Monday, December 31, 2007

Evil Bender comes through

Although I haven't gotten a chance to delve into his last post in any detail, Evil Bender has responded to my last post and has stood by his promise to acknowledge if he was mistaken in his predictions about what I would say about Intelligent Design. He still has problems with my position, but he did what he said he would do.

Time allowing, I'll respond to some of the other arguments he makes in his newest post, but let's acknowledge intellectual honesty when we see it. If I knew who he was and had his address, I would send him a fine cigar. This debate is acrimonious enough without being a jerk about things like this. So my hat's off to him.

And he is right about the difficulty of conducting searches on my blog in order to get a history of this debate, but hey, I can't complain about blogspot. Generally speaking, it works well from my end--and it's free!

On whether I believe Intelligent Design is science

Samuel Johnson once said the people need more often to be reminded than informed.

The brave troop of ID critics (most of whom, I'm fairly confident, would quickly scurry for cover if I changed the setting on my blog to require them to identify themselves) has asked several questions about my views on several questions related to Intelligent Design. And if you peel off all the invective, the questions themselves are perfectly fair, although I have answered most of them in previous posts or in the comment sections of other posts.

But I suppose there are new readers here who have had not had the chance to read the previous posts. So this is the first of several posts answering questions about my views on Intelligent Design and science.

Several posters have called on me to say why I think Intelligent Design is science. I have delayed answering this question for a few days because I wanted to go back and verify my recollection on what my position on this has always been. Well, I had some time yesterday afternoon to do that, and my memory was indeed correct.

I have never said that Intellectual Design was science. In fact, as my search verified, I have said this--or, rather, said that I have not said this--several times.

So let me just repost a comment from my post, "Is Intelligent Design Science (cont.)," which ran on Oct. 3, 2006, since it adequately sums up what my position has always been. It was my answer to a commenter's question, “Can you propose a test of science that you think ID can pass?”:
My answer to that question is, I don’t need to, because I have not made the claim that ID is science. I don’t know whether it is or not, and am not sure it matters a great deal, except to people who think science is the only legitimate form of inquiry. But I am curious, as a cultural observer, about the enthusiasm with which the scientific establishment has attacked ID, an enthusiasm that results in reckless assertions about what science is and isn’t that bring even theories well within its own domain into question.
That last sentence was a reference to superstring theory and some of the more exotic aspects of physics.

Now "Evil Bender," in a post yesterday, said the following:
You’ll notice, despite repeated attempts by commenters to get him to explain himself, Cothran hasn’t done so. He has not weighed in on what science is, nor has he explained why ID should be science. He has not explained what ID predicts, or added anything to the conversation. He’s instead asking a question that brings nothing to the discussion, and steadfastly avoiding coming to any conclusions.
Please note again the date of my post quoted above: October 3, 2006. You can also throw in comments in various posts on this blog to the same effect. "Cothran hasn't done so"? Actually Cothran has done so. He did it a while ago, and has done it repeatedly. Evil Bender would be a lot more credible if he checked his facts out before making reckless charges.

Oh, and while we're at it, let's deal with another myth I see making the rounds: that I think Intelligent Design should be taught in science classes.

Maybe the people who are making this claim could do their own little search and tell me where I said this. My position (and I haven't done a search on this one, but I'm fairly confident I've never said anything else) is that what science teachers teach in their classrooms should be left up to science teachers. I'm against mandating it and I'm against prohibiting it. If teachers think that it is appropriate to mention the raging debate now going on about this issue, and explain some of the issues that we are discussing on this blog, I don't think that would be inappropriate.

I also think that if I were a science teacher, and if I believed that Intelligent Design did fall into the realm of science, that I would continue to be reticent about spending classroom time on it (other than mentioning that it is an issue) until it had had a chance to show whether it can succeed as a more formal scientific enterprise. But it the meantime, I'm going to continue to point out the curious enthusiasm shown by Darwinists to makes sure ID doesn't get that chance by doing things like shutting down programs that even try to inquire into it.

Finally, Evil Bender also made the following remark in his last post:
Once again, I’ll predict: this is all about trying to get ID defined as science. If Cothran ever follows up with any real discussion (which I doubt–he completely avoided my point that we’ve already seen ID folks do what I’m predicting he’ll do) and he does not use all this as a prelude to claiming science includes his favorite God-of-the-Gaps theory, I’ll happily retract my claims, and admit it publicly. But I’ll only do so if he demonstrates his agenda is anything other than re-defining science to get ID the credibility it can’t find in the scientific community.
Okay Evil Bender, I'm waiting...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A response to a scientific paranormalist

Would that everyone who attacked me called himself "Evil." I doubt, of course, that this is the actual name he was given by his mother at birth (what was her name, "Lilith"?), but someone by the name of "Evil Bender" claims to know what I am thinking, despite acknowledging that he doesn't know me at all.

Who is Evil Bender? According to his website, he "teaches in an English department, dabbles in science and enjoys calling out bigots, hate-mongers, liars and idiots." Can you feel the love?

The one thing he left out was "mind reading". Mind reading is apparently a common talent among the scientific mystics, who enjoy imparting motive to those with whom they disagree. Evil Bender did not like my observation that the question "What is science?" is not itself a scientific question. I made the remark in the context of ISU's decision to deny Guillermo Gonzalez tenure, a decision which, in light of e-mails made public by the Discovery Institute, appeared to have been made at least in part on the basis of Gonzalez's opinion that Intelligent Design is scientific.

The extent of his dislike of this observation seemed to be in direct proportion to his inability to refute what I said. And when the scientific mystics can't refute your argument, they simply raise their hands, squint real hard, and direct their paranormal powers in the general direction of your brain and, when contact has been made, determine something else you might believe that they feel more comfortable being able to refute.

In Evil Bender's case, he simply postulated that I thought that scientists should somehow be prevented from making decisions concerning tenure of science faculty:
But it seems Cothran does have one thing on his side: the ability to make disingenuous arguments. Take this one, where he’s eager to claim little old scientists shouldn’t be the ones discussing what is science ...See, the real goal is to insure that scientists don’t have a say in, say, the Gonzalez tenure.
Of course, what I actually said was that the question of what science is is not itself a scientific question and that, therefore, it was not within their realm of expertise as scientists, but was a question more appropriate to the philosophy of science. And if you look at the discussion in the comments section of that post, you will see that I made the point that I was not challenging the right of any scientist to make a judgment of what was or wasn't science, but simply pointing out that anyone's opinion of what is science does not depend on their competence as scientists but their competence as philosophers. In other words, it is neither necessary nor sufficient that a person be a scientist in order to answer the question, "what is science?", and, therefore, if a tenure committee for a scientific discipline makes such a judgment, they have an obligation to justify it on the basis of philosophical arguments, not scientific ones.

Evil Bender's first charge is that my comments were disingenuous. In other words, he is asserting that I am making arguments in which I do not myself believe. He offers no evidence for this claim, but then the scientific mystics never do offer evidence for their mind reading results (in fact, I am wondering if Evil Bender is really Uri Geller using a pseudonym). He then claims he knows my "real goal". Wow. Is this guy talented or what?

Does Evil Bender think that the question "what is science?" is a scientific question after all? And if he does, on what basis does he think it is? On the basis of science? And if so, can we ask the question, "Is the question 'Is the question "What is science?" a scientific question?' itself a scientific question?" And if we could, could we then ask what expertise Evil Bender brings to the question, since he is not a scientist?

No, we'd better not. He'll read my mind and conclude I'm asking the question just to be a smart alec.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The "Two Jones" Thesis and its Detractors: More ID opponents experience binary fission

Well, it appears that my article about the inherent contradiction in an important section of the Dover vs. Kitzmiller decision is making evident some potentially dangerous developments among Darwinist opponents of Intelligent Design. Both Richard Hoppe at Panda's Thumb ("The Disco 'Tute's New Man") and Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars ("ID and Testability") have offered arguments against my position, and with each other--and, it turns out (at least in Brayton's case), with themselves.

