THE BLOB THAT ATE RELIGION: PART I

July 26, 2009 at 7:05 PM 35 comments

In comments on a recent post on this blog, I said the following:

“Evolution doesn’t stop.  The best non-theistic theories of consciousness we have (admittedly primitive) suggest that the evolution of consciousness requires nothing but survival advantage and sufficient complexity.  How much complexity do you think exists in a structure as elaborate as an infinite, multidimensional multiverse in which we don’t even know that space or time are the fundamental constituents?  So what consciousness may exist, even in a non-theistic explanation?  And of what might it be capable?  How do you place scientific limits on how such consciousness can interact with our senses, when we’re still trying to figure out how our own consciousness interacts with our bodies?”

I promised a follow-up blog post to amplify that statement. In the meanwhile, another discussion on the boundary between scientific and religious explanations has been going on at Mormon Heretic, but has wandered into a theistic vs non-theistic discussion of the creation using “advanced civilization” instead of just saying “God”.  Anyone who wants to join in revitalizing that discussion will be, I’m certain, welcomed by Mormon Heretic to do so there.

I am here interested in a narrower question: as science acquires the capacity to explain more and more that we once considered miraculous — as it asserts the authority to enter what had once been ceded as the magisterium of the church — what responsibility does it have to maintain rigorous scientific standards in drawing conclusions about phenomena in the newly “occupied” territories? How does science envelop religion while still being respectful of religion, and faithful (irony intended) to science?

The question becomes significant because many people do not realize just how much territory has been “occupied” since Galileo first stood under the judgement of the church centuries ago.  They are still debating evolution when the science, like some 1950’s horror monster, has already enveloped them and moved on.

But the following paragraphs describe some things that come out of simple extrapolation of basic Western science.  Simply an exercise in consciousness-raising about consciousness when you look at science on time scales well within our technological imaginings, let alone out into deep time where all of human history looks like the lifespan of a mayfly. These are among the miracles that science asserts the capacity (now or eventually) to explain. So what does science owe religion? And what does science owe science?

CONTROLLED EVOLUTION

Within the lifetime of Charles Darwin, his half-cousin, Sir Francis Galton put forward the notion of eugenics as an approach to improving humanity as a whole by selectively encouraging breeding of people felt to have desirable traits and discouraging breeding by people with undesirable traits. Of course, Galton did not originate the practice of “negative eugenics” — societies have been culling the weak in times of stress to preserve resources for the group as a whole for thousands of years. But eugenics quickly gained the support of some of the most famous and progressive personalities in American and British society early in the 2oth Century.

After the horrors of Hitler’s Germany, eugenics seemed to have died. However, the ethical issues never seem to be far away and underlie a whole set of concerns reemerging in modern medicine as possibilities of cloning, stem cell research, or designer babies force us to confront the growing power of biotechnology to probe and, sooner, than we might have thought, take control of the expression of our own genetic heritage.

I don’t know whether this power will be good or bad; I suspect learning to use new powers are always part of growing up as moral beings. My point, however, is that the growing intensity of the debate simply shows how near the powers are to becoming scientific reality. We’re talking about the development of significant genetic modifications perhaps on the time frame it took to go from the Wright brothers to Mars landers.

This would give us powers to cure many diseases and create many new material goods — which is why so much money is being poured into biotechnology — but what might it also create? Would we want to increase our average IQ by 20%? Make our bodies age more slowly? Change our bodily forms to more closely match cultural sexual ideals? Make ourselves more accepting of our cultural norms and belief systems? Those are all things we’ve already tried to produce in our children without conscious control of our genetics. Even questions about the meaning of life — or at least why we ask questions about the meaning of life that we choose to ask — can rapidly fall within an evolutionary paradigm.

CYBERLIFE

Cyberlife is another element that is on the science horizon, and that is forcing us to think anew about what it means to be “alive”. Perhaps it may someday force us to ask what it means to be self-aware. We already all use “anti-viral” software to protect ourselves from programming code that replicates and spreads. More interestingly, we have discovered that mimicking evolution  can be a highly efficient way of optimizing computer programs to solve some complex problems.

