Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's wrong with classical rationalism?

Morning all, I wish to moan so if you'll please excuse me whilst I do I will try to get it over with as quickly as possible. What I want to moan about is the coverage I keep seeing in papers and blogs about Sarah Palin that says she is a "creationist" and wants to teach "creationism" in schools.

Now some may say I'm splitting hairs here but she isn't a "creationist" nor does she want to teach "creationism" in schools. Creationism is the literal interpretation of the allegory in Genesis which says God created the heaven, earth, man, woman and beast in six days and had a kip on the last (no surprise there I would have a kip too after all that work).

Sarah Palin on the other hand is an advocate of Intelligent Design which is, I;m afraid to say entirely different. Of course, for those attacking from the Left (which is where most criticism comes from (understandably)) ID and Creationism is exactly the same thing. The problem is that analysis is clearly lazy, and even more sod ignorant of ontology and general Enlightenment ideas.

This is, I think, particularly ironic, because those that attack Sarah Palin claim to be on the side of reason and science, and yet seem to be blissfully ignorant of the fact that Intelligent Design is just classical rationalism, as advocated by the likes of Plato, written about in Aristotle's Metaphysics, and developed further with the watchmaker analogy by Descartes in his Meditations, and Discourse on Method.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying I'm an advocate of Intelligent Design, I'm just saying that it isn't the same thing as Creationism, and nor is a particularly new idea. It seems the only reason there is any reaction to those who advocate in fact is because they also tend to be religious. I guess this is why no one ever points out that some of the greatest philosophers in history argued, from a hefty intellectual standpoint, that the nature of being could have rational scope for the existence of a higher being.

Even more so, what is wrong with teaching Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero et al in schools alongside Darwin? After all, the latter deals with the how from a single starting point whilst the former attempt to answer the question, through rationalist argument, of whether something else kicked off what Darwin observed. Whilst I'm on the subject of schools though, why can't we start advocating the teaching of the philosophy of science as well? This would be worthwhile because there is a huge gulf between how science actually works and what the vast majority think about how science works.

Most of those that criticise the rationalism of ID theory are also falling into the trap that Hume identified as the problem of induction. We often hear about how Darwin has been "proven", how climate change is unequivocal. However "science", and by that I mean proper "science" does not make statements of certainty, it only puts forward hypothesise and invites experimentation to disprove them. The more you cannot disprove a theory the stronger it becomes, but it never truth.

As I say, I'm not an advocate of Intelligent Design per se. But I am willing to acknowledge that it is a rational theory based on deductive reasoning about the nature of existence and where things come from. I also don't think such a theory has any clash or contradiction with Darwin's argument either, because Darwin was dealing with "how" things got to where we are, not the "where". Equally, there is no contradiction between the idea of random chance bringing about life and Darwinian Theory. In fact, random chance is an equally rational deductive argument to make as that of the watchmaker.

I guess really the attacks on Sarah Palin's beliefs are more about politics than intellectual honesty. However, there might be a bit of ignorance about the history of ideas thrown in there too for some of them. As I’ve already said twice, I’m not an advocate of Intelligent Design; I am however quite relaxed if someone chooses to accept the rationalist reasoning of Descartes or Aristotle. I also don’t see why they shouldn’t be taught in school either.

OK, moan over.

Update: For those reading this who may feel the need to comment about whether ID is science, I have not, at any point in the above suggested it is. In fact it isn't, however that does not make it, by necessity wrong. It just means that it is not falsifiable. Just because a theory is not scientific in those terms it does not follow by necessity that it is a wrong theory. And again, I stress here that I am not saying ID is right either, just that it cannot be tested and disproven because it isn't a scientific theory in the first place, it is a philosophical rational theory that is ancient.

75 comments:

Lakatos said...

Well put but Palin's viewpoint isn't one of Popperian falsifiability, it is simply one of superstition and bias.

From what I've seen, she hasn't sat down to evaluate the claims of rationalism or to measure their claims, she takes religious teachings at face value.

For example, if her Church claimed the moon was made of cheese, she would parrot that and perhaps one day US school children could debate this proposition?

The Heresiarch said...

Did you read my take on Palin's alleged creationism? (Here). I conclude, among other things, that it's mainly British journalists who seem determined to tar her with the C word.

Your take on the ID "debate" doesn't really hold water, I'm afraid. You say it is "a rational theory based on deductive reasoning about the nature of existence and where things come from." But it isn't. It merely pretends to be. Rather, it is based 1) on prior religious commitment and 2) on inductive reasoning which imputes characteristics to God.

The reason biologists hate ID is that they appreciate that it isn't a proper scientific theory. It amounts to little more than looking for hard-to-explain evolutionary designs and saying, in effect, "Hah, explain that!" And the biologists, if they can be bothered, come up with an explanation, by which time the ID people have started lookinf for something else that looks hard to explain.

Natural selection started off as a quasi-philosophical argument (though Darwin had mountains of evidence to support his case) but it is now categorically proved. By DNA analysis, which makes sense only on the assumption that different species descend from common ancestors, by real-time observations, by the existence of superbugs, which have evolved only since the introduction of antibiotics. ID is not science; it is religion pretending to be scientific, and not very convincingly at that.

ID may have been a rational explanation of life in the days before anything much was known about biology. Similarly, geocentricism was a rational theory before telescopes were invented. But anyone who truly believed today that the earth was at the centre of the universe would be seen as deluded. The same applies to ID.

dizzy said...

