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Not Even Wrong

Entry 1668, on 2014-07-19 at 16:15:11 (Rating 5, Religion)

There's an expression "not even wrong", which is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, and which I have heard used to describe many ideas of doubtful validity and even some of the more speculative ideas in science such as string theory.

But I think there are degrees of "not even wrong-ness". String theory is a genuine attempt at describing reality and there are ways to decide whether it's right or wrong even if we can't really perform the experiments right now. So describing string theory as not even wrong is too harsh I think, although I do agree we should be careful about attaching too much significance to it until experiments supporting it can be performed.

The same could be said concerning other speculative scientific theories, such as multiverse theories. But again, these are genuine efforts at understanding the universe and they can be proved and disproved even though we don't really have the experiments to do that yet, so I don't think they can be described as not even wrong either.

So at this point you might be wondering what does deserve that label? Well you probably won't be surprised to hear that I would apply it to "theories" espoused by people who are motivated by worldviews other than rational science. And yes, I mean people like my friend Richard who is clearly motivated by supporting his own particular interpretation of the Christian religion.

Recently I have been shocked to realise that he is, by any reasonable definition, a creationist! And creationism is obviously something that really is "not even wrong". So let's go through a few attributes of creationism which show this...

First, what community does the "theory" (I will use that word even though creationism isn't really a theory at all) come from? Well it's clearly not from the science community because there are just no scientific papers which support creationism. Clearly it comes from the religious community, in fact from certain religions within that community, and even then from only certain groups within that community with particularly irrational views.

So creationism fails on that count. It isn't a genuine attempt at establishing the truth because it only exists within a population with fixed views which are based on ideology rather than an honest attempt at understanding.

Second, is creationism a well documented theory with specific, clearly defined attributes? Absolutely not. There are old Earth creationists, young Earth creationists, those who reject evolution completely and others who think God guides it, some who think the Bible is literal truth, others who think it's a metaphor, and still others who pick and choose based on nothing more than convenience.

So any time evidence is found against creationism the supporter just switches things around a bit and says something like "no, that's not what creationism is, serious creationists think this..." and how can you debate that because in reality creationism says both everything and nothing

Third, creationism has its own terminology which it uses to obfuscate its obvious weaknesses. For example, micro- and macro-evolution aren't well defined scientific terms which have any specific meaning. And referring to "kinds" instead of species leaves a gap where false beliefs can escape. Specific branches of science also have their own jargon, of course, but they are well defined scientific terms which could be explained to a non-specialist if necessary.

Fourth, creationism has a very emotional appeal. What is more likely to make its followers feel good: the idea that we are the product of a caring and all powerful creator, or the idea that we are just the product of chance and natural physical processes? For someone seeking reassurance instead of truth creationism has an obvious attraction.

Fifth, what is the source for the "knowledge" behind creationism? Religious beliefs are "revealed truths" rather than scientific ideas which are the result of careful theory and experimentation. Creationism is a theory derived from an old book with absolutely no scientific credibility. Science is derived from observation of the real world, formulation of theories, careful testing of those ideas, revision of them, and in some cases completely discarding them and starting again.

Sixth, creationism is basically a "gaps" theory. Most of the arguments for creationism are arguments (almost completely without merit) against evolution, abiogenesis, and the Big Bang. Creationists seem to think that the fact that they personally find evolution hard to accept means that God (usually their specific interpretation of the many gods out there) did it instead.

Finally, creationism has no detail. Basically it can be entirely specified in one sentence: "God did it." But when, how, why? Are there any details at all? Apart from a few contradictory personal opinions, no. It's almost completely without any real structure, which is how it must be of course because details make theories testable.

So without even looking at any of the specific claims of creationism it can be consigned to the pile of other useless nonsense that most modern, intelligent people have already consigned to the scrap heap of superstition.

I know that some creationists (and I have debated some fairly well known ones) know they're wrong and are just constantly lying to maintain something which they benefit from in some ways. Others are just too ignorant to understand that creationism is nonsense. And others still are the saddest cases of all: they are lying to themselves. They have genuinely convinced themselves that creationism has some merit. How can it? It's not even wrong!


