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The term, “not falsifiable” to describe a concept as not real science is completely obscure to me. What does it refer to?

What if I told you that the entire universe was created last Thursday. All of our memories of everything past last Thursday were also created last Thursday.

There’s no way to disprove this. Someone can point out how we have observed scientific data like supernovae, coupled with what we know about the speed of light, which shows that these stars’ explosions took place both a long time ago and far away.

Nope. Those were created in media res last Thursday as well.

As I’ve presented it, there’s no observation possible that can be inconsistent with Last Thursdayism. This is what it means to be “not falsifiable”.

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The concept of falsifiability was put forth by philosopher of science Karl Popper. But falsifiability is not just a philosophical defense of science. The drawbacks of having a non falsifiable model can be described mathematically.

This is Bayes Theorem:

P(H | E) means “the probability of H given E”. Let’s say H means “hypothesis” (or “model”) and E means “evidence” (or “data/observation”).

Bayes shows you how much more or less probable a hypothesis is given some evidence.

Instead of Last Thursdayism, let’s take on a real-world unfalsifiable hypothesis: Creationism / Intelligent Design. Creationists say that everything in the biological world was created by the Christian god. The Christian god is all powerful, so nothing is beyond His capabilities, right?

Let’s say our hypothesis H is Creationism, and our evidence E is “dolphins having a whole hand in their flippers”. Let’s also assume a position of agnosticism about Creationism, or P(H) = 50%.

Creationists says, dolphin skeletons showing a friggin’ HAND in their flippers fits perfectly with the hypothesis, right? In other words, assuming Creationism is true there’s nothing inconsistent with God giving dolphins hands in their flippers; meaning a 100% likelihood of dolphins having fingers and thumbs in their flippers. Or P(E | H) is 100%.

Now we get to the tricky part, so bear with me.

P(E) in the denominator is the probability of the evidence. It’s also called the Total Probability, and also has a formula:

Assume that A is actually E, and B is H for consistency. This reads, P(E) is a sum of various probabilities; with E staying the same but with alternative hypotheses (H). Which means we should be taking hypotheses other than Creationism into account when evaluating Creationism.

Let’s go with a simple alternative hypothesis: dolphins and humans have a common ancestor, which explains why the appendages have similar bone structures. Since related probabilities have to add up to 100%, and we’ve already assumed P(H) is 50%, this means that P(~H) — the theory of evolution — is also 50%.

This means we’re working with the long form of Bayes Theorem:

P(E | ~H), or the probability of dolphins having what looks like the skeleton of a human hand in their flippers, given that the theory of evolution is correct, is some value. Let’s say we are a die-hard Creationist and just assert that there is only a 1% chance of this being true.

Here’s the part where we start explaining why a non-falsifiable hypothesis is bad, beyond the arguments and assertions of philosophers of science.

I explained that P(H) and P(~H) together has to add up to 100%, which is why if P(H) is 50%, P(~H) is also 50%. But there are other terms in Bayes Theorem that have to exhaust the hypothesis space like P(H) + P(~H) have to.

P(E) plus P(~E) equals 100%

P(E | ~H) plus P(~E | ~H) equals 100%

P(E | H) plus P(~E | H) equals 100%

It’s this last one we want to pay attention to: The probability of not having the evidence given that the hypothesis is true.

For Creationism, what would that be? Assuming for Creationism the evidence we have — dolphins having the bone structure for grabbing things in their flippers even though they absolutely cannot grab things with their flippers — is expected. P(E | H), or P(Dolphins With Five Fingers | Creationism), is 100%.

But remember that P(E | H) plus P(~E | H) equals 100%. Which means if we assert that P(Dolphins With Five Fingers | Creationism) is 100% we are also asserting by inference that P(Dolphin With Some Other Skeletal Form In Their Flippers | Creationism), is 0%.

Would Creationism really concede that, if we had discovered dolphins with a bone structure that looks like a single flipper instead of a hand, this disproves Creationism? That there’s a zero percent chance of this happening? That this is beyond God’s abilities?

