Postman Kap

I've been commenting on blogs again, covering some of the subjects close to my cold, skeptical heart.

On agnosticism.

Has any one here ever, ever met an agnostic who went to church "just in case god exists"?

No, neither have I. Odd how some people who are quite happy to live as an atheist are scared to think as one.

On education

I can't speak for the US, but here in the UK, the emphasis is entirely on getting badly performing students up to a certain minimum level in "key skills" - numeracy, literacy and IT.

There is no encouragement for low and average achieving students to aim higher than "adequate". And none for high achievers to reach higher than they've already got.

You might call it a culture of mediocrity. Illiteracy is seen as a problem to be solved, rather than literacy seen as something to be maximised.

On freedom of expression.

Idiots have the right to free speech. They just don't have the right to automatic respect for what they say. They tend to confuse the two.

On alien encounters.

There is a vast amount of evidence for extraterrestrial visitation. There is also a vast amount for each and every religion, and a lot of mutually exclusive conspiracy theories. At the time of Galileo the church had whole libraries of evidence for terracentrism, and right now there are extensive websites citing arguments for creationism.

Yes, there’s a lot of evidence around for all these ideas. It’s just that none of it’s any good.

On, creationism. I decided not to post this one - there's not much point in talking to people who long ago decided not to listen.

Oh I see. If there is a creator than it must be the christian god, who never forgives people for using the intellects he gave them, and casts them into hell. So I force myself to not believe in creation, to avoid contemplating the prospect of hellfire.

And atheism is a theistic position.

Just a few small details. To accept a creator is not the same as to accept any god posited by any religion, let alone specifically the christian one.

The "pit of hell" notion is the result of a mistranslation in 2 Kings.

And atheism is theistic in the same way vegeratianism is a kind of meat eating.

And on, er, creationism again.

A student journalist wrote a very silly and confused article on creationism in schools, suggesting that it has a place in ethical debate - and besides that, it might be true because, like, scientists don't know everything.

I wrote a response to just one of her points.

"the theory of evolution is also not testable"

Of course it is. If Darwin's theory of "descent with modification by natural selection" is true, then some events are possible and others impossible. If you document the impossible events happening, you've disproved evolution.

You test a theory by trying to make it fail. You do that by searching for phenomena that it can't explain. If you fail to find any, the theory is provisionally "proven" - until you do.

If changes in species characteristics over generations are caused by something other than the mechanism proposed by Darwin, then the pattern of change would be different.

You might get reptiles growing fur, or horses developing wheels, or humans getting a third eye. Darwin's mechanism not only explains why reptiles can develop scales, it also explains why they can't develop fur - and why they can modify their scales into feathers.

No reptile has fur, there are no equines that run on wheels, and there's no sign of humans developing extra eyes.

Until something like that happens, Darwin's theory is safe.

Actually, there's a lot more to it than that. What I've given is a Popperian view of science, which has the advantage of being neat and simple, but the disadvantage of being oversimple.

She ought to know Popper's work already, as she quotes Kuhn, his protege and critic.

Imre Lakatos gave a much more refined version, whereby scientists deal with apparent disproofs - or "anomalies" - with a body of auxiliary hypotheses that temporarily shore up the theory they're investigating, until either the anomalies can be explained by the main theory...or the theory eventually collapses under the weight of so many unexplained anomalies.

But I wouldn't want to burden a journalist with such detail. They're generally not very bright people, and don't cope well with complexity.

1 comment:

  1. «You might call it a culture of mediocrity. Illiteracy is seen as a problem to be solved, rather than literacy seen as something to be maximised.»

    Well, dear Captain, now it's my turn to say «I don't know about the UK, but» around here, I dare go as far as to say there isn't the slightest political will to fight illiteracy. And, as you well know, Portugal IS Portugal... The problem is of a huge scale.
    Just to give you an idea: not even the written media can handle the Portuguese language properly. As Minge would say, «it's so damn disgusting I could vomit»...
    Great weekend!