BASEBALL/Bill James on Ignorance and Expertise

I will probably come back to this one again, but I was reading this excellent 2010 speech by Bill James in his latest essay collection, “Solid Fool’s Gold: Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom”, and the whole thing is available at his website if you’re a subscriber. It’s an excellent summary of what James does and does not do for a living, but I found it also very pointed about his approaches to conventional wisdom and what they say about aspects of our current public policy debates that turn on appeals to authority and the confident assertions of experts that they understand everything, or that presuppose central planning through the mechanism of complex rules devised by experts or solutions that purport to simultaneously understand the conditions of every local economy at once, in opposition to the worldview that presupposes that wisdom comes from the collective trial and error of the largest possible number of people over time:

I have always thought that it was best not to define oneself, but to let the world say about you whatever it is that the world chooses to say. This is my first reference point for the Power of Ignorance. By not claiming to know exactly what it is that I am doing, I remain able to attempt whatever it is that I feel like attempting. It’s a great advantage.
I should say, unless there be misunderstanding about this, that I am in no way in favor of ignorance or against the advance of knowledge. I have worked my entire life for the advancement of knowledge, trying to increase respect for reason and respect for research in the world of sports. I am embracing ignorance here in this sense and for this reason: that we are all, in my view, condemned to float endlessly in a vast sea of un-answered questions and unknown reference points – a Sea of Ignorance, if you will. The example that I like to use is a chess board. How many moves ahead can you see on a chess board? I can see about one move ahead of myself in a chess game. If you can see 3 or 4 moves ahead on a chess board, you can beat 99% of chess players, and if you could see 7 or 8 moves ahead in a chess game, you would be a world-class chess champion.
Well, suppose that a chess board was not eight squares wide and eight squares long, but a hundred squares wide and a hundred squares long, with a thousand moving pieces, rather than 32. How far ahead could you see on a chess board then? The world is like a chess board that is a million squares wide and a million squares long with hundreds of thousands of moving pieces and hundreds of thousands of different players moving them. In my view, anyone who imagines that he can anticipate what will happen next, in any area of life, is delusional, and people who think that experts should be able to do this are children and fools.
If the world was 10% more complicated than the human mind, or even if it was 40% more complicated or ten times as complicated, then the difference between an intelligent person’s ability to understand the world and a less intelligent person’s ability to understand the world would be very meaningful. But since the world is billions and billions of times more complicated than the human mind, individual intelligence is almost entirely irrelevant to the understanding of the world. What is critical to understanding is humility and co-operation. What is critical to gaining more understanding of the world is to learn to accept and appreciate the vastness of our ignorance, and to understand that one can only survive in a sea of ignorance by working with others to make our small lifeboat a little bit stronger. Only by embracing the fact of our limitless ignorance can one position oneself to increase the store of knowledge.

+ + +

I want to point out to you in passing that “getting the answers right” had almost nothing to do with the success of my career. My reputation is based entirely on finding the right questions to ask – that is, in finding questions that have objective answers, but to which no one happens to know what the objective answer is. That’s what I did 35 years ago; that’s what I do now. When I do that, it makes almost no difference whether I get the answer right, or whether I get it a little bit wrong. Of course I do my very best to get the answers right, out of pride and caution, but it doesn’t actually matter.
Because if I don’t get the answer right, somebody else will. It is called “science.”
Again, I am not qualified to lecture you or to lecture anyone about the scientific method. In fact, my understanding of the scientific method is very rudimentary, very primitive. Nonetheless, the scientific method has been the greatest ally of my career. Basically, what I know about the scientific method would fit onto a bumper sticker, and, that being the case, I might as well read you the bumper sticker. We design tests to see whether an assertion is compatible or incompatible with the evidence. When you do that, someone else will always figure out some way to do another test, and a better test. When that happens, it is my responsibility to acknowledge that the other person’s research is better than mine or is an advancement from mine. What is necessary to the advancement of knowledge, then, is humility – the capacity to recognize that other people have accomplished something that I have not been able to accomplish. That, then, is the bumper sticker: what is necessary to the advancement of knowledge is humility.
When you go to an expert and you say that, “I don’t think that what you are saying is true,” that will be perceived as arrogance. Who are you to challenge the experts? But it is not arrogance, at all; it is grounded in the understanding that we are all floating in a vast sea of ignorance, and that much of what weall believe to be true will later be shown to be nonsense. To recognize this is not arrogance; it is humility.
When I was in Elementary School in the early 1960s, our principal was fond of telling us that, when he was a young man just after World War One, he took a college chemistry class, in which the professor told the students that they were studying science at the ideal time, because all of the important discoveries had been made now. Everything that there was to be known about chemistry or biology or physics, he suggested, was pretty much known now.

Science and knowledge were not settled then. Nor are they now. Indeed, nothing is ever settled – we start, because we cannot test every premise of our lives, with the traditions and conventional wisdom we inherit, because those are generally the result of copious trial and error in the past. Even for every baseball shibboleth James has tested and found wanting over time, many more that we don’t even think of have endured because people played the game and found what worked. But we never stop testing new things, and gradually replacing the old ones by the same system of trial and error. That’s how science works, just as it’s how democracy or law or social tradition or free markets work.
There’s much more – as I said, I left out huge chunks of the speech – so read the whole thing.

