Monday, June 22, 2015

Jerry Coyne on Lewontin and methodological naturalism

I'm working my way through Jerry Coyne's new book. There's lots of good stuff in there but I was particularly interested in his comment about his former Ph.D. supervisor, Richard Lewontin. The issue is whether science is confined to methodological naturalism leaving religion as the only way to investigate supernatural claims.

We've been over this many times in the past few decades but it's still worth reminding people of the only rational response to such a claim. This is from pages 91 and 92 of Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.
... some scientists persist in claiming, wrongly, that naturalism is a set-in-stone rule of science. One of these is my Ph.D. advisor, Richard Lewontin. In a review of Carl Sagan's wonderful book The Demon Haunted World, Lewontin tried to explain the methods of science:
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
That quotation has been promulgated with delight by both creationists and theologians, for it seems to show the narrow-mindedness of scientists who refuse to even admit the possibility of the supernatural and immaterial. But Lewontin was mistaken. We can in principle allow a Divine Foot in the door; it's just that we've never seen the Foot. If, for example, supernatural phenomena like healing through prayer, accurate religious prophecies, and recollection of past lives surfaced with regularity and credibility, we might be forced to abandon our adherence to purely natural explanations. And in fact we've sometimes put naturalism aside by taking some of these claims seriously and trying to study them. Examples include ESP at other "paranormal phenomena" that lack any naturalistic explanation.

Sadly, arguments similar to Lewontin's—that naturalism is a unbreakable rule of science—are echoed by scientific organizations that want to avoid alienating religious people. Liberal believers can be useful allies fighting creationism, but accommodationists fear that those believers will be driven away by any claim that science can tackle the supernatural. Better to keep comity and pretend that science by definition can say nothing about the divine. This coddling of religious sentiments was demonstrated by Eugenie Scott, the former director of an otherwise admirable anti-creationist organization, the National Center for Science Education:
First, science is a limited way of knowing, in which practitioners attempt to explain the natural world using natural explanations. By definition, science cannot consider supernatural explanations: if there is an omnipotent deity, there is no way that a scientist can exclude or include it in a research design. This is especially clear in experimental research: an omnipotent deity cannot be "controlled" (as one wag commented, "you can't put God in a test tube, or keep them out of one"). So by definition, if an individual is attempting to explain some aspect of the natural world using science, he or she must act as if there were no supernatural forces operating on it. I think this methodological naturalism is well understood by evolutionists.
Note that Scott claims naturalism as part of the definition of science. But that's incorrect, for nothing in science prohibits us from considering supernatural explanations. Of course, if you define "supernatural" as "that which cannot be investigated by science," then Scott's claims become tautologically true. Otherwise, it's both glib and misleading to say that God is off-limits because he can't be "controlled" or "put in a test tube." Every study of spiritual healing or the efficacy of prayer (which, if done properly, includes controls) puts God into a test tube. It's the same for tests of non-divine supernatural phenomena like ESP, ghosts, and out-of-body experiences. If something is supposed to exist in a way that has tangible effects of the universe, it falls within the ambit of science. And supernatural beings and phenomena can have real-world effects.


85 comments :

  1. The other fallacy in the same spirit I often see repeated is that scientists are making a metaphysical assumption that the world is ordered, comprehensible, and amenable to being studied with the tools of science. Some go even further, claiming that that assumption comes from Christianity, therefore we have to thank Christianity for science. Which might be true, but there is no real argument there that corresponds to the real state of affairs. Because

    1) It rests on the usual narrow and wrong definition of what science is
    2) If the world was incomprehensible, how exactly would we have found out about that other than through science properly understood?
    3) There are a number of examples where science has reached conclusions quite opposite to those assumptions, quantum mechanics being the most famous one.

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    1. a metaphysical assumption that the world is ordered, comprehensible, and amenable to being studied with the tools of science. Some go even further, claiming that that assumption comes from Christianity, therefore we have to thank Christianity for science. Which might be true

      Some Christians at some times helped move science along, other Christians at other times helped to impede it, or tried to do so. It is very much not the case that modern science finds its exclusive conceptual ancestry in Christian thought. There were the Greeks and pagan Romans who preceded the Christians, as well as Arabs who were contemporaries, who made very substantial contributions to what would eventually become Western science. (And of course I've left out, due to lack of knowledge, the Chinese and Indians.)

      Good book on this topic I happen to be in the middle of right now: Steven Weinberg's "To Explain the World."

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    2. Also what would it *mean* for the world *not* to be ordered, comprehensible, and amenable to being studied with the tools of science? The world could have *different* physical laws, certainly, but why would these not *also* be amenable to being studied with the tools of science?

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  2. I think the reason that so many are split on the question of science and the supernatural is that the notion of the supernatural is nonsensical. To most the definition of the supernatural has 2 parts which create a paradox ( as alluded to above)
    1. The supernatural is fundamentally disconnected from the natural world, and the rules of logic don't apply. 2. The supernatural influences the natural world in many ways. People who resolve the paradox in favor of the first definition conclude science can't study the supernatural. Those who resolve with the second definition conclude it can

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    1. I fail to understand how science can study the supernatural, except to show that it is not needed to explain observable phenomena (as Laplace is reputed to have said when asked about what part god might play in the motions of the Solar System, I have no need of that hypothesis. By there very essence, supernatural explanations are unbounded. I don't know how one can study, using the tools of science, something that is unbounded.

