Thursday, August 27, 2009

The 118th Skeptics' Circle

At Evolving Mind we have the Looking Closely edition of the Skeptics' Circle. There are nice bits about the development of precision lenses in microscopes and telescopes as well as the usual links, and I enjoyed it immensely.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The foundations of non-skeptical thinking

I was looking over some of the web sites attached to the members of Intelligent Reasoning when I came across the blog More Than Words by team member David Anderson, and in particular noticed a label he had for Mathematics. It turned into an opportunity to blog on skepticism, mathematics, and philosophy in general, an irresistible combination to me. Continued below the fold.

The particular topic is the general notion of whether mathematics, and similar sorts of activities, are describing something that is real. I have touched upon this topic in previous posts. In some ways, this argument is at the very heart of the worldviews that assert there can be some absolute truth, moral principles, authority, etc. You can't hang an absolute morality or absolute knowledge on a logical foundation that is arbitrary, at least not without some cognitive discomfort.

So, n Anderson's post on mathematics, we find Anderson arguing for how mathematicians feel mathematics is a feature of reality. All quotes following are from his post, unless otherwise noted.

Mathematics is also a very interesting field if you have an interest in philosophy and questions about design in nature. Almost all mathematicians are in practice realists - they believe that as they make progress in their field they are involved in discovering and not in inventing. (See here for more on this distinction). That is, they act and research as if there is already a transcendent, pre-existing mathematical universe "out there" that is waiting for us to find and explore it. The opposite of that is behaving as if mathematics is our arbitrary toy, to be played with, deconstructed and rebuilt as we please. Shall we adopt the convention that 2+2 = 5 from now on and see where that takes us?

Yes, the good old 2+2 = 5 argument (it never occurs to such people that it is perfectly reasonable in some circumstances to say 2 + 2 = 1). Now, I am sure there are mathematicians who think there is some big design they are uncovering, and that belief does not prevent them from being fine mathematicians. It's probably even a positive when you are working closely with computer scientists, engineers, or physicist in pushing the boundaries of mathematics for direct applications. However, having enjoyed some 66 semester hours of undergraduate mathematics and another 36 at the graduate level, I can say that I ran into more than a few instructors and fellow students who treated mathematics exactly like an arbitrary toy, something you could play with, take apart, and build to order. Most of them, to my knowledge, would not have cared if there were a philosophical position that reflected this attitude, but I find fictionalism to be a decent approximation. We were playing in a universe we created for our benefit, and occasionally something useful would pop out.

In my view, the atheist materialists who have tried to explain their view of reality are in an exceptionally weak position when they seek to explain mathematics in non-transcendent terms. Mathematics resists, at multiple levels, any attempt to treat it as an arbitrary invention of the human mind. Almost at every turn it cries out "I was here before you, and I am bigger than you!". Maths is a very theistic subject!

Actually, mathematics is highly receptive to humans treating it like an arbitrary invention. It's why we have Euclidean, Lobachevkian, and Riemannian geometries to describe different sorts of space. It's we we have intuitionist, constructivist, and para-consistent logics and their mathematical descendants. We add or remove axioms at our pleasure, look at the results, and call it fun (and occasionally useful).

I can of course always add two apples to two apples and will always get four apples (an inconvenient truth for the atheists who want to argue that mathematical truths are not transcendent!) - but as I do so I'm conscious that there is a notion of "two-ness" or "four-ness" that goes far beyond the tasty bits of fruit and is independent of them.

Now, this is a great example of fuzzy-headed thinking, an absolute truth that is right except where it is wrong. If I smash two apples against two apples, I will quite possibly have over 100 bits of apple. If I pour two liters of water into two liters of alcohol, I will have under 3.9 liters of fluid. Except in very limited circumstances, numbers are not conserved!

The more complicated the mathematics gets, the more obvious this becomes. I can move from the simple adding of objects to a dimension up and do calculus to work out the area under a graph. I can then accelerate to five or six dimensional spaces and work out their corresponding concept of volume. I can work out the properties of completely theoretical objects. you get the idea. Mathematics speaks to us of an ideal reality which depends on the mind.

Here's an interesting question: how the fundamental nature of an ideal reality depend upon a human mind? Personally, I don't think is can or does. Perhaps Anderson mistyped, and meant that the reality is revealed to the mind, or perhaps it was a Freudian slip. I do think that the reality of any particular five-dimensional construction we create depends on our mind. That makes it not a fundamental property of nature.

