Monday, September 19, 2005

Menuge clarifies

I don't understand the context regarding the age of the Earth issue. If this concerns my remarks in Kansas then they were as I maintain now, that I do not KNOW the age of the eartth. This does not mean that there is no good evidence for an ancient Earth, but that I have little respect for the view that the Earth's antiquity is obvious when all dating techinques depend on many layers of assumptions and inferences that could be mistaken. My brother, Julian Menuge is a geo-chronoligist, and this is the case where knowing more about the issues does NOT make it more certain. Too many people confess far too much certainty about a very difficult issue. Remember that in the 19th century materialist dogma led to the majority position that the univers was INFINITELY old, which no-one now believes.

3 points:
(1) Do not be decieved by the appearance that typical Darwinists are experts on the age of the Earth---they are not. Geo-chronology, my brother's discipline, is a highly specialized technical discipline, and most biologists know no more about it than a typical bank-manager, however much they may accept on authority.
(2) I testified as a mere philosopher and so of course did not claim scientific knowledge in the area. My reservations arise because geo-chronology inevitably depends on extrapolating presently observable processes into the past in ways that might be wrong. IF you make certain assumptions, then conventional assumptions of the age of the Earth and universe are perfectly reasonable and intellectually honest--but the assumptions could still be wrong.
(3) NONE of our case in Kansas depended on the age of the Earth, [not a single sentence in our report] so focusing on this is a disingenuous Red Herring which avoids our actual testimony. Beware of the "it's always something else tactic."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One more comment and I’ll fade back into lurk-dome (much to everyone’s relief I’m sure). Mengue’s comments are interesting. While denying any knowledge of the age of the earth is a perfectly acceptable philosophical position to take, it represents a dubious approach to teaching science. Why not say that much research has gone into trying to determine the age of the earth and that multiple lines of evidence (including radiometric dating, the study of isotopic ratios and the composition of the atmosphere) place its age at ~4.5 billion years, and of course its all very complicated so we must rely on the experts, we always do. Oh yea, and there is uncertainty, there always is.

This emphasis on uncertainty can only result in paralysis. By building on the accumulated knowledge incorporated into established paradigms, the practice of normal science (Kuhn’s term) allows us to make progress rather than having to re-invent the wheel over and over again. The process also allows for the accumulation of information that does not fit the paradigm, setting the stage for potential revolutions. It’s a good system, not perfect, but pretty good.

Stressing uncertainty over content gives me an image of the future of textbooks. I picture them looking like the pharmaceutical ads in magazines. Those one page ads followed by two pages of densely packed disclaimers. Or maybe we’ll all have to learn to talk like those guys at the end of TV commercials (really fast).

Allow me to propose a better approach. Let’s begin science education by making sure everyone understands the basic principles. One of the most basic of these is that there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science. If this is clearly understood then I and every other scientist can speak normally without having to resort to legalese or needing to fear accusations of triumphalism at every step. Make the inherent uncertainty understood from the beginning and then move on. And, of course, always stress the limits to our knowledge.