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    2. Colnago asks: By there very essence, supernatural explanations are unbounded. I don't know how one can study, using the tools of science, something that is unbounded.

      But only the powers of supernatural agents are unbounded. Their purposes are known with 100% certainty by religious leaders.

      For example, consider the recent shooting of 8 black people by a white conservative in South Carolina, who was inspired, as he says in his manifesto, by the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens (formerly the Council of White Citizens.) What was the purpose of that?

      Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham's daugher and Franklin Graham's sister, explained that God sent the racist to kill those black people because he was unhappy with black people protesting against racism in Baltimore and Fergusion, Missouri (hundreds of miles away). So she knows with certainty the purpose of the 8 racist murders: God was sending a message to black people that must never protest against racism, even when cops kill unarmed blacks, or else God will send someone to murder some other unconnected people who just happen to have the same skin color as you.

      We've seen countless explanations of the form, "There was a hurricane/tornado/mass die-off of birds. God is angry about gay marriage."

      So religious leaders really, really know the purposes of God with 100% certainty. This makes the supernatural testable, at least in principle.

      But then the problem becomes that the "experts" on God's purposes change their story about what his purpose is. When a hurricane hits Pat Robertson's TV studio, he's not saying that God is angry at Christian heterosexuals.

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  3. Somewhat similar to lantog, my main problem in this whole discussion is that I don't understand what supernatural is supposed to mean in the first place. I have never seen a definition that wasn't question-begging.

    Stuff that is there or happens but isn't nature? But that just assumes that it is there and happens, which is circular reasoning, and it doesn't explain why it should not be considered part of nature. What is lacking for this to work is a definition of nature, and there appear to be only three: everything there is; everything there is except the things touched and changed by humans (culture); or everything there is except the supernatural. Now we've come full circle.

    Stuff that exists and happens but cannot be studied by science? Again, why? Merely assuming that which is to be proved isn't helpful.

    Stuff that is unpredictable and mysterious? Okay, here we have a reason why science might not be able to study it (if we ignore the fact that science studies plenty of random events). But then any other way of trying to understand that stuff is also doomed, so priests and believers should stop claiming to know anything about their gods. No more outlawing gay marriage and reproductive choice, yay!

    Really I would wish the people who argue in favour or against the ability of science to examine the supernatural would first examine their definition of the latter. As far as I can see, there is none that makes any sense.

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    1. Why do you need a general all-encompassing definition?

      Isn't a list of the concept that people usually refer to as supernatural sufficient?

      Immaterial immortal souls, divine intervention in response to prayers, etc. Those are sufficiently well defined.

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    2. **Why do you need a general all-encompassing definition?**
      Because its a category worthy of a definition.

      First the gods were said to be on Mount Olympus, but people eventually went up there and found no gods. Then heaven was 'up'..in the clouds or space, but the most powerful telescopes have shown there is no kingdom of heaven. To save further embarrassment the supernatural was invented. With this people could make any claim about reality they like without having to worry about scientific scrutiny...or common-sense scrutiny for that matter.

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    3. Arguing about how exactly the supernatural should be defined is completely pointless and an unnecessary distraction.

      When people talk about how science cannot study the supernatural, this is almost invariably done not with the purpose of having a proper philosophical discussion, but so that they can provide justification for belief in very specific things like souls, gods, incarnations, whatever.

      Keeping the discussion grounded in the specifics helps us avoid going into the endless pointless debates about definitions, does not allow the proponents of the supernatural to use the gambit described above, and makes it very clear that the specific examples of the supernatural are in fact accessible to science.

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    4. GM,

      The point here is that "science can't study the supernatural" hinges on the word supernatural actually meaning something. Pointing out that it doesn't is another way of moving the discussion towards the specifics.

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    5. You might say the same thing about the designation "natural"--you take our to mean everything "everything in the universe and/or governed by the laws thereof".

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    6. Michael M,

      I do not quite understand what you meant to say with "you take our to mean", but well, nature can mean either everything that exists as opposed to stuff that doesn't really exist, in other words nature = reality = opposite of fantasy, or in a narrower sense everything that exists and has not been transformed by humans, in other words nature = the natural state = opposite of culture and technology.

      Both meanings are clear in context and useful for the purposes of communication. Supernatural, in contrast, appears to serve entirely as a question-begging label that means "reason and evidence don't apply to this because I say so".

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  4. Proponents of the supernatural can't have it both ways - claiming these things can be somehow sensed by humans, but not investigated. It is merely a way to insulate nonsense ideas from critical inspection. It is the last and final refuge for gods. Yet somehow the faithful still manage to claim to know these gods, and their acts and motives, when it suits them (which is almost always).

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  5. If there is a God nothing he ever did was super natural. it was natural to him.!
    Creationism DOES NOT say the world is affected by supernaturalism. where did we say that? Creation was done on the sith day of creation week and nothing since. the creation is natural in that its a working system.
    Human events can be affected by supernaturalism.
    So what has science, people thinking please, to do with studying things not going on ??
    If the sun stays still its supernatural relative to the mean but its not supernatural to God.

    All this faith/science stuff is just about saying genesis is not true and maybe a creator.
    Yet if the universe was created and finished then one could not prove their is no creator but saying one finds no creator activity.
    Its done and here it is.
    Its just about a few subjects/ conclusions bumping into Evangelical protestant English speaking world. There is no issue in europe.

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  6. "And supernatural beings and phenomena can have real-world effects."

    Seriously? Jerry Coyne said that? Does he have any examples? The statement seems obviously false to me, a simple contradiction of basic physics. Real-worlld effects require energy. Every single time.

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    1. I think what Coyne is saying there is that, if the supernatural beings in which many people believed actually existed, these beings would still produce effects that could be detected by the scientific method. The global flood or Jesus' resurrection are a couple examples. These are claims that can be (and which have been) refuted by empirical evidence.

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    2. Yes, but...if something produces a real-world effect, we call it a force or a field. They can be plenty strange - the Higgs field makes other things have mass, and thereby have gravitational fields. If someone discovers Force #5, or a new type of field, it is still considered natural, because it is something in the world that makes things happen. Any real-world effect is automatically a part of nature, not supernatural. I don't see how you can ever get around that.

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    3. I don't think you need another force when it comes to divine intervention. That can be hand waved as special cases of suspensions of the laws.

      But when it comes to things like souls, which are supposed to be with us all the time, you do have to posit new interactions and fields, because the soul has to somehow constantly communicate with the body and it is not god, i.e. some rules have to apply to it. Which can be hand waved again when it comes to the soul itself, the real problem is that it does not concern only the soul -- the soul would have to communicate somehow with ordinary known matter, which means new interactions of that matter. But there is no place for new interactions at such low energies in the Standard Model, which is so tightly constrained by logic and experiments that people are now having very hard time proceeding beyond it. It would have be totally wrong for that to be the case, but in fact it's one of our best-tested theories that will in all likelihood only be upgraded and extended, not completely replaced.

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  7. I find it ironic that Larry endorses Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA in the sidebar to the left.

    I do get discouraged when some of my colleagues tout their private atheism (their right, of course, and in many ways my own suspicion as well) as a panacea for human progress against an absurd caricature of "religion" erected as a straw man for rhetorical purposes. Stephen Jay Gould

    http://tinyurl.com/nu942dd

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    1. I don't endorse NOMA. The views expressed in those quotations are the views of the authors. I hope my readers find them interesting.

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  8. As AlexSL has touched on above, what is wrong with defining natural as real and supernatural as unreal (imaginary)?

    If gods, extraterrestrials, bigfoot, etc. turn out to be real, then they are actually part of the natural world, even if originally described as supernatural. And if gods in particular were real and exerted effects on our world through god-like powers, then the universe would be stranger than we thought but still very much real. No proof for god-like powers yet of course, but we have revised our model of how the universe is in light of other discoveries (heliocentrism, gravity, quantum mechanics, evolution, etc.). Saying we are open to studying the supernatural is really saying we are open to being wrong about that subject being supernatural at all. That means things that truly are supernatural are simply products of human imagination and hence can be ignored.

    Some may take issue with this as an oversimplification, but at least it renders meaningless the restriction that science cannot study the supernatural. If it is a subject that turns out not to be real, then so what? The point, to me, is to point out that theologians and new agers cannot study the supernatural either without engaging in serious self-deception and delusion. If they are not real for scientists, they aren't real for anybody else either, regardless of what one believes.

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    1. I can only add that when science encounters really unexpected phenomena --general relativity and quantum phenomena -- it responds by inventing new methods and concepts.

      But first you have to bag the ghost. You need to have an object of study, some regular phenomena. The only regularity in the spirit world is fraud.

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  9. "[W]hat is wrong with defining natural as real and supernatural as unreal (imaginary)?"

    Some things are true without being useful. If one defines the supernatural as unreal, one insures a failure of communication with those who believe in the supernatural.

    It may be more useful to discuss predictions of how we expect the supernatural (if it exists) to interact with the natural world. Should prayer (at least the right kind of prayer by the right people) change things? etc.

    Of course, one can't test or falsify the idea of a supernatural realm entirely separate from the natural world, or a pantheistic idea of god that exists in and is expressed by the whole natural world. But very few believe in such images of god. Most people expect that supernatural beings would interact with the natural world in useful ways science wouldn't predict. Those expectations can be tested.

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    1. You're making the very mistake I'm describing. First, ensuring good communication with those who believe in the supernatural is not as important as the truth.

      Second, if the "supernatural" exists and interacts with the natural world, what is the point in calling it supernatural? It's part of the natural world, and it is the now disproved belief that it was supernatural that can be discarded.

      "Most people expect that supernatural beings would interact with the natural world in useful ways science wouldn't predict."
      This just perpetuates the incorrect notion that spirit mediums and theologians have some special insight that those egg headed scientists can't grasp. If "supernatural" beings interact with the world, anyone can detect them equally (and yes, eventually predict their effects), be they scientists or psychics, and the "supernatural" label becomes superfluous.

