Intelligent Design

Why atheists can’t show that Ken Ham is wrong

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Professor Jerry Coyne has written a post titled, Ken Ham vs. Dawkins: On the nature of science and physical law, in which he criticizes Ken Ham’s claim that evolution is a “historical” science, dealing with events that can’t be observed, and hence can’t be verified. Coyne contends that “there is no distinction between historical science and real-time experimental science: both are based on observation, prediction, and testability.” First, evolution can make predictions about the past which scientists can subsequently verify (e.g. the prediction that “birds evolved from dinosaurs and whales from land-dwelling animals”). It can also make “retrodictions,” by making sense of previously puzzling data: for instance, it can explain “biogeographic patterns like the absence of endemic mammals on oceanic islands, of vestigial organs like the tiny, useless hindlimbs on early fossil whales, and of embryological observations like the transitory hindlimb buds in dolphins.” Moreover, argues Coyne, if Ham were right, and if the historical sciences weren’t observable and testable, then not only evolution but also cosmology, geology and even archaeology would be invalidated as sciences, for all of these sciences deal with events which can’t be observed. Finally, it is incorrect to say that evolution cannot be observed, for we can observe natural selection occurring in real time.

Professor Coyne then proceeds to attack Ham’s claim that atheists have no good reason for expecting there to be any laws of Nature for scientists to discover, or for expecting these to continue holding in the future. In reply, Coyne argues that “God did it” is a poor explanation for the existence of laws, as it is merely a statement of ignorance, and he approvingly quotes Sam Harris’s dictum that “the honest doubts of science are better — and more noble — than the false certainties of religion.” For his part, Coyne finds physicist Sean Carroll’s “That’s just the way it is” a more satisfying and parsimonious explanation than the theistic explanation of the laws of Nature. Coyne also proposes what he calls a “weak anthropic principle from bodies”: “living creatures, at least the type that we see, couldn’t exist without physical law.” Moreover, “[i]f the ‘laws of nature’ were to vary wildly and erratically, we wouldn’t be able to evolve (environments would change unpredictably from one generation to the next), nor would our bodies be able to operate (things like kidney function, nerve function, and blood circulation all depend on ‘laws’ that are constant).” Finally, Coyne notes that religious believers don’t really believe in invariant laws anyway, since they believe God worked miracles at various points during history.

The multiverse: the fly in the Darwinian’s ointment

There are several flaws in Professor Coyne’s arguments, which I shall discuss shortly. But Coyne really gives the game away when he remarks in passing that “the laws of nature may vary among different universes if we have a multiverse.” For the multiverse is precisely what makes scientific inferences about the past, based on uniform laws, irrational. The reason is a very simple one: the number of possible universes in which the laws of Nature and the values of physical parameters vary over the course of time will infinitely exceed the number of possible universes in which the laws and physical parameters of Nature never vary, even in the slightest degree. And even if we restrict ourselves to the subset of possible universes in which life could exist, or to the still smaller subset of universes in which life actually appears and in which organisms are able to survive over long periods, we would still find that the number of these universes in which laws and physical parameters vary (either slightly, briefly or locally) infinitely exceeds the number of universes in which the laws and physical parameters never vary. Since (by the mediocrity principle) there is no reason to regard our own universe as exceptional, it is rational to conclude that the laws and physical parameters of Nature have varied in the past, in our universe. Since miracles only require variations which are infrequent, local and brief, it follows that there can be no scientific objection to the possibility of miracles, if we define these as events arising from singular variations in the laws and physical parameters of Nature.

It is important to keep in mind here that for Darwin and his contemporaries, any valid scientific explanation of a phenomenon had to be an explanation in terms of fixed and invariant laws. As Darwin wrote in his autobiography:

Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.
(Barlow, Nora ed. 1958. The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882. With the original omissions restored. Edited and with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow. London: Collins. Page 87. Available online here at Darwin Online.)

Why even Biblical creationism is more rational than Darwinian uniformitarianism, if you believe in a multiverse

It gets worse. One can argue that the number of possible universes whose histories conform to the (relatively modest) constraints of Biblical creationism will infinitely exceed the number of possible universes whose histories conform to the far more exacting constraints of uniformitarianism. For all that Biblical creationism requires us to hold is that on about 120-odd occasions in history, the laws and physical parameters of Nature were allowed to vary locally, for relatively brief periods, in a very specific way, which did not prove fatal for life on Earth. And that’s all. On other occasions, the laws and parameters may have either remained constant or varied slightly, within the restricted range imposed by the requirement that life on Earth continue to exist. By contrast, the demands of uniformitarianism are much more stringent: no variation in the laws and parameters is permitted to occur in even the tiniest nook or cranny of the universe we live in, over its entire history.

Here’s a simple illustration that will help readers to see why uniformitarianism is more restrictive than Biblical creationism. To simulate creationism, let’s consider the (infinite) number of curves that can be drawn on the x-y plane which go through a specific point that lies off the x-axis, corresponding to a specific miracle. Even if we add 120 more points lying off the x-axis (which represent all the miracles listed in the Bible), there is still an infinite number of curves that go through all of these points. And if we impose the additional restriction (corresponding to the requirements of life on Earth) that these curves have to stay very close to the x-axis (say, between the lines y = -1 and y = 1) for all values of x except those 120-odd points [and very short intervals on either side of these points], then we can still draw an infinite number of curves conforming to these requirements. Now consider the number of curves that can be drawn which go along the x-axis, never veering above or below it: only one. That’s uniformitarianism. In short: because multiverses allow laws to vary bizarrely on rare and singular occasions, and because not all such variations are fatal to life, we can conclude that a life-permitting universe is far more likely than not to experience anomalous events (which some might call miracles), and that a life-permitting universe in which Biblical miracles occur is still more likely than one in which the laws and physical parameters of Nature are always uniform. Thus Ken Ham’s belief that we live in in a universe where Biblical miracles occurred will still be more rational than the modern scientific belief that we live in a universe whose laws are space- and time-invariant, because Ham-type universes are more common in the multiverse than law-invariant universes. And since the argument for Darwinian evolution is based on the assumption that the laws and parameters of Nature do not vary, it follows that if we live in a multiverse, then our own universe is infinitely more likely to be one in which the miracles of the Bible occurred than a uniformitarian one in which life evolved in a Darwinian fashion.

