Monday, September 03, 2012

Larry Moran and philosophy envy

If you want to see what passes for intellectual rigor among atheists, all you need do is check out the blogs of Jerry Coyne and Laurence Moran--particularly when they try to take on certain humanities disciplines like philosophy, disciplines in which they not only have no expertise, but which they appear to know little about even from the outside. It is a deficiency they try to make up for by mischaracterizing positions they disagree with and, well, just making stuff up.

It just grates on them that there are other methods and modes of inquiry out there other than the purely scientific. There are humanities disciplines out there like philosophy, which just cannot be allowed to exist as legitimate and distinct academic disciplines. The answer? Just proclaim (with no evidence whatsoever, despite the fact that they talk a lot about evidence) that the questions that have traditionally been part of the province of philosophy are amenable to scientific investigation.

Coyne and Moran are both professors of biology, Coyne at the University of Chicago, and Moran at the University of Toronto. They're mad as Hell that humanities scholars are criticizing their naive views about what are properly theological and philosophical questions and they're not going to take it anymore.

Their chief strategy in defending themselves against charges of philosophical naivete seems to be to emphasize just how naive they are.

I'll deal with Coyne later, but Moran is on something of a roll over the last couple of weeks, producing a series of posts in which he demonstrates just how out of his depth he is.

In a post responding to a graduate student who wrote an article in Scientific American defending the humanities, he declares:
Science is a way of knowing that is evidence based and requires rational thinking and healthy skepticism. It's the only successful way of knowing that has ever been invented.
The statement is either too specific to be true or too broad to be meaningful. If he means that there is a form of reasoning unique to the natural sciences or that originated with the natural sciences, then the claim is just plainly false. If he merely means a method of academic inquiry that reflects the three specific criteria he mentions, then the claim is utterly without force, since these criteria are common to most if not all academic disciplines.

In fact, ten bucks says Moran can't name a single traditional academic discipline that a) doesn't appeal to evidence of some kind, b) doesn't employ any kind of rational inquiry in some form, or c) doesn't at least have some minimal level of critical standards that distinguish between the acceptable and unacceptable (and fake academic disciplines like "women's and gender studies" don't count) Their practitioners may employ these standards well or badly, but they are their standards nonetheless.

There may be epistemological procedures unique to the natural sciences; in fact, there most certainly are, but they are not of the broad kind that Moran includes in this absurd declaration. Nor did any of his criteria for scientific reasoning originate with the natural sciences. All of them originated in philosophy--just one respect in which science is dependent on that discipline. The philosopher Francis Bacon was one of the first champions of induction, followed by later philosophers who assisted in honing it, like John Stuart Mill. American philosopher C. S. Pierce pioneered the study of abduction (which, more so than induction, is what seems to drive the process of scientific discovery). There are many, many others.

Moran also seems oblivious to the fact that science didn't even exist as a distinct discipline until around the turn of the 20th century. What did it call itself before that? Natural philosophy. In fact Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Darwin all thought of themselves as natural philosophers. Science itself was birthed in philosophy and continues to receive corrective criticism from it from the likes of Karl Popper (who, temporarily forgetting their animus toward philosophers, scientists are constantly appealing to as the arbiter of where science begins and ends), Thomas Kuhn (primarily a sociologist), and other philosophers of science.

Moran's claim is more than false; it's silly. There was really no successful way of knowing before the onset of science as we know it in the 17th and 18th centuries? Really?

A far better definition of science would be something like this: "Science is an activity that consists in the explanation, prediction, and control of empirical phenomena in a rational manner. By 'scientific reasoning' we mean the principles of reasoning relevant to the pursuit of this activity. They include principles governing experimental design, hypothesis testing, and the interpretation of data." Even here there are problems, like whether science actually explains things or whether it merely or describes and predicts them. But it's a whole lot more meaningful than Moran's.

Moran asks three questions at the end of his recent post:

1. "Has philosophy, by itself, solved any of these problems (the existence of God, morality and ethics, mind and body, and epistemology)?" The short answer is, "Yes." But what Moran really means, as is evident in other posts, is "Are any of the proffered solutions that are non-controversial?" The answer to that is, of course, "No." But that proves nothing. Can we criticize science in the same way? Has science solved the problem of gravity? What exactly is "dark matter"? How do gravity and the strong nuclear force work together, and what explains them both? Is there a unified field theory that is fully accepted by all scientists? And what's the deal with the relativity and quantum theory? These are theories that deal with the fundamental elements of the reality: space, time, and mass. Why don't they agree?

Scientists who live in glass houses ...

2. "What kind of true knowledge [sic] has philosophy discovered?" I answered this in the comments section of Moran's blog. So far, no word from Larry. Here's what I said: "The Law of Identity, the Law of Excluded Middle, the Law of Non-Contradiction, the existence and distinction between univocal, equivocal, and analogous terms, the distinction between contradictory, contrary, subcontrary and subalternate statements, and the rules for logical validity. And that's just one branch of philosophy.

3. Can anyone give us an example that will cause us to consider philosophy as another way of knowing? Yes. Plato's dialogues in which he employs the methodology of dialectic.

Moran scoffs at the whole idea that there is even such a thing as scientism, even as he engages in it with impunity. Moran says science is even fit to deal with "questions about the supernatural." As C. S. Lewis once asked, how can a discipline whose domain is the natural say anything about what is beyond nature? Science has no more business delving into religion than a shoe salesman has flying an airplane.

Here's the definition of scientism, given by John Wellmuth, a philosopher, in 1944: "the belief that science, in teh modern sense of that term, and the scientific method as described by modern scientists, afford the only reliable natural means of acquiring such knowledge as may be available about whatever is real." If that's not Moran's position, then he's doing a pretty good job making it look like it is.

Now that we've answer Moran's questions, let's ask him one:

If science can address questions outside the empirical, such as religious questions, what scientific experiment could confirm or disconfirm the existence of God? If you think you can, then aren't you assuming the existence of God is falsifiable? And if it is, then aren't you committing yourself to the position (if Popper, the scientist's favorite philosopher is right) that religion (or at least philosophical theology) is within the bounds of science? And if that is the case, then can we teach it in schools now?

67 comments:

Art said...

"Has philosophy, by itself, solved any of these problems (the existence of God, morality and ethics, mind and body, and epistemology)?" The short answer is, "Yes."

Um, Martin, being able to ask the question is not the same as showing that there is in fact an answer to the question. Philosophy has been spectacularly unsuccessful in solving any of these problems.

Well, maybe not. If we take the an outcome-based view, looking at the results of centuries of philosophical and theological inquiry (since the subject of "God" came up), then these modes of inquiry do yield one fairly consistent answer to the question of human existence. Looking at the larger body of work of these disiplines throughout history, they tell us that the "why" of human existence is that humans exist to kill each other in the names of imaginary gods.

I guess the question would then be - if philosophy and theology tell us that we exist to kill each other with the names of gods on our lips and in our hearts (and this is the one clear message that follows from centuries of such modes of inquiry), does this mean that philosophy and theology are in fact valid forms of inquiry into the nature of life and humanity?

Thomas said...

"[I]f philosophy and theology tell us that we exist to kill each other with the names of gods on our lips and in our hearts (and this is the one clear message that follows from centuries of such modes of inquiry)...."

