Pharyngula

State senatory Raymond Finney of Tennessee (a retired physician—hey, we’ve been making Orac squirm uncomfortably a lot lately) has just filed a resolution that asks a few questions. Actually, he’s demanding that the Tennessee Department of Education answer these questions within a year or … well, I don’t know what. He might stamp his foot and have a snit.

(1) Is the Universe and all that is within it, including human beings, created through purposeful, intelligent design by a Supreme Being, that is a Creator?

Understand that this question does not ask that the Creator be given a name. To name the Creator is a matter of faith. The question simply asks whether the Universe has been created or has merely happened by random, unplanned, and purposeless occurrences. Further understand that this question asks that the latest advances in multiple scientific disciplines —such as physics, astronomy, molecular biology, DNA studies, physiology, paleontology, mathematics, and statistics — be considered, rather than relying solely on descriptive and hypothetical suppositions.

If the answer to Question 1 is “Yes,” please answer Question 2:

(2) Since the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught in Tennessee public schools?

If the answer to Question 1 is “This question cannot be proved or disproved,” please answer Question 3:

(3) Since it cannot be determined whether the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught as an alternative concept, explanation, or theory, along with the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools?

If the answer to Question 1 is “No” please accept the General Assembly’s admiration for being able to decide conclusively a question that has long perplexed and occupied the attention of scientists, philosophers, theologians, educators, and others.

Someone clearly thinks he’s being a Clever Dick, and you know what we do to his kind around here—something to do with cudgels, or maybe it’s custard pies. Anyway, it’s clear from a purely bureaucratic standpoint that the only conceivable answer the Department of Education should give to Question 1 is “NO“, because that means you don’t have to answer any of the other questions, don’t have to explain to a dogmatic dullard that teaching a religious myth in the science classroom is unconstitutional, and you’ll get the plaudits of the General Assembly. It’s a win-win.

From a scientific point of view, the answer is the same, “NO,” or more accurately, “There is absolutely no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose in the universe, and until you’ve got some, that’s the only tenable answer” which should still leave us with the love and admiration of the Tennessee Senate.

The answer is definitely not “Yes”. Only a dogmatic dullard would think science backs that one up.

You might be able to make a case that “This question cannot be proved or disproved” should get partial credit as an answer, but I’m inclined to reject it altogether because a) science does not deal in proofs anyway, and b) the dogmatic dullard asking the question hasn’t defined “creator” or “supreme being” in any way that can be scientifically evaluated. Basically, that means throwing out his entire set of questions as poorly formed and not worth the effort of patching up.

If, somehow, you ignored his conditionals and ended up trying to answer questions 2 or 3, the answer is the same for both: we don’t teach creationism in science classes either instead of or alongside evolution because creationism has no scientific evidence in its support. It really is that simple. Teach the evidence in science; if there is no evidence, there’s nothing to teach.

If the Tennessee Department of Education would like to use my answers to address the pompous demands of Senator Finney, they are welcome, and I will waive my usual exorbitant Question-Answering Fee, this time. I think that with Finney in office, I might have many opportunities for repeat business.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave
    February 27, 2007

    Why do I feel like I am about to watch a car wreck, and yet, I can not turn away. I propose the title “Monkey Girl goes for a drive”.

    Dave

  2. #2 Daephex
    February 27, 2007

    It’s incredibly depressing that someone is this stupid. This is the sort of stuff that makes me seriously doubt the worth of humanity. Its starting to look like stupid all the way down.

  3. #3 Occam's Electric Razor
    February 27, 2007

    “Since the world is overseen by an omnipotent, loving God, how did Raymond Finney come to be a State Senator?”

    It reminds me of the old joke:

    Priest: “Son, do you believe in God?”

    “Father, not when I look at you.”

  4. #4 OhioBrian
    February 27, 2007

    I’m smack in the middle of “Monkey Girl,” and I’m enjoying it, though with a rueful air.

    science does not deal in proofs anyway . . .

    Dr. Myers, I have a genuine, no-agenda question, and I hope the answer can help me fend off those who cling to the idea that a “theory” is the same as a “hypothesis.” Is there anything in science that is considered a fact, or do even the most rock-solid-certain ideas remain “theories”?

  5. #5 djlactin
    February 27, 2007

    Sigh… same old myopic self-delusionary crap!

    Answer to the question is ‘we don’t know.’ the response to a creationist’s ‘therefore, god might exist’ is
    ‘If you propose a creator to explain why the universe exists, then you must also explain the origin of the creator. and the creator of the creator. etc.’ the creationist response leads to an infinite regress. it ANSWERS nothing.

    (p.s. i posed this question on uncommon descent and was banned after my first post! anybody top that?)

    second question to ask a creationist: if you want religion taught as an alternative to evolution, why is evolution not taught as an alternative to creation in the church?’

  6. #6 Silmarillion
    February 27, 2007

    It’s like a really bad Choose Your Own Adventure book.

  7. #7 BlueIndependent
    February 27, 2007

    It is like a particularly good Choose Your Own Reality argument though, if you are so inclined…

  8. #8 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2007

    Finney: Is the Universe and all that is within it, including human beings, created through purposeful, intelligent design by a Supreme Being, that is a Creator?

    Republican Politician: Uh, what’s a “Yes” vote worth to you, Finney?

    Newbie Politician: Let me just check with my aide. I’ll get back to you.

    Suck-up Politician: “But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.” Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

  9. #9 gg
    February 27, 2007

    I love the fact that he diminishes the concept of faith to name-calling:

    “Understand that this question does not ask that the Creator be given a name. To name the Creator is a matter of faith.”

    Faith is apparently all about the naming. I expect a bloody war to break out between the “I call him Bob” and “I call him Ted” factions any day now…

  10. #10 quork
    February 27, 2007

    Alternative #3) Since it cannot be determined whether there is indeed a teapot between Earth and Mars revolving around the sun in an elliptical orbit…

  11. #11 CalGeorge
    February 27, 2007

    Finney: Since the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught in Tennessee public schools?

    Republican Politician: I’m still waiting for my check, Finney!

    Newbie Politician: Is that so? Well, let me just check with my aide…

    Suck-up Politician: “We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of “thou” and not just “I,” resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.” So YES!

  12. #12 bk
    February 27, 2007

    There is scientific evidence to support creationism. What else can explain the huge number of people with such limited access to their own brains? Wouldn’t evolution select for people who think? Or is thinking a failed evolutionary pathway?

  13. #13 GP
    February 27, 2007

    OhioBrian:

    There are lots of things that are fact – the observations we make during the course of an experiement, or in nature as a whole, are facts, like “humans have 46 chromosomes”, or “humans and chimpanzees have very similar anatomy”. A theory proposes an explanation as to WHY we have those facts.

    A theory can never be “proved” true, because there’s always another experiment you could do that could, possibly, show that your explanation is incorrect. For something to reach the “theory” stage, it has to (A) explain previous experiments, and (B) continue to explain new results. If it doesn’t, we either modify the theory, or junk it.

    A hypothesis is a prediction made to set up an experiment, based upon a theory. For example, using Rutherford’s gold foil experiment, which was testing Thomson’s model of the atom: if the atom is made up of mostly positive material, a beam of positive particles should be deflected because of like charges repelling.” This, of course, didn’t happen, so the atomic theory that was current at the time had to be changed.

    Hope that helps.

  14. #14 John Pieret
    February 27, 2007

    The Department of Education can certainly answer that physics, astronomy, molecular biology, DNA studies, physiology, paleontology, mathematics, and statistics provide no scientific evidence of planning, intent, or purpose in the universe.

    But what does it matter since the answer to both #2 and #3 is “The Constitution of the United States, which outranks Tennessee legislators, forbids us from teaching either possible answer to #1 anyway”?

  15. #15 Roadtripper
    February 27, 2007

    John Pieret beat me to it. Case closed. Aren’t state senators supposed to have at least some knowledge of the *&^%$#@! US Constitution, (including that pesky 14th amendment) even in Tennessee?

  16. #16 Reed A. Cartwright
    February 27, 2007

    PZ, can you link to this from PT as well?

  17. #17 Stanton
    February 27, 2007

    Apparently, for some, like Senator Finney, faith in “The Creator, aka GOD,” precludes them from learning about other things, including scientific inquiry, tact and the US Constitution.

  18. #18 Greg Peterson
    February 27, 2007

    How would one ever go about establishing “purpose”? Even if we were the result of an intelligent act, we could be just a really elaborate doodle.

