How Science Works

I’ve spent a bit of time recently being drawn back into discussions with creationists. It is always soul destroying coming up against yet another earnest believer channelling the same creationist lies from the same few sources. It is so frustrating trying to have a conversation about biology with folks who’s knowledge is so superficial that they have no real clue what scientists actually say, or why. Frustrating because, inevitably, such people are so convinced they are right and scientists are fundamentally stupid or ideologically blinded, that they refuse to actually learn any science to have the discussion. Invicible Ignorance. Bleagh. It is no wonder that so many Christians find creationism so embarrassing.

One of the recent tactics of the institutions that peddle creationism is the idea that evolutionary science is no more than a different interpretation of the same data. If you start with the assumption there is no God, you can read evolution into the evidence. Whereas if you start with the true knowledge of God, then the evidence clearly points to a young earth (or an old earth, depending on which creationist mill you get your information from — they disagree with one another about the details).

Science, and empiricism generally, works a bit differently.

Empiricism deals with “differentiable hypotheses”. These are simply explanations which can be told apart. All explanations have consequences, and differentiable hypotheses will have some consequences that are different from one another. Given two possible explanations, we work through until we find consequences that differ. Then we can go and check which one was right.

Often one of the hypotheses will be the “null hypothesis”, which is simply a way of saying that the other hypothesis is wrong. So if the hypothesis is that “Bill burgled the house.”, then the null hypothesis will be “Bill did not burgle the house.” We ask what the consequences of each would be, and find some situations in which they would be different. Those situations are evidence.

Note that this is predictive. You have to predict what the consequences will be. All empiricism is predictive. Not predictive of what will happen in the future, necessarily (we can do science on things in the past). But predictive of the consequences of things being true.

Explanations that lose in this process don’t tend to stay still. They evolve to explain the confounded expectation. Even good science makes duff predictions sometimes, and needs to adapt to bring confounded expectations into the theory. So having unexpected results doesn’t make something wrong per se. But the way those adaptations occur is a good way to tell between good and bad explanations.

As I pointed out previously, a hypothesis that keeps getting it wrong ends up accumulating explanations that get more and more far fetched, and which themselves have consequences that aren’t or can’t be verified. As per my game about contradictions, it is always possible to explain away any failure.

A good theory, however, moves forwards with its adaptations, explaining more of the data and providing more opportunities to check.

The classic creationist example is gradualism. The original expectation was that evolution happens at a fairly steady rate. We’d see gradual changes in phenotype over time. This prediction was wrong, as creationists love to point out[1]. So this needed explanation. It was explained, through a series of careful studies in the 70s, and verified in mathematical models of evolution in the 80s and 90s. The new explanation had huge consequences, which we could check, and which drove evolutionary theory forwards considerably: feeding into work on neutral networks, regulation, and evodevo.

On the other hand, I’ve not seen anything in the creationist works I’ve read where one of their adaptive explanations is then analysed for its consequences and those consequences are then pursued and verified. The nearest you could get is the creationist prediction that there is no junk DNA, which then claim the the recent ENCODE papers as justification. But this only works at the level of quote-mining ENCODE, and relies on a serious misunderstanding of what ENCODE actually found (and even then, the results ENCODE reporting are very likely to be unreliable). Other predictions, such as irreducible complexity, have proven to be wrong (so in the manner of these things, the definitions have got more complex and the consequences remain hypothetical and unchecked). That’s the definition of pseudoscience, in my mind.

The purpose of this post is to have somewhere to refer to when this comes up. I’d love any thoughts on it.

[1] It isn’t clear how wrong this prediction was. Creationists love to oversell the lack of gradualism. And I’ve read some reaction pieces that seem to oversell the gradualism observed, or play down the expectation that evolution should be gradual. The actual patterns of expectation and reality are a lot more fuzzy than I’m suggesting here.


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49 responses to “How Science Works

  1. I believe (in a not faith-based way) that I understand your point. Your terminology is somewhat unfamiliar to me, specifically, the use of ‘consequences’. Your use of ‘null hypothesis’ (my bread and butter as a statistician) helps. By consequences, do you mean examining real life and comparing it to how (in)consistent it is with an explanation?

    I think I’m only confused by terminology and probably not on your intended point. I could give you a confidence interval but then I’d be adding my own terminology and it’s associated confusion.

  2. Ian

    Yes, I was trying to not use sciencey words, because I think this applies well beyond science.

    Consequences just means something that follows from an explanation. So if Bill did burgle the house, then we’d expect, as a consequence, that he couldn’t have really been in the pub as he claimed. Or if Einstein’s relativity is true, we’d expect to find errors in clocks in orbit. Or if there is no such think as the supernatural, we’d expect that purported supernatural phenomena leave no verifiable trace.

