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By the skin of my teeth

Posted by Graham Cambray on March 01, 2009 at 02:28

In Reply to: By the skin of my teeth posted by Smokey Stover on February 28, 2009 at 23:01:

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : Regarding the phrase "by the skin of my teeth" as Job stated, and your phrase description does not acknowledge as being literal, may I direct you to the book by Dr. Cuozzo, an orthodontist, who wrote "Buried Alive" about Neandertal man and about how true scientific evidence is being suppressed by the predominant evolutionists in power all over the world. We do have skin on our teeth, although it is not identical to the body's skin. It also served a purpose of healing, producing a chemical that would heal, so that when Job spit on his sores they healed. Satan kept inflicting him with more, but that does not negate the efficacy of God's provision.

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : --------

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : Thank you, Tatiana. I must say, it's always a pleasure to receive an objective and well thought out contribution to the forum. If Satan unexpectly inflicts me with sores, I shall certainly spit on them. (GC) [Typo: should read "unexpectedly"]

: : : : : : : : : : : : Tatiana, are you aware that "evolutionist" is a word made up by creationists? No scientists call themselves evolutionists. Scientists include geologists, physicists, paleontologists, biologists . . .

: : : : : : : : : : : : Talking about "evolutionists" is like calling me a gravitationist because I believe that dropped objects fall downward. ~rb

: : : : : : : : : : : Speaking of Neanderthal man, I believe that I'm correct in saying that even as we speak they are trying to reproduce Neanderthal DNA. I am surprised that the remains so far found include teeth in such good condition as to permit the identification of something so fragile as a thin tissue covering the teett.
: : : : : : : : : : : SS, a self-confessed gravitationist.

: : : : : : : : : : --------

: : : : : : : : : : A digression, for which I apologise in advance. Some years ago, in the UK newspaper The Guardian, there was a discussion about the Creation in the letters column. Someone had pointed out that the Earth was traditionally created on the twenty-third of October, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning. [The so-called Ussher/Lightfoot chronology, which there are various web articles about]. Another reader wrote in, saying that there was clearly an error of a few hours in the calculation, as it failed to account for God stopping the sun in the sky during the Battle of Jericho. (GC).

: : : : : : : : : You can look at some (possibly most) of the book using Amazons "search inside" function. I read the 2 pages on this topic. His reasoning is based on interpreting Job 7:19 "... till I swallow down my spittle?" as "until I stop spitting on my wounds?" and making several other dubious connections to other parts of the book to support the argument he started out to prove. One of the reviewers points out that he ignores the Biblical scholarship that says Job was written a long time after he supposes the Neanderthals to have existed (just after the flood).

: : : : : : : : Technically evolution is a scientific theory and gravity is a law. Until somebody invents a time machine I suppose evolution will have to remain officially a theory no matter how many adherents it has. And I hope I can happily go along calling myself an "evolutionist", because I'm not a scientist!

: : : : : : : [I have observed that small finger-cuts heal quickly if I lick them at once - of course, I've never applied a test-control such as cutting two fingers and licking only one. I lack the spirit of scientific inquiry; or else I'm just squeamish. - Bac.]

: : : : : : [Yes, all sorts of good stuff in saliva: lysozyme and histidine-rich polypeptides among them. Produced mainly by the parotid salivary gland rather than the teeth. - GC]

: : : : : Technically, I'm afraid the "law of gravity" is also a theory.

: : : : -----------

: : : : I have a feeling I may get told off for entering this last discus sion. Nor can I do it in three lines. But here goes:

: : : : Scientific laws don't necessa rily add to our understanding of "What's going on". Laws are quantitative descriptions of relationships, and can sometimes just be empirical - based on observed relationships - with no theory or understanding behind them at all. So laws don't "trump" theories - they're not "better" than theories. And they don't even have to be "right" to be useful. Newton's theory of universal gravitation is still used today, even though we know it's wrong in certain respects. It remains good enough to get a spacecraft to the moon, but it was known over a hundred years ago that it gave the wrong answer for Mercury's orbit - it tool Einstein's General Relativity to give correct predictions. And Einstein's theories also contain various useful laws (such as E = mc^2). Today we know that Einstein's theories are also deficient - particularly when we need to try and apply them together with quantum physics (we can't), and so people are turning to outwardly arcane superstring and "M" theories to seek a better explanation. Quantum physics essentially started off as laws without theories. We'd better not start discussing the difference between laws and hypotheses!

