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 Post subject: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:25 pm 
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Given that this was tangential to the other thread, I thought it might be worth giving it its own airing:

Here is my claim.

A) The practice of science in its purest form does not necessarily have direct religious implications.

However

B) There is a "belief system" --with a significant number of followers --separable from science but inspired by it and often confused with it, that has many similarities to religious belief systems.

I would differentiate between the two as follows.

Science is a set of practices designed to build a stable, progressive, well-defined, internally consistent body of knowledge. Towards that end, some of the following principles are followed:

1. No theory is ever considered completely secure, every theory is subject to being revised in the face of new evidence. (This is towards the end of being progressive).
2. No theory is considered within the sphere of science unless it is testable and has predictive value. (This is towards the end of being well-defined).
3. No observation can be used in support of a theory unless it is empirical and replicable. (This is towards the end of being stable and internally consistent).

I'm a big fan of science as a practice, and I think its benefits are clear. However, here are the tenets of the belief system also called "science":

Code:
1. Every valid truth is empirically testable  (this is provably self-inconsistent).
2. Every real phenomenon is replicable (how exactly would you demonstrate this?).
3. Science produces incontrovertible facts (this goes against one of the basic principles of the practice of science).


If you are committed to confining your beliefs to what can be certified only by the practice of science, you are foregoing a certain level of surety about the world. If you want that sense of surety and you think you can find it in science, then at least be honest about it --you are "putting your faith" in science.


Last edited by kitoba on Fri Feb 22, 2013 10:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:31 pm 
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Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer responds:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badas ... SgbiKU4vXc

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Feb 22, 2013 9:46 pm 
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That's not a response to my argument, it's a response to an argument that superficially resembles mine.

That article defends the practice of science against the charge that it is a faith. If you read it carefully, its description of the practice of science roughly matches mine.

It does not defend the "scientific" belief system I described above, which is better described as "science themed" than science based.

In my view, there are two actual ways to defeat my claim. You can either make the argument that no one (of any importance) actually believes in the manner I described --then it will be on me to cite meaningful counterexamples --or you can demonstrate that those principles are actually legitimate extensions of the practice of science by overcoming my objections.

As an aid to that process, here are some additional articles of faith not endorsed by actual science:

Code:
4. There are no meaningful questions about the world that can't be decided by science (obviously untrue if referencing the state of current science, and impossible to determine when talking about the entire scope of potential science).
5. If it hasn't been established by science, it can't be true (there are plenty of things that science isn't in a position to determine yet).
6. If it contradicts the scientific consensus, it must be false (this is a tempting one, but that word "must" takes it in to the realm of faith --and violates the principles underlying science's ability to progress).


Look at it this way --if I'm wrong, shouldn't it be easy to refute me on a point by point basis?

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 8:46 am 
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kitoba wrote:
If you are committed to confining your beliefs to what can be certified only by the practice of science, you are foregoing a certain level of surety about the world.
I have a problem with the phrase "committed to confining your beliefs" If I do not believe something how am I able to change that lack of belief without some external evidence to the contrary? Did you believe in Santa when you were young? Have you since learned that that was a lie? How would you, without external influence, believe in Santa again?

To address the perceived meaning of the question though I would have thought
Bad Astronomer wrote:
The scientific method makes one assumption, and one assumption only: the Universe obeys a set of rules. That’s it. There is one corollary, and that is that if the Universe follows these rules, then those rules can be deduced by observing the way Universe behaves. This follows naturally; if it obeys the rules, then the rules must be revealed by that behavior.
that this is the level of surety we have. Why would we need more?

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 12:16 pm 
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Let's stay away from the "perceived meaning of the question" for the moment --I'm actually trying to make a fairly narrow point here. Take a look at the six principles I outlined. Do you (meaning anyone reading this) personally endorse any of them? If so, can you overcome my objections to it? If not, we may not actually be in meaningful disagreement on this topic.

Any further point I might make is dependent on the assumption that at least some of the people I've argued against (in this and the previous thread) are in tacit agreement with at least some of those questionable principles. If that isn't true, I don't have much more to say on the topic.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 4:40 pm 
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Code:
1. Every valid truth is empirically testable  (this is provably self-inconsistent).
2. Every real phenomenon is replicable (how exactly would you demonstrate this?).
3. Science produces incontrovertible facts (this goes against one of the basic principles of the practice of science).


All three of these are blatantly false. I don't know of any scientists who would maintain them.

Code:
4. There are no meaningful questions about the world that can't be decided by science (obviously untrue if referencing the state of current science, and impossible to determine when talking about the entire scope of potential science).
5. If it hasn't been established by science, it can't be true (there are plenty of things that science isn't in a position to determine yet).
6. If it contradicts the scientific consensus, it must be false (this is a tempting one, but that word "must" takes it in to the realm of faith --and violates the principles underlying science's ability to progress).


