The Burden of Proof

bonjour skeptics,

As a skeptic, it is important to understand the workings of science, and how and why science is a good way of investigating the nature of our universe. One of the most important parts of the process of science is the burden of proof. I am going to try to explain when the burden of proof applies to certain claims, and why it is that certain way. The burden of proof is, in science, the idea of which side of an argument needs to find evidence to prove its claim. In most circumstances, it falls on the side of the affirmative, the one trying to prove something does exist. I am going to use 3 different scientific hypotheses to demonstrate different stages of a scientific hypothesis, and how it applies to the burden of proof.

The first hypothesis I will investigate is where most scientific claims fall. It is the claim of most theists, the claim of god. Because god is unproven, and god is not a generally accepted scientific theory, the burden of proof is on the affirmative. Its the same way with all unproven claims (some will disagree there is no burden of proof on the atheists, but that’s another post). Until there is any proof for the subject, no proof is needed against the subject, and this brings me to my next claim.

Once a claim garners enough evidence and proof to become accepted by the scientific community, then the burden of proof is reversed. The scientific theories of special relativity are a good example of that. When relativity was first hypothesized, it already had good mathematical evidence to suggest it, as it was not much different from Newtonian gravity under low energy systems. However, proof was needed to separate relativity from Newtonian gravity. This first chance to prove relativity came during the first Venus transit after relativity’s hypothesizing. We all know the story, and that became the first evidence of relativity as scientific theory. Nowadays, relativity has enormous proof behind it, so the burden is on the other side now. These days, instead of scientists saying “this will be a good chance to try to provide evidence for relativity”, they now say “this experiment will be a good chance to try to disprove or revise relativity”. The burden has switched, and now the burden of proof is on the negative.

The third type of debate requires proof from both sides, but is much rarer than the other two examples. While the first two examples deal with situations where the debate is “does this exist, or does it not exist?”, the third example deals with the rarer question of “is it this way or this way?”, and the question of anthropogenic global warming is a good example. While I am on the side of most of the scientific community, the idea that global warming is mostly man-made, this question still ensues, and was more relevant a few years ago, before more evidence came to bear. This question deals with two options, Is the global warming we see caused by humans, or is it caused by natural fluctuations and other natural causes? In this case, unlike the other two, both ideas are affirmative. In the first, it was god or no god, or relativity or no relativity, now it is natural or man-made, which are both affirmative possibilities. The burden of proof was on both sides, as both sides where making claims as to how the earth was warming. Therefore, they both needed to prove their claims.

The burden of proof is a sometimes confusing and blurry concept, but is very simple at its roots. Most of the time, it falls under only one side of the argument, mostly affirmative, but occasionally is required by both sides. In the transition between the first two examples, it is important to note that both sides need to put forward evidence, and it is best to make a judgement by looking at both sides, and not by picking a side and simply saying that the other side needs more evidence, like in the case of anthropogenic global warming.

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Deepak Chopra, Cosmic Consciousness and Heisenberg Uncertainty

hei skeptics,

Yesterday I blogged to you about how physicists have discovered the Higgs Boson, after it being predicted 40 years ago. Today I am going to be blogging about a spiritual person abusing and misinterpreting the work of physicists to try to prove his particular ideology. Deepak Chopra has, for a long time, been trying to prove his western ideology that consciousness creates matter, and recently, I got into a bit of a twitter debate with him. I’m fairly sure I came out on top, with him resorting to ad hominem attacks and fallacious reasoning, but here i will post an elaborated explanation of my argument, as it is difficult with only 140 characters.

One of the main arguments Chopra uses which has some reasoning and comes from real science, is the idea of observation of quantum systems. His argument is as follows. If the act of observing quantum systems (wave function collapse) changes a system, then this means that the act of our consciousness observing something has an active effect, which shows that our universe is just created by our conscious, and that matter is an illusion, created by consciousness.

There is one problem with this argument (other than that conscious probably doesn’t exist), and it is his assumption that observation is the only way to cause wave function collapse. He is right, observation is enough to cause the collapse, but it is not the only way. What actually causes the collapse of wave functions is the interaction of particles.