  3. arcseconds

    I think ‘predictive’ gives something of the wrong impression, although you do qualify this. It’s not necessary to go out and find new results to prove a scientific theory: they can in principle be proven not only by things that happened in the past, but by things that happened in the past that we already knew about. That is to say, a theory can succeed by making better sense of the data we already have.

    And this happens quite often. There might not be a pure example, where no new data was ever collected, but a lot of theories got their start by explaining existing data. Kepler used Tycho Brahe’s observations to work out his laws, and Newton in turn used those laws as proof for universal gravitation.

    This is an important point when it comes to creationists, because they frequently argue for a difference between observational and historical sciences. There is no principled difference between the two.

  4. Ian

    Arc, yes, I agree. It isn’t the prediction per se that is important. But it is the consequences of a hypothesis. Both Kepler and Newton’s hypotheses had consequences that could be checked. Calling it ‘prediction’ makes it too easy to fall into the trap of thinking all science must be replicable, as you say, this false dichotomy between historical and observational science. Which is the misunderstanding. All empiricism does allow explanations to set up expectations, for other data, for new data, for future events, for falsification: for something. And when those expectations are not met (and all theories have the “that’s odd” moment), the post-hoc modifications to the theory must have their own set of checkable expectations.

  5. Rolando

    Ian, you mention gradualism as if it were the only falsified Darwinian prediction. There are several others. And yes, it is true that “unexpected results doesn’t make something wrong per-se” but is no less true that there is a growing tendency in evolution science to seek confirming evidence over contrary evidence. rarely the many false predictions are found in evolution texts. This confirmation bias can hinder research, specially when researchers believe they know the truth, whic is precisely the alleged flaw of creationism.

  6. Ian

    Rolando, it is easy to say that, but as we’ve already seen, you have very little understanding of evolutionary science or its actual predictions or its actual challenges. I’ve heard the standard creationist lie-mills come out with this stuff before. Can you show the “growing tendency in evolution science to seek confirming evidence over contrary evidence”, can you enumerate the “many false predictions are found in evolution texts”? Without just rehashing to the same issues that you were unwilling to actually learn the real science for in our previous thread?

  7. Rolando

    Ian, just think about this for a second. Both classical physics and geocentrism had their falsifications. But classical physics was understood to have limited domain, whereas geocentrism became tremendously complex to the point of seeming to be more of an exercise in FITTING the data, rather than explaining nature. Does it sound familiar? One thing evolutionary science has shown is its enormous capability of fitting the data and its commitment to the theory. Where is the parsimony and elegance of the theory. When a theory needs to be continually patched it becomes useless.

  8. Ian

    Quite the opposite, as far as I can tell. Evolution has a very specific domain, in which it is incredibly successful, and quantitatively predictive. It is fairly simple, mathematically (certainly in comparison to modern physics, for example).

    I suspect you mean that — as a historical discipline — there is a job to be done on figuring out the sequence of historical events in the development of life we see now. So you may need a lot of data to figure out the exact sequence of hominid evolution, and you make inferences based on the data you have, and have to change that as new data comes in. So there is data fitting to be done there.

    But this is the same in many fields. When we try to figure a metabolic pathway in a cell, we have thousands of possible proteins and precursor molecules, tens or hundreds of possible catalysts. Other than really obvious pathways, the actual story of how a molecule came to be made is always preliminary, and we fit it to the data as we acquire it. Often big milestones are filled in first, but the fine detail, and the precise details are very difficult and require lots of data. But that is hardly any reason to doubt that those processes are based on known chemistry.

    Darwin’s model of evolution is incredibly simplifying. It gave reasons for lots of things that had baffled, the geological column of fossils, the pattern of what creatures appeared where in the column, the geographic distribution of species, the utility of hierarchical taxonomies, the difference in biological mechanism for similar function across different higher level taxa, the carrying capacity of ecological niches, the plasticity of species under artificial selection. These required lots of “it just is” explanations, but evolution unifies them: they flow from a process of descent with modification. When the advent of genetics and genomics, the amount of features evolution unifies is now staggering, down to specific proteins in specific biochemical pathways.

    But a Young Earth Creationism doesn’t make any sense of these masses of data, except to say “God wanted it that way”. Which, given that there is so much quantitative data to support evolution makes God out to be a willing deceiver.

    Which brings me to the question. Why does it matter to you whether evolution is correct or not? Presumably you don’t think it matters that we know the earth is not a disk, that the heavens are not arranged in a dome above us, that there is not water above the firmament or below the earth, that the sun does not rotate around the earth, that the earth is not set upon pillars.

    I don’t believe for a second you are motivated by a concern for science, since you’ve shown that you haven’t yet tried to acquire the basic biology needed to understand evolutionary theory. So it must be some theological concern you have. This isn’t a discussion about evolution, is it? It is about insisting on a particular interpretation of the bible.