Of course, an atheist could still retort that I’ve ignored the Biblical miracle of creation. In Ken Ham’s universe, the world and all of the species of living things arise within the space of just six 24-hour days, which is a fantastically improbable occurrence. What’s more, only a vanishingly small proportion of Ken Ham-style universes will contain a fossil record which fits the evolutionary account of life, or for that matter, living organisms whose genetic, anatomical, embryological and biogeographical properties accord with the striking predictions of Darwinism.

But Ham could reply that there will still be a number of possible universes in the multiverse, in which life pops into existence in the manner described in Genesis 1, and where living things just happen to exhibit the striking traits predicted by Darwinism, whereas there is (by definition) only ONE way for a given set of laws and parameters NOT to vary: namely, by remaining the same at every point in space and time. Putting it another way: the comparison we are making here is NOT one between Darwin’s theory and creationism, per se, but between uniformitarianism-plus-Darwinism with “singularism”-plus-Biblical literalism, where “singularism” refers to the hypothesis that the laws and physical parameters of Nature may undergo slight, short-lived or local fluctuations.

As we’ve seen, Professor Coyne argues that an evolutionary account of our origins is a far superior explanation to the creation story in Genesis, since Darwin’s theory of evolution makes very striking and amply confirmed predictions (e.g. about the whale fossils that scientists will discover), whereas Biblical creationism does not. In mathematical terms, the level of confirmational support which the fossil, genetic, embryological and biogeographical evidence provides for Darwinism (as against the rival hypothesis of creationism) is very, very high. Let us generously assume that Coyne is 100% right here – in other words, let’s ignore (for the moment) the difficulties relating to abiogenesis, the Cambrian explosion, irreducibly complex molecular machines, orphan genes and so on. The mathematical point that Coyne overlooks is that if a hypothesis is extremely unlikely to begin with (i.e. if it has a very low prior probability), then one should accept it only when the level of support for the hypothesis overwhelms its inherent improbability. The problem for Coyne is that the uniformitarian requirement that the laws and parameters of Nature are the same at every point in space and time – which is rather like hitting bull’s eyes again and again and again, for billions of years – is inherently so very unlikely, when compared to “singularism” (the hypothesis that the laws of Nature undergo slight, short-lived or local fluctuations) or for that matter, Biblical literalism (the narrower hypothesis that these exceptions occur in the manner described in the Bible), that even the high level of support that living things provide for Darwinism by conforming to its striking predictions is insufficient to overcome its inherent improbability as a uniformitarian theory.

Thus in a multiverse scenario, uniformitarianism becomes the albatross around the neck of Darwinism: no matter how many of Darwin’s predictions scientists manage to confirm, the sheer unlikelihood of the hypothesis that we live in a universe whose laws never vary renders Darwinism too unlikely a theory to warrant scientific consideration.

A response to some objections to my argument

In the argument I formulated above, I assumed that universes whose laws and physical parameters were absolutely invariant over space and time were extremely rare. But an atheistic physicist like Professor Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology might argue that universes whose laws and parameters fluctuated wildly would be unstable and short-lived, and that stabler universes whose laws and parameters never varied would tend to predominate in the multiverse as a whole, making uniformitarianism a much more reasonable assumption. This argument probably has some merit, if we consider wild, global fluctuations in laws and parameters. But I can see no reason why slight, short-lived or local fluctuations would be destabilizing for the universe in which they occurred. Given the vast number of ways in which laws and parameters can vary – even within narrow bounds – one would expect such universes to predominate over absolutely uniform ones.

A second objection is that in my illustration relating to curves on the x-y axis, I implicitly assumed that the laws and parameters of Nature were capable of varying in a continuous fashion, whereas in reality, these parameters are quantized and discontinuous. Hence one cannot argue that universes where the laws and parameters of Nature vary are infinitely more numerous than universes where they never vary. Maybe so; but they are still vastly more numerous, given that the quantum intervals we are speaking of are very, very small. For instance, a Planck length, which some physicists take to be the shortest possible length in our universe, is about 1.6×10^(-35) meters. All that my argument assumes is that universes where uniformitarianism holds are very uncommon, in the multiverse.

A third possible objection against my argument is that the constancy of the laws of Nature is a trivial consequence of the universe possessing a certain kind of symmetry, as Noether’s first theorem demonstrates. Each kind of symmetry entails its own conservation law. However, in a multiverse, the proportion of universes which are very slightly asymmetrical, and in which conservation laws don’t hold at all places and times, will surely vastly exceed the tiny proportion of universes that are perfectly symmetrical, so it seems to me that the appeal to Noether’s first theorem merely defers the question of why the laws and parameters of nature should be the same at all times and places.

A final objection that might be raised against my argument is that Darwinism is not, after all, tied to the unformitarian hypothesis that the universe’s laws and physical parameters are absolutely invariant over time. For living things could still evolve and survive in a world where slight variations in the laws and parameters of Nature occurred, and the number of universes in which life arose and evolved in a step-by-step fashion would vastly outnumber the miniscule fraction of universes in which life arose in a single step over a few days, making Darwinism a much more rational option than Ken Ham’s six-day creationism, as an account of origins. But the problem with this argument is that it concedes too much. All it would demonstrate is that life arose and evolved naturally. But Darwinian evolutionists are committed to a far more ambitious hypothesis: naturalism, which declares that miracles never occur at any time, anywhere in the universe. And the problem here is that if we define miracles as one-off, sharp variations (which may be local and/or very brief) in the laws and parameters of Nature, then even if we confine ourselves to the set of universes where life arose and evolved in a Darwinian fashion, we will still find that in most of these universes, miracles occur at some place and time. What this means is that you can be a Darwinian only if you are prepared to ditch naturalism – something which I don’t think too many Darwinists would be keen to do.

