Cornelius Hunter and the Mystery of the Missing Scientific Theory

| 136 Comments

by Joe Felsenstein http://evolution.gs.washington.edu/felsenstein.html

In a discussion here of the views of the creationist Cornelius Hunter I posted a comment with a summary of his views about Bad Design arguments. I argued that

what he has just done is to admit that the hypothesis of a Designer is not science, as it predicts every possible result. If you predict every possible outcome, the ones that are seen and the ones that are not, then you have not predicted anything!

At his own blog Hunter objected strongly, saying that

Unfortunately these misrepresentations are typical of evolutionists. Not only are evolution’s metaphysical arguments from dysteleology, or bad design, perfectly valid, they can also be quite powerful. Felsenstein’s strawman that we say otherwise would be bizarre if it wasn’t so common.

Was I wrong?

Hunter certainly did endorse bad-design arguments in a post on 27 July at his blog “Darwin’s God”. He reacted to Jerry Coyne’s example of the bad design of the giraffe recurrent laryngeal nerve by saying that

Evolution has no scientific explanation for how the recurrent laryngeal nerve, or any other nerve for that matter, evolved. It is a vacuous theory. But it knows they must have evolved because God would not have done it that way.

In fact, evolution has no solid basis for even thinking these designs are necessarily poor. This is more religion making its way into the argument, as the assumption of poor design is itself a motif of evolutionary thought.

Hunter thinks arguments from bad design are potentially powerful, but when Coyne makes one, Hunter argues that the path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve might be a good one, and that Coyne can’t prove that the design is actually bad. And he will do that no matter where the nerve zigzags to.

Does he have a scientific theory about that nerve? I haven’t noticed one.

This approach is not confined to bad-design arguments. Take the evidence for common descent. Note Hunter’s reaction to David Penny’s work verifying common descent. Penny’s paper compares the fit of common descent to a null hypothesis of no common descent.

In that 1991 paper Penny and his collaborators compared phylogenies inferred from 18 different protein loci. Using the null hypothesis that each locus had a different, randomly selected tree, they could firmly reject that and conclude in favor of common descent, as the 18 trees were far more similar than would occur at random.

To Cornelius Hunter, the null hypothesis that Penny et al. used

attacks design or creation using non scientific premises that a design or creation advocate would not recognize.

One immediately wonders: To avoid making this supposed religious presupposition, what should Penny et al. have done? What are the “scientific premises” that a design or creation advocate would recognize?

If there are none, then the Design he speaks of is an infinitely flexible hypothesis that predicts nothing, and thus is really not a scientific hypothesis at all … which is what I originally said. Hunter has objected to my statement. So what in the way of a scientific hypothesis does he offer instead?

136 Comments

Dont you think its great, creation, its design for hearing the beauty of sound. Think ther is sound as a primal of the plyns, and until thee ear is designed it cannot be defined. Here we are able to define such wonderous awe, which is, Sound, with that perfection of design, thee Ear. Take time, keep strong, be watchful.

Anyone wanna clarify what elon-leon just said? Anyone else want to address what joe asked? On the latter point, I’d like someone to sum up the creationist’s non-position so I don’t have to wade through their effluvium to find it myself, and on the former I’d just like to know if anagram-margana actually conveyed a thought without having to decode it.

My ear isn’t perfect. I have genetic tendencies towards tinitus, high frequency sound causes me intense pain, and I have an extra hole in my left ear (not caused by piercing). I was born a mutant. Bite me.

Elon-Leon said:

Dont you think its great, creation, its design for hearing the beauty of sound. Think ther is sound as a primal of the plyns, and until thee ear is designed it cannot be defined. Here we are able to define such wonderous awe, which is, Sound, with that perfection of design, thee Ear. Take time, keep strong, be watchful.

cs,

I believe that what Elon wrote is properly translated as follows:

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.”

Well s/he certainly seems to be playing Humpty-Dumpty with language.

Joe -

I haven’t read much of Cornelius Hunter’s nonsense, but does he contend, like Stephen Meyer, that it is possible to test how far a “design” has “degenerated” (When I read that in Meyer’s book, I thought, “Oh no, the Creator is gonna get mad with Stevie boy”.). WOuld be interesting to see whether Hunter buys Meyer’s argument.

