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Old 25th March 2017, 01:48 PM   #1
Mudcat
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Can We Please Stop Waffling?

This is something that has bothered me for a while but if there's just one thing that bugs the hell out of me about my fellow skeptics and the broader scientific community is how much they waffle on about how science doesn't deal with proof and that things can't be proven only disproved.

Is there a logical reasoning for such waffling? If not, can we please dispense with it and agree to a certain amount of pragmatism? And even if there is a logical reason for it, wouldn't it make more sense to adopt a more pragmatic assertion that this thing or that thing has been proven when there isn't a better alternative?

Please discus.
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Old 25th March 2017, 02:53 PM   #2
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Too many words. Could you precis your argument for me.
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Old 25th March 2017, 03:23 PM   #3
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I think it's mostly to do with not becoming complacent in acceptance of things that seem to be undeniably true then turn out to be wrong. Like the four elements of antiquity. Or phlogistion. Or Newtonian gravity. New ideas come along that overturn ideals that were widely held true by a lot of smart people perhaps at least partly because other smart people didn't rest on the laurels of "proven" conceptions.
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Old 25th March 2017, 03:28 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
This is something that has bothered me for a while but if there's just one thing that bugs the hell out of me about my fellow skeptics and the broader scientific community is how much they waffle on about how science doesn't deal with proof and that things can't be proven only disproved.
.

Where did you get that idea? The only thing I can think of that matches your complaint is that all science is provisional -- subject to revision given new evidence. That is what separates science from dogma.

Perhaps I misunderstood.
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Old 25th March 2017, 04:01 PM   #5
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Can We Please Stop Waffling?

Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
Is there a logical reasoning for such waffling?
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Old 25th March 2017, 04:06 PM   #6
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Old 25th March 2017, 04:13 PM   #7
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Id a done the same thing.
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Old 25th March 2017, 04:40 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by HighRiser View Post
I think it's mostly to do with not becoming complacent in acceptance of things that seem to be undeniably true then turn out to be wrong. Like the four elements of antiquity. Or phlogistion.
I can get behind that, but if the theory works until a better one comes along to explain it, then why not accept it as having been proven? Just be prepared to have an idea being challenged and replaced, until such time treat it as it's true.

Originally Posted by HR
Or Newtonian gravity.
Here your argument breaks down. Newtonian gravity is still applicable until you have to deal with supper massive bodies such as stars or black holes and such.

Originally Posted by HR
New ideas come along that overturn ideals that were widely held true by a lot of smart people perhaps at least partly because other smart people didn't rest on the laurels of "proven" conceptions.
You have to have something to work with first, though.


Originally Posted by John Jones View Post
.

Where did you get that idea?
From people saying things like the following:

Originally Posted by Reivax View Post
You can't prove a hypothesis, you can only disprove it.
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Old 25th March 2017, 04:52 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
supper massive bodies
Obesity kills.
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Old 25th March 2017, 04:55 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Obesity kills.
Prove it
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Old 25th March 2017, 05:02 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
Prove it
I got fat last week and died. Is that sufficient?
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Old 25th March 2017, 07:41 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
This is something that has bothered me for a while but if there's just one thing that bugs the hell out of me about my fellow skeptics and the broader scientific community is how much they waffle on about how science doesn't deal with proof and that things can't be proven only disproved.

Is there a logical reasoning for such waffling? If not, can we please dispense with it and agree to a certain amount of pragmatism? And even if there is a logical reason for it, wouldn't it make more sense to adopt a more pragmatic assertion that this thing or that thing has been proven when there isn't a better alternative?

Please discus.
It's not clear to me what you mean specifically by waffling or why you apply it here.

I believe the reason for what you are described is pragmatism. I'm not clear on the downside as you see it. Perhaps you could explain what you mean.

What's not pragmatic about trying to be as honest as possible about the assumptions that underlie any given model we might have about reality? I might not be able to objectively justify to a certainty that the fire extinguisher is where I think it is in my kitchen, but I assure you that should the need arise I will pragmatically proceed on the best information and modeling I have. There's nothing particularly pragmatic at just declaring absolute knowledge of the fact and never questioning it again. It offers no further utility we didn't have before doing so...it just limits our ability to reconsider the model in light of new information and biases our interpretation of new data.

