Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thread for Nick

I took a break from that post over at the mostly-dead hornets' nest, and MWChase is getting a bit of fatigue, himself. The comments are getting pretty long individually, and I figure I might as well see about moving it over here where more people will see it. I recommend we clear the debate table of the various threads and start with one central point of Nick's choice and cover that thoroughly, minimizing tangents.

One of the points I'd personally go for: Is the existence of a god a scientific claim? I'd say so, because if he has effects on the universe, that makes him natural/material/scientifically measurable by definition.

37 comments:

Nick said...

Is it a scientific claim? I'd like to see your definition of science then since you think the claim is scientific.

Bronze Dog said...

Hmm, how to put it concisely...

A scientific claim is a claim about anything that has observable effects on the universe.

Nick said...

If the Laws of logic hold, there will be effects on the universe. Is the existence of logic a scientific claim?

If Charlemagne was crowned emperor in 800 A.D., that will have effects on the universe. Is that a scientific claim?

It seems you're thinking if it has some effect on science, it must be scientific. An idea can have scientific ramifications, but not be scientific. Berkeley's idea that matter isn't real has implications for science, but it is not a scientific claim.

Bronze Dog said...

Logic isn't a scientific claim in itself. The scientific method is a branch of philosophy derived from logical principles.

The crowning of Charlemagne is a scientific claim of the historical variety. It would have the effect of causing politically powerful people of acknowledging him as an authority and able to give orders, so that he could pursue his ambitions, yadda yadda.

It seems you're thinking if it has some effect on science, it must be scientific.

You're using science in a much different sense than I'm using. That's getting into the philosophy of science, not specific scientific claims.

An idea can have scientific ramifications, but not be scientific. Berkeley's idea that matter isn't real has implications for science, but it is not a scientific claim.

That wouldn't have implications for science itself. It would only have implications for many existing theories, like those of chemistry and so forth. If it were found to be true, scientists would then have to develop a new scientific theory to explain how things work without matter in a way that also explains all the observations and measurements to date.

Akusai said...

Berkeley's claim is distinctly unscientific because it is evidence-free, unfalsifiable, philosophical navel-gazing. We could all be in the Matrix, Keanu, but it doesn't seem terribly likely. Berkeley makes no testable, empirical claims whatsoever and that relegates his nonsense to the realm of, well, nonsense.

Anything that has measurable, observable effects on the universe falls within the realm of science. This includes the Christian God, who is said by literalists to intervene on a regular basis, causing miracles here or floods there. If we can look at it (and don't try to play lame-ass, hair-splitting semantic games with that; you know exactly what I mean), then it falls within the realm of science, plain and simple.

And, by the way, the "laws of logic" you wankers love to throw about like they're some kind of magical, objective truth of supernaturalism or Platonism, are not some magical abstract entity. There are multiple systems of logic, each with its own axioms and its own laws. There is no magical "logic" that exists outside our mind and is 100% unimpeachable in its ability to prove "Truth."

Laws of mathematics work in the same way, so don't bring them up, either.

Axiomatic systems, by their nature, cannot be 100% internally consistent; they must rely on other axiomatic systems to prove all of their propositions. General philosophical logic is an axiomatic system; this means it is only as good as its assumptions and it can never be proven using only its own rules. That is the basic idea of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem.

What this means is that there are no magical "laws of logic." There are the laws of the various types of logic that come necessarily out of the assumptions behind those logics. There is, in short, no metaphysical import to the laws of logic. There is dialectical import.

Of course, that should go without saying, given that there's no good reason to think that there's anything to metaphysics in the first place.

Bronze Dog said...

Oh, more on the "no matter" thing, it depends on whether or not it makes predictions, and if provides more explanation and more accurate predictions than any current theory.

If it makes falsifiable predictions (predictions where it's hypothetically possible to end up wrong), it's a scientific claim, and can be falsified or verified.

If it does better than a currently accepted scientific theory, it's a valid scientific claim. The old theories still tend to stick around, since they often still make useful, accurate predictions, just not as accurate. Newtonian physics is still valid for the "middle world" of medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds. Relativity and QM are just more accurate at broader ranges.

So far, the idealists/solipsists I've dealt with kind of fell into the same trouble as String "Theory".

Nick said...

BronzeL Logic isn't a scientific claim in itself. The scientific method is a branch of philosophy derived from logical principles.

Me: I'd say it's not scientific period. It's philosophical and science rests on the philosophical principles found in logic. Take away logic and there is no science.

Bronze: The crowning of Charlemagne is a scientific claim of the historical variety. It would have the effect of causing politically powerful people of acknowledging him as an authority and able to give orders, so that he could pursue his ambitions, yadda yadda.

Me: It's historical. You can't take it to a lab and do repeated experiments on it. You also can't learn what will happen with it by studying natural laws. It involves free-will agents who aren't subject to laws of nature.



Bronze: You're using science in a much different sense than I'm using. That's getting into the philosophy of science, not specific scientific claims.

Me: And you are using science in a way to try to cover everything when science does not have that ability. Science can only tell you about the system. It cannot tell you about what lies outside of the system. It can neither prove nor disprove God.



Bronze: That wouldn't have implications for science itself. It would only have implications for many existing theories, like those of chemistry and so forth. If it were found to be true, scientists would then have to develop a new scientific theory to explain how things work without matter in a way that also explains all the observations and measurements to date.

Me: For the record, I don't hold to Berkeley's idealism.

However, Berkeley would say his view would not change science at all. In fact, it explains science for him. That could well be the case, but the question to ask is "Is his view true?" Berkeley did raise many questions but it seems his answer not only goes against human experience but raises more questions.

To respond to your second post, it's not a scientific claim. It's a philosophical claim and that philosophy is to affect the underlying branch of science.

Nick said...

Akusai: Berkeley's claim is distinctly unscientific because it is evidence-free, unfalsifiable, philosophical navel-gazing. We could all be in the Matrix, Keanu, but it doesn't seem terribly likely. Berkeley makes no testable, empirical claims whatsoever and that relegates his nonsense to the realm of, well, nonsense.

Me: My problem is that I have no way to empirically test anything that has been said here as this is all philosophy and not science. Therefore, I say it is nonsense.

Akusai:Anything that has measurable, observable effects on the universe falls within the realm of science. This includes the Christian God, who is said by literalists to intervene on a regular basis, causing miracles here or floods there. If we can look at it (and don't try to play lame-ass, hair-splitting semantic games with that; you know exactly what I mean), then it falls within the realm of science, plain and simple.

Me: Translation. "Don't try to analyze my claim." No. I don't know what you mean. What do you mean by a literalist exactly? For instance, I hold a high view of Scripture, but I don't believe God regularly intervenes in the universe. Also, because something has observable effects, it does not follow that the cause must be observable and thus be rooted in science. That is a metaphysical claim which I believe you later say is nonsense.

Akusai: And, by the way, the "laws of logic" you wankers love to throw about like they're some kind of magical, objective truth of supernaturalism or Platonism, are not some magical abstract entity. There are multiple systems of logic, each with its own axioms and its own laws. There is no magical "logic" that exists outside our mind and is 100% unimpeachable in its ability to prove "Truth."

Me:Oh really? You don't think the Law of Non-contradiction applies to reality? I also enjoy this putting of truth in quotation marks. Are you skeptical of the notion of truth?

Akusai: Laws of mathematics work in the same way, so don't bring them up, either.

Me: Sounds like an assertion. Can I test this? Is it empirical in any way? Then how do you know?

Akusai:Axiomatic systems, by their nature, cannot be 100% internally consistent; they must rely on other axiomatic systems to prove all of their propositions. General philosophical logic is an axiomatic system; this means it is only as good as its assumptions and it can never be proven using only its own rules. That is the basic idea of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem.

Me:Nope. Nothing scientific here either.

Akusai: What this means is that there are no magical "laws of logic." There are the laws of the various types of logic that come necessarily out of the assumptions behind those logics. There is, in short, no metaphysical import to the laws of logic. There is dialectical import.

Me: I'll be amused to see you denying the Law of Noncontradiction.

Akusai: Of course, that should go without saying, given that there's no good reason to think that there's anything to metaphysics in the first place.

Me: Interesting since I've seen nothing about science and only metaphysics here.

Bronze. I'll be busy the rest of the evening. I'll try to respond tomorrow if I can. If not, I shall Saturday.

Bronze Dog said...

Nick: Take away logic and there is no science.

True. No knowledge, either.

Nick: It's historical. You can't take it to a lab and do repeated experiments on it.

You're getting into technicolor science. Science isn't about guys in lab coats pouring colored liquids into each other.

You can't take the event into the lab, but you can take the records in, examine for signs of forgery, compare accounts to look for contradictions, and so forth. It's "softer" than something like particle physics, but it's still science.

You also can't learn what will happen with it by studying natural laws. It involves free-will agents who aren't subject to laws of nature.

If that were true, you'd never be able to predict anyone's behavior at better than chance levels. There's also the problems with "free will", especially since I was never really able to come up with a consistent definition.

And you are using science in a way to try to cover everything when science does not have that ability. Science can only tell you about the system. It cannot tell you about what lies outside of the system. It can neither prove nor disprove God.

I'm using science the way scientists use it. You're arbitrarily defining a line in the system for no reason. The only way something can be outside the system is if it never interacts with it, or in other words, have no observable effects at all.

I'll let Akusai handle his own rebuttal.

Akusai said...

My problem is that I have no way to empirically test anything that has been said here as this is all philosophy and not science.

It is not philosophy. It is dialectic. It is the attempt to use reasoning to convince others of your point of view. The words that I say do not make reality what it is. I never claimed to be doing science; as I understand it, we're engaged in dialogue about science. Complaining that I'm talking about science without doing science is retarded.

Me: Translation. "Don't try to analyze my claim."

Straw man. I was referring specifically to the phrase "look at it" and making an attempt to forestall semantic hairsplitting over the definition of "look," i.e. "But what about particle accelerators? What about electron-scanning microscopes? We aren't looking at things directly in that way, so that isn't science! Ha!"

Perhaps I was merely unclear in that I was not referring to the rest of my statement. It was not a proscription of analysis but a proscription of pointless semantic babbling.

For instance, I hold a high view of Scripture, but I don't believe God regularly intervenes in the universe.

Good for you. Lots of Christians don't share that opinion, but I couldn't be sure of your personal beliefs, which is why I said "literalists" instead of "you." And you're being silly to pretend that you don't know what a Biblical literalist is: one who holds that each and every word of the Bible is explicitly, literally truthful; if the Bible says something happened, it happened just as the Bible describes. No metaphor, allegory, or symbolism allowed.

Also, because something has observable effects, it does not follow that the cause must be observable and thus be rooted in science.

Evidence, please? You find me an effect without an in-principle observable cause inside this universe and you might be onto something. Otherwise you're just blowing smoke.

Oh really? You don't think the Law of Non-contradiction applies to reality?

Some systems of logic are valuable because they apply closely to reality. Euclidian geometry, for example, is an internally consistent axiomatic mathematical system that is quite useful because of its close ties to physical reality; it accurately describes reality in three dimensions. This does not mean it is a Platonic ideal that existed before we formulated it.

Think about the inverse-square law that governs gravitation between two point masses. This law is a description of a well-observed and cataloged natural phenomenon. The law and the gravitation it describes are not, however, the same thing. Gravity existed before we really noticed it; the inverse-square law describing the motions of bodies tied by gravity did not.

Likewise the law of non-contradiction is a description of something we observe: that something cannot be not itself at the same time as it is itself (note that it has never and probably can never actually be proven; it's really an assumed axiom of standard philosophical logic). The law describes reality. Long before Aristotle, an apple could not be both wholly an apple and wholly a peach, and yet the law did not exist. The law is a formulation made by humans that has no external reality of its own, though it applies to reality. Other systems of logic do not; the one we generally use tends to, which is probably why we use it, but "accords with reality" is hardly a necessary condition for a logical system.

Interestingly enough, there are even systems of internally-consistent logic that attempt to deny the law of non-contradiction. So while I was not denying that it accords with reality (it does; it just does not have any magical metaphysical significance), some people seem to be trying to do just that.

I also enjoy this putting of truth in quotation marks. Are you skeptical of the notion of truth?

Of Capital-T "Truth," yes. Of eternal, self-evident "Truth?" Yes. Of "truth," that is facts, reliably established through rigorous testing and controlled observation, accepted only provisionally with the understanding that further observation may prove them wrong, no. Colloquially, I and most skeptics refer to scientific truth as "truth." Technically speaking, though, I'm with Indiana Jones: "Archaeology [I extend this to science in general] is the search for fact, not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall."

Sounds like an assertion. Can I test this? Is it empirical in any way? Then how do you know?

Jesus Christ, read some Ernst Godel and stop pretending that I'm making things up. Your glibness proves nothing but that you're a smug little shit.

Nope. Nothing scientific here either.

No, I didn't do any experiments or conduct an ounce of controlled observation. I was talking about mathematics and logical systems. Pretending that those subjects don't exist because they're inconvenient for your argument while hiding behind accusations of "You're not doing science!" in no way supports your claims.

I'll be amused to see you denying the Law of Noncontradiction.

As you saw, I do not deny the fact described by the law, but other people, probably far smarter than I, do. I do, however, deny that the formulation of an accurate description of reality is the same thing as the reality that is described. That a red shirt cannot be a blue shirt at the same time as it is red is a fact about reality. That A cannot be ~A at the same time as it is A is a description of that clearly observable fact.

Remember, "laws" are only there because we made them. The language that describes the principle as a "law" doesn't give it some type of intrinsic value. If we had historically referred to it as the "Idea of non-contradiction," I highly doubt that you'd be tossing it about as if it had some type of metaphysical authority.

Interesting since I've seen nothing about science and only metaphysics here.

No, you've seen dialectic. Equivocation of the word "metaphysics" will not go unnoticed here. We have been talking about science and about logic and about mathematics. At no point did I make any metaphysical claims, merely statements about the real world and things in it, even if some of those things are abstracts. Such conversation is not metaphysical in nature, so stop trying to pretend that we're our own worst enemies.

Tom Foss said...

Science is a method of examining reality. It's a toolset, a heuristic.

If the Laws of logic hold, there will be effects on the universe. Is the existence of logic a scientific claim?

What are the "laws of logic"? I suspect that you're equivocating on the term "existence" here. Logic is a method, like science. It 'exists' in the same way that any concepts exist--conceptually.

If Charlemagne was crowned emperor in 800 A.D., that will have effects on the universe. Is that a scientific claim?

Historical science, sure. We can make hypotheses about Charlemagne's life, gather evidence, and evaluate those hypotheses.

It seems you're thinking if it has some effect on science, it must be scientific.

No, if it has some observable effect on the universe, then it can be studied through the methods of science. If it doesn't have observable effects on the universe, then there's nothing to call "it."

An idea can have scientific ramifications, but not be scientific.

Again, equivocation, this time on the term "scientific." Above, you used it to mean "able to be studied by science," here you seem to mean "supported by science" or "discovered via scientific methods." These are not the same thing.

Berkeley's idea that matter isn't real has implications for science, but it is not a scientific claim.

Sure it is, if it's testable. Assuming there's a specific definition of "real" involved, and that this isn't simply solipsism, then this claim could be tested. Any testable claim--i.e., any claim about observable effects in the universe--is a scientific one.

Akusai: Berkeley makes no testable, empirical claims whatsoever and that relegates his nonsense to the realm of, well, nonsense.

And that's the other side of it. If we have no way of testing a claim to determine its validity, then it's not a scientific claim. Moreover, it's almost certainly a nonsensical claim--if there's no way of testing its validity, then how could the claimant arrive at that conclusion? What reason would the claimant have for claiming it in the first place?

Nick: It's historical. You can't take it to a lab and do repeated experiments on it. You also can't learn what will happen with it by studying natural laws. It involves free-will agents who aren't subject to laws of nature.

Science isn't limited to lab coats and Jacob's Ladders, Nick. Archaeology, paleontology, geology, and anthropology are all sciences, working with the scientific method to develop a clearer and more accurate understanding of reality. Your understanding of science seems to be stuck in a fifth grade science textbook--surprisingly enough, there's more to science than "Hypothesis, Procedure, Experiment, Observations, Conclusion."

Science is about making hypotheses, testing them (by making observations and collecting evidence), and revising those hypotheses in light of the evidence. The actual events in history may not be repeatable, but that doesn't really present a problem; repeatability in historical sciences comes from different observers independently coming to the same conclusions based on the evidence (which is what repeatability is concerned with in all the sciences, in general).