: : : : Evolution is a theory - or more properly there are a number of evolutionary theories which differ in detail. In part because we are now talking biology and not physics, the theories are not quantitative in the same way, and don't naturally give rise to laws. There are laws of heredity, and empirical relationships which describe mutation rates which could be called laws (except they keep on being fine-tuned), but no "laws of evolution" as such.

: : : : Importantly, though, Darwins theory of evolution makes testable predictions, and especially in recent decades, supporting evidence has been queueing up at the door, so to speak. But Darwin made a fairly good case when he published. Scientific theories must be testable - see Karl Popper's writings to take this further. You can never really "prove" a theory - however many "tests" it has survived, it still takes only one inconvenient fact to bring any theory down in ruins.

: : : : So Evolution qualifies as a theory (or a family of theories). And Creationism is the opposite, right? No, wrong. Creationism is not a scintific theory - because it is not testable - not disprovable. It has to do with faith, not science. Inconvenient fossils in the rocks? - put there by God 6000 years ago, so as to test the faithful. And so on. There are no facts you could put up to "knock down" Creationism. Does that mean it's wrong? No. We probably all "believe" things that aren't scientifically "proven" (whatever that means). What it does mean is that Creationism is not science or anything close to it.

: : : : Creationist have taken a lot of their tracts and re-written them to support what they now choose to call "Intelligent Design". I don't have a problem with people preaching Creationism or Intelligent Design. If someone knocks on my door to convert me to something or other, I'm always polite (to start with, anyway). But to my mind it's sneaky, underhand and dishonest to represent these beliefs as science. If they're taught in schools, thet should be taught as part of Religious Studies - but not as science.

: : : : I suppose the current push to teach ID as science is close to an admission of defeat - acknowledging a need to justify something under somebody else's terms. It would be better to realise that these are not "either or" alternatives, and for religion to fight on its own terms, not somebody else's.

: : : : Which brings us back to Tatiana, Dr Cuozzo, and others. The attempt to use science to try and bolster Creationism is doomed to failure because Creationism and ID fail to meet the basic criterion of a scientific theory - testability. It was considerations of this kind that led Wolfgang Pauli to say to one of his students: "That theory is worth less. It isn't even wrong!". (GC)

: : : [Typo: Newton's *Theory* of Universal Gravitation - but more importantly the concise ma thematical *Law* of the same name. And a few words where I've clearly had finger trouble (but decipherable, I hope). Sorry.]

: : Bringing it back to words. This discussion calls to mind a conversation I had a few days ago. The other person pointed out that it isn't accurate to say evolution is "just" a theory. That a theory isn't speculation, it has weight. Merriam Webster says, a theory is "a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena." It also reminds me of a book I paged through a few months back. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul by Edward Humes (Paperback - Feb 19, 2008). It explained why evolution has become such a central issue to religious conservatives/fundamentalists. And that's all I have to say about that.

: Like everyone else contributing to this site, I love words. Where would we be without them? But they tend to be slippery sometimes. If someone talks about, say, a pipewrench or a boltcutter, I don't really feel doubtful about what he means. When they say "theory" I'm not so sure. We've heard the dictionary quoted, but what it defines as theory seems to be "scientific theory." Is there no other kind? Must a theory be testable? What, for that matter, does testable mean?

: When I started college I had never seen a girl drunk. Unfortunately I saw a few, including one who stood up at a dinner preceding the formal dance and dinged her glass for attention. She announced, "Shirley is a horse's ass." Laughter ensued, then someone else sais, "That's just a theory." I think we all understood that he did not mean a scientific theory,although he may have had a test in mind.

: A philosopher named Karl Popper was also mentioned. They talk about epistemology at great length, and then offer us "theories" which can't be proved, and really aren't theories at all. The great Immanuel Kant applied his brain to the task of finding an ethical theory and came up with the Golden Rule, which is not a theory but a maxim. Every other "ethical theory" or "philosophy of ethics" that I've heard, religion aside, has pretty much disregarded plausibility in favor of circular reasoning or the begging of the question. So please leave the philosophers out of it.

: It was said here that gravity is a theory, and also that it is a law. Right! There is a law of gravity, perhaps several, in which it is stated that we will see certain things happening under controlled conditions. That's what we expect of a scientific "law," like Boyle's Law, that under specific controlled conditions such and such will happen--and will always happen, no matter how many times the experiment is repeated, if the conditions are repeated.

: There are many theories in which speculations are made about the role of gravity in relation to, say, the strong force and the weak force, or to black holes and to the expansion or not of the universe, and I suppose there may be a theory of gravity which purports to explain how gravity came about, or acts to achieve the effects that it does. Gravity is important enough to have both a law and any number of theories.

: Evolution is, as some religionists like to repeat, "only a theory." But it is a scientific theory. What does it mean to say that it, and other scientific theories, are testable? It means that one can and must question them by the means open to science, that is, experiment, observation and perhaps coherence. Testing them doesn't mean testing them for truth, but rather testing them for error. If you could test for truth, then they would no longer be theories, but would be law, if found truthful. ("What is truth?" said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Like juesting Pilate, I'm willing to leave that question to others. )

: I like the remark of Wolfgang Pauli: "That theory is worthless. It isn't even wrong!". I think an argum ent can be made for coherence in a scientific theory (as opposed to my colloquial kind of theory). The dictionary and some other sources try to impute something like weightiness or seriousness to a scientific theory. I don't think a scientific theory needs to be weighty or serious, so long as it is coherent.

: Obviously I have to add my voice to the chorus that finds no relation to anything scientific in either Creationism or Intelligent Design.

: One last point and I'll be quiet. I was susrprised at the date given above for Creation. I find amongst my notes this: "Bishop James Ussher (1598-1656) published his chronological researches, in which he calculated that Creation took place on the night of October 22, 4004 B.C." I'm not sure that this is important, but I'm interested to see that there are different opinions about it.
: SS

Your views, SS, are pretty close to my own. I hope others will forgive this digression. But we can't be accused of departing from the original question, in this case, because there wasn't one.

I think Ussher was the first one who did the sums (and didn't give a precise time) and then Lightfoot tried to refine his calculations and got a date AND a time (ummm!). You also sometimes see October 3rd - I have no idea whose calculations those are.

Yes, a lot of what Popper wrote is properly classified as philosophy (and a lot of it quite "fluffy") - but not quite all. The "testability" thing wasn't even an original contribution of Popper's, as I recall, but he argued the case particularly well, and his name has got connected with it.

I think this Law vs Theory thing is very confusing. The way the words are used in science seems to be the wrong way round. A Law is a relationship which can be stated mathematically, and you can have scientific Laws even if you don't understand why they're (apparently) true. You feel more comfortable if the law is part of a broader Theory, which hopefully explains WHY the Law is true. So Theories are really the top dogs - there's nothing "harder" or "truer" than a theory. Laws "fall under" Theories, in a sense. Nowadays, scientists don't like to put forward "Laws" in case they sound big-headed - but I expect everybody hopes that the relationships they predict may eventually come to be known as "Smith's Law" or whatever.

SS is right, though, of course, to say that not all theories (even if put forward as "scientific") are equally weighty or far-reaching. The vast majority aren't particularly world-shattering, I guess. Scientific Theories needs to be coherent - and testable. They're generally pretty damn serious most of the time, though occasionally you get a top-notch scientist coming out with something quirky. [Every body continues in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, except insofar as it doesn't. - Arthur Eddington].

If you can't test a theory, then you're in "Pauli territory". And that's where Creationism and ID sit. Such beliefs are not scientific theories, and Creationists are clearly on a hiding to nothing if they try to invent "scientific" justifications to support their beliefs. I don't know why they do it. I would guess that the majority of people on the surface of the planet have some religious beliefs or other, but most "believers" don't seem to feel the need to underpin their beliefs using science - they just hold to their individual faiths. Far more dignified!

If SS likes the Pauli quote, here's another (which I like a lot), by the US journalist H L Mencken:

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart".