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Chen's Genesis for the Rest of Us:

Jim Chen defends his characterization of Justice Scalia's dissent from denial of certiorari in Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education v. Freiler as "the most scientifically irresponsible passage in United States Reports."

The most serious efforts to defend Justice Scalia's performance in Tangipahoa invariably deflect attention toward the seamier aspects of the Scopes trial. In a comment posted at Jurisdynamics and an earlier post at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren has detailed the racist and eugenicist cant of the textbook at issue in the Scopes trial. Edward Larson's reconsideration of Scopes, likewise aimed at defusing the cultural power of the admittedly fanciful Inherit the Wind, was deemed worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.

Whether couched as serious condemnation of early twentieth century social Darwinism or as a thinly veiled apology for creationist politics, efforts to deflect the debate to the particulars of the Scopes trial are beside the point. It's one thing to rehabilitate the misunderstood William Jennings Bryan, as Michael Kazin has heroicallly attempted. It's affirmatively noble to set the record straight on a hotly contested episode in American history. But it is downright disgraceful to write, as Justice Scalia did in Tangipahoa, that a school has any business "suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution -– including, but not limited to, the Biblical theory of creation -– are worthy of their consideration." I stand by what I wrote in Tangipahoa (the Jurisdynamics post) and in my article, Legal Mythmaking in a Time of Mass Extinctions.

Jim recognizes this subject is unlikely to die — just look at the repeated debates over the scientific (in)validity of "intelligent design" in the relevant comment threads on the VC. So, he is planning to offer something of a Festivus Genesis:

I shall now undertake an extended series on evolution, natural history, and naturalism as a source of inspiration, even religious satisfaction, for a world all too ready to rip itself apart over minute, offensively irrelevant theological differences. In a spirit no less playful than Seinfeld, I'll call the series Genesis for the Rest of Us. Those who know me intimately understand how profoundly my life has been shaped by the question, ¿Respecte usted la Virgen?, and how I answered it. This is not about what I believe or what anyone else believes. This is about the beauty and the power and the glory of the story of life, told as we best understand it to be the truth.

I look forward to Jim's series, and any discussion it may provoke.

UPDATE: For those who would like to know more about the Scopes Trial, check out Orin Kerr's review of Summer for the Gods here.

plunge (mail):
I still think it's a little disingenous to highlight the racism in a biology textbook from that time, as if that was some significantly unique failing of evolutionary biology. Even many most of the most progressive people of the day saw that racism as a matter of course, whether it was justified with references to biological history or religious. And regardless, that at least clearly has nothing to do with Scalia's statement.
8.29.2006 1:54pm
TO (mail):
Seems like a silly thing for Mr. Chen to get all worked up about.
8.29.2006 2:33pm
Chris 24601 (mail):
Isn't Scalia's dissent in Edwards a far more generous assessment of creationism than his dissent from the denial of cert. in the Tangipahoa disclaimer case? Edwards involved actual substantial amounts of classroom time, but Tangipahoa was just a measly disclaimer. Chen says of the Tangipahoa dissent that "no other legal authority comes as close to supporting the teaching of creationism," but Scalia's views were set out clearly thirteen years before.
8.29.2006 2:45pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
I smell a coverup!

The list of related posts omits perhaps the most relevant one of all. "State v. Scopes" was posted by Orin Kerr on July 26, 2005. He wrote, "it turns out that the history of the Scopes trial is very different from the myths." Sounds very much like the Scalia utterance that Professor Chen is so disgusted about: "today we permit a Court of Appeals to push the much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial one step further."
8.29.2006 3:03pm
plunge (mail):
True. Here's Scalia in Edwards: "The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools, just as Mr. Scopes was entitled to present whatever scientific evidence there was for it."

(does Scalia really think that settling a legal question is the same thing a public schooling and the schools are like ongoing trials of this or that view?)

"Perhaps what the Louisiana Legislature has done is unconstitutional because there is no such evidence, and the scheme they have established will amount to no more than a presentation of the Book of Genesis. But we cannot say that on the evidence before us in this summary judgment context, which includes ample uncontradicted testimony that "creation science" is a body of scientific knowledge, rather than revealed belief. Infinitely less can we say (or should we say) that the scientific evidence for evolution is so conclusive that no one could be gullible enough to believe that there is any real scientific evidence to the contrary, so that the legislation's stated purpose must be a lie. Yet that illiberal judgment, that Scopes-in-reverse, is ultimately the basis on which the Court's facile rejection of the Louisiana Legislature's purpose must rest."
8.29.2006 3:06pm
Joel B. (mail):
I am kind of interested in this "genesis" he proposes.

Randomness 1:1

In the beginning there was we don't really know how all the stuff got here, but we'll assume for the moment that it is. 2 Now, there was a supposed proto something hard to describe of energy that really wasn't anything in particular, and something caused it to bang out, really fast, but we don't know what or why, but we think it did. A first billionith of a second. 3 Then, and again we don't really know why or how it expanded in a process called inflation, like the currency of Zimbabwe, where the size of the universe greatly expanded. Another 8 seconds. 4 Then the universe gradually cooled and finally began to congeal in forms of larger matter such as quarks. Another 2 minutes.
8.29.2006 3:12pm
Chris 24601 (mail):
Scalia's Edwards dissent also explains what he means by the Scopes myth; he refers there to "the facts and the legend of Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S.W. 363 (1927) -- an instinctive reaction that any governmentally imposed requirements bearing upon the teaching of evolution must be a manifestation of Christian fundamentalist repression."

Regarding "ample uncontradicted testimony that 'creation science' is a body of scientific knowledge, rather than revealed belief": Given the record before the court at the SJ-for-plaintiffs stage, I think Scalia just meant that there were depositions from people who said "creation science is science," and no contrary depositions. That seems to fit with his review of the record earlier in the dissent: "The only evidence in the record of the 'received meaning and acceptation' of 'creation science' is found in five affidavits filed by appellants. In those affidavits, two scientists, a philosopher, a theologian, and an educator, all of whom claim extensive knowledge of creation science, swear that it is essentially a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that the physical universe and life within it appeared suddenly, and have not changed substantially since appearing."
8.29.2006 3:28pm
CJColucci:
Nobody seems ever to have adequately answered Justice Scalia's point in Edwards, disingenuous though I think it was. The country had just seen a massive, full-blown trial in Arkansas of the very issue Justice Scalia says presented issues of fact in Edwards, and it was a complete waxing of the creationist claim that there was such a thing as a secular science of creationism, much like Kitzmiller's waxing of ID. Did it really make sense to insist that in every benighted state where fundies could get their hands on local school boards we re-run the McLean trial each time, to the inevitable result? The basic facts of science are subject to judicial notice. Whether there is an actual dispute, within science, about such things is easily determined, and quite fit for summary judgment. If there isn't, let's not pretend there are factual issues.
8.29.2006 3:34pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
A couple of points, one on Chen and one on Scalia:

1. I think where Chen has Scalia is in Scalia's description of competing "theories" that can be taught alongside evolution. Scalia is doing what most ID and creationist advocates do-- substituting the popular definition of "theory" (meaning any hypothesis however unsupported) with the scientific definition of "theory" (meaning a tested hypothesis that is supported by the observational data).

There is no competing theory to evolution, in the scientific sense. There are competing unsupported hypotheses. But those are not theories in the same sense that evolution is. So when Scalia refers to them as theories, he is being completely unscientific.

2. With respect to Scalia's view of the summary judgment issue in Edwards v. Aguilar, what he is ignoring is that with expert testimony, the law is not that you can simply put in any declaration from an expert you want to and it comes in and creates a triable issue of fact. If you could do that, nobody could ever get summary judgment.

Rather, expert testimony is subject to preliminary consideration by the trial court to ensure that it is helpful to the trier of fact. We now call this the Daubert inquiry, though Daubert v. Merrill Dow had not yet been decided at the time of Edwards v. Aguilar.

In the Edwards v. Aguilar case, the courts were perfectly entitled to examine the testimony of the "experts" who claimed that creationism was science to determine whether such testimony followed from its premises and would actually be admissible at trial to create an issue of material fact.

Scalia's problem is that he didn't want to make that inquiry. If one does make the inquiry, the expert declarations fall apart, as they were based on nothing more than the experts say-so as to what was and wasn't science. In fact, the Achilles Heel of all creationist and intelligent design arguments is the lack of any actual scientific testing and falsification of the hypotheses. (In contrast, evolution has been rigorously tested and various theories of the mechanics of evolution have been rejected or refined based on observations.)

As an aside, I would add that one of the reasons that I don't think that Scalia is nearly as principled as most conservatives think is because I see him making a lot of decisions where he ignores the law if it would force him to act contrary to his religious beliefs. This is actually a key example of that, though there are others. If he scrutinizes the expert declarations, as he is required to under the law, he would have to end up proclaiming, as the majority did, that there is no scientific evidence that supports his religious beliefs. By ignoring the issue and just blithely claiming that the declarations created a triable issue of fact, he doesn't have to publicly raise questions about his faith.
8.29.2006 4:19pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
I have a frien. He thinks the world started five thousand years ago. Here's what he says happened....

The Almighty has a supercomputer, and He programmed it with the laws of physics. The supercomputer then solved an initial value problem using those laws of physics, and five thousand years ago the Almighty decided to model reality after the results of that Cauchy initial value problem.

Of course, since the fundamental laws of physics are probabilistic in nature, the Almighty still has considerable opportunity to work His will, without interfering with the reality he created five thousand years ago.

Now who's to say that my friend's theory is any more unscientific than the conventional wisdom?
8.29.2006 4:55pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):

But it is downright disgraceful to write, as Justice Scalia did in Tangipahoa, that a school has any business "suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution -– including, but not limited to, the Biblical theory of creation -– are worthy of their consideration."

I guess only teacher's-union-approved, left wing, unscientific, ahistorical nonsense belongs in slave schools.

[I use the term 'slave schools' because attendance is compulsory and can be likened to involuntary servitude.]

