Verbal Logic: Clear thought & Critical Thinking
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth
It is a matter of due diligence that science writers are obliged to disclose or otherwise cite all the available information pertaining to the topic. It is commonly reported that global warming is causing the glaciers to melt, but no mention is made of the thickening of the Antarctic ice (Joughin & Tulaczyk, 2002) and a steadily cooling Antarctic continent (Comiso, 2000; Doran et al, 2002; Thompson & Solomon, 2002), in spite of the fact that Antarctic ice constitutes more than 90% of the world's ice. When Setterfield (1981) reported progressive changes in the speed of light based on the selective exclusion of key data, this was rejected by his co-religionists (Fackerell, 1984) and described by his contemporaries as fraud (Price, 1990; Plimer, 1994). Although it is common practice for journalists to neglect any mention of information that contradicts their article's main argument, this can form the basis for an accusation of scientific fraud if done in the name of science.
The Power of One: How Theory MUST Change to Encompass Every Verified Anecdote.
The fallacy of anecdote does not necessarily apply to science where theory does not account for exceptions. One single solitary fossil whose stratigraphic position relative to faunal progression contradicts applicable sedimentary younging directions is enough to require a revision of the theory of evolution. A Precambrian coral, or a Jurassic primate, a Silurian dinosaur, or an Ordovician Bird; any one of these in absence of fraud, would be sufficient to require a complete revision of the way we consider the mechanism of evolution. The best opponents of evolution can come up with is a few misshapen goethite nodules and the midnight carving of footprints amongst trace fossils along the Paluxy River in Texas (Milne & Schafersman, 1983).
It is often argued that to explain the exception to a theory is to make an ad hoc argument. This only applies when the validity of a specific exception is questioned without corroborating evidence. I had the exquisite pleasure of putting one of the au$7,000 horse race tipping programs to the scientific test back in 2003. The Queensland company (who now sell a similar share market tipping program for au$20,000 under a different name), agreed to conduct the demonstration on their web site and acquiesced to my insistence that I acquire independent and simultaneous verification of their results through the TAB. I knew from my own research in random systems that non-random influences could be measured from patterns of minimisation in the running deviation, so it was possible that their developers had stumbled onto something interesting. The results constituted a losing streak consistent with completely random betting, which the salesman attempted to explain away as extremely rare. However, without being able to provide me with a majority of successful results, this claim that the verified outcome in my particular case was an extremely rare and anecdotal occurrence is an example of the ad hoc argument. In the case of a generalisation disproven by a verified exception, the attempt to dismiss unsupportive evidence on the grounds that it is anecdotal constitutes a variation of ad hoc argument.
Much of the evolutionary progression occurs at a steady rate, and by comparison low rates and high rates of evolution are rare. Yet the discovery by Steven J. Gould of accelerated examples of evolution proves the reality of punctuated equilibrium in spite of its relatively anecdotal nature.
Anecdote once verified, is more often the cause of modification to a theory than complete revision. The idea that mass extinction is caused by a fall in mean global temperature below 19 degrees Celsius is not overturned by the one Phanerozoic exception. 260 million years ago, there was a mass extinction (Futuyma, 1998) that occurred as temperatures (Royer et al., 2004) and carbon dioxide (Berner, 2001, Royer e al., 2004) were rising. It will interest you to know that a large number of giant insect species dependent on higher atmospheric oxygen concentrations had evolved during the earlier Carboniferous period, and the rapid fall in oxygen from 30% down to only 15% between 260-240 million years ago (Berner et al., 2003) is sufficient explanation for the mass extinction that occurred 260 million years ago. This anecdote confirmed that there is more than one potential mechanism for mass extinction in the Phanerozoic. (For a chart comparing atmospheric carbon dioxide, temperature, atmospheric oxygen, extinction rates and much more; through the last 500 million years see my article on Climate Change Catastrophism).
