I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

Name:
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Evolution and Fatheaded Ed Brayton. Again.

In a blog article titled Evolution and the Texas Board of Education. Again., Fatheaded Ed says,

The Texas State Board of Education may be the single most ridiculous legislative body in America. . . . they're about to take up the science standards yet again, which can only lead to absurdity. Just take a look at some of the quotes from school board members in this article.

Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, said that standard is clear and worth keeping.

"We want our children to be able to think and understand the strengths and weaknesses of any theory. Some ultra-radical groups have not evolved to the point where they realize that the 'theory of Evolution' is just that -- a theory," Mercer said.

I've got news for you, Mr. Mercer: every single explanation offered in every single scientific subject in Texas schools is "just a theory." . . . . A theory is not a wild assed guess and it's not a step on the way to something else . . . . Theory is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations.

Wrong, Ed -- law is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations. Here I am using the term "explanation" in a broad sense to include explanations of how as well as why. Also, there is no reason why a theory cannot be a step on the way to something else.

Fatheaded Ed continues,
.
Once again I am left wondering why in the world we let people who have no expertise whatsoever in science determine the science curriculum in public schools. Doing so is positively irrational. We would not dream of electing a state licensing board for, say, medical schools and putting people on that board without any training in medicine. It is no less absurd to allow people with no background in science to decide what is taught in science classes.

Sheeeesh, Ed, the article said that Ken Mercer has a degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin.

There once was a blogger named Ed,
who was known as a stupid fathead.
The stuff he did write,
on his blogging site,
was like a balloon filled with lead.

The story is also covered in an article in the NY Times.
.

Labels: ,

32 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, there is a reason as to why a theory cannot be on the way to a law. In science, laws represent a measurable interaction between two constructs, whereas a theory is just an examination of a process, wich can be about anything from 1 atom decomposing with itself to a billion things interacting. So theories can become laws, but most things taught in science class will never escalate to laws. Your rantings and ravings on this site are pure nonsense, and the only reason I came here is through a blog that had the insight to sensor your nonsense.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008 7:14:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

>>>>>> Your rantings and ravings on this site are pure nonsense, and the only reason I came here is through a blog that had the insight to sensor your nonsense. <<<<<<<

You lousy disgusting hypocrite, I have the "insight" to censor your stupid comment, but censorship is generally against my principles, which are in contrast to the lack of principles of unscrupulous BVD-clad blogger Sleazy PZ Myers, whose blog directed you here. And you don't even know how to spell "censor."

For starters, you contradict yourself, first saying that theories cannot become laws, then saying that theories can become laws --

>>>>>>actually, there is a reason as to why a theory cannot be on the way to a law.. . . . So theories can become laws, but most things taught in science class will never escalate to laws. <<<<<<

Anyway, I was not talking specifically about theories becoming laws -- I was disputing Ed's statement, "A theory is not a . . .. step on the way to something else." A theory can be a step towards a law or another theory or can be modified by new theories. Even if a theory is completely replaced by another theory, the replaced theory can be considered to be a "step" towards the replacing theory, in the same way that Thomas Edison made progress towards creating a practical electric light by finding lots of things that don't work. Also, I think that a lot of scientific laws began as scientific theories -- they became laws by being consistently confirmed by more and more observations.

>>>>>> In science, laws represent a measurable interaction between two constructs, whereas a theory is just an examination of a process, wich can be about anything from 1 atom decomposing with itself to a billion things interacting. <<<<<<

That's nonsense -- there is no such distinction between scientific laws and scientific theories. Wikipedia lists of scientific laws and theories are here and here -- can you show examples of how your distinction applies to these laws and theories?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008 8:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

There is a difference in meaning, there are theories which are considered as fact, but not yet proven to become "scientific law".

"a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact."

A) contemplation or speculation.

B) guess or conjecture.

"a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity."

Thursday, June 05, 2008 12:04:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Also, I neglected to dispute Ed's statement, "I've got news for you, Mr. Mercer: every single explanation offered in every single scientific subject in Texas schools is 'just a theory.'" K-12 students learn far more scientific laws (sometimes also called principles, rules, etc.) than scientific theories, as is evident from this list and this list.

Thursday, June 05, 2008 5:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry folks, but there is no clear distinction between what is called a law, or a theory anywhere in science. Often, simple statements are called laws (like Ohm's law R=UI) whereas more complex things are called theories (like Newton's theory of Gravitation, Einstein's theory of gravitation). But whether something is law or theory is mainly determined historically, for example Wolff's law in biology is almost certainly false, and string theory in physics is something many physicists would prefer to call a hypothesis.
(The distinction between theory and hypothesis, OTOH, is rather clear: A theory is a framework of explanations that has withstood some tests, a hypothesis is something that might explain certain phenomena, but has not been sufficiently tested.)

Thursday, June 05, 2008 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Defining Scientific Law

"a phenomenon of nature that has been proven to invariably occur whenever certain conditions exist or are met; also, a formal statement about such a phenomenon; also called natural law"

Agreed, "an hypothesis something that might explain certain phenomena, but has not been sufficiently tested."

A classical example, the elements leaping into existence that were responsible for triggering the big bang...This is not a "theory" nor scientific law, but an "hypothesis".

