Saturday, September 13, 2014

Let's Bring "Proof" Back to Reality

It's true that I lost track of the subject of the meaning of the words "prove" and "proof" in my last post as I went from Update to Update, which got noted at EvC in the most recent posts on the subject. They keep insisting on formal definitions, stating it all in the abstract, which loses track of what I meant in the first place which is really pretty simple. It's just another way of saying that when you are dealing with the prehistoric past you can never be sure of your hypotheses because they aren't testable, as you can be with those that are testable. This standard objection by creationists is strenuously opposed by evolutionists of course, and it has come up again at EvC here too.

This second link exhibits the tendency of anti-creationists to reduce Christian creationist arguments to Christian belief even when the creationists are sticking to the scientific questions. This is an annoying distraction at best. The argument about the difference between observational and historical/interpretive science is completely valid. You can nitpick about terminology, about the terms "observational" and "historical" and all the rest of it, just as you can about the terms "prove" and "evidence," but there is a legitimate argument here that is being evaded by all this abstract nitpicking.

In all the dithering about the meaning of "prove" the argument itself got lost so let me try to restate it. The main argument I've made along these lines is that both Old Earth Geology and Evolutionist Biology make assertions about what they believe occurred in the distant past that they couldn't possibly PROVE, by which I mean all they have is their conjectures and hypotheses which they have no way of confirming, although they treat their conjectures about these things as if they were solidly proven facts. I've given the explanation for this in terms of the lack of "witnesses" to that past, which I say are necessary to confirming such conjectures and are always present in the tests of the "hard" or laboratory sciences. The structure of DNA for instance has been "proved" in a way you could never prove the scenarios concocted about the distant past that are palmed off on the public as fact.

And I'm using the term "scenarios" here because I think that's where the problem lies. We can reconstruct a Stegosaurus from its bones, but when you go on to describe the supposed habitat of that animal, based on the other contents of the rock in which its bones were found, you are giving your hypothesis about those things. If you go on from there to talk about it as if it were known fact you are asserting theory as fact though it can't be verified; in a word you are committing fraud.

I did make a list of the kind of thing that is presented about the past that is often asserted dogmatically that is nothing but this sort of unverifiable or unprovable conjecture.

Looking for other kinds of examples of unprovables described in dogmatic terms I found the Wikipedia article on Stegosaurus where such unknowable/unprovables are asserted, such as when the creature lived:
They lived during the Late Jurassic period (Kimmeridgian to early Tithonian), some 155 to 150 million year s ago...
This is interpreted simply from the fact that it is found in a particular layer of sedimentary rock. That is the entirety of the evidence for the scenario. This rock with its contents becomes a time period because that's what the theory says it is.

The usual scenario based on fossil contents of the same strata is discussed in the section on Paleoecology:
The Morrison Formation is interpreted as a semiarid environment with distinct wet and dry seasons, and flat floodplains. Vegetation varied from river-lining forests of conifers, tree ferns, and ferns (gallery forests), to fern savannas with occasional trees such as the Araucaria-like conifer Brachyphyllum.The flora of the period has been revealed by fossils of green algae, fungi, mosses, horsetails, ferns, cycads, ginkgoes, and several families of conifers. Animal fossils discovered include bivalves, snails, ray-finned fishes, frogs, salamanders, turtles, sphenodonts, lizards, terrestrial and aquatic crocodylomorphans, several species of pterosaur, numerous dinosaur species, and early mammals such as docodonts, multituberculates, symmetrodonts, and triconodonts.[54]

Dinosaurs that lived alongside Stegosaurus included theropods Allosaurus, Saurophaganax, Torvosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Marshosaurus, Stokesosaurus and Ornitholestes. Sauropods dominated the region, and included Brachiosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Camarasaurus, and Barosaurus. Other ornithischians included Camptosaurus, Gargoyleosaurus,Dryosaurus, and Othnielosaurus.[55] Stegosaurus is commonly found at the same sites as Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, and Diplodocus.[56]
The Morrison Formation is a layer of rock. Here it is called an "environment." This is of course because the theory says each of the layers represents a time period. The whole rock "formation" represents a time period, its very own time period. The formations above and below represent different time periods. Slabs of rock interpreted as time periods. Time periods start and stop where the rock ends and another kind of rock begins.

Whatever has been found within that layer along with the bones of the Stegosaurus, goes to make up the interpretation of its "environment," the climate and the kind of vegetation that grew in that "time period."

I am of course emphasizing the rock=time period equation because it is so absurd, but that is a different subject here. I do have to admit that they are less assertive these days in such descriptions. The assertiveness will still be found on signs posted at various natural wonders, however, that inform you that such and such a marvelous phenomenon is so many millions of years old etc.

