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Russell Brand & Brian Cox - 'Under The Skin' teaser

Russell Brand & Brian Cox - 'Under The Skin' teaser

(2:09) Clip from 'Under The Skin' episode with Russell Brand and Brian Cox. Full episode

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Guest: (130 days ago)

This sort of agnostic stance is far more common among scientists than atheists would like us to believe. Not news.

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This sort of agnostic stance is far more common among scientists than atheists would like us to believe. Not news.

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Guest: rossglory (129 days ago)

science doesn't rule out a creator but if found would then ask what created that creator. so saying it's 'god', end of, would never work for a scientist

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science doesn't rule out a creator but if found would then ask what created that creator. so saying it's 'god', end of, would never work for a scientist

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ReligiousNut ReligiousNut (127 days ago)

God was not created. He has always existed even before the beginning of time itself. You mortals cannot understand the mind of the infinite.

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God was not created. He has always existed even before the beginning of time itself. You mortals cannot understand the mind of the infinite.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (127 days ago)

How do you know that?

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How do you know that?

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Guest: (127 days ago)

Because 97% of all religious scholars agree. That's the new scientific standard - consensus of people.

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Because 97% of all religious scholars agree. That's the new scientific standard - consensus of people.

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Guest: (127 days ago)

I know right, it's like this whole climate change stuff, 97% of climate scientists agree, yadda yadda.

To be fair to Nut if you believe in a Supreme Being then it logically follows that he can't be created or he wouldn't be as Supreme as whatever created him.

Original comment

I know right, it's like this whole climate change stuff, 97% of climate scientists agree, yadda yadda.

To be fair to Nut if you believe in a Supreme Being then it logically follows that he can't be created or he wouldn't be as Supreme as whatever created him.

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Guest: (127 days ago)

"You mortals" or "we mortals"?

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.

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"You mortals" or "we mortals"?

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (130 days ago)

That's because science is fundamentally agnostic - because it is based on evidence, and evidence sometimes changes. A scientist is open to the possibility that he might be wrong, even if the probability is vanishingly small.

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That's because science is fundamentally agnostic - because it is based on evidence, and evidence sometimes changes. A scientist is open to the possibility that he might be wrong, even if the probability is vanishingly small.

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Guest: (129 days ago)

Agnosticism definitely is not about thinking the knowledge you have might be wrong, or might be based on false or changeable evidence (both healthy suppositions).

It's about believing there is no meaningful evidence either way about a certain subject, or even that there can be no evidence or knowledge. Huge difference.

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Agnosticism definitely is not about thinking the knowledge you have might be wrong, or might be based on false or changeable evidence (both healthy suppositions).

It's about believing there is no meaningful evidence either way about a certain subject, or even that there can be no evidence or knowledge. Huge difference.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (127 days ago)

I'm claiming that science is fundamentally agnostic, so Brian Cox's agnostic position is unsurprising among scientists.

A scientist would not say "god doesn't exist because there is no evidence", but rather "because there is no evidence, the existence of god is unknown or unknowable."

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Original comment

I'm claiming that science is fundamentally agnostic, so Brian Cox's agnostic position is unsurprising among scientists.

A scientist would not say "god doesn't exist because there is no evidence", but rather "because there is no evidence, the existence of god is unknown or unknowable."

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Guest: (127 days ago)

I know you were claiming that, but I was disputing your reasons. You said "science is fundamentally agnostic - because it is based on evidence, and evidence sometimes changes." That isn't agnosticism. At all. Maybe that wasn't what you meant.

It makes sense for scientists to be agnostic about a supreme being, but that doesn't mean that science itself is agnostic. Ask Cox how agnostic he is about the number of hydrogen atoms in a molecule of water, of even about AGW. Science is fundamentally about developing a network of knowledge, whether the evidence is changeable or not; I think you'd find relatively few ideas that science would claim are 'unknowable' - so no, science isn't agnostic, and I think that's a good thing.

Original comment

I know you were claiming that, but I was disputing your reasons. You said "science is fundamentally agnostic - because it is based on evidence, and evidence sometimes changes." That isn't agnosticism. At all. Maybe that wasn't what you meant.