Some clarifications

Let me hasten to add that I am not for a moment suggesting that Ken Ham’s six-day creationism is correct. As I’ve declared many times, I believe in an old cosmos and in common descent, but I reject the hypothesis that life in all its complexity could have originated via the unguided processes of random variation and natural selection. Nor am I arguing that Ken Ham’s views are rational. The point I’m trying to make here is that if you happen to be a materialistic atheist who also believes in a multiverse – as nearly all scientific atheists do – then you can have no good epistemic grounds for rejecting Ken Ham’s Biblical creationism in favor of Darwinism. In fact, if you’re an atheist who believes in a multiverse, then Ken Ham’s Biblical creationism, silly as it may sound to some, is actually a more rational option than Darwinism. For the problem, as I’ve pointed out, is that Darwinism is built on the bedrock of uniformitarianism, which is an astronomically improbable hypothesis, and there are many more life-containing universes in the multiverse where Ken Ham’s Biblical creationism holds true and where (by sheer coincidence) the striking predictions of Darwinism also happen to hold true, than there are universes where uniformitarianism holds true.

What this means is that if you want to argue against Ken Ham’s six-day creationism, then you have two options: you can either ditch the multiverse – a risky proposition for an atheist, given the extensive evidence of cosmological fine-tuning and the astronomical odds against life originating from non-living matter, as calculated by evolutionary biologist Dr. Eugene Koonin – or you can argue against six-day creationism from a theistic standpoint. A theist could argue that we should believe that the laws and physical parameters of Nature hold constant, because God would want it that way. In the nineteenth century, Reverend Baden Powell argued on theological grounds that the laws of Nature were edicts issued by God at the time of Creation, and that any violation of these laws would constitute a breach of promise on God’s part – something which God cannot do. Alternatively, a theist might argue that the absolute constancy of the laws and physical parameters of Nature over time is a powerful sign that they were designed by God, since this invariance over space and time would be extremely unlikely if our universe was but one of many universes in an infinite multiverse. However, a theist might also allow for the possibility of localized exceptions to these invariant laws and parameters, which we call miracles: after all, God is free to break His own rules if He has special reasons for doing so. On such a theistic account, belief in miracles would be epistemically warranted, if we have sufficient testimonial evidence for their occurrence. However, a theist would be entitled to reject claims for miracles which force us to pile one ad hoc assumption on top of another, in order to explain their occurrence. For example, one reason why many Christian theists today reject the idea of a global Deluge in the past is that one would need to posit an additional miracle in order to explain where all the heat released by a global Deluge would have gone, even though no such miracle is recorded or even hinted at in Scripture.

Observational and historical sciences: is there a distinction between them?

I’d now like to turn to Coyne’s claim that “there is no distinction between historical science and real-time experimental science: both are based on observation, prediction, and testability.” I have to say that this statement is simply wrong. That doesn’t mean I agree with Ham’s characterization of the historical and experimental sciences: Coyne is perfectly right, for instance, when he asserts that the historical sciences make predictions that can be tested. Nevertheless, there are important differences between the historical and experimental sciences, and when biologists like Professor P.Z. Myers object to creationists making a “bizarre distinction between observational and historical science,” they are simply displaying their ignorance.

I refer Coyne and Myers to an article by Carol Cleland titled Historical science, experimental science, and the scientific method (Geology; November 2001; v. 29; no. 11; p. 987–990). Cleland begins by criticizing former Nature editor Henry Gee for his dismissive assertion that all hypotheses about the remote past are unscientific, since “they can never be tested by experiment, and so they are unscientific… No science can ever be historical” (In search of deep time, New York, 1997; The Free Press, pp. 5,8). Cleland also criticizes “physicists and chemists who attack the scientific status of neo-Darwinian evolution” on the same grounds. On this point, I think she is correct. Nevertheless, Cleland insists that there is a fundamental difference between the historical and experimental sciences, in their methodologies, and here she agrees with Gee:

Although the idea that all good scientists employ a single method for testing hypotheses is popular, an inspection of the practices of historical scientists and experimental scientists reveals substantial differences. Classical experimental research involves making predictions and testing them, ideally in controlled laboratory settings. In contrast, historical research involves explaining observable phenomena in terms of unobservable causes that cannot be fully replicated in a laboratory setting…

In summary, Gee (1999) was correct about there being fundamental differences in the methodology used by historical and experimental scientists. Experimental scientists focus on a single (sometimes complex) hypothesis, and the main research activity consists in repeatedly bringing about the test conditions specified by the hypothesis, and controlling for extraneous factors that might produce false positives and false negatives. Historical scientists, in contrast, usually concentrate on formulating multiple competing hypotheses about particular past events. Their main research efforts are directed at searching for a smoking gun, a trace that sets apart one hypothesis as providing a better causal explanation (for the observed traces) than do the others. These differences in methodology do not, however, support the claim that historical science is methodologically inferior, because they reflect an objective difference in the evidential relations at the disposal of his-
torical and experimental researchers for evaluating their hypotheses.

In the passage above, Cleland refers to cases where historical scientists discover a “smoking gun”: “a trace that sets apart one hypothesis as providing a better causal explanation (for the observed traces) than do the others.” The example she discusses is the discovery of extensive deposits of iridium and shocked quartz in the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, coupled with the discovery that the demise of the dinosaurs was a sudden one. Can smoking guns redeem the case for Darwinian evolution? Not if we live in a multiverse, for the reason that I discussed earlier: although creationism fails to make such striking predictions, the number of possible universes whose histories conform to the (relatively modest) constraints of creationism will infinitely exceed the number of possible universes whose histories conform to the far more exacting constraints of uniformitarianism.

Would Ken Ham’s skepticism invalidate the historical sciences?

