The University of Edinburgh and the John Templeton Foundation royally screw up evolution and science (and tell arrant lies) in an online course

Reader Simon sent me this video, which is a short (8-minute) lecture that’s apparently part of an online Coursera course on Science and Philosophy sponsored by the University of Edinburgh, the EIDYN Research Center run by Edinburgh’s Department of Philosophy, and the John Templeton Foundation. The presenter of this talk on creationism and evolutionary biology, S. Orestis Palermos, is a lecturer in philosophy at Cardiff University (also identified as a “research explorer” at Edinburgh).

If you had any pretense that Templeton is in favor of rigorous science, it will be dispelled by this video, which argues that science, like religion, is based on faith, and that evolution is merely an ad hoc rationalization of observations that is not science because it can’t make predictions. It’s also ineffably sad that the University of Edinburgh is sponsoring this nonsense.

I’ve put a transcript of the video below (also prepared by Simon), with the really bad parts in bold; and I’ve added some comments. What we see here is the pernicious influence of postmodernism on science: a claim that science gives us no objective truth because it’s based on faith. This is rotten philosophy and is also either clueless or deliberately duplicitous. Palermos doesn’t deserve the monicker of “philosopher”—not if that monicker requires one to be rational. In this video Palermos acts like Ray Comfort with a Ph.D.: a distorter and outright liar in service not of Jesus, but of postmodernism and perhaps faitheism.

Click on the screenshot below to go to the short lecture, and be prepared to gnash your teeth!

Simon’s transcript (indented; my own comments are flush left):

The final lecture of the free online course science and philosophy is dedicated to the topic, evolutionary biology and creationism science or pseudoscience. This lecture focuses on the same scientific status of evolutionary biology and genetics.

Within western society, there is a tendency to raise science to a special epistemic status. Science is always taken to be better than fairy tales, myths, and of course, religion. If a claim is supposed to be scientific, then it is supposed to constitute some kind of absolute truth that will always be true and which is impossible to deny. So for example, many times, in order to support a claim, we say that this is a fact that is scientifically proven.

No scientist would make the claim that science gives us “absolute truth”; and we use the word “proven” not in the sense of “absolute unchanging truth” but, “supported by evidence so strong that you could bet your house on it.” For Palermos to make his claim means that he has no understanding of how science is done or how we should regard scientific “truth.” That disqualifies him from the outset to give this lecture.  But let’s proceed:

But is this attitude towards science correct? What if science is not the kind of secure, absolute knowledge that scientists make it out to be, and which most of us accept unreflectively? And if science can be questioned, then how does it compare with other predictive and explanatory devices like myths and religion?

A particularly, interesting case in point is whether creationism should be taught alongside evolutionary biology as part of the standard curriculum in the schools in the United States of America.

The standard approach to this long-standing debate is to claim that evolutionary biology as opposed to creationism is scientific. Therefore, we have a good reason to teach the one but not the latter. Evolutionary biology is science, creationism is pseudoscience, and obviously we should always prefer disciplines that are scientific.

However, upon further reflection it is not quite obvious whether this claim is actually valid. For the second half of the 20th century, the best philosophers of science, philosophers like Sir Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, attempted to explain what science consists in and how it differs from myths and religion. And no matter how hard they tried, eventually, the debate died out their realization that science, much like religion, requires faith.  To choose one scientific theory over another, is simply a matter of aesthetics in the hope that this theory and all to the other is going to work out.

Here we have another lie. I’m not that familiar with Lakatos or Feyerabend’s views, but I doubt that any of them would equate the epistemic status of science with that of religion. Popper, for sure, saw evolution as a historical science, and one that produced the best understanding we have of the natural world. He also rejected creationism, although he did see natural selection—only one aspect of evolutionary theory—as hard to test). See here for a refutation of Palermos’s distortions about Popper. And if Kuhn put creationism on an equal footing with religion, with the choice simply “a matter of aesthetics”, I’m not aware of it. Readers with philosophical expertise might weigh in here.

But clearly it’s not “aesthetics” to regard evolution as a much better explanation of the data than creationism. We have reliable ways of dating the Earth and its fossils, and we have observations that comport fully with evolutionary theory but not with creationism (biogeography, dead genes in the genome, vestigial organs, and so on). And yes, evolutionary theory makes predictions. One, that marsupial fossils would be found in Antarctica, since the group crossed that continent when it still linked South America to Antarctica, was verified within the last two decades. We’ve predicted that transitional forms existed—transitions between fish and amphibians, reptiles and mammals, and reptiles and birds—that were later found. Even Darwin predicted in The Descent of Man that humans evolved in Africa, and from other apes. That prediction didn’t begin to be verified until the early 20th century, long after Darwin had passed away. Much real-time evidence, as well as historical evidence and both predictions and “retrodictions” (observations that, in retrospect, make sense in light of evolution but not creationism) are detailed in my book Why Evolution is True. 

To reject the historical evidence of fossils, vestigial organs, and biogeography, as not constituting “real” evidence is another misunderstanding of science. Much of physics, and nearly all of cosmology, rests on historical observation and reconstruction. So is human history itself! Is it an “aesthetic preference” to think that Julius Caesar really lived when all we have left are traces of his existence—his writings, those of his contemporaries, statues, coins, and so on? The notion that history can’t buttress empirical theories is a fantasy promulgated by the likes of Ray Comfort. It shouldn’t be shoved down the throats of students by a misguided professor of philosophy. But on with this dreadful “lecture”:

But there is no way to disprove or prove in theory. And since there is no way to prove it or disprove it, then there is no point where it becomes irrational for a scientist to stay with a failing theory.

It’s just a lie to say that we cannot adjudicate the likelihood of evolution versus creationism from data (I reject the term “prove”) as a way of getting better and better explanations for our universe. Yes, there is a point where it’s irrational for a scientist to stay with a failing theory like creationism. And that is when the data are so strong against it that you’d be a fool (or a religious believer) to maintain what is palpably false.

But wait! There’s more!

So, the best example of this is the case of heliocentricism. Heliocentricism was first put forward about 2,000 years ago. And for about 1,600 years, it was a failing theory. However, at some point, Kepler and Galileo decided to take it up. And even though it was failing for 1,600 years, they managed to convert it in a very successful theory. The choice, however, to do so, was not because the theory was a good one—since obviously it was failing for a long time—but simply because they liked it and for some reason they had faith in it. So scientists choose to stay, we the few, simply because they have faith in it. So both science and religion seem to require faith, which means that it is not so easy to distinguish between creationism and evolutionary biology.

Kepler and Galileo “converted” heliocentrism to a good explanation because of OBSERVATIONS, you moron! It was not because they had “faith” that the Sun was the locus of the solar system.

Instead of writing a lot here, just read my essay in Slate, “No faith in science“, which dispels the canard that science requires some religious-like “faith.”

Moreover, even by the most rigorous standards for distinguishing between science and pseudoscience, what is known as Imre Lakatos’s sophisticated falsification, it was seen that evolutionary biology in creationism and actually, on a path. So, creationism may not be scientific but then again, neither is evolutionary biology, which  appears unable to predict anything but only provides an explanation for the phenomena after the fact have taken place. Parenthetically, this is what is known within philosophy as an ad hoc hypothesis. To introduce an explanation in a hypothesis, only in order to explain something that is already known. And not to provide an explanation or a prediction for something new. And most philosophers of sciences agree that introducing such ad hoc hypotheses within science should always be avoided because it turns a scientific theory into pseudoscience.

This is again a twofold lie: the claim that historical data cannot constitute support for a theory, or help us distinguish between theories, as well as the claim that “evolutionary biology is unable to predict anything.” I’d add here that although creationism has been falsified by many lines of evidence, evolution could have been falsified by observations like 400-million-year-old mammal fossils, an absence of genetic variation in species, or adaptations in one species which are useful only for a different species. But the falsifying observations haven’t been made. As I say in WEIT, “Despite a million chances to be wrong, evolution always comes up right. That’s as close as we can get to a scientific truth.”

Let’s get to the end of this pack of Palermos’s lies and distortions:

However, both evolutionary biology and creationism are guilty of introducing side ad hoc hypothesis. And so it would seem that neither is scientific.

Now, add to this the fact that genetics, which is a special discipline of evolutionary biology, is facing a number of anomalies. Like any other discipline in the past, in any other scientific field, [it] is most likely to change in the future. It becomes even less obvious why evolutionary biology and genetics should be taught in schools as scientifically proven theories but reject creationism as being pseudo-scientific.

Ah, now we hear that Palermos also claims that genetics isn’t really science. I’m not sure what “anomalies” he’s talking about (Epigenetic modification of DNA? Horizontal movement of genes?), but if genetics weren’t science, we have a lot of valuable and useful data that suddenly acquire the epistemic status of Mormonism. That’s just garbage—and it’s lying to the students of this course.

So this lecture delivered by professor of philosophy and theology Cornel Carnihim from the University of Nottingham, will go over some of themes in an accessible and captivating way.

The lecture purposely avoids to put forward any conclusion but it raises a number of interesting questions. Does the epistemic polity between creationism and evolutionary biology mean that neither of them should be taught as part of the standard curriculum? Or should we teach both, but with intellectually honest attitude that neither is quite scientific? And then, does this mean that we trust and pursue both to the same extent? Or should we invest our efforts to develop the most plausible hypothesis in a way that will finally make it stand out from religion?

Isn’t it better to be honest about the status of our best scientific theories, such that future students can know their limits and attempt to improve them, rather than dogmatically believing that they amount to proven knowledge when in fact, they’re far from it?

Isn’t it better to be intellectually honest about why virtually all scientists rejection creationism and accept evolution—a stand based on evidence—than to push postmodernism on a credulous group of students by equating religious faith with scientific confidence?

