Monday, December 14, 2015

Did Michael Behe say that astrology was scientific in Kitzmiller v. Dover?

Yes he did. But it doesn't mean what you think it means according to Casey Luskin [Ten Myths About Dover: #8, "Michael Behe Admitted that ID Is No More Scientific than Astrology"

I agree with Casey Luskin. During the trial, Behe was asked to define scientific theory and of course he adopted the broad view of science. He said, "Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences."

Here's the exchange that took place during the trial [Dover: Day 11].
Q In any event, in your expert report, and in your testimony over the last two days, you used a looser definition of "theory," correct?
A I think I used a broader definition, which is more reflective of how the word is actually used in the scientific community.
Q But the way you define scientific theory, you said it's just based on your own experience; it's not a dictionary definition, it's not one issued by a scientific organization.
A It is based on my experience of how the word is used in the scientific community.
Q And as you said, your definition is a lot broader than the NAS definition?
A That's right, intentionally broader to encompass the way that the word is used in the scientific community.
Q Sweeps in a lot more propositions.
A It recognizes that the word is used a lot more broadly than the National Academy of Sciences defined it.
Q In fact, your definition of scientific theory is synonymous with hypothesis, correct?
A Partly -- it can be synonymous with hypothesis, it can also include the National Academy's definition. But in fact, the scientific community uses the word "theory" in many times as synonymous with the word "hypothesis," other times it uses the word as a synonym for the definition reached by the National Academy, and at other times it uses it in other ways.
Q But the way you are using it is synonymous with the definition of hypothesis?
A No, I would disagree. It can be used to cover hypotheses, but it can also include ideas that are in fact well substantiated and so on. So while it does include ideas that are synonymous or in fact are hypotheses, it also includes stronger senses of that term.
Q And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?
A Yes.
Q Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?
A Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.
Q The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?
A That is correct.
Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?
A Yes, that's correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word "theory," it is -- a sense of the word "theory" does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can't go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.
Q Has there ever been a time when astrology has been accepted as a correct or valid scientific theory, Professor Behe?
A Well, I am not a historian of science. And certainly nobody -- well, not nobody, but certainly the educated community has not accepted astrology as a science for a long long time. But if you go back, you know, Middle Ages and before that, when people were struggling to describe the natural world, some people might indeed think that it is not a priori -- a priori ruled out that what we -- that motions in the earth could affect things on the earth, or motions in the sky could affect things on the earth.
I mostly agree with Behe.1 Astrology was an attempt to explain human behaviors by relating them to the position of the Earth on the day you were born. There is no connection. So today we think of astrology as bad science. It's not true that the stars determine your behavior and whenever we make this claim to an astologist we make sure to point out that the evidence is against it.

What we don't do is tell astrologers that they are entitled to believe whatever they want because astrology is not science and therefore we can't make a scientific statement about whether it's correct or not.

Intelligent Design Creationism is bad science. So is most of evolutionary psychology and some of genomics. So is the attempt to find god in a football helmet [The God Helmet: Your Brain on Religion].

It's disingenuous to make fun of Behe's testimony without understanding that the real issue is epistemology and the demarcation problem. Behe's view of science is perfectly legitimate but it didn't jibe with what the plaintiffs were trying to establish during the trial. They wanted to prove that ID isn't science and the best way to do that was to show that something can't be science unless it's true. In other words, science isn't a "way of knowing," it's the end result.

What does this mean? It means that every discredited attempt to explain something using science as a way of knowing becomes "not science" with hindsight. All those people who tried to show that genes were proteins were wrong so it means that what they were doing is not science. It means that of the two sides arguing about junk DNA, one of them will be wrong so, at some time in the future, their current activities will be seen as "not science."

Isn't that bizarre?


1. He should have been defining "science" not "scientific theory." That's the fault of his lawyers who failed to make this point during his direct testimony.

69 comments :

  1. I remember noting this at the time - regarding Behe discussing the nature of what is and isn't science, in regard to astrology. There are, of course, innumerable examples of falsified ideas that were/are "scientific" in principle - they just didn't work out.

    ID is a mixed bag in this regard, though. Some of its ideas are scientific - in nature - even while they are wrong, or scientifically unjustified, while other of its ideas are unscientific in principle. All the manifestations of the god-of-the-gaps argument that pervades ID rhetoric, are, for example, just bonkers from the get-go.

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    1. Did Astrology ever attempt to accumulate evidence or test its claims?

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    2. Some might question whether there are any coherent claims to test in the first place.

      I happen to be fully convinced that the positions of the planets when I was born had everything to do with the sort of person I am today. It's just that those same planets had a completely different effect on the newborn next to me... is all.

