’t you go to a bookstore and buy some recent textbooks on genetics & genomics? Then follow it up with several textbooks on bioinformatics.

    I sincerely hope the nonsense you present here doesn’t reflect the standards you set for homeschooling (w.r.t. to your blog/business or whatever it is).

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  177. Thanks, Heraclides. I’d love some suggestions for textbooks.

    My own background is ten years of programming followed by law school and fourteen years of public interest law in a conservative civil liberties non-profit organization. I went off to college to be a research biochemist, but took a course on formal logic that lured me into a philosophy degree. I got to take one course team-taught by Steven Jay Gould, a fascinating instructor, who both challenged and confirmed my own thinking along these lines. I graduated from two Ivy Leagues schools (for what that’s worth) and only get to dabble in science in my spare time.

    It is my software background, however, that I rely on for any discussion of genetics. I KNOW what software looks like, and I KNOW how to tell if one program has been copied from another. I’m reasonably confident that the information theory people can make some very accurate deductions from complete DNA sequences of arguably-related organisms.

    The hypothesis that I’m pursuing suggests that the DNA will contain some serious surprises for those who approach it expecting a simple neo-Darwinian pattern.

    To remind the reading public why we’re here, I argue that there are at least three “interpretations” of quantum physics, all of which are equally valid understandings of the overall theory, and none of which can be directly tested by experimental means. John Wheeler’s interpretation was that the waveform of quantum possibilities expanded until complex organisms became one of the possibilities, which collapsed the waveform into the actual history we can detect in the fossil record (and via really big telescopes).

    If Wheeler’s “participatory anthropic principle” (“PAP”) went in a straight line from the Big Bang to a primitive human “observer,” there would be no way to detect it. But there’s no reason to believe humans are the first (or only) observers. An “incremental participatory anthropic principle” (“IPAP”) is a ludicrous proposal–but it is falsifiable. And THAT is what makes it science, not “mysticism.”

    A quick review of the fossil record suggests two eras where earlier observers might have arisen. Something mysterious happened at the Cambrian explosion. I’m guessing some cephalopod achieved enough brainpower to collapse the waveform 530 million years ago. There’s also something very strange about birds. I’m guessing another observer arose about 250 million years ago, near the Permian Extinction.

    If IPAP were correct, one should see the kind of pattern Galapagos finches exhibit (adaptive radiation from a more-complex ancestor) “downwards” from cephalopods and birds, but NOT see the same pattern in other groups. (In my model, mammals should be descended from cephalopods, through birds (and dinosaurs), to us.)

    So–somebody please point me to evidence that will prove this wrong. My theory predicts that the people who try to construct pedigrees from DNA sequences will get very frustrated with vertebrates in general, and mammals in particular. (I also suspect some serious surprises in botany, but I can’t articulate a testable hypothesis in that field.) I would predict that people who study animal phyla other than molluss and vertebrates would find it fairly simple to trace genetic lines of descent, recognizing that there are variables (like viruses and bacteria) that make interspecies DNA transfer possible.

    So–if somebody can dig up some research that shows that starfish and corals are just as hard to put into a genetic tree as mammals are, please let me know. That will disprove my hypothesis and allow me to play around with others.

    (Cold dark matter is a fun topic… if you got matter down to ABSOLUTE zero, where would it be? Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle suggests it would be EVERYWHERE. So, would that explain the missing mass in our universe?)

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  178. Is this the standard you set for your home schooling?

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  179. It is my software background, however, that I rely on for any discussion of genetics.

    Aha, I think I see the problem.

    When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. :)

    Something mysterious happened at the Cambrian explosion.

    Not really.

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  180. I’ve already told you several times Wheeler’s notion is a joke, so why ask for my “help” only to then trot out more rubbish? Obviously you’re not really listening to anyone…

    My theory predicts that the people who try to construct pedigrees from DNA sequences will get very frustrated with vertebrates in general, and mammals in particular.

    Well this “prediction” of your “theory” (it’s not a theory, at very best is a badly formed hypothesis) is wrong. Vertebrates and mammalians are among the easiest organisms to construct phylogenies for. You offered something that would falsify your hypothesis and, well, it’s false. You should take it that your hypothesis has been shown to be false. Perhaps you can now stop throwing this at us, please.

    BTW, you get to do the work ;-) It’s not for anyone to “disprove” you, it’s for you to show that your meaningless babble is more than meaningless babble.

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  181. I had expected a little more from “open parachute” than “John Wheeler’s hypothesis is a joke,” but I’ll leave it up to Ken to decide what constitutes open-mindedness.

    But it’s good to get new information anyway. Thank you for the input on the vertebrates and mammal phylogenies. Do you have any URLs you could point me to so I can go look up the current research?

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  182. Well, there is such as thing as being so open minded that you brains fall out.

    That you can say things like “vertebrates descend from molluscs” is evidence that you don’t really get evolution (I’d encourage you to read something like Dawkin’s Ancestors Tale which is uses phylogeny to tell the story of life on earth) and the PAP includes the unwarranted (and untestable) assumption that consciousness is fundamentally different than everything else in the universe. So yeah, it kind of is a joke.

