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Author Archives: Rag

Galileo again

It’s amazing how much “Remember Galileo!” is still used as a warning cry for those who dare question current scientific orthodoxy. And it’s amazing how much history has been replaced by mythology, meaning something everyone knows but doesn’t check to see if it’s true.

A few salient facts are in order:

Galileo was a life-long member of the Roman Catholic Church. He could easily have avoided problems with his church but chose to make a nuisance of himself instead. The reigning scientific view at the time was a variety of Ptolemaic astronomy, which was incorporated into scholastic philosophy and supported RCC theology. Alternatives to Ptolemy were known but they and Galileo did not convince the scholastics to change. The RCC went along with the scholastics whose sophisticated philosophy had no intellectual peer at the time.

But the most important fact is the Galileo was not “right” and the RCC was not “wrong”. There were valid points on both sides and the answer was not obvious at the time. The main misunderstanding is that the sciences progress by completely rejecting one theory and affirming a completely new theory. Rather, the sciences progress by improving on a theory so that what was valid in the old theory is maintained in the new theory along with new and better material. Sciences converge by a kind of alternating series of theories, each one closer to the limit so that the past is prologue, not pseudoscience.

One contemporary lesson is that evolution is not 100% right or wrong. It’s that the next theory will preserve what is valid and drop what is not valid plus add new material from a different paradigm.

September 2014

Academic conformity

It seems that when science in the 19th century separated from philosophy and joined the university curriculum on its own that science came to be subject to the same pressures that other academic subjects deal with.  That includes the pressure to conform.  Why conformity?  If you’re a knowledge institution, there are two things you don’t want to say to your students: (1) we don’t know or (2) we can’t agree with each other.  If either of these are true, the academic institution will lose credibility.  (You also can’t write a dissertation that concludes we don’t know.)

So every academic institution says “we know” and (to a great extent) “we agree with each other” and presents a united front to the students and public.  Of course academics have their squabbles but they mostly concern who gets credit and arcane matters that no one else cares about.

Can this lead to a stultification of knowledge?  Yes, and there is precedent for that — Scholasticism.  The Scholastics became dogmatic Aristotelians (Aristotle would not have approved).  They did some wonderful things especially in logic (specialists are still trying to figure out their fine distinctions).  But they became dogmatic and wouldn’t allow different approaches so much that the early modern scientists rebelled and became rabid anti-Scholastics (they over-reacted in my opinion).

The same thing is happening today.  It may also be related to political correctness in general but the pressure to conform is strong in all academic subjects, including the sciences.  Hence Darwin doubters, global warming doubters, etc. are unwelcome in academia.

Outside the academy there is still freedom of thought.  For now.

July 2014

Old theories

Newton’s theory of gravity was superseded in the 20th century. Orthodox Popperians should therefore throw it on the dustbin of history. But Newton’s theory is not rejected because his laws are still valid within a limited range that is very useful. Similarly, we still speak of the sun rising and setting even though absolute geo-staticism has been superseded.

In short, the narrative that science “disproves” old theories is wrong. Old theories do not necessarily go away; they may remain indefinitely. True, some theories such as the phlogiston theory of combustion collapse on their own. But well-established theories persist as limiting cases of more general theories.

Niels Bohr called this the correspondence principle and applied it to quantum mechanics. This principle should be applied to ancient science as well, notably the science contained in the Bible. While it would be improper to speak of the Bible as proposing a theory, the Bible does use the vocabulary of ancient science.

This means we should not interpret the Bible in terms of modern science; instead modern science should include science in the Bible as a limiting case. The refusal to do this retards science today.

Every scientific theory has limits which will be found after sufficient investigation. If the limits of a theory are unknown, it is foolish to say or imply that the theory has no limits. Notably, evolutionary theory has limits. Once we accept that we can investigate the limits but if such investigation is hampered, the development of science will be retarded.

November 2014

Reductionism and kinds

Reductionism goes beyond naturalism to say that biology is reducible to chemistry which is reducible to physics.  The acid of reductionism turns fixed kinds into temporary kinds and differences in kind into differences in degree.

The paradigmatic example of differences in kind is the periodic table of elements.  This structure is fixed and unchangeable.  But it is problematic because it can apparently be reduced to the physics of atoms.  This is considered to reflect the maturity of chemistry — that it can be reduced to something else, that its limits are known.  But that undermines the reality of kinds.

Can we get rid of reductionism?  No, in some ways it reflects what is there.  Instead we have to counter reductionism with its opposite.

Reductionism says the universe is constructed from many simple entities.  That is not untrue but it is not the full truth.  The universe is also reconstructed from one complex entity, called the earth in Gen. 1:2.  The division of light and dark, of land and sea, of land and sky, and of creatures in these various divisions are a testimony to this.

