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From Greta Christina (who is quite extraordinary herself), here's a brief article that succinctly explains why "my co-worker's cousin's best friend saw a ghost once that told him that Nostrodamus predicted that Kabbalistic astrology foretold 9/11!" doesn't cut it.

I don't understand why basic reasoning and critical thinking skills aren't taught in school. For that matter, I'm baffled by the fact that most people seem to get through school without even really understanding what science is, but I'll save that rant for another time. The point is that Greta Christina's writings (and not just this one) should be mandatory reading for everyone considering living in the real world. She's brilliant and spot on, and her writings run the spectrum from sex to God. I've been reading her for a while now, and I must apologize to anyone who reads my blog but hasn't yet heard of her. Now you have.

Go forth, read, and learn.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
meb21
Feb. 1st, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
I may have no business commenting on anything requiring deep thought after a 12-hour shift, but I'll pipe in anyway :)

I indeed liked the point of the article; I really see a *huge* lack of critical thinking out there (and I work in the healthcare field!). I think it needs to be taught in schools starting from a young age.

However, I was raised as a Catholic, and am currently a practicing mystic witchy-type person. I see no conflict between science and religion. There doesn't have to be. It was really weird when I was 14 and moved to the south from New England to meet people who had a huge *problem* with evolution and Christianity. I remember thinking, "There's supposed to be a conflict? I mean, there's evidence of evolution all around you."

IMHO, faith in something greater than yourself (should you choose to have those beliefs) doesn't mean your scientific reasoning processes go out the window. Believe me, I'm one of those New Agey weird people on occaision and I use critical thinking *every day* in my job. If I didn't, people would die.

That said, I have seen over and over again (for myself; I have not done experiments because frankly I don't have the funding :) ) that prayer and/or positive thinking can heal people.

OK, I'm going to go finish my dinner, but there are my 2 cents :)
joreth
Feb. 1st, 2008 09:52 pm (UTC)
The conflict can come at different points depending upon the religious views, but the reason why they can't co-exist is because at some point, science will make a claim that contradict the religious views, and a person will have to choose which set of views to hold, the belief that requires unquestioning faith or the evidence that contradicts it. Where that conflict happens, though, varies.

Some Christians *can* accept evolution because their version of religion has more to do with a set of morality lessons than a set of explanations for how the natural world works. For them, the conflict then comes when their "morality" is based on ancient historical tribal societies and that conflicts with a more modern post-industrial, technological global society.

Where that conflict happens is different for everyone.
radven
Feb. 2nd, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)
There are though some religious / spiritual folk who consider science and scientific discoveries to be "god's word", and who hold science in higher regard than any holy book.

If you think about it, if you believe in a creator - the world is his first hand creation. Deeper understanding of it can only be a good thing.

Any holy book on the other hand is at best filtered through a few thousand years of filters and translations and politics and meddling.

Which would you trust as god's word on the nature of reality?

It actually surprises me that more religious folks haven't come to this conclusion?
brian_dare
Feb. 1st, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
A perfect example of what we were previously discussing. Those who adhere to the belief system of science often use this claim, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," without having ever objectively analyzed it.

The demand is nearly always placed only on those whose beliefs are at odds with conventional thinking and, ironically, has been applied to many great scientific thinkers in history, including Galileo and Einstein, until such a time when the consensus changed.

True scientific revolution often comes from those proposing theories that do not yet have "extraordinary evidence." Einstein had only formulaic proofs, not empirical evidence, which only came later. When a new theory appeals to even a relatively few scientists who test it, only then is the evidence generated.

A more scientific way to put this might be, "Extraordinary theorems require extraordinary evidence." "Claims" should not be stifled in advance, lest no further development occurs. Obviously, patently absurd claims can usually be dismissed outright, but the idea that one must provide "extraordinary evidence" in advance to even making a claim leaves the interpretation of such evidence to the subjective whims of the establishment, which has been proven time and again to be misinformed.

Sagan: Extraordinary claims. The logical fallacy

Paradigm shiftParadigm shifts tend to be most dramatic in sciences that appear to be stable and mature, as in physics at the end of the 19th century. At that time, physics seemed to be a discipline filling in the last few details of a largely worked-out system. In 1900, Lord Kelvin famously stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged the very simple set of rules laid down by Newtonian mechanics, which had been used to describe force and motion for over three hundred years. In this case, the new paradigm reduces the old to a special case (Newtonian mechanics is an excellent approximation for speeds that are slow compared to the speed of light).

brian_dare
Feb. 1st, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
Part II:

Myths of Skepticism

Myth #4: Extraordinary hypothesis require extraordinary evidence.

