Theistic mental gymnastics

I have recently been debating some anti-science theists who want to see some changes made. They would like to make science more “theistically friendly.”

First, they were insisting we should include “theological evidence”! However, they couldn’t actually think of any examples of such evidence so the fall back demand was for incorporation of “theological claims and propositions”. So they are demanding science incorporate theological claims and propositions for which there is no evidence? Talk about demanding a free ride.

I am reminded of a comment by Rinny Westra, a former Presbyterian pastor in New Zealand, in his book The Disappearance of God:

“After years of struggling with theological questions and frequently enjoying myself doing so, I have to conclude that theology is not a proper academic discipline but a self-serving and self-authenticating project with little or no scientific integrity.”

Such incorporation would certainly create a mess. Imagine what they could then “discover” and “prove” using their “theistic science”.

You can’t? Well have a look at this video which uses “theological claims and propositions” to conclude that US President Obama is the devil – and his election was prophesied by Jesus!

See also:

Did Jesus actually reveal name of the ‘antichrist’?
Viral video makes Hebrew word connection to latest White House occupant
From the people who brought you the Birthers: Obama is probably the Anti-Christ

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92 responses to “Theistic mental gymnastics

  1. video: not christianity at its best to say the least (how conveneint for the puspose of dismissing the whole!)

    westra: I’ve met him. Nice guy. I think he’s totally wrong about theology not being an academic exercise. Of course theology isn’t empirical, but who ever said it was?

    Matt being “anti-science”: This is getting very, very old, Ken. Quite apart from your disagreements with each other, for you to repeatedly label people in ways which they would consistently and ardently deny is not only rude, but even dishonest. Even if his views on science are wrong, they cannot be honestly summarised with such an overtly pejorative label.

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  2. You are being over-sensitive, Dale. I am not dismissing the whole of Christianity. Far from it. Just the stupid theological logic which enables such conclusions to be drawn.

    And, yes, I believe that Matt is anti-science. That is shown clearly by his characterisations of science. It’s also shown by how he wants to change science – along the lines of the Wedge Strategy.

    Sure, a pejorative label doesn’t describe the details. How can it.

    It doesn’t matter if Matt denies being anti-science (I’m not sure he would bother). I am describing his attitude based on numerous cases where he has distorted, misrepresented, and expressed his desire to change, science.

    And, surely when people advance the sort of stupid arguments, and false characterisations of science, that Matt does, I have the right, if not obligation, to show them where they are wrong, and to characterise them as such. Otherwise I would just be dishonest, and handing over authority to opponents of science by default.

    You should acknowledge that I have often communicated the fact that I have worked with scientists who are Christians. That there is no problem with these people. They certainly think very differently to Matt. And, I would expect, they would also see Matt as being anti-science.

    Perhaps, Dale, you should recognise that you are “shooting the messenger” and that perhaps, to be honest, you should be directing you criticism at those perpetrating this silliness.

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  3. I honestly don’t have time for much more comment, but suffice to say that I just think that “anti-science” label is far too simplistic.

    I’ve not followed your interactions with him in detail (only so many hours in the day). And as you’re often so opposed to the use of labels (materialist, naturalist, scientism, etc.), I’d think you’d extend that courtesy to others?

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  4. Any one or two word label is simplistic. But I do think it characterises (very broadly) Matt’s attitude. If you disagree then I think you will need to get into details to argue in his defence. (After all, I have provided a lot of detailed argument in comments and blog posts to justify my position).

    Yes, Matt is one who persistently and maliciously, uses these labels. It is a technique for covering up his faulty knowledge on the subject. Perhaps if he didn’t take that approach I would treat him more kindly.

    Anyway. it’s up to you. If you think he is right then continue to defend him. On the other hand, if you see faults in his analysis and approach (as most scientists do) then your debate is surely with him.

    In fact, I would welcome sensible Christians taking on people like Matt – it is really not an argument for science – its an argument within Christianity.

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  5. My sense is that the distinction between science as science and philosophy as philosophy gets blurred in many a conversation.

    I think Matt’s arguments are largely philosophical in nature; that is, they are philosophical reflection upon science, rather than ‘scientific’ arguments. In contrast, I often feel that you think you’re being purely scientific, when in fact you’re quite often making philosophical assertions/assumptions above/beyond science.

    The main point I’d like to ask Matt about would be to clarify what he means by wanting to “change science” to be more “theistically friendly”. I suspect he doesn’t mean what you think he means.

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  6. OK – I sense that you agree with Matt. Or maybe it’s a them and us situation.

    If the latter – you should appreciate that it’s no skin off my nose. Matt is making Christianity look silly – not me. That should concern you – not me. You could start by challenging him on his demand that science should admit “theological evidence, claims and propositions”. Ask him what he means by that and how he believes he can do it. Challenge him to explain why even the advocates of the wedge strategy who actually do some science (people like Behe and Axe) are doing it in the standard “naturalistic”, “materialistic” way.

    If the former (I suspect this is the case) – then you are welcome to join the discussion. But perhaps you should follow through the comments already presented as you have come to the wrong conclusion above.

    But, please, none of this “shooting the messenger.” the honest position is to present your own arguments and defend them.

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  7. All conversations are perhaps most helpfully seen as BOTH “us/them” AND also in terms of “us” – an open discussion.

    As I already said, I’d like to see what Matt means when he talks about wanting to ‘change science’.

    But my intial and main reaction (however valid or not) was to your constant use of the label ‘anti-science’. I don’t think it’s helpful for mutual understanding (why not just interact with what people have actually said?), and I’m doubtful whether it even begins to accurately describe Matt’s actual views (pending clarification).

    Happy to leave it there for now.

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  8. By “them and us” I meant “them vs us” with you clearly lining up on one side. There are very clear sides in this discussion.

    “why not just interact with what people have actually said?” – Isn’t that what I have been doing – at great length, in great detail and (possibly wasting) great time.

    These discussions have taken place over 3 blogs, 5 or so articles, and a week or so. they have involved quite a few people. I have used the summary term “anti-science” in this very brief post. I have demonstrated the anti-science position of Matt, Glenn and Stuart in detail during the discussion.

    There’s no shortage of material for you to identify positions of the participants. To describe my position as simply labelling Matt “anti-science” and “getting very, very old” is silly. It demonstrates your feelings about the positions, perhaps. (I don’t know – have you sent simuilar comments to Matt and Glenn about the language they have used to describe me?? Terms like “unteachable” “arrogant” “threatened” accused of “insulting rants” “caricatures, etc., etc. And of course in the past members of this group have called me a fool, a moron and claimed me to be ignorant of philosophy, science, philosophy of science and history of science).

    This group suffers from dogmatism and emotional, derogatory debating styles. Usually this passes over me or I treat it with humour (I think of them as “the angry young men from Thinking Matters”).

    So, excuse me if I think you are showing your prejudice when you get upset with my description of these people as “anti-science.” I am being far too tame, surely?

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  9. All discussions have (at least) two ‘sides’. So the ‘us/them’ description shouldn’t (automatically) carry any negative connotations.

    My main frustration is that issues are not discussed properly. Philosophical issues get discussed in scientific terms, and science terms are used in conversations with all kinds of philosophical assumptions. We all are, no doubt, to blame for the lack of fruitful discussion.

    I’m interested in discussion that is patient enough to take the time to dredge through the detail. And length of comment-threads is no way at all to measure the amount of detail actually discussed. People can talk past each other for weeks and not actually stay in one place or acoomplish much.

    It takes time to actually make progress in these sorts of discussions (to define terms, to work backward in the flow of argument to see where the conflict begins, etc.). My sense is that theists and atheists (or at least those ’round here) need to put ‘science’ to one side for a bit and actually talk about truth/knowledge for a bit and how we can ‘know’ anything at all. Yes, this is epistemology. But I’m tired of seeing theists accuse atheists and vice versa of being foolish, arrogant, etc. when all these background/under-lying issues get side-lined/ignored.

