No True Scientist:
How Not to Argue (Part II)

Logic & Rhetoric — By on July 31, 2006 at 1:03 am

[Note: This is the second entry in the How Not to Argue series.]
In his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking, philosopher Anthony Flew outlined a form of argument that he dubbed the “No True Scotsman”fallacy:

Argument: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Reply: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
Rebuttal: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

Although this fallacy can be found in almost any debate, it is particularly prone to be bandied about on matters of politics, science, or–as has become increasingly common–politicized science. In fact, the argument is used so often on issues such as intelligent design, global warming, and stem cell research that we could call it the “No True Scientist” fallacy.
The phrasing of the argument ranges from the bold to the subtle. Critics of intelligent design hypotheses are often quite explicit in their ad hominems and are open about excluding anyone from the fold who disagrees with the party line. A similar hardening of opinion is occurring on climate change.
Recently, while explaining why he didn’t attend a recent Congressional hearing on global warming, Dr. James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, recently told journalists:

I would get out of my sickbed to testify to Congress on global warming, if they were ready to deal responsibly with the matter. But obviously they are still in denial, inviting contrarians to ‘balance’ the science of global warming.

The “contrarian” Hansen refers to is John Christy, professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Obviously, Christy is a contrarian since “No True Scientist” could dispute the fact of man-made global warming.
Stem cell research is also becoming an area of science that is beyond questioning. In a recent article in Time magazine, Douglas Melton, a co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said:

There are camps for adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. But these camps only exist in the political arena. There is no disagreement among scientists over the need to aggressively pursue both in order to solve important medical problems.

The assertion will certainly come as a surprise to James Sherley, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT. Sherley is likely not alone in his skepticism. But as he points out, the No True Scientist argument can hinder free expression of opinion on the issue:

Many scientists who do not support human embryo research are afraid to speak out because of possible reprisals from powerful scientists who can affect grant success, publication acceptances, tenure promotion, and employment.

Sherley’s MIT colleague, Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science, finds the same stifling of opinion on global warming:

Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis.

One of the ur-myths of science (recently retold by biologist E.O. Wilson) is that the community of scientists is open to dissenting views and unique perspectives. Galileo would probably disagree, as would Georges LeMaitre (Big Bang theory), Stephen Hawking (black hole evaporation), Theodore Maiman (the laser), and Mitchell J. Feigenbaum (chaos theory). All of these scientists had their ideas rejected because they did not fit into consensus view of the scientific community.
As author Michael Crichton notes, “Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.”
Science requires the collection and interpretation of data. Consensus, therefore, requires that there be no significant dispute on either the data (e.g., its relevance) or it interpretation. On readily testable theories such as gravity, consensus is possible. On disputed matters such as whether man is the primary cause of global climate change, consensus is neither possible nor necessarily desirable.
The scientific community is not infallible, which is why disagreements over data and its interpretation should be robust and thoughtfully engaged. While claiming that “No true scientist believes X” or “No true scientist doubts Y” may be the easiest way to dismiss dissenters, it is often counterproductive. The slow-witted and simple minded may be dazzled by academic credentials and institutional affiliations but most thoughtful people are harder to fool. They recognize that No True Scientist should fear honest inquiry and solid arguments — even when their colleagues disagree.



  • http://parableman.net Jeremy Pierce

    Nice. I think this gets to a real inconsistency of labeling among a certain kind of ID opponent. It’s the No True Scotsman fallacy when ID proponents want to call an anti-ID argument a straw man. That’s supposed to stop debate about what most ID arguments actually involve and therefore allow the dysphemistic labeling the anti-ID crowd wants to use. But then it’s not the No True Scotsman fallacy when someone offers a parochial and positivistic account of what can fall under the heading of scientific reasoning, tailor-made to rule out anything remotely like ID. It’s noteworthy that such definitions also rule out other kinds of scientific reasoning that logical positivism would count as metaphysics but most scientists would easily call science.

  • http://bevets.com/grapevine.htm bevets

    When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity. ~ Dale Carnegie
    Scientists, being as a rule more or less human beings, passionately stick up for their ideas, their pet theories. It’s up to someone else to show you are wrong. ~ Niles Eldredge
    But our ways of learning about the world are strongly influenced by the social preconceptions and biased modes of thinking that each scientist must apply to any problem. The stereotype of a fully rational and objective ‘scientific method,’ with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable) robots, is self-serving mythology. ~ Stephen Jay Gould

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Excellent post. Thanks.
    Unfortunately we Christians do the same thing. And at times our critics do it to us. Sometimes it’s a positive assertion, other times negative.
    “A true Christian would never have done that.”
    “Those folks in that church who do ‘x’ are not true Christians.”
    “Bush is not a true Christian because … ”
    “Pat Robertson is not a true Christian because … ”
    “Nobody who associates with ‘x’ is a true Christian.”
    “Nobody who does with ‘x’ is a true Christian.”
    I find it best not to even try to answer these types of objections.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • Adam

    I’ve often wondered about this particular logical fallacy. I’ve seen it used (and used it myself, in my younger days) to defend Christianity against, say, the atrocities committed in Jesus’ name during the Crusades…
    “No true follower of Jesus would rape and pillage…”
    Or, how many times have we heard atheists say that Hitler was a Christian? How do we Christians refute that but by showing that he clearly did a lot of things “no true Christian” would do. Is that fallacious?
    Obviously we can’t evaluate a Scotsman or a Christian or a scientist based simply off their claims about themselves. Sometimes a Scotsman who doesn’t act like a Scotsman really isn’t a Scotsman.
    I’m not saying I disagree with this post…I think it is ridiculous, unproductive, and yes fallacious to accuse scientists of not being true scientists just because they don’t agree with popular hypotheses. But I think, to get past this fallacy, there has to be some sort of objective method of reconciling a scientist or Christian or Scotsman’s claim about himself with the things he does.
    For Christianity, while no man can be certain of the state of any other man’s soul, there are ways we can evaluate our brethren to determine if they believe what they claim they believe. We have various creeds that they must affirm, we can look at fruit in their lives, and so on. None of these things offer certainty, but they do at least give us some ground to stand on when we say that Hitler certainly didn’t behave like a Christian.
    But what about scientists? How do we evaluate whether a scientist is a “true” scientist? If not degrees or credentials or or assent to things that are generally accepted, then how? I think it probably has to do with methodology…do they follow the scientific method that we all learned about the first two weeks of the year every year in middle and high school? Hanson and Christy are probably both scientists. I think we can make determinations on how “good” or “bad” they are by looking at their research and determining if it is logical or if it has inherent flaws or erroneous assumptions. Of course this doesn’t help those of us who have absolutely no expertise in the field of atmospheric science, but it does offer some evaluation guidelines for honest people who do have that expertise. For the record, I’ve met John Christy (I was in his daughter’s wedding) and he seems pretty smart.
    Anyway, the consensus on global warming may actually be wrong, or ID may actually be “bad” science, but these won’t be determined by appeals to emotion or consensus like the No True Scotsman fallacy. Evaluate the science objectively on its merits, without injecting emotion into the situation, and then you can determine whether there actually is a Scotsman under that kilt.