Perhaps I am late to the joke, but it is clear to me that the Art persona is an elaborate hoax, a satire by someone with little appreciation for the intellectual stature of working scientists. I feel as though I have quite misjudged Art; there is here a cleverness of which I never thought him capable.

This “Art” persona reflects everything that young students, having imbibed what they incorrectly believed to be post-modern relativism, believe scientists to be: astonishingly poorly read, unable to navigate even the most elementary arguments, possessed of a child-like faith in the ability of Science to answer all the questions of the universe while strangely unaware of both the history of science and the particular epistemological problems it raises, a mere tinkerer (to borrow from Einstein) who cannot think except calculatively and who will eventually be replaced by a computer, and one whose willingness to pontificate on great questions is inversely related to the work he has done to first understand them.
Satirical though it is, I think it somewhat unfair to scientists (and positively cruel to the real life Art!). Most scientists, I would think, would have some idea of the difference between Plato and Proclus, or Schiller and Schelling.

Many scientists are in fact quite well read and have done the work to understand something of the deeper questions posed by philosophy. Not coincidently, the great scientists, from Darwin (whose affection for Aristotle was rather lavish) to Bohr, had something of a philosophical background—in fact, Bohr and Einstein both wrote some philosophy.

And even if we agree with Einstein that “a knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering,” and that this knowledge distinguishes “between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth,” we need not confuse the “mere specialist” with the risible oaf that Art personifies.

There are some lines satire really ought not transgress, and I think the “Art” hoax, by profaning a whole profession of actually quite intelligent individuals, comes close, however much we might all get a guilty chuckle out of it.

Art said...

I'm tempted to continue talking past one another, but things would get too weird....

So Thomas, to try to reel things in a tiny bit:

Was I agreeing or disagreeing with Moran?

Do you agree that the reasoning Martin uses in his representation of the contributions science has made to particular areas is typical of that offered by the philosophical toolkit?

Anonymous said...

Science is the art of saying that something is absolutely one thing today, until science "proves" that the same one thing is absolutely (or partially?)something else tomorrow. Absolutism is hindered by revision, isn't it?

Art said...

2. "What kind of true knowledge [sic] has philosophy discovered?" I answered this in the comments section of Moran's blog. So far, no word from Larry. Here's what I said: "The Law of Identity, the Law of Excluded Middle, the Law of Non-Contradiction, the existence and distinction between univocal, equivocal, and analogous terms, the distinction between contradictory, contrary, subcontrary and subalternate statements, and the rules for logical validity.

So, the "true knowledge" given to us by philosophy amounts to a sort of slide rule.

I never thought of philosophy as an engineering tool. I am not sure this concept helps to rebut Moran's argument, though.

ZPenn said...

The claim "God exists" is inherently unfalsifiable, and therefore completely unscientific. So no, it should not be taught in the science classroom, ever.

Singring said...

'Science is the art of saying that something is absolutely one thing today, until science "proves" that the same one thing is absolutely (or partially?)something else tomorrow. Absolutism is hindered by revision, isn't it?'

Is that so?

Well then, here's a challenge for you, Anonymous:

Find us one - just one - peer-reviewed scientific article in which the authors claim that something is 'absolutely' this or that.

Let us know how that goes for ya.

Philosophy and especially theology like to make absolutes claims. Science does everything but.

Ioannes said...

Zpenn, could you state for me the conditions under which evolution could be falsified?

Singring said...

'Zpenn, could you state for me the conditions under which evolution could be falsified?'

I'll jump in here, if I may.

I could post a very long response here as there is a multitude of ways in which parts or the whole of evolutionary theory can be falsified.

Let me just give two quick examples:

A very basic and general definition of biological evolution is the 'change in the frequency of genes in a population over time'.

This can very, very easily be tested by sampling the DNA of populations of a certain species over time (e.g. each year for ten years) and then look to see if certain genes appear more or less frequently each year. Moreover, we can also predict that, the bigger the time span between samplings, the greater the change in gene frequency will be.

This prediction has been tested and confirmed a very many times, for example in these two papers I just quickly pulled off scholar.google.com:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1690489/pdf/10670959.pdf

http://www.semencespaysannes.org/bdf/docs/diversity-of-maize-france.pdf

(Note that I am not a Population Ecologist and that there are probably much better examples and entire books that cover these studies).

Of course, there are populations where the genetic composition remains relatively stable for very long periods of time, but even in these populations we can observe *some* changes in genetic frequency, simply by virtue of recombination of genetic material in reproduction and/or mutation.

However, besides this and many other ways of testing the most basic predictions of evolutionary theory, we can also point to a great many specific instances (e.g. specific characteristics in certain species and their ancestors) where evolutionary predictions have been empirically tested and confirmed in rather spectacular fashion. An excellent example is human chromosome number 2, which - exactly in line with what evolutionary theory predicted in this instance - is the result of the fusion of two chromosomes in one of our ancestors. Ken Miller does a much better job of explaining this than I ever could, so listen to him, it's quite fascinating:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi8FfMBYCkk

Singring said...

Sorry, just to clarify, Ioannes:

In those examples I gave, evolutionary theory could have been falsified - it wasn't. The predictions of evolutionary theory were confirmed.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Find us one - just one - peer-reviewed scientific article in which the authors claim that something is 'absolutely' this or that. Let us know how that goes for ya. Philosophy and especially theology like to make absolutes claims. Science does everything but.

So you can produce a peer-reviewed philosophy or theology article in which the authors claim that something is "absolutely" this or that?

Thomas said...

Art,

If we're going to narrow things down a bit, perhaps we should get straight whether you actually think that the real issue here is the "one clear message" you have gleaned "from centuries" of philosophers and theologians "tell us that we exist to kill each other with the names of gods on our lips and in our hearts."

If this is intended as self-satire, of course, it's one thing. But if you are at all serious, it is so bizarre and scurrilous that no rational discussion could be had. (It's even crazier than those creationists who say evolutionists want another Holocaust just because many biologists in the past promoted eugenics.)

ZPenn said...

I'm not a Biologist by any stretch, my area of study is Physics, but I know enough of the basics behind the methodologies implemented by Biologists to know that they are in fact practicing the Scientific method, and their theories are just as testable and falsifiable as those in the realm of Physics. In fact, the theory of evolution is one of the most rigorously tested theories there is, rivaling only maybe relativity and quantum mechanics. Singring is a much better spokesperson for biology than myself, but I will always stand up for good science, and against pseudoscience when it rears its ugly head.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

Philosophy has been spectacularly unsuccessful in solving any of these problems.

How so? Aristotelian Thomism handles them just fine. In fact, most of these things are not "problems" unless you reject Aristotelian Thomism.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

So, the "true knowledge" given to us by philosophy amounts to a sort of slide rule.

No. How is the art of logic a "slide rule"? Moran asked what knowledge philosophy produced. I gave him some, and this is all you can say?

Singring said...

'Aristotelian Thomism handles them just fine. In fact, most of these things are not "problems" unless you reject Aristotelian Thomism.'

Huh? So because I reject Aristotelian Thomism I have a 'problem' with the question of whether or not God exists or morality and ethics? How so?

What you are doing here is playing the ultimate salesman: You create a 'problem' out of nowhere - and then proceed to try and sell me on your proffered 'answer' to that 'problem'.

It is precisely because science can do better than support one assertion by pitching another that it has produced such an impressive body of knowledge.

ianamo said...

Singring,

"A very basic and general definition of biological evolution is the 'change in the frequency of genes in a population over time'."

Unfortunately this is not ambitious enough of a definition to be what I am after. I am after Evolution with a capital E, meaning the claim that evolution fully accounts for the diversity and development of every form of life on planet Earth. This larger claim could be false even if a change in frequency of genes occurs over time. How could this larger claim be falsified?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Huh? So because I reject Aristotelian Thomism I have a 'problem' with the question of whether or not God exists or morality and ethics? How so?

What you are doing here is playing the ultimate salesman: You create a 'problem' out of nowhere - and then proceed to try and sell me on your proffered 'answer' to that 'problem'.


How did I create a problem. I said that abandoning Aristotelian-Thomism resulted in creating problems that did not exist within the Aristotelian system.

Ed Feser has a whole section of his book The Last Superstion saying exactly this, and Alisdair MacIntyre said the same thing on the issue of morality in his book After Virtue.

But since you don't read philosophy, I know you haven't read those books.

The mind/body problem literally did not exist before Descartes' makes a distinction between a realm of immaterial minds and material bodies.

The denial of formal and final causes by various late medieval and Enlightenment thinkers destroys the very possibility of morality since it eliminates any moral standard that would give it meaning

Epistemelogical scepticism as well was not a problem when the form in the thing and the form in the mind are the same thing, as in Aristotle.

And I've already talked about the cosmological argument.

So I don't know what problem you're talking about that I'm inventing and offering a solution for. The problem all happen when you abandon Aristotelian-Thomism.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

It is precisely because science can do better than support one assertion by pitching another that it has produced such an impressive body of knowledge.

If you mean by supporting "one assertion by pitching another" the process of abduction or inference to the best explanation, which is my argument for Aristotelian-Thomism, then your assertion here is laughable.

Science uses this process all the time. It's simply selecting a theory that best fits the facts.

In fact, I wrote a whole post on this several weeks ago, written in direct answer to you on this kind of reasoning and you never even addressed it.

Singring said...

Ioannes,

first of all, I'm a bit disappointed you didn't engage at all with the second example I gave of a very *specific* evolutionary claim about our common ancestry with apes that has been vindicated by research very recently. Would you not agree that it represents an incredibly powerful and successful test of evolutionary predictions?

'This larger claim could be false even if a change in frequency of genes occurs over time. How could this larger claim be falsified?'

Oh, quite easily.

For example, if all life shares a common ancestor - as Darwin predicted - then all life on the planet should have fundamental common characteristics at the cellular level. Which it very clearly seems to do.

All known life shares the same basic mechanisms for storing genetic information (DNA with a triplet code) transcribing it (Polymerases, RNA) and translating it (Ribonucleases). Think about that - a tiny bacterium living in a scummy pond somewhere in Siberia uses the same basic mechanism to store and pass on its genetic information as you do. These observations - made over a hundred years after Darwin - are an incredible vindication of evolutionary theory. Again - if we had found different mechanisms scattered without pattern in different branches of the tree of life, that would falsify evolution.

If we found fossils that fall completely outside of the geological sequence predicted by evolution (e.g. fossil rabbits in the Cambrian or fossil humans in the Triassic), then that would falsify evolution. In hundreds of years of fossil collection, this has never happened. Not once.

There are other aspects of evolutionary theory (molecular phylogeny, homologies in body plans, biogeography etc.) which all make very clear predictions about what we should find if evolution is true - and in all of these areas, evolution has been confirmed - not falsified - over and over and over and over...

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'Ed Feser has a whole section of his book The Last Superstion saying exactly this, and Alisdair MacIntyre said the same thing on the issue of morality in his book After Virtue.'

Martin, just because someone is unhappy with the idea of there being no objective, absolute morality does not mean there actually is an actual absolute, objective morality.

I keep being reminded of William Lane Craig's ultimate argument about objective moral values: 'Objective moral values exist because, deep down, we know they do.' I have read a summary of MacIntyre's book on virtue ethics and he says the analogous thing - he thinks objective moral values exist because he just really doesn't like the idea of subjective moral values.

If scientists used this modus operandi, we'd have papers about the existence of unicorns, about candy-flavoured liver and a whole host of other fanciful imaginations of the scientific community.

Which, again, illustrates perfectly the difference between the two disciplines.

'
The denial of formal and final causes by various late medieval and Enlightenment thinkers destroys the very possibility of morality since it eliminates any moral standard that would give it meaning'

This is complete nonsense. There could be a whole host of other ways for 'objective' moral values to exist besides formal and final causes and even if *objective* morality couldn't exist - that has nothing to say about subjective morality.

'The mind/body problem literally did not exist before Descartes' makes a distinction between a realm of immaterial minds and material bodies.'

What mind body problem? I have told you before that, based on the evidence, I trust the mind to be a unction of the brain, wholly dependent and identical with biological processes.

Where on earth does that create a problem? I know this is going to come as shocking news to you - but what we know about brains has come quite a long way since Descartes, so luckily we can investigate scientifically actual brains and actual bodies rather than sitting in a room and just thinking about stuff.

As I said before, I am really at a loss when it comes to debating a position that seems to rely exclusively and happily on a state of knowledge that predates the discovery of electricity.

'If you mean by supporting "one assertion by pitching another" the process of abduction or inference to the best explanation, which is my argument for Aristotelian-Thomism, then your assertion here is laughable.'

Inference to the 'best explanation'? Based on what evidence? And what is the *best* explanation? We've had this discussion before and unfortunately, I was never illuminated as to how Aquinas. for example, delineates what the *best* explanation is.

Inference to the best explanation is - in and of itself - not a reliable tool for any kind of reality-based inquiry unless we lay out very precisely what constitutes the 'best' explanation and from what observations or premises we infer it.

Otherwise, I might as well use this method to infer that goblins ate my pudding.

'Science uses this process all the time. It's simply selecting a theory that best fits the facts.'

Yes, but what are the 'facts' Martin? And hat kind of theories do we and do we not allow in science?

Unlike Aristotle, we don't just come up with some notion of 'forms' and think 'well, that's the best explanation I can come up with, so great, that's sorted!'.

No.

We look at the available data, and see if it confirms or invalidates a certain hypothesis. Any superfluous hypotheses are discarded, such as Aristotle's 'formal cause' for example.

Or could you explain to me how the 'formal cause' is the *best explanation* for why or how an acorn grows into an oak (to stick with an old example we had here) rather than, say, a mechanistic explanation that is supported by empirical evidence?

ozarklatinist said...

Singring,

"For example, if all life shares a common ancestor - as Darwin predicted - then all life on the planet should have fundamental common characteristics at the cellular level. Which it very clearly seems to do."

True, though there could be other compelling explanations of this fact.

You offer plenty of counter-factual refutations of evolution, i.e. ways evolution could be false if the world were not the way it is. But these are kind of easy, wouldn't you agree? I could say that, if God had not sent his son to die on the cross, Christianity would be falsified. Does that make Christianity falsifiable? I could say that if in fact Christ was a notorious sinner it would falsify Christianity, or if there never was a Jesus Christianity would be falsified. Does that mean it is falsifiable?

You may very well say there are other compelling explanations of why there was a historical person matching the general description of the Christ of the gospels, but nevertheless I could say Christianity could be falsified if he never existed.

"If we found fossils that fall completely outside of the geological sequence predicted by evolution (e.g. fossil rabbits in the Cambrian or fossil humans in the Triassic), then that would falsify evolution. In hundreds of years of fossil collection, this has never happened. Not once."

And in a couple thousand of years of historical data there has been no evidence turned up to falsify Christianity. Time to declare victory?

ozarklatinist said...

Singring,

"I have read a summary of MacIntyre's book on virtue ethics and he says the analogous thing - he thinks objective moral values exist because he just really doesn't like the idea of subjective moral values."

You read a bad summary. Try starting with After Virtue (not a long read).

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Martin, just because someone is unhappy with the idea of there being no objective, absolute morality does not mean there actually is an actual absolute, objective morality.

I agree. I hope it makes you feel better to say it out loud.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

William Lane Craig ... thinks objective moral values exist because he just really doesn't like the idea of subjective moral values.

No, I think Craig probably thinks, as I do, that subjective moral values are not moral values. They are subjective feelings. To say "I think x ought to do y," is a moral statement. To say "It would make me feel better if x did y," is not a moral statement. It's an emotional statement.

I'm surprised you don't know the difference.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

If scientists used this modus operandi, we'd have papers about the existence of unicorns, about candy-flavoured liver and a whole host of other fanciful imaginations of the scientific community.

Which, again, illustrates perfectly the difference between the two disciplines.


So you're saying scientists don't use inference to the best explanation?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

What mind body problem? I have told you before that, based on the evidence, I trust the mind to be a unction of the brain, wholly dependent and identical with biological processes.

Yes, I know you take this position. Trust away. If you read more philosophy, you might realize how naive it is.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Where on earth does that create a problem?

That position does not create a problem, it just pretends it isn't there.

Singring said...

Martin,

'No, I think Craig probably thinks, as I do, that subjective moral values are not moral values.'

I know of at least one instance (and I can link to it) where Craig explicitly says that objective moral values exist because deep down we just know it.

And then you criticize me for supposedly basing my morality on emotions and feelings. Ah, the irony.

'To say "I think x ought to do y," is a moral statement. To say "It would make me feel better if x did y," is not a moral statement. It's an emotional statement.'

I can say 'x ought to do y' just as much as you can say 'x ought to do y' the only difference being that we have different claims about how and on what basis our moral claims are justified.

Just because you don't accept subjectively argued morals as binding does not mean that they are nothing more than 'feelings'. But of course, strawmen are easy targets.

'So you're saying scientists don't use inference to the best explanation?'

When did I ever claim that? I explicitly stated that when inferring to the best explanation we must carefully define what our starting premises or data are and what explanations we then deem 'best'. The fact that you have made not even the most rudimentary effort to make such definitions and distinctions when you tout the supposed power of this method leaves us all at a loss as to how we can use it to derive any kind of knowledge - let alone knowledge of the reality of formal causes and the like.

'Yes, I know you take this position. Trust away. If you read more philosophy, you might realize how naive it is.'

Ye olde argument from authority. Always a doozy.

Singring said...

'And in a couple thousand of years of historical data there has been no evidence turned up to falsify Christianity. Time to declare victory?'

Historical claims, particularly those about places, events or people that leave behind no hard, physical evidence, are much harder to falsify than empirical claims that can be tested here and now.

For example, I could claim that an alien spaceship landed in Alaska 5,000 years ago and left behind no trace.

Can we falsify that? No?

Presto - aliens exist!

Or can you falsify whether Muhammed rode a flying horse to Mecca?

No?

Muhammed is the true God!

Or can you falsify that John Smith was dictated God's word by the angel Moroni? No?

Well, time to become a Mormon then, I guess.

The problem with the historical claims that books like the Bible make is that they often lack any and all physical evidence (and in cases where we go looking for hard physical evidence, for example as regarding the flight from Egypt in the old testament, it turns out we can;t even find it). We don't even know where Jesus tomb was supposed to be.

With evolution, we *have* the hard physical evidence, namely the fossilized creatures of times past.

So we *can* empirically test and potentially falsify the historical claims of evolution.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Inference to the best explanation is - in and of itself - not a reliable tool for any kind of reality-based inquiry unless we lay out very precisely what constitutes the 'best' explanation and from what observations or premises we infer it.

Disregard my question earlier about whether scientists use abduction (i.e., inference to the best explanation). This answers it.

Now, please tell me the methodology by which scientists "discovered" the Higgs Boson particle--or rather, how they knew it was there before they "discovered" it?

ZPenn said...

Mr Cothran:

Your use of the word, "discovered" is rightly in quotes, because that really isn't the best word for what happened with the Higgs. Scientists didn't "know" if it was there, but the Standard model of particle physics predicted that it would be. In order to verify this claim, scientists had to test it. If no Higgs particle was found where it was expected, this falsifiable claim would be thoroughly trashed. Currently CERN has found evidence that this particle does indeed exist, but you might have noticed that scientists still call the Higgs a "proposed" particle. This is an important consequence of the way science works. Before we are truly confident in the existence of the Higgs we need further test the predictions that arise from its existence. We need to test, retest, and then retest again. After that, we need to do some more retesting. The Media kind of had a field day with the "God particle" news, but scientists aren't just going to shut down the LHC and pretend that we've figured everything out now. The work is only just beginning, and scientists are ready to throw out the Higgs particle at the first point the evidence points away from its veracity.

Singring said...

'Now, please tell me the methodology by which scientists "discovered" the Higgs Boson particle--or rather, how they knew it was there before they "discovered" it?'

So you want me to explain to you how scientists used inference to the 'best' explanation (which, in science, we might define as the most parsimonious one) from empirical evidence so you can...what...pretend you scored a point on me?

How many times do we have to go through this: The extent to which inference to the best explanation is useful to anyone is dependent on the data we start from (garbage in, garbage out) and the way we define what is the 'best explanation'.

To my undertanding (and I'm sure ZPenn is much better positioned to accurately describe this) the Higgs boson is one of the predictions of the standard model of QT. Because we have gathered vast amounts of empirical evidence to support most of the other predictions of the standard model, physicist predicted that, given the right conditions, the Higgs boson (or its effects) should be empirically detectable.

They created these conditions at CERN and - lo and behold - their hypothesis was not falsified, it seems to have been confirmed. Yes, they inferred from the *empirical data* they had collected to the 'best' (i.e. most parsimonious) explanation.

If we do that, abduction can be very powerful indeed. If we neglect to play by these rules, we can use abduction to come up with all manner of fanciful explanations for anything and everything.

ozarklatinist said...

Singring,

"Historical claims, particularly those about places, events or people that leave behind no hard, physical evidence, are much harder to falsify than empirical claims that can be tested here and now."

Actually, I think this gets to the heart of the issue, because evolution is both a scientific and a historical claim. It simultaneously claims to be a plausible explanation of the diversity of life (science in the strictest sense) and a fact of history (in other words, it's also how the Earth's diversity actually happened). As a theory, it readily meets criteria of scientific falsifiability. As a historical claim, it is much more difficult, if not impossible to falsify, as people like Kuhn admitted in more candid moments.

"With evolution, we *have* the hard physical evidence, namely the fossilized creatures of times past.

So we *can* empirically test and potentially falsify the historical claims of evolution."

Well you cannot really test a historical claim (history is not repeatable, except in the tragic sense), but you can say whether the fossil record is consistent or not with an evolutionary explanation. However, I doubt even a pre-Cambrian rabbit, to take an extreme example, would be accepted as a falsification of evolution--cause for revising the theory, perhaps, or for adjusting estimates of what evolved when, but I doubt even a major inconsistency in the fossil record would really be sufficient to falsify the whole theory. And actually, claims abound of out-of-sequence fossils -- run a Google search.

ozarklatinist said...

"Or can you falsify whether Muhammed rode a flying horse to Mecca?

No?

Muhammed is the true God!

Or can you falsify that John Smith was dictated God's word by the angel Moroni? No?

Well, time to become a Mormon then, I guess."

"Can you" -- yes, potentially. I don't know of any evidence to falsify it at the moment, but certainly the claims are falsifiable in the sense that evidence inconsistent with the claims could be discovered. Not falsifiable by the procedure of repeatable experiments--but then, given that history is not per se repeatable, neither are the historical claims of evolution.

Singring said...

'As a historical claim, it is much more difficult, if not impossible to falsify, as people like Kuhn admitted in more candid moments.'

More difficult - yes. Impossible? Far from it. Kuhn was not a biologist and his ideas about paradigm shifts and why they do and don't occur went much too far if you ask me.

'However, I doubt even a pre-Cambrian rabbit, to take an extreme example, would be accepted as a falsification of evolution--cause for revising the theory,...'

You're probably right, it wouldn't on its own, because we have such vast amounts of other evidence it would contradict (which highlights one of the weaknesses of Popper's falsifiability criterion). Likewise, an observation of an apple falling up towards the sky would probably not be enough to falsify the theory of gravity, again for good reason.

The point was, however, that the fossil record could quite radically falsify evolutionary theory - for example if different clades of organisms were jumbled up and appeared haphazardly in the fossil record, rather than in the very consistent way we find them, as predicted by evolution.

This is not the case with much more non-empirical historical claims such as we find in the Bible, which are pretty much uniformly based on hearsay recorded by people who - in most cases - we know nothing about, not even who they were and when and where exactly they lived.

'And actually, claims abound of out-of-sequence fossils -- run a Google search.'

I'm quite sure that such *claims* abound, particularly and quite conspicuously in the Southern states of the US. Confirmed out-of-sequence fossils of the kind we are talking about here? Not a one.

' I don't know of any evidence to falsify it at the moment, but certainly the claims are falsifiable in the sense that evidence inconsistent with the claims could be discovered.'

Really? I'm very curious now - assuming we both agree that a person named Mohammed lived around the time the Q'ran was written and that Mecca also existed at the time - what hypothetical, empirical evidence would you consider to falsify the claim of Mohammed's magical flight?

As I laid out above, I can give you exact examples of what hypothetical, empirical evidence I would consider to constitute a falsification of evolution (jumbled fossil record, say). What would be the analogous example in this case that would specifically falsify Mohammed's feat?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,
I know of at least one instance (and I can link to it) where Craig explicitly says that objective moral values exist because deep down we just know it.

It sounds like he is referring to an intuition, not a feeling. But good try.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I can say 'x ought to do y' just as much as you can say 'x ought to do y' the only difference being that we have different claims about how and on what basis our moral claims are justified.

Right. And your claims are based on emotion. As MacIntyre has pointed out, the abandonment of the Aristelian-Thomist idea of telos, has left ethical theory adrift, Kant trying to salvage it through reason, Kierkegaard trying to salvage it through the will, and Hume trying to salvage it through the passions. None of them worked. Just to repeat your adherence to one of these failed projects is not terribly impressive.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Inference to the best explanation is - in and of itself - not a reliable tool for any kind of reality-based inquiry unless we lay out very precisely what constitutes the 'best' explanation and from what observations or premises we infer it.

And the "best explanation" is the explanation that results in the least problematic explanation.

So what's the problem?

ZPenn said...

Mr Cothran:

In what way is intuition distinct from a "feeling"? In what way is intuition reliable? My intuition tells me a lot of things that turn out to be false, and also a lot of things which turn out to be true. The determining factor of reliability, however, is empirical evidence. I've learned to stop trusting my intuition because it has proven to be about as worthwhile as a coin toss.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

I never said intuition was "reliable." But,whether it is reliable or not, it is frequently used in hypothesis formation in science.

ZPenn said...

I will concede that. It is certainly used (though not necessarily always used, lots of hypotheses and conjectures are arrived at from the results of experiments and empirical data) but things that are arrived at via intuition are inherently presumed to be unknowns until they have been verified or falsified by experiment.

You appear to be conceding that creationists believe in objective moral values because of intuition alone, and not on the basis of any empirical evidence. Is this the case? If I am mischaracterizing your position, please correct me, because I really dislike it when people do that to me, and I would feel rude if I did so to you, even if by accident.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

I really don't know where you got that statement from. I have not said anything about creationists in this discussion. I would assume they somehow base their moral beliefs on revelation, but that has nothing to do with the topic of this post.

ZPenn said...

I'm sorry, I was inferring too much from your response to Singring in reference to Dr Craig. I'll admit that it seems I have ascribed to you an opinion that you have not expressed in this article. Mea culpa. I'll blame it on lack of sleep and a momentary lapse of reason.

Martin Cothran said...

No problem.

Singring said...

'And the "best explanation" is the explanation that results in the least problematic explanation. '

Care to be any less specific?

That definition is about as useful as saying that 'the best car is the car that is the least not good'.

The term you are looking for is 'parsimonious', Martin. The 'best' explanation should be able to explain the observed evidence without contradicting any other available evidence and without making any unnecessary assumptions beyond those required to explain the evidence.

'Formal' and 'final' causes are not very parsimonious explanations because we now know they are superfluous. We have perfectly good natural mechanisms that explain why and how an acorn grows into a tree and not a lion. If you had paid attention to the last 2,000 of scientific research, this confusion might have been avoided.

' As MacIntyre has pointed out, the abandonment of the Aristelian-Thomist idea of telos, has left ethical theory adrift,...'

Only if you presuppose that an ethical theory requires objective, absolute foundations. I contest that it doesn't and that making such a presupposition is unwarranted.

'I never said intuition was "reliable." But,whether it is reliable or not, it is frequently used in hypothesis formation in science.'

Well I never, Martin Cothran hinting at the fact that intuitions are not necessarily reliable and - at best - are useful for forming hypotheses (not conclusions).

So then Craig's hypothesis that objective morals exist is likewise in doubt? And your intuition as to the 'purpose' of the penis is also a mere hypothesis, subject to change based on the evidence?

Who would have thought that we would come to this kind of agreement?

ozarklatinist said...

"More difficult - yes. Impossible? Far from it. Kuhn was not a biologist and his ideas about paradigm shifts and why they do and don't occur went much too far if you ask me."

Though the only way you can engage with Kuhn is via philosophy...

Let me state the claim baldly: it is as possible or impossible to verify or refute the historical claims of Christianity as evolution. The way you would go about it is by looking for historical evidence that would be consistent or inconsistent with the truth of Christianity or evolution.

Would Christianity rest more on human history than physical history? Sure, but not exclusively. If, for example, it could be proved that there never was such a place as Jerusalem, that it was made up by 1st century scribes, physical evidence would no doubt play a role in the proof -- as it would for disproving Shangri-La or El Dorado. There would, then, be physical evidence of a particular type that would falsify Christianity.

"This is not the case with much more non-empirical historical claims such as we find in the Bible, which are pretty much uniformly based on hearsay recorded by people who - in most cases - we know nothing about, not even who they were and when and where exactly they lived."

Yet the historical accuracy of the Bible has also been confirmed many times, often against what were considered long odds. Biblical archaeology is a very fruitful field, and just for one example, nobody believed that there were any such people as the "Hittites" because their entire society had been wiped off the Earth--the Bible was the only source that mentioned them. Sure enough, though, modern research has confirmed their existence.

Your field has even confirmed by genetic evidence that there was a single line of genetic descent from a single original human mother. My, that sounds awfully familiar, I think I read about something like that once...

Even some of the difficulties you mentioned earlier, like finding historical evidence of the Exodus, may in fact be based on faulty chronological assumptions. The topic of coordinating various historical accounts is pretty fascinating and I would recommend the newsletter on Biblical Chronology put out by Biblical Horizons: http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/category/biblical-chronology/

"I'm quite sure that such *claims* abound, particularly and quite conspicuously in the Southern states of the US. Confirmed out-of-sequence fossils of the kind we are talking about here? Not a one."

So you're a bigot, too!

I do not think this constitutes an engagement with the claims. For example, what fallacies or bad evidence is this article relying on?: http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/LifeSciences29.html

"Really? I'm very curious now - assuming we both agree that a person named Mohammed lived around the time the Q'ran was written and that Mecca also existed at the time - what hypothetical, empirical evidence would you consider to falsify the claim of Mohammed's magical flight?"

Why need we both agree on it? If it could be falsified, so could the story. If you could show that the evidence was inconsistent with a Muhammad ever existing, you would show it to be inconsistent with the story that he did anything, much less fly.

Singring said...

'Though the only way you can engage with Kuhn is via philosophy...'

No, I can engage with him by relying on historical evidence of when and how scientists change their minds about things.

'Let me state the claim baldly: it is as possible or impossible to verify or refute the historical claims of Christianity as evolution.'

Absolute, complete, utter nonsense that even the vast majority of Christians would not subscribe to.

Let's look at your claims to see why this is such nonsense:

' If, for example, it could be proved that there never was such a place as Jerusalem...There would, then, be physical evidence of a particular type that would falsify Christianity.'

Hold on - what happened here? Is Christianity merely the belief that there was a city called Jerusalem in the land now known as Israel some 2000 years ago?!

Well then I'd probably qualify as a Cristian fundamentalist! And so would most Muslims and Jews!

The fact that Jerusalem existed might be considered a necessary fact to support Christianity, but it certainly is not sufficient.

So to investigate whether Christianity is falsifiable, we have to look at the *specific and unique* claims it makes - the claims that distinguish it from Judaism, for example.

So, how are you going to falsify that Jesus rose bodily from the dead? I'd love to know.

Likewise, to falsify evolution, we have to look at the *specific and unique* claims it make that distinguish it from, say, creationism. You can find some shining examples of how evolution has passed that test and has never been falsified in my posts above.

'Yet the historical accuracy of the Bible has also been confirmed many times, often against what were considered long odds.'

So?

The historical accuracy of, say, the Q'ran has been confirmed many times.

So does it follow that Mohammed was God's chosen prophet?

Almost every novel ever written contains historically accurate facts - does that mean all the characters invented for those novels also existed?

'Your field has even confirmed by genetic evidence that there was a single line of genetic descent from a single original human mother. My, that sounds awfully familiar, I think I read about something like that once...'

Wowzer. You really need to stop taking your science from Creationist sites.

First of all, for *every* species there is an ancestral matrilineal line that roots back to one monther - this is nothing special about humans, it is a consequence of common ancestry.

Secondly, a quick check of Wikipedia might have corrected your misconception:

I quote some choice bits from the 'common misconceptions' section, which - I would have thought - is the first place you should have checked before you make that claim:

'One of the misconceptions of mitochondrial Eve is that since all women alive today descended in a direct unbroken female line from her that she was the only woman alive at the time.[10][11] Nuclear DNA studies indicate that the size of the ancient human population never dropped below tens of thousands. Other women alive at Eve's time have descendants alive today, but sometime in the past, each of their lines of descent included at least one male, thereby breaking the mitochondrial DNA lines of descent. By contrast, Eve's lines of descent to each person alive today includes precisely one purely matrilineal line.[10]'

Furthermore:

'Sometimes mitochondrial Eve is assumed to have lived at the same time as Y-chromosomal Adam, perhaps even meeting and mating with him. Like mitochondrial "Eve", Y-chromosomal "Adam" probably lived in Africa; however, this "Eve" lived much earlier than this "Adam" – perhaps some 50,000 to 80,000 years earlier.[12]'

Yeah - that sounds exactly like the Bible story.

More to follow...

Singring said...

'The topic of coordinating various historical accounts is pretty fascinating...'

I'm sure it is because they are so completely all over the place. Don't you think God could have done a better job at writing his holy book that would not require theologians to spend thousands of years trying to make the all these contradictory stories fit together?

'So you're a bigot, too!'

Whoa! Hold your indignation there, cowboy! The point I was making is that these *claims* about fossils out of sequence seem to come from areas with a strong creationist/evangelical tradition.
They do *not* come from centres of academic excellence where fossils are studied professionally.

If you want to suggest that Creationists and/or evangelicals are stupid, go right ahead. Personally, I think it takes a great deal of intelligence to mislead people as expertly as they do.

'
I do not think this constitutes an engagement with the claims. For example, what fallacies or bad evidence is this article relying on?: http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/LifeSciences29.html'

Seriously?

You take at face value an article that makes statements like '...in Uzbekistan, 86 consecutive hoofprints of horses were found in rocks dating back to the dinosaurs.' and then cites a magazine article from something called 'Moscow Truth' as the source?

Really?

Do you know what would happen if someone *actually* had found hoofprints in Jurassic layers in Uzbekistan? Whoever found would have published it in Nature - not 'Moscow Truth' - and become world famous.

The human footprints from Arizona are debunked here: http://paleo.cc/paluxy/arizon.htm

Another precious quote:
'Sometimes, land animals, flying animals, and marine animals are fossilized side-by-side in the same rock.'

Apparently the man who has made this claim (Andrew Snelling, in an article that I can't even find on the internet it's so obscure and fringy) has apparently never been to a coast.

The article is replete with these absurd non-peer-reviewed citations from Creationist pamphlets and books. Most of the citations are horribly out of date.

The amber stuff has actually been discussed here and over at a creationist blog by Dr Jay Wile (Proslogion) and you can check there to see that the fossil amber provides no problem for evolution at all.

I could go on, but really....'Moscow Truth'?????

'If you could show that the evidence was inconsistent with a Muhammad ever existing, you would show it to be inconsistent with the story that he did anything, much less fly.'

See above. Muhammed being alive at the time the Q'ran was written is necessary, but not sufficient for the claims of Islam to be true.

ozarklatinist said...

