John Lynch on the DI’s purported history of ID

| 179 Comments

John Lynch, an evolutionary morphologist and historian of anti-evolutionism, dissects the selective history of ID propounded by the Disco ‘Tute’s new faith and evolution site. The pull quote:

If I engaged in such non-contextualized presentation in my classroom, I would rightly be accused of being a bad teacher. More importantly, the audience would receive no indication of how the argument ceased to be scientifically and philosophically tenable and instead became an issue of interest solely to apologists and theologians.

Read the whole thing.

179 Comments

Lynch’s succinct summary and analysis does an admirable job stressing not only the Christian, but especially, the Classical Graeco - Roman roots of Intelligent Design. After taking a brief look at the Disco Tute’s .pdf file, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the actual author of that file could have been the same fellow who has created this:

http://www.designinference.com/teac[…]teaching.htm

(In plain English, none other than my “favorite” Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer, one Bill Dembski.)

John Kwok said: …none other than my “favorite” Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer, one Bill Dembski

Between this and Dembski’s latest book, The End of Christianity ( http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]d_of_xty.pdf ) it’s just becoming more and more obvious that intelligent design creationism is all about religion and has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

Paul Burnett said:

…it’s just becoming more and more obvious that intelligent design creationism is all about religion and has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

It never was anything about actual science in the first place. Next, you’ll be telling me that water is wet because of hydrogen-bonding.

Paul Burnett said:

John Kwok said: …none other than my “favorite” Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer, one Bill Dembski

Between this and Dembski’s latest book, The End of Christianity ( http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]d_of_xty.pdf ) it’s just becoming more and more obvious that intelligent design creationism is all about religion and has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

From Dembski’s paper:

“Science is supposed to show that any God or intelligence or purpose behind the universe is not merely superfluous but an impediment to reason. Yet evidence from science shows the opposite. The case for a designing intelligence producing life and the cosmos is now on solid ground, as can be seen from such books as The Design of Life and The Privileged Planet.”

Damn, we’ve been wrong all these years about what science was about. Thanks for the clarification, Bill. And now we have concrete proof of Intelligent Design as well. Gosh, gee willikers Radioactive Man.

An excellent, well-written and researched take-down of the usual DI Dishonesty. Well worth the effort to save and site in the future as needed.

The key problem with my “buddy” Bill’s observation is that we know that “design” is an emergent property that can arise throught natural means - such as for example, natural selection - which is a point that’s been emphasized by biologists Francisco J. Ayala and Ken Miller (which is a key point in Ken’s “Only A Theory”):

DavidK said:

Paul Burnett said:

John Kwok said: …none other than my “favorite” Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer, one Bill Dembski

Between this and Dembski’s latest book, The End of Christianity ( http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]d_of_xty.pdf ) it’s just becoming more and more obvious that intelligent design creationism is all about religion and has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

From Dembski’s paper:

“Science is supposed to show that any God or intelligence or purpose behind the universe is not merely superfluous but an impediment to reason. Yet evidence from science shows the opposite. The case for a designing intelligence producing life and the cosmos is now on solid ground, as can be seen from such books as The Design of Life and The Privileged Planet.”

Damn, we’ve been wrong all these years about what science was about. Thanks for the clarification, Bill. And now we have concrete proof of Intelligent Design as well. Gosh, gee willikers Radioactive Man.

Bill has “blinded” himself so much by his strict adherence to his Xian faith that he is incapable of thinking of design as an emergent property. Moreover, by employing his inane logic, it is really impossible for him to reject - which he has done - my own “assertion” that there is indeed more proof for Klingon Cosmology than there is for ID cretinism (e. g. must be real since we see Klingongs on TV and the movies, since an official Klingon language institute exists, since people speak and hold religious ceremonies in Klingon, and because the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays have been translated in Klingon).

Paul Burnett said:

John Kwok said: …none other than my “favorite” Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer, one Bill Dembski

Between this and Dembski’s latest book, The End of Christianity ( http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]d_of_xty.pdf ) it’s just becoming more and more obvious that intelligent design creationism is all about religion and has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

Didn’t it become 100% obvious - not just to critics but to anyone who can spell “obvious” - with 2008’s “Expelled”?

History has shown that assuming that there is any God or intelligence or purpose behind the universe is not merely superfluous but an impediment to reason. And evidence from science shows that no such assumptions are necessary or justified. However, you are still completely free to believe in whatever God you like in this country. You just aren’t free to use your beliefs as a substitute for science or to force your religious beliefs on others in public funded schools. That would be the best way to lose the religious freedom you enjoy in this country since the benefits of science are obvious and shared by all. The case for a designing intelligence producing life and the cosmos by divince intervention in the natural world is now regarded as unsupported and unnecessary, as can be seen from such books as The Design of Life and The Privileged Planet. These present no convincing evidence at all but instead depend on unsound reasoning, wishful thinking and the need for people to feel special.

There all fixed.

Brilliant. Now send him a copy by e-mailing him at the e-mail address indicated on his online CV (which you can link to courtesy of my previous comment - the very first one - on this thread):

DS said:

History has shown that assuming that there is any God or intelligence or purpose behind the universe is not merely superfluous but an impediment to reason. And evidence from science shows that no such assumptions are necessary or justified. However, you are still completely free to believe in whatever God you like in this country. You just aren’t free to use your beliefs as a substitute for science or to force your religious beliefs on others in public funded schools. That would be the best way to lose the religious freedom you enjoy in this country since the benefits of science are obvious and shared by all. The case for a designing intelligence producing life and the cosmos by divince intervention in the natural world is now regarded as unsupported and unnecessary, as can be seen from such books as The Design of Life and The Privileged Planet. These present no convincing evidence at all but instead depend on unsound reasoning, wishful thinking and the need for people to feel special.

There all fixed.

This is nothing new. If you check Dembski’s website (which you can link via the link provided by me at the first comment in this thread) he’s been reassuring his fellow Xians that ID creationism is religiously-derived from their Xian faith for years:

Paul Burnett said:

John Kwok said: …none other than my “favorite” Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer, one Bill Dembski

Between this and Dembski’s latest book, The End of Christianity ( http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]d_of_xty.pdf ) it’s just becoming more and more obvious that intelligent design creationism is all about religion and has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

I have my own answers to the “Roots” questions:

What do these readings show you about the origins of intelligent design as an idea?

Not much. However, they tell me that the person who selected the readings is strongly biased and intent that you, the reader, get only one side of the argument.

Is intelligent design a response to modern court rulings or an outgrowth of “Christian fundamentalism”?

Court rulings; there is no other rational explanation for “cdesign propentists.” There is no other rational explanation why the definition of “design” used in the primary ID textbook is identical - verabatim - to earlier definitions of special creation.

Is it dependent on the authority of the Bible rather than the observations of nature and the inferences drawn from those inferences [sic]?

Regardless of where it comes from, the fact that it is directly refuted by all natural observations in the last 150 years is enough to disqualify it as “science.”

How long have people been debating about whether there is evidence of design in nature?

Probably longer than young earth creationists believe the earth has existed.

John Lynch Wrote:

Psychologists have discovered that humans in general – and children in particular – exhibit three innate biases:

• Essentialist bias: all natural kinds have and immutable essence

• Teleological bias: what they see must be purposeful and goal-orientated

• Intentionality bias: actions and outcomes must be the work of an intentional agent

These biases are actually useful for children to make predictions in the world and are defaults that adults revert to at times. We clearly see all three at work in the design argument.

One of the peculiarities of some of these biases among the various fundamentalist groups I can observe on the religion channels on TV or in their “reasoned arguments” against evolution is their overall childishness.

It is as though these people are stuck in early adolescence; and a very immature adolescence at that.

Their so-called attempts at humor, their use of language, their reverence for authority (mommy/daddy figures), their fear of “strangers” (“evil ones”), and just their general intellectual level all point to a frozen-in early adolescence.

There is another interesting observation made by psychologists about certain forms of mental illness (obsessive/compulsive disorders, anorexia, some types of anxiety disorders, paranoia, etc.); often the people suffering from these illnesses exhibit many of these early adolescent characteristics in their thinking and outlook.

The fact that these “Discovery” Institution “Fellows” can’t let go of childish thinking and move on with the rest of the learning world seems to be evidence of something similar going on within the walls of that institution.

They aren’t discovering; they are reverting.

DS Wrote:

You just aren’t free to use your beliefs as a substitute for science or to force your religious beliefs on others in public funded schools.

But they are free to flood bookstores, the Internet and the rest of the media with material dedicated to that goal. Which they do anyway. Maybe if that material wasn’t mostly whining and tantrums about being “expelled” from public schools (& from the science arena, where they flunk) they might find more a more sympathetic audience. Oops, I hope I haven’t given them any ideas. ;-)

DavidK said:

From Dembski’s paper:

“Science is supposed to show that any God or intelligence or purpose behind the universe is not merely superfluous but an impediment to reason.”

Damn, we’ve been wrong all these years about what science was about.

Yes, Dembski lies about what science is. Science simply has nothing to say about the supernatural. If it can’t be observed you can’t do science. Please note though that Dembski’s misrepresentation of science is exactly the same as that of the “new atheists”. If you hadn’t attributed the quote I would have thought that it came from Coyne, Dawkins, or Myers, et al. Both groups are screwing over science education for the sake of what they believe to be a greater agenda.

DS said: There all fixed.

There, all broken. I’ve got a simpler solution. Its still the majority understanding within the scientific community that science has nothing to say about religion, despite anything the “new atheists” claim. The courts and the law also understand this. Therefore teaching religion in a public school science class is against the law. It doesn’t need fixing.

Its obvious misrepresentation to claim that science can make conclusions about something that can’t be observed. But the new atheists need to do this in order to claim that science negates religion. That opens up, what for them is, a tiny problem with applying the establishment clause. If science really can study the existance of God then religion in public school science classes becomes valid.

Mike said: Its obvious misrepresentation to claim that science can make conclusions about something that can’t be observed.

I agree with the gist of your comment, however what scientists can often say is that under the set of experimental conditions X we appear to understand all the relevant variables. Which implies that any other nonobservables have no effect. For instance: you roll a ball down a slope; in assessing the acceleration, the slope’s angle matters. Friction matters. Shape (sphericity) matters. The phase of the moon does not matter. The number of prayers offered to Jo-Bu does not matter.

While this does not logically rule out the existence of Jo-Bu, or his intervention in junior high physics experiments at some future time, it does say something about him; specifically, that balls rolling down slopes appear to behave as if his presence is irrelevant.

Mike,

Agreed:

Yes, Dembski lies about what science is. Science simply has nothing to say about the supernatural. If it can’t be observed you can’t do science. Please note though that Dembski’s misrepresentation of science is exactly the same as that of the “new atheists”. If you hadn’t attributed the quote I would have thought that it came from Coyne, Dawkins, or Myers, et al. Both groups are screwing over science education for the sake of what they believe to be a greater agenda.

Moreover, Dembski has been lying since the early 1990s - if not before - when he joined Philip Johnson by being the key philosophical guru of the Intelligent Design movement.

As for the refusal of “New Atheists” to admit that they are really trying - like the creos - to insert their own religious values into science classrooms, both they and their acolytes - like a few posting here - would support a statement like this (posted earlier today by someone else at a different PT thread): “The scientific minded, like PZ, have Francis Collins correct - they acknowledge his scientific expertise but also his religiosity and think he’s a philosophical moron and dangerous due to the latter.”

To say that only militant atheist scientists like Coyne, Dawkins and Myers are “the scientific minded” ignores the fact - noted again and again in polls - that most scientists are religiously devout. It also ignores that there are many prominent theologians and scientists who think that religion and science represent separate, but equal, spheres of human intellectual activity that can be complementary to each other. But sadly, it also reinforces the conceptions of religiously-motivated evolution denialists who contend that to “believe” in evolution means “denial of GOD(s)”.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Again I agree. Your analysis is dead on. But unfortunately, militant atheists seem to be as dogmatic in their thinking as delusional militant Xians like Dembski, Ham, Luskin, Nelson or West:

Mike said:

DS said: There all fixed.

There, all broken. I’ve got a simpler solution. Its still the majority understanding within the scientific community that science has nothing to say about religion, despite anything the “new atheists” claim. The courts and the law also understand this. Therefore teaching religion in a public school science class is against the law. It doesn’t need fixing.

Its obvious misrepresentation to claim that science can make conclusions about something that can’t be observed. But the new atheists need to do this in order to claim that science negates religion. That opens up, what for them is, a tiny problem with applying the establishment clause. If science really can study the existance of God then religion in public school science classes becomes valid.

eric said:

… what scientists can often say is that under the set of experimental conditions X we appear to understand all the relevant variables. Which implies that any other nonobservables have no effect.

There is nothing in science that is understood so well that we can pack up the lab and move to Fiji. Any conclusion is reached only with what can be observed at the moment, and always produces new unknowns. Now, if some ghost hunter is claiming that something spooky is happening in some old house, then instruments can be setup, conclusions reached, and the shmuck run off cable TV. Ditto faith healing, bending spoons, etc.

The certainty of the “new atheists” is as worrisome as fundamentalist certainty. Science has to be approached with humility. It is self-limited. We didn’t even have a clue about dark matter till very recently, and it makes up most of the universe. What we don’t know is always going to be much larger than what we know, yet we always seem to have some who fervently believe that they hold absolute knowledge upon which lives can be judged and executed.

Between this and Dembski’s latest book, The End of Christianity ( http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]d_of_xty.pdf ) it’s just becoming more and more obvious that intelligent design creationism is all about religion and has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

Paul, thank you for the link. I for one have never doubted that Intelligent Design is all about religion. The arguments put forward to support Intelligent Design have no relationship to biological systems. Additionally, supports of ID suggest that the agent in ID is supernatural. With both these weaknesses they want to include this in teaching school children, without risking it being rejected by the scientific method. This makes it obvious that ID is religious in nature. What has been missing is that the ID proponents being honest and admitting that they real intention is religious.

It is ironic that creationist lie that scientists have heated arguments over evolution. When the true is that ID creationists talk about how ID puts God back into science.

This extended excerpt from Chapter One of Dembski’s forthcoming book is rather revealing with respect to Dembski’s current thought and why he has decided to challenge “New Atheists” such as Dawkins, Hitchens and others:

I finished what I thought would be my last graduate degree in 1988, a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago. On completing that degree, I began a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There I was struck by how readily my colleagues regarded Christianity as passé. They did not think that Christianity was dangerous and had to be stamped out. They thought that Christianity lacked intellectual vitality and deserved to be ignored. Its stamping out was, in their minds, a long-accomplished fact—the war was over and Christianity had lost. In the mental environment of my MIT colleagues, Christianity carried no weight. As a Christian who believed then (and still does now) that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is humanity’s chief truth, I found this light dismissal of Christianity troubling. How could my colleagues so easily reject the Christian faith? I had to get to the bottom of this question and therefore set aside a promising career as a research mathematician to pursue further studies in philosophy and theology. Much has happened in our culture in the twenty years since my time at MIT. Notably, the intelligent design movement has grown internationally and pressed Western intellectuals to take seriously the claim that life and the cosmos are the product of intelligence. To be sure, many of them emphatically reject this claim. But their need to confront and refute it suggests that our mental environment is no longer stagnating in the atheistic materialism that for so long has dominated Western intellectual life. That atheistic worldview, supposedly buttressed by science, has constituted a major obstacle, at least in the West, to taking Christianity seriously. With atheistic materialism now itself in question, Christianity is again on the table for discussion. This is not to say that the discussion is friendly or that Christianity is about to find widespread acceptance at places like MIT. Instead of routinely ignoring Christianity as they did twenty years ago, many Western intellectuals now treat it with open contempt, expending a great many words to denounce it. But this is progress. The dead are ignored and forgotten. The living are scorned and reviled. I was therefore gratified to see the recent rash of books by the “neo-atheists” such as Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s god Is Not Great (Hitchens insists on not capitalizing references to the deity), and Sam Harris’s The End of Faith. These books would be unnecessary if Christianity, and theism generally, were not again a live issue. The neo-atheists’ first line of attack in challenging religious belief, and Christianity in particular, is to invoke science as the principal debunker of religion. Science is supposed to show that any God or intelligence or purpose behind the universe is not merely superfluous but an impediment to reason. Yet evidence from science shows the opposite. The case for a designing intelligence producing life and the cosmos is now on solid ground, as can be seen from such books as The Design of Life and The Privileged Planet. Indeed, the neo-atheists are not having a good time of it when they attempt to disprove Christian faith simply by appealing to science. True, their denunciations of Christianity contain many references to “science.” But the denunciations are ritualistic, with “science” used as a conjuring word (like “abracadabra”). One finds little actual science in their denunciations. Instead of presenting scientific evidence that shows atheism to be true (or probable), the neo-atheists moralize about how much better the world would be if only atheism were true. Far from demonstrating that God does not exist, the neo-atheists merely demonstrate how earnestly they desire that God not exist. The God of Christianity is, in their view, the worst thing that could befall reality. According to Richard Dawkins, for instance, the Judeo-Christian God “is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Dawkins’s obsession with the Christian God borders on the pathological. Yet, he underscores what has always been the main reason people reject God: they cannot believe that God is good. Eve, in the Garden of Eden, rejected God because she thought he had denied her some benefit that she should have, namely, the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.10 Clearly, a God who denies creatures benefits that they think they deserve cannot be good. Indeed, a mark of our fallenness is that we fail to see the irony in thus faulting God. Should we not rather trust that the things God denies us are denied precisely for our benefit? Likewise, the neo-atheists find lots of faults with God, their list of denied benefits being much longer than Eve’s—no surprise here since they’ve had a lot longer to compile such a list!