Thursday, June 05, 2008 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael,
yes, you are right on the difference between law and hypothesis. Theory, however, is no different from law, and even laws can be falsified - nevertheless, nobody changes their names (like Wolff's law I mentioned). The bottom line is, you cannot understand the status of a scientific explanation by looking at what it is called - the experimentally best-proven, for example, are the theory of quantum electrodynamics and general relativity theory, whereas Ohm's law is called a law although it is only applicable under certain circumstances, not universal. The computer you are working on works by Quantum theory, the car you drive by (among others) the theory of mechanics and thermodynamics. The bottom line is, calling something "just a theory" is not helpful - you have to look at the evidence whether it is well supported by evidence or not.

Friday, June 06, 2008 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Anonymous said (Thursday, June 05, 2008 11:46:00 AM
>>>>> Often, simple statements are called laws (like Ohm's law R=UI) whereas more complex things are called theories (like Newton's theory of Gravitation, Einstein's theory of gravitation). <<<<<

For starters, the normal symbol for voltage is V, not U, and Ohm's law is R=V/I, not R=VI. Think of it this way -- when the resistance is high, the ratio of voltage to current is high.

Also, whether something is a law or a theory has nothing to do with simplicity or complexity. For example, Maxwell's equations and the Navier-Stokes equations are very complex.

Also, Newton's gravitational principle is called a "law" and not a "theory" -- it is often called "Newton's universal law of gravitation." It says that gravitational attraction between two bodies is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Often laws are stated as principles instead of equations, e.g., the conservation of mass and the conservation of energy.

Anonymous (maybe the same Anonymous, maybe not -- I don't know) said (Friday, June 06, 2008 12:35:00 AM) --
>>>>>The bottom line is, you cannot understand the status of a scientific explanation by looking at what it is called - the experimentally best-proven, for example, are the theory of quantum electrodynamics and general relativity theory, whereas Ohm's law is called a law although it is only applicable under certain circumstances, not universal. <<<<<

It is true that Ohm's law is not universally applicable -- for example, it does not apply to some semiconductor devices, e.g., a diode (that permits current flow in one direction only), or to superconductivity (where the electrical resistance of metals drops virtually to zero at low temperatures). But that doesn't make Ohm's law any less true where it applies. There are other examples of deviations from laws -- for example, real gases at high densities deviate from the ideal gas law. Other examples -- Einstein's relativity explains deviations from Newton's laws, helium at very low temperatures becomes a "superfluid" with virtually zero viscosity.

The physical properties in some scientific or engineering equations are often remarkably steady over a wide range of conditions -- for example, the thermal conductivity and heat capacities of solids will often vary little over a wide range of temperatures. On the other hand, the viscosities of liquids often vary dramatically over a wide range of temperatures, but laws, equations and principles using viscosities are applicable over the full range. However, sometimes changes in conditions will cause changes in the applicable mechanisms -- for example, real gases at high densities deviate from the ideal gas law because at high densities it becomes necessary to take into account the sizes and interactions of the gas molecules (the deviation from the ideal gas law is governed by the Van der Waals equation).

Also, as I said, there is a difference between explaining "how" and explaining "why." Laws often just explain "how" physical quantities are related to each other but don't explain "why" such relationships exist. For example (forces between currents article), the laws of physics say that a force on a conductor carrying current in a direction at a right angle to a magnetic field is at right angles to both the current direction and the magnetic field direction (in technical terms, the force is the cross-product of the current vector and the magnetic field vector), and furthermore that two parallel wires carrying current in the same direction will attract each other whereas two parallel wires carrying current in opposite directions will repel each other, but I don't know if there is any explanation as to why these things are so.

Anyway, I was mainly just disputing the following statements of Fatheaded Ed Brayton:

I've got news for you, Mr. Mercer: every single explanation offered in every single scientific subject in Texas schools is "just a theory." . . . . A theory is not a wild assed guess and it's not a step on the way to something else . . . . Theory is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations.

Except for the statement that a theory is "not a wild assed guess," I think that we can have a consensus here that Ed's above statements are wrong.

Friday, June 06, 2008 7:32:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

I think that the following comment was posted under the wrong article and so I am moving it down here --

Peter White said...
You are sadly mistaken about scientific law and theory. There is no hierarchy from theory to law in science. As an example look at Newton's laws of motion. They explain the motion of objects as small as golf balls or as large as planets and stars. They don't explain all of it - like the orbit of Mercury. Einstein's theory gives us the explanations we need for that.
So here we have a scientific law that needs a theory to make up for an inadequacy in it.
Laws in science are not better than theories. They tend to be simpler and fit nicely into one formula. The difference is a matter of convenience, not value.

Friday, June 06, 2008 9:23:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Peter White said...
>>>>>>>You are sadly mistaken about scientific law and theory. There is no hierarchy from theory to law in science. . . . .
So here we have a scientific law that needs a theory to make up for an inadequacy in it.
Laws in science are not better than theories. They tend to be simpler and fit nicely into one formula. The difference is a matter of convenience, not value. <<<<<<

I meant that there is a "hierarchy" only in the sense of degree of certainty -- I didn't mean to imply that laws are in general necessarily better than theories. Atomic theory, for example, has proven itself to be very useful in many areas. But laws are accurate and useful within their ranges of application and are essential in science and engineering.

Consider Ohm's Law, R=V/I. It is called a "law" but it is also a definition of a unit of electrical resistance, the ohm, which is the ratio of the number of volts to the number of amperes. Amperes and volts are the primary units here because these units are independently defined in mechanical terms, e.g., watts, joules, and newtons, rather than in electrical terms ("watt" is usually assumed to be an electrical unit but it is actually defined in mechanical terms, joules per second):

Ampere: the base unit of electric current in the International System of Units that is equal to a constant current which when maintained in two straight parallel conductors of infinite length and negligible circular sections one meter apart in a vacuum produces between the conductors a force equal to 2 × 10 -7 newton per meter of length

Volt: the practical meter-kilogram-second unit of electrical potential difference and electromotive force equal to the difference of potential between two points in a conducting wire carrying a constant current of one ampere when the power dissipated between these two points is equal to one watt.

