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On the nature of theories and hypotheses - a respose to Owen Walker

29 May 2014, 14:40

First of all, I’d like to apologise to Owen Walker for so shamefully ignoring his comments on my last article. I realise I should have taken a day off work to stand watch over the article so I could respond to his comments immediately. Had I realised that my having a life outside of responding to his comments would affect his opinion of me, I would naturally have dropped everything else to devote my whole, undivided attention to somehow unravelling the conundrum he dropped in my lap. Sadly I didn’t know, and since it’s of such vital importance to him to get a response, I shall make up for my earlier faux pas by devoting an entire article to him. He actually raised an interesting point that would have taken more space than a reply to make, so this isn’t purely a display of sarcasm on my part. What can I say? Sometimes the inner child’s sense of humour will not be denied.

I’ll quote Owen Walker in italics.

“Hmmm... a theory is formed over time.”

I’m not sure what you mean by “formed”. Do you mean “formulated” or “adapted”? I can’t quite tell from the context. If you meant “formulated”, then I’d have to disagree. To qualify as a theory, it need not take a long time to formulate. To formulate a theory takes just as long as it takes for the scientist (or scientists) to ask the question, do their research, process their data, draw their conclusions and fitting that into the theory. The actual testing of the theory, and the possible subsequent adaptation thereof to fit the available evidence on the other hand, can last a very long time. It’s the testing, not the actual formulation, that takes the time. A theory doesn’t become more or less valid depending on the time it remains valid in either its original or adapted form. A theory’s validity remains only for so long as there is valid evidence that doesn’t directly contradict it. Newton’s theory of gravity isn’t valid because it stood for several centuries. It’s valid because there’s no data that directly contradicts it.

“What if time changes the basis of that theory. For example, would Mendel, Linnaeus, Darwin et al come to the conclusion that they did if they knew that today we can change the genetics of a species within a single generation of that species. That is, if we can be creationist (for want of a better word) and change evolution then maybe some thing did away with the dinosaurs. Hence the transition from dinosaurs to mammals is not a natural event but evolution tampered with much the same as today's dairy cow is evolution tampered with.

Would Darwin today come to the same conclusion as he did back then?”

In a word, yes. Why? Because genetic engineering isn’t evolution. Evolution and genetic engineering are not related to each other. Evolution doesn’t just say that over time, species will change physically and genetically. You’re leaving out a very big part of the theory, that of natural selection. The theory is called “The theory of evolution through natural selection”. It doesn’t say “The theory of evolution through genetic engineering.” You can’t substitute one for the other because they’re not equivalent in any way. What you just did there is called the “straw man” logical fallacy.

In a nutshell “natural selection” means that over time, species adapt physically and genetically to environmental pressure. The theory says nothing whatsoever about intervention by man. It says that over time, species will adapt to their environments. No more and no less. The fact that man can interfere in that natural process through genetic engineering and/or selective breeding doesn’t invalidate evolution, since, left alone without interference from man, evolution would still take place. Evolution will still take place on the wild banana even as man’s selective breeding program directs the evolution of “captive” bananas. Should man happen to become extinct overnight, the natural course of evolution would resume. It’s possible that dinosaurs became extinct because something somehow changed their genes or directed their evolution, but there’s no evidence for that.’ve already presented your question statement, so I suppose now it’s for you to present evidence for your alternative theory. That’s how science works. You ask the question, you get to provide evidence to back it up. Might be is a long way from is. Just because dinosaur genetics could have been artificially influenced by other than natural sources, doesn’t mean it was. There’s no evidence to indicate such interference. But there is plenty of evidence for evolution by natural means.

“Today we can create an entirely new species in a laboratory. Does this basic scientific contradiction not then invalidation an entire Theory?

So how strong over time is a theory?”

Well, as I said, time isn’t the relevant point. A theory is valid for as long as there’s evidence to back it. Time is irrelevant. As new evidence emerges, the theory adapts. It need not be immutable over a long period to be valid. And just because we can create a new species through genetic engineering doesn’t mean natural selection doesn’t take place outside the lab. There’s no contradiction there, as I pointed out.

“Having said that, is the existence of a supreme being aka God a theory or hypothesis as it does have thousands of years of studied support?

PS 4 x scientific answers please. Not some religious mumbo jumbo that atheists et al spew fore.”

In a word, no. In order to be a hypothesis, “god” must be observable. There must be a test for “god”. If you want to propose the god theory, you’d have to be able to either observe god directly or through the use of instruments, or be able to show that god was the only force that was able to act to make an observation possible. Failing that, god did it cannot be considered a hypothesis until there is data that suggests god did it.

“Thanks for no reply Keita, nice scientific dodge.

No thanks to the dumb bells that gave half baked answers.

Let me rephrase my questions to perhaps a lower level.”

Hey, you’re more than welcome, old boy. I really dodged a bullet there by wasting my time working, then going home to spend a bit of time just goofing around with friends, spending some quality time with my partner etc. That was really unscientific of me, to prefer a nice relaxing time with friends, family and lover before coming to check News24 and answering your comments. Your opinion of me should have been my top priority, I agree. And yes. Please do dumb down your questions to my and their level. That makes it so much easier for us since you’re obviously so much more intelligent than the rest of us. Let’s see if I got it right up there.

“It is a hypothesis that I can climb mount Everest. An idea.
I study how to do this and collect evidence to do so. It becomes a theory and the closer I get to being able to do it. It becomes verifiable.
The day comes when I can either do it or not. If I do get to the top and live it becomes a fact, no longer a theory. If I fail the theory goes back to being an hypothesis at best.”

Actually no. You got it completely wrong. Did you even read the definitions I provided for “theory” and “hypothesis”?

You can formulate your hypothesis in two ways. You can ask “Can I climb Everest?” Or you can make a statement and say “I can climb Everest.”

Now you must get evidence for it. You can do it in two ways. You can study other climbers and gather data about how they did it, and the conditions under which they succeeded or failed. Then you can collect data about yourself, and compare it to theirs, and on that basis, you can conclude that you can or cannot climb Everest. It remains untested, but it has the potential to be tested, and THAT makes it a hypothesis.

Now, if you actually do climb Everest, and you make it, you have validated your hypothesis. If you failed, then you’ve disproved your hypothesis. Neither makes it a theory. It becomes a theory when you take your experience and others and formulate the physical criteria needed to climb Everest. “The theory of climbing Everest” would then contain the physical criteria a person would have to meet in order to climb Everest, and, say, the conditions on the mountain that would be conducive to climbing Everest that would be universally applicable to all people wanting to climb Everest. NOW you have a theory, and every time someone matching those criteria manages to climb Everest under those conditions, your theory would hold true. However, if someone fails, then your theory is false, and needs to be either updated or discarded. If someone falling outside the criteria of your theory manages the feat, or they do so outside the conditions on the mountain you stipulated, then you must go back to your theory and revise it to fit the new evidence. If your theory cannot be adapted to fit the new data, then you discard the theory.

“Of course, the longer I wait to turn theory into fact the older I get and the less likely a theory it is.”

Actually, the less likely your hypothesis is. As I pointed out, your use of theory and hypothesis is incorrect. Furthermore, your hypothesis was valid only for the time frame you formulated it for. You assumed that your ability to climb Everest would remain constant over time. That clearly not being the case, you now have to adapt your hypothesis, expand it to be valid for both time periods, or create a new hypothesis. “Can I climb Everest? I could have back then, maybe. But I didn’t test it, so I will never know. Can I climb Everest now? I don’t know. I should test that.” Again, it’s not the length of time you wait to test it that makes it valid or invalid. It’s the act of testing it.

“So today we have facts. Genetically modified just about anything. Most of our food is no longer evolving. We can from stem cells create our own heart replacement. We can from stem cells resurrect a wooly mammoth.
We can clone sheep from virgin female sheep.

So we know for a FACT that life can be created and evolution can be bypassed or used to maintain that life.

So because we, humans, factually contradict evolution is the Theory of Evolution now not scientifically falsified according to the writers definition?

Would a Darwin of today arrive at the same conclusion as Darwin did?

Has science not disproved science?”

Your reasoning is faulty. What makes you think that genetically engineered or selectively bred organisms cannot evolve? The moment they leave controlled conditions, their environment will once again act on them, and they’ll evolve. Even genetically engineered organisms can undergo mutation and respond to their environments over time. Genetic engineering and selective breeding are not synonymous with either other. They are not equivalent processes. I believe I explained it quite sufficiently further up in the post.

“I deliberately wrote supreme being aka God. Let me rephrase this so that atheists realize how stupid they really are.

There is a well researched theory that alien life exists. Humans have been researching alien life for thousands of years. There are many scientific entities looking for intelligent life is space. So science is deliberately looking for intelligent life aka supreme being aka advanced alien aka God.

The reason I say God is simply because if intelligent life visited earth it will be way more intelligent than us and the chances of it demanding that we call it God and bow before it are fairly good.

So atheism has been looking for God sorry aliens for a very long time.

So the Theory of advanced alien life is a well established theory supported by atheists and theists alike. Different agendas maybe but both are searching.”

Again with the faulty reasoning. You equate “scientists” to “atheist”. This is a faulty premise. Atheism is a philosophical position which states that god does not exist. It justifies this position by citing a lack of evidence for god. It has nothing to do with science. Yes, atheists use the scientific lack of evidence for god as justification for their position, but that does not make their views scientific. As I previously pointed out, the “god theory” cannot be scientifically tested, and therefore cannot be hypothesised or theorised. Scientists are not saying god doesn’t exist. Atheists are. Yes, there are scientists who are atheists, but that is their personal philosophical views.

Science on the other hand acknowledges that there might be alien life. This alien life could be more advanced than us, either or both technologically and intellectually. However, it’s also possible that alien life may not be. We simply don’t know, and so scientists allow for the possibility of both. However – and this is where you make your second mistake – just because alien life may exist, doesn’t mean god exists. God is defined by Christians as an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient being, a being that predates the universe, created the universe and everything in it, and created life. Even if scientists did discover the existence of aliens, this wouldn’t make them gods in the way Christians define god, nor would it make the existence of such a god any more or less likely. All the discovery of aliens would prove is that aliens exist. Nothing more and nothing less. Just because aliens might have genetically engineered dinosaurs, killed them, and then genetically engineered us doesn’t mean god could have done it. There’s no evidence for aliens as yet, just as there’s no evidence for god. There is, however, evidence for evolution, and since that theory holds true, it makes other theories unlikely. Especially given the lack of evidence for such theories. There’s no theory of alien life. Only the hypothesis that alien life might exist, which we are in the process of testing. I invite you to propose a method by which we might test for god. You seem like a smart fellow. It shouldn’t take you long.

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