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Is evolutionary chance impossible? 
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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Some References

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http://www.geoffrey-hodgson.info/user/b ... darwin.pdf
Generalizing Darwinism to Social Evolution: Some Early Attempts
Geoffrey M. Hodgson
Richard Dawkins coined the term universal Darwinism (1983). It suggests that the core Darwinian principles of variation, replication, and selection may apply not only to biological phenomena but also to other open and evolving systems, including human cultural or social evolution. Dawkins argued that if life existed elsewhere in the universe, it would follow the Darwinian rules of variation, inheritance, and selection.


Richard Dawkins wrote:
http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/dawkins0.htm
Assuming that there is other life in the universe (and I think most people think that there is), then my conjecture is that how ever alien and different it may be in detail (the creatures may be so different from us that we may hardly recognize them as living at all), if they have the property of organized complexity and apparent design -- adaptive complexity -- then I believe that something equivalent to Darwinian natural selection -- gradual evolution by Darwinian natural selection; that is, the non-random survival of randomly varying hereditary elements -- will turn out to be applied. All life in the universe, my guess is, will have evolved by some equivalent to Darwinism.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Robert Tulip wrote:
Seriously, knowledge has to be defined as certain. If it is not certain then it is not knowledge. We have abundant certain knowledge about history, science and mathematics. Any statement that has any uncertainty about it does not qualify as knowledge. That is what knowledge is.

We can do entirely without this notion of certainty when speaking of what we know--and in the interest of clarity, we should. If we say we're certain about some area of knowledge, what we mean is that we hold it in high repute. Either because we think we've had direct proof, or because we trust the work done by others, we find belief to be reliable and useful. This is the case with evolution by means of natural selection for most educated people; the theory's reputation is high, probably beyond reproach in its essence. For certain other segments, especially of the American public, natural selection is in very low repute and is seen as entirely unreliable because it takes the creator out of the action. The certainty is that the theory is wrong. All we can do, if we care to expend the effort, is to show the many ways the theory has proved its reliability as well as usefulness. We can leave certainty out. Certainty doesn't exist in nature and is a state of the mind similar to 'liking' or 'fearing.' It has undoubted utility in everyday life as a means of spurring us to action, and it has been key in our very survival as a species. But the neural signature of certainty often has nothing to do with whether a claim is correct. We can see that this happened many times in our own lives--our certainty becomes exposed as wrong--and in the many areas of knowledge that were once held to be reliable and now have been proven not to be. Surely it will happen that knowledge that we might be tempted to call certain will be overturned in the future. Science endorses this view.

You didn't use the word in this post, Robert, but I wanted to comment on the word 'mechanistic' regarding natural selection. We can do without that word as well, IMO. Just what does it mean, anyway? If we believe that NS happens without the direction of a designer, there still exists many more possible descriptions than 'mechanistic," and in fact though I don't believe in a designer, the word seems off to me. Further, it isn't the business of science to come up with such loaded terms to apply to a field of study, and I don't believe a responsible scientist, speaking as a scientist, would do that. That activity has more in common with theology than it does with science.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Quote:
Seriously, knowledge has to be defined as certain.


Certainty isn't a requirement for knowledge.

ant wrote:
Hume makes my point regarding first causation. We have no impression of causation. We are stuck with evolutionary explanations as limited to mechanistic processes and NOT what initiated them "in the beginning."


What's so big about abiogenesis? Let's say god created the first organism. The transition from that first single celled organism to homo sapiens is a much grander feat. Let's say this god made the first organisms with the intent of humans evolving; where the genius is in how the physics of the universe took that seed and transformed it over time into a human. If the evolution from single-celled organisms to human was left to the laws of physics, what makes you think god would be needed to create the first organism? Why not have the laws of physics do it all? Aren't the laws of physics his creations also? Just by creating the universe, he allowed for the potential for life to spontaneously generate, then evolve into sentience. Such a god is far more powerful than one to has to fuss over the details within his universe just to have what he wants.

Not to say I believe in such a being, but if I did, I wouldn't champion abiogenesis as his hiding spot. It's a silly proposition, even for a believer.


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Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:23 am
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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
DWill wrote:
with evolution by means of natural selection for most educated people; the theory's reputation is high, probably beyond reproach in its essence. For certain other segments, especially of the American public, natural selection is in very low repute and is seen as entirely unreliable because it takes the creator out of the action. The certainty is that the theory is wrong.
DWill, you are saying here that we should extend intellectual respect to creationists. I find that a very disturbing suggestion. Creationism is an obsolete framework, which is only sustained by its valuable social function as a basis of community ritual. Opinions that conflict with scientific evidence do not deserve respect.
Quote:
All we can do, if we care to expend the effort, is to show the many ways the theory has proved its reliability as well as usefulness. We can leave certainty out.
Once again, if you are not sure about evolution, how can you be sure of anything? Is evolution less certain than simple equations like 2+2=4? Where do you draw the line? Saying you are not sure if evolution is true or not leaves the political field wide open to the wacko creationists with their false convictions and desire to deceive the gullible public by saying 'look, the scientists are not even sure of their own views, why should anyone else believe them?'.

There is a moral responsibility here, to support truth and oppose falsehood. If you are not sure if evolution is true then you are unfamiliar with the massive weight of scientific evidence that leaves no room for any conflicting story.
Quote:
Certainty doesn't exist in nature and is a state of the mind similar to 'liking' or 'fearing.'
No, there is a difference between reason and emotion. Certainty, when correct, is an intellectual product of reason. Fearing is a product of emotion. Correct certainty is different from instinctive emotional responses because it relies on scientific methods for corroboration. There are standards which determine if claims to certainty are accurate. They do not include religious fanaticism, emotional commitment or baseless prejudice. We are certain about the structure of the solar system because of corroborated scientific evidence. We are not certain that things we like are better than things we don't like because this is a subjective matter of sentiment. There is a categorical distinction between statements of sentiment and statements of reason and evidence.
Quote:
It has undoubted utility in everyday life as a means of spurring us to action, and it has been key in our very survival as a species. But the neural signature of certainty often has nothing to do with whether a claim is correct. We can see that this happened many times in our own lives--our certainty becomes exposed as wrong--and in the many areas of knowledge that were once held to be reliable and now have been proven not to be. Surely it will happen that knowledge that we might be tempted to call certain will be overturned in the future. Science endorses this view.
There is a popular strand in the philosophy of science that endorses this nihilistic claim that we can know nothing with certainty. That does not mean this error is endorsed by "science". In fact, if you ask most scientists if they are certain of basic facts, they will say yes. It is only people who have been addled by bad philosophy who reject all certainty.

There is a difference between the popular sentiment of certainty and scientific knowledge. The emotional certainty that some people may feel that Whitney Houston was the best singer ever is completely irrelevant to whether we can be scientifically certain about basic facts in evolution. It is disrespectful to the amazing achievements of scientific knowledge to assert that core corroborated knowledge may be untrue when the probability of it being untrue is infinitesimal. In calculus, the inverse of infinity is zero.

One of the background issues here is climate change. It is one thing to be certain that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but another thing entirely to say that carbon taxes are a sufficient measure to prevent global warming. People have a responsibility to exercise intelligent judgment about what is certain and what is not. It is fallacious to say that because people have wrongly claimed to be certain that therefore all certainty is impossible.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
with evolution by means of natural selection for most educated people; the theory's reputation is high, probably beyond reproach in its essence. For certain other segments, especially of the American public, natural selection is in very low repute and is seen as entirely unreliable because it takes the creator out of the action. The certainty is that the theory is wrong.
DWill, you are saying here that we should extend intellectual respect to creationists. I find that a very disturbing suggestion. Creationism is an obsolete framework, which is only sustained by its valuable social function as a basis of community ritual. Opinions that conflict with scientific evidence do not deserve respect.

I can't imagine where you get that idea. You're mistaking my analysis for advocacy.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
all we can do, if we care to expend the effort, is to show the many ways the theory has proved its reliability as well as usefulness. We can leave certainty out.
Once again, if you are not sure about evolution, how can you be sure of anything? Is evolution less certain than simple equations like 2+2=4? Where do you draw the line? Saying you are not sure if evolution is true or not leaves the political field wide open to the wacko creationists with their false convictions and desire to deceive the gullible public by saying 'look, the scientists are not even sure of their own views, why should anyone else believe them?'.

Look, the field is wide open to the wacko creationists. It's a free country, as they say, and what good have statements about certainty from the other side ever done? Saying natural selection is right because it's certain is circular reasoning. The proposition stands or falls on its scientific merits, which are enormous. This knowledge provides all the impetus needed to stop creationists from imposing their agenda.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Dwill wrote:
Certainty doesn't exist in nature and is a state of the mind similar to 'liking' or 'fearing.'
No, there is a difference between reason and emotion. Certainty, when correct, is an intellectual product of reason. Fearing is a product of emotion. Correct certainty is different from instinctive emotional responses because it relies on scientific methods for corroboration. There are standards which determine if claims to certainty are accurate. They do not include religious fanaticism, emotional commitment or baseless prejudice. We are certain about the structure of the solar system because of corroborated scientific evidence. We are not certain that things we like are better than things we don't like because this is a subjective matter of sentiment. There is a categorical distinction between statements of sentiment and statements of reason and evidence.

Saying that your certainty was correct only gives you personal credit for something you have no influence over, whether an idea is true or not. Yes, if the evidence is strong, you have every reason to to assert that with the emotional force that constitutes expression of certainty. But that emotion is not the indicator of truth, and you can be wrong when you express it, as, to me, creationists are obviously wrong in their certainty that nat. selection is false. The facts are all we have to go on.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
It has undoubted utility in everyday life as a means of spurring us to action, and it has been key in our very survival as a species. But the neural signature of certainty often has nothing to do with whether a claim is correct. We can see that this happened many times in our own lives--our certainty becomes exposed as wrong--and in the many areas of knowledge that were once held to be reliable and now have been proven not to be. Surely it will happen that knowledge that we might be tempted to call certain will be overturned in the future. Science endorses this view.
There is a popular strand in the philosophy of science that endorses this nihilistic claim that we can know nothing with certainty. That does not mean this error is endorsed by "science". In fact, if you ask most scientists if they are certain of basic facts, they will say yes. It is only people who have been addled by bad philosophy who reject all certainty.

I think you'd find, on the contrary, that scientists would say the way must remain open to revision of what we know. Certainty, which in terms of science would be defined as, "these things are true, in just the way we now describe them, forevermore," acts as a roadblock to this openness. And we're not talking here about philosophical parlor games such as how I know I exist or am sitting in this chair. There is no nihilism anywhere in sight.
Robert Tulip wrote:
There is a difference between the popular sentiment of certainty and scientific knowledge. The emotional certainty that some people may feel that Whitney Houston was the best singer ever is completely irrelevant to whether we can be scientifically certain about basic facts in evolution. It is disrespectful to the amazing achievements of scientific knowledge to assert that core corroborated knowledge may be untrue when the probability of it being untrue is infinitesimal. In calculus, the inverse of infinity is zero.

You are afraid that unless we claim the absoluteness of certainty, we'll have no conviction. Well, there is a dilemma here that I won't deny. You know the lines from Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity." Yeats gives neither side his endorsement, clearly. To fight, putting oneself in physical or psychological danger, does require passion, I have no doubt of that. Is that passion only available if we don the mantle of certainty? But is that passion of certainty at the same time destructive of reasoned action, as Yeats believed?
Robert Tulip wrote:
One of the background issues here is climate change. It is one thing to be certain that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but another thing entirely to say that carbon taxes are a sufficient measure to prevent global warming. People have a responsibility to exercise intelligent judgment about what is certain and what is not. It is fallacious to say that because people have wrongly claimed to be certain that therefore all certainty is impossible.

That C02 is a greenhouse gas has that high reliability that makes it seem a certainty, and there may be no harm at all in your looking at it that way. But certainty is not required for action, and it will a very good thing if that is true for global warming, because we need for people to agree to changes in lifestyle even absent a feeling of certainty about the issue. We can act out of prudence rather than certainty, and we often do. The lesson behind the fact that we as individuals, and as societies, have often been wrong in our certainties is only that we need to look past the walls of certitude to see the facts as they might really be. This is the more rational approach. In a pinch, if you tell me you are absolutely certain that we need to do X right away, I might figure my best chance is to take your certitude as backing up the facts at hand. If given some more time, though, I'd want to carefully look into things before following you.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill, you are saying here that we should extend intellectual respect to creationists. …

I can't imagine where you get that idea. You're mistaking my analysis for advocacy.
No, I’m not suggesting at all that you are advocating for creationism, but that is the unintended implication of your comment. Your argument is that certainty is always open to doubt. To illustrate this, you pointed out that many people are certain about claims that are false, with creationists as Exhibit A. You then falsely infer from this correct observation that all claims of certainty may be wrong. The leap from ‘some people are wrong’ to ‘everyone may be wrong’ is fallacious, implying that the scientific understanding of evolution may be incorrect. Science does not need to know everything about evolution in order to be certain about core facts. It muddies the debate between truth and error by failing to clearly demarcate between correct science and incorrect creationism, thereby giving succour to the error.
DWill wrote:
Saying natural selection is right because it's certain is circular reasoning.

No, that is an incorrect use of the concept of circular reasoning. Science says natural selection is right/certain because it consistently explains all available evidence. The situation is that doubt is reasonable before a correct explanation is discovered, but once science has discovered how nature works, then doubting this truth becomes farcical. What we do have to guard against is evangelical science that extends its domain beyond its legitimate borders, for example with atheists who say that evolution indicates the need to abolish religion. But while science sticks to its knitting, it has a right and responsibility to proclaim certainty about major discoveries of the nature of reality such as the law of natural selection.
Dwill wrote:
Saying that your certainty was correct only gives you personal credit for something you have no influence over, whether an idea is true or not.
I would get personal credit if I gave the correct answer in an exam, or if I acted on certain knowledge to save people’s lives. Beyond that, a basic understanding of reality is a norm in human life. Anyone who is not certain about how many beans make five won’t last long.
Quote:
Yes, if the evidence is strong, you have every reason to to assert that with the emotional force that constitutes expression of certainty. But that emotion is not the indicator of truth, and you can be wrong when you express it, as, to me, creationists are obviously wrong in their certainty that nat. selection is false. The facts are all we have to go on.

Again, this comparison of objective scientific knowledge to emotional religious sentiment is fallacious. The processes are completely different. Science has abundant systematic corroboration through observation and evidence while religion relies on desire, fantasy and authority.
Quote:
scientists would say the way must remain open to revision of what we know. Certainty, which in terms of science would be defined as, "these things are true, in just the way we now describe them, forevermore," acts as a roadblock to this openness.
This expresses a basic conceptual misunderstanding. Saying you are certain does not mean your knowledge is complete. I know the earth orbits the sun, but I have much more to learn about the detail of how and why this is the case. This basic fact contains a whole nest of further facts, some of which may not be certain, as in the technical astronomical difficulties of the three body problem, and whether earth’s orbit has patterns within it. But we don’t suddenly say we aren’t sure about the order of the planets because we don’t fully understand the mechanism of the seasons. Certainty is a foundation for further research, not a blockage for it.
Quote:
There is no nihilism anywhere in sight.
Except that your inference: A: “Be open to revision” => B: “No certainty is possible” is entirely nihilistic, in the sense that it says nothing is certain. Science should be open to revision at its frontiers. But in its core knowledge, for example the order of the planets in the solar system, or the structure of the periodic table, or the outline history of life on earth, science is utterly certain. There simply is no room for doubt, so excluding certainty because of some fear of infection by faith appears odd.
Quote:
You are afraid that unless we claim the absoluteness of certainty, we'll have no conviction. Well, there is a dilemma here that I won't deny. You know the lines from Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Yeats gives neither side his endorsement, clearly.
Thanks for mentioning The Second Coming. We have discussed it before. Yeats’ vision, as I read him, is that this context of uncertainty indicates a cusp of a new age of knowledge replacing the worn out old age of belief. He presents the image of the sphinx ending twenty centuries of stony sleep as a dream of the spirit of the world. It seems a deeply perceptive prophetic insight that the collapse of the old age is characterised by fanaticism on the part of the ignorant and impotent confusion on the part of the good. Yeats sees something unsustainable in that recipe.
Quote:
To fight, putting oneself in physical or psychological danger, does require passion, I have no doubt of that. Is that passion only available if we don the mantle of certainty? But is that passion of certainty at the same time destructive of reasoned action, as Yeats believed?
Donning the mantle reminds me of Paul’s comment at 1 Thessalonians 5 about “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” I don’t agree that Yeats thought certainty destroys reason. It is rather that certainty about error is very dangerous. If people could be certain of the truth that would be a good thing. My view is that science provides an excellent heuristic regarding truth, as we can accept that abundantly corroborated data that enables accurate prediction is true.
Quote:
That C02 is a greenhouse gas has that high reliability that makes it seem a certainty, and there may be no harm at all in your looking at it that way. But certainty is not required for action, and it will a very good thing if that is true for global warming, because we need for people to agree to changes in lifestyle even absent a feeling of certainty about the issue.
It may be that new technology will enable minimal change in lifestyle even while bringing a shift in our global energy platform away from fossil fuels. If sustainable biofuel replaces petroleum and coal it need have no impact on lifestyle.
I think there is a sense in which certainty is required for action, simply because people have to choose if they want to back their own judgment. While people have the nagging sense ‘this is not real’ they can ignore the evidence. That seems to be the real meaning of the parable about faith moving mountains, that we can only attain momentum when people get together on a combined program for which they have a strong sense of loyalty and commitment. My view is that science justifies our loyalty regarding what it is telling us about our planetary future.

This may seem to have drifted away from the opening question whether evolutionary chance is impossible. I would say the relevance remains that the religious objection to evolution is its removal of core ethical virtues such as purpose, meaning and faith. Evolution is not random, but directional towards existing possibilities. That means we have a responsibility to identify possible evolutionary steps and seek to bring them about. It seems this involves accepting some of the virtues that science has come to deride for their religious associations, but that is hardly surprising since things that have succeeded for a long time must have some evolutionary benefit.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Robert, you may have more luck advocating that Americans do away with certainty all across the board, than to say we can be certain about things within science. After all, science is not about certainty, as much as you claim it is. But the opponents of science all have truckloads of certainty. Your suggestion is to counter their certainty with opposing certainty from the scientific establishment? It's a worthy cause, but from what I can see of human behavior, two people who are certain never come to terms.

I think the better approach to strengthening the voice of the scientific community isn't to champion certainty, but to attack the false certainty of the opposing side. Of course, speaking out against dogmatic religious faith doesn't seem to be a very productive idea either.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Interbane wrote:
Robert, you may have more luck advocating that Americans do away with certainty all across the board, than to say we can be certain about things within science.
This is a bit like a dog gnawing a bone. There is always a bit more to find. I have found it a helpful discussion to clarify a framework for epistemology, around ideas that I thought were obvious but obviously are not. With science, there is a distinction to be made between core and frontier knowledge, with decreasing certainty as we move away from established core facts. I would be much happier to say science is certain that the Milky Way is a galaxy (core knowledge) than to say science is certain the expansion of the universe is accelerating or that neutrinos travel faster than light. Some researchers will argue for certainty on those latter points, but others might want to hold off.
Quote:
After all, science is not about certainty, as much as you claim it is.
I go back to the logic puzzle: If you are not certain of something then you are not sure if it is true or not. A judge in a court of law would consider a witness who gave that evidence as unreliable. There is no logical need for a difference between the common sense standards of law and the philosophical standards of science on this topic. Denial of certainty in science represents an excessive caution that conceded far too much ground to unscientific beliefs. It is based on a mid-twentieth century political dynamic around liberty and the open society that is now a constraint for the advancement of science.
Quote:
But the opponents of science all have truckloads of certainty.
There is an epistemic distinction between certainty of belief and certainty of knowledge. Opponents of science are methodologically opposed to knowledge, and replace observation with fervor to justify groundless beliefs. We see that in the absence of evidence for a historical Jesus. My view is that abundantly corroborated observation and theory that accurately predicts it should be regarded as certain. That is completely different from emotional commitment because it sets a strict criterion for assessment. When opponents of science can say 'hey these scientists aren't even certain themselves if their ideas are true' on a topic such as evolution, there is a real social and political communication problem. A purist logic - we don't know if the sun will rise tomorrow - serves as a stumbling block to prevent public information getting out.
Quote:
Your suggestion is to counter their certainty with opposing certainty from the scientific establishment? It's a worthy cause, but from what I can see of human behavior, two people who are certain never come to terms.
My view is that knowledge is gradually replacing belief as a memetic organizing principle for human society. As people who understand the facts of what we are doing to our planet and the risks we are creating for our future consider this situation, I expect to see steadily growing scientific certainty regarding consensus knowledge on planetary dangers. There is a tipping point where shared certainty about facts translates into a certainty about values, ie that some facts are particularly important.
Quote:
I think the better approach to strengthening the voice of the scientific community isn't to champion certainty, but to attack the false certainty of the opposing side. Of course, speaking out against dogmatic religious faith doesn't seem to be a very productive idea either.
America is a strange case, since mad dogma has such a tight grip on the dominant culture. Other advanced countries regard the indulgence shown towards frothy fantasists in America as quite disturbing.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
To avoid extra innings, I'm going to spare the couple of people following along a point-by-point reply to Robert's last. A comment on the discussion, though: we have two different things under examination. One might best be called 'certainness,' and is the supposed condition whereby something as stated can only be true. This condition exists independent of what human minds may judge, but human minds may recognize it. The other aspect we can call 'certainty,' and it labels a person's state of mind, which results in that person asserting that he is correct. That behavior of certainty correlates with objective findings to varying degrees, depending on the complexity of what is under consideration.

Taking the first condition, Robert I thought was at first categorizing as knowledge only that of which we are certain. Its certainty is what makes it knowledge. If it's not knowledge, it's delusion. What about things of which we can't be sure? if these are not knowledge, what are they? Robert seems to change the classification in his last post, but I could be wrong and invite him to correct me.

There is a question of purpose to be asked. What is the importance of claiming certainness? That's not a challenge question, I really am asking in order to know. We've heard that to have confidence that what we believe is reliable, without having to specify certainness, is sufficient. Is it always?

Another question is what do researchers try to do. Do they try to arrive at certainness, and is asserting that something is certain part of their mandate? Is that proper or improper action?

Looking at the second aspect, which I'm going to say cannot be divorced from emotion, what are its benefits and drawbacks? I can think of motivating for action as in the first category, and tending toward confirmation bias as in the second.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Quote:
I go back to the logic puzzle: If you are not certain of something then you are not sure if it is true or not.


You missed the point where I said I would give my life for things I wasn't certain about. It's not that I'm nuts, it's that certainty is a bad thing. The issue is that certainty is an emotional stance that does more damage to critical thinking than magical thinking does, therefore the cons outweigh the pros. Confidence is enough, to avoid sliding down the slippery slope into an inflexible belief. I will say I'm certain about some things, but they are few and far between, and certainty is a consequence, in part, of the simplicity of the claim. Analytic truths are a good categorical example. Claims such as "the Milky Way is a galaxy" are also a good example. Since the definitions of the words are synonymous to some extent, the truth remains even if ancillary facts and evidence changes.

Quote:
There is a question of purpose to be asked. What is the importance of claiming certainness?


To bolster your position during conversation. To influence others that you're correct. Introspectively, to provide motive that doesn't deteriorate when you are confronted by a setback.


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Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:40 pm
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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
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You missed the point where I said I would give my life for things I wasn't certain about.
Hi Interbane, I think this shows you have some misunderstanding here about the conceptual difference between belief and knowledge.

Let's take an example - you might give your life to save your child. What does that mean? You would jump in the ocean to help your child if they were drowning etc. Maybe you would do it even if you weren't completely sure it was your child, ie if you did not know.

A soldier is willing to go to war for an emotional belief that his country deserves his loyalty. This emotional belief really has to be understood philosophically as something distinct from knowledge. Knowledge is based on evidence and can be independently corroborated. Sentimental value statements do not meet this standard. We cannot be certain about values.

My point is that certainty is exactly the same as knowledge. To the extent we know something, we are certain of it. This is a simple matter of definition. You have not given an example of objective knowledge that is uncertain, you have only spokem about subjective beliefs.

Quote:
certainty is a bad thing. The issue is that certainty is an emotional stance that does more damage to critical thinking than magical thinking does, therefore the cons outweigh the pros.
Again, you elide from saying that subjective emotional fervor is dubious to making the same critique of objective scientific knowledge. Just because both create a similar brain state - a feeling of certainty - does not mean both have the same epistemic status. Facts are objective, values are subjective. Knowledge is certain, beliefs are uncertain, even though confidence helps to promote uncertain beliefs.
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Confidence is enough, to avoid sliding down the slippery slope into an inflexible belief.
This line on inflexibility is another canard. Do you want to be 'flexible' about whether evolution is more factually accurate than creationism? Of course not. Do you want to be flexible on whether there was multicellular life before the snowball earth a billion years ago? You should be. Flexibility only applies at the margin of scientific knowledge, not for abundantly corroborated observation. Such 'flexibility' is rather like the person who was so open-minded that his brains fell out.
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I will say I'm certain about some things, but they are few and far between, and certainty is a consequence, in part, of the simplicity of the claim.
I'm sorry your sense of certainty is so limited. An extremely large number of text book facts are absolutely certain. That is generally why facts get into text books as knowledge. But if there is even a whiff of possible doubt, don't call it certain. Recognise also that certainty does not mean completeness - especially in history you can have well attested facts (ie objectively certain) that do not tell all sides of a story and so cannot be said to provide an objectively rounded account.

How science works is that various speculations compete until one emerges as the compelling answer, and we then call the compelling answer certain knowledge because it explains all available relevant facts. We do not say maybe burning is from phlogiston after we have discovered oxygen. We now know the mechanism of burning in oxygen, and cannot somehow 'un-know' it.
Quote:
Analytic truths are a good categorical example.
Yes, there are many analytical truths, such as simple equations in algebra. Often this is a matter of saying 'if you accept these premises, then these conclusions logically follow'. The logic does not necessarily always mean the statement is true, but in this case we can say that we know the logical implication certainly follows from the assumption.
Quote:
Claims such as "the Milky Way is a galaxy" are also a good example. Since the definitions of the words are synonymous to some extent, the truth remains even if ancillary facts and evidence changes.

I'm not sure that calling the Milky Way a galaxy is merely analytic. It was not established as fact until the 1920s with Hubble's pioneering astronomical discoveries.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Quote:
Hi Interbane, I think this shows you have some misunderstanding here about the conceptual difference between belief and knowledge.

Let's take an example - you might give your life to save your child. What does that mean? You would jump in the ocean to help your child if they were drowning etc. Maybe you would do it even if you weren't completely sure it was your child, ie if you did not know.


I'm speaking of belief. Knowledge is the data. Your stance regarding that data is your belief. Certainty is at one end on the spectrum of belief. Certainty is not a characteristic of knowledge, it's a characteristic of a person, namely their state of mind regarding a belief. Knowledge is defined as justified true belief. There is no reference to how strong of a belief, because that part is subjective.


Quote:
You have not given an example of objective knowledge that is uncertain


Because there are infinite uncertainties. I'm uncertain that Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. If asked, I might say I'm certain to impress the firmness of my knowledge, or to avoid conversation or confusion, but the truth is I'm not certain. Not to say I don't firmly believe the aforementioned fact. But certainty is unique. It is a mutually exclusive position. Logically, it rules out other positions. It's as if you were to say you won't even accept new evidence that a planet was discovered that somehow mysteriously evaded our detection. I wouldn't believe the evidence until it were corroborated, but I also wouldn't rule it out a priori, which is what the position of certainty entails.

Quote:
Do you want to be 'flexible' about whether evolution is more factually accurate than creationism?


As flexible as iron. Being inflexible in the absolute sense represents an impossible ideal. Certainty is unique, just as 100 percent is unique, but who would know the difference if you used enough nines?

Certainty affects you in ways you need to be wary of. It is a sort of confirmation bias, based on a heuristical judgement of evidence. Meaning, if you judge something to be evidence of an opposing point to something you're certain of, you will dismiss it as false without analyzing it. We don't have enough time in our day to fully judge all propositional claims we face. We must use heuristics. A short-hand judgement of evidence will necessarily lead to false negatives. The more exclusive your beliefs, the larger the pool of false negatives.

Consider in science the results of an experiment that are dismissed because they don't conform to the paradigm the experimenter is certain of. That applies even today, in all fields. Unless you trod through every belief in your brain and determine which ones you're justified to be certain about, you're bound to have a larger number of false negatives. This is because people think paradigmatically, and certainty applies across belief systems, not only single beliefs.

Quote:
How science works is that various speculations compete until one emerges as the compelling answer, and we then call the compelling answer certain knowledge because it explains all available relevant facts.


Does that apply only to modern speculation? I'm sure many people were certain that Newton was correct, and many today are certain that Einstein is correct. What is your point of demarcation between the fringes of science, and the core? Where do you know for certain(which, by definition, you must be) to slip the sliding scale from confident to absolute certainty? Do you have any set rule, or do you play it by ear?

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I'm not sure that calling the Milky Way a galaxy is merely analytic. It was not established as fact until the 1920s with Hubble's pioneering astronomical discoveries.


I meant it in the sense that the Milky Way is a yardstick by which to measure other similar collections of stars. The term was coined with the characteristics of the Milky Way in mind. This is the same as the classification of life. We cut nature at the knees with our abstractions, by fitting things within categories.

Quote:
I'm sorry your sense of certainty is so limited. An extremely large number of text book facts are absolutely certain. That is generally why facts get into text books as knowledge.


Certainty isn't a characteristic of text books. It's a characteristic of a person's state of mind. I think you mean they are "absolutely true".


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
The existence of certainty in a mind seems to always mean either that the person is struggling against some unacknowledged doubt within himself, or that someone else has doubt about the idea, and therefore the person needs to counter that doubt with certainty. Most things that we might say we are certain about, if anybody asked, we don't even think about. That may be the best indicator of their certainty. But this certainty is only a record of our experience rather than some epistemologic conviction. The sun has 'risen' every day that I've been alive; I assume it will continue to do so. I don't think about whether it's safe for me to go out today in my car, because my experience has shown me that the dangers that I know can be there aren't high enough on the scale to cause me to disrupt my life. My safety is certain enough. A big idea such as evolution assumes the same background acceptance, not needing the defensive posture that being certain always entails

It would cause a lot of trouble if we needed certainty in our lives. Many of our actions are bets that we're somewhat likely to be successful by doing X, and if we're not, we'll shift to a different approach. Living is pretty experimental. We only experiment because we're usually not certain about what will work, what is true.

It could be that a focus on certainty is a measure of a religious frame of mind. Certainty is closely associated with religion--at least with the Christian religion, which places a very high value on being right. People who can't believe in the religion anymore might shift their need for certainty to other objects.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
Interbane wrote:
I'm speaking of belief. Knowledge is the data. Your stance regarding that data is your belief. Certainty is at one end on the spectrum of belief. Certainty is not a characteristic of knowledge, it's a characteristic of a person, namely their state of mind regarding a belief. Knowledge is defined as justified true belief. There is no reference to how strong of a belief, because that part is subjective.
Thanks Interbane, it helps to clarify. In this thread we have been discussing knowledge. Traditionally, knowledge is distinguished from belief. It is quite a different matter to say you know that life has evolved from saying that you believe life has evolved. The statement of belief is primarily a matter of emotional conviction, whereas the statement of knowledge is about objective logical understanding. This distinction raises the problem of whether objectivity is possible.

There is a traditional hierarchy of effectiveness of information. Raw data is converted into information when it is analysed and presented. Information then becomes the basis for knowledge. Building on knowledge, some traditionally say we can find wisdom. This framework of informatics is discussed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIKW
Frank Zappa extended this even further:
Quote:
Information is not knowledge,
Knowledge is not wisdom,
Wisdom is not truth,
Truth is not beauty,
Beauty is not love,
Love is not music,
and Music is THE BEST.

The schema ‘data-information-knowledge-wisdom” is rather different from the spectrum of belief with certainty at one end and delusion at the other. This is a framework that goes back to Plato’s divided line, as I explained earlier in this thread. Plato held that belief (doxa) is unreliable because it is based on appearances. Plato said knowledge (episteme) is reliable because it is intelligible. This is a difficult distinction to grasp, but one that makes a lot of sense in explaining why modern science provides greater certainty than other methods of learning. The scientific method of intelligible corroboration of observation provides a strong basis for confidence in scientific findings. For obvious confirmed statements, science provides a foundation of objective certainty. This is an important point regarding the ability of systematic logic to explain reality accurately.
Quote:
there are infinite uncertainties. I'm uncertain that Mercury is the closest planet to the sun.
There has long been speculation about a planet Vulcan between Mercury and the sun. Those of us who are not astronomers cannot really tell if the existence of Vulcan can be ruled out. So it makes sense to say we believe Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, we do not know it for an indisputable fact. Astronomers would probably laugh at this caution, because they have abundantly proved that a Vulcan would have gravitational effect on Mercury, but there is none so there is no Vulcan. This was proved in 1920 when astronomers observed that the precession of the perihelion of Mercury was as predicted by Einstein. But you and I do not follow the mathematics, so our knowledge is incomplete.

If we take something simpler, such as that Mercury is between the earth and the sun, it is easy for any moderately well informed person to know this for an obvious fact, because the observed movement of the solar system does not admit of any other sensible answer. You can see that Mercury never gets far from the Sun in the sky.
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Being inflexible in the absolute sense represents an impossible ideal. Certainty is unique, just as 100 percent is unique, but who would know the difference if you used enough nines?
This gets back to the argument from calculus, that zero is the inverse of infinity. We know from calculus that the area under a parabola or other curve is given by a formula based on additional of an infinite number of infinitesimal shapes or lines. This seems paradoxical and crazy, except that integration is the basis of all engineering. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral
Quote:
Certainty affects you in ways you need to be wary of. It is a sort of confirmation bias, based on a heuristical judgement of evidence. Meaning, if you judge something to be evidence of an opposing point to something you're certain of, you will dismiss it as false without analyzing it. We don't have enough time in our day to fully judge all propositional claims we face. We must use heuristics. A short-hand judgement of evidence will necessarily lead to false negatives. The more exclusive your beliefs, the larger the pool of false negatives.
Again, like DWill, you are demeaning scientific objectivity because non-scientific methods seek to share its glory. When heuristics are in play, we are in the realm of belief, not knowledge. Knowledge only applies for things we know for sure. If we are not certain, and do not have an objective proof for our certainty, our view is not knowledge but belief.
Quote:
Consider in science the results of an experiment that are dismissed because they don't conform to the paradigm the experimenter is certain of. That applies even today, in all fields. Unless you trod through every belief in your brain and determine which ones you're justified to be certain about, you're bound to have a larger number of false negatives. This is because people think paradigmatically, and certainty applies across belief systems, not only single beliefs.
Yes, this is a very good point, and makes this discussion something of a proxy for our non-discussion of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A paradigm organises available knowledge using a theoretical framework that contains an element of belief. Newton believed that space is Euclidean, and used this assumption to prove the theory of gravity. Only when Einstein showed that space bends in the presence of mass did Newton’s cosmology come into question.

I am particularly interested in how paradigms operate within religion, for example with the unquestioned assumption of the historical existence of Jesus Christ serving as an organizing principle for Christian doctrines of salvation. Despite this recognition that paradigms are fallible, it is a fallacy to say all knowledge is fallible. It is a fact that Mercury orbits between the earth and the sun, and we are not going to see any paradigm shift changing that as a basic fact of nature that is a matter of certain objective knowledge. Again, it is only at the frontiers of knowledge that uncertain experiments come into play.
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What is your point of demarcation between the fringes of science, and the core? Where do you know for certain(which, by definition, you must be) to slip the sliding scale from confident to absolute certainty? Do you have any set rule, or do you play it by ear?
This really involves judgment. Some claims are very obvious. Some are highly dubious. There is a gray area in between. One important criterion is the extent to which practical experience routinely relies on a claim. GPS relies on relativity, so relativity is true knowledge because GPS works. Electronics relies on quantum mechanics, so quantum mechanics is true knowledge because computers work. Humans share DNA with other life, so evolution is true. If things in our experience would simply be impossible without facts being true, then those facts are true.


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Post Re: Is evolutionary chance impossible?
craigdressler wrote:
Since it takes four thousand coordinated proteins all acting together for cell division to occur even in a so-called simple cell, which is not simple at all, isn't the idea of evolutionary chance creating such a process impossible? Isn't the idea of a divine designer, God, who engineered this process and set it in motion much more plausible?


No....



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