    It also takes humility to make progress. So allow me to take the opportunity to admit my involvement in less-than-fruitful interaction. Here’s to anyone who is interested in admitting we’ve not done it well in the past and commiting to in the future salting these conversations with a little patience and humility. I know I need to.

    Cheers,

    -d-

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  10. My perception is that the emotional and abusive language is coming (mostly) from one side here – in the specific discussion referred to. I see it partly as the arrogance of the recently graduated, or of a little knowledge. But it’s probably also coming from very strong views. There is a lot of emotional investment in the particular characterisation of science these people promote. And, if one can post the sort of article they did on the 2nd law of thermodynamics you can see how desperate they would have to get to defend such mistakes.

    The discussion arose because of their attacks on science. They may have attempted to use “philosophical” argument – but it was exactly an attack on how science is, or should be done.

    Epistemology cannot be divorced from practical issues (unless one wants to be deceptive). I have no problem integrating philosophy with science – I think the problems come with mechanical and naive separation.

    Anyway, I have no interest in discussing “philosophy” in the abstract. we live in a real world, we have real issues, and a good philosophy will recognise that.

    I think the “philosophies that are discussed in the abstract, without connection to reality, are bad philosophies. I have no interest in discussing them – except when their proponents try to impose silly ideas on reality.

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  11. I’ve got to focus on other tasks, so must be brief. I only will say that I think we all need to humbly own our part in less-than-fruitful interaction.

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  12. No doubt my post will cross over others as they always seem to…

    Rinny Westra must be a man after my heart, the particular paragraph quoted captures the essence of a personal bugbear I have about theology departments and universities. Maybe I’ll see if his small book is in the library one day.

    Dale wrote: Of course theology isn’t empirical, but who ever said it was? It’s not just it not being empirical that matters. (Which is not to say that it shouldn’t be empirical where it can be.) It’s also the lack of genuine inquiry. I’ve misplaced it, but I wrote several simple criteria that I felt all university courses should have (e.g. to serve as a mandate for universities and an indication of what distinguishes a university from other teaching institutions). My memory was that theology—at least on the face of it—seemed to unsound in them all.

    My own feeling is that theology departments should be disbanded, with the individuals who do “proper” study of some aspect moved to the associated department and the remainder asked to take a up positions in evangelical institutions outside the university. (For example someone who is honestly studying and teaching the history of religion can be moved to the history department.)

    And as you’re often so opposed to the use of labels (materialist, naturalist, scientism, etc.), I’d think you’d extend that courtesy to others?

    Hmm. I’d have distinguished “labels” for people (typically ending in ‘st’), labels for positions held (typically ending in ‘ism’) and descriptions of what people do, myself. But then I’m speaking for myself.

    My sense is that the distinction between science as science and philosophy as philosophy gets blurred in many a conversation.

    My own impression is that an issue is that some people try “insert” philosophy where, it doesn’t belong or or in a way that it doesn’t belong.

    The main point I’d like to ask Matt about would be to clarify what he means by wanting to “change science” to be more “theistically friendly”. I suspect he doesn’t mean what you think he means.

    It might be a fair question, but personally a more basic question to ask might be why science has to change at all. (And secondary why particularly to theism and nothing other viewpoints. Theism to many scientists has parallels with believing in ghosts, UFOs, etc. Should science also become more “friendly” to these? More relevant I think it why it has any need at all to change.)

    All discussions have (at least) two ’sides’. So the ‘us/them’ description shouldn’t (automatically) carry any negative connotations.

    Sorry, but I beg to differ. It a key point that I’ve pick up as a high school student that I still stand by.

    Debates have sides, but debates are generally artificial and not a practical means of resolving an issue. (They are usually aimed at “winning” by “winning the audience over”, rather than exploring the substance of the issue.)

    Arguments certainly have sides and might resolve an issue, but rarely do. (People who argue tend to be too heated and polarised.)

    Discussions—good ones—rarely have “us vs. them” sides and can work towards resolving issues. They will involve people presenting different views, even people choosing to be the devil’s advocate (scientists commonly do this is in academic discussion for that matter), but these people are not in negative “us vs. them” sides. They are presenting differing aspects with a shared goal of trying to get to the bottom of the question. They’re not “against” eachother, they are trying to help eachother tease out the answer by presenting other angles for inspection and consideration.

    My main frustration is that issues are not discussed properly. Philosophical issues get discussed in scientific terms, and science terms are used in conversations with all kinds of philosophical assumptions.

    There isn’t anything wrong with something being looked at from the viewpoint of another discipline in itself. Confusing terminology is a bit of a nuisance, though.

    Part of the problem, as I tried to point out recently, is people not thinking of their readers. If you are going to communicate, you need to think about how your readers will read what you’ve written. Too often we’ve seen theologists present a statement, which when taken using the most commonly-accepted meaning of a word has one meaning, only to find later that they had another meaning to some of the words that they didn’t elaborate at the onset. The problem I have with this is that if those people knew that their meaning is not the common usage, if they were taking care, they’d know that their words wouldn’t be read as they intended and that they should have laid out what they meant better from the onset. To be sure, to some extent everyone does this, it’s a common-enough issue anywhere (even within science terminology is used differently in different fields for example) but there is an acceptance that people will default to the common meaning of a word unless it’s quite clear a narrower (or more obscure) meaning is intended. I think to protest later that someone is “not getting” a narrower meaning is a little misplaced!

    Furthermore, I get the impression some theologists appear to leave the definitions out so that they have a means to wriggle around if things don’t go as they’d hoped!

    My sense is that theists and atheists (or at least those ’round here) need to put ’science’ to one side for a bit and actually talk about truth/knowledge for a bit and how we can ‘know’ anything at all.

    Erm, no, and I don’t think it’s quite the sensible thing to ask that you seem to think it is. I can sympathise that you might think this coming from the viewpoint that you do, but I don’t think you’re right. Please don’t jump on me for this because I’m fairly certain you won’t “get” it, but you’re in effect asking that people only consider your own viewpoint. It implies that philosophical debates about “knowledge” are background in a way they aren’t and that empirical, statistical, etc., evidence aren’t also relevant.

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  13. ““why not just interact with what people have actually said?” – Isn’t that what I have been doing – at great length, in great detail and (possibly wasting) great time.”

    Absolutely and most definitely not. You’ve been interacting with goblins of your own invention. it scarcely matters how people describe their own positions to you, you have made it crystal clear that you don’t care how they describe their beliefs and approaches. Their beliefs and approaches are what Ken says they are, neither more nor less. The more I have watched you in action lately the more absolutely obvious this has become.

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  14. @Dale. Having a small piece of involvement towards the end of the discussion in question, I found it a little frustrating. In an attempt to achieve a bit more clarity of where Glen was coming from, I resolved to enter into a discusion with him on his thread about the definition of knowledge. I also resolved to do this under his terms, using his terminology. These things are perhaps not so easy to do, but I am perhaps well placed for this task, having no direct experience of either science, or philosophy.

    I think that we are actually making progress in that thread, and feel that I am starting to understand the actual point of disagreement that we have. I hesitate to say this, but the recent comments might be worth a little look, I would just perhaps ask that we could be left to it just a little longer, as I feel we are making progress.

    The link is http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/index.php/nuts-and-bolts-what-is-knowledge/

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  15. Thanks for the note, Nick.

    I’ll have a look and maybe see if I can now comment there. (I did manage a comment on a separate post so here’s hoping).

    I also felt that there were ideas which should have been pursued further and was disappointed Glenn pulled out of the discussion here.