What is important to know is that observation is itself an interaction, but not all interactions are observations. When an interaction occurs, a particle (usually a photon) bumps into another particle, and exerts a force on that particle, and then goes on its way. This force changes the way the particle acts. Now, that is an interaction. An observation is when this photon goes on and subsequently hits somebody’s retina or a sensor designed to detect photons. This is an observation. Observation requires interaction, but not visa-versa.

This interaction, which results in observation, is what makes the uncertainty principle an impossible nut to crack. This photon running into the particle always has an effect on it. And seeing that we cannot observe the particle any other way, we can never find out perfectly where it is and where it is going, but that’s another time.

Deepak Chopra then decided to call this an oxymoron, which is just ridiculous, and called me ‘a materialist kid’ and a ‘teenager’ as insults (ad hominem!!!), before insulting my spelling when my phone auto-corrected consciousness to conscience, and then refusing to debate me until I learnt to spell and use perfect grammar on a social networking site which has a rule of only 140 characters.

He threw many other arguments at me, which I will tackle at later dates, but this one was his most prominent argument, which is based on a false premise (he attacked me for accidentally spelling it premace while debating him) and has no real tangibility with quantum mechanics.

Richard Dawkin’s Gene Analogy

përshëndetje skeptics,

I have recently started to read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth, in Which Dawkins summates all the evidence available for evolution, and puts it in a book, trying as best as possible to explain evolution to somebody who does not agree with it. It is a very interesting book to read, with plenty of interesting examples from nature and analogies, which have enhanced my knowledge of evolution and how to explain it to others.

While I was reading, I came across an analogy which I just had to hear, which answers a question often raised in rebuttal to evolution. When talking with a creationist, the idea that genetic diversity cannot occur often comes up (in contrast to the genetic diversity of the human species from just 2 humans? But that’s another story). They say that in a population, genetic diversity cannot occur. They make an analogy with genes as paint. If you take a species, which ranges in colour from red to blue, and you go about procreating, every time you mix two animals, you will only get closer and closer to purple, and genetic diversity will shrink. Eventually, all you will be left with is purple. How can evolution happen if it works like that.

Dawkins argues that evolution does not work like this. In fact, it works quite differently. He proposes that instead of mixing paint, it is best to imagine evolution as shuffling cards. This is how evolution works, and the evidence is right in front of us.

By imagining evolution as card shuffling, it is much easier to get the idea of evolution. Instead of animals being created by mixing of paint, it is more like they are having two decks of cards shuffled together. In this way, instead of just ending up with a disgusting purple mess, you end up with the world as it is today.

This can be used to explain our tweaking of the canine species. Say for some reason a breeder wants to lengthen the tail of Labradors. When he does it, he picks the Labradors which have the most ‘long tail’ genes (cards), and goes about creating a new species. By isolating these dogs with longer tails from the dogs with shorter tails, you can ensure that more and more ‘long tail’ cards remain in the sub-species every time you shuffle the deck.

The logic behind this ‘shuffling and re-ordering’, as opposed to mixing, is actually pretty clear and is presented to us roughly every 5 seconds. When you breed a man and a woman together, one who subscribes to the ‘mixing’ analogy would expect the baby to come out as a hermaphrodite. Instead, this doesn’t happen, we get either a boy or a girl. This is just the mixing of a deck of 1 card. With one card having M on it, and one card having F on it.

Now, imagine this happening with the whole genetic code. Instead of just the one gene for gender (gender isn’t determined by genes, but it makes no difference to the analogy), you have this going on with every single gene in the code. When a baby is being ‘made’, this process will be occurring. Take a single gene in the code. If the mother has gene A, and the father has gene B, the baby will not have a mixture of A and B as their gene, they will get either ‘A’, or ‘B’. This happens all along the code.

Hopefully, I’ve done a good job at explaining this analogy, and haven’t butchered it. That’s all, by shuffling of cards, not mixing paint, with occasional cards falling out of the deck, or 2 being stuck together and coming apart due to plenty of shuffling, you get evolution.

Does god see ‘absolutely’ everything?

Hi there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about an issue which I originally brought up as a joke, but soon realized that it shows some serious insight into how god got started in the first place. I posted on my twitter page the following quote, “What if god saw everything including the entire EM spectrum, radio signals, gamma rays, ultraviolet and infrared light and x-rays?”. It was initially meant as a joke about god’s so-called ability to ‘see everything’, but it got me thinking… People automatically assume no, but that’s not necessarily true. Tonight I will extrapolate on this thought.

First thing I will say is this. What you see, your entire light spectrum, from red all the way through to violet, all the colours of the visible rainbow, are just a small bandwidth in the light spectrum. The colours we see all have a specific wave length, red the shortest wave length and violet the longest. But these are not the only wave lengths of light. The wave lengths shorter than red are called ‘infrared’, while the wave lengths beyond violet are called ‘ultraviolet’. Along this wave length spectrum sits everything else which is transmitted through electromagnetic waves… x-ray, gamma ray, radio waves, television signals, everything is just light that we can’t see. The reason we don’t see this light is because our eyes were not made to pick up these wave lengths.

Back to the main question.  The automatic reaction of every religious person I have asked is ‘no, of course not!’ or similar. But there is nothing special about the light we see, other than it’s the light we see. Nothing makes it different from any other light on the spectrum. It is true that it is the wavelength given off most by the sun, but the reason they correlate is because animals evolved to pick up as much light as possible from the sun. Nothing makes the light we see ‘different’ from the light we don’t see. If we ever discover other life in the universe, it is possible, most likely actually, that these lifeforms will see different wavelengths of light.

So, what does this have to do with god? Well, I think the fact that religious people straight away answer no to the question gives insight into god. I think the reason why god doesn’t see all the other light is because we created him to be just like us, but way more powerful and knowledgeable. He is just a comfort to us when we are feeling down. So of course he only sees the same light that you do, otherwise he might not get what you are talking about when you describe colours to him.

Some may respond that this is because “God created man to his own image” (Genesis 1:27). This is a weak answer because the only plausible god in today’s age is a god who has more than just an interest in humans (he has 14 billion light years of space to cater to) and would need to see more than just one tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum which happens to be visible to an insignificant planet with a few organisms on it. I think that the adverse is true, Human’s created god in their image, as comfort for them and to provide answers to unknown questions.

Could the laws of the universe be different?

Hello skeptics and other lurkers,

Today’s post again comes courtesy of a tweeter, who asked a question along the lines of this post’s title. This is a question which I have wanted to deal with for a while now, and I think that tonight is as good a time as ever for me to deal with it.

The laws of nature (as you should all know by now) are the laws which define the four fundamental forces we observe (gravity, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetism) and the mathematical equations which describe these four forces. Most of the plight of modern particle physics is to find out as much as we can about these forces and equations, and see how it works out for the universe now, in the past and in the future, hoping to discover as much about our universe as possible, with the ultimate goal being to finish with one sum which describes all of these forces, the Theory of Everything (TOE). Last night I talked about string theory and the TOE, and this is one of the important parts in answering tonight’s question.

One of the most important ideas in particle physics is that, under extremely high energies, three of the fundamental forces (electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear) can be united by one Grand Unified Theory (GUT) which describes all three forces. This theory has survived mathematical attempts at disproof and appears strong mathematically. This Grand Unified Theory is very important to particle physics. The hope is that, under EVEN higher temperatures and energies, this Grand Unified Theory can be combined with gravity to create the Theory of Everything. Gravity has always been a thorn in the side of physicists, and is actually the least understood and proven of all the fundamental forces, despite its obviousness in everyday life.

The hope and expectations are that gravity and the other three forces can be combined under higher temperatures to form one Theory of Everything. If it is true, as predicted by modern physics, then this has surprising implications for the four fundamental forces.

When the universe was born in the big bang, it was in a state of extreme heat, pressure and energy. Then it went under a process called ‘inflation’, where the universe expanded extremely rapidly (faster than the speed of light) and cooled extremely rapidly. There are two factors which are important in answering our question. 1. At the start, the universe was in a state of very high energy and heat, and 2. The universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Now, if there was ever a time in the history of the universe where the four fundamental forces would be combined, it would be right at the start.

