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View Diary: Todd Akin: Evolution Not A Matter of Science (32 comments)

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  •  Scientifically what, now? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sue B, G2geek, Catte Nappe

    That's not how scientific theories work. You don't prove them right, you fail to prove them wrong.

    Right and wrong do not matter that much in science. Who is right about gravity, Newton, or Einstein? Whose theories do we use more every day, the "right" theories, or the "wrong" (but accurate enough, and much easier) theories?

    The universe is a box we can not open. We can see how it acts on the outside, and make theories about the parts we can't see, but we can never open the box to compare the inner workings to our theories. That is okay, though. Our theories don't have to be "right" they just have to make accurate predictions. You could create a theory that said that all physics comes down the the actions of purple pixies, and if your theory made accurate predictions, it wouldn't matter how ludicrous the proposed underlying  mechanisms were. People would use the theory.

    This is what anti-evolutionists don't understand. There are a whole lot of very interesting facts that we can observe about organisms, living and fossilized. There are patterns at work. Evolution, as a theory, sets out to predict those patterns. And no one has yet found a pattern in nature that evolution fails to predict. The theory of evolution has enormous predictive and explanatory power.

    What do their "theories" predict? Nothing. It's not even that so called theories of intelligent design are wrong. They would have to make predictions to be wrong. They don't. They are worse than wrong, they are useless.

    •  though, we do open the box: (0+ / 0-)

      Hi Seth;-)

      We start with an accessible level of observation: the visible traits of plants and animals, the chemical interactions of elements.  From there we make predictions about a deeper level of the system that's a "closed box" to us at that moment: we infer "genes" and "atoms."  

      From there we find ways to open those boxes: we make inferences that there must be biological (chemical) carriers of heritable traits, and there must be a regular structure to atoms that produces the interactions among elements that we observe.

      From there we infer "genes" and "sub-atomic structure," and all the way down to where we are today, analyzing DNA and running high-energy physics experiments to discover predicted particles such as the Higgs.

      So there is always a deeper mystery or puzzle to solve, and we keep finding new ways to get at these and solve them.

      Only rarely do we reach some boundary where, according to our best theories, there is a-priori no way to get more information: such as the boundaries of our local universe per Einstein and light speed.  Occasionally a new paradigm comes along that finds a way around the limits of a prior paradigm, though these events may become more rare over time as our overall understanding of things becomes more complete.

      And if we hit a boundary in one field, there are plenty more fields that are still open.  Even in technology: for example once steam power became a "closed science," there were still discoveries to be made about internal combustion.  

      And as long as there are new parts of the universe to explore, including on "local" frontiers such as the deep undersea regions (where we found extremophiles that live in places we never expected to find organisms much less ecosystems) or the human mind/brain system (where we found neuropeptides that cause the subjective experience of emotions), there will still be puzzles and mysteries to solve.

      The question for our times is, whether humans will have the wisdom to solve their ecological and resource problems, and societal conflict problems, at each stage in the expansion of the range of human habitats, to continue solving puzzles and mysteries we encounter in each area we inhabit.  

      "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

      by G2geek on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 02:55:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sorry to say you are wrong (0+ / 0-)

        Look, this is the basis of all science: we can not open the box. Sorry. Theories are and always will be theories and not facts. That is a good thing, and is the core strength of the scientific method.

        You say we "open the box" but we do not. We make predictions. We test those predictions. If they match up, we say a theory is useful. If not, we rethink and revise our theories. Absence of evidence against a theory does not mean it correctly describes the actual function of the universe. "Atoms" are just a theory, as is gravity. Very, very useful and accurate theories, but for all we really know, it could be invisible pink unicorns moving everything because they think it is prettier that way. It really doesn't matter if it is "Atoms and forces" or "invisible pink unicorns" as long as the theory makes accurate predictions in known circumstances.

        There will always be deeper levels of mystery. Consider the case where physical laws depend on deeper unknowns. In this thought experiment, these unknowns have remained the same throughout history, but they can change.

        Consider Grue and Bleen to understand the limits of inductive reasoning.

        Further, consider Godel's incompleteness theorems. Not every true thing can possibly be proved true.

