Faith vs science with regard to the Wikipedia

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Crystal wordprocessing.png This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

Faith based arguments vs scientific reasoning.

I have participated on the w:NPOV discussions and this commentary is an attempt to clear the air and set some guidelines that others may find useful.

There are a number of controversies floating around the Wikipedia. In my opinion, the majority of the "hard-to-resolve" controversies have "faith vs science" at their foundation. This article seeks primarily to deal with those.

First let me distinguish between three types of controversies in the Wikipedia and eliminate those two categories not related to "faith" based arguments.

Disputes about the evidence[edit]

The "flat earthers", "scientologists", "anti-relativitivists" [[Simple Disproof of SR]], etc all challenge the accuracy of the evidence. They can be fairly reported without bias by saying "here is the evidence" and "but regardless of the evidence these people don't believe it. That's not bias, that's just fair reporting. These people are not disputing the validity of scientific reasoning, they are simply breaking the rules of the w:scientific method by failing to dismiss their theory in light of the evidence.

Likewise for "w:JFK was not the president when the Bay of Pigs incident happened" - wrong, wrong, wrong. He was and we can say so.

This is a clear defining element of w:pseudoscience. Consider this: Isaac Newton seriously investigated alchemy - was this pseudoscience? No it wasn't - in the 1600's there was no scientific evidence available to convince Newton he was chasing a blind alley. It was 400 plus years ago, and scientific news didn't travel fast. LOTS of people were chasing blind alleys... this is how science happens. Alchemy had to be investigated before it could be dismissed, and a lot of the early chemistry discoveries were made by alchemists.

However if I started investigating alchemy in 2001 that's very different. If I can present a radical new interpretation of both chemistry and particle physics that clearly accords with all known evidence yet still shows a path to transmutation, then fine. Otherwise, I am a crackpot.

You are implicitly requiring new knowledge to be exclusively built on old, I think. That puts you in danger of negating the possibility of investigating a system from an old-fashioned point of view, even if that view has advantages, because you consider it to have been absolutely superceded. If alchemical considerations have been neglected for 200 years or so, isn't it possible that re-examination of such ways of thinking could produce new insights, or at least add colour to ones understanding of a scientific system reduced to its bare bones by w:Occam's razor and Euclidian axiomic systemetisation?

MrJones 08:30, 3 May 2004 (UTC)

(See also w:Protoscience)


Disputes about linguistics and semantics[edit]

Generally these controversies are about what a term actually means. "White Trash", "International English", "Anti-Americanism/Semiticism/Islam etc" are classic examples. I presently have no absolutely ideas on how to resolve these. The only contribution I can make is where possible report the facts. "Jews died in the holocaust" is a fact, at least within the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of law (There were bodies, official documents, eyewitness accounts etc). Reasons are a lot more difficult to present in an unbiased way.

I think that the best way to resolve these is by writing articles about phenomenons, not about definitions. For example there are two definition of w:genocide: international law definition (narrow) and popular definition (broad). This problem could only be resolved by studying which definition fits better to described phenomenon (in this case a popular one).
The meaning of the term in international law is the original meaning of the term, as the person who coined the term used it; the 'popular' meaning is more recent. And if one wants to study the broader phenomena, there are other terms (e.g. democide) which are better used instead, since they have only one meaning. The legal definition of genocide is preferable because it is the older and original meaning of the term, it was the meaning used by the person who coined the term and it stays faithful to the meaning of its Greek and Latin roots. In fact, though a few scholars do knowingly use the broader meaning, it is more 'popular' mainly due to misunderstanding. -- SJK

Disputes based on principles of faith[edit]

In my opinion, all of the real hell-raising (pardon the pun) controversies we are dealing with have religion vs science at their foundation. The "faith vs scientific evidence" conflict has existed for centuries and will continue to do so long after we are all dead. Science says "scientific evidence is our best yardstick of truth-measurement". (This doesn't say that evidence IS "the truth", it says it is the best thing we have.) A faith based argument rejects that principle.

Consider the argument "God planted all scientific evidence to test our faith". We cannot argue with it. If we say "There is no evidence to support that belief " the reply is "That is God's will". It is totally immune to reason or challenge.

Religious beliefs of this kind challenge the very idea that scientific evidence is of any value. (This is not w:pseudoscience - pseudosciences are arguments that use scientific reasoning improperly.) Hence we cannot argue from reason - as it is "reason" itself that is being rejected. However - certain "faith-based" arguments are presented along pseudo-scientific lines, and they get (deservedly) torn to shreds accordingly.

Now the majority of writers at the Wikipedia believe in science, and scientific evidence (as do I) but a very large percentage of the world doesn't. It is NOT our place to dictate their beliefs. We can however present all scientific evidence, pay appropriate respect to non-scientific beliefs, and say "you decide". This preserves neutrality.

As long as an argument is based on principles of faith, it is immune to scientific reasoning. Fine, that's how it is. When a faith-based argument attempts to use scientific reasoning to justify itself then we can (and should) tear it to pieces.

Whenever there is a faith-based counter-argument to an accepted scientific princple (eg. creationism) then we must in all fairness report that it exists, and treat it with respect and dignity. It is not contemptuous simply because we don't believe it. Hindus believe that there are multiple Gods, Christians believe we are going to heaven/hell/ etc.

