Re: Payne-Miller dialogue regarding facts/interpretation

From: Joel Cannon (
Date: Mon Jun 11 2001 - 16:30:17 EDT

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    > From: Bill Payne <> (In response to Keith

    > I think schools should teach empirical data and stay away from
    > interpretations, unless they are prepared to offer competing
    > interpretations.

    First, I must say to you Bill that I appreciate the fact that we have
    you on the list and that you will voice things like this, particularly
    given the fact that you proably do not have time to respond to the
    barrage of questions coming your way.

    The second thing, I say is that I don't think you really believe this
    consistently in the sense that I don't think you will think this way
    about interpretation in areas where it does not impinge on other
    considerations (such as your understanding of Creation).

    For example, is it a fact or an interpretation that the earth orbits
    the Sun and not vice versa? How do we know without inferring it from
    other data?

     This is particularly relevant because 1) It was a point
    that Christians (not just Catholics---Luther was not a Copernican)
    resisted because it was thought to go against the plain teaching of
    scripture. The reasons for believing that the earth orbited the Sun at
    that time were strictly inferential. Though Copernicus's model gave
    poorer empirical agreement with the observed data, it provided natural
    explanations for the fact that the interior planets, mercury and
    venus, are always observed to lie in the direction of the Sun, and for
    the fact that retrograde motion of Mars (planet moved from east to
    west through the stars rather than the normal west to east) always
    occurs when Mars is opposite the Sun. These can obtained by a model
    with the earth at the center, but the explanation is natural and clean
    for the heliocentric (Copernican model). Interior planets must always
    be close to the Sun based on geometry, exlaining why only two have
    limited elongation (the technical term). Retrograde motion occurs
    because the earth "runs past" mars when they are at their closest
    point, which occurs with the Sun is opposite from the direction of

    My point is that I think you will agree that it was reasonable to
    believe that the Sun was the center of the solar system based on
    interpretation of data. If that is true what is the distinction
    between intrepation here and interpretation of the evidence for the
    history of life.

    Other examples of interpretation would be why would you call it a fact
    that atoms have protons, neutrons, and electrons? These are all based
    on interpretation.

    Joel W. Cannon | (724)223-6146
    Physics Department |
    Washington and Jefferson College |
    Washington, PA 15301 |

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