Re: It *is* a metaphysical assumption (was No design required? (was Italian ..))
I can't remember whether I have mentioned it, but I am going to try a new
approach of breaking my responses to long posts into smaller chunks and
answering those. That way I should be able to post more regularly and my
opponent and I can perhaps agree (or agree to disagree) on some issues
within a long post and put that behind us, while still continuing the
debate on other unresolved issues in that post.
On Sun, 28 Apr 2002 23:54:00 -0000, hecd2 wrote:
>>AM>What is mass spectroscopy and how do you apply that technique to
>>>Mars from earth?
>SJ>However, if it is a trick question i.e. Alec (who on a list I saw -
>>it might have been this one - described himself as a "physical scientist")
>>knows what "mass spectroscopy" is and that it cannot be applied to Mars
>>from Earth, then I would be most grateful for Alec to set me straight.
AM>My apologies to Stephen for a cheap shot on my part:
Thanks to Alec for this and his setting me straight on what "mass
AM>As far as I know, methane hasn't been confirmed in the Martian
>atmosphere - it would be strong evidence for life on a planet like
>Methane is present in trace amounts in the atmospheres of gas giants
Again, thanks to Alec. If Earth-based scientists can detect "trace amounts
in the atmospheres of more distant planets like Jupiter then they
presumably can do the same for Mars? This was Lovelock's point, that
Mars' atmosphere was not "made of a complex mix of gases all out of
chemical equilibrium - as living organisms would be absorbing and emitting
all kinds of gases they needed for survival" but the exact opposite, "a
boringly simple atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide plus a few other
trace gases close to chemical equilibrium" and so "Lovelock was thus able
to predict that there was no life on Mars, a full decade before any probes
actually went to look":
Electronic Telegraph 08.02.01 [...] All you need to seek a Martian is a
telescope To find life on Mars you may not need to leave the comfort of
your own observatory, says Robert Matthews [...] Needless to say, my
five-year-old, Theo, found all this rather boring and wanted to know
whether there really are aliens on Mars. It was a timely question, as last
week Nasa scientists claimed to have created primitive "cells" in an
experiment that may mimic conditions in which life originally formed in
deep space. Dr Lovelock had the temerity to mention this at a meeting of
Nasa scientists, and received the obvious rejoinder: how would he conduct
the experiment? His answer was as radical as it was brilliant. To detect life
on Mars it isn't necessary to send a multi-million dollar probe at all, he said.
All that was needed was to use an Earth-bound telescope to analyse the
planet's atmosphere and look for the tell-tale signs of life. This would take
the form of an atmosphere made of a complex mix of gases all out of
chemical equilibrium - as living organisms would be absorbing and emitting
all kinds of gases they needed for survival. A few months later, the analysis
was done using the Pic du Midi telescope in the Pyrenees - and it showed
that Mars has a boringly simple atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide
plus a few other trace gases close to chemical equilibrium. Dr Lovelock
was thus able to predict that there was no life on Mars, a full decade before
any probes actually went to look. Nasa, whose raison d'etre increasingly
centres on the "search for life", did not and still does not - want to hear Dr
Lovelock's message. It has continued to send probes to look for life on the
red planet, and all have failed to find anything. Theo, in contrast, seemed to
take Dr Lovelock's message about the absence of little green men on the
chin - but then, he hasn't got a multi-billion-dollar budget to justify before
>>>SJ>[...] But then the problem is: "Where does it come from? This is a
>>>>problem which concerns both biologists and philosophers and, at present,
>>>>science seems incapable of solving it." (Grasse, 1977, p2). Materialistic-
>>>>naturalistic science, that is!]
>>AM>The only sort there is!
>SJ>So says Alec! But he is just playing a word-game. That is, Alec
>>>*defines* "science" as "materialistic-naturalistic" (according to his own
>>>personal atheistic *philosophy* of how he *wants* the universe to be), and
>>>then he excludes anything that does not fit the Procrustean bed he has made.
>>Alec is of course free to do that, but that does not make it *true*.
AM>This is not a word-game. The scientific paradigm assumes that
>observed phenomena have natural causes.
It *is* a word-game! No one would dispute that "*observed* phenomena
have natural causes". What we are in dispute about is the causes of *un*-
"observed phenomena", i.e. unique origin events that happened millions,
and in some cases billions, of years ago.
AM>Allowing other than natural
>causes moves one's endeavour fromn science to metaphysics or
>theology - this is not to belittle these pursuits at the expense of
>science: it's just that this is the only credible definition of
If it is a matter of "definition", then it is a *verbal* distinction. That
is what I mean by "a word-game".
AM>Any discovery of any sort that has ever been made using the
>scientific method uses this paradigm - that observed phenomena have
>natural causes. Can Stephen suggest one example - just one - that
>does not fit this rule?
