Science denialism

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

Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 8:48 am 

TheVat » July 20th, 2020, 12:46 am wrote:Reg, I will look at your Dennett reference, but may be a day or two.


I checked it out again myself today. The salient pages are 48-49.

I can't be bothered typing the whole megillah out (unless you cough up 50 bucks, sucker), But Dennett begins with this (emphasis in original):

"The second point to notice in Darwin's summary is that he presents his principle as deducible by a formal argument--if the conditions are met, a certain outcome is assured"



In other words, given certain preconditions, no empirical inquiry is necessary to ascertain that natural selection occurs; it follows necessarily by ineluctable deductive logic.

For reasons best known to himself, Dennett considers this worthy of veneration.

You know how I feel about it.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 8:52 am 

TheVat » July 20th, 2020, 12:46 am wrote:I don't think natural selection is logically necessary, though. I can easily conceive of universes where it's survival of the cutest, because a cosmic entity steps in and purges all the less cute members of a species.



But, given the definitions, this is still a world--like every other world--where the principle of natural selection obtains.

Cosmic entity or not, whoever are more successful at survival and reproduction are, by definition, the fitter.

You can't lose against a tautology, friend.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 9:03 am 

I think what causes a lot of confusion in these discussions is the fact there are different concepts of "fitness" in play.


Concept 1: Our pre-scientific, intuitive concept of fitness, and surely what Darwin had in mind. Fitness--whether it be instantiated in the form of sharp claws, thick fur, good eyesight, camouflage, etc--is that which causes survival and reproductive success.

Under this concept, it would be perfectly respectable to explain survival and reproductive success by appeal to fitness. The problem is, it seems impossible to characterize fitness without reference to survival and reproductive success.


Concept 2: The way biologists define it these days (e.g. see Stanley again). Fitness just is survival and reproductive success. They are one and the same thing.

The problem with this concept is that to explain survival and reproductive success by appeal to fitness constitutes an act of circular folly.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Positor on July 20th, 2020, 10:47 am 

Reg_Prescott » July 20th, 2020, 1:52 pm wrote:
TheVat » July 20th, 2020, 12:46 am wrote:I don't think natural selection is logically necessary, though. I can easily conceive of universes where it's survival of the cutest, because a cosmic entity steps in and purges all the less cute members of a species.

But, given the definitions, this is still a world--like every other world--where the principle of natural selection obtains.

Cosmic entity or not, whoever are more successful at survival and reproduction are, by definition, the fitter.

But if an intervening cosmic entity were involved, it would not be natural selection – it would be supernatural selection.

What I am saying is:

"The survival of the fittest" is a tautology.
Selection of the fittest (by nature or by god(s)) is a tautology.
Natural selection of the fittest is not a tautology – it is only a subset of selection.

I agree that religious fundamentalists objected to the idea that macroevolution happens at all; I made this clear in my previous post. I agree that not many people believed that evolution happens by non-natural means. Nevertheless, non-natural selection is (a) a logical possibility, and (b) compatible with the tautology "the fittest survive" (because if a god intervenes to make something survive, the survivor is 'fit' by definition). So the tautology must include non-natural selection, whereas Darwinian theory excludes it.

So "the survival of the naturally fittest" is not logically necessary, because "the survival of the non-naturally fittest" is a logical possibility.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 10:58 am 

Positor » July 20th, 2020, 11:47 pm wrote:
So "the survival of the naturally fittest" is not logically necessary, because "the survival of the non-naturally fittest" is a logical possibility.



I don't think anyone is making claims about the fitness of supernatural beings.

But even if they were, the tautology "the fitter supernatural beings outdo the less fit deities" would still be true by definition.

Right?

Maybe Yahweh vs Zarathustra?

*shrug*
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 11:03 am 

It doesn't matter whether X is supernatural or natural, "the fitter outdo the less fit" remains true by definition.

It doesn't matter whether the fitter outdo the less fit -- thanks to supernatural intervention, it's still true.

It cannot NOT be true.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 11:07 am 

It doesn't matter whether dogs are supernatural or natural, or somewhere in limbo. "Dogs are dogs" remains true.

A tautology cannot be shaken.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 11:14 am 

Forget supernatural stuff for now, and consider artificial selection, as Darwin did.

Can the less fit ever prevail over the more fit?

And it's not that different; just the hand of a breeder, rather than the hand of God.
Last edited by Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 11:29 am 

Positor » July 20th, 2020, 11:47 pm wrote:
What I am saying is:

"The survival of the fittest" is a tautology.
Selection of the fittest (by nature or by god(s)) is a tautology.
Natural selection of the fittest is not a tautology – it is only a subset of selection.



By exact analogy:

"Lemurs are lemurs" is a tautology.

"Both natural and supernatural lemurs are lemurs" is a tautology.

"Brown lemurs are lemurs" is a tautology.

"Natural lemurs are lemurs" is not a tautology - it is only a subset.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 8:56 pm 

In a nutshell, here's the point Positor has been trying to make:


Premise 1: It is logically possible that ours is a world in which supernatural selection obtains

Premise 2: It is logically possible that ours is a world in which natural selection obtains

Conclusion: Natural selection is not a tautology. It has empirical content. That ours is a world in which natural selection obtains was a discovery.





In a similar nutshell, my response . . .


Whether or not ours is a world in which unicorns exist (something to be ascertained through empirical investigation), the proposition "unicorns are unicorns" is a tautology, thus devoid of any empirical content.

Whether or not ours is a world in which natural selection obtains (something to be ascertained through empirical investigation), the principle of natural selection is a tautology, thus devoid of any empirical content.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 20th, 2020, 9:46 pm 

@ Positor and BiV

I was missing your point for a while. Sorry about that. I think I've got you now, but still believe you're mistaken.

What has been discovered about natural (as opposed to supernatural) selection is not that it isn't a tautology, rather, that ours is a world where natural, and not supernatural, selection obtains.

In other words, the principle of natural selection is true, but not instantiated, in every possible world. Ours, we have discovered (assuming that we have) is a world where it happens to be instantiated; ours is a world where you can see natural selection in action, if you like.

And that's exactly analogous to saying, "lemurs are lemurs" is true, but not instantiated, in every possible world. We just happen to live in a world where lemurs are instantiated. We got lucky!




@ BiV

Reg_Prescott » July 20th, 2020, 9:52 pm wrote:

But, given the definitions, this is still a world--like every other world--where the principle of natural selection obtains.

Cosmic entity or not, whoever are more successful at survival and reproduction are, by definition, the fitter.

You can't lose against a tautology, friend.




That was carelessly worded (= I fooked up). Sorry! Instead of "obtains" I should have said "true".

Your world--with its Cosmic Entity-- is one where the principle of natural selection is true (like every other world), but not instantiated.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Positor on July 21st, 2020, 1:19 am 

Reg_Prescott » July 21st, 2020, 2:46 am wrote:What has been discovered about natural (as opposed to supernatural) selection is not that it isn't a tautology, rather, that ours is a world where natural, and not supernatural, selection obtains.

In other words, the principle of natural selection is true, but not instantiated, in every possible world. Ours, we have discovered (assuming that we have) is a world where it happens to be instantiated; ours is a world where you can see natural selection in action, if you like.

I think we are nearing agreement now.

If 'fittest' is taken to mean 'naturally fittest', then natural selection (of the naturally fittest) is obviously a tautology. But when we talk of "the theory of evolution by natural selection" we mean the theory that natural selection is instantiated. This puts it on a par with any other empirical theory.

For example, the proposition "if atoms exist, matter is composed of them" is true in all possible worlds if 'atom' is defined as a constituent of matter, and it is instantiated in this world. The proposition "if phlogiston exists, it is released in combustion" is true in all possible worlds, but it is not instantiated in this one. For any scientific theory, one can construct a tautology, but the value of the theory consists not in asserting the tautology but in demonstrating that the content of the tautology is instantiated (or not) in this world.

It would be wrong to discredit atomic theory by calling it "the theory of composition by components". Similarly, it would be wrong to discredit Darwinian (or neo-Darwinian) theory by calling it "the theory of natural selection of the naturally fittest". The tautology is beside the point.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 2:15 am 

Positor » July 21st, 2020, 2:19 pm wrote:

For example, the proposition "if atoms exist, matter is composed of them" is true in all possible worlds if 'atom' is defined as a constituent of matter, and it is instantiated in this world. The proposition "if phlogiston exists, it is released in combustion" is true in all possible worlds, but it is not instantiated in this one. For any scientific theory, one can construct a tautology, but the value of the theory consists not in asserting the tautology but in demonstrating that the content of the tautology is instantiated (or not) in this world.



Hmm, might be the beer, but I'm having trouble making sense of this, sir.

Seems to me what you're saying is "If my tautological theory about such-and-such is true, then it's true, not only in this world but the next, and every other one".

Well, yes, I suppose. But surely there's more to science than this?

Isn't science all about getting off your fat ass and discovering truths about our world which are not necessarily true in all worlds by definition?

That's why I prefer philosophy :)
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 2:18 am 

I don't think it's true that "For any scientific theory, one can construct a tautology".

Try doing it for special relativity, say.

You might say "If my theory of special relativity is true by definition, then it's true in all possible worlds."

But that's not the theory of special relativity.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 2:22 am 

Positor » July 21st, 2020, 2:19 pm wrote:I think we are nearing agreement now.




I hope not. This will ruin my social life.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 2:34 am 

Positor » July 21st, 2020, 2:19 pm wrote:
If 'fittest' is taken to mean 'naturally fittest', then natural selection (of the naturally fittest) is obviously a tautology. But when we talk of "the theory of evolution by natural selection" we mean the theory that natural selection is instantiated. This puts it on a par with any other empirical theory.



[my emphasis]


With respect, sir, I don't think so.

When we (I mean they) do science, presumably they are trying to figure out what happens in our world. What goes on in other worlds is a matter for overpaid Twin-Earth scientists.

There may be worlds where the speed of light is the cosmic limit; there may be worlds where it is not.

At the very least, this is not a matter of logical necessity. It may be the case, by some fluke, that the speed of light is the cosmic speed limit in all possible worlds. If it is, then that's something that could only be ascertained by doing a great deal of travelling. Closing your eyes and thinking isn't gonna solve it.

But when it comes to "the survivors survive", no interstellar travel is necessary. Just make like Michael Buble and close your eyes.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 2:43 am 

Positor » July 21st, 2020, 2:19 pm wrote:
If 'fittest' is taken to mean 'naturally fittest', then natural selection (of the naturally fittest) is obviously a tautology. But when we talk of "the theory of evolution by natural selection" we mean the theory that natural selection is instantiated. This puts it on a par with any other empirical theory.




Not really. What about those theories that are false (in our world, if you insist LOL)? And there have been a few.

The point I've been trying to hammer home is that the principle of natural selection CANNOT be false, no matter where you get shipped off to.

You might find a world where the dinosaurs were wiped out by too much Kentucky fried chicken, and not a meteor impact.

You will not find a world where those better at surviving and reproducing get their asses kicked by those less well endowed.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 2:55 am 

Positor » July 21st, 2020, 2:19 pm wrote:
It would be wrong to discredit atomic theory by calling it "the theory of composition by components". Similarly, it would be wrong to discredit Darwinian (or neo-Darwinian) theory by calling it "the theory of natural selection of the naturally fittest". The tautology is beside the point.


There is no theory, that I'm aware of anyway, saying "atomism is the the theory that all compositions are composed".

Gosh, people would just laugh.

By contrast, there is a theory that say "Those better at surviving and reproducing do it better than those less better".

And it seems me and David Berlinski are the only ones laughing.

Oh, and a few others, too.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Forest_Dump on July 21st, 2020, 9:16 am 

[quote][/quote]Reg

From your last reply to me,what I take from the above,and correct me where I am wrong, is that we all agree that there has been change in life through time. We see that evolution has happened and continues to happen. We are increasingly getting a handle on where and how variation in living things comes from and how and why some variants increase in number and other don't. Since some of this stuff was written about in the 19th century, we are finding out lots of new stuff like similarities in DNA, more fossils, etc.

