Sunday, June 13, 2010

“Just a theory” does not mean what many people think it does


Jewish date:  1 Tammuz 5770 (Parashath Ḥuqqath).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (Judaism), Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Annie Sprinkle (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of Ludovicus Rex Bavariae (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Tell Boehner: No BP Bailout”, “Take Action: Support ECEA - Hold Big Oil Accountable!”, “A victory for the Clean Air Act... for now.”, “JCRC-NY State Dept Petition:  Urge State Dept to Investigate Flotilla Passengers”, “Make Alzheimer's a National Priority! - The Petition Site”, and “Take Action: Urge your Senators to support the Appalachia Restoration Act | Rainforest Action Network”.

Topic 0:  I have finished Mort (book 4 of the Discworld Series) by Terry Pratchett.  Now I have to get around to writing a review, which is going to be an interesting challenge since I am going to have a busy week…

Topic 1:  Updates on the latest anti-Semitism:  “Yahoo Divides Jerusalem” discusses Yahoo! trying to enforce an artificial distinction between East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem which only exists as part of a jihad tactic.  “Reuters' Double Exposure” discusses propaganda photograph which has little relation to reality.  And then there are two videos:

Your humble blogger also would like to note “Hamas rejects Israel-approved snack foods for Gaza”, which is absurdly petty; these people are very lucky that Israel does not close the border completely and forbid letting anything whatever getting through.

Topic 2:  “Russia Church wants end to Darwin school monopoly”.  The Russian Orthodox Church wants creationism taught in Russian public schools alongside evolution.  Needless to say, this is a bad idea since evolution is correct and creationism is wrong.  Revealing is this rationalization:
"Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too."
“Just a theory” is a common misunderstanding often voiced by creationists.  “Theory” colloquially means what “hypothesis” means an explanation, whether or not it has any real support or is particularly coherent.  To scientists, a “theory” is not a mere hypothesis; a “theory” has evidence to back it up, and it is self-consistent.  E.g., the Theory of General Relativity is not a mere hypothesis; it has been backed with multiple lines of evidence and has technological applications, such as GPS.  Likewise the Theory of Evolution, which is also known to be a fact.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “good solz go to celing cat”:
Humorous Pictures
Peace and happy new month.

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  1. Needless to say, this is a bad idea since evolution is correct and creationism is wrong.
    ...the Theory of General Relativity is not a mere hypothesis; it has been backed with multiple lines of evidence and has technological applications, such as GPS.

    Are you sure it would be correct to compare General Relativity to Evolution? The former is a theory about the laws of physics and can be verified by experiment. The latter is a theory about natural history—about events that supposedly happened in the past—and cannot be verified by experiment.

    The Theory of General Relativity is indeed verified every day by GPS and other modern technologies, but there's obviously no way to similarly verify that all that is alive today is decended from that which emerged from lifeless matter as the result of natural processes.

    Likewise the Theory of Evolution, which is also known to be a fact.

    How can you say that it is "known to be a fact" that there wasn't a supernatural component to the emergence of life? How do you think you could prove such a claim?

  2. I see a few issues here:

    1) You do not acknowledge that evolution has been verified.

    2) You seem to believe that evolution explains the origin of life.

    3) You seem to believe that evolution involves denial of the supernatural.

    OK, now I get to go look up stuff…

    1) See "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent" ( Also "Evolution is a Fact and a Theory" ( may be useful.

    2) See the first page of "29+ Evidences", where it says:

    "Furthermore, because it is not part of evolutionary theory, abiogenesis also is not considered in this discussion of macroevolution: abiogenesis is an independent hypothesis. In evolutionary theory it is taken as axiomatic that an original self-replicating life form existed in the distant past, regardless of its origin. All scientific theories have their respective, specific explanatory domains; no scientific theory proposes to explain everything. Quantum mechanics does not explain the ultimate origin of particles and energy, even though nothing in that theory could work without particles and energy. Neither Newton's theory of universal gravitation nor the general theory of relativity attempt to explain the origin of matter or gravity, even though both theories would be meaningless without the a priori existence of gravity and matter. Similarly, universal common descent is restricted to the biological patterns found in the Earth's biota; it does not attempt to explain the ultimate origin of life."

    I.e., the origin of life is a different question and irrelevant to whether evolution had occurred. Last I heard, no human really knows how life got started on Earth or how to make it from scratch. Even if someone discovered an extraterrestrial video tape billions of years old documenting that the earliest life on Earth was created from scratch, it would do nothing to negate the fact that evolution has occurred and continues to happen. Evolution has also been created in completely artificial systems (see

    3) I think this is time for me to start the theological lecture. Scientific explanations are normally in the mode of methodological materialism. The reason for this is that we are only empowered to observe entities which are part of our universe. For all you know, there could be anything right next to your head in hyperspace, and I really mean anything. And to make for an epistemological nightmare, we have no (known) way of knowing what's out there on our own. Methodological materialism is an attempt at avoiding explanations that cannot be verified. It is easy to add "and then a miracle occurs" into an explanation and ignore that what might be happening is actually natural. And this assumption of methodological materialism has worked.

    The problem with the assumption of methodological materialism is that it is an assumption, not a proven fact. Furthermore, it is unprovable. As I noted, there could be anything in hyperspace right next to your head. Multiple scenarios are conceivable. There could be nothing beside our own universe. Or there could be an infinite number of other universes resembling our own. Or there could other universes with laws and configurations quite unlike our own. There could be one god out there. Or two. Or three. Or millions. There could be whole hierarchies of angels and demons. Our universe could be a program running on a computer in another universe. Or it could be the thought or dream of a god. Or the reality could be something no human has ever imagined. Unfortunately, we have no (known) way of finding out on our own. Unless someone devises a way to look outside our universe, anyone claiming that they know there is no supernatural is lying or being intellectually dishonest.