Comment 38 (4137) by richard on 2014-08-15 at 17:36:57: (view earlier comments)

The obvious reason why places like Otago don't use the term neo-darwinism, is because they don't have any reason to make a distinction between 'evolution' (as Darwin described it) and 'evolution' today. To evolutionists, it's all the same 'dogma', when in fact there is as you agreed a clear distinction. I don't actually have a beef with them not using it btw, I totally understand that pov. The fact that it's philosophical and religious discussions that tend to make the distinction, is irrelevant. The only relevant question is - whether there IS a valid distinction. Yes there is, because it's precisely the new 'information' we now have that is most significant to the case for evolution. Whether it weakens evolution is of course the very debate in qn, so just stating it doesn't is begging the qn.

Actually, no - if more variation can be 'introduced through other mechanisms', then one has significantly more to answer to, in terms of what produced those information rich mechanisms in the first place.

I will ignore for now the fact your previous complaint to me, remembering that the New Science article isn't really any more 'scientific' than any other 'popular source' and give it a fair hearing. Unfortunately though, I fail to see why it is relevant to our discussion?

It is a pretty std case of taking a 'micro' case to assert a massively extrapolated 'macro' case without sound justification.

It starts by taking an example of a micro-evolutionary adaptation in human milk digestion. The next examples provided are similar and also just fine, in terms of showing that (as already agreed), mutations can cause some minor changes in 'species' of (quote): abalone shellfish, fruit flies, 'some monkeys', and 'people'.

It does not however, provide a single case where said 'new information' has overcome the various regulatory systems that prevent significant body plan changes to produce major new morphology. i.e. The actual topic under debate.

For evolutionists to hold up a few small changes within fruit flies, and say this proves bacteria turned into people is of course the very problem under discussion, and I see no such proof in this article?

I particularly like the section 'Newly Minted' which stated categorically our debate: Can mutation really lead to the evolution of new Species? YES it said, with the Yes being this hyperlink:


So what's in this article that settles the debate once and for all? The following is the main summary I could access (not being subscribed to NS) and clearly the magic bullet text intended by the link:

"They have shown that natural selection can change the way both fish and flies recognise their prospective mates, a process which can lead to two groups rapidly diverging, even when they live together in the same place. This process of reproductive isolation only takes a dozen generations or so, making it faster than anyone thought possible."

Hmmm - Not quite sure how to make the leap of faith required there... It's just the same deal over again.

Similarly the 'E.Coli Long Term Evolution Experiment' experiment suffers from the same problem. Quite appropriate that the tile includes the phrases 'E.Coli' and 'Long Term'. ;-) What evidence in this experiment forces us to accept that E.coli will eventually turn into something different, when even after 50,000 generations, we still have E.Coli? The premise that 'evolution' means the organism type will support a certain amount of mutational change is entirely non-controversial surely? Assuming even a generous 10 year reproductive cycle in hominids, that's equivalent to half a millions years of hominid evolution! Probably more like 750,000- 1,000,000 years worth.

Remembering the question asked by Darwins Doubt is whether the experimentally observed mutation rate (and resulting change) is quick enough to account for the Cambrian changes, across approx 10-30 million. To do that you still have to ignore all the observed evidence of gene regulatory systems that prevent the 'macro' changes. It is fair to say this evidence is at best pretty flimsy, and fully supports only that we will have some different versions of E.Coli, no matter how many generations we observe.

I will grant you though, just like all the E,Coli strains, we humans have got fatter too, and that's only in the last hundred years or so! #obviouslyjoking :)

I did also enjoy reading Richard Dawkins expected spin on this experiment, in the 'Greatest Show on Earth' though. Classic RD :)


Comment 39 (4138) by OJB on 2014-08-15 at 20:42:46:

It's just that we are discussing evolution, a scientific concept, yet you insist on using misleading and irrelevant terminology which is commonly used by creationists for the purpose of obfuscating the truth. Can you see why I would be a bit skeptical?