Unless I'm missing something.
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Old 25th March 2017, 07:42 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
I can get behind that, but if the theory works until a better one comes along to explain it, then why not accept it as having been proven?
...because that's not what proven means. There's always going to be assumptions, so proof and knowledge is always contextual. It isn't just a word we truck out because we don't want to have to argue about something.

Appreciating why we understand certain things as useful and reliable models of reality is part of the fun of it all. Who needs black and white? Reality isn't black and white...being pragmatic requires recognizing that.

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Old 25th March 2017, 08:59 PM   #14
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Old 25th March 2017, 09:01 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Crunkus View Post
There's nothing particularly pragmatic at just declaring absolute knowledge of the fact and never questioning it again.
I'm not talking about declaring absolute knowledge here, but since you brought it up can you honestly argue that it isn't absolutely true that there are microbiological lifeforms called germs that can cause diseases? Yeah, there comes a point in which you have to acknowledge that something is absolutely true and proven beyond any and all doubt. The Germ Theory is just the first thing that comes to mind, although I'm sure there are others.

Originally Posted by Crunkus
It offers no further utility we didn't have before doing so...it just limits our ability to reconsider the model in light of new information and biases our interpretation of new data.
If no new data is forth coming or what new data that exists only serves to confirm it then how is it not proven? Yeah, new data might come in tomorrow to (for example) disprove the theory of relativity, but until such time isn't it more practical to accept it as being true?

Originally Posted by Crunkus View Post
...because that's not what proven means.
Look, the theory of evolution was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in a honest to goodness court of law, it's obviously possible to prove scientific concepts. It's also possible to accept something as true whilst being prepared to abandon or revision it as needed. So do you think maybe stop using weasel words now please?

Originally Posted by Crunkus
It isn't just a word we truck out because we don't want to have to argue about something.
It sounds like the exact opposite to me, and probably to a lot of others as well.

Originally Posted by Crunkus
Appreciating why we understand certain things as useful and reliable models of reality is part of the fun of it all. Who needs black and white? Reality isn't black and white...being pragmatic requires recognizing that.
Reality actually is black and white, it's only our perceptions that are shades of gray.
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Old 26th March 2017, 02:08 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
... Reality actually is black and white, it's only our perceptions that are shades of gray.
Is there a fully accurate model of reality with which to compare any other models, and where is the former stored?

As for the other conundra, I find it easier to refer to facts, of which the best example are any configurations of spacetime resulting from the one-way sequencing of causality, viz the arrow of time (meteor hits moon, leaves crater: evidentiary facts). Then there are universals expressed as A then B (drop stone, it falls), leading to factually known events (observable causality relations). Then, there are those events that are probabilistic (observable regularity) owing to the interplay of complex systems, with starting conditions being important (precise configuration of spacetime), and which lead to wonderfully endless conversations about super-determinism and randomness.

Theories and models, however, are always best kept fully naked; i.e., never dressed up as fact, or we would never have a chance to use Newtonian gravity for guiding interplanetary missions and Einsteinian gravity (well, GR) for setting GPS clocks in satellites. Admittedly, however, "naked" theories can still be quite beautiful and be worthy of admiration.

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Old 26th March 2017, 02:24 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
Look, the theory of evolution was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in a honest to goodness court of law...

When?
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Old 26th March 2017, 02:28 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
Reality actually is black and white, it's only our perceptions that are shades of gray.

Our observations of reality and our models of it are inevitably filtered through our perceptions.
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Old 26th March 2017, 03:23 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Mojo View Post
When?
I'd assume he's referring to Kitzmiller vs. Dover. Unfortunately for his argument, though, evolution wasn't proven in that trial. Rather, it was shown that ID was fundamentally religious in nature and was unavoidably in violation of the Establishment clause. That ID contained numerous errors and was being propped up by a variety of false or claims was secondary and doesn't actually count as evidence that modern evolutionary theory is proven anyways, let alone proven in that court of law.