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  10. Yes, verifiability is more important than naturalism. Miracles are not repeatable, so how can they be verified? The Cambrian explosion looks miraculous. Any reasonable calculation of the probability of such a random creation is zero. But, nevertheless, that does not prove divine action. There could always be another explanation. The same is true of the big bang. It's origin must have been outside our material world, making it impossible to explain materialistically.

    Science looses all credibility if its results are not verifiable. We have to admit that there are limits to science. Otherwise philosophers and theologians would be out of business.

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    1. The Cambrian "explosion" is a period (lasting of the order of a few million years) during which the complexity of the fossil record increased greatly. If you have a "reasonable calculation" showing the probability of that to be zero I will be extremely surprised.

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    2. Any reasonable calculation of the probability of such a random creation is zero.

      Fortunately, nobody in their right mind believes the Cambrian faunas were suddenly created, whether randomly or otherwise.

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    3. Re Peter Wadeck

      The current thinking of what caused the big bang was a transient condition in the quantum vacuum, which together with CP violation, produced the particles in the universe that we coalesced into stars, planets etc.

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    4. And Diogenes shoots some fish in a barrel... small fish.

      Miracles are not repeatable, so how can they be verified?

      Volcanoes are not repeatable, how can "this lava came from the volcano upon which we found it" be verifiaible?

      Meteor collisions are not repeatable, how can "this crater was made by a meteor" be verifiable?

      Secondly, since when are miracles not repeatable? Any megachurch pastor or faith healer or televangelist who says "Miracles are not repeatable" would be unable to afford his private jet. Turn on any TV preacher. They have a bunch of videos of people saying, "One of my legs was longer than t'other and thin I sint a love gift to Pastor Jim-Bob Grabby-Hand. And now I kin walks juz fine, s'long as I leans a bit." Then the narrator says "AND THE SAME THING CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! IF YOU SEND IN YOUR LOVE GIFT NOW!!!"

      The Cambrian explosion looks miraculous.

      Oh jibbers crabst. A vast increase in Earth's atmospheric oxygen content, followed by tens of millions of years during which bilaterian trace fossils gradually, slowly, increase in complexity, and then some unusual conditions produce a couple lagerstatten which preserve soft tissues, allowing us to see what looks like 10-fold increase in the rate of morphological evolution, leading to a bunch of stem groups and intermediates between the major phyla, unformed or partially formed relative to the phyla as we are today -- that's looks miraculous?

      In the last two decades we've learned a huge amount about the Cambrian explosion because scientists assumed it was not miraculous.

      Any reasonable calculation of the probability of such a random creation is zero.

      Who the $%^& said it was "random", and who the #$%^ did the probability calculation? And do you mean probability density or probability mass? The newspaper every day is full of descriptions of events with probability density; are they all evidence for the supernatural?

      The USA electing as president a half-black guy with the middle name "Hussein", born in Hawaii and educated in Indonesia, is an event with a very small probability density.

      Has it occurred to you that probability density is orders of magnitude different than probability mass? Isn't the probability mass of an event like "guy gets elected president who infuriates conservatives" many orders of magnitude different than the probablity density of "half-black guy with the middle name "Hussein", born in Hawaii and educated in Indonesia gets elected president"?

      What were the assumptions behind this probability calculation? Who did it? Where was it published?

      The same is true of the big bang. It's origin must have been outside our material world, making it impossible to explain materialistically.

      How do you know that? What is the logic behind stuff outside the material world?

      Do you simply think that stuff in a set must be created by something outside the set? If so, and you define the universe as "everything that exists", would you agree that it must be created by something that does not exist? Or must all real things be created by something unreal?

      Science looses all credibility if its results are not verifiable. We have to admit that there are limits to science. Otherwise philosophers and theologians would be out of business.

      Do theologians and philosophers "lose credibility" if their results are not verifiable? Why or why not? Why do different rules apply to theologians and philosophers re: their "credibility"?

      OK, just small fish in a barrel for me to shoot today.

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    5. I'll defer to Herbert Yockey on the probability calculations. His math is better than mine, or anyone here for that matter.

      He calculated the probability of one small protein randomly coming into existence to be 15 billion TIMES the age of the universe.

      Hurbert P. Yockey, Information theory and Molecular Biology, 255

      Professor Hubert P. Yockey (b. April 15, 1916), PhD is a physicist and information theorist. He worked under Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project, and at the University of California, Berkeley.He has studied the application of information theory to problems in biology and published his conclusions in the Journal of Theoretical Biology from 1974 onwards.

      So, if the probability of one small protein evolving is impossible, the Cambrian explosion could be considered to be zero.


      On repeatable miracles, you got me. I was implying in the lab were scientific work is done, and verified. Certainly no one here believes science can be the source of all knowledge, Gödel's proved that is impossible. Isn't it interesting that to believe that science can answer all questions is, according to Gödel's unscientific.

