A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 7:23 pm 

Braininvat » July 6th, 2017, 6:57 am wrote:
Does he not understand a trait piggybacking on another? Or that "matching their environment" is easily seen as the answer, where adaptation depends critically on a predator reducing their visibility. Is it really in doubt what trait goes along for the ride?



Not in the slightest doubt. Fodor emphasizes this time and time again. There is a fact of the matter, between two co-extensive traits, which one is the paying customer, and which is the free-rider.

I know, You know. Your granny knows. Or at least we can find out through empirical investigation.

But it's a distinction Darwinian selection theory cannot make.

It's a distinction artificial selectors can make -- "It's the floppy ears I want, not the waggly tail, but they're always together"

Yes, intension with an "s". Like good men these days, very hard to find.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 7:38 pm 

Braininvat » July 6th, 2017, 1:16 am wrote:"Intension," as a philosophic term, refers to the connotation of a word, as opposed to what is designates.


Morning, BiV. I don't think this is right. "Intensionality", as I understand it, and as the term is being used by Fodor, is that property of sentences (not minds or individual words) which renders them failures of "extensionality".

Let's suppose Anne Hathaway's real name is Anne Bloggs.

The sentence (and we'll assume it's true) "Hyksos believes Anne Hathaway has firm breasts" exemplifies an intensional context. Substitution with a co-referring term does not guarantee that truth is preserved.

"Hyksos believes Anne Bloggs has firm breasts" may or may not be true.



As opposed to an extensional context: "Anne Hathaway starred in the The Devil Wears Prada".

Substitute away. Plug in a co-referring term (Anne Bloggs). Truth is preserved.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 7:56 pm 

John Searle does not have firm breasts. But he explains intensionality well...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1KFqkuYaNU
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 8:07 pm 

Q1: Hey, Mr artificial selector, I've noticed that all your rabbits have floppy ears and waggly tails. The two traits are co-extensive. Get one get the other. Which one is it that you really breed for?

Ans: The floppy ears. Kids love 'em.


Q2: Hey, Mother Nature, I've noticed that all your rabbits have floppy ears and waggly tails. The two traits are co-extensive. Get one get the other. Which one is it that you really select for?

Ans: Don't look at me. I don't have a mind.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Positor on July 5th, 2017, 8:52 pm 

Q1: Hey, Mr artificial selector, I've noticed that all your rabbits have floppy ears and waggly tails. The two traits are co-extensive. Get one get the other. Which one is it that you really breed for?

Ans: I'm not telling you (because I'm busy). Examine the physical state of my brain (i.e. "read my mind") and you will find the answer.


Q2: Hey, Mother Nature, I've noticed that all your rabbits have floppy ears and waggly tails. The two traits are co-extensive. Get one get the other. Which one is it that you really select for?

Ans: I'm not telling you (because I can't). Examine the physical state of the environment and you will find the answer.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 8:55 pm 

Positor » July 6th, 2017, 9:52 am wrote:
Ans: I'm not telling you (because I can't). Examine the physical state of the environment and you will find the answer.


Egggzactly!!!!!!!!!

In other words, go find out for yourself. You ask too much of me.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 9:00 pm 

I suggest we fire the bastard for incompetence :-)
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on July 5th, 2017, 10:00 pm 

Braininvat ,

First of all , Fodor is talking about Darwinian Natural Selection as it was presented by Darwin himself. Invoking the newfangled synthesis with genetics is another topic, which has its own tangle of issues that go with it.

I'm definitely not in agreement with this idea that
"And by the word selection , I mean change in allele frequencies".


I don't feel that english can be stretched that far without breaking. So this comes down to the degree of literalness or figurativeness that Charles Darwin meant by nature "selecting" traits. If he meant this literally, he has a serious problem (as Fodor likes to say).

There is another section of Origin of Species (that I really like personally). But also, I think it can illuminate the degree to which Darwin was comparing Artificial selection to the Natural selection --- that is to say -- the degree to which he considered this analogy a metaphor rather than a ceteris paribus substitution.
How do those groups of species, which constitute what are called distinct genera and which differ from each other more than do the species of the same genus, arise? All these results, as we shall more fully see in the next chapter, follow from the struggle for life. Owing to this struggle, variations, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if they be in any degree profitable to the individuals of a species, in their infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to their physical conditions of life, will tend to the preservation of such individuals, and will generally be inherited by the offspring.