In other words, I can make a hypothesis--for instance, that Charlemagne was born in 1644. I can then collect evidence about Charlemagne's life and about the significant events of the mid-1600s. What I'm likely to find is that my hypothesis is wildly incorrect, and so I come to the much more reasonable and evidence-supported conclusion that Charlemagne was born in 742.

Science can only tell you about the system. It cannot tell you about what lies outside of the system. It can neither prove nor disprove God.

It's not up to science to disprove anything, it's up to the claimant. If God exists "outside the system," then you're right, science can't touch it. And neither can anyone or anything else. What is the difference between something that exists outside the universe, and something that does not exist?

If God has observable effects on the universe (or has had such effects in the past), then science can study those effects and come to some conclusions about God. If God has not had observable effects on the universe, then he's irrelevant, and there's no reason to suppose that he exists.

Translation. "Don't try to analyze my claim."

You suck at translation.

Also, because something has observable effects, it does not follow that the cause must be observable and thus be rooted in science.

If the effects are observable, then we can determine things about those effects. If God has effects, but is himself somehow immune to examination, we still have a set of effects with no natural causes. Were we to study those effects, we would find no causal chain linking them to prior things, we would find effects without causes, which tend to be rare on macroscopic levels. That would be enough, at least, to suggest further study. It may be enough to confirm that effects do not necessarily require natural mechanistic causes in the macroscopic universe. This would be a pretty massive finding, even if we couldn't determine anything about the causal agent directly.

What you run up against, however, is the problem of the Ghost in the Machine--how can a non-physical entity interact with the physical universe? All our evidence suggests that physical things can interact only with other physical things, and interact in specific, known fashions. What reason do we have to posit not only the existence of non-physical entities, but also the heretofore unknown ability of non-physical causes to initiate physical effects?

You don't think the Law of Non-contradiction applies to reality?

Not prescriptively. It applies as a description of reality. And depending on how strictly you define the terms, not a necessarily accurate one--see also: wave-particle duality and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics.

Sounds like an assertion. Can I test this? Is it empirical in any way? Then how do you know?

Can you test whether or not mathematical laws exist as more than concepts? What would that even mean? Do numbers exist as more than concepts? Are you proposing to hit "View Source" on the universe?

MWchase said...

Are you proposing to hit "View Source" on the universe?

Which browser got ported to the RepRap?

In a more serious vein, let me try summing up, to reinforce using repetition:
Scientific investigation is a process. If independent groups get the same result from the same procedure, than the experimental results are stronger. Now, historical science refers to specific events, so if you want to establish something about an event, you have to focus on things that were affected by that event. 'Technicolor' science is based on things that could happen at any time. Hypothetically, the principles of historical science could be applied to a specific 'technicolor' experiment, such as those of Hwang Woo-Suk.

Now, to restate the question of whether the existence of god is "irrelevant". I believe I brought this up over at DCrap, but I'm bringing it up again/now. Either god does nothing to the universe, in which case any model of the universe that incorporates it has a corresponding model, just as effective, but more parsimonious version that is identical except for the existence of god. In this case, the existence of god is actually undecidable, and only Occam's razor has any bearing on which of any given pair of model to use.

Alternatively, god could have some observable effect on the universe, but not be observable. This is a somewhat odd idea. Take the idea of a nebula light-years away. Temperature refers to the average kinetic energy of the particles in a system (for gasses). We don't have the ability to resolve individual atoms using any telescopes that I know of. However, using the idea of black-body radiation, we can determine the temperature of such a nebula by looking at the distribution of frequencies in the light it emits. Now, the only way in which the temperature will 'touch' us is with that light, even though that light is not the motion of atoms. So, just looking at the effects of something can tell us about the cause. What you are proposing is something that has effects that no human can synthesize into a coherent idea, by definition. Otherwise, somebody could work out why, say, some of the hydrogen emission spectra of stars all over the sky suddenly became frequency-modulated with a message in Hebrew. (Example chosen at random. If anybody wants to make a story from that, feel free. Second semester has me a bit burnt out.) Really, if the effects of god manifested, surely there could be, say, scientific proof of the fact that the Book of Revelation was an extended metaphor, above and beyond historical analysis.

Let's talk a bit about undecidability! Gödel proved that any sufficiently interesting system (such as one that contains both addition and multiplication) can have its axioms restated as statements within that system, as applying to representations of the system's symbols (Gödel numbering). Gödel then asked whether a Gödel numbering could be used to determine whether a given statement followed from the system's axioms and laws of inference. That is, whether there was a proposition, stated entirely within the system, that determines whether a given Gödel number corresponds to a theorem of the system. Somehow (this is the bit that popular expositions on the subject always shy away from), Gödel constructed a statement (in number theory, FYI) that stated that the proposition, applied to its number, was false.

The statement was either true and therefore a new axiom, or false, and the system had to be extended.

The continuum hypothesis is an example of a non-contrived undecidable statement. It states that no set has a cardinality between that of the integers and the reals. For example, every set that is a superset of the integers and a subset of the reals has the same cardinality as one of the two. Mathematicians accept or reject it based on personal preference, whim, or what system they're considering.

Now, the continuum hypothesis is largely divorced from reality, in that the observable universe, while not tetchy by any means, is nowhere close to infinite. The CH is only real to humans, because we created the question of whether there were sets "between" the two infinities, and came up with both answers as well.

(On a side note, paraconsistent logic makes me happy, just because somebody came up with it. The same goes for set differentiation and dual numbers, but this isn't the place to discuss. I might poke a wild thread.)

MWchase said...

(As an aside, Curry's paradox demonstrates pretty clearly that logic doesn't match up to reality.)

In informal language:

If this sentence is true, then I've already finished a project for GDL.

If that sentence is false, then the implication is true. But the implication is the sentence. So it's true. And if it's true, then it implies that I've finished a project for GDL.

As BD, KoF, and the others can probably guess, I really wish finishing a project was as easy as typing up some sophistry and waiting for the universe to snap into place.

Dunc said...

Is the existence of a god a scientific claim?

Depends on your definition of "god". As I see it, there are 3 basic forms of god-belief:

1. Forms which make testable predictions, and thus can be refuted via modus tollens. These are scientific claims.
2. Forms which are internally incoherent - they don't make sense even in their own terms. These are not scientific claims.
3. Forms which are ontologically empty - they don't actually mean anything. These aren't really claims at all, they're just the theological equivalent of squid ink.

So far, the idealists/solipsists I've dealt with kind of fell into the same trouble as String "Theory".

Hey, at least string theory's got the potential to produce testable claims at some point in the future. We just don't know yet.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, I realize there's a bit more depth than XKCD depicts, but until they figure out some predictions, Super String isn't a theory or even a hypothesis. Lack of predictions is what I was going for in the comparison.

MWchase said...

Hmm... Given that it hasn't made predictions yet, should we try to convince people to call it "the string idea" or something, so that "the theory of evolution" doesn't get further diluted?

Dunc said...

Well, it's a theory in that it systematises a field of knowledge in precise terms - it just hasn't produced any specific testable hypotheses yet. However, if it can be shown to produce all the valid results of both quantum mechanics and general relativity, without any internal contradictions or magical hand-waving, and without producing any results which are demonstrably false, then it's still a significant improvement on what we've got so far on the grounds of parsimony alone.

The situation at the moment is that we've got two big well-supported theories which are fundamentally incompatible. If someone can figure out a new theory which successfully subsumes them both, it doesn't need to provide any new hypotheses in order to be an improvement. We know that our current theories are flawed (despite being extremely useful within their respective domains) simply because they contradict each other.

However, this is all very OT... ;)

Nick said...

Bronze: True. No knowledge, either.

Me: Then it would seem logic is essential, but since you've brought up knowledge, I'd like to know what you think the nature of truth is.



Bronze: You're getting into technicolor science. Science isn't about guys in lab coats pouring colored liquids into each other.

Me: Nor am I thinking such.

Bronze: You can't take the event into the lab, but you can take the records in, examine for signs of forgery, compare accounts to look for contradictions, and so forth. It's "softer" than something like particle physics, but it's still science.

Me: It is a type of science in that it is a field of knowledge, but when science is spoken of in the day to day experience, history would be seen as its own branch. One does not need to be a scientist to do history.



Bronze: If that were true, you'd never be able to predict anyone's behavior at better than chance levels. There's also the problems with "free will", especially since I was never really able to come up with a consistent definition.