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    3. Astrology used to be bad science. It made testable claims but it never developed a theory explaining why those claims should be true. They turned out to be completely wrong anyway, and astrology was abandoned as a result. Attempts to revive astrology are pseudoscience.

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    4. I don't agree that the claims of astrology are testable. Take any batch of horoscopes and distribute them at random, and they all work equally well.

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    5. Well, they have been tested in a properly controlled experiment at least once, just to make sure:

      http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v318/n6045/abs/318419a0.html

      Spoiler: the astrologers' success rate was indistinguishable from what was expected by blind chance.

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    6. Petrushka,

      "I don't agree that the claims of astrology are testable. Take any batch of horoscopes and distribute them at random, and they all work equally well."

      What you are suggesting here is essentially a bootstrap analysis of horoscope predictions, and makes horoscope analysis very testable. I don't know if bootstrap resampleing of a set of horoscope predictions has ever been tried, but it would be a great empirical test.

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    7. @Petrushka Yes, serious efforts were made in the 16th and 17th centuries to produce a solid empirical base for different branches of astrology. However all such efforts failed thus depriving astrology of its claim to be a science.

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  2. I've always felt that for Intelligent Design, the negative arguments, the ones arguing that there were Gaps, were fully scientific. Wrong, but scientific.

    The positive arguments, about what ID predicts, are fully theological, and not at all scientific. Do we see Bad Design, such as the giraffe recurrent laryngeal nerve? Well, one cannot speculate what are the intentions of the Designer. Do we see junk DNA? Oh no, there can't be any, because the Designer we have in mind wouldn't do things that way.

    So is ID science? It depends on which part of it you are talking about.

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    1. The positive arguments, about what ID predicts, are fully theological, and not at all scientific.

      I am getting VERY angry at the bullying stereotypes that people like you throw around, and get away with.

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    2. "This makes me very angry, very angry indeed."

      Marvin the Martin

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    3. Gary, he is correct, though. Falsifiability is required, and the positive claims ID makes aren't falsifiable. It's pure crap.

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    4. I do not represent crap. I'm talking about novel scientific models that are stuck in the middle of religious politics. This is a very creepy situation.

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    5. I am not claiming you represent crap or anything in particular. What is your issue?

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    6. Falsifiability is not an acceptable criterion to distnguish science from non-science.

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    7. Jai, Gary is an Internet loon well known in certain circles. He's been posting the written equivalent of logorrhea for years. AFAICT noboby's ever figured out what he's saying beyond the facts that he has a computer program, constantly evolving schematics, and he calls it ID.

      E.g. http://bit.ly/1m5bilG

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  3. I respect Larry a lot, but I think he always misses the "negative claims about evolution" versus "positive claims for intelligent design" distinction, even though it was emphasized at trial and in the decision.

    Negative claims about evolution are testable, because evolution is testable. These have been shown to be wrong -- not just a little bit, debatably, but incredibly, wildly wrong. We know basically how new genes originate, we know that transitional fossils exist, etc. If empirical testing overwhelmingly indicates that some claim is wrong, yet you hold to it anyway, then that's not science. What do you think the point of testing is? I think science is about empirical testing, if you ignore testing, well then, you're being unscientific. These are perfectly reasonable usages of words.

    The positive claims about ID, though, are basically the most untestable just-so stories ever told -- they invoke supernatural entities which have no constraints (not even conservation of mass/energy, not even math). No amount of evidence can change the view that God created the world with appearance of age, for instance, or that he "guided" evolution behind the scenes. These sorts of claims are not science because they are untestable. This, again, seems entirely reasonable usage of language.

    Testability is key, but it has different roles in different arguments.

    Larry, as always, really wants to deploy science in a battle for atheism. Thus, he wants to say science can test positive supernatural explanations, and show they are wrong, and to that end he wants to say ID is science, just "bad science". This is something in common with many New Atheist arguments. But arguing for atheism wasn't the goal in the court case, and if it had been, it would have been incredibly problematic, since the fundamental law involved is about governmental neutrality on matters of religion. This law goes way back to the 1700s at least, and represents one of the fundamental pillars of western civilization. It's older than "science" in any modern sense (the word "scientist" didn't come about until the 1800s), and I think is part of the basis of it -- there are secular matters and sectarian matters, and the government only deals with the former wherever possible (since secular matters are absolutely unavoidable), and leaves the latter to peoples' individual conscience.