With the greatest of respect I didn't say that ID was a scientific theory. In fact, it isn't. That does not mean that it cannot be taught as part of ontological theories about existence.

dizzy said...

"but it is now categorically proved"

Sorry, but science does not deal with categorical proof. It deals with attempts to falsify hypothesis. Failure to disprove strengthens a theory it does not make it proven. Saying that it does is induction.

haddock said...

@lakatos.
'what you have seen' of Palin, so that we can all form a measured and educated shot at what her innermost feelings are.

or perhaps you will list the brief news clips of her that you have watched and we can form a similarly bigoted view of her.

The Heresiarch said...

Not all scientists accept Popper's view of falsification: many take a more pragmatic position. But I accept your correction. If nothing can be "categorically proved", it remains the case that Natural Selection is the only theory capable of explaining the evidence, unless you want to imagine a bizarrely contrarian deity.

You may appreciate that ID isn't a scientific theory. The trouble is, most of its proponents try to pretend that it is. That's why why want it taught in science classes.

Stoo said...

ID isn't the same thing, but it probably gets used as a second line of defense by Xtians. I mean, really, how many people pusing for ID view the designer as some distant Deist watchmaker? Or aliens? Or Q? Most of the time, it'll be the christian god with all the baggage he comes with.

"Whilst I'm on the subject of schools though, why can't we start advocating the teaching of the philosophy of science as well?"

This is a very good point. I think kids need to know what science is (testable explanations based on observation of the physical universe), and isn't (assertions of final ultimate truth). And they need to know what makes it different from other ways of looking at existence.

What would worry me though is someone like Palin just wanting iD throw into Biology class as a valid scientific competitor to Evolution.

Paul said...

The Heresiarch said...

"Rather, it is based 1) on prior religious commitment and 2) on inductive reasoning which imputes characteristics to God."

A bit like Science then? Based 1) on faith in empiricism and 2) on inductive reasoning, which imputes characteristics to the (laws of) universe (immutable - they never change, omnipresent - they apply equally everywhere, omnipotent - they cannot be broken and so on). And yes, I'm aware that Newtonian physics has its limits, and so on, but the assumption under all of it is that there are impersonal ultimates (or singular) governing all of reality. I just think that ultimate is personal, and called God.

Well done, Dizzy, for a pretty fair analysis. Can't say I totally agree with you but you've done a lot better on this than most.

Bonetired said...

To keep it simple: Darwin is science the others are not. The whole point about modern neo-darwinian theory is that NO external influence of any sort is required. ID and creationism both require external infuences - hence in many respects they ARE the same, whereas Darwinism doesn't. Darwinian theory (and I use that word in the scientific rather than popular use, where it has a specific meaning of "the best scientific model that explains the facts" rather than a "guess" or a "hunch") is not 100% correct - no scientific theory can ever be (Newton's Laws of Motion were heavily modified by Einstein's Theory of Relativity [ BTW note the change from LAw to Theory ] ) -but it is the best explanation for how modern life evolved that we have. I must add that the origin of life is a separate issue - once life came about - and how no-one knows for certain - then natural selection kicked in.

Darwinism is about scientific fact the others are about speculation. The two should not be mixed.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, the theoretical ground solid. We DON'T need outside influences of any sort.

dizzy said...

bonetired, Darwinsim is a scientific hypthesis that has as yet not be shown to be incorrect, it is a not a fact, it is not truth, it will never be truth. It will only ever be our best estimation of truth on the basis of current knowledge.

One other observation on this subject, if a Muslim politician said they beleived in creation would people start screaming?

Morus said...

One of the best posts you've written, and one of the best I've read on the blogosphere.

Bonetired said...

Dizzy: You have echoed precisely what I said.

"Darwinian theory .... is not 100% correct - no scientific theory can ever be ..."

As Jacob Bronowski said in the still wonderful "Ascent of Man" (the very title of which is an allusion to Darwin's book "The Descent of Man") there is no absolute truth in science, there cannot be never absolute knowledge.

Stoo said...

I'm pretty sure people like Myers and Dawkins have put the boot in on Islamic creationists too.

For what it's worth a lot of this battle is going on in the States, where hardcore xtians make up greater numbers than muslims of any sort. So of course it's their meddling with science class that gets more attention.

dizzy said...

So I did, but you did then go on to state it was "scientific fact" afterwards. C'est la vie.

dizzy said...

Stoo, you're right of course re: Dawkins. I was speaking a little more generally to be fair. This is a question that I;ve been wodnering about for a while in the commentary on Palin. It runs like this.

"OMFG she believes in creationsim!!! Nutter, evil, twisted, argghhh run away run away!"

I then wondered, if a Muslim woman was running for a position like this and someone on the Right wrote

"OMFG she believes in creationsim!!! Nutter, evil, twisted, argghhh run away run away!"

The response from the Left would "Islamophobe! Respect her culture" and that sort of bollocks.

Of course, I could be wrong on that, but my gut tells me that is what would happen.

marksany said...

It's turtles; all they way down.

Anonymous said...

Most real Creationists are also hostile to 'Intelligent Design' because it denies the literalness of Genesis.

Anonymous said...

Rationalism = deductive method of arriving at knowledge
ID = I can't explain this so it must be due to God

The problem is not teaching ID in schools, it is teaching it in science lessons which is what most (if not Palin) proponents of ID want. That would be giving it a legitimacy it has not earned.

