William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Build Your Own Embryo DNA Kits, Because Justice

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A curious statement in Guy Ringler’s “Get Ready for Embryos From Two Men or Two Women“:

…There likely will be a time when reproductive science could create an embryo from the cells of two men or two women.

Anti-gay forces will not want to hear this news, but science will continue to explore it in an attempt to explain biology. This is the role of science in our society: to improve the quality of life of all of us and to advance human equality. Scientific breakthroughs that can help two people who are committed to having children together—regardless of their sex—are inspiring developments.

Ignore the simulated, conspiratorial pathos about “Anti-gay forces” (which he used four times), and we’ll come back to the bit about explaining biology. What does Ringler say is the role of science? To improve the quality of life and to advance human equality.

That might sound wrong or incongruous, but he’s right. Increasing knowledge for the sake of knowledge was always an afterthought, an amiable side effect, of the Enlightenment. From the beginning, the stated purpose of men like Baron d’Holbach, Enlightenment leader, author of La Contagion sacrée (pdf), and Encyclopédist, was to better life. D’Holbach, and many like him, thought that goal could only be met about by removing religion, advancing some form of socialism, and lightening man’s burden. Science was to contribute to all.

Latterly, science for the sake of science has been heard from university pulpits, in part for the sake of pure knowledge, but also because ministers of scientism believe falsely that “Science” is the ultimate answer to every question. This accounts for the mania (from all sides) over evolution. Scidolators are certain sure that once all accept evolution, religion becomes a useless adaptation.

Ridiculous, of course. But it explains why Ringler thinks that tinkering with DNA will “explain” biology. It won’t, and can’t. Experimenting with creating designer babies will tell us what makes viable people and, tragically, what won’t. Insert gene X here before this time, or the life will die or be born malformed, etc. Here, as in many areas, over-confidence and the refusal to see the negative abounds.

Anyway, science will never explain biology, simply because explaining any science isn’t itself a scientific matter.

Philosophy can.

Scientism is, of course, a philosophy: though it’s an inconsistent and fundamentally broken philosophy which pretends it isn’t one. It’s a sort of evangelical Whiggish empiricism. Anything that can be tried ought to be tried. There are nothing but brute facts, brute facts which must be acknowledged and which lead to the salvation of non-existence.

Nowhere is the failure of scientism more keenly felt than when it is asked What is Man? What is the Good? What is the Best Way To Live? Answering “Science!” fails, hence the marriage with progressivism and its constant appeals to “fairness” and “equality”.

“Just like straight couples, many gay men and lesbians are eager to have a genetic relationship with their children.” Dust off those test tubes, because it would unfair to deny couples “genetic relationships”. How do you even begin to argue with such immaturity? Does Ringler not see that once we allow designer babies (which won’t stop at “couples”), it’s a short ride to government guidelines and the brave new world of Bokanovsky’s process? Does Ringler not care what the creation of a caste system (scientifically produced babies will be thought superior) will do to our culture and humanity?

Of course he cares. Whatever Ringler desires is, by progressive definition, good. His opponents who dispute his desire are not just scientifically wrong, but immoral. And that follows because denying a good is iniquitous.

But no one’s identity—be it race, gender, or sexual orientation—should ever play into the advancement of medicine. What’s important here is that we bring children into this world from a desire to love and provide a happy and healthy environment for their growth. These ingredients can be as powerfully provided by a same-sex couple as they can by heterosexuals. Studies have shown this, and I have seen it first hand in the hundreds of gay families from around the world who I’ve helped to conceive.

Medical science has transformed our society for the better in so many ways. It has helped the deaf to hear. It has cured many diseases and is pioneering the genetic targeting of agents to cure cancer. It has lengthened our lives and made them more fulfilling. And it has helped people—gay and straight, black and white, Christian, Jews, and Buddhists—to become parents.

When the time comes for two men or two women to have a biological child together, we should embrace it as another positive advancement to a happier world of fulfilled lives.

