Falsifiability? Let's not be Naive. (Page 2)
kittybobo34: Achilles does like to nitpik an idea to death. So we have the concept of ToE, that so far has fit the facts, in spite of myriad counter theories that would have us dealing with a great world flood (no Geologist buys that) or aliens landing and reseeding the planet with new animals every now and then, (but comparitive anatomy shows a lineage of decent, not brand new animals) or the God theory which also does not fit.
So the only thing holding the ToE back at this point is abiogenesis. Figure that one out and the argument is over.
Achilles942: A few reasons why I'd caution our readers to be wary of the excesses of neo-Darwinian zealotry as exemplified in KittyBobo's post above:
Now, before proceeding, let it be noted that "evolution" is a multiply ambiguous term. Like so many other words in English, it can mean various things in varying contexts, ranging from the more specifically defined to the almost vacuous (e.g. "change over time" ).
There's nothing wrong with this in and of itself. It does, however, present the less scrupulous debater with the opportunity of equivocation: the posture of defending a highly specific stance hedged by the option of retreating to the safety of virtual vacuity when the heavy artillery starts dropping.
If, for example, evolution is taken to mean simply change over time in nature, then I know of no one -- Creationists included -- who is not an evolutionist.
On another hand, if evolution means nothing more than "God didn't do it. It all came about through natural processes" then, inasmuch as my faith in God's existence amounts to roughly zero, KittyBobo would appear to be preaching to the secular choir. It also happens to be my own belief that God didn't do it.
That said, "God didn't do it" can scarcely be described as a scientific theory.
My own position is one of skepticism: Due to my lack of religiosity, I must assume God played no role in how "it" all came about. Further than that, Darwinian panegyrics notwithstanding, I don't believe we possess anything remotely resembling an adequate understanding of the appearance and diversification of life.
Moving on then...
Unlike myself, Kitty DOES claim to have a theory worthy of belief, and one that she defends with unholy fervor, a fervor that I personally view as being inimical to the putative scientific spirit of healthy skepticism. The degree of skepticism Kitty evinces towards The Theory (see below) would appear to be about as "healthy" as that of, say, a religious crackpot suicide bomber towards the existence of God and his own imminent martyrdom.
Unfortunately, despite my repeated efforts for her to do so, she remains either unwilling or unable to tell me what this theory consists of. For now it remains simply "The Theory", and The Theory, we are repeatedly told, "fits all the facts".
It's hard not to draw parallels between Kitty and her mortal enemies in the religious camp: One defends The Theory; the other defends The Truth.
The former bloviates till the cows come home on The Theory fitting all the facts, but how the rest of us are supposed to appraise this claim without being told what The Theory is remains obscure. The latter bloviates till kingdom come on The Truth, but seems utterly unable to specify criteria for the rest of to distinguish truth from falsity.
It seems that when KittyBobo and her cohorts speak of The Theory, what they have in mind is simply anything any scientist has to say on the topic of evolution. Now, this being the case, given that scientists routinely disagree on evolutionary matters, we must conclude that The Theory suffers from internal inconsistency, thus cannot possibly be true.
To believe The Theory, then, would constitute an act of irrationality.
But let's suppose -- wonder of wonders -- KittyBobo is capable is coughing up an internally consistent body of theoretical claims, which I'll call KT (for Kitty's Theory).
I'd now remind our readers of the so-called "Pessimistic Induction" argument, which has been broached in my "Should We Believe What Scientists Say?" thread. Like most arguments it comes in various forms, both weaker and stronger, but the rough idea (with a few premises deliberately omitted for simplicity) looks something like this:
Premise 1: A great many scientific theories of the past, even those regarded as most highly confirmed and widely believed to be literally true, were later rejected as being false
Premise 2: By a process of induction, it is likely that a great many of our current theories, even those regarded as most highly confirmed and widely believed to be literally true, will also be rejected by later generations as being false.
Conclusion: One ought to be very wary of committing to a belief in the literal truth of our current scientific theories.
What I've sketched above is a rather weak version of the Pessimistic Induction. The conclusion I'd subscribe to myself would look more like the following:
Given science's abysmal track record of generating causal-explanatory theories which are literally true, the a priori probability -- that is to say, without even hearing what the theory is -- one ought to assign to any given current theory of being literally true is roughly zero.
In other words, those who believe in the literal truth of current scientific theories -- including, of course, KT -- might perhaps use their time more gainfully by having their heads examined.
KittyBobo, on the other hand, has arrived at the rather bizarre conclusion: "So the only thing holding the ToE back at this point is abiogenesis. Figure that one out and the argument is over."
Achilles942: For cassowary lovers and others, a documentary on "big birds" narrated by the wonderful David Attenborough...
By far the smallest of the extant "ratites", we're told, is the New Zealand kiwi -- the bird, not the bloke that says "feesh and cheeps"
At around the 25:10 mark, Attenborough explains:
"Kiwis never grew big because they lived alongside the now extinct moas. With those giant herbivores already roaming New Zealand, the kiwi's evolution took an alternative path. It remained small, became nocturnal, and omnivorous."
