A Call for a Presidential Debate on Science

Robear wrote:
Does it matter if the president doesn't take into account what happened more than 6,000 years ago?

Yes, because we are not discussing "what happened" (ie, events) , but rather how the systems that operate in nature actually work. It's not like missing a question about the day the Maine blew up, but rather like not knowing what separation of powers means for the US democracy, to put it in a political context.

Getting specifics wrong at times, we all do that. Denying the way the world works in the face of overwhelming evidence is a whole 'nother ballgame.

I guess my contention is that so long as a candidate admits that creatures evolve, I don't much care if s/he's a Creationist. When they started to evolve isn't important so much as understanding the general mechanics of evolution. I'm not sure we're in disagreement, but I want to be clear that the present realities of science are considerably more important than some of the more historic facts.

After all, isn't the utility of history largely that it helps us understand the present and predict the future?

Three of them said they didn't believe in evolution. It was not a Creationism question, I was using that as shorthand.

Anyone know of a good online "science test"? I'd be interested to see how many of us actually know more than a given politician about science.

Nosferatu wrote:

Anyone know of a good online "science test"? I'd be interested to see how many of us actually know more than a given politician about science.

It's not about what you know, it's about the approach you take when learning new things and weighing evidence. This is the crux of science. I want my elected officials to understand the rules of rational thought and the scientific method, less then I want them to understand the human circulatory system.

DrunkenSleipnir wrote:
Nosferatu wrote:

Anyone know of a good online "science test"? I'd be interested to see how many of us actually know more than a given politician about science.

It's not about what you know, it's about the approach you take when learning new things and weighing evidence. This is the crux of science. I want my elected officials to understand the rules of rational thought and the scientific method, less then I want them to understand the human circulatory system.

Wait I thoguht they weren't supposed to be religious, modern science is deeply rooted in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic faiths.

DrunkenSleipnir wrote:

It's not about what you know, it's about the approach you take when learning new things and weighing evidence. This is the crux of science. I want my elected officials to understand the rules of rational thought and the scientific method, less then I want them to understand the human circulatory system.

Agreed. A scientific debate between participants unfamiliar with the topic is pointless - the real issue is the decision making process a person employs. A successful debate would have both candidates giving the same, correct answer for every topic: "I am unfamiliar with the topic and must consult both experts in the field and the literature to educate myself."

Nosferatu wrote:
DrunkenSleipnir wrote:
Nosferatu wrote:

Anyone know of a good online "science test"? I'd be interested to see how many of us actually know more than a given politician about science.

It's not about what you know, it's about the approach you take when learning new things and weighing evidence. This is the crux of science. I want my elected officials to understand the rules of rational thought and the scientific method, less then I want them to understand the human circulatory system.

Wait I thoguht they weren't supposed to be religious, modern science is deeply rooted in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic faiths.

Oh, that is complete bollocks. It is a method that can be practise by anyone regardless of their background. That scholars of abrahmic denominations practised them in the past has no bearing on anything whatsoever.

Alien Love Gardener wrote:
Nosferatu wrote:
DrunkenSleipnir wrote:
Nosferatu wrote:

Anyone know of a good online "science test"? I'd be interested to see how many of us actually know more than a given politician about science.

It's not about what you know, it's about the approach you take when learning new things and weighing evidence. This is the crux of science. I want my elected officials to understand the rules of rational thought and the scientific method, less then I want them to understand the human circulatory system.

Wait I thought they weren't supposed to be religious, modern science is deeply rooted in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic faiths.

Oh, that is complete bollocks. It is a method that can be practise by anyone regardless of their background. That scholars of abrahmic denominations practised them in the past has no bearing on anything whatsoever.

I didn't say it couldn't be used by those of other faiths, just that the principles behind it are firmly rooted in those beliefs.
basically the logic goes something like:
Only a Monotheistic culture believes that there would be a single set of natural laws, that were consistent. Polytheistic cultures by their very nature tend to believe that there are multiple forces in both direct and indirect conflict with one another, and there is no way of having a precisely accurate way to guess the outcome of an event.
this also led to the belief that those laws are unchanging, and constant.
this world view led to the desire to uncover what these "universal laws" were and were the foundation upon which modern science is based.

Right, and I suppose the greeks had no infuence whatsoever on the development of scientific inquiry, being polytheistic and all.

But that's another discussion. What you said that understanding and application of the scientific method means that you're religious, which sounds like an extension of that horrid "science is just another religion" meme, and is facetious snarky nonsense.

Only a Monotheistic culture believes that there would be a single set of natural laws, that were consistent. Polytheistic cultures by their very nature tend to believe that there are multiple forces in both direct and indirect conflict with one another, and there is no way of having a precisely accurate way to guess the outcome of an event.
this also led to the belief that those laws are unchanging, and constant.
this world view led to the desire to uncover what these "universal laws" were and were the foundation upon which modern science is based.

What is interesting is that this describes a medieval point of European religious philosophy that *preceded* the scientific method. It's not accurate in describing modern science and it's development, because it was also accompanied by belief that evil spirits and angels and pagan gods could and did influence the world, but it stands out because the concept of natural law was at times used by some religious philosophers.