This is a myth that, as myths go, isn't all that bad. All things being equal, a more extraordinary claim, a claim that makes predictions which contradict those of well established theories, does require better evidence. But, all things are usually not equal, and a skeptic would do well to gain a better understanding of the assumptions behind this slogan. Theodore Schick wrote an good article about this for Skeptic. I will review some of his criticisms and toss in one or two of my own.12

The biggest problem with this myth is it favors conservatism, or retaining the established theory. This is both good and bad. We should retain that which works until something better comes along. But, new theories require time to develop, to be tested, to prove themselves against the old theories. If scientists do not study new theories, and if funding is not made available to run experiments, new theories would not be able to accumulate extraordinary evidence. When this happens, science cannot progress. Clearly, some guidelines are needed to for when a competing theory is promising enough to warrant further research before extraordinary evidence is available.

Some guidelines to consider are: the scope of a theory, or how much data, relative to another theory, the new theory account for; the fruitfulness of the new--how many new ideas does it generate; the number of assumptions for the new versus old theory. There is a tendency to favor theories that make surprising results, and there are also trendy theories which attract research because they are new and interesting compared to established theories.

Finally, what is the price if we are wrong? If a well established theory is accepted on less than extraordinary evidence what harm will come in the form of redirected research efforts, or the impact on society. If the harm is minimal, a new competing theory is more likely to be considered.

Schick summarized; the myth does not give a sufficient condition for sufficient evidence. In practice, it is usually better to avoid saying ``Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'' in specific arguments---it is not a fait accompli. Instead, ask what evidence the claimant has, or suggest what is lacking in the evidence presented and what would be more convincing evidence. Take the time to explain what well established theories are being contradicted. This doesn't always help, but it usually doesn't hurt.
joreth
Feb. 1st, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
The only problem I see here is that, when comparing the claims made by religions vs. the claims made by science, usually the religious claim is the older of the two and managed to self-perpetuate itself with absolutely no evidence at all, while the scientific claim *has* gone through the effort to present evidence equal to the level of "extraordinary" if its claim.

When religion wants to make claims about the natural world, they need to have natural-based evidence to support it. The more fantastic its claims, the more fantastic its evidence had better be, especially when it contradicts the "newer" and yet more plausable scientific claims about the natural world.

If religion wanted to stay in the realm of "this is a guideline for how you should conduct your society and interpersonal relationships", there is less need for "evidence" (because it's not making a claim for how the natural world works) than when it claims that the earth is only 6,000 years old. The newer science has given extraordinary evidence to contradict this thousands-year-old belief but the traditional belief provides no evidence for why we should ignore this newer claim other than "God says so", which amounts to "some guy heard a voices and wrote some of the stuff down that the voices in his head told him several thousand years ago".

Now, if you're talking about two competing scientific hypotheses, I can see your point that we shouldn't hold onto traditional beliefs just because the newer one doesn't have the leverage of age to support its claims. And, in fact, that's exactly what it amounts to when it comes to religion vs. science - just because people thought so for thousands of years, it doesn't mean we should be rejecting these new "revolutionary" ideas about science.
brian_dare
Feb. 1st, 2008 11:07 pm (UTC)
I would love to argue with you, but I can't. ;)

Overall, I agree with everything you said. I don't disagree with the need for proving claims, only the idea that such proof be "extraordinary." It's like expecting an infant human to survive on it's own - too much burden of proof in the infancy of an idea.

I think the evidence for a claim should begin by being compelling enough to continue the investigation, make adjustments to the idea as experimental data proves or refutes portions of it.

I'm only working from a premise that far too many people have a very "black or white," "all or nothing" approach to ideas, when it is the synthesis of apparent contradictions that often leads to new understanding.
joreth
Feb. 1st, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC)
it is the synthesis of apparent contradictions that often leads to new understanding

That's part of what makes science so fascinating and so "right" - in the sense that it is a more accurate method of understanding the world, not in the sense that every accepted claim is always "right".