Well, how's that for a "Just-So" story?
At junctures such as this, the frothing Darwinian is liable to crawl out of the woodwork, puff out his chest, claim another confirming instance for his theory, and boast of its prodigious explanatory power.
Of course, nothing in Darwinian theory rules out the possibility of the kiwi having become huge, diurnal, and carnivorous. In which case we would now be hearing...
"Kiwis had to grow big because they lived alongside the now extinct moas. With those giant herbivores already roaming New Zealand, the kiwi's evolution took an alternative path. It grew even more giant, became diurnal, and carnivorous."
... immediately followed by the same rabid Darwinian screaming, "See!! I told you!! My theory fits all the facts!"
The notion of falsifiability being the hallmark of scientificness can be traced back to one man: Karl Popper. Sir Karl's ideas are largely discredited these days, though clearly some people didn't receive the memo.
What is instructive, however, is the motivation that drove Popper to suggest such a demarcation criterion -- to distinguish science from pseudoscience -- in the first place.
Popper's poster children for pseudoscience were Freud, Marx, and Adler. He was dismayed by the tendency of the Freudians, Marxists, and Adlerians to regard EVERY observation as a confirming instance of (i.e. evidence for) their respective theories, and NOTHING as a disconfirmation (i.e. evidence against). For example:
"I may illustrate this by two very different examples of human behaviour: that of a man who pushes a child into the water with the intention of drowning it; and that of a man who sacrifices his life in an attempt to save the child. Each of these two cases can be explained with equal ease in Freudian and in Adlerian terms. According to Freud the first man suffered from repression (say, of some component of his Oedipus complex), while the second man had achieved sublimation. According to Adler the first man suffered from feelings of inferiority (producing perhaps the need to prove to himself that he dared to commit some crime), and so did the second man (whose need was to prove to himself that he dared to rescue the child). I could not think of any human behaviour which could not be interpreted in terms of either theory. It was precisely this fact—THAT THEY ALWAYS FITTED, THAT THEY WERE ALWAYS CONFIRMED—which in the eyes of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favour of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness." [my emphasis - Achilles]
Read all about it here:
Now, compare the Freudian and Adlerian-type explanations for the two men and the drowning child -- supposedly pseudoscientific -- with those typically invoked by the rabid Darwinian to explain, say, one bird that stays small and another that grows into a giant.
Achilles942: More on that pesky pre-Cambrian rabbit...
There can be no doubt that the discovery of a rabbit fossil in pre-Cambrian strata would raise a few eyebrows.
But would it really blow the theory of evolution (ToE) -- whatever that is today -- out the water as is so often asserted somewhat sensationalistically?
Would it really have the jeremiad consequences of the kind "Yep, that would end the ToE" that Kittybobo predicts?
Would we really see scientists everywhere immediately renounce evolution and take up handling rattlesnakes instead?
Remember our little discussion about anomalies -- another (naive) man's "falsifying evidence" -- being a run-of-the-mill phenomenon in all major theories (i.e. theories NOT fitting the facts)?
Remember Thomas Kuhn's insight that the principal task of normal science consists of assimilating anomalous data into the paradigm -- as opposed to seeking to falsify it?
Remember our little chat about the Duhem-Quine thesis?
Here's what RationalWiki has to offer. Make up your own mind. Just let's not be overly naive, chaps
"J. B. S. Haldane famously stated that "fossil rabbits in the Precambrian" would disprove evolution — and this has been a talking point in philosophy of science for some time. This phrase is reported to be a rebuttal to the accusations that evolution is not falsifiable. However, the reality of disproving evolution in this manner is quite complicated. As science is based on an interplay between theory and evidence a single point of data is not enough to completely destroy a theory - just as much as an excellent theory can't win out against overwhelming data. Such a thing as finding fossilised rabbits wouldn't cause scientists to throw the theory of evolution out completely and immediately, so a little more explanation is needed.
First of all, it must be remembered that the fossil record is merely supporting evidence for evolution. This is contrary to the ideas put forward by creationists that state the gaps in the fossil record prove evolution to be false. If the fossil record simply did not exist it would make no difference to the validity of the theory of evolution — indeed, natural selection was initially formulated without the aid of fossil record, and subsequent DNA evidence can stand completely without it. The simple truth is that a single strange fossil would probably not make much difference. In practice, the evidence in the fossil record which supports evolution is so overwhelming that a single fossil would be regarded as curious certainly, but compared to the mountain of evidence in favor of evolution it would probably be regarded as an anomaly while more data was awaited. Imagining the fossil rabbit in the Precambrian as disproving all of natural selection would confuse the specifics of an individual evolutionary pathway with the falsification of the whole theory itself, as mentioned above.