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I will probably come back and expand on this post.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Finishing up the "Proof" and Untestable Past discussion

Just a few brief answers to the latest posts on that thread at EvC about Observational vs. Interpretive Science, which I hope will be the last of it at my end:

Here's Percy in Message 499:
You say you're not using the word prove in any mathematical sense, but you're still using a definition that is tangled up with the concept of "truth" or "correctness". I think the definition of prove that you're using goes something along these lines: To establish the truth of, as by evidence or argument. Do I have that right? If so then you can't really use that definition with science, because science doesn't establish anything with finality. Science is tentative. Truth, once established, doesn't change, but scientific conclusions, once established, can change.
No, it's a lot simpler than that.  All it really means to say you can't prove something is that you don't have the evidence you claim to have.   In this case, the evidence claimed for events in the distant past is all heavily biased, that is, it's bound to interpretations already determined by your theory. The contents of the rock strata are used as evidence for what past eras were like, what creatures lived then, what the climate was like, and so on, but the very idea that the contents of the strata define a time period is already an interpretation based on the theory that the strata represent time periods that succeed one another over hundreds of millions of years. But of course if all the strata represent is a layer of sediment filled with dead creatures deposited during the Flood event, all that is nothing but fairy tale. But I've already said this.

And again it seems important to point out that the very idea that a succession of slabs of rock could represent time periods on the planet is so absurd it takes a massive delusion to maintain the idea. Is time continuing to be represented by such layers? Layers that extend across whole continents? Which built up miles deep over those supposed hundreds of millions of years. But now, for some reason, NOW and only now, that process has stopped and the surface of the earth is not flat like those rocks as one might expect from the Old Earth theory that eras of time are represented in such rocks. For some reason NOW the surface is all mountainous and tectonically disturbed, only now, not during those hundreds of millions of years. Not just in the Grand Canyon but across entire continents. But that can be rationalized away too, at great cost to reason and sanity but who's noticing?

Rationalization is always possible with the unwitnessed past where mere conjecture passes for fact. Which is of course what is meant by the untestability of the unwitnessed past, but fear not, all you have to do is deny that too and assert that it's false. No need for that evidence you keep saying you have, which you can't produce because it doesn't exist.

There's no reason for me to try to answer the next few posts which are the usual accusations I've answered over and over again already. I'll just note that Dr. A in Message 504 is repeating the typical notion that criminal forensics is the scientific method used with the ancient past, but as I've anaswered many times before, it's not the same thing because it deals entirely within the historical past, effectively the present, where there are many witnesses in the sense I've been using the term, such as access to all kinds of documented information from previous events in the historical past. Whereas in the ancient, prehistoric or unwitnessed past there is no such information forthcoming from those time periods. No witnesses from the prehistoric past, but witnesses galore -- in the sense I've been using the term, which is conveniently forgotten -- in the historic past, which is as good as the Present.

And Percy again in Message 510:
Good points, though I do think I'll try to keep things more simple in the discussion with Faith where she's claiming we can't prove anything about the distant past. Hopefully she'll eventually come to understand that we're not trying to prove things about the ancient past, we're only trying to examine and analyze evidence from the ancient past to see what it can tell us. It turns out it can tell us quite a bit.
Except that it's all based on conjecture and interpretation as I keep trying to get across. And this reminds me of one more point I forgot to make above, which is that as I've pointed out below, and many times before at EvC as well, the science of the ancient past is frequently expressed in terms of dogmatic fact, far far from the tentativity you keep claiming for it.

And do note, please, that you continue to make assertions, recite the creeds of sciencedom as it were, rather than actually summoning any of the supposed evidence you claim is the important thing. That's all the quoted paragraph above is, a statement of what you believe science does, or wish science did, with the ancient past, without any proof that it does it.

Oh, just one more very brief comment, on dwise's post 512:
Actually, Faith's beliefs are not based on the Bible itself, but rather on her theology.
He's said this before and I have no idea where he gets his own convictions about the Bible and theology -- his entire post is nothing but assertions, apparently completely of his own invention -- but since I have no interest in continuing such debates there all I can say as usual is that he's wrong, and my beliefs are about as standard and traditional Protestant Reformed Bible-based as you can get.

As for the creationist arguments I make, I've never claimed the kind of certainty for them I claim for the Biblical revelation itself, since the Bible gives very scant information about the character of the original Creation and the physical effects of the Flood. Creationists try to stay within both the Biblical descriptions and the known scientific information, but I don't claim any more certainty for my own conjectures than that they seem inherently more plausible than what official science has to say about the ancient past.

But as usual we are just repeating ourselves and I hope this is my last.

UPDATE:

Do have to say a word in answer to RAZD's later post about the age of the earth. Yes, there is lots of evidence of a sort for an ancient earth, but as I've said before, that too is untestable evidence since it purports to reveal information about events in a completely opaque unwitnessed past. The methods themselves cannot be confirmed is the point, so what they seem to say remains hypothesis and not fact. As long as there is no other way to confirm a particular age estimate it remains theory or hypothesis. Also, other explanations for some of those numbers have been suggested, also unconfirmable explanations, but that's the way it usually is with the untestable past.

