Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Science literacy and "belief" in evolution

On May 24th 2014 Ed Yong (@edyong209) tweeted ....
Those surveys about views on evolution are a terrible guide to “science literacy” (which is itself a silly term) [Weekend update: You'd have to be science illiterate to think "belief in evolution" measures science literacy]
You can follow the Twitter thread here but it's not very enlightening.

The article that Ed Yong linked to is by Dan Kahan, a Professor of Law and a Professor of Psychology at Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut, USA). He has a B.A. from Middlebury College and a law degree (J.D.) from Harvard.

The issue that upsets Ed Yong and Dan Kahan is a serious one. It's about how one measures scientific literacy and what it means to be capable of using the scientific way of knowing to distinguish between reality and superstition. The specific issue is whether asking people if they "believe" in evolution is a valid measure of scientific literacy.

Before looking at Dan Kahan's blog post, let's review the problem. There are many people who believe silly things like ....
  1. The universe is only 6000 years old.
  2. Homeopathy works.
  3. Aliens regularly visit the Earth in spaceships and abduct people.
  4. Astrology accurately predicts the future.
  5. Capital punishment deters crime.
  6. 9/11 is a government conspiracy.
  7. Genetically modified food is unsafe.
  8. Global warming is a myth.
  9. Human did not evolve from non-human ancestors.
  10. Vaccinations cause autism.
  11. Chemicals are bad.
  12. WiFi causes brain damage in children.
I would like to live in a society that rejected all of these beliefs because they are not based on evidence and they conflict with the fundamental principles of logic and rational thinking. I don't really care how one describes this way of knowing as long as we all agree that it's superior to whatever method people are using when they reach the conclusion that the Earth is only 6000 years old.

I like to refer to it as the "scientific way of knowing" and I think that it's associated with something called "scientific literacy." We can quibble about terminology but I think most Sandwalk readers will agree that people who believe those 12 things (above) can not be called "scientifically literate."

Now, let's look at what Dan Kahan has to say about this [Weekend update: You'd have to be science illiterate to think "belief in evolution" measures science literacy]. He was upset by a question on a poll where Americans were asked to label the following statement as either "true" or "false."
Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.
I agree that it's a horrible question. Only 55% of Americans answered "true" to this question and that's usually taken to mean that almost half of the population doesn't believe in evolution. There's plenty of evidence from other polls that this is approximately correct.

What does that say about scientific literacy? Not much, according to Dan Kahan because he notes that those who reject evolution don't do so badly on the other science questions in the poll. Furthermore, he did a little polling of his own and the results are shown on the right.

When he re-phrased the question the number of people who answered "true" jumped to 81%! Here's the question that Dan Kahan asked in his survey ....
According to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.
Ugh! Life on Earth has evolved, and that includes humans. This is a scientific fact that is overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence collected over the past two centuries. It is not "the theory of evolution," it is the fact of evolution.

The "theory of evolution" (i.e. evolutionary theory) makes sense of the scientific facts but it is not a "theory" that humans evolved from other apes that lived millions of years ago and it is not a "theory" that we share a common ancestor with our cousins, the chimpanzees.

If science were taught correctly, then all high school graduates would understand this basic concept. They would answer "true" to the following statement ...
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.
That's the question that should have been asked.

The follow-up question should be directed to those who answer "true" to that question.
Do you, personally, believe that human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.
Here's what Dan Kahan has to say about his poll.
As the Figure at the top of the post shows, the proportion who selected "true" jumped from 55% on the NSF item to 81% on the GSS one!

Wow! Who would have thought it would be so easy to improve the "science literacy" of benighted Americans (who leaving aside the "evolution" and related "big bang" origin-of-the-universe items already tend to score better on the NSF battery than members of other industrialized nations).

Seriously: as a measure of what test takers know about science, there's absolutely no less content in the GSS version than the NSF. Indeed, if anyone who was asked to give an explanation for why "true" is the correct response to the NSF version failed to connect the answer to "evidence consistent with the theory of evolution ..." would be revealed to have no idea what he or she is talking about.

The only thing the NSF item does that the GSS item doesn't is entangle the "knowledge" component of the "evolution" item (as paltry as it is) in the identity-expressive significance of "positions" on evolution.
I think this reveals a serious lack of critical thinking, which is surprising coming from a lawyer.1

In order to illustrate why this is faulty reasoning, let's look at another set of questions that would probably give similar responses.
A. The Earth is billions of years old.
B. According to geological theory, the Earth is billions of years years old.
If you don't "believe" that the Earth is billions of years old then you are not scientifically literate because you must be rejecting the very foundations of science. The fact that you can attribute that false (in your mind) belief to geologists doesn't change anything. It just means that you reject the idea that the scientific way of knowing can arrive at the truth.

That's exactly what Dan Kahan's GSS question tells us. It tells us that 26% (81% - 55%) of Americans "know" that scientists disagree with what they believe is true. That is not evidence of "scientific literacy," In fact, it's powerful evidence that a substantial number of Americans reject science in spite of the fact that they know what science says is true. If we didn't know the results of the GSS poll we might say that many Americans reject evolution because they've never heard of it. That would be the kindest interpretation of the poll results.

Dan Kahan says,
By adding the introductory clause, "According to the theory of evolution," the GSS question disentangles ("unconfounds" in psychology-speak) the "science knowledge" component and the "identity expressive" components of the item.

Gee, Americans aren't that dumb after all!
Well, that's one interpretation. Another is that one has to wonder about a Professor of Law who researches evolution without understanding the difference between scientific facts and theory. That looks pretty dumb to me.
So ditch this question & substitute for it one more probative of genuine science comprehension -- like whether the test taker actually gets natural selection, random mutation, and genetic variance, which are of course the fundamental mechanisms of evolution and which kids with a religious identity can be taught just as readily as anyone else.
Okay, let's forgo the expected rant about misunderstanding evolutionary theory. There's a lot more to evolution than just natural selection and mutation and there's a lot more to understanding the history of life on Earth than just evolutionary theory.

The real question—once we get past the misunderstandings—is whether you can be "scientifically literate" (or whatever) by just memorizing the views of scientists or whether you actually have to accept them ("believe") in order to be scientifically literate.

Imagine that you encountered someone who said.
I know for sure that God created the Earth only 6000 years ago and He created all of the kinds of plants and animals at the same time. This includes humans. I have studied science and I know all of the so-called "evidence" that scientists use to support their belief that the Earth is billions of year old and that life evolved. I reject this evidence, but, if asked, I can accurately recount it on an exam. The scientists must be wrong because their "beliefs" conflict with what God tells us in the Bible.
Is such a person scientifically literate? I say "no."

More importantly, is our education system doing a good job if we are turning out huge numbers of people who see nothing wrong with that statement of belief? Is it any wonder that those people will also reject the opinions of scientists about the efficacy of homeopathy, the value of vaccinations, and the reality of global warming?

Scientific literacy is not just about knowing what the scientific evidence says is true; it's also about accepting it as true.


1. Or not, depending on what you think of lawyers.

81 comments:

  1. I think we can equate this to standard literacy. I'm not literate in Arabic. Let's say I wanted to become so. First, I go get a lot of Arabic books and learn to accurately copy all the squiggles in them. I build up the muscle memory to correctly draw the squiggles that make up the written Arabic language quite fluently. I then go to people who speak Arabic, and ask them how to pronounce the words that the squiggles represent. This way, I learn to correctly make the sounds that make up the Arabic language, and associate them with the squiggles that represent them. At the end of this process, am I literate in Arabic?

    Of course not.

    I'm not able to express any ideas in Arabic. If I "read" an Arabic text, all I can do is make the appropriate sounds. I might be able to fool someone into thinking I'm literate, if all they did was hand me a book and ask me to read it out loud. But I don't understand what any of it MEANS. A language has more than sounds and written characters, it has content.

    It looks like Kahan has managed to find out that plenty of people know the front-facing aspects of science, they know its sounds and symbols. But they don't grasp its content.

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  2. If you head over to Dan Kahan's blog,you will see that Don McLeroy, presumably THE Don McLeroy, chimes in to say "I believe my religious faith actually lets me be more objective abut evolution."

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  3. Matthew Prorok, this is an excellent commentary, and is equally as good as Prof. Moran's article.

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  4. Of course, there is one issue that you did not mention - even when the question is rephrased, there are still 19% of people who do not even know that common descent is a core part of our understanding of the history of life on this planet.

    19%. That's one in five.

