Sunday, April 12, 2009

The myth of a "scientific controversy" about ID


Here in Washington at the CFI World Congress. The next one, in two years time, might well be in London.

Many interesting talks, particularly from a panel of Muslims. Here's one set of statistics I took from scientist Lawrence Krauss. He searched the 10 million peer reviewed science papers published over last 12 years. 115 were on "intelligent design"; however most were on engineering. Only 11 actually on ID. Of those, 8 were critical of the science behind ID and the other 3 were conference proceedings. In other words, there was not one peer reviewed article supporting ID. There is, in short, no "scientific controversy" about ID. The idea that we should be "fair" and "open-minded" by "teaching the scientific controversy" in classrooms is just bullshit.

Of course, Krauss knows the ID brigade say that the journals are biased against them. So he looked at books. There were 150 books on amazon on ID. But there were 165 on alien abduction. As Krauss says, if we are going to teach ID to kids in science class on this basis, then there's as much reason to teach them the "scientific controversy" about about alien abduction.

I stopped over in NY on the way here and stayed at the Olde Carlton Arms Hotel on E 25th (photo), which I thought was great - thanks Wholeflaffer for recommendation. Walked over 20 miles going round Manhattan on Thursday, taking photos. When I got back to Hotel Friday afternoon the building across the street had caught fire and the FDNY were out in force.

47 comments:

The Atheist Missionary said...

I hope you're enjoying your trip.

If you haven't seen Expelled yet, you should pick yourself up a copy of the DVD. It will give you an excellent idea of the perception of intelligent design that is held by millions of American. Positively scary.

Cassanders said...

Hmmmm,
Perhaps you could endulge in a run around "The mall" ? I was there one week recently, but didn't find the time.
More to the topic: Are you planning to share what kind of interesting talks the group of muslims gave?

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

get_education said...

They can make as many claims about a scientific controversy as they want. I am immersed in the scientific community, have gone to lots of conferences on evilution. So far, creationism (not even its disguised form called ID!) was mentioned only once, and it was just some guy warning another about how his work was being misrepresented within the creationist propaganda.

So there!

Rick said...

Walked over 20 miles going round Manhattan on Thursday, taking photos.

If you upload them somewhere, please post a link here.

Steven Carr said...

Creationists like Gary Habermas say there is nothing controversial about there being an empty tomb of Jesus , because 75% of scholars say that there was an empty tomb.

I guess it takes more than 1/4 of scholars to dispute something before it becomes controversial.

Or else creationists have double-standards.

It is hard to say which of those two alternatives is true.

Eternal Critic said...

From what I've seen the IDers have a very difficult time understanding what falsifiability is. By their definition we would be teaching Phlogiston in schools.

anticant said...

They need a hefty dose of Popper.

Hannah said...

Oh what a joyous stat ^_^.

Kosh3 said...

I'm not sure book counting is the best way to go about assessing the status of a controversy. Otherwise, it would be simply very easy to generate a controversy: get 1000 like-minded authors together, publish small books, hey presto.

Jon said...

I can't help but think two debates are getting hopelessly mixed up here:

1. Is intelligent design a valid hypothesis that should be allowed consideration within the scientific community?

2. Has intelligent design progressed so far as a valid theory to be taught alongside other theories in the classroom?

I would think most scientifically minded (and even most religious) people would agree that the answer to (2) is clearly "no". However, the answer to (1) is perhaps more difficult.

My personal opinion is that any scientists who want to consider an intelligent design hypothesis -- or indeed any hypothesis -- seriously should be allowed to so.

And, yes, arguments in which books or papers are counted are specious at best. When has science ever been a popularity contest?

Dr Funkenstein said...

However, the answer to (1) is perhaps more difficult.But how would you even begin to scientifically test the hypothesis that

God just did it that way because he felt like it

(which is essentially what the whole of modern ID boils down to)?

