And Your Point?

Posted in Evolution, Quickies, Science on  | 1 minute | 19 Comments →

This morning I was a little disappointed by this article (because I thought it would be about something else). Do we really need “objective data” to tell us that the overwhelming majority of scientists accept the contemporary evolutionary narrative? What does establishing this fact prove? How does it advance the debate? Pre-Einstein, things weren’t much different: the overwhelming majority of physicists accepted the then-contemporary narrative for physics. So what? Did that make them correct? There’s always a consensus, and many a consensus is often overturned. It’s happened with the evolutionary narrative several times before (fossil records falsified Darwinian gradualism, shorebirds are not a basal evolutionary group, homology often fails at the embryonic level).

I guess I just get annoyed when consensus is invoked or implied as direct evidence of truth.


19 comments

  1. Pre-Einstein, things weren’t much different: the overwhelming majority of physicists accepted the then-contemporary narrative for physics. So what? Did that make them correct?

    Are you annoyed when lists are published of scientists supporting creationism, etc? If consensus doesn’t confer respectability, surely individual scientists don’t either. And the article says it was responding to just those claims.

    Consensus isn’t scientific evidence, but it is evidence. Evidence never can guarantee truth, but your argument assumes it can. The fact that the consensus was wrong doesn’t mean it wasn’t rational; it doesn’t show there’s any better policy than following science.

    Contrary policies besides science? Following the Bible? I didn’t fully understood your last exchange with Peter, probably because of my Biblical ignorance. What exactly do you say to those who followed geocentrism and put Bruno to the torch and silenced Galileo? Wrong or right Biblical interpretation? How so?

  2. cl

     says...

    Why don’t you just answer the questions instead of always trying to flank me? Sheesh!

    Are you annoyed when lists are published of scientists supporting creationism, etc?

    It depends on the context. If provided to rebut the ignorance of some atheist making claims of the variant, “No respectable scientists question evolution,” then of course I’m not going to be annoyed.

    And the article says it was responding to just those claims.

    I have no idea what you mean by “just those claims.” You’re going to have to clarify yourself.

    Consensus isn’t scientific evidence, but it is evidence.

    Nope. Consensus is a majority who view the evidence a certain way. It is not, in itself, evidence. Not in my book.

    Evidence never can guarantee truth…

    So we’re not guaranteed that the theory of gravity is true?

    …but your argument assumes it can.

    I didn’t make any arguments here. I voiced a complaint.

    The fact that the consensus was wrong doesn’t mean it wasn’t rational;

    I don’t care for rational or irrational. I care for true or false.

    Contrary policies besides science? Following the Bible? I didn’t fully understood…

    C’mon man. For all your bellyaching about good writing and whatnot, you sure do concoct some incomprehensible strings at times. Take that in a spirit of friendly jesting, too. No gettin’ pissy. Seriously though, I can’t meaningfully respond if I have no idea what you mean.

    What exactly do you say to those who followed geocentrism and put Bruno to the torch and silenced Galileo?

    I say they make a mockery of the Lord they claim to believe in. All they had to do was shake the dust.

  3. I don’t know how I’m trying to “flank” you or why I’m supposed to restrict myself to answering questions (if that’s indeed what you mean to imply).

    “Just those claims” referred to the claims by creationists that some scientists agree with them. The article you cited was written in response those claims by creationists. (So, why aren’t you annoyed with the creationists who started it?)

    I didn’t mean to ask what you think of burning Bruno at the stake. My question concerned the Biblical view (if Biblical it was) that the earth is the center of the universe. I’m asking what you make of that view about the structure of the solar system. How did that error arise? By your lights, Was it a Biblical misinterpretation or what?

    I don’t care for rational or irrational. I care for true or false.

    You imply (if I’m not mistaken) that gravity proves we can know certain truth by means of the available evidence. But the Newtonian theory of gravity was overthrown by Einstein. You might say we know gravity exists even if we don’t know how it works. But science could one day overthrow the theory of gravitation altogether, just as it overthrew the theory of phlogiston. In short, no, we’re not guaranteed that gravitation exists by the existing evidence. How can we be, when the evidence always underdetermines explanatory theory?

