Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nagel's folly Part 3 -- Comparisons of ID to other types of expanations

Today I am discussing another problem with the paper authored by Dr. Nagel, which supports teaching Intelligent Design in public schools. As a reminder, Jake Young at Pure Pedantry discussed why naturalism is essential to science, in Part 1 of this series I noted that evolution is not incompatible with design, and in Part 2 of this series I noted that there is no reason that being an atheist would make you a believer in evolution. Today I'm going to write about Nagel's comparison of the scientific investigation of ID with investigation of other sorts of phenomena, why such investigations are or are not possible, and how ID does or does not suffer the same sort of fundamental defect. The four notions mentioned are ghosts, telepathy, creationism, and ID.

What would it take to justify the claim that there are propositions such that the discovery of evidence against them can qualify as science, but evidence in favor of them cannot? Someone who accepts this view would probably extend it to propositions about ghosts or extrasensory perception. Research showing that effects that some benighted souls have attributed to ghosts or mental telepathy can be explained in a perfectly naturalistic way would count as science, but any argument that the evidence does not support those explanations, and that significant experimental or observational data are better explained by ghosts or by ESP, would not count as science, and could therefore be ruled out of consideration. On this view it would not even be a false scientific claim.

With regard to ghosts, I don't know what effects Dr. Nagel could be talking about about. How do you test for the presence of a ghost? How do you verify this is a successful test? I have seen magicians duplicate the feats of various psychics, while claiming is it all based on natural abilities, so you can't rely on physics to tell you if there are actually ghosts present. This is outside of science because we can not even verify if we have a functional test.

With regard to telepathy, and various other forms of ESP, there have been a variety of scientific studies done to determine if there is an effect to study. To my knowledge, all of the tests, when performed under controlled conditions, have determined that there is no reliable effect to study. If ESP is something that is supposed to used reliably at need, or under specific, reproducible conditions, then you obviously can study it scientifically. However, if ESP is presumed to be a phenomenon that appears and disappears without warning, for no reason, then it is immune to study because you can never have a true negative result.

It seems to me that in this respect ID is very different from young earth creationism, and the “creation science” that it spawned. There are people who believe, on the authority of the Bible, that God created the earth and all the creatures on it about six thousand years ago. The fact that this proposition is inconsistent with various scientific theories of cosmology, geology, and biology does not make it a scientific claim.

The claims of creationists may not be in agreement with science, but they can certainly be investigated by science. The very fact that there is a disagreement with science means that some sort of claim about science is being made. So, the fact that this proposition is inconsistent with various theories cosmology, geology, and biology does make it a scientific claim. It is a claim that leads to predictions of what we should expect to see with regard to cosmology, geology, and biology. Some scientific claims are just wrong.

Biblical literalism is not a scientific hypothesis because it is not offered as an explanation of the empirical evidence, but is accepted as a divine revelation. So long as no observations about the natural world are offered in its support, it is not even a false scientific claim. When, however, in response to the finding that the teaching of creationism in public schools was unconstitutional, the producers of creation science tried to argue that young earth creationism was consistent with the geological and paleontological evidence, they succeeded in putting forward a scientific claim, even though their reason for doing so was that they believed it to be true on other grounds, and their arguments were easily refuted.

When the assumption of a six-thousand-year-old earth led to predictions and interpretations that were scientific claims, it was because the original claim was scientific.

A scientific hypothesis can be false and unsupported by the evidence. That is a good enough reason not to teach it to schoolchildren. It is not necessary to argue that it is not science, not even hopelessly bad science.

Well, at least we agree here.

ID is very different from creation science. To an outsider, at least, it does not seem to depend on massive distortion of the evidence and hopeless incoherencies in its interpretation. Nor does it depend, like biblical literalism, on the assumption that the truth of ID is immune to empirical evidence to the contrary. What it does depend on is the assumption that the hypothesis of a designer makes sense and cannot be ruled out as impossible or assigned a vanishingly small probability in advance.

