Real “alternative explanations”

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A new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that a tonsillectomy may improve the condition of kids diagnosed with attention defecit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I think it’s an excellent case of some true “alternative explanations” for the data that the creationist/ID types often crow about.

Creationists often try to validate their position by saying that both they and mainstream scientists start from the same data, but that creationists use their “Bible glasses” to interpret it, while scientists view it through their “evolution glasses.” In other words, they’re not wrong–it’s just a different interpretation of the same data, and where you end up depends on your initial biases and worldview. Though this is bogus when it comes to creationism, there are indeed real debates in the literature, where two hypotheses may be similarly compelling.

(Read more at Aetiology)

29 Comments

There’s a similar case of competing possible explanations for a study showing that when refridgerators are introduced to a country, the incidence of Crohn’s disease, an auto-immune disease, goes up. The study’s authors concluded that there’s some cold-resistant microorganism that is linked to Crohn’s disease, and introducing refridgerators gives this bug a competitive advantage. But a friend with Crohn’s disease pointed out that there’s an alternate explanation: refridgerators reduce people’s total exposure to gastrointestinal bugs, and this may result in too little stimulation for the immune system, causing auto-immune disease.

And of course, a third possibility is that the relationship of refridgerators to Crohn’s disease is some kind of statistical artifact.

Interesting–hadn’t seen that one before.

Maybe the actual mechanism is: “Pay attention in class or next we’ll remove something you really need.”

Re comment #6170: As a UC sufferer (A similar condition) Peter, I’ve heard of a number of other studies that came to a similar conclusion. I think in the more recent ones, it was concluded that “Clean or modern living” could result in the development of IBD.

Another medical controversy here in the UK is the claim that the MMR vaccine can cause autism. On the surface, there seems to be a compelling connection, but despite extensive research there doesn’t seem to be any medical evidence. The vaccine is also supposed to cause Crohn’s in certain children.

Another area of research that I remember hitting the headlines a while back, were the possible causes of Alzheimer’s disease. I seem to recall a few years ago, surveys, which showed that Alzheimer sufferers had a higher than normal level of aluminium in their bodies. Some scientists then concluded, either rightly or wrongly, that the intake of aluminium could cause the condition.

Just a few years ago a scientist made the radical claim that ulcers were caused by bacteria (not by stress, as was thought at the time), then provided compelling evidence to support his hypothesis. It’s now almost universally accepted.

Plate tectonics is a somewhat older idea that was strongly resisted for years, but is now universally accepted by (non-creationist) geologists, biologists and other scientists, even though it completely overturned many ideas about the earth and about biogeography.

And wasn’t the idea that humans evolved in Africa considered a radical one just a few decades ago?

These are just a few examples of a really radical idea eventually being embraced by the scientific community. Most good scientists are willing to completely change their way of thinking about things IF they are presented with compelling evidence.

A ‘refridgerator’ is just an icebox that went to ‘colledge’.

Just wondering about those “Bible glasses”–are they dark glasses, or rose-colored?

Different interpretation, my a**. It’s a sorry state when people refuse to believe the available evidence, based on nothing more solid than a story written 2500 years ago by a pretechnological society.

What is the Latin version of this phrase? : “the history of the earth is written in the rocks?” I knew it at one time but forgot.

Didn’t a later study on Alzheimer’s conclude that it was the testing itself that introduced alumin(i)um in to the samples?

Or was that study sponsored by Alcan?

Can the phrase “history is written by the winners” also be applied to the fossil record? I guess not, if >%90 of previous species are now extinct.

Leon:Re biblical glasses.Each time Ken Ham takes out his they seem to have brown coloured frames and look quite old fashioned. I’m not sure about the lenses though. I often wonder if they belong to him or if he has borrowed them ? I notice he doesn’t wear them now. Maybe he’s opted for contact lenses !

There is pretty suggestive epidemiological evidence that the massively lower mortality we achieve through modern clean living may come at the expense of more immune system dysfunctions.

