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Author Topic:   Hello everyone, and my senior paper
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


(8)
Message 14 of 70 (692800)
03-07-2013 3:22 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by KevinAthans
03-07-2013 11:22 AM


The history of science is more important, in my opinion, than a degree in science. Most biologists have not even read Darwin’s works. Without an understanding of the origins of the things they study, how can they know what they are studying?
This is a very strange idea.
What biologists are studying is nature, not the writings of Darwin.
This is different from theology. In Christian theology, most theologians admit that they can't read the mind of God directly, instead the Bible is taken to be the word of God, and the stuff they say has to be referred back to its agreement with the text of the Bible.
But in biology, the touchstone is observational and experimental data about biology. This can be studied directly, and so it is possible to find data that contradicts Darwin, and the conclusion people would come to is "So, Darwin was wrong about stuff". To take an example, Darwin strongly doubted that all the modern breeds of dog were derived from the same species. But the evidence shows that dogs are all Canis lupus, and what Darwin thought doesn't mater a hill of beans: his opinions are not taken as conclusive nor as even slightly evidential.
In theology, the foundational documents are the most precious: one can hardly claim to improve on the Bible without also claiming to have obtained a new revelation from God (as in the case of Joseph Smith and the founding of Mormonism). But in science, the foundational documents are most likely the worst. They were the crude first sketches of the idea. I myself, though no genius, know more about gravity than Newton, more about chemistry than Lavoisier, and more about evolution than Darwin, because we have learned more stuff since first they wrote, and I know this stuff and they didn't. Newton, Lavoisier, and Darwin are honored not because their works were the last word on a certain subject, but because they wrote the first words on certain subjects. The first, tentative, often erroneous words.
The study of foundational documents is therefore as pointless to scientists as it is essential to theologians. There is no particular reason why a biologist should read Darwin any more than there is a reason why a physicist should read Newton's Principia. Indeed, I've never met a physicist who has.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by KevinAthans, posted 03-07-2013 11:22 AM KevinAthans has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 17 by KevinAthans, posted 03-07-2013 4:16 PM Dr Adequate has replied
 Message 31 by Jon, posted 03-07-2013 8:52 PM Dr Adequate has not replied
 Message 38 by Dr Jack, posted 03-08-2013 6:16 AM Dr Adequate has replied

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


(3)
Message 33 of 70 (692845)
03-07-2013 9:44 PM
Reply to: Message 17 by KevinAthans
03-07-2013 4:16 PM


If you think the history of how science came to be, and the religious involvement, isn't important, fine.
I didn't say it was unimportant in general. I said it was unimportant to the practice of biology, in response to you writing: "Most biologists have not even read Darwin’s works. Without an understanding of the origins of the things they study, how can they know what they are studying?"
I am not sure why you are under the impression that there is science vs theology...Thoughout much of history they were the same thing...
I didn't say versus, but they are different practices, after all. In particular, they're different in the way that I've pointed out. In theology, the foundational texts (Bible, Torah, Koran, Book of Mormon, etc) are held to be the most accurate, and succeeding texts can be no more than glosses on these works. In science, the foundational texts are the most primitive, and it is hoped and expected that succeeding texts will be better.
Consequently, in theology we can see a man trying (for example) to refute Arianism by reference to the Gospel of John (taking Scripture as the ultimate authority) rather than by making careful observations of the Godhead in an attempt to discover if it's triune; in science, by contrast, no-one would think to settle a point merely by quoting Darwin, Newton, or anyone else.
Becoming familiar with the foundational texts of science is therefore unnecessary for a practicing scientist; it's something he might do for amusement in his free time. A Christian theologian, on the other hand, who confessed that he'd never read the Bible and was saving it for his retirement ... would get some funny looks. And the sack.
A scientist arguing science, and a creationist arguing theology accomplishes nothing. One is arguing apples, the other oranges. They will simply not agree, period. But if people understand the history of the debate, the population can understand it and make the correct decisions.
Except that someone who is interested in the history of the debate at all as a consideration within the debate is arguing oranges. Or bananas.
I see what you're getting at to a certain extent. If some creationist is reciting some lie about how : "Darwin was an atheist who invented evolution to deny God blah blah blah" then one could disabuse him of this irrelevant falsehood by pointing out the equally irrelevant truth. But to really educate a creationist, we would need to explain to him not just why his claim is false, but why it is irrelevant.