See above. The issue is *not* "observed phenomena". That is peppered
moths and finch beaks. In the case of *origins* of moths and birds (for
example), we are talking about *un*-"observed phenomena".
As Dobzhansky conceded, "These [macro-] evolutionary happenings are
unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible. .... The applicability of the
experimental method to the study of such unique historical processes is
severely restricted before all else by the time intervals involved ...
Experimental evolution deals of necessity with only the simplest levels of
the evolutionary process, sometimes called microevolution." (Dobzhansky,
1957, p.388) (see tagline).
AM>Furthermore, Stephen jumps without justification to the assumption
>that because I give a definition of science (the only sensible
>definition of science by the way)
This is just a value-judgment by Alec. In the case of *origins* it is *not* a
`sensible definition of science". It is a *question-begging* `definition of
"An argument is said to `beg the question' if it assumes an answer
to the very point that is in dispute. Here's a simple example:
Question: Why should I believe the Bible? Answer: Because the
Bible says so. Arguments defending Darwinism often seem to beg
the question because they assume the point at issue, which is
whether the scientific evidence really does support the theory.
Here's a typical example: Question: What evidence proves that life
evolved from nonliving molecules? Answer: Don't reject a scientific
theory just because you have a religious prejudice. The answer
assumes the point in dispute, which is whether the evidence for the
chemical evolution of life is so overwhelming that only a prejudiced
person would be skeptical of it. Question-begging arguments
typically assume that science or reason is on the arguer's side; then
the person tries to put you in the position of arguing against science
and reason. If you let a straw-man maker define the terms of the
argument that way, you've lost before you make your first point."
(Johnson P.E., `Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds,"
InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1997, p.42)
AM>that he doesn't like that I am an
>atheist. I don't remember stating my position on this matter on this
>list. There are many theists who agree that within science one
>always seeks natural causes for observed phenomena.
If Alec denies God's existence in science, then in that area he is an
"atheist", i.e. a *practical* atheist, living as though God did not exist.
As I pointed out to a theistic evolutionist former member, one can even be
a theist, yet be a practical atheist:
"Finally, practical atheists confess that God exists but believes that
we should live as if he did not." (Geisler N.L., "Atheism," in "Baker
Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics," Baker: Grand Rapids MI,
>SJ>Writing under a sub-heading also called "What is this thing called
>>Science?" (i.e. the core of his book) Chambers' conclusion is that there is
>>no "single category `science' ... that various areas of knowledge, physics,
>>biology, history, sociology and so on, either come under that category or do
>>not", and he does "not know how such a general characterization of
>>science can be established or defended" ... (Chalmers A., "What is this
>>thing called Science? ..., 1994, reprint, p.166)
AM>Well, I haven't read this book, but Stephen's quote from it seems to
>indicate that Chalmers is unable to answer the question he has set
>himself. If he is unable to tell which of these fields of knowledge,
>physics, history, sociology, fall within the category of science,
>then I would suggest he is seeding uncertainty and obfuscation where
>none should exist.
Maybe Alec *should* read the book. The fact is that the people who
actually study science as a topic in itself are not scientists but
*philosophers* of science:
"Certain issues must be clarified before we can proceed. For one
thing, consider the following propositions: 1. By its very nature, NS
[natural science] must adopt MN [methodological naturalism]. 2.
Theistic science is religion and not science. It is important to
remember that these claims are not first-order claims *of* science
about some scientific phenomenon. Rather, they are second-order
philosophical claims *about* science. They are metaclaims that take
a vantage point outside science and have science itself as their
subject of reference. Thus the field of philosophy, especially
philosophy of science, will be the proper domain from which to
assess these claims, not science. Scientists are not experts in these
second-order questions, and when they comment on them, they do
so qua philosophers, not qua scientists." (Moreland J.P., "Theistic
Science & Methodological Naturalism," in Moreland J.P., ed., "The
Creation Hypothesis," 1994, p.43. Emphasis in original)
And it is AFAIK the universal consensus among philosophers of science
that the naive view positivist-inductivist view of science held by most
scientists is untenable. That is in fact what they are teaching us in this
Bachelor or Science (Biology) course, and our lecturer is no mere
academic philosopher. She is in fact a former nuclear physicist!
>SJ>Chalmers notes that there is no principled way "to legislate on the
>>criteria that must be satisfied if an area of knowledge is to be deemed ...
>>`scientific': ... (Chalmers, 1994, p.166).
>>He concluded that "we do not need a general category `science' with
>>respect to which some area of knowledge can be acclaimed as science
>>or denigrated as non-science":
AM>I simply disagree with him and since what you quote of what he says
>is supported by no evidence whatsoever, it is simply an assertion
>that carries no more weight than my position.