But you and Berlinski, and a few others it seems, are happy to sit in a corner and giggle that it is all a tautology and nothing is explained. We should all just move on! Move on to what?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 9:43 am 

Forest,

The brilliantly clever and wonderfully witty Australian philosopher, David Stove, has this to say.

His animadversions are directed at the theory of kin selection. Mine apply to the theory of natural selection.

Bullshit deserves no respect. You guys don't like it when the religious nutters do it. Why should laymen like myself kowtow when you guys continue to defend that which is manifest rubbish?




"Scientists sometimes (as is well known) continue to work with a theory which they themselves know is false. Laymen, when they hear of such a case, are apt to be audibly critical of the scientists' conduct; but of course they have no BETTER theory to suggest, and the only result is, that the scientists grow angry and impatient with their lay critics. But these features of scientists' behaviour are not ones which deserve esteem, and still less, imitation. They are DEPARTURES FROM rational behaviour, not forms of it. They arise only because professional scientists, without the guidance of SOME theory however unsatisfactory, do not know what to do with themselves. But laymen have other occupations, and the indignation they feel, when scientists stick like limpets to a theory they know is false, is not only natural but rational. A rational interest in science, as distinct from a professional one, is an interest in what is true, or probably true, or probably close to the truth: in that, and in nothing else. If a scientific theory is certainly not even NEAR the truth, then, whatever attractions it may have for scientists, it is of no interest to a person who is simply trying to have rational beliefs and no others. That is how things actually stand, of course, with the theory (for example) that the blood is stationary, or that the earth is shaped like a bullet, or that it rotates from east to west. It is also how things actually stand with the theory of inclusive fitness.

When a proposition is obviously false, and is nevertheless widely and fervently
believed, it is a reasonable inference that it possesses some powerful attraction for
the minds of those who believe it: powerful enough, anyway, to outweigh its
obvious falsity. Take, for example, the theory that human beings are immortal. The
falsity of this proposition is obvious now, but it always was as obvious as it now is:
it is not as though we have lately discovered the first disproofs of this theory - we
have not. Yet it was generally believed in western Europe for most of two thousand
years, and (on the whole) was believed most fervently by precisely the people
whose intelligence and education best entitled them to rank as intellectual
authorities. What the attraction of the theory was in this case, is too obvious to need stating.

The theory of inclusive fitness is in an analogous position nowadays, if what I
have said about it earlier in this essay is true. That is, it is obviously false, and is
nevertheless widely believed, and believed most fervently precisely by the people
best entitled to rank as authorities on evolutionary biology. It therefore must
possess some powerful attraction for the minds of those who believe it. But what is
this attraction?"




Same old "you got a better idea?" Yes! Do your job!
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Re: Science denialism

Postby davidm on July 21st, 2020, 10:09 am 

By contrast, there is a theory that say "Those better at surviving and reproducing do it better than those less better”.



Now, we were over this. This is not, not, NOT what the TOE says. It is a strawman caricature of it that this troll is apparently free to push again and again despite it being debunked again and again and despite this being a science forum that requires truthful statements about standard science and requires that if you deviate from standard science, you must defend your own position. Not only does this character repeatedly mischaracterize standard evolutionary theory — erect a strawman of it and then attack that — he never presents any alternative to the theory.

This is standard creationist cherry-picking tactic — take one part of the evolutionary synthesis out of context — “survival of the fittest” in this case, and then go nyah-nyah-nyah, that’s a tautology! And it IS a tautology, to say that “survival of the fittest means that the fittest survive.” But, as noted above, THIS IS NOT WHAT THE TOE SAYS. Creationists like Reg (yes, he’s a creationist, his denials notwithstanding) want the uniformed to THINK evolutionary theory says this, the better to undermine it.

For those want a detailed elaboration of this topic, go here.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 10:13 am 

David, we've been through this before. But let's do it again.

Will you please state for us the principle of natural selection in a form that is not circular?

No peacocks, please. I want it stated as a general principle.

Thanks, buddy.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 10:17 am 

davidm » July 21st, 2020, 11:09 pm wrote:

Now, we were over this. This is not, not, NOT what the TOE says. ]


I have not mentioned the ToE (although I would argue there is no such thing. Just more bs defended by myth propagators like yourself).