For the rest, you can read it here:

http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]d_of_xty.pdf

But let me conclude by observing that, in light of his past, often quite repugnant, devious behavior, Dembski’s own “obsession with the Christian God” also “borders on the pathological”. In criticizing Dawkins, I strongly suspect that Dembski sees a kindred spirit working directly opposite from his end of the philosophical/theological spectrum. And, ironically, he sets out the same challenge - that atheism can be “proven” scientifically - which many in the scientific community - including those who are religiously devout - have demanded of religion, especially of fundamentalist faiths like Dembski’s peculiar Xian brand.

Mike said: There is nothing in science that is understood so well that we can pack up the lab and move to Fiji.

At some point an experiment is repeated so many times and under such varied circumstances that we are very, very confident about which variables matter and which don’t. After millions of airplane flights, we can say with some confidence that prayers to Jo-Bu are irrelevant to lift even if no one’s done that specific experiment. How can we rule out an untested variable? Because models of lift that don’t include Jo-Bu prayers provide highly accurate predictions.

The certainty of the “new atheists” is as worrisome as fundamentalist certainty.

I generally agree. But there’s a difference. The new atheists typically argue for non-existence (of God), not irrelevance (of God). Science certainly does have something to say about irrelevance; about what variables matter in predicting the behavior of some physical phenomena. If a scientist can say with confidence that the phase of moon is irrelevant to how fast a ball rolls down an incline, or to the aerodynamic lift of a wing, then they should have no problem conceding the many other things that are irrelevant to those phenomena. Including prayers to Jo-Bu.

eric said:

The new atheists typically argue for non-existence (of God), not irrelevance (of God). Science certainly does have something to say about irrelevance; about what variables matter in predicting the behavior of some physical phenomena. If a scientist can say with confidence that the phase of moon is irrelevant to how fast a ball rolls down an incline, or to the aerodynamic lift of a wing, then they should have no problem conceding the many other things that are irrelevant to those phenomena. Including prayers to Jo-Bu.

I don’t disagree with your statement, but do you think a theistic scientist like Collins or Miller would? Specifically, do you think they would agree that science consigns their deity to irrelevance?

Dean Wentworth said: I don’t disagree with your statement, but do you think a theistic scientist like Collins or Miller would? Specifically, do you think they would agree that science consigns their deity to irrelevance?

They may not agree with my word choice, but I don’t think I’m saying anything substantively different from mainstream religion says now. Angels are not needed to keep the planets in their orbits; gravity (and general relativity) do just fine. Sin is not needed to explain the spread of cholera; germ theory does just fine at that. Miller would probably agree with both of those statements. Another, perhaps more confrontational way of putting them is: God is irrelevant to orbital mechanics and cholera.

eric and Dean,

Am reasonably certain that Ken would agree with both statements. Moreover, I heard him say two weeks ago (at a private talk he gave to our fellow college alumni here in NYC) that anyone who belongs to a faith that is intolerant of modern science should think seriously of leaving that faith.

Regards,

John

eric said:

Another, perhaps more confrontational way of putting them is: God is irrelevant to orbital mechanics and cholera.

There are other obvious questions that anti-science and anti-evolution sectarians never appear to ask themselves.

Why does their god allow others, in other words those who don’t belong to the specific sectarian belief system, make so many important discoveries about the universe?

Even as these sectarians sit at their computers kvetching about “godless science”, they never seem to appreciate the irony of their own existence in a secular society that feeds and protects them and supplies them with many scientific/technological conveniences which they use without the slightest gratitude to the people who gave it to them or to the god who permitted these infidels to discover these things.

Dean Wentworth said:

eric said:

The new atheists typically argue for non-existence (of God), not irrelevance (of God). Science certainly does have something to say about irrelevance; about what variables matter in predicting the behavior of some physical phenomena. If a scientist can say with confidence that the phase of moon is irrelevant to how fast a ball rolls down an incline, or to the aerodynamic lift of a wing, then they should have no problem conceding the many other things that are irrelevant to those phenomena. Including prayers to Jo-Bu.

I don’t disagree with your statement, but do you think a theistic scientist like Collins or Miller would? Specifically, do you think they would agree that science consigns their deity to irrelevance?

I haven’t spoken with or read Collins, but I have spoken with and read Miller, and I’m certain that Miller would say God is “irrelevant to how fast a ball rolls down an incline, or to the aerodynamic lift of a wing”. This does not, however, consign the deity to irrelevance, because there are many things other than rolling balls and lifting wings.

In particular, Miller argues that the deity is relevant to interpersonal relationships, to human motivation, etc. “A Christian sees his life, his family, and his small place in history as parts of God’s plan. He has faith that God expects him to use his talents and abilities in God’s name. He accepts the adversity that comes into this life as a challenge from God, and he sees apparent misfortune as an opportunity to do good in the service of both God and man.” (Finding Darwin’s God, page 236.)

Many would argue that such things are of greater significance than rolling balls and lifting wings.

Dembski delusional xian Dominionist:

(MIT). There I was struck by how readily my colleagues regarded Christianity as passé. They did not think that Christianity was dangerous and had to be stamped out.

Got to hand it to Dembski. In the last 20 years he/they sure showed those MIT eggheads they were incredibly wrong.

Some xian cults are extremely dangerous and malevolent.

1. Two days ago, one xian fanatic killed an MD xian at his church, described by some as the Church of Molech and known by others as the “Lutherans”. This sort of murder comes and goes but they are up to 25 attemps, 8 “wins”. Plus 200 wounded in collateral damage. This is just pure terrorism.

2. Many from the Death Cults openly hate the US and want to overthrow the government. They aren’t subtle about this. Most of them are xian Doms.

3. Somehow the US left a huge pile of bodies in Iraq and rivers of blood. Two of them were friends of mine.

4. It’s often been stated that the most successful war in the last 8 years was the, “War on Science” and “Battle to destroy kid’s science education.” PT wouldn’t exist, nor would the Militant Atheism without Death Cultists.

5. The FBI identified the number 1 domestic terrorist threat as.…lunatic fringe fascists, most of them xians, the so called “xian patriots”.

I could go on but enough is enough, we all read the news. To be fair, the targets of the dangerous, malevolent cults are often.….OTHER XIANS. But atheists and other religions are fair targets as well.

I didn’t hear them complaining when the movie with which they were closely associated claimed that ID was a new idea. Expelled‘s tagline:

Big science has expelled smart new ideas from the classroom…What they forgot is that every generation has its Rebel!

Yeah, right, we were pointing out that it’s Paley warmed over, only with great effort made to avoid making ID falsifiable.

Here is an excerpt from an article that the DI put on their site, apparently without any concern that it portrays ID as a “new theory”:

Intelligent design, which holds that only an unspecified superior intellect can account for the complexity of life forms, is increasingly appearing in science forums and journals as an alternative to evolution theory.

Evolution has been widely accepted in scientific circles ever since Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species revolutionised biological sciences 145 years ago.

But the new theory’s support by a handful of biologists and non-scientists has put Darwinists on the defensive, while encouraging groups who consider evolution hostile to their religious beliefs.

Pro-evolutionists brand the new idea an unscientific melange of politics and religion. [emphases supplied]

www.discovery.org/a/2445

IOW, they’re pushing the idea that it is a new idea, a new theory.

Here’s what used to be on the DI’s website:

Design Theory: A New Science for a New Century

Materialistic thinking dominated Western culture during the 20th century in large part because of the authority of science. The Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks, therefore, to challenge materialism on specifically scientific grounds. Yet Center Fellows do more than critique theories that have materialistic implications. They have also pioneered alternative scientific theories and research methods that recognize the reality of design and the need for intelligent agency to explain it. This new research program-called “design theory”-is based upon recent developments in the information sciences and many new evidences of design. Design theory promises to revitalize many long-stagnant disciplines by recognizing mind, as well as matter, as a causal influence in the world. It also promises, by implication, to promote a more holistic view of reality and humanity, thus helping to reverse some of materialism’s destructive cultural consequences.

There they don’t really say that ID is a totally new idea, but they’re pushing the claim that it’s a “new science,” a “new research program” (Biologic Institute? I don’t think it counts), and that they have “pioneered alternative scientific theories.” IOW, they’re certainly suggesting that it’s new, not the old junk that so long ago was shown to be scientifically useless.

Here’s “Overwhelming Evidence” claiming that ID is a “new science”

There is much work still to do, but as yet mainstream science has not yet managed to argue away this new science. www.overwhelmingevidence.com/oe/blog/sbwillie/evolution_an_idea_on_the_verge_of_extinction

Well, it isn’t new, and it isn’t science. And legitimate science standards do indeed indicate that ID is bunk.

On Evolution News and Views:

Although I served at an institution supporting scientific research into the new theory of intelligent design and consider myself a proponent of the same, in all my time at Discovery Institute I consistently held to our public policy position that public schools should not mandate the teaching of the theory of intelligent design.

www.evolutionnews.org/2005/12/statement_by_seth_l_cooper_con.html

At Kitzmiller the fact that ID is old hat was mentioned, arguing that its ancient history shows it to be religious in nature:

Q. In your opinion, is intelligent design a religious proposition or a scientific proposition?

A. It’s essentially a religious proposition.

Q. We’re going to spend the rest of our time together exploring your reasons for that opinion. What do you understand intelligent design to be?

A. I understand it to be a reformulation of an old theological argument for the existence of God, an argument that unfolds in the form of a syllogism, the major premise of which is wherever there is complex design, there has to be some intelligent designer. The minor premise is that nature exhibits complex design. The conclusion, therefore, nature must have an intelligent designer.

Q. You said this is an old tradition. Can you trace the antecedence for us?

A. Well, two landmarks are Thomas Aquinas and William Paley. Thomas Aquinas was a famous theologian/philosopher who lived in the 13th Century. And one of his claims to fame is that he formulated what are called the five ways to prove the existence of God, one of which was to argue from the design and complexity and order and pattern in the universe to the existence of an ultimate intelligent designer. The second landmark – incidentally, Thomas Aquinas ended every one of his five arguments by saying that this being, this ultimate, everyone understands to be God.

And William Paley, in the late 18th and early 19th Century, is famous for formulating the famous watchmaker argument, according to which, just as you open up a watch and find there intricate design and that should lead you to postulate the existence of a watchmaker, so also the intricate design and pattern in nature should lead one to posit the existence of an intelligent being that’s responsible for the existence of design and pattern in nature.

And like Aquinas, William Paley also said to the effect that everyone understands this to be the God of biblical theism, the creator God of biblical religion.

Q. How does intelligent design build upon or modernize this old tradition of natural theology?

A. Well, it simply appeals to more recent findings about the complexity of the world by contemporary science, for example, what are called irreducible complexity and specified informational complexity.

www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day5pm.html

Uncommon Descent claims that “Darwinism” is the new idea, but forgets that it said that, and states:

Now, in our day, a new idea has indeed come along, and it is embodied in the information found in a DNA molecule. It is beyond ridiculous, then, to suggest that men like Francis Bacon, Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Faraday, Maxwell or Lord Kelvin — all of whom were in part motivated by religion and whose religion gave meaning to their science — would ignore or dismiss such evidence of design because of its possible religious implications.

www.uncommondescent.com/faq/

Of course they’re speaking out of both sides of their mouths, as usual.

We know very well that ID is not a new idea, it’s a pre-scientific idea that can only win if science standards are essentially destroyed.

Glen Davidson

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

I can summarize Dembski’s arguments easily.

Science proves god exists and his name is Yahweh, the xian god.

There is absolutely no proof of this so everyone will have to take Dembski’s word on it. As to why anyone much less everyone would take Dembski’s word about anything, it s complete mystery much more unsolvable than what came before the Big Bang.

This is claimed to be sophisticated philosophy, science, and theology.

Shorter Dembski, “I know everything, so shut up and believe.”

Chip Poirot said: So this rules all the social sciences out of Science and confines Science to only the natural and physical sciences.

I wouldn’t go that far, because some social scientists study the natural and physical world, even if what they do is called by some other name. I know economists who study the effect of oxytocin levels on people’s decisions in two-player economic games. Its biology. Its economics. Its psychology.

But I can see the train running down the tracks here. You’ll probably start arguing that because there is a fuzzy boundary and there are some tough calls, we should dispense with the science-as-subject altogether. Before you bother: I disagree with that notion.

In general, as one of my grad student friends used to say: disciplines that feel the need to put “science” in their name are like countries that feel the need to put “democratic” in their name. They usually aren’t.

Rilke’s Granddaughter said:

Chip said, “What i am saying is that there is no area of inquiry where we are justified in applying some method other than that of the systematic appplication of the method of reason and experience.”

But this is, in fact, wrong. YOU are making a value judgement that not everyone shares; a very devout religious person might claim that we are always justified in applying some other method - revelation, for example - to an area of inquiry.

You are mixing your personal preferences up with absolute statements about what people SHOULD do.

Well, I guess it depends on one’s goal. My goal is to arrive at truth. Admittedly, seeking truth is a value, which is why Science can never be value free as long as it prioritizes the search for truth. To say that something is true is to say that things are as we say they are and to say that something is false is to say that things are not as it is claimed.

If I say “it is snowing” and the sun is shining and it is 80 degrees, then I have spoken falsely. If I say it is snowing and there is in fact snow falling from the sky, then I have spoken the truth.

Admittedly, sometimes truth is hard to discern. We always have to communicate it through language and despite our best efforts to find a purely neutral ground to communicate, it cannot be done. But just because claims to truth must be communicated through language does not make truth relative to language.

So then the issue is what is the most reliable way to arrive at truth? I say it is through the method of reason and experience.

Now, granted, this depends on a few assumptions such as “there are no evil demons tricking me” and “I am not a brain in a vat.”

So, if **YOU** wish to argue to me that you are perfectly justified in believing you are a brain in a vat and that my insistence that that is an incoherent argument imposes a value judgement on you, then too bad.

When people stake a claim to miracles I apply Hume’s test. First, I define a miracle as a suspension or violation of known natural law (e.g. A perfectly combustible log put in a hot fire does not burn). If you claim to have witnessed a miracle then I will only believe you if not believing you takes a greater leap than believing you.

If claims to miracles worked out, then I would accept that. But so far, the application of the method of reason and experience has invalidated claims to miracles.

So again, anybody can make any claim they want to any other source of authority. But so what?

Eric,

Now you are claiming that game theory is science if I incorporate studies of oxytocin?

But you betray amazing ignorance of both the history of the natural and social sciences.

The social sciences, like the natural sciences, grew out of the Enlightenment. This was especially true in Scotland. The whole point was to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the study of the social world.

But you prefer deep breathing exercises and game theory. Game theory is not an empirical science. It is mathematical masturbation.

Chip Poirot said:

Eric,

Now you are claiming that game theory is science if I incorporate studies of oxytocin?

But you betray amazing ignorance of both the history of the natural and social sciences.

It must be my amazing ignorance, but I consider some studies to be “interdisciplinary,” and thus qualify as both a social and natural science at the same time! I know, I’m squaring the circle.

eric said:

Chip Poirot said:

Eric,

Now you are claiming that game theory is science if I incorporate studies of oxytocin?

But you betray amazing ignorance of both the history of the natural and social sciences.

It must be my amazing ignorance, but I consider some studies to be “interdisciplinary,” and thus qualify as both a social and natural science at the same time! I know, I’m squaring the circle.

You missed the point-again. You think that throwing in something about oxytocin and decision making transforms game theory into precise, objective, replicable results and thus makes it science.

Now, if you want to say that it is a mathematical science, maybe-but then what does oxytocin levels do for you?

I’m not against interdisciplinarity-to the contrary. But just putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t turn the pig into a fashion model.

Chip Poirot said: You missed the point-again. You think that throwing in something about oxytocin and decision making transforms game theory into precise, objective, replicable results and thus makes it science.

I was using it as an example of interdisciplinary research that refutes your notion that viewing science as a subject “rules all the social sciences out of Science.” If you don’t like it, pick your own example of interdisciplinary research. Your point is still refuted.

You haven’t refuted a thing. When it gets right down to it, you really have no position and no argument at all.

First you say that Science is limited only to very precise, quantifiable knowledge. This rules out significant fields of inquiry even in the natural sciences. But you refuse to address this question.

Then you criticize Laudan (inaccurately as it turns out) for criticizing Ruse’s reliance on Popper, but then deny you are a Popperian.

Then you imply the social sciences are not science.

Then to suggest that some aspects of the social sciences could be studied scientifically, you invent some example that verges on pseudo-science.

Chip,

So, if **YOU** wish to argue to me that you are perfectly justified in believing you are a brain in a vat and that my insistence that that is an incoherent argument imposes a value judgement on you, then too bad.

I didn’t. Try to discuss what people are actually saying, rather than inventing something. It’s more interesting.

When people stake a claim to miracles I apply Hume’s test. First, I define a miracle as a suspension or violation of known natural law (e.g. A perfectly combustible log put in a hot fire does not burn). If you claim to have witnessed a miracle then I will only believe you if not believing you takes a greater leap than believing you.

Good for you. Your OPINION (note that word) is duly noted. I know folks who claim to have witnessed miracles. It doesn’t matter what my opinion of those folks is, it matters to THEM that THEY believe on that basis. They would find your ignorance and disbelief silly.

And you can’t prove them wrong.

If claims to miracles worked out, then I would accept that. But so far, the application of the method of reason and experience has invalidated claims to miracles.

Not in the slightest. Apparently you need to reread Hume. Hume merely discusses whether it is ‘rational’ to accept claims of miracles. But reason and experience have not INVALIDATED claims to miracles. Sorry.

So again, anybody can make any claim they want to any other source of authority. But so what?

So what? You claimed

What i am saying is that there is no area of inquiry where we are justified in applying some method other than that of the systematic appplication of the method of reason and experience.

I am merely pointing out that you are wrong. You are merely showing that your PERSONAL OPINION is that we’re not justified in applying something other than your rather peculiar and highly limiting definition of science.

To use your own format, who cares what your personal opinion about how to get to ‘truth’ is? Religious folks know you’re wrong.

The only thing you have demonstrated is that there are no arguments to refute either skeptics or true believers.

That does not mean that claims to knowledge or claims to how arrive at reliable knowledge is a matter of arbitrary, subjective, opinion. What the word “opinion” means and does not mean has been a matter of some dispute in these discussions.

I would argue that the way people mean “personal opinion” is on the level of “I prefer chocolate to vanilla”, thus implying de gustabus non disputandum . So you argue that one’s choice of epistemology is a matter of opinion. Eric argues that if we can’t have pure, objective, quantifiable precise knowledge, then we have opinion (though in fairness to Eric he does acknowledge that there are opinions that are based on some degree of reasonableness and evidence vs. purely arbitrary claims). But both of you in a sense are making an argument for some degree of relativism-you much more so than Eric.

You label my definition of Science as both “peculiar” and “limiting”. But my definition of Science draws on most of the major figures in philosophy of Science, and in particular Larry Laudan and Susan Haack. Now granted, that doesn’t make me infallible or necessarily right-but my definition of science as the method of reason and experience systematically applied in the search for truth is in actuality a fairly common one. My definition of Science acknowledges that there are specific sciences. Some specific sciences, like physics and molecular biology give us incredibly, precise, quantifiable knowledge. Others, like evolutionary biology are not so precise. The social sciences are less precise still. But I see it as a continnum rather than a sharp break. My position is one that advocates the **unity** of science: a position which incidentally has been a long staple of most people who are on the “pro-science” side. I also deny a sharp break between the Huhmanities and the Social Sciences. My position on this is actually not very different from that of biologist E.O. Wilson-though I wouldn’t go as far as he does.

So, while you may think me wrong, I am neither peculiar nor limited.

The only way my view of science could be called limited, is that I do rule out a posteriori “poof” or “mystical” or “supernatural” explanations as well as vitalism and teleology.

What is your definition of Science?

I have a simple test for the epistemological relativists. Climb up a very, very high building. Go out on the balcony. Now, I will give you a choice. You can demonstrate to me your belief in miracles and the supernatural (no parachutes or anything else that will break your fall) or you can climb down the stairs and go out the front door.

Chip Poirot said: Eric argues that if we can’t have pure, objective, quantifiable precise knowledge, then we have opinion

Mischaracterization and projection. I say science concerns objective quantities, you add the rest. Word search the posts on this thread and you will find the only one of us who insists science be “pure” or “precise” is Chip.

Chip, feel free to continue your conversation with Rilke’s Granddaughter, but I ask as a point of courtesy that you not mischaracterize me as your straw man.

eric said:

Chip Poirot said: Eric argues that if we can’t have pure, objective, quantifiable precise knowledge, then we have opinion

Mischaracterization and projection. I say science concerns objective quantities, you add the rest. Word search the posts on this thread and you will find the only one of us who insists science be “pure” or “precise” is Chip.

Chip, feel free to continue your conversation with Rilke’s Granddaughter, but I ask as a point of courtesy that you not mischaracterize me as your straw man.

Well Eric, believe it or not I thought I was accurately stating your view. Rather than writing out another lengthy post, I will simply ask you to explain how I have misunderstood you.

Even when you have come up with examples where people could do systematic studies in the social sciences, such as extensive data on determination of fair market values, you insisted that such knowledge would still be opinion. You contrasted this with the objective knowledge that is possible in the natural sciences.

You have also indicated support for Michael Ruse’s testimony in Mclean , which relied on Popper’s demarcation criterion of falsification. Adjectives like “pure” and “precise” seem to characterize the above position fairly to me.

The word pure indicates that something is uncontaminated and not comingled with something else. Since you drew the contrast between objective knowledge and opinion, your view of objective knowledge would seem to rest on a concept of purity (objective knowledge uncontaminated by opinion). And your insistence on replicable, objective experiments would also seem to fit the word “precise”.

My whole point has been that science is a very powerful method to reduce subjective bias and systematic error-and it is one that can and should be applied broadly. But humans being what they are, science remains a human enterprise, and hence imperfect. Since my approach emphasizes the importance of cognitive framing to all knowledge-including the natural science-and depends on “degrees of warrant”, then I don’t see why you would intepret me as insisting on being “pure” and “precise”.

I might hold out “pure” and “precise” as absolute goals-much like say one might hold out a germ free operating room as a goal. But regardless of how much one scrubs, there are probably always some germs in an operating room. That doesn’t mean I want to operated on in a pile of horse manure. Similarly, just because I can’t have pure objectivity and 100% precision doesn’t mean I can’t distinguish degrees of objectivity and precision.

It’s even stranger that you would interpret my position as arguing for “purity” when my view is that there is a third position between logical positivism and relativism: Pragmatism as it has been articulated by philosophers such as Larry Laudan and Susan Haack.

I have agreed with you on many occasions that some areas of knowledge such as interpretations of literature or judgements of aesthetic qualities do not reduce to controlled, replicable tests. But I also insist that relativism in these areas is not justified. There are still good and bad interpretations of a text, and we can still gain greater knowledge by applying the method of reason and experience to a text, than by deconstructing it.

So why don’t you explain how I have misinterpreted you and why it is you have interpreted me to be arguing for purity and precision?

Chip Poirot said: And your insistence on replicable, objective experiments would also seem to fit the word “precise”.

Precision is a measure of the extent to which a set of data points agree with each other. It has nothing whatsoever to do with replicability or objectivity.

If I measure the force of gravity at the earth’s surface three times using the same methodology and get values of 6.8m/s^2, 9.8m/s^2, and 12.8m/s^2 that is lousy precision. But my experiment is still measuring an objective quantity, and, IMO, its science. My results may or may not be replicable; if my very poor precision is the result of a random error or shoddy execution, it likely won’t be replicable. If its a result of some systemic error in my methodology, it will be.

In contrast, if I go to a Jonas’ Brothers concert and ask three teen girls to rate the Jonas’ brothers music on a scale of 1 (horrible) to 10 (best music ever written), and the answers I get are 10, 10, and 10, I have achieved excellent precision in my measurement of a subjective quantity. But this precision does not make it science.

For someone who claims to understand the nature of science, you have a terrible misunderstanding of the basic scientific concept of precision.

eric said:

Chip Poirot said: And your insistence on replicable, objective experiments would also seem to fit the word “precise”.

For someone who claims to understand the nature of science, you have a terrible misunderstanding of the basic scientific concept of precision.

Precision can also be a measure of statistical variance and also of lack of ambiguity.

The sentence: “It is a beautiful day” is imprecise, vague and subjective.

In contrast, the sentence: “The thermometer records 30 degrees on the fahrenheit scale and the humidity is 30%” communicates precise, objective information. For some purposes I might want a more precise instrument that makes it easy to read fractions of degrees.

A thermometer that registers only whole degrees is less precise than a thermometer that registers fractions of degrees. The precision also improves the objectivity: It removes the guesswork of estimating whether the red stuff has moved halfway between 30 and 31, or 48% between 30 and 31.

Or, in making predictions, for example, about how fast a radioactive isotope will decay, I can be very precise. I can go farther and date an object found w/precision.

So, for example, potassium/argon dating is often more precise than carbon dating. In this case as well precision improves my objectivity.

Or consider a medical diagnosis of something like fibromyalgia as opposed to cancer. There’s a precise diagnostic criterion for fibromyalgia. And the reason is to distinguish fibromyalgia from other possible ailments. So an objective observer can examine the data, apply the criteria, and agree that the data fit the definition of fibromyalgia. This objective observer may still express skepticism about the scale.

In contrast, if you test someone’s blood sugar, the diagnosis of diabetes is much more precise and objective.

Greater precision generally does yield greater objectivity.

Another example is in Anthropology: In the 19th century, anthropologists relied on traveler’s and missionary reports of other cultures. These were neither precise nor objective.

In contrast, beginning in the 20th century, Franz Boas, who had been trained as a physicist sought to apply rigor of observation to anthropology in an effort to reduce bias. His method was to train people in participant observation.

The ethnography you get from a well designed participant observation will yield both less precise and less objective conclusions than a thermometer reading. But the report from the participant observation is much more precise and objective than a traveler’s or missionary report.

So again-objectivity and precision are matters of degree.

If I misinterpreted your interpretation of objectivity it was at least an honest misunderstanding-not an effort to mischaracterize you or set up a straw man. And it certainly wasn’t an exercise in projection. I find it curious though that you would resort to psuedo-scientific characterizations based on pop psychology.

Eric said:

In contrast, if I go to a Jonas’ Brothers concert and ask three teen girls to rate the Jonas’ brothers music on a scale of 1 (horrible) to 10 (best music ever written), and the answers I get are 10, 10, and 10, I have achieved excellent precision in my measurement of a subjective quantity. But this precision does not make it science.

If you do this properly you are doing sociology: you are measuring teen age girls opinions of the Jonas Brothers.

The question of which pop artist is better is not one I would place in science per se-but would argue is still amenable to cognitively rational discussions.

But the question of social attitudes is independent of the observer.

So by being precise: X percentage of teenage girls rated Jonas Brothers on a 10 given a scale of Y-is precise, objective, replicable and in effect, constitutes science.

But because it is social science it cannot be as precise, objective and replicable as a study in physics.

But that is not an excuse to abandon good scientific methods when doing sociology. Nor is it an excuse to throw up one’s hands and say “anything goes” in the study of art and literature.

Chip poirot said: Precision can also be a measure of statistical variance and also of lack of ambiguity.

Look, you can define precision any way you want when you’re talking about your own opinion. But if you’re going to represent my position on the concept of precision, you might first want to get my opinion, rather than simply making it up. Objective measurement does not require or imply precise measurement, the way scientists use the concept of precision. Maybe objectivity requires Chip-precision; if it does, then…[shrug].

Or, in making predictions, for example, about how fast a radioactive isotope will decay, I can be very precise. I can go farther and date an object found w/precision.

So, for example, potassium/argon dating is often more precise than carbon dating. In this case as well precision improves my objectivity.

This is not even wrong, its just insensible. You seem to start off talking about measuring nuclear lifetime, but then switch halfway through the sentence to talking about measuring the age of something - a technique which treats half-life as a constant, not a variable to be measured. The statement about K-40 being more precise than C-14 appears to confuse their absolute half-life (a bit over one billion vs a bit less than 6 thousand years, respectively) with the concept of margin of error in measurement.

And I don’t even know what “precision improves my objectivity” means in this context. The only thing I can say about this statement is it appears you attempted to use an example of a physical process about which you know very little, resulting in a GIGO problem.

And I don’t even know what “precision improves my objectivity” means in this context. The only thing I can say about this statement is it appears you attempted to use an example of a physical process about which you know very little, resulting in a GIGO problem.

No- gave you an example that is actually critical to paleontology, physical anthropology and archaeology. Dating in these disciplines depends critically on the established levels of precision of different tests of age. I am giving you an applied example.

Other experiments establish relative rates of decay as welll as the relative accuracy of different kinds of tests. Carbon dating yields imprecise dates past a certain point while Potassium-Argon dating becomes more precise and reliable past those dates. Therefore, the use of Potassium Argon dating rather than Carbon dating for many examples improves both precision and objectivity.

Do you deny this?

I’m at least making an effot to de-escalate the rhetoric and clarify. But you seem determined to be as nasty as possible even when the point is simple and well established.

Now you claim that there is a “scientific” use of the word precision, which seems to somehow differ from how I am using the word “precision”.

This is the definiton of precision I got from the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary:

Main Entry: 1pre·ci·sion Pronunciation: \pri-ˈsi-zhən\ Function: noun Date: 1740 1: the quality or state of being precise : exactness 2 a: the degree of refinement with which an operation is performed or a measurement stated — compare accuracy 2b b: the accuracy (as in binary or decimal places) with which a number can be represented usually expressed in terms of the number of computer words available for representation precision arithmetic permits the representation of an expression by two computer words>

I’m saying that greater accuracy and exactness as well as the degree of refinement of an operation makes for greater objectivity.

Do we really disagree on this?

Now I’ll be among the first to recognize that disciplines develop specialized vocabularies, so sometimes a simple dictionary definition doesn’t do justice to how terms are used in a discipline.

If you ask me to distinguish between how a definition of a word like “Investment” is used by most people in common speech, and what economists mean by “Investment” I can quickly send you to multiple sources to explain and justify the difference. Every single economist will immediately explain to you what the difference is.

OK-so why don’t you do the same? Why don’t you tell me what your source of authority is for what you call the “scientific” definition of precision and explain how it differs from the “Chip Poirot definition” which is the same as the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Then when you are done, explain to me how inexact and imprecise theories can be meaningfully tested.

Then explain to me how inexact and imprecise measurement concepts can lead to reliable measurements.

Then explain to me how an inexact and imprecise measuring instrument is going to lead to enhanced objectivity.

I’ve tried to explain to you how more precise definitions of hypotheses, definitions, measurement terms and more precise instruments enhance objectivity.

My point actually seems simple enough:

Again, let’s go back to your example. Actually, your example of just asking three girls on a scale of 1-10 to rate a musician is not precise. When i said it was sociology i actually made an error. It’s more like TV hype which is conducted non-scientifically.

In contrast, a well organized study in Sociology would aim at both greater precision and objectivity. If I want to study social attitudes I first carefully define what aspect of social attitudes I want to study. Then I define an hypothesis and set out a research strategy. I develop a well worded questionaire and a reliable scale. Then I find a way to get a large unbiased sample.

By being more precise in this fashion I improve my objectivity. My answer doesn’t depend on who I think is the best rock musician or whether or not I think teenage girls tend to be shallow.

The question I want to answer is “what are the social attitudes of teenage girls’ or “what factors influence changing tastes in music among teenage girls”.

That’s not a matter of personal opinion. It’s a conclusion supported by a well designed study. It is both more precise and more objective.

I’m not trying to answer the question who is the best-I’m trying to answer the question “who does the population defined in my study think is the best”.

Then I am being both more precise and more objective.

IT comes back to my earlier point:

The sentence “it is a beautiful day” is imprecise and non-objective because beuatiful could mean many different things.

The sentence “it is sunny, 80 degrees on the fahrenheit scale and the humidity is 30%” is both more precise and objective.

How is this not so?

Chip Poirot said: Other experiments establish relative rates of decay as welll as the relative accuracy of different kinds of tests. Carbon dating yields imprecise dates past a certain point while Potassium-Argon dating becomes more precise and reliable past those dates. Therefore, the use of Potassium Argon dating rather than Carbon dating for many examples improves both precision and objectivity.

Do you deny this?

C-14 is inaccurate after certain dates, because the signal is too low and thus anything older than about 100,000 years looks the same. It is not imprecise at all. You can take tens, hundreds of C-14 measurements on a million year old petrified tree and you will get a highly precise set of beta decay counts: all 0. You are confusing precision with accuracy.

I appreciate your effort to de-escalate the tension so I will try and do the same.

As to objectivity: I think, but I’m not sure, that what you are trying to say is our confidence in the value of the date is improving. With each independent measurement of age that agrees, our certainty grows. Another possible way you could be using the term is to denote a reduction of bias: with more independent measurements agreeing, the chances that the measured age is a result of bias is reduced.

Those are both reasonable uses of the term objective, and yes, using them, our objectivity has improved. But that is not what I meant way back when, when I said that science concerns objective quantities. When I compare mass to musical taste and say the former is objective, the latter subjective, I’m making a claim about the property being measured (mass, musical quality), not our knowledge of that property. I’m claiming that mass is an objective property of an object whether we know it very very well or very very poorly. Musical quality is subjective whether we know it with very high confidence or very low confidence.

I would claim that “age” is an objective quantity similar to mass. The rock’s age after we measure it is still just as objective as it was before we measured it, no more, no less. So yes, the way I have been using the term objective the entire time we’ve been arguing, I deny that our objectivity has improved.

On defining precision: I assumed you were using a scientific definition because this entire multi-day conversation is on a science blog and is about science. If we were on a website devoted to finance, and you were arguing with a financial Ph.D., would you assume they were using the Webster’s definition of “investment” or the trade one? And if someone suddenly started throwing the Webster’s definition around, what do you think the financial guys would think of that person’s understanding of investment?

And you’ve never been through the bulls’ eye example? Its simplistic but it does the trick. Many darts together but off center = precise but not accurate, etc…? I’m not being snide, I’m really curious. I thought it was practically viral at this point.

Then when you are done, explain to me how inexact and imprecise theories can be meaningfully tested.