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  16. Rinny’s book is a brief memoir – 38 pps. I got my copy from him so I don’t know how widely available it is. He can be contact at rinnywestra@hotmail.com

    I found it interesting because it documents his transformation of beliefs. And his theological comments are useful because of his wide training in the area.

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  17. Ken, I am interested in a formulation of the proof that I am “anti-science.” Stating that you “demonstrated” it, complete with bold font, does not prove it to any standard of science or philosophy.

    I maintain that you proved no such thing. Further, that you could not have as such a claim is false; I am not anti-science (as I repeatedly demonstrated).

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  18. Not sure why your commenting system has placed Madeleine’s photo next to my name but the comment above is from me. (Matt)

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  19. Ken, thanks.

    Matt, you’ll be mixing accounts or computers most likely, you did this once before. (Personally I think it’s a little over the top to asking for a formulation of the proof that I am “anti-science.” There is such a thing as ordinary opinion 😉 I would think that’s what is meant. It’d be nice to that people don’t have to make everything into philosophy and proofs!)

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  20. I think Ken and Matt both need a good kick in the pants.

    You both are guilty of paraphrasing and reinterpreting the others words as a method of creating straw men.

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  21. Further, that you could not have as such a claim is false; I am not anti-science (as I repeatedly demonstrated).

    You are not?
    Good to hear.
    I have a science question for you.

    How old do you believe the Earth is?

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  22. Matthew – come off it. Just look back at the extensive comments I have made describing where I think you have gone wrong in your characterisation of science. My description of your arguments as “antiscience’ is of course my judgement – but I think it is well supported. There is no point in repeating the detailed arguments here, now, is there? You surely don’t want to repeat that discussion in this post, do you? (If so, make your substantive point and there will be something to engage with).

    The video gives an example of the use of “theological evidence, claims and propositions” – which you many times said you want to incorporate into science. Look at the way this is done, the sort of inhuman conculsions it produced. That is “anti-science,” surely, in any reasonable person’s assessment.

    My point is that it parallels the sort of “science” you are advocating.

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  23. Andrew – No! I don’t think I have been guilty of what you charge.

    There is a definite problem in pinning Glenn and Matt down, as they choose to limit themselves to abstract destitutions. But I have been the one asking for specific examples – and these, when they are given (or admitted that they don’t have – such as “theological evidence), have certainly helped. Consider the “jelly bean theory” and its development. I think that helped to demonstrate different interpretations of scientific epistemology. (It was the provisional nature of scientific knowledge which sparked off that particular discussion).

    I actually feel that we have made progress (or at least I have), if slowly. I have a clearer understanding of Plantinga’s position, helped by actually reading some of Plantinga and others debating him on his interpretation of epistemological “warrant.” I don’t know that Matt and Glenn have a clearer understanding of scientific epistemology – you would have to ask them.

    However, it is a pity that Glenn pulled out of the discussion because I think it was getting to an interesting stage (of what Plantinga really means by “warrant” or what may be behind his idea of it).

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  24. Erratum 🙂

    For:

    Personally I think it’s a little over the top to asking for a formulation of the proof that I am “anti-science.”

    substitute,

    Personally, I think it’s a little over the top to be asking for a formulation of the proof that I am “anti-science.”

    (The ‘I’ is Matt speaking of himself, not me!)

    One of these days I’ll do my editing before I post…

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  25. Ken,
    Aside from other points being discussed here, I just wanted to draw attention to this paragraph and make some hopefully relevant comments:

    The video gives an example of the use of “theological evidence, claims and propositions” – which you many times said you want to incorporate into science. Look at the way this is done, the sort of inhuman conculsions it produced. That is “anti-science,” surely, in any reasonable person’s assessment.

    I, for one, would like to know what is meant (by Ken or Matt) by the phrase ‘incorporate into science’. I think we’d all agree that to ‘incorporate’ anything ‘into’ science would be to change science.
    And Ken, you refer to times when this has been done, and “the sort of inhuman[e] conculsions it produced” (no doubt referring to things like eugenics, concentration camp ‘experiments’, etc.?). I think this is very loosely worded, and a key clarification is needed.
    I don’t think those examples (eugenics, etc.) are cases of something (ideas/principles/theology/etc.) being “incorporated into” science. I think it’s infinitely more accurate to describe them as cases where the powerful tool of science was not used wisely and in a humane way. The advancements of science/technology have not made us more (or less!) humane – they have instead increased our power to know/do many things (and therefore our responsibility).

    Just one clarification, but I think a key one.

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  26. Dale, go back to the original start of this discussion and the post on Matt’s blog (Religion and science). Matt is arguing that “evolution” should not be taught as truth in science classes at state schools because it doesn’t incorporate “theological evidence”. This is also implied in his characterisation of science being “restricted” to only naturalist6ic” evidence.

    However, perhaps Matt can talk for himself on this. I am not characterising him here.

    My reference to the “inhuman conclusions” resulting from such incorporation was specifically referring to the video. the theological mental gymnastics (using “theological evidence”) produced an inhuman result – surely.

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  27. Ken wrote “There is a definite problem in pinning Glenn and Matt down, as they choose to limit themselves to abstract destitutions.”

    You mean they won’t comment in fields they are not qualified in?

    Isn’t that a good thing? One many could learn from.

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  28. Ken wrote: “Dale, go back to the original start of this discussion and the post on Matt’s blog (Religion and science). Matt is arguing that “evolution” should not be taught as truth in science classes at state schools because it doesn’t incorporate “theological evidence”.”

    Whoa, hold on a minute. Matt never argued that. Matt argued that the argument used to exclude theories other than evolution applied consistently either required those excluded theories to be included or the abolition of state schools.

    Take your own advice to Dale and read the article Ken.

    “This is also implied in his characterisation of science being “restricted” to only naturalistic” evidence.”

    Where precisely did Matt argue that science should be restricted to naturalistic evidence.

    URL and quote please.

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  29. Heraclides wrote: “Personally, I think it’s a little over the top to be asking for a formulation of the proof that I am “anti-science.””

    Why is it over the top? Ken falsely attributed a position to Matt. He not only claimed it in his blog posts he then repeated it many times in comments using bold font no less!

    Matt has been slandered. As such, Matt is entitled to ask for Ken to put up or shut up.

    You don’t get to claim things as facts and then refuse to provide evidence when those the facts are claimed about cry wrong!

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  30. Cedric Katebsy asked of me “How old do you believe the Earth is?”

    Pretty old, several million years… is there a chocolate fish at stake? Do I need the precise date of the earth’s birth?

    What on earth this has to do with ascertaining whether I am in fact anti-science or not is not clear to me.

    Perhaps Cedric you should stop trying to attribute stereotypes as to what you think people like me hold and actually read what I write. I have many times stated in the posts and comments Ken has linked to that I was not advocating creationism.

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  31. Madeleine – Matt and Glenn have commented – in general terms. But when pushed for specifics they run for cover. For example, Matt originally required that “theological evidence” be included in science. When asked for examples he couldn’t produce any – although he later changed it to “theological claims.” This video shows what can be done with “theological claims.” Obviously not appropriate in science.

    Glenn avoided questions of what he would consider of scientific knowledge was “true knowledge” and which “provisional theories.” Even though he started by declaring that these existed – disagreeing with the assertion that scientific knowledge is provisional – which is what working scientists themselves say.

    Matt is not arguing that science should be restricted to naturalistic evidence. Quite the opposite. My argument with that, though, is a characterisation of science which I think – from long experience, is inappropriate. As I pointed out to him both the opponents and defenders of science use this sort of terminology – as political arguments! But it never comes up with scientists actually doing the research. they never ask “Is this natural?” Is this “supernatural?” They just get on and do the work – follow the evidence, all the evidence, wherever it leads.

