Saturday, 14 July 2007

Types of science

In arguments over evolution it seems like many evolutionists (and often non-evolutionists) do not understand science. Bacon gave quite a good definition

observation → induction → hypothesis → test hypothesis by experiment → proof/disproof → knowledge

The basic tenet is that we can test ideas. We want to know how something works and we do repeated experiments and others can do the same experiments. This limits our tests to the present.

To get around this limitation the term science has been expanded. People make hypotheses about single events. Events that by their nature are not repeatable. The problem is that because the term "science" is used for this also people equivocate without being aware of it and in philosophical debates conflate the meanings. This leads to absurd accusations such as creationists investigate gravitation by reading the Bible whereas evolutionists drop bricks off buildings.

What is the difference?
  • Repeatable science is called operational or empirical science.
  • Investigating events is called inferential or historical science.
It is not that an event cannot occur repeatedly, it is that a specific event occurred once. There may be many wet days but did it rain in Rome on March 15?

Proving that an event can occur does not prove that it did occur (though it may add evidence to the proposal). Showing that cats can be killed by drowning does not prove that the dead wet cat found in the rubbish bin was drowned. Proving that an event cannot occur does however counter wrong theories. Showing that jelly cannot cut skin proves the man was not stabbed to death with a giant pudding.

Inferential science in forensics is presented as circumstantial evidence. This however is not the only evidence. Witness is the other type of evidence. And a trustworthy witness is worth more than inference (though the 2 can be compatible in ways that are not immediately obvious).

There is very little difference between creationists and evolutionists about operational science. It is repeatable by anyone and the results can be seen and rechecked. The theory that best explains the data (eg. classical versus relativistic physics) and the significance of a particular experiment may differ, but the difference is still minor.

The major differences in worldview are in inferential science; the grand theories that are invoked to explain history. As we cannot observe this event due to its singular nature (that is, it occurred once) we are left with inferring the likelihood of various scenarios. Data is either consistent with these theories or not, but even showing that a fish can evolve into an amphibian now does not guarantee it has previously; it would be strong evidence that the theory is correct though. Other good evidence for the veracity of a theory is predictive evidence. Because much of a theory is modelled on observations it cannot be said to be predictive; the data is known first and the theory is derivative. Further, credence of the explanatory power of a particular paradigm is overrated, there is no end of sub theories that can be thought up after the event. Coming up with predictions that are different (therefore discriminatory) for several competing theories that can subsequently be tested can add credibility to the correctly predicting theory.

4 comments:

  1. Just wanted you to know I read every new post. You have very good insights.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The major differences in worldview are in inferential science; the grand theories that are invoked to explain history.

    You've touched on what I suspect is an even more profound difference.

    There is also "theoretical science" which is neither empirical nor historical. Theoretical science seeks to explain the theory of theories. String theory is an example of a theory of everything or a grand unified theory. Evolution (the "macro" variety) purports to explain how evolution evolves.

    Both are meta science to a degree in that they have divorced themselves from the reality of repeatibility, but also from history in that the phenomena they seek to explain (unity of parts and processes) may not ever have existed.

    Superstring theory assumes 'a priori' more dimensions and parameters of space-time than are 'theoretically' necessary by theories it seeks to unify. It also assumes a unified explanation (that at some sufficiently high temperature and density all forces - weak, strong, electromagnetic, and gravitational - become one force) reflects reality, that there is a single natural "explanation" for all natural phenomena, as opposed to say two non-unifiable natural explanations or say one natural and one supernatural explanation.

    Macro evolution similarly assumes a primordial life-originating process to explain the starting point and diversity of phenotypes after which micro and molecular evolution takes over to explain a diversity of species and genotypes.

    Both are grand "meta" theories that assume a priori not only the validity of the theories they subsume, but that a single unified explanation in fact reflects reality.

    It is this a priori presumption of "unifiability" that further distinguishes these worldviews. Reality may require multiple non-unifiable natural explanations, let alone the occasional supernatural.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Recently I had a discussion on this topic with some evolutionists. I was willing to call their position a "highly probable inference," and they kept insisting on the necessity of my accepting their inferential conclusions as "fact." That kind of evasion is what disturbs me about evolutionist arguments.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This post seems to me recycle the argument made by Bradley and Thaxton in 1984, an age-appropriate version of which informs the creationist 'textbook' Of Pandas and People.

    The existence of macroevolutionary processes seems to be an inference drawn from a very large number of data points, such as radioactive dating, paleomagnetism, stratigraphic observations, etc. along with the fossil record.

    These data points are manifestly not inferences, but empirical. But if radioisotopes were unknown, the fossil record still cries out for an explanation as to why we find trilobites in the Cambrian, rather than racoons. This would be true if the entire geological column is but 6,000 years old, and we would still be forced to infer that raccoons came into existence after trilobites.

    So, I conclude that inference is permitted in science, especially when the inference is synthetic reasoning supported by convergent observations from many fields. Your mileage may vary, but the car runs.