Ah so here we have the old micro versus macro thing again. Maybe you would be only happy if a lizard turned into a hippopotamus within 20 generations. Or maybe you would invent some sort of excuse no matter what the evidence was because your worldview is based on religious dogma, not facts?

So you think "bacteria changed into people huh?" you sound more like a nutty creationist all the time. When I first started discussing this with you you seemed almost reasonable!

I've given several examples of observed evolution, both in the lab and in the wild. I have given examples of where new species appeared. Still not enough? Maybe nothing that is even remotely reasonable would ever be enough because you just don't want to know.

You know the most ironic thing? You *do* believe the utter drivel which is Christian mythology. Something there is no evidence for at all, yet you reject some of science's greatest theories which have piles of evidence. Only religion (well OK, maybe politics too) can make someone that blind.


Comment 40 (4139) by richard on 2014-08-17 at 19:18:17:

Seriously? You were mis-led by the 'irrelevant' term neo-darwinism, even after I explained it's relevance? How exactly? And what 'truth' does the term 'obfuscate' exactly?

In response to my request for your 'best evidence', you gave me some links, which (in spite of the fact that they are not specifically 'scientific journals' - the demand you made on me - I was happy to respond to, because I have no such intellectual snobbery - truth (or fiction) can be written anywhere, in journals or popular publications (as scientific history shows), so lets just let evidence speak for itself, - and be prepared to accept where it leads.

I believe I (fairly) politely pointed out where I felt your references claims about 'where new species have appeared' fell short. Did you even read the articles you pointed me too?! I certainly didn't mock any of your other beliefs, knowing they having nothing at all to do with this particular conversation. And btw what other of sciences greatest theories do you say I reject?!

Is your response in 39 really the best you can do to respectfully answer and enlighten us all about the straight-forward scientific (not world-view) questions I raised in response to your 'best evidence' for the evolution from: "single-celled organisms (a reasonable description of one of the earliest life forms?) to humans (currently the most complex species) - whatever pathway that took."? Is that quoted text btw not actually a reasonable description of the claim we are discussing?! Soooo sorry for thinking 'Bacteria to people' is just a heck of a lot simpler to type, (as is 'macro-evolution', the other very simple and easy to comprehend way to describe it).

Obviously such 'simple' straight forward terms which actually make clear to all the true scale of the evolutionist claim, aren't allowed here in a real 'science' discussion. It's plainly obvious from C39 that it is so much easier to mock such irritating terms than it is to actually answer them.

So the problem is that I don't want to know? Hmm - interesting. It has been my usual experience that asking questions (as I have done above) is precisely an indication of wanting to know. I still do, but I tend to prefer answers that are actually related to the questions. So I think this thread it done. Shame really - but guess I need to ask elsewhere. If there are decent answers - they are not to be found here. Cheers.


Comment 41 (4140) by OJB on 2014-08-17 at 21:19:09:

Well it's difficult to know for sure what creationists are thinking but the most likely explanation is that using "Darwinism" makes evolution sound like one of those dogmatic beliefs which end in "-ism" like communism, and less like science. Why else would they not just use "evolution" since that's what we are talking about?

I'm not sure how carefully you looked, but the references I gave did have citations to scientific papers, and unlike the creationist citations, they were relevant.

So the summary of research where speciation was found (including references to papers) didn't pass your high standards of scholarship eh? Oh dear, I must try harder in future!

Well I guess it takes someone who is not held back by a superstitious worldview to see the problems with yours. I am very confident that if you applied a fraction of the unbalanced excess credulity towards Christianity that you do to evolution you would be an atheist in a second!


Comment 42 (4141) by OJB on 2014-08-22 at 09:07:09:

Just listened to a podcast about a major conference in London discussing the origin of life. Three things stood out...

1. The problem is not explaining how life started it is about choosing amongst the huge number of different possibilities. In some ways it's that life is too easy, not too hard.

2. Some people think that the question might be answered soon. I don't think there will be one answer which is totally proved, but there will a very well supported theory.

3. No one - not a single person - mentioned intelligent design or a need for any form of supernatural intervention. It just isn't a consideration at all because there's no evidence for it and no need for it.


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