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    6. Your problem (and Yockey's) is the assumption that protein evolution works by randomly assembling proteins from scratch. Nobody thinks that's how it works. So what you have there is not a proof that proteins can't evolve, just a proof that modern proteins were not assembled by connecting amino acids at random. This is known as the "tornado in a junkyard" theory of evolution, and it exists only as a strawman in the minds of creationists. Like you.

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    7. Wadeck - I wonder what matter/energy coalesced to form god. And what are the odds that this could happen, and happen to form a god that could then assemble all other atoms into perfectly functional things, from stars to humans. Has anyone done the math on this? Or does this scenario not quite comport with standard theology?

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    8. Peter Wadeck:

      I'll defer to Herbert Yockey on the probability calculations. His math is better than mine, or anyone here for that matter.

      Let's put it differently: Yockey's maths (like most other people's, for that matter) is better than yours.

      He calculated the probability of one small protein randomly coming into existence to be 15 billion TIMES the age of the universe.

      So you measure probability in years. Do you also measure time in parsecs, like Han Solo?

      So, if the probability of one small protein evolving is impossible, the Cambrian explosion could be considered to be zero.

      I see: it's billions of billions of years, so it's zero. Stands to reason. The tornado-in-a-junkyard scenario of protein origin is impossible, do the tornado-in-a-junkyard scenario of the Cambrian "explosion" is even more imppossible. Good. Scientists must abandon the idea that Cambrian life was produced by a tornado stirring a pool of primordial soup.

      On repeatable miracles, you got me. I was implying in the lab were scientific work is done, and verified. Certainly no one here believes science can be the source of all knowledge, Gödel's proved that is impossible. Isn't it interesting that to believe that science can answer all questions is, according to Gödel's unscientific.

      This is a new depth of ignorance. You keep breaking your own records.

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    9. Well, if you believe protein generation is not random then you must have proof of that. Please site the published paper which has generated proteins from just a collection of its constituent parts. I am eager to read it and discover the mechanism. Whomever was able to do this must have gotten a Nobel prize. Until then, I will follow where the science has gone, not idle speculation.

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    10. You demand proof that protein generation isn't random by demonstrating random generation of proteins in the lab? That made no sense at all. Proteins don't come about that way. They're made in ribosomes, by translating mRNA. New proteins arise either from mutations in protein-coding genes, including gene duplication, or by conversion of previously non-coding DNA. At any rate, I doubt the Cambrian explosion had much to do with new proteins.

      Now if you want to ask how the whole protein-producing machinery of life first arose, that's an open question, and a completely different one from what you're asking, but the most common notion is that the first life didn't have proteins at all, and they're a later addition.

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    11. @Peter Wadeck

      Well, if you believe protein generation is not random then you must have proof of that.

      Any textbook on genetics would explain to you how proteins are formed. You will find that none of them is put together at random. Not a single one. Check it out. Don't be lazy. You can also find the information about how proteins are formed in the web. Try educational ones.

      Please site the published paper which has generated proteins from just a collection of its constituent parts.

      What do you mean? Proteins are always produced from their constituting parts. Again. Some textbook in genetics or web educational resources.

      I am eager to read it and discover the mechanism.

      If you were you would already know. You would not be here claiming that proteins assemble randomly.

      Whomever was able to do this must have gotten a Nobel prize.

      I think they won a Nobel prize. Many many years ago.

      Until then, I will follow where the science has gone, not idle speculation.

      Good joke. You could not care less about science. If you did you would already know how proteins are actually formed, and why the math you presented is stupid. All it proves is that proteins don't form by random assemblage. We knew that already.

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    12. John,

      Peter must think that proteins appear in poofs of magic. That would explain why he asks for proof that proteins are formed from their constituent parts.

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    13. "Well, if you believe protein generation is not random then you must have proof of that. Please site [sic] the published paper which has generated proteins from just a collection of its constituent parts."

      Every paper addressing natural selection.

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  11. "Science looses all credibility if its results are not verifiable. We have to admit that there are limits to science. Otherwise philosophers and theologians would be out of business."

    But surely there must be a down side.

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  12. OUCH! - hilarious...

    FTR - scientific results can never be "verifiable" per se, they can be "falsifiable" and therein lies a great difference.

    I am grateful to this forum for reigniting my enthusiasm for Karl Popper and Stephen Jay Gould. Popper was most emphatic in his contradiction of Positivism's Verificationism by maintaining that that non-falsifiability may demark the boundary between scientific and non-scientific but that non-scientific statements CAN still be "meaningful".


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    1. Do you really believe that finding a rabbit fossil in Cambrian strata would cause "evolutionary theory" or even "Darwinian theory" to be thrown out of science?

      Personally I would stay away from philosophy that can be used to stop any theory just by not accepting any falsification ever given, or give another an unfair advantage by accepting any falsification given as good enough for that one.

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    2. "Rabbits" (leporids) and picas diverged in the early Eocene, probably not much more than 50 million years ago. It's therefore a very safe bet that no Cambrian, Devonian, Permian or Jurassic rabbits will ever be found. Finding one would contradict everything that we know about the evolution of vertebrates and, at the very least, would force us to radically revise their phylogeny. There's no need to do that, however, since there aren't any Cambrian rabbits, are there?

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    3. There would only be a flood of documentary TV shows and books on where the alien bunny came from.

      Your falsification failed. Please throw your theory out of science, like you're supposed to.

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    4. Yeah. If fire-breathing dragons were found in the caves of Transylvania, if there were winged humanoids on the Moon, or if yogic training made people levitate, some of the established theories would be in trouble. If. You can imagine lots of things that "might be" the case (but, well, they aren't). Please test "our theory" by presenting a real Cambrian rabbit instead of making empty claims about things that "would be, if...".

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    5. Don't blame me for the results, I'm just applying Karl Popper's philosophical technique for determining whether a theory is scientific or not.

      You will need more than Cambrian rabbits and winged humanoids on the Moon before leaving no doubt that Karl Popper's philosophy of science actually works as advertised. What else do you have?

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    6. But such fossils have already been found...

      http://creationwiki.org/Out-of-place_artifact#Modern_technology_in_deep_time

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    7. A museum curator has observed one of these spheroids rotating within its setting, apparently under its own power.

      Oh, mysteries upon mysteries. This falsifies modern physics.

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    8. Gary: Don't blame me for the results, I'm just applying Karl Popper's philosophical technique for determining whether a theory is scientific or not.

      OK, a Cambrian rabbit will falsify a lot of biology. I, for one, will not accept "bunnies from space" as a valid explanation. Will you show us that rabbit, then?

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    9. Karl Popper does not require me to show you anything. Falsification of the theory to the satisfaction of all, is your responsibility. You can at least try.

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    10. There is no single "theory of evolution" today. There is a whole field of research that may be called evolutionary biology, comprising a number of theories, models, and hypotheses. You can falsify them individually, and, if they are found false, this may or may not have consequences for the validity of the overarching research programme. Armchair falsificationsism ("Show me how to falsify all of evolutionary biology or it ain't science") is ridiculous. Popper certainly didn't intend to define science in this way (and later in his life he abandoned his early radical views on the alleged unfalsifiability of evolutionary theories such as the theory of natural selection).

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    11. Gary, Piotr is completely correct. Finding a rabbit in the Cambrian would very much spell the end of modern evolutionary theory. Thousands of other observations would likewise mean that evolution is wrong, but we never make these observations despite a great deal of trying.

      What observation would make you abandon your belief in god(s)/creationism? Does such an observation even exist?

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    12. Gary,

      "Karl Popper does not require me to show you anything. Falsification of the theory to the satisfaction of all, is your responsibility. You can at least try."

      You've got it wrong idiot. To present "falsification of the theory" would mean that the theory is false. You're mistaken about what Karl was about. The idea was that hypotheses had to be "falsifiable," not already "falsified." Our responsibility is to make sure that the hypotheses that we propose have a form that can be falsified, not to present hypotheses that we've already found to be false.

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    13. @Gary Gaulin

      Karl Popper does not require me to show you anything.

      I just talked to Karl and he sez you do.

      He also sez you should stop using his name in vain.

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    14. If you want to demand others to "falsify" their theories then you are obliged to do the same when it's your turn to falsify your own theory. No excuses.

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    15. Photosynthesis: You're mistaken about what Karl was about. The idea was that hypotheses had to be "falsifiable," not already "falsified."

      I have well over a hundred hours of experience with the game where always unsatisfied adversaries endlessly demand "falsification" of the theory I have online.

      You are telling the wrong person to stop doing that. The source of trouble is coming from your own side, the one that taught me the Karl Popper method I am now using to make you waste your time chasing your tails.

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    16. Gary,

      "I have well over a hundred hours of experience with the game where always unsatisfied adversaries endlessly demand "falsification" of the theory I have online."

      I doubt it. But supposing that was true, then your point to them should be that it's not falsification what they should be looking for, but for the hypotheses (or the theories), to be falsifiable. Just like I told you, you could have told them. But you're too lazy and too stupid to go and check what Karl was actually about.

      You also have the wrong idea about what "chasing your tails" means (or you're too stupid to know the proper usage). The expression doesn't work for us telling you that you're too stupid and that you have failed to understand.

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    17. Wikipedia could not be wrong too, could it?

      Falsifiability or refutability of a statement, hypothesis, or theory is an inherent possibility to prove it to be false. A statement is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false. In this sense, falsify is synonymous with nullify, meaning not "to commit fraud" but "show to be false". Some philosophers argue that science must be falsifiable.[1]

      For example, by the problem of induction, no number of confirming observations can verify a universal generalization, such as All swans are white, yet it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single black swan. Thus, the term falsifiability is sometimes synonymous to testability. Some statements, such as It will be raining here in one million years, are falsifiable in principle, but not in practice.[2]

      The concern with falsifiability gained attention by way of philosopher of science Karl Popper's scientific epistemology "falsificationism". Popper stresses the problem of demarcation—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience. The question is epitomized in the famous saying of Wolfgang Pauli that if an argument fails to be scientific because it cannot be falsified by experiment, "it is not only not right, it is not even wrong!"
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

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    18. You're too much of an ass-hole Gary. You just proved my point. Clue: there's a difference between the words "falsification" and "falsifiability."