    If you want to see a very long list of papers on mammalian phylogeny I’d suggest the Tree of Life project:

    http://www.tolweb.org/Mammalia

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  183. I had expected a little more from “open parachute” than “John Wheeler’s hypothesis is a joke,” but I’ll leave it up to Ken to decide what constitutes open-mindedness.

    Well, several people here have tried to put it to you very gently, but you don’t seem to take notice, so I figured you needed it more bluntly.

    Do you have any URLs you could point me to so I can go look up the current research?

    Oh, come on. Here you go again. Dismiss me, then ask me to help. Do you really expect someone to help you after treating them dismissively?

    Giving you an URL is pointless as you are stringing things together in weird ways and it’s clear to me that you’d only do the same again.

    I tried to say before what you need: decent textbooks. Why not go to your nearest decent university, visit the university bookshop and ask what the first year course textbooks are?

    It’s pointless me giving recommendations as there are too many and you may not have access to them, but any of the major genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology texts should cover more-or-less the same material. Looking the reviews on Amazon might help. Ones I “just happen” to know because they are very widely used (good, but not necessarily the best) are Griffiths et al “Introduction to Genetic Analysis”, Alberts et al “Molecular Biology of the Cell”, Watson et al “Molecular Biology of the Gene”. You’ll want to understand this before you try look into genome analysis / bioinformatics.

    Finally, you didn’t answer my question: is this the standard for your home-schooling?

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  184. Scott – the problem with a lot of what is said about QM is that it is based on sometimes inappropriate presentations by the scientists themselves, and also on confusing interpretations by the media. The confusion is also exploited by charlatans who want to support their own agendas.

    Victor Stengers book “Quantum Gods” puts a lot of this “quantum flapdoodle” to rest. I reviewed his book at Quantum Gods.

    I am currently reading “Biocentrism” – which pushes the whole concept of consciousness creating reality. My review of that should be posted within the next few weeks. From 2/3 of the way through the book I pick my review will be critical.

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  185. A quick review of the fossil record suggests two eras where earlier observers might have arisen. Something mysterious happened at the Cambrian explosion. I’m guessing some cephalopod achieved enough brainpower to collapse the waveform 530 million years ago. There’s also something very strange about birds. I’m guessing another observer arose about 250 million years ago, near the Permian Extinction.

    What???? The Cambrian ‘explosion’ is not particularly mysterious (& as far as I know there were no Cambrian cephalopods…). Nor was it an explosion in the usual sense – there was a relatively rapid increase in biological diversity that took place over at least 10 million years – & in fact many recent commentators don’t regard the term ‘explosion’ as particularly useful (Gould wasn’t necessarily correct every time :-)). It doesn’t show a sudden appearance of new forms – both the fossil & genetic data indicate a much earlier origin for complex arthropods or their predecessors.

    As for birds – there is nothing ‘very strange’ about birds. They are effectively small feathered theropod dinosaurs & their lineage is now well-understood. Neither the presence of feathers nor many of their skeletal features are unique to birds; they are not some evolutionary novelty.

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  186. Heraclides, thanks for the (grudging) recommendations. As for the standards for our homeschooling, you can see what we cover in the humanities here:

    http://tinyurl.com/TOGW-006

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  187. You didn’t actually answer my question. (Besides what you do in humanities has little to do with science…)

    PS: I didn’t offer the suggestions “gudgingly”, trying to “colour” what other’s write isn’t constructive.

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  188. Heraclides, the standard for my family’s homeschooling is “the best we can do with all the help we can get.” Our kids are worth it. So far, the colleges my children have attended seem to like the product–my three sons got 12 years of full scholarships between them.

    I’d like to make sure I understand one point before I drop this thread and go start reading textbooks…

    I’m pursuing a hypothesis that suggests that a bird-like creature had enough intelligence to act as an “observer” approximately 200 million years ago. For purposes of my hypothesis, let’s say it’s a Permian Cockatoo. According to this model, this bird evolved through a purely physical chain of events, with a pedigree of ancestral forms that (presumably) went from fish to amphibian to something more or less reptilian to avian–but it went through that sequence fairly quickly. After the “observer event,” neo-Darwinian “random-walk” evolution took over, resulting in all the tetrapods we see today.

    You’re telling me that it is NOT POSSIBLE to determine whether that happened. You say that it isn’t possible to look at the fossil record or DNA sequences to tell the difference between that scenario and the standard model, which holds that birds arose much later through a “random walk” process.

    I’m not going to argue with you… but I’ve got to say you’ve shaken my confidence in our ability to get reliable results about past events from the physical evidence. I STARTED pursuing this hypothesis because I thought science could tell the difference between random-walk evolution and the startlingly improbable appearance of full-blown bird 200 million years ago.

    Maybe we’ll have better technology twenty years from now. After all, Einstein didn’t think anybody could ever prove “spooky action at a distance” in his day, and now we’re playing with quantum teleportation. I’ll check back in a few years.