Finding ways to create machines that can achieve goals in the real world — to create artificial intelligence — at a level comparable to humans has been an active area of science since the 1950’s. In some ways it has been enormously successful. In other ways it has been enormously disappointing. The mechanisms that underlie some human problem solving play to the enormous speed and memory advantages of computers, but some of the methods used by our minds don’t appear to rely on those strengths at all. For example as the artificial intelligence link above points out, computers are great at playing chess, but inferior at playing “go”, despite vast effort at programming computers to play the latter game.

This suggests an approach of increasingly improving life by matching machine intelligence with human intelligence — although it will cost a lot more than the $6 million man of the TV show — to get the best of both types of intelligence. We already have myoelectric prosthesis, in which signals from residual nerve clusters in the human body are sensed by electrodes and used to more naturally control the movement of artificial limbs. What the human brain might be able to control remotely by mind with a few centuries of technological development — power systems, transportation systems, etc. — is clearly a question subject to scientific exploration.

LONG-LIVED TECHNOLOGY

The modern species of humanity has been around on the order of 100,000 years, according to the best fossil and mitochrondrial DNA evidence. Civilizations based on agriculture rather than nomadic hunter-gatherer methods have been around on the order of 10,000 years. Civilizations based on rudimentary scientific observation beyond that necessary for agriculture have been around longer than, but on the order of, 1000 years. The industrial revolution began on the order of 100 years ago.

Human technological capabilities do seem to be accelerating. But how far? What if technological civilization lasts 1000 years more? Ten thousand years more? One million years? If our capabilities are god-like to our ancestors living at the end of the last ice age, would we even be able to relate to the capabilities of our descendents 1,000.000 years from now? Would we even recognize them as our descendents? 

And what about civilizations elsewhere that got millions of years of a head start on us? The search for such civilizations has itself been a matter of science since at least the Green Bank Conference in 1960. There are even classification systems for the level of technology in such civilizations, at least one of which extrapolates from human growth in energy consumption to generate a galactic-wide civilization in only a few thousand years.

 

——————- 

Again, my point in the above discussion is that these are all issues that science already considers within the realm of scientific inquiry. They all can and do generate papers and presentations in peer-reviewed journals and conferences. And I haven’t even touched any of the exotic ideas that scientists are suggesting as working hypotheses to explain gaps we know we do not understand!

The above lists are simply extrapolations of things we think we do know. Their uncertainty is so large that they have little or no predictive value. They permit earth to be everything from the most advanced civilization currently alive in the galaxy to the equivalent of a preserve for primitive wildlife. But the issues are clearly within the realm of science as scientists (in some disciplines, at least) already practice it.

And I have long since crossed the border defined between the natural and the supernatural, between the scientific and the philosophical or theological, when the concept of non-overlapping magisteria was defined in the West.

Personally, I welcome the obliteration of that border; this site wouldn’t exist in the first place if I did not regard that border to be “unnatural”. Merging the magisteria is part of this site’s mission statement.

So I am suggesting that the boundary between science and religion can no longer be a matter of the phenomena being described themselves. It isn’t about whether or not we consider the meaning of facts versus the nature of facts either. As I’ve noted above, science is already probing scientifically the “meaning of meaning” as it probes the mysteries of the human brain and infers things about the nature of the human mind. It isn’t even about repeatability, since evolution and history themselves are sciences, yet we are nowhere close to hoping to repeat them even in simulations.

As it contemplates its new responsibilities over what once was the realm of religion, science has a responsibility to itself not to fall into the same logical trap it recognizes creationists fall into: If hypothesis X (evolution) can not explain everything, than hypothesis Y (creationism) need not yet explain anything, no matter how large the holes in hypothesis Y in absolute terms. Science cannot start accepting sloppy evidence for its own explanations of the “miraculous”, i.e., evidence so sloppy it would not accept the evidence in any other field of its own endeavors.