We have a plausible way to answer Jerry Fodor directly, regarding this question of the Mechanism which selects. The mechanism is : the infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to their physical conditions of life.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 5th, 2017, 10:25 pm 

Let us assume that floppy ears and waggly tails are co-extensive traits in rabbits. All rabbits with one also have the other. Let us further assume that one is conducive to rabbit fitness; the other neutral.

The terms "rabbits with floppy ears" and "rabbits with waggly tails", then, have exactly the same extension: i.e., all such rabbits.

(cf. Quine's example of "creatures with a heart" and "creatures with a kidney")

Now, we apply the substitutability test for intensionality/extensionality...

The sentence "The breeder selects rabbits with floppy ears", by stipulation, we agree is true. Now substitute with a co-referring expression:

"The breeder selects rabbits with waggly tails" -- true or false? Obviously false. The breeder couldn't give a hoot about waggly tails. It's the floppy ears that bring in the $$$. Just ask him ("What is it that you're selecting, dude?"). Even without waggly tails, floppy-eared rabbits would continue to be selected.

Failure of substitutabilty tells us this is an intensional context. Substitution of one co-referring term with another cannot guarantee that truth will be preserved.

Now consider the statements

"Natural selection selects rabbits with floppy ears" and "Natural selection selects rabbits with waggly tails"

True or false? One of the traits, we have stipulated, is fitness enhancing; the other not (and I'm not telling you which, so there). And bear firmly in mind, natural selection is a theory that tells us traits are selected for their causal effect on fitness. If it can't do this, the theory is fubar.

If we were to ask Natural Selection, "Which trait is it that you really want?" what would she say?

Well, she can't speak, let alone think, let doubly alone make causal distinctions in intensional contexts.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 9:10 am 

Braininvat » July 6th, 2017, 6:57 am wrote:I will. If that's what Fodor suggests, then he may be making another ET strawman. Will try to watch later.

Edit: Snuck a peek. Hmm. Fodor seems not to understand a lot of biological concepts, as they relate to phenotypic expression. He misses a lot on Gould's spandrels.

"The crucial test is whether one’s pet theory can distinguish between selection for trait A and selection for trait B when A and B are coextensive: were polar bears selected for being white or for matching their environment? Search me; and search any kind of adaptationism I’ve heard of. Nor am I holding my breath till one comes along." -- Fodor (quote from the Why Pigs Don't Have Wings essay, which preceded the book)

Does he not understand a trait piggybacking on another? Or that "matching their environment" is easily seen as the answer, where adaptation depends critically on a predator reducing their visibility. Is it really in doubt what trait goes along for the ride?

The rival mechanisms he suggests to NS seem to be supplementary of NS, not contradictory. He seems to have ontological problems seeing how a gene mechanism can also be an adaptation. Wow, must there only be one pure narrative of how things work, Jerry? Only simple functional levels need apply? Sorry, I just don't like his dumbed down biology.



Hi again, BiV,

Assuming you haven't coughed up the dough for the book yet, here's a link I found where Fodor explains his position and responds to critics. You'll find that some of your own animadversions above are addressed.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/jerry-fodo ... have-wings

Fodor is no dummy. His argument might turn out to be flawed, but if it does, I'm pretty confident it won't be down to his overlooking something blindingly obvious, or failure to understand evolutionary concepts.

In preparation for bloody warfare, I've retrieved my own copy from the bookcase, dusted it off, and subjecting it, as we speak, to a renewed perusal. It's been a few years since I read it. Almost drove me nuts too. It was a close shave, I tell ya.

How's them for fighting words?... (from the introduction)

"Darwinians have a crux about free-riding because they haven't noticed the intensionality of selection-for and the like; and when it is brought to their attention, they haven't the slightest idea what to do about it."
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 9:40 am 

On reading the link I posted, it occurs to me that Fodor and David Stove (remember him? -- "Darwinian Fairy Tales") share much in common.

For one thing, they both point out that evolutionary biology is replete with intentional (in the philosophical sense) so-called "façons de parler" -- "selection" and Dawkins' selfish genes, for example -- which, we are repeatedly told must not be taken literally; they can be cashed out in non-intentional language any time you like, baby.

So the story goes.

But this, as far as I'm aware, is never done. Might it be because this cannot be done?

Despite Darwin's best efforts to naturalize evolutionary theory, could it be that a mindful spook slipped in unnoticed? While no one was paying any mind.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 9:49 am 

The high tide of adaptationism floated a motley navy, but it may now be on the ebb. If it does turn out that natural selection isn’t what drives evolution, a lot of loose speculations will be stranded high, dry and looking a little foolish. Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon. In science, as elsewhere, ‘hedge your bets’ is generally good advice.


Gosh! I'd marry you, Jerry, if you had firm breasts.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 9:54 am 

See Simon Blackburn's reply. This is a dude I admire a lot. Read lots of his books and he's helped me to understand many things.

But as Fodor says, he completely misses the point here.

Funny old world, eh?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 6th, 2017, 9:58 am 

-- which, we are repeatedly told must not be taken literally; they can be cashed out in non-intentional language any time you like, baby.

So the story goes.
- NSI


I am pretty maxxed out with work, so I will bow to your extensive knowledge of this topic for now, leaving only my baffled expression (here it is: ':>0 ) in regards to what is seen as a lack of non-intentional language for NS. I guess "allele shifts producing phenotypic traits that increase survival and reproductive success" is not cutting it?

I mean, if speech acts between biologists confirm an intersubjective agreement on the referent and said referent is a nonsentient mechanism without one teeny speck of intentionality, then I am not moved to go hunting too hard for mindful spooks playing with the source code. Remember Ockham's Razor, and what a fine job it's been doing shaving theories for the past few centuries?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 10:07 am 

Braininvat » July 6th, 2017, 10:58 pm wrote:


I am pretty maxxed out with work, so I will bow to your extensive knowledge of this topic for now, leaving only my baffled expression (here it is: ':>0 ) in regards to what is seen as a lack of non-intentional language for NS. I guess "allele shifts producing phenotypic traits that increase survival and reproductive success" is not cutting it?


Isn't this putting the cart before the horse, dude? I thought the story was that phenotypic traits that increase fitness are selected and produce allele shifts? The allele shifts are a result of natural selection at work; not the other way around.

Don't worry. I'm baffled too, and planning to get more so. Slainte.

Cf. the reply from Ian Cross in that link...

"Jerry Fodor makes the striking claim that evolutionary biologists are abandoning natural selection as the principal, or even an important, cause of evolutionary change."
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 10:12 am 

You do see we're vacillating between two definitions of fitness here? Is fitness that which causes reproductive success; or is it the case that fitness just is reproductive success, in some form or another? I posted on this a few pages ago when we were young and virile.

Then they called me a sealion. Let's all stay baffled, I say. It's a lot easier than thinking.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 6th, 2017, 10:18 am 

It's a feedback mechanism, so causality isn't some sort of one-way mechanism. You have a causal confusion that there is some singular "starting" cause in the workings of NS. It doesn't start with alleles, of course not. It doesn't start with the phenotype, either. It's a continual cycling of causes and effects as an environment changes and a given phenotype grows less adaptive. No wonder people think there's intentionality, if they are reducing a process to some kind of Prime Cause. And sometimes the environment doesn't change and genes just drift or mutations pop up as cosmic rays randomly slice through DNA strands. It's remarkably un-intentional, from what I've gleaned. Someone may correct me on this, so take with a grain of salt.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 10:19 am 

I just added a little to my 2nd last post. Take a butcher's.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 10:27 am 

Braininvat » July 6th, 2017, 11:18 pm wrote:It's a feedback mechanism, so causality isn't some sort of one-way mechanism. You have a causal confusion that there is some singular "starting" cause in the workings of NS.


On first reading, pal, this sounds scandalous; nay, outrageous -- enough to raise questions in the House. By analogy, are we to believe that gravity causes the planets and apples to do what they do, and vice versa?

Gosh, this needs more thought. I always thought causality was one-way.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 10:37 am 

Braininvat » July 6th, 2017, 10:58 pm wrote:I mean, if speech acts between biologists confirm an intersubjective agreement on the referent and said referent is a nonsentient mechanism without one teeny speck of intentionality, then I am not moved to go hunting too hard for mindful spooks playing with the source code.


This is what frustrates Fodor. It misses the point, with all due respect, BiV (though it's eminently plausible I'm confused myself).

Intentionality (with a T) is out by stipulation. Natural selection forbids minds. Mother Nature has no mental representations, although if she did, the problem is fixed, and God is back in business LOL.

But, if Fodor is right, natural selection requires intensional (with an S) discrimination. Now, how could that be achieved without a mind?

This is the issue in a nutshell.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Positor on July 6th, 2017, 10:56 am 

In regard to natural selection, can't we just dispense with the idea of 'selection for', and talk of 'selection due to' instead? That avoids the need for a mind.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 11:04 am 

Positor » July 6th, 2017, 11:56 pm wrote:In regard to natural selection, can't we just dispense with the idea of 'selection for', and talk of 'selection due to' instead? That avoids the need for a mind.


It's been tried, Positor. Salvation through redefinition. Doesn't work.

Natural selection must be able to discriminate between what some call "selection for" (the fitness enhancing stuff) and mere "selection" (the gatecrashers)

The whole idea was, after all, natural selection is a mechanism which hooks onto fitness-increasing traits, right?

The free-rider (spandrel) issue, Fodor holds, highlights the implausibility of such a mechanism. Minds are out; appeals to laws seem massively unlikely. How can that distinction be made? What's left?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 11:16 am 

To add a bit more...

Minds would fix the prob, coz then we allow counterfactual support -- "I would take the floppy ears without the waggly tails if I could". But minds are persona non grata in natural selection theory.

Counterfactual-supporting laws would fix the problem too. No minds required. The problem is ... who would claim it is a law that "Organisms with firm breasts (or whatever) are fitter than those without"? These things, we're told, are massively contextually sensitive. Some organisms in some environments might prefer floppy breasts.

Sad bastards, perhaps, but it takes all kinds.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 6th, 2017, 11:18 am 

In linguistics, logic, philosophy, and other fields, an intension is any property or
quality connoted by a word, phrase, or another symbol.  In the case of a word, the word's definition often implies an intension. For instance, intension of the word 'plant' includes properties like "being composed of cellulose" and "alive" and "organism", among others. Comprehension is the collection of all such intensions.

The meaning of a word can be thought of as the bond between the idea the word means and the physical form of the word. Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) contrasts three concepts:

the signifier – the "sound image" or the string of letters on a page that one recognizes as the form of a sign

the signified – the meaning, the concept or idea that a sign expresses or evokes

the referent – the actual thing or set of things a sign refers to. See Dyadic signs and Reference (semantics)

Without intension of some sort, a word has no meaning. For instance, the terms 'rantans' or 'brillig' have no intension and hence no meaning. Such terms may be suggestive, but a term can be suggestive without being meaningful. For instance, 'ran tan' is an archaic onomatopoeia for chaotic noise or din and may suggest to English speakers a din or meaningless noise, and 'brillig' though made up by Lewis Caroll may be suggestive of 'brilliant' or 'frigid'. Such terms, it may be argued, are always intensional since they connote the property 'meaningless term' but this paradox does not constitute a counterexample to the claim that without intension a word has no meaning.[further explanation needed]

Intension is analogous to the signified in the Saussurean system, extension to the referent.



Thought it best to get this up on the page, to allay confusions. Or spawn more, hehehe.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 11:22 am 

Yeah, yeah, bully for you LOL.

Actually I was a bit assertive earlier (thrill of the moment and all that), and regretted it later. Yes, you're right. But what concerns us here -- what Fodor calls the intensional fallacy that NS theory perpetrates -- pertains to the substitutability of co-referring terms in sentences.

And sorry if I was rude. You know how I feel about you, Gorgeous.

Has that wattle grown since we last met?
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby NoShips on July 6th, 2017, 11:25 am 

Lewis Carroll? Never heard of her.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 6th, 2017, 11:37 am 

LoL. And yes, the wattle grows daily. At 61, I can say time has been kind, but the same side of the family that gave me a Methusela gene, also passed along a scrawny English rockstar build, so there's not much chin fat with which to conceal the wattle. In ten years, I'll be able to frighten children. Wish I could now...too many pesky urchins in this 'hood.