What's amazing to me is how terrified commies (and some atheist libertarians) are these days about even the slightest deviation from a rigid authoritarian design of a school system.

This case involved a phrase in a curriculum document that almost nobody will read. "the Scientific Theory of Evolution" would "be presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not . . . to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept." It's part of one sentence in which the curriculum writers are saying that they don't intend to propagandize their students. They're talking about themselves and not the curriculum.

That this should be a federal case is ridiculous. It's like those (usually hypothetical) gender discrimination cases in which the plaintiff asks the court to order that they be admitted to cocktail parties held by members of their firm or school so they can network. Beyond the scope of any reasonable federal power.

The members of the school board in this case if they felt like it could picket the schools telling the kiddies not to believe in evolution. They could mass mail the whole Parish warning the students about the godless atheistic communists and they would get more publicity than a phrase in a curriculum. In fact they probably should.

The libertarians who read this blog shouldn't be sending their kids to slave schools in any case. That was a hanging offense in the libertarianism I helped build. In the case of the commies reading this blog they're dammed anyway and they mostly don't have kids so it doesn't matter.
8.29.2006 5:02pm
Master Shake:

Now who's to say that my friend's theory is any more unscientific than the conventional wisdom?
If by "conventional wisdom" you mean the conventional wisdom among scientists, then - uh - I, for one am one to say so.

If, on the other hand, "conventional wisdom" means what the majority of Americans believe, then I agree that your friend's theory is precisely as unscientific as the conventional wisdom. Equally idiotic.
8.29.2006 5:58pm
markm (mail):
Andrew: Your friend's hypothesis is not falsifiable.
8.29.2006 6:03pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Master Shake, I don't see why it's idiotic to suppose that, from the Big Bang until some particular point in time, reality was virtual instead of real. Especially before no forms of life existed, what point would there be in going through the long coalescence of interstellar gas and dust into stars and planets? It would have been much more efficient to merely calculate the results of such an evolution, and let reality pick up at some point where the calculations leave off. There's nothing idiotic about it. It's just a different philosophy from the one you prefer.
8.29.2006 6:07pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Exactly, markm, it's not falsifiable.
8.29.2006 6:08pm
Master Shake:
Trust me.
8.29.2006 6:19pm
Master Shake:

Exactly, markm, it's not falsifiable.
Are you unaware that "not falsifiable" = "unscientific"?
8.29.2006 6:21pm
Fub:
Andrew Hyman wrote:
I have a frien. He thinks the world started five thousand years ago. Here's what he says happened....
[stuff happened, elided]
Now who's to say that my friend's theory is any more unscientific than the conventional wisdom?
I am, because I've been to ancient Greece, and I can prove it! See this grape!!?!

Before the beginning, there was this turtle. And the turtle was alone. And he looked around, and he saw his neighbor, which was his mother. And he lay down on top of his neighbor, and behold! she bore him in tears an oak tree, which grew all day and then fell over -- like a bridge. And lo! under the bridge there came a catfish. And he was very big. And he was walking. And he was the biggest he had seen. And so with the fiery balls of this fish -- one of which is the sun, the other the moon.

[all from The Firesign Theatre, who covered this debate long ago]
8.29.2006 6:31pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
The hypothesis that evolution actually occurred prior to 5000 years ago, instead of merely being a mathematical simulation that was implemented 5000 years ago, is not falsifiable either.

Personally, I tend to believe that it really occurred. However, that conventional wisdom is no more falsifiable than the notion that evolution was merely a mathematical simulation until 5000 years ago.
8.29.2006 8:48pm
Master Shake:
Andrew - I find it very scary that a college found it reasonable to give you a bachelors degree in physics. Scarier still that you've had any sort of association with the American Association of Physics Teachers. Oh our poor youth. Falsifiability, look it up.

Oh, and that's great that you "tend to believe' it really occurred. Remind me to take my patent work elsewhere.
8.29.2006 9:15pm
plunge (mail):
"The hypothesis that evolution actually occurred prior to 5000 years ago, instead of merely being a mathematical simulation that was implemented 5000 years ago, is not falsifiable either."

Carry this line of logic to its conclusion and we have no business teaching history, imprisoning criminals, or doing anything at all that presumes the existence of the past or expects the existence of the future.

Yes, you are right that all reality might have been and even still could be a giant simulation. But once you go to that length, you've basically eradicated any meaningful discussion about anything.

The assumption that evidence from the physical world is not outright deliberately fabricated is indeed not falisifiable: for what could exist to falsify it other than more faked evidence? However, the argument gets us nowhere. That existence is not a outright fraud is the only principle we can use which allows any meaningful discussion about anything. You can deny it, but it leaves you nowhere.

Axiomatica.
8.29.2006 9:15pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Those who have completely closed minds about scientific possibilities have no business boasting about the superiority of their position.

It is a scientific possibility that when there was no life in the universe, the universe was merely a mathematical construct. I am not an advocate of that point of view, but it is a perfectly valid point of view. The conventional theory that the universe was "real" even when no life existed in it is not falsifiable, and therefore should not be pounded into the heads of our youth as if it were gospel.

No need to hurl insults here. Just use your brains.
8.29.2006 9:28pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
P.S. Thank you to Professor Adler for adding the update. In case it's not obvious, I was joking around in the first sentence of my comment at 2:03 PM.
8.29.2006 9:39pm
Master Shake:
Andrew - there are lots of possibilities. Lots of people can make up lots of things (and they do), but that doesn't make them "science" or "scientific". You should be aware of that, given what you hold yourself out as. It's POSSIBLE that you're friend is right, but your friend's position is "just a different philosophy" (as you noted earlier), not "science" or something falsifiable. Being a different "philosophy" doesn't make something equally scientific. You're position applies equally well to any religion, or astrology, numerology and the like (or Greek mythology, for that matter). For all I know they might be "right" (not really), but they sure as hell aren't scientific. And to the extent you think they are, but yet represent in some context the American Association of Physics Teachers (jesus, I can barely type that without cringing), you are doing a huge disservice to physics majors who became lawyers.

In your own words, "just use your brains."
8.30.2006 3:26am
Michael B (mail):
"I shall now undertake an extended series on evolution, natural history, and naturalism as a source of inspiration, even religious satisfaction, for a world all too ready to rip itself apart over minute, offensively irrelevant theological differences."

"This is not about what I believe or what anyone else believes. This is about the beauty and the power and the glory of the story of life, told as we best understand it to be the truth." Jim Chen

And Al Gore invented the internet. And resistance is futile. Whenever extra-truth is superimposed or otherwise associated with truth and therein made co-equal to truth for most if not all practical intents and purposes, watch out for the rhetorical forays and sorties, whether subtly and sophistically flourished or otherwise, along with the righteous intonations, the pontifical pronouncements, and the demonization/degradation of any potential opposition. Funny how all that is so predictably, and so typically, found together.

In fact, it's a bit of both (belief and truth), and it's fatuous to imagine otherwise. It's a type of fatuousness, also, which tends to grant carte blanche to "enthusiastic" and more ideologically inclined evolutionists in order to make truth claims beyond what the empirical/rational evidence warrants.

Essentially, it's about what we can best ascertain upon a naturalistically conceived scientific basis, empirically/rationally via the fossil record, etc., and then resting in faith upon that basis solely and alone to forward yet additional hypotheses/suppositions as positive truth claims, rather than, pace, Galileo Galilei, hypotheses/suppositions as such. (A repetition, yes, but one for emphasis as it's rarely - virtually never - owned up to and its ideological/populist version itself is a repetition for propagandistic/mythic effect, not scientific effect or concerns.)

I'm a 13 billion year, big bang of the universe kinda guy, an evolutionist, don't believe ID belongs in the science classroom, though aspects most certainly do belong in philosophical classrooms (which discussion is typically and conveniently not merely truncated, it's elided altogether or given merely token notice), and likewise am not an exclusive materialist/naturalist. It very much is in the materialist/naturalistic area, both in terms of epistemic grounding and philosophical precepts in general, where a good deal of the fatuousness resides.

Imagine and assert otherwise all you care, but you're talking about both naturalistically based truth claims and attendant beliefs which cover virtually the entirety of life, if not the history of the planet and universe as well. No small matter, that. And that's the truth. Why? In large part it's the truth because it's honest, pace the above Jim Chen excerpt, in terms of admissions about what it both does and does not know and does not attempt to disguise belief, e.g., pretend belief is fact or truth, or generally confuse the epistemic grounding upon which belief and truth are conceived.

Resistance to such fatuousness is not futile. Nor is it meaningless vis-a-vis a wide range of public policy concerns, not merely educational in orientation. It pertains to fundamental conceptions of the nation and state as such, from policy debates to aspects of the general ethos of the nation.
8.30.2006 4:08am
Michael B (mail):
Too, there are other forms of fatuousness apparent herein, e.g., the intimation that "mere beliefs" are somehow equivalent, or at least so vis-a-vis these broadly conceived "truths" which are posited. A tangent, but worthwhile, R. Fernandez of Belmont Club fame on believing, one thoughtful perspective only, but worth consideration as he reflects on something primary.
8.30.2006 4:18am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Look, Master Shake, I thought I'd enter a casual or even light-hearted conversation on this topic, and yet find myself being ridiculed as some kind of disgrace to the American Association of Physics Teachers, of all people. And undeserving of my college degree, to boot. Perhaps you could confine yourself to the merits, please.

My point is that objective facts about the origin of human beings and of the solar system and the galaxy are often larded up with notions that cannot be scientifically proved or disproved. And that should be just as praiseworthy/deplorable when done by either creationists or evolutionists.

The example I cited (which you say I should be embarassed about) was this: "The conventional theory that the universe was 'real' even when no life existed in it is not falsifiable, and therefore should not be pounded into the heads of our youth as if it were gospel."

Isn't it true that said conventional theory is not falsifiable?

Isn't it true that said conventional theory is presented as scientific dogma to many students?

Isn't it true that all known scientific facts about the universe can be alternatively explained by supposing that some entity created this universe by first assuming a set of initial conditions, and then mathematically evolving those conditions as an initial value problem using the laws of physics, until said entity decided to actually implement the resulting evolved mathematical construct?

