Sunday, February 23, 2014

Arguments that Don't Mix One More Time



  • So is the denial of design (or perhaps the failure to mention design) a necessary condition for doing science? Fine, we can go that way. But if you do, it then becomes trivially true that scientists haven't discovered any design. The minute they claim to have discovered it, you can then say they've stopped doing science. Heads, I win, tails you lose. If science answers the question of whether or not there is design, then there has to be a mechanism within science to identify it it is (or had been) there. Otherwise, it's like saying "I took a metal detector all of the beach and didn't find that $100 bill that I lost. I guess someone must have taken it."

      44 comments:

      im-skeptical said...

      "So is the denial of design (or perhaps the failure to mention design) a necessary condition for doing science?"

      No. What's necessary for doing science is to follow scientific method. Victor, you don't seem to understand why ID is shunned by the scientific community. It isn't because it is based on religious beliefs. It is because of the fact that it isn't science.

      In science, you have to be driven by the evidence. The folks from DI are driven by their beliefs. They search for evidence to support what they already believe. That's not scientific method, because it leads them to ignore evidence that doesn't fit their objective. If you ignore evidence, you can't hope to move scientific understanding forward.

      planks length said...

      in-skeptical,

      You and I are in agreement on this one. Although I am definitely a believer in "Intelligent Design" (I happen to think that one has to be willfully blind to not believe in at least design), I agree that it is not science. But so what? Many things are not science, but still true.

      Dan Gillson said...

      I'm not sure if design is something which one discovers. For instance, the fact that someone designed the desk at which I'm sitting isn't a discovery; it is self-evidently a product of someone's intelligence. Trees or stones, however, aren't self-evidently a product of intelligence, nor are other "irreducibly complex" systems. If they were, we wouldn't feel as though we had to argue that these things were the products of intelligence; it would be self-evident, like the fact that my desk is designed.

      David Brightly said...

      Yes, naturally.

      Actually, Victor, from your point of view isn't it, tails I win, heads you lose? Any phenomenon that currently can't be fitted into the scientific picture can be offered as an instance of design.

      Isn't this a consequence of the manifest/scientific image distinction? Science eschews explanations in terms of intentional agents and thus hamstrings itself.

      All science can do is explain apparent brute facts about individuals drawn from various kinds in terms of brute facts about a larger number of individuals drawn from a smaller variety of kinds.

      So won't you always have a head start?

      im-skeptical said...

      "Science eschews explanations in terms of intentional agents and thus hamstrings itself."

      Once again, let me say this loud and clear: It isn't because it is based on religious beliefs. It is because of the fact that it isn't science. THE DI PEOPLE DO NOT FOLLOW SCIENTIFIC METHOD.

      planks length said...

      Im-skeptical,

      I don't think it's quite as cut and dried as you put it. In the end of ends, "science" is about what we see is going on, and how things do what they do. But there's never a why in the mix. So evolutionary biology can tell us what happened to get us to where we are today, as far as the biosphere is concerned, and it might even shed some light on how that process occurred. But it can never tell us why it happened.

      Now ID is essentially asking totally different questions. It's not especially concerned with how various species came about, but why. And once it has started to either ask or answer that question, ID ceases to be science. (And once "science" attempts to answer why, it also ceases to be science. So expressions such as "blind evolution" or "random mutations" are supremely unscientific.)

      But again, so what? I for one do not see science as the one and only path to wisdom. Far from it - it is a wretchedly poor tool in answering most of the really important questions facing humanity, in this age or any other. Questions like "Why am I here?" or (far, far more importantly) "How shall I live?"

      Crude said...

      planks,

      Now ID is essentially asking totally different questions. It's not especially concerned with how various species came about, but why. And once it has started to either ask or answer that question, ID ceases to be science. (And once "science" attempts to answer why, it also ceases to be science. So expressions such as "blind evolution" or "random mutations" are supremely unscientific.)

      Hold on. Where do you find ID proponents asking 'why' questions, and treating this as a scientific question? The ID proponents I'm familiar with are interested purely in the 'how'.

      planks length said...

      crude,

      Why do you care whether or not ID is labeled science? It doesn't make it any more or less true, no matter what you call it.

