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Lakatos on Science and Pseudoscience

“To sum up: [The hallmark of empirical progress is not trivial verifications: Popper is right that there are millions of them. It is no success for Newtonian theory that stones, when dropped, fall towards the earth, no matter how often this is repeated. But, ] so-called ‘refutations’ are not the hallmark of empirical failure, as Popper has preached, since all programmes grow in a permanent ocean of anomalies. What really counts are dramatic, unexpected, stunning predictions: a few of them are enough to tilt the balance; where theory lags behind the facts, we are dealing with miserable degenerating research programmes.”

Evolutionists read this against ID. ID proponents read this against evolution. Time will tell who is right. For the MP3 version as well as the transcript of Lakatos’s talk, go here.

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9 Responses to Lakatos on Science and Pseudoscience

  1. I presented this little mental exercise at Panda’s Thumb some months ago before they banned me. They didn’t find it as hilarious as I did.

    The following is snipped from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/

    “The Marxist account of history too, Popper held, is not scientific, although it differs in certain crucial respects from psychoanalysis. For Marxism, Popper believed, had been initially scientific, in that Marx had postulated a theory which was genuinely predictive. However, when these predictions were not in fact borne out, the theory was saved from falsification by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses which made it compatible with the facts. By this means, Popper asserted, a theory which was initially genuinely scientific degenerated into pseudo-scientific dogma.”

    Now replace “Marx” with “Darwin” for the fun stuff:

    “The Darwinist account of history too, Popper held, is not scientific, although it differs in certain crucial respects from psychoanalysis. For Darwinism, Popper believed, had been initially scientific, in that Darwin had postulated a theory which was genuinely predictive. However, when these predictions were not in fact borne out, the theory was saved from falsification by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses which made it compatible with the facts. By this means, Popper asserted, a theory which was initially genuinely scientific degenerated into pseudo-scientific dogma.”

    Ad hoc hypotheses:

    1) punctuated equilibrium to replace the failed prediction of gradualism which Darwin said would falsify his theory

    2) random mutation to replace the failed prediction of heritable acquired characters which Darwin depended on to drive evolutionary change in reasonable time spans

    3) Nick Matzke’s flagellar evolutionary fairy tale to reduce an instance of irreducible structure which Darwin predicted would falsify his theory

    ROFLMAO! I kill me sometimes.

  2. I can’t help but find the use of Imre Lakatos’ concept of “scientific research programmes” by Bill Dembski as particularly amusing.

    Lets disregard the problems of the “rational reconstruction” approach so favored by Popper and Lakatos, and remind ourselves what exactly is a research programme. Lakatos developed this concept in an attempt to rectify Kuhns sociology of science with its paradigm shifts with Popper’s stress on falsification, and in turn created a two level view of science. A research programme is composed of a few core axioms like that of Newton’s three laws, while there are a number of peripheral statements are deductive consequences or inductive theorizing of the core axioms. A progressive program naturally is that which continues to make unexpected predictions which are verified by experiment while the degenerate theory must continue to rely on ad-hoc hypotheses to explain new phenomena.

    So using this reconstructive method, what are the core axioms of say Intelligent Design and the Modern Synthesis?

    Evolution: All life on Earth evolved from a few common ancestors, though a theories of “Life’s Origins” are still debated among geobiologists and biochemists. That through directing and non-directing mechanisms such as natural selection and genetic drift respectively, new species evolve out of older species. DNA is the molecule of genetic inheritance and differences in the DNA explain the differences among observed characteristics of different species and individuals. Random mutation is the primary cause of genetic variability and certain variations may correspond to phenotypes which allow organisms to survive and procreate more easily then others of their same species or competing species.

    Intelligent Design: That certain organic molecules and organelles are “irreducibly complex,” and therefore cannot be produced by random mutations of previous structures. This complexity is a mark of intelligent design, though one is not able to divine the methods, origin, or intentions of the designer.

    OK, now one has to see evaluate both these theories according to Lakatos’ criteria of progressiveness. Part of me thinks that going over the “progressive” aspects of Biological Evolution as its stands in 2005 would be a bit of a waste of my breath since so many Biologists have regularly chimed in on these points. Also I figure Bill and his followers are smart enough to know where to look to find it, regardless of whether they agree or not.

    But what about Intelligent Design, some may cry. Is that a progressive research programme? With a slight grin on my face, I must reply with an emphatic, NO. The one prediction, just one is that there is an Intelligent Designer out there that created the flagella just the way it is today. There is no explanation of how the designer did this, whether he used a very high tech lab or waved his hands in the air and it was so. There is no explanation of who the designer is. So we are just left with the study of whether there is a designer or not, which in an attempt to expand knowledge seems like a bit of dead end, even if we could get to proving his/her/its existence. The logical jump IDers (which sounds like someone slurring IDEAS) wish to make is that irreducible complexity implies an intelligent designer. Then does the lake of observed “irreducible complexity” undercut any justification for a theory of intelligent design. I can only imagine PZ doing his best Louis Black impression by screaming red-faced “Yes you idiot, of course it does,” as a response to this question.

    I want to reach a little farther then just calling Intelligent Design (creationism) a degenerate research programme, and say thats its not a research programme at all but rather politically motivated (see Phil Johnson’s Wedge Strategy) pseudo-science. Goodness even Paul Nelson, one of the the Discovery Institutes own fellows admits that Intelligent Design is far from being a tenable theory even at this stage. Yeah, so I say follow the first half of your last sentance, falling into the evolutionist camp, but I must say why do we have to wait years to evaluate things. ID was DOA in 1989.

  3. “DNA is the molecule of genetic inheritance and differences in the DNA explain the differences among observed characteristics of different species and individuals.”

    Heh! There’s another failed prediction of neo-Darwinian theory. The gene theory went first. The gene is not the sole repository of inheritance as was previously thought. Epigenetics is well established. So-called “junk DNA” is now known, at least in part, to be quite functional. The DNA theory of inheritance is falling as we speak. DNA is only part of the answer of descent with modification.

    Omni vivo ex ovum – everything comes from an egg. Follow any extant cell back in time and it came from another cell. There are no exceptions.

    Information contained in microtubule structure inherited from the parent cell plays a key role in the faithful reproduction of the number & arrangement of chromosomes. As many of you may know the key genetic difference between an ape and a man is an extra chromosome. Change the microtubule structure and you get chromosomal rearrangements which are sticky and can result in descent with quite radical modification. My guess is that this will eventually be identified as a mechanism behind the saltation that litters the fossil record. Saltation is of course yet another falsification of neo-Darwinian pseudo-science.

    And by the way, identification of a designer (or designers) is not requisite to recognition of design. Attributes indicative of designed structures are inherent in the structure in and of itself. Identification of the agency responsible for the design is a separate matter.

  4. Interesting to find a Popperian criterion for sciencehood cited in a thread about Lakatos. Lakatos’s contribution to Phil Sci consisted in large part in a deep critique of Popper’s ‘naive’ falsificationism- especially the bit about ad hoc assumptions. Evolutionary theory, including the purportedly ‘ad hoc’ additions you mention, looks a lot better on a (superior) Lakatosian understanding than an old-fashioned (but still inexplicably popular, perhaps because of its simplicity) falsificationism.

    Doran29′s comment more than adequately compares ID and Evolutionary theory on Lakatosian grounds, and so I’ll leave it at that.

  5. One quick addition: It’s fairly well known that until the past quarter-century or so, philosophers of science by and large developed their theories with physics in mind as the paradigm of a succesful science. On many of the demarcation criterion developed in this way, practically no endeavour we would call ‘science’ other than physics anad perhaps chemistry would come out as ‘really scientific.’ So while these theories may have some insights for understanding other fields of scientific inquiry, we really shouldn’t expect, prima facie, that they would pass favorably verdicts on more complex and historical fields like earth sciences, climatology, or evolutionary biology. That evolutionary biology is not *just like* physics or chemistry, epistemologically and methodologically, does not give any support to the contention that it is non-scientific.

  6. “A progressive program naturally is that which continues to make unexpected predictions which are verified by experiment while the degenerate theory must continue to rely on ad-hoc hypotheses to explain new phenomena.”

    Excuse me, but isn’t the “neo”-Darwinian synthesis itself “ad hoc”? And what about “punctuated equilibria”? And now that “junk”-DNA has been found to be highly conserved, we’re probably due for another “ad-hoc” adjustment. And, of course, there’s now evidence that genetic “gradualism” is under attack. Will that mean another ad-hoc-er?

  7. SeanD

    Shouldn’t the most tested theory in all science, one as sound as the law of gravity, look good on either a Popper or Lakatosian understanding?

  8. PaV

    Darwinian narrative apologists are afraid to make any more predictions because they eventually fail. The “modern synthesis” or neo-Darwinism has been reduced to “descent with modification”. The only prediction they’ll bet the farm on these days is that daughter cells come from mother cells and are sometimes different.

    ROFLMAO!

    There are NO predictions made by neo-Darwinism. All they do is experiment and observe where the experiments and observations are as relevant to design as any other descent with modification mechanism. If anything they find doesn’t fit the “chance and time” story without being obviously absurd they go into ad hoc hypothesis mode to explain it. Now that I think about it, obvious absurdity isn’t an obstacle for them. Only widely acknowledged obvious absurdity presents a problem and even then there’s still option of having the NAS board of directors issue a fatwah discounting the absurdity and comparing the Darwinian narrative to the law of gravity. :-)

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