These too.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 5:57 pm 
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1) needs clarification for me. What makes a truth valid? From an engeneering perspective (using engeneering in a very wide definition) truths are as valuable, as what application you can use them (building things, influencing people ect.) But using it for applications, at least to a degree it means empirically testing it. So if it can't be tested, it also can't be applied and thus it has no value for engeneering

I am the opinion, that the engeneering perspective (how are we shaping the world) is the most important perspective and everything else comes second.

I just have the suspicion, that you mean something else by your principle.

I can also agree to 4) in the variant with the entire scope of potential science. It also needs the disclaimer, that it is potential science, that is not restricted by resource bottlenecks such as the capacity of human brains and human built tools. So it might be, that there are resource constraints in our universe, that make it effectivly impossible to ever practically develop that level of science. But given the state of current science, that is for the forseeable future an entirely academic question. Propably it also needs further disclaimers, what exatly is the world. (like if there is actually an afterlife, i would consider it a part of the world, that i just don't know anything about at the moment.)

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 8:12 pm 
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1. Every valid truth is empirically testable (this is provably self-inconsistent).

For a given value of valid; yes, though we may currently lack the means to test it or the understanding to comprehend the results.

2. Every real phenomenon is replicable (how exactly would you demonstrate this?).

Every 'real' phenomenon is conceivably replicable though we may currently lack the means or understanding or it may be immoral to do so

3. Science produces incontrovertible facts (this goes against one of the basic principles of the practice of science).

Science produces potentially controvertible facts.

4. There are no meaningful questions about the world that can't be decided by science (obviously untrue if referencing the state of current science, and impossible to determine when talking about the entire scope of potential science).

There are no meaningful questions about our universe which shouldn't be able to be answered by potential science. For a given value of 'meaningful' 'questions' 'universe' 'potential' and quite possibly 'to'

5. If it hasn't been established by science, it can't be true (there are plenty of things that science isn't in a position to determine yet).

If it has been established by science to most likely be true. It is most likely true. If it has been established by science to most likely not be true. It is most likely not true.

6. If it contradicts the scientific consensus, it must be false (this is a tempting one, but that word "must" takes it in to the realm of faith --and violates the principles underlying science's ability to progress).

If it contradicts the scientific consensus and has results which stand up to repeated testing. Questions must be asked.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:31 am 
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Steave wrote:
If it contradicts the scientific consensus and has results which stand up to repeated testing. Questions must be asked.

And, careers will be made, fame will be had. This is what drives scientific knowledge forward, this is what every researcher dreams to find. What kind of dogma requires that attempts be constantly made to contradict it?

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 5:53 am 
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I propably sometimes display an attitude that can come off like 6 sometimes.

The current scientific consensus is our best objective bet, what is true. I also recognize that there are sometimes situations, where it is a good strategy, to use something else as working assumption.*

So if you defend your "unscientific" position by basically saying "Sure it's more likely that this does not happen, but i am hedging my bets", fine.
If you basically say "I can't objectivly explain why, but i feel lucky betting on that to be true", fine as well.
If you work on a better scientific model and try to convince the scientists working in that field, great.

But if you try to convince the general public, that you have some special insight, and they should trust you, rather then the experts, you sound like a snake oil salesman. And while it is technically correct, that it is unscientific to dismiss a snake oil claim, just on account of the credentials of the salesman, snake oil salesman have the annoying tendency, to quote any concession you make out of context in der advertisments, so if someone rubs off as snake oil salesman, i tend to disagree in broad unsubtle strokes, avoiding disclaimers, that the snake oil salesman can hook in and twist around.

* Like current consensus is, that this riverside property is save from flooding. But the other property farer away is only marginally worse in price and quality so it's better to buy that.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:35 am 
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OK, I think I've demonstrated what I had hoped. On the one hand I have drache on record as declaring all six points "blatantly false." (I actually wouldn't go that far myself, what they are is scientifically undecidable --that is to say, science is provably incapable of determining an absolute truth value for any of them.) On the other hand, I have a host of people willing to admit to a desire to defend one or more of the points in some form.

So for instance, Steave, it seems that you believe 1 and 2 and potentially 4. That's fine, as long as you realize that your belief in those points isn't actually certified by science --they are beliefs ABOUT science, not scientific beliefs.

(Re: Point 1 - This was the founding principle of an influential group called the "Logical Positivists", but it was demonstrated to be logically self defeating, since the statement itself is presented as a valid truth, yet is not itself empirically testable).