Singring,

"No, I can engage with him by relying on historical evidence of when and how scientists change their minds about things."

The position that historical evidence settles the issue is itself a philosophical claim.

"Hold on - what happened here? Is Christianity merely the belief that there was a city called Jerusalem in the land now known as Israel some 2000 years ago?!"

Not sure why you think I said that. Is evolution reducible to the belief that there are fossilized creatures that show signs of development over time? No, but if there were no such thing, the historical claims of evolution would be falsified, or at least shown to be inconsistent with the evidence available to us.

It seems you are confusing falsification with proof. They are quite different concepts.

"The historical accuracy of, say, the Q'ran has been confirmed many times.

So does it follow that Mohammed was God's chosen prophet?

Almost every novel ever written contains historically accurate facts - does that mean all the characters invented for those novels also existed?"

Naturally I would not make such a silly argument. Similarly, though, the fact that there is evidence consistent with the theory of evolution in the fossil record does not prove evolution.

"One of the misconceptions of mitochondrial Eve is that since all women alive today descended in a direct unbroken female line from her that she was the only woman alive at the time.[10][11] Nuclear DNA studies indicate that the size of the ancient human population never dropped below tens of thousands. Other women alive at Eve's time have descendants alive today, but sometime in the past, each of their lines of descent included at least one male, thereby breaking the mitochondrial DNA lines of descent. By contrast, Eve's lines of descent to each person alive today includes precisely one purely matrilineal line.[10]'"

It depends on what is meant by "never dropped below tens of thousands." Since according to scripture Adam and Eve lived for centuries, it is certainly possible that there would have been tens of thousands of human beings within their lifetime -- which is one possible definition of "never dropped below X." So this evidence is actually consistent with the scriptural account.

Cont'd...

ozarklatinist said...

"Sometimes mitochondrial Eve is assumed to have lived at the same time as Y-chromosomal Adam, perhaps even meeting and mating with him. Like mitochondrial "Eve", Y-chromosomal "Adam" probably lived in Africa; however, this "Eve" lived much earlier than this "Adam" – perhaps some 50,000 to 80,000 years earlier.[12]'"

If this can be proved I would say it is a falsification of scripture, unfortunately it is unclear why they made this inference.

"I'm sure it is because they are so completely all over the place. Don't you think God could have done a better job at writing his holy book that would not require theologians to spend thousands of years trying to make the all these contradictory stories fit together?"

It does not appear that you are following me as to what the field of Biblical chronology involves. It is not making "contradictory stories fit together," but figuring our how the Bible's timeline fits into the timeline of its surrounding civilizations. This can of course be quite challenging since a single standard chronology is a very modern invention.

"You take at face value an article that makes statements like '...in Uzbekistan, 86 consecutive hoofprints of horses were found in rocks dating back to the dinosaurs.' and then cites a magazine article from something called 'Moscow Truth' as the source? Really?"

Nice ad hominem.

"Do you know what would happen if someone *actually* had found hoofprints in Jurassic layers in Uzbekistan? Whoever found would have published it in Nature - not 'Moscow Truth' - and become world famous."

You surely underestimate the interest the academy has in protecting its own definition of orthodoxy.

"The article is replete with these absurd non-peer-reviewed citations from Creationist pamphlets and books. Most of the citations are horribly out of date."

You will have to explain to me the logical principle that limits truth to the contents of peer-reviewed citations, or up-to-date citations.

"See above. Muhammed being alive at the time the Q'ran was written is necessary, but not sufficient for the claims of Islam to be true."

You have quite missed my point if you thought that was the argument I was making. The question was if we could know Islam is false on the basis of other things we could know to be false -- i.e. falsification. What would constitute a robust proof of Islam is an entirely different topic.

ozarklatinist said...

I dug into some of the sources behind the claim that the "Adam" and "Eve" DNA sources lived tens of thousand of years apart, but so far no basis has been offered for the claim that I can find. The dating seems vague enough that people feel compelled to use weasely constructions like "is believed."

ozarklatinist said...

Anyway, wouldn't this merely prove that "Mitochondrial Adam" was not the Adam of scripture? Clearly Mitochondrial Eve must have mated with someone, just not "Mitochondrial Adam."

ozarklatinist said...

It was another gentleman by the same name.

Singring said...

'The position that historical evidence settles the issue is itself a philosophical claim.'

Well, sure, but now we're getting to a level of 'philosophy' that is so basic pretty much every sane person accepts it. If philosophers want to take credit for that, fine.

' Is evolution reducible to the belief that there are fossilized creatures that show signs of development over time? No, but if there were no such thing, the historical claims of evolution would be falsified, or at least shown to be inconsistent with the evidence available to us.'

Yes, but the claims of evolution about the fossil records are special and unique in that they distinguish evolution from the ideas like creationism. That's why the fossil record could falsify evolution specifically.

If you could falsify that Jerusalem ever existed, that wouldn't falsify Christianity specifically.

I'm asking you what evidence could possibly falsify the claim that Jesus rose bodily from the dead or that Mohammed rode a flying horse to Mecca. If you want to claim that Christianity is just as 'unfalsifiable' as evolution, you'll have to give us some idea of hat evidence would specifically falsify Christianity - not the existence of Jerusalem.

'It seems you are confusing falsification with proof. They are quite different concepts.'

No - you are confusing necessary with sufficient claims. And by the way, 'proof' is only for mathematicians. Historicians and biologists can't 'prove' anything.

'Similarly, though, the fact that there is evidence consistent with the theory of evolution in the fossil record does not prove evolution.'

Once again you are completely missing the point here: The fossil record confirm specific and unique predictions made by evolutionary theory. There is nothing specific or unique about the Bible containing some historically accurate facts - as I have pointed out, virtually any book ever written can boast that.

The Nicene creed does not go:

'I believe that there was a city called Jerusalem.'

It contains claims like this:

'He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;'

So this is the kind of claim we should be able to falsify, just as evolution can be falsified if it's claims about the fossil record turn out to be false.

'It depends on what is meant by "never dropped below tens of thousands." '

It means exactly what it says: that there were never less than a few thousand humans among our ancestral populations. Never.

This evidence clearly indicates that there was no genetic Biblical Adam and Eve as even most Christians today (and I think even the Catholic Church) acknowledge.

'If this can be proved I would say it is a falsification of scripture, unfortunately it is unclear why they made this inference.'

They made it based on the divergence of Y-chromosome sequences between men alive today and men who lived in the past (at least that's what I expect from what I know about genetics). If you accept the data that suggests a single mitochondrial Eve, then you should also accept that Adam and Eve probably didn't live at the same time - it's based on the same evidence. If you want I can dig out the original papers for you - but it'll be very technical.

Singring said...

'You surely underestimate the interest the academy has in protecting its own definition of orthodoxy.'

Yeah - that's right, I forgot.

Because obviously that's why people like Darwin, Einstein and Crick and Watson are celebrated as scientific heroes today - because they stuck with the party line and didn't ever question the scientific 'orthodoxy'.

I've never heard a more absurd claim.

'You will have to explain to me the logical principle that limits truth to the contents of peer-reviewed citations, or up-to-date citations.'

I never claimed there was a logical principle - I just happen to think its more reliable to take data from the most recent peer-reviewed scientific literature that has been vetted by experts in the field and critically examined, rather than from an article in something called 'Moscow Truth' which I can't even look up online to check that it says what the author says it does.

But hey, that's just crazy old me.

'The question was if we could know Islam is false on the basis of other things we could know to be false -- i.e. falsification.'

Exactly - and I'm asking you to tell me what is the kind of evidence that would falsify Islam's specific claim that Mohammed worked miracles - such as flying on a horse?

'The dating seems vague enough that people feel compelled to use weasely constructions like "is believed."'

As I said, science is not a bout 'proof'. It is about what is probably true based on the evidence. No scientist worth his salt would ever say (at least not when speaking on an academic level) that we 'know' anything with absolute certainty.

But I'm left wondering what happened to your cocky certainty in this genetic data? Just a while ago you were trying to rub it in my face that science had supposedly supported the story of Eve, now you're calling your own data into question when its turned inconvenient?

'Anyway, wouldn't this merely prove that "Mitochondrial Adam" was not the Adam of scripture? '

There is no 'mitochondrial Adam'. Mitochondria are passed on with the mother's oocyte, not the male sperm, which is precisely why we can trace a single maternal lineage back to ancestral Eve.

'It was another gentleman by the same name.'

Are you for real?

ozarklatinist said...

Singring,

"Well, sure, but now we're getting to a level of 'philosophy' that is so basic pretty much every sane person accepts it."

Oh right! The "all sane people agree on it" philosophy. I had a whole term on that. Your naivete boggles the mind.

"If you could falsify that Jerusalem ever existed, that wouldn't falsify Christianity specifically."

Yes, it would. Perhaps you meant to say it wouldn't falsify Christianity "directly." That's fine. There's no rule that falsification has to be direct. If you have a premise that depends on another premise that depends on another premise that depends ... and the first premise is found to be false, so that it falsifies every premise after, you have falsified the last premise, no matter how "indirectly" you have done it.

"No - you are confusing necessary with sufficient claims."

Your understanding of falsification is idiosyncratic to say the least, since you seem to think something is only falsified if a claim that is sufficient to prove the conclusion is falsified, not if a merely necessary claim to prove the conclusion is falsified.

But why? If P implies Q, and Q implies R, and R implies ... Z, and in fact Z is false, then P is also false by modus tollens. Logically it does not matter how "indirect" the falsification is, P is still falsified. In other words, if any necessary condition of a claim is falsified, that claim is also falsified. There is no logical reason why the condition that falsifies a claim must be "sufficient" and not just "necessary." One wonders whether you're just making it up as you go along.

"And by the way, 'proof' is only for mathematicians. Historicians and biologists can't 'prove' anything."

No kidding! Tell me more, Dr. Science!

ozarklatinist said...

"Once again you are completely missing the point here: The fossil record confirm specific and unique predictions made by evolutionary theory."

Your use of the word "specific" is as I have pointed out unclear. If you think Christianity does not specifically require the historical existence of Jerusalem, you are simply wrong. The fact that it is not directly a Christian article of faith does not matter; several Christian articles of faith depend on the historical existence of Jerusalem and if it did not exist those claims are falsified.

Similarly I cannot fathom what you mean by a "unique" claim. Surely evolution is not the only claim that would possibly imply the existence of a fossil record such as we have. To take an absurd example, the theory that there are fossil-strewing sprites that like to make the layers below slightly different from the layers above would be confirmed by our fossil record.

In any case, there is very little point in debating falsification with someone who has demonstrated he does not understand what is meant by the term, and furthermore shows little will to see his error.

"If you accept the data that suggests a single mitochondrial Eve, then you should also accept that Adam and Eve probably didn't live at the same time - it's based on the same evidence."

But who says I have to accept that the genetic "Adam" is my "Adam"? Clearly, mitochondrial Eve had to mate with someone to perpetuate the race? Fine, that fellow she mated with is who I mean by "Adam," not the genetic "Adam" that lived much later.

Incidentally, human genetics being rooted in a 1) single mother, and, also, a 2) single father who came much later is consistent with the claim that all human ancestry is through Eve and, much later, Noah.

"It means exactly what it says: that there were never less than a few thousand humans among our ancestral populations. Never."

Right, but what assumptions are being made about human lifespan in that statement? I agree that in the lifespan of any single human being there was never less than thousands of people living, but my assumptions about how long a human lifespan could be are different than yours.

ozarklatinist said...

For the curious here is a discussion of the genetic data at issue here from a Biblicist perspective: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/06/03/feedback-search-for-historical-adam

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

now we're getting to a level of 'philosophy' that is so basic pretty much every sane person accepts it. If philosophers want to take credit for that, fine.

Of course, science never does this.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

That definition is about as useful as saying that 'the best car is the car that is the least not good'.

The term you are looking for is 'parsimonious', Martin.


You're right here. I didn't realize I said the word "explanation" twice. And "parsimonious" is the better word.

It's called "Posting at 1:30 a.m Syndrome."

Singring said...

't's called "Posting at 1:30 a.m Syndrome."'

I know what you mean.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

The 'best' explanation should be able to explain the observed evidence without contradicting any other available evidence and without making any unnecessary assumptions beyond those required to explain the evidence.

You left out the part about making sense of the most things. You seem to focus exclusively on the parsimonious part and completely neglect the actual explanation part.

And one of the ways of determining what is the best theory is to see how many problems it solves. If you have the choice of one theory that results in 100 problems and one that results in 5 problems, then the one with 5 problems would seem to be better.

What you don't seem to be taking into account is that every theory makes certain assumptions. If by making those assumptions your theory answers more questions, then it is evidence for the soundness of the theory.

This is basically what happened with the Higgs Boson. They were pretty sure it was there already, since by assuming it was, it made sense of the rest of their theory.

This was also what happened with the discovery of Neptune. Astronomers knew it was there before it was empirically discovered because assuming it was the only way they could explain irregularities in Uranus's orbit.

This is common in scientific inquiry.

If you had paid attention to the last 2,000 of scientific research, this confusion might have been avoided.

Physician, heal thyself.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Only if you presuppose that an ethical theory requires objective, absolute foundations. I contest that it doesn't and that making such a presupposition is unwarranted.

I simply think that an ought is an ought, and not an "it makes me feel good."

Singring said...

'You left out the part about making sense of the most things.'

I did, thanks for mentioning it.

However, I still can't see where you actually make any case that formal and final causes (for example) are 'better' explanations than materialist/naturalist ones.

What problems do formal causes solve that natural causes don't?

'This is basically what happened with the Higgs Boson. They were pretty sure it was there already, since by assuming it was, it made sense of the rest of their theory.'

Obviously. But again, when making this inference, where did the scientists rely on anything other than the empirical data that they had already collected? And how is their explanation for the experimental results any more problematic or less parsimonious than an explanation that relies on or factors in formal or final causes?

Singring said...

'I simply think that an ought is an ought, and not an "it makes me feel good."'

Well, I think that what is an ought i dependent on situation and context. In any given situation, then, the ought is an ought just as your ought is an ought.

The only difference is that I acknowledge that the basis on which I judge which situation entails which ought relies on some factors that I choose subjectively.

You pretend you don't choose such factors subjectively, but of course you do, as we have discussed many times before.