    And the question is so basic you have to have lived in a cave not to know the answer - you would know that even from just listening to your pastor brainwashing you with young earth creationism as at some point he surely would have mentioned those evil godless scientists...

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    1. You are Dr. Marinov now, aren't you? Congratualtions.

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  5. I'm an evolutionary biologist and I don't "believe" in the theory of evolution, at least not in the way most people (including many scientists and most religious believers) use the word "believe." Science isn't about "belief," it's about weighing evidence and accepting explanations that are consistent with that evidence. "Belief" isn't about evidence at all, it's about maintaining a mental attitude in which an "explanation" is adhered to even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Saying you "believe" in the theory of evolution is like saying you "believe" in Newton's theory of gravitation. Both theories are explanations based on a set of logical inferences from a massive body of observations (i.e. "facts"), the overwhelming majority of which are consistent with those explanations. To be as clear as possible: "acceptance" is NOT the same as "belief." If it were, we wouldn't recognize any difference between the two terms and would only use one of them.

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    1. A couple of points:
      a) Believe is a fairly neutral term. Philosophers have traditionally defined knowledge as "justified true belief" for instance. This definition arguably fails for science - when I accept a theory I do so because it is a justified empirically adequate belief, i.e. it is justified by the evidence, it has not been falsified and my acceptance entails belief. The difference is not in the believing, i.e. in thinking that a particular statement is true, but in the justification of that belief.

      b) There is no "theory of evolution", in the same way that there is Newtons theory of gravity. Evolution is a field of study in which there are several theories at any given time (and these don't generally contradict one another). Mayr divided Darwins Origin into 5 theories, all of which are somewhat independent from one another (and this does not include Darwins theory of how traits are inherited, which makes at least a 6th one). Stating there's something like a "theory of evolution" is akin to claiming there is a "theory of physics". There is theoretical physics and there is evolutionary theory and both deal with a range of theories within their respective fields.

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    2. From:
      A third of Americans don't believe in evolution
      http://phys.org/news/2014-01-americans-dont-evolution.html

      Nearly seven in ten white non-Hispanic Catholics and 53 percent of Hispanic Catholics believe in evolution.

      Meanwhile, three out of four religiously unaffiliated respondents believe in evolution and just 13 percent of them believe evolution was guided by a "supreme being."

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    3. Echoing Simon Gunkel: I don't like this distinction between "fact" and "theory". Common descent is a theory, one of the two main scientific theories in the Origin. It's a very well-suported theory, which I suppose makes it a fact under Gould's definition.

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    4. There was a time when "common descent" was an unproven hypothesis. That's the idea that Darwin described over 150 years ago. Since then, so much evidence has accumulated that we can be certain that all living species are related. It's a fact.

      Gould says that everything in science is provisional so that, strictly speaking, nothing can ever be a true "fact." However, there are some things that are so well-established that it makes no sense to continue to refer to them as hypotheses. That's the sense in which I use the word "fact."

      Theories are explanations of facts. True scientifc theories never become facts but they can be so strong and have such explanatiry power that we consider them to be true explanations. The fact of common descent (i.e. the history of life on Earth) is very well explained by evolutionary theory.

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    5. You're saying that common descent has no explanatory power? I'd say it explains quite a few facts. Common descent is the explanation for a great many similarities among organisms and a number of biogeographic patterns. So how is that not a theory by the definition you just provided?

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    6. Militant anti-scientists commonly reduce the meaning of "fact" to simple propositions. Sometimes it goes they go so far as to claim that only measurements, even only laboratory measurements, truly constitute facts. When facts are so defined, science as knowledge is equally limited. This allows all sorts of other ways of knowing and philisophy/religion and so on their proper authority in the real universe that goes beyond simple facts.

      But facts are not just measurements, but also generalizations. Common descent is just such a generalization, and it is a correct one. If we were to discover a black smoker or an Antarctic cave ecology where organisms did not share our common descent, we would amend the generalization "except for the organisms recently discovered in X." And the fact of our common descent as previously claimed would still be true.

      Possibly there is some confusion between provisional and corrigible. There are many facts we believe we know that we could imagine being erroneous. Those we could practically call provisonal. These kinds of facts are particularly common in scientific research, where a main task is the confirmation of genuinely provisional facts. (I'm not sure scientists like this kind of work though.) There are other facts which are not temporary or likely to be replaced. If it seems odd to speak of facts being corrected, I suggest that this is more a philosophical/religious prejudice about the superiority of the eternal.

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    7. S Johnson said: "Common descent is just such a generalization,"

      A good example is: It is a fact that we are descendants of our parents. But this common (generational) descent did not make us a new species.

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    8. Scientific theories are sets of predicted observations. Facts are sets of actual observations. The only way for a theory to become a fact, is by running out of further predictions. Universal common descent then is a theory, but not a fact, because it still yields predictions - we still haven't looked at all life on earth in enough detail to be absolutely certain that they all share the universal homologies, but we've looked at so many that we are pretty sure that common descent is right.

      As to whether theories offer explanations, I'd hold that they do not. If two proposed explanations produce the same predictions, they are the same theory (a good example are Newtons theory gravity as expressed by Forces between pairs of massive objects, as expressed by the interaction of massive objects with the gravity field and as expressed by the Law of least action - very different explanations, with one asserting action at a distance, one asserting local interactions with a field and one that is rather more abstract).

      Since we can not empirically distinguish between different expressions of a theory, it has to be the same object to science. And the part that is usually taken to have explanatory power is part of the expression, not the theory itself.

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    9. John Harshman asks,

      You're saying that common descent has no explanatory power? I'd say it explains quite a few facts. Common descent is the explanation for a great many similarities among organisms and a number of biogeographic patterns. So how is that not a theory by the definition you just provided?

      The relationship of similar species was known long before Darwin. It's the basis of modern taxonomy as developed by Linnaeus, Lamarck and others. We now know that these similarities are due to modification over time from a common ancestor.

      There are many possible explanations for these relationships but the one that makes the most sense is evolution. The ones that don't make sense are the ones that involve god(s). Evolutionary theory is what explains the similarities among organisms and biogeographic patterns.

      Are you saying that the "Theory of Common Descent" is a different theory than "Evolutionary Theory"? If so, what's the difference? Can you give me an example of an explanation offered by the Theory of Common Descent that isn't covered by Evolutionary Theory?

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    10. "S Johnson said: 'Common descent is just such a generalization,'

      A good example is: It is a fact that we are descendants of our parents. But this common (generational) descent did not make us a new species."

      Fact (correct generalization): Common descent
      Fact (correct generalization): There are different species.

      Theory: Explanation of how these two facts came about.

      The second fact is an example of how facts are not simple propositions. The definition of the species concept is notoriously contentious, yet no one has devised any way to do with out some concept to reflect reality.

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    11. Are you saying that the "Theory of Common Descent" is a different theory than "Evolutionary Theory"? If so, what's the difference? Can you give me an example of an explanation offered by the Theory of Common Descent that isn't covered by Evolutionary Theory?

      I'd go along with Simon Gunkel on that. "Evolutionary Theory" is just an omnibus term for a bunch of theories that have to do with evolution. The theory of common descent is one of them.

      Are we just arguing about whether common descent should be separated out or submerged? If so, that seems a change from your previous position, that common descent is a fact, not a theory. You have agreed, apparently, that it's an explanation for other facts. You just don't want to call that explanation "common descent" for some reason I don't see. Just calling it "evolution" is vague.

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    12. Simon Gunkel wrote: "Scientific theories are sets of predicted observations. Facts are sets of actual observations. The only way for a theory to become a fact, is by running out of further predictions. Universal common descent then is a theory, but not a fact, because it still yields predictions - we still haven't looked at all life on earth in enough detail to be absolutely certain that they all share the universal homologies, but we've looked at so many that we are pretty sure that common descent is right."

      If somebody invented a quantum computer that spit out a list of predictions when asked a question, it would not be a scientist. Nor would we have explanations. Science is not about prediction as such. As Richard Feynman explained, science is like learning the rules of chess. Gunkel's version says it's predicting who wins a game. Evolutionary theory is not about predicting the future of species. I suppose you can devise lab experiments that do make predictions but whether you can say with any certainty what the implications for the real world is not at all certain. I think unlikely. To me this seems like a disguised version of the creationist distinction between historical/observational and experimental science.