    And what “purpose” could a god in the Abrahamic mold even have for humanity? He doesn’t need anything. He does need our praise, we can’t glorify him beyond what he already is since he’s the Ultimate Glorificus as it is. At best we’d be a hobby, and a hobby he cares so little about that the vast majority of us end up in sizzling scrap pit for an eternity of meaningless torture. This is purpose? There’s a MEANING buried somewhere in that story? I say the onus is on religionists to come up with a meaning. Meantime, I think we secularists know very well what our purpose is: We provide carbon dioxide for plants.

  19. #19 Orac
    February 27, 2007

    At least he’s a retired physician.

    It didn’t say what kind of physician he was, though…

  20. #20 khan
    February 27, 2007

    Meantime, I think we secularists know very well what our purpose is: We provide carbon dioxide for plants.

    My purpose is to feed the cat.

  21. #21 Zombie
    February 27, 2007

    John and Roadtripper, you forget that people who get to make up their own scientific facts also get to make up their own historical facts. To these barbarians, the Establishment Clause was supposed to mean that the government couldn’t do anything that offends the godmen, until evil devil-worshipping liberals got their hands on it.

  22. #22 Mike Haubrich
    February 27, 2007

    But what does it matter since the answer to both #2 and #3 is “The Constitution of the United States, which outranks Tennessee legislators, forbids us from teaching either possible answer to #1 anyway”?

    Catshark –

    It was my understanding that the whole purpose of ID and the Design Inference is to skirt Lewis V Aguillard. Right? Ignore that liberal activist Judge Jones. He was just cutting and pasting from the ACLU anyway.

  23. #23 Sastra
    February 27, 2007

    Senator Finney’s series of questions presupposes a positive answer to a prior question:
    1.a.) Is the existence of God a scientific hypothesis?

    Many atheists (including Richard Dawkins) answer “yes” — treat the idea that intelligence and personhood are top-down, disembodied processes the same way any similar claim is treated — examine it within the framework of discoveries in biology, neurology, chemistry, and physics. Treat “the existence of God” with the serious respect which was once given to the idea that life is a vital spark of energy which comes into or leaves flesh in order to animate it. Take it apart, explore its implications, make predictions, test those predictions, consider other possibilities, and analyse it for the truth of its content, instead of its psychological or social benefits.

    The theists who don’t realize that “God” is going to be shredded to pieces under those standards are people like Senator Finney, who is apparently ignorant of science and therefore happy to answer hidden question #1a with a confident “yes.” The theists who do realize where science leads will protect the hypothesis by refusing to join the game. Whether God exists is not a “hypothesis” — it’s a metaphor or a feeling or a faith or a taste or a way of living or a choice or anything else which is can’t be scrutinized as right or wrong. “Science has nothing to say about God one way or another! All Finney’s questions are illegitimate — especially that first one.”

    Yeah, right.

  24. #24 bones
    February 27, 2007

    Of course from a scientific perspective the answer is “NO”, there is no evidence spooks and spirits, gods or goddesses exist. So “NO”.

    However, even if the answer is “yes”, creationism is not the science. When you look at a watch, saying someone designed and “created” it does not explain the math, physics, engineering, manufacturing, chemical alloys, lunar cycles that are the basis of timing, etc. So even if a “Creator” created the universe, the science is how it was done, not who did it. It’s nice to know Watson and Crick figured out DNA, but that’s not the science of DNA, it’s the history of two scientists who came up with a theory. The science is the chemistry, the structure, how it works. If a “creator” (and I’m saying this only for arguement’s sake) did create the universe, the science is how he/she did it, not who did it.

  25. #25 Jen
    February 27, 2007

    “Further understand that this question asks that the latest advances in multiple scientific disciplines…be considered, rather than relying solely on descriptive and hypothetical suppositions.”

    *sigh* Someone’s been reading his Wells, and listening too much to the “evolution is ‘just’ a theory” crowd. Like how in his eyes, all the reams of data supporting evolutionary biology, hundreds of years of work, and the tireless efforts of thousands of scientists around the world, who publish new, experimental data all the time, are immediately chalked up to “descriptive and hypothetical suppositions.”

    But proposing a creator is a testable, experimental science? How on earth does claiming “God did it” amount to something more than a “descriptive and hypothetical” supposition?

  26. #26 Stanton
    February 27, 2007

    Because God Wells said so, of course.

  27. #27 Cecropia
    February 27, 2007

    The senator does not ask that creationism be taught in science classrooms- only that it be “taught.”

    Perhaps the senator is thinking in terms of a class, or classes, on religion that would cover the wide spectrum of spirituality– from the creationist religions such as Christianity to the non-creationist and quasi religions such as Buddhism and the 19th century Transcendentalist movement in the United States.

    “Taught” does not necessarily mean indoctrination.

  28. #28 Mike Elzinga
    February 27, 2007

    I noticed the Finney thing when I checked Dave Thomas’ reference in another thread.

    I commented that if I were in the Tennessee senate, I would introduce another resolution or an amendment to his resolution that Finney first PROVES to the world that he knows all about the mind of god. If he is able to do so, then HE should be the one to go out into the schools and enlighten us and the resolution should be withdrawn. If he can’t, the resolution should be withdrawn.

  29. #29 Jen
    February 27, 2007

    Yeah, I’m sure that’s what he meant. That’s why he spends all that time building us up with the “multiple scientific disciplines” talk. It’s all just foreplay to get us science folk nice and slicked up for an easy transition into discussion over a comparative religion course.

    No. If it was his intention to ignore science classes, he wouldn’t be harping on the science so much. Instead, he’s trying to use his amazing turn of phrase to somehow trap us evilutionists into some sort of a Matlock-style confession: us sitting there dumbly, mouths agape, confronted with all of his brilliant, shining evidence, and blurting out something like, “Duuuhhhh….but I like Darwin!!” to the rousing applause of good God-believers everywhere, not to mention the grateful schoochildren who will no longer have to be exposed to the evil lie of…*gasp*! undirected processes.

  30. #30 Flex
    February 27, 2007

    “Since the world is overseen by an omnipotent, loving God, how did Raymond Finney come to be a State Senator?”

    It makes sense if you miss-read this sentance the way I first did. Replacing ‘overseen’ with ‘overrun’.

    I gotta get these glasses fixed.

  31. #31 Martin R
    February 27, 2007

    There’s no proof against the god hypothesis either, but Ockham’s razor is a central principle of scientific inquiry, and so the scientific position on this issue must be “we’ll assume there’s no god until really good evidence suggests we change our minds”.

  32. #32 hoary puccoon
    February 27, 2007

    OhioBrian:
    What constitutes a fact does seem pretty mushy in the forefront of science. Right now, for instance, there is a debate about when, exactly, our last common ancestor with the chimpanzee lived.
    But as you move farther and farther from the cutting edge of research, facts become more and more solid. In other words, different kinds of evidence pile up in their support until the facts reach the stage where nobody would bother to question them. Originally, in the case of our common ancestry with chimps, evolutionary theorists only knew that we looked a lot more like chimps than we did like, say, cats. Then they found fossils that had traits intermediate between chimps and humans. About the same time, they realized chimp social behavior was more complicated, and closer to our own, than anyone had guessed. They also found we have similar proteins, followed by the discovery we have even more similar DNA. What makes the last two points particularly compelling is that when scientists first started talking about our common ancestors with the apes, DNA hadn’t even been discovered. So the evidence from protein and DNA structures is completely independent of the evidence from comparative anatomy and fossils.
    Now, within the scientific community, there is no debate whatsoever about whether we had a common ancestor with the chimpanzee. There are just too many lines of evidence that would have to be disproved in order to deny our common ancestry.
    It’s in this sense that evolution can be called a fact. There are so many supporting lines of evidence that no attack even addresses them all, let alone disproves them. The buzzings of the so-called scientific creationists don’t even come close.

  33. #33 fardels bear
    February 27, 2007

    Senator Finney, please do the reading before coming to class. I’m afraid you aren’t going to do very well on today’s quiz on David Hume:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext03/dlgnr10.txt

    http://www.bartleby.com/37/3/

  34. #34 Jud
    February 27, 2007

    Mike Haubrich said: “It was my understanding that the whole purpose of ID and the Design Inference is to skirt Lewis V Aguillard.”

    They’re gonna have to do a whole lot better than a global search-and-replace of “creation science” with “intelligent design” in their preferred textbook.