Not so. I have quoted from a current philosophy of science textbook, and
Alec has just given us his "assertion".
As for Alec disagreeing with Chalmers, his book "What Is This Thing Called
Science", although it is Australian, is possibly the leading philosophy of
science textbook in the world. As evidence in support of this, I entered "Chalmers" and "What Is This Thing Called Science" in Google and it came back with 1340 hits. I presume that these hits were mostly either
professors' course materials or students' bibliographies.
According to Chalmers' home page, this book of his has been translated into
What Is This Thing Called Science?, Queensland University Press and
Open University Press, 1976, pp. 157 + xvii. (Translated into German,
Dutch, Italian Spanish and Chinese)
What Is This Thing Called Science?, Queensland University Press, Open
University Press and Hackett, 2nd revised edition (6 new chapters), 1982,
pp. 179 + xix. (Translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch,
Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Portugese, Polish , Danish, Greek, Swedish,
Korean and Estonian.)
AM>Indeed, I am able to
>define what I mean by science, I am able to include certain fields of
>knowledge within science and exclude others, and I can back this up
>with reference to the history and current pursuit of science, and so
>I would suggest that my views carry more weight than this rather
Chalmer's (and AFAIK the consensus among philosophers of science) point
is that these naive views of science held by most scientists are
AM>I asume that in his book, Chalmers has more of substance to say than
>that which Stephen has quoted.
Well then, Alec should read the book for himself and quote those sections
where he thinks Chalmers contradicts what I have quoted!
>SJ>"It does not follow from this that no area of knowledge can
>>be criticized. We can attempt to criticize any area of knowledge
>>by criticizing its aims, by criticizing the appropriateness of
>>the methods used for attaining those aims, by confronting it with an
>>alternative and superior means of attaining the same aims and so on. From
>>this point of view we do not need a general category "science"
>>with respect to which some area of knowledge can be acclaimed as
>>science or denigrated as non-science." (Chalmers, 1994, p.166)
>>Chalmers above uses the term "area of knowledge" as a synonym for
>>"science", and according to the Websters Dictionary, "science" is
>>just a word for "knowledge", or "systematized knowledge", or "knowledge as
>>distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding", and there can
>>even be a "science of theology":
AM>Now, of course it is Stephen who is playing word games. It is quite
>plain from the context of our discussion that we are talking about
>natural science and not about the usage of the word science to mean
>knowledge in abstract.
There are no "word games". The above definitions apply to "natural science"
AM>If this has not been clear to Stephen so far let me make it
>explicit: within the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology,
>geology, astronomy, observed phenomena are ALWAYS assumed to have
>natural causes without exception.
See above on "observed phenomena".
Alec is playing another word game (although I don't claim he realises it).
The question is whether *all* "phenomena" (i.e. both "observed" and *un*-
"observed") "within the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology,
geology, astronomy," *have* in fact "... ALWAYS" *had* "natural causes
Since Alec now concedes it is an *assumption*, he has concedes my main
>SJ>So Alec and his fellow atheist/agnostics can band together and
>>decide among themselves that "[m]aterialistic-naturalistic science" is "[t]
>>he only sort there is". But that is not itself a scientific finding, but a
>>*metaphysical assumption* which can only be enforced by *political
AM>It *is* a metaphysical assumption. The metaphysical assumption
>within the natural sciences (I am forced now to use this term by
>Stephen's wordplay) is that observed phenomena have natural causes,
>and a very successful assumption it is too.
Thanks to Alec for finally conceding my point!
So in future maybe Alec will be a little more tentative, as befits "a
metaphysical assumption" - as distinct from "a scientific finding"?
I will deal with Alec's "very successful assumption" (i.e. the naturalistic
argument from success) in my continuation of this thread.
"Mutation is a basic physiological process which is studied experimentally,
with the aid of physical and chemical methods. On the other hand, it is
manifestly impossible to reproduce in the laboratory the evolution of man
from the australopithecine, or of the modern horse from an Eohippus, or of
a land vertebrate from a fishlike ancestor. These evolutionary happenings
are unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible. It is as impossible to turn a land
vertebrate into a fish as it is to effect the reverse transformation. The
applicability of the experimental method to the study of such unique
historical processes is severely restricted before all else by the time
intervals involved, which far exceed the lifetime of any human
experimenter. ... Experimental evolution deals of necessity with only the
simplest levels of the evolutionary process, sometimes called
microevolution." (Dobzhansky T., "On Methods of Evolutionary Biology
and Anthropology," Part I, "Biology," American Scientist, Vol. 45, No. 5,
December 1957, p.388)
Stephen E. Jones sejones@... http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones