OK, look, let me say this in advance, this is a kind of 'Beavis and Butthead' prank and doesn't prove anything about the merits of Mr. Cruise's belief system. But it makes me smile, sorry if that offends anyone who has signed a contract with the COS.*

* What? You didn't know that those who wish to be members of the Church of Scientology have to sign lengthy legal contracts and waivers before receiving Church services? Among those is a disavowal of psychiatry and psychiatric services which might compete with the Church's monopoly as 'the modern science of mental health.' Well, you know what they say: ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT!

YOUR HOST: Axioms and Principles

On a previous post, Stan lays the groundwork for including 'intuition' as part of a philosophical toolkit to evaluate atheism and related issues in the philosophy of science. He rather helpfully makes a distinction between axioms and principles, as follows:

(a) A precept that is used to support a different claim, but which is itself unprovable, therefore it is assumed valid for the sake of argument. Structure: “Given N, and assuming A, then P”, where A is the axiom, unprovable but assumed valid for this instance.

(b) A precept that is self-evident, unprovable, whose negation is self-contradictory.

I would argue that usage (a) is consonant with science as practiced and is hardly unexamined, whereas usage (b) is likely to be avoided. For example, it is far from 'self-evident' that the Universe is lawful, else it wouldn't have taken millennia for human civilizations to depress magical thinking to the point where science was possible. The absolute lawfulness of the Universe as a whole (or its negation, non-lawfulness) is not, properly speaking, falsifiable. So this usage would be out of sync with the way scientists think. On the other hand, the assumption that the Universe is lawful is sufficient to justify the scientist's search for 'Laws'.

Unfortunately for Stan, he seems to want usage (b) to justify the inclusion of 'intuition' in the philosophical toolkit. Now, speaking as a science teacher, I've got no ax to grind against intuition per se, or (as Pierce framed it) abduction. It's the old question of 'where does the hypothesis come from?' I'm perfectly happy to employ abduction as source material for scientific investigation.

Practically speaking, I don't
care where the hypothesis comes from: Kekule found benzene's structure in a dream, after all. What I want to know is this: after Popper, given an intuition exists, can this form the basis of scientific inquiry? That is, is there a way I can test (in Popper's idiom, falsify) the intuition, either directly or as a consequence of a claim uniquely tied to the intuition? If so, then I am satisfied.

But what if the intuition isn't source material? What if it's claimed to be foundational for inquiry? Here I am much more cautious, because I am not sure that every Principle urged by Stan is even true, much less foundational. Consider, for example:

“Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) (also, “I doubt everything, but I think about doubting, therefore I am a thinking being, therefore I am)

Foundational? There is a rich philosophical tradition associated with the Cogito, but in general contemporary neuroscientists and philosphers are skeptical that Cartesian dualism actually resolves the 'mind-body problem'. Antonio Demasio, for example, has claimed that the Cogito reduces to a tautological claim of identity. Daniel Dennett has spoken rather witheringly about the non-existence of the 'Cartesian Theatre'. The eliminative materialism of the Churchlands comes to a similar conclusion. As another has urged, the mind seems to behave like a serial computer, while the brain is manifestly a case of massive parallel processing. The unitary self that each of us typically experiences as dividing reality into 'me' and 'not-me' may be an illusion foisted upon us by the brain's organization, and what we call an 'intuition' may be the sum of all manner of inputs, and so unlikely to be foundational.

Now, I suppose one could argue that this posits a core of 'irrationalism' in the way many scientists behave: if we can not be entirely confident of the natural foundations of rationality, how can we confidently proceed in employing rational thought to investigate nature itself? I don't think this argument has any force for me, because I don't personally subscribe to metaphysical naturalism, but it may well prove to be a particularly good arrow in the quiver of the faithful. But, since I believe science proceeds provisionally in its attempt to expand the sphere of human understanding, I don't carry that baggage. Science has been spectacularly successful at answering certain kinds of questions because it constantly filters claims through rigorous sieves of doubt, and it has a long history of being able to accept levels of uncertainty even at the most fundamental level. A bad joke: you don't see physicists wishing Heisenberg had never been Born, after all.

Bottom line: if you want to use intuitions as part of argument in science, you will need to justify their usage at every step. Justification will essentially boil down to this: in asserting that this or that item is axiomatic, do we gain testable claims, or not?



Today's Ph.D is a love-note not just to what science can do, but to the open-to-the-universe-of-possibilities attitude that fosters science. Enjoy!