In the case of allergies, the evidence is the most compelling, because rates of allergy have been found to vary between kids raised on farms versus kids not raised on farms in Europe (less on farms), and there is some evidence that presence of dogs in a household may protect children against development of allergies. In this case, the populations (eg European kids with dogs versus European kids without dogs) are fairly evenly matched on other health factors. Of course, even in these cases, confounding variables can easily be imagined. Also, these results that we may someday find that “ideal amount of dirt”, reducing allergy risk without increasing risk of infectious morbidity.

The refrigerator link seems more open to other interpretations. A country in which refrigerators are becoming widespread is likely to be a country in which medical care and testing are becoming more widespread, and infectious mortality is becoming rarer. To put it another way, in countries too poor to have refrigerators, many people aren’t in a position to know whether or not they even have Crohn’s disease, the diagnosis of which requires biopsies and exclusion of many other disorders, whatever their symptoms may be.

Helicobacter pylorri is a common cause of peptic ulcers. This does not at all mean that (psychological) stress is not also a factor. Stress has a strong effect on any disease which involves immune response. For an example of a very straightforward stress-immune system link, corticosteroids are probably the most commonly used immunosuppressants. These compounds take their name from the fact that they are naturally released by the adrenal cortex under conditions of stress. Autoimmune diseases often flare under conditions of stress. It is now believed that some H. pylorri-negative peptic ulcers are linked to stress. Furthermore, even when H. pylorri is present, the immune response to it is very different in different people. Many people have H. pylorri but no ulcers, others have ulcers, others even develop a type of low-grade lymphoma associated with H. pylorri (but only a small minority of H. pylorri patients will do so). It’s quite possible that stress may be one of the factors which modulates how someone’s body will respond to H. pylorri.

Tara Smith Wrote:

“creationists use their “Bible glasses” to interpret it, while scientists view it through their “evolution glasses.” In other words, they’re not wrong—it’s just a different interpretation of the same data, and where you end up depends on your initial biases and worldview. Though this is bogus when it comes to creationism”

From a logical and philosophical vantage point this is not bogus at all. All human intellectual endeavors are based on various axioms, either explicitly stated (as in Mathematics) or more subtly hidden but lurking there nonetheless. The science vs. religion worldviews are no exception.

Creationists begin with the axiom that the Bible as they translate and interpret it is inerrant. While some of them will argue that reason can be given for this axiom, scientists assume that those reasons are unpersuasive and the statement remains an axiom. The creationists then proceed to the data and to the claim that the universe popped into existance (poof!) a few thousand years ago “as is”, that is with laws of nature in place that make it appear much older. The scientists’ assumption that the laws “always” applied as currently observed is just an unproven axiom, say the creationists, and if the universe can pop into existance 14 billion years ago (a poof! known as big bang) so could it six thousand years ago.

Scientists begin with the axiom that the laws we observe today are applicable to the past and future and to the entire universe, until proven otherwise. Whlie some of them will argue that reason can be given for this axiom, the creationists assume that those reasons are unpersuasive and the statement remains an axiom. The scientists then proceed to the data and to the claim that the universe popped into existance (big bang!) fourteen billion years ago “as is”, that is with laws of nature in place that make it appear as old as it really is. The creationists’ claim that the Bible as they translate and interpret it is inerrant is just an unfounded assumption, say the scientists, to which thay shall pay no attention whatsoever.

See the symmetry in all this?

Carol C Wrote:

See the symmetry in all this?

One side makes pragmatic assumptions amenable to testing and correction; the other makes dogmatic statements of belief that cannot be challenged. Only the blind see symmetry here, Carol. And you claim to know something about science.…

Yes Carol (who can’t say THAT word) Creationists are rationally irrational. They happily accept the irrational belief the Bible IS historically accurate, as though they were 3000 year old camera persons for the evening news and try to factualize the subjective, whereas rational people factualize the objective and treat mythology as subjective.

People talk losely about deductive systems as if it is possible to generate a reasonable set of theorems from arbitrarily chosen axioms. If you deny the parallel postulate, you can generate a consistent and useful geometry; but that doesn’t mean that you can pull axioms out of your ass and get results. In particular, all deductive systems with self-contradictory axioms are substantively identical since they contain every possible statement as a theorem because from contradictory premises, every conclusion validly follows. That’s the situation with theological reasoning whose embarassing fertility is the inevitable result of its fundamental incoherence. Myth has its charms but it sheer ain’t mathematics.

It’s just absurd to pretend that Genesis has much in common with Euclid.

Jim,

You actually can “pull axioms out of your … and get results”. It’s just that the usefullness and validity of the results will usually be comprable to the caliber of the axioms they are based upon. And physics has demonstrated time and again how some axioms that appear at first glance to be unrealistic can produce some very useful results.

Of course the creationists’ axioms are not of the same caliber as those of science. Which is why scientists don’t assume those axioms and creationists don’t assume the scientific axioms. My point was that to the creationists their axioms appear as valid as the scientific axioms appear to scientists. But when the two groups get to debate each other they can talk themselves blue in the face and resolve nothing because, at the end of the day, science CANNOT test or empirically confirm the axioms I discussed above and a few other fundamental ones.

Now, if you wish to distinguish between the respective axioms by arguing that the creationists’ axioms are self contradictory, then you will get into a debate regarding whether or not the Bible and other fundamentalist articles of faith are self contradictory. That debate will soon degenerate into the application of other axioms and so the stalemate continues.

There is your symmetry!

This should help explain to scientists how otherwise intelligent people can be so .… as to be creationists, and vice versa. The symmetry is real, albeit not perfect.

Carol, how does an apologist for the bible reconcile the two different accounts of the creation at the beginning of Genesis? Seems to me these, taken together, form a self-contradictory ‘set of axioms’…

See the symmetry in all this?

Nope. After all, one side can test its statements using verifiable methods.

The other side can’t.

Simple, huh.

But when the two groups get to debate each other they can talk themselves blue in the face and resolve nothing because, at the end of the day, science CANNOT test or empirically confirm the axioms I discussed above and a few other fundamental ones.

Of course they can, Carol. Don’t be such a dolt.

Scientists begin with the axiom that the laws we observe today are applicable to the past and future and to the entire universe, until proven otherwise.

All you have to do to oprove this wrong is, well, show us an area in space or time when the laws we observe today are NOT applicable.

Got any?

Thought not. (shrug)

Whlie some of them will argue that reason can be given for this axiom, the creationists assume that those reasons are unpersuasive and the statement remains an axiom.

And all they have to do is present some evdience for any time or place where the laws we observe today did not operate.

Got any?

Didn’t think so. (shrug)

The scientists then proceed to the data and to the claim that the universe popped into existance (big bang!) fourteen billion years ago “as is”, that is with laws of nature in place that make it appear as old as it really is.

As opposed to what, Carol . …?

The creationists’ claim that the Bible as they translate and interpret it is inerrant is just an unfounded assumption, say the scientists, to which thay shall pay no attention whatsoever.

Ah, but that brings up my favorite question to you, Carol – you know, the one you consistently refuse to answer. WHICH of the thousands of differing translations and interpetations is THE inerrant one, and how can we tell?

Wait, let me guess —– Landa’s is inerrant, right?

You’re just a three-chord band, Carol. Time to learn some new songs. (yawn)

David,

There are no two creation accounts in Genesis that I can find, at least not in the original Hebrew version which is the version the vast majority of creationists respect despite the fact that most of them cannot read that version.

Since getting into a verse by verse analysis is somewhat difficult to do in these brief comments, I can recommend some books to you if you are interested.

Lenny,

It is incumbant on the axiom asssumers to either prove their statement or admit it is an unprovable axiom. An axiom is not supportable by the inability of the non-assumer to disprove the statement.

Got that?

And if you insist on the error of your ways, you need to apply the same standard to the creationists axioms, just to play fair. Want to do that?

I thought not.

The point about the contradictory axioms at the root of myth is not necessarily polemic. Many students of mythology–Levi-Strauss in particular–have noted that the endless proliferation of new versions of old mythological stories is a reflection of the existential contradictions they endlessly and fruitlessly attempt to resolve. A heck of a lot of human creativity has been expended in such impossible tasks; and I, for one, appreciate some of the results from an artistic point of view. Adults are aware, of course, that there is no literal truth in scripture. Trying to reconcile the two versions of creation in Genesis or the various accounts of what happened the night before the Crucifixion is a pleasant enough game, I guess; but it is just a game. And, of course, the deep contradiction that underlie religious thought aren’t just about matters of fact anyhow.

You actually can “pull axioms out of your … and get results”. It’s just that the usefullness and validity of the results will usually be comprable to the caliber of the axioms they are based upon.

Science does not rest upon axioms (except insofar as science is mathematized and dependent upon axioms in this manner), Carol. I actually think that you wrote a pretty decent post here, but it still is flawed by your statements concerning “axioms”. Science is based upon perceptions, natural languages, cultural biases, and sound attempts to make coherent models out of the melange of human mediation between ourselves and the world. However we would not be doing sound science if we relied upon “axioms” which may very well be undercut by further research.

My point was that to the creationists their axioms appear as valid as the scientific axioms appear to scientists.

Not too bad, but who really cares if their “axioms” appear to them to be as “valid” as scientific observations and models are? They clearly are not making their “axioms” by using sound and unbiased empirical studies, rather they are defaulting immediately to some creaky old texts (sometimes not the Bible, though they don’t generally know when they’re using, say, Aristotle rather than the Bible).

“Valid” is indeed the appropriate word here, since it may be that IDCists are using “valid axioms”, even though they’re not using sound axioms. And they shouldn’t even be beginning with “truths” (essentially what “axiom” meant and means–except among advanced mathematicians, and people who think about the bases of scientific models), they should begin with open minds.

But when the two groups get to debate each other they can talk themselves blue in the face and resolve nothing because, at the end of the day, science CANNOT test or empirically confirm the axioms I discussed above and a few other fundamental ones.

No, sorry, science can confirm their own “axioms”, to use your mislabeling. One may confirm the “truths” of science through inter-subjective discussion, much as Kant did, and indeed, we have disconfirmed some of what Kant took to be axiomatic, such as that space can only be considered to be Euclidean and three-dimensional. Clearly we can think of space in other ways, and may use cognitive science to demonstrate this (if one insists on “proving” the obvious).

And the fact is that, whatever deniability exists in the entire project of science, the vast majority of religionists do not in fact deny science except in narrow areas. I am not going to denounce the recalcitrance of any group which seriously has an “alternative reality” going which precludes science, but I will continue to undercut the special pleading and selective attacks on science mounted by IDCists.

Now, if you wish to distinguish between the respective axioms by arguing that the creationists’ axioms are self contradictory, then you will get into a debate regarding whether or not the Bible and other fundamentalist articles of faith are self contradictory.

It doesn’t mean much to say that someone’s axioms are “self-contradictory”. Arguably, scientific claims are “self-contradictory” between the classical and QM realms, or between relativity and QM. But we aren’t overly concerned (if we’d still like a fully coherent physics, and aim toward that goal), we’re trying to make as coherent models as possible while adhering faithfully to empirical matters. We’d rather be contradictory in our models than to contradict the evidence. Many religionists would far rather contradict the evidence than to allow for contradiction by any “outside system” such as science. And it is here that they are contradictory in an important way, since they are happy to use science whenever it doesn’t disagree with their biases.

That debate will soon degenerate into the application of other axioms and so the stalemate continues.

Yes, that is your mode of argument, to deny universally agreed-upon interpretations of the Bible in favor of the interpretation of a narrow sectarian view (many many Jews tell us that Genesis 1 & 2 are indeed different tales, based in part upon their generally superior knowledge of the Hebrew (it is claimed that Genesis 2 uses older Hebrew, while I have no knowledge beyond that)).

There is your symmetry!

No, it is not symmetry in the least. Axioms, or scientific principles, need to be something that most knowledgeable people agree upon. Only because mathematical axioms are exactly this does mathematics work. And there is nothing about religious “axioms” that brings about agreement across cultures and religions.

This should help explain to scientists how otherwise intelligent people can be so .… as to be creationists, and vice versa. The symmetry is real, albeit not perfect.

Yes, though it is hardly a new thought. And no, it is no symmetry at all, even an “imperfect symmetry” (isn’t that an oxymoron?). Special pleading and selective attacks on science are simply bad thinking and/or bad faith.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Carol, I’ve already pointed out that the “axioms” you ascribe to science can be tested, while those of creationists can’t. (shrug)

Carol Clouser Wrote:

Scientists begin with the axiom that the laws we observe today are applicable to the past and future and to the entire universe, until proven otherwise. Whlie some of them will argue that reason can be given for this axiom, the creationists assume that those reasons are unpersuasive and the statement remains an axiom.

But this “axiom” is used by the creationists as well, in their everyday lives. They drink water when they’re thirsty without worrying that water’s suddenly going to turn out to be a deadly poison today; they drive their cars to work without worrying that the speed of light this morning might change to 30 mph and leave them driving blind.

The scientific method is just a more rigorous version of the process of reasoning everyone uses to understand the world, creationists included. If they didn’t know that, they wouldn’t bother with pseudoscientific arguments on rates of sediment deposition and vapor canopies and fraudulent scientists and experiments showing constancy within “kinds.” They’d just say, “The history of the world happened this way, and how it looks like it happened is irrelevant.”

That’s why there’s no symmetry here. As others have said, scientists can get along quite well while denying Biblical inerrancy, but creationists can’t and don’t want to deny science in general. They just want to be able to skip over the bits that really bother them.

Lenny,

Shrug all you want but I have already pointed out that the axioms cannot be tested. Unless you have constructed a time machine to turn the clock back, say, six thousand years, there is NO TEST you can perform today that can possibly prove or disprove any statement regarding the behavior of nature six thousand years ago (or six thousand years hence). Why is that so hard for you to understand?

And I have also pointed out that the creationists think they are actually mimicking science by proposing poof! six thousand years ago instead of poof! fourteen billion years ago.

Anton,

I completely agree with what you are saying but there is no intellectual inconsistancy between rejecting an idea that conflicts with one’s axioms and accepting other ideas that do not so conflict, even if the various ideas emerge from what people arbitrarily designate as “one body” of knowledge called “science”.

You also need to recognize the (linear?) relationship between the time gap (between arrival of empirical data and projection into the past or future) and the uncertainty in the validity of the extrapolation. It is one thing, for example to conclude that a principle observed on Monday and Wednesday must have also been valid on Tuesday, it is quite another to stretch that to next year, last cantury and so on.

Carol, your ignorance of science should not lead you to make silly statements. It looks silly. Consider:

Shrug all you want but I have already pointed out that the axioms cannot be tested.

Which is, of course, a completely false statement. Even without going into specifics, we can test that the residual evidence is compatible with processes we can currently observe operating. We can note (from such events as supernova 1987a that radioactive decay rates are unchanged over more than a hundred thousand years. To claim that we have to make direct observations to determine the consistency of operation of observable processes represents genuine scientific illiteracy on your part.

Unless you have constructed a time machine to turn the clock back, say, six thousand years, there is NO TEST you can perform today that can possibly prove or disprove any statement regarding the behavior of nature six thousand years ago (or six thousand years hence).

As I just demonstrated, this is simply false, and represents a tremendous naivitee on your part.

Why is that so hard for you to understand?

Mostly because it’s a falsehood based on ignorance. Would you prefer that Lenny ignore science, ignore logic, and ignore evidence as you appear to do?

And I have also pointed out that the creationists think they are actually mimicking science by proposing poof! six thousand years ago instead of poof! fourteen billion years ago.

No, you haven’t. You have made a completely false assertion that symmetry exists between creationist claims and scientific claims. This is untrue. You and Tara are correct when you state that each side claims that they are operating on the basis of the same data, but in fact it can be demonstrated that this is false. Several people have pointed this out to you. Ignoring them is not rational.

I completely agree with what you are saying but there is no intellectual inconsistancy between rejecting an idea that conflicts with one’s axioms and accepting other ideas that do not so conflict, even if the various ideas emerge from what people arbitrarily designate as “one body” of knowledge called “science”.

Of course there is. To reject an idea because it conflicts with your worldview, rather than because of the source is fundamentally irrational. Unfortunately, this is what you consistently demonstrate: an inability to understand any concept or idea in conflict with your irrational worldview that the Bible represents a scientifically accurate document (except for those pesky miracles which, not be scientific, are exempt). Now THAT represents intellectual dishonesty.

You also need to recognize the (linear?) relationship between the time gap (between arrival of empirical data and projection into the past or future) and the uncertainty in the validity of the extrapolation. It is one thing, for example to conclude that a principle observed on Monday and Wednesday must have also been valid on Tuesday, it is quite another to stretch that to next year, last cantury and so on.

Nope. Quite the opposite is true. Unless we have reason to presume variation, it is rational to conclude consistency.

Learn something about science and how it works, Carol. It would help your posts enormously.

RGD:

Learn something about science and how it works, Carol. It would help your posts enormously.

I doubt this. It’s the contortions Carol is obliged to put her ideas through that make her posts worth reading for sheer entertainment value. The world is NOT more than 6000 years old, therefore it isn’t. Therefore the evidence, properly interpreted, MUST agree with this dictum. Therefore, the evidence DOES agree. Therefore our interpretation MUST be wrong. Our interpretation is based on certain assumptions (i.e. that forces and processes have remained constant, etc.), therefore these assumptions must be wrong.

In brief, when you have the answer (which you looked up in the back of the book), the challenge is no longer *solving* the problem, the challenge is to get the solution to produce the right answer. Whatever it takes.

And therefore, it is NOT rational to presume consistency when the assumption of consistency gets it wrong. And we KNOW it’s wrong. Consistency is therefore prima facie incorrect. Logic requires this.

Carol Clouser Wrote:

I completely agree with what you are saying but there is no intellectual inconsistancy between rejecting an idea that conflicts with one’s axioms and accepting other ideas that do not so conflict, even if the various ideas emerge from what people arbitrarily designate as “one body” of knowledge called “science”.

Science is an activity, not just the knowledge resulting therefrom. The method a geologist uses to conclude that the earth is very old is the same as the method the creationist uses to conclude that his car won’t start because the alternator’s busted, or that paint thinner’s not very good to drink. It’s just more rigorous. For the creationist to accept the latter but not the former is inconsistent, not because one claim is logically dependent on the other, but because all result from a single investigative method that the creationist himself employs.

You also need to recognize the (linear?) relationship between the time gap (between arrival of empirical data and projection into the past or future) and the uncertainty in the validity of the extrapolation. It is one thing, for example to conclude that a principle observed on Monday and Wednesday must have also been valid on Tuesday, it is quite another to stretch that to next year, last cantury and so on.

Sure. Coming up with “principles” that explain a data set is easy. Figuring out whether said principles are valid outside that data set is hard, and this is a big part of science. Hence the ongoing research into whether, say, the speed of light or the fine structure constant have changed over time. It may be something approaching an axiom in science that some law, somewhere, applies over all time and space, but that certainly isn’t assumed for any particular law; rather, it’s investigated.

And of course creationists are just as happy to perform extrapolation. Hell, their version of the 2nd law of thermodynamics applies in more situations than the real one does.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on April 12, 2006 1:20 PM.

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