Thanks,

John

John Kwok said: I haven’t read much of Cornelius Hunter’s nonsense, but does he contend, like Stephen Meyer, that it is possible to test how far a “design” has “degenerated” (When I read that in Meyer’s book, I thought, “Oh no, the Creator is gonna get mad with Stevie boy”.). WOuld be interesting to see whether Hunter buys Meyer’s argument.

I have not read Meyer’s book so I don’t know whether Hunter’s argument is similar to Meyer’s. Hunter’s argument chastises evolutionary biologists for their alleged religious presuppositions when they try to make predictions from Design or creationism. But Hunter does not come up with any scientific predictions of his own. So if Meyer does come up with some, then his argument must be different from Hunter’s.

Science has a method but its purpose is not to do the method but to discover the workings of the natural world. The scientific method is not useful to origin subjects period. Therefore I.D or YEC lines should be that origin subjects can only be explored by a weighing of evidence but not a testing of it. It seems to I.d people and some YEC people they are doing the same work as their opponents but thats the point. Predictions doesn’t work in past and gone events. all that is left is the remnants of processes. Not the processes themselves. Now I.d folk would say God has made a machine of the universe and so it can be open to science even about origins. So God’s fingerprints are all over the machine. Yet God is not the machine. So complexity still only suggests or insists on God. God as a agent of influence is can’;t be a part of investigation. As Mr Hunter said, I think, prediction of a designer’s work is not possible because of open options but predictions based on disorder/order can establish the hypothesis. Disorder would not be a part of the order of a creator. So disorder can not be.

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

One immediately wonders: To avoid making this supposed religious presupposition, what should Penny et al. have done? What are the “scientific premises” that a design or creation advocate would recognize?

I don’t know if Hunter acknowledges it elsewhere, or conveniently omits it, but as you know, even some anti-evolution activists (e.g. Michael Behe) concede common descent. Whether one reluctantly concedes common descent or uses a purely negative argument against it, the reason is the same. They know, and can’t admit, that the alternative means that many lineages arose from nonliving matter independently. And that raises all sorts of interesting testable questions, starting with when each lineage originated. Unlike Behe, Hunter apparently desperately wants to keep YECs under the big tent (hence his “agnosticism” on the ages of past events). So he will do anything to avoid those questions. Please don’t let him.

Elon-Leon said:

Dont you think its great, creation, its design for hearing the beauty of sound. Think ther is sound as a primal of the plyns, and until thee ear is designed it cannot be defined. Here we are able to define such wonderous awe, which is, Sound, with that perfection of design, thee Ear. Take time, keep strong, be watchful.

I’m not sure what all that is supposed to mean, but if I interpret it correctly I can say that as a deaf person I’m not at all “awed” by it.

P.S. - I see Booby Byers is back. This should be more laughs.

I believe that what Robert wrote is also properly translated as follows:

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.”

But seriously, Robert doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “prediction” as used in the scientific method. You can add that to the list of all of the other words that he doesn’t understand. I especially like the use of the new plu perfect subjunctive negation tense: is can’;t.

Keelyn said:

P.S. - I see Booby Byers is back. This should be more laughs.

He never went away, regrettably.

Yes, he’s risible. But people used to go to Bedlam, to laugh at the antics of the mad. Laughing at Byers smacks of that, to me. And anyway, I have the feeling that he actually courts it. It’s his penance, his mortification of the flesh.

The old saw about mud-wrestling a pig applies here. I should take my own advice; but something about triumphant, malicious, windy ignorance gets my goat.

Well, I guess getting goats is what trolls do. Byers is a troll, after all.

Robert Byers said:

Predictions doesn’t [sic] work in past and gone events.

This would seem to suggest that Gravitational Theory and the theory of orbital mechanics don’t predict solar eclipses during the time of the ancient egyptians before these theories were developed. Or that Germ theory doesn’t predict the effects of malaria before in past epidemics. You don’t seem to understand what “prediction” means in science. This is the problem with trying to discuss complex scientific issues without understanding science concepts.