      Personally, I'd like to call it something else, if only to hammer home the point that "science" is not the one and only path to truth.

      im-skeptical said...

      "Personally, I'd like to call it something else, if only to hammer home the point that "science" is not the one and only path to truth."

      The point is that THEY call it science. And they want to put it in the public schools to replace real science. Otherwise, I wouldn't care what they do.

      planks length said...

      To all,

      HERE is a link to a discussion of what I was getting at in my previous comment. Science is wonderful - but so is every other path to Truth. I have several arrows in my quiver. The poor scientismist has but one. An even better analogy might be the toolbox. I have screwdrivers for screws and hammers for nails. The poor person who insists that "empirical evidence is the sole means of arriving at truth" has only his hammer (good for some things), but is helpless when an Allen wrench is required.

      ID proponents are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to jump on board the "science" bandwagon. And perhaps the biggest tragedy is that not only is there no reason for them to do so, they are unwittingly giving ammunition to those who claim every question can be answered using only science. Their quest to be accepted "within the fold" gives aid and comfort to those who deny the legitimacy of art, beauty, music, good and evil, meaning and purpose, history, and the witness of one's own soul as essential to how we as human beings understand ourselves and the universe we live in.

      planks length said...

      im-skeptical,

      It ought to be taught in schools. So should the Bible. (And so should the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Dao De Jing.)

      im-skeptical said...

      "It ought to be taught in schools."

      Fine. Have a class on religious mythologies. But it ain't science.

      planks length said...

      "But it ain't science."

      Agreed. But... that's a good thing! Not everything is.

      Science ain't the most important thing by a long shot.

      Crude said...

      planks,

      I wasn't saying ID is science. In fact, on this site, I regularly argue that ID is -not- science. The problem is, a lot of people say it's not science for reasons I find to be totally off-base.

      Now, ID proponents probably -care- about the 'why' of design. But their arguments, and what they offer as ID itself? I've never seen that. In fact, a longstanding issue with ID is that they flat out refuse to name the designer or motivations. They think they can get by without that, in terms of a fallible inference.

      Crude said...

      Dan,

      For instance, the fact that someone designed the desk at which I'm sitting isn't a discovery; it is self-evidently a product of someone's intelligence. Trees or stones, however, aren't self-evidently a product of intelligence, nor are other "irreducibly complex" systems. If they were, we wouldn't feel as though we had to argue that these things were the products of intelligence; it would be self-evident, like the fact that my desk is designed.

      I'm not sure this works. In fact it seems as if, historically, people -did- think that trees, stones, and everything else were self-evidently designed - it the development of another viable explanation that undermined what was supposed to be self-evident. Even Dawkins, if I recall right, talks about how the natural world is filled with the illusion of design.

      Steve Lovell said...

      I think we've drifted from the OP, and I'd like to get back to it.

      You may recall that Dawkin's influential "The Blind Watchmaker" was subtitled "Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design".

      Vic's point is simple: If "the evidence" can reveal something, then in principle it could also have revealed the opposite. (If it couldn't have, then we didn't need to look and the discipline can retreat to the armchair.) In which case claiming that it does can't entail that one isn't doing science ... or whatever the discipline in question might be.

      Alternatively, you continue to insist that scientists can't reach such conclusions and by doing so they only reveal that they aren't scientists. But then you'll have to jettison that subtitle and any equivalent claims.

      A more sensible position for the ID opponent would be to accept ID-ists into the discipline (whether science or something else) but just say that the evidence is against them. But to do that one has to get into the mucky work of actually looking at that evidence.

      David Brightly said...

      Hi Steve,
      Yes, let's get back to what Victor said. I find it very puzzling. Could you expand on your brief exegesis?

      Regarding your last point, I see no harm in people trying to pick holes in Darwinian explanations. The sciences progress by finding and investigating anomalies. But in evolutionary biology it's hard to find a reproducible measurement that's out of line with prediction. IDists have to come up with some argument and data to show that some biological phenomenon could not have arisen by the accepted mechanisms. As an example, think of Lynn Margulis's theory of endosymbiosis, which is now accepted. But I think they have their work cut out. As far as I'm aware---and I'm happy to be enlightened---they concentrate on probabilistic arguments, and these are notoriously tricky. I don't know of any anomaly in science that has been established on such a basis. Offers, anyone?