I am not advocating the latter hypothesis, but it is no more or less falsifiable than the former (conventional) hypothesis which you apparently want presented to students as uncontroverted fact. It seems rather presumptuous to insist that the universe must have existed long before any life existed anywhere.

Although it is somewhat counterintuitive to suppose that anything can be born full-grown, it is not logically impossible that the universe could have such a history. Certainly it doesn't seem accurate to teach students that it couldn't possibly have had such a history.
8.30.2006 4:56am
Master Shake:
Seriously, Andrew, with all due respect you should just cut your losses now. Do NOT put this thread on your resume, you will never get another client again. How did Amherst fail you so?

YES it is true that "all known scientific facts about the universe can be alternatively explained by supposing that some entity created this universe by first assuming a set of initial conditions, and then mathematically evolving those conditions as an initial value problem using the laws of physics, until said entity decided to actually implement the resulting evolved mathematical construct."

It is also true that an almighty being, or the FSM, or Zeus said "shebang" and it all appeared. THIS IS NOT SCIENCE. You are right that I can't disprove it; I have no intention of doing so, and I couldn't possibly do so. However, it doesn't fit the falsifiability test (again I implore you. LOOK IT UP!!, it doesn't just mean that I can overlay my FSM construct onto it and therefore it wouldn't work).

You just don't understand the difference between science and philosophy, or religion, or whatever you want to call it. I do not want to disparage either, but they are not science and don't pretend they are.

Seriously, don't tell your clients about this.
8.30.2006 6:06am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Master Shake, you are just being stubborn. You pick and choose what to read and what to ignore. I asked: "Isn't it true that said conventional theory is not falsifiable?Isn't it true that said conventional theory is presented as scientific dogma to many students?" You just ignore those questions.

You say, "I implore you. LOOK IT UP!!" Geez, Louise. I did look it up. And I'm telling you again that the conventional theory, which is presented to students as uncontroverted fact, IS NOT FALSIFIABLE. It is not falisfiable that "the universe was 'real' even when no life existed in it."

I’m afraid that you’re watching too much of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Master Shake, instead of paying attention to the Volokh Conspiracy.

:-)
8.30.2006 12:23pm
plunge (mail):
"My point is that objective facts about the origin of human beings and of the solar system and the galaxy are often larded up with notions that cannot be scientifically proved or disproved."

Well, yes, you've just discovered the basic axioms of empiricism. It's also not scientifically provable that everything happening right now is all and elaborate lie, right this very second. But in choosing to function in a world and treat it as if it were sensible and predictable, we all agree to a common standard of evidence.

You are getting far too excited by the realization that you can deny these axioms and that they cannot themselves be proven. Duh. That's back where we started for goodness sakes. But while one can deny our shared physical reality, in doing so we undercut any hope at all of ever discerning anything or coming to agree that X is true and Y is not. And most people realize that that's throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or knocking over the chessboard when it looks like the game isn't going your way.

Those axioms, the ones you are saying we can doubt, are simply unavoidable as long as you agree to have a debate on the grounds of evidence in a commonly experienced reality. Once you start undercutting that reality, then you've undercut any chance of sensible debate, truth, or any common ground whatsoever. Anything imaginable is possible.

Axiomatica.
8.30.2006 1:07pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
There is a difference between denying our shared physical reality, and denying the reality of an ancient universe long before life existed in it. I deny neither, but still it's a significant distinction.
8.30.2006 1:33pm
Joel B. (mail):
Andrew is hitting on what I think most Biblical Creationists and Intelligent Design folks dislike about "evolution" (in the chemical reactions to man sense) or scientific naturalism. It is a distinction between the disciplines of science and history. Science has over the past 100 years tried it's hardest to blur the lines between science and history, but most of us strongly resist this. The only way we really know "what happened in the past" is that someone who was there tells us, that they wrote something down as witnesses to the event. Science, tells us, if we do X, Y should occur. And then it tries to figure out why whenever we do X Y always occurs.

History and Science are to some degree incompatible, science predicts and confirms, history tells and does not care.

There is the story of George Washington as a young officer in the French and Indian war, where he alone of all the English officers lived, despite numerous bullets in his clothes. Science may tell us this is incredibly unlikely and hard to believe (nay unrepeatable) and it is not "falsifiable" yet it is "history" we choose to believe it or not, by looking at confirmations in other events etc. And we must judge to we accept Washington's account or not.

As we draw further back in time, history becomes harder, but if it becomes harder for history it becomes more so for science. We have to choose, did what Caesar tell us happen happened? Did he embellish what do we really know? Similarly did Luke see what he saw? Draw back even further, what of Joshua and his account? Now "science" (archaeology) tells us that an upheavel event in the Jericho area occurred at least 100 years before or after the book of Joshua would suggest, based on pottery shards, now...You can choose, pottery displace written history or not? Hard to say you're choice, but to say science disproves Joshua seems to me a huge stretch.

Even more so, as we draw back to the book of Genesis, how do you prove or disprove an account of history, except through a time machine. We can be skeptical we can question, but it is awfully hard to disprove. The amazing thing about Genesis, is that for what ever reason is that it is a collection of human histories. "These are the generations of Adam," etc. Now look, science can try to understand history, but it will always be limited, it wasn't actually there, it can't actually know.
8.30.2006 3:20pm
Warsong (mail) (www):
Because there was no-one, or anything, in a forest to hear a tree fall, does that mean it didn't fall, that it didn't exist? Its existence does not depend on witnesses, nor, does a lack of witnesses mean that the sound waves didn't propagate.

I'm a dyed in the wool Evolutionist, up to about 325,000 years ago, when something happened that caused the Homo Sapien Sapien to diverge from all other hominids on this planet: 325 Genes suddenly appeared on the Human Genome. The Genes in that string can literally be read like a text file of how to build a Human Being.

At that point, I turn into a "Directed Evolutionist." Nothing else on this Planet has those Genes except a tiny Bacterium, found only in the Human Digestive Tract, which apparently acquired those Genes at exactly the same time. To me, though I've never heard a Geneticist say this, this tiny Bacterium appears to be the tool used to insert those Genes into the Human Genome, thus creating Homo Sapien Sapien. When viewed as a Tool, the implication is that someone designed and used that tool to accomplish a goal.

Strangely, this fits exactly with the depiction of the Anunnaki/Summerian story of the creation of the Human Race. In fact, what they describe is now called Genetic Manipulation, or, Cloning (in the case of the Egyptian god Horus, whose natural Mother was Inanna/Isis, and, whose surrogate Mother was Hathor).
8.30.2006 3:22pm
Warsong (mail) (www):
Ach...correction: Sumerian, not Summerian
8.30.2006 4:11pm
Mark Field (mail):

The only way we really know "what happened in the past" is that someone who was there tells us, that they wrote something down as witnesses to the event.


I don't think this is true. We have other ways of determining what happened in the past besides witness reports. If I wake up in the morning, look outside, and see that the ground is wet, I don't rush around looking for a witness to confirm that it rained during the night.

We rely on evidence of this sort all the time. Forensic criminology would be impossible without it (and could America survive without CSI????). So would many PI cases. No hunter could survive for long if he (used advisedly) couldn't rely on animal spoor and similar clues rather than witness reports. The science involved in evolution and cosmology is no different in principle.

Oh, and just as a helpful hint for some of the other discussion in this thread, I offer the following definition:

Main Entry: so·lip·sism
Function: noun
Pronunciation: 'sO-l&p-"si-z&m, 'sä-
Etymology: Latin solus alone + ipse self
: a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing
8.30.2006 4:23pm
Joel B. (mail):
Mark,

Forensic and circumstantial evidence is certainly very useful. Extremely useful, it helps us to better determine what did or didn't happen all the time.

That being said if the entire grounds is wet and you heard no storm last night, you may very much be curious, though you suspect say a storm. Now maybe, we look see the ground saturated and assume ah...rain. But the possibility is also that a water main broke and flooded your street. Certainly, you can weed out postulations with circumstantial evidence, (is the water pressure poor?), but I think, reasonably so, that as you draw further back in time, circumstantial evidence is less reliable (note that I readily recognize that eyewitness testimony also tends to be not particularly reliable), but as you draw back 500 years, the "circumstantial evidence" tells us much less, requires more guess and more underlying assumptions. We ought to at least recognize this, that going further back, we depend more and more upon people who wrote things down to tell us what actually happened.
8.30.2006 4:45pm
Master Shake:
Andrew - congratulations, you've got Joel B. on your side. Now I would recommend putting this on your resume. Maybe your clients would like you to do most of your research at Answers in Genesis.

If you were not someone who holds themselves out publicly as having an association with the American Association of Physics Teachers, I would just dismiss you as a crank and not get worked up about this. Unfortunately, you do hold yourself out as such, yet you DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT SCIENCE IS. That disturbs me because of what it says about education in this country. Your posits are all perfectly possible, just as is any religious theory or philosophical construct, and I can't disprove them, and I don't want to, BUT THEY ARE NOT SCIENCE. You are really embarrassing yourself here. Science deals with the observable and falsifiable.

As Plunge put it (in not so many words), you're being like a sophomore philosophy student that just discovered that which is already obvious to everybody else, that you can make all sorts of claims about the nature of reality which undercut any empirical claims. All these claims may or may not be true, but once you make them you've left the realm of science and entered philosophy. I find it frightening that you can't understand that.

Please read Plunge's post five times, it's really very good.

As to your specific questions:


Isn't it true that said conventional theory is not falsifiable?
If what you mean by "conventional wisdom" is scientist's theories on various matters, including evolution, derived from their empirical observations, then no, that isn't true. They are definitely falsifiable, because it would be possible/conceivable to make observations discrediting those theories - just like with every other thing taught in the science class. Not so with your friend's made up theory, or any religious theory on origins, or the FSM.


