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Can we regard scientific theories as factual knowledge?

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In the What is knowledge thread, this has come up now, and I think it should be headlined:

____________________

KF, 201: >> Can we regard scientific theories as factual knowledge?

This is a deep challenge, especially on the so-called pessimistic induction that historically theories in effect have hidden sell-by dates. That is, theories show more of a track record of replacement (sometimes presented as refinement) than we are comfortable with.

A first answer is that a theory, from the abductive angle, is a “best current explanatory framework,” often involving dynamics which may be deterministic or stochastic (or tempered by stochastic factors), and may be empirically reliable in a known or unknown range of circumstances. The turn of C20 surprises faced by Newtonian dynamics have been a major lesson.

The import is, that often theories are more like models that are “useful fictions”(with perhaps a few grains of deep truth in them) than descriptions of factors at work in reality that are all credibly true. This becomes especially so where theories address remote reaches of space or time where we cannot directly observe the actual circumstances. In these cases, we are limited to observations of traces of the circumstances, and we make models of the place and time, we have not got direct checks.

Scientific simulations or scenarios and visualisations tied to such, then become even more remote from the right to claim credible truth.

Of course, actual credible observations are much better as candidates for credible and reliable truth claims.

Such suggests that we need to be far more circumspect in our evaluation of scientific theories than we are sometimes wont to be, e.g. the tendency to say of climate dynamics models and projected developments of climate under human impact, that the science is “settled,” or that those who hold appropriate background — or even laymen expressing concerns — and raise questions on key issues are “deniers.”

The future is beyond current observations, so while we may be well advised to act with prudence, we should not exaggerate our knowledge claims on the future.

Similarly, we should be cautious about exoplanet studies and especially artistic renderings of suggested planets. These are — with a few exceptions — not direct observations, they are inferred from gravitational effects. We may be confident that planetary objects are there and may infer they are terrestrial or gas giant etc, but we should be cautious.

Reconstructions of the past of the cosmos, our solar system and planet, as well as the history of life are also beyond direct observation and should be presented with due cautions. Evidence such as the detection of clear cases of dinosaur soft tissues from a claimed 65+ MYA, should give us pause. And if there are cases where the smell of death/decay is still there, that should give us pause. I know there is a recent headline on a Triceratops horn being dated to 30+ kYA, but that should be taken with a grain of salt for the moment too.

When it comes to wider senses of science such as Economics, we should be even more cautious. Even something like GDP or an unemployment rate is a calculation not an observation. Often useful, but use with due caution.

I begin to suggest that we view theories more like models of high reliability that we hope capture something significant regarding the true dynamics of our world, but we are less than certain of that. The theories may be part of the body of knowledge of a field of study, but that is a matter of observing the field of study as itself a phenomenon subject to observation and evaluation. The credible truthfulness of the contents of a given theory and its key objects or processes and laws etc are something that we should likely take a very eclectic case by case view on. No-one has actually directly observed an electron, but we are highly confident that these entities exist, never mind weird quantum properties of such a “wavicle.” We can make a much better case for more or less observing an atom, given scanning techniques.

The remote future, or remote reaches of space or the remote past of origins, we do not directly observe. We would be well advised to be cautious, and to bear in mind the limitations of inductive methods of investigation.

Ironically, on the design inference debates, the reality of something like FSCO/I [= Functionally Specific Complex Organisation and/or associated Information] and its empirically observed origin are far better observed than the suggested deep-time powers of chance variation and differential reproductive success. But institutional power makes a big difference on how things are perceived. Which, is yet another caution: scientific “consensus” or the ex cathedra statements of august panels and their publicists should be taken with a grain of salt.

Science at its best is openly provisional and open-ended.>>

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Again, food for thought. END

73 Replies to “Can we regard scientific theories as factual knowledge?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Can we regard scientific theories as factual knowledge?

  2. 2
    daveS says:

    I begin to suggest that we view theories more like models of high reliability that we hope capture something significant regarding the true dynamics of our world, but we are less than certain of that.

    This is a reasonable stance, IMO.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, do you realise that many view science as almost a revelation of reality, turning science into Scientism, particularly under evolutionary materialistic worldview assumptions? KF

  4. 4
    daveS says:

    KF,

    do you realise that many view science as almost a revelation of reality, turning science into Scientism … ?

    To be honest, not really. I don’t know that any of my acquaintances subscribe to scientism. Nor any people who post here.

  5. 5
  6. 6
    daveS says:

    Yes. My acquaintances are probably not going to show up here to debate the subject. Are there posters here who will defend scientism? (If so, we should come to terms on a definition, of course).

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    DS: Scientism: the concept that science is all or almost all of “serious” knowledge or is the only way to acquire credible knowledge etc. It more usually shows up implicitly and is often expressed as dismissal of claims not deemed “scientific” or else as imposing the methodological naturalist view, and comes though in much of skepticism. A very typical manifestation is talking in terms of THE scientific method, and expecting it to set the yardstick of credible knowledge in all domains. Failure to understand that epistemology is a branch of philosophy is also typical. KF

    PS: Remember the recent claims about pulling a cosmos out of laws of physics and out of quantum foam fluctuations, then saying we get a universe out of nothing? Capital example, and that by Physicists.

  8. 8

    KF @ 3: Am I missing something here? Isn’t empirical science, e.g. law of gravity, a revelation of some reality? I am not suggesting that empirical science is the only way to discover reality (scientism), but it does seem to reveal some parts of reality.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: A clipping on Scientism, by Feser:

    http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1174/

    Blinded by Scientism
    by Edward Feser
    within Science

    March 9th, 2010

    The problem with scientism is that it is either self-defeating or trivially true. F.A. Hayek helps us to see why. The first article in a two-part series.

    Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently “anti-science.” There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it “therefore” has no rational foundation at all. It is evident even in secular conservative writers like John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald, whose criticisms of their religious fellow right-wingers are only slightly less condescending than those of Dawkins and co. Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism—“faith” is often pitted against “science” (even by those friendly to the former) as if “science” were synonymous with “reason.”

    Despite its adherents’ pose of rationality, scientism has a serious problem: it is either self-refuting or trivial. Take the first horn of this dilemma. The claim that scientism is true is not itself a scientific claim, not something that can be established using scientific methods. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically. For scientific inquiry itself rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists; that this world is governed by causal regularities; that the human intellect can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since science presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. And if it cannot even establish that it is a reliable form of inquiry, it can hardly establish that it is the only reliable form. Both tasks would require “getting outside” science altogether and discovering from that extra-scientific vantage point that science conveys an accurate picture of reality—and in the case of scientism, that only science does so.

    The rational investigation of the philosophical presuppositions of science has, naturally, traditionally been regarded as the province of philosophy. Nor is it these presuppositions alone that philosophy examines. There is also the question of how to interpret what science tells us about the world. For example, is the world fundamentally comprised of substances or events? What is it to be a “cause”? Is there only one kind? (Aristotle held that there are at least four.) What is the nature of the universals referred to in scientific laws—concepts like quark, electron, atom, and so on—and indeed in language in general? Do they exist over and above the particular things that instantiate them? Scientific findings can shed light on such metaphysical questions, but can never fully answer them. Yet if science must depend upon philosophy both to justify its presuppositions and to interpret its results, the falsity of scientism seems doubly assured. As the conservative philosopher John Kekes (himself a confirmed secularist like Derbyshire and MacDonald) concludes: “Hence philosophy, and not science, is a stronger candidate for being the very paradigm of rationality.”

    Here we come to the second horn of the dilemma facing scientism. Its advocate may now insist: if philosophy has this status, it must really be a part of science, since (he continues to maintain, digging in his heels) all rational inquiry is scientific inquiry. The trouble now is that scientism becomes completely trivial, arbitrarily redefining “science” so that it includes anything that could be put forward as evidence against it. Worse, it makes scientism consistent with views that are supposed to be incompatible with it. For example, a line of thought deriving from Aristotle and developed with great sophistication by Thomas Aquinas holds that when we work out what it is for one thing to be the cause of another, we are inexorably led to the existence of an Uncaused Cause outside time and space which continually sustains the causal regularities studied by science, and apart from which they could not in principle exist even for a moment.