    And anyway, the purpose of science in a court case isn't to reinvent science and its meaning from scratch, rather it is to apply the standards and evidence that have become well-accepted in the scientific community. There is a whole legal standard, the Daubert precedent, about this. Daubert also was discussed extensively at trial and in the briefs of the case, but Larry misses this. If Larry wants to argue that Daubert was wrongly decided, that's fine, but it was the binding precedent on this matter in the case, and most people think Daubert is a useful tool to help courts distinguish between real science and crank pseudoscience (which is what you get as soon as you start loosening standards).

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    1. I'm fully aware of the positive claims of ID proponents. They claim to be able to detect design in nature. The attempt fails, IMHO, but it follows all the rules of science as I define it.

      I agree with you, Nick, that American courts have established their own rules and precedents about what is science and what is not science. What I'm saying is that the courts are wrong and many philosophers of science agree with me.

      You may agree with the court that science is restricted to methodological naturalism but that does not mean that you and Judge Jones are correct. My position on this issue has nothing to do with atheism. YOUR position, on the other hand, has a lot to do with accommodationism. As you point out, there are definitite political and legal advantages to pretending that there really are two magisteria.

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    2. Read Pennock read Pennock read Pennock: Robert T. Pennock (2011). Can't philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?: Demarcation revisited. Synthese, Volume 178, Issue 2, pp 177-206. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11229-009-9547-3

      I'll keep saying this until I see a serious, point-by-point rebuttal of his survey of the entire issue, including extensive discussion of the arch-anti-demarcationist Larry Laudan and his followers (which actually comes down to just a few people; as Pennock points out, people distinguish between science and religion, science and pseudoscience, etc., all the time, and philosophers do too).

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    3. I'll be convinced that the "demarcation problem" for science is a big deal as soon as philosophers solve the "demarcation problem" for chairs.

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    4. Nick, we are all capable of telling the difference between belief in supernatural beings (religion) and the lack of such belief (atheism). That's not the point. The point is whether Dembski's attempt to prove that design can be unambiguously detected was science or not.

      Jeffrey Shallit, among others, showed that it was bad science but that's not the same thing as showing that it was non-science.

      Similarly, Behe's attempts to show that certain molecular features cannot possibly have evolved looks very scientific to me. You can't dismiss everything that ID proponents do by saying that they are not science unless there's a solid consensus on what you mean by "science." That view of science has to be able to exclude the activities of most ID proponents who are attempting to be scientific.

      It's true that you and Robert Pennock have constructed such a definition and it's true that most religious scientists believe in that definition because it protects their religious beliefs from scientific scrutiny However, it is not true that your definition is acceptable to the majority of philosophers. Lots of scientists reject it as well.

      What that means, as you well know, is that the courts (i.e. Judge Jones) supported one opinion of the definition of science over another, equally valid, opinion in order to rule that ID is not science.

      Congratulations, you convinced a judge that you were right. That does not mean that you are right.



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    5. Similarly, Behe's attempts to show that certain molecular features cannot possibly have evolved looks very scientific to me.

      Dr. Behe uses probability math incorrectly, an error that's been pointed out to him repeatedly. At what stage would this misuse turn from bad science to non-science, if ever?

      If you say 4 (fishes) + 9 (loaves) = thousands (the multitudes), is that bad math or non-math? If you persist in saying 4+9=thousands due to an unspoken religious agenda, does it ever turn from bad math to non-math?

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    6. What that means, as you well know, is that the courts (i.e. Judge Jones) supported one opinion of the definition of science over another, equally valid, opinion in order to rule that ID is not science.

      Almost correct. As a lower court judge, Judge Jones is constrained by precedent. So yes, "the courts" did support one definition of science over another, but the "(i.e. Judge Jones)" misplaces responsibility. Judge Jones used tests formulated by precedential cases. Had he used the test you think is correct for distinguishing good science from bad science from non-science, and arrived at a different result as a consequence, it's nearly a certainty that his failure to follow precedent would have resulted in reversal by the Court of Appeals.

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    7. Is it correct to say that the negative arguments count as (bad) ID science? In my probably uninformed opinion the answer is no. It may be science, bad science or whatever, but not ID science IMHO. If one questions some aspect of evolutionary theory, or the theory as a whole, shouldn't that count as evolution science instead of ID science? What if the guy making the same negative argument labels him/herself as something else other than IDist, and no positive scientific argument exists for his position? Does that vindicate his position as scientific? I wouldn't think so

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    8. Here in Germany Intelligent Design argues a bit different (quite like Meyer in his latest book). Design has two components: a negative one (critique of evolutionary mechanisms) and a positive one (human design is a model of design in nature). The argument goes as follows: If you can show that mechanisms without planning ('natural mechanisms') aren't capable of generating certain systems in nature (mostly you hear 'irreducibly complex'), it's more plausible to attribute them to a designer, because you can show that typical elements of human design (e.g. planning, foresight) are capable of generating that kind of systems. That argument ist an inference to the best explanation. At the moment naturalism is set as standard without being able to show that it works. It's a problem of extrapolationism and methodology, but not of how to do science.