Shame on the John Templeton Foundation, and shame on the University of Edinburgh, for presenting these lies and distortions in a lecture on evolutionary biology! And Templeton, if you’re listening, how dare you fund a program that fundamentally misrepresents the nature of science? If you claim you’re promoting science in your program funding, you’re also undercutting the claim with junk lectures like this. And that is why no scientist should be taking money from the John Templeton Foundation.

As for the University of Edinburgh, they’ve got some housecleaning to do.

80 Comments

  1. Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Re “But clearly it’s not “aesthetics” to regard evolution as a much better explanation of the data than creationism”

    This is a grotesque understatement. *Creationism offers no explanation of anything* other than “Because that’s the way God did it.” The rest is mere hand waving.

    Creationism makes no predictions, and offers no explanations. They claim on one hand that “no one can know the mind of god” and on the other they explain in great detail why their god did things the way “He” did. They are just pulling all of this stuff out of their asses (please excuse the crudity) and claiming that they can explain anything. They …. can … not! Nada, zip, zilch, bupkis, nothing. They have only unsupported claims in their bag.

    On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 9:01 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Reader Simon sent me this video, which is a > short (8-minute) lecture that’s apparently part of an online Coursera > course on Science and Philosophy sponsored by the University of Edinburgh, > the EIDYN Research Center run by Edinburgh’s Department of Philoso” >

  2. Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I’m appalled by this travesty of scientific method. How can a lecturer in philosophy produce such a caricature of Lakatos, when 5 minutes with the (highly recommended) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy would set him straight? FWIW, my own take on this (including what Lakatos actually said, and the inevitability and usefulness of anomalies in science, see chemistry https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2018/02/26/in-praise-of-fallibility-why-science-needs-philosophy-with-examples-from-astronomy-and-chemistry/ and https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2018/03/09/why-science-needs-philosophy-cont-and-why-it-matters-with-examples-from-geology/

    Ironic that a professional philosopher doesn’t know this much.

    But nonetheless I found the talk useful, as an example of what I need to inoculate against in teaching and writing

    • Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      I read everything by Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend in my student days.

      To be fair, Feyerabend’s “anything goes” -philosophy does seem to equate science with religion and shamanism as methods of inquiry.

      Originally this position was a joke intended to draw a reply from Lakatos, but Lakatos died before he was able to respond.

    • Peter
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Paul, ironic really? Remember that famous philosopher Jerry Fodor ( so famous that when he recently died he got an obituary in the New York Times) wrote a book frontally attacking evolutionary biology that elicited reviews like these:
      Donald R. Prothero: If You Don’t Understand Evolutionary Biology, Don’t Write a Book About it! Review of What Darwin got Wrong, by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini
      Douglas J. Futuyma: Two Critics Without a Clue. Science, 7 May 2010: Vol. 328, Issue 5979, pp. 692-693
      I agree that, on some level, it remains shocking to see this much idiocy in a short lecture. But then, as long as organizations as Templeton dish out the dough, that sort of stuff won’t go away.

      • Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        I have to toot my own horn here and mention that I also reviewed that book–negatively–in The Nation (here).

      • Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        One could also cite Nagel, on evolution and consciousness, or (in the context of teaching creationism) on common sense: “Sophisticated members of the contemporary culture have been so thoroughly indoctrinated that they easily lose sight of the fact that evolutionary reductionism defies common sense. A theory that defies common sense can be true, but doubts about its truth should be suppressed only in the face of exceptionally strong evidence.” (Thomas Nagel, Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, 187-205, 2008). Not to mention John Lennox. Sad that anyone takes such stuff seriously, but I am beginning to think that religion is the archetypal Fake News

        • Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          Though of course not all philosphers are that bad. Jerry has published with a philosopher; I’ve published on a (closely allied) philosopher’s curated site.

          • Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

            It must be tough to be a good philosopher with so many quacks around. (Sorry ducks.)

            • Torbjörn Larsson
              Posted March 26, 2018 at 3:07 am | Permalink

              I see it as akin to the internal test of religion, there are many religions so none are likely to be true. (C.f. science.)

              There is of course other reasons to stay away from philosophy, but this is an obvious one.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    First hand evidence that even a guy with DR. in front of his name can shovel the manure. I suspect his religion must be as heavy as his accent.

  4. Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    It getws worse. Orestis, according to his Cardiff bio, held a postdoctoral position at the University of Edinburgh for Philosophy, Science and Religion Online. More on that here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/ppls/philosophy/research/impact-and-outreach/free-online-courses/philosophy-science-and-religion

    (Does anyone care to check that out? I’ve had about as much as I can take for the moment)

    • RPGNo1
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      It is not worse, it is the worst: According to its own CV (https://www.sorestispalermos.info/vita) Palermos holds a MSc in Chemical Engineering. I.e. he must have taken lectures in chemistry und possibly biochemisty and should have essentiell understanding in natural sciences. Nevertheless perpetrated such a confused online lectures.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        If nothing else he should understand the scientific method and that scientists don’t make claims of absolute truth.