It's one of those hypotheses on a par with invisible demons causing psychological illness - OK, there's the miniscule chance it could be true, but how on earth would anyone gather data or give predictions on what they propose they should find based on this theory?

The problem with any appeal to the supernatural is that the only limit to what it is supposedly capable of doing is the fertility of the person making the claim's imagination - you need an invisible magical designer that just so happens to arrange ERV insertions just so they look like common ancestry? He can do that! You need an invisible magical designer who puts mutations in pseudogenes so it looks like common ancestry - he can do that too! No idea how the flagellum was put together? Abracadabra - invisible magical designer just made it appear out of nowhere and stuck it on a bacterium! And so on and so forth.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Jon, the problem with treating ID as a valid hypothesis is that it is a "science stopper".

On iTunes you can find a Nova podcast with a fascinating interview of Judge John Jones. Jones was the one who overturned the Dover, Pennsylvania school board policy which questioned the theory of evoluton and required biology teachers to present ID as an alternative. The Judge found it remarkable that proponents of the policy had been able to get it through a school board. In the interview, he explains how the premise of ID is absurd (i.e. teach kids to stop their inquiries when they get to something which appears to be designed and assume that it was the product of a master designer). ID is the opposite of science - they start with the conclusion of a master designer and then walk backwards looking for facts to justify their belief. You rarely get to hear this issue discussed by a judge - one of the most simplistic and scathing criticisms of ID that I have ever heard.

Kosh3 said...

One can test intelligent design by finding cases of unintelligent design. The greater virtue of evolution by natural selection is not that it explains how the diversity of life forms we see arose, but that it explains all the imperfections and things about them no designer (without ad hoc hypotheses attached) would include.

This ad hoc-free ID though then seems quite testable, and therefore a candidate scientific theory.

wombat said...

I have always struggled a bit with "design" as a scientific hypothesis, eventually coming to the conclusion its a bit like the question "What is art?".

How do we recognize design? At some level we seem to end up saying "well its obvious isn't it - look at it!"

So far I have not found any metric which can be applied to a an object in isolation which allows one to test whether something has been "designed" or not.

Kosh3 has suggested that the "little imperfections" suggest evolution by natural selection as no designer would include them. However I would observe that most designed objects contain imperfections ranging from minute to glaring. Some of these are simply where design is not needed to achieve a particular end - a sort of "don't care" option, while others are deliberately included but are there for aesthetics, reasons of tradition or just plain stupidity on the part of the designer. The very fact that new improved designs of various commonly used objects continue to appear illustrates the imperfection of current designs.

Evolution appears in design in many aspects. In some senses this is "intelligent" since it happens at the instigation of a supposedly intelligent designer but what about where competing designs either "survive" or die out according to larger scale forces of environment, economics and fashion?
What about "unnatural selection" as in selective breeding - is a dachshund a designed creature or simply naturally co-evolved with humans?

Let's suppose we are fortunate and spot the designer actually building the artifact. How intelligent does the designer have to be? Consider a termite mound vs a human build mud hut. How about a birds nest? Some of these are really complex highly specialised affairs others are quite frankly pretty poor efforts, but they are deliberate. The builders may in fact be quite intelligent. After all some of them have been seen using tools and can be taught to count. Does a parrots nest count because it is relatively clever whereas a bower birds doesn't because it's too dim? What about the treetop nest chimps build to sleep in a nights?

In the end I suspect that the question of intelligent design is one which belongs in the field of archaeology, history or even art rather than science.

get_education said...

Kosh3 has suggested that the "little imperfections" suggest evolution by natural selection as no designer would include them. However I would observe that most designed objects contain imperfections ranging from minute to glaring. Some of these are simply where design is not needed to achieve a particular end - a sort of "don't care" option, while others are deliberately included but are there for aesthetics, reasons of tradition or just plain stupidity on the part of the designer. The very fact that new improved designs of various commonly used objects continue to appear illustrates the imperfection of current designs.This might be so, but remember we are talking about an omni-everything designer here. I bet the creationists would go that far anyway to advance their cause (undermining evilution in the eyes of the students).

However, In any event, those little defects you cite, are not just little defects, but rather things that can only be explained as accidents of evilution. For instance, the now famous chromosome fusion (two chromosomes in most other apes, just one fused chromosome in humans). Why would a designer leave rests of structures that would suggest a fused chromosome at all?

A chromosome commonly contains one centromere, and two telomeres, where the telomeres are the final parts of the chromosome. The centromere is a structure that we like imagining at the center (thus the name) of the chromosome. A chromosome that resulted from a fusion would contain two centromeres, and what were telomeres (where the fusion occurred) would be now internal to the chromosome. We se vestiges of an eroded centromere in the fused chromosome. We also see evidence of telomeric sequences internal to this chromosome at the points where the fusion should have happened.

Why would a designer do this?

Of course, a designer could do this. But there could be no other reason but to deceive... make your own conclusions.

G.E.

Trav said...

There seem to be many scientists and philosophers, both atheist and Christian, who think Intelligent Design is, at the very least a "scientific" theory and plenty who think it isn't.

Personally, I'm not a scientist, so I couldn't actually care less about whether it is scientific or not. To me, it seems that the debate about whether or not it is scientific may be clouding the more important debate about whether it's actually true. I don't believe ID has to be fully scientific in order for the ID arguments to have some serious force behind them.

wombat said...

GE - "This might be so, but remember we are talking about an omni-everything designer here."

I was looking at "Intelligent design" in a wider sense than the usual theistic creationist one - after all the question was posed with respect to design being a scientific hypothesis.

I certainly agree with you on the omni-* case.

Mr. Hamtastic said...

Oh yawn.

What is ID? Seems to me it's simply a suggestion that there's a chance that the chance of an intelligence forming the first functional cell or DNA is at least as likely as it having happened by chance without interference.

The controversy in my eyes? This being suggested as a possibility causing so many to cry "heresy!".

I'm sure you can think of a number of things that are in no way scientifically provable or falsifiable or whatever that are accepted as "good science" anyway.

Is ID right? Dunno. Maybe those proteins lined up just so, or rode on crystals, or whatever. Maybe something put some thought into it.

I mean, aren't these all testable theories? Take some proteins, put them into as close to perfect conditions as you can, wait a couple of billion years...

Or there's always SETI! :)

M. Tully said...

Mr H.,

"What is ID? Seems to me it's simply a suggestion that there's a chance that the chance of an intelligence forming the first functional cell or DNA is at least as likely as it having happened by chance without interference."

Except that every mystery about the universe that has ever been solved, has never been supernatural. That gives naturalism the preferred position.

"I'm sure you can think of a number of things that are in no way scientifically provable or falsifiable or whatever that are accepted as "good science" anyway."

Actually, I can't. Care to rattle some off for me?

"Is ID right? Dunno. Maybe those proteins lined up just so"

No, it wasn't "just so." No total randomness. It's just chemistry. And yes organic chemistry has a good deal variability in it, but there is absolutely no chemical processes of life that do not follow well established chemical principles. In academic laboratories scientists have put together membranes and self replicating molecules; no magic involved.

What is ID? It is an argument from ignorance. Process A is hard to understand, ergo it cannot be natural. Well good luck with that. It is an epistemology that has failed over and over again in the history of man.

M. Tully said...

Oh, and Mr. H.,

"How about this one, I mean, aren't these all testable theories? Take some proteins, put them into as close to perfect conditions as you can"...and prey real hard.

You guys work on your end, the scientists will work on their end and let's see how that comes out.

M. Tully said...

Or you could check out,

http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/090111-creating-life.html

M. Tully said...

Wombat.

"How do we recognize design?"

As far as ID goes, that is not the right question. The right question would be, "How do we recognize teleological design?"

In nature, evidence for it has never been demonstrated.

Kosh3 said...

"Actually, I can't. Care to rattle some off for me?"

Newton's second law is not falsifiable, but is still considered a scientific law.

(actually it is not quite that simple or straighforward, but unless someone wants me to go into it, I'm happy to leave it there).

Paul P. Mealing said...

Kosh3

What do you mean Newton's second law of motion is not falsifiable? Of course it is.

You only have to find one exception to it to prove it false, and that goes for all laws of physics.

Newton's second law relates to a constant force being applied to a body resulting in a constant acceleration. Relativistically, however, this is not quite true because as you reach near light speeds the mass changes instead of the velocity. The true variant is energy, not acceleration or velocity, and once you allow for that it makes sense again. So a constant force will cause a constant change in energy, whether by velocity or by mass, which is what happens in particle accelerators. Richard Feynman gives the best explanation in his book, Six not-so-easy pieces.

The Atheist Missionary is right when he says that ID is a 'science stopper'. So, whether the universe, nature and life in general, have a purpose, is a philosophical question not a scientific one. If more people appreciated this then the argument wouldn't exist. If you bring God into science you stop doing science because you are effectively saying that we can't explain this without God, which means we never will explain it. Therefore you are saying we have come to the end of science, which is bollocks.

Regards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Actually, I think Newton's second law specifically says that the force is proportional to the change in momentum, not velocity, which means it probably still applies under relativistic conditions, only not the way Newton would have anticipated.

Regards, Paul.

Kosh3 said...

Hi Paul,

The problem arises in what one would say in finding what seemed to be an apparent exception to the 2nd law. The law is itself a law by convention, which is to say, it defines force in terms of mass and acceleration. If you ever found a case in which a given object did not accelerate in the right way, one would (if one is a straight-cuffed Newtonian) simply specify that some unknown force was acting upon the object (hence the conventional nature of the law).

As I said it is not quite as simple as that, and as you rightly point out, the law saw modification in relativistic physics. But what can be said about that is simply that it was opted out of as a convention binding scientists.

Another example of a law by convention would be Dalton's definition of chemical reactions as occurring in whole-numbered ratios. If you ever found an instance where this didn't seem to go ahead in this way, you would simply say it wasn't a chemical reaction.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Kosh3.

Well, you and I fundamentally disagree: I don’t see the laws of physics as conventions, I see them as laws of nature. They are discovered, not invented. And just so there is no misunderstanding, the fact that Newton’s 2nd law requires some rethinking to allow for relativity doesn’t falsify it in my view; it just makes it contingent on certain conditions, and that’s pretty true for all the laws of physics thus far discovered.

All laws of nature are contingent on future discoveries, because there may always remain something hitherto undiscovered that changes or modifies them, especially under extreme conditions. For example, even Einstein’s equations would appear to break down inside a black hole. So there are many things, thus far discovered, that have limits, but that doesn’t make them false.

Regarding Newton’s laws and relativity, people tend to overlook the fact that Einstein’s equations reduce to Newton’s when certain parameters become negligible – in fact, it was this very attribute that gave Einstein’s theories their original credibility, when people were reluctant to accept them.

Even Newton’s discovery concerning gravity being an inverse square law remains unchanged in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. (Note: the inverse square law for gravity is not a convention.) The major difference is that Einstein realised that gravity is not a force as Newton postulated (you don’t experience any force in free fall) but the very curvature of space-time. And that’s not a convention either; it’s a fundamental manifestation of the natural world.

I expound on this on my own blog if you’re really interested: The laws of natureRegards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I would suggest that Dalton's discovery is not convention either - it's a result of chemical reactions involve atoms, not fractions thereof.

It's been a long time since I've done any chemistry, but that's how I remember it.

Regards, Paul.

Kosh3 said...

Hi Paul,

I certainly wouldn't say *all* scientific laws are held true by convention. The two cited though do seem to have that function though, definitional as they are.

"So there are many things, thus far discovered, that have limits, but that doesn’t make them false..."

It depends on what you mean. Consider Newtonian theory: nobody regards it as literally true, in the sense that it describes the inner reality of the universe. It lives up to observation though within the appropriate range, to a level of accuracy that satisfies us. It is often said to be a special case of relativistic theory, and one can find much talk about that; I am not convinced. As Kuhn pointed out, we can treat phlogiston theory as true under the right limiting conditions. But if we can do that, surely we have stretched things too far: what half-way seriously considered historical theory cannot be then kept as true as a limiting condition of a more up-to-date theory?

"I would suggest that Dalton's discovery is not convention either - it's a result of chemical reactions involve atoms, not fractions thereof."

That is what it aims to describe, yes. The point is though: if you ever found a reaction occurring that did not involve whole-number ratios, we would simply not regard it as chemical in nature. Perhaps nuclear, perhaps something else.

Whateverman said...

I'm late to this party, but I'll pipe in to say that I really wish ID proponents would actually give the Intelligent Design hypothesis the patina of "science".

I want an "ID scientist" to make testable predictions, conduct tests, and to subject his/her findings to peer review. Heck, I'd be happy with a single testable prediction.

It's notable (but not surprising) that no one takes scientific ID seriously, especially those who evangelize it.

What I'd really like to know is why these people think lying for Jesus is acceptable to the deity they claim to worship...

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Kosh3

This is a philosophical debate that could go on forever. I think we fundamentally disagree. You say: ‘Consider Newtonian theory: nobody regards it as literally true, in the sense that it describes the inner reality of the universe.’ Well, to the extent that Newon’s theory describes universal laws, like the inverse square law of gravity or the first or third law, which, as far as I know, have never been falsified, I think they are true.

The point is that all scientific theories are tested all the time: it simply never stops so we can never say that any of them are absolutely true without qualification (which means they are all falsifiable). Having said that, many of them are possibly more ‘true’ than all the other uses of this much abused term, including the theory of evolution (being both true and falsifiable).

If you have doubts about this I would recommend Paul Davies’ The Mind of God (not a book about God at all) or Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind, who specifically discusses ‘truth’ in science in great depth. Neither of these philosopher/scientists, I believe, would agree with you that the laws of physics are ‘conventions’.

They both provide cogent arguments that mathematical laws ‘discovered’ by humans reflect a deep reality in the universe. On this point I would agree with them, and therefore, not with you. As it happens I recently reviewed a book by Mario Livio, which supports this same philosophical premise: The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematicsRegards, Paul.

Kosh3 said...

Hi Paul

Remember, all I have claimed is that some laws of scenic are not falsifiable (and have cited, but just two, putative examples). This is logically identical to saying that not *every* law of science is falsifiable, which is a modest claim. I have not claimed that all laws are conventional, or unfalsifiable.

I believe that laws of nature can, and often do, reflect real regularities of nature. They need not though, and history shows us many times over that what was once thought to be a regularity or an entity in the world can be some time later no longer recognised as such.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Kosh3,

I’m not sure how much we are at cross purposes. If the 2 ‘putative examples’ you gave are Newton’s Second Law and Dalton’s discovery regarding chemical ratios, then I believe they are both falsifiable (they wouldn't be scientific theories if they weren't). The only scientific theory I’m definitely aware of that is not falsifiable is string theory, because we don’t have the technology to test it, but I’m sure that will change in the future.

In the past, theories that weren’t falsifiable have fallen by the wayside, as they should, so I do see it as an important aspect of science, and it’s one of the factors that differentiates science from philosophy. In other words, I would argue that if a theory is not falsifiable then it’s not a scientific theory, but an ad-hoc conjecture at best. Roger Penrose discusses this in a hierarchical manner in The Emperor’s New Mind, by dividing theories into 3 categories: 'Tentative', 'Useful' and 'Superb'. For example Ptolemy’s theory was ‘Useful’ but Newton’s theory was ‘Superb’, even after it was superseded by Einstein’s theory (according to Penrose).

It’s true that, historically, theories in the past have been proven wrong, the most notable probably being the Ptolemaic model of the solar system. I’ve always seen science as a dialectic between theory and experiment which means it will continue to evolve. But the way it evolves, in its most recent manifestation, is that answers to existing mysteries reveal new mysteries that we didn’t even know existed. But this doesn’t mean that what we knew before has become irrelevant or necessarily untrue (Newton’s theory being the prime example). Because what we are finding is that new discoveries tend to happen at different levels, or at different scales, of reality. In fact, I think this is the most significant revelation in the last century, in almost all fields of scientific enquiry.

Regards, Paul.

Kosh3 said...

The points of disagreement seem to be:

I agree that:
-as science progresses, new facts and phenomena are revealed
-that abandoned theories are not rendered meaningless by being abandoned (I'm not sure what that would involve, though)

What I would deny is that:
-falsifiability can serve as a demarcation criterion
-that all elements of all scientific theories are falsifiable
-that historically great theories like Newton's are not falsified, but preserved as special cases of more up to date theories.

On the latter point, I just note that the falsification of an old theory does not require completely abandoning every part of what was once accepted. How often is that ever done? If this is what is meant by falsification, I agree that Newtonian theory was not falsified (but along with Ptolemaic theory, phlogiston theory, the demon-theory of disease, etc etc).

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Kosh3

Just to address what I consider to be the biggest difference in our stated positions: the significance of falsifiability as a criterion for a scientific theory.

It was Karl Popper's idea that falsification be a criterion for a scientific theory, mainly in response to Freud's pseudo theories on psychoanalysis.

What Popper means is that a scientific theory has to be testable. If it can't be falsified by a test (experiment) then it's worthless as a theory. To be more technically correct, the theory needs to generate hypotheses that can be tested, therefore falsified. If you find a counter example, you have falsified that hypothesis. This is what differentiates a scientific theory from pure speculation or conjecture.

For example, evolutionary theory can generate a hypothesis that all natural earthbound life forms contain DNA. So by testing the hypothesis, you indirectly test the theory. But the hypothesis, and by consequence the theory, needs to be falsifiable for it to be testable. In other words, if the theory or hypothesis is always true no matter what the test is then it's not a scientific theory.

So if the theory is that God created all living things then there is no test for that. The theory is always true no matter what the result of any test. I hope this clarifies why falsifiability is a central pillar to scientific endeavour.

Regards, Paul.

Kosh3 said...

Hi Paul,

I don't accept Popper's criterion (and I would advise anyone to accept it!). Philosophers of science have largely given up on the idea that there is something that demarcates science from non-science or pseudo-science.

Problems with it:

-Scientists simply don't, as a matter of historical fact, abandon their theories at the first moment of apparent falsification.
-Scientist's ought not to abandon their theories in such moments.
-There is much that is "pseudo-scientific" that is falsifiable. E.g. the unamended claim that the world was created 6000 years ago is falsifiable.

And if you allow for Newt's 2nd law, etc, then:

-There are some theories, or at least components of theories, that are scientific and yet unfalsifiable.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Kosh3,

I find your response to Popper a touch reactionary. Let’s leave Popper out of it altogether; it changes nothing.

Fundamental premise: scientific theories need to be testable to be scientific.

If you disagree with this then you have a completely different idea of ‘scientific’ to me.

A corollary to this premise is that for a theory to be testable it needs to be falsifiable. In other words, the test has to be able to prove the theory (or a related hypothesis) right or wrong (that’s what falsifiable means). If you do the experiment it may actually fail. If that’s not the case, then it’s not testable (by definition I would suggest).

This is called the ‘scientific method’. So falsifiability is an inherent aspect of the scientific method, irrespective of Popper. Do you ‘advise anyone [not] to accept’ the scientific method? Because if you reject falsifiability, you reject the scientific method. You can’t have one without the other. In other words, experiments should be designed, as far as possible, to give yes and no answers to a hypothesis. If they don’t, you refine your experiment or your hypothesis. At the very least, the experiment should be set up so that failure is a distinct possibility (that’s falsifiability in a nutshell).

If you can’t distinguish science from philosophy then you have serious problems (as a philosopher) in my view. Scientists can, and often do, agree on scientific evidence but disagree philosophically. Example: Hawking and Penrose have both worked in cosmology, and no doubt agree on many aspects, but Hawking is an ‘unashamed reductionist’ (his words) and Penrose is a self-confessed ‘Platonist’ which makes them philosophically miles apart. The same was true for Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel, yet they were the best of friends (Godel was a Platonist, Einstein wasn’t).

You are right: scientists don’t drop a theory at the first sign of conflicting evidence, but it is the nature of science that the evidence eventually wins out. This may mean a modification to an existing theory or a new theory altogether, or the evidence itself may have been wrong (incorrectly measured or interpreted). It doesn’t matter: the scientific method still triumphs, and to triumph, theories must be falsifiable. This is the reason that science is the most successful endeavour in the history of humankind.

Your point about pseudo-science and the 6,000 years argument is that everyone (in the scientific community) knows it’s contrary to all scientific evidence. So you could define pseudo-science as something that contradicts known scientific evidence or something that can’t be tested – I would accept both criteria. It doesn’t change the fact that the scientific method (as argued above) requires falsifiability to be workable and successful.

Everyone knows that if you propose a theory that can’t be tested it’s just an ad-hoc hypothesis, a conjecture and speculative. To use Penrose’s nomenclature: it’s ‘Tentative’.

The best known example is string theory, despite all the work that had been done on it, to which I would recommend Peter Woit’s erudite book, Not Even Wrong. I would describe string theory as a mathematical model or models, hoping for scientific evidence to turn it into a real theory. It probably comes closest to an ‘exception’ that you allude to in your last paragraph.

I'm sorry to have to tell you that Newton's 2nd law is falsifiable, which started this entire discussion. In other words, it's testable.

Regards, Paul.

Kosh3 said...

Response (short)

*A theory's being testable is not quite the same to its being falsifiable (for reasons related to the Quine-Duhem thesis).

"I'm sorry to have to tell you that Newton's 2nd law is falsifiable, which started this entire discussion. In other words, it's testable."

So you keep saying!

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Kosh3

I admit I'm not familiar with the Quine-Duhem thesis.

I'm unaware how a test can't be 'falsifiable' without not being a test. In other words, a test is not a test if it can't be failed, almost by definition. But I'm certainly interested if someone has come up with an alternative argument.

I'm sorry if I repeated myself unnecessarily. I thought you were still disputing it - if not, I apologise.

Regards, Paul.

Kosh3 said...

Short summary of the thesis: a test of a theory doesn't just involve that theory, but a host of auxiliary hypotheses and assumptions which only collectively, together, yield observable predictions. A failure at that end of things tells you nothing about the falsity of some particular part of what was used to generate the observable consequences, but only about all the things when they are together.

In other words, a failed test of a theory does not entail the falsehood of the theory in question.

Relating this back (again, I know; I apologise in advance) to Newton/Dalton - one would always blame something other than the 2nd law (or law of fixed ratios) if one ran into trouble, simply in virtue of the kind of role that law had within the theoretical structure of Newtonian theory.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Kosh3

I concede that a theory (like evolution for example) can generate a number of hypotheses that are tested independently. So it's the individual hypotheses that are falsifiable rather than the theory itself. A lecturer in philosophy pointed this out to me many years ago, specifically in reference to evolution. He was saying that while the theory itself may not be falsifiable, the hypotheses it generates are, or should be.

You say: '...a failed test of a theory does not entail the falsehood of the theory in question.' By that I assume you mean a failed test of a hypothesis generated by the theory doesn't necessarily falsify the whole theory. You may be right (it would depend on how core the hypothesis was) but it would shake it up, and probably lead to amendments. But that's part of the scientific method, as it was taught to me anyway. So if that's what you mean I think we can agree.

One way to define science is as a dialectic between theory and experiment (or observation). The theory is assessed depending on the evidence, so a variety of tests may result in the theory being modified rather than completely eliminated.

And you are right about Newton's 2nd law, or Dalton's ratios - if we found an exception, we wouldn't dismiss the law based on all our previous experience, we would look at that particular exception and ask why?

Regards, Paul.

M. Tully said...

Kosh 3,

Newton's second law mathematically is, F=ma. Now let's rearrange it. a=F/m. I measure the force (F)placed on object (o) with mass (m) and measure the acceleration of o. I (and others independently) place the same force F on other objects (pqrst) all with mass m, and the measured accelerations of the objects all differ outside of the the error bars of experiment. In fact, there is absolutely no statistical correlation between F and a. Newton's second law is falsified.

Let me point this out, in science there is no "right by definition." It must correspond to the data (which by the way, only makes a hypothesis possible, it's not probable until testable predictions can be made with it).

Yes, Newton's Law's are (check out Einstein's 1905 and 1915 papers) falsifiable.

M. Tully said...

Paul,

Though I would agree with most of what you wrote... if in all observed cases in the recent past x holds true except in this area recently discovered(only adjust what you need to, because you have a great deal of data backing the theory overall), I don't agree with it categorically.

If convincing evidence of human civilizations and other mass mammalian occupations of earth during the pre-Cambrian period were to come to light, I think you have to dump (at least on earth) natural selection.

Of course you will forgive me for not anxiously anticipating such evidence on the horizon.

I guess my point is that based on the evidence to date, I think you should be slow about totally overturning well established theories (Quine), but if an extraordinary claimant ever produced extraordinary evidence, you have to go where the data lead (Sagan/Stenger).

Kosh3 said...

Paul,

Ah kinda, but not quite.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duhem%E2%80%93Quine_thesis

Tully,

The most that would show for the straight-cuffed Newtonian is that you hadn't accounted for all the forces. In other words, the assumption that the force you measured was all the force there was would be out the window, not the law.

Re: Einstein: I've commented on that earlier - a) I have not suggested all laws, or all of Newton's laws, are unfalsifiable. b) What the person who sees the 2nd law as unfalsifiable can say about Einstein is simply that he opted out of it. It wasn't falsified, so much as abandoned.

M. Tully said...

Kosh,

"The most that would show for the straight-cuffed Newtonian is that you hadn't accounted for all the forces."

No, if in all useful applications, the data didn't bear out, the hypothesis is falsified.

If the "straight-cuffed Newtonian" wants to come back with some group of undetected forces, the onus is her to demonstrate them.

It is one of the ways you can differentiate science from woo.

M. Tully said...

"What the person who sees the 2nd law as unfalsifiable can say about Einstein is simply that he opted out of it."

Yes semantics is interesting. "opted out" because it no longer fit the available data and falsified. Besides the words, what really is the difference?

Having said all that, using Newton's laws, you can still get a scientific probe to Neptune with only very minor corrections.

Having

Kosh3 said...

"If the "straight-cuffed Newtonian" wants to come back with some group of undetected forces, the onus is her to demonstrate them."

That is precisely the point. Their existence would be demonstrated in the fact that all these objects are moving so peculiarly. Remember, this is a very odd universe you have proposed.

"Yes semantics is interesting. "opted out" because it no longer fit the available data and falsified. Besides the words, what really is the difference?"

A drop in a commitment to retain the law in an unmodified state.

Look, it's really no skin off my back if you don't accept this. You may be right, but I'm not yet seeing why. If you don't like the way I am presenting this idea, perhaps you might find Kuhn or Poincare's presentation of it more convincing.

"Having said all that, using Newton's laws, you can still get a scientific probe to Neptune with only very minor corrections."

Yes.