    If “scientism” is defined so broadly that it includes (at least in principle) philosophical theology of this kind, then the view becomes completely vacuous . . .

    Hope that helps clarify.

    Can we get back to the main focus?

    KF

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    Truth, Empirical investigation is generally seen as opposed to a revelation from on high. I spoke to revelation in the sense of a species of attitude that treats the findings and statements (especially in popular or summarised or ideologised forms) as the closest thing to truth there is. As in, how dare you challenge the august expertise of The Consensus, you irrational, obscurant denier. KF

  11. 11
    daveS says:

    Scientism: the concept that science is all or almost all of “serious” knowledge or is the only way to acquire credible knowledge etc.

    Ok, sounds good, but I don’t know anybody in real life who holds such a view, and I don’t recall anyone here defending it.

    PS: Remember the recent claims about pulling a cosmos out of laws of physics and out of quantum foam fluctuations, then saying we get a universe out of nothing? Capital example, and that by Physicists.

    If you can get such a physicist to come here and expand upon this, that would be great. On the other hand, it’s unclear that taking this position implies that one believes “that science is all or almost all of “serious” knowledge or is the only way to acquire credible knowledge”.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, see 9 above. And, we have had videos of such Physicists posted here at UD and discussed for years. Krauss is q-foam nothing and Hawking is world from law of gravity, IIRC. KF

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    H’mm: Here is Dawkins in action on much the same topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=m9H2bxHIBfg KF

  14. 14
    daveS says:

    Do these physicists say that “science is all or almost all of “serious” knowledge or is the only way to acquire credible knowledge” or the equivalent?

  15. 15
    daveS says:

    KF,

    H’mm: Here is Dawkins in action on much the same topic:

    Do you have a better video, one that’s not heavily edited and interspersed with clips of John McEnroe throwing a temper tantrum? I closed the window at that point.

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, I bring you Krauss in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hL4Gq1Le2rQ What do you think he means when he dismisses all but “empirical” “facts”? KF

    PS: I’ll just add here. By the time you cut off, you will have seen the failure to understand non-being. Onward, you would have seen dismissal of a distinguished (and agnostic) PhD philosopher as having special training in “obscurantism.” He later dissed a Physicist and Philosopher. Scientism is a common and widely influential view, especially among Internet Atheists.

  17. 17
    daveS says:

    Regarding the Krauss clip, I assume you’re talking about the first 12 seconds of the video? I have no idea of the context or what he’s responding to.

    I would much prefer to see something in writing (by the alleged proponents of scientism) rather than these silly videos.

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: While I’m at it, notice the worldview espoused by Lewontin and put in terms of being common among the elites:

    . . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads [==> as in, “we” have cornered the market on truth, warrant and knowledge, making “our” “consensus” the yardstick of truth . . . ] we must first get an incorrect view out [–> as in, if you disagree with “us” of the secularist elite you are wrong, irrational and so dangerous you must be stopped, even at the price of manipulative indoctrination of hoi polloi] . . . the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations,

    [ –> as in, to think in terms of ethical theism is to be delusional, justifying “our” elitist and establishment-controlling interventions of power to “fix” the widespread mental disease]

    and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth

    [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]

    . . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists [–> “we” are the dominant elites], it is self-evident

    [–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . . and in fact it is evolutionary materialism that is readily shown to be self-refuting]

    that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality [–> = all of reality to the evolutionary materialist], and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [–> i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us [= the evo-mat establishment] to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . . [–> irreconcilable hostility to ethical theism, already caricatured as believing delusionally in imaginary demons]. [Lewontin, Billions and billions of Demons, NYRB Jan 1997,cf. here. And, if you imagine this is “quote-mined” I invite you to read the fuller annotated citation here.]

    This is a classic illustration of the relevant mindset. One, that I have often highlighted here at UD. Recall, this is part of a NYRB review of Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted world. Sagan, being an Astrophysicist.

  19. 19
    daveS says:

    KF,

    the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality

    I think that’s worth debating, even aside from the issue of scientism.

    I don’t know that it’s true (maybe the surest way is to drink a mug of ayahuasca), but it’s perhaps a good first guess.

  20. 20
  21. 21
    daveS says:

    Regarding #18, that’s Lewontin characterizing the views of Sagan, correct?

  22. 22
    kairosfocus says:

    Much more than Sagan, as a member of the scientific elites he speaks representatively. As was highlighted.

  23. 23
    daveS says:

    Let’s be clear here—Lewontin does not hold all the views in the passages you quoted. In fact, this is review of Sagan’s book is scathing. Lewontin even takes shots at E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins:

    Carl Sagan’s list of the “best contemporary science-popularizers” includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market. Wilson’s Sociobiology and On Human Nature rest on the surface of a quaking marsh of unsupported claims about the genetic determination of everything from altruism to xenophobia. Dawkins’s vulgarizations of Darwinism speak of nothing in evolution but an inexorable ascendancy of genes that are selectively superior, while the entire body of technical advance in experimental and theoretical evolutionary genetics of the last fifty years has moved in the direction of emphasizing non-selective forces in evolution.

    ***

    What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution.

    Link to the full review here.

  24. 24
    Origenes says:

    KF:

    Lewontin: … the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth …

    NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting.

    We have seen a lot of that lately. Let us tease this out a bit:
    – – – –
    1. Science is the only begetter of truth.
    2. The claim “science is the only begetter of truth” is itself not science.
    Therefore, from (1) and (2)
    3. The claim “science is the only begetter of truth” is not true.
    Therefore
    4. Science is not the only begetter of truth.
    – – – –
    What is the underlying cause for all these self-defeating claims?

  25. 25
    daveS says:

    Origenes,

    “Science as the only begetter of truth” is Lewontin’s characterization of Sagan’s view; does Sagan himself say that anywhere? For all I know, he may have, but I don’t know of a source.

  26. 26
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, Lewontin speaks for “we” contrasted with “them,” hoi polloi. “We” have power to manipulate education and inject anti-theism, imposing evolutionary materialist scientism in the name of science, because, presumably of its scientific prestige and linked cultural and institutional clout. He envisions mass or even universal indoctrination in this form of atheism, and in scientific materialism. He is an elite Scientist from Harvard and a friend of Sagan from Cornell, IIRC. What cultural elite new magisterium with that kind of power over science, education, media and public opinion could this possibly be? You, kindly tell us: _______ where, for one it could not have been just the two, Sagan and Lewontin. KF

    PS: It is beginning to look like an attempt to evade the patent, DS.

    PPS: Have a look in The Demon-Haunted World, subtitled Science as a Candle in the Dark.

  27. 27
    kairosfocus says:

    Origenes, this is obviously evolutionary materialist scientism. KF

  28. 28
    daveS says:

    KF,

    Uhm, have you actually read the entire review??

    Lewontin is shredding Sagan.

    This is unreal.

    PS:

    Have a look in The Demon-Haunted World, subtitled Science as a Candle in the Dark.

    I read it when it first came out.

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, Not so as I recall, he was reminiscing on a debate in the 60’s where the two were on one side as either grad sudents or young post-docs, and seemed to think Sagan’s work was well intentioned but was not likely to be overly effective. He put in the above reflecting his own Marxist context on how classes with power can shape cultures. Along the way he does try to shred those dumb fundy’s of the South, complete with the notorious reference to the woman doubting getting a TV signal from the Moon as she couldn’t get was it Houston where she lived. But then, maybe your interpretation of shredding sharply differs from mine. And Philip Johnson’s retort in First Things is also quite relevant. But, all of that is tangential, the above speaks for itself and it characterises evolutionary materialistic scientism. This duppy sitting on the graveyard fence and crying boo is real. KF

    PS: Here is NSTA on just how real, in their July 2000 Board declaration:

    The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts [–> ideological imposition of a priori evolutionary materialistic scientism, aka natural-ISM; this is of course self-falsifying at the outset] . . . .