In his post, Professor Jerry Coyne argues that Ken Ham’s assertion that the historical sciences are open to doubt because they deal with events that can’t be observed, would invalidate not only evolution but also cosmology, geology and even archaeology. I imagine Ham would probably agree that the sciences of cosmology and geology, which deal with events occurring in deep time, are indeed provisional. However, it does not follow from Ham’s logic that we should also doubt the findings of archaeology, let alone the conclusions that historians have arrived at about the past, from studying ancient records. With regard to archaeology, Ham would obviously contest the dating of certain artifacts (such as Stone Age tools which have been dated back to 2.6 million years ago), but he could argue that their specified complexity leaves no doubt that they were designed by someone. Regarding history, Ham would presumably argue that what we are dealing with here is the testimony of eyewitnesses (or second-hand reports), written down in the language of their day. [The hyper-skeptical hypothesis that the testimonies might have been forged by a capricious or mischievous God can be dismissed, as theists are not committed to the view that the universe is the product of God’s whim; what they assert is that it is the product of His (non-arbitrary) Will. See my discussion of the laws of Nature below.] The only questions that need to be answered about these testimonies are: were the alleged eyewitnesses reliable observers, and were they telling the truth? These uncertainties are fundamentally different in kind from the physical uncertainties regarding whether the laws and parameters of the cosmos were the same in the past as they are today. In short: to cast doubt on the findings of cosmology and geology is not the same as casting doubt on the findings of historians.

Is God a poor explanation for the laws of Nature?

Professor Coyne also argues that “God made them that way” is a very poor explanation for why the laws of Nature hold constant. But here he is construing laws as mere whims of the Almighty. That is not the view that I am espousing here. In order to see why any scientific account of laws is too thin to provide a warrant for induction about future events, consider the following question: are the laws of Nature merely descriptive statements about how the universe happens to work, or are they prescriptive statements about how things should behave? The problem here is that as Hume observed, one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”: hence if laws are mere descriptions of how Nature works, they cannot tell scientists what they should expect to observe in the future. But if, on the other hand, we say that laws are prescriptions about how things should behave, then we have implicitly acknowledged the existence of a Cosmic Prescriber. (After all, things cannot tell themselves how they ought to act.) In other words, the prescriptive view of laws – which is the only one that can ground inductive inferences – implies the existence of a Divine Lawmaker.

On the view I am proposing, laws are no mere whims, but prescriptions which define the very character of the various kinds of things we observe in Nature. And since they characterize the kinds of objects we find in Nature, they cannot be changed without destroying those very objects. That of course raises the question of how miracles could possibly occur – a question which the philosopher Alfred Freddoso answers here. In a nutshell: Freddoso is a concurrentist, who believes that whenever objects produce their effects, they can only do so with the concurrent assistance of God; hence if God withholds His assistance, the object will not produce its customary effect. (Fire, for instance, will not burn Shadrach sitting in the fiery furnace unless God co-operates in His usual fashion.) Hence on extraordinary occasions it is possible for God to prevent things from producing their usual effects without destroying their character – simply by withholding His customary co-operation with natural agents.

Summary

I conclude, then, that Professor Coyne’s attack on Ken Ham relies on specious arguments, and that atheists are in no position to criticize Ham as irrational. Pot, kettle, anyone?

27 Replies to “Why atheists can’t show that Ken Ham is wrong

  1. 1
    Andre says:

    The guy that hates God for making him love cats have spoken.

    pffffft……

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    There are several flaws in Professor Coyne’s arguments, which I shall discuss shortly. But Coyne really gives the game away when he remarks in passing that “the laws of nature may vary among different universes if we have a multiverse.” … Since miracles only require variations which are infrequent, local and brief, it follows that there can be no scientific objection to the possibility of miracles, if we define these as events arising from singular variations in the laws and physical parameters of Nature.

    Somewhere in the ellipsis I removed, I think you just killed God: we now no longer need the supernatural to explain miracles. Did you mean to do that, or was He just an innocent bystander?

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT, yet another fascinating bit of work. And, in fact we patently cannot and do not directly observe the deep past of origins, we see traces inferred to point to it per best current explanation. As for multiverse implications, the more I look the more bizarre they seem. I wonder, is it really so, that in just a few years most “scientific” atheists have come to believe in such? On what basis, if so? KF

  4. 4
    Joe says:

    The problem with Coyne is he, like all evos, are totally ignorant pertaining to what is actually being debated. Coyne doesn’t know what baraminology is. He doesn’t have any idea that Ham accepts that speciation occurs.

  5. 5
    tjguy says:

    Historical scientists, in contrast, usually concentrate on formulating multiple competing hypotheses about particular past events. Their main research efforts are directed at searching for a smoking gun, a trace that sets apart one hypothesis as providing a better causal explanation (for the observed traces) than do the others. These differences in methodology do not, however, support the claim that historical science is methodologically inferior, because they reflect an objective difference in the evidential relations at the disposal of historical and experimental researchers for evaluating their hypotheses.

    Not that my opinion really matters, but anyway, here goes.

    Although I found the explanation of why historical science is still every bit as valid as experimental science to be interesting, I’m not sure I totally agree with it. I get the part about looking for a smoking gun and therefore choosing that hypothesis as the best answer, but that is still very different from testing it to actually see if it works. Besides, they do not allow for any intervention by God in their interpretation. They just assume God was not involved, but this cannot be known.

    Let me give two examples:

    Let’s take the Big Bang Standard Model of Cosmology. Cosmology is one of the worst sciences as far as testability goes. I agree that the Standard Model does have some smoking gun characteristics that set it apart from other hypotheses, but still, it cannot be tested. Computer models can easily be wrong. Or changed to try and come up with a scenario that works, but then, how do we know that the parameters we put into the model really accurately fit reality?

    Secondly, with the Big Bang, there are still significant theory saving devices employed to make it work, so really, when contrary data that does not fit with the theory appear, it certainly does not mean the hypothesis is invalidated as claimed. In the Big Bang hypothesis, they just added untestable stuff like inflation, dark energy, and dark matter to try to keep the model afloat. Yet, these theory saving devices cannot be explained. If you could recreate the Big Bang like we do in experimental science, then we would have real evidence. So while I understand the use of smoking gun hypotheses, I’m not sure it really works out that way in every circumstance. There certainly IS a difference between historical science and experimental science here. It certainly does not fully invalidate historical science, but it does mean that it is not as certain and trustworthy as experimental science where we can test by experiment.