Disorder would not be a part of the order of a creator. So disorder can not be.

How do you know this to be true?

Frank J said:

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

One immediately wonders: To avoid making this supposed religious presupposition, what should Penny et al. have done? What are the “scientific premises” that a design or creation advocate would recognize?

I don’t know if Hunter acknowledges it elsewhere, or conveniently omits it, but as you know, even some anti-evolution activists (e.g. Michael Behe) concede common descent. Whether one reluctantly concedes common descent or uses a purely negative argument against it, the reason is the same. They know, and can’t admit, that the alternative means that many lineages arose from nonliving matter independently. And that raises all sorts of interesting testable questions, starting with when each lineage originated. Unlike Behe, Hunter apparently desperately wants to keep YECs under the big tent (hence his “agnosticism” on the ages of past events). So he will do anything to avoid those questions. Please don’t let him.

It certainly would be interesting to hear Cornelius Hunter tell us what he thinks has evolved, and what he thinks hasn’t. Over at Uncommon Descent it is very common for some people to post or leave comments saying that “there is no evidence for evolution” while in the same thread others will angrily say that there is no one there who denies common descent. And they never, ever, argue with each other!

For the moment I am just waiting to hear what scientific alternative hypothesis to common descent Cornelius Hunter would want David Penny to use in his test. I’m not holding my breath.

I thought it used to be that the “designer dunnit” if it was impossible for nature to do it. Now I guess it’s the designer dunnit if the odds are, like, ten million to one or something. Somebody must have sent out new fundie memos or something. Or maybe they just didn’t read the old ones. Or maybe it never really mattered all along.

May I feed the troll, please? :-)

Someone argued on another blog that you can’t make “historical” predictions. The example used was climate prediction. Say you have 100 years of data. In essence, if you want to make a real prediction, you have to make the prediction about the future, then wait 10 years to see if your prediction turned out to be correct. The term “model” was not used in the original argument.

It sounded reasonable to my wife, until I explained that you can take the last 100 years of data, build and train your model on only the first 90 years of data. Then, let your model run for 10 years. If the model “predicts” the last 10 years accurately, you know your model is reasonable.

I think one fallacy might be the notion that a “prediction” from a mathematical model is just like a “prediction” from the entrails of a dove: “prediction” = “guess”, just like “theory” = guess”.

I think the the more subtle fallacy of not being able to make “real” “predictions” about the past gets back to the fallacy that scientists front-load their experiments, if only by the very act of designing the experiment in the first place (or something like that). Everyone knows what happened in the last 10 years, so everyone “knows” the scientists must have biased their experiment to make it look good. If they didn’t knowingly fudge the data, they must have done so unknowingly.

Even someone who is intelligent, but not versed in the art of mathematical modeling can get confused about how a model is developed and how it is used to make “predictions” about something you already know. “But, if your first prediction doesn’t match the last 10 years of data, and you then go back and change the model until it does, aren’t you also using the last 10 years of data to train the model too?” Sure, it could, if all you do is tweak your coefficients until the data fits all 100 years of data.

But let’s say the mismatch between the first “prediction” and the last 10 years of data merely suggests that you overlooked some subtle factor in the first 90 years of data. If you then add new coefficients to your model, but still base them on only the first 90 years of data, then your next “prediction” is also reasonably free from influence from the last 10 years of data. Iterate until convergence.

I’m no modeling expert, but I’ve had enough experience to feel this is a reasonably accurate lay understanding of the process.

Scott,

Of course you are right. However, it’s even worse than that. Robert seems to think, (it’s always hard to tell because Canadian is apparently his first language), that it is impossible to make predictions about what one would expect to find today based on models of past history. I know, it doesn’t even make any sense. This guy should watch CSI more often.

Then again, on another thread, he claimed that the story of Jericho in the bible accurately predicted what archaeologists found. So, I guess even he doesn’t believe his own nonsense. I guess he thinks that only biblical studies represent valid historical science. Or maybe it’s only stuff he wants to believe that’s valid. What a joke.