      Crude said...

      But I think they have their work cut out. As far as I'm aware---and I'm happy to be enlightened---they concentrate on probabilistic arguments, and these are notoriously tricky. I don't know of any anomaly in science that has been established on such a basis.

      They do focus on probablistic arguments, but that doesn't exactly seem outlandish considering the areas they're dealing with. It's not as if evolutionary biologists offer up, say... a detailed step by step system of mutations and selection events that lead to the formation of the bacterial flagellum. The closest you'll generally get is a proposed sequence of ancestral forms, or something like the Lenski experiment - and that's not much.

      That's also going to depend on how a probablistic argument is meant - and in ID that usually has more to do with a negative argument against implied mainstream explanations rather than positive arguments for ID. The ID argument as I understand it is basically that for such and such kinds of biological organisms/artifacts, 'design' is a rational inference, even if not a certainty.

      im-skeptical said...

      "The ID argument as I understand it is basically that for such and such kinds of biological organisms/artifacts, 'design' is a rational inference, even if not a certainty."

      The ID argument as I understand it is that gradual evolution by natural processes of irreducibly complex organisms is impossible.

      Crude said...

      The ID argument as I understand it is that gradual evolution by natural processes of irreducibly complex organisms is impossible.

      Wonderful, but we all know that you not only don't understand ID, you haven't made an attempt to even read what they have to say beyond brief googling. Even then, you filter everything you read about them through skeptic sites.

      Here's what Behe has to say about 'impossibility':

      Professor Thornton is playing games. The strongly-emphasized point of his paper was to show exactly what I discussed in my posts: the extreme improbability (not “impossibility”, which is for suckers — one can’t prove a negative in science) of re-acquiring the ancestral structure/ function, either by direct or indirect reversal.

      http://behe.uncommondescent.com/page/2/

      im-skeptical said...

      If you understood what their argument is (instead of parroting Behe's self-contradictory babbling), you would know that "irreducible complexity" means exactly what it says: You can't get here from there.

      "Advocates of Intelligent Design argue that such systems are "irreducibly complex" and thus incompatible with gradual evolution by natural selection."

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060406231032.htm

      Dan Gillson said...

      Crude,

      You missed my point. If, historically, people did see the world as being self-evidently designed, as you say, then our current inability to see it that way is more like a forgetting than it is an inability to prove something. The idea of discovery doesn't fit here so much as the idea of remembering does.

      I don't know, I was just toying with a thought.

      Crude said...

      If you understood what their argument is (instead of parroting Behe's self-contradictory babbling), you would know that "irreducible complexity" means exactly what it says: You can't get here from there.

      It's funny - you call Behe's writing 'self-contradictory'. Now, all you have to do is find where Behe said that it's impossible for IC systems to have evolved. He expressly says that 'impossibility' is a fool's game, and he never makes this claim.

      "Advocates of Intelligent Design argue that such systems are "irreducibly complex" and thus incompatible with gradual evolution by natural selection."

      Do you understand that 'impossibility' is different from 'improbable'? Or that WHY there is an "incompability" between the two given ID views?

      I have little time for your dishonesty, Skep. Put up or shut up time: quote Behe saying it's impossible for IC systems to evolve, or take a hike. 'Improbable', even 'very improbable' won't do here. And he even says that the improbability is reasoned to due to the current state of the evidence.

      Crude said...

      Dan,

      You missed my point. If, historically, people did see the world as being self-evidently designed, as you say, then our current inability to see it that way is more like a forgetting than it is an inability to prove something. The idea of discovery doesn't fit here so much as the idea of remembering does.

      Strange. I'll think about that.

      im-skeptical said...

      " Now, all you have to do is find where Behe said that it's impossible for IC systems to have evolved."

      crude, you really don't know what you're talking about. If something evolved by a Darwinian process (regardless of how improbable that process might be), it is BY DEFINITION not irreducibly complex. It's kind of like the definition of pregnancy. Either you are or you aren't.

      So please explain to me how you think something can be both irreducibly complex and evolved by Darwinian evolution.