I had pointed out that Judge John Jones affirmed a blatant contradiction in his opinion. He argued that the alleged unsoundness of the argument from irreducible complexity is a blow to Intelligent Design, since it is "central to ID", and then later argues that even if irreducible complexity were true, it wouldn't confirm ID because it isn't central to it, but "merely a test for evolution, not design".

I also said that this kind of argument falls into the trap of affirming two more general contradictory positions: that ID is not falsifiable, and that it is false.

I argued two points:
  1. That Judge Jones both affirmed and denied that irreducible complexity is "central to ID"; and
  2. That, as a consequence, he only allowed irreducible complexity to count against ID, but not for it.
This was completely lost on Hoppe, who just ran on about how ID makes testable claims he says are false, and untestable claims that can't be judged true or false:
What Cothran is apparently unable to comprehend is that while ID proponents occasionally make testable empirical claims, ID theory itself does not.
No, sorry. Cothran comprehends Hoppe, but Hoppe doesn't comprehend Cothran. I understand Hoppe's point. In fact, I understand it so well that it is very plain to me that it doesn't address my argument. It's a convenient distinction to make, but it isn't a distinction the Dover decision makes.

Hoppe agrees with Jones--and he doesn't. He agrees with the Jones who says that irreducible complexity is not central to ID, but disagrees with the Jones who says that it does. But nowhere does he deny my central thesis: that there are two Jones', and that they disagree with each other.

So what does Ed Brayton say to this? First, that he has heard my argument "many times" before. Shucks. And I thought my "Two Jones" thesis was my very own discovery. Turns out, claims Brayton, that someone beat me to it, although he doesn't say who it was.

Brayton, it turns out, is not only unimpressed by my argument (or the one I thought was mine before Ed informed me it wasn't--although, in a Jonesian logical maneuver, he's going to hold it against me anyway) but is less than impressed with Hoppe's refutation of it, saying that he gives my argument "too much credit":
I think he's actually making things more complicated than they are. There is no "ID theory" and there never has been. What ID proponents call "ID theory" is nothing more than a set of bad arguments against evolution, all straight out of the creationist jokebook. They all take the form of a basic god of the gaps argument: "not evolution, therefore God."
Note carefully what is going on here. Neither Hoppe nor Brayton addresses the two central points of my argument. Hoppe agrees with the Jones who says that arguments against evolution are not central to ID, and disagrees with the Jones who says they are, while Brayton agrees with the Jones who says that arguments against evolution are central to ID and disagrees with the Jones who says that they aren't.

Neither, however, denies there are two Jones': they simply disagree on which is the better Jones. In fact, when you put them together, not only do Hoppe and Brayton not address my argument, they actually confirm it: in agreeing with different Jones' they implicitly recognize that there are two of them.

Yet, in the final analysis, even Brayton can't resist the apparently contagious logical schizophrenia that is increasingly infecting opponents of ID:
ID argument like this can be falsified because they are tests of evolution, not of the non-existent "ID theory." ID is a purely negative argument that invokes supernatural causation, and that is why it cannot be tested on its own merits.
In other words, Brayton too argues that ID is both false and unfalsifiable. Not only are there now two Joneses, there are two Braytons.

Is it only a matter of time before Hoppe too--and all the other ID opponents--begin to experience this peculiar form of alogical reproduction? Considering the consequences (such as the potential twofold multiplication of bad reasoning), let's hope not.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What we read this year (with ratings)


Shadows on the Hudson, Isaac Bashevis Singer
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
Beowulf, trans., Joseph Spaeth
The Return of Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse
Emma, Jane Austen
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Hard Times, Charles Dickens (in progress)
Satan in Goray, Isaac Bashevis Singer (in progress)
That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis (in progress)

Short Stories*:
"The Whirligig of Life," O. Henry
"A Good Man is Hard to Find", Flannery O'Connor

"Ash Wednesday," T. S. Eliot
"The Stolen Child," W. B. Yeats
"Fire & Ice," Robert Frost
From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems, James Still (in progress)

Hamlet, William ShakespeareHenry VI, William Shakespeare
Richard III, William Shakespeare
The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
The Comedy of Errors, Williams Shakespeare
Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare

History, Literature, & Biography:
Einstein: His Life and Times, Walter Isaacson
The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, Elizabeth Kantor
Postmodernism, Glen Ward
Derrida in 90 Minutes, by Paul Strathern
Introducing Critical Theory, by Stuart Sim and Borin Van Loon
Poetic Diction, Owen Barfield
After Theory, Terry Eagleton
Introducing Postmodernism, Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt
Magic into Science: The Story of Paracelsus, Henry M. Pachter (in progress)
Lessons of the Masters, George Steiner (in progress)
Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff & Mark Johnson (in progress)
Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, Anthony Esolen (in progress)
J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, Brad Birzer (in progress)
The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World, Daniel J. Boorstin (in progress)
G. K. Chesterton's Collected Works, vol. XXX, The Illustrated London News, 1914-1916 (in progress)
God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization, by A. N. Wilson (in progress)

Philosophy & Science
The Illusion of Technique, William Barrett
The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche
The Philosophy of Science, Jeffrey Kasser
Nietszche in 90 Minutes, by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, Sean B. Carroll (in progress)
The Night is Large: Collected Essays, 1938-1995, Martin Gardner (in progress)

"Modern Science, Metaphysics, and Mathematics," Martin Heidegger
"Diagnosing the Modern Malaise," Walker Percy
"Paul Elmer More," H. L. Mencken
"Superstrings," Martin Gardner
"The Man of Letters in the Modern World," Allen Tate
"Written to Last," Joseph Epstein (The New Criterion, vol. 25, no. 1)
"On the Essence of Truth," Martin Heidegger

The Epistle of Jude** (from the Vulgate)
The Epistle to the Galatians** (from the Vulgate)
The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Paul Elie
Socrates Meets Jesus, Peter Kreeft
The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen, Henri de Lubac (in progress)
The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, Leon Kass (in progress)

*Just the highlights
**We don't rate the Scriptures: they rate us.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"The Wise Men," by G. K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly ... it has hailed and snowed...
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(... We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone...)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

A Garrison Keillor Christmas

Garrison Keillor, speaking to skeptical New York Teenagers (an excerpt):
We sat in a sort of triangle, two couches at a right angle, a line of chairs, a window looking out at the snow on Amsterdam Avenue, and talked about the rather improbable notion that God sent Himself to Earth in human form, impregnating a virgin who, along with her confused fiancé, journeyed to Bethlehem where no rooms were available at the inn (it was the holidays, after all), and so God was born in a stable, wrapped in cloths and laid in a feed trough and worshipped by shepherds summoned by angels and by Eastern dignitaries who had followed a star.

This magical story is a cornerstone of the Christian faith and I am sorry if it's a big hurdle for the skeptical young. It is to the Church what his Kryptonian heritage was to Clark Kent -- it enables us to stop speeding locomotives and leap tall buildings at a single bound, and also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Without the Nativity, we become a sort of lecture series and coffee club, with not very good coffee and sort of aimless lectures.

On Christmas Eve, the snow on the ground, the stars in the sky, the spruce tree glittering with beloved ornaments, we stand in the dimness and sing about the silent holy night and tears come to our eyes and the vast invisible forces of Christmas stir in the world. Skeptics, stand back. Hush. Hark. There is much in this world that doubt cannot explain.

Monday, December 24, 2007

An interesting take on the Star of Bethlehem

An article by Craig Chester, an astronomer at the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy, with an interesting take on the Star of Bethlehem.