Whilst it depends on the mind, mathematics also seems to have an unbreakable link to the physical world. In the most simple example, there's something about those two oranges that has the notion of two-ness. The notion of two-ness is contained, but not exhausted, by them.

The notion of twoness, and similar notions, is the pattern that we humans impose upon our world to make it simpler. Since we are identifying a pattern, it is unsurprising that no one instance of the pattern will form a complete rendition.

I can create a two-dimensional shape that is approximately (but never exactly - because we live in a world of discrete atoms and molecules) equal to the one in the equation of the graph I was using. This is all simple enough.

Anderson references quantum mechanics later on. Perhaps it's my ignorance, but wouldn't it be much more correct to say we live in a worlds of fuzzy atoms and molecules behaving in probabilistic ways? Even here, the need to have absolutes alters the mindset.

What is more breath-taking, though, is to understand that correspondences between abstract mathematics and the physical world have also been discovered in far more complicated cases. In some areas, mathematicians discovered new theorems in highly abstract areas that nobody thought would ever turn out to have a practical application - but in fact they actually perfectly described physical phenomena observed decades later. Do you get that? Away in his dusty study somewhere, the mathematician was working on a problem that was thought to be far too abstract to have any real application. Some time later, a physicist realised that this bit of mathematics was the key to something that he was observing. Quantum physics provides a number of illustrations of this.

I'm not sure why this is particularly breathtaking. While we play with mathematics as a toy, we also do like to make it useful. So, a mathematician, playing around with equations that are useful descriptions of quantum mechanics, comes across a new feature which also has utility, based upon deductively playing with something already utilized. I don't see why that would be surprising. I don't think it would be particularly shocking to Anderson if an engineer predicted that a steel beam would collapse under a certain weight load, and was correct.

Observation one: Mathematics has its seat in minds. Observation two: We also now know that mathematics is also embedded at a fundamental and essential in physical reality. Inescapable conclusion: Physical reality is the product of a mind.

Anderson very obligingly illustrated my point for me. This notion of real versus useful fictions is not just semantics and playing with words. It's a part of how and why believers believe, one of the pillars they use to prop up their world view.

I'll offer one final link to a rant by a mathematician, offered because he views mathematics as an art. I don't endorse everything he says about education, but his view of mathematics fits much more closely with the mathematicians I learned from and with.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Discussion on evolution, part 4

I think we are getting close to the end of this discussion. Response below the fold.

You may disagree with my point, if you truly understand it, but it cannot be because you disgree with my useage of the term theoretical. That's what you have tried to make "the point" but it aint, and never has been, mine. Call "natural selection" theoretical if it pleases you. I really don't care in the least what you "call" it in that respect. Either way the assertion of it's "existence" is a completely different issue than the issue of defining and explaining the exact role it plays in causing evolution.

I agree here too. Since my point is that theories can be as sure, as reliable, as supported as facts, and the issue of the role of a theoretical construct is a different discussion from it's existence, your point does not detract from mine.

Ok, finally we agree. Now, if we can just leave "natural selection" out of the process of creating novelty, we can perhaps make some progress on the issue I'm trying to discuss---the "mechanisms" by which genetic novelty is produced. Recombination aside (which itself "creates" nothing novel) do you agree that "mutations" are the sole source of genuine heritable novelty? If you say yes, then I will ask you about how the "randomness" part works.

That would almost be by definition, mutations are defined as heritable variations, unless you mean specifically mutations to DNA, in which case I would disagree.

Where, here again, I think we have two different understandings of what epistemology (whether used as a noun, an adjective, or whatever) is, so I suggest we quit using that term. Any meaningful statement of any kind will contain some "notions," but that does not make the nature of the claim itself epistemological (in the sense I think you are using it--which is not my sense). If I say "God is a big dude, probably at least 9 feet tall, who lives in the sky," I'm sure that claim must contain some element which you would call epistemological. The nature of the claim is nonetheless metaphyical.

We still need a way to categorize the difference between 'God is 9 feet tall', which would be a property God would have independent of the surrounding environment, and "God has helped me', which is a statement that only makes sense in a particular environment and is not just about God. I have accepted referring to both as ontological. If you want to call them both metaphysical, I think that is an abuse of term, since it allows the conclusions of science to be metaphysical, but I'm willing to live with it, as long as there is a way we can refer to the difference.

Yes, I do feel this is a very close analogy to the ways mutations are or are not considered random.

Well, in one sense of the term "metaphysical," it is precisely those assertions which are assumed as an unquestioned starting point which are "metaphysical."

It is always assumed that "metaphysical" claims are not subject to verification. In many places in this thread you seem to imply that the starting "axioms" of a theory are themselves empirically derived. This can't be the case.

This is why you don't understand scientific theories.

An assumption according to Asimov is...

At times you have also indicated that you think "scientific theory" is utterly devoid of any assumptions which have not been empirically proven (and at other times you seem to say you think otherwise). What is your stance on this issue exactly?

The assumptions of science include uniformitarianism (reactions that happen today are the same as those that happen yesterday, a million years ago, etc.), the ability to obtain objective measurements, and the actual existence of the universe to measure. I'm sure I could name more along those lines. They are metaphysical assumptions, not subject to verification.

Theoretical starting points like the constancy of the speed of light and the randomness of mutations with respect to the needs of the environment are inferential extensions based upon observation in a variety of conditions. They are not axioms in the sense a formal theory has axioms. They are always provisional.

I agree with your first paragraph. A naked hypothesis with no specific content, such as, matter is made up of atoms, is NOT a scientific theory,

That's not a hypothesis, it was a speculation (now I would say it is a fact).

even though, people may refer to the "atomic theory" of the ancient greeks as simply this. At a minimum, some specific content is require as an essential prerequisite for qualifying as a "scientific theory." That said, I do not think that mere fact that some claim has a semblance of "theoretical" overtones makes it a full-blown "scientific theory," and I take it that you don't either.

I'm not sure what you meant here, so I am assuming it is, 'I do not think the mere fact that some claim has a semblance of "theoretical" overtones makes it a full-blown "scientific theory," and I take it that you don't either'. I would agree that claims with theoretical overtones start as hypotheses. I would agree a claim that makes flat, simple assertion of mechanism is a poor theory in need of enrichment, and thus not a full-blown scientific theory. I'm not sure if that is what you meant.

This whole discussion relates to the NAS pamphlet and their equivocal use of the term "theory" in that pamphlet. I really don't care to dwell on semantics for semantics' sake. But when sophistical semantical tactics are used to mislead, I may take a greater interest.

I see the pamphlet as trying to communicate the idea correctly using language that would be imprecise in a discussion between science philosophers, but is understandable and communicates the idea correctly to laymen with far less exposure than us. I agree "factual" is less than ideal, but it does communicate the surety correctly.

In the next quote, you attributed your words to me. Please be more careful.

aintnuthin said: "Used in this sense, it is a mere hypothesis devoid of any broad explanatory content.

One Brow said :"It's a one-sentence summary of a long list of diseases to which the theory applies, the germs that cause them, the methods the germs have for entering and multiplying within the body, etc."

It could be taken as an (implicit) summary, but it doesn't have to mean that (that is simply the way you would read it).

I encourage you to email Orac at Respectful Insolence, or any other person who writes and thinks about such things, and ask them if saying 'the germ theory of disease is the theory that various germs cause various diseases' is the content of the theory or a summary of such as I described above.

That is the problem with the NAS pamphlet, they don't mean it the way you are interpreting it, but they know you are nonetheless likely to read it that way.

1) I am not the intended audience.
2) I believe that is exactly what they mean by 'germ theory of disease', or theory generally.

That's what they want you to do. They don't even attempt to clarify what they really mean, but they leave themselves an "escape route" if challenged, by claiming that if you take it the way they want you to, then you misread it. That this is exactly what they are doing only becomes fully exposed when you read other literature of theirs.

I have no idea what sort of exposing you think can happen.

As with germ theory, wiki has a generic definition of "atomic theory" which term basically serves to distinguish from the opposite hypothesis:

"In chemistry and physics, atomic theory is a theory of the nature of matter, which states that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, as opposed to the obsolete notion that matter could be divided into any arbitrarily small quantity. It began as a philosophical concept in ancient Greece and India"

That is one defintion of "atomic theory."

Again, it is a summary, not a definition. I encourage you to email a few physicists who think about these things and ask them.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yes, I suffer from vanity

I was very pleased to see today that, if you enter 'One Brow' (sans quotes, no less) in the Yahoo! search bar, my blog is the first item returned, and the second one at Google.

On the other hand, I don't appear in the first five pages of MSN/Bing. In fact, searching on 'life universe "One Brow"' brought multiple hits to other blogs linking to me, but not my blog, in the first five pages of search. Why does MSN hate me?
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

A few less popular blogs looked at

While it can be interesting, and sometimes challenging, to look at the more popular blogs in the ID movement, I'm going to look at a couple that are not so well-traveled. Picking on someone my own size, so to speak. Also, many bloggers like to have regular blog-fodder, I'm no different there. These are the foot-soldiers of the movement. They cough up the money buying the books, and don't use weasel-words designed to give them an out.

Over at the self-styled Intelligent Reasoning, we have Joe G saying in this post that there really is a scientific statement lurking somewhere in ID, based upon Behe's statement
Our ability to be confident of the design of the cilium or intracellular transport rests on the same principles to be confident of the design of anything: the ordering of separate components to achieve an identifiable function that depends sharply on the components.

He also offers this note:
To test the design inference specific criteria must be met. Criteria such as irreducible complexity, complex specified information and/ or the mere presence of counterflow.

To falsify the design inference all one has to do is to demonstrate that the object/ event in question can arise via nature, operating freely- ie it is reducible to matter, energy, chance and necessity.

However, Joe G misses a couple of basic problems with his arguments. First of all, the effects of design can exactly resemble the effects of nature. In fact, design uses naturally occurring elements to make changes. If I come across a few pebbles that have fallen onto some solid rock, and i move one or two pebbles into a configuration that I find pleasing, and leave the other 8-10 alone, there is no evidence that the resulting configuration is designed. Outside of finding actual fingerprints, or recognizing the configuration himself, Joe G would not even suspect design. Secondly, Behe's entire characterization is full of weasel-words, as any naturally generated ordering of separated components can be deemed 'not sharply dependent' or 'not truly identifiable' at need.

A post in the August 2009 archive of Intelligently Sequenced
titled "Commonly Employed Arguments Against ID", we see the attempted response:
39] ID is Nothing More Than a “God of the Gaps” Hypothesis may be the most common anti-ID argument.

ID is not proposing “God” to paper over a gap in current scientific explanation. Instead ID theorists start from empirically observed, reliable, known facts and generally accepted principles of scientific reasoning:

(a) Intelligent designers exist and act in the world.

(b) When they do so, as a rule, they leave reliable signs of such intelligent action behind.

(c) Indeed, for many of the signs in question such as CSI and IC, intelligent agents are the only observed cause of such effects, and chance + necessity (the alternative) is not a plausible source, because the islands of function are far too sparse in the space of possible relevant configurations.

(d) On the general principle of science, that “like causes like,” we are therefore entitled to infer from sign to the signified: intelligent action.

(e) This conclusion is, of course, subject to falsification if it can be shown that undirected chance + mechanical forces do give rise to CSI or IC. Thus, ID is falsifiable in principle but well supported in fact.

Of course, this is swallowed whole, despite that:
(a) I agree here.

(b) There are no reliable, scientific signs of designers.
We infer design by analogy top known human designers.

(c) There are no "islands of function" in the significantly multi-variate space described by typical protein construction. Function at a point (w', x', y', z') that, on a local level, ends quickly in direction w will often be unchanged in direction x and changed only mildly in directions y and z. Now, replace that four-dimensional model with a more common 100-dimensional model, and the notion of islands of function is easily seen to be preposterous. Further, the whole notion of "plausible source" is a direct invocation of a 'designer of the gaps'.

(d) Generally, the principle of "like causes like" comes from magic, not science.

(e) Every testable formulation of CSI and IC has been been falsified. This has resulted in definition changes to the concepts, especially IC, to the point they are identified post hoc instead by prior standards. That is, first they look at a sequence/construct, check to see if there is an origin, and only proclaim it CSI/IC after no origin exists. This a manifestly non-science.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The 117th Skeptics Circle

The 117th Skeptics Circle is up at Ionian Enchantment. No post from me this time, but there will be for the 118th. I'm also helping out in the proposed Google bomb on the words chiropractor and chiropractic, because the use of English libel law by the British Chiropractic Association to defend the unwarranted claims of its chiropractors using chiropractic techniques for conditions like asthma, when the chiropractic techniques of chiropractors are little more than good back massages.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Discussion on evolution, part 3

Again, the previous thread have exceeded 200 comments, I am putting a response below the fold.

"Maynard Smith credits August Weismann’s germ plasm theory as a key factor in the modern synthesis ..."