    Creationism is a minority position among Christians. It is associated strongly with threads of American evangelicalism coming out of the Third Great Awakening and being caught up in the political resurgence of the Religious right in the 50s-70s. Most Christians around the word recognize it as a fringe sideshow. Why, as someone who’s concern is with social justice, not empowering the religious right, would you want to adopt their concerns for doctrinal control so wholeheartedly?

  9. Rolando

    Ian, it is funny how you try to equate creationism with Religious right movement. Before Charles Lyell, a great universal catastrophe was the accepted explanation to the fossil record, for both religion and the science establishment. That was long before Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and all the right-winger religionists of today. Besides that, I am from Puerto Rico, a small island in the Caribbean, and totally alienated from any U.S. political concerns. Why the insistence from most evolutionists in proving the Bible flood was not universal? Because it matters. It “fits” the data better than the geological column.

  10. Ian

    But modern creationism isn’t the belief of Newton, of Augustine, or any other historic figure. Creationism as a deliberate attempt to discredit science and to promote a particular pattern of interpretations is a seventy year old American invention. All the creationist raw materials you are familiar with (that you’ve been quoting) come out of these groups. The only other major creationist faction at work at the moment is Islamic, and obviously disagrees very strongly with what fits the data with Christian creationism.

    “Because it matters.” Why? It matters hugely to a branch of authoritarian fundamentalism that seeks to control the doctrines of its members. But would it have mattered to Jesus? He didn’t seem to spend a lot of time figuring out what doctrines people held. He did spend a lot of time saying that those who loudly proclaimed they knew it all were sick hypocrites who were too busy in their temples to go out and share a meal with a tax collector or a prostitute, or to bring comfort to a leaper. I get the sense that this focus on American evangelicalisms ‘true’ reading of the bible (as I’ve pointed out, one that is very inconsistent when it comes to what the bible actually says about the way the world is), is a great way to distract vast swathes of Christians from actually doing anything of substance to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and bless the poor.

    I knew you were from PR, which is why I think it bizarre that you should be so willingly acting as a mouth piece for a fringe right-wing US political movement.

    “It “fits” the data better than the geological column.” – here you go again with your lack of understanding. The geological column isn’t an explanation, it is a basic observation. You can’t say the geological column fits the data, the geological column *is* the data. You can ask is a global flood the best explanation for the geological column? No, there is no conceivable process by which you can hydrodynamically sort the geological strata, let alone sort phyla into their geological column order. No creationist has ever tried. I’ve read folks who say “of course, the creatures would naturally be deposited in that order”, but this is a simple experiment to do. It is a good falsification test of creationism, isn’t it? There have been thousands of hydrodynamic deposition studies, but none of them have shown the pattern we see in the geological column. Creationists have never shown one experiment to the contrary, even though the experimental equipment needed is not expensive, and the processes well known. So no, it is very easy to say “this fits the data better”, but in science you actually have to show it does, quantitatively. I’m not aware of any research that has been done, by any creationist “research” group to do this. Are you? Or are you only just repeating the assurances you’ve been given from the evangelical right?

  11. Rolando

    Ian, I do not affirm the creatures were hydrodinamically sorted. They were sorted according to their complexity. Isn’t that what the geological column shows? But the reason for the “complexity ordering” have a different explanation depending on our worldview. You would say your worldview has nothing to do with the interpretation of the fossil record, but I don’believe you. If we date the rocks by their fossils, how we then turn around and talk about patterns of evolutionary change in the fossil record? Because our interpretation is influenced by our beliefs.

  12. Rolando, yes beliefs determine interpretation. In statistics this is a Bayesian concept. When you have a really narrow prior distribution (I.e. you are already certain of the result), the data won’t impact you much (your posterior distribution will resemble your prior). The test is whether new data changes the science and, if so, how. To me , creationism appears to have an exceedingly narrow prior, so new data is irrelevant. Science, as Ian describes it, might also have a narrow prior but, since science changes its ‘belief’ it is clearly data driving interpretation and not belief driving it.

  13. Ian

    “I do not affirm the creatures were hydrodinamically sorted. They were sorted according to their complexity.”

    I think you’re misunderstanding something here (again irrespective of what you think is correct).

    So there are two issues. 1. Are they sorted according to complexity. and 2. Are they sorted in a matter that is consistent with being sorted by being deposited out of receding flood waters (this is what I mean by hydrodynamically sorted – the physical mechanism that flood geology posits for the column is hydrodynamics). I assume that by saying that the column is more consistent with a catastrophe, you meant that the physical effects of the catastrophe caused the patterns we see in the column (it is quite possible to say that, after the catastrophe, God choose to put the column in place in that order — but that would invalidate the claim that the catastrophe fits the data, obviously).