Meanwhile I'm not focused on the question of age as such, my arguments are all about the reasonableness of explanations for phenomena such as the strata and the fossils. Scenarios really, fictional stuff that's all too frequently treated as fact, BECAUSE there's no way to confirm or disconfirm it, without a shred of that highly touted tentativity so often imputed to science. The Old Earth explanations for these things remain absurd apart from the age of the earth.

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UPDATE 9/8


I don't think there's much point in continuing this discussion but I'll respond to this last one from Percy at least:

Percy responds to the above in Message 519:
I said "No, it's a lot simpler than that. All it really means to say you can't prove something is that you don't have the evidence you claim to have."
and Percy replies: "I think you must have meant to say something else, because this makes no sense. Of course we have the evidence we say we have, so I think you must have meant to say that the evidence we have doesn't lead to the conclusions we claim, especially since your subsequent discussion goes on as if you had said exactly that."
But of course, have it your way if you must but you know what I mean. It isn't evidence if it doesn't lead to the conclusions you claim for it.
[I said] The contents of the rock strata are used as evidence for what past eras were like, what creatures lived then, what the climate was like, and so on, but the very idea that the contents of the strata define a time period is already an interpretation based on the theory that the strata represent time periods that succeed one another over hundreds of millions of years.
[Percy]This is self-evidently false. Sedimentary layers will always contain evidence from where and when they formed. This is true of both flood geology and actual geology (e.g., a limestone layer could only have formed where and when there was calcium carbonate in the environment) and was established well before we knew how much time each layer actually represents.
Limestones do not normally build up as layers among layers, they had to have formed elsewhere and been transported and deposited as a layer. Water, of course, makes sedimentary layers;  this is demonstrated in deltas and along the coastal margins.

The content of a limestone layer shows that it had a marine origin but not that it formed where it is found. The Dover cliffs didn't form where they are either, but just as the entire British Isles are layered like so much of the rest of the planet, that chalk was layered there along with all the rest of them, it didn't form in place, as none of the layers did, which were all laid down one on top of another and then after they were all in place (which took hundreds of millions of years according to standard theory, but only a year or so on Flood theory) the whole stack was upended by tectonic force, as indicated on those diagrams I posted over there.  The order is obvious:   Layers laid down, one after another, horizontally, then tilted or twisted or otherwise deformed. That is the order of things just about wherever we look, and it supports the Flood explanation and NOT the Old Earth explanations.
But of course if all the strata represent is a layer of sediment filled with dead creatures deposited during the Flood event, all that is nothing but fairy tale.
The evidence doesn't support a single flood as responsible for all the sedimentary layers of the Earth for a number of reasons that you invariably ignore or dismiss, so I shan't waste my time listing them yet again, but will gladly do so upon any indication from you of a willingness to discuss them.
Discussed it to death at EvC. Your term "a single flood" as usual totally distorts the Flood arguments, trying to imply that it was like any old flood which of course has been argued down time and time again. Obviously there is no point in continuing the discussion.
[Me] And again it seems important to point out that the very idea that a succession of slabs of rock could represent time periods on the planet is so absurd it takes a massive delusion to maintain the idea. Is time continuing to be represented by such layers?
[Percy]You participated in an entire thread about this ([tid=17517]) and cannot pretend to be unaware of all the evidence that sedimentary layers are accumulating today just like they did in the past.
So it was said but it isn't true. They are "continuing" elsewhere, while the fact is that the strata that define the former time periods span entire continents but sediments are no longer accumulating on that scale in those same locations, which they should if there's anything to the idea that they represent the time periods of the Geologic Time Scale.
Rationalization is always possible with the unwitnessed past where mere conjecture passes for fact. Which is of course what is meant by the untestability of the unwitnessed past...
[Percy]   You have yet to offer any valid arguments for why prehistoric evidence is untestable. You continue on to repeat your argument that makes no sense:
I've made the case many times. Actually, it's intuitively obvious.
[Me]  I'll just note that Dr. A in Message 504 is repeating the typical notion that criminal forensics is the scientific method used with the ancient past, but as I've anaswered many times before, it's not the same thing because it deals entirely within the historical past, effectively the present, where there are many witnesses in the sense I've been using the term, such as access to all kinds of documented information from previous events in the historical past. Whereas in the ancient, prehistoric or unwitnessed past there is no such information forthcoming from those time periods. No witnesses from the prehistoric past, but witnesses galore -- in the sense I've been using the term, which is conveniently forgotten -- in the historic past, which is as good as the Present.
[Percy]   To make clear why this objection makes no sense just take the example of the Laetoli footprints. At a minimum they are evidence that something walked there in the distant past. You've never been able to explain how the absence of any human witnesses changes that.
They ARE witnesses in the sense I've used that term -- there are some, but they can't tell you anything about WHEN they occurred, just that they DID occur -- and they are evidence that something walked there in the past, as you say, such as, for instance, between waves or risings of the tide during the Flood, which I've explained many times, contrary to your assertion.
[Me]  And do note, please, that you continue to make assertions, recite the creeds of sciencedom as it were, rather than actually summoning any of the supposed evidence you claim is the important thing.
And Percy pointed to some other threads which he claims give lots of evidence and prove me wrong. I suppose he believes that.