What ID has not done, does not do, and apparently will never do is give us a prediction about the world, a scientific claim, that can be tested. Regardless of how likely you think the notion of a designer is, the question remains: what is the testable evidence of a designer's footprints? Can you devise a functional, scientific test for a designer's involvement? We can rule out or confirm any designer that gives us a prediction, a testable entity. ID has not produced this entity.

Once it is assigned a significant prior probability, it becomes a serious candidate for support by empirical evidence, in particular empirical evidence against the sufficiency of standard evolutionary theory to account for the observational data. Critics take issue with the claims made by defenders of ID about what standard evolutionary mechanisms can accomplish, and argue that they depend on faulty assumptions. Whatever the merits, however, that is clearly a scientific disagreement, not a disagreement between science and something else.

I agree that many of the anti-evolution presented are at least arguments about science, and can be discussed in that venue. However, until ID can offer us something to make predictions, something to test, ID can never be science, no matter what the status of evolution.
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nagel's folly Part 2 -- Evolution, believability, and the Constitution

Today I am discussing another problem with the paper authored by Dr. Nagel, which supports teaching Intelligent Design in public schools. As a reminder, Jake Young at Pure Pedantry discussed why naturalism is essential to science, and in Part 1 of this series I noted that evolution is not incompatible with design. Today I'm going to write about Nagel's contention that being an atheist makes you more likely to believe in evolution.

It's interesting that historically, atheism was associated with the belief that the universe, life,and human were always in basically the same state that they are today. It was not until the discoveries of biologists in the 19th century that atheists accepted the idea of common descent.

Nagel says:
It would have to be argued that the assumption that divine intervention is impossible, or too improbable to be considered, is on a par with the assumption that the literal truth of the Bible is not immune to empirical counterevidence[sic], and that just as the latter is a constitutionally permissible presupposition of the teaching of science, so is the former. In other words, not considering divine intervention a possibility is just a basic epistemological condition of modern science, a condition of scientific rationality, and cannot be constitutionally suspect, in spite of the fact that it is a religious assumption.

This is part of the issue leading into this error: the notion that science says divine intervention is impossible. Science actually says divine intervention is unmeasurable and unpredictable, therefore not useful as predictive element. It's ruled out of science because of being undetectable and non-useful.

Judge Jones cited as a decisive reason for denying ID the status of science that Michael Behe, the chief scientific witness for the defense, acknowledged that the theory would be more plausible to someone who believed in God than to someone who did not.12 This is just common sense, however, and the opposite is just as true: evolutionary theory as a complete explanation of the development of life is more plausible to someone who does not believe in God than to someone who does. Either both of them are science or neither of them is. If both of them are scientific hypotheses, the ground for exclusion must be that ID is hopelessly bad science, or dead science, in Kitcher’s phrase.

This is wrong because Nagel has missed the chain of reasoning. Being an atheist dos not make you more likely to accept evolution, as opposed to believing in a static universe for example. Being an atheist means you are more likely to accept that the naturalistic explanation, the one that has been tested and proved, without adding any sort of need to superimpose a additional beings into the process, but it does not guide to to a specific natural proof. The evidence leads you to evolution.

That would be true if ID, like young earth creationism, can be refuted by the empirical evidence even if one starts by assuming that the possibility of a god who could intervene cannot be ruled out in advance.

Nagel has this relationship backwards. It is precisely because it makes claims that can be refuted that YEC is at least making scientific claims. I have yet to hear one ID claim that was capable of being tested, much less refuted.

So far as I can tell, however, no such refutation has even been offered, let alone established.

Nagel does not say what there is to refute.

What have been offered instead are necessarily speculative proposals about how the problems posed by Behe might be handled by evolutionary theory, declarations that no hypothesis involving divine intervention counts as science, and assurances that evolutionary theory is not inconsistent with the existence of God.

Nagel is apparently not aware that there have also been direct refutations of many of Behe's claims the types of evolution that have or have not occurred, corrections to his description of fitness spaces, etc.

It is also emphasized that even if evolutionary theory were false, that would not mean that ID was true. That is so, but it is still not a sufficient reason to exclude it from discussion.

The reason to include ID is to provide positive, testable evidence for ID. 20 years after Edwards, the ID movement has not even come up with a testable prediction. So what's to discuss?
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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nagel's folly Part 1 -- evolution is not in oposition to design

Back in September, Dr. Thomas Nagel, an accomplished philosopher are NYU, authored a paper supporting the teaching of the position of intelligent design (ID) in school and criticizing the findings of Judge Jones in Kitzmiller vs. Dover (hat tip to vere loqui). Over at Pure Pedantry, Jake Young discussed why Dr. Nagel is wrong from the viewpoint of the philosophy of science, specifically whether science can ever look at supernatural causes and ID can be considered science. I don't need to reiterate his points, but there are a few I'd like to add over the weekend. Today I'm going to focus on one of the earliest and most fundamental errors in his paper: the notion that evolutionary theory is in opposition to the notion of design. The misunderstanding seems to form the heart of his arguments.

From the beginning it has been commonplace to present the theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection as an alternative to intentional design as an explanation of the functional organization of living organisms. The evidence for the theory is supposed to be evidence for the absence of purpose in the causation of the development of life-forms on this planet. It is not just the theory that life evolved over billions of years, and that all species are descended from a common ancestor. Its defining element is the claim that all this happened as the result of the appearance of random and purposeless mutations in the genetic material followed by natural selection due to the resulting heritable variations in reproductive fitness. It displaces design by proposing an alternative.

First of all, Dr. Nagel is overlooking some 15 other mechanisms involved in evolution. It's one thing to say you doubt something happened by random mutation and natural selection, it's another thing to say you doubt something happened through random mutation, gene duplication, frame shift mutation, gene flow, recombination, cellular symbiosis, environmentally generated changes to DNA decoding, protein changes (prions, etc.), natural selection, sexual selection, random genetic drift, kin selection, speciation, punctuated equilibrium, extinction/competition/invasive species, mass extinction events, and parasitic/symbiotic relationships.

More importantly, evolution does not displace design. I'm not sure how much Dr. Nagel (or myself :), for that matter) understands of the history of biology from the 19th century, but the word "random", in this context, has always been understood by me to be a relative term, that mutations are random as opposed to being dictated by the needs of the organism in its environment, random as opposed to Lamarckian. The classic examples include things like the giraffes don't have long-necked children because they stretch their own necks looking for food, or even if a bear loses his tail fishing in the water, his cubs will still have tails. The power of the Lamarckian meme is significant, you find such stories in the folk tales of people on six continents. The only design notion that the "random" of evolutionary theory opposes is Lamarckian design.

With regard to ID, there are at least two different ways that modern evolutionary theory is compatible with a designed outcome: the notion of a front-loaded system, where the universe was initially arranged to produce life, and the notion of a God who makes small adjustments in evolutionary history, using means that could have had a natural cause as well as a supernatural one. Science offers no position on these notions of design.

The contention seems to be that, although science can demonstrate the falsehood of the design hypothesis, no evidence against that demonstration can be regarded as scientific support for the hypothesis. Only the falsehood, and not the truth, of ID can count as a scientific claim. Something about the nature of the conclusion, that it involves the purposes of a supernatural being, rules it out as science.

Neither is a scientific claim. Perhaps Dr. Nagle is listening too much to the Dawkins and similar philosophers in this regard. Science can rule out certain claims about the natural world that have a religious origin, such as an Earth less than ten thousand years old, when using the assumption that there has been no supernatural intervention in the processes described. However, ultimately it can't even rule out Last Thursdayism. It's a philosophical choice to say the universe acts now as it has always acted, not a scientific one.