It makes sense for scientists to be agnostic about a supreme being, but that doesn't mean that science itself is agnostic. Ask Cox how agnostic he is about the number of hydrogen atoms in a molecule of water, of even about AGW. Science is fundamentally about developing a network of knowledge, whether the evidence is changeable or not; I think you'd find relatively few ideas that science would claim are 'unknowable' - so no, science isn't agnostic, and I think that's a good thing.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (126 days ago)

My Mac dictionary defines agnostic as: "(in a non-religious context) having a doubtful or non-committal attitude towards something" . Being sceptical is fundamental in science - that's what I'm getting at. Contrast that with faith, where evidence or even common sense is not required.

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My Mac dictionary defines agnostic as: "(in a non-religious context) having a doubtful or non-committal attitude towards something" . Being sceptical is fundamental in science - that's what I'm getting at. Contrast that with faith, where evidence or even common sense is not required.

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Guest: (126 days ago)

Is the first point in that same dictionary "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God "? Science functions on the premise that a lot can be known about most things, which isn't agnostic, and I for one am glad of it. After-all, (as Cox suggests) scientists are not compelled to learn about things they consider to be unknowable, or make sweeping speculations about them like most atheists.

But if we go by your favoured definition, yes, being 'sceptical' is important to scientists and agnostics (maybe less so in more entrenched world-views like conservative religion or hard atheism) but how much of our current scientific knowledge do you think scientists feel doubtful or uncommitted about? Enough to consider the whole enterprise 'fundamentally agnostic'?

As an aside, obviously if you know anything about Calvin, Luther, or even the Bible ("Lama sabachthani?"), you already appreciate that for many religious people, doubt is a crucial part of their faith, so by this yardstick religion must be agnostic too.

And of course, evidence and "common sense" are not prerequisites of any inherited belief set (including your own), but that's a different story that I wouldn't try to press on a devotee.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that doubting what you do know (even if that's scientifically quite rare) is different to accepting you don't or can't know, and the video shows the latter.

Original comment

Is the first point in that same dictionary "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God "? Science functions on the premise that a lot can be known about most things, which isn't agnostic, and I for one am glad of it. After-all, (as Cox suggests) scientists are not compelled to learn about things they consider to be unknowable, or make sweeping speculations about them like most atheists.

But if we go by your favoured definition, yes, being 'sceptical' is important to scientists and agnostics (maybe less so in more entrenched world-views like conservative religion or hard atheism) but how much of our current scientific knowledge do you think scientists feel doubtful or uncommitted about? Enough to consider the whole enterprise 'fundamentally agnostic'?

As an aside, obviously if you know anything about Calvin, Luther, or even the Bible ("Lama sabachthani?"), you already appreciate that for many religious people, doubt is a crucial part of their faith, so by this yardstick religion must be agnostic too.

And of course, evidence and "common sense" are not prerequisites of any inherited belief set (including your own), but that's a different story that I wouldn't try to press on a devotee.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that doubting what you do know (even if that's scientifically quite rare) is different to accepting you don't or can't know, and the video shows the latter.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (124 days ago)

Yes, the first definition in the dictionary is "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God". That's describing "agnostic" as a noun. I'm describing a trait of science, that's why I choose the adjective definition.

We both agree that scepticism is an important aspect of science. I say science is agnostic because it only claims "truth" according to the evidence so far. Is there any scientist who would claim that because there is no evidence, then there is no god? I think that scientist is a rare beast indeed.

Yes, there's a difference between doubting what you know, and accepting what you don't or can't know. But I don't see why you call a person who believes god is unknowable, an agnostic, but not science, that accepts there are probably unknowables - like how other universes work.

Original comment

Yes, the first definition in the dictionary is "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God". That's describing "agnostic" as a noun. I'm describing a trait of science, that's why I choose the adjective definition.

We both agree that scepticism is an important aspect of science. I say science is agnostic because it only claims "truth" according to the evidence so far. Is there any scientist who would claim that because there is no evidence, then there is no god? I think that scientist is a rare beast indeed.

Yes, there's a difference between doubting what you know, and accepting what you don't or can't know. But I don't see why you call a person who believes god is unknowable, an agnostic, but not science, that accepts there are probably unknowables - like how other universes work.

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Guest: (124 days ago)

I see. I felt that as faith and god were being discussed, you wouldn't be going for a definition from a 'non-religious context'.

Anyway, yes, science must hold that some things are unknowable, as would most people, but that doesn't seem enough to call the whole enterprise agnostic. That feels a bit like saying, yes I am 100% sure god exists and how he works and which holy books are true, but I feel his omnipresence is unknowable so therefore I'm agnostic.

Even the non-religious definition doesn't seem to fit; Doubtful? Non-committal? Again, some things at frontiers of science that may fall into that category, but for the overwhelming majority of scientific knowledge, scientists are certain and committed... our daily lives depend on it.

Basically, unless you feel that more than half of the beliefs in science are either unknowable or doubtful, it seems peculiar to call the whole thing agnostic. Maybe you mean something else.

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I see. I felt that as faith and god were being discussed, you wouldn't be going for a definition from a 'non-religious context'.

Anyway, yes, science must hold that some things are unknowable, as would most people, but that doesn't seem enough to call the whole enterprise agnostic. That feels a bit like saying, yes I am 100% sure god exists and how he works and which holy books are true, but I feel his omnipresence is unknowable so therefore I'm agnostic.

Even the non-religious definition doesn't seem to fit; Doubtful? Non-committal? Again, some things at frontiers of science that may fall into that category, but for the overwhelming majority of scientific knowledge, scientists are certain and committed... our daily lives depend on it.

Basically, unless you feel that more than half of the beliefs in science are either unknowable or doubtful, it seems peculiar to call the whole thing agnostic. Maybe you mean something else.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (124 days ago)

I think 'non committal' fits science perfectly. Science only commits to the best evidence so far. Crucially, that is how our theories improve. First, the world was flat. As new evidence appeared, it became round and at the centre of the universe. Then the sun took over the centre ... and today, the Earth is in an unimaginably large universe that is expanding faster than the speed of light. You don't get more non committal than that. That is fundamentally how science progresses.

The perception of science is the opposite - that a scientific theory like evolution will remain fact forever. Maybe that's what's throwing you.

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I think 'non committal' fits science perfectly. Science only commits to the best evidence so far. Crucially, that is how our theories improve. First, the world was flat. As new evidence appeared, it became round and at the centre of the universe. Then the sun took over the centre ... and today, the Earth is in an unimaginably large universe that is expanding faster than the speed of light. You don't get more non committal than that. That is fundamentally how science progresses.

The perception of science is the opposite - that a scientific theory like evolution will remain fact forever. Maybe that's what's throwing you.

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Guest: (123 days ago)

So "non-committal" is your last ditch? Science uses the 'evidence so far' to commit to a definite opinion about what we know. After-all, the 'evidence so far' is all the evidence we've ever seen, and if that indicates a certain conclusion, why wouldn't we commit? That's how science progresses. We build space-stations and nuclear power plants based on the commitments of science and scientific knowledge.

Sure, everyone once committed to the earth being flat because that was what their evidence told them. They had no doubts. But then they committed to the earth being round. Each time, science commits to sure and justified conclusions in the light of the evidence. You don't often get scientists saying "Well, our evidence points to this, but it may be wrong so we had better not commit - let's just say we don't know."

"Non-committal" isn't making a series of firm commitments and changing them if forced to - it's not committing at all. Thankfully, science is not like that, or our world would look very different.

Science is all about trying to know knowables - the word even comes from the Latin 'scire' (to know), so it's possibly the least agnostic thing you could have chosen. Maybe you need a new definition of agnostic or science.

Original comment

So "non-committal" is your last ditch? Science uses the 'evidence so far' to commit to a definite opinion about what we know. After-all, the 'evidence so far' is all the evidence we've ever seen, and if that indicates a certain conclusion, why wouldn't we commit? That's how science progresses. We build space-stations and nuclear power plants based on the commitments of science and scientific knowledge.

Sure, everyone once committed to the earth being flat because that was what their evidence told them. They had no doubts. But then they committed to the earth being round. Each time, science commits to sure and justified conclusions in the light of the evidence. You don't often get scientists saying "Well, our evidence points to this, but it may be wrong so we had better not commit - let's just say we don't know."

"Non-committal" isn't making a series of firm commitments and changing them if forced to - it's not committing at all. Thankfully, science is not like that, or our world would look very different.

Science is all about trying to know knowables - the word even comes from the Latin 'scire' (to know), so it's possibly the least agnostic thing you could have chosen. Maybe you need a new definition of agnostic or science.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (123 days ago)

People commit to scientific theories. Science as a discipline, is non-committal. It has to be, otherwise it wouldn't function. If science is NOT non-committal, we'd still be on the world's first scientific theory, whatever that was.

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People commit to scientific theories. Science as a discipline, is non-committal. It has to be, otherwise it wouldn't function. If science is NOT non-committal, we'd still be on the world's first scientific theory, whatever that was.

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Guest: (122 days ago)

People (including scientists) follow whichever theories science has committed to, and science commits to wherever the evidence lies, otherwise it wouldn't function. "Apples constantly fall to the ground at this speed - shall we test feathers? Ah no, the apple thing might be wrong! We don't know jack, let's go home."

"...We'd still be on the world's first scientific theory". No, if science was NON committal we'd still be on the first scientific theory; unless the discipline is able to say 'As far as we know, this is definitely the truth - depend on it!' then there would be no foundation for any experiment, no technology, no medicine, etc. etc. etc.

You seem to think 'committal' means picking a theory and literally never changing it or tweaking it under any circumstances. That's odd. Maybe you mean 'fixed' or 'permanent'? Science isn't those things, but it is committal, because it commits to new knowledge that is then used as a basepoint to explore new knowledge. That's how it works.

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People (including scientists) follow whichever theories science has committed to, and science commits to wherever the evidence lies, otherwise it wouldn't function. "Apples constantly fall to the ground at this speed - shall we test feathers? Ah no, the apple thing might be wrong! We don't know jack, let's go home."

"...We'd still be on the world's first scientific theory". No, if science was NON committal we'd still be on the first scientific theory; unless the discipline is able to say 'As far as we know, this is definitely the truth - depend on it!' then there would be no foundation for any experiment, no technology, no medicine, etc. etc. etc.

You seem to think 'committal' means picking a theory and literally never changing it or tweaking it under any circumstances. That's odd. Maybe you mean 'fixed' or 'permanent'? Science isn't those things, but it is committal, because it commits to new knowledge that is then used as a basepoint to explore new knowledge. That's how it works.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (122 days ago)

Imagine you and your girlfriend are intensely committed to each other because everything is just fine and dandy. But deep down you know she is compelled to find a better partner - and if she does, she will leave you. Science is a bit like your girlfriend.

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Imagine you and your girlfriend are intensely committed to each other because everything is just fine and dandy. But deep down you know she is compelled to find a better partner - and if she does, she will leave you. Science is a bit like your girlfriend.

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Guest: (121 days ago)

So now you're bringing in a third definition - committal in the context of a relationship. Let's run with it.

Your tragic projections were half right; science is the weird girl that spends months stalking men to find out who would make best partner. She then marries the winner, legally takes his name, gets a mortgage, starts a family. Everyone gets used to them. She then does more research, finds out a new best partner, gets a divorce, changes her name, marries the new guy, changes her name, gets a new mortgage, starts another family. And so on. You could hardly call her non-committal; in fact, she commits too much, constantly throwing herself into things that may not work out, but never mind because she's populating the world with the best genes she could find at the time. That's science.

Imagine(!) you spent your days in your mother's spare room, anxiously avoiding eye contact with members of the opposite sex. Occasionally you may get on well with someone you meet in the Warhammer shop, but you would never dream of committing to a relationship, let alone marrying anyone, and consequently there is no chance of populating the world or creating something new. That's science, in your world. I'm thankful that science is not non-committal.

Original comment

So now you're bringing in a third definition - committal in the context of a relationship. Let's run with it.

Your tragic projections were half right; science is the weird girl that spends months stalking men to find out who would make best partner. She then marries the winner, legally takes his name, gets a mortgage, starts a family. Everyone gets used to them. She then does more research, finds out a new best partner, gets a divorce, changes her name, marries the new guy, changes her name, gets a new mortgage, starts another family. And so on. You could hardly call her non-committal; in fact, she commits too much, constantly throwing herself into things that may not work out, but never mind because she's populating the world with the best genes she could find at the time. That's science.

Imagine(!) you spent your days in your mother's spare room, anxiously avoiding eye contact with members of the opposite sex. Occasionally you may get on well with someone you meet in the Warhammer shop, but you would never dream of committing to a relationship, let alone marrying anyone, and consequently there is no chance of populating the world or creating something new. That's science, in your world. I'm thankful that science is not non-committal.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (120 days ago)

It's not the first time you've come up with rubbish analogies. I wouldn't bother in future.

She keeps breaking her commitments because she is fundamentally non-committal. It's in her DNA.

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It's not the first time you've come up with rubbish analogies. I wouldn't bother in future.

She keeps breaking her commitments because she is fundamentally non-committal. It's in her DNA.

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Guest: (120 days ago)

A criticism on analogies from the guy who repeats his 'The Cat and the Stock Market' like it's Dr. Seuss? It's like being called PC by someone who says you should choose your toilet so as not to offend anyone.

If she was fundamentally non-committal, she wouldn't commit; get it? Being non-committal isn't about changing commitments; it's about not commiting in the first place. Have a look in your dictionary. Like science, she could say 'I just don't know about this' and back off, but like science, she generally doesn't, because she has done her research and she has every right to be sure of herself.

So ultimately, when a scientist like Cox says he's agnostic about something and says 'I don't know', just listen! Don't wriggle and claim it's reflective of the scientific stance towards everything. It's isn't. It's notably very particular; something far more significant. It denotes a distinction that you would pay more attention to if your belief-set really was evidence-based, rational, or scientific.

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Original comment

A criticism on analogies from the guy who repeats his 'The Cat and the Stock Market' like it's Dr. Seuss? It's like being called PC by someone who says you should choose your toilet so as not to offend anyone.

If she was fundamentally non-committal, she wouldn't commit; get it? Being non-committal isn't about changing commitments; it's about not commiting in the first place. Have a look in your dictionary. Like science, she could say 'I just don't know about this' and back off, but like science, she generally doesn't, because she has done her research and she has every right to be sure of herself.

So ultimately, when a scientist like Cox says he's agnostic about something and says 'I don't know', just listen! Don't wriggle and claim it's reflective of the scientific stance towards everything. It's isn't. It's notably very particular; something far more significant. It denotes a distinction that you would pay more attention to if your belief-set really was evidence-based, rational, or scientific.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (116 days ago)

We've entered the world of sillymantics. "If she was fundamentally non-committal, she wouldn't commit; get it?" Sure. But if she keeps breaking commitments, then she's not commitiing in the first place - hence she's fundamentally non-committal. Also, she has pledged to break any commitment if she finds something better. That's not the trait of a committing type, that's the trait of someone who is fundamentally non-committal. I hope you're not so gullible in real-world relationships.

"So ultimately, when a scientist like Cox says he's agnostic about something and says 'I don't know', just listen!" How many scientists do you think would say "I do know"?

Original comment

We've entered the world of sillymantics. "If she was fundamentally non-committal, she wouldn't commit; get it?" Sure. But if she keeps breaking commitments, then she's not commitiing in the first place - hence she's fundamentally non-committal. Also, she has pledged to break any commitment if she finds something better. That's not the trait of a committing type, that's the trait of someone who is fundamentally non-committal. I hope you're not so gullible in real-world relationships.

"So ultimately, when a scientist like Cox says he's agnostic about something and says 'I don't know', just listen!" How many scientists do you think would say "I do know"?

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Guest: (116 days ago)

If you've married someone, changed your name, etc, nothing you can do after that will stop that from having been a commitment. Do you see the difference between someone that might break a commitment under certain circumstances (in order to make a new commitment), and someone who would never commit in the first place?

Anyway, your analogy doesn't quite work - not only because again it's yet another slightly different meaning of 'non-committal' (sillymantics indeed), but also because when you marry someone new, they are a completely different person. With science, it's rare that you throw out everything. Usually an existing theory is tweaked very slightly. It's more like marrying someone and saying you loved their haircut, but two deacdes later saying 'You know what, you could do with a restyle to fit the current fashions.' That's not non-committal; that's a fair adjustment to the original commitment. I hope you're not so needy and insecure in real-world relationships. "But Andrew, you committed to my mullet in 1972!"

"How many scientists do you think would say "I do know"?" - About a god, about metaphysics, about the origins of the universe? Very few. About pretty much every other aspect of mainstream science? Probably just about all of them. Do you think if you asked Cox whether he knew what a gene is, he wouldn't say 'Yes'? If you asked Hawking about the boiling point of water, he'd say 'I'm not sure - agnostic on that one'? As I've said, scientists aren't generally agnostic, because they've earned the right to be confident with an arduous and methodical process, so when for once they are agnostic, it's a big deal. It's fine that you disagree, but stop pretending your stance is the scientific one. It isn't.