  5. rickflick
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    How could Palmeros be so confused. Checking his CV I notice his first degrees were in Engineering. Then he jumped to philosophy. I don’t see anything that qualifies him in biology. Very curious. I can only conclude that he makes a living spouting nonsense and the U of Edinburgh hasn’t figured out how to disown him.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Lying for Jesus maybe? Religious people will sometimes get degrees and stomach the science purely to get the credential to make arguments from authority for Jesus.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Edinburgh EIDYN + UCRiverside ‘Immortality Project’ + Templeton: Free Will & Entering Heaven by Dr. Patrick Todd

    Who previously got $163,271 from the Templeton machine HERE for: “July 2014 – October 2016. Free Will, Moral Responsibility, Divine Providence, and Human Relationships with God”

  7. Kev
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Jerry,
    I think you got the guy’s name wrong:

    his website gives S. Orestis Palermos

    you gave S. Orestes Palmeros which turns up a blank on google except for the WEIT post.

    I found:

    From his CV, I think he has not much of a background in Biology: more Philosophy, language and Engineering.

    • Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Sorry, misspelling. I’ll fix that.

    • Kev
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Oops! Sorry. I duplicated your link. Thought it was a different one.

  8. Historian
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    What is disturbing is that this course received 4.3 out of 5 stars. Even if some of the very positive reviews are bogus, such a rating could attract many people to be persuaded by this nonsense. However, one reviewer got it right:

    “First weeks material was pretty good, during the second week I started to get a funny feeling about the way it was going. I noticed, during the credits, that this was funded by a group called the Templeton Foundation. I googled them, and discovered that this “foundation” is dedicated to funding endeavors that promote Christianity. So, under the guise of a serious academic, what we have here is propaganda. Coursera should remove this, or at least reveal the true source and purpose of this program. BTW, the lectture by Connor Cunningham is hilarious – a disjointed rambling monologue that reminded me of …Hunter Thompson? Donald Trump on acid?”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Yes this is what I hate about courses like this. People who know no better, will think it makes sound arguments and will be misled.

  9. glen1davidson
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    But I didn’t want to gnash my teeth!

    Glen Davidson

  10. GBJames
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    sub

  11. Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Teeth gnashing right now. A stream of utter lies, glibly not supported with a shred of evidence. Kepler and Galileo came around to helicentrism simply b/c they had faith in it, my *ss!
    The students should demand their money back.

  12. glen1davidson
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    So, creationism may not be scientific but then again, neither is evolutionary biology, which appears unable to predict anything but only provides an explanation for the phenomena after the fact have taken place.

    It predicts plenty, especially that newly found living organisms or newly discovered fossils, will “naturally” fit into nested hierarchies of clades.

    One might pretend that this is after the fact, in that it was what began to give scientists a clue that evolution has occurred in the first place. But that’s absurd, because the whole point of bloodlines and inheritance is that there is and always was an implicit prediction that if organisms are the result of descent with modification, they must fit into nested hierarchies. It’s similar with languages. Anyway, the prediction that organisms will always be derivative of earlier forms has worked in all newly discovered organisms (living or extinct), and so has been massively confirmed.

    Also, before anything we’d now call a “transitional” appeared (like Archaeopteryx), the “intermediate” nature of them was predicted. And so it was.

    That’s the whole point of a scientific theory like evolution, it actually depends upon causal facts to predict what will be characteristic of a whole category of phenomena. Evolution does explain after the fact, but because it’s a real explanation, it also reliably predicts aspects of organisms before they’re ever found.

    Glen Davidson

  13. BJ
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure what’s worse: this story, or my lack of surprise at this story. It feels like nothing surprises me these days.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    When prayer cures cancer or makes an airplane fly, I’ll accept that religion and science are just two different methods for accomplishing the same thing equally well and both equally adept at discovering the truth about the natural world.

    • Peter
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Amen.
      You could not have said it more succinctly.

  15. Roger
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I’ve always suspected Templeton of being stealth creationists of the bottom of the barrel variety. Why else would they be so worried about their baloney?

    • Sastra
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      I think the Templeton Foundation is, at this point, aiming at any conclusion which goes against Naturalism.

      From what I can tell they seemed to have started out inside the popular position of “we’re in the middle between the extremes of atheism and unscientific religions,” but a faith-based orientation isn’t going to be able to draw a hard line against that second one. They had to point to gaps which “materialism can’t explain.” Then they either had to fill in those gaps with some explicit bit of woo (because they’re pretending to be “scientific” AND “spiritual”) — or they had to tear down the entire distinction between science and religion. And now anything goes.

      So maybe not so much a hidden agenda as an inevitable slide to the bottom.

  16. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    The whole premise is based on “people revere science”. Perhaps if the argument was based on “science works”. The argument would still be wrong but at least it would start off a bit more honest because really, who cares what people think if it’s false.

  17. Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Palermos doesn’t deserve the monicker of “philosopher”—not if that monicker requires one to be rational.