Here's an excerpt:

What astronomical events, possibly in the years 3 or 2 B.C., might have been related to the Star of Bethlehem? A nova—the unexpected, sudden brightening of a star from invisibility into a bright object for a period of days or weeks—has been suggested. But there is no historical record of such a nova, nor is it clear what a nova’s astrological significance would be. Origen himself suggested a comet, for comets appear sporadically, move, and can even seem to point down to the earth. But the recorded comets around this time, even Halley’s Comet in 12 B.C., were not very impressive; astrologically, they were considered ominous. Meteors and fireballs are even less likely candidates.

Conjunctions of planets have also long been considered good possibilities. A conjunction is a close apparent approach between two celestial objects. Technically speaking, a conjunction occurs at the moment when both objects have the same celestial longitude; one is due north of the other. The closer the objects, the more visually impressive the event and the more significant astrologically. In 3 B.C. and 2 B.C., there was a series of close conjunctions involving Jupiter, the planet that represented kingship, coronations, and the birth of kings. In Hebrew, Jupiter was known as Sedeq or “Righteousness,” a term also used for the Messiah.

In September of 3 B.C., Jupiter came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo. Leo was the constellation of kings, and it was associated with the Lion of Judah. The royal planet approached the royal star in the royal constellation representing Israel. Just a month earlier, Jupiter and Venus, the Mother planet, had almost seemed to touch each other in another close conjunction, also in Leo. Then the conjunction between Jupiter and Regulus was repeated, not once but twice, in February and May of 2 B.C. Finally, in June of 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest objects in the sky save the sun and the moon, experienced an even closer encounter when their disks appeared to touch; to the naked eye they became a single object above the setting sun. This exceptionally rare spectacle could not have been missed by the Magi.

In fact, we have seen here only the highlights of an impressive series of planetary motions and conjunctions fraught with a variety of astrological meanings, involving all the other known planets of the period: Mercury, Mars, and Saturn. The astrological significance of these impressive events must surely have been seen by the Magi as the announcement of the impending birth of a great king of Israel.

September 11, 3 B.C., is perhaps the most interesting date of all. Not only was Jupiter very close to Regulus in the first of their conjunctions, but the sun was in the constellation of Virgo (of obvious symbolism), together with the new moon, in a configuration that fits a plausible interpretation of a passage in the Book of Revelation describing the birth of a male child who is to be the ruler of the universe. Significantly, September 11, 3 B.C., also marked the beginning of the Jewish New Year, traditionally regarded as the anniversary of Noah’s landing after the Great Flood.

But if the planet Jupiter was the Star of Bethlehem, or was a component of the events that triggered the visit by the Magi, how do we view the final appearance of the Star on their journey to Bethlehem? It would have been in the southern sky, though fairly high above the horizon. Could the Star have stopped over Bethlehem? The answer is yes. The word “stop” was used for what we now call a planet’s “stationary point.” A planet normally moves eastward through the stars from night to night and month to month, but regularly exhibits a “retrograde loop.” After it passes the opposite point in the sky from the sun, it appears to slow, come to a full stop, and move backward (westward) through the sky for some weeks. Again it slows, stops, and resumes its eastward course.

It seems plausible that the Magi were “overjoyed” at again seeing before them, as they traveled southward, “his star,” Jupiter, which at its stationary point was standing still over Bethlehem. We do know for certain that Jupiter performed a retrograde loop in 2 B.C. and that it was stationary on December 25, interestingly enough, during Hanukkah, the season for giving presents.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A big welcome from Panda's Thumb

Well now I can add to my resume the fact that I have been attacked by a non-indigenous, arguably ursine species: ailuropoda melanoleuca to be precise. Actually, the attack did not involve the whole animal, but only a short, apparently imperfect, appendage of it.

"Panda's Thumb," a website devoted to purist evolutionary doctrine has taken a swipe at me for having joined Discovery Institute as a contributor to their website.

I'm never entirely sure what to think of organizations that name themselves after mammalian anatomical parts for which they admit to having a low regard, but we know from their most recent post that they do have an attitude. Just shows what an exclusive diet of bamboo will do for you.

I am, according to Panda's Thumb, "a fairly garden variety ideologue, albeit with a better vocabulary than many such." Okay, so they've identified my species, but it goes down hill from there. First they say that my piece criticizing the PBS's "Judgment Day" appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Well, sorry, but it only appeared on my blog.

Then the post proceeds to completely ignore the argument I made about Judge Jones' decision in favor of one much more convenient for them to argue against--and follows it by accusing me of a fallacy.

Hmmm. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Growing up on the Internet

I'm instituting a new policy on comments, which is that I'll let your comment run as long as you don't needlessly insult someone or call into question someone's honesty or integrity without some kind of justification.

There are people who want to post on this blog without giving their names and want to hide behind their anonymity while calling other people's integrity into question. What's particularly ironic is when, while using anonymity to avoid responsibility for their own behavior, they accuse me or someone else of hypocrisy. I'll just call it hypocrisy squared.

So if you want to make a legitimate point, go ahead. But don't get on the board and display your immaturity to the public by making wild personal charges unless you can a) use your own name, and b) back up your personal charges with some kind of evidence. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they're evil or dishonest, and I'm getting a little tired of having to give what I perceive are full grown adults the same lecture I give to my teenage boys about common politeness.

If I have to take your post off, and it contains a legitimate argument (and one I just took off did), then I'll either edit it, indicating which part I had edit for lack of maturity and post the rest, or I'll include a summary of the point, and maybe even a quote, when I get around to answering it.

And if you're one of the violators who don't like it, then my suggestion is to do everyone a favor and grow up before you post on the Internet. And if your intellectual adolescence doesn't allow you to understand why this is necessary and think it is somehow unfair, let me just assure you that I'm doing you a favor by shielding the readers of this blog from behavior that doesn't reflect well on you or your position.

"I am Legend": heroic and human

I saw Will Smith's "I am Legend" last weekend and it was not only a very frightening, but a very outstanding movie. While it has a very science fiction-oriented setting--a desolate, post-plague New York City, it is a very human movie: as much about how a man deals with loneliness, as with how he saves the human race.

Karnick on Culture has an excellent review here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Discovery Institute carries post on ID opponents' logical dilemma

The Discovery Institute today (the two-year anniversary of the Dover v. Kitzmiller decision) carried my piece on the logical dilemma in Judge Jones' ruling that Intelligent Design is not science. They will also be carrying some of my future articles on the issue on their Evolution News & Views blog.

When did the 60's happen?

An interesting post that backs up my long held contention that much of the 60's actually happened in the 70's.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

10 Modern Wise Men

A list of men who order things rightly and judge them well:

Leon Kass
Neil Postman
Ken Myers
Wendell Berry
Thomas Howard
George Steiner
William Barrett
Anthony Esolen
Jacques Barzun
Harold Bloom

These are people I don't even necessarily agree with, they they are people whose books anyone would do well to read and ponder.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Is the question "What is science?" a scientific question? (Part II)

In an earlier post, I asked whether the question of what is science is itself a scientific question. This caused a high level of consternation among the anti-Intelligent Design commenters on this blog, but not any satisfactory answers.

I even tried to set forth their arguments for them in a categorical syllogism in a way in which we could more clearly see potential problems with their position. I took their conclusion, that the question of what is science is a scientific question, and put their answers in the form of premises in the argument. But, alas, we still have not found a sound argument for their position.

But I, being the gracious person I am, am going to try to make it even easier for them. I'm going to show them specifically where their problem is and see if they can solve it. I'm going to write their argument out, and leave a blank for them to fill it. That's all they have to do: fill in the blank! It's so easy!

Here goes:

Premise #1: _____________________________________ are scientific questions.
Premise #2: The question of what is science is ______________________________.
Conclusion: Therefore the question of what is science is a scientific question.

