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November 28, 2005

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Back from my largely offline Thanksgiving.

I'm reminded of Boney...

...Well, given that he was only a slightly exaggerated cookie-cutter woo, who probably committed every fallacy imaginable, it's kind of hard not to be reminded of him...

...but I digress. One of the key questions that determines whether or not you're doing science is "What would it take for you to admit you're wrong?" AKA falsifiability.

Science deliberately makes sure it can be proven wrong if it is wrong, and that's a very sensible thing: If I make a mistake, I want to be able to catch it quickly.

If, for instance, I'm wrong in my tenative (null) hypothesis that there is no psi, all it takes is a psychic passing the Randi Challenge (or an equally well-designed experiment) for me to realize that hypothesis is wrong.

Not so for the True Believer sorts: They can put endless spin on any apparently contradictory data.

all it takes is a psychic passing the Randi Challenge (or an equally well-designed experiment) for me to realize that hypothesis is wrong.

I disagree here. It'd take more than one trial for me to admit psi is real. Passing the JREF million dollar challenge would open the door for more experimentation; we'd have the reason to believe it exists.

The Randi challenge's purpose is to expose charlatanry, so there's not much threat that it will ever be won.
When you think about it, the Randi challenge has more importance than it is given.

Yeah, I was typing a bit quick. Normally I'm better about mentioning replication.

Here's the real difference between science and religion. Religion is absolutism with no reference to evidence. Science, on the other hand, is probabilistic (not absolutist) based on the evidence. This is why, when new or contradictory evidence comes to light, the scientific judgement as to a likely probability is changed. It is also why religion only changes according to fashionable expedience or when some compelling reason forces the issue - like the discovery that the Earth demonstrably isn't flat.
In other words, evidence is the only issue. Since all the evidence gathered since the dawn of humanity, without exception, mitigates against there being some supernatural, omnipotent, all powerful deity, such inconvenient matters relating to that evidence have been discarded by all the deistic religions. So the Earth is not now flat, and it isn't at the centre of the universe... Diseases are curable and not God's will... . All those medieval religious charlatans were lying after all - unlike today's more enlightened priests, mullahs and rabbis.
Back to science. Since scientists in any particular field can only make judgements on the evidence available at any given time, of course they can turn out to mistaken when new evidence is discovered. So scientists are often, with hindsight, wrong. But science (real science as opposed to pseudo-science) is merely the discipline and it is never wrong.
As for religion it, like belief in Santa Clause and the tooth fairy, requires no evidence - merely belief. So it can never be wrong, and believers never mistaken (and, therefore, never open to the possibility of being mistaken)!!

"Science is a series of provisional truths, backed by evidence, that are amended when better evidence is available."

While I will agree that this process is generally true it is not always so, especcially in the case of a, if you will forgive the much-abused phrase, paradigm shift. To take one example, Kepler's heliocentric model did not provide anymore an exacting explanation of the celestial sphere than that did the Ptolemaic model. The Ptolemaic model accounted for all observed motions and, despite its complexity, did not suffered from an evidentiary crises, at least not until Galileo started poking around the skies with a telescope.

Keplar's model was the product of the best evidence of the time: Tycho Brahe's incredibly precise observations of planetary motions and a gnawing dislike of Ptolemy's model. Again, though the goecentric model accounted for the observations, Keplar sought a simpler model that would explain them, essentially applying a sense of aesthetic to the problem.

The Keplerean/Ptolemaic dialectic is an excellent example of scientists applying, not a simple mechanistic reasoning to observations, but a reasoning by way of aesthetic: simplicity, symmetry and elegance. To anyone who has seen a mechanical Ptolemaic model, there can be little doubt that Kepler's model was way simpler than the geocentric one. Though symmetry is now a property that has been quantified by group theory, which allows rigourous application to observation, aesthics are very much the concern of modern scientific theorising and, evidentiary crises or not, one of the reasons why new theories arise in the first place.

The Ptolemaic model accounted for all observed motions and, despite its complexity, did not suffered from an evidentiary crises, at least not until Galileo started poking around the skies with a telescope.

No, it didn't account for the "over and back" shift the planets did. Hard to explain, but watch a planet's movement in the sky. It moves like this. A geocentric view does not account for this.

Actually, I think they ad hocked in a "wheel on a wheel" explanation for retrograde motion. Don't know how well that model followed the data, though.

Got it. Thanks B. Dog.

the Bhc:

Nothing you said contradicts "Science is a series of provisional truths, backed by evidence, that are amended when better evidence is available." Better scientific evidence ultimately showed the heliocentric model to be correct.

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