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Posted by on Jan 14, 2014 in Evolution, Science | 18 comments

Quote of the Day – Andreas Schueler (I love this one)

Good ole Andy. Always says sensible stuff. Well, this one pops up fairly often in conversations with IDers. Andy uses it to good effect. I thought I would repeat it here as a foil to anybody who asserts that Intelligent Design is any sort of proper theory, with any sort of predictive power.

“So an unknown number of unknown “Designers” influenced the development of life and / or the universe at unknown points in time for unknown reasons with unknown methods. That claim is maximally vague – it is trivially compatible with every conceivable observation, but it also cannot be refuted or supported by any conceivable observation.”

It does everything it is supposed to do. BOOM!

 

  • LukeBreuer

    Sounds kind of like the multiverse theory, which says that anything that can happen, happens in some universe we probably will never be able to observe. I get that the math tempts us to think that all those universes are real, but it’s pretty suspect. Why did things happen this way? They had to in some universe.

    • http://disnotblog.blogspot.com/ Eugen

      (Jeopardy show)

      Eugen: Physics for $400,Alex.

      Alex: Place where universes are dime a dozen.

      Eugen: Multiverse.

      :)

    • Phasespace

      That’s an abuse of the theory. The notion of the multiverse arises within several contexts of physics, and none of the reasons for it (repeat) NONE of the reasons for it are an attempt to allow for “anything” to happen.

      Now, I’m not going to deny that once the notion of multiverses are established that people *don’t* say that under the multiverse more possibilities become likely. People do make that argument, but that isn’t what multiverse theory is about.

      • LukeBreuer

        I didn’t mean to imply that the originators came up with the theory for that reason, although I can see how you inferred that. My point was to match it up with the pattern that Andy pointed out. The multiverse theory does explain all configurations of matter-energy as being inevitable, if those other universes are given ontological status. If it’s not acceptable for ID proponents (I am not one) to come up with something that can explain everything on the basis that if everything is explained then nothing is, then the multiverse theorist ought to deny ontological status to all those other universes. Or have I erred?

        • Phasespace

          Sorry, I was a bit forceful in my response.

          I wouldn’t necessarily say you’ve erred. I agree with you that, given that we really have no evidence that the multiverse actually exists outside of untested theoretical predictions, that we can reasonably conclude that the question of why the configuration of our universe is what it is can be settled with any sort of satisfaction. Certainly, to say that the question has been settled on this basis is overstepping.

          What I frequently see happening in origins debates, is usually a false dichotomy being presented by the theist: eg. “God did it and you don’t have a sufficient explanation, therefore God” and an overly quick response from the naturalist that amounts to your complaint. I would agree that such a response is incomplete at best, though I’m not sure it quite commits the same fallacy, or at least I don’t think it is as grave an offense against the law of parsimony as the “God did it” response is.

          • LukeBreuer

            No worries. :-)

            The real problem I see is the “it’s just X” response, whether that X is ‘God’, or ‘my current understanding of the laws of the universe’. There is this desire to have things mostly explained. Rare are those who truly think they understand everything, but much more common are those who think they pretty much understand everything of importance, and all the rest is just detail. The “it’s just X” response is a way of shutting down certain possibilities, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a valid form of it, when the topic of conversation is “What is reality like?”

            Fortunately, not all theists think that God is not understandable past some basic level (often around their current understanding—see a pattern?), and not all theists think that positing a final cause means there exists no efficient cause. :-)

          • Phasespace

            I agree. That sort of response is a conversation stopper. I don’t think I would frame it quite the way you have, but I’m not going to quibble.

          • LukeBreuer

            Actually, I think I would appreciate the quibble. I’ve only really started investigating the phenomenon of saying “it’s just X”. There seems to be a mistake between:

                 (1) talking about the next step in modeling reality
                 (2) talking about what reality might really be like

            When doing (1), “it’s just X” can be quite useful. Ockham’s razor is basically the claim that “successive approximation works well”. That is, humans are excellent at understanding systems bit by bit, and reality is structured such that this is possible. Perhaps this even a law of how conscious learning happens. Insist that the mind make too big a jump at once and it’s just unlikely that the jump will be made sufficiently well.

