General Question

iamthemob's avatar

Is hypocrisy a necessary element in debate?

Asked by iamthemob (17123 points ) September 26th, 2010

PLEASE READ DETAILS. (sorry to shout ;-))

In a recent post on the relevance of the ten commandments today, Richard Dawkins was paraphrased as supporting the idea that we should question everything. Dawkins is notoriously (no connotation intended) atheistic when it comes to the Judeo-Christian concept of god. In asking whether atheism is a belief system, I’ve come to understand that atheism is not generally a belief so much as a skeptical approach to those arguing for a particular concept of god. Therefore, they argue that it is not their burden to show support for their position, as it is not a position so much as a critical approach to the position of others. Therefore, they assert they are rational as this “position” is the better one because in the end the basic beliefs of the other cannot be proven, and in the end that is no excuse for lack of support.

On the other side (as an example), those supporting the theory of evolution (as of course Dawkins does) take a position that the theory is true. From a scientific standpoint, this is of course different because there is data from which the theory is derived (and therefore is supportable in a manner that belief in god is not). In the end, however, it is an assertion in the same way that stating that god exists is an assertion. Therefore, a skeptical approach to evolution mandates that those taking the position that evolution is true have the burden of both (1) support the assertion with evidence, (2) show how the data is properly interpreted as evidence of the truth of their position, and (3) explain how contrary evidence does not undermine the theory. It should be inappropriate, therefore, to ask the skeptic to produce evidence to the contrary as a necessary prerequisite to a critical approach to the theory as it is requiring that the skeptic take a position that the theory is NOT true – essentially, to prove a negative. I encountered, however, this very strategy in a recent thread regarding those who criticize the theory of evolution.. In essence, this seems equivalent to former president Bush responding, when asked whether there was proof of WMDs, that he wouldn’t be proven wrong.

It seems then that atheists and evolutionary skeptics are in the same critical position, although there is one difference. Debate requires that one side take a position, and the other take the opposing (defined broadly) position, and that there be a winner. Therefore, debate is the inappropriate mechanism for discussion between god/evolution supporters and their respective skeptics. In both cases, you will find the majority of supporters attempting to force skeptics into taking a position, stating what they believe. The difference is that from the standpoint of debate in the scientific standpoint, the position supporting the theory can after rational thought be described as a good position, whereas this is impossible in the context of theistic debate (which does not mean that a position in favor of theism is without value). In neither case, however, does it mean that a skeptic is taking a position.

Therefore, isn’t debate an inappropriate framework for these discussions? If it is appropriate, doesn’t it inevitably lead to hypocritical techniques such as back-peddling, resort to apologetics, and fallacious burden-shifting? If not, why not?

Before responding, PLEASE at least scan the threads which have been linked. This is not a question regarding any of the above issues, and they are used as examples of the rhetorical devices in question. When you scan through, you will see that my contribution led to an emotional outburst that was inappropriate and hopefully uncommon for me, but rather common when debate is resorted to in these contexts, and has led me to the opinion that I should withdraw from contributing to the community.

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48 Answers

crisw's avatar

“Debate requires that one side take a position, and the other take the opposing (defined broadly) position, and that there be a winner. Therefore, debate is the inappropriate mechanism for discussion between god/evolution supporters and their respective skeptics. ”

I don’t see how you reach this conclusion.

First of all, only in the most formal of cases, such as the Oxford-style debate of the NPR podcast Intelligence Squared does debate require a “winner.”

Secondly, debate in its broad and common meaning of “a discussion presenting opposing points of view on a topic” is an entirely valid method of discussion in such cases.

Thirdly, and most importantly- In any discussion, debate, or whatever you want to call the espousing of a point of view, if you take a position on something, it’s your responsibility to present the evidence for your position. It’s simply indefensible to claim that you don’t have to because you are calling yourself a skeptic.

People who take controversial positions that are in opposition to commonly-accepted knowledge should expect to have their views questioned. And refusing to answer questions or provide evidence to support claims is indefensible and incomprehensible. If one wants to be taken seriously, to put it crudely, put up or shut up. You can’t get out of providing evidence for your position just because you feel picked on. People were criticizing your position and providing data and facts to support theirs, and you were taken aback that you were asked to provide data to support your own point of view.

So no, hypocrisy isn’t a necessary element in debate. But actually attempting to defend your position is.