      Also, the prediction that there are no organisms on Earth with a different origin is a waste of time as well as a prediction. Phrased positively, as an injunction to search for such life in places not yet explored, previous discoveries about the ability of microbes to penetrate the earth and sky makes it a question whether there's even any such places to look. Even by this standard the distinction between theory and fact is trivial. Why is it felt desirable to harp on trivialities?

      "As to whether theories offer explanations, I'd hold that they do not. If two proposed explanations produce the same predictions, they are the same theory..." The problem here is that the crank fixation on predictions as laboratory measurements or observations. It starts by picking an extreme case. The assumptions in different theories that produce the same "predictions" are rarely the same. Two theories with assumptions equally supported by the evidence are even rarer. However, since Gunkel thinks that theories are just prediction algorithms, this is just another example of the norm. Contra Gunkel scientists confronted with such a situation do worry about whether they have an explanation.

      I omitted Gunkel's confusions between Newton's law of gravitation and Einstein's theory of General Relativity and the law of least action. Surreptitiously smuggling in "law" in a discussion of the difference between fact and theory is not helpful. But it is another good example of how facts are not just simple propositions or measurements. Also, action is related to force.

      "Since we can not empirically distinguish between different expressions of a theory, it has to be the same object to science. And the part that is usually taken to have explanatory power is part of the expression, not the theory itself." Whether this means anything depends upon the meaning of "expression." If expression means "interpretation," he's shifting to a different subject. (And I also think he would be contradicting himself, as I think he's implicitly excluded interpretation of theories as part of science.) If expression means "prediction algorithm or mathematical formalism," then I think he's just reasserting the premise. If expression means "explanation," he's being redundant. Possibly the two sentences are confusing because he's equivocating?

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    13. How does the explanatory power of the common descent "theory" address the fact that we commonly descended creatures are different species?

      Not just a rhetorical question! Common descent doesn't explain multiplication of species. It's a fact that evolutionary theory attempts to explain.

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    14. "To me this seems like a disguised version of the creationist distinction between historical/observational and experimental science."

      It's not. I'm a paleontologist by trade and I make predictions about observations. How can I make predictions if I'm dealing with - say - the Oligocene? That's in the past! Sure, but I make predictions about what I will find in an oligocene deposit and what I won't find. I make predictions about what statistical analyses of existing catalogues of fossils will yield...

      As to the chess analogy: We are predicting moves. And since there's more than one possible move, we are in fact looking for the range of possible moves, noting which moves do never come up. What we end up with are the rules of chess...

      "I omitted Gunkel's confusions between Newton's law of gravitation and Einstein's theory of General Relativity and the law of least action. Surreptitiously smuggling in "law" in a discussion of the difference between fact and theory is not helpful."

      I did not claim that the "law of least action" had any special relevance. I did claim that it is a very different way of expressing Newtons laws of motion (and again, that phrase is in all regards the same as "Newtons theory of gravity").

      "Also, action is related to force." Of course it is. It can be used to express the same theories in an alternative way. The reason we can be sure it's the same theory, is that the two expressions can be shown to be equivalent through their mathematical relation.

      I'm not sure where you think I brought in relativity - the idea of a gravity field goes back to Laplace, who certainly didn't work on relativistic mechanics and the principle of least action goes back to Fermat later being elaborated by Lagrange and Hamilton. None of these references relativity.

      By "expression" I mean precisely what the term implies. Generally we don't write down theories as lists of predictions (a lot of theories are infinite sets of predictions and thus can't even be expressed in that way). So we generally write down statements from which predictions can be derived. We can find multiple sets of statements that generate the same set of predictions and therefore there are multiple expressions of the same theory.

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    15. Common descent doesn't explain multiplication of species. It's a fact that evolutionary theory attempts to explain.

      Gravitational theory doesn't explain why the sky is blue either, but I like it all the same. Of course common descent doesn't explain the multiplication of species. But it does explain various other things, of which I have mentioned two so far: homologous similarities and some biogeographic patterns. It seems to me that a theory need not explain everything, just the things it's intended to explain, and common descent does that just fine.

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    16. Simon Gunkel: I'm afraid I only think of potentials in connection with Laplace and gravity. My apologies. Re-reading to work past my self-confusion, I'm afraid I'm still unconvinced that you definition of theories as sets of predictions is meaningful. I don't believe that Newton's point masses, Laplace's potentials and the law of least action even generate the same predictions. Aren't the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian are so important to modern mechanics because they are useful in a wider range of applications? Further, Newton notoriously declared "Hypotheses no fingo," precisely because he had no explanation of action at a distance. There is a customary distinction between theory and law for a reason. Lastly, the inner similarity of the formalisms derive from the applicability of the same concepts, force for one, to reality (from which they are derived in the first place,) not from any supposed similarity in sets of predictions. Yet I do believe that each gives a different understanding, i.e., constitutes a "different" explanation. (Sometimes a false one? I thought of Laplace's potential as explaining gravity as a kind of fluid and the potential was analogous to buoyant force. Feynman on the difficulties in grasping least action as an explanation is interesting.)

      When you announce you are a paleontologist who makes predictions about Oligocene strata or statistical analyses, I can only ask myself: What happens when the predictions are wrong? What does it mean when you predict that there will be a new organism found? Or for that matter, if you predicted correctly? I suppose it's like an actor's process, listening to the discussion of it is baffling. Happily for the actor and you, the point is the performance. For most of us, viewing predictions about the past as predictions is a trivial pursuit. I think your predictivism must distinguish between historical and observational science, and like Popper, it is a question whether the other is a "science" at all.

      I do not believe your predictivist program could discover the rules of chess. It would not be able to distinguish between the rules of chess; the statistical distribution of moves; the characteristics of good play or bad play, if it could figure out what characterizes either. Predicting the moves in the end game is equivalent to predicting the winners. You wrote above that a theory is not a fact until all the predictions are exhausted. By this standard, the theory of the rules of chess is not a fact until all possible games have been observed.

      Since your "expression" does mean a predictive algorithm or mathematical formalism, therefore your last paragraph is indeed a consistent re-statement. You wrote in your first post "And the part that is usually taken to have explanatory power is part of the expression, not the theory itself." I don't think predictive algorithms or mathematical formalisms necessarily constitute an explanation. A trained mathematical intuition may be the proper judge. As a general rule, we could say that common sense intuition is not the standard at all. I suppose this vague appeal to the scientific community and its judgment seems appallingly like esthetics. As some writing is deemed Literature, and other not, some "expressions" are deemed explanatory, and others not. But science really is a creative endeavor. I know the prediction machine model denies this. But I also know I am out of any ideas about how to explain why I reject that model.

      John Harshman: I think to be a good theory, common descent should explain how much similarity there is between all us commonly descended organisms (some of whom are more similar than others.) So, no, I disagree that common descent does well as an explanation even of what it's intended to explain. That's exactly why I think it's a fact to be explained.

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    17. I think to be a good theory, common descent should explain how much similarity there is between all us commonly descended organisms (some of whom are more similar than others.) So, no, I disagree that common descent does well as an explanation even of what it's intended to explain. That's exactly why I think it's a fact to be explained.

      So you're saying that common descent is at once a bad theory and a fact, and it's a fact *because* it's a bad theory. Fascinating. Why does common descent have to explain everything in order to be a good theory? Do you make these demands of other theories? Common descent explains exactly what it's intended to explain, i.e. those things that follow as consequences of common descent. The degree of similarity (or, rather, difference) requires other auxiliary theories to explain, such as a molecular clock or some other theory of the causes of change. Common descent is of course not a theory of change but of non-change. It explains homology, in other words.

      If common descent isn't a theory that explains homology, what theory do you think does explain homology?

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    18. "If common descent isn't a theory that explains homology, what theory do you think does explain homology?" All flesh is grass. Mutation and genetic drift and extinction assure us of that. Cells cannot reproduce without change. However, wild variations will tend to produce organisms that cannot reproduce, or maybe even survive to birth or maturity. Natural selection will conserve features that permit differential reproduction. Those conserved features in many respects are the homologies.

      So, basically, natural selection produces homologies. It is true that under certain conditions natural selection will drive the evolution of new adaptations, as well as playing a role along with mutation, drift, extinction, sexual selection and maybe other minor factors will produce new species. But natural selection for traits will ensure that homologies will be found between related species or vice versa.

      I know that doesn't literally answer the question, but the proper answer to the question would be something like "I stopped beating my wife the same day you did."

      You correctly state that common descent as a theory is a theory of non-change. Non-change is not the default, therefore inflating common descent into a "ttheory" is terribly misleading. Back in the nineteenth century common descent might have been a good theory to explain homologies. But this isn't the nineteenth century any more. We know that life on a molecular and cellular is remarkably of a piece, although it is more difficult to speak of descent for unicellular life. Isn't that still the most common type?

      Also, no one really speaks of common descent, but of descent with modification (a synonym for evolution.) The real question is what useful purpose could possibly be served by arbitrarily limiting "fact" to measurements and laboratory observations?

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    19. S Johnson: I'm afraid you are confused. Natural selection may explain the conservation of homologies, but it doesn't explain the homologies themselves. Mutation may explain the origins of characters, but it doesn't explain homologies, which are defined specifically as similarities due to common descent. And there really is nothing wrong with the question.

      In your second to las paragraph, you use the word "therefore" in a novel meaning; it is generally used to join two ideas, the first of which requires the second to be true. Why should not being the default make common descent not a theory? Do theories have to be the default, whatever you mean by that? I agree that it isn't the 19th Century any more, but I fail to see that as an argument. Nor do I see why molecular and cellular levels make any difference, or in fact why it should be difficult to speak of descent for unicellular life. Perhaps in the latter case you refer to horizontal transfer; but horizontal transfer is in fact a form of descent.

      Of course plenty of people speak of common descent. Why would you imagine otherwise? But I certainly agree with your last statement, though with nothing else in your post.

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    20. Similarities are favored by natural selection because they are not too wildly divergent for the offspring to reproduce. I didn't realize that you didn't know what homologies are, so I was inadvertently cryptic. Homologies are not similarities in themselves. Reptilian jawbones are homologous to ear bones in mammals, after all. Common descent certainly explains how the reptilian and mammal jaw bones or ear bones that are similar. But natural selection explains why the ontogeny or embryonic development of mammal ear bones is homologous. Any radical changes that would have destroyed the homology were too extreme to permit the survival of such offspring.

      But it is true that I don't know where this is spelled out in the scientific literature. I think it's more or less implicit in some old Stephen Jay Gould essays, but those are popularizations. I must concede to your old question then, that I don't have a citation for you.

      And it is doubly true that I can't explain my terrible grammatical mistakes using "therefore." Plainly, I am doubly, nay, triply confounded! You have obviously established irrefutably that common descent is not a fact. Like the Romans sacking Carthage, the only work left to you is salting my (rhetorical) grave lest flowers grow to mourn my passing. I give you the tribute your erudition and wisdom deserve: You win.

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    21. S. Johnson: You are laboring under a severe misapprehension, and I see that I have been too. You have been arguing all along against my claim that common descent is not a fact. But I made no such claim. Common descent is a fact (meaning a claim for which the evidence is so strong that it would be perverse to deny it). But it's a theory too. Facts and theories are not mutually exclusive categories, as you seem to think.

      "Similarity due to common descent" is the standard definition of "homology", so it's unclear to me why you argue against that. Reptilian jaw bones are similar to mammalian ear bones; otherwise we wouldn't recognize the homology. Why, you yourself say that in your scenario. As for the rest of it, you are merely saying that natural selection explains the conservation of homologies, which is not the same as explaining the homologies. As I have said at least twice now.

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    22. S. Johnson:
      I don't believe that Newton's point masses, Laplace's potentials and the law of least action even generate the same predictions. Aren't the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian are so important to modern mechanics because they are useful in a wider range of applications?

      Well, for a wide range of theories you can write down Lagrangians or Hamiltonians. But if you use it to write down Newtonian mechanics, it is equivalent to writing down Newtonian mechanics in the original way (i.e. using differential equations for each object, rather than for the system as a whole). So, yea, the Lagrangian method can be used to formalize relativistic physics as well (and quantum mechanics and electrodynamics and...), but here the thing of interest is the Lagrangian for classical mechanics.

      What happens when the predictions are wrong?

      Then I've falsified a hypothesis.

      But science really is a creative endeavor. I know the prediction machine model denies this. But I also know I am out of any ideas about how to explain why I reject that model.

      It doesn't deny this at all. Theories are still something we come up with and in fact expressions do matter as well.

      The motivation for this view of theories as sets of predicted observations is the common notion - expressed in this thread by roger shrubber - that science rests on "many unstated premises". If we look for a minimal set of premises, then we end up with something like this:
      a) There are multiple observers
      b) These can communicate about observations
      c) We use a logic in which ((A->B) AND !B)->!A is true
      With these minimal premises we can do science and theories are sets of observations. We can add further premises to make our theories do more - you can add something to allow you to get explanations from them. But any premise you add makes it less universal.

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    23. In the context of this discussion, I think the overlap in the different sets of predictions between a Newtonian mechanics (which literally speaking includes the geometric presentation of the Principia!) and Lagrangian and Hamiltonian methods means we can't treat them as the same. But looking at this last post, it seems that one of your fundamental concerns is anti-realism...science is about the measurements/observations, not describing reality. I still think the consistency is derived from nature, but it is true that there is a kind of set of concentric circles of consistent data derived from different "expressions" over time.

      I don't think falsifying a trivial hypothesis is science, since I don't see science as essentially falsificationist. I think science is about describing reality, so I have no problem with deeming the mere discovery of what's in this Oligocene stratum "science."

      I do not believe that mathematics itself has been successfully axiomatized and frankly was rather under the impression Godel, Church et al. had pretty much proven it isn't going to be. Further, I don't think that this makes much difference for mathematics, since so far as I can tell, mathematics is not just the working out of the consequences of axioms. Now, if I don't think these things are true even of mathematics, should you be surprised if I put no value on the need to axiomatize science in the most universal way possible. Or, to put it another way, I thought poor roger shrubber one of those tiresome lunatics who invent this crap to dismiss criticism from science for their pet prejudices. Or, see my first post.

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    24. But looking at this last post, it seems that one of your fundamental concerns is anti-realism...science is about the measurements/observations, not describing reality.

      To some degree, yes. Though I'm in fact agnostic about realism (I do see some issues with naive versions of scientific realism, but I'm sure there are consistent versions of it). But I would like to keep that question out of the foundations of science, yes. I prefer to keep epistemologies clean from metaphysics.

      I don't see science as essentially falsificationist.

      I think most scientists would disagree with that. I certainly do.

      I have no problem with deeming the mere discovery of what's in this Oligocene stratum "science."

      And at that point I disagree even more sharply. I am most definitely not a professional stamp collector and that view of paleontology has been antiquated for quite a while.

      I do not believe that mathematics itself has been successfully axiomatized and frankly was rather under the impression Godel, Church et al. had pretty much proven it isn't going to be.

      What would it mean for "mathematics itself" to be "successfully axiomatized"? What Gödel showed is that in suitably complex axiomatic structures there are statements that can neither be proven not disproven, provided they are consistent. That in turn means that either the statement or its negation can be added as axioms to generate a new consistent system. As a result there is no single set of axioms for all of mathematics, but there are axioms for mathematical theories.

      In generally mathematicians are looking for interesting structures and try to prove things within these structures. Axiomatization is a lot of work and is usually done after some work has been done that shows that there's something interesting there.

      Or, to put it another way, I thought poor roger shrubber one of those tiresome lunatics who invent this crap to dismiss criticism from science for their pet prejudices.

      If you don't understand what assumptions go into science, you lack the tools to adequately defend (or understand for that matter) science, IMO.

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    25. I'm sorry I seemed to give you the impression I thought there wasn't more to paleontology than systematically investigating strata. I've never thought a paleontologist was an amateur naturalists circa 1840. Although I don't think historical sciences like paleontology make predictions, they do make explanations...which is not stamp collecting.

      That said, epistemologies are never free from "metaphysics," the question is whether the ontology is correct or not. I favor a materialist ontology, you do not, there's the end of it. Science as falsificationism is wrong and the only thing in its favor is its agenda. Science is a collective activity conducted in natural languages as well as mathematics and the notion that its unstated premises are practically avoidable or theoretically replaceable by a minimal set of premises (aka "axiomx") is, as the mean fat man said, not even wrong.

      Your antirealist, predictivist, falsificationist version of science isn't worth defending in my opinion. I think you are wrong in thinking your "tools" are defending science at all, much less adequately. Worse, your understanding of science comes to a flaming wreck when you go past your arbitrary limits and consider social science. Otherwise you'd have been a sight more cautious in boasting your agreement with Capital Punishment roger shrubber!

