Essays on Science

 


On Occam's Razor

A popular internet meme of recent times is Occam's Razor, it is used in all sorts of contexts - google for "Iraq Occam's Razor" and you'll see it used to argue for invasion, and against invasion; google for "tax cuts Occam's Razor" and you see it used to argue for tax cuts, and against tax cuts; google for "Jon Benet Ramsay Occam's Razor" and you see it used to argue about who killed her.

In short - Occam's Razor has become a popular and frequently used phrase in recent years - it is invoked for anything, regardless of whether it actually applies.

Occam's Razor is usually given like this :

"entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem"

which rendered into literal English is :

"entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity"

But nowadays it has been mis-represented to mean something like :

"the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one".

Note that Wiki says - ' The principle is often inaccurately summarized as "the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one". '

It's innacurate because Occam's Razor is not a CHOOSER - it's a CUTTER, a razor. It does NOT say anything about alternatives, it does NOT say anything about CHOOSING at all - that is merely a later interpretation or implication.

In fact - the key verb is "do NOT multiply"; and what is not to be multipled is entities (meaning broadly - "things"); and to "not multiply" means to not add extra - i.e. to CUT OFF what is not needed. That's why it's called Occam's Razor and not Occam's Chooser or Occam's Decider.

So here is Kapyong's more accurate rendition of Occam's Razor :

"Cut off everything that is not necessary."

 


On Science Being Repeatedly Wrong

Science is all about being WRONG. Everytime scientists announce some new discovery - that means the previous science was wrong ! Proof of science being wrong - every time - wrong so MANY times!

"Scientists discover a new blah blah blah ..."

See? They were WRONG before!

"Scientists have found X Y Z ...."

Aha! So they were wrong before.

Yet ANOTHER case of science being WRONG!

"Biologists have now shown that ..."

See? So they were wrong before.

It happens ALL the TIME! Scientists keep getting it wrong! Every new scientific discovery is an actually showing science previously being WRONG ! Why would you believe anyone who keeps getting it WRONG - over and over ?

Science is moving so fast lately - they keep rapidly coming up with even more new discoveries. And every single new discovery proves that science was (previously) wrong ! More and more discoveries - more and more evidence that science is wrong!

Clear and repeated evidence that science is wrong basically all the time. This obviously proves that all the science we know is wrong !

And if science is wrong, creationism MUST be correct - therefore God !

Q.E.D.

Because - creationist views haven't changed since the early iron ages - it MUST be TRUTH if it's NEVER updated or improved. We NEVER ever ever admit the bible is wrong, so we win.

Such is creationist thinking.

 


On the word 'Theory'

THEORY has 2 meanings

It is all too common for people to confuse the two meanings of the word "theory". In popular terms, "theory" means a guess, or speculation. Thus the common phrase "just a theory" meaning "just speculation". But, in scientific terms, there is another, different, meaning to the word "theory" - it means an EXPLANATION.

Theories EXPLAIN facts

Theories explain the facts we observe - Gravity is a fact, we observe its effects. Gravitational Theory describes how gravity works. Electricity is a fact, we use it everyday. Electromagnetic Theory explains the details of how it operates. Germs are a fact. Germ Theory explains how they cause disease.

Evolution is a fact, it is observed.  The Theory of Evolution explains how it works.

The ToE is an EXPLANATION, NOT speculation

The Theory of Evolution is NOT "speculation about evolution" - that is NOT what the phrase means at all. Rather - the Theory of Evolution is the EXPLANATION for how evolution works, it models the behaviour of the FACTS of evolution, and allows predictions to be made.

Just as Electromagnetic Theory is the explanation or model of how electricity works. Would one say "electricity is just a theory" ? Of course not. And Gravitational Theory is the explanation or model of how gravity works. Would one say "gravity is just a theory" ? Of course not. And Germ Theory is the explanation or model of how germs cause disease. Would one say "germs are just a theory" ? Of course not.

Yet some people say "evolution is (just) a theory" as if it means "evolution is merely untested speculation" (false) when it really only means "evolution is an explanation, or model" (true)

Claiming "evolution is just a theory" indicates a lack of understanding of the word, and how science operates, and that the ToE is an explanation for observed facts.

EVOLUTION = FACT & THEORY

Evolution is a FACT. We observe evolution. And, the Theory of Evolution is the EXPLANATION, or model, for the observed facts of evolution.

Theories can be WRONG

Sometimes I see claims that theories are "higher" than laws or facts in some hierarchy, or somesuch claim - but that is just not correct. A theory, or explanation, can be wrong.

Consider these two theories :

  1. The Germ Theory (explanation) of Disease. Claims that disease is explained by germs - a fairly modern theory, supported by facts, and now considered correct.
  2. The Demon Theory (explanation) of Disease. Claims that disease is explained by demons - a traditional theory, supported by church doctrine, no longer considered correct.

In this case there are two competing theories (explanations) for disease - one theory is correct, one theory is wrong. A theory can be wrong.