  • Tom

    “Anyway, the consensus on global warming may actually be wrong, or ID may actually be “bad” science, but these won’t be determined by appeals to emotion or consensus like the No True Scotsman fallacy. Evaluate the science objectively on its merits, without injecting emotion into the situation, and then you can determine whether there actually is a Scotsman under that kilt.”
    Absolutely. I think, however, that the point of Joe’s post is not to demonstrate that any particular theory is or is not real but to decry those who attempt to stifle attempts to “evaluate the science objectively” by claiming that anyone who disagrees is “not a true scientist”.

  • Rob Ryan

    “Unfortunately we Christians do the same thing.”
    Very fair-minded of you to point that out, Collin. This fallacy rears its head in discussions of religion so often I have to wonder why Joe only mentioned politics and science.
    I agree with Joe that the chilling effect of the assumption is not good for the scientific community. Active inquiry and dissent are part of the process of advancing knowledge. Let’s be clear about one thing, though: ID has not earned a place in the curriculum. The debate is a scientific one; let the scientists have the debate before we impose it on children.
    In all the disciplines, science, history, literature, etc., consensus is what we teach. Controversy, especially when generated by a noisy few, is just a footnote or mention-in-passing.

  • ex-preacher

    Amen to the previous four comments, especially the remarks by Adam.
    Joe is right that many scientific hypotheses and theories once held by a single scientist or minority of scientists were later proven to be correct (or at least accepted by the overwhelming majority). In all fairness, he should have included Charles Darwin on the list. And I’m not sure Galileo belongs on this particular list as his most powerful opposition came from the church. Let’s remember though that there have been thousands of scientific hypotheses held by a single scientist or minority that were later proven to be bogus. IOW, the fact that ID is out of the mainstream does not mean it is true. The way theories move into the scientific mainstream is not through political pressure, religious texts, emotional appeals or public opinion. It is through proving themselves in the arena of science. The theory of evolution has done and continues to do this. So far, ID has failed to do so.
    For us non-experts, it does make quite a bit of sense to trust the consensus of experts in a given field of science. That’s a big part of the reason that I accept both evolution and global warming as near certainties. If 99% of aerodynamic scientists told me that an airplane Joe had built would not fly, I wouldn’t want to be his first passenger.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Rob,
    Thanks. It was also seen following 9/11.
    “No true Muslim would do that.”
    It’s a way to distance one’s self without having to deal with one’s associations.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    Joe:
    I’m not entirely sure that the global warming example is indeed an example of the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. Note that Hanson continues:

    “The function of the contrarians is to obfuscate what is known, so as to keep the public confused and allow special interests to continue to reap short-term profits, to the detriment of the long-term economic well-being of the nation,” he said.

    That criticism is largely true, and it does not take the form of “scientists who disagree with me aren’t true scientists.”
    In any case, the problem with congress and global warming isn’t that congress gives the deniers representation — it’s that the deniers are given wildly disproportionate representation.
    The scientific consensus on global warming is that it’s real, it’s a big problem, and it’s greatly exacerbated by human activities. Is it possible that this consensus is wrong? That’s always possible, but that doesn’t make it likely. There’s a way to defeat a consensus like this: prove it wrong. But that’s not what the deniers do. As Hanson says, they wage a PR war of obfuscation. That isn’t science, even if the people doing it are scientists.
    You also seize on this:

    There is no disagreement among scientists over the need to aggressively pursue both in order to solve important medical problems.

    This statement is essentially true. The objection comes from taking a common figure of speech / shorthand too literally. I can say today that the Pittsburgh Pirates have “no chance of making the playoffs,” and this statement would essentially be true. Technically, it’s false — there remains a small mathematical chance that the Pirates could make the playoffs. But that chance is too small to be worthy of consideration, so the shorthand is just to say there’s “no chance.”
    The same is true of the stem cell research debate. Within the scientific community, the belief espoused by Melton is so widely held, and the dissenters so few, that while it would be more technically accurate for him to say that there’s virtually no disagreement, it’s pretty clear what he meant, and that what he meant is true.
    If we all went with strict, absolutist understandings of statements like “no disagreement,” then we’d never be able to use that type of statement about anything. You couldn’t say that there’s “no doubt” that the earth is round, because someone could dig hard enough and find someone (maybe even a scientist) who still argues for a flat earth.
    All of these scientists had their ideas rejected because they did not fit into consensus view of the scientific community.
    Uhh, aren’t all of those ideas now accepted by the scientific community? How did that happen? How could it happen if the scientific community weren’t open to change. The fact is, they have to be convinced that the new idea is correct, and that doing so takes a great deal of doing. But that’s exactly as it should be. Scientists shouldn’t be in the business of abandoning the established paradigms for the first sexy new one to come a long.
    Science is a meritocracy. Your ideas gain acceptance as you demonstrate that they have merit. Not before.
    In the specific case of global warming and humankind’s effect upon it, this debate is not entirely new. It’s been going on for decades. And during that time, the case for it has gotten stronger, not weaker. Ironically, it is not the scientific community at large that stubbornly refuses to accept the “new” idea; it is the remaining group of skeptics. When global warming and global dimming were first proposed, these ideas were laughed at. Over time, they proved to have merit, to the extent that they are now generally accepted except by a relatively few holdouts.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    tgirsch,
    The attitude and even the speech toward those who disagree is, though, to treat them as compromising, having sold out, or even not working with the full set of evidence. This is a credibility question that is raised and fits the true framework.
    It seems that you’re missing the point here. He’s not talking about the positions so much as he is talking about the criticisms leveled at persons who disagree on a matter. The factual merits of GW & ESCR are one thing, but avoiding discussion by denigrating the critic is what the post is all about.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Science requires the collection and interpretation of data. Consensus, therefore, requires that there be no significant dispute on either the data (e.g., its relevance) or it interpretation. On readily testable theories such as gravity, consensus is possible. On disputed matters such as whether man is the primary cause of global climate change, consensus is neither possible nor necessarily desirable.
    This is a puzzling statement. Why would it not be desirable to be able to achieve a consensus on whether or not our actions are the primary contributors to global change? This seems like very useful information to have.
    Now let’s look at this fallacy carefully:

    Argument: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
    Reply: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
    Rebuttal: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

    There are two ways for this ‘fallacy’ to be true. The first is as a tautology. No ‘true Scotsman’ puts sugar on his porridge therefore any Scotsman that does is not a true Scotsman. The second is simply that Uncle Angus isn’t Scottish. Perhaps it just happens that there are no Scottish males who put sugar on their porridge. Therefore should you see a man putting sugar on his porridge you can be sure he isn’t a true Scotsman.
    Now let’s look at this fallacy using an example of something that people don’t have as much of an emotional attachment here:
    Argument: “No psychologist believes that our emotional problems are caused by the disembodied souls of space aliens who were murdered here on earth by an evil galactic overlord millions of years ago”
    Reply: “But L Ron Hubbard believed that!”
    Rebuttle: “No true psychologist believes that!”
    What’s happening here is that you ARE NOT defining a psychologist as someone who rejects one of Scientology’s fundamental beliefs. What is happening here is that you are actually using a bit of logical short hand. The full argument would read something like:
    Argument: “A psychologist attempts to understand our emotional problems by looking objectively at the evidence. An objective look at the evidence does not support L Ron Hubbard’s theory that our emotional problems are caused by dead space alien souls. Therefore no psychologist would believe that….”
    You are free to counter this argument if you wish but simply pointing out that L Ron Hubbard believed this would not be sufficient. Even if you were able to show Hubbard was labeled a psychologist it would not be sufficient! You would have to show that an objective look at the evidence would NOT cause us to reject the Hubbard idea.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    If we all went with strict, absolutist understandings of statements like “no disagreement,” then we’d never be able to use that type of statement about anything. You couldn’t say that there’s “no doubt” that the earth is round, because someone could dig hard enough and find someone (maybe even a scientist) who still argues for a flat earth.
    Indeed, would Joe get upset with a person writing “the scientific community has concluded that AIDS is caused by infection with the HIV virus” or how about the even more abrupt “HIV causes AIDS”? Yet there is at least once scientist who continues to try to argue that AIDS is caused by a combination of drug use, bad diet and other things all working together.
    Adam;
    But what about scientists? How do we evaluate whether a scientist is a “true” scientist? If not degrees or credentials or or assent to things that are generally accepted, then how? I think it probably has to do with methodology…do they follow the scientific method that we all learned about the first two weeks of the year every year in middle and high school? Hanson and Christy are probably both scientists. I think we can make determinations on how “good” or “bad” they are by looking at their research and determining if it is logical or if it has inherent flaws or erroneous assumptions. Of course this doesn’t help those of us who have absolutely no expertise in the field of atmospheric science, but it does offer some evaluation guidelines for honest people who do have that expertise. For the record, I’ve met John Christy (I was in his daughter’s wedding) and he seems pretty smart.
    This is a good question and there is no good answer. The fact is science is both democratic and elitist. Democratic in the sense that anyone, anywhere could produce a scientific breakthrough. If Mr. X submitted the results of a well formed experiment or observation coupled with good insights to a scientific journal then Mr. X will get published even if he doesn’t have a formal degree in the field. If his theory pans out he will be hailed as an innovator in the field even if he didn’t come from a prestigous school, belonged to a minority race or religious group or whatnot.
    At the same time science is elitist. When the next election comes around my vote will count as much as yours but not so in science. Those who have proven themselves with a track record of useful insights and dedicated work in the field will have voices that carry more weight than those that don’t. A David and Goalith scenero can and does sometimes play out where an outsider sweeps in and turns an entire field on its head but that is not easy to pull off and for good reason. If you cannot or will not do the work to be an expert in a field then you have to leave yourself to trust the experts. Or to put it another way, if you cannot or will not learn Arabic then at some point you’re going to have to trust an Arabic translator to tell you what a suspected terrorist message says.
    However just like the translation problem you could minimize your chance of error. You could, for example, ask two different translators to translate and compare their results. You could do an ‘open source’ translation where you post publically the original and the translation to see if Arabic speakers object. These methods will minimize the odds that your translator will try to pull a fast one on you but still, fundamentally, you are trusting someone else who has done the work you cannot or will not do.
    Likewise since we are not experts we have to construct a consensus model where we judge statements that the many actual experts agree on as being true or at least as having a powerful reason to be considered true. So we get into dueling battles of experts which, technically, consit of the ‘argument from authority’ fallacy.

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    Collin:
    This is a credibility question that is raised and fits the true framework.
    I agree that a credibility question is being raised, but I disagree that it fits the “true” framework. By the standard you’re using, it would never be allowable to question someone’s credibility. I don’t think that’s right.
    He’s not talking about the positions so much as he is talking about the criticisms leveled at persons who disagree on a matter.
    I understand that’s what he’s saying; I just don’t believe the examples he chose are valid or good ones.
    Most often, I find that the “No true Scotsman” fallacy is used not by people trying to discredit a minority viewpoint, but by people trying to distance themselves from others who share some common background. Like Christians trying to distance themselves from Eric Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh, or Muslims trying to distance themselves from bin Laden. “No true [Christian/Muslim] could justify such violence,” they’ll object, despite the fact that there are passages in their holy texts that clearly call for such types of violence.
    You also see the same thing now with conservatives trying to distance themselves from George W. Bush — they argue not that they were wrong about this or that, or that conservative principles failed in this case or that, but that George W. Bush isn’t really a conservative.
    To fit the framework, the argument has to be that person X isn’t really a member of group Y. The argument that person X’s views aren’t truly representative of group Y is a different one, and an allowable one, even if that difference is a bit subtle.
    If Hanson or Melton were saying “you shouldn’t pay attention to them, because they’re not really scientists,” the criticism would be legitimate. But that’s not what they’re saying, at least not as I read it.
    [A]voiding discussion by denigrating the critic is what the post is all about.
    That’s a tougher nut. There are times, I think, when a critic needs to be denigrated. If such critics have a history of obfuscation, that needs to be pointed out.
    In the case of GW, the skeptics have always argued that the evidence is suspect and that “more research is needed,” and that’s what they continue to argue. But as more research is done, the case only gets better and better, which leads one (me, anyway) to question whether there’s any point at which they’ll accept the case as being solid. If there’s no such point, then such experts cannot be taken seriously on such matters, because they are indeed simply being “contrarian.”

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    tgirsch,
    Most often, I find that the “No true Scotsman” fallacy is used not by people trying to discredit a minority viewpoint, but by people trying to distance themselves from others who share some common background. Like Christians trying to distance themselves from Eric Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh, or Muslims trying to distance themselves from bin Laden. “No true [Christian/Muslim] could justify such violence,” they’ll object, despite the fact that there are passages in their holy texts that clearly call for such types of violence.
    Unfortunately the trueness argument is employed when substantive arguments can be used with relative ease. For instance, I can distance myself from McVeigh though a theological discussion and clarify easily that the NT does not teach this violence (despite your assertion).
    I’ve unfortunately interacted with many that consider any substantive discussion of the distinctions that would separate the common evangelical from McVeigh to be no more than “spin”, concluding that their lack of vocabulary equates to the arguments invalidity.
    And yes, the argument is used improperly, per my first posting in this thread.
    That’s a tougher nut. There are times, I think, when a critic needs to be denigrated. If such critics have a history of obfuscation, that needs to be pointed out.
    Here is where your point fails. Denigration on the basis of argument validity, as you point out, is one thing, but denigration on the basis of not fitting one’s true framework is another matter. At this point you’ve change the application of the term and avoided the initial issue.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    Collin:
    “I come not in peace, but with a sword.” :)
    In any case, I wasn’t specifically referring to the NT, which is not the totality of scripture and Christian teaching. If the NT were all that mattered, we wouldn’t be arguing about posting the Ten Commandments on every square inch of publicly-owned real estate. ;)
    And to be clear, I think attacking the messenger, and doing only that, is as wrong as it is counterproductive. But if a critic has a history of obscuring the facts of the issue, and offering arguments which do not withstand scrutiny, then I don’t see why that history ought to be inadmissible, or why pointing out that history would even come close to qualifying as “no true Scotsman.” At worst, it’s argumentum ad hominem, and only then if the merits are ignored.
    You can discuss someone’s argument on its merits only to the extent that their argument has merit.
    Again, maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but you seem to be arguing that it’s never acceptable to call someone’s credibility into question, even when that person’s credibility is indeed suspect. That can’t be right, so I can only assume your argument is more nuanced than that.
    I can imagine (and have myself seen) cases where it appears to a casual observer as though someone’s credibility is being unfairly attacked. But this, to me, is why the history must be admissible. If someone keeps making the same arguments over and over again, despite the fact that those arguments have been discredited and rejected, at some point it’s no longer necessary to take that person seriously.

  • George

    tgirsch:
    “[…] the problem with congress and global warming isn’t that congress gives the deniers representation — it’s that the deniers are given wildly disproportionate representation.”
    Just curious… what is the proportion now, and what should the proportion be once all the scientists from irrelevant disciplines are eliminated? I’m sure you have these numbers at your fingertips, and I would love to see them.
    “As Hanson says, they wage a PR war of obfuscation. ”
    Is it “obfuscation” when a professional statistician points out that the famous “hockey stick” is a mathematical artifact?
    “Within the scientific community, the belief espoused by Melton is so widely held, and the dissenters so few, that while it would be more technically accurate for him to say that there’s virtually no disagreement, it’s pretty clear what he meant, and that what he meant is true.”
    Look up the headlines about monoclonal antibodies back in the 80’s. Or nuclear medicine back in the 50’s. A bunch of guys with PhDs and/or MDs saying something is true doesn’t make it so. If it did, fer hevvin’s sake, eugenics would be the order of the day.
    “”A psychologist attempts to understand our emotional problems by looking objectively at the evidence. An objective look at the evidence does not support L Ron Hubbard’s theory that our emotional problems are caused by dead space alien souls. Therefore no psychologist would believe that….”
    L. Ron, no. But what about Maslow? There isn’t a shred of reliable empirical evidence to support his “theory” (before you hyperventilate, there is also unreliable empirical evidence to support cold fusion).
    Your reverence for scientists is touching, and I thank you for it. We are pretty special people, particularly those of us published in the top refereed journals. Would you drop by on Friday mornings and carry out my garbage?

  • Eric & Lisa

    I find it entertaining that Tgirsch tries to defend one fallacy, “No true Scotsman” with another fallacy, “Appeal to Popularity.”
    Very amusing.

  • http://mitchelllewis.blogspot.com M Lewis

    One of the ur-myths of science (recently retold by biologist E.O. Wilson) is that the community of scientists is open to dissenting views and unique perspectives.
    I took at course at WFU many decades ago entitled something like “Science and Religion.” I though it would cover the same old territory. Instead, we read Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” The material on the power of paradigms was some of the most useful information I took from college

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    George:
    what should the proportion be?
    An exactly representative proportion would be impractical, because the amount of dissent is quite small. I don’t favor completely eliminating opposing points of view, as you and others seem to believe. Off the top of my head, perhaps one in five should be presenting the minority viewpoint. That would still greatly exaggerate the proportion of climatologists who doubt the consensus, while still allowing the objections to be aired.
    Is it “obfuscation” when a professional statistician points out that the famous “hockey stick” is a mathematical artifact?
    Not at all. Good thing the case for the human impact of global warming doesn’t rest solely (or even largely) on the “hockey stick.” More on the hockey stick.
    A bunch of guys with PhDs and/or MDs saying something is true doesn’t make it so.
    No, but then I never said that it did. However, if we are to rely on science at all, it is incumbent upon us to go with the best conclusions we currently have, based on the best evidence we currently have. If these conclusions turn out to be wrong, or the evidence flawed, this will become apparent in time as better evidence surfaces or better cases are made.
    In other words, just because scientists have been wrong about stuff in the past doesn’t mean they’re wrong about certain things now. Sure, they may be, but it’s illogical to start from the conclusion that “the vast majority of scientists are wrong” without compelling evidence to believe that’s the case. And we (me included) don’t get to dismiss entire disciplines of science just because we don’t care for the conclusions.
    Eric & Lisa:
    Tgirsch tries to defend one fallacy, “No true Scotsman” with another fallacy, “Appeal to Popularity.”
    I do no such thing. First, I didn’t ever defend the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. I merely tried to point out why Joe’s examples were not bona fide examples of that fallacy. Secondly, I’ve never argued that science is a popularity contest. It’s not a democracy, it’s a meritocracy. The theories that get accepted are not the most “popular” ones (not in the populist sense, anyway), but the most compelling ones.
    If scientists are wrong about things, they should without hesitation abandon those things they are wrong about. But they shouldn’t do this because someone doesn’t like the conclusion. They should do it because the conclusion has been proven wrong. Unless and until that happens, you have to stick with the best available answer.
    M. Lewis:
    Instead, we read Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” The material on the power of paradigms was some of the most useful information I took from college
    I had to read that one, too, in a course on the History and Philosophy of Science. Unfortunately, his “paradigm shift” idea is only visible when viewed in the extreme abstract. At the detail level, the changes in paradigm generally are quite gradual and iterative, in contrast to Kuhn’s “revolutionary change” theory. In other words, there’s a lot of doubt as to whether paradigm shifts, in the Kuhnian sense, actually exist.

  • Barrie

    Qu: For us non-experts, it does make quite a bit of sense to trust the consensus of experts in a given field of science.
    Sure, ex-preacher, but this is just an appeal to authority. It may not have any relationship with truth, even if *mostly* it does in an *open* community. With ID and global warming, can you really say that the proponents of the consensus view are ‘open’? I say not.
    That is why they denigrate with emotive terms like ‘no true scientist’. They are just defending their social ingroup, which Thomas Kuhn argued was just ‘normal science’ in these cases.
    So you are only saying ‘I want to be considered normal,’ nothing more.
    With GW, many true scientists claim that the theory that most warming is due to CO2 cannot be firmly established, because the whole statistical field is still full of unknown variables.
    The ‘GW stats models’ can be formed to present the result ‘needed’ for other less honest reasons -like money and popularity among colleagues.
    The same applies to ID and DE, even more so because they *both* rely on views of very ancient events that can never be studied directly -like life’s origin.
    The best ID arguments are of the same kind as probability statistics produce -in the same field as those trying to validate evolutionary theory.
    There IS rational room to doubt evolution here, just as it is valid to doubt Hawking, who WANTS to believe the universe had no beginning -since he’s an atheist; but here he can only pursue his maths, which does not match the consensus at the moment of his colleagues -The Big Bang..
    Does anyone claim Hawking is not a ‘true’ cosmologist for this aberration?

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    L. Ron, no. But what about Maslow? There isn’t a shred of reliable empirical evidence to support his “theory” (before you hyperventilate, there is also unreliable empirical evidence to support cold fusion).
    Sadly psychology is one profession that often relies on less than reliable empirical evidence however the principle still holds. As for no empirical evidence? Are you so sure?
    Your reverence for scientists is touching, and I thank you for it. We are pretty special people, particularly those of us published in the top refereed journals. Would you drop by on Friday mornings and carry out my garbage?
    I’m too busy cleaning up Joe’s garbage here but if you put your name on a list I’ll get back to you.
    Eric & Lisa
    I find it entertaining that Tgirsch tries to defend one fallacy, “No true Scotsman” with another fallacy, “Appeal to Popularity.”
    Very amusing.
    Logically it’s all a fallacy. When someone says X causes global warming you need to back up and say “tell us your argument starting with the assertion that matter is made up of atoms!” Since we don’t have the patience of angels, though, we accept a degree of argument from authority as well as appeal to (expert) popularity. Unlike the logical fallacies, though, we accept the right of anyone to challenge such assertions and to demand “show me the proof! with the hard technical stuff included!”
    Barrie
    There IS rational room to doubt evolution here, just as it is valid to doubt Hawking, who WANTS to believe the universe had no beginning -since he’s an atheist; but here he can only pursue his maths, which does not match the consensus at the moment of his colleagues -The Big Bang..
    How do you make this statement? How do you know there is room to doubt evolution, Hawking’s rejection of the Big Bang and the Big Bang itself? Is this just an unquantified amount of ‘room’ that could be applied to any and all scientific theories (there’s ‘room’ to doubt the kenetic theory of gasses!) or do you feel there’s more room to doubt some theories and less room to doubt others?
    If so then you have to be making some type of evaluation of the theory and how well it fits the real world. If you are making some evaluation then obviously you’ll find that there is very little room to doubt a great many theories. What would you then do when some yahoo comes along telling you HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, for example? Explain to him that the experts who have studied this have nearly all come to the opposite conclusion…thereby committing the two fallacies tgish is accused of (argument from authority and appeal to popularity).

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    tgirsch,
    I tried going through your last post and answering the objections specifically. But that was too tiresome. So I’ll boil it down to this: You keep changing the subject. We were talking about the validation of an argument on its own merits.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  • http://www.modelinggod.com JG Lenhart

    A true scientist is one who uses the four scientific principles: non-contradiction, causality, contrastive thinking, and growth.
    Every time bad science occurs, at least one of these principles is ignored. Every time bad belief/religion occurs, at least one of these principles is ignored.
    These principles INSTANTLY expose the flaw in every worldview you encounter.
    If you are interested in seeing how these principles apply to post moderns and fundamentalists/traditionalists, take a look at an article I wrote on the ooze titled, “The Problem with Modernism”.

  • http://tbotalks.blogspot.com Justin Thibault

    Joe – great post. I agree that we’re in trouble when scientists cannot challenge convention.

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    Collin:
    You keep changing the subject.
    Certainly not intentionally. We disagree about whether or not Joe’s examples are instances of the “No true Scottsman” fallacy. In trying to figure out why we disagree on this, I suspected (perhaps wrongly) that you were arguing that any challenge against someone’s credibility constitutes an instance of the fallacy.
    We were talking about the validation of an argument on its own merits.
    That was certainly some of what we were talking about, but I didn’t think it was all of it. In any case, if that were the only thing we were talking about, then our entire conversation is moot, because we’re discussing third- or fourth-hand retellings of a sound bite excerpted from larger documents and/or statements, which in context may well have addressed the merits.
    I guess what it all boils down to is a single question that I have for you: Is it ever acceptable to call someone’s credibility into question? If not, why not? If so, how can we tell when it’s okay and when it’s not?
    Barrie:
    Sure, ex-preacher, but this is just an appeal to authority.
    Yes, it is, but it’s not an unreasonable one, nor even necessarily a fallacious one. The truth is, for better or worse, we rely on experts (“authority”) all the time, and we must do so (we can’t all be experts in everything).
    Generally, fallacious appeals to authority are those that appeal to a single authority. That’s a far different matter than appealing to the consensus of expert opinion. This, it should be noted, could still be wrong, but the likelihood of that is far lower.
    With GW, many true scientists claim that the theory that most warming is due to CO2 cannot be firmly established, because the whole statistical field is still full of unknown variables.
    Unfortunately, this is precisely the type of obfuscation I’m talking about. For starters, the evidence is decidedly not on their side. For another, as previously mentioned, the case for warming owing to CO2 has only strengthened over time, not weakened. But rather than concede this, they seek to cast doubt by vaguely appealing to “unknown variables.” Scientific judgment is done based not on what we don’t know, but what we do know. This isn’t to say that these aren’t “real scientists.” It’s to say that their work is sloppy, and/or they’re letting personal preferences cloud their interpretation of the data.
    (Frankly, I don’t know anyone who wants human-exacerbated global warming to be real; there are only an ever-increasing number who are willing to accept that this is the case, and that something must be done about it. Nobody’s saying “Hooray! Our lifestyle risks irreparably damaging life on the planet!”)
    Re: Hawking and the Big Bang, I wasn’t aware that Hawking denied the Big Bang theory (I certainly don’t recall him doing so in A Brief History of Time). Nor was I aware that “absolutely nothing existed before the Big Bang” was part of the Big Bang theory. In fact, neither of these is true, and there are in fact several competing theories concerning what existed/happened prior to the Big Bang, none of which involves everything appearing from nothing.
    Justin:
    Good thing scientists can and do challenge convention all the time. The debate over superstring theory is a great example of this. As the advocates of string theory build more robust and internally-consistent models, they are taken more seriously. They still haven’t met the burden of proof yet — not even close — but they’re taken seriously, and their ideas are given consideration and are hotly debated. None of this would be possible if scientists could not challenge convention.
    It’s not that they can’t do so; it’s that when they do, they have an uphill fight. The current conventions and consensus got there through a similar fight, and these have already met a substantial burden of proof. Thus, the burden of proof is on those who would change the convention, not on those who would defend it.