    So, 1. No, this isn’t the case. While there is a general trend to greater complexity over time, this is absolutely not uniform (you can see this for yourself if you lok around, the biosphere is made up of living things of all complexities). There are plenty of later (higher in the column) phyla that are much simpler than lower ones. For example, the big land dinosaurs are very complex beasts, anatomically every bit as complex as extant creatures, but they only appear lower than certain fungal spores and prokaryotes, who are much, much simpler. Some life forms appear over extended ranges of the column, others in very specific ranges, despite being phylogenetically very similar. The column is not sorted based on size, bouyancy, anatomical complexity, or any other physical feature we can determine. And this, of course, is exactly what we’d expect to see if the column were a record of snapshots of biological diversity over time, rather than a sorting of the biological diversity of a single moment in time.

    In fact, it was this exact inconsistency with catastrophism that lead to the principle of the superposition of strata, and the inference of longer timescales. Which was discovered independently in at least three cultures, centuries before Lyell.

    2. Because of this pattern in the column (and it isn’t just about life in the column – the same goes for different densities of rock, rock particle size, mineral composition, crystaline structure, and so on), it is impossible to posit a deposition process to give us what we see. In a gradual calm water deposition experiment you get good layering, but distinct sorting. In a moving water deposition you see distinct pressure features and probabilistic inter-layer mixing. So if the geological column was deposited by a flood, it looks like no kind of flood we’ve observed or can replicate experimentally. So you’d have to posit some kind of special-case exotic hydrodynamics, which again just makes a mockery of the idea that the column is evidence of the flood.

    It is possible to replicate a large amount of hydrodnamic conditions in the lab (deposition studies are a common lab experiment done by undergrad geologists). And for really exotic dynamics, we can run Navier-Stokes based simulations. But this research is notable in its absence from creationists. They haven’t even posited a possible dynamic scenario in which they claim it could work. Instead you just get insistence that they are right and that the pattern is good evidence of the flood. But such talk is cheap, and is not how science gets done.

  14. Rolando

    Ok – generally agree with your explanation and concede that – using your Bayesian concept – creationism “prior distribution” is very, very narrow. And yes, science in general changes its “belief”, but not evolutionary science. That’s precisely my point, that in evolution, you can always “fit the data” and not change your belief in descent with modification.

  15. Ian

    I’ve had similar discussions with a guy I know who believes that physics is fundamentally corrupt and unable to accept any contra-evidence, and that evolution is a paragon of how science should be done. Its funny how the folks who feel this way seem to have very little detailed knowledge of the science they are so sure is being done wrong.

  16. Ian, I make my living in science and am convinced of my ignorance. That makes it so much easier and much more fun!

    There are certainly scientists who have overly narrow beliefs but, on the whole, science is open. If not, it’s my job to keep them open because I am [cue heroic music] a statistician [cue snickering crowd noises].

  17. Rolando

    Ian, your explanation is very solid. Still, I am confused by several observed facts, for example: (1) spores and bits of wood in Cambrian rock that formed before plants are supposed to evolve (2) logs protruding through millions of years of strata (3) fossil ammonites protruding through millions of tears of strata (4) 80-85% of the earth’s land surface not having even 3 geologic periods appearing in ‘correct’ consecutive order. Please save the “creationism website” speech. Go directly to your explanation.

  18. Ian

    soundslike – I think that’s a different issue. There’s a big difference between understanding and admitting the boundaries of our knowledge, and denying that we know established facts. We are ignorant of much of the physical structure of the universe, but that doesn’t mean that relativity is nonsense. I think you and Rolando are making points on different levels.

    @Rolando – the problem is that the way you characterise things is directly taken from creationist propaganda. So your 4), for example, is worded to make it sound like 85% of the surface of the earth has strata in the wrong order, which isn’t true (please provide evidence of that). In fact, we know there are a relatively small number of large scale geological features capable of pushing characteristically low levels over those normally found above them. And geologists classify these as “large” or “huge” when they are more than about 10×10 miles in size. Certainly not anywhere near 85% of the earth. If 85% of the earth had geological layers in the wrong order the column could never have been constructed. This is a lie, or at least a clever wording to make you assume one thing, while not actually saying it.

    It is absolutely true that large amounts of the earth only have certain strata. We know the chemistry of how rocks form, we can do the chemistry in the lab. And we know they require particular physical conditions. Sedimentary rocks form in different ways to igneous rocks and metamorphic rocks have a huge range of geochemistry. So we’d expect layers to be visible when historic conditions met those chemical requirements. For example, the chemistry of a saltwater sedimentary rock is different from a freshwater sedimentary rock. So we’d expect to see the former in areas where historically there were oceans (and inferring that has bags of other consequences, not least for what kinds of species of fossil we’d expect to see). I don’t know any geologist who would claim that they’d expect to see a complete geological column at any specific point. But the particular set of layers at any point should definitely not be random. The reconstruction of the history of the geology should be consistent. This kind of cross-checked reconstruction is a crucial part of geology, and is a very quantitative science.

    The complete geological column is built up from multiple sites. If site 1 has layers with distinct features BCD, and site 2 nearby has CDE, and site 3 has ABC, then we can reconstruct the layering as ABCDE. You’d surely have to do the same if you posited hydrodynamic deposition, wouldn’t you? I struggle to see how this is an issue.

    3, 2, and 1 – You are channeling Ager, I assume. I’ve read this book, have you? It doesn’t say what you think it does. But again it gets quoted a lot. On 2. this is in the context of a change in mineral composition of a pair of sedimentary layers. Ager specifically argues that this is evidence of a catastrophic event on that boundary, which is isolated in time from the other layers. On 1 and 3, he talks about these finds (and many others), in the context of regions of geological disturbance. Which we do find a lot. In areas where violent geological processes have occurred we see lots of break up in the clean-ness of the geological layer. Which is exactly what we’d expect, isn’t it? I’m not sure how you could conclude otherwise.

    To understand Ager, you need to know that his thesis that several geological transitions are perpetrated by catastrophes was a good one. He uses the term catastrophism deliberately with a wink (read the introduction). The idea that, for example the KPg, OS, etc boundaries were catastropes is now well established. As a result his book is rather dated now. You can find the same thing in any introductory geology textbook.

    So once again, I think you are listening to quotemines, rather than reading the actual research.

  19. Rolando

    Ian, there are simple observations that go beyond “creationism propaganda”. For example, we find fish fossils perfectly preserved by the trillions. But a fish when it dies it floats to the surface or sinks to the botton where is eaten by scavengers. It dissapears in a short period of time. Rather, these fish fossils provide evidence of rapid burial; buried away fron bacteria

  20. Rolando

    And then we have the issue of turbidities. One turbidite proves nothing, but a world of turbidites is just as the flood model predicts.

  21. Ian, you’re right I was being a little flippant and talking about the practice of science and not its content and progression.

  22. Ian

    Rolando, the conversation always goes the same way, doesn’t it. Can you spot the pattern yet? The “creationist propaganda” is important because it has characterised every claim you’ve made so far. Perhaps you can do a bit of meta-analysis and see how this works.

    Fish – yes, we get sea creatures preserved in sedimentary layers far more often than land creatures. If you take a broad taxa (there are far more fish even now than other forms of large aquatic vertebrates) you’ll get even more still. So if creatures are preserved in rough proportion to how common they are in conditions of rock formation, you’d expect to see more fish.

    As for burial rates. This is fairly easy to check. If you speak to an archaeologist they’ll tell you they find occasional animal remains buried naturally (as well as remains buried deliberately). Indeed, if you dig your garden up, you’ll find portions of buried skeletons. Archaeologists will also find soft tissue envelopes around those skeletons. By which, I mean, you’re right: bacteria rapidly decomposes the flesh (not the skeletons, that is rare, and is totally independent of the rate of burial), but that decomposition changes the mineralization of the soil, which can be seen in a change of soil color around the bones. Only in very rare situations do you get the right mineralization to preserve fine soft tissue features. This again doesn’t depend on burial speed, but about the environment (it should be noted that bacteria are just as prevalent in soils, including sub-aquatic soils, the idea that something is preserved from bacteria because it is buried is just not true — dig up a grave and check it out).

    So we’d expect creatures that are plentiful in sedimentary environments to be disproportionately present in the fossil record. Mostly preserved in skeletal form, with some showing soft tissue envelopes, and rarely with soft tissue features. We’d expect the latter two categories to be present in rocks with particular composition that encourage those features. And that is precisely what we see.

    So the meta-point. The problem with “creationist propaganda” is that it tells you wrongly what scientists would expect, then gives you a mix of misinformation and genuine (but unsurprising) information about what is found, and then goes “ah-ha!”. It absolutely relies on you never going and checking these original studies for misinformation, and never educating yourself to the level that you could figure out whether the claims of what scientists should expect are correct. So the impression you get is that there are all these totally obvious counter-examples than anyone with a five minute read of their book can see, which hundreds of thousands of scientists are willfully ignoring because they are so tied to their anti-God agenda (despite the fact that a large number of these scientists are Christian). Or this idea that a simple change of presuppositions will make all these facts align better than the quantitative predictions of science.

    At some point, surely, you have to have a bit of common sense and say “are these scientisits really such idiots that they can’t see the obvious?” Note carefully I’m not saying that scientists can’t believe things that aren’t true, that they can’t discover better solutions later. But it strikes me that, for the creationist propaganda to be reasonable, you have to believe that five minutes with a creationist website allows you to see things that could totally escape someone who spends decades studying something in detail. Pure common sense suggests that is unlikely, surely.

  23. Ian

    “turbidities” – I think you mean turbidites. The world is not made of them. In fact, it took a long time to find and classify them at all. They are characteristic of rapid deposition of silt layers, absolutely. In fact, they display the kinds of fining structures that I mentioned before that you’d expect rapid hydrological deposition to produce. But they are local, relatively small, and typically relatively homogeneous, and only found in particular contexts. Exactly as you’d expect if these events are local (avalanches of silt, they’re often described as) and dependent on an unusual set of particular conditions.

    The fact that they are recognizably unusual is exactly what the flood geology wouldn’t predict. The flood says ALL strata are deposited in this way. Yet these characteristic phenomena constitute a tiny percentage of the rock strata.

    But instead the creationist 1-2-3 leads you to believe that somehow scientists claim that NO layers are laid down in a single event. That somehow the idea that strata represent different chunks of time must mean that an individual deposit must always represent a long period of time.

    Can’t you recognize the pattern again? You are being lied to about what scientists would expect, then misrepresent the data “a world full of turbidites”, and then “ah-ha!”. The propaganda depends on you never learning enough science to figure out if the expectations are correct, and never checking to figure out that the claims are exaggerated.

    If we’d have seen the calculation through on mutation rates, you’d have seen the same thing, again, exactly.

    Incidentally, to avoid this being an unremitting onslaught on your creationism, this is a similar process that is used in other areas. I’ve seen atheists use the same process to say what Christians ‘must’ believe, and show it to be false. I’ve read sites on holocaust denial that do the same thing. It is straw-man arguing. But it is very potent if you can target a group who have reasons to believe you.

    Which comes back to the other point. Why is your ideological commitment so strong to creationism? What is it about the american evangelicalism that is funding all this material you’re reading which is so appealing? Given that you’re not actually interested in the science, why is this such a strong theological issue for you, where a flat earth, or a geocentric universe, or a firmament isn’t?

  24. Rolando

    Ian, it seems like I only can plead stupidity to the fact that evolution is an absolute truth. It is pretty clear to me now that there is no evidence that is contrary to it.

  25. Ian

    Why do that, why not investigate what you are being told? Educate yourself. Don’t allow others (of any kind) to take intellectual advantage of you, even if they do share your theology. If you come to the end of it still thinking scientists have it all wrong, that’s fine. But at least you’ll do so on the basis of what they are actually claiming, not what someone else is telling you they are claiming.

    There are plenty of people who’ll tell you what to believe about anything. And we all exhibit in-group bias, where we file people into “those I agree with” and “those I don’t” and are less criticial of anything the former group says.

    So many folks want to paint their enemies and pretend they say something they don’t. Plenty of people want to say that about Christians, don’t they. The recourse is to listen. I’ve written several posts on this blog (and other places) telling atheists not to assume they know what Christians believe or what Christians ‘should’ believe. But to actually ask them. Finding out what someone believes, and more importantly, why, is the foundation of understanding. Getting that information from ‘the other side’ always puts you at the mercy of people who want political power (political in the most general sense – they want influence over people).

  26. Rolando

    Ian, fair enough advice. Thanks.

  27. pete smith

    Be that as it may, I’ll just stick to my creative evolution.It seems obvious that the components of modernism are interconnected but we’re just talking perspective aren’t we. That’s the extent of the factuality…

  28. pete smith

    I know a pale ontologist ( prob needs more vits ) who claims that time does not of itself need to be linear – it is composed of paradigms of thought, each one an exponential curve not directly connected to the next except via a metadigm…that works for me, creative process being the quantifier of time. Which can make some rules seem a little fluid really – not scribed in the stone of geological time as they may seem to want to be but more related to the experiential nature of situation.

  29. Ian

    I’m sorry Pete, I’ve no idea what you are trying to say in your first comment.

    The second comment starts out cute, goes on to state what could be an obvious point, then descends into (what reads to me as) made up nonsense, I’m afraid. We can all play that game, it is trivial to make up stuff that sounds pseudo-profound. Demonstrating that it isn’t just fantasy is the crucial step.

    “that works for me” — I’ve written here before about the attraction of profundity. It is a pleasurable mental state. And one that often comes as a result of genuine discovery or insight. It is common to try to induce the feeling without saying anything that is actually true, using the same kind of “deepities” you suggest. Its fine if you want to sit around nodding sagely and saying “Duuuuude, that’s totally profound.”, but a poor way of discerning what is actually true.

  30. pete smith

    Irreducible complexity is not really a useful conception. The question is about the primacy of thought – ie does thought develop from physical process or is physical process to some extent the result of thought ? As things stand it seems quite rational to me to consider thought to trump physical manifestation ( or to have that potential ). Thought does effect the physical – even if only through the time lapse processes of epigenetic modification. Then again…a biochemist would have their particular perspective wherein electricity and chemicals would clearly demonstrate that thought is a physical process. Arguably, to a modernist reductionist, physicality can produce
    thought. It could well be though that thought came first ( which is a bit like a creationist view. Creative at the least

  31. pete smith

    It could well be that thought is the primary subject of evolution. It is thought that evolves and then in turn impacts the physical.
    Irreducible complexity is a red herring. Fishy.
    Gaining the perspective to comprehend origination becomes the pertinent question. I have a few thoughts about on the matter…

  32. pete smith

    I tend to the subjective

  33. pete smith

    I’m not trying to prove anything, just chatting. Conditions of experience, the subjective state of being seem important to me whereas the determination of fact can be merely the function of ego. Somehow I think you favor apparent fact which certainly makes sense. It could be a limiting factor though but we aren’t on the same page I guess…
    I certainly admit that viewing facts as limiting factors has a lack of cogent argument to it…

  34. Ian

    “it seems quite rational to me ” – why is it rational to think that has any bearing on whether it is true?

    “Thought does effect the physical – even if only through the time lapse processes of epigenetic modification.” – I’m sorry, but that sounds like rubbish. Please explain what you mean here. You can be as specific as you like about these “epigenetic modification”s.

    “Arguably, to a modernist reductionist, physicality can produce
    thought.” – One could say “Arguably, to an uneducated Nazi, gravity is a force.” Just putting in a term you think carries disdain says nothing about the argument itself.

    “It could well be that thought is the primary subject of evolution. It is thought that evolves and then in turn impacts the physical.” – Sure. It could well be that pain is the primary subject of evolution. Evolution proceeds in such a way that it causes the greatest amount of net suffering among all living things. — We can all make up stuff that sounds like it says something, but is actually a combination of triviality and nonsense. Into every claim some evidence must fall, beyond “I tend to the subjective”, or “it works for me.”

    “Irreducible complexity is a red herring. Fishy.” I’ve no idea why you keep going on about Irreducible complexity. Because of the title of this blog? In which case, I suggest, you’ve jumped to very much the wrong conclusion about what this blog is about. Perhaps a trip to the ‘about’ page might help.

  35. pete smith

    So if I don’t favor my left brain function I am invalid ?

  36. Ian

    Pete, in my experience, pontificating without the need to refer to evidence or fact is much more likely to be a function of ego. At least when we agree that there is some kind of reality we can collaborate to find, we have a mechanism to determine what is correct beyond who has the biggest ego or who can shout the loudest.

    You’re welcome to your personal truth. But it won’t get any reverence from me, I’m afraid. Personal profundities are ten a penny. I’m sure yours feels very important and deep to you. But I can find a thousand like it around the web very simply.

    The alternative is very hard, and a lot of made up ego-fuelled nonsense needs to be raised, analysed and discarded on the way. [Edit: Removed last sentence after submitting – sounded wrong.]

  37. Ian

    “So if I don’t favor my left brain function I am invalid ?”

    Not sure how you got that. I love poetry, opera, literature, art. I recognize their power to affect me. I would in some contexts call that power “truth”. But I recognize that those things are very poor ways to determine how the universe works. You’re welcome to your subjective truth, but I don’t see why you should expect others to take it seriously as a description of the world.

    (And the whole left/right brain thing isn’t really true, you know?)

  38. Ian

    Perhaps it was the context of your post I am reacting to? Posting aesthetic imagineering in a post about how science works suggested that you were perhaps making kinds of claims you actually aren’t.

  39. pete smith

    You seem convinced in your absolute knowledge of truth. It seems vain to claim to know without rational conference which inherently involves empathy and communication. To know mechanistically is what we call aspergers syndrome.
    In England we rationally concur and base our society &law upon such communion.
    I wonder about your empathy quotient & how well you are as a person.
    How can you think that thought in epigenetic process is rubbish ? Are you thick ?

  40. Ian

    “You seem convinced in your absolute knowledge of truth.” – then I’m not expressing myself well. I am very convinced in my lack of absolute knowledge of truth.

    “To know mechanistically is what we call aspergers syndrome.” – no, Aspergers is something entirely different. But well done for using Aspergers as a facile insult. You might want to call me a Spastick too, for good measure. Classy.

