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Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Big Lie - How do we know there is such a thing as HIV?

Ah, commenters! There are those who simply come in to make derisive remarks with no real intent to present evidences. I don't think that impresses anyone or provokes a great deal of thought, either.

There are those who, like Jordan, come back to say "atta boy!". Thanks!

Then guys like Creeper and Chaos Engineer will come along and we will have actual discussion and debate. With kudos to Chaos, let me use his last comment as a template for this post...Chaos will be in blue (except when he is quoting me, which is italicized).

"Chaos Engineer said...(quoting me)

The testing has been done. Therefore, the opinion of doctors is not an issue.

If I had done the testing myself, then I wouldn't need anyone else's opinion. But I haven't done the testing. In fact, the testing is too complicated to be done by any one person. Some people interview patients and collect the raw data, some people design the tools to detect viruses, and some people try to organize all the information into a coherent whole.

In order to accept the results of the test, we have to first agree that the testing process is valid. We have to have faith that the people collecting the raw data are generally telling the truth, and that people who designed the tools knew what they were doing, and that the people who put it all together don't have a hidden agenda. Personally, I think this is a safe assumption. Maybe some of the people involved are lazy or dishonest, but there's enough good data coming in to compensate for the bad data...unless there's an active conspiracy to create bad data.

Some people do think there's a conspiracy. The Third World people in your example are probably thinking something like, "Oh, those crazy foreigners! They think we should throw away the sacred medical traditions of our ancestors in favor of this 'science' mumbo-jumbo. And it's not like they've given us good advice in the past. I mean, thanks for drawing our national borders for us, guys!" Meanwhile, in the West, we've got people thinking "AIDS is just a big hoax to sell expensive medicine. If you don't take the medicine, you'll probably get better on your own!" (Search on "HIV denialism" if you'd like to meet some of these people.) So here's the point: Young-Earth Creationism and HIV denialism are both considered fringe beliefs, and are rejected by most of the experts who work in the field. How can we, as laymen, tell which experts are telling the truth and which are conspiring to fool us?"

Now that is good commenting! I commended chaos earlier for being a wonderful devil's advocate after a previous comment and here he is doing it again, and rather well. He presents his scenario logically and then asks the questions that perhaps may make a point. Let us see...

Chaos is lumping Young-Earth Creationism (YEC for short) and HIV denialism (HIVd for short) together. This is perhaps because he believes that they are both foolish. But he doesn't say that, he simply indicates that most experts reject them both and how can we laymen decide otherwise?

First, let us be clear that my post didn't really say anything about YEC. My post stated that the following was one of a few Big Lies being told:

• Evolution is an accepted scientific fact. Call it Macroevolution or Neo-Darwinism if you will, every serious scientist accepts it and no one questions it.

So I was calling into question Neo-Darwinism. There is no mention of YEC in my post. Chaos is injecting this into the discussion as a "flip side" to Neo-Darwinism. I didn't mention it and it isn't really a part of what I said. Secondly, Chaos makes a value judgment that YEC is a "fringe belief" but that is simply his opinion and has nothing to do with whether or not it is true. So, although the comment was logical in most ways, YEC is brought into the discussion as a "straw man" and should not be involved. Therefore, for the purposes of this discussion we'll allow YEC to leave and go relax somewhere.

We are left with this, then. Is it true that HIV actually does exist and is the cause of AIDS? Is it true that Neo-Darwinism (Macroevolution) is an accepted scientific fact? Lets see about these two things one by one...

The HIV virus has been identified as the agent that is a precursor to, and cause of, AIDS. How do we know this? Philosophically I can probably get you to admit that you cannot prove your own existence, but, being real, the way such things are determined is by Operational Science. Operational Science involves making a hypothesis based on evidences, then testing and re-testing to determine whether that hypothesis might be correct. If the correct tests turn out the same for multiple researchers and the results are approved following peer review, they are considered to be factual. This road to establishing the cause of AIDS has been followed and us laymen can research the evidences and the results.

Isn't that great? A bit of research and we can see what tests have been made, what the results were, and why those results indicate the conclusion reached by the medical professionals. So, how do we know that HIV does exist and does cause AIDS? Evidences that have been tested, re-tested and finally accepted as an indicator of fact.

Now, how about Macroevolution? Well, you see, while Chaos was attempting to lump these two together, in fact we have one of those apples and oranges situations. The study of origins is largely in the field of Historical Science. Now, in this case one cannot go back in time and observe a time when life appeared. One cannot go back in time to watch fish turn into amphibians turn into lizards. There is no test that can be made and observed and copied by others, and therefore no results to peer-review and either approve or deny. One can observe the evidences and make an hypothesis, but you cannot test for origins.

I can say the same thing about YEC, but my post was on Macroevolution so I will put it this way:
Macroevolution has not been tested, has not been verified, and therefore cannot be considered scientific "fact". It is merely an hypothesis that, thus far, has stubbornly resisted any and all attempts to in any way "prove" and therefore a hypothesis it remains. Scientists may decide to believe that the life forms found on earth all evolved from a simple cell and that cell came from...well, they have NO IDEA where that cell came from, so they go back to that cell and believe that all life evolved from it. But it is absolutely not scientific fact!


we can be certain that HIV exists because we have people who have verified and tested it using the tools of Operational Science.

You can believe that Macroevolution is true because a lot of other people believe.

Origins. Look into the evidences for yourself. You can explore the evidences and study the arguments from both sides and make your own decision. When you do, you will have a belief as to the origins of life. But you will not be able to call it a "fact" unless you really don't care if what you say is true or not.

Furthermore, the canard that macroevolution is testable and YEC is not is, well, a canard. The same observations made concerning variation in kind in the genetic pool of organisms and the same tests can be run either from the YEC or the Macroevolutionary point of view. I will certainly go into more detail when I address that particular Big Lie.

Again, thanks, Chaos, for that excellent question and the dialogue you bring to this site! Hopefully this answers your question?

Stay tuned for a great deal more as the Big Lie series continues...


PoLiTiCaL AnImAl said...

Hey love the mentioning of me! Love the back and forth about my name, I truely had no idea the Political Animal was a "way left of center" blog. I wish I could've gone to Souled Out. Hope to see you Sunday.

radar said...

Hey, life saving class is important...maybe I will see you next Wednesday, too...