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:08 am 
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The reason they're blatantly false is because they're very very strong claims. You can easily construct counterexamples if you try. If you interpret them as even slightly weaker claims than their denotational meanings, they are no longer blatantly false (except 5. That's just wrong)

I'd go a little further than Steave's caveats, but I think he basically covered the stepping-back that you'd need to do.


Last edited by drachefly on Mon Feb 25, 2013 2:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:42 pm 
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To elaborate on what arcosh said, science is all about the qualifiers.

1. Weakest claim: We don't know anything! Your guess is as good as mine.
2. Weak claim: This is our best objective guess at this time, but we may be proven wrong.
3. Stronger claim: This is our best objective guess at this time, but given that our hypothesis has been confirmed multiple times by independent observers from several different angles, we think it is extremely unlikely that we are wrong. Any better explanation has got to be able to explain everything we already can, plus the things that we currently can't.
4. Strongest claim: This is the absolute truth.

Science doesn't deal in 4.
3 is a well-accepted scientific theory. That's what scientists mean when they say something's been "proven".
2 is a pretty good working hypothesis in the process of being tested.
1 is self-admitted ignorance.

What pisses scientists off is when people hear claim number 3, and interpret it to mean claim number 1.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 1:17 pm 
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That's my whole point. Careful scientists don't deal in absolutes, and if they make absolute sounding statements, they are mentally adding the proper caveats. But there are a lot of people who use scientific language and concepts who either aren't scientists or aren't careful, and they may not always be mentally adding all the proper disclaimers.

In a conversation like this one where we can assume that a non-zero number of participants are not scientists, I think it's entirely fair to ask people to explicitly acknowledge their caveats when making a statement like "x is true" or "x is a fact." If what they mean by that is not "it is impossible for x to be false" then that does need to be made clear.

Furthermore, I'm not yet everyone who has participated in this or the previous discussion actually is mentally adding those disclaimers. That's why I've asked people to state whether they are or are not.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:19 pm 
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kitoba wrote:
That's not a response to my argument, it's a response to an argument that superficially resembles mine.
In my view, there are two actual ways to defeat my claim. You can either make the argument that no one (of any importance) actually believes in the manner I described --then it will be on me to cite meaningful counterexamples


No, you do NOT get to assign burden of proof here. It's on you. In order to advance your argument, you must provide a sold list of scientists who agree with your position.

Quote:
or you can demonstrate that those principles are actually legitimate extensions of the practice of science by overcoming my objections.


Again, you don't get burden of proof here. You need to demonstrate that these points are taken as points of faith by scientists, rather than empirical starting points or the result of inductive logic.

One of the difficulties in discussing this is that you confuse truth with fact. As Professor Jones once remarked, "Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall."

So let's take a look here:
Code:
1. Every valid truth is empirically testable  (this is provably self-inconsistent).


Science is concerned with facts and theory. Facts are facts. They are not testable, they are the results of observations. All observations have a built-in margin of error determined by the imprecision of our instrumentation.

Theories are ideas linking a series of observations together, providing a model of how nature works. For a theory to be successful, it must conform to those known facts within the margin of error for known facts.

What you have stated here is a distortion of science.

Code:
2. Every real phenomenon is replicable (how exactly would you demonstrate this?).

Hardly. A volcano erupting is not repeatable. From a set of volcanoes erupting, we can extract a mechanism, build a model and draw conclusions about volcanic eruptions and check them against subsequent eruptions. But once Mt. St. Hellens blew its top and blasted a few cubic miles of stone into the atmosphere, we couldn't back up and do it again.

No process ever happens the exact same way twice. We know that. Hell, it's at the heart of quantum dynamics. Fortunately, nature likes to do similar things over and over and we have some pretty nifty statistical tools to handle that sort of thing.

What you have stated here is a distortion of science.

Code:
3. Science produces incontrovertible facts (this goes against one of the basic principles of the practice of science).


Science produces observations with margins of error. These errors are systematically tracked, carried through calculations and present in every statement science makes. Conclusions based on these facts include the uncertainty in the observations as brought forward through the calculations. Observations are presented, in anything but popular literature, with the margins of error present, along with information about the sources and nature of the uncertainty.

For example, currently, the age of the Universe is 13.772 ± 0.059 billion years (wiki). You'll note that the value is not precise, but has an error attached to it of fifty nine million years. That is, the age of the Universe could easily be 13.831 billion years, or even older (though this is unlikely). This is not an observation, but a calculation based on a number of constraints. The details are in the cited wiki, but I'll give an example. The age is constrained by the temperature of the Cosmic Background Radiation and our understanding of high temperature plasma physics, the age of the oldest stars and our understandings of stellar physics and nucleosynthesis, the Hubble expansion parameter and our understandings of Cephid variable stars and type IIa supernovae.

What you have stated here is a distortion of science.

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