    [S]cience, along with its methods, explanations and generalizations, must be the sole focus of instruction in science classes to the exclusion of all non-scientific or pseudoscientific [–> loaded word that cannot be properly backed up due to failure of demarcation arguments] methods, explanations, generalizations and products [–> declaration of intent to ideologically censor education materials] . . . .

    Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work [–> undermined by the question-begging ideological imposition and associated censorship] . . . .

    Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements [–> question-begging false dichotomy, the proper contrast for empirical investigations is the natural (chance and/or necessity) vs the ART-ificial, through design . . . cf UD’s weak argument correctives 17 – 19, here] in the production of scientific knowledge.

    Getting a clue or two on just what sort of people Lewontin’s “we” is talking about? Ask yourself what the same NSTA and the US NAS did jointly in Kansas just five years later, including why they were confident they could hold children hostage on their say-so that the kids’ sci ed was null and void because they had been taught a definition of science they didn’t like. A definition, BTW, that is historically well-warranted and is reasonable i/l/o issues in the OP above. Ask yourself how a radical, extremely ideologised one was substituted, and why the dominant media by and large failed — or is this, refused — to get the issue of what science is, straight.

  30. 30
    daveS says:

    KF,

    Have you read the full article recently? If not I suggest you do so.

  31. 31
    Origenes says:

    Rosenberg on scientism:

    In the pages that follow, we won’t use the label “Bright” as a variant on atheist. But we’ll call the worldview that all us atheists (and even some agnostics) share “scientism.” This is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when “complete,” what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today. We’ll often use the adjective “scientistic” in referring to the approaches, theories, methods, and descriptions of the nature of reality that all the sciences share. Science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about.

    Note, the statement: “science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about” is not itself scientific, so, per its own claim, the statement is insignificant and has not to do with real understanding.

    Go figure.

  32. 32
    kairosfocus says:

    Origenes, much the same errors of self-referential incoherence over and over and over again. KF

  33. 33
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, do you really want to go there? Okay, let’s start with the beginning:

    Billions and Billions of Demons
    RICHARD LEWONTIN

    January 9, 1997

    New York Review of Books

    The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
    by Carl Sagan
    457 pages, $25.95 (hardcover)
    published by Random House

    “But the Solar System!” I protested.

    “What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work.”

    —Colloquy between Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet

    I first met Carl Sagan in 1964, when he and I found ourselves in Arkansas on the platform of the Little Rock Auditorium, where we had been dispatched by command of the leading geneticist of the day, Herman Muller. Our task was to take the affirmative side in a debate: “Resolved, That the Theory of Evolution is proved as is the fact that the Earth goes around the Sun.” One of our opponents in the debate was a professor of biology from a fundamentalist college in Texas (his father was the president of the college) who had quite deliberately chosen the notoriously evolutionist Department of Zoology of the University of Texas as the source of his Ph.D. He could then assure his students that he had unassailable expert knowledge with which to refute Darwinism.

    I had serious misgivings about facing an immense audience of creationist fundamentalist Christians in a city made famous by an Arkansas governor who, having detected a resentment of his constituents against federal usurpation, defied the power of Big Government by interposing his own body between the door of the local high school and some black kids who wanted to matriculate.

    Young scientists, however, do not easily withstand the urgings of Nobel Prize winners, so after several transparently devious attempts to avoid the job, I appeared. We were, in fact, well treated, but despite our absolutely compelling arguments, the audience unaccountably voted for the opposition. Carl and I then sneaked out the back door of the auditorium and beat it out of town, quite certain that at any moment hooded riders with ropes and flaming crosses would snatch up two atheistic New York Jews who had the chutzpah to engage in public blasphemy . . .

    The loading should be obvious as well as my context of recall.

    Continuing:

    Sagan and I drew different conclusions from our experience. For me the confrontation between creationism and the science of evolution was an example of historical, regional, and class differences in culture that could only be understood in the context of American social history. For Carl it was a struggle between ignorance and knowledge, although it is not clear to me what he made of the unimpeachable scientific credentials of our opponent, except perhaps to see him as an example of the Devil quoting scripture. The struggle to bring scientific knowledge to the masses has been a preoccupation of Carl Sagan’s ever since, and he has become the most widely known, widely read, and widely seen popularizer of science since the invention of the video tube.

    I would take a “shredding” to be a successful point by point defeat of content, not a dispute on the most effective strategy to lead an agreed message on to cultural domination. But then, perhaps we don’t understand that term the same way.

    This is the run up to the excerpt’s first parts:

    Carl Sagan’s program is more elementary. It is to bring a knowledge of the facts of the physical world to the scientifically uneducated public, for he is convinced that only through a broadly disseminated knowledge of the objective truth about nature will we be able to cope with the difficulties of the world and increase the sum of human happiness. It is this program that inspired his famous book and television series, Cosmos, which dazzled us with billions and billions of stars. But Sagan realizes that the project of merely spreading knowledge of objective facts about the universe is insufficient. First, no one can know and understand everything. Even individual scientists are ignorant about most of the body of scientific knowledge, and it is not simply that biologists do not understand quantum mechanics. If I were to ask my colleagues in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to explain the evolutionary importance of RNA editing in trypanosomes, they would be just as mystified by the question as the typical well-educated reader of this review.

    Going on, it is obvious that there is agreement on core substance but disagreement on agit-prop strategy. Yes, he picks up points of exaggeration like Cancer etc, but the focus of such critique as he has is the culture domination strategy, not the evolutionary materialistic scientism.

    That’s why the conclusion runs:

    What is at stake here is a deep problem in democratic self-governance. In Plato’s most modern of Dialogues, the Gorgias, there is a struggle between Socrates, with whom we are meant to sympathize, and his opponents, Gorgias and Callicles, over the relative virtues of rhetoric and technical expertise. What Socrates and Gorgias agree on is that the mass of citizens are incompetent to make reasoned decisions on justice and public policy, but that they must be swayed by rhetorical argument or guided by the authority of experts.8

    Gorgias: “I mean [by the art of rhetoric] the ability to convince by means of speech a jury in a court of justice, members of the Council in their Chamber, voters at a meeting of the Assembly, and any other gathering of citizens, whatever it may be.”

    Socrates: “When the citizens hold a meeting to appoint medical officers or shipbuilders or any other professional class of person, surely it won’t be the orator who advises them then. Obviously in every such election the choice ought to fall on the most expert.”9

    Conscientious and wholly admirable popularizers of science like Carl Sagan use both rhetoric and expertise to form the mind of masses because they believe, like the Evangelist John, that the truth shall make you free. But they are wrong. It is not the truth that makes you free. It is your possession of the power to discover the truth. Our dilemma is that we do not know how to provide that power.

    In reality, they provide a crooked yardstick, evolutionary materialistic scientism. They seek to induce hoi polloi to make it their standard of straightness and accurate length. Then, when contrary truth comes forward it will never measure up to that crooked yardstick.

    That is the real problem, and it is a sobering lesson in the power of the agit prop operator’s art.

    And, it is part of why here in 2017 we need to go back to long neglected basics. Such as can be seen in the OP and in the previous thread on what is knowledge.

    That is how bad and how dangerous things are.

    KF

  34. 34

    KF everywhere: You are on fire today. Nice work.

  35. 35

    Origenes @ 24: A/mats seem incapable of understanding that logic. Not sure what the problem is.

  36. 36
    Origenes says:

    DaveS: Lewontin is shredding Sagan.
    This is unreal.

    I just read the article, all I see is some mild criticism here and there. Lewontin thinking that there might be a better way to defeat their shared enemy.
    No fundamental disagreement as far as I can see.