Pathos, special pleading, assumption as fact, scientism, shocking over-certainty, improper comparisons, rank zealotry, fallacy upon fallacy. Even though there are a few voices urging caution, it’s a good bet Ringler’s arguments will carry the day.

Update

40 Comments

  1. This is total hogwash! We would be nowhere without science, and while it is not the ultimate source of everything, it sure as hell has some credibility. Designer babies could better society greatly if only the government would take control of the power away from independent businesses.

  2. I always felt that Huxley had a much scarier and more realistic vision than Orwell.

  3. Now I can imagine how the Eloi and Morlocks came to be.

  4. Hitler was improving the human race, was he not? That was a selling point for the barbarity and violence used for the process. No one, well except maybe Obama and environmentalists, admits to wanting to tear down the human race. Actually, environmentalists are at odds with this because you get more parasitic humans on the planet this way. So one science opposes the other.

    Interesting thing about evolution–we got something from nothing once, but it can never happen again. Why?
    I thought gays and lesbians did have a genetic relationship with their children through surrogates. Now, can couples with one infertile partner have a “fully genetic” match to their child.

    How very cruel all of this is to children who are adopted. They’re second rate children–what you get when you can’t have the “best”. This is bettering society? Count me out on this cruelty.

    George: Designer babies could also create human beings that THINK and don’t just spout progressive platitudes. Be careful what you wish for. (Especially since businesses work much, much faster than the government on producing the desired product.)

  5. It used to be that everyone was aware of and could accept their personal limitations. Now, any limitation can be overcome by science or a government program.

  6. Scidolatry/Scidolator — LOVE it

    Just did a SEARCH – all I got was the IDOL part

    Briggs: Is that something you coined? Or can’t you take credit?

    George:

    Did you remember to mark your comment as “SARCASM” ?

  7. John B(): Briggs had a contest a while back to choose a name for this phenomenon. There were quite a few great ideas, but that turned out to be the winner.

  8. RE: “…science will never explain biology, simply because explaining any science isn’t itself a scientific matter. …. Philosophy can.”

    DREAM ON.

    Do a bit of research into ‘chimerism” here’s a starter–and figure how philosophy could EVER identify this surprisingly common condition much less then come to terms with it:

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201303/the-you-in-me

    http://guardianlv.com/2014/01/pregnancy-no-proof-of-motherhood-woman-was-her-own-twin-and-the-twin-was-the-mother-of-her-children/

  9. RealAaron – thanks

    I must have mistyped – I see now and Briggs come up first.

    I know “Scientism”, is de riguer, in light of “Scidolator”, shouldn’t we petition to get “scientism” changed to “scidolatry”?

  10. Another interesting article describing the extent to which chimerism is being observed in humans:

    http://www.katewerk.com/chimera.html

    The only way I can envision philosophy addressing this facet (and/or similar facets of) biology is if philosophy concocted ‘what if’ scenarios based wholly on conjecture–to prepare for what might be found later. And that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate from science fiction that happened to come out true or close to truth.

  11. SWITCHEROO:

    Briggs says: “…science for the sake of science has been heard from university pulpits, in part for the sake of pure knowledge, but also because ministers of scientism believe falsely…”

    Science is the disciplined search for truth, including the challenging of existing truths.

    Briggs says: “Scientism is, of course, a philosophy: though it’s an inconsistent and fundamentally broken philosophy which pretends it isn’t one.”

    SO…the implied link between “science” and “scientism” in the first quote above highlights a nonsensical logical progression that depends on the reader believing “science” and “scientism” are somehow the same and the one leads to the other as indicated. Which ain’t true.

  12. Ken: Why would philosophy have trouble explaining charmers? It’s really not that bizarre, unless you couch it in the right terms and make it sound that way. Only now do we know about it because we can isolate DNA. I don’t see why this is difficult to explain at all. I see in your next comment that you seem to be saying philosophy could not come up with this on it’s own. But that’a not the point–the point is that science can tell us what happened but not why it happens. Philosophy can move into the why. (Science concocts “what if” scenarios all the time. Why is it wrong in philosophy? DeVinci looked like science fiction—was he a scientist or a fiction writer?)