Scott,

P.S.

You don’t have to ask permission in order to feed the troll. As long as the people who run this site allow trolls like this to post with impunity, everyone should feel perfectly free to point out the logical errors in their arguments. The best you can do is to try and keep them on-topic. But since disruption is apparently their only goal, that can be difficult.

I am a big fan of sending off-topic nonsense to the bathroom wall. But, as long trolls are allowed to pollute these threads, reasoned responses such as yours seem appropriate.

DS said:

Then again, on another thread, he claimed that the story of Jericho in the bible accurately predicted what archaeologists found. So, I guess even he doesn’t believe his own nonsense. I guess he thinks that only biblical studies represent valid historical science. Or maybe it’s only stuff he wants to believe that’s valid. What a joke.

It’s not that Robert Byers doesn’t believe his own babbling: it’s that he’s inconsistent, in that he’s so stupid that he forgets what he had pulled out of his ass in the previous thread. Thus, the constant self-contradiction.

Scott said: I think one fallacy might be the notion that a “prediction” from a mathematical model is just like a “prediction” from the entrails of a dove: “prediction” = “guess”, just like “theory” = guess”.

I think a good way to explain it would be to say, “we can make a prediction of what we will find about the past that we haven’t found yet.”

On the subject of people not understanding climate models, I just came off a very long discussion with certain people who were convinced that scientists “tweak” their models to perfectly fit historical data and so the models are unreliable because they depend on fine-tuning. But that’s not what really happens, because as I understand it the climate models are only physical models, i.e. a set of physics algorithms, and you aren’t free to do things like set the value of g = 1.45 m/s^2 at sea level. In fact the models themselves don’t really depend on past temperatures at all, they’re just a series of interactions between known laws of physics. If you were making a statistical model of the climate, you would need all those reams and reams of data we have to build it, but not a physical model of the kind that the IPCC etc. use.
Instead, what happens is that the scientists making the model set up a ‘world’ with certain laws of physics and then feed in a few boundary conditions to get the model moving as an approximate of Earth starting at a certain point in time. Since a lot of the physical systems being simulated are extremely complex, getting accuracy without hand-tuning things depends on powerful number-crunching. It wasn’t until the late 80s or so when computers were powerful enough to run such models without scientists “handholding” them with constantly tweaked conditions or vague rules-of-thumb to make up for the lack of precise-but-complex physical rules.

David Hume anticipated all of these arguments. The Wikipedia article on him has a whole section on this. See: The design argument.

If a fossil that hasn’t yet been found is predicted by theory and then found after the prediction was made, then the finding of it was a predicted future event at the time at which the prediction was made. It was not a prediction about the past, it was a prediction about a future event - the finding of the fossil.

Henry

Joe Felsenstein said: One immediately wonders: To avoid making this supposed religious presupposition, what should Penny et al. have done? What are the “scientific premises” that a design or creation advocate would recognize?

If there are none, then the Design he speaks of is an infinitely flexible hypothesis that predicts nothing, and thus is really not a scientific hypothesis at all … which is what I originally said. Hunter has objected to my statement. So what in the way of a scientific hypothesis does he offer instead?

I recall Hunter being pressed on this issue in a more general context over at UD, and he mentioned that he does find the evidence for the Big Bang persuasive. I’m not sure why he thinks his usual “religious presuppositions” argument wouldn’t apply to cosmology just as well as it does to common descent, however. He asserts that the evidence for common descent relies on the presumption that the designer would not have placed certain patterns in his creation; for some reason he fails to raise the same objection against the use of Hubble’s Law or the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation as evidence for the Big Bang.

socle said:

Joe Felsenstein said: One immediately wonders: To avoid making this supposed religious presupposition, what should Penny et al. have done? What are the “scientific premises” that a design or creation advocate would recognize?

If there are none, then the Design he speaks of is an infinitely flexible hypothesis that predicts nothing, and thus is really not a scientific hypothesis at all … which is what I originally said. Hunter has objected to my statement. So what in the way of a scientific hypothesis does he offer instead?

