Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sigh...why do I even bother?

Dinesh is circling the drain with the impending end to AOL News Blogs, so, amazingly, his desperate attempts to stretch the facts to support his positions are becoming even more sloppy than usual! I didn't believe it was even possible. Don't believe me? Behold!
Consider the proposition that all life forms--including
all humans--are made from DNA. Hume would say this is not a "law." Rather, it is
an observation based on common experience and testing. The reason we cannot
speak of a "law" is that we haven't checked every human and every life form that
has ever existed to ensure that every one is made of DNA.

Yes. Science is based on inductive reasoning along with deductive reasoning. We need induction so that we do NOT need to do such ridiculous as testing every human being for DNA, testing every sample of graphite for carbon atoms, and testing the gravity on every square inch of the planet. The proof for scientific laws fulfill the requirements of the particular subset of philosophy and logic that comprise the scientific method, and allow us to get a reasonable perception of reality, without reliance on tautology alone.

Hume's point is not to deny the practical utility of these conclusions, but
to deny that we know something as a law just because we have measured it
many, many times. As Hume writes in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, from the proposition "I have found that such an object has
always been attended with such an effect," it is impossible to derive the
conclusion, "I forsee that other objects which are in appearance similar,
will be attended with similar effects". Logically, Hume notes, this is a non-sequitur.
Yes, it is a non-sequitur. And yet, that is why the laws that science presents are not certainties, but only incredibly favorable probabilities. They are willing to admit that there is a remote chance that any given law may be wrong. But, even when dealing with laws that are only have a 99.999% chance of accuracy, the assumption of consistency that Hume denounces is one that is not only necessary for scientific advance, but one necessary for basic human function. If we were willing to hold that reality does not adhere to a specific pattern, or is inconsistent to a degree beyond our ability to measure, perceive, or compensate for, we forfeit ourselves to a world that is akin to conceding that we are mere brains in vats, hopelessly interacting with a world that cannot be controlled by us, or even properly perceived. The world is a glorified illusion, beyond our ability to understand at any scale. And thus we must just give up and admit knowledge only in the realm of the hypothetical and mathematics, where the unreality cannot creep in.

The problem is: skepticism of this type isn't practical. Science is. So, in short, the argument is not "I foresee that other objects which are in appearance similar, will be attended with similar effects" but rather "I posit that other objects which are in appearance and objective measurement similar, will be attended with similar effects with a relatively high frequency, because we must make an assumption of the consistent behavior of identical objects with identical properties under identical conditions due to its consistency with what we collectively have observed for time untold, but also because we cannot make any progress at all if we do not draw that conclusion at some point in time."
So, strawman equals lose. So is trying to use Hume's refuation of the logical consistency of inductive reasoning as an attempt to dismiss the scientific method (which is based upon evidentiary reasoning and practical knowledge, rather than the semantic games and syllogisms of debate and philosophy).

How do we know that on a distant star, light travels at the same speed as
it does here? In truth, we do not know.

You have a point. Sort of. The problem is that there is no known reason why light would or could travel at a speed faster than the speed of light. It doesn't mean that it undeniably cannot, with a 100% certitude, but it does mean that it cannot based upon our knowledge of things that exist in the universe and the speed that light travels under ideal conditions. But, you see, there would have to be something that would cause such a change. Something that science could discover, measure, and learn about in time. Even the inconsistencies in reality as we know it are found to be described by something further down, that is itself relatively uniform.
From this we can conclude that: scientific laws are not really "laws" but merely generalizations based on previous tries.

He really is dumb. He didn't even need to go through this haphazard, tired attempt to bring doubt upon reality itself to make this point. The definition of scientific law is "a statement that describes a stable dependency between an independent variable and a dependent variable." Also, for comparison to similar concept, (which applies to this perhaps more accurately than that definition), is a mathematical law, which is "a general principle or rule that is assumed or that has been proven to hold between expressions." If the entire point of your article was just to prove that scientific laws aren't hardset rules that magically and infallibly define reality, you've wasted your time. They are admittedly only incredibly refined educated guesses, with a lot of data to back it up. They don't declare themselves as anything but.
Once we recognize this we see why miracles are entirely within the realm of
scientific possibility.

And yet we either do not see them occur, or they happen within the confines of those generalized laws you bemoan as potentially inaccurate. Hell of a God.
Since we cannot name a single empirical scientific law that is in principle
inviolable, we cannot rule out deviations from these so-called laws.

Wait a minute...why would it matter if they were "inviolable"? Whether they were always right or not, a miracle is supposedly caused by God, and could happen whether or not the laws of nature were set up against it. Omnipotence, dammit!!
I'm simply saying that the idea that these things cannot happen is based
on an ignorance of what science shows and doesn't show.

What I find particularly hilarious is that by invoking Hume in an attempt to say that science is inaccurate due to the potential for nature itself to be completely chaotic, inconsistent, and unpredictable, you've actually argued that miracles, violations of the laws of nature mustered by a divine agency, are themselves just accidental byproducts of an anarchic universe. Miracles have been proven as possible by you, but only because you've argued that they occur as random, mindless hiccups in the observed continuity of existence, inherent in the nature of reality itself. Miracles can happen to you because it is part of a potential natural process, instead of being the clearly supernatural, divinely guided temporary violation of an otherwise consistent world. What a waste of time!
Hume, generally regarded as an exploder of metaphysics, was also an exploder of
the pretensions of scientific knowledge.

As was anyone who ever mustered an argument that amounts to "how do you know that purple won't be green five minutes from now?". Or anyone who adamantly argued that we cannot know anything about the world around us with certainty. These are idle arguments at best, and the notions must be discarded in order for us to function. As such, they are largely impractical, and irrelevant to the real world, outside of the realm of purest philosophy. Also: "exploder"? Seriously?
science is incapable of "verifying" truth; it can merely "falsify" hypotheses
and thus (we hope) draw us a little closer to truth.

OMG! Dinesh said something factual. And it is near the end of his article, so there is a chance he won't pervert it to mean something different!
The biblical notion that "we see through a glass darkly" turns out not to be
theological hocus-pocus but a clear-eyed summary of the human situation.

No. It's theological hocus-pocus. You're just trying to interpret it to be something profound, and prophetic because it comes from your holy book. To me, it is an intentionally vague metaphor that could mean any variety of things from your interpretation of "humans have a limited perspective", to "humans are looking into a dark [sinful, unknown] world", to "humans are pessimistic". Factor in that this is one quotation from a book compiled entirely out of random maxims, allegories, metaphors, etc. varying from low to high levels of relevance/accuracy, all available to be interpretted or ignored at whim. The fact that you have one popular verse, composed of 6 words, that kinda-sorta pertains to reality as we know it...hardly significant.

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