I think I might try to assemble all the information I can find about the fossil contents of the various layers that are used for evidence of evolutionary progression, whereas all they really show is the accidental collection of living things along with sediments in the Flood waters. This can probably be shown pretty well but it would take quite a bit of work.

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9/11 UPDATE


Now I'm hearing that back at my blog I revert to my old ways which they think get cured or at least modified while I'm at EvC. It's true that when they keep insisting on a particular idea I accommodate at least to their language, but if there's more to it than that I'd have to go review those other threads which isn't on my schedule at the moment.

What comes to mind is the lengthy discussion about whether the Geologic Time Scale has come to an end as I was saying it obviously has, or the Geologic Column. They kept insisting that as long as sedimentary deposition is continuing anywhere that's the continuation of the Geologic Time Scale, even if the deposition is not on anywhere near the same geographic scale -- covering whole continents -- and not anywhere near the same locations -- now at the bottom of the sea or willy-nilly here and there and so on. So basically they've defined away my argument. Which of course is still convincing to me so I'll continue to state it from time to time.

They also argue that there is evidence of volcanic activity lower in the column than I'd seen before, and that may be the case, but the only actual evidence of that is a typed sheet that indicates "tuff" in two locations in the Grand Canyon, in the Muav formation, no photos, no other references. Still it may be true. Other evidence they supplied of volcanic activity during the laying down of the column occurs at the very top, indicating, on the Flood model, that it occurred in the last stages of the Flood. Someone produced a picture that at first looked like an actual layer of magma between layers but it turned out that the whole formation was volcanic so it wasn't a volcanic layer between sedimentary layers, which is the same situation with the evidence they produced from Ascension Island. And there is still the Cardenas layer at the base of the Grand Canyon which they insist is an actual layer and not a sill because of the way the edges interact with the sediment on either side. But I still have questions about that since a layer that formed at the surface and then hardened before the next sedimentary layer was laid down just wouldn't be straight and flat like that is. Lava is pretty lumpy stuff at the surface of the earth. But it's a question, not a definite opinion yet.

They also insist that just because faults don't penetrate through all the layers of a given geologic column / stack of strata, that is evidence that the layers were not already in place when the faults occurred, and I'm definitely skeptical of that. It's a lack of evidence, not positive evidence. And other cross sections are similarly subject to interpretation, so all that remains inconclusive.

Still looks to me like the strata are good evidence for the Flood.

Friday, August 29, 2014

That annoying complaint about the terms "prove" and "proof"

UPDATE 9/1 #2: So for the time being it's keeping on keeping on. Percy continues:
I'm sorry, Faith, but I was only trying to explain how you're using the word "prove" incorrectly.
You know what, Percy, I am not using it incorrectly. I'm using it the way it is used in ordinary English, and for conveying what I want to convey it is correct. Instead of insisting on your strict scientific definitions, which are only used to mystify and talk down to people, it's time you all bent a bit to ordinary English, which is what most of us speak. You all don't even agree with each other about terminology but you don't mind using it to put down creationists. In this case it is only serving to obscure the point I've made clearly enough.
As I said, scientists use the word "prove" all the time, but they don't mean it in any mathematical sense. Nothing in science is ever proven in any mathematical sense.
I have reached the point where "what scientists think" is becoming obnoxious. I am not using the concept of proof in any mathematical sense either so your remark is pure mystification. I am using it the way it is used in ordinary everyday English. I suspect that if you made an effort to break out of your Science shackles even you would know what I am talking about instead of having to circumvent it with your tiresome and irrelevant definitions.
Science is tentative.
I'm sure you can't imagine just how sick to death I am of this kind of recitation of the Science Creed, the usual abstraction we're all supposed to salute, while in reality it is not true. I've given examples of those horrific flat-out declarations one finds everywhere that such and such animal evolved from this that or the other in such and such a time frame, which is pure fiction being stated as if it were fact. No, when it comes to the ToE and the Old Earth there is nothing tentative about it, which is odd because of all scientific work these pieces of lore are the most tentative, the least confirmable, which is what this argument6 is all about. Some bits of flotsam found in a layer of rock is your evidence for all this stuff, which is all far better interpreted in terms of the Flood. You don't have the kind of evidence for these things you have for the hard sciences, yet you all keep denying this flat out.
When scientists use the word "prove" all they mean is that they can provide persuasive evidence.
Get real. Deal with the issues on the table instead of reciting your articles of faith. You do not have the kind of evidence you seem to think you have, what you have is what I just described, not hard evidence at all but stuff that is better interpreted by the Flood.

The issue on the table is that you can never have the kind of certainty about speculations about events in the past that you have about scientific questions you can test in the laboratory. This is really quite obvious and should be conceded.

But I see that now you are trying to grant my request by suggesting how I might rephrase my point. Thanks for that, but now I'm beyond caring.
Avoid the word "prove" altogether. I think it would work much better to say that interpretations of evidence are tentative, and that some interpretations are better supported by evidence than others.
First you need to concede that most of the time statements about events that supposedly occurred millions of years ago according to the Old Earth theory, and supposed evolutionary history of various creatures, are not presented tentatively but as fact, which of course the public swallows whole because golly gee, Scientists said it. And again, there is no evidence for any of it but the flotsam found in the strata. That's it. Concede that for starters.

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UPDATE 9/1: Percy has "answered" this post, and of course NOT by doing what I requested at the end of it, that is, by providing the terminology to make the point I'm making. In other words, I have a point I'm making with perfectly reasonable ordinary usage of the word "prove," and if it can be made in more accurate terminology, fine. But helping me make my point is not on Percy's agenda, obscuring it is the agenda. The M.O. at EvC is sophistry and semantics, and in this case the very refusal to read in context I say below is the problem. So much for that, and so much for EvC.

P.S. I'm coming to the conclusion that EvC with its science jargonizing and mystification has made itself utterly irrelevant not only to creationists but to ordinary nonscientists of all beliefs.

Oh and one more thing. The evidence you keep touting can only be interpreted, not proved. Creationists have a different interpretation (talking about the unwitnessed/prehistoric past here) and since you can't prove yours, so much for your evidence. And (answering Coyote in this case) this is what is meant when we say all you have is theory too. It's unprovable interpretation. This has been explained many times but you continue to recite the party line and claim your theory is more substantial than that. It gets tiresome repeating these simple obvious points.

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ORIGINAL POST:

And HBD in Message 457 touches on another common theme that is used against creationists, which is that we do often use the words "prove" and "proof" in our discussions, which is verboten according to strict scientific standards.
...in science we don't deal with proof, we deal with evidence.
But this is really just their refusal to read in context, how we are using the terms. There is really no way to discuss the difference between the conclusions that are possible from testable science versus from science that studies the prehistoric past, without pointing out that you CAN prove testable hypotheses in a sense that is simply not possible in the other case.

That is, you CAN "prove" that blood circulates in the body, that material objects always fall to the ground, that the DNA is a spiral double helix, in a sense that you can NEVER prove that the Great Unconformity was once the root of a mountain range, that the stegosaurus lived during a particular time period when the climate was thus and so and it shared the planet with thus and so range of other living things. THERE you only have hypotheticals.

Now, if anyone would like to rephrase the distinction I'm trying to make to *prove* that other terminology would serve the point better, have at it.

Selection always reduces genetic diversity

UPDATE 2, 8/30: I figured out what PaulK meant and I do have to admit that it's odd I didn't know what he meant right away. Of course he simply meant that it is conceded that selection reduces genetic diversity but that this is corrected by mutations. Yes the greater part of the arguments about this issue were about whether mutations could actually do this. I guess it's odd this isn't the first thing that came to mind and the only explanation I have is that I could never take that argument seriously.

It's purely hypothetical for one thing, whereas the reduction in genetic diversity brought about by a population formed from a reduced number of individuals, by selection or any other cause that isolates such a daughter population, isn't in question at all. In the end it's an empirical question that can only be answered by some kind of empirical test, such as the laboratory test I've often suggested.

I've made a number of objections to the idea that mutations could make a difference, one being that if they did they would only interfere with the phenotype formed by the selection or isolating processes, another being that useful mutations don't occur frequently enough to make a difference anyway. And so on. The idea that mutations do anything useful, that mutations are the cause of all the functioning alleles in all species for instance, is pure theory, and utterly ridiculous theory too, because it's impossible.

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UPDATE 1, 8/30: Occurred to me that maybe PaulK was saying I was wrong to say that they fail to take the loss of genetic diversity into account. If so he'd have to show where anyone did take it into account as all I recall is endless arguments about this. If one or two did concede the point it must have been after all that argument AND I'd guess it was a highly compromised concession. But since he doesn't explain what he meant, who knows?

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ORIGINAL POST:

And since I've been accused of lying, I'll just take a moment to answer this one too, Paul K in Message 452 :
[I said} (Over and over they fail to take into account that you lose genetic potentials or information with every selection event, which is OBVIOUS, PEOPLE!)
[And PK answered] No Faith you know perfectly well that that's not the case. But that's typical creationist behaviour, Unable to support their argument they just grossly misrepresent the opposition.
Well, farther up thread Moose gave an example of natural selection in which the catching of large fish in fishermen's nets eventually led to the population of fish being characterized by smaller fish. At the time I noticed that he didn't take into account that of course the genetic diversity was reduced, meaning now there are fewer genetic possibilities of larger fish being produced in the population. Perhaps it hasn't been reduced to NO possibility, as whatever combination of genetic material is necessary for the larger version may still be possible in the population and could even be selected under future conditions. But the point remains that the current selection event of removing the larger fish has also removed or severely reduced the genetic basis for the larger size fish from the population as a whole. This HAS to happen.