    What an horrible article BTW. Little green men is mentioned 3 times; UFO 6 times. This is how Lewontin describes the theistic world view:

    The demonic, for Sagan, includes, in addition to UFOs and their crews of little green men who take unwilling passengers for a midnight spin and some wild sex, astrological influences, extrasensory perception, prayers, spoon-bending, repressed memories, spiritualism, and channeling, as well as demons sensu strictu, devils, fairies, witches, spirits, Satan and his devotees, and, after some discreet backing and filling, the supposed prime mover Himself.

  37. 37
    J-Mac says:

    We definitely should…because MOST scientific theories are just pure bs cloaked in science, so that people who demand those theories can hear what they want to hear…

  38. 38
    daveS says:

    KF,

    Going on, it is obvious that there is agreement on core substance but disagreement on agit-prop strategy. Yes, he picks up points of exaggeration like Cancer etc, but the focus of such critique as he has is the culture domination strategy, not the evolutionary materialistic scientism.

    That’s not obvious to me. In particular, it’s not clear that he believes that science is the only “begetter of truth”. He assigns that belief to Sagan.

    I was going to write a longer post, but I ran across this from four years ago at this very site, posted by Kantian Naturalist:

    Kairosfocus, I have read Lewontin’s review, with and without your exegesis of it. I’m not accusing you of quote-mining; I’m just disagreeing with your interpretation.

    Who is making the argument that science is the only begetter of truth, kairosfocus?

    Sagan, almost certainly, for one. Sagan was, I think it’s fair to say, a staunch advocate of “scientism.” The question is whether Lewontin endorses scientism in his review of Sagan’s book.

    I don’t think he does, because all that gets put forth as a pragmatic a priori is the impossibility of radical occasionalism (as I’m calling it). And while this is not, I think it’s fair to say, a theologically attractive option, I have heard similar views expressed by my theologically unsophisticated but deeply religious students.

    For another thing, even if Lewontin endorses ‘scientism’ in his review of Sagan’s book, I know that ‘scientism’ is not Lewontin’s considered view, because I’ve read two of his books: The Dialectical Biologist and Biology as Ideology.

    In both books Lewontin is crystal-clear that science is influenced by social and political needs and assumptions, and I have trouble seeing how that approach is consistent with “scientism,” as Kairosfocus and others here use the term.

    I haven’t read any of Lewontin’s other work, but my interpretation of the passage is the same as KN’s.

    I think just about every debate that shows up here has already been covered thoroughly.

  39. 39
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, much against the judgement that this is a successive tangents game, I will briefly remark, noting that I have already clipped enough to show my relevant point on the nature of scientism, that being supplementary to the point in the OP on the limits of scientific theories as exercises in knowledge-building. Stuff of great significance but which is not being discussed. So, I note, do you see Lewontin disavowing the core scientism as noted? No. His disputes are mostly over whether Sagan’s strategy of promotion will work, with several points on more or less secondary issues such as exaggerating success of science [cf on cancer] etc. As for KN on science being socially influenced, sure it is. But the scientism advocates and power brokers — Lewontin’s “we” — that influence is the domination of the new magisterium and the stamping out of “creationist” resistance. The core actual “Science” is rooted in the same imperialism thesis that Lewontin summarises so embarrassingly. If you deny this, simply show us how and where he repudiates the domination of evolutionary materialistic scientism and its power elites in key institutions. Show us where he acknowledges the self-referential incoherence and so self-falsification and goes out to do sounder epistemology. Otherwise, on fair comment, you are doing little more than trying to drag discussion off on any distractive tangent you can find. KF

  40. 40
    Seversky says:

    I have to agree with DaveS and KN and others. Having read Lewontin’s review in the NYRB and his posts in the subsequent comments, my understanding is that he finds Sagan’s position at best to be naive, that he doesn’t take enough account of the social and political contexts in which science is conducted. The passage from the review which KF quotes so often describes what we might call the scientistic position but does not endorse it in my view. There may well be scientists who hold that view but I don’t think Lewontin is one of them.

  41. 41
    kairosfocus says:

    Origines, yes. The reek of sneering arrogance and setting up and knocking over straweman caricatures is quite overwhelming. These people have little understanding of theism or theists or God, and substitute sneering and caricature for serious engagement that even recognises that they are dealing with people and need to bring themselves to a point of basic respect and common courtesy. Sadly, the later New Atheists would carry that to a whole new level of vitriol. KF

  42. 42
    daveS says:

    KF,

    So, I note, do you see Lewontin disavowing the core scientism as noted? No.

    I see no disavowal in this review, it is true.

  43. 43
    kairosfocus says:

    Seversky, I can smell a party-line talking point emerging from a mile off. You have repeated what I have pointed out and others have, that the points of disagreement are strategic rather than substantial. What is substantial is that evolutionary materialistic scientism is both imposing a question-begging agenda that cripples scientific freedom of thought AND is self-referentially incoherent. As for, Lewontin does not agree, what part of “We” is it you don’t understand; especially as contrasted with the caricatured hoi polloi who are to be manipulated? What part of “to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must first get an incorrect view out,” of “To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality . . . “ and we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated” is so hard to parse given we and us? Really, now! KF

  44. 44
    Origenes says:

    Lewontin has a stronger commitment to materialism than to science. But is that not exactly what is meant by “scientism”? Does anyone here believe that Lewontin would welcome a scientific refutation of Darwinism/materialism? I sure don’t believe that he would. And that attitude defines for me the core of scientism.

    We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
    [source: wiki]

    That’s true scientism, right there.

  45. 45
    kairosfocus says:

    Ds, It seems pretty clear to me that Lewontin did not repudiate the core worldview commitments as cited. However, these commitments are question-begging, improperly closing off of freedom of inquiry by locking into a materialistic circle, and self-referentially incoherent. Thus, false. KF

  46. 46
    kairosfocus says:

    Origines, see here for the full article. KF

  47. 47
    Origenes says:

    KF @46

    I just read the damned article (see #36)! I must have blocked it out completely 🙂

  48. 48
    kairosfocus says:

    Origines,

    Here is Philip Johnson’s response to Lewontin, in key part:

    For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence.

    [–> notice, the power of an undisclosed, question-begging, controlling assumption . . . often put up as if it were a mere reasonable methodological constraint; emphasis added. Let us note how Rational Wiki, so-called, presents it:

    “Methodological naturalism is the label for the required assumption of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method. Methodological naturalists limit their scientific research to the study of natural causes, because any attempts to define causal relationships with the supernatural are never fruitful, and result in the creation of scientific “dead ends” and God of the gaps-type hypotheses.”

    Of course, this ideological imposition on science that subverts it from freely seeking the empirically, observationally anchored truth about our world pivots on the deception of side-stepping the obvious fact since Plato in The Laws Bk X, that there is a second, readily empirically testable and observable alternative to “natural vs [the suspect] supernatural.” Namely, blind chance and/or mechanical necessity [= the natural] vs the ART-ificial, the latter acting by evident intelligently directed configuration. [Cf Plantinga’s reply here and here.]

    And as for the god of the gaps canard, the issue is, inference to best explanation across competing live option candidates. If chance and necessity is a candidate, so is intelligence acting by art through design. And it is not an appeal to ever- diminishing- ignorance to point out that design, rooted in intelligent action, routinely configures systems exhibiting functionally specific, often fine tuned complex organisation and associated information. Nor, that it is the only observed cause of such, nor that the search challenge of our observed cosmos makes it maximally implausible that blind chance and/or mechanical necessity can account for such.]

    That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

    . . . . The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [Emphasis added.] [The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]

    BTW, observe some of Johnson’s opening remarks i/l/o the point in the OP:

    In a retrospective essay on Carl Sagan in the January 9, 1997 New York Review of Books , Harvard Genetics Professor Richard Lewontin tells how he first met Sagan at a public debate in Arkansas in 1964. The two young scientists had been coaxed by senior colleagues to go to Little Rock to debate the affirmative side of the question: “RESOLVED, that the theory of evolution is as proved as is the fact that the earth goes around the sun.” Their main opponent was a biology professor from a fundamentalist college, with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas in Zoology. Lewontin reports no details from the debate, except to say that “despite our absolutely compelling arguments, the audience unaccountably voted for the opposition.”