    Are you sure science isn’t the gateway drug that leads to scientism?

  13. For purposes of this discussion:

    Science: the methodical, logical exploration of the metrical properties of physical bodies.

    Scientism: the belief that Science can explain things that are not metrical properties of physical bodies, such as ideas involving ‘good’ or ‘true’ or ‘ought’.

    The founders of modern science expressly rejected what perennial philosophers call final and formal causes – they acknowledged that you’ll never understand how something is what it is and what it is for by running more essays or taking more temperatures or weighing more samples – it doesn’t work logically. But modern philosophers chafe at that limitation – they want to say that all there is is matter (a philosophical, not a scientific, proposition that cannot be tested by the methods of science), and that therefore things such as ‘good’ and ‘true’ on ‘ought’ must be either denied (see: free will for the foremost example) or explained as the result of mechanical rules operating within a material world.

    Both logically and as a matter of common experience, this overreach of science simply doesn’t work: You can’t get an ought from an is; you can’t get a good from mere existence. Yet people keep claiming that we ought to do stuff, we *must* ‘save the planet’ or achieve ‘equality’ or ‘fairness’ or some other poorly defined concept completely beyond the ken of the very important and valuable work scientists have done and are doing. Sciences legitimate claims, those which demand a reasonable man’s conditional acceptance, all rest on what we’ve learned about the metrical properties of physical bodies. When people start demanding we accept their conclusions about anything that isn’t based on the metrical property of physical bodies as *science* , they have overstepped the bounds of their art, and we are not obliged to accept their views. We are, in fact, obliged to challenge them on philosophical grounds.

    Which is, I think, what this blog is about.

  14. I wonder what the anti-GMO crowd has to say about this kind of genetic engineering. I sense a disturbance in the force…

  15. Joseph Moore,
    I agree that a clarification of terms is needed.
    I propose the definitions.

    Science is a discipline which we humans employ to ascertain what is certain concerning physical reality.

    Scientism is the erroneous worldview that science is the only valid and authoritative contributor to one’s thought paradigm (Philosophy).
    The worldview is typically held by naturalists, those who reject the supernatural, and metaphysical reality.

    Scidolatry is the faith belief system by which one’s moral and ethical standard is based on scientism. Scidolatry allows a illusion of philosophical validity but is ultimately both amoral and ethically bankrupt due to the philosophical relativism inherent in scientism.

    Where or how are these definitions mistaken?

  16. The slippery slope to Brave New World or The Clone Wars isn’t going to start from gay people having test-tube babies. It will come from psychotics in the defense establishments around the world, if it comes at all.

    There are mostly serious concerns about Designer Babies coming from Free Thinkers, “materialists,” and the like. We mostly do not like it either, though, it would seem we are not as vehemently against it as are the religious fundies like you guys.

    JMJ

  17. JMJ: There’s no slippery slope. We’re already there.

    (I’m also curious how the anti-GMO people react to this one.)

  18. Scientism has two main components. Firstly, it proposes that moral values can be derived from scientific ‘facts’. Secondly, a more general indulgence with pseudo scientific beliefs. Evolutionary theory is scientific. Eugenics or sociobiology (‘extensions’ of evolutionary theory) are not. When you begin to assert that Aryans are the master race, and that populations with blonde hair and blue eyes are genetically superior, you’ve confused what was originally scientific with what is not, and now you are in the realm of Scientism. Or if you prefer, if you move from radiative physics to tipping points and catastrophic global warming, you’ve done the same sort of thing.

    While I don’t find Dr Brigg’s article especially coherent he does raise an interesting point that it might perhaps have been better to focus on. Why does the gay couple want a ‘genetic’ connection with their child? Because they believe in something called ‘genes’ (which nobody can feel, see, smell or otherwise detect, as far as child raising is concerned) that bestows on the gay couple special properties and values (which nobody can feel, see, smell or otherwise detect, as far as child raising is concerned) . Why are the genes so important? Because science has made them so. This is where Guy Ringler has moved not just beyond medical aid into life style choice, but is indulging his patients in the belief that if one ‘shares’ genes with one’s children, those children will be more satisfying than other types of children could be.