But your point is that evidence isn't the only way of arriving at knowledge. The problem with this is that ID doesn't try to arrive at knowledge and it doesn't deduce anything either. The so-called logic involved is fatally flawed e.g. this thing in nature is terribly complicated, so it must have been designed (created), so there must be a designer. They never ask who designed (created) the even more fantastically complicated designer who was capable of such a feat...it's ludicrous and doesn't answer anything at all.

The Heresiarch said...

Islamic creationism, so far as I can tell, is a fairly recent phenomenon, which has been imported into Islam from Christian fundamentalism by a sort of emulation. As is the nature of such things, it is now becoming well-established among some conservative elements.

That's the point, though. Creationism isn't a part of core religious belief so much as a means of marking out territory and asserting difference. In the hands of Islamists, insisting of creationism may become, in a few years time, yet another part of the Islamic "package" (along with the veil, sharia-compliant mortgages and so on) designed to effect separatism and evolution a way of demonstrating the decadence of the kuffar.

To answer your question, the Muslim woman you describe is unlikely to be running for office, because other aspects of her Islamic identity would have mitigated against her. Or else her visible religious identity would prove more of a talking-point than creationism.

Or take it another way, these debates are conducted in clichés. US Christian fundamentalism = Guns, creationism, anti-abortion. Muslim fundamentalism = hijabs, beards and bombs.

GM said...

Dizzy, this is an excellent post, and one which usefully seeks to expose the emotivity surrounding the (as you rightly observe) very lazy and inaccurate charge of creationism thrown at Sarah Palin. I find some of Palin's stand-points controversial, but it is absolutely right to at least point out that her belief in Intelligent Design, is not a 'wacky' one.

I'm no scientist, so mea culpa if I'm wrong, but my understanding of Darwinian theories of natural selection is that they are indeed hypotheses, and not 'fact', and that the evidence base for them is still thin. Interestingly, the LHC start-up yesterday has provoked some physicists to speculate on finding their 'God' particle, and even to move away from the relam of science into philospohical speculation about the ordered nature of the universe - which is where your reference to classical rational theories is so apposite.

Very helpful, and will certainly be putting a link to this post up for my students - useful to look behind the uncritical hysteria of too much media reporting!

T England said...

Ok I’m no expert in science or religion but, science in it’s short time, compared to how long religion has been trying to explain the world & it’s existence is surely winning the argument hands down.
We can clearly see the logical progression to where we are today & even some grunt like me can roughly explain how we got here & how we are from either alien decent or the way particles arrange them selves in the universe is well, universal, & will do the same thing no matter what part of the universe they end up, after all! Particles make up this keyboard I’m typing on but those very same particles make up me!

I have always believed that religion has no part in politics & political leaders should not be religious! I mean, how can anyone make a law that has some religious background & expect me, a completely non religious person, to accept it?

I find it hard to accept that a person, who in my view believes in fairy tales & is the fore mentally an illogical person, can change how I have to live my secular life because some un educated man from the backward realms of yester year says he was passed a message from some bloke up in a cloud!

Children in this modern world should be taught that you believe in what you can touch, see & smell, everything else is just a theory.

purplepangolin said...

@dizzy

"Of course, I could be wrong on that, but my gut tells me that is what would happen"

Interesting justification, given the subject of the main post ;)

dizzy said...

Glad someone spotted it :)

John Scott said...

"Even more so, what is wrong with teaching Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero et al in schools alongside Darwin?" - Simple, Darwin is science, the others are not. You can teach them (in fact I think you should teach them) but not as science teaching. Darwin and evolution, by contrast, are science and should be taught in science lessons. The crucial distinction is one of methodology.

Schools could quite legitimately have a discussion about ID (and in fact creationism) in something like "theory of knowledge" (IB)/"critical thinking" (A-Level)/whatever else schools are calling it this week. The whole Science vs ID etc debate is actually a really good example of how the use of different methods and premisses can lead to wholly different understandings of the same phenomenon.

This is another example of lazy thinking: "Creationism is the literal interpretation of the allegory in Genesis which says God created the heaven, earth, man, woman and beast in six days". That is only the western, judeo-Christian version of creationism. Other cultures can be creationist without taking the Bible as the starting point (you are, of course, entirely right when thinking about Christian creationism, which is the criticism levelled at Palin).

(As for creationism etc not being a new idea - have you see Sedley's book, "Creationism in Antiquity"? Definitely worth a read)

Anonymous said...

I love the way Dizzy, and others, bandy around the words "theory" and "hypothesis" as if they are, basically the same thing.

There is no such thing as "Darwinism". There is merely the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection (which is what Darwin was about), but evolution as a scientific theory is a diverse and complex science that has developed, and is developing, at a high rate. There has simply been no contradictory evidence to show that evolution is wrong. It is observed, tested, and peer reviewed.

Creationism is based on whichever religion you subscribe to. In the many branches of Christianity, it is Genesis. According to the Māori legend, New Zealand was fished out of the sea by the demi-god Maul.

ID "intelligent" design is not a theory. It is, at best, an untestable hypothesis. It presumes a supreme being / creator, but not one is distinct name description. It is agnostic creationism, if you will.

Any discussion about evolution and creationism (ID) can only be accurate if the position is made clear. There is no evidence at all for creationism, and there is overwhelming evidence for evolution. There is no debate in the scientific community about the validity of the theory of evolution. There is debate within the theory, of course, but not of the principle.

There can be no debate about creationism, because nothing can be tested, and nothing can be proven. It is a nonsense, from that point of view. Creationism was the science of the day. Personally, I prefer that we have 2000+ years of social and scientific progress to teach our children. To say that both (evolution and creationism) should be taught is to draw a false equivalency between the two.