Theories do NOT get promoted to laws.

Following on from that last point : there is NOT a hierarchy which sees 'theories' promoted to 'laws' once they are 'proven'. e.g. the 'theory' of gravity did NOT become the 'law' of gravity once gravity was 'proven' - not how it happens. These days - scientists tend NOT to make 'laws' anymore - it's considered out of date, mechanistic, Victorian. The 'Law of Gravity' is an example of an old classic - and it refers to a clear and specific simple mathematical relationship F ~ m / d^2

There is ALSO a 'Theory of Gravity' - well, there are at least TWO :

  1. Newton's Theory of Gravity
  2. Einstein's Theory of Relativity (which covers gravity)

One is about 99% accurate and stood for 4 centuries, the other is 100.000% accurate and is about one century old. Theories explain facts. Theories can be wrong, or accurate, or even mostly accurate.

Theories CAN be SPECULATION

Remember - a scientific 'theory' is an explanation for facts, and a theory can be wrong.

Another example of a wrong theory would be the Phlogiston Theory of Burning which explained burning as the giving off of a substance 'phlogiston', when in fact it turned out to be the addition of Oxygen. The Phlogiston Theory (explanation) of Burning was *speculation* based on the idea that burnt objects seemed to have lost something - fair speculation for early chemists, but it turned out to be WRONG.

This speculative theory (explanation) was wrong. More test and observations and experiments lead to the Oxygen Theory of Burning - this was based on careful observations of weights before and after burning. Later, much better tests confirmed this was indeed so.

But initially, we could say the Oxygen Theory of Burning was speculation - not fully confirmed. This speculative theory (explanation) turned out to be CORRECT.

Theories explain facts. Theories can be wrong. Theories can be speculation.

Theories are accepted based on EVIDENCE

So, why did the Phlogiston Theory of Burning get rejected in favour of the Oxygen Theory of Burning? Why did the Germ Theory of Disease win out over the Demon Theory of Disease ?

Obvious isn't it? Because we FOUND germs. And we found Oxygen. We OBSERVED them, and saw their effects. (And we never ever found Demons or Phlogiston.)

So now here is the key point : That's WHY Einstein is famous - because he was OBSERVED to be right!

Not because they all sat around a smoke filled room and decided - "I say old boy, I think we should go with Einstein's speculation - it's as good as any". "Well OK, old chap, Einstein could be right - who would ever know? but you must support me for college President." "It's agreed then - we'll support Einstein on this one - after all he does look so dashing in photos, and it's not like his speculation could be proven anyway".

Einstein's theories explain how light, time, mass and gravity interact - especially the big and the fast. By those times, it had been observed that Newton's theories were not quite right (his 'theory' being a set of formulas such as F~m/d^2.) In other words - observations of the planets did NOT quite match Newton's formulas. This was BIG news, because Newton's formulas were so good they had worked fine for several centuries, so much so that no-one ever expected they would be wrong. But they were wrong, slightly, but only for the BIG and the FAST - in this case, Mercury's orbit.

Einstein's theory is also a set of formulas that describe gravity etc., and they are slightly different to Newton, especially when it comes to the big and the fast. And sure enough - Einstein's theory, his explanation, his formulas MATCHED the observations of Mercury's orbit - with 100.000% accuracy.

So scientists looked closer and did more tests - including one during the solar eclipse in 1919 IIRC. And that too matched Einstein's numbers - 100.000% accuracy.

Impressive, but let's do more tests. Clocks fast - correct 100.000% Clocks high - correct 100.000% Red shift - correct 100.000% Particle accelerator tests - correct 100.000% Other tests - correct 100.000%

THAT's why Einstein is famous - because his theory is correct - we OBSERVE it to be correct. This theory (explanation) has been observed to accurately match and predict reality. Mostly. Because it turns out that just like Newton, there are some exceptions where Relativity appear to be inaccurate (down at the small scale.) Which does not make Einstein wrong, any more than Newton was wrong.

Evolution is supported by evidence

So, Darwin has a theory (explanation) to explain the origin of species. (NOT the origin of life.) Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection explains how species arise by a process of mutation and natural selection over relatively long periods of time.

Darwin proposed his theory based on his observations of living things, but initially it was speculation. Yes, the Theory of Evolution WAS initially speculation.

So why is it accepted? Why is it considered true? Why do we insist it's NOT speculation now? Why is Darwin famous like Newton and Einstein?

Much the same reason - because we have OBSERVED that he is RIGHT. It's been 150 years now - in that time there have been MILLIONS of tests and observations and experiments by THOUSANDS of scientists in dozens of countries which could have either :

The score so far is:

THAT'S why Darwin is famous like Einstein. And THAT's what creationists don't seem to grasp - just how clear the result is - and just how VAST the amount of evidence that supports evolution is. So much so that it's considered a fact - we observe it.

Evolution is an observed fact of life. It's not some vague speculation that might be correct, maybe.

 

 

by Kapyong

 


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