    Has Matt changed his mind about wishing “theological evidence, claims, propositions” to be incorporated in science? As a reason to oppose teaching evolutionary science in State Schools?

    If so – let him say so. Let him clarify his position. Until then all I have to go on are his original articles supporting Plantinga on the subject.

    Ok you don’t like my opinion that Matt is anti-science in his arguments. However, I believe I have justified them in my discussions of his mechanical and naive understanding of scientific epistemology. I have also often commented here on the inappropriate and motivated use of terms like “naturalism” and “materialism.”

    Still, if I have unjsutly interpreted Matt’s point I am always open to discussion and clarifications.

    Meanwhile – at least give me the right to oppose positions which I consider incorrect.

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  32. Madeleine – Matt and Glenn have commented For example, Matt originally required that “theological evidence” be included in science. When asked for examples he couldn’t produce any – although he later changed it to “theological claims.”

    More straw men, I gave a definition of theological evidence to Ken some time ago. I also pointed out that by theological claim I meant theological proposition and argued that propositions can and often do constitute evidence. Simply repeating questions I have answered repeatedly is not a rebuttal.

    But if Ken wants a specific here is one: God created the universe world out of nothing. A theist person who is convinced this is true on scriptural grounds might take this proposition into account when assessing the evidence relating to the steady state theory versus the big bang theory.

    Or here is another, miracles are possible, hence when examining a particular miracle claim he will not rule out the possibility it occurred but follow the evidence where it leads. Whereas methodological naturalism would rule this possibility out prior to any evidential examination.

    This video shows what can be done with “theological claims.” Obviously not appropriate in science.

    This is silly, of course some peopleassert that the bible teaches that Obama is the anti christ just as some people assert that empirical evidence supports the claim that the world is 10,000 years old. The former no more makes appeal to theological premises problematic than the latter makes appeal to empirically based propositions problematic.

    The issue is simply examing the arguments put foward and seeing if they stand up. Just as you will argue a correct interpretation of the empirical data does not support a 10,000 year old earth, similarly I would maintain a correct interpretation of scripture does not support the aforementioned claims about Obama.

    If Ken and Herclides want to continue work with crude caricatures of Christian theology there concerns about accurately representing a subject ring hollow.

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  33. Glenn avoided questions of what he would consider of scientific knowledge was “true knowledge” and which “provisional theories.” Even though he started by declaring that these existed – disagreeing with the assertion that scientific knowledge is provisional – which is what working scientists themselves say.

    Again more distortions, Glenn admits that theories are provisional and this is what scientists will admit.

    What Glenn denies is that those theories which constitute knowledge: warranted true belief should be revised.

    This is because you only revise a theory when part of it is found to be false or mistaken, or new evidence shows it to be unwarranted. If its mistaken or unwarranted then its was never knowledge in the first place.

    Perhaps Ken would like to provide an example of a theory which is true which one is warranted in thinking is true which has been revised.

    Its only theories which we think are not true or warranted in some respect that we revise and hence its only those theories we no longer consider to be knowledge which we revise.

    Glenn avoided questions of what he would consider of scientific knowledge was “true knowledge” and which “provisional theories.

    All theories are scientific realist holds are considered to be knowledge by that person at the time he holds them, however they are provisional only because he believes his judgement about what is known might be mistaken. In otherwords its the possibility that they might not be knowledge that makes it provisional. However no one actually revises them until they are convinced they arenot knowledge.

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  34. Madeleine,

    I think it’s quite clear from my post that what I thought was over the top was Matt asking for formal proofs when Ken seemed to be just expressing an opinion. I went to some trouble to write it in a lighter tone, which you seem to want to overlook. I really don’t think you should be pointing the finger at me: I was just suggesting as gently as I could that he might be over-reacting 😉

    To be clear: it’s not that he was asking—which what you have complained to me about—but how he asked and precisely what he was asking for.

    Matt,

    This is because you only revise a theory when part of it is found to be false or mistaken, or new evidence shows it to be unwarranted. If its mistaken or unwarranted then its was never knowledge in the first place.

    You’re trying to impose your “absolutist” definition of knowledge on science.

    This reply also suggests you perhaps don’t quite get what usually happens as theories are revised/improved/”replaced” (note the inverted commas). You write as if all changes to theories involve their replacement.

    As several people have tried to point out, theories are rarely completely falsified. They more usually just fail for some particular purposes (please take note of this word) that were not explored at the time the theory was established. Newtonian mechanics fails at (very!) high speeds, for example, but it’s still perfectly appropriate for the conditions for which it was originally developed and is still used for these purposes (i.e. it is not completely replaced). What usually happens in these cases is that people recognise that there are some bounds to the original theory and state the original theory is fine given particular conditions are present or when some particular lower accuracy is acceptable.

    It’s also common for some revisions to only add to a theory; they might involve some internal re-working, but there is often no “replacement” as such in these cases.

    I would also add that true theories are really rather rare in science, as they are the “highest” level of established model, if you like. All this focus on these rather exalted heights makes it easy to forget that the great majority of scientists aren’t directly working on theories, but smaller more immediate things. As such it makes this discussion abstract in more ways than one!

    G-d created the universe world out of nothing.

    Unable to be falsified. You’re welcome to show how it could be falsified, of course… (Your “rules” were that knowledge had to be falsifiable, correct?)

    when assessing the evidence relating to the steady state theory versus the big bang theory

    This is a different thing to including evidence in a theory, as per your original claim. It’s moot anyway, given the “evidence” isn’t falsifiable.

    miracles are possible

    Again, unable to be falsified, this time essentially by definition.

    Perhaps Ken would like to provide an example of a theory which is true which one is warranted in thinking is true which has been revised.

    He already did I believe 😉

    PS: Matt, every time I see you write “Simply repeating questions I have answered repeatedly is not a rebuttal.” I think “Matt doesn’t want to consider what others have written”. You may think I’m being unfair, but it’s a poor excuse. I’m can’t stop you using it, but I hope you realise it makes you look bad in some readers’ eyes.

    PPS: Can’t you just let Glenn speak for himself? (You’re also introducing a contradiction: you want theories to both be provisional and at the same have them “absolutely” wrong and “not knowledge” if they prove to be provisional in their original form.)

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  35. A quick note re: Glen’s position here. We have just brought our discussion of that over at Glen’s blog to a close.

    I am not sure how clear, or easy to follow it is, but I think we were successful in avoiding some of the emotional stuff. He has also stated that he felt satisfied that his position is sufficiently explained, so here is a link for the interested:

    http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/index.php/nuts-and-bolts-what-is-knowledge/

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  36. In the final portion of my previous post

    ‘at the same time have’ should replace ‘at the same have’

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  37. Pretty old, several million years…

    Several million years?
    Are you joking?
    Try 4.5 BILLION (approx) years.
    (grimace)

    What on earth this has to do with ascertaining whether I am in fact anti-science or not is not clear to me.

    The age of the Earth is a very basic question.
    A question that science has had the answer to for quite a while.
    The only people that have “issues” with the age of the Earth are anti-science types.

    Perhaps Cedric you should stop trying to attribute stereotypes as to what you think people like me hold and actually read what I write.

    Creationist stereotypes hang around here a lot.
    I’d like to know how much you have in common with them.
    So far, you seem to blend right in.

    Another example is good ol’ Stuart.
    Stuart is a genuine stereotype.
    He gets all coy and bashful if you ask him the age of the Earth.

    Bnonn is a stereotype cut from the same cloth.

    Glenn, for variety, holds a candle for “Intelligent Design”, which is creationism pretending to be all sciency yet…never actually doing any science. Wierd.

    I have many times stated in the posts and comments Ken has linked to that I was not advocating creationism.

    Yeah but are you anti-science?
    Do you reject scientific knowledge because they don’t fit with your religious beliefs?
    Things like…the age of the Earth.

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  38. Nick,

    Following your link I have learnt that Glenn wrote a straight-out personal attack on me, which he then followed with an “explanation” of his position.

    The personal attack was inaccurate and unnecessary. To the latter: if he wanted to explain his position, as he claimed, he could have simply done just that without the nonsense he put before it. To the former: he misrepresented me, and quite badly, mostly by taking short quotes out of context and by leaving out my explanations of why I wrote what I did. This leaves readers with a quite different impression of what I wrote, than which actually occurred.

    I would welcome Glenn removing this and apologising. (Glenn?)

    I can’t help but thinking that some people have fallen for their protesting ever so loudly that someone is attacking them, even after it’s been explained no “attack” was intended. The small group from the Thinking Matters and a few friends have been doing this to me for some time. They seem very determined to “be attacked” (in their eyes), a funny sort of martyrdom if you will! 🙂 It almost doesn’t matter what I write, if they see it’s a post from me, they’ll “read into” one particular word or other and make a big fuss about it.

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  39. 1: Matt has at least given an example of theistic evidence (proposition?) so we have something to work with. His evidence is “God created the universe out of nothing.” But that is a proposition (along the lines of the spaghetti monster created the universe out of nothing). It may well be correct – but a claim like that comes at the end of considering evidence, and testing against reality, – it is not evidence itself.

    Science would not be what it is, or provide the benefits to humanity it does, if it started with claims rather than evidence. (Nor does it do justice to claims by giving them a “free ride”).

    OK Matt says that a theist is “convinced this is true on scriptural grounds”. That’s where we can look for “evidence.” What he is saying is that science should include “scriptural” accounts in the evidence it considers.

    Obviously it does where appropriate. Documents like this are obviously evidence for the scientific investigation of history. They are considered together with evidence from other documents and from empirical findings. They, of course, should only be given the credibility they deserve – they can’t override more objective evidence.

    Science has, in the past, actually considered many scriptural “accounts”. Obviously at earlier times when empirical evidence was scarce more credibility was given to them than is now. In other words such accounts belong to the past – they have been discredited.

    To insist on inclusion of disproved claims as evidence would be equivalent to insisting that science must include today the now discredited phlogiston claim. (That’s not to say that we shouldn’t revisit previously “discredited” ideas as new data comes in. This often happens in science – just consider how concepts like the aether are appearing in new forms in modern thinking).

    The fact that a theist person is convinced about something says nothing about science. (Many scientists are theists and may have theological convictions and most of them would be the first to acknowledge these are not evidence. They would fight tooth and nail against the idea that scriptural claims should be admitted as “evidence” with any more credibility than other mythological stories.)

    Don’t forget that admitting evidence is the first step – all evidence needs to be verified and tested against reality. Many theological “claims” break down at this stage.

    By the way – I said that the god creation story may well be true. Scientifically this has not been judged – because no one has advanced any real hypothesis for testing, and validation. I believe such a hypothesis is possible but the fact that theists don’t do this tells me something. But that’s another discussion.

    2: Miracles – science does not rule out consideration of these. It would be silly though the give names like that to phenomena one investigates – as it assumes a conclusion before the evidence is even looked at. The fact is science has investigated many phenomena which people have classified as “miracles.” We get into problems of definition here – but if “miracle” is defined as violating the known “laws of nature” we are continually looking for such phenomena. That is a sign of progress. When we find something that violated current knowledge we have a chance of developing that knowledge.

    Now, of course, if somebody makes a seemingly “miraculous” claim we must start by investigating their evidence. Often that will be enough to show the claims are false or deceptive. But I assure you that it is perfectly natural for scientists to wish they would someday find evidence for something violating current scientific knowledge. That they would be able to confirm the phenomena by investigation and come up with a credible theory to explain it. There lies Nobel prizes and scientists are just as human and ambitious as anyone else.

    3: Matt – you reject the conclusions in the video – I am glad to hear that. But it does show the problem with theology, doesn’t it. One can “prove” anything one likes using that approach. This contrasts with the knowledge science produces. We just don’t have such basic extremes in conclusions or claims if we base our investigation on objective evidence and only give the credence to mythological sources that they really deserve.

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  40. Matt – I think this question of Plantinga’s “warrant” and knowledge is actually very interesting and a good discussion of it would reveal some interesting chasms in thinking. It’s a pity that Glenn got so emotional and pulled out as I felt we were getting somewhere.

    You ask me to provide an example of a theory which is true, warranted, and has been revised. This is where we have different understanding of terms like “knowledge”, “theory” and “truth.”

    Scientific knowledge includes facts and theories (and to be realistic ideas and speculations). We don’t, if we are being exact, claim scientific knowledge is “true.” We consider it to be provisional. As I have pointed out that is not the mechanical understanding you advanced of arbitrarily dumping theories, declaring them either “true” or “false”. Scientific knowledge is progressive. Each new stage, new theory, in general incorporates, has within in it, elements of the old theory as limiting cases. This has been pointed out many times. I like to think of it in the manner that our theories have both elements of absolute truth, corresponding exactly with reality, and relative truth, not completely corresponding.

    This is why I think Karl Marx’s thesis mentioned previously is so powerful. The intimate relation with reality science has enables us to have an imperfect picture, reflection, of reality which is developing, improving, all the time. Only possible because of our continual interaction of reality.

    But, I think you could learn something by reflecting on the specific case of the jelly beans. You claimed “if I count the beans in the jar as 135 and then believe correctly that its 135 beans then its true and warranted. Its true because there are 135 beans in the jar and its warranted because counting is a reliable way of determining how many things there are.” To you that is true knowledge – can’t be changed.

    Scientifically I say it is provisional knowledge, very useful for the moment and open to change if we find new evidence. And we did. We got an indication that the 135 bean theory was inadequate to explain some things and we looked further. We found that the weight of the jar actually indicated more like 680 beans and concluded that while 135 interacted with electromagnetic radiation (and therefore could be sighted and counted) the rest didn’t (we could call them dark jelly beans). So our provisional knowledge of the jelly beans has been improved. We now know there are 680 beans and we have discovered a new class of jelly beans that are non-interacting with EM radiation. We have made progress.

    Science is like that. And that is why it is so powerful and has brought so many benefits to humanity.

    But it wouldn’t work if we had the mindset that the 135 bean theory was true because we had counted them and that counting is reliable. We would have been dogmatic and stuck with knowledge which was actually incapable of explaining the real world indicated by the new data, or providing us with new benefits.

    Mind you, Matt, your last para does indicate some hope because you seem to be admitting the possibility of provisional knowledge. However, you also seem to want to hold on to the concept of non-provisional knowledge.

    Perhaps this is a matter of conflating what we can know, what knowledge is for all practical purposes, with what we could define logically or mathematically as absolute and complete truth. Maybe that is an interesting concept mathematically or in formal logic but what practical use has it? And doesn’t it encourage people to think that they can, practically, have non-provisional knowledge – as you did with the jelly beans?

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  41. Just to be clear, my objection to the miracle example relates to what ‘miracle’ means. The word ‘miracle’ by it’s definition tries to dismiss science from explaining the event, it essentially acts as an attempt to pre-emptively dismiss examination of the event.

    If an example of a (supposed) “miracle” were presented in terms of an event that (supposedly) happened—with no reference to ‘miracle’—then we’d be doing something more sensible: we’d be looking at an event without dismissing the possibility that it could be explained by “real world” activities or properties.

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  42. “Several million years?
    Are you joking?
    Try 4.5 BILLION (approx) years.”