      I'll leave it to you to figure out how much of an idiot you made of yourself.

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    19. Falsifiability or refutability of a theory is an inherent possibility to prove it to be false.

      I'm therefore still waiting for acceptable "Falsifiability" that will show an inherent possibility to prove your theory to be false, in which case it will be immediately thrown out of science.

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    20. Gary,

      Do you really think I'm just going to forget that you were enough of an ass-hole to ask for "falsification" rather than for "falsifiability"? Because I'm not.

      Go, study, then come back. Word your request properly (because that shit still makes you look rather stupid), and maybe someone will then want to have a conversation about it with you. For now, you're too misinformed and thus not prepared for such conversation.

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  13. Yes, verifiability is more important than naturalism. Miracles are not repeatable, so how can they be verified?

    What, there was never more than one miracle reported in Christendom? So just one for the Trinity and all the saints to share?

    This is no more difficult to verify in principle than the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. That was notable as all get out, but hasn't been repeated since. Nor had an explosive eruption like it happened in recorded history previously (though there were Native American legends). What did exist in our modern world were many, many opportunities for recorded observation.

    The thing about miracles is that as the opportunities for recorded observation multiply, the incidence of such things diminishes to zero. The Hebrews were rescued from the Egyptians by the splitting of the Red Sea, but nothing similar happened (or at least was observed) during the Holocaust. Reported incidences diminishing as opportunities for recorded observation increase is the sign of something non-factual (cold fusion, deities performing miracles on Earth, etc.).

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  14. If I actually saw that foot, I would freak. Dial 911.

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    1. If you see an unknown foot in the door, kick the door to as hard as you can.

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  15. Is anyone a Marxist-Leninist here?

    I am asking because I find some parallels here and the far-left? I wonder what is the best strategy to accomplish the one's ends? Either forming a united front with theistic evolutionists (or in the case of M-Ls, tolerating "revisionists", Trotskyists, and social democrats) or taking a more hard-line stance such as insisting upon methodological naturalism.

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    1. Marxism shares many features with religion, in fact it can be reasonably argued it is an atheistic secular religion (it was made up and then believed and insisted upon with no empirical check against the real world, and it repeatedly abused or dogmatically ignored real science when it didn't fit its preconceived notions about how things are). Thus if the people here are true to the intellectual values they defend when it comes to other subjects, there shouldn't be any Marxist-Leninists among them. But I would guess most people are left-leaning.

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    2. Marxism does have an empirical check with the real world.

      Many who actually lived in the USSR and the other East Bloc countries lament the fall of communism and the disintegration of the USSR. They lived in countries where capitalism was restored and they can contrast it with capitalism. There are actual benefits to living in a communist country that they could only appreciate when they do not enjoy them due to the circumstances of living under capitalism.

      http://www.pewglobal.org/2009/11/02/end-of-communism-cheered-but-now-with-more-reservations/ (for a survey)
      http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/12/05/confidence-in-democracy-and-capitalism-wanes-in-former-soviet-union/ (for a survey)

      https://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/do-publicly-owned-planned-economies-work/
      https://gowans.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/democracy-east-germany-and-the-berlin-wall/

      I do not think one should dismiss Marxism (in general) glibly when many socialist societies provided for the material needs of their citizens in good faith and were, in general, socially progressive. Those societies may have not been ideal, but they were not hellholes as Western, anti-communist propaganda would suggest.
      --
      Still, I was pondering whether being "hard-line" about materialism or welcoming accommodationists would best advance the cause of science education. There doesn't seem to be any schism between accommodationists and new atheists that seems so divisive.

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    3. That's precisely the kind of thing I was talking about - the lack of intellectual rigor. Marx was one of the greatest philosophers ever and he got many things right. But the theory of history he developed became a cult that had in its practice all the characteristics of religion in terms of the blind fate that it was right, and the practice also involved systematic suppression and distortion of the natural sciences if they did not fit the ideology.

      I know very well how people feel about it in former communist countries - not only I come from one of them, I come from the one of them that was probably most receptive to the idea, as there was a long tradition of agrarian cooperative life there and the people have always held strongly egalitarian views, thus when communism came, it fit like a glove to the thinking of the vast majority of people. The subsequent history was written by the elites in the big cities (who were either unhappy about it from the beginning because it hurt their social status, or jumped on the anti-communist bandwagon after 1989) but that does not really represent the situation on the ground. You should have heard the opinion of rural people who were born in the 1910s-1920s and consciously lived through the whole process (of which there aren't almost any left at this point unfortunately), and that would make even more of an impact than Pew surveys.

      But that is not an empirical check of Marxist theory, which concerns much grander historical processes, and it should be a fairly simple task to see that.

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  16. I really do not know if my aforementioned parallel is relevant.

    The "hard-line" stance simply is understanding the implications and assumptions of Darwinian evolution, particularly that it is dispenses of teleology and posits that the provenance of the flora and fauna of the biosphere (including Homo sapiens) are the product of a naturalistic process that "selects" the most fit individuals (in a given ecological niche) to preferentially reproduce . Natural selection takes advantage of heritable differences in fitness among a population and it can be observed in experiment and observational settings. It does not involve numerous, complex and onerous metaphysical assumptions about the "nature" of biological organisms and reproduction: just simply that there is a material basis for heritable differences in fitness (ultimately, from the interaction of the genetic influence with the environment).