Many resistors have a resistance in ohms that is fairly constant over a wide range of conditions (e.g., conditions of voltage and temperature) and in that situation Ohm's Law has high predictive value -- once we know the V/I ratio for one set of conditions, we know that the ratio is going to be about the same at some other set of conditions within the law's range of applicability. However, some resistors' resistance varies greatly with changes in conditions, e.g., a thermistor's resistance varies greatly with temperature, and Ohm's Law may be of limited usefulness there.

Friday, June 06, 2008 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry quoted Ed, then added: I've got news for you, Mr. Mercer: every single explanation offered in every single scientific subject in Texas schools is "just a theory." . . . . A theory is not a wild assed guess and it's not a step on the way to something else . . . . Theory is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations.

Except for the statement that a theory is "not a wild assed guess," I think that we can have a consensus here that Ed's above statements are wrong.

No, there is no consensus that Ed's statements are wrong. In fact, just the opposite.

Statement 1: I've got news for you, Mr. Mercer

Nothing objectionable here, even if Ed were proven wrong elsewhere.

Statement 2: every single explanation offered in every single scientific subject in Texas schools is "just a theory."

Nothing wrong here, perhaps hyperbolic as there are some laws learned. To call it wrong would be to nitpick, which may be enough for Larry but not enough for other people.

Statement 3: A theory is not a wild assed guess

Larry already conceded this one (something of a miracle).

Statement 4: and it's not a step on the way to something else . . . . Theory is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations

As Peter White noted, laws are not on a higher plane than theories. One might argue the opposite because laws explain relatively simple phenomena while theories are used for more complicated phenomena (see wikipedia, quoted recently by Larry on a different subject).

Again, Larry shows us why he shouldn't be allowed to waste everyone's time on Ed's blog.

Friday, June 06, 2008 6:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael wrote, "A classical example, the elements leaping into existence that were responsible for triggering the big bang...This is not a "theory" nor scientific law, but an "hypothesis"."

No. The Big Bang is a theory because it has numerous means of verification (see wikipedia article on the Big Bang) that do not require a physical test (if not impossible, it probably should be, since I think if the experiment were successful it would be another Big Bang which would presumably wipe us out!).

Also, your premise is flawed: the big bang did not occur because "elements leap[ed] into existence." Before the Big Bang all of matter existed as a singularity and then expanded over a period of time (you might say that time was invented by the Big Bang, or as a result of it).

Friday, June 06, 2008 6:32:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

>>>>>> Again, Larry shows us why he shouldn't be allowed to waste everyone's time on Ed's blog. <<<<<<

Why should you be allowed to waste everyone's time -- particularly my time -- here, dunghill?

>>>>>Statement 1: I've got news for you, Mr. Mercer

Nothing objectionable here, even if Ed were proven wrong elsewhere. <<<<<<

What is objectionable here is that Ed is talking down to Mr. Mercer even though it is Ed who is mostly wrong.

Ed is not even a college graduate, and I wonder if he has any credentials at all in technical fields. IMO credentials aren't everything, but Fatheaded Ed is an ignoramus who is intolerant of others' views -- there is no greater evidence of that than his banning me permanently from his blog because he disagreed with my literal interpretation of a federal court rule.

>>>>> Statement 2: every single explanation offered in every single scientific subject in Texas schools is "just a theory."

Nothing wrong here, perhaps hyperbolic as there are some laws learned. <<<<<<

"Perhaps hyperbolic"? Saying "every single explanation offered in every single scientific subject in Texas schools is 'just a theory'" is "perhaps hyperbolic"?

"There are some laws learned"? Most of the principles taught in K-12 science and math are called "laws" or are laws under other names -- e.g., rules, principles, equations, theorems, postulates (theorems and postulates are especially popular names for laws in mathematics). The only theories I can think of that are generally taught in K-12 science classes are evolution theory, atomic theory, and the big-bang theory.

>>>>>>Statement 3: A theory is not a wild assed guess

Larry already conceded this one (something of a miracle). <<<<<<<

What is something of a miracle is that Fatheaded Ed said something right.

>>>>> As Peter White noted, laws are not on a higher plane than theories. <<<<<<

I denied saying that laws are in general necessarily on a higher plane than theories. In a previous comment, I said,

I meant that there is a "hierarchy" only in the sense of degree of certainty -- I didn't mean to imply that laws are in general necessarily better than theories.

>>>>>> One might argue the opposite because laws explain relatively simple phenomena while theories are used for more complicated phenomena <<<<<<<

I have already answered that one, too. I said,

Also, whether something is a law or a theory has nothing to do with simplicity or complexity. For example, Maxwell's equations and the Navier-Stokes equations are very complex.

I wish you would read what I write -- you make me repeat myself unnecessarily.

Also, though the steady-state one-dimensional forms of some laws -- e.g., Fourier's law of heat conduction, Hooke's law of stress and strain -- are very simple, the transient and/or three-dimensional forms may be very complicated, requiring knowledge of partial differential equations, vector analysis, tensor analysis, etc..