  19. Will: My comment from above—How very cruel all of this is to children who are adopted. They’re second rate children–what you get when you can’t have the “best”. This is bettering society? Count me out on this cruelty.

    Evolutionary theory as the origin of man is science in the sense that it explains circumstantially what is believed to have happened in the past. It cannot, however, ever be confirmed. It can only be falsified if we find something that blows the theory away. (Evolutionary theory that speaks to the changes in species and survival of the adequately fit is verifiable in the short term.) Same with the Big Bang. What is annoying is the certainty applied to theories that simply cannot be proven. I don’t understand why science has to try and make people believe that which cannot be proven, except that would make science equal to religion in that sense and we can’t have that. The claimed certainty is to make it science, not faith in a bunch of circumstantial pieces of evidence being fitted together properly. Come to think of it, that is pretty much what religion is—based on evidence from books and history. Hmmmmm.

  20. Sheri: in Huxley the cruelty is visited upon children born of a sexual union. John Savage must bear the shame of having a mother and father. In an in-vitro world, what must those born of a sexual union conform to to celebrate the male-male in-vitro child.

  21. Steve E: Just a guess here, but how do we know the asexual births of the children in Brave New World did not start with in vitro births for gay couples and worked their way into the rest of the population? We’re looking at babies from 3 parents now. The concept of “parent” has been twisted, turned and smashed to bits. We now praise women who get pregnant and deprive their child of a father—the beloved “single mother”. We’ve horned out dad, mom could very, very easily be next. Just because the claim is this will benefit gay couples does not mean in any way that’s where it will actually lead. Children with two married, biological parents are being an increasing rarity. Not too far from there to Huxley’s world.

  22. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 20, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Sim.: Well that you should inquire, good Salviati. The geneticist Jonathon Glover has written a book on genetic engineering with that very title: What Sort of People Should There Be? Verily, the code genetic is like unto a film strip, which we may unroll and examine to find the frame for any particular characteristic. Then we may make whatever changes we wish to that frame and so optimize the human genome.

    Sal.: Optimization? I see the quest for the superman goes ever onward; but the last bunch of übermenschen did not end at all well. It is a mark of the problems with genetic engineering that there should be a book with that sort of title. People who imagine futures often seem to think that these things are easily decided by a disembodied panel of experts somewhere outside the universe, for you note how Glover has placed himself rhetorically outside of “People” in order to pass judgment on what sort “they” should be. But in the Real World™, such matters are often not decided at all. This bother those who think society ought to be run like a corporation, with firm decisions from Central Planning, but those of us who have seen corporations running are just as well pleased that it is otherwise.

    There are several assumptions behind the notion that we can design ourselves when we cannot design a really good toaster oven, and two of them are that the sort of people we should be can be well-defined, and secondly, that it has something to do with genetics.

    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/07/dialogue-concerning-internal-world.html

  23. @Sheri

    Start with the Origion of Species. After reading that tell me what ‘flaws’ in his arguments you can find. After that consider all the other lines of evidence, such as the Internal consistency in the DNA relationships between species. Also consider the fossil record. Dinosaur bones mixed with human bones or Burges shale mixed with any other out of record fossil would destroy the entire theory. Overwhelming compelling is it not?

  24. YOS: “There are several assumptions behind the notion that we can design ourselves when we cannot design a really good toaster oven” Great comment! I’m keeping that one in my list of superb comments!