In fiction, we can have Sherlock Holmes say, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains — however improbable — must be the truth.” I would suggest that for science to be true to its own methods, even when dealing with the “miraculous”, it must say something else.  “When you have eliminated the impossible, and whatever remains is still highly improbable, it is most probable that you have not yet imagined the truth.”

Yet religion, as it is forced into greater intimacy with science, takes on new responsibilities as well, and not lesser responsibilities. The more power science requires, the more it needs a guide. The more truth science encompasses, the more it needs to be sure it responds to light.

More than ever, our scientific culture needs to worry about the old saw, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And religion in our culture can no longer afford its own corruption.

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Entry filed under: artificial intelligence, astronomy, biology, consciousness, evolution, psychology, Science and Theology.

DUALITY AND DIVINITY MORE ON THE BRASS BALL

35 Comments Add your own

  • 1. FireTag  |  July 27, 2009 at 3:28 PM

    The New Scientist site has today summarized a report by an international committee of artificial intelligence experts on the prospects for the field.

    Among the findings: AI’s with human intelligence anywhere within 20 to 1000 years. However, the internet should not become self-aware within the forseeable future. Malware designed to imitate humans well enough to be used for computer crimes appears to be a more immediate threat than terminators.

    Reply
  • 2. Bishop Rick  |  July 27, 2009 at 4:05 PM

    Well, I agree with the majority of this post, but I take slight exception to a portion of the summary.

    “Yet religion, as it is forced into greater intimacy with science, takes on new responsibilities as well, and not lesser responsibilities.”

    I disagree with this statement.

    As time marches on, Science is replacing more and more of the religious explanations for miracles. I am not aware of a single instance where religion replace a scientific explanation.

    Reply
    • 3. FireTag  |  July 27, 2009 at 4:56 PM

      BR:

      I am not aware of any such situation either — and the replacement of any scientific explanation is NOT what I am referencing.

      Oh, I can think of situations where religion has been right and the science wrong about the phenomena. For example, there is a whole “spiritual” viewpoint about acupuncture which leads practicioners in China to stick needles in people as they have done for centuries. I can’t buy the spiritual explanation.

      My wife injured her shoulder in a way that threatened her ability to play as a professional musician. After surgery and physical rehab brought only partial relief, she wanted to try acupunture. Fortunately for my marital harmony, I have taken tens of thousands of insulin shots over the last 45 years. And I know that every so often, one of those insulin needles goes into one part of my body, but I will feel it sharply somewhere else.

      So there is just enough of a fragmentary connection to my western worldview — that there are neural connections in parts of the brain I normally wouldn’t associate with each other — to let me say, “give it a try.” And it worked, so I’m willing to say that the Chinese have observed something the West didn’t notice, even if I never would describe it the way they do.

      As science acquires new understanding of reality, it doesn’t have to require the abandonment of other languages and worldviews for describing that reality, any more than it has to require Bach sonatas to be expressed in Fourier frequency transforms. I mean, you could do that, but why would you bother?

      How should science direct its power? Always be ready to look at that scientifically, but remember that religion and philosophy must have EVOLVED to be able to do that over thousands of years, even if one doesn’t believe that they’ve been REVEALED by a theistic entity.

      For more on my thoughts about this, see the post Duality and Divinity.

      Reply
  • 4. bewarethechicken  |  July 27, 2009 at 4:46 PM

    I’m sorry FT – but I’m not sure I get what your ultimate point is. Are you saying that religion is merely science in sheep’s clothing?

    Reply
    • 5. FireTag  |  July 27, 2009 at 5:15 PM

      No. BTC, I’m saying that science, to be faithful to its gifts, must remain faithful to its methods even when dealing with things that have formally been regarded as religious turf.

      A crappy scientific explanation for something doesn’t become less crappy as science by comparing it to “God did it!” It must still pass the standard statistical tests for probability and internal and external consistency we’d require as scientists for any other phenomena.

      It’s the 21st century. Nobody can run for public office simply by campaigning against the Whigs.

      Reply
  • 6. Bishop Rick  |  July 27, 2009 at 7:03 PM

    FT: Please expound on the quoted text in comment 2. I’m still not following your intended meaning.

    Reply
  • 7. FireTag  |  July 27, 2009 at 7:26 PM

    BR: I can try, and if I’m unclear still, I’ll be happy to keep trying.

    Maybe it works to think of it as a marriage in which each partner tries to employ his/her own strengths for the good of the marriage, instead of trying to endlessly fight over who’s in charge. Or even more true to the analogy, fighting over how we are going to describe the problem we’re fighting about — which often turns out to be a harder fight than solving the original problem.

    If you ever read the book of “2001 A Space Odessy”, you’ll remember that it ends with the Star Child staring down at the earth and wondering what to do with it. Humanity is acquiring the power to do previously unimaginable things on a time scale much faster than our cultural structures can easily adapt to. We need both science and faith working together to deal with that, instead of being seen as alternatives.

    The concept of the “singularity” was something I cut from the post because the post was already escessively long. It’s probably worth another post on its own.

    Reply
  • 8. Bishop Rick  |  July 27, 2009 at 8:18 PM

    Ok, but I think you are making a huge assumption in your assessment.

    “We need both science and faith working together to deal with that, instead of being seen as alternatives.”

    That statement seems to be more opinion than fact. There are others that are of the opinion that religion brings nothing to the table.

    Reply
  • 9. FireTag  |  July 27, 2009 at 8:56 PM

    BR:

    Over the next couple of decades, IMO, we may put that to the test experimentally.

    Reply
  • 10. TH  |  July 27, 2009 at 9:14 PM

    This post is an interesting foray into how science and religion interact. I read this as you basically saying that the changing times and rapid acceleration of many conditions, like expansions in technology and scientific understand along with critical and time sensitive issues like global warming or the “singularity” or bottle neck mean that science and faith need each other and should stop treating each other like enemies without being “diluted” by the other.

    As I read the discussion thread, I am reminded of what was shared by a professor of a seminary class I intended. This prof. said that all too often people confuse faith and beliefs, and when beliefs are shaken, rather than take that as an opportunity to have a new and better understanding of God, we tend to let faith die. Faith and beliefs are not the same. Faith comes from a root similar to fidelity, or what I like to think of as faith in God, rather than in faith about God. In some ways this parallels science. Science isn’t about a collection of facts, it’s about a way of finding truth about the natural world. When people learned that the world wasn’t flat, it didn’t mean that science had failed. Just like, when people learn to explain some miracles, it doesn’t mean that God has failed.

    Seems to me like the need to be mindful of the Spirit is especially crucial in these times. In section 163 of the CofC’s doctrine and covenants, the people in the CofC are urged to prepare new generations of disciples with fresh perspectives to handle the challenges facing the world. Science can help us be better disciples. Can being a disciple help us be better scientists? I don’t know. I do know that from what you have shared from your personal story, FT. You would not be a scientist had it not been for the impress of the Spirit…so maybe the answer there is yes.

    Reply
  • 11. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 12:15 AM

    FT:

    In your preamble, in reference to the Mormon Heritic blog, you state that, “scientific and religious explanations…has wandered into a discusion using advanced civilization instead of just saying God…and anyone who wants to revitalize that discussion is welcome to do so there.”

    Does that mean, those concepts are not welcome here?

    Yet, you bring up the GreenBank conference [the Drake equation].

    You also state that “these [and others] are issues that science already considers within the realm of scientific inquiry.”

    And – as you explain in “About,- the fire’s still burning” that “There is no safe distance to follow such a God. He is not playing by our rules, but by his own.”

    Apparently, others – and maybe yourself, were so enraged with the manner, in which, I brought forth my arguments, that there was a failure to see the thread of logic, that leads to the existence of our creator, using little or no faith.

    Since Mormon Heritic closed down any further comments on that particular blog, I will simply and humbly state that:

    Science is only a tool of religion. It just doesn’t know it yet.