Just so people know, a scientific theory is something which includes and describes all of the supporting evidence, the results, and the model. It is called a theory because new evidence can always be added.

Gravity is a theory in exactly the same way as evolution is a theory. Darwin set up the basic model of evolution, just has Newtonian mechanics are an excellent approximation for gravity. However, Darwin did not know about DNA, and Newton was unaware of string theory. Stephen Hawking spends a lot of time working on gravity.

A scientific law is really the inevitable result gained from the manipulation of known constants.

A hypothesis is an idea that needs testing. A proposal. And idea. But there is no evidence to support it. If there was evidence to support it, it would be a scientific theory.

Bonetired said...

gm :

I am a scientist (biochemist to be precise) and I can assure that neo-Darwinism is a lot more than a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a good idea: a proposed explanation that warrants further investigation. Evolution is a "theory", which in the precise scientific meaning as I stated above is "the best scientific model that explains the facts".

The evidence base is not thin: in fact, I can assure you, it is overwhelming both from an investigatory and theoretical standpoint.

BigDai said...

As a scientist I accept evolution as unequivable fact. However, If they want to teach creationalism or ID let them do so in Religious Ed, not in science class. As long as we are giving children the ability to rationally assess the arguements then evolution should win the day.

Christopher said...

What about The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Anonymous said...

ID is NOT a THEORY, and please stop saying it is.

Scientific theories have evidence. Gravity is a theory. Nuclear science is a theory, evolution is a theory. They all have evidence that can be tested.

Yes, science is about what is falsifiable, but that fact that something could be falsifiable does not mean that it can be proved to be false.

How can you prove that gravity is false? As in, the force doesn't exist (as opposed to how that force actually works?). How can you prove nuclear theory false, when it has vapourised cities?

How can you prove evolution to be false? Well, you'd have to prove that there was a supreme being. Which you cannot do.

Evolution is as true, and as proven, as gravity and nuclear weapons. It is a fact. Sure, there is debate and new evidence inside the theory, of course there is, just as there is with gravity, but no scientist is suggesting that gravity does not exist at all, which is what proponents of creationism and intelligent design say of evolution.

By abstracting creationism through "intelligent design" those who believe in it are removing (or trying to) the tests that can be applied to creationism. You cannot test, or prove, that there is not some undefined, abstracted, "supreme being", but you can test the "gods" defined by religion. For example, for the "god" defined in the bible to be true, and to exist, it would have to have a tangible, measurable influence on the planet earth. And that does not exist.

This is the same as gravity, in some ways. We cannot test gravity directly. We can only test the effect gravity has on another body or object. Same with religion and its claims. If there is no measurable effect, then there is nothing to cause it, because nothing is happening, so the claim is false.

ID is, at best, a hypothesis. It has no evidence.

Please, for the love of science, stop using the word theory with the implication / sub text that it means "we don't know".

Dave said...

Despite what its proponents argue, Darwin's theory is unproven. There is NO evidence.

Creationism can't be proven. We weren't there. On a similar vein I can't believ all the TV programmes that show dinosaurs having this colour skin and sounding like this, etc. It can't be proven, only guessed at.
After many years study of this and other pointless debates my conclusion is that
we can't all be right but we can all be wrong.

If the energy expended trying to prove the unprovable was turned towards something useful....

AND DON'T GET ME STARTED ON GLOBAL WARMING!!!!

Lakatos said...

@haddock: fair point but we are all just adding comments to a blog. Yet she's made clear pronouncements on her faith and the particular cult she subscribes to, namely pentecostal christianity.

So, inner most feelings aside, she may well reflect some of her religious beliefs in her conduct, behaviour and thought?

I think it might be a long wait to discover her critical thought on religion, so thus far we can only go on what she's given us.

The Head Hitter said...

What really gets me, Dizzy (and this is CLASSIC liberal self-contradtion) is that they claim that anyone advocating Creationism or ID is repressive, backward, and suppressing both freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

Yet it is they who do each of the latter when they fight viciously against any alternative theories being considered in school curricula. Dawkins is the same.

I have never, ever heard a serious 'Creationist' or an ID advocate suggest that theirs should be the ONLY theory taught, merely that it should be offered alongside others as being at least a possibility, and even if they devote an inordinate amount of air-time to debunking (rationally!) the alternatives. However, I repeatedly hear Atheist Fundamentalists suggest precisely that.

It is they who are narrow-minded, and sloppy academics at that.

dizzy said...

I kicked off something good here huh?

one comment to make in relation to the anon that said:

ID is NOT a THEORY, and please stop saying it is.

Scientific theories have evidence.


"theory" and "scientific theory" are two very different things I'm afraid. ID is an argument based on a rationalist theory of existence, it is not a "scientific theory" but a "theory" it is. Sorry.

Regarding evidence as a panacea, this is dangerous induction. Evidence of X does not prove that X exists if evidence to the contrary can be found. Thus multiple observation of something does not prove it because a single observation to the contrary disporves it. Anon is basically falling into the exact trap I was referring to regarding the philosophy of science and what consitutues "truth".

javascript:void said...

Dizzy, a great post. Which tends to prove the theoretical work of Pavlov.

Mention ID and the immediate response is "Rant rant, rave, rant! Darwin! Blah! Blah! Dawkins! Witter, witter! Science! Drone, drone, drone!"

Bonetired said...

Dave: Evolution is a FACT. End of story. The evidence for it is huge, massive AND incontrovertible. It is the underpinning of ALL modern biology which is the underpinning of modern medicine. Neo-Darwinian Theory is the best explanation of evolution that we have for the FACT of evolution

No evidence?

Go ask any molecular biologist, biochemist, taxonomist, zoologist, botanist, paeleontologist, geologist for the evidence. Its there.

Anonymous said...

"Creationism is the literal interpretation of the allegory in Genesis which says God created the heaven, earth, man, woman and beast in six days..."

Wrong.

Only Young Earth creationists believe that. Many others don't.

Check Conservapedia http://www.conservapedia.com/Creationism

It says:

"There is considerable disagreement on whether or not Intelligent Design amounts to a form of creationism and if so, where to place it in comparison to the other forms of creationism. This is due to the concept having many different definitions and proponents espousing different ideas."

NigelC said...

Excellent post and shows why we need better science teaching in our schools

dizzy said...

bonetired, nothing is a fact. There is no certainty in science, as I beleive particle physics makes clear with the Heisenberg uncertanity principle. That doesn't mean that evolution is wrong, it just means that it could yet be found to be and it would be wrong to make the statement of certainity about it or anything else in relation to "how things are". Gravity for example, is not guaranteed to always be the way it appears, nor is evolution.

Charlotte Gore said...

They're not talking about teaching ID or Creationism as part of religious awareness though, as an example of religious thought to be compared with other examples of religious or philosophical thought.

They want it taught in biology classes as an equally valid and legitimate alternative explanation for the origin of species - with the result of pushing the Christian God into the classroom on an equal standing with Evolution.

What I object to here is the state pushing a specific religion on Children in a society that's supposed to have separation of Church and State - although tell that to the politicians who now seem to need to add, "God Bless You and God Bless America" to the end of speeches.

They want to make Christianity part of what it means to be American. They want to bring Church and State together.

Got to fight that, I'm afraid. How can anyone have meaningful liberty in a place where a specific religion is pushed on everyone? Where being American means being Christian?

dizzy said...

Ok, a couple fo things. From a purely intellectual standpoint, ID and Evolution are not incompatible.

Regarding Church and State, as someone that lives in a nation where Church and State are intrinsically linked I don't see what all the fuss is about in terms of keeping them separate.

dizzy said...

Incidnetally Charlotte, they would never get it through at anational level anyway.

Anonymous said...

"That doesn't mean that evolution is wrong, it just means that it could yet be found to be and it would be wrong to make the statement of certainity about it or anything else in relation to "how things are". Gravity for example, is not guaranteed to always be the way it appears, nor is evolution."

EXACTLY!

"Gravity for example, is not guaranteed to always be the way it appears, nor is evolution."

The model, the theory of gravity might change (has changed!), but NO ONE is disputing that gravity itself does not exist.

Exactly the same as evolution.

DNA did not replace Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, it added to it.

No one is debating that evolution itself exists. There is, however, debate, and new evidence, and change, and new discoveries, WITHIN the theory of evolution. Nothing that science can do can disprove (falsify) evolution any more than it can disprove (falsify) gravity.

Bonetired said...

Dizzy - you are muddling up two things: the fact of evolution, which is a fact in the same way that planets orbit the sun is a fact, and the explanation which is a theory. Fact doesn't mean in science an absolute certainty - something that I am well aware of -but it DOES mean that is confirmed to such a degree that it would be barking to deny it.

The fact of gravity is there. Drop a 4lb lump hammer on your foot and it hurts. However, the explanation - or even a physical description - for gravity has changed over the years. Newton had a clockwork universe (and no explanation for a force at a distance - something which is being hunted even today - the graviton) which was amended by Einstein which his vision of space-time. Darwin's explanation has been amended over the years (Darwin had no knowledge of genetics for instance) and the evidence accumulated that there was a process of change in living organisms has no become so overwhelming that there is no reasonable objection (unless you want to invoke some magical external force) that it happened. Therefore, in the scientific meaning, it is a fact.

Ian said...

Dizzy,

ID is not a rationalist theory, rather it is a rationalised theory. Descartes (et al) rationalised (or assumed) that creation had a divine overseer.

Given the dominance of Christian philosophy at the time that Descartes (and others) was writing it is hardly a surprise that he chose to make this assumption. However, we're all a bit more enlightened now, and I think we can see ID for what it really is: a convenient method for allowing rational scientific theories to co-exist with religious beliefs.

As such, ID may well be worth debating in schools, but it really is no more worthwhile debating than the flat earth theories.

Ian

Sam Duncan said...

Excellent post. Oddly enough, I've been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan recently, and thinking quite a lot about exactly this sort of thing. I'd highly recommend it.

There is no such thing as "Darwinism"

On the contrary, I think there is. I'd argue that it's exactly the inductive assumption Dizzy is arguing against here, that Darwin's theory is 100% solid and unarguable fact.

Granted, that's not what's usually meant by the word. But I think it would be a useful coinage.

And lest I be tarred as a creationist, I should add that my position is much the same as Dizzy's: the scientific theories we have for the origins of the universe and life in it are good - extremely good - to be getting along with. They've survived every attempt to falsify them. As far as anyone has been able to tell, they're correct.

But that doesn't mean that we know how these things happened. It doesn't make our theories fact. It's perfectly possible that they could be overturned entirely by some new piece of knowledge hitherto completely unsuspected. Of course assuming that they will is irrational, but so is denying that they might.

So while I accept that creationists and ID advocates are less rational (a great deal less, in many cases) than followers of accepted scientific theory, and would be horrified by their ideas being taught as fact in schools, I refuse to villify them and would be happy for the arguments they raise to be discussed by schoolchildren and teachers in much the same way that we're doing here.