  35. #35 fardels bear
    February 27, 2007

    I dunno Jud, that is pretty much all Henry Morris did in his infamous editions of his scientific creationist textbook. Just replaced all the “God” and “Jesus” references in the “parochial school” edition with more wishy-washy passive tenses for the “public school” edition.

    Didn’t fool the courts back then, but to assume they will adopt a new strategy is to assume they have the ability to remember and learn from their mistakes.

  36. #36 Mike
    February 27, 2007

    God help us if this article gets back to Tennessee. Isn’t there enough confusion in the general public already? The only possible answer the TBE, a political body, can give to another political body that would be truthful, and good for science education, is alternative #2, with the gentle correction that it can’t be answered *WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF SCIENCE*. If they know what’s good for them, and care about getting on with their business, they’ll immediately follow this up with a statement of how critical it is that Tennessee school children (and, implicitly, Tennessee legislators) learn the difference between science and religion, and how much they hope that children’s parents are attending to their children’s religious instruction.

    The other questions can be quickly redirected elsewhere by referencing the usual huge list of science and educational organizations.

    Now isn’t that more likely to help science education than telling the majority of the population that they’re all frakking idiots and they should go frak themselves. (Adama: Jump – NOW!)

  37. #37 John Pieret
    February 27, 2007

    Mike Haubrich:

    It was my understanding that the whole purpose of ID and the Design Inference is to skirt Lewis V Aguillard. Right?

    Indeed it is. That’s why the Discovery Institute keeps telling the faithful not to mention the “Supreme Being, that is a Creator.”

    But the faithful are forgetful.

  38. #38 Steve Reuland
    February 27, 2007

    Understand that this question does not ask that the Creator be given a name. To name the Creator is a matter of faith.

    Why on Earth do these bozos think that not saying the name of the deity somehow makes it less a matter of faith?

  39. #39 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    Dr. Myers, I have a genuine, no-agenda question, and I hope the answer can help me fend off those who cling to the idea that a “theory” is the same as a “hypothesis.” Is there anything in science that is considered a fact, or do even the most rock-solid-certain ideas remain “theories”?

    Good question. Yes, there are facts.

    And scientists do deal in “proof” all the time, every freaking day. Just read the literature. It’s just not the philosophical sort of “proof” that creotards are referring to when they discuss horseshit mindgames like, “You can’t ‘prove’ that my invisible undetectable deity doesn’t exist.”

    That said, I disagree with PZ’s response that “scientists don’t deal in proof” because (1) it’s easily rebutted by referring to the umpteen times scientists themselves refer to proving things and (2) creationism peddlers themselves like to pretend that “scientists don’t deal in proof” because they can kick up dust around the idea that science is just a social construct that merely reflects consensus and doesn’t “prove” anything (that’s horseshit).

  40. #40 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    What constitutes a fact does seem pretty mushy in the forefront of science.

    Yes. But the bleeding edge of modern science is just a tiny tiny tiny fraction of what constitutes “science.”

    The mountain of theoretical concepts which scientists have subsequently proven to be fact over the past several hundred years is frigging huge.

    Is DNA the primary hereditary material for many animals? Yes.

    Are clouds made of ice and water? Yes.

    Are some diseases caused by vitamin deficiency? Yes.

    All facts proven by science. Proven. To mathematical fucking certainty. Denying that is just wankery, playing right into the creotards hands.

  41. #41 Jen
    February 27, 2007

    “(1) it’s easily rebutted by referring to the umpteen times scientists themselves refer to proving things and (2) creationism peddlers themselves like to pretend that “scientists don’t deal in proof” because they can kick up dust around the idea that science is just a social construct that merely reflects consensus and doesn’t “prove” anything (that’s horseshit).”

    I think here we are getting once again into that age-old problem of defining our terms. Yes, scientists use the word “proof” all the time, but that is not to say “Beyond all doubt, nothing will ever contradict this.” Rather, it is simply a shorthand that means that we have enough evidence to reasonably and provisionally believe that the conclusions will not be contradicted. But it does leave room for improvement, for further study, and yes, even for overhaul or discard if contradictory evidence does come our way.

    When creationists use “proof”, they want it to mean that we know with absolute, omniscient, 100% certainty, that things will always go according to our theory. For all their complaints about scientists wanting to play God, that would seem to be what they expect of us.

  42. #42 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    Rather, it is simply a shorthand that means that we have enough evidence to reasonably and provisionally believe that the conclusions will not be contradicted.

    Yes, that is how almost everyone uses the term except for philosophers and mathematicians.

    This is why I dislike responding to creationists by saying that “scientists don’t deal in proof.” They do deal in proof.

    If you want to address the creotard’s ignorance and delusion about whether imaginary creatures can be “proven” not to exist, it is better do so directly and WITHOUT making statements about science that cast science as some sort of weird-ass philosophical “worldview” that scientists themselves appear to ignore on a daily basis. Creotards love that framing and they love it for a good reason.

  43. #43 John Pieret
    February 27, 2007

    The senator does not ask that creationism be taught in science classrooms- only that it be “taught.”

    While it is true that the good ex-doctor is trying his best to be coy (while being very bad at it), he does ask why “creationism [is] not taught as an alternative concept, explanation, or theory, along with the theory of evolution” (Emphasis added). Even if you only mention it in a comparative religion class, teaching creationism as an alternative “explanation or theory” (“concept” might pass Constitutional muster, depending on the details), that will flunk the test in Edwards.

    Of course, any Constitutional analysis depends on whether any such thing still exists after Dubya and his Court gets done.

  44. #44 Gvlgeologist
    February 27, 2007

    OhioBrian:

    The problem is in how we define the word “fact”. In everyday language, a fact is something proven to be true. But proof in science is not easily done. It was “proved” (and therefore a fact) that the earth was flat (at one time), that it was stationary and at the center of the universe (at one time), and I’m sure we can all think of other outmoded “facts”. But scientific research has disproved many “facts” that were thought to be proved, until disproven.

    A better definition of a “fact” might be something like “an observaton that has been repeatedly confirmed” – this acknowledges that all of science is tentative. We hope we have the right answers, but must be open to new data. Even basic “facts” – i.e. data – can be disproven. The data obtained by Ponds and Fleishman were, as far as they knew, facts, yet the data turned out to be incorrect. Similarly, the data showing the Earth to be flat and geocentric were eventually found to be irrelavent, incomplete, or incorrect.

    By this definition, the only one that science can use, we do find that evolution is a fact. We can detect it in the geologic record and in the biologic (genetic) record, and we can observe it in the lab. The theory of evolution explains this, and since the concepts behind the theory (mutation, natural selection, and other parts such as genetic drift that biologists here and at PT have commented on for years) have also been repeatedly observed and confirmed, we can also consider that the theory of evolution is factual as well.

    Ultimately, the confusion lies in our tendency to want final answers. We WANT scientists to say that we have come to the final answer. But science is always tentative. We speak of the “theory” of evolution, plate tectonics, the atom, germs, the big bang, etc. not because of uncertainty but because we acknowledge that we can never know all of the answers. Yet, when talking about the scientific method and the generation of scientific theories to my students (community college), I always tell them that if any of the theories I listed above are overturned during the semester, I’ll give them all A’s.

    I’m not worried.

  45. #45 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    A better definition of a “fact” might be something like “an observaton that has been repeatedly confirmed” – this acknowledges that all of science is tentative. We hope we have the right answers, but must be open to new data. Even basic “facts” – i.e. data – can be disproven. The data obtained by Ponds and Fleishman were, as far as they knew, facts, yet the data turned out to be incorrect.

    My friends, please listen to yourselves. You talk about “basic ‘facts'” and then you bring up cold fusion???

    What the fuck? Seriously: what the fuck are you talking about?

    DNA is the hereditary material for most of the earth’s animals. That is a fact. It is not “tentative.” It is a fact. A basic fact. A fact proven by scientists.

    Sure, you can find examples of alleged “facts” which scientists claim to have proven at some point in time which were revealed later to be based on an erroneous assumption. Guess what? Irrelevant.

    Scientists do deal in proof. They prove things all the time. Every day. Pretending otherwise makes you sound like a pointy-headed philospher twit. Don’t do it.

  46. #46 Gvlgeologist
    February 27, 2007

    Re my typo in the above post:

    “observaton” – 1. the smallest possible observation.
    2. a device for making observations.

    Take your pick. ;^}

  47. #47 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    We speak of the “theory” of evolution, plate tectonics, the atom, germs, the big bang, etc.

