Response to Ashley Smith — Part II

Here is the second comment she left on my blog:

Science cannot demonstrate what I dreamed last night ( although it really happened) , nor if a mother loves her daughter, nor tell us how to live our lives, nor determine the value of something , nor tell us if Guns N’ Roses has betetr music than Soundgarden etc.

Science is great for APPROXIMATIONS of the natural world. Approximations-that is it. And it HAS LIMITS. A subject matter MUST be scientific ( natural- natural phenomena that is testable) for science to address it and study it.

There are many things that science is SILENT on.

Our greatest cream of the crop theories are ONLY APPROXIMATIONS- nothing more. Our greatest geniuses in the area of science were ONLY fog fighters struggling to understand the NATURAL world.
—END COMMENT—

Okay. Lets discuss the first paragraph, which is her first argument in this comment. This is a very old argument always put up by religious people and spiritual people alike, whenever they wish to displace science or show that it is not perfect. So I’m quite familiar with the argument, and have thought about it in-depth before.

I’ll address each piece separately.
Yes it can demonstrate what you dreamed last night, science is unable to do it at the moment, but there is no reason to suggest that we cannot do it in the future. There are constant improvements in science relating to reading brain signals, and our understanding of the brain is getting better every day. Every piece of evidence points to the fact that everything you think, everything you dream, it all can be found somewhere in the grey matter inside most of our skulls. Similarly it is quite easily able to demonstrate that a mother loves her daughter by observing the levels of particular hormones and activity of certain areas of the brain.

The next thing brought up is science and morality, the claim is made that science cannot tell us how to live our lives. No, it can’t, because morality is a value judgement at its core, and science only deals with facts. Morality however is not a fact of reality, so it can be excluded from this topic. It is worth pointing out though that once a judgement has been made on the value of things, science is perfect for advising morality, as it gives the most likely consequences of actions, so that one can judge what is the best course of action. Not smoking, for example, is a way science can advise you on how to live your life.

The last point brought up in this paragraph is that science is unable to make judgements on art, specifically that science cannot determine whether Guns’N’Roses is better or worse than any other band. I say that to the extent of FACTS, which are what is important to science, and to the current discussion of reality, science can help us. Surveys, the most basic of science, can easily explain to us which band is best in the eyes of the public. Now this may not prove that Guns’N’Roses is better than Soundgarden, but ‘better’ is not a fact, it is a personal opinion.

I’m going to address the next 3 paragraphs in the comment together, because they are part of the one topic. They simply say that science can only judge on natural topics, those which are scientific, and that science only makes approximations, never concrete statements. It finally states that Science is silent on a number of topics.

She’s correct to some extent, but lets look at what that means.

The first point, that science only makes approximations. That is true, but they are so much stronger than approximations. The theory of Gravity, for example, is ‘only a theory’, it is just an approximation of reality. But it hasn’t been proven wrong yet so if it is wrong, to the extent we can measure it, its right.

Science is naturally tentative, because it can never prove something completely right or wrong, but that merit doubt in the uncertainty. Like I said, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are ‘only theories’, but they are theories which have not a single piece of evidence against them, which is why they are still accepted theories. In the words of Einstein, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”
This is one of my favourite quotes, because it sums up science perfectly. This is how science works. The theory is still accepted because no experiment has proved it wrong. In the case of most theories, they have come up against millions upon millions of experiments, all of which have agreed with the theory.

So the claim that science is just a “best guess” is a claim which demonstrates little understanding of the true meaning of the word ‘theory’ when used in scientific terms.

The second point, that science can only judge on natural topics, is also true. But she neglects to see what that means for her religious beliefs. Seeing as there is no evidence to date of god, and the creator of the universe is surely a natural topic (he created it all, so he must be observable somehow) it is a safe judgement to say that either: God does not exist OR God has no tangible effect on reality, therefore rendering him non-existant.

The final point, that science is silent on a lot of topics, is also true. Science doesn’t get involved in politics, morality, everyday lives, personal decisions etc., science can inform these topics on the facts, but it cannot ever become involved in these areas because a level of judgement is always required. This doesn’t mean science is wrong, it just means science cannot make judgement calls, because they are not facts. However god is definitely not a judgement call. Your religion maybe, but not the facts of God’s existence. On to the third and final Comment, which is in Part three of this blog post.

