Nothing New Under the Sun

| 26 Comments

In a blurb for The Privileged Planet, Phillip Skell says

“In this fascinating and highly original book, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards advance a persuasive argument, and marshal a wealth of diverse scientific evidence to justify that argument. In the process, they effectively challenge several popular assumptions, not only about the nature and history of science, but also about the nature and origin of the cosmos. The Privileged Planet will be impossible to ignore. It is likely to change the way we view both the scientific enterprise and the world around us. I recommend it highly.”

- Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Physics, Pennsylvania State University, Member, National Academy of Sciences.

But how original is the basic idea in Gonzalez and Richards’ book, that we are especially well-situated to observe and make sense of astronomical data? It turns out that the giant whose shoulders Gonzalez and Richards stand upon is none other than the Reverend William Paley.

(Continue reading… on Antievolution.org)

26 Comments

Yes, and before Paley was St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, and some might say the seeds go back to Aristotle. It is interesting that an argument so old, and so widely accepted that it might be regarded as folk wisdom is presented as new and scientific.

Yea, and it makes all their quasi-Kuhnian rhetoric about a nascent “scientific revolution” so idiotic. And, lest I be accused of propping up a straw-man, both Meyer and Dembski have explicitly appealerd to Kuhn.

Name a “Kuhnian” revolution (not that I’m uncritical of Kuhn, it’s their argument) that took the form of the scientific community coming to embrace a hypothesis that is not only age-old, but is actually more intuitive to the layperson’s mind than the alternative.

Dembski likes Plate Tectonics as an example. Just think about that, and reflect on how deluded some of these people must be.

Dembski doesn’t know jack about Plate Tectonics and how it was embraced by the earth sciences.

I definitely agree that Meyer, Dembski, et al. use Kuhn to justify the simple fact that their ideas are not embraced by the scientific community.

I’ve never liked Kuhn’s argument that science is punctuated by these paradigm shifts and that Aristotle was simply a different kind of physicist than Newton. There have been a few radical paradigm shifting advances, but their embrace has been incremental in many cases. Thinking of physics, the principle of relativity in which there are no priveledged reference frames is one such paradigm shifting idea. But it was certainly embraced by people broadly before all of the “old guard” died off, and Einstein himself was willing to abandon the principle to derive approximations to general relativity early on due to the difficulty of working with tensor calculus.

A paradigm shift closer to my heart was the neutral theory, but it was brought on by the accumulation of allozyme data in the late ’60s and it was actually derived independly by Kimura and by Tom Jukes and Jack King. Although the basic idea that substantial variation in molecules is selectively neutral and that one could use diffusion equations to model the spread of such alleles in populations was surprising at the time and led to amazing subsequent work, it did not represent something fundamentally distinct from what other scientists were doing.

Invoking a magical dude in the sky - whether that magic dude is Zeus, Odin, YHWH, FSM, the invisible pink unicorn, or even a hyperintelligent giant ctenophore (may it bless us with its divine cilia) that disappears whenever it is looked at - is certainly a paradigm shift. Unfortunately it is a shift in the wrong direction, back to the Middle Ages.

If folks like Dembski want us to move back from methodological naturalism to the consideration of supernatural causes perhaps they should eschew the advances in medicine ushered in by science. They could find good barbers who would bleed him to remove the ill humors and advise them to make sure witches aren’t cursin’ them. I bet that will have a positive impact on life expectancy!

Ah, superficial trashing of T. Kuhn by invoking the utter abuse of his work! Reminds me much of people badmouthing that old Italian fellow who wrote about politics so well. How easily the impatient confuse cause and effect: it isn’t only creationists who mistake their asses for the elbows, if only occasionally, I must remember.

Fair enough darwinfinch - my comments regarding Kuhn were overblown…

but I believe there is abuse of the ideas of paradigm shifts. The fact that ID advocates can make the argument is reflective of the general perception regarding the nature of paradigm shifts.

I have to admit I simply haven’t felt the representation of science in SSR was accurate. While I agree with Kuhn that science is done within the framework of a paradigm. However, I feel the resistance of the scientific community to both anomalous data and to novel paradigms is not as strong as sometimes asserted.

I certainly wasn’t “bashing” Kuhn. (I said I was not…uncritical, hardly a condemnation.) Structure deserves its status as a seminal work in the field.

Nor did I read E. Braun’s comment as “superficial.”

Too many phliosophers (of my own armchair persuasion as well as the professionals) have uncritically accepted Structure as the final word on the matter. But even Kuhn has backpedalled on some of the more comprehensive claims and adnmitted that in some parts of the book the terminology lacks precision.

My main point, like yours, was that the idea is routinely abused by quacks and frauds.

I am told, though I don’t know it to be true, that in exasperation about the oversimplification of his work, Kuhn claimed that he himself was not a “Kuhnian”.

RBH

Re “Kuhn claimed that he himself was not a “Kuhnian”.”

That causes me to wonder if Darwin was himself a “Darwinian”. LOL.

Of course, Darwin certainly wasn’t a “gradualist” as that term is sometimes used - one chapter in his book described that sounded to me like punctuated equilibrium, although he didn’t give a name for it.

Henry

Louis Homer Wrote:

Yes, and before Paley was St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, and some might say the seeds go back to Aristotle. It is interesting that an argument so old, and so widely accepted that it might be regarded as folk wisdom is presented as new and scientific.

Well, the idea of evolution is at least as old as Anaximander (6th century B.C.). And the idea of natural selection is at least as old as Empedocles (5th century B.C.). These are old ideas initially put forward by philosophers (who were also called ‘physicists’).

Can we then say that Darwin’s account of evolution by natural selection was not novel or scientific? That it didn’t represent a “scientific revolution”? Of course not. Darwin expanded and refined these old ideas. That, in itself, was revolutionary.

Well, while the previous thread that had a lot of off-topic talk about Helium’s discovery being part of the reason the universe was intelligently designed, I, for grins, looked up the discover of Helium.

It wasn’t during the eclise, but two months later (October) when Lockyear discovered Helium.

In view of the misrepresentation given in many books on astronomy, (see for example Payne-Gaposhkin & Haramundanis 1970; Celnikier 1986; Zirin 1988; Phillips 1992), we feel it is worthwhile saying a few words here on the subject of who discovered helium. The British astronomer Joseph Norman Lockyer gives the first documented account (Lockyer 1869a,b,c) of a hitherto unknown bright chromospheric yellow line which was later known to have been produced by helium. Lockyer observed the chromosphere in October 1868 and not during the solar eclipse of 18 August 1868; he labelled the yellow line $\rm D^3$ but was unable to identify the element giving rise to it. Lockyer used a technique devised independently by himself and by the French astronomer Pierre Jules César Janssen to observe the chromospheric spectrum outside of an eclipse. Janssen made observations in India during the August eclipse of 1868 but did not record the yellow line that Lockyer saw 2 months later. So credit for the discovery of helium in the Sun should go to Lockyer, not to Janssen. Aubin (1999) has given a detailed account of this fascinating episode in the history of astronomy.

Astronomy & Astrophysics archive located here:

http://aanda.u-strasbg.fr:2002/arti[…]7/node7.html

And I bring this up, because it just seems the whole “solar eclipse” tack of the argument was, well, a stupid and uninteresting detail used to push a pre-ordained conclusion, and would be meritless, even if otherwise true.

Skell seems to be really impressed with that “wealth of diverse scientific evidence” like the scientific evidence referred to in the Q&A on The Privileged Planet website:

Q #2: Is our existence related to the transparency of the atmosphere? A: Atmospheres come in many forms, but not all allow for complex life or clear views of the wider universe. Complex life requires a certain type of atmosphere. It turns that this same type of atmosphere provides a remarkably clear view of the near and distant universe. Complex, intelligent beings are unlikely to find themselves on a planet with an opaque atmosphere or deep in a murky ocean. We explain this relationship in detail in The Privileged Planet.

If we found ourselves living inside geodes, we’d still need to launch space telescopes to get a clear view of the universe. An astronomer claiming the atmosphere is remarkably clear is not speaking as scientist.

Q #3: Can life be based on any liquid substance, or is water somehow special? A: Water is common on Earth’s surface, but one might suspect that on other planets, there are complex, intelligent beings that are not based on water, but liquid ammonia, methane, or nitrogen. But that’s very unlikely. As it turns out, water is endowed with life-support capacities lacking in other substances. Together these capacities make water the most anomalous compound known to science. In The Privileged Planet, we also explain how important water has been to the rise of science.

That science says intelligent designers can’t make life out of any old liquid, and we are designed by complex intelligent beings endowed with large amounts of water.

The Privileged Planet argument sounds amazingly similar to the “Singularity” hypothesis that was ripped apart a week or so ago. Simply point out all the things that are handy about our planet for doing science whilst ignoring all the things that aren’t and, hey presto, an amazing correlation.

Also, to expand on their ideas, I hypothesise that complex, intelligent beings are unlikely to find themselves on a planet where it’s impossible for complex life to form, thus conclusively proving that the universe was designed so that intelligent beings would have the ability to argue with others. Arguing is very important for the development of science, so the inference of design here is, I think you’ll agree, indisputable.

*toddles off to write a book proclaiming this bold thesis*

“Well, the idea of evolution is at least as old as Anaximander (6th century B.C.). And the idea of natural selection is at least as old as Empedocles (5th century B.C.). These are old ideas initially put forward by philosophers (who were also called ‘physicists’).