    Yes and we also speak of sexual reproduction, erosion, mutation, refraction, and friction. Why? Because those things exist and anybody who denies they exist or pretends they are “tentative” facts is a moron or pointy-headed philosopher twit.

  48. #48 Ed Darrell
    February 27, 2007

    “Ladies and gentlemen of the Tennessee State School Board, I’d like to make the case that not only should we continue to teach evolution in biology in high school, but that we should make the course required, with no escape clause.

    “As Exhibit A, I offer State Sen. Raymond Finney . . .”

  49. #49 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    We speak of the “theory” of evolution, plate tectonics, the atom, germs, the big bang, etc.

    I almost missed it in the above: germs exist and they can and do cause distress to other animals.

    That’s a fact. There is nothing remotely tentative about the assertion. It is not subject to later “revision.”

    Why pretend otherwise? What is gained?

    Answer: nothing, unless you’re a metaphysicist blowhard in which case you have nothing to contribute to the fake “debate” staged by psycho creationist fracktards.

  50. #50 Steve_C
    February 27, 2007

    I think this is an obvious ploy to get people in the department of education to say whether they are a god believer or not. He’s asking them to state their beliefs of a creator or not. He doesn’t really care about teaching creationism. He wants the DoE to say it believes personally in a creator so he can them hold them to the fire.

    If they don’t say they believe in a creator, he’ll say they don’t represent a majority of Tennesseans.

    I wonder what form of “creationism” he proposes to teach. He doesn’t name the creator. So it can’t be genisis or the Abrahamic god.

    Is there some theory of a Creator that we’re not aware of? And is there a proposed curriculum we don’t know aboout?

    I mean you could get the “Creation” teaching done in less than a minute.

    “There may or may not be a “Creator” that created everything. We don’t know how or why, (science is hard work) but alot of people think there must be a “Creator” because things are just so darned complicated.”

  51. #51 Eisnel
    February 27, 2007

    If the answer to Question 1 is “This question cannot be proved or disproved,” please answer Question 3:

    (3) Since it cannot be determined whether the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster, why is Pastafarianism not taught as an alternative concept, explanation, or theory, along with the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools?

  52. #52 Chris
    February 27, 2007

    Great White,

    Most of the statements you’re calling facts I would simply call observations. Observations do not require proof, but are taken at face value unless they conflict with other observations, in which case science comes in to reconcile things.

    These folks are right: science deals not in proving claims but in disproving them. We operate this way with good reason, and to say so is not to contribute to what is most assuredly a stupid debate. Far worse is to respond to such questions as given in the letter on the senators terms. After all, as argued above by bones and Mike, the senators first question is completely irrelevant to an introductory biology course. It has no bearing whatever on the methods and practice of science, nor on the immediate results. Treating metaphysical questions about the nature of the universe as corequisite with learning how to operate a bunsen burner makes you seem like much more of a pointy headed twit than terminological rigor.

  53. #53 Steve_C
    February 27, 2007

    Maybe Finney wants the Hindu version of creation taught.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vishnu

    The Vishnu Sahasranama[1] describes Vishnu as the All-Pervading essence of all beings, the master of and beyond the past, present and future, the creator and destroyer of all existences, one who supports, sustains and governs the Universe and originates and develops all elements within.

  54. #54 Charles Morrison
    February 27, 2007

    Once again, as a physician, I am extremely disappointed in my chosen profession. PZ, if this continues, you may be responsible for my taking anti-depressants.

  55. #55 roystgnr
    February 27, 2007

    the observations we make during the course of an experiement, or in nature as a whole, are facts, like “humans have 46 chromosomes”

    Was this a deliberately ironic example you picked? Theophilus Painter originally counted 48 chromosomes in the 1920s; AFAIK the count of 46 wasn’t published until three decades later.

  56. #56 Gvlgeologist
    February 27, 2007

    Chris,
    Thanks.

    GWW,
    moron
    pointy-headed philosopher twit
    metaphysicist blowhard

    I have never in my life been rude to another poster. In your case, I’ll make an exception. To say that scientists don’t deal with proof is, in fact, a metaphysical statement, since we can never know. That isn’t the same as saying we don’t have overwhelming evidence that it is, just that science is never finished.

    You’re as bad as the creationists. Try not to quotemine. You complained, “You talk about “basic ‘facts'” and then you bring up cold fusion???” Yes, and then I commented on the evidence for geocentrism. Yes, it was a long time ago (Ptolemy ~140 AD), but it was data accumulated by experimental testing of the heliocentric hypothesis, and it wasn’t overturned until the time of Copernicus and Galileo, more than 1300 years later.

    We’re always learning. We thought Newton had it right about gravity and motion, then along came relativity. Rutherford’s theory of the atom has been repeatedly revised. We thought all communicable diseases were caused by parasites, bacteria, or viruses… and then along came prions. The germ theory of disease had to be revised.

    While you’re avoiding quotemining, try improving your reading comprehension. In no way did I say that the theories were uncertain. I said that they were tentative. That means, in this context, not final. I also said that,

    “Yet, when talking about the scientific method and the generation of scientific theories to my students (community college), I always tell them that if any of the theories I listed above are overturned during the semester, I’ll give them all A’s.

    I’m not worried.”

    Does that sound certain enough for you?

    Great White Wonder. What an arrogant prick.

  57. #57 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    Yes, it was a long time ago (Ptolemy ~140 AD), but it was data accumulated by experimental testing of the heliocentric hypothesis, and it wasn’t overturned until the time of Copernicus and Galileo, more than 1300 years later.

    And this is supposed to convince me — or anyone else — that scientists don’t prove things?

    Nice try.

    In no way did I say that the theories were uncertain. I said that they were tentative. That means, in this context, not final.

    I never disputed the concept that certain theories were subject to revision. What I disputed was that claim that science doesn’t deal with proof.

    It does deal with proof. It deals with proof every day. Go read the scientific literature.

    You can keep moving the goalpost so we are talking about some irrelevant concept of “proof” that creationists enjoy talking about but again I ask you: why would you do that? What is gained?

    I submit that the answer is NOTHING, unless you are pointy headed philostopherizing metaphyuhzishun.

    There is nothing “tentative” about the fact that microbes cause disease. That was once a theory. Scientists used the scientific method to prove that the statement microbes cause disease is a goddamn fucking fact.

    Why dance around and play word games and support creationist frames?

  58. #58 Chris
    February 27, 2007

    GWW,

    You’re missing the point, or at least getting way too caught up in and blinded by an argument that is by definition unwinnable (i.e. the attempt to win over creationists with persuasion when they are unwilling to be persuaded). When you say “irrelevant concept of proof” you seem to mean that there are many concepts of what exactly constitutes a proof. The word has a pretty specific meaning. Sit down with a logic book and figure it out, and if you mean something else, say so.

    I hate to leave this response half done, but I’ve got work to do. Unless the consensus is that this guy is a troll, will someone else please straighten him out. He’s beginning to walk and talk a lot like the muddle headed folks he ostensibly disagrees with.

  59. #59 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    I’m getting so tired of all the attempts these days to draw sharp lines between beliefs, hypotheses, theories, and facts.

    Why not just junk these alleged distinctions and say this:

    There are beliefs, and these beliefs can be anywhere on the SCALE from HIGHLY DISCONFIRMED to HIGHLY CONFIRMED. (If we allow for, e.g., beliefs in mathematics we may want to let the scale range all the way from DISPROVEN to PROVEN.)

    (On a side note, I think we need a term for what it is that scientists attempt to DISCOVER–i.e., that which is there whether or not the scientists ever happen to discover it. I would prefer to follow historical usage and use the term “facts” for these things. But I understand that many of you want to use the term “fact” to mean something like “something that has been observerd” or “something that has been very highly confirmed”. Whatever, I don’t care. I’ll use the term “shmact”.)

  60. #60 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    To say that scientists don’t deal with proof is, in fact, a metaphysical statement, since we can never know.

    You just stated a purported fact, fuckbrain. Your purported fact, however, isn’t; rather it’s a demonstration that you understand neither metaphysics nor epistemology.

    Knowledge is (almost; Gettier cases require some refinement of the definition) true justified belief. Since we can justifiably believe true things, we can know. It will always be the case that some of our justified beliefs are erroneous, but most will not be, and those constitute knowledge. This is due to the nature of our concept of knowledge, not specifically to science; even a (purported) mathematical proof can have a flaw.

    Was this a deliberately ironic example you picked? Theophilus Painter originally counted 48 chromosomes in the 1920s; AFAIK the count of 46 wasn’t published until three decades later.

