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Re: Origins (was: Re: Sharovipteryx)

In a message dated 5/26/00 8:24:12 AM EST, Chapman.Ralph@NMNH.SI.EDU writes:

<< Well here we go.... >>

Ah--at last a debate with some meat in it. This is one of those times where 
one paragraph in an email requires a six-paragraph reply, and each paragraph 
in the reply in turn requires a six-paragraph reply, and so on. So I will 
have to break up my response into several separate emails over the next few 
days as time permits. But first:

<<As such, George,  your opinions on paleobiology cannot be distinguished, at 
least in scientific rigor, with those of creationists. According to George we 
only think we know what we know, we don't truly have the ability to do 
anything other than blowing smoke, telling stories. Sounds like faith to me 
George, and that's religion. Nothing wrong at all with religion but that's 
not what we are doing here. Yes, we have researchers who go about things with 
religious zeal and, at times, procedures, but paleontology is a science, yes 
an historical science so the procedures are tougher to follow, but still a 
real science. But we do it and, at times, it comes out
spectacularly well.>>

You must surely recognize that science >is< a religion, that what you have 
written about is your FAITH that scientific inquiry will yield the truest 
picture of the world that can be gotten. You BELIEVE, and quite fervently, 
from the research that you and others have done, that dinosaurs behaved in a 
certain fashion and that dinosaurs are related to one another in a certain 
way. Furthermore, unlike the orthodox religions and creationism, you can 
provide an enormous body of >empirical< evidence to support your faith and 
beliefs. But one thing you >cannot< provide is the observations of the 
dinosaurs themselves that would confirm your faith. Now, I agree that 
scientific inquiry is the only way to go with respect to figuring out how the 
world worked and works. In this respect, we are both members of the same 
faith. And this, in fact, distinguishes my own beliefs and my hypotheses from 
those of creationists, so you are incredibly wrong and unnecessarily 
derogatory when you lump me in with them in an attempt to score a couple of 
debating points. But I would like people to be aware that at the core of 
every thundering paleontological pronunciamento about dinosaur behavior and 
evolution (as opposed to descriptive anatomy and nomenclature), supported by 
100x100 character matrices, lies a Just So Story. And that there's nothing 
wrong or unscientific with that.

<<That you are not at all interested in horseshoe crabs is a bit sad since 
horseshoe crabs are about as neat as things get. However, it is irrelevant in 
that you should be interested in any paper that demonstrates the scientific 
method so well - or at least one of a variety of approaches to doing it well. 
That you seem pretty uninterested tells me volumes about how you approach 
this field and it is, as I said, really sad.>>

There are an infinite number of things to be interested in in this world, but 
I have only a finite amount of gray matter, space, and time. So I must prune 
my interests to include the things that really matter to me, and to eschew 
the things that are of lesser interest. Perhaps unfortunately, horseshoe 
crabs are among the things that I've pruned away. I have, nevertheless, 
plenty of things that interest me still, so, Ralph, there's no need for you 
to be sad, or to be patronizing. I am glad that you, or at least somebody, is 
interested enough in horseshoe crabs to publish something worthwhile about 
them for me to read someday, perhaps. De gustibus non est disputandum. And as 
for being interested in papers "that demonstrate the scientific method so 
well," I >expect< papers written by professional paleontologists to be 
shining exemplars of the scientific method, and when some are not, my 
disappointment runs deep. I cannot be interested in a paper >just because< it 
is a good paper; I'm interested in a paper because it covers a topic that I'm 
interested in.

<<Ornithischians were herbivores. We have massive morphological evidence for 
this and long studies on various aspects of their morphology that nail this 
down. You can set up specific predictions about their morphology that you can 
then progress and test with the morphology they exhibit from the fossils. 
These can include various aspects on the relationship between tooth 
morphology and food processing, the biomechanics of chewing, etc. Huge data. 
It comes out massively as confirming the tests that ornithischians ate 
plants. A type 3 inference but nailed.>>

As a practicing professional scientist, Ralph, you should know that NOTHING 
is >nailed< in science. Nailed means 100% true, not falsifiable, and 
therefore no longer science. Science >requires< at least a vestige of doubt 
in every conjecture and every hypothesis, even in so elementary and seemingly 
obvious an observation as that ornithischian dinosaurs were herbivores. 
Otherwise we will find better things to do than repeatedly check hypothesis 
that we know are >nailed<.

More to come...