    The problem with academic philosophy is that it has no method of quality control, no method of telling whether the ideas being discussed are right or wrong. All that matters is whether other philosophers take note of them or not. And that makes it vulnerable to becoming post-modernism and similar nonsense.

    • Peter
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      University of Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn, echoing Bertrand Russell, has a different view on this:

      “Relativism thrives when people do not have to shoulder the burden of actually coming to a conclusion. When it is vital to do so, relativism disappears. Before effecting a turn on my bicycle I need to know whether there is traffic bearing down. If I can see and hear that there is, the thought that for someone else there might be none gains no purchase on me: it means that they are probably deaf or blind. I may be cautious about coming to a judgment, but caution and willingness to listen to countervailing evidence or countervailing voices is not the same thing as relativism. After the bus thunders past, vindicating my judgment that there was traffic coming, I am not likely to entertain the thought that it would have been true for someone else that there was none.”

    • Posted March 26, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      That’s why science oriented philosophers (like I was/am) voluntarily accept the constraint of being broadly consistent with scientific research. (And not some cartoon of it, like this guy produced.)

    • Olav
      Posted April 4, 2018 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      There are many ways of checking the quality of an idea in philosophy, including: (1)is the idea logically coherent? (2) Is it consistent with known facts? (3) Are there sound or at least strong arguments for the idea? (4) Are there competing ideas and do they have better support?

      The lecture in the linked-to video fails multiple quality checks.

      • Posted April 4, 2018 at 5:01 am | Permalink

        While this particular video fails all possible tests, I can’t help but chuckle thinking about academic philosophers asking “Is it consistent with known facts?”

        Representatives of most schools of thought would immediately start to ponder: What’s “a fact”? What does “known” mean?

        • Olav
          Posted April 4, 2018 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          Sure, in philosophy everything is ultimately up for questioning, including what a fact is and what it means for something to be known. But not everything can be questioned at the same time — even in philosophy — and most of the time philosophers do not bother to question what a fact is or what it means for something to be known. There’s always a broad range of background assumptions taken for granted in any philosophical inquiry, and in philosophy of biology those background assumptions will include known facts about biology and evolution.

  18. John S
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Do these (justly) critical comments, in general, ever make it back to the originators of the claptrap? Do they ever respond? Is there a WEIT reader in Edinburgh who is, even as we type and express our frustrations, making sure that the good Dr. Palermos at least is sent JC’s criticism? (Whether he chooses to read it, and respond, is another matter.)

    • Curt Nelson
      Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      I suppose criticism is just too painful for most people so they don’t actually seek it out or even read what’s put under their noses. Growth through honest self examination — does anyone do that? (I know I do.)

  19. Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    This abomination shows the dark side of the democratization of communication that is the internet. Just as blogs let anyone say anything, MOOCs (Massively Open Online Course) allow anyone to teach anything. The advent of MOOCs put universities between a rock and a hard place. Why shouldn’t anyone be allowed to teach whatever they want? Free speech, right? Unfortunately, consumers have a hard time telling good stuff from bad. In exchange for democracy of communication we have lost the filtering effect of educational institutions and control of the printing press. As with “fake news”, we are in an era where this is all being sorted out. I hope it comes out ok.

  20. Posted March 25, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    This piece is about bad philosophy, as well as bad science.

  21. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    A simple test is available to discover Mr. Palermos’ REAL (as opposed to professed and Templeton paid) view of science. When he has a toothache, does he consult a dentist or a priest, as a matter of “aesthetic choice”?
    We all know the answer, and also know that, if the inconsistency is pointed out, he will explain that logical consistency itself is a matter of faith, or aesthetics. Mr. Palermos illustrates my proposal to combine Theology and all academic post-modernist programs into a single program. Perhaps a forward-looking
    Foundation, like Templeton, could fund this.

    Incidentally, maybe Mr. Palermos’ M.Sc. degree in Chemical Engineering does not mean much. In some departments, Masters degrees sometimes constitute a booby prize for grad students who could not make the grade for serious advanced, Ph.D.-level work. Or else, Mr. Palermos’ M.Sc. degree could be one of those on-line concoctions.

    • Posted March 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Incidentally – your test has already been done, to Paul Feyerabend, one of the “names invoked”.

      Feyerabend was indeed an extreme relativist at least in what he said and wrote – until the end of his life when he adopted, surprise surprise, the scientifically supported treatments.

      (Bunge calls this “justified gossip” or something.)

  22. Jamie
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I remember when Coursera first become available. I took quite a few of their courses, and some of them were excellent. But several of their economics courses fell afoul of similar problems. Individual professors can bend any course to an ideological purpose. I recall one in particular where the professor, under the guise of teaching a course about sustainability, attempted to lead the class to the conclusion that sustainability is not a real issue and economics actually teaches us, “don’t worry, be happy”, when it is understood “properly”.

  23. Jenny Haniver
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    “Isn’t it better to be intellectually honest about why virtually all scientists rejection creationism and accept evolution—a stand based on evidence—than to push postmodernism on a credulous group of students by equating religious faith with scientific confidence?
    Shame on the John Templeton Foundation, and shame on the University of Edinburgh, for presenting these lies and distortions in a lecture on evolutionary biology! And Templeton, if you’re listening, how dare you fund a program that fundamentally misrepresents the nature of science? If you claim you’re promoting science in your program funding, you’re also undercutting the claim with junk lectures like this. ”

    This made me laugh sardonically. An important part of the Templeton Foundation’s grant-giving has to do with ethics: specifically, “The Character Virtue Development funding area,” which “seeks to advance the science and practice of character, with a focus on moral, performance, civic, and intellectual virtues such as humility, gratitude, curiosity, diligence, and honesty. ”

    The content of the BS “science” aside, obviously, they don’t practice what they preach. This seems to be a category of inquiry that actually furthers virtue signaling and humblebragging for whitened sepulchres. How typical of so many religion-based ethics. Not all, but too many.

  24. Kev
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I have been clashing recently with both Creationists and Objectivists. Apart from the difficulty of engaging logically with either, I have to note similarities. Both are highly legible for grants from the religious right or those promoting conservative thinking. The Ayn Rand Institute s bankrolled by such as the Koch brothers and their financial conduits. I do not know exactly who finances the Discovery Institute. I presume that their publications reach a substantial market.

    Randian Objectivism is pretty much a text book case for kludgy philosophy related to a cultish secular dogma that is almost impossible to debate with rationally without mud slinging.

    I notice that some attempt is being made to spread both types of thinking here in the UK.
    Yaron Brooks has been making ideological attacks on the NHS: He actually stated that “It’s killing you” and then spouted his Objectivist dogma in an attempt to justify that the US has a higher mortality rate and poorer universal cover than most European countries.

    What we are seeing in Edinburgh, may be an attempt to produce a “British” (albeit Greek) Stephen Meyer.

    My point being that well-funded individuals are preaching to the choir, usually with a political agenda. A philosophy lecturer, if dishonest about evolution or the free market, will keep getting grants. If he acts with integrity, he will lose his financial support.

    Creationists claim that the universities are part of an atheist agenda against religion. ID advocates play the martyr claiming that they can’t get peer review because the secular establishment is conniving against them.
    That’s fine for their audience.

    Neither Creationists nor Objectivists are interested in objective, scientific truth.
    Neither are really interested in academia.
    Their motives are mainly socio-political.
    They are both playing a power game.

  25. Posted March 25, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    So, a ‘philosopher’ who can’t or won’t do science – in which case he has no way of knowing whether his philosophy has any connection with reality. What’s new?

    Doesn’t William Lane Craig also describe himself as a philosopher?

    • Posted March 25, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      And also get funding from Templeton

    • Posted March 25, 2018 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Yep, relativity denier William lane Craig calls himself a philosopher. It pains me to know that someone who ignores scientific conclusions can wave their (non-science) PhD around as if that legitimizes their scientific ignorance.

  26. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    An American geologist working in Edinburgh Uni, Steve Brusatte is kicking up a stink about this. I’m wading through that lecture at the moment (for some reason it won’t open on my laptop, only on my phone. Weird)and it does stink to high altitude.

  27. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Kuhn did not like what postmodernists did with his writing. He insisted he was a soft Kuhnian, not a hard one.

    It is errant foolishness to claim that scientific theories are chosen on their aesthetic value, although a lot of scientific theories are quite beautiful.

    Legitimate “faith” kicks in when you have some partial indications that something is likely to be true, combined with an intuition that it seems to be. But such faith is always subject to revision and further questioning, while very many scientific propositions are pretty much proven beyond reasonable doubt, and as such are something that merits strong confidence (which is different from faith) based on evidence.

    I used to kind of like the Templeton Foundation. I have been friendly with one TF award winner, Charles Townes, and have admired some of its other award winners (though not Mother Teresa).
    My first big disappointment was learning they had given some minor prize to Mel Gibson’s troubling Jesus movie, but this is just as bad!
    This stuff isn’t just pseudo-science. It’s pseudo-philosophy. I suspect many religious philosophers could see through its sophistry.

  28. Posted March 25, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    No predictions? What about Darwin’s long-tongued moth? Eusocial mole-rats? And if you want a really big one—the theory of evolution predicted that the age of the earth had to be far greater than the best physics in Darwin’s day said it could be, and evolution was right. You could say evolution predicted that nuclear fusion would be discovered.

    What a turnip this guy is.

    • Posted March 25, 2018 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      One of the rare moments when biology trumps physics.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted March 26, 2018 at 3:19 am | Permalink

        Yeah, well. I have a physics background and work among biologists, and they have a hard time believing me when I say that the attractive thing about biology is that it is so eminently testable – millions of good tests – and robust. There is “always” a phylogenetic nested hierarchy among genes (modulo the rare ab initio piecing together of old parts) et cetera, despite that the signal to noise ratio is always a major PITA (so excruciating to work with).

        • Posted March 26, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

          If I may ask, what exactly do you work in?

  29. colnago80
    Posted March 25, 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    These philosophers provide evidence for
    Feynman’s claim that philosophy is as useful to physicists as ornithology is to birds.

  30. Posted March 25, 2018 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m not familiar with Lakatos’s views, but Feyerabend pretty much equated science and religion, and based his view on Kuhn’s paradigms. Kuhn argued, iirc, that science doesn’t truly progress, but merely shifts from one paradigm to another. I disagree, but Feyerabend used that to claim anything goes in the scientific search for knowledge. Did I mention he’s a postmodernist?

    I noticed that the course stuck its grubby little hands into physics as well. I’ll try not to facepalm to death.

    • Posted March 25, 2018 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      Some of the errors on the physics video, according to the transcript:

      “The physical laws of the universe clearly permit faith, just as they permit dogmatism, atheism and other kinds of belief.”
      Well we’re off to a good start. The definition used by atheists for atheism is the lack of belief in any god.

      “After all, dreaming, hoping, imagining, and many other aspects of our cognitive and emotional lives fall outside the methods of science.”
      Has the script writer never heard of REM sleep, serotonin, etc.? Or for that matter, neuroscience? He then asks why we don’t question the compatibility of physics and cognitive activity, but that relies on the premise just shown to be false.

      Thankfully that was short and he didn’t start giving errors as egregious as “evolution is pseudoscience”. However, I think we may have a case for strawmanning and… Is academic fraud too strong a term to throw around?

  31. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 26, 2018 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Palermo:
    “Parenthetically, this is what is known within philosophy as an ad hoc hypothesis. To introduce an explanation in a hypothesis, only in order to explain something that is already known. And not to provide an explanation or a prediction for something new. And most philosophers of sciences agree that introducing such ad hoc hypotheses within science should always be avoided because it turns a scientific theory into pseudoscience.”

    “are guilty of introducing side ad hoc hypothesis [sic]”.

    Which is it Palermo, is ad hoc explaining what is known or a side hypothesis?

    A “side” hypothesis is the conventional definition of an ad hoc hypothesis – possibly predicting what is known, but not necessarily – which has no contact with earlier theory – possibly predicting something still unexplained in an area with preexisting theory, but not necessarily. Ad hoc hypotheses are weak but can be useful, say a beginning of new theory, or harmful, say a way to produce pseudoscience.

    Confirmation hypotheses are weak but can be useful, say testing a theory on *all* its predictions (aka consistency with observation).

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted March 26, 2018 at 4:27 am | Permalink

      I just sent a complaint to UoE through Coursera, since one of their outreach email dropped in while I was finalizing my comment!

  32. Anselm
    Posted March 26, 2018 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Just trying a hypothesis to rescue the University of Edinburgh from this morass. Did they show this eight-minute video at the beginning of a lecture and then spend the other 52 minutes exercising their critical thinking and empirical knowledge tearing its misrepresentations and falsehoods to pieces? That would be a good outcome for this appalling BS. Otherwise… what a shameful state of tertiary education at such a venerable institution!

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 26, 2018 at 4:20 am | Permalink

      “No” to your hypothesis. “Yes” to it’s “appalling BS”. We know this by reading the wording of the particular Templeton grant award at the Templeton site.

  33. Posted March 26, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Lakatos’ position on science is complex, but wouldn’t support this. Kuhn’s original writings that made him famous are logically false (self-contradictory) and thus entail everything (assuming classical logic). He was right to back away! Feyerabend, as noted above, was a subjectivist and would likely have endorsed the views of creationists just to put a thumb in the eye of his enemies like Bunge and Popper.

    All of aforementioned people are dead, except for Bunge, who is 99 this year if he makes it. I mention this, because it looks to me like this guy is not up to date on his philosophers. Alex Rosenberg, Paul Griffiths, Philip Kitcher, and even the sometimes-sketchy Michael Ruse (to pick just 4 cases) would be useful to engage with re: biology.

  34. Dave137
    Posted March 26, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Any idea why Sean Carroll (sadly) advises Nautilus Magazine, which is nothing more than a front for Templeton (the magazine’s biggest funder)?

    http://nautil.us/about

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 26, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      READ THIS WEIT POST from May 2013 on Sean’s Nautilus involvement, Templeton, Sean Carroll and the ethics of mixing science and faith

      • Dave137
        Posted March 26, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        Thanks.

  35. Paul Dymnicki
    Posted March 26, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    There is no need for a long refutation.
    The problem with philosophers like S.Orestis Palermoss is that they cannot comprehend the scientific argument.
    They need certainty and without it they cannot offer an explanation so they assume nobody else can either.

  36. Posted March 27, 2018 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    As a layman the video strikes me as laughably bad. Almost a parody or a troll.

    One thing that struck me was the 4 people listed here:

    “For the second half of the 20th century, the best philosophers of science, philosophers like Sir Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, attempted to explain what science consists in and how it differs from myths and religion.”

    which reminded me of “Popper and after: Four Modern Irrationalists” by the philosopher David Stove. The four irrationalist Stove singled out were Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend. He argues the four of them in their own way all undermine the idea of science as cumulative. Perhaps an inspiration for this guy in the video? 😉

    • Posted March 27, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      No way does anything by Popper undermine the idea of science as cumulative.

      This is exactly why the other three found him so irritatingly rational.

      • Posted March 29, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        “No way does anything by Popper undermine the idea of science as cumulative.”

        Well, the work I cite is an argument for that proposition. Stove does acknowledge antagonism between Popper and the other three people exists, but essentially says Popper initial thesis is the basis of all their work.

        It would be good if you could quote Popper explicitly making the point of “science as cumulative” but in the meantime here is an example of Stove on Popper:

        “First, then: if there has been a great increase in knowledge in recent centuries, then a fortiriori there sometimes are such things as positive good reasons to believe a scientific theory; but Popper says expressly, repeatedly, and emphatically, that there are not and cannot be such things. This thesis is so startlingly irrationalist that other philosophers, as Popper himself tells us, sometimes “cannot quite bring [themselves] to believe that this is my opinion”. But it is: “There are no such things as good positive reasons” [1] to believe any scientific theory. “Positive reasons are neither necessary not possible” [2].”

        • Posted March 29, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          I can’t recall Popper using the actual word “cumulative”. Why would this mean he doesn’t think we now no more than we used to?

          There’s probably some confusion about the term “positive”. Popper believed science advances by falsifying null hypotheses. Nothing can be verified positively.

          If by “cumulative” we mean a process where a better theory can explain everything the earlier one explained, then science isn’t cumulative. Some stuff that really doesn’t need explaining (or, in fact, exist) will always fall by the side. Flogiston, ether, immortal soul.

          There’s a long jump from this view to the Feyerabend dadaism of “anything goes”. It’s an entertaining jump, but not one to be taken too seriously.

          Popper did, by the way, struggle with the falsifiability of natural selection, but in the end he convinced himself that, in principle, you could try to find something in life not created by chance and necessity. It’s just that nothing has been found.

          • Posted March 29, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

            As you probably guessed, the first paragraph was ambushed by the automatic spell-checker. It should read:

            I can’t recall Popper using the actual word “cumulative”. Why would this mean he doesn’t think we now know more than we used to?

          • Posted March 30, 2018 at 3:23 am | Permalink

            “There’s probably some confusion about the term “positive”. Popper believed science advances by falsifying null hypotheses. Nothing can be verified positively.”

            No confusion about that specific thesis of Popper’s on my part. However while I won’t pretend to be able to explain or defend fully Stove’s thesis about Popper, it does seem that if anyone could to point any statement of Popper’s admitting we are at a point today that rests on 500 years of scientific advancement that would be a pretty good rebuttal.

            • Posted March 30, 2018 at 4:51 am | Permalink

              Quoting Karl Popper:

              “ I do believe in ‘absolute’ or ‘objective’ truth, in Tarski’s sense…
              …I do admit that at any moment we are prisoners caught in the framework of our theories; our expectations; our past experiences; our language. But we are prisoners in a Pickwickian sense: if we try, we can break out of our framework at any time. Admittedly, we shall find ourselves again in a framework, but it will be a better and roomier one…
              …The Myth of the Framework is, in our time, the central bulwark of irrationalism. My counter-thesis is that it simply exaggerates a difficulty into an impossibility. The difficulty of discussion between people brought up in different frameworks is to be admitted. But nothing is more fruitful than such a discussion; than the culture clash which has stimulated some of the greatest intellectual revolutions…
              …It would thus be simply false to say that the transition from Newton’s theory of gravity to Einstein’s is an irrational leap, and that the two are not rationally comparable…
              …Thus in science, as distinct from theology, a critical comparison of the competing theories, of the competing frameworks, is always possible. And the denial of this possibility is a mistake. In science (and only in science) can we say that we have made genuine progress; that we know more than we dis before.”

              From “Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge”, ed. by Imre Lakatos & Alan Musgrave. Cambridge University Press, 1970.

              http://earthweb.ess.washington.edu/roe/Knowability_590/Week1/Normal%20Science%20and%20its%20Dangers.pdf

              • Posted March 30, 2018 at 4:54 am | Permalink

                “that we know more than we d i d before”, of course.

              • Posted March 30, 2018 at 6:31 am | Permalink

                Thanks, “In science (and only in science) can we say that we have made genuine progress; that we know more than we did before.” does seem to fit the bill as a statement endorsing the idea of an accumulation of knowledge.

                I’m not going to adjudicate whether Stove would have it though 😉 FWIW I found an online copy of the Stove book here and that quote isn’t dealt with as far as I can see.

                http://ontology.buffalo.edu/stove/500-600.htm

  37. Posted March 29, 2018 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Jerry: Late, but:

    One, that marsupial fossils would be found in Antarctica, since the group crossed that continent when it still linked South America to Antarctica, was verified within the last two decades.

    The second “Antarctica” should be “Australia”.

    /@


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