Of course not.

So instead of that concession, we have to concede — based on the rules of basic math — that P(Dolphins With Five Fingers | Creationism) is not 100%. It’s some number less than 100%. What this number is, is besides the point. The actual point is… what type of flipper structure is inconsistent with an all powerful god?

I’ve only introduced two hypothetical datapoints: P(Dolphins With Five Finger Bones | Creationism) and P(Dolphins With One Flipper Bone | Creationism) = 100%. Or, written in shorthand, P(E1 | Creationism) + P(E2 | Creationism) = 100%. What’s stopping God from other hypothetical evidence? P(E3 | Creationism), P(E4 | Creationism), P(E5 | Creationism), P(E100 | Creationism)? Is there any P(En | Creationism) that is so beyond God’s capabilities that it shouldn’t be included? Isn’t the limit really no limit at all? With God, all things are possible!

And that’s the problem. If P(E1 | Creationism) + P(E2 | Creationism) + P(E3 | Creationism) + … P(En | Creationism) = 100%, the probability of any one of those possible observations — with no other way to differentiate them — is n / 100. if n is infinity, what does this say about P(Dolphins With Five Finger Bones | Creationism) or P(Dolphins With One Flipper Bone | Creationism)? They are evidence out of an infinite sea of God’s possibilities; their individual likelihoods are vanishingly (infinitely…) small.

On the other hand (lol), P(Dolphins With One Flipper Bone | Theory of Evolution) should be zero, since dolphins that have a single flipper bone instead of a hand would be, rightly so, evidence against common descent.

As a somewhat off topic note, notice that Bayes Theorem doesn’t say anything about “scientific” in and of itself. Even though it’s not explicit, a lot of other problem-solving endeavors take a Bayesian approach to creating solutions. Your plumber, when diagnosing what’s causing your plumbing problems, does not bother with unfalsifiable explanations (e.g., invisible gremlins from the 5th dimension are responsible for your plumbing problems). Almost everything, from astrophysics to finding where you left your keys, are inferences to the best explanations.

Falsifiability might have been introduced as a defining element of science, but falsifiability is actually Bayesian, and science is just a special case of strong Bayesian evidence.

Other elements of good science — like extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, Occam’s Razor, absence of evidence is evidence of absence, the provisional nature of science — are also Bayesian and able to be expressed mathematically. Meaning that all of those things that are elements of good science are also elements of good troubleshooting in more mundane, everyday areas. Even and especially things that don’t claim to be science but are attempting to model the world.

 

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2020 in Bayes, creationism, Quora answers

 

Scholars who believe nurture trumps nature also tend to doubt the scientific method

A survey of more than 600 scholars from 22 disciplines, ranging from psychology and economics through to gender studies, sociology and the humanities, finds that there remain two distinct cultures in the academe, at least regarding views on the principal causes of human behaviour and human culture.

One group, made up of psychologists, economists, philosophers and political scientists believes more strongly in the genetic influences on behaviour, beliefs and culture. The other group, consisting sociologists, non-evolutionary anthropologists, women’s and gender studies scholars and all humanities scholars (except philosophy), believes in the primacy of environmental influences. What’s more, those scholars favouring environmental accounts also tend to be sceptical of the scientific method.

[…]

“Human behaviour is not subject to immutable laws, and, therefore, can’t be studied scientifically,” said a religious studies scholar. “Scientific knowledge has something to tell us about material artefacts and their production, but ‘human nature’, ‘human experience’ and ‘human behaviour’ are not empirically stable,” said a literary studies scholar.

In contrast, scholars favouring genetic and evolutionary accounts of behaviour expressed faith in science.

[…]

Carroll and his colleagues said “Most researchers who regard human behaviour as beyond the reach of science, or who deny that science has any special claims on the production of knowledge, have more academic respectability that creationists, but they are similar to creationists in that they step willingly outside the circle of knowledge susceptible to empirical falsification.”

Read more at PsyPost

 

Creationist Baffled By The Existence Of Pee

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2016 in creationism, Funny

 

What Makes A Good Explanation?