    Here is another example. Let’s think about the evolution of sex. Believers in Darwinian evolution claim that sexual reproduction evolved by whatever natural processes from an asexual organism. That’s the hypothesis. But can we test this? Is it possible for this to actually happen? What kinds of changes would be necessary? Is there a step by step path where small changes – each of which provide enough of a benefit to be selected for – could actually add up to sexual reproduction. In this example, we need simultaneous evolution of both the male and female reproductive systems. Don’t gloss over that word. These are “SYSTEMS” and still have to work while in the process of evolving!

    ID claims that either the change was front loaded or an Intelligence somehow guided that change. “How” this intelligence was involved is a question that ID is unable to answer. They just claim evidence of the involvement of intelligence. I certainly believe that answer better fits the data than the totally naturalistic answer, but still, it cannot be tested.

    So, there are various hypotheses for how sex evolved. Some scientists stand by one hypothesis and others by another. Sometimes hypotheses that have been billed as “the answer” are later discarded in favor of new hypotheses. What this shows us is that even currently “in vogue” hypotheses that are thought to be quite valid and accurate are not necessarily so. This is all part of science correcting itself we are told, but what it does is show us the difference between historical science and experimental science.

    Which happens more often? Laws of science are changed or hypotheses regarding the unrepeatable past are changed? It’s obvious. Go read the textbooks just 15 years ago and see where we have the most change. In the historical sciences or in the experimental sciences? And what type of change is it? Simply new discoveries using testing and observation or the changing of previously accepted “answers” to problems.

    The answers we arrive at using the scientific method are much more stable and trustworthy than the answers we arrive at using evolutionary interpretations of the scanty data we have about the past. This alone highlights the difference between the two types of science.

    Abiogenesis is another area where this difference is easily seen. There are tons of competing hypotheses. Why? Because there are no smoking guns. They really have no idea how it happened. They all have problems and each new hypothesis is dreampt up to solve one of the problems of a previous hypothesis, but when it solves that problem, it creates new problems of it’s own! So none of the hypotheses has reached the level where it can legitimately be called a “theory”. Calling Abiogenesis a “scientific theory” is a misuse of the word. Evolutionists are just as guilty of misusing the word “theory” as laymen are – more so, because they know better!

    So, while historical science and it’s conclusions cannot be completely dismissed, they are not nearly as certain or trustworthy as the conclusions we draw from using the scientific method.

    Back to the quote:

    Their(historical scientists) main research efforts are directed at searching for a smoking gun, a trace that sets apart one hypothesis as providing a better causal explanation (for the observed traces) than do the others.

    So, an ID scientist puts forth Intelligence as the best causal explanation. I agree as far as it goes, but it cannot be tested.

    Materialists put forth the neo-Darwinian view as the “best causal explanation”, but really, this cannot be tested either. It is subjective as to which one really is “best”. And even if there is clearly a “best explanation”, that does not mean it is right.

  6. 6
    OldArmy94 says:

    I was struck by Mr. Torley’s comments about living in the universe where things appear to have evolved, but that is just an illusion. That is a devastating argument against the multiverse concept.

  7. 7
    Zachriel says:

    vjtorley: if you happen to be a materialistic atheist who also believes in a multiverse – as nearly all scientific atheists do

    Have no idea where you got that idea. Multiverses are a tentative hypothesis based on mathematical models of the quantum realm. Can’t imagine that “nearly all” scientific atheists believe in something that has yet to be demonstrated.

    tjguy: So, while historical science and it’s conclusions cannot be completely dismissed, they are not nearly as certain or trustworthy as the conclusions we draw from using the scientific method.

    Claims about the past are subject to the scientific method. And while claims about the past are necessarily tentative, so are all scientific claims.

  8. 8
    bFast says:

    “Ken Ham’s claim that evolution is a “historical” science, dealing with events that can’t be observed, and hence can’t be verified.”

    Ken Ham’s assertion that evolution is an “historical” science has some validity. The science of figuring out what happened in the past is somehow fundamentally different than the science of figuring out what will happen in direct response to a current stimulus. That does not, however, justify the statement, “hence can’t be verified”.

    We put people into prison all of the time based upon historical science. We find evidence in the now, just like the gatherers of prehistoric evidence do. We make logical assertions based upon that evidence. When those logical assertions point clearly to a particular person having committed a particular crime in the past, we decide that this historical scientific analysis is sufficient to put the person in prison.

    All historical sciences are in the same boat — the kind of evidence is different than the evidence one achieves when dropping a rock from the tower of pizza. We would be in a terrible place, knowledge wise, if we were forced to dismiss all that the historical sciences have to offer.

    “historical science = can’t be verified” is, well, hooey.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    Z,

    I am glad we agree . . . with Newton in Opticks, Query 31 . . . that scientific explanatory frameworks are inherently provisional, due to the nature of inductive reasoning.

    I make a second point, degree of empirical support in scientific theorising comes in degrees. As things can be manipulated at will, experimental investigations are best warranted. Here and now observational studies where experiments cannot be done come next. After that, are cases where we cannot observe the phenomena directly but must observe traces, emanations or the like.

    BTW, I once got into serious hot water here for publicly pointing out the difference in possible degree of warrant for volcanology as an observational science. The official objection was, look on all the computers in the observatory. To which my response was, what does one do in an OBSERV-atory.

    Unfortunately, complacency extracted a high cost, including blood. Coroner’s inquest spoke of negligent, contributory responsibility.

    Now, origins or historical science.

    We study traces and seek reasonable causal explanations.

    A good criterion is, causal adequacy, backed up by here and now demonstration and observation.

    Exactly the problem here.

    We would be well advised to note that there is just one empirically warranted causal account for FSCO/I, intelligently directed configuration.

    Aka, design.

    KF

  10. 10
    Me_Think says:

    Since miracles only require variations which are infrequent, local and brief, it follows that there can be no scientific objection to the possibility of miracles, if we define these as events arising from singular variations in the laws and physical parameters of Nature.
    For all that Biblical creationism requires us to hold is that on about 120-odd occasions in history, the laws and physical parameters of Nature were allowed to vary locally, for relatively brief periods, in a very specific way, which did not prove fatal for life on Earth

    Nature has both rotational and translational symetry. You can’t have a natural law which holds only locally – if the variation are more than the range of allowed value. You can have minor variations in gravity from equator to pole but you can’t have a zero gravity on specific spots on Earth for levitation. The laws of conservation are dependent on the symmetry (Noether theorm). You can’t have a local violation of conservations unless the symmetry is broken. You can’t have differential Higgs value across space . You can’t have exception to Pauli’s exclusion principle to allow you to pass through matters. In short, the laws can’t be broken for Biblical miracles.