    Sorry, I meant several billion not several million.

    Still do not see how my thoughts on this relate to anything else. Certainly my argument has absolutely nothing to do with claims about the age of the earth.

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  43. Sorry, I meant several billion not several million.

    No problem. Anybody’s entitled to a typo or two.
    🙂

    Still do not see how my thoughts on this relate to anything else.

    It’s a simple and effective way of separating you from the raving nutjobs.
    A necessary but not sufficient first step.
    There’s not much point in discussing the finer points of science or the various accepted scientific theories out there if you are prepared to reject all the physical sciences just to cater to a 6000 year-old Earth.
    That’s a real biggie!

    If you are truely not anti-science then acknowledging the actual age of the Earth is a very good start.

    Thank you for giving a straight-forward answer, by the way.
    You didn’t feel the need to act all cagey and mysterious about it.
    Certain other people around these here parts do.

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  44. Heraclides, I had forgotten how Glen had started his post. I feel a bit bad for drawing attention to it now. Sorry about that.

    However, I do think there is some useful information in the comments. At least I feel I understand more clearly now Glen’s position. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it better.

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  45. “Maybe that is an interesting concept mathematically or in formal logic but what practical use has it?”

    You answered your own question. It is interesting. Those who think that everything must be of practical use ultimately value nothing.

    Similarly, whether pragmatism of one sort or another is coherent or not or whether some form of robust realism is ultimately coherent is interesting. Those are philosophical questions which cannot be addressed by scientific means (the only means we have are the imperfect tools of philosophical reasoning).

    In that sense philosophy is conceptually or theoretically prior to all the sciences, but it doesn’t mean that it stands as a substitute for the sciences or makes it superior to them (or even that much different if Quine is to be believed). If anything, it is complimentary.

    I’m an atheist, but trying to shrug off claims about variant epistemologies with dogmatic pragmatism (which is almost an oxymoron) seems to me to reflect an unwillingness to engage in debate.

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  46. It’s OK. I was elaborating on it in case readers of his blog happen to run into my post.

    I’ve written a post in his blog. I have to admit I’m not sure if he’ll publish it as I’ve objected (in a restrained fashion) to his personal attack on me. Anyway, thing this I mentioned that the last few comments on his blog seem to echo issues I raised and the direction I thought it would take, so I’m a little surprised that he is busy throwing brickbats at me.

    I don’t agree with his position either and I certainly don’t agree with his attack on me! It’s pretty unnecessary.

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  47. Whoops, last post is for Nick! 🙂

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  48. Hi Tomakarion. You make a fair enough point about practicality. This is perhaps analogous to the development of mathematics, and the practical usage of mathematics in physics.

    I do however disagree with your claim below:
    In that sense philosophy is conceptually or theoretically prior to all the sciences

    This seems to me to open up a bit of an hubristic trap for philosophers. If they start to consider themselves separate to science, then they can start to consider that they are operating with tools & concepts that are not provisional. This is related to what I have been discussing with Glen.

    Reading some of the output from some philosophers, there seems to be a big elephant in the room. (Particularly when it comes to epistemology, or more precisely some of the attempts to counter skepticism that Glen espouses.) There may be some consideration of the possibility of faulty sense data, but there seems to be almost none of the possibility that the tools being used for the discussion/theorizing could be incomplete and/or faulty. For example logic, human language, thoughts, communication.

    In other words, science does not happen separately to philosophy, science actually feeds back into philosophy. In particular, some of the research into human cognition has some important implications for philosophers when it comes to thought experiments. Some of the results from sub atomic physics seem to be raising some important issues with regard to logic.

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  49. @ Tomakarion. I would like to make one further comment on this topic from an emotional point of view. I don’t think this applies to you, as I see you have made reference to the “imperfect tools” of philosophy etc….

    Some people have an attitude that philosophy is special as it speaks to the meaning of things whereas science speaks just to how things work etc… This attitude gets right up my nose.

    I find it very arrogant, and my response to this is: No, you are not addressing the meaning of things at all. You are exploring the intersection of logic and ideas using human consciousness , and as such you are not necessarily exposing anything about reality. This does not mean that I think philosophy is useless, just that philosophers should demonstrate their utility to the process if they want to contribute to science. This is (I think) the point that Ken makes with his Epistemolo-what?!! post.

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  50. Tomakarion – describing something as “interesting” is, of course, not the end of the matter. Especially as there are very mechanical and naive claims being made on the basis of the “interesting” concept. This is done by taking it in isolation. That simple concept just does not apply to scientific epistemology – which one would have to admit is extremely successful

    My other concern with this concept is that is is being presented (at least partly) in Plantinga’s form. He uses this to argue for a “truth” or “knowledge” quite independent from evidence. In fact, he argues that belief, knowledge of god, should not be based on evidence as this could lead to it being shown to be false! That is for non-evidence based faith. There are some other unfortunate tangential ideas that he puts out alongside that.

    It’s an example of how theological mental gymnastics uses philosophy. And then will sometimes direct their contrived conclusion in attacking science.

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  51. Well, it now turns out this video was wrong James McGrath at Exploring our Matrix has used an alternative theistic analysis (see How I Know Barack Obama Is The Rightful Pope) which proves that actually Obama is the rightful pope and the present incumbent is really the anti-pope.

    Isn’t theistic evidence wonderful? You can do anything with it.

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  52. Ken, I’m unsure as to whether or not you picked up on that post (of James McGrath) being a parody?

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  53. I would have thought that’s the point Dale, i.e. a parody making the point that using this style of “logic”, you can make it say anything.

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  54. ID is a metaphysical perspective and thus definitely within the realm of philosophy.

    It is telling that its advocates resort to conspiracy theories and cannot refer to any concrete research in reputable academic journals. Instead they want space in school science lessons. But at this stage ID could only be part of religious studies or philosophy classes.

    However, cosmology is full of speculation at the margins of human knowledge. The anthropic principle bolsters the notion of a Designer. “God the Creator” is at LEAST as plausible as some of the other speculations bandied about by cosmologists and others pushing the limits of physics.

    I think there is a lot of inductive evidence that indicates the work of God in the universe, but it’s all equivocal. So people have to work it out themselves.

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  55. ropata,

    Writing tongue in cheek: best as I know ID doesn’t really have “theory” or philosophy, unless something has changed of late 😉

    More seriously, they never present one, all they do is work on being anti-evolution and there is a reason for that. They can’t say that their position is “creationism” (even though it clearly is), because the courts have ruled against pushing that in science classes in the USA. ID is just an attempt to get around this. ID is a legal ploy not a religious move on it’s own.

    I think there is a lot of inductive evidence that indicates the work of God in the universe, but it’s all equivocal.

    In others words there is no reliable evidence, but you want to have to be “real” “because you think so”. (Look up what equivocal means.)

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  56. ? last paragraph does not parse.. are you trying to tell me that I am being illogical?

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  57. Aren’t the various “interpretations” of quantum mechanics examples of legitimate “metaphysical” questions?

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  58. ropata,

    Figure it out, assuming you have a brain. The intended meaning isn’t hard to work out. I haven’t time for editing posts, I’ve very busy.

    In others words there is no reliable evidence, but you want to have this to be “real” “because you think so”. (Look up what equivocal means.)

    Is that really too hard to deduce?

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  59. Heraclides, what do you do for a living?

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  60. Scott, what do you mean by a “metaphysical” question? Let alone a “legitimate” one?

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  61. Scott, I’m afraid your sentence structure is nonsense. Also, thanks for putting words in my mouth. And I do understand the meaning of equivocal thanks. I am not disagreeing with you.. despite your attempt to be disagreeable!

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  62. Ken, I define a “metaphysical” question to be “a question science must ask but cannot answer.”