I recall Hunter being pressed on this issue in a more general context over at UD, and he mentioned that he does find the evidence for the Big Bang persuasive. I’m not sure why he thinks his usual “religious presuppositions” argument wouldn’t apply to cosmology just as well as it does to common descent, however. He asserts that the evidence for common descent relies on the presumption that the designer would not have placed certain patterns in his creation; for some reason he fails to raise the same objection against the use of Hubble’s Law or the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation as evidence for the Big Bang.

That’s because right behind the big bang there’s a designer, i.e. a big fat hole of ignorance for a “poof” to hide in. He would like for one to be right after the monkeys too, i.e. he didn’t come from no stinkin monkeys.

I think that you can see Cornelius Hunter evolving his arguments. When he briefly appeared at ATBC, his argument was simply that old “we are looking at the same data but interpreting it differently”. Byers has recently been making the same argument at ATBC. I think that when it was pointed out to Cornelius that when you examine all of the data, his interpretation falls flat on its face. So you can see here that Hunter has retreated to his current (and weirder) argument about making any predictions is religious. Byers, however, has yet to upgrade his argument and is defending the indefensible.

Byers “arguments” are the linguistic equivalent of The Weasel Ball.

That’s the last time I’ll make that comparison.

Robert Byers said:

Science has a method but its purpose is not to do the method but to discover the workings of the natural world.

Incoherent, but contains some accuracy: the purpose of science is to discover the workings of the natural world. More accurately, of the observable world.

The scientific method is not useful to origin subjects period.

Absolutely false. A blatant lie. Everything happens in the past: that’s all science investigates. Whether that past was a millisecond or a million years ago, science deals with the past and origins. Past events leave evidence we can examine with the scientific method. Byers is stupid, if this is what he thinks.

Therefore I.D or YEC lines should be that origin subjects can only be explored by a weighing of evidence but not a testing of it.

Incoherent dribble. All evidence should be tested, measured, and used as the basis for theories and hypotheses. YECs and IDists are too stupid to figure that out.

It seems to I.d people and some YEC people they are doing the same work as their opponents but thats the point.

Another lie. YECs and IDists aren’t doing the same work.

Predictions doesn’t work in past and gone events. all that is left is the remnants of processes. Not the processes themselves.

So what? YECs are making similar claims: the Bible, they say, is evidence of God’s creation of the world.

So you’re calling all YECs liars, Robert?

Now I.d folk would say God has made a machine of the universe and so it can be open to science even about origins. So God’s fingerprints are all over the machine.

Yes, that’s what they claim. They’ve never shown that it’s true, however.

Yet God is not the machine. So complexity still only suggests or insists on God. God as a agent of influence is can’;t be a part of investigation.

Right. So God isn’t part of science.

As Mr Hunter said, I think, prediction of a designer’s work is not possible because of open options but predictions based on disorder/order can establish the hypothesis.

Wrong. Hunter is simply lying and making contradictory statements; his dribble - like yours - doesn’t rise to the level of an actual statement.

Disorder would not be a part of the order of a creator. So disorder can not be.

Meaningless nonsense. Creators could create disorder, if they chose.

Dave Luckett said:

Well, I guess getting goats is what trolls do. Byers is a troll, after all.

Yes, but does he get GOATS ON FIRE???

fnxtr said:

Byers “arguments” are the linguistic equivalent of The Weasel Ball.

I propose a new construct, “Beyer’s Weasel”, to be applied to an explanation so twisty and convoluted that, like the Weazel Ball, it reaches the point that it can confuse itself without any further human intervention, and it’s only practical application is to make cats dizzy.

Robert Byers said:

The scientific method is not useful to origin subjects period.

A bullet hole appears in a victim’s head.

Forensic science says: “I can use ballistics to trace that bullet to the specific gun that originated it.”

Robert Byers says: “The scientific method is not useful to origin subjects period.”

A blackmail letter appears on a victim’s desk.

Forensic science says: “I can use fingerprints on that paper to find who originated it.”

Robert Byers says: “The scientific method is not useful to origin subjects period.”

A new comet appears in the sky.

Astronomical science says: “I can calculate that comet’s orbit and find where it came from before we observed it.”

Robert Byers says: “The scientific method is not useful to origin subjects period.”

Anthrax is mailed in envelopes to congressional offices.

Microbiological science says: “I can trace that strand of anthrax back to the lab that originated it.”

Robert Byers says: “The scientific method is not useful to origin subjects period.”

harold Wrote:

I don’t see why a theory that failed could not be replaced with “absence of a theory” if no alternate theory was available. It might take time to develop another theory.

This is common critique of ID/creationism, in fact. They attack the theory of evolution, rather than make positive predictions and explanations. But why should ID be the “default” even if the theory of evolution were seriously challenged?

You know the answer. Because most people simply don’t understand the concept of a false dichotomy. So they can get away with the bait-and-switch to most people, including many who might disagree with them. If more critics would stop saying “there is no designer” or “you’re sneaking in God,” and just ask: “OK, what did the designer(s) do, when, and how, if he/she/it/they didn’t use evolution?” more people would see the games the scam artists play, and how their followers mindlessly parrot them. When they weasel out of answers, the reply should be “well, since you don’t know, and others who do the actual research do know, we must conclude that evolution, including common descent and a ~4 billion year history of life, is the explanation regardless of how many designers might have been involved.”

Hawks,

The theory of evolution could have been falsified in exactly the same way that the theory of a flat earth was falsified. Until evidence was found that the earth was not flat, that was the most reasonable explanation for all of the observations. Now, it is unlikely that the theory that the earth is round will ever be falsified. It may be modified to account for slight variations in shape, but in order to be falsified, some evidence must be found that the earth is some shape other than round. And that alternative theory must account for all of the available evidence better than the theory that the earth is round or it will not be preferred.

In exactly the same way, the theory of evolution has been tested. The fossil record has revealed that the simplest organisms appear first and the more complex organism only appear later. If this pattern were not found, evolution would have been falsified. Likewise, the nested hierarchy of genetic similarities, found only long after Darwin was gone, is completely consistent with the order of appearance of major groups in the fossil record. Once again, the theory could very well have been falsified, it just wasn’t. Now, many potential observations could still falsify the theory of evolution, but they will also have to account for all of the available evidence better than the theory of evolution already does. That seems unlikely at this point, but that doesn’t mean that the theory of evolution is not falsifiable or that it is not science, any more than the theory that the earth is round is not science.

As far as I can tell, Hawks’ arguments amount to claiming that under some definitions of the terms “theory” and “falsifiable,” the statement “theories are not falsifiable” is true. Whoopeee! Philosophical navel-gazing at its best.

Hawks,

If you’re right, why should we care? So what if scientific theories are not falsifiable under some definition of falsifiable? Until you show why your particular definition is relevant, your argument - even if true - remains about as valuable as the philosophical statement “the absolute is infinite.”

Dan and Hawks -

The theory that birds don’t have stomachs.

Does Hawks really believe that these two theories cannot be proven false?

Two problems here. First of all, I would call neither a theory. Second of all, both are false because there is good evidence that the Earth is spherical (although that is not really true either, I suppose) and that birds have stomachs.

A theory, roughly speaking is a generalized idea that explains and predicts multiple related observations.

I have to agree with Hawks on one thing. Birds not having stomachs is not a theory. I would probably not count flat earth as a theory, either.

I was surprised by the comment about China. In the Western world, flat earth has not been the accepted model since antiquity. Medieval writings nearly always refer to the “orb”, etc. Ptolmeic astronomy, which was a somewhat useful theory (replaced by a better theory) not only incorporated a spherical earth, but got the diameter about right. (Columbus belonged to a crackpot school of thought which agreed that the earth was spherical but underestimated the diameter. If there had not been a “surprise” landmass in the way, he would have been sailing toward Asia, but starved to death due to his underestimate of the earth’s diameter.)

However, I agree with Dan and everyone else that Hawks seems to be using a very narrow definition of the English word “falsify”, at least with regard to theories.

In this forum, people routinely refer to a theory which fails in predicting and explaining as having been “falsified”.