    A rational policy is the only way to maximize true belief. Let me suggest that it’s simply false that you “care nothing for rationality.” Surely in your daily life you try to make rational choices when you don’t know what’s true.

    Consensus isn’t scientific evidence, but it is evidence.

    Nope. Consensus is a majority who view the evidence a certain way. It is not, in itself, evidence. Not in my book.

    It’s evidence about the correct interpretation of the data.

    The theorem showing that consensus is (sometimes) evidence was proven by the mathematical economist Robert Aumann. To be rational, belief should usually derive largely from the beliefs of other people. To put the issue starkly, what reason do you have for believing that your cogitations are more accurate than those of countless others?

    This limitation on personal opinion never seemed counterintuitive to me, but it seems so to most people. In my “belief versus opinion series,” I provide a popularization of Aumann’s argument and draw distinctions that go beyond Aumann by positing that “opinions” and “beliefs” are subject to different constraints and play different societal roles. (http://tinyurl.com/77ob2m3)

    I’m surprised that in discussions you’ve had with atheists, no adversaries had detected that your epistemology differs from theirs in this crucial respect: that you demand truth, whereas naturalists settle for rationality (as the only policy tending toward true belief). Or if they’ve detected the epistemological difference, they haven’t recognized that it’s an impassable obstacle to discussing anything else until it’s resolved.

    Thanks for alerting me when I’m unclear! It’s useful feedback. I try for brevity, which I sometimes take too far.

  4. cl

     says...

    “Flanking” is a military term describing an end-run style of attack. I’d never suggest you limit yourself to the questions, but some commenters find it courteous to at least answer when a host asks. Don’t worry, I realize that you consider yourself amoral and I grant that such frivolous courtesies need not apply to you … :)

    So, why aren’t you annoyed with the creationists who started it?

    Because creationists didn’t start it. The pompous atheists who say, “there aren’t any real scientists who question evolution and/or accept creation” are the ones who started this chain of events, but that’s besides the point. Even creationists know what the consensus is, so why repeat it?

    I’m asking what you make of that view about the structure of the solar system. How did that error arise? By your lights, Was it a Biblical misinterpretation or what?

    Ah, gotcha… now I see what you were getting at. This is another one of those “already been answered” questions, but I already know you don’t really spend much time in the backlogs so I’ll just cite and defer you to False Argument #9:

    As with many other Catholic positions, for example the clear Bible teaching not to call priests “father,” the Church’s stance was not justified by scripture or science. It was based on religious tradition, and unfortunately for Galileo, although factually correct his observations were in opposition to that tradition. Possibly due to a rigid and inflexible interpretation of Psalm 19:6, which states poetically from the vantage point of an observer on Earth that the sun, “…rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other,” the Church had declared Earth the center of the solar system. As opposed to discussing ideas and inviting synthesis, the Church added Galileo’s “Dialogue on Two World Systems” to their Index of Prohibited Books and it remained there until the mid-nineteenth century. Albeit too late for Galileo to enjoy, in 1981 the Vatican formally admitted the Italian scientist was right with the resulting lesson being that religious tradition and truth are not inherently synonymous.

    Note that again we see, even if the Bible is completely authoritative the reader’s interpretations of it are surely not always so. Also note that those who attack the claim the Bible says our sun revolves around Earth attacks a strawman.

    …so there’s my answer.

    Let me suggest that it’s simply false that you “care nothing for rationality.”

    Hey, sure, I was being a bit rhetorical, but don’t go and misquote me, especially with those quotation marks. That’s not what I said, and definitely not what I meant. I don’t know which subset is bigger: rationally-held false beliefs, or irrationally held true beliefs. Therefore, let me rephrase: I care more for true or false than rational or irrational, and I’ll wager that’s not so different from anybody.

    It’s evidence about the correct interpretation of the data.

    Well good (cue for what should be obvious tongue-in-cheek here), I’m glad you agree that near-ubiquitous human theism is evidence about the correct interpretation of the data. Should you respond that I took too much liberty, now would be a good time to mention that caveat.