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One thought on “Response to Ashley Smith — Part II

  1. Okay, I’m only going to deal with part II here, as the other parts are just a rehash of what I have already written.
    To Quote: “Okay. Lets discuss the first paragraph, which is her first argument in this comment. This is a very old argument always put up by religious people and spiritual people alike, whenever they wish to displace science or show that it is not perfect. So I’m quite familiar with the argument, and have thought about it in-depth before.”
    Good, I expect a good discussion then…

    “Yes it can demonstrate what you dreamed last night, science is unable to do it at the moment, but there is no reason to suggest that we cannot do it in the future.”

    Again, what you have is a philosophical statement here. You have a belief that someday we will have technology to determine what someone dreamt last night. However, there is no reason to ASSUME that we will have the technology. We may, we may not.

    So to state “yes it can demonstrate what you dreamed last night…” is not a correct statement.

    One, you cannot scientifically show this to be true. What would be a more correct and honest response would be.
    “While we do not currently have the ability to demonstrate what someone has dreamt, I BELIEVE that in the future we very well may be able to.”

    But to back up your statement you say, “ There are constant improvements in science relating to reading brain signals, and our understanding of the brain is getting better every day. Every piece of evidence points to the fact that everything you think, everything you dream, it all can be found somewhere in the grey matter inside most of our skulls.”

    All well and good. But none of this actually defends your statement about being able to demonstrate what someone dreams. You may well think that eventually the road will get there, but the road at this point doesn’t definitively state that we will get there. You are trying to get to point A to point X failing to recognize we haven’t even gotten to point G yet.

    Again, we may well be able to in the future, but our current progress and knowledge in NO WAY makes this a certainty. To ignore this fact, is to ignore good science.

    “ Similarly it is quite easily able to demonstrate that a mother loves her daughter by observing the levels of particular hormones and activity of certain areas of the brain.”

    I’m guessing here you’re talking about the “love hormone” oxytocin. However, if you have actually looked into the hormone you will see that “bonding” is only one part of what the hormone does, despite it’s name.

    However, this says nothing as to whether or not a mother truly loves her child.
    This hormone is released and plays a role in child birth – yet as we know, there have been young mothers who have abandoned their new born baby…not a very loving action. Yet, if their hormone levels were checked, there is no doubt that we would find oxytocin. But does a loving mother shove their new born baby in a dumpster?

    Why too would a mother do that, when there’s a hormone in her that is supposed to be making her do the opposite?

    To just ask the question one can see that there might be more to love than just the hormone.
    Otherwise, if it is just the hormone – then a mother who dumps her new born baby in the garbage, she too loves her baby just as much as the mother who doesn’t. After all, it is just the hormone that is love.

    No, I think you would agree love is more than just a momentary feeling. Or are you willing to argue that ONLY when the hormone is present that someone is “in love” or “loves.”
    I’d be interested in that argument.

    “The next thing brought up is science and morality, the claim is made that science cannot tell us how to live our lives. No, it can’t, because morality is a value judgement at its core, and science only deals with facts.”

    Good we agree there. However, as we discussed before science HAS moral standards. Which is interesting. Science has standards that it cannot itself affirm.

    “Morality however is not a fact of reality, so it can be excluded from this topic.”
    Actually, this is a philosophical statement.

    Morality may be a fact of reality.

    You believe it not to be, but you cannot scientifically support your claim. And remember YOU believe that science is the only way to test reality, yet you cannot test your claim about reality you just made. So how do you know it’s true?

    And as we know, just because something is not able to be tested by science, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Science cannot address and affirm EVERYTHING and you admitted it can’t with morality. But that in no way means morality doesn’t exist.

    So to exclude it based solely on your opinion and not anything more than that is confirmation bias – which is NOT scientific.

    But that’s not the interesting part, you then say this:

    “It is worth pointing out though that once a judgement has been made on the value of things, science is perfect for advising morality, as it gives the most likely consequences of actions, so that one can judge what is the best course of action. Not smoking, for example, is a way science can advise you on how to live your life.”

    Okay, none of this logically follows.

    For one, if morality doesn’t exist – science CAN NOT advise anything. How can science advise on something that doesn’t exist? That is logically incoherent.

    You first say that “science cannot tell us how to live our lives,” yet you just then turn around and say, “science is PERFECT for advising on morality.” Those are contradictions. If cannot tell us ANYTHING about morality, how can it ADVISE us on it?

    To advise is to offer one option over the other.

    You bring up smoking. So let’s look at it and hopefully you will more clearly see your contradiction.