Now, one hypothesis of a multiverse is extrapolated from this. If the universe went under rapid expansion while the four fundamental forces were combined, it could be true that, due to different parts of the universe being cut off from each other because of the speed of light, in different places, the universe could have cooled at different rates, meaning that the four fundamental forces could be different in those universes. Due to this hypothesis, it could be true that from one big bang, multiple universes could have been created. The definition of a universe is all of the things which can be observed, and seeing that these places are cut off from each other due to the speed of light, you have your self a multiverse, with different laws of physics.

This idea, like all multiverse hypotheses, has ramifications for the fine-tuning of the universe. It is one which is also hypothesized by accepted physics models, and is one if the easiest to accept, seeing that we know there must be much more out there than the observable universe.

Titius – Bode Law

Hi there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about a mathematical formula which has had some interest in astronomy in the past, but has since fallen into the waste-bin of science. It has commonly titled as a law, in almost every reference to it and on the Wikipedia page, however, it is best described as an unproven hypothesis, as it has no evidence to support it. The law attempts to represent the approximate distances of the planets from the sun, using the following formula. a = 4 + n, where n = 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96 etc., with each new value for n being double the last value. This gives rise to the numbers 4, 7, 10, 16, 28, 52, 100… divide this by 10, 0.4, 0.7, 1, 1.6, 2.8, 5.2, 10… To the 18th century astronomer, this is an astounding set of numbers.

The law was first formulated in 1766 by Johann Titius, who used this simple formula to get these similar numbers. This looked amazing at first, because these numbers fit almost perfectly with the distances in AU (astronomical units) of all the known planets, Mercury through to Saturn. However, there was one number in the sequence that shouldn’t be there, 2.8, no planet was known 2.8 AU from the sun. But sure enough, almost exactly 2.8 AU from the sun, the dwarf planet Ceres was discovered. This was very exiting for astronomers of the time. Could there be a deep, underlying formula to the planets.

They decided to look further, so they started with the next number in sequence, 19.6, and looked from there, and again, triumph, Uranus was discovered by William Herschel in 1781, and you guessed it, it was 19.2 AU from the sun, a mere 2% off the prediction. At this point, astronomers became drunk with enthusiasm, this number sequence is really working well. They went the next step, 38.8, but no, nothing was found. Neptune eventually became the next planet in order, but at 30.1 AU from the sun, it was 29% off, and the law was waning. Next, Pluto, predicted by Titius – Bode to be 77.2 AU away, alack, incorrect, only 39.5 AU from the sun, a 95% inaccuracy.

By this time, the law had fallen into disrepute. No more Titius – Bode being taken seriously by astronomers. Proponents of the law say that these ratios are being found as correct in other star systems around other stars, but these are stars with 1 or 2 planets, meaning that a ratio can always be found, or fit close, due to the set up of the number system. The idea of there being such a simple number which underlies all of the orbits is not one of favour in the astronomical community.

Who knows, there could be a number formula which describes the orbits of planets around a star. There must be, because they all follow the same laws of gravity. But the idea that there is a simple number sequence, not a large, abstract equation with hundreds of influencing factors, is a fringe opinion. Planets could naturally snap into particular grooves around their sun, but no number sequence has stood up to the challenge yet, so science tells us that it probably won’t exist.

Roy Williams… Again

Hello there skeptics, atheists and scientists,

Today I am going to be blogging about Roy Williams again, I haven’t blogged about his arguments for a while now, I’ve been saving this one up. In his book, ‘god actually’ , Roy has a section entitled ‘Tackling arguments against a designing god’, today I am going to be rebutting some of these ‘rebuttals’. Most of his arguments are completely ridiculous in here, as he completely misses the point of particular arguments.

He discusses the idea of naturalistic, evolutionary, reasons for a religion to exist, and he misses the whole point of the idea. This argument is just a rebuttal of an argument used by Christians for religion. They say “If religion isn’t true, why does it exist. Religion must have some truth to it because otherwise why would humans have made up the concept in the first place. Natural explanations for religion like an evolutionary advantage to belief, or a ‘god center’ somewhere in the brain, are not arguments against god, as Williams portrays them as, they are rebuttals of arguments for god. And somehow, in all of it, Williams blames us for non-sequiters by saying that this is not an argument against god.