In fact, I think it's rather important that they are. Philosophy and "thinking about thinking" probably should be taught in schools.

dizzy said...

bonetired, you're referring to induction, it's interesting you mention the planets because the sun is the classic exmaple of induction. You cannot know that the sun is going to rise tomorrow just because it has since time can remember.

Iain: "ID is not a rationalist theory, rather it is a rationalised theory. Descartes (et al) rationalised (or assumed) that creation had a divine overseer."

That's why its called rationalism.

The Head Hitter said...

charlotte gore - Surely not "pushing" if it is merely there as one of the options, as I and everybody else on this side of the fence proposes?

If acknowledging a postulate made by some Christians constitutes "pushing", my school "pushed" Nazism on me in my history lessons; drug abuse in my citizenship classes; and, in A-Level Philosophy, that my mind is connected to my body by a golden thread and drifts off around the universe every time I go to sleep.

Stoo said...

Ok I'm not really adding much new to the discussion here, but I was reminded of a good quote by Stephen J Gould:

"In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms. "

dizzy said...

"in A-Level Philosophy, that my mind is connected to my body by a golden thread and drifts off around the universe every time I go to sleep."

Are you saying that isn't true? :(

dizzy said...

Great quote Stoo. I do understand that although I think the fact [sic] that fact needs to be qualified is why it's not ideal to throw the term around when talking about such things.

Anonymous said...

A school curriculum only has so many hours. So stick to the key theories rather than indulging superstitious notions.

It doesn't mean you block the debate on the subject, let it rage in academia or blogopshere.

dizzy said...

I wouldn't consider Enlightenment rationalists "supersticious". The ideas and arguments they put forward a fundamnetal part of the history of ideas.

haddock said...

bonetired.

"Evolution is a FACT. End of story. The evidence for it is huge, massive AND incontrovertible"

did you take this from another debate and change MMGW to evolution ?..... that line of 'debate' is so familiar.

Bonetired said...

Haddock: No I didn't but you have emphasised how the scientific method can be twisted.

Nobody denies that something is happening to the weather around the planet. That is the fact. The theory that it is man-made is the best explanation that we have. Like all scientific theories is it subject to modifications, or even, if evidence arises to refute it, discarded.

Having said that I personnaly object at the political (not necessarily scientific) witch-hunts that have occured against scientists who have queried parts of the current theory of global warming.

McSweeney said...

I would have no problem with a child of mine benig taught about creationist or Intellgient Design ideas (the distinction I beleive is not worth much thought, ID is at best a wing of creationism) in some kind of general studies or religious education setting. Always useful to know and understand what other people think.

But crucially, it should be nowhere near a science class and I suspect that is the kind of thing Palin is after.

Also IDers tend to just be trying to give creationism a scientific sheen to fool the easily confused.

tory boys never grow up said...

Just because eminent scientists and philosophers have but forward hypotheses/theories in the past - it does mean that they should still be taught in schools, regardless of whether or not those hypotheses/theories have been disproved or not, as you appear to be arguing.

The nature of scientists/philosophers is often that they put up some pretty goofy theories which are subsequently proven wrong - look at Newton among all the good stuff didn't he spend most of his time trying to practice alchemy.

I'm happy to accept that ID is different from Creationism, its advocates had to develop another hypothesis when the evidence did not support Creationism - but where is the evidence to support the new/very old hypothesis?? Or the evidence that challenges Darwinism.

dizzy said...

Just because eminent scientists and philosophers have but forward hypotheses/theories in the past - it does mean that they should still be taught in schools, regardless of whether or not those hypotheses/theories have been disproved or not, as you appear to be arguing.

Why is it you always enter threads with a straw man? I am not arguing that at all, what I am arguing is the the history of ideas is important, and that they form quite a crucial understanding of not just critical thinking but also Hegelian links upon each other.

I'm happy to accept that ID is different from Creationism, its advocates had to develop another hypothesis when the evidence did not support Creationism - but where is the evidence to support the new/very old hypothesis??

See you've missed the point, or possibly just misunderstood it. ID and/or creationism cannot provide "evidence" because there is no way of testing them. You;re also using this concept of evidence again which is misplaced. The evidence of any scientific theory is based upon the number of times it has failed to be disproved, not the number of times one can observe its "proof". You're mistaking classical empiricism for truth here.

For example, if you observe cats for your entire life and all of them are black, it does not follow that all cats are blacks, however much your observation provide the "evidence" that they do.

Now take ID and ask yourself this. What test could you carry out that could disprove ID? Think carefully about that, a test that fails to disprove evoutionary theory is not evidence that ID, which has an a priori existence prior to evolution, is not true.

As there is no way of testing to disprove ID then there can be no evidence to either support or deny. That is why it is not scientific, but it is a rationally produced. That is as good a reason as any to explor these things ins chools because they enable critical thinking upon what the nature of enquiry is, not just the nature of being.

dizzy said...

Incidnetally, TBNGU, am I a "Tory Boy" in your mind, and have I never grown up? The question has been bugging me for some time.

GeoffH said...

Charlotte Gore.

I'm afraid you're confusing 'Faith' or 'Religion' with the 'Church' in your position on the US government and education (amongst other things).


The Founding Fathers insisted on the separation of Church and State as they, for the most part, came from the non-established Christian religions of Britain, Holland etc.

The separation was entirely pragmatic and designed to ensure the disparate expressions of the Christian faith could be accommodated within the fragile Republic that was emerging from the 13 colonies.

