Scientists Outside the Laboratory

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 14, 2011 in General Atheism,Science

Believers like to call attention to religious scientists. “See? Even smart, evidence-needing scientists like Francis Collins believe in God!”

I don’t fault them for that. I certainly like to tout the fact that most leading scientists and philosophers are atheists.

Rather, I want to ask: “Why do many scientists, trained to think about evidence, believe in God?”

One reason is that many scientists do not keep their scientific goggles on outside the laboratory. Many scientists act as if they think that scientific methods are methods used to publish papers that will advance one’s career, rather than methods used to figure out what’s true about our world.

To illustrate, Eliezer Yudkowsky asks:

Suppose we discover that a Ph.D. economist buys a lottery ticket every week. We have to ask ourselves: Does this person really understand expected utility, on a gut level? Or have they just been trained to perform certain algebra tricks?

Now, consider the scientist:

Suppose we have an apparently competent scientist, who knows how to design an experiment on N subjects; the N subjects will receive a randomized treatment; blinded judges will classify the subject outcomes; and then we’ll run the results through a computer and see if the results are significant at the 0.05 confidence level. Now this is not just a ritualized tradition. This is not a point of arbitrary etiquette like using the correct fork for salad. It is a ritualized tradition for testing hypotheses experimentally. Why should you test your hypothesis experimentally? Because you know the journal will demand so before it publishes your paper? Because you were trained to do it in college? Because everyone else says in unison that it’s important to do the experiment, and they’ll look at you funny if you say otherwise?

No: because, in order to map a territory, you have to go out and look at the territory. It isn’t possible to produce an accurate map of a city while sitting in your living room with your eyes closed, thinking pleasant thoughts about what you wish the city was like. You have to go out, walk through the city, and write lines on paper that correspond to what you see.

What are we to think of a scientist who steps outside the laboratory and believes in a spirit world? He has compartmentalized his mind. He seems to have forgotten why you have to look at things. He seems to have forgotten why you have to test hypotheses.

Or perhaps he never knew. Perhaps he learned scientific methods as a particular ritual one performs to “do science” and get published, little different from rules of social etiquette one follows to gain and keep friends and networking contacts.

Here is Francis Collins:

Reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.

A scientist outside the laboratory may not be any wiser than the common man.

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{ 250 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandros Marinos February 14, 2011 at 4:13 am

I was just having this conversation yesterday. My hypothesis is that the biological sciences are particularly vulnerable to such compartmentalization, as they are some of the most ritualistic of sciences. Proper experiment design, proper process application, proper results analysis can get someone really far without needing any exploration of the wider impact of such methods, or the reasons behind them. So, yeah, I look forward to the day biology is automated :)

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Keith J. February 14, 2011 at 4:16 am

Collins is right of course about the last thing he said: “Reason alone cannot prove the existence of God”. He would say that God is outside the realm of empiricism. However believers make claims about God that are empirically testable so that falls flat. Personally I think Collins version of Christianity one that I can live with. You say many Christians would point to Collins as being a “smart Christian” and so use that to comfort their own beliefs. However, among themselves those same Christians would characterize him as a “liberal” and “inconsistent” Christian who accepts evolutionary theory, etc. It is those Christians I have a problem with.

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Citizen Ghost February 14, 2011 at 4:34 am

The idea of “compartmentalizing” the mind is, for me, the interesting thing here.

I suppose that many, if not most, humans do this to some extent. There may even be evolutionary grounds for why we do this. A certain degree of cognitive dissonance may have had real advantages for human survival. I suspect that few of us apply reason and scientific thinking to ALL aspects of our lives.

Collins “compartmentalizing” may be puzzling to atheist scientists and perhaps disappointing. But Collins is at least right to say that belief in God requires a leap of faith – you don’t get there by means of argument or appeal to reason.

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almost.chris February 14, 2011 at 5:36 am

My dad was a scientist. Specifically a chemist. But in his private life he believed anything Art Bell threw out without the most rudimentary questioning. He believed in aliens, crystals, homeopathy, dowsing, pendulums, and especially a very traditional Roman Catholic religion. He was very big on the pendulum and used it constantly for almost decisions he made, big or small. His compartmentalization amazed me as he seemed unable to every question anything he heard on Art Bell (or George Noory), but part of his job was to teach the scientific method in chemistry to students.

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Thomas February 14, 2011 at 6:01 am

Or maybe these scientists, like many philosophers also, think that the evidence actually points to God? Maybe they realize that ‘theism’ is just as metaphysical position as ‘materialism’, and they think that theism explains the world and its features, including scientific facts, better than materialism does? Maybe scientists who believe in God also believe in science, but they thoroughly reject scientism?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0QmS783Kmw

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Ajay February 14, 2011 at 6:13 am

Pssh, a p-value of only .05? I guess that’s okay…

Did anyone read about how Collins actually converted to Christianity? His words:

“On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.”

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bossmanham February 14, 2011 at 6:15 am

*GASP*

Attention everyone, Luke is now a mind-reader, as made evident by this post!!

*sniff*

Why does it smell like arrogance in here?

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 6:28 am

Luke:

What are we to think of a scientist who steps outside the laboratory and believes in a spirit world? He has compartmentalized his mind.

You are like most atheists that I have encountered who appear to think that science-informed or scientist believers can only intellectually survive because they put their science into one compartment of their mind, and their faith in God into another. Only in this way they avoid an intellectually lethal conflict within themselves.

I am a scientist (a biochemist) and I do not compartmentalize, nor do I for a moment believe that any other informed theist does. Most of the time that I recite the creed in church, I also think about the sheer vastness and physical evolution of the universe and about biological evolution. My thinking is one.

There are strong and weak atheist arguments. This one is one of the weakest.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 6:30 am

Or maybe these scientists, like many philosophers also, think that the evidence actually points to God? Maybe they realize that ‘theism’ is just as metaphysical position as ‘materialism’, and they think that theism explains the world and its features, including scientific facts, better than materialism does? Maybe scientists who believe in God also believe in science, but they thoroughly reject scientism?

You nailed it, Thomas.

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Reginald Selkirk February 14, 2011 at 6:46 am

Collins “compartmentalizing” may be puzzling to atheist scientists…

I don’t see why it would be puzzling, as it is so common. People can believe incompatible things. This is well-known, even to scientists. A necessary corollary is that a person believing two ideas does not make them compatible. And yet compatibilists continue to make the argument: “see, there are scientists who believe in God. Therefore the two things are compatible.

BTW, I can prove that Nazism and Judaism are compatible:
A Jew in the SS

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 7:13 am

Reginald, did you even read what I just said?

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Patrick who is not Patrick February 14, 2011 at 7:27 am

Oh, give it a rest. Obviously he compartmentalizes. He throws out blatant arguments from consequence in support of Christianity (But Christianity MUST be true, because if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be able to morally condemn murderers!). If he doesn’t compartmentalize, then he’d be using these forms of inference in his scientific work. If he was, he’d be an incompetent scientist (But this cancer treatment MUST work, because if it doesn’t we won’t get funding!). He is not an incompetent scientist, therefore he must not use fallacious arguments in his scientific work, therefore he compartmentalizes how he thinks about religion from how he thinks about science.

Collins is practically Exhibit A in the case for religious scientists compartmentalizing their religious and professional lives.

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Silas February 14, 2011 at 7:37 am

If priests can be child molestors, then scientists can be religious.

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Keith J. February 14, 2011 at 7:39 am

Collins converted out of existential necessity and a desire for transcendental (supernatural) meaning in life. I don’t begrudge anyone that choice. It doesn’t work for me personally, and I don’t really have a lot of existential angst that propels me to search for it either. Issues arise only when the theist uses their belief to degrade a non-believer’s position as beneath them and don’t take opposing worldviews into serious consideration. That is why fundamentalism of any stripe (theist or atheist) must be denounced.

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Derrida February 14, 2011 at 7:49 am

@bossmanham

“*GASP*

Attention everyone, Luke is now a mind-reader, as made evident by this post!!

*sniff*

Why does it smell like arrogance in here?”

Admittedly, using the evidence of someone’s behaviour and the claims they make to infer their motivations is a kind of “mind reading”, but it’s nothing spectacular.

If you use critical thinking in one area of your life but not another, that’s the definition of compartmentalization. We all do it to an extent, since we aren’t perfect reasoners. Collins seems to flaunt the fact.

To those who ask, “If God doesn’t exist, then how do you explain the fact that some really smart scientists believe in God?”, that’s how we explain it.

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Martin February 14, 2011 at 9:22 am

Many scientists act as if they think that scientific methods are methods used to publish papers that will advance one’s career, rather than methods used to figure out what’s true about our world.

But implicit in this statement is that metaphysical naturalism is true. This is a metaphysical worldview as much as theism is, and requires justification before taking it. Otherwise, it’s just an asserted dogmatism.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 9:57 am

Luke,

I certainly like to tout the fact that most leading scientists and philosophers are atheists.

Of course, you certainly don’t like to tout the fact that said scientists stand on the shoulders of Christian creationists, do you?

What are we to think of a scientist who steps outside the laboratory and believes in a spirit world? He has compartmentalized his mind.

Bare assertion, sweeping generalization. Get off his nuts and try actually practicing what you’re reading over there at Yudkowsky’s. This is not rationalism, Luke: it’s propaganda [information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.].

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cl February 14, 2011 at 9:59 am

Thomas,

Or maybe these scientists, like many philosophers also, think that the evidence actually points to God? Maybe they realize that ‘theism’ is just as metaphysical position as ‘materialism’, and they think that theism explains the world and its features, including scientific facts, better than materialism does? Maybe scientists who believe in God also believe in science, but they thoroughly reject scientism?

Bravo.

Al Moritz,

I am a scientist (a biochemist) and I do not compartmentalize, nor do I for a moment believe that any other informed theist does. Most of the time that I recite the creed in church, I also think about the sheer vastness and physical evolution of the universe and about biological evolution. My thinking is one. There are strong and weak atheist arguments. This one is one of the weakest.

Bravo.

Silas,

LOL!

Derrida,

Admittedly, using the evidence of someone’s behaviour and the claims they make to infer their motivations is a kind of “mind reading”, but it’s nothing spectacular.

bossmanham didn’t infer any motivations. Reread his comment.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 10:03 am

Bare assertion, sweeping generalization. Get off his nuts and try actually practicing what you’re reading over there at Yudkowsky’s. This is not rationalism, Luke: it’s propaganda [information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.].

Exactly. I am disappointed, Luke. Heavily disappointed. I had thought you were better in your reasoning than the garden-variety atheist.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 10:09 am

Many scientists act as if they think that scientific methods are methods used to publish papers that will advance one’s career, rather than methods used to figure out what’s true about our world.

This is new to me, Luke. Perhaps there are a few scientists who think that way, but not me and the colleagues who I have worked with. Of course science finds out what is true about our world — within the limits of the scientific method, which can say nothing about the supernatural.

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MauricXe February 14, 2011 at 10:16 am

The problem with this post Luke is that you don’t go into detail. I don’t agree that these scientist in question have compartmentalized their mind. It seems your main argument is:

1. Scientist should always strive to examine the evidence.
2. There is no evidence, or good evidence, for God.
3. Scientist that accept God have compartmentalized minds because they don’t examine the evidence, or lack thereof, for God.

You haven’t made any attempt to explain (2) which makes this blog post look much worse than it really is. I would agree that it’s bad because I don’t think these types of arguments are sound.

You almost make that happen here:

What are we to think of a scientist who steps outside the laboratory and believes in a spirit world? He has compartmentalized his mind. He seems to have forgotten why you have to look at things. He seems to have forgotten why you have to test hypotheses.

But you haven’t explained what things the scientist should look at and more importantly why. Does the spiritual word require further investigation? Why isn’t it or our experiences as evident?

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Ajay February 14, 2011 at 10:24 am

Luke, like the last few commentators, I am also disappointed that in this post you did not disprove God’s existence convincingly. Maybe you should make an entire website devoted to this endeavor. And maybe people will read your future hypothetical posts and think seriously about the issues you bring up. Here’s hoping!

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Andy Walters February 14, 2011 at 10:28 am

On a lighter note, Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote

Suppose we discover that a Ph.D. economist buys a lottery ticket every week. We have to ask ourselves: Does this person really understand expected utility, on a gut level? Or have they just been trained to perform certain algebra tricks?

Well, though not an economist, this woman may be one mathematician who does understand expected utility, yet plays the lottery regularly. She’s won four times and is now a millionaire.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 10:32 am

Ajay,

…like the last few commentators, I am also disappointed that in this post you did not disprove God’s existence convincingly.

Red herring. Rhetorical device. Thus far, not one commenter in this thread has objected on those grounds. Reread.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 10:41 am

Andy Walters,

Excellent point. To elaborate on your comment, why should the mere fact of playing the lottery entail suspicion as to whether the player “really understand[s] expected utility?” Might that not be a sign of ill-informed judgement on the non-player’s part? What’s wrong with knowing the odds are against one, and trying anyway? Isn’t that how greatness is often achieved across a wide spectrum of human endeavors? Should abolitionists have given up because the odds were against them? I buy a lottery ticket every now and again, and I’m fully aware the odds are against me. However, it is also a fact that despite the odds, people win, frequently. Why can’t I be one of them? I’ve won. Not a mega-prize, but, I’ve won, and, I understand “expected utility,” so, I’m more inclined to question Yudkowsky’s motive as judge than mine as player.

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Charles February 14, 2011 at 10:42 am

Maybe they realize that ‘theism’ is just as metaphysical position as ‘materialism’ . . .

I believe the physical world exists. How is that a worldview?

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Reginald Selkirk February 14, 2011 at 10:51 am

Reginald, did you even read what I just said?

Yes I did, Al. You apparently said that you don’t compartmentalize (and I don’t feel obligated to believe you), therefore no religious scientist does.

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psychnoob February 14, 2011 at 10:52 am

Although I can understand why many are disappointed with this post, I don’t understand why some are asking for Luke’s proof that there is no good evidence for God.

This post, so far as i can tell, is not an argument for metaphysical naturalism. It is the post of a metaphysical naturalist who is speaking from that perspective. He has already argued for his atheism and naturalism on many other posts.

Christians have to do the same, do they not? Often times they must discuss amongst themselves assuming Christianity. They try to explain why more biblical critics aren’t convinced of the resurrection, or why people who refuse Jesus till the end of their day are morally cupable. They don’t have to prove Christianity every time they speak from a Christian perspective, do they?

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Reginald Selkirk February 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

Thomas, in a comment theists are rushing to praise: Or maybe these scientists, like many philosophers also, think that the evidence actually points to God?…

Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe pigs will soon fly out of your ***. If there are scientists who think that, they should be able to show the evidence, and explain why it points to theism. They’re doing a crap job of it so far.

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MarkD February 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

An economist might also play the lottery because it is charitable giving to the state educational systems with a better than 0 chance of winning. There are also Savings Lotteries that are no-lose for the individual.

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Gilgamesh February 14, 2011 at 11:16 am

For those saying that perhaps the scientists that are believers actually have evidence that makes belief rational:

As some have noted, that is something that needs to be presented. It should also be obvious that the blogger at this site believes this is not the case but has been posting about why this is NOT the case for years now. If you think there is said evidence in favor of the proposition, feel free to present. I should also say that one in rational discourse cannot say they have evidence, not present it, and people should believe there is such evidence, especially when the majority of top thinkers in science and philosophy disagree.

Secondly, and this is the most important, in the quote given by Luke above, Collins admits that he does not believe in God by reason alone, that is requires a leap of faith. Collins admits his belief is not entirely rational (read irrational) and that there is not sufficient evidence to believe in God, at least on evidence alone. So those that say that scientists do actually have evidence to believe in God, you are now disagreeing with the scientist in question. You have gone from a possibility to a contradiction of the facts: scientists may have evidence vs. believing scientist(s) saying they don’t.

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psychnoob February 14, 2011 at 11:21 am

I take back what i said here…

“I don’t understand why some are asking for Luke’s proof that there is no good evidence for God.”

Didn’t realize at first that Ajay was being sarcastic. oops.

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Thomas February 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Reginald,

maybe you should read the relevant literature?

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Tony Hoffman February 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Al: “Of course science finds out what is true about our world — within the limits of the scientific method, which can say nothing about the supernatural.”

You say that as if remaining silent about the supernatural is a bad thing.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm

You say that as if remaining silent about the supernatural is a bad thing.  

Huh? I am just pointing out the limitations of science. These limitations are self-imposed by the scientific method. This is a simple value-neutral, ‘technical’ issue if you will.

And no, I am not a proponent of ‘extending the scientific method’ as ID ideologists wish to do. ‘Extending’ it would mean making science into something that it is not, i.e. philosophy.

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Michael February 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm

It’s posts such as these that are leading me to conclude that the quality of these posts are starting to go down, and have been doing so for several months now.

I’m missing that intellectual humility and integrity that was there, as well as actually good scholarship when I first started reading 2 years ago.

Though I’m sure you’ll dismiss this comment as not worth taking notice of.

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Razm February 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Exactly. I am disappointed, Luke. Heavily disappointed. I had thought you were better in your reasoning than the garden-variety atheist.  

Ditto.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm

But implicit in this statement is that metaphysical naturalism is true. This is a metaphysical worldview as much as theism is, and requires justification before taking it. Otherwise, it’s just an asserted dogmatism.  

Not at all. I doubt anyone, let alone a scientists who actually understands science, would take the view that naturalism is absolutely true, no more questions. Indeed, the dogma I keep on seeing is that whenever naturalism is even hinted at, we have a number of people accusing the person who suggested naturalism of being so close-minded he has now absolutely eliminated any other “supernatural events” (whatever the hell that means) from being a part of his world-view and of being dogmatically opposed to anything that opposes his point of view. In reality, I think that what’s implicit here is “We take the position of naturalism until evidence is brought forth to prove otherwise” just like “we take the position that because consistent lab tests have led us to take explanation X, we now discard further explanation Y unless compelling evidence for Y is now presented.”

This is what Luke and Yudkowsky are getting at: why do you accept something that never flies in science? Scientifically speaking, we wouldn’t accept invisible fishes pushing down the water out of the sink as an explanation if we didn’t understand how pipes, water pressure and faucets worked, so why does the God idea get a free pass when we don’t understand a phenomenon or it a process feels really grand to us? Once we understand why invisible fishes aren’t acceptable in science, we understand why other parts of our beliefs also require better proof. And that’s the point, this double standard that shows a lack of understanding of why science works the way it does . Thomas says that maybe Theism explains the features of our world better than naturalism. But why doesn’t any scientist pick up the Unicorn From Dimension-X as an explanation? I’m sure that it will perform just as well as the Theistic explanation, as I am sure almost any other thing that makes itself unfalsifiable and is, ad hoc, given the powers to accomplish the tasks that need explaining (ex: The Unicorn from Dimension-X would have it well in his control to fine-tune the universe as Dimension-X has full control over all other dimensions). So why choose one over the other? In science, you wouldn’t choose any because there’s no reason to choose and no data to make a decision on. So, I think that Thomas’ explanation thoroughly fails to address the point Luke makes.

To Al Moritz:

How is your thinking one? It’s a huge non-sequitur. “The universe is vast and evolutionary processes complex, therefore, the creed I am reading is true”…I fail to see the connection. In fact, it seems downright fallacious, a form of the Argument from Ignorance. As a scientist, would you accept evolutionary theory because a book written by sheep herders said “animals have been changing for eons”? Or would you ask for proof, direct proof of this phenomena? So why is it that you accept some creed which isn’t even vaguely connected to the vastness of the universe (save for “it just feels like it is” which would NOT be something you would use in science) as true for it? You may not be compartamentalizing the emotional aspects of a vast universe and religion, but certainly the reasons and processes which lead to scientific justifications.

—-

To Luke:

You’re a pompous ass for inferring that people don’t understand the concepts of what they do because they failed to apply those concepts to another aspect of life that would also necessitate critical analysis.

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Tony Hoffman February 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm

It’s posts such as these that are leading me to conclude that the quality of these posts are starting to go down, and have been doing so for several months now.

Am I missing something? I enjoy Luke’s writing, but this is a blog with comment features enabled, little to no discourse blocking, a usually-high ratio of quality comments, and historically few trolls. (Maybe the trolls have increased a bit, but I suppose that’s just the nature of the blogging ecosystem.)

I’d say if you don’t like the quality of discourse here you were in poor company before you arrived; feel free to elevate our game with whatever is you think we’re now missing.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm

It’s posts such as these that are leading me to conclude that the quality of these posts are starting to go down, and have been doing so for several months now.

I’m missing that intellectual humility and integrity that was there, as well as actually good scholarship when I first started reading 2 years ago.Though I’m sure you’ll dismiss this comment as not worth taking notice of.  

I had intended to say something like that, but you said it earlier and better. Luke was proud to distinguish himself from the intellectual, especially philosophical, shallowness of the New Atheists, and for a while I was tempted to believe him (to some extent, that is). Yet now I am afraid he is starting to go precisely down that road. Perhaps the success of his site is too seductive to spend more time on thorough reasoning and coming up with truly powerful arguments. Instead we get such headings like “Is the universe designed for iPads” (or something like that), an argument that went precisely nowhere.

I would say, Luke, slow down and try to truly distinguish yourself again by quality. Less propaganda and more true reasoning.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm

To Al Moritz:
How is your thinking one? It’s a huge non-sequitur. “The universe is vast and evolutionary processes complex, therefore, the creed I am reading is true”…I fail to see the connection.

Neither do I see the connection. I simply did not make it.

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bossmanham February 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Derrida,

While you haven’t argued anything close to behavior entailing belief, we’ll let that go and focus on the fact that Luke isn’t even citing behavior. Just because scientists believe in God, who they don’t necessarily come to believe in, doesn’t mean they stop thinking as scientists when they leave the lab. Luke’s hidden assumptions behind this silliness are that 1) one is not justified in believing something unless it comes by purview of the scientific method, 2) that one can’t come to infer God from scientific study, 3) that there’s something wrong with having knowledge revealed to you, and 4) that somehow materialism or naturalism are not metaphysical positions.

When I sarcastically attribute mind reading powers to Luke, I am pointing out that he would have to know the very mind of the people he is making such a presumptuous and generalized statement about what they are doing when thinking of God. How does he know that scientists who believe in God are ceasing to think critically? Just because they don’t accept the epistemology of the naturalist?

Even the quote from Collins doesn’t show he is ceasing to think critically. Rather, he is saying that some knowledge must come by another way than the scientific method, which is actually a key tenet of Christianity. Christians have always held that, while one may be able to come to a base knowledge of God through logical reflection, God must reveal deeper truths about Himself. Not to mention He must make us epistemologically able to come to know them.

Plantinga has famously showed that this silly claim is bogus. Christian belief can be entirely warranted without any appeal to the external world, and is properly basic.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Huh? I am just pointing out the limitations of science. These limitations are self-imposed by the scientific method.

Limitations? Interesting word choice. Last time I checked, the reason why science rejects investigating the “supernatural” is the same reason why it never investigates the claims of a toddler’s imaginary friend–there is absolutely no way of determining what is or is not true about it. It’s not a limitation, it’s a willful choice to avoid things about the world which can never be verified and by their own nature, fail to provide any explanation of events.

I’ll illustrate:

Mom: Billy, why did you eat the cookies?
Billy: Oh, it wasn’t me momma! It was Terry, the flying giraffe!
Mom: Right. Giraffes don’t fly.
Billy: How do you know? Is there anything about giraffes that’s logically impossible?
Mom: No, but how come I’ve never seen it?
Billy: Just because you’ve never seen Africa doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!
Mom: Billy, provide me evidence then.
Billy: Oh, no. Terry is too grand for that sort of stuff. Your own self-imposed limitations exclude things like Terry from your examinations, but this speaks to the grandiosity of my giraffe and at how awful your scientific method for determining the reality of things really are. In fact, what we now view is actually evidence for Terry! Why are the cookies gone? I know I didn’t eat them. But I know Terry just looooves cookies. So Terry explains that mysterious disappearance.
Mom: Billy, you’re grounded.
Billy: This is not fair! You always exclude my unfalsifiable claims because of your limited world-view!

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bossmanham February 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I’m actually not sure what happened in that first paragraph. Breakdown in editing. Ignore, “who they don’t necessarily come to believe in.”

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Reginald Selkirk February 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Thomas: Reginald, maybe you should read the relevant literature?

Feel free to point out the peer-reviewed scientific literature which provides evidence for the existence of God or gods. I claim that it does not exist.

I have seen popular (not peer-reviewed) books by the likes of Francis Collins and Ken Miller, and their evidence and reasoning is not the least bit convincing.

Francis Collins comes out with C.S. Lewis’ moral law, which is outstandingly stupid.

Ken Miller comes out with quantum mechanics provides a possibility for God to interject his wishes on the universe, and cosmological fine-tuning. Cosmological fine-tuning is difficult to distinguish from an argument from ignorance, and leaves one to explain Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists

Gosh, what have I missed? Ken Ham and Henry Morris? I hope you’re not wallowing in that trough.

So provide some references to this “relevant literature” or STFU.

BTW, phrasing your points as questions rather than statements does not free you from the responsibility for their stupidity.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Neither do I see the connection. I simply did not make it.  

Really? Then just what is “Most of the time that I recite the creed in church, I also think about the sheer vastness and physical evolution of the universe and about biological evolution. My thinking is one.” supposed to mean? It seems as if you’re establishing a connection between the vastness of physical evolution of the universe and biological evolution to the creed you were reading, as if the findings of evolution justified the other. That, plus given the context of your post, that science and religion weren’t mutually exclusive, seemed to me that you were using the vastness of the universe as “proof” of the creed you were reading.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Limitations? Interesting word choice. Last time I checked, the reason why science rejects investigating the “supernatural” is the same reason why it never investigates the claims of a toddler’s imaginary friend–there is absolutely no way of determining what is or is not true about it. It’s not a limitation, it’s a willful choice to avoid things about the world which can never be verified and by their own nature, fail to provide any explanation of events.

Of course you conveniently overlook that the scientific method was invented by theists who wanted to explore the laws under which the world was created by God and functioned.

To quote Francis Bacon, one of the founders of the scientific method:

“A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

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bossmanham February 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Al Moritz,

Nice quote. Can I steal it?

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Really? Then just what is “Most of the time that I recite the creed in church, I also think about the sheer vastness and physical evolution of the universe and about biological evolution. My thinking is one.” supposed to mean? It seems as if you’re establishing a connection between the vastness of physical evolution of the universe and biological evolution to the creed you were reading, as if the findings of evolution justified the other. That, plus given the context of your post, that science and religion weren’t mutually exclusive, seemed to me that you were using the vastness of the universe as “proof” of the creed you were reading.  

Not exactly. The vastness of the universe and evolution might also be interpreted in an atheistic fashion. I see them as God’s impressive way of creation, and as scientific findings, I do not compartmentalize them from my religious beliefs. My post was simply about a lack of compartmentalization, that’s all.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Of course you conveniently overlook that the scientific method was invented by theists who wanted to explore the laws under which the world was created by God and functioned.
To quote Francis Bacon, one of the founders of the scientific method:“A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”  

And you conveniently overlook–oh, what’s the point? If this is what you’re argument boils down to, I might as well go watch a debate on Youtube. Look, it doesn’t matter how science began, it matters why it’s developed the way it was. Besides, it’s quite embarrassing to say that it began to study the processes of God when, as science developed, it began to realize quite a number of things probably weren’t the development of God, hence theories like Deism which began to sprout after the rise of science. You can quote Bacon all you like, it doesn’t make your point any more or less valid.

I also see you failed to see the point of Luke’s iPad objection. Isn’t it obvious? If we’re arguing about things based on probability, the probability of the iPad appearing is much, much lower than life. It requires a specific sort of life with specific materials to create it and specific natural laws to make it work. So wouldn’t it be more apt to say the Universe is Fine-Tuned for iPads? But of course, this sounds silly. And in reality, it’s no less silly to say the universe is Fine-Tuned for life. Yes it is, but it doesn’t really mean anything except to us (which, btw, is just fine by me). It also exposes the mentality of Theistic Arguments: it’s a projection of your own desires (to have intelligent life) unto another being. It was a quite an interesting objection and IIRC, you responded by saying that humans have had a tendency to explain life, and that this provided the need of a special explanation. IMO, your argument was much weaker. It seems more a matter of human psychology and anthropology than the basis for establishing a disembodied mind who can control the laws of the universe.

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Tony Hoffman February 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Al: “I would say, Luke, slow down and try to truly distinguish yourself again by quality. Less propaganda and more true reasoning.”

followed closely by:

Of course you conveniently overlook that the scientific method was invented by theists who wanted to explore the laws under which the world was created by God and functioned.

I would posit that theists more often share a deadened sense of irony than that found in the population at large. They just so often seem to go hand in hand.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm

followed closely by:
I would posit that theists more often share a deadened sense of irony than that found in the population at large. They just so often seem to go hand in hand.  

Right, especially when one is propaganda, and the other historical fact.

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Reginald Selkirk February 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm
Luke Muehlhauser February 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Alexandros,

Ross King is working on it! :)

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Martin February 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Reginald,

Feel free to point out the peer-reviewed scientific literature which provides evidence for the existence of God or gods.

Things of this nature are reasoned philosophically, not scientifically. You won’t find scientific evidence that the Holocaust was morally wrong, either. Nor will you find scientific evidence that naturalism is true.

However, there is plenty of peer-reviewed philosophy literature on the existence of God. And there is plenty of peer-reviewed philosophy arguing for naturalism as well.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Not exactly. The vastness of the universe and evolution might also be interpreted in an atheistic fashion. I see them as God’s impressive way of creation, and as scientific findings, I do not compartmentalize them from my religious beliefs. My post was simply about a lack of compartmentalization, that’s all.  

I don’t think you made a point at all then with that post and that quote. Sure, the vastness of the universe may go hand in hand with your creed because it feels like it should (I don’t ever recall any ancient religion ever making the claim that complex evolutionary processes were the work of God, so I take it that it’s just what it feels like to you that a God would do). But you are certainly compartmentalizing science from religion. If there are two competing explanations of an event, would you go with the one that sufficiently explains the events (you don’t need God to explain the vastness of the universe or evolution) or the one that adds a being that flies in the face of all prior experiences and which has no proof? Hardly a brain scratcher, you’d take the former. Yet why do you take the latter when you read your creed? Is there any reason to choose God?

Certainly not. Just like you wouldn’t choose invisible fish as an explanation if we didn’t understand sinks, you wouldn’t choose God to explain phenomena. If philosophy says “it’s intuitively obvious that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects” would you accept that without further tests? If philosophy says “elan vitalis” explains life, would you stop trying to find proof of it? Scientifically speaking, the answer to all of these is NO. And that is the point.

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Derrida February 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm

@ cl

I didn’t say that bsshamman inferred Collins’ motivations for being a Christian, I was alluding to Luke. Bosshamman said that Luke was a “mindreader” because he said Collins was a believer because he compartmentalized. But you don’t need to be telepathic to see when people are compartmentalizing.

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Tony Hoffman February 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Take a deep breath, Al, and demonstrate how it we’re going to find “less propaganda and more true reasoning,” in your objection that “the scientific method was invented by theists.” If it helps, you wrote that in response to how it is the scientific method is applied today.

You see, and I am beginning to think I am going to have to write this even more explicitly, your comment enjoins a piece of Christian propaganda (Christianity caused science!), and it appears that you have somehow reasoned that this is relevant to how it is that the scientific method is applied today. You see, it’s ironic that you would employ, virtually simultaneously, the practices (propaganda and poor reasoning) you would decry in others.

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Thomas February 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Reginald,

maybe you should calm down? Anyway, like Martin said, “things of this nature are reasoned philosophically, not scientifically.” And there is indeed plenty of quality, scientifically informed philosophical literature arguing for theism out there. I claimed that scientists who believe in God perhaps think that theism explains the existence of the world and its various features better than naturalism does (a meta-scientific claim). For this, see Richard Swinburne´s The Existence of God, for example.

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Patrick who is not Patrick February 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Mom: Billy, why did you eat the cookies?
Billy: Oh, it wasn’t me momma! It was Terry, the flying giraffe!
Mom: Right. Giraffes don’t fly.
Billy: How do you know? Is there anything about giraffes that’s logically impossible?
Mom: No, but how come I’ve never seen it?
Billy: Just because you’ve never seen Africa doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!
Mom: Billy, provide me evidence then.
Billy: Oh, no. Terry is too grand for that sort of stuff. Your own self-imposed limitations exclude things like Terry from your examinations, but this speaks to the grandiosity of my giraffe and at how awful your scientific method for determining the reality of things really are. In fact, what we now view is actually evidence for Terry! Why are the cookies gone? I know I didn’t eat them. But I know Terry just looooves cookies. So Terry explains that mysterious disappearance.
Mom: Billy, you’re grounded.
Billy: This is not fair! You always exclude my unfalsifiable claims because of your limited world-view!  

Just wait until the little blighter discovers theology.

Billy: Alright, now that you’ve pointed out that I have cookie crumbs on my face, that three people saw me eat the cookies, and one of them has video footage, I will concede. I did place the cookies in my mouth, chew, and then swallow. But that is NOT to say that I “ate” the “cookies!” I consumed only the cookies material forms. Their essence was consumed by the flying giraffe. In fact, it really shows your philosophical naivety that you even think that a mere human would be capable of “eating” a “cookie.” Obviously only a flying giraffe could accomplish such a feat. You understand nothing of eating, nor of cookies. Your arrogance is an embarrassment. Come back when you’ve read the relevant literature, which I shall now neither summarize nor name.

20 years later…

Billy: Listen, Margaret. I didn’t do it. The flying giraffe did.
Margaret: But I saw you! I saw you!
Billy: Do we have to discuss forms and essences again?
Margaret, sobbing: You said he only eats cookies! I could live with you being weird about cookies! I don’t care if I have to pretend that whenever you eat cookies its really a flying giraffe doing it! But not this! I can’t live with this!
Billy: Margaret, Margaret. Obviously the things I said about Terry, through me, eating cookies were metaphorical. They stood for sleeping with your sister. You should have been paying attention.

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Garren February 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm

@Martin
“You won’t find scientific evidence that the Holocaust was morally wrong, either.”

We might with a useful definition of “morally wrong.”

*Sam Harris imitation*

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Derrida February 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

@bosshamman

“While you haven’t argued anything close to behavior entailing belief,”

I didn’t say it did. People generally act consistently with their beliefs, so we can often infer people’s beliefs from their action (E.G. if you don’t give your kids the MMR vaccine, I would infer that you either believe it doesn’t work, or don’t like your kids very much). But I would accept that behaviour doesn’t entail belief.

“we’ll let that go and focus on the fact that Luke isn’t even citing behavior”

No, but he did quote Collins.

“Just because scientists believe in God, who they don’t necessarily come to believe in, doesn’t mean they stop thinking as scientists when they leave the lab.”

Given that (in my opinion) the evidence clearly favors atheism, I don’t see how someone can think critically about God and come to believe in Him. But that’s when one may legitimately look for psychological, rather than evidential, explanations of belief in God. The same is true of atheism: if you see no good reason to be an atheist, you may consider non-intellectual explanations for atheism, possibly having to do with the noetic effects of sin.

“Luke’s hidden assumptions behind this silliness are that 1) one is not justified in believing something unless it comes by purview of the scientific method, 2) that one can’t come to infer God from scientific study, 3) that there’s something wrong with having knowledge revealed to you, and 4) that somehow materialism or naturalism are not metaphysical positions.”

1) I hardly think Luke would espouse scientism. However, scientism isn’t the same as saying that science is the most powerful (but not the only) method of finding things out.

2) Does Collins actually try to infer God from scientific study? He’s pretty anti-ID.

3) Could it be that revelation isn’t reliable?

4) What? How does Luke assume that?

When I sarcastically attribute mind reading powers to Luke, I am pointing out that he would have to know the very mind of the people he is making such a presumptuous and generalized statement about what they are doing when thinking of God. How does he know that scientists who believe in God are ceasing to think critically? Just because they don’t accept the epistemology of the naturalist? Even the quote from Collins doesn’t show he is ceasing to think critically. Rather, he is saying that some knowledge must come by another way than the scientific method, which is actually a key tenet of Christianity. Christians have always held that, while one may be able to come to a base knowledge of God through logical reflection, God must reveal deeper truths about Himself. Not to mention He must make us epistemologically able to come to know them.Plantinga has famously showed that this silly claim is bogus. Christian belief can be entirely warranted without any appeal to the external world, and is properly basic.”

As I said, assuming that all the arguments for believing in God fail, and given that some smart people, who are supposed to be good at evaluating evidence, believe in God, it’s legitimate to ask “how have those people come up with the wrong answer?”

The only answer is that they aren’t consistently applying the skills of reasoning they acquired as scientists.

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Tony Hoffman February 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Thomas,

Have you heard the term “weasel words” before? I bring it up because of these phrases from your last comment:

”quality, scientifically informed philosophical literature”
“a meta-scientific claim”

These sound impressive, and certainly scientificky, but most of all they just sound like weasel words. Can you think of any examples of contemporary philosophical literature that one could not argue is scientifically informed? Can you think of any claims that could not be construed as “meta scientific?” Because I can’t.

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Citizen Ghost February 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Thomas,

Or maybe these scientists, like many philosophers also, think that the evidence actually points to God?

Maybe. But if anything that would reveal their shortcomings as scientists.

There should be nothing puzzling about a scientist who finds materialism to be inadequate and who feels moved to religious faith to account for the mysteries of the universe. That’s sort of “compartmentalizing” is common enough. But it IS a form of compartmentalizing. But when a scientist tells us that the scientific evidence points to God, they are not merely taking a metaphysical or philosophical stance. They are actively resorting to bad science. (Notice that Francis Collins and Ken Miller don’t do that).

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

If there are two competing explanations of an event, would you go with the one that sufficiently explains the events (you don’t need God to explain the vastness of the universe or evolution) or the one that adds a being that flies in the face of all prior experiences and which has no proof? Hardly a brain scratcher, you’d take the former. Yet why do you take the latter when you read your creed? Is there any reason to choose God?Certainly not. Just like you wouldn’t choose invisible fish as an explanation if we didn’t understand sinks, you wouldn’t choose God to explain phenomena. If philosophy says “it’s intuitively obvious that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects” would you accept that without further tests? If philosophy says “elan vitalis” explains life, would you stop trying to find proof of it? Scientifically speaking, the answer to all of these is NO. And that is the point.  

There is nothing to disagree here. But you have a true talent of not paying attention to what I actually say. Above I said clearly:
” The vastness of the universe and evolution might also be interpreted in an atheistic fashion.”

While I see these items as God’s impressive way of creation, I do not use them as arguments for God and they are not the reasons why I believe. My reasons for rejecting atheism and continuing to believe in God are found in the link under my name, section “Background”. I would suggest you read carefully this time, before you come up with objections that I have already answered.

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Thomas February 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Tony,

by “meta-scientific” I meant something that goes beyond the domain of science and thus is a philosophical, not a scientific, claim. Reginald wanted “peer-reviewed scientific literature”, but my point was that the claim that theism or naturalism is the best explanation of the world is not a scientific question, but a philosophical (meta-scientific) one, and thus one is looking at the wrong place if he´s trying to find “scientific” literature arguing for metaphysical theism (or naturalism, for that matter).

Reginald,

By the way, I´m not surprised that you didn´t find Miller´s or Collins´s books impressive; I didn´t either. Like I said, this is a philosophical issue, and so scientists like Collins and Miller are well out of their discipline here. To me maybe someone like Polkinghorne or Lennox is more interesting here..

In addition to Swinburne, some good recent philosophical defenses of theism include Natural Signs and the Knowledge of God by Evans; Image in Mind by Taliaferro and Evans; Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology; Principle of Sufficient Reason by Pruss; Atheism and Theism by Smart and Haldane; Routledge Companion to Theism(forthcoming); or a more popular level works, Letters To Doubting Thomas (Layman) and Is There a God? (Swinburne). Surely there are many more, but at least these have been impressive to me.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Take a deep breath, Al, and demonstrate how it we’re going to find “less propaganda and more true reasoning,” in your objection that “the scientific method was invented by theists.” If it helps, you wrote that in response to how it is the scientific method is applied today.

No, Tony, also you misread me.

My reply was clearly against the charge that:

“Limitations? Interesting word choice. Last time I checked, the reason why science rejects investigating the “supernatural” is the same reason why it never investigates the claims of a toddler’s imaginary friend–there is absolutely no way of determining what is or is not true about it. It’s not a limitation, it’s a willful choice to avoid things about the world which can never be verified and by their own nature, fail to provide any explanation of events.”

This strongly implied, taken as written, that the scientific method was invented with the intention to show that belief in God is superfluous. Hence my pointing to the historical fact that the inventors of the scientific method were all theists.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Al Moritz,Nice quote. Can I steal it?  

Sure, it’s in the Wikipedia article about the man, and I have found the quote elsewhere too.

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PDH February 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Rationality is broader than science but science can’t function without rationality. Or to put it another way, all science is rational but not all rationality is science. The charge is that the principles of rationality on which science is founded are being ignored outside the context of science. Obviously, no-one is asking scientists to submit their hypothesis that their shoe laces are untied to a peer-reviewed journal before tying them. Rather, the complaint is that they clearly regard such principles as effective for finding the truth within their field but seem happy to throw them out the window when they infringe upon a religious belief.

And it’s hard to come up with a definition of ‘rational’ that permits people to believe that a bodiless mind with magical powers that exists outside of space and time created the universe, without having very good reason to think that any such thing exists. If one did achieve such a thing it would set the bar for rational so low as to make the word effectively useless.

Only a very basic grasp of probability theory is needed to appreciate this. ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,’ is a decent enough rule of thumb that captures the essence of the problem. In a sane world, theism would not even have occurred to anybody.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 2:46 pm

This strongly implied, taken as written, that the scientific method was invented with the intention to show that belief in God is superfluous. Hence my pointing to the historical fact that the inventors of the scientific method were all theists.  

Perhaps I should reformulate:
This strongly suggests, taken as written, that the scientific method implies that belief in God is superfluous. Hence my pointing to the historical fact that the inventors of the scientific method were all theists.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 2:47 pm

No, Tony, also you misread me.
My reply was clearly against the charge that:“Limitations? Interesting word choice. Last time I checked, the reason why science rejects investigating the “supernatural” is the same reason why it never investigates the claims of a toddler’s imaginary friend–there is absolutely no way of determining what is or is not true about it. It’s not a limitation, it’s a willful choice to avoid things about the world which can never be verified and by their own nature, fail to provide any explanation of events.”This strongly implied, taken as written, that the scientific method was invented with the intention to show that belief in God is superfluous. Hence my pointing to the historical fact that the inventors of the scientific method were all theists.  

The only implicit thing in my post was that Science never investigates supernatural claims.

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm

And it’s hard to come up with a definition of ‘rational’ that permits people to believe that a bodiless mind with magical powers that exists outside of space and time created the universe, without having very good reason to think that any such thing exists. If one did achieve such a thing it would set the bar for rational so low as to make the word effectively useless.

Your knowledge of philosophy does not seem to go to any depth then. Oh, I forgot, atheists usually reject philosophy (except ‘scientific philosophy’) as empty talk without evidence, while putting all their faith exclusively in science. The little nagging problem that naturalism is a *philosophical* * hypothesis*, not a *scientific* *fact*, notwithstanding . . .

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Al Moritz February 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm

The only implicit thing in my post was that Science never investigates supernatural claims.  

It didn’t read that way. However, with this particular statement I can agree.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Al Moritz,

You threw me for a loop when you agreed with Steven R. there. As two examples, aren’t claims of ghosts and claims of experiencing a spiritual reality at the time of death both supernatural by any sensible definition of that word? If so, then, without doubt, science has investigated these things. Am I missing something?

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Al Moritz,You threw me for a loop when you agreed with Steven R. there. As two examples, aren’t claims of ghosts and claims of experiencing a spiritual reality at the time of death both supernatural by any sensible definition of that word? If so, then, without doubt, science has investigated these things. Am I missing something?  

Let me reword that: science never investigates the supernatural aspects of a claim, but only it’s interaction with the natural world.

@ Al:

I don’t put much faith on philosophy when it has nothing to back it up. We’ve ended up with the world being held up like the steam from a pot and an infinite chain of elephants when philosophers have attempted to explain things without any date or research to back it up. As far as investigating the world around us, I don’t think science is objectionable at all. We use it’s methods in our daily lives and would hardly accept other philosophical claims in other matters of life.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I’ll follow up this post with another, I think.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Steven R.,

Let me reword that: science never investigates the supernatural aspects of a claim, but only it’s interaction with the natural world.

Okay, and?

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PDH February 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Al Moritz wrote,

Your knowledge of philosophy does not seem to go to any depth then. Oh, I forgot, atheists usually reject philosophy (except ‘scientific philosophy’) as empty talk without evidence, while putting all their faith exclusively in science. The little nagging problem that naturalism is a *philosophical* * hypothesis*, not a *scientific* *fact*, notwithstanding . . .  

Your statements misrepresent my views in several ways.

1) I did not claim to be a naturalist. There are many different definitions of the term and, where possible, I would try to carefully clarify which definition I had in mind before using the term.

2) I did not claim to reject philosophy. I’m not sure where that part of your outburst came from. Obviously, I don’t regard any philosophy that I have read to have substantially changed my thoughts on God. That is quite different.

3) I certainly did not claim to have put all my faith in science. On the contrary, it seems to me that I carefully distinguished science from rationality.

I reject ludicrous hypotheses, whether philosophical or scientific, natural or supernatural.

I reject your hypothesis on the basis of its extremely low prior probability and lack of explanatory power, not on the basis of a lack of evidence. Evidence is an opportunity for you to raise the probability of your hypothesis. You should welcome it and try to find as much as possible. If you don’t provide it, the probability stays where it is. If I gave your beliefs a free pass I would have to extend the same courtesy to a great many beliefs commonly held to be silly, but which are not substantially less probable than yours.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Reginald Selkirk,

They’re doing a crap job of it so far.

“I don’t feel obligated to believe you.” See how easy it is to be a skeptic?

MarkD,

An economist might also play the lottery because it is charitable giving to the state educational systems with a better than 0 chance of winning. There are also Savings Lotteries that are no-lose for the individual.

Of course, none of that would matter if the intent was simply to thumb down our nose at those we fancy less rational than ourselves [and I have no idea what Yudkowsky's intent was, to be honest].

Michael,

It’s posts such as these that are leading me to conclude that the quality of these posts are starting to go down, and have been doing so for several months now. I’m missing that intellectual humility and integrity that was there, as well as actually good scholarship when I first started reading 2 years ago. Though I’m sure you’ll dismiss this comment as not worth taking notice of.

HEAVENS NO! I will extol this comment as true. I will SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS with you. I have been saying the same thing for quite a while now, and it’s really great to get some confirmation in this regard. You hit the nail right on the head. Luke has turned a corner for the worse in my honest opinion, and, as you said, posts like these continue to provide the evidence. This is why I think deconverted fundamentalists and evangelicals tend to make the most dangerous atheists. Often, the mental weaknesses that led them to dogmatic ways of thinking in the first place persist. These traits then carry over into their newly-embraced “skepticism,” the weaknesses again take the helm, yet, this time, they are actually far worse off because a thin veneer of rationalism masks their dogmatic and irrational tendencies and puffs many up with a false sense of confidence. Consequently, many mistakenly believe that their change of outfit solved the problem. They’re often less likely to see it, because they still have that “in the tribe” mentality, only now, they fancy themselves in the right tribe.

I cannot overemphasize the threat this phenomenon poses to critical thinking and pursuit of truth. Trading one’s cross for a scarlet A accomplishes nothing unless the old habits are shed.

Al Moritz,

I had intended to say something like that, but you said it earlier and better. Luke was proud to distinguish himself from the intellectual, especially philosophical, shallowness of the New Atheists, and for a while I was tempted to believe him (to some extent, that is). Yet now I am afraid he is starting to go precisely down that road. Perhaps the success of his site is too seductive to spend more time on thorough reasoning and coming up with truly powerful arguments. Instead we get such headings like “Is the universe designed for iPads” (or something like that), an argument that went precisely nowhere. I would say, Luke, slow down and try to truly distinguish yourself again by quality. Less propaganda and more true reasoning.

I agree. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how his “follow-up” fares.

Martin,

However, there is plenty of peer-reviewed philosophy literature on the existence of God. And there is plenty of peer-reviewed philosophy arguing for naturalism as well. [to Reginald Selkirk]

Of course, that doesn’t matter when one is so entrenched in scientism that they can’t think outside the box.

Derrida,

I didn’t say that [Bossmanham] inferred Collins’ motivations for being a Christian…

Did I say you did?

…you don’t need to be telepathic to see when people are compartmentalizing.

Perhaps not. However, you damn sure *must* be telepathic omniscient to claim as Luke did, that a scientist who believes in a spirit world has compartmentalized. That is intellectually chauvinist nonsense. It’s the same thing as a believer making an inane generalization about all atheists who hold belief X, Y or Z.

As I said, assuming that all the arguments for believing in God fail, and given that some smart people, who are supposed to be good at evaluating evidence, believe in God, it’s legitimate to ask “how have those people come up with the wrong answer?” The only answer is that they aren’t consistently applying the skills of reasoning they acquired as scientists.

This is snobbery, plain and simple. How do you know it’s the “wrong” answer? Did you use science to arrive at that conclusion? Are you so biased that you can only see one answer? First off, in the course of their work, scientists don’t evaluate arguments for God; philosophers do. Second, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that coheres with religious claims and directly challenges metaphysical naturalism. NDE’s are one example. There are others. Sure, people like Reginald can bury their heads in the sand and continue to use the worn-out canard, “There’s no evidence,” but, it’s simply not true.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

PDH,

I reject your hypothesis on the basis of its extremely low prior probability…

Can you use the science of mathematics to quantify this probability so I don’t have to take your word for it? Thanks.

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Rob February 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I have not read all the comments here, but only the first few expected ones from the cabal of usual subjects whining their predictable whine. But, as long as Francis Collins is mentioned, we must hear from Sam Harris:

“In fact, to read The Language of God is to witness nothing less than an intellectual suicide. It is, however, a suicide that has gone almost entirely unacknowledged: The body yielded to the rope; the neck snapped; the breath subsided; and the corpse dangles in ghastly discomposure even now—and yet, polite people everywhere continue to celebrate the great man’s health.”

If we had the opportunity to drill down on the beliefs of out theistic commenters here, we would uncover a similar intellectual self-immolation.

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PDH February 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm

PDH,
Can you use the science of mathematics to quantify this probability so I don’t have to take your word for it? Thanks.  

For starters, consider the number of mutually exclusive hypotheses that are not substantially less probable. Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Evil God, the religion of the Ancient Greeks etc. There are many thousands of possibilities. Next, consider superior variants such as deism and pantheism. Again, there are many possibilities. Then move on to simpler hypotheses that contradict some aspect of religion. For example, the bible says that the earth was created before the stars but this is contradicted by scientific models. One could reinterpret the religion but that just adds even more possibilities to the pile. Throw in more controversial models relating to the origins and nature of the universe that would at best require serious reinterpretations of most religions if proved true, such as eternal inflation and the mathematical universe hypothesis etc.

If we regard each of these as being equally probable for the sake of argument then the probability of any given one would be extremely low.

We’ve already argued over my thoughts on parsimony in other threads. You’ll recall that I consider hypotheses that explain things in terms of psychology (disembodied minds, personal beings, intelligent designers and so forth) to have abnormally high Kolmogorov complexity. Even before we consider evidence, then, it should be clear why I think that theism has a lot of work to do.

Now, if a hypothesis is testable then there is an opportunity to improve that situation. Hence why I take scientific theories more seriously than random claims that people make (but as I explained earlier I realise that it’s not possible to hold all of our beliefs to that standard). I see no reason that theism could not attain similar status. I won’t exclude it on the basis of it being ‘supernatural’ or anything like that. I am not the one saying that religious claims exist in a separate magisteria, for want of a better word. I leave you that option.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Steven R.,
Okay, and?  

And apply it to my original posts further back up this thread and you see my point. God, Terry the flying giraffe and the Unicorn from Dimension-X all have the same explanatory potential for natural phenomenons given the proper ad hoc justifications. There’s no way to distinguish one from the other (why choose a transcendental being over a being from a dimension with unknown properties?) and they don’t really explain much of anything. Is Terry eating the cookies a good explanation?

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Zak February 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

When I was in college, I was an RA, and had a “GOD?” program once a week. One week, I had a psych proff come in to talk about being a scientist and believer at the same time. He said that he pictured it like having two friends in the same house who didn’t get along. He just kept them in separate rooms, and everything was ok.

So… fully admitting to compartmentalization, which I thought was interesting.

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bossmanham February 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm

The only answer is that they aren’t consistently applying the skills of reasoning they acquired as scientists.

What? Scientists constantly come to incorrect conclusions while applying the scientific method. They are daily changing their theories because something about their previous theory is incorrect. So saying they are wrong because they didn’t properly apply their Science Skillz™ seems to be unsupported, because many are wrong in spite of applying Science Skillz™.

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cl February 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Steven R.,

God, Terry the flying giraffe and the Unicorn from Dimension-X all have the same explanatory potential for natural phenomenons given the proper ad hoc justifications.

Can you support that claim? As it is, it seems like bare assertion.

PDH,

Okay, I’m not a probability expert by any means. Hell, I’m not even a probability amateur. Yet, since you failed to supply what I asked for, I’ll try myself.

…consider the number of mutually exclusive hypotheses that are not substantially less probable. Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Evil God, the religion of the Ancient Greeks etc.

My first concern is that you simply assert that these “hypotheses” are mutually exclusive, with no evidence, argumentation or explanation, whatsoever. IOW, I suspect you haven’t spent the time parsing through these “hypotheses” to determine which actually are mutually exclusive. My second concern is that the particular name people ascribe to God seems irrelevant in the task of evaluating the probability that any particular type of God or gods exist. It seems to me we should be exhausting and evaluating mutually exclusive ontological possibilities instead. Therefore, I do not believe the possibilities are anywhere near as infinitesimal as you imply. While not intended to be exhaustive, perusing the major and minor categories, we have: monotheism, deism, pantheism, polytheism, panentheism, pandeism, polydeism, panendeism, henotheism, and autotheism. I offer a sample space including ten varieties of theism. In fact, let’s add atheism to the list, assume all mutually exclude, and our sample space becomes eleven. To use an offshoot of the classic “marbles in a bag” example: we have 11 ontological possibilities in a bag. 10 of them are theistic. One of them is atheistic.

What are the chances that any ontological possibility is true? Answer: 1/11 = .09090909.

What is the probability that any given ontological possibility will be theist? Answer: 10/11 = .90909090.

Doesn’t this mean that some form of theism is about ten times as likely to be true over atheism?

Even before we consider evidence, then, it should be clear why I think that theism has a lot of work to do.

I don’t mean to seem obtuse, but, it’s not clear to me. It seems to me that some form of theism is far more likely to be true. Although, like I said, I cannot even call myself an amateur at this stuff, which is why I asked you to help me out in the first place.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Steven R.,
Can you support that claim? As it is, it seems like bare assertion.

Sure. Take almost any argument for the existence of God. Instead of “a disembodied mind fine-tuned the universe” say “an unicorn from a mysterious dimension has the power to alter all other dimensions, ours included, to promote life”. Which is true? You can’t tell. Take the Kalam Argument. The being could be from Dimension X, where personal agents can make decisions without time. How does this work? It’s another dimension, different rules!” None of this actually explains anything (like, HOW our universe was fine-tuned) but it does act as a curiosity stop-gap (yep, took that from Yudkowsky). And then arguments for God based on our lack of knowledge about a phenomenon works the same as arguments for Terry’s existence.

We don’t know who ate the cookies, therefore, Terry is an explanation! We don’t know exactly how the mind works, therefore, God is an explanation! It’s egregious logic and choosing the Theistic hypothesis is rather arbitrary.