Generally, anecdotal evidence is sufficient to substantially modify a theory, and although a verified anecdote is said to be sufficient evidence to completely overturn a scientific theory, I am yet to see a practical example. However, Gore (2006) uses a survey of only 928 scientific publications to assert that there is no scientific opposition the the idea of anthropogenic climate change. The source Gore (2006) failed to credit in his presentation is Oreskes (2004), who admits that the survey fails to account for dissenting opinion and is based purely on an overview of scientific abstracts without considering explicit conclusions, findings, or comments that are often excluded from the abstract depending on the writing style of the author and the direct relevance of the comment to the subject of research. The assertion implicit in the use of this survey by Gore (2006) is that there is no scientific opposition to the idea of anthropogenic climate change. This is an example of a widely and repeatedly supported generalisation that only one, single, "cherry-picked" anecdote could bring to ruin - such as Hunt (2004), or Carter (2007). According to a subsequent review of 539 papers published between January of 2004 and February of 2007, 6% now reject the idea of anthropogenic climate change, whereas fewer than half endorse the idea and only 7% explicitly so (Schulte, 2008).
Authority is Either Unrelated or Dishonest
In the eleventh century, King Canute once conducted an interesting experiment for the better edification of his courtiers. He had his throne carried to the beach and in the presence of his courtiers commanded the tide not to rise. In spite of his incredible authority, King Canute's command could not abrogate the laws of nature. The lesson we learn from King Canute's experiment is that authority and science are mutually exclusive.
Giordano Bruno, was burned alive for heresy in 1600 after expressing the view that the sun was a star. It seems that the lesson of King Canute was lost on the fanatically religious people of the time. Bruno was condemned by both Catholic and Protestant authorities, yet this condemnation did not change the fact that the sun is a star. In reality, the condemnation, torture, and execution of Bruno was an act of academic extortion; probably intended to stunt the intellectual sophistication of the people being governed.
"Scientific authority" is an oxymoron because no authority is sufficient to dictate the actual outcome of a rigid and repeatable procedure. It is my experience that attempts to suggest authority has any role in science are made with a deceptive agenda.
Consensus: If not Totally Irrelevant is Totally Wrong
Science has nothing to do with popularity or consensus as Oreskes (2004) so clearly points out. Millions of fundamentalists worldwide including members of both Christian and Muslim sects all agree that evolution is wrong. Yet this does not prevent palynologists from using the theory of evolution to assist petroleum companies in the discovery of new oil reserves.
All too often I hear from commercial circles, the same old garbage that science is somehow about consensus. There is indeed a consensus of opinion that traditional IQ tests are useful or even scientific, and we keep hearing that dangerous anthropogenic global warming is a matter proven by scientific consensus. Yet, I put it to you that whenever there is consensus, there is no science because science is about scepticism and scepticism is an anathema to consensus. For example, the idea that the earth was flat was held as a matter of consensus several hundred years ago. At that time, a ship circumnavigated the globe proving that consensus does not alter the world around us. Consensus only ever serves to shape popular delusion. Science on the other hand, is founded on evidence. Science is not about contentment, unity, agreement, or consensus; but instead is exclusively limited to verifiable truth. An idea cannot be held as scientific unless an experiment can be devised to either support or refute the idea. A fact cannot be considered scientific unless it can be independently checked and verified.
It was long believed that meat turns into maggots via the theory of abiogenesis (spontaneous generation). This idea was strongly favoured because it supported the idea of instant creation of all things by God. However in 1668, abiogenesis was disproved by an experiment conducted by Francesco Redi, wherein some meat was left to rot in the open, some meat was left to rot but covered by paper, and some left to rot but covered by cheesecloth. The fact that maggots only developed in meat left in the open proved that maggots did not generate spontaneously, but were part of a life cycle. This did not deter the superstitious public and some decades later in 1745, Fr John Needham boiled chicken broth in a flask to sterilise it and when putrefaction was detected in the flask some time after it was boiled, he suggested that the result was best explained by popular abiogenesis theory. However in 1768, Lazzaro Spallanzani repeated the experiment subsequently removing the air from the flask before leaving it to stand. The fact that the broth did not putrefy disproved abiogenesis once again - in spite of the overwhelming consensus of opinion to the contrary.