    Of course, Lewontin and Sagan attributed the vote to the audience’s prejudice in favor of creationism. The resolution was framed in such a way, however, that the affirmative side should have lost even if the jury had been composed of Ivy League philosophy professors. How could the theory of evolution even conceivably be “proved” to the same degree as “the fact that the earth goes around the sun”? The latter is an observable feature of present-day reality, whereas the former deals primarily with non-repeatable events of the very distant past. The appropriate comparison would be between the theory of evolution and the accepted theory of the origin of the solar system.

    If “evolution” referred only to currently observable phenomena like domestic animal breeding or finch-beak variation, then winning the debate should have been no problem for Lewontin and Sagan even with a fundamentalist jury. The statement “We breed a great variety of dogs,” which rests on direct observation, is much easier to prove than the statement that the earth goes around the sun, which requires sophisticated reasoning. Not even the strictest biblical literalists deny the bred varieties of dogs, the variation of finch beaks, and similar instances within types. The more controversial claims of large-scale evolution are what arouse skepticism. Scientists may think they have good reasons for believing that living organisms evolved naturally from nonliving chemicals, or that complex organs evolved by the accumulation of micromutations through natural selection, but having reasons is not the same as having proof. I have seen people, previously inclined to believe whatever “science says,” become skeptical when they realize that the scientists actually do seem to think that variations in finch beaks or peppered moths, or the mere existence of fossils, proves all the vast claims of “evolution.” It is as though the scientists, so confident in their answers, simply do not understand the question . . .

    See the implication in what Lewontin missed and Johnson caught?

    KF

  49. 49
    Origenes says:

    I fully agree with Johnson and your helpful comments, but I am not sure which “implication” you mean.

    Lewontin’s debating style does annoy me a lot, I must say. For instance this:

    Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face.

    When I read that line I was thinking:
    Absurd indeed! ‘Matter that spontaneously self-organizes into libraries full of encyclopedias, science texts, and novels, nuclear power plants, aircraft carriers with supersonic jets parked on deck, and computers connected to laser printers, CRTs, and keyboards’, ‘A universe from nothing’, ‘The multiverse’ to name but a few.

    Which examples will Lewontin come up with? Let’s see:

    Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen. When, at the time of the moon landing, a woman in rural Texas was interviewed about the event, she very sensibly refused to believe that the television pictures she had seen had come all the way from the moon, on the grounds that with her antenna she couldn’t even get Dallas. What seems absurd depends on one’s prejudice.

    Can you believe this guy? Those are the “absurdities” of science according to Lewontin … What a joker!

  50. 50
    kairosfocus says:

    Origenes, he is blissfully unaware of the real absurdity at work, self-referential incoherence of the concept that science is the ONLY begetter of truth. Science, that has been redefined as necessarily materialistic. Which then locks out correction. KF

  51. 51
    Origenes says:

    KF @50

    Point taken. No one can deny the following:

    Johnson: … if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence.

    Now, if we return to your question:

    KF: Can we regard scientific theories as factual knowledge?

    If “materialists employing science” is presented as “science” then the answer to your question should be a resounding NO. Thankfully there is a lot of scientific research that is not tainted by atheism, but, I would suggest, general acceptance of “scientific” theories is unwise. We have to individually weigh and consider each case, not only because scientific theories are subject to paradigm shifts, but because some of them solely exist to serve the materialistic narrative.

  52. 52
    daveS says:

    KF,

    Have you read more of Lewontin’s work?

    Here’s a passage from Biology and Ideology, with some added bolding, which suggests quite strongly that he does not believe “science is the only begetter of truth”:

    In the ensuing chapters, we will look in some detail at particular manifestations of the modern scientific ideology and the false paths down which it has led us. We will consider how biological determinism has been used to explain and justify inequalities within and between societies and to claim that those inequalities can never be changed. We will see how a theory of human nature has been developed using Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection to claim that social organization is also unchangeable because it is natural. We will see how problems of health and disease have been located within the individual so that the individual becomes a problem for society to cope with rather than society becoming a problem for the individual. And we will see how simple economic relationships masquerading as facts of nature can drive the entire direction of biological research and technology.

    While these examples are meant to disillusion the reader about the objectivity and vision of transcendent truth claimed by scientists, they are not intended to be antiscientific or to suggest that we should give up science in favor of, say, astrology or thinking beautiful thoughts. Rather, they are meant to acquaint the reader with the truth about science as a social activity and to promote a reasonable skepticism about the sweeping claims that modern science makes to an understanding of human existence. There is a difference between skepticism and cynicism, for the former can lead to action and the latter only to passivity. So these pages have a political end, too, which is to encourage the readers not to leave science to the experts, not to be mystified by it, but to demand a sophisticated scientific understanding in which everyone can share.

  53. 53
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, what part of what you just clipped is contrary to the substantial excerpt already seen, in which Lewontin is speaking for “we” the evolutionary materialistic scientism driven elites? yes, we all know that scientific theories are subject to radical shift, post the Quantum and relativity revolution that created modern physics, and yes social influences are at work within science and from science on society as science is one of the key dominant institutions. Yes, that means that there will be changes, but at the same time there is a controlling ideology that locks in what Johnson highlighted: a priori materialism, exactly what Lewonin pointed to. And the failure from 1964 to 1997 to see that there was something very wrong in imagining that only fundy closed mindedness caused an audience in little Rock Arkansas to reject the notion that the evolutionary materialistic world picture was as certain as the law of gravity, speaks also. The key cite speaks for itself, yes in cat-out-of-the-bag tones, but it speaks. Let’s put it this way, do you have further reading from Lewontin where he clearly repudiates the a priori evolutionary materialistic scientism imposition and sets out to correct the new magisterium and its policies? That would be relevant. Otherwise we are just looking at yet another tangent, one which BTW underscores the force of my point in the OP. KF

    PS: I find nothing in the statement just above that acknowledges that the scientism thesis is self referentially incoherent thus self falsifying. I do find that he is admitting social influences and fallibility on the part of science. I cannot find that science is the only begetter of truth (a term pregnant with scientific progressivism) is contrary to the premise that science is subject to social influences within its ranks and in the wider society, and that it is fallible but hopefully progressive. Science is the only begetter of truth is not the same as the deliverances of science are infallibly true at any given time, instead it is a message that things that are deemed “antiscience” are to be dismissed. Science — on a priori materialism — rules the epistemological roost. For relevant cases see how those who question the claimed climate change consensus are routinely treated by the power elites and their media publicists. The case of the design inference should be almost as notorious.

  54. 54
    daveS says:

    KF,

    I’ll respond in kind: What part of “Carl Sagan’s program is more elementary” is unclear? Under Sagan’s program “we” must do this and that. In Sagan’s view, science is the only begetter of truth.

    Apparently this issue is not off-topic in #50 where you use it to imply that Lewontin is ignorant of the direct consequences of his own beliefs (and hence not very bright), so I assume it’s still fair game in #52.

    Do you think this:

    [These examples] are meant to acquaint the reader with the truth about science as a social activity and to promote a reasonable skepticism about the sweeping claims that modern science makes to an understanding of human existence.

    is consistent with “science is the only begetter of truth”?

    ***

    Edit: I wouldn’t press this so hard, except for the fact that this Lewontin article has been famously abused.

  55. 55
    Origenes says:

    DaveS, KF

    According to Lewontin, there is one truth which informs all of science:

    Materialism is true.

    Science itself is not the begetter of this alleged truth, so, it follows that, according to Lewontin, science is not “the only begetter of truth.”

    It would be most helpful if Lewontin would explain where “materialism is true” comes from.

  56. 56
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, with all due respects, you miss the force of “we” and “us,” as well as the clear common a priori commitment to materialism, which energises scientism. For, if the physical — material — facts are . . . or, “fix” . . . all the facts, then that which studies those facts and does not waste effort on silly demonic superstitions will be the only hope to say what is an accurate description of the facts. Thus, science is applied materialism and is the only begetter of truth. No wonder they miss the self-referential incoherence and self-falsification involved, this is making a crooked yardstick into the only permissible standard of straightness and accuracy. And at no point can I find it that Lewontin rejects that commitment. As Johnson highlighted, this is what pulls the whole train: materialists doing science in a worldview where materialism is thought to be tantamount to rationality. Just, Lewontin thinks that his late friend Sagan was a bit naive about social power games in science and in society. Do I need to explicitly say dialectic materialism and historical materialism — maybe coloured by cultural marxism’s long march through the institutions? KF

    PS: No, neither I nor many others have wrenched the NYRB review out of context; though doubtless some will have. Instead, this is the cat out of the bag moment of key admission of truth in a leading organ of our culture, which materialists by and large refuse to acknowledge and over the years have taken every species of dodge to evade or to twist the matter into a turnabout accusation . . . and the wider article is actually loaded with all sorts of innuendoes and invidious associations thus revealing a telling sub-text of contempt-laced hostility verging on hate. Some of that in direct sustained reaction to the extension of courtesy and hospitality. (And BTW a similar pattern obtained in Dayton Tennessee in the 1920’s, including Darrow’s contemptuous dismissal of Secretary Bryan’s* death. In that case no question of anti-Semitism lurks, so no it is not merely understandable fear.) Let me ask you directly: do the physical facts “fix” all the facts? If so, then where does that lead but to what I just described?

    *Yes, a former pacifist Secretary of State whose concerns over Darwinism directly traced to his evaluation of Prussianism and the influence of philosophers such as Neitzsche.

  57. 57
    kairosfocus says:

    Origenes, Kindly see the just above. They have redefined science as applied materialism and so they are effectively synonyms the one for the other. The alternative is to let the dreaded Divine Foot in the door of the temple of science. KF

  58. 58
    daveS says:

    KF,

    This is nonresponsive.

    In #18, you explicitly claim that Lewontin espouses the view that “science is the only begetter of truth”.

    Do you stand behind this particular claim, in view of the following?

    [These examples] are meant to acquaint the reader with the truth about science as a social activity and to promote a reasonable skepticism about the sweeping claims that modern science makes to an understanding of human existence.

  59. 59
    critical rationalist says:

    @KF

    The credible truthfulness of the contents of a given theory and its key objects or processes and laws etc are something that we should likely take a very eclectic case by case view on. No-one has actually directly observed an electron, but we are highly confident that these entities exist, never mind weird quantum properties of such a “wavicle.” We can make a much better case for more or less observing an atom, given scanning techniques.

    If no one has actually observed an electron, then in what sense did the new idea of an electron come from sense input?

  60. 60
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, I have been far more than merely responsive. The decisive issue is that Lewontin clearly speaks for a class, using “us” and “we” and in so doing he sets up what I just described as the engine pulling the whole train. So, let me again ask as I just appended: do the physical facts “fix” all the facts? How do you know so? And, if you hold this, how do you avoid the conclusions I have highlighted as the obvious underlying logic? And, as Johnson did 20 years ago too? KF

  61. 61
    critical rationalist says:

    @KF

    You’ve glossed over the problem in the original thread. What is teh role of evidence in science. No where did I suggest that scientific knowledge did not grow.

    Again, from this article

    …if you look at the actual history of [Newton’s Laws and Einstein’s GR] – there were no rivals. The evidence gathered about Mercury and the bending of starlight by the Sun constituted a problem. A mystery. So what was the role of the evidence? Well the role of evidence there is to cry out for an explanation. A creative explanation. In other words a new scientific theory.

    Eventually one did come. It was Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The General Theory of Relativity explained that Newton’s Law of Gravity was an approximation to something else far more – well “General”. The General Theory united ideas about light, and magnetism and electricity (from the special theory) with ideas about space and time (and so gravity). And, here’s the key: it fully accounted for the motion of Mercury and it predicted exactly where light should be when it passed by the Moon during a solar eclipse. It got all those things right.

    And what became the role of the evidence from Mercury and starlight then? The evidence that Mercury was here in position A (as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity) and not there in position B (as predicted by Newton’s Theory of Gravity) – well the role of evidence there is simple. It’s to decide between those two theories. So at the moment of time in the past – in 1915 when Einstein first published his theory we had, briefly, two theories that purported to explain the nature of gravity. How to decide? Let the evidence decide.

    Now it’s not that the evidence “supported” Einstein. No. It simply rejected Newton.
    If the “support” idea was true – then what happened to all that support that Newton’s theory of gravity gained over the hundreds of years prior? How can we make sense of that? If it was being “supported” each and every day by observations of the planets in the sky, the tides going in and out, apples falling to the ground – then did all that support count for nothing? That all makes no sense because the entire philosophy of “evidence as support for a theory” is false. Newton’s theory explained all of that stuff about planets, tides and apples in a particular way. And one way of checking how good the explanation was, was to check the predictions. And for a long while they checked out. Until they didn’t. And once they didn’t we had a problem. And once we had another theory, we were able to decide which theory was better and show, definitively, which theory was false – and how.

    It is possible (indeed it is required) that General Relativity is not the final word on gravity. Indeed we know it cannot be the final word because General Relativity makes some predictions about the nature of reality that conflict with what quantum physics says. In other words, these two great theories disagree. So we know neither are the final word. So no evidence “supports” them. It is just that those two theories are the very best scientific theories we have. There is none better, and so no others we can rely on. If you want to build a GPS system, or explain what’s going on in a galaxy far far away – General Relativity is absolutely indispensable. Whatever the “ultimate truth” happens to be – General Relativity is closer to it than anything else we currently know about.

    The problem is, ID isn’t a rival theory.

    There are no alternative theories to Neo-darwinism, including ID, because there has yet to be proposed a critical test for which ID can explain the same phenomena at least as well, let alone any critical difference indicated in any yet to be proposed critical test. Nor does merely pointing out a problem in Neo-darwinism result in creating a new theory. [see #175]

    See my above comment.

  62. 62
    daveS says:

    KF,

    So, let me again ask as I just appended: do the physical facts “fix” all the facts? How do you know so? And, if you hold this, how do you avoid the conclusions I have highlighted as the obvious underlying logic? And, as Johnson did 20 years ago too?

    If you had answered my direct yes/no question, I would probably address these. But you didn’t, so what’s in it for me?

  63. 63
    kairosfocus says:

    CR, did you do physics or electronics? You will learn that no-one has in fact directly imaged or observed an electron. The electron is inferred from its effects, whether as a beta particle triggering a cloud chamber, or as a beam in a tube, and as bent with a B-field or E-field. Or, as triggering dots detected in some sort of scattering exercise or the like. The charge:mass ratio was fixed, and Millikan’s oil drop experiment was used to identify the increment of charge on the tiny droplets falling or rising in a field of view. With q in hand and q/m known for instance through radius of curvature in a known B-field, m followed, though the values have been refined since. This is actually in itself a tale of an authority pulling the accepted values, which apparently followed a bit of migration to the now generally accepted values. I recall, the notes in Millikan’s lab books on which values were “beaut, publish,” etc. Real world science, even in famous cases, is messy. And I recall from my own trials with an oil drop lab exercise, the experiment is a bit of a feat of virtuosity. Later, electron beams were observed as triggering wave interference effects also. Field ion microscopes and scanning-tunnelling microscopes have imaged atoms (there is a famous image of atoms of Xe spelling IBM, for one classic example) so we can say that we have observations through of course not simple direct inspection using light or the like. Electrons are far more elusive in that sense. Indeed as classic leptons and long post the uncertainty principle they don’t really have a readily definable size, unlike atomic nuclei or many particles. Electrons are an inferred best explanation and have been accepted on their effects through in effect abductive reasoning. Of course, we treat this case as sufficient to establish a fact, and sometimes speak of electrons as wavicles, reflecting the oddities of the Quantum world. KF

  64. 64
    kairosfocus says:

    DS, there we go again. KF

  65. 65
    kairosfocus says:

    CR, did you really read the OP? Let me clip and highlight:

    Can we regard scientific theories as factual knowledge?