    If "materialistic" assumptions are adequate, then one can parsimoniously excise any notion of teleology regarding the adaption of life.

    Sorry if I sounded a little too adaptationist, but I do also acknowledge that genetic drift too can play an important role in phenotypic differences.

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  17. 1. The cause of nature is either natural or supernatural

    2. The cause of nature cannot be natural

    3. Therefore, the cause of nature is supernatural

    http://p2c.com/students/blogs/kirk-durston/2014/05/god-sean-carroll-and-origin-nature

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    1. Thank you for once again illustrating the futility of using purely philosophical arguments to infer anything about the real world.

      Anselm's and Aquinas's arguments also sound rock solid when you first heard them and if you know nothing about modern physics. But if you do, they make no sense because the premises do not hold. This without going into the problem of definitions of "perfection", "being", and other stuff of the sort.

      In your case the unsubstantiated premise is causation, and the vague definitions are "natural" and "supernatural"

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  18. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/08/metaspriggina_v089471.html

    A vertebrate swimming fish with camera eyes, blood vessels, digestive system, muscular swimming, and gills in the Lower Cambrian: for Darwinists, it should hardly be more surprising to find than a Precambrian rabbit. LOL

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    1. Given that fish and arthropods diverged ~900 MYA (360 million years before the Cambrian explosion), why would a proto-vertibrate be surprising in the Cambrian?

      http://timetree.org/search/pairwise/8081/7215

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    2. Those idiots would have to understand first why a Precambrian rabbit stands for something impossible.

      They should also improve their English if they don't want to contradict themselves:

      ... for Darwinists, it should hardly be more surprising to find than a Precambrian rabbit.

      Whoa, whoa, this sentence actually means that a Cambrian fishie should NOT be more surprising to find than a Precambrian rabbit. I agree: it's hardly a surprise at all. It's exactly what we should expect to find in the Cambrian.

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    3. I suspect they meant "hardly less surprising". Of course that would be untrue, but truth has never been a concern of creationists.

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  19. My first encounter with theory of evolution was Phenomenon of Man. Required reading my first term of college. I was new to all the ideas. I was vaguely aware of evolution, but hadn't read any of the history or theory. I thought it was bullshit right out of the box. Not a popular opinion at that time and place.

    TE has never made any sense to me. Is there a word for thinking a reboot of evolution would wander in a different direction?

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    1. Clarification: I thought Chardin was bullshit.

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  20. "Is there a word for thinking a reboot of evolution would wander in a different direction?"

    Yes: hypothesis. Hypothetically, given the contingency of evolution and stochastic effects like the random nature of mutations, environmental variations, etc., etc., etc., a reboot of evolution would be extremely unlikely to produce exactly the same assemblage of species we have now. Consider Diogenes's discussion of probability density v. probability mass in this thread.

    Probability that a reboot of evolution from, say, the Precambrian to now would result in Homo sapiens, complete with broken vitamin C synthesis machinery, an appendix and chronic sinus problems: vanishingly small.
    Probability that there would be some assemblage of species still alive on earth: somewhat better.

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  21. "Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.".

    So much for the "Follow the Evidence Wherever It Leads You" science likes so much to brag about.

    Is it because of "afraid where the evidence may lead us"?

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    1. You understand, I hope, that both Jerry and Larry were quoting that in order to disagree with it. Right?

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    2. Were you trying to demonstrate Dr. Coyne's point? Were you even aware you were doing that?

      "That quotation has been promulgated with delight by both creationists and theologians, for it seems to show the narrow-mindedness of scientists who refuse to even admit the possibility of the supernatural and immaterial.
      But Lewontin was mistaken. We can in principle allow a Divine Foot in the door; it's just that we've never seen the Foot."

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  22. Thanks for highlighting this, Larry. I think the discussion is important for precisely the reason you say: claims that the supernatural isn't part of science are used to immunize religion against the New Atheist notion (which actually began with Percy Shelley) that many religious claims are actually testable hypotheses.

    Jerry Coyne

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    1. In science something either exists, or it does not. And from my experience: an in-between "supernatural" realm only complicates the hell out of something that should be easy.

      At least for myself and some others wherever the scientific evidence leads is none the less our Creator, which in our case does in fact exist and is being being explained by science. Talking about a religious "supernatural" world does not really change that.

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    2. Hmmm. Important. Ots fine with creationism to include "supernatural" in the universe and so open to investigation. Yet it seems not important to anything big in origin conflicts.
      I don't see how it ever could be examined. Even prayers could never be tested for the prayer person.

      the more important issus is why is evolution said to be true , a theory of science, when it has no biological scientific evidence behind it that I can discover. Unless i'm missing it!
      I would write a book on the top three killer evidences for evolution and take on all comers who question same book. Literally prove it.
      Aiming at angels won't hit the target.
      Then sameone could write a book WHY EVOLUTION IS NOT TRUE. If one was dealing with top killer evidences. Not a cast of thousands.

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