Can we then say that Darwin’s account of evolution by natural selection was not novel or scientific? That it didn’t represent a “scientific revolution”? Of course not. Darwin expanded and refined these old ideas. That, in itself, was revolutionary.”

Actually, the clincher is that the ancient greek (and ancietn greek-contemporary) philosophers created wonderful theoric propositions unblemished by physical facts, mostly because the fact of getting down on their knees to *get* that information was frowned upon - it was slave’s work. Isaac Asimov, in one of his essays (which I don’t have on hand at the moment) takes this to task, and sets up a comparisson: the number of possible solutions to any given situation are, at big picture level, rather small: for example, the universe might be expanding, or compressing, or remaining still. I could close my eyes, randomnly poke the screen and have 1/3 chance of hitting the right answer, whichever it turns out to be. There were enough old age philosophers that, by pure numbers, at least one must have hit the answer.

Darwin, on the other hand, got mounds of evidence for his theory. Something no IDiot has ever done, of course, and something very few philosophers ever did. *That* is what makes Darwin revolutionary.

Hope that helps,

Grey Wolf

And lest anyone take too seriously the claim that Empedocles beat Darwin and Wallace (and Hume was close, too!) by a millennium or two, his idea was that all the “parts” of plants animals and men were autochthonically created out of the element earth, and then fit together at random. Those “bodies” with mismatched parts or monstrous combinations died out, leaving us with the diversity we observe. An interesting brush against the concept of selection, or the notion that nature could be productive by elimination, but not much more. And, of course, as Grey Wolf points out, the ancients were hostile to empirical research and data collecting of any kind. He may be correct that they, as elites, disdained the labor entailed, but I think at least equally contributory to their prejudice was the notion, exemplified later by Aristotle, that pure ratiocination was the only way to truth, that appearences were fickle and deceiving and only the rational soul could be trusted to arrive at the truth.

Re “and then fit together at random. “

Ah HA! An explanation for the platypus! :D

I’ve always found it’s best to ignore the history of an idea, the proponents of an idea and the moral and or theological consquences of an idea when examining it’s truth, and consider the idea in abstraction, caring only about it’s internal structure and it’s empirical and logical consquences, and not about the possibility that it leads to nihilism (Darwinism) or the possibility that it leads to a theocracy (ID). I really don’t see that the question of who invented ID is relavent, it could have been hitler, Stalin,Genghis Khan, or some angry, insane poodle with five legs who lived seven thousand years ago who thought that a poodle was the intelligent designer and that this gave him a mandate to establish a theocracy in which “Under one poodle” would be part of the… whatever you Americans call it.

Your attempt to make a prima facie case that ID is false or very probably false because it’s an old idea that’s previously been abandoned has failed then, if we allow that new research can make a new paridgim a better option then an older one it follows that the question of whether or not ID can suceed comes down to research, and that was the postion we were at before.

The notion that the Greek cosmologists through Aristote were nothing more than “arm-chair” theorists who ignored empirical research is simply poor scholarship (and rather dated, at that).

Aristotle, for example, possessed hundreds of specimens that were collected for him from far and wide by the Macedonian military. In addition, he made extensive observations of his own. Texts such as History of Animals and Parts of Animals are full of detailed anatomical descriptions.

As for Empedocles’ version of natural selection, Aristotle recounts the following:

A difficulty presents itself: why should not nature work, not for the sake of something, nor because it is better so, but just as the sky rains, not in order to make the corn grow, but of necessity? What is drawn up must cool, and what has been cooled must become water and descend, the result of this being that the corn grows. Similarly if a man’s crop is spoiled on the threshing-floor, the rain did not fall for the sake of this – in order that the crop might bespoiled – but that result just followed. Why then should it not be the same with the parts in nature, e.g. that our teeth should come up of necessity – the front teeth sharp, fitted for tearing, the molars broad and useful for grinding down the food – since they did not arise for this end, but it was merely a coincident result; and so with all other parts in which we suppose that there is purpose? Wherever then all the parts came about just what they would have been if they had come to be for an end, such things survived, being organized spontaneously in a fitting way; whereas those which grew otherwise perished and continue to perish, as Empedocles says his ‘man-faced ox-progeny’ did.

-Physics II, 8

Granted, Empedocles advocates a kind of spontaneous generation and not evolution, but the principle of natural selection, ‘survival of the fittest’, is articulared nontheless.

Did Empedocles formulate the notion of natural selection independently of observation? There’s no way to be sure, but given the empirical investigations of his contemporaries (Aristotle, Greek physicians, etc.), it is unlikely.

Granted that Aristotle dissected some animals, but, really. Saying that the Pre-Socratic philosophers, like Empedocles, weren’t primarily “arm-chair” theorists is revisionist at best.