    Will: Remembering your head may explode if you actually grasp this, I did NOT say there were errors in the theory. As far as I can see, evolution does fail to explain migrations and metamorphosis. Beyond that, I did not say there were errors and these are not errors, just shortcomings. I said “YOU CANNOT PROVE EVOLUTION”. I’m shouting because people immediately dive into “evolution is true or prove it wrong” when that is not what I am saying. I do not understand why scientists cannot admit they have an unprovable theory and just move on. Ancient aliens is a completely consistent theory for much of the past, based on exactly the same evidence as much of evolution. Yet few people take it seriously (myself included—I do find its internal consistancy interesting, however). Circumstantial evidence is all evolution will EVER have. You cannot go back in the past and know. Why can’t scientists get over that, admit it and move on? What is wrong with you people????

  25. Interesting but scary speculation by Ringler. I don’t possess the expertise to evaluate the possibility of his speculation, but I think reproductive human cloning is currently banned in many countries. Some attempted to ban therapeutic cloning.

    Who knows?! There might be a mad, filthy rich man who could buy up some mad scientists in the future.

    I’d love to be able to explain HOW living things function on a micro level. In my next life (Yes, dream on!), I shall be a scientist, a very fulfilling profession, who specializes in an area of micro-biological science. Human genetics sounds extremely attractive. I’d better accumulated as much positive Karma as I can.

    0ooh… a virgin birth is possible! The Catholic Church should not have replaced the word “virgin” with “young woman ” in their bible!

  26. Sander van der Wal

    March 21, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Science: the creation of verifiable theories.

    Scientism: the unverifiable theory that everything can be explained by verifiable theories that have been verified and proven to be true.

  27. Sander van der Wal

    March 21, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    @Sheri

    The first downside of any Alien theory of Selection on Purpose is that nobody has ever seen Aliens. Not even Aliens without a Purpose.

    And the second downside is the bane of all Theories of Selection by Purpose is that it needs a Theory to explain the rise of the Agents having a Purpose who is going to do the Selection. Selection by Nobody in Particular, Just Breed Before You Die doesn’t have that problem.

  28. Sander: No one has ever seen a TRex either.

    I don’t think I can reject a theory just because I don’t understand what purpose the aliens had in “helping” mankind. Plus, I always found that the “breed just before you die” really did not explain anything, it’s pretty much saying chance is the reason things exists. (Before you object here, I have explained before that creature A in area 1 survives due to food and water. Creature B dies in area 2 due to no food and water. Where the creatures are is really just chance. The location explains the death, but not why the creature was in the area. He just happened to be. The whole theory is just chance. To me, that’s not really a theory at all.)

  29. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 21, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Start with the Origion of Species. After reading that tell me what ‘flaws’ in his arguments you can find.

    Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, “I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other…”

    IOW, “the origin of species” is really “the origin of terms arbitrarily given.” This is a rather extreme form of nominalism, because if a “species” is just a term and not something real in the world, just what is it that is originating?

    However, granting the reality of universals, so that species really do exist in the world, it’s hard to find flaws in a tautology. Survivors survive, and the theory of evolution by natural selection is “an interesting side effect of death and freaks.”

    Another flaw in Darwin was his inability to propose a mechanism for fixing mutations in a population. In the analog world where inheritance was by “bloodlines,” he had no rebuttal against the argument that a mutation necessarily appearing in a single organism would not be diluted out of the bloodline within a few generations. (Mutations being rare, they are unlikely to occur in multiple individuals within the same breeding population at the same time. So the mutant would mate with the standard, cutting the mutation in half, etc.) Darwin knew of this falsification but made a leap of faith that someday some new facts would show how the mutations could survive.

    The was the digital world introduced by Mendel’s genetics, by which a gene could lurk for generations until encountering another such gene. Inheritance turned out to be discrete rather than continuous. But Darwin did not know that Mendel would one day save his bacon, so we have to regard this as a flaw in his argument. Besides, how many mid-Victorian theories have survived unscathed?

    Fodor’s critique was that natural selection was too teleological. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/jerry-fodor/why-pigs-dont-have-wings

    The real problem imho comes from confusing the facts (evolution) with the theory (natural selection). If a new species ever does come into existence, it will either emerge from earlier species by natural causes (as Thomas Aquinas speculated) or else “poof” into existence. Since species don’t poof, that leaves some sort of emergence from or transformation of a pre-existing species. So there must be a “rolling out” (which is what “evolution” means). It was how these evolutions occurred that was the puzzle. And still is. Natural selection may turn out to be an illusion caused by an evolved tendency to see patterns even when they are not there.
    +++
    After that consider all the other lines of evidence, such as the Internal consistency in the DNA relationships between species.

    There are only about a thousand or so pre-protein folds that are physically/chemically possible, so there are boundaries on what sort of organisms are possible. Also epigenetic factors are proving more important than previously thought. Two species may have similar DNA not because they share a common descent with modification, but because their ancestors dealt with similar conditions. It might be because of lateral transfers of genes, courtesy of viruses and other mechanisms. Etc.
    http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/Shapiro.2013.Rethinking_the_%28Im%29Possible_in_Evolution.html

    Per the Duhem-Quine thesis, scientific theories are underdetermined and through any finite collection of facts you can always draw multiple theories.

    Dinosaur bones mixed with human bones … would destroy the entire theory.

    a) It’s erosion and redeposition.
    b) Those aren’t really human [dinosaur] bones.
    c) It’s a hoax/fraud by the researcher.
    d) It’s proof that evolution is much faster than we thought.
    e) It’s proof that dinosaurs survived much longer than we thought.
    f) It’s proof that natural selection produces the same forms over and over.
    g) It is proof of time travel.
    h) It is proof of how a belief can be held so deeply that the only “falsifications” ever suggested are as totally bizarre as this one.

    Never underestimate the ability of a scientist to cling to a theory in the face of apparent facts. And indeed, sometimes the facts are wrong!

    Keep in mind that the theory is that evolution is the result of random mutation plus natural selection. This can be falsified without affecting the fact of evolution. For example: mutations may not be as random as thought. Genetic mechanisms may be more important than differential survival in the struggle for existence. Geneticists are finding that change may be sudden, massive, and specific.
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080421-lizard-evolution.html

  30. @Sheri,

    ” I said “YOU CANNOT PROVE EVOLUTION”.

    Well, you’re espousing complete nonsense and you should stop. Seriously, stop. By “circumstantial” you obviously mean anything you can’t verify empirically now. That would include the Roman Empire and practically all of known history, Jesus and every other important founder of a major religion, geology, nearly all of cosmology, definitely climatology, nearly all of evolutionary biology, and so on. Your definition is what’s scientific and what is speculation is not defensible.

  31. Will: I am not espousing nonsense and I have no intention of stopping. Yes, that would include the Roman Empire, history, Jesus and other religions, cosmology, etc. We cannot in any way “know” the past. HIstory is rewritten daily—Columbus is now evil and bad. My definition of science is not what is being discussed here, it’s the certainty of that science. I did not say science cannot use circumstantial evidence. I said they must be honest about it being circumstantial and that there is no way to know for certain. Many, many, many times ideas that were “known” to be true based on circumstantial evidence turned out to be wrong. Some evidence can yield multiple plausible explanations. Again, why does this bother scientists? It’s just the way things are.

    YOS: I agree with your comment. Well said.

  32. Sheri,

    What you’re arguing doesn’t bother scientists but not in the way you think. I don’t even want to use the term ‘scientist’. We should be using the broader term ‘rational person’. If you’re trying to determine who committed a murder, all evidence is not circumstantial because you were not there to witness the crime. Circumstantial means the evidence is insufficient to reach a particular conclusion. The fact that a suspect was seen in the vicinity of the crime is circumstantial. The suspect may have been in the area for other plausible reasons. If you find the murder weapon and the suspect’s DNA and finger prints on the weapon, that is not really circumstantial. However, neither is absolute proof. Finger prints may not be unique (there are 7 billion people in the world after all) and DNA testing may have been flawed, the suspect may have a twin brother, or there might be other reasons for how the suspect’s DNA made it onto the weapon. At some stage, however, the improbabilities become so huge, that is rational to discount skepticism. Lots of scientific theories, even when they cannot be empirically verified with your own eyes, are like that.

  33. Will: “Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact—like a fingerprint at the scene of a crime. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly—i.e., without need for any additional evidence or inference.” according to Wiki.

    This is not exactly what I mean. It is true that without several eye witnesses, a video tape or a confession, you cannot ascertain guilt at a near 100% level. You have it “beyond reasonable doubt”. That does not apply to science, however. Much of science may actually be subject to reasonable doubt even when the scientists themselves don’t think so. The improbability of evolution is not so huge as to claim there is not reasonable doubt, as YOS pointed out. There are gaps, etc. I still am not good at differentiating between natural selection and evolution, but the part of the theory that says all life came from single cell organisms is very questionable. As noted, it does not explain migrations and metamorphosis. Serious gaps.

    What I object to is the insistence that science knows what it CAN NOT know. We can never scientifically explain the origin of the planet because there is no way to know the “right” answer. We can formulate theories based on current evidence–and update them over and over and over and over. This is not “knowing”, it’s believing based on a set of input parameters. It changes over time. Gravity does not (or if it does, that ruins the whole big bang thing). I fully believe scientists are claiming godlike qualities when they say people came from single cell organisms over 4.5 billion years (or number currently used–again, it changes) and the universe began with a big bang, rather than accurately saying “This is our best theory at this particular time.” Science changes all the time. It’s not “facts”, it’s best knowledge at the time. Why can’t that be honestly conveyed?

    (I know how surveys of groups are leaders only, may not match the members, and that is a problem. Consensus is just science’s often godlike behaviour taken to the extreme. Consensus says we “experts” know things so don’t argue with us. Except when they don’t know, as in the case of global warming. There’s a reason global warming people throw in evolution when discussing how they must be right and those who “denied” evolution are “deniers” now with AGW. It’s the claim of having knowledge one cannot possibly have and they exploit it fully, silencing all disagreement.)

  34. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 23, 2015 at 10:54 am

    We should be using the broader term ‘rational person’.

    Well, a person is “an individual human being” and a human being is “a rational animal,” so “rational person” is a bit of a tautology.

    Radical skepticism can even discount “direct evidence.” An eyewitness may be mistaken; a confession may have been coerced or pathological. But you are correct that much of science consists of inferences from data. These inferences are called “theories.” For example: stars were observed to have distinct discs. (Procyon was as large and as bright as Saturn.) We can infer from that by applying simple Euclidean geometry that the sizes of stars would dwarf the entire solar system if they were too much farther away than Saturn. But if they were less than say 100x the distance of Saturn, annual parallax would be evident if the Earth moved about the Sun. There is no such parallax evident. Therefore, the Earth does not move.

    This is also evidence for the Duhem-Quine thesis that through any finite set of facts you can always draw multiple theories. I saw an example that illustrated your murder case: the same evidence supported “the butler did it” and “the wife did it.” In the case above, what if the sizes of the stars were an illusion caused by aberration? Then the stars might be much farther away without being absurdly enormous and the Sun could be understood as “another star.” In that case, the lack of observed parallax only meant it was too small to detect with the available instruments.

    Sheri is correct that a theory, no matter how well supported, never graduates to the status of fact. But Will is also correct that theories that are well-supported are like the heavyweight champion boxer. He wears the belt and is the one to beat. Recall the particle from CERN that apparently traveled faster than light to the receptor in Italy? It turned out to be an equipment problem. The theory of relativity is so well established that rather than declare it falsified by the data, they questioned whether the data was correct. A less well established theory might have been blown away, like heliocentrism was blown away by the ancient Greeks.

  35. YOS: I agree. Your example of the CERN particle is excellent. These scientists knew the theory of relativity said no speeds past the speed of light. Yet they were looking at what appeared to be a particle traveling faster than light. Rather than make an immediate judgement, they asked other researchers to double check their work, so speak. No one should ever declare a theory falsified by data until it’s been verified that the data is reproducible and there is not another plausible explanation. No one should cling to a theory while ignoring evidence that it may be or probably is wrong. Science should always be open to new findings and know its limits. I love science, but I don’t like the attitude of some branches that insist they know what they cannot actually know and refuse to discuss errors they made along the way. I find such behaviour more of a religious nature than that of science.