As Baba Brinkman put it in his song Creationist Cousins:

But it isn’t about who is impartial; no one’s impartial
It’s about how much evidence you can marshal
And how you deliver the parcel
And when my relatives argue, I have to have faith
That we can reach the genuine article in a rational way
That’s a different kind of faith than my cousins have
In divine creation, but hey, to all of my relatives
And fellow primates, I say If it makes you feel better, go ahead and pray
In fact, here’s how I pray in a secular way I say,
“I have creationist relatives and relative apes
And I wish them all happiness, whatever their faith
And I wish myself patience, since I relish debates
Let us all be respectful and still tell it straight”

cockswain's avatar

Hypocrisy is not a necessary element in debate. If hypocrisy is introduced into a debate, then it loses potential.

Rarebear's avatar

@crisw is absolutely correct. In that thread, you were asking (good) questions and you stuck around as long as you felt like you were gaining a rhetorical upper hand. But as soon as you began to be challenged, you left instead of putting up evidence for your position.

And to speak of hypocrisy, don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical to say you want debate, but when you get debate you leave?

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw

Regarding your points (first, second, third).

(1) I agree, but only so far as there is a “formal” winner (I think that’s part of the implication of you putting winner in quotes). When people discuss from different positions, however, I feel like there is generally a need to show yours as the better, or confirm that you’re right, etc.

(2) This thread is, in my mind, a lucid example (in terms of the question) of the problems we run into when we try to give “general definitions”. I do agree that this may be a fair representation of the general concept of debate…but the problem is, there is often in the discussions of topics like the one I mentioned an assumption about the position of the other party. They may be taking a position on something, but not what the other party thinks.

(3) I agree, as I’ve said many times, and particularly in that thread. But the problem discussed above is a distinct wrinkle in this. If one side is assuming a position for the other, and demands support, and the other side (in the conversation) is claiming that they don’t need it, why are they asking for it, both sides are viewing the other as being unreasonable.

This is why it is “incomprehensible.” If you are assuming that a person is taking a position on the topic generally, then they ask for support that doesn’t make sense to the other.

@cockswain

I agree with you – but because of the statements I made above, I think that perhaps it is inevitable.

@crisw

What position was I taking in that debate/discussion? I think that’s the problem. Also, there was a lot of back and forth so I wanted to check…but I searched the thread and found 19 instances of the use of the term debate. Whenever it was used in my responses, it was to attempt to state that I wasn’t attempting to turn it into a debate, or take x position, or debate x thing.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
crisw's avatar

@iamthemob

“If one side is assuming a position for the other, and demands support, and the other side (in the conversation) is claiming that they don’t need it, why are they asking for it, both sides are viewing the other as being unreasonable.”

You claimed that you have doubts about specific areas regarding evolution. You never clarified those doubts, and, when evidence was provided to you that refuted the points that you did make, you seemed to ignore or sidestep it. You didn’t answer most of the direct questions that you were asked.

You cannot just claim that you do not need to provide evidence for your position. Substitute almost any other scientific discipline for evolution, and that position become even more obviously false. From the aspect of the available scientific evidence,claiming that macroevolution doesn’t happen is on the same level as claiming that germs do not cause disease or that plate movement cannot make mountains. If someone were to come to me and state “I doubt germ theory,” of course I would ask them why! And I would ask them for the evidence that they had to support such a position. And, if they could provided none, then I would feel absolutely confident in dismissing their position without any further thought.

If the burden of evidence is removed from those that question any theory, then we lose the ability to tell crackpots from genuine advances.

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw

What this specifically is NOT about, as I stated, is evolution, etc. The thread referenced was, in fact, WHY people claim evolution is “just a theory.” From the beginning, I was attempting to address that issue. What I repeated, over and over and over again, was that I had doubts that the evidence didn’t seem to alleviate. I never claimed that macroevolution doesn’t happen. Nowhere, from my posts, did I claim that macroevolution didn’t happen.

When you and the other member were brought on by rarebear, it seemed as if the goal was to convince me that macorevolution happened, and that the evidence presented was indisputable. If the reasons for doubting a theory rest mostly on doubts about the acquisition, interpretation, and availability of the evidence, then the position can most aptly be stated as “The evidence doesn’t clearly support the theory.”