Me: We predict someone's behavior not on scientific principles normally but on personal principles. I can predict how my roommate will act many times simply because I know him well.



Bronze: I'm using science the way scientists use it. You're arbitrarily defining a line in the system for no reason. The only way something can be outside the system is if it never interacts with it, or in other words, have no observable effects at all.

Me: First, I'd like to know which scientists. Secondly, I believe there is something outside the system in that I don't think the system can explain its own existence. That doesn't mean something outside the system can't interact, but to find out if that is the case is not the role of the physical sciences. They can give clues, but not proof. It is the role of theology and philosophy.

Nick said...

Akusai: It is not philosophy. It is dialectic. It is the attempt to use reasoning to convince others of your point of view. The words that I say do not make reality what it is. I never claimed to be doing science; as I understand it, we're engaged in dialogue about science. Complaining that I'm talking about science without doing science is retarded.

Me: Your idea was if the claims are not testable or empirical, they are nonsense. That is a claim that is not testable or empirical. It is instead philosophical. Thus, I don't see what good it does to say a claim is nonsense because it is not testable or empirical.



Akusai:Straw man. I was referring specifically to the phrase "look at it" and making an attempt to forestall semantic hairsplitting over the definition of "look," i.e. "But what about particle accelerators? What about electron-scanning microscopes? We aren't looking at things directly in that way, so that isn't science! Ha!"

Me: Which wasn't on my mind at all. I take look at it to refer to your claim. Of course there are things we can't see that we know are physical.

Akusai: Perhaps I was merely unclear in that I was not referring to the rest of my statement. It was not a proscription of analysis but a proscription of pointless semantic babbling.

Me: Which is why I took it to refer to the claim entirely.



Akusai: Good for you. Lots of Christians don't share that opinion, but I couldn't be sure of your personal beliefs, which is why I said "literalists" instead of "you." And you're being silly to pretend that you don't know what a Biblical literalist is: one who holds that each and every word of the Bible is explicitly, literally truthful; if the Bible says something happened, it happened just as the Bible describes. No metaphor, allegory, or symbolism allowed.

Me:First off, we can dispense with other Christians. Unless others show up, right now, it's me. If I think some of my brethren are wrong in other areas, I am not obligated to defend their errors.

As for literalist, I don't know anyone who is a literalist in that regards. Even Dake takes some things metaphorically. While I see the Bible as a truly unique book, it is also literature and it uses the language of literature. When Jesus says "I am the door" I don't look to see if he has hinges. I seek to take each text in accordance with its genre and context to get the most accurate reading.



Akusai: Evidence, please? You find me an effect without an in-principle observable cause inside this universe and you might be onto something. Otherwise you're just blowing smoke.

Me: Actually, you're the one who said that it must be. I simply said it doesn't follow. I'd like to know why I should believe that everything observable came from something observable.





Akusai:Some systems of logic are valuable because they apply closely to reality. Euclidian geometry, for example, is an internally consistent axiomatic mathematical system that is quite useful because of its close ties to physical reality; it accurately describes reality in three dimensions. This does not mean it is a Platonic ideal that existed before we formulated it.

Think about the inverse-square law that governs gravitation between two point masses. This law is a description of a well-observed and cataloged natural phenomenon. The law and the gravitation it describes are not, however, the same thing. Gravity existed before we really noticed it; the inverse-square law describing the motions of bodies tied by gravity did not.

Likewise the law of non-contradiction is a description of something we observe: that something cannot be not itself at the same time as it is itself (note that it has never and probably can never actually be proven; it's really an assumed axiom of standard philosophical logic). The law describes reality. Long before Aristotle, an apple could not be both wholly an apple and wholly a peach, and yet the law did not exist. The law is a formulation made by humans that has no external reality of its own, though it applies to reality. Other systems of logic do not; the one we generally use tends to, which is probably why we use it, but "accords with reality" is hardly a necessary condition for a logical system.

Interestingly enough, there are even systems of internally-consistent logic that attempt to deny the law of non-contradiction. So while I was not denying that it accords with reality (it does; it just does not have any magical metaphysical significance), some people seem to be trying to do just that.

NKP: Yet those systems would depend on the LNC entirely or else all the words in them are meaningless. Now the problem with what I see here is that Aristotle formulated the law but that it somehow did not exist. If it did not exist, then what was there that reality was obeying in this? The concept that the LNC points to has always been there as reality cannot contradict reality. The formulation by Aristotle has not been. Gravity has been in effect as long as the universe has been, but the formulation of it has not.

As far as I see, Aristotle did not create logic as it were. He discovered that this was the way that we'd been thinking all along and properly formulated it.



Akusai:Of Capital-T "Truth," yes. Of eternal, self-evident "Truth?" Yes. Of "truth," that is facts, reliably established through rigorous testing and controlled observation, accepted only provisionally with the understanding that further observation may prove them wrong, no. Colloquially, I and most skeptics refer to scientific truth as "truth." Technically speaking, though, I'm with Indiana Jones: "Archaeology [I extend this to science in general] is the search for fact, not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall."

NKP: Why yes. It is truth which is why I place stock in philosophy to give us the greater truths and theology to give us the greatest truths. Science gives us truth about the physical world, some truth more certain than others as in any other field. I would say that all that is true though is always true for all people in all times in all places. I'd like to know if you believe in any eternal truth though.



Akusai: Jesus Christ, read some Ernst Godel and stop pretending that I'm making things up. Your glibness proves nothing but that you're a smug little shit.

Me: Never said you were making things up. I just said you were asserting things and I see no reason yet to think otherwise.


Akusai:No, I didn't do any experiments or conduct an ounce of controlled observation. I was talking about mathematics and logical systems. Pretending that those subjects don't exist because they're inconvenient for your argument while hiding behind accusations of "You're not doing science!" in no way supports your claims.

Me: Nope. Not pretending. Just taking note that we're talking about truth that transcends science while having this idea that if a claim is not testable or empirical it's nonsense. Sounds like you're discussing metaphysics.



Akusai: As you saw, I do not deny the fact described by the law, but other people, probably far smarter than I, do. I do, however, deny that the formulation of an accurate description of reality is the same thing as the reality that is described. That a red shirt cannot be a blue shirt at the same time as it is red is a fact about reality. That A cannot be ~A at the same time as it is A is a description of that clearly observable fact.

Remember, "laws" are only there because we made them. The language that describes the principle as a "law" doesn't give it some type of intrinsic value. If we had historically referred to it as the "Idea of non-contradiction," I highly doubt that you'd be tossing it about as if it had some type of metaphysical authority.

Me: Laws are there because we discover them. If the laws were made by us, we would be free to change them, but we cannot change the LNC. Now do some people deny it? Of course. That's their problem.



Akusai:No, you've seen dialectic. Equivocation of the word "metaphysics" will not go unnoticed here. We have been talking about science and about logic and about mathematics. At no point did I make any metaphysical claims, merely statements about the real world and things in it, even if some of those things are abstracts. Such conversation is not metaphysical in nature, so stop trying to pretend that we're our own worst enemies.

Me: Not pretending at all. What is going on is discussion of things that are beyond the traditional sciences. I would include in that area the nature of math, logic, truth, etc. All of which are necessary for science.

Bronze Dog said...

Then it would seem logic is essential, but since you've brought up knowledge, I'd like to know what you think the nature of truth is.

Truth with a capital T is unachievable. We can get provisional knowledge of the universe through the scientific method. If a theory's wrong, we can demonstrate it by failed predictions. Pretty much in the same place as Akusai in fact versus Truth.

It is a type of science in that it is a field of knowledge, but when science is spoken of in the day to day experience, history would be seen as its own branch. One does not need to be a scientist to do history.

One does not need to be a scientist to do science, either.

We predict someone's behavior not on scientific principles normally but on personal principles. I can predict how my roommate will act many times simply because I know him well.

You derived those personal principles by observing his behavior and constructing hypotheses that predict his behavior. When his behavior is in line with those predictions, that means you've got an accurate set of personal principles, and that means you can continue to make reasonably accurate predictions. That's science. It may be on the soft side, but it's still essentially the scientific method.

Bronze: I'm using science the way scientists use it. You're arbitrarily defining a line in the system for no reason. The only way something can be outside the system is if it never interacts with it, or in other words, have no observable effects at all.

Nick: First, I'd like to know which scientists.