      But I forget myself, you're not really making an argument, you're asserting authority. Content yourself with your victory.

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    26. That said, epistemologies are never free from "metaphysics," the question is whether the ontology is correct or not.

      Ah, but how do you address that question? If you want to have any hope of answering it, you need - an epistemology. Which in turn - according to you - rests on an ontology. This seems like a good opportunity to use the phrase "begs the question" correctly... If there is no ontology-free epistemology, then there is no way of telling which ontology is correct and this then means that no epistemology can be justified. That's the route to epistemic nihilism!

      I favor a materialist ontology, you do not, there's the end of it.

      It isn't. If you pressed me for my position on ontology, I'd respond with some version of materialism, although it would differ from some classical materialist positions in that it's not deterministic and I wouldn't want to have things like Energy as real objects. But that view is not something I base my philosophy of science on.

      Otherwise you'd have been a sight more cautious in boasting your agreement with Capital Punishment roger shrubber!

      What agreement?

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  6. From my experience science is primarily stuck in the middle of a religion versus religion conflict. One side automatically "believes" in evolution even though modern preschool children who watch Dinosaur Train now have a much better understanding of what a hypothesis is, while the other side wonders what else is wrong with their scientific method that bashes religion instead of explaining what they most want to know more about (and without a slap in the face for being curious).

    I recently had to readdress the situation to prevent further escalation of the conflict that does not need to exist. It's a dividing up for war where believing in evolution is academically accepted as a sign of scientific literacy, even though the way theory and hypothesis are defined is meant to be a total science-stopper that is being reinforced in order to stop any Theory of Intelligent Design from ever becoming a legitimate scientific challenge.

    It would be a big help for everyone to just stick to the science basics and stop blaming politics and religion for a problem that has much to do with lack of trust in those who in the name of science throw insults, instead of being scientifically welcoming to all.

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    1. Gary says: "It would be a big help for everyone to just stick to the science basics and stop blaming politics and religion for a problem that has much to do with lack of trust in those who in the name of science throw insults, instead of being scientifically welcoming to all."

      Uh, Orwellian logic. The lack of trust in scientists-- meaning widespread conspiracy theories, personal attacks, ad hominems and threats of violence or criminal prosecution-- directed against scientists, famous and not, is in fact entirely due to politics and religion. You are telling us we are not allowed to blame religion and politics, when politics and religion are invoked by those who threaten scientists with politcally and religiously motivated funding cuts and imprisonment in concentration camps?

      You're trying to undermine accountability. The ID perps should be held accountable.

      The Discovery Institute's website, Evolution News and Views, has often posted screeds demanding that scientists be silenced for good with politically and religiously motivated funding cuts, and/or criminally prosecuted and put in prison.

      But you wag a finger at us and tell us we're not allowed to blame the self-stated motivations of the ID perps. Why is that? Why can't we?

      And as for your accusation that there is a lack of trust in unnamed persons (who, exactly?) for not "being scientifically welcoming to all," scientists should be unwelcoming to fraud and falsification of evidence and to redefinitions of the scientific method. "God of the gaps" is not the scientific method.

      There are no arguments against evolution that are not based on falsification of evidence or on redefinitions of the scientific method. We have the intermediate fossils and the genomic comparisons. We win.

      Again I ask: tell us why we are not allowed to blame religion or politics when these are the self-stated motivations of the ID perps who falsify evidence, attack us personally, slander us, and threaten us with violence and criminal prosecution and imprisonment?

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    2. Diogenes, you are stereotyping. And stereotyping reasonable people only pisses them off.

      I want you to study this then explain to me whether it is science or not, and if not then scientifically explain why:

      MY Theory of Intelligent Design

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  7. I dislike the term "believe in evolution" because it's often being used to falsely equate thinking things are true because there's such good evidence for them and believing in things without good evidence. It also falsely treats evolution (a process) with God, which isn't true or useful whether you believe in God or not.

    When asked this in a non-teaching situation, I generally pause, then say, "Ye-es, I do believe evolution happens, and I find gravity pretty credible, too."

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  8. Larry,

    "10.Vaccinations cause autism"

    Do you have an autistic child or have you ever gone to the parent group of autistic kids...? I take it as a no... because if you did, you would be writing nonsense like this... My nephew is autistic, and his parents begged me to go to the group meetings...
    I don't care what the scientific shit says, my nephew got a load of (not one) vaccinations in one day, and in less than two weeks he became totally mute...
    I went to this group and most of the parents related the same thing happening within 2-10 weeks of vaccination.... I personally think it is not the vaccinations themselves that may or may not cause autism, it may possibly the load of vaccines that overloaded the immune system...

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    1. So we have yet another example of the curious phenomenon of multiple denialism. Usually it's creationists also being climate change deniers (probably you are that too) while vaccines and GMOs are more of a left-wing fearmongering issue, but they are by no means uncommon among creationists too, as you just demonstrated.

      I don't know all the facts of the case, i.e. what age, what vaccines, etc. but I don't really need to. It is up to you to show that in the population there is a causative relationship between vaccinations and the rise of autism in recent decades as opposed to a mere coincidence due to the fact that autism begins manifesting itself right around the time routine vaccinations are given. Unfortunately, for your hypothesis, nobody has been able to show that.

      Also, if you want to argue using anecdotal examples, here is one from me: I have never met someone with an autistic kid while here in the US I have done so repeatedly. We get pretty much the same vaccines there. And I am not talking about the cases that can be explained by differential reporting.

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    2. Interesting (Georgi's comment, not Quest obviousy). I agree that GMO-paranoia and vaccine hysteria often go together among left leaning greens. Homeopathy belief often accompanies those two. Science denialism on the right usually involves climate change denial, evolution denial, and whatever must be denied to think of embryos as equivalent to adult humans (all of biology?).

      Superficially, I would group them as those paranoid of the private sector (greens, Monsanto haters, irrational liberals) and those paranoid of the public sector (religious conservatives, tea party, libertarians, 'gubermint' haters). It is interesting to see where science denialism occasionally crosses political lines, giving us creationist anti-vaxxers like Quest and maybe pro-life GMO labeling proponents. I wish Elaine Ecklund would study this kind of thing instead of what she actually studies.

      How about we call those who subscribe to left leaning anti-science quackery The Green Tea Party?

      Incidentally, Quest failed to mention what this group meeting was exactly. Could it be a meeting of parents who are skeptical about vaccines? If so, it would certainly explain the observation that "...most of the parents related the same thing happening...". Confirmation bias? Selection bias?

      Also, the phrase "I don't care what the scientific shit says..." tells us a lot. After that, his comment becomes a study in psychology.

      Finally, congratulations Georgi!

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    3. Thanks:)

      BTW, I have a bad typo there, the last paragraph should have read:

      =================================================

      Also, if you want to argue using anecdotal examples, here is one from me: I have never met someone with an autistic kid in Bulgaria while here in the US I have done so repeatedly.

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    4. I disagree that anti-vax is a left-liberal idea. There are too many anti-vaxers on the right. Especially among the creationists.

      The IDers and creationists have many anti-vaxers and they're all right wing: William Dembski, IDer and YEC John Oller, Kent Hovind, Ted Beale/Vox Day, etc. and now Quest.

      Where anti-science is concerned, the left and the right are not symmetric. The right denies the conclusion of centuries of research. At worst, the left objects to methods and technologies. Animal experimentation and GMO's are the only real examples of anti-science from the left.

      There are bad guys on both sides, but in America the GOP guarantees that the most fanatical anti-scientists are made Chairman of the Congressional science committee. The left and the right are not equal and not symmetric.

      The GOP has decided that scientists are one of their (many) anti-constituencies, to be demonized and scapegoated and slandered and blamed-- along with minorities, immigrants, public employees, school teachers etc. If we are their anti-constituency, we should act like it.

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    5. Of course the right is much worse. But it's not like the left (which does not really exist in the US anyway - from the perspective of the rest of the world, there is far right and ultra far right) is some bastion of rationality and scientific literacy -- the concentration of those things is higher, sure, but quite often people will support the correct position on an issue but for the wrong reasons

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  9. Some readers here think the earth is just 6000 years and there is NO biological scientific evidence for evolution and none has ever been shown on this forum though posters here think they have.
    If i'm wrong name the top three!
    Anyways.
    You know there is a problem with facts when they start fussing over words.
    I agree this lawyer is probably not the best, though common, person to talk about science in its atomic structure as a concept. Perhaps tort law...!