Friday, June 06, 2008 8:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Voice in the Urbanness said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 7:08:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

I deleted ViU's comment for violations of the new rules for comments. This time I will let him figure out why I deleted his comment. Next time I will just delete his crap without notice and without trace.

ViU, if you want to post that crap, then just start your own blog.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 7:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Quote from the article:

"Wrong, Ed -- law is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations. "

Quote from a later comment
"I denied saying that laws are in general necessarily on a higher plane than theories."

Aren't you contradicting yourself?

In any case, all this stemmed from the quote "theory of Evolution' is just that -- a theory", and I think everything in this discussion showed that "just a theory" is not a way to discount a scientific explanation.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 9:13:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

>>>>>>Quote from a later comment
"I denied saying that laws are in general necessarily on a higher plane than theories."

Aren't you contradicting yourself? <<<<<<

That is a quote mine -- you didn't include my clarification, which I have already posted twice in this thread --

I meant that there is a "hierarchy" only in the sense of degree of certainty -- I didn't mean to imply that laws are in general necessarily better than theories.

I thought that you Darwinists were opposed to quote-mining.

>>>>> I think everything in this discussion showed that "just a theory" is not a way to discount a scientific explanation. <<<<<

It is a way of discounting the degree of certainty in a scientific explanation.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave2 said...

First, I doubt this 'degree of certainty' standard. As you've noted, Newton's laws of motion are still laws, even though they're strictly speaking false (due to relativity). Or take the old-timey "laws of affinity" from chemistry: they still get the label 'law' despite the revolution in chemistry that displaced them. Or take Descartes' laws of motion: Cartesian physics has been a dead end for centuries, but they're still called 'laws'. And likewise some theories have just about the highest degree of certainty you can get in science: the kinetic theory of gases, for instance, or the germ theory of disease.

Second, I don't think there are any examples in the history of science where a theory 'graduates' into a law.

I think Anonymous is right: the key question is how well-confirmed something is, not what label we happen to use for it.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 6:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin said...

>>>I meant that there is a "hierarchy" only in the sense of degree of certainty -- I didn't mean to imply that laws are in general necessarily better than theories.


Sorry. I wasn't trying to quote-mine, I'm just not understanding (still don't): you say (I paraphrase) "There is a hierarchy of understanding, but laws are not better than theories". Isn't the only way one scietific explanation can be better than another that it is more certain? So if there is a hierarchy, with law above theory (if there is, it's strange that no-one in my university ever told us), doesn't that make laws automatically better than theories?

And it is still true that you cannot conclude from the name (law or theory) how well-supported an explanation is. The best-supported (by experiment) explanations in science are quantum electrodynamics (correct with an error of about 1:1e11) and the theory of general relativity (accuracy 1:1e14).

PS: Sorry, way above, for mistyping Ohm's law (yes, that was me, but I did not figure out at that time how to give my posts a name-tag) - and here in Germany, BTW, we usually do use U for voltage, not V.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 5:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Hector said...

We saw the comment. You deleted ViU because he pointed out the error of your statement about the Maxwell equations. You are censoring some of the comments that show your errors. If you censored all such comments, there would be nothing on this blog.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 5:23:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Dave2 said,
>>>>> As you've noted, Newton's laws of motion are still laws, even though they're strictly speaking false (due to relativity). <<<<<

They're not "strictly speaking false" -- they're strictly speaking limited. For most practical purposes, Newton's laws of motion are accurate and useful. Other laws are also limited. I gave the example of the ideal gas law, which is inaccurate for gases at high densities, and Ohm's law, which does not apply to thermistors, semiconductors, and superconductors.

>>>>> Or take Descartes' laws of motion: Cartesian physics has been a dead end for centuries, but they're still called 'laws'. <<<<<<

Maybe they are called laws just for historical reasons -- and parts of Descartes' laws of motion are similar to Newton's laws of motion.

>>>>> And likewise some theories have just about the highest degree of certainty you can get in science: the kinetic theory of gases, for instance, or the germ theory of disease. <<<<<<

The kinetic theory of gases is just an explanation of the ideal gas law and may also explain the deviation of high density gases from that law (the Van der Waals equation). Also, in many cases, laws explain how things are related mathematically and theories explain or attempt to explain why they are related in those ways or why they are related at all -- for example, there is Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation and there are theories of gravitation.

There can't be a germ "law" of disease because many diseases are not caused by germs.

>>>>> Second, I don't think there are any examples in the history of science where a theory 'graduates' into a law. <<<<<

Many laws must have begun as theories or hypotheses. How can a proposed law be verified unless it is first presented as a theory or hypothesis?

Also, as I said, some "laws" might be considered to just be definitions of physical properties. For example, as I pointed out, Ohm's "law" might be considered to be a definition of the ohm unit of electrical resistance. Fourier's law of heat conduction might be considered to be a definition of thermal conductivity (though the transient form of the law includes heat capacity and density as well). Because many of these physical properties often happen to be fairly constant over a wide range of conditions, these definitions of properties have the appearance of "laws." It is especially remarkable that thermal properties are often fairly constant over wide ranges of temperature, because temperature is not defined in terms of these thermal properties.

Also, as I pointed out, sometimes laws are not called laws but are called rules, principles, theorems, postulates, etc. (theorem and postulate are especially popular terms in mathematics).