MB

Respect for Creationism and flat-earth etc. ? Wouldn't it be better to respect intelligent readers ? --Taw
Why don't you actually read the article Taw - it specifically discounts flat-earth. And how do you respond to this statement of mine "Whenever there is a faith-based counter-argument to an accepted scientific princple (eg. creationism) then we must in all fairness report that it exists, and treat it with respect and dignity." Are you saying that all religious viewpoints should be ignored?

I think creationism and flat-earthism are different. Flat-earthism is so obviously false, that only people in isolated Himalayan villages or the totally irrational believe it. But the evidence for evolution is much less secure than the evidence that the earth is round. So I don't think we need show any respect for flat-earthers, though I think we need show somewhat more respect for creationists. But I think Wikipedia should clearly give preference to mainstream scientific opinion over creationism. -- SJK

I see no difference between creationism and flat-earth. Ask random biologists if they see it, probably they also won't. Evolution is just a fact. I'd even say that it's better checked than shape of earth. Taw I wasn't aware we were only writing for biologists. A lot of hindus, buddhists, fundamentalist christians, etc seriously reject evolution on the basis that they reject ALL methods of gathering scientific information, evolution included. - see below discussion - MB

[note: Buddhists generally accept scientific reasoning; in particular, creationist beliefs would be seen as irrelevant and perhaps even meaningless. Evolution would also seem irrelevant, but less so: it fits the evidence given by the observable world. Hinduism does not seriously object to other beliefs, but is likely to support evolution because that is indistinguishable from Hindu beliefs about reincarnation.]

That's an exaggeration, but evolution is at least as well checked as any of the best physics theories of today. However, the npov advocates have a good point: simply ignoring the existance of dissent doesn't help us. If anything, it helps the dissenters, by making it look like their position is something we have failed to consider. I suggest we keep to the de facto standard: biology pages can discuss the evolution of a particular group in peace, while pages on evolution should point out exactly what the dispute is and why it is one-sided. Then everyone is happy.
Agreed. A page on biology doesn't need to justify its scientific position as it is obviously written from within the scientific framework. The page on evolution should, however, examine the contentiousness of the issue. - MB


In the last few days, I have noted a lobby to shift Wikipedia from NPOV to Scientific POV. I believe such a shift would be harmful to the project, especially if non-scientific beliefs are branded as bunk and adherants of them are ridiculed. I'll refrain from elaborating on how immensly tactless and uninformed it is to infer that believers in non-scientific systems are less intelligent than scientific minded persons. The first problem with this POV shift is that it could lead to endless edit wars. The second is that it will scare people with much to contribute away, much as seeing any hostile environment would. The third is that a creeping intolerance could be introduced which could end up in ever increasing bias.

I firmly believe (more belief here :-) that NPOV is a very good practice, one that we may actually outperform older encyclopedias in. No science will ever be perverted through NPOV, rather to the contrary: Reporting on contrary views can only strenghten the scientific view, since evidence will be lacking for all other views. I simply cannot understand the worry that people might be "misled" by a NPOV article. It's like arguing that people need protection from horrible communist ideas, lest the world become evil: That is something belonging in the Hoover era. Presenting all views and letting people make up their minds on what seems most likely must be the way to go.

As for the "emphasis by volume" argument: That a meaty article on creationism and a sparse on darwinism might lead to people jumping on the creationism bandwagon, and that this must at any cost be stopped. I can only say: Write a good article on darwinism! On an aside, the present "emphasis by volume" on western ideas, philosophy, history, and innumerable other subjects is massive, but I don't find this disheartening: As more and more people flock to our Wiki, those subjects lacking coverage will be fleshed out, and take their right place.

Enough ranting for one day :-) --Anders Törlind

Hear, hear (commonwealth-speak for "you are absolutely right") - MB

I think that we should stop calling it NPOV. We're choosing between Reality POV and Believes POV now. I'm strongly for RPOV. Taw

Taw - then you are in the minority. "Belief-based knowledge systems" are held by the general majority of the world. The world does not predominately consist of white, middle-class educated westerners. If someone else wrote "I am clearly in favour of a Belief-based POV" you would get VERY self-righteous.

The fact is, people believe in different things. Our job is to report on the belief systems accurately, present the evidence as fairly as we can and leave it at that. If we write an article that says "The science of evolution says this... the evidence is this...(etc) do you honestly think that a fundamentalist Christian is going to read and go "Oh my God - I was wrong all the time!". If you read an article that presents the fundamentalist viewpoint on Creationism are you going to go "Oh my God - they're right!". It ain't going to happen - people will believe what they believe.

What is upsetting you is the statement that "Science is a belief system". Here is a sample discussion between you and a "faither" (a word I made up as a catch-all term for people who adhere to faith-based belief systems):

(You) - "Science is the best way of viewing the world".
(Faither) - "No, my belief system is the best way"
(You) - "But I've got incontrovertible evidence"
(faither) - "I've got incontrovertible evidence too".
(You) - "My evidence is scientific!"
(faither) - "We reject the scientific method of gathering evidence. All knowledge comes from God."
(You) - "That's nonsense - there's no evidence for that"
(Faither) - "The evidence is in the Bible/Koran/Whatever"
(You) - "That's just a book someone wrote"
(faither) - "Science is just a bunch of stuff someone made up"
(You) - "No, the evidence is scientific!"
(faither) - "We reject the scientific method...(etc)"
(You) - "Well, you're wrong"
(faither) - "No, you're wrong...
repeat ad nauseum

You will argue that you are right. They will argue that they are right. You are trapped in your own prejudice. They are trapped in theirs.

So shall we go with "weight of numbers"? Well then we have to remove ALL scientific accounts. A lot more people believe in reincarnation than in evolution. Oh sorry, did you mean we are should only count middle-class educated westerners? Ahh, so the 900 million hindus aren't relevant? That's very dangerous ground... - MB

There's a semantic element to this dispute as well: most people who take this position are using a bizarre definition of "science". The above argument is only valid if you interpret "science" to mean "the present state of scientific inquiry and practice", or "the current practices and beliefs of working scientists"; i.e., a static definition. But science is dynamic by its very nature, and independent of the beliefs of its practitioners. The difference between science and faith in the argument above is that at some point the scientist will ask the question: "OK, so you believe X. What event would cause you to change your belief?" The faither cannot answer; the scientist can: "I'll change as soon as I see convincing evidence to the contrary". The Faither just says, "Well, the book says X, so I believe X, no matter what". Faith is, by its very nature then, incapable of correcting its errors, incapable of growing and learning and improving. Some individual scientists may be crippled by faith as well, but science as a whole is not. --Lee Daniel Crocker
Agreed, if one holds that evidence is impossible or unhelpful, one is bound to end up with absurd and funny beliefs. However, this is not the case with all practitioners of "faith based systems." And I think it would be absurd and somewhat insulting to claim otherwise. Personally I believe in the existence of an unmoved mover, a first cause, or a non-contingent being, a God, or whatever you want to call it, which "caused" the big bang. I don't claim that this belief is arrived at by properly scientific evidence, but I'd also claim that its refutation can't be justified based on the currently available scientific evidence. If that's the case and I'm pretty sure it is, then other kinds of philosophical or experiential evidence may be important in deciding the question. This is not to say that I refuse to change my mind based on evidence, but that I don't accept science as the final arbiter of all truth. Moreover, as I have argued extensively, I think that there are propositions which must be accepted by scientists prior to doing any scientific research which cannot be justified on purely scientific evidence. If that is the case, science cannot be held up as the one and only method for arriving at truth, at least not until all other systems have been adequately tried and found wanting, which is an exhausting task to even contemplate. MRC

Also the key difference between scientific thought and faith based thought is that scientific thought is able to predict future experiments. It is mighty hard to build a machine that will accomplish some new feat based purely upon what is contained in the Bible, or to predict when god is going to perform his next miracle. This is the key difference in the argument between the scientist and the faither, and why the two cannot be seen as equal. - MPL


Seems I may have somehow by being stubborn in my faith based article on w:New Age and saw the "science guys" trashing my material, been a part of MB's article here. If more people RTFM and go visit good editors'(like MB) personal pages or check his ideas they will have learned to write with others effectively and not destroy the project with massive deletions.

BF - Wikipedia is not the place to evangelize your beliefs, as many people have tried to explain to you. --Stephen Gilbert

The part I have difficulty with follows:

Consider the argument "God planted all scientific evidence to test our faith". We cannot argue with it. If we say "There is no evidence to support that belief " the reply is "That is God's will". It is totally immune to reason or challenge.

To their immediate view, this may seem correct. Unfortunately, we would then have to introduce some philosophical, theological and other non-directly scientific arguments, but there are plenty of paths there to lead to reason (the problem of evil, the issues of fallacies and circular reasoning, the diety-deception implied by that reasoning, anthropomorphic aspects of the diety, etc). Of course, one may be too stubborn to even want to reason at all. But those cited arguments hardly "win".

If going further, not only does the argument fail logically and philosophically, but the whole belief system can usually be shown to only be based on human tradition, which moreover can rarely be considered to be a first, or primordial religion, showing that a clear break must have occurred at some point back in time, "communion" lost between the eternal diety and humans of that tradition (i.e. Venus fertility figurines being among the oldest religious artifacts). At this part can some science be demonstrated to give a pretty good idea of the age of artefacts.

Where a belief in a primordial language associated with that religion exists, we also can show that it's not the case. In the case of literary traditions, archeology and history also allow to see how the texts have been compiled, appended, and selected by committees and councils (an interesting analogy to natural and sexual selection, in that it may give the impression of a more congruent theme). Then surfaces the issue of modern interpretation of ancient beliefs and laws, tailored to their context of the time, taken out of their context and conjecturely applied today.

Ultimately, it comes down to education. Once that's achieved, one can still hold personal beliefs, but they have no weight whenever they contradict established knowledge. Such beliefs can then only continue to fill the gaps (i.e. God of the gaps); the areas where the science of the day itself clearly admits not to be able to answer conclusively. "Pure spirituality" may still be expressed or felt through emotions, altered states of consciousness, arts and ritual, the community value of a group may be acklowledged, beliefs which may bring comfort relating to the fear of death may survive, a philosophy concerning existential questions, and ethics, may still be valid.

Denial of evolution at this point (and I don't mean Darwinism but the Modern evolutionary synthesis), becomes misinformed, and akin to the denial of anthropogenic climate change, etc. Last but not least, someone who denies the scientific method, but uses technology, must be prey to serious cognitive distortions... I agree with some above posts that some belief systems are less contradictory with observed reality than others. 76.10.128.192 17:27, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Resuming from above:

Assuming that we acknowledge physics, chemistry, biology (fecundation, embryology, evolution, etc) despite points such as abiogenesis and the origin of the universe being less well understood than common descent and life diversity. Since we can observe and explain many natural mechanisms behind the phenomena, where no magic appears to be involved, it already becomes more difficult to believe in a personal god who cares particularily about humans, or actively intervenes with the world (other than via very subjective personal experiences).

Even more so when considering the chaos humans cause since their domination (anthropocene), destroying the environments and ecosystems from which they originate. This intelligence, which is also a cause of the development of religiosity, can be considered a double-edged sword. We could in a way consider that animist hunter-gatherers were better adapted to the ecosystems than we are... Yet we are at a point of no return where only more technology and knowledge is required to have an opportunity to face our new challenges and manage to strive in our artificial environments.

It would however seem irresponsible to promote obscurantism or a return to a pre-industrial society. Unfortunately, some of the major and fastest growing abrahamic religions promote obscurantism, and come from a tradition believing that man was given the earth to rule by a god (and sometimes even that woman was also given to him to subdue), justifying ultimate, irresponsible power over the environment. Depending on what we decide to mine from traditional texts, we can support a number of controversial ideologies and consider them supported by divine authority, including war. Social sciences not being of the same reliability standard as the natural sciences and being anthropocentric, they still already acknowledge those problems. Here we begin to touch ethics and values, which as history showed, might not be best derived from ancient traditional texts, but should adapt to the current issues of society (we today also have access to some of the most ancient legal codes, such as the Code of Hammurabi, and can understand that our legal systems needed to continue to evolve). Finally we must acknowledge the responsibility to take action for change, instead of, for instance, waiting for a hypothetical eventual event like Armaggedon, Ragnarok, or aliens, to save us.

I have the impression that a project like Wikipedia is part of this action to freely spread knowledge. Religious topics can, and should be covered, but the present NPOV and Undue Weight directives appear reasonable to me, such that scientific articles don't be overly clobbered by religious apologetics, especially not equally representing all various traditions and their particular interpretations (which belong in the doctrine section of their respective articles, in my opinion). 76.10.128.192 22:26, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Is Science faith based?[edit]

Fundamentally, I think this whole argument is misconstrued. Specifically I think there's a false dichotomy which everybody seems to be taking for granted. I don't think the distinction being drawn between "faith based system" and "science" works in the real world. Scientific enquiry requires that one hold beliefs which can't themselves be demonstrated by science. Included in this category are fundamental beliefs, such as the belief that every event has a sufficient cause, the belief that the cause/effect relationships seen in the past will hold in the future, and that mathematical models (if well construed) accurately map to real world events. None of these beliefs can be founded on scientific evidence because they are presupposed by the scientific method. Of course, I think it reasonable to accept these beliefs as true, even without "evidence" (at least not evidence which could be considered "scientific"). But I think the fact the these basic presuppositions are accepted without "strong" evidence means that "science" is just another faith based systems.

And I'm sure an even stronger case can be made that the wider understanding of "scientific naturalism" which is generally a conflation of methodological and philosophical naturalism, relies on assumptions which it absolutely cannot prove. But even if we reject the naturalism which is often implied by those who argue for "science" over and against "faith based" system, I think it is clear that we still need to evaluate the reliability of the truth claims which proceed from the assumptions scientists make. Of course, this is true of other "faith based" systems as well.

If that's true, then the whole "scientific" verses "faith based" distinction needs to be revisited. Scientific enquiry is just one of the most reliable faith based systems. And it cannot be assumed on w:a priori grounds to be more accurate than any other system investigating the facts, and that is exactly why I oppose the current trend on the wikipedia to ignore competing intellectual systems. Perhaps in some or all cases, a fair reporting of all the sides on a particular issue will reveal so much more evidence in the favor of the scientific view that there will be no question of which view is correct, but this is not a question on which we have the right to prejudge the issue. Especially when the majority of the human beings who are now alive, and the majority of human beings who ever lived would have serious disagreements with a worldview entierly based in scientific naturalism.

Now, beyond that, I think there are some comments in the above argument which misconstrue the nature of religious belief and it's relationship with scientific enquiry. Many, if not most religious folks I know believe in the value and utility of the scientific method, but they claim that it has limits . This is why it is important to cover all sides of the controversial issues, because it's not that "religious belief" (what you've been calling "faith based systems") are fundamentally opposed to the scientific method, but that there are points of tension, and those points of tension are often very hotly debated, and generally interesting and important from a philosophical point of view. To ignore these particular debates is to ignore the possibility that the scientific method may actually have particular kinds of limits. Alternately, ignoring the debate is to preclude the possibility that the scientific method could adequate to the task of reliably producing testable truth claims in that area.

My point is that I am strongly opposed to the idea that we should have a "scientific point of view" which is the basis for everything we write at the wikipedia. I feel strongly enough about the issue that I'd be willing to try to create another online free wiki based encyclopedia which does not have that restriction. A project which is somewhat reasonable since the content at the wikipedia could simply be migrated over. MRC


--I moved this whole discussion to it's own section for readability, and reformated a bit--

Fundamentally, I think this whole argument is misconstrued. Specifically I think there's a false dichotomy which everybody seems to be taking for granted. I don't think the distinction being drawn between "faith based system" and "science" works in the real world. Scientific enquiry requires that one hold beliefs which can't themselves be demonstrated by science. Included in this category are fundamental beliefs, such as the belief that every event has a sufficient cause, the belief that the cause/effect relationships seen in the past will hold in the future, and that mathematical models (if well construed) accurately map to real world events. None of these beliefs can be founded on scientific evidence because they are presupposed by the scientific method. Of course, I think it reasonable to accept these beliefs as true, even without "evidence" (at least not evidence which could be considered "scientific"). But I think the fact the these basic presuppositions are accepted without "strong" evidence means that "science" is just another faith based systems.

The statement I have highlighted in green above is completely, 100%, absolute, falsehood. Furthermore, its falsity has been clearly demonstrated and explained many times, so continuing to express it is either (1) ignorant of what science really is; (2) dishonest, malicious, and slanderous to real scientists; or (3) itself a dogmatic belief with no evidence. Science is nothing more or less than simple honesty; it is the personal commitment to view the world as it is instead of how you want it to be, and to hold beliefs that are consistent with what you actually see in the world, changing them as necessary. There are no axioms; no articles of faith; no sacred texts; no inviolate practices. The particular ones you state (causality, consistency, accurate mapping) are not only not assumed by scientists, but they are explicity rejected in many cases where they don't hold (Quantum mechanics violates a lot of them, for example: certain quantum events don't have a "cause", only a probability of occurence, and multiple trials of the same experiment will not produce the same results, only results consistent with the probability distributions). Further, scientists explicity disclaim that the mapping of mathematical models to reality is "true" or "accurate" in any sense; they only claim that it is useful, because it has accomplished things. This has been repeated clearly so many times that you can't possibly claim not to have heard and understood it, so to claim otherwise is a deliberately deceitful tactic to attack a distorted view of your opponent's position instead of his actual views, and is beneath the dignity of honest debate. It is pointless to debate this further with you until you demonstrate the basic personal integriy to either retract these statements, or to admit that they are a personal belief of yours held in direct opposition to what scientists themselves claim. --Lee Daniel Crocker

First of all, I am a reliablist of sorts, and believe that we ought to use whatever belief formation system produces true knowledge. I think that it is interesting that you simply define science as believing in the world as it is. I myself would have to resort to a listing of the standard practices, theories, and methodologies of actual scientists to accurately define science. If on the other hand I just wanted to define science as an unassailable absolute, I might just propose exactly the definition you did. But I agree that we should avoid using a "a deliberately deceitful tactic to attack a distorted view of your opponent's position instead of his actual views." We'll never get anywhere slinging mud.
But this goes both ways. So I am just going to say, that I do not accept your definition of a "scientific point of view." Look I am not arguing against using reliable criteria to judge the truth value of statements, nor am I arguing that science as it is commonly practiced does a great job of this in many areas, and that it will get better in the areas where it currently is struggling. What I will argue is that it is possible that reliable truth production methods may be available which are not a part of scientific practice. For example, if there is a divine being who knows stuff about the world and he/she communicates that knowledge to somebody in a reliable way, that would certainly count as a good knowledge production mechanism, but I don't think you'd want to call it science. So let's come define science more accurately, or else this discussion is going nowhere and going very fast.
That said, your rebuttal to my three "presuppositions" is worth discussing. You claim that "quantum physics" has shown that scientists don't assume the principle of causality. I am no quantum physicist, nor are you, but from what I've read on the subject, quantum events are caused, but not determined. This may seem like an idle distinction, but quantum events happen according to rules, and those rules are consistent over time, and we mathematically predicted those rules before we ever had a chance to verify them experimentally. I take it that the principles of causality, consistency, and accuracy are still fundamental to quantum physics, even if they are slightly altered from the simple principles we had before we discovered the seriously strange "laws" of quantum physics.
And you might notice that there are still a good number of realists amongst scientists, who do actually want to claim that scientific theories actually do describe the way the "world really works" and aren't just mental models. And with some reservations I would side with them against their anti-realist objectors. (FYI, I think Kuhn accurately describes a real phenomenon in science, but I reject his statement that scientific theories 'necessarily contain arbitrary ellements.) We may disagree about the possibility of a faith based system which is reliable, but please, lay off on the ad hominum attacks. MRC
Sure, there are a few scientists who say that they are finding "truth" or that their models are "real"; just as there are quite a few doctors selling snake oil. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of scientists do not claim that they seek "truth", or that their models are "reality". That is a solid fact, clearly expressed by the vast majority of writings on the subject, and one that I am sure you know well. To continue to claim otherwise is dishonest. If I hear some random man-on-the-street say "those scientists think they know everything", I can forgive his ignorance, because he probably hasn't spent a lot of time with real scientists to know how totally non-comittal they are. But you know better. I can suffer fools gladly, but liars are harder to tolerate. And use your terminology correctly: an "ad hominem" fallacy is to argue that what some person says is false because that person is bad in some way; I am not doing that. I am making the assertion that you are lying, for which it is necessary to also show that the statement you are making is false--but I am not saying it is false because of who are, only that (1) it is false (for other reasons), and (2) you claim it is true. That sounds like an ad hominem, but it's a rational accusation. --LDC
Alright, enough with the personal attacks. I am not lying. I have some experience working in the philosophy of science, and every time I tried to do interdisciplinary work with actual scientists I ended up getting lectured about why people like Kuhn are idiots, and that scientific work isn't really just mental models. Particular umbrage was taken at Kuhn's claim that these mental models have arbitrary elements. I don't have an empirical data on what scientists actually believe, how well educated they are on the subject, or even if they are using the terminology correctly, but my experience is that there are quite a few people out there who get pissed off about the anti-realists, and who claim that their theories explain "real things as they really are in the real world!" (exact quote) None the less, I am sure you are correct that most scientists don't believe this. I'm sure that as a philosopher I attracted the attention of folks with an axe to grind, whereas those who weren't upset by Kuhn just did their work, and talked to me reasonably about the subject at hand.
Anyway, I don't think it really matters that much. Look, I'm convinced that lots of scientists don't talk the way you describe, and lots do. I'd even agree that most scientists believe that their theories aren't "True" with a capital T, but there are a small (but vocal) group who do that still. I also think the extreme form of this is kind of absurd, but I think there's a large middle group, who subscribe to a moderate-realism with respect to scientific theories, and I would at least tentatively place myself in that group as well. And that's the group I was talking about originally. In short I think the "moderate realist" position is that scientific theories are mental models, but that our "cognitive apparatus" is properly attenuated to be able to reliably map those mental models to the real world, in such a way that they are both accurate models, and in a real and important sense descriptive of what actually takes place in the world of "things as they are." I tend to see this operating principle behind lots of scientific work, and I'm not suppressed by it as it seems to be very sensible attitude to me. On the other hand, I think we should agree that most practicing scientists don't have the time or desire to articulate a clear view on such an obscure philosophical subject, when they have real work to do. So whatever we say on this subject, I think a little more humility than you've shown (calling me a liar) is in order. MRC
OK, maybe--just maybe--you honestly believe that what you're saying reflects what you really believe, in which case you're just not saying it well. I've read Kuhn as well as Popper, and while I think he's just saying the same sorts of things in more pretentious language, I don't think he's a crackpot. But let's get back to the purpose here: what kinds of statements belong in an encyclopedia? I'm happy to report on just about anyone's belief, no matter how small a minority, but the statement I colored in green above, or statements that scientist believe their models are "real", are exactly the kinds of statements I think have no place here at all, because that's a statement (expressed as unadorned fact) about what a group of people believe that is the exact opposite of what most of them, in fact, believe. It is no less offensive than saying that Muslims believe Christians should be killed (though no doubt you could find hundreds of examples of exactly that). True, most scientists don't spend a lot of time on philosophy, because they are too busy doing ordinary work; but if you honestly asked the simple question about what they see as "truth", probably not 1 in 5 would say that their models are "actual reality", and half of those who did say that would recant if pressed and just say that they were using the language in a convenient way rather than with philosophical rigor. I've fought this kind of nonsense with creationists and other idiots for years--it's disheartening to have to fight it with another seemingly rational person. As for documentation about the beliefs of ordinary scientists--just pick up any textbook, or go to a science web site for kids. Any of them that go to the trouble to have something about "what is science" will all go out of their way to distance themselves from any claim that science represents metaphysical truth. It's so common it's almost a cliche, and the attacks of the idiots who spout "science claims to be the only way to truth..." are equally tiresome, whether they do it from ignorance or deceit. If I caught you unjustly in my wrath, please clarify what it is you actually believe. --LDC
Here's the deal, I don't have time to describe my beliefs on the subject in enough detail to appease you, but there are a few points I want to make, which I hope will help clarify my position.
  • I believe that the scientific method is useful and valuable, and that it is a reliable truth production method for the areas of knowledge that it covers. Though I am not convinced that every question scientists attempt to answer is actually answerable by science.
  • I believe most scientists realize that their theories are just mental models, but that they do want to make some connection between those mental models and the "real world." It is this position which I call moderate realism, as opposed to the anti-realist position that reality is "at bottom" socially constructed, or hyper-realism, which is the position that our scientific theories are ontologically identical to the "laws of nature."
  • I believe that it is logically possible that there are other reliable truth production methods are not "scientific" and the only way to settle the issue is to look at the actual facts in question.
That said, I stand by what I originally wrote. The statement you highlighted in green above is my considered opinion about the way science works, I would never express such an opinion as NPOV, I only expressed it here, in response to taw, and others objections to the inclusion of "faith based" systems in the wikipedia. As I said before I don’t object to science and the scientific method, but I do object to the naturalist philosophy that is advocated in the name of science by some scientists.
If you are familiar with what has been happening in philosophy over the last 40 or so years, you may understand what I mean when I say that I believe that foundationalism is no longer a tenable philosophical position, and that this leaves us in a position where we have multiple debatable positions and that the only way to evaluate between them is to consider them in totality as explanatory systems. We can’t just reject them because they disagree with our basic presuppositions, and this includes the rejection of "faith based systems" based on naturalistic assumptions.
I am in the middle of a major network infrastructure upgrade this week, so I don’t have time to write anything clearer than the above, which I am certain does not exactly explain what I believe in terminology which is comfortable to you, but if you want more, I’d be glad to clarify my position sometime after the end of this week (or next week if things fall apart). MRC

MRC writes: "Scientific enquiry is just one of the most reliable faith based systems." AFAIC, "reliability" is precisely the issue. The Scientific Method and the institution of Science produce very reliable results (especially when iterated over time). Other systems may produce "amusing" or "interesting" or "pleasing" results, but if we want to maintain that they are "reliable" we can only do this by reference to Science. The word for the territory we are in when we go beyond Science and the Scientific Method is "unsubstantiated guessing", to be charitable, or "blowing smoke", to be frank.


That certainly is frank. But not necessarily accurate. It certainly does not address the issue itself, it only restates your position that those who do not subscribe to philosophical naturalism cannot possibly have defensible reasons to believe such things.

As to the question of "scientific method" being the only way to verify the reliability of a given truth generating system, I'm absolutely certain this is not true. Perhaps you are a member of the heaven's gate cult, and you believe that some kind of alien starship is going to arrive on a particular date, with a particular intention. You don't need to do measurements, set up a control group, and attempt to perform some kind of quantitative analysis to recognize that those aliens did not arrive on that date. The scientific method is useful, but it is extremely strange to say that it is the only possible criterion by which the truth or falsity of a particular truth claim can be judged.

I also think that the fact that a truth claim was arrived at by "scientific" means does not necessarily make that claim accurate, and we can sometimes verify that inaccuracy without reference to further scientific inquiry. Here's just one example: Exclusive same sex attraction is evolutionarily maladaptive, since it is a trait which tends to decrease its own propagation. But a simple observation with no "scientific" basis seems to clearly indicate that it not only exists but is present in the human population in non-trivial numbers. So, clearly in this case, it is the argument from evolutionary science, and not the pre-scientific awareness that there is such a thing as same sex attraction which needs revisiting. (And of course there are lots of ways of revisiting the issue, which is not the point. Certainly scientific inquiry can be amended to fit the "facts," but that does not mean that it gets to be the final and only arbiter of what is and is not a "fact.") MRC


This may be relevant, depending on your interest. Kekule, who "discovered" the ring structures of organic compounds, states his insight came from several dreams, and on awakening worked from the memory of the dream to revolutionize Chemistry. (see http://step.sdsc.edu/projects95/chem.in.history/essays/kekule.html )
Who can then exclude the importance of any information, regardless of its apparent source, on Wiki? Dreamers as well as those who claim to "know The Truth", fit very well into the New Age Point of View(NAPOV), like Kekule, and by "homogeniz(s)ing" content here into vanilla NPOV, are we not really limiting interaction by editing key words or performing selective semantical editing ? To allow ideas to flourish encourages growth; to white-out uncomfortable context facilitates decay. -- Anon


I was talking about reliabilty. Maybe we are using this word in different senses.

So Kekule dreamed that Benzene was a ring. Maybe Lekule dreamed that it was shaped like an 8 and Mekule dreamed that it was shaped like the letter K. Why did other scientists come to believe Kekule's dream? Because he could prove it! Or at least offer evidence that they considered sufficiently persuasive.

Let me add another category to what we imagine and can't prove: Art. I imagine that Australia is about to sink into the sea. Thrilling idea. Maybe I can make a book or a movie or a painting out of it. I try to convince you that you should move from your home in Sydney because of the threat. Hopefully, you're going to ask me for some kind of evidence beyond my dream, hypothesis, painting, story plot, or whatever. If I can't produce any kind of evidence, then I'm "guessing", "blowing smoke", or "creating art", but you have no reason to go along with my vision.

How do you define a "fact"?


I didn't write the paragraph about the benzene rings, but since I wrote the section before it, I'll take a stab at defining a fact. A fact is a piece of knowlege, knowlege is information which has been produced by a relable information producing mechanism. But as I said above, I believe that scinece is genneraly such a mechanism, but it is not the only such mechanism, nor is it absolutely reliable in every possible area of knowlege.

Evidence is important, since it is genneraly required to convince others that such and such is the case, but I maybe warranted in believing some things without evidence, just because my "mental equipment" is designed (by millions of years of evolution, or a divine mind) to reliably produce such beliefs -- the belief in other minds is one very common example of used to explain this, I can't prove that there are other minds besides my own, but I am still warranted in believing it. MRC


BF replied to comments in the paragraph which includes the sentence "AFAIC, 'reliability' is precisely the issue." (BF, I moved your comment. Not trying to be rude, I just think the page works better this way. Peace.)

"The word for the territory" is your viewpoint that Science and the Scientific Method are sacred cows. Reliable or not, your viewpoint is a belief system that happens to be widely accepted, and also predictable. (As your remarks remain so narrow, one can only "see right through you" because you have made the first mistake by continuing the polarity. Other systems regard science as workable, and they do not continue some anti-science polarization. I think your view can NOT be truly a scientific view simply because any established scientific fact must remain open to scrutiny, based on new evidence, that not being a personal disregard or phobia for non clinical studies or experimentation) ~BF

My reply to BF:

your viewpoint that Science and the Scientific Method are sacred cows.

I'd say I hold them in very high regard.

Reliable or not, your viewpoint is a belief system that happens to be widely accepted, and also predictable.

I don't understand what you mean here. Science is predictable, or my viewpoint is predictable? If it's my viewpoint that is predictable, this isn't very relevant (ad hominem argument). If it's Science and the results of Science that are predictable, this is the point.


(As your remarks remain so narrow, one can only "see right through you"

I don't understand what you mean here.

Other systems regard science as workable, and they do not continue some anti-science polarization.

I don't understand what you mean here. Examples, maybe?

any established scientific fact must remain open to scrutiny, based on new evidence

I strongly agree.

that not being a personal disregard or phobia for non clinical studies or experimentation)

The crux is: if our evidence isn't produced by clinical studies, experimentation, or the like, how do we demonstrate to others whether they would be right to agree with us or not? I'd really like to know your answer to this.



If someone would like to give a concise summary of the arguments here and on other new pages critical of neutral point of view, I would be only too happy to reply to that. I am firmly persuaded that very many objections to a nonbias policy stem from a failure to understand it properly. On the general subject of this page, I would like to encourage you to read what I wrote here. --LMS

(Apparently "Larry's Big Reply" [AKA The Ten Point Plan  :-)] on w:Creationism/Talk)

It may also be the 10 Step Plan. Alikened to the famous 12 Step Plan for AAA, the 10 Step Plan is a meeting for people who are wikipediaholics whose addiction lies in edition, not writing. Copyeditors who have no original ideas and choose to "correct" someone's work. This behavior is not unlike children mimicing and mocking, "You said 'gump'. It's 'jump', stupid ! Na nanananaaaa." And at the 10 step meeting held in the church basement owned by Jimmy Wales, all anonymously drink neutral de-caff tea even though they have this wicked craving for the natural tea(with caffeine) and some even drink green tea to spite everyone, then anonymous Larry begins the meeting: " Hello my name is NPOV Larry, i'm a wikipediaholic." They all respond, "Hello Larry." Then the next person chimes( or is it chymes, as in the sickening short intestinal fluid that smells, created by regurgitation, adding HCl, and mixing with bile), "Hello my name is NPOV Axel, i'm a wikipediaholic." "Hello Axel." and on and on we go, where we stop only the cd burners know. ~BF


I didn't read ALL the comments, so sorry if i'm being redundant, but most of those comments up there are basically the same. Anyhow I'd like to express my views. Disclaimer-I'm trying I'm 17 and its kinda hard to be completly responsible all the time) to be a devout christian, not with this post specifically, but with life in general .

Flat Earth - You do realize that this is one of those things science produced.If a religion anno 500 B.C. would claim the earth was round, it would be seen as stupid.The notion that the earth was flat was completly scientific, no religion claimed it, observations showed the earth must be flat.If the earth was round then non of the known 'theories' would work. Similarly if a religion had proposed in 1700 that the speed of light was constant it would also be dismissed as something only 'stupid' people could believe.And highly intelligent greek philosophers thaught energy was needed to keep motion, consistent with observations. The thing is I don't believe the Bible (or whatever religious book have you) should be about science, but rather about lifestyle. Can you see early jewish heads exploding if Genesis started-'In the beginning the basic force and particle were created and formed a big bang which in a second expanded into the current universe'. Sure the bible could explain evolution or, according to Wolfram, CA, but back in those early days people wouldn't have grasped the concept and why would God want to confuse us with details? Don't you think it's conceivable that he put down his magic wand and used his ultimate knowledge of physics/chemistry/biology to create a planet with life in a more plausable way? The idea behind religion ASFAIK is lifestyle. The bible teaches how to live a healthy lifestyle. Some things may sound silly, like Jews not being allowed to eat pork and shrimp, but science shows that these meats are 'dirty', they have chemicals in them and humans are likely to get pimpels and infections.Logical actually if you consider what these animals eat, they're natures vacuum cleaners. And other things also make logical sense, like the ten commandments. One thing I do know is that when i follow the teachings of the bible I'm happier and since I 'found' Jesus about two years ago my life has changed alot, for the better. Sure you could argue that I fell better because i believe i'm doing the right thing. I'd beg to differ, but on that I don't have real evidence. Anyway the way I see it;

  God isn't a magical being, but a supreme being with supreme knowledge.

he doesn't wave a magical wand, but uses supreme knowledge. Just as i'm not magical when I cook water with microwaves, although it would appear so to ancient greeks for example and explaining the phenomenon would be much more work then saying it was magic and the work wouldn't be worth it if i needed to give them the hot water and not the science lessons.

  Religion is about lifestyle, not science.
  Everything in the bible is true AND all scientific findings are true.

If they contradict each other, then either we misinterpreted the bible. AND/OR we misinterpreted the scientific findings. AND/OR we're comparing apples to oranges.

Reading my post I guess I went a bit of topic. Oh well no such things as a invalid opinion I say.


The anorexics who kep journals on the web write in them that they feel so much better since they stopped eating, too. -- Tarquin


feeling happy is a physcological thing, and should not be confused with proof of anything