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  189. Your own standards of “scholarship” are so poor as to be frightening to think that you’d presume to teach others.

    I’d like to make sure I understand one point before I drop this thread and go start reading textbooks…

    No, go and read the textbooks first. You’re approaching everything backwards, starting with ignorance, grabbing vague notions and trying to put them together just makes for more nonsense.

    You’re telling me that it is NOT POSSIBLE to determine whether that happened.

    I never said anything of the sort.

    I’ve got to say you’ve shaken my confidence in our ability to get reliable results about past events from the physical evidence.

    I never referred to this either. Clearly you are trying create your own desired-for argument by grabbing “keywords”, adding stuff you want to be there (“observer events”, QM, etc.) and mixing the lot up, not by understanding first. Please read the textbooks first.

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  190. Pingback: Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » Wanting to believe

  191. I’m not going to argue with you… but I’ve got to say you’ve shaken my confidence in our ability to get reliable results about past events from the physical evidence. I STARTED pursuing this hypothesis because I thought science could tell the difference between random-walk evolution and the startlingly improbable appearance of full-blown bird 200 million years ago.

    Again, what???? Looking at the fossil record, we don’t see anything like the ‘appearance of a full-blown bird 200 million years ago’! What we do see is a range of variation: feathered dinosaurs; feathered dinosaurs that had a number of features that today we find only in birds (the maniraptors); a range of more-or-less bird-like animals; and, eventually, birds. Nothing sudden or improbable going on. And, unfortunately for your hypothesis, there were no bird-like creatures in the Permian.

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  192. Heraclides, I’m missing something, here. You’ve formed a strong impression of my “standards of scholarship,” but I don’t know what you base it on. I’m a self-confessed layman who is looking for answers to questions about science–among other things.

    For what it’s worth, I have a long LIST of questions I’m dying to ask somebody who actually knows about them. Here’s a short sample:

    (1) If matter were truly at absolute zero, would it be simultaneously present everywhere in the universe? If it were SLIGHTLY above 0K, could it be “slightly localized” at the galactic or supercluster level, making up the “missing mass” of our universe? If it were, is there a way to test for this?

    (2) Do human relationships have the same formal properties as the connections between nodes in a neural network? If so, do societies display the same kind of adaptive behaviors that artificial and/or biological neural nets do? If they do, does that “intelligence” is an emergent property of human societies?

    (3) Can “words” be represented as locations in a hyperdimensional phase space defined by every neuron in the human race? If so, does that provide an objective basis for evaluating why poetic imagery appeals to human beings?

    (4) Do parents and religious believers respond in parallel ways to government regulations that threaten their children/beliefs? If so, should parental rights and religious freedom clauses be treated in parallel ways?

    (5) Does “beauty” always connote a desire to copy and/or repeat the experience of beauty? If so, would “absolute beauty” mean “a delight in the unending repetition of the same experience of beauty”?

    (6) Do elevated estrogen levels in early pregnancy increase the risk of breast cancer? If so, does induced abortion leave women at risk?

    (7) Does the title of Chaim Potok’s novel, “The Chosen,” refer to the protagonist, Danny, or to the Jewish people as a whole?

    That’s the first seven. I’ve got twenty or thirty more if you want them. Believe me, I would LOVE to pursue degrees in literary criticism, medicine, artificial intelligence, evolutionary theory, and more, but I’m still trying to pay the bills. The best I can do is hang out at blogs like “Open Parachute” and ask stupid questions of better-trained people.

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  193. This just in:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9402-bats-and-horses-get-strangely-chummy.html

    This is the kind of DNA research I was hoping one could use to determine relationships between groups of organisms.

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  194. (6) Do elevated estrogen levels in early pregnancy increase the risk of breast cancer? If so, does induced abortion leave women at risk?
    No more & no less than spontaneous miscarriages

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  195. Alison–not to open up a whole NEW controversial subject, but most spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) are due to insufficient estrogen levels to maintain the pregnancy. According to a lot of “old wives tales,” if you feel REALLY morning sick, you’ve got a healthy baby. It’s the women who hardly feel sick at all that make the obstetricians nervous.

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  196. I can’t say that my obstetrician was ‘nervous’ about the fact that I had no morning sickness with either of our kids. Whereas I’ve known women with morning sickness so severe that they’ve been hospitalised due to concerns about their health & that of their baby. While some ‘old wives tales’ may contain a grain of truth, others don’t, & they don’t constitute scientific evidence.

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  197. This isn’t the place to rely on old wives tales, I know. My point was merely that insufficient estrogen is a major factor in miscarriages.

    Here’s a slightly more credible source:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/03/980314120120.htm

    As for estrogen’s role in breast cancer, here’s a random fact sheet:

    http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/FactSheet/General/fs9.estrogen.cfm

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  198. Paola Berthelots

    A propos, a propos d’immortel, ll parait que le célèbre libraire Monsieur Collard, qui tient la librairie Griffe Noire, se présente pour devenir académicien !!!. Je trouve que ça donnerait un 2nd élan à l’institution, foi de Saint Maurien. Qu’en penser ?

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