I'll get another part or two up this weekend. Happy Thanksgiving.
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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Arrogance and ignorance, a hefty brew

IlĂ­on said...

I am taking time today to respond to a post by Ilion, a commenter on a few blogs I visit from time to time. Comment #11 on this post had so much stupidity that I felt a response in the thread would be unfair to the host, Dr. Reppert of the blog “dangerous idea”.

To be honest, I am not completely sure Ilion is genuine. The difficulty is distinguishing between parody and reality in creationist circles is well-known. However, for today, his operating style has been consistent for long enough that he has forfeited the benefit of the doubt, so I will treat him as if he were not a parody.

Ilion's remarks will be in italics.

Amusingly Misnamed Person:

Ilion is responding to Doctor Logic, who happens to be an atheist. It is very typical that he will not even be so polite as to use a chosen handle. Ilion has generally made it clear that atheists are not worthy of polite replies.

The comments of Doctor Logic,to which Ilion was responding, will be bolded.

"Right-wing Christians love to whine about potsmodernism, but their tactics are no better. You think 1+1=2? TEACH THE CONTROVERSY! Maybe it equals 5. Now, students... debate!"

I think examples based on science here, such as intelligent falling , rather than an example from a formal system like mathematics, would be a better choice.

Oddly enough, one never sees physicists, for example, claim that *any* theory of physics is as firmly established as 'modern evolutionary theory' ...

No, physicists have their own well-established, non-controversial theories that they use to compare other theories to. Why should they go outside their specialty? Biologists don't seem to be this lucky, pretty much every theory they have gets attacked by some sort of fruitcake or quack, so they need to go outside their specialty.

...(which, by the way, is neither modern, ...

Apparently a theory that has produced hundreds of new research papers this year alone is not modern enough for Ilion, as opposed to his 1600-year-old-book.

...nor evolutionary, ...

Ilion seems to ignorant of the history of evolutionary theory, as well.

... nor an actual theory, ...

I'm not sure if Ilion is ignorant of what a scientific theory is, or just the science thathas been done and continues to be done based on evolutionary theory. I would not be surprised if it were both.

... and thus I always put the phrase, which I seem to have invented, ...

Ilion does not allow his ignorance to diminish his ego.

... not that there was any great mental difficulty involved in the invention, in mocking quote marks).

It almost goes without saying that if Ilion accomplished it, it required no great mental difficulty.

In arithmetic, which the Amusingly Misnamed Person, following general "Darwinist" practice, imagines he can co-opt in support of 'modern evolutionary theory,' that '1+1=2' is a necessary truth, it is *true* and it cannot be otherwise in any possible world.

Ilion is also ignorant of mathematics, by the way. In a world with a single, indivisible object, it makes much more sense to use 1 + 1 = 0, since there is no “2”.

This truth is logical and is supported by rigorous logic (unlike "Darwinism"). And, in fact, as '2' is merely the name for '1+1' (i.e. counting once more past one), to say '1+1=2' is exactly to say '1+1=1+1.'

Ilion, who seems to think mathematical constructs have some sort of internal reality, confuses the construction of “2” with the supporting of “1 + 1 = 2”.

Moreover, with arithmetic, we do not teach our that '1+1=2' by trying to outlaw all denials of that truth -- imagine arithmetic in the hands of "Darwinists!" Rather, we teach the children that '1+1=2' by *demonstrating* that it is true (something "Darwinists" will never even attempt with their pretend theory).

Of course, “Darwinists” are, to my knowledge, non-existent, so they don't do much. People don't worship Darwin the way that Ilion venerates his magic sky pixie. On the other hand, biologists have demonstrated evolutionary theory in numerous ways.

What's even more amusing about Amusingly Misnamed Person's ploy here is that science isn't even about truth, in the first place -- at any rate, for the past two centuries or so, since the "free thinkers" managed to redefine it, it hasn't been about actual truth.