Modern science began with a turn away from explanations in terms of the “metaphysical” causes of teleology and design to the “empirical” causes of efficient/temporal and material explanations.  The former are top-down explanations, the latter are bottom-up explanations.  We need to bring both of these together.

To do this requires a dynamic method — a dialectic that allows these two halves to work together without either replacing the other.  This means seeing them as complementary rather than conflicting.  That would be new in Western culture, where a fixed method or contradictory dialectic has dominated.  This would also be consistent with the Genesis mandate to be stewards of nature rather than the modern mandate to command and control nature.

September 2014

Flawed scientific method

The idea that science begins with hypotheses instead of data arose in the 19th century, first in the work of William Whewell, and was very influential on Charles Darwin.  It is scientific orthodoxy today but is a flawed methodology.  Here are three flaws:

  1. Positive bias: It’s virtually impossible to demonstrate a negative empirical conclusion because “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.  So there’s a bias in favor of any positive hypothesis.
  2. Cherry-picking bias: Evidence against an hypothesis can easily be avoided, ignored, deprecated, etc., even unconsciously since the search is for positive evidence.  Researchers are pressured to show results so there is pressure to ignore contrary evidence. This is a huge problem is medical science.
  3. Inconsistency bias: There is no requirement that hypotheses be self-consistent.  Since a contradiction implies everything, a self-contradictory hypothesis explains everything and so is the ideal hypothesis. The prime example of this is evolution. What doesn’t it explain?

One supposed fix is the requirement that hypotheses be consistent with the science that is already generally accepted. The flaw in this is that what is accepted science may be flawed itself. Evolution is again the prime example.

Conclusion: Science as it is practiced today is flawed. Scientific methods today are flawed.

The fix to all these flaws would mean beginning with the widest collection and compilation of data, not hypotheses. Generalizations of data should come from the bottom-up, inductively. That is what Isaac Newton did and he was right to say “I frame no hypothesis”.

November 2014

All horses are the same color?

Recall that mathematical induction has two requirements: a base case and an inductive step. Show that a statement is true for x=1 and show that if it is true for x=n, then it is true for x=n+1. The induction follows as a falling series of dominoes.

Evolutionists try to do something similar. They show that evolution is true in some cases (microevolution) and they show that if it is true up to a certain level of adaptation or complexity, then they can show a plausible scenario in which it is true of the next higher level.

But consider a ‘proof’ that all horses are the same color as proposed by Joel E. Cohen: The base case is n=1 which is trivially true: a single horse has the same color as itself. Then if we assume that all groups of n horses have the same color, we can show that all groups of n+1 horses have the same color. First remove the last horse so only n horses are left; they must have the same color. Then remove the first horse so only n horses are left; they must have the same color too. Thus the (n+1)th horse has the same color as the others.

The flaw in this ‘proof’ is that the base case does not match the inductive step. If the base case were n=2, it would be valid but n=1 does not have a valid comparative.

The problem with evolutionary induction is similar: the base case does not match the inductive step. Variation within a kind is not variation between kinds. If it could be shown that variation between kinds exists, then they might have a case but they have only shown that variation within a kind exists. By focusing on ‘species’ they have used variation within and between ‘species’ to promote their case but that begs the question of whether species are proper kinds or not.

December 2014

Scientism and creationism

Scientism asserts the superiority of natural science over all other sciences, disciplines, or teachings. Mikael Stenmark proposed the expression scientific expansionism as a synonym for scientism. That’s a good suggestion because scientism is essentially a boundary-breaker. Scientism says that science is superior wherever it goes and it goes anywhere it wants. (That’s analogous to the word statism — the assertion that the state is sovereign wherever it goes and it goes wherever it wants — which is off-topic except for the ways scientism and statism work hand-in-hand.)

My assertion is that evolution and deep time depend on scientism. Deep time undermines the disciplines of history and archaeology by jumping behind them to assert knowledge of a prior temporality. Geologists and biologists should allow archaeologists and historians to take the lead on deep time. Some of this did happen in the 19th century (see Man Among the Mammoths) but the archaeologists and historians lost control of deep time to the geologists and biologists.

It’s ironic that the theologian-philosopher William Paley’s book Natural Theology is considered the foil for Darwin’s Origin of Species. Natural theology and natural science are two different disciplines. Many scientists today assert that science cannot talk about God but apparently science can talk against God. The main point I would make is that scientism allows scientists to dictate to theologians and philosophers (and artists) what nature is. A theology or philosophy of nature is disallowed by scientism. (That is one reason why today there is philosophy of science but no longer philosophy of nature.)