  5. Crude

     says...

    The dissenters are not “failing to follow the science”. They simply have another scientific view, so they’d argue – and the alternative to the evolutionary claims as outlined in the DI list is not just ‘creationism’. You’ll see dissent from James Shapiro, the late Lynn Margulis, and otherwise. (Oddly enough, even Ayala was quoted as dissenting from this in an interview, but he later changed his mind.)

    Incidentally, re: Project Steve, Steven Jay Gould and Dawkins were in deep disagreement over some aspects of evolutionary theory. Should I take it that one of them was being irrational? It’s a win-win: if Gould was irrational, Project Steve is humorously named. If Dawkins was irrational, there’s obvious humor in that.

  6. Crude

     says...

    By the way, regarding Bruno: Bruno was ‘put to the torch’ for claims that had next to nothing to do with science, as historical investigation will show. At the time, the evidence didn’t clearly favor Galileo, the geocentrists had evidence (also – scientific consensus ;) on their side, and his punishment had vastly more to do with him writing a book mocking the Pope – and ultimately, heliocentrism was trounced by both simple observation (we found that there were planets, many planets, beyond our own – so so much for the idea of the sun being the fixed, immobile center of the universe) and later by general relativity (under which it doesn’t make sense to speak of a truly objective center in our universe).

  7. cl

     says...

    Crude,

    I was hoping to hear from you sometime this year… ;) Sorry if all the debate stuff was a turnoff, I really enjoy your wit (which is present even when you’re hardly trying, as these comments evidence).

    The dissenters are not “failing to follow the science”.

    Very important point. It’s often the opposite: the stalwarts often aren’t following the science. The dissenters are often people whose sole mistake is being light years ahead of the herd. If people like Diamond want to frame that as irrationality, I say let ’em. That’s why I made it clear that I care more for true or false than rational or irrational.

  8. SRD: Let me suggest that it’s simply false that you “care nothing for rationality.”

    CL: Hey, sure, I was being a bit rhetorical, but don’t go and misquote me, especially with those quotation marks. That’s not what I said, and definitely not what I meant. I don’t know which subset is bigger: rationally-held false beliefs, or irrationally held true beliefs. Therefore, let me rephrase: I care more for true or false than rational or irrational, and I’ll wager that’s not so different from anybody.

    Well what you said was:

    I don’t care for rational or irrational. I care for true or false.

    I apologize for the misleading implication of the quote sign, but what you said is, substantively, exactly what I wrote. You used it to dismiss an argument based on rationality. If you now want to call it rhetorical, maybe you should return to the argument you dismissed. (Oh, forget it. You’re not interested in critical argument, merely making “rhetorical” flourishes on critical questions to distract attention from what you cant’t answer–your own attention, that is.)

    You can’t consider yourself a “critical thinker,” yet wax “rhetorical” when the most central issues arise. It’s not serious. It’s not honest.

    CL, you’re a fraud. I said it before. Now that you’ve called Peter a fraud on his site (in less than so many words) I’ll repeat my conclusion. You play at critical thought but you’re a religious apologist and a closet Christian Rightist.

    I won’t be frequenting this shit hole again.

  9. Crude

     says...

    cl,

    Wit? Me? I’m flattered. ;) I’m very often here, I just tend to lurk – you’re one of my favorite commenters. BTW, you see Loftus is calling it quits? Finally, a Denny’s accepted his job application.

    The debate stuff wasn’t a turnoff per se – do what you want. I just think they’re so damn pointless nowadays, outside of professional formal debates, and on the internet they just… well hell, you saw what happened with yours.

    It’s often the opposite: the stalwarts often aren’t following the science.

    That’s absolutely possible, and has happened in the past. I was actually aiming for a tamer point: multiple people can be ‘following the science’ apparently, yet come to differing conclusions about what the science indicates – often while having the exact same evidence available to them.

