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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Comments to Sept 26 post

(This color and font represents a quote from the comments to my previous post)
My last interview with a real scientist grabbed the attention of some interesting folk ... what say you?

Indeed it did, me being one such, I guess.

Thanks for the offer, but I'm not a "real scientist." I only taught at Christian institutions, and my inclination and work load resulted in me being a teacher, not a researcher, and, besides, I've now retired.

. . . in the course of your studies, did you make any discoveries that ran directly afoul of those assumptions? Many of the most important scientific discoveries in history have been made accidentally, while looking for something else. If your assumptions here were unwarranted, it stands to reason that there should have been some results you found that didn't make sense, or seemed to contradict those foundational assumptions.

You are correct on some important discoveries. Apparently the discovery of X-rays and antibiotics are examples of accidental discoveries. However, almost certainly some discoveries have not been made that might have been, because the scientist just discarded what seemed to be anomalous or unexplainable results. I wasn't really testing the foundational assumptions, and most biologists whose work has anything to do with evolution aren't, either. They're just dealing with the effects of natural selection and studying similarities between different organisms. Kuhn called this "normal science," just filling in blank spaces on the map of knowledge, not looking for new continents.

Kuhn's work was important, but it doesn't look like it actually panned out in real life. Relativity didn't gain acceptance only after those who embraced Newtonian physics had all died, and quantum mechanics didn't wait around for relativity's supporters to die, either.

Einstein resisted quantum mechanics until he died, even though some of his work made it possible. Yes, new theories may be accepted, but Kuhn/Planck are often correct that scientists who are strongly committed to an old theory don't easily give it up, or give it up at all. They just become irrelevant, if the new theory is really worth something. It would be interesting to know what will happen to string theory in 100 years or so.

I don't find change caused by selection and similarities to be terribly controversial ... nor do most creationists, even the young-earth variety. So how do you recommend distinguishing between the little "e" evolution you describe and the kind Richard Dawkins' likes to write about? It basically sounds like you are suggesting that the controversy is due to language -- if so, how do we fix the language so that scientists understand what the real controversy is about?

I wish I knew! So much damage has been done by using the word, evolution, which has multiple meanings, without indicating, or even thinking about, which meaning one is talking about. Too many (I hope) well-meaning Christians are saying "evolution is false!" or the equivalent. Some of them know better. Lots of them don't. Natural selection and similarity aren't false. What they should be saying, instead, is "I believe in a Creator," and let it go at that. Atheists should be honest, and say that they don't, and that disbelieving in a creator isn't any more scientific than believing in one. (Once in a while, an atheist really does this, but not often.) I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for clarity to erupt on a broad scale.

I refer to my three posts (link to last one) "I Believe in Evolution--so do you!" for more of my thoughts on linguistic clarity in discussing origins.

As to the main subject of your comments, namely the validity of Behe's ideas, I'm sure I don't know everything about them, and some of the arguments against them, but will try to deal with that subject in another post, later. I do know that there have been what seem to me to be serious challenges to his ideas. Also, it seems to me that what authorities say shouldn't affect acceptance or rejection of an idea--it should depend on its validity, or lack thereof. But, unfortunately, that's not the way it always works, certainly including in science.

Thanks again for writing.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Martin LaBar said...

The post removed had nothing to do with the subject--it was spam.

TGirsch said...

Einstein resisted quantum mechanics until he died, even though some of his work made it possible.

Yes, but Einstein turned out to be more the exception than the rule. And it's interesting to note that it was largely Einstein's religious views that prevented him from accepting quantum mechanics. Witness the famous "God does not play dice with the universe" remark.

Yes, new theories may be accepted, but Kuhn/Planck are often correct that scientists who are strongly committed to an old theory don't easily give it up, or give it up at all.

This, at least, is true, but in some ways, that's as it should be. It should take overwhelming evidence to sway scientists away from something that has worked well for a long time. Now some are too resistant, but that's just human nature. The larger point, however, is that change is ultimately accepted as the evidence warrants such change.

Personally, I think that being too quick to abandon old ideas is even more treacherous than being too slow to do so.

They just become irrelevant, if the new theory is really worth something.

Not really. Einstein can hardly be called "irrelevant." Heck, even Newton can't be called "irrelevant." About the only time that label fits is when the scientist in question turns out to have been completely wrong.

Re: string theory, agreed.

Re: "I believe in evolution," that's a great series of posts. I'll try to remember to link them.