Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A response to Ahab

Ahab wrote: What you are advocating here is that people should practice science in accordance with their preconceived religious views. To apply this to your smoking example above: Theistic scientists can attribute the effects of smoking on lung cancer to the act of some omnipotent being. They don't need to understand the physical mechanism to explain the cancer casuing process. God with His omnipotent powers simply chooses to smite a large numbre of smokers with cancer. And He probably does this because he wants to discourage people from doing something evil like smoking. While atheistic scientists will have to struggle with trying to find the mechanism by which smoking causes cancer. Which method do you think is going to be of value to our knowledge of the causes and cures of lung cancer?I really don't get why you have so much trouble understanding that ID theory as a pseudo-science??? It is just a way to reintroduce pre-scientific explanations into science. You don't have to worry aboout being able to explain how something works, simply attribute it to a divine, omnipotent being - at least if you are a theistic scientist.

1) I have never seen way to demarcate the difference between science and pseudoscience, and am strongly inclined to suggest that there is none. Old joke: What is the difference between science and pseudoscience? Science is funded.

2) There is nothing preventing a theistic scientist from attributing something to a physical process if there is good evidence to suppose that there was one. But a theistic explanation makes sense to me, at least, if given my prior probabilities about God, it is more likely than not that God should want it to happen. When we are forming expectations, we operate in the context of discovery. People can discover ideas about the natural world in their dreams. But then they have to make predictions about what they expect to find true if their theories are correct, and this is the context of justification. If nature confirms their expectations, then their thesis is confirmed, theistic or atheistic. If nature fails to confirm their expectations, then their theory is disconfimed. Many first-class scientists were orthodox Christians, and they didn't always separate their religion from science.

3) Bayesian theory expectations are formed based on prior probabilities, which are confirmed or disconfirmed by experience. But there is no method I know of for assessing prior probabilities. Thus if there is a report that, say, the Virgin Mary has been speaking to young people in, say, Africa, Roman Catholic will want it checked out, but will certainly be prepared to think it's for real if good evidence emerges and it's tough to explain away. A Protestant, who thinks that there's a God and the Mary is Christ's mother, but doesn't expect Mary to be talking to people, will require a higher standard of evidence. An atheist should be the toughest of all to persuade. And the evidence may turn out to be such that Catholics are reasonable in thinking that this is for real, while Protestants and atheists are reasonable in being skeptical. For more discussion on this see www.infidels.org/library/modern/victor_reppert/miracles.html

4) If methodological naturalism is the rule, and it turned out that the bacterial flagellum did come into being as the result of divine creation, then science could never discover that, and would have to say, even though it was false, that there had to be some evolutionary process somehow that produced it, even though there really was none, and God actually did it. This is, to me, a troubling result, that some events should be scientifically invisible if they occurred.

2 comments:

Ahab said...

I thought I should correct some of the major typos and grammatical errors and clarify a few of the points I was making in my original post. So here is the re-edited version:


Victor wrote:
1) I have never seen way to demarcate the difference between science and pseudoscience, and am strongly inclined to suggest that there is none. Old joke: What is the difference between science and pseudoscience? Science is funded.


Then let's place the psuedo-science charge to one side.

Just respond to the question I asked in my original post:
Given a choice between saying that a supernatural being causes lung cancer in people that smoke or finding and explaining the physical processes that link smoking to lung cancer, where do you want this scientific funding to go? Which methodology do you honestly think is going to be most effective in understanding how lung cancer is caused and helping to prevent and cure it?
To simplify the question: do you want to pay a researcher money to tell you that God causes lung cancer?

As I mentioned earlier, scientists still don't know the precise mechanism by which smoking causes lung cancer. If you don't want to discontinue research into lung cancer using metholdological naturalism (hereafter abbreviated to MN) because of this, why be so eager to throw out the evolutionary explanation because it has so far failed to do the same for bacterial flagellum?
And even more so when the theory you are replacing it with, ID, also fails to account for the physical processes leading up to the formation of the flagellum.

2) There is nothing preventing a theistic scientist from attributing something to a physical process if there is good evidence to suppose that there was one.

Given what has already been learned from evolutionary theory, there is very good evidence to suppose that the bacterial flegellum is a result of those some processes.
And, given what we already know about the laws of physics, you'd need some very strong evidence to abandon the assumption that any physical effect does not have a prior physical history.
I'll repeat what I said earlier: I earnestly hope, when some of the teaching-ID-in-school cases get to court, the ID'ers testify that they think the origin of the bacterial flagellum was not due to some kind of physical process.

But a theistic explanation makes sense to me, at least, if given my prior probabilities about God, it is more likely than not that God should want it to happen.

A theistic explanation is fine within the realm of theology and people's faith systems. I've never claimed or argued here that theists shouldn't be allowed and even encouraged to use their faith to help them understand this world. But those kind of explanations are not scientific. Science doesn't deal with trying to prove or disprove the existence of God or of any of the particular theological claims any particular faith may have. That is why any scientist (whether the is an atheists, theists or agnostics) can adhere in good conscience to the scientific theory of evolution.
Trying to fit your theistic explanation into science results in explaining the real cause of cancer to be God's punishment of those evil smokers. That is the way people used to explain things before science devoloped its particular form of MN. Do you really want to step back into those times?

When we are forming expectations, we operate in the context of discovery. People can discover ideas about the natural world in their dreams. But then they have to make predictions about what they expect to find true if their theories are correct, and this is the context of justification. If nature confirms their expectations, then their thesis is confirmed, theistic or atheistic. If nature fails to confirm their expectations, then their theory is disconfimed.

I would argue exactly the same. We are on the same page here. That is why I am completely baffled by your earlier claim that a theistic scientist should practice science differently than this. How can you establish any coherent standards by which data is to be evaluated if (as you indicated earlier) the theistic scientist does not have to concern himself with the physical process by which something happens while the atheistic scientist does? How does one confirm the supposition that bacterial flagellum was made by an intelligent designer without any idea of how that design was performed?
When archeologists study artefacts that were intelligently designed they are able to approximate how these artifacts were made because the designers were very much like us. Often they will recreate one possible way to make a particular artefact. They can also figure out for what purpose the designers made these artifacts. Again, because they already have a very good idea of who these designers are. All of this information about the artifact is filtered through MN.
ID'er's often insist there is no way to know who this intelligent designer of the bacterial flagellum is. If not, how can we know the purpose behind the design? Was this intelligent designer(s) simply playing a practical joke by making something that could be taken to resemble an outboard motor?

Many first-class scientists were orthodox Christians, and they didn't always separate their religion from science.

The last part of your sentence can be understood in a couple of different ways. If you mean that they saw science as a way to understand better the world God created and were willing to modify (or reinterpret) some of their theological claims (such as the earth being the center of the universe or the earth being only 6,000 years old) due to new scientific findings, I think this is very good. Or if their faith in God motivated them to be confident of their ability to solve some of the puzzles bedeviling science, I would also agree.
However, if you mean that they should take one of their cherished theological doctrines and try to get other scientists to accept it, I couldn't disagree more. You keep hand-wringing over how science is going to be ruined by not accepting your AfR. If you inject supernturalistic based explanations that rely on your particular belief of what God wants into science, you will see science ruined so quickly it will make you dizzy.


3) Bayesian theory expectations are formed based on prior probabilities, which are confirmed or disconfirmed by experience. But there is no method I know of for assessing prior probabilities. Thus if there is a report that, say, the Virgin Mary has been speaking to young people in, say, Africa, Roman Catholic will want it checked out, but will certainly be prepared to think it's for real if good evidence emerges and it's tough to explain away. A Protestant, who thinks that there's a God and the Mary is Christ's mother, but doesn't expect Mary to be talking to people, will require a higher standard of evidence. An atheist should be the toughest of all to persuade. And the evidence may turn out to be such that Catholics are reasonable in thinking that this is for real, while Protestants and atheists are reasonable in being skeptical. For more discussion on this see www.infidels.org/library/modern/victor_reppert/miracles.html

I really fail to see what this has to do with whether or not supernaturalistic explanations like:"Zeus caused the plague which decimated Thebes." should be considered an authentic scientific explanation.????


4) If methodological naturalism is the rule, and it turned out that the bacterial flagellum did come into being as the result of divine creation, then science could never discover that, and would have to say, even though it was false, that there had to be some evolutionary process somehow that produced it, even though there really was none, and God actually did it. This is, to me, a troubling result, that some events should be scientifically invisible if they occurred.

It really would be devastating if we never found out the true reason for the origin of that flagellum wouldn't it? I mean I'm going to spend many sleepless nights just worrying about it. Sorry for the sarcasm here, just wanted to balance out your lame joke at the beginning of your response.:-)

I'm kind of curious: how do you know that God didn't set up the whole evolutionary system in order to create all of the living things we have here on earth? If you abandom so quickly what has taken science so long to learn about the evolution of species, because it currently has no complete explanation for the developement of the bacterial flagellum, aren't you worried that you may be exchanging a true explanation of how God creates things for a false one?

There are very few scientific theories that are currently able to account for all the data they are designed to explain. Look at the theory of the Big Bang. There are quite a few problems cropping up with that theory. Why not insist that all textbooks have stickers placed on them warning children of placing too much confidence in it?

And after all, if God is willing to create a world in which there is so much evil, why couldn't He create one in which natural selection directs the random variations that result from things like mutations of DNA? If you are able to swallow evil why do you spit out natural selection? Do you really think natural selection is a worse problem for theodicy than evil?

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