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Barry and Barr Mix it Up

Over at the First Things blog Stephen M. Barr and I have the following exchange regarding a story about the latest evolutionary psychology explanation (Why Women Hate Snakes):

 Barry Arrington:   Who doesn’t love evolutionary psychology? We can make up stories all day long explaining any phenomenon we like, and then we can explain its inverse with equal élan, without even the remotest chance of our story being falsified. But is it science?

Stephen M. Barr:  Dear Barry, Is evolutionary psychology all bad? A lot of it is just common sense. Consider a simple example: Why do men have more upper body strength and more aggressive tendencies? Is it possibly related somehow to the fact that women who were pregnant or caring for small children were in the circumstances in which we evolved more vulnerable and less able to provide for themselves, and that men had therefore to defend them and provide for them? Does anyone really doubt this quite obvious evolutionary explanation? Can it be “proven”? No. Science is not mathematics. It is not about rigorous proof, but explanatory power.

We should apply the same standards of reasonableness to scientific explanations as to other kinds. Suppose I see a man with a smoking gun in his hand standing over the body of a man who has just been shot. Can I “prove” he shot him? Probably not. Can the theory that he did be rigorously “tested”? Probably not. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence may be such as produce reasonable certainty. So it often is in science.

Many “stories”, both in science and everyday life, are very convincing and credit-worthy, without being “testable” in some rigorous way

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28 Responses to Barry and Barr Mix it Up

  1. 1

    “Science is not mathematics. It is not about rigorous proof, but explanatory power.”

    I find it interesting how some Darwinists feel it acceptable to define science in any way that allows them to make their point, rather than to allow science to be what it is in order for certain points not to be made.

  2. CY:

    Science seeks to observe, describe, reliably explain, predict and provide “handles” for influencing or controlling the course of nature. [This last is the pragmatic goal of grounding technology. Applied science.]

    In so doing, it indeed is incapably of proof in a demonstrative, mathematical sense. That is part of why it is inherently provisional and should be humble enough to acknowledge that. (Mathematics, post-Godel has its own limits whereby for rich enough mathematical systems to be interesting we are never sure the sets of axioms are complete or internally consistent.)

    The problems come in when just-so stories are allowed to do duty for serious explanations, and especially when a priori materialism (often disguised as “methodological naturalism”) is imposed as a censoring constraint in the teeth of the known fact of intelligent cause and its reliable characteristics.

    On evo psycho, hard problem of consciousness etc, my observation is that the big gap is that there is no reasonable meth nat, chance + necessity only account of the origin of mind; despite all sorts of assertions and assumptions to the contrary. Similarly, too many just so stories fail to provide a credible account for the origin of the required bio-functional information that would fit their time-line or even the gamut of the cosmos as a whole. (the criterion for the ID explanatory filter; which the latest slander against is that false positives have been found. Not so.)

    But since to the neo-magisterium the alternative, intelligence, is anathematised, we see a lot of going in materialistic circles and barbed attacks on those — yes, it gets nastily personal real fast — who challenge the assumptions and shadow-plays in today’s version of Plato’s Cave.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Did my explanation help over in teh Contest 10 thread?

  3. 3

    KF,

    My statement in #1 was not to disparage the definition of science I quoted – rather, to point out that these definitions keep shifting. At one point the Darwinist insists on a rigorous mathematical formula (especially in accepting any ID hypothesis); and the next minute “explanatory power” seems to be enough (but not from ID theorists). That’s the point I was attemting to convey.

    “PS: Did my explanation help over in teh Contest 10 thread?”

    Are you refering to the Weasel program thread?

    Yes, but I must admit my ignorance on the subject. Much study is necessary for me to understand the fine points. :)

    I think generally you seem to have made a good case for the fact that Dawkins’ Weasel program is not what Dawkins’ projected it to be. It does not model nor explain gradual selection. I would have to say that his model smacks of the same “just-so” story telling that we are all familiar with, only a little more sophisitcated perhaps.

    One thing that frustrates me with Dawkins, is that he takes a contrary argument from his views, such as the tornado in a junkyard example, tears it apart in simple terms, by stating “that’s not how evolution works, it works gradually, not all at once.” Then he employs an entirely more complex and sophisticated model to demonstrate his own view of how evolution is gradually selective. So the reader can understand the first part in a simple way, but must carefully digest all of the intricacies of his counter explatation. This seems to be a rhetorical trick.

  4. 4

    Soory for the diversion, now to steer the discussion back on topic:

    The snake explanation is limited to a particular social environment. In order to support a Darwinian hypotheis, the study would have to rely on statistics from other cultures and times. For example; did ancient Babylonian women fear snakes at the same ratio as women in our culture? Since it is doubtful that we could get reliable statistics on this, I doubt if the study is actually supportive of any Darwinian process. There may be factors that are not in womens’ makeup, but in the way women are raised in our culture.

  5. 5

    Kf,

    Short note – I got it mixed up. I’m reading your response now. I’ll respond in the other thread.

  6. But this is all rubbish.

    If a story is not “testable in a rigorous way” it is not science.

    Time to pull the plug on the “evolutionary” psychology rubbish – and some clear thinkers are beginning to do so.

    While we are here, most of it is NOT common sense. It is popular culture broadcast as science – a very different matter.

    “Ooga! Ooga! Why you tip big at restaurants and why you cheatie on your sweetie!!”

    PS: I haven’t noticed that women fear snakes more than men, but – it must be said – we dont have many poisonous snakes or reptiles in Canada, so most people learn everything they know about snakes from media.

    It is very sad to see scholars falling for this.

  7. “we dont have many poisonous snakes or reptiles in Canada”

    Heh, that would really depend on where you live. I don’t suppose there are many rattlers in an apartment in downtown Toronto, no. :)

  8. Why do men have more upper body strength and more aggressive tendencies?

    At least the scientific establishment has now recognized that men and women are different. Wasn’t all that long ago it seemed they were insisting that it was all a matter of social conditioning.

  9. “Science is not mathematics. It is not about rigorous proof, but explanatory power.”

    True. Science can only point to the most likely explaination. But surely a supernatural entity can never be the most likely explanation? An intelligent being who was capable of designing the universe and everything in it must be bigger and more complex than the universe and everything in it. It is therefore LESS LIKELY TO EXIST than the universe and everything in it.

    As such, surely an intelligent designer is an extremely implausible explaination for anything?

  10. Tribune7 comments: “Why do men have more upper body strength and more aggressive tendencies?”

    A medical doctor might kindly explain the former, but I am honestly not sure about the latter.

    In my own experience, women are just as aggressive as men, but are less likely to use direct violence, probably due to lesser upper body strength.

    Women normally find some other way to punish their foes, as anyone who has had to deal with female thugs will soon learn.

  11. Denyse, you are mixing up “aggressive” with words like “arrogance”, “malice” and “ambitious”.

    I’ll grant that a woman can be just as arrogant, malicious or ambitious as a man, but no way are you as aggressive.

  12. “As such, surely an intelligent designer is an extremely implausible explaination for anything?”

    Good try, but an intelligent designer is an extremely plausible explaination for a lot of things. Science has a lousy track record in certain areas, essentially origins, so that is why an intelligent designer make sense to most of the world since the beginning of the species.

    Some things just do not make sense in terms of the laws of the universe set up to keep it going smoothly. These questions involve how various things got started. You can wish it away if you want and be our guest but still the origins problem is a mystery which no one can fathom a reasonable answer. So given that, an intelligent designer is extremely plausible explanation.

    Now most of us would agree the origin of the intelligent designer is a mystery, but not its existence.

    We can now start a 500 comment thread on the nature of the designer or God of which there have been more than one in the past. So if you are curious you should go to one.

  13. IRQ Conflict at 7: Not that anyone cares, I live in a house, not an apartment. The only known poisonous snake in my region of Canada is the Massassauga rattler – which could exist on our Toronto Beltline.

    Heck, we’ve had problems with coyotes and I have seen foxes, so why not Mass’gas?

    However, I admit that that snake is very small, compared with the dramatic snakes I recently saw at the world reptile exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre.

    The only Mass’ga I ever saw was a corpse – killed by a woman.

  14. In my opinion, and whether I seem to be rather alone on this or not is irrelevant, the whole post-modernist idea that “science can never prove anything” is pure BS.

    Who says so and why? It doesn’t even make sense!

    Never prove anything?! Nonsense it does and has proved many things else it is unreliable and useless for explaining anything.

    The “cant prove” position is utterly post-modernist, anti-absolute baloney of a high order. Sure it may apply to various purely theoretical domains but certainly not all!

    I hear this tripe from Darwinists all the time, curiously, its whenever I ask for proof of anything! This is their prime escape mechanism, “Duh, science cant prove anything”.
    Really? Then great for you, you are all exempted from having to prove anything!

  15. The whole concept of “evolutionary psychology” should be challenged. Darwinists have come so far in their nonsense that some of them claim that 2+2=4 is not because it is true, but because those who believe it survive better.

    I wonder if we could be witnessing soon some new “scientific” branches like “evolutionary philology”.

  16. Could be that women are more scared of things crawling inside of them than men are for obvious reasons. Just a creepy theory (and don’t ask me any questions about it).

  17. Again, there is nothing wrong with speculative explanations as long as they are not pretending to be anything more.

    Hunches, intuitions, inspiration are all grist to the scientific mill. It needs all the ideas it can get when trying to explain something as mysterious as the Universe we find ourselves in.

    To be more than just speculation, however, to be actually useful an explanation must be testable, as others have pointed out.

    For example, demonstrating that a non-human intelligent agent was behind some aspect of life on Earth would be a fascinating discovery. It would open up a whole new field of inquiry into the nature of this being.

    But telling us ‘who’ does not tell us ‘how’ and science is much concerned with ‘how’. Even if we allow, for the sake of argument, that God created the heaven and the Earth that tells us nothing about how He did it. It’s like asking how a stage magician’s illusion was achieved and being told “David Copperfield did it.” Well, yes, that may well be true but that wasn’t what was being asked.

    Of course, we should be wary of any reports about science in the mass media. Popular journalists do not always report just fact, partly because they may not fully understand what they are covering and partly because they are all in competition with each other for our attention.

    If they feel a story needs to be “sexed up” by emphasizing certain aspects – or just blatant distortion – to make it more attention-grabbing, then that is what they will do.

    Equally, if they have a personal axe to grind do not expect to get fair or balanced coverage from them.

    Where possible, go straight to the source. Do not allow yourselves, as is the case with so much Web coverage, just to be farmed out to other commentary sites.

  18. 18

    Absolutist,

    “Could be that women are more scared of things crawling inside of them than men are for obvious reasons. Just a creepy theory (and don’t ask me any questions about it).”

    Halloween’s coming up, so you might want to publish. :)

    Borne,

    “In my opinion, and whether I seem to be rather alone on this or not is irrelevant, the whole post-modernist idea that “science can never prove anything” is pure BS.”

    I’m trying to synthesize some meaning out of what you stated here, and what Seversky stated at #17 with this:

    “Again, there is nothing wrong with speculative explanations as long as they are not pretending to be anything more.”

    I find myself agreeing with both of these examples. Science needs imagination, but it also requires reality. It can prove some aspects of reality, but it is limited, because reality is exponentially more sophisticated and complex than we have time and energy to discover. We are always left with gaps.

    Seversky expresses his distaste for God-of-the-gaps arguments, and rightly so, but ultimately there are gaps that need to be filled in with informed speculation/imagination everywhere around us. We ought not be held back by such imaginings from allowing us to dig deeper to find the reality “fill-ins” for the gaps, and that often requires us to go where we don’t expect to, or don’t desire to go.

    So here we are at this impasse between Darwin-of-the-gaps and God-of-the-gaps. I perceive that the ID argument is incompatible with both of these problems. We are not suggesting “God did it” as a sufficient argument. We accept this on faith and on theological grounds, but on scienctific and empirical grounds, we don’t.

    If it were true that ID theorists were content with “God did it,” then there would be no point in ID attempting go any further from the place where Creationism now stands.

  19. As for dead horses, a prodigious number of words have been wasted on Dawkins’ Weasel program.

    By his own words, it was designed to demonstrate one thing and one thing only, namely that cumulative selection was a much faster way of getting to a particular target than purely random one-step selection.

    There was no latching, locking, ratcheting or partitioning – quasi, implicit or otherwise – because it was not necessary. It works just fine without.

    WEASEL was not a simulation of the process of evolution. It was intended to illustrate the point about the advantages of cumulative selection just as Bernard Kettlewell’s photographs of moths glued to trees were intended as illustrations of his research not evidence for it.

    The whole thing is almost as absurd as arguing that Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel showing God creating Man is a scientific depiction of how it would have been done if it had been done.

  20. 20

    Ritchie,

    “An intelligent being who was capable of designing the universe and everything in it must be bigger and more complex than the universe and everything in it. It is therefore LESS LIKELY TO EXIST than the universe and everything in it.”

    I agree that an intelligent being that is bigger and more complex than the universe is less likely to exist than the universe itself, but it does not follow that an intelligent being who is capable of designing the universe and everything in it must be bigger and more complex than the universe and everything in it. Where do you get that from? Dawkins?

    An intelligent designer can be outside of the universe, so his/its/her size and/or complexity is irrelevant. He/she/it could be as small as a pea and have the capacity to design the universe. But the real problem here is that Darwinists can’t seem to escape naturalism even when immagining a designer.

  21. Seversky:

    I thought this was a thread about evo psycho and its just-so stories?

    Why are you trying to divert the focus of the thread?

    [Is it that you cannot credibly coherently account for origin and validity of the reasoning mind on evolutionary materialism, much less consciousness, subjective perception, valuing [and ethics, given the inherent is-ought gap and so amorality of materialism -- amorality being since Plato's the Laws Bk X c 360 BC, a notorious enabler for great evils . . . spell that Alcibiades and co], intent and purpose, all of which are involved in even a more or less irrational fear of snakes, mice, insects or the like?]

    FYI, re weasel: the only reason any significant attention has been paid to Weasel, after seeing that in BW ch 3, CRD had to admit its fundamentally misleading and dis-analogous nature relative to the claimed reality of origin of complex bio-information by chance variation and natural selection, is because darwinist critics have thought they could use it to distract and dismiss.

    To date, such critics have never cogently and frankly faced the import of Mr Dawkins’ direct admissions in ch 3 of BW:

    ________________

    >> It [Weasel] . . . begins by choosing a random sequence of 28 letters [which is of course by overwhelming probability non-functional] … it duplicates it repeatedly, but with a certain chance of random error – ‘mutation’ – in the copying. The computer examines the mutant nonsense [= non-functional] phrases, the ‘progeny’ of the original phrase, and chooses the one which, however slightly, most resembles the target [so, targetted search] phrase, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL . . . . What matters is the difference between the time taken by cumulative selection [cumulative implies progress by successive additions, and in the context of the showcased gives rise to the implications of latching and ratcheting, which is -- your blanket denial in the face of frequently presented detailed evidence notwithstanding (so you either know or should know better) -- demonstrated to happen implicitly as well as explicitly], and the time which the same computer, working flat out at the same rate, would take to reach the target phrase if it were forced to use the other procedure of single-step selection [dismissive, question-begging reference to the requirement of function for selection] . . . more than a million million million times as long as the universe has so far existed [i.e. acknowledges the impact of intelligently injected purposeful, active info on making the otherwise practically impossible becvome very feasible] . . . .

    Although the monkey/Shakespeare model is useful for explaining the distinction between single-step selection and cumulative selection [in more ways than one!], it is misleading in important ways. One of these is that, in each generation of selective ‘breeding’, the mutant ‘progeny’ phrases were judged according to the criterion of resemblance to a distant ideal target, the phrase METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. Life isn’t like that. Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection . . . In real life, the criterion for selection is always short-term, either simple survival or, more generally, reproductive success. >> [parenthetical clarifications added]
    __________________

    In fact these amount to an acknowledgement of the crucial role of intelligently injected active information and purposeful artificaial selection based on targetting and selection of NON-FUNCTIONAL mutants. by sharpest contrast, to have natural selection, you must first get to complex bio-function, credibly — not by question-begging and just-so stories that embed materialist assumptions and distort the proper historically and philosophically warranted meanings of “science.”

    Weasel and its more modern kin do not answer but beg that question.

    And, that was always the primary challenge. Issues over ratcheting-latching have only to deal with the explanation of the showcased runs from 1986, which through the evident ratcheting-latching highlight the above fault. (The number of times Darwinist critics have attacked us for pointing from the secondary to what was primary as “diverting” attention” is ridiculous. So, kindly look in the mirror before blaming ID advocates for the length of arguments and exchanges on the subject.]

    And, attempts to rescue Kettlewell’s moths and misleading pictures used in textbooks [including mine as I recall ever so many years back now . . . and BTW, how many novel functional DNA base pairs does it take to shift moth colour, esp when the colour patterns were apparently always present, it is relative abundance that shifted . . . ] notwithstanding, the above point is clear: Mr Dawkins used a highly misleading and dis-analogous “example” to beg a question and in fact inadvertently demonstrated the power of intelligent direction of controlled random processes. Which is a form of intelligent design.

    So, now kindly show us how you can credibly and coherently account for a valid mind, consciousness, and assocatged values/etyhics, intent, decision and action in the context of evo psycho claims. (“Emergence” of a credibly reasoning mind from loops of neurons or the like and oscillations or “program” loops [BTW, appeals to software will need to ground emergence of algorithms, program languages or the equivalent, data structures and functional information etc from effectively noise and/or KNOWN law] etc would be most interesting to address, on empirical demonstration. No more just so stories and misleading analogies, please.)

    GEM of TKI

  22. Seversky,

    I wholeheartedly agree. That why I am always amused when NDists retort ” So, who is the designer?” ID never asks ‘who?’. It is not interested in the ‘who’ of design, but rather the ‘what’and ‘how’ of design.

    As well, since Ken Miller admits IC is testable, I do think NDists need to come up with some new talking points to replace their worn out “ah, but it ain’t science’, and ‘even so, it’s not testable’, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum (pardon the ‘mutany’).

    Seversky: “But telling us ‘who’ does not tell us ‘how’ and science is much concerned with ‘how’”.

  23. As for weaseling, Dawkins attempt to to legitimize ND concepts using a computer program was indeed clever. Surely the uninformed would invariably be impressed with such a demonstration.

    However, it would be irresponsible in the extreme for ID to let that one go. Thanks to Dembski et al for showing Weasel for what is really is:

    -an esoteric attempt to cover the blush of a naked hypothesis.

  24. Ritchie:
    An intelligent being who was capable of designing the universe and everything in it must be bigger and more complex than the universe and everything in it. It is therefore LESS LIKELY TO EXIST than the universe and everything in it.

    Let’s reason on that.
    Isn’t it also true that intelligent being who was capable of designing and creating Legos and using them to build a castle must be more complex than the Legos and the castle? Therefore, that being is LESS LIKELY TO EXIST than the Legos and the castle.
    *poof* Through my clever logic, I have made it more likely that the Legos and the castle built themselves by accident.
    Granted, we know that people make Legos and castles. But now we know that it’s a freak anomaly. Legos and castles are far more likely to make themselves.
    Your logic, as applied to reality, leads to nonsense. Should we assume that it fares better against the hypothetical?

    The universe is a logical nightmare. There is either an uncaused cause or an infinite regression of causes. There’s no escaping one or the other. We just have to deal with it.