The problem for this account is that once the scientific method was developed, this motivation had split away from Christian dogma. That is, science as it has been practiced since the late 17th century does not rely on this kind of religious dogma, even though many of it's practitioners followed religious beliefs, like humanism, that argued that God's creation was a part of His revelation. That's not causative.

But I'd also argue strongly that it's just pulling one thread out of many conflicting ones, in other words, it's fitting the data to the argument. As Alien notes, there are plenty of counter-examples. The assertion in the first sentence is ridiculous - I'd argue that most polytheistic religions have a single set of understandings combined with many actors. This is because the world self-evidently is constant in it's base operations - there's one sun, one moon, water behaves one way, soil another, etc.

Now that I think of it, is this one of C. S. Lewis's apologetics? No, I see rather that it's generally credited to the Stoics - polytheists - as "natural law" and was adopted into Christian philosophy around the fourth century. However, it was used to describe the base state of man, with Divine Law in opposition (which is not consistent with your interpretation). It was however subordinated as an expression of Divine Law, and Thomas Aquinas seems to have restored it to an independent concept, which of course started one thread of the debate about man's ability and limits in understanding the universe with or without God.

But I think the direct relationship between monotheism and science as you pose it is a modern concept derived from religious philosophy, rather than directly from the history of science. It would be interesting to see your source(s) for this.

I'll see if I can dig up the article, I think it was from some time this year.
And I am definitely contrasting it from the Alchemical viewpoint. Science assumed that the nature of the universe is static (which IIRC there has been evidence recently to show that some of those constants might not be quite as constant as we thought (which possibly refutes that data, I just remember seeing the original data and hypothesis, subsequent evaluation may have contradicted the original findings))

Nosferatu wrote:

I'll see if I can dig up the article, I think it was from some time this year.
And I am definitely contrasting it from the Alchemical viewpoint. Science assumed that the nature of the universe is static (which IIRC there has been evidence recently to show that some of those constants might not be quite as constant as we thought (which possibly refutes that data, I just remember seeing the original data and hypothesis, subsequent evaluation may have contradicted the original findings))

The principals of science you're thinking of say nothing about whether constants are constant, but rather say that laws which hold true here and now will hold true elsewhere and later. Gravity, for instance, will behave similarly on Earth today as it did a thousand years ago on another planet.

It doesn't matter if we fail to understand how gravity works - the fundamental principals of inference which guide the scientific method only speak to consistency in the universe, not our understanding of it. The difference is of the utmost importance.

And I am definitely contrasting it from the Alchemical viewpoint.

You do see, however, that the nature of the concept of natural law in Christianity has changed over time? It's been considered to be the opposite of Christian nature, and then later to be part of it, and a number of gradations in between. So I think it's hard to argue that modern science is based directly on a monotheistic religious view on the nature of nature. Especially since many of the founding concepts came out of polytheism.

Make sense?

Science assumed that the nature of the universe is static

Hmmm. Not sure I buy this, especially given the context you've created. A medieval naturalist would tell you that the universe is variable at the hand of God, the Devil, and the agents thereof, both human and non-human.

Wordsmythe wrote:

I guess my contention is that so long as a candidate admits that creatures evolve, I don't much care if s/he's a Creationist. When they started to evolve isn't important so much as understanding the general mechanics of evolution. I'm not sure we're in disagreement, but I want to be clear that the present realities of science are considerably more important than some of the more historic facts.

This is my general conclusion as well. Frankly, I don't care one bit if a president is creationist or not, so long as his/her conclusion does not stop funding of scientific research. I see the two sides are very separate issues....I can believe all day (and do) that God created the universe, but that doesn't for one second stop me from looking more closely into global warming or curing AIDS. The Republican party has made the distinction that the two are closely tied together (among other horrendous abuses of Christianity used to whore the Word of God out for votes...but don't get me started). I guess I'm a big believer in the separation of church and state, yet it goes both ways...just because an individual has religious beliefs should not make him/her automatically an idiot.

I would MUCH rather see a debate specifically about the economy rather than science. Wouldn't it be more appropriate, on any given topic, to see the candidates' advisors hash this out instead of the candidates themselves? They're not chosen until later on, of course, but as long as the candidate has a general grasp of the topic, they rarely rely on their own knowledge exclusively to make decisions.

Alien Love Gardener wrote:

Right, and I suppose the greeks had no infuence whatsoever on the development of scientific inquiry, being polytheistic and all.

But that's another discussion. What you said that understanding and application of the scientific method means that you're religious, which sounds like an extension of that horrid "science is just another religion" meme, and is facetious snarky nonsense.

Indeed. Somewhere in Limbo, Plato is weeping into Socrates' droopy bosom.

wordsmythe wrote:
Alien Love Gardener wrote:

Right, and I suppose the greeks had no infuence whatsoever on the development of scientific inquiry, being polytheistic and all.

But that's another discussion. What you said that understanding and application of the scientific method means that you're religious, which sounds like an extension of that horrid "science is just another religion" meme, and is facetious snarky nonsense.

Indeed. Somewhere in Limbo, Plato is weeping into Socrates' droopy bosom.

and yet, most of their advances we not scientific in nature, they had some mechanical geniuses, who promptly put their skills to work tricking the populace out of their money for the temples. many other of their great technical feats appear to have been learned by rote, as the exact pattern appears repeatedly.

Bassmasa wrote:

The Republican party has made the distinction that the two are closely tied together (among other horrendous abuses of Christianity used to whore the Word of God out for votes...but don't get me started).

No kidding. I hate it that most of the Christians I am close to haven't caught on that they're just being easily manipulated every two years. "I'm a single-issue voter, abortion is just too important for anything else to matter more" would be understandable if anything would actually be done about it. Instead it only matters every two years from around June or July until November 5th, then the Republicans fail to do anything about it even when they have majority control of the government, because they know full well that there are a large number of "single issue voters" out there when it comes to that hot-button topic.

Sorry, got sidetracked.

Back on-topic, I really wish we could get a genuinely science-knowledgeable candidate elected. As others have noted, I'd even settle for someone with a firm grasp on the scientific method and both inductive/deductive reasoning.

Nosferatu wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Indeed. Somewhere in Limbo, Plato is weeping into Socrates' droopy bosom.

and yet, most of their advances we not scientific in nature, they had some mechanical geniuses, who promptly put their skills to work tricking the populace out of their money for the temples. many other of their great technical feats appear to have been learned by rote, as the exact pattern appears repeatedly.

The fact that the Greeks did not employ the modern scientific method does not mean that they believed in conflicting truths (Plato being the father of Platonic ideals as such) or were content to accept obvious lies (Socrates being the father of the Socratic method).

wordsmythe wrote:
Nosferatu wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Indeed. Somewhere in Limbo, Plato is weeping into Socrates' droopy bosom.

and yet, most of their advances we not scientific in nature, they had some mechanical geniuses, who promptly put their skills to work tricking the populace out of their money for the temples. many other of their great technical feats appear to have been learned by rote, as the exact pattern appears repeatedly.

The fact that the Greeks did not employ the modern scientific method does not mean that they believed in conflicting truths (Plato being the father of Platonic ideals as such) or were content to accept obvious lies (Socrates being the father of the Socratic method).

We can give credit or lay blame on the Greeks for both sides of the current US science argument. Those who try to make sense of particular phenomena based on their accepted universal principles can thank Plato. Those who try to form universal principles based on their observation of particular phenomena can thank Aristotle. In the West we are too tied to the Greeks & their concept of reason/rationality to escape easily.

Its funny that Christians are mentioned so often in this debate, because perhaps what we need now, more than anything else, is a new Aquinas to bring the two together again.

Its funny that Christians are mentioned so often in this debate, because perhaps what we need now, more than anything else, is a new Aquinas to bring the two together again.

I'm puzzled by that. Why would we not welcome the chance to throw off the mythology all together? What is it about the fish of science that requires the bicycle of religion?

Robear wrote:
Its funny that Christians are mentioned so often in this debate, because perhaps what we need now, more than anything else, is a new Aquinas to bring the two together again.

I'm puzzled by that. Why would we not welcome the chance to throw off the mythology all together? What is it about the fish of science that requires the bicycle of religion?

There is nothing about the fish of science that requires the bicycle of religion. Sorry I wasn't very clear there, the two things I'd like to see brought together are using the universal to explain the particular and examining the particular to derive universal principles.

Aquinas brought the Neo-Platonic philosophy espoused by the Christian church of his day together with Aristotelean perspective that had recently been "discovered" in Arabic translation. He fully understood both and forged a synthesis.

This is what I'd like to see more of. I tend to agree w/ Popper, the difference between a scientific theory and a non-scientific theory is that the scientific one is falsifiable. That is, there are conditions under which it supporters would say, "Well, if that is the case, then the theory is wrong." With non-scientific theories like religions, if the evidence doesn't support the hypothesis, then the evidence scrapped, rather than the theory.

Popper wrote:

The scientific tradition is distinguished from the pre-scientific tradition in having two layers. Like the latter, it passes on its theories; but it also passes on a critical attitude towards them. The theories are passed on, not as dogmas, but rather with the challenge to discuss them and improve upon them."

For almost every imaginable scenario, given a choice between evaluating a situation scientifically or with another method, I think we're better off w/ science. It works, bitches. Still, this is not to say that many of the supporters of "science" in the current debate on the role of science in forming policy are not dogmatic and unwilling to discuss, challenge, or improve upon their guiding principles. It is also not to say that decisions based on religious justifications rather than scientific justifications are necessarily unsound, they are just unscientific.

Aquinas brought the Neo-Platonic philosophy espoused by the Christian church of his day together with Aristotelean perspective that had recently been "discovered" in Arabic translation. He fully understood both and forged a synthesis.

Gotcha. Makes much more sense with the explanation. I think you've teased out my attitude towards religion as a source of sound (or poor) decisions - it can be very useful, but also very wrong, and I tend to think that we can tell the difference objectively, but often, the religion itself is incapable of such judgements.