There. I've laid it all out for them. The conclusion, as always in an argument, provides us with our minor and major terms, and I have put them in their proper places in the premises. All that is missing is the middle term. It will be the same for both blanks, so all they need is one expression to solve their problem.

Not only that, but I have set this forth in the simplest and most basic of the 19 valid syllogism forms, what, in traditional logic, is called a "BARBARA".

Of course the opponents of Intelligent Design are always accusing their opponents of being irrational. But that will be hard to do if they can't set forth their own position in the most basic of argument forms.

So there we go. Let's see what they can do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Anti trivial trivialities in the presidential election

In yesterday's presidential debate, the Republican presidential candidates were asked for a show of hands to indicate whether they believed that global warming was a significant threat caused by man. Fred Thompson rebelled against the format and asked if he could give a minute long answer.

No way, said the moderator.

Thirty seconds?


Thompson refused to play along, an act that is now being compared to Ronald Reagan refusing to give up the microphone in the 1980 New Hampshire debate. Some are speculating that this trivial little incident could light a fire for the campaign.

Now think about this suggestion--that one mildly entertaining little comment could change the course of the presidential race. Thompson was rebelling against the format of the debate because it trivialized the process, and now that trivial little act could spark a renewed public interest in the campaign?

Don't get me wrong. I'm for Thompson. We'll take it. But the political process gets more surreal by the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is the question "What is science?" a scientific question?

Should a tenure committee for a scientific academic position make its decisions on the basis of a candidates opinions on non-scientific questions?

I ask the question because recently Iowa State University appears to have denied tenure to astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez on the basis of his opinion on the question of whether Intelligent Design is science. But (and this will really send the anti-ID crowd into paroxysms of rage) the question of what science is is not itself a scientific question.

It seems to be an unquestioned assumption on the part of everyone involved in the debate that those most qualified to answer the question of what science is are scientists. But that would only be the case if the question, "What is science?" were a scientific question.

Well, is it?

If it is, then answers to it should meet scientific criteria. Let's take testability as an example (that is, after all, the one most often used against ID): Is the statement "Science is what is testable" a testable statement?

How about the scientific method? Is the statement "Science consists of those things which are amenable to the scientific method" amenable to the scientific method?

Come up with whatever criterion you will, I think you will have a hard time finding one that meets its own criterion. What does that say about the question, "What is science?"

It seems to me that where science lies in the larger scheme of things is not a question for someone who specializes in science, but for someone who specializes in the larger scheme of things--in other words, a philosopher. Is it not a philosophical, and not a scientific question? In fact, it is pretty clear that it is the philosopher of science who is the expert in this area.

If this is the case, then ISU, in denying Guillermo Gonzalez tenure because of this views in support of ID, is taking this action on the basis of a question that is outside their realm of expertise. It is not deciding on his tenure on the basis of scientific questions, but on the basis of philosophical questions which to my knowledge have not been settled in the field of the philosophy of science.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tebow home schooled

Tim Tebow, this year's winner of the Heisman Trophy, college football's most coveted award--and the only sophomore ever to win it, was home schooled.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Did they or Didn't They? Another dilemma for the opponents of Intelligent Design

Opponents of Intelligent Design seem to be very conflicted about what to say concerning Iowa State University denying astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez tenure because he supports Intelligent Design.

On the one hand, ID opponents seem to think ISU should have denied him tenure for thinking ID is science, since, they say, it clearly is not science. On the other hand, it is hard for them to admit that this is what ISU did, since, if they do, they would be supporting misrepresentation by the University and the tenure committee about what their decision was based on.

To put the dilemma another way, if you don't admit that he was denied tenure because of his support for Intelligent Design, then you look like you're slightly out of touch with reality, since the evidence appears to be pretty damning. And if you accept that Gonzalez was denied tenure on the basis of his support for Intelligent Design, then you have to admit that ISU and his tenure review committee were dishonest.

So the choice for ID opponents involves which horn of the dilemma they want to impale themselves on.

Over at Panda's Thumb, Mike Dunford seems to favor the first horn. He says, in the face of the of the e-mail evidence, he is "unconvinced" that ID played a significant role in tenure denial for Gonzalez. Well, you can see some of the e-mail remarks documented by the Discovery Institute here and see for yourself. This is the kind of evidence that, under any other such circumstances would be considered definitive, but which, in the intellectual fever swamps of scientism just simply cannot be admitted:
Given the notorious track record of the entire anti-evolution movement when it comes to quoting scientists, I'm somewhat reluctant to accept the quotes provided at face value, particularly since the DI has not made the full text of the sources available for examination. Even if all of the quotes the DI uses do accurately capture the spirit of the full emails they are taken from (and does anyone want to offer me odds on that), I still don't think they've made their point.
It makes you wonder whether the anti-ID crowds assertion that Gonzalez was treated fairly is a falsifiable belief, doesn't it?

A slightly more lucid Jason Rosenhouse over at EvolutionBlog finds the second of the two horns of the dilemma a less painful alternative. He admits that, indeed, ISU appears to have considered Gonzalez' belief in ID in its decision, and was simply dishonest in its denials:
... [H]ad the ISU physics department stated forthrightly that he was being denied tenure because his advocacy of ID pseudoscience was hurting the department and plainly hampering his scientific work, there might have been no reason for this blog entry.

But they didn't, at least not primarily. Instead they publicly denied that Gonzalez's ID advocacy played a significant role in his tenure denial. One member of the department, John Hauptmann, wrote an op-ed in which he argued, preposterously, that Gonzalez did not understand the scientific process and that was the reason for denying him tenure. I reported on this sorry essay here.

In other words, Dunford is concerned with the honesty of the advocates of ID, but Rosenhouse is admitting a virulent case of dishonesty in it's own ranks.

Some days you just can't win.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Universal Explanation: How global warming is being used to explain anything and everything

You will remember that global warming was blamed for the recent prevalence of hurricanes. Well, last hurricane season was a bust. There was nothing like the hurricane activity that the global warming gurus were predicting. And the cause for the low hurricane activity?

You got it: global warming.

Global warming was the cause of too many hurricanes, and also the lack thereof. In fact, says David Freddoso at National Review, Global warming is now invoked as the cause of almost everything--including things that are entirely opposite one another:
We know the possible consequences of tinkering with our environment, causing unprecedented changes. This is how we approach the subject of man-made global warming. Wherever there is change, we turn immediately to global warming to explain it. Heat and cold, drought and downpour, famine and plenty — all can be caused by global warming. It can cause more foliage and less foliage; a slower-spinning earth and a faster one; more snow and less snow; a sun-scarred desert world, or a new ice age. Climate change makes mountains grow and it makes mountains shrink.

It is not impossible that all (or at least most) of these theories are simultaneously true. But they also have the advantage of making global warming an unfalsifiable theory. Not only can no possible event disprove it, but it can actually serve as an explanation for any natural event worthy of note.
Want to know how many different things are explained by global warming? Try going here.

I'm just waiting for all those people who talk about how science must be falsifiable to denounce global warming as a pseudo-science.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Top Ten Bad Books Everybody Has to Read

Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments blog has a useful list of the Top Ten Bad Books Everybody Reads. They could have said the "Top Ten Bad Books that Everybody Has to Read" If many of these books weren't assigned it schools, few would read them--and many would be better off for it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sauce for the gander

ID opponents are defending Iowa State University for apparently denying tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez for supporting Intelligent Design, but are up in arms about Texas Director of Science Curriculum Chris Comer being fired for being against Intelligent Design. The former, they say, is perfectly okay, but the latter is an outrage.

I'm shocked.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The logical bankruptcy of the argument that Intelligent Design is not science

Well, the scientific mystics are trying to slither out of the logical dilemma they have created for themselves. I have pointed out that opponents of Intelligent Design make two mutually exclusive claims: First that ID is not science, and, second, that ID makes false claims.

The whole reason opponents say that ID is not science is because it doesn't make falsifiable claims. But if it doesn't make falsifiable claims, then it can't be said to have made claims that have been found false, which they say it has made.

Opponents of ID have done logical contortions of extraordinary dexterity to get out of this dilemma. One commenter on this blog, Motheral, tries to get out of the dilemma this way:
Here's the reality: SOME of ID's claims are un-falsifiable, and therefore unscientific; while OTHER ID claims (such as "irreducible complexity") are falsifiable and have been proven false. (There's also the matter of those false claims resulting from unscientific thought-processes, but that's another matter.) There's nothing inconsistent about this, unless we are alleging that this or that PARTICULAR ID claim is both unfalsifiable and proven false. You have not specified any particular ID claim about which both of these things have been said; therefore your allegations of our "inconsistency" are groundless.
The trouble with this Motheral's retort is the same trouble that is on display in Judge John Jones arguments in Dover vs. Kitzmiller: both are trying to have it both ways, but at the cost of logical consistency.

In the Dover decision, Judge Jones unwitting lays a trap for himself, and then spends a good part of the decision falling into it. On p. 64 of the decision, Jones gives three reasons for determining that ID is not science:
  1. It permits supernatural causation
  2. It assumes a "contrived dualism" in the argument for irreducible complexity
  3. Its negative arguments against evolution (like irreducible complexity) have "refuted by the scientific community"
In all of this discussion, there is a particular view of how to demarcate science from non-science. It is philosopher Karl Popper's demarcation criterion: that in order for something to be science it has to be falsifiable, or testable. We see this in the following comment by Jones:
Accordingly, the purported positive argument for ID does not satisfy the ground rules of science which require testable hypotheses based upon natural explanations. (3:101-03 (Miller)). ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in this world. While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory. (p. 82, emphasis added]
It is in his statement of the second point where Jones sets himself up. He says that the argument for irreducible complexity is "central to ID". Otherwise, why would he include it in a discussion of whether ID is science? And, in reason 3., he also says it has been "refuted": in other words, falsified. But if the argument for irreducible complexity is, as Jones later determines, falsified, then ID is falsified, since irreducible complexity is "central to ID".

But if ID is not falsifiable, then (if you assume Popper's criterion, which is far from noncontroversial among philosophers of science) it is not science--and it cannot therefore be falsified. So how does Jones get around the fact that he just says both that ID is not science because it can't be falsified, and that an argument "central to ID" has been falsified?

His method is simply to skip back and forth between the two arguments hoping the reader will not notice.

He says first that the truth or falsity of arguments for ID are irrelevant:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science.
Judge Jones then goes on an extended argument explaining why he thinks the argument or irreducible complexity fails (the argument for which essentially consists of the fact that lots of evolutionists say so). But then, obviously cognizant of the inherent contradiction in his argument (that the court takes no position on the truth of the arguments for ID and that it does), he points out that irreducible complexity is an argument against evolution, not an argument for Intelligent Design:
Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design, a point conceded by defense expert Professor Minnich. (2:15 (Miller); 38:82 (Minnich) (irreducible complexity “is not a test of intelligent design; it’s a test of evolution”). [p. 68, emphasis added]
He says this, in fact, in several places:
As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. [p. 76, emphasis added]
Jones' argument is that the alleged failure of irreducible complexity can be charged to ID's account only if irreducible complexity is not a part of Intelligent Design theory itself, since ID itself is not science and therefore not falsifiable. And yet, if it isn't a part of ID, then it obviously cannot undermine the theory itself.
Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID.
How can this be if irreducible complexity is "central to ID"? He wants to use the alleged refutation of irreducible complexity against Intelligent Design, but he doesn't want to do it at the cost of his argument that it isn't science. And he does this by employing an explicit contradiction: that irreducible complexity is both central to ID and not central to it.

He then complicates his position even further:
...[E]ven if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design. [p. 79, emphasis added]
In other words, what Jones is saying is that the falsity of irreducible complexity can be held against ID since it is "central" to it, but that, even if it were true, it wouldn't count in favor of it, since it is not central to ID!

It is a clever bit of sophistry.

If anyone was in any doubt as to whether the debate over Intelligent Design was rigged, Jones dispels it here. In the duel between the scientific mystics and the advocates of Intelligent Design, the scientific mystics are the only ones allowed a loaded gun.

How can Jones justify this? The short answer is that he can't--not, at least, if he wants to maintain any kind of rational credibility. But if it is not clear how he can do this and remain within the bounds of reason, it is clear why he does it.

ID is science insofar as irreducible complexity (and other similar arguments) are part of it, and unfalsifiable insofar as they are not. And Jones knows this, but wants to have his cake and eat it anyway.

If opponents of ID want to hold irreducible complexity against ID, then they will have to abandon their argument that ID is not science. And if they want to preserve their argument that ID is not science, they will have to stop using arguments against irreducible complexity against ID.

Until they do, they are simply being irrational.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Words Matter in the Intelligent Design Debate: A personal confession

Okay. I have a confession to make. There is a secret I have been harboring for years now, and, on the advice of my therapist, I am now making it public: I think words are important. And it doesn't stop there. There is something else: I also think logic is important.

Of course my therapist is not a psychologist, but a metaphysician, and, rather than wasting his time with Freud, he has pondered the finer points of Duns Scotus. But I am the better for it.

And besides, I feel so much better now, having revealed this deep, dark secret, a secret I felt compelled to admit after an anonymous commenter on my previous post about Ben Stein's new documentary on Intelligent Design accused me of "parsing words" when I asked him whether he was saying ID was bad science or not science at all.

Now accusing a Latin teacher of "parsing words" is a little like accusing a plumber of fitting pipes, but the question he seems to be hinting at is: "Does it matter whether ID is bad science or non-science? Isn't ID cooked either way?"

Well, yes. If ID is science, and it is bad science, then that is a problem. And if it is non-science and makes scientific claims, then, true or false, it is meaningless. But it can't be both science and non-science: it has to be one or the other.

The problem is that people like this anonymous commenter want to make two mutually exclusive claims that cancel each other out. As soon as they make the argument, their argument is refuted.

They want to say on the one hand that ID is not science at all because it does not make falsifiable claims. That is why why say it shouldn't be taught in science classrooms. But then they say that it's claims are false. But how can it make false claims unless its claims are falsifiable?

You have to commit yourself to one of these positions and argue it consistently, otherwise your position refutes itself. You either have to say that it is non-science, in which case your arguments have to be directed at the nature of ID's claims as non-scientific claims, or you have to say it's bad science, in which case you can catalogue its false claims to your heart's content--but that cuts you off from saying that it isn't science.

Critics of ID want the rest of us to look the other way when they violate the simple rules of logic and get upset with us when we point it out. This indicates a deep-seated fear of ontological realities. That's how my therapist puts it, anyway.

If you are going to argue against Intelligent Design, you're going to have to commit yourself. And if you want a recommendation on a good facility, I'm sure my personal metaphysician will be happy to recommend one.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

If Carrie Nation were an Evolutionist...

My, my. How terribly intolerant we are becoming. And by "we", of course, I mean "them".

In yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal James Wilmott, a former science teacher in Goshen, KY who now lives in England, wags his finger at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, and anyone who might choose to go there. It is a travesty, Wilmott suggests, that there are people out there who have the temerity to disagree with him on the issue of human origins, and something's got to be done about it.

Wilmott is one of those terribly concerned public scolds who comes along every now and then to lecture the rest of us on our wayward thoughts and actions--the evolutionists' version of Carrie Nation. If anyone sees a guy in Petersburg, KY swinging an axe trying to break up the dinosaur displays, we'll know who it is.