            The problem, as I see it, is when we apply ‘the rules’ for (1)-type thinking to (2)-type thinking. Or, I see a huge problem when people say that you should really never do (2). Democritus’ Atomism offers a great criticism of this. The Atomists were going well past (1), and yet their work product was useful to those who discovered Atomic Theory. Many atheists seem like derogating (2)-type thinking, whereas I just see it as playing a distinct, but connected role. When Einstein thought about what it’d be like to ride on the back of a photon, I think he was venturing into (2)-territory.

            To go even further, let’s consider the hard problem of how scientists are able to come up with hypotheses that are sufficiently likely to work. Karl Popper, in his Logic of Scientific Discovery, completely punted on this topic. As far as I know, nobody has made much progress in this area, although the machine learning people really want to. Could it be that (2)-type thinking plays a part in hypothesis formation? If so, we only roughly understand what role it plays. There seem to be a lot of different ways to think about things, all of which let one do decent to fantastic research. Dogmatism in exactly how to think about what reality is really like seems Very Bad.

          • Phasespace

            Alright, I’m writing this a bit off the cuff, so I reserve the right to retract anything that upon further consideration, I think may be wrong! :)

            First, I’ll step back a bit. In the context of an origins debate, when the naturalist plays the multiverse card, I don’t necessarily think they are trying to explain everything so much as saying that we have, at least, a naturalistic theoretical foundation for thinking that the universe is a product of natural processes. It’s a bit of both (1) and (2) as you’ve delineated, and it’s pointing out to the supernaturalist that, if they are going to play by the same epistemological rules, then they really need to not just have a possible explanation, they need to provide some reason why supernaturalism is more probable than a naturalistic explanation that, at a minimum, already has some basis in the reality that both naturalist and the supernaturalist accept. This is where Ockham comes in.

            Now, of course, the naturalist isn’t really off the hook here. The multiverse may be a naturalistic explanation that doesn’t require another entity, but it has it’s own probability problem. We have a lot of multiverse theories, and I don’t know how to assign a good probability to any of them. The only advantage that they have over supernatural creation is that they aren’t invoking a potentially unnecessary entity (that requires additional explanation).

            So, playing this card is a conversation stopper in the sense that I think both parties are probably not on the same page epistemologically (at a minimum), and therefore, the conversation is unlikely to be able to go beyond this until the problem is recognized by both parties.

            Moving on…

            As a scientist, there are two ways that I think about this. On the one hand, I would say that the distinction between (1) and (2) can be very fuzzy. (1) drives (2) as much as (2) drives (1), it’s a feedback loop, that includes a third step: observation and/or experiment which serves as a check against the other 2. (2) definitely plays a huge part in hypothesis formation, as that is where updates to the models come from.

            On the other hand, there can also be a very strong demarcation between (1) and (2), in the sense that in (2), I may be engaging in highly speculative thinking that may not even be model-able at all. And in those cases, as a scientist, I need to plaster caution tape, red flags, and all possible warnings that I can over those notions to make it clear that these are some ideas that this is speculation about reality that may not have any good basis in reality. Certainly the thought experiment concept made most famous by Einstein has a long history in science, and Einstein was certainly not the first to engage in that kind of thinking.

            As for Popper, yeah, Popper definitely had some odd notions about hypothesis formation. It’s been awhile since I read Popper, but I remember hearing a bizarre story about how Popper once stood up in front of his class and simply stated “observe” and expected hypotheses to be generated on the spot. The story is so strange that to this day, I wonder if it isn’t apocryphal. As it is, I’m kind of surprised that there hasn’t been more work on hypothesis formation. I would’ve thought that there would’ve been more on that, but maybe that’s going on in the field of cognitive science…?

          • LukeBreuer

            The only advantage that they have over supernatural creation is that they aren’t invoking a potentially unnecessary entity (that requires additional explanation).

            One might say that it requires a tremendous number of unobservable entities. :-p I’m personally rooting for there being a tremendous number of good universes, universes with which we’ll ultimately be able to communicate. :-)

            This “additional explanation” bit has always confused me. We have to posit that something or someone has always existed, for the infinite regress option as well as the ‘nothing-nothing’ option are quite ugly at the moment. Ockham’s razor seems irrelevant for what to prefer here, for his razor applies to developing models, not to reality ‘as it really is’. His razor applies to (1), not (2). Contra Dawkins, I have no idea how one can think about probabilities of necessary beings/impersonal things existing.

            (1) drives (2) as much as (2) drives (1), it’s a feedback loop

            Agreed. My wife is a scientist and I help her from time to time. It can be pretty fun to hear her complain about papers which claim things as true which aren’t known to be true, and of speculations that get accepted as dogma without ever being substantiated. And yet, even dogma can be helpful, for if many people are all thinking with the same category, their efforts will be coordinated in a way that will hopefully collect enough evidence to tell us something.

            On the other hand, there can also be a very strong demarcation between (1) and (2), in the sense that in (2), I may be engaging in highly speculative thinking that may not even be model-able at all. And in those cases, as a scientist, I need to plaster caution tape, red flags, and all possible warnings that I can over those notions to make it clear that these are some ideas that this is speculation about reality that may not have any good basis in reality.

            Heh, according to my wife this happens… sometimes. I actually see a lot of religious thinking as existing in this area. A lot of doctrine can’t really be applied to life except in a very indirect and tenuous way. It makes me think of a lot of theology as more like philosophy or math (constructing self-consistent edifices of logic). I have a lot of trouble with pure theory when I cannot connect it to concrete, experienced reality.

            As it is, I’m kind of surprised that there hasn’t been more work on hypothesis formation. I would’ve thought that there would’ve been more on that, but maybe that’s going on in the field of cognitive science…?

            Think about it: once we understand hypothesis formation well enough, we can build something worth calling ‘AI’ and turn grad students into highly skilled slave labor. Despite all of the cognitive deficiencies of the human brain, it is tremendously powerful at inferring possible patterns with high enough reliability.

            I look forward to understanding how hypothesis formation works. I wonder if metaphysics will turn out to be important, there.

          • Phasespace

            Think about it: once we understand hypothesis formation well enough, we can build something worth calling ‘AI’ and…

            Oh, I get the importance of it. I’m just surprised that it seems like the subject isn’t being more actively researched. That’s not my field of expertise, and AI is even more far flung for me, so I don’t really know what the status is, other than the occasional headline that shows up from time to time.

          • LukeBreuer

            I’m sure it’s discussed somewhere (I took a fun “Philosophy of Neuroscience” course in school), but the real question in my mind is whether progress is being made. I’m not sure one will get progress without progress in machine learning, so I think that’s one of the first places to look.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Hard Evidence for the Multiverse Found, but String Theory Limits the Space Brain Threat

            http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=5907

            A bit older:
            Scientists find first evidence that many universes exist

            http://phys.org/news/2010-12-scientists-evidence-universes.html

            Dsicussion ovf evidence:

            http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=723552

          • Phasespace

            Yeah, I’m aware of the ongoing analyses of the Planck data. I’m not sure I would call that hard evidence, yet. For the time being, I’m highly skeptical of that finding. Right now, they see some correlations, but they haven’t nailed down the causation.

    • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

      It sounds like your brainy attempt to reconcile evolution with a perfect god.

  • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce
    • Andy_Schueler

      Well, what more do you expect from someone whose aims are “Promoting, advancing and defending Intelligent Design via data, logic and Intelligent Reasoning”? :-D

      • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        JoeG is clinically insane.