  25. On a more serious note. I find this passage of scripture interesting (bold emphasis mine):

    Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:1-7

    Women are obviously designed and created differently than men for all sorts of excellent reasons. Women are not afraid to tell about their fears like men might be, perhaps men have a fear of ridicule. In other words we might all fear spiders and snakes equally. No one has first person access to others’ consciousness to see whether that is true or not.

  26. Onlookers:

    I find it interesting that, having made bold declarations — recall, he used terms like “absurd” — with strong adverse implications for those who have pointed out that something is seriously wrong with Weasel, at 19 above, Seversky has for days now been missing on either acknowledging correction or showing why his claims still stand.

    Similarly, he is missing in action on the warrant required to ground the evolutionary psychology claims that are at the focus of this thread.

    Interesting.

    GEM of TKI

  27. kairosfocus @ 21

    [Is it that you cannot credibly coherently account for origin and validity of the reasoning mind on evolutionary materialism, much less consciousness, subjective perception, valuing [and ethics, given the inherent is-ought gap and so amorality of materialism -- amorality being since Plato's the Laws Bk X c 360 BC, a notorious enabler for great evils . . . spell that Alcibiades and co], intent and purpose, all of which are involved in even a more or less irrational fear of snakes, mice, insects or the like?]

    Is there a coherent “materialist” account of the origin of the mind? No, there is not, not yet. That is not to say there will never be or there cannot be such.

    As for amorality, yes, the theory of evolution is amoral in that it offers no moral prescriptions. The same is true of theories of gravity, relativity or quantum mechanics.

    Are they all, therefore, enablers of evil? The Nazis, among many others, dropped bombs on their enemies in the Second World War. Those weapons made use of gravity. Do we hold Newton or Einstein responsible to some extent for those acts because they formulated theories of gravity? Or do we take the view that a mind bent on evil will make use of anything that comes to hand to achieve its purpose?

    And, attempts to rescue Kettlewell’s moths and misleading pictures used in textbooks [including mine as I recall ever so many years back now . . . and BTW, how many novel functional DNA base pairs does it take to shift moth colour, esp when the colour patterns were apparently always present, it is relative abundance that shifted . . . ] notwithstanding, the above point is clear: Mr Dawkins used a highly misleading and dis-analogous “example” to beg a question and in fact inadvertently demonstrated the power of intelligent direction of controlled random processes. Which is a form of intelligent design.

    Turn it any way you like but you will not find either Kettlewell about his photographs or Dawkins on WEASEL claiming that they were anything other than illustrations.

    Dawkins was quite candid about the limitations of WEASEL. It was intended to illustrate the advantage of cumulative selection over random ‘one-step’ searches, nothing more. There is no evidence that the original program latched in any way. The author denies that it ever did. The fact that there have been similar programs written since which do latch do not change that. But either way, for the purposes of an illustration, it does not matter.

    As for being a targeted search, well, of course it is. You cannot have a search unless you have something to search for just as you cannot have selection unless you have some target towards which selection is directed.

    In the case of WEASEL or similar programs, the author sets the target. In the natural world, the environment in which the organism has to survive sets the target or targets.

    So, now kindly show us how you can credibly and coherently account for a valid mind, consciousness, and assocatged values/etyhics, intent, decision and action in the context of evo psycho claims.

    Once again, I have no coherent account of the mind or its origins. But neither does anyone else, ID included. It appears we agree that calling it an “emergent property” is not an explanation in itself. At best, it is a placeholder for an explanation we do not yet have but hope to find at some point in the future.

  28. Ritchie,

    True. Science can only point to the most likely explaination. But surely a supernatural entity can never be the most likely explanation? An intelligent being who was capable of designing the universe and everything in it must be bigger and more complex than the universe and everything in it. It is therefore LESS LIKELY TO EXIST than the universe and everything in it.

    You have to pick, either naturally complicated or supernatural, you can’t use both. Supernatural by definition defies any attempt at claiming that the Intelligent Designer has any quantifiable complication by natural terms, because, it isn’t natural. Supernatural things are not beholden to natural categories, not even being “complicated.”

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