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Mordechai Ben-Ari

Israeli computer scientist

Mordechai (Moti) Ben-Ari (born 11 December, 1948) is a professor of computer science education at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

QuotesEdit

Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science (2005)Edit

All page numbers are from the trade paperback edition published by Prometheus Books ISBN 1-59102-285-1
  • Modern science explicitly and emphatically rejects teleology.
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 24)
  • A scientific theory is a concise and coherent set of concepts, claims, and laws (frequently expressed mathematically) that can be used to precisely and accurately explain and predict natural phenomena.
    A theory should include a mechanism that explains how its concepts, claims, and laws arise from lower-level theories.
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 24)
  • A good rule of thumb for diagnosing an activity as pseudoscientific is the existence of ad hoc explanations: “my telepathic powers aren’t working today because of a force field emanating from the hostile talk-show host.” There are no “bad-gravity days” and there are no days when your TV set stops working because electromagnetic waves feel hostility.
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 25)
  • Concise and coherent is not the same as “simple and obvious.”
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 26)
  • The statement “I don’t see how X could have evolved” simply means that you cannot see how X evolved, not that X could not have evolved.
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 36)
  • To brand evolution as “just a theory” is the finest compliment one can confer on it!
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 38)
  • ID (intelligent design) is essentially a total failure of the imagination; just because you do not see how something could have evolved, doesn’t mean that it didn’t.
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 38)
  • Needless to say, there is no formal or mathematical content to ID—a “theory” that explains everything, explains nothing, and predicts nothing. ID cannot explain why millions of species were created and then became extinct. Even more importantly, it cannot explain “mistakes” in the design of living organisms such as us.
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 39)
  • Intelligent Design is simply a dead end; it does not deserve to be called a theory.
    • Chapter 2, “Just a Theory: What Scientists Do” (p. 41)
  • We can define a fact as an observation backed up by such a preponderance of evidence that no useful purpose would be served by doubting it.
    • Chapter 3, “Words Scientists Don’t Use: At Least Not the Way You Do” (p. 46)
  • It is important to distinguish between the scientific concept of law as a generalization, and the social concept of law which is prescriptive and normative. A desire for tolerance in respecting the laws of different social systems must not lead us into the mistake of attributing volition to the entities of science or relativism to scientific laws.
    • Chapter 3, “Words Scientists Don’t Use: At Least Not the Way You Do” (p. 49)
  • The difference between these beliefs and the beliefs of religions is that scientific beliefs are methodological, not propositional...It is the absence of propositional beliefs that distinguishes science from a belief system. There is no proposition of the content of science that is accepted upon belief alone.
    • Chapter 3, “Words Scientists Don’t Use: At Least Not the Way You Do” (pp. 51-52)
  • Imaginary numbers are not imaginary and the theory of complex numbers is no more complex than the theory of real numbers. Complex numbers are as intuitive for an electronics engineer as -100 is for the average person with an overdrawn bank account.
    • Chapter 3, “Words Scientists Don’t Use: At Least Not the Way You Do” (p. 56)
  • Social Darwinism and eugenics are unscientific in two aspects. First, they commit the naturalistic fallacy, which is the assumption that what is, must be. The fact that the natural environment selects for reproductive advantage does not mean that we, as humans, should be forcibly selecting people according to some preconceived notions. The second nonscientific aspect of these movements was their narrow interpretation of the meaning of fitness. In evolution, this simply means fitness to survive and reproduce, not fitness according to some externally imposed criteria.
    Darwin himself never engaged in these speculations, nor did he support these perversions of his theory.
    • Chapter 3, “Words Scientists Don’t Use: At Least Not the Way You Do” (p. 58)
  • Unfortunately, the universe does not come with an instructor’s manual and technical support is as hard to get as it is for some software packages.
    • Chapter 4, “Falsificationism: If It Might Be Wrong, It’s Science” (p. 69)
  • Until creationists accept that their claims must be falsifiable and show how they could be falsified, creationism cannot be said to be a scientific theory.
    • Chapter 4, “Falsificationism: If It Might Be Wrong, It’s Science” (p. 75)
  • Popper’s attempt to construct a methodology from falsification may have been flawed, but the concept is central in the demarcation of science from nonscience. No matter how strong one’s convictions, a true scientist will always allow for the possibility that her results may be falsified; if she denies this possibility or refuses to abandon or modify a theory in the face of repeated falsifications, you can be sure that you are dealing with pseudoscience, not science.
    • Chapter 4, “Falsificationism: If It Might Be Wrong, It’s Science” (p. 75)
  • Scientists refuse to study astrology, not because of prejudice or because there is a conspiracy afoot, but simply because there is not a shred of evidence that would justify the expenditure of valuable time from a career.
    • Chapter 5, “Pseudoscience: What Some People Do Isn’t Science” (p. 93)
  • Enormous resources are invested in pseudoscience that could be better invested in improving the health and education of the public.
    • Chapter 5, “Pseudoscience: What Some People Do Isn’t Science” (p. 95)
  • If ghosts and witches are not yet altogether exploded, it is the fault, not so much of the ignorant people, as of the law and the government that have neglected to enlighten them.
    • Chapter 5, “Pseudoscience: What Some People Do Isn’t Science” (p. 96; quoting Charles Mackay)
  • The charm of our studies, the enchantment of science, is that, everywhere and always, we can give the justification of our principles and the proof of our discoveries.
    • Chapter 5, “Pseudoscience: What Some People Do Isn’t Science” (p. 98; quoting Louis Pasteur)
  • Just because people doing science are embedded in a particular social and cultural milieu, it doesn’t follow that science is not universal.
    • Chapter 6, “The Sociology of Science: Scientists Do It as a Group” (p. 111)
  • Science has also been analyzed by sociologists, political scientists and literary critics, who make little or no effort to understand the scientific subjects that they are analyzing. These critiques, known under the umbrella label of postmodernism, are seen by scientists as uninformed and pernicious in their effects on the real problems that arise in the relationship between science and society.
    • Chapter 7, “Postmodernist Critiques of Science: Is Science Universal?” (p. 115)
  • The scientific point of view is that such claims of postmodernism are a travesty that comes from mixing ideology and politics with science.
    • Chapter 7, “Postmodernist Critiques of Science: Is Science Universal?” (p. 128)
  • Our existence in this world seems insignificant within the extent of space and of time. Therefore, nonreligious people have to come to terms with living in a world full of uncertainty and unknowns. Nevertheless, many people prefer facing the uncertainty, rather than believing in a certainty that makes no sense to them.
    • Chapter 8, “Science and Religion: Scientists Just Do Science” (pp. 136-137; minor grammatical errors corrected silently)
  • If the Moon is made of green cheese, then Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo.
    We would be committing this fallacy (i. e., affirming the consequent) if we used this sentence to claim that the Moon is made of green cheese. Pseudosciences employ this fallacy frequently, because it enables you to claim the truth of any premise you wish simply by choosing a true conclusion.
    • Chapter 11, “Logic and Mathematics: Scientists Like It Clear and Precise” (p. 177)
  • It is clear today that modern science developed when people stopped debating metaphysical questions about the world and instead concerned themselves with the discovery of laws that were primarily mathematical.
    • Chapter 11, “Logic and Mathematics: Scientists Like It Clear and Precise” (p. 184)
  • Why was progress in computing technology so fast compared with the lack of progress in space travel? The reason is very simple: computing technology is only now approaching scientific limits such as quantum uncertainty and the speed of light, while space technology has already run into its limits that derive from the basic principles of physics and chemistry.
    • Chapter 13, “The Future of Science: Surprises or Revolutions” (p. 210)

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