    Smoking is a moral issue (ie, can anyone smoke, should kids be allowed to smoke, should anyone smoke, etc.)

    Science cannot tell us whether or not it is moral to smoke – you agree to this.
    Now, should I smoke is a moral question.

    Can science answer this? Can science advise me?

    If I smoke, I might get cancer. That is a fact to which science can speak to. But this isn’t a moral issue. That I might get cancer is not a moral problem, it’s a fact that may happen if I smoke.

    Heck, it might happen even if I don’t smoke. Heck I might not get cancer at all. Science can’t tell me I WILL get cancer. Only that I might. But, again I might not.

    But that still is not advising on morality.

    Science cannot tell me its moral or immoral to smoke – only what might happen if I do.
    Okay, to be fair you did state that ONCE the judgement has been made on the value of things, science is PERFECT for advising on morality.

    Okay, so let’s say that it’s immoral for me to smoke. How does science help us determine this? How does it advise us on this?

    It still doesn’t because it can’t. It can’t affirm or deny a judgment about an action. It can only speak to what may/may not result in said action.

    But let’s not forget you believe that morality DOESN’T exist – yet say that science can advise us on something that doesn’t exist. But science can ONLY deal with reality.

    And even when a judgment is made, science still cannot advise on whether or not something is moral or not. If it cannot be looked at to establish morality, how can it be looked at to advise on it?

    A hurdle you failed to jump.

    “The last point brought up in this paragraph is that science is unable to make judgements on art, specifically that science cannot determine whether Guns’N’Roses is better or worse than any other band. I say that to the extent of FACTS, which are what is important to science, and to the current discussion of reality, science can help us. Surveys, the most basic of science, can easily explain to us which band is best in the eyes of the public. Now this may not prove that Guns’N’Roses is better than Soundgarden, but ‘better’ is not a fact, it is a personal opinion. “
    Science may be able to point to what is popular – statistics, there is much that science CANNOT do that is still accepted as reality. To illustrate, let’s stick with GNR vs. Soundgarden.
    While a survey (which is NEVER exhaustive, so it has it’s faults there) may say that GNR is MORE popular that SG (based ONLY on those actually surveyed) it cannot say “Why” GNR is more popular. AND science only records this reality, it doesn’t TEST it. There’s no way to show if the responders told the truth or not. A survey ONLY records WHAT a person says – nothing more.

    But it doesn’t “explain” which band is the best in the eyes of the public – only records it. Quite a difference.

    So science doesn’t TEST or explain the reality that a group of people like GNR over SG, it only can SHOW us this that a group of people said they did.
    To explain, means due to a reason.
    Can science test that?
    Let’s say we have the responders reasons why – those are opinions why, not scientific. So science cannot speak to it. So science cannot explain why GNR is more popular.
    Here’s what else science cannot tell me (despite them being grounded in and reflecting reality): 1) why I like GNR over SG. 2) if I’ll like any other band more than GNR, 3) which band I will like better than GNR 4) what my favorite GNR song is and why (see I tell science this, not science telling me) 5) cannot tell me what other songs I will like.
    Though, I WILL like other songs which is an assumption so strong that we can consider it a fact…science cannot test and tell me which songs I will like. Nor can it beyond my response tell ANYONE else what my favorite song is or if I like a song or not.
    So, no science cannot make judgment upon art or what good art is, or why people like one form of art over another, or why I have such a distaste for musicals – yet my distaste is a reality is it not? Well, how am I supposed to know if my distaste in musicals is true if I can’t scienfically test it?
    You tried to circle around it, but failed to address the comments directly. Basically you admitted what science couldn’t do by highlighting what little it could do in this area.