  36. Sheri,

    You’re jumbling several different ideas together now, which aren’t really relevant to supporting your argument. When Einstein’s theory of relativity was confirmed by means of observation of a solar eclipse, this line of evidence could be described as ‘indirect’. But the probability that Einstein could simply have got lucky or guessed the displacement of light, was clearly infinitesimally small. At this point if you’re still going to deny a scientific theory that has passed such types of tests, you have departed from rational thought.

    And drawing the line because it disagrees with a particular religious or emotive conviction is just as non nonsensical. Relatively theory explains everything up to point K but not beyond, because… I say so? Evolutionary theory explains evolution but not beyond point K because… you say so?

    This has nothing to do with ‘consensus making’ which is largely a political device. It also has nothing to do with certain scientists wanting to indulge their philosophical aspirations by engaging in metaphysical speculations. This happens a lot. If Steven Hawking speculates about the nature of reality his views are given greater credibility than the views of non physicists, although we shouldn’t. You either have a solution for the problem or you’re guessing like everyone else. The fact that you find such people annoying has nothing to do with whether a particular claim, whether historical, scientific or otherwise, is true or not.

  37. @Ye Olde Statistician

    I would have read the rest of your post if your opening sentence was not patiently idiotic.

  38. You are still not getting what I am saying. Indirect measurements and the ability to predict are not the same as reconstructing the past. Saying you can “know” the past is actually irrational. There is no way we can know. Not because I say so. Because we cannot time travel. We cannot go back and check the answer. There is no verification method available anywhere.

    If you are comfortable making claims that we can somehow KNOW how the past 4.5 million years ago happened, then okay. I am not and I do not accept those claims because they do not mesh with reality. They are based on best available information and putting together a puzzle that you have no picture to match to. You simply cannot know, irregardless of how many times you say you can.

    You’ve become very dismissive here–especially with points that seem valid but you don’t like. Calling YOS’s opening sentence idiotic seems like a good point at which to end this. I will out for a couple of days, so if YOS wishes to address your comments, he shall. Otherwise, I think we’ve gone as far as possible here.

  39. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 23, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    I would have read the rest of your post if your opening sentence was not patiently idiotic.

    The first sentence was your own.

  40. @Sheri,

    “You are still not getting what I am saying. Indirect measurements and the ability to predict are not the same as reconstructing the past.”

    I get exactly what you are asserting and I’m pointing out that what you are claiming is nonsense. The fact that you don’t like me pointing this out, seems to be the actual bone of contention.

    We cannot be absolutely certain about any claim whatsoever. If we go back to Descartes first principles, you’ll see that Descartes was not certain of anything except the owner of his own thoughts. Nietzsche deconstructed this further, by pointing out that Descartes could not even know this with certainty. So by claiming that one cannot be completely certain of something or other, what point have you made that is not ultimately trivial?

    We cannot know the past absolutely. But we can gain insight into the past by reading ancient texts, by means of archaeology, and other types of research. Whether an answer is reliable or possible, depends on what question you ask. To simply deny the possibility of historical knowledge is to adopt the intellectual sins of the relativists and post modernists. It’s an extreme, and therefore, a nonsensical conclusion to reach. Except for this very moment, everything is historical. Were the moon landings faked? They happened nearly 50 years ago. Do they become less certain the further in time we go? Is a 500 million year old asteroid impact site more certain than a million year old asteroid impact site? If so, why?

    “You’ve become very dismissive here–especially with points that seem valid but you don’t like.”

    It’s got nothing to do with what I like or not like. It has to do with whether you can rationally maintain your position or not. Moving off into sweeping generalization that ultimately boils down to the trivial, is not a good sign you’re holding onto a rational position.

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