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PDH February 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm

cl wrote,

PDH,Okay, I’m not a probability expert by any means. Hell, I’m not even a probability amateur. Yet, since you failed to supply what I asked for, I’ll try myself.
My first concern is that you simply assert that these “hypotheses” are mutually exclusive, with no evidence, argumentation or explanation, whatsoever. IOW, I suspect you haven’t spent the time parsing through these “hypotheses” to determine which actually are mutually exclusive. My second concern is that the particular name people ascribe to God seems irrelevant in the task of evaluating the probability that any particular type of God or gods exist. It seems to me we should be exhausting and evaluating mutually exclusive ontological possibilities instead. Therefore, I do not believe the possibilities are anywhere near as infinitesimal as you imply. While not intended to be exhaustive, perusing the major and minor categories, we have: monotheism, deism, pantheism, polytheism, panentheism, pandeism, polydeism, panendeism, henotheism, and autotheism. I offer a sample space including ten varieties of theism. In fact, let’s add atheism to the list, assume all mutually exclude, and our sample space becomes eleven. To use an offshoot of the classic “marbles in a bag” example: we have 11 ontological possibilities in a bag. 10 of them are theistic. One of them is atheistic.
What are the chances that any ontological possibility is true? Answer: 1/11 = .09090909.What is the probability that any given ontological possibility will be theist? Answer: 10/11 = .90909090.
Doesn’t this mean that some form of theism is about ten times as likely to be true over atheism?

There are many more possibilities than the ones that are enshrined in the world’s religions. For example, our universe might have been made accidentally in a particle accelerator from another universe. It might be a computer simulation. Lee Smolin’s black hole theory might be correct. The universe might have been excreted by a universe-eating space-bug. The Flying Spaghetti Monster might have created it. The possibilities are too numerous to list.

The point I wanted to make was simply that this shows the value of conducting scientific experiments. They allow us to rule some of the other possibilities out. In situations were we cannot readily test hypotheses, the information entropy will be higher. This is a very important factor when assigning priors. However, I now realise it was mistake to list other religions as mutually exclusive hypotheses because that makes it seem like I’m making a version of the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations.

When you look at all the possible explanations there are so many that there will need to be some reason to single out a given hypothesis for this special treatment.

This is where Kolmogorov complexity comes in. Not all hypotheses are equally probable. For example, we can see that some ideas are vastly more complex than others and these pay a penalty due to the conjunction rule of probability theory. Eternal inflation is much simpler than a psychology-based model of the origins of our universe. It mostly deals with well-established physics and can be described with comparatively little information. In fact, I would expect that the number of incompatible alternate hypotheses is going to be proportional to the Kolmogorov complexity. A complex claim is basically a whole bunch of claims bundled together. That’s a lot more chances to contradict something.

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MarkD February 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Indeed, PDH, whether a Chaitin-Kolmogorov approach or Principle of Maximum Entropy, the priors are uninformative. What is left over must be evidence based (I take it from reading this blog that there is even, remarkably, such a thing in theology/apologetics) and therefore it seems prudent to use the best known methods for evaluating evidence. Thus we must reject non-naturalistic claims first, then subject them to enormous scrutiny thereafter. Anything else is too risky as a default position.

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Reidish February 14, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Perhaps he learned scientific methods as a particular ritual one performs to “do science” and get published, little different from rules of social etiquette one follows to gain and keep friends and networking contacts.

Luke, that is uncharacteristic hubris. Share with us: what is your epistemology, and how did you arrive at it?

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Gilgamesh February 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm

@cl:

Let’s consider your probability logic. There are ten beliefs about what god is and one belief that god does not exist; therefore, it is much more likely that a god is some form exists rather than no form of god exists.

Apply this to belief in aliens that have come to earth. You have greys, green ones with and without antennae, peaceful, warlike, humanoid, octopus-like, plant-like, fungus-like, hyper-intelligent, technological scavengers, and so on. Apparently because there are so many beliefs about aliens that have come to earth, then it means that is is more probable that aliens in some form that they have come to earth. It also means that the more concepts of aliens you have, the more probably aliens did come to earth.

This is obvious nonsense. Your take on probability means that the more contradictory ideas the better, while one, consistent and evidential treatment is deemed unlikely. By this same means, we can make any theory in science improbable by considering all possible alternatives, no matter how unevidenced or hair-brained.

Instead, if we take a Bayesian approach, if we have a lot of claims about something, and when we investigate them they all turn out to be rubbish, another similar claim becomes initially improbable. It also means that adding more failed ideas of the same kind makes the category even more improbable. This makes logical sense and comes to the exact opposite conclusion you did.

To do this properly, all members assigned a probability need to be in the same reference class, meaning they have some common feature with a probability that can be weighed. The class of positive god beliefs can be such a set, since they are all positive statements about the existence of something called ‘god’. If you include atheism in this reference class, then the only common thread is they are all beliefs about god or gods, and now all probability means is that some member is correct–the probability that something in the set corresponds to reality is 100%. In other words, it tells us nothing except we have covered all possibilities. To assign probabilities to a given idea requires more work that counting all logical possibilities.

So indeed, you don’t know probability, and instead you create an argument that makes any foolish idea probable. Such a method is not just faulty, but deluded.

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Steven R. February 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm

PDH,Okay, I’m not a probability expert by any means. Hell, I’m not even a probability amateur. Yet, since you failed to supply what I asked for, I’ll try myself.
My first concern is that you simply assert that these “hypotheses” are mutually exclusive, with no evidence, argumentation or explanation, whatsoever. IOW, I suspect you haven’t spent the time parsing through these “hypotheses” to determine which actually are mutually exclusive.

Do we really need to outline the differences between religions that claim ONE friendly God and the Evil God hypothesis? Do we really need to explain why most forms of Christianity (which have the phrase that after Jesus came and the events outlined in the NT took place, nothing further about the religious tenets were to be said) and Mormonism, which is an example of further prophecies being made after the end of the NT? Or how Greek gods are incompatible with monotheism? I think this is all basic stuff and PDH has no reason to do this when he’s talking to someone who I suspect knows the difference between monotheism and polytheism and that you can’t logically hold both positions.

My second concern is that the particular name people ascribe to God seems irrelevant in the task of evaluating the probability that any particular type of God or gods exist. It seems to me we should be exhausting and evaluating mutually exclusive ontological possibilities instead.

I’m not entirely sure what you’re trying to get at here.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Reidish,

Saying ‘perhaps’ is ‘hubris’? And your reply is to change the subject and ask me a question that would require an entire book to answer?

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bossmanham February 14, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Reidish,Saying ‘perhaps’ is ‘hubris’? And your reply is to change the subject and ask me a question that would require an entire book to answer?  

Saying something leading like this of any sort seems like hubris to me.

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d February 14, 2011 at 10:35 pm

“A scientist outside the laboratory may not be any wiser than the common man.”

It seems that Richard Dawkins has proven this.

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juhou February 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm

As a small side note. Yudowski is a wrong when he says:

“Suppose we discover that a Ph.D. economist buys a lottery ticket every week. We have to ask ourselves: Does this person really understand expected utility, on a gut level? Or have they just been trained to perform certain algebra tricks?”

The economist might also be buying the lottery ticket because of the pleasure gambling gives him even though he understands that he almost surely looses. Buying the lotery ticket would increase his overall utility just because he loves to gamble. As in: “Utility is often modeled to be affected by consumption of various goods and services, possession of wealth and spending of leisure time.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility

Expected utility is not all that matters.

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Mike Young February 15, 2011 at 12:08 am

ITT: Epistemology fail

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derrida February 15, 2011 at 12:47 am

@bosshamman

“What? Scientists constantly come to incorrect conclusions while applying the scientific method. They are daily changing their theories because something about their previous theory is incorrect. So saying they are wrong because they didn’t properly apply their Science Skillz™ seems to be unsupported, because many are wrong in spite of applying Science Skillz™.”

Okay, then “why they come to the answer that is contraindicated by the evidence?”

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Derrida February 15, 2011 at 1:06 am

@cl

“However, you damn sure *must* be telepathic omniscient to claim as Luke did, that a scientist who believes in a spirit world has compartmentalized. That is intellectually chauvinist nonsense.”

If the evidence is against theism, then people who believe in theism aren’t handling the evidence properly, since it’s irrational to believe something when the evidence is against it. Is the claim that the evidence is against theism? I don’t see that it is.

“This is snobbery, plain and simple. How do you know it’s the “wrong” answer?”

Because I’ve looked at the evidence. Am I not allowed to have an opinion about the evidence for and against theism?

“Did you use science to arrive at that conclusion?”

No…

“Are you so biased that you can only see one answer?”

No. I considered the possibility that theism is true in the course of evaluating it. But I only see one answer supported by the evidence.

“First off, in the course of their work, scientists don’t evaluate arguments for God; philosophers do.”

That’s obviously true. Scientists aren’t paid to speculate about God. However, when they do do it, they may not be any better than laymen.

“Second, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that coheres with religious claims and directly challenges metaphysical naturalism. NDE’s are one example.”

Mmm… I won’t hold my breath for that challenge to naturalism. The lack of oxygen to my brain might cause me to hallucinate.

“There are others. Sure, people like Reginald can bury their heads in the sand and continue to use the worn-out canard, “There’s no evidence,” but, it’s simply not true.”

Of course, if you think that there is good evidence for theism, then you’ll disagree with Luke. But if there isn’t, what Luke says is reasonable.

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Zak February 15, 2011 at 1:58 am

Derrida,

“Mmm… I won’t hold my breath for that challenge to naturalism. The lack of oxygen to my brain might cause me to hallucinate.”

I see what you did there. Very good.

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ildi February 15, 2011 at 4:03 am

Second, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that coheres with religious claims and directly challenges metaphysical naturalism. NDE’s are one example.

Oh, great; cl spouting this canard again.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 4:13 am

Al Moritz wrote,Your statements misrepresent my views in several ways.
1) I did not claim to be a naturalist. There are many different definitions of the term and, where possible, I would try to carefully clarify which definition I had in mind before using the term.
2) I did not claim to reject philosophy. I’m not sure where that part of your outburst came from. Obviously, I don’t regard any philosophy that I have read to have substantially changed my thoughts on God. That is quite different.
3) I certainly did not claim to have put all my faith in science. On the contrary, it seems to me that I carefully distinguished science from rationality.

My apologies, PDH, if I misrepresented you and put you in a box with what I typically expect from the mental attitude of atheists (an attitude that is confirmed every day). However, you may appreciate that the motiviation for my post did not quite come out of the blue. It seemed to me a quite appropriate reaction to the blatant exaggeration in your statement:

“And it’s hard to come up with a definition of ‘rational’ that permits people to believe that a bodiless mind with magical powers that exists outside of space and time created the universe, without having very good reason to think that any such thing exists. If one did achieve such a thing it would set the bar for rational so low as to make the word effectively useless.”

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 4:25 am

NDE’s are an intriguing phenomenon and it is fun to see naturalistic explanations struggle with them, but at this point I am not sufficiently interested by them as an argument for the existence of God. They are not reasons why I believe.

But then I have to honestly admit, I haven’t really studied them enough to assert their persuasive power.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 4:28 am

But then I have to honestly admit, I haven’t really studied them enough to assert their persuasive power.  

Correction: “to adequately judge their persuasive power”.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 5:00 am

Luke has turned a corner for the worse in my honest opinion, and, as you said, posts like these continue to provide the evidence. This is why I think deconverted fundamentalists and evangelicals tend to make the most dangerous atheists. Often, the mental weaknesses that led them to dogmatic ways of thinking in the first place persist. These traits then carry over into their newly-embraced “skepticism,” the weaknesses again take the helm, yet, this time, they are actually far worse off because a thin veneer of rationalism masks their dogmatic and irrational tendencies and puffs many up with a false sense of confidence. Consequently, many mistakenly believe that their change of outfit solved the problem. They’re often less likely to see it, because they still have that “in the tribe” mentality, only now, they fancy themselves in the right tribe.

I cannot overemphasize the threat this phenomenon poses to critical thinking and pursuit of truth. Trading one’s cross for a scarlet A accomplishes nothing unless the old habits are shed.

I agree, Cl. Former religious fundamentalists turned atheist usually only exchange one fundamentalism for another, but then under, as you say, the thin veneer of ‘rationality’. You see that most clearly with the folks over at Debunking Christianity. But also Luke is not entirely free from that. His naive, uncritical, and seemingly unconditional faith in science as the measure of all things certainly raises an eyebrow, for example.

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Reidish February 15, 2011 at 5:13 am

Saying ‘perhaps’ is ‘hubris’?

Yes, analogizing the rigorous scientific work Collins has undertaken over the years to mere rituals performed routinely to keep friends, and no more, is hubris. What did you intend for us to take these rituals to be: calling people back, smiling and shaking hands, exchanging presents on birthdays?

You are above this.

And your reply is to change the subject and ask me a question that would require an entire book to answer?

This post is about epistemology, and what you will accept as a method of acquiring knowledge. So unless you show that Collins’ epistemology is self-refuting, therefore false regardless of your position, then your position is indeed intimately relevant to the conversation.

See, here’s an example. You say:

What are we to think of a scientist who steps outside the laboratory and believes in a spirit world? He has compartmentalized his mind. He seems to have forgotten why you have to look at things. He seems to have forgotten why you have to test hypotheses.

When you walk into a room full of people, what hypotheses do you test to know which body is your body? The answer is: you don’t test any. It’s impossible to do this, because such knowledge is first-person, in principle. Yet the process of testing hypotheses (that is, what you take to be the scientific method) is third-person, in principle, and yields knowledge from the third-person perspective.

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Mike February 15, 2011 at 6:11 am

I saw a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about the much-touted figure that soemthing like 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not believe in a personal god. His view was that rather than pat ourselves on the back for the 85%, we should be wondering, “What’s going on with the other 15%?”

I couldn’t agree more. I just don’t get how you can accept methodological naturalism and then reject philosophical naturalism (this could still be subject to change upon new evidence). I realize the latter is not a necessary entailment of MN, but it seems like you ought to take both if you assume one.

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2011 at 6:12 am

Thomas: To me maybe someone like Polkinghorne or Lennox is more interesting here..

I’ve seen Polkinghorne speak. Not impressed. Getting from modern science to theism is a bridge too far. Getting from modern science to Christianity is an obvious crock.

Thomas: And there is indeed plenty of quality, scientifically informed philosophical literature arguing for theism out there.

Not that you could cite a single example.

Tony Hoffman: These sound impressive, and certainly scientificky, but most of all they just sound like weasel words. Can you think of any examples of contemporary philosophical literature that one could not argue is scientifically informed?

When Plantinga writes on the topic of evolution, anyone calling it “scientifically informed” is going to earn some laughs. Craig also makes egregious scientific & mathematical mistakes, but he is more an apologist than a philosopher.

Steven R.: The only implicit thing in my post was that Science never investigates supernatural claims.

And unfortunately it was incorrect. Several experiments have been run, for just one example, on the effects of intercessory prayer on healing. The general result from studies which are large enough to show statistical significance has been that intercessory prayer has no effect – except for two studies (Elisabeth Targ, Columbia Prayer Study) which reported a positive result but were fraudulent. Evidence of fraud: 2, evidence of supernatural intervention: 0.

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2011 at 6:22 am

cl: First off, in the course of their work, scientists don’t evaluate arguments for God; philosophers do.

When claims are made for effects of the supernatural in the natural (real) world, scientists are certainly within their purview to investigate them.

Second, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that coheres with religious claims and directly challenges metaphysical naturalism. NDE’s are one example. There are others.

“growing body of scientific evidence” – no. Mostly there are anecdotes, poorly controlled experiments, and some outright fraud.

Sure, people like Reginald can bury their heads in the sand and continue to use the worn-out canard, “There’s no evidence,” but, it’s simply not true.

Or, people like cl can lower their standards for “evidence,” selectively look for “evidence” which agrees with their pre-drawn conclusion, and ignore any which does not.

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Tony Hoffman February 15, 2011 at 7:39 am

When Plantinga writes on the topic of evolution, anyone calling it “scientifically informed” is going to earn some laughs.

Ah, yes, I forgot about the EAAN. But my point remains that I imagine Thomas would argue that even that dreck is scientifically informed.

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2011 at 8:00 am

Thomas: I claimed that scientists who believe in God perhaps think that theism explains the existence of the world and its various features better than naturalism does (a meta-scientific claim). For this, see Richard Swinburne´s The Existence of God, for example.

Swinburne on God, Part One
by Jason Rosenhouse


I have read my share of Swinburne, however, including The Existence of God. I fear he had the opposite effect on me from what Coyne’s correspondent described. It is not anything I learned from the fundamentalists that has driven me to my generally negative opinion of theology and the philosophy of religion. It is people like Swinburne who did that.

On the other hand, I read The Existence of God several years ago, so perhaps it is time to revisit it. So here is the first of what will be a very occasional series analyzing Swinburne’s arguments. I warn you in advance that I may lose interest in this part way through, but let’s have a go at it anyway.

For me, the big red flag goes up when he starts using the notation of probability theory to express his ideas, as he does here. I will withhold final judgment until I see Swinburne’s specific application of it later in the book, but I know from sad experience that such formalism often serves as a way of lending phony precision to bad arguments.

But part of applying Bayes’ Theorem to a statement such as the one above involves assigning some prior probability to God’s existence. I am not sure what basis we have for making such an assignment, but I would note that it is not even clear that God as Swinburne describes Him is even within the realm of possibility. That is, a notion like “Mind without body,” might well be, so far as we know, a contradiction in terms. We certainly have no experience with such a thing. Every mind with which we are familiar is embodied. Moreover, God is said to be able to alter natural laws with an act of His will, and to have perfect foreknowledge of all that is to occur. Can such things be? No intelligence with which we are familiar can do anything remotely like what Swinburne describes.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 15, 2011 at 8:15 am

Reginald,

And that’s just a start…

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 8:45 am

Oh wow, I never knew that religion predicted tunnels of light and angels with wings (maybe I’m wrong, but as I recall it, angels only got their wings during the Middle Ages and that nowhere in any accepted religious document of the Judeo-Christian faith is an angel described as possessing wings) and even inconsistent views of what happens during the afterlife from religious texts (once again, Sheol isn’t a place full of angels and light…). Well, I guess these inconsistencies with what happens after death from what the religious texts actually say are convincing proof of life after death! How interesting, NDE’s coincide with popular conceptions of religious events that don’t necessarily coincide with what the actual religion says.

Not only that, but as I understand it, some drugs actually work by shutting down certain parts of the brain, so it is quite reasonable to expect some sort of hallucinations to go on when the brain is in such a state and being drugged to boot. And really, how convincing are these NDE’s? “I saw a surgery instrument I’ve never seen before!”…Yeah, as if there weren’t any popular shows on TV dealing with surgeries. “I saw who took off my dentures, even though I was drugged!” And if you’d have gotten the wrong person, nobody would have thought about it twice–you were drugged and out of your mind, “no dear, I didn’t take off your dentures” *gives odd glance to the other nurse*, and that would be the end of it. That, and we don’t know if these were fabricated after they woke up.

@ Reginald Selkirk:

Yea, I worded that horribly wrong.

—-

I’m kinda getting a laugh at all the Theists patronizing Luke. *Reidish, I’m looking at you in particular*

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Reidish February 15, 2011 at 9:30 am

Hi Steven R.,

You wrote:

I’m kinda getting a laugh at all the Theists patronizing Luke. *Reidish, I’m looking at you in particular*

No worries, I’m not patronizing. This is one of the few atheist sites that I read with any frequency. I respect Luke’s work here – it is of much higher quality than the typical atheist blog.

But this post amounts to nothing more than attributing ulterior motives to Collins for the work he has done throughout the years.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 15, 2011 at 9:37 am

Reidish,

I’m attributing ulterior motives to Collins? How?

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Tony Hoffman February 15, 2011 at 9:46 am

Again with the lack of self-irony. Are you guys putting me on?

Reidish: No worries, I’m not patronizing…. I respect Luke’s work here – it is of much higher quality than the typical atheist blog.

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Reidish February 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

Luke,

You say that perhaps Collins never knew why he had to “look at things” or why he had to “test hypotheses”. Since these are essential activities for implementing the scientific method, we can only conclude that you think he went into his vocation with some motivations other than those essential to practicing in the field. Indeed, you offer your opinion:

Perhaps he learned scientific methods as a particular ritual one performs to “do science” and get published, little different from rules of social etiquette one follows to gain and keep friends and networking contacts.

The first issue I have with this opinion is that you offer zero defense for it – would you care to now? Secondly, you even put “do science” in quotes, as if to presume that Collins doesn’t even take himself to be practicing a vocation that corresponds to reality. I’m puzzled as to how you could know any of this.

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cl February 15, 2011 at 10:10 am

Rosenhouse wrote,

But part of applying Bayes’ Theorem to a statement such as the one above involves assigning some prior probability to God’s existence. I am not sure what basis we have for making such an assignment, but I would note that it is not even clear that God as Swinburne describes Him is even within the realm of possibility. That is, a notion like “Mind without body,” might well be, so far as we know, a contradiction in terms. We certainly have no experience with such a thing. Every mind with which we are familiar is embodied.

I agree with him regarding the difficulty of assigning a prior probability to God’s existence. This is precisely why I objected to PDH’s claim. However, Rosenhouse makes the same sort of “we” fallacy that Luke and Alonzo make in many of their assessments of morality. His use of “we” is loaded. He speaks only for himself and those others who have never experienced mind outside a body. Of course, the skeptic’s only recourse at this point is staunch denial, which, as we all know, is not scientific.

d,

“A scientist outside the laboratory may not be any wiser than the common man.” [Luke]

It seems that Richard Dawkins has proven this.

LOL to the Nth degree! Comment of the thread, hands down. I forgot how awesome you are, our previous disagreements aside.

Steven R.,

Regarding your comment February 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm, do I really need to explain why a paragraph full of rhetorical questions fails to persuade me?

Juhou,

Expected utility is not all that matters.

I agree. The assumption that it does strikes me as a form of intellectual chauvinism. I don’t know if you’d seen them or not, but a few other commenters also made your point. Hopefully you’ll find some confirmation therein, as I find confirmation in your point.

PDH,

…I now realise it was mistake to list other religions as mutually exclusive hypotheses because that makes it seem like I’m making a version of the Argument from Inconsistent Revelations.

Fair enough, although, I think you may be inadvertently repeating the same mistake here:

There are many more possibilities than the ones that are enshrined in the world’s religions. For example, our universe might have been made accidentally in a particle accelerator from another universe. It might be a computer simulation. Lee Smolin’s black hole theory might be correct. The universe might have been excreted by a universe-eating space-bug. The Flying Spaghetti Monster might have created it. The possibilities are too numerous to list.

Again, you seem to be falling back to mutual exclusivity, yet, each of those seem compatible with one or more ontological possibilities in the sample set proffered. The question of God / no God remains in each case.

When you look at all the possible explanations there are so many that there will need to be some reason to single out a given hypothesis for this special treatment.

Disappointment with the ambiguity of “so many” aside, I agree, and I believe Aristotle’s argument from kinesis gives good reason to single out a particular type of entity as responsible for the creation of this universe. I’ve not heard a forceful rebuttal yet.

Eternal inflation is much simpler than a psychology-based model of the origins of our universe.

Why? Because you say so? I’m not trying to be contrarian, it’s just that, as rationalists, these sorts of assertions shouldn’t persuade. Our world is full of counter-intuitive facts. I could likewise assert that God is a simpler explanation than molecules which self-propel from apparent nothing, and, quite honestly, I think I’m correct, for the reasons given in Pt. II of the link I provided.

Nonetheless, your initial claim that I objected to was that Al Moritz’ “hypothesis” had “extremely low prior probability,” and, so far, I’ve seen nothing but assertion to back that up.

Gilgamesh,

Let’s consider your probability logic. There are ten beliefs about what god is and one belief that god does not exist; therefore, it is much more likely that a god is some form exists rather than no form of god exists.

Incorrect. There are eleven ontological possibilities. I purposely articulated that the particular name people ascribe to God seems to be irrelevant. Differing names and beliefs can refer to an identical ontological possibility, e.g., Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are each monotheistic ontological possibilities.

This is obvious nonsense.

I agree that the argument you think I’m making is obvious nonsense. Like I said, you mischaracterized it. You attack straw.

Instead, if we take a Bayesian approach, if we have a lot of claims about something, and when we investigate them they all turn out to be rubbish, another similar claim becomes initially improbable. It also means that adding more failed ideas of the same kind makes the category even more improbable. This makes logical sense and comes to the exact opposite conclusion you did.

Except for the inconvenient fact that “we” haven’t sufficiently investigated any of the ontological possibilities offered that “we” might sustain a charge of “rubbish,” so, back to the drawing board you must go, IMHO.

To do this properly, all members assigned a probability need to be in the same reference class, meaning they have some common feature with a probability that can be weighed.

Then, be my guest. Like I said, I’m not even a probability amateur. However, thus far, I’m the only one who’s even tried to use math, i.e., science, to support my assertions. To the contrary, you offer assertion and ridicule, neither of which are rational.

So indeed, you don’t know probability, and instead you create an argument that makes any foolish idea probable. Such a method is not just faulty, but deluded.

Run your mouth all you want. I’ve supplied the mathematical work which leads me to believe that atheism is less probable than theism. Further, introducing more varieties of theism makes atheism even less probable. Run your own numbers and prove me wrong.

Derrida,

Mmm… I won’t hold my breath for that challenge to naturalism. The lack of oxygen to my brain might cause me to hallucinate.

You say you’ve investigated the evidence, yet, this incredibly amateur response is more than sufficient to warrant my skepticism. You imply that all NDE’s can be explained by the hallucination hypothesis, and this is demonstrably false. As a starter, hallucinations are not veridical, yet, veridical observations are present in many NDE accounts.

No. I considered the possibility that theism is true in the course of evaluating it. But I only see one answer supported by the evidence.

On account of the above transaction, it seems to me that bias is a likely explanation for this fact. Look at the non-scientific manner in which you just approached the subject of NDE’s. Then, in true “party lines” fashion, people like Zak and Ildi come along and support your non-scientific claim with rhetorical device. This is pseudoskepticism at its worst.

Al Moritz,

You see that most clearly with the folks over at Debunking Christianity. But also Luke is not entirely free from that. His naive, uncritical, and seemingly unconditional faith in science as the measure of all things certainly raises an eyebrow, for example.

Damn straight. That’s exactly what I was getting at.

Reginald Selkirk,

Or, people like cl can lower their standards for “evidence,” selectively look for “evidence” which agrees with their pre-drawn conclusion, and ignore any which does not.

False, and ironic, as, that’s exactly what you just did. You focused only on a select subset of evidence offered. Open your eyes. Release your biases and make an accurate assessment. Or, continue in your dogmatic pseudoskepticism.

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cl February 15, 2011 at 10:12 am

Reidish,

I’m puzzled as to how you could know any of this. [to Luke]

Why, it’s quite easy: just let your predisposed assumptions fill in the gaps.

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

Luke,You say that perhaps Collins never knew why he had to “look at things” or why he had to “test hypotheses”. Since these are essential activities for implementing the scientific method, we can only conclude that you think he went into his vocation with some motivations other than those essential to practicing in the field.

Uh…way to miss Luke’s point. He’s saying that someone who fully understands the concept of why hypothesis are tested and things looked at would understand why science rejects “faith” as an explanation. Indeed, if faith is a superior explanation of things, we may question why bother with science at all. Now, Luke isn’t accusing Collins of having any ulterior motive at all, I’m not sure where everyone is getting that from. Rather, he is saying that maybe Collins never really got why science has the processes it has because if he did, he wouldn’t be touting unfalsifiable, untestable things that require “leap of faiths” because the reasons why we don’t use that sort of stuff to explain phenomenons is just as applicable elsewhere in our belief systems. It’s like having someone tell you never to leave your house unlocked and noticing they always leave their car unlocked. We may well question whether they fully understand why the house is locked in the first place. No ulterior motivations involved, just a matter of whether or not someone truly understands a concept.

Indeed, you offer your opinion:The first issue I have with this opinion is that you offer zero defense for it – would you care to now?

Read what Yudkowsky wrote. Luke quoted it for a reason.

Secondly, you even put “do science” in quotes, as if to presume that Collins doesn’t even take himself to be practicing a vocation that corresponds to reality. I’m puzzled as to how you could know any of this.  (Quote)

*Sigh*

He put “do science” in quotations NOT to question the validity of Collins work but to emphasize that when the concept of science isn’t fully understood, it can become just another thing we do mechanically, a perfunctory thing done without much comprehension to the process or why things are the way they are. The quotation marks just underscore how science, rather than being a process of understanding the world around us, can simply become just another thing we do, no thought added. If anything, Luke is emphasizing how important Collin’s scientific work is, and how oddly such a meticulous, rigorous and precise process juxstaposes with the simplification of thought associated with religious thinking.

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 10:37 am

Steven R. do I really need to explain why a paragraph full of rhetorical questions fails to persuade me?

Sure, if those rhetorical questions are pertinent to the point you’re trying to establish, I fail to see how the way the objections were made is relevant.

Oh, and by the way, even if there are many ontological positions to take, it doesn’t mean that they are all equally probable. What Gilgamesh provided is very valid. We could say that one race of aliens existing is one ontological position (like monotheism) while recognizing the existence of one race of aliens while leaving the question open to various other alien races would be another (like henetheism) while a position that everything we know was created by aliens who then left us to our own device would be another (like deism). Clearly, your analogy is flawed because when we speak about probability, we don’t mean we have so many hypothesis concerning X and one that rejects X, therefore, X must be correct! Apply that logic to a court case. There are so many ways Jones could have killed his wife, compared to him no killing her, and you have your argument. When we speak of probability, we mean how likely each position is compared to each other, not that all are just as likely to exist and which it is is open to a guess.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 11:06 am

Luke,You say that perhaps Collins never knew why he had to “look at things” or why he had to “test hypotheses”.Since these are essential activities for implementing the scientific method, we can only conclude that you think he went into his vocation with some motivations other than those essential to practicing in the field.Indeed, you offer your opinion:

“Perhaps he learned scientific methods as a particular ritual one performs to “do science” and get published, little different from rules of social etiquette one follows to gain and keep friends and networking contacts.”

The first issue I have with this opinion is that you offer zero defense for it – would you care to now?Secondly, you even put “do science” in quotes, as if to presume that Collins doesn’t even take himself to be practicing a vocation that corresponds to reality.I’m puzzled as to how you could know any of this.  

Right on.

Yeah, well, does Luke think that Collins could have been nominated by Obama as director of the National Institute of Health if he had had the reputation among his scientific colleagues as not being a serious and excellent scientist who truly grasps the concept of properly practicing science?

Sheesh, how dumb can you play, Luke, and how far are you willing to lower the standards of your atheism?

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

cl: False, and ironic, as, that’s exactly what you just did.

No I’m not, you are. Huh huh huh.

You focused only on a select subset of evidence offered.

Oh, did you offer evidence? I missed that bit. I thought you just made a vague allusion to some unpresented “evidence” out there somewhere which you found convincing for reasons also not presented. Sorry.

Open your eyes. Release your biases and make an accurate assessment. Or, continue in your dogmatic pseudoskepticism.

You still haven’t presented any evidence. Up yours.

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2011 at 11:11 am

Yeah, well, does Luke think that Collins could have been nominated by Obama as director of the National Institute of Health if he had had the reputation among his scientific colleagues as not being a serious and excellent scientist who truly grasps the concept of properly practicing science?

I do. Collins has demonstrated a very poor grasp of some fields of science outside his own area of expertise. Consider his “moral law” nonsense. His understanding of morality is at odds with a growing body of research on the evolution of morality.

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 11:12 am

cl: False, and ironic, as, that’s exactly what you just did.No I’m not, you are. Huh huh huh.You focused only on a select subset of evidence offered.Oh, did you offer evidence? I missed that bit. I thought you just made a vague allusion to some unpresented “evidence” out there somewhere which you found convincing for reasons also not presented. Sorry.Open your eyes. Release your biases and make an accurate assessment. Or, continue in your dogmatic pseudoskepticism.You still haven’t presented any evidence. Up yours.  (Quote)

Well, that’s one way to say what I was thinking about what Cl said :P

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2011 at 11:13 am

cl: He speaks only for himself and those others who have never experienced mind outside a body.

I.e. everyone.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 11:18 am

Uh…way to miss Luke’s point. He’s saying that someone who fully understands the concept of why hypothesis are tested and things looked at would understand why science rejects “faith” as an explanation. Indeed, if faith is a superior explanation of things, we may question why bother with science at all. Now, Luke isn’t accusing Collins of having any ulterior motive at all, I’m not sure where everyone is getting that from. Rather, he is saying that maybe Collins never really got why science has the processes it has because if he did, he wouldn’t be touting unfalsifiable, untestable things that require “leap of faiths” because the reasons why we don’t use that sort of stuff to explain phenomenons is just as applicable elsewhere in our belief systems. It’s like having someone tell you never to leave your house unlocked and noticing they always leave their car unlocked. We may well question whether they fully understand why the house is locked in the first place. No ulterior motivations involved, just a matter of whether or not someone truly understands a concept.

Read what Yudkowsky wrote. Luke quoted it for a reason.

*Sigh*He put “do science” in quotations NOT to question the validity of Collins work but to emphasize that when the concept of science isn’t fully understood, it can become just another thing we do mechanically, a perfunctory thing done without much comprehension to the process or why things are the way they are. The quotation marks just underscore how science, rather than being a process of understanding the world around us, can simply become just another thing we do, no thought added. If anything, Luke is emphasizing how important Collin’s scientific work is, and how oddly such a meticulous, rigorous and precise process juxstaposes with the simplification of thought associated with religious thinking.  

Right, and that is why the first scientists who developed the scientific method (for crying out loud) where all theists, suffering from ‘the simplification of thought associated with religious thinking’ . Sure, the people who developed the scientific method did not properly grasp why science is done, and why it has the processes it has, in the first place, did they? Sheesh.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 11:20 am

I do. Collins has demonstrated a very poor grasp of some fields of science outside his own area of expertise. Consider his “moral law” nonsense. His understanding of morality is at odds with a growing body of research on the evolution of morality.  

If you would have read his book, you would realize that he actually does know about the research on evolutionary morality (not that I try to defend the particular argument that Collins makes).

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Luke Muehlhauser February 15, 2011 at 11:28 am

No, I’m not saying Collins had other motivations. I’m saying that many scientists who apply the scientific mindset professionally but not personally (and this is not at all unique to religious scientists). This may have in part to do with their training. Or perhaps it has just as much to do with human psychology, which is another option I mentioned: compartmentalization. I’m not claiming there’s anything unique about religious scientists here; merely that religious scientists are a symptom of the greater human disease, and perhaps of our educational institutions.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 15, 2011 at 11:30 am

> does Luke think that Collins could have been nominated by Obama as director of the National Institute of Health if he had had the reputation among his scientific colleagues as not being a serious and excellent scientist who truly grasps the concept of properly practicing science?

No. He is recognized as doing science well. The whole point of this post was that you can do science well without understanding why the scientific method matters. Thus you have Collins doing science in the lab and saying “Well, I accept with a leap of faith that an invisible magical deity talks to me telepathically” in his private life.

That was the entire point of the post!

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

The whole point of this post was that you can do science well without understanding why the scientific method matters.

Luke,

not a scientist of his stature and accomplishment, no, this cannot rationally be believed. Also, see the point that I just made about the first scientists and the scientific method.

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Bill Snedden February 15, 2011 at 11:57 am

@cl:

…I believe Aristotle’s argument from kinesis gives good reason to single out a particular type of entity as responsible for the creation of this universe. I’ve not heard a forceful rebuttal yet.

Possibly because there’s no need to rebut it: contra your assertion, there’s nothing in the ideas of Kinesis, or “potency” and “actuality” that necessitates that the “unmoved mover” be intentional or conscious.

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Bill Snedden February 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm

@Al Moritz:

not a scientist of his stature and accomplishment, no, this cannot rationally be believed.

In fact it can be. The scientific method is, first and foremost, a process. One can easily follow the “how” without fully understanding the “why”.

I’m not saying this IS the case here, merely that your statement is false.

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Adito February 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Why does Collins have to consider the scientific method a way of discovering the truth of the world rather than a method of discovering the truth of how God has made the world? Obviously there are other methods of discovering facts than the scientific method. Some of those other facts led to us using the scientific method in the first place so I don’t think there’s any room to dispute that other methods exist. If some of these foundational truths lead one to conclude that a God exists then it’s perfectly reasonable to use science in a way that’s compatible with God belief.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm

@Al Moritz:
In fact it can be.The scientific method is, first and foremost, a process.One can easily follow the “how” without fully understanding the “why”.I’m not saying this IS the case here, merely that your statement is false.  

Extremely doubtful assertion that this might hold for a scientist of the stature of Collins. Anyway, this does not answer my point about the origin of the scientific method (post 11:18 am).

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Bill Snedden February 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

@Al Moritz:

Extremely doubtful assertion that this might hold for a scientist of the stature of Collins.

Yeah…no one ever followed instructions on how to build a bicycle or set up a home network without also understanding the physics and geometry of bicycles or how a DNS server operates. That’s impossible, right?

Anyway, this does not answer my point about the origin of the scientific method.

Well no, but that wasn’t my purpose…

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm

@Al Moritz:
Yeah…no one ever followed instructions on how to build a bicycle or set up a home network without also understanding the physics and geometry of bicycles or how a DNS server operates.That’s impossible, right?

Right, that’s the difference between a lab technician and a scientist. Collins clearly is the latter.

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Tony Hoffman February 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Anyway, this does not answer my point about the origin of the scientific method (post 11:18 am).

And what is your point? That because men who were theists are often credited with developing the scientific method science and theism are therefore compatible?

Isn’t this obviously fallacious? I mean, Gorbachev is credited with implementing glasnost, but that doesn’t mean glasnost and communism are compatible.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm

And what is your point? That because men who were theists are often credited with developing the scientific method science and theism are therefore compatible?
Isn’t this obviously fallacious? I mean, Gorbachev is credited with implementing glasnost, but that doesn’t mean glasnost and communism are compatible.  

The point is that this shows the fallacy of the reasoning that theists do not understand the very concept and the processes of science. The very scientists who developed the scientific method did not properly understand science? Gimme a break.

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Bill Snedden February 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm

@Al Moritz:

Right, that’s the difference between a lab technician and a scientist. Collins clearly is the latter.

Oh, I see. So someone who works in a bicycle shop, and who builds and repairs bicycles for a living by following a set of instructions on how to do those things isn’t actually a bicycle builder or repairman, but a bicycle…what, technician?

Scientists are nothing more and nothing less than people who DO SCIENCE. Not understanding the philosophical underpinnings of science (not to mention simply not agreeing with Newton or Galileo as to what they actually are) does not make one any more or less of a scientist. It may make one more or less of a great thinker, or intellectual, but that’s quite beside the point.

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Reidish February 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Luke,

Did you mean this to apply to Collins or not:

Many scientists act as if they think that scientific methods are methods used to publish papers that will advance one’s career, rather than methods used to figure out what’s true about our world.

So we can read this a couple of ways. First, read in a strong manner, you have set up the following (false, I think) disjunction: one uses the scientific method to either publish papers that will advance one’s career, or to figure out what’s true about our world. Or perhaps you meant it more weakly (and still false): primarily, one uses the scientific method to either publish papers that will advance one’s career, or to figure out what’s true about our world.

Either way, you have presumed something of Collins’ reasoning that is unwarranted.

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Tony Hoffman February 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

The point is that this shows the fallacy of the reasoning that theists do not understand the very concept and the processes of science. The very scientists who developed the scientific method did not properly understand science? Gimme a break.

Hmmm. You seem to be attacking a straw man here. There seems to be a difference between adequately understanding a concept and processes and achieving perfection in those regards. I think the whole point of the post is that some people can obviously compartmentalize to the extent that they do not approach every aspect of their life in a scientific manner.

Perhaps you would like to make an argument that if one is a professional scientist, one only comes to conclusions about things in a scientific manner? Because that seems like the only way that one could reasonably object to such a simple observation as Luke made here.

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Bill Snedden February 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

@Al Moritz:

The point is that this shows the fallacy of the reasoning that theists do not understand the very concept and the processes of science. The very scientists who developed the scientific method did not properly understand science? Gimme a break.

First let me say that I don’t think “understanding the very concept and processes of science” has NOTHING to do with whether one is a theist or atheist. I think the idea that somehow Francis Collins (or any other theistic scientist) isn’t a “good scientist” because they retain some level of god-belief is nonsense.

HOWEVER, as to the point above, it’s entirely possible to develop a method for successfully doing X without understanding WHY said method works. There’s great precedent for this in the field of medicine, where anesthetics have often been employed based upon pragmatic findings but without understanding exactly how they work. IOW, an experimental method demonstrates that a particular compound blocks pain (which relationship was originally discovered by chance) and a treatment protocol is developed based upon this knowledge all in spite of the fact that the exact details of how this compound blocks pain are unknown.

It’s simply a fact that men like Galileo, Bacon, Newton and others were inspired by their belief in an orderly creation designed by a beneficent creator to examine said creation in an effort to determine how said creator had put it all together. It’s also a fact that the application of the scientific method developed by these giants (and rooted in pagan Greek natural philosophy) effectively disproves many of the particular god-based hypotheses such giants may have once held. But the question of whether or not the scientific method is applicable to the question “does God exist?” is going to depend largely upon one’s definition of “god”. The “Jehovah” of fundamentalist literalism is pretty conclusively ruled out. Other conceptions possibly not so much (Spinoza’s pantheism or Tillich’s panentheism are two conceptions that stand out here).

When it comes down to it, science is a perfectly acceptable tool for testing claims involving interaction with objective reality (“I prayed to Ganesh and milk flows from the statue!”, “I prayed to Jesus and my football team won!”) but the further away from such claims one places one’s deity, the less applicable the scientific method will be.

This is likely where scientists like Collins fall out. He obviously doesn’t believe in Jehovah, nor in any other simplistic conceptions. His “god” doesn’t really interfere in trivial human affairs, preferring to conduct his business post-mortem or in extremely subtle ways that simply can’t be distinguished from chance or human action, and people like Collins likely acknowledge this reality.

I don’t really see “compartmentalization” for many of these people at all, as they don’t generally make testable claims , preferring to seat their beliefs in what they see as beyond the reach of the empirical method.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

@Al Moritz:
Oh, I see.So someone who works in a bicycle shop, and who builds and repairs bicycles for a living by following a set of instructions on how to do those things isn’t actually a bicycle builder or repairman, but a bicycle…what, technician?

Scientists are nothing more and nothing less than people who DO SCIENCE.Not understanding the philosophical underpinnings of science (not to mention simply not agreeing with Newton or Galileo as to what they actually are) does not make one any more or less of a scientist.It may make one more or less of a great thinker, or intellectual, but that’s quite beside the point.  

Fine. However, a scientist clearly wants to find out what is true about this world. And the method that a scientist uses and embraces (even if s/he has not philosophically thought about it) to achieve this is methodological naturalism. If s/he believes that methodological naturalism works because God created the world to operate according to natural causes, or if s/he thinks that natural causes are all there is (metaphysical naturalism) is beside the point of being a scientist. Either way the scientist wants to find out what is true about this world.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Bill, I submitted my last post before your last post. If I read you correctly, we agree then on this point.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Before reading your last post, that is.

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

This is likely where scientists like Collins fall out. He obviously doesn’t believe in Jehovah, nor in any other simplistic conceptions. His “god” doesn’t really interfere in trivial human affairs, preferring to conduct his business post-mortem or in extremely subtle ways that simply can’t be distinguished from chance or human action, and people like Collins likely acknowledge this reality.

I don’t really see “compartmentalization” for many of these people at all, as they don’t generally make testable claims , preferring to seat their beliefs in what they see as beyond the reach of the empirical method. 

But this shows how misplaced Luke’s comment is:

“What are we to think of a scientist who steps outside the laboratory and believes in a spirit world? He has compartmentalized his mind. He seems to have forgotten why you have to look at things. He seems to have forgotten why you have to test hypotheses.”

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Al Moritz February 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Luke,Did you mean this to apply to Collins or not:
So we can read this a couple of ways.First, read in a strong manner, you have set up the following (false, I think) disjunction: one uses the scientific method to either publish papers that will advance one’s career, or to figure out what’s true about our world.Or perhaps you meant it more weakly (and still false): primarily, one uses the scientific method to either publish papers that will advance one’s career, or to figure out what’s true about our world.Either way, you have presumed something of Collins’ reasoning that is unwarranted.  

And uninformed. If Luke had read Collins’ book he would have noted why, and the passion with which, he pursued the successful discovery of the gene for cystic fibrosis. That was clearly about finding out what’s true about our world.

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Right, and that is why the first scientists who developed the scientific method (for crying out loud) where all theists,

Or maybe it’s because cultural and social factors leading to religion were extremely strong, prior to that point in time, all mainstream philosophy revolved around God and many phenomenons were mistakenly (and really, fallaciously) attributed as conclusive proof of God. Like we’ve said before, it doesn’t matter HOW science started (indeed, I’ve heard people attribute some scientific methods to shamans. Therefore, science and magic must be compatible!) but why it developed the way it has.

suffering from ‘the simplification of thought associated with religious thinking’ .

Actually they were. Look at Bacon’s quote that you provided. Now look at Collin’s quote. They (and here I mean religious thinking in general) add a bunch of fancy terms like “transcendent”, “faith”, “beauty”, etc. to validate rather nonsensical beliefs. No amount of elaborate and vivid analogies as to how faith somehow brings about reason will change that it’s still revolves around worshiping and elevating the unknown and mysterious to new heights and passing off that celebration of ignorance as some deep insight.

Sure, the people who developed the scientific method did not properly grasp why science is done, and why it has the processes it has, in the first place, did they? Sheesh.  

Or, as has been suggested since the start of this thread, they never quite realized that the scientific method is valid even into the unknown and that the skepticism it raises if valuable, even at times of personal incredulity.

In reading your last post, I see anything I’ve said wont change your mind. You’re stubbornly clinging to the notion that anyone here is saying Collins is a bad scientist or doesn’t understand what he’s doing. That’s not what is being said at all. What IS being criticized is the way that scientific standards are discarded when it comes to personal beliefs for no discernible reason–that DOES show a lack of understanding as to why we use methods if we use if we arbitrarily pick-and-choose when to apply the concepts we use in our professional lives. Imagine doing that in the lab. No way no how. So why do we justify this behavior outside the lab?

Can a man who has studied rationality and who is excellent at it be criticized of not fully grasping the concepts if he acts irrationally with his wife? I think so. In no way does it undermine his professional work nor imply ulterior motives, but it does bring into focus the problem of applying the lessons of academics to regular life. Make no mistake, nobody here is saying it’s easy, but we shouldn’t just side-step the problem or give faith any special treatment. While you and others continue to completely miss the point and spout soundbites (yes, “the first scientists were Theists!” is a soundbite as it has no bearing on the validity of their beliefs), I am starting to realize just how daring this post really is. It’s not a show of bravado by any means, it’s addressing an issue head-on, hence why everyone is so riled up right now.

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Bill Snedden February 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm

@Al Moritz:

But this shows how misplaced Luke’s comment is:

Well, I think that depends upon what one thinks is meant by “…believes in a spirit world”. Certainly it’s true that empirical science provides no support for such a belief. And to the extent we base our beliefs about objective reality on those things supported by science or at least amenable to science, then we have a rather obvious disconnect for a scientist.

But science isn’t the only method whereby beliefs qua beliefs might be warranted. We may be justified in believing a certain proposition based upon subjective reasons, rather than empirical ones. To the extent that a scientist might base her belief in a “spirit world” upon a strong personal experience and absent any empirical disconfirmation (or even the possibility of empirical disconfirmation), then I’m not sure I see a problem.

For example, let’s say that a physicist has a wholly subjective but nevertheless powerful personal experience in which she believes that “god” has revealed itself to her and she comes to believe in theism simpliciter. There’s no claim here that’s empirically testable even in principle. But I would say that her belief is warranted; that is to say, justified. Whether or not it’s true is, of course, a different question, but as the claim cannot be empirically tested, there’s no obvious disconnect that I can see.

However, suppose further that said deity also revealed to her certain alleged facts, which could in principle be tested. To claim to further believe these facts without putting them to the test would indeed seem to indicate a disconnect, at least to me.

Contrast, for example, Spinozan pantheism with fundamentalist Christianity. The first makes no empirical claims (that I’m aware of, anyhow) while the second makes many. I would say that to the extent Collins’ views fall within the second category, Luke’s questions may well be justified. However, it seems to me that the statement Luke quoted makes it clear that Collins places his religious beliefs closer to the former category. I don’t know enough about his specific beliefs to say whether or not I agree.

Still, I will note that it does seem odd to me to imagine a scientist as someone who “wants to know what is true about the world” yet who will nevertheless hold a belief about the external world that in principle cannot be demonstrated objectively to be true. That seems to me to presuppose a different definition of “true” than the one most people understand. I don’t think it makes them bad scientists, but it does seem odd somehow.

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm

@Al Moritz:
Well, I think that depends upon what one thinks is meant by “…believes in a spirit world”.Certainly it’s true that empirical science provides no support for such a belief.And to the extent we base our beliefs about objective reality on those things supported by science or at least amenable to science, then we have a rather obvious disconnect for a scientist.But science isn’t the only method whereby beliefs qua beliefs might be warranted.We may be justified in believing a certain proposition based upon subjective reasons, rather than empirical ones.To the extent that a scientist might base her belief in a “spirit world” upon a strong personal experience and absent any empirical disconfirmation (or even the possibility of empirical disconfirmation), then I’m not sure I see a problem.For example, let’s say that a physicist has a wholly subjective but nevertheless powerful personal experience in which she believes that “god” has revealed itself to her and she comes to believe in theism simpliciter.There’s no claim here that’s empirically testable even in principle.But I would say that her belief is warranted; that is to say, justified.Whether or not it’s true is, of course, a different question, but as the claim cannot be empirically tested, there’s no obvious disconnect that I can see.However, suppose further that said deity also revealed to her certain alleged facts, which could in principle be tested.To claim to further believe these facts without putting them to the test would indeed seem to indicate a disconnect, at least to me.Contrast, for example, Spinozan pantheism with fundamentalist Christianity.The first makes no empirical claims (that I’m aware of, anyhow) while the second makes many.I would say that to the extent Collins’ views fall within the second category, Luke’s questions may well be justified.However, it seems to me that the statement Luke quoted makes it clear that Collins places his religious beliefs closer to the former category.I don’t know enough about his specific beliefs to say whether or not I agree.Still, I will note that it does seem odd to me to imagine a scientist as someone who “wants to know what is true about the world” yet who will nevertheless hold a belief about the external world that in principle cannot be demonstrated objectively to be true.That seems to me to presuppose a different definition of “true” than the one most people understand.I don’t think it makes them bad scientists, but it does seem odd somehow.  

I really don’t think something like a “personal” revelation is justified for belief. What differentiates it from a paranoid man having the “revelation” that he is being watched by aliens from outer space via his cereal boxes? No, it is precisely because of those inconsistencies that science rejects that sort of stuff. It’s hardly an accurate way of finding the truth or much of anything.

Disclaimer: No, the psychological aspects involved with “personal” religion are much more complex than those of paranoia and are hardly indicative of insanity. Please try and get the point, not a word here or there and misinterpret it to your liking.

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Bill Snedden February 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm

@Steven R:

I really don’t think something like a “personal” revelation is justified for belief. What differentiates it from a paranoid man having the “revelation” that he is being watched by aliens from outer space via his cereal boxes? No, it is precisely because of those inconsistencies that science rejects that sort of stuff. It’s hardly an accurate way of finding the truth or much of anything.

I didn’t say it was an “…accurate way of finding the truth…”. I said that beliefs qua beliefs could be justified by internal experiences. That is undoubtedly true (my belief in my own existence is justified through my internal experience of myself) and beliefs aren’t necessarily all amenable to empirical investigation (we can’t disprove solipsism by empirical investigation). But whether or not I hold a belief does not necessarily hinge on whether or not I can objectively prove that belief to be true.

And yes, a belief due to a “revelation” that one is “…being watched by aliens from outer space via his cereal boxes” may be justified as a belief insofar as it is not amenable to empirical disconfirmation. “Justification” has nothing necessarily to do with objective correspondence, i.e whether or not a belief is true. But this is precisely why I said that it seems odd to me that someone ostensibly concerned with “what is true” could hold a belief that cannot be objectively demonstrated to be true.

Disclaimer: No, the psychological aspects involved with “personal” religion are much more complex than those of paranoia and are hardly indicative of insanity. Please try and get the point, not a word here or there and misinterpret it to your liking.

Well, they certainly could be indicative of insanity (for example, Fred Phelps), but I don’t really see what this has to do with the OP.

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Keith J. February 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I am shocked at the number of responses to this post!

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cl February 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Steven R.,

Oh, and by the way, even if there are many ontological positions to take, it doesn’t mean that they are all equally probable. What Gilgamesh provided is very valid. We could say that one race of aliens existing is one ontological position (like monotheism) while recognizing the existence of one race of aliens while leaving the question open to various other alien races would be another (like henetheism) while a position that everything we know was created by aliens who then left us to our own device would be another (like deism). Clearly, your analogy is flawed because when we speak about probability, we don’t mean we have so many hypothesis concerning X and one that rejects X, therefore, X must be correct! Apply that logic to a court case. There are so many ways Jones could have killed his wife, compared to him no killing her, and you have your argument. When we speak of probability, we mean how likely each position is compared to each other, not that all are just as likely to exist and which it is is open to a guess.

Actually, yeah… that’s correct. I came to this conclusion independently earlier this afternoon. So, yeah, that part of Gilgamesh’s comment was correct, even though other parts were wrong. Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to hear somebody through their insults! Nonetheless, my point stands: atheists are asserting this “low prior probability” for God, yet failing to support it with any math or science whatsoever. Am I under any logical compulsion to accept bare assertion? Reread my reply to the Rosenhouse citation. Like Rosenhouse and myself, aren’t you skeptical concerning what basis we have for making such an assignment?

Reginald Selkirk,

Oh, did you offer evidence? I missed that bit. I thought you just made a vague allusion to some unpresented “evidence” out there somewhere which you found convincing for reasons also not presented. Sorry.

The evidence offered to you. Think about it: obviously, if you’re out here claiming “most” of it is rubbish, there’s been a remainder which is not, unless you didn’t say what you meant.

Up yours.

Oh my, so rational!

He speaks only for himself and those others who have never experienced mind outside a body. [cl]

I.e. everyone.

See? Look how you “argue.” You simply fold your arms and deny. You imply that “everybody” has not experienced a mind outside a physical body. Like I said, your “rationalism” is pseudoskepticism at its worst. As far as evidence, I’ve alluded to NDE’s. You can look at the evidence in that regard yourself, yet, I know, I know… they’re all bogus! I’m so gullible! They’ve all been debunked! You’re so intellectually superior to me, just another stupid theist!

Like I said, open your eyes and make an accurate assessment.

Bill Snedden,

Possibly because there’s no need to rebut it: contra your assertion, there’s nothing in the ideas of Kinesis, or “potency” and “actuality” that necessitates that the “unmoved mover” be intentional or conscious.

Of course, I never said anything in the ideas of Kinesis, or “potency” and “actuality” *necessitates* that the “unmoved mover” be intentional or conscious, so, perhaps you should deal with what’s actually been said? Worse, for you to sit there and say there’s “no need to rebut” the argument is just a cop-out. I’ll try using that one next time Luke makes an argument. Watch how many members of his congregation castigate me for it.

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Steven R.,
Actually, yeah… that’s correct. I came to this conclusion independently earlier this afternoon. So, yeah, that part of Gilgamesh’s comment was correct, even though other parts were wrong. Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to hear somebody through their insults! Nonetheless, my point stands: atheists are asserting this “low prior probability” for God, yet failing to support it with any math or science whatsoever. Am I under any logical compulsion to accept bare assertion? Reread my reply to the Rosenhouse citation. Like Rosenhouse and myself, aren’t you skeptical concerning what basis we have for making such an assignment?

I don’t think your objection works anyway in your favor. Yes, because we’ve never encountered something, the probability of it occurring is really low. That’s why we don’t hold the probability of being attacked by a teleporting dragon that spews roses with thorns made of uranium to be very high to the extent that we don’t take any precautions against such a hideous, powerful beast. I think Rosenhoue is being generous enough. Not only does the typical Theist claim that it is a disembodied mind, but that it is also in control of things! It’s an extraordinary claim, to be sure.

Now, if we have no basis whatsoever for choosing the Theistic hypothesis, I have no idea why anyone would even touch it or assert it as a truth or anything of that matter. If we can’t even begin to assign a probability to Terry, the flying giraffe, does this work in favor of the giraffe? Quite to the contrary, it just means that we have no way of ascertaining it’s existence, thus, the logical thing to do is take the position of disbelief until proven otherwise. Sure, with enough philosophical cajoling (…is that an offensive word? I suddenly get the impression it is…anyway) we may concede that we can’t absolutely claim that the giraffe doesn’t exist but most of us would go on to mock anyone who does take the position that it exists.

So, at any rate, even if Rosenhouse is wrong in how he assigns probability (I think it’s pretty goddamn fair myself to base this on experiences. I doubt you assign much probability to the idea that Xelxerthor the Conqueror is more powerful to your God because nobody has ever had an experience with such a being, let alone being more powerful than what the Christian God is supposed to be, so I think it’s really the logic you use in anyway…or at least, I hope it is!) and even if he’s wrong, the other conclusion makes Theism unfalsifiable, untestable and really, just outright nonsensical instead of implausible.

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Steven R. February 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

BTW, I forgot to add, if we can conclusively establish that out of body experiences do exist, then your idea of Theism gains a higher probability. So it’s not as if we’re excluding anything. It’s a fair trade-off IMO.

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cl February 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Steven R.,

Yes, because we’ve never encountered something, the probability of it occurring is really low.

We’ve never encountered the heat death of the universe. What is the probability of it occurring? Clearly, the fact of “not encountering something” alone doesn’t seem to matter. There has to be something more as far as criteria for such claims are concerned.

Now, if we have no basis whatsoever for choosing the Theistic hypothesis, I have no idea why anyone would even touch it or assert it as a truth or anything of that matter.

That’s just it: you simply assert that we have no basis for choosing it. I offered a link to two posts in which I argue that we have a great deal of reason to choose it. Bill Snedden comes along and simply asserts that a rebuttal is not needed. Personally, I think that’s hogwash.

If we can’t even begin to assign a probability to Terry, the flying giraffe, does this work in favor of the giraffe? Quite to the contrary, it just means that we have no way of ascertaining it’s existence, thus, the logical thing to do is take the position of disbelief until proven otherwise.

Here, I get the gist of what you’re saying, and it supports my point: if, as Rosenhouse implies and you seem to agree, assigning a probability seems problematic, then on what grounds can anyone go around making probability claims about the matter, much less with no math? The other point on which we disagree is that I think when we truly have no way of “ascertaining” something’s existence, the logical position is to remain NULL, not to default to disbelief. Of course, if you use those terms synonymously, everything smooths itself out.

So, at any rate, even if Rosenhouse is wrong in how he assigns probability…

Does Rosenhouse actually assign probability? In all his zeal to castigate those who think differently than he, Reginald Selkirk managed to give us a link that went nowhere. Like I said, apart from my own attempt, which we agree has flaws, all we’ve got here is assertion from atheists with no math to back it up. I can’t accept that.

BTW, I forgot to add, if we can conclusively establish that out of body experiences do exist, then your idea of Theism gains a higher probability.

Well, that’s going to depend on what you mean by conclusively establish. If that means “reproducible” in the same way a claim about chemistry must be, then, I think you’re in error to hold that standard. Personally, I believe the experiences are well-attested enough to be admitted as evidence. Of course, you’re always going to have your pseudoskeptics who adamantly deny anything and everything that doesn’t fit into their pre-existing worldviews, but, as one notable Christian remarked… science proceeds one funeral at a time.

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Derrida February 16, 2011 at 2:20 am

@ cl

“You say you’ve investigated the evidence, yet, this incredibly amateur response is more than sufficient to warrant my skepticism. You imply that all NDE’s can be explained by the hallucination hypothesis, and this is demonstrably false. As a starter, hallucinations are not veridical, yet, veridical observations are present in many NDE accounts.”

I’d like to see documented examples of veridical observations present in NDE accounts. It would be pretty easy to test this by putting pictures on shelves of operating rooms that are only visible from the ceiling. But if this actually was tested and found to be the case, it would be big news. Do you have any examples to back this up? Given that you haven’t felt the need to, should I be skeptical of your insight into this?

“On account of the above transaction, it seems to me that bias is a likely explanation for this fact. Look at the non-scientific manner in which you just approached the subject of NDE’s.”

Whilst my original response was partially in jest, I think it’s very strange to argue for the veracity of experiences people have when their health is seriously compromised. In the absence of evidence for veridical nature of NDE accounts, I think the theory that they have nothing to do with the fact that your brain is shutting down is fanciful.

“Then, in true “party lines” fashion, people like Zak and Ildi come along and support your non-scientific claim with rhetorical device. This is pseudoskepticism at its worst.”

Give me evidence for the veracity of NDE’s, then I’ll get back to you.

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Reginald Selkirk February 16, 2011 at 6:34 am

Does Rosenhouse actually assign probability? In all his zeal to castigate those who think differently than he, Reginald Selkirk managed to give us a link that went nowhere.

Rosenhouse, unlike Swinburne, has actual credibility as a mathematician. Is cl saying that Swinburne’s probability estimate for an unembodied mind is acceptable?

If you want a treatment which fills in some actual numbers, here’s one from Victor Stenger:

He is criticizing an exercise of Stephen Unwin, not Swinburne, but it’s the same topic of Bayesian estimates.

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Reginald Selkirk February 16, 2011 at 6:46 am

cl: The evidence offered to you. Think about it: obviously, if you’re out here claiming “most” of it is rubbish, there’s been a remainder which is not, unless you didn’t say what you meant.

What evidence offered to me? You have offered none. I have encountered evidence for NDEs elsewhere , and do not find it convincing. And not once in this thread; before now, have I used the word “rubbish.” You are getting hysterical.

Derrida: I’d like to see documented examples of veridical observations present in NDE accounts. It would be pretty easy to test this by putting pictures on shelves of operating rooms that are only visible from the ceiling.

Such experiments have been done before, and more are being carried out now (see the work of Sam Parnia). I would like to point out that if such experiments are to be meaningful, they need to be sufficiently controlled. In particular, they need to be designed well enough to eliminate the possibility of fraud. We know that people commit fraud in the cause of advancing their religious beliefs. This is well-documented. See for example the fraudulent studies on intercessory prayer already mentioned. What is to keep a hospital emergency room worker from seeing the hidden signs (all it would take is a mirror on a stick), and telling the patient later when he awoke, to mention just one scenario?

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Reginald Selkirk February 16, 2011 at 6:51 am

cl: You imply that “everybody” has not experienced a mind outside a physical body.

Yes I do. Which you could easily counter by providing just one convincing example of someone experiencing a disembodied mind. Naturally, the example should be such that a true encounter with a disembodied mind is a more probable explanation than mental illness, delusion, or fraud.

But, since you cannot supply any evidence of that sort, you will hysterically kvetch about pseudo-skepticism instead.

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Reginald Selkirk February 16, 2011 at 7:07 am

2010 interview with Sam Parnia about his NDE studies

Interview with NDE researcher and AWARE Project leader explores limits of experiments on near-death experience.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with the NDE expert and author of, What Happens When We Die?, Dr. Sam Parnia. During the interview Dr. Parnia is asked why he suspects NDE is an “illusion”, and a “trick of the mind”. When pressed, Dr Parnia stated, “…It may well be. You’re pushing and I’m giving you honest answers. I don’t know. If I knew the answers then I don’t think I would have engaged and spent 12 years of my life and so much of my medical reputation to try to do this. Because to appreciate people like me, I risk a lot by doing this sort of experiment. So I’m interested in the answers and I don’t know. Like I said, if I was to base everything on the knowledge that I have currently of neuroscience, then the easiest explanation is that this is probably an illusion.”

While Dr. Parnia’s position regarding the validity of the NDE phenomena stands in contrast to most other near death experience researchers he continues to push forward. His AWARE Project asks cardiac arrest patients who experience a NDE to recall hidden pictures placed above their bed. This methodology has been criticized by NDE experts who give it little chance of yielding positive results. Dr. Parnia responds, “I don’t know if [the tests will] be successful or not. That’s an important point to make. As I said, I don’t have a particular stance. It’s possible that these experiences are simply illusionary and it’s possible that they’re real. Science hasn’t got the answers yet. So we have to go fair-minded. Right now what we have is a setup that can at least, we hope, objectively determine an answer to the question.”

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Bill Snedden February 16, 2011 at 7:29 am

@cl:

Of course, I never said anything in the ideas of Kinesis, or “potency” and “actuality” *necessitates* that the “unmoved mover” be intentional or conscious, so, perhaps you should deal with what’s actually been said?

I’m sorry, did you or did you not write the following in a post on your website:

The logical conclusion of Aristotle’s argument is not only that an unmoved mover necessarily exists, but that it also necessarily possesses a certain set of qualities: it must be active, eternal, necessary, pure, intentional, essential, immutable, immaterial, imperishable, and unmovable. (emphasis mine)

and later:

These characteristics are each logical derivations of Aristotle’s argument, and if we remove any one of them, we literally define his unmoved mover out of existence.

If “logical conclusion” doesn’t imply necessity, whatever does it mean? If removing “intentional” from the list of qualities and thereby defining the unmoved mover “out of existence” doesn’t imply necessity, what does it mean? You have my apologies if I’ve misunderstood you, but perhaps you can see whence the confusion might have arisen?

Worse, for you to sit there and say there’s “no need to rebut” the argument is just a cop-out. I’ll try using that one next time Luke makes an argument. Watch how many members of his congregation castigate me for it.

And you should be castigated for using that tactic against an argument. And you would rightly castigate me if I did that as well. In this case, however you haven’t really made an argument. The closest you came in your articles was an assertion that only subjects can initiate transitions from potency to actuality and an analogy to an explosion. But as the unmoved mover is necessarily “pure act”, this is a non-sequitur (unless you’re also making the claim that only an intentional agent can be “pure act”, for which claim I saw no argument in your articles). An assertion needs no rebuttal, merely a notice that it is unsupported, which is what I did.

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Steven R. February 16, 2011 at 9:43 am

Steven R.,
We’ve never encountered the heat death of the universe. What is the probability of it occurring? Clearly, the fact of “not encountering something” alone doesn’t seem to matter. There has to be something more as far as criteria for such claims are concerned.

*Sigh* This is what I get for using imprecise language. Okay, let me rephrase that: “because we’ve never experienced anything, the probability of it existing is really low unless evidence is provided otherwise.” Now, based on our experiences with the universe and the human body, we’ve created models for what heat death would be like.

That’s just it: you simply assert that we have no basis for choosing it. I offered a link to two posts in which I argue that we have a great deal of reason to choose it. Bill Snedden comes along and simply asserts that a rebuttal is not needed. Personally, I think that’s hogwash.

Nope, you misinterpreted me. I’m not asserting anything when I said “if we have no basis for choosing the Theistic hypothesis”, I am taking into consideration what you said. If we can’t assign any probability to a hypothesis, then we can’t do anything with it. That’s why I said, being unable to establish any sort of probability to an idea doesn’t help, it just means we have no reason whatsoever to choose it. Hardly what I think anyone would want to argue.

Here, I get the gist of what you’re saying, and it supports my point: if, as Rosenhouse implies and you seem to agree, assigning a probability seems problematic, then on what grounds can anyone go around making probability claims about the matter, much less with no math?

I’ll get to this further down.

The other point on which we disagree is that I think when we truly have no way of “ascertaining” something’s existence, the logical position is to remain NULL, not to default to disbelief. Of course, if you use those terms synonymously, everything smooths itself out.

Nope, I just don’t think “NULL” is an adequate position. I think it’s an extremely awkward position to hold. Imagine I accuse your neighbor of being Osama Bin Laden after plastic surgery. Being the clever trickster that I am, all of your claims against it don’t disprove it. Fingerprints don’t match up? It was the surgery. He has been at his home the whole time? How do you know? And if you saw him outside, how do you know it wasn’t a double? And because of all of this, I say that we can’t even begin to assign probabilities to it since we don’t know all that Osama can do or some other cheap excuse.

Do you take the position “well, he could be Osama Bin Laden or he couldn’t be. I take no position in this” or “until we have compelling reason to think otherwise, my neighbor is not Osama Bin Laden after plastic surgery”? It’s the same concept as innocent until proven guilty. The default position of logic is disbelief until proven otherwise.

Does Rosenhouse actually assign probability? In all his zeal to castigate those who think differently than he, Reginald Selkirk managed to give us a link that went nowhere. Like I said, apart from my own attempt, which we agree has flaws, all we’ve got here is assertion from atheists with no math to back it up. I can’t accept that.

I actually haven’t been following the links here since even at home I was fairly busy. So I don’t know if Rosenhouse actually assigned any numbers to back his assertion up. No matter, refer to my first paragraph of this comment. Because we’ve never experienced a disembodied mind, it’s probability of existing is low, just like the Flying Giraffe or the Dragon that uses uranium roses to kill its prey.

Let’s use the Dragon. The priors of a dragon seem really low, as no direct evidence lending to the existence of dragons even exists. Almost all of their appearances are in texts of folklore which seems to make it even lower that these accounts are probable. Next, we have no recorded instances of a dragon attacking anyone in (and using the place I live as an example) California. We don’t know of any flower being made of uranium. In fact, as far as our experiences and data tell us, uranium isn’t hospitable to life. So far, everything about this dragon is highly unlikely, very implausible, if not impossible. It doesn’t take much to figure out that if we were to do the math, even if it were just an estimate, its probability of existing is very low. Thus, even though Rosenhouse doesn’t do any calculations, I think we can more or less surmise where those calculations will wind up, just like I don’t think I need to provide any numbers to explain why the Dragon is improbable.

Well, that’s going to depend on what you mean by conclusively establish. If that means “reproducible” in the same way a claim about chemistry must be, then, I think you’re in error to hold that standard. Personally, I believe the experiences are well-attested enough to be admitted as evidence. Of course, you’re always going to have your pseudoskeptics who adamantly deny anything and everything that doesn’t fit into their pre-existing worldviews, but, as one notable Christian remarked… science proceeds one funeral at a time.  

Well, I pointed out the objections I had to NDE’s, not to mention that if we’re talking about out of body experiences, we should be talking to people to take psychedelic drugs and hallucinogens. My friend, a major “drug nerd” keeps on talking about how these drugs have given him out of body experiences, and quite frankly, they don’t sound all too different from these NDE’s. So, given how the mind can be tricked into believing it is out of the body and learning facts about the universe (quote from my friend or any stoner for that matter), I don’t take these NDE’s very conclusively, especially since so much stress (a major cause of chemicals flooding the brain), anesthetics and other drugs are used, and it is highly likely that these “memories” of the surgery are just a collection of thoughts a person had prior to undergoing the surgery and which come back later, but of which they had no recollection of because the whole process made the brain forget–and the accounts don’t match with with what most religious texts truly predict.

I suppose you could argue that psychedelics and other drugs DO cause out of mind experiences but I think it’s just more likely that with receptors in the brain stimulated and/or blocked, these sort of things aren’t conclusive.

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Al Moritz February 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Stephen R.:

In reading your last post, I see anything I’ve said wont change your mind. You’re stubbornly clinging to the notion that anyone here is saying Collins is a bad scientist or doesn’t understand what he’s doing. That’s not what is being said at all. What IS being criticized is the way that scientific standards are discarded when it comes to personal beliefs for no discernible reason–that DOES show a lack of understanding as to why we use methods if we use if we arbitrarily pick-and-choose when to apply the concepts we use in our professional lives. Imagine doing that in the lab. No way no how. So why do we justify this behavior outside the lab?

Category error. Scientific standards only hold for what can be established about the workings of the world with the scientific method. There are no “scientific standards to discard” when it comes philosophical questions about the existence of God where the scientific method does not apply.

By your own standards, I would also have to criticize your naturalism on the same grounds. After all, you do not apply scientific standards to the issue, because the question if the material world is all there is cannot be settled by science:

In a 1998 statement titled Teaching about Evolution and Science, the American National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said:

(http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309063647&page=58)

“At the root of the apparent conflict between some religions and evolution is a misunderstanding of the critical difference between religious and scientific ways of knowing. Religions and science answer different questions about the world […] Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”

And further above in the text:

“No one way of knowing can provide all of the answers to the questions that humans ask. Consequently, many people, including many scientists, hold strong religious beliefs and simultaneously accept the occurrence of evolution.”

An atheist may argue that his/her positions are scientific and objective, since they are an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world. This, however, overlooks the fact that this extrapolation, while it may claim to be based on science, is a philosophical extrapolation, not a scientific one, since it transcends the realm of strictly scientific knowledge.

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Al Moritz February 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Bill:

Still, I will note that it does seem odd to me to imagine a scientist as someone who “wants to know what is true about the world” yet who will nevertheless hold a belief about the external world that in principle cannot be demonstrated objectively to be true. That seems to me to presuppose a different definition of “true” than the one most people understand. I don’t think it makes them bad scientists, but it does seem odd somehow.

Category error, see above. With “demonstrated objectively to be true” you appear to mean “by the scientific method”. And you cannot apply the scientific method to the issue, see above. But there are people who are convinced by philosophical reasoning and by divine revelation (which to these people can also lead to objective truths), including scientists. These scientists do not commit the category error of trying to apply the scientific method to something where it cannot be applied. (Category errors are mistakes in analytical thinking, and such mistakes are in fact contra the scientific spirit of clean reasoning.)

Of course you, Stephen and others can say that you do not trust anything other than the scientific method. Hence you do not believe in anything other than the material world.

But that is putting the conclusion into the premise, since if your premise is that you only trust the scientific method, the conclusion is already rigged; after all, the scientific method only applies to investigating the material world.

Certainly you can come to the conclusion that there is nothing other than the material world by more valid kinds of reasoning. But that reasoning requires abandoning the scientific method (and “scientific standards”) and applying philosophy to the issue, just like theists do while arriving at a different conclusion.

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Al Moritz February 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm

While you and others continue to completely miss the point and spout soundbites (yes, “the first scientists were Theists!” is a soundbite as it has no bearing on the validity of their beliefs), I am starting to realize just how daring this post really is. It’s not a show of bravado by any means, it’s addressing an issue head-on, hence why everyone is so riled up right now. (Quote)

Of course that is what you think, Stephen, and perhaps also Luke. However, if Luke thinks that he makes a big mistake. It is safe to say that the theists here agree that his post was poor quality reasoning, and an abject failure. If Luke wants to go on with this kind of sloppy reasoning he will only preach to his choir of atheists. But I think that is not the only thing Luke has in mind with his blog. He wants to impress theists into more thinking about the issues and nudging them in the, according to him, “right” direction. If that is his intention, he needs to raise his game — considerably.

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Reginald Selkirk February 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Al Moritz: In a 1998 statement titled Teaching about Evolution and Science, the American National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said:…

So the NAS made an absurd statement of milquetoast appeasement. The flaws should be obvious:

At the root of the apparent conflict between some religions and evolution…

“Apparent conflict” indeed. As though it is not a real conflict. The only way to make that fly is for the NAS to step up and tell a majority of the American populace that they misunderstand their own religious beliefs, and that the NAS has the correct definitions of religion.

Religions and science answer different questions about the world

It is not obvious to me that religion answers any questions about the world; that is, if one has standards of truth and usefulness for the answers.

[…] Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural.

Already addressed in this thread (and frequently in other threads. Some claims about the supernatural would have consequences in the natural world (e.g. intercessory prayer), and thus are fair game for scientific treatment. Find me a religion which makes no claims at all about the natural world and I will show you a religion which could not conceivably conflict with science – and one that is also useless.

Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.

Depends on the definition of “God” being floated. I would think that would be obvious.

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Reginald Selkirk February 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Al Moritz: Certainly you can come to the conclusion that there is nothing other than the material world by more valid kinds of reasoning. But that reasoning requires abandoning the scientific method (and “scientific standards”) and applying philosophy to the issue…

Am I to understand that you do not consider the principle of parsimony (Occam’s razor) to be a part of the scientific method?

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Steven R. February 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Stephen R.:
Category error. Scientific standards only hold for what can be established about the workings of the world with the scientific method. There are no “scientific standards to discard” when it comes philosophical questions about the existence of God where the scientific method does not apply.

Yes there are. Why isn’t things outside the realm of the world acceptable explanations in science? Why can’t we just say “oh well, the earth being held up without any sustaining wires sure is mysterious, let’s chalk it up to the Unicorn from Dimension X” acceptable? The reason is that science developed certain rigorous standards to be as certain as possible about the claims we make about the world. Someone who understands this will look at religious claims that faith, which is untestable and unfalsifiable, somehow brings about greater understanding than anything else.

It’s rubbish to say “oh it’s outside the realm of science, so let me lower my standards of evidence and accuracy and then say that these lower standards lead to a greater understanding” as Collins just did. Why do you think science has such rigid standards? Honestly, it amazes me how otherwise smart people just close their minds and cling to this ideal of praising a God of ignorance, a god that stops all critical thinking and lowers our standards of acceptable evidence and then pass it under the guise of “philosophy”.

By your own standards, I would also have to criticize your naturalism on the same grounds.

I’m sorry but when did I ever claim to be a naturalist? When did I ever say that I hold the position that all that exists is nature, period? If you want to know my real view, it’s that I hold a naturalist position until evidence with as high a standard as science–or even better–is presented, but none of this “oh, nature feels so grand, therefore, it attests to the validity of x religious text” that I keep hearing.

Besides, you can’t criticize me on the same grounds because 1). I have never studied to become a scientist 2). I have never even studied the philosophy of science 3). I have never used science and its methods to determine anything about the real world and then turned and used religion to fill in the gaps in my knowledge or use something as weak as “faith” to provide any insight into the way things are. It’s not comparable. What is being criticized here is people who are actively involved in the scientific field and still adhere to something as weak and unacceptable as faith to “explain” things.

After all, you do not apply scientific standards to the issue, because the question if the material world is all there is cannot be settled by science

Refer to the point above. I am not saying that science is the only way to ascertain things, but what people here have been saying is that science has all of those standards for a reason, and it’s to filter the explanations that are most likely to be true from all the rubbish. If science tells us the world is spherical and philosophy says it’s “intuitively obvious that it’s flat” which would we chose? Obviously the former because it has much more to back it up. So what we do want is evidence that has high standards.

What Luke criticizes here is how an otherwise critical person with high standards for evidence quickly forgets why those standards were put in the first place an embraces something that has such poor evidence, it makes my little sister’s imaginary pet cat seem like a near certainty.

:In a 1998 statement titled Teaching about Evolution and Science, the American National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said:(http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309063647&page=58)“At the root of the apparent conflict between some religions and evolution is a misunderstanding of the critical difference between religious and scientific ways of knowing.

Scientific ways of knowing are testable and match the evidence, religious ways of “knowing” are extremely arbitrary, involve contradicting stances between different religions using the same kind of unfalsifiable evidence and as someone once noted, what a Christian priest can use as proof of his faith, an Imam could as easily use for his. Indeed, the misunderstanding is in those that think that “religious ways of knowing” is just an euphemism for not knowing anything but claiming to know it anyways.

Religions and science answer different questions about the world

Why do rainbows appear? *Checks Bible* Because God flooded the earth and made a pact with the people not to flood it again.

In what order where things created? *Checks Bible* Apparently plants were created before stars

How were women created? *Checks Bible* From a man’s rib.

I don’t know, those questions that religion answers all seem to be answerable by science too.

[…] Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural.

Once again, we established this to be nonsense. If those supernatural beings act to interfere with the natural world, then science can very well say something about them. Sure, science may very well not be able to say much about Xeltherthor the Conqueror who I postulate lives in a dimension never accesible to

Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”</blockquote?

Not at all. If I say that God exists as the being that causes lightning, science is not neutral at all on the matter. If I say God would never permit cancer to exist, one of science's tools, empiricism, would very well not be neutral on the matter. This is nonsense.

And further above in the text:“No one way of knowing can provide all of the answers to the questions that humans ask. Consequently, many people, including many scientists, hold strong religious beliefs and simultaneously accept the occurrence of evolution.”

And those scientists are taking a much, much more substandard explanation for other things. Honestly, what does God do?

“Why are there morals?” Because God did it! Oh please. What a great explanation to the great questions…

An atheist may argue that his/her positions are scientific and objective, since they are an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world. This, however, overlooks the fact that this extrapolation, while it may claim to be based on science, is a philosophical extrapolation, not a scientific one, since it transcends the realm of strictly scientific knowledge.  

And nobody ever said science was the be all end all of human knowledge or explanation or even that its methods weren’t based on some philosophical and mathematical tenets. That is, however, quite besides the point.

By the way, for future reference, it is Steven R.

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Steven R. February 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Dang it, messed up half of my comment:

Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”

Not at all. If I say that God exists as the being that causes lightning, science is not neutral at all on the matter. If I say God would never permit cancer to exist, one of science’s tools, empiricism, would very well not be neutral on the matter. This is nonsense.

And further above in the text:“No one way of knowing can provide all of the answers to the questions that humans ask. Consequently, many people, including many scientists, hold strong religious beliefs and simultaneously accept the occurrence of evolution.”

And those scientists are taking a much, much more substandard explanation for other things. Honestly, what does God do?

“Why are there morals?” Because God did it! Oh please. What a great explanation to the great questions…

An atheist may argue that his/her positions are scientific and objective, since they are an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world. This, however, overlooks the fact that this extrapolation, while it may claim to be based on science, is a philosophical extrapolation, not a scientific one, since it transcends the realm of strictly scientific knowledge.

And nobody ever said science was the be all end all of human knowledge or explanation or even that its methods weren’t based on some philosophical and mathematical tenets. That is, however, quite besides the point.

By the way, for future reference, it is Steven R.

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Steven R. February 16, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Once again, we established this to be nonsense. If those supernatural beings act to interfere with the natural world, then science can very well say something about them. Sure, science may very well not be able to say much about Xeltherthor the Conqueror who I postulate lives in a dimension never accesible to

At the risk of making three posts in a row, since I didn’t catch that this too got messed up, I’ll finish up the thought:

Sure, science may very well not be able to say much about Xeltherthor the Conqueror who I postulate lives in a dimension never accessible to science, the reason nobody would take the claim seriously, even if it were philosophically plausible, is that in no way does it affect us. Once I say Xeltherthor was the cause of morals, however, this claim does lose credence and isn’t much of an explanation. Why did Xeltherthor choose the morals we have and what does this mean to us?

At any rate, I like how Reginald stated it. A religion not making any claims about how the world works would be useless and one that does wouldn’t explain much. It’s a losing proposition, no matter how you slice it.

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mojo.rhythm February 16, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Wow, this post certainly provoked alot of snarling, defensive replies from the theistic camp! I don’t see anything overly controversial about the points Luke has raised. It is a fact of psychology that people compartmentalize their beliefs and attitudes. It is a fact of psychology that people form double standards and employ special thinking. It is a fact of psychology that even the most intelligent, well-to-do persons are not much less susceptible to cognitive bias then Joe the Plumber and Jane the Baker. The conjunction of these facts gives us a pretty plausible explanation for that small cadre of scientists who champion hardcore religious beliefs.

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Reginald Selkirk February 17, 2011 at 5:15 am

Al Moritz: Certainly you can come to the conclusion that there is nothing other than the material world by more valid kinds of reasoning. But that reasoning requires abandoning the scientific method (and “scientific standards”) and applying philosophy to the issue…

What about logic? And mathematics? Are those outside the “scientific method”? Their use seems to be ubiquitous in the scientific literature.

If not, what exactly is left that constitutes the “scientific method”?

Sorry for the interruption, I’m sure you’re eager to get back to slapping Luke around for “sloppy reasoning.”

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Al Moritz February 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Steven R., my apologies for misspelling your name.

I want to address the issue of supposed conflict of science and religion further. I don’t see how being a believer of ‘traditional’ mainstream religion and being a scientist contradict one another (I see that atheists typically, also here, attack fundamentalist versions of Christianity, but these are a minority worldwide — perhaps not in America though).

The Catholic Church and science have been mostly in harmony, and the idea that the material world follows natural laws that are rarely suspended is very old (medieval scholars for example talked about the ‘clockwork universe’). In addition, Catholic scientists have made groundbreaking contributions to science also way past the times of the scientific revolution. For example, Gregor Mendel (inheritance) was a Catholic monk, and the Big Bang was first postulated by George Lemaitre, a Belgian Catholic priest (there are prominent Catholic lay scientists as well). Of course, atheists always point to the Galileo affair, but they do that only because no other serious conflict can be found. It was the exception to the rule (contrary to myth, Giordano Bruno was condemned not because of his views on the universe, but because of his theological heresies).

The Catholic Church has also had little quarrel with the theory of evolution. For example, the great Cardinal Newman – considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church, and recently beatified by the church, wrote in an 1863 entry in his Philosophical Notebooks, four years after the publication of The Origin of Species, that he endorses Darwin’s views as plausible and suggests he might “go the whole hog with Darwin”. Newman believed that God let His work develop through secondary causes, and in 1868 he wrote “Mr. Darwin’s theory need not be atheistical, be it true or not; on the contrary, it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill.” The science of evolution is taught in Catholic high schools. In fact, it appears that in America Catholic high school students typically have the best education in evolution *). Recently a conference on Intelligent Design was held in the Vatican – to study its historical and cultural context, not to study it as ‘science’, as which it is not taken seriously by the Vatican.

*) http://www.tcnj.edu/~magazine/magazine/spring2000/pages/creationist/creationist3.html

(cont.)

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Al Moritz February 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

(cont.)

As for miracles, I do not see how these contradict science either. The scientific method depends on the reproducibility of experiments and observations. Miracles with physical manifestations, if they occur, are one-time events that suspend the laws of nature. Since they are one-time and not reproducible events they fall outside what science can investigate, particularly if they do not leave permanent traces that might be accessible to scientific investigation. For example, a miracle healing does not leave researchable traces about a process from disease to health, since the healed person simply is at once healthy and thus indistinguishable from a person that was never sick to begin with. Science can say nothing about such a situation, except that there is no scientific explanation for the healing. Thus, the issue of miracles simply lies outside science. This is completely different from it being ‘unscientific’. Unscientific means holding opinions that are disproven by science. While some alleged miracles have been disproven by science indeed, others have not – and phenomena that are considered true miracles by many believers generally are not disproven by science. In extension, belief in miracles simply touches questions outside science, rather than being ‘unscientific’.

The Catholic Church is extremely strict about the acceptance of unexplainable healings as miracles. For example, out of the tens of thousands of claims in Lourdes it has accepted just 65 as miracles. It concluded that there was no scientific explanation for the healings. If there is no scientific explanation, one is free to think that the healing is fraud, somehow has a naturalistic explanation after all, or is a miracle. However, believing that it cannot be a miracle is not a priori the most rational assumption — unless one holds that miracles are per se impossible since there is no God. But that is direct loading of the premise into the conclusion, regardless of actual consideration of the facts, which is questionable analytical thinking.

I am not hung up on the miracles of Lourdes. I have not studied them myself, and Catholics are not even bound to accept them. Yet to postulate a priori, without further investigation, that miracles simply do not happen in our times is quite a stretch.

(cont.)

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Al Moritz February 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm

(cont.)

As for other interactions with the material world, God could act in subtle ways that are not detectable by science. Furthermore, I believe that God regularly interacts with the human soul ( at least with the one of those who ask for it), the immaterial component of the human mind. I believe in a soul due to philosophical considerations (argument from reason), see also section “Background” and links thereein in the article accessible upon clicking at my name. Since the soul is immaterial, such interaction does not even suspend the laws if nature. A belief in the soul does not contradict the findings of neuroscience at all, see:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/01/against-neurobabble.html

From the article:

“Hence the A-T (Aristotelian-Thomistic) theorist affirms that there will always be some material correlate to normal human intellectual activity – not as a reluctant concession forced on the theory by the successes of modern neuroscience, but, on the contrary, precisely as a prediction of the A-T position as it has been understood from the beginning. Were Aristotle and Aquinas to be made familiar with the sorts of neuroscientific discoveries frantically trumpeted by materialists as if they should be an embarrassment to the dualist, they would respond, with a shrug: “Of course. Told you so.”

(In order to understand this, read the entire article.) Philosophers like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas have always held that, while the brain is not identical to the mind, it is *essential* to its functioning.

The Catholic Church has never subscribed to naive Cartesian dualism.

Now we come to the thorny issue of prayer studies. When I first heard about them I literally couldn’t believe how someone could be so, pardon me, asinine to conduct them. Since when is it reasonable to make God, a person with free will, a scientific object? Let’s suppose you were God. Wouldn’t you want to say: Silly you, I am not a robot from which you can demand the fulfillment of your whims. You want to play with me, well, then I’ll play with you! Perhaps this or similar is exactly what God is thinking. Doesn’t God say that you should not tempt Him, and that your intentions should be pure? Well, both of these demands are violated with such prayer studies. I am not discarding the negative results of prayer studies because I am desperate to ‘explain things away’, but for the just mentioned straightforward, solid logical and theological reasons. For these reasons I would actually be surprised and extremely skeptical if prayer studies would report a firmly positive result.

A scientist treating God as a test person is engaging in irrational, shoddy thinking, disregarding the nature of the concept of God. He is displaying a lack of analytical thinking unworthy of his profession.

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Tony Hoffman February 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Al, I actually find it pretty offensive that you argue that an institution that regularly burned 100′s of people a year for being witches has been mostly in harmony with science. It’s actually a fairly grotesque sentiment.

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Al Moritz February 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Al, I actually find it pretty offensive that you argue that an institution that regularly burned 100′s of people a year for being witches has been mostly in harmony with science. It’s actually a fairly grotesque sentiment.  

And your post is a pretty grotesque reply.

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Tony Hoffman February 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm

And your post is a pretty grotesque reply.

I know; I can’t believe I used “actually” in consecutive sentences like that.

But seriously, grotesque how? Your claim is offensive in light of history. It makes me wonder to what lengths apologists won’t go to portray their pet beliefs in the most charitable light.

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Tony Hoffman February 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm

The Catholic Church is extremely strict about the acceptance of unexplainable healings as miracles.

Right. And that’s why nobody saw this one coming. I mean, what were the odds something like below could possibly make it past the strict acceptance methods used by the Catholic Church? And so soon!

http://abcnews.go.com/International/pope-john-pauls-miracle-approved-beatification-set/story?id=12615802

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cl February 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Derrida,

I’d like to see documented examples of veridical observations present in NDE accounts.

No problem. Sit tight. It might not be today or even this week, but I will take the time to honor this request, so… keep an eye on this thread.

Given that you haven’t felt the need to,

It’s not that I haven’t felt the need to, it’s that you didn’t ask, and frankly, I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to get skeptics up to speed on the relevant literature. I generally don’t waste time trying to convince skeptics of anything. It’s like pulling teeth.

Whilst my original response was partially in jest, I think it’s very strange to argue for the veracity of experiences people have when their health is seriously compromised. In the absence of evidence for veridical nature of NDE accounts, I think the theory that they have nothing to do with the fact that your brain is shutting down is fanciful.

That’s all just opinion. That you think X is strange doesn’t account for squat. Like I said, sit tight.

Selkirk,

If you want a treatment which fills in some actual numbers, here’s one from Victor Stenger:

O frabjous day! Calooh! Callay! You do actually read this stuff.

What evidence offered to me? You have offered none.

…or, maybe you don’t. Besides the fact that I offer cursory evidences on my own blog that you don’t avail yourself to, I’m not talking about me here, Reginald. Take off your “anti-cl” glasses and think about what I’m saying. Obviously, evidence has been offered to you, else, you could not have honestly made the claim in question. Think about it. You’re not unintelligent.

What is to keep a hospital emergency room worker from seeing the hidden signs (all it would take is a mirror on a stick), and telling the patient later when he awoke, to mention just one scenario?

BWAHAHAHAHA! And you say I’m getting hysterical! This is borderline paranoia! As if atheists never pull tricks with experiments! See what I mean, Reginald? The “skeptic” always has an out. You can deny anything except your own denial. Descartes, I tell you, Descartes!

Which you could easily counter by providing just one convincing example of someone experiencing a disembodied mind.

See? You’re doing it again: insulating yourself against the truth. You just gave yourself an out. Key word: convincing. That’s your out. Since all you have to do is say, “I’m not convinced,” why show you anything? I know your ilk, Reginald. If you really want an example, come on over to my blog and show that you’re not just one of those “skeptics” who likes to denigrate those who believe differently. The burden of production is on you. Tell me why you find all the examples there unconvincing–unless of course you find one or more persuading.

But, since you cannot supply any evidence of that sort…

See? Your mind is already closed. You’ve already got it all figured out. You’re Reginald Selkirk, super-duper smarty-pants oh-so-rational atheist who already knows everything, and I’m cl, ignorant, dullard theist who doesn’t know anything. Why bother with that kind of attitude? Open your mind to something besides the dogma of scientism.

Bill Snedden,

Actually, regarding the first half of your comment, you have my apologies, because I misunderstood you. However…

And you should be castigated for using that tactic against an argument. And you would rightly castigate me if I did that as well.

You say you did not use that tactic on account of…

The closest you came in your articles was an assertion that only subjects can initiate transitions from potency to actuality and an analogy to an explosion. … An assertion needs no rebuttal, merely a notice that it is unsupported, which is what I did.

…but I disagree, and counter that you’ve given the articles short thrift. Disagree if you want, but chalk it up to “assertion” you cannot. I provide arguments for my belief that an eternal, unmoved mover is the most parsimonious explanation for explaining the existence of the universe, and more specifically, that such an entity logically entails a set of properties shared with God as described in the Bible.

Steven R.,

Okay, let me rephrase that: “because we’ve never experienced anything, the probability of it existing is really low unless evidence is provided otherwise.”

Still wrong. For who-knows-how-long, we hadn’t experienced asteroids. Did this fact affect the probability of their existence one iota?

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Steven R. February 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Al:

Addressing your first post concerning the Catholic Church and Science:

That is quite a digression to make. Now, as much as I hate to go so off-topic, I do feel the need to stress that Galileo was hardly the first or last scientist to be persecuted by the church (although he is amongst the most notable) and that is not even taking into consideration the retardation of progress that the Church inflected by its draconian policies against any idea that vaguely challenged their dogma. Mendel is a poor example because genes fit rather neatly under Natural Theology and were hardly something that posed a challenge to church teachings. I say this, however, not to directly argue with you, but rather to not paint so rosy a picture where it isn’t warranted.

Now, I have not argued or even brought up the crimes against intellectuals that the Medieval Catholic Church committed because this is, as far as I am concerned, irrelevant to this discussion and inapplicable when it comes the overwhelming majority of modern Catholics. I have not accused you or the Catholic church of propagating such idiotic policies because that would be a strawman on my own part and a vindicative attack on innocent people based on guilt by association, and a rather drawn out association at that. No, clearly you are not associated with the Medieval Church or its policies since there’s been huge, substantial changes since then (though the idea that the Catholic church has had little quarrel with evolution seems extremely suspect, given that even Pope John Paul had to issue a statement about his position…which does seem to indicate a lack of consensus amongst Catholics, but again, no matter, I don’t view that as important to our discussion), so, I hope we may just drop this topic since, as I noted, is impertinent to our discussion and neither you nor I hold that view of accusing catholics of being anti-scientific to be correct.

What I am arguing, however, is that the very basis of religion is considerably anti-scientific in nature and has very low standards in what constitutes proof and very little explanatory power and if a scientist fully understands and applies the concepts and high standards of science to his faith, he would find it very lacking. Take, for example the quote where Darwin’s theory is interpreted in a Theistic view. Why? The theory of evolution works fine by itself and even if there would be gaps here and there, filling them with God is no better than filling them with invisible gnomes or other nonsense, and that unnecessary addition of God is what is being argued against.

Now for your claims about miracles: why do you think things that are untestable and that we are unable to replicate fall outside the realm science? Thank you for illustrating the point Luke is trying to make, because this is precisely the sort of nonsense that is not allowed in science not because it is a “limitation” but because it is purposefully trying to rid itself of such ridiculous assertions as “physical laws were suspended for X amount of time” that can never be verified and which have absolutely no standards for being evaluated. Imagine if science worked that way! “Complex systems like the eye developed as a miracle, because, you see, evolutionary mechanisms were temporarily lifted as this invisible, disembodied mind that perfectly fits into the popular religious beliefs of my culture decided to do so for the benefit of intelligent life!” We’d get nowhere and we would have no filter in our knowledge of the natural world. There’s a reason why stuff that violates such laws and which we can’t test or evaluate or do much with are disqualified from science. That’s what makes it such an useful tool, not because it permits something that Billy could use to justify Terry the flying giraffe. Besides, there are other problems with miracles, such as how inconsistent they are (not really good for a hypothesis that posits a personal agent) and can be used to explain literally any religion or easily applied to any other thing outside the scope of science (the Unicorn from Dimension X, anyone?).

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Steven R. February 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Now, for your last paragraph directed at me. First, I see that you cite the “argument from reason.” Uh-oh, problem right there. That’s an argument that, as far as I know, even C.S. Lewis had to re-consider and re-write into what just seems to me to be a declaration of Fallibilism, to which I just say…”uh, duh” because, to be honest, even I was aware at the age of 6 or 7 that we had to be wary of biases and other tricks our mind plays on us. On the other hand, the argument from reason, as first presented by Lewis is greatly flawed (hence the rewrite to a much weaker position) as for instance, the mass of an object as recorded on a scale does not lose credence or rationality because it was a measurement obtained from a scale. Thus, I don’t even see how the premises of the argument hold up. The argument also seems to be based on ignorance (as in, the fallacy of an argument from ignorance). At any rate, I trust that if C.S. Lewis had to dramatically rewrite his own argument, it wasn’t a good one in the first place.

As for the soul…oh boy where to begin? First, as far as I know, none of the Judaic or Christian religious texts directly teach that the soul is the source of knowledge or even the mind. The definition is unclear and the soul didn’t gain any such special meaning until after philosophical considerations of that nature became popular. As such, I don’t really think that the soul as a religious term is even valid. Maybe a philosophical term but I have huge doubts about it being a valid religious term as it is understood in philosophy (ah, I wonder how Moses or the early followers of Judaism would react to all this prominence that the soul now gets). Of course, that isn’t really dealing with any of the text you gave mostly because I’m not in much of a position to debate this or follow any links. I’ve spent enough time typing out these responses and do have other responsibilities to attend to. I trust that Reginald or some other poster who has actually studied or at least is more knowledgeable in such an area will respond and if not, I’ll see if I can get back to you on that later on. For now, I just leave it at that.

I can, however, deal with your attempt to explain away (and let’s be honest, that’s what it is) research into prayer studies. First, God has before let himself be tested. The story where they put two altars, one for the pagan gods and another for the “one true God” in the book of Elijah, I believe, is a clear example of this. And no, God didn’t play with them at all. Two, if I were a personal agent that claimed to be benevolent, I wouldn’t stop healing someone who prayed to me asking for my help and let them die of a horrible disease because someone was conducting research on something people who believed in me claimed to be true. Third, what’s the problem with giving people accurate results when it comes to the accuracy of prayer? Wouldn’t I want people to know to come to me when they are sick rather than help promote what already seems like the absolutely random healings that are no better than chance? Fourth, who says that the people praying to God didn’t have pure intentions? Just because somebody was recording the results doesn’t mean that the person praying was testing God. Fifth, as I understand it, these prayer studies merely examined the results from people who prayed and/or had people pray for them compared to those who didn’t. If this sort of thing constitutes a “test” for God, any sort of person observing someone who prays for a promotion and someone who doesn’t, and noticing that neither got their wish would also be “testing” God. It’s an inane definition of it. Sixth, I like how many ad hoc hypothesis you had to add. It reminds me of the story I read in the newspaper about Adventure Camp or some other agnostic camp where children where taught to not even bother debating about God. It’s the same thing as arguing about a dragon. “Well, my dragon only shows up if you aren’t looking for him”, “My dragon didn’t show up because you are skeptical. You need to BELIEVE for him to appear!” or other nonsense can always be used to validate such asinine concepts. Seventh, even without proper research into the area were not conducted, why is it that, just from a precursory glance at the effects of praying seem to also justify the assertion that it’s random? Eight, what would differentiate this from the “Lucky Whistle” scenario where I say that every time I blow my Whistle, my favorite sport team wins. When you ask me to prove it, I say it never works when it’s tested. Is this adequate reason to believe me? Of course not. It’s bollocks. Ninth, what’s wrong with trying to see if there is someone answering prayers after all? Tenth, how is it shoddy thinking to try and see the effectiveness of some event that is supposed to have effect on the physical world? Eleventh, note how things like miracles involving the cure of some disease are indeed within the realm of science and can be tested where, unsurprisingly, they perform no better than dowsing rods (I’m sure they also don’t work when tested with high standards because it interferes with the magic ;) ) and professional psychics (damn, this science seems to interfere with this sort of stuff, doesn’t it?!). I’m sure they too would say “I would be very surprised if my powers worked where they could actually be verified” and try and pass that off as a valid explanation.

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Steven R. February 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Steven R.,
Still wrong. For who-knows-how-long, we hadn’t experienced asteroids. Did this fact affect the probability of their existence one iota?  

Actually cl, it very much does. If we had no experience of the cosmos and no knowledge of it, you would be very justified in looking at me funny if I said, “there are rocks in an orbit in outer-space” because I would have no data, evidence or anything to validate my assertion. What science does is try and determine what is most likely to be true given our limited understanding on the basis of what we can experience, test, and verify. It’s a process that narrows down the probable from the improbable, so yes, if we had no way of proving flying rocks over flying pigs, neither claim about what is in outer-space would be credible and would be very unlikely, given our understanding. Indeed, the reason you cite asteroids and not the flying pigs is because we have never once encountered them in space and have no reason to think that they do, even if it is a logical possibility. Suppose we went into the future and indeed we did find flying pigs. Would you have been justified now in citing flying pigs? No, it’s downright incredulous right now, even if it may be true. It’s one huge maybe.

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Derrida February 18, 2011 at 6:29 am

I’ve tried posting an overview on Near Death Studies here, but I’m not able to, perhaps because it’s too long. I’ll try cutting my pot into chunks:

It’s not that I haven’t felt the need to, it’s that you didn’t ask, and frankly, I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to get skeptics up to speed on the relevant literature. I generally don’t waste time trying to convince skeptics of anything. It’s like pulling teeth.

You don’t feel the need to back up your claims with evidence? The onus is on the claimant to justify what they’re saying. I only have limited time and resources to investigate theories. As a general rule, if a proposition is non-obvious, scientifically testable and doesn’t have scientific consensus, that’s because the evidence has been found wanting. But let’s glance over the research for NDEs, shall we?

The field of Near Death Studies began in the 70′s, (although, the recording of anecdotal accounts of NDEs goes further back) with pioneers such as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D.[1], George Ritchie, M.D.[2], and Raymond Moody,M.D.[3]. Later researchers include Bruce Greyson, M.D.[4], Kenneth Ring, PhD[5], Melvin Morse, M.D.[6], and Sam Parnia, M.D.[7].

Kübler-Ross, M.D. worked as a psychiatrist with terminally patients, and developed the famous 5 stage model of grief, or the Kübler-Ross model. Kübler-Ross went on to become interested in NDEs and OBEs. Ritchie, M.D. had an NDE. Raymond Moody, M.D. coined the term “near death experience”, and interviewed over a thousand people who had NDEs, and claimed that the features of these experiences gave him cause to believe in an afterlife[8]…

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Derrida February 18, 2011 at 6:31 am

Much of the research into NDEs involves cataloging the features of NDEs. Greyson and Ring listed the general traits and characteristics of NDEs, including a sense of peace, painlessness, OBEs and a feeling of moving through a tunnel towards a light[9].

What causes NDEs? The three broad explanations are physiological, that chemical changes in the body during death are causing people to hallucinate; psychological, that people are having hallucinations possibly brought on by stress or fear; and transcendental, that NDE subjects are really experiencing some kind of disembodied existence[10].

What reasons are there to think that NDEs are transcendent? One reason is that they are very similar. If people near death were becoming aware of a realm of existence beyond life and the physical world, would we expect their experiences to be more similar than if they had psychological or biological causes? If the biological and psychological factors are similar, then wouldn’t we also expect the experiences caused by these factors to be similar? And perhaps the afterlife looks different to different people, or they interpret it in different ways, so that if NDEs were widely different, this wouldn’t count as good evidence against the transcendent explanation…

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Derrida February 18, 2011 at 6:32 am

Another reason is that the experiences go on after death, but if the patient is dead, they can’t be using their brains, so the brain and the mind must be separate. The trouble with this argument is that death isn’t a single event, but a process of systems shutting down. Neuronal activity may still occur after the patient has become unresponsive, the patient is not breathing and brainstem reflexes are absent, which are the AAN’s guidelines for brain death: http://www.aan.com/professionals/practice/guidelines/pda/Brain_death_adults.pdf. Also, it’s difficult to tell when a person had an NDE; during a life threatening medical procedure? Before, when they were under? After?

Finally, the facts of the experience may include information about the near death event that could not have been known by the patient at the time. A typical feature of NDEs is that the patient hovers over their bodies at ceiling level, and observes what’s happening. Maybe the patient overhears a medical phrase they don’t understand, or sees a piece of equipment that they hadn’t seen before. In later interviews with NDE subjects, these facts would seem to vindicate their stories. But the problem here is control. If the patient isn’t making educated guesses, maybe they overheard something that a nurse or doctor said before or after the surgery. This may be prima facie unlikely, but there’s no way to rule it out unless a controlled study is done…

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Derrida February 18, 2011 at 6:33 am

Have any such studies been done? One is being done currently by Sam Parnia, the biggest study of it’s kind, examining the experiences of 1,500 heart-attack survivors[11]. The basic idea is that pictures are put on high shelves or hung from the ceilings of operating rooms. If the patient mentions these in their NDEs, this lends validity to the only theory that implies that NDEs are real: transcendental. If not, this seems to imply that one of the other theories is correct. This is the only controlled study of NDEs that I know of, I’d be interested to know if there are others. The study began in 2008, and should come to a conclusion this year.

So the evidence for NDEs seems to be thin on the ground.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_K%C3%BCbler-Ross
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_G._Ritchie
[3] http://www.lifeafterlife.com/
[4] http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/clinical/departments/psychiatry/sections/cspp/dops/staff/biobruce-page
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Ring
[6] http://www.melvinmorse.com/light.htm
[7] http://www.nourfoundation.com/speakers/sam-parnia-md-phd-mrcp.html
[8] http://www.intuition.org/txt/moody.htm
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_death_experience#Characteristics
[10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UnEzJgMsMs&feature=related
[11] http://www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2008/sep/08_165.shtml

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Reginald Selkirk February 18, 2011 at 7:51 am

Al Moritz: The Catholic Church is extremely strict about the acceptance of unexplainable healings as miracles.

(eyes pop) are you serious?

Mother Teresa’s ‘miracle’ cancer cure questioned

This concerns one of the miracles assigned for the beatification of Mother Teresa. An India, Ms. Besra, was cured of a tumor after praying to Mother Teresa. The woman also received conventional surgery and treatment from her doctors.

Mr. Moritz, you are flushing your credibility down the toilet by promulgating Catholic propaganda.

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Reginald Selkirk February 18, 2011 at 8:01 am

RS: What is to keep a hospital emergency room worker from seeing the hidden signs (all it would take is a mirror on a stick), and telling the patient later when he awoke, to mention just one scenario?
cl: BWAHAHAHAHA! And you say I’m getting hysterical!…

Amid all the hysteria, I do not see a rational response. The occurrence of fraud in parapsychology experiments is very well-documented. Apparently you think it is unreasonable to control for things that are known to occur frequently.

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Reginald Selkirk February 18, 2011 at 8:02 am

RS: But, since you cannot supply any evidence of that sort…
cl: See? Your mind is already closed. You’ve already got it all figured out. You’re Reginald Selkirk, super-duper smarty-pants oh-so-rational atheist who already knows everything, and I’m cl, ignorant, dullard theist who doesn’t know anything. Why bother with that kind of attitude? Open your mind to something besides the dogma of scientism.

The easiest way to shut down that line of discussion is to actually supply some evidence. cl didn’t even bother to try, but instead opens up a stream of invective. Not only is he not winning this discussion, but he is a poopy-head.

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Reginald Selkirk February 18, 2011 at 8:11 am

Al Moritz: The Catholic Church has also had little quarrel with the theory of evolution. For example, the great Cardinal Newman – considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church, and recently beatified by the church…

Uh, so? Since when does the Holy Roman Catholic Church allow saints to determine official church policy? Newman is free to express his opinions as his own, as is Cardinal Schoenborn. However the latter, through his friendship with the current Pope Indulgence has been able to convinced the latter to ride the fence and make ambiguous statements such as his November 2005 speech using the term intelligent project.

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Bill Snedden February 18, 2011 at 10:32 am

@cl:

Actually, regarding the first half of your comment, you have my apologies, because I misunderstood you.

Accepted with thanks.

…but I disagree, and counter that you’ve given the articles short thrift. Disagree if you want, but chalk it up to “assertion” you cannot. I provide arguments for my belief that an eternal, unmoved mover is the most parsimonious explanation for explaining the existence of the universe, and more specifically, that such an entity logically entails a set of properties shared with God as described in the Bible.

Hmmm…I’ve read both of your articles on Kinesis (Introduction & Part II). I see a great deal of argument offered for an eternal, unmoved mover (with which I have little complaint), and then you lay out what you claim are 10 necessary qualities of said mover:

it must be active, eternal, necessary, pure, intentional, essential, immutable, immaterial, imperishable, and unmovable.

You then proceed to some brief statements/arguments in support of each:

For examples, if the first unmoved mover were not active, it would not move. If it were not eternal, it would demand a causal explanation. If it demanded a causal explanation, its cause would become more necessary than it. If something is more necessary than it, it cannot be said to be essential. That which is not essential is not pure. If it is not immaterial, then it becomes subject to the laws of matter, and cannot be imperishable. Etc.

I note 7 out of the 10 characteristics contained in that paragraph and setting aside any issues that exist with these brief arguments (and there are indeed a couple), that still leaves 3 unargued: intentional, immutable, & unmovable, with “intentional” being the one with which we’re concerned here.

Immediately after this, you proceed to use information from the Bible to argue that “YHWH” fits this description, but at no point therein do you argue the necessity of intentionality to the “unmoved mover”. Even if it were to be true that YHWH fits the description of the “unmoved mover”, it would not demonstrate that ONLY YHWH could fit said description.

In the “addendum”, you return to the question of intentionality, albeit briefly:

When I refer to “objects which can initiate a series of transitions from potency to act,” I refer really to subjects, if that makes sense. Subjects possess the ability to initiate a series of transitions from potency to act, objects do not.

But no argument is offered for this point; you follow it with an analogy to an explosion, but an “explosion” is not an object nor is it clear that your analogy supports your argument. As I noted earlier, you’ve already established that the “unmoved mover” must be both act & potency at once. This in and of itself doesn’t necessitate intentionality; that’s what still remains to be demonstrated.

Later, you write:

…but for now I’ll say it possibly starts with the line between organic and inorganic matter: rocks, sand, and empty buildings clearly do not initiate transitions from potency to act.

But a disembodied mind wouldn’t be organic matter, so this doesn’t seem to support your argument either. Additionally, as you recognize later in the same paragraph, it’s already been established that the “unmoved mover” cannot be “matter”.

After this point, I don’t see where you return to the issue except to assert , “I’m arguing in favor of a conscious mover because it makes far more logical sense than an unconscious one.” But again, no argument is offered in favor of this statement.

Perhaps I was being a bit hasty in my “charge” of mere assertion, but there certainly doesn’t appear to be much discussion, let alone argument, to support the necessity of “intentionality” to the “unmoved mover”. If there’s somewhere else in the article where you believe you’ve argued this, I’d be interested in seeing where you believe that to be.

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ildi February 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm

No problem. Sit tight. It might not be today or even this week, but I will take the time to honor this request, so… keep an eye on this thread.

Don’t hold your breath, Derrida; cl slunk away without providing any evidence the last time this topic came up (last September, as I recall). Bookmark or save your research, however, because he’ll just wait until a suitable amount of time has lapsed to state yet again that

there is a growing body of scientific evidence that coheres with religious claims and directly challenges metaphysical naturalism. NDE’s are one example

but that

You can look at the evidence in that regard yourself

because

frankly, I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to get skeptics up to speed on the relevant literature

and, anyway,

that’s going to depend on what you mean by conclusively establish. If that means “reproducible” in the same way a claim about chemistry must be, then, I think you’re in error to hold that standard. Personally, I believe the experiences are well-attested enough to be admitted as evidence.

(Though he’ll probably switch up the whakadoodle ranting a bit, if you find that sort of thing interesting.)

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Reginald Selkirk February 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Al Moritz: (contrary to myth, Giordano Bruno was condemned not because of his views on the universe, but because of his theological heresies).

Once again with the HRCC apologism.

1) It was not OK for the church or its buddies to roast him for heresy.

2) And they declared his views on the universe to be heresy, so whatever distinction you were trying to make is unclear.

3) The church put the writings of Galileo and Copernicus on their Index Librorum Prohibitorum for a couple hundred years. That’s right, the HRCC had a list of banned books. That’s not an attitude which can be easily squared with intellectual inquiry, scientific or otherwise.