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I posted the following over at Jerry Coyne’s blog in the comments, and I like having a record of my comments so I’m posting it here as well :). If you’re sharp and have been reading my blog regularly, you’ll notice that my “precision” example is really just Bayes Theorem and the “simplicity” example is Occam’s Razor:

The thing we have to get out of the way first, when dealing with Creationists (or anyone with wacky ideas, like 9-11 truthers), is to determine what exactly constitutes a “good explanation”.

I think that there are certain criteria that all good explanations share, yet god-belief fails at all of them.

1) Mechanism. A good explanation explains more of the underlying mechanisms than bad explanations. If your faucet is leaking and you call a plumber over to fix it, the plumber will be able to explain the underlying mechanism behind what causes the faucet to leak. There’s no mechanism for positing god, other than “goddidit” or “sin”.

2) Testability. A good explanation lends itself to being testable. Your plumber will be able to reproduce the leak at command if he actually understands the underlying mechanism. And if the leak happens again and your plumber told you the underlying mechanism, you should be able to test his explanation and fix the leak yourself. God-belief is entirely untestable (well, it is, but it fails every single test).

3) Simplicity. Good explanations use fewer ad hoc claims — i.e. claims that are not testable and have no mechanism — to support itself. A plumber that does all of the above but then posits that the reason behind the leak is that you haven’t arranged the furniture in your house in a manner that resonates with the frequencies of the Crystals of Andraste is a worse explanation than one that leaves that out.

4) Precision. Good explanations exclude more possible evidence than bad explanations. Let’s say that you have two friends who collect marbles. One friend collects only black marbles while the other collects every single color marble he can get his hands on. If your plumbing problems started after both friends were over for a few hours, and a black marble was found in your pipes, it’s much more likely that your friend who only collects black marbles caused it than your friend who collects all marble colors; even though it’s known that both friends own black marbles. God-belief does not restrict the type of evidence would be seen as opposed to naturalism so god-belief would be analogous to the friend who collects every marble color imaginable. The more evidence god-belief allows, the less likely it is that it explains this one particular piece of evidence.

I would like to see Creationists come up with their own criteria for what constitutes a “good explanation” using examples from real life which also supports their Creationism. Usually they fall prey to simplistic thinking like the tornado-in-a-junkyard strawman, claiming that evolution breaks the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the watchmaker fallacy, appeals to ignorance (“no one knows how this happens, therefore goddidit”) or the fallacy of composition (e.g. everything we know of in the universe was made by someone, therefore the universe was made by someone).

Someone else made a good additional comment:

IOW, they usually make what they suppose is a negative case against evolution. They don’t make a positive case for creation.

I’ve seen all the negative arguments above, but I’m sure I’m not particularly well-versed in creationist arguments; I’d be interested to know if they do try to present positive evidence.

Which basically boils down to: Just because you suspect something is a lie, doesn’t mean you know the truth.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Bayes, creationism

 

The Existence Of Jesus Is Just A Theory

This should be the most common response to Creationists who insist that the theory of evolution is “just a theory”. And that feeling of being taken aback when you say “well, Jesus is just a theory” is the same feeling that normal people get when Creationists say that “evolution is just a theory”.

Make no mistake. Jesus is a hypothetical construct posited to make sense of Christianity, much in the same way the theory of evolution is posited to make sense of biology. The evidence for evolution is much better than the evidence for the existence of Jesus. So if Creationists want to doubt the theory of evolution because it’s “just a theory”, then they should be even more doubtful of the existence of Jesus based on the same logic. This is based on the simple fact that the hard sciences have more evidence to work with than history.

On the flip side of that, if the existence of Jesus is beyond reasonable doubt for the Creationist, then how much more solid is the existence of evolution? They are really stuck between a rock and a hard place if they assert that one is open to questioning and the other one is beyond questioning. This statement should really expose the hypocrisy of their “it’s just a theory” statement.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in apologetics, creationism, jesus myth

 
 
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