In general, for a theory to have existed, and then failed, it has to have seemed to explain and predict some observations, but then begin to fail at predicting and explaining as observations increase.

A theory can be said to be “tested” each time new observations become possible due to new technologies.

The theory of evolution has thus been extensively tested, as the years since it was first advanced have seen the development of cell biology, microbiology, germ theory, classical genetics, physiology, extensive fossil paleontology, biochemistry, electron microscopy, population genetics, molecular genetics, and genomics, and I’m probably leaving something off the list.

All of the data from all of these fields is consistent with, converges on, the theory of evolution, and a powerful underlying explanatory theory.

Hawks said:

Stuart Weinstein said: This is false.

No, really. That is my view:)

Just because a theory has been falsified doesn’t mean it is not still useful.

If something’s useful, it’s useful.

Whether its useful or not has nothing to do with whether its falsified.

Hawks said:

Stuart Weinstein said: Certainly the modern theory of evolution will be falsified.

Would that apply when any evolutinary hypothesis was shown to have problems? For example, if the discovery of new hominid fossils meant that we had to revise some of our ideas regarding human evolution.

If the modern TOE makes specific claims as to the evolution of hominids which become falsified with new fossils, then yes, the modern TOE is technically falsified and needs to be modified or discarded.

However, it is highly likely that modification will be possible.

I agree that it is difficult to falsify TOE in its entirety, because the major principles of its foundation, inheritance, mutation, natural selection have been amply demonstrated to occur. Hence whatever ultimate TOE may be arrived at will likely bear a strong resemblance to the contemporary theory.

OTOH, if by chance some mechanism is discovered such that there are limits to evolutionary change by the above mechanisms, then the contemporary TOE will need serious modification; in much the same way NEwtonian mechanics is useful today, the contemporary TOE will still be useful, however it will not be the correct view of the history of life during geologic time.

As Duhem argued, theories on their own can’t make predictions. Auxiliary propositions (and I assume hypotheses in general) need to be used as well. That would mean that when a hypothesis’ predictions fail, the predictions of the theory fail as well. This is, in essence, what a falsification is meant to be. Therefore, it would seem that my reason for claiming that theories aren’t falsifiable was wrong.

I wish to thank everyone who was involved in this discussion. It was a pleasure this time as well.

Re: my original post in this thread (remember that?)

Cornelius Hunter has now posted at his blog Darwin’s God a response calling on me to defend the absolute requirement for methodological naturalism. But he has not answered my call for him to put forward his preferred alternatives. I have now replied to his post at his blog (comment of 8:50pm) by once again calling for him to show us, in the case of David Penny’s test of common descent, what alternative hypothesis he has that make any prediction. Will the Missing Scientific Hypothesis stay missing? Stay tuned …

Hunter’s general complaint seems to be that IF there are in fact any non-natural causes and effects out there, the scientific method is incompetent to evaluate them, and that it’s self-serving and circular to demand a scientific approach to something science, in principle, is inappropriate to apply.

I would suggest that the proper methodology would be to pray for enlightenment. To the best of my knowledge, no supplicant has EVER had his prayers answered by being informed that his opinion is wrong. So Hunter could confidently expect his non-natural methodology to ratify his preconvictions according to the methods and standards he prefers.

Another time-tested metholdology is to either ignore or censor away inconvenient questions, or permanently ban anyone presuming to ask any. This is technically known as the “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” method, and seems to have an outstanding track record. I’ve never seen a single argument “lost” by anyone who’s used it, in his opinion.

Flint said:

Hunter’s general complaint seems to be that IF there are in fact any non-natural causes and effects out there, the scientific method is incompetent to evaluate them, and that it’s self-serving and circular to demand a scientific approach to something science, in principle, is inappropriate to apply.

[some extremely funny remarks snipped]

Leaving aside those (hilarious) other remarks, my take on Hunter’s position is different. I think he is saying instead that scientists, by limiting themselves to considering only natural explanations, are preventing themselves from finding the truth. So I am asking him to show us how we do actual science by using hypotheses involving non-natural causes (unnatural causes?)

If you are right he will deny that the latter is possible.

