Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All about the name

Recently someone asked me if my name meant I was pro-life. My reaction was along the lines of "what the... what are you... oh, I see what you mean. No."

I think the "embryo==human" stance of most pro-lifers is overly simplistic. This is due to my personal understanding that "me" is not some disembodied soul; it's a network of neurons firing in intricate patterns. This means there's no lightbulb moment where the embryo becomes human, so a more sophisticated approach is needed.

Going back to enlightened self-interest, a key reason to be anti-murder is that I could be next. As the "I" in question is a bunch of neurons, drawing the line at the start of humanlike neuronal activity makes sense - the embryo thinks, therefore it is.

If I recally correctly, that happens around the end of the second trimester, although adding a safety margin might be valid. I'm fairly sure that this doesn't qualify as "pro-life" by any normal definition... As a moral relativist, I'm open to reasoned debate on this.

Oh, and 'Lifewish' is just a really lame play on 'deathwish'.
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Poor quality in action: my writing

You may have noticed that my writing uses a lot of words. This is a habit I've picked up debating - the more time one spends defining one's terms, the less easily people can creatively misunderstand them.

However, in standard blog posts, it's unnecessary and unreadable - poor quality. As such, it stops now.


You have no idea how hard it is not to extend that first paragraph, just to make sure people are clear what I'm saying...
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Usefulness v. truth

One thing that anyone who's actually bothered to read my posts on scientific usefulness may have noticed is: scientific usefulness and truth are not the same thing by a long shot. They cover a lot of the same ground, but there are things that fall into one and not the other.

For example, "emergent" phenomena like tornadoes are scientifically useful categorisations without being literally true. There is fundamentally no such thing as a tornado; it's just a label we apply to a really diverse array of air patterns. Useful but not true.

On the other hand, it would be possible for something to be true but not scientifically useful. For example, maybe there's a universe somewhere where Darth Vader really exists. If so, that would be true - but, since there'd be no way of having any contact of any sort with that universe, that truth would be completely useless.

However, there's another class of potentially true statements that are more problematic. These are statements that, if true, would be scientifically very useful, but that aren't testable - there's no way to tell whether they're true or false in advance. For example, if God exists and atheists really get sent to a big fiery pit after death, that would be very useful, but as yet no-one's come up with any experiment that could test for this.

We're getting into Pascal's Wager territory here - if these statements are potentially so significant, are we justified in ignoring them simply because we can't immediately assess their usefulness?

I would say yes. My rationale is that, by declaring these statements untestable, we're making it impossible to distinguish between them and the infinite number of other untestable statements that would counsel different behaviour. This is a classic refutation to Pascal's Wager - the possibility of a God that gets angry when people worship Him effectively cancels out the possibility of a God that gets angry when people don't. Until we find some way to test these statements, it's impossible to make useful decisions based on them - there are just too many conflicting options.

There's no little black box that will test the statements we feed it for truth. One could say that truth is not a useful concept, except insofar as it relates to predictivity. As far as predictivity is concerned, we do have such a little black box - and it's called science. That's as good as it gets, folks.

[Edit: on reflection, I think this cartoon said it better.]
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To do list

I'm just going to make a brief list of stuff I need to cover at some point, so I don't forget it. This list is intended for my personal use, so don't expect much of it to make sense to you.

  • Mental quality
    • Components of the scientific method
    • Recursive usefulness and paradox

  • Social quality
    • Dominance
    • Body language
    • Networking

  • Physical quality
    • Martial arts gunk

Note to self: go back through the archives, see if I can spot anything else.
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Response to a comment

On another blog I commented that Christians seem highly reluctant to correct each other, and was promptly shown the error of my ways :)

The conversation is getting into issues of evolution/creationism, which I'd rather not contaminate another perfectly good blog with, so I'm proposing that such debate be moved over here. This is in response to my comment that believing in special creation of animals was counterfactual.

You might want to study the "Cambrian Explosion" in which all the phylla of large animals appear in a short period of time in the fossil record.

A few major responses here:

1) depending on one's definitions of "phyla" and "Cambrian explosion", only about 1/3 of the metazoan phyla appeared during this period.

2) when we talk about "phyla of large animals" the kind of large animals we're (presumably) talking about are small, jawless, boneless fish. Things like mammals, birds, reptiles etc came far far later. They weren't even like the fish we have today.

3) when we say "short" we mean "over 10 million years".

4) we actually have a few transitional fossils from within the Cambrian, which show (for example) how worms evolved from arthropods via lobopods.

Any thoughts?

Also, new studies of specific genomes are showing a much greater diversity between humans and other previously assumed "cousins" such as chimpanzees.

You'd have to point me at the studies. My understanding was that all they'd done was pinpointed the most changed and most conserved areas of the genome. The interesting thing about the approaches they're using for this is that they're based on comparing the rate of change in possibly useful areas to the rate of change in "junk" DNA. Thus, this approach would only be expected to produce useful results (which it has) if:

a) a majority of the "junk" DNA was actually pretty much useless
b) said junk DNA was inherited from a common ancestor

With the enormous amount of information found in the human genome, a 6% variation is now much greater than it was thought to be before.

I just finished a maths degree, so I'm legally required to call you on this: how are you defining "information" here? See, information theorists define it as the inverse log of the probability of an event - but, by this definition, randomly-selected events will generally have more information. Computer scientists define information as the compressibility of a string - but that's also greater for random strings. Randomness increases information. (Note: I can explain this in more detail if you wish)

If you have a new, rigorous definition, please share it. Or if you meant some less measurable concept of information, please elaborate. Otherwise, please be aware that the tendency to throw buzzwords like "information" into the conversation without defining them is one of the other things that I consider extremely daft.

There's a lot more to learn than the evolutionists lead on about. Their idea that they have it all figured out [a la Dawkins] reminds me more of the claims of the young earth creationists. One of my favorite Wittgenstein quotes, "what we do not know we must pass over in silence." Good advice for those bloviating about things they cannot verify.

I would note that the word "evolutionists" could be replaced with "quantum theorists" and that sentence would still make exactly the same amount of sense. It's not arrogance if you're right :)

Evolutionary biology is (in some areas at least) a predictive science. That's usually taken as an indicator that a science is at least broadly correct. There is no other predictive model of origins - if creationists were able to create one, they'd have done so by now. If you think evolutionists are so wrong, why not win a Nobel by producing one?

(Note: I haven't started listing predictions and evidences here, because I could... uh... "bloviate" for hours and still not have discussed all of them. If you're interested, ask.)

Disclaimer: I spend way too much time debating this stuff, and hence know most of the arguments inside out. Thus, even if I appear to come out ahead in this discussion, it might just mean that I know the talking points better.
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Monday, October 30, 2006

What is science?

Science means many things to many people, but on closer examination it turns out that all the definitions are tightly interconnected. I need to hit the hay in a moment, so I'll briefly run through the stack and maybe comment more tomorrow.

Science is a goal. The goal of science, broadly speaking, is to improve our ability to understand and manipulate the universe. My preferred phrasing is that science attempts to find predictive models of how the world works.

Science is a method. It turns out that a particular pair of approaches (hypothesis testing and peer review), along with a bunch of handy if somewhat ad-hoc guidelines, turn out to be highly effective at helping us to achieve the scientific goal.

Science is a community. The scientific community is a group of people who subject their work to the rigours of the scientific method, with unparalleled success.

Science is a body of knowledge. Or, in my terms, a body of accurate predictive models. This is, of course, an incredibly useful thing to have. This body of knowledge is mostly produced by the scientific community because (more or less by definition) they have the most efficient ways of extending it.

It's important to get these definitions out of the way, because there's a certain amount of equivocation over the term due to these different levels. Each level is not equivalent to the others, but it can be legitimately assumed to be a good approximation thereof. Sometimes this approximation breaks, which is where you get "cargo cult science". More to come.
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Why believe in God?

A couple of posts ago, I promised a discussion of what I felt were legitimate reasons to believe in God despite the lack of scientific usefulness in the concept. However, on reading my own archives, I realised that I'd already covered a lot of what I wanted to say. However, I would like to recap briefly, to put these things in the new context of usefulness.

Before I start, I'd like to make a general statement. A lot of these reasons for believing in God appear at first glance to be extremely derogatory. They're not. They're useful. The reason that people look at them and think "oh, you're soooo mean" is that it's been drummed into them for years that these other forms of usefulness are intrinsically of less value than scientific usefulness.

My feeling is that this is the cause of a lot of grief, and of travesties like Intelligent Design. People believe in God for these other legitimate reasons, but feel slightly silly for doing so and thus try to validate that belief in terms of scientific usefulness, which only causes unnecessary confusion.

Use 1: happiness

Conserved component: anything that makes one immediately happy is (in general) useful.

Many religious beliefs certainly fall into this category. The reassurance that these beliefs provide can be an incredibly powerful force when an individual is feeling out of control of their life. Read Sara Robinson on fundamentalism for further discussion of the connection between stress and religion.

Use 2: motivation

Conserved component: anything that makes one more motivated is (in general) useful.

Although in this area there's nothing special about religion per se, for some individuals it appears to be very motivating - certainly qualifying as useful for them (although not necessarily for humanity as a whole).

Use 3: mental efficiency

Conserved component: anything that makes one more efficient is (in general) useful.

Let's face it: there are some things that it's not really worth wasting a lot of time discussing. You'll never figure out an answer to the meaning of life in an online debate, so why waste that time when you could be off making the most of said life?

However, this is harder than it sounds because humans have built-in drives to seek out new knowledge (and, I suspect, to argue incessantly about it...). The statement "Goddidit" is useless from a scientific perspective because it works in every possible circumstances - but, from an action-based perspective, closing off those channels of thought can be extremely useful, and God makes a wonderful cork to keep these particular genies in their bottles.

I suspect this is what Ken Miller means when he says "I find that the hypothesis of God helps me to make sense of life and of the world around me, and I find that hypothesis congruent with science, not dependent upon it", although he would almost certainly disagree with my characterisation. Religion can provide a useful framework in that it helps one to focus more tightly on individual issues without being distracted by the scenery.

Use 4: socialisation

Conserved component: anything that makes one more easily able to gain the respect of one's peers is (in general) useful.

For this particular subset of usefulness, it's not actually necessary to believe in God, only to give the appearance thereof. And this is certainly what many people do... However, in many of the more evangelistic communities, it's getting ever harder to just pretend - eventually your mask will probably slip. In this sense, the belief itself, rather than merely the impression of it, could be considered useful.

Use 5: transmission of wisdom

Conserved component: accurate guidelines for effective living are pretty damn useful.

This almost certainly used to be one of the major reasons for religion, as anyone who's read Psalms can guess, and for many religions it's still a key component. However, in an age where any idiot can give advice, it's hard to give a good reason why merely having existed for a few thousand years means scriptural advice will be any better than that from other sources. I guess that selective effects would be expected to weed out some of the dross, though.

Thanks to the good folk at the interfaith society for pointing me towards this use, which I honestly hadn't really considered before. Maybe for some traditions it's even true.

So what's with the atheism?

So, if there are all these convincing reasons to believe (and I'm sure I've just scratched the surface), why do I not believe? Well, my feeling is that, as of now, the price is not right. I'm not in major need of comfort, I seriously doubt that belief in God will get me off my ass, I have no hopes that I could satisfy my rampant curiosity with "Goddidit", and my social life is actually doing quite well on its own (the main limiting factor is ineptness rather than beliefs!). Whilst I'm certainly in need of wisdom, I have doubts that the Abrahamic religions would be good teachers for me. Possibly I should try Buddhism, but that's completely compatible with atheism.

To my mind, the negative usefulness conveyed by religion's lack of scientific usefulness easily overwhelms these marginal advantages. Not particularly because I think the small reduction in predictivity would be a deal-killer, but because I worry that it wouldn't stop there. Religious belief can eat rationality alive. And that gives rise to a fundamental paradox which... but that's a post for another day.

I'll leave you with another reason for religion, which I couldn't quite figure out how to work into the preceding list. Say hi to the cutest religion analogy ever!
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Quality Quickies

One habit I've picked up recently is: every time I've been doing something that gives me new experiences, I make a list of issues to watch out for. That way, the next time I hit that situation I can do a better job.

I'm going to start publishing some of my collection under the title Quality Quickies. I'm aware that that could be hideously misinterpreted - it's all part of a cunning plan to push up my blog's hitcount >:)

The following nuggets were collected the first time I attempted this approach, halfway through a summer internship, after a particularly, um, eventful day. Enjoy.

  • Keep an eye out for things that are more likely than usual to go wrong. For example, if a 2 hour train journey took you four hours yesterday night due to buggered tracks, expect the same train journey to take some time today too.
  • If your boss wants you to keep in touch in any way, do not leave the building without a working, powered, paid-up mobile.
  • Best to get a signature for deliveries unless otherwise specified.
  • If you find that you're wasting work time online, kill your browser. No excuses.
  • Make sure you know where the project you're working on is supposed to be going, that way you can more effectively help it get there.
  • When working on computer-killing programs, make sure you have something else to do before running the damn thing.
  • Don't drink more than (at absolute most) two pints the night before you have to be in work. And don't mix wine and beer - they're not exaggerating about the effects of that.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

What moral relativism means to me

(Disclaimer: I'm probably using the term "moral relativism" in a non-standard fashion. So sue me.)

I mentioned before that scientific knowledge acted as a very strongly-conserved component of the more general idea of usefulness. I'd like to throw a little light on another conserved component: enlightened self-interest.

ESI is the basis on which rationalists make moral decisions. The basic principle is simple - in order to achieve one's personal goals, it is useful to support a society in which achieving those goals is easy. If you enjoy walking in the midst of unspoiled nature, don't leave crisp packets behind you. If you aim to get fit through a swimming regime, don't piss in the pool. If you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them, and encourage them to be nice to each other.

This bears some resemblance to the Broken Windows approach to crime prevention - even small acts of personal responsibility can help create an environment that is far more enjoyable and/or effective. Likewise, exhibiting sociopathic or psychopathic behaviour (as many theists seem to believe atheists should) results in a very poor-Quality environment. We're all in the same boat - it's daft to drill holes in the bottom.

Why does this differ from absolute morality? Because the path of greatest ESI may vary between different times and places. To take the classic example: lying is not wrong when you've got Jews hiding in your cellar and the Nazis knocking on the door and asking if you've seen them. It's possible to imagine situations in which any "sin" could actually be the best thing to do in order to create a better environment. ESI morality is a means to that end, not an end in itself.

Obviously it's impossible to argue that absolute morality is immoral, because moral systems can only be evaluated in terms of other moral systems. However, I feel I can make a fairly strong case that absolute morality is extremely counterproductive. It makes reasoned debate impossible and causes concrete harm to individuals worldwide who have either a relative morality or merely a different absolute morality to those in power.

A recent example of where absolute morality can lead us is the case of the Australian Imam who raised outrage worldwide by claiming that unveiled women were like "uncovered meat", and were therefore at least partially responsible for acts of sexual violence perpetrated against them. As explanations go, that one is quite blatantly complete bollocks. It's fairly clear that the Imam merely had some a priori, morally absolute idea that it was good for women to be veiled, and sought to justify that in more rational terms.

What has got fewer column inches is the fact that his behaviour here was actually an improvement over the norm. In most theocracies, authorities don't even bother with faking up a rational explanation for why something is bad. The fact that it is Written would be enough - off with his head. Again this seems to be a particular problem for Islam - the specific issue that springs to mind is its injunction to kill apostates, which is quite frankly idiotic from the point of view of any of the goals that Islam claims to prioritise.

Absolute morality just is. You can't argue with it. You can't point out why it's stupid or mistaken or unhelpful, because all of that is beside the point - the morality is the important thing, and we humans are merely the protagonists or antagonists of Its justice. As I said before, I obviously can't prove that to be morally wrong. However, I think I'm justified in saying that, at least to me, it's an extremely scary concept.

Moral relativism, to me, means that our decisions are made with respect not to some calcified set of semi-arbitrary rules but with respect to the impact those decisions will have on our fellow human beings and, ultimately, ourselves. It means that we can be reasoned out of behaving badly, and reasoned into behaving in a way that benefits society. It means that, when something freaks us out, we actually have to come up with good reasons as to why it's wrong rather than simply turning to the nearest bigoted Holy Book*.

Whilst, as a moral relativist, it's impossible for me to say that moral relativism is good in all circumstances, I think it's fair to say that ESI is a useful approach in the overwhelming majority of cases, qualifying easily for Conserved Component status.

* I was chatting to a very nice (Christian) girl this evening who is going to have major problems with this when she tells her (extremely religious) parents that she's gay. A decent proportion of the public seem never to have learned that "yuck" does not constitute a valid moral argument.
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Lapsed atheists

One of the more amusing comments at the interfaith meeting mentioned in my last post was one theist's comment that he, along with many others present there, was a "lapsed atheist". On reflection, this was probably directed at the Christian panelist, who was a Roman Catholic, and the Humanist panelist, who had been gently ranting about inability to get off the RC church's membership rolls. It's an amusing concept - one doesn't normally think of a theist as being an apostate atheist.

It did get me thinking, though: what motivates people to ditch atheism? In some ways, atheism is the least stable religious position - you only need one solitary bit of hard evidence to be justified in dropping it. Have lapsed atheists acquired some strong new scientific evidence that I've yet to stumble across? Or have they simply renounced membership of the reality-based community in favour of a viewpoint that they personally find more effective? I'm guessing the latter, but I'd be interested to know for sure.

The problem is that I currently don't know any lapsed atheists, at least not that I'm aware of. Can any of my theistic readers* help me out here?

* I realise I'm making a rather large assumption here that anyone out there actually reads my blog... However, if I'm wrong, no-one will notice, so I might as well take the chance. It's all a matter of usefulness :)
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Religion done right

I just spent the afternoon at a meeting of the local interfaith society, which was arranged as a panel discussion between various denominations - Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and (to my surprise) Humanist. I was somewhat shocked to find that I agreed with almost everything that was said.

Recently I've been feeling my way towards a new philosophy, based on notions analogous to Quality albeit somewhat more pragmatic in tone, which defines reality in terms of beliefs which are useful. We can then draw a distinction between consensual reality (the beliefs that are real for all humans) and personal reality (subjective "truths").

This has the usefulconvenient feature that it provides a concise explanation for the importance of science. Science is based around a particular subset of usefulness: an idea is scientifically useful if it gives rise to a more predictive understanding of the universe. This scientific usefulness has the unique property of applying to pretty much any intelligent lifeform that could exist (with a scant few pathological examples). Not just to certain individuals, not just to humanity as a whole - any intelligent lifeform, whatever its goals in life, will be more able to achieve those goals if it can accurately assess what future circumstances will be. As such, concepts conforming to this version of usefulness can be legitimately treated as part of an objective reality, regardless of their actual material existence.

Note: this also provides a nice refutation of the all-too-common claim that atheism cannot be true because if it were there would be no reason for us to be able to accurately perceive our environment. It is quite clear that, in general, it will be of value to an organism to accurately perceive its environment - as that is a prerequisite for predicting what its environment will do next - and so such a trait would be an extremely plausible evolutionary outcome.

Consensual reality is slightly more expansive than scientific reality - at present, it also incorporates concepts that are useful to all humans, but that might not be useful to martians (if we ever met any martians, we might have to re-evaluate this...). For example, "soft sciences" such as project management or psychotherapy apply to anyone with a human-like mind, but might not be useful for (picking a random example) a hive species.

This redefinition moves the philosophical battleground of theism from the question of whether God is real to the question of whether He is real for all lifeforms, or "just" all humans, or simply a subset thereof. This is where the concept of usefulness comes into its own as a model of human behaviour, as we can then start to analyse all the other ways in which a statement might be useful, with a concept's reality for an individual being a weighted average. It's also a significantly more tractable question than whether God "exists" in any more materialistic sense. As you're probably aware, my belief is that God is not real in this sense - I am, of course, open to discussion here.

This brings us back to the interfaith talk, because it was quite apparent that most of the participants were talking less about whether their beliefs were objectively (scientifically) true than whether their beliefs were subjectively useful.

Of particular note were the Hindu Swami and the Jewish Rabbi. The Swami focused almost entirely on religion as a means of spiritual development, a set of useful markers and methods to help us along the path of personal growth (this theme was also echoed, albeit with rather less vigour, by the Christian on the panel). In this sense, religion is "merely" a handy guide, a set of well-trodden roads that people have laid down over the centuries, with no need to be objectively real. The Rabbi focused on the standard gunk - religion as bringer of morality etc - but was unusual in that she expressly stated that this was true for her, and might not apply to someone else. IMO that's a far more respectable stance on this question than the usual one, and I found it very refreshing.

Is God objectively real? As far as I can tell, the answer is no. Is God real for some individuals? Apparently so, and I hope to explore further why this should be the case. Is God part of consensual reality? At present I'd say no, but I'll need to examine this question in future posts.

In light of this reformulation, how does one define the reality-based community, the faith-based community and the action-based community? What's the most effective combination of these to live by, and why?

Watch this space, folks. And visit any interfaith events in your area, they're bloody marvellous.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A challenge to creationists

I'm being very lazy about the Protein Challenge at the moment, due to a combination of general lassitude and complete lack of any idea as to where to start. I will get onto it, especially since the issues raised seem to be flaring up again over on Paul's blog (he's doing a series on Dembski's design inference and specification).

In the meantime, here's another money-where-mouth-is challenge to those of you out there who have very different beliefs to me in the area of origins.

Science and predictivity

A scientific model (a hypothesis or group of hypotheses) is said to be predictive if it tells us the results of experiments that we haven't performed yet. For example, the model of quantum mechanics tells us how electrons will behave in various potentials without our actually having to generate those potentials and throw electrons at them.

It's fair to say that predictive models are the holy grail of science. These perfect crystal balls, these insights into the future, justify the entire enterprise - they are what makes science so unbelievably useful.

Evolution and predictivity

Evolution has been the only model that accurately fitted all the data for over a century now. However, it's theoretically possible to create any number of models to fit a given set of data (although currently the only alternatives are very heavy on the Goddidits), so that in itself is not conclusive evidence for evolution.

What is conclusive evidence that evolution is at least on the right lines is the large number of confirmed predictions that evolution has made. For example:

  • When the genomes of the great apes (inc. humans) were first studied, it was observed that humans had one chromosome per gamete less than any of their closest relatives. As humans were unique in this respect, it was hypothesised that having one more chromosome was the ancestral condition. It was known at the time that it is nigh-on impossible to just lose a chromosome, hence it was hypothesised that at some point in the human lineage two chromosomes must have fused. It was therefore predicted that one human chromosome would look exactly like two fused chimp chromosomes. This prediction was later confirmed.

  • It's been known for a long time that primates are unable to produce vitamin C (chemical name: L-ascorbic acid). Since most mammals can, it was hypothesised that this was the ancestral condition, and that primates have subsequently lost that ability. With the emergence of population genetics, it became apparent that, in this case, remnants of the vitC gene should exist in primates - these pseudogenes wouldn't have had time to fade away. Hence it was predicted that primate genomes would contain DNA strings very similar to those used to produce vitC in other mammals. This prediction was later confirmed

Neither of these facts were predicted by any other models that existed at the time.

The Challenge

The challenge is aimed at anyone who claims that creationism, or any other alternative origins conjecture, has scientific merit. Simply provide me with one valid prediction that your model has produced. If you can do this, I'll publicly declare that your model is scientific, and devote the next month or so of my life to figuring out

The conditions

Some of the following criteria for what constitutes a "valid prediction" will border on the insulting to the more honest of you, but I've seen people argue each of these points so it's best to get things out in the open. The criteria I'm concerned with are:

  • It must be new knowledge - it can't be something we already knew to be true at the time the prediction was made. "Predicting" the existence of the universe doesn't qualify.
  • It must be concrete, i.e. relating to the physical universe - sociological predictions derived from physical models will not generally be accepted. Predicting that people will be picky about your model doesn't qualify.
  • It must be testable, i.e. both verifiable and falsifiable. "Predicting" that evolution won't be able to explain something doesn't qualify, as that conjecture is falsifiable but not verifiable (it's actually an hypothesis). Note: "predictions" that are verifiable but not falsifiable may be accepted as a weaker evidence for your model.
  • It must be unique to your model - so no predictions that would also be made by current mainstream scientific models. Predicting that the sun will come up tomorrow doesn't qualify.
  • It must be confirmed. Predicting something that hasn't actually been tested yet doesn't qualify.
  • It must follow inevitably from the model. Conjecturing that God exists and hence predicting that Mars will have subterranean water will not qualify unless you provide a damn good rationale. Throwing out thousands of mutually-conflicting conjectures and hoping one will stick is also not acceptable.
  • It must be checkable - I must be able to confirm that all the other criteria hold. For this reason, predictions older than 50 years will not in general be accepted.

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to modify these criteria if someone comes up with some really really daft workaround that I hadn't thought of, but I solemnly swear that this will only be done in absolutely exceptional circumstances.

These criteria are not excessive - both of the evolutionary predictions I discussed above pass with flying colours. These criteria are not ad-hoc - each and every point is essential to proper scientific hypothesis testing. I'm currently fairly sure that these criteria, rigorously enforced, are sufficient to confirm that a model is at least broadly accurate.

Before anyone asks, emotional arguments, or logical arguments not relating to hypothesis testing, will not be accepted for the purposes of this challenge.

No, I would accept the evidence

One response that I've heard in a variety of contexts is "you're an atheist, you wouldn't accept the evidence even if we gave it to you". This is factually inaccurate.

I self-define primarily as a member of the reality-based community. Although, at present, most RBCers are atheists, this is for strictly pragmatic reasons rather than any sort of underlying resistance to any given brand of theism. In short, if you provide me with the evidence, I will accept your hypothesis as being more accurate in this area than the mainstream scientific consensus (if one exists in that area).
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