Paul K loves to accuse me of knowing something I'm denying but as usual I have no idea what he thinks I'm denying.  There have been many attempts to answer this claim but I haven't found any of them convincing.  The answer usually given to my argument that genetic diversity has to be reduced by selection is that it is not actually observed. But the only actual example anyone gave for that was the rapid spread of a small number of rabbits introduced into Australia, whose genetic diversity is supposed to have increased along with their numbers. By observation. But this cannot happen. If you start with a small number of individuals you are starting with a gene pool that is severely reduced in diversity. And by the end of that discussion somebody had even raised a doubt that the actual facts about the original small population were true at all.

There is no way that you are going to increase the genetic diversity of a population that starts out with severely reduced genetic diversity which is always the case when you start with a small number of individuals. The cheetah and the elephant seal are cases in point. Both have apparently thrived in spite of their depleted genetic diversity but nothing has occurred to increase that diversity. By all known genetic standards it cannot happen. The usual idea is that mutation is the way new genetic material arises, but everyone concedes that beneficial mutations are extremely rare. The cheetah could wait a very long time to get a mutation tnat would improve its severely depleted genetic diversity.

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And to Percy:  When I use the word Plausibilities I'm talking about the plausibility of a theory or hypothesis or interpretation.  Perhaps Probability should be left out of it as it relates to another subject.

What I mean by the Unwitnessed Past

Oh well, so I'm giving in and answering one of them. Too hard to resist. Maybe I'll get smart later. So here's Taq in Message 459:
A general observation I have made is that creationists misrepresent how the scientific method works, either purposefully or unknowingly. One of the big hangups they seem to have is the relationship between hypothesis, observation, and repeatability

For those of us familiar with the scientific method, we know that repeatability refers to the data/observations. For people like Faith, they think repeatability refers to the hypothesis. They think that in order for a hypothesis to be scientific you need to be able to observe the hypothesis in action multiple times.

Of course, you don't observe the hypothesis. You test the hypothesis. Nowhere in the scientific method is there an expiration date on valid observations. A 100 million year old fossil is as valid a piece of evidence as a 1 hour old ELISA plate. Both are repeatable observations, and both can be used to test hypotheses.
This is the usual abstract statement that sounds like it means something in answer to what I've said but it only succeeds in garbling the issues further. I can't imagine that I ever said anything to suggest I make the mistakes he's imputing to creationists. But again, the statement is so abstract it's hard to know what he's saying or if it applies to anything I said or anyone said or in fact anything that is done in science by anybody.

What I'm trying to say about the unwitnessed or prehistoric past is that there is no witness IN the past to confirm the interpretation/hypothesis of the observations made in the present about a phenomenon that occurred in the past.   No historical documents, no landmark with ancient writing, nothing. With material in the present, a repeatable experiment in physics or chemistry perhaps, or clues to a crime committed within historical time even, there is no such problem. You have multiple witnesses to the events being studied. This is also true in the case of ancient bones of an unknown animal, which Dr. A kept insisting falsifies my claims, but it doesn't if all you are doing is reconstructing this creature from its bones because you have enough actual material for that job and anyone who understands principles of anatomy could do it. The problems with the prehistoric past that I'm trying to keep in view enter when you speculate about events in time: nwhen it lived, what other creatures occupied the planet at the same time, what the weather was like at that time and so on.

So the problems have to do with TIME and with EVENTS in the past, and all that can only be speculative. Events in the past are not repeatable in the present. All you have with respect to EVENTS in the prehistoric past is speculations and interpretations from the point of view of witnesses in the present. In the case of reconstructing time periods in the distant past from the rock layers, first you have the assumption that the layer represents a particular time period, and that's the first thing you can't confirm, that has to remain a speculation or hypothesis.

Then once you've accepted this unconfirmable hypothesis you go on to compound the problem of unconfirmability / untestability by assuming the contents of the rock can reveal the planetary environment of the supposed time period in which the bones supposedly originated. You assume that whatever other fossils are found in that same rock can tell you what other creatures lived during that time period, and plant fossils in particular suggest what sort of climate prevailed, and so on. All based on the unconfirmable assumption that the rock represents a time period, and apparently a worldwide time period at that.

All this was assumed even before radiometric dating came along to confirm the supposed ages of the rocks, in some cases setting them back even further in time. And here's a point I also keep trying to make. These dating methods also can't be confirmed from the past itself because there is no "witness" from that past to confirm their conclusions. The order of the fossils LOOKS convincing, and so does the apparent order derived from radiometric dating, but none of it can be confirmed for sure. It remains speculative. All the more so since the sedimentary rocks themselves can't be dated but only volcanic material that occurs in proximity to them. AND that the results obtained are not as consistent as they often like to claim either.

I'd like to think this clears up a misconception but I know from experience that it isn't going to happen.

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UPDATE: And of course I was right. And all I'm going to say here on the subject is that I thought I did answer the weird complaint that I'd somehow forgotten that nobody witnessed the formation of the Grand Canyon either. But in any case so what? I didn't say you can't do science on the unwitnessed past, all I said was that you can't be sure of your results with one-time unwitnessed past events the way you can with replicable testable phenomena and that all you have in such a case is interpretations and hypotheses, more or less plausibility thereof.

Oh, and I also never said that you can't know SOME things about the past.  Dinosaur footprints are like Stegosaurus bones, you can show that they are indeed dinosaur footprints.  But that in itself isn't what you want to know, which is how and when they got there, and for that all you have is hypotheses.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Historical and Interpretive Science Garbled at EvC as usual

UPDATE. A gaggle of EvCers has "answered" this. Wow, speaking of galloping misconceptions. Full-blown Wonderland. All I did was try to correct some strange ways they were misconstruing what I'd said, straightforward enough stuff they could just have conceded, I would have thought, but off they go with another whole raft of accusations. I didn't get to any of the meatier issues in this post, and the earlier post wasn't finished anyway, but that doesn't stop them from accusing me of avoiding them.

I'm SO glad I'm not posting there any more and I think since they are answering me at a distance the best policy would be just to let this blog cool off for a while before I post here again, since the whole point of leaving was to stop the abuse. Unbelievable.

Amazing, unbelievable, funny-sad. They're even accusing me of not having the guts to continue posting over there, after I posted there this last time for well over two years. Of course they continue misrepresenting my position (Taq does a bang-up job of that), but trying to answer all that again would just prolong the nonsense that is the reason I left._

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Original Post.

So over at EvC they are supposedly answering my post below, which tempts me to go there and try to straighten out their usual strange misconceptions. But I know from experience that will only multiply the misconceptions and get us deep into Alice's rabbit hole in short order.

Some idea that I'm saying you can't do science inductively? But I'm not. That conclusions arrived at inductively can be dismissed out of hand? But I'm saying no such thing. I'm going by what everyone agrees with about inductive reasoning, including Wikipedia from which I quoted, that it can't lead to certainty but is good for hypothesis formation. Of course you do science inductively when that's all that's possible, which is the case with sciences that are trying to reconstruct the prehistoric, or as I like to refer to it, unwitnessed, past. The point is only that it can't lead to the more solid conclusions you get with the hard sciences, which have the benefit of multiple witnesses, and you end up with interpretations that can't be tested, leaving the conclusion far more open to alternative probabilities and plausibilities than ever happens with the testable sciences.

Also some idea I'm saying inductive reasoning isn't a part of all sciences? Where did I say that? We're talking about testing major theory here, or at least I am. For the Theory of Evolution you have a web of interpretations, for the Old Earth, including radiometric dating, you also have a web of interpretations, a network of Plausibilities.* If that's all you've got that's all you've got. I'm not saying it's not science, I'm saying that it's so far from conclusive that it's open to question at every point.

Also some idea that I exempt creationist attempts to understand the past, argue that creationists can test the past but old earthers can't? But I don't. That I think there's more certainty in the Flood explanation for the phenomena that Old Earthers explain in terms of long ages is true, of course, but not because our methods are different. In fact I thought I'd said it quite frequently over there that when it comes to trying to explain the unwitnessed past we're all in the same boat: it's a contest of plausibilities. I think theirs are ridiculous, and the Flood nicely explains what they need complicated Rube-Goldberg style risings and fallings of land and sea to explain, but it isn't because there's anything intrinsically more reliable about the methods available to creationists. It's just that since it's all a web of interpretations of the evidence and nothing can be definitively proved, my argument is that the creationist interpretations are more plausible.

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*Web of interpretations, network of plausibilities

The whole point of this line of argument is to make the case that these theories about the past which are often treated as if they were established Fact, simply aren't and should never be spoken of in such definite terms, which only serves to mystify and deceive the public.

Me, I laugh when I read the typical presentation of information about some natural phenomenon, when such and such a creature evolved for instance, or encounter one of those helpful signs at some natural wonder that tells me in such certain terms that it was formed such and such millions of years ago. But people who don't have a clue about this debate just swallow it whole.

They don't know that the Theory of Evolution is nothing but a heap of speculations treated as Fact, about what the fossils mean particularly, but also based on the unwarranted assumption that the variation we see within Species can continue indefinitely from Species to Species. (Over and over they fail to take into account that you lose genetic potentials or information with every selection event, which is OBVIOUS, PEOPLE!) And the Old Earth rests on such things as an interpretation of how angular unconformities form -- it can only be interpretation or speculation, plausible perhaps but far far from certain, because nobody has ever seen one form -- and leads to bizarre ideas about what life forms lived on this planet in some supposed era in the distant past, from its supposed animal and plant life to its supposed climate, all concocted/interpreted from a slab of rock and the dead things contained in it. Even that the absence of some fossils that had been present in the previous layer of rock means that there was a great extinction event between those eras, when really, folks, if all those slabs of rock are nothing but the sedimentary layering brought about by the Flood, all they are doing is making up a Fairy Tale. The Emperor's New Clothes. But boy do they defend it as if it WERE actually proved.