One of the thing's Wilmott wants is a law forcing home school families to teach the evolutionary theory to their children.

So, let's see if we've got all this straight: we're supposed to be scared of Ken Hamm, who runs a museum that people can choose to go to if they want, but completely unconcerned about someone who wants to pass laws mandating what parents have to teach to their own children in their own homes?

I don't even agree with Ken Hamm, but I've got enough sense to know which one to fear--and it isn't the guy with the robotic dinosaurs.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What does the title of the Pope's new encyclical mean in English?

The Pope's new encyclical is out. It is called "Spe Salvi". I have noticed quite a plethora of translations of this phrase being bandied about. So far, we've got these:
  • "Saved by Hope"
  • "In Hope we were Saved"
  • "Saved in Hope"
  • "On Christian Hope"
  • "Saved by Hope"
  • "Saved in Hope"
  • "Saved in Faith"
  • "Salvation Thanks to Hope"
Well, which is it? All by itself, it would appear to mean something close to "In the hope of salvation" or "With the hope of salvation". The word spe is the ablative form of spes, which means hope. The ablative is a sort of prepositional case and indicates by, with, from, or in. The word salvi is the genitive (or possessive) form of salvus, the adjective saved.

But it is apparently a shortened version of Romans 8:24 in the Latin Vulgate, which reads "Spe enim salvi facti sumus", which means, "For (enim) we were saved (salvi facti sumus) by hope (spe)." The form of salvi makes much more sense in the context of the sentence. It appears that some of these translations are translating this whole phrase from Romans.

Friday, November 30, 2007

CNN Shenanigans

Did anyone notice that the only one of the Youtube questioners in Wednesday night's presidential debate who got the opportunity to speak at the debate itself was the gay gentleman? He was handed the mike and proceeded to expound his position to the nation.

Is CNN going to give the floor over to someone from the religious right during the next Democratic debate?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ben Stein's new movie on Intelligent Design

This ought to heat up the debate over Intelligent Design: Ben Stein's new movie about the evolution debate, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Left's "Two Minute Hate"

In his classic novel, 1984, George Orwell writes of the "Two minute hate": a periodic event in which members of the Party are gathered together before a video screen featuring images of Emmanuel Goldstein and his followers: the enemies of the State. Participants are worked up into a frenzy of hatred and vitriol directed against people who, later in the story, turn out to be completely fictional.

So worked up do the participants become during the Two Minute Hate that they even attack the telescreen in front of them. The object of this political ritual is to solidify the support of each individual to the Party by uniting them in hatred against its enemies.

For the increasingly strident Tolerance Police, the rhetorical equivalent of the Two Minute Hate is becoming a daily event.

The most recent object of their hate is State Rep. Jim Gooch of Kentucky, who landed himself on the national news by holding hearings at the state capitol questioning one of the left's new dogmas: global warming. The telescreen is turned on, images of Gooch, ensconced in his chair as head of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee appear before the audience (courtesy of the KET), and then they start into their jeering and cursing, eventually working themselves up to such a fever pitch you wonder whether they'll hurt themselves.

It is becoming a frequent, and increasingly alarming sight.

Now I too am against the rape of the environment, particularly as it manifests itself in things like mountaintop removal. Besides being bad stewardship of the land, it's just plain wrong.

To say that global warming is happening, or that global warming is the result of human activities--or that it can be corrected by human actions whether it was caused by them or not--are not unreasonable positions, whatever you think about their accuracy. What is unreasonable is the level of personal acrimony and ad hominem vitriol that are increasingly being employed by those who believe these things.

In a recent Louisville Courier-Journal editorial Gooch was term a "a global warming denier." Ooh. Did you catch the rhetorical allusion there? Sounds very similar to "Holocaust denier" to me. So now people who have legitimate beefs with the mistake-riddled rhetoric of Al Gore are akin to David Duke.

Got it.

"Jake" over at Page One Kentucky, an increasingly intemperate voice of the political left in Kentucky, insists, "Rep. Jim Gooch needs to resign immediately." Why? Because this "embarrassment," this "uneducated...fool," this, ...this "idiot" disagrees with "Jake" on a controversial environmental issue.


Then there are the gals over at "Kentucky Women: Power, Passion, and Politics" (with an emphasis on the "Passion"), who recently announced, "Speaker Jody Richards, it's time for Rep. Jim Gooch to be removed off this committee!" A suggestion in response to which Speaker Richards kindly patted them on the head and told them he didn't think he ought to do that, and didn't they have some cookies to go bake or something?

Okay, he really didn't say that last part, but it would have been fun to see their reaction if he had.

And besides, you don't "remove" someone "off" something, you just "remove" them--one possible reason the word 'Grammar' does not appear in their title along with the words 'Power', 'Politics', and 'Passion'. And why should we be such sticklers about a linguistic trifle?

Let's cut to Larry Dale Keeling. Larry, are you there? Go ahead Larry:
Introducing the main speaker at an interim legislative committee meeting Wednesday, Chairman Jim Gooch mistakenly pronounced what should have been a silent 's.'

As a result, Viscount ("v’-kount," according to Random House Webster's College Dictionary) Christopher Walker Monckton became a "vizz (rhymes with fizz)-count."

Although Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, got it right when he later addressed Monckton, several other lawmakers on the panel repeated the "vizzcount" mistake often during the course of a lengthy meeting.

Thanks for that report Larry. The Herald-Leader's Larry Dale Keeling will be back next week with a report on he, personally, pronounces the words 'Versailles' and 'Athens'.

In the Two Minute Hate there is no time for reasoned discourse or for the presentation of evidence for your position, which is why none of Gooch's critics even bothered to offer any in any of their criticisms of him.

The sole exception was Randall Patrick, the editorials editor of the Winchester Sun. He at least made the attempt, although not a very spirited one. "Maybe the reason the chairman didn't invite any scientists," said Patrick, "is because it's hard to find one who doesn't believe global warming is happening at an alarming rate and is caused in large measure by the burning of carbon fuels."

C'mon, Randall, how hard did you look? Ever heard of
Reid Bryson, Emeritus Professor of Meteorology, of Geography and of Environmental Studies, Senior Scientist, Center for Climatic Research, The Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (Founding Director), the University of Wisconsin, Madison? Huh?

Apparently not. It just so happens he's widely regarded as the father of climatology. Here's what he says, despite his nonexistence:
All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it’s absurd. Of course it’s going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we’re coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air.
Or how about Carleton University science professor Tim Patterson, who says that global warming will not bring about the downfall of life on the planet, and that much of recent research indicates that “changes in the brightness of the sun” are almost certainly the predominant cause of global warming since the end of the “Little Ice Age” in the late 19th century?

He must be imaginary too.

And what about Timothy Ball, professor of climatology at the University of Winnipeg and Chairman of the National Resources Stewardship Project in Canada, a group that argues that "CO2 is very unlikely to be a substantial driver of climate change and is not a pollutant," and that "global climate change is primarily a natural phenomenon..."?

Want more? Go visit the NRSP's website for a long list.

And why should Patrick mention scientists who he could easily have googled on the Internet when he could simply repeat discredited claims by Al Gore about "an article in Science magazine in 2004 found that out of 928 randomly selected peer-reviewed articles that have been published in scientific journals over a 10-year period, not one doubted that human beings are the cause of climate change"?

Is Patrick aware that
an English social scientist reviewed the methodology used in that study and found that the author did not actually read all 928 studies, but only the abstracts? In reality, only about 50 of those studies said it was a crisis, and some actually disagreed, the remainder saying it was unknown.

Does that prove the global warming is not a problem or that humans aren't contributing to it? No, of course not. But it does prove that there is a legitimate debate in the scientific community about it and that people who disagree with the scare talk on global warming are not ipso facto a bunch of crazies.