That's not to say that ID couldn't potentially be taught about in an appropriate fashion, but how they tried to do it was legally unsound and morally bankrupt.

ETA: Alternately, Mudcat could be referring to the Scopes trial. Again, though, evolution really wasn't proven there, either.

As for Mudcat's suggestion that Germ theory is proven, along with the rest of the complaints about the use of proof and proven... that very much depends on what one is actually talking about when they talk about proof. Science fundamentally cannot provide 100% proof about anything, but it can certainly be used to demonstrate that some models are dramatically more preferable to employ for practical purposes than other models, to the point that there's no good reason to question them until such time as they are shown to be insufficient or less useful than another model. That's certainly enough to call proof for many, even if it's just asking for complacency and dogma to usurp rational thinking and understanding.
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Old 26th March 2017, 03:40 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Aridas View Post
I'd assume he's referring to Kitzmiller vs. Dover. Unfortunately for his argument, though, evolution wasn't proven in that trial. Rather, it was shown that ID was fundamentally religious in nature and was unavoidably in violation of the Establishment clause. That ID contained numerous errors and was being propped up by a variety of false claims was secondary and doesn't actually count as evidence that modern evolutionary theory is proven anyways, let alone proven in that court of law.

That's not to say that ID couldn't potentially be taught about in an appropriate fashion, but how they tried to do it was legally unsound and morally bankrupt.

ETA: Alternately, Mudcat could be referring to the Scopes trial. Again, though, evolution really wasn't proven there, either, though.

As for his suggestion that Germ theory is proven, along with the rest of the complaints about the use of proof and proven... that very much depends on what one is actually talking about when they talk about proof. Science fundamentally cannot provide 100% proof about anything, but it can certainly be used to demonstrate that some models are dramatically more preferable to employ for practical purposes than other models, to the point that there's no good reason to question them until such time as they are shown to be insufficient or less useful than another model. That's certainly enough to call proof for many, even if it's just asking for complacency and dogma to usurp rational thinking and understanding.

I don't think he understands the legal standard of proof either. Nothing is ever required to be proven "beyond a shadow of a doubt". In civil cases it is on the balance of probability.

In a criminal case a conviction requires proof beyond reasonable doubt, so the only way he would even get evolution proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law would be if a criminal conviction required evolution to be true. ETA: so the Scopes trial wouldn't get him there.
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Old 28th March 2017, 09:03 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
This is something that has bothered me for a while but if there's just one thing that bugs the hell out of me about my fellow skeptics and the broader scientific community is how much they waffle on about how science doesn't deal with proof and that things can't be proven only disproved.

Is there a logical reasoning for such waffling? If not, can we please dispense with it and agree to a certain amount of pragmatism? And even if there is a logical reason for it, wouldn't it make more sense to adopt a more pragmatic assertion that this thing or that thing has been proven when there isn't a better alternative?

Please discus.
It's a subtle concept, but it's a very important one.

Science doesn't and can't prove anything, it can only try to be less wrong. If you set out trying to prove things the way math does, you'll get to Descartes and get stuck there, because you'll never prove yourself to be real and not some brain in a jar in an experiment somewhere. The only sane approach is to have a model of how the world works, and update bits of the model as and when they're shown to be wrong.

In normal conversation - when we can all agree to a certain amount of pragmatism - it's convenient to talk about science proving this or that. It makes the language flow better.

But then along comes someone who doesn't agree to the same amount of pragmatism, and expects science to literally prove everything. I'm sure you've seen arguments that boil down to "science was wrong about this one detail, therefore it could be wrong about other things, therefore my insane ramblings have just as good a shot at being right as anyone else's."

And if science did try to positively prove things, they'd be right.

Luckily it doesn't, and shouldn't.

Some confusing language between the lay and scientific definitions of proof are a small price to pay for eating our epistemological cake and having it too.
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Old 28th March 2017, 09:07 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
Please discus.

The whole point of science and skepticism is that they are never done. They are a process by which knowledge is obtained, not a body of knowledge itself.

What you perceive as "waffling," I perceive as flexibility.