In the specific instance, I agreed that the data was consistent with the theory. I was then asked, over and over and over again, what evidence I had that supported my doubting the interpretation of the facts as evidence that demonstrated the theory was indisputable. Although possible, of course, this seems to be moving the goalposts so far back it’s almost per se impossible. The problem with that request is that it requires personal knowledge and expertise of the data and the nature of its interpretation in question. Disputing interpretations from other experts may be considered as evidence in support of the position, but it would also require accepting that as a “good interpretation.” And when part of the problem is the fact that there is, for example, so little of the fossil record uncovered and even available, is there is an issue with ANY interpretation of where this came from, what this is, how should we put this together, what biases am I (as a scientist) approaching this, etc. This position, in the end, is not mutually exclusive from one where someone accepts point blank the data as interpreted. Because of this, also, it’s not really the same as claiming doubt about the two theories you mentioned, as movement of continental space is currently observed from space and germs are currently observed in the laboratory. If, however, it IS the same (e.g., there are the same type as well), I would be absolutely confident in doubting those claims as well. It also wouldn’t be mutually exclusive from accepting the claims, nor would it be exclusive from an assertion that I think the theory is still a valid one (you’ll notice that I repeatedly said I never required perfect evidence) and the one that best represents how we understand things to currently happen.

For me, this represents a situation where there may be two positions, but they are not contrary to the other when placed in the context of the larger debate (in this case, evolution/no evolution). And this type of doubt is beneficial in the context of education and the general population, as otherwise we have people with the doubt argued into a place where they may feel that they are asking stupid questions, or it’s stupid to ask questions. In essence, it’s making people feel like when they are told to “Question everything,” they can “Question everything except [evolution].” Thereafter, they’re locked into certain dogmatic approaches to the question at hand, in much the same way that religious dogma locks people into its approaches to the question it addresses.

crisw's avatar

@iamthemob

You really, really do not appear to be understanding what I (and others) am saying. Or else you understand it but do not wish to directly address it.

“In essence, it’s making people feel like when they are told to “Question everything,” they can “Question everything except [evolution].” ”

I have no idea where you are getting this from, and it is a perfect example of the problem I have described. Of course you can question evolution. But you must have a valid reason to do so! And the only way that someone can determine if your reasons are valid is for you to explain what they are and why you hold them. As far as interpretations of the data- well, data is data, and if you don’t agree with the interpretation then offer your own interpretation! That is what science is all about. If your interpretation fits the observed facts better, then great, We have advanced. You cannot just say things like “You are moving the goalposts” and expect to be taken seriously! What purpose does that serve?

Look at this (somewhat exaggerated and not intended to represent your exact words) conversation:
Person 1: I have doubts about the theory of evolution.
Person 2: What are they?
Person 1: I don’t think macroevolution could happen like scientists say. (shorthand) Irreducible complexity. New information. Not enough time.
Person 2: Oh, ok. Well, irreducible complexity isn’t a valid concept because (goes on to produce data, studies, etc. refuting it.) And the concept of “no new information isn’t correct because of…(more of the same.) So what evidence do you have to support your position and refute these observations?
Person 1: That’s moving the goalposts. I don’t have to present any evidence. Your evidence is invalid because I think there may be biases or something but I don’t have to explain what I think they are or present any evidence for them.

Please, tell me, specifically in a sentence or two so it doesn’t get buried in a flood of verbiage; why should we have any reason to accept the position of person 1 as valid?

cockswain's avatar

shouldn’t this best be on the other thread? Provided actual questions about the science of evolution are going to be discussed? That’s all I care about.

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw

You shouldn’t. But you don’t have to. Also, if the person believes in the model of evolution as a good model, that makes a significant different whether or not the doubts are reasonable.

Not knowing the conditions of the experiment or data, and the interpretation thereof, and where the funding comes from, or other elements that are always valid critiques of whether that data supports or fails to support a theory. Whether the doubt is reasonable depends on how strongly the person claims this affects the validity of the theory in question, or how much doubt it creates.

crisw's avatar

@iamthemob

We seem to be going in circles again. I may wait a while after this and see what others have to say.

“Also, if the person believes in the model of evolution as a good model, that makes a significant different whether or not the doubts are reasonable.”

No, it makes no difference at all. If there is no evidence presented, then I have no reason whatsoever to acknowledge the doubt as valid, no matter who is presenting it. It’s what is presented that matters, not who presents it.