But it's hard for people to know this, so loud is the screaming and hollering during the Two Minute Hate.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Scientific Mysticism: A physicist betrays a closely held secret about science

Well, the advocates of scientism are up in arms about an article in yesterday's New York Times--an indication that it must be good. The article, by Paul Davies, is called "Taking Science on Faith." Of course, the violence of the negative reaction is what one would expect from those who have seen one of their own betray their deepest secrets to an unappreciative world.

Davies is director of Beyond, a research center at Arizona State University. As the title suggests, Davies argues that science has first principles of its own that are not themselves, at least for now, subject to scientific analysis.
All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way... And so far this faith has been justified.

...Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

This idea--that science operates on assumptions that are not themselves scientific--is certainly not a new one. The great 18th century empirical philosopher David Hume pointed out that several of the ideas upon which science operates, primarily induction and causation, cannot be rationally justified. We assume them as a practical matter but we cannot certify them by reason.

In the case of causation, we witness certain events that occur together repeatedly, and we therefore conclude that one causes the other. But Hume points out that there is no evidence of a "cause", only evidence of constant correlation. Our evidence only takes us to the fact that these things are repeatedly observed together, but our evidence never shows us a cause. We read a cause into it. There is no way by science in particular or reason in general to justify the belief that it is really there.

In the case of induction, whereby we infer universal laws from repeated specific observations, Hume argued that we rely on the assumption that the future will always be like the past. But our observations do not extend into the future. We only have observations about the past and the present. Any observations about the future are speculation, and the belief that the future will always be like the past has no scientific or rational warrant.

The ideas of causation and induction, upon which the scientific method depends, are ideas which not only cannot be justified by science, but by reason at all.

It seems to me that G. K. Chesterton's explanation is the only plausible one: it is magic.
My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery ... The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales.
In his great essay "The Ethics of Elfland" (which Martin Gardner included in his Great Essays in Science), Chesterton, although he never mentions him by name, takes full account of Hume. He first observes, as did Hume, that there is deductive reasoning on one hand (what Hume called "Relations of Ideas"): abstract logical and mathematical relations where certitude reigns:
There are certain sequences or developments (cases of one thing following another), which are, in the true sense of the word, reasonable. They are, in the true sense of the word, necessary. Such are mathematical and merely logical sequences. We in fairyland (who are the most reasonable of all creatures) admit that reason and that necessity. For instance, if the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters. There is no getting out of it. Haeckel may talk as much fatalism about that fact as he pleases: it really must be. If Jack is the son of a miller, a miller is the father of Jack. Cold reason decrees it from her awful throne: and we in fairyland submit. If the three brothers all ride horses, there are six animals and eighteen legs involved: that is true rationalism, and fairyland is full of it.
But the certainties involved in deduction are absent in induction (what Hume called "Matters of Fact):
But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened -- dawn and death and so on -- as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. These men in spectacles spoke much of a man named Newton, who was hit by an apple, and who discovered a law. But they could not be got to see the distinction between a true law, a law of reason, and the mere fact of apples falling. If the apple hit Newton's nose, Newton's nose hit the apple. That is a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike.
Chesterton says that those who ignore this distinction between the deductive and the inductive are nothing more than scientific mystics who have far overstepped their reason in viewing unnecessary things as necessary:
Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the "Laws of Nature." When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a "law," for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it...All the terms used in the science books, "law," "necessity," "order," "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.
Now all this talk about magic and enchantment sound like the worst form of mysticism to materialists like Richard Dawkins. But Chesterton points out that it is people like Dawkins who are the mystics: "It is the man who talks about 'a law' that he has never seen," he says, "who is the mystic."
Nay, the ordinary scientific man is strictly a sentimentalist. He is a sentimentalist in this essential sense, that he is soaked and swept away by mere associations. He has so often seen birds fly and lay eggs that he feels as if there must be some dreamy, tender connection between the two ideas, whereas there is none. A forlorn lover might be unable to dissociate the moon from lost love; so the materialist is unable to dissociate the moon from the tide. In both cases there is no connection, except that one has seen them together. A sentimentalist might shed tears at the smell of apple-blossom, because, by a dark association of his own, it reminded him of his boyhood. So the materialist professor (though he conceals his tears) is yet a sentimentalist, because, by a dark association of his own, apple-blossoms remind him of apples. But the cool rationalist from fairyland does not see why, in the abstract, the apple tree should not grow crimson tulips; it sometimes does in his country.
Finally, Chesterton recounts how the magic evident in the world led him to another conclusion:
I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were wilful. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will. In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.
Davies, however, is not nearly so rational as the denizens of Chesterton's fairyland--or at least, he still requires his fairy tales to have a scientific air to them. He cannot finally accept Hume's judgment--or Chesterton's prescription. He still longs for the day when science will be able to resolves its deepest dilemmas.

It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.

In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

Davies just won't take the obvious way out. Still, it's a powerful thesis, and one that isn't being appreciated by many of his scientific colleagues in each of whose heart is a mystic pretending he isn't there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A new Chuck Norris joke

I just heard a Chuck Norris joke that is apropos of our discussion on evolution:

There is no theory of evolution, just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.

A polite response to an impolite Darwinist about why we should uncritically accept Darwinism

Well we've got a little debate going on here on Intelligent Design. I'm going to bring some of the comments out on the main blog so we can talk about some of the more important aspects of this debate in the broad daylight, and to show the lack of logic that seems to plague the proponents of Darwinism.

Let's first talk about one comment from "Motheral," who, like so many people who post on Internet boards, uses a pseudonym to hide his identity. I have said numerous times before that this habit of anonymity is the technological "Ring of Gyges" that allows the person to be as rude and insulting as he wants to be without ever having to personally face anyone.

Not only is this really bad form, but I've always wondered why you would even want to pad your rhetoric with invective if your arguments are good? Isn't a crushing logical conclusion at least as personally satisfying as hurling an epithet? In his last post he compares me to the former Iraqi Information Minister. C'mon. This is like using a pitchfork in battle because you have had all your real weapons taken away.

Motheral needs to lose the attitude and address the argument.

I said that Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars was assuming what he was trying to prove when he said that bias is okay in a program covering the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design because Darwinism is correct. Motheral disagrees. Fine. Here is his reponse:
Ed is not "assuming" anything. He's observing that evolution has been proven to be THE useful and workable scientific explanation for the observed diversity of life on Earth; and that ID/creationism has simply never been able to cut it as "science." The scientific debate here is completely one-sided, because creationism has never brought anything to the table. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for a TV show to recognize this fact by giving the most weight to the winning arguments. The "bias" you're going on about comes from this reality, not from PBS.
Now here is Ed's argument:
  • Darwinism is correct.
  • Bias is okay when it is shown in favor of a correct position.
  • Therefore, bias in favor of Darwinism is okay.
If you put that in the larger context of the debate about whether Darwinism is correct, how can you say that he isn't assuming what he is trying to prove? Check out the first premise. Then, in Motheral's response, he argues that Ed is not assuming what he is trying to prove because he is correct!


Ed isn't assuming what he is trying to prove because Ed is correct? Talk about turning the fallacy of principio principi into an art form!

If the debate is about whether Darwinism is correct, then obviously assuming Darwinism is correct is assuming what you are trying to prove. And simply reasserting the major premise in a circular argument is no refutation of the fact that it is circular.

Here we have a debate between two competing theories of how we got here, and one side wants the rest of us to assume, at the outset of the debate, that it is correct. Then they want the rest of us not to notice when they do it. And if we do notice, then they'll call us nasty names. Finally, despite all this, they demand that we recognize how rational and intelligent they are.

Now I'm confident that the Darwinists can do better than this, and that they can do it without personal insults and hyperbole.