Science and consensus are mutually exclusive because because of the conflict of interest verified by the fact that consensus deals with the popularity of an idea, which has nothing to do with the truth of an idea. Therefore, the term, "scientific consensus" is an oxymoron because by combining mutually exclusive terms, it contradicts itself!
Consider the Evidence and Conclusions, not the Person
It does not follow that because a scientist harbours certain beliefs or is possessed of a particular character, that the information presented by the scientist is automatically defective. Much of the facts of faunal progression and geological timescale used to describe the periods characterised by certain species was developed by devout Christians who were also creationists (Ritchie, 1988). We do not reject the facts of faunal progression or the geological timescale because they were developed by creationists. These constitute verifiable and useful facts in spite of the demonstrably false beliefs of their authors. I am a well site geologist and I consult predominantly in the petroleum industry. This does not change the facts that I present - and if you are suspicious of my statements, you need only go so far as checking the articles I cite to see for yourself that I do indeed have my facts straight and in science it is facts and not imaginary agendas that count.
However, it never ceases to amaze me that creationists and climate change catastrophists alike avoid discussion of the most inconvenient evidence by attacking the character of the person presenting the evidence. People who question climate change catastrophists are commonly referred to as "flat-earthers" or "climate deniers" (after the term "holocaust denier") in order to evade discussion of inconvenient facts such as thickening Antarctic ice (Joughin & Tulaczyk, 2002), heat island effect (McIntyre & McKitrick, 2003; McIntyre & McKitrick, 2005), past global warming events (Royer et al., 2004), and geological history. Geologists, particularly sedimentologists whose expertise embodies palaeoclimatology, are accused of speaking outside their field when in fact geologists have more knowledge about past outcomes of climate change than any physicist or meteorologist could ever bring to bear. Ironically, it is from a historian that we hear the accusation that sceptics in the form of "right-wing politicians & think tanks have used the legacy of climate research strategically to deny the current crisis by falsely depicting greenhouse science as uncertain and contradictory"! Having taken the trouble to collect the hard science on "greenhouse science", I can safely say that my article on Climate Change Catastrophism thoroughly, if per chance unnecessarily, refutes this blatantly ad homenim attack by Armitage (2005).
A parallel is observed amongst creationists who assert that all evolutionists are untrustworthy Atheists. Regardless the qualifications of the author, the truth passes or fails the test of science without regard for authorship. The greenhouse theory uncertainty claimed by Armitage (2005) as "falsely depicted" is a fact and with a little reading, you can verify for yourself that this fact is a product of good science. In another article, I shall soon deal with Armitage (2005) and others who pervert the academic process with baseless ad homenim slurs and other fallacies, at length.
In another variation of the ad homenim argument we are expected to trust a source because that source either has a high qualification or an otherwise high credibility. Some of the greatest errors in science are produced by the most qualified of people. Dr Andrew Snelling is a geologist with a Ph.D. who claims that the earth is only 6000 years old in spite of the enormous weight of scientific evidence to the contrary (Plimer, 1994). Fr John Turberville Needham was a widely respected biologist who made substantial contributions to Botany, and yet his experiments in abiogenesis failed to account for airborne contamination; a seemingly obvious oversight, directly addressed by Lazzaro Spallanzani. Professor Mann is the author of the infamous "hockey-stick" based on dendrochronological palaeotemperature studies that use correction methods described as arbitrary and demonstrated to produce the same curve regardless of the data (McIntyre & McKitrick, 2003; McIntyre & McKitrick, 2005). Professor Wang's claims that the "heat island" effect has been accounted for in the instrumental temperature record is allegedly fraudulent (Keenan, 2007). As you can see, stellar qualifications are no guarantee of reliability or trustworthiness of information presented. In fact one would do well to be doubly sceptical of any claims coloured by personal qualification or character.
The only reason for changing the subject to address the character of the presenter or author of a viewpoint is to avoid discussing the evidence. This makes ad homenim attacks unscientific, and experience has taught me that people who engage in baseless ad homenim are usually lying about something and trying to avoid exposure.
Coincidence is Not Necessarily Cause
If the sun rises every time the rooster crows, does this mean that the rooster makes the sun come up? To draw a conclusion about cause purely on correlation and to the exclusion of any observation of the mechanism by which one correlated parameter "causes" another is called a false cause. The coincidence of increasing lecithin use with increasing incidence of thyroidism, increasing incidence of obesity & increasing incidence of depression; raises a question that justifies research into the long term effects of lecithin consumption on thyroid function, metabolism, and mental state, but is insufficient to assert lecithin consumption as a cause of thyroid disease. Other factors such as a coincidence of increased processed food consumption with reduced activity may offer a better basis for a hypothesis. However, until such a hypothesis is stated and tested, we simply have no idea of mechanism regardless of how well various parameters correlate.
A surprising number of false causes are misrepresented as "scientific argument". For example, it is common knowledge that both temperature and carbon dioxide levels have risen since the Industrial Revolution. It is commonly claimed that this means the industrial revolution caused the rise in carbon dioxide which in turn caused global warming. What is worse is that this atrocious "reasoning" is actually touted by ignorant journalists and politicians as "science". It is a matter of verifiable scientific fact that the industrial revolution started after the rise in carbon dioxide began (Carter, 2007). Given this and the observation that global temperature trends respond some time ahead of carbon dioxide changes (Caillon et al., 2003), applying the same logic would result in, "global warming causes increased carbon dioxide levels, which in turn cause industrialisation of Homo Sapiens". In absence of further substantiating evidence, surely you can see that such a conclusion is utter nonsense.
For such a statement to be scientific, not only must there be a consistent correlation of events, but there must also be stronger evidence of cause, such as a record of observation of the mechanism by which one correlated parameter actually influences another correlated parameter. The case for rising carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming has neither, and is further contradicted by repeated measurements confirming the extreme limitations of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas (Archibald, 2007).
Using evolution to explain faunal progression to the exclusion of all other evidence would also present an example of false cause, but there is other evidence specific to the process such as vestigial expression in embryos that are entirely unrelated to the adult form, biogeography, the hierarchical structure of anatomical information describing the species, and observed variation in response to environmental changes (eg, Biston Botularia Typica vs Biston Botularia Carbonaria, domestic vs feral cat physiology, insect size in elevated oxygen environments, etc.).
Analogy is Hypothetical Not Theoretical
Often we observe systemic analogues, and from these we may suppose similar behaviours, parameters, and outcomes in untested areas. However, without corroborating evidence, there is no evidence to confirm the degree of similarity between analogues. For example, gravity like magnetic and static electric force, is governed by the inverse square law. One could conjecture from this, the hypothesis that gravity is therefore also polarised, just like magnetic and static electric forces. However, until someone actually constructs a fibre-optic coil and measures the effect, if any, on a mass suspended from a weighing device when a substantial wattage of light is passed first one way and then the other through the fibre-optic coil (positioned close to the suspended weight with the axis of the coil directed at the suspended weight), this hypothesis will remain nothing but a hypothesis - in spite of the spectacular analogy. The reason for this is because systems are often vastly more complex than they first appear and analogous systems are always different in some way.
There are Always More Choices
Many of us have heard the Creationist claim, "You can either believe in God or evolution" - notwithstanding the reply that while God is a matter of belief evolution is not, this claim flies in the face of millions of individuals who accept both or neither! Generally, there are more options because it is human nature to focus on one idea to the exclusion of others. For example, we can either use less fuel or store carbon dioxide in our endeavour to reduce our carbon emissions. However, the option no-one is talking about is that we can have a much greater impact on our "carbon footprint" if we plant more trees than we cut down.
The false dilemma is deceptive in the same way as the claim that we must cut our carbon emissions in order to reduce our "carbon footprint". In the face of the reality presented by Hubbert's "peak oil", this is utter nonsense. The primary reason we must cut fuel consumptions is because supply will not keep up with current levels of demand, and countries that fail to adapt in anticipation of restricted fuel supply may find themselves returning to the bronze age faster than the arrival of any proposed environmental disaster - unless a replacement source of of oil turns up in a relatively unexplored region such as the Amazon Basin, or previously unviable tight reservoirs can be forced to flow as a result of displacement by liquid carbon dioxide injection. As you can see, dilemmas can be prone to exaggerated compulsion.
Absence of Disproof does Not Constitute Proof
You may be wondering what evidence I have that supports my assertion that "countries who fail to adapt to reduced fuel supply may return to the bronze age". If I were to argue that your lack of evidence to the contrary is all I need to uphold this idea, this is called an "argument from ignorance" and it shows that I have absolutely no evidence in the first place and that my idea is pure supposition. May I opine that my neo-bronze-age claim is a gross exaggeration!
People often argue that the lack of evidence for the non-existence of God is sufficient to disprove Atheism. Once again, this is argument from ignorance and is unscientific. Formally, the argument that a lack of evidence for the existence of God proves the Atheist cause is also an argument from ignorance. However, Okham's Razor provides that "God" is an unnecessary complication to our explanation of things because under Okham's Razor, any complication to a theory must rest on evidence, and lack of evidence to support such a complication is sufficient to refute the complication in scientific circles. While this invalidates any claim to scientific concept of God, it does does not invalidate belief in God. We simply don't and cannot know, and unverifiable supposition is simply unscientific.
Okham's razor embodies the rule that the simplest explanation for all of the applicable data is accepted until such time as new information necessitates a review of the explanation. Strictly speaking, the application of Okham's Razor can be taken as a variation on the "argument from ignorance" because it's application requires no disproof of an unproven complication to a theory. However, this is outweighed by the the most useful aspect of this rule, in that it prevents supposition, conjecture, and to some degree hypotheses, from being incorporated into scientific theory until such time sufficient evidence justifies their inclusion.
The expanding earth hypothesis presents a well argued and very convincing if complicated contention for the expansion of the earth based on statistical anomalies in the Plate Tectonics displacement budget. However, this hypothesis hinges on the ongoing creation of mass at the earth's core that has no verified mechanism or energy source. The invocation of an unspecified and hence unverifiable mechanism, renders this explanation for tectonic plate mobility excessively complex for the the support of available data and until specific data on the unverified mass creation mechanism is available, simpler explanations such as Plate Tectonics suffice.
Okham's Razor is not as straightforward as it would seem. For example, it is often argued that the universe is finite because the concept of an infinite universe extending beyond the finite line of academic sight is either based solely on the argument from ignorance that such a material eternity cannot be disproven or that material eternity constitutes a baseless and unnecessary complication of what we understand our universe to comprise. However, from a mathematical perspective, human observation of the world has always been limited by the number of dimensions the world was observed in, and as this forms a series we can invoke Okham's Razor to require any discontinuation of this series to be supported by evidence.
In this sense, Okham's Razor very effectively excludes baseless conjecture, but is only valid so long as conjecture remains unsupported by verifiable evidence.
Nothing goes Without Saying
A scientific argument cannot be proven by a reworded repetition of itself. Asserting that "the flatness of the earth proves the earth is flat" adds no supporting evidence to the argument. In the same family of false argument is common sense. The argument that, "It is common sense that global warming will lead to mass extinction" is at worst an argument from nothing (ex nihilo) and at best an appeal to popularity of an idea that is easily disproven by comparing the extinction curve of Futuyma (1998) with the temperature curve of Royer et al. (2004). "Circular reasoning" or "Begging the question" evolves from the "common sense" argument ex nihilo to cultivate the illusion of being self explanatory.
Polemicists often confuse repetition of argument with circular reasoning. Often a writer will reword and repeat an argument for emphasis and to ensure that a greater number of readers understand what is being asserted. This is not circular reasoning, even if mislabelling the argument makes for convincing copy. If there is neither consequential adverb (eg. the words: therefore, thus, so, etc.) nor continuous chain or sequence of logic unbroken by any lack of consequential adverb between the repeated arguments, then the line of reasoning is not circular.
The Mutually Exclusive Use of Anecdote and Generalisation
Generalisation is the beginning of a broad theoretical structure on the basis of statistics with a high degree of certainty, that will ultimately be completed only by the documentation of verifiable anecdotal exceptions. This is why generalisation is not scientific without acknowledgement of known exceptions. Documentation of pharmaceutical effectiveness requires reporting on the necessarily anecdotal failure rate of certified medication. What makes much of the literature on herbal and "natural" remedies unscientific is the complete lack of quantification or even acknowledgement of the presumably anecdotal failure rates. In the pharmaceutical industry, it is well known that substances such as pseudoephidrine hydrochloride can cause migraines due to their dilation of the circulatory system. However, more "organic" analogues such as Gingko Biloba, Gin Seng, and Brahmi are sold as good circulatory medication without any acknowledgement of their side effects. This is why the generalisation is only scientifically valid if it acknowledges all verified and necessarily anecdotal exceptions. Failure to reject generalisations that lack an acknowledgement of quantified exceptions can prove dangerous. For example, pharmaceuticals that use soy as a filler (Eg. some Cholecalciferol or Vitamin D tablets) are manufactured on the presumption that soy, being "natural" causes no adverse reactions, and general practitioners "reasonably" presume that a pharmaceutical manufacturer would never risk using undeclared metabolically reactive fillers such as soy. However, an allergy to soy can lead to life threatening side-effects for those taking the medication, which is subsequently neglected as a cause because "The fact that your body produces Vitamin D means you can't be allergic to Vitamin D". One specialist I know nearly killed her patient by doubling the dosage of Vitamin D supplement without questioning the fact that the pharmaceutical company failed to specify the filler. Later investigation revealed the presence of a combination soy and "Vitamin E" filler and that the patient suffered an extremely rare anaphylactic shock response to the Lecithin contained by Soy (normally, people allergic to soy react to other chemicals contained by soy such as phytic acid). Adverse reaction to lecithin is extremely rare, yet this does not prevent such an anecdote from being potentially fatal if neglected in treatment.
The anecdote on the other hand, cannot be used to postulate a generalisation, even if it does raise a question one chooses to research. Much as I would like to, I cannot reasonably postulate that lecithin is poisonous based on the anecdotal experience described above. The anecdote, far from constituting a false argument in itself, is a valuable opportunity for the extension of scientific theory to include mechanisms for deviation and offers insight into the interaction of other theoretical systems. A verifiable anecdote is a fact that cannot be ignored even if it is very rare. Oral Allergy Syndrome is rare to the point of being anecdotal. In a population of a million people, only ten are likely to suffer an obvious allergic reaction to raw fruit and/or vegetables, and most general practitioners have never heard of this symptom. Regardless, oral allergy syndrome is still a disease, explained by allergy to specific proteins shared by pollens fruit and vegetables, that is treated by cooking all fruit and vegetables adequately before consumption.
Gagging the Spin-Doctor by Censoring the Irrelevant
During a trial, prosecutors will sometimes attempt to emphasise the heinousness of a crime in order to distract the jury's attention from the lack of evidence connecting the crime to the defendant. Argument by Irrelevance as this is called, is often used by insincere theologians in order to bully or goad a prospective follower into accepting a tenuous argument. Creationists make very effective use of "Fire and Brimstone" to scare their audiences out of questioning the inconsistencies of their main arguments, and the New Zealand author, Barry Smith, makes very effective use of conspiracy theory in order to anger and goad his readers into rejecting "establishment" statements, especially from peer-reviewed science (Eg. Smith, 1980, 1985, 1989).
Oreskes (2004) admits the fallacy of scientific consensus and then goes on to state that consequences of discounting the idea embraced by consensus could have dire effects for our children. The emotional nature of this argument is a dead give-away. We can see that in spite of the possible catastrophe cited by Oreskes (2004), like Chicken Little's falling sky, this very emotional expression of precautionism is accompanied by no corroborating scientific evidence. What amazes me is that Science actually printed it.
In science, any form of emotional manipulation is simply unacceptable, and irrelevant argument - even if it is to state the simple fact that it is considered blasphemy to make a certain counter-argument - is always rejected by credible publishers; well, nearly always!
Every Argument Must Be Stated Not Meagrely Implied
Argument by irrelevance is often deployed as a tactic used to camouflage one argument inside another and if the opposition dares to address the implicit argument, cries of "straw man" are sure to ensue (a "straw man" argument is the refutation of a fictional and therefore irrelevant counter-argument). In the case of the emotive prosecutor, the implicit argument or "spin" is that the heinousness of the crime somehow eclipses the defendant's right to a fair hearing. This sleight of hand may well make for entertaining courtroom posturing or effective journalism, but is unacceptable in scientific circles where truth is more important than public opinion.
Dealing directly with the implicit argument is vital to ensuring your audience understand the issue. Generally, I've found that an argument is hidden behind the veil of implication because it is far too weak to argue directly, but can prove to be very persuasive if it is not addressed. The risk of being side-tracked into a "straw-man" objection is inherent in any attempt to connect an implicit argument with the opposition. So, instead of giving the opposition the opportunity to quarrel over polemics, it is far more effective to take your refutation of the implicit argument as a new and main point of your rebuttal without crediting the opposition at all. This can be difficult to achieve without being accused of making irrelevant argument yourself. However, the fact that the topic of such an argument must have been touched on by the opposition in order for an implicit argument to be deployed dictates the relevance of the topic and thus of your main rebuttal point.
In a real, if anecdotal example, the Creationists argue implicitly that in order to evade damnation one must uphold Creationism. To elaborate, this argument is implicit in the Creationist dogma that attaining salvation only occurs though declared belief in the nobility and deity of Christ and by extension in every literal statement in the Bible. The false dilemma that one can either believe in God or Evolution is likewise a semantic device concealing the implicit contention that arguing the point is fraught with spiritual danger. By presenting a sound Biblical rebuttal (Matt 6:14, Luke 6:35) of the Creationist's implicit "salvation by lip-service" argument during a Creationist presentation held at Melbourne University back in 1994, I managed to render an auditorium full of Christian Fundamentalists speechless. I did not introduce my rebuttal point during the science discussion following the presentation but waited until the discussion wandered into theology to ensure that relevance could not be questioned. I found it interesting that the creationists had an answer for everything else, but not for the refutation of the implicit, un-stated argument at the core of their dogma, with which they sought to emotionally manipulate their audience.
Every Argument Must Follow the Last
Sometimes a well argued case is followed by a point continuing the case that is not supported by any preceding argument. This is sometimes referred to as non sequitur or in English, as an argument that does not follow and is used to give the illusion of a strong case by majority of successful logical connections. However, it only requires one lone if anecdotal failure in logic to break a line of reasoning made up of even the strongest of arguments.
My divine-turnabout rebuttal of "salvation by lip-service", was followed by a period where Christian fundamentalists I encountered were less inclined to discuss the relevant Biblical passages. Instead, they would deny that these passages meant what they said. Although baseless denial is a violation of Okham's Razor, it also is a variety of argument that does not follow. It does not follow that an imperative does not mean what it says, unless it is accompanied by statements announcing the intended sarcasm of the imperative. When it is well documented that the Nazis murdered six million people of Jewish background, and five million people from other religious and social minorities, baseless denial does not follow.