>>>>> I think Anonymous is right: the key question is how well-confirmed something is, not what label we happen to use for it. <<<<<

I still contend that as a general rule, laws tend to have a higher degree of certainty than theories. But as you say, labels alone should not be sole determining factors. Some theories are weak and other theories are strong. Juliet said in Shakespeare's play, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And Lincoln said, "how many legs would a horse have if the tail were called a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it one." Anyway, the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution are not well-confirmed. Also, most of what Ed Brayton said is just plain wrong.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 6:35:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Hector driveled,
>>>>>You deleted ViU because he pointed out the error of your statement about the Maxwell equations. <<<<<

Hector, you are wasting my time with your crap, damn you. Here are the reasons why I flushed ViU's comment. He said,

>>>>>>> Fatheaded Ed is an ignoramus who is intolerant of others' views -- there is no greater evidence of that than his banning me permanently from his blog because he disagreed with my literal interpretation of a federal court rule. <

But we all know that isn't the reason. <<<<<<

I have repeatedly shown that to be the reason.

He also said,

>>>>>> The only theories I can think of that are generally taught in K-12 science classes are evolution theory, atomic theory, and the big-bang theory. <

You must have missed a great deal. <<<<<<

That only said I was wrong without saying why. ViU should have given examples of other theories typically taught in K-12 schools. I just thought of other ones -- tectonic plate theory and global warming theory. There was no global warming theory when I was in school. But laws and laws under other names still greatly outnumber theories, particularly when mathematical laws are included.

As for ViU's statement about Maxwell's equations,
>>>>>> The beauty of Maxwell's equations are their simplicity. <<<<<<

That is almost a reason for flushing ViU's comment, because it is a deliberate falsehood -- Maxwell's equations are not at all simple in comparison to many other statements of scientific laws. Only a troll would make a statement like that. But that statement is not one of the reasons why I flushed his comment.

Pretty soon I am just going to stop responding to trolls. It not only wastes my time but also clutters up this blog.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 7:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

>>>Maxwell's equations are not at all simple in comparison to many other statements of scientific laws.<<<

If you believe this, you are surely in opposition to the majority of physicists. Maxwell's equation are possibly the simplest set of partial differential equations you can write down with such phantastic consequences. Sure, when you first see them (I well remember that day), they look complex (I was severly disappointed that day: "These are the beautiful Maxwell equations??"), but if you play around with them, you see the simplicity and beauty.


BTW, if you write them in the language of differential forms, they even look simple:
D*F=J
DF=0

(Of course, this doesn't mean much - as Feynman once observed, you can put all equations together into one: U=0.)

In any case, compared to, say Ohm's law, which has a simple equation but needs lots of qualifiers to explain where it applies and where it does not, Maxwell's equations are simple.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 8:09:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Martin said (Sunday, June 08, 2008 5:15:00 AM) --
>>>>> Sorry. I wasn't trying to quote-mine, I'm just not understanding (still don't): you say (I paraphrase) "There is a hierarchy of understanding, but laws are not better than theories". Isn't the only way one scietific explanation can be better than another that it is more certain? <<<<<<

I presume you meant "there is a hierarchy of certainty," not "there is a hierarchy of understanding."

There are several ways in which laws or theories may be better than -- or at least fundamentally different from -- other laws and theories:

(1) Some laws and theories may be better defined or more simply defined than other laws and theories. Some laws and theories might be quantitatively stated in the form of mathematical equations whereas other laws and theories might be only qualitatively stated in general terms. For example, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is usually in the latter category and has several different statements. I think that the most popular statement is, "it is impossible to construct an engine which, operating in a cycle, does nothing but absorb heat from a single reservoir and perform an equivalent amount of work."

(2) A law or theory may have broader application in its field than other laws or theories. For example, the statement "Fourier's law is the fundamental concept underlying all analysis of heat conduction in solids" is a true statement. In contrast, the statement that evolution theory is "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology" is bullshit -- there are lots of areas in biology where evolution is irrelevant. That stupid statement was put in the Florida state science standards by scientists and science educators, not by ignorant amateurs.

(3) Laws and theories have different degrees of usefulness. So far as I can see, Darwinism is not very useful. Darwinism is used in cladistic taxonomy, but IMO this is not a good use -- cladistic taxonomy is unstable because it is subject to change caused by discoveries of fossils and reclassification of fossils. However, the concept of Darwinism would still be useful in cladistic taxonomy even if Darwinism were wholly or partially untrue.

>>>>>> And it is still true that you cannot conclude from the name (law or theory) how well-supported an explanation is. <<<<<<

Laws are almost invariably very well supported -- that's why they are called laws (as was pointed out, Descartes' laws are called laws for historical reasons). Some theories are well-supported, others are not. Anyway, again, Ed Brayton's statements that I quoted in the original post are mostly just plain wrong.

>>>>> I did not figure out at that time how to give my posts a name-tag) <<<<<

I wish commenters here would stop posting under the name "Anonymous" -- there is often more than one and I want to be able to distinguish between the commenters here. Commenters can still remain anonymous while using unique names. You don't even need to register with Google/Blogger to use a unique name.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Martin said (Sunday, June 08, 2008 8:09:00 AM) --
>>>>>>>Maxwell's equations are not at all simple in comparison to many other statements of scientific laws. <<<

If you believe this, you are surely in opposition to the majority of physicists. <<<<<

Maxwell's equations are certainly not simple in comparison to, say, F=ma.

>>>>>> Maxwell's equation are possibly the simplest set of partial differential equations you can write down with such phantastic (sic) consequences. <<<<<<

So you are already putting Maxwell's equations in a special category -- laws using partial differential equations -- rather than comparing Maxwell's equations with the equations of all laws.

Also, the complete set of Maxwell's equations involves more than just partial differential equations -- there are also vector dot-products, vector cross-products, and line integrals.

And don't laws stated by simple equations also have "phantastic" consequences?

Also, I am talking here about equations that are understandable to K-12 students -- the complete set of Maxwell's equations are obviously not. However, some of the principles of Maxwell's equations can be understood by K-12 students -- e.g., electromagnetic induction.

Some laws have both simple and complicated mathematical expressions. For example, the steady-state one-dimensional expressions of Fourier's law of heat conduction and Hooke's law of stress & strain are very simple, but the three-dimensional and/or transient forms are complicated.

>>>>>> In any case, compared to, say Ohm's law, which has a simple equation but needs lots of qualifiers to explain where it applies and where it does not, Maxwell's equations are simple. <<<<<<

That's absurd -- the breadth of the applicability of an equation is not a factor in the complexity of that equation.

BTW, F=ma was originally stated as a differential equation: force is equal to the time rate of change of momentum, i.e., F=d(mv)/dt. LOL This form is more intuitive than F=ma.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 3:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin said...

>>>Laws are almost invariably very well supported -- that's why they are called laws

But if the name has to do with how well it is supported, shouldn't we have lots of cases were a "theory" gets promoted to "law"? I, at least, know of none.

>>>There are several ways in which laws or theories may be better than -- or at least fundamentally different from -- other laws and theories

I agree, if you imply (as the phrasing seems to) that it is possible for a theory to be better supported than a law (As General relativity, the best-supported theory we have).

>>>Darwinism is not very useful.

Really? Considering it explains evolution, is used in understanding today animal's historical constraints and is one the cornerstones of medicine (how, if not by evolution, do we explain the rise of resistant bacteria?).

>>>The complete set of Maxwell's equations involves more than just partial differential equations -- there are also vector dot-products, vector cross-products, and line integrals.

Well, you don't need the line integrals and if we talk PDEs, vector products are automatically there.

>>>And don't laws stated by simple equations also have "phantastic" consequences?

For example?

>>>the breadth of the applicability of an equation is not a factor in the complexity of that equation.

No, not of the equation. But the physical law obviously has to contain the range of applicability, so the more conditions you have, the more complicated it is to state where the law applies.

BTW, in German, F=ma is not called a law, but Newtons second axiom. Funny, isn't it? And yes, of course the formulation with broader applicability is F=dp/dt.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 11:36:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Martin said,
>>>>>> But if the name has to do with how well it is supported <<<<<

I never said that. For example, there are well supported theories and there are poorly supported theories. Because evolution is often called a theory, Darwinists have been trying to change the scientific meaning of theory to mean that a theory is by definition very well supported. Fatheaded Ed Brayton even went beyond that by stating, "Theory is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations." In contrast, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary's definition of the scientific meaning of "theory" is, "a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena (wave theory of light)." That definition is broad enough to include -- horrors! -- hunches and guesses. For example, a lot of physicists don't consider "string theory" to be scientific at all. Darwinists have been trying to change the scientific meaning of the term "theory" to suit their own purposes.

you continue,

>>>>>> shouldn't we have lots of cases were a "theory" gets promoted to "law"? I, at least, know of none. <<<<<<

As I said, presumably many laws began as theories or hypotheses, then became laws after verification by observations. Ohm's law, for example, is basically not even a hypothesis -- it is basically just an equation that defines a value of resistance, in ohms. Because many resistors have resistance values that are fairly constant over a wide ranges of voltages and other conditions (e.g., temperature), the equation has the appearance of a law. When Ohm first presented the equation, was he aware that the resistance values of many resistors are fairly constant over a wide range of conditions? I don't know.

BTW, Fourier's law of heat conduction, unlike Ohm's law, is a real law. Looking at the steady-state one-dimensional form of Fourier's law for simplicity, the direct proportionality of heat transfer to cross-sectional area is fairly obvious, but the linearity of the inverse proportionality to the distance of heat transfer (i.e., twice the distance means one-half the heat transfer) is not obvious; in materials' attenuation of ionizing radiation (e.g., beta rays, gamma rays), for example, the inverse proportionality of radiation attenuation with distance is exponential, not linear (i.e., twice the distance means one-fourth the radiation transmission).

>>>>>There are several ways in which laws or theories may be better than -- or at least fundamentally different from -- other laws and theories

I agree, if you imply (as the phrasing seems to) that it is possible for a theory to be better supported than a law <<<<<<<<

The phrasing neither implies that nor implicitly denies that. And are you saying that if I did not intend to imply that, then you don't agree with my statement? I gave examples of other ways in which laws and theories could be better than other laws and theories.

>>>>>>Darwinism is not very useful.

Really? Considering it explains evolution, is used in understanding today animal's historical constraints and is one the cornerstones of medicine (how, if not by evolution, do we explain the rise of resistant bacteria?). <<<<<

Resistant bacteria are an example of microevolution, not macroevolution.

>>>>>>you don't need the line integrals <<<<<<

One reference defines Ampere's law of Maxwell's equations in terms of the line integral:

In the case of static electric field, the line integral of the magnetic field around a closed loop is proportional to the electric current flowing through the loop. This is useful for the calculation of magnetic field for simple geometries.

However, the differential forms of Maxwell's equations do not use line integrals.

>>>>>>and if we talk PDEs, vector products are automatically there. <<<<<<<

Wrong -- partial differential equations do not automatically involve vector products. In the differential forms of Maxwell's equations, PDE's happen to involve vector products because of the use of the del operator (the nabla symbol, an inverted delta).