    I think that also leads into an area that really complicates the subject: a consensus itself doesn’t matter. It’s why the consensus exists. I think that’s the sort of response someone would take to the ‘majority theist/non-naturalist’ line, but that response also raises hell for the ‘scientific consensus’ claims: because then we have to ask why that consensus is what it is. 90% of all scientists may believe X for reasons that have nothing to do, or less to do, with science as opposed to something else.

  10. cl

     says...

    Oh, little Stephen… let me show you how to do this: with LINKS to the TRUTH, not lies and distortions…

    I apologize for the misleading implication of the quote sign…

    Too little too late pal.

    …what you said is, substantively, exactly what I wrote.

    What you wrote is *NOT* what I meant. I already explained that to you once and you apparently didn’t listen. Quite being dishonest.

    You used it to dismiss an argument based on rationality.

    Nonsense. You didn’t make an argument. You said that majority opinion is evidence of “correct interpretation of the data.” BTW, that’s the intellectually honest way to use quote-marks, you liar. At any rate, your “argument” is not rationality, it’s stupidity. If you actually believed what you said you should be a theist because way more people across cultures and time believe in God. Of course, you didn’t even touch that one, because you can’t control your anger and you just couldn’t resist the temptation to beat your chest and insult me, right? Right.

    …maybe you should return to the argument you dismissed.

    What argument? Your argument goes, “If more people believe X, that is evidence that X is the correct interpretation of the data.” That’s straight-up stupid and you know it.

    CL, you’re a fraud. I said it before.

    And you’re a poisonous, vitriolic, small-minded hater with an axe to grind. What does that accomplish?

    Now that you’ve called Peter a fraud on his site

    Man, you are like the king of baseless claims with no evidence to support them. I didn’t say Peter was a fraud, that’s your conflict-ridden mind projecting and distorting again. I said I was disappointed with what I see as Peter’s departure from the sound principles that characterized his writing say, 6 months ago. That is *NOT* the same as saying he’s a fraud, because I don’t think he’s a fraud at all. To call someone a “fraud” implies that they have duplicitous motives and I don’t think that of Peter. I just think he’s taken a turn towards the worse and it’s my right to say that. So save it.

    You play at critical thought but you’re a religious apologist and a closet Christian Rightist.

    False. I already set you straight last time you started this obsessive-compulsive lying. You’re a slanderous, libelous liar. Read the “about” page and recant your lies.

    I won’t be frequenting this shit hole again.

    Perfect! I hope you prove yourself a man of your word this time. I’ll add your IP and name to the spam trap. If you change your mind later, leave a comment on my “contact” page and I’ll let you run your mouth some more. Too bad. Things were going swell these past few days, but I knew it wouldn’t last.

    So long, Stephen. So long.

  11. cl

     says...

    Crude,

    BTW, you see Loftus is calling it quits? Finally, a Denny’s accepted his job application.

    Yeah, I heard that. I’m not the least bit surprised. Vic said it best: it must be hard not to burn out when all you do is attack what other people believe instead make any effort whatsoever to, you know… find the truth or whatnot.

    …multiple people can be ‘following the science’ apparently, yet come to differing conclusions about what the science indicates – often while having the exact same evidence available to them.

    I agree. If only you could get Stephen R. Diamond to see the light! Informed dissent is not the same thing as irrationality but I get the feeling he can’t tell the difference.

    I think that’s the sort of response someone would take to the ‘majority theist/non-naturalist’ line, but that response also raises hell for the ‘scientific consensus’ claims: because then we have to ask why that consensus is what it is.

    Exactly. Notice how Diamond COMPLETELY DUCKED this when I pointed it out to him?

  12. Crude

     says...

    cl,

    Yeah, I heard that. I’m not the least bit surprised. Vic said it best: it must be hard not to burn out when all you do is attack what other people believe instead make any effort whatsoever to, you know… find the truth or whatnot.

    Yeah, cynic that I am, I don’t think intellectual despondency from being a militant was the culprit here. I think he’s ditching DC for the same reason he ditched the cesspool that is the FT Blogs: he’s not making enough money at it, and that’s been the hope all this time. Really, he never will make enough money at it, and it’s got to do with him not offering much. He doesn’t have the arguments, the rhetorical skill, or even the credentials.

    Kicking him when he’s down on my part, perhaps, but I think my assessment is accurate.

    Informed dissent is not the same thing as irrationality but I get the feeling he can’t tell the difference.

    Well, I don’t want to argue against Stephen while he’s not here. So I’ll just say this: I think the problem many people have is that they equate “scientists” with “science”. So if you reject a scientific consensus, then you reject science itself. Worse – and I didn’t read through the conversation totally, so I don’t know he did this – sometimes people confuse metaphysical claims with science. (Like, ‘evolution is unguided and directionless and without ultimate purpose.’ As it is, that’s not science, at all. It’s metaphysics, it’s beyond science. But a lot of people, even scientists, make that play.)

  13. Crude

     says...

    Did I post something here and it got held? Or did I just close the window by accident? Not sure what kind of moderation goes on here.

  14. cl

     says...

    Yeah I don’t know what happened. The only “moderation” that goes on here is automatic: comments containing 2 or more links get caught in the filter, and commenters must have one previously approved comment. I’ve noticed that sometimes Peter Hurford’s get caught as well. When looking at your comment, everything seems identical, so I don’t know what happened. I added Stephen Diamond’s name and IP to the spam trap, but I don’t see why that would affect you—unless of course you and Diamond have commented from the same IP, which I doubt—but even if that were the case, the filter should have caught your subsequent comment as well. So, I have no idea. Always save your comments before posting if you want to minimize the chance of losing your work. That’s about all I can say.

    I think he’s ditching DC for the same reason he ditched the cesspool that is the FT Blogs: he’s not making enough money at it, and that’s been the hope all this time. Really, he never will make enough money at it, and it’s got to do with him not offering much. He doesn’t have the arguments, the rhetorical skill, or even the credentials.

    Interesting, plausible theory. So ranting against God and Christians doesn’t pay the bills, eh? Big surprise.

    So I’ll just say this: I think the problem many people have is that they equate “scientists” with “science”. So if you reject a scientific consensus, then you reject science itself.

    I agree. Did you notice this comment I left for Peter the other day? Or did we both independently stumble on this?

    Over at Vic’s blog, Mr. Matt DeStefano pulled a Loftus-esque style attack on me that went exactly as you describe. Because I don’t swallow the contemporary evolutionary narrative whole, silly thinkers like Matt, Andrés, and Mr. Diamond now accuse me of being a creationist, despite clear statements to the contrary (I honestly don’t know how to label my beliefs on “evolution” and the origins of life). It’s sad. It just goes to show the dangers of consensus, in my opinion. These guys are all so sold that THEY end up being the dogmatists seeking to isolate and destroy anybody who thinks differently than they do.

    Always a pleasure, Crude, always a pleasure.

  15. Crude

     says...

    cl,

    No trouble on the moderation. I saw the message ‘in moderation’ after I saw my second post. Just before that, I checked the page and it wasn’t there at all, despite apparently being posted before. Odd computer hijinx.

    Interesting, plausible theory. So ranting against God and Christians doesn’t pay the bills, eh? Big surprise.

    He explicitly named “I thought I’d make money but I’m not because there’s too much competition” for one major reason he was pulling out of FT.

    I agree. Did you notice this comment I left for Peter the other day? Or did we both independently stumble on this?

    Missed it entirely. Actually that’s interesting, because it mimics my own views on Genesis to a degree. I’ll talk more about that later – in a bit of a rush now.

    Over at Vic’s blog, Mr. Matt DeStefano pulled a Loftus-esque style attack on me that went exactly as you describe.

    Well, Matt’s currently in the middle of trying to convince everyone that Ed Feser and Dawkins are equally rhetorically vile. (Feser seems to really bug the hell out of some internet atheists lately, but what I find weird is this attempt to try and pawn him off as ‘the Christian version of Dawkins or PZ Myers’ to show how both sides have nasty people around. It just doesn’t work.) So no surprise that the guy plays what cash out to be real stupid games like that.

    These guys are all so sold that THEY end up being the dogmatists seeking to isolate and destroy anybody who thinks differently than they do.

    Well, it’s the scum tactics the Cult of Gnu goes for. For all the talk of the value of skepticism in science, they of all people are allergic to it. It’s too politically important.

    I think anyone who bitches about Galileo or Bruno should really look up Lysenkoism and meditate on it for a while. Funny how that event is never brought up in these discussions. (Atheists won’t bring it up because it’s an incident of atheists and socialists squelching science. Evolution critics won’t bring it up because it’s an example of anti-“Darwinism” gone crazy, except by atheists. But I think the value in learning it is considerable.)

    Always a pleasure here too, man. More later.

  16. cl

     says...

    Man, that Lysenko thing is something else. Truth be told, I’d never heard of the guy until you mentioned him. Although, at least some atheists are willing to touch him. I found the following on that Skepdic site:

    Under Lysenko’s guidance, science was guided not by the most likely theories, backed by appropriately controlled experiments, but by the desired ideology. Science was practiced in the service of the State, or more precisely, in the service of ideology.

    In my experience, that accurately describes the majority of internet atheists I’ve come across, as well as most of the Christian fundies as well. The only difference is that the atheists seem under the delusion that they’ve escaped the delusion, when in reality it strangles them even harder (because they *THINK* they’re the scientific and rational ones).

  17. cl

     says...

    Ha! I missed this from the same article (ironically close in proximity to a section whining about brainwashing):

    Could something similar happen in the U.S.? Well, some might argue that it already has. First, there is the creationist movement which has tried, and at times been successful, in banning the teaching of evolution in public schools.

    …of course, he completely omits that the evolution movement is far more successful at banning alternative ideas. I’ll go so far as to say Mr. “Skepdic” seems completely unaware of reality.

    “But no…” I imagine him replying, “my position is based on science.”

    Sure Skepdic, the *CREATIONISTS* are following Lysenko’s lead, but your tribe isn’t. Hilarious! But pathetic.

    Thus, the dangers of consensus and certainty.

  18. Crude

     says...

    I’m glad I brought up Lysenko/Lysenkoism if this is the first you heard of him. As I said, I’m amazed that you can hear over and over and over about Galileo and how that event is some kind of ironclad evidence of the eternal warfare between science and religion, but Lysenkoism is hardly mentioned in comparison. And what happened to scientists under Lysenkoism makes Galileo’s ordeal look like a vacation.

    Of course, you also rarely hear the phrase “scientific racism” anymore or the impact that had. Eugenics and the popularity of it among biologists at the time? The ID guys scream about it, but it’s otherwise buried.

    My favorite move is this: was the science in question good or used for things people like and agree with? Then you’ll notice scientists are credited. Was the science in question bad or used for things people dislike or disagree with? Then ‘scientists’ often get scrubbed as a description of who’s responsible. Scientists are working on a cure for cancer, but Monsanto is working on frankenfoods. Scientists are trying to find ways to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, but the nuclear lobby is working on radioactive power. Etc, etc.

    There was a good discussion I saw once talking about the scientists getting killed in Iran related to their nuclear ambitions, and whether flat out killing scientists to keep certain knowledge out of their hands was ‘anti-science’. Or whether that was a case of scientists working to give theocrats nuclear capability. People seemed to have a hard time grasping the ideas when put that way.

  19. I don’t know which subset is bigger: rationally-held false beliefs, or irrationally held true beliefs. Therefore, let me rephrase: I care more for true or false than rational or irrational, and I’ll wager that’s not so different from anybody.

    You raise a very fascinating epistemological question here. Simply put, a Christian could claim that God exists because he just feels that is the case and still be correct, while an atheist could spend his entire life coming up with advanced philosophical arguments and still be wrong.

    Whether atheists want to admit it or not, rationality is not a perfect path to truth. This seems strange at first, but we have to realize that humans are far from being perfectly rational. If there were a perfectly rational being, then it is obvious that being’s brand of rationality would indeed be flawless.

    POE related question: would a perfectly rational being condemn an imperfect being for holding a seemingly rational yet false belief?

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