The Vague Hypothesis: an exercise in Quaternary Logic
Indefinite results that are either ambiguous, contradictory, or lack reasonable statistical certainty can be problematic because such results do not indicate more than what the researcher knew before the investigation; that the question was of undetermined answer.
Information verity is not limited to NEW (unknown), TRUE (correct), and FALSE (incorrect) states. There is a fourth and equally important state of information verity: VAGUE (indeterminate). Indeterminate results that are either ambiguous, contradictory, or lack reasonable statistical certainty, dictate a indeterminate outcome to the research and indicate that the hypothesis is either premature or overly simplistic. If the outcome is unknown, then is it simply a matter of getting more data. However, there are many examples where additional data along the same line of research cannot resolve the question of the research because the question is poorly formed or does not account for the influence of outside factors.
One of the problems facing researchers, is the fact that obtaining a TRUE or FALSE outcome is not always just a matter of bringing enough evidence to solve for an unknown verity. Where direct evidence is either always ambiguous, contradictory, or otherwise statistically uncertain the outcome of the research is indeterminate or VAGUE. In such cases, the solution is not in finding more evidence for or against the verity of the information in question, but seeking evidence by which the context of that information may be determined and used to structure the implications of the original evidence with verifiable meaningfulness with respect to the original question.
Hierarchical Solution of Recursive Processes
The simplest example paints the illusion of circular reasoning in the discussion of recursive and feedback systems. However, describing the context of a recursive problem defines initiation and termination points whose absence would otherwise defy solution. Does the chicken precede the egg or the egg precede the chicken? Such discussions, owe their apparent circularity to their indeterminacy. It does not matter how many times one observes the hatching of chickens and laying of eggs, this does nothing to resolve this question of order.
Far from being circular however, this problem is resolved by identifying the information hierarchy that defines the context of the child nodes. For example, both the chicken and the egg exist as child nodes within a single life cycle (the parent node) during which the egg always precedes the chicken. Therefore the egg always comes before the chicken. This is how complex recursive processes are successfully analysed from start to finish. It is also why descriptions of cyclic expressions in absence of the cyclic system are prone to chronic disagreement.
Internally Contradictory Evidence Sets & Contextual Structure
In a more complex example, three fossil assemblages are observed in the order; A, B, C, C, B, A - on a the face of a roadside cutting. Within this anecdote, a number of possible interpretations may be made. Fossil assemblages evolved in order; A, B, C, or; C, B, A, or; in no order at all. There are valid arguments in the evidence so far, for all three conclusions.
However, if we examine the geological structures around the side of the hill from the cutting, and discover a fold axis dividing A, B, C, from C, B, A; this rules out the possibility that in this example, there is no stratigraphic order to the fossil assemblages A, B, and C. Assuming no subsequent rotation of the fold structure by more than 180 degrees in the vertical:
If the fold is overturned towards the observer, and the bedding hosting the two C assemblages converges towards the observer, then the context implicit in the geological structure dictates that the fossil assemblages occur in order of decreasing age; C, B, A. If the fold is still overturned towards the observer, but on the other hand the bedding hosting the two C assemblages diverges towards the observer, then the context implicit in the geological structure dictates that the fossil assemblages occur in order of decreasing age; A, B, C. If the fold is overturned away from the observer, and the bedding hosting the two C assemblages converges towards the observer, then the context implicit in the geological structure dictates that the fossil assemblages occur in order of decreasing age; A, B, C. If the fold is still overturned away from the observer, but on the other hand the bedding hosting the two C assemblages diverges towards the observer, then the context implicit in the geological structure dictates that the fossil assemblages occur in order of decreasing age; C, B, A.
In this sense, what would have otherwise been hopelessly indeterminate is solved by seeking evidence for a context into which the conflicting data fit alongside the order or system sought by the investigation of that data. Whereas NEW or unknown verity states are resolved directly by researching the immediate evidence for or against the states, VAGUE or indeterminate verity states are resolved indirectly, by researching the evidence defining the context or structure into which conflicting or contradictory results fit in a predictable manner.
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