The mainstream scientific associations are scientistic, though they try to do so without alienating the public. They oppose limits to the domain of science — even the oft-stated limit of separation from religion or values does not limit what naturalistic explanations are allowed to replace.

Because of the above the main opponent of creationism is scientism. Fortunately, many people with various views are critical of scientism. So creationists should built on anti-scientism to make a place in public discussions for creationism.

September 2014


Radical orthodoxy

Radical Orthodoxy is a movement (or ‘disposition’) among some theologians which attempts to articulate Christian orthodoxy in the context of post-modernist critiques of modernism, post-liberal critiques of liberalism, and post-secular critiques of secularism. They’re not creationists but they do make some similar points about creation, fall, and redemption contrary to naturalism.

According to its best-known exponent, John Milbank, theology should speak “directly out of the Biblical tradition, without any recourse to external supplementation,” and should be using “the resources of revelation alone.” And Paul Tyson in the online journal Radical Orthodoxy makes points that creationists could approve in Can Modern Science be Theologically Salvaged? (2014)

Here are some excerpts:

Entirely de-temporalizing the cosmological and teleological horizons of the biblical narrative does profound damage to the biblical narrative, for that narrative is inescapably temporally constructed. History is the texture of Judeo-Christian revelation, even if history is certainly not understood in modern historiographical terms. p.130

… the texture of history cannot be extracted from the Christian revelation, and that history has an Edenic age just as it has an eschatological age, and those alpha and omega ages are ages located within Christ, yes, but they are ages of a different yet real nature to the present and somehow less than fully real nature. p.132

Modern naturalism recognizes only one age, only one nature. Life is a strange and transitory visitor in such a picture of reality. Without some sort of true meaning to Eden, the radicality of goodness in creation, which persists but is marred by sin, death, scarcity, and disease, is lost, and the radical eschatological horizon of total redemptive hope for nature is also lost. p.133

For in the final analysis, there is a profound imaginative dissonance between a reality outlook embedded in a three age canonical narrative of salvation history and modern naturalism, particularly in relation to cosmogony. p.134

Looks like a movement worth watching.

November 2014

Extreme positions

Evolutionists are extreme “lumpers” as far as classification goes: there is only one kind of life (or stuff) and all differences are a matter of degree.  The problem for science is that differences of kind cannot be demonstrated unless one first accepts some criteria for differentiating them, which evolutionists won’t do because it would lead to the demise of evolution.

Another approach is to look at the opposite extreme that every individual is different in kind (historically called occasionalism).  By focusing on the particulars one can always find differences between two things and by exaggerating their significance they become differences in kind.

These two extreme positions (evolutionism and occasionalism) are symmetric: they are both right or both wrong.  But by symmetry if one of them is wrong, the other must be wrong, too.  So evolution cannot be right.

In Bayesian terms these are extreme priors and Bayesian calculations don’t work for extreme priors.  So Bayesianism needs to be modified to begin not with mere belief but with data and simple generalization of data.  Then new data can be used to adjust the current generalization rather than give new hypotheses equal weight to old generalizations.  It should be more like exponential smoothing with greater weight given to well-tried theories than to new data — scientific practice is more like this anyway.

Notice how our opponents keep trying to focus our attention on new evidence such as radiometric data.  Our answer should first be, What about the old data such as evidence of a world-wide deluge?  They have no right to dismiss that.  Our opponents abuse the desire for progress into denigrating the past altogether.  But it is precisely the knowledge of previous generations that is at stake here.  Our opponents can emphasize how up-to-date they are; we have the wisdom and knowledge of the ages behind us.  Only a culture that trashes its past can defeat us.

December 2014

It Could Happen

NEW YORK, 2024 JUL 14. President of the Nations Jack Lever gave his State of the World speech to the United Nations today. President Lever began by listing his accomplishments in the past year. These included making the United Nations’ currency, the Uno, the sovereign currency of every country. Switzerland, the last hold-out, turned over it’s franc in May. He also stated that world unemployment was at the same level it was before the World Depression of 2010-2018. While he acknowledged that the world economy still needed redistribution of wealth, he said that much progress had been made.

President Lever then outlined the challenges he sees ahead. First was ending the epidemics that spread during the World Depression. Next was having the World Curriculum that was completed last year instituted in the schools of every nation. Third was bringing unity to the religions of the world.

He stressed the importance of the third goal even though the first two might seem more pressing. “The goal of world unity will not be achieved without religions reconciliation,” he said to the delegates who gave him a standing ovation. He went on to say “Each of the great religions of the world must become unified before world religions can unite.” President Lever said that as a Christian he was particularly interested in the unity of the Christian Church. “In the spirit of Constantine the Great, I am calling all church leaders to an ecumenical council of reconciliation.” he said.

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