However, the existence of entire groups of anomalous fossils would be a different thing — Haldane did say rabbits after all. Again, in practice an effort would initially be made to fit the new data into the existing framework — this is not cheating but simply the way science works. But still, in principle some quite major revisions to the theory may be needed to explain them. Such a situation would not immediately and conclusively prove a special creation over a naturalistic evolution, however, a key point that creation proponents tend to stubbornly overlook. Eventually, a new theory would develop to include these oddities, but this isn't necessarily a special young Earth creation as this assertion would also require supporting evidence, and lots of it. Perhaps this anomalous group was due to a now extinct second genesis, which would be a remarkable find, but unlikely to disprove evolution outright. Regardless of what it was, this new theory would explain both the evidence we have now and the hypothetical rabbit fossils and would indeed be science fully supported by evidence."
Achilles942: Well, Kitty, here's what I really want: for you to think!!
For example, when you claim your theory "fits all the facts", does that mean...
(1) Your theory fits all the facts and the God theory doesn't? On what grounds? What does it take for a theory to "fit the facts"? Thus far, we only have your word on it.
(2) Both theories fit the facts, but your theory fits better than the God theory?
(3) How do we determine these things?
I mean no disrespect, Kitty. It just seems to me you don't like difficult questions.
The ball is in your court.
Achilles942: You consider me an annoying pest.
I consider you a lady who is not unintelligent, but who refuses to address awkward questions.
Why should I believe you? Ans: I speak The Truth.
Ok, and why should I believe you? Ans: I speak The Theory.
Do better, clever lady
Seems you spend your time belittling other members that you feel are below you.
Is there anything that you feel is wrong in my reasoning?
My impression is: you've read one book on "Logical Fallacies for Dummies" and have decided you rule the world now.
Achilles942: There are few things worse than an ignoramus who does not realize it.
Prove me wrong if you will.
Achilles942: So basically you're a lot of hot air?
Do you have anything to contribute?
Or just another gasbag with an exaggerated sense of her own importance?
Achilles942: By the way, I've grown to admire your one-line insults.
You're obviously well read on the topic at hand.
Oh wait, you know sweet fuck all about it.
What will your next lecture be on?
theHating: If you believe evolution is bogus, you shouldn't be allowed to buy an AR-15 at the walmart
Achilles942: Getting back to Kitty, who does appear to have a brain, unlike certain peabrain trolls I could mention...
The standard answer is "My theory EXPLAINS the evidence better than the God theory can"
Well, let's suppose that is true...
What makes you think that explanatory goodness is an indicator of truth?
I asked before but you didn't understand the question, Kitty.
Let's say, as your homework question, several explanations have been offered to account for the Marie Celeste mystery.
Q1: How do we determine which is the best explanation?
Q2: What licences the inference from "This is the best explanation" to "This is the true explanation"?
What if all all the explanations are crap?
You might get this point, Kitty. TheHating won't.
1)"(1) Your theory fits all the facts and the God theory doesn't? On what grounds? "
The ToE was arrived at to explain the fossils, the apparent descent with steady modifications, and later when genetics was discovered, that also assisted and explained the steady discoveries.
The God theory is totally based on the Bible. A book of compiled letters, testimonial, and legends from a particular tribe in the middle east. It supposedly was guided by the hand of God so one would expect it's explanations to be accurate. That Jhona was swallowed by a whale, which we know now is impossible, that people who looked back at Soddom turned into a pillar of salt, which we now know how those pillars got there. That the world was not consumed by a flood, and that there was no way an ark could hold all the worlds animals, plants, and insects. Where the biblical stories coincide with other historical accounts, there are also some discrepancies. So ie the bible is not guided by the hand of God, and is just a compilation of legends and tall tales, and a good amount of the wisdom of the ages.
2)"What licences the inference from "This is the best explanation" to "This is the true explanation"?
Simply the best explanation is the one works with all the evidence. The combined disciplines of Geology, Paleontology, nuclear physics, Anthropology, Biology all are on the same page, their combined knowledge fits the pieces together into an ever increasing puzzle picture that is looking very coherent.
"What if all all the explanations are crap?"
That might turn out to be true, but first we would need to find something that doesn't fit. or an alternative that also fits the facts.
Achilles942: Are you still defending the position that your theory "fits all the facts'?
Have you any idea how silly this sounds, Kitty?
Perhaps one of these days you'll share your theory with me. How about Christmas Day? May I invite Blackshoes?
I'll respond to the rest tomorrow.
Too tired right now.
Achilles942: Perhaps one of these days you'll read a little philosophy of science?
Is there any possibility you might be terribly wrong, Kitty?
Now THAT's what I consider the sign of a wise man/woman
Achilles942: Ok, before I go to bed, let me say what I think...
Kitty, you're generally nice to everyone.
It's not my intention to be rude or anything.
Talking to you is just like talking to an eight-yr old child
You have a lot to learn, my young clever, friend.
And THAT is precisely what you have not learned yet.
God bless you.
Achilles942: You are so enamoured with a particular worldview that it's inconceivable to you that it might be hopelessly wrongheaded.
Anyway, I'll be dead and you'll be wrong
kittybobo34: I am enamored with the ToE concept, As yet haven't heard anything better. Gave up on the God concept as a teen.