    This is a deep challenge, especially on the so-called pessimistic induction that historically theories in effect have hidden sell-by dates. That is, theories show more of a track record of replacement (sometimes presented as refinement) than we are comfortable with.

    A first answer is that a theory, from the abductive angle, is a “best current explanatory framework,” often involving dynamics which may be deterministic or stochastic (or tempered by stochastic factors), and may be empirically reliable [–> implies empirical observations to be explained and/or predicted] in a known or unknown range of circumstances. The turn of C20 surprises faced by Newtonian dynamics have been a major lesson.

    The import is, that often theories are more like models that are “useful fictions”(with perhaps a few grains of deep truth in them) than descriptions of factors at work in reality that are all credibly true. This becomes especially so where theories address remote reaches of space or time where we cannot directly observe the actual circumstances [–> note again]. In these cases, we are limited to observations of traces of the circumstances, and we make models of the place and time, we have not got direct checks.

    Scientific simulations or scenarios and visualisations tied to such, then become even more remote from the right to claim credible truth.

    Of course, actual credible observations are much better as candidates for credible and reliable truth claims.

    Such suggests that we need to be far more circumspect in our evaluation of scientific theories than we are sometimes wont to be . . . .

    I begin to suggest that we view theories more like models of high reliability that we hope capture something significant regarding the true dynamics of our world, but we are less than certain of that. The theories may be part of the body of knowledge of a field of study, but that is a matter of observing the field of study as itself a phenomenon subject to observation and evaluation. The credible truthfulness of the contents of a given theory and its key objects or processes and laws etc are something that we should likely take a very eclectic case by case view on. No-one has actually directly observed an electron, but we are highly confident that these entities exist, never mind weird quantum properties of such a “wavicle.” We can make a much better case for more or less observing an atom, given scanning techniques.

    See the framework that theories in part serve as abductive, explanatory models that make sense of observations in patterns, and which then may be at least in part true? Which last, is the difference from an engineering type model which is frankly fictional but useful.

    As for your attempt to say oh evidence never supports, it simply rejects what fails, that falls apart on closer examination. For, theories in that situation are in competition. The inferred best current explanation on evidence is better supported by the body of empirical, observational evidence and associated reasoning than alternatives that are factually inadequate [including having intractable failures of key prediction], or incoherent, or are more or less ad hoc or simplistic.

    I insist on the “current,” in order to highlight that there may be a future theory that goes beyond, or the theory may need improvement.

    KF

  66. 66
    critical rationalist says:

    CR: If no one has actually observed an electron, then in what sense did the new idea of an electron come from sense input?

    KF: CR, did you do physics or electronics? You will learn that no-one has in fact directly imaged or observed an electron.

    I’m quite aware of that, KF. Nor has anyone directly observed or imaged the curvature of space time. That’s why I mentioned it. Specifically, I’m attempting to take your own claim seriously, as if it were true in reality and all observations should conform to it.

    So, now that we have that cleared up, I’ll ask again. How Ould anyone possibly use sense information to come up with an electron, the curvature of space time, or any other new idea as an explanation for phenomena?

  67. 67
    kairosfocus says:

    CR, you have already been given a response, one that outlines the relevant history actually. The electron was accepted because of the cumulative evidence in support of such an entity, similar to the atom BTW, which was a controversial idea up to late C19, witness the death of Boltzmann as a part of the story. KF

  68. 68
    critical rationalist says:

    As for your attempt to say oh evidence never supports, it simply rejects what fails, that falls apart on closer examination. For, theories in that situation are in competition. The inferred best current explanation on evidence is better supported by the body of empirical, observational evidence and associated reasoning than alternatives that are factually inadequate [including having intractable failures of key prediction], or incoherent, or are more or less ad hoc or simplistic.

    Again, it’s not clear that you actually read the excerpt, as what you echoed back to me left key aspects of the table. That evidence supports theories is exactly what is in question. You’ve just rephrased the claim as if that somehow resolves the issue. It doesn’t.

    The role of evidence isn’t to support theories. Its role is signal when a new theory is needed. Before GR was proposed, there was no rival theory that could explain what N’s Laws explained equally well and also explained any problems indicated by observations.

    When there was a rival theory, I would again point out that new ideas do not come from sense input. So, they are not founded on anything and start out as an educated guess. As such, the only thing evidence can do is find problems that exist in one theory but not another. How does that support the other theory? Even then that doesn’t refute a theory. Again, what another theory needs to do is equally explain the very same phenomena just as well, in addition to explaining the problematic observations.

    So, what we have is a theory that is less wrong, not better supported. How does being the only theory to survive criticism reflect support?

    A first answer is that a theory, from the abductive angle, is a “best current explanatory framework,” often involving dynamics which may be deterministic or stochastic (or tempered by stochastic factors), and may be empirically reliable [–> implies empirical observations to be explained and/or predicted] in a known or unknown range of circumstances. The turn of C20 surprises faced by Newtonian dynamics have been a major lesson.

    The excerpt addresses being “empirically reliable”. If Newton’s laws being “empirically reliable”, hundreds of years prior, represents support, then did all that “empirically reliability” count for nothing? And when it stopped being “empirically reliable”, we had a problem. But that didn’t stop us from using the theory, in practice.

    If the “support” idea was true – then what happened to all that support that Newton’s theory of gravity gained over the hundreds of years prior? How can we make sense of that? If it was being “supported” each and every day by observations of the planets in the sky, the tides going in and out, apples falling to the ground – then did all that support count for nothing? That all makes no sense because the entire philosophy of “evidence as support for a theory” is false. Newton’s theory explained all of that stuff about planets, tides and apples in a particular way. And one way of checking how good the explanation was, was to check the predictions. And for a long while they checked out. Until they didn’t. And once they didn’t we had a problem. And once we had another theory, we were able to decide which theory was better and show, definitively, which theory was false – and how.

  69. 69
    critical rationalist says:

    The current crop of ID is not a rival to Neo-Darwnism. This is because ID does not explain the same phenomena equally as as well as Neo-Darwnism – let alone explain any observations that might indicate there are problems with it. Nor has anyone proposed a critical test that only ID could explain. As such, it’s simply not a rival theory.

    While finding a problem with a theory does cry out for a new explanation, it does not necessarily result in actually creating a new explanation. Unless it does, we keep using that theory. This is why we keep using Neo-Darwinism.

    And example I’ve given before is the order of complexity we observe in organisms. ID’s designer is abstract and has no defined limitations. As such, there are no limitations on what it knew, when it knew it, etc. So it could have created organisms in the order of most complex to least complex, or even all at once. ID has no explanation for this order other than “that’s just what the designer must have wanted”

    On the other hand, Neo-Darwnism is the theory that the growth of knowledge in organisms grows via variation and selection. This falls under the umbrella of the universal theory that knowledge grows via variation controlled by criticism of some form. As such, nature could not have built more complex organisms until the knowledge needed to construct them had been created.