C'mon Motheral, let's see if you can do it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Judging "Judgment Day", continued

I had posted a comment about the recent PBS slam on Intelligent Design, "Judgment Day," over at Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and it elicited a little discussion. But the post is getting old over there, and so I decided to take up some of the issues Ed and a couple of others brought up in response, and the commenters can post here if they like.

I made the same sorts of remarks on Ed's blog that I have already made here, mostly having to do with the fact that "Judgment Day" was not a balanced presentation of the issue of evolution and Intelligent Design. There was the usual rude ad hominem attacks here and there that plague the blogosphere, but most were pretty much to the point. Ed's responses were reasonable, so I wanted to respond to a couple of points he made.

Here was his response to one of my posts:
There is no doubt that the producers of the show were biased toward the evolution side, nor that the dramatizations portrayed the other side in a bad light (though in many cases, that was quite justifiable - reality paints them in a bad light). But here's the only question that really matters, I think: was there any claim made that was untrue? I don't care whether one side got a rebuttal while the other didn't, I wanna know if the rebuttal was true and accurate or not.
Unlike a few of the program's defenders, Ed is intellectually honest enough to admit the obvious bias in the program, but argues that the bias is irrelevant and that the only thing that matters is the accuracy of what was presented.

Now I've already said that, from PBS's perspective, I think it has an obligation to be impartial. But I think the biggest problem with Ed's position is that it basically assumes what it is trying to prove. It basically amounts to saying, "Since evolution is true, a treatment that assumes that it is true, no matter how biased it is, is perfectly acceptable." Lack of balance is okay, as I have said before, if it is for a good cause.

Well, that may be acceptable to the people who already accept Ed's position, but the question is why it should be convincing to those to whom it is presumably directed: those who haven't made up their minds yet, and who are wanting to see a fair argument between the two positions so they can make up their own minds on the basis of the best arguments on both sides.

It seems to me colossally arrogant for anyone advocating a position to say that the other side just doesn't deserve to be treated fairly because they're wrong. That kind of arrogance makes me doubt the rest of what they think. And it this kind of arrogance that turns not a few people off to the Darwinist position.

It may be correct to say that what the program as presented was accurate (although I seriously doubt it), but what if PBS put together a pro-ID documentary that was technically accurate, even by the admission of its opponents, but so deficient in its presentation of the Darwinist position, and so biased against Darwinism that it gave the impression that ID was the more reasonable position? And suppose further that the program billed itself as "educational", and gave no hint in its promotional material that was in any way unbalanced or polemical in nature?

Can you imagine the outcry over at places like Dispatches from the Culture Wars? And can you see them being mollified by the argument that, since ID was true, the program was justified in being unbalanced?

Didn't think so.

Yo, Ed, this is a debate. People expect debates to be fair.

If the Darwinists want to convince the general public, they'd be get their noses out from up in the air and their feet back on the ground.

One of the posters on Ed's blog, Troublesome Frog (obviously not his real name, although if I were to find out he was from one of certain parts of my state, it would not be out of the question) brought up another point related to this:
Of course, it's also worth remembering that this documentary was less of an in-depth examination of ID vs evolution than it was a retelling of exactly how the ID crowd got its collective ass handed to it in court. Given that, chronicling the "smoking guns" that lead to the decision makes a lot more sense than diving into the detailed defenses the ID proponents try to give on the scientific front.
Well, yes and no. The program was ostensibly about the Dover trial, but one of the two major examples I gave of bias had to do with the part of the program that went beyond the trial and presented the case for and against Intelligent Design outside of the context of the actual trial. That part of the program had little to do with what happened at the trial and was the most biased part of the program. And besides, if the part that didn't have to do with the trial was blatantly biased, why should anyone believe the part about the trial itself?

I think that programs like "Judgment Day" are in the same category as movies that are supposed to be portraying historical person or events. If they're going to pretend to be about historical events, then they have some kind of obligation to portray events with reasonable accuracy. In this respect, Judgment Day was the Oliver Stone version of events in Dover: one part history, two parts polemic.

As I have said before, those of us who are viewing the debate from the outside can be excused for getting very suspicious that the debate is rigged in favor of one side. I have posted here before about the Richard Sternberg incident, in which the editor of a Smithsonian Institute scientific publication, Sternberg, published a peer reviewed paper favorable to Intelligent Design, after which he was harassed and vilified by advocates of evolution.

The irony here, of course, is that the very people who are saying, "If you ID people really want to prove your case, then get papers published in peer reviewed journals" are the same people who will read out of polite society any editor who has the temerity to actually publish such an article, decidedly reducing the numbers of editors who will ever be willing to publish such papers in the future. No science editor in the civilized world is going to publish a pro-ID article now--not at least if he values his career.

So folks, I'm just tellin' ya: if you continue take positions like this one--that it's okay to treat positions with which you disagree unfairly in programs that clearly give the impression that they are giving a balanced presentation--you're just giving your opponents more ammunition.

Now I suppose some opponent of ID could say, "Yeah. I'm sure you're real concerned about helping the case for evolution. Thanks for the advice." And there is a certain amount of truth to that. But, you see, I am pretty confident, knowing how arrogant ID opponents seem to have become, that they will completely ignore any advice I have to give, and will continue to rig the debate in ways that will make them vulnerable to legitimate criticism.

Just watch.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Judgment Day for PBS

The chief problem with the more radical opponents of Intelligent Design (they're not all unreasonable) is that they think they are exempt from the normal rules of fairness and rationality.

They're were a few reasonable criticisms of my piece from Wednesday about the PBS program on Intelligent Design, but many responses simply shirked off my point about the program being biased. I made two observations which, so far, no one has contested:

First, the program had two parallel extended segments explaining each position: one on evolution, the other on ID. The segment on evolution was uninterrupted by any rebuttals from the ID side. In the segment on ID, however, a rebuttal from the evolution side was included on every point about ID.

Second, in the dramatized course scenes, a number of cross examinations by the anti-ID side were shown, while no cross examinations of the anti-ID side by the pro-ID side were shown.

Now journalistically-speaking these are about as egregious as it gets. The prevailing belief among the more rabid of the anti-ID crowd seem to be that it was simply okay that the program was biased: bias is okay, they seem to suggest, as long as it is for a good cause.

Is this really the position the opponents of Intelligent Design want to take?

Now I have gone back and looked at the PBS description of the program on its website, and although the documentation for the program nowhere explicitly claims that it is impartial, the language it uses obviously seeks to give the impression that is offering some kind of impartial treatment. Over and over it uses the word "educational". And most people take the word "education" in a sense that distinguishes it from "propaganda" or "indoctrination".

Nowhere on the site does it say that the program is what it is: a polemic against Intelligent Design.

Look, I have said here before that I really don't have a hard and fast position on the issue of common descent. I've said that I think anyone who publicly declares that they know for a fact what happened millions of years ago is blowing smoke. It's hard enough trying to figure out what happened a couple hundred years ago, or a couple thousand. I'm a skeptic when it comes to exactly how we got to be what we are.

The one thing I will hang my hat on is that our human nature cannot be purely a natural product because then our rational and moral faculties would be without explanation. In other words, Naturalism cannot explain the processes we employ to determine if anything--including Naturalism--are true, or whether any of our actions are right or wrong.

The concepts of truth, falsehood, validity, right, wrong, beautiful, or ugly simply make no sense in a consistently Naturalistic world, and our only choice is between holding to a worldview in which they make sense, in which case we can keep using them, and one in which they do not make sense, in which case we have to simply give them up.

My problem with many of the opponents of Intelligent Design in not primarily that they argue against Intelligent Design (I'm still trying to figure that one out myself), but that they argue on the basis of a worldview that does not allow them to argue at all.

Furthermore, I'm a scientific layman who can only judge what I don't know on the basis of what I know. And when I am trying to make a judgment, I get very suspicious when I see one side not judging the other by the best arguments for it, but the worst ones they can find.