Podcast #49 - June 28th, 2006
Your E-mails: Theory of Evolution, Agnosticism, Magnet therapy, Regulating supplements, Neuroethics; Name That Logical Fallacy; Science or Fiction; Skeptical Puzzle
Questions and E-mails
- Darwin's 'Theory' of Evolution. Dear Skeptics,
Im an avid listener. Thanks for your show.
In listening to your recent podcast on evolution 101, I heard you (Steve) say something I think really confuses people who want to understand evolution. You referred to the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution, and I know what you meant by that, but Im sure its confusing to a lot of people. Maybe it even sounds wishy-washy to those who tend to
be sympathetic to creationism.
When anyone discusses Darwins theory of evolution, a couple of things should be defined up-front:
1) Evolution is a fact things do evolve (but without changing into a new species, as far as has been observed).
2) Darwins theory is that evolution causes speciation, and is the mechanism that produced all the magnificent life we know, starting from bacteria. This is a huge leap from the fact of evolution. (For what its worth, I believe this.)
Keep of the good work.
Dr. Novella Responds:
Thanks for the e-mail.
I don't agree with your breakdown of evolutionary theory vs fact, however. The standard formulation, with which I agree, is this:
Evolution, the idea that life changes over time, sometimes resulting in speciation and the idea that all life currently in existence today arose from a common ancestor, is an established scientific fact. The evidence for this is overwhelming, resulting in a robust consensus of scientific opinion. In addition, there is no alternative theory compatible with all the available evidence. Speciation has been demonstrated numerous times, in fact just recently biologists were able to produce a new species of butterfly (www.world-science.net/othernews/060614_hybrid.htm)
Scientists use the term 'theory' to refer to a unifying idea in science that explains many different phenomena. In this sense evolution is a theory. Also, within the scientific discipl
- Agnosticism If the empirical evidence for the existence of God is no greater than the empirical evidence for Invisible Pink Unicorns, is it logical to be agnostic with respect to the existence of God yet 'atheistic' towards the existence of IPUs?
Dr. Novella Responds:
Thanks for your question. It is illogical to be agnostic about god and 'atheistic' about invisible pink unicorns. That is why I am agnostic about both. Most agnostics I have discussed this with, who prefer to call themselves agnostics and understand what it means in the sense that T.H. Huxley (who coined the term) meant it, would answer the same.
Agnosticism means that questions that are inherently outside the realm of science, not amenable to evidence for or against, are simply 'unknowable,' in the scientific sense of the word. From a logical point of view, once you have designated something as unknowable that is all you can say about it. Anything further is arbitrary and subjective.
From a practical point of view I would also add that there are an infinite number of ideas or beliefs that are unknowable, and there is no reason to favor any one over the other infinite possibilities. This leads to acting as if all such propositions are not true, even while recognizing that they are unknowable. This is because part of being unknowable means that they do not interact with physical reality in a way that can be measured. Therefore there is no practical difference between unknowable existence and non-existence, and it is rational to treat all such unknowable notions as not existing.
Therefore, there is no practical difference between agnosticism towards god and atheism. It comes down to a fine point of logic. However, since I value logic for its own sake, it is a distinction worth making.
Host, the Skeptics' Guide
- Gerald Schroeder on God Skeptics,
I have just recently found your podcast after listening to quite a few 'paranormal/ufo/etc' podcasts for quite a while. I would consider myself, probably much like most people who are interested in these subject matters, an interested skeptic--I love considering the possibilities of these unusual subjects, but am not about to agree to something without
On your most recent podcast, one of the major discussions was about evolution versus intelligent design. I have read several books by Gerald L. Schroeder, a MIT graduate with a Ph.D. in Physics and a Talmudic scholar. His books have, in my limited opinion, the most well thought out argument for the possibility of a God. I was wondering if any if any of the podcast members were familiar or had read any of his books on the
In my personal experience, most real-life disagreements and arguements are not as simple as: one person or side is right and the other is wrong. His approach to the ID vs. big bang theories is not to show fallacies of one or the other, but instead to look for similarities and convergences of them. Regardless of one's particular disposition to either 'side,' I
think his material is well-thought out, interesting, and worth considering.