      It's another kind of arguing than usual in science (but 'science' in German is more than 'science' in English, quite a lot of humanitites are also 'Wissenschaft'), but it's arguable not unscientific. You have to leave methodological naturalism, of course. But that wouldn't be a problem for science, you can do business as usual. The slogan is not 'god did it', but 'god has to do what nature can't do' and Intelligent Design looks for a specific kind of gaps in scientific theories: A kind of gap, that gets *bigger* if you know more. So they can do reasearch as usual, but with another goal: Not to get knowledge how things work, but to show that things can't work without design.

      I can't imagine how that could work, but I'd let them try and present their results. If they have these, they can try to get into schools. But not the other way round. Sometimes I'm wondering what fuzz the Americans do about religion in science classes. No problem here in Germany with religion als obligatory lessons at school. In my county philosophical and theological arguments were *obligatory* in biology-courses about evolution. There are models for lessons of team-teaching combining religion and biology. Our big churches have no problem with evolution, young-earth creationists are quite rare. It's a strange thing that most people actively arguing against creationists in Germany are theologians, being just creationists of another brand. A process like that in Dover would be unimaginable here.

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    9. @El Schwalmo. In Spain we also have religion to some extent in public schools (changes every time there's a government change). We should probably learn some from the US in that regard don't you think? We even have this ridiculous concordat here that attributes the catholic church disgusting privileges, like tax exemptions for their real estate properties.

      It seems to me the difference is that in Europe, christianity has lost influence on people for the most part, but they retain influence on institutions and that's all they care because so long as that gets them funds, they can go on with their proselytizing in poorer countries to perpetuate their scam

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    10. It seems to me the difference is that in Europe, christianity has lost influence on people for the most part, but they retain influence on institutions and that's all they care...

      Shit, you needn't tell me. Just check news from Poland.

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    11. Piotr, I've read some about the far right gaining traction in Poland, not sure if that's what you meant, but it scares the shit out of me: Hungary, Poland, the national front in France, Ukraine, Netherlands, Belgium... they even manage to make some noise in some german landers... I don't know what to make of it all

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    12. What I meant is that much of the support for the right-wing populists now in power has been mobilised by a crazy priest from Toruń, one of the two grey eminences of Polish politics (the other being Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling party, who however prefers to rule through a puppet president and a puppet prime minister rather than accept any office himself). It's scary, but I can't believe they will last long.

      What ever next, I wonder. Donald Trump?

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    13. Piotr,

      It's scary, but I can't believe they will last long.

      I hope for all our sakes that you are right about that. But people also said that in Germany in 1933.

      Any evolution angle here? Do these people overlap with the former Education minister Roman Giertych and his friends who wanted creationism taught in Polish schools?

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    14. Re: El Schwalmo,

      As another German I had a slightly different experience. To the best of my ability to remember, evolution never came up in religion classes, and religion never came up in biology. The two were taught neatly in separation, with neither an attempt to reconcile nor an attempt to point out the tensions.

      Also, religion is not "obligatory" in German schools. Younger children of non-Christian families generally get a signed letter from their parents and have a free hour while the Christians have their lesson, and when they are older they do secular ethics lessons instead.

      The state of Berlin does not provide religious instruction in public schools at all.

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    15. @AlexSL

      "As another German I had a slightly different experience."

      I should have written 'in these German countys I was teaching'. Here each county has it's own rules for schools. My experience stems from BW, NRW and Hessen (being biology-teacher since more than 30 years). I was asked to teach an evolutionary course together with a religion-teacher in NRW and I know that there are ready-made curricula for these models, at least in BW. Being active in arguing against creationist since many years I guess I know the situation in Germany quite well. There are no problems to teach evolution in religion classes (its part of the curriculum ...) and you should teach philosophical and religious issues in biology courses (in Hessen that was many years even mandatory).

      "Also, religion is not "obligatory" in German schools. Younger children of non-Christian families generally get a signed letter from their parents and have a free hour while the Christians have their lesson, and when they are older they do secular ethics lessons instead."

      That depends on the county. Here in Hessen all children have obligatory lessons either in confessional christian religion or ethics, from class 1 to Q4. There are no 'free hours' any more (since maybe 10 years, in primary school my doughter had these 'free hours', but not in later years). I'm teaching ethics also. Most pupils in these groups are muslim or without confession, but some are staunch evangelicals. It's easier for them (and their parents) to stand ethics than liberal theology.

      "The state of Berlin does not provide religious instruction in public schools at all."

      Lucky Berlin ;-)

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    16. Any evolution angle here? Do these people overlap with the former Education minister Roman Giertych and his friends who wanted creationism taught in Polish schools?

      No, they don't give a damn about evolution -- or creationism, for that matter, or biology, or science in general. Kaczyński allies himself with looney priests if it suits him, but it doesn't mean that he shares their obsessions (he has too many of his own). The Ministries of National Education and Science and Higher Education were given out to nobodies (perhaps fortunately: universities are not important enough to the government to attract their attention). We may be spared "revolutionary changes" in this way.

      By the way, Roman Giertych is the son of a notorious YEC with a professorial title, but when he was the Education minister, he actually prevented his overzealous deputy from pushing on a creationism-friendly curriculum. I suppose he is a creationist himself, but his attitude at the time was pragmatic. He knew there was no chance for such a plan to succeed. There were immediate protests signed by thousands of scientists and well-known intellectuals.

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  4. I get it! Science is now run by lawyers and religious activists with academic jobs. All those who have scientific models to discuss and develop must be ignored.

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    1. Let's try this again.

      Gary, what exactly was the type of the variable called 'natural selection' in your scientific model?

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    2. There is no "natural selection" variable in the scientific ID model that I defend.

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    3. Yet your definition of a "Darwinian" theory was 'The theoretical framework with the variable named "natural selection"' - what was the type of the variable in that definition?

      Or did you really mean that any variable named "natural selection" makes a theory Darwinian?

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    4. No Gary, your problems is not that, your problem is that you just call the whole of what you see around you "intelligence," then try and "find" everywhere the "elements" that you think "intelligences" should have, and then try and model your shit. But labelling things intelligent, and then making models of them doesn't make those things actually intelligent, nor do they make life or reality "intelligently designed." It just makes your supposed "explanations" into teleological explanations for no other reason but your inclination to call them "intelligent."

      You're just unable to notice that you're contributing nothing but useless semantics built into your computer models. Not very good models at that, but who cares, you're still just playing stupid games, blinded by your inflated ego and stupidity.

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    5. The "evolution by natural selection" framework is from Charles Darwin (and another guy but who cares right?). Dependence on a "natural selection" (or shortened to just "selection") variable can only happen in a Darwinian theory.

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    6. Photosynthesis I am not even going to respond to your pompous bullshit. Or run around in circles in a semantics game over what a theory is.

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    7. Gary,
      Had I know that's all it takes to shut your stupidity up I would have started that way long ago.

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  5. "a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences."

    That's not even grammatical. But grammar aside, it's a terrible definition. Pointing to data and inferences is enough? A newborn baby can point.

    Under this definition I can take any scientific paper, publish exactly the same data and inferences, state the opposite conclusion at the end, and say I'm doing science.

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    1. A theory is an explanation for how something works or happened. Period.



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    2. A theory is an explanation for how something works or happened. Period.

      OK. We have the theory of electromagnetism. Does that tell you how magnets work? If so, do tell. Show your work.

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    3. Look at what I wrote and what you said for awhile. Maybe it will eventually sink-in.

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    4. Look at what I wrote and what you said for awhile.

      Take your pick, then.

      a) the EM theory explains how magnets work and/or happened
      b) the EM theory does not apply to magnets
      c) GG:s definition of 'theory' doesn't work

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    5. Gary, that is not tight enough to be a definition of a scientific theory.

      Fact: I have a black eye.

      Theory (according to you): God caused it.

      That isn't falsifiable, hence, it is not a theory.

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    6. Theory (according to you): God caused it.

      If that's the best you can do then I am not going to respond to any more of your posts.

      And by the way: testing whether a theory is falsifiable is from a controversial philosophy that's almost gone now, not science. The only ones I know who still use it are those who are arguing against ID.

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    7. The notion of falsifiability is very much alive and well. Scientists don't regularly try to falsify their hypotheses, but that doesn't mean that the things they test aren't falsifiable. They are. The notion of a creator isn't falsifiable.

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    8. "...then I am not going to respond to any more of your posts."

      The really, really funny thing is that you apparently think that this would be perceived as a negative outcome.

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    9. Jai Dayal,

      Fact: I have a black eye.

      Theory (according to you): God caused it.