        Finally, you really need to address my example of Newtonian and Einsteinian gravity, and how we know that Newton was "wrong" but we use his theories anyhow. If "truth" were at all important to science, this would not be the case.

        There is no, and can be no certainty about anything in the world. Science embraces that truth every day, even if you do not.

        •  theories are based on facts. (0+ / 0-)

          Now now, there's no need to be prickly about it;-)

          In science a fact is a measurement.  We establish an arbitrary but consistent scale of measurement, apply it to a given object or phenomenon, and obtain a result.  That result is a fact about nature, and the fact may support or falsify a hypothesis and thereby contribute to a theory.  

          We put together enough of those facts and ascertain a pattern from which to develop a testable hypothesis.  From there, a pattern of test results leads to the development of a theory, and the theory enables creating more hypotheses that can be tested, and so we go.

          Clearly there are no certainties, only approximations that asymptotically approach completeness without ever quite getting there.  

          And recall we've debated this before, where I've held that uncertainty is not just a measurement artifact but is ontologically real, and that its effects propagate from the QM scale to the classical scale, and further that uncertainty is the root of what I call free will that (if memory serves) you believe does not exist.

          Yes, I know Gödel, though all I know about "Grue" is that it's French for "construction crane";-) and so I have some reading to do there.  

          Yes, I know about Newton and Einstein.  The way I put is is in terms of a nested set of circles: within a certain boundary, Newton's theories are useful; within a larger boundary, Einstein's theories are more useful; and within a larger boundary than that, the quantum theory is more useful.  Each improvement in our approximations produces a larger circle of applicability.  But those approximations are still only approximations: asymptotically improving, but approximations no less.

          I also routinely make the point that Newton's theories should be universal throughout the universe such that little kids on hypothetical Planet Z also learn them in elementary school.  One way we could establish communication with Planet Z is by broadcasting Newtonian equations, since the "ciphertexts" of each of our languages are decipherable against the "chosen plaintext" of the natural phenomena being described.

          Interestingly, the paradigm you described is agnostic rather than atheistic:  it does not preclude the possibility that there is a deity making all of "this stuff" happen, or setting up the preconditions for it to happen.   "God said Let there be mass! and there was mass, and it was good: and so objects unsupported fall toward the center of the Earth!"  (Hmm, I think I'll use that one in something I'm writing.)

          When I use the term "scientific truth" what I mean is "facts and supported hypotheses and theories that are correct (not-incorrect) to the best of our knowledge, but are subject to being replaced at some point in the future based on new knowledge."  

          "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

          by G2geek on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 05:03:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Here's where you are wrong (0+ / 0-)

            "Clearly there are no certainties, only approximations that asymptotically approach completeness without ever quite getting there.  "

            No. The approximations do not asymptotically approach completeness. They approach accuracy under given conditions. One new and unexpected observation and we might have to throw everything out and start over.

            Except we wouldn't have to start over. The old theory still works the same as it ever did. Like Newton's theories of gravity. We know now that it isn't really like that, but as I keep mentioning we still use the theory.

            It seems like you are confusing the map for the territory. You seem to think that human ideas such as theories map directly to the universe in a one to one way, such that, if the map is accurate, for all intents and purposes, the map is identical to and indistinguishable from the territory it describes.

            Except that the universe is not made up of "things" like human ideas are. The human mind makes sense of the universe by dividing it up into parts and explaining the characteristics of those parts. In reality, there are no parts. All boundaries are illusionary, existing only in the human mind, in the definition, not in reality.

            Reality is a continuum. It is ever changing. And by ever changing, I mean, never one thing long enough to even be called a "thing." It doesn't stop changing, like consciousness never stops changing. It's not a thing, it's a process.

            You need to stop thinking in terms of "correct and incorrect" and start thinking in terms of "makes accurate predictions under known circumstances."

            Other intelligent species may have entirely different theories that accurately describe phenomenon like gravity, like Newton's, but that are entirely wrong in a different way from Newton's, while still being useful, like Newton's.

            I am agnostic, not atheistic. However, I would say my theory of Gods goes beyond atheism. While there may or may not be a God or God's, the answer to that question can't possibly matter at all to how I live my life.

            God may or may not exist, but who cares? In fact, I don't even find the question interesting.

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