Anyone with half a brain can see that the mathematics used in Maxwell's equations is well above the level of K-12 students. Some advanced high school students could, with long special study, understand the mathematics of the Maxwell equations and the associated physical significances, e.g., divergence and curl, but such special study would be well beyond the scope of an introductory physics course. And especially because of the del operator, the Maxwell's equations are elegant, but they are not simple. There is a big difference between elegance and simplicity. You are mocking K-12 students because they lack the background to understand Maxwell's equations.

>>>>>>And don't laws stated by simple equations also have "phantastic" consequences?

For example? <<<<<

Come on -- there are lots of examples. This list has lots of examples.

>>>>>>the breadth of the applicability of an equation is not a factor in the complexity of that equation.

No, not of the equation. But the physical law obviously has to contain the range of applicability, so the more conditions you have, the more complicated it is to state where the law applies. <<<<<<

But Ohm's law, for example, is a very simple equation, even though its applicability may be limited. Why are you quibbling over this simple point? Fourier's law, for example, is applicable only to heat conduction in solids and in very thin boundary layers in heat convection and is not applicable at all to heat transfer in radiation, but do those broad exceptions mean that the steady-state, one-dimensional form of Fourier's law is not simple?

>>>>> BTW, in German, F=ma is not called a law, but Newtons second axiom.

Maybe that's because the law was originally published in "Axiomata sive Leges Motus." Anyway, as I said, laws in science and mathematics have a lot of different names in English, e.g., rule, principle, theorem, and postulate (the latter two are especially popular in mathematics).

>>>>> And yes, of course the formulation with broader applicability is F=dp/dt. <<<<<

I presume that the p is momentum, mv. Where m is constant, it can be factored out, so F = d(mv)/dt = m(dv/dt) = ma, the familiar form. But the F = d(mv)/dt form is more intuitive because it says that force is equal to the time rate of change of momentum, whereas acceleration is an abstract quantity. Also, I wonder -- assuming v is constant, then v can be factored out, so F = d(mv)/dt = v(dm/dt), which says that one can stop a car from accelerating by lightening the vehicle by throwing objects sideways out the window, which does not make sense -- the acceleration force would continue to act on a lightened vehicle. Of course, one can slow the acceleration of a fire truck by directing a water stream forward, as the reaction force would oppose the acceleration force.

Monday, June 09, 2008 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin said...

>>>I gave examples of other ways in which laws and theories could be better than other laws and theories.

So, if I now understand you correctly, you say that theory A may have better support than law B? If so, then I absolutely agree.

This, of course, shows that calling evolution "just a theory" is not really an argument, which was all I wanted to say.

>>>Anyone with half a brain can see that the mathematics used in Maxwell's equations is well above the level of K-12 students.

Don't know why people on blogs always have to be insulting...
I agree (partly) - the mathematical form is above K-12 level, but the simple physics behind the equations is not. (I once gave a 2-hour lecture on quantum electrodynamics to university freshman - themathematics is horribly complex, but the physics behind it is simple.

>>>But Ohm's law, for example, is a very simple equation...

Possibly we are talking past each other here. To me, a law is a statement about nature. To state the law, you have to state its range of applicability. So if this latter statement is complicated, the law is as well.

But I think we can just agree to disagree on this point of simplicity, since simplicity is possibly more a matter of taste than a scietific term.

>>> I wonder -- assuming v is constant, then v can be factored out, so F = d(mv)/dt = v(dm/dt), which says that one can stop a car from accelerating by lightening the vehicle by throwing objects sideways out the window,

Well, if you keep v constant, then there is no acceleration. A situation where you can see the effect of mass change more clearly (you have to be careful not to impart additional impulse on your object) is dropping a heavy load onto a car travelling horizontally. The car will decelerate.


>>>Resistant bacteria are an example of microevolution, not macroevolution.

Is there any scietific proof of a difference between micro- and macroevolution?

Monday, June 09, 2008 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Martin said,
>>>>> So, if I now understand you correctly, you say that theory A may have better support than law B? If so, then I absolutely agree. <<<<<<

If "theory" A has better support than "law" B, then maybe A should be called a "law" or B should be called a "theory."

>>>>> This, of course, shows that calling evolution "just a theory" is not really an argument, which was all I wanted to say. <<<<<

Fatheaded Ed Brayton has tried to turn the "theory" label into something positive for evolution -- he said, "Theory is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations." Darwinists are just distorting the meanings of terms beyond all recognition -- for example, they say that intelligent design is creationism, but it's not.

>>>>> Possibly we are talking past each other here. To me, a law is a statement about nature. To state the law, you have to state its range of applicability. So if this latter statement is complicated, the law is as well.

But I think we can just agree to disagree on this point of simplicity, since simplicity is possibly more a matter of taste than a scietific term. <<<<<<

Well, just ask students what is easier for them to understand -- Maxwell's equations or the exceptions to Ohm's law.

>>>>>> Well, if you keep v constant, then there is no acceleration. A situation where you can see the effect of mass change more clearly (you have to be careful not to impart additional impulse on your object) is dropping a heavy load onto a car travelling horizontally. The car will decelerate. <<<<<<

If the load is initially moving at the same speed and direction as the car, nothing will happen when the load is dropped on the car (neglecting the added weight's effect on friction, rolling resistance, and wind resistance). However, if the load is stationary or moving in the same direction as the car but slower, then of course the car will decelerate.