Isn't it true that said conventional theory is presented as scientific dogma to many students?
As with everything else taught in a science classroom, it is taught as the current scientific understanding to explain observed phenomena, not as "dogma". Since it is all falsifiable and subject to updated scientific explanation, it remains subject to revision or retraction - but only based on OBSERVED evidence (within the same empirical reality that the previous evidence it was based upon was observed), not some philosophy made up by your friend. That's why it is science, not philosophy. Science also make no claims as to whether your friend's philosophy about origins is true or not true; it is just outside of the realm of science, and science just can't say (and doesn't really care) whether it is true or untrue.

You should know all of this already. Sad that you don't.
8.30.2006 5:09pm
Mark Field (mail):

I think, reasonably so, that as you draw further back in time, circumstantial evidence is less reliable (note that I readily recognize that eyewitness testimony also tends to be not particularly reliable), but as you draw back 500 years, the "circumstantial evidence" tells us much less, requires more guess and more underlying assumptions. We ought to at least recognize this, that going further back, we depend more and more upon people who wrote things down to tell us what actually happened.


That's why scientists generally want several independent lines of evidence pointing to the same conclusion before they accept something as fact. The wet street example works that way as well -- if I go outside and see that only my street is wet, I'll reasses my conclusion (just as scientists do). If not just my street, but every street in a substantial area is wet, I'll treat my conclusion as pretty solid.

As for witnesses, any practicing attorney is familiar with their weaknesses. So is any good historian. We look for confirming evidence from other sources, including circumstantial evidence, for exactly that reason. And, of course, writing itself only goes back 5000 years or so; we depend entirely on circumstantial evidence beyond that.

Finally, the solidity of the circumstantial evidence depends on its nature. Some types are much less certain than others, some very certain indeed. Scientists know which is which.
8.30.2006 6:07pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Master Shake, you’re being unreasonable (I was going to say “intentionally obtuse” but perhaps saying so might exacerbate the situation). You wrote the following.

As to your specific questions: ‘Isn't it true that said conventional theory is not falsifiable?’ If what you mean by ‘conventional wisdom’ is scientist's theories on various matters, including evolution, derived from their empirical observations, then no, that isn't true. They are definitely falsifiable....


You’re claiming that you don’t know what I mean by "said conventional theory." But I’ve said repeatedly in this thread exactly what I mean. "The conventional theory that the universe was 'real' even when no life existed in it is not falsifiable...."

In order to be falsifiable, a proposition or theory must define in some way what is forbidden by that proposition or theory. The above-described conventional theory does not forbid any phenomena at all.

All phenomena allowed by said conventional theory are also allowed by various other theories, for example: the theory that the universe was implemented shortly before life first appeared, based upon a mathematical model that had been evolved from certain initial conditions using the laws of physics. Given that the fundamental laws of physics are perhaps not deterministic, it is also possible that the implemented mathematical model was chosen from a plurality of models that had been evolved from the same initial conditions using the same laws of physics.

In any event, I’m not denying the conventional theory, but rather am simply pointing out that it is not falsifiable. I’m also not claiming to speak for the American Association of Physics Teachers, any more than I am claiming to speak for the European Physical Society or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All of which should have been abundantly obvious.

Anyway, this is a tempest in a teapot. The theory of evolution is solid science, and I’m not disputing it. The leading theory of cosmology is solid science too, and I’m not disputing that either. These theories have been very successful at describing how our present world came to exist. It’s an unanswerable philosophical question whether that evolution may have occurred virtually, before it was actually implemented at some point in time. Such a possibility, by the way, would not lead to some horrible and unprecedented conclusion that nature "lies" to us. After all, for thousands of years, most of mankind thought the Earth was flat, because the Earth does appear that way to an untrained and uninformed observer. Nature can be very misleading. But enough philosophy for one day!
8.30.2006 7:42pm
Master Shake:
Andrew - simply put, if you are correct, then there is no such thing as falsifiability, since you could play the same word games as to ANY proposition of fact. Unfortunately there is a whole body of work called "Science" that is based around falsifiablility. It works pretty well.

You are discussing philosophy, but you claimed at the outset that it is "just as scientific" as the conventional wisdom. But it isn't. It isn't science at all. Science deals only within an agreed set of assumptions about the nature of reality and observation (or, as Plunge most elegantly put it, "That existence is not a outright fraud is the only principle we can use which allows any meaningful discussion about anything."

You said earlier that "It is a scientific possibility that when there was no life in the universe, the universe was merely a mathematical construct." NO. It is a possiblility, but not a scientific one. It is out of the realm of science.

I actually do believe your obtuseness might be intentional. I really hope so actually.

And no, I don't watch ATHF, I'm in it.
8.30.2006 8:22pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Since it is a possibility that when there was no life in the universe, the universe was merely a mathematical construct, teachers should not teach the opposite as gospel truth. Right?
8.30.2006 8:35pm
Master Shake:
Teachers don't teach anything as "gospel truth" (other than in Sunday School). In science class, they teach science - i.e., "here are certain observations about the physical world and here is how scientists explain them. Because they are matters of science, they are subject to revision and/or retraction if and when other observations would make it necessary. Some of these things have a huge amount of observed evidence underlying them, some have less."

In philosophy class, they can (and do, and should) evaluate things such as the universe being a mathematical construct. Doing so is interesting, engaging, fun, enlightening, and really cool - but it isn't science.
8.30.2006 8:49pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
For the most part, I agree with that last comment of yours, Master Shake. But, regarding observations about the physical world, "how scientists explain them" varies from scientist to scientist.

The vast majority of scientists currently say they have high confidence that the universe is between twelve and fourteen billion years old.. However, I might explain the same observations by saying that the universe could be billions of years old, or it could have been created as an old-looking universe (based upon mathematically solving an initial value problem). My explanation would be much more accurate.

One more detail. Given the initial conditions, and given a probabilistic set of physical laws governing the way those initial conditions have since evolved, it may well turn out that scientists will one day be able to precisely calculate the specific probability that intelligent life would have evolved from those initial conditions, given those physical laws. If it turns out that said specific probability is an extremely small number, then that would be a solid empirical indication that we live in a universe that was modeled after a specifically selected solution of the initial value problem.

Be that as it may, thanks for the discussion, and I hope you won't mind if I hang on to my diplomas for a little while longer.
8.30.2006 9:31pm
Master Shake:

My explanation would be much more accurate.
But not science.
8.30.2006 9:59pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
I disagree. The following statement most certainly is scientific:

"Physical observations give us high confidence that the universe is either twelve to fifteen billion years old, or it was created as an old-looking universe."
8.30.2006 10:04pm
Master Shake:

I disagree. The following statement most certainly is scientific:

"Physical observations give us high confidence that the universe is either twelve to fifteen billion years old, or it was created as an old-looking universe."
No. It may be a true statement (although not complete, since it doesn't include ALL of the options, such as that the FSM has caused all the scientists' brains to perceive a universe that isn't actually there), but (as to the second clause) it is not scientific (i.e., in the realm of science). I'm not saying the statement violates any natrual law or scientific principle, its just that it ain't science.
8.30.2006 10:18pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Well if the last clause turns out to be true, then I will demand a full apology and retraction. :-)

Seriously, there is no more evidence that the universe is about 13 billion years old than there is evidence that the universe was created X years ago looking like a universe that was 13-X years old.
8.30.2006 10:26pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Well if the last clause turns out to be true, then I will demand a full apology and retraction. :-)

Seriously, there is no more evidence that the universe is about 13 billion years old than there is evidence that the universe was created X billion years ago looking like a universe that was 13-X billion years old.
8.30.2006 10:27pm
Master Shake:

Seriously, there is no more evidence that the universe is about 13 billion years old than there is evidence that the universe was created X years ago looking like a universe that was 13-X years old.
Sorry, that buzzer means you're wrong again (at least if you mean scientific evidence. I'm not speaking to religious "evidence", philosophical "evidence" etc.)

There is a ton of scientific evidence as to the first point - that's why scientists consider it to be good science. There is zero as to the second - there couldn't be. That is because is not in the realm of science, since, as we know - wait for it - wait for it - it's not falsifiable.

Look, for all I know your friend's theory is right. I can't prove otherwise. But IT'S NOT SCIENCE.
8.30.2006 11:28pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Here's a nice quote about falsifiability:

The theory that "the moon is populated by little green men who can read our minds and will hide whenever anyone on Earth looks for them, and will flee into deep space whenever a spacecraft comes near" is not falsifiable: these green men are designed so that no one can ever see them. On the other hand, the theory that there are no little green men on the moon is scientific: you can disprove it by catching one.


My friend Joe Hawking has a theory that the universe was created X billion years ago, looking like a universe that was 13.7 - X billion years old. Joe has no idea what "X" equals, but he's pretty sure about the 13.7.

Joe's theory is falsifiable; if an asteroid crashes to Earth, and carbon dating or some other reliable process shows that it seems to be 17 billion years old, then Joe Hawking theory will have been proven false.

In contrast, Master Shake clings to the notion that X=13.7. However, Master Shake's theory is not falsifiable, and therefore is not scientific. The same can be said of the theory that X=12 or X=11.
8.31.2006 1:24am
Master Shake:
Just stop embarassing yourself.
8.31.2006 4:16am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
There's no way to prove or disprove that the universe was actually created 13.7 billion years ago, as opposed to having been created more recently in a state equivalent to the state that a universe now 13.7 years old would have had. That's all. A little bit of humility is all that is required to acknowledge this.
8.31.2006 5:05am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
There's no way to prove or disprove that the universe was actually created 13.7 billion years ago, as opposed to having been created more recently in a state equivalent to the state that a universe now 13.7 billion years old would have had. That's all. A little bit of humility is required to acknowledge this.
8.31.2006 5:08am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
P.S. If you think that the Joe Hawking theory is unscientific or embarrassing, consider Stephen Hawking's latest:

Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking and his CERN colleague Thomas Hertog have proposed a radical new approach to understanding the universe that studies it from the "top down" rather than the "bottom up" as in traditional models. The approach acknowledges that the universe did not have just one unique beginning and history but a multitude of different beginnings and histories, and that it has experienced them all. But because most of these other alternative histories disappeared very early after the Big Bang to leave behind the universe we observe today, the best way to understand the past, they say, is to trace our knowledge back from the present (Phys. Rev. D 73 123527).


