The Irony of Ray Comfort.

| July 11, 2013

Ray Comfort BananaRay Comfort is still busy producing his science-denying videos even after his monumental embarrassment on the evolution of  bananas.  This time he mounts a more comprehensive attack on science that he does not understand.

One irony that people are pointing out is that Comfort has chosen a medium of communications for his work that is made possible by the success of scientific theories that are all affirmed in the same way as the Theory of Evolution.    I am referring to the theories that make the development of microphones, recorded and digitized audio, and video possible.

I think the comparison makes sense if you realize that the major well established scientific theories are all offered and affirmed in the same way.  In other words, the theory of evolution is offered and affirmed in the same way as those theories that are essential in the development of electronics or acoustics.

maxwells equations mugFor example, Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetic fields and waves, developed some 150 years ago, still predicts everything we know about the classical properties of electric and magnetic fields and waves. In fact there are no electronic components in a video recorder that cannot be modeled by Maxwell’s theory and its logical consequences. Even Ohm’s Law can be derived from Maxwell’s theory.

So one can say that Maxwell’s theory, based on four equations, brings together everything we know about electronics. To paraphrase from evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing makes sense in electronics except in the light of Maxwell’s theory of E&M”.

Another similarity is that both the theory of evolution and Maxwell’s theory deal with phenomena that are not directly observable for one reason or another. Electric and magnetic fields and waves are not directly observable and neither is the incremental accumulation of major biological change over deep time.   Yet the way we affirm both of these theories is precisely the same, because they are both well formulated theories that produce a large number of predictions about what we should observe in nature as a consequence of their premises.

It is interesting that both theories can be boiled down to three or four premises from which all consequent predictions can be derived by logical necessity. I think a good measure of the veracity of a theory can be had in the ratio of the range and accuracy for prediction from the theory as compared to the number of premises. 

The more falsifiable predictions from the fewest premises could be a good definition of what we call parsimony, or sometimes called Occam’s Razor.

So if you reject the theory of evolution on grounds of methodology, you must also reject Maxwell’s theory, newton’s theory, relativity, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and so on.  The  irony is in Comfort’s carrying out that denial while using the fruits of all those theories as a medium for communicating his denial.

Why the comparison of Theory of Evolution with these other theories is not obvious to non-scientists is because non-scientists have a limited understanding of how scientific theories are affirmed.  This is evident in the constant demand from evolution deniers for “direct evidence” of macro-evolution, or evidence for “new information” in DNA as a result of evolution and so on.   This is a naive request in that it assumes that science has to use direct evidence for each premise in a hypothesis. It is a natural assumption for a layman, but that is why science is a profession.  That is why science goes beyond the obvious.

We affirm macro-evolution in exactly the same way that we affirm that newton’s laws govern the motion of the planets. If you think that we can make direct observations of newton’s laws acting on the motion of planets, then think again.  Consider just one aspect, which is how to affirm that newton’s law of motion, F = MA, applies to planetary motion. And consider that without ability to fly to Jupiter, apply forces to it, and observe its acceleration, we affirmed this law for planets some 350 years ago to as many decimal places of accuracy as our instruments could measure.

Darwins TreeScience has been proceeding ever since with all kinds of aspects of nature that are not directly observable or not available for direct experimentation.  Those techniques were well known by Darwin as he was somewhat of a student of the philosophy of science. So his OtOS book is laid out accordingly as he knew his theory was a huge game changer and would be very hard to swallow in 1860. Also because all the previous theories about the diversity of life were full of unfalsifiable notions of teleology and natural theology.

As a result, Darwin’s book could be used in a college course on the scientific method as applied to the “not directly observable”.

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Category: Defending Evolution, Science and Evidence

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