Whoo, that’s the first time I’ve seen someone with all those fancy honors so blatantly confusing “artificial” with “magical.”

Wheels said:

Whoo, that’s the first time I’ve seen someone with all those fancy honors so blatantly confusing “artificial” with “magical.”

… but it’s not the first time I’ve seen someone make a totally incomprehensible comment. Care to explain?

Joe wrote:

“…my take on Hunter’s position is different. I think he is saying instead that scientists, by limiting themselves to considering only natural explanations, are preventing themselves from finding the truth.”

That would be true IF there were supernatural causes that affect nature. Of course, then the scientific method would be practically useless in that case. That is why creationists are always going on about scientists not knowing everything. The God of the gaps mentality is alive and well.

The big problem is that, so far at least, there is no evidence of any supernatural causes. And even if some were discovered, they would probably represent only a miniscule portion of the things observed in nature. So why abandon all of science for that remote possibility? Meanwhile, science marches on discovering things about the natural world. I think science envy is really what motivates many people to rant so incessantly against science.

For example, even if life originated by some miracle, evolutionary theory is still valid in explaining how it has evolved since, something it would have apparently been created to do. So, when creationists harp on the details of abiogenesis, as if it were some kind of argument against evolution, they are really fighting the wrong losing battle.

DS said:

Joe wrote:

“…my take on Hunter’s position is different. I think he is saying instead that scientists, by limiting themselves to considering only natural explanations, are preventing themselves from finding the truth.”

That would be true IF there were supernatural causes that affect nature. Of course, then the scientific method would be practically useless in that case. That is why creationists are always going on about scientists not knowing everything. The God of the gaps mentality is alive and well.

While I agree with you, Cornelius Hunter doesn’t. He thinks that science can somehow be used to confirm supernatural causes. Which is why I am calling on him to show us how science can be used for this. So far he hasn’t.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Wheels said:

Whoo, that’s the first time I’ve seen someone with all those fancy honors so blatantly confusing “artificial” with “magical.”

… but it’s not the first time I’ve seen someone make a totally incomprehensible comment. Care to explain?

Hunter says that SETI is searching for “non-natural” phenomena, therefore it deviates from methodological naturalism. But SETI isn’t searching for “non-natural” phenomena so much as artificial ones that exploit known, existing natural laws (i.e. technology that emits radio waves, like our own). He’s confusing artificial with supernatural; the former doesn’t violate MN at all, the second would.

Ouch. Stuff in quotation marks is my post, his responses follow them.

Cornelius Hunter

“I think you’re the one mischaracterizing MN. It absolutely does not exclude the actions of intelligent life affecting things that we later observe, “

False, ID is routinely said to violate MN.

“ I believe the foundation for the use of the term “methodological naturalism” in science was made by Paul de Vries in the early 1980s, as Ron Numbers explains in this newsgroup posting [http://www.asa3.org/archive/asa/200308/0439.html]. “

You are confusing the terminology with the concept which has been around for centuries. It goes back at least to Descartes.

“ You may as well say “biologists,” then, since some 99.x% would be “evolutionists,” and they would be the experts on biological evolution who work with the idea every day. “

False, few biologists work on evolution every day. Evolution is the art of telling stories about the past – it has little positive influence on today’s science.

“ Evolution is an observed and thoroughly documented occurrence, verifiable under a variety of conditions and reproducible by anybody who cares to try. “

False, silly just so stories (and then a new protein evolved) don’t count as scientific documentation. If evolution is to qualify as a scientific fact it will need to do more than claim that if there are enough universes in the multiverse then evolution, though unlikely, is bound to happen. If you are interested in facts, the fact is that evolution’s fundamental predictions are routinely found to be false (www.DarwinsPredictions.com).

Multiverse? Evolution claims there’s a multiverse? They never covered that when I was taking Biology!

According to Nick, modern MN was set out by Dr. Paul de Vries in the early 1980s. Anybody know how I can get in touch with Dr. de Vries, or get a copy of the paper in which he laid out what “Methodological Naturalism” means in science?

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This page contains a single entry by Guest Contributor published on December 12, 2009 8:02 PM.

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