And that's part of the problem with religion. When we have a scientific "theory", it has already gone through the claim-test-retest-loads of evidence-fact stage. The "theory" is not the beginning of the process, but closer to the end.

And when another scientific claim contradicts established theory, it, too, goes through the same process. If it survives, it becomes the new theory.

But when religion is faced with a contradictory claim, it does not seek to understand it and then adopt it should the new theory prove viable. It seeks to ignore it, hide it, rationalize it away.

So, if "religion" wants to play in the scientific realm, it must adhere to the same rules that other scientific claims have to. And that includes presenting "evidence" of its claims - and the more extraordinary it's claim is, the more extraordinary its evidence needs to be - just as scientific claims must.
tacit
Feb. 1st, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
The demand is nearly always placed only on those whose beliefs are at odds with conventional thinking and, ironically, has been applied to many great scientific thinkers in history, including Galileo and Einstein, until such a time when the consensus changed.

And they provided extraordinary evidence.

Galileo was a threat to the Church precisely because the evidence to support his assertions was detailed, accessible, and overwhelming. He made what was at the time a shocking, but not extraordinary, claim; the things he proposed had already been discovered by the Greeks earlier. It was shocking because it contradicted those who proposed that faith alone could explain the physical universe, and it was threatening because of the tremendous weight of evidence that supported it. (When he said he had found evidence of satellites orbiting other planets, Church leaders refused to even look through his telescope.)

True scientific revolution often comes from those proposing theories that do not yet have "extraordinary evidence." Einstein had only formulaic proofs, not empirical evidence, which only came later. When a new theory appeals to even a relatively few scientists who test it, only then is the evidence generated.

When they are proposed, new ideas are hypotheses, not theorems.

Many hypotheses are proposed every year. Most turn out to be flawed; some survive. It is evidence that sorts the winners from the losers. Folks propose an idea; the idea is tested; if the evidence supports it, then and only then is it accepted...and only for so long as the evidence continues to accept it.

It requires a body of evidence to support an idea, but only a single piece of counter-evidence to smash it.

A more scientific way to put this might be, "Extraordinary theorems require extraordinary evidence." "Claims" should not be stifled in advance, lest no further development occurs. Obviously, patently absurd claims can usually be dismissed outright, but the idea that one must provide "extraordinary evidence" in advance to even making a claim leaves the interpretation of such evidence to the subjective whims of the establishment, which has been proven time and again to be misinformed.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof if those claims are to be accepted. Anyone can make any claim whatsoever; you can, if you choose, claim that you are the Messiah, and that as proof of this you have the ability to spontaneously shoot walruses out your butt. But you should not expect anyone to believe you without proof.

In 1900, Lord Kelvin famously stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement."

Lord Kelvin said many things, including "Heavier than air flight is impossible."

He made many claims. Some of the claims he made were not supported by evidence. Those claims were discarded.

Five years later, Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged the very simple set of rules laid down by Newtonian mechanics, which had been used to describe force and motion for over three hundred years.

And it was not broadly accepted until many years after that...after evidence had been collected to support it.

Albert Einstein made an extraordinary claim, and it was extraordinary proof that made his claim widely accepted.

I can not quite fathom why people still, to this day, resist the idea that claims should be supported, and advocate the notion that it is somehow ennobling to accept claims without proof.
brian_dare
Feb. 1st, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
And they provided extraordinary evidence.

No, they did not, precisely my point. They proposed something based on their observations of phenomenon, the "extraordinary evidence" was collected subsequently and relatively slowly over time.

When they are proposed, new ideas are hypotheses, not theorems.

The English language does have other definitions for the word theory, perhaps you might consider for a moment I was using it in that context.

It is evidence that sorts the winners from the losers. Folks propose an idea; the idea is tested; if the evidence supports it, then and only then is it accepted...and only for so long as the evidence continues to accept it.

I totally agree. The problem is, the original, debated phrase is specifically engineered to work in reverse of this. It suggests the testing be done and evidence presented before one even be allowed to make the claim. It should be obvious this is specifically not at all how science presently works, so the phrase is of debatable validity.

It requires a body of evidence to support an idea, but only a single piece of counter-evidence to smash it.

This, however, is patently false, and is the crux of my point. There were numerous pieces of counter-evidence to Newtonian physics, but they endured for centuries for lack of a better model. Anomalies were merely overlooked. Be careful what you believe too strongly, the next paradigm may demonstrate exactly how wrong it is.

I can not quite fathom why people still, to this day, resist the idea that claims should be supported, and advocate the notion that it is somehow ennobling to accept claims without proof.

It's not the idea that a claim should be accepted without proof, it's the idea of "extraordinary proof," a clearly subjective term. It should be sufficient to demonstrate predictability and repeatability to warrant further investigation, not absolute proof up front, which is an unreasonable expectation of any new theorem.

I'm obviously not suggesting we abandoned all scientific theorems. All I am suggesting is we not hold them so dearly, merely accept them for what they are: the best working model we have presently. Then we are more open to radical change with less conflict, providing, of course, such change demonstrates its validity.
joreth
Feb. 1st, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
The English language does have other definitions for the word theory, perhaps you might consider for a moment I was using it in that context.

But when we're discussing science, we have to use the scientific definitions for the words. Otherwise we're not in the same discussion at all. The word "theory" is often misused by those who don't understand and seek to squash all scientific inquiry because they equate it to the word "guess", which it is not.

merely accept them for what they are: the best working model we have presently

This is, to my understanding, what the scientific community does. It's people who do not fully understand what science is who claim that science-based people hold onto their scientific claims in the face of opposition.
datan0de
Feb. 2nd, 2008 12:49 am (UTC)
The English language does have other definitions for the word theory, perhaps you might consider for a moment I was using it in that context.

I don't think that tacit was at all out of line in his assumption of what definition you were using. You were discussing science, and within science the word "theory" has a rather narrow definition, within which his statements are entirely correct. I suspect that this is the root of your misunderstanding. Read on...

It suggests the testing be done and evidence presented before one even be allowed to make the claim....
It should be sufficient to demonstrate predictability and repeatability to warrant further investigation, not absolute proof up front, which is an unreasonable expectation of any new theorem.

First off, "absolute proof" doesn't exist in science, for it implies being closed to further evidence and revision. *Any* theory can be called into question, provided the competing claim is testable, falsifiable, has predictive power, and explains the extant data.

More to the point however, the status of "theory" is at the top-tier of evidentiary support, not the bottom. What you seem to be disregarding (or unaware of) is the idea of a hypothesis, which in science fills exactly the role that you are implying doesn't exist. When Einstein first published what we now call the Theory of Relativity it wasn't considered a theory. It was an interesting hypothesis awaiting experimental verification. It warranted investigation because it provided an explanation of observations that didn't otherwise have a solid explanation (the mechanics of Mercury's orbit), but as tacit stated it didn't become a theory until it had amassed much more evidence and had made predictions that were later verified observationally.

Edited at 2008-02-02 12:50 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
joreth
Feb. 8th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
This is such a wonderfully-well written explanation for all those who don't understand science very well and use the terms incorrectly to make their own "wildy absurd claims" like "science is just another theory" (not trying to imply anyone here is like that, speaking in general).

I'd like to reproduce this comment in my own journal and use it in future discussions when it comes to misunderstandings of what science is, if you don't mind?
(Deleted comment)
datan0de
Feb. 2nd, 2008 12:55 am (UTC)
Side note:
Regarding our earlier discussion, I'd intended to respond to your reply back in December, but with the holidays it quickly slipped to the back burner, then off of my radar entirely. If there's anything specific that hasn't already been addressed in this thread, let me know and I'll be happy to discuss it in greater depth.
joreth
Feb. 1st, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
Ever since you recommended her column to me a few weeks ago, I have been subscribed to it and I read it regularly now. And I thank you for further enriching my life because of it. She has sparked several of my own journal entries.

When I was in elementary school, I was in our version of the smart-kids program. Y'know, where they take the smart kids out of the general population for a period of time and teach them "advanced" stuff that they figure would be too difficult for the average kids and not really necessary for simply graduating. One of the courses we covered was critical thinking. I remember thinking at the time how much more important it would be that the "average" kids got this particular educaiton and what a shame it was to keep it as some sort of "learning for the elite" - that only a select few were worthy of learning this kind of lesson.

As an adult, I am even more peeved that my educational experiences were prohibited to the average kids. If anyone needed the kinds of lessons I got, it was those kids more than I. I probably would have figured most of that stuff out on my own anyway, but the rest of the students were in dire need of some critical thinking and logic skills.
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