      Crude said...

      Skep,

      I repeat my standard for discussing this with you: "Put up or shut up time: quote Behe saying it's impossible for IC systems to evolve, or take a hike. 'Improbable', even 'very improbable' won't do here. And he even says that the improbability is reasoned to due to the current state of the evidence."

      If you think Behe is saying it's impossible for a claimed IC structure (say, the bacterial flagellum) to evolve, provide a quote and source of him saying so. This was your contention - if he did so, it should be easy to provide the quote. If not, then you've got nothing of interest to say to me.

      I've well passed the point of needing to demonstrate that you are pig ignorant about what you talk about. Now, you have to earn the right to my time and attention with demonstrations of your claims. Can't perform? Then we're done.

      Chances are? We're done. ;)

      Steve Lovell said...

      Hi David,

      To be honest, I don't know much of the ID literature ... so I'm not in a position to comment on specific examples. But Victor's point, the one I was trying to elaborate a little, is philosophical:

      If standard practice within some empirical discipline (science or something else) could, in principle, confirm that P then it could, in principle, disconfirm that P, and vice-versa.

      Any discoveries made might have turned out otherwise. That's why the empirical investigations were necessary in the first place.

      So I don't think it's consistent to say that ID-ists are by definition not scientists while saying that the science is against ID.

      But it's perfectly consistent to say either of these things on their own. You can say they aren't scientists, and then you get lots of difficult discussion on how science is defined (where you need at least to be familiar with Popper to have any right to an opinion on the matter).

      Alternatively you can say the scientific evidence is against ID ... but then you'll need to look at any (alleged) the ID-ists are offering for their position as well as the (alleged) evidence on the anti-ID side. As I say, that's not something I'm going to get into. I'm just outlining how the dialectic here should be structured.

      And all this can be repeated for other empirical disciplines. If ID has opponents in, say, archaeology, then they can't consistently say that ID can't possibly count as archaeology while also saying that certain archaeological discoveries disconfirm ID.

      I hope that helps.

      Steve Lovell said...

      Skep,

      I'm with Crude here. With either

      (a) a big enough single mutation, or
      (b) multiple simultaneous mutations, or
      (c) mutations which are preserved despite being useless and are then subsequently built upon by further mutations,

      there is no biological structure which simply couldn't be produced. Behe and his colleagues admit this. The question is whether there a structures which would require something like (a), (b) or (c) to produce and whether it's really credible to suppose that one of those things has occurred. That's why the issue of probabilities comes up in so many of the cases that ID theorists are interested in.

      You may think that the label "irreducibly complex" is therefore a misnomer. Fine. But that's not the same as being nonsense or incoherent.

      David Brightly said...

      Hi Steve,
      I think everyone is missing a very important point. Science isn't interested in the truth. It doesn't sift through the evidence in search of the truth in the manner of a historian or court of law. The word 'evidence' is rarely heard in the laboratory or seen in the textbooks. It doesn't reason from pre-established beliefs in the slightest. What the scientific project is after is an overarching naturalistic explanatory system. Of course, its explanations have to be faithful in that they rule in just what happens and rule out just what doesn't. But the direction of reasoning is not from the evidence towards the truth. It's from postulates and principles towards the evidence.

      I agree with your comment about consistency. I prefer to say that the ID *hypothesis* is unscientific simply because it postulates an intentional agent. and is unfalsifiable. That is not to say it's an unreasonable philosophical position, of course.

      Yours, an unreconstructed Popperian

      David Brightly said...

      Crude,

      I think you may be placing too much weight on the distinction between 'highly improbable' and 'impossible'. It's easy to slide from the former to the latter. Behe does this himself. In a July 2000 document 'philosophical objections to intelligent design' here he says,

      In Darwin’s Black Box (Behe 1996) I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process.

      and

      And since my claim for intelligent design requires that no unintelligent process be sufficient to produce such irreducibly complex systems, then the plausibility of ID would suffer enormously.

      Crude said...