62 thoughts on “BASEBALL/Bill James on Ignorance and Expertise”

  1. “But we never stop testing new things, and gradually replacing the old ones by the same system of trial and error.”
    So just how does this kind of posting square with your right wing beliefs that demand falsehoods like “creation ‘non’ science” be taught, along with a considered dis-belief in climate change (hint: it doesn’t matter if we are at fault or not, only that we do something about it)?

  2. 1. Daryl, you are nothing if not consistent in regarding the teaching of evolution as the most important public policy issue of the day.
    2. When have I ever said creation science should be taught? At most, my argument is that expanded school choice helps defuse those kinds of issues because if people want their kids taught a certain way, they can leave the public school monopoly. That’s as true for people who love or hate the local teaching of creation science as it is for people who want schools handing out condoms or teaching abstinence. Government monopolies breed more social-issue division.
    But I do not endorse creation science. My only real grievance with evolutionary biology (other than the general caution that it’s no more finally settled than any other area of scientific inquiry) is when it is misused as source of religious argument.
    3. You have blind faith in “climate change.” I do not.

  3. The term “Climate change’ is itself evidence of the Left’s scientific ignorance (and political dogma). First came the “scientifically-supported” “global cooling” scare of the 70’s and 80’s and the Left’s calls for increased regulation and higher taxes to counter it. Failing to see a global reduction in termperature was then followed by the “scientifically supported” “global warming” scare in the 90’s and 00’s and the Left’s calls for increased regulation and higher taxes to counter it. Faiing to see a global rise in temperatures has now forced the Left to adopt the fear of ‘climate change’ as an amorphous cudgel to bash anyone who is against their call for increased regulations and higher taxes (for being anti-“science”).
    However, I will not argue against ‘climate change’ – I instead demand that the Left show me the historical ‘climate stasis’ which has been so recently subverted. Then they will be able to address history – eg, the Ice Ages, the Viking farming colonies in Labrador and the North African bread basket that served the Roman empire and how they were lost to . . . the internal combustion engine (you know, centuries before its invention).

  4. Gravity is also a theory by scientific wrangling. Evolution is both fact and theory but it is much closer to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity than it is to, say, the laughable term “creation science.”

  5. So, for all practical purposes, evolution is a fact. You can deny it all you want much the way one could deny gravity is a fact. Natural selection is the theory that explains the fact of evolution.
    Creation science or intellectual design or whatever the nomenclature is these days for the story-telling version of science is bunk. Explain it in religion classes but not as part of any sort of science program.

  6. Adventures in missing the point…
    Bill James: “When you go to an expert and you say that, ‘I don’t think that what you are saying is true,’ that will be perceived as arrogance. Who are you to challenge the experts? But it is not arrogance, at all; it is grounded in the understanding that we are all floating in a vast sea of ignorance, and that much of what weall believe to be true will later be shown to be nonsense. To recognize this is not arrogance; it is humility.”
    Daryl and jim: “Screw that! We KNOW! Bite us, dissenters!”

  7. John R.,
    He’s neither talking about Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity nor evolution. He’s not saying to challenge if the sky is blue or the sun sets in the west. Ultimately, in the whole context of what James is talking about, it is you who are missing the point.

  8. So how did the law/rule of natural selection/evolution come about? Once someone adequately explains that to me, then they will get my full attention.
    If they say “Well it is just a law of nature like the speed of light to which I say again “So how did the law/rule speed of light come about?”
    You see it is one thing to “discover” the laws/rules that “explain” how things work, it is quite another to explain how such laws come about.
    Over the course of history we have had many rules discovered. Many have turned out to be wrong and “improved” rules were “discovered”
    IMHO both the creationist and evolutionist can both be right. One explains how the rules came about while the other explains the rules. No conflict to me.
    It is like Steven Hawkins saying there is no God. He is smart guy, but he has no more insight if there is a God than I do.
    A joke about George Carlin goes that when he died and met God, God said “George, now for a real funny joke. I hear all those things you said about me and I did not laugh!”

  9. The committed ignorance of the right knows no bounds.
    Lee, simply because we are unable to answer every question does not mean that a fairy tale grounded in nothing more than “faith” should be taken seriously in the public realm.
    Your contention that “expanded school choice helps defuse those kinds of issues [evolution versus creationism] because if people want their kids taught a certain way, they can leave the public school monopoly” provides no basis for public schools teaching fairy tales. Should they also teach thta Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real? How about the Tooth Fairy? After all, it is just providing more choice.

  10. loved this post. Found the speech on video at KU site. He’s not a polished speaker, but he said a lot of great, great stuff. The baseball stuff was pretty good, too.

  11. lee,
    I am not sure what you mean when you say, “how did the law of speed of light came about?” The speed of light is a constant since the beginning of time. Through careful observation and measurement over time humans were able to deduce how quickly light moves. That is pretty much how we discover anything. Observation, deduction and application. The fact of evolution was deduced and concluded in the same manner if by different sciences. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of books that address the topic of and the history of evolution. If this is what your question is about there are an incredible number of resources that address it directly. I am guessing you are not a big proponent of evolution.

  12. Jim,
    As I said in my post “IMHO both the creationist and evolutionist can both be right. One explains how the rules came about while the other explains the rules. No conflict to me.” I agree that evolution appears to be a great “law” on how species evolve. We might find a better law in the future, but right now it seems to fit the facts.
    My follow on questions would “By what means was the speed of light set at it’s value?” Bascially we “discovered” the speed but what caused that to be the speed? Why not some other speed? Why should it be constant at all?
    IMHO, Science has avoided the big questions. These are “Why are we here?” and “What caused us to exist?” and “What happens after death?” Until science can grapple with (and answer) questions such as these, it is just playing on the fringes of answering the real questions of life. The answer is probably not 42.
    I have a techincal and scientific background so to me I am making comments on my own profession.

  13. I don’t think science should be in the business of solving the why are we here questions. In my mind they have answered the what caused us to exist and what happens after death questions.
    Whatever, the speed of light is what it is (however, of course, it is relative so if you are moving at the speed of light then light appears to be standing still). I’m going to go with the “God didn’t do it” answer. It had to be something obviously so I for one am not too concerned with why it had to be 186km/sec. Likewise I don’t think some fantastical being created life, the universe and everything for reasons known only to its self. As far as evidence goes in the science versus faith department, well, let’s say I don’t think the score is very close.
    Bringing theological questions into the discussion does not in any way lessen the factual nature of the speed of light or evolution for that matter it only adds whatver particular religious element one subscribes to into the equation which only changes the point of view but not the actual issue at hand.

  14. Jim,
    So some questions then can be addressed by science and some cannot. I can agree to that.
    I would then state that science should stick to the questions it can answer and refrain from being “experts” on those it cannot or will not answer. It has not yet attempted to answer what you are labeling as “theological” questions.
    I say it is because Science’s tools are limited and it sets it’s sights too low. There are those in Science who are arrogant that “all has been explained” and “we found the God particle”, etc. To them I say “Nice work on the little sutff, now step up and start addressing the really big and important questions”.
    Go back and read Crank’s post and Bill James’ words. It has relevance to our discussion here. A prime quote was “That, then, is the bumper sticker: what is necessary to the advancement of knowledge is humility.”

  15. If anyone actually read Darwin (and it’s a tough read), and perhaps all the stuff after that, from Diamond to Dawkins to the rest, you will find the idea of Creationism dead and buried. Is it really in society’s interest for children to be educated in known falsehoods? YOu think it’t an alternative view? So is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but at lease they have beer in heaven. There are flat earthers to this day. Should we allow kids to be taught that? There are zillions of people who think people of different races learn at different rates, and they shouldn’t be allowed to marry, have children, or be in schools together. Tolerance of people should be taught (and frankly, I do consider many of you right wingers here quite tolerant, no hint of that, so please don’t misconstrue. It’s not an accusation to you). Tolerance of stupidity should not be.
    The nuclear winter idea of the 70s was what would be considered a major side effect in the case of massive nuclear strikes. Climate change is real. What doesn’t matter is if we are to blame or not. Doesn’t matter. What does, is recognizing it and actually dealing with the issues at hand.
    Oh, and just in case any of you were wondering, the speed of light is c (for Celeritas BTW) because photons are massless. Any particle that has no mass (that is no inertia, the relativistic definition) will move at c. Close to 300 Km per second. Why? Because if it didn’t, there would be a massive cause and effect that would change the laws of physics and our universe would be different. No if we have to get into waveforms, it gets too damn confusing.
    Now, what if, when we die, we find God, and God’s name is Moloch, who will then ask why we didn’t sacrifice enough babies?

  16. lee,
    I think you and I have fundamental disagreements. If anything is humble it is science. When does the church or pretty much any other religion admit when it has it wrong?
    Science is in the fact business. Simply entertaining theological questions in no way lessons the factual nature of the universe and the things within it.
    You said, “So how did the law/rule of natural selection/evolution come about? Once someone adequately explains that to me, then they will get my full attention.” It has been more than adequately explained. Simply because one can add theological issue to these items does not lessen their factual nature. Pondering the theological underpinnings of why 2+2=4 does not take away from the fact that a pair of deuces does, in every case, make 4.
    I am not certain who in science in this day and age is saying that everything has been discovered. That sounds like a story from 60-70 years ago. Please name a current relevant physicsist, biologist or engineer than has publically stated that everything that can be discovered or known already is.
    Science is not there to find out how many angels can stand on the head of a pin or to figure out if a fantastical omni-present and invisible entity decided to create the space we inhabit. It is there to examine the raw data at hand. You want science to intertwine facts with spiritual speculation it seems and that it cannot resolve factual issues with an unending stream of religious questions appears to make all facts in question for you. That’s your perogative. I think it’s bunk, but that’s me.
    I’m hopeful you don’t actually think the Carlin joke is funny because it’s really pretty lame. However here’s one in the same vein. Since God (or whatever) is all-powerful can he create something that is so heavy that he can’t lift it?