    I think Americans are simply unsure about things they never really heard both sides too and that very carefully.
    For most it comes down to who they trust.
    Expertism is the real origin for faith in evolution by most of those who CONCLUDE its the truth.
    Those who conclude otherwise do so from trust in the bible, Christianity, God or a general skepticism about all experts or private study that has shown evolution is quite unfounded.
    If North america is the most intelligent people in human history, we are, then it follows such a people would be slowest to conclude about unlikely ideas or the quickest to unravel wrong ideas after a little help.
    ID/YEC is helping and winning the race because North americans are sharp , some more then others, and easily see through false concepts after paying attention.
    Increase attention to the merits of evolution will ruin evolution.
    As i said on this forum i find no biological scientific evidence for evolution but instead other evidences that are pretenders to the throne.

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    1. "If North america is the most intelligent people in human history, we are, then it follows..."

      Georgi, adding to your comment above, where on the political spectrum would you place bald-faced racism? How about Robert's Delusions of Grammar?

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    2. I have very rarely bothered to reply to him -- being able to write coherent sentences is the absolute minimal requirement for someone to be taken seriously, and he fails even that.

      In the US political spectrum, racism is clearly a right-wing thing. But one has to keep in mind that the US political spectrum is a very distorted creation of the combination of a somewhat odd political system that ensure the emergence of two dominant parties and very little else and some very specific historical circumstances. Due to the geopolitical might of the US, that spectrum has been exported to many other places in the world, but still, you usually get a lot more diversity of views and nothing like the clear separation of two parties being divided on all issues (except the ones that really matter like the socioeconomic system itself, on which both parties in the US are in full agreement and never discuss it) that are debated. It is not at all uncommon for what you would call "racists" (though it's rarely the same thing as racism in the US) to have otherwise very left-leaning views on socioeconomic issues in the rest of the world. Even the Nazis called their ideology National Socialism, and for a reason, even if the meaning of the term has been greatly distorted by WWII and it's rarely remembered what exactly it stood for before they started exterminating people based on ethnicity and race.

      Of course, most of these issues are not at all political in nature, in fact very very few issues are political and they are mostly irrelevant. So in an ideal world, we would not be debating these things through the political system but with facts and evidence and would eventually come to a consensus. But that's not how the world works in practice, and that's how you end up with that clustering of denialism on multiple issues - some of it is simply due to the fact that once you reject the authority of evidence and the principles of proper reasoning on one issue, it becomes much easier to do the same on others, but in many cases not much thinking ever happens to begin with and positions are instead determined based on ideology and tribal allegiances.

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    3. Georgi: "Even the Nazis called their ideology National Socialism, and for a reason"

      The Nazis were not socialists under Hitler. The party got that name from a merger of two parties before Hitler joined. He joined early-- badge number 51, IIRC-- and never paid attention to socialism, and apparently didn't understand it, but in Mein Kampf he just redefines it to mean loyalty to one's race. In practice, corporations and banks survived or prospered under Nazi rule. Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Asiatisches Bank survived just fine, and Hitler's banker, Hermann Abs, wound up in charge of Krupp after the war. Quite a pretty prize for the man who bankrolled Auschwitz.

      Among the major Nazis, the only real socialists were Goebbels and Darre. Darre was demoted and his pro-farmer policies were never implemented. Hitler and the others wouldn't know socialism if it bit them on the ankle.

      Read Nazi propaganda from the era. They blamed the Jews for abortion, the destruction of the family, moral decay, porn, naughty cabaret shows, defeat in war, inflation, etc. In America today, the Right uses identical arguments but blames that set of "problems" on belief in evolution.

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    4. "Even the Nazis called their ideology National Socialism, and for a reason, even if the meaning of the term has been greatly distorted by WWII and it's rarely remembered what exactly it stood for before they started exterminating people based on ethnicity and race."

      Can you name a single socialist policy the NSDAP stood for and enacted? The primary ideological idea of national socialism was that there were no conflicts of interest between members of the same "Volk" and therefore all existing conflicts were due to the "Volksfremde". There's no distortion there - the entire program was based on the premise that all problems were reducible entirely to the presence of minorities in Germany, primarily Jews.

      Contrast this with socialism, where the basic idea is that there are conflicts between people based on economic status and therefore redistribution of wealth and public ownership of the means of production can serve to reduce conflicts. The NS ideology denied this and policies implemented during the reign of the NSDAP don't show a particularly socialist slant. The Arbeitslosenversicherung (unemployment benefits) were removed for a wide range of industries, taxes on families with more than one working partner were increased, unions were made illegal, sick days were removed (the announcement stated that no illness was to stop workers from doing their job and that dying on the job was part of the deal), principles of NS leadership were introduced in private companies, giving bosses the right to use force against their employees - this didn't even have to be justified.

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    5. As I said, it's difficult to evaluate these things objectively given the later history, but people did not vote for that party only because of the racist ideology, and the roots of national socialism go deeper than that (the German Nazi party was founded as German Workers' Party and it was far from the first party to have that general ideology). It was not fascism in the sense that we use the term today that attracted the population to them.

      And it's not the policies enacted in practice I was referring to as much as the promises made - sure, in practice there was close collaboration with the industrial elite, but initially the campaigning was very much anti-capitalist.

      Anyway, we're getting into dangerous Godwin's law territory here so there is no point in continuing this discussion.

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  10. Byers said:

    "You know there is a problem with facts when they start fussing over words."

    Well then, there must be a lot of problems with the alleged facts in religious writings, sermons, beliefs, etc., since there has been, is, and will continue to be a LOT of fussing about the source, interpretation/meaning, and usage of the words in religious writings, sermons, beliefs, etc.

    Just one example:

    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/accounts.html

    Hey Robert, which of those accounts is correct, or is there another account that is the correct one? Which of the 38,000 or so versions of christianity is the correct one? Which version of the bible is the correct one, and is it 100% correct? Why don't all christians agree on the source, interpretation/meaning, and usage of the words in christian writings, sermons, beliefs, etc.?

    Define "evolution".

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  11. Kahan's revised question seems to make no sense. The only valid answer is "true", regardless of whether or not you accept the truth of that claim or fact. It's like asking: According to the theories of 9/11 Truthers, the events of 9/11 were an "inside job" by the US government; the only correct answer for this is "true". Answering "false" is to not know what 9/11 truthers claim or to misunderstand the question in the same way that Kahan's respondents did.

    Maybe I was bitten by a pedant-bug this morning?

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  12. @Robert: "If i'm wrong name the top three"

    Fossil record, comparative anatomy, DNA comparisons, animal husbandry, molecular biology, antibiotic resistance, the flu virus.... I know that you only asked for three bits of evidence that supports evolution, but it was difficult to stop because there are so many.

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    1. Its off thread but none of these are true evidences from biological scientific investigation.
      The thing I do like about this lawyer is his agreeing that very few people have seriously thought about the merits of evolution pro or con.
      I mean very few could keep up with the YEC/ID/Evolutionists who struggle to prove ones case.
      Therefore this makes it even more of a problem for evolutionism.
      for it shows that amongst the few who study these issues rejection of evolution is well established. It should be the opposite.
      This lawyer shows that probability is on the side of critics of evolution to prevail.
      The top iD thinkers couldn't be understood except by small numbers of evolutionist thinkers.
      The smaller the circles the more deadly is every single thoughtful critic.

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    2. Robert, are you actually claiming that the things acartia brought up do not pertain to biological, scientific investigation?

      And are you ever going to answer all of the other questions I've recently asked you? Oh wait, you're an authoritarian and authoritarians don't feel the need to answer questions, right? Authoritarians like you just preach your sermons and expect everyone to believe in and obey whatever you say. Your delusions of god-hood are just that, delusions.

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    3. @Robert: "The top iD thinkers..."

      Oxymoron alert!!!

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    4. Not my forum. I don't know any questions. Yes I'm claiming and confident those things to do not pertain to biological science. they are something else but not that.
      As I said I've never seen bio sci evidence for evolution anywhere on its major points.
      Thats because its not true and there couldn't possibly be any.

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    5. Robert, you've made comments and I've asked you questions that pertain to those comments. Saying that it's not your forum is a cop-out. Saying that you don't know any questions doesn't even make sense. I'm not asking you to ask questions, I'm asking you to answer questions.

      Your claim that those things do not pertain to biological science is a profound demonstration of your brain-deadening religious programming.