Original comment

If you've married someone, changed your name, etc, nothing you can do after that will stop that from having been a commitment. Do you see the difference between someone that might break a commitment under certain circumstances (in order to make a new commitment), and someone who would never commit in the first place?

Anyway, your analogy doesn't quite work - not only because again it's yet another slightly different meaning of 'non-committal' (sillymantics indeed), but also because when you marry someone new, they are a completely different person. With science, it's rare that you throw out everything. Usually an existing theory is tweaked very slightly. It's more like marrying someone and saying you loved their haircut, but two deacdes later saying 'You know what, you could do with a restyle to fit the current fashions.' That's not non-committal; that's a fair adjustment to the original commitment. I hope you're not so needy and insecure in real-world relationships. "But Andrew, you committed to my mullet in 1972!"

"How many scientists do you think would say "I do know"?" - About a god, about metaphysics, about the origins of the universe? Very few. About pretty much every other aspect of mainstream science? Probably just about all of them. Do you think if you asked Cox whether he knew what a gene is, he wouldn't say 'Yes'? If you asked Hawking about the boiling point of water, he'd say 'I'm not sure - agnostic on that one'? As I've said, scientists aren't generally agnostic, because they've earned the right to be confident with an arduous and methodical process, so when for once they are agnostic, it's a big deal. It's fine that you disagree, but stop pretending your stance is the scientific one. It isn't.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (113 days ago)

"Do you see the difference between someone that might break a commitment under certain circumstances (in order to make a new commitment), and someone who would never commit in the first place?" I'm talking about someone who publicly advertises that they will break a commitment if they find someone better, and that they are constantly on the lookout for someone better, and that they will never be satisfied with whoever they are with because they know there's someone even better out there, and history shows that is how they have acted in the past. If you want to call a temporary commitment, a commitment, then that's up to you.

Scientists commit to what works. Science itself is fundamentally non-committal otherwise it wouldn't progress. That is an underlying principle of falsification. Every scientific theory is under continual scrutiny - at least in theory. In practice, scientists need to get on with stuff, so they use the theories that work and discard ones that don't.

Original comment

"Do you see the difference between someone that might break a commitment under certain circumstances (in order to make a new commitment), and someone who would never commit in the first place?" I'm talking about someone who publicly advertises that they will break a commitment if they find someone better, and that they are constantly on the lookout for someone better, and that they will never be satisfied with whoever they are with because they know there's someone even better out there, and history shows that is how they have acted in the past. If you want to call a temporary commitment, a commitment, then that's up to you.

Scientists commit to what works. Science itself is fundamentally non-committal otherwise it wouldn't progress. That is an underlying principle of falsification. Every scientific theory is under continual scrutiny - at least in theory. In practice, scientists need to get on with stuff, so they use the theories that work and discard ones that don't.

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Guest: (113 days ago)

"They will never be satisfied with whoever they are with because they know there's someone even better out there." But science doesn't know there's a better theory out there. It only ever tweaks its commitments if it is forced to. Don't you think scientists are satisfied that they know it's a heliocentric solar system? Besides, a tweak to a commitment isn't a new commitment.

"If you want to call a temporary commitment, a commitment...". If you don't expect to change it, it only turns out to be temporary at the point it is broken, so what proportion of current scientific knowledge do you think will now be entirely superseded? And if most scientific commitments aren't in fact temporary, then that's pretty committed, even by your reasoning, right?

Falsification doesn't mean scientists must constantly scrutinise every theory. Science reaches a threshold of knowledge through a methodical process, and commits to it, only tweaking it if and when part of it is falsified. The fact it can commit to a truth (and use it as a base for developing new theories) is what allows it to grow. "The acquisition and systematisation of positive knowledge are the only human activities which are truly cumulative and progressive" (Sarton). Science is fundamentally committal otherwise it wouldn't be progressive; we'd still be dropping apples.

I genuinely think that science is the least agnostic thing you could possibly have chosen. As Isaac Asimov said "science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom". But hey, he was just a biochemist, what would he know about science?

Original comment

"They will never be satisfied with whoever they are with because they know there's someone even better out there." But science doesn't know there's a better theory out there. It only ever tweaks its commitments if it is forced to. Don't you think scientists are satisfied that they know it's a heliocentric solar system? Besides, a tweak to a commitment isn't a new commitment.

"If you want to call a temporary commitment, a commitment...". If you don't expect to change it, it only turns out to be temporary at the point it is broken, so what proportion of current scientific knowledge do you think will now be entirely superseded? And if most scientific commitments aren't in fact temporary, then that's pretty committed, even by your reasoning, right?

Falsification doesn't mean scientists must constantly scrutinise every theory. Science reaches a threshold of knowledge through a methodical process, and commits to it, only tweaking it if and when part of it is falsified. The fact it can commit to a truth (and use it as a base for developing new theories) is what allows it to grow. "The acquisition and systematisation of positive knowledge are the only human activities which are truly cumulative and progressive" (Sarton). Science is fundamentally committal otherwise it wouldn't be progressive; we'd still be dropping apples.

I genuinely think that science is the least agnostic thing you could possibly have chosen. As Isaac Asimov said "science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom". But hey, he was just a biochemist, what would he know about science?

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (112 days ago)

You are confusing science (a method for acquiring knowledge) and scientists (people who use that knowledge - the theories).

Scientists commit to what works. Whether a theory is correct or even understood, is not the issue - as long as it works. Newton's laws are not technically correct, but they work accurately enough for most cases, and are much easier to use than Relativity.

"But science doesn't know there's a better theory out there." I think science does "know" there is a better theory out there. Until we know everything, then there will always be a better theory out there. Isn't that logical?

"It (science) only ever tweaks its commitments if it is forced to." You're right in some sense. In evolution, mutations are tweaks but tweaks are not all equal, and they add up. Some tweaks make a huge difference to survival chances, other tweaks less so. Evolution of the cortex, the part of the brain that deals with thinking, gave humans an enormous advantage over other species. Evolution of our big toe, probably less so.

Same goes for our scientific knowledge. In 1998, we discovered the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating, which led to ideas about dark energy and the nature of empty space itself. I'd class that as a pretty big tweak in our knowledge. And what if we come to understand the nature of consciousness, that would be the mother of tweaks. I wonder how big the tweaks we have to look forward to if we find alien life.

"Falsification doesn't mean scientists must constantly scrutinise every theory." True. Scientists are too busy to be constantly scrutinising well established theories. But we are not talking about scientists, we are talking about the discipline of science. Every scientific theory is open for falsification, and that door is never closed. That is why science is fundamentally non-committal.

Great quote from Sarton. Then you follow it with " Science is fundamentally committal otherwise it wouldn't be progressive" No, scientists are committal otherwise they wouldn't progress. Scientists commit to (accept as truth) theories otherwise they wouldn't progress. But science itself has to be non-committal to be able to progress.

I think you are describing something fundamental about how scientists work in the real world - that they commit to established theories; I'm describing something more abstract and fundamental about the nature of science itself - that only when everything is known, that it can fully commit to anything, therefore it is fundamentally non-committal.

Great Asimov quote, but what's the relevance?

Original comment

You are confusing science (a method for acquiring knowledge) and scientists (people who use that knowledge - the theories).

Scientists commit to what works. Whether a theory is correct or even understood, is not the issue - as long as it works. Newton's laws are not technically correct, but they work accurately enough for most cases, and are much easier to use than Relativity.

"But science doesn't know there's a better theory out there." I think science does "know" there is a better theory out there. Until we know everything, then there will always be a better theory out there. Isn't that logical?

"It (science) only ever tweaks its commitments if it is forced to." You're right in some sense. In evolution, mutations are tweaks but tweaks are not all equal, and they add up. Some tweaks make a huge difference to survival chances, other tweaks less so. Evolution of the cortex, the part of the brain that deals with thinking, gave humans an enormous advantage over other species. Evolution of our big toe, probably less so.

Same goes for our scientific knowledge. In 1998, we discovered the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating, which led to ideas about dark energy and the nature of empty space itself. I'd class that as a pretty big tweak in our knowledge. And what if we come to understand the nature of consciousness, that would be the mother of tweaks. I wonder how big the tweaks we have to look forward to if we find alien life.

"Falsification doesn't mean scientists must constantly scrutinise every theory." True. Scientists are too busy to be constantly scrutinising well established theories. But we are not talking about scientists, we are talking about the discipline of science. Every scientific theory is open for falsification, and that door is never closed. That is why science is fundamentally non-committal.

