Saturday, September 24, 2005

Pressing the Antithesis' Goose (Part 1)...

(Once again, for simplicity of reading and commenting, I’m separating one post into multiple parts)

A dispute has been brewing between Paul Manata and Aaron Kinney. Paul has written three posts and Aaron has written two (plus two on Paul’s censorship by not allowing comments). I would mind my business, but that’s just not me, nor is it a valid option. I would mind protocol and deposit my 2¢ in its proper place, but Paul doesn’t allow commenting.

Basically, Paul suggests that evolutionism is not a scientific theory, but a religion/philosophy (more on this ambiguity later).

First, some clarification (if pressed for time, one may wish to skip ahead to the direct critique of Paul’s effort).

I feel this is, in essence, a question of semantics. We are dealing with dynamic, fluid concepts: Language changes. Theories change.

Therefore, we must define religion, philosophy, and (scientific) theory. In terms of religion and theory, I believe the atheist side requires and administers a more literal (prescriptive) definition as opposed to a looser lexical (descriptive) definition; the theists are proposing a persuasive definition. Clearly, we must ascertain a precising definition for the discussion to continue any further.

Definitions of religion consistently contain reference to the supernatural. Notably, The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition describes religion as:

“a system of thought, feeling, and action that is shared by a group and that gives the members an object of devotion; a code of behavior by which individuals may judge the personal and social consequences of their actions; and a frame of reference by which individuals may relate to their group and their universe.”

I believe this is more along the lines of what most theists are thinking when they claim that science/evolution is a religion to atheists. In its simplest form, this correlation to a religion may be an expressive use of language and not intended as informative use, even if it is declarative in nature; unfortunately, such flimsy adherence to meaning not accurate.

Philosophy is, perhaps appropriately, a little harder to pin down:

“The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs” [emphasis mine]; “study of the ultimate reality, causes, and principles underlying being and thinking”

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition affirms that philosophy is distinguished from both religion and science:

"This search for truth began, in the Western world, when the Greeks first established (c.600 B.C.) inquiry independent of theological creeds. Philosophy is distinguished from theology in that philosophy rejects dogma and deals with speculation rather than faith. Philosophy differs from science in that both the natural and the social sciences base their theories wholly on established fact, whereas philosophy also covers areas of inquiry where no facts as such are available. Originally, science as such did not exist and philosophy covered the entire field, but as facts became available and tentative certainties emerged, the sciences broke away from metaphysical speculation to pursue their different aims." [emphasis mine]

Wikipedia tells us:

"Historically most philosophy has either centered on religious beliefs, or science. Philosophers may ask critical questions about the nature of these concepts--questions typically outside the scope of science." [emphasis mine]

The essential difference between philosophy and science lies in fact. There is also an issue of the broadness of the questions asked, but once facts come into play, science takes over.

So, what is fact?

Fact: “Knowledge or information based on real occurrences”; “Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed”; “Something believed to be true or real”; “Something that has actual existence; A matter of objective reality” [emphasis mine]

I will also note that a distinguishment has been made between true facts and real facts, but this seriously muddles the situation.

So, what is truth?

Truth: “Conformity to fact or actuality”

Also, truth is an evaluation, not a state of being.

These are often debated terms and concepts, so while we’re at it, let’s look at the notion of proof…

Prove: “To test the truth, validity, or genuineness of “; “To establish as true or genuine” [emphasis mine]

Proof: “The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true”; “The validation of a proposition by application of specified rules” [emphasis mine]

Most say that absolute proof is impossible, outside of mathematics.

A noticeable trend is the room for future development. Those of us who prescribe to positivism, “support realism, materialism, philosophical naturalism, and empiricism, and favor the scientific method”, don’t really feel the need for absolutes. We’re open-minded that way. The comedy in this of course, is that theists insist we provide absolutes, and base their own belief on the complete absence of such (e.g. faith) – this is a topic for another time. I personally find it rather ironic that we, the more structured of the two, are more flexible.

A demonstration of our relative resilience is shown is our acceptance of theory for what it actually is:

“a well-substantiated explanation”; “organized system of accepted knowledge”; “a tentative theory… that is not yet verified”

Wikipedia tells us:

"In the sciences, a theory is a model or framework describing the behaviour of a certain natural or social phenomenon. Theories are formulated, developed and evaluated according to the scientific method." [emphasis mine]

It then goes on to state:

"In common usage a theory is often viewed as little more than a guess or a hypothesis. But in science and generally in academic usage, a theory is much more than that. A theory is an established paradigm that explains all or much of the data we have and offers valid predictions that can be tested. In science, a theory is never considered fact or infallible, because we can never assume we know all there is to know. Instead, theories remain standing until they are disproven, at which point they are thrown out altogether or modified to fit the additional data." [emphasis mine]

Once it has distinguished a theory from an hypothesis, it offers forth this interesting nugget:

"A hypothesis, however, is still vastly more reliable than a conjecture, which is at best an untested guess consistent with selected data and often simply a belief based on non-repeatable experiments, anecdotes, popular opinion, "wisdom of the ancients," commercial motivation, or mysticism."

Rather than setting up straw men, attacking misconceptions, and attempting to “prove” false notions of “facts”, “proof”, and “theory”, perhaps theists should tend to the much more pertinent task of proving that their beliefs are anything more than mere conjecture.

Now, onto addressing Paul more directly…

(continue to part two)

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