If you aren't using science the way we're talking about it, you're not a scientist. This is pretty fundamental stuff.

Nick: Secondly, I believe there is something outside the system in that I don't think the system can explain its own existence. That doesn't mean something outside the system can't interact, but to find out if that is the case is not the role of the physical sciences. They can give clues, but not proof. It is the role of theology and philosophy.

First, absolute proof only exists in mathematics. Science is about confidence. Second, we're talking about the philosophy of science right now.

Second, theology is kind of moot vapor where I'm standing. It's about as meaningful as Trekkie trivia rambles when they haven't demonstrated the existence of Star Fleet, warp drive, etcetera.

Third, what exactly do you mean by "system?" Our inherently expansive philosophy of science would include anything that does stuff to be a part of the "system" we're in. If god does stuff, he's accessible to science.

Nick said...

And after this one, I shall need to go for the day to work and probably won't respond until tomorrow.

Tom: Science is a method of examining reality. It's a toolset, a heuristic.

Me: We agree, though I would say it cannot examine all of reality.



Tom: What are the "laws of logic"? I suspect that you're equivocating on the term "existence" here. Logic is a method, like science. It 'exists' in the same way that any concepts exist--conceptually.

Me: The Law of Noncontradiction. The Law of Identity. The Law of Excluded Middle. For ideas that exist only conceptually, it seems reality obeys them quite nicely. If they are merely our ideas, then we could change them if we wanted. The question is do our ideas submit to logic or does logic submit to our ideas?



Tom: Historical science, sure. We can make hypotheses about Charlemagne's life, gather evidence, and evaluate those hypotheses.

Me: If you mean it in that sense, then no problem.



Tom: No, if it has some observable effect on the universe, then it can be studied through the methods of science. If it doesn't have observable effects on the universe, then there's nothing to call "it."

Me: But that also depends on what it is. For God, philosophy and theology is what needs to be studied. For history, we use the historical method. A great error in thinking is to take one method and have that trump all the others. Aristotle biologized everything for instance. Treat history as history, biology as biology, and philosophy as philosophy.



Tom: Again, equivocation, this time on the term "scientific." Above, you used it to mean "able to be studied by science," here you seem to mean "supported by science" or "discovered via scientific methods." These are not the same thing.

Me: No. The ramifications of the idea can still be studied by the corresponding branch of science, but what comes beforehand is not the same. The theological and philosophical truths come beforehand. Once we have those, we are able to study the physical world.



Tom: Sure it is, if it's testable. Assuming there's a specific definition of "real" involved, and that this isn't simply solipsism, then this claim could be tested. Any testable claim--i.e., any claim about observable effects in the universe--is a scientific one.

Me: I would be interested in knowing what method you would use to test Berkeley's claim.



Tom: And that's the other side of it. If we have no way of testing a claim to determine its validity, then it's not a scientific claim. Moreover, it's almost certainly a nonsensical claim--if there's no way of testing its validity, then how could the claimant arrive at that conclusion? What reason would the claimant have for claiming it in the first place?

Me: That would depend on the claim and the kind of method you wish to use to examine it. I believe in God generally for theological and philosophical reasons with some that are discovered in the scientific realm. I believe in Christianity specifically in addition for historical reasons.


Tom: Science isn't limited to lab coats and Jacob's Ladders, Nick. Archaeology, paleontology, geology, and anthropology are all sciences, working with the scientific method to develop a clearer and more accurate understanding of reality. Your understanding of science seems to be stuck in a fifth grade science textbook--surprisingly enough, there's more to science than "Hypothesis, Procedure, Experiment, Observations, Conclusion."

Me: Then let us be sure what we are meaning for not all science is the same. Archaeology is a science, no doubt, but when I read the New Atheists speaking of science, I do not believe they are speaking of such a field.

Tom: Science is about making hypotheses, testing them (by making observations and collecting evidence), and revising those hypotheses in light of the evidence. The actual events in history may not be repeatable, but that doesn't really present a problem; repeatability in historical sciences comes from different observers independently coming to the same conclusions based on the evidence (which is what repeatability is concerned with in all the sciences, in general).

Me: And I have no problem with such.

Tom: In other words, I can make a hypothesis--for instance, that Charlemagne was born in 1644. I can then collect evidence about Charlemagne's life and about the significant events of the mid-1600s. What I'm likely to find is that my hypothesis is wildly incorrect, and so I come to the much more reasonable and evidence-supported conclusion that Charlemagne was born in 742.

Me: Correct again.



Tom: It's not up to science to disprove anything, it's up to the claimant. If God exists "outside the system," then you're right, science can't touch it. And neither can anyone or anything else. What is the difference between something that exists outside the universe, and something that does not exist?

Me: I should clarify my statement to make sure we're not misunderstanding each other. When I say God exists outside the system, I am simply meaning that he is not bound by the system and is the cause of the system. I do hold to his being in the system in an immanent sense and his transcending the system. The reasons for belief in God again are philosophical and theological.

Tom:If God has observable effects on the universe (or has had such effects in the past), then science can study those effects and come to some conclusions about God. If God has not had observable effects on the universe, then he's irrelevant, and there's no reason to suppose that he exists.

Me: I would have no problem with that. The reasoning out of the evidence though would be based on philosophy.







Tom: If the effects are observable, then we can determine things about those effects. If God has effects, but is himself somehow immune to examination, we still have a set of effects with no natural causes. Were we to study those effects, we would find no causal chain linking them to prior things, we would find effects without causes, which tend to be rare on macroscopic levels. That would be enough, at least, to suggest further study. It may be enough to confirm that effects do not necessarily require natural mechanistic causes in the macroscopic universe. This would be a pretty massive finding, even if we couldn't determine anything about the causal agent directly.

Me:God is immune to physical examination of course, as he is not physical, but he is not immune to us learning about him. Of course, I do see no reason to believe that only mechanical causes brought things into being for mechanical causes cannot explain the existence of existence itself.

Tom: What you run up against, however, is the problem of the Ghost in the Machine--how can a non-physical entity interact with the physical universe? All our evidence suggests that physical things can interact only with other physical things, and interact in specific, known fashions. What reason do we have to posit not only the existence of non-physical entities, but also the heretofore unknown ability of non-physical causes to initiate physical effects?

Me: First, because we have reason to believe physical causes are inadequate.

Second, because some of us believe the most important aspects of realtiy are non-physical such as truths about morality and logic and God.



Tom: Not prescriptively. It applies as a description of reality. And depending on how strictly you define the terms, not a necessarily accurate one--see also: wave-particle duality and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics.

Me: I am more prone to believe our understanding of sciences that we've barely scratched the surface on is in error than to believe the LNC is in error.



Tom: Can you test whether or not mathematical laws exist as more than concepts? What would that even mean? Do numbers exist as more than concepts? Are you proposing to hit "View Source" on the universe?

Me: Why should I? I simply take 2 + 2 = 4 and see no reason why that would change and no way it could change. It is self-evident. As soon as I know what the terms mean, I know that it is true.

JLB said...

"Is the existence of a god a scientific claim? I'd say so, because if he has effects on the universe, that makes him natural/material/scientifically measurable by definition."

If I claimed that there was a God, how could you falsify my claim?

Science deals with the falsifiable. How is the claim that God exists falsifiable?

Bronze Dog said...

It depends on whether or not the god you're claiming does anything. If you make predictions based on your god hypothesis and they don't come true, that god hypothesis is falsified.

JLB said...

"It depends on whether or not the god you're claiming does anything. If you make predictions based on your god hypothesis and they don't come true, that god hypothesis is falsified."

Well, how do you falsify a claim that posits:

1) God is essentially undetectable

2) God has a completely free will and does things for His own reasons

3) God may choose to do something detectable, but has complete control over its detectability

You really, really need to refine your idea of falsification.
If I posit that God gave me $3 billion, you could falsify the claim by showing me that I had only $5 in my bank account.

However, this would only demonstrate that God never gave me $3 billion. It would not falsify the existence of a God who COULD do so.

You cannot falsify the existence of any God this way.

If I posited a God that necessarily (in order to exist) gave everybody $3 billion dollars, and you demonstrated that some people did not have at least $3 billion, that "God hypothesis" would be falsified.

Bronze Dog said...

JLB's hypothetical:

1) God is essentially undetectable

Which would mean he doesn't do anything.

3) God may choose to do something detectable, but has complete control over its detectability

Which sounds to me like saying "drawing a square without right angles."

Of course, if we're talking about an unfalsifiable god, then no one can ever know anything with any confidence about him.

Bronze Dog said...

Also, you might want look at this if you're going on about a super-stealthy god.

Akusai said...

Nick:

I know, I know, you want me to be a logical positivist so a quick destruction of my categorical statement about nonsense debunks itself. Unfortunately, I was not making a categorical statement, I was speaking about Berkeley's empty rhetoric that makes statements about reality that are not in principle observable, testable, or verifiable. Is the idea that a magical mongoose shit out the universe but made it look as if it was billions of years old nonsense? Probably yes, because it is an empirical claim (that is it deals with observable reality, which, I might add, is all of reality) that explicitly denies empirical observation or testing. It's saying "This is true about reality" but gives no possible way to verify or falsify the claim. It is, to borrow from Hume, sophistry and illusion.

If I make the non-empirical claim "The Godfather is a shitty movie," I am not speaking nonsense, because I'm not talking about observable reality. I'm giving an opinion on a movie. It all comes down to context: ask an empirical question, and you should expect an empirical answer. If you want to remove God from the universe entirely, be my guest, but this in no way strengthens your claim. If a deity is in principle unobservable and unknowable, then there's no reason to suppose it exists, or that its existence is any different from its nonexistence.

Everything you say implies a commitment to the assumption of top-down design: the idea that laws existed before humans posited them (as opposed to the facts about reality that the laws describe), for example. Reality doesn't obey anything. Reality does what it does. We formulate laws to describe this. The laws are not the thing, full stop. Again you are using linguistic convention (the idea that nature "obeys" the laws we use to describe it) in an attempt to give your argument force it otherwise lacks.

Again, the law of non-contradiction is an idea formulated by a guy to describe an obvious, observable fact about nature. "Pigs cannot be dogs and still be pigs" is a fact. "A cannot be ~A" is the symbolic logic formulation describing that fact. It has no metaphysical significance and does not exist outside of our conception of it. Before mankind, rocks could not also be trees, but there was no law. There was only a fact about the universe. What you are doing is metaphysical wankery, it is assuming some form of top-down design while attempting to prove it, it is confusing an object with its description, it is equivocation, complete misunderstanding, and it is getting tedious and tiresome.

How many times do I have to point out that some logics accord with reality (by design) and some do not, while remaining internally consistent? You choose to ignore this fact.

Your claim that logics that specifically reject the law of non-contradiction are still held in bondage to it is explicitly false. These are logics designed specifically to weaken or reject the law of non-contradiction. That means that they are not beholden to its magical, metaphysical powers. Claiming otherwise shows your complete ignorance of the subject matter at hand and your desire to believe in your ghost laws above all else.

Do these systems of logic accord well with reality? Probably not. In fact, that's a criticism of them. But they are internally consistent, and they do not contain, nor are they held in sway to, the law of non-contradiction, because the law of non-contradiction is not some magical, mystical thing that exists outside of the heads of the people thinking about it.

Why not just admit you're a Platonist and get it over with?

You claim that I'm making bald assertions in order to mask your own. Claiming that there is nothing outside of reality is not a mere assertion; it is the null hypothesis when faced with any unparsimonious claims that do posit some sort of "higher" metaphysics or supernature. It is a claim backed up by every shred of evidence we have about the universe: this is it. This is all there is. You are therefore asking the wrong question. You shouldn't need a reason to disbelieve in a supernature, you should require a reason to believe in it. But you don't see it that way, and instead shift the burden of proof onto the people holding the scientifically well-supported null hypothesis.

And why your fetish with the law of non-contradiction? Quantum physics is demonstrably accurate and has been shown time and time again to accord with the way reality works. Your magical LNC, on the other hand, is an axiom, an assumed truth of some logical systems but not others. In reality, at the quantum level, it is possible for something to be A and B at the same time. This has been repeatedly, reliably demonstrated. To cling instead to a philosophical presumption is ridiculous and childish.

And what about other laws? Like the law of the excluded middle? Well, what about when quanta move from one energy level to another without covering the intervening space? That's how it happens. An electron, for example, moves between electron shells without really moving between them. It exists in either one or the other, with no space for a middle. This is reality. This is modern science, hell, basic high school chemistry, tested and replicated again and again so as to leave little room for reasonable doubt. A dead Athenian has nothing on this.

You're also willfully ignorant of modern logic and mathematics, yes you insist on debating about them as if your repeated yelling of "LNC! LNC! NO CONTRADICTION THAT'S FOR ME!" makes you an expert. Again, read some Godel. I'm not going to do your research for you, partially because I'm not a mathematician, and partially because I'm not going to feed your laziness.

Also, just because we are not talking about science does not mean we are talking about metaphysics. Get this through your head.

But you know what? In all of your empty sophism and pointless rhetoric, you have repeatedly done nothing but deny modern science in favor of metaphysical ghosts, heap upon us the same tired fallacies (goal-post shifting, straw men, equivocation), deliberately misinterpret or ignorantly misunderstand what we're saying...And not once have you supplied a single good reason to actually think there is any God, to think that the ridiculously absurd things that the Bible says happened happened, or even that metaphysical "stuff" (for want of a better term) is out there at all. So I'm abandoning this game. I'm not playing racquetball with a retard until the retard realizes its his turn to serve, and it's always been his turn to serve. Until you start saying things of substance instead of ignorantly picking at (and ignoring) what we say, you can go fuck yourself.

Akusai said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention: name one useful advance in human knowledge that has come as a result of either pure philiosophy (in the centuries since science became its own discipline) or theology (ever).

Perhaps you can come up with something interesting for philosophy, but theology? Really? Saying that it has some utility to people in the real world that science lacks? It's a "discipline" that assumes the existence of the object it is trying to prove existent through "study." It's like being a Lord of the Rings expert, except you think Aragorn actually existed.

King of Ferrets said...

MWC: It will be true eventually if you get off your ass and answer that comment I put on your card game idea. =P

MWchase said...

Have a bit of replying, but I didn't quite address everything.

(What I've been meaning to work on is somewhat esoteric-sounding, but should be vastly helpful.)

MWchase said...

Also, terribly rude of me to neglect to say this the first time, but well said, Akusai. Bravo.

Tom Foss said...

MWChase: Hmm... Given that it hasn't made predictions yet, should we try to convince people to call it "the string idea" or something, so that "the theory of evolution" doesn't get further diluted?

I think "String Hypothesis" is the better term, but try telling that to a String Theorist. On the plus side, Michio Kaku outlined some tests of the theory on a recent Skeptics' Guide to the Universe episode. That talk made me decide to give "The Elegant Universe" a second try.

I'm just worried that String Theory will ultimately turn out to be a massive waste of time. Given some of the massive egos involved, and the already tenuous nature of testing the claims, I wouldn't be surprised if a disproved M-theory became the next level of quasiquantum Choprawoo.

Dunc: If someone can figure out a new theory which successfully subsumes them both, it doesn't need to provide any new hypotheses in order to be an improvement.

I think I have to disagree with that. I'd think that a Unified Field Theory that didn't provide any further predictions to test its validity would be useless--there'd be no reason to think it was correct, and no way of determining which is correct if some other UFT came up later down the pipe. That's assuming that a non-predictive UFT would even be possible, and I don't think it would be. Unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity would resolve problems surrounding singularities (including the Big Bang), gravity, and the standard model of particle physics, which seems like predictions would be unavoidable. A UFT that didn't resolve gravitons and relativistic curved spacetime wouldn't really be a UFT.

Nick: It is a type of science in that it is a field of knowledge, but when science is spoken of in the day to day experience, history would be seen as its own branch. One does not need to be a scientist to do history.

Who gives a flying fig about "day to day experience"? I'm curious what the "day to day experience" of a historian or forensic scientist would say about the term "history."

The historical sciences are sciences. History is studied and determined through scientific methods (you know, like research).

I can predict how my roommate will act many times simply because I know him well.

This is hilarious. You can predict how your roommate will act because of your prior observations of his behavior, expressions, and so forth. You've collected data on your friend, albeit in an uncontrolled fashion, and your predictions are hypotheses about future observations. It's a crude, basic form of science, with a small sample set and so forth, but it's science nonetheless.

I'm curious what you think "scientific principles" are. I suspect that they're not actually what you think they are.

Incidentally, have you ever heard of social sciences?

First, I'd like to know which scientists.

From ScienceMadeSimple.com: "Science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge. This system uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena."

From Understanding Science: "science is...a reliable process by which we learn about all that stuff in the universe. However, science is different from many other ways of learning because of the way it is done. Science relies on testing ideas with evidence gathered from the natural world."

From E.O. Wilson: "Science is the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.

From Michael Shermer: "science, which I define as a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation."

From James Randi: "Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What's left is magic. And it doesn't work."

And so forth. But don't take it from the sources I've been able to find in half an hour of looking; try taking a look at any science definition--particularly from scientists talking about supernatural claims. You can even leave God out of the picture; look at homeopathy or acupuncture, ESP or astrology, ghosts or aliens. If they have observable effects on the real world--if acupuncture cures disease, if psychics can predict the future, if ghosts appear to people--then we should be able to study these phenomena through scientific methods. Chi may be an undetectable supernatural energy, but if manipulating it causes healing effects, then double-blind placebo-controlled studies should show it. Psychic predictions may arise from undetectable supernatural spirit entities, but if psychics can accurately predict the future, then they should perform better than chance in controlled studies. Ghosts may be otherwise undetectable spirit entities, but if they're visible to humans, then they must give off photons or otherwise interact with the sensory mechanisms of the human body in ways that can be detected.

And in all of these cases--if acupuncture cannot perform better than placebo, if psychics cannot perform better than chance, if ghosts cannot be detected by human senses--then they are irrelevent. There is no practical or detectable difference between something that exists but does not manifest, and something that does not exist.

The same holds true for God: either he has observable effects on the universe, which can then be studied by science, or he does not, and he is irrelevant.

Secondly, I believe there is something outside the system in that I don't think the system can explain its own existence.

Whether or not a system can explain its own existence says nothing about there being something outside the system. These are separate claims with separate evidentiary bases.

That doesn't mean something outside the system can't interact, but to find out if that is the case is not the role of the physical sciences. They can give clues, but not proof. It is the role of theology and philosophy.

Bullshit. Theology and philosophy cannot prove the existence of anything. Sure, they may produce valid arguments, but an argument's validity is only as worthwhile as its assumptions. Wrong assumptions can produce any conclusions. The soundness of philosophical and theological arguments can only be demonstrated by actually looking at the evidence and justifying the underlying assumptions, and the best, most reliable method we have for evaluating evidence is science.

Your idea was if the claims are not testable or empirical, they are nonsense. That is a claim that is not testable or empirical. It is instead philosophical. Thus, I don't see what good it does to say a claim is nonsense because it is not testable or empirical.

More equivocation. There is a difference between claims of existence and claims of value. If I claim that something exists, but cannot be tested or empirically verified, then my claims have no value. I could make an infinite number of similar but contradictory claims, with equal validity. If the same argument applies equally well to contradictory propositions, then there's not much value in it. In fact, I seem to recall a principle to that effect.

As for literalist, I don't know anyone who is a literalist in that regards.

Me either. I do, however, know lots of people who claim to be literalists in that regard, and I think you do too.

I'd like to know why I should believe that everything observable came from something observable.

Because all experience supports that conclusion. To claim that there are observable effects owing to non-observable causes requires evidentiary support. So far as any and all evidence has shown, the only things which interact with the natural world are other things in the natural world, and those interactions occur in known ways.

Now, this isn't a particularly abstract or universal claim. There are events that are uncaused, usually limited to the quantum level, and we have evidentiary support to suggest that these are observable effects without observable (indeed, potentially without any) causes--nuclear decay, for instance.

If it did not exist, then what was there that reality was obeying in this?

Here's the thing that I think you're missing: the universe does not obey the laws that we come up with. We determine laws based on our experiences in this universe. It's difficult (but not impossible) for us to formulate laws based on other universes. The law of gravity is an arbitrary mathematical representation of a real observable phenomenon. The principle of contradiction is similarly an arbitrary formulation of a real observable phenomenon. The universe is not constrained to follow these laws; these laws are based on our understanding of the universe. If our understanding changes, then these laws too would have to change--and they have.

It is truth which is why I place stock in philosophy to give us the greater truths and theology to give us the greatest truths.

Really? So your truth can be based entirely on valid-but-not-sound arguments? Because neither philosophy nor theology can produce sound arguments without observation of the real world--i.e., science. Your "greatest truths" are worthless unless they apply to reality.

I would say that all that is true though is always true for all people in all times in all places.

It's true that I'm alive. That hasn't been true at all times. When I die, "I'm alive" will be true for some people (who haven't yet heard) and false for others. Your claim is nonsensical on its face.

I'd like to know if you believe in any eternal truth though.

I won't claim to speak for Akusai, but I won't profess belief in any "eternal truth" until I've gathered the evidence for it. I'll give you a call after eternity is over if I find out that anything's been true the whole time.

Laws are there because we discover them. If the laws were made by us, we would be free to change them, but we cannot change the LNC.

Three words and a hyphen for you: Wave-Particle Duality. Yes, we are free to change the Law of Non-Contradiction, when we find that it doesn't accurately or universally represent how our universe works.

We agree, though I would say it cannot examine all of reality.

And what's your reason for positing this limitation? I'm sure we'd all love to hear it.

For ideas that exist only conceptually, it seems reality obeys them quite nicely.

You've got your cause and effect mixed up there, Nick. Reality doesn't obey the laws we've set down; we've devised laws based on how reality operates. When we find out new things about reality, we're forced to change the laws.

If they are merely our ideas, then we could change them if we wanted.

And yet more equivocation. Do you really fail to see the difference between things that exist as objects and things that exist as concepts? Tell me, does "justice" exist? Or "freedom"? Can you fill a cup with "kindness"? Can you hand me a number? These terms are labels we use to describe concepts, things that do not exist as physical entities but as collections of values, ideas, and so forth. I can't, through force of will, decide that "democracy" means "oligarchy," despite the fact that they're both just sets of ideas. We could change what the words mean, through the normal evolution of language, but the concepts would still (likely) exist under different names. Even though they're ideas, they're shared ideas, shared concepts, and they arise from our collective experiences. Numbers don't physically exist, but there are groups of countable things that physically exist, and mathematics is a conceptual model that explains how those countable things behave (to oversimplify the discipline a great deal). Democracy doesn't physically exist, but people and societies do, and democracy is a conceptual model that explains how some people and societies can behave or interact in order to achieve various goals or uphold certain ideals.

And physical and logical laws don't physically exist either, but the universe physically exists, and those laws are conceptual models which explain how the universe is observed to operate.

And all of these conceptual models can be changed. If our understanding of the universe changes in certain ways, then we may have to revise our physical, logical, or mathematical laws. If our understanding of societies changes, then we may have to revise our definition of democracy.

For God, philosophy and theology is what needs to be studied.

Why? What can philosophy and theology reveal about reality, without relying on science to provide justification for sound arguments?

For history, we use the historical method. A great error in thinking is to take one method and have that trump all the others. Aristotle biologized everything for instance. Treat history as history, biology as biology, and philosophy as philosophy.

Okay, and what does this even mean? What "method" are we talking about? I agree that we can't be putting syllogisms onto a plate of agar and incubating them...I'm not sure what you're even trying to disagree with.

I suspect that you're suggesting that the scientific method isn't universally useful or applicable. I suspect, again, that you don't understand what the scientific method is--Propose hypotheses, make observations and gather data, draw tentative conclusions, lather, rinse, repeat. I'm oversimplifying a bit, but it really is a very general method, with a high degree of accuracy and objectivity, a built-in method for correcting error, and the best success rate of any method of studying reality that anyone has ever come up with. It works as well in history as it does in biology as it does in auto mechanics. If you've got something better, something more reliable, more objective, more accurate, more consistent, then I'm sure we'd all love to see it. And we'd also love to see the evidence you have to demonstrate its superlativity.

The ramifications of the idea can still be studied by the corresponding branch of science, but what comes beforehand is not the same.

I'm not clear on what you're trying to say here. This is abstracted beyond coherence.

The theological and philosophical truths come beforehand. Once we have those, we are able to study the physical world.

What theological and philosophical truths are prior requirements for studying the natural world?

I would be interested in knowing what method you would use to test Berkeley's claim.

Again, I said "if it's testable," which would require a suitably specific definition of the term "real."