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  63. That’s wide open, isn’t it Scott. One can think of many questions that we know science cannot answer – now. Probably a limitless number. But history shows us that it is foolish to claim that science can never answer such questions. Plenty of people have been proved wrong on that claim.

    I am guessing that you mean questions that it is impossible to answer. (The why must science ask such questions? I would think it is sensible for science 6to keep away from questions outside its province).

    And if science cannot answer such questions, or they are outside its province, then who can? I would think it would be arrogant for any other field (particularly religion, well known for its arrogance) to claim they can answer these questions.

    I always get suspicious when I hear the word “metaphysics” bandied about.

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  64. Ken, my definition of “metaphysics” doesn’t claim that science can NEVER answer such questions.

    The most obvious metaphysical question nowadays comes from quantum mechanics: “How many futures are there?” If the Copenhagen model is correct, the answer is “1” or “0,” depending on what the meaning of “is” is. If the Everett/Deutsch model is correct, the answer is “infinity.” If the Wheeler model is correct, the answer is “1” (probably).

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  65. You don’t have to resort to mystical interpretation of QM to realise that there could be a limitless number of possible futures. I hardly see the need to label “how many futures are there?” a “metaphysical” question.

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  66. Ken, I don’t use “metaphysical” in a negative sense. Do you have a term that would more aptly describe the kinds of questions these “interpretations” raise?

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  67. Speculation?

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  68. So–is “speculation” a good thing? Bad? Neutral, as long as you don’t mind wasting time?

    Because I’d call “working through the implications of QM” a “good” thing, although it does not immediately lead to a testable hypothesis.

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  69. Of course speculation is a good thing. It’s part of scientific activity. But we should not confuse it with established facts or good explanatory theories. Out of speculation we can develop well defined hypotheses for testing. But most ideas we speculate on prove to by wrong – by a long margin.

    There is a lot of crap written about QM – “quantum woo”, “quantum flapdoodle” “quantum theology” etc. It hasn’t been helped by some physicists who have tended to use misleading mystical language. Or by so many of the popular presentations that have gone with, and enhanced the mysticism. Once these get into the media they tend to be repeated, misinformation and all.

    Let’s face it – neither you or I will be testing any new hypothesis in this area, we haven’t got the skills, understanding, mathematics or facilities to do that. It will be done by the theoretical and experimental physicists.

    All we can do is recognise that QM is not intuitive, it is outside our common sense, we didn’t evolve to understand it. Consequently it will confuse us. And it provides fruitful avenues for the charlatans, religious and non-religious.

    I guess all we can do is try to read the more reliable sources and be very wary of the mysticisms people promote using QM.

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  70. Speculation can be useful to focus your thoughts and frame questions when covering new ground.

    Speculation on well-covered ground isn’t useful, especially if others know the area better than you. You’re better off reading what the current understanding is in that case.

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  71. So… if I “speculate” about quantum mechanics (which is science), I MIGHT come up with something testable, but I’m vastly more likely to come up with nothing testable or with a test that proves me wrong. I should be very careful to avoid speculating about fields I don’t understand–or worse, misunderstand. And it isn’t likely to be helpful to speculate on fields that are very well-defined and well-explored.

    I refused to even look into QM until about the age of 40 because I thought it was beyond my ability to understand. (By contrast, I did my first science fair project on relativity at the age of 13.) I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of “quantum flapdoodle,” but I think we’d all agree that other people’s misunderstandings shouldn’t get in the way of a serious effort to understand.

    I’ve come up with two thoughts on how to tease a little more knowledge out of QM. The first, as I’ve already mentioned on this blog, is to look back at the fossils and into the DNA to see if there’s any evidence of a “zigzag pattern” to evolution that might be consistent with John Wheeler’s notion of a “participatory observer” collapsing the wave-function. Apparently, I overestimated our ability to trace genetic linkages, so that one appears to be a non-starter.

    My other notion was to create more and more sophisticated artificial intelligence devices and insert them into John Wheeler’s “delayed choice experiment” to see how complex a measuring device needs to be to act as an “observer.”

    If we could build a neural network that generates a shift from wave-like to particle-like behavior when electrons pass through double slits in the delayed choice apparatus, we could start to talk meaningfully instead of mystically about an “observer.”

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  72. You’ve already been told quite a few times that Wheeler’s notion are weird are, to be polite, wide of the mark. Should I say that you very obviously have no genuine of learning what it known first? You seem keen to demonstrate this, again and again. If you read my reply you’d know this was the essence within it: learn what is known first.

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  73. Scott, I think you need to go back and critically assess your understanding of “participatory observer.” I think you would find this is just another example of quantum flapdoodle.

    Realise you actually aren’t developing hypotheses, let alone testing them. You are engaging in armchair speculation, as a lay person. really you are just learning for your own satisfaction – I might add that is a noble enterprise in itself.

    I believe that if you make a critical examination of these ideas you would give up on a “participatory observer” idea. If you think about it a hell of a lot happens, and has happened , in our universe with no conscious intelligence there to observe it, hasn’t it? A “neural network” is not required to “generate a shift from wave-like to particle-like behaviour” – whatever that means.

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  74. Ken, I assume you are familiar with Wheeler’s “delayed choice” experiment, but others may not be. Here’s the link to wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheeler%27s_delayed_choice_experiment

    The “delayed choice quantum eraser” test isn’t quantum flapdoodle–it’s real science. And there’s something that happens when a human observer is “in the circuit” that doesn’t happen when there’s just a measuring device of some sort. I’d like to know how complex the “observer” has to be to make the quantum eraser work.

    Heraclides, Wheeler’s notions about a participatory principle may be complete nonsense, but his delayed choice experiment (which began as a thought experiment) proved to be right on the money. You can tell me “again and again” that I’m making a fool of myself, but I’d rather have you show me that what I’m proposing isn’t science.

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  75. Scott,

    Excusing yourself on one doesn’t defend the other.

    To be blunt, you “talk” complete poppy-cock all the time, so, yes, you will be advised to go and learn first.

    You’d do well to try not to “link” things, especially when you barely understanding the thing themselves. That’s common-sense, right? (For most people it is.)

    You might argue “showing” is better, but the practical reality is that no-one has to do your homework for you and if all the person writing the comment only time for is to point out your error, instead of trying to object to it, accept that they’re trying to tell you something.

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  76. Heraclides, I’m not sure why I’m the focus here. I’m discussing John Wheeler’s famous “delayed choice” thought experiment, which he proposed in 1978. Here’s a brief explanation from Wikipedia:

    “Wheeler proposed a variation of the famous double-slit experiment of quantum physics, one in which the method of detection can be changed after the photon passes the double slit, so as to delay the choice of whether to detect the path of the particle, or detect its interference with itself. Since the measurement itself seems to determine how the particle passes through the double slits, and thus its state as a wave or particle, Wheeler’s thought experiment has been useful in trying to understand certain strange properties of quantum particles. An implementation of the experiment in 2007 showed that the act of observation ultimately decides whether the photon will behave as a particle or wave, verifying the unintuitive results of the thought experiment.”

    Since “the act of observation ultimately decides whether the photon will behave as a particle or wave,” this seems like one way to try to find out what it takes to constitute an “act of observation.”

    Suppose I train a dog to open a door on the left if my experimental setup detects a clockwise spin, and a door on the right if it detects a counterclockwise spin. Would a trained dog make the interference patterns (which are present in the “unobserved” state) go away? If so, that would appear to prove that a dog can be an “observer.” From there, one need only repeat with simpler and simpler organisms.

    Heraclides, if this has already been tried, I’d appreciate a link. It would be fascinating scientific evidence that would speak directly to one of the more mysterious aspects of QM.