    So, genius, does that mean that we might need to revise the number from 46? Do you understand why Painter got the number wrong and why it doesn’t apply to our knowledge that humans have 46 chromosomes?

  61. #61 mikey
    February 27, 2007

    How about: “Science is not about “belief”. Science is about evidence, experiments and facts that can be established repeatedly through physical processes. Belief has no place in science just as the science itself is unaffected by the incorrect scientific beliefs of a large fraction of the population.”

    mikey

  62. #62 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    Science is about evidence, experiments and facts that can be established repeatedly through physical processes.

    So you believe, as do I.

    Belief has no place in science

    Perhaps you geniuses should bother to consult a dictionary:

    “Belief: assent to a proposition.”

  63. #63 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    There are beliefs, and these beliefs can be anywhere on the SCALE from HIGHLY DISCONFIRMED to HIGHLY CONFIRMED. (If we allow for, e.g., beliefs in mathematics we may want to let the scale range all the way from DISPROVEN to PROVEN.)

    Quite right, except that, even with mathematical or logical deduction, “disproven” is just a synonym for “very highly disconfirmed” and “proven” is a synonym for “very highly confirmed”, because we can never be absolutely certain that the alleged proof or disproof is flawless, and we have a similar problem with empirical observation, in that we could all be brains in vats undergoing a mass hallucination. But really, which is more highly confirmed, Fermat’s Last Theorem or that water consists of H2O? Those who insist that there is no proof in science are repeating unexamined dogma.

  64. #64 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2007

    The word [proof] has a pretty specific meaning. Sit down with a logic book and figure it out

    A “logic book”? Yeah, right. I’ll sit down with a “logic book.”

    Again, all I’m saying is playing metaphysics games on the creationists’ own terms is a bad idea. Saying that “scientists don’t deal in proofs” is demonstrably false. Scientists do prove things all the time and write about it every goddamn day.

    Redefining “proof” in some mathematically or philosophically strict way is a poor solution to a problem that is best avoided by not issuing the weirdass “scientists don’t prove things” disclaimer in the first place.

  65. #65 wrg
    February 27, 2007

    If humans evolved from lower forms of life, why does Raymond Finney still exist?

  66. #66 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    On a side note, I think we need a term for what it is that scientists attempt to DISCOVER

    Scientists make observations, often in the form of measurements. What scientists attempt to discover is patterns — generalities — in observation. From a generality one can logically infer numerous specifics. We assume that patterns hold over time because a) in our experience they do and b) we have nothing better; if experience couldn’t be generalized then not only wouldn’t science be possible but we couldn’t survive, nor would we have ever evolved since evolution itself is fundamentally dependent upon the past being an indicator of the future.

  67. #67 Stanton
    February 27, 2007

    If humans evolved from lower forms of life, why does Raymond Finney still exist?

    Genetic reversion?

  68. #68 Steve_C
    February 27, 2007

    If humans evolved from lower forms of life, why does Raymond Finney still exist?

    Envionmental conditions?

  69. #69 entlord
    February 27, 2007

    The good Senator seems confused. The state Department of Education is meant to regulate the public educational system in the state, hence it is not the Department of Really Snappy Answers for Legislators Who Should Know Better (that is down the hall from the Ministry of Silly Walks).
    If the good Senator wishes to provide state funding for the Department of Education to develop a scientific research branch which would be funded by the state and operate until it could answer his questions, then he should do so. Until then, he should recognize that state agencies have enough unfunded mandates and that his state lacks enough of the basic comforts its citizens need, and that he should stick to legislation that provides a better life for his constituents and leave the bs in the pasture where it belongs.

  70. #70 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    The word [proof] has a pretty specific meaning. Sit down with a logic book and figure it out

    How about sitting down with a dictionary, and taking a course in epistemology?

    “proof: the establishment of the truth of anything”

    Here’s a useful exercise: sit down with a logic book and prove (establish as true) that the “proof procedure” in the book actually establishes the truth of propositions.

  71. #71 Steve_C
    February 27, 2007

    This would be a nice “Creator” version to tell.

    Hinduism presents a number of accounts pertaining to cosmology, and several explanations have been given as regards the origin of the universe. The most popular belief is that the universe emerged from Hiranyagarbha, meaning the golden womb. Hiranyagarbha floated around in water in the emptiness and the darkness of non-existence. Ultimately, this golden egg split and the cosmos was created. Swarga emerged from the golden upper part of the Hiranyagarbha, whereas Prithvi came out from the silver coloured lower half part.

    At least the great golden egg splitting sounds a little like a big bang. The great hatching! At least it’s poetic.

  72. #72 Ira Fews
    February 27, 2007

    Let me just say for the record that I am now entirely fed up with what seems to be an endless army of blinkered fuckwit office holders from the American South.

    Previously, I was one of those Northern natives who encouraged people not to make sweeping judgments of entire states and regions on the basis of their prevailing politics. After all, the South is hardly the only region featuring illiterate congresspersons, ADD-stricken Bible-boppers, and what have you.

    However, although I am still careful in real life not to assume that someone I meet from one of the hillbilly states is an idiot until I have something to go on, the sad fact is that Alabama, Georgia, et al. constitute a huge and weary drain on the rest of the country, with their chief exports being religion, greasy food, combined SAT scores of 500, inbreeding, racism, heat and humidity, tornadoes, and general virulence.

    If the whole Southeast and South-Central U.S. were expnged and allowed to form a new Third World country, America would immediately see a huge boost in various indices of social and intellectual functioning. I pity you if you’re a smart person hailing from one of these places and applaud you for escaping their dozens of facets of ugliness.

  73. #73 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    Holy crap, truth machine and I agree on something! The world must be coming to an end.

    I even tend to agree with what you said about proof in mathematics. Hence my putting that in parentheses and saying we “may” want to let the scale range all the way from disproven to proven. (But I think it depends on what we mean by “proof”. I think there are historical reasons for using the term to apply to what goes on in mathematics even if what goes on doesn’t constitute something like ESTABLISHMENT BEYOND ANY POSSIBILITY OF BEING FALSE, which is what we often mean by the term “proof”.)

    However, I do disagree with what you claim scientists attempt to discover. Although much of the time (perhaps most of the time) scientist are attempting discover generalities (patterns), I think they also sometimes try to discover particular things. Think of a scientist trying to discover some particular thing about, say, human evolutionary history. Of course, she may ALSO infer generalizations from her discoveries, but she need not in order to be doing science.

  74. #74 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    When creationists use “proof”, they want it to mean that we know with absolute, omniscient, 100% certainty, that things will always go according to our theory.

    And when Chris and Gvlgeologist and plenty of other confused people use it. These folks are simply wrong about the nature of proof, as wrong as those who claimed that space flight was impossible — Goddard proved them wrong. As wrong as those who claimed that there was no meteor impact associated with the K-T boundary; finding the crater proved them wrong (whether the impact caused the boundary is still a matter of dispute). There are a great number of historically established facts that have been proved by scientists — e.g., Friedrich Woehler proved that organic compounds can be synthesized, something widely disputed by vitalists until then. These proofs are indisputable, and are not “tentative” in any pragmatic sense. That theories are tentative generalizations in no way contradicts the plain and simple fact that scientists repeatedly demonstrate the truth of (i.e., prove) specific empirical propositions.

  75. #75 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    Of course, she may ALSO infer generalizations from her discoveries, but she need not in order to be doing science.

    I agree that my statement was too limited. But I think you’ve answered your own question — what scientists attempt to discover are justifiable inferences (after all, anything that she “discovers” about human evolution will be an inference, not a direct observation), which makes “shmacts” much too limited.

  76. #76 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    TM,

    One quibble about your last post. Theories need not be generalizations (e.g., big bang theory).

    This of course connects up with what I was saying at the end of my last post.

  77. #77 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    Good lord I hate all this talk of belief vs theory vs hypothesis. Why can’t we just say the following?

    Science is in the business of empirically confirming and disconfirming, by degrees, particular and general beliefs.

    Stop trying to find the line where a hypothesis becomes a theory, etc. Who cares what we call the damn things?! What really matters is HOW WELL a belief is confirmed/disconfirmed.

  78. #78 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    I think there are historical reasons for using the term to apply to what goes on in mathematics

    Nice affirmation of the consequent, Dustin. Of course we have good reasons to call deductive proofs “proofs”. What we don’t have good reasons for is only using the term in that application, rejecting the normal use of the word as meaning “demonstrating as true” which has a historical basis that long precedes its use in mathematics.