Great quote from Sarton. Then you follow it with " Science is fundamentally committal otherwise it wouldn't be progressive" No, scientists are committal otherwise they wouldn't progress. Scientists commit to (accept as truth) theories otherwise they wouldn't progress. But science itself has to be non-committal to be able to progress.

I think you are describing something fundamental about how scientists work in the real world - that they commit to established theories; I'm describing something more abstract and fundamental about the nature of science itself - that only when everything is known, that it can fully commit to anything, therefore it is fundamentally non-committal.

Great Asimov quote, but what's the relevance?

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Guest: (112 days ago)
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Science vs. scientists; maybe you’re getting hung up on ‘sillymantics&rsquo ;. The thread started with “This sort of agnostic stance is… common among scientists ” and you replied “That's because science is fundamentally agnostic”. Were you getting confused too? It seems you’ve moved from basically saying ‘Scientists are non-committal because science is non-committal’, to ‘Scientists have to be committal to progress, but science has to be non -committal to progress (apart from climate science and maybe some other stuff)’.

The scientific method establishes a truth which allows us to close one door and open new ones. If something comes along to falsify it, the original door is crowbarred open and that’s fine, but the whole rigour of science is designed to close doors and open new – to ascertain knowledge and build on it. Science is both a method of being committal and the product of committal itself.

Science doesn’t know there’s a better theory unless the current doesn’t account for everything we see. If, over centuries, we’ve honed a theory about boiling water that accounts for all observed occurrences, science can assume the theory is correct unless shown otherwise. Just because we don’t know everything, it isn’t logical to assume that what we already do know will turn out to be incorrect.

What does it mean to you for science to commit to something? What do you mean when you say that science doesn’t commit, but climate science does? For me, it means that the its knowledge supports its conclusion, that the conclusion is assumed to be completely true by those with the agency to do so (scientists), and that it is no longer an active area of scientific investigation.

Sure, dark energy, quantum theory; the frontier of science which I mentioned. But most of science isn’t like that. The vast bulk of scientific knowledge is comprised of mundane theories that have been accepted as fact for centuries, and have spawned far more complex science. Seismic shifts are historically rare, and usually a minor tweak is all that is required.

Sarton’s quote was about science not scientists. With a non-committal stance, science would be neither cumulative nor progressive, because it could never commit to what had already been learned enough to call it 'knowledge' or build on it. The Asimov quote reinforces the fact that science is the accumulation of knowledge, and hence not agnostic.

Original comment
Latest comment:

Science vs. scientists; maybe you’re getting hung up on ‘sillymantics&rsquo ;. The thread started with “This sort of agnostic stance is… common among scientists ” and you replied “That's because science is fundamentally agnostic”. Were you getting confused too? It seems you’ve moved from basically saying ‘Scientists are non-committal because science is non-committal’, to ‘Scientists have to be committal to progress, but science has to be non -committal to progress (apart from climate science and maybe some other stuff)’.

The scientific method establishes a truth which allows us to close one door and open new ones. If something comes along to falsify it, the original door is crowbarred open and that’s fine, but the whole rigour of science is designed to close doors and open new – to ascertain knowledge and build on it. Science is both a method of being committal and the product of committal itself.

Science doesn’t know there’s a better theory unless the current doesn’t account for everything we see. If, over centuries, we’ve honed a theory about boiling water that accounts for all observed occurrences, science can assume the theory is correct unless shown otherwise. Just because we don’t know everything, it isn’t logical to assume that what we already do know will turn out to be incorrect.

What does it mean to you for science to commit to something? What do you mean when you say that science doesn’t commit, but climate science does? For me, it means that the its knowledge supports its conclusion, that the conclusion is assumed to be completely true by those with the agency to do so (scientists), and that it is no longer an active area of scientific investigation.

Sure, dark energy, quantum theory; the frontier of science which I mentioned. But most of science isn’t like that. The vast bulk of scientific knowledge is comprised of mundane theories that have been accepted as fact for centuries, and have spawned far more complex science. Seismic shifts are historically rare, and usually a minor tweak is all that is required.

Sarton’s quote was about science not scientists. With a non-committal stance, science would be neither cumulative nor progressive, because it could never commit to what had already been learned enough to call it 'knowledge' or build on it. The Asimov quote reinforces the fact that science is the accumulation of knowledge, and hence not agnostic.

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