Friday, August 26, 2011

Arguments vs. Facts


I keep hearing this really dumb idea that "we don't want arguments we want facts that prove things." They seem to have adopted this tactic as a new mantra along with "there's no proof for your God." It reminds me of one of my favorite Monty Python things about the "argument clinic." "Argument is an intellectual process by which one lays out a logical heuristic in favor of a proposition, not the automatic gain saying of anything he other fellow says." "Yes it is." Sounds like CARM. I wonder if people who make this distinction between argument and facts understand what argument is.

The problem is, as with all English words, there many meanings and they are determined by context. When logicians say "argument" they mean something as different in the context of logic from when a historian says "argument" as Black Adder from real history. In general when we have people making arguments for the existence of God, the context in which this discussion arises, they are usually going to be people who have read William Lane Craig or Plantinga, and who are given to the emulation of philosophers and philosophical thinking. In that context the definition is going to be closer to that of the "straight man" (Michael Palin) in the Python sketch linked above; the heuristic supporting a logical proposition.

Many atheists speak as though this is just BS, it's just like saying "I deem that X = Y because I like X, and it has sanctifying grace and it reminds me of my geography teacher in eighth grade." Of course they just skip right over the fact that many such arguemnts are attempts to plug scientific facts into propositions confirming belief in God. I have had three major arguments spanning huge threads about the fine tuning argument. In the first one atheists went 40 posts wit out saying anything more substantial than "that's no good, that's not scinece, I don't like that." Every single post I made was about scientific facts, most of them were quoting a scientist named Andre Linde (on Doxa) who is an atheist but you took Fine tuning seriously enough to write an article several years ago (Scientific American, Oct 97) listing many of the more obvious problems facing the formation of life in the early development of our universe.

This argument is all about facts, it contains thousands of facts. Of course their reaction to it was something "this is stupid. this doesn't prove anything." I have a feeling that what they mean by "a fact that proves something" is something DNA. They want to find God's fingerprint or hair sample, but it has to be so obvious the it can't be questioned. Of cousre they can always question. Like the EPCEP thing, it's just another excuse to raise the bar as soon as the request facts are produced. The fact that half of my God arguemnts turn upon scientific facts (in my list of 42 arguments) doesn't even mean anything to them. What they really want is a done deal, something they can't even begin to question that totally prove it so they are forced to believe and they can't possibly be mistaken.

The idea that you have a fact that proves soemthing and you don't have to make an argument to show how it proves something is ludicrous. That's arguments are, they are connecting links that move from evidence to conclusion and explain things.Arguments are not tricks or emotional tirades that seek to lul one into a frame of mind apart form facts. Arguments can be based upon logic, they don't have to be based upon empirical evidence, but you can't make empirical evidence "prove" something without making an argument.Even if you could somehow pull back the curtain of reality and see God at the controls, so to speak, you would still have to make an argument that this si God and these are the controls that govern the universe, just pulling back the veil itself wouldn't do it.

The only potions atheists embrace are those shaped by arguments. They think that when they say "there's no proof for your God so I have no rational reason to believe" that they are making a statement of fact that needs no elucidation and is transparent when spoken. In point of fact that in itself is an argument.All the atheists potions are the result of argument and not of facts.
Science data is not self explainable or self revealing. It only means something when you shape into an argument and make it mean something.

Facts do not announce themselves as such. Nature is not festooned with little tags that say things like "scientific data, by nature." "This is a scientific fact." There is no scientific data until we transform qulia into data by the process of scientific study. No one just stduies raw data by itself. Economists don't collect dates on coins in the economy, sociologists don't count the number of bricks in housing projects, geologists don't count the grains of sand on the shore, then let it go at that rejoicing that they have found scientific facts. Data is put into context of "meaning" through interpretation. Data always must be interpreted and the complexity of the world means there can be more than one interpretation. This is a very simplistic source but I think anyone naive enough to think that scinece is just a pile of facts needs this level of simplicity:

Understanding Science: How
Science Really Works.

Evaluating an idea in light of the evidence should be simple, right? Either the results match the expectations generated by the idea (thus, supporting it) or they don't (thus, refuting it). Sometimes the process is relatively simple (e.g., drilling into a coral atoll either reveals a thick layer of coral or a thin veneer), but often it is not. The real world is messy and complex, and often, interpreting the evidence relating to an idea is not so clear-cut. To complicate things further, we often have to weigh multiple lines of evidence that are all relevant to the validity of a particular idea.
This is raw data, but what does it mean?
Tests typically generate what scientists think of as raw data — unaltered observations, descriptions, or measurements — but those must be analyzed and interpreted. Data become evidence only when they have been interpreted in a way that reflects on the accuracy or inaccuracy of a scientific idea. For example, an investigation of the evolutionary relationships among crustaceans, insects, millipedes, spiders, and their relatives might tell us the genetic sequence of a particular gene for each organism. This is raw data, but what does it mean? A long series of the As, Ts, Gs, and Cs that make up genetic sequences don't, by themselves, tell us whether insects are more closely related to crustaceans or to spiders. Instead, those data must be analyzed through statistical calculations, tabulations, and/or visual representations. In this case, a biologist might begin to analyze the genetic data by aligning the different sequences, highlighting similarities and differences, and performing calculations to compare the different sequences. Only then can she interpret the results and figure out whether or not they support the hypothesis that insects are more closely related to crustaceans than to spiders.

That process contains a number steps that are not only very similar to argument but that also require argument when interpretations vary. Just interpreting data requires a form of argument sense one is making a connection from sign to conclusion based upon a logical association involving a claim. In the argumentation theory of Stephen Toulmin data is part of the grounds or a claim. The warrant links data and other grounds to a claim, legitimizing the claim by showing the grounds to be relevant. The warrant may be explicit or unspoken and implicit. It answers the question 'Why does that data mean your claim is true?' That process is just like the process through which one assertions the significance of any given data in hypothesis testing.

On a more sophisticated level we can see that entire scientific project rests upon "paradigms" which in effect are arguments. Science changes when the paradigm is no longer able to adsorb and explain or dismiss anomalies that cause us to question the paradigm. This is part of the thory of Thomas S. Kuhn. Kuhn was the biggest name in history/philosophy of scinece for several decades, even beating Popper (the 60s-90s). When the Postmodern project fell apart in the 90's Kuhn went down with the ship even he was only tangentially related to Postmodernism. I think we can argue that Kuhn's fortunes have risen again as I predicted at the time they would. I see much more Kuhn related material, he's still in universities. One such class is that of Professor Frank Pajares, Emory University. He prepares an online study guide and his summary of Kuhn's first chapter in Structures of Scientific Revolutions runs as follows:

Kuhn begins by formulating some assumptions that lay the foundation for subsequent discussion and by briefly outlining the key contentions of the book.

  1. A scientific community cannot practice its trade without some set of received beliefs (p. 4).
    1. These beliefs form the foundation of the "educational initiation that prepares and licenses the student for professional practice" (5).
    2. The nature of the "rigorous and rigid" preparation helps ensure that the received beliefs exert a "deep hold" on the student's mind.
  2. Normal science "is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like" (5)—scientists take great pains to defend that assumption.
  3. To this end, "normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments" (5).
  4. Research is "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education" (5).
  5. A shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly "subverts the existing tradition of scientific practice" (6). These shifts are what Kuhn describes as scientific revolutions—"the tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity of normal science" (6).
    1. New assumptions (paradigms/theories) require the reconstruction of prior assumptions and the reevaluation of prior facts. This is difficult and time consuming. It is also strongly resisted by the established community.
    2. When a shift takes place, "a scientist's world is qualitatively transformed [and] quantitatively enriched by fundamental novelties of either fact or theory" (7).

In other words science is like a status quo of a governmental regime or one might liken it unto the negative in policy debate round, it is the status quo, the way we view the world. If it is going to change it must do so because it can no longer answer crucial questions (absorb anomalies) that must be answered to continue to assume the received view of the world. Kuhn himself tells us:

"scientific revolutions are here taken to be those non-cumulative developmental episodes replaced in whole or in part by a new one..." (Thomas kuhn The Structure of scientific Revolutions, 92). "The choice [between paradigms] is not and cannot be determined merely by the evaluative procedures characteristic of normal science, for these depend in part upon a particular paradigm, and that paradigm is at issue. When paradigms enter as they must into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses it's own paradigm to argue in that paradigm's defense...the status of the circular argument is only that of persuasion. It cannot be made logically or even probabilistically compelling for those who refuse to step into the circle." The Structure of Scientific Revolutions(94)In section X we shall discover how closely the view of science as cumulative is entangled with a dominate epistemology that takes knowledge to be a construction placed directly upon raw sense data by the mind. And in section XI we shall examine the strong support provided to the same historiographic scheme by the techniques of effective science pedagogy. Nevertheless, despite the immense plausibility of that ideal image, there is increasing reason to wonder whether it can possibly be an image of science. After the pre-paradgim period the assimilation of all new theories and of almost all new sorts of phenomena has demanded the destruction of a prior paradigm and a consequent conflict between competing schools of scientific thought. Cumulative anticipation of unanticipated novelties proves to be an almost nonexistent exception to the rule of scientific development.The man who takes historic fact seriously must suspect that science does not tend toward the ideal that our image of its cumulativeness has suggested. Perhaps it is another sort of enterprise. [ Structures...92-94]
(see my entire summary of Kuhn Here)
The simplistic concept that science is a pile of facts that prove the truth of all reality as long as we peruse the proper scientific methods is just a fantasy. There is no neat simplistic choice between fact and argument. Expecting to test the validity of God belief on the basis of the belief to conform to the norms of scientific is equally stupid. This is why I do not argue for the existence of God. All of my arguments I bill as "rational warrant for belief" simply becuase God is beyond empirical data. It would be as absurd to expect to prove god empirically as it would be to prove reality itself empirically. If you remember what I've said in the past about basic epistemology, that cannot be done. No one has. The only thing that was every produced along those lines is a epistemological judgment based upon warrant. Every time I argue it out with atheists to this point they say proudly and triumphantly "I can rest assured with a very good implication of what I know based upon the probability suggested by empirical data." I love to deflate that line when I say "that's what I get with my God arguments."

That's all they have to do, all we need is a rational warrant becasue the gap there between absolute certainty and warrant, which even the atheists admit they can't fill, that's the gap one leaps over in a leap of faith. The atheist has just admitted he leaps over it too. So the big fortress of facts that seems so assuring in atheist rhetoric is really just propaganda sloganeering.


Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

That's no good.

That's not science.

I don't like that.

Seriously though, the level of the opposing "arguments" some of those atheists give you, reminds me of the fundies who say "Evolution is just a theory, not a fact." Not a clue what they are talking about.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Seriously though, the level of the opposing "arguments" some of those atheists give you, reminds me of the fundies who say "Evolution is just a theory, not a fact." Not a clue what they are talking about.

Good point! Yes, I agree. I think we are dealing with the fundies of both camps. why do you think I call them "Dawkamentalists"?