    Even if we happened to find exceptions to that order, ID does not explain why those specific exceptions occurred in those cases, but not others. At best it could say expectations occurred in those cases, but not others, because “that’s just what the designer must have wanted”

  70. 70
    kairosfocus says:

    Cr, you are quick with dismissive rhetoric such as you simply assume or you say again, claiming refutation etc. First news, a definition or description of a fact is not an assumption. Nor is an analysis on inference to best explanation, which you do not seem to understand. I spoke in the context already, that while there is room to progress in general, when competing hypotheses, models or theories are on the table (and actual ones are the only ones that we can compare) then there is indeed a question of relative support for the one over the other. This BTW is routinely used in statistical analysis, e.g. likelihood studies. Next, the design inference is on excellent evidence of trillions of case studies, a well-established pattern of the world, backed up by observation of search challenge in large config spaces. Where, we have already seen that we have a good reason to expect Manchineel trees to produce death apples, and a certain fruit tree to produce Golden Delicious apples, i.e. there are things connected to the distinct identity of entities in the world. Not that that will make a dent in your set ideas, but it will tell the interested onlooker that there is something wrong here. So, we know on trillions of cases with nil counter examples, that intelligently directed configuration is responsible for FSCO/I, indeed that is strong enough to establish that it is a sign. There are no credible counter-instances, indeed your own objections show further cases in point. Not that this will move you, but we take due note. And, the challenge of searching blindly in a config space for 500 – 1,000+ its, with sol system or observed cosmos resources shows why to the satisfaction of any reasonable onlooker. Further to this, you have used idiosyncratic and highly question-begging arbitrary redefinitions of terms such as knowledge and criticism, which were corrected in an earlier thread. FYI, without a knower, who is capable of responsible, rational warrant and belief, there is no relevant knowledge. Where, we already took time to show that understanding knowledge as well-warranted, credibly true (and reliable) belief, is accurate to what we observe from actual cases of knowledge: to know one must first believe, then also one needs good warrant [directly or in a chain of responsibility to a source] that a claim is credibly true and reliable. And critics are even more significantly cases of conscious rationality. By contrast info or data stored digitally or in analogue form is passive, it needs to be framed and read then processed and used to drive effectors for it to have effect, where such need to be adapted to the codes or modulation schemes at work and where also garbage in, garbage out applies such that systems will typically process nonsense until they crash. All of this requires functional coherence across a wide variety of entities, leading to yet another example of FSCO/I. Complex, coherent, functionally effective and specific information needs to be explained, and the search challenge issue alone shows why it is not reasonable to assign such to blind chance and/or mechanical necessity. Your response, unfortunately, has been to just keep typing as though there is nothing wrong. Which, is sadly revealing. We could go on and on, further distracting this thread through tangents, but it makes but little sense to do so. And no, there is no good reason to take time to do yet another point by point response when what has already been done has been simply brushed aside. Enough has been shown here and elsewhere, by the undersigned and by others across many months to establish the real problem. I suggest you would be well advised to take time out and reconsider what you have championed. KF

  71. 71
    critical rationalist says:

    This BTW is routinely used in statistical analysis, e.g. likelihood studies.

    Statical analysis is only valid when you know what choices there are to choose from to constrain the outcomes. And that requires a theory So, it’s only valid in intra-theory context. Some theory you haven’t conceived of yet could have a different set of choices. So, it’s unclear how you can use statistics to choose between theories.

    Next, the design inference is on excellent evidence of trillions of case studies, a well-established pattern of the world, backed up by observation of search challenge in large config spaces.

    Could one just as well argue that a “all designers have a complex material nervous system” inference is on evidence of trillions of case studies, a well-established pattern of the world, backed up by observation of search challenge in large config spaces.

    After all, every intelligent designer we’ve obsessed designing things has had a complex material nervous system. Yet, I’m guessing you don’t accept that conclusion. So, what gives?

    Don’t all those trillions of observations “support” the “all designers have a complex material nervous system” theory? Is it not “empirically reliable”?

  72. 72
    kairosfocus says:

    CR,

    with all due respect, you obviously have neither seriously read nor digested the OP; never a good thing to do before making adverse comments. When you do so, you will see that the point is that scientific theories on the whole have rather weak warrant towards being credibly true and as provisional explanatory frameworks seek to be empirically reliable, which is not at all the same as strongly warranted as truth to even moral certainty, much less the sort of claim advanced in certain culturally critical and controversial cases that such theories are an overwhelming consensus, are not open to serious challenge, or are as certain as the roundness of our planet or the orbiting of planets or the law of falling objects near earth — that is, have attained warrant as “fact.”

    Yes, direct observational facts have a much better claim as truthful to moral certainty, accurately describing facets of reality. That is one reason why scientific theories are subject to empirical, observational testing. Also, the pessimistic induction applies to scientific theorising.

    It is in that context that we can see that self evident truths (such as first principles of right reason, consciousness or that error exists) and many logical demonstrations have far superior warrant to scientific theories and even to empirical facts of observation.

    In that light, the obvious radical secularist, evolutionary materialist scientism cultural agenda that seeks to enthrone big-S Science as “the only begetter of truth,” is ill advised and potentially ruinously destructive to freedom of thought and to the soundness of our civilisation’s intellectual heritage. In that further context, it should be obvious that empirical support for scientific theories is a matter of inference to the best current explanation, subject to further observation.

    In that context, it is quite reasonable to compare on factual adequacy, coherence and balanced explanatory power, and to hold that theory Y is better supported than theory X without thereby implying that Y holds any ultimate warrant as utterly true. Empirical reliability holds towards things like engineering and medicine or managerial decision-making, not enthroning current theories in general as practically certain. Thus my remarks on using a case by case basis, where indeed some theories and theoretical entities may hold sufficiently high warrant to be regarded as morally certain truth but that requires multiple, clearly independent converging directly observational evidence and will not be available to theories where we must deal with observations of remote traces in space and/or time, etc.

    It is in this context that likelihood analysis across live option alternatives is a valid approach, for one instance.

    You will also, kindly, note that at no point have I committed myself to any claims of probability of truth of scientific theories in general, but I have instead implied a nominal, or perhaps ordinal scale of relative plausibility between (or among) alternative theories relative to demonstrated empirical reliability. (Quantitative probabilities imply a ratio scale, typically ranging 0 to 1.)

    As fair comment, in closing these remarks I trust that in future you will show a better responsiveness to the actual people you deal with, rather than setting up and knocking over straw entities.

    KF

    PS: While I have RW constraints that imply that I cannot take up a point by point response to every claim adduced, I will note briefly on the strawman claims on inductive inferences regarding designers just above. We have no reasonable basis to hold that processing on a computational substrate is a relevant necessary or inductively warranted condition for a designer to operate. Indeed, as has been repeatedly pointed out to you including in recent weeks (but was studiously ignored) such substrates are confined to the GIGO principle, that is they are no better than quality of inputs, signal processing, functional organisation, algorithms implied or expressed or the like. They process on blindly mechanical and/or stochastic cause-effect chains and are not the empirically or analytically warranted seat of rational inference or unified distinctly identifiable consciousness, much less conscience under moral government. This last is highly relevant as it is duty to truthfulness, responsible reasoning and to fairness that regulates our life of the mind and plausibly applies to other possible responsible, rationally significantly free entities. All of this gives little or no foot-hold for the poof-magic of emergence. By contrast, we have direct access by our conscious mindedness and conscience, to sense rational, responsible freedom in action, which is a far more certain warrant on the reality of mindedness than studies of computational substrates have provided. Where, the contrast between mechanical causal chains bound under GIGO and responsible ground-consequent inference could hardly be more stark. On one of your favourite dismissive retorts, such is of course a summary of much wider evidence and argument rather than mere assertion or assumption; some of which can be seen here on which you have been directed to again in recent days but still show no signs of responsiveness towards. To ponder the computational substrate point i/l/o empirical data and experience, consider how digital processors work, or analogue electromechanical computers or neural networks — the blindly mechanical cause-effect chains at work dependent on organisation and fine tuning (thus much FSCO/I) for effectiveness will be readily apparent.

  73. 73
    ET says:

    critical rationalist:

    The current crop of ID is not a rival to Neo-Darwnism.

    True because Neo-Darwinism doesn’t make testable claims whereas ID does.

    This is because ID does not explain the same phenomena equally as as well as Neo-Darwnism

    What? NDE doesn’t explain anything – not scientifically anyway.

    ID’s designer is abstract and has no defined limitations.

    ID is not about the designer. Clearly you are just a confused troll.

    On the other hand, Neo-Darwnism is the theory that the growth of knowledge in organisms grows via variation and selection.

    That is incorrect. NDE says that organisms are tied to blind, mindless and purposeless processes. That is a metaphysical and untestable claim.

    ID is OK with variation and selection. Again, clearly you are just a confused troll.

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