It was nothing to do with side-lining Christianity as they were, for the most part, devout Christians.

They, and most current politicians, believed in a Christian God and saw no conflict between asking "God to Bless America" and keeping an established Church out of politics.

tory boys never grow up said...

Hardly a straw man - look at what you said - your argument was ID/Classical rationalism should be taught alongside Darwin. If it is being taught in Science lessons then it should be subject to the same scientific methods. And while on the subject of scientific method, If you look at what I said I didn't fall for the old chestnut of proving theories - and specifically asked for evidence that disproved Darwinism.


I've no problem at all with both philosophy and science being taught in schools (and even both together where they coincide e.g. in understanding what is science and what isn't (i'd support this even more for economics teaching) - but given as you say ID cannot be subject to testing by evidence then science lessons are not the place for it to be discussed.

As for being a Tory Boy - you are clearly of the Tory persuasion and (like all of us) you have your childish moments - but nothing wrong with either. As for never growing up - the original handle was because there are an awful lot of male Tory bloggers who seem to be stuck philosophically (could never be scientifically) and politically with Mrs Thatcher and her ilk - do you want to wear that cap? But its all a very old joke and as a self professed wind up merchant you shouldn't be wound up so easily. Believe it or not I tend to believe that advancement in most things comes through listening to those you disagree with.

Jimmers said...

ID is nothing more than an attempt to get Christianity taught in US schools, and arose out of the Creation Science movement in the US.
The debate as to its scientific merits is part of the 'teach the controversy' tactic by ID proponents. It seeks to put ID on the same footing as Darwinian theories of evolution and thus give it a gloss of respectability.
Many of the proponents of ID have claimed it is scientific, but when challenged to suggest ways of testing ID scientifically (as you suggest) they have been unable to suggest anything.

canvas said...

Sarah Palin is a nutjob hypocrite. The 'honeymoon' will end shortly for Palin. And all this swooning over her will die down.

Either that or Americans are idiots.

:)

It's an old fashioned culture war.

Gareth said...

I think one of my posts got lost in the ether.

"For example, if you observe cats for your entire life and all of them are black, it does not follow that all cats are blacks, however much your observation provide the "evidence" that they do."

BUT, there is no reason to assume there are other colours of cats, and by proving that there is another colour of cat does NOT falsify the existence of the black cats, it only adds to the general theory of cats.

The black cats (gravity, evolution) still physically exist, and producing a white cat (god) does not mean that the black cats disappear and vanish. But, that is exactly what creationists / IDers want with evolution. Evolution is a fact, just as gravity is a fact. Our explanations of those facts are the theories.

On your basis of thought I should assume there is a whole menagerie of invisible pink creatures living in my flat. I have no evidence for it at all, but, clearly, that doesn't matter. Where did I put the pet food?

You seem to be strangling yourself up with on the idea of evidence. Discovering new evidence does not necessarily (and in fact, rarely) means previous evidence is false. It just adds to the understanding, or changes the understanding of the natural phenomena you are observing.

When science realised that thunder wasn't caused by Thor (or one of the other thunder gods in the world), and was caused by the explosion of the atmosphere local to a discharge of static electricity, it didn't mean that all of the evidence for thunder itself changed at all. Just the understanding of it.

You say just because the earth has been rotating for 4.3bn years, doesn't mean it will rotate tomorrow. Well, actually it does, unless something stops it. Because the earth IS rotating. It can't just stop, unless something - a force - stops it.

And we can define what that something is, and maybe even work out the probability of it happening (it would probably mean having an entirely different, completely symmetrical solar system with the earth stuck in the middle).

So yes, the sun will rise tomorrow!

Evidence doesn't change. Understanding of evidence changes.

Whether the Higgs particle / field exists or not does not change the fact that some particles have mass, and some don't.

(I was anonymous before, but not the creationist one, obviously)

Geoffers said...

Intelligent Design of the origin of life is a possibility that can honestly be mentioned in a philosophy or even science class. I personally believe that evolution explains the spread and variety of life but not its origins. Dawkins' "anthropic principle" of life's origins is appealing but not conclusive so ID can legitimately pitch its tent on this topic.


However, anyone who says "There is an Intelligent Designer and here's how you can meet Him" should be kept as far away from children as possible.

Mr Jabberwock said...

Someone said "Yes, science is about what is falsifiable, but that fact that something could be falsifiable does not mean that it can be proved to be false."

Sorry but that is precisely what it does mean. If it can't be proved false it is not (in the Popper sense) science.

Of course there is knowledge that is valid and not science, the fact that there are an infinite number of primes is not scientific; but is certainly true and can not be falsified. The fact that Mozart produced sublime music is not falsifiable but is meaningful in a way at least as good as that a Higgs Boson would be

I am happy that survival of the fittest is axiomatic I an not clear what set of circumstances would lead to the evolution of a butterfly but that could well be my ignorance. (which I would love to remove)

By the way Dizzy that is the best post that I know of in he blogosphere - though that is a falsifiable statement.

Newmania said...