  79. #79 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    “which makes ‘shmacts’ much too limited”

    I don’t understand. I just said that I was going to use the term “shmact” (since some people won’t let me have “fact”) to refer to WHATEVER it is that A) scientists attempt to discover and B) are there whether or not scientist actually discover them.

    “what scientists attempt to discover are justifiable inferences (after all, anything that she ‘discovers’ about human evolution will be an inference…)”

    Well, maybe this is what you meant, but what scientists discover are NOT inferences. Rather, they (typically) discover whatever it is they discovers BY WAY OF making inferences (from observation). Inferences are the acts, not the things discovered through those acts.

  80. #80 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    One quibble about your last post. Theories need not be generalizations (e.g., big bang theory).

    I was aware when I wrote it that I would have trouble if challenged about my distinction between general and specific (e.g., “space flight is possible” is rather general), but it was too much work to try to fix it, so I just hit “post”.

    I agree with your post about belief/theory/hypothesis, except that people care because it matters politically. But their care is misdirected; we can’t fix it with word choice, but rather we need to educate people (including all these epistemologically confused scientists and science supporters) that science is in the business you identified.

  81. #81 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    “Nice affirmation of the consequent, Dustin”

    Again, I’m a little lost. As I’m sure you know, affirming the consequence is making an inference of the following form: If P then Q. Q. Therefore, P.

    What inference did I make of this form? What were my P and Q?

  82. #82 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    “we need to educate people (including all these epistemologically confused scientists and science supporters) that science is in the business you identified.”

    Word.

  83. #83 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    I don’t understand. I just said that I was going to use the term “shmact” (since some people won’t let me have “fact”) to refer to WHATEVER it is that A) scientists attempt to discover and B) are there whether or not scientist actually discover them.

    You just wrote of science being in the business of empirically confirming and disconfirming, by degrees, particular and general beliefs. Such confirming and disconfirming is inferential. Science is not in the business of metaphysical realism, which “are there whether or not” seems to imply. All observation is phenomenal, and theory laden — this is a huge problem if the goal is to get at the “facts” of reality, but not when the goal is reaching what inferences are reachable through observation.

    Well, maybe this is what you meant, but what scientists discover are NOT inferences. Rather, they (typically) discover whatever it is they discovers BY WAY OF making inferences (from observation). Inferences are the acts, not the things discovered through those acts.

    Um, making an inference is an act; an inference made is obviously not an act.

  84. #84 snaxalotl
    February 27, 2007

    the answer is #3

    because this metaphysical question isn’t known, we don’t teach that there is a supreme creator. but this is balanced by the fact we don’t teach there ISN’T a supreme creator. IS and ISN’T are flip sides of an unknown coin

    the red herring is the false dichotomy between evolution and creationism. there is scientific evidence for one but not the other, therefore there is no symmetry as per the IS/ISN’T example, therefore balance doesn’t require us to teach both. evolution and creationism (or evolution and existence of a supreme being) are not flip sides of one coin, known or unknown

  85. #85 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    “Science is not in the business of metaphysical realism, which ‘are there whether or not’ seems to imply.”

    I agree, science is NOT in the “business of metaphysical realism”, if by that you mean the business of trying to discover whether metaphysical realism is true.

    However, I do believe that the best theory ABOUT what science is up to, is a metaphysical realist one. But again, this is a theory ABOUT science, and not one that science (construed as I said above) is in position to discover the truth of. I suppose you agree with that, or no? Do you think that science has somehow established that metaphysical realism is false?

    “Um, making an inference is an act; an inference made is obviously not an act.”

    Yeah, I still disagree. We say “He inferred P from Q”. This seems to pretty clear show that inferences are acts (acts of the brain, to be specific).

  86. #86 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    TM,

    HAHA. Guess what I just found in Webster’s:

    Inference:

    1. the act or process of inferring
    2. something that is inferred

    Ah, ambiguity is a bitch!

  87. #87 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    Again, I’m a little lost. As I’m sure you know, affirming the consequence is making an inference of the following form: If P then Q. Q. Therefore, P.

    What inference did I make of this form? What were my P and Q?

    The fallacy of affirmation of the consequent follows from confusing “if p then q” with “p iff q”; as I noted, there was an implied “only” in your statement. You noted that “proof” is valid when applied to mathematics. This was in the context of a discussion of whether “proof” is valid when applied to science. So either this is a non sequitur, or strawman, since neither I nor anyone else ever questioned the use of “proof” in connection with mathematics, or there would seem to be this implicit argument:

    if “proof” is only valid when applied to mathematics, then “proof” is valid when applied to mathematics (obviously)
    “proof” is valid when applied to mathematics (as you noted)
    therefore, “proof” is only valid when applied to mathematics (fallacy of affirmation of the consequent)
    therefore, “proof” isn’t valid when applied to science (mutual exclusion)

    However, I’m now leading toward non sequitur. Anyway, it’s a minor point.

  88. #88 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    Ah, ambiguity is a bitch!

    But my statement wasn’t ambiguous; I referred to discovering inferences, where discovering is the action. If we discover that, say, human color vision is largely a consequence of our ancestors’ need to avoid snakes (a current proposal with a surprising amount of evidentiary support), the italicized proposition will be an inference from the evidence; it certainly won’t be a direct observation. I think it would be misleading to call something so indirect and inferential a “fact” or “shmact”. That’s what I meant by “too limited”; scientists discover all sorts of justifiably inferred propositions, from the very direct to the very indirect, and from the very specific to the very general.

    At the same time, I’ll acknowledge that I may be taking “fact” in too limited a sense — any true proposition, no matter how indirectly inferred, can properly said to be a fact.

  89. #89 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    TM

    You’re right in so far as ONE REASON people make the mistake of affirming the consequent is because they confuse “if p then q” with “p iff q”. However, again, affirming the consequent is ANY inference of the following form: “If P, then Q. Q. Therefore, P.” Hence the name “affirming the consequent” (Q is the consequent of “If P, then Q” and it is affirmed in the second premise, “Q”.) You can confirm this definition by taking a look at any of the sites listed on the first page of a google search for “affirming the consequent”.

    But, as with yours, this is a very minor point. Just thought you might like to know.

  90. #90 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    “I think it would be misleading to call something so indirect and inferential a ‘fact’ or ‘shmact’.”

    It may be misleading (to some people) to call it a ‘fact’, but certainly not to call it a ‘shmact’, because I just COINED THE TERM ‘SHMACT’ TO MEAN *WHATEVER* IT IS THAT SCIENTISTS DISCOVER. It is BECAUSE the term ‘fact’ might mislead some people in the way you suggest that I coined the term ‘shmact’.

    “At the same time, I’ll acknowledge that I may be taking ‘fact’ in too limited a sense — any true proposition, no matter how indirectly inferred, can properly said to be a fact.”

    YES! That’s exactly how I want to use the term. But again I said that I don’t want to fight over the term ‘fact’. I’ll take ‘shmact’. Also, I would modify your definition to:

    ANY true proposition (no matter whether anyone believes that proposition or not) is a fact (or again, if I can’t have the term ‘fact’, I’ll take ‘shmact’).

  91. #91 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    However, I do believe that the best theory ABOUT what science is up to, is a metaphysical realist one.

    Well, if you’re a metaphysical realist. But if you’re not, then of course the best theory of what science is up to is not a metaphysical realist one. Science is up to something, whether metaphysical realism holds or not. And just what sort of confirmation can you offer up for this belief of yours?

    Do you think that science has somehow established that metaphysical realism is false?

    No, science can’t speak to it one way or the other. Which is why I cautioned against embedding metaphysical assumptions into the language describing what science does. Your empirically confirm/disconfirming, by degrees, beliefs (I would rewrite this as confirming/disconfirming, by degrees, empirical propositions, to get belief out of it altogether) nicely avoids this. But trying to pin “facts” or “shmacts” down to noumenal affairs, rather than relations among phenomena, gets into a lot of philosophically hot water.

  92. #92 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    You’re right in so far as ONE REASON people make the mistake of affirming the consequent is because they confuse “if p then q” with “p iff q”.

    Sigh. I never said otherwise. I said that a fallacy follows from this confusion, not that it is equivalent to this confusion, and noted that there was an implied “only” in your statement — thus this was one of those cases. I never said that there weren’t other cases. Sheesh.

    The returns have diminished for me here past the value of continuing. We pounded out some good stuff; thanks. Bye.