      What, exactly, does pertain to biological scientific investigation? Describe some things that do pertain to biological scientific investigation.

      You say that evolution is not true. Describe your biological scientific studies, in detail, and present your biological scientific evidence that shows evolution to not be true.

      You say that there couldn't possibly be any biological scientific evidence for evolution. Describe your biological scientific studies, in detail, and present your biological scientific evidence that shows that there couldn't possibly be any biological scientific evidence for evolution.

      Define "evolution".

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    6. To understand biology or its origins demands investigation must be made obn actual biological life including biological processes.
      You have got to get your fingers sticky. Tools must deal with actual gooy biology. Not pickaxes and dynamite!
      Evolutionism does not deal with biology, in major or near major ways, but instead deals with processes and results that are not touchable.
      This is a first flaw of why evolution conclusions are not biological ones based on biology.
      The seconf flaw is scientific methodology. IF NO biology is being done then ALL THE MORE is conclusions not the result of the HIGHER standard of investigation called science.
      Science, as a method, is meant to weed out poor investigation and reasonings behind it.
      Therefore the biological investigation into biology origins must be very well done.
      How can this be when NO biology is being dealt with in the first plave?
      therefore its up to evolutionists to prove they are doing biological scientific investigation behind their conclusions.

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    7. Robert, I know that you're a lost cause but maybe some lurkers may benefit from this:

      Here are the things that acartia brought up:

      "Fossil record, comparative anatomy, DNA comparisons, animal husbandry, molecular biology, antibiotic resistance, the flu virus...."

      So, none of those things have anything to do with biology? I have never heard of anyone using "pickaxes and dynamite" to do/study/investigate comparative anatomy, DNA comparisons, animal husbandry, molecular biology, antibiotic resistance, or the flu virus, and many fossils are found and collected without the use of "pickaxes and dynamite". Besides, it doesn't matter how they're found and collected. What matters is what can be learned from them.

      It's obvious that your biggest complaint is with fossils, so let's take a look at the study of fossils. In regard to your complaints, fossils are the remains or traces of prehistoric organisms (the word 'fossil' is sometimes used in other contexts). Fossil remains and/or traces often retain the original shape, size, and intricate details of prehistoric organisms, their burrows, foot prints, etc., and some fossils retain the "gooy" stuff. You obviously think that all fossils are just rocks that superficially resemble bones, teeth, feathers, scales, skin, leaves, internal organs, etc., and that studying 'rocks' has nothing to do with biology. Well, they are not just rocks, many aren't mineralized at all or are only partially so, and some are pretty much as fresh as a steak that you just took out of your freezer.

      It should be obvious, even to you, that a frozen mammoth retains "gooy" stuff and that studying the remains of such a mammoth pertains to biology. It should also be obvious, even to you, that when fossil organisms are found in amber, biological science certainly pertains to figuring things out about those organisms and how/when they became trapped in plant resin. There are lots of details I could go into about those types of fossils but I'll delve into the fossils that really bug you; the ones that you only see as 'rocks'. I'll try to keep it very simple and very general.


      I had to split this so see part two.

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    8. Part two.

      In many cases the only parts of organisms that fossilize are the hard(er) parts, such as shells, teeth, and bones. There are various processes by which those parts can be fossilized. Permineralization, authigenic mineralization, petrification, replacement, and recrystalization are some of those processes. I'll lump those all together and call them mineralization. Mineralization can and often does retain intricate internal and/or external details of shells, bones, teeth, wood, etc., and biologists/paleontologists are able to determine many things from those fossils.

      For example, a dinosaur bone is found that has been permineralized, and/or replaced by minerals that were not in the original bone. If the fossil dinosaur bone retains its original shape, size, and details, or even if it only partly does, much can be learned by studying it biologically. Muscle attachments, pore structure, position in the dinosaur's body, overall size of the dinosaur, function of the bone, injuries or disease (or lack thereof), age when it died, genus/species, and other factors can be studied (biologically) and compared to other fossil bones and to the bones of extant animals, even when no original material is retained in the dinosaur bone, and a lot of biological information can be determined from such studies and comparisons. And when multiple bones (and teeth, if the animal originally had teeth) or mostly complete skeletons are found even more can be studied (biologically) and figured out. Oh, and in many cases there are other biological things in the same sediments that fossil bones/teeth are found in, such as fossil pollen, other plant parts, micro-organisms, other animal fossils, etc., that help to figure out the environment in which the animal lived and its relationships/interactions with its environment and other animals at that time.

      You must think that paleontologists never study biology and don't know anything about it but that's just plain wrong. In fact, many or most paleontologists don't have a degree in 'paleontology'. They usually have educations in some type of biology along with geology and other subjects. Paleontologists also work with and collaborate with other scientists who are broadly educated in multiple fields or who specialize in particular areas of biology, chemistry, radiology, pathology, botany, bio-stratigraphy, radiometric dating, geology, physics, and various other specialties. It takes a 'village' to study and figure out fossils, and biology/biologists are a major part of that 'village' whether you accept that or not.

      Throw away your book of religious fairy tales and learn something about fossils and biology/paleontology.

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    9. Nothing wrong with explanation of how fossils are studied and the origins of the fossils.
      Yes mammoths, being so recent, can have their actual biology studied and so also using scientific methodology.
      YET in no way did you demonstrate that drawing conclusions of evolutionary processes and results can be determined using fossils u8sing biological scientific investigation! Unless i missed it.
      The only use of a fossil is as a moment in time IF one is saying this evolved from that.
      YET that inbetween evolving is not fossilized! Therefore all that is done is comparison of fossils and THEN geological deposition conclusions and THEN conclusions that evolution has occurred by the fossil comparison and geology level.
      So where is the science for this evolution evidence using fossils? Where is the biology?
      NONE! Its just comparing rocks with pictures/snapshots.
      Thats not biology or science methodology.
      Why do you think it is?

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  13. I very much reject this concept of scientific literacy. For one thing, it tempts a gospel of scientific truth that becomes inviolate and as convenient as that might be, it should be unnecessary. Second, this "scientific way of knowing" incorporates many unstated premises that are ultimately just preemptive assertions about the world (often unrecognized given how little philosophy is taught) so that the "knowing" that arises often begs the question. And then there's your point about capital punishment deterring crime. What did you mean? It's false that capital punishment deters capital crime? That it deters crime much? That it deters it even a little bit? That studies have not found a conclusive connection can indeed be used to claim it does not deter crime a great deal, but that is not what you wrote, and given your scientific way of knowing you must have written what you meant to write. I remain unconvinced either way but knowing something about studies involving game theory and how people behave in response to punishment I remain open to a broader effect of people believing in their notion of a "justice" system that has broad and subtle effects long term even if it might not show up in typical studies. So not false, not true but undecided, and I object to a professorial priesthood holding a conclave and declaring otherwise as a matter of _Scientific_Literacy_, and you should too.

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    1. I said that people believe silly things and one of those silly things is that capital punishment deters crime.

      BTW, if you have any evidence that another way of knowing actually produces valid knowledge then please reveal it to us. I've been asking for about twenty years and haven't yet got an answer.

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    2. ...I remain open to a broader effect of people believing in their notion of a "justice" system that has broad and subtle effects long term even if it might not show up in typical studies.

      You mean broad and subtle effects like those of the state killing people on cultural attitudes toward killing as morally wrong?

      Interesting also how you use "gospel" and "priesthood," when scientific reasoning recognizes neither. (This should not be confused with the opposite but equally wrongheaded view that true expertise counts for nothing.)

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    3. Let's be clear, there's a claim that the belief that capital punishment deters crime is false in Larry's post. Studies that fail to find a statistically significant effect of capital punishment do not determine that there is no effect. They can determine, within certain confidence limits, that any effect must be smaller than some X. So how is the claim of falsity a scientific claim? More could be said about the difficulties of such studies in controller other influencing factors. Ultimately, I don't see how such a conclusion, as originally composed, can be reached. Deterring a single person would still be deterrence. So claiming it is a false claim (that capital punishment deters crime) shows a lack of "scientific literacy". in failing to understand what science can detect.
      We could dress up the claim with details from studies so it was quantitative about the maximal effect being less than some X, or a moralistic view such as enough to justify state sanctioned murder but then it's a different claim and the latter goes beyond what can be known from science and must then require a different way of knowing.

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    4. Wow!!! I never thought of it like that. I guess you're right. I must be scientifically illiterate. Now that I think about it, almost every one of my 12 examples is wrong. Apparently it is perfectly scientific to believe that astrology predicts the future because there must be a least a few cases somewhere that worked and you can never prove the negative.

      Similarly, it's okay to believe that genetically modified food is unsafe because you can never prove for certain that every single GMO food is perfectly safe in all circumstances for all people.

      And I guess we can never absolutely prove that all alien abduction claims are false so it's still scientific to believe in alien abductions,

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    5. Since you mentioned them, I should also point out that alien abductions and UFO sightings in general are a very interesting case -- the frequency of reports have gone down dramatically ever since everyone started carrying cell phones with cameras with them. That is a most peculiar trend - you would think that such a technological development would result in hundreds of high quality photos of UFOs, but exactly the opposite has happened in practice

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    6. There's a distinction between a belief that X causes Y and "scientifically literate" assertion that said belief is false. And that distinction is because when we invoke science we have an added burden of objective demonstration to our claims.
      In the "scientific" retort, finding that the belief that X causes Y is unproven or not clearly supported does not mean that the belief is false.
      It's appears that you will label as false beliefs that have not yet met your test of being scientifically validated even if they have not been legitimately falsified. If we presume you are not committing a sloppy false dichotomy, then you are asserting a dogmatism about your way of knowing being the one and only true way of knowing.
      Your blog, so I won't continue without explicit invitation except to note that I oppose capital punishment so that's not my motivation for criticizing what I understand to be your logic.

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    7. @roger shrubber

      I said in my post that it was silly to believe that capital punishment deters crime. Do you have a problem with that statement or do you think it's reasonable to believe that capital punishment deters crime?

      ... you are asserting a dogmatism about your way of knowing being the one and only true way of knowing.

      This is a separate issue but, for the record, I do not dogmatically claim that the scientific way of knowing is the only true way of knowing. I claim that it is a proven way of knowing and I claim that so far nobody has been able to demonstrate that there's another way of knowing that works. Thus, I provisionally take the position that the scientific way of knowing is the only true way of knowing.

      If you think there's another way of knowing then, by all means, let's hear about it.

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    8. Give roger shrubber credit, though: He did correctly use the phrase "begs the question." :)

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    9. ...I should also point out that alien abductions and UFO sightings in general are a very interesting case -- the frequency of reports have gone down dramatically ever since everyone started carrying cell phones with cameras with them.

      The electromagnetic radiation emitted by those devices scare away alien spacecraft...same goes for saskquatch and the the Loch Ness monster.

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    10. Since you mentioned them, I should also point out that alien abductions and UFO sightings in general are a very interesting case -- the frequency of reports have gone down dramatically ever since everyone started carrying cell phones with cameras with them. That is a most peculiar trend - you would think that such a technological development would result in hundreds of high quality photos of UFOs, but exactly the opposite has happened in practice

      Indeed, and have you noticed that feeding the multitudes with a few loaves and fish, virgin births, and resurrections seem to be on a downward trend also? :)

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    11. Indeed, and have you noticed that feeding the multitudes with a few loaves and fish, virgin births, and resurrections seem to be on a downward trend also? :)

      I imagine that virgin pregnancies still get claimed with some frequency, however.

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    12. Speaking of UFOs and aliens, About 20 years ago I lived next door to a young woman (23 yo) who was very good looking, single, well groomed, spoke well, employed at a pet store, and was bisexual. None of that is unusual, but there's something else. She totally believed that she had been abducted by aliens and that they had experimented on her. She also believed that they planted a chip in her so that they could easily locate her. One day she called me on the phone and very excitedly asked me if I had hear "that noise" last night. I asked "What noise"?" She said "That loud humming noise!" I said "No, I didn't hear anything." She said "You must have heard it! It was loud. Are you sure you didn't hear it?" "No, I didn't hear it."

      She was obviously frustrated and just couldn't believe that I hadn't heard the loud humming sound. I asked her what she thought it was and she said it was her "friends" checking up on her. By "friends" she meant her friends in a space craft from another planet. She said that they hovered over our homes during the previous night. I'll add here that there were lots of other people living very close to the young woman and me and none of them reported any loud humming noise or any UFOs.

      On another day I was talking with the young woman and I said some things that showed that I didn't believe her about aliens, UFOs, implanted chips, etc., and she got PISSED. One of the things she said was "Look at my arms, look at the "scoop marks"! Scoop marks are the alleged scars left by aliens who take scoops of skin with a tool of some sort for the purpose of laboratory examination/tests. She held out her arms for me to look at, which was unnecessary since I had already seen them many times and I had even seen her completely naked and she not only had no "scoop marks" but she was pretty much flawless from top to bottom, except for a couple of tattoos. I assure you that I looked very closely. :)

      After that day she didn't speak to me anymore. She was mad because I had challenged her belief in her alien friends and being abducted and experimented on. She had a slightly older sister who did not share her alien/UFO beliefs. Sometimes I wonder how the young woman is doing and if she still has those beliefs.

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  14. Yes, I think it can be reasonable to believe that capital punishment deters crime. If an individual personally thinks that they might be inclined to commit a particular crime except they fear being caught and executed, that individual has a solid reason to believe that capital punishment deters crime. From a study of winning strategies in The Prisoner's Dilemma and allied game theory studies, it has been documented that in the absence of what people consider just punishment for _bad_ behavior, their willingness to avoid bad behavior decreases. So for people who view capital punishment as proper punishment, the lack of it can be expected to decrease their motivation to behave according to the rules. If this actually manifests and to what degree remains an unknown that I don't believe could be effectively measured by statistical studies of crime in regions with and without capital punishment. I also think that believing it does not have an effect is a reasonable belief. Reasonable people can differ given competing yet inconclusive arguments.

    Trust in authorities who have earned your trust is another way of knowing. It may in many respects be an inferior way, but can be superior in other pragmatic aspects. Similarly, trust in ones own intuitions can in many circumstances be a pragmatically superior way of knowing, for those with intuition that has proven reliable.

    Unless one redefines knowledge/knowing in a special pleading manner, the question is of relative accuracy of different ways of knowing. My observations are that this varies between individuals, as does individuals ability to apply "scientific" ways of knowing.

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    1. In all these respects you seem to have conflated how an individual seeks to learn with the enterprise of learning. Learning from an authority is successful insofar as the authority is knowledgeable, so then you've simply moved the inquiry from yourself to the authority. How did the authority come by the knowledge? From a holy book? Or by study, experimentation, observation, etc?

      "Intuition," which I'll take as being synonymous with "gut feeling," similarly depends on the quality of the knowledge informing it. If you don't know what a rifle is, your intuitive feeling that anyone standing 100 feet away holding what appears to be a stick cannot hurt you may not be a terribly good guide.

      In each of these cases you have not defined a separate way of knowing, you have merely rhetorically put the source of knowledge at one remove.

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    2. I don't believe I spoke to learning but to knowing and knowledge even if there may be some usual or even necessary relationships to learning. Regards learning from others, the recursive question goes to validation which is a separate issue even if some methods of knowing pursue validation. Even so, one needs to distinguish between specific validation of a result and general validation of a method.
      Now as to the reliability of intuition, you might reread and notice I did not make general claims about reliability of one method over another so anecdotes about poor intuition do not speak to potential instances where intuition works better than other methods available to an individual. The question was 'ways of knowing" and did not specify anything like 'generally better' or 'less susceptible to catastrophic error'.
      To your last claim it's merely pugilistic. Even your anecdote of unreliable intuition remains a way of knowing though you'll have to recognize that highly reliable, mostly reliable, and unreliable ways of knowing are still ways of knowing that are merely separated by reliability. As far as I'm aware, we lack a perfectly reliable means of knowing. Please alert me if I've missed something.
      I do not challenge the general preeminence of the "scientific" way of knowing, or its cousin objective verification/validation (different things). But I do object to an apparent transition to some metaphysical exclusivity to the expanded definition of a scientific way of knowing to be the only way of knowing, and to the allied 'logic' of claiming that any belief that does not rely on this 'scientific way of knowing' is not merely unsubstantiated in an objective sense but necessarily "false" or irrational.

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    3. So reading science books at the library is a "library way of knowing" or a "book way of knowing" rather than a "scientific way of knowing"? Hard for me to understand how the ultimate source of the knowledge or "knowing" doesn't matter.

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    4. Some questions come to mind:

      What does a newborn baby know?

      Can a baby know things without learning about them?

      Can an adult know things without learning about them?

      Are imagined things known things?

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