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Later: Feel I must add that there are specific isolated issues that can be proven, such as, for instance, that you can tell from a given cross section that all the strata were laid down before tectonic or other disturbance occurred.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Historical and interpretive science versus observational testable science

The question of the difference between a historical and interpretive science and an observational or testable science has been run through the EvC standard variety of misinterpretations -- I hope all possible misinterpretations, meaning I hope they've run out of them.  As often happens with subjects that matter to me, I thought the distinction was pretty clear from the beginning but soon found out how many different ways there are to misconstrue my meaning. 

I thought for instance that because the concepts were described in a paper published in a Geological publication as a critical view of Geology held by members of the scientific community, though the author disagreed with them, that should suffice to pin down what I had in mind.  Nope.

Then along comes a working Geologist who is all put out at me for calling his science interpretive although that's the term used by other people too, even those who oppose me, and when he described what he actually does to find oil  I had concluded that was a good example of real observational science and not interpretive science, because everything he described had to do with the physical position of the rocks and nothing to do with Old Earth assumptions.  I guess he didn't believe me?

Then I was informed that Historical Geology simply IS Geology, ALL Geology, so that my making a distinction between theoretical or Old Earth Geology as historical and interpretive science, on the one hand, and on the other practical working Geology that is done in the field, which I was calling Observational Science, is unacceptable. 

Somebody else then makes the pedantic point that all science is both observational and interpretive in some sense, without bothering to inquire how I was using the terms or taking seriously anything I'd said to try to define them.  He also argues that my classification of the discovery of the DNA double helix structure as observational science isn't correct because that scientific discovery requires interpretation, since the evidence is the x-ray diffraction pattern, a photograph not being possible. OF COURSE you have to be able to interpret the x-ray diffraction pattern, but my point is that what you are studying is IN THE PRESENT, bazillions of examples of it, and anybody who can learn to interpret that pattern is a WITNESS to it and having so many witnesses is what makes the discovery testable and provable.  But I'll get to the witness idea farther down.

Then he totally misinterpreted my interest in the paper about Geology as an interpretive and historical science as if I didn't know the paper was arguing against the denigration of Geology for that reason.   Even if such a misunderstanding is inadvertent it's a wearing experience to have to deal with it along with all the other misunderstandings.

Then another poster at least made an attempt to correct that misunderstanding but added one of his own in the process:
Faith's point was that the paper acknowledged that other people held biology in lower regard as a science. Of course she took the point as being supportive of her efforts to dismiss all geology that is not Genesis friendly.
Oh I guess you could put it that way, but of course it implies that I just made it up. I'd been trying for a long time already to get across my own view of Old Earthism as interpretive and therefore unprovable.  It was fascinating then to find that there are noncreationists who also see Geology that way.

But he goes on to make an interesting point nevertheless:
Today's sciences rely on a tremendous amount of inductive reasoning, a skill that geology has perfected Inductive reasoning is because such reasoning is the only available strategy. We have to live with both the strength and weaknesses of such reasoning, the primary weakness being that nothing generalization is ever proven and no conclusion is inescapable.
I don't know to what extent inductive reasoning may describe the phenomena I had been imputing to historical and interpretive science but perhaps at least to some extent.  The Wikipedia discussion says two things I'd been saying about Old Earthism for quite some time.  First, that this debate is about a war of Plausibilities.  They make the point that inductive reasoning doesn't lead to a certain conclusion as deductive reasoning is supposed to, but is considered to be probable.  Probabilities would work where I say plausibilities, but it also goes on to use the term "credible" which is even closer:  
Inductive reasoning, as opposed to deductive reasoning, is reasoning in which the premises seek to supply strong evidence for (not absolute proof of) the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is supposed to be certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument is supposed to be probable, based upon the evidence given.

...Inductive reasoning is inherently uncertain. It only deals in degrees to which, given the premises, the conclusion is credible according to some theory of evidence.
And the other point I've tried to make is that you can't ever get past theory or hypothesis with the sciences of the prehistoric past, and the Wikipedia article says essentially the same thing about inductive reasoning:
Inductive reasoning is also known as hypothesis construction because any conclusions made are based on current knowledge and predictions. As with deductive arguments, biases can distort the proper application of inductive argument, thereby preventing the reasoner from forming the most logical conclusion based on the clues.
I'm not going to argue that the article is making the exact same point I'm making, but the similarity of terminology certainly suggests a general affinity.

I've been arguing for ages that Old Earthism -- AND the Theory of Evolution --  can never be proved because they are about the untestable past.  The best they can ever offer is hypothesis or theory, never certainty the way the "hard" sciences can.

To be continued.