Another argument which Williams ‘takes on’ is the ‘god of the gaps’ argument, apparently, used by atheists. This is the first time I have heard god of the gaps being used to argue against god, but there you go. For as long as I can remember, the god of the gaps has been a logical fallacy describing religious people, not an argument against god. It has always been just like most, a rebuttal of theist arguments, not arguments of our own. Williams also happens to say that his beliefs are not god of the gap arguments, despite using arguments like irreducible complexity and creation of the universe, and quite often saying, “Science cannot explain this”, which is kind of the definition of the god of the gaps argument.

These are just a few of the arguments ‘taken on’ by Roy Williams, and they demonstrate the way Williams argues. He is completely unaware of the whole idea of most of the atheism VS religion debate. When it comes to science and logic, the burden of proof is on the affirmative (religion), and it is the job of the negative (atheism) to show the logical fallacies and factual incorrectness which may be present in these arguments. It’s quite fine for the religious to counter-rebut these arguments, but it’s not okay for them to claim that these are direct arguments against god, and then to just say that they are using non-sequiters. If he wants to tackle some real arguments against god, not some rebuttals, take a look at some of the apparent logical contradictions in god, the concept of cause-and-effect, or the idea of something from nothing.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from 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.”, H. L. Mencken, an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American culture and scholar.

Why We Must Die

Hello there skeptics of the world,

Today’s post is going to be about a few of the reasons why we as humans MUST die, philosophically. Now I don’t often blog about strictly philosophical subjects, so please give me some feed back in the comments section below. There are plenty of scientific reasons why every living thing dies (for now), ageing is pretty much inevitable, and eventually, you get to the grand scheme of things, and with the whole ‘conservation of energy and mass’ and ‘total universal entropy’ thing, the universe will eventually end up as a huge ball of energy, in which you cannot survive.  But I am going to be talking about some philosophical reasons why humanity would severely disbenefit from eternal life on earth.

The first is simply the fact that we are already running out of space on this planet and if nobody ever died, the problem would be much greater. Imagine how many people there would be on earth if nobody from the last century actually died. Our world population would be about double what it is now, my guess. Could the planet actually support that? I doubt it. The is too much difficulty in people living for ever, they take up so much space, need so much food and water, and by the time they reach 70, they’ve done all they can for the world with employment etc., so they are just dead weight.

The second and main reason I want to talk about today is this, would the world still be a productive place if everybody lived for ever. In a world of eternity, there would always be tomorrow. Want to go to university and study law? In the world we live in, you go out and do it today, because your days on the earth are numbered, but in an earth of eternity, there would always be another tomorrow. I know what I would do, “Meh, I’ll just do it tomorrow, I’m living for ever anyway”. I know that whenever I am doing something which really is boring me to death, or which I know is not going to help me in any way now or in the future, I always think to myself, “I could be out learning something useful right now, or I could be writing a blog post, or I could be out earning money in a part time job mowing lawns”. In a world where I couldn’t die tomorrow, or ever, I would not think that, and just wait it out until I can do something useful.
Although I would probably never get around to doing it, because there would always be tomorrow for me to do it.

That’s all for me today, I will leave you with a quote from Pierre Abelard, “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.”, Pierre Abelard, a French philosopher, theologian and logican.

Baking Soda, Heartburn Relief, Herbs

Hello there skeptics of the world,

Today’s post is a copy of a science assignment on antacids. We were asked an imaginary question from an anonymous writer about the effectiveness of baking soda as an antacid. We ran some tests and here is the letter I wrote:-

Hello there sick at heart, I think I have the answer to your question.

After running a few tests, I can conclude that baking soda is effective at reducing heartburn pain and neutralising stomach acid, however, I certainly would not recommend it as an antacid, due to safety risks. Under controlled, laboratory conditions, baking soda is just as effective as leading heartburn tablets at neutralising acid. This would suggest that baking soda would make a good antacid, Not true.

It is important to know that the human body is a finely tuned, highly evolved organism, and it requires a special balance and harmony amongst all its parts. A small disturbance can have major ramifications. Antacids are the same way. The companies which produce antacid tablets spend millions of dollars and many years of research testing the effectiveness, speed, consumability, and mostly safety, of their antacids. Their drugs are highly tuned and given in just the right dose as to ensure both effective heartburn relief and safety, a fine science.

An effective and safe heartburn tablet must have the combination of two things, heartburn relief and safety. It must have enough neutralising effect to ease the pain which is produced by heartburn, but it must not neutralise the acid to much, or stomach acid will become basic and this can have very dangerous health effects and risks… as well as causing more heartburn.

The problem with baking soda is that it is not taken in a recommended dosage. Antacid tablets come with a clear set of instructions and dosage, where as there are no such instructions for baking soda. Over dosing is very easy, and dangerous,and anybody who is willing to risk their health to save a few bucks is out of their mind. The best thing to do is to go with the tried and test, safe, antacid tablets. As to which one; you get what you pay for, so get the expensive one, you are paying for the assurance of a safe heartburn relief.

I hope this helps with your heartburn problem,
sincerely,
Jack Neubecker.

——————–

A lot of comparisons can be made here between antacids and other herbs and alternative treatments, this was the angle I was playing for. It is true that St. John’s Wort works as an antidepressant, but it is much safer to take the drug, for a few reasons. The reason why St. John’s wort works as an antidepressant is because of a few chemicals in the plant. The job of science based medicine is to find out what these chemicals are, extract and purify them, and put them into a drug in controlled levels. The St. John’s Wort does not know it is having its chemicals used to treat depression, and the chemicals in it are not in controlled, refined, perfected quantities, it is from nature, its rough. You could take 10 grams of one plant of St. John’s Wort and get 3 times the amount of active chemical as 10 grams of the next St. John’s Wort plant. Scientific medicine works to ensure that the chemicals are always given in the same amounts, for safety, so it is always wise to go for the scientific drug, not the crude plant.

I’ll leave you all today with one of my favourite quotes from an anonymous author, “Science works Bitches.”

Science is the Only Way to Test Reality

Hello there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about the wonderfulness of science, and how it is not some abstract way of looking at the universe (as the post-modernists will have you believe), it is actually a fundamental part of the universe, and is THE way to test reality.

Something my mother has told me for a long time since I came out of the closet about being a skeptic and an atheist, is “Science is not the only way of knowing things, there are plenty of other ways.” I’ve never asked her what these other ways might be, but should could be talking about either of two lists of ‘ways of finding out things’ :-
1. The ignorant list – she could be talking about things like logic, philosophy etc., in which she is just being ignorant and does not know that both logic and philosophy stem from science.
2. The post-modernist list – She really means what she says, and thinks the other ways of knowing are things like belief, spiritualism, mysticism etc., in which she is also being ignorant, because these things are either testable by science or not real.

I will start with a distinction, the fact that science is able to test anything is not just some blatant statement, its true. Anything which is real (reality), is testable by science. Now you may say, “Supernatural things are not testable by science”, this is a common misconception, supernatural things like ghosts and spirits are testable by science, but once they are testable by science they are not supernatural. A common misunderstanding is that there are things that science can test, there are supernatural things which cannot be tested, but are real, and there are things which don’t exist. This is wrong. Things are either real, (have some sort of measurable effect on the universe) or they are not real. Ghosts, for example, they could be real, and in which case, they are testable by science, or they could not be real, in which they are not testable by science. If something can be measured, (demon possessions, spirit hauntings, homeopathy, acupuncture etc.) then it is part of the real world and can be tested by science. There is no possibility of something having an effect on the universe around us (curing a patients cancer, making a possessed person’s head spin 360°, create the universe etc.), and not be testable by science.

That is because science is just measuring the world around us, in the purest and simplest form, and this is amazing to me, because it is the only discipline where you know that the same thing will be found over and over again. Think of the greatest three scientists of the last two centuries, Darwin, Tesla, Einstein. If these people were never to have existed, then somebody else would have made their discoveries instead. Somebody else, probably Wallace, would have published the theory of evolution, somebody else would have invented the Tesla coil (albeit with a different name) and AC electricity, and somebody else would have theorized special and general relativity. This is true because the outcomes of science are based on reality.

Science by definition, is the measuring and describing of the world around us, and it is the one and only way to find out things about the reality of the world we live in. I will eave you with a quote from