I still think Fodor's found a non-problem, but I'm not up to dissecting it atm. Later, duderino.
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby hyksos on July 6th, 2017, 1:57 pm 

NoShips » July 6th, 2017, 5:40 pm wrote:On reading the link I posted, it occurs to me that Fodor and David Stove (remember him? -- "Darwinian Fairy Tales") share much in common.

For one thing, they both point out that evolutionary biology is replete with intentional (in the philosophical sense) so-called "façons de parler" -- "selection" and Dawkins' selfish genes, for example -- which, we are repeatedly told must not be taken literally; they can be cashed out in non-intentional language any time you like, baby.

Yes. And then Dawkins goes on diatribes about "survival machines", with a kind of childish excitement, almost like he is "figuring out how it all fits" and he loves his own cleverness.

Pretty sure Dan Dennet and Rich Dawkins are considered by academia to be ultra-orthodox Darwinists. They are zealots committed to the original 1850s theory. ( I kind of made that word up on the spot. they use a different word in more formal contexts).

Dawkins becomes angry (nearly unhinged) when anyone suggests the possibility of epigenetic traits in his presence.

Braininvat is trying to reinforce NS by referring to the syntheses in the 20th century. I think there are still problems outside this kind of Fodor attack : which might be entirely semantic as far as I can see.

I will give some examples now. Species of ants and some wasps are eusocial. Their hives or colonies contain male drones who have given up their capacity to reproduce. This should bother us -- because I don't know how a species would give up its capacity to reproduce. The trait "giving-up-of-reproducing" would get passed on, but how? I only have some just-so stories to explain this, that involve queens hopping between hives. I admit I'm reaching for straws.

Our bodies contain mitochondria that contain DNA. (mDNA) But the DNA is alien to humans. It is its own genetic line distinct from the DNA in our cells that orchestrates our regular growth. Furthermore, human mitochondria do not contain necessary enzymes to replicate their own DNA. Instead the mitochondrion will hijack the replication machinery already present in human cells. One grad student told me that the "mitochondria don't have their own keys because their landlord has a copy." To first approximation, Darwinian NS does not explain this at all. Some other scientific theory is needed.

If living organisms gain traits and cellular mechanisms by osmotically absorbing them through viruses , then Darwinian NS has a serious problem (as Fodor likes to say).
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Braininvat on July 6th, 2017, 2:25 pm 

Why does a 19th Century version of NS have to explain everything? Theories grow and (cough) adapt to new data and techniques. If this is all about critiquing Darwin, well ho-hum. Kind of like critiquing Maxwell because his EM equations didn't extend to quantum chromodynamics or predict the Higgs. Eusocial adaptations opened up the scope of NS beyond the individual species member, looking at alleles in a community context. Hives with a greater frequency of the eunuch allele began to prosper (just like hominid tribes with a greater frequency of a life-extending group of alleles would prosper having more elders to pass along wisdom and make good plans based on decades of experience).
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Re: A Simple Question: Should We Believe Scientists?

Postby Don Juan on July 6th, 2017, 3:01 pm 

NoShips » March 12th, 2017, 10:03 am wrote:A deceptively simple question perhaps.

Have scientists been right before? I have little doubt. And thanks!

This much, ladies and gentlemen, is, I assume, entirely uncontroversial. That said, what is the appropriate epistemological weight we should assign to the knowledge claims of science? When should we believe them, and when might a more circumspect attitude be appropriate?

Does smoking really cause cancer? (*cough*) Is global warming really due to our planetary mismanagement? Do quarks exist? Are tectonic plates real? (ever seen one?) Is the luminiferous aether real? (J. C. Maxwell allegedly claimed it was the most highly confirmed entity in all science). Is Dawkins justified in claiming that only the ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked would doubt the scientific account of evolution?

How do we decide these things?


Do you mean what are the steps and considerations we should take to believe scientists?

NoShips wrote:If we were to ask Natural Selection, "Which trait is it that you really want?" what would she say?


Maybe scientists can ask at what levels the potent processes of Natural Selection are engaged.

I believe natural selection plays a part in evolution, but remains incomplete without considerations of the structure and flexibility of the phenotype, and the structure, flexibility and randomness in the genotype.
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