Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nonfalsifiable Falsifiability


Most connoisseurs of arrant dingbattery will concede that NRO's Phi Beta Cons lacks the cracked glamor and solvent-huffing intensity of the Corner. To put it in terms that James Lileks can understand, the Corner is Wayland Flowers' Madame, while PBC is Burr Tillstrom's Ollie.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth the occasional visit. Today, for instance, I've been following an exciting evilutionary dust-up between Carol Iannone - who, as I've detailed elsewhere, is a sort of larval Althouse, only dumber - and Anthony Dick, an associate editor of NR and one of its lonely anti-ID voices.

Dick has answered Iannone's objections to "Darwinism" patiently, and at some length. The most interesting part comes during their debate over falsifiability. Iannone gripes that "Darwinians accept falsifiability only on their own terms." It's not clear what this is supposed to mean, but Dick seems to draw pretty much the same inference I do, which is that Iannone thinks a theory has been "falsified" once someone complains about it with sufficient vehemence.

In essence, she's claiming that scientists aren't properly "multicultural" and "diverse" (to use words that are demonized daily at PBC), and therefore don't understand that the willful incredulity of Carol Iannone carries at least as much epistemic gravitas as all that tedious stuff scientists do with beakers and hoses, and those big round bottles, and that thing you always see in the movies (you know...the thing you put your eye against).

Anyway, here's Dick's response:

The basic idea of falsifiability in science is quite simple: A scientific theory makes a positive claim about the world. If an empirical observation contradicts the theory, then the theory must be abandoned.
That's not quite true in theory, and even less so in practice. And for the sake of efficiency, I'm resisting my impulse to find out precisely where Dick stands on the Bush administration's "positive claims" about the world. Let's just put all that aside for now, and struggle onwards:
Modern evolutionary biology is bound to a fairly fixed timeline, with a fossil record that is constrained by the principle of gradual descent with modification via natural selection over billions of years. In the eyes of 99 percent of working scientists, no fossilized organisms have yet been found that contradict (or even seriously call into question) this evolutionary timeline.
Not the best rebuttal I've ever seen, but it does have the virtue of simplicity. And God knows simplicity is important when you're debating someone like Iannone, who prattles vacantly about "ribosome, the molecule that constructs DNA."

Iannone's response to all this is one of the funniest things I've read in a while. Here it is, in full:
Last Words on ID
[Carol Iannone 10/17 05:12 PM]
I really do feel that Anthony's answers, which I do appreciate as more complete than I've ever been able to wring out of any Darwinian, show that Darwinian theory is itself non-falsifiable. And the present pope is beginning to cast doubt on the falsely confident assertion that revealed Christianity and Darwin are totally compatible.
QED, motherfuckers!

The best part is, Anthony Dick now knows exactly how sane people feel when they read Jonah Goldberg or Ramesh Ponnaru on politics.

(Photo by Catherine Wagner.)

8 comments:

Snow said...

What is "revealed Christianity" in a nutshell?

Mr. Orange said...

Hey, I've seen that concluding use of QED somewher else before...

http://www.frinktank.com/?p=128

Phila said...

Hey, I've seen that concluding use of QED somewher else before...

http://www.frinktank.com/?p=128


I've seen it lots of places!

Phila said...

What is "revealed Christianity" in a nutshell?

Dively revealed, via the Bible and miracles.

Nanette said...

Not quite as bad as the Corner... which is so bad that sometimes that old stick Derbyshire appears to be the sensible one.

ID is so insidious tho. I have a good friend, very much a far lefty, goes off the charts on those little political leaning tests - but she believes in ID. Doesn't see why she shouldn't, and also she seems to have the same odd interpretation of scientific theory and falsifiability as Iannone (I guess they go hand in hand with the ID stuff).

I've tried (half heartedly) to argue the issue with her, but mostly it didn't seem worth it... this seems like a very personal belief to some, I guess because of its religious connections.

Also, I don't really care what people believe, as long as they are not trying to get it into schools to teach to kids as a valid scientific theory. Which she isn't, so far as I know.

But still, odd.

The best part is, Anthony Dick now knows exactly how sane people feel when they read Jonah Goldberg or Ramesh Ponnaru on politics.

Then he is either laughing uproariously or maybe banging his head against the wall about now.

Phila said...

ID is so insidious tho. I have a good friend, very much a far lefty, goes off the charts on those little political leaning tests - but she believes in ID. Doesn't see why she shouldn't,

Yeah, I know the syndrome. Personally, I figure believing in God is intellectually and emotionally preferable to believing that ID is a legitimate or useful science. So why not be content with one's leap of faith? Why drag science into it?

Highly rhetorical questions, natch.

charley said...

i believe the science without fully comprehending it.

So why not be content with one's leap of faith?

the bible is the literal word of god. however you might interpret that. might be a lot a different ways.

personally i never could grok why god and evolution could not coexist, in fact, i think a lot of scientists think they do.

Phila said...

personally i never could grok why god and evolution could not coexist, in fact, i think a lot of scientists think they do.

More in math and physics than biology, I believe...but yeah, there are certainly religious scientists.