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June 27, 2007

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Nato

"thus [the Darwinian theory of imperfect ecosystemic homeostasis] is the equal of Darwinism in terms of Popperian falsifiability while being far more modest in its claims"

In biological research, evolutionary claims are highly individuated, leaving little room for (a)-(d) type claims. It's only when we start talking about evolutionary theory in aggregate that additional claims start floating in the wake of those routinely exposed to disconfirmation. Presumably, these are what Nathan's DToIEH strips from "evolution".

So, what is the difference between the hypothesis that the DToIEH accounts for the known varieties of life and the hypothesis that evolution accounts for the known varieties of life? Is the only real difference that DToIEH abstains from most historical claims?

Should we make a meteorological theory of imperfect thermodynamic balance which does not attempt to explain ancient weather in terms of modern meteorological principles? Certainly MToITB is more parsimonious, and it's logically possible that lighting bolts were once caused by Zeus.

Really, the divide between evolutionary theory and DToIEH seems to boil down to nothing more than Nathan's sometimes rejection of methodological naturalism when applied to past events.

Hopefully Nathan will elaborate.

Nathan Smith

"So, what is the difference between the hypothesis that the DToIEH accounts for the known varieties of life and the hypothesis that evolution accounts for the known varieties of life?"

Well, the DToIEH doesn't exactly claim to account for all the known varieties of life. They're there, we don't know why, but this explains why they stay in equilibrium, and also, by the way, explains one mechanism why it might change over time, without making strong assertions about how strong those mechanisms are, or whether there are other mechanisms, and certainly not about how all life originated. Full-fledged Darwinian evolution *does* claim to know that, with radically inadequate evidence.

Nato

I trust I am correct to view Nathan's response as indicating confirmation of the hypothesis that "the only real difference [between evolution and DToIEH is] that DToIEH abstains from most historical claims." In turn that leads me to believe that the divide is indeed epistemic rather than empirical.

Nato

"A subtler meta-argumentative issue is that some of the proposed counter-examples to Darwinism constitute a Vanishingly (as Dennett would put it) subset of all possible worlds, whereas with strong Popperian scientific theories it is the confirmations which are a Vanishingly small subset of all possible worlds"

Say that a person demanded a single discovery that would disprove the existence of the Civil War. That would certainly be a very special discovery.

A realistic disconfirmation would require overthrowing a thousand subsidiary evolutionary claims, bit by bit turning the tide away from evolution. More and more fossils found out of order, new discoveries calling into question radiological dating, more and more genetic similarities spanning "unrelated" animals and more and more genetic dissimilarity between organisms we had thought to be related, and so on. Taken individually, the constituent claims of evolution are rather narrow and require fairly specific results that, though frequently several, remain Vanishingly rare relative to all possible results.

Nathan Smith

"The divide is indeed epistemic rather than empirical..."

What is meant by this statement? How do you *contrast* epistemic with empirical? Isn't "empirical" an *epistemic* characterization of a theory? I suppose I agree with the statement in this sense: the epistemological nature of the two theories is different in that the DToIEH is fully empirical, whereas full-fledged evolution is partly empirical science and part imaginative speculation and ideology.

"Say that a person demanded a single discovery that would disprove the existence of the Civil War. That would certainly be a very special discovery."

Yes, but our knowledge of the Civil War is based mostly on *human reports,* a totally different and infinitely more informative kind of evidence than the archeological and inferential evidence that is used in the case of Darwinism.

"Taken individually, the constituent claims of evolution are rather narrow and require fairly specific results..."

Exactly. Some of the "constituent claims of evolution" are scientific enough-- taxonomy, for example; or paleontology. These predated Darwinism but were swept up into it because of the ideological spell that Darwinism cast over the biological community. But the theory makes grand overarching claims that go far beyond the part of it that has a scientific basis.

Nathan Smith

"... Nathan's sometimes rejection of methodological naturalism when applied to past events."

That's not quite it. If we observe volcanoes today, I don't have a problem with presuming it very likely that they also occurred in the past. The trouble is that evolution asks us to impute to the past a type of development-- macro-evolution-- which we never obseve. I use "macro-evolution" as a sort of short-hand: not that there is a sharp divide between micro- and macro-evolution; rather, there is a certain degree of transformation of organisms which we have observed in recorded history, and Darwinism asks us to believe that *far greater* transformations have occurred in the past. *Maybe* they did; or maybe, at any rate, they could have, i.e., mutation and natural selection are powerful enough mechanisms to achieve it. But we can't observe macro-evolution.

I wouldn't describe this kind of extrapolation as "methodological naturalism applied to past events."

