“False science”

Liberal religious figures baffle me when they make true but irrelevant pronouncements concerning how science does not strictly imply that their God is a fiction. But credit where it’s due—at least they don’t shit all over science like conservative God-botherers are wont to do. Take, for example, David Barton, the “historian” much favored by the Religious Right, who says things like

There is science and there is science that is falsely so-called. See, the Bible doesn’t have trouble with science, but it’s talking about beware of the stuff that’s falsely called science. There’s a lot that masquerades in the name of science.
How do you know false science? False science leads you to a certain end. What is that end? That it undermines your faith. So a good definition of false science, at least based on the Bible verse, science that undermines faith is false science and science that’s wrongly used it false science.
God’s into science. He created everything. He’s the great botanist, He’s the great zoologist, He’s the great every one of those things. He knows better than anyone else because he made it all. But when science takes you to a position that causes you to doubt your relationship with God, causes you to doubt the Bible … that’s called false science.

Bring me a bucket.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I happen to agree with David Barton that there is science and science that is falsely so-called. False science is when in the name of science claims are made about how reality is as contrasted to how the physical dimension of reality seems when observed and measured – which is what the physical sciences actually do. In other words false science obtains when people reify scientific models.

    First of all, it is not the case that models of reality are necessary for science. Thus Kepler’s laws of planetary motion do not use any models of reality. Neither does quantum mechanics’ description of quantum phenomena. Secondly, even in those cases where models are used it’s not like these models must describe reality for the respective science to hold. This is provable: If we live in a computer simulation (see http://www.simulation-argument.com ) then all scientific books are still true, even though all the models they contain do not describe reality.

    Sometimes the errors of false science are (or should be) obvious. For example natural evolution speaks of random mutations in the sense that the theory does not entail a mechanism by which mutations take place in order to produce some adaptive trait. But this does not imply that in the real world mutations are random. For all we know from the actual science they may not be random. Thus those naturalists who insists that mutations in the real world are random are simply adding their metaphysical assumptions to the science. Unfortunately most are not aware of this fact and often insist that what they claim is based on the science.

    In any case, Taner, theism has much more knowledgeable thinkers than David Barton. I understand the harm that scientifically or philosophically uneducated politicians can cause, but let’s not confuse politics with the quest for truth. So if you want to engage with the theistic understanding of science you should read something more serious, like Alvin Plantinga’s latest book “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism”. Actually it would be interesting if you reviewed that book here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    When evolutionary theory says that mutations are random this is meant only in the sense that they occur independently of the needs of the organism in a given environment. Thus, a species of succulent plant growing in a desiccating environment, such as the Sahel region south of the Sahara, "needs" to access more water and/or conserve what it has. Will a mutation provide such a plant with a deeper root or a thicker and more impermeable rind? The theory of natural selection, supported by hundreds of real-world studies, indicates that mutations that affect adaptation are not in any sense directed by the needs of the organism. A mutation might provide the deeper root or the thicker rind that would aid the organism's survival, or it might not. In short, there is no detectable biasing of the rate or direction of mutation in favor of a species' survival.

    In other senses of "random," evolutionary biologists clearly deny that mutation is random, as Richard Dawkins lucidly explains in The Blind Watchmaker (pp. 306-307). Evolutionary biologists regard mutations as non-random in the sense that they have physical causes and do not "just happen." For instance,it is recognized that X-rays, cosmic rays, radiation, and various chemical mutagens can cause mutations. Further, mutation rates differ at different chromosomal loci so that different genes have different likelihoods of mutating. Also, at any given chromosomal locus, mutations in one direction may be more likely than in the reverse direction. For instance, as Dawkins notes, the transition of one form of hemoglobin into another may be more favored than the reverse transformation back to the original form. In all these various ways, then, evolutionary biologists recognize that mutation is non-random.

    The assertion that mutation is random does NOT imply that mutations are random in the sense that they are uncaused or in the sense that all changes are equally likely. The assertion of randomness in the sense intended–that the good of the organism does not direct mutations–is a perfectly sound scientific assertion. It is backed by copious observation well-confirmed theory. It is not in any sense a metaphysical imposition on the science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ' For example natural evolution speaks of random mutations in the sense that the theory does not entail a mechanism by which mutations take place in order to produce some adaptive trait. But this does not imply that in the real world mutations are random. For all we know from the actual science they may not be random.

    Thus those naturalists who insists that mutations in the real world are random are simply adding their metaphysical assumptions to the science.'

    Similarly when people are struck by lightning and their friends think it happened at random, they are poor fools who do not realise that electricity behaves deterministically.

    And , of course, all those casinos in Las Vegas who claim roulette is a game of chance should be told that they are adding their metaphysical assumptions to their advertising – Newtonian mechanics is quite different from randomness.

    And the people in Acts 1 who 'cast lots' to determine who would be the new apostle should be told that that was hardly random, except in the mixed-up world of naturalism….

    Perhaps DG can do some research on what people on this planet mean by 'randomness' before pronouncing on the metaphysical folly of the population of the entire world.

    The fact that something is caused does not mean it is not random.

    I can be hit by a random strike of lightning even if lightning strikes are determined

    This is obvious to anybody who uses English as a mother tongue and who has not dulled his mind by inserting it in a book by Plantinga and taking it seriously.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “When evolutionary theory says that mutations are random this is meant only in the sense that they occur independently of the needs of the organism in a given environment.

    This language is slightly misleading. The theory does not require some causal link between the needs of the organism and the mutations, but neither does it prohibit it. In short the theory says that the evolutionary process works even if mutations occur independently of the needs of the organisms. Which is quite true. And, obviously, if an unguided process will work, a guided process will also work.

    Incidentally, given that the Darwinian algorithm does not guarantee a continuous increase of complexity we simply don’t currently know whether an unguided evolutionary mechanism would produce in our environment species as complex as we are (or species as complex as required for intelligent thought). Naturalists must assume that unguided evolution suffices, for that is required by their metaphysical assumptions. I think they are probably right, but the fact remains that science is quiet on this issue.

    The theory of natural selection, supported by hundreds of real-world studies, indicates that mutations that affect adaptation are not in any sense directed by the needs of the organism.

    True. On the other hand please observe that according to theism’s view of special providence (i.e. God’s interaction with the universe beyond and above God’s sustaining its existence and order) is not that God guided the evolutionary process according to the needs of the organisms, but rather that God guided the evolutionary process according to the needs of God’s purpose in creation.

    Evolutionary biologists regard mutations as non-random in the sense that they have physical causes and do not "just happen".

    I agree. Indeed the theory of evolution does not require any randomness whatsoever. As far as we know the Darwinian algorithm works equally well if driven by a deterministic pseudo-random generator. That is why nobody thinks that Darwinism falsifies determinism. On the other hand, *if* the physical universe is probabilistic (as it appears to be the case) then there is a random source affecting all physical processes including evolution.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Here is my understanding of the concept of randomness:

    First of all, randomness is not a property of data but a property of sources of data. In fact, any single sequence of data may have been produced either by a random source or by a non-random source. Thus when we say “X is random” we really mean “X is produced by a random source”.

    A source of data is random when (on the long run) there is no method to predict the next datum it will produce with greater success than any other method. Another way to put it is that a source of data is random when (on the long run) it is impossible to compress the data it produces.

    Now given a (preferably long) sequence of data, what can we say about its source? If we find a method which predicts the sequence with better than chance success then we can say that that sequence is *probably* produced by a non-random source. (The longer the method is proved successful the greater our confidence that the source is non-random.) If, on the contrary, we cannot discover any such method then we can’t say anything about the nature of the random source, except to say that we have no reason to believe that it was not produced by a random source.

    To get a sense of the difficulty let us consider the following two sequences:

    A) 00110011001100110011001100110011001100110011001100110011

    B) 00100100001111110110101010001000100001011010001100001000

    We can say that (A) has almost certainly been produced by a non-random source. (B) on the contrary looks like it has been produced by a random source. In fact (B) too has almost certainly been produced by a non-random source, as it equals the beginning of the binary expansion of the fractional part of pi.

    So how should we think about the relationship between scientific models and physical reality? Let us consider a case which is much simpler than natural evolution, namely the well-known double slit experiment. Here we shoot photons towards the double slit and write down which slit each photon passes through, until we have accumulated a long sequence of bits of data. According to the model of quantum mechanics that sequence is produced by a random source. Indeed we cannot discover any method to predict what will happen next (or, alternatively, we cannot discover any method to compress that sequence). If we could then we would have demonstrated that QM is an incomplete theory. Now what can we say about what is actually happening in reality? As we saw we can say very little. For example we *cannot* say that the source which produced that data was random. For all we know the physical universe is continuously computing the binary expansion of pi and drives the photons through the left or right slit depending on whether that value is 0 or 1. Or, perhaps, God is codifying in that sequence a very beautiful piece of music. Indeed according to Bohm’s interpretation of QM is produced deterministically even though it certainly looks random.

    My point here is this: A scientific model is successful to the degree that it successfully describes physical phenomena. But the success of the scientific model says by itself nothing about what it is in reality which produces the respective phenomena. Thus, according to QM’s model there is a 0.5 probability that we shall observe the photon will pass through either of the slots, which indeed comports well with observations. But QM’s model says nothing about what it is in reality that produces the order it describes. Specifically, QM does *not* say that photons are in reality guided by a random source to pass through one or the other slot. (I trust the relevance of this example to the case of natural evolution is obvious.)

    In conclusion. To understand well what science says entails to understand well what science does not say. If one does not understand the limits of science and adds one's metaphysical assumptions to it as if they belonged to the science, then one is producing false science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    Rather than address one or more of your particular points, let me note that underlying your remarks seems to be a questionable assumption about scientific realism, namely that it is "metaphysical" in some sense that current anti-realism is not. This is not so, however. The debate between scientific realists and constructive empiricists is an epistemological disagreement, not a metaphysical one. All sides in the debate concede metaphysical realism, i.e., that there is a micro-world, a reality beyond the human sensory capacity. Further, each side admits that happenings in that micro-world occur as our best-confirmed physical models predict. Thermonuclear bombs do reliably explode as predicted by our theories.

    The fundamental disagreement is whether abductive inference warrants the acceptance of the ontological posits of our best theoretical models. For instance, scientific realists would say that the manifold and detailed explanatory successes of the standard model of elementary particles warrants the acceptance of that theory's posits, i.e., that we are warranted in regarding leptons, hadrons, and gauge bosons as bona fide denizens of our universe. Constructive empiricists deny that we are warranted in that inference.

    Once again, though, to deny, as constructive empiricists do, that we are warranted in positing leptons, hadrons, and gauge bosons, does not mean that they deny the existence of a micro-world or that they deny that that reality, whatever it is, obeys the rules laid down by our best theories. Indeed, they explicitly accept the empirical adequacy of our best models. So, the ontology of constructive empiricism is no more parsimonious than the scientific realist's. Constructive empiricists endorse a fundamental physical reality just as much as the realist; the difference is that realists think we can identify it with the posits of our best theories.

    Still, though, are not leptons, hadrons, etc. posits in the sense that they their existence is not entailed by the phenomena? Sure; they are posits in that sense, but then so are tables and chairs. As the good Bishop Berkeley showed long ago, we could have the experiences of sitting in chairs and eating from tables even if there are no chairs or tables. As scientific realists see it, acceptance of an ontology of leptons and hadrons is not really much more problematic than acceptance of an ontology of tables and chairs. As realists see it, if we discover that, in innumerable ways, things in the physical world act JUST EXACTLY LIKE they are made of tiny particles that behave in certain ways, then it is not going too far out on an epistemological limb to say that things REALLY ARE made of such tiny little particles. But even if this inference goes too far, it errs in holding that the fundamental reality can be identified, not in the assertion that it exists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    I’d like to ask you a question, and I must say I am very interested in your answer.

    You write that scientific realists think that “we are warranted in regarding leptons, hadrons, and gauge bosons as bona fide denizens of our universe”.

    So, here is my question: What is it you actually *mean* when you say that elementary particles are bona fide denizens of our universe? I am not wondering about the truth of your claim, but about its meaning.

    I am asking this because all the existents I know of are stable patterns within my experience of life. So, for example, a particular pattern may be “an apple tree in my garden”, another pattern may be “trees” and finally another may be “quarks”. The difference is that the former two are quite obvious and even a child discover them, whereas the latter lies deep and you need smart physicists (and a lot of equipment) to discover it. And there are patterns within patterns, causality patterns, etc.

    So I am not asking why one should assume the existence of anything beyond such patterns. I am asking what one *means* when one claims that there exists something beyond patterns present within experience. I can make perfect sense of elementary particles existing as patterns deep within our experience of physical phenomena, but I cannot make any sense of them existing in some different sense than that.

    When I try myself to imagine something existing in some different sense I always get to the same impasse: For a concept to make sense, for a concept to *mean* something to me, there must be some kind of link between it and my experience of life. But if there is such a link then I find it always represents some pattern within my experience of life. Which defeats my goal of discovering a meaning of “X exists” which lies beyond being a pattern in my experience of life. For example, in the case of an elementary particle I can picture it existing as a fast moving nebulous quantum field within a model of the universe I mentally construct, but surely that model and its parts are patterns too, indeed vague (and possibly misleading) patterns within my experience of visualizing a model.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    I’d like to comment on some particulars of your last post, because this may clarify why I find that scientific realism is meaningless. In your last post you write:

    As the good Bishop Berkeley showed long ago, we could have the experiences of sitting in chairs and eating from tables even if there are no chairs or tables.

    This is not my understanding of Berkeley’s thought. Rather I think that Berkeley would say that the chairs and tables exist in that we experience sitting in the former and eating from the latter. Even if it is the case that we experience the chairs and tables while dreaming, they exist as patterns present in our experience of the dream. Of course these dreamed chairs and tables are much less detailed and ordered, and also much less long-living, than the patterns of physical chairs and tables in our wakeful experiences of life. So there is a big difference between the dreamed chairs we experience while asleep and the physical chairs and tables we experience while awake. But the nature of their existence, what we mean when we say that they exist, is the same. Which comports well with the fact that we use the same predicate, namely that they “exist”, to refer to both dreamed-chairs and physical-chairs. (Or imagined-chairs, or holographic-chairs, or sketched-chairs, etc.)