      For Gary it's more like this:

      Intelligence implies memory and information, since you have a black eye, the memory is in the color around your eye. Not only that, the color gives us information that blood came out of your blood vessels in that area, we can conclude that your black eye was the product of Intelligent Design. For more information and a simulation see the ID Theory lab: URL: http://bullshit.by.gary.gaulin.com/black_eyesID/

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  6. Yes, it is bizarre, and in discussions of the demarcation problem there are certainly lots of people who appear unable to appreciate the distinction between (1) wrong science because a mistake was made, (2) not science because while the practitioner means well their methodology is unscientific and (3) not science because the practitioner is dishonest in some way.

    But there is still this additional dimension implied with the difference between the second and the third point: Yes, it means that every discredited attempt to explain something using science as a way of knowing becomes "not science" with hindsight if (!) a community of people does not accept that this attempt discredited no matter what evidence they are presented with.

    In that sense is not turned into "not science" retroactively, nor by being wrong per se, but because the only supporters of the attempt that remain at that point are irrational and/or dishonest.

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  7. Also, it should be noted that the "theory" discussion arose in the trial partially because of the "theory not fact" trope that was present in the Dover policy. Attempts to get policies mandating that evolution be taught as "theory not fact" go right back to William Jennings Bryan and the 1920s -- California passed such a policy in 1924, for instance: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/12/theory-not-fact.html

    Behe was also trying to argue that ID was a scientific theory, but Behe argued that the phrase "scientific theory" has a broader meaning, basically meaning any old thing. In my opinion this ignores it's meaning in various famous cases of which evolution is considered to be a part: systematic, well-tested explanations (Atomic Theory, Theory of Relativity, Germ Theory of Disease, etc.) But this opened him up on cross-examination to the "well, does astrology qualify as a scientific theory on your definition"? Behe should have had a definition of "scientific theory" that enabled astrology to be excluded. IMHO, if your definition of science includes hokum like astrology, your definition isn't worth anything and the word "science" is meaningless, and you might as well drop the word entirely.

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    1. Frankie/Virgil/Joke: "There isn't any theory of evolution..."

      But didn't you publish an OP at TSZ claiming that ID is not incompatible with evolution?

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  8. There is a glaring issue here that no one has mentioned. The judge keeps pestering Behe with the "NAS" definition of "theory". What is the NAS definition? I assume they are talking about something like this (http://www.nas.edu/evolution/TheoryOrFact.html):

    "The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence."

    Has anyone heard of the Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution? Lamarck's theory? Gilbert's Exon Theory of Genes? These are all theories, according to the way real scientists use the word. Lamarck's theory is not accepted at all today, but it is still a theory. I don't think anyone accepts the Exon Theory but it is still the Exon Theory. Even people who believe that the Neutral Theory is wrong clearly still refer to it as a theory.

    QED, a theory in science is a proposed explanation (there is another sense of "theory" that refers to a body of abstractions, e.g., music theory, but that's a separate issue). It is not different from a hypothesis except as a matter of degree. A theory is a grand hypothesis. That is how we actually use the term.

    So, why does NAS cite this kooky idea that "theory" requires a "vast body of evidence"? It is because this definition comes from an *evolution* resource, and the whole point is for this definition to serve as a rhetorical tool to rebut the objection that evolution is "just a theory". This kind of definition of "theory" only appears in the context of evolution advocacy. NAS should retract this foolishness, change their web site, and offer a definition more consistent with what "theory" actually means in science.

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    1. Arlin: There is a glaring issue here that no one has mentioned. The judge keeps pestering Behe with the "NAS" definition of "theory". What is the NAS definition? I assume they are talking about something like this (http://www.nas.edu/evolution/TheoryOrFact.html):

      "The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence."


      I found that if an everyday theory of any kind is operationally defined as an "explanation for how something works or happened" then it works real good in science too.

      Has anyone heard of the Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution? Lamarck's theory? Gilbert's Exon Theory of Genes? These are all theories, according to the way real scientists use the word. Lamarck's theory is not accepted at all today, but it is still a theory. I don't think anyone accepts the Exon Theory but it is still the Exon Theory. Even people who believe that the Neutral Theory is wrong clearly still refer to it as a theory.

      Epigenetic discoveries caused Lamarck's theory to make a little more sense, but you have the right idea in regards to plenty of theories that are just plain wrong. With reality considered it's totally nuts to teach the everyday person that all the "scientific" theories they find on the internet are "supported by a vast body of evidence". And around half of all science journal published theories are expected to be wrong too. Regardless of where published all theories become a "reader beware" situation.

      QED, a theory in science is a proposed explanation (there is another sense of "theory" that refers to a body of abstractions, e.g., music theory, but that's a separate issue).

      String Theory cannot even be tested and even though it's now considered to be scientifically useless there are still some who may never give up hope on the "theory" and keep working on it for the rest of their lives.

      It is not different from a hypothesis except as a matter of degree. A theory is a grand hypothesis. That is how we actually use the term.

      That's what I was taught too. But years ago UMass physicist Morton Sternheim explained to me that some researchers recognize a significant difference. As it turned out PBS "Dinosaur Train" wonderfully defined a hypothesis that way, to even preschoolers with the five simple words "An idea you can test".

      A hypothesis does not have to explain how something works or happened. For example we know that water becomes denser as it cools, which leads to the hypothesis that its most dense when well frozen. But when the hypothesis is tested there are instead ice cubes floating on the water surface. The hypothesis does not explain the hydrogen bonding dynamics of water, but chemistry theory related to hydrogen bonding explains why solid and liquid state transitions work that way.

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    2. More Arlin: So, why does NAS cite this kooky idea that "theory" requires a "vast body of evidence"? It is because this definition comes from an *evolution* resource, and the whole point is for this definition to serve as a rhetorical tool to rebut the objection that evolution is "just a theory". This kind of definition of "theory" only appears in the context of evolution advocacy. NAS should retract this foolishness, change their web site, and offer a definition more consistent with what "theory" actually means in science.

      Yes you found an excellent example of "evolution advocacy". Instead of just saying the word "something" adherents to philosophical naturalism included their religious belief in a natural/supernatural dichotomy by stating "some aspect of nature". In my well thought out opinion the way it is in science is that (as with hypotheses) something either exists (is true) or does not (is false) with no third in-between realm even possible.

      The good news is that at least in the US our children now have a useful definition for hypothesis built into their preschool culture, and the theory I have been developing was a big help understanding the child-simple concept of a theory.

      On TV crime dramas it's common for investigator to have a theory for how a crime happened, where they next follow the evidence to wherever it leads. A theory might turn out to not fit the evidence, in which case it's revised or thrown out. A scientific theory is the same thing except the leads and evidence comes from what I learn by talking to others in forums and scientific discoveries that are found in the science news. It's like a detective trying to figure out how something happened, except the something that happened is responsible for us being alive and conscious right now. In this case how a molecular process works must be explained, for what long ago happened is known. There are no human witnesses to question in regards to what they saw happen right after our planet cooled. There are though plenty of looking for buried bones, fossil footprints and other trace-fossils that help piece together a well tested theory. All who study it are judges, which is true in court cases where not all agree with what the court judge(s) ruled.

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    3. And finally more me, on Arlin's fascinating "change their web site" idea:

      It's now relatively easy to eliminate hundreds of hours of science classroom time explaining things that are a waste of time to even get into. Teachers then have more time for things like basic electronic survival skills needed for the students to have the ability to for themselves scientifically judge modern scientific theories. Students who are able to do that would make Judge Jones proud. And he did not rule that it is impossible for an ID theory to one day happen like this, he ruled against the school district officials for without scientific evidence in their favor reading a statement against "evolutionary theory" in all their science classrooms. Now that there is in fact a formidable Theory of Intelligent Design in the scientific arena the problem with the statement is easy for all to see as having assumed that a new theory can make an old theory gone. As we are now finding out it's way better for the ID movement to not even have to care what evolutionary biologists do with THEIR theory now that it's a scientific has-been. If Judge Jones had to rule on a statement like that he might say its optimism might be a bit shocking but where the students can that way be encouraged to by high-school fully understand what's in both then that would be an extraordinary public school achievement, more power to them.

      I expect the NAS type definitions that are now around will soon enough have to be revised again, but there is nothing new about that. What is remarkable is what's forcing change. Namely an educational TV cartoon show teaching what a hypothesis is and child simple definition for theory to go with it that's coming from us where even Larry helped by in another comment saying that falsifiability is not an acceptable criterion to distinguish science from non-science. Adding falsifiability to definitions has been a particularly annoying problem for me. No matter what is offered as a way to test the theory it's never good enough. It can go on for years with the opposition claiming they already proved a "theory of intelligent design" cannot be a theory, and so forth. When you point out that finding a bunny in the Cambrian would lead to all sorts of evolving from alien theories but that's it, the "evolution by natural selection" theory would still be theory. Pages worth of further information on some philosophical argument really do need to go. What remains is what I have been using for a definition. At that point UD becomes the same thing as a BioLogos not threat to science by their also often talking about religious concepts. Putting things in their proper places has a way of solving problems for everyone. So maybe one of us should suggest that they get down to basics as a way to be seen as less pompous, to the general public. Having it online by Christmas day would be even better (but we would have to rush). What do you think?

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  9. In regard to science, I feel that the word 'theory' should be reserved for "a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence", or something similar to that. It's no wonder that so many people, especially god pushers, don't understand what a 'scientific theory' is and/or attack the use of the word 'theory' and/or attack the validity of 'scientific theories'. And it's not just the word 'theory' that confuses people and supplies god pushers with ammunition for their attacks on various aspects of science. The wording that scientists often use plays right into the hands of creobots.

    I also feel that there's a big difference between whether something is science (or 'scientific') or it can be investigated/tested with (or 'using') scientific methods. For example, to me astrology is not science (or 'scientific') but it can be and has been investigated/tested with (or 'using') scientific methods. Methodology matters, as do the results of investigations/tests.

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    1. Maybe I wasn't clear enough. Scientists DO NOT use the term "theory" in the NAS way. When Gilbert proposed "the Exon Theory of Genes" and others referenced it as a "theory", it did NOT meet the NAS definition. The Exon Theory was a grand hypothesis, not supported by a "vast body of evidence".

      Most biologists do not believe that the neutral theory is "supported by a vast body of evidence". For instance, Kreitman had a piece whose title began "the neutral theory is dead!".

      No biologist today believes that Lamarck's theory is "supported by a vast body of evidence". Yet, we still call each one of these a "theory"

      If the NAS definition were correct, this would not happen. If the NAS definition were correct, we would see scientists having discussions like this:

      A: The neutral theory proposes that . . .
      B: Stop right there! You can't call that a theory because it isn't well-supported.
      A: No, I think it is well supported. That's why I call it a "theory."

      But no, that doesn't happen.

      Show me *any* evidence that the NAS definition of theory is what scientists mean (other than when they are doing evolution advocacy) and then maybe I'll start to take it seriously.

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    2. I think you make a good point Arlin. These sorts of issues are reactionary responses to those who twist words and meaning for the purpose of convincing dullards to summarily reject scientific assertions.
      It reminds me of the somewhat recent mania for avoiding the phrase "I believe that evolution occurs" in favor of the mealy-mouthed "I accept that evolution occurs" solely to avoid the perception that science is just another belief system, no more well-founded than any other (supernatural) belief system. We needn't re-define words or ideas as a response to those of limited intellect.

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    3. SRM, do you believe in evolution? Do you believe in evolutionary theory?

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    4. Well, I was talking about the word "believe" above. You have introduced the word "in".
      When speaking most of make tiny phrasing errors. I might say, if careless: I believe in trees, if someone is asserting that they don't really exist. Perhaps a better phrasing would be: I believe that trees exist.

      But my point is that these language issues are kind of trivial - there will always be people who find a way to mislead by dishonest rhetoric and I don't wish to be cowed into parsing every word I use because of them, at least when speaking informally.

      We could ask the theist: Do you believe in god?/Do you believe that god exists?

      I would find no need to exploit any perceived difference between the meanings of those two questions. Their answer to either form of the question is either reasonably justified on the basis of evidence or it isn't.

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  10. Why don't we do something practical here and write a letter to NAS asking them to change their web site? We can just site 4 or 5 examples of cases in which scientists clearly use the word "theory" for controversial ideas. For instance, that same silly NAS page cites plate tectonics. However, the "drift theory" or "continental drift theory" was controversial for 50 years, and it was called a theory for all or most of that time!

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    1. But people (including scientists) don't stop calling these "grand hypotheses" theories after vast bodies of factual data are marshalled in support. And this does not happen only in evolution. People (including scientists) still talk about relativity and quantum "theories" today, long after they've been proved six ways to Sunday.

      So it appears the NAS is correct about *one* of the ways the word is used in science.

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    2. So, Arlin, everything that has been, is, and ever will be called a theory is and always will be a scientific theory?

      In that case toe jam theory, booger theory, earwax theory, angel theory, demon theory, magic fruit theory, Daffy Duck theory, lugnut theory, my neighbor's dogs bark too much theory, my other neighbor's cat is beautiful and friendly theory, dinosaurs played hopscotch theory, trilobites spoke French theory, and many, many more theories are scientific theories just because they're called theories, right?

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    3. Why don't we do something practical here and write a letter to NAS asking them to change their web site?

      I love the idea. The problem now is for us to agree on a single definition for theory.

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  11. This whole argument reminds me of creationist word lawyering.

    Is the genome a "code"? Is it "information"? If so, then Jesus. Or something like that.

    I think it's a legitimate question whether ID should be addressed in high schools.

    I would address it in History of Science, which would be a required course. I had something like it in ninth grade.

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