    Reply
  • 12. bewarethechicken  |  July 28, 2009 at 10:13 AM

    Thanks FT – I think I get it now. This is consistent with my take that we’ve discussed several times. If someone has a theory, say about the Book of Mormon, that is based on faith or religion, then that theory has value as a theological or faith-based one. But as you point out, if that theory is expanded to be claimed a “sceintific” theoty, rather than a “religious” theory, then it must stay true to scientific principals. As such, scientific probably says that almost anything is a better scientific theory than magical floating spirits handing out disappearing plates for mystical translation.

    Both religion and science must stay in their respective corners.

    Reply
  • 13. FireTag  |  July 28, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    No, BTC, You may be right, but you don’t get what I’m saying. I’m saying that religion and science can not stay in “their respective corners” because science and religion no longer have respective corners that can be defined in terms of subject matter.

    If hypothesis A has <.0005% probability of being true and hypothesis B has a 2% probability of being true, the fact that hypothesis B has a 40,000 times higher probability of truth is simply irrelevant to the discussion. Because Baysean analysis has to incorporate ALL of the possible explanations, the proper SCIENTIFIC response is to look for hypothesis C or to admit that the phenomenon is not understood.

    It is NOT to claim that hypothesis B is true. Hypothesis B remains a bad hypothesis and adopting it remains bad science.
    .

    Reply
  • 14. FireTag  |  July 28, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    Sxark:

    I have made it clear that I want to focus THIS thread on the narrower topic of good science versus bad science in dealing with things that have traditionally been thought to be in the religious domain.

    If MH has closed his thread to comments, it’s probably because none of the participants still had anything generally new to say. The original post contains a link to the MH discussion, so anyone can read everything you had to say on the topic.

    Reply
  • 15. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 5:27 PM

    Firetag:

    If science uses the tool of the “scientific method” to find truth, – then, is this not good science?

    What is an example of bad science when it uses the scientific method in the religious domain?

    The only things, I can think of, is: [1]. God is a creation of man.
    {2}. If there is no probability of proving something thru the scientifc method. – then is does not exist.

    But, is that bad science?

    Reply
  • 16. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 6:14 PM

    Firetag:

    Perhaps, I spoke too soon.

    I think I see where you are going, after re-reading the last few paragraphs of your preamble.

    Reply
  • 17. FireTag  |  July 28, 2009 at 6:27 PM

    Bad science is the following:

    If A exists, B may or may not exist. Therefore, since B is observed to exist, A must exist and A must have been responsible for B. Actually, we do not yet observe B to exist. However, if C exists, B may or may not exist, assuming a model which is independent of the existence of A. We observe C. Hence, we can infer the presence of B. Therefore A must exist and ultimately be responsible for C.

    No. There is nothing logical in that argument; it is gobblygook and it is your argument throughout the MH thread.

    A=God
    B=long-lived civilization
    C=us

    If you don’t have the background in logic to see why that argument is illogical and want to continue to make that argument, don’t make it here. Create your own blog, and discuss it there with anyone who wishes to do so.

    Reply
  • 18. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 7:04 PM

    Firetag:

    Perhaps, you spoke too soon.

    A= The Drake equation
    B= The Fermi paradox [ as to why contact has not been observed]
    C= Religion [says contact has been made]
    D=Your assertion: “There is no safe distance to follow such a God. He is not playing by our rules, but his own”. Which is another way of saying that it is impossible for our science to understand the attributes of a far advanced civilization, without direct assistance from that civilization.
    E.= Religion says that, not only has contact been made, but it is on going and continous.
    F= Therefore, science is only a tool of religion.

    Reply
  • 19. FireTag  |  July 28, 2009 at 7:10 PM

    No, I did not speak too soon. Your last comment merely repeats what you said before. Having seen how this played out on Mormon Heretic, this is your last warning before I disapprove.

    Reply
  • 20. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 7:48 PM

    Firetag:

    Disapprove?

    It sounds like you are leaning towards: “I thought I knew all the answers, – until they changed the questions”.

