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proof

Proof can refer to the factual evidence that helps to establish the truth of something, the act of validation or testing for truth, or to a formal series of statements showing that if one thing is true something else necessarily follows from it. We toss the word 'proof' around in vernacular usage, yet rigorous usage of the term 'proof', outside alcoholic spirits, applies only to mathematics and to philosophical syllogisms.

Whereas disproof is an achievable certainty, "proof" is technically much less easily attained. A person who was demonstrably in Hong Kong at the time of a shooting in New York city could not have committed the crime, whereas we can be much less certain of the innocence of those capable of wielding a gun among the seven million or so people who were in New York city at the time.

Scientific method involves a closing in on the best possible explanation for observed phenomena, which is ideally achieved by discarding experimentally disproven falsifiable hypotheses. The lack of absolute certainty inherent in "best possible" does not sit well with those with a rigid need for a psychological sense of certainty, yet highest probability is the best that we can reasonably demand of most of our important questions.

By comparison, all religions are invented religions (despite claims of received dogma) and demand belief without any incontrovertible evidence to support religious claims. Religious dogmatists, particularly creationists, attempt unsuccessfully to suborn facts to fit their religious dogma. Whereas science moves from fact to explanation, religion moves from dogma to distortion. Because religions are only very loosely based on observable reality, attempts to twist empirical realities to fit religious dogma are necessarily fraught with illogic and falsehoods.

Received notions of deities do not provide the best explanations for observed facts, so scientific knowledge unintentionally runs counter to, or disproves, religious claims. Claims that "God performed a miracle" do not provide any explanation at all for empirical data.

As a result of this lack of foundation in reality, there are many invented religions, yet almost universal agreement about internally logical, replicated, scientific knowledge. New information might necessitate a slight modification of scientific hypotheses to better fit the data, but scientific theories carry a high degree of likelihood, and scientific laws signify near certainty.

Fallacious argument from ignorance are much loved by creationists and advocates of intelligent [sick] design theory. In these fallacies, the arguer erroneously claims either that lack of proof must render a claim false, or that lack of disproof must render a claim true. Referring back to the shooter analogy – disproof may render false any claim that a person who was actually in Hong Kong could have shot someone in New York city, but it does not prove that a particular individual in New York was necessarily the shooter. Conversely, not knowing who shot the victim in New York does not mean that the victim of the shooting could not have been shot.

When proponents of intelligent [sick] design theory demand an explanation for evolution of a complex, functioning system they are committing the fallacy of argument from ignorance (in addition to the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof).


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. . . launched (sans champagne, alas) 10/22/06