Ilion is always upset at the notion that what we believe to be correct today may be proven wrong tomorrow. In his limited mental capacity, this is the same thing as lying, as far asI can tell.

So, on the one hand, 'modern evolutionary theory' not only isn't actually true (for it is illogical, and illogical things are necessarily false) ...

Ilion's not very knowledgeable about the limitations of logic, either.

... but it also isn't actually scientific, and on the other hand, even if 'modern evolutionary theory' were actually scientific, it could still never rise to the level of the truth that '1+1=2,' for mere science cannot do that.

Yes, he really is saying that Mt. Rushmore could never achieve the perfection of a the original artist's drawing of Mt. Rushmore, and that this makes the drawing superior.

ALSO, if Gentle Reader is *really* paying attention, he will notice that the Amusingly Misnamed Person does not himself really have a problem with post-modernism ... rather, he whinges because "Right-wing Christians" condemn post-modernism,

More correctly, because right-wing Christians use post-modern argumentation while decrying post-modernism itself.

even as he employes post-modernist "argumentation" to lie about "Right-wing Christians."

Ilion presents no lies from Doctor Logic.

Amusingly Misnamed Person: "For your information, Ilion, evolution predicts several basic things that have been verified. Common descent (all species related), common architecture and common composition (no titanium, nuclear-powered mice) and a fossil record in which animals and plants appear in a developmental series (no Cambrian rabbits)."

What an illogical (and irrational) fool this Amusingly Misnamed Person is.

"Evolution" does not "predict" these things. And they have not been "verified."

Ilion is only three-fourths wrong here (which may be a personal best for him in the area of biology). Evolution does not predict common descent, and its implicaitons in a common architecture and a common composition. Evolution could operate equally well with independent descent. Of course, Ilion is wrong in that evolution does imply a developmental series, and wrong in that all of the above has been verified.

Amusingly Misnamed Person's examples are, rather, merely an example of the illogic and circularity of "Darwinist" "thought:" posit 'X,' ignore any evident against 'X,' claim 'X' is "verified."

Ilion assumes that his own method of thought regarding Scripture is followed by everyone.

Gentle Reader, if he is observant and thoughtful, will recognize that my response to the Anonymouse exactly (and devastatingly, once the truth of the claim is grasped) answered his not-seriously-asked question "So, what's the weakness?" but pointing out that 'modern evolutionary theory' is inherently illogical and that the "logic" of it entails the denial that we can reason, that we can know truth, that our minds (which is to say, ourselves) actually exist.

Readers will find my direct response to that post on the page itself. I am unaware that any biologist thinks evolutionary theory entails the denial of the human ability to reason, Ilion apparently pulls this conclusion from his rectum.

So, 'modern evolutionary theory' is both irredeemably illogical and utterly anti-rational -- what further weakness does a *rational* person demand to have explicated?

The terms “irredeemably illogical and utterly anti-rational” apparently are synonymous to “I don't agree” when Ilion writes.

Common descent: "Evolution" neither "predicts" nor "verifies" the doctrine of common descent.

As noted above, Evolution does not predict common descent. It does verify common descent.

And it cannot, even in principle, be verified,

The principle for verification is quite simple, though seemingly beyond Ilion. You make hypotheses about observations that would follow from common descent, then you investigate to see whether these observations hold. You can also make observations that would be possible should common descent not be true, and investigate to see if those observations hold. So far, common descent has passed all tests.

much less proven

Proof is for alcohol and formal systems (like logic or mathematics).

-- for any evidence adduced to support the doctrine can *also* support other beliefs, including the belief of "special creation."

Actually, no evidence can in principle support special creation, because no evidence can dispute special creation.

But then, "Darwinists" do detest proof and logic, do they not?

I don't see the point in speculating on the likes and dislikes of near-mythical concoctions.

Rather, the doctrine of common descent is an fundamental assumption of "evolution" -- and which assumption, by the way, they themselves are quietly abandoning these days.

Should new forms of life be discovered, with which we do not share a common ancestry, then naturally common descent will be limited only to the life forms to which it does apply.

Yet, count on it: they will never say something so simple as "We were wrong about that."

An orthinologist says that there are no green recorded swans, and then two years later a green swan is discovered. Ilion demands a statement of error, even when no error is apparent.

And, when they've fully abandoned it, and the textbooks have been reprinted, they will try to claim that it is a "creationist lie" that they ever did claim that common descent is the truth.

Ilion has some concocted tale in mind, probably, but is likely ignorant of the reality.

Logically, one cannot "verify" what one has assumed and one certainly cannot *prove* what one has assumed -- at best, one can show that the evidence does not contradict the assumption. But that, of course, requires that one look at all relevant evidence, ...

Something biologists are only too happy to do.

...which is something "Darwinists" are ever loath to do.

Again, I see no point in speculating on mythical creatures.

Common architecture: Once again, this is not a "prediction" of "evolution." It is rather, a common observation. Moreover, as evidence for 'modern evolutionary theory,' it is quite underdetermined, which is to say, it can also be used as evidence for many other beliefs, including the belief of "special creation."

Common composition: Once again, this is not a "prediction" of "evolution." It is rather, a common observation. Moreover, as evidence for 'modern evolutionary theory,' it is quite underdetermined, which is to say, it can also be used as evidence for many other beliefs, including the belief of "special creation."

The inaccuracies noted above apply here.

Amusingly enough, there are some organisms which are a bit "uncommon" -- yet "Darwinism" claims to "explain" them also.

I see no point in speculating on the purported claims of mythical creatures.

For instance, it was long thought that there were only twenty amino acids in use in biology -- and this was touted as evidence for, or even "proof" of, "Darwinism." Yet, for the past several years it has been known that there are at least twenty-three amino acids in use in biology -- and the former claim that the "universal genetic code" (now called the "canonical genetic code") was evidence for, or even proof of, "Darwinism" has been quietly sidelined.

I see no point in speculating on the purported claims of mythical creatures.

However, in biology there has been no abandonment of common descent simply because a few bacteria, or there descendants such as mitochondria, use a slightly variant coding. In fact, the notion of variant coding was discussed even before the first such code was discovered.

Now, another amusement about these two "new" amino acids is that they are coded for by regular "old" codons which in most organisms code for the "standard" (or "canonical") amino acid. Which is to say, there is no *chemical* requirement that some particular combination of base-pairs codes for some particular amino acid.

Well, duh. This has been well-known for decades.

No Cambrian rabbits: All hail the Glorious Circle! Goodness, where would "Darwinists" be if they could not "argune" in circles!

They would still be mythical creatures.

Amusingly enough, the knowledgable "Darwinists" know -- and some will even admit it -- that the fossil record" cannot logically be used to support 'modern evolutionary theory.'

I see no point in speculating on the purported claims of mythical creatures. Biologists, especially those who study fossils, know that fossils do support evolutionary theory.

The *reason* there are no "Cambian rabbits" is because a rabbit fossil is -- by definition -- not Cambrian.

A fossil is defined by the age of the rock in which it appears. Should rabbit fossils appear in Cambrian rocks, they would be Cambrian rabbits.

Moreover, that "developmental series" the Amusingly Misnamed Person touts is a figment of the imagination -- it doesn't actually exist.

Except, it does. Ample examples are available all over the internet.

And, worse, there are many places in the world where hundreds of square miles of "older" fossils are *on top of* "newer" fossils.

Well, duh. The earth is geologically active, so sometimes large chunks of rock get moved, turned upside-down, etc. There are geological indicators for this, which do not depend on biology or fossils.

REMEMBER: a "mechanism" or "theory" which "explains" everything and its denial, and by the same means, explains nothing.

An excellent description of creationism.
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