  17. If anyone actually read Darwin (and it’s a tough read), and perhaps all the stuff after that, from Diamond to Dawkins to the rest, you will find the idea of Creationism dead and buried.
    Do you mean to claim that Darwin et al have proven the absence of divine role in Creation, or simply that they have shown that you cannot establish by scientific methods the simultaneous creation of all species? (Dawkins is mainly concerned with the former, which involves him in turning science into a religion by making claims that are not subject to scientific testing).

  18. Crank, you are seriously asking if the scientific community is admitting that they cannot prove that god (or godlike powers) do not exist? It seems that is the case (perhaps ironically intended). If so, first, you cannot prove a negative and, second, the burden of proof lies upon those who believe in creationism to show any shred of evidence that it happened beyond stating that science has not solved the answer to every question.

  19. Daryl’s citing Dawkins, which suggests he thinks the scientific community can prove God does not exist, which is another matter entirely.

  20. I’m guessing he’s not suggesting the impossible and you are being willfully obtuse perhaps as a means to obfuscate the issue.

  21. Fair enough. I’m not fully versed on Dawkins (I know the basic thrust) so I’ll trust that his endgame is as you say and we’ll lat Daryl clear the air.

  22. When I read the article, I was struck by how closely James’ description of the pursuit of knowledge is complementary to the pursuit of God through faith.
    “Only by embracing the fact of our limitless ignorance can one position oneself to increase the store of knowledge.”
    Similarly, embracing our ignorance can position oneself to increase the store of faith in the the Creator of this vastness.
    Sadly, my posting will follow all the usual drivel between believers and unbelievers.
    Crank, thanks for years of good reading. I’ll be thinking of you, and will re-read your 9/11 story in 2 weeks.

  23. Richard Dawkins is obsessed with trying to prove that religion is nonsense. However, he is also an evolutionary biologist who has supplied lots of proof on why creation science is crackpot stuff, and Darwin is not.
    And Crank, the religious community is busier trying to prove that science (especially evolutionary biology) does not exist than the other way around. To me religion can be a source of comfort to many (not to me, but then, what you believe in should always be your own business). It’s when it involves public policy that I get my ire up. Not when we ban things like creches on public land. There are far more important things to do than fight that. Like fighting when Rick Perry tried to make The Response public policy(when it’s paid for with public funds, or using the Governor’s official stationary, it’s public policy).
    Evolution is pretty much a fact, now it’s down to arguing about the small details. And so it should be taught. Creation science is pretty much a non-provable mess and should not be so taught. It’s bad to make it state policy to teach wrong facts, and a violation of the First Amendment to do so.
    And Crank, when you start talking about a divine role in creation (yes, maybe start with what started the Big Bang), you have to tread carefully. Because then you get into real problems. Like which divinity are you talking about? Why not Zeus and Athena? Or Moloch (and if Hannibal had beaten the Romans, we might all have been Molochians). Or maybe Baal if the Canaanites hadn’t been wiped out, or….you get my drift.
    Back to Richard Dawkins. He can get someone’s ire up I grant you, but he’s not a crackpot. Perhaps you just don’t seem to like someone who is defending science with the same fervor as those who defend religion.

  24. Actually the Carlin joke is really funny to me. It is hard to beat a joke where an arrogant SOB gets shown wrong.
    Everyone has a right to believe in what they want; at least here in the USA. If you were in alot of other countries, not so much.
    Magrooder-“In the real world, anythng that smacks of divine Creation is crackpot territory.” Is this your position because you don’t believe in a God? Sounds like you don’t think alternate views are acceptable to you. Too bad because I for one don’t thing I know everything-a fact proven to me every day.
    BTW-Has anyone noticed in all of my posts I have never stated evolution wrong or creationist’s right? All I have said is that I can see where each has a possible place in the discussion. I have also stated that Science is fit to answer some questions, but not others. I never stated who is qualified to answer the other questions. Yet the blowback from the Liberals has all been that religion is wrong and bad.
    “Science is in the fact business.”-Not really. See the global warming debate as an example. Science is a profession that focus’ on certain areas. Unfortunately today it is big business and is tied as close to the government as the Defense business. It also has a political agenda to promote. Too bad, I used to like to read Scientific American before it joined the left wing conspiracy.

  25. Lee,
    I was parroting Crank’s dismissal of views with which he, you know, just disagrees.

  26. Lee, I think the phrase you use highlights the essential differences between the left and right. You said, “The global warming debate.” First, it’s not global warming but climate change. Second, it’s not a debate. It’s happened, and it’s happened before, albeit for different circumstances. After climates undergo drastic changes, the ecology alters to fit new niches. It’s called evolution, or natural selection. It’s happened historically too. Think on The Little Ice Age. No, man had damn little to do with it, but it didn’t matter because of the uncounted deaths and misery due to cold and famines. You see it as a debate in wondering who is responsible, because it’s a political issue. Everything the right sees is as a political one. It’s why Clinton could get his way and Obama can’t. Obama sees things more as a professor: argue the facts and of course the facts will win through. Which doesn’t work in the world of politics, where everything has an agenda. In science, that is how it generally doesn’t work(OK, not always, Einstein was wrong, as dice is indeed played).
    Where I have problems, and this is the Richard Dawkins card, is STOP BLAMING OR THANKING GOD. Or as Asimov said, “Selden helps those who helps themselves.” I have a friend who is asking that God keep them safe through Hurricane Irene. Well if God can keep them safe, why make the damn thing in the first place?
    Bobby Henderson was right. It’s climate change, and we have to, against all odds, ask Johnny Depp to start forming pirate gangs in the Caribbean. It’s the only way. Arrgh. (if you don’t know the references, start Googling).

  27. I said “global warming debate” because that is what it is. Yes the climate changes-DUH! Is man the primary cause-NOPE! It is a debate because some people profit (Al Gore) by making man the cause and convincing people to pay them $s. Also to implement their poltically motivated solutions. This is an example where Science pushed itself into the poltical arena. If it had stayed in the fact arena, there would be no debate. The facts have not showed man has caused global warming or cooling or climate change.
    “Obama sees things more as a professor: argue the facts and of course the facts will win through.” Yes he see himself as the Professor and everyone else as his students. Ignorant minds that listen to his dribble and regurgate it back to him to get A’s on his tests. The man would know a fact if it bit him in his rear end.
    I’m hoping for change!

  28. Lee, you just lost the debate and shame on you. My
    contention is that Obama is an Adlai Stevenson type. Very smart, very fact driven and thinks that will win a political argument. It doesn’t. Look at your posts. You haven’t given him the benefit of the doubt on anything. I’ll be honest and say the same from the left on Dubya. Who argued the opposite of facts. He’s a pure politician. That didn’t work either (politics dictate you don’t tack the cost of two wars onto the deficit, facts dictate you must–the major difference in the Bush and Obama deficits).
    And you miss the most important point of all, which I’ve said. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO OR WHAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE. It only matters how we deal with it. By simply claiming we have no responsibility for it, which by the way is unlikely, yes we do, doesn’t alter the facts that we have major issues to deal with.
    1. As an American the biggest one is water supply and how the aquifers are shifting. If you think that isn’t important, first we have to drink the stuff to survive, and second, you better look and see just how much water industrial farming takes. You would be amazed.
    2. As a result of one, the shifting of arable land north. It sounds odd, but might become true: Canada, the breadbasket of the world.
    3. The mean temperature of the planet is rising. Significant chunks of the Antarctic ice mass is cracking off, the north polar ice cap is shrinking. The waters in the oceans are warming (I don’t really think I will enjoy too many more Hurricane Irenes).
    Much more. Does it really matter how or why it started? To you it does, because then it’s a political issue, where blame can be assigned. It’s a difference in training and education; it’s why lawyers become politicians. Architects, engineers and scientists rarely become politicians. Because political answers mean blame and somebody has to lose. In engineering, it’s a problem that has to be SOLVED. Blame can come later, if need be, but later, not before.

  29. Daryl. Your posts steal so many bases that there is nothing left to tether your conclusions to reality. The Left is not pushing regulations to address the effects of global warming (err, “climate change”). The Left wants regulations to address the ’causes’ of ‘climate change’, as in ‘but for man this would not be happening’. That is the basis for their war on the internal combusion engine, oil, coal, offshore drilling (well, at least their opposition to offshore drilling in the US – everywhere else, not so much), big houses, and airline travel, to name a few. Hybrid cars are not hyped for helping the aquifers. And stop with the polar ice nonsense – it’s also been seen to be getting thicker in depth. Your selective data points can all be countered. Nobody who lived through this past winter can think it was warmer – ski areas outside Salt Lake City were open through July 4th this year. If you want to accept the climate as it is, fine – the market will gradually deal with the actual reality of any. But don’t try selling the ‘climate change’ regulations as being anything other than the Left’s fundamentalist relligion about blaming ‘deniers’ NOW for opposing their ‘solutions’.

  30. “Obama is an Adlai Stevenson type. Very smart, very fact driven and thinks that will win a political argument. ” I don’t think Obama is that type at all. He is a person who has absorbed all of the Left-wing garbage and just spouts it out as facts. I have not seen him do anything “smart” in his Presidency. He does not listen and he does not appear to learn very quickly either. He also has a thin skin and does not hesitate to make nasty comments about people who do not agree with him. He is quite intolerant.
    As for giving Obama a chance, I saw enough during his campaign and his 1st few months in office to convince me that we had a rabid socialist on our hands.
    “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO OR WHAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE. It only matters how we deal with it. ” Actually it does, if you don’t know the root causes, you can not design a solution. That is problem solving 101.
    First of all the climate has and will always change. Secondly, man’s role in that change both in level of impact and thru what mechanism is not known. Thirdly, it is not clear if we should (if we could) be attempting to “control” the climate. Untill we know more, we should not be trying to force policies onto the world. It is not a political issue to me, rather it is bad Science that the liberals are using to promote their poltical agenda. It is the left that has made global warming political because they don’t have the facts on their side.