I believe in God generally for theological and philosophical reasons with some that are discovered in the scientific realm.

So it sounds like you believe things based on valid arguments that need not be sound. Unless you have some method of demonstrating soundness that doesn't involve examining evidence objectively and systematically.

I believe in Christianity specifically in addition for historical reasons.

I'm going to set this can of worms aside for the time being.

Then let us be sure what we are meaning for not all science is the same. Archaeology is a science, no doubt, but when I read the New Atheists speaking of science, I do not believe they are speaking of such a field.

Again, you're being so general as to be ultimately meaningless. Can you provide an example of a "New Atheist" talking about science where they don't appear to be talking about archaeology, or something?

Correct again.

Yes, I know.

When I say God exists outside the system, I am simply meaning that he is not bound by the system and is the cause of the system. I do hold to his being in the system in an immanent sense and his transcending the system.

In other words, no rules apply to God, and he can be both in the system and beyond the system and the cause of the system. Sounds like you might want to chat with God about that whole law of non-contradiction thing, seems like another "do as I say, not as I do" rule.

The problem with your argument there is that it boils down to special pleading. All your theological jargon is just a fancy way of dressing up basic logical fallacies. I could justify belief in Zeus, or Thor, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or a certain spirit-clam, with the same arguments of transcendence and immanence. Your philosophical and theological reasons are only as good as the assumptions on which they're based, and assumptions that aren't based in observation of reality don't lead to sound arguments.

I would have no problem with that. The reasoning out of the evidence though would be based on philosophy.

I think you're splitting hairs here. I also think you're missing the point that logic is part of the scientific toolkit.

God is immune to physical examination of course, as he is not physical, but he is not immune to us learning about him

How do you come to the knowledge that God is not physical? What way do you have of justifying that? This is equivalent to saying "well, of course you can't physically examine the Klingon Birds of Prey; they're cloaked and hovering in subspace." It's more special pleading, based on arguments that are not anchored to reality.

Of course, I do see no reason to believe that only mechanical causes brought things into being for mechanical causes cannot explain the existence of existence itself.

Yet, anyway. And so what? Non-mechanical causes cannot explain the existence of existence itself either, for three reasons: first, because there's no reason to suggest that non-mechanical causes exist; second, because non-mechanical causes provide no explanatory power--saying "magic did it" is not an explanation, it's yet another thing to be explained; third, you end up just moving the thing-to-be-explained back a step. Instead of mechanical causes justifying the existence of existence, you have non-mechanical causes justifying the existence of existence, and nothing explaining the existence of the non-mechanical cause. Either way, you lead to an infinite regress or an eternal entity; there's no reason to posit a non-mechanical explanation for either.

First, because we have reason to believe physical causes are inadequate.

Do go on. Be careful of the false dichotomy on either side of the tightrope, though.

Second, because some of us believe the most important aspects of realtiy are non-physical such as truths about morality and logic and God.

"Some of us believe"? That's the best you've got? I have news for you: your beliefs do not make things real. Your beliefs do not constitute evidence that non-physical entities can interact with physical entities.

And, yet again, there's equivocation. Yes, morality is a non-physical set of concepts and ideas. It's even fairly important. It doesn't, however, interact on its own with physical reality. Physical entities with concepts of morality can certainly interact with reality, but that's not non-physical entities affecting physical ones, and it doesn't constitute any reason to posit the ability of non-physical entities to do so (or the existence of non-physical entities outside of physical minds).

I am more prone to believe our understanding of sciences that we've barely scratched the surface on is in error than to believe the LNC is in error.

You're wrong. Electrons are simultaneously particles and waves, and can behave as both in the course of a single experiment. It's verified. Surprisingly enough, laws that apply very consistently on the scales we're used to don't necessarily apply in the wildly different worlds of the very small, or the very large, and so forth. Our common understanding is shaped by our common experience; just because things are uncomfortable or counterintuitive does not make them true.

It's okay; everyone thought Newton's laws were ironclad too.

Why should I? I simply take 2 + 2 = 4 and see no reason why that would change and no way it could change. It is self-evident. As soon as I know what the terms mean, I know that it is true.

You've misunderstood my point, and subsequently proved it. As soon as you have mastered the concepts of mathematics, you understand their truth and applicability. Great! What you didn't do was observe physically-extant numbers or mathematical constructs. "2+2=4" is not self-evident in the way that "this apple that I'm holding exists, and is an apple" is self-evident. One exists conceptually, and requires a conceptual model to achieve understanding; the other exists physically and requires physical observation to achieve understanding.

If I claimed that there was a God, how could you falsify my claim?

Science deals with the falsifiable. How is the claim that God exists falsifiable?


Falsifiability in this case would require a specific God. Define the God's characteristics; if the God takes actions in the universe, or if the God has characteristics that would lead us to expect certain things, then we have the basis for testable claims. If I say "God is omnipotent and will answer any prayer," then I can test God by praying for something. If the prayer comes true, I have some evidence for the existence of that God; if not, the particular God hypothesis is falsified.

1) God is essentially undetectable

2) God has a completely free will and does things for His own reasons

3) God may choose to do something detectable, but has complete control over its detectability


Then you've done the work for us, since your God is indistinguishable from no God at all. Take a look at Carl Sagan's Dragon for further explanation.

You really, really need to refine your idea of falsification.

You really, really need to refine your idea of God. You might look into refining it away from special pleading and ad hoc hypotheses.

Akusai: If I make the non-empirical claim "The Godfather is a shitty movie," I am not speaking nonsense, because I'm not talking about observable reality.

I don't know, that sounds pretty much like observable reality to me.

Okay, okay, maybe not "shitty," but definitely "overhyped and vastly overrated." And maybe a little "pointless."

Again, the law of non-contradiction is an idea formulated by a guy to describe an obvious, observable fact about nature. "Pigs cannot be dogs and still be pigs" is a fact. "A cannot be ~A" is the symbolic logic formulation describing that fact.

And yet, a fact that a large number of theists (warning: NOT NICK) explicitly deny--crackers that are still crackers, but are also Jesus; men who are still men but are also God; God who is three people but is also one person, and so forth. That Law of Non-Contradiction is a tricky bugger.

Claiming that there is nothing outside of reality is not a mere assertion; it is the null hypothesis when faced with any unparsimonious claims that do posit some sort of "higher" metaphysics or supernature.

Yes! How did I manage to go so long without mentioning the Null Hypothesis?

Like the law of the excluded middle? Well, what about when quanta move from one energy level to another without covering the intervening space? That's how it happens. An electron, for example, moves between electron shells without really moving between them. It exists in either one or the other, with no space for a middle.

It was so much fun telling that to a group of Liberal Arts students my freshman year of undergrad and watching their brains implode. "Yeah, it just jumps from one energy level to the next, and doesn't exist in-between."

I'm also going to second MWChase's praise, since I seconded so many of your points already. Good show.

MWchase said...

Now I think about it, a slightly better example would be how electrons in any level but the 1s orbital act with nodes. Within an orbital, there are places where electrons at that energy level don't exist—planes. However, an electron can be on either side at any time. Thus, most of your body's electrons (for example) violate the law of the excluded middle constantly, even without quantum leaps.

MWchase said...

"Better" was wrong. They're just two slightly different examples.

Excitation is energy levels disobeying the law of the excluded middle.

Nodes are position and motion disobeying the law of the excluded middle.

Jimmy_Blue said...

Tom:

I've spoken with him (I'm his intermediary here on earth after all - kind of a papal thing. Just can't seem to shake off that Catholic upbringing). Anyway, I've spoken with Terence and he approves.

He says there will be a special place for you in Whitby. Which as all good clammers know is clam heaven.

Nick:

Since you seem so keen on claiming that various examples given to you are not science, what is your definition of science?

On top of that, what is your definition for the particular god you believe in?

Jimmy_Blue said...

You can never be sure that there isn't some other reason why someone stops responding to a blog post obviously, but did anyone else notice that as soon as I challenged Nick and MrFreeThinker (on another thread) on their own terms they both disappearred?

Nick wanted to press Bronze and others on their definitions of God and science, but as soon as he is asked he stops responding.

MrFreeThinker claims the burden of proof is on us to disprove his silly sky daddy, but as soon as he is challanged to disprove Terence, he disappears.

Very telling I think. I even waited two weeks just to give them a chance to pop back in again.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, I noticed. Seemed pretty abrupt to me.