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    MT, you imply several claims about universality that in the end pivot on a mechanistic view of reality. The issue pivots on worldview foundations, and is not going to be resolved on patterns inferred inductively from finite numbers of observations that are generalised. KF

  12. 12
    bFast says:

    Zachriel, “vjtorley: if you happen to be a materialistic atheist who also believes in a multiverse – as nearly all scientific atheists do

    Have no idea where you got that idea. Multiverses are a tentative hypothesis based on mathematical models of the quantum realm. Can’t imagine that “nearly all” scientific atheists believe in something that has yet to be demonstrated.”

    Zachriel, I don’t know what rock you have been hiding under. You are, of course, right about the lack of scientific confidence in the theory. However, when I talk with atheists who think they know science, and when I read the popular scientific literature, the fact that the hypothesis is very tenuous at best is ignored.

    The problem, of course, is that the multiverce theory allows a person to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist”. There are three other options for the atheist, as far as I can see.
    > There’s Stephen Hawking’s “like north is north, it just happened” hypothesis. Nobody likes that one, it still doesn’t address the fine tuning issues.
    > There’s the “fine tuning is nonsense” theory which suggests that different values for the forces would simply have made a different universe — no knowing what kind of life would form there. This, of course, is accompanied by a ridiculous lack of knowledge about the fine tuning problem.
    > And “I don’t know”. Oooh, that’s an awful theory. People find such a position to be really hard to hold while claiming to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

    So, some like you make a case for life that came to be purely as a result of the universe itself. However, unless an explanation can be found, the big bang does seem to be the greatest miracle ever recorded.

    PS, I will say, of all evolutionary scientists I find you to be the most intellectually honest, engaging and respectful. I have learned much from reading your posts.

  13. 13
    tjguy says:

    Zacriel @7

    tjguy: So, while historical science and it’s conclusions cannot be completely dismissed, they are not nearly as certain or trustworthy as the conclusions we draw from using the scientific method.

    Claims about the past are subject to the scientific method. And while claims about the past are necessarily tentative, so are all scientific claims.

    Well of course! That is a given, but did you read what I wrote? … not nearly as certain or trustworthy as ….

    It’s a matter of degree. Although performing a certain experiment 99 times and getting the same result does not guarantee it will be the same the 100th time, still the chances are extremely good that if done correctly, it will be the same. That is a whole different level of certainty than our interpretations about how we think things happened in the distant unrepeatable past.

  14. 14
    JimFit says:

    Multiverses CANNOT SOLVE the Fine Tuning because they too require fundamental laws and principles to exist.

  15. 15
    Andre says:

    Jimfit

    You are of course correct but that won’t stop those who believe it to pause and think about it. Of course if the multriverse is true science is impossible because everything is true, Jesus, miracles, aliens, zeus, FSM, fairies, middle earth, atheists, religion, evolution, design every single possible event, abstract, thought, story everything is true….. EVERYTHING…

  16. 16
    ellijacket says:

    Theologians do not hold that biblical miracles suspend the laws of nature. They hold that God intervenes in such a way as to counteract those laws, but not suspend them. In effect, the law is still acting but God is acting as well in a way that accomplishes the miracle.

  17. 17
    Axel says:

    ‘The guy that hates God for making him love cats have spoken.

    pffffft……’

    Nobody cold fail to like this cat, Andre? And the last moment takes the humour into the stratosphere.

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/1017247874

    or this koala bear, who has obviously noticed car drivers:

    https://uk.news.yahoo.com/meanwhile–in-australia—-schoolboy-busts-koala-trying-to-steal-family-car-115918998.html#FokqCrO

  18. 18
    Axel says:

    Surely, ellijacket, the laws of nature are, factitious, merely a human construct. God’s being observed to acting regularly in certain regards.

    If at any time he chooses to deviate from his regular actions, well He’s at liberty to do whatever he wants at all times, irrespective of anyone else’s expectations of his being constrained by a certain law or laws to continue to conform to the patter He had hitherto established.

    Planck mentions this:

    ‘We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future.
    The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931)’

  19. 19
    DATCG says:

    It appears inaccurate to depict AIG’s view of “historical” science as Coyne did…

    “Professor Jerry Coyne has written a post titled, Ken Ham vs. Dawkins: On the nature of science and physical law, in which he criticizes Ken Ham’s claim that evolution is a “historical” science, dealing with events that can’t be observed, and hence can’t be verified.”

    The words, “hence can’t be verified” are Coyne’s and should be quoted as such. Ham’s argument appears as: Same Data/Different Interpretations of past history. Based on opposing worldviews as a starting point. Both sides use scientific methods.

    First, AIG considers “macro-evolution” a “historical” science, not all of evolution. Coyne fails to point that out and later uses it in a bait and switch technique much like Dawkins. Ham himself makes the mistake of leaving it open to abuse by Coyne, not clearly stating “macro” evolution. But that is his point as will be seen below.

    Second, in Ham’s article, his point is Macro-Evolution in the past is not “directly” testable. Meaning, you cannot observe Macro-Evolution of the past or test it, you can only infer or speculate. Historical interpretations of – molecules to man -> Macro-evolutionary Tree of Life changed in the past up until recently. In fact, the metaphorical Tree of Life is up for debate now.

    Darwin’s Tree of Life Wrong

    Considering the history of “living fossils”, the vast movement of timelines and stasis by Darwinist, it’s a reasonable observation regarding Macro events as interpretive science. Not as accurate or repeatable as Operational Science. Non-controversial.