I think the problem here is that Sarah Palin comes from a religious society where the negotiation between orthodoxies of religious meaning and science are a little more torturous than secular Brits experience .
A belief in god , is , or so I have come to believe , at least as rational a position as a non belief in god and yet there is paradoxically no place for this in the ‘rationalist’ universe. There is equally no place for any number of beliefs held by people like Ruth Kelly ,Muslim Peers and , apparently , every PM up to David Milliband who , god forbid , will be the first atheist . It is not in practice a problem
As religions develop they often have an ability to be understood on many levels . Bertrand Russel for example was agnostic not atheist despite his blistering philosophical attack on Christianity . The existence of a soul has no place in a rational universe .Yet without such an idea or some equally irrational metaphysics why exactly do we not eat our relatives when they die rather than bury them. What rational reason is there for the existence of loyalty ., love , and what we know to be the most important things in our lives . None I can see and as Dawkins said, we can happily consider the animal organisms as if such things did not exist. He has nothing to say .All human traditions try to deal with this wider and deeper questions though and not through science .
You might say , ok well in that case keep out of science . The truth is they do which is why the US is not lagging in evolutionary biology due to an odd belief in the literal existence of Adam and Eve ( as if ). There is still a problem with the particular religious tradition of the states developing as it did form the book and a return to the book from the “Lies “ of the church . That happens to be the tradition and culture of the States but it has a deep and connected life intertwined with individualism ,personal morality and many good things emanating from non conformist Protestantism

The reason why you might justify a seemingly illogical rule of structure belief in such a context is a bit complex but you might argue by analogy that the triangle player in a romantic symphony goes ‘ting ‘when he is told to and by doing so participates in a glory beyond him. How would a character in a book understand the author ? Not by looking about but by an attemopt to be beyond his limits...a mystical endevour. English Protestantism lost much of this element and we often misunderstand the American equivalent
None of the criticism of Sarah Palin`s beliefs make this crucial step , they are mystical and part of an attempt to approach god .I accept its sincerity and move on personally .


Ahem..I have swallowed more than I can chew , my point is this .We are wrong to judge Sarah Palin both on guns and god because we see only the end point of both a spiritual and political development and transpose it into ours . She and religious-America should be accorded the same tolerance and respect we accord other religious countries not unreasonably asking them to ditch their identities for our benefit and not assuming that we know best by snatching one or two de conceptualised snippets and holding them up to our light .


Having said all that there is a special antagonism between Christianity and Darwin and I accept it bears watching .



PS Oh God I am boring...I only popped in to say Martin Bright seems to be answering anyone who comments on his blog
http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/brights-blog

Quite interesting

dizzy said...

TBNGU - I didn't say actually say that ID/Classical rationalism should be taught alongside Darwin. What I said was that both should be taught and both should come together anyway as part of getting kids heads around what science is. (am posting a follow up in a minute).

Re: Tory Boy thing, not wound up by it, just wondered who and what it referred too.

Gareth, you said BUT, there is no reason to assume there are other colours of cats, and by proving that there is another colour of cat does NOT falsify the existence of the black cats, it only adds to the general theory of cats.

I didn't say it did falsify the existence of black cats. I said that it falsifies the assertion that all cats are black.

gareth said...

@mr jabberwock

"Someone said "Yes, science is about what is falsifiable, but that fact that something could be falsifiable does not mean that it can be proved to be false."

Sorry but that is precisely what it does mean. If it can't be proved false it is not (in the Popper sense) science."

That someone was me, and I don't think I explained that particularly well.

What I mean is that, to use the black cats analogy, if you have a black cat, and the theory goes that all cats are black, you can falsify the theory (understanding of cats) by producing a white cat, but you cannot falsify the black cat itself.

The black cat still exists, whether you like it or not, they don't just vanish into thin air when you produce a white cat, and they don't all turn white when you produce a white cat. What you end up with is an extension to the general theory of cats.

However, what proponents of creationism / ID want is to falsify the fact of evolution, so that it does vanish, not to just falsify the theory - or aspects of the theory of evolution, which is the model that explains the fact.

Even if, one day, Hawking proves Newtonian mechanics to be completely wrong, gravity will still exist, just our understanding will have changed. Just like our understanding of Thunder (it's not a sky pixie with a big fuck off hammer!).

tory boys never grow up said...

"I didn't say actually say that ID/Classical rationalism should be taught alongside Darwin."

"Even more so, what is wrong with teaching Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero et al in schools alongside Darwin?"

??

dizzy said...

Bugger. Mea culpa. :)

In my poor defence, I guess what I am saying is based on the defintion of "alongside". i.e. alongside as beside but not as an alternative theory, rather than alongside as an alternative. See Freaky Friday post.

dizzy said...

Please note that it is not a poor defence. It is a piss poor defence :)

Dave said...

With the honourable exception of Archimedes and Newton and one or two others, most scientists get it wrong.
When Darwin was putting forward his THEORY yes theory, the accepted belief among scientists was that space (the distance between the planets and stars) was full of a jelly like substance that they called "the ether". They came to this conclusion based on observation and the evidence available.
We may now laugh at this but this was accepted as fact until the end of the 19th century.
Please keep your mind open to the possibility that Darwinists and Creationists can both be wrong!
We don't know- and God ain't telling!

dizzy said...

Dave, that has made me think of a great Socrates paraphrase. Wisest is he who knows he does know.

Little Black Sambo said...

Some one above said, "Evolution is a FACT. End of story". Well, presumably he doesn't think the subject worth discussing.
A point underlying all this which intrigues me: Where do we get our notion of the Universe, i.e. that there is one unified system governed by regular laws working throughout - rather than a multiplicity of systems? Is that a legacy of religious belief? In a very broad sense, may a doctrine of creation underly our whole approach to scientific enquiry - was it an essential step, a ladder which we no longer need?

Miss Snuffleupagus said...

But who is intellectually dishonest? Is it not Palin? She is playing to a particular crowd to get their votes. She is a politician inside and out.