I concede your point. “Imprecise theory” only makes sense using the webster’s version. Just to keep us grounded though, the conversation was never about imprecise theories. It was about whether limiting science to objective phenomena necessarily entailed that all scientific knowledge had to be precice. This is not true because one can have imprecise knowledge of an objective phenomena such as mass.

Then explain to me how inexact and imprecise measurement concepts can lead to reliable measurements.

See above; we never argued about “imprecise measurement concepts”

Then explain to me how an inexact and imprecise measuring instrument is going to lead to enhanced objectivity.

The way I’m using the term “objective,” no measurement - precise or imprecise - changes the objectiveness of a quantity such as mass.

The way you use the term objective to denote something like “more confidence in our knowledge,” this is extremely easy. Random measurement errors cancel out over time, so taking many imprecise measurement will, over time, provide you with high confidence that the value you’ve measured is accurate (i.e. “objective” in your sense???). Let’s say I have a scale that randomly adds a number of pounds between -100 and +100. If I step on it once, there’s no way I can know if the value is even close to right. You might say that my knowledge of my weight is subjective at this time. If I step on it 1,000 times, the average of all those measurements is going to be very very close to my actual weight. Voila! That is how an imprecise instrument can lead to enhanced confidence in our knowledge of the true value of eric’s weight.

I know you wrote more, but I think that’s plenty for now.

Eric,

I think we are at least understanding each other’s position better now.

You are correct: when I say “objective” I mean that I can show my results to someone else and someone else can apply the same criteria and arrive at the same conclusion. Objective is a property of knowledge. I’m making an epistemological point.

You are making an ontological point and I think it is confused. Things like truth and objectivity are properties of knowledge-not of objects. It isn’t the objects that are “objective” per se. What I interpret you to be saying is that some kinds entities (planets, electrons, chemical isotopes) as well as their properties (mass, weight, etc.) exist independently of our definitions and perceptions of them. In other words, you are arguing for external world realism and if that is so, we agree-to a point.

I agree that it is easier to have objective knowledge about some kinds of objects than others. I think we agree that entities that humans do not create are easier to have objective knowledge about.

If I understand you correctly, you limit Science to those entities.

I am not willing to limit Science to those entities nor am I willing to limit external world realism to entities that humans don’t make.

I agree that the problem of objective knowledge becomes increasingly difficult as we move from studying electrons to studying human fossils and then human artifacts. And it gets more difficult when I want to study things like deviance and market price and then increasingly so when I move on to literature.

Now let’s go way, way back to the beginning. I was very clear that I was talking about not leaving things outside of scientific methods. When I said “if we define science as a method, then strictly speaking, nothing lies outside of science” was very clear in the context: there isn’t ever any reason to abandon the use of good scientific methods.

Let’s go back to your example of sampling people at a rock concert. That’s a bad method. It doesn’t yield objective knowledge. It’s not a scientific method.

And as I have said over and over and over again, if you want to answer vague questions like “who is the best rock band ever” those kinds of questions do reduce to subjective bias. But that isn’t a good way to organize a study. A better question might be “which rock band was the most popular”. Then you could create a scale which measured popularity by several indices (records sold, concert attendance, and so on).

The actions that people take on an ongoing sustained basis exist independently of my perceptions and definitions. I can’t change the level of economic activity for example, by changing a variable in a mathematical equation. I may be able to develop a better theory by changing a variable. But my better theory doesn’t change the level of economic activity.

The only way my theory can effect the world is if people act on it. If that action produces the result my theory said it would, then my confidence in my theory is increased.

So in the end, I can have objective knowledge about humans because at least some of the things humans do have properties that permit for us to have objective knowledge.

And I still don’t see how your use of precise differs from the normal sense of precise as “exact”.

You wrote this:

If I step on it 1,000 times, the average of all those measurements is going to be very very close to my actual weight. Voila! That is how an imprecise instrument can lead to enhanced confidence in our knowledge of the true value of eric’s weight.

Right-in some instances any one measurement is imprecise or inexact. And it is also unreliable. Through repeated replication and sampling, we reduce error and become more precise. That is why you don’t sample three girls at a rock concert. It doesn’t matter how “exact” or “precise” your scale is, because your sample size is not meaningful. Sure, you can say I have exactly a “10” on my scale, but you have an imprecise measure of public opinion. If you want a precise measure of how teenage girls think about rock bands, you need a well designed survey and a large, random sample. Then your results become more “exact” and your instrument is more “exact” as well.

Chip Poirot said: And as I have said over and over and over again, if you want to answer vague questions like “who is the best rock band ever” those kinds of questions do reduce to subjective bias. But that isn’t a good way to organize a study. A better question might be “which rock band was the most popular”

That would indeed be an easier way to organize a study. But you are not now measuring the quantity I said was subjective (bestness), you’re measuring a proxy. You have, without knowing it, done exactly what you claimed you weren’t doing: you have limited science to objective entities such as the number of tickets exchanged for money or the number of people showing up at a certain place at a certain time.

Philosophically you’re not going to convince me that the scientific method can be applied to subjective property A by demonstrating that you can successfully measure proxy value B (unless you can draw a deductive or mathematical relationship between A and B).

oops that should read “quantities” not “entities.”

eric said

Philosophically you’re not going to convince me that the scientific method can be applied to subjective property A by demonstrating that you can successfully measure proxy value B (unless you can draw a deductive or mathematical relationship between A and B).

Like I said at the very beginning, the scientific method can and should be applied as broadly as possible. I don’t see science as dealing with the idiosyncratic or personal.

The sentence: “Cabernet is better than Merlot” is not the kind of thing that one would seek to study “scientifically”. If you misunderstood me to mean that any and all questions could be studied scientifically, then I apologize for imprecise use of language.

What I have been trying to persuade you of is the view that many things that people leave “outside of science” really should not be. There are areas where answers cannot be definitive. But that doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and walk away or resort to “anything goes”.

At least many aspects of the social sciences do have objective properties as you are using the term “objective”. Even some aspects of the humanities are objective.

Sentences like “Blake is a better poet than Shakespeare” is not a scientific sentence.

Nor would I try to quantify Blake or Shakespeare or eliminate emotion, value and meaning from Shakespeare. But if I want to understand Shakespeare better I can approach the study of Shakespeare scientifically by doing things like actually reading Shakespeare, learning about Victorian England, and so on. I can understand Blake better by understanding how he responded to the Industrial Revolution. I can study how he uses metaphor and imagery to make a point. I’m not even sure saying Blake is better than Shakespeare has meaning.

But even in the Humanities I can still test my interpretations against evidence. There are good interpretations of texts and bad interpretations of texts.

Going back to the original example of someone saying that marriage is outside of science. Well, yes and no. Certainly my love for my wife is not something that is really scientific. On the other hand, suppose a couple is having marital issues. I’m not advocating people abandon emotion and passion. But certainly making an effort to be objective could be helpful. So could a third party who doesn’t have a stake in the conflict. So if a couple goes to a marriage counselor, that couple would be better off going to a marriage counselor who was evidence driven rather than agenda driven.

Chip Poirot said:

The sentence: “Cabernet is better than Merlot” is not the kind of thing that one would seek to study “scientifically”.…

…Sentences like “Blake is a better poet than Shakespeare” is not a scientific sentence.

…Certainly my love for my wife is not something that is really scientific.

Great! We seem to be in agreement.

Chip, I do not think any scientist, anywhere, will dispute that the scientific method can be applied to inexact problems or areas where our knowledge is poor - where our knowledge is subjective the way you use the term. I think the only dispute comes when someone claims that science can be used to study “subjective quantities” like poetic quality, love, good/evil, aesthetics, etc… At best, one can take a scientific approach to studying objective (in my terms) phenomena that serve as proxies of those things, but science and the scientific method can’t get at those things directly.

Now, there’s two ways to respond to this observation (that science can’t get at things like artistic quality directly). One can say that knowledge of artistic quality is unscientific. Or one can say that we can’t truly “know” anything about artistic quality, because knowledge only comes about through the scientific method. When you make statements like this:

I’m not even sure saying Blake is better than Shakespeare has meaning.

You are articulating to the latter view.

Now philosophers have been arguing about what constitutes knowledge for millennia. I think its fair to say that while you may have your idea about what knowledge is and I may have mine, neither one of us has come up with THE answer. If we had, we’d be on the front of various magazines. But, what I would argue is that one can gain practically useful information about concepts such as “love” or “artistic quality” through study, and so from a practical standpoint it makes sense to talk about unscientific knowledge. The arts and humanities are valuable and wonderful things. They don’t lose all value simply because the understanding they provide cannot be shoehorned into the methodology of science.

Eric,

Let’s suppose a Humanities Professor wants to attempt to resolve a disputed area on Shakespeare studies.