    As scientific realists see it, acceptance of an ontology of leptons and hadrons is not really much more problematic than acceptance of an ontology of tables and chairs.

    I accept the ontology of leptons and hadrons exactly in the same sense I accept the ontology of tables and chairs, namely as patterns present in our experience of life.

    But even if this inference goes too far, it errs in holding that the fundamental reality can be identified, not in the assertion that it exists.

    To my knowledge everybody (including solipsists) agrees that fundamental reality exists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    This conversation relates back to topics we breached long ago, but never really pursued (one problem with this medium is that far more topics can be raised than can be treated in detail). Anyway, you say:

    "I am asking what one *means* when one claims that there exists something beyond patterns present within experience."

    Actually, I think I should be the one asking the question about meaning here. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you understand "X exists" to be equivalent to "X is a pattern in my experience." I am not sure just how to take this, but it sounds very much like what Berkeley said when was challenged that his views violated common sense. For instance, what could he possibly mean if he said "The horse is in the stable"? Berkeley's reply was that his view was perfect common sense because he meant that if you went into the stable you would have the experience of seeing, hearing, (and smelling) the horse. This, says Berkeley, is all that the common man means when he says "The horse is in the stable."

    I have to confess that this one of the many pronouncements of the "great" philosophers that tempts me simply to gape. I agree with D.C. Stove when he says that anyone who thinks that "There is a horse in the stable" means "Upon entering the stable you will be experience horse-like sense data" just does not speak English. What the ordinary English speaker means by "There is a horse in the stable" is that there is an animal, a flesh-and-blood creature out there in the stable. In other words, for the ordinary English speaker, "exist," when applied to physical objects, most definitely does not mean "is a pattern within my experience." In fact, I would hazard that NOBODY means that except perhaps a small number of highly educated people who accept particular metaphysical commitments.

    Now it could be that those metaphysical theses are correct, and that there is nothing more to horses than patterns in our experience. However, if these metaphysical theses are correct, then the ordinary, non-metaphysical English speaker is simply wrong in thinking what he does when he thinks that there is a horse in the stable. There is no horse (in the common man's sense) in the stable, rather, the experience of going in the stable is accompanied by the experience of horse-like sense data.

    The upshot is that I think that the burden of justifying a locution should be on the ones who want to change the accepted sense and substitute a new one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos,

    WARNING: There follows completely gratuitous, unsolicited advice.

    I really think that, instead of dropping bits and pieces of your views on the Internet, you should concentrate your effort to produce something of book length. Something like:

    Christianity: A Neo-Berkeleyan Defense, by Dianelos Georgoudis.

    Has a nice ring, doesn't it? I'll volunteer a cover blurb.

    If we had a systematic, comprehensive statement of your position, it would allow a more thorough and helpful discussion of your theses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    I do not want to change the accepted sense of “existence” and substitute a new one, because I believe that my sense of “existence” is the common one. After all I am a common human being and my behavior both in action and in language fits well with the behavior of my fellow human beings, which I suppose wouldn’t be the case if my sense of existence were significantly different from theirs. Thus I don’t think that I am arguing for a surprising claim which violates common sense as you suggest. Rather I think I am merely *describing* the common sense meaning of “existence”. If that description sounds surprising perhaps it’s because people do not consider carefully what they mean by existential claims.

    Actually it is remarkable that while so many people debate about what exists and what doesn’t, there is no clarity (and apparently no consensus either) about what they mean by “X exists”. At least the description I suggest is equivocal, as it fits in exactly the same way all existential claims, whether about physical things, physical laws, mathematical objects, mathematical laws, spiritual things, spiritual laws, imagined things, and so on. Actually it is interesting to note how it fits the claim that God exists. That claim now reduces to the claim that all patterns in our experience of life form part of (and are therefore “explained” by) one deepest pattern, which has the traditional properties ascribed to God. And which pattern is common to all personal experience, and is therefore “metaphysically necessary”. (You’ll notice that this view entails panentheism, which in my judgment is a good thing.)

    As for Berkeley, I understand he thinks that there are two kinds of things: conscious subjects and experiences (or perhaps, persons and ideas). If that’s his view I don’t quite agree with him. Since being a subject entails having experiences, and an experience entails being experienced by some subject(s), I believe that the right way to think about subjects is that they themselves are patterns of experience (albeit with special properties such as cognition, will, etc). Which, I dare say, comports well with how it feels to be an individual.

    Anyway, thanks very much for your advice. I take it seriously you know, and I’ll remember your offer.


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