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Reginald Selkirk February 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Al Moritz: And your post is a pretty grotesque reply.

“My opponent has offered an effective rebuttal. I must pretend to be outraged so as not to have to deal with its content.”

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Al Moritz February 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Steven:

Now, for your last paragraph directed at me. First, I see that you cite the “argument from reason.” Uh-oh, problem right there. That’s an argument that, as far as I know, even C.S. Lewis had to re-consider and re-write into what just seems to me to be a declaration of Fallibilism, to which I just say…”uh, duh” because, to be honest, even I was aware at the age of 6 or 7 that we had to be wary of biases and other tricks our mind plays on us. On the other hand, the argument from reason, as first presented by Lewis is greatly flawed (hence the rewrite to a much weaker position) as for instance, the mass of an object as recorded on a scale does not lose credence or rationality because it was a measurement obtained from a scale. Thus, I don’t even see how the premises of the argument hold up. The argument also seems to be based on ignorance (as in, the fallacy of an argument from ignorance). At any rate, I trust that if C.S. Lewis had to dramatically rewrite his own argument, it wasn’t a good one in the first place.

The one essential change that Lewis made after Anscombe’s objections was replacing the term “irrational causes” with “non-rational causes”. The main points still stood up.

Anyway, to use the fact that Lewis re-wrote the argument as a reason to dismiss it is rather complacent, a lazy way out not to actually have to engage with the argument.

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Al Moritz February 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I can, however, deal with your attempt to explain away (and let’s be honest, that’s what it is) research into prayer studies.

No, Steven, this is not ‘explaining away’ for the reasons I mentioned. If I were to become an atheist, I would still reject the prayer-study argument as bad. It is not that all the arguments on the side one is on are automatically good ones. There are a lot of arguments allegedly in support of theism that are plain bad too, and I reject these as well.

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Al Moritz February 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm

What I am arguing, however, is that the very basis of religion is considerably anti-scientific in nature and has very low standards in what constitutes proof and very little explanatory power and if a scientist fully understands and applies the concepts and high standards of science to his faith, he would find it very lacking.

Again, category error of trying to apply ‘scientific standards’ to topics where they cannot apply, but I have discussed that above already. Apparently you are unwilling to try to understand the point.

Take, for example the quote where Darwin’s theory is interpreted in a Theistic view. Why? The theory of evolution works fine by itself and even if there would be gaps here and there, filling them with God is no better than filling them with invisible gnomes or other nonsense, and that unnecessary addition of God is what is being argued against.

Sure, if I would have thought that way back in 2006 when I dropped my ID position I would have become an atheist. Fortunately I thought things through more thoroughly and found that the argument from the fine-tuning of the laws of nature (without which there would be no physical laws that make evolution possible in the first place) completely destroys the validity of using evolution as an argument for atheism, and turns evolution around in favor of theism. None of the objections that I have heard on this board against the fine-tuning argument (and it has been discussed intensely here) or elsewhere have been ones that I could have judged to seriously undermine it.

And yes, I would have been open to serious objections if there had been any in my view. After all, I was open-minded enough to, after considering the evidence, drop my ID position and even, after having studied the primary scientific literature on the topic, change my mind about an origin of life by natural causes (few theists do about the latter). In fact, after changing my mind I became so enthusiastic about the topic that I wrote an article on the origin of life for the leading evolution website Talkorigins.org; it should pop up on the first page when you google for origin of life.

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Al Moritz February 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Al Moritz: And your post is a pretty grotesque reply.“My opponent has offered an effective rebuttal. I must pretend to be outraged so as not to have to deal with its content.”  

Ha, you wish.

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Steven R. February 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Steven:
The one essential change that Lewis made after Anscombe’s objections was replacing the term “irrational causes” with “non-rational causes”. The main points still stood up.
Anyway, to use the fact that Lewis re-wrote the argument as a reason to dismiss it is rather complacent, a lazy way out not to actually have to engage with the argument.  

Heh, apparently you didn’t read my reply. To paraphrase my response, I said that it appears that C.S. had to rewrite his argument after it was objected, which would seem to indicate that it was flawed, and that it’s rewrite merely seemed to me as an assertion of fallibility, which would make it rather unimpressive. How is it wrong to dismiss an argument that was rewritten of flaws, and to call it’s rewrite something that is non-problematic?

Anyway, since I’ve only heard passing reference to the argument itself, I just Wiki’d it and this ran into trouble from the first premise:

“For an assertion to be capable of truth or falsehood it must come from a rational source”

Well, what definitions are we using for these terms? What is meant by “rational source” and “assertion”? Would a computer be a rational source? It’s certainly capable of making assertions that can be true and false and it is made of “merely physical material or combination of merely physical materials”, so it would seem to invalidate th second premise. On the other hand, if it isn’t a rational source, then that would invalidate the first premise. At any rate, this whole thing seems like a disaster (and no, I have never studied philosophy, so I can’t provide a very educated objection but the lack of…people discussing it leads me to think this is just not a thing worth considering) and just reminds me why reading what C.S. Lewis wrote helped me lose my faith.

Your response to the prayer studies is just the same cheap excuses that any religious person will give you whenever they’re faced with evidence against their God. If “maybe God doesn’t like to be tested in a way to verify his existence” is not “explaining away” evidence, then neither is the old Creationist excuse of “maybe God put fossils to test our faith”. Come on, who’s naive enough to believe that you aren’t explaining things away?

No, I am not committing a category error because my argument is that if a scientist understands why he has high standards of proof, he would understand why faith is so lacking. Nowhere did I say that you are forced to apply science to faith, but rather, you should apply the same high standards of science to other aspects of life. Again, I see no reason why something with so many lower standards is embraced by a scientist. It’s nonsensical. I don’t know why you are the one having a hard time understanding this.

Besides, we can even falsify the Bible because of scientific claims it makes (which is very much within the realm of science to explore and no categorical error is committed). For example, it makes the claim that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights causing a flood that destroyed all of Earth’s civilizations. That’s testable and falsifiable by science. Amount of evidence for this supposition? Zero. Falsified. Rainbows were created as a pact between humans and God. Ooops, rainbows have to do with light and as long as it’s rained and there has been a source of light, rainbows would have existed. Falsified again. Plants created before the sun? Wrong again!

I don’t think evolution is an argument for Atheism at all. It’s a great argument against the Bible’s ridiculous claims, along with other religions (ex: Sikhs) but Teleological Arguments are flawed enough as it is that not only would they be invalid, evolution not withstanding, but even if without it, it doesn’t disprove Theism. That’s what makes it unfalsifiable and such a terrible explanation of things.

Of course, the Fine-Tuning Argument is yet another egregious line of reasoning to replace the other failed explanations of Theism, but, even if you aren’t swayed by the objections presented in this board (and to which, IIRC your response was the idea that humans had been looking for an explanation of life somehow made the iPad objection irrelevant, which is just, IMO a downright horrible objection) I do find the criticisms of it substantial and to have shown it to be a train-wreck of an argument.

But no matter, that is too much of a digression. Your reference to your days as an ID and later how the F-T Argument saved your theism do not address the point I brought up. Evolution works fine as it is, no need for disembodied minds required. The quotation exemplified the needless addition of God to a system that works fine by itself and…I don’t have the willpower to repeat myself 2 or 3 days in a row.

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Reginald Selkirk February 19, 2011 at 6:19 am

Al Moritz: Sure, if I would have thought that way back in 2006 when I dropped my ID position …. None of the objections that I have heard on this board against the fine-tuning argument (and it has been discussed intensely here) or elsewhere have been ones that I could have judged to seriously undermine it.

“I used to ride on the crazy train, so you can trust my sense of judgement.”


Back to the topic of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and evolution: St. George Jackson Mivart

St. George Jackson Mivart PhD M.D. FRS (30 November 1827 – 1 April 1900) was an English biologist. He is famous for starting as an ardent believer in natural selection who later became one of its fiercest critics. Trying to reconcile Darwin’s theory of evolution with the beliefs of the Catholic Church, he ended up being condemned by both parties.

From 1885 to 1892 five articles in the Nineteenth century brought him into conflict with Church authorities: “Modern Catholics and scientific freedom” (July 1885), “The Catholic Church and biblical criticism” (July 1887), “Catholicity and Reason” (December 1887), “Sins of Belief and Disbelief” (October 1888) and “Happiness in Hell” (December 1892). These articles were placed on the Index Expurgatorius. Later articles in January 1900[10][11] led to his being placed under interdict by Cardinal Vaughan.

Mivart was excommunicated in 1900 by Cardinal Vaughn.

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Reginald Selkirk February 19, 2011 at 6:23 am

Al Moritz: Again, category error of trying to apply ‘scientific standards’ to topics where they cannot apply, but I have discussed that above already.

??? I asked you some very direct questions about what the “scientific method” includes, and I do not see replies in this thread.

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Reginald Selkirk February 19, 2011 at 7:19 am

You can read Modern Catholics and scientific freedom by St. George Jackson Mivart

If you use the PDF version and want to skip the ads, the Mivart article starts on PDF page 56.

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Tony Hoffman February 19, 2011 at 8:36 am

Reginald, awesome find on Mivart and the MCSF article. Thanks.

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dguller February 19, 2011 at 10:23 am

cl:

I think that you are confusing ontology with epistemology. One can have good reasons to believe in something at one time that ultimately turns out to be false. Does that vindicate those who persisted in believing in face of the current evidence? In one sense, yes, because they turned out to be right, but in another sense, hell no, because this is about probability and risk. We should believe in those things that are more likely to be true, because over time, we will end up having more true beliefs than to just believe whatever we want, even though following the latter method will inevitably result in some true beliefs.

Take the example of a diagnostic test for a disease. Say, it is 95% accurate at detecting the disease, and the base rate of the illness is sufficiently high that a positive diagnostic test carries a high probability of the patient having the illness. Now, assume that a patient has a positive test. They can certainly say, “Well, there is a 5% chance that it is wrong, and so I prefer to act as though I did not have the disease.” Sure, there is a 1 in 20 chance that they are correct, but it is still better to assume that they have the illness and treat it, because if most patients followed that line of reasoning, then most patients would not get treatment for the illnesses, even though some patients will be saved unnecessary treatments, because they do not have the disease at all.

You see what I mean? This is not just about a single decision about whether to believe something or not, but about a method that has the best chance of maximizing your true beliefs, and thus far, nothing is better than the scientific method.

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dguller February 19, 2011 at 10:58 am

cl:

>> What’s wrong with knowing the odds are against one, and trying anyway?

On an individual basis, nothing, as long as one is prepared for the likelihood of failure. However, on a societal basis, everything, because if every individual with AIDS refused antiretroviral medications, because they disbelieved that HIV causes AIDS, then most of those with AIDS would miss the benefits of extending their lifespan by several decades. Certainly, there will be some individuals who will recover spontaneously whether because they never had AIDS to begin with, or they did have AIDS, but is remitted on its own. This is certainly unlikely, but possible.

Similarly, there are individuals who achieved a great deal of success despite dropping out of high school or college, but would you endorse that as a viable life strategy? What about individuals who did not develop lung cancer despite smoking cigarettes for decades? Would you recommend that people continue to smoke, because of these anecdotes, or would you issue recommendations based on the most likely outcome of dropping out of school or continuing smoking?

>> Isn’t that how greatness is often achieved across a wide spectrum of human endeavors? Should abolitionists have given up because the odds were against them?

How many individuals have FAILED when they attempted to buck the odds? Necessarily, it would be the majority, because the odds are against them. You cannot just pick out the few examples of individuals who succeeded, and use them to establish a general rule, because most people who take your advice will suffer for it needlessly.

And it is clever of you to use an example of a positive outcome of an unlikely and irrational act to justify irrationality. However, I can just play the opposite game. We should generally try to minimize the harm that we inflict upon others, but there are examples of a huge good resulting from huge evil, such as the birth of Israel following the Holocaust. Does that mean that we should revisit our general rule to minimize evil? Of course not, because overall, if most people minimized evil, then it would be better for us all than if people maximized evil.

>> I buy a lottery ticket every now and again, and I’m fully aware the odds are against me. However, it is also a fact that despite the odds, people win, frequently. Why can’t I be one of them?

Yes, people win, but that is because the BASE RATE is sufficiently high that although it is highly unlikely that YOU will win, it is highly likely that SOMEONE will win.

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Tony Hoffman February 19, 2011 at 3:52 pm

This from “Roman Catholicism and modern science: a history” by Don O’Leary:

“Mivart believed that the greatest threat to the church was its utter disregard for scientific truth – especially as exhibited by the curia. The primary motive of those in the curia, according to Mivart, was to wield power over ‘weak and credulous minds and tenderly scrupulous consciences.’ ”

From this book I am learning that Mivart was regarded at the time as the greatest scientist among Catholics in the latter half of the 19th Century. Funny how Minart’s assessment doesn’t seem to accord with Al’s statement that “The Catholic Church and science have been mostly in harmony…”

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Al Moritz February 20, 2011 at 11:30 am

Anyway, since I’ve only heard passing reference to the argument itself, I just Wiki’d it and this ran into trouble from the first premise:

“For an assertion to be capable of truth or falsehood it must come from a rational source”

Well, what definitions are we using for these terms? What is meant by “rational source” and “assertion”? Would a computer be a rational source? It’s certainly capable of making assertions that can be true and false and it is made of “merely physical material or combination of merely physical materials”, so it would seem to invalidate th second premise. On the other hand, if it isn’t a rational source, then that would invalidate the first premise. At any rate, this whole thing seems like a disaster (and no, I have never studied philosophy, so I can’t provide a very educated objection but the lack of…people discussing it leads me to think this is just not a thing worth considering) and just reminds me why reading what C.S. Lewis wrote helped me lose my faith.

Well, obviously you are unwilling to seriously study the argument, if Wiki’ing it and then stopping after a few superficial objections is your modus operandi. I have studied the argument from reason for years (and not just in the form presented by Lewis), and the more I study it, the stronger I find it to be.

As for your computer objection:

Referring to computers as an example of matter capable of exhibiting ‘rational’ or ‘objective thought’ is not a valid counterargument. The functioning of computers is dependent on human rationality – even if they are induced to ‘learn’ and in the process to create output ‘on their own’ – since they are programmed by humans according to the rules of logic and reason that these apply. Instead of being programmed to calculate 9 x 7 = 63, a computer could just as easily be programmed to calculate 9 x 7 = 126 – also obeying the laws of physics. It would not know the difference.

Of course, the Fine-Tuning Argument is yet another egregious line of reasoning to replace the other failed explanations of Theism, but, even if you aren’t swayed by the objections presented in this board (and to which, IIRC your response was the idea that humans had been looking for an explanation of life somehow made the iPad objection irrelevant, which is just, IMO a downright horrible objection) I do find the criticisms of it substantial and to have shown it to be a train-wreck of an argument.

I won’t go into this topic anymore because it is futile. Suffice to say that the iPad argument is an artificial one. Leading atheist cosmologists *do* recognize that the specialness of life needs to be explained, for obvious reasons. That their solution, the multiverse, does not work as an escape from design I have argued elsewhere.

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Al Moritz February 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

(My previous post was also addressed to Steven, sorry that this has been lost in some editing.)

No, I am not committing a category error because my argument is that if a scientist understands why he has high standards of proof, he would understand why faith is so lacking. Nowhere did I say that you are forced to apply science to faith, but rather, you should apply the same high standards of science to other aspects of life. Again, I see no reason why something with so many lower standards is embraced by a scientist. It’s nonsensical. I don’t know why you are the one having a hard time understanding this.

Steven,

I have applied high philosophical standards on pondering the issues of faith and atheism, and I have applied more thorough analytical thinking to the arguments pro and con atheism than most atheists will ever do in their lifetime. Even though I have an open mind the arguments for atheism ultimately have failed to convince me.

Yet since you never have studied philosophy, as you yourself admitted, where are your high and rigorous standards of philosophical thinking that led you to atheism? After all, atheism, just like theism, is a philosophical, not a scientific, view. Yes, it may view itself as an extrapolation from science, but this extrapolation is a *philosophical* extrapolation, *not* a scientific one.

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Al Moritz February 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

I have done some more research on the Mivart controversy. In On the Genesis of the Species, 1871 he concludes:

(http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1871mivart.html)

“It appears plain, then, that Christian thinkers are perfectly free to accept the general evolution theory.”

The German Wikipedia states: “For his efforts to reconcile the Catholic faith with the natural sciences he was awarded by Pope Pius IX the doctorate in philosophy in 1876.” Note that this date is *after* the publication of On the Genesis of the Species from which above quotation comes. The award of the degree is confirmed in the above link.

So his ideas on evolution emphatically do not appear to have been the cause of his fall from grace within the Catholic Church.

So what was it? From an article (http://snipurl.com/23l38m) by famous evolutionary biologist Simon Conway Morris (emphasis added):

“Mivart’s tragedy is not only very different from the myth surrounding it, but is also tinged with a present-day irony. To begin with, Mivart’s fall from grace within the Church had nothing to do with evolution. Rather, as Mariano Artigas, Thomas Glick and Rafael Martínez remind us in their fine book Negotiating Darwin, it was because Mivart accepted the doctrine of Hell but did not deny its occupants happiness. To rejoice in the fact that Hell ought to be a place of eternal and unremitting torment arranged by a God who also cheerfully connives in endless terrestrial catastrophes is, of course, just the sort of ammunition urgently required by the secular arsenal. In the eyes of many, Darwinism and materialism became almost synonymous. Even then, the chips were down.”

Conway Morris’ account is confirmed by the German Wikipedia:

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George_Mivart

“Eine Folge von drei Artikeln mit dem Titel The Happiness in Hell, die er Ende 1892 und Anfang 1893 in The Nineteenth Century Magazine veröffentlichte, wurde am 19. Juli 1893 auf den Index der verbotenen Bücher gesetzt.[3][4] Darin vertrat er die Ansicht, dass die Hölle kein Ort der Pein sei, sondern ein Platz zur Erlangung der natürlichen Glückseligkeit, und dass diese Auffassung kein Widerspruch zum katholischen Glauben sei. Als er Anfang Januar 1900 in zwei Artikeln seine Ansichten über die Hölle erneut äußerte und einen Gott, der einen solchen Ort der Qualen erschaffen hätte, als einen schlechten Gott bezeichnete, wurde er, während der Amtszeit von Papst Leo XIII., nach einer kurzen Kontroverse mit Kardinal Herbert Vaughan (1832–1903) am 18. Januar 1900 exkommuniziert.[5]”

Translation:
“A succession of three articles with the Title The Happiness in Hell, which he published at the end of 1892 and the beginning of 1893 in The Nineteenth Century Magazine, was put on the index of forbidden books on Juli 19, 1893. Therein he outlined the view that Hell is no place of suffering, but a place for acquiring natural happiness, and that this concept was not in contradiction to Catholic faith. When at the beginning of January of 1900 he again promulgated his views on Hell, and called a God who had created such a place of suffering an evil God, he was excommunicated on January 18 of 1900, during the tenure of Pope Leo XIII, after a short controversy with Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (1832-1903).”

***

So after all, Mivart’s excommuncation appears to have nothing to do with a “conflict” of religion and science, but simply with heresy regarding articles of faith (whatever the reader’s views on the doctrine of hell may be is an entirely different matter).

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Al Moritz February 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

The shoddy research and clear confirmation bias on the atheist side displayed here with respect to the Mivart issue is a typical example for why I find so much of atheist argumentation utterly unimpressive.

***

On the other hand, I have been impressed here by some comments from Bill Snedden, even though of course I have fundamental disagreements with him. He recognizes the historical fact that the first scientist giants were believers and that belief motivated their science. He also recognizes that under certain religious worldviews there is no “compartmentalization” in the scientist believer’s mind.

His thinking shows some of the nuance (instead of narrow black-and-white painting) that I crave for and that I sorely miss in most atheist argumentation — and certainly also in Luke’s opening post.

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Al Moritz February 20, 2011 at 11:50 am

“and called a God who had created such a place of suffering an evil God”

Correction of my translation:

“and called a God who would have created such a place of suffering an evil God”

(German “hätte”, not “hat”)

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Zeb February 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Al Moritz, I don’t know how you find the patience and motivation to keep at some of these discussions, but I’m glad you do.

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Reginald Selkirk February 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Al Moritz: The shoddy research and clear confirmation bias on the atheist side displayed here with respect to the Mivart issue is a typical example for why I find so much of atheist argumentation utterly unimpressive.

Still no answer to my questions about what constitutes the ‘scientific method”?

The German Wikipedia states: “For his efforts to reconcile the Catholic faith with the natural sciences he was awarded by Pope Pius IX the doctorate in philosophy in 1876.”

WTF business does the Pope have conveying doctoral degrees on anyone?

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Reginald Selkirk February 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Al Moritz: The shoddy research and clear confirmation bias on the atheist side displayed here with respect to the Mivart issue…

Well really. And what did you get out of the text of Modern Catholics and scientific freedom which I linked? Mivart contrasts the 19th century HRCC position on evolution with the earlier response to heliocentrism. He catalogs at length the HRCC’s embarrassing behaviour on that earlier issue. Books by Copernicus and Galileo were placed on the HRCC’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of banned books). First of all, it should be embarrassing to any Catholic that the HRCC even had such a list, and any intellectually honest Catholic would acknowledge that the mere existence of such a list does not work in the HRCC’s favour in a discussion of intellectual freedom with regard to science as well as other topics. Some specifics:

Also removed from the Index were the works of Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei: “The Inquisition’s ban on reprinting Galileo’s works was lifted in 1718 when permission was granted to publish an edition of his works (excluding the condemned Dialogue) in Florence. In 1741 Pope Benedict XIV authorized the publication of an edition of Galileo’s complete scientific works which included a mildly censored version of the Dialogue. In 1758 the general prohibition against works advocating heliocentrism was removed from the Index of prohibited books, although the specific ban on uncensored versions of the Dialogue and Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus remained. All traces of official opposition to heliocentrism by the church disappeared in 1835 when these works were finally dropped from the Index.”[9]

I guess Mr. Moritz is proud that the HRCC’s ban on uncensored versions of Galileo’s works only lasted two centuries. Iguess he thinks the discussion works like a ratchet: any crumb that isn’t negative about the HRCC works in their favour, but anything that works against them gets ignored.

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Tony Hoffman February 20, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Al: So [Mivart's] ideas on evolution emphatically do not appear to have been the cause of his fall from grace within the Catholic Church.

“Emphatically?” Really? So, Mivart was just a guy, who wrote a treatise on Hell late in life, and the Church excommunicated him, with no other context, for his treatise on Hell. No, Mivart wasn’t a scientist, who tried for decades to drag the church kicking and screaming into the light of scientific understanding, who criticized the church for it’s near-fatal mishandling of this same problem with Galileo, who became the lightning rod for the topic of how Catholicism should handle its past and present difficulties reconciling dogma and science? So, according to you, there has  been no friction between Catholicism and science, and Mivart is just some guy who  the Church excommunicated for a treatise on Hell.  That’s all, folks, nothing more to see here?

Al, you are in friendly atheist territory.  I doubt anyone on this thread would question the fact that the church has contributed to scientific knowledge, and that religious scientists have  been among its greatest contributors. But your statements here are those of a deluded person, who is not capable of viewing basic evidence outside the light of questionable assumptions.

Al: [Sneddon's] thinking shows some of the nuance (instead of narrow black-and-white painting) that I crave for and that I sorely miss in most atheist argumentation…

Oh, yeah, and your statement at the top of my comment here displays such delicate nuance of thinking. I have disagreed with you before, but this is the first time you appear so unhinged.

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Steven R. February 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Al:

Well, obviously you are unwilling to seriously study the argument, if Wiki’ing it and then stopping after a few superficial objections is your modus operandi.

I thought I said I was unwilling to seriously studying the argument because it appeared to me to be based on objectionable grounds from the get-go. I see no reason to spend my time considering an argument that I reject from the first premise. Sure, maybe my objections weren’t right, but I still see no reason to be compelled to look at it. Besides, I do believe I asked you to present your argument…but then again, I’m glad you didn’t since this isn’t about the Argument from Reason.

I have studied the argument from reason for years (and not just in the form presented by Lewis), and the more I study it, the stronger I find it to be.
As for your computer objection:Referring to computers as an example of matter capable of exhibiting ‘rational’ or ‘objective thought’ is not a valid counterargument. The functioning of computers is dependent on human rationality – even if they are induced to ‘learn’ and in the process to create output ‘on their own’ – since they are programmed by humans according to the rules of logic and reason that these apply.

Eh, if you noticed, I didn’t say that computers were capable of rational thought, I said if they are, then the second premise is invalid, if they aren’t, the first premise is. I shall elaborate further down (though, indeed, I fail to see why it matters if it is dependent on human rationality. As far as I know, 2+2=4, no matter who or what is doing the reasoning).

Instead of being programmed to calculate 9 x 7 = 63, a computer could just as easily be programmed to calculate 9 x 7 = 126 – also obeying the laws of physics. It would not know the difference.

Beg your pardon, but the argument, as I saw it presented on Wiki, has “For an assertion to be capable of truth or falsehood it must come from a rational source” as its first premise. It seems to me that 9×7=126 is an assertion capable of truth or falsehood, and, according to you, a computer is not a rational thing. Therefore, it seems that the first premise is false. Now, if this premise isn’t false, and computers are indeed rational beings, it would invalidate the second premise, that rational sources cannot be made of material things. That was my objection.

Maybe my objection is incorrect, but since these terms aren’t even defined, I have trouble having much to say about it (and I do believe I also asked for definitions of the terms being used).

I won’t go into this topic anymore because it is futile. Suffice to say that the iPad argument is an artificial one. Leading atheist cosmologists *do* recognize that the specialness of life needs to be explained, for obvious reasons. That their solution, the multiverse, does not work as an escape from design I have argued elsewhere.  

“For obvious reasons”…Not to me. I’m perfectly fine if it happens to be chance and I see no need for an explanation. I’m not being stubborn, I just don’t really see the need to explain why organic life exists or anything like that. Sure, many other people may feel that it requires an explanation but, hey, some people want an explanation for why Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and not New York (and then, when told about all the factors leading to a hurricane of such a scale, they then ask, why are those factors placing the hurricane in NO instead of NY? ad nauseum). The iPad objection merely illustrated how if we’re basing it on the chance of intelligent life arising, then what is more amazing is that a gadget like an iPad was made, which indeed, has an even lower chance of happening. Exposing the fallacy of that is, IMO, a very good argument. But hell…we’re digressing.

Now, where are my rigorous standards for Atheism? Ah, perhaps you missed the point of our discussion. What Luke has been arguing is that scientists should understand why those high standards are present in science and why so possible explanations are dismissed during the scientific process. It isn’t because science is very limited, it’s because it is intentionally trying to filter the garbage from the more plausible explanations. So, what I’m getting at is, since I’m not a scientist and have never even done any scientific experiment outside High School curriculum, this criticism hardly applies to me. Now, it may seem like a double standard, but it really isn’t since the critique goes to people who actively participate in a process and then seem to forget why that process exists in the first place outside the lab. If I haven’t been part of the process, how can this particular criticism apply to me?

Another thing, as far as I know, there aren’t any arguments for Atheism per se. You cited the prayer study as an argument for atheism but it really isn’t. God doesn’t answer to prayers. So what? That hardly disqualifies something like Deism or other positions like it. Now, I’m sure you’ve given the question of the existence of God lots of thought (no sarcasm intended) but that doesn’t necessarily mean you applied the full standards of something like science. Can we actually derive God from, say, the Fine-Tuning Argument? I’m afraid not. It could easily be a very powerful gnome with super-advanced technology to control the laws of physics, for example. You just went with whatever matched your previous beliefs and then used something like the F-T to justify them. Hardly a high standard, from something as rigorous as science.

Oh, and by the way, what led me to Atheism was my inability to justify God. Sure, I wont deny that God revealing himself via evolution is indeed an appealing idea when you are prone to believe. But as my friend pointed out, “Sounds great. Where’s your proof?” and I was stuck in the very ugly position that I didn’t have any. And then why did I hold this position and not any other feel-good but ultimately unfalsifiable theories? So, because I would never accept a feel-good story to justify astronomy or tarot-reading, I felt I had no reason to continue my belief in God. Fast forward a year and some months later and I still fail to be impressed by any argument for God, hence my continued disbelief. As you can see, Atheism isn’t held because it itself falls under any “high standard”, it’s just a default position of disbelief until proof is presented. It doesn’t need a high standard anymore than that for disbelief in the Unicorn from Dimension X (it too can explain Fine-Tuning and the “cause” of the universe!) or fairies (they explain why the garden is soooo beautiful!) do, even though both are technically philosophical positions.