“Not knowing the conditions of the experiment or data, and the interpretation thereof, and where the funding comes from, or other elements that are always valid critiques of whether that data supports or fails to support a theory. Whether the doubt is reasonable depends on how strongly the person claims this affects the validity of the theory in question, or how much doubt it creates.”

Why apply this only to evolutionary theory? If this is what you believe, it is equally valid for every other scientific theory out there. Why aren’t you questioning everything printed in any medical journal, for example, with all the funding from pharmaceutical companies? Why not go after all the geology studies funded by oil companies? Why are you singling out evolution? Again, this smacks of some type of personal agenda rather than actual real inquiry.

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw

This isn’t only about the evolutionary theory. Please see above. You keep making it about that. At no point have I made it about evolution, but you keep using it as an example. So I run with how you frame the argument.

Doubt is not a conclusion. It is a process. Acceptance, however, is a conclusion.

This is, however, exactly what I’m talking about. You brought evolution in as the argument even though I specifically said that’s not what it’s about. At each point, I have used evolution in response to your statements, or I have removed it and made general statements. However, you keep twisting it around to seem like I’m trying to make a point you think you’re right about. As @cockswain states above, there’s another thread for that.

And you AGAIN have misconstrued ME. I have said REASONABLE, not VALID. If a person has doubts about elements of a theory that are the publicly questioned ones, then those doubts may be considered reasonable. If the theory has an apparent predictive value and there are elements are generally accepted, the theory is probably valid. If the person believes that the theory is valid, and has those reasonable doubts, you can disagree about whether the doubts may be valid, but to say that they’re reasonable is problematic. To say that the doubts are unreasonable, you should be required to prove that the elements are true. That means, essentially, you have to prove the theory. Of course, in science, this is impossible. But since you can’t, it’s unreasonable to ask for such proof. Therefore, I do not ask it. But it seems that you would ask someone to prove the elements wrong in order for the doubts to be valid. That’s not only asking them to prove a scientific theory or analysis, but its asking them to prove the negative – doubly impossible.

Rarebear's avatar

Jumping in here.
“But since you can’t, it’s unreasonable to ask for such proof. Therefore, I do not ask it.”
Of course you should. If someone makes a claim, you should ask for proof. That’s true for everything from evolution to economic theory to (struggling for an alliterative “e” word here).

Science is all about proving things. Someone makes an assertion and proves it. Then someone either verifies that proof or refutes it. If enough people verify the proof that assertion becomes a theory (as we discussed in the other question).

Can someone have a reasonable doubt about a theory? Sure, but that doesn’t make them right. And just because they have doubt, doesn’t make the theory any less valid.

crazyivan's avatar

To follow up on Rarebears point, the willingness to provide and accept proof is what makes someone a skeptic. Skeptics like Dawkins would freely admit that if evidence on the level of the evidence of evolution was provided for the existence of God, he would readily switch his position from atheism.

Skepticism in the sense that I think you’re using it implies that you don’t come to the race rooting for one dog or the other. I am an atheist because the evidence is not on the side of the religious. I believe in evolution because the evidence is on the side of evolution. I would readily switch my opinion if (realistic) evidence or a (realistic) competing theory showed up.

What makes your initial question hypocritical in and of itself is the false parallel that you draw between accepting theism (based on faith) and accepting evolution (based on evidence). Hypocrisy is not necessary in a debate but it will show up if one is unwilling to bend their opinion to the overwhelming evidence without sufficient evidence to the contrary.

I’m not sure about you, but I think most of us really enjoyed the mental exercise of the previous thread and enjoy having our opinions called into question. I think Rarebear and Cockswain were actually having a blast because your questions helped them to further their own understanding of the theory they were defending (sorry if I’m speaking out of turn here).

The problem comes when someone becomes intractable. Until then, it is a healthy debate even if one person is claiming the moon is made of cheese.

crisw's avatar

@crazyivan

“Until then, it is a healthy debate even if one person is claiming the moon is made of cheese.”

What, you don’t think the moon is made of cheese? I am a skeptic about that space rock theory. After all, all those NASA scientists were getting grants from Space Pen and Boeing, weren’t they? Hardlyy impartial parties! And can you prove that the moon is not made of cheese? Why could the cow jump over it if it wasn’t? And why is it so round and holey and white? You have to prove that I am being unreasonable about this, or I am right, so there! Grind up those space rocks and you’ll find they are really fossilized Parmesan!

(this is a test of the emergency sarcasm broadcasting system. This is a joke, this is only a joke…)

Cirbryn's avatar

@iamthemob:
> “You brought evolution in as the argument even though I specifically said that’s not what it’s about.”

Sorry, am I missing something here? Isn’t the whole point of your question to claim that people who are both atheist and support the theory of evolution are being hypocritical by placing the burden of proof on theists as well as on evolution deniers?

> “If a person has doubts about elements of a theory that are the publicly questioned ones, then those doubts may be considered reasonable.”

Why? Do you think they must be reasonable, regardless of their content or support, solely because they’re publicly questioned? I don’t. I think the reasonability of a position or doubt depends on the position or doubt.

> “To say that the doubts are unreasonable, you should be required to prove that the elements are true.”

If you had specified what the source of your doubt was we might have been able to address it. But all I saw was a lot of hand-waiving. You mentioned you had problems with mutation, but you wouldn’t expand on what they were. What exactly did you expect us to do?

@Rarebear:
> “Science is all about proving things. Someone makes an assertion and proves it. Then someone either verifies that proof or refutes it.”

Well technically you couldn’t refute something that had previously been proven. Replace proof in your above quote with “providing evidence for” and it works a lot better.

Rarebear's avatar

@Cirbryn Fair enough, you’re right. I was lazy in my language.

cockswain's avatar

do you guys find it slightly amusing @iamthemob asked a question on a new thread and ALL and ONLY us from the evolution thread showed up?

crazyivan's avatar

Could’ve kept it on one thread, I suppose…

crisw's avatar

@cockswain

Perhaps because the question is so long and involved that only those of us with some preexisting interest read it and had some idea what he is talking about?

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear

Can someone have a reasonable doubt about a theory? Sure, but that doesn’t make them right. And just because they have doubt, doesn’t make the theory any less valid.

That’s what I’ve been saying all along. For instance, in my opinion, archaeology, paleontology, etc. are sciences in the way medicine is a science – there’s always more art and judgment in the mix than in many of the harder sciences. There also is an air of mystery surrounding their judgments, and a smarmy sort of “trust me” attitude because of it. Believing this, these elements I more readily doubt than genetics – but this is an area we are only beginning to understand. There are so many other areas that play into something like evolution (an understanding of carbon dating, tectonic shift, the planetary timeline, theoretical extinction events, etc.) that at some point, you just stop thinking and start accepting if you want to be free of doubt about the theory. I don’t like doing that. As I’m more inclined to doubt, therefore, I reserve judgment on it rather than accept it. I think it’s valid…but to say that it’s a fact – what does that do for the general population? I find it only misleading…

And it creates situation where you have people in these debates that are pointless. One person thinks the theory is fact, and therefore doubting anything about it is irrational. One person thinks the theory is valid, but not proven beyond doubt, and wonders why the other is accepting that others are saying it’s a fact on faith rather than looking at how the mechanisms underlying it are still doubtful. And then, for me, we just stop asking interesting questions.

Where you admit the laziness in your language is exactly what my problem is, as outlined above. “Fact” is a strong word, and can be easily be perceived as the opposite of “theory.”

@crazyivan

What makes your initial question hypocritical in and of itself is the false parallel that you draw between accepting theism (based on faith) and accepting evolution (based on evidence). Hypocrisy is not necessary in a debate but it will show up if one is unwilling to bend their opinion to the overwhelming evidence without sufficient evidence to the contrary.

I attempted to emphasize the difference between the two – that in one, you can have in the end an argument that is better than the other, but only where the theistic position is well defined. Overall, though, I completely agree with everything else you’ve said in that post…perhaps for the first time.

@Cirbryn

Atheism, evolution, were only examples. You are missing something. ;-)

And no, I said “may be” and not “must be” for that very reason. The problem with fully elaborating on is that I’m uncertain how it all works. However, as you admitted yourself, science is not about proving things – my entire issue was about whether these particular kinds of data actually provide evidence, and how valuable that evidence is considering the amount of potential information there is. I said throughout that I agree, at this point, that this appears to be data consistent with the theory, but I don’t know that I’m ready to accept that it is evidence of. It requires a much deeper understanding of the methods underlying the gathering and interpretation of the data, which is something I don’t think can ever be resolved here…that’s like, a lecture series. ;-)

My objections, therefore, are based on the attempt to “show me the way.” If you can’t prove all of the aspects of it, then why shouldn’t someone have doubts? I would understand if you were surprised that the person thought these doubts undermined the entire concept of evolution – but a person can have, once again, doubts about aspects or elements of the theory and still think it’s valid…so far. It’s where again the theory is marketed as fact to a mass consumer audience where I become offended. It seems hypocritical, therefore, to say science isn’t in the business of proving things, and then to ask for proof contrary to the theory. Because science isn’t going to PROVE the theory, doubt SHOULD exist about elements of it, but not require that the person holding the doubts consider the entire theory INVALID.

@crisw

Yes. I was trying to discuss argument and not evolution. That’s what I said several times above. The argument is skewing towards this because those with a personal investment from the previous thread are bringing that here. Please note how many times I’ve tried to say that’s not what this is about. But I think it’s good development for this question, as it shows exactly the tactics I’m discussing – when people have this investment in one side, skepticism of their investment is transformed into some form of attack on it, which must be squashed, and requires these hypocritical tactics (I’m certain I’ve used them myself).

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob I only used the word “prove” because you did. It’s not a phrase I generally use when discussing topics like this.

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob but you’re argument seems to keep coming back to “It’s my divine right to doubt this whether or not I can justify my position”. There’s no validity to that. I don’t think anyone on either thread is accepting anything “on faith”, but I reject the notion that your doubt in the absence of reason (or as opposed to the many reasons given to your objections) is a “reasonable” position.

You’re argument would hold a lot more water if you were framing this as “Here are some elements of evolution that I don’t understand” and then took steps toward understanding them. Instead, when Rarebear goes out and gets experts that can help you understand, you got frustrated rather than getting educated.

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan

As I just posted in the other thread, they ARE the same thing. It’s not an argument, it’s a statement of doubt. That was appropriate for that thread because it was about why people say it’s just a theory and not about what aspects are confusing. There is also too much to know to have total confidence, as I’ve stated above. The point of that thread was not about being educated, it was about what are the reasons for this. The point of the posts of others was not about educating, but rather converting.

You reject the notion? Now who’s being intractable.

crazyivan's avatar

I reject the notion that has no evidentiary support.

Besides, intractable has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting a notion. I won’t insult you by actually defining it, but the fact that I reject the notion that a blanket statement of doubt with no (reasonable) evidence offered is a reasonable position. If you’re willing to back your doubts up with realistic questions that can be verified or falsified, I will change my mind.

That being said, you’re repeated rejection of contrary arguments and evidence that deflates your justification for doubt is the very essence of intractability.

mattbrowne's avatar

I think we need to differentiate between scientific debates and debates on topics which are outside the realm of science. Only scientific debates rely purely on findings based on scientific method. Materialists claim that everything there is, is part of the scientific realm, so every debate can be turned into a scientific debate because in theory science can answer every question.

In any case whatever the nature of debates, hypocrisy is never useful in my opinion.

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne I disagree. I think that one should apply the scientific method (or a variant thereof) to all aspects of life. This is the basis of the skeptical movement.

crazyivan's avatar

And it’s how you keep from getting ripped off by things like chiropractors and echinacea.

Rarebear's avatar

@crazyivan True. I was thinking more along the lines of things like economic theory and history, but you’re right.

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Dog's avatar

[Mod Says:] Please note that this question is in general and the topic is “Is hypocrisy a neccessary element in a debate?” It is not to discuss the validity of evolution which is an entirely new question.

Please stick on topic folks! Thanks!

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mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – I’m aware that you disagree and it still surprises me. Well, you’re probably also aware that I disagree with your view. We cannot apply the scientific method (or a variant thereof) to all aspects of life or thoughts. For one, like science itself, we cannot apply scientific method to scientific method. We cannot use scientific method to analyze scientific method as such and make statements about it regarding truth or falsity.

Why? Because science and scientific method has limitations. And we don’t even need to cite Goedel for that. Here’s a very simple example:

Statement X = Science can explain everything

Note, that X is a statement about science, i.e. it’s a meta-scientific statement, not a scientific statement.

If X is true, it also means X is false, because there’s at least one statement (namely X) in addition to everything. In logic, proof by contradiction is a form of proof that establishes the truth or validity of a proposition by showing that the premise that the proposition is false implies a contradiction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_by_contradiction

This underlines that hypocrisy is not a necessary element in a debate. I’m debating you right now using logical thought.

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m not sure what I wrote above and what I disagreed with because it got modded off by @dog, sorry. If you happen to have it, send it to me and I can respond.

Dog's avatar

@Rarebear Look up. The only quip I removed was the one you wrote to me directly.

Rarebear's avatar

@dog Sorry, you’re right it’s there. I didn’t scroll up high enough.

@mattbrowne Okay, let me give an example. There are many economic theories out there, some good, some bad. Marxism was one such theory that sounded good, but ended up failing. If you apply the scientific method to Marxism.

Hypothesis: Marxism is the way by which to achieve maximum economic growth.
Test: Apply Marxism to an economy and test the results
Evaluation: Marxism suppressed economic growth
Conclusion: The hypothesis is incorrect.

That’s obviously a very simplified example, but you get my point.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – Yes, scientific method can be applied to many things. Observation of stars and planets, the analysis of fossils, drug-resistant bacteria, Marxism, childhood trauma, Lurve nepotism and so forth. My point is: scientific method cannot be applied to everything. You cannot apply scientific method to the hypothesis ‘The use of scientific method can be applied to everything’ coming up with a test settling the issue once and for all. You cannot use science to answer the question whether science can answer everything or not.

Simple first and second-order logic will do the trick as outlined above, see for example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-order_logic

Ignoring the contradiction in

statement X = science can explain everything

is irrational. And all atheists I know treasure rationality like I do. It’s also irrational to conclude that all theists are irrational. Debating the subject on this level does not involve hypocrisy. So the two of us are one example of a debate between atheists and theists without resorting to hypocrisy. Do you agree?

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne I agree that the scientific method can’t be applied to absolutely everything. I was objecting to your implication that you can apply the scientific method ONLY to scientific questions.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – Ah, communication and potential misunderstandings. I was talking about the realm of science. This doesn’t just include physics, chemistry and biology. But there are clearly questions outside the scientific realm. And is questions about science itself. And if you counter any why question with another why question you will leave the realm of science eventually. Like why are the natural laws? Maybe because there is a super law. Why is there a super law? And so forth.

So here we go: good communication is a necessary element in debate. Trying to find out whether a message was received as intended ;-)

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne “I was talking about the realm of science”. And my point is that you can and should take non-scientific questions and apply scientific method of thinkingto them.

For example, the question “Is there a soul”? to me is ultimately a question that should be approached critically.

cockswain's avatar

@Rarebear I agree with you, and can’t think of an example where the scientific method cannot be accurately applied (although that limitation of mine doesn’t mean there aren’t examples). With your example, “is there a soul”, since we cannot test the conjecture by any true means, we have no reason to continue to act as though there is anything beyond a very remote possibility it does.

But this is not to say that because we don’t currently have means to test something, it doesn’t exist. We can only imply the existence of dark matter, but at least there is data to suggest its existence. The soul, that’s a human-made concept with no empirical data beyond vaguely defined feelings. While it may exist, we’ve no reason to adjust our thinking to include it when building constructs.

mattbrowne's avatar

Again, the question is about testing the test. If the statement science can explain everything is true it is also false. Why is first and second-order logic so hard to understand?

Is there a soul in the physical world? No. Does the word soul represent something abstract? Yes. It is a human-made concept. This concept obviously exists as a concept. Does wine turn into blood during mass? No. Transubstantiation is a symbolic act representing a deeper meaning. A literal understanding would be irrational. Any chemistry lab can resolve the issue easily. Perhaps irrationality has some appeal because our scientific and technological world is becoming so complex that many people feel they are lost.

But irrationality isn’t only a common trait of some theists. As mentioned above many atheists (perhaps even a majority) believe in the truth of the statement ‘Science can answer everything, at least in principle’ while simple first and second-order logic can prove the contradiction in this statement. Again, irrationality might have some appeal because our spirituality-deprived world and all the failed searches for meaning gives people a sad, empty feeling. And science might become the new and only ultimate big picture in our lives.

But we are still debating all this without resorting to hypocrisy. There is no need for it.

cockswain's avatar

If the statement science can explain everything is true it is also false.

Does the set of all sets contain itself? Is it ultimately a paradox to try to use science to explain everything?

cockswain's avatar

Yes, of course. I thought it was famous enough I didn’t need to reference it. Like saying “Four score and seven years ago…”

I know it was a tangential thought, but somewhat relevant in an interesting way. If the scientific method becomes paradoxical at a point, that is worth discussing.

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