Academic views, controversies, liberal views, eclectic discussions and so forth. Also, extended debates may be moved here. May contain discussion on views that a devotee may find objectionable.
Was Darwin Wrong? - Discussion of braja's posted editorial
DharmaChakra - Sat, 13 Nov 2004 05:02:23 +0530
The work of the 19th-century English naturalist shocked society and revolutionized science. How well has it withstood the test of time?
read it here>
Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.
From National Geographic
Well, 51% of the US voted for Bush.. go figure.
The article brings up an interesting point in that relativity theory is just as life altering, yet there is little to no religious opposition to it. Why is that?
The article glosses over the idea of a scientific theory, and this unfortunately points to the ignorance demonstrated by most non-scientifically trained people.
Read (and enjoy) Karl Popper's Falsification Principle
QUOTE(Karl Popper's Falsification Principle)
1. It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory - if we look for confirmations.
2. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory - an event which would have refuted the theory.
3. Every "good" scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.
4. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.
5. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.
6. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of "corroborating evidence.")
7. Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers - for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (I later described such a rescuing operation as a "conventionalist twist" or a "conventionalist stratagem.")
One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.
Of import here is point 4 and point 7. Point 4 not only defines what is scientific, but what is not
scientific. How can you 'falsify' religious experience? You can't, hence it is fundamentally
non-scientific. An appeal to religious doctrine can not refute scientific theory, because it is at its very nature unscientific.
Point 7 is a trap much of religious apologia falls into. I'm reminded of the book 'Vedic Cosmology and Astronomy' (well, I guess there is one challenge to Relativity Theory). Anyone tried to read that & follow the convoluted reasoning to 'prove' the Sun closer to the Earth than the Moon? The convoluted reasoning is exactly what point 7 is talking about. Religious apologists are always backed into factual corners by scientists, and their reasoning quickly falls apart. 'God created the fossil record in place' and other such reasonings lower the scientific status of their claims to nil because they are untestable. Religious belief can not inform scientific theory on these points because it does not offer testable, refutable alternatives to the current theory.
braja - Sat, 13 Nov 2004 08:31:05 +0530
I once attended a seminar by Sadaputa on anomalies in natural selection and it was much more earthly
and impressive than the cosmological ideas. For instance, examples were presented of species that had developed certain features that didn't seem to have any possible incremental stages. One of the examples was of some amoebic like creature that had a spinning tail, another was of a shrimp that inserts a piece of sand in its earhole in order to establish a sense of balance. It was argued that both couldn't possibly have come about thru natural selection, i.e. a creature with a hole in its head is at a distinct disadvantage and passing on the hole-in-the-headness and having the sand insertion at some point and then passing on that seemed to be quite a stretch. It was very interesting stuff.
Just last week I saw a thread on Slashdot on a related matter, the evolution of the mammalian eye
. (If anyone wants to check it out, I'd recommend viewing at the +4 level as its pretty long and the posts earning a 4 or above are pretty informative...or downright funny.)
As far as cosmology, Motilal has a book entitled "Jambu Dweepa As Asia and Medical Adventures In Shrimad Bhagavatam," which apparently argues that the 5th canto is an accurate description of Asia. And I saw Suhotra Swami was recently challenging someone else's analysis of the 5th canto. Guess it can't be all things to everyone. Hey, isn't that a line of a song?
braja - Sat, 13 Nov 2004 08:53:31 +0530
One comedian joked, I think in response to the lawsuits in Georgia (US) regarding the teaching of evolution in schools, that textbooks would now refer to dinosaurs as "Jesus Horses."
While reading an illustrated Bhagavatam book to my son recently I noticed that the hellish planets were shown with dinosaur-like creatures. Apart from rakshasas, I don't think I've ever come across descriptions of anything resembling a dinosaur.
DharmaChakra - Sat, 13 Nov 2004 17:22:29 +0530
QUOTE(braja @ Nov 12 2004, 11:01 PM)
I once attended a seminar by Sadaputa on anomalies in natural selection and it was much more earthly and impressive than the cosmological ideas. For instance, examples were presented of species that had developed certain features that didn't seem to have any possible incremental stages. One of the examples was of some amoebic like creature that had a spinning tail, another was of a shrimp that inserts a piece of sand in its earhole in order to establish a sense of balance. It was argued that both couldn't possibly have come about thru natural selection, i.e. a creature with a hole in its head is at a distinct disadvantage and passing on the hole-in-the-headness and having the sand insertion at some point and then passing on that seemed to be quite a stretch. It was very interesting stuff.
This is a fairly common misperception about evolution theory, although it is easily dispelled by reading even the lay books of someone like Steven J Gould.
Evolutionary advances are not connected via some chain of inferior to superior. I really don't see any stretch in the shrimp example. For one, how is a shrimp with the hole at a distinct disadvantage? He may appear to be so from our vantage point, but in the shrimp environment, a hole in the head may fill certain needs very nicely.
Also, 'passing on' the ability to insert a piece of sand is also not out of the ordinary. Much behaviour is biologically based, Work by E.O. Wilson & others in the 70's (see Wilson's Sociobiology
for just about the best introduction you can get) established this. Look at chickens. The complex social behaviour exhibited by them (the so called pecking order) is passed on generation to generation, and can be seen to evolve from generation to generation. In other words, chickens have a born in sense of the pecking order, it is not a purely learned behaviour.
The larger point is that religion makes statements that are falsifiable and testable. Hense they could
fall under the domain of scientific theory, especially when the statements are taken literally. Since the religion can not be wrong (can not be falsifiable), the defender of the faith must
falsify the scientific theory that contradicts the religious statements. This puts the cart before the donkey in the view of science, since the religious defender has already presumed their statements to be true (no falsification possible).
Please note that it is usually folks with a fundamental bent that take up this kind of stance. People who can not have their scripture/religious statements be wrong in any kind of literal way.
BTW, I have somewhere on tape a lecture of Sadaputa talking about UFOs being Demigods riding their vimanas around... and I know devotees that hold up this kind of view. At least these 'New Age Babas' are entertaining in their seriousness...
Madhava - Sat, 13 Nov 2004 20:11:43 +0530
People like to over-simplify the idea of the survival of the fittest. If something has a defect, it is not fit, and therefore must perish. Such ideas are cast forth with little or no consideration at all about the environment in which the "unfit" species lived, based on which we could assess whether its survival would be likely. Such projected scenarios would have to be thoroughly studied.
Moreover, fundamentalist believers turn this idea into a dogma akin to that of their own: It must be absolute and infallible at all times, and exceptions do not confirm the rule but rather dismantle the theory wholesale. Therefore, if we can point out a single fallacy or an exception to the rule we have cleverly discovered, "just see, it is all bogus".
"The theories of the scientists are changing all the time, but our religious truths have been true and will always be true." Therefore, our religious view of the world must be supreme, and the scientists must be bogus. However, an acharya can change practices and interpretations as he sees fit for the times, but that is of course not the same thing. Why? Because acharya is the source of absolute truth and presents the absolute opinion of god, while scientists are merely speculating in their fertile brains.
Mina - Sun, 14 Nov 2004 21:53:00 +0530
Interesting that braja posted this, and that yesterday I attended a reading by British author Richard Dawkins and his actress wife of his latest book. The evolution of species is actually a very fascinating topic with many twists and turns over the past 4 billion years. Genetically the closest relatives to the hippopotamus are the family of whales.
Darwin is by no means the last word in genetic adaptation, but then he was merely one of the pioneers. Someone in the audience asked Dawkins about the new 'hobbit race' discovered on that island in Indonesia. There is a prime example of a natural alteration in our own species, as they shrank when isolated from the mainland, for whatever reason. I also read a study of nutrition in which African pygmies grew to normal height within one generation when their diet was altered. Then there is the example of the cockroaches that became immune to the pesticide DDT by genetic adaptation.
People should not walk around with blinders on like some thoroughbred race horse just because they have religious convictions. A little common sense is in order, or should I say 'horse sense'?