      David,

      I think those quotes only back up the point I'm making. Specifically (let me get the full quote)

      If the results with knock-out mice (Bugge et al. 1996) had been as Doolittle first thought, or if Barry Hall’s work (Hall 1999) had indeed shown what Miller implied, then they correctly believed my claims about irreducible complexity would have suffered quite a blow. And since my claim for intelligent design requires that no unintelligent process be sufficient to produce such irreducibly complex systems, then the plausibility of ID would suffer enormously.

      Notice that Behe isn't saying that it was impossible for the work to show what was originally being claimed - he's saying that if it did, it would be a blow to the ID view.

      If you read Behe's books, you'll notice his big emphasis is on the specific number of mutations, in a specific order, that he regards as being required in order to produce such and such results in evolution. That is exactly why he says improbable, not impossible, and even then the improbability is based on current knowledge - and is subject to being overturned.

      To give an example, if I ask you to perform 100 fair coin flips and get nothing but heads, that is improbable. Extremely improbable. But impossible? It's not, and it'd be foolish to say it's not.

      Also...

      agree with your comment about consistency. I prefer to say that the ID *hypothesis* is unscientific simply because it postulates an intentional agent. and is unfalsifiable.

      I think the only way to go with this is to also note that postulating a lack of an intentional agent is likewise unfalsifiable, and is unscientific. (Note that this differs from not postulating anything, and being dead silent on the question.) That's actually the stance I prefer - but it is a stance that would gut the New Atheists (and probably beyond) on the spot regarding science.

      David Brightly said...

      Hi Crude,

      I think the only way to go with this is to also note that postulating a lack of an intentional agent is likewise unfalsifiable, and is unscientific.

      This illustrates the point I was trying to make in my first para at 6:48 AM. You and Victor and Planks and I think Steve (not sure about Im---he may be confused) are after truth. I am after explanation. For that I just need some postulates and principles sufficient to deduce the observations. I don't have to take any position on the existence or otherwise of intentional agents. You guys need philosophy. I'm content with science.

      William said...

      David Brightly asserted:

      " What the scientific project is after is an overarching naturalistic explanatory system. "


      First, that's a philosophy, and second, I disagree. Most persons who do science are interested in something specific, not some kind of vague overall overarching project that involves stuff far outside their field.

      David Brightly said...

      Sure, William, of course they are. But isn't it just beautiful how all the pieces fit together to give a big picture?

      Crude said...

      David,

      I don't have to take any position on the existence or otherwise of intentional agents. You guys need philosophy. I'm content with science.

      You're not going to get explanation with just philosophy - at least, not naturalistic explanation. You can get to explanation, but 'naturalistic'? That's over on the philosophy side of the aisle.

      Now if you can bite that bullet and say you're after explanation - say, predictions that are accurate, whether or not they're ultimately 'true' - then okay. You're interested in science, not naturalism, not theism, not atheism, not non-naturalism.

      William said...

      David: I think the interesting stuff is often exactly when it does NOT all fit together :)

      David Brightly said...

      Crude: Yes, I think that's probably right.

      William: Yes, those bits of grit start the next pearls.

      Papalinton said...

      I probably wouldn't be trotting out anything Dr Behe has to say about ID or 'irreducible complexity'. At the Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board trial:

      "Astrology would be considered a scientific theory if judged by the same criteria used by a well-known advocate of Intelligent Design to justify his claim that ID is science, a landmark US trial heard on Tuesday.
      Under cross examination, ID proponent Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, admitted his definition of "theory" was so broad it would also include astrology."


      Se HERE and HERE under 'Dover Testimony'.

      ID is neither science nor pseudoscience. It is driven in the main through biblical interpretation.


      im-skeptical said...

      David,

      "But the direction of reasoning is not from the evidence towards the truth. It's from postulates and principles towards the evidence"

      I think you're the one who's confused. A hypothesis is based on evidence (observation). It is an attempt to explain what is observed.

      http://www.livescience.com/21490-what-is-a-scientific-hypothesis-definition-of-hypothesis.html

      What you have described is a perfect example of religious and ID reasoning, where the answer is pre-determined, and the search for evidence follows. Your confusion may stem from the naturalist views of many scientists. But you must bear in mind that naturalism itself is based on evidence and observation. Why are scientists naturalists? Because natural phenomena are what we observe.