    Third, originally posted in 2007 at the AIG site, it agrees with Coyne on Origins or Historical science as legitimate science research, but disagrees on interpretations of the data…

    “Let us be clear. Accurate knowledge (truth) about physical reality can be discovered by the methods of both operation science and origin science. But truth claims in both areas may be false. Many “proven facts” (statements of supposed truth) about how things operate (in physics, chemistry, medicine, etc.), as well as about how things originated (in biology, geology, astronomy, etc.) have been or will be shown to be false. So, as best we can, we must be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and examine every truth claim against Scripture and look for faulty logic or false assumptions.”

    Answers in Genesis

    The link shows how they see the debate of worldviews different from that of ID and Neo-Darwinism.

    They point out historical interpretations can be tested…

    Molecules-to-man evolution is a belief about the past. It assumes, without observing it, that natural processes and lots of time are sufficient to explain the origin and diversification of life.

    Of course, evolutionary scientists can test their interpretations using operation science. For instance, evolutionists point to natural selection and speciation—which are observable today. Creation scientists make these same observations, but they recognize that the change has limits and has never been observed to change one kind into another.

    Until quite recently, many geologists have used studies of current river erosion and sedimentation to explain how sedimentary rock layers were formed or eroded slowly over millions of years. In the past few decades, however, even secular geologists have begun to recognize that catastrophic processes are a better explanation for many of the earth’s rock layers.

    Note: Their major issue is with Darwin’s “historical” interpretations of Macro-Evolution as a gradual process via natural selection vs Biblical historical narrative. They see a Forest of Life(many Kinds – my guess of their view) instead of a Tree of Life – molecules to man. It’s a debate of Origins Science for them that is researched by both sides as “historical” science with different interpretations of the evidence, using scientific methods.

    They accept “micro-evolution” or variation within a “Kind.”

    The main point Ham makes is the type of declarations Coyne makes about macro-evolution, “vestigial organs” etc., are open to interpretations. It is interesting to note that most “vestigial organs” claims of the past have function and are no longer valid as listed in 1893 by original standard definition. This points out the speculative nature and failures of macro-evolutionism. Also points out how the goal post continually get moved.

  20. 20
    DATCG says:

    Is Coyne keeping up with latest literature on vestigial organs of whales? From September 2014…

    Evolutionary Assumption turned on it’s head

    “New research turns a long-accepted evolutionary assumption on its head – finding that far from being just vestigial, whale pelvic bones play a key role in reproduction.”

    Coyne may not like it, but this is the research that Creationist were awaiting for their own theoretical position.

    My guess is many more “evolutionary assumptions” will continued to be turned on their head in the future. As so much of this speculation was offered up long ago with little knowledge of factual scientific research.

    So, when Ham states “assumptions” are made, he is correct. Even if you disagree with his biblical worldview.

    Can anyone spot the other glaring “assumption” in the article?

    Check back later.

  21. 21
    Zachriel says:

    tjguy: not nearly as certain or trustworthy as

    Still not necessarily the case. There are many extant phenomenon which are very difficult to observe or measure (e.g. fine structure of the cosmic background), while some historical facts are very well established (e.g. dinosaurs once roamed the Earth).

    JimFit: Multiverses CANNOT SOLVE the Fine Tuning because they too require fundamental laws and principles to exist.

    There may be a simpler relationship that explains some or all of the so-called fine-tuning. No one knows.

    DATCG: “New research turns a long-accepted evolutionary assumption on its head – finding that far from being just vestigial, whale pelvic bones play a key role in reproduction.”

    Vestigial does not mean functionless.

  22. 22
    Piotr says:

    “New research turns a long-accepted evolutionary assumption on its head – finding that far from being just vestigial, whale pelvic bones play a key role in reproduction.”

    Coyne may not like it, but this is the research that Creationist were awaiting for their own theoretical position.

    “A key role” is a bit of an overstatement. The pelvic remains may have a useful function, but it’s hard to imagine that for example in the blue whale (penis length 2.4 m, diameter 0.3 m) a fifteen-centimetre pelvic bone, not attached to the rest of the skeleton, is so vitally helpful in manoeuvring the penis. Note that some of the whales with proportionally very large testicles (the family Kogiidae, i.e. the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales) have no pelvic bone at all, which doesn’t prevent them from successful mating.

  23. 23
    bornagain77 says:

    Coyne contends that “there is no distinction between historical science and real-time experimental science: both are based on observation, prediction, and testability.”

    Funny, that is not what Coyne said earlier:

    “In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history’s inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike “harder” scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.”
    – Jerry A. Coyne – Of Vice and Men, The New Republic April 3, 2000 p.27 – professor of Darwinian evolution at the University of Chicago

    Nor is it what Ernest Rutherford stated:

    “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.”
    — Ernest Rutherford

    Perhaps the reason why Coyne desparately wants to backpedal from his previous position, a position which is obviously true, is because he has no ‘real-time experimental science’ for him to point to so as to establish ‘why evolution is true’?

    “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”: Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain – Michael Behe – December 2010
    Excerpt: In its most recent issue The Quarterly Review of Biology has published a review by myself of laboratory evolution experiments of microbes going back four decades.,,, The gist of the paper is that so far the overwhelming number of adaptive (that is, helpful) mutations seen in laboratory evolution experiments are either loss or modification of function. Of course we had already known that the great majority of mutations that have a visible effect on an organism are deleterious. Now, surprisingly, it seems that even the great majority of helpful mutations degrade the genome to a greater or lesser extent.,,, I dub it “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”: Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain.
    http://behe.uncommondescent.co.....evolution/

    In fact the empirical evidence tells us that evolution is NOT true!

    Waiting Longer for Two Mutations – Michael J. Behe
    Excerpt: Citing malaria literature sources (White 2004) I had noted that the de novo appearance of chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium falciparum was an event of probability of 1 in 10^20. I then wrote that ‘for humans to achieve a mutation like this by chance, we would have to wait 100 million times 10 million years’ (1 quadrillion years)(Behe 2007) (because that is the extrapolated time that it would take to produce 10^20 humans). Durrett and Schmidt (2008, p. 1507) retort that my number ‘is 5 million times larger than the calculation we have just given’ using their model (which nonetheless “using their model” gives a prohibitively long waiting time of 216 million years). Their criticism compares apples to oranges. My figure of 10^20 is an empirical statistic from the literature; it is not, as their calculation is, a theoretical estimate from a population genetics model.
    http://www.discovery.org/a/9461

    Moreover, Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, (who earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin-of-life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences), states that when studying historical science then ‘the present is the key to the past’:

    Response to Darrel Falk’s Review of Signature in the Cell
    Excerpt: “The central argument of my book is that intelligent design—the activity of a conscious and rational deliberative agent—best explains the origin of the information necessary to produce the first living cell. I argue this because of two things that we know from our uniform and repeated experience, which following Charles Darwin I take to be the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past. First, intelligent agents have demonstrated the capacity to produce large amounts of functionally specified information (especially in a digital form). Second, no undirected chemical process has demonstrated this power. Hence, intelligent design provides the best—most causally adequate—explanation for the origin of the information necessary to produce the first life from simpler non-living chemicals. In other words, intelligent design is the only explanation that cites a cause known to have the capacity to produce the key effect in question.”
    Stephen Meyer
    http://www.signatureinthecell......l-falk.php

    Stephen Meyer – The Scientific Basis Of Intelligent Design
    https://vimeo.com/32148403

    Moreover, the ‘present’ experimental science gets worse for Coyne. Much worse! Recent advances in quantum mechanics have undermined the reductive materialism upon which Darwinism is based:

    “[while a number of philosophical ideas] may be logically consistent with present quantum mechanics, …materialism is not.”
    Eugene Wigner
    Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism – video playlist
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL1mr9ZTZb3TViAqtowpvZy5PZpn-MoSK_&v=4C5pq7W5yRM

    Why Quantum Theory Does Not Support Materialism By Bruce L Gordon, Ph.D
    Excerpt: The underlying problem is this: there are correlations in nature that require a causal explanation but for which no physical explanation is in principle possible. Furthermore, the nonlocalizability of field quanta entails that these entities, whatever they are, fail the criterion of material individuality. So, paradoxically and ironically, the most fundamental constituents and relations of the material world cannot, in principle, be understood in terms of material substances. Since there must be some explanation for these things, the correct explanation will have to be one which is non-physical – and this is plainly incompatible with any and all varieties of materialism.
    http://www.4truth.net/fourtrut.....8589952939

    In regards to quantum mechanics undermining ‘any and all varieties of materialism’, Scott Aaronson, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, humorously notes:

    Lecture 11: Decoherence and Hidden Variables – Scott Aaronson
    Excerpt: “Look, we all have fun ridiculing the creationists who think the world sprang into existence on October 23, 4004 BC at 9AM (presumably Babylonian time), with the fossils already in the ground, light from distant stars heading toward us, etc. But if we accept the usual picture of quantum mechanics, then in a certain sense the situation is far worse: the world (as you experience it) might as well not have existed 10^-43 seconds ago!”
    http://www.scottaaronson.com/democritus/lec11.html

    Thus, it is no wonder that Coyne wants to pretend historical science is ‘just as good’ as experimental science. In regards to the materialistic theory of neo-Darwinism, experimental science simply ‘has no use for that hypothesis’!

    Supplemental notes:

    Quantum Weirdness and God 8-9-2014 by Paul Giem – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=N7HHz14tS1c#t=1449

    Here is the article by Dr. Richard Conn Henry that Dr. Paul Giem discussed at the 32:28 minute mark of the preceding video

    Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger by Richard Conn Henry – Physics Professor – John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the “illusion” of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist). (Dr. Henry’s referenced experiment and paper – “An experimental test of non-local realism” by S. Gröblacher et. al., Nature 446, 871, April 2007 – “To be or not to be local” by Alain Aspect, Nature 446, 866, April 2007 (Leggett’s Inequality: Violated, as of 2011, to 120 standard deviations)
    http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/aspect.html

  24. 24
    Dick says:

    So when is VJT going to publish in book form a compilation of his contributions to UD? They represent too much work and good thinking to leave unpublished.

  25. 25
    computerist says:

    The multiverse or eternal universe hypothesis, if true, implies an infinite amount of possibilities with infinite amount of time, which in turn implies that a flying spaghetti monster, Easter bunny, as well as even a god, exist.
    The atheist position is infinitely absurd.

  26. 26
    tjguy says:

    Zachriel @21

    Still not necessarily the case. There are many extant phenomenon which are very difficult to observe or measure (e.g. fine structure of the cosmic background), while some historical facts are very well established (e.g. dinosaurs once roamed the Earth).

    Then when dealing with those particular extant phenomenon, we couldn’t really call it true experimental science, could we?

    In experimental science, the scientific method is used, but if we can’t observe something, or perform an experiment on it, if observation, testing, repetition, and verification/falsification is not possible, then ….. (do I really have to spell it out?!

    Then you say:“some historical facts are very well established (e.g. dinosaurs once roamed the Earth”

    Zach, are you trying to complicate the issue on purpose? No one said that we cannot establish certain facts about history. Of course we can. Fossils are absolute proof that dinosaurs roamed the earth. Even creationists recognize that. So, straw man argument here.

    Did you miss the point? We can get certain snapshots of the past through fossils, etc., but interpreting the data, – trying to figure out what exactly happened and how – that’s the challenge.

    So we come up with hypotheses about these things. Replaying history to see if our hypotheses are correct – THAT IS WHAT IS NOT POSSIBLE!

    So, for instance, testing your hypothesis about how sex evolved, seems impossible to me. Perhaps you know of a way to do it? Coming up with a plausible explanation or interesting hypothesis is not the same thing as testing it!

    Is the difference between historical and experimental science really so hard to understand?

    Me thinks you just don’t want to understand!

  27. 27
    Zachriel says:

    tjguy: Then when dealing with those particular extant phenomenon, we couldn’t really call it true experimental science, could we?

    Of course you can. Some experiments can be technically difficult, that’s all.

    Here’s your original statement: So, while historical science and it’s conclusions cannot be completely dismissed, they are not nearly as certain or trustworthy as the conclusions we draw from using the scientific method.

    That statement was incorrect. Some historical conclusions are more certain and trustworthy than claims about some extant phenomenon, while both historical and extant phenomenon are subject to investigation through the scientific method.

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