    “How can you think that thought in epigenetic process is rubbish ? Are you thick ?” – Nicely replacing invective for an answer. I suspect I know more than average about epigenesis. Thought can clearly be an epigenetic process (the trivially true bit of your comment), but the “time lapse process of epigenetic modification” sounded like fanciful rubbish. As I said, a bit more clarity about what epigenetic changes you are talking about would have been handy.

    “I wonder about your empathy quotient & how well you are as a person.” – I was wondering about your reading comprehension and lack of basic cognitive abilities at one point. I suspect neither of us came over well. I guess that suggests people will think even the best movie was rubbish if they were expecting a cruise.

    As I said above, context is important. I get a lot of drive-by pontificating, people who have their own (and always different) truths who want the world to fall at their intellectual feet, just by virtue of how very right they think they are. So my apologies if you got my standard annoyed reaction. Perhaps you could work on your opening too. Anyway, the most important thing is engagement. Thanks for pushing back and keeping on. I appreciate a bit of rough talk. But I’m not sure how to actually engage with your points constructively. Because they do just seem like made-up whimsy to me. Feel free to try and help me out on that.

  41. pete smith

    Hi ian, great comments – I couldn’t do an opening if my life depended upon it ( &it probably does most days ) which is arguably a sad comment about my evolutionary potential ( do u get English humour ?) I.m not the stoned duude that may be fostered in your environment…some of my comment may have been due to the shortfall in functional social validity that my american cousins display so well…last time I was over your way was the 70.s, fiddled with the new computer at NASAs Ames facility – the functional validity of the system was to pursue and shoot down…without our wisdom you guys can be a menace. Indeed a rum do. However, it seems that we are capable of engagement…all the best Ian, didn’t,t mean to be rude, Pete.

  42. Ian

    Cool – so welcome to the blog. I am working on a post on materialism and consciousness, perhaps if you notice it, we could have this discussion again with my hair trigger in check.

  43. pete smith

    ( how could you engage with such vituperation ? Vituperation is a key, irreducible component of English humour…I am perhaps the kind of arse who equates the same with wisdom…)

  44. pete smith

    Hey, just noticed your mat/conc thing…will try chip in. All the best, Pete.

  45. Ian

    “how could you engage with such vituperation ? Vituperation is a key, irreducible component of English humour” – I agree.

    “I am perhaps the kind of arse who equates the same with wisdom…” – there is wisdom in that, I think. The degree to which someone takes themselves seriously when playfully insulted is a good indicator of their character.

  46. pete smith

    I feel a bit of a fool but have no problem with that. I find the questions around science, darwinism , evolution & creationism fascinating. Not as straight forward as I’d thought. I had assumed Darwin to be correct comprehensively & had assumed the creationist camp to be talking total tosh. I am researching for a new novel so I am critically evaluating what I know or what I think I know. Evolutionary biology makes sense to me – it is knowledge not theory or fantasy. Darwin though…seems like a different matter, more to do with politics. I don’t see him as a genuine evolutionary scientist ( although he certainly has that reputation ) he cataloged and collected but I don’t consider him to have been of sound mind. A definitive backbone of modern science for sure but a divisive character. He has made science into specialism rather than knowledge being knowledge. It could be that my thinking is unsound but when I look into his life and times I am struck by emotional immaturity with a concomitant element of blackmail and a liability to fantasy. I would prefer to continue in my beliefs re species relations but am having doubts. Can’t get my head round an alternative view should each species prove to be discrete but I imagine that we will be able to gain further knowledge that will make these matters more clear…or perhaps I talk crap. Perhaps it is sacrilege to suggest Darwin,s brain lacked some essential development…however the US & england are quite lacking in education, an environment where essential retardation could go unseen. I helped in an education study with my local authority in the 90’s and was surprised and enlightened with the perspective I was shown. The Danish system was the model. They didn’t really have behaviour problems in school and the pupils were able to think when they left school…solid gold rocket science you could argue. They knew at which age the different brain areas developed at and accounted for it. Allowed the whole brain to develop
    whereas in England & US we apply stress at the wrong times and limit the outcomes to egocentric struggle…Darwin was the poster boy for our systems of social control. Its bloody politics man, not really to do with genuine science and knowledge. Darwin was part of the ousting of the corrupted controls of religion at the time…he,s a special case, not really central to scientific thought. To my mind he gives science a bad name, makes it the domain of the emotionally immature. I think I should spank his stupid arise….anyway I,m clearly no scientist or scholar I an….pretty good as a mason and with plaster & wood although my back has become too much of a problem in my cottage…all the best mate, cheers, Pete.

  47. pete smith

    How does science work ?

  48. pete smith

    I meant dotage not cottage. I am a fool.

  49. pete smith

    I do have a bee in my bonnet about educational standards. My paternal grandfather was a preacher who founded and headed a school. Perhaps that has an effect on my disposition…

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