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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 40 of 70 (692893)
03-08-2013 11:50 AM
Reply to: Message 38 by Dr Jack
03-08-2013 6:16 AM


As a biologist who has read The Origin of Species, I disagree. The text itself is, of course, largely irrelevant as is what Darwin thought exactly and whether he was right about any particular detail. However, I think it is foolish to ignore the history of science. Understanding the reasoning behind is both useful in understanding the subject itself, in helping formulate better ideas and in critiquing new ideas.
Well of course it's useful to understand the reasoning behind a claim. But that would be part of science. It is useful, for example, to understand the argument for the ubiquity of natural selection; it is not useful to biologists as such to know that Darwin thought of it after reading Malthus' Essay On The Principle Of Population "for amusement" in October 1838.
Kevin's claim that the history is more important than the study is an absurd overstatement but I think you go too far in rejecting entirely the value of the history of science. There is a reason that every scientific paper begins with an introduction setting the paper into the context of pre-existing work, after all.
Well, I think that's stretching the phrase "history of science" further than it will reasonably go. The importance of previously obtained results to a new paper is that they are results; the importance of saying that they were published by Smith and Jones in Nature in 1998 is so that people can look up the results and the methodology; the fact that Smith was led to an interest in biology as a result of the inspirational teaching of Mr. Braithwaite, his eighth grade science teacher, or suchlike biographical details, is passed over in silence even if the authors of the new paper are aware of the fact. The references are there to provide an insight into the facts of the subject, not its history as such.
---
There is a certain value to an aspirant scientist in looking at the history of science, but not to gain insight into the sciences themselves: rather, one can treat the history of science as a set of exemplars and awful warnings. For example, there's a passage somewhere in Darwin's letters or autobiography or something where he writes that whenever he came across a fact which seemed to contradict or challenge his thesis, he would immediately make a note of it, because one is more prone to forget such facts and remember those that are congenial to one's ideas. Anyone who wants to become a great scientist like Darwin could profit from his example. Nonetheless, the fact that he did that has no bearing on the question of whether he was right, and about what.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 38 by Dr Jack, posted 03-08-2013 6:16 AM Dr Jack has seen this message but not replied

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 43 of 70 (692900)
03-08-2013 12:25 PM
Reply to: Message 23 by KevinAthans
03-07-2013 5:03 PM


In reference to the creation-evolution controversy, specifically, or let’s say the credibility of science, an understanding of the history of science is far more important to people. I have taken biology classes, I have taken history classes, and I have taken philosophy classes. As far as this debate goes, I find the history of science to be far more valuable. I have also found a class in scientific reasoning to be more valuable. There are a lot of bad studies out there that are statistically irrelevant. If a scientific study does not use proper procedure, a representative sample, a large enough sample, etc, the study is pointless. Studies that tell us nothing and fraud in science creates issues. Many people see science as a tool used by a group of people to persuade others of their views. The creationists, specifically, see science as a similar line of thinking as is used in theology. This is obviously incorrect. Scientific thought dates back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and has evolved and changed over time. It was once intertwined with theology, it then started to pull away and has become what it is today. If people understand how and why this happened, understood the history and the context of it, as well as the social implications, one can make a better argument for why science is legitimate and not something that is faith based.
You make a good case. But if I was trying to explain this with reference to Darwin in particular, I wouldn't just dwell on his religious views and the reasons for them. I'd point out that there were genuine puzzles in biology which seemed to elude creationist explanation, in that they could hardly be explained in terms of good design.
There is a reason why evolution (which seems obvious in hindsight, and which could in principle have been thought of by an ancient Greek sitting in his bath) didn't emerge until the Victorian era, and why Darwin and Wallace then thought of it almost simultaneously. There's even a reason why both the people who thought of it were British. The reason, in my opinion, is that both of them were presented with puzzles in biogeography which would never have occurred to a naturalist, however keen-witted, who had been confined to a single land-mass. This puzzle was combined with a further puzzle, the reason for the Principle of Faunal Succession --- discovered by William Smith as a side-effect of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution's insatiable quest for more coal.
In short, besides discussing what didn't motivate them, it is worth mentioning what did --- that they were presented with new puzzles that had no answer within, or which actually contradicted, conventional teleological explanations.
Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 23 by KevinAthans, posted 03-07-2013 5:03 PM KevinAthans has not replied

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


(3)
Message 47 of 70 (692930)
03-08-2013 2:23 PM
Reply to: Message 46 by Percy
03-08-2013 12:46 PM


