12 November 2005

A startlingly rational approach to a scarey subject

I was startled to see Benjamin Carlyle first come out of the chapel, or in his case the “home church” (a move somewhat akin in most technical circles to standing up amidst a wolf-pack and starting, “Hi, I’m Ben Carlyle and I’m a prey species...”) and then go onto make a rational post on the increasingly popular (but not increaingly rational or moderate) topic of CvsE.

When I first started looking into this, it all appeared to be a reasonably straightforward dichotomy which would be similarly straightforward to resolve, but Real Life™ doesn’t often work like that, it seems.

A couple of significant points I’ve seen made on the topic of scientific testability of Creationism... well, I could cheat and say thet they”d expect to find pretty much the same things that Intelligent Design advocates would be looking for, but that’s not quite true. The ID crew have done some scientific testing of various of their hypotheses and come up roses (hmm, I’ll have to start bookmarking these things); it remains to a lab with a clearly Naturalistic bias to repeat the experiments and see if they get the same results.

Then you trip over a dichotomy between “Old Earth Creationists” and “Young Earth Creationists” where the latter would expect to find evidence that the rocks we’re standing on were less than ten kiloyears old, and the former wouldn’t.

The waters are further muddied by a dichotomy in the Naturalist camp between “Gradualists” and “Catastrophists”. The overwhelming number of turbiditic rocks found around the world tend to suggest that the Catastrophists are much closer to being correct than the Gradualists, but apparently because Catastrophism veers closer to Scientific HeresyCreationism, progress has been slow here. There is, for example, an Australian geologist who (despite a firmly Naturalistic approach), has had to be artificially moderate in his claims for the action of water on Australian coastlines lest he be accused (well... more often accused) of offering aid and succour to the Scientific HereticsCreationists. If you don’t mind treading on dangerous ground, asking The Wrong Types Of Questions is a pretty much guaranteed way of getting a rise out of a baptised and confirmed Naturalist.

It’s not all been gloom and misery, because the uphill road means that when Catastrophist claims are made they generally get hammered quite hard before being accepted — so whatever has been established has been firmly established. The late Stephen J Gould was a respected champion of Catastrophism.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The most superficial predictions don’t look all that different from one another because they all must match what we see around us today. After that, they do diverge and often quite strongly.

The sheer amount of experiment done on a strictly Naturalistic basis vastly outweighs the either ID or Creationist experimentation so far done (at least, that I’ve seen). I would expect the ID experiments to produce the most/fastest results because the scope of their research is much narrower and so much more focussed; on the other hand, a starkly obvious outcome from a Creationist experiment is typically going to be more sensational, and therefore have a bigger impact otside specialist circles.

The claim that experiments cannot be done in a universe inhabited by an all-powerful $DIETY is just plain silly. It starts from the regularly-disproved assumption that we completely understand the universe about us. Look back at what happened to the Æther theory or Newtonian physics and wonder how anybody could ever be so arrogant again — and yet it happens constantly.
s, use controls and error bars, just like

If you think $DIETY might mess with your results, use controls and error bars, just like any other engineering problem where all of the factors are not perfectly nailed down. If you expect $DIETY to perform on demand, then y’all have (1) no experience with lab animals; and (2) chosen a useless $DIETY. What kind of lily-livered $DIETY would let itself be bossed around by mere mortals?

I’m kinda tired, so this isn’t exactly checklist progress, but I think Ben’s right-side-of-the-equation thing needs to be hauled over the coals. Each side of the debate starts with a premise. Over here in the Creationist camp we have some fairly definite (if not always consistent) ideas about divine intervention. Over here in the Naturalist camp, we have other ideas about divine intervention. Each side believes that divine intervention happens in a particular way (in the case of Naturalism, that way is “not under any circumstances”), and generally discards without testing any data or hypothesis which does not fit their basic belief. Both sides start with preconceptions which limit their available conclusions.

Floating in between somewhere we have ID, which carefully (and AFAICT deliberately, possibly for this very purpose) limits the field of dispute so that those preconceptions have a more limited impact.

I had to laugh at the line “Evolutionary scientists and creation scientists are both packs of charlitains” because in general scientists from neither camp view themselves in this light, and in general (professions to the contrary notwithstanding) both are almost completely blind to how deeply their preconceptions skew their behaviour, their interpretation, practically everything about how they design, carry out and interpret an experiment. This often makes them appear to be charlatans rather than just selectively blind to their own biasses. This applies in many fields besides CvsE. Never assume malice when ignorance will turn the trick. (-:

There’s more, but I’m knackered. The bottom line is this: even if one side turns out to be completely, 100% across-the-board wrong, they will have provided a valuable service by performing the hamburger conversion on many sacred cows in the process. Any loyal Darwinist must agree. (-:

No comments: