Re: [asa] Demarcation was Re: thinking was prosecutors and not that of the judge

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Mon May 07 2007 - 16:42:49 EDT

The issue is not simply "predictions" in the sense of foretelling something that hasn't yet been observed. Here (as in other places) I think Lakatos' picture of how science works is helpful (without implying that it provides a strict definition of what constitutes science). There a research program is "progressive" if it is able to predict "novel facts" without having to introduce new auxiliary hypotheses, but those facts need not be things that were previously unknown. They can be phenomena which were known but which were not used in the development of the theory. Thus, e.g., the 43"/century precession of the perihelion of Mercury counts as a novel fact predicted by general relativity. It was well known decades before Einstein's theory was developed but was not used by him in constructing his gravitational theory. OTOH a theory which can accomodate new facts only by introducing extra hypotheses (e.g., changing the exponent -2 in Newton's law of gravitation slightly) is to that extent regressive.

The value of such predictions is clearer in physica than in biology because physics can be formulated more clearly in math terms than can biology. & that also helps to explain why prediction is a significant criterion. You can always come up with a formula to explain any set of quantitative observational data. But having formula which fits not only old data but also data which were unknown when the formula was first developed suggests that it corresponds to some pattern which actually exists in nature. (& as usual in such matters, I acknowledge the assistance of Prof. Plato.)

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: David Opderbeck
  To: PvM
  Cc: ; asa
  Sent: Monday, May 07, 2007 1:09 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Demarcation was Re: thinking was prosecutors and not that of the judge

  Quite honestly, I don't see why the focus on "predictions" is all that crucial. Is an accurate historical description of a natural phenomenon not "science" unless a "prediction" can be derived from that description? Why? What if the description is of a remarkable, one-off, incredibly improbable event or series of events?

  I can see that the social utility of "science" might relate to predictive ability. But even then, I can't see why a merely historical description lacks any social value at all -- it may have value just because it's interesting to some people, or because it helps us place other beliefs in a broader context. Or, some merely historical descriptions may have social value because they negate predictions based on mistaken notions of history.

  If evidence were produced that conclusively falsified an existing paradigm, that would have enormous social value even if that evidence was entirely negative and resulted in no predictions about what should replace the existing paradigm. Human knowledge advances when false beliefs are proven false as well as when new, more accurate beliefs replace the false ones. That doesn't always have to happen concurrently, it seems to me.

  None of this is to say ID has proven Darwinism false, but it seems to me that the "no predictions" meme is overstated in terms of simply demarcating "science."

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Received on Mon May 7 16:43:12 2007

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