Percy writes:
I fear we may be coming across as hostile and insular. I can't put my finger on exactly what it was, but something in Kevin's initial few posts apparently set people off.
Well, I can put your finger on it. It's that Mr. Athans wrote this:
KevinAthans writes:
Most biologists have not even read Darwin’s works. Without an understanding of the origins of the things they study, how can they know what they are studying?
Otherwise, there's nothing wrong with what he said. But that is horrendously wrong, as I'm sure you know, and you shouldn't be surprised that people should try to correct it. This is why I, Catholic Scientist, PaulK, and nwr all took objection to what he said.
Theodoric, I will admit, is on this occasion being a bit of a jerk. Nonetheless, he also has a bit of a point. (I may have made one or two posts myself which have those characteristics.) This is a site for debate and discussion, it's not a support group, it's not EvC Anonymous: "My name is Dr Adequate, and I have an opinion about biology ..." We're not here to share our feelings, but, in principle, to expose our ideas to the strongest criticism that anyone can come up with. "Agree to disagree" is something of a cop-out if someone wants to post here and benefit from doing so.
Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.

This message is a reply to:
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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 50 of 70 (692946)
03-08-2013 3:43 PM


Theology
I would like to expand on my previous statements.
Suppose I were to say: "God has revealed to me that we should practice polygamy and also human sacrifice" --- then all Mr. Athans could do, really, is say: "No he didn't, you're hallucinating", to which I might reply: "Yes he did, and I'm not."
In order to practice theology at all, we need to agree on what is and is not God's revelation of his thoughts to us.
If we are Protestants, then the answer is sola scriptura. If we are Catholics, then God's guidance of his Church implies that tradition is also part of his revelation. If we are Jews, then we restrict ourselves to the Torah --- at least, if we are Conservative Jews, a small minority. If we are Orthodox Jews, then the oral tradition is also of God. If we are Muslims, then the Koran and the hadith are revelations from God, and anything in the Bible that says different is a corruption of the texts. If we are Mormons, then the Book of Mormon is God's word, handed to us by the Angel Moroni.
And so on and so forth. In order for us to start doing theology, we have to decide which texts are from God and express his opinions, and which statements are delusions from the Devil meant to lead us astray, or nonsense written by well-meaning or schizophrenic men.
Once we've made out minds up, then we can start to participate in theology. The chosen texts provide us with the board, the pieces, and to a large extent the rules. But we have to have the texts in order to play the game at all.
In saying this, I am not deprecating theology as a mere game: I'm proposing an analogy. But it is still the case that to practice theology we need to take certain texts, certain statements, certain propositions as being true, as coming from God. This is very different from the practice of science, where we take actual observations as being superior to anything that anyone has written, whatever his credentials.

Replies to this message:
 Message 52 by Jon, posted 03-08-2013 4:50 PM Dr Adequate has replied

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


(3)
Message 55 of 70 (692957)
03-08-2013 6:07 PM
Reply to: Message 52 by Jon
03-08-2013 4:50 PM


Re: Theology
Well; Kevin's not trying to practice science with his paper.
And yet he also wrote: "Most biologists have not even read Darwin’s works. Without an understanding of the origins of the things they study, how can they know what they are studying?" Which is a proposition about the practice of biology, or it is nothing.
If he hadn't written that, no-one would have had any objections. And if you are unwilling to defend that statement specifically, then you are not defending him against the criticism that he has actually incurred.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 52 by Jon, posted 03-08-2013 4:50 PM Jon has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 56 by Jon, posted 03-08-2013 6:28 PM Dr Adequate has replied

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 59 of 70 (692967)
03-08-2013 7:35 PM
Reply to: Message 56 by Jon
03-08-2013 6:28 PM


Re: Theology
I shall leave it up to you to explain to him why his opinions don't matter. I shall confine myself to explaining why they are factually inaccurate.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 56 by Jon, posted 03-08-2013 6:28 PM Jon has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 61 by Jon, posted 03-08-2013 9:16 PM Dr Adequate has not replied

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 396 days)
Posts: 16113
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 66 of 70 (693241)
03-12-2013 9:46 PM
Reply to: Message 63 by KevinAthans
03-12-2013 5:20 PM


I will check stuff out and reply another day...too busy with things to sit on here right now. I have gotten 6 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours...
I'm glad that we haven't scared you away with all our criticism. It is intended to be constructive.
Six hours in forty-eight? Yeah, go to sleep.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 63 by KevinAthans, posted 03-12-2013 5:20 PM KevinAthans has not replied

  
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