Nato

A brief explanation of empirical vs epistemic:
We know of one kind of natural process* that could parsimoniously explain observable life (including traces of life in bygone eras): evolution. Thus methodological naturalism endemic to science requires that we attempt to explain it all in those terms, since it's the best thing we've got. So far, it has an excellent track record, and while it hasn't answered all questions by any stretch of the imagination, it has demonstrated enormous power.

Now, one might say that Nathan's DToIEH has the same track record, but doesn't presume to historical claims. This sounds easier than it is, because it doesn't mesh well with comparative genomics where evolution makes many predictions but DToIEH can only make a few. If we expand DToIEH to include historical predictions that we can test using comparative genomics and et cetera, then DToIEH becomes very close to isomorphic with evolution its empirical aspect. What's left is the disposition toward phenomena for which we've not yet determined a testing method. Evolutionary theorists assume that we should entertain evolutionary hypotheses first because evolutionary processes are the natural dynamics that seem most capable of generating the kind of phenomena we wish to explain. DToIEH, on the other hand, would reject this presumption, apparently due to the belief that merely being the most powerful naturalistic process available is insufficient to generate a presumption of its involvement.

That's an epistemic, not empirical position.

*Really a massive variety of different processes grouped under the same heading

Nato

And by the way, human testimony does not seem "infinitely" more informative than natural evidence. After all, natural evidence cannot lie or be mistaken, and we have to apply pretty much the same standards of evidence to evaluate the statements of the ancients. Certainly human testimony can tell us some things that natural testimony cannot, but so can radiocarbon dating tell us some things human testimony cannot, and so on.

Nathan Smith

"We know of one kind of natural process* that could parsimoniously explain observable life (including traces of life in bygone eras): evolution."

No, we don't know whether evolution can explain observable life. At any rate, we don't know this by observation. Evolutionists simply *take for granted* that the evolution mechanism is powerful enough to explain observable life, and then whatever evidence comes along gets fitted into that assumption.

"Now, one might say that Nathan's DToIEH has the same track record, but doesn't presume to historical claims. This sounds easier than it is, because it doesn't mesh well with comparative genomics where evolution makes many predictions but DToIEH can only make a few..."

Comparative genomics is predicted by TAXONOMY: evolution is one potential "backstory," so to speak, for taxonomy. Taxonomy could be reformulated into evolution-agnostic terms: all living organisms can be classified into kingdoms, classes, phyla, families, genuses, species, etc., and these various organism-groupings are characterized by such-and-such commonalities... A backstory is not necessary for something to be a scientific theory and is in a sense even superfluous.

Isaac Newton didn't try to tell us how gravity originated.

Nato

Quoting from a previous comment:

'What would pure taxonomy predict? "These arbitrary animals that we grouped together will also happen to be similar in their non-coding DNA" - why? What pattern is this following? The pattern of human taxonomists grouping them together? This is pure speculation because it's not based on any principle or non-arbitrary pattern. If turns out to be untrue, it doesn't disconfirm anything except the hypothesis. The taxon is not invalidated.'

I say again - taxonomy without an underlying process to reify taxons predicts nothing.

Perhaps Nathan wants us to bracket *what* process reifies the taxons, and just say that a process that creates the differences and similarities on which we base the divisions will apply to additional discovered data such as non-coding DNA. This is a very odd, incurious sort of "science".

"No, we don't know whether evolution can explain observable life. At any rate, we don't know this by observation. Evolutionists simply *take for granted* that the evolution mechanism is powerful enough to explain observable life, and then whatever evidence comes along gets fitted into that assumption."

There's some equivocation in the sense of "could" and "can" that Nathan and I are using. I intend it in the sense of "might" and Nathan seems to think I am using it as "is capable of." I think it's clear that in some sense evolutionary theory is not capable of explaining everything in the same sense that QED can explain all observable chemistry. There's a great deal more to work out and some of the dynamical conclusions made to date pretty much have to turn out to be untrue or at least insufficient. That said, the general pursuit of algorithmic design processes (and other stochastic influences) gives every sign of being able to, when properly elaborated, explain observable life. No other theory shows that sort of promise.

Nato

btw - For Newtonian physics, gravity *is* the backstory. One could say "hey, don't just postulate this universalist 'theory of gravity' - just tell us what you can really measure," and then proceed to counter-offer a sort of circumscribed mathematics in which one describes the motions of the planets *as if* Newton's laws applied but without claiming that the same laws applied to stars or anything else not observable on a human timescale.

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Perhaps Nathan wants us to bracket *what* process reifies the taxons, and just say that a process that creates the differences and similarities on which we base the divisions will apply to additional discovered data such as non-coding DNA. This is a very odd, incurious sort of "science".

Casual Shoes

rocess reifies the taxons, and just say that a process that creates the differences and similarities on which we base the divisions will apply to additional discovered data such as non-coding DNA. This is a very odd, incurious sort of "science".

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