Friday, December 08, 2017

Beware: Anti-Science Mind at Work

Don't bother to argue with this guy: He's not likely to understand and will just 
repeat the same old faux pas.

In a blog post about fossil bones dated 7th December fundamentalist salesman and theme park manager Ken Ham repeats to himself the same old "You weren't there!"canard encapsulating the essence of his anti-science delusions; although it is probably a fair conclusion that he succeeds in suckering his customer base.

In his post, as is the wont of anti-science fundamentalism, Ham focuses on the epistemic problems which science inevitably faces but which, as we know all too well, warms the heart of fundamentalists. They are as a class well and truly alienated from the academic establishment and any discomfiture of academia goes down well with them. The particular scientific epistemic difficulty that is the subject of Ham's post is the interpretation of scratch marks found on some fossil bones.  Here's Ham's key passage: 

Therein lies the problem with historical science — we weren’t there! Historical science isn’t directly testable, observable, or repeatable because it deals with the past (history) and we weren’t there to observe what happened. But there was someone who was there, our Creator God, and in his Word, he revealed to us what happened in the past. We can use the history in God’s Word—in particular a 6,000-year-old universe, a global Flood, and the events at the Tower of Babel—as a framework for understanding the world around us. 

To a mind like Ham's "being there" solves all the epistemic problems! But he fails to see that we are dealing with a continuum rather than a fundamental distinction of type and he cannot see that there is an underlying commonality which means that all science is at once both observational and yet historical. It's a matter of degree: All information about the world, whether via the Bible, documents, telescopes, microscopes and what have you arrives at our door via signals, signals that need interpreting; it's just that some objects are closer to us and provide more prolific and reliable signals than other objects separated from us by a greater distance in space and time*. There is also a more abstract "distance" set up by the logical complexity of the object being studied; the more complex a phenomenon the greater the difficulty in drawing conclusions.

Ham cannot see that there is one category here rather than two ("Two" as per his "Historical science vs observational science" dualism).  I can't expect someone like Ham to take this on board even if he was willing. For example, to his mind "technology" is all about the here and now - that is about "observational science" rather than "historical science". But of course to trouble shoot complex technologies (e.g. aircraft) and to get them to work requires the input from a history of tests and historical accounts. The complexity here entails that logical distance I have already spoken of. And if he thinks that complex technology provides readily repeatable conditions then it is clear that he really knows little about the subject. Technology doesn't come more repeatable, deterministic and "here & now" than software and yet we have no general way of proving a program's correctness! Testing complex software depends very much on keeping an eye on its history.

In one sense we are never there! We might be closer or we might be further away from some object under investigation, but we are never absolutely there! We see the whole world through an interface of duly arrived signals of which we are invariably obliged to make assumptions about their rational integrity. This rational integrity is always vulnerable to the pathological logic of wackaloons. Ham's motive for attempting to draw a bogus distinction between science that is somehow based on direct observation and science that comes out of interpretation is an attempt to give outright justification for his attack on the sciences of natural history, archaeology and geology and thereby offer credence to the notion that he isn't a complete anti-science Luddite.

I've posted on this subject many times before: See here for example. 

Ham isn't the brightest bulb in the box; but that is both the cause of his failing and of his success: It is a failing because he'll never make it as clever science buff able to speak to the academic community on their own level; the best he can do is spiritually intimidate and dominate a few tame scholars. But it is also his success because he speaks the language needed to pass on his delusions to a technically challenged customer base and present fundamentalist "science" in terms they understand and will readily purchase.

* There is an intriguing self referencing phenomenon here. When Isaac Newton investigated the propagation of light he was of course using the signals delivered by light to his eye in order to study light. That is, light signals are needed to investigate light signals.  In order to carry out a successful and meaningful investigation of light certain initial assumptions have to be made about the nature of light. These initial assumptions are needed to bootstrap a successful investigation which further refines our concept of light. We have to assume that our world is rational enough to point us in the right direction in the first place; that is, it has a "self reinforcing" rather than contradictory form of self reference.  Similar considerations of self reference were mentioned in this post.

The following link contains some comments on the notion that fundamentalists see the world through a purely biblical lens:

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