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Home Forums General Discussion Flamsteed Debate

This topic contains 36 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Brian Blake 2 years, 3 months ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 16 through 30 (of 37 total)
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  • #11105

    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 746

    All I am saying is – if it’s something that can be put through a scientific process – whether or not we have the technology this year or this millennium – then it’s not like a religion, which is truly a belief-based system, not evidence-based!

    Yes, I’d agree with this. But, at the moment, we don’t have any evidence that points towards the existence of extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the universe. All of the evidence, in fact, points the other way.

    I am intrigued by this debate. We are dismissive of a belief in (a) god(s) and/or religions, on the basis that there is no evidence. Why then, should we take the opposite view when it comes to a belief in intelligent extraterrestrial life, even if we caveat it with a statement that “we may be wrong”?

    I come back to Thomas Aquinas again (and I bow to your expertise here, Andy 😉 ). One of his “arguments” for the existence of God went as follows:

    – Many things in the universe may either exist or not exist and are all finite. Such things are called contingent beings.
    – It is impossible for everything in the universe to be contingent, for then there would be a time when nothing existed, and so nothing would exist now, since there would be nothing to bring anything into existence, which is clearly false.
    – Therefore, there must be a necessary being whose existence is not contingent on any other being or beings.
    – We call this being God.

    This, on the face of it, is a pretty sound “scientific” argument. From a modern-day scientific perspective, it gives us a problem, as there is no way of falsifying the theory. I would argue that the belief in intelligent extraterrestrial life gives us the same problem. We could prove that the theory is true, if we were contacted… but how do we prove the opposite? Explore the entire Universe??

    I think there are some double-standards in this debate, and that’s my issue.

    #11106

    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 187
    Replies: 409

    Definition of belief from Oxford English Dictionary  ” <span class=”definition”>An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof:</span><span class=”exampleGroup exGrBreak”> his belief in extraterrestrial life.</span>

    Andy I think this is a better definition

    <span class=”exampleGroup exGrBreak”>Science: “I hypothesis the exist of extra terrestrial intelligence. However, I may be wrong and it may not exist.” </span>

     

    #11107

    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 187
    Replies: 409

    I am with Mike 100% on this one.

    #11108

    Sumitra
    Participant
    Topics: 21
    Replies: 233

    Science: “I believe in extraterrestrial intelligence. However, I may be wrong and it may not exist.”
    Religion: “I believe in extraterrestrial intelligence. It exists.”

    I must admit I am slowly catching up on what you are writing and have not read everything. I picked this up in my inbox and, perhaps am taking it out of context but I must disagree with the second line Andy wrote.
    This is such a simplified view of religion, generalising all religions into one pot, which is inaccurate.

    Secondly, I would like to say that ‘beliefs’ or ‘degrees of beliefs’ are not a religious concepts. In Bayesian probabilistic theory, we refer to beliefs or degrees of beliefs as measures of what these things we *can* observe and *can* measure tell us about a resulting event. Because alas, we cannot measure everything…

    Your degree of belief that something may or may not happen can vary depending on the new information you receive.

    Rather than being ‘religious’, I would perhaps say it is a Bayesian notion that we have a certain degree of belief (even if it might be small) that there is intelligent life other than on earth.
    Perhaps, it is improbable, as per what Chris mentioned, but the fact that we ourselves exist means it is not impossible.

    #11109

    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 746

    …Bayesian probabilistic theory…

    Great stuff. This is more like it.

    I’m amused (again) though to find that Thomas Bayes was a Presbyterian minister!

    Your degree of belief that something may or may not happen can vary depending on the new information you receive.

    Absolutely. Agree with this entirely. But, again, it comes down to “belief” and not “proof”. Scientific theorems have to have a much higher proof threshold.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Mike Meynell.
    #11111

    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 187
    Replies: 409

    Sumitra I do not think anyone has said that intelligent life is impossible but there is no evidence that it exists.  If evidence emerged I for one would be very excited.