There are a great number of patently false assertions in Aristotle’s Physics that very simple experiments would have disproved. And, had those experiments been performed right in front of his eyes, I’d take even money that he wouldn’t have been convinced.

It’s easy to project our “common sense” back in time and insist that the ancients must have possessed it, too, but they didn’t. They began the process of inventing it.

Did Empedocles formulate the notion of natural selection independently of observation? There’s no way to be sure, but given the empirical investigations of his contemporaries (Aristotle, Greek physicians, etc.), it is unlikely.

First, he didn’t formulate the notion of natural selection. At best, he brushed against the idea that nature could be creative through a process involving elimination. And of course he did it “independently of observation,” and by that I don’t mean that he might not have been an insightful observer of nature, I mean that his “theories” (and the various cosmologies of the Pre-Socratics) were not constrained by observation in any predictive sense. As a bare minimum, any explication of natural selection with reference to observed facts would appeal to selective breeding as a clear parallel.

one 'Hiya'll' who, despite that moniker, intimates that s/he is not American Wrote:

Your attempt to make a prima facie case that ID is false or very probably false because it’s an old idea that’s previously been abandoned has failed then, if we allow that new research can make a new paridgim a better option then an older one it follows that the question of whether or not ID can suceed comes down to research, and that was the postion we were at before.

I’m not clear on who is supposed to be making the argument that “ID is false” because it’s an old, abandoned idea. But if you’re saying that the IDers need some research to be taken seriously - yes, I think we agree. But first they’ll need a testable hypothesis.

I’m not clear on who is supposed to be making the argument that “ID is false” because it’s an old, abandoned idea. But if you’re saying that the IDers need some research to be taken seriously - yes, I think we agree. But first they’ll need a testable hypothesis.

I am refering to a post made earlier on this thread which alledged that, when it was boiled down, that ID must be false because it’s an older paridgim, and older paridgims don’t rise again.

Oh and by the way, as paradoxical as it might sound, research supporting ID does not require ID to have a testable hypothesis, because ID is not a theory, nor is it a negative infrence, rather it is the predicition of another theory and an auxilary hypothesis ( research must rather support these two hypotheseses), an explication of my theory can be found on the thread on Avidia, around comment number 40. Oh and by the way, I just happen to like the phrase “Hiya’ll”. I am entitled to like any abuses of the english language I take my fancy to, am I not?

By the way, I have spelt Hiya’ll right haven’t I?

There are only two earlier comments in this thread that say “paradigm”, both by Edward Braun, and neither of which can be said to be described accurately by “Hiya’ll”

Hiya'll Wrote:

Oh and by the way, as paradoxical as it might sound, research supporting ID does not require ID to have a testable hypothesis, because ID is not a theory, nor is it a negative infrence, rather it is the predicition of another theory and an auxilary hypothesis ( research must rather support these two hypotheseses), an explication of my theory can be found on the thread on Avidia, around comment number 40.

Hiya'll in Avida thread Wrote:

My theory of ID has it neither as a negative arguement, or as a theory. Basically I think it is the consquence of 1 theory and 1 obseravation.

Ah, “Hiya’ll” isn’t defending ID-as-advocated-by-the-Discovery-Institute. He’s got something that is ID-as-connoted-by-Hiya’ll-and-only-by-Hiya’ll which he nonetheless is referring to simply as “ID”. I think “Hiya’ll” should excuse the other commenters for making their comments based upon the ID-as-advocated-by-the-Discovery-Institute that has been presented in hundreds of popular articles and books, rather than upon ID-as-connoted-by-Hiya’ll-and-only-by-Hiya’ll that has, apparently, been explicated precisely once down in a different thread here at PT.

I put some work into providing the spell checking facility for comments. It would be nice if people used it.

I, for one, was grateful for the spell-check, Dr. Elderberry.

I put some work into providing the spell checking facility for comments. It would be nice if people used it.

My spelling is fine. It’s my TYPING that sucks. :>

Re #50570:

It’s actually “y’all” - a contraction of “you all.”

There are only two earlier comments in this thread that say “paradigm”, both by Edward Braun, and neither of which can be said to be described accurately by “Hiya’ll”

Hiy’all was responding to me, I believe. I said:

Name a “Kuhnian” revolution… that took the form of the scientific community coming to embrace a hypothesis that is not only age-old, but is actually more intuitive to the layperson’s mind than the alternative.

which I think speaks for itself. It’s not “that ID must be false because it’s an older paridgim”, it’s that it bears no resemblance to any of the examples of new theories that led to the “paradigm shifts” treated in Kuhn’s book. My point was not about ID’s truth or falsity at all, but rather the absurdity of the idea that Kuhn provides any sort of support for the likelihood or advisability of some kind of “counter revolution” to the Enlightenment.

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on September 27, 2005 10:59 AM.

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