What we are discussing here--in the true spirit of gentlemanly science (burp)-- is the principle of natural selection.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Forest_Dump on July 21st, 2020, 10:20 am 

[quote][/quote]Sorry Reg but yes I am doing my job although granted not at the moment (I am responding to you instead).

Here is what we know to be true, factual, correct, etc.

We know the earth is billions of years old and that the oldest fossils are almost as old.

We know that through time there have been changed in the forms of life.

We are increasingly learning about where similarities in off spring come from as well as where variation comes from.

Well, and on and on.

You at times seem stuck on Darwin and your Berlinski even gets stuck on the even older Paley and his natural theology. But I would say we have learned tons in the last 150 to 200 years and I even have a hard time keeping up. Beyond that I don't see a problem but you seem to keep crying that all is lost and it is all hopeless. I don't see that but I am trying to keep an open mind to what you are saying. I just wish you would be a bit more clear and coherent about what you want and maybe I can help you or others. But maybe not in which case I will just get on with my job.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 10:24 am 

Well, Forest, you're a big teaser. You took me halfway there.

Instead of rehashing the same old "Darwin didn't get everything right" mantra why not just be honest and say "The principle of natural selection is a load of bollocks"?

Or would you like to beat David to the post and articulate it in a non-circular manner?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Positor on July 21st, 2020, 10:26 am 

Reg_Prescott » July 21st, 2020, 7:34 am wrote:There may be worlds where the speed of light is the cosmic limit; there may be worlds where it is not.

Yes, and there may be worlds where no evolution occurs, and other worlds where evolution occurs by non-natural selection, or by processes not involving selection (e.g. some form of Lamarckism where the unfit simply change their physical characteristics rather than being culled).

Darwinian theory tells us not only that the fittest survive (a tautology), but how they survive (an empirical matter). (I mean the mechanisms by which they survive, not "they survive by living longer").
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 10:30 am 

Positor » July 21st, 2020, 11:26 pm wrote:Darwinian theory tells us not only that the fittest survive (a tautology), but how they survive (an empirical matter). (I mean the mechanisms by which they survive, not "they survive by living longer").



No, it doesn't, sir, with all due respect.

What it tells us is that those better able to survive and reproduce successfully (and transmit their genetic material, if you like) do it better than those less able.

= nothing of any scientific interest.


Instead of beating around the bush, won't someone just puh-LEASE state the principle of natural selection for me?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on July 21st, 2020, 10:32 am 

Mmm...

Presumably the survival - i.e. continuity - of a species depends on its ability to withstand its environment and adapt to changes within that environment, thus promoting successful reproduction and therefore continuity.

If 'fitness' means the ability to withstand, adapt and reproduce successfully then survival presumably follows.

Thus 'survival of the fittest' is indeed a tautology since it means those most likely to survive will survive.

But natural selection is not in itself fitness, it's the process by which fitness, through evolutionary change, is produced. Although I suspect that sometimes it is not produced.
Last edited by charon on July 21st, 2020, 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Science denialism

Postby Reg_Prescott on July 21st, 2020, 10:36 am 

[quote="charon » July 21st, 2020, 11:32 pm"

But natural selection is not in itself fitness, it's the process by which fitness, through evolutionary change, is produced.[/quote]


You mean there was a time when all lemurs were in dire straits, gasping for breath, and wishing they had a heart?

Then they went to see the Wizard of Oz and got fit?
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Re: Science denialism

Postby charon on July 21st, 2020, 10:37 am 

Sorry, I'll say that again.

Presumably the survival - i.e. continuity - of a species depends on its ability to withstand its environment and adapt to changes within that environment, thus promoting successful reproduction and therefore continuity.

If 'fitness' means the ability to withstand, adapt and reproduce successfully then survival presumably follows.

Thus 'survival of the fittest' is indeed a tautology since it means those most likely to survive will survive - i.e. continue.

But natural selection is not in itself fitness, it's the process by which fitness, through evolutionary change, is produced. Although I suspect that sometimes it is not produced.
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