    #11112

    Sumitra
    Participant
    Topics: 21
    Replies: 233

    Sumitra I do not think anyone has said that intelligent life is impossible but there is no evidence that it exists.  If evidence emerged I for one would be very excited.

    I think you misunderstood what I wrote.

    #11113

    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 187
    Replies: 409

    I was responding to the end of your last sentence in your previous post.

    #11114

    Sumitra
    Participant
    Topics: 21
    Replies: 233

    Absolutely. Agree with this entirely. But, again, it comes down to “belief” and not “proof”. Scientific theorems have to have a much higher proof threshold.

    Right, well you can use the Bayes Theorem if you want one, it’s a scientific one! 🙂

    Regarding beliefs and proofs, there are situations where there is a blurry line between belief and proof. So with the Bayes theorem, you try to see whether you can use the ‘Degree of Belief’ (calculated scientifically) as being strong enough to prove what you want to prove. I think we agree on that based on what you wrote earlier. At CERN, they are able to replicate events hundreds of thousands of times to arrive at making their conclusion that something has only this much error, which is luxury.

    Take my industry for instance, there is only so far you can go to prove the efficacy of a treatment, or prove that someone has a disease versus another. We can’t experiment that many times, or in the EXACT same conditions.

    My point is, the frequentist view, to scientifically prove that there are ETs else where is not practical (currently possible?). If I were to propose an experiment to determine the likelihood that there are ETs, and if I had infinite resources and capabilities, I’d go about creating galaxies after galaxies and see how many times we observe an earth like ours, with a Moon etc.

    Fun as it may be, we can’t do that… So we can’t have the scientific proof we’d like. But we can do it in other ways, i.e. by starting from a degree of belief that we either increase or decrease depending on the new information (including lack of observable events) we get.

    I wonder if perhaps we’re saying the same thing, though…

    I’m amused (again) though to find that Thomas Bayes was a Presbyterian minister!

    I think it is not surprising? In the sense that Bayesian theory is in my view grounded in logic, and thought experiments that are then updated when data is available/manifests itself, which is philosophy….

    #11115

    Andy Sawers
    Moderator
    Topics: 113
    Replies: 588

    I am intrigued by this debate. We are dismissive of a belief in (a) god(s) and/or religions, on the basis that there is no evidence.

    No, I don’t think that’s true. My point is – religious belief requires no evidence. Scientific belief demands evidence – but it might just have to be patient for a few thousand years!

    Your degree of belief that something may or may not happen can vary depending on the new information you receive.

    Yup. Agree with that. But the point about religious belief is that it does not rest on a quest for new information. Isn’t there a reason why it’s called ‘blind faith’?

    Science: “I hypothesis the exist of extra terrestrial intelligence. However, I may be wrong and it may not exist.”

    I appreciate and agree with the precision of the language, Brian, but that wasn’t the wording of the question last night. Perhaps if it had been we wouldn’t be having this debate!

    at the moment, we don’t have any evidence that points towards the existence of extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the universe.

    Couldn’t the same have been said 25 years ago about exoplanets? Or 2500 years ago by Democritus about the existence of atoms?

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Andy Sawers.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Andy Sawers.
    #11118

    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 746

    But we can do it in other ways, i.e. by starting from a degree of belief that we either increase or decrease depending on the new information (including lack of observable events) we get.

    Yep, and that’s the Drake equation. The trouble is, of course, that many of the terms in the equation are subject to so much conjecture that any results are almost entirely useless.

    …religious belief requires no evidence…

    Tommy Aquinas will be turning in his grave 😉

    Couldn’t the same have been said 25 years ago about exoplanets?

    You missed out the second sentence in my point… “All of the evidence, in fact, points the other way.“. I’m not sure we could say that about the existence of exoplanets, or, for that matter, the existence of atoms.

    #11119

    Brian Blake
    Participant
    Topics: 187
    Replies: 409

    My quote button does not seem to work so I have to do it this way.

    “In the sense that Bayesian theory is in my view grounded in logic,” Sumitra may I ask what form of logic are you using? Because one can take an eclectic approach to information which can lead you in to the trap of sophism.

    Couldn’t the same have been said 25 years ago about exoplanets? Or 2500 years ago by Democritus about the existence of atoms? Andy Democritus and his mentor Leucippus developed their theory of Atomism based on observations of the natural world and experimentation such as mixing earth with water and watching things decay. They reasoned, based on  evidence, that a substance could break down until it reached a point where it was indivisible, atomos in Greek.

    It was not that long a go that scientists believed that the only planets where the ones in our solar system, though in 1917 Adriann Van Maanan appears to have discovered one.  You must also remember that the first discovery was not even considered until two research groups reviewed data from their experiments looking for something else, as is often the case.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Brian Blake.
    #11121

    Andy Sawers
    Moderator
    Topics: 113
    Replies: 588

    You missed out the second sentence in my point… “All of the evidence, in fact, points the other way.“. I’m not sure we could say that about the existence of exoplanets, or, for that matter, the existence of atoms.

    Caught me. But back then – 25, 30 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 300 years ago before we discovered Uranus – was there any evidence pointing towards the existence of exoplanets? Was there any evidence 2500 years ago pointing towards the existence of atoms? Was the evidence not then pointing the other way?

    I agree about the near-uselessness of the Drake equation – but while it is capable of yielding almost any answer you like, it does at least indicate the direction of scientific enquiry – ie, what sort of exosystems we should be looking at. Religion tends not to be so keen on using scientific enquiry to support its propositions about the existence of deities.

    #11122

    Andy Sawers
    Moderator
    Topics: 113
    Replies: 588

    Democritus and his mentor Leucippus developed their theory of Atomism based on observations of the natural world and experimentation

    Interesting, Brian. I didn’t know that. But surely the point then is that we have observations about the number of galaxies, stars and exoplanets, on which we base theories about how many exoplanets there probably are, how long it took life to form on Earth, experiments that demonstrate the speed of light and the inverse square law (which says much about the feebleness of any intelligence-made electromagnetic radiation originating on an exoplanet) – and then perhaps a thousand or 500,000 years from now our hypothesis about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence might be proved to be correct, just as Democritus’s theory about atoms was proved to be right (ignoring the fact that atoms are entirely divisible).

    Brain hurts, work beckons…..

    Oh – Brian, click on the ‘Text’ tab rather than the ‘Visual’ tab at the top right of the comment box, then your Quote button should work.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Andy Sawers.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Andy Sawers.
    #11125

    Mike Meynell
    Moderator
    Topics: 119
    Replies: 746

    But back then – 25, 30 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 300 years ago before we discovered Uranus – was there any evidence pointing towards the existence of exoplanets?

    No, there wasn’t… but then we weren’t looking. There is that wonderful, prescient, Giordano Bruno quote from 1584, of course:

    This space we declare to be infinite… In it are an infinity of worlds of the same kind as our own.

    However, I fully accept that the technology to detect exoplanets didn’t exist then. It’s only really been in the past 20 years that this has been possible… and only in the last 2 or 3 years that the number of discoveries has really taken off.

    So, yes, I accept that technological advances mean that we may detect intelligent extraterrestrial life in the future. Certainly, I’d expect the existence of extraterrestrial life to be confirmed within the next 10-15 years. Intelligent life may take a little longer, or may never be discovered if the sceptics are correct.

    My point, all through this debate, has been that we don’t have the evidence at the moment, and the evidence that we do have is pointing towards the non-existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Therefore, I see this as a belief system rather than scientific theory. My own argument is starting to take on a religious propensity, however, so this may be my final word on the topic… unless I’m provoked 😉

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