See? Impossible, in principle, from the git-go, and we aint just talkin some kinda candyass "methodology" here, eh, Eric? We're talkin about what is otologically IMPOSSIBLE.

Thatr reduction allowed a great deal of work to get done, and was later discarded when found insufficient.

Well, apparently you didn't read them very closely (or else just read them with a pre-formed conclusion in mind, which was unshakable. "Explanation" (whatever that is) is the sine qua non of a theory. Mebbe this article is more direct, eh?

"A scientific theory is used as a plausible general principle or body of principles offered to explain a phenomenon.[4]

A scientific theory is a deductive theory, in that, its content is based on some formal system of logic and that some of its elementary theorems are taken as axioms. In a deductive theory, any sentence which is a logical consequence of one or more of the axioms is also a sentence of that theory.[3]"

Did you miss the phrase "explain a phenomenon"? Scientific theories do use some formmal processes in their efforts to explain. If no explanation if offered, there is no theory.

"In pedagogical contexts or in official pronouncements by official organizations of scientists a definition such as the following may be promulgated.

According to the United States National Academy of Sciences: Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory."

This causes the theory/non-theory distinction to much more closely follow the distinctions useful for consumers of science (e.g. should I believe something or not?)"

What this article calls "pedagogical" is more what I would call absurd brainwashing. This is definitely a thoroughly unique and unprecedented way to define "scientific theory," to say the least.

You have to ask yourself what level of evidence would be required to overthrow the theory? How ikely are we to discover that anthrax/measles/smallpox is not caused by pathogens (germ theory of disease)? Should consumers of science believe, and act, as if germs cause diseases? Would you be willing to accept that measles being caused by Morbillivirus is a fact?

"Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe..."

"Real world?" "Factual explanation?" And you claim that only "methodology," and not "ontology," is involved here?

You left out the rest of the quote.

It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.

Yes, the phenomenon of evolution is a fact. Yes, the theory of evolution is as facutal as atomic theory or germ theory.

I also note that this claim is made with specific reference to the "theory or biological evolution." They have now turned "theory" into fact, eh?

Evolution is a fact (we have measured all sorts of change) and a theory (explanations for why the change occurs, what it has meant for life, etc.).

This is really just incredible, ya know? Anyone with the least bit of sophisication with respect to the philosophy of science, or even used the least bit of critcal thought, would see the NAS claims as completely over the top on the propaganda scale.

An explantion becomes a theory when "no new evidence is likely to alter" it, at which point it is a "factual explanation" which serves as a "reliable account of the real world."

Simply incredible that NAS would promulgate that view. Are they actually retarded, I wonder?

I find it hard to believe you misunderstood a simple simile. Are you just trolling here, or so ideologically committed that you misunderstood a simile to be an equivalence?

One Brow said: "I don't see anything in this quote that equates to "unfortunate and misleading". I'm sure you had anopther quote in mind."

Then you are just as blind as every other devoted apologist I ever ran into, I guess. No doubt you missed the word "sadly." If you can't see where it was misleading (suggesting that development was irrelevant to evolution) then I really don't think there's anything you could see, unless mebbe you wanted to, ya know?

I think that putting development to the side was a limiting, necessary choice, and the "sadly" was a reflection on the current state of knowledge, and not the choice.

One Brow said: "of the various ways mutations are known to happen, none of them take the actual needs of the organism into account."

This appears to be claim of fact, eh, Eric? Or do you say that strictly as a "methodist," with no ontological intentions at all? If the latter, you might want to study the english language a little more, because that sho nuff aint the meaning you're conveying.

When I say "known to happen", that obviously refers to the limits of what is currently known, making the statement epistemological. Had I spoken 'all the ways a mutation can possibly happen', you would have a point. That you have trouble distinguishing them is not a failing of my English knowledge.

One Brow said: "I don't think he would argue that statement even after acknowledging the importance of development, for which he used the term "selected through their effect on development", as opposed to varying because of their development."

He might or might not argue it, I don't know (but, first, remember that Mayr is not Maynard Smith). I get the feeling that both you, Mayr, and possibly Maynard Smith are confusing genes with some kinda physical objects, as opposed to simply "packets of information," as they seen by George C. Williams (who is highly praised by Dawkins, Gould, Elridge, Maynard Smith (via Eldrige) and others here:

True enough. I am sure that by "gene", he meant 'packet of knowledge on a DNA strand'. Many scientitsts probably do mean something broader than that.