Is there a specific example you wish to discuss?
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Old 28th March 2017, 09:24 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
The whole point of science and skepticism is that they are never done. They are a process by which knowledge is obtained, not a body of knowledge itself.
Because the statement, "Tyrannosaurus rex is extinct" isn't really a done deal. We don't know. It has to always be in process and can't enter into a body of knowledge.
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Old 28th March 2017, 09:39 AM   #24
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Pancakes are way better and everyone knows it.
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Old 28th March 2017, 10:45 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by RenaissanceBiker View Post
Pancakes are way better and everyone knows it.
You can say that again...

Golden pancakes and hot stacks of them. Soft, warm syrup. Luscious butter. Overwhelms the mental senses. Tongue brushing cheek as you dream of it.
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Old 28th March 2017, 11:56 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Because the statement, "Tyrannosaurus rex is extinct" isn't really a done deal. We don't know. It has to always be in process and can't enter into a body of knowledge.

What's the problem with that?

We can still say that our best evidence currently leads to the provisional belief that T Rex is extinct. We can say that the current model we have of understanding evolution leads to the conclusion that T Rex does not exist today and could not have survived the changes in climate that occurred where it was known to have lived.
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Old 30th March 2017, 11:23 PM   #27
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I'm waffling right now. Blueberry, with plenty of butter.
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Old 31st March 2017, 12:59 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
What's the problem with that?

We can still say that our best evidence currently leads to the provisional belief that T Rex is extinct. We can say that the current model we have of understanding evolution leads to the conclusion that T Rex does not exist today and could not have survived the changes in climate that occurred where it was known to have lived.
Because you know very well what that kind of passive, weak languages without fail leads to. You've been in the game long enough to know how that goes. The second we make the admission that there is any degree, even some miniscule purely argumentative one, the X is uncertain we've created a gap for Woo to slide into.

To use the current example the second we allow any modifier, any escape clause, any apologetics, any moment of linguistic or argumentative "pulling the hand back" on the statement "T-Rexes are extinct" every Woo Slinger who believes in Figboots and Chupacabras just got their next 20 arguments handed to them on a silver platter.

Woo Slingers and Woo apologists have become masters at using our own standards against us, hoisting us up by our own petards again and again. And we keep letting them.

In 99.99999999% of arguments the phrase "T-rexes are extinct" is perfectly valid. By let them guilt trip us into slapping on that "but we could be wrong" modifier we slitting our own argumentative throats.

These are people that worship, and I mean that almost literally, ambiguity and grey areas because they don't treat them like we do. When you make the conceit that our knowledge of the existence of T-rexes hasn't (and can't) reached some 100%, perfectly solid, across the board metaphysical and philosophical level of ultimate final certainty you aren't creating a special pleading the keep the discussion that T-rexes might still be alive in a real world, practical sense going... but they are.
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Old 31st March 2017, 01:16 AM   #29
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Old 31st March 2017, 01:20 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
From people saying things like the following:
Originally Posted by Reivax View Post
You can't prove a hypothesis, you can only disprove it.
I think that would depend on what the hypothesis is. Surely some hypotheses can and indeed have been "proven" to a degree where it reasonable to say that "We know this is true".

Maybe it depends on what your standard of "proof" is.

The earth is round, not flat. Gorillas exist. Bigfoot does not exist. (The last one I suppose is harder to "prove" than the former. That is, it is easier to prove that gorillas exist than to prove that Bigfoot does not exist. But come on, I am well satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to say that they do not, so that the question doesn't even really interest me anymore. You may as well posit leprechauns or faeries or balrogs.)
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Old 7th April 2017, 10:21 PM   #31
Archer17
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Originally Posted by Mudcat View Post
This is something that has bothered me for a while but if there's just one thing that bugs the hell out of me about my fellow skeptics and the broader scientific community is how much they waffle on about how science doesn't deal with proof and that things can't be proven only disproved.

Is there a logical reasoning for such waffling? If not, can we please dispense with it and agree to a certain amount of pragmatism? And even if there is a logical reason for it, wouldn't it make more sense to adopt a more pragmatic assertion that this thing or that thing has been proven when there isn't a better alternative?

Please discus.
Proofs are for math, science is a process. I see no problem.
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