  31. Wordman67, a poster on the NRO site, nails it:
    “Conservatives reject the idea of global warming because the evidence points to industry/big business as the main culprit. If it could be scientifically determined that abortion or taxes or affirmative action caused climate change, the Republican party would be as green as green can be, weeping copious tears over the fate of Mother Earth.”

  32. Back from vacationing in the cradle of extreme liberalism (commonly known as Los Angeles).
    Crank is right that there is a distinction between saying that “God played no role in creation” and “God created all creatures at the same time as stated in Genesis.”
    The first argument has not been disproven by science. To those whose belief in God isn’t limited to a particular narrative (such as myself), it does not matter how he did it or when. Maybe it was the Big Bang, maybe something entirely different. Until science can prove you can get something out of absolutely nothing without a god, then it will never address that question.
    The second argument has been pretty much blasted to pieces by science. If the Genesis story of creation was true, then the fossil record would have revealed modern humans suddenly appearing out of nowhere at the same geologic time. Nothing even close to that has been found. Those who cling to this belief, at this point, are wrong.
    Neither argument, of course, is scientific and nor has any place in public schools.

  33. MVH,
    It isn’t scientists job to “disprove God played no role in creation.” That, in and of itself, is impossible to do. You simply cannot prove a negative. When it comes to “creation science” or “intelligent design” to be on the playing field at all those 2 “disciplines” (I simply could not think of another word even thought I don’t think that one applies) have to show that there is evidence that “God” did have something to do with the creation of the universe. At this point physicists lack only the explanation of the mechanics of literally less than the first 1/1,000,000th of a second of the universe. There are hundreds, probably thousands of creation stories throughout various religions. Teach them in religion classes or at the particulare house of worship of those religions but to ideally toss religion into scientific discovery and the teaching thereof, be it of the universe or evolution or whatever we don’t have all the answers to is an intellectual cop out.

  34. Jim,
    I never said it was science’s job to disprove God’s role in creation; merely that it can’t fundamentally answer the question. Science, along the way, did manage to disprove the Genesis account, and likely countless other creation stories. You will never hear me argue that “creation science” or “intelligent design” should be taught in public schools. They are fundamentally unscientific.
    I’m a firm believer in taking science to the limits of what can be discovered, and changing my way of thinking about God accordingly. My only point is that the idea that the validity of the Big Bang or any similar theory would not prove that there is no God.
    Those theories only beg the question: what caused the Big Bang? Why is there gravity? Stephen Hawking says he can explain the creation of the universe without mentioning God, but what created the forces that spawned the universe?

  35. “My only point is that the idea that the validity of the Big Bang or any similar theory would not prove that there is no God.”
    True, but it’s entirely more likely that “god” had nothing to do with the beginning of the universe and more likely that he simply played an athletic if turnover prone point guard for Providence a few years ago.

  36. “It’s entirely more likely that “god” had nothing to do with the beginning of the universe . . . .”
    You have a better theory?

  37. Yes, there are plenty. Read any of the several current quantam physics books and there are answers far more compelling than, “a mythical being that no one has ever seen, encountered, has absolutely no evidence of whatsoever, has many different interpretations by humans as to what “it” is decided, for no known reason, to poof existence into existence and then not tell anyone that “he” did it.”
    It’s perfectly fine if you and others want to think some being started the universe and controls our destinies. It’s not my cup of tea but then again I don’t feel the need to ask “why are we here” sorts of questions. I think it is more interesting to find out how we got here but to say humans’ existence is some conrnerstone of the universe is, well, hilarious.

  38. I’m familiar with a few of those theories, and maybe one of them is correct, but the crucial point is that they all rely on the existence of “something” to explain how the universe began, such as gravity or other dimensions. None of them tell you what causes that “something.” Now maybe you don’t believe that a god created that “something,” but you can’t just accept on the basis of those theories that there is no god.
    I don’t ask myself a lot of “why we are here” questions either, but when someone offers me what they believe is a complete account of how the universe is created, yet doesn’t explain how the foundations of the theory came into existence, as a matter of pure logic, the theory is incomplete.

  39. No one says they know how the universe was created. You want to fill in the 1/1,000,000th of a second that is as of yet unknown with something even far more unknown and likely highly implausible. I just don’t think we know.
    The root of this was using Bill James, the “father” (as it were) of the use of deep level statistical analysis in baseball, to pretty much argue against science in real life. Stuff like evolution being sceince-y but not fact-y enough (pretty much tying in with the Rick Perry post from early) seemed ironic.
    I’m not all against the god thing. I don’t think it should be taught as science, I don’t think simply because we don’t know the answer to something that the answer is “God did it” and, well, I guess I don’t want folks in charge of the country that go to the god card straight away.

  40. “You want to fill in the 1/1,000,000th of a second that is as of yet unknown with something even far more unknown and likely highly implausible.”
    No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. It wouldn’t shock me if science filled in the 1/1 millionth of a second, nor do I want science to stop trying. Whatever explanation we get, though, is highly unlikely to rule out a god. Unless science can prove that the universe, the theorized other dimensions, and the forces that created them can arise spontaneously out of absolutely nothing, then it can’t completely replace religion of some form.
    And I am definitely not rejecting evolution – I was taught evolution at a Catholic school – it’s the best theory out there and it’s perfectly compatible with religion. Yes, there are some fundamentalists that still blindly insist on the Genesis version, but they are wrong.

  41. Again, evolution, not a theory. It is a fact. More complex organisms evolved from simpler ones. Not in dispute. The theory is that natural selection explains the fact of evolution.
    God will never be ruled out because it is a faith. A belief. People can believe whatever they want. Doesn’t make it right, or true or correct. So, yes, I will agree with you that god will never be ruled out because, not matter what, some people will always believe in some sort of supreme being. Whether there actually is one (or more) there is not a shred of evidence for so I’ll go on thinking the universe was not magically created.

  42. Yes, religion is based on faith – it is completely unscientific. But the belief in supreme beings will continue to exist not just because some people stubbornly cling to disproven creation stories, but because science isn’t really answering all the questions.
    If science can’t explain how the universe/dimensions/forces can spontaneously generate out of nothing, then it really has no chance of convincing people that there isn’t a creator of some sort.
    If you want to hang your hat on the Big Bang theory, what caused the big bang to happen in the first place? You seem to think the existence of that theory ends the debate, when really all it does is generate another set of questions and untestable assumptions.

  43. No, belief in a god will exist whether all the questions regarding the universe’s “beginning” are solved. Doesn’t matter. I don’t think the existence of any of the theories that explain the universe’s start end the debate. Personally, I don’t think there is a debate to begin with because I don’t think there is a god and it is 100% assured that the universe exists do to physical forces that we have not pinned down as of yet. Maybe humans never will. Doesn’t at all mean there is a god.
    You come up against questions and seem to assume that if they aren’t yet answered or perhaps answered to your satisfaction that this leaves the door open for god. We don’t know the next prime number. It takes ages to find the next one even with super computers slogging away at it. Maybe there isn’t another prime number. We don’t know yet. Presumably there is since there are an infinite amount of numbers. But since we don’t know what that particular number is right now does that mean it’s god or that god created prime numbers? Does pi ever develop a repeating pattern? We don’t know yet. Same reason as previously stated. Does that mean god is pi or that he’s behind the radius of a circle somehow?
    How we got on the universe thing I am not sure of. We started with evolution which some folks here are having a hard time grasping that it is not a theory. Complexity in a system means, to me, that there are difficult things to comprehend, not that god is slipping into the cracks. Infinity is an impossibility to understand partly because of the enormity of it and partly because of the irrationality of it. This is what we are attempting to discern. The fact that it is several billion years old and that humans have been at the puzzle for only a few hundred means that there is a lot of ground to cover. It is either pure impatience or a simple desire to want some fantastical being to exist that engenders the statement, “science doesn’t answer all the questions so therefore there might be a god behind the whole thing.” I think that’s hokum. Believe away in god but running the “science isn’t doing it all” doesn’t hold water. The two are stand alone issues. Have at the god thing but putting god into the equation because of human shortcomings, lack of conceptual ability or the current state of knowledge is the easy way out.

  44. Science is the study of evidence, and letting the facts fit the evidence. So as Galileo was presecuted for seeing the earth as not the center, scientific cosmology changed forever. The Catholic Church, I might add, finally did forgive Galileo. Centuries later. Which didn’t exactly help those burned at the stake for heresy then did it? Religion is starting with the “facts,” and then if the evidence doesn’t fit, you forget the evidence. So I am as comfortable saying the universe started with the Flying Spaghetti Monster creating the universe, and a heaven with a beer volcano and stripper poles as one where a guy came from dirt, a woman from the guy’s rib, then after three sons, and lots of incest to fill the ecosphere. (twice if you want to believe one of the multitude of flood myths).
    Which is why it’s so important to not allow prayer in school, because which prayers, and when? Do you then say all of them? Do you allow muslims to disrupt classes multiple times a day for calls to prayer? Do you then not allow girls and boys in the same classroom? Do you only allow kosher or halal food? Peanuts are banned for a sound scientific reason: not because some book says it’s bad, but because it can cause serious health hazards with a sizable minority of students. We require innoculations against all sorts of viral diseases, because the health risk is such that you can put innocents at risk. We don’t allow someone to say, “our faith healer prevented it.” People who don’t believe in evolution but take flu shots are stupid hypocritical assholes. Period.
    And then we get to the meaning of “God.” If it’s shorthand for the sum of the physical rules of the universe, then you can call it whatever you want. It’s when you start believing in some moldy old bearded guy who can create earthquakes, but spares one kid out of a thousand, and rubes call it a miracle, that I draw the line. You want to believe Moldy Old Guy (call him MOG) who reads your thoughts and cares about you until he wipes you out, fine. Keep MOG to yourself.

  45. Stripper poles and a beer volcano in heaven? I’ll sign up for believing in that one! That is of course the stripper poles come laden with strippers.

  46. “I don’t think there is a god and it is 100% assured that the universe exists do to physical forces that we have not pinned down as of yet.”
    I think this is the major difference between your approach and mine. You are willing to stop at the discovery of physical forces. I keep asking what causes these physical forces.
    As to the other posts, I don’t know what argument they are addressing, but it isn’t mine.

  47. The main difference is I think physical forces exist because they do, you think a fantastical being might have something to do with them.

  48. “The main difference is I think physical forces exist because they do, you think a fantastical being might have something to do with them.”
    Yes, but instead of saying “fantastical being “, I’d say intelligence is behind the creation of those physical forces. This is an honest difference of opinion.
    Can ya’ll who don’t believe in a God at least accept that Science cannot explain what caused these physical forces to exist? If the answer is due to the Big Bang, then Science needs to explain why the Big Bang happened. If Science wants to limit themselves to just finding out the rules of these physical forces, OK. But as I said before, when Science want to play with the big boys they need to start addressing the big questions.
    I find it highly arrogant of Science to think they have figured out how the Universe began (and works) after barely leaving this planet and collecting data from a tiny fraction of the Universe with instrumentation that is very crude. Are you kidding me? Maybe after we have explored 80% of the Universe with instruments that we can’t even conceive of right now, we might start to have a clue.

  49. Lee, you are arguing then that something or someone had to be there at the beginning (well something was for damn sure) but then said “Let there be light,” of something similar. As opposed to some kind of, say, cosmic string, that vibrated just so, causing…well, you get the idea.
    You want to say God was there at the beginning, all we are then arguing is the nature of God, a sentient intelligence, a collection of various forces, whatever. If you then want to take the discussion further and state that this God/Force actually intervenes on a personal level on this planet, with some of the individual biological units, or tectonic plates, or volcanoes (especially the beer ones), then it’s a fight. Can we be sure of the laws governing the universe from our little corner? A fair statement. After all, we were pretty sure of the centricity of the earth (so sure that fun little Inquisition sure made you shut up otherwise) until Galileo said otherwise. Then Newton figuring out motion for the universe. Until Einstein said hold up a minute. Then his friend Planck said, “uh, maybe it’s a bit more random than that.” So yes, there is a lot to discover. More to discover than we know. But then, at this point, it’s fairly certain that uncertainty is certain (please congratulate me on my singular take on singularities ). So if the nature of the universe is one of probabilities in a quantum setting, then God, as many people like to think, CAN’T exist, because God gives edicts, he doesn’t play dice.

  50. Lee,
    It’s odd when someone criticizes “science” as being arrogant. In the 100 odd years or so since Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity ushered in a new era in physics that allowed humans to describe more than macro events (Newtonian Physics) we have been able to delve into the dazzling micro-depths of the universe. This has provided an understanding of the mechanics of our space and time. This isn’t arrogance, it’s intelligance at work.
    I am guessing you aren’t too deep into quantam physics. First of all, it would be impossible to explore 80% of the universe as the fabric of space is expanding faster than the speed of light (and the universe is really, really big). Second, it is unnecessary to do so to know what is happening. We live in a universe where constants are constants in every corner of space (except for at the center of black holes but that’s a whole different ball of wax). So, for instance, the speed of light is the same here as it is everywhere in space. We don’t need to go 5 billion light years away and test it. This is why humans have been able to describe in astonishing detail what happened long, long ago.
    You say that science doesn’t address the big questions so it can’t play with the big boys. I am not even sure what that means. In less than 100 years we have been able to describe in great detail 14+billion years worth of universal mechanics save for less than 1/1,000,000th of a second. There are about 31,500,000 seconds in a year. Humans have been able to plumb the physical mechanics of 31,500,000 x 14,000,000,000 worth of seconds. That’s some pretty good question answering in my book. Yes, there are unfathomable amounts of questions, equations and details to work on and work out. This, to me, is one of the most exciting nature of humans–to invest in finding out the nature of the incredible complexity of our home.
    Your assertion (and others) is that a god (or in my view, some fantastical being) did all this here creatin’. Yet, people here on earth would not agree on whose god did all this nor can anyone provide one lick of evidence that this or these beings actually exist. In my eyes it is far more arrogant to claim to have answers to things when you have no actual evidence on your side.
    Again, believe away. I’m all for it even if, personally, I don’t invest any time in doing so. I’m not going to convince you and others that some mythical entity didn’t create our universe and I doubt all the physical evidence in the world (universe) would make much a difference to people who come at it from that perspective. However, if you want to convince folks like myself and Daryl (and, really, to actually play with the big boys) you have to pony up some real evidence on your side of the ledger.

  51. I realize I’m the one who started this thread, and went into this matter, but doesn’t it also prove (it DID start with Bill James) that knowing baseball is the key to knowing the universe? And exactly what does that make the Babe and Willie Mays?

  52. “Can ya’ll who don’t believe in a God at least accept that Science cannot explain what caused these physical forces to exist?”
    Yes – this is exactly the problem science has, and no, they don’t admit it, apparently. And that’s sad, as all of us who believe in a god freely admit it is done on faith and does not rely on scientific evidence.
    Whether this god personally intervenes in our lives is actually irrelevant to this basic question.

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