It's quite presumptuous to insist that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, instead of just seeming that way.
8.31.2006 5:37am
Master Shake:

There's no way to prove or disprove that the universe was actually created 13.7 billion years ago, as opposed to having been created more recently in a state equivalent to the state that a universe now 13.7 billion years old would have had. That's all.
Agreed.

But - ITS. NOT. SCIENCE.

My recommendation - show this thread to every scientist you know. If they don't kick you in the pants and slap you upside the head first, then let them explain it to you. I'm clearly not going to be able to.

Now I'm done with this. As the Violent Femmes said, "This will go down on your permanent record."
8.31.2006 5:38am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Master Shake, I think your problem here is that you're applying the wrong principle. The principle of FALSIFIABILITY is important and correct, but that principle is fully satisfied by a theory that says the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years. That theory could be proved false by discovering an object having a reliably determined age greater than 13.7 billion years. The principle that this theory does not satisfy is OCCAM'S RAZOR. The theory is not as simple as possible, and it does not eliminate all extraneous or unnecessary assumptions. But as far as I know, Occam's Razor is merely advisory for a scientific theory, rather than mandatory. Look it up. And then we'll see about expunging my record.
8.31.2006 6:37am
Master Shake:
You think, therefore you are wrong.
8.31.2006 6:55am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Looks like "intelligent design" passed over Master Shake.

:-)
8.31.2006 11:28am
Master Shake:
I can't believe I actually have to point out the idiocy of your claim that, in a world that was created to appear old but wasn't really old, finding an old object would prove that the world really was old and not just made to appear old.
8.31.2006 7:08pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
You're a snarky little fictional character aren't you?

There's nothing idiotic about it. I said, "if an asteroid crashes to Earth, and carbon dating or some other reliable process shows that it seems to be 17 billion years old" then that would "disprove the theory that the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years." It would disprove the theory, whether or not X=0 as you claim, or X=12 as some zealous creationist might claim.

In case you didn't notice, when you add (13.7-X) to X you get 13.7 as the age that all things would now appear to be, according to this theory. If something with an older apparent age is found, then the theory would be falsified.

Idiocy seems to be your specialty, Master Shake, aside from insults. Just imagine if we were discussing a complicated theory that involved calculus instead of simple addition and substraction!
8.31.2006 8:04pm
Master Shake:
Again, here's my recommendation - show this thread to every scientist you know. If they don't kick you in the nuts and slap you upside the head first, then let them explain it to you.

You just don't understand the difference between science and philosphy, or what scientific falsifiablility is.

And I'm out. Conversation over.
8.31.2006 8:16pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Well I can't say that it's been a pleasure.

If you would do yourself a favor and learn about Occam's Razor (link provided above), you'd find out that there are many examples in the history of science where two competing scientific theories have each explained all the observed phenomena, and the simpler of the two theories has been chosen over its ontologically bloated competitor.

All I have done here is describe an ontologically bloated alternative to the standard theory about the age of the universe, the standard theory being a special case of the ontologically bloated alternative. Both the standard theory and the ontologically bloated alternative explain the same observed phenomena, and therefore are equally falsifiable. But apparently you panic at the mere suggestion that the universe may not have been created exactly as you believe.
8.31.2006 8:36pm
Colin (mail):
But apparently you panic at the mere suggestion that the universe may not have been created exactly as you believe.


No, he's just exasperated at your complete failure to differentiate between "science" and "imagination." You've garnered the enthusiastic support of the Answers in Genesis crowd, if that tells you anything about the intellectual rigor and scientific merit of your "What If We're Really In The Matrix" theory. Again, MS isn't calling you on the truth of your claim, he's just trying to show you why it isn't science.
8.31.2006 9:57pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin,

You've rarely demonstrated that you've been able to comprehend the difference between a rigorously hypothesis driven science and claims of truth, so you don't have a lot of room for pontifical dismissiveness. You can begin with your notions of how the benighted past conceived of the flat earth, proceed onto Galileo Galilei, and then being to examine your own self-congratulatory views more generally and with a bit more conscientiousness than you've seemingly dared in the past.
8.31.2006 11:08pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
As I recall, "The Matrix" was about a completely virtual world, and I've never suggested that we live in any such thing.

What I've suggested is that we don't scientifically know whether our real universe began 13.7 billion years ago as a tiny point, or instead began at an earlier time with initial conditions that would have resulted from a hypothetical big bang. This is essentially unknowable, and therefore it's perfectly legitimate to formulate a theory about the age of the universe that doesn't presume one way or the other. It doesn't presume that the "Answers in Genesis" crowd is right, and it doesn't presume that the "We Got Banged" crowd is right.

Perhaps this upsets you, Colin, at an emotional level. But all I've done is describe a theory that the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years. You say that this involves imagination rather than science. Well, visualizing the Big Bang requires a certain amount of imagination too. Einstein used his wonderful imagination to devise the General Theory of Relativity. Imagination is not a bad thing.

I would agree with you that nature does seem to strongly hint that our universe has existed for 13.7 billion years. But strong hints do not rule out alternatives, and nature has more than once shown us how counter-intuitive she can be.

I notice that you have dropped the mantra that the above-described theory is not falsifiable. Obviously, it is falsifiable, since discovery of a rock that seems to be 17 billion years old would falsify it.

There are many ways to formulate a given scientific theory, and there are often more than one scientific theory that will predict the same observable phenomena. That's life.
8.31.2006 11:25pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Dang it. I meant to say "later time" instead of "earlier time" in the second paragraph.
8.31.2006 11:27pm
Master Shake:
Colin - thanks for the support, you're exactly right (particularly since I had already told him that conceiving of such postulates is "interesting, engaging, fun, enlightening, and really cool", so I'm not sure why he thinks that I "panic at the mere suggestion" his postulate might be right. But I suggest not trying to convince him as to what is science and what isn't - I should have figured that out two days ago. Arguing with fools is a fool's errand.
9.1.2006 4:25am
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
"We are counselled to adopt theories which are minimally efficient, insofar as they can do the same with less. Note that there is apparently no reason why we should do so: a direct route to a destination is neither better nor worse than a diversion unless we include the criterion that we wish to get there by the most direct route..."

---Paul Newall
9.1.2006 5:01am
Colin (mail):
MB,

You've rarely demonstrated that you've been able to comprehend the difference between a rigorously hypothesis driven science and claims of truth, so you don't have a lot of room for pontifical dismissiveness.

Of course I do. Once again, for the hundredth time, pointing out your manifold errors is not “pontifical dismissiveness.” Have you been following this discussion? Are you familiar with the terms? I think that you’re going to say (in pointlessly florid language) that you’re an expert on the topic, but perhaps you should read up on falsifiability and the philosophy of science anyway. You might even try looking up a definition of science.

You can begin with your notions of how the benighted past conceived of the flat earth, proceed onto Galileo Galilei, and then being to examine your own self-congratulatory views more generally and with a bit more conscientiousness than you've seemingly dared in the past.

A new height of pretension. Neither you nor Hyman are Galileo. Here’s one reason why: his theory had descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive power. It was science. Hyman’s mumbo-jumbo is mere philosophy, with none of the hallmarks of a scientific theory. There’s no observation, no experimentation, and no application. It’s a “just-so” story. So you can compare yourself to Kipling… if you can improve your writing.

AH,

What I've suggested is that we don't scientifically know whether our real universe began 13.7 billion years ago as a tiny point, or instead began at an earlier time with initial conditions that would have resulted from a hypothetical big bang.

Unless, of course, we presume (as all science does) that there is value in empiricism and the evidence of the physical universe. If we discount all physical evidence, then there is no more distinction between “science” and “imagination” – all things are equally possible and equally probable, because there is no way of valuing one fancy (“intelligent falling”) over another (gravity). That works for thought experiments, but (and this is what MS keeps trying to drill into your head) it’s not science. In the real world, we rely on evidence to distinguish between possible realities.

This is essentially unknowable, and therefore it's perfectly legitimate to formulate a theory about the age of the universe that doesn't presume one way or the other. It doesn't presume that the "Answers in Genesis" crowd is right, and it doesn't presume that the "We Got Banged" crowd is right.

OK… but your theory is useless. It makes no testable predictions and doesn’t confirm or disprove any hypotheses. So it might be a fun thought experiment (although I find it a little trite), but it’s useless as science. And again, no one cares about your theory; we don’t find it insulting or shocking or think it must be disproved. We just keep trying to explain to you that it’s unscientific in the same way that, say, intelligent design is. It allows for no confirmation, fits no physical evidence, and presupposes that we disregard empirical evidence as untrustworthy. If that’s your personal philosophy, fine, but once again, all we care about is demonstrating why that’s a terrible way to go about the business of science.

Perhaps this upsets you, Colin, at an emotional level.

No, it really doesn’t. It bores me, because come on, didn’t you have this drunken discussion a million times in college? And it surprises me that you treat this as some sort of valuable revelation. But all I care about is demonstrating why this isn’t science, and I only care about it because it fires up the Joel and Michael B’s of the world, and I have an inexplicable love of tilting at their creationist windmills.

I notice that you have dropped the mantra that the above-described theory is not falsifiable. Obviously, it is falsifiable, since discovery of a rock that seems to be 17 billion years old would falsify it.

Nonsense. Your theory (if I’m reading you right) is that the physical universe began under conditions that simulate the standard model. Any evidence that might be proposed as falsifying your model, such as an object as old as the universe, are explainable as consistent with a universe that “began at a later time with initial conditions that would have resulted from a hypothetical big bang.” Any possible discrepancy is just a part of the simulation. It’s the same as the AiG “starlight created in situ” argument – any evidence that might disprove the favored theory is explainable as “God did it that way to look like a natural phenomenon.” With your model, it’s “the simulation is made to look like a physical reality, including any seemingly contradictory evidence.” That’s why it has no predictive or prescriptive power: it’s just an alternate explanation for the work done by actual science.

And finally, you are misapplying Occam’s razor. Read the Wikipedia entry (I know, I know, it’s just Wikipedia, but it’s still useful): “Furthermore, when multiple competing theories have equal predictive powers, the principle recommends selecting those that introduce the fewest assumptions and postulate the fewest hypothetical entities. It is in this sense that Occam's razor is usually understood.” Your theory has no predictive power, and presumes an extra hypothetical assumption (the simulation). Similarly, note that Newall was talking about theories that “can do the same with less.” Your theory is much less, but it can’t do the same work as an actual scientific theory. It’s impossible to make a testable prediction, or to disprove any hypothesis with your theory. It’s a scientific placebo; it might taste good, but it does nothing.

MS,

I'm not sure why he thinks that I "panic at the mere suggestion" his postulate might be right.

That’s pretty common when addressing pseudoscientific arguments. The proponent can’t understand why you aren’t taking his earth-shattering revelation seriously. It can’t be because it’s unscientific, because it sounds just like science talk! The only other explanation is that you’re just hostile to the theory itself. For shame! [/sarcasm]

I suggest not trying to convince him as to what is science and what isn't - I should have figured that out two days ago. Arguing with fools is a fool's errand.

You’re right. But I just moved and haven’t started my new job. I have nothing but time on my hands, and like I said, I do love tilting at slow-moving windmills.
9.1.2006 5:59pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
It's kind of amusing to see what kind of scientific ignorance lurks out here on the internet. It's not surprising that such ignorance is combined with personal insults.

As quoted above, Newall was talking about theories that "can do the same with less." The theory I described does the same with MORE. It's like a Rube Goldberg contraption for achieving the same results.

For the umteenth time, the theory I descibed is "that the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years." This leaves the quantity "X" indeterminate. The standard theory is what's called a "special case" of this (i.e. X=0). Regardless of whether X is zero or 13 or some value in between, the theory makes exactly the same physical predictions.

It appears that some in this thread do not understand the concept that a given scientific theory can be expressed in a number of different ways, that a number of different scientific theories can predict the same physical results, and that one scientific theory can be a special case of another.

What's scary is the reaction to my innocent little theory. The theory itself is not particularly impressive or noteworthy. But your reactions, taken to their logical extreme, are frightening. If a public school physics teacher or physics professor at a public university were to mention this theory, then it seems like folks such as yourselves would either want him fired as incompetent, or hauled into federal court for violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. This is the kind of intolerance that discourages scientific development, rather than nurturing it.

I could just as easily formulate for you a scientific theory that has the Earth at the center of the Solar System. The heliocentic formulation is much simpler mathematically, but that doesn't mean that the an Earth-centered theory is testably wrong.

When Dolly the Sheep was cloned, the length of her telemeres was tested, and revealed an age different from her chronological age. That doesn't mean that nature was "lying" or that Dolly was akin to Neo (in the matrix). It just means that nature is interesting, and there's more than one way to define "age."

You guys ought to find better forms of amusement than caricaturing ideas that you find uncomfortable. Just because ideas are uncomfortable doesn't mean they're unscientific.

The book "Gravitation and Cosmology" by Weinberg is no less scientific because it quotes a novel by H.G. Welles. Scientific facts are no less scientific because they're remembered using silly mnemonics. You folks ought to lighten up.
9.1.2006 7:29pm
Colin (mail):
How are you not getting this? Your theory is equivalent to saying "I am the dreamer, and all that I see is my dream. I only dream a world that is consistent with physical rules." It's a fun theory, but how could that possibly be science? It abandons all rules of causality and empiricism in favor of a febrile imagination. If a physics professor advanced an "I am the dreamer" theory in a novel or a philosophical work, then who would care? If he put it forth in class as an example of why empiricism works and is a necessary part of science, then good for him.

But if, like you, he advanced it as a scientific theory, then he is incompetent. Because that theory, like yours, has no scientific merit.

How could you theory be falsified? What predictive value does it possess? What information can we gather about the natural world with it? What competing theories is it better than? Those aren't rhetorical questions - I would appreciate an answer.

Your theory is smoke and mirrors. It does nothing that actual science does. You say that your theory" does the same with MORE." But how does it do the same? The scientific model makes predictions. Physicists can perform experiments that comply or do not with the predictions; if the results aren't as predicted, then the theory is re-examined. Your theory doesn't do that; it just says, "Well, that's consistent with my dreamer model." It only copies the results of a scientific model and adds an unnecessary complication. It violates Occam's razor, although I'm hesitant to say so because the maxim is so often misapplied.

Regardless of whether X is zero or 13 or some value in between, the theory makes exactly the same physical predictions.

That is one reason why it's not science. You're adding philosophical complications that perform no scientific work and require that we ignore cause and effect, and empirical reality. That's not (wait for it) . . . science.

It appears that some in this thread do not understand the concept that a given scientific theory can be expressed in a number of different ways, that a number of different scientific theories can predict the same physical results, and that one scientific theory can be a special case of another.

Pseudo-intellectual bunko. You might as well say that all scientific theories are special cases of the overarching theory that Buddha Commands It To Be So. That overarching theory, like yours, isn't scientific because, among other things, it performs no predictive work and is unfalsifiable.

You guys ought to find better forms of amusement than caricaturing ideas that you find uncomfortable. Just because ideas are uncomfortable doesn't mean they're unscientific.

How are you not getting this? I know I've said at least twice that I don't find your theory uncomfortable, and MS has said the same. I find your pretension that it's somehow scientific aggravating, in the same way I find creationists' belief that dinosaurs lived in the garden of Eden aggravating, but the theory itself is unobjectionable as a philosophical matter.

Here's the point, and I'll try to make it as simple and clear as I can: It is not science. It is not falsifiable. It performs no predictive work (and pointing to another theory and saying it does as much work as that because it's an alternative explanation doesn't count). It's just an idea. Ideas aren't automatically science because they purport to engage a scientific topic. Is this really such a complicated concept?
9.1.2006 9:30pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Colin, you are simply wrong.

If it is true that "the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years," then that theory can be falsified by finding an object that appears to be older than 13.7 billion years. Why you refuse to admit this is beyond me. I've said it repeatedly in this thread, and yet you still ask, "How could you [sic] theory be falsified?"

You say about my little pet theory that "It violates Occam's razor." Lots of theories violate Occam's Razor, but that doesn't mean they're not scientific theories.

Let me see if I can make this very simple for you. It is just as scientific to IMAGINE that the Sun is motionless at the center of our Solar System as it is it to IMAGINE that the Earth is motionless at the center of our Solar System. The only difference is that the math is a bit more complicated in the latter scenario. Other than that, the only distinguishing feature is personal preference. There's nothing wrong with formulating scientific theories in a way that allows for some personal preference. Many people like to write the theory of classical electrodynamics in terms of field equations that describe the evolution of vector fields and their intercation with continuously distributed charged matter. On the other hand, many others prefer to write the theory in terms of four-vector fields that are produced by action-at-distance between point-particles. BOTH formulations are scientific and produce virtually the same empirical results. And somehow we don't have warfare between these two factions of physicists! By the way, the action-at-a-distance formulation between point-particles came later, and yet its fans are not accused of copying "the results of a scientific model and add[ing] an unnecessary complication."

You obviously are uncomfortable with the idea that the theory I've described is a scientific theory. Call it a reformulation of existing theory if you like, but it surely is scientific. And it is surely no grounds for having a physics professor fired because "he is incompetent."

Why can't you admit that the Copernican theory was a valid scientific theory even though it did no more work than the Ptolemaic theory? Are you daft?
9.1.2006 10:19pm
Colin (mail):
Hyman,

If it is true that "the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years," then that theory can be falsified by finding an object that appears to be older than 13.7 billion years.

That is nonsense. Such an object would be perfectly consistent with your theory, because you are hypothesizing a young universe that perfectly simulates an old universe. The object could merely be an aspect of the simulation. See, for instance, starlight that has been traveling for X million years. AiG says that the universe is only ten thousand years old, and said starlight was created to look old (or created already in transit). Your theory is the same – it postulates a young universe that looks exactly like an old universe and is unconstrained by physical rules or causality… so how could such an object falsify the theory? Any evidence of an old universe is consistent with a perfect simulation of an old universe. The rock might merely have the characteristics of a rock that is X billion years old, it isn't really that old... but we can't know for sure, because all physical rules are off under your theory. The magical (miraculous?) simulation would be expected to produce every physical artifact that would exist in a natural universe... that's one of your postulates!

You theory is unfalsifiable in the same way as the theory that God created the Earth to look as if it were millions of years old is unfalsifiable. It might give you religious or philosophical satisfaction, but it isn’t science. I think MS is right; you’re pretending to gloss over this point, but you couldn’t really fail to understand it.

You say about my little pet theory that "It violates Occam's razor." Lots of theories violate Occam's Razor, but that doesn't mean they're not scientific theories.

No, but it shows that you’ve abandoned the scientific method and are operating in a realm of pure fantasy. My intent was to show why you misapplied the razor above, and why your theory is scientifically useless. You’ve added baggage to the standard scientific model without adding anything useful or predictive.

Your heliocentrism explanation is facile. Your theory is not analogous at all. You aren’t complicating the math of the standard model, you’re adding existential requirements and striking out all rules of cause and effect and empiricism. Making the earth the center of the universe works as long as you do the extra math; that model is capable of doing the same work as the standard model. Your model is capable of doing no scientific work at all. It explains nothing. It predicts nothing. It proves nothing, and it disproves nothing. Changing the relative center of the universe doesn’t allow us to explain away unexpected retrograde motion of the planets; such an observation would still have to be rectified with known physics, just with more complicated math. Your theory does nothing; if we were to observe a new particle, we couldn’t turn to your theory to do anything to explain that particle – all answers would be, “That’s just the way it was simulated.” Similarly, your theory makes no predictions; unlike actual science, it doesn’t do anything that would let us hypothesize (for instance) new particles.

Why can't you admit that the Copernican theory was a valid scientific theory even though it did no more work than the Ptolemaic theory? Are you daft?

No, but I’m beginning to suspect that you’re just playing games. Copernican theory didn’t just redo the math, because Ptolemaic theory wasn’t a valid model of orbital dynamics. In other words, the way you would reconceptualize the earth as the center of the solar system wouldn’t return us to Ptolemaic dynamics. Copernicus corrected an error and created a predictive theory, he didn’t perform an ultimately neutral transformation of another valid theory.

Here’s a question: What testable predictions does your theory make? What experimental results would validate it, and what experimental results would invalidate it? Bear in mind my point above; your hypothetical rock is perfectly consistent with your Dreamer Theory, because such an object could be merely an aspect of the simulation (indeed, if such an object didn’t exist where it would in the real world, the simulation would be imperfect, a violation of your postulate). Also bear in mind that pointing to the actual scientific model and saying "I predict everything that predicts!" is useless; if that's all you can do, then there's no scientific reason to add existential baggage that requires explaining away physical evidence.

I initially thought that MS was too harsh when he criticized you, but you’ve changed my mind. If you can’t figure this stuff out, then it is scary that you’re a physics teacher. Teachers should be more able, not less, to discriminate between science and pseudoscience. Why are you so invested in this? Why are you so unwilling to accept that your theory is philosophy and not science? There is a difference between those two things…

Here’s a last question for tonight. How do you distinguish between science and pseudoscience? What characteristics do you think make your theory scientific? Is it just that you use words like “universe” and “billion years” and “simulation”?
9.1.2006 11:56pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
Colin, consider Tycho Brahe. Brahe was the greatest observational astronomer in history up to and including Copernicus. No one disputes that fact. Tycho developed a Ptolemaic system in which the Moon and Sun revolve about the Earth, while Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn revolve about the Sun. Tycho Brahe’s system became popular early in the seventeenth century. Was it not a “scientific theory”? Was it not empirically indistinguishable from the earlier theory of Copernicus?

You asked: "How do you distinguish between science and pseudoscience? What characteristics do you think make your theory scientific?" As I understand the term, "science" is defined as knowledge, in contrast to ignorance or misunderstanding. My little theory informs people that the universe may have begun 13.7 billion years ago, or it may just seem that way.

Moreover, as I’ve mentioned in this thread, Stephen Hawking’s recent theory is that "the universe did not have just one unique beginning and history but a multitude of different beginnings and histories, and that it has experienced them all. But because most of these other alternative histories disappeared very early after the Big Bang to leave behind the universe we observe today, the best way to understand the past... is to trace our knowledge back from the present (Phys. Rev. D 73 123527)." This has some heuristic similarities to the pet theory I’ve described, and therefore my pet theory may have some utility as a pedagogical precursor to Hawking’s theory. Certainly my pet theory has utility for correcting lay people who have been taught to believe that science has conclusively proven that the universe was born 13.7 billion years ago. And can you devise any simpler generalization of the conventional theory about the age of the universe?

Hawking suggests that there was initially a plurality of universes, and so perhaps it’s not unreasonable to suggest that at some point a selection process occurred. In any event, while our ordinary everyday experiences may lead us to believe that X=0 in the theory I described, ordinary everyday experiences are not always reliable, ESPECIALLY in such a foreign context as the early universe.

There is no rule that a scientific theory has to predict phenomena that were not already predicted by an earlier scientific theory, is there? Where have you found such a rule? And, how is a theory falsifiable that says the center of the Solar System is the stationary Earth, or the stationary Sun?

You say that my "model is capable of doing no scientific work at all. It explains nothing. It predicts nothing. It proves nothing, and it disproves nothing." May I ask, Colin, what my model yields if X=0? Does it not yield the result of every reputable experiment conducted to date regarding the age of the universe? And does it not yield the exact same thing for X between zero and thirteen?

And what did the classical point-particle model of retarded action-at-a-distance do that the Maxwell theory of continuously distributed charged matter did not do?

Regarding my little scientific theory, I get to say what’s in it: the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years, with “X” indeterminate. If the age of anything today is tested and the apparent result is over 13.7 billion years, then my pet theory would be falsified. That’s because, according to this theory, the initial state of the universe 13.7-X billion years ago was exactly what the state would have been if the universe had been evolving for X billion years, and therefore all matter in that initial state would have then appeared to be X billion years old. Subsequently, all that matter got older, according to the accepted laws of physics, for the ensuing 13.7-X billion years. Add X to 13.7-X, and see if you don’t get 13.7.

If it is true that "the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years," then that theory can be falsified by finding an object that appears to be older than 13.7 billion years. Since you disagree, you obviously do not understand this little pet theory of mine. Or perhaps you'd prefer to rant about how I'm incompetent and a fool and an idiot.
9.2.2006 1:38am
Colin (mail):


As I understand the term, "science" is defined as knowledge, in contrast to ignorance or misunderstanding.

Problem solved. You're using an anything-goes model of "science." To me, science necessarily accepts the validity of empirical evidence and excludes theories like yours - those with no descriptive, prescriptive, or predictive power. Another traditional barrier is that of falsifiability, which your pet theory also fails to surmount. But if we redefine science as "anyone's idea about anything that could conceivably be correct," as you seem to, then sure, your idea is science. So is Joel B's belief that vegetarian Tyrannosaurus Rexes lived in the garden of Eden, and any other theory proposed by any other person at any time about anything.

[Hawking’s theory] has some heuristic similarities to the pet theory I’ve described, and therefore my pet theory may have some utility as a pedagogical precursor to Hawking’s theory.

I disagree, and I argue that this is two classic hallmarks of pseudoscience – arguing by quotation, and claims to greatness. You’re throwing out a Hawking quotation and saying (baselessly) that he’s essentially agreeing with you, and even that your theory is pedagogically useful to Hawking’s work. But I’m willing to bet that his theory has some math behind it, and some actual intellectual endeavor. You’ve achieved nothing – a theory that does no work at the expense of writing down all physical reality. You’re no Hawking, and I sincerely doubt he would take your ideas seriously as science. But I don’t know his thoughts on the subject any more than you do.

Regarding my little scientific theory, I get to say what’s in it: the universe was created 13.7-X billion years ago in a state equivalent to a state that had evolved for X billion years, with “X” indeterminate. If the age of anything today is tested and the apparent result is over 13.7 billion years, then my pet theory would be falsified.

Are you smoking crack? Do you not understand the premise being discussed? It’s not the number that’s unfalsifiable, it’s the underlying premise. I suppose the particular arbitrary age you picked could be falsified, but not the necessary assumptions that (A) physical reality is untrustworthy and the evidence thereof may be disregarded, and (B) that at least some part of the universe’s age is the result of a perfect simulation of the natural universe. Saying “Oh, this rock is older than the number I chose as the baseline for the simulation theory” doesn’t falsify the simulation aspect of it, just some constant you picked for it. What you have to falsify are the unscientific claims – to whit, the physical universe is the result of a perfect simulation.



There is no rule that a scientific theory has to predict phenomena that were not already predicted by an earlier scientific theory, is there? Where have you found such a rule?

That is not the requirement. The theory must make some testable prediction, though, or at least be falsifiable; otherwise, it has no value. I get this, at least partially, from reading Kuhn, and the observation that a theory that cannot make a testable prediction is nothing more than a suggestion or a fantasy. I support the idea that science is something more than just a whim or fancy; it must do something, and the core requirement is that it be testable (as in, make testable claims to reality or predictions) and falsifiable. Your theory does neither.

May I ask, Colin, what my model yields if X=0? Does it not yield the result of every reputable experiment conducted to date regarding the age of the universe? And does it not yield the exact same thing for X between zero and thirteen?

In which case, there's no scientific basis for your theory. It's just philosophy - epistemological baggage that doesn't do anything other than complicate an already successful theory. I could say that angels move the planets in their orbits in exactly the way that physics predicts. That theory yields the same results as traditional physics, but it's not science. Why not? For the same reasons that your theory isn't science. Here is an important question - would you say that the theory that angels move planets in their orbits in such a way as to be indistinguishable from natural physics is science? If not, why not? What distinguishes it from your theory that the universe was created to look older than it is? Both incorporate the exact same observations and discoveries of actual science, and neither can ever be disproven. And once again, finding a rock that's older than your unobjectionably arbitrary figure wouldn't disprove your necessary and objectionable postulates.
9.2.2006 2:20am
Michael B (mail):
No Colin, you've conflated my views with those of someone else. Additionally you didn't correctly identify my views of the Galileo Galilei history.

As for my views vis-a-vis the post which began this thread, they are immediately upthread here, and you haven't so much as challenged them, much less pointed out any "manifold errors".

And yet, though you cannot so much as accurately represent the two views I have articulated in this thread, much less refute a single point contained within those views, you nonetheless presume to engage in a blanket, indeed pontifical dismissiveness.

Q.E.D.
9.2.2006 3:57pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
I'm no Stephen Hawking? That was uncalled-for, Senator Colin.

None of the statements above were intended to put my little pet theory in the same league as those of Hawking, Einstein, Copernicus, Maxwell, Brahe or any of the other greats. Haven't I made that clear? As far as putting "some math behind it," I decline. Many correct theories require little or no math to understand (e.g. the theory that the dinosaurs were big, the theory that some elms are immune from Dutch Elm disease, et cetera).

Let's focus your tiny little attention span on this question: How is a theory falsifiable that says the center of the Solar System is the stationary Earth, or a theory that says the center of the universe is the stationary Sun?

You say, "What you have to falsify are the unscientific claims – to whit [sic], the physical universe is the result of a perfect simulation." But my little pet theory doesn't say that the physical universe is the result of a perfect simulation. It only says it MIGHT be (i.e. if X doesn't equal zero). I agree with you that probably X=0, but it's not a sure thing. Are you sure? If I showed you the length of a sheep's telemeres, would you be sure of the sheep's chronological age? If I showed you the evidence of a Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, would you be sure that nothing preceded it, and would you be sure that the laws of physics obeyed by the Big Bang were also spontaneously developed precisely at the time the Big Bang occurred? (As far as the universe being the result of a "simulation," that's not so different from the universe obeying certain laws of physics; in both cases, a simulation is occurring and a mathematical model is being imitated.)

Anyway, in answer to one of your questions, no I am not smoking crack. You ask my opinion about your "theory that angels move planets in their orbits in such a way as to be indistinguishable from natural physics?" Well, that would certainly be a rather colorful theory, but not scientific I'm afraid. Your theory makes an arbitrary choice, discriminating as it does between angels and other critters (e.g. little green men). Also, your theory is a bald and unsubstantiated appeal to religion, seeing as how angels are religious figures —- and that's another reason why your theory is not scientific. It's unclear to me whether you theorize angels who are catchable, so I can't really say whether your theory is falsifiable or not. But another unscientific aspect of your theory is that it is incomplete: you posit that angels move the planets, but you fail to mention asteroids, comets, et cetera. There doesn't appear to be any scientific reason why asteroids and comets would be perfectly able to get themselves from one part of our Solar System to another without the assistance of angels. I could go on and on. Your theory also excludes the possibility that there are no angels, which only exacerbates the unreasonableness of your theory. No, your theory about angels is not scientific. Sorry.
9.2.2006 4:10pm
Colin (mail):
Let's focus your tiny little attention span on this question: How is a theory falsifiable that says the center of the Solar System is the stationary Earth, or a theory that says the center of the universe is the stationary Sun?

I can’t believe you have a degree in physics. “The earth orbits around the sun” is not a scientific theory per se. The “theory” in question is the theory of orbital dynamics, which provides an explanation for how the earth and the sun move in relation to each other. You yourself have pointed out that the equations can be used with the earth as the relative center of the universe. The math isn’t wrong then, it’s just more complex. “The earth revolves around the sun” isn’t falsifiable, but it’s also not a completely accurate statement. “The earth has moves in relation to the sun in accordance with equation X” is falsifiable, and a scientific statement. Please tell me you aren’t responsible for teaching physics to other people!

But my little pet theory doesn't say that the physical universe is the result of a perfect simulation. It only says it MIGHT be.

That entire paragraph goes to the truth of your claim. I agree that your claim might be true, although because it has no relation to empirical reality it can neither be proven nor disproven. My argument is that the claim is unscientific, which is not related to whether it is true. Your confusion, and your inability to discriminate between science and pseudoscience, is directly related to your failure to understand the difference between an idea that might be true and an idea that has some scientific rigor to it.

Your theory makes an arbitrary choice, discriminating as it does between angels and other critters (e.g. little green men).

You don’t think very clearly. The agency is not the underlying issue. Make the theory, then, that some arbitrary agency moves the planets in their orbits in order to simulate the results of gravity.

You also fail to see the connection between the arbitrary agencies simulating gravity and your arbitrary simulation of the universe’s age. So for example, if I propose that a stone is a mere simulation – that it takes on the appearance of mass, density, and all other physical characteristics, but disappears as soon as no one is perceiving or measuring it – then that is exactly like your theory that the universe was created to be older than it appears. It cannot be disproven; any attempt to measure the stone is consistent with the theory. It cannot be proven; any measurement of the stone is also consistent with the theory. And it makes no new testable predictions; we already knew that the stone will appear to be a stone. Like your theory, this (and the orbital angels theory) add useless philosophical baggage, but perform no scientific work.

Similarly, you propose that the universe might have been created to appear older than it actually is. This cannot be proven, because any measurement is consistent with the universe’s apparent age. (Any other result would violate the theory’s assumption that the universe perfectly simulates a greater age than it possesses.) It cannot be disproven, for similar reasons – no evidence can ever be presented that is not consistent with the theory. And it allows us to make no testable predictions. Can you refute any of those three points? (I’ll repeat them – your theory can’t be proven, can’t be disproven, and can’t produce any testable predictions.)

And you haven’t answered my last questions. What would you say discriminates a pseudoscientific theory from a scientific theory? You said that an “appeal to religion” is unscientific, which seems like a sloppy proposition to me. An appeal to a miracle is unscientific, because a miracle is supernatural by its premise. But the statement that “two of every species, living and extinct, were taken on a boat built by a man named Noah” is not overt appeal to a supernatural agency, because there’s no direct miracle named. It’s testable (we can measure the mass of all such animals, and the feasible size and buoyancy of a wooden boat) and makes testable predictions (the remains of such a boat will be discovered). You don’t seem to be thinking very clearly about the boundaries of “science” as such.

So I’ll repeat my question – what makes a theory “scientific” in your mind? Is it just that it’s areligious and might conceivably be true? There’s no authority to set the definition for us, but that seems remarkably useless as a working definition.
9.2.2006 11:12pm
Colin (mail):
MB,

Sorry, but your writing is extremely dense, and not in a good way. If you want to make a point, why not make it, rather than drowning it in dependent clauses? I mean, this sentence is a disaster: "Whenever extra-truth is superimposed or otherwise associated with truth and therein made co-equal to truth for most if not all practical intents and purposes, watch out for the rhetorical forays and sorties, whether subtly and sophistically flourished or otherwise, along with the righteous intonations, the pontifical pronouncements, and the demonization/degradation of any potential opposition."

(Apparently "pontifical" has joined "dismisiveness" as your new favorite word. Did you get tired of "tout court"?)

Anyway, I'm not sure what you're on about. You implied that it was wrong to dismiss Hyman's theory as unscientific, because of the sins of flat-earthers and because Galileo was mistreated. (At least, that's what I get from your post. Linking to a completely different comment on a different thread about how Galileo was a religious conservative is pretty meaningless in this context.) But Hyman is no Galileo; his theory is pseudoscientific bunk. If you disagree, please explain why; your complaints, no matter how venemous, don't mean much to me if you don't explain why you think his theory is scienctific.

But I should add that I did implicate you as a creationist; I missed that you disclaimed that above. Sorry about that. And now that that's done, I dismiss you and your contumacy! (You get so much satisfaction out of complaining about how I dismiss you, I just had to give you a free one.)
9.2.2006 11:32pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
"'The earth orbits around the sun' is not a scientific theory per se."

Colin, can you cite any authority for that statement? And can you cite any authority (other than Master Shake) for the proposition that Tycho Brahe's theory described above was not a scientific theory either? I'd just love to read about that in some reputable article or book, because I certainly don't want to be spreading around misinformation.

I see that you've now modified your little theory about the angels pushing around the planets. Now you say that some arbitrary agency moves the planets in their orbits in order to simulate the results of gravity. Sorry, it's still unscientific. You haven't clarified whether your "agency" is catchable, so I can't say whether your theory is falsifiable or not. But I do know that your theory is still incomplete: you posit that agencies move the planets, but you still allow asteroids, comets, baseballs, et cetera to locomote in the usual way, without your agencies pushing them around. Without explaining why the latter can make do without your "agency," your theory makes no sense. Your theory also excludes the possibility that there is no agency, which exacerbates the unreasonableness of your theory.

You present another theory too: that a stone may be a mere simulation – that it takes on the appearance of mass, density, and all other physical characteristics, but disappears as soon as no one is perceiving or measuring it. You’re correct that this "stoned theory" of yours is slightly similar to my little theory. Your proposition about the stone could not be proven or disproven, and it would make no new testable predictions.

But let’s be clear that, although this “stoned-theory” of yours may be slightly similar to my little theory about the age of the universe, your stoned-theory is also very different in some respects. Primarily, the only simulation in my little theory occurred eons ago, whereas your stoned-theory says that these simulations are still happening. I very much doubt that they're still happening. But guess who says they are?

"In the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the objective reality has evaporated, and quantum mechanics does not represent particles, but rather, our knowledge, our observations, or our consciousness of particles."

That’s Werner Heisenberg talking, and he was no slouch when it comes to scientific theories. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with what Heisenberg was saying, NOR AM I COMPARING MYSELF TO HEISENBERG. But the point is that your stoned-theory has already been invented, and it provides a useful way of formulating the laws of physics, regardless of whether it is fundamentally correct or incorrect. You’ve already implied that the heliocentricity of Aristarchan and Copernican theory was not "scientific" and that Tycho’s Brahe’s Earth-centered theory was not a "scientific theory" either, so I fully expect that you will now insist Heisenberg’s theory of quantum mechanics was not a “scientific theory.” You have quite a narrow view of what may constitute a scientific theory, IMHO.

You say that my little theory can’t be proven, can’t be disproven, and can’t produce any testable predictions. On the contrary, my little theory is basically just a REFORMULATION of the standard theory about the age of the universe, and that standard theory most certainly can be tested. Unless, of course, you view the standard theory as insisting that X=0, which most definitely cannot be tested.

Regarding what makes a theory “scientific,” I really can’t answer that any better than I already have. The non-religious element was only one small part of it, if you care to review the pearls of wisdom gracing my previous comments in this thread.

Anyway, Colin, don’t spend your whole Labor Day weekend on this thread. You may regret it!
9.3.2006 1:01am
Michael B (mail):
Colin,

This braying, in response to this? Good grief, that's pitiably sad.

Adding a selectively applied obtuseness to yet more contempt and dismissiveness points to your egoism, your inviolable or pontifical sense of self, nothing substantial in terms of an argument or otherwise. Too, my blood pressure is not so easily raised in online confrontations, so that tactic, that additional attempt to obscure or cow into submission or whatever it is, also fails. You think highly of yourself, that alone is what you've established and made self-evident, but that too does not an argument make. Though it does, when advanced with your blowfish bravado and braying dismissiveness, add a certain dense, mule-like quality to the mix. And not in a good way.

This is noted not because I'm masochistic but because your willful obtuseness and manifold brayings in general typify a far too large segment of the attitudes to be found in the overall debate. When that quality evidences itself and seeks to leverage itself into public policy debates as frequently as it does it's worth taking note of as a basic factor in and of itself.
9.3.2006 9:57am