I would love to hear something about these books on your podcast and your, skeptical, opinions about the subject.
Thanks and keep up the interesting podcast,
Good review article
- Magnets for Migraines While looking over today's news articles I spotted this article about a new magnet based device for the treatment of migraines.
I'm not sure at all of the scientific vorasity of using magnets to treat pain, but I can add that my father did have some success using a magnetic bracelet to treat arthritis.
Mostly i'm linking to the article to spark a discussion. Since you have people on hand with some real knowledge of medicine it would be interesting to hear what you've read from the medical literature.
Though the linked article dosen't go into great detail the price seems rather staggering for a large magnet. 1000 pounds could buy quite a stack of rare earth magnets.
To the truest definition of the term, i'm skeptical. I'd love to hear everyone discuss this and hope some good information is drawn out of the discussion.
- Regulating Supplements On your most recent podcast you mentioned the US has the worst regulations when it comes to herbs and 'suppliments'. I would argue, as a skeptic, that perhaps the US has the best regultions, since that nation has the most unregulated rules. I think skeptics should eschew government intervention and regulation. Don't you feel that if the government is always jumping in and saying what is and what isn't safe that people in the long run will become less skeptical about these things on their own and will pretty much trust that everything on the market is safe, since everything on the market is regulated?
Sir Mildred Pierce
- Neuroethics Hey guys this question is mainly for Steve since Neurology is right up his alley. What do you know about this new field called 'Neuroethics' that I continully hear about. A great quote defining what is Neuroethics by Michael Gazzaniga author of 'The Ethical Brain' is 'the examination of how we want to deal with the social issues of disaease, normality, mortality, lifestyle, and the philosophy of living informed by our understanding of underlying brain mechanisms' In his opinion 'It is-or should be-an effort to come up with a brain-based philosophy of life. They also bring up questions such as 'When is a fetus considered a person?' and 'When is it moral to end a braindead person's life?' They also question 'What truely is 'Free Will'? He argues that we are not a ghost in the machine per se. But that we are our brains and that me, self, and I are simply illusions. That The illusion is feed by 6 characteristics working in harmony. To me morals are obviously part of the human condition, and where and why in the mind humans evolved morals is still under questioning.
Name That Logical Fallacy
- Logical Fallacies Thanks again for a very informative podcast. I would like your help understanding the logical fallacies you might apply to improperly used 'what are the odds' arguments. For example, religious fundamentalists often absolutely mangle statistics when they come up with their 'what are the odds' arguments about our 'special place in the heavens.' Specifically, I'm not talking about the false premise of randomness so much as the looking backwards and being amazed at the improbability of an outcome after it as occurred. What logical fallacies might you apply here, other than simple math ignorance, since you could apply the same logic to flipping a coin 100 times, noting the odds of getting the exact sequence, and declaring it therefore a miracle.
Forest Lake, MN
Science or Fiction [ Show Answers ]
- Question #1 Science University of Minnesota urologists have researched ways to reduce the vexing problem of kidney stone formation in astronauts
- Question #2 Fiction NY University at Buffalo researchers, reviewing data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that, contrary to prior belief, wearing seatbelts did not significantly reduce the risk of fatality in an automobile accident.
- Question #3 Science A team of researchers at the University of Alberta have patented a device that uses ultrasound to regrow teeth.
- Puzzle Last Week's puzzle:
Two men, both were freemasons:
Man A invented an instrument that Man B used as part of a pseudoscience that he invented.
Man A also famously debunked the claims of Man B.
Who were the two men, and what was the instrument?
Answer: The two men were Benjamin Franklin and Franz Anton Mesmer; the instrument was the glass armonica.
In the old game show, Let's Make A Deal, contestants were asked to pick which of three doors they thought contained a valuable prize. Once the contestant picked a door, the host, Monty Hall, would often open one of the two doors not chosen and then ask the contestant if they would like to change their pick to the other door left unopened. The question is, should a contestant stick with their original choice, change to the other door, or there is no difference statistically?