      You speak of the search for truth. Well, open your eyes and look. Do you see any supernatural phenomena? Do you see any gods? The truth is you don't, and if you're honest, you'll admit that.

      If there were any supernatural phenomena to observe, science would have to take them into account. Science doesn't have the luxury of "sifting through" available evidence in search of some preconceived "truth". Science must explain what is observed - all of it.

      David Brightly said...

      Hello Im,

      What I'm offering, I hope, is the standard Popperian hypothetico-deductive account of how scientific explanation works. It may be thought that Popper has taken a bit of a battering from the likes of Kuhn, hence Victor's more recent post perhaps, but for me, maybe because I read him at an impressionable age, Popper gets the logic of science right. His great work was the Logic of Scientific Discovery, not the Sociology. His great insight was to see that we can simply dismiss the problem of justifying 'scientific induction', the reasoning from facts (evidence!) to general principles that seems to come naturally to us. Instead we can say, We think there are these things and they behave like this. If they do then the following should be observable. Prove us wrong! This is what I mean by reasoning towards the evidence. What we lose by this method is any philosophical confidence that we have arrived at the truth. I used to worry about this when younger but find I no longer do. We may not get Truth but we are amply compensated by the Beauty in the way the ideas fit together. He also has some very valuable things to say about our political arrangements. Bryan Magee's little book is an excellent place to start.

      David

      im-skeptical said...

      "This is what I mean by reasoning towards the evidence."

      I'm not sure that's the way I'd word it. I think I generally agree with your position, and particularly that we don't lay claim to any truth, but isn't it wonderful how scientific understanding fits together in an overarching framework? But when you say "We think there are these things and they behave like this", that is still based on evidence, or it should be. So in my view, evidence is the starting point of scientific investigation. And as far as I know, (I'm not well read on Popper's philosophy), that is not inconsistent with Popper. It is the basis of our inductive reasoning.

      David Brightly said...

      Hi Im,
      The comment in which that 'reasoning towards the evidence' phrase appears I wrote initially in reply to Victor's Motivated reasoning isn't science... post, but placed it in this thread because that seemed where the discussion was active at the time. Victor seemed to think that Lewontin's method was the traditional philosophical method, just like his own. You start with observable facts ('the evidence') and make deductions about how the world must be from these. The problem with this, as I see it, is that you soon lose touch with reality. You are taking language and logic far away from the everyday in which it is grounded and have no way, apart from an appeal to logical consistency, perhaps, of ensuring that no mistakes have been made. Human reason is fallible after all. I wanted to contrast this journey with what I took to be Lewontin's actual, scientific method. That is, you start with some inspired guesses about hidden aspects of reality, preferably couched in the language of mathematics, and from these deduce what the observable evidence ought to be. The great thing about maths is its semantic and logical purity. Everyone agrees what it means and when a deduction or proof is sound. The direction of reasoning is from the unseen (hypothetical particles, say), via a rigorous logic, to the seen (tracks in detectors, say). So if predictions about the seen turn out to be wrong then our guesses about the unseen are almost certainly off-beam. Victor's method moves from the seen, via ordinary language, to the unseen. And I'm enough of a Wittgensteinian to worry that ordinary language can be systematically misleading. I wanted a phrase that made a stark contrast between the methods and would make people sit up.

      BTW, Google Books makes available enough of Magee's first chapter to get Popper's big idea. You'll see he has no place for 'inductive reasoning'!

      im-skeptical said...

      I'm trying to get my hands on some further information on Popper's philosophy. In the meantime, while I agree that induction is problematic, it nevertheless is an important part of our thinking. How do we arrive at those hypotheses to begin with? If we make a statement "We think there are these things and they behave like this", it is not out of the blue. There is a basis for the belief, and often induction plays a role.

      But let me see if I can get my hands on some further discussion on this matter.

      David Brightly said...

      How do we arrive at these hypotheses? I'm tempted to ask, Does it matter? After all, very few people are actually involved in the creation of scientific ideas. Most of us merely learn how to use the concepts and come to appreciate their internal consistency, their explanatory power, and their practical effectiveness. We consume Science just as we consume Art. Popper also has some interesting things to say about these various products of the human mind.