  93. #93 John Pieret
    February 27, 2007

    More from Finney:

    State Sen. Raymond Finney sponsored a resolution to ask Education Commissioner Lana Seivers whether the universe “has been created or has merely happened by random, unplanned, and purposeless occurrences.”

    Finney, a Republican, said he wants the department to say there’s no scientific proof for the theory of evolution and to let schools teach creationism or intelligent design.

    “Is there a creator? If yes, why are we afraid to teach creationism?” Finney said Tuesday. “And if the answer is ‘well, we can’t tell,’ then why are we prohibiting an alternative theory?”

    The real kick in the head is that the Department of Education doesn’t have jurisdiction over the curriculum:

    The state Board of Education – not the Department of Education – oversees any changes to the curriculum, Woods said.

    Still, the department would work to formulate answers to Finney’s resolution if it passes, Woods said.

    This is probably an election ploy, BTW.

  94. #94 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    “Your empirically confirm/disconfirming, by degrees, beliefs (I would rewrite this as confirming/disconfirming, by degrees, empirical propositions, to get belief out of it altogether) nicely avoids this.”

    Well, it leaves it an OPEN question, for it leaves it OPEN whether those propositions are about shmacts or, as you say, “relations among phenomena”. But, yes, I was trying to avoid that by leaving that question open. Hence my talk of “shmacts” was put in parentheses in my original comment.

    By the way, weren’t you defending physicalism on here a few months back? And isn’t physicalism just a brand of metaphysical realism? Perhaps not. Maybe you think of “phenomena” as physical objects and the ONLY physical objects. Is this so?

  95. #95 Dustin
    February 27, 2007

    “I said that a fallacy follows from this confusion.”

    Oops. My bad, dude.

  96. #96 truth machine
    February 27, 2007

    And isn’t physicalism just a brand of metaphysical realism?

    I’m not sure that it is. But if so, I’d defend “If metaphysical realism, then physicalism”. Anyway, I’m not denying metaphysical realism, just suggesting that we not unnecessarily commit ourselves to it when discussing science.

    Maybe you think of “phenomena” as physical objects and the ONLY physical objects. Is this so?

    Not at all. Sorry, but I don’t have time (or clarity) for a better answer just now.

  97. #97 Ick of the East
    February 28, 2007

    (p.s. i posed this question on uncommon descent and was banned after my first post! anybody top that?)

    I can equal it. I asked if the great and wonderful human eye was designed by the (unnamed) designer, why is it that Demski must augment his eyes with man-made corrective lenses?

    Welcome to immediate bannination!

  98. #98 kevin
    February 28, 2007

    Since the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught in Tennessee public schools?

    Good question, I’d like to answer it: I suppose it is because either (a) said Supreme Being does not will creationism to be taught in Tennessee public schools, or (b) said Supreme Being, the “Creator”, does want creationism to be taught in Tennessee public schools, but one (or more! gasp!) of the members of the Board of Education are yet more Supreme, and overruled the “Creator” on this one.

  99. #99 davidp
    February 28, 2007

    As an Australian bible-believing evangelical Christian, my answers to Senator Finney’s questions are:

    1. Yes.
    2. Because Creationism incorrectly describes how God created the universe. God created humans by biological evolution. God intended evolution to happen – it’s part of God’s purposeful, intelligent design of the universe.

    Many conservative Reformed theologians hold that God created the whole of space-time as a single act, God not being subject to time.

    Many bible-believing Christians outside the US wish American conservative Christians would get over the trauma the US churches suffered with the arrival of Social Darwinism and Atheistic Darwinism as a package with evolutionary theory. We believe Genesis chapters 1 to 11 teach important understandings of the relationship between God and the world, not biology and geology.

  100. #100 BC
    February 28, 2007

    I’d like to ask the following questions:

    (1) When you walk into a casino and play a game, are those cards or dice controlled by a supernatural power?

    If the answer to Question 1 is “Yes,” please answer Question 2:

    (2) Since the cards or dice are controlled by a supernatural power, then why not teach this in our schools, and avoid this whole “probability theory” and “statistics” stuff, because math is hard, and those ideas are wrong anyway?

    If the answer to Question 1 is “This question cannot be proved or disproved,” please answer Question 3:

    (3) Since it cannot be determined whether a supernatural power controls the cards or dice, why isn’t the “supernatural powers” explanation of casino games taught alongside probability and statistics in Tennessee public schools?

    If the answer to Question 1 is “No” please accept the General Assembly’s admiration for being able to decide conclusively whether or not a supernatural power (which you cannot see or detect) controls cards and dice in casino games – a question that has long been unanswerable by scientists, philosophers, theologians, educators, and others.

  101. #101 hoary puccoon
    February 28, 2007

    “Why isn’t the ‘supernatural powers’ explanation of casino games taught alongside probability and statistics in Tennessee public schools?”
    The answer is obvious, BC, you silly thing. It’s because probability and statistics aren’t taught in Tennessee public schools. They’re still puzzling out, “If Johnny has two apples and Mary has three apples….”

  102. #102 demallien
    February 28, 2007

    I think BC wins the award for most effective smackdown of Sen. Finney’s dopey resolution. Ouch! That’s gotta hurt!

  103. #103 Stogoe
    February 28, 2007

    Gamblun is evul, you twit. That’s why it ain’t tot. You see, God steals yer money when you gambul to punish yer.

  104. #104 J-Dog
    February 28, 2007

    Senator Finney has an online survey that you might have some fun filling out. Go to the end, and drop him a line.

    http://www.finneylistens.com/2007survey.html

  105. #105 reason
    February 28, 2007

    Has nobody read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance. The answer to 1 is Mu (Moo?)
    The answer to 3 is “Sir you are mixing up the issue of the origin of the universe with the origin of Man – they are two different things. It could well be (in fact the evidence indicates this) that universe existed a long time before man did. We do not in science courses teach about the origin of the universe. Science started AFTER (infinitessimally after) the Big Bang.”

  106. #106 reason
    February 28, 2007

    In case anybody didn’t understand what I was saying above – not all questions have a yes or no answer.

  107. #107 Leon
    February 28, 2007

    wrg said:

    If humans evolved from lower forms of life, why does Raymond Finney still exist?

    LOL!!

    But as someone who understands evolution, you should know the obvious answer to that: because modern humans evolved from Raymond Finney.

  108. #108 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    or more accurately, “There is absolutely no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose in the universe, and until you’ve got some, that’s the only tenable answer”

    Wait, wait, wait. There is indeed no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose — but there is evidence to the contrary.

    So:

    1) Stupid design. ID is blasphemy, assuming there is someone to blaspheme.
    2) Comment 24 (never mind the Constitution).
    3) Raamen, brother!

    ———————

    Here‘s a very good explanation of what all those terms like “fact” and “theory” mean.

    ———————

    Great White Wonder, what discipline is it whose literature you are reading? Over here in paleontology, people actively and consciously avoid the word “proof” for Popperian reasons ( = you can only prove beyond reasonable doubt, and defining “reasonable” is not always easy; disproof is possible, but only within methodological naturalism). When we want to say “from our data it’s dead fucking obvious that”, we write “our data strongly suggest that” and similar deliberately weak-sounding phrases.

  109. #109 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    or more accurately, “There is absolutely no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose in the universe, and until you’ve got some, that’s the only tenable answer”

    Wait, wait, wait. There is indeed no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose — but there is evidence to the contrary.

    So:

    1) Stupid design. ID is blasphemy, assuming there is someone to blaspheme.
    2) Comment 24 (never mind the Constitution).
    3) Raamen, brother!

    ———————

    Here‘s a very good explanation of what all those terms like “fact” and “theory” mean.

    ———————

    Great White Wonder, what discipline is it whose literature you are reading? Over here in paleontology, people actively and consciously avoid the word “proof” for Popperian reasons ( = you can only prove beyond reasonable doubt, and defining “reasonable” is not always easy; disproof is possible, but only within methodological naturalism). When we want to say “from our data it’s dead fucking obvious that”, we write “our data strongly suggest that” and similar deliberately weak-sounding phrases.

  110. #110 Great White Wonder
    February 28, 2007

    Great White Wonder, what discipline is it whose literature you are reading?

    Just do a search of any serious scientific literature database (i.e., PubMed) for variations of the terms “proof” and prove” etc. and see what comes up.

    Over here in paleontology, people actively and consciously avoid the word “proof” for Popperian reasons

    Let me know the names of ten of the best journals in that field and I will search them. And you will discover that even where scientists allegedly “actively avoid” the word, they still use it.