    If it HASN’T been tried, please help me understand why it shouldn’t be, or couldn’t be. Wheeler’s original proposal was a mere “thought experiment” for 29 years before someone was able to do it in the lab. The experiment in 2007 proved it wasn’t “poppy-cock,” even if it took a long time to convert speculation into expermentation.

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  77. Scott – post a link to the 2007 paper – and perhaps then we might have some evidence to discuss.

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  78. Scott,

    Retrospectively restricting yourself to one aspect, leaving aside the wider range of things I wrote about, doesn’t reply to my comment.

    You actually wrote about more than that. In particular, you tried linking a few things in a way that didn’t make sense. (You’ve done this again in your reply. It was pointed out to you some time ago that quantum effects don’t apply at larger scales like organisms.)

    Regards f this has already been tried, I’d appreciate a link: really, it’s your homework to do. It’s not for others to disprove what you want to be true. Sorry, but this general approach of “asking for disproof” while presenting nothing supporting their own proposal is a “standard” approach of creationists, woo-merchants and the like. If you want to be better than them, then be better than them: substantiate what you say. However, judging by your skill level, you (urgently) need to go and learn first as I’ve already tried to tell you. I suggest along with the genetics texts you need to get basic physics books, too. Please don’t ask me for recommendations. Apart from it not being my speciality, I’m increasingly under the impression you’re insincere about learning how things really are and you are more along the lines of a “concern troll” who wishes to push their own rather bizarre ideas.

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  79. Ken, here’s a link:

    http://fr.arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0610241

    Looking at the method they used, I may have to go back to suggesting a neural network as an “observer.” I don’t think a trained dog could react quickly enough!

    Fortunately, the quantum computer folks are developing better and better technology for holding onto entangled qbits. They’ve gotten from microseconds to milliseconds. There should be a way to slow this process down long enough to try out different “observers” to see what it takes to trigger particle-like phenomena.

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  80. Here’s an earlier lab version of Wheeler’s thought experiment. This one is called the “delayed choice quantum eraser.”

    http://xxx.lanl.gov/PS_cache/quant-ph/pdf/9903/9903047v1.pdf

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  81. OK – now explain to me how, for example, these experiments are relevant to, say, radioactive decay.

    Do they predict that radioactive decay would not occur in the absence of an “observer” or “neural network.”?

    If not, in what way do they imply that nothing can happen in the universe without an “observer” being present?

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  82. Ken, I see your point–but I think you’re missing how counterintuitive Wheeler’s “participatory” principle is.

    Radioactive decay WOULD “take place” in the absence of an observer–in every physically possible way. If I put a cat and some radioactive isotopes in a box, there is a wavefunction of quantum possibility. Let’s say I leave the lid closed for 100 seconds–one possibility is that the nucleus decays after one second, another is that it decays after two seconds, etc., etc. If my experimental device measures just when the nucleus decays, the clock in the box ALSO becomes part of the wavefunction. One possibility is that the clock reads 1 second, another possibility is that it reads 2, etc.

    When I open the lid, will I only see ONE reading on the clock. The radioactive decay DID occur in the absence of an observer–but, arguably, every possibility was simultaneously present UNTIL the observer caused the wavefunction to collapse.

    All this is going to make a lot more sense once we get good quantum computers up and running. They rely on the same counterintuitive effects.

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  83. Scott, can you please tell me what you think the word “observation” means in terms of quantum mechanics?

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  84. Scott – you aren’t making sense. Alternatively this is just a hoax on your part.

    Perhaps the latter is the case. After all, the first time someone put a cat and a decaying radio isotope in a box it was meant as a form of ridicule!

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  85. Ken, I am truly sorry about not making sense. But remember, we ARE discussing stuff that baffled Einstein. And Einstein turned out to be wrong on this one.

    You seem to equate “observation” with “something happens.” To you, it seems like I’m suggesting the universe doesn’t exist at all and then–POOF!–suddenly there’s a sun beating down on a sandy beach with a trail of human footprints walking across it and a lone figure staring up, saying, “I observe, therefore I am!”

    The Wheeler model says the universe DID exist. The sun rose. Each footstep was laid down one at a time. The only difference between the Wheeler model and what we all take for granted is that Wheeler suggests that an infinite number of OTHER possibilities “vanish” at the moment of the “observation.” In Wheeler’s model, there is no way from our vantage point of “now” for us to look back on the past to see when the wavefunction collapsed.

    Damian, I’d love to define “observation” for you. I raced off to go look for some authoritative source and discovered I’d stumbled onto a really hot one. So I’ve decided I’d better NOT try to define “observation” until I realize the implications of rushing in where angels fear to tread.

    This article in wikipedia manages to dance around a definition of “observation” fairly nicely, however. As you will see, to define what an “observation” is to take a position on the various interpretations of QM, which I’m not willing to do quite yet.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat

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  86. Scott – you have to appreciate that the “collapse of the wavefunction” is purely metaphorical. The Schroedinger equation is what we use to describe a system which is only statistically deterministic. It enables us to describe it in probability terms. And it can be very successful – very deterministic, in its predictions (consider all of chemistry).

    “Other historical possibilities” do not vanish at the point of “observation.” they vanish at the point history is made. At this point we are considering possible futures, not possible pasts.

    So we can describe possible futures in terms of probabilities derived from the wave function (for subatomic particles) – but once events occur these become actual past histories.

    The interactions with subatomic particles that occur (and have occurred since the beginning of the universe) decide which particular possible branch of history (in a sense described by the Shroedinger equation) is taken. The other previously possible branches of history are just not taken – no longer exist as possibilities.

    Experiment by a modern conscious observer describes only one sort of interaction (and this didn’t take place 14 billion years ago). Unfortunately people get confused because they interpret the “measurement problem” as an actual measurement, requiring consciousness, rather than an interaction where a living observer is not required.

    And they get confused with the metaphorical “collapse of the wave function” because they think an observer is necessary to do this, rather than seeing it as an actually step in history where a particular possible path (with a calculable probability of occurring) actually took place.

    Of course, if you face up to the fact that classical physics apply at any scale you and I interact with really (the quasi-classical world is described by a limiting formulation of quantum mechanics which is effectively classical mechanics) then you will realise that quantum mechanical descriptions become pointless. After all, if we can develop a Schroedinger equation only for extremely simple systems such as one or two electrons in an atom – how could we possible use it to describe a “sun beating down on a sandy beach with a trail of human footprints walking across it and a lone figure staring up.” That would be extremely inappropriate – and would probably lead to psychiatric certification.

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  87. Ken, if you are right, how can one build a quantum computer?

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  88. Scott – I couldn’t build a normal computer, let alone a quantum computer.

    But it would be strange old world (or really no world at all) if computers depended on realities “vanishing” at the point of observation.

    I really don’t see what relevance this has to quantum computing.

    But obviously you think I am wrong.

    Then back to my question. Do you think radioactive decay requires a conscious observer? How do you explain all the “collapses of the wave function” in things like radioactive decay before we came along?

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  89. Scott,

    Quantum computing designs take uncertainty into account. You should consider this a nice illustration that these issues aren’t “real” for larger systems, refuting your desired-for ideas via a practical example.

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  90. Scott, from reading some of your previous comments I took you to mean that you thought that the kind of ‘observation’ that collapses wavefunctions must be that of an intelligence. But you presumably do realise (don’t you?) that the way ‘observation’ is used in relation to quantum mechanics is synonymous with ‘interference’. i.e. that regardless of whether a living thing ‘sees’ something, a wavefunction will still collapse if it is interfered with. i.e. leave a light flickering in the double slit experiment without anyone watching and the wavefunctions will still collapse.

    Do we share a common understanding on the concept of ‘observation’?

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  91. Damian, thanks for that link. It’s VERY helpful.

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