  • http://www.sufficientscruples.com Kevin T. Keith

    One of the ur-myths of science (recently retold by biologist E.O. Wilson) is that the community of scientists is open to dissenting views and unique perspectives. Galileo would probably disagree, as would Georges LeMaitre (Big Bang theory), Stephen Hawking (black hole evaporation), Theodore Maiman (the laser), and Mitchell J. Feigenbaum (chaos theory). All of these scientists had their ideas rejected because they did not fit into consensus view of the scientific community.
    “Fitting into the consensus view” is a fundamental requirement of science. The consensus view includes all existing scientific knowledge and theory – virtually all of which is undoubtedly correct, no matter what breakthroughs may be in store. In order for any claim to “fit in”, it must explain or accomodate existing claims that are well-supported, and either not contradict any accepted claims or explain the contradictions in a way that is more convincing than those claims themselves. And the more rigorous the claims are, the more objective and compelling the analysis can (and must) be.
    Every groundbreaking claim – unless it is supported from the beginning by overwhelmingly convincing evidence, such as the theory of natural selection or Pasteur’s disproof of spontaneous generation – will be greeted with skepticism until it accumulates sufficient supporting evidence. It would be reckless for science to proceed any other way. But that doesn’t mean science is not open to new ideas – it just means science has a mechanism for processing them. In fact, the “conspiracy” claim is laughable on its face: if science weren’t open to new ideas, it wouldn’t have changed since the days of (take your pick) Aristotle, or Newton, or Francis Bacon – but science changes constantly, and is filled with and defined by ideas that have, in almost every case, replaced preceding ideas on the same subject (and done so by means of passing the test of superior evidence). Today, the scientists who have most loudly championed the idea of science as progressive and meritocratic are the ones whose ideas have met with harsh skepticism – people like Stephen Jay Gould and E.O. Wilson himself. Your examples actually demonstrate this:
    LeMaitre’s major contribution was the prediction of the cosmic background radiation. He published it in 1931, but the radiation was not discovered until 1964, and the discovery was instantaneously accepted as proof of LeMaitre’s prediction. The background radiation is the basic observational confirmation of all forms of “Big Bang”-style cosmology (whether contracting or expansionary). LeMaitre is universally recognized as the source of this insight. The discoverer later got the Nobel prize (LeMaitre was already dead) – which hardly seems like proof that scientists had overlooked LeMaitre’s ideas. The cosmic background radiation is a theoretical consequence of LeMaitre’s larger work on the “collapsing universe” interpretation of the Big Bang – one that is still just as much in the running as any of the others. The resolution of that question depends on the exact value of the “Hubble constant” – a measure of the overall gravitational field of the universe; the data are not yet sufficient, and when they are, history will judge LeMaitre just as it did his other work. It’s hard to call this unfair. LeMaitre was given a personal standing ovation by Albert Einstein when he read his paper on the Big Bang. He was the first recipient of the Eddington Award of the (British) Royal Astronomical Society, and Eddington and Einstein both nominated him for the highest scientific award in Belgium (his native country). He received many other scientific awards and was actively involved with the leading scientists of his lifetime.
    Hawking? The uber-rock-star of popular science? The Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge? Decorated twice by the Queen? Fellow of the Royal Society? Multi-best-seller author? Winner of the Eddington Award, the Wolf Prize and about a dozen other major international awards? Guest-star on Star Trek and The Simpsons? That Stephen Hawking? You’re joking, right? (For the record, his major contributions are all about black holes and some of them are controversial, in large part because black holes are, by their very nature, virtually impossible to make observations on. [His main line of research – on which he recently denounced some of his own early work – has to do with whether they release any “information”, in the technical sense, at all.] They have always been the subject of intense debate – Hawking himself wrote that until at least the 90s it was reasonable to question whether black holes even exist – but certainly not any kind of conspiracy. Hawking has never claimed his ideas were unfairly rejected, and he is universally regarded as among the very top rank of cosmologists by other scientists [though not as the greatest scientist of all time, as the public seems to believe].)
    As for Feigenbaum, James Gleick’s “Chaos” seems to be the source of a rumor that he was somehow a victim of closed-mindedness because his major theoretical paper was intially rejected for publication. The history is hardly that dramatic – in fact, he was lionized for it. His major contribution was discovering a mathematical limit common to many chaotic systems. He received a MacArthur grant, the Wolf Prize in physics and other major prizes, and an endowed chair at Rockefeller University – all within 10 years of his discovery. It’s true that his two major papers on the Feigenbaum constant were rejected for publication when he first submitted them, but that is common. Both were published in peer-reviewed journals within three years, and instantly recognized as important works. He’s still dining off them to this day.
    Maiman is a very similar case – perhaps an even stronger counter-example. No one ever disputed that he created one of the first visible-light lasers, or that it was important. They only disputed that it was a major advance. The “MASER” (microwave-frequency laser) had already been invented, and the inventors had published a theoretical paper demonstrating that the same thing could be done at lower frequencies. Whether or not the invention was “obvious” determines whether it is eligible for a patent, so it is not surprising that people contested his claim to have made a major breakthrough (Maiman himself says there was “an all-out race” to be the first to do it, so there was clearly no huge theoretical leap involved). It’s not even clear he was the first; there is evidence that a Stanford graduate student invented a working laser the year before Maiman did; he did not file for a patent, but eventually sued and was awarded the patent on the laser 20 years later – so the Patent Office certainly thinks Maiman had competition. Maiman is sometimes painted as a rugged individualist outsider because his paper announcing the successful laser was rejected by a physics journal (he himself has written an entire self-aggrandizing book making this claim) – but in fact it was rejected because he had violated the journal’s ban on publishing papers whose results had been pre-announced in non-peer-reviewed press. (Many important journals have this rule. It was in place at the New England Journal of Medicine for decades, and only recently rescinded.) But even though he worked with a clear theoretical grounding developed by others, in the aftermath of a nearly-identical invention using different frequencies, and was in fact apparently scooped by another researcher, Maiman has been widely acknowledged. He is an elected member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, he also won major awards including the Wolf Prize. (Often described as the second-most prestigious prize in technical fields, it’s apparently a prize they give only to people whose work has been completely rejected by the entire scientific conspiracy.)
    What, exactly, is the “persecution” you are talking about? Being personally lauded by Albert Einstein, receiving major awards, seeing your work recognized world-wide within your lifetime, and having it become, within 15 years, the basis of a Nobel Prize and all substantive work on the history of the entire universe? Getting your papers published within a few years of your discovery and spending the next decade collecting major international awards and endowed fellowships? Becoming the world’s most celebrated living scientist, receiving virtually every possible award other than the Nobel, and holding Isaac Newton’s chair at Cambridge for almost 30 years? Getting a (temporary) patent on a major invention, reaping the rewards of a hugely successful corporate career, going down in history as the (presumptive) inventor of a world-changing device, and receiving numerous major international awards and prizes? I wish somebody would persecute me that way.
    And you’re surely not going to offer Galileo as an example of scientific persecution?
    To be sure, there are barriers to acceptance of major new theories. And if Kuhn’s notorious “paradigm shift” theory is correct, those barriers may be higher than they need to be at certain moments of upheaval. But science itself contains the mechanism for its own revolutions. In fact, it’s only because of traditional science that cases of successful revolution are known (in the same way that it’s by way of science that scientific fraud is corrected). Your own examples of “discrimination” are all scientists who were universally admired in their own lifetimes, in most cases within a few years of their major works, by other scientists, who continue to use their work today. But you offer this as evidence of a conspiracy against people who engage in explicitly religiously- or politically-motivated advocacy on scientific topics, that either rests on literally no data whatsoever or contradicts, without compelling support, the broad sweep of data other scientists rely on. Galileo defied the most powerful religious organization in history, in the face of threatened torture, and proved them wrong for all time. Is it too much to ask “intelligent design” creationists to come up with even one piece of data?

  • Barrie

    Boonton: “do you feel there’s more room to doubt some theories and less room to doubt others?
    If so then you have to be making some type of evaluation of the theory and how well it fits the real world.”
    Yes and yes.
    The bigger the claim [eg “life originated without guiding intelligence”, “the universe had no beginning”] the MORE right and room there is to disagree on rational grounds.
    That should be obvious, but is still not to many on this site.
    No 2 statement is the valid position of IDers and Big Bangers, and ‘anti-GW’ theorists.
    You avoid my point that Hawking resists the idea of the Big Bang *because* of its implications for a guiding intelligence to set the original conditions. He knows this is a Big Problem, and he knows the present consensus is FOR just such an origin [‘the real world’ match you mention]. Is ‘no origin’ a better explanation? Hawking would like to prove it is. So he might as well say ‘life had no intelligent origin’ too, the DE view so many accept dogmatically.
    As for GW, the point I made is that the orthodox GWers make a dogmatic claim for man-made CO2 being the main [and reversible]villain, yet the *modelling* for GW is still in its infancy, unlike, I would suggest, Big Bang theory.
    I am not saying there is no GW, but that its chief cause, speed, duration and direction are all open to questioning. Do you disagree?
    The scaremongers all have non-science reasons to rubbish that view.
    Opponents are not ‘bad scientists’, nor are IDers or Hawking, simply because their fields of enquiry are all vast.

  • Barrie

    tgirsch: “Scientific judgment is done based not on what we don’t know, but what we do know. This isn’t to say that these aren’t “real scientists.” It’s to say that their work is sloppy, and/or they’re letting personal preferences cloud their interpretation of the data.”
    I think you seriously misunderstand what ‘scientific judgment’ does.
    See my points above. Modesty in science is a virtue *because* it acknowledges that ‘what we don’t know’ [and describe in general] may affect seriously what we *claim to know*. So looking for flaws and variables is essential in a huge theory like GW.
    So those who *deny* this are the ‘sloppy’ ones.
    Your last clause is where it’s at. WHO are letting their ‘personal preferencene’ cloud their judgment?
    Scientists were ALL very fallible humans the last time I looked. Even the best can get egg on face.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Barrie,
    I think you dodged my question. You seem to be saying a theory about something BIG requires a lot of evidence to support it before you’ll admit there is little room to doubt it. That’s all well and good.
    It’s clear that you consider some things ‘more proven’ than other things. You didn’t say it but I assume you believe “HIV causes AIDS” has little room for doubt but “Manmade CO2 causes global warming” still has plenty of room.
    Here I think tgish’s argument is valid here. While there may be room for doubt there is certainly less room than there was 5 or 10 years ago. Yet those who harp on the ‘room’ line don’t seem to recognize that. Their “there is room for doubt” arguments do not seem to be made in the spirit of “..so let’s go find out” rather it seems to be said in the spirit of “…so let’s just pretend this awkward question doesn’t even exist and please continue business as usual.”
    As a side note, I do not think Hawkin’s theory was created as a need to avoid having the universe begin. I think Hawkin developed a theory whose mathematics produces results that match real world observations.

  • Gordon Mullings

    Joe:
    Great post.
    I think the string of comments is very revealing of the elephant in the middle of the room that a lot of people do not want to face: that we are dealing with a quasi-religion with some scientists as the “priesthood” who “authoritatively” expound the holy writ, supported by evangelists in the media and education systems. (Not least for instance, there is no one generally accepted, easily definable “scientific method” that only and all pieces of scientific work exhibit. There is at best a family resemblance and a case by case judgement.)
    The creed of such Scientism? That spontaneously evolving matter is ultimate reality, and

  • http://www.sufficientscruples.com Kevin T. Keith

    we are dealing with a quasi-religion with some scientists as the “priesthood” who “authoritatively” expound the holy writ, supported by evangelists in the media and education systems.
    Interesting.
    That would make it the only religion in the world in which any person whosoever – including those who disbelieve it – is free to expound its dogma and contradict its “‘authoritative’ priests” simply by demonstrating a fact or proving a mathematical theorem. It would be the only “authoritative” dogma whose believers are all actively engaged in an ongoing attempt to rewrite it. It would be the only religion whose theology progresses by disproving its existing beliefs.
    It would also be the only religion worth believing.

  • Gordon Mullings

    Kevin [and onlookers]
    Tolerance, provisionality of findings and objectivity are ideals of science — and, more tot he point major assertions of those caught up in evolutionary materialism AKA scientism AKA naturalism. [For the latter, the better to demand modesty in the face of the claims of an alleged reliable authority . . .]
    Unfortunately, I have not time for a long exchange, so I will simply note and link for those who wish to look deeper into the matter:

    1] the philosophical underside of impressive-sounding slogans like “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” too often give the lie to the vaunted ideals.
    2] So does the attempt to redefine science — in the teeth of history and a significantr cross section of real world current praxis, as in effect applied materialism. [this is most evident int he case of hte debates over ID, e.g. here.
    3] We need to recognise the gap between sweeping rhetoric and what happens when very finite and fallible men gain power in a world in which the line between good and evil passes through the individual human heart; as Solzhenitsyn famously – and sadly warned.

    Grace to all
    Gordon

  • Gordon Mullings

    PS to B: First, when men like Lindzen and Gray [never mind the editorial sneering, reflect on just who is speaking and why] question a popular claim in climatology, we should take pause. The climate [nb the direct implication of its strict definition as a moving average] is ALWAYS changing, but the driving dynamics and models are by no means so cut and dry as is too often presented in popularisations and summaries for policymakers. [Well do I recall the result of pointing out the implications of the 19-year Saros cycle of moon positions for “mean” sea level and the debates over sea level rise a few years back, while working in an environment centre . . .]
    Second, a glance into Hawkins’ A Brief History of Time will reveal that moving away from a point-in-time origin for the cosmos at the big bang was in fact a motive for his resort to a second, “imaginary” [i.e. complex-number] temporal dimension. But once we return tot he real world from vector models, the implication of an origin at a finitely distant point in time reappears.
    Okay
    GEM

  • Rob Ryan

    Well put, KTK. What Gordon refuses to acknowledge, of course, is his own selective hyperskepticism. He is perfectly willing to accept the judgements of scientists and doctors when it doesn’t contradict his presuppostions, like when he drives a car or takes an aspirin, but he rejects their opinions when they are inconvenient. He apparently still thinks Terri Schialvo was capable of expressing an opinion (WAAAA) regarding her own demise, judging from a recent thread. Autopsy results clearly show otherwise.
    Similarly, the case illustrates the flip side of his skewed thinking: selective hypergullibility. Gordon is willing to believe a clearly biased source of questionable reliability because it serves to support his presuppositions and/or is rhetorically useful.

  • http://parableman.net Jeremy Pierce

    I think I can explain why Joe chose the examples he did and didn’t mention that Christians do this too. This post is part of a larger conversation that regularly occurs in the comments on this blog and on other blogs that deal with the intelligent design issue. One common complaint, particularly among ID opponents, is to refer to the No True Scotsman fallacy in order to stave off an objection to what they’re saying. Here is how the conversation usually goes:
    The ID opponent characterizes the ID argument in a way that doesn’t reflect how the main supporters of ID frame the argument. The ID defender responds that it’s a straw man argument. Most ID people don’t hold to the view that way. The ID opponent responds by pulling out the No True Scotsman fallacy. Apparently no argument can be a straw man, because even if it misrepresents some ID people, there might be some who hold to the bad argument that’s being responded to. There’s no true ID argument. There are many arguments. So it’s ok to shoot down the version hardly anyone has and then pretend you’ve argued against all of them.
    That’s the context the No True Scotsman argument is typically manifested in blog circles, as far as I’ve seen. It does also come out when someone points out that works do count as some evidence for whether a person is a genuine Christian, as in the case of the Crusades. Joe is just demonstrating that the fallacy appears fairly often in other places too, particularly in many claims by people who happily trot it out to shoot down ID. They in fact commit the fallacy to do some of that shooting down.
    I don’t think Joe was unaware of the other contexts. I just think that in the larger conversation Joe was assuming that and just pointing out the hypocrisy or inconsistency among those who delight in pointing out this fallacy in others while happily committing it themselves.