    And they use it for a reason: it’s a good word. When we are discussing issues with two feet on the ground, it’s a fine word to talk about facts that are, in fact, established and non-tentative. Such facts even exist in the field of paleontology (Example: bones can be fossilized).

    Creationists love to hear scientists say that they can’t prove anything because that means scientists and creationists are on equal footing. “It’s all relative, you say tomato, I say tomahto, let’s teach both in science class and let the kids decide.” That’s the argument.

  111. #111 Leon
    February 28, 2007

    wrg said:

    If humans evolved from lower forms of life, why does Raymond Finney still exist?

    LOL!!

    But as someone who understands evolution, you should know the obvious answer to that: because modern humans evolved from Raymond Finney.

  112. #112 J4zonian
    March 1, 2007

    ‘There is scientific evidence to support creationism. What else can explain the huge number of people with such limited access to their own brains? Wouldn’t evolution select for people who think? Or is thinking a failed evolutionary pathway?’

    Posted by: bk | February 27, 2007 10:13 AM

    Thinking is definitely an evolutionary deadend, as abundant evidence shows–global warming, nuclear weapons, Conservapedia, ‘reality’ tv. Feeling is the future. The brain is dead; long live the body.

  113. #113 Ichthyic
    March 1, 2007

    The brain is dead; long live the body.

    Idiocracy.

    http://imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

  114. #114 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Let me know the names of ten of the best journals in that field and I will search them.

    I don’t know impact factors or anything by heart, so I’ll just mention the first few that come to my mind…

    Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
    Journal of Paleontology
    Palaeontology (British spelling for that one)
    Special Papers in Palaeontology (ditto)
    Paleobiology
    Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (ae again)
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Monatshefte
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Abhandlungen
    Comptes Rendus Palevol
    Palaeontographica
    Zitteliana
    Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (only some papers on paleontology, but those are big, important monographs)
    American Museum Novitates

    Maybe search Systematic Biology, too — it doesn’t publish much paleontology, but it has an impact factor of 10.

    it’s a fine word to talk about facts that are, in fact, established and non-tentative. Such facts even exist in the field of paleontology (Example: bones can be fossilized).

    That’s a fact, and it doesn’t need to be proven. It can simply be observed. Proving is what you can do with ideas (…in math… hopefully); ideas and facts are not the same.

    Creationists love to hear scientists say that they can’t prove anything because that means scientists and creationists are on equal footing. “It’s all relative, you say tomato, I say tomahto, let’s teach both in science class and let the kids decide.” That’s the argument.

    I know, but it doesn’t change the fact (!) that they’re wrong. That is because they never ask themselves the one important question: “If I were wrong, how would I know?”

  115. #115 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Let me know the names of ten of the best journals in that field and I will search them.

    I don’t know impact factors or anything by heart, so I’ll just mention the first few that come to my mind…

    Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
    Journal of Paleontology
    Palaeontology (British spelling for that one)
    Special Papers in Palaeontology (ditto)
    Paleobiology
    Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (ae again)
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Monatshefte
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Abhandlungen
    Comptes Rendus Palevol
    Palaeontographica
    Zitteliana
    Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (only some papers on paleontology, but those are big, important monographs)
    American Museum Novitates

    Maybe search Systematic Biology, too — it doesn’t publish much paleontology, but it has an impact factor of 10.

    it’s a fine word to talk about facts that are, in fact, established and non-tentative. Such facts even exist in the field of paleontology (Example: bones can be fossilized).

    That’s a fact, and it doesn’t need to be proven. It can simply be observed. Proving is what you can do with ideas (…in math… hopefully); ideas and facts are not the same.

    Creationists love to hear scientists say that they can’t prove anything because that means scientists and creationists are on equal footing. “It’s all relative, you say tomato, I say tomahto, let’s teach both in science class and let the kids decide.” That’s the argument.

    I know, but it doesn’t change the fact (!) that they’re wrong. That is because they never ask themselves the one important question: “If I were wrong, how would I know?”

  116. #116 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Oops — the comment to the AMNH Bulletin also applies to the AMN, though the monographs there tend to be less huge.

    Also…

    Paläontologische Zeitschrift
    Vertebrata PalAsiatica
    Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (over half geology)

  117. #117 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Oops — the comment to the AMNH Bulletin also applies to the AMN, though the monographs there tend to be less huge.

    Also…

    Paläontologische Zeitschrift
    Vertebrata PalAsiatica
    Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (over half geology)

  118. #118 Erasmus
    March 2, 2007

    All this prove disprove b.s. is boring. Facts must be only propositions, for we have no theory-independent observational language. Except maybe grunts and gestures. Everything else is an abstraction which approximates the observable universe to an unknown degree, with biases that we may or may not be aware of. best recent formulation of the cartesian alternative is Hurlbert 1984 remarked that we may never exclude ‘demonic intrusion’ as a source of error in ecological experiments. This applies more generally to science without getting all fucking pointy headed about it. You can formulate no observation without referring to imprecise theoretical objects. Let them make the argument that their ‘paradigm’ is somehow equivalent to things we can measure and fucking count and they will continue to making fools out of themselves like this poor bastard Raymond Finney… we’ll keep kicking their ass in Dover. Wells, Dembski-Luskin-Johnson, Von smithsonian boy, 8000 year old mososaur dude, Mikey B. TMLC and Nelson are doing a fine job of making fools out of themselves in the public eye. because they are Fools for Jesus . but it ain’t fooling most people, its only a media phenomenon just a function of the good old amurrikan tradition of constructing a false dichotomy and then arguing fer it and agin it while you pickpocket another passenger.

    Arguing positivism is not going to get you anywhere dude, look how big this quantum waaah is. there is no way to get rid of the woo warriors, for whatever reason i have no idea. but if you keep pushing them to use the same observational language, stating their sanctified transmogrified personified pre-supp-o-sitions up front, they are fucked. Because it is all based on a fairy tale. c’mon they say that the laws of nature changed as a result of Sin. We might ‘know’ the earth is not 6379 years old with the big wash resetting civil-o-zation in 2014 BC without getting pointy headed about it or metalphsyical. but most people don’t give a fuck. how could they with britney spears showing her vulva to the entire dimension.

  119. #119 OhioBrian
    March 2, 2007

    All this arguing, with the adrenaline and the profanity and the OY glavin . . .

    I feel like I’ve just yelled “Foodfight!” and then ducked out of the room.

    Thanks for the clarification. The ample, spirited, unprintable clarification. 🙂

  120. #120 sam
    March 3, 2007

    Proof does not exist in any way at all as nothing stays the same. When Great White Wonder isn’t looking, everything in his/her house turns into a tea pot. Our world is nothing more than a dingleberry on the ass of a giant cat. Our billions of years are in actuality the minutes it takes that giant cat to walk from the litter box to the living room where it will do the scooting ass wipe across the floor.

  121. #121 Keith Douglas
    March 3, 2007

    Actually, in many contexts it is useful to distinguish facts from factual statements, which are purportedly about them. (I can’t show you a fact: they are nonlinguistic.) These are the ones that are factually true to whatever degree. For example:

    God exists.
    Hydrogen reacts with oxygen to form water.
    Revolutions only occur just after the moments of worst oppression, when the oppression begins to slacken.

    Of course, I think that the first is false.

    I find this little bit of stipulative usage solves many problems with subjectivism and worries of the sort on this posting.

  122. #122 Jesus
    March 4, 2007

    Get a life, freaks.

  123. #123 Steve_C
    March 4, 2007

    hehe. How very Jesus of you.

    Get an afterlife freak.

  124. #124 tristero
    March 19, 2007

    These kinds of questions are typical of rightwing rhetoric. In 2002/03 the Big Question was “So, would you rather Saddam remained in power?” Both this question and Finney’s are variations of “How long have you been beating your wife?” And they can’t be answered without providing the interrogator with the answer desired.

    With Finney, if you answer yes, then his other questions follow. If you answer no, he responds, as in fact he did, by sarcastically saying that you have solved the question of the past few millenia which translates to “You can’t possibly be that smart to know.”

    In fact, there is only one sensible way* to respond and that is not to answer the question but challenge the premises and rhetoric of the question. Then you can rephrase the question to “What is the origin of the Universe?”

    Immediately, the question becomes answerable in a legitimate fashion. But as long as one persists in answering questions that are framed by the right, one is playing on a heavily slanted playing field. The question simply must be rephrased.

    *Well, there’s another sensible alternative and that is to tell the winger to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. But I assume everyone already knew that one.

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