    ReplyDelete

Labels

abortion (8) absurdity (1) abuse (1) accountability (2) accusation (1) adultery (1) advice (1) afterlife (6) aid (3) alcohol (1) alphabet (1) analogy (5) analysis (1) anatomy (1) angels (1) animals (10) apologetics (41) apostasy (4) archaeology (22) architecture (1) Ark (1) Assyriology (11) astronomy (5) atheism (14) audio (1) authority (4) authorship (10) aviation (1) Babel (1) beauty (1) behaviour (4) bias (6) Bible (38) biography (4) biology (5) bitterness (1) blasphemy (2) blogging (12) blood (3) books (2) brain (1) browser (1) bureaucracy (3) business (5) calendar (5) cannibalism (2) capitalism (3) carnivory (2) cartography (1) censorship (1) census (2) character (2) charities (1) children (14) Christmas (4) Christology (8) chronology (46) church (4) civility (2) clarity (5) Classics (2) climate change (39) coercion (1) community (2) conscience (1) contentment (1) context (2) conversion (3) copyright (5) covenant (1) coveting (1) creation (1) creationism (36) criminals (8) critique (2) crucifixion (12) Crusades (1) culture (4) currency (1) death (5) debate (2) deception (2) definition (16) deluge (9) demons (3) depravity (6) design (9) determinism (24) discernment (4) disciple (1) discipline (2) discrepancies (2) divinity (1) divorce (1) doctrine (4) duty (3) Easter (7) ecology (3) economics (28) education (10) efficiency (2) Egyptology (9) elect (2) emotion (2) enemy (1) energy (6) environment (4) epistles (2) eschatology (6) ethics (36) ethnicity (5) Eucharist (1) eulogy (1) evangelism (2) evil (8) evolution (13) examination (1) exegesis (21) Exodus (1) faith (22) faithfulness (1) fame (1) family (4) fatherhood (2) feminism (1) food (3) foreknowledge (4) forgiveness (4) formatting (2) fraud (1) freewill (29) fruitfulness (1) gematria (4) gender (5) genealogy (10) genetics (5) geography (3) geology (2) globalism (2) glory (6) goodness (3) gospel (3) government (18) grace (9) gratitude (2) Greek (4) happiness (2) healing (1) health (7) heaven (1) Hebrew (4) hell (2) hermeneutics (4) history (21) hoax (5) holiday (5) holiness (4) Holy Spirit (3) honour (1) housing (1) humour (34) hypocrisy (1) ice-age (2) idolatry (4) ignorance (1) image (1) inbox (2) inerrancy (16) information (10) infrastructure (2) insight (2) inspiration (1) integrity (1) intelligence (3) interests (1) internet (3) interpretation (75) interview (1) Islam (4) judgment (19) justice (23) karma (1) kingdom of God (12) knowledge (15) language (3) lapsology (6) law (17) leadership (2) libertarianism (12) life (3) linguistics (13) literacy (2) literature (17) logic (28) love (3) lyrics (9) manuscripts (11) marriage (17) martyrdom (2) mathematics (10) matter (4) measurement (1) media (2) medicine (11) memes (1) mercy (3) Messiah (5) miracles (4) mission (1) monotheism (2) moon (1) murder (5) nativity (7) natural disaster (1) naval (1) numeracy (1) oceanography (1) offence (1) orthodoxy (3) orthopraxy (4) paganism (2) palaeontology (4) paleography (1) parable (1) parenting (2) Passover (1) patience (1) peer review (1) peeves (1) perfectionism (2) persecution (2) perseverance (1) pharaohs (5) philanthropy (1) philosophy (32) photography (2) physics (18) physiology (1) plants (3) poetry (2) poison (1) policing (1) politics (30) poverty (9) prayer (2) pride (2) priest (3) priesthood (2) prison (2) privacy (1) productivity (2) progress (1) property (1) prophecy (6) proverb (1) providence (1) quiz (8) quotes (431) rebellion (1) redemption (1) reformation (1) religion (2) repentance (1) requests (1) research (1) resentment (1) resurrection (4) revelation (1) review (4) revival (1) revolution (1) rewards (2) rhetoric (2) sacrifice (4) salt (1) salvation (26) science (43) sermon (1) sexuality (16) sin (15) sincerity (1) slander (1) slavery (5) socialism (4) sodomy (1) software (4) solar (1) song (2) sovereignty (15) space (1) sport (1) standards (6) statistics (13) stewardship (5) sublime (1) submission (5) subsistence (1) suffering (5) sun (1) survey (1) symbolism (1) tax (3) technology (12) temple (1) testimony (5) theft (2) trade (3) traffic (1) tragedy (1) translation (15) transport (1) Trinity (2) truth (26) typing (1) typography (1) vegetarianism (2) vice (1) video (10) warfare (7) water (2) wealth (9) weird (6) willpower (4) wisdom (4) work (10) worldview (4)