You are talking about a situation where there is no force that would tend to accelerate or decelerate the vehicle. I am assuming that there is such a force. I am saying that the momentum form of Newton's 2nd Law, F = d(mv)/dt, can be satisfied if the velocity is constant but only the mass of the vehicle is changing, i.e., F = v(dm/dt), but that makes no physical sense, so there is a fallacy here somewhere. I think that the solution is to assume that the force is acting only on the instantaneous mass of the vehicle. Also, as I mentioned, if one is on a moving fire truck and directs a water stream forward or backward, the reaction force would affect the forward motion of the vehicle. If the water stream is directed to the side, there would be no effect on the forward motion of the vehicle so far as the reaction force is concerned.

>>>>> Is there any scietific proof of a difference between micro- and macroevolution? <<<<<<

IMO the difference is that microevolution has been observed and macroevolution has not been observed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 3:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

>>>I am saying that the momentum form of Newton's 2nd Law, F = d(mv)/dt, can be satisfied if the velocity is constant but only the mass of the vehicle is changing

Funny how this discussion evolves, isn't it?
But there is no real problem here (except from finding a situation where you could actually change the mass) - if, for example, you again drop the mass (say continuously, so you increase the mass with some rate dm/dt) onto a car and simultaneously exert a force F=vdm/dt, then voleocity would not change. There's no fallacy I can see.

>>>IMO the difference is that microevolution has been observed and macroevolution has not been observed.

If you mean by observed "directly observed to be happening", then indeed the timescale forbids this. If you mean that there is no *evidence* of it and no *indirect* observation (fossils, extant animal morphology, etc.) I could not disagree more.

The point of my question was that if there is no reason to assume that there is a difference in micro and macroevolution apart from the timescale, then directly observing microevolution is one piece of evidence for evolution in general.

>>>If "theory" A has better support than "law" B, then maybe A should be called a "law" or B should be called a "theory."

Maybe it should. But this is not how science works or has ever worked in the past - scientists don#t bother to re-label theories or laws, either because they know that you have to look at each in turn or because they believe it would cause no end of confusion.

>>>he said, "Theory is the highest level of certainty granted to scientific explanations." Darwinists are just distorting the meanings of terms beyond all recognition

Nope - as this discussion has shown (I hope) you don#t get promoted from theory to law. hasn't happened. Not once.

Your computer works by quantum theory, your car works using the theory of mechanics and thermodynamics etc. All these are theories and theory (usually, not always) means that something is exceedingly well supported. But I'm afraid we are re-hashing things here.


>>>Well, just ask students what is easier for them to understand -- Maxwell's equations or the exceptions to Ohm's law.

Possibly you are right, although telling them: Ohm's law is valid in the limit of very small currents and voltages in a material without a bandgap might actually also be not too easy to understand...

But as I said, this is probably more a matter of taste than one of science. (And I freely admit that having studied theoretical physics might have warped my understanding of what is simple...)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 5:46:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Martin said,
>>>>>> But there is no real problem here (except from finding a situation where you could actually change the mass) <<<<<<

On a fire truck with its own water tank, you could steadily change the mass by streaming water sideways from the vehicle (though maybe not fast enough to quickly affect the acceleration of the vehicle). Of course, if the water stream is directed forward or backward, the reaction force would affect the forward motion of the vehicle. If mass is added to the vehicle, the forward motion of the vehicle would of course be affected by acceleration or deceleration of the mass if the mass is not initially moving at the same speed as the vehicle.

>>>>>> - if, for example, you again drop the mass (say continuously, so you increase the mass with some rate dm/dt) onto a car and simultaneously exert a force F=vdm/dt, then voleocity would not change. There's no fallacy I can see. <<<<<<

I disagree -- IMO the force would just act on the instantaneous mass of the car. Of course, acceleration will slow as the mass of the vehicle increases.

Under d'Alembert's principle, there is an imaginary or fictitious force -ma, sometimes called the inertial force, which represents the resistance of the mass to acceleration (or deceleration) and that is an equal and opposite force (as in Newton's 3rd law of motion) opposing the accelerating (decelerating) force. So supposedly this imaginary d'Alembert force could be generated in the momentum form of the 2nd law, F = d(mv)/dt, just by changing the mass, but then there would be no accelerating (or decelerating) force opposing this d'Alembert force! LOL

>>>IMO the difference is that microevolution has been observed and macroevolution has not been observed.

If you mean by observed "directly observed to be happening", then indeed the timescale forbids this. If you mean that there is no *evidence* of it and no *indirect* observation (fossils, extant animal morphology, etc.) I could not disagree more. <<<<<<<

The evidence for macroevolution is circumstantial. It is not the strongest form of evidence.

>>>>>> Nope - as this discussion has shown (I hope) you don#t get promoted from theory to law. hasn't happened. Not once. <<<<<<

I haven't studied the histories of scientific laws, but I refuse to believe that all scientific laws were laws when they were first introduced.

>>>>>> And I freely admit that having studied theoretical physics might have warped my understanding of what is simple... <<<<<<

Yes, your understanding of what is simple has definitely been warped.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous 'Nonymous said...

IMO the difference is that microevolution has been observed and macroevolution has not been observed.

Presumably none of us has ever observed the Gregorian abrogation of Leap Year. The occurrence of such an event is "just a theory" and probably wrong.

The notion that the Americas split from Europe and Africa along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is obviously "macro" and no more than a conjecture.

Larry's inability to draw appropriate inferences, on the other hand, is a Law (at least until disproven by a counter-example).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 4:12:00 PM  

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