Should this Humanities Professor:

1. Read Shakespeare and relevant secondary sources on Shakespeare; 2. Investigate Shakespeare’s time period and understand the context in which Shakespeare wrote; 3. Arrive at a conclusion based on the evidence and judicious application of reason- 4. Try to publish the results in a peer reviewed journal on Shakespeare and subject his or her work to critical scrutiny:

Or, should this Humanities Professor:

1. Simply say Shakespeare is so sublime that it would be destroying art and beauty to attempt to subject Shakespeare to a critical investigation?

The first strategy is in many ways similar to what natural scientists do. The object of study may not be so precise and of course you can’t do a controlled experiment. The data will be more fragmented. And thus the conclusion more tenuous.

But if Humanities Professors were to keep at it and really endeavored to arrive at the truth,it would be possible to increase their confidence in their views on Shakespeare.

Or let’s take another example:

A Historian wants to test competing hypotheses about the Nazi regime. There is a historical consensus that the Nazi’s systematically murdered about 9-12 million people. But historians disagree about when and how this policy emerged.

How should the historian try to settle this question? Should the historian just declare Nazism to be evil and deem the question inappropriate-or should the historian actually go and read documents, review evidence, compare differing interpretations, publish the results, etc?

You say that people have been arguing about what constitutes good knowledge for quite some time, and then seem to imply that because they argue about it, we should give up on it.

That seems to go against your own stated preference-your own view of objective knowledge bears a faint family resemblance to the early Wittgenstein.

In essence, you seem to be suggesting we should just give up on the fields of epistemology and ontology.

I disagree and while my conclusion may be an opinion (e.g. a conclusion or inference based on evidence) it is an opinion that is shared by many.

In many ways, the physical and natural sciences have been a tremendous epistemological success and at least some of the time a tremendous social success (other times not so much). I think its worth studying the evolution of knowledge in the natural sciences to understand how and why, and to compare other fields to see what is the same, and what is different. The roots of the success lay in Enlightenment philosophy. Given this success, why should we abandon the Enlightenment project?

Areas like ethics may not reduce to mathematical equations. But they are amenable to practical experience and cognitively rational discussion.

Chip Poirot said:

Or let’s take another example:

A Historian wants to test competing hypotheses about the Nazi regime. There is a historical consensus that the Nazi’s systematically murdered about 9-12 million people. But historians disagree about when and how this policy emerged.

How should the historian try to settle this question? Should the historian just declare Nazism to be evil and deem the question inappropriate-or should the historian actually go and read documents, review evidence, compare differing interpretations, publish the results, etc?

This counterexample is sufficiently irrelevant to Eric’s argument as to support the hypothesis that you haven’t really understood Eric’s position.

Your example has a single, unambiguous, objectively correct answer (even though the evidence might not exist to actually prove the conclusion.)

Eric is concerned with questions that don’t derive from objective facts. Consider the (less than entirely serious question)

Is Hitler’s moustache funnier than Churchill’s cigar?

This question simply does not have an objective answer. You might, however, get an objective correlation if you were to ask the question of many people as part of a questionnaire on political views.

Chip Poirot said: In essence, you seem to be suggesting we should just give up on the fields of epistemology and ontology.

Not at all. I might suggest, however, that a singular focus on ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’ sometimes results in ignoring ‘useful.’ Don’t make perfection the enemy of good. Avoid the “philosopher in the headlights” syndrome of thinking that we must stop and fix a kludgy, incomplete, inelegant theorem before we proceed; that is not how science generally works. As the saying goes: ALL models are wrong…some are useful. If you want to know my opinion on why science has been so successful, that is one of the keys. We let theologists worry about Truth and focus instead on useful. I sometimes suspect that philosophers would prefer everyone use relativistic calculations to calculate how much gas a car uses going to and from the grocery store. That would be closer to Truth, but it wouldn’t be useful.

P.S. using Nazis as an example is generally NOT something one does if one really wants to “de-escalate tension.”

eric said:

P.S. using Nazis as an example is generally NOT something one does if one really wants to “de-escalate tension.”

You misunderstood the example. I’m not calling people Nazis or implying that anyone is a sympathizer with holocaust revisionism. I’m taking a very real existing problem in historical interpretation: functionalists vs. intentionalists and using it to show how a coherent research strategy can lead to objective truth, or at least more objective truth. I also use it because I have done recent reading on historical interpretations of the Nazi era so it is fresh in my mind. So I assure you, no insults were or are intended at all.

So here we have an event X in history: the holocaust. Why should we accept it? I think we should accept because it is so overwhelmingly supported by the evidence.

What historians do argue about in this instance is the interpretation of the evidence.

So I think my question is fair. If I want to understand the Nazi regime how do I go about doing so?

And if my use of the Nazi regime as a problem in historical investigation and interpretation is too sensitive, then pick another historical problem: the Norman Conquest, Imperialism, Manifest Destiny, the rise and fall of great powers, the industrial revolution.

There are basically two overarching approaches to historical interpretation.

One approach is that historical events, personalities and events are inherently subjective in nature and hence all we can do is write competing narratives. In principle, any narrative is as good as any other. You could following this principle, even deny the holocaust as fact (though many of the proponents of this view would not do so) and simply argue that our interpretations of the holocaust are just a construction. After all, the allies were biased too.

The other approach is that there really was a history and that through systematic investigation we can actually arrive at better historical interpretations by following basice rules such as evidence, etc. We can then test our interpretations against the evidence and against counterarguments based on counter evidence. Through truth seeking and systematic investigation, we winnow out bias and selectivity and at least get closer to the truth, and perhaps, even to the truth itself.

There are variations on these views but these are the two big ones.

I think the latter is an adaptation of the scientific method and is how we should approach the social sciences and history.

There is no need to get offended by my use of the Nazi era as an example here.

And no-I am not making the perfect the enemy of the good. To the contrary, I entirely recognize that our knowledge of the social sciences and history is fragmented and in fact corrupted by bad practice, and worsened by epistemological relativism. But just because we don’t have the “perfect” and may not get it, is no reason to accept the bad. I’ll happily settle for the good.

We let theologists worry about Truth and focus instead on useful. I sometimes suspect that philosophers would prefer everyone use relativistic calculations to calculate how much gas a car uses going to and from the grocery store. That would be closer to Truth, but it wouldn’t be useful.

Even if I accepted your epistemology of constructive empiricism (which I do not) that still would not justify using bad methods in the social sciences (though lord knows it has been done-all you have to do is read Paul Samuelson’s Nobel Prize address).

Constructive empiricism still relies on appraising theories against evidence. A theory or model must still be testable and it must be operationalizable and make useful predictions-even if some parts of it are oversimplified or even false.

Constructive empiricism seeks more powerful and more reliable models-i.e. models that are more and more consistent with the evidence and which explain more evidence. Constructive empiricists still would prefer a more realistic model over a less realistic model, all other things held equal.

If you constantly improve your model so that your model incorporates more and more realistic assumptions, and makes more and more useful predictions, you eventually get a very, very reliable model for which you have a very strong warrant of belief to act on.

If I say that the world conforms to P, and that P is reliable, and that I am willing to act on P, then I am saying that P is true. If you want, you can restrict a theory like Newton’s to a specific domain (it is extremely reliable for day to day activities) so that Newton’s theory is true just under conditions x, y and z. I prefer Einstein’s theory because it is true under more empirical cases-it is more general.

So, long story short: I accept constructive empiricism as a place holder. But the goal is truth.

Kevin B wrote:

Your example has a single, unambiguous, objectively correct answer (even though the evidence might not exist to actually prove the conclusion.)

Eric is concerned with questions that don’t derive from objective facts.

And that is my point: many issues in history and the social sciences can in fact be settled by the use of scientific methods-or if you prefer, adaptations of the scientific method. I am in fact arguing that many facets of human experience do not reduce to mere opinion-but can be settled, or at least better understood by using good research methods.

It might help if I repeat the origin of this thread: Someone said that many areas of their lives were outside of science and proceeded to give several examples like committee meetings and marriage. I may have opened myself to criticism by using a somewhat hyperbolic statement such as “when we see science as a method, strictly speaking, nothing is exempt from science”. I say may have, because if you back and read the posts in context, it is pretty clear that my point was that many areas that people assume they can just throw up their hands and declare the matter one of opinion, are not. They yield to systematic investigation because they do have properties that exist outside of my perception or thoughts about them.

I didn’t mean that science tried to investigage idiosyncratic issues like who has a funnier mustache. You could however investigate the effectiveness of humor.

The sentence “9-12 million people were systematically murdered by the Nazis” is a conclusion drawn from many documents.

As I noted above, this conclusion is not in dispute. What is in dispute is when, where, how and why the policy emerged. And that question too should not be left to opinion, but to systematic investigation.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on June 2, 2009 8:48 PM.

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