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Steven R. February 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm

BTW, as a general question to everyone here, have you ever come across a discussion about the Argument from Reason? This is truly the first time I see someone actively advocating the argument and I want to know if it’s just me being out of the philosophical loop or it’s just that the argument has failed to impress many people.

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Bill Snedden February 21, 2011 at 6:04 am

@Steven R.:

…I want to know if it’s just me being out of the philosophical loop or it’s just that the argument has failed to impress many people.

I’ve come across it many times in my online and offline readings. My impression is that the only people to be seriously impressed by it are those already inclined to accept its conclusion.

I’ve been interested in it for a while (since encountering it in C.S. Lewis) and while I’m not particularly impressed by its strength, it does seem to me to be probably the one remaining argument for God that has any possible force. It’s also interesting to note that its actually implicit in at least two other arguments: the moral argument and the transcendental argument and is essentially the same as the argument from consciousness. All from the simple notion that “I” cannot arise naturally…

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Tony Hoffman February 21, 2011 at 6:33 am

Steven R, as I understand it the only way I think the argument from reason makes any sense is if you can pretend that evolution does not occur. With evolution on the table, the AFR just sits there (for me, at least) like an answer to a non-sensical question.

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Al Moritz February 21, 2011 at 6:59 am

“Emphatically?” Really? So, Mivart was just a guy, who wrote a treatise on Hell late in life, and the Church excommunicated him, with no other context, for his treatise on Hell. No, Mivart wasn’t a scientist, who tried for decades to drag the church kicking and screaming into the light of scientific understanding, who criticized the church for it’s near-fatal mishandling of this same problem with Galileo, who became the lightning rod for the topic of how Catholicism should handle its past and present difficulties reconciling dogma and science? So, according to you, there has been no friction between Catholicism and science, and Mivart is just some guy who the Church excommunicated for a treatise on Hell. That’s all, folks, nothing more to see here?

Your little rant, Tony, still does not explain that the Pope was sufficiently pleased with Mivart that he conferred to him a doctoral degree in philosophy 5 years *after* Mivart has stated in On the Genesis of the Species:

“It appears plain, then, that Christian thinkers are perfectly free to accept the general evolution theory.”

In light of this, how then do you explain your scenario of conflict between religion and science that you so desperately cling on to? If you want to carry on with your blatant confirmation bias, be my guest, but you will neither impress any theist nor anyone else who is willing to step back and look at the situation in a more neutral manner.

You lost on this one, get over it.

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Al Moritz February 21, 2011 at 7:02 am

I’ve been interested in it for a while (since encountering it in C.S. Lewis) and while I’m not particularly impressed by its strength, it does seem to me to be probably the one remaining argument for God that has any possible force. It’s also interesting to note that its actually implicit in at least two other arguments: the moral argument and the transcendental argument and is essentially the same as the argument from consciousness. All from the simple notion that “I” cannot arise naturally…

Actually, no. The argument from reason (or argument from rationality) has little to do with the argument from consciousness. I don’t care about the latter at all, and as far as I am concerned, eventually consciousness might well be explained by some non-reductive physicalism. If you read for example Stephen Barr’s Modern Physics and Ancient Faith he devotes entire chapters to the argument from reason, but mentions consciousness only twice, and in passing.

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Al Moritz February 21, 2011 at 7:04 am

Al Moritz, I don’t know how you find the patience and motivation to keep at some of these discussions, but I’m glad you do.

Zeb,

thanks. I am quite selective about my discussions these days, precisely because patience and motivation (and time) can only go so far. Also, in contrast to earlier days, here I do not answer each and every objection anymore, as you perhaps may noticed. It would take too much time and energy, and since an internet law is that discussions spread from one topic to many others, soon I would not be able to keep up anyway even if initially I would answer everything. That some folks might consider unanswered objections a ‘victory’ is a risk that I am willing to take.

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Reidish February 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

Hi Steven R.,

BTW, as a general question to everyone here, have you ever come across a discussion about the Argument from Reason? This is truly the first time I see someone actively advocating the argument and I want to know if it’s just me being out of the philosophical loop or it’s just that the argument has failed to impress many people.

Victor Reppert has given this an expanded treatment in “C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason”

Dr. Reppert also hosts a blog:
http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/

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Tony Hoffman February 21, 2011 at 10:37 am

Al: “In light of this, how then do you explain your scenario of conflict between religion and science that you so desperately cling on to?”

Um, with, you know, the evidence cited. I guess that, according to your thinking, none of those instances (witch burning, Galileo, Mivart’s criticism of scientific ignorance among his fellow Catholics) ever even happened, or do not somehow count as evidence against your claim. Your inability to even acknowledge what insiders like Mivart recognized and railed against makes your next statement so freaking funny.

Al: “If you want to carry on with your blatant confirmation bias, be my guest, but you will neither impress any theist nor anyone else who is willing to step back and look at the situation in a more neutral manner.

Um, how much more neutral do I need to be than writing:

Me: “… the church has contributed to scientific knowledge, and that religious scientists have been among its greatest contributors.”

My statement above doesn’t seem particularly partisan to me. You, on the other hand, have appeared to wall yourself off into a position summed up by your statements:

Al: “… Mivart’s excommuncation appears to have nothing to do with a “conflict” of religion and science, but simply with heresy regarding articles of faith….”

Al: “The Catholic Church is extremely strict about the acceptance of unexplainable healings as miracles.”

Al: “The Catholic Church has also had little quarrel with the theory of evolution.”

Al: “Of course, atheists always point to the Galileo affair, but they do that only because no other serious conflict can be found.”

Al: “…contrary to myth, Giordano Bruno was condemned not because of his views on the universe, but because of his theological heresies).”

Unless you define neutrality as strictly accepting the Catholic Church’s revisionists accounts of its history, you appear to be mis-using that word, and applying it to the wrong person in our discussion.

On the plus side, I am starting to find your entries to be funnier than they have been in the past. And it’s always a plus when someone can lighten up a Monday.

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Steven R. February 21, 2011 at 10:38 am

@Steven R.:
I’ve come across it many times in my online and offline readings.My impression is that the only people to be seriously impressed by it are those already inclined to accept its conclusion.I’ve been interested in it for a while (since encountering it in C.S. Lewis) and while I’m not particularly impressed by its strength, it does seem to me to be probably the one remaining argument for God that has any possible force.It’s also interesting to note that its actually implicit in at least two other arguments: the moral argument and the transcendental argument and is essentially the same as the argument from consciousness.All from the simple notion that “I” cannot arise naturally…  

Ah, should’ve made the connection to the Transcendental Argument since, as you mention it now, it is on a similar line of reasoning.

@ Tony:

Yep, I think to respond to this (other than have definitions for these terms) is to have a proper understanding of evolution and how reason can arise. Although really, it still seems like typical “I cannot imagine how X can arise” or “X is too incredible for me to believe it occurred without X God” argument for God. Anyway, how reason exists and developed is interesting so I see no reason why not to pay attention to it.

Reidish, thanks for the links.

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Al Moritz February 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This post reflects quite well what I think of the attitudes of those who claim that any philosophical arguments for the existence of God are not worthy of serious study, and that any such arguments can be dismissed with a few soundbites or with some magical reference to “science”:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/to-louse.html

(I would have formulated the last paragraph a bit differently though.)

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dguller February 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Al:

That was an excellent satire, and well written. However, the analogy is only superficially valid. Yes, both science and theology have enormous volumes written by specialists in a language that often requires some study to properly understand. But look at the difference in the subject matter of those volumes. Science studies the empirical world, which all can experience and interact with, touch and feel, test and experiment upon to confirm or falsify its conclusions. Theology studies a transcendent being who exists outside space-time, and whose existence is justified on the basis of anecdotal data and fallacious reasoning that ultimately attempts to show that it is logically possible for such an entity to exist, and then rests its case.

And that is the main difference between science and theology. Science proposes hypotheses that are logically possible, but then does the hard work of either confirming or falsifying those hypotheses by gathering data and analyzing it to test whether the results are genuine, or due to random chance, bias or confounding factors. Theology proposes a hypothesis that is logically possible. That is it. There is no good reason to infer a supernatural entity from what we know about the world, except to say that it is possible that all that we see is consistent with a divine power. However, one can imagine any immaterial and unseen entity and claim it to be consistent with the world, especially with various post hoc modifications. How can one justify one supernatural hypothesis over another? Well, there are no empirical tests, because the world is the same under both hypotheses, and thus they are not falsifiable at all, which implies that they are sheer speculation.

And that is fine. Speculate away, but do not pretend that speculation without empirical validation is equal to speculation with such validation. And that is why the analogy fails. The former issues claims without addressing the possibility that its claims are secondary to random chance, bias or confounding factors, and the latter assumes until proven otherwise that its claims are secondary to such factors.

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Tony Hoffman February 22, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Al: “This post reflects quite well what I think of the attitudes of those who claim that any philosophical arguments for the existence of God are not worthy of serious study, and that any such arguments can be dismissed with a few soundbites or with some magical reference to “science”:”

You don’t say. And that’s relevant to the OP, and your comments here, how?

You know what I think reflects dogmatism, intellectual dishonesty, and condescension? Your posts. So, along that line, how do you think that your recent comment, and mine in return, forward this discussion?

What I think is tragic for your position is that you appear to be squandering the opportunity to explain how your theism forwards your scientific research. Instead, you are demonstrating that your theism has affected your ability to think clearly.

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Al Moritz February 23, 2011 at 4:59 am

Quite unsurprising answer, Tony. It will likely only impress some — not all — of those who already have similar cognitive biases as you have.

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Tony Hoffman February 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

And here’s a scientist responding to the link you recently provided:

Ed, As a working scientist who has had an opportunity to work briefly at a particle accelerator, my conversation with your skeptic would go more like this:

Physicist: So you don’t believe in quarks, eh?

Skeptic: No, you’re making this all up to fleece taxpayers.

Physicist: Ok, are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? I’m willing to let you go stand in the particle beam of my accelerator and allow you to expose yourself to hard radiation in order to prove that this is all a sham. Do you want to take me up on my offer?

In short, I think we both know that this sort of skepticism will start to evaporate rather quickly. Now I’m sure that there are probably a few people that would do this. But these are the same people that aren’t vaccination their kids and causing outbreaks of measles and whooping cough.

In short, your attempt to turn the tables doesn’t even pass the smell test.

I would say the same thing, Al, about your attempt to paint your critics here as unduly biased. Smelly, indeed.

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Al Moritz February 23, 2011 at 11:32 am

Al:

That was an excellent satire, and well written. However, the analogy is only superficially valid. Yes, both science and theology have enormous volumes written by specialists in a language that often requires some study to properly understand. But look at the difference in the subject matter of those volumes. Science studies the empirical world, which all can experience and interact with, touch and feel, test and experiment upon to confirm or falsify its conclusions. Theology studies a transcendent being who exists outside space-time, and whose existence is justified on the basis of anecdotal data and fallacious reasoning that ultimately attempts to show that it is logically possible for such an entity to exist, and then rests its case.

And that is the main difference between science and theology. Science proposes hypotheses that are logically possible, but then does the hard work of either confirming or falsifying those hypotheses by gathering data and analyzing it to test whether the results are genuine, or due to random chance, bias or confounding factors. Theology proposes a hypothesis that is logically possible. That is it. There is no good reason to infer a supernatural entity from what we know about the world, except to say that it is possible that all that we see is consistent with a divine power. However, one can imagine any immaterial and unseen entity and claim it to be consistent with the world, especially with various post hoc modifications. How can one justify one supernatural hypothesis over another? Well, there are no empirical tests, because the world is the same under both hypotheses, and thus they are not falsifiable at all, which implies that they are sheer speculation.

And that is fine. Speculate away, but do not pretend that speculation without empirical validation is equal to speculation with such validation. And that is why the analogy fails. The former issues claims without addressing the possibility that its claims are secondary to random chance, bias or confounding factors, and the latter assumes until proven otherwise that its claims are secondary to such factors.

dguller:

Actually, the post was more about the study of philosophy than about theology. And as I have repeatedly said here, atheism — and in particular naturalism, I would add –, while it may view itself as an extrapolation from science, is a *philosophical* extrapolation, *not* a scientific one (it goes beyond what the methodology of science can conclude, see also the statement by the National Academy of Sciences, quoted above). Since atheism and naturalism are philosophies, just like theism is *), an informed decision pro and con should include being thoroughly informed about philosophical issues.

My experience from articles and discussions is that many atheists just do not know enough about philosophy to judge arguments pro and con theism (or atheism for that matter) in a thoroughly informed way. I am *not* saying that once you are philosophically informed, atheism is automatically out of the window and theism has to be embraced — that will depend on how the different points of view are weighed.

However, I do claim that if people were better informed, one and the same person might make his/her choices differently. I definitely know from myself that, had I not been fortunate to be sufficiently informed about philosophical issues before I had my crisis in 2006, where I embraced evolution as self-sufficient process, began to view an origin of life by natural causes as highly likely, and rejected ID, I might very well be an atheist today. Yet fortunately I had the tools to see the spectrum of philosophical alternatives in a more complete manner, and could make a more informed decision. In my case it lead to a re-embrace of theism.

But I do understand how someone can become an atheist. And when coming from a fundamentalist, science-rejecting religious background, the choice can often seem either science or religion, period. It is not surprising that many choose science when faced with the dilemma and discovering the truth about science. I myself, as a Catholic, have never experienced a fundamental conflict on this issue, so this hardly played into my decision (I only needed to re-evaluate during my crisis how science relates to religion).

*) granted, theism contains a lot of theology as well, but its very foundation, the existence of God, is a philosophical question

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Reginald Selkirk February 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Al Moritz: (it goes beyond what the methodology of science can conclude, see also the statement by the National Academy of Sciences, quoted above)

Are you going to stick with what’s left of that statement? If so, are you going to respond to the criticisms I made of it? Are you going to answer the questions I posed about what is part of the scientific method and what is not? Or are you, once again, going to stick you fingers in your ears and pretend you didn’t hear the things that disagree with your position?

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Reginald Selkirk February 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm

The Vatican may be cosying up to science but it will never go all the way

Posted by Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent

Despite its engagement with astronomy and new stance on condom use, the Catholic church is unlikely ever to soften its attitudes to stem cell research and evolution

In the past, Roman Catholicism has hardly covered itself in glory when it comes to science. It took the Vatican more than 350 years to admit it was wrong about Galileo, cementing its contrition by erecting a statue of him in 2009. Its pronouncements over the years on life issues have often put it at odds with the scientific community, not to mention its historical vacillation over the theory of evolution. Blogger Sensuous Curmudgeon has a pair of posts on the subject.

Pragmatism is something of a deal breaker for the Vatican. It will not endorse or explore anything that contradicts church teaching, which is why it prefers stem cell research on adults and stops short of giving its wholehearted endorsement to evolution.

The official Vatican position on evolution tilts towards intelligent design. Its point man on the subject, Cardinal Schönborn, says: “Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of ‘chance and necessity’ are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.” Ouch.

Schoenborn again. He is not the top man, but he is powerful within the HRCC and a friend of Pope Indulgence. Newman, meanwhile, is still dead.

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Al Moritz February 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Vatican endorses Darwin, slights intelligent design:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/11/vatican_on_darwin/

“At one point the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University wasn’t going to give Creationism or Intelligent Design a hearing at all. But apparently the organisers have relented, and will consider Intelligent Design as a “cultural phenomenon” rather than as a valid scientific theory, giving US-based IDers the chance to be smirked at by a room full of Monseigneurs, Cardinals and Bishops.”

***

Intelligent design not science, says Vatican newspaper article:

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0600273.htm

“VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Intelligent design is not science and should not be taught as a scientific theory in schools alongside Darwinian evolution, an article in the Vatican newspaper said.

The article said that in pushing intelligent design some groups were improperly seeking miraculous explanations in a way that creates confusion between religious and scientific fields.”

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Reginald Selkirk February 25, 2011 at 7:56 am

Vatican endorses Darwin, slights intelligent design

The Vatican lack of clarity on the topic of evolution and intelligent design has already been addressed and linked. Has Cardinal Schoenborn been dismissed, or his powers curtailed? Has Pope Indulgence taken back his “Intelligent Project” speech or offered an apology for it?

Here are Cardinal Ratzinger’s remarks on geocentrism from 1990. Since then, Ratzinger has been renamed Pope Indulgence.

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Reginald Selkirk February 25, 2011 at 8:08 am

Here’s another occassion where a powerful Catholic, the archbishop of Mozambique, said something shockingly stupid and/or evil, and the Holy Roman Catholic Church never issued a public denial of his statements nor punished him in any way:

Shock at archbishop condom claim

The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with HIV deliberately.
Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected “in order to finish quickly the African people”. ..

The HRCC is not good at all about admitting error. The child molester cover-up churned away in the press fro years before the HRCC would admit any error, and even then Pope Indulgence attempted to put the blame for the problem in “secular society.”
Pope Blames Child Abuse Scandal on Society

Which puts Al Moritz squarely in the HRCC mold, as he seems unable to admit that the HRCC ever commits error. And he thinks that citing HRCC statements on one side of an issue makes their statements on the other side of the issue go away. This tendency might make Mr. Moritz a fine Catholic, but it is shit-worthless in making him an honest participant in discussion.

If I were gifted with infallibility, I like to think that I wouldn’t have to waffle so much.

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Tony Hoffman February 25, 2011 at 8:14 am

Reginald, of course you would say that. Pity you are prisoner of your own biases, and cannot bestride reality with the cool detachment afforded the likes of Al.

And while we wait for Al to answer any of the pertinent questions he has been asked in response to his array of assertions on this thread, I remind us all to stay tuned for, yet again, that which has been promised:

From February 17:
Derrida: “I’d like to see documented examples of veridical observations present in NDE accounts.”

CL: “No problem. Sit tight. It might not be today or even this week, but I will take the time to honor this request, so… keep an eye on this thread.

With standard bearers here like the Wonder Twins, it’s not so surprising that theists have been puling about the drop in quality around here. Mirror, anyone?

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Al Moritz February 25, 2011 at 8:51 am

Has Cardinal Schoenborn been dismissed, or his powers curtailed?

Dismissed for what? For misunderstanding evolution and holding a private opinion that has little to do with the Catholic Faith proper? The church has made it pretty clear that ID is not its official position. Are you the authoritarian Science Police, a New Inquisition?

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Luke Muehlhauser February 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Oh yay. Now we’ve brought Catholicism into it. :)

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Tony Hoffman February 25, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Sorry, Luke, can’t…help…myself….strength to resist…waning…

Al: Dismissed for what? For misunderstanding evolution and holding a private opinion that has little to do with the Catholic Faith proper?

Um, are you suggesting that the reporters stole the Cardinal’s private thoughts? I don’t know about you, but when I try to keep my thoughts private, talking to reporters about my thoughts is among the ways I do it.

The article also credits the Catholic Church with helping to broker a cease fire in Mozambique some years prior. Were the members of the Church who helped broker that deal speaking privately then as well? How do you distinguish when a member of the Catholic Clergy is speaking privately, or on behalf of their role within the Church?

Al: The church has made it pretty clear that ID is not its official position.

No. The NCSE has made itself pretty clear. Same with the editorial staff of Biology journals, etc. Those are the organizations that represent scientific thought on the topic, and they are crystal clear on what ID represents, and to what extent they will tolerate confusion about it. Compare them to the Catholic Church’s official position historically, and its position about the need for an intelligent designer of the universe, special creation, etc., and I think even a child could see the difference.

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Reginald Selkirk February 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Dismissed for what? For misunderstanding evolution and holding a private opinion that has little to do with the Catholic Faith proper? The church has made it pretty clear that ID is not its official position. Are you the authoritarian Science Police, a New Inquisition?Z

Who is “the church” to which you refer? You yourself have cited a dead cardinal, the Vatican newspaper, etc. I see various contradictory messages from various Catholics, with Pope Indulgence himself sitting comfortably on the fence, a la his “Intelligent Project” speech. What makes your sources any more representative on the One True Holy Roman Catholic Church position on evolution that my sources?

Christoph Schönborn

Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert (Graf von) Schönborn, OP (born 22 January 1945) is an Austrian Cardinal of the Catholic Church and theologian. He currently serves as the Archbishop of Vienna and President of the Austrian Bishops Conference. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1998.

Search in vain for any message by Pope Indulgence or by The Church (whoever speaks officially for it) that Schonborn was WRONG, and that he has been ordered not to speak publicly in favor of Intelligent Design. again.

The church has made it pretty clear that ID is not its official position.

No they haven’t. That’s my fucking point, for which I have provided quite a bit of evidence.

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Tony Hoffman February 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Al, just for giggles, I have to ask: Is the Catholic Church whatever the current pope declares, is it also what previous popes have declared, and is it a collective set of decisions and statements, and if so, who can declare those positions, and is it only the current versions, or do historical ones count, too? Isn’t your statement about harmony between science and the Catholic Church susceptible to being characterized as a set of post hoc determinations, where a variety of positions (no matter how fringe at the time) can be deemed to be the correct position decades and centuries after the fact?

Also, …

(from the Economist, http://www.economist.com/node/9036706 ) But Benedict XVI apparently wants to lay down an even stronger line on the status of man as a species produced by divine ordinance, not just random selection. “Man is the only creature on earth that God willed for his own sake,” says a document issued under Pope John Paul II and approved by the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

… seems contrary to evolutionary theory, which doesn’t use a God in its hypothesis, and doesn’t deem the evolutionary mechanisms that led to man to be any different than those that occurred with other creatures. So, you can say that the Catholic Church has no problem with Darwinian Evolution, but that doesn’t mean that biologists are in harmony with how the Catholic Church would like to see things. Harmony? I’d have to say it doesn’t even seem like they’re singing the same tune here.

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Al Moritz February 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Um, are you suggesting that the reporters stole the Cardinal’s private thoughts? I don’t know about you, but when I try to keep my thoughts private, talking to reporters about my thoughts is among the ways I do it.

[...] No. The NCSE has made itself pretty clear. Same with the editorial staff of Biology journals, etc. Those are the organizations that represent scientific thought on the topic, and they are crystal clear on what ID represents, and to what extent they will tolerate confusion about it. Compare them to the Catholic Church’s official position historically, and its position about the need for an intelligent designer of the universe, special creation, etc., and I think even a child could see the difference.

O.k. make that personal opinion, not private opinion. As to your second point, in your zeal you appear to have overlooked that I explained that the issue of evolution is *not* part of the Catholic Faith proper. The Catholic Church is no authority on science (that is the scientific community’s and the NCSE’s business), but it has clearly stated that it does not oppose evolution as scientific fact and theory. *From a faith perspective*, Catholics are free to accept that evolution is true, and ID is not endorsed as an official position by the Catholic Church (as is clear from the sources that I cited). But if Catholics accept evolution or are ID proponents is their own personal viewpoint and conviction (that one of these views contradicts science is another matter, but that again is these Catholic’s personal business).

And yes, of course the Church says that there is an intelligent designer of the universe, i.e. God (my view as well, otherwise I would be an atheist…). But this has nothing to do with the ID position which concerns ‘irreducible biological complexity’ and opposes evolution. It also has nothing to do with the science of evolution proper, since the laws of nature can be designed so that they allow for evolution to take place.

Yes, the church stands for special creation of the universe (our local universe or a wider universe.e.g. a multiverse) and of the human soul, and I do as well.

And I trust you don’t want to tell me that the scientific theory of evolution, or science in general, excludes a designer of the universe — this would be confusing science and philosophy (as I already explained earlier). Such a confusion would be a disservice to science, to philosophy and to proper analytical thinking in general. Furthermore, the concept of a human soul, which is supported by philosophical reasoning (and does not necessarily entail Cartesian dualism), is also not at all contradicted by neuroscience*):

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/01/against-neurobabble.html

*) and also not by the science of evolution, since science in general cannot say anything about non-physical entities such as the soul. Positing a soul says nothing against the science of evolution of the brain or of the human body in general.

(This post should also answer in essence your later post from 1:49 pm.)

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Reginald Selkirk February 26, 2011 at 8:07 am

The Catholic Church is no authority on science

To return to a question previously asked, but not answered: what freakin business did a pope have granting a doctoral degree on Mivart?

Catholics are free to accept that evolution is true

True!

and ID is not endorsed as an official position by the Catholic Church (as is clear from the sources that I cited)

But not so clear from the sources that I cited. You don’t get to ignore sources which do not agree with you.

Furthermore, the concept of a human soul, which is supported by philosophical reasoning

Once again, you are going to selectively accept that philosophical “reasoning” which supports your pre-drawn conclusion while ignoring that which doesn’t. Would you say that the philosophical reasoning which supports the existence of a soul is generally recognized by philosophers?

(and does not necessarily entail Cartesian dualism)

What kind of dualism does it entail, since you go on to declare that the soul is a non-physical entity?

Positing a soul says nothing against the science of evolution of the brain or of the human body in general.

The human body? Anytime you drag in human exceptionalism, you’re going to get in trouble with evolution and the scientific viewpoint in general.

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Al Moritz February 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Reginald:

In response to my statement “The Catholic Church is no authority on science” you wrote:

To return to a question previously asked, but not answered: what freakin business did a pope have granting a doctoral degree on Mivart?

As I quote above:

The German Wikipedia states: “For his efforts to reconcile the Catholic faith with the natural sciences he was awarded by Pope Pius IX the doctorate in philosophy in 1876.”

It was about the relationship of faith and science, and it was a degree in philosophy, not in science. It even cannot have been a judgment about the science of evolution itself, which at that stage was still quite tentative and a hypothesis, far from being a full fledged scientific theory as it is now.

I said: “and ID is not endorsed as an official position by the Catholic Church (as is clear from the sources that I cited)”

You replied:

But not so clear from the sources that I cited. You don’t get to ignore sources which do not agree with you.

I already have discussed the Schoenborn and Mivart issues. The sources I have cited leave no doubt that ID is not the Vatican’s official position.

Regarding the human soul:

Once again, you are going to selectively accept that philosophical “reasoning” which supports your pre-drawn conclusion while ignoring that which doesn’t. Would you say that the philosophical reasoning which supports the existence of a soul is generally recognized by philosophers?

No, I am going to accept philosophical reasoning that in my judgement, made with an open mind, is the proper analytical thinking on the issue. And of course this reasoning is not accepted by all philosophers. Philosophers who adhere to naturalism follow pre-drawn conclusions (non-physical entities do not exist) that usually prevent them from properly pondering these issues.

What kind of dualism does it entail, since you go on to declare that the soul is a non-physical entity?

See the link in my previous post.

The human body? Anytime you drag in human exceptionalism, you’re going to get in trouble with evolution and the scientific viewpoint in general.

As I said in my previous post, the church does not claim exceptional status for humans with respect to the science on human physiology. In fact , religious literature has made it clear that from the physiological standpoint we are animals. See for example this brutally frank passage from Ecclesiastes 3:18-20:

“I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”

As far as cognitive abilities go, we share a lot of these with other animals too, but there are important differences. Certainly, there are scientists that claim that *all* our differences with the rest of the animal world are merely of a gradual nature, not of kind. However, this opinion is, on crucial issues of rationality, not backed up by the scientific facts. Here, for example, is a review in the Annual Review of Psychology in which the scientists who authored it show that abstract causal-logical inference in animals has not been demonstrated, and they dismantle claims to the contrary in the scientific literature:

http://tinyurl.com/4q8kdtg

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Reginald Selkirk February 28, 2011 at 6:17 am

It was about the relationship of faith and science, and it was a degree in philosophy, not in science.

Oh sure, Mr. Moritz. And my Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Biology is also in philosophy, right? I mean, “Doctor of Philosophy”?

The sources I have cited leave no doubt that ID is not the Vatican’s official position.

Repeating your argument does not make it better.

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cl April 28, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Derrida,

I’d like to see documented examples of veridical observations present in NDE accounts.

No problem. Sit tight. It might not be today or even this week, but I will take the time to honor this request, so… keep an eye on this thread. [cl]

From March 30th: http://thewarfareismental.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/amp-5/

That post provides a documented example of veridical observation, and there are others like them. Do they “prove” anything with the 100% certainty many skeptics seem to demand? Of course not, but it does reveal these “no evidence” tropes for the nonsense they are.

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