As noted by Magulis, "The neo-Darwinists say that variation originates from random mutation, defining mutation as any genetic change." The close association, if not virtual identity, that the neo-darwinists once tried to make between "genes" and dna has vanished, but many still seem to think in those terms.

Old habits die hard.

If "genes" are simply the message, irrespective of the medium; if, indeed, genes are ONLY information, then certainly the "epigentic" means by which regulatory genes "choose" to express the dna is at bottom a form of "genetic mutation." This would seems to imply that, in Williams' view, genes vary "because of their development," to use your words.

I would agree, with the caveat that if we use a braod notion of 'gene', we should probably be careful to note which type of gene were are discussing in such a context.

You can speak of galaxies and particles of dust in the same terms, because they both have mass and charge and length and width. You can't do that with information and matter."

Very true.

I said: We have already agreed that the notion of "random mutation" is at bottom a metaphyisical one that cannot be proved or disproved. So why is not neo-darwinism, like ID theory, untestable and hence "not scientific," I wonder.

You responded: We did? I must have been off my feed that day/week/month

Musta been, yeah. This is was you said on April 27: Me: You repeatedly say that all heritable genetic variation has been shown to be random.
You: I certainly hope I have not, because such a statement would be unprovable

April 28: You: "As we have agreed (I think), there is no known test for randomness/design per se.

Your current (and former) ongoing assertions that the "randomness" of mutations can be, and has been, confirmed, seems to relax on occasion, such as on May 3 when you said: "Even if Dawkins is uncomfortable with it, adaptive mutation (which is not classical Lamarckism by any means) happens, and we know this because we have tested mechanisms to demonstrate it."

Are "adaptive mutations" consistent with the claim that all mutations are random? Doesn't seem to be.

Ya know, going through some of these old posts, I realize that you must, as is typical, I guess, have entirely different definitions for "ontological" and "epistemological" than I do. I really can't make a lick of sense of a statement like this: "Neo-Darwinism is dead, remember? Even when it was alive, the biological version relied on epistomological randomness, specifically of the type where mutations are not controlled by the organsim, not ontological randomness."

On an ontological level, most mutations would seem to be non-random, as I mentioned before. They happen for chemical reasons. There are probably a very few that happen for reasons like quantum fluctuation which might be ontologically random. Outside of that, on a metaphysical level, mutations are not random. I don't see anything in the above statements that disagree with this. Even then, this does not of course address unknown methods of variation.

Mutations are random in the sense that, of the known methods by which mutations happen, we have no mechanism that connects that mutation to the needs of the organism. They are random in that regard within the limits of our knowledge. They are also random in sense that we are unable to predict them through an insufficient knowledge of the actual chemical interactions involved along any particular strand of DNA inside a organism. So, random in those two ways.

It would be impossible to prove something is metaphysically random. Even for quantum effects, where we have the stongest evidence, this is a possibility that can be easily overturned. The most we can ever say in that regard is that we have data that resemebles a probablitliy distribution.

The word 'random does not mean 'every occurence is equally likely'. Adaptive mutations seem to mean that the probability curve is adjusted in favor of changes occuring at certain locations on the DNA strand.

I don't know what definitions you are using for ontological claims versus episemological claims. Ontology, to myu understanding, is soncerned with how things are, what their true nature is, while epistemology is concerned with what we can know about things and how we can know it. Do you mean something different?

This all gets quite tedious, eh, Eric?

Yes, it does.

The question was this: "So why is not neo-darwinism, like ID theory, untestable and hence "not scientific," I wonder."

Do you have a direct answer to that question, or not?

Since neo-Darwinism was falsified, it was obviously falsifiable. What could falsify ID?

Is your answer that neo-darwinism makes no claims about reality? If so, does ID make claims about reality, or is such a hypothesis merely "methodological." If they are different in this respect, HOW are they different. You seem to agree that it is not in the "testability" of the two, insofar as their basic premises go.

ID seems to make the claim that a designer is responsible, in part, for the structure of life. Materialism would make the claim no designer is involved in life. Both are equally untestable. Niether is a claim of neo-Darwinism or modern evolutionary theory, in that the 'randomness' present in neo-Darwinism and modern evolutionary theory is compatible with the existence of a designer. Both are claims made by various men, including scientists, when speaking about life outside the scientific literature. Neither claim belongs in a science classroom.