STAN: On Axioms and First Principles

My interlocutor Stan over at Atheism Analyzed is rather graciously attempting to reboot our convo, so for the benefit of those who might've had a hard time following the give-and-take, here's Stan (in deep violet) and yours truly (burnt orange)....

Axioms and First Principles

Scott, OK then, right to the point this time. The question at hand:

“Given that I need a foundation of some support, what principles would you commend, and for what reason? Am I compelled by logic to adopt any, some or all of these principles?”

There are several definitions of the concept, “axiom”. Two seem to fall out:

(a) A precept that is used to support a different claim, but which is itself unprovable, therefore it is assumed valid for the sake of argument. Structure:

“Given N, and assuming A, then P”,
where A is the axiom, unprovable but assumed valid for this instance.

(b) A precept that is self-evident, unprovable, whose negation is self-contradictory.

I think that (a) is the type of axiom to which you were referring. That type of axiom is not known absolutely, but could be considered statistically to be probable, as you said.

Type (b) is a sort of jump off point to the First Principles, which have the following characteristics (maybe more):

First Principles:

(1) Validity is self-evident, or it is “incorrigible” (not correctable).

(2) Unprovable.

(3) Negation is self-contradictory.

(4) Exist as a ‘bottom” element in a regressive analysis, without which an infinite regression would occur.

(5) Generally tautological (definitions).

(6) The circularity of tautology implies a priori comprehension.
For example, the dictionary uses words to define words (it is circular); one must understand some word at some point a priori in order to use the dictionary.

Examples of First Principles:

“Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other”

"For the same (characteristic) simultaneously to belong and not belong to the same (object) in the same (way) is impossible."


“Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) (also, “I doubt everything, but I think about doubting, therefore I am a thinking being, therefore I am)

The general list of First Principles is both epistemologically and ontologically applicable (i.e. both truth values and existence values).

These are intuitive and incorrigible:

a. Identity: if it is true it is true; if it exists it exists.

b. Non-contradiction: It cannot be both true and false simultaneously. It cannot both exist and not exist.

c. Excluded Middle: It cannot be partially true, partially false. It cannot partially exist.

e. Cause and Effect: For every effect there is a necessary and sufficient cause.

These are probabilistic:

a. The Immutability of math throughout the universe.

b. The Immutability of physical law throughout the universe.

c. The Immutability of physical law throughout time (past and future).

d. The mutability of all levels of verifiability (Gödel's theorems).

There is more detail here. (Note to the reader: The link goes to Stan's site, where you should search for First Principles)

Now to the point. If these things are wrong, then much of rational thought and it’s offspring, empiricism, cannot be thought to provide any valid concepts. So these things are thought to be true….without proof. More to the point they are understood as valid statements, intuitively.

If that last statement is true, then intuition is a valid tool for comprehension of concepts possessing those truth values which exist outside the range of empirical testing or proof.

I stop here, with the understanding that the discussion of erroneous intuition, imagination, self-delusion, and dreams might be next.

For now, is this path as stated so far, reasonable?

As for a box to contain my own philosophical position, radical idealism it is not. Perusing the box categories on Wiki, I suppose that Justificationism comes close. I accept and support the discipline of empirical science. I do not support Naturalism or Materialism which I consider to be false, agenda-burdened, and parasitic to empiricism. Abduction is difficult to support due to the use of wild extrapolations without checks and balances.

And I agree with Einstein’s rebuke to Hume concerning locking out meta-physics by definition:

“…those convictions which are necessary and determinant for our conduct and judgments cannot be found solely along this solid scientific way.For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capable, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door to directly to what should be .”

Albert Einstein, Science and Religion, Mein Weltbild, Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1934.



A little kerfuffle: Denyse O'Leary, ID-sympathetic 'knight of the keyboard' raises the question about the number of evangelicals on the Discovery Institute 'Fellows' list, and this seems to raise the hackles of DI spokespeep Rob Crowther:

"...As if she would know, as if it even mattered. No one asks how many staffers at the NCSE are atheists, so why should anyone care about Discovery Fellows?"

Golly. Where's Richard Dawson when ya need him? Anyway, I just couldn't resist weighing in with my own 'survey says' in this potential Family Feud. I left my two cents at Denyse's blog and decided to cross-post here, in case she, um, decides not to take my pair of Mr. Lincolns. Call me paranoid, but it seems like things disappear at an Uncommonly Indecent rate at some places in cyberspace. Anyway, my little offering:

Denyse, I'm a high school biology teacher, enthusiastic Darwinian and sincere Christian. I don't see the point of this post. There are many plumbers who are Christian, but I doubt those plumbers waste much time consulting their Bibles when turning a spanner. They might, I suppose, wonder what the original plumber was thinking, or whether the plumbing was intelligently designed, but as a practical matter, worldviews aren't of much use in plumbing. Or in evolutionary biology.

What matters is not what DI's Fellows believe as a personal matter, but what evidence do they possess that would cause workers in biological fields to reconsider their commitment to evolution as the central organizing principle of biology? A few hundred signatures from various academics, many not scientists and precious few biologists, doesn't add up to a revolution. And let's be honest: if the DI wasn't talking up ID, there would be precious few outside of evangelicals who would care, and their motivation doesn't proceed from some philosophical cavils about how science should be conducted.

No, that bunch is motivated by the same things that motivated Henry Morris and George Macready Price, which is the question of the Bible's inspiration and inerrancy from Genesis onward. Whether you like it or not, most of your allies are not principled academics, they are Bible-thumping yokels.


OK, this is deliciously funny, even to this armchair solipsist.

Apparently, when I inveigh with great moral seriousness against the creationists in Florida, I am acting as a Popper.


Unfortunately, the list of the clueless counties in Florida continues to grow, and so here's a modified map of county school boards in the Sunshine State that have passed a formal resolution against the inclusion of 'evolution' in Florida's state standards (orange), or who have publicly questioned its' inclusion (yellow).

More info can be found at my previous post (here) or by linking to this update page from the Florida Citizens for Science. An interesting article referencing the Florida School Boards Association's reaction to all of this can be found here.



My brother, Charles Hatfield, is a professor of English at CSU Northridge and a comics scholar who has written or is under contract to write several books on comics, comic strips, graphic novels, sequential art or whatever description is au courant.

Now, if you're the kind of person who automatically dismisses comics etc. as juvenilia you should read no further. You will be baffled by the level of discourse, and you will probably need a sea change in your attitudes toward comics in order to appreciate it. (Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics should be on your reading list).

On the other hand, if you've already embraced the idea that comics are a unique medium that is fully able to express serious, thoughtful, intellectually challenging material, then you will enjoy this new blog. Here, my brother and colleague Craig Fischer have high-level discussion of all manner of comics, etc. Enjoy!


The natives are restless. Since (as my previous posts have complained) we are trying to teach Chemistry without CHEMICALS, we aren't doing too much in the way of class other than:






Completely ignoring the fact that we can't call this a real laboratory science class, completely ignoring that this state of affairs will land the district in hot water if not rectified soon, imagine the (ahem) 'atmosphere' in my class as we delve through one gas law after another. First, Boyles (P1V1=P2V2), then Charles (V1/T1 = V2/T2), then Gay-Lussac's (P1/T1=P2/T2) and now the combination of the lot (P1V1/T1=P2V2/T2). On to the Ryberg constant!

Oh, well, at least my students can't say they haven't had adequate rehearsal of skills (or, at least, so I console myself). It's no way to run a railroad.



Here's an oddity. During the three-day weekend, my wife and I attended an auction advertised in our local paper which occurred in a large warehouse near the railroad. A big building, it had the various items for sale arranged either in the center or along the perimeter, with a concourse within for the auctioneer, who sat in the back of a large truck with a portable PA and a wireless mike and periodically instructed the truck's driver to inch a few feet down the line to the next item.

The warehouse, wrapped in corrugated metal, was as cold as it was outside. Some mom-and-pop vendor was pushing breakfast burritos, hot links and coffee but it never really warmed up. Within a corner of the warehouse, the actual billing was handled inside a makeshift tent filled with an old PC, a dot matrix printer, and a portable heater on a propane tank. It wasn't that warm, either. Fact is, it could've been sunny as hell outside, and people would've shivered occasionally: the contents of the auction, by-and-large, came from storage units abandoned by their owner, the past proprietor of Madera Funeral Home, whose fall from grace with the state is outlined here.

Apparently this fella couldn't pay his bills, and so whatever was stored was now up for grabs. Much of it was junk, personal possessions not worthy of description. A few gen-u-wine antiques, such as a pump organ and a rare Dr. Seuss book, were amongst the effects. There was office furniture galore, awful fake gold-gilt interiors, bad religious art of the worst kind, and....mortuary stuff.

Oh, yes. Boxes of CHAMPION arterial embalming fluid. Gurneys and stretchers for the...recently departed. Gravestones. Floral arrangements. Tripods. Racks. A truly charming porcelain rectangular platter with a handle to, um, transfer the deceased. And many filing cabinets and boxes filled with...

Death certificates. Hard to believe. You have to wonder if it was even legal to auction these things off, given that the ones that I browsed met their reward less than 15 years ago. As for me, I didn't allow the macabre environment prevent me from finding a couple of items of value. There was a literature cabinet with twenty 8 1/2 X 11 acrylic slots that was no doubt used to hold various burial plans and other notices. At a mere 5$, this item, made of solid oak, will be a nice addition to my biology classroom. And, a real find, three audiophile quality loudspeakers about 25 years old, in perfect working order, a mere 55$. My wife beams behind them, perhaps unaware of her proximity to the above filing cabinets....



Apparently Christopher Hitchens, that suave barbarian, is going to go toe-to-toe with the Galactic Habitable Zone's own Jay Richards, Discovery Institute fellow and co-author of The Privileged Planet. The specifics are detailed here. This debate is (provisionally?) titled "Atheism vs. Theism and the Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design." And who is the debate's 'host'? Why, that paragon of neutrality in science, character actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, the voice of that soon-to-be-perpetrated fraud, Expelled.

PZ, reporting these events, remarks that Hitchens has 'big brass ones' for taking the bait from the faithful, but implies that perhaps a skilled rhetorician (or comedian) can be successful in such a setting.

You know, I love a good debate. I've done them, sometimes against the advice of other science types, but I feel I've been successful because I was able to define the terms of debate. If you can do that, and you know your stuff, you should be able to carry the day, as Ken Miller has proved over and over.

But I would shrink from this invitation, because it's not about science. The debate topic legitimizes, in fact proceeds from a dichotomy between atheism and theism, the latter of which is tied to ID. The presumption is that anti-ID = atheism. So, instead of pushing a scientific, evidence-based argument against non-science, you're going to have a competition between different brands of non-science (atheism and theism). No matter how much evidence you present to buttress arguments against ID, it will be presumed to be in behalf of a belief system. Which, if I recall, pretty much plays into the true believer's hands.

So, PZ, I agree. Hitchens' equipment must be coated in an alloy of copper and zinc, for he presumes to debate creationists not from the high ground of science, but within the catacombs of belief.



This guy is simply incredible: Bela Fleck, a banjo virtuoso, is probably best-known for his genre-spanning folk fusion that freely mixes his incredible playing in an unusual acoustic/electronic ensemble.

But here, as a solo piece, Fleck demonstrates another side of his talent by exploring the genius of J.S. Bach, taking a portion of the E major Partita for solo violin (which Bach later retranscribed as a suite for the lute). The significance of these works, and (among others) the Cello Suites is the way that Bach imposes a contrapuntal texture with multiple voices on the soloist through imitative arpeggiation.

Hearing these things played with contemporary instruments is a revelation. What, the banjo isn't contemporary enuf for ya? Snobbery!


The Sunshine State is in the process of approving new standards for science that (gasp) actually mention the word 'evolution'! You would think that would be good news, inasmuch as the Fordham Foundation has consistently rated Florida as 'poor' on its teaching of evolution, as the graphic above illustrates.

Now, as PZ reports and Greg Laden elaborates, the number of Florida school boards which have either passed formal resolutions opposing evolution's inclusion in the standards or who have board members and superintendents hemming and hawing over the topic is swelling.

But, still, you might wonder: how bad is this, really? A picture is worth a few words, so I'm told, so I've taken the liberty of coddling together this sketch, as of Jan. 17th, of what's happening, county-by-county, below:

The counties with school boards passing resolutions against evolution are shown in orange, and the counties with trustees and supes engaged in special pleading are shown in yellow. For the most up-to-date list, please add this page from the Florida Citizens for Science blog to your 'Favorites' and check frequently. Keep in mind that all of these creationist trial balloons have been launched since Nov. 30th, that a well-connected arch-conservative ambulance chaser is positioning to make this his next cause célèbre, and that this is all taking place in an environment that is likely to be charged by creationism's latest Trojan Horse, the ID-friendly, Ben Stein-hosted 'documentary' Expelled.

I am concerned. I hope that you are concerned, as well.

UPDATE, JAN. 21st: Madison County has joined the shameful list of counties passing a formal resolution against evolution's inclusion in the standards.