    All things considered, I feel I saw a thread in your logic that leads to the premise that science is a tool of religion.

    I see you as a believer in God, – A God that created this universe.

    Therefore, it makes no sense to me if you hold the position that science is not a tool of religion.

    But, if you feel that I’m repetitive and do not fit within the small perameters you have set for this blog, will I still be permited to watch and maybe make a comment now and then?

    Reply
    • 21. TH  |  July 28, 2009 at 8:14 PM

      Sxark:

      If “God” is ultimate, then the premise that science is part of religion makes sense to me. In some ways it reminds me of people who do ministry who would never think (or even want to admit) that they are doing ministry because they don’t see God’s ultimate role in everything.

      FT:
      Is doing good science different from doing good religion?

      Reply
  • 22. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 7:51 PM

    Firetag:

    and what about D. in #18?

    Reply
  • 23. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 8:38 PM

    TH:

    That’s one of my points. – That God is ultimate and we are too puny to put limits on what God can or cannot do.

    And that we need God’s direct assistance if we are to understand any of his attributes.

    Science, as it is practiced today, cannot do this because the “rules” that God has proclaimed are not acceptable to science.

    Reply
  • 24. FireTag  |  July 28, 2009 at 9:13 PM

    Szark:

    Re 18, if you read the link to the Drake equation in the original post, you would have noted that the Drake equation may OR may not imply that there is a Fermi paradox.

    Your B and C are contradictions of each other.

    C thru F assume the existence of God to begin with. Nowhere have I tried to prove the existence of God through science.

    TH:

    Doing good science is different than doing good religion, even when the subject matter is identical. It is the same way in which hearing a great piece of music and being transported and enlifted by it is different than analyzing why the human brain is emotionally tied to certain harmonics.

    There are actually ways of tracking the complex harmonies of a symphony mathematically and showing that they imitate the evolution of solutions to an equation in higher dimensional mathematics! . So the math may tell us something about the art and vice versa, but they are not the same.

    Reply
  • 25. FireTag  |  July 28, 2009 at 11:04 PM

    Sxark:

    You wrote

    “Therefore, these recent discoveries by science only require a little faith to pursue a thread of logic that “God”, as we believe in, – exists.

    Would you agree?”

    No. There’s no thread of “logic” there. Your argument is all faith, and you repeated it unvaryingly for days on Mormon Heretic, and have continued to merely repeat it here after being asked not to and having a link placed so that anyone could read everything you wrote there on the subject.

    You are now done with making the argument again on this thread.

    Reply
  • 26. sxark  |  July 28, 2009 at 11:16 PM

    Firetag:

    My logic would not follow in the world of Pantheism, but how would Pantheism explain the “Big Bang”?

    or, was there a big bang ?

    Reply
    • 27. FireTag  |  August 4, 2009 at 1:05 PM

      Pantheism involves the idea that God is neither internal to reality (as in a progression of gods) nor external to reality, as in most branches of Christianity. Rather, you might think of it as “God is the boundary of His own imagination”.

      The picture one has of reality therefore influences how a pantheist pictures God, but doesn’t affect the belief in pantheism itself. For example, I hardly picture God the way the Romantic poets did.

      In modern cosmology, the existence of a big bang is well established. The interesting questions — and there are physical models of cosmology incorporating all of the following ideas — are whether big bangs happen pretty much everywhere pretty much all of the time (called chaotic inflation); happen periodically as “branes” crash together, bounce off, and fall back; happen cyclically as a closed universe recollapses and bounces; or, evolves from an infinitely diffuse past so that the big bang in some sense happens in the middle of time.

      We probably won’t know the answer until we understand gravity itself on a quantum level. Stange things may happen: there appear to be possibilities of a minimum possible length, and there’s also some evidence from something called causal set theory that the dimensions of space themselves become fractal and collapse from three to one.

      Reply
  • 28. Mormon Heretic  |  July 29, 2009 at 12:37 AM

    FireTag, I have to say I am very impressed with your knowledge of Bayesian statistics. That has to be one of my least favorite areas of statistics, to go along with probability. I’m perfectly happy to do regression, survival analysis, and other topics in statistics.

    Sometimes I am amazed by your thought processes, because your thought processes are so far out of my box.

    I went to the temple tonight, and had an interesting thought on probabilities–perhaps the topic for a blog post.

    Sxark, you need to learn when to stop beating a dead horse.

    Reply
  • 29. FireTag  |  July 29, 2009 at 1:36 AM

    MH:

    I know less about statistics than you do, I’m sure. When you work for government, over the years it’s amazing how many topics with which you become familiar.

    The bureaucracy tends to use line-of-sight-tasking, appropriately known by its acronym of LOST. The politicians ask the bureaucrat a question about which he or she would have no earthly reason to know the answer.

    The bureaucrat needs an expert, but doesn’t know who the real experts are, so asks the question of whatever scientific contractor staff is available. That staffer (someone like me) then has to learn quickly enough about the topic to answer the question, or identify a true expert, interview the expert, and then understand the answer well enough to translate it back to the bureaucrat who will in turn tell the politician.

    Often someone like me is intrigued enough to follow up on my own and learn a lot more on my own dime. Everything from how hazard ranking factors for toxic waste superfund sites were set to the plate tectonic history of the Atlantic Coast.

    Your tax dollars at work!
    .

    Reply
  • 30. Madam Curie  |  September 27, 2009 at 12:13 AM

    If hypothesis A has <.0005% probability of being true and hypothesis B has a 2% probability of being true, the fact that hypothesis B has a 40,000 times higher probability of truth is simply irrelevant to the discussion. Because Baysean analysis has to incorporate ALL of the possible explanations, the proper SCIENTIFIC response is to look for hypothesis C or to admit that the phenomenon is not understood.

    It is NOT to claim that hypothesis B is true. Hypothesis B remains a bad hypothesis and adopting it remains bad science.

    Interesting, since rarely do scientists ever really determine something is “true”… at least in biology. The conclusion is generally, “B is more likely to be the case than A”. It when we start getting into religion vs. science debates that the whole evolution vs. creation science comes into play. Scientists have no problem saying that the theory of evolution is a theory – it can never be truly proven. Although it may be used as an assumption in many later experiments, the outcome of those experiments still do not prove the initial underlying assumption. There may be a hypothesis C that would also give the same conclusions, and more accurately describe the system.

    The problem with faith is it generally starts from the preamble that “X is true, based on faith”. If we are to place the two on a level playing field, both must accept the other’s weaknesses and strengths.

    Reply
    • 31. FireTag  |  September 27, 2009 at 1:10 AM

      Yes, I’m getting sloppy in my language to deal with a situation that scientists in many disciplines aren’t used to dealing with. We would usually not publish any hypothesis at less than a 95% confidence level, so something with a 2% confidence level would be beyond the pale as being settled.

      Yet, starting from the certainty that “X is true” has provoked a counterreaction that “X is NOT true” instead of looking for Hypothesis C. Until we put together a credible hypothesis C, or boost the confidence level of X true or false, we need to be aware we ARE deciding on faith, not science.

      Reply
      • 32. Madam Curie  |  September 27, 2009 at 1:14 AM

        Of course. We just call that faith an “assumption” or “statistically likely”. The difficulty there lies in the word choice – we would not want to call this sort of thing “faith,” which is something that is true but not seen (per Hebrews). Likewise, faith assumes hope, which again undermines the concept of the objective scientific process.

  • 33. FireTag  |  September 27, 2009 at 1:23 AM

    It’s all a production of the alien equivalent of 25th Century Fox anyway. 😀

    Got to call it a night.

    Reply
  • 34. antingreall  |  December 10, 2009 at 8:21 AM

    True words, some unadulterated words dude. Thanks for makin my day.

    Reply
    • 35. FireTag  |  December 10, 2009 at 2:50 PM

      Thanks for visiting.

      Reply

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