    Now, for the remainder I’m just going to highlight some things you say and put them into relation to other things you have said.
    “Science is naturally tentative, because it can never prove something completely right or wrong, but that merit doubt in the uncertainty.”
    Glad that you say that, however many of your statements as I have shown, suggest otherwise – that is, you make claims that are philosophical and pass them off as scientific fact, yet these statements cannot even be tested by science. In short – you could be wrong. Might want to take care and remember that fact. You could be wrong in many of your assertions. So when you flippantly say: God doesn’t exist. You might be wrong.
    And to argue as if that was a fact, and not just your belief?
    Is NOT scientific, FYI.
    “The theory is still accepted because no experiment has proved it wrong. In the case of most theories, they have come up against millions upon millions of experiments, all of which have agreed with the theory.”
    Well, I doubt highly it they came up with “millions upon millions” but yes, I agree with you.
    “The second point, that science can only judge on natural topics, is also true.”
    Yep, and you should have stopped there. But you didn’t. You tried to go beyond science’s scope to try and “prove” your position – of which we now have shown, might be incorrect.
    But let’s look at what you said:
    “But she neglects to see what that means for her religious beliefs.”
    Really? Let’s see…especially since you know exactly what she believes.
    “Seeing as there is no evidence to date of god, and the creator of the universe is surely a natural topic (he created it all, so he must be observable somehow) it is a safe judgement to say that either: God does not exist OR God has no tangible effect on reality, therefore rendering him non-existant.”
    Okay, to claim: there is no evidence to date of god, is your opinion based on YOUR belief it’s how YOU see the world. That the universe is even here, for some, is evidence that we were created. After all science TELLS us that nothing come from nothing. That is a fact, quantum vacuums are still a sea of energy (something) and NOT a absence of EVERYTHING.
    Now, you may reject that and say: whatever you wish to say, but whatever you say is speculative and you have no evidence for either. Multiverse? Where the evidence? String theory? Where’s the evidence? Wheres YOUR evidence that something can come from NOT ANYTHING?
    As for the creator being a natural topic – well, no. In short. That would be supernatural, and I explained that it follows logically that natural measure cannot measure supernatural – by definition that’s why it’s supernatural. However, that isn’t to say that science cannot point to God.
    Take life for example. There are two options.
    1) it happened naturally.
    2) It was created.
    Now, if you truly are an honest skeptic you will admit that options one is not very strong. Science has so far affirmed that life comes from life. And that what appears to be created, is created.
    Life appears to have been created and only comes from life.
    Number two fits that scientific bill better than option one.
    Does that mean that option 2 is 100% correct?
    No, but it does point to a creator more than it does naturally.
    We are left to decide for ourselves based on our current knowledge. So for you to say that God doesn’t exist, or exist the way you THINK he should is not an argument at all, but just your humble opinion formed by many factors, including science, but not limited to science only.
    So, let’s say God does exist.
    He MUST be observable somehow?
    Why?
    After all, if we are talking about and all-powerful being here, one that created the universe, would it not be able to hide from us who are NOT all powerful?
    Why would an all-powerful God NOT be able to hide from us, or NOT be detected by us and our puny natural means?
    So to come to your conclusion that he MUST be, you need to explain why and scientifically.
    As for your two options, I already got into that and don’t need to go over that again there are more than two, in fact, there as many as we can imagine as it’s a philosophical question.
    Your statements of God are philosophical and based on a limited knowledge and understanding of the universe. A philosophical belief you can have, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that it’s scientific.
    “The final point, that science is silent on a lot of topics, is also true. Science doesn’t get involved in politics, morality, everyday lives, personal decisions etc., science can inform these topics on the facts, but it cannot ever become involved in these areas because a level of judgement is always required.”
    Yet, just above you said it can advise us on such moral matters. Well, which is it?
    And is your statement above true? Since we cannot test this, how then are we to ascertain its veracity?
    “ This doesn’t mean science is wrong, it just means science cannot make judgement calls, because they are not facts.”
    Correct. But I don’t remember reading that Ashley said science is wrong. She, like me, was pointing out that science IS NOT the only way to test reality. Something you actually believe in as well, otherwise you have to admit EVERYTHING you have said is only your opinion as you made many claims you believe to be true (many I agree are true).
    So, how do we know these are true?
    How do we know that science cannot speak to morality, when we cannot test this?
    “However god is definitely not a judgement call. Your religion maybe, but not the facts of God’s existence.”
    Correct to an extent. We have before us evidence, and we each decide where the evidence points. You cannot with any more certainty than me that we were created out of nothing than I can say that God created us.
    All the evidence you see that you don’t see points to God? I see that it does AND I base this on what is observable, testable, and repeatable. I base my belief that life can only come from life because that is what science has affirmed. I believe that is evidence of a creator. God? Maybe not, but a creator yes.
    Now, you can argue against that if you wish, but my belief is based on science as well.
    If you believe that science cannot point to God, you better provide a much better argument that you have – and it better be scientific, otherwise, I don’t have to accept it as anything more than your opinion.
    In the end, if you truly are a skeptic, you will admit when science cannot answer your questions and you are in the same boat with the rest of us.

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