It seems obvious that both views feel compelled to deny that all evolution is (was) random, sensing intuitively that would be prohibitively improbable. Both insist that evolution is NOT random, but disagree on the reasons why this is so. Philosophically speaking, these two viewpoints, as they relate to living matter, seem come down to "vitalism" vs. "materialism."

I disagree. Yo can be a Lamarckian materialist, or a wiesmannian who accepts design.

It is in no means self-evident that such inferences are "unreasonable" or "unscientific" unless one merely defines them as such. One can, for example, say: "I define any inference of design to be both unreasonable and unscientific." But, of course, definitions are arbitrary, and do not dictate the reality of the matter.

I agree.

Again, as I have said before, I can assume (or infer) that an object has been designed without that assumption in any way affecting the way I try to analyze it or explain it. Such an assumption may assist my investigation, but it does not change my methodolgy. If I know nothing about the workings of machines motivated by internal combustion engines, for example, I still will not "understand" one until I know how all the parts interact with each other and what function they serve, which requires investigation (for me). I do not purport to "explain" anything by simply saying: "this machine was designed." Science is ultimately about explanations, not metaphyscial presumptions, although the latter may inform the former. An assumption of "vitalism" would not change that. We would never have, or even be expected to, explain the ultimate nature of the "vital force" to simply investigate the phenomena.

I agree. This is why the discussion does not belong in a science class.

The point I'm making is this: Whether one ultimately believes in or presupposes vitalism (lamarckism in evolutionary terms) or materialsim (darwinism) has nothing to do with science as such. The vociferious outcry that materialism must be taught as an underlying presupposition, but that any notion of vitalism cannot even be discussed as an alternative presupposition, is not "scientific" either.

As noted above, I disagree on the associaiton of vitalism to Lamarckism. Outside of that, I agree.

Lamarckism, whether true or not, whether ever irrefutably demonstrated or not, is NOT off limits to either scientific investigation nor is it inherently outside the realm of "scientific thinking." Of course, neo-darwinists have always thought otherwise, but, still....

That's why the once fruitful school is not bveing discarded.

One Brow said: "But the warping of space is a mechanism for the attrction of bodies. There is no more "spooky action at a distance", just local effects."

Heh, as if the "warping of space" isn't spooky? Seriously, what exactly is "space, and how can it "warp" as a practical matter? Of course, for Einstein, there is no "space" per se. Only space/time. Now, tell me, what is "space/time," apart from a verbalization of the mathematics involved (as was the Newtonian use of the concept of "attaction of matter to matter" to verbalize the mathematical relationship detected)?

I doubt I could, although physicists might be able to. At any rate, that's a new level of mechanism. Anytime you explain something, the explanation itself will open up new questions.

More "pedagogical information," from the AAAS, eh?


Well, they pack all the theory in there, eh, and simply call the theory "evolution" which is "described," not hypothesized, interpreted, or deduced. Random mutation (why not just say "mutation," I wonder?--Why does "random" ALWAYS have to be inserted as a qualifying adjective?). Common descent, natural selection, macro-evolution = micro-evolution, the whole 10 yards.

This is an obvious simplification.

I wonder if anyone who aint plumb stupid doubts any of this, eh? Lemme see here....

"Is there "evidence against" contemporary evolutionary theory? No.

Do yo know of some? Against, as in saying evolution didn't happen?

Is there a growing body of scientists who doubt that evolution happened? No...Of the few scientists who criticize contemporary evolutionary theory, most do no research in the field, and so their opinions have little significance for scientists who do."

Well, there ya have it, then, eh? All wrapped up in a ribbon.

Who are the evolutionary biologists who feel there is evidence against evolution?

Hmm, where to even start trying to intrepret and assess this curious brochure, eh? Well, in passing, one might note that the last sentence quoted claims that "that evolution by natural selection is how life on Earth arose."

If "arose" refers to abiogenesis, that seems to be wrong. If they meant 'grew from a small part of the planet to being universally present', that seems to be accurate, but a poor word choice. Looking at the context, I'm inclined to pick the latter.

What you, Eric, have called a "mechanism," this brochure calls "process" [they say "Natural selection is the process by which some traits succeed and others fail..."], so let's use that as a substitute synonmyn is the next sentence, which would then read: "Scientists no longer question the basic facts of evolution as a mechanism."

So the "mechanism" (which Gould said was the theoretical part) is now a "basic fact," eh?

I would say there is more to being a mechanism that there is to being a process. Photosynthesis is a completely factual process, but it explains nothing in and of itself. Natrual selection can be explained as a process only, or an a larger level as a mechanism.

The care and authority which went into this dubious publication makes it all the more appalling to a disintered observer.

You think you are disinterested?

Ironically, this brochure has the gall to say (addressing ID theory, of course): "Teaching
non-scientific concepts in science class will only confuse students about the processes,
nature, and limits of science."

The opposite is probably true. Perhaps teaching ID theory would be one way of unconfusing students who are exposed to such "non-scientific" concepts as are contained in this brochure and help them understand the true "nature and limits" of science.

If "ID theory" ever starts to accurately discuss the true nature and limits of science, perhaps.

Well, first, that a "scientific theory" is an "explantion." Just any old explanation? Naw, apparently only those that "are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them." [In the entire history of science has there been a single case of such an explanation?].

The atomic theory of matter. The germ theory of disease. Heliocentric theory.

As a side attribute, a scientific theory also allows us to make predictions, they say.

Do they have an example? Well, yeah, they have two, actually. " A good example is the theory of gravity." Hmm, and you say that Newton's explanation of "gravity" is simply a law, not a theory--I wonder who's right here, you, or them? Whichever, they say "Scientists then use the theory to make predictions about how gravity will function in different circumstances" (as Newtonians did for the "hundreds of years" this brochure brings up). Of course, you also keep saying that Einstein's relativistic view of Newton's mathematical formula was a mere "refinement" of Newton, so let's not quibble here, OK? (having made that request, I expect you to quibble, but I will wait and see about that).

The brochure does not reference a *Newtonian* theory of gravity, so what makes you think they are referring to Newton's Law? Theories have to acount for all of the available evidence, old, new, and yet-to-be-tested, to be viable.

Also, surely you are not confusing what I said about Newton's Laws of Motion and his Law of Gravity. I believe I was clear and held different opinions on that.

Of course their second example is evolutionary theory: "Evolution stands on an equally solid foundation of observation, experiment, and confirming evidence." I mean, like, really now, is this a joke? Are they really trying to compare the predictive power and confirming evidence for "explanantions" advanced by evolutionary theory to that afforded by the strict mathematical formulaes used for gravity?

Only a straight-up chump would fall for that claim, I figure, but that's not to say I haven't found many darwinist cheerleaders swallowin it hook, line, and sinker.

Only a straight-up chump would fail to see that there have been thousands of predictions upheld.

Read this brochure critically, Eric. Look at this sentence and then tell me that the "creationists" who said the term "evolution" was used in multiple, confusingly unspecified manners, are not worth trusting. "Evolution stands on an equally solid foundation of observation, experiment, and confirming evidence."

Didn't you claim that nobody would use the word "evolution" to mean the theoretical elements thereof in a teaching setting?

I certainly hope not. All high-school and above science class should include theory.

The equivocal use of terms to "explain" the topic of evolution as used here is simply a method of misleading students into an extremely mushy, uncritical "understanding" of the theoretical issues, as I see it? Is it intentional? Well, either that, or totally incompetent, as far as "teaching" methods go.

I don't find your analysis persuasive or factually based.

OF COURSE IT IS(!), according to the NAS: "For those who are studying the origin of life, the question is no longer whether life could have originated by chemical processes involving nonbiological components. The question instead has become which of many pathways might have been followed to produce the first cells." (Science and Creationism, 1999).

That sentence is not in the brochure you linked too. Pennock's statements in that don't necessarily have NAS agreement.

Why say that ID theory is "not science" if naturalistic processes could provide a basis for it, hmmmmm?

Creating a natrualistic basis does not rescue ID theory, because it makes no scientific claims.

I wonder if the authors of these pedagogical brochures, which stress natural selection as the virtually proven theory of evolution (remember, it's not even a theory unless it is doubtful that any new evidence could alter it), are familiar with the works of Masatochi Nei who wrote, just for example, a research paper called "The new mutation theory of phenotypic evolution."

I think they might respond: "As scientists gather new results and findings, they continue to refine their ideas. Explanations are altered or sometimes rejected when compelling contradictory evidence comes to light." Same answer for most of the quotes.

"This is the fundamental reason why we already have the well formulated 'Atomic Theory' but not yet a comparable 'Living Systems Theory.'"

No "theory" because it's all just too complex, eh? Like, whooda thunk, I ax ya?

Everyone. It's probably not possible to have a system as well-reduced as Atomic Theory.

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