  • http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com Collin Brendemuehl

    Jeremy,
    Few people ever mention their own shortcomings when doing analysis, and it doesn’t matter whom you read. It’s not a popular thing to do.
    Using the Crusades as an example of Christianity’s failings might be a suitable historical argument when dealing with R.C. positions, but as for the rest of us, that’s a piece of history which helped bring about the Reformation, of which we’d be much more a part. Such a generalization to all of Christendom would then seem a bit hasty.
    My suspicion is that Joe is well-aware of the difficulties we all face. The hard questions are there for all of us to face. That’s why they’re hard. It’s why ID, as a suitable popperism for neo-darwinism, is miscategorized as attempting to be a science in its own right. Treat it as a point of critique and the Darwinian crowd has it’s own hard question to deal with, and which is often avoided with, dare I say it, evangelistic fervor.
    Collin
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com
    BTW, Joe — hope you enjoy your new job. Let me know if you need any Notes/Domino work. :)

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    Barrie:
    See my points above. Modesty in science is a virtue *because* it acknowledges that ‘what we don’t know’ [and describe in general] may affect seriously what we *claim to know*.
    Well, true to a point, but that’s not really what I was talking about. People like global warming deniers, ID creationists, etc., try to use what we don’t know as justification for rejecting wholesale vast swaths of what we do know, or at least think we know. (And, notably, these things they claim we should reject happen to be politically or philosophically inconvenient to them.) But science doesn’t work that way. You’re supposed to work with the best possible explanation we currently have. You don’t reject that explanation until it has either been conclusively disproven, or a scientifically superior explanation comes along.
    Gordon:
    I’m not sure that Flew’s opinion on ID is relevant here. And for the record, I don’t dismiss him as not being a “true” this or that, I simply disagree with him. Arguments from ignorance, even those made by otherwise respected figures, are still arguments from ignorance. And that’s essentially what Flew’s new position is.
    So, while there are borderline cases, there plainly is such a thing as a false Christian.
    This is true, as far as it goes, and is also true, as you note, of scientists, or most examples of a “true X.” But for this to hold, it’s important that the definition of what constitutes a “true X” must be specified and agreed upon in advance. What Flew objected to (and it’s a valid objection) is a post hoc adjustment to the definition of “true X” that conveniently eliminates an otherwise inconvenient counterexample.

  • Barrie

    tgirsch: “You’re supposed to work with the best possible explanation we currently have.”
    ‘best possible’ is *just the problem* with global warming theory, even for correlations of recent CO2 emissions and rising temperatures. Rushing to judgment, as so many have done on this, is assuming we know enough about all the other causal factors in climate change, and good science says we don’t.
    Going around shouting ‘Agree with us!’ is poor science when the field is so complex.
    By the way, note I am not saying Hawking *should* agree with the consensus Big Bang explanation, only that his seeking for a ‘no origin’ answer comes from his atheist presupposition, just as the ‘irreducible complexity’ idea presupposes intelligent design, and can be supported by statistics which evolutionists also conveniently ignore when they are unfavourable.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    just as the ‘irreducible complexity’ idea presupposes intelligent design, and can be supported by statistics which evolutionists also conveniently ignore when they are unfavourable.

    Sadly though so does the ID community and if you are correct in that their arguments are supported by statistics they have no excuse.
    Truthfully, though, those supporting science have not ignored ‘unfavourable’ statistics from IDers. The probability arguments from IDers have been addressed numerous times.

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    Barrie:
    Rushing to judgment, as so many have done on this, is assuming we know enough about all the other causal factors in climate change, and good science says we don’t.
    Nobody is “rushing to judgment” here. The fact that there remains a great deal we don’t know about climate change doesn’t take anything away from the fact that there’s a great deal that we do know, and that virtually all of that points in the same direction.
    Even though there are a lot of holes to fill, the best explanations we have today are quite solid, and almost universally indicate that some change of behavior would be extremely prudent.
    As a side note, I just wish that people would have taken such a hyperskeptical attitude with, say, the invasion of Iraq — refusing to do anything at all until we could be absolutely, 100% certain that there was a threat. Yet, incredibly often, the people who approach a never-ending “wait and see” approach to problems like global warming are the very same people who insisted that we couldn’t afford to wait to act on the “imminent threat” posed by Iraq.
    If the evidence that Iraq (just to use a fresh example) was a threat was sufficient to make a compelling case, then by comparison, the case for taking action on global warming is damn near irrefutable.
    Taking a step back, my advice to people wondering about global warming is to follow the money: who gains and who loses if human activity turns out to be the major factor the vast majority of the world’s climatologists believe it is? A lot of big-money interests stand to lose some serious cash cows if people start listening to the scientists. But if people ignore the scientists, these same interests can continue making money hand over fist. There’s simply no converse in the case of global warming. Sure, there may be a few companies and/or individuals who stand to gain from efficiency requirements and a mandated shift to alternative fuels, but they don’t have anywhere near the power or influence of their fossil fuel counterparts — certainly not enough to “buy off” the vast majority of the scientific community.
    To me, it’s just far too convenient that almost to a man, the few dissenters of the conventional wisdom on global warming stand to profit handsomely from preserving the status quo.

  • Bill Smith

    Are you people serious? ID isn’t considered science by intelligent people because is relies on inductive conclusions. Science is defined by its reliance on testable and reproducable data, not on speculation or filling in gaps with euphamisms for God or theology. So let’s scrap the ‘scientist’ vs ‘true scientist’ distinctions and replace them with ‘bad scientist’ vs ‘good scientist’ or ‘irresponsible scientist’ vs ‘responsible scientist.’
    A response I often get to my claim that one can be a Christian and still be prochoice or pro gay rights (specifically the right to marry) is that no Christian would ever support these things. I reply that I have many Christian friends who do support that to which I am told that no ‘true Christian’ would. This is an example of the fallacy at hand. Because science is about empiricism and positivism, one is either right or wrong because concepts are largely absolute. But with Christianity, concepts (despite the inevitiable rejection this will recieve by many) are intersubjectively defined and subject to change for various reasons. So one can be a good Christian even if they are prochoice.
    If you are goin gto respond to this posting, at least make some effort to respond to the entire thing and not my ending claim. Simple arguing your point regarding what constitutes a good or bad Christian doesn’t say anything about what science is (i.e. the topic first discussed).

  • Bill Smith

    Please excuse me. I made a mistake in my previous post. Please replace “inductive conclusions” with “inference to a coherent conclusion.”
    My apologies.